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Friday, March 13, 2015

Races of Finiens: Orcs

In the wilderness and tundra of the Ice Claw, there is only one law: the strongest survive. The cold, the wild, the beasts, and the terrain are merciless in their hunts, and those who cannot resist their pursuits are food for the predators that pursue them. Only one race has mastered this cruel, unforgiving land - the mighty Orcs. Living in semi-nomadic clans and traveling in hunting packs or warbands, Orc culture has embraced the basic ideal of “survival of the fittest”, tempered with an unusual mortal kindness - the simple question of “why can’t everyone be the fittest?”

Orcs are a powerful, hardy race, weathered and strengthened by the rough terrain and unforgiving climate they call home. From their youth, as soon as they are capable of walking, Orcs are shown the way of battle: introduced to weapons and armor as soon as they can hold their weight, and regularly taken along for hunting trips and skirmishes as soon as they are old enough to no longer be a burden to the pack. Orcs are gruff, cunning, and above all practical - they have little interest in fair fights and prioritize victory, because in their world, “loser” is simply a nicer word for “dead”. When not fighting or hunting, Orcs are expected to labor, performing chores and tasks for the good of the pack and to keep their own strength up, and when not occupied with such obligations Orcs are prone to brawling in mock battles, wrestling tournaments, or violent dares such as fighting some great beast to a standstill. Orcs learn young to create, and are generally expected to see to the well-being, upkeep, maintenance, repair, and replacement of their own equipment - and any Orc caught without his or her weapons, armor, tools, or other necessities is generally expected to "make do" without, one way or another, or fail trying.

However, neither are Orcs heartless, cruel, or stupid. There is a place for Orcs who cannot keep pace with the rigors required of hunters and warriors. Shamanism and druidism are highly respected, and Orcs who express the cleverness and spiritual skill to make contact with the wild land’s native essence are a guiding force in Orcish culture. Orcs as a whole revere nature-oriented deities and Avatars associated with battle and strength, but also of protection and healing, knowing that at the end of every battle the warrior must rest, recuperate, and regain strength if he or she wishes to see the battlefield again whole. While an Orcish leader or chieftain is almost always a warrior of great renown and strength, he or she is almost always wise to take the advice of the pack’s shamans, to seek their insight on the spiritual nature of matters, and secure their blessings and assistance - and, above all, healing - when the pack goes to war.

And war is common among the Orcs. Tribal rivalries run deep between different clans, and unwritten boundaries between the nomadic packs’ territories often lead to conflicts and sometimes outright combat when implied barriers are considered crossed. To other, more “civilized” races, this makes the Orcs look brutish, barbaric, and hostile, especially when their boisterous, violent nature is not limited to squabbles and skirmishes among their own kind, but also to other races moving into their frozen lands from the warm south. In turn, however, very few Orc packs - much less entire clans - have moved en-masse further south than the Titans, and those who have have indeed been interested in overrunning or conquering other races and their lands, painting an unpleasant and aggressive picture of their kind for their southern neighbors.

These, however, are largely exceptions. For most Orcs, battle is not a means but an end - they battle because battle is glorious, an exercise in strength, skill, and strategy, a proving of who truly is the fittest and the greatest, whether one’s opponent is another Orc, a wild beast, a true monster, or a man or woman of another race or homeland. Most Orc clans are uninterested in seizing new territory, merely keeping other clans from doing so, and enjoying the thrill of the fight when borders are breached, and above all an opportunity to increase one’s own strength, resiliency, and endurance - a chance to become the fittest.

Other races often consider Orcs to be brutish and stupid, most particularly the Humans and Elves of the lands to the south, who have had the most conflicts with Orcish incursions and who see their primitive ways and eagerness to seek battle as stupidity writ large. Nothing could be further from the truth, however. Orcs have the potential to be extremely intelligent, and nothing but the lack of the infrastructure common in more civilized lands stops an Orc from taking up intellectual pursuits, up to and including wizardry. However, less due to their intellectual limitations and more because of their culture and society, there are not many arcane casters among Orcs other than Witches, which are extremely common. Otherwise, the vast majority of Orcish spellcasters are divine in origin, primarily Druids. Tribes who dwell along the northernmost edges of the Ice Claw, near the feet of the impossibly-high Mountains of Madness, also boast large numbers of Psionically-capable members, primarily Psions, Ardents, Vitalists, Tacticians, and of course Psychic Warriors, due to the strong sub-mental influence of Unknown Kadath beyond the towering peaks. The brutal landscape of the Ice Claw demands that all resources be used to the greatest means possible, and Orcs have long since learned - in many cases the hard way - that magic of all kinds is an incredibly useful weapon and tool to have.

Orcs are unique in that there is very little scorn or stigma for any role in their society; rather, their scorn is reserved for one's ability to make him- or herself useful. To an Orc, nothing is more frustrating or rage-inducing than a member of the pack who cannot carry their own weight or play their part. Orcs unfit for a particular task or role are swiftly relocated to other professions, passed from teacher to teacher until a suitable talent has been discovered that can give the Orc something to do. The pack does not have the time or resources to devote to supporting anyone who cannot fend for themselves or, in the cases of the elderly, infirm, or challenged, provide some minor service to the whole. Those incapable of performing any other task are set to the care and upbringing of the next generation, watching over and guiding the youngest of the pack until such time as they are old enough to begin training.

Orc deaths are as brutal as their lives, and treated with equal reverence. Unlike other societies, Orcs leave nothing with their dead; all possessions that can be recovered and are still useable are stripped from the dead and surrendered first to living next-of-kin, then to the pack as a whole if unneeded or unwanted. Orcs do not bury their slain, but rather burn them on massive individual funeral pyres; the night after an Orcish conflict is always ablaze with aurora lights of countless bonfires blazing as the packs pluck their fallen from the battlefield and send them to the afterlife in a haze of ash and smoke. In conflicts with other races, Orcs have been known to retrieve the bodies of their enemies and likewise burn them, once their own are all tended; these pyres are treated with equal reverence to any Orc's, most of the time, and the slain are usually referred to as worthy opponents and foes even in death. Orcs, in turn, seem extremely perplexed by other races' tendencies to either leave the dead where they lie or, even more baffling, hide them away in the ground. Much of Orcish philosophy speaks that souls come on the wind and the wings of the great snowhawks and rocs that dwell in the northern lands, and that to bury the body locks the soul in stone, preventing those very winds and wings from carrying it to the afterlife.

Orc history is kept alive orally by pack shamans and skalds, with tales of their ancestors and the history of the Ice Claw going back millennia. Would-be skalds spend much of their youth learning these stories, as well as how to remember and recall all the myriad legends and histories of their pack and their homelands and how to construct new tales around more modern events. Written histories are rare, given the nomadic lifestyle and limited physical possessions of most Orc packs, though those skalds and shamans who have been willing to converse with outsiders have shared some of their histories with other cultures who have put them to the written word. Conversely, in certain areas of the Ice Claw Orc packs will practice cave art, leaving their stories to be found by later descendants or other travelers in remote locations. These are far from the primitive stick-figure art of pre-civilization societies, however; Orcish cave art is majestic and large, intricately detailed, and made to last for eons. Massive murals fill entire caverns from entrance to deepest burrow, every inch of stone on the walls and ceiling colored over with a piece of the story. Enormous rock tapestries drape cliff walls, telling a different version of each tale depending on which way a traveler is going. These pieces of elaborate art are usually crafted by clan skalds, with shamans approving each piece of the artistry upon completion and, if deemed suitable, using their magic to ward the work against the elements, leaving it available for all to see for generations to come. Even as much as Orc history and behaviors are known to other races, only a small fragment of these murals have ever been found; it is suspected that in even more remote territories, perhaps even up into the thought-uninhabited Mountains of Madness, there might be further such artistry waiting, telling the history of the Orcs beyond even that which has trickled out to the people of warmer lands.


Notable edits: Mechanics
Orc Stats
* Ability Score Racial Traits: Orcs are powerfully built and fiercely cunning, but have little personal finesse. Orc characters gain +2 Strength, +2 Wisdom, and -2 Charisma.
* Type: Orcs are Humanoid creatures with the orc subtype.
* Size: Orcs are Medium creatures and thus have no bonuses or penalties due to their size.
* Base Speed: Orcs have a base speed of 30 feet.
* Languages: Orcs begin play speaking Common and Orc. Orcs with high Intelligence scores can choose from the following: Abyssal, Aklo, Draconic, Giant, Gnoll, Goblin, and Sylvan.
* Intimidating: Orcs receive a +2 racial bonus on Intimidate checks due to their fearsome nature.
* Ferocity: Orcs possess the ferocity ability which allows them to remain conscious and continue fighting even if their hit point totals fall below 0. Orcs are still staggered at 0 hit points or lower and lose 1 hit point each round as normal.
* Weapon Familiarity: Orcs are proficient with greataxes and falchions and treat any weapon with the word “orc” in its name as a martial weapon. (Note: Most of the core rulebook "dwarven" and "gnomish" weapons are usually kobold or orc make, and thus may be associated with this talent.)
* Darkvision: Orcs can see in the dark up to 60 feet.

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