Orcish Religion Amongst the Stars

Regardless of subrace, orcish (and in fact most goblinkin races) society tends to take one of two distinct forms in wildspace: Independent tribes and organized nations. The independent tribes operate much as their groundling cousins, and in fact most truly are groundling tribes who somehow gained control of spelljamming vessels and migrated into space. These tribes still favor a single orcish deity as their patron, and the priests of that deity will dominate any other priests who reside with the tribe. Such tribes have few long term goals beyond increasing their territory, and subsist primarily on piracy and raiding.

The organized nations are a very different story; they are composed of multiple tribes and have more complex governance. While some are formed due to the might of a single orc warlord, those rarely outlast the life of that individual, breaking up into their disparate tribes upon his death. Those nations with history backing them up are typically governed by a hereditary monarchy or a council of military leaders (the scro being a perfect example of the latter). Only rarely in these nations do the priesthood rise to leadership, although they almost never lack for political power. The tribes that make up these nations rarely have patron deities anymore (although their names may still reflect their former state), and priests of all deities can be found in relatively stable numbers throughout.

Unlike humans, elves, and many other races, orcs do not see their deities as having control over specific aspects of wildspace itself. Instead, they see anything beneficial or to their liking as a gift from Gruumsh and their other gods, whereas those things they don’t like are obstacles sent by their foes. To prove their fitness to Gruumsh, they must overcome them, survive, and expand.

Symbol of Bahgtru copyright (c) 2014 by Wizards of the Coast.

Bahgtru
(Intermediate Power of strength, combat, loyalty)

Bahgtru is called upon primarily during instances where strength, especially great strength, is needed. He is also called upon to aid in the physical destruction of objects and to aid in physical conditioning and training. Bahgtru is the patron of the common orc warrior who does what he is told and enjoys battle for the sake of it, rather than having any particular stake in the outcome. His priests and followers make the ideal bodyguards, who are loyal to the positions of leadership and the rules that govern who is able to take such roles. Their physical strength is often enough to ensure that leadership succession at least appears to be legitimate. They never attempt to change the rules (excepting those tribes that hold Bahgtru as their patron), for like the relationship between Bahgtru and Gruumsh, it is their duty to obey what is set forth by the leadership.

Ships that are commanded by followers of Bahgtru are dreadnaughts that focus on direct frontal assaults with an attempt to ram and board as quickly as possible, with direct melee combat being the ultimate goal. On-board weapons will be of the heaviest types available (catapults and bombards being favored), and armor will never be of a material lighter or more fragile than thick wood. While by far the most aggressive ship captains of all orcs, they won’t take on obviously more powerful vessels, although they can be fooled fairly easily if their foes know who they’re dealing with. Their looting often focuses on goods that are of immediate and obvious use, with the rest (bright textiles, fine dishware, glass, etc.) often being destroyed for the sheer pleasure of it.

The Fists of Bahgtru are a holy order that is found wherever Bahgtru or Gruumsh are worshiped. In smaller tribes, there are never more than a handful of individuals, and they form the leadership of the personal bodyguards of both chiefs and priests. Amongst larger orcish groups, besides being bodyguards, they most often comprise an elite unit of shock troops amongst the military forces. These units are considered to be particularly prestigious, especially if they face off against elves or reptilian foes.

One of the great myths involving Bahgtru revolves around him killing an enormous multilegged serpent (possibly an enormous behir), and his priesthood is always on the lookout for possible sites of this battle. Strong rumors of such a location can often cause a whole Bahgtran tribe to make a great migration towards the supposed location of this battle.

Sources: DMGR4 Monster Mythology (TSR2128), Bahgtru the Leg-Breaker on AuldDragon’s AD&D Blog

Eyes of Dukagsh copyright (c) 2014 by Sable Aradia.  Used by permission.

Eyes of Dukagsh copyright (c) 2014 by Sable Aradia. Used by permission.

Dukagsh
(Demipower of scro, physical, mental, spiritual, cultural, and military excellence)

At first blush, the scro appear to have dropped their worship of the rest of the orcish pantheon in favor of Dukagsh alone, but that would be incorrect. Priests of most of the rest of the pantheon can be found on the scro homeworld and their colonies, but rarely do they adventure, and they almost never have a role in the military hierarchy. The scro believe Dukagsh was the mortal hand of Gruumsh, shaping and molding them into the ultimate orcish race. In scro theology, Dukagsh’s apotheosis is proof of Gruumsh’s hand in the matter, and his explicit approval of the results; as such, they see worship of Dukagsh as de facto worship of Gruumsh, and the only proper way for scro to worship Gruumsh is to do so through his chosen agent, Dukagsh. It is important to note that this does not apply to other orcish races; the scro do not force worship of Dukagsh upon regular orcs or orogs. The scro have a rather low opinion of their brethren, and a common scro insult is “like an orc praying to Dukagsh,” which is similar in nature to the human phrase “monkey see, monkey do.”

Because of the nature of Dukagsh’s role in scro life, outright worship, as well as veneration, of Bahgtru and Ilneval is in decline in their society. Many scro see little use in calling upon these deities when Dukagsh has elements of their portfolios that apply specifically to their race. On the other hand, the remaining three members of the pantheon maintain healthy, if rather small, priesthoods, with Luthic’s following the largest of the three. Each of the deities’ priesthoods fill much the same duties as they do for regular orcs.

Orcish priests of the other deities react in differing ways. The priests of Ilneval and Bahgtru are suspicious of Dukagsh’s priesthood, as they often are of warrior deities who threaten their own positions. Bahgtru’s priesthood will overcome such suspicion should the scro prove strong warriors and their chieftains formally ally themselves with the scro, while Ilneval’s priests may plot against the scro if it appears doing so will not harm their tribe. Gruumsh’s priests often hew to extremes, however. Up to this point, Gruumsh has remained silent on Dukagsh’s status within the pantheon, even when directly asked by his clergy. This has led to a near even split between those who believe Dukagsh is a heretical and false deity, and those who believe the Scro Father is a sanctioned member of the pantheon. The former refuse to ally themselves with the scro, and treat them with neutrality at best, although open hostility is more common. The latter group acts much as other priesthoods do, with a higher rate of willingness should the scro promise the priests an opportunity to take an elven temple of Corellon for One-Eye.

Sources: Dragon Magazine Annual 1999

Eye of Gruumsh copyright (c) 2014 by Wizards of the Coast.

Gruumsh
(Greater Power of conquest, territory, survival, domination, orcs)

All orcs, excepting those who have fully turned to other pantheons, view Gruumsh as the epitome of orcishness. To a great extent, he is seen as presiding over all aspects of orcish life, so when orcs call upon another god, they often call upon Gruumsh as well. One exception is the realm of fertility; male orcs never call upon Luthic for personal aid, preferring Gruumsh even though fertility is not formally amongst his portfolios. Gruumsh is the patron of all orcs, but especially those in power. Tribes who have him as a patron are generally the most well-rounded, and also tend to be slightly more fecund. These tribes are also the most interested in expanding their influence, and most spacefaring orcish nations started out as Gruumshan tribes.

Ships commanded by followers of Gruumsh aren’t quite as aggressive as those of Bahgtru, and their captains tend to be a bit more savvy. They tend to be equipped in much the same manner, although more balanced, with lighter weapons in turrets rather than the heaviest weapons all around, although bombards and heavy catapults are still favored overall. Such ships are much more likely to soften up a target or attempt to disable the helm before closing in for melee, which is their ultimate goal.

The Swords of Gruumsh is a holy order attached to Gruumsh’s priesthood, which functions mostly as marines and shock troops who specialize in combatting elves and dwarves (+1 to attack, on top of any other bonuses they may have). Some branches operate independently, searching out small enclaves of elves, dwarves, and their allies with the goal of completely wiping them out.

Sources: DMGR4 Monster Mythology (TSR2128), Gruumsh One-Eye on AuldDragon’s AD&D Blog

Symbol of Ilneval copyright (c) 2014 by Wizards of the Coast

Ilneval
(Intermediate Power of warfare, combat leadership, strategy, planning, courage, unity against foes)

Ilneval is most often called upon by orcs desiring courage in battle, especially if the odds of battle are not in their favor. He is also called upon to grant advantageous terrain or circumstances before a battle commences. He is invoked in the name of unity against the enemies arrayed against wildspace orcs, as well as to chastise orcs who threaten alliances with other goblinoids against elves and their allies. Ilneval is also the patron of military commanders and planners, as contrast to Bahgtru’s patronage of common orcish warriors. There is often a power struggle between the two priesthoods, and Ilnevallan priests will plot against the Bahgtru clergy if they believe they can get away with it, but they have no desire to eliminate their rivals; they just feel they are more able to direct the strength of the Leg-Breaker’s followers. Tribes who follow Ilneval do take great pleasure in conquering Bahgtran tribes, however. Outside of Dukagsh (and Eldath, see below) Ilneval is the closest thing to a patron deity of an orcish subrace, as he is favored by the stronger and more intelligent orogs. Individual orogs and orog tribes who do not follow Gruumsh will generally follow Ilneval.

Ships commanded by followers of Ilneval attack with surprise whenever they can, and favor heavy use of ship’s weapons before closing for melee. They tend to prefer longer-ranged weapons and more maneuverable ships for this very reason. If they have multiple ships, they may use one as a diversion or bait, or they may attempt to flank an opponent with the second ship. Melee combat is still their ultimate goal, but they favor placing the odds squarely in their favor.

Sources: DMGR4 Monster Mythology (TSR2128), Ilneval the Horde Leader on AuldDragon’s AD&D Blog

Symbol of Luthic copyright (c) 2014 by Wizards of the Coast

Luthic
(Lesser Power of females, fertility, medicine, healing, herbalism, servitude, caves, morale, midwifery)

Regardless of what patron any particular tribe has, most female orcs consider Luthic their personal patron. They call upon her for most of their endeavors in addition to other deities. Male orcs call upon her when they desire fertility and servitude in a mate, as well as quick recovery from battle injuries. All orcs will call upon her when desiring safety or protection, especially for the young of the tribe. Tribes that have Luthic as a patron are dominated by the Gruumshan clergy, but her influence makes them the least aggressive of all orcish tribes. They are the most likely to be interested in other pursuits, including trade with other goblinoids, and even humans. None of this should be taken to mean that they are passive and content, however; as with all orcs, they have a desire to expand and conquer through war, but they typically only do so once they feel their current territory is secure.

Ships commanded by Luthic’s followers focus on disabling their foes by targeting weapons, helms, rigging, and crew before closing for melee. They prefer to grapple rather than ramming so an easy escape can be made if the battle goes against them. They favor ships that are armored and fairly maneuverable, such as Damselflies and Triops. Light catapults are their favored heavy weapons.

Luthic’s holy order, known as the Defenders of the Sacred Cave, operates as an elite defensive unit to protect Luthic’s priesthood, females and young, and the Cave Mother’s holy sites. They never participate in attacks, and specialize in holding maneuvers to give others time to get out of danger.

Sources: DMGR4 Monster Mythology (TSR2128), Luthic the Cave Mother on AuldDragon’s AD&D Blog

Symbol of Shargaas copyright (c) 2014 by Wizards of the Coast

Shargaas
(Intermediate Power of darkness, thieves, night, stealth, assassination, the underdark, undead)

Shargaas is called upon primarily by orcs who wish for stealth or darkness, and he is the patron of most scouts and spies. Those who openly desire his aid in thievery or assassination (of orcs at least) are usually chastised harshly and warned against such disruptive activities. As such, priests of the Night Lord almost always hide their affiliation, with many masquerading as simple scouts. Tribes that look to Shargaas as a patron are the rarest in wildspace, as they prefer the depths of the Underdark and dislike the always-visible fireworlds and stars found in most spheres. Orcish cities and colonies (including those of the scro) often have thieves’ guilds run by Shargaathan clergy.

Ships commanded by Shargaathan followers prefer stealth to direct confrontations, and often paint their ships entirely black to help with concealment. They prefer attacks from the rear quarters, and attempt to do as much damage as possible before their foe is aware of the attack. It is said some of their powerful priests have developed spells to cloak their ships in darkness or invisibility to aid in their surprise attacks. They rarely partner with intelligent undead (typically only those without the desire to propagate their type, such as liches) to become a truly frightening force.

The Blackened Blades of Shargaas is an independent order of priests, thieves, and assassins who operate outside of tribal or national bounds. They maintain secret enclaves on moons, asteroids, and the like, and work to protect the Night Lord’s clergy where ever they are. They also hire out as information gatherers, assassins, and thieves.

Sources: DMGR4 Monster Mythology (TSR2128), Shargaas the Night Lord on AuldDragon’s AD&D Blog

Symbol of Yurtrus copyright (c) 2014 by Wizards of the Coast

Yurtrus
(Intermediate Power of death, disease, burial lands, plagues, the dead, rot)

Yurtrus is the silent god of death and disease. He is propitiated rather than venerated, called upon to ward off disease and illness, cure plagues, and on very rare occasions, to send plagues upon enemies. This latter occasion is rare, for it is believed to carry the risk of Yurtrus spreading disease indiscriminately. Yurtrus chooses his clergy by allowing them to survive disfiguring diseases, leaving them visibly marked by his hand. Other orcs fear the Yurtran clergy (even scro give them a wide berth and a lot of latitude) and the powers they command over disease, but to banish or slay them would invoke Yurtrus’s silent wrath. In general, they play little role in the daily activities of an orcish community, regardless of size, as they mostly focus on the interment and protection of the dead. One of the most sacred taboos an orcish military force could break is the interruption of funerary rites or the desecration of burial grounds; to do so would cause even their own Yurtran clergy to turn on them. Like tribes with Luthic as a patron, the Gruumshan clergy dominates those with Yurtrus as a patron; they tend to be more fatalistic and are far less likely to make vocalizations during combat, except for communication. They also tend to be afflicted by more illnesses, although the survivability rate is better than average.

Ships commanded by followers of Yurtrus are very rare, and they favor rather unusual tactics. They favor light ships (even to the point of having canvas or leather siding), and make frequent use of ammunition that fouls air envelopes such as stinkpots or smokebombs. Their priests also make heavy use of magic to affect the course of the battle in similar manner.

Sources: DMGR4 Monster Mythology (TSR2128), Yurtrus White-Hands on AuldDragon’s AD&D Blog

Other Deities Worshipped By Orcs
Earth Dragon
(Demipower of earth, weather, hidden treasure)

Earth Dragon is slowly gaining a small following amongst the orcs of Greyspace, although the deity’s limited power and influence seem likely to keep his priests restricted to that sphere. His worship has been carried into wildspace through contact with the orcish tribes of the Pomarj on Oerth. Earth Dragon’s followers have some conflict with those of Luthic due to overlapping portfolios, causing Earth Dragon’s followers to curry favor with more powerful priesthoods for protection.

Source: Slavers (TSR11621)

Symbol of Eldath copyright (c) 2014 by Wizards of the Coast

Eldath
(Lesser Power of quiet places, springs, pools, stillness, peace, waterfalls, druid groves)

Eldath is worshipped only by a rare orcish subrace from Toril called the ondonti. Like Eldath’s faith, they are pacifistic and agrarian, but at this time most have been slain or enslaved. It is possible that some have managed to find their way into wildspace, or were transported there by Eldath herself.

Sources: The Ruins of Zhentil Keep boxed set, Faiths & Avatars

Symbol of Hextor copyright (c) 2014 by Wizards of the Coast

Hextor
(War, discord, massacres, conflict, fitness, tyranny)

Hextor is the most popular god venerated by orcs in Greyspace outside of the orcish pantheon itself. While very few tribes look to him as a patron, his priests are accepted in larger communities so long as they are subservient to those of Gruumsh. Worship of Hextor is slowly spreading outside of Greyspace itself, which is becoming a cause for alarm amongst Ilneval’s priesthood, who sees Hextor as a direct competitor for his position and portfolios in the pantheon despite the otherwise allied status of the deities.

Sources: From the Ashes boxed set, Bastion of Faith (TSR11442)

Symbol of Malar copyright (c) 2014 by Wizards of the Coast

Malar
(Hunters, marauding beasts and monsters, blood, bloodlust, evil lycanthropes, stalking)

Malar’s following is most common in Realmspace, due to contacts with groundling orcs who worship him. While significantly less common than the orcish deities themselves, some tribes do have him as a patron. His worship is spreading to other spheres, however, as he does not directly compete against the native orcish deities. He is unlikely to gain widespread appeal, however, as the larger spelljamming orcish nations have grander designs than marauding.

Sources: Faiths & Avatars

Symbol of Meriadar. Source: World of Azolin

Meriadar
(Patience, meditation, tolerance, arts, crafts, acceptance, survival)

The philosophy of the mongrelman god is not particularly appealing to the vast majority of orcs, but those rare few who are sickened by violence often turn to the Tolerant One (when not turning to the often more accessible human deities). Within normal orcish communities, his followers are not tolerated, with most being exiled for their un-orcish behavior. Those orcs enslaved by the likes of illithids and neogi, especially if they live alongside mongrelmen, sometimes turn to Meriadar to see them through their servitude.

Sources: DMGR4 Monster Mythology (TSR2128), Meriadar the Patient One on AuldDragon’s AD&D Blog

Stalker
(Hate, death, cold, revenge, the dangers that lurk under the earth)

Stalker’s faithful are a hidden menace within orcish society, committing secret acts of revenge and murder. Orcs who feel wronged by their society or hold a special and deep hatred for their fellows are drawn to this dark god, although priests are rare. Any cultists found in a community are immediately exiled, but there is an explicit ban on slaying them, out of fear it will bring Stalker’s attention to the tribe. Only scro appear to have no fear of Stalker’s wrath, and they alone execute any followers of the Cold Death they find. They are quick to crush the protests of goblinoid vassals who fear Stalker with statements like “Dukagsh is mightier than a lowly shade!” Generally, Stalker is seen as holding sway over the unpredictable and monstrous creatures of wildspace, such as murderoids, gammaroids, and krajen, as well as physical dangers like fouled air, asteroid fields, and vacuum worlds.

Sources: DMGR4 Monster Mythology (TSR2128), Stalker, the Hateful Shadow on AuldDragon’s AD&D Blog

Erythnul, Iuz, Nerull, Raxivort

These four deities have minor followings amongst the orcs of Greyspace, but few priests. Their veneration primarily comes from those orcs who were once groundlings.

Baphomet, Grolantor, Karontor, Vaprak

Orcs typically only venerate these ogrish and giantish deities if they serve or are allied to races who worship them. Outright worship is quite rare.

 

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