Orcs were once nearly as common as humans throughout the lands which now comprise the Empire. Over the centuries, they have been steadily driven beyond the frontiers of human civilization. Now, tribes of orcs frequently clash with outlying settlements of other races.
Although often characterized as violent and simple-minded monsters, orcs are generally as intelligent as humans, albeit with an aggressive and warlike bent. They are solidly built and tend to favor direct, powerful measures in both physical confrontations and other pursuits.
Orcs tend to cluster in patriarchal tribes and dwell in semi-permanent fortified villages. They display a well-developed knack for both engineering and metallurgy, which makes them a considerable threat when they encroach upon other settlements. The art of metal-smithing is highly regarded in orc society, and most orcs have a natural understanding of engineering principles. As a result, orc construction is often disproportionately advanced in relation to the rest of their society, and they will build sturdy forts, castles, tunnels, and siege weaponry virtually everywhere they go.
Most orc tribes have rigid systems of honor which revolve around warfare and conquest. Military rank and societal hierarchies are usually one and the same. Although in-fighting occasionally occurs, backstabbing and outright treachery are taboo in most orc societies, meaning that an individual’s societal advancement relies upon a combination of merit and attrition. As respected, experienced orcs die in battle or from disease, the most capable veterans ascend to take up the vacated position.
Leadership varies from tribe to tribe, but most are patriarchies with the most senior, experienced war leader commanding most of the direct power. Often, such leaders will build ‘war councils’ of respected advisors from among the tribe’s elders, and in practice such councils usually have a fair degree of power delegated to them. Chieftains who eschew councils or otherwise fail to delegate some of their power generally enjoy rather short reigns.
In most respects, orcish technology is considered primitive. Medicine, astronomy, and an understanding of the natural world are largely beyond most orc tribes. However, orcish engineering and metallurgy are relatively advanced and roughly on par with human civilization. Bronze, iron, and even steel are readily worked by orc metalsmiths, and their armies are well-equipped as a result. Although some orcish equipment looks crude to a human observer, it is usually quite sturdy and well-designed.
Their engineering boasts a similar robustness. Orcs construct solid, structurally-sound buildings as a matter of course, and will often erect formidable defensive fortifications in little time. Orc weapons are similarly advanced, and crossbows, ballistae, and trebuchets are common sights on orc battlefields.
Art & Culture
Like most intelligent beings, orcs develop and (to varying degrees) prize art. Orc art runs a gamut, from sculpture to drawings to music. Although examples of what most humans would consider poetry or literature are rare, many scholars believe that some orcish military and warfare writings were scribed as a form of artistic expression. Some examples describe elaborate and even convoluted sieges, while others espouse upon the merits of particularly impractical battle formations.
Orcish visual art frequently depicts grim and grisly scenes relating to death, violence, and war, and it is primitive examples of this phenomenon which gives rise to much of the orcs’ reputation as barbaric savages. Skulls, blood, and corpses are used by orcs to construct totems and fetishes which adorn everything from architecture to jewelry.
Notably, orc music can be surprisingly sophisticated. Some larger tribes develop entire suites of different types of drums in order to play complex and nuanced rhythms. Horns can occasionally be heard in orcish music as well, usually interwoven through the drums.