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Black and white illustration of Ort Cooper, a male Orc in his mid-thirties with broad shoulders, a strong jaw, a sculpted beard, and a flamingly gay hair style. His hair is shaved on the right and long on the left and middle, and it is sculpted so that it arches from the middle to the left, hanging down to frame his face. Ort is wearing fashionable fabric armor with a row of buckles that go down his chest. Illustration by Jessica Kuczynski.


Overview: Orcs are a plant-eating humanoid species that are, on average, larger and more muscular than humans. Most Orcs have tusks, green skin, pointed ears, and colorful hair.

Physical Description: On average, Orcs are six and a half feet tall, a foot taller than the average human, and they find it comparatively easy to put on and keep muscle, giving many muscular builds. While being muscular is common, Orcs have just as diverse a range of sizes, builds, and body types as humans, including short-statured orcs, scrawny orcs, and disabled orcs. Orcs are as diverse as humans in other ways too, having just as broad a range of ethnicities and cultures.

Most Orcs have green skin, with the shade of green ranging from yellow-green to blue-green and from dark to light. Green is also the most common hair color, but Orc hair can be any color of the rainbow, including vivid shades, like fluorescent pink or electric blue. Most Orcs also have tusks that protrude from their lower jaws. Other common features are small, pointed ears and strong jawlines.

Senses: Many Orcs have keener senses than humans.

Diet: Orcs are herbivores. They can eat roots, berries, fruit, nuts, fungi, and some grasses and leaves. Most Orcs cook and ferment their food to break it down and release its full nutritional value.

Common Mental Characteristics: Orcs are mentally similar to humans, including having a broad range of mental diversity, but they are, on average, less aggressive and more egalitarian.

Magical Affinities:

  • Plant Magic
  • Healing and Restoration Magic
  • Protection Magic
  • Sensing Magic
  • Object Magic

Common Species Traits:

  • Skill Aptitude for the Strength Skills, which are Athletics, Climbing, Flying, Riding, and Swimming
  • Heightened Senses
  • Magic Resistance
  • Traits that Run in Some Families: Magical Nature, Regeneration, Permanent Defense, Immunity, and Limited Shapeshifting

Common Vulnerabilities:

  • Sensory Sensitivity
  • Magic Resistance
  • Faints at the Sight of Blood
  • Vow of Assistance
  • Dietary Restriction
  • Noisy Form

An Few Interesting Facts:

  • Orcs’ keen senses come from their distant, proto-orc ancestors who needed keen senses to survive.
  • It is speculated that the majority of Orcs are green because their proto-orc ancestors used their green skin for camouflage.
  • No satisfactory explanation has been given for how those same proto-orc ancestors evolved vibrant hair colors.

Prominent Cultures: There is a wide diversity of Orc cultures, but most are egalitarian, matrilineal, agricultural people. The majority of Orc communities are peaceful and it is common for artisans and craftspeople to enjoy high status. When conflicts arise, especially conflicts with other groups over farmland, Orc communities typically respond with diplomacy first and defense second.

Naming Traditions from Prominent Cultures: Because many Orc families and communities value artisans and craftspeople, a lot of Orc surnames are based on family occupations and crafts, such as Carpenter, Farmer, Mason, Miller, Tailor, Potter, Weaver, Baker, and Smith. In contrast, first names tend to vary a lot by region and culture.

Respectful Portrayal Note: Tolkien deliberately created Orcs from Asian stereotypes. Since then, depictions of Orcs have shifted to include racist stereotypes of Black people. In addition, alt-right people sometimes use Orcs as a stand-in for people of color so that they can get away with saying racist things. A common response to this racist history has been to create anti-racist versions of Orcs, which is what I am trying to do here. Even so, all of this history means that many people associate Orcs with people of color, making creating and portraying Orc characters a sensitive matter. In order to depict Orcs respectfully, it is important to understand racial essentialism and racial coding, check for and avoid racist stereotypes, and take extra care when crafting Orc characters with marginalized identities you don’t share.


Orcs are part of the Crossroads Setting for the tabletop role-playing game, Magic Goes Awry. Click here to go to the list of vibrant and unique magical people from the Land of Crossroads.


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