Lazlo COS Pathfinder - Low Magic
Belkzen at a glance:
Notable Settlements: Wyvernsting (11,230)
Ruler: Prominent orc champions and their respective clans include Grask Uldeth of the Empty Hand, Tulluk Clovenface of the Haskodars, and Hundux Half-Man of the Murdered Child
Government: Numerous tribal hordes constantly vying for dominance
Religion: Lamashtu, Rovagug, Zon Kuthon
During the Age of Darkness, the ancient dwarves finally fulfilled their Quest for Sky, and the stoutfolk peered forth from their tunnels and gazed upon a surface world that was theirs to claim. Yet in pressing ever upward, they had driven before them their ancient enemies. The orcs, too, were eager to claim this world, and for generations northern Avistan ran red with the signs of their coming. In time, the dwarves pushed the hordes back into the dark corners of the world — particularly one large, isolated mountain valley, but there they met their match: an ambitious orc warlord named Belkzen. Belkzen met the civilized races head-on, and in doing so he managed to take Koldukar, one of the 10 dwarven fortress-cities known as Sky Citadels. He renamed this ransacked metropolis Urgir, meaning “first home,” and made it the center of his new nation. Unwilling to risk further loss, the dwarves pulled back and dug in, and although Belkzen’s fledgling empire long ago collapsed into dozens of squabbling tribes, the region still bears his name.
Geographically, Belkzen is a harsh land filled with badlands, thorny scrub, and dangerous peaks. Water is scarce and concentrated primarily in the seasonal Flood Road, which serves as a caravan route during the dry season, or else in the vast, salty lake of quicksand known as the Dirt Sea. Yet there is history here as well, and of more than just the orcs who constantly churn the soil with their conflicts. There are monuments like Seraph’s Ladder, where those who wish to turn back the effects of years can gamble with their lives, or the hidden Hanging Monastery of the Peacock Spirit. Defiant human compounds like Trunau and Freedom Town cling to survival, ready to fight at a moment’s notice.
The center of Belkzen foreign relations and trade routes, is Urgir. The second largest settlement is the home of the Murdered Child Clan: Wyvernsting. Other smaller but equally prominent settlements in Belkzen include the mine-fortress of Blisterwell; the complex at Deepgate covering the region’s largest entrance to the Darklands; and the Foundry, where crazed orc engineers known as Steeleaters remain neutral in order to sell their bizarre siege weaponry to all sides.
In the north, the Brimstone Haruspex perches high in the caldera of a smoking volcano, where a group of highly educated (for orcs) clerics offer guidance in exchange for massive tributes. In addition to maintaining the only complete record of orcish history—a lengthy series of cave paintings stretching all the way back to their initial emergence — the ascetic clerics are also oracles, breathing in vapors from the active fumaroles in order to form their prophecies. Unfortunately, the fumes that give them their insights are highly caustic, permanently scarring their face and lungs. It is for this reason that most leaders prefer to send their seconds-in-command with questions rather than attend themselves, as the prudent priests frequently choose to dangle petitioners in the sulfurous pits to gain their revelations firsthand.
At the southernmost tip of the Tusk Mountains, a windowless pillar of black stone rises menacingly from a narrow cliff on a mountainside, its only adornment a massive pair of 50-foot-high metal gates wrought with strange and unnerving murals. This is the Cenotaph. During the reign of Tar Baphon, the Whispering Tyrant, the doors in this ancient obelisk stood open to accept the hordes of elite warriors and terrible war beasts that entered upon the tyrant’s orders and were rarely seen again. With the lich’s defeat by the Shining Crusade, the great doors swung shut and have remained sealed ever since. Legend holds, however, that when Tar Baphon returns the doors will fall open and unleash his dark armies upon the land.
Although Belkzen is scattered with ruins, one in particular bears a legacy that still haunts most of northern Avistan. Nearly 700 years ago, a desperate Ustalavian border conte, his defenses thoroughly exhausted by the building orc hordes, prayed to Zon-Kuthon for salvation. The Midnight Lord’s blessing came in the form of a man named Kazavon, a great general who used the conte’s meager army to press the orcs back into the north, cleansing much of lower Belkzen with sword and flame. In the crags of the Kodar Mountains he built a great gothic fortress called Scarwall and the civilized nations rejoiced.
Yet Kazavon didn’t stop there. He pushed south and east, slaughtering wantonly, his lust for carnage leading him to ever greater acts of depravity. Although he was eventually defeated — and revealed in death to be a disguised blue dragon — his great castle of Scarwall remains, haunted by the shades of history and avoided by superstitious orcs.
The orcs of Belkzen are a teeming, brawling multitude of semi-nomadic tribes, from warbands of just a few families to massive armies holding one of the region’s most valuable fortifications. Although capable of forming alliances and living in peace during the rainy seasons, the orcs’ natural pugnacious tendencies and the region’s meager resources keep any larger-scale organization from lasting long. Notable tribes include the Black Sun, Blood Trail, Broken Spine, Cleft Head, Empty Hand, Gutspear, Haskodar, Murdered Child, Twisted Nail, and Wingripper.
Each tribe, no matter how small, has a single battle standard that depicts the clan’s namesake (such as an empty hand, a broken spine, an eclipsed sun, and so on). Such flags normally hang crosswise from a long spear, decorated with grim trophies and fetishes. Clan chiefs always keeps it with them in battle, although they usually assign a lieutenant to do the actual carrying. Clans generally immediately divert their attention to the recovery of their flags if taken. While not necessarily magical, many of the tribal battle standards are very old and hold almost religious significance for the orcs. Creating a new one if the original is destroyed costs the tribe several hundred gold coins and the tribe’s shaman several weeks.
Urgir is the unofficial capital of the Orc-ruled Hold of Belkzen. The nation has no true capital, but being the largest settlment in the savage land provides Urgir with the status of a governmental seat, even if it is not seen as such by all the tribes throughout the land.