DnD 5e - The Half-Orc Handbook
Last Updated: June 5th, 2020
RPGBOT uses the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks, which is simple to understand and easy to read at a glance.
- : Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational.
- : OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances.
- : Good options.
- : Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character.
I will not include 3rd-party content, including content from DMs Guild, even if it is my own, because I can't assume that your game will allow 3rd-party content or homebrew. I also won't cover Unearthed Arcana content because it's not finalized, and I can't guarantee that it will be available to you in your games.
The advice offered below is based on the current State of the Character Optimization Meta as of when the article was last updated. Keep in mind that the state of the meta periodically changes as new source materials are released and this article will be updating accordingly as time allows.
Half-orcs are an easily-overlooked race. Their racial traits tend to pigeon-hole them into simple martial builds, and in most settings orcs are barbaric savages, so even characters' backstories tend to be forced into an incredibly narrow set of options. Half-orcs don't get subraces, and unlike the half-elf we haven't seen variants of any kind, so the race offers little flexibility. There's only so many times you can write a half-orc barbarian raised among orcs or a half-orc fighter raised among humans and still have a memorable character.
But just because a race's built-in, published options are limited doesn't mean that your story options are limited. It's totally fine to play a half-orc barbarian raised by their orcish family; there's nothing wrong with the obvious character option. But don't be afraid to go for something unusual. Maybe your half-orc is an accountant and goes adventuring like real-world people go on weekend camping trips.
Mechanically, the half-orc is a simple choice. With no decision points and with the insurance provided by Relentless Endurance it's a great option for new players. But don't let that appeal deter you if you're a veteran: the half-orc is still a solid racial option for some builds, and if you like critical hits there is no other race that lends itself to a critical hit build so readily.
If you absolutely love critical hits, a half-orc with some combination of Barbarian and Fighter (Champion) is a great build. Reckless Attack and Improve Critical make it very likely that you'll score a critical hit in a turn, and with Savage Attacks, Brutal Critical, and a greataxe you're rolling a bunch of d12's all at once.
Classes (Default Rules)
This section assumes that you're not using the option "Customizing Your Origin" rules presented in Tasha's Cauldron of Everything. If you are using those rules, scroll up to the previous section.
No Intelligence increase.
The most obvious option, the Half-Orc was tailor-made for the barbarian. Strength and Constitution are perfect Ability Score Increases, but the benefits don't stop there. Proficiency in Intimidation gives you an option in social situations where the Barbarian typically has little to do. Relentless Endurance will help keep you alive despite things like Reckless Attack, and Savage Attacks gives you a fun preview of Brutal Critical (and they stack, which is even better).
Proficiency in Intimidation is nice, but it's really not enough. You could try a Valor Bard, but in medium armor a Strength-based build is very MAD because you need 14 in Dexterity and good scores in Strength, Constitution, and Charisma which is very hard to accomplish.
The normal Half-Orc doesn't get a Wisdom increase, so the Cleric is a hard choice. Mark of Finding considerably improves your viability as a cleric, but remember that Mark of Finding replaces all of your racial traits, so anything mechanical that you like about the Half-Orc goes away.
Savage Attacks and Relentless Endurance both work in wild shape, which makes the standard Half-Orc slightly more lethal and more durable, so Circle of the Moon is an option. For other circles, consider Mark of Finding.
The Half-Orc works for any fighter archetype. Strength-based builds are easy to do in heavy armor, and if you want to forgo a shield Relentless Endurance will help keep you alive on top of the Constitution increase. Savage Attacks is especially rewarding for Champions, and while you don't get Reckless Attack or Brutal Critical like the Barbarian, the Fighter gets a total of 4 attacks at high levels, and if you Shove enemies prone you still get Advantage on your attacks against them so you can still make numerous high-damage critical hits.
No increases to either Dexterity or Wisdom, and Strength-based monks simply aren't viable. Savage Attacks looks nice with the number of attacks you get from Flurry of Blows or Martial Arts, but monks get by on numerous small attacks rather than big, high-damage attacks.
Not such an easy choice as the Barbarian or the Fighter, but still a great option. While Charisma is very helpful for the Paladin, they don't strictly need an increase at 1st level. Strength and Constitution work fine, and Intimidation will save you a skill proficiency if you're serving as your party's Face.
Strength-based builds are difficult, but possible. The Half-Orc would not be my first choice for such a build, but it's absolutely possible.
No Dexterity increase, and Savage Attacks is much less interesting when you're not using a Greataxe.
No Charisma increase.
No Charisma increase.
No Intelligence increase.
A fine option if you have an odd-numbered ability score in either Strength or Constitution (but not both), but this is nothing that you need to have. The second bullet is at most 1d12 extra damage per short rest, and the final bullet can only trigger once per Short Rest because Relentless Endurance only works once per Short Rest.
Better than the Skilled feat in many ways, and absolutely spectacular for skills which you rely upon heavily like Athletics, Perception, and Stealth.
Dragonmarks are detailed in Eberron: Rising from the Last War. Dragonmarks entirely replace half-orc racial traits, so in many ways dragonmarks should be thought of as separate races from the Half-Orc. You still have access to the same racial feats, but your class options are very different.
Mark of Finding
Constitution and Wisdom is a difficult combination for any class except the Cleric and the Druid. Without an ability boost to either Strength or Dexterity, you'll lag offensively for a long time. You could make a decent Monk or Ranger, assuming that you're fine with being slightly less effective with your attacks. Mark of Finding's traits include Darkvision, a bonus to Perception and Survival, and some interesting innate spellcasting options. If your class grants spellcasting, you get access to some interesting spellcasting. Most of the options are divination spells. Some aren't available to clerics, while others aren't available to druids, and many aren't available to rangers, so all three classes get several exciting new options. Whatever class you choose, be sure to pick up proficiency in Perception to make yourself exceptionally observant.