Friday, December 2, 2011

Pellatarrum: My Orcs are Different

Mea Culpa:  HUGE thanks to Demonic Bunny, without whom this article would not have been possible!
With special thanks to Nathan Tamayo for his insights into orc psychology

Orcs in Pellatarrum do not have green skin, nor do they have square jaws or porcine faces. They do, however, have tusks. And thick hairy bodies. And horns. And red skin. In fact, they look like this:

Pellatarran orcs look like red oni rather than the stereotypically thuggish "Neanderthal with green skin and teeth" because they are ferocious warriors originating from the Plane of Elemental Fire, not some atavistic fear of genetic intermixing.

Just like fire, orcs cannot be controlled, only diminished. For them, everything -- even conversation -- is a contest to see who can make the other flinch first. If you flinch, you prove yourself a weakling, and therefore must submit to the stronger without question. This practice of ritual dominance has served the orc race well throughout the eons as a method of preserving tribal peace through (generally) nonviolent means and keeping the rate of casual murders to a manageable level.

Every encounter with an orc must be treated like a battle, because it is. Even in a peaceful situation, an orc will use vile insults, belligerent language, threatening gestures and anything else that will cow the listener into accepting the subservient role.

As a result of this, an orc warrior is nearly impossible to taunt or goad by any other race, save possibly the dwarves*. By showing his staunch and unflinching nature, an orc demonstrates to everyone that he is the best leader and least likely to make rash decisions -- an important quality in a race prone to fits of berserker rage. Of course, when two warriors are jockeying for position and neither is cowed by the other's threats, then it frequently comes to blows anyway. Most of the time such "debate" ends in bruises and unconsciousness rather than bloodshed and death, but such things are known to happen. To orcs, politics is a full-contact sport. 

Problems arise when orcs deal with other races who don't grasp this key facet of orc psychology, because what they assume to be imminent violence is actually just orcish posturing. Feeling threatened, they either attack (in which case words have failed and it is time for "diplomacy by other means", as Von Clausewitz would say) or they flinch but do not submit. Failing to acknowledge the dominant position of the orcs only proves to them that other races are degenerates and cowards, unworthy of trust and deserving only to be conquered. 

Orcs do not, as a rule, maintain livestock larger than pigs. They lack the patience for sustained animal husbandry beyond "pen it up until we eat it" and they lack the grazing grounds necessary for cattle and horses. However, orcs know how to "domesticate" fire elementals and keep them from dissolution -- it is believed they have rituals wherein they dance around the fire elemental, engage in mock combat, and generally indulge in various forms of passion in order to sacrifice some of their "hearts' fire" to feed their pets. These fire elementals are kept as a combination status symbol and trained warbeast.

Ritual scarification, tattooing, and piercing are common throughout all strata of orcish society, even the children. It takes a trained eye to determine which scars are for beautification, which denote status, and which are for bravery.

Pellatarran orcs are a bit like Mongols and a bit like Klingons in their current state. Prior to the shattering of their civilization by the other Elder Races, they were more like Babylonians or Pharaonic Egyptians: still warlike, but far less savage and far more educated.

Orcs are not stupid; they are ignorant. They are not savages by choice; they are survivors of a cultural holocaust. And while they are creatures of passion, that does not mean only violence; passion can also mean love, and joy, and exultation. Orcs feel emotions perhaps more keenly than any other race on Pellatarrum. Pleasure is a feeling, as is pain; both serve to remind you that as long as you feel, you are alive. Orcs savor every moment, every feeling, because while their lives are short they seek to fill them with meaning and sensation.

Other races choose to reject feelings of pain, and anguish, and sorrow as something bad to be avoided. Orcs feel this is akin to removing one of your eyes because you don't like what you see, or stabbing yourself in the stomach because you are hungry. Denial (or worse, repression) of feelings is rejecting a part of life.

Other races merely exist. Orcs live.

* Who, when they get really worked up, start pledging eternal atrocity upon everyone even slightly related to the orc in question. Threats of genocide get an orc's attention quite nicely, thank you.

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