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The Philosophy of Ork Kulture

"Wow, I was expecting a diatribe about Sisters of Battle or all male Space Marines but this really made me think. Thanks." - First response to previous post.

This is progress!

I'm still holding fire on talking about the human element of 40K, and meandering through the xenos races. I think talking about Space Marines and Guard is simply a surface level analysis of the diversity and social politics present in the Grim Dark future.

Today the Orks are up for review, being the most universally loved faction in 40K, and perhaps the only alien race created to have 100% support and respect from a fan base. Okay, the table top rules for them fall in and out of favour like a yo-yo, but simply mentioning the green skins has people going WAAAGGHHH!!!

To put it in perspective, consider the Tolkein orcs and orcoids from Lord of the Rings. Whilst people generally respect the story of the franchise, no one has waxed lyrical on the orcs, despite them being the main antagonists in all of the stories. The stumbling block for them is that they represent a somewhat faceless evil. They are mere henchmen, despite having one of the most tragic origin stories ever attached to a bad-guy race. But their actions in the canon are very simple, lacking in nuance.

The same is not true of the 40K Orks, who ooze character and charisma. They have their villainous moments, but there's no malice behind it. They will butcher whole star systems, but are likeable at the same time. You will laugh at their economy, even though it is literally based on punching people in the mouth until their teeth fall out.

Orks are complex.

And as much as some would like to write them off as being green skinned, football hooligan alien monsters, there's a lot of the best humanity has to offer in them. They also have one of the most diverse ecological systems of all the races, with untold variations on the same species erupting from a single set of spores.

The Background

As a brief overview, the Orks may or may not have been creations of an older race called The Old Ones. They may or may not have been created as a literal wall of muscle to defeat the Necrons, the old ones mortal enemy at the time, but even then the lore gets muddy. We can't really tell when Ork history starts, because they don't have historians in the traditional sense.

In fact, they don't have anything in the traditional sense about them. Lore conflicts in this case, but everyone of their specialist orks (medics, engineers etc.) is termed an Oddboy. The orks hold that they were made by the Brain Boyz to do their job, and it can be assumed they have genetic imperatives to do the things they do.

They are also a fungal race, in that they reproduce by spores. Every time an ork recives a wound they release thousands of spores into the air. These spores will take root in whatever happens to be around, and grow into... well everything.

The orks are merely the loudest and most sentient product of the spores. They could grow into smaller orkoids called gretchin (or grots), as an analogue to goblins. The could grow into smaller things called snotlings. They could grow into animal-like beings called Squigs, which can be beasts of burden, pets or more often food.

They could even just grow into mushrooms, which orks eat, smoke, or brew into beer.

But what drives all of these various species is the ork thirst for battle. Everything in ork society is based on war. The boyz fight. The oddboyz help them fight. The grots do the schlepping of ammo and weapons. The snotlings carry the bits of weapons for the grots. The Squigs and mushrooms keep them sustained for fighting.

Why? Well, orks is just made for fightin'.

If anything, it's harder to talk about the many aspects of the orks than it is the Eldar. Orks simply are, and they just do the things they do.

Put simply, a Mekboy ork engineer will always try to make technology from the things around him. Put them in a forest and they'll make rudimentary siege weapons. Drop them in an Imperial industrial zone and they will make tanks. Drop them in an Eldar craftworld... well none have survived long enough to see the results, but they'd probably have some weird and wonderful psychic weaponry.

One of the most exciting parts of ork lore is that they tend to succeed because they think they can. A Painboy ork doctor knows his cybernetic brain will work, and therefore it does. A Mekboy knows the spinning copper balls produce lightning, so they will, even if the battery hasn't been connected yet. A weirdboy psyker is convinced that by beseeching the ork god Gork (or possible Mork), that the god's foot will literally come out of the clouds to stomp on the enemy.

The Facets of the Orks

It's worth talking about the clans of then orks, since they are very much the different aspects of the ork psyche.

The Goffs are the "standard" ork, at least as archetypes go. Moody and aggressive, they are all about close combat and hitting stuff. They like to style themselves as the biggest and the strongest. They are the toughest too... your quintessential foot solider clan. They wear black, because goth. The other orks think the

The Badmoons have lots of teeth, and grow them fastest. Because the ork economy is based on teeth, they are therefore the richest. They carry the best weapons, have the best armour, and wear the flashiest clothes (usually with a big loud yellow colour scheme). They're essentially the special weapon soldiers, and also the more piratically minded if Kaptin' Badrukk is anything to go by. Other clans consider the Badmoons to be all flash and no trousers, flamboyant and not necessarily effective.

The Snakebites are the staunch traditionalists, and in the old days used to ride boars. No really. There was also a cyber boar, but a Snakebit probably woundn't ride one. They eschew technology in favour of simpler, more natural methods. Being the hippy orks, they know best how to grow 'shrooms and squigs, and are most famed for their huge, titan sized squiggoths! They wear brown, but that might just be mud... Of course, the other clans make fun of them for being stupid and underdeveloped.

The Evil Sunz are the speed freaks, and they like to go fast. More bikes and trucks than anyone else, they are the outriders and petrol heads. They wear red, because the red ones go faster. That is a fundamental law of Physics. Trust me, I'm a Physics teacher. Other clans think them to be a bit nuts.

Deffskullz wear lucky blue, and they loot everything. Expert in scaveging battlefields, they are less the trashmen than the other clans look at them as, and more the producers of the ork society. They bring the raw materials to the oddboyz, whether it be bits of scrap metal, or scrapped land raider parts. Other clans consider them to be, well, scavengers and grubby.

The Blud Axez are the thinkers of ork society, in that they're not above sneaking up on an enemy before shouting and chopping their head off. They will infiltrate enemy positions, set off bombs, and have even been known to negotiate with humans. Many other clans consider them to not be orks. They wear purple, because that's a camouflage colour. Have you seen a purple ork? Exactly.

Each of these really represents different parts of an ork mind, and they will all display traits like the ones mentioned above to a greater or lesser degree. The thing is that they're not exactly alien to us. Goths represent our tendency towards stoic accomplishment of tasks, or using a brute force method. Badmoons are a mirror to how we throw resources at a problem, and how we flaunt our wealth. Snakebites are our tradiotnalist side, which years for a simpler life and less complicated solutions. The Evil Sunz show our thrill seeking nature, and desire to abandon thought for pure adrenaline. Deffskullz are our opportunism, and ingenuity in using resources around us. Even the Blud Axes reflect our own cunning, and ability to compromise societal ideals to achieve their goals... very cosmopolitan.

Ork Social Politics

The first thing to say about Ork culture is that it is intensely meritocratic.

The Boss's are at the top because they are the biggest. 'nuff said. The grots are at the bottom 'cos they iz tiny. These are phrases a typical ork might say, but it's not strictly true. Whilst in 40K they have not risen to the ranks of Champions of Gork (possibly Mork) yet, grots do have the capability of being leaders in ork society. We can see in Gorkamorka, a specialist game similar to an orky Mad Max Necromunda, the story of the Red Gobbo, and how they terrorised the central ork town.

In general, the most successful orks, i.e. those good at krumpin or hitting stuff, rise up through the ranks. A quirk of orkish biology means that the higher an ork is in societal rank the bigger and more muscly he gets. There were Horus Heresey era tales of orks the size of titans! But the initial step is them being a successful ork. If you're a good fighter, then you become bigger, and thus can be a better fighter.

Orks also have a peculiar economy that is both capitalist and planned. It's easy to see how it's capitalist, in that they use teef to buy and sell equipment. The more teef you have the better equipment you can get. The complication is that this is by design to assign specialist roles to different groups of orks. Bad Moons, for example, grow teef faster than other orks, meaning they can always get a hold of specialist weapons. There's an element of biological determinism in there, where certain orks who may be better at shooting have the means to purchase better guns... but then that genetic ability was programmed in by the ork's creators.

There's even an in-built quality check to this; other orks can just come up and sock them in the mouth to rob them of teef. This means that a weak ork, who wouldn't be much use in a fight, wouldn't be able to keep enough teef to buy the weapons, and put such specialist equipment in jepordy. By the same toke, more cunnin' orks would be able to mug other orks of teef more effectively, and whilst stronger orks simply over-power them.

Quite a display of a brutal meritocratic, and planned society!

By the same token, orks are strongly collectivist and individualist at the same time. Each ork is constantly jockeying to be the boss of a group, but at the same time will charge forward as a single entity. Mob Rule means that ork Leadership is based off the number of models in a mob, but a lot of the damage done by a unit will come from a power-klaw wielding Nob.

At the end of the day, ork society is a cohesive mess. At once chaotic and ordered. At once directionless and focused.


The WAAAAGGHHH!! as a concept is difficult to explain. On the surface it is just a massive campaign or movement of orks, an invasion force on the move. The reality for Orks is more than that.

It is a mechanism for expansion. Ork populations which grow large enough will eventually develop bigger and bigger bosses, to the point where a single gargantuan ork can unite enough of the disparate clans and warbands together to make space ships and launch into space. Again, a neat system for keeping your invading army large enough to have an impact, instead of being a scatter of smaller forces.

The infighting and jockeying for top positions before this happens is essentially a training season for the orks. So there is this practical aspect to the special nature of a WAAAGGHHH!!!.

The WAAAAGGHHH!!! is somewhat like a spiritual crusade. Whilst each ork is looking out for themselves, their mob mentality means that when it's time to go, everyone goes. The Meks build for the WAAAGGGHHH!!! The painboyz keep boyz in the fight. The weirdboyz do.. weird things. But everyone is focused on krumpin the enemy in front of them, or mobilising to the next spot.

It's the final culmination of all the facets of ork culture, every disparate part working as a cohesive whole. Which would be beautiful, if it wasn't meant for total destruction...

What does this mean?

I have to admit, the orks are tricky in terms of what they say about us. You could argue that they are the perfect society, where individual freedom is celebrated as much as collectively working towards a goal.

Much like Thomas Moore's Utopia, we have a glimpse at a society that is both hugely attractive and yet repellent. We can marvel at the orks' simple joy in their lives, but we must face the reality of what they find joy in; brutal slaughter. We can see how, on some principles, this culture is possibly the most functional and successful in 40K. They may not have the cities or the Imperium or the art of the aeldari, but everyone knows how difficult it is to clear out an infestation of orks... and there's not a player who has a bad thing to say about them.

And frankly the orks are just happy. They're the only faction in 40K that doesn't have some kind of existential dread or fear of the future. As long as the next fight comes along, everything is good. Even an impending Tyranid invasion just means more fights, and there's even a story of an ork warband trapped in perpetual battle on a Khorne demon world. To a human such a fate of violent death without end would be terrifying... to an ork it's like nirvana!

They are relentlessly optimistic, as one of their oldest pieces of fluff states:

"Orks is never defeated in battle. If we win, we win. If we die, we die, so it don't count as defeat. And if we runz away, we can come back an' 'ave anuver go, see?"

But the critical flaw in all of this is that the orkish personality is engineered.

Whilst optimistic and happy in themselves, that is the product of their design. They were meant to revel in this destructive cycle, and meant to find joy in a future full of warfare. The problem is that orkish culture is stagnant. They have been living the same way since the War in the Heavens, before even the Eye of Terror was created.

So their future, whilst superb for each individual ork, is terrible as a species. Since they have been designed to a conclusion, and can match that well, they will never break beyond that inevitable conclusion. There will be no progress, and if they eventually conquer the galaxy all that will be left to them is to fight each other.

If you were looking for the grim dark in orks, beyond the savagery, there it is.

The orks are humanity's fun loving side, and optimism. But they are very much of the present, without thought to the future. Their future has been decided for them, by their creator. In short; they are children with big guns.

What this means in terms of social politics is the exploration of a planned and well ordered society. Whereas the function of it can be fantastic, it leads to the infantalisation of society's members, and stagnates progress in the long run.

In terms of diversity, it presents a somewhat uncomfortable mirror to racial grouping. Yes, there is a good deal of diversity in the ork culture, but each has an assigned role, possibly determined at birth. It also means, whilst no orkoid race is strictly better than the others, there is a clear group which holds the majority of pull in ork culture.

In terms of Feminism... well a female is designated as the organism which produces offspring (more or less). Since every ork gives off spores, they are in fact all girls. Who choose to identify as boys. Make of that what you will.

It's also worth keeping in mind that this is a very brief discussion of Ork Kulture, and with a good deal of conjecture and assumptions taken. If you disagree, please let me know. Despite a lifetime scouring codices and the internet for scraps of lore, I haven't read any of the Black Library novels, and will most likely have gotten something wrong. Give me a comment so I know what I missed.

My final caveat here is to remind everyone that people on the internet are usually wrong, particularly teachers who write blogs. Please add what you like to the discussion, and if you write eloquently enough, I may just quote you directly in the post.

If you'd like to see more, take a look at my Philosophy of the Aeldar.

Until next time!

Thanks for reading.

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