This post has been translated into Portuguese by Eric Ellison here.
Orcs believe that the gods hate the world, and they hate orcs most of all. So it is no wonder that the gods speak through violence.
The gods speak through pain, in different body parts. A shooting pain in the leg is an omen for cowardice. A dull ache between the shoulderblades foretells the betrayal of a close friend.
The gods speak through blood. After a battle, you can see the orcish haruspices moving through the battlefield, reading the future in spilled claret. They crawl through the grass on all fours, like dogs, their faces pressed to the ground, nostrils flaring.
The gods speak through scars. Examine the edges of the scar. Are they clean? Are they mottled? Is the scar raised? Discolored? Does it follow the curve of the body, or does the flesh struggle against it? Orcs do not trust a person without visible scars, just as humans might not trust someone who refuses to reveal their name.
Orcish haruspices are not clerics or priests. They do not worship, nor do they preside over the appeasement ceremonies (designed to keep the gods from sundering the earth). Rather, a haruspex is an orc that hates themselves so much--such divine levels of self-loathing--that they have completely severed themselves from the universe. (Human saints pray for unity with the cosmos, orcish haruspices hate themselves into living oblivion.)
And since they are no longer part of the universe, the gods do not see the haruspex anymore.
When a haruspex dies, they cease to exist. Their eternal reward is nothing. Utter oblivion. They are pleased with this.
Everyone else goes to hell when they die. Heaven is a lie humans tell themselves because they are weak and servile.
Haruspices are covered with wounds that never heal. You can tell how powerful an orcish haruspex is by how injured they appear to be. Some even appear to be undead, since they are so emaciated and disfigured. During their trances, the wounds grin like mouths and speak prophecies. From the torn lips slip mutterings, madness, and prophecy--the sleep talk of the gods.
Love Requires Sacrifice
Since suffering and violence are the only things that appease the gods, orcs believe that it is only the violence of the world that keeps the gods from destroying it. The day that the gods stop laughing at our misfortune is the day that they purge the land with fire. Through war and cruelty, orcs are saving the world.
They are not sad about this fact, just as the shepherd is not saddened that he must thin his flock to feed himself. Except that the orcs see themselves as both shepherd and sheep.
(Even the 'good' gods of the humans desire our suffering. Why else would they saddle their believers with fasts and cruel injunctions against their own nature? Why do they prohibit wine, sex, and crude songs?)
In private, orcs can be kind and loving. Orcs love their children, trust their close friends, and would sacrifice for their spouses. Just like elves. Just like dwarves. Just like humans.
However, orcs must keep it confined to the interiors of their houses, where the gods cannot see. The gods reside in heaven, and so anything performed within view of the sky will be judged. And since the gods can hear all things, love must never be spoken aloud.
Orcs believe that every time a husband and wife kiss within view of heaven, somewhere a child is stricken with a killing disease. Every time a warchief publicly shows mercy, an innocent is torn apart by wolves.
Most humans erroneously conclude that orcs are without compassion and gentleness. They believe that believe that orcs do not even have a word for 'love'. This is half-true. While a word for 'love' exists, it is both blasphemous and rarely used. Orcs couch their affection for each other in dysphemisms. Only the bravest orcish lovers will whisper promises of affection into each other's ears when they are alone in their tent (and during high noon, when the gods are most likely to be sleeping).
Death and Taxes
Some gods can be bargained with. They might trade some venal miracle in exchange for a small mountain of skulls.
"If my clan survives this battle," the warchief says, "I will sacrifice ten of their number atop the Red Tree. Grant me this covenant, O Lord of Teeth, O Cracker of Bones, and I will fulfill my vow."
And sometimes the warchief's clan does, in fact, survive the battle. And then then this creates a debt, not between the god and the chief, but between the god and the tribe. After a battle, each orc might owe their chieftain 1 kill.
So each orc has a divine blood-debt. These could be traded. If Blargun kills 2 humans in one battle, and Thachloch doesn't kill any, Thachloch can give his debt to Blargun, who then fulfills it. But since Thachloch is giving his debt to Blargun, he has to make it equitable by giving Blargun something else, like a cow.
It's important to note that orcs trade the debt, not the kill. They have a negative currency.
Most clans are small, and so the orcs have an easy time remembering who owes how many skulls. (See also: rai stones). Clans even trade these among themselves. Humans trade a valuable thing for a valuable thing. Orcs only give, or they only take.
They might give a fertile valley and 300 dead children. A cache of steel weapons and 200 dead elves who must all be killed via beheading. A herd of cattle and 32 orcish suicides through disembowelment. A tally is kept, both among the clansmen and in heaven, where the gods look down and laugh.
Orcish bankers store these blood debts. Except the orcs don't call them bankers. The actual word translates to 'skullcrusher', because the debts are usually paid in fresh skulls, which are then crushed underfoot. The only currency among the orcs is death.
Here are some examples of orcish prayers.
one of my players married a orc and has now been turned into one so this will be handyReplyDelete
Nice one ArnoldReplyDelete
I like how otherworldly these Orcs are while still being completely rational within their own view of reality. This is leagues better than the unthinking savages of vanilla lore and still well above the 'noble savage' archetype that seeks to justify their violence according to human standards, reskinning them as human variants.ReplyDelete
Have you seen False Machine's SAVAGES? I feel like this is almost a collab =).
This is amazing! I've been searching for something to bring my Orc culture to life and this is perfect. Hope you don't mind if I cherry pick it, with appropriate credit of course.ReplyDelete
Your text shows one side of the culture of the orcs that makes them more than a resource to gain XP . They have a culture , are only poorly understood by other races. Amazing and amusing. I can translate your text and republishes it on my blog ? I am a brazilian RPG player and would like to share your text with other players who do not speak English.ReplyDelete
Orc: From the proto-indoeuropean ruk meaning rough.ReplyDelete
This was the first post that really clicked with me when a friend introduced me to Goblin Punch a couple of months ago. Forgive me if this is answered elsewhere in the blog, but what sort of architecture do these orcs possess?ReplyDelete
It occurred to me that wishing to keep as far away from the cackling gods in heaven could drive orcs to build their homes underground, giving more of a justification to the subterranean orc trope than just a nocturnal hatred of the sun.
It references "tent" here though, so I presume that at least the typical orcish community might live above ground in this imagining.
I can't answer for Arnold K. But, your post immediately made me think. They must make tents out of bone and hide and flesh. Visible sacrifice to the gods in which they can be hidden, while still moving about the world to make more sacrifices before returning to their stone homes in the Earth - their inevitable tombs.Delete
Really cool concept!ReplyDelete