General Urk is commanding an army of orcs in a pseudo-medieval low-magic fantasy world. Orcs are basically like humans in terms of smarts and toughness and equipment, but with one key difference: culturally, and biologically, they are completely okay with cannibalism and anthropophagy.

Eating victims, eating each other, it's all fine. No worries about prion diseases or whatever, their immune systems can just fight that right off. Urk isn't necessarily evil, but he wants to win wars, and he's ruthlessly pragmatic in that aim.

How might he best leverage his troop's culinary predilections to that end? Would it make much of a difference to his campaign plans?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Are they exclusive or facultative cannibals? $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Commented May 2, 2020 at 14:37
  • $\begingroup$ Facultative. If I understand your meaning. $\endgroup$
    – Fhnuzoag
    Commented May 3, 2020 at 22:45

4 Answers 4


There are moments in historic warfare, where commanders leave their logistic supply chain, and operate without resupply. What they gain is they move faster. What they loose is resupply.

The hope is that with an imminent combat victory you capture your enemies supplies, and feed and equip your army.

The risk is you don't win a battle and don't resupply. Suddenly your going to starve, and need to win a battle now. You enter a battle not because its tactically sound, but because you have no choice.

If your eating the soldiers you kill, capture, or your own wounded. Making the decision to go without your baggage train is a lot easier, because you resupplied off the battlefield dead. It means that you can break off from your supply lines, with more certainty that combat victory will 100% resupply you.

How might he best leverage his troop's culinary predilections to that end?

I would expect that an Orc Commanders are more aggressive in their willingness to leave their resupply lines, knowing they will eat the enemy post battle.

They would be more aggressively seek battle to maintain resupply.

I would expect that a Human Commander are less aggressive in their willingness to leave their resupply lines, knowing that Orc don't carry as much supplies and rely on combat casualties for resupply.

They would avoid combat until the Orc army is desperate for resupply, offer up a battle on unfavorable terms to the Orcs, and exploit your advantage to win.

Would it make much of a difference to his campaign plans?

If the enemy know about this, they probably prepared in some way (scorched earth, poisons, baiting them as above, predict the Orc will move quickly).

I am not sure that eating battle casualties will be much different from eating the enemies supplies in the real world.

Its hard to see its game changing, particularity if its common knowledge and the opposition adapt around this strength.


It depends on population density.

Humans / humanoids to be eaten will not be available in the same quantity in all scenarios. Of course war dead can be eaten but it will be difficult to move an army on this sort of food - it is an occasional windfall. The question is whether the army intends to feed itself on the noncombatant populace of the region.

Population density has everything to do with this. If you are out in the countryside fighting moving campaigns in open land, the natives will be few and they will scatter. It will be hard to round up enough of them to eat.

If however you are like the Mongols and are attacking walled cities in populous areas then you are set. Your orcs round up the populace outside the fortified city and make them serve as slave labor to build fortifications, make arrows etc. Those who misbehave or do not work hard enough will be eaten.

For the city and region generally, if your goal is colonization then eating all of the original inhabitants is fine; you want to genocidally clear them out for your colonists and the only reason not to massacre (and eat) them is if you want refugees to stress the neighboring areas not under your control.

If, however, you want to conquer the city but some citizens have value beyond their calories then you might need to be careful about who you kill. Or not - if you conquer a city and make jerky of its entire populace, neighboring cities will be eager to come to terms and you can capture them intact and without a fight.


If their cannibalism and anthropophagy is obligated, you are doomed. After the first campaign where they show their feat of eating humans, what will take to starve them will simply be to evacuate the invaded land. With no humans to serve as food to support them, they will either starve, retreat or eat each other in short time. None of those options ensures holding the conquered land.

If they can opt for other foods, they will be subjected to the same strategy anyway: if it helped defeating Napoleon, scorched earth will surely beat them.

Therefore you are forced to have a well developed logistic to ensure supplies for long campaigns, or limit yourself to raiding neighboring countries without prolonged permanence.

Considering the poor logistic that you can have in a middle age scenario, you are forced to use them for raids.


Assuming the orc army is on the offensive (as one would imagine orcs would do) as opposed to garrisoning fortresses and being on the defense, the troops are going to spend a large amount of their time on the march, building fortifications and other strenuous activities.

The amount of calories needed by a soldier on the march can vary between 5000-7000 per day depending on the distance, amount of equipment, etc. I'll take 5000 as it is a round figure.

Assuming orc bodies are similar to humans nutritionally, the body of an orc will contain around 80,000 to 120,000 calories. I'll use the midpoint as the average nutritional output of an orc.

That means that a single orc can feed 20 orcs on the march for a day, which is a fairly decent amount. The impact this would have on the army's campaign very much depends on the population density they are marching through, the number of captured prisoners etc. For a 100,000 strong host, they would need to consume 5,000 orcs a day on the march (or probably around 2,000 a day when garrisoned) to meet their daily calorie requirements.

This is obviously quite a large amount, so cannibalism could never replace a proper supply line, only supplement it. However, in situations where they have little access to supplies (e.g. a retreating army enacts a 'scorched earth' policy to leave no food behind for the advancing orcs, the army is besieged, with no hope of resupply etc) this would probably make quite a big difference, and allow the army to hold on for as long as possible.

For example, if a garrison of orcs is besieged and has run out of food, they could eat the wounded- and then each other- to last as long as possible. If we say that when rationing, 1 orc can keep 50 orcs from starving for a day, they would have to cull 2% of their population a day. The population of the orcs then follows the trend 0.98^x, where x is the number of days after running out of food.

If we solve for $0.98^x =0.5$, that tells us that the orc garrison could survive around 30 days using this strategy until their numbers dropped to half the initial number, or around 70 until they were at a quarter strength. That's a pretty significant increase in how long they could last, and gives them a much better chance of surviving until relief arrives.

  • $\begingroup$ The real question is how you "cull" 2% of your army every day without them causing problems. $\endgroup$
    – Cadence
    Commented May 2, 2020 at 20:56

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