I want to figure out what kind of effects following physical attributes and in-universe conditions would have on Orc populations, society and warfare in a realistic low-fantasy setting:

Physical attributes:

  • Height ~190-200cm for males
  • Weight ~150kg for males
  • Roughly twice stronger than an average human
  • Sexual dimorphism is simmilar to humans(although a female Orc can still overpower an average male Human)
  • Senses(sight/smell/hearing etc) are more or less equal to Human or slightly superior(easily countered by watch dogs).


  • They used to populate the fertile central plains of in-universe notEurope and local Donau valley but were gradually driven away, exterminated or enslaved by humans during the past millenia(not long enough for tribal mythos to forget the fact). Those lands now a part of the notRoman Empire.
  • Tribal/Clan societies ranging from hunter-gatherers to non-sophisticated agricultures. Most populations inhabit fantasy counterparts of Alps(like Picts), Northern Europe(Saxons), less fertile plains of Eastern Europe(southern regions are dominated by the cavalry-heavy human nomads).
  • On the overall the world is around our Earth's Antiquity(300BC-100AD), Orcish societies can produce little iron and steel products compared to neighboring Human civilization but it's mostly because of population sizes and overal development rather than mental inability(fastforward a thousand years - Orcish civilizations cut the gap in technological progress and even dominate in certain areas).
  • Story-wise there are two periods: one is an analogue of our classical Antiquity(think Alexander the Great/Ceasar in Gaul), the other is an analogue of Migration Period/Viking Age caused by the Little Ice Age.

1. What would be the average food requirement for these Orcs?

Sub questions would be: a) what would be an average population density in low to mid fertility regions? Gallo-Germanic plains and Donau valley had an average of ~8 people per km2 during antiquity - I'd assume that because of higher food requirements there'd be even less Orcs to go around.

b) in-universe these Orcs make the best gladiators, but would they be good as slaves for physically intensive labour? Would it be worth fielding Orcs over regular Humans or the strength vs food costs would favor more of latter?

2. Would physical attributes affect society structures compared to humans?

a) How fertility and maturity rates would be affected and thus affect society? I'd assume that lower population levels on their own do not allow for higher social structures.

b) Violent resolution of internal conflicts seems to be undesirable because at such strength levels wounds are going to be more severe, lower populations and higher dependancy on healthy individuals push it even more.

c) How physical superiorty would translate on the Orcs' worldview(including mythos and religion) and their attitude(diplomacy?) towards other intelegent species?

3. How the above ultimately affects warfare?

As was mentioned Orcs make for great gladiators in melee combat because of their physical characteristics, but would that translate to their free kin? Or they'd be more oriented towards skirmishing assuming much lower numbers compared to other fantasy species?

Primary enemy(neighbour) is the human notRoman Empire that makes extensive use of noble heavy cavalry(think medieval knights and their men-at-arms), professional heavy infantry(extra troops outfited and paid for by the nobles) and with local levies as expendable frontline.

Also what about the second time period, when literally whole tribes/clans would have to migrate and fight for their very survival?

One in-universe condition is that Orcs don't have cavalry: neither equestrian nor chariots. The Humans' ability to ride the horses and greater numbers is the primal reason why Orcs were pushed from their homelands in the first place.

Note: the magic in the setting is very obscure and indirect like "12 Imperial Mages chanted for three days straight using the rarest ingridients gathered from all the corners of the Empire to cause the storm that scattered Hannibexes' fleet", "Lakonian Warlock knows things he has no access to, like what the Emperor had for breakfast and such.." or "Avernii shamans that can bring people from the brink of death!"

Edit: The questions might look like three separate entities but I want you to view them as intertwined and based around the fundamental limitation that such great physical attributes(typical for modern fantasy) would entail - higher calorie/dietary requirements over other humanoid species. Bigger is not always better, I believe it's the reason why Megafauna died out in our world - smaller and more cost effective species spred faster and took all the ecological niches once the resources became more scarce.

The setting takes inspiration from that process: Orcs took the most fertile and climate friendly regions by the virtue of strength in pre-history, then got pushed back once the technological progress kicked in - Humans exploded in numbers due to agriculture and cavalry sealed the gap in strength.

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    $\begingroup$ This is really three questions, not one. You may want to edit it and split it into three questions, otherwise it may get closed. That said, you have described the typical orc as being comparable to a human heavyweight power lifter. There are endless articles on the dietary needs of power lifters - 25 calories per kilogram seems to be the basic caloric requirement. $\endgroup$
    – pojo-guy
    Apr 14, 2018 at 20:27
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    $\begingroup$ They are all intertwined and revolve around one aspect: Food consumption. $\endgroup$
    – Nick Dzink
    Apr 14, 2018 at 21:04
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    $\begingroup$ roughly twice as strong as an average male is anyone who lifted weights for more than 1 year, the average person is incredibly weak therefore your orcs are incredibly weak. You should aim for 10 times stronger than average humans, or twice as strong as world class humans or your orcs are nothing special when it comes to strength. As suggested in the answers humans are endurance animals not strength ones so we are incredibly weak. anything that's twice as strong as average people is still weak. $\endgroup$
    – Ekaen
    Apr 15, 2018 at 10:48
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    $\begingroup$ If your question is about food consumption, then ask a question about food consumption! Polo-guy's point here is that Stack Exchange is where you ask a single question, divided into no fewer and no more than one sub-parts, and the community answer it. And, of course, that question has to be about worldbuilding. Now, I like Orcs, and think your multiple questions are all valid and all focus on worldbuilding rather than story telling. I'm going to second pojo in asking you to edit your questions and pare them down to a single question. Once you get answers, you can always ask more questions! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Apr 22, 2018 at 3:34
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    $\begingroup$ I agree with @elemtilas and pojo-guy. Nick, it doesn't matter if all the questions are related. One question at a time, please. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Apr 22, 2018 at 5:25

3 Answers 3


Humans are built for endurance, this is what makes them "weak" in comparison to for example a chimpanzee or human-sized monkeys/apes (don't kill me for not knowing which one to use).

If you change the strength of the Orcs to be stronger than humans then it would mean that Orcs would spend more time resting (not necessarily sleeping) and combat would need to be quick, brutal and fast because any lengthy engagement would exhaust the Orcs too much. It would actually be a good reason for the Orcs to be warlike: By capturing and enslaving especially humans they can make them do the more exhausting endurance work like the heavier parts of farming.

A consequence is that the Orcs would need to have a different war "timetable". Humans can plan an offensive that lasts hours, Orcs would need a shorter plan and have to cycle their units in and out of combat much more often to keep their troops fresh and stronger than their opponents. Humans would try to keep the maneuvering phase going as long as possible to exhaust the Orcs as much as possible before the initial fight (they are all wearing armor and heavy weapons after all), and when the engagement begins the humans will try to keep the Orcs from disengaging after the initial brutal losses the human's sustain from the superior orcs, as the tables will quickly turn towards the human's favor and the Orcs will start dying.

Edit: in case the orcs are the slaves/workers, their work needs to be tailored to them. For example they could work as dockworkers who unload heavy stuff, then get long rests in-between. Some construction work where they need the manpower for a moment, that kind of thing.

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    $\begingroup$ fine motor skills will also suffer, that is the other benefit humans got from changing how muscle recruitment works.which would go a long way to explaining the technological difference orcs are just as clever but the just lack the fine motor skills for quality craftsman ship. And keep in mind muscle fatigue is less about total effort and more about how long they can sustain a contraction, a orc can probably keep up with a human stacking boxes for a couple of hours but they could never compete as a porter. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Apr 15, 2018 at 3:09

Your orcs can be a human subspecies, or even a human ethnic group.


Your parameters are well within the range for humans. Average weight is 150 kg which is about double the average weight of a Frenchman and 30% more than a Samoan. A Samoan is double the average size of a Laotian and I suspect that average strength tracks with size.

I could imagine that these large, robust and durable humans were imported as slave labor in ancient times. In fact you propose exactly this. Descendant populations persist, appearing in many ways similar to their ancestors. Such a thing has been known to happen in the real world.

The good thing about this is that you don't have to make up anything. "Orcs" are a human race, or a (crossfertile) Neanderthal-like Homo subspecies at most distant. They eat what we eat. Their society is not completely alien.

  • $\begingroup$ Cube squared law - weight tracks with the cube of size, but strength tracks with the square of size. $\endgroup$
    – pojo-guy
    Apr 14, 2018 at 22:28
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    $\begingroup$ strength depends also on levers, so height and weight make a great difference. You can be stronger with heavy and shorter legs but more powerful and faster with light and longer legs. $\endgroup$
    – Ekaen
    Apr 15, 2018 at 10:42
  • $\begingroup$ strength is also mostly related to nervous system efficiency, you can be strong... even 2-3 times stronger than the ''average'' person while lighter than average. $\endgroup$
    – Ekaen
    Apr 15, 2018 at 10:46

Caloric Needs

According to CalorieKing for a 6 foot 2 inch, 330 pound male orc, aged 20 years and doing heavy labor you'd need about 4,000 to 4,200 calories per day to maintain weight (3,200 to 3,400). For comparison to an average human at between 2,000 to 2,500, the food need is between 1.5x to 2x.

That calorie need can be cut to 3,400 to 3,600 calories (and when I say calories, I'm meaning kilocalories) per day by cutting their lifestyle from heavy labor (my base assumption) to light labor.

1.a.) Generally, it's believed that about 4 acres of land was needed to produce enough crop for 1 person for the year. Given that, I'd say orcs would require an average of 7 acres per person or 6 people per square kilometer, using your metric.

1.b.) I think the problem with stronger slaves is more about securing a population of slaves that is twice as strong as the guards, not calories.


2.a.) The population difference isn't so severe as to completely rule out larger social forms.

2.b.) The population could still resolve conflicts through ritualized violence: wrestling matches, counting coup, or pre-Shaka African "wars" which were mostly two armies exchanging largely useless spear volleys and going home.

Alternatively, the scottish (and some medieval brits) used feats of strength or skill (caber tossing, hammer throwing, olympics) to compete.

2.c.) Larger creatures (see the Rakshasas of Hindu myth or Goliath) tended to be portrayed as more reliant on the own capability (more atheist).

This is encountered by real-world examples of the Norse and the Dinka, who are both as religious as any other culture. I'm inclined to say size has no effect.


3.) Your stronger orcs will be able to, if they choose to, wear nearly twice as much armor. That might be enough to become fairly immune to arrows and even stand up nicely to notRoman piercing swords, spears from charioteers, and cavalry charges.

If your orcs adopt the shield wall tactics of their notRoman southern neighbors, it might be able to hold against traditional wall-breakers : cavalry and chariots. A heavy warhorse (Shire) weighs up to 2,200 pounds. Not impossible for a small (2 to 3) group of your strong 330 pound strong orcs (assuming they can lift twice their weight) to throw down.

Now in Gallic lands, your orcs are well positioned to adopt chain maille from the Gauls before the notRomans do. In between these two groups of innovators, if orcs are paying attention, they may adopt the best of both cultures ahead of the humans.

Also, the larger strength and bigger size would allow orcs to draw heavier bows, pull farther, allowing them to have superior range and hitting ability as archers.


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