An oldie and a goodie, a subject of much reinvention and reinterpretation, I am so excited to share with you the ORKS entry from the Gazetteer of the Speaking Lands.
Like many of you, I’ve always harbored a love for orks in all their exuberant, bloody glory. They’ve been done wrong in a lot of worldbuilding, used as murderable mooks and racist stand-ins. I love seeing them portrayed as multifaceted people, always including that frank violence but paired with families, traditions, values, and history.
Hope you like seeing that, too.
Broad-shouldered and thoroughly muscled, the orkish people are frightfully intimidating to most other speaking peoples. Their heavy brows, wide jowls, and tusked grins rarely do much to shift their first impression. Orkish skin tones range from parched desert sandstone to muddy green. They are a hirsute prople, with thick black hair on their heads and much of the rest of their body, none of which ever quite reaches the status of fur. Braids are a common form of grooming among friends and lovers, and may be worn for weeks at a time, until the orks are reunited and the braids can be undone and redone again.
A profoundly pragmatic people, orks bear a general suspicion for wizards and magic. It is common among orks to dismiss any magic as mere glamours until proven otherwise by direct experience. After all, a wizard may have actually destroyed a building with a fireball, or she may have only made it appear to go up in flames. A reasonable response, by ork estimation, is to test the wizard’s claims by trying to enter the building. That said, magic which was been proven legitimate—and magic traditionally associated with orkish rites—is held in high regard.
An ork’s life is measured by rites. Infants are not named at birth, but several weeks afterwards, when they are introduced to the full moon in the rite of naming. When children can run and speak, the rite of kinbonding assigns them a mok’ratasch—a combination of mentor, guardian, and confidante—from the broader community. The mok’ratasch advises and prepares them for puberty and adulthood, and often becomes a lifelong friend. To be recognized as adults, ork children undergo a rite of passage where they traverse a stretch of wilderness or live in it for a month, usually alone. While these rites are usually performed for and by children, they are occasionally performed to induct an outsider into an orkish community.
The typical orkish household is organized around a patriarch (and sometimes matriarchs, especially in Wildermarch) and their spouse (sometimes multiple spouses, especially in Wildermarch), their children, and their elderly parents. Joining and leaving a household is another occasion for orkish rites. Marriage rites bring a spouse into a household. Elder rites welcome the old into their adult children’s households, honoring their wisdom while also declaiming the authority they once weilded as leaders of their own households. On death, orkish funeral rites see the body set out for sky burial; the community gathers to bid farewell to the departed, recount their deeds and ties, and formally remove them from the household. Less pleasantly, household members may be disowned and banished from a household through the rite of purging.
Orks are one of the few Speaking Peoples that exhibit little disdain for humans and rarely discriminate based on parentage. If a person has an ork name, a mok’ratasch, and has completed their rite of passage, then their community sees them as an ork. Outsiders entering an orkish community and properly performing the rites of introduction are likewise accepted. Very rarely an imposter attempts to exploit this feature of orkish culture, but they typically do not live very long once their deception is revealed.
The historical record first identifies orks as the inhabitants of Xenix Gorge, as observed by explorers from the troll empires of Tor El and an ancient elven kingdom in Loratha. Neither expedition was greatly impressed, although neither power chose to attempt an annexation, either. Over the course of the following centuries, the orkish settlement range spread south and east, alternating between peaceful introduction of orkish immigrants and sudden, brutal invasion by orkish war parties. Popular history recalls the invasions far more prominently, earning orks an outsized reputation as conquerers.
Orkish warfare is, however, iconic: committed, even reckless, offensives are followed by stubborn entrenchment and meticulous fortification. Some scholars have speculated that this is a result of orkish politics, which often features the rise and fall of charismatic leaders. While some orkish crowns have risen above the chaos for a few generations, wide-scale political organization is a rarity among orks. That said, individual orkish nomad bands, cities, and fortresses are notoriously difficult to overcome, relying on their tight-knit communities for communal defense. This tends to create isolated enclaves of orks living in the fotresses built at the furthest extent of orkish states which have long since collapsed.
The current spread of ork settlements is chaotic, at best. In very rough terms, orks range through the central latitudes of Ipeiros, with the bulk of their numbers in Outland. However, ork communities and fully-staffed orkish bastions may be found nearly anywhere. Western Loratha is plagued by two orkish castles, and a handful of Verdas states either boast or are ruled by orkish garrisons. There are even orkish naval fortresses fighting the Hurra in Mergather Gulf: remnants of the war party that sacked and held Caer Larionad centuries ago, thereby introducing the desert orks to seagoing life.
Much of the world sees orks as dangerous, brutish, or even barbaric, but they are inextricably woven into the fabric of Ipeiros. The vine witch rituals from which many peoples take solace originate in orkish rites. The Bucoli adopted and adapted a number of orkish tactics in their Uprising against the Restored Elven Empire. Most of the roads through northern Outland are marked by ancient orkish landmarks, many of which are still maintained by local ork communities. Ork fighters were essential in containing the Ogrewar. And if nothing else, the template of a defensible stone castle is inescapably orkish, right down to the drawbridge and gatehouse that form an orkish face.
Quite the grab bag for next week. Which one strikes your fancy?