Picts vs Orcs An Argument

Picts versus Orcs

So a recent thread got me thinking, are the Picts in REH fiction synonymous with orcs? So first, let’s define orcs here. The version I am referring to that of generic fantasy monsters, most closely aligned with Tolkein’s version. They are widely popular as grunts, to be encountered and killed with no real concern. Nobody questions it when they appear in an adventure and it’s generally accepted they are there to be killed.

Now orcs have gotten more personality. Half-orc characters and orcs with character levels, get agendas and personality. Of course, this is not counting the Warhammer variant or the World of Warcraft version, etc.

In contrast, REH’s depiction of Picts is consistent only in his general philosophy. Pict for him, Pict was the outsider, the eternal barbarian. They represented darkness that lived outside the light of civilization.

In the Kull stories (chronologically the earliest) they are barbarian tribes, but not as hostile as later versions. Brule the Spear Carrying was the loyal sidekick to King Kull. Next would be the Hyborian Age. Here they inhabit a section of untamable wilderness and tend to act like really angry Native Americans. The vibe is definitely American frontier West. In this version they are uniformly hostile.

Post Hyborian age, they crop up in different stories but the most prominent is Bran Mak Morn. Here a Pict is our protagonist. Through the course of the stories, it becomes increasingly clear the Pictish people are finally doomed. The culture is more Celtic than anything.

Note that the idea of Picts as Neanderthals (as per the Monolith board game) does not exist in canon.

So does this make orcs synonymous or interchangeable with orcs? No. People seem to think this and really, I am not sure why.

A. They absolutely are humans.

B. They have their own culture, though what culture that is varies a bit.

C. It has heroic examples (Brule), ambiguous ones (Gorm and Bran Mak Morn) and villainous ones (Zogar Sag).

So the idea of them as being unplayable monsters simply doesn’t hold for me. I can’t even see what the argument could be.

The real zinger to me is that in the Hyborian Age, is that they are in a very specific place. The Pictish Wilderness. They inhabit that area in overwhelming numbers. They do raid into the regions surrounding them. However, beyond that?


The Picts don’t seem to travel much or far. Now a good storyteller can invent reasons why this or that Pict is so far from home. That’s the thing though. With orcs or goblins you don’t need to do that at all. They are ubiquitous. Picts are native to the Pictish Wildnerness. Knowledgable PCs would be distracted by and asking questions about why these characters are in their story.

Picts are definitely human… Out of rpg I’d go with the 2011 movie and use the depiction of the raiders in the Rite of Passage scene. As a fan of REH i envisaged those NPCs to be a group of young men that had to bring back the head of a Cimmerian… so they’ve spent a few weeks on the Cimmerian side of Black River looking for suitable targets.

I am AFB and haven’t even read through (or skimmed) the CtB sourcebook. For me I will depict Picts (get it?) as a less intelligent, more aggressive culture than Cimmeria, women are chattel and only slave women are considered lesser value. I’d give them the Raider or Slaver as primary ‘career choice’ they’ll be xenophobic and untrusting of any Pict not from their tribe or village which prevents them uniting to face an invading force.

Hope this helps. They should have a language but probably no writing, extremely superstitious, easily swayed and fearful of magic/sorcery…

I’d also consider their coastal villages easy targets for Vanaheim Raiders but they would be intelligent enough to post watches during ‘Raid Season’ i.e. Spring and Summer. Give a generic Pict a Vanaheim sword or helmet etc. Have a Pict show up in an arena in Messantia or Shem… and make that Pict the ‘questgiver’.