This article is a review of the information as presented within the following TSR (Now Wizards of the Coast) publications: Best of Dragon #3 (Articles by Roger Moore -- originally published in Dragon Magazine #62), Unearthed Arcana (1st Edition), Deities and Demi-Gods (1st Edition), Monster Mythology (2nd Edition), Deites and Demigods (3rd Edition), Forgotten Realms Faith and Pantheons (3rd Edition).
Dragon Magazine #62 contains the orc pantheon as it was first detailed by Roger Moore, (June 1982), and later republished in Best of Dragon #3. This work was later adopted by Unearthed Arcana. Moore also well describes the general orc culture and beliefs in good detail in these articles.
Within Unearthed Arcana, it is mentioned that there are many gods of orcs. The five gods they detailed, (Bahgtru, Ilneval, Luthic, Shargaas and Yurtrus), plus Gruumsh are the most powerful orc gods. These gods are later given further description in Monster Mythology and an Orc Hero, Gerdreg, is also added and essentially given demi-god status.
The Monstrous Mythology also refers to orcs as being a member of the goblinoid races. This has become a contentious issue in much D&D fiction around orcs as some publications counter the idea the orcs are goblinoids. One factor that might lend weight to the argument for supporting that orcs are not goblinoids, is that orcs are capable of breeding with humans. Goblinoids are not able to do this.
When running or designing an orc campaign, thought should probably be put into the origins of the orcs. Tolkien even indicated that orcs were 'created' from elves. Although the exact nature of the orcs' origin may have little bearing in the mechanics of the campaign, when dealing with strong religious beliefs, it is likely the orc shamans and other wise orcs would care greatly about this.
The advocates of the orcish gods are, 'shamans'. Much like North American Indian shaman, the orc shaman are given great respect by all orcs. The shaman are great lore collectors, and are often eager to relay a story. These tales shed light on why things are as they are in the world. Most orc stories that shamans tell, usually involve a great battle. In Monster Mythology it also suggests that shamans are only male, except priests of Luthic who are both male and female.
Orc lore tells of great eternal battles within the plains of the Nine Hells, between orcs and goblins. Goblin spirits led by the goblin deity, Maglubiyet, engage the forces of orc spirits led by Gruumsh. After a battle has been completed, the slain spirits are raised to fight again. Countless thousands of spirits and hundreds of years are often loss in battling over minute advances, such as taking over a hill. The Deities and Demi-Gods has a slightly different version, in that it indicates the orcs eventually always win the battles, however the goblin spirits always re-form to start the battle again.
The gods of the orcs spend most of their times in the Hells, and are closely monitored by Gruumsh. Although there are times that the orc gods may battle between themselves, none ever dare to battle Gruumsh.
Orc tribes usually associate themselves with one of the orc gods. The tribe's standard will usually incorporate or consist solely of the god's symbol. The tribe name is often linked (closely or loosely) to the god's sphere of control. (i.e. God: Gruumsh - Tribe: Evil Eye, God: Shargaas - Tribe: Death Moon, God: Bahgtru - Tribe: Broken Bone ). The gods often encourage battle between tribes, believing that it helps to weed out the weak.
One of the tales told by shamans is how the orcs came into the world, and tells of a time when orcs will rule all. The following quotation is taken from the text within Unearthed Arcana, published by TSR/WotC, and written by gaming legend, Gary Gygax:
In the beginning all the gods met and drew lots for the parts of the world in which their representative races would dwell. The human gods drew the lot that allowed humans to dwell where they pleased, in any environment. The elven gods drew the green forests, the dwarven deities drew the high mountains, the gnomish gods the rocky, sunlit hills, and the halfling gods picked the lot that gave them the fields and meadows. Then the assembled gods turned to the orcish gods and laughed loud and long. "All the lots are taken!" they said tauntingly. "Where will your people dwell, One-Eye? There is no place left!"
There was silence upon the world then, as Gruumsh One-Eye lifted his great iron spear and stretched it over the world. The shaft blotted the sun over a great part of the lands as he spoke: "No! You Lie! You have rigged the drawing of the lots, hoping to cheat me and my followers. But One-Eye never sleeps. One-Eye sees all. there is a place for orcs to dwell... here!", he bellowed, and his spear pierced the mountains, opening a mighty rift and chasms. "And here!", and the spearhead split the hills and made them shake and covered them in dust. "And here!", and the black spear gouged the meadows and made them bare.
"There!" roared He-Who-Watches triumphantly, and his voice carried to the ends of the world. "There is where the orcs shall dwell! There they will survive, and multiply, and grow stronger, and a day will come when they cover the world, and they will slay all of your collective peoples! Orcs shall inherit the world you sought to cheat me of!"
Gruumsh. One-Eye. He-Who-Watches. He-Who-Never-Sleeps. Gruumsh is the head of the pantheon of orcs. No other orcish god would dare to challenge him. Legends tell of one or two that tried, and were utterly destroyed by Gruumsh. Gruumsh is a god of war first and foremost. He is brutal and fearsome. Gruumsh constantly seeks to expand the orcs territory until the day they control all the land. Even though most of Gruumsh's time is spent in the Nine Hells commanding his spirit orc troops against the goblins, it is said that he is watching each and every orc and judges his worth.
Although this orcish god is known mainly as "Gruumsh", two other spellings have surfaced in reference to his name. "Gruumsch", is the most common "misspelling" of his name. Although no official publications have been found using this spelling, the "Planes of Law", Ral Partha, boxed miniatures displays "Gruumsch" in reference to the orc deity. Another misspelling that has surfaced is "Gruumash" -- its source has been undetermined and its frequency of use is quite low.
Since Gruumsh was first described in the Deities and Demi-Gods, there have been two major changes in the original fiction regarding Gruumsh's one eye and his battles with the greater, elven god, Corellon Larethian. The Deities and Demi-Gods simply indicates that Gruumsh has one eye in the center of his forehead. There is no indication that he ever had a second eye, or that he was ever in a battle with Corellon. Unearthed Arcana then expands upon this and indicates that Gruumsh and Corellon had a battle where Corellon tried to shoot out Gruumsh's eye with his bow. It is indicated that because of this battle, all orcs and followers of Gruumsh hate elves. (The fact that Gruumsh started the battle by trying to paralyze Corellon with his spear, is not considered an important factor).
The Monster Mythology then expands on this story of Gruumsh's one eye further by suggesting that he "may" have lost it in a lost battle to Corellon. This is the first mention that Gruumsh lost a battle with Corellon. This could simply be false elven propaganda? The Monster Mythology indicates that the orc religion denies the fact that Gruumsh lost an eye to Corellon. As Gruumsh's eye seems to have always been in the center of his forehead, even before any conflicts with Corellon, this again seems to support false elven lore.
The Third Edition, Dungeons and Dragons Player's Handbook, further warps this mis-told elven tale by outright indicating that Corellon put out Gruumsh's left eye in a fight. Perhaps this was confused with the shamanistic ritual where prospective shamans remove their left eye? The Third Edition Deties and Demigods guidebook acknowledes that Corellon put out Gruumsh's eye in an ancient battle, but it also indicates that some orc clerics believe that Corellon "stole" Gruumsh's eye because he could not beat Gruumsh in a fair fight. The Third Edition, Forgotten Realms Faith and Pantheon's guidebook also makes mention that Gruumsh lost his eye in battle to Corellon, but it also indicates that the orcs believe that Gruumsh always has had one eye. (A picture of all the orc gods is present in this guidebook and shows Gruumsh missing his left eye).
Roger Moore's article in Dragon Magazine #62, "HALF-ORCS", probably clarifies the encounter between Gruumsh and Corellon in the most acurate of detail and well debunks the myth of Gruumsh ever having two-eyes or having lost one in battle to Corellon. The following is quoted from Moore's article:
Orcish mythology has several tales of battles between elven and orcish deities. The most famous one occurs between Gruumsh and Corellon Larethian, the chief elven deity. The story goes like this, according to the orcs:
Gruumsh constantly pushes his orcs to conquer new land, and does not believe in peace. It is said that there is no word in orcish for "peace". The weak and seriously injured have no use for Gruumsh, and he encourages his orcs to weed them out. Gruumsh also sees females as the weaker of the sex, and accordingly feels they are really only fit for breeding and preparing meals.
Gruumsh ambushes Corellon in hopes of slaying him and drinking his blood, so as to inherit his special powers; Gruumsh fails, of course, through his own short-sightedness, and Corellon shoots an arrow at Gruumsh's eye.
Though the arrow failed to blind Gruumsh, apparently it was not intended to. Elven stories of the same event (much briefer than the tedious orc versions) say that Corellon meant the arrow as a warning to Gruumsh of his vulnerability -- a hint that it would only take the loss of his eye to break Gruumsh's power as a god, and that some being might be capable of bringing this about if he were not more careful. Though Gruumsh rails and curses the elven gods in many later stories, he never again tries to directly assault them, and spends his fury on mortal elves instead. Obviously, he took the hint.
Legends tell of Gruumsh or his avatar as appearing in gleaming black full plate, and wielding a great iron spear in one hand and a flaming torch in the other. Gruumsh's spear carries a powerful ability to paralyze its target, and the torch's flame can never be dimmed. Other abilities of these items are also rumored but largely unknown.
As mentioned earlier, any orc aspiring to be a shaman for Gruumsh must pluck out their left eye. The worship and rituals of Gruumsh requires great quantities of blood. This blood is typically of demi-human or human origin, with a preference for elven blood. Fifty percent of all of Gruumsh's priests are Shamans or Witchdoctors. Only large orc clans have specialty priests of Gruumsh. Priests of Gruumsh always strive to maintain optimum physical fitness and constantly recite and teach of Gruumsh's ideals through inspiration, fear and iron rule.
The following sections detail Gruumsh, his Avatar and his followers as indicated in each edition of the D&D product. This is intended to give some good general background information on the god, and is not intended to give actual ability or combat statistics of the god as that is not the scope of this article.
Gruumsh - 1st Edition
In the first edition of D&D, Gods appeared as themselves. Should they ever be concerned about being defeated, they would simply teleport away. The following list provides the various statistics on Gruumsh and his worshippers:
Alignment: lawful evil
Worshippers Alignment: lawful evil (orcs)
Symbol: unwinking eye
Plane: Nine Hells
Sphere of Control: orcs
Sacred Animal: giant rat
Clerical Vestments: war helm, black plate mail
Colors: dark red
Holy Days: new moon
Sacrifice Frequency: monthly
Sacrifice Form: blood
Place of Worship: lairs
Gruumsh's Iron Spear: +5 spear, damage 3-30 (+5), save at -4 or be paralyzed.
Gruumsh's Burning Torch: no magical abilities indicated.
Gruumsh - 2nd Edition
Second Edition introduced the concept of Avatars. These are manifestations of the god, but not the god in its true form. Should a Avatar ever be destroyed it only takes a god one day to make a new one. Gruumsh's avatar appears as a huge battle-scarred orc with one eye in the middle of his forehead, wearing black full plate. Gruumsh's priests are clerics. Shamans and Witchdoctors are wizards, and have limited powers. The following reveals information on Gruumsh and his followers:
Alignment: lawful evil
Worshippers Alignment: lawful evil (orcs)
Area of Control: war, territory
Symbol: single unwinking eye
Omens: sudden snapping sound of a young shaman's neck, or a cloud of drifting toxic black smoke.
Gruumsh's Iron Spear: +4 spear, damage 2d8 (+4), save at -4 versus paralysis or be paralyzed for 2d4 turns.
Gruumsh's Burning Torch: everburning torch can not be dimmed. 3d6 damage. Can cast cloud kill 3/day and death fog 3/day.
Worshippers - Priests (Clerics)
Alignment: lawful evil
Weapons Allowed: any (spear must be primary)
Armor Allowed: any
Spheres: all, combat, divination, elemental (earth, fire), healing, law, necromantic, protection, summoning, sun (reverse), war, wards.
Powers: Level 1: +1 hit versus elves, Level 3: can cast aid on self, Level 6: heal self for 1d8 hit points for every sentient creature killed in the last 24 hours, Level 8: can enchant a spear to do double damage which lasts 2 rounds per level. Turns undead at -2 levels.
Ability Requirement: Strength 15
Level Limit: 9
Hit Die: d8
Worshippers - Shamans or Witchdoctors (Wizards)
Alignment: any evil
Weapons Allowed: any (spear must be primary)
Armor Allowed: any
Spells: Witchdoctors can only cast reversed forms of spells where appropriate.
Ability Requirement: Strength 13
Level Limit: 5
Hit Die: d4+1
Gruumsh - 3rd Edition
All Third Edition guidebooks containing information on Gruumsh now indicate his alignment as Chaotic evil, (which does seem to be a better fit for this god).
Type: Greater Deity
Known as: God of Orcs, He-Who-Never-Sleeps
Symbol: Empty eyesocket
Alignment: Chaotic evil
Home Plane Archeron
Domains: Chaos, Evil, Strength, War
Portfolio: Orcs, war, territory
Typical Worshippers: Orcs, half-orcs
Cleric Alignments: CE, CN, NE
Favored Weapon: Spear
The Third Edition, Forgotten Realms Faiths and Pantheons information on Gruumsh differs in a few areas:
Known as:He-Who-Never-Sleeps, the One-Eyed God, He Who Watches
Symbol: Unwinking eye
Home Plane Nishrek
Domains: Cavern, Chaos, Evil, Hatred, Orc, Strength, War
Portfolio: Orcs, conquest, survival, strength, territory
Typical Worshippers: Fighters, orcs
Favored Weapon: "The Bloodspear" [longspear], (longspear or shortspear)
Detailed statistics on Gruumsh and his Avatars appear in the Third Edition, Deities and Demigods guidebook.