Orcs here live according to the rule of Malacath. Malacath, as Daedric Prince of the Orcs, is worshiped in these places. The strongholds are for Orcs only, but the Dragonborn can be granted entry if the quest Find the Forgemaster's Fingers is completed. If the Dragonborn happens to be an Orc, access will be granted without need of a quest.
In the middle of the Merethic Era, the Orsimer and their leader Trinimac attempted to halt the movement of the prophet Veloth and the Chimer. The Daedric Prince Boethiah ate Trinimac, corrupting his body and spirit, and he emerged as the Daedric Prince Malacath. All of the Orsimer people were also changed into what they are now known as, the Orcs. The early Orcish people founded the tribal and independent lifestyle of living. Instead of claiming one area, they would settle in multiple provinces dependent on the preferences and lifestyles of each individual tribe. These provinces came to be known as High Rock, Skyrim and Hammerfell. The Orcs would form small, tightly-knit strongholds and villages across these provinces while others gradually contributed to the formation of the predominantly Orc city of Orsinium.
During the early Fourth Era and the sacking of Orsinium, many surviving orcs fled east into Skyrim while others fled into the Dragontail Mountains or the Wrothgarian Mountains and successfully integrated into the clanish strongholds.
Strongholds are governed by a rigid class system. Every Orc has a specific job and is obligated to perform it. Every man, woman, and child in the fort is also trained from birth to defend it. The Strongholds are led by a chief, who killed the previous chief to prove his strength. Only the chiefs are allowed to have wives, and due to this, they often have several. This method is to ensure that the strongest Orc becomes chief, contributing his genes to the next generation of orcs who, in theory, should be stronger than the last.
Orcs in Strongholds follow their own law called "The Code of Malacath." The will of Malacath is clarified by the Stronghold's resident wise woman. The rules of the Code are simple: don't kill, don't steal, and don't attack people without reason. They do not have jails; instead, offenders are forced to pay a "blood price," in which the criminal bleeds until the victim is satisfied. In cases where the victim was murdered, the chief is consulted to convey an appropriate sentence. All Orcs in the Strongholds belong to a faction called Tribal Orcs. Committing a crime against any of the Orcs in any of the Strongholds results in a bounty in all the Strongholds.
When one first approaches a stronghold, if the player is an Orc, the guard will welcome the player as kin of Malacath.
If the Dragonborn is not an Orc, a guard will stop the player and inform them that this place is exclusively for Orcs and outsiders will not be permitted inside. However, if the player asks how the guard can be persuaded to give the player access, the player will be told that the player may do so by completing a quest.
Alternatively, the player may do quests for certain Orc NPCs, and once the player has gained enough favor with them, they will send word to the strongholds that the player is a friend to the strongholds.
- If the player goes to Understone Keep in Markarth and talks to the Orc blacksmith (Moth gro-Bagol) there, he will eventually ask for a Daedra Heart for the Jarl's new sword. If the player gives one to him, he will not only give a good word for the player to the Orc strongholds, he will give the player the location of the most inhabited stronghold, Dushnikh Yal, and a leveled piece of armor.
- Upon encountering an Orc stronghold for the first time and asking the right questions, the player may be given access to the strongholds by reclaiming an item, The Forgemaster's Fingers. The Fingers' location may be different for each stronghold (which may or may not be due to Radiant AI) but the player only has to do the quest once to get entrance for all of the strongholds.
- When the quest Clear Kolskeggr Mine has been completed, there is an Orc with the quest giver. Upon completion, the orc will say that he will send a good word to all other Orc Strongholds.
- If the player has completed the quest The Last Scabbard of Akrash for Ghorza gra-Bagol, she will tell the player that she will send a good word to the Orc strongholds for the player.
- If the player completes a series of fetch quests for Urag gro-Shub, an Orc mage and the librarian of The Arcanaeum at The College of Winterhold, he will also be willing to vouch for the player to the strongholds.
- Upon killing the Silver-Blood mercenaries at Karthwasten for Ainethach, the orc who is nearby will say that she will send word to the strongholds that the player is to be trusted.
- A more dangerous way to gain entry is to kill a dragon, or other strong boss right outside of the gates of a stronghold. The player will be allowed entry because of their valor.
- Upon completion of A New Order, a Dawnguard quest, Durak will send word to the strongholds to allow entry.
- If the first stronghold the player visits is Largashbur, and they are at least lvl 10, the completion of The Cursed Tribe will mark the player as the Champion of Malacath, therefore they are to be respected by all Orcs.
There are four Strongholds in Skyrim;
- Mor Khazgur - Northwestern corner of Skyrim, straight north from Karthwasten.
- Dushnikh Yal - Southwestern corner of Skyrim, straight south from Salvius Farm (Markarth).
- Largashbur - Southeastern quadrant of Skyrim, straight west from Riften.
- Narzulbur - Mid-eastern part of Skyrim, straight north from Mzulft.
Asking a guard at one of the strongholds if there are any others will reveal all other strongholds on the map as unexplored locations. Some city hold guards might talk about one of the strongholds if the stronghold is in the same hold.
- Borgakh the Steel Heart, located at Mor Khazgur, is a potential wife for the player and a follower. The player must pay her dowry or convince her to leave.
- The rules and laws the Orcs follow state that defeating his elderly father in single combat is how the young chief assumes the mantle of his father's leadership.
- In all strongholds (with the exception of Largashbur) the player has the option to talk to the chief and ask if there is any help the player can provide, the chief will ask for a brawl in which the player can win 100 . If the player wins they will obtain 100 , and can take a lot of free loot from the stronghold without having it count as theft.
- If an Orsimer is away from their home, they will be named after where they came from e.g. In the Imperial Legion, Ghorbash the Iron Hand was known as Ghorbash gro-Dushnikh, as he says when the Dragonborn asks him to be a follower. The fact that many Orcs don't have a corresponding stronghold (for example: Balagog gro-Nolob) indicates that they came from a province in Orsinium, or a stronghold not in Skyrim.