So after a while sitting on this and letting ideas do their distillation, it's time to give this a shot.
Far to the east under the great mountains, those ramparts raised against heaven like the Kush or the Himalayas, great cities of orcs have been carved through the hearts of the hills. These are no simple orc-holes, but full cities, vaster than even the greatest of dwarf-holds, cruder in craft, but sublime, perhaps, for the brute functionality of their forms. The orcs that built these cities are the High Orcs--civilized and even Lawful of alignment--and they maintain empires of tribute from the seats of their power, demanding goods, wealth, and slaves from their subjects in return for the lawful protection of the orc Sârs and their armies.
Slaves? Of course--these orcs may be civilized and Lawful, but many Lawful human societies maintain slaves, including of course the Roman and Persian empires. And these are the best analogs to consider when thinking about the orc empires, especially Rome because the orcs can furnish armies of orcs (attended by multi-national/racial auxiliaries) with the same war-furor as the Romans, using similar legal systems to ensure/enforce conscription of orc-citizens.
Even High Orcs, being orcs, hate the sun and fight at -1 "to hit" beneath its relentless light, so one might well wonder how an orc empire can exert its power over a surface realm of subject-kingdoms. First, and more simply, the multi-national face of their empire, in which the High Orcs can conscript legions of men or hordes of gnolls to fight their wars, or hire mercenary companies of dwarf halberdiers and halfling slingers. Secondly, perhaps more importantly, the High Orcs are excellent miners and machinists, and this makes them unstoppable siege engineers. Not only do High Orcs have an affinity for machines--crossbows, ballistae, catapults, trebuchets, etc.--which allows them to construct city-destroyers (helepolises); but being superb miners, it is a simple task for a team of orc sappers to dig mines beneath the walls of a city, fire them, and thus collapse the walls, allowing their armies to easily storm the city.
But how did an entire empire of orcs turn to Law, when almost all their brethren of raiding warbands are Chaotic of alignment? (forget about the 2E Monstrous Manual entry for "Orcs" unless you want to read Lawful Evil orcs as High Orcs ...)
The civilization of the High Orcs and their empire is obsessed with the power of Law which they saw in human societies ... Whereas most orcs, confronted with the demand to give up some portion of their wealth, would say, "Come and get it!" so that only the strongest orc could take his fellows' gold, and then only as long as he maintains a coalition of support within the tribe/warband ... the first High Orcs became enamored of Law when they witnessed a human tax-farmer demand gold from a human community subject to the King-of-Kings--and when the tax-farmer produced a sign of the King, the community, without a struggle, offered up tribute which was then taken back to the court of the King!
What wondrous power this Law must have!--and so a number of orcs from an entrepreneurial tribe were sent to the court of the King as "hostages" to learn the ways and means of human Law, and then brought back rituals and philosophies with which to enforce Law upon their fellows. A great war among orcs followed between the Lawful and Chaotic tribes, in which the Lawful tribes managed to drive out the Chaotics and to establish their own empire within the mountain caves, and thus was the beginning of the empire of the High Orcs.
--Chaotic orcs, of course, remember this ancient war, and hate the High Orcs as traitors, hating them more fiercely, perhaps, than even their hatred of Elves or dwarves ...--
That's the backstory, so what about the class?
The HIGH ORC
Strength is the prime requisite of the High Orc, with a 13+ STR earning 5% extra experience, and a 16+ STR earning 10% more experience (non-cumulatively). High Orcs should be of Lawful alignment, and may not be of Arcane or Natural alignment ("should" means that High Orcs can be of other alignments, but that they won't gain their full class abilities otherwise). (and this intending my alignment rules)
Level 1 -- Foulspawn -- 1d6 HD -- 0 XP
Level 2 -- Gargun -- 2d6 HD -- 2200 XP
Level 3 -- Orc -- 3d6 HD -- 4400 XP
Level 4 -- Uruk -- 4d6 HD -- 8800 XP
Level 5 -- Orog -- 5d6 HD -- 17,000 XP
Level 6 -- Olog-Hai -- 6d6 HD -- 35,000 XP
Level 7 -- Satrap -- 7d6 HD -- 70,000 XP
Level 8 -- Warlord -- 8d6 HD -- 140,000 XP
Level 9 -- Sâr -- 9d6 HD -- 270,000 XP
Level 10-- 10th Level Sâr -- 9d6 +2 hp -- 400,000 XP
Level 11-- 11th Level Sâr -- 9d6 +4 hp -- 530,000 XP
Level 12-- 12th Level Sâr -- 9d6 +6 hp -- 660,000 XP
High Orcs may advance no higher than 12th level.
High Orcs fight and save as fighters of the same level. They may use any weapon, armor, or shield, and any magic items that fighters may use.
Moreover, High Orcs, given their affinity for machinery, receive a +1 "to hit" with crossbows (and guns, if your game includes them), as well as a +1 "to hit" or otherwise operate any type of siege engine. AND, presented with any kind of machinery, High Orcs may tinker with it to fix what's broken, to break what works, or to change its function in reasonable ways. This tinkering takes 1 ten-minute turn at minimum, but likely more depending on the complexity of the machine, or the extent of the tinkering.
As orcs, High Orcs have infravision out to 90 feet underground; but in direct sunlight, they suffer a -1 penalty to all "to hit" rolls, and to any kind of save against fear effects. Also, given their expertise in mining and tunneling, High Orcs have abilities equivalent to dwarves to detect sloping passages, new construction, etc.
Finally, Lawful High Orcs are initiated into the mysteries of Law, and through those mysteries learn how to command their lesser brethren with special signs, words of power, lawful formulae, and other such esoteric rituals. It is by these formulae that the High Orcs subject various other tribes of orcs, goblins, gnolls, etc. to accede to their imperium, to join their legions as auxiliaries, and to offer them tribute ...
A High Orc, presenting a Lawful symbol and uttering a Lawful formula, may compel one HD of "giant" class creatures per his level per day (e.g. 3 HD at level 3; which could be 3 orcs in one room, or 2 in the first room and a hobgoblin in the next, etc.) to do his bidding, per a command spell (save at -2), per a charm spell, or per a suggestion spell (save at +2).
"Giant" class creatures are per 1E AD&D rangers, so bugbears, ettins, giants, gnolls, goblins, hobgoblins, kobolds, ogres, ogre-magi, orcs, and trolls--plus or minus whatever seems appropriate to the referee
At Name Level, i.e. 9th or Sâr, a High Orc may establish a stronghold and begin to carve out his own domain of Lawful orcs. When he establishes his stronghold, he attracts a body of 10-60 orcs who will fight for him and serve him, enamored of his wealth. These orcs will likely require slaves, wealth, and constant reminders of the power of Law to remain loyal; otherwise, they might seek the aid of the nearest Chaotic orc warband to overthrow their Sâr and take his wealth for themselves ...
Just a last thought--I know representations of orcs have grown to bizarre proportions (literally) in recent years, with orcs becoming giant greenskinned berserks half again the height of a man ... but my own understanding of orcs is that they're weak, crooked folk, going about with bandied legs and awkwardly long arms. Stooped at the shoulders, an orc's head should be no higher than an average man's breast--and as for High Orcs, who stand up just a little straighter than their crooked Chaotic brethren, even they do not raise their faces higher than a man's shoulder, on average.
For all the faults I may find with the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings movies, the Mordor orcs were always a redeeming factor--they're almost exactly the way I picture orcs, with grey skin and stooping gaits. I don't give a damn about his Uruk-Hai, but the Mordor orcs in The Two Towers were spot on.
|By the Lawful power of the Red Eye, I conjure thee|
not to touch the halflings!