Orcs Revisited

Volo’s Guide to Monsters gives us fantastic resources to use when designing lairs for kobolds and planning out how they’ll behave in a combat encounter. When it comes to orcs, though, Volo’s cops out on these topics, instead giving us an anthropological (orcological?) overview of the highly theocentric structure of orc society. This offers some guidance on encounter building, but nothing here offers any new insight on how orcs might behave during a fight, save one detail: war wagons.

We can surmise that a group of orcs escorting a war wagon will be less likely to charge Aggressively if doing so means leaving the war wagon unattended. Also, as reluctant as orcs are to retreat to begin with, they’ll be even more reluctant if doing so means abandoning a war wagon. To allow a well-laden war wagon to fall into the hands of an enemy by fleeing would be unforgivably disgraceful. Orcs are so hung up on pride and valor, they won’t even use the war wagon for cover if they’re seriously wounded. If they have 1 hp left, they’ll place that 1 hp between the enemy and the war wagon.

What Volo’s does offer are five (!) new varieties of orc, two of which are spellcasters, all of which build on the orcish pantheon of the Forgotten Realms setting. Continue reading Orcs Revisited

Orc Tactics

With orcs, I continue my examination of the cannon-fodder humanoid monsters of Dungeons & Dragons. Actually, orcs have always been somewhat tougher than goblins and kobolds, but they remain one of the undistinguished stock foes of low-level D&D parties. How does the fifth edition of D&D make orcs unique?

Unlike goblins and kobolds, orcs are strong and tough. They’re not very smart—their behavior is largely driven by instinct—but they possess average Wisdom and decent Dexterity. They have the Aggressive feature, which allows them to move their full speed toward a hostile creature as a bonus action, effectively allowing them to Dash, then Attack. And, curiously, they possess a social skill (Intimidation +2). Their standard melee weapon, the greataxe, deals damage that can be deadly to a level 1 character.

These are no hit-and-run skirmishers or snipers. Orcs are brutes. They’ll charge, they’ll fight hand-to-hand, and they’ll retreat only with the greatest reluctance when seriously wounded. (Being fanatical valuers of physical courage, orcs—unlike most creatures—are more willing to fight to the death.)

Continue reading Orc Tactics