Half-Orc

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A 5e Half-Orc
Clean-Up.jpgThis page is in need of cleanup. Srsly. It's a fucking mess.

A half-orc is exactly what it says on the tin - a fusion of human and orc. Traditionally, such procreation is done under a male orc/female human paradigm, predominantly under connotations of rape (not explicitly stated as such, but heavily implied nonetheless). This has made the half-orc one of the more traditionally "edgy" and politically incorrect racial options, so it has almost as many haters as it did fans; the fact that half-orcs are usually described as looking more like orcs (aka, monstrous) has further made them a somewhat marginal race even amongst edgelord players, who are more likely to gravitate towards races like tieflings, dhampyres, or even half-elves (who were actually also usually the result of rape in D&D 1e). In fact, this "child by rape" standard origin is generally held up as the reason why it's believed TSR didn't make half-orcs playable in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons until the Complete Book of Humanoids, when they had first appeared in the 1e PHB.

Traditionally, half-orcs receive a "watered down" version of the orc's traits; this amounts to a lesser Strength boost but also a lessened penalty to mental stats, as well as by having better nightvision than humans, but also better daylight vision than orcs, gaining darkvision without suffering light sensitivity (except in 3e, where they still had the orcy extra vulnerability to spells like Sunlight). Bonuses towards intimidation-type effects, reflecting their frightening mien, aren't uncommon, and they tend to lean towards evil and chaos in settings where orcs just swing that way for reasons of giving PCs critters to kill without feeling bad about it.

Weirdly, half-orcs weren't quite in line with the aforementioned paradigm in AD&D 2e; they got +1 to both Strength and Constitution to offset their -2 Charisma, with pureblood-orcs only getting the +1 Strength, and they had higher racial maximums for Constitution and Intelligence. Meanwhile, orcs had a higher racial maximum for Wisdom and could get to much higher levels in Cleric, Shaman, Witchdoctor and Thief than half-orcs (unless the half-orcs had exceptional ability scores). Pureblood orcs had a chance to notice new/unusual construction and sloping passages, whilst half-orcs lacked the light aversion of the purebloods. In the 1st edition Player's Handbook, half-orcs were allowed unlimited level advancement in the assassin class, as well as the ability to multi-class as assassin/fighters, or assassin/clerics.

The half-orcs suffered considerably when converted to 3e, which is responsible for cementing the archetype of the half-orc as a "big dumb brute" in most /tg/ circles. With +2 to Strength contrasted by -2s to Intelligence and Charisma, and their only unique racial traits being darkvision, "orc blood" (can use orc-exclusive feats and magic items, treated as an orc for racial triggered abilities & spells) and a favored class of barbarian, they were the most mediocre and underpowered race in the PHB. They didn't even make very good assassins any more! Having no bonus to Dexterity (the core class-based ability score) was one thing, but that Intelligence penalty severely hampered their ability to get the skill ranks they needed to even qualify for the class. As a result, even more so than small races like halflings and gnomes, half-orcs tended to be unpopular and pigeonholed.

It got so bad that both Pathfinder and 4th edition tried to fix it, with 4e even leaving half-orcs out of the PHB in order to devote more time to coming up with a good niche for them - something that wasn't popular with many people, but really wasn't unprecedented.

The PF half-orc is basically just the 3.5 version with some extra orcy racial traits; swapping the +2 Str/-2 Int/-2 Cha paradigm for "+2 to one ability score of the player's choice", and gaining +2 to Intimidation checks, Weapon Familiarity (Double-Axe, Falchion, Orc), and the Orc Ferocity racial trait (can fight on for 1 round after dropping to 0 hitpoints). It was a simple fix, but compared to the 3.5 half-orc, it was a huge step up. Plus, if nothing else, they have access to the awesome scarred witchdoctor archetype for witches, which is both crunchy goodness and awesomely flavored.

The 4e half-orc, in comparison, became a +2 Str/Dex race with bonuses in Endurance and Intimidate, Low-Light Vision, the Half-Orc Resilience trait (gain +5/10/15 temporary hit points the first time you are bloodied in an encounter), which makes them a lot tankier, the Swift Charge trait (+2 speed when charging), which lets them excel at running people down, and the Furious Assault racial power (1/encounter, boost weapon damage dice for a successful hit by +1 dice). All in all, they're melee monsters, made for kicking ass and taking names, but they don't have to be barbarians; 4e half-orcs make pretty good rogues, thus restoring their 1e traditional expertise, and surprisingly good monks.

5th edition followed in 4e's footsteps and focused on making them natural ass-kicking tanks, almost like being a barbarian-lite just by your choice in race. +2 Str and +1 Con, Darkvision, free Proficiency in Intimidation, can tank a killing blow 1/day, and +1 dice worth of damage on critical hits with melee weapons. Maybe not as broad in possibilities as the 4e version, but certainly a hell of a lot stronger than the 3e version.

Of course, bad crunch was only one half of the half-orc's problem. As we said up at the top, they've always been the edgiest of the "traditional corebook" races. Whilst PF ran with it, even emphasizing the whole "you were probably born of rape and everybody hates you!" stuff, other editions or even settings within 2nd and 3rd edition have tried to have more cheery fluff.

For example, there was fluff implying that female orcs generally aren't as ugly as people make out, and that frontier clans tend to intermarry with some frequency. Even way back in AD&D, there were occasional comments implying individuals having peaceful co-relations; the factol of the Bleakers in Planescape was the son of a blind man and his orc wife, whilst Greenwood has spoken on forums about isolated regions where human widows or spinsters have accepted displaced orc braves as, essentially, live-in hired help that accepts sex and food in lieu of money for taking care of the homestead. Some places actually have full on half-orc populations, where man and orc have so thoroughly interbred that everyone's at least a little bit half-orc. Fourth edition also introduced more explicit ideas for racial backstories beyond "orcs like to rape and pillage", such as half-orcs being the result of deliberate intermarriage on a massive scale, crossbreeding by some external faction, or even a deliberate creation of either Gruumsh the orc-god to create a superior strain of orcs to lead the rest of his children to victory, or Kord to create a super-race of warriors.

Everyone agrees that this is in much better taste and shuts out some of the edgelord bullshit, and it's gone over quite well.

Of course, it probably goes without saying that exactly how oppressed and angsty half-orcs are varies with the setting, and, more to the point, with the setting's orcs.

When they're just traditional rampaging barbarians all the time, they tend to get all kinds of shit on -- Golarion, home of the Pathfinder setting, really plays up the "half-orcs are usually born to rape" in the fluff, so they get a lot of flak... somewhat two-facedly, though, most of their important half-orc characters are not rape-children, and in places like the deserts or the Mwangi jungle, half-orcs are actually quite respected. Desert half-orcs actually get bonuses to diplomacy instead of intimidation.

In places like Eberron, where orcs aren't so bad once you get to know them, they fare much better, though still suffer discrimination due to a perceived lack of intelligence.

In some places, it might even vary from place to place. Forgotten Realms, for example, has the Eastern territory of Thesk; when the Tuigan Horde nearly overran the place, Thay sent an army of orcs to defend it, and then abandoned them when the Horde was pushed back. The Theskians took them in and the orcs actually settled down pretty well - in Thesk, the stereotype of the half-orc is a gruff, hard-working rancher or miner, and a damn good neighbor to have in a place where bandits and invasions happen all the time. Meanwhile, in the Northern territories of Faerun, half-orcs are rare and usually killed at birth, because they're seen as being no different than the local orcs, who are murderous, wrathful monsters - although this has softened over editions, thanks to Many-Arrows.

Almost every setting, though, points out that anyone big and beefy enough can carve out a niche for him- or herself in among the "civilized" races, and that being the smartest motherfucker in the room and only slightly less strong has its own advantages in the orc tribes. Lots of famous orcish heroes had enough human blood in them to make them, as their spacefaring cousins would say, "ded kunnin'."

Although this page focuses on human/orc hybrids, in AD&D, Half-orcs were a lot more diverse. The "basic" half-orc entry in the Monster Manual covered not only orc/human hybrids, as discussed in detail here, but also orc/goblin and orc/hobgoblin crossbreeds. Orc/ogre crossbreeding was rumored to be the source of the Orog species (although 3.5 Forgotten Realms retconned orogs as an Underdark dwelling species of bigger, smarter orcs), which itself received magically augmented/created variants in the "Neo-Orogs" of the Forgotten Realms (divided between Red ones, for fighting, and Black ones, for assassination). A confirmed orc/ogre crossbreed, though definitely leaning towards the Ogre (it was actually listed under "half-ogre" in the AD&D MM) is the Ogrillon, which basically resembles a giant orc covered in bony spikes. The weirdest half-orc is the Losel, or "ape-orc" of Greyhawk, which is half-orc and half baboon -- thankfully, that one's believed to be a magical creation, like the owlbear.

Heck, in 1st edition, there were actually some stats given to the orc-bugbear, the orc-gnoll, the orc-goblin, the orc-hobgoblin, the orc-kobold, and the orc-ogre crossbreeds, although these were presented more as new enemy fodder, in the 44th issue of Dragon Magazine.

That said, the 5th edition monster manual's lore for orcs does say that orcs can make half-orcs with many different races of compatible size, explicitly calling out dwarfs as a candidate, so with a DM's permission, a half-orc's fluff could get... creative.

Non-human half-orcs with actual mechanical support have appeared here and there. The Tel-Amhothlan from Kingdoms of Kalamar is a half-elf half-orc, whilst the Uk-Karg is an orc-blooded Half-Hobgoblin. The Dworg is a half-dwarf half-orc from the Midnight campaign setting.

Gallery[edit]

Warhammer Fantasy[edit]

Those more familiar with D&D who stumble onto Warhammer Fantasy sometimes ask if there are half-orcs in this game too. Typically, they will be met with a resounding bellow of "NO!", because the Orcs & Goblins of Warhammer have undergone convergent evolution to the Orks of Warhammer 40,000, and as a result the idea of them doing anything that isn't fighting is seen as "unorky".

Except... that's not the whole story. The truth is, Warhammer did have half-orcs once upon a time - it started as a bootleg Dark Fantasy setting mixing elements of Dungeons & Dragons with Glorantha and a buttload of British 70s pop culture, after all! Half-Orcs were around in the first edition of the game - in fact, the very first appearance of Nuln was in the backstory for a Regiments of Renown made up of half-orc mercenaries; Mudat's Mercenary Half-Orc Maniacs! They were never very fleshed out, though, and ultimately were simply dropped from the game. Their last major appearances were in 3rd Edition of Warhammer Fantasy Battles, where they could be taken as Mercenaries or in small units in an Orcs & Goblins army, and in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 1st edition. Come 4th edition of the wargame, and 2nd edition of the RPG, and they were gone, simply dropped without any explanation.

Another Warhammer Fantasy Half-Orc character of renown was White Dwarf personality "Agaroth the Unwashed", an unpleasant individual who had a sense of hygiene comparable to a Nurgle Cultist and was known to cannibalize infants (without washing his hands afterwards!). Armed with a giant filthy meat cleaver complemented by a magic ring of surecutting, and wearing leather armor decked out with shrunken heads, the armor so encrusted in filth and dried gore that if anyone besides him tried to wear it they would suffer the effects of being poisoned! His original White Dwarf description, for use as a character in AD&D:

Agaroth.png

Agaroth the Unwashed (AD&D) 10th level half-orc fighter; Age 37; AC5; STR: 18/80(+2/+4), INT 4, WIS: 6 DEX: 11, CON: 18, CHA 6 (ugly put persuasive).

Equipment: Filthy Leather Armour, Blood Caked Cleaver (treated as Scimitar) Mis-shapen shield, Ring of Sure Cutting (see below)

Agaroth the Unwashed is nasty. We mean really foul. Think of the nastiest person you know, double it, add bad manners, and Agaroth is still much worse. If we told you the nices thing Agaroth has done in the last year, you wouldn't want to eat for a week. Urrghh! Just thinking about ut makes us feel ill. Agaroth not only eats babies, he doesn't wash his hands afterwards.

Agaroth wears leather armour so caked in unspeakable filth that it improves his Amrour Class by one. Anyone else trying to use it would have to save vs. poison every round or pass out from the fumes. It's probably magical, but who wantsto know? He also wears a ring he once stole from an old man that allows any weapon he carries to hit any creature that can only be affected by +3 weapons.

Lorewise, Warhammer's half-orcs were fairly close to the D&D model. The term was actually not entirely accurate; "Half-Goblinoid" would have been closer to the mark, as half-orcs, half-goblins and half-hobgoblins all exist and are fundamentally identical. They are distrusted and disliked by both sides of their heritage, and often forced to make their way in the world as mercenaries, thieves and marauders.

In the original Path to Glory game, a Chaos Champion could potentially pick up a band of d6 half-orc followers, although the odds were pretty low - you needed to get the "Exceptional Follower" result (a 100 on the Slaves to Darkness table, a 94+ on the Lost & The Damned table), then throw a 2 and an 8 in that order.

Because 1d4chan is awesome, here's a transcript of the entire "ORC, Half-Castes" entry from the Warhammer RPG 1st Edition bestiary section, page 125:

Half-Orcs are the spawned of mixed races, chiefly Humans and goblinoids. All such creatures are commonly called Half-Orcs, although in fact they may have Hobgoblin or Goblin blood. Outcasts from both Human and goblinoid society, they generally group together as brigands and mercenaries, and may appear in goblinoid armies on rare occasions, They have been used both as slaves and mercenaries by Human society, but are now generally regarded as too dangerous to be kept near Human communities. Several states have embarked on campaigns of extermination, which may have driven them closer to the Orcs and other goblinoids. They speak the common Goblin tongue, and some individuals speak a debased form of local Human languages.
Physique: These creatures look like a cross between Humans and Goblinoids, just as you would expect. Some have characteristically Orcish heads, whilst others resemble Humans more closely, but maybe have slightly ape-like arms of crooked legs. Appearance is very variable. Skin and hair color usually approximate to those of the creature's progenitors.
Alignment: Neutral or Evil. Most are Evil.
Psychological Traits: Half-Orcs are Subject to Animosity towards other Humanoids. Because they are outcastes, tests are made with a 10% penalty. (Note: in the actual book, this is miswritten as "subject to Animosity towards humans other goblinoid races"; errata cleared it up that it means Humanoids in general.)
Basic Profile: Movement 4, Weapon Skill 33, Ballistic Skill 25, Strength 3, Toughness 3, Wounds 7, Initiative 30, Attacks 1, Dexterity 29, Leadership 29, Intelligence 24, Cool 29, Willpower 29, Fellowship 18

For the curious, compared to a standard Orc of the same game, the half-orc loses the 10 Yard Night Vision trait and swaps 1 Toughness (dropping from T4 to T3) for +10 Initiative and +6 Intelligence. If compared to the Black Orc, the half-orc again loses out on 10 Yards of Night Vision, drops 1 Strength and 1 Toughness (Black Orcs being S4 and T4), but gains +11 Dexterity, +6 Intelligence, and +4 Fellowship. They're flat worse than the average Human in that game, however, suffering -5 Intelligence and -11 Fellowship.

They may actually still exist, as although Greenskins reproduce by spores nowadays, gene splicing via dark magic is something the Skaven and Chaos Dwarfs are noted as having done to create all sorts of hybrids and enhanced creatures, like Rat Ogres and Black Orcs. The Half-Orcs were mentioned in a recent Warhammer Community post as being rumored to exist with Centaurs, Hobhounds, and Hobgoblins in the Eastern Steppes, not too far from the Dark Lands. Maybe Half-Orcs are another attempt at a Greenskin slave race by the Chorfs after Hobgoblins and Black Orcs proved too shitty?

Turns out they actually do exist as revealed in prequel game Warhammer: The Old World, theorized as a form of magical gene splicing but only seem to be found around the Chaos Wastes.

See Also[edit]

Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition Races
Core: Dwarf - Elf - Gnome - Half-Elf - Half-Orc - Halfling - Human
Dark Sun: Aarakocra - Half-Giant - Mul - Pterran - Thri-kreen
Dragonlance: Draconian - Irda - Kender - Minotaur
Mystara: Aranea - Ee'ar - Enduk - Lizardfolk (Cayma - Gurrash - Shazak)
Lupin - Manscorpion - Phanaton - Rakasta - Tortle - Wallara
Oriental Adventures: Korobokuru - Hengeyokai - Spirit Folk
Planescape: Aasimar - Bariaur - Genasi - Githyanki - Githzerai - Modron - Tiefling
Spelljammer: Dracon - Giff - Grommam - Hadozee - Hurwaeti - Rastipede - Scro - Xixchil
Ravenloft: Broken One - Flesh Golem - Half-Vistani - Therianthrope
Complete
Book of X:
Alaghi - Beastman - Bugbear - Bullywug - Centaur - Duergar
Fremlin - Firbolg - Flind - Gnoll - Goblin - Half-Ogre - Hobgoblin
Kobold - Mongrelfolk - Ogre - Ogre Mage - Orc - Pixie
Satyr - Saurial - Svirfneblin - Swanmay - Voadkyn - Wemic
Dragon Magazine: Half-Dryad - Half-Satyr - Uldra - Xvart
Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition Races
Player's Handbook 1: Dragonborn - Dwarf - Eladrin - Elf
Half-Elf - Halfling - Human - Tiefling
Player's Handbook 2: Deva - Gnome - Goliath - Half-Orc - Shifter
Player's Handbook 3: Githzerai - Minotaur - Shardmind - Wilden
Monster Manual 1: Bugbear - Doppelganger - Githyanki
Goblin - Hobgoblin - Kobold - Orc
Monster Manual 2: Bullywug - Duergar - Kenku
Dragon Magazine: Gnoll - Shadar-kai
Heroes of Shadow: Revenant - Shade - Vryloka
Heroes of the Feywild Hamadryad - Pixie - Satyr
Eberron's Player's Guide: Changeling - Kalashtar - Warforged
The Manual of the Planes: Bladeling
Dark Sun Campaign Setting: Mul - Thri-kreen
Forgotten Realms Player's Guide: Drow - Genasi
Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Races
Player's Handbook: Dragonborn - Drow - Dwarf - Elf - Gnome
Half-Elf - Half-Orc - Halfling - Human - Tiefling
Dungeon Master's Guide: Aasimar - Eladrin
Elemental Evil Player's Guide: Aarakocra - Genasi - Goliath - Svirfneblin
Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide: Duergar - Ghostwise Halfling - Svirfneblin - Tiefling Variants
Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes: Baatific Tieflings - Duergar - Eladrin - Githyanki
Githzerai - Sea Elf - Shadar-kai - Svirfneblin
Volo's Guide to Monsters: Aasimar - Bugbear - Firbolg - Goblin - Goliath - Hobgoblin - Kenku
Kobold - Lizardfolk - Orc - Tabaxi - Triton - Yuan-Ti Pureblood
Eberron: Rising from the Last War: Bugbear - Changeling - Goblin - Hobgoblin - Shifter - Warforged
Guildmaster's Guide to Ravnica: Centaur - Elf - Goblin - Human
Loxodon - Minotaur - Simic Hybrid - Vedalken
Mythic Odysseys of Theros: Human - Centaur - Leonin - Minotaur - Satyr - Triton
Unearthed Arcana: Minotaur - Revenant
Plane Shift: Amonkhet: Aven - Khenra - Minotaur - Naga
Plane Shift: Innistrad: Human
Plane Shift: Ixalan: Goblin - Human - Merfolk - Orc - Siren - Vampire
Plane Shift: Kaladesh: Aetherborn - Dwarf - Elf - Human - Vedalken
Plane Shift: Zendikar: Elf - Goblin - Human - Kor - Merfolk - Vampire
One Grung Above: Grung
TRAVELERS OF THE MULTIVERSE: Astral Elf, Autognome, Giff, Hadozee, Plasmoid, Thri-kreen
The Races of Pathfinder
Player's Handbook: Dwarf - Elf - Gnome - Half-Elf - Half-Orc - Halfling - Human
Advanced
Race Guide:
Aasimar - Catfolk - Changeling - Dhampir - Duergar
Drow - Fetchling - Gillman - Goblin - Grippli - Hobgoblin
Ifrit - Kitsune - Kobold - Merfolk - Nagaji - Orc - Oread
Ratfolk - Samsaran - Strix - Suli - Svirfneblin - Sylph
Tengu - Tiefling - Undine - Vanara - Vishkanya - Wayang
Bestiaries: Android - Astomoi - Caligni - Deep One Hybrid - Gathlain
Gnoll - Kasatha - Munavri - Naiad - Orang-Pendak
Reptoid - Rougarou - Shabti - Trox - Yaddithian
Adventure Paths: Being of Ib - Kuru
Inner Sea Races: Ghoran - Monkey Goblin - Lashunta - Skinwalker
Syrinx - Triaxian - Wyrwood - Wyvaran
Ultimate Wilderness: Vine Leshy
Blood of the Sea: Adaro - Cecaelia - Grindylow - Locathah - Sahuagin - Triton
Planar Adventures: Aphorite - Duskwalker - Ganzi
The Races of Starfinder
Core Races: Android - Human - Kasatha - Lashunta - Shirren - Vesk - Ysoki
Legacy Races: Dwarf - Elf - Gnome - Half-Elf - Half-Orc - Halfling
Expanded Races: Aasimar - Amrantah - Anassanoi - Astrazoan - Bantrid - Barathu - Bolida - Borai - Brakim - Brenneri
Cephalume - Contemplative - Copaxi - Damai - Dessamar - Dirindi - Draelik - Dragonkin - Dromada
Drow - Elebrian - Embri - Endiffian - Espraksa - Ferran - Formian - Ghibrani - Ghoran - Goblin - Gosclaw
Gray - Haan - Hanakan - Hobgoblin - Hortus - Ifrit - Ijtikri - Ikeshti - Ilthisarian - Izalguun - Kalo - Kanabo
Kayal - Khizar - Kiirinta - Kish - Maraquoi - Morlamaw - Neskinti - Nuar - Orc - Oread - Osharu - Pahtra
Phentomite - Quorlu - Ramiyel - Raxilite - Reptoid - Ryphorian - Sarcesian - Sazaron - Screedreep
Scyphozoan - Selamid - Seprevoi - Shakalta - Shatori - Shimreen - Shobhad - Skittermander - Spathinae
SRO - Stellifera - Strix - Suli - Svartalfar - Sylph - Telia - Tiefling - Trinir - Trox - Undine - Uplifted Bear
Urog - Varculak - Verthani - Vilderaro - Vlaka - Witchwyrd - Woioko - Wrikreechee