Half-Orcs – A guide to D&D Races
Half-Orcs can be a controversial choice in Dungeons and Dragons, depending on your DM and group. The Player’s Handbook side-steps these issues by referring to Half-Orcs as being the product of marriages between Human and Orc tribes but you should definitely check with your group before playing one.
Half-Orcs are a fairly new addition to the playable race selection and have the potential to tell stories just as interesting and deep as any other.
Lore and Heritage
As with Half-Elves, Half-Orcs are a hybrid race, the result of the intermingling of Humans and Orcs. Commonly, this is presented as happening around the fringes of ‘civilised’ society and being more common in warring barbarian tribes as Orcs themselves are rarely found in the villages and towns of Humans in most settings.
Half-Orcs are used to a life of struggle. They find it hard to be accepted by either Humans or Orcs and so tent to feel the need to prove themselves more often than any other race (with the possible exception of Tieflings). By the time they reach adulthood, most Half-Orcs are scarred and tough.
Half-Orcs mature faster than any other race, being physically mature in their mid-teens, but few live past their 70’s, making them the shortest-lived of all the Races. Factoring in their frequent exposure to violence, an old Half-Orc is a rare sight indeed.
Size and strength are the most defining characteristics of Half-Orcs. Reaching up to 7 feet tall and with a strength modifier of 2, Half-Orcs are usually the biggest and the strongest in an adventuring party. Often regarded as unintelligent, Half-Orcs suffer no particular weakness in that area and can often turn it to their advantage.
Half-Orcs among Humans are often regarded as thugs and bullies and some come to adopt this outlook after years of torment. Among the Orcs, greater tolerance for daylight and a Human level of creativity and ingenuity can lead to Half-Orcs rising to positions of power and prestige as long as they can stand their own against the inevitable challengers that follow them.
Half-Orcs have greyish skin, sometimes with a touch of green, a pronounced lower jaw and a high, sloped forehead. Many Half-Orcs have vestigial tusks jutting from their lower jaw.
Half-Orcs in Social Environments
Half-Orcs are not designed, mechanically, for social encounters, but that does not mean they don’t play a role. The Half-Orc ‘Menacing’ trait gives them an automatic proficiency in Intimidation, which is still a social tool – albeit a blunt one!
Half-Orcs suffer no penalties to their Charisma either, meaning they can just as easily rise to leadership as any other – indeed, Half-Orcs that survive in Orc environments often rise to become powerful warlords or advisors as a result.
Many NPC characters will react poorly to Half-Orc characters unless there is a game-world reason not to – right or wrong, many view the Orcs as natural enemies of Humans and respond accordingly to anyone with their ancestry.
Half-Orcs in Combat Encounters
It is abundantly clear that when Half-Orcs were designed, they were built with Barbarians in mind as a primary Class. A Half-Orc Barbarian with a great-axe or great-sword, high Strength and the Savage Attacks feature is a terrifying engine of destruction on the battlefield, capable of single-handedly wiping out many attackers in a single blow. While this might seem like an obvious choice, sometimes obvious is fun too!
That doesn’t mean that your Half-Orc can’t be a canny, strategic fighter or even a spellcaster, but that Strength bonus may seem like a shame to waste.
Reasons to Play Half-Orcs
With a Half-Orc, you either want to lean in to the tropes or move far away from them. As mentioned above, sometimes it can be fun to play the wanton destroyer, but it can also e fun to play them as trying to reconcile their Human and Orc natures. Equally, by completely avoiding the trope and playing a Half-Orc Wizard, you can challenge the preconceptions of your players and the NPC’s you may encounter.
Similar to Half-Elves, playing a character with a dual nature that fits into neither world can also be a rewarding roleplaying experience.
Reasons NOT to Play Half-Orcs
Unless you’re really into living the stereotypes, there is likely to be prejudice involved in playing a Half-Orc and not everyone is comfortable with that. The importance of a ‘Session 0’ and strong communication is vital when playing this kind of character as there is a lot of potential for issues of race and class to blur between the game and real-life, which can make some people uncomfortable.
From an in-game perspective, playing a Half-Orc can also mean sitting out of a lot of non-combat encounters, which may suit you, but not if you like to get involved in intrigue, investigation and the social side of gaming.
Half-Orcs gain an additional 2 points to their Strength and 1 point to their Constitution. They have a base walking speed of 30 and can speak Common and Orc. Half-Orcs have Darkvision to 60’.Half Orcs are Menacing and gain proficiency in the Intimidation skill. They have Relentless Endurance and can choose to drop to 1 hit point instead of 0 if they are ever knocked out but not killed outright. Half-Orcs also deal Savage Attacks and can roll an additional extra dice on a critical hit and add it to the existing bonus for the