The Grendel are almost unique amongst the barbarian orcs in that they have incorporated a belief in the power of the virtues alongside their veneration of their ancestors. The ancestors are still important to them, like any orc they can hear their ancestors during battle, tense negotiations and other dramatic moments. But crucially the Grendel have long since abandoned the idea that they need an ancestor to help them cross the Howling Abyss. Rather, they believe that this feat requires strength of character, indomitable will and the pursuit of personal excellence. Their beliefs have many similarities with the Way, but also a bastardized version of the Urizen concept of arete.


The Grendel have always been comfortable with religion, preferring to acknowledge local beliefs rather than proselytize their own. Grendel traders in Sumaah will talk about virtues, then make donations to the Black Bull when visiting Asavea. The Grendel view is that such things might exist, they might be able to offer help to the Grendel, and thus it can do no harm to placate them. Their approach is akin to Pascal's Wager, with most Grendel prepared to cheerfully accept any belief or creed they think may help them. Many Grendel adopt a "lucky rabbit's foot" approach to belief: if they performed a libation to the Black Bull that morning and concluded a profitable trade deal that evening, then they are likely to adopt the Black Bull into their personal pantheon of beliefs that can help them succeed in the future.

Four hundred years ago, the Grendel culture was much more traditional, with a strong emphasis on ancestor veneration and worship. Eking out an existence as pirates, they were a significant nuisance to Imperial fleets at that time so a group of Urizen teachers took it upon themselves to visit the Grendel. They believed that if they civilized the Grendel, taught them Urizen ideals and values, then the Grendel would become an ally of civilized people, rather than an enemy. The Grendel were receptive to the words of the Urizen but sadly the outcome was not as desired. Grendel culture did indeed become much more advanced, but regrettably they grew more dangerous than ever for the nascent Empire.


At the heart of the Grendel beliefs is the assumption that only the most powerful of them will be able to cross the Howling Abyss when they die. Rather than looking to the ancestors for aid, as they once did, instead the Grendel are driven to accumulate as much power as possible. Physical strength is one component of this, but only one - for the Grendel, influence, authority, charisma, and confidence are more important than personal might. Wealth is a critical component, partly as a demonstration of power, but mostly for the power it brings. Grendel mystics and philosophers call this quality puissance but most Grendel simply refer to it as power.

Foreign gods, such as those of the Iron Confederacy or Asavea are often seen as something like an eternal, a creature of another world that may or may not be able to offer the individual aid in their quest for power. Few Grendel would genuinely abase themselves before such a creature; to a Grendel, the single most important creature in the universe is themselves. But if words of obeisance to a statue provide good fortune, then most Grendel are happy to take any advantage they can get.

The virtues are important to the Grendel, because they believe that the proper application of the correct virtue at the correct moment will help them gain power. The role of ancestors is more nuanced; the Grendel welcome the words of their ancestors at critical moments, believing that it offers practical advice on how they might succeed, but most believe that real power comes from within, that an individual can only truly succeed on their own motivation and inspiration. Since the ancestors offer aid to all the Grendel, any rational being can see that the only way for an individual to gain power over those around them is to transcend that advice and go beyond it.


The Grendel have no time for orthodoxy: each Grendel is seeking a route through life that will bring them the most power. Most only have an interest in the beliefs of others insofar as those beliefs might provide them with more power. As such, individual Grendel adopt whatever virtues, gods, and ancestors they find bring them the most success. However, the most common virtues followed by the Grendel are Ambition, Audacity, Cunning, Fidelity, Prosperity, Retribution, and Vigilance. The Grendel struggle to understand the Imperial virtue of Pride; ideas like inspiring others are anathema to them.


  • Power cannot be granted

Ambition is one of the most common virtues on the coasts of the Broken Shore, especially amongst young Grendel who have little to lose. Ironically, its importance is much diminished for those at the top of Grendel society who, desperate to hang on to the power they have accumulated, are more concerned with Fidelity and Vigilance. Sadly the Grendel lack any of the wide appreciation that the Empire has for the many forms that ambition may take. Only the drive for power is important to the Grendel, those who earnestly seek other paths are seen as deficient and spiritually weak.


  • Power is a crown, learn to put it on

Audacity is vital to the Grendel. Their understanding of this virtue is similar to the Imperial notion of Courage but is far removed from bravery in battle. Indeed, the Grendel tend to view bravery as an aberration; every Grendel must be ready to fight when needed but those who take unwise risks are fools who put their fate in the hands of chance. This virtue is about personal self-belief, about chutzpah, which the Grendel view as entirely positive.


  • Insight is the greatest weapon

The Grendel value information nearly as much as they do wealth. They are always desperate to be better informed than those they deal with, seeking to know everything they can about them. The Grendel pay well for good information. But cunning encompasses more than just knowledge; it is also about ingenuity, as well as the ability to read others. Facts are important to every negotiation and stratagem: if you know how much wealth a merchant has then you have a better idea what they can afford to pay. If you know how many armies the Empire is facing, then you know what they can spare to send against the Grendel. But much more important is understanding, being able to read your enemies, to predict them, to instinctively know when they are bluffing and when they are telling the truth.

Neither facts nor understanding are useful without the ingenuity to use them in creative and imaginative ways. The Grendel pride themselves on outwitting their enemies.


  • You cannot drive an ox with a broken back

Each Grendel is primarily concerned with their own wealth and power, but all but the stupidest Grendel understands that power is not achieved by working alone but by working together. The virtue of Fidelity emphasizes the importance of showing loyalty to those around you - in proportion to the benefits that that brings you. Fidelity also includes ideas of honesty - the importance of negotiating in good faith so that others will know the benefits that cooperating with you brings.

A key part of Fidelity is the way the Grendel treat those over whom they have power. Allies and most especially subordinates who are gouged or taken for everything they have, will turn against you. You can trade with a merchant many times; you can murder them only once. Those who keep faith and pay heed to the well-being of their underlings will ensure their continued loyalty.


  • Wealth is Power

Salt Lords and other powerful Grendel live lives of wealth and opulence not far short of those enjoyed by the richest merchant princes of the League. The Grendel don't just see wealth as the natural reward for hard work and ambition; they understand that wealth is a means to power, that it is the most effective tool with which to influence others. The Grendel understand the Freeborn ideal that everything is for sale at a price, and are comfortable with offering money for distasteful actions.

The Grendel notion of Fidelity means that they believe that the powerful should share a portion of their wealth with associates and underlings to ensure their continued loyalty, but the idea of generosity for its own sake is an anathema to them. The more help you give people, the less they are motivated to work for what they have. Starvation is nature's way of teaching you to learn to look after yourself.

Crucially, the wisest Grendel understand that power begets power, that people are drawn to serve those they see as successful. Public displays of wealth are the best way to demonstrate your power and thus increase it.


  • Vengeance for what you have lost, retribution for what you will gain

The Grendel embrace lex talionis, the view that retribution is central to a just society. A nation whose people do not fear retribution is one where they do not fear to steal or murder each other. On a personal level they know that you cannot be powerful without being prepared to exact revenge on those who cross you - be they subordinates, competitors, or enemies. Retribution is costly and dangerous but those who are not prepared to pay the price will find power stripped from them. They believe that the threat of retribution is harmonious, that it keeps both parties honest. The Grendel are deeply comfortable with negotiating from an opening position that begins with an explicit threat of violence or retribution.

Central to the notion of Retribution is the belief that the Grendel should negotiate in good faith. Nobody fears retribution from an individual who is insane enough to follow through on their threats just because they can.


  • Traitors wear broad smiles

The Grendel preach that complacency is a weakness, a trap that can bring even the most powerful low. Those with power must be eternally watchful lest they be betrayed by the people they deal with. But Vigilance is more than just paranoia: individuals must be alert for every opportunity, and the powerful are those who seize every chance that is offered to them. The Grendel strive to be guarded against treachery while remaining open to any decision that might profit them.


The emphasis on personal character has not completely supplanted the veneration of the Grendel ancestors. The Grendel forebears who have successfully crossed the Howling Abyss are still seen as valuable allies, a source of wisdom and good advice that can help an individual learn to better themselves. Many Grendel also harbour an unspoken fear that offending an ancestor might somehow lead to that being working against them, through bad advice or support for their rivals. Like other tribes, the Grendel have many personal and clan ancestors, but the three listed below are common to anyone born into the Grendel.

Rucraic - The Storm Lord

Rucraic is an ancient Grendel ancestor who led the orc tribes living on the coast of the Broken Shore in rebellion against those who ruled over them. He is legendary as a reaver and a pirate, considered the epitome of Grendel daring. Modern Grendel consider Rucraic to exemplify the virtues of Audacity, Cunning, and Prosperity, a bold individual who outwitted his enemies at every turn to gain wealth and riches.

Dubhtraig - The Salt Lord

The second oldest of the three most common Grendel ancestors is Dubhtraig the Builder. It is sometimes claimed that he built Dubhtraig, but most Grendel scholars accept that there was a port where Dubhtraig is now long before the Grendel came. Rather, they believe that their ancestor conquered Dubhtraig, and then built a great nation around the port. He is admired as an utterly ruthless figure: one legend claims that when the original inhabitants of the port swore undying vengeance, Dubhtraig had every single one of them bound in chains and thrown into the harbour to drown. He exemplifies Ambition, Prosperity, and Retribution.

Sheanduir - The Wind Lord

Sheanduir is the youngest of the main Grendel ancestors. A cunning weather witch, she rose to power serving a succession of rulers of Dubhtraig until her power eclipsed that of the Salt Lords. She was widely known for her powers of prophecy, giving predictions and foretellings to the powerful. Modern Grendel understand that these prophetic visions were simply part of the witch's strategy for gaining power, playing on the fears of others to manipulate them. She was pivotal in uniting the rival Salt Lords against the threat of the Imperial navies, although one legend claims she also manipulated the Empire into sending the navies precisely so that she could seize power in Grendel lands by stopping them.

Sheanduir's rule forced the Grendel to adopt their modern approach to trade, as she demonstrated how Grendel divinations could be used to find more valuable opportunities than mere piracy. She is seen as exemplifying Cunning, Fidelity, and Prosperity.


Questioners play an important role in Grendel society. Serving as confessors, advisers and counsellors, they are closest thing the Grendel have to priests. Their role is to listen to the problems of those they counsel and offer advice that helps them to make decisions and to act. The purpose of this advice is to enable the recipient to make the right choices that will allow them to grow in power. All questioners maintain a mystical air, and combine a mix of folk wisdom with advice on the virtues, and how to placate the ancestors, and other beings.

Good questioners provide practical advice, but the richest and most powerful retain their own network of spies and informants so that their advice can appear miraculously sagacious in hindsight. In addition, many specialize in interrogation and torture techniques.

Further Reading