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Ancestral Voices

All orcs hear the voices of their ancestors. These voices are clearest and most powerful when an orc is in a heightened state of anger or fear, especially in combat. They are usually heard as a rumbling of many voices, where it is difficult to make our a specific meaning, but sometimes an orc hears an individual ancestor offering guidance. Typically an orc hears a specific ancestor if they are a direct descendant of them, knew them well when they were alive, or are a descendant of someone who knew them well. Thanks to the techniques brought to the Imperial Orcs by the Illarawm, however, this is no longer the only way an orc can become connected to an ancestor.

Liao and the Labyrinth

Imperial Orcs derive no benefit from taking liao and do not believe that they reincarnate. It is a key tenet of Imperial Orc belief that each orc has only one life, and that after they die there is no coming back.

Exactly what happens to the soul of an orc after death depends on how they have lived their lives. Most orcs believe they fall into the Howling Abyss that waits for them after death. The Howling Abyss tears their soul to pieces and casts those pieces into oblivion. Such orcs are utterly annihilated and gone forever. It is literally a fate worse than death.

Some humans claim that the lack of reincarnation is proof that orcs have no souls, but the Imperial Orcs believe that the souls of orcs are simply different to the spirits of humans. Experiments have shown that auras created with liao ceremonies still affect orcs as do ceremonies such as insight and testimony so the majority of synod members accept that orcs must have souls even if doubt remains over their ability to enter and pass through the Labyrinth of Ages.

The symbol is slightly contentious, and has not been adopted by all Imperial Orc preachers; it is one of many such symbols used by the Imperial Orcs, but it has received some official recognition by the Synod.
Symbol of the Howling Abyss, as chosen by the Imperial Orcs National Assembly
during the Winter Solstice 380YE.

The Howling Abyss

Most orcs believe that the greatest, the most powerful, the truly legendary orcs, those capable of inspiring a generation with their deeds, are able to cross over the Howling Abyss to the other side. What lies on this farthest shore is not known, for these ancestors never speak of it, but they are strong enough to pass back through the darkness. By doing so they are able to influence and guide their descendants, to speak to them, and to lead them through the Abyss after death - provided they are worthy.

Orcs who have powerful ancestors may receive help from them when they die. It is commonly believed that the ancestors come for those who have managed to achieve greatness, who strive and succeed against the odds, and help them cross the Howling Abyss. These orcs will return across the Howling Abyss many times, seeking to help their allies and offspring grow strong, but eventually they become too weak to make the journey and can no longer return. Only the most powerful ancestors, those capable of making the journey unaided are able to continue to aid their descendants forever more.

To become an ancestor, an orc must be carried within the proud hearts of their people. They must pour their tale into the soul of future generations and become a legend while still alive, respected and admired by their peers and offspring. It is not, however, one that is easily achieved. Each victory in battle, each notch on their blade and each new story to tell around the fire adds to their legacy, and the quest towards becoming an ancestor. Some Imperial Orcs seek triumph in battle in the name of the Empire, aiming to fell the mightiest foes while still living to fight another day. Others seek to remain in the hearts and memories of their people for their wisdom or cleverness, strengthening and nurturing their fellow orcs and building an enduring legacy for later generations.

The ancestors in play

How well your character can hear the ancestors is left almost entirely to the individual player's character and roleplaying. The usual time to hear the ancestors is when you're in a heightened state of anger or fear, especially in combat. You become aware of them around you; usually it's a rumbling of many voices where you can't make out the meaning, but sometimes you can hear an individual ancestor offering guidance. This is especially true if your character has a strong connection to one or more ancestors; it is easier to pick their voices out of the background din and they are more likely to have guidance to offer you.

It is extremely unlikely that a ref will ever inform you that an ancestor is talking to you - or what they are saying. What is important to bear in mind is that you aren't just making this up - orcs really do hear voices when they are agitated, and when they compare notes they often hear the same kinds of voices telling them the same kinds of things. The ancestors really do move orcs to acts of heroism and glory, or try to encourage them to stab an insolent Dawnish knight in the guts in the middle of a tense negotiation...


The Living Bridge

Orcs can always hear the voices of ancestors, but it can be a challenge to determine which ancestor they are hearing, or hear a specific ancestor consistenty. The Illarawm techniques help orcs focus on the ancestors they want to hear, and cut out the voices they find disagreeable. The process for connecting with a new ancestor is available to every sept - it doesn't need the direct assistance of an Illarawm although it might still make for interesting roleplaying to seek one out.

The ceremony of "the Living Bridge" begins with a period of meditation, calming the body and mind, and quieting the voices of the ancestors. When complete, the orc feels a profound sense of being alone, as the background rumble of the ancestors' voices is silenced. They then engage in a period of intense roleplaying with someone who has a connection to the ancestor they want to hear. This generally involves being told stories of the ancestor, having the sensation of hearing them describedm and handling items of worth connected to them. If everything is working well, the orc becomes more aware of that ancestral voice growing in the silence, like an itch at the back of their head. Completing the process involves getting into an emotional state amenable to hearing ancestors - either through violent physical action such as a battle in the fighting pit, or an intense physical interaction of some sort; performing ritual magic that resonates with the ancestor in question; or engaging in ecstatic dance, music, or another group activity. Potions from the Unshackled Gift or Infusions of Feathers sets that induce altered states of consciousness could also be used as part of this process.

Once the ceremony is complete, the orc may have gained a connection to a specific ancestor, and begin to hear their voice more clearly. They can pick it out of the background din when the ancestors are all speaking at once, and are more likely to receive guidance from it. Most orcs can only be "connected" to a small number of ancestors at a time - with the obvious exception being the shamans. There's some evidence that the fewer ancestors an orc is strongly connected to, the more clearly they hear them. Some septs such as the Illarawm encourage an orc to connect with only a single ancestor while others encourage orcs to seek out many voices the better to receive useful guidance.

Being able to connect to an ancestor is an integral part of being able to change which sept a character belongs to. The ceremony of connecting to the new ancestor is a great opportunity for roleplaying with existing members of the sept, to mark the beginning of a new chapter in the character's life.

This same process can be used to quiet an ancestral voice an orc no longer wants to listen to. In this case, they meditate to quiet their ancestors, and focus on cutting a connection to the specific ancestor they no longer want to hear. When they end the period of calm and open themselves up the ancestors again, the voice in question is usually absent or so quiet as to be inaudible.

Neither form of the Living Bridge is infallible; it is up to the roleplaying of the player as to how effective it is. For example, while an orc may in-character wish to silence a disruptive voice that urges them to hunt and kill humans, it's fine for the player to out-of-character decide that the Illarawm techniques are not effective at silencing that voice.

Things the ancestors say

The ancestors are only dimly aware of your character and what you are doing, so the guidance they offer is invariably quite general in nature. In battle, they may alert you to imminent danger with a shout of warning. It is very common for them to exhort you to action but the words they use are never specific. If they do use a name, it is as likely to be someone else's name as your own. Despite this the advice given is applicable to what you are doing, at least most of the time.

Although it may sometimes appear as if the ancestors are talking to you, they cannot hear your words. The ancestors are only dimly aware of you and your actions. Long experience has taught the orcs that the ancestors cannot hear you speak and cannot hold a conversation with you; they have a message to deliver, and they deliver it.

When your grandad urges you to charge the enemy, and you do, there might be a few parting words of approval; if you decline to follow his advice, there may be a feeling of anger and some shouted abuse, but grandad does not enter into a dialogue about why he wants you to charge the enemy or what alternative courses of action might be equally good.

Ancestors and hero points

Orcs often hear the words of their ancestors most clearly in battle when they are roused to fury, or any time when their blood is pumping and their heart beating fast. When an Imperial Orc spends a hero point, they are much more likely to hear the voice of an ancestor. You may want to roleplay that an ancestor is guiding your hand when you use cleaving strike for example, or that it is the voice of an ancestor shouting at you that gives you the strength to get back on your feet when you are down. It is especially appropriate to roleplay hearing an ancestor when you use a hero point to change your response to a roleplaying effect - the urging of an ancestor lets you act in a way counter to that which the external influence is causing.


Most orcs only experience communion with the ancestors when battle is upon them but a few individuals - called shamans - are able to hear the voices more frequently. Shamans occupy a unique position in Imperial Orc society, as a result, but many are moon-struck, their minds affected by the constant attempts by the ancestors to communicate with them.


The Imperial Virtues are clearly a part of what makes the Empire what it is. As a result most Imperial Orcs at least pay them lip service and there is a drive amongst some orcs to embody the virtues as keenly as possible, to prove themselves the equal of any human citizen of the Empire. Those Imperial Orcs who embrace the Way and become priests are called Preachers.

Two such preachers, Bonewall Rek and Bonewall Cole - presented and secured a significant change of doctrine during the Symposium of Revelation of Winter 380YE. These changes incorporated the Doctrine of the Howling Abyss and the Doctrine of the Ancestors into the Doctrines of the Faith.

The Imperial Orc National Assembly

Originally, the orcs did not have their own national assembly within the Imperial Synod. During the Winter summit of 377YE, a motion to create such an assembly was brought before the Imperial Senate by the Conscience of the Senate - the Imperial orc Skywise Gralka. The motion passed with unanimous support, and an Imperial Orc assembly was established.

Membership of the Virtue Assemblies

During the Spring Equinox 383YE the Imperial Senate voted to change how membership of the Virtue assemblies was determined. This represents one of the most significant changes to the way the Synod operates since the reign of Empress Varkula. The change was proposed initially as a way to allow the priests of the Imperial Orcs to more fully participate in the Imperial Synod, by moving membership of the Virtue assemblies away from dedication and toward the virtues a priest actually preached.

Further Reading

Core Brief

Additional Information