Orc, Subterranean

Since getting back into AD&D I periodically search the web for new ideas. A while back I spotted the Black Orc on Dungeon Delver’s site. Thought it was a great variation and immediately added it to my campaign!

More recently I started rewriting home-built monsters in a write-up style similar to that used by more recent editions of D&D — while I don’t care for the newer games that doesn’t mean they don’t have some good ideas. <G> The version that follows expands upon the original description, adding more depth in the form of society and ecology. If you want to read the original version click here to navigate to the Dungeon Delver’s site.

Orc, Subterranean

Frequency very rare
No. Appearing 1d10 or 10d10 or 100d10
Armor Class 1
Move 120′
Hit Dice 4+4
% in Lair 15%
No. of Attacks 2
Damage/Attack by weapon +3
Special Attacks surprise
Special Defenses difficult to surprise
Magic Resistance 25%
Intelligence Average to Very
Alignment Lawful Evil
Size L (7′ tall)
Treasure A, C


An underground dwelling off-shoot of the more common surface dwelling orcs, Subterranean Orcs present an imposing appearance. Standing 7′ tall, they tower over their smaller brethren, approaching nearly the height of ogres. They typically wear well-padded black chain armor and carry small bucklers, arming themselves with heavy scimitars or heavy battleaxes (both inflict 1d4+1d6 points damage per hit, plus strength bonus).

Subterranean Orcs are sometimes called “Black Orcs”, not only due to their fierce treatment of their enemies (which includes everything that isn’t another Subterranean Orc, and a fair amount who are!), but due to their skin coloration. While their natural skin color is pale, similar to many subterranean creatures, starting in childhood these goblinoids practice the tattooing of black ink onto their entire body. By the time they reach adulthood their entire bodies are tattooed black.


Normal Subterranean Orcs have an equivalent strength of 18/01, thus are able to do extra damage by weapon type. They prefer a heavy scimitar or battleaxe, and eschew spears, bows, and most other distance weapons.

While they pride themselves on personal fighting ability, the Subterranean Orcs fight in an organized manner. Their training includes not only individual combat, but group combat and the concept of multiple attackers on a single opponent. Their society praises winners and buries losers. Given that many of their enemies are magic or psionics using, good tactics and strategies are part of winning.

Their chainmail armor is well padded for silence, given that they live in an environment where sounds carry far through silent caverns. As such they surprise non-subterranean dwellers 3 in 6 and are themselves surprised only 1 in 8 by such visitors who are attempting silence. When dealing with subterranean races Subterranean Orcs surprise 2 in 6 and are surprised 1 in 6. They have 9″ infravision and can more readily spot light sources at long distances.

Over the centuries, they have warred with various “deep” races such as Beholders, Mind Flayers, and Black Elves. They have by necessity developed a degree of resistance to magic. Subterranean Orcs are very aware of spell casters, magic device users, and psionic creatures. Their one concession to distance weapons is against magic/psionics using creatures, upon whom they will use their ability to throw daggers for 2-5 points of damage within 6″.


Of the humanoid races and their various offshoots, the most mysterious and feared is the Subterranean Orc (also known as Deep Orcs or Iron Orcs). What is known about them, through communication with their more common cousins, is that the Subterranean Orcs were the legendary offspring of a tribe of Orcs which in ages past engaged in a civil war with all of the other Orc tribes. Unsuccessful at imposing their will upon their fellows, they fled deep within the earth, presumably never to be heard from again. It is surmised that there they grew strong and even more hateful, learning to forge steel (or perhaps stealing the secret from Deep Gnomes who learned it from Dwarves), and grew stronger and created an almost completely militaristic society, bent on returning to the surface and wiping out not only what they view as their “weaker” brethren, but all humanoid races and (eventually) conquering human society as well.

The society of the Subterranean Orcs demands strength and unwavering obedience from its members. Thus, all Subterranean Orcs will have at least 5 hit points per die. Only the strongest and toughest are allowed to live; any perceived as “weak” are forced into gladiatorial combat and either toughen up or are slain.

When encountered, there is a chance (35%) that they will be returning from a raiding party and have captured some of their weaker brethren or other creatures to use as slaves. If this is the case they will have 1-10 Orcs (85%) or other humanoid creatures (15%) with them, although they are usually bound and severely beaten so as to be little use to their potential “liberators”.

For every 10 Subterranean Orcs encountered, one “Sergeant” with 5+5 HD, and an equivalent 18/26 Strength will be present. Larger groups will be led by “Captains,” one per 30 Subterranean Orcs, with 7+7 HD and an equivalent 18/51 Strength. This fiend will be in turn attended by at least one Sergeant and two Bodyguards (6+6 HD), who will have the maximum amount of hit points.

War bands over 100 members will be led by a sub-chief of 9+9HD and 18/76 equivalent Strength. Three Captains will be present and accompanied as above. Clan chieftains would be 11+11 HD, minimum of 7 hp per die, and have 18/00 strength. Their bodyguard consists of two Captains and a Sergeant.

Their home caverns will house tribes consisting of between 100 and 1,000 male members, with 150% that number of adult females and 200% that number of children. While females are normally not encountered outside the home caverns, they too can fight as 3+3, 4+4, 5+5, or 6+6 HD monsters with damage according to weapon type +1. The smallest children are non-combatants, but half grown children will fight as 1+1, 2+2, or 3+3 HD monsters with damage according to weapon type.

While Subterranean Orcs cannot be magic users, clerics form an influential part of their society. In some tribes they assist the military leadership; in others they are the military leadership!

Clerics of any species typically represent the best of the species — Subterranean Orc clerics are no exception. Their clerics must be strong, powerful fighters in personal combat so they can be the best spiritual leaders. As such the clerics are typically physically stronger and better able to survive combat their their peers. The follow table displays the minimum attributes for clerics.

Cleric Level Hit Dice One Cleric for Every ? Adult Male Minimum Strength Minimum HP per Die
1 5+5 10 18/51 5
2 6+6 25 18/51 6
3 7+7 50 18/76 6
4 8+8 100 18/76 6
5 9+9 250 18/91 7
6 10+10 500 18/91 7
7 11+11 750 18/00 7


Subterranean Orcs are omnivorous, but tend to eat more meat when available. While Subterranean Orcs will hunt they typically use slave labor to grow and harvest. Farming is not a fit occupation for soldiers, although minor crimes may be punished by sentencing the guilty to a period of farming, a form of public humiliation.

Fungus and Underdark growing plants form a large part of their diet. For meat they will normally hunt and eat any edible creatures, although animal husbandry is generally not practiced. Their home caverns will be surrounded on all sides by farm caverns, simultaneously keeping their food supply close, creating a buffer between their home caverns and the outside world, and putting the slaves as the first line of warning of attacks.


No Subterranean Orc crossbreeds exist; their society views crossbreeds as an abomination against their gods so they slay any at birth. More powerful members of the tribe are described above.

Level/XP Value

I use the 5% Rule Tables published by Len Lakofka in Dragon Magazine. The following provides XP values for both the AD&D and 5% Rule.

The common orcs have 3 Special Abilities (surprise, difficult to surprise, more damage due to strength), and 1 Exceptional Abilities (magic resistance).

Clerics add 1 Exceptional Ability (spell use).

Hit Dice AD&D 5% Rule
4+4 HD 245 + 5 xp/hp 500 + 6 xp/hp
5+5 HD 425 + 6 xp/hp 775 + 8 xp/hp
6+6 HD 500 + 8 xp/hp 1,175 + 10 xp/hp
7+7 HD 775 + 10 xp/hp 1,900 + 12 xp/hp
8+8 HD 1,900 + 12 xp/hp 2,850 + 14 xp/hp
9+9 HD 2,850 + 14 xp/hp 3,550 + 15 xp/hp
10+10 HD 2,850 + 14 xp/hp 4,250 + 16 xp/hp
11+11 HD 4,250 + 16 xp/hp 5,050 + 17 xp/hp
5+5 HD 625 + 6 xp/hp 950 + 8 xp/hp
6+6 HD 950 + 8 xp/hp 1,450 + 10 xp/hp
7+7 HD 1,450 + 10 xp/hp 2,300 + 12 xp/hp
8+8 HD 2,300 + 12 xp/hp 3,450 + 14 xp/hp
9+9 HD 3,450 + 14 xp/hp 4,275 + 15 xp/hp
10+10 HD 3,450 + 14 xp/hp 5,100 + 16 xp/hp
11+11 HD 5,100 + 16 xp/hp 6,075 + 17 xp/hp

Concept, original statistics, and original description copyright Bill Silvey

Expanded description copyright 2007 Bryan Fazekas

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