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Half-orcs are humanoids born of both human and orc ancestry by a multitude of means. Combining the physical power of their orcish ancestors with the agility of their humans ones, half-orcs can be formidable individuals. Though often shunned in both human and orcish society, though for different reasons, half-orcs have proven themselves from time to time as worthy heroes and dangerous villains. Their existence implies an interesting back story that most would not like to dwell on.
Half-orcs are, on average, somewhere between 5'9" and 6'4" in height and usually weigh between 155 and 225 pounds making them a little taller and stronger than humans on average. Most half-orcs have grayish skin, jutting jaws, prominent teeth, a sloping forehead, and coarse body hair, which causes them to stand out from their human brethren, though their canines are noticeably smaller than a full-blooded orc’s tusks. Half-orcs as such appear bestial to humans, though amongst orcs they are considered human-like physically. Half-orc hair is most often black, though it grays very quickly with age. In general, half-orcs do not live as long as humans, maturing by their sixteenth year and often dying before their sixtieth.
Half-orcs that have lived amongst orcs might pick up a common orcish tradition, that of ritual scarring. Half-orcs with such a background do not look upon scars as marks of shame or as unattractive blemishes, but rather as marks of pride that demonstrate their skill and bravery in battle. On occasion, however, scars are used for a darker purpose, with orcs marking half-orc slaves with scars in the same manner a rancher might brand cattle.
Half-orcs have shorter lifespans than humans, reaching maturity slightly earlier and rarely living longer than seventy-five years.
Half-orcs have a strength uncommon to most humans, though comparable with orcs. Half-orcs are less durable than their full-blooded kin, however, though they tend to be more dexterous and indeed, more so than most other humanoids. Half-orcs also have a resilience unique to them and when gravely injured, simply seem all the more determined to win, as though the blows had, in fact, empowered them. Similarly, all half-orcs have the furious assault ability, which allows them to channel their feral fury into a powerful attack. These qualities are only temporary, however, and like any other mortal, half-orcs eventually tire as a battle wears on and can be broken physically.
Half-orcs are also agile, charging swiftly when their rage is aroused. For some half-orcs the conflict of their two heritages develops into something more, becoming the very essence of their being. Other half-orcs gain a thirst for battle that enables them to weather through battle longer than most find themselves capable of, making them both more resilient and more deadly.
It is sometimes said that half-orcs can see perfectly in the pitch black of underground caverns or the darkest nights, like a drow. Whether this is true for some, is unsure, although it is not a quality most half-orcs exhibit, who instead merely have an elf-like ability to see well in low-light conditions. Half-orcs are also reputed to be unintelligent and though this is not true for the entire race, it is a definite trend in some populations.
Like other half-breeds, half-orcs combine the natures of both their lineages into a unique whole, a trait which extends into their mentality as well as their physical qualities. Like humans, half-orcs are quick to action, tenacious, and bold, with an adaptability that is unusual amongst most races. This is useful to the race, given that they are considered outsiders just about everywhere and so the ability to thrive in unwelcome or unusual locations is a necessity for a half-orc’s welfare.
From their orcish blood, half-orcs take less desirable qualities typically, which adds to the discomfort others often feel around them. Few half-orcs have the patience for the etiquette or protocol that civilization often imposes and are far from quiet about their opinions on the subject. As a result, half-orcs are often perceived as uncouth savages, a reputation perhaps accentuated by the half-orcish love of physical pleasures such as eating, drinking, or dancing. Impatient and ill-tempered are stereotypes that are not too far off the mark for most half-orcs, but these qualities are not necessarily negative. Sometimes, a brash and straight to business attitude is precisely what is required.
The half-orc personality tends to be short tempered and sullen, though half-orc mental capabilities are often underestimated and members of the race are often significantly more cunning than full-blooded orcs. More often than not, half-orcs prefer simple pleasures such as feasting, singing, wrestling, or wild dancing to refined pursuits such as poetry or philosophy. Most half-orcs are free-spirited like their orcish brethren, though they have fewer of the evil tendencies that blemish the reputation of orcs and are as likely good as they are evil, at least when raised amongst humans.
Half-orcs have no home to truly call their own, in most places, excepting Palischuk in Vaasa, where a community thrives, and the possible exception of Many-Arrows, an orcish kingdom whose borders lies along several human nations, and as such have no truly common culture. Most half-orcs grow up amongst either humans or orcs, either in urban environments or, more often, along the outskirts of civilization, taking on many of the qualities of their home culture. The majority of half-orcs born since the Spellplague have half-orc parents, rather than being first generation half-orcs although it is still not wholly uncommon for a half-orc to be born from a half-orc and human coupling, either by consent or rape.
In most culture, half-orcs are prejudiced against. Within the lands of their human ancestors, half-orcs are commonly seen as savage thugs and looked down upon. As a result, most half-orcs in human society are forced into menial labor or violence for a career. Some choose to take on the life of an adventurer, perhaps merely as another acceptable means to wealth and power or sometimes as a way to throw off the shackles of other people’s perceptions.
Within orc society, half-orcs are sometimes still looked down upon as weaker and inferior creatures, but overall they tend to fare better. Most orcs grudgingly acknowledge the superiority of the half-orc’s intellect as well as their comparable strength. As a result, it is not entirely unusual for a half-orc raised amongst orcs to rise to a position of power within his or her tribe.
Half-orcs who live amongst humans are frequently drawn to adventure simply because few opportunities are presented to them for less than violent occupations. Pressured into martial lifestyles and rejected by polite society, half-orcs often only find acceptance amongst other races by proving their worth as adventurers. Likewise, the only friends a half-orc is likely to make are other adventurers, who are often also outcasts of a sort.
Half-orcs who live amongst orcs commonly take to worshiping the orc pantheon, sometimes with even greater zeal than their orcish brethren since they feel the need to prove themselves worthy. Half-orcs raised among humans, on the other hand, typically worship other deities. Common focuses of half-orc worship are Bane, Garagos, Hoar, Loviatar, Malar, Talona, and Tempus. Tyr was also commonly worshiped by many half-orcs prior to the god’s death.
Half-orcs often have poor relations with other races. In particular, half-orcs rarely get along with the Tel-quessir races or dwarves, due to racial enmity between either and orcs. Halflings and gnomes are also typically distrusting of half-orcs, although not to the degree of dwarves or Tel-quessir. Even amongst their human brethren, half-orcs are generally distrusted or feared.
Half-orcs react to this distrust through a number of ways. Some half-orcs fall into introverted behavior, trying to attract as little attention to themselves as possible in a manner paradoxical to the image of boisterous barbarian half-orcs typically evoke. Others try their hardest to do good unto others, whether out of sincere charity or simply a desire for approval and acceptance. Some half-orcs take neither approach, accepting who they are and instead give others no choice but to accept them or leave.
The troubles that their heritage brings them teaches most half-orcs to be untrusting and suspicious. Some half-orcs have as much trouble forming bonds with others as other races have accepting them, making friends with great difficulty and losing them with much greater ease.
Half-orcs have existed in the world for many, many centuries, although like most half-breeds they’ve never had an independent cultural history. Half-orcs of historical note have made their impact not through a civilization of their own, but by excelling at whatever path they’ve taken within another people’s culture. Since the Era of Upheaval, however, half-orcs have come somewhat more unto their own, with the founding of Many-Arrows by Obould a century ago. Since then, relations between orcs and humans have eased, as have the circumstances from which half-orcs are born.
Half-orcs have no true home to call their own, with the possible exception of the city Palischuk in Vaasa, a ruin rebuilt during the Era of Upheaval by half-orc settlers. Another city with a great number of half-orc members is Phsant in Thesk, which has strong ties to the gray orcs of the east. Half-orcs are also common in Northwest Faerûn, particularly the nation of Many-Arrows, nor are they entirely uncommon in Amn, along the Moonsea, or in Waterdeep.