Last Updated on January 22, 2023
Born from the versatile humans and ferocious orcs, half-orcs are one of the few hybrid races that you can play as in Dungeons and Dragons. Thanks to their dual ancestry, half-orcs have many benefits unique to them.
Let’s take a look at what those features are and how to best take advantage of them when making your next D&D 5e character.
The Half-Orc Race – What We Know
Half-orcs are the children of one human and one orcish parent. These children tend not to be conceived of or raised in the best conditions thanks to the characteristic ferocity of orcs.
In fact, most half-orcs tend to be raised by the orcish parent. Because orcs in D&D tend to be roving bands of ferocious ravagers, this leads to many half-orcs living a tough life.
However, not all settings in D&D are the same. In some settings, a half-orc might be born as the child between an arranged marriage of a human and orc. Human and orc tribes will do this to form a peace or alliance between the tribes, ensuring that future conflicts don’t break out.
Some half-orcs will use the cunning granted by their human blood to rise to prominence as leaders of orc tribes. By drawing on the best of their two bloods, a half-orc leader can cause an orcish tribe to rise in power and prominence faster than would normally be possible.
Half-orcs that end up as adventurers typically do so because of their inability to fit in with one side of their ancestry. A half-orc character might see their orcish ancestry and too violent or brutal, but also see human civilization as stymying and dull.
Adventuring, with its life-threatening combat and need for inventiveness, gives a half-orc the chance to exercise both sides of their ancestry.
Half-Orc Abilities and Traits: What Characterizes the Half-Orc Race
Despite coming from both human and orcish origins, the half-orc doesn’t take much after the human in the Player’s Handbook. Rather than utilize the versatility offered by its humanity, half-orcs itself channel their wit into maximizing their strength and tenacity in combat.
Here’s what the Half-Orc racial traits look like:
Speed: 30 ft.
Age. Half-orcs mature a little faster than humans, reaching adulthood around age 14. They age noticeably faster and rarely live longer than 75 years.
Alignment. Half-orcs inherit a tendency toward chaos from their orc parents and are not strongly inclined toward good. Half-orcs raised among orcs and willing to live out their lives among them are usually evil.
Size. Half-orcs are somewhat larger and bulkier than humans, and they range from 5 to well over 6 feet tall. Your size is Medium.
Darkvision. Thanks to your orc blood, you have superior vision in dark and dim conditions. You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of gray.
Menacing. You gain proficiency in the Intimidation skill.
Relentless Endurance. When you are reduced to 0 hit points but not killed outright, you can drop to 1 hit point instead. You can’t use this feature again until you finish a long rest.
Savage Attacks. When you score a critical hit with a melee weapon attack, you can roll one of the weapon’s damage dice one additional time and add it to the extra damage of the critical hit.
Languages. You can speak, read, and write Common and Orc. Orc is a harsh, grating language with hard consonants. It has no script of its own but is written in the Dwarvish script.
Darkvision is a great feature for almost any race to offer. Dungeons in D&D are not usually well-lit, meaning that you’re going to be heading into the dungeon with either your vision or a light source.
Since light sources can give you away from around corners and such, relying on darkvision, even with its disadvantage to Perception in darkness, can make a difference.
The Intimidation skill proficiency offered hones in on the imposing demeanor many half-orcs will lean into. Between being over six feet tall and the skin tones a half-orc inherits from their orcish parent, you can see why a half-orc would be able to easily scare anyone they want to.
Relentless Endurance and Savage Attacks are the ways that half-orcs utilize their ferocity in combat. Relentless Endurance gives the half-orc one last chance to take down a foe in combat by setting them to one hit point.
This helps guarantee that they get another turn. Savage Attacks assures that, if you critically hit with that clutch turn, you really drive home the pain with your weapon.
Since Savage Attacks states that you only roll one die of the weapon damage, it’s better to use this feature with large or heavy weapons. Heavy weapons tend to have higher die sizes, meaning that they have better average damage.
Also, this ability only works with melee weapons, so ranged weapons and spell attacks don’t count for this feature.
Finally, a half-orc learns the languages of both its parents, and that’s it. All races can gain one or more languages from their classes or skills, but half-orcs get the default number of languages as a race.
What Classes Are Well-Suited to Half-Orcs?
With the racial abilities figured out, there’s the question of what classes work best with the half-orc? D&D 5e was designed with no intended race and class combos, so a half-orc can be paired with just about any class and do well.
However, if you’re looking to get the most out of the half-orc’s capabilities, then here are some classes that stand to benefit from using the half-orc race:
The quintessential class for an orc is also a great choice for the half-orc race. Since the half-orc provides a bonus to both Strength and Constitution, it’s a natural fit for the race’s ability score boost.
Barbarians gain the most offensive power when using their Strength score thanks to Rage and Reckless Attack. Constitution gives the Barbarian more hit points to keep itself in the fray longer.
Speaking of staying power, the Relentless Endurance feature from half-orc is similar to a higher-level feature Barbarians get called Relentless Rage. The class feature allows a Barbarian to roll ever-increasing Constitution saving throws to avoid getting knocked out by an attack.
Relentless Endurance from the half-orc race is like getting this feature at level one, and a free success on the save to boot!
The Savage Attacks feature from half-orc is similar to another Barbarian feature: Brutal Critical. It has almost the same text as Savage Attacks, so having this feature from half-orc is again like getting a Barbarian class feature early.
While half-orcs aren’t stereotypically pious, a half-orc has great stats and features for certain cleric domains. Half-orcs don’t receive a bonus to Wisdom, but they get a boost to melee capabilities with their Strength and Constitution boosts.
This makes half-orcs great for melee-focused cleric domains such as Life, Tempest, and War. Many of these domains also give heavy armor proficiency, which synergizes with the half-orc’s Strength boost.
Clerics also don’t get many social skill proficiencies. Since the half-orc race adds the Intimidation proficiency to your character, you gain a skill that otherwise wouldn’t be on their cleric list.
Using this with a background that gives proficiency in Persuasion or Deception would give you a cleric that can work their way through many social encounters.
Finally, Relentless Endurance is good for clerics because it helps them stay up. As a spellcaster, Clerics are best when they can concentrate on a spell. When characters fall unconscious, their concentration is lost, and so is the spell effect.
Staying on your feet longer means that your spells can continue to affect the battlefield.
Much like with Barbarian, a half-orc’s ability score boosts play into a Fighter’s wheelhouse. However, since Fighters can be a little more diverse than Barbarians, not all Fighters synergize with half-orc.
For example, a lack of a Dexterity boost means that Fighter builds that prefer finesse or ranged weapons won’t do as well as those that prefer Strength. Still, half-orcs make for great sword and shield or heavy armor Fighters.
All Fighters have heavy armor proficiency. Higher AC heavy armors require a good Strength score to wear them, making the half-orc a great race for qualifying for these armors.
Also, the Relentless Endurance feature again plays well into the frontline tank archetype, allowing the half-orc player to stay in the fight longer.
Since Fighters don’t get many skills, the extra Intimidation proficiency is nice to round out a Fighter’s toolkit. Intimidation is already on the Fighter skill list, so they don’t benefit as much as Clerics do. Still, an extra proficiency is never a bad thing!
Thanks to their racial features, half-orcs do well in just about any martial class. For the Paladin class, the half-orc offers a lot of the same benefits as it does to the Fighter class.
Strength and Constitution are perfect stat boosts for a Paladin, granting them the ability to use any melee weapon and heavy armor they like.
Many Paladins want to be on the front lines because of the Aura class features that they pick up at level six and seven. Since these auras only have a range of ten feet, you have to be in a fight with your allies to grant them the boost from these features.
A half-orc, with its Constitution boost and Relentless Endurance, can stay on the frontline longer and provide support and damage all the while.
Thanks to their orcish heritage encouraging a less-civilized upbringing, many half-orcs will find themselves at home in the wilderness. Half-Orcs, thanks to their ability score boosts and the weapon proficiencies of the Ranger class, will be at home in a melee-focused Ranger build.
While it’s not iconic of the class, Rangers can use a greatsword or a battleax and shield just as well as a Barbarian or Fighter.
Some of the best Ranger spells don’t use a spell attack modifier or require a saving throw. So, a Ranger won’t miss the lack of a Wisdom boost like a Cleric would.
Spells like hunter’s mark, longstrider, pass without trace, and conjure animals work just as well with a lower Wisdom score while also giving your character the outdoor explorer feeling the Ranger is known for.
Half-Orc Appearance – General Looks Found Among Them
In general, half-orcs tend to look like a more humanized version of the orcs that make up half their bloodline. Both male and female half-orcs stand between six and seven feet tall and weigh around 180 to 250 lbs.
Half-orcs also feature many of the same defining features of orcs.
Strong, jutting jaws, prominent teeth or fangs, and grayish skin are all common among the half-orc race. Because of their imposing size and weight, many half-orcs also have a clear musculature. Their muscles, empowered by their orcish blood, swell to a larger size than many other humanoid races.
Many half-orcs feature scars and marks from their rough and tumble life. This doesn’t have to be true for all half-orcs, but those that grow up within an orcish tribe or settlement will definitely have old scars.
These scars represent challenges that have been overcome or opponents that have been defeated. Scars are, to many half-orcs, trophies, and stories of the challenges they have overcome, rather than a reminder of any negative emotions.
Half-orcs tend to dress and carry themselves as the rest of the society around them does. While their orcish blood can make their temper run hotter, they don’t otherwise stand out in their fashion and appearance unless they choose to.
Half-Orc Names: Male, Female, Neutral, Other
Names can be a tricky subject for half-orcs. Since these individuals are often separated away from one parent, a half-orc tends to have a name that reflects the society that they grew up in. Half-orcs from human lands will have a human name, while half-orcs from orcish tribes will have an orcish name.
Sometimes, half-orcs that come from one society into the other will take on a name that is appropriate for the society. A half-orc that was given an orcish name at birth and exiled from their tribe might take on a human name to barter with human traders and farmers for food. Names serve a utilitarian function for half-orcs sometimes due to their upbringing.
Here’s a list of some names you could try for your half-orc character:
- Half-Orc Male Names (Human): Agrem, Hehneid, Torstid
- Half-Orc Female Names (Human): Cesnel, Lella, Retha
- Half-Orc Male Names (Orcish): Dagull, Ogguinur, Zevamur
- Half-Orc Female Names (Orcish): Gegri, Olutir, Ubesh
Surnames will depend on what society a half-orc grows up in. Whether donning a human surname or an orcish tribe name, a half-orc adopts a surname that relates to what they grew up with.
Half-orcs are an interesting race because they combine two very different cultures together. By combining a human’s versatility with an orc’s ferocity, you can have a character that excels in almost any marital role that you place them into.
Half-orcs also offers plenty of fun storytelling moments in why they came to be or how adventuring suits their needs.
Regardless of what direction you want to take your half-orc character, there’s plenty of opportunities to make a character that is strong, brave, and intimidating.
Toy around with some of the ideas in this guide and see if this race option can make a character worth exploring for you!
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I played the game a lot as a kid, back in first edition. Over the past few years since 5e was released, I’ve really started getting back into it. Currently, I run a campaign online for some friends and my brothers, and we also play a side-sesh just to mix things up.