Posted by: Sean | November 6, 2008

Theme Week Orc: A Culture of Strength (and a discussion of orcish weddings)

“Orcs do not spend their every waking moment practicing new ways to torture people, nor do they spend time thinking about new ways to torment you. If they did, they’d probably be less deadly.” – Brann Bronzebeard, The Players Guide to the Horde.

“Weakness brings only death.” – Orcish Saying, The Players Guide to the Horde

One of the questions Jess discussed with me for her wedding post is: What is an orcish wedding like? It’s a really good question (Alex Ziebart? Are you there? Hello?) and I don’t have a firm answer. But I do have part of it: It will focus on strength. That’s because all of orcish culture does.

Let’s go into orcish history a little. The orcish society is tribal and highly clan-focused. While these days the ‘tribal’ lines are mostly political, a group of identities within the wider orcish horde defined by Thrall, in their earliest days this almost certainly was not so. Most tribal societies, in fact, are based heavily around families – You can usually see the family relationships between every member of a society, and it seems likely that early orcish society was similar. This means that clans were distinct, fiercely loyal, but dependent on each other. They had to marry their enemies, after all, and this meant that frequent meetings with tense and careful negotiation. Orcish culture was very patriarchal, but probably not so much that an orcish father would blithely toss his daughter to the wolves.

Imagine what traits would be required in such a society. Honour would quickly rise to a premium, both in a personal sense (for the men) and in a sexual sense (for the women). With such a high price in the offing, orcish men would quickly demand fierce honour from their potential sons in law. But with such tension in the negotiations, women would inevitably become prizes. So swiftly we’re beginning to imagine these meetings: Tense occasions, where either side will be looking for any sign of weakness in their opposite numbers.

Or how about even within their own societies? As Brann Bronzebeard points out, orcs are massive, physically ferocious creatures, but they’re not superhumanly resilient. A sword will slice apart an orc as easily as a human. So will an orc’s claw. Orcs developed a highly rigid sense of honour very early on that stopped brawls and endless bloodshed being the rule of their people… but this only increases the important of the appearance of strength as a method of winning conflicts. A cunning, savage fighter may well be truly able to take apart the bigger but less wily fighter. But when would he ever get the chance to prove it?

I don’t mean to make it look like orcish culture is a mono-issue culture. Strength is not the only thing they admire. Personal courage and honour go a long way. While artistic expression isn’t exactly a priority within orcish society, we know that they have a highly developed culture of song, And they do not forget their elders; wisdom is revered, and a venerable old warrior whose arms have grown weak with age is not disregarded but exists as a man of awe – Few warriors ever die of old age.

But strength, again and again and again, underpins all of this. It is not a ruthless worship of strength; it favours an honest fight over a rigged one. However, there is no time for weakness in its culture, and recent history has not lessened this belief at all. Centuries of brutal warfare driven by demonic blood are a cause for regret in orcish society… but define their people. They remain a warrior culture, and their wars have gone from tribal to global. Nomadic to begin with, they are now genuinely dispossessed, and their search for a home has demanded strength and courage from all of them. Even Thrall’s leadership of diplomacy has not blunted it; Thrall is a warchief, and expects his soldiers to deliver. And as he has worked to destroy the patriarchal bent of the society, even orcish women are now expected to be as strong as the men.

So, to answer Jess’s question; what would an orcish wedding be like? Considering the history of the orcs, it will be at least ceremonially patriarchal – Expect the father of the bride to be very active in the preparations and ceremony, and expect a formal ‘handing over’ at some point. Given their shamanic heritage, expect the elements to employed in the ceremony – The couple may well be branded, marked with earth, bathed in water. And given their culture?

Expect the most common refrain the couple hear to be, “May your children be many and strong.”


  1. Great entry, I enjoyed it very much. It does help imagining what a orc wedding be like and just how everything preceding it be very interesting for the potential bride & groom, and their families.

    I could go as far, to seeing the orc’s doing arranged marriages of sorts in the past & even present. Where they would strengthen the bonds of two clans by marrying into each one. But this more so be a bonus, where as the primary reason probably be because both clans are strong, and it just make sense for them to marry one another, to strengthen the future generations. And for woman, I doubt they mind a semi-arranged feel, as they would value strength very much in deciding a mate. And if their family gives them an option to marry the strongest candidate, who happens to be from another clan and that marrying them help their relations with said clan; then why be mad over that. As its the best possible scenario for everyone involved under most circumstances.

    I wonder though, if they did do or still do the arranged marriage kind of thing. How far would it go? Would it be one of those things where two are arranged to be married when they are still children or even before they’re born as their older siblings were married off before to the same clan.

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