3 October 2014

What's in a colour?

What's in a colour? That which we call a greenskin
By any other colour would smell as foul 

Or so says the greatest poet of the Moot, little Billy Wagglestaff, and sometimes he even writes stuff when he's not getting paid for it!
"Halfling servant" by caprotti on DeviantArt - used without permission

So, for my second Orctober post, I come on to the vexed question of what colour an orc is. In the Warhammer world, green is without doubt the dominant colour used and, indeed, orcs and goblins are referred to collectively as greenskins. And yet it's not quite that simple. Much of the initial setting and world-building mythology that came at the start of what we now think of as the Warhammer world drew equally heavily on Tolkien, the Gygaxian outpourings of D&D, and a multitude of other novels, real-world mythology and (according to Bryan Ansell at BOYL2014) some, ahem, individually consumed sources of inspiration.

From Wikipedia, painting of a Tolkienesque orc by Antoine Gledel

Tolkien's description of orcs and goblins (who are the same species for him) has come in for some stick over the years, with accusations of racism:

..they are (or were) squat, broad, flat-nosed, sallow-skinned, with wide mouths and slant eyes; 
in fact degraded and repulsive versions of the (to Europeans) least lovely Mongol-types

I'm willing to give JRR the benefit of the doubt, here, taking his description as a recognition of differing ideals of beauty among different cultures as a starting contextual point from which orcs are degraded and repulsively altered. Others take a less forgiving stance, with crassness being the gentlest epithet deployed. I'm not sure we can really know his intent as we only have a few brief words, and this post is focussing on colouration, not post-colonialism. Either way, for Tolkien, the colour of an ordinary orc is sallow. There are also the uruks who are described as being black.

Gygaxian orcs owe an explicit debt to Tolkien:

Being useful fodder for the ranks of bad guys, monsters similar to 
Tolkien's orcs are also in [D&D and AD&D]

The colouration shifts somewhat, along with the acquisition of greater height, lupine ears, porcine faces and red eyes. D&D orcs are traditionally grey-green.

As for Oldhammer itself, the Bestiary entry from the WHFB 3rd rulebook (p229, to be precise) describes orcs as having red eyes and pointed ears, hairless heads but hairy and warty bodies which are dark and greenish compared to humans. I read this as a hue rather than being actually green.

Me? Although I do love a properly vibrant green orc, I think I prefer painting my orcs brown, or tanned, or variations on sallow. I'm a follower of Tolkien at heart, I guess. Here are my existing painted Crooked Claw goblins. I was rather chuffed when I overheard Kev Adams discussing the figures in the competition display at BOYL2014 with Bryan Ansell and pointing them out saying "I remember sculpting those; they've turned out quite nicely, haven't they?"

I think I'll keep that colour range for goblins and lesser goblins. For the bigger chaps, the orcs, I may desaturate the palette a little and bring in a bit more of a sandy or greenish tone, just for variety and a nod towards the (ig)noble greenskin.

What do you think? Green, brown, sallow, grey or blue?


  1. Orcs to me are anything from Dark Green to Rotten Flesh tones, they are as different as Humans. BTW I love those Crooked Claw Goblins your painting is top banana.

    1. Cheers buddy, they are great fun to paint - lots of nice details without being cluttered or awkward. His Gobbo Kevness did a great job with the putty on these.

      As for rotten flesh, that's the colour I was thinking of blending in for highlighting instead of white or a pale pinky flesh to try and get some of that green hue in there. Great minds and all that.

  2. I've recently been having this dilemma myself. I've only ever had experience of GW orcs/Orks/goblins/gretchin, at least as far as painting them goes. I've just started painting up a LotR skirmish retinue though, in the end I went for khaki.

    1. Khaki sounds good - got any pictures of them?

  3. I have! I'll put one up in the Oldhammer group