Queen of the Orcs by Morgan Howell

I can be quite a picky reader, especially when it comes to fantasy about one of my favourite species – Orcs!

A few years back I was lamenting the lack of decent literature portraying orcs as protagonists. There were some excellent works available back then, such as Mary Gentle’s Grunts! and Stan Nicholls’ Orcs – First Blood series, but when compared to other works featuring the more favored fantasy races, these were very much in a minority.

Browsing on the internet on day I got to searching for other orc related literature, and courtesy of Google Books came across an author I had no prior knowledge of: Morgan Howell, who had published a trilogy called Queen of the Orcs.

Queen of the Orcs book 1: Kings Property

My proclivity for orc related fiction lead me to obtain this series eftsoons I was able to. No sooner had I obtained the series than I set to reading them .

The tale is about a young human woman named Dar. Born to poverty in what could be described as a feudal kingdom, she is effectively the lowest of the low. The story does not spend much time on her abusive childhood, but pulls few punches either. The reader quickly gets a feel for the grim nature of daily life in the kingdom.

Soon enough Dar is recruited (sold) into the army where she and a number of other young woman find they have to prepare food for a maniple or orcs who form part of the kings army.

As the army travels, Dar gradually discovers the orcs to be far more complex creatures than the brutal monsters that they are portrayed to be.

I do not wish to delve too much into the story as I fear doing so would inevitably cause some spoilers to become apparent.

Queen of the Orcs book 2: Clan Daughter

What I can do is highly recommend this series. The author has gone to a great deal of effort to describe a complex and different culture in the orcs, going so far as to dedicate a number of appendix pages to their language and specific notes of cultural importance.

Howell’s orcs are far from being pushovers. When battle comes they prove their fearsome reputation in gory detail.

Queen of the Orcs book 3: Royal Destiny

I was impressed with Morgan Howell’s work on this series. So much so that I did a little digging and found that Morgan Howell is a pseudonym, used by author Will Hubbell.

The previous iteration of this site did not delve into much detail about books, simply providing a Recommended Reading page. I write a very short recommendation and contacted the Mr. Hubbell, congratulating him on his evocative work.

While I have lost that specific correspondence, my recollection was that he chose a relatively female sounding pseudonym so as to better get to grips writing a story about a female protagonist. It certainly had me thinking the author was a woman. I would be greatly interested to hear from any female readers out there, to hear if the authors self set challenge was met, or if he perhaps missed the mark on occasion.

Moran Howell has gone on to publish another series in the same setting, entitled The Shadowed Path. While I have obtained that series I have not yet read them. A while after our initial correspondence, I received a short note from Mr Hubbell to advise me that he had written a stand along orc related novel in the same setting. This one, Called A Single Deed, he was going to self publish. It is not easily available where I stay but I do hope to order it some time, so that I can revisit the rich, well written orc culture Morgan Howell has created.

A Single Deed
Kings Property – Revised Cover
Clan Daughter – Revised Cover
Royal Destiny – Revised Cover

Orc (Orca, Orcanthropus Piltdowni)

Orcs have been defined in nearly every fantasy setting in one way or another. This is the RuneQuest.orc take on orcs.

Orcs are burly, well muscled humanoids. Although somewhat squat in nature, they are roughly the same SIZ as humans with a tendency to be broader in the shoulder and chest. Their skin generally appears light yellow in colour, although a vaguely green tint is evident under sunlight. Prolonged exposure to the sun increases the green tint in the skin, and a much tanned orc may appear to be bordering on dark green in colour.

Orcs have elongated lower canines which are sometimes confused as tusks. These canines differ from orc to orc, some being barely visible while other specimens being large enough to support the tusk theory. Their ears are elongated and pointy, more like that of a dog than an elf. (Never tell an orc he has elf ears unless you are suicidal.) As with the canines, ears differ in shape and size from orc to orc. Ears are also the subject of body modification in many tribes and are oft clipped and pierced to such an extent that they no longer resemble olfactory organs at all.

The orcs of history may have at one time been a nocturnal species. The habits of the modern orc are however generally diurnal. The evidence that they were once a nocturnal species becomes evident in the darkness, where their sight is far keener than that of a human in the same circumstances. In the case of utter darkness where there is no source of light at all they are equally disadvantaged with humans.

Orcs are wily, cunning creatures. In some ways they are almost human in their mannerisms and actions, in others they are brutish, barbaric and unfathomable of motivation. They are boastful creatures who enjoy nothing more than having the last say on any matter. Beware the adventurer who gets embroiled in an orcish boasting session! (Boasting is a specific communications skill that orcs learn as a matter of course).

While orcs have quarrelsome nature and are constantly on the lookout for how they may gain from any given situation, they also possess a keen sense of self preservation. An orc who feels threatened in a situation will not hesitate to turn tail and retreat if such an opening to save his skin exists.

Orcs use a varying array of weapons. Certain tribes may prefer certain weapon types. One item which unifies all orcs is that only the females will use a bow. This is possibly why orcs think that all elves are females, because the concept of a male using a bow is very alien to them. Males of certain tribes have been known to make use of crossbows although they do face ridicule and the occasional thrashing by less broadminded orcs.

The origin of orcs is unknown. Orcs are NOT related to elves in any way! What is known is that they are mammals whose ancestors were non simian. Apart from a non common ancestor, orcs share many anatomical similarities with humans. Internal organs are in roughly the same locations although orcs tend to have larger hearts and lungs, which accounts for their greater resilience in tasks that require muscular activity.

The female has a gestation period of roughly 170 days and gives birth to a small orcling which she will initially suckle at one of two tiny teats, one of which is located below each breast. These secondary breasts are usually hidden from sight beneath the bulge of her main breasts and secrete and thin, clear substance which sustains the newborn orlcing during the first days of its life. Gradually the orcling is weaned from the small secondary breasts onto the more regular milk of the main breasts. Due to the short gestation period it is not uncommon for a mother to have two or more orclings of varying ages on the breast at the same time.

Newborn orclings are far smaller than their human counterparts and require a larger degree of care from their mother than a newborn human. Although less robust at birth, an orc grows fast and is soon more robust than a human of the same years. Once weaned (one and a half to two years old) an orcling grows fast and may reach the same height although be less bulky that an adult within nine summers. While they may look like adults physically, they are however still children and lack worldly experience. Although orcs may grow quickly, their bodies only mature sexually many summers later – in fact humans reach sexual maturity earlier than orcs do. On average an orc will be ready to start breeding after twenty summers.

The bodies of young orcs (both male and female) produce large quantities of testosterone during their adolescent stage. Adolescents compete fiercely between each other and differentiation between male and female is difficult. The females even possess an enlarged clitoral sheath that resembles a penis during this stage of development. As sexual maturity approaches the clitoral sheath shrinks and breasts develop as the female’s body replaces testosterone production with oestrogen as it readies itself to bear children.

It is during the adolescent stage of development that many young orcs are encountered. As they compete to establish themselves within society they will journey into other lands to raid and do battle with whomever they believe that can win an encounter with. This is not to say that older orcs do not do the same – the adolescents just tend to go further and take more risks in order to establish their rank.

Orcs are not great believers in magic and most have no time for it. Those who do use magic tend to tread the divine path although the occasional shaman practitioner of spirit magic may be encountered. This is not to say that orcs do not recognise and respect the gods just that they do not rely on them very much. Sorcerers are reviled and anyone found to be practicing the dark arts will be expelled population if they are lucky. The less fortunate will simply be killed.

Orcs can be divided into three main types. These types can interbreed but usually do not due to clannish ways and geographical separation.

Common orcs are the most prolific and widely spread of the three and are thus the most likely to be encountered. The common orc has a greater tendency to bear twins than the other two types. They prefer to settle in habitable lands, the same as humans which as often as not brings them into conflict for resources. Fortunately common orcs are least hostile of the three types and peaceful trade is as possible as war between them and their neighbours. Their culture is barbaric but civilised populations are encountered from time to time.

Great orcs tend to live in more hostile regions such as mountains, apparently by choice. They pride themselves in their fighting prowess and look down upon the other orc types as inferior. A tendency towards isolation means that they are rarely encountered outside of their mountain strongholds unless it is raiding season. Their hostile homelands necessitates that they breed slower than their common orc cousins. Twins are also a far rarer occurrence. The great orcs have a barbaric culture. Those who do leave their homeland and journey into the world generally end up selling their sword for a living. In an army situation, great orcs will invariably be in some sort of specialised unit as they do not co-operate well with others. Do not think that great orcs are stupid, they are as cunning as their common orc cousins.

Mottled orcs are a rarity in many regions. As their name implies, their skin is usually blotched in appearance, some blotches being natural, others scar tissue. Their culture is usually primitive or barbaric. They have a lean, wiry build and are known for their aggressiveness toward strangers. When not fighting among themselves they have been known to make the occasional raid. Mottled orcs are the most sadistic of the three types. They enjoy inflicting pain on their captives and are the least likely to flee an adverse situation. They breed as fast as their common orc cousins but have been known to abandon their infants when food becomes scarce.

Courtesy ArtStation.com

Orc (common)

STR4D614Move 3
CON3D6 + 110-13Hit Points 11
SIZ2D6 + 311Fatigue 25
INT3D610-11Damage Bonus 1D4
POW 2D6 + 3 10
DEX 4D614
APP 2D67
Hit LocationMelee (D20)Missile (D20)Points
R Leg1-41-34/4
L Leg5-84-64/4
R Arm13-1516-174/3
L Arm16-1818-194/3
Fist825 + 71D3 + 1D4
Gladius733 + 71D6 + 1 + 1D425 + 710
Spear (1H)725 + 71D8 + 1 + 1D425 + 78
Target35 + 712
Dagger830 + 71D4 + 2 + 1D430 + 76
Sling &#97943/930 + 71D8
Composite Bow &#97923/930 + 71D8 + 17

Skills: Agility +7; Dodge 20, Swim 10, Drive 20,Communications +7; Speak Other 15, Boast 30,Knowledge +2; (X) Lore 10, First Aid 20,Manipulate + 7; Conceal 25, Devise 20,Perception +7; track 35, Scan 20, Stealth +8 ; Sneak 40.
Armour: Mostly bezainted with a stronger helm, usually scale or plate.
Magic: Orcs respect the gods but rarely call on them. Any divine magic will be cult specific.

Orc (Great)

STR4D6 + 316Move 3
CON3D6 + 314-16Hit Points 16
SIZ2D6 + 817Fatigue 31
INT3D610-11Damage Bonus 1D6
Hit LocationMelee (D20)Missile (D20)Points
R Leg1-41-33/6
L Leg5-84-63/6
R Arm13-1516-175/5
L Arm16-1818-195/5
Head Butt835 + 71D4 + 1D6
Bastard Sword (2H)740 + 71D10 + 1 + 1D635 + 712
Naginata (2H)640 + 72D6 + 2 + 1D635 + 710
Whip330 + 71D46
Sai/Dirk725 + 71D6 + 1D625 + 710
Javelin &#97943/930 + 71D88
Long Bow &#97923/930 + 71D8 + 16

Skills: Agility +7; Dodge 25, Climb 50, Jump 45,Communications +7; Speak Other 15, Boast 40,Knowledge +2; (X) Lore 10, First Aid 20,Manipulate + 7; Conceal 25, Devise 20,Perception +7; track 35, Scan 20, Stealth 0 ; Sneak 15.
Armour: A mix of ringmail, cuirbouilli and lamellar.
Magic: Orcs respect the gods but rarely call on them. Any divine magic will be cult specific.

Orc (Mottled)

STR3D610-12Move 3
CON3D610-13Hit Points 10
SIZ2D6 + 29Fatigue 22
INT3D610Damage Bonus –
POW 2D610
APP 2D66
Hit LocationMelee (D20)Missile (D20)Points
R Leg1-41-34/4
L Leg5-84-64/4
R Arm13-1516-173/3
L Arm16-1818-193/3
Fighting Claw825 + 71D4 + 1
Kukri935 + 7 1D4 + 325 + 78
Long Spear (2H)740 + 71D10 + 135 + 710
Buckler35 + 78
Knife930 + 71D3 + 125 + 74
Bolas435 + 7 1D4
War Boomerang430 + 71D86

Skills: Agility +7; Dodge 35, Climb 30, Jump 20,Communications +7; Speak Other 15, Boast 20,Knowledge 0; (X) Lore 10, First Aid 15,Manipulate + 7; Conceal 25, Torture 30,Perception +7; Track 45, Scan 20, Stealth 0 ; Sneak 45.
Armour: A mix of bezainted, cuirbouilli and lamellar, oft with a chain coif.
Magic: Orcs respect the gods but rarely call on them. Any divine magic will be cult specific.