Continental Orcs

So, James Mal suggested that people post some stories about how they've "re-imagined one or more iconic D&D monsters" in their campaign at some point.

Now, truth be told, I haven't done a heck of a lot of that stuff (although I heartily support the principle involved). I tend to be a very axioms-definitions-theorems kind of guy, i.e., I tend to run things as close to the written text as possible (and if that's a challenge, so be it). Much more so in the past than these days.

But one thing I was sort of pleased with is this: Back around 2000-2005 I was part of a regular weekly 3E D&D game in Boston with rotating DMs. For some time my girlfriend Isabelle played with us, running a greataxe-wielding half-orc barbarian named Boudoin. Wierd name for a half-orc, you say?

Well, two things were at play here: First, my girlfriend is, by birth, French. Second, she was playing the only PC half-orc in the party. Who wound up having (naturally) a made-up but French-sounding name. So when I DM'd, I started riffing on that -- orcs in this campaign wound up being a really weird mixture of standard chaotic humanoid barbarism, and classy French cultural influences. Maybe a bit like Asterix comics with orc skins, if you will.

Orcs had villages with giants goats for herd animals. Orcs were fond of dishes with heavy cream sauce. Orcs spoke Common but poorly, in deep-throated monosyllables. Orcs wanted to throw off human imperialism. Orcs drank lots of wine and staggeringly intense cheese. And of course, the native Orcish language was represented at the table French, to whatever degree a handout would get garbled from a run through the Babelfish translator (which only my girlfriend, playing the only orc, could translate for the rest of the party). It was kind of unique and I think it worked very well.

One thing that stuck with me from this experiment is the desire to use real-life foreign languages to stand in at the game table for different racial languages in the game (using modern online translators to quickly create handouts as desired). Of course, this uniquely depends on your particular locality and what counts as "foreign" and what your various players are going to be familiar with. (That said, my current lineup would be something like: Dutch Halflings, German Dwarves, Italian High Elves, Russian Orcs, etc.)


  1. Coolness! I used to use my knowledge of German (6 years formal training) to simulate Orcish. It's a very gutteral language to begin with. :)

  2. steelcaress: This I like! I wish I could do that, but then the only things my orcs could demand would be beer & sausages.

  3. A comment from 5 years later: since I started playing dnd in high school, in the early 2000s, I have always had orcs be Russian/Tartar/Mongolian (heavily influenced by the introductory adventure with the 3rd edition PHB, with the orcs in the snowy winter), and depending on my mood, Dwarves and Hobgoblins occupying a Roman and German cultural niche. Everything changes from campaign to campaign, but those are things I can't shake.

    1. I think those are really solid choice! The campaign I wrote about above kind fell together by accident; but on more reflection afterward I moved in exactly the direction you describe here. Good stuff.