The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters
“Orcs lived in this land thousands of years before your race laid eyes upon it, and we will live here long after your kind has shut its eyes forever.”
—Kavash, Gatekeeper hunter
The orcs of Khorvaire are a fading race. Their population was devastated during the ancient war with the daelkyr and never truly recovered. They can still be found throughout western Khorvaire and in the Ironroot and Endworld Mountains to the east, but they have no unified empire.
The orcs have always been more spiritual and attuned to nature than their goblinoid cousins. They have always lived as barbarians, embracing the energy and vitality of the wilds. When the hobgoblins were building the Dhakaani Empire, the orcs were learning druidic secrets from the dragon Vvaraak. The orc Gatekeeper druids managed to sever the connection between Xoriat and Eberron and trap the daelkyr in the depths of Khyber. However, many orcs have since turned their backs on the old ways and embraced the power of the daelkyr, forming the basis of the modern-day Cults of the Dragon Below. Over the past seven millennia, a number of conflicts have diminished the orc population, with the ancient druid order battling those of their own kind who seek to release the forces trapped in Khyber.
The modern orcs tend to remain in the Shadow Marches and their mountain holds. The orcs of the Marches have close ties to the human inhabitants of that realm but avoid dealing with other races. Orcs are typically deeply religious creatures with little interest in adapting to the modern world.
Wise and wild, the orcs stand out as a race always on the edge of savagery. With a proud history and a sacred duty, orcs are guardians of some of the world’s most ancient secrets.
Lands: Most orcs live in the Shadow Marches, a vast and rolling landscape of lonely moors and marshlands. Orcs have lived in the Shadow Marches for almost twenty thousand years, but a viewer wouldn’t know that from looking at the place. Thousands of years ago, the orcs and goblinoids fought a great war against the daelkyr, but the ruins that spot the Shadow Marches are the remnants of daelkyr settlements, not those of orcs. Orcs have always had a tribal, hunter-gatherer existence. Today, despite the incursion of humanity and mixing of the races, most orcs continue their traditional nomadic lifestyles.
Settlements: The nomadic orcs rarely create any permanent settlements, even at locations of great religious significance. Orc settlements often consist of several round tents or yurts made of animal skins and long bamboo poles. Such camps lack defensive structures or watch towers, so orcs either place their encampments on high ground to view the surrounding territory, or camp on boats, where such structures would be cumbersome.
Orcs also live peacefully alongside the humans who came as refugees to the region from Sarlona 1,600 years ago. These orcs live more settled lives, sharing a unique blend of human and orc culture and residing in raft towns, stilt villages, and bamboo-walled hill towns.
Power Groups: Nine thousand years ago, the orcs were unified as a tribe or nation; the war with the daelkyr put an end to that. Since then, the orcs have been divided into hundreds of tribes. These tribes shrink and grow, absorbing other tribes, splitting apart, allying with one another, and fighting one another. Little binds them as a cohesive group but for race. In the past, however, this one feature has been enough, allowing the orcs to join together to defeat a common threat.
The main power groups among the orcs are the Gatekeepers, the cults of the Dragon Below, and House Tharashk. The Gatekeepers follow the druid traditions passed to them by the green dragon Vvaraak. Tribes devote themselves to the Dragon Below in varied manners; some are depraved and evil, but others are merely repugnant. House Tharashk pulls dragonshards from the swamps in the region, employing both orcs and humans in the effort to gain such rare and valuable treasures.
Beliefs: Orcs follow only a few religious paths but do so in many different ways, with the culture of the religion often varying by tribe. Three basic systems of belief hold sway: the Gatekeepers, the Sovereign Host, and the Dragon Below. Orcs have personalized each of these religions, changing the names and aspects of the Sovereign Host and each tribe giving its own interpretation to the worship of Khyber.
Only the nature worship and honor paid to the Gatekeepers remains stable, with a common view of the world across many tribes. This is due in no small part to the orc druids who have passed down through story and song the secrets given to them by Vvaraak thousands of years ago.
Language: The nomadic orcs of the Shadow Marches tend to be laconic, rarely speaking when an action can show what they mean. When orcs speak, they tend to blurt out what they think and never apologize; they consider this behavior natural and commendable.
Relations: The orcs of the Shadow Marches are wary of others. In general, orcs judge an individual more by his religion and actions than by his race. Yet each orc tribe has its own way of dealing with outsiders, regardless of the tribe’s religion. Knowing an orc’s tribe is a much surer way to understand him than simply knowing you’re meeting an orc.
Adventuring Orcs: Orcs have a proud history they can trace back tens of thousands of years. Orc heroes and heroines saved the world in the ancient past, and living orcs preserve that legacy.
Orc adventurers are most often far-ranging guardians and warriors for their tribes. They journey forth from the protection of their tribal enclaves to boldly face challenges in the Shadow Marches that threaten their clans. Such orcs might travel even farther afield if a tribal leader asks it of them; far-ranging orcs might be delivering a message, scouting territory, or seeking an item or person of importance.
Other orc adventurers split from their tribes to seek their fortunes elsewhere. These orcs might be shunned or hunted by their clans, but they rarely worry about the past and instead concentrate on their glorious futures.
Orcs consider many parts of the Shadow Marches sacred or taboo; they will often fight adventurers who attempt to access those places. In general, however, orcs treat most adventurers as they would any newcomers to their tribe’s lands. Few who journey to the Shadow Marches can claim to be simple commoners, so orcs make little distinction among outsiders. Orc adventurers are looked upon as heroes or villains, depending on the tribes from which they come and their actions.
Names: Orc names feature heavy consonants and few syllables. Clan names are often translatable as phrases, such as River Wolf, while first names normally are not. Sample names include:
Male Names: Bludak, Dreggis, Gahdtru, Kaddik, Turg.
Female Names: Anka, Guhrta, Karkute, Menko, Zarket.