When looking for an Orc substitute in a campaign, one should think about just a violent ethnic group of people. Huns, Goths, Visigoths, Franks, and Mongols, have all the same campaign effect of Orcs and other “monster races” that fight in large groups/ hordes. And it has the added bonus of people not being able take the moral high ground when they kill an intelligent being… because it is a people… not just a worthless Orc.

One such substitute group I have been using already is the Orcen. You will find the name in a number of posts. Most notably The Shield District. When you see the name, you can substitute a para-human race, like Orcs or apply a warrior culture like the Mongols.

The Orcen are a semi-nomadic Human people that ride and walk across a vast plain - The Marches. Being semi-nomadic, they have a base camp, a hearth, where much of the tribe stays. The rest travel around their “range” herding horses and bison. They live in hide tents of remarkable warmth and durability, with permanent tents at their tribal base camp, having both a teepee and a yert for winter living.

Each Tribe (50 to 150 people) is a combination of one to three clans who share a common totem spirit animal. They follow a Shamanistic religion, worshiping their animal ancestor spirit, ancestors, and spirits of various crafts (riding, hunting, herding, making…). A charismatic leader appears from time to time unifying several tribes under the title of Horde. These Hordes are often led against other Orcen Hordes or more civilized targets. The Orcen not involved are used to being mercenaries for either side (after all they can earn gold and experience in battle, rather than being a mouth to feed AND just riding around after the herds).

Higher ranked Orcen have horses and are experts at riding them. Lower ranked warriors or herder might borrow a horse from the string of the higher ranked Orcen they serve. Even lower ranked Orcen are still better horsemen than most civilized riders.

The Sign of an Orcen Warrior is a shield. This comes from a quote, “Anything can be a weapon, but a shield is a shield”. The Orcen Shield is a mid sized circular affair of beaten metal and stiff hide. The size is 1.3x the length of the warrior’s arm. It is sometimes painted, but the paint never lasts long on the metal, so most of the time it is just a gleeming silver. The shield is an Orcen warriors best friend, not only does it protect him… but it can be thrown as a weapon, bashed with as a weapon, used as a sunshade, and cooked with.

Physically Orcen are distinctive. They are a large square bunch. They are short with wide shoulders and broad chests. Their compact build gives them great strength and a low center of balance. Their facial features are also distinctive. Their head shape is similar, leading to roundish or even squarish shapes. They tend towards square jaws and wear their hair in a short spiky flat topped cut lending to the square appearance. Their noses are wide and broad. Their eyes tend to be brown, but other colors have snuck in from taken brides.
Nominally they are a “lifeform”. They could just be another society.

In terms of clothing, they wear tanned hide breeches and jerkins.

More to come. But if you have any ideas and comments… feel free to post them.

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Wouldn't kings of the civilized relams try to buy the loyalty of one tribe or other,thus using Orchen to protect their lands from other Orchen? Surely the Orchen aren't able to raid their civilized neighbours with impunity. Just a thought.

The Orcen have a culture based on strength (martial prowess) and horses. The two should equivalent, otherwise you have a 'merchant class' who have horses (one source of power) but no martial prowess. Perhaps a string of horses are rewards from the Chief for successful raid leading or duel success. Perhaps people duel (to near death) to achieve ranking... as measured in horses.

Those with horses grant them to those who follow them. The Idea behind this is 'You don't really own them, but you can run this string for me.' Of course, those people can pick up lower warrior types, who work under them. Thus you have a chain of client/ leaders.

Well, generally most fantasy settings already have some form of tribal folk or uncivilized barbarians to give some uncultured human opposition for PCs, although I'm pretty certain that the line between a barbarian human and an orc is fine indeed. Unfortunately, the chaps I've known wouldn't have any qualms over bashing hordes of natives compared to orcs due to them being humans.

However, I like drawing up a culture differing from the norm, it gives the barbarian horde character and alters the traditional image if of a bare-chested axe-wielding loonie. The reverence for a shield in the Orcens' case is already a significant change as small as it is. The PCs might expect the raging loinclothed giants of men to charge with their cudgels with no care for their own safety, but are surprised when the opposition utilizes their shields to maximum effect... and to bash some miscreants over their heads with it.

Weapon Equipment

Lets go with some distinctive weapons for these people.

Shield. I like this as their signature device. Medium Shield, just covering the forearm. It is used as a shield and as an oversized punching buckler and thrown weapon. Heck if the edges are sharpened, it would be good for slashing as well. This weapon defines two cultural ideas.

1) The best offense is a good defense. So not only do they use a shield (and armor), they believe in taking hits, so they work on their toughness. They probably have training where people are hit by blunt weapons to build up their tolerance to pain.

2) Anything can be a weapon. So they will not think, sword, spear, bow. They will have odd weapons and sometimes ride into battle without anything but their shield. They will then take a weapon (or tree branch, or some tack) and proceed to killing opponents. Disarming attacks might be a commonly taught thing here.

If that was the case, they would be skilled in hand to hand combat, perhaps they have body weapon skill (martial arts), with each tribe having an inspiring animal based upon its totem. Their arts would include some acrobatic and riding positions.

So lets think about some other weapons

Bola: This entangling weapon can be used in herding, to take down horses/ herd critters, wrap about their neck, or just hurt wolves. It is an excellent anti-cavalry weapon, though never used that way by the Gauchos(given its origins and timing, it was never used in European warfare). If they use it, they would be careful not to ride their horses into combat, as they could dismount any riding warrior (good night mounted knight). They could also entagle their upper arms, making most warriors less effective.


Some where attached to long lines of rope, to be used as lassos.


Chain and Chain and Blade: A weapon used by skilled warrior to devistating effect. There is a reason it is called a 1000 man weapon in China. It can smash, whirlwind, throw, entangle, disarm, whip, and if you add blades slashing and impailing. It does require great strength to use properly, which the Orcen would have in spades. It also requires practice and skill, which given their martial orrientation, Orcen would have. (Also given their mobile status, chains are easy for small forge opporations to make).

Whips. Leather/ Rope weapon. Oh yah.

Spears... where would they get the wood? But they might use them.

Throwing blades. Yep.

Stolen weapons from the 'civilized' people, oh sure. Free is free. And anything can be used as a weapon, even these silly long knives.

Chain mail halbruk and metal studded leathers.... armor of choice, light, flexible, and easy to make.

Helmets? Hmmmm. Probably something, but it would have to be light, easy to make, and not interfere with vision/ senses. Maybe that metal 'beanie' worn by the Mongols?

Any other thoughts?

Adapted huntingand herding weapons...

You already mentioned the whip - defeating a foe with it is especially humiliating,as he is being treated like cattle.

Bows: made of bone and horn, a composite bow is easy to store, andis quite short while not losing much of its punch... arrows can be tipped with horn or bone, or metal if the Orcen feel generous.

On a more supernatural note, they could, besides their martial arts, focus their totem insucha way that they create a spirit beast to fight beside them...

Quote from: 'MoonHunter'

5) The Orcen don't understand this contract deal. They just see it as tribute. They attack the first invading army. Then they leave with their newfound weapons, armor, and booty to their home camps. They have booty, it is time to go home. This leaves you unprotected and out that money.

Reminds me of something I have read once about Papua-New Guinea, about researchers and their diffilcuties

The culture has nothing like writing or literacy, so logically they don't consider written stuff as binding in any special way, like we do. Worse is, a contract or agreement is made upon certain conditions, and if the conditions change a new contract is needed. Sooo... it is perfectly acceptable to reach an agreement, and even to sign it (to them, it is just some special ritual the other side demands and seems to derive great satisfaction from). However, once the conditions change (bad harvest/hunting/whatever) the contract the other side thought to last forever is considered null, and needs new negotiations and all the stuff.

What is perfectly normal for the natives, is very stressing for a culture with a long tradition of literacy, where whatever is once written is sacred (OK, 'hard to ignore' is more to the point).

Horses and Herding

The Orcen have a culture based on strength (martial prowess) and horses. Horses are how they herd their other horses and herd beasts (Bison).

The two should equivalent, otherwise you have a 'merchant class' who have horses (one source of power) but no martial prowess.

The Tribe owns the Herd of Bison and Horses, there are no individual owners. The Tribal leaders gives strings of the horses to various people as rewards for combat prowess (honor to the clan), successful duels (ditto), good breeding (horse, bison, or personal) and service to the clan/ tribe. These people get their status from the tribal leader as expressed by horses. These people can portion out some of their string to be run by others, creating a string of psuedo master-client relationship. There are probably several layers from Leader to Tribal important person to their minion to the minion's minion (and their son in laws).

You don't steal horses from other Orcen. That would not be right. You can swipe them in battle from other peoples.

Brands of somekind might mark the tribe of a horse (perhaps the type of shoe or some carving on the hoof?). Strings should be marked by braids and/or colored ribbon (leather or cloth) in tail or mane.

Dueling might allow you to 'bet' some of your horses vs the other guys. the loser loses his life and gets those horses.

The number of horses you 'run' determines what you can get from the Tribe. You get X-amount of food, skins, warbooty, goods, based on the number of horses you run for the tribe.

This society is so far patriarchial. Perhaps there is a 'free woman' or woman who is a man in their society?



Some might say that the Orcen love their horses more than they love their own women.

Being a nomadic people. the Orcen are going to have very good horses. It is easy to mistake good looking with good working, as the Orcen horse is probably not going to be a flashy breed like the hot-tempered Arabian, or the loudly colored mustangs. They would be in all likelyhood brown horses, perhaps with a few markings such as white blazes on the face, and white socks, or feet. On the other hand, they are hardy animals, able to carry on when most other 'civilized' horse breeds would collapse from exhaustion and sheer effort. They are also going to be more resilient to disease, and less prone to lesser ailments such as weak hooves, or bad backs. Animals with these characteristics are not allowed to breed into the next generation of horses.

Terms of Ownership

Breeding of horses is probably one of the largest occupations among the Orcen, occupying half of their 'working class' with the other half be devoted to the making of arms, tending to the preperation of meat, and the like. This may seem like a large number, but in former Soviet countries, especially Uzbekistan contain large numbers of still nomadic peoples who prime mode of life is still based around the horse.

An Orcen would determine his station among the tribe by the number and quality of the horses he claims. This is used in exclusion of own, as the horses are the property of the clan chief. Fines and taxes are paid to the chief in terms of horseflesh as war prizes, and heroic warriors are rewarded in turn. An Orcen with three fine horses might be the equivalent to the modern upper class, while the lowest of the orcen are forced to share a single horse between several riders. The chief of the clan obviously has dozens, if not a hundred or more head of horse, making him extravagantly wealthy.

Horse Braids and Horse Brass

The chief of the clan will have a particular color pattern that is woven into the mane of his horses, and others attempting to copy the pattern, or unrightfully removing the braid could be severely punished. Some might suffer ritual branding or mutilation but severe offences, or examples could be made with the offender being drawn and quartered, or otherwise executed in a public fashion. When the chief makes a gift of a horse, he allows that warrior to place his braid next to the chief's braid. This shows the string of ownership. The above warrior with three horses could allow two others to add their braids to his animals in exchange for a cut of their war loot. Thus a single horse could have easily half a dozen braids before reaching its rider.

Clans can also mark ownership by distinctive cutting of the ears. This is a rather barbaric practice that continues even today. Thus a horse with two half circles and a triangle cut out of its right ear obviously belongs to the Sabutai clan of Orcen, as that has been their mark for generations. This would make stealing horses from another orcen clan a difficult bet, but not an impossible one.

thus, the more horses an orcen has, the more warbooty he can theoratically earn, offset by the fact that some horses and riders may not return. A fraction of his loot is owed to the next tier horse owner, who again owes a fraction to the next, until the chief, who owns all of the horses gains the most from a raid. The profit of the raid can then be passed on to the members of the clan who do not make their livelyhood by the spear and the arrow. The stonecutters, and the meat cutters, and the gatherers of herbs, and the women and children would owe their daily bread to either a supporting warrior, or to the generosity of the clan chief.

Gambling is common, though I think that 'to the death' bets are very rare. Life is difficult for nomads, and the death of an able-bodied warrior doesnt benefit the clan. It is more likely the war booty, or more impressively wives, would be the wager on such events. Betting a horse on a game might be the same as racing ofr pink slips, often spoke of but seldom actually done.

Now for the matter of the free woman. The key attributes of the warrior are strength and agility. Men are generally stronger and faster than women, and thus tend to make better warriors. Among the orcen, the females are not as likely to go raiding as the men, but I see no reason that the the Orcen would not allow a couragous woman who was able to hold her own with the spear and the bow to be an owner of horses. Discrimination based on gender seems to me, to be a product of an agrarian civilization. In this mindset, it is the men who work and war, while the women are expected to stay home and tend to the home. Lacking a permanent home, the orcen female is just as hardy and tough as her male counterpart, and not tied to a single location.

Quote from: 'Scrasamax'

Some might say that the Orcen love their horses more than they love their own women.

If you thought about what these women might look like, you could understand them. Orcen males are 'squarish' broad shouldered, big chested, and short. Their faces are similiar with solid square jaws.

So lets imagine women with similiar traits. Short, big chested, square faced. There is some variation on this for sure, but the basic type is there.

Sure, this is what your mother looked like... And it is the kind of women you want to have your children... but after seeing the tall, round, soft women of the Outlanders... they are not as pretty. So the phrase Outlanders for fun, Tribeswomen for Mom, would be common (okay it loses a little in the translation.)

Of course - a compact, well-muscled well-padded person loses little heat compared to a tall thin twig (like me, for example), and has more muscle mass to protect his organs, perhaps stronger bones. Also, a woman with a broad pelvis and some fat reserves has a greater chance of bearing a healthy child.

Perfect traits for survival in a harsh land.

Still, it would be interesting if the Orcen women did NOT look like their men - perhaps still muscled, yet tall and slender? Or petite, just inviting you to take care of them? Hmm.

Orcens respect strength and endurance...

So not only are the Orcen men occasionally 'borrowing women' (then giving them back a few days/ weeks later), the Orcen women are occasionally telling Outlanders men that 'They will marry them.' And if they don't, the women beat them until they do. Of course they might give up on a couple of them, 'Hmmm too wimpy under a little beating to be worth being husband'.

They do understand the concept of selective breeding though... They might not want to sully their bloodline with weaker Outlanders.

Empowering Voice

I was daydreaming and thought of the 'power' of an army of men doing a singing chant and what a powerful sound would be produced by several hundred people singing in harmony and time.

So I have something to add to the Orcen.

Keep in mind that many cowboy songs from the Old American West were in rounds, each person took a part. If something happened to them, their fellow riders would know automatically who was in trouble when they missed their round. The Gauchos do this too, so it is a practical idea for people riding herd.

I see the Orcen Chanting Rhythmically... not quite singing... but loudly speaking... something you can do all day. They could bang on their shields in time to the chant. So they have a chanting music, their music helping them all move in time (horses kept to the beat of the song by their riders). Various parts of the troop will take a different aspect of the chant, so people will know if a single rider (or group) are in trouble.

This can also be quite intimidating... you would hear them and see the faint dust trail farther off than you could really see a band. You would have all that anticipation.

Certain chants would be 'war chants', others would be riding chant, herding chants, and some would explain the history of a given clan or string of horses.

Hawking, who would of thought that the Mongols were experts at it.

As I stumbled over some information on Hawking which was interesting, (Now an article submission), I found out that many of the steppe nomads that I based the Orcen off of were masters of hunting with birds of prey.

So what do you think. Should these nomads be master's of the air?

And what about animal bonding, magics to enhance their hawking and riding? So instead of the heart bond/ magic link between horse/ hawk and rider, perhaps some simple magics which utilize an animal as a focus... 'see through eyes' and 'master control' expert handling through minor telepathics, and so on...

Oo, oo, Moon, may I do the Orcen language?

Actually, don't. It is effort better spent finishing the Books of Ion. Why do you need a full language for most peoples?

Bare with me, I feel a rant comming on.


Do you know what Esperanto is? Esperanto is a constructed universal language that nobody uses. One of the reasons is that the language is just so sterile. There is no flavor to it. Since it does not have a culture, there is no "turning the other cheek", or "NOT!", or "camel through the eye of a needle". And no poetry. There are no turns of phrase or colorful metaphors linked to the language to make communication more "human".

I am getting to the point.

Shifting to characters. What you say and how you say it defines the character you play. In short, turns of phrase help bring life to characters. Everyone has phrases that they use... they define the person - their personality, social background, and history.

Settings are characters on steroids. They have "personalities" of sorts and various bits and elements that make them unique and different than similiar settings. The language of the people in the setting help define the setting. For example:

1) The local accent - Imagine the southern USA without the drawl, or Northern Canada without saying eh?, or a Hebrew speaker saying "oy" or a Chinese speaker saying "Chin-Gow!" when suprised. One or two lingual bits, and you have have an cultural group implanted in the minds of the players.

1b) One of the best sources is color for a character and a setting is The Five Words. These are the five words that a person who is native in another language says in the common one. That way the player or GM can express the "other language"'s nature. Words like Yes and No, as well as some common ones are best canidates. Heck list the five words that your common language characters use that are different than English, just to remind them that their characters are not speaking English (Slovokian, or what ever)

2) Oaths and swear words. The original Battlestar Galactica had more swear words per hour than any show on television. We all knew what frak! and feldercarb meant. So what do people say when swearing? Remember that your players will be saying these things, so go for the "code phrase".

3) People are not always polite. They call other people things - polite and not so polite cutdowns. These are the turns of phrase that people will use... like the Vietnamese "You are a waste of food" or the English "wanker". The book of Shakespearian insults is a good one for "fantasy".

4) Turns of phrase/ common metaphors define and in turn are defined by the culture of the setting. There is always local slang and wording, as well as phrases that extend throughout the land... The Ivy halls of Acadamia, Lead a horse to water, but can can't make it drink, sharper than a serpent's tooth, The Devil's own Luck.....

To define a setting, list ten or so of these 4.5 options (and 5 additional words) They can define the local culture of the setting, by saying what is "important" to these people. A quick sheet for your campaign, a little dictionary of special terms, and you are one step closer to versimiltude.


So Lets do that for Orcens

The language should be short and barking in nature. Gutteral in many ways. One word and one sylable answers should be common.

The Five Words should be

1) Shen: Shield.

2) Dor: Weapon. Since anything can be a weapon for these people, this is a prefix for something that they are using or will be using as a weapon. (Dor-ra (sharp weapon), Dor-ras (small sharp weapon, with ras being a knife), just make them up as you need them.) or it could just be Dor

3) Rho: Real Horse, A Orcen Horse, not those silly animals ridden by Outsiders. Di-rho are those animals. Rho can be applied to a female who seems sexy or in heat.

4) JA! Yes. I agree. I am happy with it! (depending on tone of voice)

5) Bok: Boss. The Guy in charge, or next guy up the ladder.


1) A warrior who embraces death and danger has need of only one shield, anything more distracts from what is important.

2) WindRider: Fast Rider and Spiritual Rider.

3) Knowing your place in line. One needs to know their position in the group, their ranking, and their worth. They also need to learn their purpose in life (with life being the line).

4) You make your own trail.

We need six more... anyone... anyone

Do you need more examples?

As for the phrases:

'Eating your horse' might be a metaphor for desperation.

'He sings only to twigs' (i.e. not to horses or women) is an insult, meaning that the subject is just a LowLander, a farmer.

'Have a spare sword ready!' means that a lot of carnage is ahead, and '...a spare shield too' means that heavy resistance is expected.

'Join me in the sunset, brother' is spoken when parting ways, meaning that the two will meet when things are over.

'Share my wife, my horse, my blood' is an expression of ultimate friendship and trust - two who spoke so to each other might be cosidered one.

'He puts glue on his saddle' is used to describe a weakling/inept rider.

Maybe Orcen cheiftains actually have intercourse with their horses the way the early Aryan tribes did? That ritual could be tied to the process of becoming a chief

Wet could be a disparaging remark for someone who was slovenly and wasteful, i.e. a LowLander. The term implies that the person is so wasteful with a basic necessity of life--water--that he or she would just bathe in it.

Usages: 'You're all wet.' 'Your horse can't carry so much; don't be wet.'

Poki means 'thief,' specifically, an Orcen who steals from his or her own people instead of taking something in a valid raid. Litterally, this referrs to a small bag, such as what a thief would use to cart away stolen goods. Usage of the term has been broadened over the past few generations to mean 'sneaky,' and the like. Poki can be used as either a noun, verb, or descriptor (adjective/adverb).

Usages: 'I can't find my skinning knife, did someone poki it?' 'You can't trust what she says, she's too poki.'