First created by Tolkein in Lord of the Rings (but inspired by various folkloric and mythological creatures), orcs are the traditional enemies of the fantasy genre. These hulking, warlike creatures are known for their brutal combat, frightening appearance, and frequent infighting, though recent trends in the genre (and in Dungeons and Dragons) have fleshed them out somewhat into more complicated and humanized characters. People, one might say, instead of monsters.
And like all people in the Forgotten Realms, orcs have gods.
Orc Spirituality in the Forgotten Realms
Orcs are a deeply spiritual species in the Forgotten Realms. They serve their gods, The Tribe of He Who Watches, devotedly, trusting their boundless strength and indomitable power to see them through the countless battles that make up most orcs’ lives. Of course, those battles are typically started at the behest of those gods – their pantheon firmly grounding itself in the philosophy of “might makes right”, fighting everyone and everything around them (even each other) for power.
It’s entirely possible that not all orcish gods are so focused on power and plunder, and their behavioral bias in Faerun is the unfortunate result of how orcs came to the Forgotten Realms. Rather than being Faerunian natives, orcs found and crossed through an arcane portal, sparking a series of conflicts known as the Orcgate Wars. And since their purpose in crossing through was to raid and ravage, any gods who did not approve thereof would be notably absent from the Faerunian orcish pantheon.
Gruumsh, the One-Eyed God
The patron god of all orcs and undisputed head of the orcish pantheon, Gruumsh is known both as the One-Eyed God and He Who Watches. Gruumsh is a demanding god who keeps a close eye on all of his followers, judging their worth and commanding them from afar. That worth is almost always determined by their prowess in battle, since Gruumsh is obsessed with combat and victory.
While he is an unshakable leader of the orcish pantheon, he isn’t necessarily a good one. He obsesses over victories (which are usually rather short-term) and encourages infighting amongst his tribe, putting them at a disadvantage toward their foes more often than not.
Gruumsh’s symbol is an empty eye socket or an open eye. For a short while (during the Spellplague), it was replaced by an empty socket in a triangle, from which 3 bloody bones protruded.
Luthic, the Cave Mother
The wife of Gruumsh and the patron mother of female orcs, the Blood Moon Witch is the orc goddess of caves, home, and healing. She is said to dig the caves in which orcs make residence, and from there defend and heal the young and injured. Although she is perhaps the kindest of the orcish gods, and the reason for their power and influence in Faerun (it was her affinity for family which led the orcs to begin gathering in human-like tribes rather than isolating themselves), she is also one of the least worshipped. Other gods in the pantheon do not respect her, although they may accept that she has a talent for manipulation and scheming.
Luthic’s symbol is the orcish rune for ‘home’.
Bahgtru, The Leg Breaker
Bahgtru is the son of Gruumsh and Luthic, known as the Fist of Gruumsh, and embodies pure physical strength and brutality. He is a supremely powerful fighter who forgoes any weapon in favor of striking with his bare fists, crushing his opponents into a pulp. He is also particularly stupid, known to wreak havoc and spread chaos uninhibitedly, regardless of the consequences. He promoted crushing the weak – even those within a tribe, since their removal would theoretically make the group stronger.
Bahgtru’s symbol is a broken thighbone.
Ilneval, The War Maker
The strategist and proxy-leader of Gruumsh’s divine army, Ilneval the Horde Leader is the orcish god of strategic warfare and patron of military leaders. While he technically serves under the foolish and mindlessly violent Bahgtru, Ilneval does have a strong sense of honor and a powerful strategic mind. Of course, much of that strategy involves the use of overwhelming numbers. He is also frequently the patron god of half-orcs, particularly those who are half ogre or half demon.
Ilneval’s symbol is a bloodied sword.
Yurtrus, the Lord of Maggots
Known best as White Hands, Yurtrus is the orcish god of disease and death. He does not empower orcs, but rather waits silently (having no mouth with which to speak or make sound) to ravage and take the lives of orcs who do not carry out the will of Gruumsh. And he does not threaten only orcs, either – his plague is a threat to all those who encounter it. He is typically feared and appeased rather than worshipped, but particularly weak or disabled orcs often enter his clergy to gain some measure of protection.
Yurtrus’ symbol is a pair of white, scarred palms with jagged black nails.
Shargaas, the Night Lord
Shargaas, orcish god of the cold, the dark, the night, and undeath, embodies those things which orcs fear. He waits, plotting in the darkness and the deep, stewing in his hatred of life itself, even his own. One might say that he is a product of the particularly horrifying manner in which the orcish pantheon keeps their followers living, what emerges when a people are quite so terrified of being weak. While one of his followers’ duties is to fell the weak out of a tribe, it is often those very same individuals that make up his clergy – taking on his mantle and felling their ilk as a way to avoid the same fate.
Shargaas’ symbol is a skull on top of a red crescent moon.
Have you ever utilized the orcish pantheon in a Dungeons and Dragons campaign? How did you do so? Did we miss any of your favorite facts about the orc pantheon? Let us know in the comments below!