The orks of Nova are its most visible fantasy element, the traditional enemy of all mankind.
Orks are foul-smelling green-skinned humanoids with large, square-jawed heads that jut forward from between their shoulders. Blood-red eyes and massive upthrust canines give them a fearsome mien. Orks grow throughout their lives, ranging from about five feet tall as a young adult to twenty feet or more in truly exeptional cases. Even small orks are massively thewed, and their bodies can withstand massive amounts of trauma. A single human-sized ork is more than a match for all but the best human warriors. For a man to kill a larger ork in single combat is the stuff of song and legend.
Orks live to fight, and are not particular about whom they fight or who for. They have even been known to fight for humans as mercenaries, although the practice of consorting with aliens is strictly proscribed by the Ecclesiarchy as heresy. Such is the warlike nature of the ork, though, that it is sometimes difficult to prove that an ork tribe is fighting one group of humans at another’s behest and not of their own free will. Orks also have a notoriously unreliable reputation, and will often remove the offending heretic after they have won the battle in his name anyway.
Orks speak their own language, the very knowledge of which imperils a human soul according to the Church. Fortunately, they also often speak the Emperor’s Gothic. They are organized into tribes that seem to follow the rule of “might makes right” with surprising rigidity. Though a tribe’s ruling “war boss” may be constantly challenged by subordinates, outside of formal duels his authority is all but absolute. Because these formal duels are endemic, war bosses are invariably the largest orks in their tribe (or become so in short order). Indeed, an ork’s size is a reliable indicator of his authority within his tribe.
Orks have an active inter-tribal economy and produce an astonishing amount of goods, although most of these are too crude, too heavy, or too incomprehensible to interest most humans. Moreover, orks have no interest in coinage except as decoration. Most orkish trade takes place as barter; the only currency they recognize are orkish canines, which they refer to as “teeth.” Orks do collect teeth as an indicator of wealth (and fearsomeness, a concept that is not sharply distinguished from wealth), though they decay after several months. For this reason the safest material indicator of an ork’s wealth are the size and elaborateness of his weapons and armor and the number of slaves he keeps.
Orks have surprisingly simple bodies, lacking many internal organs found in humans. Their body cavities are filled with a green fluid that is sometimes mistaken for blood (although dissected ork corpses do show distinct blood vessels, which carry green blood). The function of this fluid is not well understood, though it is known that an ork can lose a substantial amount of it before function is impaired.
Orks are omnivores, and have a particular fondness for fungus-based dishes. Though orks eats with great gusto, they have been known to travel great distances without food (in fact, many captured ork camps have no foodstuffs other than a noxious fungus-based ale).
Orks are asexual, and reproduce by releasing spores throughout their lives. These spores can take root in nearly any climate, and grow to maturity with very little in the way of nutrients. Spores may mature into edible fungus (edible by orks, at any rate) or one of the four sub-species of orkoid.
The term “ork” refers to the largest of the creatures that may grow from an orkoid spore. However, three other types of creatures may also develop from these spores.
The second type of orkoid, and the smallest, is called a gretchin (or “grot,” as the orks themselves sometimes refer to them). Gretchin are small green-skinned orkoids (rarely more than three feet tall) with long skinny limbs and large eyes and ears. They are kept as slaves and shock troops by orks, who use them for any task that requires fine manual dexterity or that thee masters judge too boring to do themselves.
The third type of orkoid is the squig, a bipedal creature with a mouth almost as large as its body and vestigial legs and tail. Unlike orks and gretchin, squigs seem no more self-aware than a dog. Also unlike orks and gretchin, squigs range in skin tone from bright red to dark green. Though squigs are born from ork spores, the orks seem able to breed them for specific purposes. Squigs are raised by orks to attack enemies, corral slaves, and for meat and leather. They are even raised to excrete useful substances or for use as jewelry, their powerful jaws clamped onto an ork’s chin or ear. Squigs are generally no larger than a dog.
By contrast, the fourth type of orkoid, the squiggoth, is generally at least as large as a horse. Squiggoths are large quadrupedal green-skinned creatures with massive tusks raised as beasts of burden. The smallest squiggoths are suitable for a single ork to ride, but it is not uncommon to see squiggoths the size of an elephant carrying a band of orks to war in a howdah. The largest squiggoths are gargantuan beasts as tall or taller than a castle wall, terrifying behemoths that can single-handedly turn the tide of battle.
War and Waaagh!
Orks are a continual plague upon the humans of Nova. War against the ork is a very different affair from war against other humans. Orks do not recognize human niceties such as jousts between knights, and indeed seem to have no concept of martial honor at all. They cheerfully employ night attacks, betray their allies, break parleys, attack noncombatants, and employ other such devious methods of war.
However, orks love nothing more than a challenging fight. For better or worse, simply taking the field against an ork force is a reliable way to bring the orks to open battle. Battle against orks is often a desperate affair. Orks are redoubtable fighters, usually the equal of several human soldiers, and cavalry squiggoths are more than a match for most war horses. Orks also tend to prosecute their attacks with a reckless fury that turns the battle into a constant terrifying grind, quite unlike typical battles against other humans. If the ork force contains a high proportion of their enormous nobles (called “nobs” by the orks) or terror weapons such as attack squigs or large squiggoths, the battle is even more dire. Nor are orks unpracticed at siege warfare. When confronted with a castle that cannot be immediately stormed, orks will fall with a will to building great siege towers and trebuchets whose ramshackle appearance is quite at odds with their savage effectiveness.
For these reasons, the surest strategy against marauding orks is to attack with overwhelming numerical superiority. Fortunately, orks are just as happy to attack other ork tribes as human lands, so most ork incursions consist of individual tribes – rarely more than a few hundred. This is more than sufficient to send serfs running for the nearest castle, but small enough to be contained.
A much more dangerous type of ok incursion is the Waaagh! (which the greenskins’ atrocious accents cause them to pronounce something like “war”). A Waaagh! occurs only when a mighty ork warlord unites many tribes in a heretical alien crusade. A great concentration of orks united under one leader produces a religious fervor that sets the orks to preparing for war with unparalleled industry, while news of the impending crusade brings yet more tribes to the warlord’s banner. During this preparatory phase, which may last months or years, the Waaagh! may often be sabotaged if the warlord can be slain (no easy task, as any ork who can begin a Waaagh! is invariably a peerless warrior of monstrous stature, and typically surrounded by a sea of orks besides). If not, when the zealotry of the orks can no longer be contained, the great body of orks will spill forth in a wave of conquest accompanied by the full fury of their race – enormous squiggoths, trebuchets that rise tall as towers, and vile ork witches all appear in unprecedented numbers. Such an assemblage of greenskins requires the united efforts of a great House or even several, together with all their vassals, to defeat. Even then, defeating the Waaagh! may take years, and the death toll catastrophic.
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