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. Commiting a crime against any of the Orcs in any of the Strongholds results in a bounty for all the Strongholds.
When the player first approaches a stronghold, if the player is an Orc, the guard will welcome the player as kin of Malacath.
If the player is not an Orc, a guard will stop the player and inform the player that this place is exclusively for Orcs and outsiders will not be permitted inside. However, if the player asks how he/she can be persuaded to give the player access, he/she will tell the player 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 piece of light/heavy armor up to ebony level.
- 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 is 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 completing the quest Clear Kolskeggr Mine, there is a Orc with the quest giver. Upon completion, the orc will say that he will send a good word to all other Orc Strongholds, negating any need to complete further stronghold quests.
- 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. The player can enter them without being challenged with a quest, or not have to complete any further stronghold quests.
- 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. The player can enter them without being challenged with a quest, or not have to complete any further stronghold quests.
- 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 deadly way to gain entry is to kill a dragon, or other strong boss right outside of the gates of a stronghold. You will be allowed entry because of your valor.
- Upon completion of A New Order, a Dawnguard quest, Durak will send word to the strongholds to allow you entry.
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.
It would seem that if the player asks a guard at one of the strongholds if there are other strongholds that are undiscovered, they will all show up on the player's map as unexplored areas.
- There are various followers the player can gain from the different strongholds, and also minerals and other resources. More detailed information on the specific stronghold-pages.
- Borgakh the Steel Heart, located at Mor Khazgur, is a potential wife for the player. The player has to 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. It is impossible for the Dragonborn to become a chief. Killing a chief will result in the clan turning hostile, and eventually retreating into the Longhouse, refusing to come out.
- 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.