Monday, 22 July 2019

The OTHER! - are YOU one of them???

Look, at least some of you probably are. Just don't tell anyone and I'll let it go. Can't have a culture without an Other after all.

And where would D&D be without that ultimate anti-man, the Orc, vector for all our bad feelings about things that look like us, but which are definitely NOT us?

I *think* these are by Stephen Oakley
(and may not be the final designs)
This was my attempt at creating 'Orcs' for Uud.

One thing that comes back to me is a phrase in a David Mamet film The Edge, where Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin have to fight a bear, Hopkins is dropping some Mamet-lines and asks, rhetorically, why men die in the wilderness.

"Shame. They die of shame."

It would be curious if our Other was just our absolute will to survive, stripped of anything else, looking back at us through the mirror of our thoughts.

But that's the fun of Orcs really, a different Other each time, always bending and warping under the will of the world-creator, moving like bubbles under plastic, forming whatever Other we need them to be for any time.


Many are the monsters bred beyond the borders of the Real, and terrible their powers. But amongst the most despised is one with no numinous terror burning in its blood and no witch-light in its eyes.

It is, instead, a creature which counterfeits man. The Un-Man. The man-mocker. The dissonant tone which kills the hidden harmony of mankind.

Out from the Waste they come, in ones or twos, slinking past the shadows of the towers, raiding in small bands, sometimes wiped of memory and mindless as beasts, stumbling as hunched ravening hordes, naked and bestial.

Or, more terrible, with tactics, weapons and a plan. Bearing heraldic glyphs, scarred symbols and ruined pennants they may no longer know the meaning of.

The Terror-Men. The Orcs.


Humanity is a music that cannot hear itself until it is disrupted. Like a tuning fork wrought to a low, keening note, pressed against the rim of a wine glass, shattering it. So is the Orc to man.

No group can exist without an Other, and the birth of many great nations, peoples and ideas of self has come twinned with a dark shadow of hate and an emission of blood. For with a new self must come a new Other- the expression of what the self is not, which sets its boundaries and forms the antipole to its nature.

Humanity in Blackwater is defined by several things;

First, it is shaped like Somon - the majority, the dominant sub-group and seemingly the one best adapted for this reality.

Second, Humanity dreams - each type may dream differently, but the creatures of Yggsrathaal do not dream. The faithful would say that the gods dream and that in this humanity walks with the gods.

Third, Humanity is Civil - it obeys laws, can be reasoned and negotiated with.

Fourth, Humanity does not prey upon itself - humans do not cannibalise their own meta-species.

Fifth, Humanity is loyal to the integrity of Blackwater against Yggsrathaal. Mankind defends its borders against the Waste, and against Her, and in this, at least, all mankind shares an interest.

And finally, Humanity is stable in form. Children look like their parents, or at least they do not differ wildly. The shapes and inner nature of sub-groups does not swing randomly from individual to individual.

To these can be added many smaller markers; art, language, the capacity to build and mutual descend from the great Diadem of Esh, a shared history of loss.

Many single aspects of Humanity break these rules in one way or another; Nathlings do not dream, but they can and they hate Yggsrathaal and fulfil every other quality perfectly. Avatars are barely human-formed but are seen as sacred representations coming from fallen Esh. Aeth can and will eat Somon, but this is a shameful secret for them, heavily hidden and repressed. (And of course, any Human might cannibalise - in extremis, just don't do it as a matter of course). 

The Orc betrays all.

Inhuman in form (though counterfeiting man). UnDreaming - It's sleeping mind a godless blank. Endlessly mutable, the Orc shifts in form from generation to generation, from parent to child, one barely akin to the other. UnCivil and barbarous - it will not obey laws and cannot be negotiated with. Violent and murderous. Allied with, or unknowingly serving, Her. The Orc is an outsider penetrating from beyond the borders of the Real and the Orc is an eater of men.

So it is that the Orc is loathed in Blackwater, perhaps even more than greater and more threatening beings, and perhaps with even more revulsion than Yggsrathaal. For she is merely an enemy to Humanity, a great and terrible one, but her horror a distant and sombre one, vast, alien and incomprehensible.

The Orc is here and now. The Orc is flesh. The Orc is vile. Most importantly, the Orc seems Human but is not, it is the Other, the hate-object that invisibly gives the Greater Humanity of Blackwater its defining opposite.


They learn incredibly quickly, especially when relatively young. As they grow and set their own strategies and values, it seems to be, not the ability, but the desire to learn, that changes. They care very little about the future. They can imagine it, but it has little value to them. Can you eat it?

The Orc is entirely present in the moment in a way a Zen master might envy. Their sense of the immediate reality of what is right in front of them seems to be intense, overwhelming, granular, detailed and vibrant. It is in the moment that the Orc is most dangerous and when its particular malicious genius most often comes to the fore.

This also plays a part in protecting the Orc from the mental traumas common to other self-aware beings. They do not really despair, though they can get bored, they adapt rapidly, almost immediately, to torture, mutilation and injury. It’s bad getting your arm hacked off but once it’s done, for an orc, its simply time to get on with things, arm or not. Even an Orc bleeding to death from an arterial wound does not really think of themselves as bleeding to death, they simply have a lot of blood coming out of them right now.

Orcs can often be bullied, threatened, manipulated and, to a certain extent, bribed into more complex social structures (particularly military ones), and long-term plans, though even then it seems they stay because other options are more boring than whatever they are doing now.

Above all, Orcs respect power and will. Physical power, yes, and size. Magical power - absolutely, but even mental or intellectual power of a sort. A curious element in Orcs is that they seem to enjoy the translation or transformation of unexpected or unseen intellectual or magical power into physical dominance. The smaller the package compared to the larger the effect, the more they are impressed. They have a great tolerance for, and interest in, tricksters, especially when the trick is violent, lethal and visibly cruel.

Yet Orcs rarely seek or exhibit these intellectual or magical powers themselves, or even respect them much in their own species. Amongst each other size, strength and relentless physical dominance is what matters. This dominance must be immediate, physical, tangible, ruthless and destructive. This is real to them. This is value to them. They have no honour, or any concept of it, or much compassion as most other breeds of Humanity would conceive of it, even for their own kind, but they do respect strength.

A legend of the Northern Tagia between the Cities and the Realities, speaks of a Knight,  a Bridge of black pine, a Village by a flooding river and a horde of Orcs.

The invading Orcs, in this case, club-footed shaggy creatures from the Northern Wastes, attacked, killing everything they could find and driving all before them. The villagers fled, their one lone defender, an aging Knight stayed behind, matching his tread to that of the slowest escapee.

The villagers only possible safety lay in crossing a nearby river which, they hoped, would at least slow the Orcs down in their pursuit. The river had one bridge, a scratch built timber construction made with the rude style of the Northern Plains. Not a huge structure by any means.

It was Spring, and the river was in flood. As the villagers pounded across the pitch-caulked planks of black pine, the foundations of the bridge began to shift, it began to collapse.

Facing an impossible choice, the Knight leapt into the river, and, holding himself against the surging current, the freezing water and the weight of the bridge, pressed his shoulder into it, hoping to save just a few moments more and just a handful of people before the Orcs inevitably captured and ate all who remained.

The Orcs did arrive, and quickly, some still smeared with fresh blood. But, to the surprise of the Knight, instead of killing him with spears, crossing the bridge to pursue the weak, or leaping into the water to bear him down, the Orcs stopped. They stopped and waited, lining the bank, gazing upon him as his breath caught in his lungs and his skin froze blue, as the thudding feet of the escaping people pounded into his dying flesh though the structure of the bridge.

He realised, they were watching him fight the water. There was no charity in their ceasing, no honour or fairness, they saw only one standing against an unconquerable natural force, the man and the river and the weight of the bridge. They were waiting to see how long his fight would last.

Strength, and only that, compelled them.

Though the Orc has few loves, it also has few hatreds. Or at least few particular hatreds. Orcs as a whole see the world in roughly three categories;



Everything Else.

Orcs are at war against Everything Else, all of the time. They are also willing to sacrifice other Orcs, and will occasionally stab a Boss in the back.

That said, within those bounds, they are relatively unprejudiced. The Orc itself has no Other (unless you count all of reality as the Other). They have no in-built, or encultured, hate or fear for any particular shape or form. Mutation and mutilation are all as-one to them and in fact they seem to favour both, as much as an Orc can favour anything. They love variety. (Which they will still totally and absolutely destroy and consume, but in a more excited and enjoyable fashion).

Orcs are often happy to allow members of other species or bioforms to occupy the top of their dominance hierarchy. Vosis Fail, excommunicated Sophont of Yga, suggested that the Orcs were, in fact, 'using' those they select for the top of their hierarchies. If not that any individual band was using such beings, that the species as a whole was. That it is simpler for the 'Orc Strain' to adopt or 'acquire' the intellectual, strategic and long-term planning aspects it needs from other beings, rather than to build them itself.

Though any individual group of orcs might be lead to destruction by such an arrangement, the species as a whole, the Strain, will succeed. There are often Orcs on both sides and, being perfectly adapted to harmonise with the needs of a dominant power, they always have a place even in a world in which they have little control. Though the nature and person of that power may change, beneath them, whoever and whatever they are, there are always Orcs.


There are few constants to a creature of such endless mutability, but a few qualities are more common than not. Orcs tend to be taller and stronger than most Somon, with denser muscles and thicker bones. They have thick multi-layered skin and often have bone spurs and strong scales of keratin, like human fingernails. They have wild teeth, almost always bigger and sharper than Somon teeth, and often with massively recurved molars acting as tusks. Sometimes these grow back up to pierce the skull if they are not filed down or snapped off. They often have matte grey skin, this may be inherent to their nature or simply a result of living in, and passing through, Her realm.

Beyond that, the Orc is defined by its crazed variety. The members of a single warband or 'family' can differ from each other to a remarkable extent; orcs with huge flapping batlike ears, orcs with thick, low, sloping skulls, orcs with slitted sharklike mouths, orcs with wild bursts of fronds, perhaps skin, or some more subtle hairlike tissue, orcs with pugnacious front-thrusted jaws, orcs with heavy hammering skulls and thick plates of bone like mail, orcs with strange lappings and overlayings of flesh and skin like cancerous leaves, orcs with random curls of bone instead of hair, like teratomas forming on the skin, orcs with bright shocks of hair or bristling fur, orcs with spines and scales, blind, sniffing orcs with wet black panting nostrils where eyes should be.


And how?

The Sophonts of Blackwater have laboured long over the problem of the Orc, seeking to divine its strange and formless nature. Though opinions still differ bitterly, they have come to see Orcs not as a species, sub-group or meta-species as Humanity is, but as something akin to a breeding disease; The Orc Strain.

It is known that generations of Orc can undergo very rapid adaptability in their flesh based purely on the lived environment of the spawning Orc. Extreme heat, cold, wetness, light and dark, the Waste or the Real, can produce meaningful changes in the young of an Orc, and once a counter-adaptation or recombination of elements has taken place, it remains a possibility, latent in the bloodline from then on. Every Orc lives with a great library or storehouse of adaptations in its blood, seed and womb, which may emerge 'randomly' in any future young.

Most horribly, the Orc can breed true with any species of Humanity. Aeth, Somon, Deoth. Nathings, even Avatars, all can be made to breed half-orc young. Orc spawn are born awake, aware, ready to move, fight scamper and bite. A feral thing, without language, but capable of mimicry from day one.

The Orc can impregnate any sufficiently complex animal, size permitting, and will do so if the opportunity presents itself. This is why breeding farm animals surviving in the area of an Orc attack or invasion must be put down without exception. The results if they are allowed to come to term can be... extremely unpleasant.

Added to its natural adaptability is that fact that many, or most Orcs have been mutated by their life within, or passage through, the Waste. Though this rarely seems to affect them in a negative way. Of all the self-aware beings in Uud, they seem the least troubled by having their memories and identities wiped. They just don't care, they live so totally in the moment and really value very few of the things that memory and history and social structure bring.

The orc has no history, and desires none. It needs but little abstract memory. It barely needs a name. If its mind is destroyed, it simply gets up and starts over again, learning fast, right from day one, and its irascible, violent, indifferent personality cannot be changed. Not even the darkest, strangest treatments of the Tolerance have been able to 'educate' it, the illusions of thaumaturgy warp it or alterations of the Greenseers amend it.

The orc is an arrow piercing the moment, cutting open what-will-be

Yggsrathaal has certainly tried to produce her own strains, which are often given prominence in Her armies. It is suspected the Lords of the Teratarchies have also made their own experiments. The flesh of the Orc is resilient, adaptable and endlessly malleable, the perfect material for those who would consider themselves sculptors of life.

Yet these changes never seem to stick for long. As soon as the attention of their manipulator slips from any particular strain, they go back to their mad variety of cross-breeding and random mutability.

It was Vosis Fail, excommunicated Sophont of Yga, who devised the concept of the Orc Strain. He perceived the Strain, not as any particular bodily form or precise boundary of flesh, but as a kind of process. Something existing within every Orc, passed in in its seed and in its blood, but which merely wears the flesh of any individual Orc for a while

The Orc Strain is unlike the bloodline of a species, binding with form and flesh and prompting the engines of behaviour. It is something stronger, yet formless, endlessly, relentlessly, violently adaptive, using whatever corpus it is passed into. It is the spirit of a meta-species, warping, altering, adapting, improving, brutalising the meat that, when grown, will in turn brutalise the world. It is one idea, and singular desire, branded in a rubric of fire into every cell and every living moment;

Survive! Survive! Survive!

And it was this extremely heretical concept that saw Vosis Fail (finally) excommunicated from even ever-tolerant Yga. The idea that the Orc is Humanity perfected. Made to survive Yggsrathaal, to survive chaos, despair - everything. Made to ensure that the last surviving life in a dying reality will be one, final, defiant, Orc howling in the face of death.

This guy was my favourite.


  1. This is powerfully mythic. I love it.

  2. I'm reminded somewhat of Runequest's Broo, esp regarding breeding with other species but as always, excellent work & very evocative and inspiring, a good example of a game world worth exploring.

  3. I have to applaud you on how you've been able to take all the tired fantasy race tropes and added an underlying logic to them that explains and justifies those tropes.

    Another thing, is that I think these orcs would work very well in a videogame. In that, their laser focus on the moment makes simulating them a lot more achievable than beings that actually have long term memory. Just program code for running away or bowing in front of overwhelming power into any run of the mill goon and you've got an AI that represents almost all orcy behavior.Thought this may just be my preoccupation with how enemies in games seem to exist just to kill you or die trying in situations where that doesn't make sense.(I'm looking at you Skyrim)

  4. "Made to ensure that the last surviving life in a dying reality will be one, final, defiant, Orc howling in the face of death."

    As I've said before I think you do a great job at getting to the heart of the Trope that is behind the mythic race you're writing about. These orcs are not very like Tolkien's in appearance or origin. They are very distant cousins to most orcish depictions across media. But they are incredibly good representations of what an Orc means. What it feels like. An orc is struggle. At odds with everything, they are the eternal enemy, invented to oppose. What does the eternal enemy fight against? Everything. Most especially entropy, which would end all their struggle. In this way they are the greatest avatar of life. Mutating, propagating, consuming, unyielding, destroying, relentless life.

  5. I love it! Rather Chaos-y. My own take on the archetypal Absolute Evil Humanoid Race for "Dreamland" was the Abhumans... for which I confess I was mostly influenced by David Moody's "Hater" zombie novels, which coexist weirdly with Lord Dunsany but that's life

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