Orcs… What is there to say about orcs? In almost all fantasy media, there is not a single more iconic villainous race. They are the antagonists in story after story, and they are well-known for their ruthlessness and anger. However, with the introduction of Volo’s Guide to Monsters, as well as Eberron: Rising from the Last War and Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount, players can now take charge of them. How do you best make a realistic Orc that can be useful to your allies? Find out in our Orc 5E guide.
Orc 5E Lore
Orcs are brutish. Standing up to 8 feet in height, covered in powerful muscles, with rectangular builds, few see orcs as friendly in shape or stature. Combine that with their green skin, and you’ve got a recipe for a race that stands out in a crowd, or a jail. Many know orcs from their raids on villages and cities alike, as well as their complete bloodlust in the midst of combat.
Orcs don’t know peace; their gods demand that they go to war after war, and all of their gods have at least some attachment to battle; Gruumsh is the main god of war, Yutrus and Shargaas are the gods of old age and disease, guiding the orcs to the grave. Luthic is the goddess of birth and the grave, the circle of life, and the caretaker of the Orcish people. These gods bicker and tustle, but they are all critical to Orcish survival, and Orcs care deeply for their gods.
This religiousness breeds superstition, and Orcs care very little about sorcery or wizardry. In fact, many see sacrificing magical beings as a good means to get into contact with their gods. Orcs have almost no means of seeing Elves as anything more than sacrifice fodder, unless the Orc is raised away from warbands.
This changes slightly outside of the forgotten realms. In Eberron and Wildemount, their innate evil-ness is replaced with natural competitiveness and emotionality. All Orcs are extremely passionate; if they are not possessed by evil, they are some of the most caring, laughing, and temperamental creatures one may meet. Like their Half-Orc offspring, Orcs are actually quite capable of crying and mourning; their gods just don’t consider death as anything more than a phase to the next step of life. A good show or song can make an orc enthusiastically applaud.
You just need to get past that thick skull.
Check out our Orc Naming Guide if you want some inspiration for Orcish names!
There are three origins for Orcs, but they all have been normalized and given the same stats. Therefore, all orcs, without DM intervention, have this same statline.
- +2 Strength, +1 Constitution. Strength is a bit of a niche stat. It’s most important for melee combat; Strength Saves are relatively unimportant, and carrying capacity is unimportant. So, your Orc is guided towards the land of Greatswords and beating face. That’s why Constitution is such a nice +1! You’ll be a little more healthy than your average race, and you’ll survive against more diseases, poisons, and death effects. Great if you’re the one taking hits, and great for any class at that!
- Medium Size, 30 ft Speed. No real advantage or disadvantage here. Orcs are massive, depending on where you’ve come from. You can reach the highest shelves in the kitchen… And probably punch through the ceiling.
- Darkvision. Great vision stat. Not needing a torch or magic frees up your hand to do other things, like wield a greatsword or hold a shield. It can also allow for stealth tactics, should your party want the drop on things. You probably won’t be the one to see hidden goodies, but this gives you a dang good chance!
- Aggressive. This is a pretty stellar bonus action, especially for Orcs! This can allow you to easily close the distance during an important combat and deal with a major issue. It’s also a good repositioning tool, since you only technically need to be a square closer than when you started. You can use it to escape a situation if you’re careful with your placement! Legitimately useful.
- Primal Intuition. Two skills, from a good list! Animal Handling, Nature, and Survival are the only real mediocre skills here, and all three have their place in a build! I highly recommend taking Perception as one of your two skills, since Perception is an extremely popular skill to have. Your other skill will probably be the one that fits into your build best.
- Powerful Build. As I mentioned earlier, carrying capacity doesn’t really matter. Now, it really doesn’t matter. You can probably bench press a mountain with how much weight you can have on your person at once. Just let your party use you as a pack mule, since you won’t really recognize any weight on you. 30 * Strength is a bit ridiculous, after all.
- Languages. Orc is a bad language to have in your pocket. It’s basically only spoken by Orcs. You won’t get a lot of benefits when it comes to breaking language barriers.
The Orc is a very specialized race, being a melee character at heart. Thankfully, there’s a big handful of classes that benefit from being aggressive.
Good Classes for Orcs
- Barbarian. An incredibly obvious choice… And boy does Orc work well! Strength and Constitution are both extremely potent for Barbarians. You really like Darkvision, you can use Aggressive to move 80 feet at someone to start a fight… It’s just going to be a good time. Smash your enemies!
- Cleric. A weird choice, but can be good! Your Wisdom might be low, but that doesn’t usually matter too much. You can be a Heavy Armor domain of some kind, and just beat face! You can use Aggressive to move towards some enemies, especially if your ally was knocked out near said enemy. The extra skills are nice, too!
- Fighter. Great choice! Melee fighters in heavy armor really want Aggressive to get into range for fisticuffs, and the extra skills can be nice as well! You’re fairly good in general, but nothing too special. You don’t get any crazy utility, outside of your very quick moving into combat!
- Paladin. Good! Paladins have great use of Strength, letting you swing a massive weapon to cleave evil in twain. Combine that with Aggressive to move right into the fray, your extra skills to grab Intimidation, and your good Constitution, and you’re an acceptable tank! Your low Charisma will be awkward, however, and keep you from being a truly fantastic Paladin.
- Ranger. Ranger is… fine? Not great. You’ll lack in AC, and Strength isn’t perfect for dual-wielding. You do, however, get Aggressive to move quickly, Survival as a free skill proficiency, and high damage and durability potential. You should probably consider Fighter or Barbarian though!
Bad Classes for Orcs
- Artificer. Artificers like Constitution, and you could get good value out of your Constitution… But your Strength is completely wasted. And Aggressive would only be good on the Battle Smith, which has other tools to close the gap.
- Bard. Orc Bards are a ton of fun in concept, but bards benefit so much from Dexterity and Charisma, that your statline just doesn’t make sense. You don’t need to close the gap unless you’re a College of Valor, and even then you’d probably want Charisma. The only good thing that you get is free Intimidation.
- Druid. Druids don’t really need Strength; Wild Shape can do the job, and non-Wild Shape melee druids are a bit hard to pull off without Dexterity. In the case that you are a non-Wild Shape melee druid, you still want Dexterity or Wisdom more than Strength… Though Aggressive is not a bad tool.
- Monk. No dexterity? No Wisdom? Pretty bad. Aggressive is unnecessary when your class gives you this much movement speed, and the option to do an even better version of Aggressive by spending Ki. Nothing important can be given to you by Orc.
- Rogue. Don’t get me wrong, Constitution is good for Rogues. However, Cunning Action invalidates Aggressive, and you don’t benefit much from Strength at all. There are better Darkvision races with good Constitution, like Goblin, that you can work with.
- Sorcerer. No Charisma, no need for Strength, Aggressive not really saving you… The only thing you’d want is the Constitution and skills… And you could just play a Half-Elf if that’s what you want.
- Warlock. If you are a Hexblade, this is at best okay. You’d get Constitution, Aggressive, good skills, and Darkvision. But, your low Charisma is a massive decrease in accuracy, to the point where it’s just not worth it.
- Wizard. Same problems as Sorcerer, but with Intelligence. Hobgoblin is a much better tanky option for a Wizard than Orc. Aggressive could be okay for Bladesinger, but you’re still lacking the Intelligence to work things out.
Orcs are fine muscleheads with raging emotions, from the good to the bad. You can make Orcs work in a variety of melee positions, if you care about taking on a Monstrous personality for it. Take on your next challenge as a Melee Orc, and you can feel your high damage and mobility work for you.