I’ve been doing a thing for awhile now with personality Traits, Ideals, Bonds, and Flaws for each race, and this time around I’m taking on the half-orc. It’s a race I’ve never had any great amount of interest in, but I think a lot of that is the result of racial writeups always viewing them from the outside. Surely they have their own perspective and things they would regard as their virtues? The writing on half-elves has gradually shifted around to viewing half-elves as something conceptually independent of their component kinds, making them diplomats because of their broadened perspective. A full rewrite of the half-orc description is beyond the scope of this post, but this may help to explain places where my ideas conflict with the stereotypical half-orc.
For what it’s worth, I think a lot of these would work well for Orc personality features, if your campaign supports a sizable populace of not-universally-evil orcs. I’ve spent a lot of time sticking to Tolkien’s presentation of races, but this is where I have to part ways with his work. The orcs of Rat Queens are a top-notch example of socially accepted and acceptable orcs; Eberron is another. And, well, no discussion of orcs is complete without World of Warcraft at this point, because they’ve probably put more energy into seeing orcs through orcish eyes than any other franchise – sorry, Warhammer fans, it’s not personal, your over-the-top orks just have a harder time being reinterpreted into other settings as anything other than monsters.
Many of these personality features also only make sense in the context of half-orcs often being abused or enslaved by humans or orcs. If too many of these don’t seem quite right for you, just recognize that they are Proud Warrior Race Guys, and you’ll see that a lot of dwarf personality features need only the barest of tweaking to fit.
|1||As much as possible, I express myself without speaking, through looks, gestures, and actions.|
|2||When I make a new friend or ally, I challenge them to some sort of contest.|
|3||I tell stories about each and every one of my scars.|
|4||Once I’ve made a friend, I’m there for them no matter how bad things get.|
|5||I never shy away from hard work – it’s nothing compared to what I’ve been through before.|
|6||I don’t judge others’ views or traditions – they’re no worse than Gruumsh.|
|7||My dining habits are disturbing to civilized folk and always make a mess.|
|8||“Orcs only know one language: blood. I’m the fucking alphabet.” – lifted from Rat Queens, Vol 1.|
|1||Truth: I shatter the illusions and falsehoods that others build their lives on. (Chaotic)|
|2||Power: For the good of the tribe, all must obey the hierarchy – even at the end of a spear. (Lawful)|
|3||Tribalism: One who takes sides against her own tribe is lower than kobold dung. (Neutral)|
|4||Change: Dragons, elves, dwarves, and humans each had their golden ages. Behold the age of the orc. (Chaotic)|
|5||Justice: I repay kindness with greater kindness, and cruelty with swift revenge. (Neutral)|
|6||Mastery: Live hard, die young, dance on the corpses of as many enemies as possible. (Evil)|
|1||I will discover, and teach others, the true history of orc-kind.|
|2||I will always provide a weapon to those with the will to fight.|
|3||I must demonstrate the dignity and strength of my ancestors to our traditional foes.|
|4||I must slay in single combat the chieftain who cast me out and shamed me.|
|5||I will recover the battle-standard of my tribe, that I may seize command over them.|
|6||My one true love is not of my own kind, but I will find a way to be with him/her.|
|1||Calling me a coward can goad me into anything.|
|2||I feel helpless and confused in big cities, and that makes me dangerous.|
|3||Whenever I have a little money I spend it immediately, on the first thing to catch my eye.|
|4||When I argue, I want to force my opponent to back down more than I want to be right.|
|5||I’ve been cheated before, and I’m quick to accuse others of trying to cheat me.|
|6||I evaded sacrifice at the hands of a powerful warlock, and he’ll never forgive me for fouling his ritual.|
I’ve definitely given these a good hard shove toward “can play nice with others” and “less of an asshole.” You could still play just about anything here so as to aggravate your fellow adventurers, but there is literally nothing in the world that can’t be twisted to be terrible, up to and including “Love your neighbor as yourselves.” If your group is about intra-party conflict, go nuts. If not, don’t be a jerk.
The core of my thought on rewriting the orc and half-orc racial descriptions is imagining the orcs that everyone worries about, the ones starting all of those wars, as a sufficiently small segment of the overall uncountable number of orcs that live in… Mordor or wherever. What if, in “normal” orc society, you’re really not supposed to worship Gruumsh – he made orcs, and made a cruel and flawed world to cause them to suffer, but he’s the evil demiurge. He was cruel even to the other gods of the orc pantheon, and he is more Cronus than Zeus. Really, it’s Baghtru you’re supposed to serve, and he’s not all that bad by comparison…
It’s a deep rework in any case, but monolithically evil (or “one good one, otherwise evil for evil’s sake”) is a worn-out trope that I’m always looking for ways to excise – and I’m a relative latecomer to this opinion.