The orcish phenotype
Orcs are about 5 feet high, with scaly brown, grey or green skin. They have bulky skulls with bony armour to protect them. Their jaws protrude and quite strong tusks adorn them. The noses look indented, with large, pouting nostrils. The eyes are deeply set, they are small, mean and black. The ears are elvenlike pointed and are hard and horny. Orcs are brawny and their arms are longer than human arms. For compensation their legs are somewhat shorter and O-shaped. The fingers are thick and have sharp, strong claws as do the toes.
Orcs grow up in about five years and have life-spans of about twenty to thirty years, if they do not leave the world by force (which they do in 19 out of 20 cases).
Orcs have two sexes, women and men. Women are somewhat smaller and weaker than men. There is no discussion about gender equity: Orcs can't understand equity as a concept, only strength and cunning decides the social position of the orc, be it male or female. Orcs have no special words for female/male professions, titles or pronomina.
Most orcs are quite stupid, apart from a certain shrewdness. They are violent to the core and enjoy hurting other beings. On the other hand they are big cowards. They do not feel pain like humans, but if they do feel pain, they whimper and wine loud and shrill. Orcs are greedy, and they strive for treasures and gold, but more as a symbol for status than for their real worth, which they often can't assess.
Orcs are able to suffer exertions, to work long and hard and to fight while eating and drinking only the bare minimum - but they do not like such harsh circumstances. A leader has to urge them all the time, through raw violence, extortion or holding forth attractive rewards (like killing, looting, treasures).
Orcs want to dominate, if they see a chance for it. The smartest orcs are the most successful: intelligence goes together with the primitive orcish character traits in a dangerous mixture.
Typically Orcs live together in hordes. A horde is a group of 20 to 30 orcs, led by a horde leader. A tribe consists of some hordes. If the number of hordes excess a certain limit (about 20 to 30), the hordes are united to packs. The strongest horde leader leads the pack, too.
A horde is a little bit similar to a family the elves and humans have. However, the members of a hoard are not necessarily blood-related and there are no equivalents to marriages and wedlock.
Usually a horde manages a kind of farm. The strongest orcs are overseers by order of the horde leader. The rest of the horde is driven to work. Crippled or especially weak orcs do the nasty or dangerous work.
Propagation and breeding
Male and female orcs have a strong sexual urge. Once a year, in an age between six to ten years, female orcs are ready to receive and become almost certainly pregnant. The pregnancy lasts about four weeks, then the female orc gives birth to forty to fifty mouse-sized reptilian beings with protruding brows and big wide eyes. These beings will become the much more uglier orcs. The orc babies grow up in pits. There are six to ten pits, connected by walks with built-in gates, to separate the orc children by gender and age. The pits are somewhat guarded by older female orcs, who develop a certain affinity to orc babies, when they were pregnant in earlier years. They care for nutrition (rotten corpses of animals, living small animals or crippled prisoners of war).
During growing up orc children are mostly protected from attacks of adult orcs - these react to the big wide eyes and the soft body-shapes. Orc children, however, do not spare themselves. From the about fifty babies of one accouchement only three to six children survive and can try to leave the pit. This is a ritual: the children who deem themselves old enough pass a narrow walkway while the adults of the horde throw them with stones. Their aim is to cripple them: that means the new grown-ups will do the dirty work and have a lower social status than the already inaugurated adults.
The lowest social class are the slaves. They are recruited from the crippled, weak (often female orcs), the prisoners of war (often male), other races (humans, elves, sometimes dwarves or Ghidsh) and the unpopular specimen in the horde. Slaves do not proliferate a lot, because free female orcs are not very much inclined to listen to the proposals of male slaves (contrary to the other way round) and the psychic constitution of slaves do not invite proliferation. Children of female slaves are slaves themselves; the status of the mother generally dictates the initial status of an orc (fathers are difficult to find out). Some horde leaders adopt the practice to liberate slaves and give them the peasant status to enlarge the horde. The existing peasants are not smitten by this habit.
The next step on the social ladder are the peasants. They call themselves "free", but this is a kind of euphemism. Their status differs from that of a slave only by the very existence of these slaves who they can mistreat. Peasants work under overseers or horde leaders. They have their huts and work mostly on farms, but also in sulphur pits, ore mines etc.
The strongest peasants are a social class of its own, the overseer (two to three per horde). Their insignia are a whip and a short sword. Both tools are used often and with vigour. However, they must answer the horde leader, if they destroy productive capital like the body of a peasant. Female orcs are ideal overseers, if they are strong enough. A peasant rises to the level of overseer by killing another overseer before witnesses. Sometimes a horde leader promotes a peasant to overseer if the horde has grown in size.
The Tribe Chief on his part appoints the horde leader. This is often the most ruthless oversser. The Tribe Chief is also responsible for the division of the tribe in hordes and packs.
There are a lot of interesting ways to become Tribe Chief. All means are allowed to force the abdication (seldom) or death (often) of the former Tribe Chief. Only success is indispensible. Because unsuccessful attempts lead to the cruel torture of the unlucky one and often of his horde, too, assassination attempts are not as common as one should think. It is not mandatory that the successful assassin can achieve the rank of Tribe Chief, but a lot speaks for him: ruthlessness, strength and above all: success. Sometimes the Chief position is decided in a duel between horde leaders or through interference of the priesthood or the military.
The Tribe Chief is surrounded by courtiers. The task of the courtiers is to guarantee the power of the Tribe Chief and to counsel him. A special courtier is the archmage; he is discussed later.
Beyond the horde/pack-structure there is the military. The army of a tribe is tautly organized (from the viewpoint of an orc). The principle of command and obedience is imperative. Negligences are punished severely (normally by flogging or stoning), disobedience is punished by death. A tribe has a tribal army in its main castle. In the other castles (keeps) a tribe has smaller armies. The ranks in an army are:
Usually the Tribe Chief leads the main army, at least in nomine (the work is done by an underpaid adjutant). The attractive side of the soldier profession in the view of peasant orcs is being paid for being lazy or killing and looting and especially being spared from the boring work on fields and in mines. The relations between soldiers and peasants are tense. While peasants are more important for the well-being of a tribe, soldiers are more dangerous. That is why Tribe Chiefs concede a certain level of infringement by soldiers to the expense of the peasants.
Orcs fight with short swords and wear leather armour. The favourite weapon is a short, curved, jagged sword, which causes very ugly and deep wounds. The drawback is the point of the sword, which is difficult to manage. Hence some orcs prefer the spear sword, with a straight blade, a fortified middle-ridge and a thorny point, which can be thrusted not only into the soft stomach, but also in other parts of the scaly orc body.
The usual battle strategy can be best described as dashing forward, yelling and screaming, in a big lump. Time and again there are attempts to refine this strategy, but the common soldier loves the feeling of a big yelling and screaming lump of orcs all around him. The task of the leader is mostly reduced to prevent the flight of the soldiers or to kill them in a most horrible way to deter other soldiers from escaping.
The mages work on keeping up and expanding the power of the Tribe Chief, operating in a remote part of the main castle. If the overall level of magic in the tribe ist good enough, an archmage resides there as well, overseeing the common mages.
Through spells the magic energy of the ether is formed and guided to the eventual result. Rituals and mana-rich essences are necessary to cast the spells. The forming and guiding is much easier, if the manifestation of the magic energy is already known. That is the reason for the limited number of spells in the Black Empire.
Mages differ in quality. Their abilities depend from experience, training and genetic dispositions. Mages are mutated orcs. The mutation is not too rare and leads to an over-development (from the orcish point of view) of the intellect at the expense of strength and toughness. Because these orcs are rather fragile, their chances to survive the orc pits are quite slim. That makes mages rare and expensive.
Mages are not members of a tribe. They understand themselves as members of a fraternity and mercenaries for the most paying tribe. The highest priority for mages is the perfection in the art. Because at the core mages are like normal orcs, mages prefer spells with which they can kill, hurt or destroy. Mages among another have dichotomous relations: they are hostile and try to kill one another in the most painful and original way, but if externals try to attack the mages as a group they hold together like glue.
Archmages are between normal mages and courtiers. They do not change loyalty as fast as mages (but faster than normal courtiers, and these are not slow in that matter).
The common orc does not fiddle around with thinking. The up coming young Tribe Chief, however, is up coming, because he disregards origin (slime) and tradition (kill, then still do not think) and uses all what helps. And if it helps to hire scientists, who will stare holes in the ceiling, read grand books and preach wisely around, he will do so. It is not to be overlooked that scientific production methods contribute to a more effective economy, and a more effective economy contributes to a more effective war machine, closing the circle of blood and violence in a very enjoyable manner.
A lot of the scientists are charlatans. They are brave charlatans, because an orc can be only accepted as scientist, if he puts down any weapons and swears to use them never again (at least if someone is looking and survives to tell about it). Every orc tries to lie around, drink beer and fall on female orc slaves (or male ones, if you see it from the female perspective), and a scientist is in the comfortable situation to do this because the Tribe Chief cares for the rest. But there really are some orcs who carry the flame of intelligence and do something for their privileges, possessed with restless energy and in search for new frontiers of knowledge.
Scientists study at the university of Jool Harbour, a coastal city in the east of the Black Empire. Of course, because of their attitude, they have difficulties to survive the orc pits. But differing from mages, they have no physical handicaps, so that scientists are not as rare as mages.
Priests and deities
In every tribe there orcs who feel been called to a higher social position. It is a question of opportunity if these orcs end as Chiefs or corpses. But there is a third way for those who realize their limited potential early enough: the priesthood. Loud lip service for Khurrad, the Grand Snake, may convince the temple, that it may serve it to add another priest to the clerical hierarchy.
Priests themselves have not special abilities. They are not very clever, they are namby-pamby, dogmatic and love to torment others, as any right-thinking orc does. The big difference to the common orc is the neat priestly robe and a certain subtility to say the good and mean the evil. Priests usually die from adipositas or of old age (a very rare cause of death with other orcs). A third possibility is of course to die during an intrigue of the clerics.
A very important difference to other religions is to be seen in Khurrad himself. Khurrad is a deity who is not an abstract figure or scarecrow for disobedient subjects, but an entity which appears often and readily. Fortunately Khurrad has nothing against Tribe Chiefs, who oppress their subjects, if these are urged to the faith - Khurrad's reputation with the other gods depends from the number of the faithful and the number and quality of the made sacrifices (orcs, elves, humans).
There are other deities in the orcish pantheon as well. They rank below Khurrad and are revered by the same priests in the Black Empire.
The right hand of Khurrad is Dolus. Dolus is the God of Pain and Torment and the patron saint of hangmen and torturers. He is the most powerful God except for Khurrad. All orcs strive to satisfy Dolus not with their own suffering but with the suffering of others. Dolus is the only son of Khurrad, an offspring of a wild love affair with Arakha, the Spider Goddess.
|A priest of Shnabbadack with powerful arguments|
Another deity is Shnabbadack, the God of Iron and War. He is the patron saint of the smiths and the soldiers. Shnabbadack incarnates usually as monstrous creature of metal and flesh, as high as a tree and standing on two pillar-like legs. His arms and paws are made to squash the enemies. Shnabbadack is said to reside in the interior of mountain called the Iron Throne.
Even love has its place in the Black Empire and its pantheon. The Goddess of Love is Nausika, a rind-skin female orc, smaller than the average female. Nausika is the only female deity and she is not very remarkable, because she did not appear physically in the Black Empire. The priests reason that this is caused by Khurrad chaining her to a rock in the underworld because of internal quarrels. Only her immortality keeps her from dying from boredom, hunger and drain.
An old enemy (and lover) of Khurrad is Arakhna, the Lady of Spiders. Not much can be told about her. There is said to be some followers of her in the highest levels of the Khurradian priesthood. The followers of the Spider Goddess should have the power to weave mighty prayers, which are a big advantage while fighting for the crown.
Orcs do not comprehend economic system disputes or ideologies. It would not be fitting to attribute the economy in the Black Empire as "market-economy" or "planned economy". A better term would be "ignorant economy". The orcs who are able to calculate and such being the rare specimen who are able to estimate gold and precious things correctly are striving to keep secret their advance in knowledge.
Therefore merchants are organized in guilds. These care for price-fixing agreements, so that prices for a certain good are standardized in a tribe. If a Tribe Chief tries to intervene in the guilds' business, he is free to do so, but any guild which is threatened in this way will try to hire assassins or pressure financially while doing loyal lip-service in the same time. There are enough examples in the past, so that a certain balance of terror between the authority of the Tribe Chief and the merchants' guilds is achieved.
Transactions in the Black Empire are based on barter trade. The empire-wide currency, which exists nevertheless, is called goldear (G). One goldear has the value of an average-sized elf ear in gold (and has its shape). Loans, bonds, shares, cheques and other perversions are not known, and all orcs would look rather uncomprehending to the person who would propose a vague promise of paying back later if he gets a loan now. Who would know how long a debtor may survive in the Black Empire?
Als always goods which are not available in a tribe are expensive and desirable only for the fact that they are not available. For example orcs in the Southwest of the Empire love to gobble down strawberries, an idea which causes a sick shudder to the common orc of the North: so healthy, colourful, sweet - in a nutshell: disgusting. Therefore countless caravans are on the way to exchange products between the tribes - most often to the profit of a Tribe Chief.
|Click to see a larger map.|
In the East of the Black Empire Jool Harbour beckons, a coastal city, which is not part of the Empire. Every new High King confirms the independency of Jool Harbour, not without bribing enough patricians of the city to ensure an amenable majority in the city's senate. Jool Harbour is inhabited not only by orcs. Pirates, traders, thieves and adventurers from the countries of the humans, dwarves and elves hang around. That is one of the reasons that nearly all developments in magic and science start in Jool Harbour.
Jool Harbour is famous for its university. The magic faculty of this university is reknown for famous teachers and it is the guarantee for the independency of the city. No chief would dare (and survive) to attack Jool Harbour because of the magic onslaught he would unchain against himself.
Other beings are classified by orcs in the following two categories:
Both categories contain the same beings. Enemies are all beings who are not oneself. But there are some groups who are especially hostile:
The empires on the continent Auron are busy with themselves so that they leave the Black Empire in peace. But every of these empires have the aim to exterminate all orcs from the surface of the planet. They look at the Black Empire as a disgraceful scandal, and regret how the Black Empire became the black-green desert from clotted blood, rotting trees and decaying ruins, with undead walking around greedily and monsters having the time of their life. Orcs do have a different perspective: they praise the homelike athmosphere of the Black Empire contrary to the glary green, boring landscape of the Auronian plains and river deltas.
Besides the orcs there are some slave people who do not willingly think of themselves as slaves, for example goblins, imps, hobgoblins, ghidsch (fish-men) and lizard men.