When people think of Fantasy RPGs probably one of the first things to pop into their minds are elves. Then Dwarfs, wizards, maybe orcs (or orks if you prefer), goblins. Dragons probably make an appearance in there. The list goes on and on. In general though these things all have a certain set familiar traits; Eleves are long lived and pretty, dwarfs are short and hardy, orks are brutish and powerful. This provides a commonality that allows the gamer to have touchstones that are instantly familiar. I say we throw that out the window ...
Issue #10: Do I Know You?
The Ork (or Orc, if one prefers), is a well known, much maligned, staple of the genre. Regardless of the game they tend to be stronger than a man, often less intelligent, and primitive or savage. Many are green skinned, which is a trait that sets them further apart from humans, elves, dwarfs, gnomes, etc. The stock art for an Ork depicts them with pointed ears, over sized lower canines that thrust out of a jutting lower jaw, and of course a thick frame heavy with muscle. Basically that picture over to the right.
Now we say we want to give a new spin to the Ork. We want to make something old and familiar, new and, if not novel the at least, different. This requires we make changes to the standard. Physically we have three primary traits, skin color, build, and facial structure (which we could further break down if desired). We also have two primary behavioral traits, being of limited intelligence, and being primitive.
We want to change things but maintain a certain level of familiar recognizability. As such we have to be careful with changes to the physical aspects lest we end up with a race that is no longer Ork. We could leave their appearance the same and change only their cultural and mental aspects, but if we're going to make changes, let's make some changes. We want to keep the general appearance of the face, the heavy brow, the jaw, the tusks, the ears, so that leaves the other physical aspects. We change the hue of the skin from a medium green to a mahogany brown, with traces of darker, chestnut brown veins below the skin. We also alter the traditional black hair color to a deep rust red, as it will serve the race well in its new forest habitat. The tusks we de-emphasize slightly, and we likewise reduce the often seen heavy brow and jutting jaw, keeping the general Orkish features but making them less savage. Next we address the Ork's build. We do away with the often seen barrel chest, giving them a more human like body proportion. That done we have a creature that still looks like an Ork, but is clearly different.
Doing away with their low intellect and primitive or barbaric lifestyle comes next. We give them a more human standard level of intelligence but add to it a strong will that couples with their hardly physical nature. Orks are a resilient lot, and so should be mentally as well as physically. For a Fantasy game we also give them an affinity for making things. Not stone or ironwork (as would normally be the providence of dwarfs), nor magic (as would be the domain of many an elf), but instead we gift them with an affinity for woodworking and agriculture. From savages to carpenters and farmers. Initially these Orks would live in and around forests, near clearings and plains, and with time their settlements would grow along these boundaries that define their lives.
Being farmers and craftsmen also implies now that the traditional warlike attitude is replaced by village and city building, and trading. Further we can assume that in time they would likely become adept with weapons appropriate to their culture, axes, hammers, teethed & bladed weapons, and scythes are all likely to be hallmarks of the now forming "Wood Ork". They would also likely be known for the high quality of their bow and crossbow weapons (though perhaps not for their marksmanship).
...and that's it; we now have a race that would, if inserted into an otherwise "standard" fantasy milieu, would fit in well with humans and their allies. An Orkish race that while bearing a vague physical resemblance is now quite different from the expected standard.
What do you folks think? Is this a race that you would be interested in playing in a game, or is this instead too different from the classic Ork? What would you change to make the races of a custom fantasy setting new and exciting?