To Orc or Not to Orc…

15 Apr

In ancient Gorgloth, Doelms war amongst the scorched ruins of their lost civilization. The crumbled remains of black nightstone buildings rise above the fields of bone and barren fields stained with centuries of old blood. The rivers run dry. The trees wither and die. The black ships have been long since broken on the shores. The Doelms squabble among the rocks for the fast dwindling resources and lost treasures of their ransacked kingdom. The chieftains led them to raid and pillage one another. Their axes grow red with the blood of their own people. The Doelms have tumbled so far back into the tribal eras the mere rumor of their once great society seems only a myth.
To Orc or not to Orc was a question my co-author and I struggled with for years. Originally, we began with Doelms, as you can see from the first picture below.  The first sketch was first penciled by J. E. back in high school in the mid 90s. Our initial vision was a steroid pumped muscle-head of an Orc that rose far above the squat representations found in Middle Earth or Heroquest. The muscle was piled on extra top heavy, their legs seemed like they could hardly support such a freakish mass. They were actually monstrously huge versions of Orcs bred by darker forbidden magic, except we called them Doelms.

The second picture was drawn a few years later when we were thinking about just calling them Orcs. At that time they were more simple traditional fantasy caricatures, your basic ugly evil race to counter your more comely Humans, Dwarves and Elves. However, they were more apish; prone to beating their chests and taking massive leaps like territorial bull gorillas. And then as we tweaked and over-perfected our world, vision after vision of Orcs flooded the market from World of Warcraft, Elder Scrolls and Everquest, not to mention books. Orcs appeared in commerce in every size and shape. We kept going back to the drawing board, trying to make our vision unique.

Ultimately, we felt the traditional vision of an Orc was very one-dimensional, even if you disguised it as a Trolloc or whatever. We didn’t want to follow the fantasy norm of having good and evil races. It seems if you’re born twisted, ugly or scary in a fantasy world you’re doomed to do nothing, but rape and pillage. However, if you happened to be pretty and run around with a fanciful gay smile, you could do no wrong. Nature is full of many fierce, but beautiful predators—the lion, the bear to name a few. Why should fantasy races be any different? And people are far more interesting when they’re not what they seem.  I love the horrible fair-faced monsters of Game of Thrones. And so we wanted Covent’s peoples to have the appearance of your standard races, but at times break away from the norm by showing the good in the darker peoples and the evil in the lighter peoples.  You’ll see what I’m talking about in Shade 3.

At this point we had decided not to Orc.
Now I’m always going to love Orcs and props go to Tolkien for the original vision, but we wanted to do something that had the potential for both good and evil, something darkly beautiful. The Orcs of Middle Earth were WAY too ugly and wholly evil for us. We wanted something you could both fear and admire, like a roaring bear raised up on its haunches. At the same time this deadly beauty is fallen, so Doelms became self-mutilators with long black fingernails. Doelms score their skin with claw marks which they wear like war paint to display their frightening toughness and ferocity. There’s nothing like a savage mortal digging his claws into his chest to let you know how fast he’s going to rip you apart.

Our artist put together an awesome concept sketch on the left side below. The Doelm’s tattered and ripped clothing are one of my favorite features. The worn shorts look like something a member of a once civil society once wore, like a pair of frayed jeans in a post-apocalyptic world. We also added a patch of fur on their backs and hair that ran down their shoulders to their hands. This brought them back to their apish dark humanoid roots. We thought it was a nice touch, but the real answer came in our Doelm women.

Please ignore the face under the red “X”, I think our artist was trying to conceptualize a Doelmess and this face looked far too human, but his next move was a stroke of genius. A Doelm’s deadly beauty is most heavily personified in a graceful Doelmess. We thought it would be interesting if Doelmesses were surprisingly beautiful. The challenge came in trying to design a Doelm that was terrifying in battle, but balanced out by a shockingly attractive counterpart. In this key features were multi-fold. The glowing yellow eyes of a Doelm, which look frightening at night for instance, look exotic on a Doelmess, accentuating her dark and alluring mystique.

Now this Doelmess is far more scantily clad than you’d ever see one in Doelmish society. If you were to catch even a glimpse of a Doelmess a Doelm would rip your heart out and shout, “You soiled her!” You see Doelms revere the beauty of their women and are very overprotective. Doelmesses are covered from head to toe and wear hoods over their faces to completely conceal their secret beauty. Doelms do this to keep their surprising appeal secret from other races. Only a Doelm husband may remove the robes and enjoy his wife in private.

For the most part Doelmesses are treated with dignity and are held in high honor. The savage heart of a Doelm melts over the beauty of a Doelmess, so Doelms treat their wives better than humans do.  A Doelm caught beating his wife is taken out and beaten publically by the tribe. Doelm warriors take multiple wives as trophies, but every wife is still treated with respect. Doelmesses see polygamy as a method of breeding a bigger, stronger tribe. They are considered warriors of the home. Childrearing, homemaking, gathering, crafting, making remedies and medicines are well respected and highly valued skills. Don’t ever suggest these are lowly roles to a Doelmess or she’s likely to kill you for the insult.

A Doelmess is looked upon as a “Shaka” or Life-Giver, which is a highly revered, spiritual place in the household. Doelmesses respect strength and so hostile takeovers by other clansmen and the changing of husbands does not spurn them like their emaciated or slain ex-husbands. However, a Doelmess will fiercely fight non-Doelms to protect children. Doelm males will give their last drop of blood to protect a camp. Although Doelmesses are capable, the ultimate shame of a Doelm is the failure to protect one’s family. Family takeovers are a part of Doelmish life and the strongest Doelm usually has won the most wives and therefore has the largest family. The family is a Doelm’s pride.

The Doelm women are the unsung heroines of the Doelmish world. During the Fall of Gorgloth, the men of Doljinaar sacked every Doelm city and slew the Doelm king. Men put all of Gorgloth’s armies to the sword. This widowed all Doelmesses. Doljinaar had originally attempted to wipe out the Doelm race. They went after the families, but the Doelmesses fought them back using savage guerrilla warfare. The casualties were too high after the long war and so Doljinaar essentially gave up, figuring the families would not survive in a ravaged country, but they underestimated the Life-Givers of Gorgloth. The Doelmesses saved the race and raised new sons, their only mistake was submitting to young reckless male leadership, which led to decades of civil war as chieftains fought endlessly for dominion over a now largely divided Gorgloth.

Size does matter in Doelmish culture. Doelm children are raised primarily by their birth mother. A father offers limited guidance since strong males head multiple wives and offspring. Like the ancient Spartans, Doelms live in a cruel warrior society. Doelms discard unshapely babies as well, but there is a second culling at puberty. Doelm children are torn from their mother’s breasts at puberty. The size of the teenager determines the Doelm’s class. Doelms can range from seven feet to a stunted four feet tall. Tall Doelms are bred to be warriors, and become the honored leaders of the clans, but short Doelms are forced to be Runts.  Runts get no respect and are used as nothing but grueling laborers.  Of course, a Doelm adolescent can take still make the warrior caste if he sprouts late and proves himself. If a Runt never spouts he is castrated in early adulthood to prevent the outspread of his weak genes. Female runts are scored in a similar way and serve as slaves to the Doelmesses.

Despite their tenacious strength, Doelms have had great difficulty over the past centuries seeing the massive flaws in their dying society. They remain on the brink of utter ruin. Their people starve and clash over the rubble of ruins long stripped of their valuables. Doelmish warfare has degenerated to such an animalistic level that the word Doelm has been compared by other societies to having a reckless and doltish disregard for one’s own life. The people of Gorgloth were the once proud Dolem, as they were called in their own lost language, now Gorgloth is but a long forgotten legend.

Doelmish desperation has grown so great that many Doelms flee Gorgloth and resettle in the western lands ruled by the iron fist of their ancient enemies in Doljinaar. Unable to stand against the world’s greatest superpower, these Doelms lurk in the shadows of its hides and great wildernesses. This Doelm, in the pictures below, is a highwayman who lives in Karus Forest. He preys on travelers on the rural northern roads and shrinks back into the vast forest. He lives in a thief camp and the sewers of Kurn is his idea of a palace, but many Doelms see the rogue life in Doljinaar as preferable to starving in their ancestral home. He has become a Westernized Doelm and will probably never return to Gorgloth.

I’m unsure we’ll ever shake the stigma of “that’s a blue Orc.” Doelms and Orcs certainly have a lot in common, although we hope readers will one day recognize the dark unique beauty of the Doelm race. The people of ancient Gorgloth have left behind many lost secrets that remain to be unearthed. Their dark arts run deeper than they remember. Doelms was also a fitting name in a large part due to the monstrous abominations this once great civilization birthed, who share similar names. Some say these abominations still walk the lands in dark places. You’ll see the first of such abominations as the Ooelm in Shade 2, which will be out within the calendar year. The many ancient secrets of Gorlgoth will be unlocked in due time.

I’ll conclude with this jaw-dropping new art-piece of a fully colored Doelm warrior. The darkly beautiful, brutish humanoid has never seemed so realized as in this picture. For more great races and details check out our website here:

New characters, races, creatures and places with be revealed with each new book!


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7 responses to “To Orc or Not to Orc…

  1. micahblackburn

    April 16, 2012 at 9:29 pm

    Cool! Glad to get to see your version of orcs! Very interested in the lore of the world.

    The beauty aspect of the female Doelm reminds me a little bit of reversal of expectations done in Red Tide, a Labyrinth Lord setting, in which the beast races (orcs, goblins, hobgoblins, etc) are called Shou and are universally attractive (though as savage races, they often scar themselves, or file their teeth to points…but they are born beautiful and even adults maintain a ‘savage beauty’).

    Anyway, it’s nice to see people do something different with the tropes. Look forward to reading more about your world. 🙂

    • chroniclesofcovent

      April 16, 2012 at 9:35 pm

      Interesting. I’ll have to check that out. It just goes to show you there’s nothing entirely new under the sun anymore. I suppose we can all have our own unique twists, though.

      • micahblackburn

        April 16, 2012 at 9:39 pm

        Oh absolutely! From the sound of your post, I think you came up with the idea long before they did, and yours actually has a sociological reaction to the aesthetic mix up which is lacking in Red Tide (the Shou are simply born that way…they don’t really think about it or seem to figure it into their behavior). So yeah, definitely unique. Just it’s a (damn good) book I bought recently so when I read your post I thought of it.

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