The 5e Half Orc: A Special Style of Brute
What's the best half orc class? How do I roleplay a half-orc? Can a half-orc be a paladin? This Dungeons and Dragons race can be a lot of fun to play, read on for our take on this D&D race.
Quite often seen with contempt among their full orc brethren, viewed with fear among more civilized folks who clearly see their brutish orcish blood, the half orc often finds their greatest strengths are also the same traits that cause them the most pain and grief. Viewed with fear but also respect, the naturally intimidating half orcs have a well earned reputation as ferocious fighters, top notch enforcers, and individuals who are not to be taken lightly in jest or in combat. Whether neutral, good, or evil, the half orc must always deal with the beast within, a fury that can be their greatest ally keeping them from death's door or delivering them ill-tempered into yet another (unnecessary?) conflict.
The Story of the Half Orc
Generally sullen, often angry, and gruff by nature, even half orcs struggling to be good or find acceptance away from evil will struggle to shake some of these traits. They are known for being strong, healthy, and powerful. Often forced to live in groups they are often found among orc tribes, or in city slums getting by together. Half orc NPCs will often appear as thugs, bouncers, brawlers, and other similar brawn based jobs.
Finding acceptance can be difficult because of their intimidating nature. Some half orcs will embrace following a good god as a cleric or paladin to show their religious goodness. Others will stay reserved and interact as minimally as possible. Some accept their lot as outcasts and remain gruff and tough - perfectly fine with making others avoid them. Those who want to be good often still hear the call to rage from Gruumsh the Orc god - tempting them (or haunting them) in their dreams.
Made for Martial Classes
Mechanically peaking, half-orcs are great for the martial classes. Featuring starting stat boosts of +2 strength and +1 constitution, they are naturally intimidating from build. Automatically proficient in intimidation, their savage attacks are legendary, meaning whenever you score a crit with a melee attack you can roll one of the damage dice one more time and add that amount to the critical hit, as well. Half orcs enjoy dark vision from their orc blood, giving them yet another benefit when adventuring.
Half orcs even have rage built into their characters with the really cool and unique "relentless endurance" trait. Basically, when a hit would knock a half orc out (0 HP) but not outright kill them, the half orc is instead dropped to one hit point. Pure rage keeps them from going unconscious. This can only be done once per long rest, but it can make the difference between life and death in a truly close battle.
The half orc is as natural a fit for barbarian as any class in 5e D&D. They are just made to rage, and so it should come as no surprise that most half orc characters D&D players play will be barbarians. This is a completely natural fit, but there are other classes that a half orc can thrive in as well. Half orcs also make great fighters for the same reason. They have strength, they have a strong constitution, and those are the traits to look for in a good fighter or barbarian.
If a player is looking for a character with a lot of health, a short temper, and the ability to wield weapons and bash things consistently then they are going to be happy using a half orc for either barbarian or fighter. They definitely have a leg up on other races for these classes.
What Other Classes Can Half Orcs Thrive As?
Because the half orc is such a natural fighter it can be a bit difficult to get away from barbarian or fighter. However if a player has a good initial stat roll or wants to look for something a bit different and is more interested in character versus becoming min/max then there are some intriguing options. The next level for half orcs would be monks, clerics, and paladins.
These are all still martial classes, and the build is going to vary based on roll and each character's individual backstory. Monk is a great option that fits with the attitude of many half orcs. Generally monks are all about dexterity and wisdom, but it's worth noting monks can change out strength for dexterity for their unarmed attacks - but they don't have to! This means a half orc monk will focus more on strength instead of dexterity to play for their strengths. They'll still need to concentrate on wisdom, but a hermit monk is not a stretch at all for a half orc background.
Cleric and paladin would be the next level. Strength is an important stat block for both of those classes and they are armored martial fighters with other traits. Having high health from a good constitution is always important for these classes since they will often be part of any party's shield wall, as well. Story-wise, any half orcs looking to channel their rage away from evil and to the forces of good may find working as a cleric or paladin satisfying as it feeds their need for battle as well as flipping a bird to the orc god whose whispers still haunt their dreams.
Are There Any Half Orc Casting Classes?
This is a tough fit. Half orcs really aren't built as natural casters, but the most workable blend barring a lights-out stat roll is probably going with warlock. There are several builds of warlock that are combat based, and that is going to be a good fit for a half orc. Story-wise it's easy to see how a half orc would be willing to accept the boon of a patron willing to make them even stronger.
In the original Player's Handbook Pact of the Blade would be the way to go with this build to emphasize combat, though for players who still want the most out of their builds, most players agree Xanathar's Hexblade is a better and more powerful version of the Pact of the Blade. In fact, in the second season of Critical Role Travis Willingham's character Fjord is just that: a half orc hexblade warlock.
What's In A Name?
For half orcs a name might be simple or it might not. Many orc based names are simple. There might be just a single name instead of a first and last. Names like Feng, Krushk, Grell, Emen, Sutha, and Volen show the range of male and female names that a half orc might have based on their orc heritage. Orcs may also choose to take a name based on an adopted family or the majority race in a region. This could take several forms in a campaign.
A player who is half orc but raised by dwarfs may take a dwarf surname. Grell might become Grell Stonebottom while Sutha might go by Sutha Anvilhammer. On the other hand, half orcs who grew up in a large city might take a human name to attempt to shed their heritage going by something unusually banal like Alex, Mike, Jennifer.
There are plenty of ways to play with this. Maybe the name just isn't a big deal to a half orc character, but for some this could be an interesting twist of backstory.
While there are many different ways a half orc can be built, no matter what class they are a race generally built to be tanks. They fight, they soak damage, they have high strength and constitution numbers. Their Relentless Endurance ability can be clutch, and the first time a party sees it used in combat can be quite exhilarating. Any D&D party looking for a fighter or a tank should be happy to see a half orc join the party on their side - and be very wary of picking a fight with a party of half orcs not on their side.
Half-Orc 5e FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
What color eyes do half-orcs have?
5e seems to leave out this particular factoid from most official listings but scouring through the lore we can find a few mentions of orc and half-orc eye color. Full orcs tend to have either black or grey eyes, and half-orcs can potentially have any eye color found in humans or orcs. However, the few official mentions of half-orc eye color are predominantly grey, black, and sometimes rarely green.
How are half-orcs born?
Without going through the birds and the bees, half-orcs are born just like everybody else, though to a human parent and an orc parent, or to two half-orc parents. While the history between orcs and humans is peppered with conflict, the regular contact has led to many marriages and couplings between humans and orcs within the forgotten realms. Unfortunately, though, many half-orcs are the products of orc raids and kidnappings from human settlements.
Are orcs elves?
The short answer is no. In the Lord of the Rings orcs are derived from the elvish people and they share an ancestry but D&D has no such shared lineage between the races. Orcs in the forgotten realms have their own history, gods, and creation stories and are a culture and people completely separate from elves.
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Last updated: January 27, 2019
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