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Norkers have been around since the days of AD&D, where their major mechanical distinction was that they were stronger goblins with AC 3. They play a significant role in The Forgotten Temple or Tharizdun as the rank and file of the occupying force the PCs need to clear out before they can delve the temple.
Norkers in 4e are descendants of goblins who emigrated to the Elemental Chaos and sought shelter in deep caves in order to survive the harsh conditions of that plane. The earth-aspected ambient energy of their chosen habitat mutated them over generations, granting them stony skin and minor earth-based powers.
Norker populations have since crossed back into the middle world, where they live in mountainous regions, in the Underdark, and near fonts of earth-aspected elemental power. Some sages speculate that the original norkers lived near sites of power related to Ogrémoch, the Evil Elemental Prince of Earth, because modern norkers are often found working for his cultists or those of the Elder Elemental Eye, guarding his forgotten temples in another very obvious historical reference.
Norkers retain their conceptual role as rank-and-file opposition for paragon-tier (AKA “name level”) characters, which in 4e means they’re much stronger than they ever were. Their levels range from around 12 to 15 here.
They’re Small Elemental Humanoids with Low-Light Vision and Speed 6, with abilities combining martial training and minor earth magic.
Norker Stone Shield
Stone Shields look like an unruly mob at first glance, but they’re professional soldiers trained by those elemental cults and other earth-themed villains. Their training and equipment allows them to fight a bit like a roman legion, keeping tight formations, throwing javelins and them closing in to batter enemies with their short clubs and shields.
Stone Shields are Level 12 Soldiers with 124 HP, which means a sizable group of them can eat most typical human military units for breakfast. Their basic attacks are a club and a javelin, both of which mark for a turn on a hit. If a marked enemy adjacent to the norker shifts, it can attack them with a Shield Slam vs. Fortitude that damages and knocks prone on a hit. And if someone hits them in melee they can respond with an Elemental Rebuke, a reaction that attacks AC and does some minor damage.
Fortunately, it seems stone shields are rarified elites. The actual rank and file of a norker force will be made of of these guys, who are far less organized and prefer to use “charging horde” tactics with their clubs. Their natural strength and toughness still makes them a very hard problem for human militaries, and even PCs don’t want to get surrounded by them.
Grunts are Level 15 Minion Brutes, and their only active ability is their Club attack. Their Harrassing Brute trait is what makes them truly dangerous. All of the grunt’s allies get a damage bonus against enemies equal to twice the number of grunts adjacent to that enemy.
Let’s unpack that for a moment. Let’s say 4 grunts are adjacent to the party’s fighter. Each of those grunts will get a +8 damage bonus when they attack the fighter. So will the grunt’s artillery and controller bosses who are 5 squares away from this scrum. And so on.
Ideally, grunts want to slip past the front line and harrass the enemy squishies, but as we can see from the example above they can still do pretty well against defenders if Team Monster decides to focus fire.
Norker Stone Walker
Stone Walkers norkers who received proper training in earth magic, and who combine that with a mobile fighting style. They’re Level 15 Skirmishers with 150 HP. They can attack with handaxes in melee or at range, doing extra damage if they have combat advantage. They also have a +4 AC bonus against opportunity attacks.
Magic-wise, they have the same Elemental Rebuke reaction as the Stone Shield, and they can also use Earth Glide as a move action to move their speed and phase through earth and rock during this movement.
That last one makes them excellent additions to an underground encounter. Place a couple of them behind a thin rock wall and have them flank the PCs after the stone shields and grunts begin their frontal assault.
Tough norkers still fill more or less the same narrative role as before, they do so in a very different way. I think my favorites are the grunts; the damage bonus they grant is both very distinctive and terrifying to players. When scaling their level, I’d probably make it +1/tier instead of a flat +2.