Often depicted as savage brutes and ravaging barbarians the orcs of Eberron are in fact an incredibly diverse and deeply spiritual people. While it is true that some orcs are uncivilized and wild this stereotype does not reflect on the majority of orcs living in and around Khorvaire. The mighty House Tharashk is in fact made up mostly of half-orcs and many humans who can trace their heritage back to the orcs of the Shadow Marches and orcs of the Eldeen Reaches are some of the most closely connected to Eberron and the natural world. The orcs are one of the oldest, if not the oldest, race in all the world, dating their history back some thirty-thousand years. Orcs are a perfect study in nurture over nature as an orc’s surrounding and history could mean the difference between a mad, wide-eyed, axe wielding barbarian and a humble, proud farmer who seeks to protect his family above all else.
Orcs of the Shadow Marches
Long isolated from the rest of the world (due largely to the fact that they are bordered by the Demon Wastes) the orcs of the Shadow Marches are a people divided. While some exist in a more primitive state forming loose “tribes” that shun humans and other races and see them as lesser beings who can never possibly understand their way of life. On the other side of this schism are the orc “clans” who allied with refugees from Sarlona over fifteen hundred years ago who see humans and other races as their relatives, albeit their smaller but still respectable relatives.
The tribes of the Shadow Marches are not by definition evil or savage (though some certainly are), they simply cling to an older tradition and dislike being disturbed or meddled with. Tribal orcs see no common ground between them and humans as orcs were the first creatures of the land, so only they can truly connect with Khorvaire. They find the concept of human and orc mating to be as revolting and aberrant as most civilized races in central Khorvaire do and so half-orcs are rare within the tribes.
All of the orcs of the Shadow Marches are very spiritual and once again the race is split, this time between two major religious groups, the tribal cultist of the Dragon Below and the nature worshiping clan orcs of the Gatekeepers. A touch of madness runs through the tribes, as they delve deeper into their worship of Xoriat and the Dragon Below, though most see these as flashes of the divine rather than serious mental illness. The Gatekeeper orcs of the clans are interesting in that most know nothing of the daelkyr or their ages old war, but still they feel a closeness with the land and believe it is their duty to protect it.
The Shadow Marches have never been accountable under the Code of Galifar and are a land rich with both treasures, from Khyber dragonshards to ancient ruins, as well as danger with strange aberrations and fanatical isolationist orcs liberally scattered about the land. Many fugitives from the law as well as glory seekers travel to the Marches in the hopes of a better life. The tribes and clans of the Shadow March orcs do share a common bond in that both are usually governed by a single sheriff who deals out justice as they see fit. Killing or even openly challenging a sheriff is a serious offense to all Shadow March orcs and is a crime that can only be paid for in blood.
Orcs of the Eldeen Reaches
The orcs of the Eldeen Reaches are an offshoot of the Marcher clan orcs, drawn to the Reaches by their close connection with nature. They are among the most civilized and peaceful of all the orcs and work closely with other druids in the great forests. The Gatekeeper faith is strongest here and a raging orc sees his fury as a manifestation of the land, the experience an almost spiritual one to true followers.
Orcs of The Demon Wastes
March of the Ghaash’kala
The Demon Wastes are perhaps the harshest lands in all of Eberron, with the possible exception of the Mournland. To survive here one must not only be strong of arm but strong of spirit as well, and no group better represents these traits than the Ghaash’kala. These militant and deeply spiritual orcs see the Demon Wastes as a tainted land and any who enter into it are forever stained with its touch, thus their sacred duty is to prevent anyone who has entered or is within the Wastes from leaving, one way or the other. Despite this fact the Ghaash’kala are often peaceful to those who come near the Wastes and are a proud and noble people, enemies of the ancient fiends and willing to accept those who have been tainted by the demonic nature of the land to join them rather than die by the axe.
The Ghaash’kala are divided into four similar yet distinct clans (though the term is not technically accurate as the “clans” are not based on familial ties) each with two leaders. The kizshmit is the military leader of the tribe while the sar’malaan guides the orcs along a spiritual path. The kizshmit governs most of the mundane orc activities as well but bows before the wisdom of the sar’malaan in all matters of a spiritual nature. The clans all work together, though they have different duties and geographical locations. The Jaasakar (“Deadly”) clan rules the east, the Maruk (“Mighty”) clan guards the central labryinth, the Kastar (“Swift”) clan protect the west and the Vaanka (“Final”) clan keeps watch over the northwestern labyrinth where the Demon Wastes connect with the rest of the lands.
All of the Ghaash’kala tribes worship Kalok Shash, the binding flame. Unlike the Silver Flame followers, who are mostly farmers and other simple folk who live peaceful lives, the Ghaash’kala are warriors and their existence is frought with constant danger. Kalok Shash is the burning beacon which calls warriors to their sacred duty and emboldens them to do battle with demons and monsters alike. The Ghaash’kala orcs commonly brand their own flesh with a symbol of Kalok Shash, though this symbol varies from tribe to tribe and even then is not universal among the clans warriors and priests.
Orcs of the World
Orcs are found in many other places across Khorvaire and receive a warmer welcome than many other less civilized races such as goblins and ogres. Some orcs make their homes in the monster ruled nation of Droaam and have degenerated to a state similar to their country monster cousins, enslaving weaker races like goblins and kobolds while living out short, brutal lives.
In the Mror Holds an ancient and savage horde of orcs known as the Jhorash’Tal (not to be mistaken with the half-orc Jhorgun’taal) wage constant and bloody war with the dwarves of the region for long ago wrongs commited against them. Unfortunately for all orcs the Jhorash’Tal are fairly typical examples of eastern orcs who still hold to their old ways and their violent and primitive nature are one of the main factors in the negative opinion many people have of orcs in Khorvaire.
All in all orcs are much more than the wild beasts that sophisticated cultures would make them out to be. Perhaps some have a difficult time accepting their antiquated beliefs, others have had bad experiences with aggressive orc tribes and still others may just cling to bigotry and hate for any who are different. Despite this the orcs live on, they were here at the beginning and intend to still be here at the end.