Strength Is Made Perfect In Weakness – The Orcs

We are thrilled to feature another racial profile article on Tamriel Foundry, this time our trusty moderator, Rial, provides us with an expertly conducted investigation of the Orsimer, or Orcs in The Elder Scrolls. 

Of all the races inhabiting the Elder Scrolls world, the Orcs are the most hardy by far. They are known for their strength and prowess in battle as well as their sense of honour and iron discipline. Qualities not arisen from religious dogma or cultural ideals but the sheer fight for survival. Their original name, Orsimer – Pariah Folk, only hints at the misery and hardship that have forged this race.

The Orsimer in ESO

The Orsimer in ESO


There once was a time when Boethiah came unto the Mundus and told the Aldmer truths or lies – I shan’t presume to judge which. The Daedroth’s speeches enthralled many Aldmer and they turned from their Aedric gods. Trinimac, warrior god of the elves, slayer of Lorkhan, set out with his most devout followers to stop Boethiah from poisoning the minds of the elves, but Boethiah tricked Trinimac and ate him. When Boethiah relieved himself it was not Trinimac he excreted but a new deity by the name of Malacath. Trinimac’s followers rubbed Boethiah’s excrements on themselves, becoming the first Orcs. The Aldmer turned by Boethiah’s speeches to worship a Daedric pantheon later took to calling themselves Chimer  and embarked on an exodus  to Morrowind where they could practice their religion free from their conservative Aldmeri kin.

A statue of Malacath, made by his worshippers.

A statue of Malacath, made by his worshippers.

Having passed through a Daedroth’s equivalent of a digestive tract, Malacath didn’t have much in common with Trinimac any more. He is now widely considered to be a Daedroth himself, even though the other Daedra don’t accept him as one of them. In fact, no one considers Malacath as one of their own, for his sphere is the outcast and the ostracised. This is also mirrored in how the mortal races view the Orcs. The characteristics that distinguished Trinimac still survive in a twisted form. The once noble warrior now has become an honour-bound savage, and so have his followers.

Later on it came to pass that Orkey, the Old Knocker – who might just be Malacath. Readers with an interest in this rather enigmatic being may visit the thread Trinimalarky over at the official lore forums – cursed the Nord to live for no more than six years. Shor, ever in favour of humans, reflected this curse so that it rebounded upon the Orcs, greatly reducing their up to this point elven lifespan.

Nowadays, Orcs are known as savage and brutal raiders with little intellect but great thirst for blood. An erroneous belief based on a viscous cycle of violence. Whenever the Orcs managed to come together to build a community and advance as a culture, the combined forces of Bretons and Redguards came down on them and drove them back into the mountains. Up there life was hard and food scarce, and the fight for survival left the Orcs with almost no resources to grow as a culture, ensuring their primitive society not to advance. Raids on Breton villages often are necessary for an Orc tribe to survive, confirming Breton prejudice and provoking retaliation.

The most famous campaign mounted against the Orcs is the Siege of Orsinium in the early first era which saw the first great city of orckind destroyed by the combined forces of King Joile of Daggerfall and the Order of Diagna under Gaiden Shinji, who fell during the thirty years of siege.

Gortwog gro-Nagrom as he appears in Daggerfall

Gortwog gro-Nagrom as he appears in Daggerfall

Unrecorded by history, a second Orsinium was built in the second era. It was granted provincial status by the Breton High King Emeric of Cumberland in exchange for the support of the Orcs in his endeavour to unite the whole of Tamriel under human rule. Whatever happened to this Orsinium and why no records of its existence survived remains to be discovered in The Elder Scrolls Online.

In the late third era, during the reign of Uriel Septim VII, another Orsinium will be founded by Gortwog gro-Nagrom, who will also petition the emperor to grant provincial status to the city-state. Gortwog will also divide the Orcish society by denouncing Malacath as a malevolent demon responsible for the Orc’s pariah status. Gortwog believes that Trinimac still exists in his pure form and that the orcs should return to worshipping him. However, after the Septim line goes extinct and the empire falls apart, Bretons and Redguard will once again ally to sack the city that by then will have become the pinnacle of Orcish culture and civilization. The surviving Orcs, aided by the emerging Mede empire, will flee east into the mountains between Daggerfall and Skyrim, were they will endeavour to build yet another Orsinium.



As far as Orcs go, this is a pretty boy

As Orcs go, this is a pretty boy (Picture by Minttu)

Shunned and reviled by the other races of Tamriel, Orcs have to make a living in the most inhospitable regions. Living in barren lands, beset dangerous beasts, survival of the strongest isn’t an ideal, it’s the only way. Only strong Orcs survive. A weak Orc is not only in danger of falling prey to the many dangers of his homeland but also weakens his tribe by requiring others to carry his weight. Only the strongest Orc can lead. And only he can take wifes to ensure the next generation is the strongest possible so the tribe can survive.

Of course, an Orc chieftain wouldn’t choose his wifes based on beauty, but strength and endurance – or rather, strength and endurance are what Orcs view as beauty. Orcs know no leisure or luxury. Everything they do is focused on the survival of the tribe. Resolve and strength are the only attributes that count for an Orc. Recreation, comfort, art, they are but a waste of the meagre resources a tribe has at its disposal. Engaging in non-lucrative activities softens the Orc and weakens the tribe.

Surviving alone is impossible. A tribe has to work together and all its members have to trust each other. This is where an Orc’s sense of honour and discipline stems from. The tribe relies on the Orc do do his part, to keep his oath to his family, to ensure survival. Despite the common misconception, Orcs rarely are berserks. Losing your cool in a fight, costing his tribe an able member, is the last thing an Orc would do.

Their strength, pragmatism and efficiency have led to the Orcs becoming adept at smithing. It is their one cultural highlight that every Orc is taught as soon as they can lift a hammer. Their smithing is the one thing that every Orc is proud of. Orcish weapons and armour may look crude and brittle but you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything more useful at doing what weapons and armour are usually used for.



Orcs living in the mountains herd giant, shaggy centipedes

Orcs living in the mountains herd giant, shaggy centipedes

As with all races of Tamriel, not all Orcish societies are the same. There are three basic kinds of Orc to distinguish between:

First there are the Stronghold Orcs, the most traditional. A stronghold can range from a small shack with a few wooden stakes around it to a huge longhouse protected by a fortified stone wall. It is usually populated by a small tribe consisting of at least a chieftain, his wives and children and his mother as the wise woman, but also wives and children of the previous chieftain(s) and in some rare cases even wandering Orcs that have been taken in. Of all kinds of Orcs, those living in the strongholds are the most conservative and traditionalist.

The second type are the City Orcs, who have been integrated into other societies, mostly Breton, Redguard or Nord. They live as soldiers, farmers, hunters, beggars etc. among humans, sometimes for many generations. They have forsaken their Orcish traditions and values in favour of those of their Human community. More traditionally-minded Orcs see them as weaklings and traitors.

The third type are the Orcs from Orsinium. The current Orsinium, that is, granted to them by High King Emeric of Cumberland in exchange for support of his war effort. They follow Orcish traditions, much like their stronghold brethren, but not every rule translates well from a small community to a big city. The right to marry and father children can’t be reserved for one man alone. A tribe doesn’t have to fight for their own survival but instead opens up to other tribes. Social advancement like women being able to choose their husbands themselves rather than being given away for a dowry by their father or even widespread monogamy are possible.


Orcs in The Elder Scrolls Online

But what impact will all this have in the game? Now that we’ve seen the racial skill lines of the Ebonheart Pact races, we can make a few well-educated guesses:


Orcish armor is likely to be prized

The Orcs’ racial ultimate is likely to be a form of Berserker Rage. In Morrowind and Oblivion, this skill provided the player with a short-term bonus to health, stamina and physical attack power at the cost of agility, while in Skyrim it doubles the damage dealt while halving the damage received. The latter seems to be appropriate for a game like ESO, apart from the fact that a certain group of people will liken it to a certain other skill in a certain other MMORPG.

Every race seems to have one of the initial skill lines associated with them. Two-Handed has already been given to the Nords, leaving the Orcs with either Heavy Armor or One-Handed-and-Shield as a favoured skill line. The Nord racials Rugged (increased natural armour rating) and Robust (increased health regeneration in combat) would both suit an Orc just as well, as would a bonus on their maximum stamina and health, similar to the Dunmeri bonus to magicka and stamina granted by their racial passive Dynamic.

Since we know next to nothing about ESO’s crafting system, racial bonuses on crafting skills may well be a thing, but haven’t been made public as of yet. Since Orcs are – for the lack of actual dwarfs in the Elder Scrolls universe – the best smiths, bonuses to weapon and armour smithing would be more than likely.