In many games Orcs are the faceless enemy, the hordes of evil that your heroes must smite in order to stop the big bad.

But what if they could be more? What if they could be different?

Below are three different options to make Orcs more interesting in your games.


AMFC (All My Fantasy Children podcast)

– All My Fantasy Children podcast is where Aaron and Jeff take listener prompts and create fantasy characters in an interactive world.

-What they’re like
Orks home world was destroyed, but many fled in a city sized space station. They are seeking a new home.
The Orks evolved from sea creatures, gilled humanoids with lower jaw tusks, the Orks have a semi aquatic civilisation.

While they have higher tech than most fantasy civilisations, some of it was damaged, and most of it is aimed at underwater habitat. This can be a catalyst for a campaign world to be more interactive with aquatic creatures and resources.

A good sci fi parallel is Star Trek Voyager or Stargate Universe. They need to survive and and ensure the survival of their species, but they’ve met other intelligent species, they don’t have to fight everyone. The Orks have a strong sense of community.

-How they interact with others
On the planet they want to trade and interact with other species on the worlds they land on, in order to gain equipment or lore to enable them to contact other Ork ships/stations out there in the universe.

-Effect on standard D&D fantasy world
They are not allies with Goblins raiding Human nations caravans. They may trade with Goblins and Humans for lore or resources however. These are intelligent people with a goal and culture, not barbaric destroyers.

5E Notes :
– Alignement : Usually Lawful Neutral.
– Hold their breath for 10 minutes per constitution point. Replaces Aggressive trait.
– Full speed when Swimming.

Dungeon World :
– Move : Hold their breath for ages.
– Move : Swim as fast as a seal.

Example encounters –
– Orks are trying to negotiate a peace treaty between Dwarves and Goblins because they need minerals from the caves for their cities machinery.
– Orks approach Humans, offering better ship building techniques in return for dealing with these strange creatures (sea trolls) who are attacking their habitats.

All My Fantasy Children –


Uskiri in Thrones & Bones

– Thrones and Bones is a fantasy trilogy of novels and audiobooks by the skilled weaver of tales, Lou Anders.

While the Uskiri are not called Orcs, they are Orc-like and can fulfill a similar role in fantasy worlds.

-What they’re like –
The Uskiri of Thrones and Bones (Nightborn novel) are empire builders, bringing their culture across the lands by trade and conquering for the betterment of all sentient species. They are lovers of art & music, considering the finer arts the high point of civilsation.

The Uskiri have grey skin and tusks in their lower jaw. They have infantry and cavalry, entertainers and mastery of a hundred different crafts. The Uskiri build functional and beautiful buildings, weapons and ornaments.

-How they interact with others –
The Uskirian Empire is expanding, taking over other lands, they are proactive not reactive. While some nations may be at war with them, others may accept the protection and technology that empire membership brings. The Uskirian Empire has a mighty army, with siege engines and warships.

– Effect on standard D&D fantasy world –
This empire is making things happen. Nations and groups of power are moving in response to the Uskirian Empire. Some traditional enemies may truce to ally against the Uskiri, while others may migrate to a new region to get out of the way. The Uskiri can be seen as saviors, culling ravaging monsters and bringing well patrolled roads and cities to their lands.

5E Notes
– replace Aggressive with Tactican – Uskiri get a bonus action once per combat to out manuever opponents.
– replace Darkvision with Crafter – Skilled in crafting one thing, eg Jewellery, Painting, Woodwork.

Dungeon World Notes
– Skilled in crafting one thing, eg Jewellery, Painting, Woodwork.
– Out manuever opponent.

Example encounters
– Uskiri traders start dealing with merchant guilds in town, offering a vast array of new items in return for additional caravan guards in this frontier.
– Uskirian Empire soldiers offer to take care of the Lizardfolk in the woods, in return for some of the lumber for the mighty Uskirian empire.



Orks of Rikirta

– Rikirta is a fantasy world setting with 17 player species dealing with eight competing factions of denizens.

-What they’re like
Orks are sailors, buccanears and explorers. Rikirta Orks love being in and on the sea, and all their traditional tales involve the ocean. They use rapiers and muskets, though duels are fought with tridents.

The Orks have stepped pyramids as family homes and forts, and slopped pyramids for communual tombs. Duty to nation and deity is an important facet for Ork life. Public baths are common meeting places for business deals or reunion parties.

-How they interact with others
Orks are members of the League of Free States, an alliance of theocracy nations with laws against slavery and necromancy. The Orks are not conquerers but explorers and builders. Since they are not naturally aggressive and love the coast, they can serve as intermediates between Humans and aquatic species like Merfolk or Lizardfolk.

-Effect on standard D&D fantasy world.
The Orks are a civilised species, trading and allying with anyone who is willing to interact peacefully. They are willing to defend their lands, and their navy is competant, it has to be in a standard fantasy world. Orks can have their own nations or be a standard member of a bunch of nations, just like Humans.

-5E Notes
– replace Aggression with Skeptical : +1 to Insight/Saving throws vs illusions and lies.

-Dungeon World Notes
Choose one of these –
• Night vision 60ft.
• Extraordinary sense of smell.
• Skeptical : +1 to Defy Danger vs illusions and lies.

Example encounters
– Ork sailors hire some extra guards for a long ship journey that stops in six coastal cities. Heroes can go along and have a small quest in each place and some fun on the sea along the way.
– A communual Ork crypt pyramid has been despoiled but their are no tracks. Heroes are hired as investigators to track down what happened and retrieve what was taken.


  • Manos Ti

    Love it. Great ideas and the title is grand.

    Re-imagining standard fantasy races is great and makes each setting unique. For instance in Eberron, Orcs are not the bad guys, they are just a peaceful nature-dwelling race.

    I’ve used the same in our domestic FR game, where the Orcs are generally a misunderstood race; they are savage but with a more primal way and they do have codes of conduct and honor. But, due to their notorious past, they are subjects of hate and racism from the “civilized people”.

  • Colin McLaughlin

    Different takes on races are always great.

    If you have some time on your hands, read Grunts! by Mary Gentle. It’s about a tribe of orcs – in a very Lord of the Rings-style setting – getting cursed to become marines after being buried in the tomb of a pan-dimensional dragon.

  • Lilfut

    My home campaign has orcs as just sort of rowdy frat boys, orcish adolescence lasting for several decades and leading to aggressiveness and a propensity for alcohol. One memorable encounter had the party crossing paths with an orcish party wagon, forcing them to figure out some way to get past several dozen drunken orcs without setting off a fight.

  • Dave(s) 4 Goombella

    These are all great suggestions. The hardest part about taking the over-the-top “EVIL” out of a monstrous D&D race is doing so without losing that race’s distinctive flair. Orcs and Hobgoblins can usually be redeemed by adding a code of honor. Kobolds (and to a lesser extent Goblins) just need a little bit of pathos: their fierce territoriality comes from their fear of being exploited by larger humanoids. I treat giant-kin in a similar way: they just want to be left alone, and they’re insecure about their intellect. This makes them presumptively suspicious and hostile (though not necessarily violent) but still interesting.

    • Lilfut

      For goblins, I like to play up the conqueror-god angle Maglubiyet has in Volo’s, having them be slaves to a truly evil god.

  • Charles Geringer

    These are interesting suggestion for new fantasy Races, specially the aquatic one, but I fgeel ther eis nor eason to call them Orcs (or Orks) And would be better served by a new name without the conotoation of Orc. I think if one wants to re-imagine a race there shoudl be areson to have it maintain the name.

    For example, in my setting when I re-imagined the orcs I tooka s a guideline that Orcus, was a Roman good of death the underworld, and “Punisher of broken oaths”, and made the orcs a Subterranean society with Orcus-worshipping clerics who had domains related to caves/underworld, death, Law and Honor, where one´s word was very prized. Thus they had a reason to be Orcs.

    • Freds

      I agree. While there’s no real “wrong” way to describe orcs (since they’re imaginary and all), if you don’t hit at least some of the generally agreed-upon touchstones of orc-ness, why bother to call them orcs? It just creates confusion. Having to dispel all the cliches and stereotypes that instantly spring to mind, is much more hassle than starting with a clean slate.

      On a similar note, I also hate it when writers feel the need to be “clever” and come up with their own names for creatures the reader will instantly recognize. If he’s a pointy-eared, forest-dwelling archer dude, just do us all a favor and call him an elf already.

  • Wyvern

    Daggers of Darkness, one of the Fighting Fantasy series of gamebooks — which takes place in a region with a Mongol-like culture — has several illustrations that show what appear to be orcs mingling with humans. This isn’t explained anywhere in the text, but in my headcanon, the orcs of that region are more intelligent and civilized than their degenerate kin in other parts of the world.

    If you were to translate this notion to D&D, you could have a group of orcs that live amongst, or alongside, certain human barbarians. This would be where most half-orcs come from. It wouldn’t require any mechanical changes, aside from alignment, but if you wanted to you could give them some sort of wilderness-survival ability like tracking by scent, or a bonus to ride and handle animal checks if they’re horse nomads.

  • crimfan

    I did this with hobgoblins in my own campaign world.

    They became a race called the Kang/Keng, who were conquerers in the mold of Mongols in our own world. In the backhistory of the world the fey races had been different castes—the elves were the rulers, the gnomes were the tinkers and scholars, the dwarves the crafters and miners, etc. The kang were the warriors. Goblins and bugbears came later afterwards. The campaign world was set up with the notion that there was a fey magical unification in the deep history but that the fey had “gone too far” in their workings and opened the world to aberrations. (If you want an example of this, look at Bruce Cordell’s Gates of Firestorm Peak, though I devised it before that module came out.)

    Orcs, because they seemed to be somewhat off the goblinoid race were just something else entirely, more related to trolls. They were aberrations and were irredeemably twisted and evil, unlike the martial goblins, who were violent by nature but not twisted. Humanity were outsiders who had invaded from somewhere else (implied to be our own world but never clearly stated as such).

    We’re still running it, now exploring the fact that the fey unification was itself a client state of a larger vaati unification that was even older.