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Needs massive rewrite in regards to lore from Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting Reborn.
Orcs are a race of strong and resilient humanoids, characterized by the tusks of their lower jaws. Their origins are shrouded in legend, and it is unknown which version is true.
Early history and supposed creation
Orcs had existed for a long time as the Age of Arcanum drew to a close, and by then half-orcs were already a race by themselves, as the product of the interaction between the orcs and other humanoids.
During the Calamity, when Corellon pierced the eye of Gruumsh, his blood seared elves in the field, who became vengeful and orc-like. According to legend believed in the Post-Divergence era, that was the point when the race as a whole was created, although others contend that the Ruiner created the race by himself; both of these versions are untrue, and are spread by Gruumsh and his followers because he wishes to take credit for their creation. Those new orcs lost their initial instinctive bellicosity when that battle ended, and despite their transformation, some of them sought out their elvish kin: in Marquet they joined in a utopian city that would later be known as Cael Morrow, the "Drowned City", when The Ruiner, in his anger, shunted it deep into the earth.
Due to this supposed general connection with Gruumsh, many believe that all orcs and half-orcs have the blood of Gruumsh, driving them to a violence and anger orcs call hgar'Gruum, the curse of ruin. Despite widespread belief in this among the orcish and among others, the curse of ruin does not exist, and orcs are only drawn to violence and anger for the same natural reasons as other mortal creatures.
After Gruumsh was defeated and banished, many of his orcish war clans splintered and went into hiding. Included among these were the Odakar orcs who held the Ashkeeper Peaks. Splitting from this group were some leaderless droves who migrated north into the Rime Plains, and these orcs suffered a schism between those who succumbed to Gruumsh's influence (the Jez-Araz marauders) and those who found inspiration in Kord, the Stormlord (the Boroftkrah clan). The latter went on the create the eponymous settlement of Boroftkrah.
Some orcs settled around the site of one of the bloodiest battles of the Calamity, which had plenty of weapons to salvage; this settlement was called Bladegarden, and for a time it was a part of the Julous Dominion. After the Julous Dominion fell to the Dwendalian Empire, the empire reached out to some of the more approachable members of the settlement, offering wages and access to goods and services. Many accepted, and Bladegarden was incorporated into the empire; other orcish clans who disagreed with this accord were driven east towards the Brokenveil Marsh.
"Trial of the Take: Part 1" (1x18)
Near the Glasswalk Road in Othanzia, a raiding party of orcs, accompanied by an orc-ogre hybrid (called an ogrillon) and a dire wolf, attacked the camp of Grog, Lyra, Percy, Scanlan, Vex'ahlia, and Zahra Hydris as the adventurers trekked north to hunt a white dragon. The last surviving orc gave them limited information before Grog executed him.
"The Gentleman's Path" (2x19)
The Mighty Nein briefly stopped at the house of an orc veteran who had hide armor and meat for trade. Matthew Mercer intended for the character to possibly offer some mentoring to Fjord, encouraging him to embrace his heritage. Since Fjord decided to stay outside during the encounter, some of those same threads were later introduced in the character of Wursh.
"Beneath Bazzoxan" (2x66)
On their way to Bazzoxan, the Mighty Nein raced on moorbounders past a small settlement of orc marauders in the Barbed Fields. They deployed a fireball and an insect plague to discourage the warg-mounted orcs from following.
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Add new lore from Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting Reborn.
Bladegarden is both a military training complex and the core of orcish society within the Empire; it secures the empire's eastern border. Following the incorporation of Bladegarden into the Empire, orcs are among the most celebrated imperial soldiers, but many folk still fear the curse of ruin.
The orcs of Boroftkrah have a strong community that communes with Kord (particularly during thunderstorms) through contests of tracking and hunting, and makes offerings of strong prey. The settlement welcomes outsiders who are strong in the eyes of Kord, but it clashes frequently with the Jez-Araz and sometimes with hunting parties from Uthodurn.
Xhorhasian orcs primarily live in nomadic, mixed bands with humans and bugbears, taming the beasts of the wastes and mostly trading peacefully with the Kryn Dynasty. Though nomadic orcs welcome the city-folk of the Dynasty to join their clans, they become angered when Kryn souls are reborn in orc bodies.
Due to the superstition about the curse of ruin, it is strictly taboo for orcs and goblinkin to have children, as the latter are known to carry the all-too-real Curse of Strife and the nomadic elders fear the madness that would come from a soul afflicted with both curses. So despite living in bands with bugbears, most half-orcs in Xhorhas have human or drow blood.
Connection with the divinity
Like other mortal races, orcs have the free will to choose what deities they worship, or if they worship anything at all. Whenever they face religion, members of this race often take into account aspects such as the nature of the deity in question or their own history. This is reflected in the worship of Kord, a god that appreciates fierce nature and physical prowess; Corellon, the elven deity worshipped by the ancestors of some of the orcs; or Gruumsh, who tries to influence this race and claim it as his creation.
However, sometimes certain orcs' devotion and/or innate connection to divinity grants them unusual abilities that set them apart from their peers.
Orc Eye of Gruumsh
This term is the title with which to refer to an orc particularly devoted to the Ruiner. After a particularly bloody slaughter against their god's enemies, the orc in question sacrifices one of his eyes in honor of the loss of Gruumsh's eye. If he is pleased, he rewards the new Eye of Gruumsh with increased strength and physical resistance, as well as the ability to channel his power to cast spells. In places where there is a cult of the Ruiner, the Eyes of Gruumsh, they are usually the ones who lead them.
Orogs are a type of orc set apart from the rest of their kind by their strength and amazing cunning and intellect, said to be granted by Luthic, a minor cave goddess connected to Gruumsh. Orogs are respected in the cult of the Ruiner as worthy warriors.
- Tevrosk, Whose Axe Was Wreathed in Flowers: a lesser idol and a secluded champion in Tal'Dorei.
- Cressida Holt: an expositor of the Cobalt Reserve in Tal'Dorei.
Behind the scenes
The orc racial traits published in Explorer's Guide to Wildemount were first published in Eberron: Rising from the Last War, differing greatly from the orc racial traits published in the Volo's Guide to Monsters. The Explorer's Guide to Wildemount version also differs from the Eberron version in that it increases the lifespan and maturity rate of orcs.
In the Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting, in Tal'Dorei as of 812 PD, nearly every living orc was a ruthless killer, the word "orc" is associated with slaughter, and the exceptions were uncommon enough that people didn't believe stories about tender or merciful orcs. Most orcs lived in wandering bands between the Stormcrest Mountains and Cliffkeep Mountains, and nearly every orc in the Dividing Plains is part of the Ravagers, most willingly. Ruthless and violent, the Ravagers worship Gruumsh and follow his commands to conquer and destroy and to feel nothing but fury or joy; they are sometimes hypnotized by their god's gaze from beyond the Divine Gate and fall into a strange bloodlust. Orcs are described as being driven to chaos and destruction either through resentment created by the prejudice of other races or through "the corruption of the Ruiner's blood" driving them to all-consuming fury. However, some orcs are pushed to acts of compassion and tenderness by "what remains of their human and elven ancestry" despite the influence of Gruumsh's blood, which goes unnoticed by the rest of Tal'Dorei as no one has studied the orcish peoples. Humans hold little remorse for orcs and view them as savage, bloodthirsty, and bestial. Orcs are considered "a threat to civilization", albeit a mindless and uncoordinated one; they are characterized as generally struggling to structure and lead their bands, though "with each generation, some orcs grow smarter" and more organized.
Aspects of this lore, specifically in the existence of a corruption from Gruumsh's blood driving orcs to fury and in that displays of orcish compassion come from human and elven ancestry, were superseded by the Explorer's Guide to Wildemount, which refuted the existence of a blood-borne curse from Gruumsh and asserted orcs are not inherently driven to violence more than any other mortal. In other places, Explorer's Guide to Wildemount reiterates lore in the Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting, such as Gruumsh's ability to hypnotize those who already serve him (though it also expanded worship of Gruumsh beyond orcs). In "Explorer's Guide to Wildemount Q&A and Fireside Chat with Matthew Mercer" (Sx53), Matthew Mercer said, in discussing the narrative treatment of orcs in the Exandria and in Explorer's Guide to Wildemount:
- "I've been in a discussion for a while amongst a lot of creators in this space that orcs always got the shaft, even though where they were born from, and really came to prominence in the Lord of the Rings as this kind of— this idea of industrialization and the evil of, in many ways, of an exploitative capitalist society. A lot of that also lent to orcs being an unnecessarily lambasted and evil-touted entity in a lot of media. I fell into that as well. [...] With Wildemount, I wanted to explore the aspect of evil as— morality is relative, but evil is born from experience and intent, not from bloodline. Not from lineage. So when we came around to making this book, it was very important that we've managed to steer away from that classic idea of the orcs. Even the marauders that we had situated in Tal'Dorei's campaign guide, which was meant to be just one facet, but even then, there were facets of that book that were lazy, looking back on it. I'm not necessarily very proud of that."
- —"Explorer's Guide to Wildemount Q&A and Fireside Chat with Matthew Mercer" (Sx53) from 0:48:47 through 0:50:54
In July 2021, the Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting Reborn was announced to update lore presented in the Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting, including a "serious overhaul" to the races section according to writer James Haeck.
- See Explorer's Guide to Wildemount, p. 178.
- See "The Gentleman's Path" (2x19) at 1:42:21.
- See Explorer's Guide to Wildemount, pp. 177–178.
- Note that the description of orcs and the random height calculation do not match up. See Explorer's Guide to Wildemount, p. 178.
- Orwyn was a half-orc living in Avalir on the eve of the Calamity. See "Excelsior" (E3x01) at 1:32:50.
- See Explorer's Guide to Wildemount, p. 112.
- See Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting Reborn, p. 162.
- See Critical Role: Call of the Netherdeep, p. 7.
- Grimgolir was absorbed around the same time Bladegarden was incorporated into the Empire. See Explorer's Guide to Wildemount, p. 86. See also p. 16, about King Alfwin Dwendal "establishing the stronghold of Bladegarden and assimilating Grimgolir into the Empire."
- This is seemingly contradicted by the statement that Bladegarden was incorporated into the empire "after the fall of the Julous Dominion, nearly three hundred years ago." See Explorer's Guide to Wildemount, p. 178. See also p. 81, on which "When the Julous Dominion was defeated" is quickly followed by, "The empire reached out to the more approachable members of the orc settlement of Bladegarden."
- See D&D: Monster Manual, 5th ed., p. 238.
- See "Trial of the Take: Part 1" (1x18) from 1:21:33 through 2:16:50.
- See "Critical Role Campaign 2 Wrap Up" (Sx56) from 3:59:26 through 4:00:53.
- See "Beneath Bazzoxan" (2x66) at 1:19:03.
- See "The Draw of Destiny" (3x01) at 13:54.
- See Explorer's Guide to Wildemount, p. 81.
- See Explorer's Guide to Wildemount, pp. 112–113.
- See Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting Reborn, p. 87.
- See Explorer's Guide to Wildemount, p. 113.
- See D&D: Monster Manual, 5th ed., p. 247.
- See Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting Reborn, p. 40.
- See Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting Reborn, p. 60.
- See "Explorer's Guide to Wildemount Q&A and Fireside Chat with Matthew Mercer" (Sx53) at 0:48:47.
- See Critical Role: Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting, p. 126.
- See Critical Role: Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting, p. 136.
- See Critical Role: Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting, p. 20.
- See Explorer's Guide to Wildemount, p. 27.
- Depiction of an orc, by Conceptopolis from D&D Monster Manual, 5th ed., p. 246. This file is unofficial Fan Content permitted under the Wizards of the Coast Fan Content Policy. Not approved/endorsed by Wizards. Portions of the materials used are property of Wizards of the Coast. ©Wizards of the Coast LLC.
- Fan art of the unnamed orc on the Bromkiln Byway, by OrcBarbies (source). Used with permission.