Posted by: Sean | November 7, 2008

Theme Week Orcs: So What? Looking at the clans and the city.

OK, OK. I know we’ve talked a lot about marriage, women, and any combination thereof within orcish society this week. So what? What does this mean for you as a role-player who isn’t planning a wedding anytime soon?

Well, to answer that, I need to provide a speculative answer to Jess’s question: “How have the orcs moved so quickly from a highly patriarchal society to a very gender-balanced one?” Let’s get rid of a few of the easy (true, but easy) answers out of the way first. WoWWiki overstates the case somewhat. My informer (Brann Bronzebeard, a dwarf) may be overstating the role of Thrall. But I think there’s a greater force at work here: Demography and the role of the clans.

Theoretically, there are no clans anymore within the Horde. There is only The Horde. But in some way, the clans live on. Altered, perhaps. Increased closeness within their society has to have changed it. But none the less, orcs seize a lot of their identity from their clan. The Warsong pride themselves on their Spartan-like courage and fervour. The Shattered Hand are distinctly more sneaky than most orcs would care to be. While it’s just a guess, given their fel-corruption for the most part, I predict the Shadowmoon Clan define themselves by their honour. But the point is, each of the clans retains an identity, values, and beliefs. Right now, these remain strong.

However, the dominant clan right now is Thrall’s clan. What do they identify themselves by? The fact that they weren’t corrupted. That they have an unbroken link between their current status and the history. But also by their shared experiences in exile: They were the outsider tribe, the ones who had been on the outer, exposed and even hunted.

This is only speculation, but my guess is that it’s here, well away from Thrall, that the orcish shift towards gender-equality started, before Thrall even was introduced to the clan. I believe this for two reasons. First, when you’re on the second lowest rung of Maslow’s pyramid, it’s pretty likely that you’re going to want anyone who can swing an axe around. Formally, they maintained a fair bit of sexism, but practicality won out and women in the clan did pretty well for themselves. Secondly, the alternative is to believe that Thrall learned this enlightened understanding while enslaved by a physically and sexually abusive drunkard. Frankly, this is tough to believe.

But none the less, he certainly would not have grown up in this environment unaffected by women, either. Taretha Foxton was his closest friend. He was impressed by her bravery and honour, certainly. And when he finally returned to his clan, it’s likely that he saw the many orcish women hunting and otherwise existing as practical equals within Frostwolf society; this is when it all clicked. Upon gaining control of the clan, he probably made the official status of women in the clan as equals, and saw little resistance. At this point, most of it had been formal anyhow.

Fast forward. Thrall has gained control of the Horde, has founded Orgrimmar, and there’s now a massive number of orcs living in close proximity. We don’t actually know what the clan makeup of these orcs is, believe it or not. We know that the majority of the Frostwolves live in Alterac, but then, the majority of the Warsong live in Ashenvale, and they’re the two major clans of the horde. It seems likely that both have large presences in Orgrimmar, they just aren’t called by their clan in the various writings we have. They’re Orgrimmar orcs instead. Assuming that a large number of Thrall’s clan came with him (which seems reasonable) it now means that the very sexist, conservative Warsong and other orcs are living in an environment that is far more culturally diverse than they had previously been used to. They are also surrounded by women who are in powerful positions and men who have no problem with this. In such situations, (as The Big Sort informs me) positions moderate. This is no doubt helped by Thrall keeping the pressure on to create such a society.

So, what does this mean for the orcs, and for you as a role-player? Simply put, it means there’s a lot of tension within the orcs. Female orcs are almost certainly Frostwolves… but there’s a lot of dramatic possibility in playing a young female Warsong who’s looking to buck tradition. And more loosely, it means there’s probably an urban/rural divide within the orcs; there’s a whole new mesh of values and beliefs in Orgrimmar that likely clash wildly with those in Alterac and Ashenvale.

To an orc role-player, what this means is that orcs, perhaps more than any other race, are not homogenous. They have complex beliefs and values, they disagree often, and should be played passionately and a little fractiously. It means that there’s a lot of good solid role-play material to be mined from being a traditionalist Warsonger who can’t believe how morally bankrupt Orgrimmar is, or a Frostwolf from Alterac who can’t believe how swiftly Orgrimmar is backsliding into the ‘bad old days’. Or, an Orgrimmar orc who wishes these country bumpkins would hurry up and get with the program. (Intriguingly, I suspect peons are treated better by Orgrimmar orcs than either of the rural orcish clans, because Thrall’s had the longest to implement those changes.)

Perhaps most significantly, not just for us as role-players but for the orcs as a whole, it may just mean that as time goes on, clan will mean less and less. Maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to trumpet which clan we are when we role-play as orc as to instead proudly identiy ourselves as an Ashenvale Warsonger, or an Alterac Frostwolf. Or even, yep, an Orgrimmar Orc.


  1. I think that is a pretty good assessment of the current state of affairs and how they’ve gotten there.

    As for the whole clan mess. While yes, more or less, the clans have fused into what is known as the Horde. This change, has been a very recent one. So many orcs, particular those from the stronger clans; will still probably identify themselves more with the clan they grew up in, rather than the Horde they now are apart of. Now in more time, things will be a bit more different. But for now, I think most orcs be likely to trumpet which clan they are from, especially the older ones who have such pride and the mindset of old more ingrained into them. Though people playing a younger orc, will definitely find it easier to be more about the Horde than the clan they came from, especially since the change over occurred in the years when one usually defines who they are.

  2. It’s occurred to me that there’s probably a lot of exceptionalism in orcish thought about women’s roles, just as in (say) socially conservative movements with prominent female leaders. “Women aren’t fit to lead…but ours is okay.”

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