When it comes to this race in Dungeons & Dragons, you have to go beyond D&D. What I mean by this is that there is a lot of material outside of the tabletop roleplaying system. As you might know, Tolkien wrote about orcs before the first D&D edition came out.
What you might not know is that Orcus and Orc appeared in tenth century literature. They’re not the orcs we know (and love) today, but taking a look at them and how they eventually lead to this race being playable in fantasy tabletop RPG campaigns is quite interesting.
- The Origin of the Orc
- Playing a Half-Orc in D&D
- Half-Orc FAQ
The Origin of the Orc
In the 10th century, Orcus (written as Orc), referred to a “Goblin, spectre, or hell-devil.” The more general description of the orc wasn’t very fleshed out, but the fact it appears in real-life history is what caught my eye. As time went on, the idea of the orc tool hold.
A monster called Orcus was mentioned in Edmund Spenser’s 1590 Faerie Queene. Additionally, the Oxford English Dictionary records an Early Modern period orke, meaning “ogre,” in Samuel Holland’s 1656 fairy tale Don Zara del Fogo. Once again, it’s not the modern orc (which is distinct from an ogre!), but it’s represented.
Orc ain Modern Literature
As I mentioned above, JRR Tolkien took the idea of an orc and really ran with it. If you’re a fan of his Lord of the Rings series, you know what I’m talking about. Tolkien’s orcs are foul creations made to serve evil wizards and the dark lord Sauron. The word orc is used in many other fantasy novels and games as well.
The Evolution of the Orc
In games like Dungeons & Dragons, the word orc is used to describe a race. The orc was in the very first D&D edition and continued to be an evil creature in the game. Along the way, the idea of a playable orc started. Players were finally able to play as an orc, and it was glorious.
Playing a Half-Orc in D&D
Here’s a look at the evolution of playing this race in Dungeons & Dragons over the years.
First Edition of Dungeons & Dragons
In the first edition of Dungeons & Dragons, there are no semi-orc characters. Roger E. Moore’s article, “The Half-Orc Point of View” published in Dragon #62 (June 1982) was one of the early ideas of using orcs as not only monsters in the game. This trend continued, albeit slowly.
In the article “Hey, Wanna Be a Kobold?” by Joseph Clay in Dragon #141 (January 1989), orcs and other monster races were presented as player character races. This is when the idea of playing a orc character really began to take off.
Second Edition of Dungeons & Dragons
Ever popular in the second edition of D&D, the orc appears in the Monstrous Compendium Volume One (1989) and is reprinted in Monstrous Manual (1993). However, it’s no longer possible to play a half-orc in D&D 2nd edition. The half-orc was a standard player character race which typically picked the assassin class.
However, half-orcs were removed in the second edition of the game at first. They were briefly brought back in Players Option: Skills And Powers in 1995.
Edition D&D and D&D Beyond 5e
This spectacular race makes a triumphant return in D&D 3e…and subsequent editions.
Half-Orcs in D&D Novels
There’s not a lot of half-orcs in D&D books, but there’s Kendermore by Mary Kirchoff. One of the characters is a half-orc, and it’s a good story set in the realm of Dragonlance.
Here’s a list of frequently asked questions about the half-orc.
Can half-orcs have human skin color?
Good question! In general, half-orcs are known to have grey or greenish skin, but in rare instances some DMs may allow your character to appear more human.
How old can half-orcs live?
In general, if they don’t die in battle, burned to a crisp by a fireball, they can live up to 75 years on average. Your DM’s world might treat them differently, of course, which is fine. The best thing is to talk to your DM and ask how long half-orcs live in their world.
Can a half-orc be a Ranger?
Yes! In fact, with the racial bonuses, a ranger is a very good choice indeed. You’ll usually get a bonus to Strength and Constitution, and that fits really well with the ranger class. This doesn’t mean, however, that ranger is the best class for a half-orc character!