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Orc

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Orc
An orc warlord
(Creature)
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This article might have further canon details available on StarfinderWiki.

Orcs are a humanoid ancestry of Golarion with a history of conflict that dates back to being driven from the Darklands to the surface by dwarves in the Quest for Sky ten millennia ago.2

Brutal and protracted conflicts between orcs on the surface and their neighbors lent them a reputation in Avistan as violent raiders with a hatred of civilization.3 However, their nature is far more complex than their reputation, and their loyalty and hardiness in battle against the world's most existential foes have made them as respected in some parts of Golarion as they are feared in others.4

Appearance

Orcs resemble humans with boar-like canines and sharp teeth.56 Orcs are normally around seven feet in height,4 but can seem broader due to their thick skeletal frame and strong musculature5 and shorter due to their low stance and posture.4

Orc skin tones can vary between a sallow pink through various shades of grey to dark green7 as an adaptation to their environment, though most are some shade of green.4 Their rough skin scars easily, and even the youngest orc warriors bear an array of scars that they wear with pride;425 "you are the scars that shape you" is a common aphorism among orcs.4

Orc eyes are very sensitive to sunlight. On average, an orc weighs around 210 pounds8[citation needed] and reaches physical maturity in their 17th year, with an orc's average natural lifespan reaching approximately 60 years.4

Pain and stoicism

Orcs have an incredibly high pain threshold. They experience pain as vividly as any other sentient race but possess a near unparalleled stoicism.49

Orcs embrace pain in ways that allow them to survive agonies that would break or kill other creatures,9 and many both enhance and demonstrate this through intricate tattoos and scarification.2 Some claim that orc eyes have never adapted to the burning light of the sun, they have just learned to endure it.910

History

An orc raises the head of a defeated rival.
See also: Hold of Belkzen

Orcs and dwarves clashed in the Darklands long before Earthfall and the Quest for Sky, though in only skirmishes near their borders; the two peoples otherwise kept to themselves. The 300-year-long Quest for Sky, however, irrevocably changed orc culture by forcing them at the spearpoint of the dwarves' rush to Golarion's surface.5

Orcs organized their defenses in response, and in -5153 AR they won the decisive Battle of Basalt Grim by defeating three of the twelve dwarven kingdoms and killing an uncountable number of dwarves in a massive ambush. The victory halted the Quest for Sky for two decades, during which time the young dwarf Taargick rose to power, united the dwarven kingdoms, became High King of the new nation of Tar Taargadth, and resumed the Quest in -5133 AR.11

The relentless final 150 years of the dwarves' campaign drove the orcs into desperation, as Taargick most clearly witnessed in the Battle of Scattered Bone. While leading the dwarves' offensive against orcs in their way, The High King realized only then that orc ferocity was not innate bloodlust but defensive despair, and that the orcs' use of necromancy against the dwarves was not a sign of inherent evil but of the lengths they would go to in order to defend their people. These revelations wore heavy on Taargick's mind through his death as regrets for his actions.12

The advancing dwarves forced the orcs farther upward5 until they eventually withdraw to the surface ahead of the crusading dwarves in places like Deepgate, located in the modern Hold of Belkzen.13 Upon reaching the surface in -5102 AR14 the orcs found a sunless land still engulfed in the Age of Darkness. The scattered survivors of the shattered human empires of Azlant and Thassilon were unprepared for the desperation and rage of these orcs pushed from their homes.5

In -5088 AR, the orcs of what would later be known as the Hold of Belkzen were attacked by a coalition of giants near the fortress of Deepgate. The attacks culminated at the First Battle, after which the two sides called a truce.14

During the Age of Darkness, the orcs spread and prospered; to them, this era was known as "The Sacking" as the orcs rampaged across the surface world all but unopposed.5 As the perpetual twilight created by Earthfall slowly gave way to more and more daylight, the Age of Anguish began in -4294 AR and orcs first experienced the burning kiss of the Sun.15

Culture and society

After reaching the surface, groups of orcs dispersed throughout the Inner Sea region and adapted to their new surroundings. This led to the formation of several orc cultures that each have distinct outlooks, values, relationships with other peoples, and geographical distribution. Many share common traits, but their variety means few traits of any type of orc are universal.2

Values

Honesty is a key virtue across many orc cultures, and deception is considered despicable cowardice. Minor lies, half-truths, and omissions—even in service of diplomacy—are particularly despised. With acute knowledge of how short their lives can be, most orcs also value efficient decisiveness.2

Physical contests, including honorable combat, have deep roots in orc culture. Victory is paramount, but strength in defeat can still earn the respect of others.2 In some orc cultures, however—and recently among even Avistani orcs—orc communities are rediscovering the value of artisans, farmers, and negotiators among the non-combatants within their ranks.16

Religion

The orc mother goddess Dretha.

Many orc communities view religion as simply an exchange of power with whichever deity will help them most in battle. In violent holds and lands, orcs have no interest in any peaceful deities and most commonly the Rough Beast Rovagug, as he is a god of near limitless power and infinite fury, or Lamashtu4 or Gorum.1718

Orcs are also prone to demon worship; the most common demon lords they follow include Baphomet, Orcus, Nurgal, and Zura. There are also small tribes of orcs that devoutly worship the less powerful nascent demon lords, such as Treerazer (who roams amongst the tribes that dwell within the Tanglebriar), Daclau-Sar, Murnath, Ovonovo, and even murderous Nightripper.1718

Orcs also boast their own pantheon of racial demigods whom they worship somewhat interchangeably, often blending their various roles and myths to suit current needs. Some believe these are paragons of the orc race, raised to divinity by virtue of their sheer orcness, while others believe they have always been divine. They have worshipped these deities since before the Age of Darkness making them ancient beings either way.1718

Countless orc demigods exist; the eight commonly worshipped on Golarion are Dretha the Dark Mother, Lanishra the Slavelord, Nulgreth the Blood God, Rull the Thunderer, Sezelrian the Fire God, Varg the Iron Warrior, Verex the Despoiler, and Zagresh the Destroyer.1920 A minority of orc communities, such as the Burning Sun tribe, also venerate the fire and glory of Sarenrae and her promise of redemption.4

However, orcs also hold that if a being has a face and a name, then it is mortal and therefore a challenge to be defeated rather than a being to be revered. This leads some orc holds to attempt to challenge these deities in order to replace them and become gods themselves.4 This is indicated by the appearance of a Vow Mark illuminated on the corpse of a deceased orc, which indicates that the orc's soul had entered a mythical battle called the Crucible to challenge a god in a battle to the death. A mortal winner ascends to divinity; defeat completely annihilates their soul.21

Calendars and time

Orcs on the surface are nocturnal to better suit eyes sensitive to daylight, and diurnal people encountering orcs during daylight hours often find them relatively irritable from disrupted sleep.2 They divide their day into three parts, reserving nighttime for battle readiness and split their daytime hours into rest and training. Orcs who live underground retain their traditional division of time into similar spans over 32-hour days.22

As adventurers

An orc's drive to overcome challenges and prove themself spurs many to become adventurers, though orcs are more likely to set out on their own or with other orcs than alongside adventurers of other ancestries. They thrive in martial classes like the barbarian and fighter.23

On Golarion

An Enshrak orc wearing face paint.

Golarion is home to several distinct orc cultures.2

Enshrak

Enshrak orcs believe orckind should never have left the Darklands and have returned from the surface to connect with and reclaim their ancestral homelands,2 such as their final Darklands battleground against the dwarves at Garaguum.24 They cultivate root vegetables, perform traditional rituals, and view the sun and orcs who remain on the surface with suspicion. They also retain a powerful hatred for dwarves and call the Quest for Sky to have been an act of genocide.2

A few Enshraks who worship Rovagug seek to dig their way to the Rough Beast's prison and free him, in a trial they call the Quest for the Cage.2

Kharmaja

Kharmaja orcs settled the peaks of Golarion, particularly the Kodar and Mindspin Mountains, as well as the Menador Mountains further south. They are renowned for their climbing, leaping, and acts of bravado passed on through song.2

The most respected Kharmajas tame and ride drakes and are celebrities among Kharmaja children.2

Khuldar

Khuldar orcs live in wooden homes beneath desert sands, mostly in the Dirt Sea of Belkzen. Khuldar youths patrol during the blistering daylight, and their communities traverse the fine sands at night on large barges of ingenious design that are towed by beasts or giants.24

Matanji

A Matanji orc.

Matanji orcs, also known as rain orcs,24 are the predominant orc ethnicity in the Mwangi Expanse. They are renowned for their demon-slaying prowess and maintain productive and respectful relationships with their neighbours.25

Though they live far from Arcadia, the Matanji are a major centre of worship for Kazutal, whom they know as Majagua. Her focus on community, and especially the protection of it, fits well with the philosophy of the Matanji, who pride themselves on how their strength can shelter their allies.26

Despite not spending much time with them, the Matanji greatly revere and respect Ekujae elves. They have learned and implemented many tactics for demon hunting from listening to Ekujae stories, such as eschewing gold. Indeed, many Matanji orcs would consider it the greatest honor to marry an Ekujae elf and bring their skill and history into their society.26

Namathkar

Orcs of Avistan once warred with the Shoanti people of Varisia.

The culture of Avistani orcs, also known as Namathkars, is historically communal in nature24 and centered around strength and victory in combat; every orc has a right to take what they are strong enough to take and control those too weak to resist them.27

Avistani orc childhood can be brutal. The weak are culled without hesitation, and combat training begins as early as 8 years old. In some holds, orc mothers are kept from the battlefield and typically give birth to between two and five young at a time. They occasionally birth a single child who has devoured their siblings in utero, which is seen as an omen of greatness.2728

This creates a hierarchy that is only able to function due to a few ingrained traditions. The first is family loyalty, as it helps all members of the hold to survive.27 Namathkar orcs are most at ease among those they trust,24 and bonds of blood are the strongest bonds in orc society; they fuel orc prowess in combat whether in defense or vengeance of their kin. Conversely, if few orcs from a family survive or most orcs in a family betray or abandon a family member, their social mobility becomes quickly limited.29

Secondly, respect for hierarchy allows weaker members of society to survive. While they might abuse those weaker than themselves, orcs rarely kill those below them unless they are directly challenged. These dominance challenges are an integral part of orc society, as each orc faces constant danger from challengers below them and constant reminders of their comparative weakness from those above them. As the consequence for a lost battle is normally death, challengers carefully bide their time waiting for a moment of weakness.27

This hierarchical structure is so fundamental to Avistani orc culture that the very idea of equality is inconceivable, and orcs cannot imagine life in a society where they do not know whom they serve and whom they can dominate.27

Beast riding

Orcs value having fearsome mounts for the prestige they bring. The most common mounts include dire wolves, dire boars,18 gortheks,30 elephants, rhinoceroses,18 smilodons,29 and even owlbears, but orcs value rare or exotic creatures even more highly. Mammoths and other megafauna from the Realm of the Mammoth Lords are highly prized, particularly if they offer the opportunity to fight and defeat the famed Kellid mammoth riders.18

In neighbouring Numeria, orc tribes favour strange beasts brought from beyond the stars by the crashing spaceship Divinity that now forms the Silver Mount. Some cunning orcs learned how to ride the various robotic creatures that inhabit the land.18

Distillation

Orcs of Belkzen are renowned for their crisp, strong gin distilled from juniper trees in mountainous regions of their homeland.31

Dhalla Winddancer, a wand-wielding orc wizard.

Magic

Avistani orcs are often suspicious of magic32 and are interested in it only when it has immediate, tangible benefits. Instead, orcs favour magic that taps into primal sources of power like sorcerers, oracles, shamans, and witches, though they also respect for both bards and skalds for their ability to manipulate emotions and whip orcs into a supernatural frenzy.18

Magic users in orc society often either use their abilities to make themselves an integral part of the tribe and rise rapidly through its hierarchy, or live in self-imposed exile who consider themselves superior to other orcs for their strange powers.33 Due to orcs' respect for the sheer power of their deities, spellcasters often try to associate themselves with them, with arcane casters often pretending that their power instead extends from the divine.18

Mythology

The Happy Fellow is a legend told by orc mothers in Belkzen to their young about an elf who comes to eat orc children who smile too much in their sleep.34

Nanut

In the Lands of the Linnorm Kings and across Golarion's arctic regions, Nanut orcs are distinct for their frosty green, blue, and purple skin and long periods of hibernation through seasons where the sun never sets. They live in communities of large nonmonogamous, communal families, and prefer to demonstrate their dominance as groups through their prowess in hunting and providing for their kin over wasting energy on wars with each other.24

A dromaar mountaineer.

Dromaars

Dromaars, also known as half-orcs, are the descendants of relationships between orcs and other humanoid ancestries. The word dromaar in the Orcish language refers to war drummers, which dromaars have adopted as the vanguard of changing relations between orcs and other ancestries in the Inner Sea region.35

Orc holds appreciate the unique traits of other ancestries that dromaars bring to their communities.36

Equipment

Orcs often use the same types of weapons wielded by their ancient ancestors, such as falchions and greataxes.37 Orcs of the Hold of Belkzen sometimes capture deadly rockwasps in globes of wax, in order to hurl them at their enemies.38

References

Paizo Inc. published a major section about orcs in Monster Codex, a Pathfinder Player Companion sourcebook titled Orcs of Golarion, and the Pathfinder Campaign Setting sourcebook Belkzen, Hold of the Orc Hordes. Paizo also featured orcs as an ancestry in Ancestry Guide and Character Guide.

For additional as-yet unincorporated sources about this subject, see the Meta page.

  1. 1.0 1.1 "Orcish" has been used in Paizo publications as an adjective, but that usage but is no longer considered canon. Please see the Discussion page for more details. Pathfinder Second Edition uses "Orcish" for the language spoken by orcs.
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 Calder CaDavid. Orc” in Ancestry Guide, 48. Paizo Inc., 2021
  3. Steve Kenson, et al. Orcs of Golarion” in Orcs of Golarion, 5. Paizo Inc., 2010
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 Logan Bonner, et al. Ancestries & Backgrounds” in Player Core, 70. Paizo Inc., 2023
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 Benjamin Bruck, et al. “Chapter 2: Uncommon Races” in Inner Sea Races, 148. Paizo Inc., 2015
  6. Classic Monsters Revisited described orcs in bestial terms that were no longer used in Pathfinder Second Edition sources and conflicted with Second Edition and Pathfinder Lost Omens artwork depicting orcs. See Meta:Orc.
  7. Wolfgang Baur, et al. Classic Monsters Revisited, 53. Paizo Inc., 2008
  8. Paizo Inc., et al. “Monsters A to Z” in Bestiary, 222. Paizo Inc., 2009
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Benjamin Bruck, et al. “Chapter 2: Uncommon Races” in Inner Sea Races, 149. Paizo Inc., 2015
  10. Inner Sea Races attributed a degree of emotional intensity to a violent culture. Newer sources such as Player Core instead place a more complete emphasis on orc stoicism that associates their pain tolerance to survival, and Ancestry Guide described a wide range of orc cultures with varying degrees of emotional expression. See Meta:Orc.
  11. Paizo Inc., et al. “Chapter 1: Introduction” in Highhelm, 12. Paizo Inc., 2023
  12. Jessica Catalan. “Heavy is the Crown” in Heavy is the Crown, 58. Paizo Inc., 2023
  13. Tyler Beck, et al. “Adventuring in Belkzen” in Belkzen, Hold of the Orc Hordes, 44. Paizo Inc., 2015
  14. 14.0 14.1 Tyler Beck, et al. Belkzen Gazetteer” in Belkzen, Hold of the Orc Hordes, 5. Paizo Inc., 2015
  15. Erik Mona, et al. “Chapter 5: The World” in Campaign Setting, 201. Paizo Inc., 2008
  16. Tanya DePass, et al. Eye of Dread” in World Guide, 40. Paizo Inc., 2019
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 Benjamin Bruck, et al. “Chapter 2: Uncommon Races” in Inner Sea Races, 151. Paizo Inc., 2015
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 18.3 18.4 18.5 18.6 18.7 18.8 Benjamin Bruck, et al. “Chapter 2: Uncommon Races” in Inner Sea Races, 152. Paizo Inc., 2015
  19. Tyler Beck, et al. “Adventuring in Belkzen” in Belkzen, Hold of the Orc Hordes, 29–31. Paizo Inc., 2015
  20. Robert Brookes, et al. “Chapter 3: The Great Beyond” in Planar Adventures, 186. Paizo Inc., 2018
  21. Luis Loza. In Glorious Battle, 20–21. Paizo Inc., 2023
  22. Paizo Inc., et al. “Time & the Calendar” in Travel Guide, 11. Paizo Inc., 2022
  23. Logan Bonner, et al. “1: Ancestries and Backgrounds” in Advanced Player's Guide, 19. Paizo Inc., 2020
  24. 24.0 24.1 24.2 24.3 24.4 24.5 Calder CaDavid. Orc” in Ancestry Guide, 49. Paizo Inc., 2021
  25. Paizo Inc., et al. “People of the Mwangi” in The Mwangi Expanse, 92–101. Paizo Inc., 2021
  26. 26.0 26.1 Paizo Inc., et al. “People of the Mwangi” in The Mwangi Expanse, 92. Paizo Inc., 2021
  27. 27.0 27.1 27.2 27.3 27.4 Benjamin Bruck, et al. “Chapter 2: Uncommon Races” in Inner Sea Races, 150. Paizo Inc., 2015
  28. Classic Monsters Revisited described orc reproductive practices that it associated with a more violent orc culture. These practices are not mentioned in subsequent works and conflicted with descriptions of both multiple orc ethnicities and hold-specific cultural practices within Avistani Namathkar orc society. See Meta:Orc.
  29. 29.0 29.1 Logan Bonner, et al. “Monsters A-Z” in Bestiary, 256. Paizo Inc., 2019
  30. Dennis Baker, et al. Orcs” in Monster Codex, 172. Paizo Inc., 2014
  31. Jessica Catalan, et al. “Chapter 2: Among the Knights” in Knights of Lastwall, 46. Paizo Inc., 2022
  32. Paizo Inc., et al. “Folklore & Mythology” in Travel Guide, 84. Paizo Inc., 2022
  33. Benjamin Bruck, et al. “Chapter 2: Uncommon Races” in Inner Sea Races, 153. Paizo Inc., 2015
  34. Richard Pett. Pathfinder's Journal” in A History of Ashes, 77. Paizo Inc., 2008
  35. Logan Bonner, et al. Ancestries & Backgrounds” in Player Core, 83. Paizo Inc., 2023
  36. Orcs of Golarion suggested that many weaker half-orcs were enslaved by orc communities. Player Core states that while dromaars might struggle to establish themselves, orc communities are generally welcoming to dromaars, consider physically weaker dromaars to be valuable members of their communities, and can be more tolerant of dromaars than some human societies; it does not mention orcs enslaving dromaars.
  37. Logan Bonner, et al. Ancestries & Backgrounds” in Player Core, 72. Paizo Inc., 2023
  38. Richard Pett. Pathfinder's Journal” in A History of Ashes, 78. Paizo Inc., 2008