Whiteleaf: Orcs

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willpell
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Whiteleaf: Orcs

This is the first of several intended posts regarding my Whiteleaf campaign setting. While it will eventually connect to Planescape, for now it might seem to be a bit off-topic for this board; I ask the community's indulgence, as previously stated here:

https://www.planewalker.com/content/introducing-whiteleaf

Without further ado, I present the following information regarding the Orcish race on the Whiteleaf setting.

ORCs

The orcs are roughly the fourth-ranked of the humanoid species of Whiteleaf, in terms of their overall role of global importance (this is loosely an index of their population, although certain other races that don't "do" civilization to as meaningful an extent may be more numerous; goblins certainly outnumber humans, but they live as little more than rats, while orcs have a sophisticated society even if it isn't a culture comparable to the human Empire and other nations). Unlike the top three, however, orcs don't have an explict multi-national territory; the sixteen dwarven clanholds, the numerous human nations, and the variety of elf races all have loose overarching political ties, which enable the species as a whole to come to the negotiating table and discuss issues relating to the world economy, preservation of the environment, and other such geopolitical issues. The orcs do not have any such unifying body; most of orc-kind lives in small tribes which are more or less warlike and savage, but a handful of minor or cities do survive in the far depths of the Uncanny Valley and other far-removed Hinterlands regions. Unlike even the meanest human nations, these tiny enclaves of orc civilization have no affiliation with each other, and on the rare occasions they meet, they tend to have long-standing grudges, once founded in ideology but largely perpetuated today out of bad blood; cooperation is not impossible for them in theory, but in practice it is basically unheard-of.

To be continued....

willpell
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Orc Religion

The primary deity of the orcs is a literal one-eyed monster, referred to in dwarven and human theology texts as The Lout (the being's names in Elvish meanwhile are all severe obscenities, and the generally-unsophisticated orcs usually have little reason to actually name their supposed creator, except with titles such as "Old One-Eye" or "the Big Man"). Tribes which worship this entity claim that he created the orc race, for obvious reasons (and several elven and dwarven histories agree, but then these are equally biased and subjective); his priests almost invariably command these tribes to make war constantly, although the god's omnipathy is exceeded by his laziness and short-sighted nature, so orc warbands which can't find a weak opponent to conquer will often cease receiving his guidance, and soon fall apart into petty bickering and general savagery. All of this is however a form of cultural conditioning, rather than a biological or magical imperative; tribes which do not honor the Lout are no more or less likely to be warlike in nature than any "savage" population of any species, although orcs in general don't have much of an agrarian or architectural instinct, and the peaceful tribes are more likely to be nomadic hunters than any sort of "civilization". Still, the agressive and low-minded behavior that is stereotypical of orcs (and reflected by the race's natural Intelligence and Charisma penalties) is actually true not of the entire race, but only of Lout-worshippers and similarly "degenerate" groups.

Though almost nobody realizes this any more (for unclear reasons, the fact has been carefully expurgated from even the most thorough historical texts), the race today known as Orcs were in fact once a people known as the Gruush'nakr (pronounced "groo-shnawr", with society just as meritorious as elves or dwarves. A fourth species was named along with these three in original documents, but the same unknown agency which scrubbed the records of all Gruush'nakrim achievement did an even more thorough job of obliterating all mention of this other race, so that only a few indirect references to its existence and no trace at all of its identity survive. The same period when the elven and dwarven nations were at their historical apex, roughly 4800 years prior to the founding of the Empire which currently predominates in human lands, was also the Gruush'nakri golden age, but while the Dwaor and Tharsai cultures gradually declined, the Gruush self-destructed in some spectacular fashion, having perhaps behaved so outrageously as to earn the wrath of certain higher powers, and been smacked down so hard that their descendants are still fundamentally broken in spirit (whatever cosmic authorities performed this punishment may not have known or cared about the negative long-term ramifications of this act; it's likely that this incident was based on the same sort of ultra-harsh retribution that underlie the Medusa curse and several similar mystical contagions). A few ancient loremasters in the Outer Planes do remember the glory days of the Gruush'nakr, but they are sworn to secrecy on the subject by powerful mystic oaths; whether it's the gods, the Celestial Overwatch, or some other such high authority that's behind this conspiracy, it seems to have agreed that the orcs must never know of the heights from wish they fell, regardless of how much humanoid misery results from their current situation. A few hundred humans die in border skirmishes with Loutite or other aggressive orc factions, but perhaps this is the tiniest fraction of the number who would die or suffer if a Gruush'nakri revivalist movement were to arise among the modern orc species.

willpell
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Orc Biology

Orcs come in three basic varieties, in terms of skin color; they range from a dirty yellow color to various shades of green (from chartreuse to olive drab, but never emerald or viridian) and then on to a deep gray hue. Orc blood is a thick dark-ochre fluid, more similar to human bile or lymph than to conventional red blood; medieval human alchemists tended to attribute the orc's "choleric temper" to this bilious humour, but the orcs themselves see it as proof that they are more than mere animals, whose red blood is thought to be a sign of weakness (a rare abnormality causes a tiny handful of orcs to be born reddish in color, thanks to something akin to cyanosis in humans, and these congenitally unhealthy orcs are shunned by their tribes for lacking their hardy condition; few survive long enough to join well-hidden exile colonies where they eke out a meager subsistence). The uncommon yellow orcs lack any skin pigment, and if drained of blood, their flesh appears identical to that of "white" humans (a descriptor never used on Whiteleaf, save for an albino) in the same condition. This is because they lack the dusky-blue colorant which all other orcs have in varying quantities, producing the range of darker skin tones; loosely equivalent to melanin, this substance similarly regulates the effects of the sun on the body, and those who lack it are particularly averse to daylight, leading to the widely held misconception that all orcs are grayish-green. The greenskins are 2/3 of the total population, much as 80% of humans on Whiteleaf are some light shade of brown, but gray tribes predominate near the human border regions; the more peaceful orc tribes tend to be heavily greenskins, but in neither case do the orcs themselves care about such distinctions, as tribal identity is more determined by direct blood relations than coincidental similarities in appearance.

Palomides
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Origin of Species

You might get comments (similar to your prior thread) that this topic isn't "Planescape-y" enough; but given the lack of traffic recently, I'll play along.

I focused on the religion post and I see that you hint at a number of lost mysteries (i.e. a forgotten brother race to the orcs, divine transgressions, suppressed lore). I'll also assume that you are not going to elaborate in order to keep these secrets from your players.

Because some of your hints seem close to some ideas I had, I'll share my take on orcs and feel free to steal any idea (if any) that appeal to you.
I was always put off by the original orc stats having the same intelligence levels as humans even though most DMs portrayed them as being as dumb as rocks (albeit some DMs gave them a measure of cunningness). I then came across an idea that worked for me - orcs were not significantly dumber than humans, they just became obsessed with displays of their own strength and dominance. Like a corruption of the Klingon mentality, orcs in my world would feel that anything besides hunting and feats of strength were beneath their "nobility". Why build an aqueduct to bring water to the tribe when you could be "strong" and force a slave to build it for you?

In my world, an early human empire fell after the noble families (in desperate attempts to stay ahead of each other) all turned to worshipping/harnessing fiends to further their goals. It became a sort of arms race with each family risking more to get ahead until it all collapsed.
In this ancient history, the elves and the orcs both protected the woodlands with the orcs being a sort of a cross between druids/rangers and a commando force. But eventually, some of the fiends set loose on the world corrupted the orcs and shifted their thinking from being defenders of the wilds into their focus on displays of dominance. Then the elves split from them (or in the orcs eyes, "betrayed" them) causing the animosity between those races

I never nailed down if Gruumish was always a demon who gained divinity when the orc tribes embraced him or if he was a formerly non-evil god who shifted to evil when his worshippers did. I think either possibility could work.

I'd be interested to here any additional details you would like to share about your orcs. (I am especially curious where you are going with the forgotten brother race - a new race that will surprise the PCs? the forgotten race turns out to be the human race? etc.)

willpell
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Responses to input

*I focused on the religion post and I see that you hint at a number of lost mysteries (i.e. a forgotten brother race to the orcs, divine transgressions, suppressed lore). I'll also assume that you are not going to elaborate in order to keep these secrets from your players.*

Actually I do plan to go into most of this at some point; I'm done hiding surprises from players that never arrive, I've tried that and wasted years in the process, so from now on I put everything out there and hope someone bites the hook.

Also, the Fourth Race isn't a "brother" to orcs any more than elves are "brothers" to dwarves. They are simply the four major powers that existed at that time, prior to humanity's appearance on the plane. I'll go into more detail later, but most of the evidence that they exist is based on postulates related to racial alignment, combined with the fact that 4 in general is a magic number on Whiteleaf (similar to 7 here in reality, where everyone looks at a rainbow and sees 7 colors, and we have 7 days in our week named after the 7 primary celestial bodies visible to the naked eye, when we'd probably have counted Sirius or Polaris as the 8th "planet" if we weren't so determined to stop looking after we found 7, etc). The point being, there's no particular reason to think the fourth race resembled orcs to any significant extent; if anything, they were probably exactly as different from orcs, elves, and dwarves as each of those is from the other two, assuming you can figure out exactly what that means (regardless, it certainly isn't Humanity, whose middlish status among all these extremes is often taken to prove that they somehow descended from all four other races, hence why they can interbreed with at least two of them - oh and I have an explanation on why Half-Dwarf isn't typically a thing but we'll get into that later).

*I was always put off by the original orc stats having the same intelligence levels as humans even though most DMs portrayed them as being as dumb as rocks (albeit some DMs gave them a measure of cunningness)*

Which original orc stats are these? I've never hard of Orcs not having an INT penalty, but then I'm no TSR-era grognard; I started with 3rd edition and have mostly stuck with it, although 5th has a lot of good ideas I'm inclined to pillage, and if I'm bored I'll play straight 5th for a while before I get tired of banging into the "just have the DM make something up" answer for all the questions not otherwise addressed.

*I then came across an idea that worked for me - orcs were not significantly dumber than humans, they just became obsessed with displays of their own strength and dominance. Like a corruption of the Klingon mentality, orcs in my world would feel that anything besides hunting and feats of strength were beneath their "nobility". Why build an aqueduct to bring water to the tribe when you could be "strong" and force a slave to build it for you?*

This portrayal is hardly original to you, but I do tend to agree with it.

More to come whenever I feel like it....