Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura Wiki
11 - RaceOrcIcon.png

Prior to this point, it has been the habit of both religion and science to classify orcs as a "monstrous" race, assuming some direct relationship with ogres, because the two species are similar in character. This assumed relationship does not exist, save in that ogres are also products of Supernatural Selection, and represent in their own way a branch of the human family tree. In the final analysis, orcs are a much younger race than the giants from which ogres descend, the result of a far more recent process of Supernatural Selection. That they resemble ogres physically is only a coincidence, from the standpoint of the scientist.

It is difficult to say when the first orcs appeared. We rarely find a set of intact remains; they have a tendency to cannibalize rather than bury their own dead. Nonetheless, we begin to find some signs of their existence only a few thousand years ago, perhaps ten thousand at most, in the area of the Dark Fens. They are a young race, the product of a relatively recent and extremely powerful enchantment, and the fact that their forebears were once fully human may provide some explanation for the deep, instinctive repulsion which most pure-blooded humans feel in connection with them.

Orcs are nomadic people by nature, moving constantly from place to place. They are a constant danger in the lonely places of the world, and on the outskirts of any settled area; orcish tribes can be found in any region which is not densely populated by civilized peoples. The orcish character has two great motivating forces, these being fear and hate: they hate nearly everything that lives, especially other thinking beings, and they fear anything which is stronger than they are in some way - i.e., anything which can kill them. Fear translates in the orc to respect and veneration; hate always translates into violence and murder, sooner or later…and usually sooner.


Physical Characteristics[]

The average orc has a body length of some 60 to 70 inches, or 165 centimeters, but they rarely stand that tall in practice. The spinal column of any orc has a tendency to be deformed, resulting in a hunched back, sloped shoulders, or a forward-projecting head; this detracts from their apparent height. They weigh between seven and twelve stone, just as humans do, but beyond this the resemblance between the two species ends. The facial features of an orc are a twisted parody of the human norm, often showing traits which more properly belong to a wild boar or a tiger. They may have pointed ears, large tusks or a porcine snout, slitted pupils to the eyes, or other abnormalities; they are also prone to defects like the cleft palate or "orclip", as some call it. Their teeth are unusual by human standards, as well; these have a tendency to be sharp and jagged, and whenever an orc loses a tooth it grows back immediately - a propensity that they share with sharks.

The natural lifespan of an orc is brief, a period of some 40 years. They breed quickly, however; an orcish female can deliver her offspring within four months, and when her young are born they mature faster than human infants do, being able to walk and even run in less than six months. Orc babies are also more likely be born in pairs than humans are; twins and triplets are a common occurrence. Because orcish mothers have only two breasts and two arms, however, the third child in a triple birth is usually given to the father, who eats the newborn infant by way of celebrating his fertility.

Despite the brevity of their natural lives, orcs possess a frightening vitality. They have great strength , far greater than one would expect from a human of the same size. If injured, they heal almost immediately. If their hands, feet or individual digits are severed, those extremities will continue to live for some minutes apart from the body; even whole arms and legs may be successfully reattached, if they can be found and sewn back on by a competent surgeon. They are highly resistant to disease and seem to be wholly immune to infection of any kind, as of gangrene; they also suffer far less than humans do from extremes of cold or heat. This unassailable health seems to be an aspect of the magickal working which split them off from the rest of the human species, thousands of years ago; even the most ancient accounts of their race include reports of the orc's vigorous constitution.

Personal Characteristics[]

Orcs organize themselves into large tribes, with as many as 30 or 40 members in any one group. The males dominate their society, with the strongest and most cunning male leading the tribe; other males cooperate in hunting and defense of the females, but they do not oppose the decisions of the Chief in any way, unless they wish to challenge him directly. An orcish Chieftain must be ready to face such a challenge for supremacy at any time. If he relaxes his vigilance, he will always be taken down by a younger, stronger orc…or even by a stronger member of some other species. Ogres have been known to lead orc tribes. Even a half-orc or a particularly degenerate human can hold such authority, as in the case of the famous Cannibal of Cattan, Sawney Beane.

View in Society[]

Of course, the fact that orcs are strong and not terribly intelligent does make them uniquely qualified to serve as day laborers. Some of them have been permitted to live in the poorer neighborhoods of industrial cities like Tarant, provided they are willing to work in the nearby factories.


Alchemickal testing of orc tissues shows a powerful mystic vibration knitted into their flesh and bone. If their race possessed more than the rudest animal cunning, they might make formidable mages - a notion which will doubtless fill most of us with horror! Fortunately, orcs do not have a very high native intelligence. The same magick which has shortened their lives and twisted their bodies is also at work in their brains, filling them with hate and rage, and keeping them from the higher realms of thought.

Orcs, despite their consuming hatred of the more civilized races, deliberately seek out this kind of work; they seem to be drawn irresistibly to Technology of any kind, although they do not show any great understanding of Natural Law. Apparently they have a liking for tools and machines which they could not build on their own, and they are especially fond of firearms…although few merchants are unethical enough to sell such a weapon to an orc!