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Orcs are just as smart as humans. They have access to all the resources they need to survive in abundance. Why are they constantly at war?


INFO

Orcs are a society of roughly 0.8 Million people. Each member of their society needs roughly half again as much food as an adult human, and they have access to this from advanced farming techniques.

They have access to abundant natural resources, all manner of luxury items, and a massive space. It is, in most regards, a natural utopia.

However, the Orcs are constantly at war. They raise armies instead of crops, and break alliances when they see fit. They are the scourge of society. Why?


MORE INFO

  • The Orcs have a similar intelligence as a human, and the same lifespan.
  • The Orcs migrated to this area before their civilization began, so if your answer uses culture, please consider this.
  • Magic exists but is limited; please don't use this in your answer.
  • Late medieval tech level for the orcs, as with their neighbors. There are other countries with early-to-middle renaissance, but they are far away and unimportant.
  • The lands surrounding them are peaceful, but offer a fierce resistance. Their land is not the Utopia the orcs have, and is in fact resource-scarce. They do not provoke the orcs, but are capable of defending themselves.
  • More info may be added when needed.
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  • $\begingroup$ There may be a society issue here. In most classic examples of orcs, they have all the intelligence and tech as humans, but lack certain structure to make them a civilization. This drives them to raid and pillage for food and goods. If they are settling down, they may be less inclined to raid and more concerned with defense of what they got. Example, Germanic tribes settled down once they started establishing communities. (and the Romans stopped killing them.) $\endgroup$
    – Sonvar
    Jan 13 at 14:24
  • $\begingroup$ @Sonvar I'll add the info. They have a civilization. $\endgroup$ Jan 13 at 14:37
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    $\begingroup$ You might want to look closely at the American culture for an answer to that. I would assume the answer is very closely linked to narcissism and an 'adversarial' culture. The Orcs simply want to win at all costs. Is it genetic? Probably. So your Orcs would seem to have this gene as dominant. $\endgroup$ Jan 13 at 16:26
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    $\begingroup$ "Orcs are just as smart as humans. " Perhaps better put, "Orcs are just as stupid as humans. " $\endgroup$ Jan 13 at 16:29
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    $\begingroup$ Typical worldBuilding Q's are flexible as far as details needed to achieve the end result. You need X and people give real-ish examples of things that cause X. But here you seem to have purposely ruled-out any normal (or even trope) reason for orcs to be warlike. It feels like the Q is "give me a unique story idea for this race's behavior". $\endgroup$ Jan 13 at 23:16

9 Answers 9

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Cultural Misunderstanding.

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Orc clans raid each other several times a year. Usually during the Summer after the harvest, when there is plenty to eat and steal, but sometimes during the Winter when the fields are empty and there is nothing else to do.

The Raid is seen as a game for the orcs, a way to harden up their young people and give them a taste of battle. If your tribe raids my tribe and carries off some good stuff, the neighboring tribes might point their fingers and tease me. But I won't declare open war on your people. However my youths will make damn sure they raid you double hard next time -- IN YOUR FACE SUCKERS!

Orcs rarely die during these raids, as the focus is on carrying off horses and goods rather than killing each other. Even then the Orcs' heal faster and better than humans so an incapacitating wound might not be fatal.


Note: When raiding Orcs favor blunt weapons, as they are slightly less deadly, and don't use any sort of slings or bows. This in part leads to the humans as viewing the orcs as primitive. In reality they have advanced metal and ranged weapons. But those are for warfare and not for the raid.


On the other hand the defenders want to capture the raiders alive and ransom them back to their families. In this way the defenders can end up richer than the attackers.

Usually however it is a draw. Some horses and grain and tools and meats are stolen, and some raiders are captured and ransomed. Often the stolen goods are used to pay the ransoms. Each clan suffers nominal losses and goes into the next raid with renewed enthusiasm.

The problem appears when an Orc clan lives next to a human city. The Orcs expect the humans to be ready for them, to raid and be raided by the humans as a matter of course.

What they don't expect is for the first raid to be an utter bloodbath. These humans are puny of course, but they don't play ball. They keep all their REALLY good stuff in one or two places in the city, but those places have stone walls and metal portcullises, and loads of guys with metal armor and sharp sticks.

On the other hand, when you break into peoples houses to nick their candlestick and spinning wheel they scream and fight to the death. They are especially vicious if there is a baby human in the room. Don't they know we would never hurt a baby? What would be the point?

But they scream and scream and that brings extra humans. Even some of the tough guys with the sharp sticks. The raiding group is outnumbered and flees in terror. Then the humans raise an army and march over the border.

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Population control

Orcs reproduce on a massive scale, compared to other species. Without the invention of contraception, their numbers would grow to unsustainable numbers, so their culture developed many different ways to mitigate this.
Those ways include:

  • Dangerous sports for fun and prestige
  • Sacrifices to honour their gods
  • Ritual combat for property, romantic partners, special privileges and such
  • War against neighboring countries.

Slaves

  • The Orcs might have utopic lands, but why farm it yourself if you can force someone else to do it?

Religion

  • Regardless of what the gods want - if you promise people a transcendent afterlife (instead of a regular or terrible one) if they die honourably in battle, they'll have no reason not to go to war.

Good, old-fashioned Xenophobia/Supremacism

  • Sure, sometimes it's nice to bargain with the neighbours. But why hold up your own end? After all, they're only humans. Compared to the Mighty Orcs, they're not much better than animals. I mean - they're not even green! and even if they may appear sentient, those tiny little teeth could never hold a "True Soul".
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They are more Emotional than Humans

Intelligence is only one factor when considering how a person (or orc) will behave. Hormones play a major factor as well. Despite being an intelligent species, humans quite often make very reckless choices because of the feelings we have. Picture the difference between a woman's aggression and patience at different points in her natural cycle. Now picture PMS as being the stable end of an orc's natural cycle. Then try to picture a state significantly amplified to represent a female orc's version of PMS, and a male orc's normal state being somewhere in between these two points.

Although orcs are able to reason out that the humans near their borders are not worth attacking, their gut feelings tell a different story. When a human feels slightly offended, an orc feels mortified. When a human feels aggravation, and orc feels rage. This gives orcs a very smash first, think later nature.

Hormones Impact Etiquette

Because of these strong emotions, orc society has developed such that all orcs are extremely considerate of each other and have developed a very high standard of empathy to keep from triggering one another. They have very strict, almost ritualistic rules of manners to make sure they are not constantly offending each other and starting fights. Orcs always knock, and wait 3 seconds before entering a room. They always raise their hands before they speak to make sure they do not interrupt a conversation. They always use "I feel" instead of "You make me feel" to prevent blame escalation. And if an orc sits down during a debate, it is because he/she needs time to collect their emotions so all other orcs in the room stop talking until the upset orc is recollected. And most importantly, they always send their families and neighbors well thought out gifts on important holidays to make sure everyone feels known and important.

This Makes War Practically Unavoidable

But those rude, heartless humans... they just walk right up to you and start talking, they interrupt, they never stop to ask how your feel, they are condescending. But what really makes things difficult: they never EVEN ONCE remembered to send the orcs a proper Autumn Equinox gift. A good orc knows that the Autumn Equinox is when you visit your neighbor tribes to make sure everyone has enough food stored for the winter, but the humans never check on the orcs, and when the orcs try to check on the humans, they just lock their gates and start yelling and this makes orcs angry. Angry enough to want to smash in the gates and start slaughtering everyone inside.

Their land is not the Utopia the orcs have, and is in fact resource-scarce.

This makes the situation even worse. If the orc lands are rich in resources, and the human lands are poor in natural resources as described, then this powder keg may in fact have fusses burning from both ends. Humans go to war over resources all the time. If the orcs have them and the humans do not, then the humans will likely feel compelled to take those resources by force. Humans don't check on neighboring kingdoms to make sure they have enough food for winter, they just pillage each other if they don't. So, between the humans offending the orcs, and the orcs having what the humans want, war is pretty much inevitable.

Once Started, the War Can Not Be Ended

The lands surrounding them are peaceful, but offer a fierce resistance ... They do not provoke the orcs, but are capable of defending themselves.

The humans of this generation may have learned a long time ago not to provoke orcs, but that does not mean that humans in the past knew better.

If an orcish parent tells her children about how hundreds of years ago humans attacked the orclands, the children take this VERY personally, because that is how their emotions work. This maddening hate for humans could last for generations, perhaps even growing worse over time as each telling of the stories is amplified by the disdain of each new generation; so, even if the orcs successfully drive the humans away once, when the humans return 200 or 300 years later with peaceful intentions, the sins of their forefathers are not forgotten, and certainly not forgiven. While the humans see the war with the orcs as a footnote in history; to the orcs, humans are and forever will be bitter enemies.

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    $\begingroup$ My head cannon is that all orcish raids happen because of a rude merchant half millennia ago. He tried to ask for a lower price and the orcs be like: ARE YOU SAYING I OVERCHARGE COSTUMER?!?!?! ME KILL YOUR WHOLE FAMILY AND THE FAMILIES OF THAT FAMILY $\endgroup$
    – LuizPSR
    Mar 3 at 0:46
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Religion

They worship a god who delights in war, not unlike Gruumsh from Dungeons & Dragons. Making war is simply one of the ways they can please their god; if they don't, they believe they will be punished.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the answer. However, I'd also like a why they worship this god, if they live in a utopia. $\endgroup$ Jan 13 at 13:18
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    $\begingroup$ @Firedestroyer because it's their god, the god they had for milennia? you don't abandon your deity just because they actually delivered the promised land. they can just as easily kick you out again if you don't worship them. in this particular case by war. $\endgroup$ Jan 13 at 13:19
  • $\begingroup$ @FranzGleichmann That works in the D&D universe where Gruumsh is real and CAN kick them out. It makes a difference if Gruumsh is not real in the FireDestroyer universe. Real world religions are known to change over the millennia. For example the Old Testament is all about War but the New Testament has more stuff about being nice to each other. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Jan 13 at 16:51
  • $\begingroup$ @Daron notwithstanding that the NT has its fair share of violence as well, it doesn't matter if the god is real or not to be a reason for war. it's just a matter if people believe. source: far too much of human history. also: are you saying that gruumsh isn't real? you're insulting my religious feelings! ;) $\endgroup$ Jan 13 at 16:57
  • $\begingroup$ @FranzGleichmann I always find "It's their religion" answers a bit unsatisfying, since they prompt the question of "why do they believe it then?" In any case it is easier to believe in a god who casts plagues and lightning bolts on the blasphemers than one who has not done in living memory. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Jan 13 at 17:16
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The thrill of the hunt

Orcs are simply wired differently. They don't dislike good food, riches are nice, and a decadent lifestyle isn't unfulfilling, but it isn't great either.

To an orc, to be in the middle of battle is to truly live. Feeling the blood flowing inside (and often outside) the body, fighting an opponent not knowing if they will die, is utter bliss. Not even the best drugs can compare to the ecstasy of battle. To the Orcs then, war is akin to THE sport. Battle after battle, there is no way to feel more alive.

Now Orcs would be content fighting each other but don't really like killing their friends. Enemies races, however, aren't friends and bring similar opposition. Gaining something (battles) without murdering friends. Orcs thus intentionally provoke all races surrounding them so that they have more wars.
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It is the only option they believe they have

From their point of view it could be the only option they think they have, they've angered all the surrounding kingdoms and believe if they try to settle down and make farms the surrounding kingdoms will just come and take their crops and other stuff, just like what the orcs did to them. So they keep raiding and pillaging to keep their status quo, which they believe is the safest option.

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Testosterone
Orcs have evolved with a natural elevated level of testosterone. Their ancestral environment was not nearly so utopian as is now. It was much more highly competitive with a high number of predatory species. Competition between predatory species bread conflict into their behavioral DNA.
Male Female birth ratio
Compounding conflict oriented behavior, the environment favored male offspring as the death rate of fighting males was in the past high. Where humans have a birth rate of 1.05-1.06 male to 1 female, Orcs have a birthrate of 1.1 males to 1 female. Increased testosterone and reduced availability of suitable mates again agitates the societal fabric, galvanizing a culture of "Gather what you can take own what you can hold."

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Overpopulation

Orcs breed much faster than humans and reach full maturity age 6. To prevent overpopulation and ensure that the strongest go on to breed again, every generation goes to war with either other orc communities or human communities. The actual outcome of the war isn't as important as the fact that population rates remain the same.

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You have identified the problem of race essentialism. This is an opportunity for you to write different orcs. Write orcs who are poets, dancers, gardeners. You're right that it makes not sense for them to be at war all the time. So do something different.

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