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Gazetteer 10 – The Orcs of Thar

Basic Dungeons and Dragons

  • Publisher: TSR
  • Rules: Dungeons & Dragons BECMI
  • Developer:
  • Reference: gaz10 9241
0e-gaz-10 Broken Lands
0e-gaz-10 gaz10 D&D BECMI Broken Lands

Orcs? A Gazetteer about Orcs?

Absolutely. And hobgoblins, kobolds, bugbears, gnolls, trolls, goblins, and more! If you think the only good orc is a dead orc, you’re in for a surprise. Orcs (and the other humanoids) are more than just anonymous hordes to be slaughtered for easy experience points – they are creatures with personality, culture, likes and dislikes, and a point of view. Find out all about them in The Orcs of Thar.

The Orcs of Thar is the tenth in a series of Gazetteers for the DUNGEONS & DRAGONS game system. It gives you a comprehensive, in-depth look at the orcs and their world, including:

  • Orcs and other humanoids as player characters
  • A large full-color map of Thar, home of the orcs
  • Complete rules for humanoid spell-casters
  • The King of the Orcs, and why you don’t want to run into him
  • Seperate DM and Player’s Booklets
  • ORCWARS! , a complete boardgame, also included!

Product History

GAZ10: “The Orcs of Thar” (1988), by Bruce Heard, is the tenth book in the “GAZ” series of Gazetteers for the Known World. It was published in January 1989.

Origins. Because of the popularity of the “GAZ” supplements, all of the core realms of the Known World were being written about, so a book on the humanoid-infested Broken Lands had been on the schedule for some time. It was to be one of the most unique books in the series, as it would cover humanoids in-depth, something that was mostly unknown in the FRPG world. Since Acquisitions Coordinator Bruce Heard had plans for letting players take on the roles of these humanoids, he ultimately decided to write the book himself (and soon got approval to do so from his division head).

Continuing the “GAZ” Sourcebooks. Like the recent books in the “GAZ” series, “The Orcs of Thar” was a folio of two books, one for players and one for GMs. They were each the same size, at 48 pages, which was new; previously the series had included lopsided books at 64 and 32 pages.

“The Orcs of Thar” is one of several racial-kingdom splatbooks for the Known World; there had previously been three others: GAZ5: “The Elves of Alfheim” (1988), GAZ6: “The Dwarves of Rockhome” (1988), and GAZ8: “The Five Shires” (1988). “The Orcs of Thar” also one of the more light-hearted “GAZ” books, a characteristic shared by some but not all books in the series.

The Board Game Connection. Heard had previously designed a related board game called “Orcwars!”, which appeared in Dragon #132 (April 1988). It’s reprinted within this supplement.

A History of Humanoids: Sometimes the Monsters Play You. Fantasy roleplayers first got the chance to play the monsters in Ken St. Andre’s Monsters! Monsters! RPG (1976). A few smaller scale monster-playing products appeared in the small press in the late ’70s and early ’80s, while Mayfair Games put out an early book giving more details on humanoid cultures: Dark Folk (1983). However for the most part FRPGs neglected the idea of taking on the role of monsters.

As a result, “The Orcs of Thar” — which allowed players to take on the roles of kobolds, goblins, orcs, hobgoblins, gnolls, bugbears, ogres, and trolls — was a groundbreaking supplement. It provided a unique monstrous character sheet, and even gave guidelines for running a monstrous campaign, which might center on tribal warfare.

In the years that followed, D&D would follow-up on the idea of playing monstrous PCs in the “Creature Crucible” series (1989-1992), PHBR10: The Complete Book of Humanoids (1993), and elsewhere.

Expanding Basic D&D. As was the case for many later Known World supplements, “The Orcs of Thar” provides a lot of expansions to the Basic D&D game. The inclusion of monstrous PCs was the biggest one, but the supplement also includes two more classes: the shaman and the wicca. It also has rules for partial armor and defective weapons — both especial problems for humanoids, but probably of wider use in D&D games.

Love It or Hate It? “The Orcs of Thar” may be the “GAZ” supplement that’s generated the most wildly divergent responses: some people love it because of its groundbreaking, in-depth detailing of multiple humanoid cultures; while other people hate it because it’s one of the funnier “GAZ” books and that extends to the Jim Holloway artwor, which is among his silliest.

Expanding the Known World. The Broken Lands are fully detailed in “The Orcs of Thar”, including both the world above and the world below — making it one of the few three-dimensional realms in the Known World. (The Sea of Dread was similarly detailed both above and below water.) Oenkmar, Jewel of the Depths, an elven-built city, also gets some specific attention.

Future History. “Rank Amateurs” by John J. Terra, in Dungeon #22 (March/April 1990) returns to the Broken Lands.

Following this supplement, orcs didn’t got a lot of attention until the ’00s. Much of that later attention came about through a multitude of d20 supplements, but there were also two orc-based RPGs: Green Ronin’s Ork! The Roleplaying Game (2000) and John Wick’s Orkworld (2000).

About the Creators. Heard was the lead on the whole initial rollout of the Known World. This was his second supplement for the line, following GAZ3: “The Principalities of Glantri” (1987).

About the Product Historian

The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons – a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to shannon.appelcline@gmail.com.

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By thedarkelf007

I am a long term gamer, I run 6 RPG's a fortnight, host board game, card game and LANs each about once a quarter and have an addiction to buying more games. Games I am currently running are Pathfinder (1st and 2nd Edition) and Dungeons and Dragons (5th Edition).

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