The Grendel are orcs who hail from Attar and the Broken Shore - lands to the south and east of the Bay of Catazar. A nation of sea-faring orcs with a love for wealth and power, they were once nothing but pirates and reavers. Over time their society has advanced to the point where they are as likely to trade as to steal what they want. Despite their riches and the luxurious lifestyle of their leaders - the Salt Lords - the Grendel are brutal, uncompromising bullies who use violence and threats of violence to get what they want. Their comparative distance from the Empire means that its citizens know relatively little about their society.
Much of the current information about Grendel society comes from Angelo i Ceniza, a Freeborn civil servant who spent several months in late 378YE as a captive guest of the Salt Lord Suriad of Dubhtraig.
The Grendel dominate the lands to the south and south-east of the Empire. Historically, they have threatened territories across the Bay of Catazar: Sarvos, Highguard, Urizen, and the Brass Coast. Before the birth of the Empire, the ancestors of the Grendel controlled much of the land that is now part of these nations, but were driven out by human settlers.
At the top of Grendel society are the Salt Lords - their great wealth seems to derives from their position of power, although they claim it is the other way around. The Salt Lords control the trade into and out of the Broken Shore and their ships have been seen in most foreign ports across the world - at least those that will deign to accept orcs. Beneath the Salt Lords are the Sea Lords - the commanders of the Salt Lords warships - together they form a council which rules the Broken Shore with an iron fist.
Grendel culture is inextricably linked with the sea, and all their most important settlements are large bustling ports. Their position of power and wealth in the Broken Shore comes in part from the trade that their fleets carry out across the world. The Grendel raise no armies of their own, preferring to hire mercenaries from the interior of the Broken Shore. Although they have long since outgrown their piratical roots, ownership of their own vessel is still a powerful dream for most young Grendel.
The Grendel are undoubtedly the richest of the barbarian orc nations that face the Empire; the Salt Lords have wealth that would rival that of any League Merchant Prince or Freeborn family. More so perhaps than any other Barbarian nation the Grendel have an abundance of finely crafted items and artisans are always in great demand. However the wealth of the nation does not run deep, most Grendel are born into desperate poverty and destined to remain that way all their life. In Grendel society the victor is the one who takes the spoils.
Slavery is endemic in Grendel lands, and is the natural endpoint for those who do not make the right choices in life. There are hundreds of thousands of slaves in Grendel lands; the lucky ones work as servants in the villas of wealthy Grendel captains or Salt Lords, while the threat of a short, brutal existence in the salt mines is ever present for those that attempt to rebel or escape. Those that show promise can find themselves fighting for their lives in the gladiatorial arena. Regardless of their position, the slaves of the Grendel are never allowed to forget that they are possessions - objects, rather than people.
5 things to know about the Grendel
- Masters of the sea - the Empire has fleets - the Grendel have navies and it has already sunk one Imperial flotilla
- Smarter than you - the Grendel spend time, money and effort on being as well informed as possible
- Masters of the deal - Grendel are fiercely competitive, driven to get the best from every negotiation no matter how small
- Richer than you - they pride themselves on their wealth and affluence
- Masters of the game - the Grendel are cunning and savvy, they seek to understand their rivals so that they can outwit them
What the Grendel are not
- Pirates The Grendel will resort to reaving if it benefits them - but their nation has long since decided that trade and conquest offer a better route to riches than piracy.
- Civilized The Grendel are rich, smart and enjoy the trappings of civilization. But in reality their culture is like a society run by a bunch of drug cartels.
Warriors of the Grendel
The bulk of most Grendel armies are bands of mercenaries hired from the many orc tribes that dwell inland on the Broken Shore. From the Imperial perspective there is little to distinguish these forces from the countless minor tribes that are incorporated into the armies of the Thule, Druj or the Jotun. Most own little more than a sword and a breastplate usually worn over a plain tunic or similar. In battle they form up and fight in mobs along tribal divisions. What does make them distinct is the command and leadership of the Grendel commanders - there is none of the brutal savagery of the Druj, nor the caution of the Thule. Grendel commanders are bold risk-takers but they pride themselves on their discipline - soldiers that cannot obey orders face summary punishment.
The elite troops in the Grendel's arsenal are the professional soldiers, hired from the moridun. Each moridun appears to be some kind of independent mercenary fellowship - operating from a fortress somewhere in the Broken Shore where they recruit, equip, and train Grendel soldiers. Each moridun has its own symbols and imagery and each jealously guards its own traditions and unique fighting style. Commanders will almost always deploy Grendel soldiers from a moridun where they have them available - but such troops are at most effective when engaged in pursuit of the military objectives that that moridun specializes in.
The Grendel seem to view the use of ritual magic as a profoundly economic activity. The most powerful magician among the Grendel holds the rank of Wind Lord and sits in the Grendel High Council with the Salt Lords. While the Grendel might use the power of ritual magic to realise their goals, they would only do so if they couldn't achieve the same end more cheaply using mundane means. The Grendel hoard wealth and they expend their magical reserves carefully, seeking the maximum return on their investment.
The Grendel do not use the same magical terminology as the Empire. Angelo reports that their most important realm is the Sky - from which information and enlightenment flows - and that they also prize the uncontrollable Sea - the source of wild storms and violent winds, the fountain of life. The Realm of Sand is valued for its many economic benefits - sand is mutable and workable, ordered and measured though it can shift suddenly beneath you. The other realms are largely disdained by the Grendel.
Spellcasting on the battlefield is seen as an important auxiliary role, a way to round out the fighting strength of a unit. Magicians embed themselves within the best units to provide magical healing or offensive abilities depending on their capabilities. Unlike the Thule, the Grendel do not field battle magicians by themselves, as such individuals are seen as too expensive to risk in such a way. Battlefield magicians, especially members of the Grendel tribe, will often carry magical items designed to protect them and boost their strength.
Centuries ago, the ancestors of the modern Grendel laboured under the rule of a powerful orc tribe that dominated the Bay of Catazar, but that tribe was cast down by the rise of the Empire. After gaining their freedom, they survived, then prospered, by preying on fleets that passed through the Bay.
Raiding came to a head in the reign of Emperor Barabbas who created three large navies intent on destroying the Grendel and claiming the island of Attar, the largest landmass in the Broken Shore. Facing a significant Imperial threat, the rival Salt Lords came together to oppose a common enemy. The Grendel never cease their rivalry, but they know that in most times there is more to be gained from working together than apart.
Over time, the Grendel nation has expanded to the point that they now lay claim to swathes of land to the south of Urizen and Highguard. Historically, their activities have been kept in check by the activities of the Freeborn corsairs, but the balance of power appears to be slowly shifting in favour of the Grendel, especially in the southern bay...