Our Orcs Are Different

"Wesnoth Orcs are brown; a portrait showing them as green is inconsistent."
—Artistic Guidelines for Contributing Artists from the open-source game Battle for Wesnoth
Ever since Tolkien, the worlds of fantasy literature and video games have been overrun with tribes of
ugly, bellicose humanoids, whose main purpose for existence is to serve as the Mooksof the Forces of
Evil. Trolls, Goblins and/or Hobgoblins (and such) are usually also closely associated with them, or
may just be different names for the same thing. The word Orc may share linguistic roots with the word
These races come in two general flavors: the original model developed by J. R. R. Tolkien, and the
model best exemplified (but far from invented) by Blizzard Entertainment's Warcraft series (which is a
subversion of the former).
Often overlaps with Pig Man. Often the "adopting" parent when a child is Raised by Orcs.

Top: Orcs from The Lord of the Rings
Bottom: Orks from Warhammer 40,000

"Tolkienite" orcs:

Are Always Chaotic Evil. However, Tolkien's Orcs are of debatable morality. While not
'peaceful', they are mostly driven by their fear ofSauron or Morgoth.
Often have pig-like snouts or upturned noses that resemble pig snouts. (Sometimes taken one
step further by actually giving them pig heads, like in early editions of Dungeons and Dragons.)
May have tusks.
Are of varying colors; ranging from sallow to gray to red. Green is not unknown, though
generally not the vibrant green of "Blizzard" orcs (Dungeons And Dragons orcs are grayishgreen).
Are carnivorous or hypercarnivorous, often even cannibalistic.
Are of below-average intelligence, although there are exceptions: Tolkien's Orcs did have
superior technology matched or exceeded only by the Numenorians and Dwarves (and
possibly the greatest of the Elves).
Have little or no culture outside of raiding/war parties and worshiping gods of war or the local
Evil Overlord.
Related to the above two points: tend not to invent anything, but steal/corrupt things other
people have made.
Usually have oppressive, patriarchal societies, with females being treated as property,
provided if female orcs are shown or mentioned (in Tolkien, female orcs were never shown or
discussed, though it seems they must have existed). It's possible that orcs in this case exhibit
no sexual dimorphism, and so males and females could not be distinguished without taking a
look under the hood (the film bypassed this by having the Uruk-hai 'created' whole from the
Are sometimes made solely as artificial creatures rather than reproducing biologically, thus
explaining the aforementioned lack of females. It was implied in LOTR that Morgoth created
them as "a mockery of the Elves."
Are of variable strength and size, but often shorter than humans or elves, though taller than

Top: An Orc from World of Warcraft
Bottom: An Orc from Skyrim

"Blizzardian" orcs:

Are a Proud Warrior Race with an extensive honor system. They've been referred to as "Green
Klingons" in the past, though their honor system may be inspired by the Japanese, the Norse,
or other "warrior" cultures.
Have intelligence on par with humans and other races (though other races might not see it that
way). Their technology and magic might even be on par with humans and elves, but developed
along a different path.
Have an animist and/or shamanistic religious structure.
Are more likely to be omnivorous.
Are more likely to have actual cities or settlements beyond war camps, although they will likely
still be seen as barbaric and primitive by the other races.
Are more likely to have females on screen, gender equality, or even female leaders. Although
sexual dimorphism does exist, Orcish women are expected to fight to exactly the same degree
as men, and usually also have the same degree of martial ability.
Are much, much more likely to have a more fully fleshed-out culture than "Tolkienian" orcs. But
unlike other races, they rarely have a directreal-world counterpart, but are instead a mishmash
of various tribal cultures.
Have green skin and tusks, and are physically similar to (some) trolls from European folklore.
Have simian features instead of porcine (though this varies by universe), and they aren't
necessarily outright repulsive. They can even be considered attractive, with the women being
Amazonian beauties and the men burly and ruggedly handsome.

Are usually bigger than humans and almost always stronger, at least in purely biological terms.
A notably tall Orc will be probably about 8 feet tall, but much more stocky and robustly built.
Limbs are close to a foot thick. However, this does not make them immediately superior to
other races in battle: elves are still much more agile, dwarves have comparable strength and
toughness, and even humans can get lucky occasionally.
Are vastly more likely to be protagonists or supporting characters as opposed to Mooks.

It's worth mentioning that the actual Blizzard orcs were originally the Evil Mook (still Villain
Protagonists though) template of "Tolkien" Orcs in the first two Warcraft games, but gained redemption
in the cancelled Adventure Game Lord of the Clans, the story of which was rewritten into a novel and
later incorporated into the backstory of Warcraft III. According to some, the first Warcraft game began
as a Warhammer adaption that Blizzard was making before the license was rescinded. This may or
may not be true, but the first Warcraft game Orcs were quite similar to the older Warhammer Orcs.
Although the two groups are significantly different, they usually share both a monstrous, primitive
appearance and conflict with humanity and the other Five Races. The author's choice of which model
to emulate usually depends on whose perspective the story is written, the story's relative position on
the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism, and whether the author intends to explore ramifications
of killing sentient beings. In any case, expect humans to treat "Blizzard" orcs as if they were
"Tolkienian" orcs, at least initially. Yrch!note
Small, cowardly Orcs are not unknown - the original Tolkien orcs seem a good deal shorter and less
powerful than humans, but this is less popular these days. More recent Orcs (especiallythe Blizzard
kind) tend to be bigger, tougher and much stronger than humans, raising questions as to why they
humans are the ones in charge in the first place - although this point may be explained with the fact
that humans have more friends and things like castle walls and wealth.
"Goblins" may be the same thing as Orcs, a smaller and often smarter variant, or something else
Note that "Orc" is sometimes spelled as "Ork", both to make the orcs that much more different and for
Xtreme Kool Letterz appeal. For whatever reason, 'orc' is usually the spelling in Medieval fantasy,
while, 'ork' is the norm in Modern or Futuristic fantasy (See Warhammer vs. Warhammer 40,000).
Which is strange, since 'ork' was their original, Alpine mythological name, and 'orc' was the name
Tolkien borrowed from the Anglo-Saxon for "foreigner".
Also strangely, orcs are probably the only race that everybody but Tolkien fleshed out. For the Elves
and Dwarves, Tolkien could name every ancestral relative of the character, every king they had, what
their culture is like and what they had for breakfast, but nearly everybody just rips off the surface
features, leaving it at that. The orcs however, Tolkien basically just left them as mindless pawns for the
Big Bad, and it's everybody else who tries to expand on them and give them some form of culture.
Though it's arguable that the Tolkien orcs are literally mindless pawns, having no self-direction
whatsoever once Sauron's will is withdrawn. But again, Tolkien didn't really work these things through.
Even Tolkien's origins for them remained somewhat vague and inconsistent, though interestingly the
moral and religious ramifications of living beings meant he was willing to entertain the idea that orcs

could theoretically be decent (or at least fight against evil), they just never made it into the story.
On the other hand, the conversation between Gorbag and Shagrat, two orcs of different (and being
orcs, in some ways rival) bands on the steps of Cirith Ungol in The Two Towers, show that Tolkien's
orcs have a moral sense, or at least a warrior code, though they notably fail to apply it to their own
actions. Shagrat explains to Gorbag that Shelob's venom is a knock-out drop, not deathly poison, and
they both condemn the "Elvish Warrior" who they believe has left Frodo to be eaten alive by Shelob at
her leisure. What disgusting thing to do to a companion in arms, they agree. In explaining this to
Gorbag, Shagrat reveals that he and his band have done that exact same thing to Ufthak, an orc
under his command. So orcs do have a moral sense, of a sort, but they just don't use it.note
In a final note: While these two camps are sometimes well defined in many cases it is more of a sliding
scale, such as the 40K Orkz who while mostly being in the first category are actuallyChaotic Neutral
and also serve as the immune system of the galaxy. Warhammer orcs by contrast are nearly at a
midpoint between the two styles, which should surprise no one since they may have been the
keystone in the arc of the shift between them. Indeed, Orcs with exclusively bright green skin, rather
than the varied browns, greys and olives of Tolkien's Orcs, were a Warhammer invention, thanks to
certain miniature painters in the early days of the game choosing to paint the skin of their Orc models
a consistent green color for effect, and this scheme becoming so popular it was adopted as part of the
background. To this day Warhammer uses the term "greenskins" as an alternative catch-all name for
Orcs, Goblins and related species.