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Are the orcs of the D&D core canon cannibals, i.e. not above eating sentient humanoids?

As far as I can remember, Tolkien's orcs seem to have no qualms about doing so (thanks for the link, Flamma), though I'm not sure they would've eaten their own kind as well.

What's the official stance (if there's any) on the feeding habits of DnD's orcs?

I'd be most interested in v3.5's "core setting" or that of the upcoming Next's (and least interested in v4's anything :)), though a comprehensive but abridged history could be a nice plus.

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3.5 & Next have different default settings. 3.5's default is Greyhawk while Next's is Forgotten Realms. –  Ben-Jamin Mar 12 at 16:13

4 Answers 4

up vote 13 down vote accepted

Yes, orcs are continuously depicted as cannibals (or, if you prefer, anthropophagous) in D&D lore.

AD&D 1e

Monster Manual, p.76:

They take slaves for work, food, and entertainment (torture etc.)...

Basic D&D

Orcs of Thar: I couldn't find anything on cannibalism with a quick scan, but this is an inordinately goofy book anyway.

AD&D 2e

Monstrous Manual:

Orcs are carnivores, but prefer game meats or livestock to demihumans and humanoids.

This is repeated without comment in PHBR10 The Complete Book of Humanoids. Sounds like they will eat people, but as a secondary recourse once the burgers and brats run out.

D&D 3/3.5e

No comments one way or another in the core books or Savage Species. There are parenthetical references to orcish cannibalism in non-canon sources, like this WotC blog article.

Pathfinder

Orcs of Golarion, p. 5:

Cannibalism

Orcs are infamous for their willingness (even eagerness) to eat other humanoids, and sometimes even other orcs. At some level, the practice is a matter of survival—eating what food is available to them. In lean times, humanoid slaves are more important to an orc tribe as livestock than they are for their labor. After all, orcs can always raid for more slaves when the opportunity presents itself later.

Orcs also believe consuming the flesh of other creatures allows the eater to take on their strengths. Just as warriors feast on the hearts of dire boars, cave bears, or worgs, so too does eating a fallen enemy symbolize the ultimate victory: not merely defeating the foe in combat, but consuming all that he was.

As with other orc meals, humanoid flesh may be eaten raw, torn from the body of a fallen enemy or a helpless prisoner, or slowly and carefully cooked. Indeed, orc “cooks” are just as often also butchers and torturers, skilled in gutting and bleeding victims in such a way as to “tenderize” them for slow roasting or stewing. Orcs often talk about other races in terms usually reserved for livestock and game animals, comparing the flavor and texture of elf to dwarf, or the taste of this nation of humans versus that one. When a laughing orc refers to a prisoner as “meat,” he is being entirely literal.

D&D 4e

Monster Manual p. 205:

DC 15: Orcs favor hills and mountains, places pocked by caverns easily turned into defensible lairs. Bloodthirsty marauders and cannibals, orcs venerate Gruumsh and thereby delight in slaughter and destruction.

D&D Next

The D&D Next playtest docs do not have any society or lore information on orcs or any monster, just stats.

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Thanks for the very thorough answer. Though I did find the deduction from Gruumsh @Lord_Gareth presented compelling, the facts you kindly provided remain facts. :) –  OpaCitiZen Mar 12 at 21:03
    
I really like this answer, but I'd like to dispute the conclusion on the 2e statement; I feel as though the phrasing was meant to distinguish them from other carnivorous monsters (such as lizardfolk) who did eat humans and demihumans on a regular basis. –  Lord_Gareth Mar 12 at 21:04
    
I think that's a pretty broad interpretation of "prefers X to Y" to say it should be understood as "they don't eat Y." Google "bears prefer" for counterexamples. –  mxyzplk Mar 12 at 21:08

A quote from Monster Manual, first edition AD&D (emphasis mine):

Orcs are cruel and hate living things in general, but they particularly hate elves and will always attack them in preference to other creatures. They take slaves for work, food, and entertainment (torture, etc.) but not elves whom they kill immediately

So early canon definitely had orc cannibals (unless you choose to interpret this use of slaves as for food production, which is just about tenable if you squint hard enough at the text).

Opinion: Over time, interesting monsters in media tend to drift into more complex and less obviously evil forms (e.g. Vampires, Klingons). This may also have happened to the D&D orc in later canon.

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Awesome source dive my friend. –  Lord_Gareth Mar 12 at 16:47
    
Excellent and quick find indeed. Thank you. –  OpaCitiZen Mar 12 at 21:04

Canon is Silent

There has never been, to my knowledge, any mention one way or another if Orcs eat sapient flesh. This may have been a deliberate choice early in D&D's life; a lot of ideas like Orcs, Balrogs, etc got hijacked from The Lord of the Rings, then changed when they didn't want to get sued.

But I Don't Think They Do

The racial god of the Orcs, the chief of their pantheon and the very embodiment, literally, of what it means to be an 'Orc' in the collective D&D setting is Gruumsh One-Eye, a Greater power notable for being the God of Revenge - and of Survival. Gruumsh embodies the Chaotic Evil principle of self-reliance to the core, and rejects those too weak or pitiful to thrive on their own while rewarding those who advance his cause and his name.

For all that they have an Intelligence penalty, Orcs in D&D have been pretty consistently described as well-organized under strong, cunning leadership that experiences a balance of power between the more martial leader(s) and various kinds of spellcasters, often clerics of some variety. These two forces form Orcs into mighty hordes - which are well-supplied, well-rested, and usually pretty well-run. Their battlefield tactics may often lack originality but no story or setting has ever depicted an Orcish horde running out of supplies or, indeed, suffering from common difficulties of hygiene and filth fever (dungeon master's guide) that would plague less experienced forces.

Between this consistent martial mindset and Gruumsh's inclination towards leaving enemies alive (yet in your power) in order to be turned against their former allies, I find it difficult to believe that Orcs would eat sapients, whose meat tends to be diseased and which gains them absolutely nothing while wasting valuable sources of information. They may feed sapients to allies such as worgs or dragons, and I doubt they care if other ("strong") races choose to eat sapients, but from their perspective the practice doesn't have a lot of appeal.

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Awesome answer. But what is the justification for saying that the meat of sapients would tend to be diseased (at least any more so than non-sapients)? –  TimothyAWiseman Mar 12 at 17:12
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Mostly research on cannibalism in the real world; humans (but especially city slickers) are amazingly filthy on the inside and cannibalism is a pretty poor idea for that alone, because it subjects you to some hideous stuff. D&D's RAW doesn't cover this or, indeed, any other sanitation issue except for the existence of the Filth Fever disease, though. –  Lord_Gareth Mar 12 at 17:13
    
That's a compelling theory based on Gruumsh. Thanks! –  OpaCitiZen Mar 12 at 21:04
    
Maybe should update considering information confirming orcish cannibalism; logs a little silly as is. Also, more than having more disease, closely related species trend to be more likely to have diseases that also affect you. –  KRyan Mar 13 at 5:01

As the other answer says there is not much in the way of definitive information on this subject. You also need to consider that there are a vast number of different D&D settings and what applies in one may not apply in others so there can be no definitive answer that covers everywhere.

My opinion though runs the other way. Why would Orcs turn down perfectly good meat if it was there in front of them? Most likely different Orcs, Tribes and Leaders would have different positions on the subject but I'd be surprised if a substantial percentage of Orcs are not willing or even eager to eat meat no matter where it comes from.

In fact the "brutish beasts planning to cook up the poor helpless victims" is such a common trope that I'd be very surprised if there isn't at least one D&D book somewhere in one of the settings where it happens.

After all consuming the weak to feed he strong is very much within the Orcish mindset.

As requested - more reasoned arguments. I'll use the evidence kindly provided above.

The racial god of the Orcs, the chief of their pantheon and the very embodiment, literally, of what it means to be an 'Orc' in the collective D&D setting is Gruumsh One-Eye, a Greater power notable for being the God of Revenge - and of Survival. Gruumsh embodies the Chaotic Evil principle of self-reliance to the core, and rejects those too weak or pitiful to thrive on their own while rewarding those who advance his cause and his name.

Gruumsh rejects weak and pitiful, favors strength and survival. When an Orcish tribe is running low on food they kill and eat the weaker members of their own tribe so that the strong can survive. The strong are then able to last through the lean times and the whole tribe survives.

For all that they have an Intelligence penalty, Orcs in D&D have been pretty consistently described as well-organized under strong, cunning leadership that experiences a balance of power between the more martial leader(s) and various kinds of spellcasters, often clerics of some variety. These two forces form Orcs into mighty hordes - which are well-supplied, well-rested, and usually pretty well-run. Their battlefield tactics may often lack originality but no story or setting has ever depicted an Orcish horde running out of supplies or, indeed, suffering from common difficulties of hygiene and filth fever (dungeon master's guide) that would plague less experienced forces.

Eating your own forces can be a good tactical move. If you have wounded Orcs and do not wish to leave them to be captured and interrogated but cannot move them then you kill them. Once you have killed them then assuming morals were not applied (after all these are evil creatures) why would you waste that meat?

Perhaps part of the reason that Orcish hordes never run out of food is because each battlefield provides fresh supplies for the next step of their rampage as the fallen on both sides are recycled into the cooking pots.

Between this consistent martial mindset and Gruumsh's inclination towards leaving enemies alive (yet in your power) in order to be turned against their former allies, I find it difficult to believe that Orcs would eat sapients, whose meat tends to be diseased and which gains them absolutely nothing while wasting valuable sources of information. They may feed sapients to allies such as worgs or dragons, and I doubt they care if other ("strong") races choose to eat sapients, but from their perspective the practice doesn't have a lot of appeal.

What canon support is there for the meat being diseased? Yes in the real world we have prion disease but there are no instances that I am aware of of similar things in D&D. The closest thing is the Pathfinder template that can be given to cannibals and causes them to devolve. I don't know off-hand if D&D core has an equivalent and that template has no rules saying it must be applied to cannibals, just that it can be caused by cannibalism.

Once you have questioned the prisoners why would you leave them alive unless you had a use for them? If you had no use for them why would you keep them? If they are dead why would you not eat them?

If the Orcs capture a human village after they finish decorating the place with heads on spikes why would the next step not be a BBQ? They certainly have no use for the prisoners and a bunch of villagers are limited in terms of how usefully they could be turned against an enemy. Their best use is to fill the bellies of real fighters.

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Your opinion does not affect what is in the canon, which is what the question is about. Does this opinion have any basis in canon? If so, I suggest you discuss the actual canon and what position it indicates (based on citations in that canon), not your opinion. –  Jonathan Hobbs Mar 12 at 13:36
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@JonathanHobbs What is canon is that there are large numbers of D&D settings. ;) Other than that my answer is no more canon than the previous answer in the other direction which I am providing a counter-opinion to since at the moment it seems to be standing unchallenged. –  Tim B Mar 12 at 13:38
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This question is not asking for opinions of what orcs do, it's asking for factual sourcing from D&D canon for the core settings. Challenge it by providing solid canon of the opposite in those core settings. Stating "I'd be surprised if there isn't canon of the opposite" doesn't count. –  Jonathan Hobbs Mar 12 at 13:39
    
Please edit anything useful from this overlong comment thread into the answer as it will all get deleted soon. And yes, Tim, you're right, your answer is as founded in pure speculation as @Lord_Gareth's, all these critiques apply there as well. –  mxyzplk Mar 12 at 19:10

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