Short History of the Orcs of the Realms



I have decided to go forward with the Rise of the Orc campaign. I had wanted to do something with Orcs for a very long time, and the more I think about it, the more I wonder what will happen.  I have lots of decisions to make, but I have made some already. I had thought about running this as a Greyhawk campaign, but my wife made many points on why it should be Forgotten Realms, chief being that it is a more complete setting, which means that I’ll have less to worry about. Another good reason is that my players prefer the Realms, if I need any help figuring out what a nation would do, I could find an opinion worthy of debate from several well-informed sources; not to mention that I have just started getting into the realms, and I think that this would be a great way to make this map mine.

My first phase of beginning the writing process is to gather up some history. Orcs are major villains in the D&D worlds, so this history will be longer than normal. I am going to use information that I find online, but mostly just stick with the 2nd Edition Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting Boxset.


WHEN IS IT EXCEPTABLE TO CHANGE THE PAST?


We buy a setting for many reasons, and one of them is to have an established history and timeline. Sometimes it is preferred to write around existing ideas because it stimulates creativity, but once in a while it gets in the way completely. You feel that your idea is better then the ideas of the good people at TSR, and not only are they more to your liking, but the two theories are completely incompatible with one another.

The Realms has an unacceptable amount of baggage that goes along with it. There are experts out there that specialize in all-things Forgotten Realms. Books, adventures, modules; it is overwhelming! A DM wants to make a popular realm recognizable to his players, but changes are inevitable. I think that when it comes to history, much like our own, it often depends on the person who is writing it down. If something gets in the way of a good story, we can say that that myth was incorrect and be done with it. Who knows, maybe Elminster never existed, but is a collection of deeds completed by many different mages whose real names are unknown. Perhaps Drizzt is just the concoction of bard’s tales, the real Dark Elf being nothing but a drunken light elf who never bathed. On our own plane of existence, they say that you never want to meet your heroes. Legends should stay Legends, as the truth is typically heartbreaking.

ORCGATE


That said, I’ve started to do my research and found that according to the timeline, Orcs were introduced by some Orc Gate. Who knows, they probably wrote a book about it as there are some brief details about what happened. Even if they have a book, I am not interested in that story. I hate origins; they are often stupid, as I find this one to be. I suppose that the writers of the realms wanted something different then normal, but in this case, with what I want the orcs to be, I want normal. Normal is good! Normal is a great formula and formulas are there for a reason. Case in point, ORCS DID NOT COME FROM AN ORCGATE!


Orcish myth dictates that they are older then the elves, it was they that came first and led a peaceful life until the Elves came and took away their homeland. They were pushed far to the east, and there they constructed the orcish city of Orcgate, a massive kingdom where orcs were united and watched as humans arrived and built great cities around them, but always giving Orcgate a wide birth, until the Nation of Thay consumed their land. For many years the Orcs of Orcgate accepted this, thinking that they could get along with their neighbors, however this was, of course impossible.

War was unavoidable once Mulhorand and Thay enslaved the peaceful orcs, who at that time were farmers and herders. An orc named Jarthin (keeper of the plow) who lived in the outskirts of the Orcish Territory was able to escape the slavers and warned the king at that time to make an attack, but the king would not listen. Jarthin watched as his people died or were taken away, until he could take no more.

Jarthin gathered Orcs who were willing to fight, and they set out to defend their land, inciting the rage of both Mulhorand and Thay resulting in a great slaughter. The Orcish King, believing that if he could capture Jarthin and turn him over to the enemy, would end the carnage, but once Jarthin was captured by his own people, a change had taken place in the community. The passive farmers and herdsmen of the past were all slain or enslaved, leaving the strong and the angry behind to gnash their teeth at the incompetence of their leader. The arrest of Jarthin incited a coup, the King and his followers were mobbed, their heads forming a great pyre symbolizing the coronation of their new King. Jarthin became known hence, as Gruumsh. Gruumsh ordered all tools of labor to be melted down and recast as arms. Arms which were used to repulse the armies of Mulhorand (who quickly changed their policies), as well as Thay (who did not), and once finally repulsed from Orcgate Territory, a new change came over the Orc.


-1175: ORCGATE WARS IN THAY


Led by Gruumsh, Orcgate forged weapons from tools that they had melted down. The time of peace was over. Once prepared, Gruumsh’s Forces marched into Thay, resulting in a war which lasted three years. Thay, knowing that defeat was ensured, parleyed with the Orcs of Orcgate, presenting to Gruumsh the Sword of Grimmshawr, and claiming to join the Orcish Cause.

The Sword of Grimmshawr, black and evil, possessed desires and needs of its own. Thay, believing the blade to be cursed, delivered it into the hands of Gruumsh as a trick. Through the Sword of Grimmshawr, they could enslave the Orcs, and manipulate them to into attacking Mulhorand. This part of their plot worked, the object of Orcish Aggression was redirected to Mulhorand. 


-1171: Gruumsh Slays a God


Armed with The Sword of Grimmshawr, the blade unknowingly under the control of Thay, Gruumsh exploited every weakness that Mulhorand had, taking a city whose name and location has been lost to time, the men of Mulhorand summoned forth the god Re, to protect them from blood thirsty orcs. Re himself appeared, leading a holy army against the nightmare horde which they themselves had helped create. But alas, Re’s powers were not enough; his blessed army was utterly destroyed, the bodies of the slain were defiled, and Re’s influence chased back to his temple to cower in fear.

Gruumsh, unimpressed with the powers of the Mulhorand, walked into the gods temple and with the Sword of Grimmshawr, slew him to the horror of the priests who now found themselves powerless. This strike also alerted Gruumsh to the trickery of Thay, the sword, drenched in the life-blood of the divine escaped the insanity placed upon it and, breaking the powerful magic which bound the sword to the will of Thay.

Gruumsh, slayer of gods, drank from the river of the divine blood of Re the Fallen, which flowed from the temple. He, now of the divine, gained the secrets of the gods. Plucking his eye from his skull, he filled a tanker with his own blood and instructed his followers to drink of it, and in doing so they learned the many secrets of war, and of rage, and of steel! Gruumsh sacrificed his body, his immortal spirit enlightening all of his kind. Gruumsh’s eldest son, now the King, and barer of Grimmshawr, withdrew from defeated Mulhorand and returned to Thay to exact their punishment up the wizards.


-1069 Orcs in Thay defeated


The mental war over Grimmshawr was intense. Grimmshawr understanding the dangers to its self desired Bahgtru, son of Gruumsh, to flee that land; however the will of Bahgtru resisted; his sights were on taking Thay, on enslaving the evil wizards, and keeping their mighty kingdom for themselves. Bahgtru underestimated the powers of the wizard, every day their will over the sword became stronger and stronger, until the Sword of Grimmshawr could resist no more. Bahgtru, on the verge of taking the capital, suddenly discovered that Grimmshawr would cut no more; His powerful blows passing through the enemy as harmlessly as if he wielded the breeze. Bahgtru was surrounded, and his host could only watch as the powerful wizards of Thay slowly cut him down with nothing but daggers. The army, their leader slain in such a manner, turned to leave, but were cut off by the evil power of the wizards, it is unknown what happened to this them. Those that escaped the mayhem were so terrified that they spoke not of the horror that befell them that day. All that is known is that they left the land of Thay, instructing their children’s children’s children never to return. And thus it has always been.




OTHER TIMES TO CHANGE THE PAST

Sometimes, there is just way to much history out there! Facts that aren’t all that important to your adventure on hand, but stuff that you want to partially keep as the known history for your campaign. In dealing with the Orcs of the Vast, I know that much work has been done on this time period, but again, I don’t want all of it. I want a quick summary of things that I want to remember, and add a bit to it to make it my own. In this case, getting overly picky about back-story would be foolish. Why look up information for some obscure fact during play when I can just make it up on game day?

What I want to stay true to is the Core Booklets from the Campaign Boxset which I have. All of the fluff that came afterwards is considered, by me, to be an unnecessary intrusion by game designers that created some timeline that I’m not interested in staying true to. I’ll use the influence if I must, but if it gets in the way of my own creativity then it is gone.

c. -700 The Vastar of the Orcs in the Vast


The most powerful Orcish nation in modern history was Vastar, created by orcs who successfully fled east from Thay. This was a successful transitional period for the race, though they were no longer unified, as this was when many tribes formed over disputes of power, religion, and land.

The Elven nation of Yiraphon to the south, was avoided and their attention was focused on pushing the goblins either out of the lands, or, once they discovered ore in the mountains, into the mines as slaves. The greatest mine being Mt. Grimmerfang, became, what historians would call, an Orcish Capital, as the weapons and materials coming out of the mines were used to supply the other tribes. The strongest and wisest Orcs who controlled this mining community were always renamed King Grimmerfang, leading many to call whoever the king was, Grimmerfang the Undying.

A holy site was also discovered in what is now known as the Flooded Forest: The Spirit of Gruumsh appeared before a tribe of orcs who were given his instructions for the Cult of Gruumsh, and also given the names of all of the gods of the Orc. This tribe constructed the Temple of Gruumsh; all priests are believed to be descended from this tribe, now called the Cultists.  The Cultists rivaled the powers of Grimmerfang, and together, yet apart they directed the major activities of the Orcs who called their nation Vastar.

All was not well, fore the Temple of Gruumsh was too close to the Elven community of Yiraphon, and after many generations of Orc, the elves finally discovered the location of the temple and sacked it, killing the powerful leaders, and the rest dispersed among the tribes. This act set off the second Elven Conflict: the orc, unified in anger, took the city of Yiraphon, massacring the Elves who were unaware of their numbers. Those elves who survived were forced into the Dales to join their kin, and Yiraphon was considered lost to them as the Orc continued their attacks, keeping the Lords of Elven Court too occupied to mount a solid attack to retake the land lost from Vastar.

King Grimmerfang, preferring the Cult to be dispersed as it granted him more power, ordered the City of Yiraphon to be settled, and instead of Temples to the gods, they were only granted shrines within the city.


YEARS OF DWARVEN OPPRESSION


Hearing of the wealth of the mines, the dwarf Tuir led strategic strikes against Grimmerfang, killing the king for all time, Tuir took the mines, and Vaspar fell as a whole. Scattered to the wilderness, with no king, the orcish power structure fell apart, and Tuir was named The Deep King.

Tuir’s Kingdom was far from peaceful. The Vasper Orcs, now under the command of an orc named Vispertongue, formed an unlikely alliance with the Goblins, together through patience and determination, were able to rout the Dwarven Nation. King Tuir was slain during the battle of Deepfires at Vispertongue, ending the long reign of the Dwarf and returning the land to Orcish Control. The goblins were thought to be part of the orc nation, but failure to take land from the humans who had began to move into the territory under the protection of the dwarves, as well as the untrustworthiness of the goblin, resulted in the end of their alliance.

Vispertongue was too aggressive, taking territory that he could not hope to defend, the humans, with elvish support from Beluar were able to defeat Vispertongue, ending his reign and forcing the orc further north into direct conflict with Goblin forces. The humans of the Vast so far have been able to hold fast against the orc, who are currently without a powerful leader. Elven influence has permanently left the violent region to the humans who now call this their homeland.  While the orcs of Vasar don’t believe that the territory is lost, the most powerful orc lords have abandoned it completely.


1235 YEAR OF THE BLACK HORDE


The Vaspar Orcs were not the only survivors of Thay, many ran north to escape into this cold hard environment. Their numbers grew not as fast as those of Vaspar, but these orcs, their numbers constantly being thinned by the environment and hostel creatures of the north, grew more powerful then their southern kind as only the strong could survive such climate.

The Northern Stock has always been less divided than those of Vaspar. Their numbers, unknowingly swelling, made themselves known when it 1235 they unleashed their full might upon the North, taking the city of Waterdeep as their capital, and pushing much of the Realms into a short dark age which lasted 6 years, until the North finally was able to push back when a noble woman was captured and killed. The incited North attacked with such venom and speed that the orcs were not prepared for such viciousness. The Northern Orc is now believed to be extinct, not a one of them was allowed to live, however some of them inevitably were able to slip though, and find a hidden existence either back into the northern wilderness, or finding acceptance and glory among the Vaspar orcs.

While physically stronger and more long lived, these orcs have become rather timid as far as orcs are concerned, and have no desire to seek vengeance for the genocide which took place.


OTHER MAJOR ORCISH CONFLICTS


There have been other orc attacks and continuation of orcish myths and legends continue, however no further modern records of any worth are known at this time.

An ancient text was reported to be found in Myth Drannor, which was written long ago during the age of elves, but once again is lost. It reportedly spoke of the most extensive and destructive war in the history of the Realms. A war millions of years before even the founding of Mezro, between Orc and Elf that was so massive and destructive that it shaped the world as we know it today. This was a time where powerful magics existed far beyond the amazing powers of even ancient Nitheril. This text, it is believed, spoke of how the elf was able to push the equally powerful orc out of the land, but alas, this text is gone, providing just bare hints and theories of what happened. It is believed that it was at this time that the orc was stripped of his humanity, if you will, to become the hyper-aggressive monster that he is today. The orc may had given something up in this war, believing that it would help them defeat the elves, perhaps by magic which twisted and reformed them physically?

Dwarves also have a brief description of an orc war which mirrors that of the elves, which took place below ground. From the texts and stories that they would share with us, they stated that the Orc possessed magic which they no longer have. Again, this war was won at a severe cost, as it can easily be traced back to the decline of the Dwarven Race.


OVERVIEW

That gives me enough to work with to make some educated decisions, I can always add too these four later, or even subtract from them if something comes up, as even my histories are far from complete to me.

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