The universe Warhammer 40,000 at an initial glance seems convoluted, contradictory, over the top and with a healthy sprinkling of corporate desire to move a product. It also indulges in a healthy dose of plagiarism as Warhammer sources from just about any work fantasy or science fiction the creators can get their hands on. Not to mention most of the actual stories written are sophomoric at best. However, below the surface, there is a gold mine of some of the most marvelously creative world building. The Orks (yes, spelled with a K) are one of these pieces of, perhaps accidental, genius.

The Orks in concept were sourced from the venerable Tolkien and while they are brutish, unintelligent creatures that will turn on their own kind, the Orks of the 41st millennium go well beyond the cookie cutter Tolkien clones many fantasy settings use. Elements of pirates, Mad Max, 80s punks, and Japanese mecha are all rolled together with the personality of sports hooligans in order to produce a delightfully absurd group of killing machines with far more character than the faceless hordes or violent barbarians they are portrayed as elsewhere.  

Image via Xenology: notes from the alien bestiary of biegel, and studies of its vile specimens, by those present at its destruction

The real stroke of genius comes in through with the Orks biology. Again, like Tolkien’s Orcs, the Orks are specifically designed to be a race of fighters, bred and molded for war but here Warhammer far surpasses even Tolkien himself. For a race designed to fight, and seeming to be all male, the question arises of how such a species could perpetuate itself. The usually overly thorough Tolkien is incredibly sparse on any type of detail in this regard. Warhammer’s Orks though have one of the most unique anatomies to be found in any fantasy setting. These Orks are not mammalian but are instead strange animal-fungus hybrids. In order for Orks to reproduce they need to release spores which occurs primarily when an Ork is grievously injured or slain. which could appear counter-intuitive to the survival of a genius but the logic behind it is brilliant.  

All species, in order to survive, must have a physiological urge to perpetuate themselves. It is why animals that reproduce sexually have a sex drive and there is generally a pleasure response associated with it. For a creature then that needs to be killed or significantly dismembered in order to perpetuate itself there must exist an incentive for it pursues a course of action where the being would be slain. So the most pleasurable activity for an Ork is not sex but fighting. The Orks find themselves as a great, massed enemy of mankind, not for the hackneyed reason of “being evil”  but because, on the most basic, biological level, Orks are driven to combat.