Hi Everyone! It’s your friendly Dungeon Master, Slick Dungeon here. Today I want to talk more about how to role play with kids. In my last posts I talked about whether you should play D&D with kids, why playing D&D was healthy for kids, I showed you who does what at the table, gave you a tour of the dice and told you to read through the simple rules, went through the Introduction of the simple rules with you, walked you through the first section of the simple rules and talked about choosing a race and role playing a dwarf, role playing an elf, role playing a halfling, role playing a human, role playing a dragon born, role playing a gnome and role playing a half-elf. Today we are going to talk about role playing a Half-Orc.
One thing to know before I get too far into this is that there is a bit of a debate raging among the role play community over whether or not Half-Orcs and Orcs should be in the game in the way they are written. There is an argument to be made that these particular playable races, among others, can be read as racist stereotypes. I happen to think that there is an argument to be made there but that what is needed is some adjustment to the wording and nuance of the creatures in the game. Wizards of the Coast, the manufacturers of Dungeons & Dragons, say they are working to correct these problematic stereotypes. I think this is a step in the right direction but we’ll have to wait to see what the real result is. I believe that the more people that feel welcome playing this game the better, which is why I write these posts about how to play this game with kids. All that being said, take my suggestions and information below with a grain of salt for two reasons. 1. I will be using the descriptions and mechanics as currently written in the basic rules. 2. It’s very likely that with the corrections WoTC are making, some of this below is subject to change. Once there is an updated version, I will likely do another post to update my recommendations.
I will say that as an adult, I have found playing a Half-Orc to be extremely enjoyable and I usually go with that or a halfling when I play with adults. I do tend to play a little against type though, and usually my character is more misunderstood than aggressive. I’ll get more into this later, but that’s also my general recommendation for how a kid can play a Half-Orc.
Since its early beginnings, orcs have been one of the more villainous creatures in the game, often used as a horde of creatures opposing the forces of good. But sometimes, in the midst of all the fighting, there is a pause or a truce. There is opportunity for humans and orcs to cooperate. This gives rise to half-orcs where a creature has both human and orc blood running through their veins. These creatures usually look more orc than human but are equally of both playable races. Half-orcs can live either with orc tribes or in human cities. They are potentially the most common of the uncommon races (with half-elves possibly edging them out depending on the campaign setting). They’re pretty hefty and weigh between 180 and 250 pounds and can be anywhere from 5 to 7 feet tall.
In the basic rules they state that half-orcs tend to have scars. I feel like this is totally optional depending on how you want to play the character. They also mention that these scars can come from them being “a former slave or a disgraced exile”. Out of those two, if you are playing with kids, I absolutely recommend going with disgraced exile. As adults we can be a lot more nuanced in our definition of being a former slave but for kids, just omit that, it’s way too difficult to wrap everyone’s head around. I think a kid can easily understand being someone who made a mistake or didn’t get along with others and was told to leave. But lets not go around having our kids thinking of themselves as slaves, even in fantasy role play. I can’t imagine that is great for child development. It’s descriptions like that, which cause this whole playable race to be problematic in the first place so I am hesitant to recommend the whole slave background to anyone. That, of course, is just my opinion but there you have it.
Orcs are aggressive, warlike creatures who worship the disgraced one-eyed god Gruumsh. Gruumsh is angry and full of rage. This god is powerful enough that the orcs and even some half-orcs feel his calling to war. In essence, this makes half-orcs feel things more strongly than other playable races. They certainly feel rage, especially when fighting, but they also feel sadness quite deeply and likewise can soar to heights on the more positive emotions of joy and laughter. A half-orc truly can feel life to its fullest. This can make it difficult for some half-orcs to control their emotions in public. As a kid, this is quite relatable. Kids feel emotions incredibly deeply. And while a tantrum might come and go in an instant for a very young kid, the emotion is utterly overwhelming. Even for a ten year old kid, when they feel an emotion, it is felt deeply and strongly. Almost any kid can relate to feeling like they could lose control, or feel something that feels bigger than they are. Kids don’t get to control the world around them because adults make the rules. Half-orcs similarly did not create the rules of society or the prejudices in it, but they must react to it. This can lead to a loss of control. The awesome part of playing a half-orc is that when they do feel that emotion, they can channel it into something useful like battle prowess and resilience.
If you are trying to explain a half-orc to a kid, a great example is The Incredible Hulk. There is a guy who doesn’t quite belong anywhere, who feels major emotions and tries to control it but even when he does lose control, he doesn’t hurt the innocent. He cares about people and usually risks his neck to save people. And he also happens to be majorly strong. He’s not the only example of a good half-orc but I think he’s the one I most model my characters after. If you read the comics, it happens over and over that the Hulk is actually trying to help someone but when people who don’t like the Hulk, or are prejudiced against him, encounter him his actions are quickly misinterpreted and then Hulk has no choice but to defend himself and his friends. This act of defense is then taken as aggression towards those already prejudiced against the Hulk. The cycle never really ends. I think it can be pretty interesting for kids to play half-orcs who are really, truly very good at heart but who are assumed by others to be up to no good. The one thing I would say to make an exception to that is with the other party members. They should all know that the half-orc who may look big, strong and intimidating, is really kind, caring and loyal to her friends.
If you do go with the whole, “disgraced exile” backstory for a half-orc character, a weirdly appropriate model is Jar-jar Binks from Star Wars. Jar-jar was just kind of clumsy and not trying to hurt anyone but it was enough to get him banished. I think this works great for kids, no matter what you think of the character of Jar-jar. A half-orc could easily end up in a situation where she is misunderstood and due to her larger and more powerful frame ends up breaking something, on accident, that was precious to the community. Now she has a reason to go on an adventure. She needs to prove she is worthy of her own community. How does one do that? By becoming a heroic adventurer who, through the power of friendship, is able to save the world. That’s exactly what happened to Jar-jar. Well, before he went and messed everything up in Episode II and III but we’ll forget that for the moment.
There are a variety of half-orc names offered in the basic rules and I think those tend to be pretty fitting so I’m not really going to go into any extra recommendations of names for this particular playable race.
Let’s take a look at what the half-orc traits are as currently written
There are a few things you get for playing a Half-Orc.
Ability Score Increase
Half-orcs are very strong and they also have a strong stomach. For this reason they get to add 2 to their strength score and 1 to their constitution.
Half-orcs mature by age 14 and live to be around 75 but usually not more than that.
Here’s another spot where the half-orc description needs some improvement. It says, “Half-orcs inherit a tendency toward chaos from their orc parents and are not strongly inclined toward good. Half-orcs raised among orcs and willing to live out their lives among them are usually evil.” Why though? Why do orcs or half-orcs have to trend toward evil? Half-orcs are as individual as anyone else so there can still be plenty of good half-orcs, or even orcs. I understand that their god is out of favor and is full of rage, but for that reason, I actually think it’s more interesting if they buck the system and trend toward good. Humans are not inherently evil because they are humans but they have definitely waged as much war as orcs ever have, so I really don’t like this description. But, if you want to use your alignment that way, feel free. I still do not recommend having a kid play an evil character though. If nothing else, it is guaranteed that this will cause problems at the table because at some point, the kid who is playing the evil character is going to want to do something bad to someone in their own party. This just causes a mess. Kids can have a much harder time not taking in game actions personally. If Johnny is robbed by Jenny’s evil character, Johnny is going to think that Jenny in real life doesn’t like him. And then it will be up to you as Dungeon Master to sort the whole thing out. Just avoid the headache and make sure the half-orc in the party is good. Again this is just my opinion though.
I’ve stated the height and weight average above but for game purposes you are considered medium size if you play a half-orc.
Half-orcs move at a speed of 30 feet.
The description in the rules sums this up nicely. “Thanks to your orc blood, you have superior vision in dark and dim conditions. You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of gray.”
Even if your kid is playing a nice half-orc, they can still, when they want to, look frightening. For this reason, you gain proficiency in the intimidation skill. Even if this doesn’t make a ton of sense now, just know that half-orcs can intimidate people easier than some of the other playable races. You’d be surprised how often kids make use of this skill and it certainly can be handy for getting information or trying to get into someplace the characters are not allowed to be otherwise.
This is my favorite feature of half-orcs. When you are reduced to 0 hit points, meaning you would normally be dead at that point, you can drop to 1 hit point instead. Just so you know, a player character can still do everything they normally would with full health, if they have even a single hit point left. That basically means that when half-orcs are potentially killed, they are able to get up and give it one more try before it’s all over for them. They do have to take a long rest to use this again though, so you can basically think of this as a once a day feature.
This one takes a little bit of explaining so hang in there with me for a minute. Here’s how this feature is described in the basic rules, “When you score a critical hit with
a melee weapon attack, you can roll one of the weapon’s damage dice one additional time and add it to the extra damage of the critical hit.”
To score a critical hit means that when you make an attack roll, you rolled a 20. (There are some limited exceptions where rolling between 18-20 counts as a critical hit) Once you roll that 20, you then get to roll your damage dice. This is not a D20 but will depend on what class you play and what weapon you are using. For rolling that 20 you get to roll your damage dice twice. So if your damage dice is a D12, you get to roll it twice and add that up to your critical hit damage. But with this feature you actually get to roll that damage dice three times. An example would be a half-orc barbarian scores a critical hit by rolling a 20. Then they get to roll a D12 for their regular damage. Then they get to roll it again for their critical hit damage. Then they get to roll it a third time for the savage attack feature. You add those three numbers together, then add any modifiers that add to the damage and you end up with a major amount of damage.
If that’s still unclear, don’t worry. Just know that half-orcs get to do more damage when they roll a 20 in combat than other playable races get to.
As a half-orc you get to speak Common and Orc. Orc uses dwarvish characters but doesn’t really sound at all like any of the other languages in the game. It’s a pretty harsh and gruff language with a lot of hard consonants.
Slick Dungeon’s Tips on Playing Half-Orcs
As I said above, I like the half-orc characters to be misunderstood rather than actually aggressive. Of course, there are tons of ways to play these characters and it’s absolutely up to you how you and your kids should play this. But I think that trending toward evil alignment is going to make it more difficult to manage the table. And that’s true no matter the playable race that is evil. In my mind a good connection point for kids with half-orcs is that strong emotion they feel. It can be really good for a kid to role play getting emotions under control in a positive way. And, that does not always have to mean just in combat. A half-orc might feel frustration at the fact that a wall is difficult to climb. That frustration turns to anger, but the half-orc focuses his anger on the task at hand. Before you know it, he is able to pound footholds into the wall with his axe and he and his friends can climb up. He felt the frustration, he channeled it and he solved the problem. This helps to show kids that their emotions are not invalid but that they should be used in a constructive manner when possible.
The background of half-orcs as written can be a little troubling and tricky, so before letting your kid play one, make sure you have thoroughly read the description and have talked to them about how they want to play the character. I have not read the book yet, but supposedly The Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount has more nuanced descriptions of orcs and other less common playable races. That may be worth a look if you want your kid to play a more nuanced character that is less of a stereotype, but again I have not read it so I can’t say for sure.
Half-orcs can really be a ton of fun to play because they are big, strong and if you play them right, perfectly suited to go adventuring. A lot of kids can relate to imagining themselves big and strong. They’re told that’s how they are supposed to grow up all the time. It’s the whole reason they are forced to eat vegetables, so they might as well get used to being big and strong now. Even if that’s just in their own imagination.
I think that an excellent example here really is The Incredible Hulk. And if your kid wants to be more professor Hulk than rage Hulk, there’s no problem there either. I think a highly intelligent half-orc who wants to learn to solve problems in ways that don’t involve weapons at all, is totally appropriate for kids. It’s whatever you want to make out of it, so tweak it with your kid as needed and have at it.
Next time I will get into the last of the uncommon races in the basic rules, the Tiefling.
After that, before I get into classes, I am going to have something a little special for everyone who reads this blog and likes these posts, so be on the look out for a bit of an announcement.
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