Monstrous Lore: Shroom Orcs

Rarely in one place for long, the eclectic and nomadic shroom orcs wander across the world, living between places and societies, and leaving behind a subtle trace of their culture almost invisible to those who don’t know how to look for it. Aided by their veneration of entheogenic substances — particularly psychoactive mushrooms — they make their trade in the exchange and development of ideas and philosophies through ritualised communal dialogues called “seatings”. Shroom orcs are also known as shroomish orcs, or as either redcaps or browncaps.

Nomadic Life

Shroom orcs tend towards being nomadic, travelling in groups that have a variety of names — the more common being “clusters”. These groups vary in size, purpose, origin, and lifespan, with no predominant pattern: one shroom orc may travel with their relatives for all of their lives, another might travel with those who share similar philosophical principles, while another might have been born and raised in the city and hop between numerous clusters as their guiding interests evolve over time. As a result, the paths that the orcs trace across the world would look rather like infinitely-branching roots that spread out, meander, criss-cross, fuse together and split apart: this pattern, the rhizome, characterises much of the shroomish way of life. It is decentralised, non-hierarchical, and has unfixed, variable paths with no particular order.

Shroom orcs are most often encountered as part of a cluster, when they pass through settlements on their travels. They tend to be rarer in larger settlements and cities, with many seeing urbanisation, resource-hoarding, hierarchies of authority, money and militarisation as stiflingly negative influences. While passing through settlements, individual shroom orcs or clusters sometimes put on small events, inviting people with unusual problems to get advice, ideas and information that the shroom orcs have picked up from across the world. These events, called “seatings”, are part of the shroom orcs’ ideas trade — a means of trading possbile avenues for exploration in exchange for food or shelter as they pass through the settlement. Different clusters offer different solutions based on the synthesis of its individual members’ worldly experiences and their client’s needs and desires.

Much of the shroom orcs’ ideas are influenced by the psychedelic mushroom cult intertwined with their itinerant society. This cult takes wildly varying forms, but broadly intertwined with their itinerant society. This cult takes wildly varying forms, but broadly teaches compassion, transcendence, multiplicity, diversity, co-operation, peace, and the importance of a symbiosis with nature.

Shroom orcs are sometimes given colloquial names in the locales they pass through, almost as variable as their clusters. Because of the colour of the caps of the mushrooms used in their practices, shroom orcs are often referred to as “browncaps” or “redcaps”. However, the orcs themselves tend to be idiosyncratic with how they refer to themselves and each other — only a few would categorise themselves exclusively under a single name, and even then, this is more often a choice to align oneself with a specific ethos or shared interests.

Even the term “shroom orc” itself is fluid and unfixed. It is unclear whether the term originated as an endonym amongst the orcs themselves to differentiate or unify themselves, or whether it was used to describe them by outsiders: whatever the case, the word permeates both worlds, and is often invoked, reclaimed or complicated during shroom orc seatings. Considering what makes an orc a “shroom orc” is no simple matter of biology and heredity, nor one of societal roles, nor one of religious or spiritual affiliation: instead, it can be any one of these things, or none, or a blend of multiple. Shroom orcs themselves have differing ideas of what constitutes “shroomishness”, allowing the term to resist simplistic classification. As a result, everything said or written about shroom orcs is incomplete, as it may not account for personal idiosyncrasies, little known clusters with radically different ideas, shroomish ideas being adopted by nonorcs, orcs raised in shroomish clusters then adopting other cultural values, a large cluster with a non-orc minority group, or shroom clusters assimilating into larger societies.

Seatings and the Ideas Trade

Shroom orcs do not leave easily-identifiable material expressions of their culture. This is partly as a result of their nomadic lifestyle and their connection to nature, as they tend to either lodge in existing settlements, or, when necessary, prefer creating impermanent structures that can easily be taken down and moved, with a minimal impact on their environment. Similarly, there is very little in the way of culturally-recognisable “shroomish” patterns when it comes to making clothes, constructing tools, decorating bodies, or recognising societal rites of passage — instead, these traditions vary wildly by cluster, geography, time period and societal background.

As a result, this has led to an erroneous belief among outsiders that shroom orcs — or even orcs in general — have no culture of their own, or are incapable of creative acts. However, this belief comes from the misunderstanding or ignorance of how shroomish clusters and societies operate.

If one knows where and how to look, the trace of a shroomish hand may be detected in many far-flung places: a peculiar method of preparing food more common in a distant land; the sewing of a garment that suggests an elvish influence; the use of knots in ropes that belies a knowledge of seafaring. Because of their wandering nature, their splitting off and reforming of clusters, shroom orcs tend to incorporate disparate practices and motifs which then spread unevenly through their own groups and through the cultures that they pass through. As such, shroomish culture often requires a trained eye to spot and a trained mind to understand. Some dismiss this as further evidence that shroom orcs are incapable of creative acts, only misappropriating those of others: many, including the shroom orcs themselves, would see the ability to synthesise disparate ideas as a necessary element of culture itself.

The primary grounds for shroomish cultural expression is not material at all. Instead, it is mental or social, in that they export the development and exchange of ideas. This allows the shroom orcs to take the things they’ve learned in their travels — both outward, in the world, and inward, through psychedelic practices — and share them with people in need of solutions. Most often, someone in need of assistance will simply approach the cluster and offer goods in return for having one or a few of the cluster listen to their issue, and the shroom orcs will discuss with them possible avenues for
exploration.

Shroom orcs also facilitate the ideas trade in the form of “seatings” — events where shroom orcs will synthesise their various understandings and ideas to present solutions to much bigger problems. Seatings are usually held at twilight in the evening or early morning, and in a safe space where the group will not be interrupted. A seating may take the form of one shroom orc addressing a small gathering of people and expounding on a set of ideas, or it may involve several shroom orcs discussing or deliberating on an issue with someone who has sought them out. Some shroomish orcs facilitate seatings using psychedelic substances to alter mood, generate new directions or perspectives for dialogue, or to help those attending with issues to engage with them in a different way. Seatings may also involve ritualised religious acts specific to the cluster, magical practices from the orc leading the seating, or other personal alterations that the shroomish cluster or their clients think necessary.

Some shroom orcs offer seatings for anyone to attend in order to gain new insight or things to think about. However, considering that many shroom orcs often speak against the negative effects of urbanisation, the disenfranchising effect of money, and the abuse of control and authority in hierarchical systems, they tend not to be well-liked by those in power. In exchange for attending a seating, or for offering ideas and information, shroomish orcs will typically ask for donations, food, or shelter — any money they receive typically gets shared throughout the cluster, or spent on supplies useful to the group while in the settlement. Few shroomish orcs carry money with them except where necessary, and almost none accumulate personal wealth. The trade of ideas is primarily an oral tradition — some shroom orcs know how to read and write, but the vast majority spread their ideas through dialogue and discussion.

Not all shroom orcs take up the vocation of the ideas trade. Some take on other roles to help their cluster, such as hunters, craftspeople, translators, or healers; shroom orcs are also well-represented in professions that require negotiation, advocacy, teaching or radical thinking. Occasionally, some shroom orcs will be asked to lend their knowledge on a long-term basis, and may become political advisors, strategists, or scholars on retainer for influential figures or establishments, but these opportunities tend only to be taken if the shroom orc in question believes in the project’s overall worth, rather than for wealth, acclaim, or power. Others heed the call to adventure, travelling the world in a new kind of “cluster” — that of the adventuring party — in order to expand their understanding and gain valuable experience that can then be synthesised into new ideas.

The Mushroom Cult

Much of the shroomish ideas trade is facilitated by their use of psychoactive substances, in particular psychedelic mushrooms. Temporarily detached from the mundane world through the psychedelic experience, shroomish orcs — and those travelling inward with them — bear witness to myriad wonders. Colour and vibration enlivening the world around them; perceived alterations of time, causality and coincidence; densely-associative cognition; the magic and failure of language; euphoria, paranoia, and/or pronoia; conversations with the self, or the Other. After the experience, the percipients then work, alone or together, to understand and synthesise their experiences into their various cosmologies.

Psychedelic substances are one of the places where elements of shroomish culture is most visible: almost all shroom orcs have some familiarity with the gathering and preparation of psychedelic plants as part of learning to prepare food, and so there is a wide variety of processes and paraphenalia that could be used to identify certain shroomish cultural threads. However, since drugs of any kind are often criminalised in hierarchical societies, these cultural artifacts and practices tend to go unseen by most law-abiding citizens and are outright destroyed by those in power.

Many shroom orcs invite people to participate in the ingestion of psychoactive substances as part of a seating, where the shroom orcs will act as a guide and mentor for the experience as it unfolds.

Though a religious or spiritual mindset is not a necessary part of the psychedelic experience, some shroom orcs do look at the experience through a religious framework. As a result of the variance within shroomish society, the pantheon of the orcs is accordingly sprawling and idiosyncratic: some deities are known to almost all shroomish groups, while others may be specific only to specific clusters, or even one person. Some may have no gods at all, but a host of nature spirits, or the notion of nature infused with a kind of spiritual consciousness — or any combination of these ideas. Notably, shroomish religion is not organised, centralised, hierarchicalised or codified — there is no holy text, no priest class, no orthodoxy and no blasphemy. Instead, each shroom orc’s connection with the divine is a personal revelation, and one which affiliation with similarly-minded shroom orcs might be able to shed light on: as such, shroomish religious groups tend to be highly eclectic about their practices and ideas.

Although the methods and understandings of the mushroom may be eclectic, common trends seem to arise throughout shroomish orc practices. One notable trend in shroom orcs that venerate mushrooms is the splitting of the group into two broad churches.

The so-called Browncaps, through their connection with Psilocybe semilanceata (Liberty Caps) or plants with similar chemical properties, tend to see the Other as something beautiful, transcendent, benevolent and merciful – a singular consciousness, infusing all of matter and nature, and communicating through the symbiotic relationship between animals and plant life. Contrarily, the Redcaps venerate the Amanita muscaria (Fly Agaric) mushroom, which has the effect of engendering a difficult, spiritual struggle: correspondingly, they tend to lean more towards the psychedelic experience as a miracle of survival, receiving an utmost respect for death as part of nature, succeeding in trials of endurance, and overcoming hardship. However, these trends, like most others involving shroomish societies, are understood as a simplistic binary fit only for contextualising understanding at early stages, and not something to be upheld as gospel truth.

Notably, after experiencing psychedelic experiences through these mushrooms, many shroomish orcs tend to come away with similar values, allowing shroomish orc culture to still be fairly cohesive despite its broad and varying ideas. These values are the same ones that most shroomish orc cultures will discuss with outsiders in a seating: that all life is connected in a rhizomatic pattern through nature and throughout all of the planes, that centralised hierachies of power, class and resource hoarding ripples out throughout civilisation and nature to affect everyone, and that using empathy, reason and responsibility as tools can prevent these hierarchies of power from taking root. In effect, the psychedelic experience, and what is learned from it, are both the cause and the effect of the shroomish orc lifestyle.

Within shroomish culture, orcs use the concept of the “rhizome” — a pattern of decentralised, non-hierarchical and non-linear structure — as a teaching tool. This concept comes from considering the roots of the fungus that mushrooms grow from, which weaves in-between the roots of trees in a sprawling, meandering way, where the roots will fuse together at “nodes” or “clusters”, connecting every point to every other point on the root network. It is contrasted with the “arborescent” — a linear, centralised structure and with a clear hierarchy, exemplified best by trees, which have a strong central trunk, an obvious top and base, and few branches that never reconnect. The rhizome and the arborescent are both used to demonstrate the interconnectivity of all things in existence: during a seating, a shroom orc might highlight the rhizomatic patterns of finding solutions through the synthesis of disparate ideas versus the arborescence of deference to power and authority. They may suggest routes forward, in the form of rhizomatic communities weaving around and between the solid, fixed arborescent centers of civilisation and empire.

While the mushroom is the most-used psychoactive substance in shroom orc society, it may not always be available in the lands a cluster passes through. As a result, other consciousness-altering substances may be used instead, such as a tea distilled from certain seed pods known for their effect on the psyche, or smoking the dried flowers and leaves of various psychogenic plants. More intrepid psychonauts may launch an expedition to collect some of the phosphorescent, psychedelic lichen growing on the cavernous walls of the Underdark. There are rumours of shroom orcs seeking out aboleths for a rare decoction derived from their surface mucus that grants visions of what some believe to be the prehistory of the world, and some are said to venture into into the Astral Sea to harvest unusual spores that linger in the remains of dead gods, to be brought back and grown in the soil of the Material Plane.

Shroom Orc Names

Shroom orcs have an unfixed approach to names that varies by cluster: some might use names from regions they pass through, or borrowed from inspirational figures in their lives. A sizable number of shroom orcs change their names after particularly eventful periods of change in their lives, choosing a new name that acknowledges and reflects these changes.

Calls to Adventure

  • A party member well-versed in the arcane notices that a local shroomish orc
    cluster include, as part of their seatings, a very specific series of ritual gestures, recognisable as the practices of a certain powerful sorceror. If the party can track down where the cluster has travelled and with whom, they might be able to gain a valuable ally.
  • In a tight-knit community distrustful of outsiders, adventurers may find it difficult to get any of the locals to speak up and offer information freely — but the shroomish cluster that’s been staying nearby might be willing to share what they know.
  • A wave of local interest in mushrooms within a certain settlement has led to the nearby crops of mushrooms being decimated, threatening the livelihoods of a network of shroom orc clusters who camp there during the autumn months. One of the clusters has petitioned the party to help them resolve the issue, or they’ll no longer be able to camp there during autumn — but mushroom usage is still illegal within the city.
  • A shroomish cluster contacts the party, inviting them to take part in a new event: they have discovered a kind of fungus which, when prepared and ingested, can allow the opening of a gate to another plane.
  • A drow city has declared all shroom orcs as threats to their citizen’s safety, on
    account of their now-criminalised usage of the mushroom, which they claim is the result of shroomish orcs slaughtering a myconid colony. A shroomish orc
    approaches the party for help in making a certain voice heard — that of the
    colony’s sole surviving myconid, the only one who knows definitively what
    happened to the colony.