38
$\begingroup$

So I'm making a story with the standard Tolkien races. Not terribly original, I know, but it makes for good practice fantasy writing.

While I was planning out the history, I realized that orcs generally have physical advantages over humans, most commonly in terms of strength or endurance. Considering that humans, dwarves, or other fantasy species don't have any biological traits to counter this, what is it that is keep the orcs at bay?

Basically, if a species has a distinct advantage in combat, what could be used to keep them from bulling the other races into subjugation or extinction? The only traits I would like for these orcs to have other than the strength are the ability to use tools, the ability to verbally communicate and write, and some means to keep them from being exterminated by other races/species. The last point is so humans don't just retaliate against orcs when they're hibernating in the winter or something.

If possible, avoid political factors (they're just crappy leaders!) or involving divine beings (humans have better gods, and the like).

Examples of an author successfully integrating any over-powered species would be appreciated, even if its unrelated to orcs or other species physically superior to human beings.

edit- May 13

Wow, I am really amazed at the thoroughness and clarity of the answers I am receiving. There has been a lot of enlightening information, especially about the handling of orcs and goblins in Tolkin's world.

That being said, there seems to be a pattern of thinking of orcs as a ethnic group or organization, the Kahns of classical Mongolia being the most frequent comparison. This line of thinking assumes that political structures (in this case tribal societies with tiers based on martial prowess) are inherent to a species genetic makeup.

I'm all for orcs with Spartan or Mongolian social structures, but assuming all orcs would be down for sieging the same castle their last four generations died on would be strange without a reason for it.

I understand this is the type of thinking that Tolkin and many other authors prescribed to, and that using species interchangeably with ethnicities is a common practice, but assuming that orcs (or any other species) have static political structures doesn't make sense.

As an example, if the orcs were incapable of digesting grains or other easily farmable plant matter, they would have a lot of difficulty establishing permanent settlements. They might be individually stronger than humans and (potentially) just as smart, but can't amass in large numbers as easily because of this.

$\endgroup$
  • 13
    $\begingroup$ To sum it up: there's more to conquering the world than being great at melee combat. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn May 13 '18 at 16:43
  • 8
    $\begingroup$ @RonJohn: If Tolkien's tales are accurate, orcs are not all that great at melee combat. He relates a number of incidents - the ambush at Rauros, Eomer's massacre of the orc troop before Aragorn & company encounter them, Helm's Deep, &c - in which groups of other races defeat much larger orc forces, while sustaining little loss themselves. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf May 13 '18 at 17:40
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @RonJohn: But the OP says "standard Tolkien races", so I was pointing out that standard Tolkien orcs DON'T have the advantages he claims, and that provides an answer to the question. (Which I was too lazy to write up as an answer with citations &c :-)) $\endgroup$ – jamesqf May 14 '18 at 4:02
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ @jamesqf Very much right. It is a common misconception, even in the Hobbit films, but real Tolkien-orcs are weaker and smaller than Men, and shun sunlight. Only the Uruk-hai come anywhere close to the quality of numenorean soldiers, but even they are slain en masse by Boromir or Eomer. And other races have natural advantages too... $\endgroup$ – b.Lorenz May 14 '18 at 5:23
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Tolkien orcs don't win wars because they're stronger, bigger or better fighters than humans or elves (Uruk-hai might have an edge in the first two categories); they win because they're rapidly mass produced. $\endgroup$ – Shadur May 14 '18 at 11:56

23 Answers 23

6
$\begingroup$

I'm going to ignore what you've said about Tolkien because Tolkien's Orcs are not the Uruk-hai, Uruks are weird crossbreeds, Orcs are more like modern DnD Goblins with delusions of civilisation.

So why would a race modeled more closely on the Uruk-hai have trouble taking or holding a world? Apart from what I've seen here I would suggest that they're boom-bust breeders, so hordes of Orcs periodically spread out from their version of the Fertile Crescent, an area that can and does support a huge dense population of peaceful Orcs on smallhold farms, they take huge swathes of territory but for various reasons can never hold it. Every so often Orcs go into a breeding frenzy, doubling or tripling their numbers in less than a generation, this could be triggered climatically or it could be a simple biological cycle, whatever the cause their homeland suddenly can't support their numbers. Vast numbers of Orcs young and old move out to take up new land, between the natives contesting ownership and the fact that this land is not as fertile as that at home the exodus doesn't get all that far and since their population has to spread out so much more to live on the relatively barren new holdings they're seriously vulnerable to counterattack.

This is thought to have happened with some regularity in antiquity with populations on China's Loess Plateau and the Eurasian Steppe migrating into Europe and the Southern parts of Asia.

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Dude, I love this answer! Its easy to understand, leads to all kinds of interesting characters, and suggests a deep history and culture. A story could easily have orc as a protagonist or antagonist in this system, and that's more-or-less how I judge a fictional species/race/ethnicity is well written. Mad respect. $\endgroup$ – Pinion Minion May 22 '18 at 15:57
  • $\begingroup$ @PinionMinion Thanks, I looked at the answers that were already here and felt they were looking in the right places but ignoring the underlying resource and population issues. $\endgroup$ – Ash May 22 '18 at 16:19
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Hum, I rathe like the idea that hidden in the depths of Mordor there's a fertile crescent harbouring a significant settled Orc population and what we see in the movies/books is the equivalent of a migratory steppe horde ;) $\endgroup$ – Ynneadwraith May 22 '18 at 18:47
  • $\begingroup$ @Ynneadwraith Tolkien did mention large farms around the Sea of Núrnen so it could be a thing. $\endgroup$ – Ash May 22 '18 at 18:54
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Ash: But he also says that those farms were worked by human slaves under Sauron's rule. (Freed by Aragon after the War.) $\endgroup$ – jamesqf May 22 '18 at 19:04
84
$\begingroup$

You say to avoid political factors but realistically it is ALL about politics.

Specifically Orcs cannot sustain political authority or more precisely loyalty. Orcs are loyal to the most charismatic (or simply powerful) leader present. If the leader is not present they will not follow the leader.

This might be due to high level of aggression, short attention span or simply inability to commit to an abstraction such as a state or a king. Any of these would be sufficient and Orcs are generally portrayed with an abundance of all these characteristics.

This limits Orcs to tribes where everyone personally knows the boss and one boss replaces another after a fairly short conflict to find out who the boss is or alternately to single goal hordes that follow a single charismatic big boss that the tribes believe can give them victory. Or at least loot and plunder.

This means that while a horde will be a huge danger and be able to simply overwhelm most kingdoms, it will rapidly devolve to tribes fighting each other for the spoils, if the big boss dies, Orcs lose trust in him due to a set back, or the horde actually succeeds in its goals. Why go far away to loot and burn a city when you already burned a city and have problems carrying the loot you have?

And the the isolated tribes will be easy pickings for any organized force of humans, elves or dwarves. The military force of a tribe consists of the warriors of the tribe showing up with whatever equipment they have and following their leader. Individually they and their equipment might be good but they won't have the discipline or organization to contest a real army with actual logistics and tactics.

The classic source for this is probably the account of the Gallic Wars by Julius Caesar. The Gauls were fairly civilized and well equipped, their warriors had no shortage of courage, and they often had superior numbers but the war was still heavily stacked against them. The Romans just were better organized and more professional about it. With Orcs the gap would be even larger even if you don't introduce anything resembling the legions to the setting. The Gauls really were fairly sophisticated people.

Another good source would be various colonial wars. Especially examples such as Madagascar or New Zealand (and many others) where a charismatic strong leader stopped the colonial powers cold but as soon as the leader died the resistance would fall apart and colonial powers could pretty much walk in. This would happen even with areas with fairly small technology and "civilization" gap such as India.

Orcs would be permanently handicapped with a larger gap in level of organization and social abstraction. Given how devastating the colonialism was nations of same species with fairly sophisticated civilizations I think this is all you need to explain why Orcs do not rule the world. They probably need individual combat superiority to avoid going extinct.

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This is indeed the route taken in other fiction - Games Workshop's 40K Ork faction are stated as having this lack of difficulty in sustaining any more authority than "might makes right". This makes them very powerful only when united behind a powerful leader. Take him out and often the group united behind him will fall apart, absent any other leadership figures. $\endgroup$ – Miller86 May 14 '18 at 10:56
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ With the 40K orks, there's also an implied lack of attention span amongst the smaller runts and boyz, with only the big leaders really portrayed as capable of long term tactical thinking. Without direction, they get fractious. $\endgroup$ – Wenlocke May 14 '18 at 12:11
  • 11
    $\begingroup$ Just to add, this lack of organizational ability is likely to be biological just as much as the enhanced combat ability. So it's not about having a "fixed political system" as a cultural thing, but the complete inability to make anything else work. Our own predecessors were unable to develop any kind of civilization beyond tribes for a few million years, until a cognitive revolution happened some 70,000 years ago. $\endgroup$ – Cyrus May 14 '18 at 15:14
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Considering I want these particular orcs to be able to write, do you think this lack of organization could be due orcs being less able to remember individuals that humans are? I mean, I've heard that humans can keep tract of 150 other humans mentally. With orcs, that number could be just 50. More than that and they would be overwhelmed by the number of names, faces, and personalities. Complex political systems, like the ones needed to maintain a nation, wouldn't come naturally for orc planners. $\endgroup$ – Pinion Minion May 15 '18 at 3:54
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @PinionMinion I'd advise against it. If you change any of the social scaling factors you won't be able to use human social and military structures as models without first checking how they would be affected. It probably is not worth it unless you want them to be that different and want to do the extra work. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi May 15 '18 at 14:27
30
$\begingroup$

Humans/dwarfs/elves have large cities, farms and other aspects of a civilisation. Orcs have no such things. The orc-lands to the North are vast but there is no unified nation or supreme leader. The orcs live in small semi-nomadic hunter-gatherer tribes. They war with neighboring orc tribes as much as with nearby human/dwarf/elf cities. As long as our border cities have proper walls and defenses to repel a few dozen troops at a time, the orcs are not much of a problem.

This raises the question of why we don't just raise an army and wipe them out. We tried this a hundred years ago but all that happened was the orcs tribes rallied to fight us. It turns out as long as a powerful foe is immediately present the tribes will stop fighting each other and fight us instead. Our army was well trained but couldn't compare with orc society where there is simply no such thing as a non-combatant.

Our army was destroyed and the resulting Orc WAAAGH! rampaged to the South and destroyed three of our cities before it hit the King's River. Unable to cross, cohesion broke down and with no enemy present most of the orcs died through a combination of starvation (they had no supply trains) and infighting.

Orcs are also known as prolific breeders. Twins or triplets are normal for an orc mother and an orc is full-grown by six years old. By the time we had rebuilt our cities the orc-lands had repopulated and gone back to fighting each other as though nothing had happened.

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Have you tried incrementally taking territory from the orcs? Or are the orc-lands' terrain and weather not suitable for your people to settle? $\endgroup$ – Jasper May 14 '18 at 5:51
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ @Jasper Taking territory is only worth doing if you can hold it. Which means you need a population big enough to put military outposts close enough to each other to protect the roads between them, otherwise the orcs will just go around you, and start ambushing your merchant caravans. Humans simply don't have enough population to cover the land densely enough to wipe out the orcs. Even with 7 billion people, in the real world we still only cover 10% of the land, if we were stuck with medieval weapons orcs would still be around. $\endgroup$ – Benubird May 14 '18 at 9:24
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Isn't this more or less accurately describing the Mongols and/or the Huns? Which probably is the right historical event to look into as for why Orcs don't dominate. They can, for a while. But just like most ancient empires they'll fall apart sooner or later. $\endgroup$ – Doomfrost May 14 '18 at 13:33
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @Doomfrost the Mongol comparison breaks down when you get past the popular stereotypes. The Mongol Empire was (in terms of land mass) a contender for the largest our planet has ever seen. It was also a multi-generational conquest putting it together, and they held it for an absurd number of generations because they were very capable administrators and had the good sense to absorb the best parts of the cultures they conquered. Rome survived as long as the army was able to keep up with the constant rebellions. The Mongol Empire was too large for that, so they survived by ruling effectively. $\endgroup$ – Morgen May 14 '18 at 17:03
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Sorry to be late to the party, but why not invite the orcs to your kingdom? You got nice stuff to offer, and they make for amazing labors and soldiers. Soon, your problematic neighbor has turned into an economic boon and allied nation. After a few generations, humans become the minority in a prosperous orc nation. $\endgroup$ – Pinion Minion May 15 '18 at 3:34
22
$\begingroup$

What if despite all the Tolkienic propaganda, orcs aren't actually jerks.

Maybe they've had a few near misses with genocide and decided genocide was wrong.

Maybe they learned that when their species subjugated other races, the end result kinda sucked. Fine things ceased to come out of that culture ( "fine things" being, to an orc, tasty food, wagons that actually hold up, quality weapons and armor since the first thing you do in an occupation is outlaw them, etc.) Meanwhile they were forced to waste their time being jailers and fighting a bloody insurgency, in the end wondering who was jailing whom.

So they confine their foreign affairs to getting others to "leave us alone".

$\endgroup$
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ I like the idea that the orcs won, then decided they didn't like it and let everybody go. I'd read that! $\endgroup$ – Benubird May 14 '18 at 9:25
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ You mean this? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Last_Ringbearer $\endgroup$ – PStag May 14 '18 at 10:19
  • $\begingroup$ They basically realized that they are superior, but they need to "leech" on other cultures for most of their stuff, because their superiority only extends to the pure physical attributes?.... I really like it $\endgroup$ – Patrice May 14 '18 at 13:33
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ A variant that is less friendly: raiding human/elven/dwarf lands is a rite of passage for the fast-breeding orcs. Youths are organized into tribes; each tribe of youths is sent out into the outer orc lands naked; there they must forage for supplies, build weapons, and raid the human/dwarf/elven lands. They cannot return without 75% casualties and before a certain time and without a great battle. When they return, they go to the inner orc lands, which are civilized if alien. Conquoring the humans/elves/dwarfs is counter productive, and treated like poaching the king's deer. $\endgroup$ – Yakk May 14 '18 at 18:25
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Yakk: I am now envisioning an Orc society with a large imbalance in the female/male offspring ratio, say 1:5 or 1:10, leading to young males conducting ritual raids to reach adulthood. "You'll be an adult when you've brought back 10 human heads, 10 elf heads and 10 dwarf heads." $\endgroup$ – Matthieu M. May 15 '18 at 18:20
14
$\begingroup$

Orcs might be famous for their strength, but they are not known for their smartness. They are usually depicted as dumb and short tempered.

And a certain Leonidas with his 300 soldiers has shown that brute force alone is useless against a smart and well disciplined opponent.

You don't need anything additional to keep control on the orcs: just remove their leader, or provoke them into breaking the battle order.

$\endgroup$
  • 14
    $\begingroup$ Why does everyone ignore the Thespians, Thebans and Helots who also fought the last stand? $\endgroup$ – RonJohn May 13 '18 at 15:34
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ @RonJohn, for the same reason why is Napoleon to have conquered the French Empire and not his soldiers. Brecht wrote a poem on this. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch May 13 '18 at 15:41
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ The reason I like this answer is that it supports a basic writing necessity, you need to balance positives with negatives, strengths with weaknesses, or the story is unbelievable. People don't like adding weaknesses to things (likely due to the basic human desire to overcome all opposition), but it's necessary for a believable story. Make them less intelligent, or short-lived, or have their heads explode when they hear Slim Whitman music. Any reasonable weakness will do. $\endgroup$ – JBH May 13 '18 at 16:37
  • $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch you are assuming that the soldiers of the Persian Empire were not also smart and well disciplined. $\endgroup$ – M. A. Golding May 14 '18 at 21:31
  • $\begingroup$ Forgive me if this is misinterpreting what your saying, but what factor would keep orcs from learning from their mistakes? Every military force in history ends up mimicking their enemies tactics if they appear more effective. How have individual orcs survived any kind of trouble if they are dumber than the average wolf? $\endgroup$ – Pinion Minion May 15 '18 at 3:28
14
$\begingroup$

Orcs hate sunlight.

They much prefer to attack at night, and their cities are mostly underground.

When they're defending a well-lit city they're at a huge disadvantage, so they avoid holding such targets unless for larger strategic goals. Better to plunder and go.

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This answer can work similarly for any drastic change of environment. Perhaps the wasteland dwelling orcs have to enter the mountains separating them from most of humanity, where the elements kill many and otherwise weaken, or where the humans simply have to drop rocks from elevated heights and hold a narrow pass. Or the orcs have to enter the treacherous jungle with many dangerous plants and poisons they aren't familiar with. $\endgroup$ – DoubleDouble May 14 '18 at 13:21
  • $\begingroup$ Correction: the older Orcs did; the Uruk-hai (Mordor) had no problem with it. Same with the Isengarders of course. It was a weakness in Morgoth's design that Sauron - who remember was Morgoth's most loyal lieutenant - quite fixed (same with his Olog-hai). I'm curious of your suggestion that their cities are underground - unless of course you're not thinking at all of Tolkien (of what I can think of off the top of my head I'd not even really call it 'their' city if city at all)? In which case that's fair enough. And I certainly would agree even. $\endgroup$ – Pryftan May 14 '18 at 19:55
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Emillio, did you just invent vampire Huns? Cause that is a super cool idea and you should be proud. In order to overcome their strategic weakness during the day, they either have to be completely nomadic or create impregnable underground fortresses. And their aggression could be explained by their diet! Bravo, sir. $\endgroup$ – Pinion Minion May 15 '18 at 3:21
13
$\begingroup$

Your Orcs aren't Tolkienic

Your orcs aren't actually Tolkienic, Tolkien's Orcs were actually more goblin like than the hulking world of Warcraft or D&D style ork we have in the common parlance today. In his written work he details that orcs were about a head shorter than a man and tended to be cringing cowards and sulking malevolent punks when left to their own devices. They were supposed to illustrate that evil cannot create life, only counterfeit a twisted and inferior imitation of creation. The orcs in Tolkien were dangerous because they had numbers and the support of an evil divine being.

I would say your orcs are more modern table top gaming variety (aka green barbarians with big teeth). A good Explanation for the orcs in your story don't own the planet is the same reason Alexander the great's or Kublai Khan's empires lasted only as long as their rulers did. They are a fractious and tribal culture who are often more concerned with fighting each-other than conquering outsiders. Whenever a leader powerful enough to unite them does come along they become a true terror to everyone else on the planet, but once their chieftain dies his generals and captains begins fighting each-other instead of the enemy and they collapse back into clusters of warring chiefdom's.

Tolkien was also a wee bit racist, (pretty much everyone was at the time unfortunately). It was still taken as a scientific fact that race made one inherently superior or inferior, which is why in his books orcs were short, cowardly, and mean, mostly only fighting when being forced to do so by something they feared more than direct confrontation with the "greater, purer" races. There were quite a few elements of eugenics and racism in Tolkien's written work that ensured the bad guys always lost and the orcs never overran the world in the 1000 year periods in between the times when their dark lord showed up to lead them.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio May 17 '18 at 3:17
10
$\begingroup$

An Orc with increased strength would realistically suffer from a much shorter endurance and lower fine motor skills as their muscles are closer to apes than humans.

If you still want to have orcs with high endurance coupled with strength, you can do at least three things:

1: Technological savvy. Orcs try to rule everything with who's the strongest. Sitting down and tinkering with stuff isn't exactly a trait Orcs respect, and even the few Orcs who do metalworking for the weapons and armor of their brethren are probably getting their butts kicked as they aren't on the battlefield murdering stuff as much.

2: Food. You might be strong and have the endurance, but if you can't produce enough food and have the logistics to maintain your army, you are not going to rule the world.

3: Leadership sucks. Social structure is required to maintain any larger group of sentients. Even pretty sophisticated empires have fallen apart simply because the length of time for messages (and with it any repercussions for not paying enough taxes etc) to come through took too long and whoever was put in charge of a province far from the leadership would just get up one day and say "you know what, it's all mine now". Orcs would have such a low leadership capability and lack of social control that any warband send away from the main force for more than a month loses it's allegiance to the main force and become it's own entity (if the main warband doesn't go "hey we've forgotten what you guys were doing and messenger boy isn't something Orcs really want to do so we aren't sure if we are going to cut you dead or beat you senseless till you agree to follow us")

Any Orc "state" would consist of hundreds of smaller villages/warbands that have small wars as often as they band together to try and kick a neighbouring country... Or try to overwhelm some kind of warband they have a squabble with. Only something like an Sauronic Capitol "E" Evil could rule enough Orcs to pose a real threat to the outside world.

The only solution for Orcs to be any state-like entity with a standing army, would be to rely on slaves. Slaves to play messengers, do their technology and, potentially, their food.

Edit: you can ofcourse make Orcs more socially capable and have them form large enough communities or even kingdoms, as long as you give them enough problems that they'll collapse at a certain size.

$\endgroup$
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ even the few Orcs who do metalworking for the weapons and armor of their brethren are probably getting their butts kicked Have you ever picked a fight with a blacksmith? They'd be quite a bit stronger than your average orc. Even a human blacksmith could go toe to toe with an average orc in contests of strength. $\endgroup$ – Martin Carney May 14 '18 at 16:20
  • $\begingroup$ @Martin Carbey Blacksmiths are strong because they do a lot of heavy work over a day. But Orcs are strong anyway so its less excersice because they fight a lot over a day. As a comparison, a long distance runner who does leg-presses for strength will develop anearobic muscles where he doesnt want them and reduce his long-distance capacity. Between a guy whos strong from fighting and a guy who's strong from blacksmithing... And besides, they are Orcs, you really think logic is going to step in the way of ridiculing someone who makes equipment you depend on and might be stronger than you? $\endgroup$ – Demigan May 14 '18 at 17:17
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ An Orc with increased strength would realistically suffer from a much shorter endurance and lower fine motor skills as their muscles are closer to apes than humans. I'm curious what makes you say that. Esp when we're talking about fantasy. You could of course say that it's possible in the OP's world that it's this way but I don't think it's as simple to say realistic one way or another. As of course goes for the apes comment. $\endgroup$ – Pryftan May 14 '18 at 19:58
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Demigan personally I gave up doing curls when I was fencing, as getting larger biceps (which smiths tend to have from lifting hammers) just meant I got hit in the arms more. $\endgroup$ – Pete Kirkham May 15 '18 at 15:45
6
$\begingroup$

Since you want to avoid political answers lets go to ancient history, and my staple of applying evolutionary theory to every answer I can on this site. Orcs already existed, and us humans beat them (or possibly sexed them up so hard we lost track of who was an human and who was an orc, which still counts as a win in my book!)

The 'orcs' I'm referring to are neanderthals. They were stronger, faster, and more robust then humans. They appeared to have every physical advantage over homo sapiens. They also had some tools and possibly language, but the lessons we can learn from them I believe apply even if we assume your humans & orcs have more complex language and tool use then the various homo-x of yesteryear.

There are two key reasons for why neanderthals did not out compete humans.

They wanted different land then we wanted.

Neanderthals were evolved for the cold northern climate, able to survive comfortably in harsh climates too cold for humans, in fact modern humans got many of the adaptations that allow us to survive in colder climates today from interbreeding with neanderthals (the Caucasians fair skin, freckles, red hair, and even more insulated layering of skin cells all appear to be connected to genes that can be traced back to neanderthals).

However just as homo sapiens were not comfortable in the extreme colds of the north neanderthals were poorly adapted for the warmer climates of the south. It's true a neanderthal would fare better in the southern reaches of homo sapiens territory then a homo sapiens would in the northern reaches of neanderthal territory; but they would still not be well adapted to it. In fact one of the key contributors the extinction of neanderthal was the ending of the ice age and the warming of the northern lands, neanderthals either couldn't survive in the warmer lands or couldn't out compete humans in them; but were get back to that in the next bullet point.

This meant that while homo sapiens and neanderthals did share some regions of the world, allowing interbreeding, there was never any threat of one species being able to completely eradicate the other. Both species inhabited parts of the world the other species was not interested in expanding into, and so there was always areas where one species could safely flourish without concern with competing with the other species.

In regard of your world, I suggest much the same. Have Orcs adapted for a certain territory that they favor so that some human lands are less tempting to them. In fact I'd likely keep the very distinction neanderthals have and have orcs more comfortable in colder northern climates; it makes sense biologically and evolutionary for the sturdier species to be evolved for harsher winter climate. Plus evolution for colder climates would fit for a species that hibernates as you implied your Orcs do.

By making Humans have lands that the orcs consider too warm (or wet, or bright or whatever is counter to their evolutionary niche) you give humans a safe spot to grow and spread that ensure they will never be fully destroyed by orcs even if the orcs could win evolutionary

Of course this implies Orcs could defeat your humans. It may be they couldn't, as neanderthals ultimately proved unable to out-compete humans. And that was because...

Neanderthals ate too much.

It turns out that the big, sturdy frames of neanderthals, that you would think would give them an advantage over humans, was ultimately their downfall. You can't get anything for free, if you want more strength or a bigger, sturdier, frame you need to pay for it somehow, and in this case neanderthals payed for it in calories. They had a higher caloric intake needed to support all those adaptations.

This is a problem because it meant they needed to find more food, more animals to be exact as neanderthals seemed more evolved towards eating meat as their primary calorie source then homo sapiens' more omnivorous diet (which makes sense, meat is a more condensed source of calories which is important if your trying to get as many calories as possible in a day).

Ultimately as temperature's warmed up and Neanderthal's lost their home field advantage in colder climates their real downside was that they couldn't manage to keep up with the higher calorie requirements and effectively the species as a whole starved to death (this is actually an extreme over simplification, another key limit was that they were reliant on meat and thus couldn't adapt to eat increased appearance of vegetation for instance, but oh well).

For your Orcs you can do the same, or something similar. I don't necessarily suggest having their key limit being needing too much food, as that's a more abstract concept that isn't as easy to communicate the limits of to an audience. But the concept of 'you have to pay for your higher strength somehow' still applies.

A species with larger frames and stronger build will also tend towards:

  1. slower growth and maturity
  2. fewer children born, and longer length of time rearing children
  3. (potentially) shorter lifespans

Any of these three reasons can be applied to why humans can keep up militarily with Orcs. Effectively in a battle an Orc soldier may be able to best the average human, but it doesn't matter if the humans can field 1.5 times as many solders as the Orcs can.

From a biological standpoint there is a pretty linear trade off of strength to population in species, so it makes sense that even if humans outnumbered Orcs generally the military strength each species could compete would be roughly equal if we assume they had roughly the same infrastructure/territory. Put another way, X calories worth of food can produce so much fighting strength, rather you dedicate those calories to producing more, weaker, fighting units (humans) or fewer stronger units (Orcs) the same number of calories worth of food is going to support about the same total fighting strength, with a slight favoring towards the humans approach of numbers. That's an extreme over generalization, but the point is that neither strategy has a drastic advantage or would guarantee one species a clear victory in conflict over the other.

Of course conflict isn't limited to war. Conflict can be technological and cultural as well, I'm not going to focus too much on technology, I assume from your question that your intent is to have Orcs intellectually the equal to humans, obviously if they weren't that would be an obvious advantage for humans. I'm not going to even try to make claims over rather homo sapiens or neanderthals were 'smarter'. But culturally homo sapiens may have had an advantage..

Homo Sapiens worked better in a group

Actually before I go any further let me say this is not exactly an indisputable truth, evidence isn't as clear when certain adaptations were made etc. But I'm including this anyways to make my point, it's my answer I can do what I want :P

Neanderthals lived in very small family units, like a pack of wolves pretty much. But comparison it seems humans were (probably?) already moving on to larger 'tribes', much like the packs that chimpanzees and bonobo's lived in. These 'tribes' were still effective familiar units, but larger groupings, think of it as the difference between living with your immediate family and living with your extended family including all your cousins, aunts, and uncles.

This is relevant because humans are very well adapted to working in groups. We survive better with pack behavior, and our adaptions that allow us to survive in large groups, and work together as a group to achieve things individuals could not, may very well have given us an advantage in competition over Neanderthals smaller family units.

Likewise if Orcs were more divided culturally, or even evolutionary, into smaller family units or tribes they may not be able to achieve what a large organized human goverment could achieve.

Of course all this assumes that there is competition. In truth...

Humans didn't fight or kill off Neanderthals

Despite what some like to say Humans didn't 'defeat' neanderthals, they out lasted them. Climate change was the biggest killer of neanderthals. Humans indirectly competed to some degree, in that every resource consumed by humans was one not available to neanderthals, but the common depiction of humans fighting with, out thinking, and dominating neanderthals because humans were just magically better is not how it happened.

Neanderthals and humans lived parallel lives, but they didn't always fight. They got along well for numerous interbreeding episodes to happen, for example. Likely the two sets interacted the way any tribe would, defending their home but just as willing to trade and cooperate as to fight.

likewise there is no need for Orcs to try to take over the world. Look at any nation in the modern world, The borders of Mexico, US, Canada, etc have stayed stable for some time, Most of the time nations accept territory of other nations and trade and negotiate with them instead of going to war. Yes war's and exploration also happens, but my point is that it's not the only option. Part of the reason that one species hasn't wiped out the other is because, on average, neither species sees it worth the fight and so trades and tolerates with the alternate species. They may not like that the species is there, but eradicating them is just too much effort...

$\endgroup$
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Wow, I really appreciate all the attention to detail, nuance, and knowledge in your answer. Just to clarify a term I may not be familiar with, two different species are incapable of interbreeding, right? That was a part of the original question I was intending to stress. Saying that two humanoid biped tool using social creatures don't have enough in common to interbreed is silly, but I thought it made for an interesting situation. Nonetheless, fantastic answer that I will have to remember. $\endgroup$ – Pinion Minion May 15 '18 at 16:24
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @PinionMinion Depends on who you ask what a species is. Honestly the definition of 'species' is kind of murky, some extreme definitions mean interbreeding is impossible, but that's not how we usually use species, wolf, coyote, and common dog are different species but can interbreed. Horse and zebra are different but sometimes can interbreed etc. Where we draw the line on species classification often a half arbitrary half politic decision of what feels 'right' as a distinction. Sorry it's hard to give a better definition of species then that but we really haven't nailed one down. $\endgroup$ – dsollen May 15 '18 at 16:42
  • $\begingroup$ @PinionMinion in any case the fact that they could interbreed doesn't really change the main issues with competition I believe :) $\endgroup$ – dsollen May 15 '18 at 16:54
  • $\begingroup$ Ah, thank you. I was just making sure I wasn't using incorrect terminology in the original question and derailing the discussion(s). $\endgroup$ – Pinion Minion May 15 '18 at 17:36
3
$\begingroup$

Additionally to all the social, political and cultural reasons, you can add biological ones, too. I know that Tolkien's orcs and other species did not evolve, they were created, but they could still have different nutritional and biological requirements for life.

Orcs and humans (and the other species) fill different ecological niches. For example, in places where the soil contains too much of a certain chemical which is poisonous for humans (take any heavy metal as example), Orcs not only survive but their bodies need this chemical and without it, they die. So sure, they can start wars and encroach on human-inhabited lands but can't stay alive for long because the food they can grow or hunt does not contain a chemical necessary for them to live, or in a not high enough quantity. A bit like that humans can survive long voyages over the sea but their health will suffer if they don't take a source of vitamin C with them.

$\endgroup$
3
$\begingroup$

Orcs are not good sailors!

...so as a powerful force, they are limited to their own country / continent. OK, sometimes they make it across the sea / large rivers, but only in small numbers. Any time they've attempted overseas conquest, they have not been able to muster enough warriors to pose a threat, or else most of their ships have sunk / gotten lost or they've landed but very sea-sick.

As such - being a powerful unified force (which they must be if they would pose a threat to take over the world), they recognise that overseas trade is far more beneficial than conquest.

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Orcs rule everything, but humans are kept around to man ships? That is an amazing set up! Any idea why orcs would be so adverse to deep waters? I'm okay with the whole species pissing off Poseidon, but I'd love to see what other options. $\endgroup$ – Pinion Minion May 15 '18 at 2:49
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @PinionMinion additionally, they actually treat their sailor-servants and their families quite well, because not doing so resulted in captains coordinating (sometimes even sacrificially) to scuttle warships loaded with the orcs' best warriors in deep water. A couple of losses like that and they learned quickly that happy sailors make for better sailing. $\endgroup$ – Doktor J May 15 '18 at 16:16
3
$\begingroup$

Orcs don't know how to farm. And they don't want to know how.

They actually win if they want too, but if they kill everyone then who will produce the food for the next raiding?

Humans don't survive under orc care. So orcs just let them be and take what they want later.

There could eventually even be a practice where humans just pay tribute to the orcs each season for... "safety", and maybe the orcs just go and cull the cattle humans a bit every now and then when they start eating more food than acceptable.

Who would think the soft weaklings would eventually develop ways to fight back? Certainly no orc.

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Huh. I gotta admit, this is a interesting take on my question. It doesn't really provide an answer under he conditions I set, but it sounds quite feasible setting with a historical basis. After all, the Rus experienced this exact situations with the Huns and the British Empire (and all the other old world powers) exploited the crap out of everyone else for centuries with superior technology. This would be quite the cool story to read if it were from a human's perceptive. $\endgroup$ – Pinion Minion May 15 '18 at 2:26
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Orcs did try to learn farming once. All they did all day was poke around in the dirt, giving it food and water. It lasted a full four days before the other orcs, frightened of what was going on with farmers, sent them back to combat school to overcome the insanity. $\endgroup$ – DoubleDouble May 15 '18 at 12:45
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Honestly, may just move their settlements faster than crops can grow. By time things started to sprout, all the orcs were seventy miles away harvesting wild wheat or ransacking some other species established town. Farming is unappealing if you can get food by moving your yurt (or regional equivalent) a couple miles. $\endgroup$ – Pinion Minion May 15 '18 at 15:25
3
$\begingroup$

Depends on your flavor of Orcs.If you go completely Tolkienesque, then those weaknesses are already built in (as others have pointed out), but I can tell from the way you've framed the question that you mean more modern D&D type orcs or Warcraftish ones. The answer is simply this: build your Orcs with whatever flavor you like, with weaknesses built into your species. If you don't want your answer to be societal or political, give them a biological weakness or two that answers this. Here are my suggestions.

  • The race is short lived. This a biologic answer that ties directly into societal structure and politics. Say an orc only lives 10 years. This will have an impact in several ways. First, any deal orc leadership makes with longer-lived races will be suspect because treaties and such don't last by the reckoning of those races. So humans and others will think that it's better to wipe them out than negotiate. Second, it's harder to pass down information and education if you are short-lived, so they might be less advanced as a consequence. (Or more advanced if you give them the ability to learn more in a shorter period).
  • Orcs don't have many children, so others outbreed them. Just a matter of numbers in this case. There's fewer of them so they can't conquer. As to how this happened--either it's natural or it's engineered. Think the genophage vs. the Krogan in Mass Effect. In that case, when the races of Mass Effect were getting overrun by the combat-superior Krogan, a genetic plague was introduced to make females less able to carry children to term. In a fantasy setting, this would likely be a magical curse or magically engineered (rather than science engineered) plague specific to the race.
  • An advantage in combat means more combat and less cooperation. If your Orcs are stronger and better at fighting, it's likely because there's a biologic advantage to fighting WITHIN their own species, or if not, they come from an area where responding quickly and efficiently with violence is advantageous. What you'll have then, is a society of people who are quick to solve problems with violence rather than cooperation. This may be biologic in nature, as pointed out by @John Hamilton, and what that will mean is that they will likely also be killing each other when they don't have anything else to do, leading to instability within their society, and lowering their numbers. Solving problems by working cooperatively is a different biologic advantage, and one that humans excel at. Orcs can be good at 1-on-1 combat, but terrible at listening to each other and working together for any longer than is absolutely necessary. So while they might conquer an area, once there is peace, they either keep moving and conquering (leaving those lands behind) or, to be blunt, they'll start killing each other to prove their prowess, quickly breaking up into factions, and eventually it will be every orc for himself.
  • Specialists Limited in Geographic Area These are your Orcs, and you can build them anyway you darn well please, and this suggestion is one that limits them because of something that they need in a specific area, barring a positive mutation. Kolas only eat eucalyptus, pandas mostly eat bamboo. There can be a specific protein or type of food that's abundantly available in a specific area which they can't get too much of anywhere else. Perhaps they can only live with a certain amount of sunlight (they are allergic) so they stick to places with less, OR alternately more, because they happen to get some energy from the sun. Or they are not cold hearty, and so are limited to places that don't have much of a winter. Or they only like the cold, and completely shut down and die outside the ice fjords or something. These are just a few examples but this limitation can literally tied to any geographic condition--food source or dietary restriction, pollen allergen which can kill them, temperature preference, minerals present in their water--pretty much anything. And you don't even have to explain it in your book if it's something like a mineral present in the water of an area, they might not even have the tech to know, and they might do something traditionally like put the rocks from home in their water skeins on a raid, which helps them for a time, but not in a few generations, if they stay in an area.
  • Disease They catch stuff from other races and are weakened and die from it. They know enough not to occupy elven/human/dwarven cities because of it, but fiercely protect their own territories.
  • Surprise! They already conquered everything. Yep. They took all of it. Temporarily. But for whatever reason, they either died out (biologic) or went home. The going home would be likely political or societal in nature for the most part. Maybe, having done it, they had nothing left to prove and just went home, or they evolved a bit--if they have a shorter life-span they can change more quickly in a shorter span of time. It's possible that after being invaded, they just went out, conquered everything, said "Remember this and don't bother us ever, ever again." and then they just went home, where their closed society now has the finest art, music, and technology.
$\endgroup$
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I like the way your mind works, Erin, especially with the geography, disease, and history angle. As a question, do you think your second solution requires an "honor code" to work? Challenging each other to single combat might work for a simple society, but that instinctual aggression could just as easily be applied to killing your rival in their sleep or shooting them in the back with an arrow. Being around other orcs just wouldn't be worth the benefits of cooperation without some laws or traditions. $\endgroup$ – Pinion Minion May 15 '18 at 2:42
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @PinionMinion If it has biologic roots, maybe. In species where males fight each other, it's often with an audience, and that idea can be grafted on to a more advanced society. However, there are generally "sneaky" type males who don't bother with direct combat as in th cross dressing octopi. evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/news/080501_octopusmating $\endgroup$ – Erin Thursby May 15 '18 at 4:25
  • $\begingroup$ @PinionMinion And yes, in absence of an honor code, deaths like killing a rival in their sleep might happen. Depends on how you build the society. That's my point really. Cooperation might not be worth it. $\endgroup$ – Erin Thursby May 15 '18 at 4:26
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ In addition to the points elaborated regarding short lives, short lives also mean short-lived leadership. If every time a leader dies, there is infighting (or even all out war) to fight for leadership, any given leader is only going to have a short amount of time to enact anything societally useful before they kick the bucket successor comes along and takes a completely different approach, abandoning their previous works or outright undoing them. Even if you had a succession of three leaders that followed the same path, that'd only be ~18-24 years before the fourth leader wipes it all out. $\endgroup$ – Doktor J May 15 '18 at 16:13
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @ErinThursby yes indeed they would. In many fantasy cultures, the long-lived elves do actually regard humans with some disdain as "aggressive" or "primitive" or "chaotic"! $\endgroup$ – Doktor J May 16 '18 at 14:46
2
$\begingroup$

Let's go about it this way:

The increased muscle mass comes from the orcs having increased testosterone. The inherent ability to fight better at close combat comes from having more adrenaline in their system. This means they have much more of the most aggressive hormones present in their bodies compared to humans.

All of this aggression leads to a desire for fighting and killing, it could certainly be called bloodlust. This bloodlust can only be satiated when the orcs have had a good fight. When they don't, they start arguing for any simple thing and they start infighting. This is why the leaders can't just raise an army for a while and then go to war, they just have to go to war or watch the army they raised tear each other apart.

I think your orcs would best be defined by the orcs in Warhammer universe. I also suggest reading through the WAAAGH! section in WH40K wiki, although that's in space, it's the same basic principle as the Warhammer fantasy universe.

$\endgroup$
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ As far as I know, WH40K orks keep from whipping themselves out by reproducing by spores and having basic education baked into their DNA. It's an absolutely beautiful system, but set up in a way where orks do exterminate everything they come across. This isn't criticism, by the way, I just need to nerd-out about spore-orcs whenever orks are mentioned. $\endgroup$ – Pinion Minion May 15 '18 at 15:53
  • $\begingroup$ @PinionMinion I understand the feeling :D $\endgroup$ – John Hamilton May 16 '18 at 6:00
2
$\begingroup$

Bad luck? Both the US and India had indigenous peoples and were both subject to incursions by outsiders possessed of the same levels of know how and technology, yet the indigenous population in India still outnumbers that of any descendants of Europeans living there, whereas America doesn't.

One theory on how this came about is that the native populations were decimated by disease and simply didn't have enough numbers to fight back.

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This seems like a surprisingly valid answer, although I'm a little unsure about the groups being technologically equal. I like the idea that humans would be more resistant to diseases than orc-kind. That would give humans a nice edge in both military engagements and settling new territories. $\endgroup$ – Pinion Minion May 15 '18 at 3:08
  • $\begingroup$ Do you mean the Aryan Indians or the older Dravidian folks? $\endgroup$ – can-ned_food May 15 '18 at 3:32
  • $\begingroup$ @Neither - I'm referring to the British Raj $\endgroup$ – Pinback May 15 '18 at 4:46
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Pinback: Prior to, and during most of, the British Raj, India had well-developed native kingdoms, and often developed or adopted military tech - guns, cannons, &c - nearly on a par with the British & French. British domination was more the result of superior politicing than military/technical superiority. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf May 15 '18 at 19:04
  • $\begingroup$ IIRC the Raj were simply those princes who sided with the English; the English exacerbated animosities between Indian princedoms and bought loyalty from the Rajahs. $\endgroup$ – can-ned_food May 16 '18 at 14:31
2
$\begingroup$

There are many fantasy stories out there which have some malicious horde that works on a great cycle: every thousand years or so, they have amassed enough of an army to ravage through the civilized lands, pillaging and raping as they go. Heroes rise to the challenge; lives are lost. Entire kingdoms and nations wiped off the map.
Eventually, the horde is either defeated or simply loses steam. Maybe they cannot sustain themselves; maybe the resistance is too brave.
The particulars can vary, but a scenario which uses simple supply–and–demand doesn't involve any additional external components manipulating the savages other than them and their food — us.

There you have it right there: They are “taking over the world” albeit periodically, but they aren't keeping it.
Some other answers suggest similar things. This one differs in that the orcish predators or whatever are no less motivated during the interim, but like many predators they don't maintain a steady population.

Of course, if your world of stories or games doesn't prominently feature some remark or exposition on this cycle, it rather loses the awe.
E.g. events take place during the Swelling Of The Horde or something.

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This is a good set up, but what if this happened: the horde arrives at a village intending to pillage, but sees an army of (gasp!) orcs defending the city. Turns out, they established their own village when the lase raid left them behind. They sure as heck ain't giving up their goods to the horde and have allied with their human neighbors. Would this eventually cause the hordes to be called off? $\endgroup$ – Pinion Minion May 15 '18 at 3:03
  • $\begingroup$ That's an idea too, @PinionMinion — Seems like a different answer, though. Remember that you can always post your own for others to critique and review, whether it isn't your preferred answer or whether it is — and you'd like to showcase it. $\endgroup$ – can-ned_food May 15 '18 at 3:37
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @PinionMinion That seems political in nature... ; ) $\endgroup$ – Erin Thursby May 17 '18 at 3:20
2
$\begingroup$

Just to expound on my example a bit, if orcs couldn't obtain nutrition from plants that are easily farmed, it would limit there ability to form permanent communities. After all, some of the first permanent structures humans build were storehouse for grain and seeds. Orcs, on the other hand, might only settle down in areas with a high concentration of animals or spend all there time herding animals across grasslands so they can eat them. If a large amount of orcs try to occupy an unsuitable area, they would overhunt their surroundings and starve.

This would also make orc-based armies a difficult organization to plan for. Instead of carts of hardtack and gruel, they have to bring live animals with them to periodically slaughter and cook. Pillaging would also be less effective, as they could only eat what little animals the average peasant owned. If their lucky, an average household might get some chickens, a dog, and maybe a cow, and that's being extremely generous.

Course, they might be able to justify eating the peasants too. Not cannibalism if their not your species, technically. That would make bands of orcs a heap-and-a-handful more menacing to see outside the city gates.

That being said, I think orcs would be a lot better off if they settling among humans. As laborers, they can outperform humans in terms of lifting power and endurance. Or, if you got the resources, a standing army of orcs would be a heck of a deterrent and military asset to a nation. Just make sure you have a lot of animals for them to eat or orcs will be forced to leave you high and dry.

Even without the meat-paying jobs, orcs could probably benefit from human farming techniques. As they have more stability and more time on their hands, humans might develop tools and systems that orcs would love to copy as well. Orcs might master horseriding and animal husbandry, but humans could invent the stirrup and calculus. Not that this would matter in the long terms, sense both species would learn from each other, averaging out the differences.

This system might be able to have orcs that are twice as physically capable as humans, but humans have a lot more friends that live within shouting distance. It also has orcs as terrifying marauders, but also supports orc ranchers, construction workers, and samurai (originally I was just going to say watchmen, but this seems both more accurate and cooler). The species have respect for each other, but also a turbulent history. After all, its hard to live with "your granddad ate my granddad" and its hard to convince your orc toddler not to throw their human playmate over the fence and take their toys.

That being said, reading everyone else's answers has been inspiring and helped flesh out my current solution. I would highly recommend shopping around to see what appeals most to you, dear reader.

$\endgroup$
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Yup, it's all about food. Orc bands can't get larger than the local biome can support, since they don't farm. You can get larger groups together temporarily, but pretty soon they run out of locally available food and scatter. $\endgroup$ – zeta-band May 15 '18 at 19:36
2
$\begingroup$

This same problem is faced by some procedurally generated game histories like in Dwarf Fortress.

If one race is overpowered then by the time you've run history forward they've wiped everyone else out.

A fairly simple fix was to give each fantasy race a combination of climates and biomes in which they have a distinct advantage over all others. Empires can form and fall but almost always there will be a core that survives any defeat.

The elves have a massive advantage in the deep forests, attacking the dwarves in their warrens of tunnels is a fools game, the human heavy cavalry hold supreme on the plains but get bogged down in the swamps that the orcs call home.

Perhaps the elves live in an area with deep and treacherous snowdrifts but can ignore the hazards.

enter image description here

So, while the orcs are the strongest on neutral ground they don't have the advantage always and everywhere. If they face the elves or dwarves on the plains they have the advantage in strength but if they try to advance into their heartlands they get cut up by rains of arrows from the trees or cliffs.

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Humans are better able to domesticate animals, dwarves can tolerate a lot of heat and hazardous conditions, and orcs just act as high-stat generalists? That seems fairly balanced. What's gives elves an edge, though? I'm bias towards elves, so I don't trust myself to find an answer. $\endgroup$ – Pinion Minion May 15 '18 at 15:47
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @PinionMinion Elves have keen eyes and the best fine motor skills, so they serve as scouts/reconnaissance, and artisans (jewelry, embroidery, and other finery) $\endgroup$ – Doktor J May 15 '18 at 16:18
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @PinionMinion It depends what biomes you want to give your world. Perhaps they have the agility of mountain goats and can fight in canyons and cliffs where others struggle. Sketch out some rough maps of your world and pick conditions. If you want to stick to Tolkien lore imagine an army of elves vs an army of anyone else in deep snow and how mobile the elves would be vs everyone else when the elves can skip along the surface without leaving footprints. $\endgroup$ – Murphy May 15 '18 at 16:19
  • $\begingroup$ I just realized that the elf question would be better off in its own post. Regardless, the rock-paper-scissors biome solution is both interesting and understandable to people without a bachelors degree. $\endgroup$ – Pinion Minion May 15 '18 at 16:35
2
$\begingroup$

Orcs hate orcs.

Human groups hate other humans. Hutus hate Tutsis. Shia hate Sunni. Serbs hate Albanians. The orcs are even worse. Grudges within a family are more passionate than grudges with strangers and so too the orcs. Even more than killing humanoids of other races, orcs want to kill orcs from different groups. Different orc groups cannot get along for long.

Tolkien actually made this an explicit aspect of the orcs in Fellowship. Several times in the books the orcs of Mordor come to blows with Sauruman's orcs.

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I think you've made a few typos in this answer, but I can't quite tell what you intended to write so I'm not going to edit it single-handedly. You might want to proofread once more. $\endgroup$ – a CVn May 14 '18 at 9:32
  • $\begingroup$ This seems like it would be a nice reason, but any idea why such tensions would accumulate? Are they better at identifying when an orc is of another group better than humans? If so, why? $\endgroup$ – Pinion Minion May 15 '18 at 3:12
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @PinionMinion: easy way would be same as for humans - old religious tensions, family / tribal feuds (as in Somalia), regional issues. How does a Hutu know a Tutsi? They are ethnically almost identical. independent.co.uk/news/world/…. In a group they may be doing things which identify individuals with the group. Individuals, though, have to be pointed out by people who know them. $\endgroup$ – Willk May 17 '18 at 0:24
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Willk I understand that, but that would just put orcs on the same social level as humans. Saying there so busy killing each other that they never got around to attacking weaker species is like saying the Napoleonic Wars ceased the oppression of colonized natives. $\endgroup$ – Pinion Minion May 17 '18 at 1:57
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @PinionMinion: sure the orcs attack weaker species in an opportunistic fashion. But to exterminate them or even systematically conquer them would mean meeting organized groups of elves / dwarves / humans with organized groups of orcs. Once there exist such organized groups of orcs, they definitely hit the humans but what they really want is to wipe out rival orc clans. $\endgroup$ – Willk May 17 '18 at 2:28
1
$\begingroup$

As other answers cover why strength does not necessarily = superiority, I'll focus only on:

Examples of an author successfully integrating any over-powered species would be appreciated, even if its unrelated to orcs or other species physically superior to human beings.

I would provide Tolkien as one example. The history of Middle Earth (up to just before the One Ring is destroyed), is one of the Orcs winning.

Tolkien simply set his books at a time in the world's history when the advantage of the good races (that they existed first and thus started in front), has not been overwhelmed by the Orcs' advantages. The Orcs are winning, they just haven't won yet.

The elves, eldest of races, are in decline. Their powers and numbers are nothing compared to earlier ages. They are leaving Middle Earth.

Similarly, the Dwarves are in decline. The loss of the Lonely Mountain (recaptured in the Hobbit), and Moria as the two examples I can think of, fairly sure there were others. They are becoming even more insular.

Humanity also is in decline over the history of LotR. Arnor is gone, the Dunedain mostly accompanying it. Gondor has lost territory, including both pre and during the LotR books.

Rohan and Hobbiton are the only countries not in decline (and that is because they are protected by Gondor and the Dundeain respectively).

Note that Orcs are not winning because they are stronger, they are winning because they reproduce quickly (and as grown adults rather than as children). The history of LotR is full of phyric victories for the light side, which never recovers to its former strength. The orcs are much quicker to recover.

$\endgroup$
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I disagree. The orcs aren't winning, Sauron is winning. Orcs are just his cannon fodder: he has other races, like the southern humans and trolls, in his forces. It seems quite likely that if he had won, he would have largely disposed of the orcs after the victory (or perhaps shipped them out to conquer other parts of Middle Earth). $\endgroup$ – jamesqf May 14 '18 at 4:09
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf That, or continued to hybridize them with the Men. $\endgroup$ – can-ned_food May 15 '18 at 3:33
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf - fair point, although I don't think it invalidates my point. Even if 'evil' is stronger, it is a standard fantasy scenario that good is the older civilisation, and once controlled 100% of the world. The author simply avoids the question of why evil has not won yet, because the work is set at a point when evil is winning, but has not yet won. $\endgroup$ – Scott May 15 '18 at 3:39
  • $\begingroup$ @can-ned_food: But it was Saruman who (probably: IIRC it's surmised, but never baldly stated) hybridized orcs and humans, not Sauron. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf May 15 '18 at 3:48
  • $\begingroup$ @Scott: I think it does invalidate the point. When you say that Rohan and the Shire are the only places not in decline, you forget the larger world, most of which Tolkien touches on only in passing. E.g. the Wood-Elves seem to have a thriving culture, with trade to the human lands to the south & east, there are the Beornings, Dunlendings, and Haradrim, apparently thriving dwarvish mines northwest of the Shire and north of Erebor... Even Sauron has many humans in his train, from Haradrim allies coming to fight to slaves working the plantations south of Barad Dur. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf May 15 '18 at 3:54
1
$\begingroup$

Like the orcs in your story, neanderthals were stronger (and unrelated but smarter) than the homo sapiens. There are numerous theories for why they did not become dominant including:

  • Lack of Gender specific roles, All neanderthals performed all work equally where as homo sapiens learned fewer jobs but better.
  • Less contact between tribes, Homo sapiens technology would quickly spread through the species where as neanderthals took much longer.
  • Role of grandparents, Neanderthals did not seem to care for elderly so less experience was passed down from generation to generation.

To prevent their extinction they could be much better adapted to mountains and night time so the orcs hide in the cold caves high above the humans making them hard to cull their numbers.

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

Humans did not come to dominate Earth so much that it hurts because they are bigger or stronger than other animals. Intelligence is the winning ticket in the game of evolution.

As long as your orcs do not rival humans in intelligence and especially social intelligence - the ability to work together in larger and larger groups, to optimise distribution of labor and convey knowledge to others (both present and future), they won't stand a chance in the long run.

A realistic story of the encounter between humans and orcs would be initial victories and conquests of the orcs due to war culture and individual strength, with the tables slowly but surely turning against them as humans learn and adapt, exchange knowledge and invent new strategies.

$\endgroup$
0
$\begingroup$

Orc's ARE way more powerful than humans. No doubt.

But there are way fewer of them. They're so much bigger that they need more food so they keep smaller groups.

Also, tremendous levels of testosterone make them very war-like, even with one another. They kill each other as much as they kill humans.

And don't forget, they're not that bright. Don't tell them I said so but they couldn't come up with a plan to take over the world if humans outright surrendered to them!

Plus they don't really want it. They prefer fighting over ruling.

They're tough bastards for sure, but there's a lot of cons against them.

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Out of curiosity, why would a species ever prefer fighting to ruling? You attack a village, you get to eat their cows, but had to use a lot of energy and run the risk of injury or death. You rule a village and you demand cows for tribute. No effort needed whatsoever and the beef tastes good either way. I do like the idea of reducing orc numbers, though. $\endgroup$ – Pinion Minion May 15 '18 at 2:57
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @PinionMinion, I don't understand why anyone would prefer fighting to ruling! Fighting hurts, you can die, and if you don't die but still lose you have to run away like a coward. Not good. You should ask an Orc why they do it. Though my guess is your response will be along the line of a battle axe over the head. You probably wont even finish the question! Races like that are just angry all the time. I know that wasn't a PC thing to say, but come on... they're Orc's. $\endgroup$ – Len May 15 '18 at 23:12

protected by James May 14 '18 at 21:11

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.