This is one of a few concepts on my pondering about Orcs and their kin.
I am not thinking about Tolkien’s legendarium with this one in particular, at least not necessarily, as it would still fit in with some of Tolkien’s largest specimens of the Orc kind, like the Olog hai or the Uruk hai.
My reasoning was actually more geared towards my own universe (one that exists mostly on notes and on my head at the moment) which is very low-fantasy and down to earth. I like to call it Low-tech Sci-Fi for that reason.
That said, I did set off from the idea that orcs are another type of primate, a semi-upright, intelligent (don’t expect Nobel prizes though), carnivorous and predatory type. Picture a 120kg rabid chimp or gorilla with sharp wits and the ability to use tools (mostly weapons) and a solid bipedal method of locomotion. Not to be messed with for sure.
I am still not settled on how they reproduce and the such, as I have two main lines of thinking that are very far apart on that subject.
The least radical idea is that they are only another type of primate and reproduce just as any other mammal, but with the difference that they have very little sexual dimorphism and thus look all the same at a quick glance. Females and males would all fight and do everything else together, and when the time is come for reproduction, the females would go on heat and males would fight each other for the right of mating. The females would be kept hidden and protected during a short gestation and would give birth to many offspring at a time, kind of like a dog. Those would be breastfed for a very short period of time and then start feeding on meat alone. The infants would be all herded up in a group and then tended for by the tribe as a whole, not knowing the typical parental relationship. That would ensure only the strongest survive to lead the tribe.
The more radical idea is founded on the “ancient astronaut gods” origins for the main races. They were engineered with certain purposes in mind, having both native species as well as alien ones as their building blocks. That would allow for a wilder but still pretty believable approach to their biology. Orcs were created to be fighters, and thus every aspect of their bodies was made with resiliency and power in mind. Their reproduction method should therefore be quick and efficient, generating many offspring with minimum burden to the parents.
Following that concept I adopted the reptilian approach for my Orcs: they would show equally minimal sexual dimorphism, but will not have limited periods of heat, being fertile all the time or most of the time, akin to us humans. The difference is they would not be mammals, and would lay eggs in large numbers in holes on the ground, where they would fertilise it with their own dung (!) and with corpses of other animals and creatures. A fungal colony would feed on the organic matter and transfer the nutrients to the eggs, that would hatch in a surprisingly short period of time. Even when an orc is killed, it's eggs can still use their decomposing body for nutrition and then hatch. The hatchlings would be on their own from the start and grow into different species like Boggarts, Goblins, Hobgoblins or orcs, depending on the needs of the “hive”. They would then operate in a very similar way to a colony of insects, and even complex knowledge like blacksmithing or the rudiments of medicine are only known at an instinctive level. That means they would not be capable of independent thinking in the same way a human is, but would always be capable of doing all they need to perform their fighting role.
The orcs I represent here are the big successful “bulls” (inferior in size only to Alpha Orcs) and are shown carrying very simple weapons, namely root clubs and a bone dagger. This would be the type of equipment a tribe would have access to at first, and with them they would attack and loot humans or other intelligent beings in order to steal weapons and metal with which they would start fashioning their own equipment.
Even though I love the traditional green skinned Orcs and Goblins, I am exploring a more realistic approach with greys and black and browns. Let’s see how it turns up.
If that is your kind of thing to think about, please share your opinions and thoughts. I would love to know how that stirs your imagination and which of these ideas seems more interesting to you.