Imperial Orcs culture and customs
In addition to the intrinsic value of an item, Imperial Orcs believe that some items have an additional quality they call "worth" that is defined by their provenance. This quality is based on the history of an item, who made it, what happened to it and how it came to be in the Orc’s possession. It is based on the belief that a person’s unique personal effects are imbued with qualities of that person during important moments. Items gain worth over time, as they are passed down generations, so old heirlooms are particularly prized.
Items also have worth if they are fashioned by the individual that used them so most Imperial Orcs take great pride in creating and maintaining as many of their own belongings as they can. Few orcs have the time to master such skills, so their personal effects may often have a rough, crude appearance, but this is of little concern to an orc compared to the idea that their belongings should have worth. When an Imperial Orc dies in battle, those who fought alongside them will often take one of the fallen’s worthy items as a mark of respect. To be buried with all your belongings is considered a great shame for an Imperial Orc, an indication that your death had no worth.
In recent years, the Imperial Orcs have begun celebrating the Night of Worth during the Spring Equinox each year. This festival celebrates the history of the Imperial Orcs, and the deeds of their people, through the sharing of stories tied to items of worth.
Orcs feel a strong need to be part of a well-defined group. They tend to see the group’s identity as an essential part of their own identity, and they like to have clearly visible symbols of membership. This group identity is almost never expressed as uniformity, as that would deny individual choice and hark back to the time when Imperial Orcs were slaves. They prefer the items they use to be unique to them and to have as much worth as possible. For orcs, the solution is to paint or carve symbols onto belongings like shields and armour, or to paint or embroider them onto clothing. In some cases specific items such as skulls or jewellery may be attached to equipment as a symbol. The ability of symbols to draw groups together and create identity is a form of hearth magic.
Orc symbols are usually added to items by the owner themselves. The simplest are painted or drawn, but more skilled orcs will burn, gild or embroider symbols onto their belongings. Orcs dislike uniformity so symbols are usually recurring interpretations of a theme rather than a specific design used by everyone. In a legion of orcs that use a dagger as their symbol for example, each design may be a slightly different shape, size and colour, but provided they make the individual’s legion clearly identifiable then they achieve their purpose. It is the underlying motif that is prized; the visible demonstration of allegiance.
When items change hands, old symbols are rarely painted over, rather they are allowed to fade, so that they become part of the story of an item, a way to tell its worth. New symbols are usually painted over the top of old symbols on items like shields, but multiple symbols of allegiance on clothing and armour add to the worth of an item so they are kept provided the bearer can still advertise their identity and allegiance clearly with their own symbols.
Many Imperial Orcs have adopted the Imperial Horse as the unofficial symbol of their nation. They embellish personal equipment with the image and incorporate it into banners and other symbols. Most orcs belong to a legion and the Imperial Horse usually takes pride of place next to the legion symbol.
Literacy is considered a defining symbol of adulthood by Imperial Orcs; in some ways more important than the ability to fight. As slaves, orcs were unable to learn to read and write and many older orcs endured years of difficult lessons following their freedom – some still struggle to read or write well. Literacy has become a prized skill by Imperial Orcs, symbolic of the freedom they fought to achieve and children raised by Imperial Orcs have its value drilled in to them from an early age. Imperial Orcs assume that any orc can fight by the time they reach adulthood, but they do not take literacy for granted.
The written word is regarded with some reverence by many orcs. While books are less interesting to them, the idea that you can record the words someone has said, and thereby immortalize what would otherwise be lost, has a mystical quality to many orcs. This ability to continue to inspire or advise generations after the individual speaker has died is seen as akin to the way an ancestor can inspire or advise after they are dead.
Most orcs enjoy fighting or watching others fight in much the same way a citizen of the Marches might enjoy a ball game. Consequently wherever Imperial Orcs are found there is likely to be a place set aside for pit fighting. This practice allows for weapon training and grudge settling in front of an appreciative audience, while on a practical level fighting allows orcs to deal with frustration or boredom while keeping a clear head at other times. Pit fights are never to the death; killing someone in a pit fight is as much murder as killing someone in the tavern.
Some orcs find the experience of pit-fights to be so powerful that they dedicate themselves to be coming professional pit fighters, drawn by the roar of the crowd, the challenge, or by the profound spiritual experience of unleashing the violence that thunders in the blood of all orcs.
Almost all Imperial Orcs wear wraps around their ankles, wrists and neck. When the first Orcs were freed from slavery the wraps were used to hide the scars caused by chains and manacles. Although there are few remaining Imperial Orcs who bear the scars of slavery, the wraps have became a mark of solidarity in the nation. Wearing them is seen as a acknowledgement of the past, recognizing the sacrifices made by your forebears.
Many orcs now use other garments to cover these areas, but almost all orcs cover them in some way. To leave the skin in these areas exposed is considered shameless by most Imperial Orcs - a taboo akin to public nudity - it is thought to show disdain for your parents and implies that the individual thinks they are better than older Imperial Orcs because they are not scarred. More than one young orc who thought to flaunt the custom has been taught the error of their ways in the pit.
When they were slaves the orcs became used to the idea of raising their children, only to lose contact with them when they came of age. Imperial slave owners regularly sold young orcs as soon as they became adults. As such, orc parents came to believe that they had to teach everything their child needed to know about the world before they reached maturity. Even after they liberated themselves, the orc parents continued this tradition of preparing them to make their own way in the world.
A young orc is unlikely to follow their parent into the "family business". They are even unlikely to join the same legion as their parents. They are much more likely to join another legion, encouraged by family and stranger alike to make their own way in the world. In doing so they keep the nation strong, but they also keep it connected and prevent it breaking up into tribes - siblings in two legions maintain a bond and recognise each other as kin. Having blood relatives in many different parts of the nation helps the orcs maintain a sense of that nation as being part of their family.
Outsiders imagine that orcs do not care much for their children but this is an entirely mistaken view. They send their children away because they value them, wanting them to grow up to be strong and independent adults capable of taking responsibility for themselves. Children are so precious to Imperial Orcs that they find the idea of orphans horrifying. As a result it is not uncommon for Imperial Orcs to adopt abandoned human orphans and raise them as their own children. Such individuals must join another nation when they come of age, but most remain firm allies of the Imperial Orcs for the rest of their life.
Imperial Orcs believe it is essential to stay together even in death. Every effort is made to ensure that the fallen are not left alone on the field of battle. Orcs bury their dead in mass graves and the fallen are carried in ceremony until they are joined by others or their bodies can be added to an existing grave.
When I am old, with skin of white / my children with me late at night / 'Tell us a tale' They'll beg of me / 'Tell us all in your memory'
I'll tell you of those fallen down, / the dead and dying on the ground / I'll tell the tales of their worth / Their bodies rotting in the earth
I'll sing the songs of legions strong / A wall of legionnairs, miles long / the ring of steel upon my shield / none of us would ever yield
My memories will keep me strong / when fighting days are far far gone / My face of joy when our first crop grows / and the time I broke that butchers nose
And when I pass, my last breath gone / I hear that chilling ancestor song / I hear their voice one last time / As over the abyss I must climb.