Orcs inhabit the Tundar Valley, an area of around five hundred square miles from end to end. Since they inhabit such a comparatively small area and are both isolationist and insular, orcs are the rarest of the intelligent primates on Tygan. This also means that very few people from other continents have ever met an orc, making the reclusive people a convenient target for hatred. The valley itself is rolling and coniferous, filled with evergreen pines; it takes its name from the orc’s first chief.
Orcs share some common ancestry with humans, elves and dwarves, though archaeologists have yet to find any evidence as to where their lineage diverged. Some of the Orc’s particular traits may have evolved as adaptations to the Tundar Valley’s colder climate. For example, their tusks may have developed to use for digging up roots to gain grubs, some of the only sources of meat during the valley’s colder season. The orcs were either unable or unwilling to venture beyond the valley’s walls, even in search of food, so they made their livings in its harsh winters. The dangerous living conditions and lack of any use for tools meant that orcs didn’t develop either tools or writing until at least five thousand years after the other primate peoples. With no trade or messages to keep track of, they had no need for writing, and their claws and tusks were all the tools they needed within the Tundar Valley.
Some view orcs as dumb barbarians for this, saying that advanced tools are the first separation between sentient beings and animals. But others see this as a sign of orcish capability and their self-reliant nature. One admiring dwarf said, “Orcs need no blades, for each is born with ten!” The metabolism of an orc is very low, so they, in spite of their reputation, do not eat nearly as much as humans, elves or dwarves overall. They do however have a tendency to binge eat, a habit they picked up for surviving winters. An orc will eat an especially large meal once every five to seven days, which will be more than enough to sustain them in that time. Viewing this ritual, many made the false assumption that orcs gorge themselves all the time. The amount of food in these meals says otherwise, it being barely half of what a human, elf or dwarf would eat in a week.
This makes it easier for them to survive in colder climates with fewer resources, but orcs have learned to be careful in other lands since any food they buy will be both richer and more plentiful than they’re used to. If they have too much, they’ll become very ill and no one has a good time when an orc gets nauseous. Orcs are known to enjoy more exotic foods, particularly ones where a small bite contains a lot of flavor, and they prefer to eat things raw.
Orcs are gifted with an excellent sense of direction, having developed it to navigate the Tundar valley’s largely featureless snow plains. They use the smallest, seemingly most insignificant landmarks, as well as the stars and clouds to get their bearings, with very little error to be had. Using these skills, they can find their way over huge distances without the aid of any major landmarks. As such, orcs are highly sought after as navigators, and those living outside the valley can often be found working on sea faring military and trade vessels.
Orcs have an unusual greyish green skin that has been specially adapted to the rigid temperatures often found in the Tundar Valley. Not only is it very good at maintaining a warm body heat in rigid temperatures, it is also highly resistant to sunburn. Though this makes them well suited for cold and temperate climates, orcs do not fair very well in hotter areas. In order to stay healthy, they have to drink large amounts of water to stay healthy, one of the things that contributes to their reputation for being gluttonous. They also wear much lighter clothing in such climates in order to allow their skin to breath and sweat more.
Orcs chronicled their own history in the valley through a folkloric record carved in the walls of caves and large evergreen trees. The evergreens are dubbed ‘growing sculptures’ and need touching-up work as the trees grow and the first etches on them warp through the years. Every member of every orc group maintains these sculptures from an early age, so even young orcs have a great knowledge of their history. The histories tell of tribal conflicts going back almost to the orcs’ first days in the valley, and surviving many calamities. By determining which disaster a given entry refers to and using mild winters or other lesser but still noteworthy events to fill the gaps, historians have composed a decent timeline of orcish history prior to first contact with the elves.
The elves of the time arrived without the knowledge or resources to deal with the valley’s harsh winters. The orcs were initially hostile towards the strange invaders, but became more tolerant when they saw how ill fitted the arrivals were for surviving in the cold. At ease knowing they had the home field advantage should a conflict arise, orcs assisted the settlers in an effort to barter for supplies. The orcs were particularly interested in flint, tinder and dry wood for building fires, which the orcs view the way other peoples view gold. Fittingly, the orcs showed no interest in ‘conventional’ wealth like silver, gold or jewels, unable to see the use behind them. A common lament from orcs is “Between what looks pretty and keeps me warm, I’ll take warm.”
The elves rarely exploited orcs as slave labor for two reasons. One, controlling them was extremely difficult. Two, it was more difficult to capture them in the first place. The size and strength of an orc make transporting an unwilling one out of the valley nigh impossible, especially during the winter when the cold becomes severe enough to make metal and wooden cages equally brittle. Still, a few orcs were tricked and carted away as both slave labor and curiosities in roadshows. More often than not, these too would eventually kill their masters and escape. Some of those that weren’t killed afterwards managed to make their way home. These instances were rare compared with the human and dwarven slave trade. As such, orcs do not have the extent of distrust that humans and dwarves do for elves.
It was after the First Great War that orcs gradually became more involved in the wider world. When orcs became protected under the law, more people came to the Valley seeking orcs as hired muscle for both labor and battle. As mentioned before, they found work as navigators on ships, but they also found work as bodyguards for members of royalty and high ranking military officials. Through work such as this, they gained a reputation among those more closely associated with them for being very loyal to those they partnered up with. The orcs always insisted on getting paid with supplies rather than money, which they usually ship back to the Tundar Valley for use by their people.
Orcish culture puts great value on strength, something required in the harsh environment of the valley, where many vicious predators compete with the orcs. A few of these animals are holdovers from part eras of Tygan’s fauna, much more dangerous than most of those surviving in the rest of the world. This is one reason that orcs choose the best fighter of a group as the leader, usually someone who has defeated a particularly voracious predator alone or with little help. Orc leaders do not use muscle, they are the muscle. Orcish philosophy is summed up in the proverb, “Leaders lead in all, especially in battle.’ Orcs thus have a certain disdain for strategists and others that lead armies but do not see the front lines of war. This does have some negative effects, orcs having lost some of their greatest generals in battle. It’s also hard for a general to get the full picture when fighting on the front lines, and orc armies are more vulnerable than most to surprise attacks or flanking purely because the commander has no clearer view than that of their soldiers. A common debate between the soldiers of other peoples and orcs begins, “What’s the point of a dead general?” to which the orc responds, “What’s the point of a general who doesn’t fight?”
The reputation of orcs as a very war oriented people precedes them, so it surprises most when they first learn of the value that orcs place on memory. As they had no writing tools and no records apart from the sculptures they left behind, most of their history required passing down through word of mouth, with liberties on the stories not tolerated. Those who remembered the stories best were deemed “Tellers” a title only outranked by the group leader themselves. Tellers would regularly entertain their groups with tales of history and past exploits. This reverence for memory makes orcs especially skilled at recalling details from books and other texts. As such, orcs who leave Tundar speak highly of university professors, and have been known on occasion to pursue such careers, which those in the valley have dubbed “World Tellers.” This memory works in tandem with skill in pattern recognition to help orcs learn other languages very quickly, thus orcs can also find work as translators.
Orcs adhere to equal standards at all times; they demand not to be given special treatment, and have been known to hold themselves to a higher standard when society will not. The reasons for this, as explained by an orc working as a navigator on trade routs is ‘To be coddled implies one needs coddling.’ There are a number of recorded cases in which orcs committed war crimes abroad, and some in which higher-ups attempted to whitewash the events, only for their own soldiers or members of their home-groups to kill them for ‘shaming the people.’
Orcs are individualistic and self-reliant in the extreme, to the point where all but those most traveled in the outside world consider it an insult to be given a gift. To orcs, this implies they are weak and need assistance. If offered a gift, an orc accepts it only if they are able to earn it in some way afterwards. As a result, orcs do very little trade with the outside world, and they do not see the point of gold or other riches. This goes against the stereotype of orcs as untrustworthy thieves, but the stereotype refuses to die because few people will ever meet an orc. Orcs still use the most simple of machines or devices and only when something simply cannot be done with their own two hands alone.
Orcs fared better then most during the conflict with Assylyl. As Assylyl never reached the Tundar Valley, the only orc casualties were those on the front lines and in the various cities of Tygan. Given that the majority of their population is found in the Valley, orcs suffered comparatively small losses during the Far One’s reign.