Orcs in RPGS

This is a diversion from painting to consider the appearance of one of the most common fantasy races in role-playing games – Orcs.

I grew up with an initial image of Orcs from the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons ‘Monster Manual’, alongside images of Warhammer Orcs from Games Workshop. I think visual images stick in mind more than written descriptions – I certainly saw many images of green skinned orcs. I’d say I had two ideas for orc skin – green from WH and brown from D&D. I played other games with orcs, but didn’t consider that they might be thinking of them as different again. There have been many gaming publications over the years, and in recent decades plenty of fantasy movies (even TV series) that present orcs that may influence what we consider their appearance to be. The Hobbit/LotR movies certainly suggest greys and blacks.

I had been assuming that D&D Orcs were of dark brown skin. While painting orcs recently, I started to look into their description in various editions of D&D and was surprised to see variations between editions that don’t exist in other D&D creatures. Skin colour has changed, and it appears that the designers wanted to get away from the “piggish” look that they started with. Since I’ve been (or will be) painting Goblins and Kobolds, I looked at their descriptions too. There is slightly different wording between editions, but those creatures physical appearance is unchanged in 1st through 3rd edition.

As a result of this minor research, here’s a simple description of Orcs drawn from a variety of sources – with the focus being prominent Role-Playing Games.

1st Edition (AD&D): Orcs appear particularly disgusting because their colouration – brown or brownish green with a bluish sheen – highlights their pinkish snouts and ears. Their bristly hair is dark brown or black, sometimes with tan patches. Even their armour tends to be unattractive – dirty and often a bit rusty. Orcs favour unpleasant colours in general. Their garments are in tribal colours, as are shield devices or trim. Typical colours are blood red, rust red, mustard yellow, yellow green, moss green, greenish purple, and blackish brown.

2nd Edition (AD&D): Orcs vary widely in appearance, as they frequently cross-breed with other species. In general, they resemble primitive humans with grey-green skin covered with coarse hair. Orcs have a slightly stooped posture, a low jutting forehead, and a snout instead of a nose, though comparisons between this facial feature and those of pigs are exaggerated and perhaps unfair. Orcs have well-developed canine teeth for eating meat and short pointed ears that resemble those of a wolf. Orcish snouts and ears have a slightly pink tinge. Their eyes are human, with a reddish tint that sometimes makes them appear to glow red when they reflect dim light sources in near darkness.

3rd Edition (d20): Gray skin. An orc’s coarse hair usually is black. It has lupine ears and reddish eyes. Orcs prefer wearing vivid colours that many humans would consider unpleasant, such as blood red, mustard yellow, yellow-green, and deep purple. Their equipment is dirty and unkempt.

Pathfinder (d20): It has coarse body hair and a stooped posture like some primitive man but with a grayish-green skin tone and bestial facial features. Burning red eyes peer below a low, sloping brow, just above a flattened nose, and prominent tusk-like teeth. Greasy black hair.

Warhammer: A typical Orc is a naturally large creature that stands taller than the average Man, with long arms and short legs, huge slabs of muscle moving underneath tough green skin, and their jaws are lined with vicious fangs that jut out from their under-bite. They have beady red eyes, a generally foul demeanour, and are naturally bald.

M.E.R.P. (Middle Earth Role Playing): Build: Heavy, with thick hides, short legs, and long thin arms. They have grotesque, fanged faces and random hair growth. Colouring: Black or grey hair, black or reddish-brown eyes, and deep grey or black hides.

The One Ring: “Their appearance and size differs from tribe to tribe, but many prominent features are common to all Orcs, such as swarthy skin, short legs and broad, slanted eyes, wide mouths and long fangs.” Broad, with crooked legs and long arms, Mordor Orcs differ greatly in size and capabilities, from the small but deft Snaga to the large Black Uruk.

 

Finally, here’s some notes from J.R.R. Tolkien on the subject:

Swart, slant-eyed, with thick legs and large hands, ugly and filthy fanged humanoids. The Uruks are larger, more powerful and cruel and “black”.

“They are (or were) squat, broad, flat-nosed, sallow-skinned, with wide mouths and slant eyes”.

In case you don’t know… Sallow = “(of a person’s face or complexion) of an unhealthy yellow or pale brown colour.”

 

Okay… back to painting now… Some grey mixed with flesh for my new batch of Orcs!

 

 

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Painting – GW Orcs finished

This took me a bit longer than planned, mostly because I got sidetracked by non-painting activities.

These are all Games Workshop/Citadel plastic figures, most of which I purchased to use with Warhammer Quest. The orc warriors are from the Hero Quest game. (Pictures can be clicked on for enlargement.)

1 black orc champion

7 orc archers

8 orc warriors – 2 with flails, 2 with cleavers and 4 with scimitars.

Like with my goblins, one of the orcs broke his sword in combat. The original sword is long-gone and the only bits I had to try and replace it with were too small. So I just trimmed it and he can hold his fist up in a threatening gesture.

I’d originally painted the orcs in flesh tones, generally darker flesh than I use for most humanoids, not green since I use most figures for D&D not Warhammer. I got sidetracked looking at different Orcs in RPGs and realised that my ideas of orc-flesh were closer to what 1st edition D&D had described, and weren’t “current” compared to recent editions. I’m not going with greyish skin, but they all did get a black ink over the top to darken their skin!

Each group is painted in almost identical fashion – the orc archers have different coloured pouches as contrast. Unlike the goblins, these guys are meant to look like a unit. While the archers have mostly yellows and greens, the warriors are mostly browns. I did use a dark fushia on nearly every figures pants (more obvious on the warriors), red for belts, and the same brown for boots. I have the same fushia and red on the champion too.

I’d previous painted a metal dark orc champion, and used the same green ink on gunmetal for the bulk of the armour to tie the two together. I’m also trying out taking photos here with a new phone. It seems to pick up the lighting better, so the images are as dark as with my previous phone (and my digital camera). Having loaded the photo, I note that I forgot to silver dry brush the champions chainmail!

EDIT: “Would you believe…” I’ve just brought all the figures in from a wonderful sunny afternoon. They have been outside drying after two coats of clear acrylic… and I found the missing orc sword! (Oh well, into the bits box.)

 

Painting – A score of Goblins

A score plus five goblins actually. Most were finished last weekend but I didn’t get to photograph them until today. (Lots of pics!)

Yes, these are all Citadel/Warhammer goblins and they are NOT greenskins! While these figures have been used over the years for Hero Quest, Warhammer Quest, (possibly Warhammer FRP), MERP and various editions of Dungeons and Dragons – it’s D&D that I mostly play.

The various editions of D&D (1st-3.5) have been fairly consistent with their descriptions of goblins: Eyes varying in colour from red to yellow. Skin colour ranging from yellow through any shade of orange to a deep red. I’ve usually gone with a dull yellow. These have a Army Painter Soft Tone (brown ink) over “Oriental Flesh”, and I really like the mottled effect that has resulted on many.

 

The full set here are:  eight bowmen, six spearmen, four with sword and shield, six with swords and axes, and one shaman. One goblin had his sword break long ago. I trimmed the hilt away, so he’s just got his fists – maybe he’s the tribe’s brawler. (He can always stand back and insult PC’s. )

I’ve gone with a variety of colours, brighter than what goblins probably should wear, but I wanted them to stand out as individuals. I also didn’t go for as much detail or fine paint work as I do for unique figures. These are basic units that could see a lot of use, and generally goblins die quickly – so they aren’t likely to be on the table for long. I wanted to paint the lot of them without spending weeks doing it.

The Shaman got more time because he’s a more detailed figure and deserved extra effort. He’s the only metal figure in this group and has stuff everywhere – pouches, skulls, bandages, jewellery, trinkets, etc. He was fun to paint. He hasn’t been varnished yet, so I might do a little more detailing on some of the jewellery/trinkets, etc. (Just thinking some of those odd shapes are mushrooms!)

 

 

Next up: I’ve got sixteen Orcs. They’ve all been undercoated, fleshed out and I’ve started on weapons and mail. Their champion is halfway done, so I’m hoping not to take more than 2 weeks to finish them all.

I keep leaving Star Wars figures at the back of the desk as I think of older figures I have that I’d like to paint to use in my mega-dungeon. This probably means that a group of Reaper Bones Kobolds will follow the Orcs.