Orks are the equivalent to Warhammer Fantasy orcs in Warhammer 40,000 (Warhammer 40K for short), another wargame produced by Games Workshop. They are similar in many ways, including their appearance (which saves them from making two separate designs and allows parts to be interchangeable between the two games) and culture, but vary in some biological and cultural details.

Some Games Workshop designers claim that Orky culture and military tactics are loosely based on Scottish Highlanders. They are seen by their enemies (everyone else) as savage, warlike and crude, but they are the most successful species in the whole galaxy, outnumbering possibly every other race. However, this massive race is split into hundreds of tiny empires, often warring between themselves. Were the Orks ever to unite, they would undoubtedly crush all opposition.


The History of Orks

Orks first appeared in the Rogue Trader rulebook and the Space Orks boxed set, containing thirty plastic miniatures. These Orks were squat, powerfully muscled humanoids, wielding crude ballistic weaponry (usually blackpowder or other explosive projectile-based equivalent) and large 'stikbomz' or stick grenades; along with their helmets and other paraphernalia, these are apparently modelled on German equipment from WWI.

Additional rules, cultural details, and painting guidelines were given in the later expansions Waagh Da Orks and 'Ere We Go!. An explanation for the combination of brutal stupidity with relatively high technology was now found: Orks had been created, in times long past, as a warrior race by the long-vanished Brain Boyz. (This theme recurs in recent editions, the Orks having been created to fight the Necrons in the war that shattered the galactic civilization that existed prior to the rise of the Eldar.) In early editions, the snotlings were said to be the last degenerate remnant of the Brain Boyz.

Orks are thus genetically engineered to be muscular, aggressive, and none too bright; their technology is maintained by a caste of Oddboyz who have genetic dispositions to do well at such tasks. Indeed, the Brain Boyz were apparently able to encode information on how to build simple machinery in the genetic strands of Orks; thus Mekboyz require very little training in their function, since they understand mechanical principle at an instinctive level.

Other castes include Painboyz who heal Orks wounded in battle and Runtherdz (later renamed 'Slaverz') who direct the efforts of Gretchin (or 'Grotz'), the smaller and smarter servant caste equivalent to goblins. Waagh da Orks also informs us of the existence of more specialised castes such as Diggaboyz, Yellerz and Brewerz; however, as the game became more combat-oriented, these were never mentioned again. Even Waagh da Orks gives no information on them other than their bare existence; it may be assumed that when the Orks go to war, these castes fight as ordinary, shoota-armed Boyz.

Later Versions

As the game evolved, some of the clunkier (if more flavour-filled) rules regarding Orks were dropped, though their culture remained much the same. For example, 'Ere we Go contains several pages of rules for mobs (ie, squads) of Madboyz, Orks whom even other Orks consider maladjusted. (It should be noted that an average Ork would be considered dangerously aggressive to the point of insanity in a human society). The Madboyz change their behaviour unpredictably according to dice rolls whenever conditions change, for example, when an enemy unit charges into combat with them. A roll is first made to determine which subset of behaviour is going to apply, such as 'Skitzo' and 'Manik', then another roll is made to see how this overall insanity manifests. The results vary from charging the closest enemy, with bonuses to their combat attributes ("Waargh! Dat makes me mad!") to phobic avoidance of all vehicles, even ones on their own side ("Urr! Keep dem wurrin' teknikol bitz away!") While often very amusing, this was highly time-consuming, and dropped in the later editions, which were streamlined for combat.

The main background change lies in their method of reproduction. According to Waagh da Orks, Orks are born to feral enclaves as Wildboyz. They are then recruited into warbands and fight for a while with primitive weapons such as spears, before being recruited into a Boyz Mob and being given their first gun. If they survive the ensuing ten or twenty years of warfare, they become overwhelmed with the urge to go off 'lookin' fer sumfink' and wander back to their enclaves to breed, developing sexual characteristics on the way. In newer editions, however, adult Orks are constantly giving off spores which lie in the ground, often for years, waiting to develop into Orks or Gretchin. Thus a world invaded by Orks will be troubled by them for hundreds of years to come, even if the original assault is beaten off.

Ork weaponry is built by the Mekboyz or Mekaniaks, as well as being captured from enemies or delivered as tribute. It is intentionally portrayed as being rather Rube-Goldberg-ish, often steam-driven and with clunky, early-industrial driving belts and extraneous bells, whistles, and gongs. It is often based on teleporter and force-field technology, which the robust Ork physiology can use more easily than humans; a weapon found in 'Ere we Go, for instance, is the Snotling Teleport Gun. Snotlings are a tiny, Orkoid race even smaller than Gretchin and less bright than Orks, thus they are not usually of much use in combat. When sent through a warp tunnel to appear inside an enemy vehicle or power suit, however, they are a terrifying experience, because the teleportation goes through the demonic realm known as the Warp, scaring the Snotlings out of their minds. When they arrive, they are a biting, scratching mass of flatulent fury. The Teleport Gun suffered from severe inaccuracy, but could be quite effective when it did hit. However, the rules for it were very complex, and it was removed from later editions.

In their current incarnation, Orks are very much a close-combat-optimised species, their weapons having short range and low accuracy - though this can sometimes be made up by sheer numbers. Orks are quite cheap in terms of ingame points, that is, it is possible to build a very large army, colloquially known as a 'sea of green' or 'green tide' from the skin colour. This is often necessary, since the effectiveness of an individual Ork at any but the shortest range is small, and the Ork commander must be prepared to absorb considerable casualties in his effort to close in for axe ('choppa') work. This is in contrast to their earlier editions, where the large number of fun, but inaccurate weapons and special rules could easily make them rather unfocused, a jack-of-all-trades army but master of none. Some have accused the designers of regarding the Orks more as comic relief than as a serious army, and being more concerned with the flavour than the effect of weapons designed for them. If so, they have reined in their imaginations considerably where Orks are concerned, drawing the race more into line with the overall gritty feel of WH40K.


Orks are green-skinned, a side effect of their symbiotic relationship with fungi (explained in more detail below). Orks are genetically engineered for combat, and quite efficiently so. They are extremely strong, and their squat bodies can withstand immense punishment. This is fortunate since the Painboyz operate on a generally nineteenth-century level of surgical knowledge; unlike humans, though, Orks are quite capable of being beheaded, having the head sewn onto a different body, and surviving the experience to fight again.

They eat fungi of all kinds as well as meat. A particularly favoured ingredient in their diet are Squigs, short for 'Squiggly beasts' — a variety of symbiotic races about the size of a cat but legless. These include the 'Eatin Squig', a limbless blob which feeds on fungus, the 'Growler squig', a legged variety used as a sheepdog for Gretchin (in third and fourth editions referred to as a 'Squighound' and available as an item of wargear), the 'Attack Squig' a powerfully voracious little beast available as an item of wargear, and the 'Face-eater Squig', a ferociously toothed variety used both as a weapon and for entries in face-eating contests. (The Ork and the Squig both open their mouths and bite, in a parody of a kiss. If the Ork eats the Squig, he wins. If he keels over backwards, he loses.) There is also a larger sub-species of squig, called a 'squiggoth' that ranges in size from about that of an elephant to a 60-plus-foot monstrosity capable of stomping buildings into rubble. Squiggoths are used as pack animals and in combat as the carriers of mobile fortresses.

Orks grow all through their lives; the effect is particularly notable in successful Orks. As the Ork survives combats and wins trophies, the respect of other Orks will produce in him an effect somewhat similar to adolescence in the human male: He puts on muscle, becomes more aggressive and assertive, and generally throws his weight around. If he wins the ensuing challenges to single combat, he may become a Nob, a leader of Orks, noticeably larger and tougher than the average. Once he begins to grow, an Ork will generally keep getting bigger and stronger until he is beaten by a bigger or more cunning Ork. Warbosses and Warlords, the rulers of continents and empires, are very large Orks indeed.

The Waaagh!

Ork behavior is dominated by the Waaagh!, a gestalt psychic field they generate that affects the Ork psyche, as it allows Orks to instinctively recognise who is 'bigga' and therefore who is in charge. All orks generate this field, and it grows stronger as the orks enjoy themselves, generally while fighting. The Waaagh! helps give momentum (and the name) to the Orks' planet-crushing Waaaghs. These Waaaghs are a cross between holy crusade and pub crawl, with a bit of genocide thrown in for good measure. Thousands of Orks will gather together, drawn to the power of a single dominant Ork called a warlord, who is bigger and more intelligent than the Orks around him. Then the Orks will set off to find an enemy to fight — any enemy. Ork Waaaghs will sweep whole planetary systems away and destroy armies and fleets in tides of bloodlust and carnage, and only once the Orks have killed every available enemy will they start to fight amongst themselves again. In some cases Warlords eventually forge their Waaagh into an empire, although very different to the Imperium. The most famous is Charadon, which has been ruled for centuries by successful emperors called 'Arch Arsonist.'

The Imperium has theorised that this gestalt psychic field also has a telekinetic affect, allowing Ork technology to work. This argument has been debunked, even by the Imperium itself. It is believed that the reason this argument came into existence is that the Imperium believes that a machine spirit inhabits all technology, and that this machine spirit serves humanity. If this is the case, without a machine spirit Ork machines could not work, requiring some psychic effect to justify their often devastating effect. However, Genetor Lukas Anzion has noted that many Ork-built weapons will not function unless wielded by an Orkoid.


Orks consists of two symbiotic organisms: one comparable to a terrestrial animal and the other to an alga or fungus living in the first's bloodstream. The animal cells carry the genetic information of only the individual's subspecies, but the alga has genetic information for all the varieties of Orkoid, as well as the different Oddboyz. The alga also helps heal wounds quickly. Ork biology lends itself well to combat: they are extraordinarily strong and tough and are naturally good fighters, always looking for a scrap.

There are two theories relating to why Orks have this unique biology. The first is that they were adapted by their masters the Snotlings, a race that soared to intelligence upon eating a particular species of mushroom, spread across the galaxy with the help of their less intelligent Ork slaves, and were then deemed stupid again when the Orks consumed all traces of the mushroom which only grew on their home planet. The more modern one is that they are the Krork, created as a survivor race by the Ancients/Old Ones (referred to in Ork legend as the Brain Boyz) in their wars against the Necrontyr. The fact that an entire ecosystem can be constructed of Orkoids, and their total war-readiness, suggests that this is the more likely of the two. In early forms of this theory, the Brain Boyz were an Orkoid subspecies, along with Orks and Gretchin.

The Brain Boyz apparently died out through a plague, but before they did, they genetically engineered the orks' DNA to include a 'techno gene'. This gene develops in Orks as they grow, influencing their minds and releasing encoded knowledge; in a similar way that a human baby will reflexively hold its breath under water or a horse can walk half an hour after being born, an Ork's techno gene gives it information on how to fight, operate weapons, and speak his language. Ork specialists, such as Mekboyz and Painboyz, are the mechanics and surgeons of Ork society, and receive their knowledge through these techno genes. It seems this was a deliberate measure to ensure that the Orkoid race would survive in a hostile universe.


Orks have not only survived, they have prospered and are more numerous than humanity. This at least is due in part to how they reproduce. Orks reproduce through the release of spores, which grow into a plant-like womb underground that nourishes the bodies of the various Orkoid species. This is the entire basis of the Orkoid ecosystem, producing first Squigs, then Snotlings who cultivate the Squigs and fungus, then Gretchin to build the settlements, and finally the Orks themselves. This means the orks, where ever they go, will have an abundance of food, slaves and other resources, a moving ecosystem that supports them as they go on their Waaaghs!

This also makes it extremely difficult to rid a planet of Orks, even if the initial invasion is defeated. Orks release spores throughout their lives, but release them particularly at the moment of death. Without a nearby population of Orks, the fungus will eventually start the Ork life cycle anew. Decades after weathering an Ork Waaagh! settlements on a planet can find themselves faced with an unexpected attack from feral Ork tribes coming out of the wilderness.

Orkoid Subspecies

Gretchin are the Orks' slaves. Small, grasping, green creatures with the overall demeanour of a whipped dog, gretchin are at the wrong end of everything, including the food chain. Gretchin are used to clear minefields, distract the enemy in combat, and assist Oddboyz. They are overall similar to the Warhammer Fantasy goblins. In Gorkamorka, it was revealed that snotlings are actually young gretchin. They originally were used in swarms like in Warhammer Fantasy and could even be fired out of a shokk attack gun, but have vanished from 41st-Millennium battlefields with the advent of the 3rd Edition.

More unusual are the squigs. Squigs are animals that share the same general algae based biology of the orks and gretchin, and are used as food, clothing, hair, and even weapons, being trained as guard squigs and attack squigs.

In the first and second editions of the game, it was revealed that squigs were the result of Tyranid manipulation of Orkish gene-matter. Orks discovered the first squigs aboard a Tyranid bio-ship and subconsciously recognised them as being "Orky", subsequently taking the little creatures home. Squigs then spread throughout Ork space. This backstory neatly explained how squigs could appear in both Ork and Tyranid armies. Since then, Tyranid squigs have been retconned into Ripper Swarms.


Although a standard Ork boy's genetically encoded knowledge allows him to keep his weapons in working order, there is always a need for specialists who can do things most can't. These "oddboyz" develop instinctive knowledge useful for specific tasks.

Doks (also known as 'Painboyz') are responsible for fixing injuries that even the Ork physiology can't repair, such as severed limbs and brain damage. An Ork will only go to the Dok when he has no other choice, as these Oddboyz are infamous for trying out experimental procedures (such as the greatly feared squig brain transplant) on patients while they are under anesthesia (known as "concussion" to other races). Doks are responsible for attaching bioniks, although sometimes they aren't paying attention and replace the wrong part of the patient's body. High-ranking Doks are known as 'painbosses' and are known to be accompanied by cybork bodyguards.

Herdas are the Oddboyz who take care of squigs. They are not much seen on the battlefield in warbands past the feral stage, as their uses are mostly rendered obsolete by the advent of vehicles.

Mekboyz (also known as 'Mekaniaks' or just 'Meks') are Ork engineers, who build all the gunz, vehicles, and other machines used by orks. They are especially important to Speed Freeks. Important meks are known as 'Big Meks', who lead groups of lesser meks armed with all variety of kustom equipment and combi-weapons.

Pigdoks are an odd combination of Dok and Mek, although not as skilled as either individually. They are found in feral ork tribes, tending the boars that are ridden to battle by the primitives. Their main use in battle is to provide 'doping' to increase the ferocity of the various beasts that feral orks take to war, as well as some of the Orks themselves.

Slavers (also known as 'runtherdz') are the Orks who have the patience to take care of gretchin and other slaves. Their trademark weapons are the whip and grabba stikk.

Wyrdboyz are the Ork psykers. One major difference between them and the psykers of other races is that wyrdboys draw on the power of the Waaagh! instead of the power of The Warp, a dangerous realm full of daemons, where other races' psykers draw their powers. However, the Waaagh! has its own perils for Ork wyrdboyz: if they soak up too much of this power, their heads explode, causing a powerful psychic backlash that can cause other Orks' heads to explode as well. Naturally, wyrdboyz avoid combat as much as possible, but the ability to gout green flame capable of melting armour and shoot bolts of lightning is too great for most warbosses to resist, and they get dragged into combat anyway. Some wyrdboyz actually become addicted to the power and seek out battles; these exceptionally dangerous individuals are known as Warpheads. For unknown reasons, wyrdboyz do not appear anymore in Ork communities that have evolved beyond the feral stage.

Other oddboyz are sumboyz, yellerz, and brewboyz, all of which having an important role in ork kultur (although not on the battlefield).


Orks gather into various levels of organization. The first is the mob, a squad-level unit of Orks with similar ideas of how to act on the battlefield, generally led by a Nob (short for "noble," but pronounced "knob"). A number of mobs will gather together into a warband, which is roughly equivalent to an Imperial Guard company (although with a greater variation in size), led by a warboss. The largest organizational unit is the tribe, a group of numerous warbands all under the command of a warboss. Different tribes can be united by a powerful warlord when he raises a Waaagh!


Orks believe in two gods - Gork and Mork- Gork (or possibly Mork) being their god of violence; and Mork (or possibly Gork) their god of cunning and speed (The subtle distinction being that one hits you when you're not looking at him, the other hits you when you are). They have no real priesthood, although the infamous Mighty Goff Warlord Ghazghkull Mag Uruk Thraka claims to be receiving visions from them. In earlier versions a third god, Bork, appeared, but has since been dropped. Orks generally tend to distinguish between Gork and Mork as one being mean, and the other being meaner. Some divisions lie in determining who is meaner; another factor preventing Orks from being united.


Orks use their teeth ("teef") as currency. This is quite a natural solution to inflation and income support, as orks go through teef in a similar manner to sharks, replacing them quite frequently, and they degrade over time, so its impossible to hoard them. This keeps prices constant, ensures all orks have access to money, and allows constant values to be placed on commodities. A toof will buy a good squig pie and a tankard of fungus beer, while a bag of teef will buy a cheap buggy. A big flash battlewagon could cost a warboss hundreds of teef.

Da Clanz

Ork clanz are not communities but rather philosophical delineations of the different varieties of Ork. Each has its own colors, markings, and ways of waging war. Orks tend to form warbands with others who follow the same clan, but different groups tend to be lumped together after suffering casualties during a Waaagh! There are seven famous clans:

Bad Moons

The Bad Moons are the richest Orks around, because their teef grow faster than anyone else's. (This shows that, at least in one case, the clan affiliation has a physical effect.) The other Clanz don't mind this, because they figure that if they want more money, they can always knock a Bad Moon Ork over the head and take his teeth. They trade with other Orks to get the biggest guns, the flashiest gear, and the best food, but are not as concerned with close combat as other Orks. They have been noted to have a greater proportion of wyrdboyz than other clans, but they still do not appear past the feral stage. The signature mob of the Bad Moons is 'flash gitz': Orks with devastating kustom shootas. Their marks are the yellow crescent moon and the black flames.

Blood Axes

The Blood Axes were the first to encounter the Imperium. They have picked up many human tactics, such as using camouflage (although it may seem a bit too brightly colored to a human's eye) and retreating when they're losing. They trade with humans for equipment and vehicles, and have even worked as mercenaries for the Imperium at times (such as the Battle at Big Toof River). All of these things lead followers of other clanz to brand them as dangerously treacherous, cowardly, and downright un-Orky! Most Blood Axes are back-stabbing 'kommandos'. Their symbol is the crossed axes. The Blood Axes were once of the wealthiest clans, until most of them were wiped out in a battle with other clans called 'Da Big Party.' Since then, Blood Axes are not as common, but still maintain power.

Death Skulls

The Death Skulls are looters who grab whatever they can from corpses on the battlefield, although they aren't above taking things from other Orks who aren't watching. They collect anything that might be useful, as well as various lucky trinkets and charms. They are superstitious even for Orks, and often paint themselves blue (which Orks feel is a lucky color) to protect themselves from harm. It is not uncommon to find looted vehicles in Death Skull armies, such as Chimeras and Rhinos. Their symbol is the horned skull.

Evil Sunz

The Evil Sunz love going fast, and thus most join the Kult of Speed. Even warbands that haven't given completely over to their love of speed will often have many bikes or vehicles in their force. The clan also contains more Mekz than most, and therefore they often field more mechanical creations than other clanz. Their symbol is a red sun with a grimacing face. The Evil Suns are also found in Warhammer Fantasy.


The Goffs are the toughest and most brutal Orks, roughly equivalent to Warhammer Fantasy Black Orcs. They value close combat above all else, and have a large proportion of veteran 'Skarboyz'. Goffs dress mostly in black, with some white checks for relief, as they see bright colors as being un-Orky. Their symbol is the black bull's head, and Nobz almost always wear big horns on their helmets. Ghazghkull Thraka is a member of the Goff Clan.


The Snakebites prefer tradition to technology, shunning things like forcefields and vehicles in favor of protecting themselves with war paint and riding into battle on huge boars. Depending on how fundamental they are, they may remain as feral Orks even after their civilization can advance to the next stage. Snakebites' symbol is the venomous serpent, and they always take some along so they can have initiation rituals where Orks endure being bitten.

The Kult of Speed

Although most Orks prefer slaughter and explosions, some become addicted to driving real fast. These crazy individuals band together in 'Kults of Speed' (known as Speed Freeks to ther Orks), complete with their own mobs and warbands, full of buggies, bikes, and trukks. Most vehicles are painted red as, according to Orky superstition, "Da red wunz go fasta!" They rely on meks to build and maintain their vehicles, and sometimes a warband is even led by a Big Mek instead of a Warboss.


A subset of the Kult of Speed, some Orks in their desire for speed crave to fly through the air like birds. Their demand and addiction for speed cannot be satisifed on the ground, so take to the skies in cobbled together aircraft, taking great pleasure in diveboming enemy (and friendly) targets. Flyboyz are considered mad by Ork standards, and will often live in semi-exile, only associating with other Flyboyz, Gretchin slaves, and the Meks responsible for maintaining their 'fighta-bommaz'.


Ork technology appears ramshackle and slapped-together, but is as potent as any weapons used by the Imperium or other races. Ork technology (or "teknologee") is characterised by a constant stream of poorly thought-out experimentation and constantly trying to outdo the competition to build the biggest gun, the largest gargant (a huge land-based walker), or the fastest buggy. Therefore, Ork technology is not uniform, lending Ork warbands a cobbled together and random appearance. Ork mechanics ("Mekboyz") are specialists in the field of producing powerful force fields that can protect against damage, and at battlefield improvisation of repairs. They can salvage almost any burnt-out wreck, and many Ork vehicles have been reported destroyed dozens of times, only to be cobbled back together, given a fresh lick of paint (if even that), and sent back into the fray. The tough, resilient nature of Orks means they accept crude bionics, transplants, and other medical shenanigans being performed on them with ease.

Ork Kultur

Orky 'kultur', originally intended as a joke, has given birth to several concepts widely recognized among GW gamers. For example, most longtime gamers have a collection of assorted metal pieces, additional weapons, and parts left over from modelling projects, which they keep around in the expectation that they may be useful in future scratch-built models. (Games Workshop encourages this practice by giving prizes for the best gamer-built models at their annual Golden Demon awards, and by including a choice of weapons or optional parts in their own models.) This has become known as a 'bitz box', from the Orky spelling of where a Mekboy keeps his stock of reserve parts.

Similarly it is a well-known fact among gamers that 'Red wunz go fasta,' from the Orky belief that this is so. (Indeed, the latest edition of the Ork rules permits vehicles to gain a small speed upgrade for a small points cost, provided the model is painted red.)

Finally, there is a general Ork stereotype, portrayed by hunching the head down between the shoulders, showing one's teeth, and 'talkin' like dis, me.' Shouts of 'Waaarrgh, da Orks!' and ' 'Ere we go, 'ere we go, 'ere we go' can often be heard at tournaments, particularly when an Ork player is doing well, but also as a sort of general rallying cry for the entire hobby. (The Imperial battle cry "Kill the mutants. Burn the heretics. Purge the unclean" does not seem to have the same appeal.)


  • Chambers, Andy; Thorpe, Gavin; Priestley, Rick; and Kettlewell, Andy (1997). Gorkamorka: Da Uvver Book. Games Workshop Ltd. ISBN 1872372554
  • Chambers, Andy (1998). Codex: Orks. Games Workshop Ltd. ISBN 1869893387
  • Chambers, Andy; and Thorpe, Gavin (1998). Digganob. Games Workshop Ltd. ISBN 1872372015
  • Johnson, Jervis (1993). Codex: Orks. Games Workshop Ltd. ISBN 1872372953

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