Great Forest Orcs
This tribe, called variously the orcs of the Great Forest, the Great Forest tribe, the orcs of Peytaht, and the Barrens orcs, this tribe are native to the western Barrens. They claim that their cultural heritage stretches back centuries - they claim to have ancestors that roamed the forests of what are now Therunin, the Barrens, Brocéliande, and Highguard long before the Terunael placed one stone upon another to begin their cities. Whatever the truth of these claims, in recent times they have laboured under the yoke of the Druj, forced to serve and fight for their wicked masters for many years.
According to the orcs, the Great Forest of Peytaht that covers the western Barrens and northern Reikos once covered much of the area now occupied by the Empire as well reaching as far north as the mountains of Otkodov, and as far west as the kingdoms of the Jotun. They claim that their ancestors lived throughout the forest, long before the first humans came and began to cut the trees down. Regardless of the truth of these claims the Great Forest is today very much reduced - as is the tribe.
For the last five hundred years or so, the Great Forest orcs lived in the Barrens, claiming the Heart of Peytaht itself of course, but also the Untrod Groves and the Bleaks. They lived alongside the other independent tribes - the Black Wind, the Vendarri, and others whose names have been lost to history. From time to time they fought among themselves, against the Druj, and against the people of Dawn and Navarr.
Their freedom came to a decisive end a little over a century ago when the Druj pushed into the Barrens and conquered the territory. Most were enslaved, but some of the orcs fled west into Brocéliande, living as bandits in Boar's Dell and Elerael. There are a few rumours of relatively peaceful trade between the barbarian settlements and some of the steadings but they largely avoided the Navarr. Those living in Elerael were brutally suppressed when the Druj pushed into that region following their invasion of Reikos, but the orcs in the northern part of the territory lived in relative peace until 378YE.
Their enslavement and exile came to an end in Winter 377YE when an Imperial force ambushed and slaughtered the Druj leaders in the Barrens. This triggered an armed revolt among the subject tribes lead by the Great Forest and the Black Wind. The rebellious orcs engaged in a campaign of slaughter against every Druj enclave they could find. Druj prisoners were generally hung from the nearest branch capable of holding their weight, leading to horrifying encounters with literally dozens of dead orcs hanging from hempen nooses wherever the two orc factions clashed. They appeared unconcerned with the Dawnish citizens in Dawnguard, but once the Druj were dealt with their attention turned to relations with the Empire.
Throughout 378YE, the orc settlers from the Barrens retreated out of Brocéliande, leaving their makeshift camps to fall into disuse or be overrun by vallornspawn. Then, during the Spring Equinox 379YE, the Imperial Senate passed a motion declaring the three orc tribes in the Barrens to be foreigners, rather than barbarians. This meant - among other things - that while the orcs of the Barrens are recognised as foreigners, any invasion of their lands by Imperial troops would be a criminal offence. During Summer of the same year, a delegation of indigenous orcs came to Anvil, with the assistance of the Navarr of Brocéliande. They engaged in extensive diplomacy and negotiation in pursuit of a treaty between the Empire and their nascent nation. However the negotiations failed when the treaty was rejected by the Senate.
In Autumn 379YE, the Great Forest orcs were part of a larger force that attempted to claim Dawnguard from the Dawnish. This sparked months of bitter fighting in the Barrens, leading to a counterattack that pushed the indigenous orcs back.
Shortly after the Summer Solstice 380YE, the Druj returned, in force, pushing into the Barrens. The entire Great Forest orc tribe fled south and sought sanctuary in Therunin. A little over two thousand warriors, along with what appeared to be the majority of the tribe's civilians, emerged from Hope's Rest into the Tarn Valley. They came in response to the invitation of the Navarr, supported by the Imperial Senate. Met by representatives of the steadings and stridings of Therunin, a great camp was raised in the Lower Tarn Valley.
When they arrived in Therunin, the Great Forest orcs brought many supplies and possessions with them, but they had a number of needs that could not be met without the opportunity to create a permanent settlement. They immediately requested that a region of the northern forest be ceded to them, a place where their tribal laws hold sway rather than the law of the Empire. While this region would be the centre of their habitation, they would not force any Navarr to leave the area - provided they were comfortable living alongside the Great Forest orcs, did not interfere with the customs and traditions of the Great Forest, and respected their right to ignore "the Imperial ancestors".
This request caused significant problems for the Constitutional Court, climaxing in an inquisition of three of the members when the initial treaty was rejected during scrutiny. In the face of growing frustration from both orcs and Navarr - with the Great Forest orcs making preparations to "leave" and head south toward some unknown destination - a great deal of diplomacy and political manoeuvring was required.
The negotiations regarding a place to live continued through most of 380YE, culminating eventually in an acceptable peace treaty. The Empire were prepared to allow the tribe to dwell within Therunin provided that they are willing to help defend it - but they would not cede a region the ancient forest. The orcs were clearly disappointed by the outcome, but their mood was one of resignation rather than anger. They seemed to accept that in the end they simply asked for too much and offered too little.
Culture and Customs
The Great Forest orcs are friendly, but keep to themselves. Citizens of Therunin, especially brokers, have had the most success in dealing with them. Even so, they have only been able to glean a small amont of information about Great Forest orc culture and customs.
The Great Forest orcs are lead by a chief, advised by a council. The current chief is young, but is well advised by a council made up of older and more experienced orcs. They have repeatedly avowed they have no interest in being absorbed by either the Navarr, or the Imperial orcs. The Great Forest orcs have made clear from the start that they wish to return to their homes in the Barrens. They will fight to help the Navarr against the Druj, and they anticipate one day reclaiming their forests - including the weirwood groves of the Eaves of Peytaht.
While they are centred in the Lower Tarn Valley, their people have spread out throughout Therunin over the months following the Summer Solstice 381YE. They are now present in every region that is not occupied by the vallorn (every region except Greenheart and Sweetglades). They are not building permanent settlements outside of the Lower Tarn Valley - unless explicitly invited to do so by Navarr steadings - but their hunting parties can be encountered in all parts of the territory.
The orcs of the Great Forest have firmly rebuffed attempts to introduce them to the Way. They have their own religion, it seems, and while they are not interested in discussing it, those Therunin Navarr who have dealt directly with them have managed to glean a few details.
Like many orcs, they hold their ancestors in particular reverence. At the same time they also seem to revere or even worship invisible spirits that they believe live in the forest and protect them from the Howling Abyss. They refuse to talk about these spirits, but they claim they are the "children" of the Great Forest - the single woodland they claim once stretched across the entire area now occupied by the Empire.
When they arrived in Therunin, the Great Forest Orcs supported a standard campaign army under the command of a warchief (a rank analogous to an Imperial general). The warchief answered to the chief and their council - who led the tribe - but was free to act as they see fit in pursuit of the goals the leaders of the tribe set forth. The army has since been disbanded - the day to day requirements for the orcs to hunt and build take precedence over the need for a standing army, and as guests of the Empire they have no real ability to maintain such a large force of warriors anyway.
Chief Valack still remains the warchief of the Great Forest Orcs, however, and may be contacted by Winged Messenger at the Great Forest Encampment, Lower Tarn Valley, Therunin for the time being. While the Great Forest Orcs disbanded the army their warriors did not abandon their weapons or their armour. Half chose to maintain combat readiness, guarding their people from the dangers of the forest of Therunin - which is, after all, a Navarr territory. Giant insects, alligators, and the occasional vallorn spawn threaten the orcs just as they threaten their human neighbours. These warriors call themselves the Spears of the Pines.
As long as relations between the Great Forest Orcs and the Navarr remain cordial, and the orcs continue to live in Therunin, any Navarr general who is fighting in Therunin can call for the Spears of the Pines to fight alongside them. If they do so, a band of orcs and briars with a fighting strength of 1,000 will fight alongside that general in the coming season. To call the Spears of the Pines, the general need merely mention that they are doing so in their orders. Further, if any Navarr army is fighting to conquer the Barrens, they may likewise call for the Spears of the Pines, again by mentioning the in their orders. The Great Forest Orcs will only fight alongside Navarr armies in this way.For purposes of rituals such as Bound by Common Cause, a warband of Spears of the Pines qualifies as seven military units.
The Great Forest orcs have only a small number magicians among them. It seems they posses only the most rudimentary magical training and some of their best magicians are barely a match for the children in the Academy. It appears that when they laboured under the Druj, what little magic they possessed was stripped from them. The Druj it seems will tolerate their subject tribes learning some of the more simple battle spells and little more. In total they have only a few dozen rituals - none of which surpass Imperial equivalents - most are far worse.
Their magical practices seem to revolve around reverence for trees, the use of heavily stylised animal masks, and the invocations of both ancestors and "totem spirits". Imperial magicians speculate that these "totem spirits" are guises assumed by certain eternals. So far the orcs of the Great Forest have received some support from Lashonar, who they call variously the chatterer and the magpie.
They do not seem to have large covens such as those found in the Empire. Rather individual magicians come together as needed by the tribe and dedicate themselves to a single project or outcome before going their separate ways. They have nothing approaching the body of work represented by Imperial lore. It is speculated that most of their ritual magicians are practitioners of Night magic. Although there are some hints that they also dabble in a second lore, vates who have spoken with their magicians can only say with any confidence that it is probably not Spring.
From interactions with the Navarr, they slowly became aware that the Empire's magical learning exceeds their own as the light of the sun exceeds that of a candle. They asked those magicians they talk to how they came by such mastery of magic and seemed awed that the Empire had instituted schools and libraries to spread this learning across the land. Eventually the inevitable question Was raised. Would the Empire consent to let the Great Forest Orcs access this great storehouse of knowledge and learning? Would they allow the young magicians of the tribe to learn what their own children learn? Could their shamans be allowed to access these mystical libraries?
The civil service advised caution. The Empire has a treaty with the Great Forest Orcs, but treaties have failed before now, especially in recent times. If the Orcs were granted access to Imperial Lore there would be no way to limit what rituals they might acquire. While they are hardly likely to become the equal of the Urizen in a few short years... they would certainly use that access to acquire new rituals. Once that happened there would be no simple way to take the lore back short of extermination. Worse, if the Orcs returned to the Barrens... there might be nothing to stop the Druj enslaving them again - and taking that lore for their own - just as they did before.
In Autumn 381YE, the Imperial Conclave declined to grant them access to Imperial lore. Instead they used the declaration of dissemination to provide them with ritual texts of two rituals - Rivers of Life and Blessing of New Spring. A declaration of concord was also passed that "the Conclave should send magicians to the Great Forest orcs to teach them the basics of magic and help them overcome the damage done by the Druj."
Masters of Weirwood
The Great Forest Orcs are expert tenders of weirwood trees. When they dwelled in the Barrens they worked the weirwood groves in the Heart of Peytaht producing a steady stream of valuable timber to help the Barrens. They speak fondly of these groves; they possess some value to them beyond the wealth of the trees themselves and they long to take them back.
They are also privy to a secret apparently unknown to both the Empire and the Druj - they know how to pass through the heart of the Great Forest of Peytaht unmolested. Indeed, it appears that it was their knowledge that allowed the Druj to launch their surprise attack into Reikos in 367YE. They did so grudgingly - so they claim - and without their aid the Druj forces were ultimately trapped in the former Highborn territory until they were forced to suffer the consequences of moving north in the last days of the war in Holberg. They have made no effort to share this secret with the Empire, and are indeed reticent to talk about Peytaht at all.
In Autumn 381YE, they proposed that their woodcutters would work the trees in the Thimble for the Empire in return for a bounty of four wains of weirwood each season. Doing so would mean that the entire cost of running the Thimble would be negated while the agreement was in place - but the output of the grove would be reduced by four wains per season. They Orcs could then use the weirwood they gained to create herb gardens and similar of their own in Therunin. After some deliberation, the Imperial Senate agreed to their suggestion.
The Great Forest Orcs also suggested that they might use their mastery of weirwood to construct a fortification in Therunin - the Holt of the Oak. While the Empire builds forts only with white granite, the Great Forest orcs possess the ability to do so with weirwood. If the Empire would provide the materials needed then the Great Forest Orcs would carry out the construction and would then operate and maintain the fortification (in effect it is ceded to them) for the duration of their stay in the territory. Once they were able to return home, then the fortification would be ceded back to the Empire. The Imperial Senate accepted their offer, and after some initial hiccups the unique fortification was completed shortly before the Winter Solstice 383YE.
Most of the Great Forest Orcs apothecaries and physics have been killed, lost in battle to the Druj (or in some cases the Dawnish). Those that survived were forced to abandon their herb gardens when they fled south - but there seems to be a strong tradition of herb lore among them that they are keen to rebuild. One of their herbalists visited Anvil during the Autumn Equinox 381YE to sell some potions. Experienced apothecaries who examined the potions confirmed that they had not seen anything like them before - it is possible that the potions are entirely unknown in Imperial Lore. It is not clear whether the Great Forest orcs know how to make these potions or they are simply a legacy of their enslavement by the Druj. If they do, it might be possible to persuade them to share their knowledge with the Empire.
Unfortunately, a mastery of the arts of the physick or the apothecary is of little use without herbs - and it will take time for the Great Forest orcs to build up their own herb gardens. Every herb they possess is needed to keep their people alive. Despite their best efforts, many of their people are still in need of medical treatment and without it they are unlikely to survive the coming winter. Some made efforts to buy what supplies they can from the Navarr - but they lost what little wealth they once possessed when they fled the Barrens.
During the Autumn Equinox 381YE, the Imperial Senate voted to offer aid to the Great Forest orcs. The production from the Gardens of High Chalcis in Reikos were channelled into Therunin to aid the recovery of the orcs - removing the benefits they grant the Highborn herbalists for the next year. At the same time the Navarr National Assembly enacted a mandate to encourage the people of Therunin to share their herbs with the orcs, granting additional assistance but reducing both the production of the herb gardens and the income of businesses across the territory.
As well as orcs, the Great Forest tribe is accompanied by perhaps a hundred and fifty humans of obvious briar lineage who are not Imperial citizens. There is little doubt that these briars are representatives of the anarchists of Dourfell Keep in the Barrens - descendants of the murderous heretics who attempted to claim the Barrens as an independent briar "kingdom" during the reign of Emperor Ahraz. With Druj domination of the Barrens all but complete, it is speculated that they are the only surviving members of the cult.
Regardless, it is unlikely that they are friends to the Empire and their presence among the Great Forest orcs may be cause for concern. The orcs have been clear, however, that these people are their allies and friends. Any provisions the Empire has made for the Great Forest orcs apply equally to these briars. Via their orc interlocutors they have apparently agreed not to seek to spread their heresy - or at least not to resist the consequence that fall on any of their number who do so. Given the Navarr attitude to briars, especially in a territory with an active vallorn, it is perhaps unsurprising the briars have so far kept very much to themselves avoiding contact with Imperial citizens.
The Great Forest Orcs in Play
- The Great Forest Orc tribe or their human allies are not available to player characters.
Any Imperial character is free to create stories of interactions with the Great Forest Orcs if they wish, as long as they bear certain considerations in mind.
The Great Forest Orcs are centred in the Lower Tarn Valley, but their people will spread out throughout Therunin over the coming months into every region that is not occupied by the Vallorn (every region except Greenheart and Sweetglades). They will not build permanent settlements outside of the Lower Tarn Valley unless explicitly invited to do so by Navarr steadings. Their hunting parties will, however, be encountered in all parts of the territory.
Whenever they are encountered, they are guarded but cautiously friendly to the Navarr. They are cordial to Imperial Orcs, in all ways treating them as equals. With representatives of other nations, they are cool and aloof and will not voluntarily spend time around them. The exception is the Dawnish - it is clear they have little love for them. They abide by Imperial law as they understand it, and they do their level best not to infringe on Navarr hunting grounds uninvited.
They have no interest in the Way, and no interest in sharing their own philosophy save to speak in the broadest terms about ancestors, spirits, and their concept of the Great Forest - that all the woodlands that currently stand in Imperial lands and in the Barrens were once part of a single immense forest that stretched across the entire land long before humans arrived, and will one day reclaim that land.
The briars who live among them rarely leave Lower Tarn Valley unless they are part of a large orc hunting party. They avoid contact with Imperials for the most part; although some of them appear to be working to help the Great Forest Orcs understand the Empire their information is somewhat patchy and out of date. They, likewise, have little interest in the Way - but Navarr who visit the Great Forest Orcs quickly learn that these briars honour the same virtues as the Empire ... but unfortunately they also honour the false virtue of anarchy. While they are careful never to speak of it to Imperials, some of them can occasionally be heard referencing it among themselves.