Past the Edge of Darkness
The Orks are, canonically, a race engineered specifically for warfare, while the original architects of their design, the “Brain Boyz” in the Orkish vernacular, have seemingly disappeared. Their warriors are characterized by large, crude, garishly painted weapons called ‘choppas’, inexplicably sharp melee weapons forged from scrap, as well as hordes of poorly armed and armoured troops, inaccurate but high-volume firepower in the form of “shootas” cobbled together from salvage through the Orks’ subconscious grasp of mechanics. They also field a number of insane or improbable weapons and vehicles such as the Shokk Attack Gun or the Lifta-Droppa, with most of these devices kept in working order by Orkish psychic abilities filling in whatever gaps in engineering may be present, an effect the Orks themselves are generally unaware of, present most notably in the fact that “The red ones go faster”, meaning that any vehicle, painted red, will move faster than other vehicles for no other reason than the Orks believe it to be so.
Orks are noted as being the most ubiquitous race in the galaxy, and they comprise the most common alien threat faced by the Imperium. They are warlike and undisciplined, and their conflict-driven nature prevents them from fully realising their potential for destruction. Despite a lack of fear and an extremely high threshold of pain, Orks will often unite under the leadership of any particularly large and domineering Ork, and potentially form into a “WAAAGH!, named after the instinctual Orkish warcry, which behaves as a combination of a holy war, pub crawl, and mass migration. At any one time there are many individual Waaaghs being formed and fought across the galaxy.
Orks are green-skinned, a side effect of their blending on a genetic level with fungi (explained in more detail below). Orks are genetically engineered for combat, and quite efficiently so. They are extremely strong, and their squat bodies can withstand immense punishment. This is fortunate since the Painboyz operate on a generally nineteenth-century level of “surjikul” knowledge; unlike humans, though, Orks are quite capable of having limbs (or even heads) freely chopped and swapped onto a different body, and surviving the experience to fight again.
They eat fungi of all kinds as well as meat. A particularly favored ingredient in their diet are Squigs, short for ‘Squiggly beasts’ — a variety of symbiotic races about the size of a cat but only possessing a set of lower legs or no legs at all. In earlier editions, Squigs were said to be a form of Tyranid with Ork genes. These include the “Eatin’ Squig”, a limbless blob which feeds on fungus, the “Growler Squig”, a legged variety used as a sheepdog for Gretchin (in third and fourth editions referred to as a “Squighound” and available as an item of wargear), the “Attack Squig” a powerfully voracious little beast available as an item of wargear, and the “Face-eater Squig”, a ferociously toothed variety used both as a weapon and for entries in face-eating contests. (The Ork and the Squig both open their mouths and bite, in a parody of a kiss. If the Ork eats the Squig, he wins. If he keels over backwards, he loses.) There is also a larger sub-species of Squig, called a Squiggoth, that ranges in size from about that of an elephant to a 60-plus-foot monstrosity capable of stomping buildings into rubble. Squiggoths are used as pack animals and in combat as the carriers of mobile fortresses. Another species of Squig is the “Hair-Squig” which the Orks do not eat, but wear on their heads as a form of decoration, as Orks are naturally hairless. Orks are known for pitying Humans (humies) for their lack of proper Hair squigs of varying colors.
Orks grow all through their lives, though the average Ork stands around the same height as the average man. The Ork would be far taller if he were only to stand up straight. In their normal walking and standing pose Orks hide about a foot in height; when standing normally in their pose they look similar to a gorilla. Orks growth rates can vary, however. The effect is notable in extremely aggressive Orks. As the Ork survives combat and wins trophies, the respect of other Orks will produce in him an effect somewhat similar to adolescence in the human male: he puts on muscle, becomes more aggressive and assertive, and generally throws his weight around. If he wins the ensuing challenges to single combat, he may become a Nob (short for “noble,” but pronounced “knob”), a leader of Orks, noticeably larger, tougher, and of a darker green than the average. Once he begins to grow, an Ork will generally keep getting bigger, stronger, and greener until he is beaten by a bigger or more cunning Ork. Warbosses and Warlords, the rulers of continents and empires, are very large Orks indeed, often standing over three meters (10’) tall or higher. Ghazghkull himself is a towering 6 meters (19’6”) in height.
Assuming they aren’t killed in combat, a buggy accident or by a rival, an Ork will live indefinitely. Orks seem to live longer the more powerful they are, such as with Ghazghkull possibly being hundreds of years old. It seems Ork warbosses live a similarly long time unless a rival or enemy does them in first. The process causing this is unknown, but most likely another legacy of the Old Ones’ genetic manipulation, designed to create a more permanent leadership base for the Orks.
Orks’ brutish behavior and choice to always use a direct approach in combat stems from their lack of a fear of death.  The Waaagh!
Ork behavior is dominated by the Waaagh!, a gestalt psychic field they generate that affects the Ork psyche, as it allows Orks to instinctively recognize who is ‘bigga’ and therefore in charge. All Orks generate this field, and it grows stronger as the Orks enjoy themselves, generally while fighting. The Waaagh! helps give momentum (and the name) to the Orks’ planet-crushing Waaagh!s. These Waaagh!s are a cross between a mass migration, holy war, looting party and pub brawl, with a bit of genocide thrown in for good measure. Millions of Orks will gather together, drawn to the power of a single dominant Ork called a Warboss, who is larger and more intelligent(sometimes) than the Orks around him. Then the Orks will set off to find an enemy to fight – any enemy. Ork Waaagh!s will sweep whole planetary systems away and destroy armies and fleets in tides of bloodlust and carnage, and only once the Orks have killed every available enemy will they start to fight amongst themselves again. In some cases, Warlords eventually forge their Waaagh! into an empire, although very different to the Imperium. The most famous is Charadon, which has been ruled for centuries by successive emperors called ‘Arch Arsonist,’ while the Octarius empire is run by the Overfiend (“Overfiend” being a title used as a nickname for Andy Chambers, a former high-level Games Workshop Games Developer). Apparently, no non-Ork can accurately produce this battle-cry, as it has been said that humans cannot shout ‘WAAAGH!’ with anywere near enough volume or phlegm to properly recreate it. This does not stop gamers from trying, though.
The Waaagh! is also used to refer to an Ork Warboss’ army.
The word probably comes from “war” as orks sometimes say things like, “we’s goin to waaagh wit da ummies.”  Biology
Orks consist of two symbiotic organisms: one comparable to a terrestrial animal and the other to algae or a fungus living in the first’s bloodstream. The animal cells carry the genetic information of only the individual’s subspecies, but the algae has genetic information for all the varieties of Orkoid, as well as the different Oddboyz. The algae also helps heal wounds quickly. If an Ork loses an arm, and has it stitched back on, the wound will be healed enough to go smash some heads within a day. Ork biology lends itself well to combat; their physiology is extraordinarily strong and tough, canonically described as “simple, yet robust” and are naturally talented fighters, always looking for a scrap.
First Orks reproduced sexually, developing sexual characteristics at a certain age and go out “lookin’ for something” later this was retconned with Orks reproducing when they got old; wandering into the wilderness to die, with new Orks budding off the corpse. Later, this was retconned so that the old Orks would gestate a litter of Orks in a marsupial-like pouch, raising the young orks in orky kulture. In ‘Gorkamorka’, this was retconned again into the current version, which follows:
“Orks have not only survived, they have prospered and are more numerous than humanity. This at least is due in part to how they reproduce. Orks reproduce through the release of spores, which grow into a plant-like womb underground that nourishes the bodies of the various Orkoid species. This is the entire basis of the Orkoid ecosystem, producing first Squigs, then Snotlings who cultivate the Squigs and fungus, then Gretchin to build the settlements, and finally the Orks themselves. This means the Orks, where ever they go, will have an abundance of food, slaves and other resources, a moving ecosystem that supports them as they go on their Waaaghs!”
This also makes it extremely difficult to rid a planet of Orks, even if the initial invasion is defeated. Orks release spores throughout their lives, but they mass-release them at the moment of death. To prevent this, the bodies must be burned shortly after death (In the Fifteen Hours novel, the exact time was around seven hours, as the battle took around five hours, and Bulaven mentioned that they would start walking around again in two hours.) Without a nearby population of Orks, the fungus will eventually start the Ork life cycle anew. Decades after weathering an Ork Waaagh!, settlements on a planet can find themselves faced with an unexpected attack from feral Ork tribes coming out of the wilderness.  Orkoid subspecies
Gretchin are the Orks’ slaves. Small, grasping, green creatures with the overall demeanor of a whipped dog, gretchin are at the wrong end of everything, including the food chain. Gretchin are used to clear minefields, distract the enemy in combat, assist Oddboyz, and act as a living carpet for larger Orks to cross difficult ground. A rule for this (Gretchin providing cover for Ork units) existed until the most recent Codex (In the 5th edition rules, Gretchin still provide cover, but the ability is not unique to them as all units provide cover for those behind them). They are overall similar to the Warhammer Fantasy goblins. Snotlings are weaker still and form the bottom rung of Ork society. They originally were used in swarms like in Warhammer Fantasy and could even be fired out of a shokk attack gun. In the current version they are no longer available in actual combat but are again used in the shokk attack gun, though they are not represented by models.
More unusual are the squigs. Squigs are animals that share the same general fungus-based biology of the Orks and gretchin, and are used as food, clothing, weapons and even hair, being trained as guard squigs and attack squigs, as well as super-massive squiggoths.
In the first and second editions of the game, squigs were the result of Tyranid manipulation of Orkish gene-matter and could be present in either army. Orks were said to have discovered the first squigs aboard a Tyranid bio-ship and recognized them as being “Orky”, subsequently taking the little creatures home. Squigs then spread throughout Ork space. However, since this conflicts with the more recent descriptions of the Orkoid ecosystem, this has been dropped. Squigs are now exclusively orky, with ripper swarms replacing them in the Tyranid list.  Oddboyz
Although a standard Ork’s genetically encoded knowledge allows him to survive at a basic level, keep his weapons in working order and fight in battle, there is always a need for specialists who can do things most can’t. Some Orks possess knowledge of very specific and often extremely complicated things far beyond a regular Ork’s mental capacity. These Orks are known as Oddboyz. These innate talents are believed to have been purposely written into the genetic code of the Orks by the Brain boyz to ensure that the race could not only survive without their masters but also flourish and expand across the galaxy. Although there are probably countless different Oddboyz to fill all the necessary roles in Ork society only a handful are fully recognized and respected by Orks, probably due to their crucial roles in Ork warfare as well as lifestyle.
Mad Doks (also known as ‘Painboyz’) are responsible for fixing injuries that even the Ork physiology can’t repair, such as severed limbs and brain damage. An Ork will only go to the Dok when he has no other choice, as these Oddboyz are infamous for trying out experimental procedures on patients while they are under anesthesia (known as “concussion” to other races). Doks are responsible for attaching bioniks, although sometimes they aren’t paying attention and replace the wrong part of the patient’s body. (For example, Dok Blag’s Mk I Exploding Leg, when the patient in question only wanted to have a bad tooth looked at.) High-ranking Doks are known as ‘painbosses’ and are known to be accompanied by cybork bodyguards.
Yellerz are Orks which have been naturally gifted with an incredibly loud voice. These Orks’ usefulness is nowhere near as important as the majority of the other Oddboyz and they make appearances on top of the new gargants/stompas in the 40K tabletop game. They do appear in the specialist game Epic where they sit on top of Ork titans, known as gargants/stompas. These are huge lumbering constructions built in the image of the Ork gods by Mekboyz. Using an amplifier to further increase their voices’ volume, they shout communications to other Orks and Gargants and in return they themselves receive communications and orders from other Yellerz. Off the battlefield Yellerz also act as priests in Ork society, preaching to their brethren with their supernatural voices.
Mekboyz (also known as ‘Mekaniaks’ or just ‘Meks’) are Ork engineers, who build all the gunz, vehicles, and other machines used by Orks. They are especially important to Speed Freeks. Important meks are known as ‘Big Meks’. Their main cause of death would be officially listed as ‘eksperiment (sic) gone wrong’ if Orks bothered with all that sort of thing. In the current edition of Codex: Orks, Mekboyz can lead mobs of “Burna Boyz” or “Lootas” as well as repair vehicles using their equipment “Mekboy’s tools.” In the 5th edition main rules, Big Meks can also be used to lead an Ork army.
Pigdoks are an odd combination of Dok and Mek, although not as skilled as either individually. They are found in feral Ork tribes, tending the boars that are ridden to battle by the primitives. Their main use in battle is to provide ‘doping’ to increase the ferocity of the various beasts that feral Orks take to war, as well as some of the Orks themselves. Skilled pigdoks have been known to “swap” the hind legs with a single track/wheel and a big loud engine.
Slavers (also known as ‘Runtherdz’) are the Orks who have the patience to take care of gretchin, squigs and any other slaves or creatures the Orks may have captured. Adeptus Mechanicus and other mechanics/scientists are prize catches for the work they can do that Orkz can’t. Their trademark weapons are the grot prod and grabba stikk.
Weirdboyz are Ork psykers. One major difference between Orkish psykers and the psykers of other races is that, instead of drawing upon The Warp, a dangerous plane of reality full of disembodied thoughts, feelings, and daemons, wyrdboyz draw on the psychic power of the Waaagh!. When drawing on the power of the Waaagh!, Ork wyrdboyz are not in any less danger: if they soak up too much of this power, their heads explode. This is much like a catastrophic mistake for a Warhammer Fantasy greenskin shaman. In addition to the wyrdboy’z head exploding, the powerful psychic backlash that is unleashed can cause other Orks’ heads to explode as well. Naturally, wyrdboyz avoid combat as much as possible, but the ability to gout green flame capable of melting armor and shoot bolts of lightning is too great for most warbosses to resist, and they get dragged into combat anyway. Some wyrdboyz actually become addicted to battle as most other Orks and seek out battles; these exceptionally dangerous individuals are known as Warpheads. Wyrdboys have made a comeback in the revised 4th edition Ork codex.
Smartboyz were first seen in the graphic novel Deff Skwadron, which featured the name Smartboyz several times, most often for the character Gimzod, a co-pilot. Judging by Gimzod’s role, Smartboyz seems to be the name for normal fighter type Orks who are oddly intelligent, and who often find themselves used to help bigger Bosses on their missions in several things that the Boss might forget, like reminding them of their actual mission. Gimzod in particular was able to spell many words with an “h” in them, and often had a clear overview on the current situation. It is unclear where exactly a Smartboy stands in the Ork hierarchy. However, Gimzod’s Boss once said: “There’s a difference between bein’ smartboy an’ bein’ a smart git.”, indicating that Gimzod is only useful to him as long as he knows his place. It is also possible that Smartboyz are only tolerated in the Blood Axe clan and would be killed in other Clans because of being too “un-Orky” (‘ez too tellagit!).
Stormboyz are those young orks who, tired of being told they can do whatever they want, whenever they want, separate themselves from Ork society and join Stormboy squadrons where they are taught the merits of rank, file, and bodily hygiene. They are viewed as strange, a little crazy, and generally “un-orky”. However, their battlefield use is undeniable by any warboss, flying into battle with ramshackle jet packs in order to get to the enemy first. Unfortunately for the Stormboys, the Meks generally find it hilarious when a jet pack malfunctions, sending the Stormboy off in the wrong direction, and have been known to purposely sabotage their own creations.
Other oddboyz include Sumboyz (bankers/accountants), Minderz (Bodyguards for Weirdboyz), Flyboyz (Pilots of aircraft and some spacecraft), Diggerz (Miners and tunnelers), and Brewboyz (alcohol manufacturers), all of whom have an important role in ork society (although not necessarily on the battlefield).
Kommandos These are the kunnin of the kunnin, and Mork(or Gork) personified. Kommandos are looked down upon by most of the orkish society, believing that “all dat sneaky round stuff just aint what da orks do”. But no warboss in his right mind would refuse their services. Kommandos are orks that put on camouflage and hide around in cover, using stealth, espionage, guerrilla warfare, and other methods of stealth combat to kill their foes. Most famous of all Kommandos is Boss Snikrot, who after being left on Armageddon after the 2nd invasion, hid in the jungle with other orks, and started sneaking around and ambushing Imperial forces in the forests.
Tankbustas One thing an ork loves is watching something explode. Something an ork loves even more is watching something bigger than he is, and that belongs to an enemy, blow up—especially if they had a hand in it. Orks obsessed with destroying vehicles become tankbustas. They are so obsessed with destroying vehicles that they will run past and ignore enemy infantry without regard for themselves just to get the glory of destroying a vehicle. They may attach a number of tankbusta bombs to a squig and send it off running toward the nearest enemy tank. Sometimes this doesn’t work too well for the orks, and the squig runs straight for the nearest ork vehicle.
There are also many other oddboy varieties whose role in Ork society is either barely noticed or of no use in most battles, and are therefore never given much attention. Their talents are essential to Orks all the same, though, and some dedicated players have been known to invent them to add more character to their Ork armies and Ork background in general. Kaptins are warbosses who create and lead the mobs known as Freebooterz. These orks resemble pirates from the age of sail and act as such: raiding and pillaging to fulfill their need for violence. They also hire themselves out to alien races or even other orks. Though they are considered to be ‘un-orky,’ their lifestyle does result in them being better-armed and combat experienced then most other orks. Some of the famous ones are Kaptin Badrukk of the Flash Gitz and Kaptin Zagstruk of Da Vulchas.
Orks gather into various levels of organization. The first is the mob, a squad-level unit of Orks with similar ideas of how to act on the battlefield, generally led by a Nob (a person – Ork, in this case – of wealth or social importance. It is short for “noble,” but is pronounced “knob”). A number of mobs will gather together into a warband, which is roughly equivalent to an Imperial Guard company (although with a greater variation in size), led by a warboss. The largest organizational unit is the tribe, a group of numerous warbands all under the command of a warboss. Different tribes can be united by a powerful warlord when he raises a Waaagh!.