The Rhoanish Works are a series of connected stories, comics, and art created by Iron Eater. They depict an original fantasy culture of orcs living in the stronghold of Naar Rhoan, hence the name, and most of them follow the actions (and histories) of Sarouth White-Hair and Riaag Bough-Breaker. While the first story was very lightly based on older versions of the freeware game Dungeon Crawl: Stone Soup, the Rhoanish Works have since blossomed into a being all their own. People seem to like them.
Many stories in this series deal with mental illness, graphic violence, and recovery from childhood abuse, and readers who are sensitive to such topics are encouraged to read the content warnings on each story's page to decide if they're comfortable reading such things.
The first Rhoanish Work story was published in Issue 40, a Big Bang, and subsequent entries in the series arrive in each new December issue. Rhoanish Works tend to be extremely long, to the extent that some are full-blown novellas, and are illustrated by the author. While they are ideally read chronologically, they all contain sufficient details for a new reader to jump in at any point, as it is likely not much of a surprise that two named characters who spawned quite a lot of sequels end up becoming a couple in the first story.
In order of publication, they are:
Iron Eater has created a large amount of extra content in addition to the yearly stories/novellas. Octobers bring series of "Orctober" illustrations which further explore the world and people of the stronghold; these are hosted on Tumblr, and are tagged for blood or implied nudity as needed.
- Detritus is a 60-page comic set some point after the events of Seismic Gap.
- Orctober 2014 is the first Orctober challenge and runs off of a Halloween theme.
- Orctober 2015 explores the relationship between the Rhoanish and different animals.
- Orctober 2016 focuses on professions around the stronghold.
- For some reason the main characters are annually drawn wearing holiday sweaters.
Other assorted orc-related goodies may be found on the same Tumblr in the Life in Naar Rhoan tag, and Sarouth and Riaag are usually tagged with dorcs. This overlaps with some of the previous Orctober content and also contains tagged NSFW illustrations; browser beware.
Before I get started, I should note that this whole mess started because I played a dungeon crawler, thought a particular randomized result was cute, and wrote my second S2B2 ever around it. All this stuff I'm about to say has been accumulating since late 2012, so please don't feel like I came to all of this overnight. I just care a great deal about imaginary things.
The thing about orcs is that they're traditionally depicted as being hypermasculine. Sometimes this means men are bricks while women are underwear models, sometimes it means women are only present in the context of breeding stock, sometimes it's just muscle dads all the way down. There have been very interesting talks given on how the orcish body is so frequently used as a stand-in for the Other, be it steeped in sublimated racism (again, how often do orcs receive black-coded traits when there aren't actual humans of color with which to compare them?) or as a near-faceless representation of a specific kind of masculinity.
I'm not a man so I can't comment on how these factors could be helpful for approaching threatening angles of my own sexuality, but I can say that as a woman I regularly feel out of place when trying to enjoy media depicting these creatures I have great fondness for. Sometimes I want the luxury of being monstrous without being a grotesque caricature of my gender, or someone else's sexual ideal, or stripped of any gender entirely, or made a man. A conversation I once had claimed there was no reason for a monster to be presented as feminine without somehow being tied to reproduction; I rejected this statement, but the more games I played, the more movies I saw, and the more words I read, it became clearer to me that a lot of people still buy into it. I always thought up fun stories for my (always femme) half-orc characters for D&D sessions, so where were the books that would do the same?
I solved this problem the old-fashioned way: I made my own.
With the Rhoanish Works I wanted to present a type of orc that is simultaneously how they're shown to be in fanart, media, etc., while also exploring ways they aren't this at all. These are most apparent when Rhoanish people interact with outsiders like merchants; there's no reason to be surprised when working among themselves. Why do they have a reputation for raiding? Well, in the region I focus on, it's because they're primarily nomadic, and they have a species tendency towards aggression (a leftover from their evolutionary history as easily-spooked social scavengers), so it's easy for bad first impressions to escalate. Why are they considered to be bloodthirsty cultists? Any which way you slice it, ecstatic visions and blood sacrifices are going to look unpleasant to outsiders. They sing, they fight, they eat carrion, they hide in caves. So on and so on.
It's important to me that, despite avoiding anything other than a passing allusion to Tolkien's works, or Warhammer tabletop gaming, or the Warcraft series of everything, the Rhoanish still feel like orcs. I don't want to succumb to the Gotcha Effect (that is, when a traditional villain is actually virtuous, and it is in fact the good guys who are bad, such a twist), because to me that feels like simplifying a complex group of fictional people (and also I'm rather sick of it); neither do I want to focus the camera on objectively evil people and deeds (as I have a different series for that). That the stories ended up developing a theme of understanding oneself and finding community in surprising places was coincidental. I think it worked out.
And what of the fellas themselves? I want them to show all the ways masculinity could be if not left to go toxic; given the way they end conflicts with certain outside parties, this could be a bit blatant of a metaphor at times. Sarouth is lithe, willowy, a man who wears skirts and robes and jewelry, blatantly gay and blatantly an avatar of the divine; Riaag is far bigger, but has an intense need to feel pretty, his devotion to Wolf appearing both as being a shield between his loved ones and danger and as the one who rocks and sings to a colicky baby when its exhausted parents can't soothe it anymore. Neither of them really fits the mold for one reason or another.
A gender-neutral society as a background shows that they view being men as a choice, not an obligation. I've not been steadily increasing the number of recurring, named, speaking-role-having female characters for nothing, either, as it's important to me that I enforce the concept of gender neutrality by showing women (or nonbinary individuals, which is an issue for a different essay) in positions of respect, authority, or (in the case of Miid Catch-Fire) simply as people whose friendship can be enjoyed without a sexual element to their existence.
So: for now, that's all I have to summarize about these sad gay socialist orcs. I think about them too much, and maybe now you do, too.