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What do I do with Space Orks that's not offensive/problematic?


Rules Lawyer
Validated User
So I'm building a Space Fantasy RPG, the basic premise of which is "Aliens Are Just Elves: Dungeons and Dragons In SPAAAAAAACE". Nothing original there. Trying to look at some things from unique directions, fun takes, etc. (minotaurs are brilliant mathematicians, hence their love for labyrinths and puzzles). One of my goals is, if it exists in D&D, it exists in my setting.

I haven't included Orcs yet. And I'm not sure how.

Dumb Orcs is obviously problematic. Not only from a racist angle, but also from a "how are these idiots in space?"

Warriors Orcs are also problematic, see, e.g., James Mendez Hodes's fantastic post "Orcs, Britons, And The Martial Race Myth, Part I: A Species Built For Racial Terror".

Shaman Orcs are usually just reformed warrior orcs and half of them are resentful they're not still Warrior orcs.

So... I'm looking for ideas of what I can do with space orcs in a multi-galaxy community. I want them to be as big a presence in my setting as they are in D&D (up there with Elves and Dwarves) without... all the baggage.

Can I escape the baggage? Any ideas?

(As a cishet white male, when this project hits a certain word count I'm probably going to pay for a sensitivity read, but in the meantime, certain foundational underpinnings need good riff ideas before I get that far. So I turn to rpg.net.)

Thanks in advance!


Neo•Geo Fanboy
Validated User
I'll have to read that later... thought I could skim it but its too complex for me to do that. My first feeling was to look at how Star Trek deepened the Klingons. BUT, from my initial skimming, that might not work.

If you look at Privateer Press' Warmachine / Hordes and Iron Kingdoms / Unleashed games, I'd suggest looking into the Organ and Trollkin. Especially the Trollkin. They're pretty interesting, varied, and have their own motivations. Its a start anyhow.

Silvercat Moonpaw

Quadruped Transhuman
Validated User
Can you play them as exuberant? They love to do things, love being active, but that doesn't mean they need to fight necessarily. They might throw themselves into intellectual challenges just as often as physical depending on their individual personalities, but the verb is definitely "throw". Whoever they are what they have is vitality and a love of life. It just sometimes seems like they're intimidating because they're not afraid to bump into people as a sign of friendship or maybe don't have the best grasp of personal space.

In fact this is a great explanation for why human/orc pairings happen so often (assuming that doesn't have too much baggage): sure, the elves are hot and have that oh-so-attractive disdain attitude. But an orc, ah, an orc gets you up in the morning, keeps you going throughout the day, and makes it so you can't wait for tomorrow.

(Sorry if this was addressed in that article: I'm too hyped up on caffeine to pay attention.)


Neo•Geo Fanboy
Validated User
I read that and thought of a world where the water was really Mountain Dew and baby's first toy is a GoPro :)

Gentleman Highwayman

Registered User
Validated User
Everything can't be touchy feelly and if you want fantasy in space sometimes you need Bad Guys(R).

I personally like Space Orks as Firefly reavers. Steal a backstory from there, then bring them out to scare the players along...

You can also scatter them around like Star Wars cantina aliens (read: Gamorreans). Steal their whole back story of a primitive matriarchal hunter society. No need to re-invent the wheel or mirror universe them.


Registered User
Validated User
Can I posit something? In all Earth ethnicities and cultures, there are those on the outside fringes of civilization. I'm a mostly white guy with a background that is mainly Scottish/Irish, Slovenian, French and Norwegian. That Norwegian comes from raiders and settlers that came to Scotland. Culturally, it's Scottish. When I think Orcs, I don't think "scary black man" or anything else like that. I think "fringer barbarian", someone who belongs to the philosophy of rejecting civilization and who makes their life in the wilderness, with occasional large settlements.

In Orcs I see as much or more of my own Celtic/Norse heritage as I do of anything else. I think it's important to note that a lot of the so-called barbarians had a decent level of development. Do you know what holds civilizations back? It's isolation and xenophobia. Think about Edo-era Japan. They were a highly "civilized" culture with extensive development. But their xenophobia led them into isolation, and while they maintained their ritual, manners and refinement, they were centuries behind everyone else in technological development and power.

Then look at the Norse. Their Vikings spread abroad. They were certainly warlike, but they also traded with people. They were open to other cultures, and ended up getting technology and art from the Ottomans, the Russians, the Celts, Britons and so on. And they thrived for a long time.

I don't mean to hijack anything, but I don't feel that barbarians are racist in and of themselves. What if, instead of looking at other people when we see them, we look at ourselves? Barbarian cultures are a part of what makes history so rich.


Registered User
Validated User
You can always try the revisionist version in Kirill Eskov's The Last Ringbearer, where the orks and trolls are the peaceful multiracial technologically advanced society, besieged by the fascist ethnic-cleansing elves and their human stooges. Great stuff.

Isator Levie

Registered User
Validated User
I've developed a picture of this species that originated on a planet with extremely harsh environment, resulting in physical adaptations of extreme hardiness and getting by with limited resources, and cultural traits of a certain harshness and unsentimentality while also maintaining strong cooperative values.

Also, not very large numbers.

Economically, they can provide valuable labour for activity in environments that many other species wouldn't be able to effectively survive in for sustained periods, while also often settling down frontier communities in which a bunch of support services also maintained by their people function.

Think about Edo-era Japan. They were a highly "civilized" culture with extensive development. But their xenophobia led them into isolation, and while they maintained their ritual, manners and refinement, they were centuries behind everyone else in technological development and power.
The term "behind" inherently conveys a bias that begs the question of what the standard of measurement is, and even then it's kind of an unnuanced, if not inaccurate, of Edo-period Japan. They did not industrialize, but were still highly prosperous and heavily sought after for trade. Among the things they would acquire from foreign traders was information about foreign technical innovations. When Americans forced the border open, a lot of that information was called upon to make quite a bit of progress in a very short amount of time.


Registered User
Validated User
How about having them as religious fanatics serving their God Emperor trying to bring peace to the galaxy?

some prototypes:
Fremen of Dune
Storm troopers of Star Wars (but they don't miss)
Space Marines of Warhammer 40K (you gotta love Orcs in power armor)
Idirans of The Culture https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_civilisations_in_the_Culture_series#Idirans
Romans in Spaaaaace

They just start with a couple of systems, rather than a full fledged, gigantic empire.
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