The work contained on this page is copyright Jim Chadwick. Candlekeep claims no rights to ownership of this material and it is provided here with permission from the author.
Orcs of the Vast
By Jim Chadwick
|Keepers of the Purple Flame|
BLOODY TUSK TRIBE
This active orc tribe lives in the Fire River Valley, just north of the Earthfast Mountains. They are well known and feared by travellers in the southern Vast as they often raid caravans and small groups of travellers. Perhaps the most freightening thing about this group of orcs is their tendancy to use dire boars as mounts. When orc hordes do form in the Vast , many orc warlords recruit the Bloody Tusk tribe to be the heavy cavalry of his forces.
The land of the Fire River Valley is very fertile woodlands that slope up to the mountains around them. The woods are filled with game and provide food to the tribe on a regular basis. There are many shallow caves and caverns in the hills surrounding the river valley, as well. Some of these are used for shelter, while others are used as mushroom farms to supplement the tribe's diet. The woods provide cover from much of the sunlight and most of the tribe lives above ground and behind wooden pallisades. The Fire River Valley gives the Bloody Tusks most of what they need to survive and most members don't leave unless they go raiding.
The Bloody Tusk tribe stays out of most of the inter-tribal politics that exist throughout the various warring factions of old Vastar. Their homelands provide much for them and they fear little inside their ancestral homes. Even the Keepers of the Purple Flame have little influence on tribal leaders. Leaders of the tribe are chosen through Rites of Combat, which are common throughout most orc tribes. When one orc feels he should lead the tribe, he challenges the cheiften to combat. This does not happen as often as other tribes as the prosperity of the Bloody Tusks tends to temper some of the famous orcish blood-lust.
Orcish blood-lust must be saited, though, and many war parties are lead against caravans travelling throughout the Vast . Many chieftens have forged alliances with half-orc agents in many of the cities and towns throughout the Vast . Unscrupolous humans can contact and hire the tribe to raid specific caravans that come within their reach. This has enriched the tribe to a degree further that they have also used their half-orc agents to hire smiths to forge steel weapons and armor for them. Sundry items are also purchased for the tribe through these intermediaries, though many items are gained through raiding caravans.
The most fearsome aspect of the Bloody Tusk tribe are the Tuskan Riders. These are the elite warriors of the tribe and are trained to ride the dire boars that the tribe rears (and gets their namesake). The strength of these boards is enough that they can carry fully armed and armored orcs into battle with little difficulty. Tuskan Riders preferred weapon is the heavy lance, though they are pr of icient with many weapons, including shooting short bows from boar back.
Short bows are the next most common weapon among the tribe. Most of the tribe has learned to hunt game in the woods of the Fire River Valley and have become expert shots with the short bow. Long bows aren't needed as most of the hunting happens within the confines of the woods and the distance ins't needed.
All manner of hand weapons are used by the tribe as many of them are made by human smiths. Some are taken as loot from the bodies of those killed during caravan raids. Others are purchased through the half-orc agents in the human towns by unscrupolous smiths. Axes of all types are common weapons, though, as they also double as tools in the forests of their homeland.
All the orc gods are worshiped with equal fervor and none are placed higher than the others. Gruumsh is the most popular, as the head of the pantheon. What stands out as a little unusual for the tribe is that some members tend to worship the human god Malar. The Beast Lord has been known to appear to some druidic orcs of the Fire River Valley and his portfolio of hunting and killing fits in well within the tribe's philosophy. Beyond some druids and rangers, most do not worship Malar, though his numbers tend to grow a slight bit every year. No one is sure if it will cause a schism in the tribe or not.
TRIBE OF THE BLACK CLAW
This tribe lives in the Flooded Forest in the north-eastern reaches of the Vast . The Tribe of the Black Claw is one of the more backwards and barbaric of the orc tribes due to the struggles of their environment. The name is gained from the slaying of an adult, black dragon and the claws that were turned into magic totems of the tribe. Though they occasionally raid outside the swamp, the combative environment in the Flooded Forest keeps them mostly unknown to the world outside.
Many humanoid tribes live within the confines of the Flooded Forest and all battle for supremecy. Predators of the swamp also take their toll on those who dwell in the fetid swamp, as well. Resources are precious few, as well, and only primitive tools are available to the Tribe of the Black Claw. Most members of the tribe spend their time fishing or hunting for food and for keeping an eye out for attacks. Small canoes and rafts are crafted from the many trees in the swamp and the tribe has become competent at sailing in the shallow waters.
The tribe is ruled by a council of elders, which is unusual for an orc tribe. Life is too fragil and inter-tribal combat too costly for the Tribe of the Black Claw so combative challenges inside the tribe is frowned upon. If an orc is able to live to old age in the tribe, they are usually given respect for surviving for so long. The Adepts of the tribe are usually given more respect and listened to more often than other members. Keepers of the Purple Flame, when they actually visit the Flooded Forest, are given much respect, for it was on the divinations of an ancient Keeper that the tribe attacked the black dragon that gives the tribe it's namesake. It was also this Keeper that enchanted the tribe's four totems into powerful magic items that help protect the tribe to this day.
The largest threat to the existance of the tribe is the large tribe of lizard men who also live in the Flooded Forest. They have fought for generations over the feeble resources that the swamp provides. The re is a constant state of raiding as war parties for both sides attack the other. If the re was a way for one side to gain dominance over the other, they would not hesitate to use it.
Weapons and armor for the Tribe of the Black Claw are simple. Resources to create decent weapons are rare and the tribe has few connections to the outside world to trade. Even if they did, there is little that they could trade for for such weapons. Metal is a rare material for the tribe and most always used for weapons. Rarely is metal armor used as the metal is better spent on many weapons instead of one set of armor. Also, the heavy armor would most likely cause the owner to sink into the muck of the swamp. Spears are the most common weapon for the tribe, and most of these use stone spearheads. Short bows are sometimes used, as well as clubs, nets, and blow darts.
When the Tribe of the Black Claw goes to war, it is usually a skirmishing affair where the tribe tries to lie ambush or a quick sneak attack on its enemies. Rarely are all the resources of the tribe dedicated to one conflict. The warriors of the Black Claw are quick and clever and know the ways of the swamp. Most skilled members of the tribe become rangers or barbarians. The wise elders of the swamp have also learned about various poisons from creatues and plants around the m. These are used on darts with no hesitation. The largest commodity to trade with the outside world are the se poisons and some people of all races travel far to seek out their wares.
There are few clerics in the Tribe of the Black Claw as there is little time to devote to religious practices. Adepts are the most common form of divine magic in the tribe. They lead in the few religious ceremonies that are observed by the the se orcs . The adpets are also the ones who tend the Holy Totems of the tribe. The se are brought out during times of great conflict or high ceremony. The Holy Power of the se items infuse the tribe with their power during great battles and they would never let the m fall into the hands of their enemies. None of the four totems have ever fallen to their foes.
CROSSED BLADES TRIBE
High in the Earthspur Mountains, above the mouth of the River Vesper, lies an ancient orc fortress that was once the capital of Vastar. When the advanced grey orcs fled north from the Orcgate Wars, they still were sophisticated and had not fallen to barbarism. With their skill in engineering and masonry (and the help of some enslaved dwarves), they managed to build a strong citadel high in the mountains above their new lands. The site was chosen for the easily defensable position, for it is high in the mountains. There are few trails to such height, yet there is also a network of caverns underneath the might fortress. It was from this fotress that the remnants of the grey orc army tried to rebuild their life from another plane.
For many generations the grey orcs prospered and built Vastar, though with each generation the grey orcs grew less civilized and more brutal in the new and hostile world. The avatars of their gods were no longer among them to help guide and protect them and there were more enemies then on thier last world. In-fighting became frequent as power struggles between the various factions broke out and the unified power structure of Vastar broke into the precursor of the tribal warfare we know today. The victor of each power struggle resided in this mountain fortress and placed his throne there. As theyears wore on and the orcs slid further into barbarism, upkeep for the citadel become worse and worse. The various fighting and wars that took place within it's halls worsened it, as well.
It wasn't until the ascendancy of Gorf "Many-Tongue", founder of the Tongue Ripper Tribe, that the fortress truly became a ruins. The future king had amassed his horde and attacked the citadel in a mighty battle to oust the current king of Vastar. Gorf was backed by a hill giant warrior who was intramental in defeating many of his foes and also in winning the battle that made him king. During this mighty struggle, the citadel was truly ruined and could no longer support the reigning king of Vastar. This place was abandoned while a new capital was created.
The citadel was unused for many years, until the Realm of Glittering Swords broke the power of Vastar of the orcs . During the many years of fighting between the orcs and dwarves that followed, many orc warlords would try to invoke the memory of Old Vastar and lay claim to the unused citadel. Only those who vied for control of all the orcs of the Vast would reside in this ruins as they tried to invoke the ancient rites of the Kings of Vastar to unite all the tribes against the orcs . The ruins became a symbol of power. Those who would rule had to reign supreme over the ancient ruins.
The citadel now has become a complex battlefield where those who wish to rule fight through ancient and ruined halls for the honor to claim themselves masters of this hold. The buildings and walls on the surface have long been destroyed and are nothing more than rubble at this point. There are many entrances into the underhalls scattered throughout the mountains. Finished floors and ceilings define many of the upper levels of the ancient keep, though there are cruder caverns that go further into the bowels of the mountain. It is in these caverns that feed and supply most of the inhabitants of the citadel. Mushroom farms are abundant and the source of the Vesper River can be found in these caverns. Ancient aqueducts do bring some of that water to parts of the ancient fortress still.
The Crossed Swords Tribe are ruled by a strong warlord who wins by trial of combat, in the old orcish tradition. They are a fierce and brutal tribe that live up to all the fears of other races. The Crossed Swords believe in the rule of "might makes right" and it is well for those of the Vast that this tribe lives in such a remote fortress. The tribe has been able to ei the r subjegate or secure the alliances of several lesser orc tribes and it is the inspirational dream of the tribe to one day conquer all other orcs under their rule and re-create the kingdom of Vastar. In reality the tribe is nothing more the n a group of brutal thugs who fight ruthless campaigns against other orc tribes that want to force them out.
Weapons and arms are brought in by the subserviant tribes as tribute. Also, a few slaves that can smith have been kept and work some of the ancient smithies in the ruins of the fotress. With many orc tribes willing to bring battle to the Crossed Swords, they are also able to pick the best weapons and loot of f of the corpses of their enemies. Their food supply comes from below and the only concern for the warlords of the Crossed Swords is against potential rivals.
The banner under which the Croosed Blades fight is a symbol of two fulchions crossed from left to right. The fulchion is also the preferred weapon of the tribe, though great axes and o the r weapons are not uncommon. The armor of the Crossed Swords is also usually better then usual as the tribe is almost always under seige. Crossbows are used for ranged weapons and usually large crossbows are preferred.
The warriors of the tribe are some of the most experienced orcs in the Vast . Some might say that this is the strongest tribe in the Vast today. Even the standard orc warrior from this tribe is worth several regular warriors of any race. They work together in a co-ordinated fashion. The warband leaders understand tactics and use them to great advantage. This is an incredibly fierce tribe and one that is best avoided.
The tribe primarily worships Gruumsh and Bahgtru (god of strength). Whenever the tribe can get their hands on something to sacrifice to their dark gods, they do. This tribe is highly religious and heartily believes in the tennats of Gruumsh and the other orcs gods. The Crossed Blades also listens to the Keepers of the Purple Flame, as they both believe in the re-creation of Vastar.
GOD'S BLOOD TRIBE
This tribe is well known among the orcs of the Vast for being different. Beyond the odd purple coloring or birthmarks that appear on many members of this tribe, the God's Blood tribe is known for being sorcerors. There are many rumors as to how or why such magic is infused withing the tribal bloodline, but the one the tribe tells deals with the history of the Orcgate Wars.
When the avatars of the orcs battled the human god-kings of the Old Empire, each was avatar had an elite unit that traveled with the avatar on the battlefield. The ancestors of the God's Blood tribe were one such unit. During the titanic battles that raged between both forces, an orc god was able to kill the earthly avatar of a human god. During that terrible event, the honor god for this orcish god rushed in to help finish of f the dying god. These orcs were ba the d in the divine blood of this human god.
The children of the se gods were all born an odd shade of purple and exhibited strange and unusual powers. The brotherhood of unit stayed together even after the Orcgate Wars and they travelled to the Vast with the o the r survivors. It is said that the God's Blood were the first tribe among the orcs of Vastar. Their childen still sometimes sport odd purple birthmarks on their skin. It is the se orcs that are the divine power still in their bloodline and can harness it through sorceror like powers.
The God's Blood tribe lives on the mountain slopes between the Vesper River and the Fire River. There is plentiful game and enough old mines, dwarf holds, or caverns to give them underground dwellings, as well. While the lands are filled with other orc tribes, pyretons, and human miners, they still find time to occasionally raid caravans on the human made roads to the west.
The God's Blood tribe is a bit more shunned the n o the r tribes. Their strange nature and use of magic tends to make other tribes avoid them. Occasionally the tribe will enter into a temporary alliance to fight off a common enemy, but these are usually short lived affairs. There are negotiations with other orc tribes occasionally to enchant magic items by members of the God's Blood tribe. This will usually be for a stiff fee of weapons, armor, or other tools.
The tribal structure of the God's Blood is also a little unusual. Three "masters" run tribal affairs. Each of these are equal to the other and all decisions are on a majority basis. To become a master, one needs to defeat one in combat. Once one becomes a master, they are not allowed to fight the other two masters in command. Most often, the masters are spell casting orcs , but occasionally a powerful warlord becomes one as well.
The tribal banner is three drops of purple blood. God's Blood orcs are not fazed much by odd events on the battlefield as they have a fair number of spell casters in their own ranks. A portion of the tribe is trained in the use of the longspear. They train to act in formation and have good discipline on the battlefield. There are many enemies on the forested sides of the Earthfast Mountains and many of the m are mounted. These spearmen try to form formations to defend against them. Beyond that, most God's Blood uses an assortment of weapons, including fulchions, swords, axes, clubs, and worse. Longbows are the ranged weapon of choice and the warriors of the God's Blood tribe have gotten good at hunting on the mountaineous slopes.
Since the strength and formation of the tribe is based upon the killing of a god, the God's Blood tribe is not a very religious group. Still, their ancestors were the honor guards for one of the orcish gods and the re is some respect still, if a bit alo of . Clerics are rare and usually not very powerful (though the re have been a few). Adepts are almost unheard of in the tribe. Respect is given to the Keepers of the Purple Flame as members of the tribe sometimes secretly join this secret society. The God's Blood sometimes takes part in actions needed by the Keepers.
TONGUE RIPPER TRIBE
The Tongue Rippers are well known by those who travel the North Rode between Mulmaster and the rest of the Vast . This group of orcs constantly raid caravans, miners, and the city of Kurth for generations. Every spring, Tongue Ripper raiders come forth from the mountains to attack civilized folk in the Kurth area.
The Tongue Rippers stand out promienantly in the history of Vastar as one of earlist and largest tribes in that ancient land. The founder of the tribe, the powerful Gorf, gained his reputation from the habit of physically ripping the tongues out of still living enemies with his bare hands. Gorf kept these as grisly trouphies and flaunted them in front of enemies to intimidate them. Gorf was so successful that his followers picked up his practice, as well. While Gorf "Many Tongue" was a powerful and cagey leader, much of his success was due to help from a skilled hill giant warrior that became his personal body guard. Gorf challenged the giant to a contest of wits and outsmarted the giant into an agreement for his service. Later, when Gorf's troops found an ancient scimitar from the days of the Giants, the shadow blade was gifted to the hill giant body guard. Gorf was crowned king after destroying his rivals who lived in the ancient capital of old Vastar.
The Tongue Ripper tribe mostly lives in the Earthfast Mountains area around the township of Kurth. They live on the hills and in valleys throughout this area and in caverns that pocket out the mountains. There is no central establishment for this tribe, as they have gained enough enemies that banding together too much makes them that much of a target for the militias and adventurers that want them eradicated. Instead, they live in small clusters in caverns, valleys, and dells throughout the area. Tongue Rippers keep in decent contact with one another and will work against perceived threats with coordination. The territory of the tribe is clearly marked with the tongues of their victims on speartips stuck into the ground.
One of the reasons for the hostility of the Tongue Ripper tribe is due to their ancient burial grounds that lie directly under the town of Kurth. These sacred chambers are the location where the tribe founder, Gorf "Many Tongues", was laid to rest. Since then, all the bravest warriors of the tribe have been interred in these caverns as well. It is considered an honor and a privelage to lie eternal with the tribal founder. Generations ago, the humans came in and ran the Tongue Rippers off their tribal land. To their horror, a township was formed on the very site of the sacred burial grounds. The Tongue Rippers have sworn a sacred oath to destroy Kurth and renew the sanctity of their holy site.
All of this is unknown to the people of Kurth and humanity in general. In recent years, the sacred burial chambers were disturbed and broken into. this is due to the adventurer "Half-Axe" who had retired to the small town. "Half-Axe" extended the walls of the town and also built up a small manor house in the new section. During attempts to dig a deeper basement for his manor house, the workers broke into a cavern underneath. The undead guardians of the burial chambers (lead by an intelligent undead shamman of the tribe) poured forth and slaughtered all the workers. They also managed to suprise and kill everyone in the house and set fire to it. Afterwards, they retreated back to their caverns and tried to seal the enterance. The skeleton weilding the "shadow blade" of rumor is the ancient body guard of King Gorf.
The Tongue Rippers have a tribal leader who rules through force and replaced by any challenger who can defeat him. The Tongue Rippers do have fluxuating relationships with the orc tribes around them. Sometimes a few tribes will band together to attack Kurth and sometimes the Tongue Rippers need to invade another's territory when human cavalry are sent after them. In most respects, the Tongue Rippers are what most human sages know of a standard orc tribe.
Spears are commonly used by the Tongue Rippers, but any weapons that they can get their hands on are used by the trip. Many hand weapons and armor is taken from caravans travelling between Mulmaster and the Vast . Many of the se caravans are for the arms trade that flows out of Mulmaster and is the major source for weapons and armor for the tribe.
The tribe does prefer to work from ambush, but these are usually a matter of hiding near the intended victim and rushing out when they get close. Still, they have gotten sophisticated in using barracades to prevent horses from escaping. Also, the idea of trapping the intended victim and raining arrows down on them has been a successful tactic by the tribe.
The Tongue Rippers worship all the orc pan the on in all respects. Part of this is to try to make up for the loss of honor of loosing thier ancient burian grounds. The Tongue Rippers listen to the Keepers of the Purple Flame out of respect and also in the hope that they will assist the m in their war against the humans of Kurth.
KEEPERS OF THE PURPLE FLAME
This group is a secret society of orc spell casters who try to lead the orcs of Old Vastar to a greater glory and into achieving the success of the past.
When the orc avatars lead their forces against the god-kings of the Old Empires, a new race of orcs was brought forth on Toril; the grey orcs . These orcs were more advanced and highly religious and had great faith in their gods and avatars. When things looked grim in the Orcgate Wars, the various religious leaders increased their of ferrings to the gods. After one pleasing sacrifice, the orc god Gruumsh touch the remains of the sacrifice with the tip of his spear, and the sacrifice caught aflame in a strange purple flame. Gruumsh then told his people to follow the flame, as it will guide the m. He sees all with his one eye and the flame was a window into his all-seeing eye. The Purple Flame then became a relic for the grey orcs that showed them things that Gruumsh wished his people to see.
After the defeats of the Orcgate Wars, the Purple Flame lead the grey orcs to the lands of the Vast , where they formed Vastar and flourished for many centuries. In the slide to barbarism that slowly happened to the grey orcs , there was always a group of religious and arcane casters who kept the ancient relic and used it's divination powers to try to steer events to the liking. This group has always been a secret group and it's members are drawn from all the tribes of Vastar. Sometimes members are recruited to the group after the council decides that someone is worthy. Other times, members receive a vision from Gruumsh that leads the m to the hidden caves where the Purple Flame is kept.
The aspirations of the Keepers of the Purple Flame are to please Gruumsh. The way to do this is through orcish dominance in the Vast and the recreation of Vastar. All enemies of orcs are to be destroyed or enslaved while orcs everywhere should prosper. The way to achieve these goals are to unite all the orcs under one capable leader, to strengthen the positions of orcs in the Vast , and to cast low the enemies of orcs . Since the current situation of the orcs is not ready to unite under one strong orc ruler, their affairs more come to the nature of helping streng the n the orcish cause and to defeat the encroaching humanity.
There is a legend that many Keepers have seen in the Purple Flames of a "chosen one" who will gather together the scattered sons of Gruumsh and lead the m towards victory over all in the Vast . There are various signs that will predict when this time is near and many Keepers spend time trying to interpret the predictions and signs. Many times members of the Keepers of the Purple Flame have thought that the time was neigh. Someone the people felt was the "chosen one" came forth and lead a mighty horde against the people's of the Vast . Obviously, none of these were the true savior of the orcs , though much devistation was incurred.
There is sometimes a conflict between those that follow the oracles of the Purple Flame and those that follow the ethos and ideas behind the Keepers of the Purple Flame. Since the nature of oracles are unsteady, there have been times that the Keepers have followed visions, only to be met with defeat. The realists in the group tend to take the idea of the Keepers and follow it to best conclusion that they can see. If the re was ever a clear vision from the flames, then all parties would energenically follow. Also, if there was a very strange and unusual vision, most members would be at least cautious as to following it.
Base of Operations:
The Keepers are scattered throughout the various orc tribes. Since it is a secret society, their members spend their time in their respective tribes and try to influence events to the cause of the Purple Flame. A few of the more powerful members spend their time in the hidden chambers that house the holy relic of the group. This location is kept secret and only known to the members of the Keepers of the Purple Flame. It is kept somewhere in the Earthfast Mountains.
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