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Trolls, Goblins, and orcs

In my novel i would like to have a bumbling race of bad guys, but i haven't read very much about trolls, goblins, and orcs. I've read and seen lord of the rings, but that about it.
Do you guys have any thoughts or ideas about how i should go about creating them? also, what stereotypes are there for each of the races mentioned above?
In many RPG franchises, Orcs and Goblins are part of the same category of creatures, usually called Goblinoids. However, that's not a rule that's set in stone. Typically, they're depicted as having low intelligence, being very savage, dwelling in deep, dark forests or underground. Other times, they may be more intelligent but still of a barbaric nature. Orcs are usually depicted as being larger than Goblins, sometimes being larger than Humans, while Goblins are often depicted as being very small. In some franchises, I've seen Orcs being depicted as a more advanced stage of Goblin, with Goblins gradually morphing into Orcs the older and stronger they become.

Trolls are a bit different, since there's lots of different folklore about them. Sometimes, they're savage and brutish, other times, they're cunning and even manipulative. Sometimes, they're depicted as being bestial, other times, they're sapient rulers of underground kingdoms who demand tribute from other people. As for me, I'm making my Trolls the bestial variety. They're essentially like very large gorillas, though with more intelligence and the ability to make crude tools. But that's just my take.

Honestly, there have been so many franchises that have used these creatures as bumbling races of bad guys that you might end up turning off a large portion of your audience unless you give them a new twist. You might want to go with something less commonly used, like Gremlins. Granted, the term Gremlin mostly originated in aviation during WWII, but there's been only one film franchise I know of that used them as bad guys, so there's plenty of room for a new interpretation on them. Just a thought.

Insolent Lad

In many RPG franchises, Orcs and Goblins are part of the same category of creatures, usually called Goblinoids.
That pretty much comes right out of Tolkien who originally called them goblins in The Hobbit and then switched to the orc name in TLOTR. I personally avoid using orc, both because of its Tolkien associations and its (over)use in gaming. For my big goblin-esque race I prefer the term 'ogre.' (Ogre may or may not come from the same root word as Orc. There is disagreement on this.)

Troll originally, in Germanic/Norse tradition, was a very loose term that was more likely to refer to an evil sorcerer than a race of semi-human creatures. Anyone could be become a troll, either in this life or as an 'undead' being. Now, I guess it can be applied pretty much as one wishes—my trolls are smallish, for the most part.


For creation, I usually go about it in two ways, either building them up for lore or stories sake. If your taking the more story driven route, I would focus on creating them to help the story. In creating the "bumbling race of bad guys", I think you should think about their role as antagonists first. Are you looking for just a fodder type creature to serve some evil overlord or something, a nation of brute force bruisers, background peoples to help flesh out the world, or something else. For the route of lore, I'd look into building up reasons why they are bumbling and "evil", or maybe even casting off those chains for a bit of subversion.


Always a judgment call with creatures like these because, 1) Tolkien kind of invented Orcs. and while they seem in the public domain, they are kind of his, and 2) if I make something that walks and talks and looks like an Orc, why not just call it an Orc? In my own work, I went with a new race that is essentially Orcs, but later I came to regret it, and wish I had just used just different human tribe instead.

But sometimes, creatures like Orcs and goblins are just what is needed. Something who's allegiance to good and evil is not in question and can fill in for those scenes where something needs to be dangerous, but can be killed in droves.

If I had my druthers, I would prefer Orcs, if they are just essentially Orcs, or if they are not, some reason why they are different enough not to be Orcs. Goblins, Trolls, Ogres, and Giants all have a deep roots in what readers would expect from them, but also don't belong to anyone, so you can make them as you like.

The real question is, what is the story you want to write, and are these what is needed?
The primary greenskin trio. As everyone else has pointed out, they are the standard bugaboo and evil races. But trying to name them different is usually seen through pretty easily. And even the stereotypes vary, particularly depending on where they land. Orc's get more passes towards being good nowadays, trolls have been a variety and goblins are stereotyped as greedy a lot.

Orcs generally have a warrior or soldier mentality. Being the fighty ones when they land in armies. Even an orc librarian is likely to kick the crap out of someone. But there is nothing from stopping them from being cunning, though usually a low cunning as from Tolkien. When they smith, it's for weapons and war, usually. Me, being me, I play with all sorts of orcs.

Trolls, in the generalized fantasy standard are usually big dumb brutes. Of course given how many there are, this is only a slight generalization in a very specific part of fantasy. They come in many sizes and many colors and many forms and even with varying bits of brain power. Though blame Blizzard for the Jamaican accented, voodoo using trolls. Maybe.

Goblins are greedy seems to be a pretty common standard. Short, vicious and little cunning thieves. And often found working under the more powerful orcs while being only mildly smarter. Again, this changes on goblins. I've seen super ninja goblins and goblins in fancy mecha suits so they range all over. They do love their money though. From Gringotts to the Goblin Markets. As with all the above, changes have come to them and will continue to.

So, that's some very brief generalizations. Sure, they're all cut out for 'clumsy inept bumblers' to whoever they're working for or on their own. If they're stock arrow and sword fodder, you may not even have to get to the bumbling bit. The, well, hero's, I guess, can cut them down in droves and people will not likely even flinch at it. It's what they're there for after all. On the other hand, you want a credible greenskin threat? Look up Ghazkall and Grimgor Ironhide.

Insolent Lad

I've never put anyone/thing in my stories with a green skin (except for gods—they play by different rules). However, trolls have been known to have green hair, thanks to the algae growing in the uncombed matted masses on their heads. :)


But sometimes, creatures like Orcs and goblins are just what is needed. Something who's allegiance to good and evil is not in question and can fill in for those scenes where something needs to be dangerous, but can be killed in droves.

What is interesting is that "how evil Orcs are" is never truly answered. Tolkien himself wrestled with that question.

enoch driscoll You can try looking at actual mythological mooks. There are many, many creatures which can fill "midless hordes of evil" niche that are not orcs:


What is interesting is that "how evil Orcs are" is never truly answered. Tolkien himself wrestled with that question.

If I think too hard on it, I wrestle with it as well. Don't Orc's love their children too? How can such a society function? How can they all be brutes and warriors and thugs, and have things like metalcraft and war machines? Don't those take engineering, supply chains, and places to craft them? How does an Orc learn such a skill? Who would trade with them, they are so violent? If they rip down trees and burn everything, who supplies the army? Where are the farms?

But, I think the real value of creatures like Orcs comes from the fact that we can just put them in that category of bad guys, and move on to the bigger questions of good and evil in archetypal form. Also, they are no different than robots, or storm-troopers. Something to fill up the action scenes with bodies.


toujours gai, archie
I'm still developing my "monster" folk. Goblins got handled in my first novel: they are swarm creatures with limited intelligence. Orcs are interesting. They're still on the periphery of Altearth, but when I decided Altearth human culture was the Roman Empire persisting, then of course it was polytheistic. I hit on the notion of having orcs be monotheistic, which provides a basic reason for conflict. A little later I decided that orcs, like many of the Germanic invaders, had imitated Roman systems. So there's the Roman Empire, which is human, and then there's the Imperium, which is orc. And given that there's a priesthood in orc religion, it was an easy step to some form of caesero-papism (single ruler over both church and state). As for the color of their skin, or other physical features, that interests me less. Still letting that burble.

Trolls fall somewhere between. They have kings. Used to be nomadic and still have that impulse. Trolls and orcs hate each other. Trolls are slavers, but not of the plantation / latifundia type. They're more exploitative, use slaves up, throw them aside, conquer new ones. Trolls are bigger than orcs, but that's about all I have on physical appearance.

Physical aspects will play a role at some point, but only when it starts to matter, which is to say when they start to appear on the page. Where I can, I try to let the physical aspects relate somehow to their social organization. The appearance of goblins worked out that way. Once I saw them as a swarm, it was easy to think of locusts, so goblins are smooth-skinned and can leap (but not fly). Bird-like, dinosaur-like, they certainly can't swim, which would affect how they moved across rivers or lakes. Those are just examples. It's that iterative process of thinking up X, then asking how X might affect Y, which let's me come up with Z, and then I go looking for new alphabets.