Hello 40k fans! Chris Morgan, Chief Librarian of the Forge the Narrative Podcast, is here again with the next weekly segment of Tomes of the Librarius. Also, check the Tactics Corner for more great articles!
Just as a reminder, in this series we will explore facets of the history and legends of the Grimdark. This is meant to be an easy summary and introduction geared towards new players or people unfamiliar with the setting, but should still be an interesting read or fun refresher for those already familiar. There’s so much detail in this lore that a bare summary seems so inadequate, but for new people this should be the right portion to get a feel for the history of the universe we enjoy our games in.
I’ve really been excited about putting this one together for you guys, because few things in 40k are more fun and lighthearted than Orks. Orks are the most warlike race in the entire galaxy, and also (so far) the most numerous. Driven by their need to fight, Orks accomplish feats that both terrify and bewilder the rest of the races in the galaxy. They are big, they are mean, they are green, and they want to rip out your spleen.
In Da Beginnin’
In terms of histories, the Orks keep none. They are about as old as the Aeldari (or so the Aeldari say), but they keep no written history. Oral tales of the orks passed down through their clans speak of an old race of “Brainboyz” who were small and weak, and so they created the Orks to fight for them. Certainly if that were true, it would explain how violent their race is, and why WAAAGH!! (it means ‘war’, don’t pronounce the ‘gh’ or they’ll know you’re a fake) is so built-in to their race identity. What happened to the brainboyz? The Orks don’t care. They just want a good fight, and they’ll do whatever it takes to find one. As they are fond of saying, “Orks waz born to fight and win.”
Born to be Wild…
From the second an Ork draws breath it lusts for war. Not “born” as most races, there are no female orks and there are no male orks – they are just orks. Orks in the heat of battle release spores out of pores in their skin which embed themselves in the ground. These spores seem to have no particular pattern. Some grow to be Ork boyz, some to Gretchin (Grotz), and some to Squigs, a mouth on two legs which is about as close to a pack animal as these beasts get. It can take years to gestate, so it is not uncommon for a world once assailed by Orks and victorious may find itself dealing with them some years later (good luck predicting anything with them), with feral orks plunging madly out of forests looking for a good fight and some loot. They will devote their lives to finding the biggest fight they can and being the strongest. It’s like being a samurai who wears garbage.
Each Ork that is “born” this way comes out with a particular set of skills. The mechanically minded Orks are called “Mekboyz” and they create all the weapons, wargear, and machinery. Ork “technology” by all accounts shouldn’t work – and indeed it often doesn’t work – but for what they lack in technical finesse they seem to make up for in belief. An Ork weapon will not operate in the hand of a human, because the weapon in some way draws on the power of the Ork who believes he can kill with it. This energy permeates a warband, and it is what pushes the primitive Orks from feral and wild into a spacefaring species. Psychic Orks called “Weirdboyz” channel the warlike energy of their brethren into powerful spells (provided their ‘eads don’t explode in the process). The basic boy may prefer different modes of combat, such as flying with a rocket strapped to its back (which also inspires a rare form of organized militancy, mocked by their fellow boyz for marching in lines and doing drills), or looting big gunz off of their defeated foes, or hunting tanks or other armor with rokkitz. Ork currency is counted in “teef” which fall out of their mouths in droves (often due to brawling with other Orks). The bigger the toof, the more cool bitz and gubbinz you can buy with it. The teef of powerful enemies always fetch the highest price, especially since Ork teef rarely stay whole long enough to maintain anything resembling a functional economy after they fall out, as if engineered that way to prevent an Ork from caring about money.
Each Ork seems to know how to do everything its role requires with no training – they are simply pre-loaded with all the knowledge they need. They all worship their twin gods, Gork and Mork. Gork, is brutal, but kunnin’ while Mork is kunnin, but brutal. Probably? When Orks are gearing up for war, they build idols to their gods. These are the super-heavy titan vehicles known as Gargants and Stompas, and they inspire Orks to greater war-worship. Warship? It’s simply complicated.
Da Ork Culcha!
Being green is intrinsic to an Orks identity, though they have special relationships with other colors. ‘Red onez go fasta’ is a common Orkish association, which is why they often paint their vehicles and bikes red. Blue is also considered to be a ‘lucky’ color and some orks will get blue tattoos or wear blue armor. You can expect an Orkish warband to be colorful and vibrant, and to smell as terrible as their engines are loud.
The more an ork fights and lives, the bigger he gets, going from a regular boy, to a Nob who bosses around the boyz, and so on. At the top of the Ork societal pyramid is the Warboss. He is always the biggest, the meanest, the greenest, and the most kunnin’ of all the Orks in his warband. Usually wearing the best armor and having the best gear that teef can buy, he walks among his tiny minions bedecked in the trophies of his glorious kills (or someone else’s if he liked it enough). It takes a warboss to bring the violent and disparate brawling of bored Orks amongst themselves and give it direction, and that direction is usually towards the biggest fight they can reach. This is called a WAAAGH!, and the bigger and stronger the boss, the more boyz who will join up with him to fight. If all the Orks in the galaxy were to unite under one boss, the combined might of all other races may not even be enough to stop them.
Fortunately the Orks are rarely so easily united, and warbosses are as liable fight each other for power as much as other races. In the rare instances where a mighty warboss has arisen, it has shaken the galaxy to its core. Warbosses are as much a strength as a weakness, however, as the death of a Warboss usually spells the end of a WAAAGH! as the remaining orks revert to disorganized infighting and can easily be routed. You can always rest assured, however, that the Orks will be back again for another fight. The epitome of violence and war, Orks are da biggest and da strongest, and nuffin’ is betta den being green! Loud, aggressive, filthy, and numerous. Bravest wif da boss, or a big mob o’ boyz backin’ dem up.
There are a lot of series featuring Orks, and not many from the Orkish perspective. If you are looking for the ultimate example of the incredible power of Orks to go over the top in an over the top universe, then The Beast Arises (by mixed authors) is the series for you.
Other stories like Rynn’s World by Steve Parker (where the Orks fight the Crimson Fists) really sell the danger they present.
I would be remiss to not mention Helsreach by Aaron Dembski-Bowden, which details the Ork invasion during the third war for Armageddon.
I hope that was an enjoyable introduction to one of the most numerous antagonists in 40k fiction. They are just as fun and wonky on the table as they are in the stories. That said, there are a lot of older Ork abilities that were crazy and fun, and most older Ork players will reminisce about the fun, crazy antics they got up to with da boyz. I’d recommend you find one and get them talking about it, because not only will you get some fun stories, but the old boyz of da Orks make some of the best 40k friends you could ask for.
Do you have any fun Ork stories or favorite gaming moments to share? Put them in the comments!
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