Apologies for the double post, but this is going to be fairly big and is separate from the rebuttal above. Just as a creative excercise, I'm going to try to put together a concept -just as an example of something Obsidian might chose to do - and see if people still insist that orcs can't add anything of value if they were reimagined like dwarves have been.
Say I start with Carthage. It was a trading nation, and althought it didn't survive nearly into the Renaissance or age of colonisation, it isn't terribly out of place. Carthage was a great explorer and coloniser in her day. It isn't terribly difficult to imagine it existing in a Renaissance-equivalent era.
When I think of Carthage I think of its unique blend of democracy and plutocracy. Major offices and military commands being given to the sons of the great families. For there to be the equivalent of great Carthaginian families, there needs to be wealth that puts those families at the top of the social ladder.
So let's consider their primitive history and development. Here I'm thinking of hunter-herder groups like those of southern Africa. Wealth was measured in livestock, the chiefs and great men owned large herds of livestock. Smallfolk were employed to tend these livestock, being payed with livestock in return which they would use to grow their own herds and support their own families. Say this is what the orcs looked like when primative, and fast forward a thousand years. The orcs have grown into a civilization that builds cities and temples, and has technology on par with the late middle ages. Whereas the nobility of western Europe largely sprang from germanic warrior traditions and Roman offices, orcish nobility traces its roots back to the herd-owning chieftains of their primitive, semi-nomadic days. Therefore orc culture values wealth; not money, mere coins in a vault somewhere, but tangible wealth. Orcs are impressed by people who own tangible things like beasts and land and ships, and who can employ many people in their service just like the headmen of days gone by did.
Thus the orcs are a culture with an emphasis on trade, lending, and contract service. Warriors and militarism are however as much a part of the orc's appeal as magic and archery are of the elf's, and we don't want to negate that entirely. So as the orcs developed, they came into contact with more groups and developed trade networks - first on land, and then eventually at sea. This required military force to protect the trade interests of the great headmen, and armies and navies were developed as another way for people to serve their betters and receive assets as payment. Now that the orcs are in the late middle ages, I imagine that their armies are built around a core of mail-clad pikemen. This is reminiscent of both the Hellenistic Age to which Carthage belongs, and of how warfare shifted back to pike tactics in the late middle ages. Depending on where in the world you put them, you could even give the orcs Carthaginian/Seleucid/Indian-style war elephants - which would give them a more exotic feel, making them less Uruk-hai and more Haradrim. On top of this they could crossbows, ballistae, and other weapons that distance them further from their primitive origins - without going all aboard and giving them gunpowder, which might be a step too close to qunari.
We then want to give orcs a religion. Let's leave Carthaginian religion be, and look elsewhere. We don't want our orcs to be seen as qunari, so that means avoiding Islam, Buddhism, or any combination of the two. We also want to avoid shamanism, animism, or anything that keeps orcs stuck with one foot in "noble savage".
So I think of zoroastrianism. Organised religion, monotheistic or semi-monotheistic, perhaps a little prone to hedonism. You can take or leave the fire worship - though it might be a good way to include an orcish version of Magran into the mix. Zoroastrian-style towers of silence are perhaps an interesting dungeon candidate if you wanted to take that as well.
To develop this religion further, what would these orcs I've imagined value? Since they value assets and service, I imagine them placing a heavy emphasis on property law and contract law. What if the priesthood developed along a legalistic approach where law and religion where intertwined? This can tie in well with a Zoroastrian approach, as to my knowledge that religion is more concerned with order vs. disorder than with individualistic virtue, placing a high value on law and honesty. This seems like a good place to tie the orcs to Woedica. We can ditch the idea of semi-monotheism, or put the gods in some hierarchy where only orc-Woedica is seen as "the" god and the others are seen as lesser-but-important spiritual entities (that seems like an ideal situation for Woedica and her priesthood).
But all this emphasis on law might seem a little too "the Qun demands!", so we want to temper it with less severity. So make the orcs prone to decadence. Zoroastrianism rejects monasticism and abstinance, believing that people should fully participate in their physical reality. And the African tribal patronage systems from which we derive some of the orcs' culture were rife with decadence. So it seems likely that our orcs - or their aristocracy, at least - would be prone to being self-indulgent and corrupt. Which ties in perfectly with our nepotistic Carthaginian political system.
To return to the political system; we've now worked out a powerful aristocracy, a prominent and legalistic clergy, and a significant military that exists to protect trade interests. Someone has to keep these groups together and prevent one from simply dominating the others. Say that the priesthood, being vested with the legal powers of the state, appoint something like a Carthaginian Suffete (chief magistrate) who is effectively their king. This head of state is appointed from among the great trade families, meaning that they have to jostle for the favour of the priesthood. But the priesthood in turn is wary of giving power to a figure who is too powerful, prefering that the head of state be a puppet ruler. Thus our king/chief magistrate/whatever has to contend with the scheming of the clergy to undermine his power, while at the same time contending with the ambitions of the other family headmen - who, on account of the nepotism that puts their sons in command of the orcish armies, might try to force a regime change.
That seems like a solid basic outline for a civilization. Now you mostly need to put this civilization into the world, work out its interactions with the other civilizations, and consider how people might have migrated between this realm and the others.
So we have something that...
Has a political settlement that we haven't seen in orcs before? Check.
Has a religion and value system unlike what we've seen in orcs before? Check.
Isn't primitive, and can reasonably fit into the time period? Check.
Retains the basic level of militarism that is part of the appeal of orcs? Check.
Isn't mindlessly dedicated to evil and bound to perpetual war with humanity? Check.
Draws from multiple real-world civilizations without being a carbon copy of any one? Check.
Brings real-world cultural/historical influences that aren't already present in the setting? Check.
Could coexist alongside Obsidian's elves and dwarves, make them seem less out of place in the world, but still stand on its own merits as unique? Check.
This concept isn't something that I've put any thought into before this evening (my previous concepts for a new spin on orcs have been more fully Armenian/Persian), and I won't claim that it is mindblowing. But isn't there worth in something like this? Couldn't this coexist alongside Obsidian's elves and dwarves and not seem like a failure of creativity? How much better would a similar concept actualy written by Obsidian be? Or is it still inherently bad because it has orcs in it?
Edited by Sarog, 04 August 2014 - 02:24 PM.