1. Nidhogg
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    Nidhogg Member

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    The Private Lives of Orcs

    Discussion in 'Fantasy' started by Nidhogg, Jun 28, 2016.

    I'm currently looking into doing a fantasy story from the perspective of orc protagonists. These orcs would be akin to those found in LOTR- ugly humanoids with a culture focused on war, with medieval technology at their disposal and under the leadership & patronage of the resident Dark Lord.

    Part of my aim for this story would be to show the orcs (and other 'evil' races: goblins, imps, trolls, and ogres) as being more than just foot soldiers. Whilst I feel like I have a good start on developing their values and motivations behind fighting, I feel like I am falling flat on developing distinct and understandable relationships between orc family units, as well as what their daily lives would consist of outside of combat. For example, I have no idea how Orc education may work, what family ties they may wish to maintain, and what relationships they could have with one another that could be seen as positive in the eyes of readers.

    I'm also looking into it because orcs and their kin- especially the LOTR variants- are pretty one dimensional in classic fantasy literature, and are simply/intentionally just depicted as 'the unrelatable enemy'. I mean, they come to battle, fight, die en masse, and then repeat. The interactions we do see between orcs can have hints of their culture, but they aren't always that developed.

    Does anyone have any suggestions on how orcs could be characterised, or how such a race may act behind closed doors? I know that there are several stories and novel series that have Orc/goblin protagonists- has anyone read any of these that had a particularly interesting take on them?
     
  2. TWErvin2
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    I think trying not to 'humanize' them, with family entanglements and relationships, for example.

    They're considered 'clanish'? Maybe focus on the picking order, and the scheming to bring down those ahead of them, looking to get them injured, or poisoned so that those who keep/beat them down can be overcome. Maybe as a clan they identify more with the symbol they follow than any kin they might have. The objective is to be noticed for their ferocity in battle and/or the ability to do the bidding of their dark lord master. They're probably not going to be great thinkers, unless there is a shaman or someone of that nature. Humor probably would be more slapstick than subtle social commentary.

    I am not thinking that there is a lot of orc education going on. Maybe the dark lord will pluck some above average individual for basic instruction in map reading or basic language, but I don't see an orc kindergarten or nursery school and story time, other than maybe story time revolving around some great orc warrior and a lesson on how he overcame some nasty elves or defeated his rival within the clan, or defeated the leader of another clan.

    I think trying to make orcs and their lifestyle positive in the eye of the reader, I think isn't going to work as well as simply creating a culture that the reader could understand, and realize this is the way orcs are and the reason they act the way they do, and how their outlook on life is formed.

    That's my two cents.
     
  3. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    So the thing is you're really going to have to decide this for yourself based on how you want people to see your orcs based on the tone you take.

    If you want them to be the ruthless baddies that everyone hates, then yeah, @TWErvin2 is on point. If, on the other hand, you're interested in undermining that trope, then you'll want to make it more relatable and less like what we might expect from orcs. The far end of that would be a straight up satiric approach where you have a bunch of well meaning, hospitable orcs with loving family units who are really just trying to do their bit to help out the Dark Lord they love so much. Either that or you could make it like an old company mining town where really the dark army is just a particularly dangerous day job, like the coal mines, but everybody punches out and goes home to their loving orc families (except of course, for those poor fellows slain by the forces of light or suffering long term injury, for which I'm sure their families are taken care of by the Dark Lord's substantive-but-not-particularly generous insurance policies).

    It's really about what you want people to see.
     
    Last edited: Jun 28, 2016
  4. Nidhogg
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    @TWErvin2 I agree that there should be a large focus on the hierarchy of the orcs. I have a notion that orcs may have less of an understanding of relationships in terms of equals, but more so in terms of superiors and inferiors. Perhaps this results in them not having anything we could equate to friends or partners, because they constantly feel the need to class one another as beneath or above them. This could be taken even further: in typical western fantasy, individuals may introduce one another alongside their father's name: perhaps orcs introduce themselves based on who their superiors are?

    I'm not sure how I feel with the notion that orcs aren't that bright: I mean, they're capable of smithing, in some series they have more advanced technology than their enemies. In general, I feel like they're intelligent, but perhaps not intelligent in the same sense that we are, lacking the degree of abstract thought that other races may have.

    Your comment on storytelling made me think of Orc younglings sitting around a campfire or pile of rocks, being taught by their elders about the world through stories and markings in the dirt. They may have education, but it might not be as formal and organised as our own.

    @Commandante Lemming I honestly haven't thought too much about what tone I'm planning on going for. A satirical approach would be easier for me to write, as I could be light hearted about it and not have to think too far into aspects of their lives, but I currently prefer the idea of doing them more akin to how TWErvin2 depicted them. I do like the idea of them viewing war like a day job to be interesting though- it would make for interesting conflict when humans are fighting for their lives and freedom, whereas the orcs just think it's an average workday.
     
  5. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    ...and now I just want an orc-based retelling of "October Sky"
     
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  6. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Oh yeah you can definitely do a war-like culture and go deeper into it - I was just presenting the spray of options and pointing out that how you portray the orcs is determined not by some inherent nature of orcs (there is no such thing as a real orc), but by how you want people to see your orcs.

    For what it's worth you might look at the portrayals of Klingon society in the later Star Trek series (I'm thinking specifically of Deep Space Nine but also some later Next Generation) as a model of how to portray the inner nuances of a warrior society that holds aggression as a moral value in itself.
     
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  7. TyrannusRex
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    TyrannusRex Member

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    Just look to WB Interactive & Monolith's Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor. They do a really good job of exploring the culture and "government" behind Tolkien's orcs.
    ...
    And October Sky is an excellent movie...
     
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  8. Nidhogg
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    "Father... I do not want to join the horde. I want to join the elves and learn great magics so that I may build a vessel to the heavens."
    "Nonsense, whelp! You will put your helmet on, grab a cleaver and join the fields of battle with the rest of your siblings!"
    "But daaaad!"

    I had a look at the Klingons, and whilst they're useful for looking at how such a society could work, I feel that I probably will try to avoid doing too much research into them. Klingons are pretty big on honour, whereas I feel that orcs would probably not think much of honour. In general, I'm not sure what virtues they would have beyond survival.
     
  9. TyrannusRex
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    TyrannusRex Member

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    (I apologize if it sounds like I'm trying to beat a dead Warg...)
    In Shadow of Mordor, orc society is based on a militaristic hierarchy. Everyone is trying to kill man-filth and off their rivals in order to increase their own standing within the community, and they aren't afraid to betray, cheat and backstab to get it done. That's certainly not honorable. That being said, there is the occasional orc with dissident personality traits/descriptors, such as "The Wise", "The Merciful" "The Pitiful" "The Weak" "The Coward" (although one could argue that cowardice is an extension of selfishness and meanness) and "The Beautiful" (which, believe me, is pushing it).
     
  10. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    HAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHA!

    *trying to hold it together*

    ....

    *sniff*

    ....

    *sniff*

    ...

    BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!
     
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  11. Nidhogg
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    @TyrannusRex I had almost completely forgotten that Shadow of Mordor was a thing :p I'm glad you brought it up!

    I am a fan of how the orcs (well, uruks, but that's a minor technicality) fight for power and are willing to do anything to gain it. This variation would be great for characters- having some that get what they want through brute force, whilst others lick eachother's feet and try to gain power through 'friendship'.

    On the subject of names, I was thinking that for my orcs I might do something akin to the Unsullied of Game of Thrones: with their names chosen to sound degrading and disgusting, it starts orcs off as being low in hierarchy. Once they gain a reasonable rank in orc society, they choose their own name, which would sound more threatening (I'm thinking they have the same creativity as your average male preteen gamer, so names like deathclaw, shadowblade, and murderdeath would be common).

    One thing that Shadow of Mordor doesn't have is any female uruks (or at least uruks explicitly stated as being female). I am curious to know how the sexes may differ, and how orcs may perceive sex and parenting, as well as the notion of gender rolls. I currently assume that they'd be pretty gender equal, seeing as all orcs need to fight, they wouldn't want to stop half the population from doing so. Not sure about the rest though.
     
  12. TyrannusRex
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    TyrannusRex Member

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    Well, uruk is the Black Speech word for "orc". So, meh. Uruk-hai means "orc folk" and would refer to their race. The Uruk-hai of Isengard are something different entirely.
    Tolkien has alluded in some works to the possibility of female orcs, but if they exist, they presumably live underground and may or may not have free will.
    Also, and quite a few terrible jokes have come out of this, the fact that there aren't female Uruks in that game has led some to believe that certain Uruks pursue Talion for reasons other than advancement in rank...
    On a different note:
    "But daaaaaad..."
    It's like the prince in Monty Python and the Holy Grail!
     
    Last edited: Jun 28, 2016
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  13. Simpson17866
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    My advice if you are going the orcs-as-militarists route (which I personally will not be doing in my Urban Fantasy but that's just me) :

    1) Look at the ways that humans wage war and the ways that we don't
    2) Look at why we do or don't do each

    For example, humans don't generally want to fight (even though we sure think we do), so a lot of our warfare throughout history has been as much about scaring the other side into surrendering as it has been about killing them outright.

    If, on the other hand, you decide that orcs in your world can't be scared into not fighting - if every decision not to fight is a purely rational evaluation of cost and benefit rather than a response to overwhelming fear - then it won't occur to them to scare the other side either. This would make their weapons and tactics a lot more subtle than ours, and they would see Shock And Awe as a complete waste of time and resources.
     
  14. Nidhogg
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    Nidhogg Member

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    Talking about dead wargs... I was actually thinking about how warg riders would work and be different to horse riders.

    If we assume that wargs are basically just rather big wolves, then the orcs would need a very different relationship with them than a human might have with a horse. Wargs wouldn't be able to support a person for an entire hunt, so orcs would likely only ride them during the hunt itself, not the way there and back. Wargs could also be seen less like steeds and more like hunting partners, meaning that the relationship would be a lot closer. Depending on how wargs take information, warg riders may not use girdles and other steed harnesses, instead clinging to their fur and using tactile commands to move their mount. After all, wargs already know how to hunt and how to stalk prey; the orc is just there for the ride.
     
  15. TyrannusRex
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    While that's a lovely idea, I think it's implied that wargs have been bred by Sauron & the orcs to be fierce hunting steeds. It's like how early humans domesticated the wolf, then chose the traits to keep that made them more manageable, until the domestic dog had evolved, except with wargs, it's the other way around! They've promoted bloodlines that encourage ferocity, teeth, and size, thus evolving a canine the size of a horse that can still be tamed and ridden. Additionally, orcs never seem to use saddles, at least not with wargs; they're always bareback. Not to mention that in The Battle of the Five Armies we see a massive warg pit in Dol Guldur, presumably where the creatures are bred and housed, akin to underneath a redneck's front porch.
    EDIT: You can even see in Jackson's films; in The Hobbit, the wargs seem much smaller and more nimble, whereas in The Lord of the Rings, they are large and muscular, with smaller eyes, nastier teeth, and less hair on the tail.
     
    Last edited: Jun 30, 2016
  16. Nidhogg
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    I only feel this would make sense if the orcs either had a patriarchal society, or if female orcs spent a lot of time in labour/pregnant with few offspring. Orcs are usually shown to have large populations, so if we assume orcs have lots of young (I.e. Litters of maybe 2-5?) and not a lot of time is out into caring for them, then this would infer that they have short labour times (based on R and K reproductive strategies). With short labour times, orcs could have a few periods of pregnancy throughout their lives, meaning they could fight or work in between. Perhaps orc females are split into categories:
    - those who are too young to mate, but have the potential to mate. These work as smiths, cooks, hunters etc.
    - those who are pregnant/rearing young. They either take work leave or work low energy jobs, such as making clothes, food, arrowheads etc.
    - those who are beyond reproductive age who choose to fight and enter the horde
    - those who choose not to have children, joining the horde at an earlier age

    Oh dear...
     
  17. Nidhogg
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    I was referring more so to warg-like creatures (they'd likely take a name from the same origin of warg- maybe varg because I'm lazy), but it's interesting to hear that the wargs of LOTR were selectively bred. I mean, orcs in any setting would likely have to selectively breed them, but in the example I gave the intent would be to make them cooperative, not fully reliant on orcs to survive.
     
  18. halisme
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    halisme Contributing Member Contributor

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    As I've been working on my own warrior culture there are I've found to be pretty much tied into everything else.

    Hierarchy
    Believe it or not, getting a five thousand people to start marching in the same direction takes a lot of work, so who organises it? Is there a king or warchief who decides who and when they go to war? Is it inherited or elected? As most armies have to split up to achieve their goals, how are generals chosen? What's the smallest unit with an offical commander within the army (e.g The Roman Centuria, The Mongolian's ten man structure)?

    Training
    The Spartans would take a child from their parents at a young age and start training them straight away. This also involved regular beatings to teach them, to resist pain, and their final trial was to murder a slave without being caught. So, how early do your people train from? And how cruel is it? And finally, who does the teaching?

    Economy
    To refer to The Spartans again, they had ten thousand soldiers and anywhere between fifty and sixty thousand slave (equivalents). This is because standing armies cost a fortune to keep and, unless they're fighting, you're paying them to train. I'm not talking about things like "they produce this much grain each year", more along the lines of having a rough idea who's paying for things.

    There are a few other minor things as well, but they can be work out after.
     
  19. Nidhogg
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    @halisme Thanks for the prompts there! I'm going to try and give approximate ideas of what I'd consider good ideas, but I'm interested to hear the opinions of others.

    Heirarchy
    For Orc forces (excluding the other green-skinned races), the top rank is Warchief, with each Warchief controlling a clan. Each Warchief gives orders directly to Clanlords, which in turn give information to generals, who finally give orders to the orc grunts. Leaders of any kind earn their power through either killing the current leader or displaying they can do a better job than the current leader- in essence, it's a kratocracy. The smallest units probably range from 10-20 individuals, thus explaining why people may find many small bands of orcs within a small area.

    Training
    Orc younglings train as soon as they can hold a weapon in their hand without dropping it from the weight. Training is likely undertaken by generals- as they are already expected to know the basics of war, they can take the time to train younglings. Not sure how cruel it would be- it really would depend on how sadistic the general was, I guess.

    Economy
    I'd need more time to give a good answer to this one. If we assume these orcs live in a wasteland like Mordor, with patches of grassland and mountainous regions littered with ash-rich soil, then I imagine the primary diet of orcs and their kin would be small game, weed-like plants, and potentially some root vegetables. They may be able to rear some livestock, such as poultry and pigs. There's also the consideration that orcs aren't exactly the most well fed of individuals- they likely fight and raid so much due to a lack of resources, and with high populations they also likely are constantly on the verge of running out of food. They could use human slaves, but orcs are probably more likely to eat the slaves- and each other- than use food to keep them alive.
     
  20. halisme
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    halisme Contributing Member Contributor

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    @Nidhogg If I might make a suggestion. Have the children be taken away from their parents at an early age like the Sparatans. Have them be taught that the warband is their family, that the warband is the only thing keeping them safe and that they must keep the warband safe. It makes internal conflict much easier to understand, I mean, would you let your family starve? The lack of food could also justify why they venture out, to gather and raid for it, though you should also ask the question of why they'd stay in those lands. Species will normally go to the place that it is easiest for them to survive in.

    Also thanks for teaching me a new word, Kratocracy.
     
  21. Nidhogg
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    The easiest explanation for why staying would be fore the alternatives to not have the protection of their Dark Lord: currently the outside world is one of dense forests with murderous creatures, or grasslands controlled by mankind. Plus they view their Dark Lord as a physical god, so some wouldn't want to venture anywhere without his decree, and others wouldn't want to leave because they're just stubborn.

    I like the training suggestion, and it would definitely help with producing conflicts. They may not use the idea of family, but could definitely rally behind the warband itself.

    I'm glad you learned a new word :)
     
  22. TyrannusRex
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    I just love this discussion, so I'm going to weigh in on a number of things (most of the LOTR related):
    1) Kratocracy! That's an awesome word!
    2) From what I've seen of orc training, Tolkien's orcs are essentially driven like slaves by their betters, probably to desensitize them like the Spartans. Some of them might learn on their own, though, because before the orcs were slaves to Sauron, at least a few lived throughout Mordor in small, crappy-looking camps and resisted joining a larger collective (that's why Uruks can go on recruitment missions in Shadow of Mordor). Orc weaponry is either taken from the enemy or cobbled together from whatever is available, but Saruman's Uruk-hai had great forges to produced platemail and (presumably) steel weaponry.
    3) I agree with the thing about orc diet, but Tolkien's orcs specifically are not afraid to openly practice cannibalism. Sure, they mostly eat slain humans/elves/insert enemy or their horses, but just watch the "meat's back on the menu, boys" segment in The Two Towers.
    Additionally, Shadow of Mordor has shown us that not all of Mordor is a volcanic wasteland. The northern portions especially (and the lands bordering Rhun and Khand to the east) are actually lush, green, and beautiful; keep in mind that Gondorians were in Mordor between Isildur's time and the events of The Hobbit, and they were able to eke out a living. A fanmade work called The Last Ringbearer discusses LOTR's event from the OTHER side: that of the orcs (which are essentially viewed as really ugly near-humans rather than a separate species). They have agriculture, a pretty well-developed society, and Barad-dur is described as "a shining city of philosophers and alchemists" :bigcool::supershock:

    Hope this veritable textwall helps!
     
  23. Nidhogg
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    Oh, the orcs in my story would definitely be cannibalistic- eating a dead body is probably a part of their funeral rites, and they'd likely look upon a battlefield of corpses in the same way we'd look at someone throwing away good food because it looks a little off. This treatment of each other as food would likely make them all pretty paranoid around one another, as well as reduce their grieving for lost kin- it's hard to feel bad for something that's made of tasty. Seeing as the setting I'm working on also has other green skinned races, they'd likely also supplement their diet with goblin flesh, and in turn they would be eaten by ogres and trolls.

    In the setting I'm planning so far, the resident Dark Lord's realm is filled mostly with loyalist camps, with some smaller camps being resistant to the influence of the Dark Lord. Regardless of their loyalties, most of their weapons and armour are stolen or scrapped together, hence why their armour always looks like it's a patchwork of leather and mail. In their glory days, they had plate armour, which helped reduce the conflicts of clans- it's harder to tell if you shouldn't be defending the Orc next to you if you all have the same armour covering your faces and clan markings- but has since been smelted down and used to produce tools and fortifications.
     
  24. Terrie000
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    Nidhogg, I am a beginner at writing, and am also working on a fantasy story. My ambitious plan is a series, but I'm starting out with the human race first although my human characters may encounter some orcs during their journey.

    Regarding to your question, it is fiction - it's your story - so whatever their culture is going to be, there is no wrong. The only thing you want to make sure is their culture is different than human. Ok, that's not too helpful, lol... here are few of my own thoughts:

    Education - should be none. Their education is military training, not literacy.
    Diet - big game hunters, meat!
    Family - Men fight, women raise kids and forge weapons.
    Culture - focus on fighting? Like annual arena tournament to select a chieftain/champion? Motivation for fighting = heroic? Maybe they get to be in the Hall of Fame that is worship by the clan?

    Hope this helps with the brainstorming at least...

    Terr
     
  25. Nidhogg
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    Nidhogg Member

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    Thank you for the suggestions, @Terrie000 !

    I've been thinking a bit about the previous mention of the Mongols and their military organisation as a base for orc formations, and I'm wondering if this would be a good way of organising their societies in general. Seeing as they are all living in clans and these clans are (mostly) loyal to the Dark Lord, I took the decimal system of the Mongols and came up with this:

    Each individual working orc is part of a small group. These groups typically have ten members, but numbers can fluctuate by three either side. Each group also has a leader, simply named as the leader. Group members are all given names that reflect their low status, and they have no titles.
    When ten groups are together, they form a group themselves called a pack. Packs consist of ten leaders, with one of these leaders rising above the others to become a Pack Leader. These orcs still lack a name of their own, up they may have a nickname based on their name (for example, Fishbait the leader could be promoted to pack leader, and earn the nickname Sharkmeat or Eeltooth). A pack leader will often have a second in command to act as leader of their group when they are absent.
    When ten packs are together, you get a clan. Clans not only form military groups, but are also considered the main social units, dictating kin, territory, and symbols. The leader of a clan is called a chief. A chief is often independent of any packs or groups, and the chiefs act as their own widespread group instead. The Chiefs will pick independent bodyguards, who may also have their own packs. Clan leaders select their own names.
    When you get to the big numbers- over 1,000 individuals- you start getting the Warlords. These are orcs that have direct contact with the Dark Lord's messengers, and give themselves a name, whilst their kin will give them a title. A Warlord will have a bodyguards that will defend them if they should be attacked, and in return the bodyguards are given a higher class lifestyle akin to that of a chief. An army of around 1,000 individuals is called a legion.
    All of these groups are given autonomy within themselves.

    To summarise:
    1 orc = 1 grunt
    10 orcs = 1 group (9 grunts, 1 leader)
    100 orcs = 1 pack (90 grunts, 8 leaders, 1 second in command, 1 pack leader)
    1,001 orcs = 1 clan (900 grunts, 90 leaders, 10 pack leaders, 1 chief)
    10,011 orcs = 1 legion (9000 grunts, 900 leaders, 100 pack leaders, 10 chiefs, 1 warlord)

    On the outskirts of the Dark Lord's expansive territory, there are orcs that are known as the Dead Clans. These are much smaller clans of varying numbers, which have chiefs as their highest rank. These clans do not recognize any higher authority, but they have served the Dark Lord directly in the past. A warlord may sometimes try to gain the support of a Dead Clan during a fight, but this only really occurs when the clan is under threat or if the warlord is intimidating enough.

    Ok, so so far we've discussed education, military, mindsets/values, diet/farming, nationality, and gender roles. If possible, I'd like to also discuss:
    - religion, particularly in terms of the resident Dark Lord
    - entertainment and the arts
    - family units
    - interactions/views of other races (in this setting, the opposing race is mankind, and their neighboring races are goblins, trolls, and ogres)
    - housing
     

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