This entry is part 22 in the series Orcs & Elves

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I’ve got so much campaign prep to get done that if I don’t do it here, I’ll never get it done in time…

It’s a peculiar thing when you’re writing. You are continually reshaping and tweaking the content to be included to make the narrative as clear and valuable as possible, and sometimes what seemed like a good or even necessary idea at the time suddenly doesn’t make much sense when you expand your notes to full passages of text. Which brings me to this week’s article, which continues the tale of the Orcish Clan Wars.

Originally, everything presented below was to be included in a single chapter that followed last week’s chapters. It all seemed to make perfect sense when each chapter was synopsized as a single line of text. When I actually got there, though, the text took on a life of its own, and this didn’t seem to fit – so, last week, I decided to cut it. Only a single phrase survived the culling, and that was moved to the start of the preceding chapter: “The roles of the allies should not be neglected by anyone seeking to understand the course of this conflict”.

That was last week. This week, as I looked on it with fresh eyes, I suddenly saw how the material that had been cut not only belonged at this point in the narrative, but was absolutely necessary for the whole thing to make sense, and far from having to be cut, it had to be expanded – to fill this entire post.

This revelation came so late in the day that I’m not sure I’m going to get the whole thing finished in time. But sitting here talking about it certainly isn’t going to get anything done, so it’s time for me to get to work…



Clan Wars IV: The Fires Of Sunrise

Having breached the reserve lines of the Red Eye clan, the Bleeding Swords flooded out into the relatively undefended homelands of the rival clan. The Red eyes, engaged in what they had been told (by their God no less) was a Holy War had stripped their range of virtually every able-bodied combatant. Being an essentially mobile society, these had brought their women and children with them, many of whom were also fighting in The Army Of The Crescent Moon. Only those too ill, too injured, or too old to fight effectively had been left behind. Their role was to hunt for the tribes and convey those supplies forward to the Army. Prior to the launching of the invasion, a Great Hunt had stocked the army’s mobile larders with smoked and preserved meat as well as fresh, which would make Game on the Sunrise Coast scarce. As the ill and injured recovered, they were to have taken over the primary responsibility for leading those hunts. These supply lines were easily cut by the marauding Bleeding Swords clan, at least in the beginning. It was expected that this would be a short campaign, and that the Red Eyes would quickly be forced to capitulate.

In thinking thus, the Bleeding Swords committed a fundamental tactical error of judgment, failing to take into account the profound differences in thinking between the Clans. The Red Eyes were nomadic hunters; they held no affection for any territory over any other. The heart of their domain was not the land apon which they hunted, it was wherever they happened to be at the time. All else was simply a matter of convenience. They fought back against the Bleeding Swords not out of territorial sentimentality but out of fury at the betrayal of the alliance dictated by Gruumsh. In short, the Bleeding Swords expected the Red Eyes to think – and react – in the same way that they did.

Were it not for one essential factor (and their overwhelming rage), the Red Eyes would have been happy to cede possession of these impoverished hunting grounds to the Bleeding Swords. There was insufficient game remaining to feed an army of the size fielded by the Bleeding Swords; they would have simply surrounded the territory and starved the larger army out. This would, ironically, have been making the same mistake as that which had been committed by the Bleeding Swords; for it failed to take into account the gains in agricultural productivity that the practices of farming, herding, and animal husbandry could achieve. There would have been some losses at first, but a new equilibrium would quickly be established in which the Bleeding Swords would prosper with scarcely diminished strength.

The consideration that saved the Red Eyes from committing this tactical error was their alliance with the Troglodytes, and it was this alliance that dictated the shape of their defensive campaign once the first flush of blind rage had faded. Dividing their army into three, the Red Eyes dedicated one force – the Army Of The Crescent Moon – to the task of sealing the Mailed Fists up within their walled cities and townships.

The second force, The Army Of The Skull, was dispatched to raid and occupy the home range of the Bleeding Swords, in a tit-for-tat maneuver that was perhaps the most effective move that the Red Eye Clan could make. The fate of this army is a subject to be taken up at another time, for it is central to subsequent events; but for now, our attention should remain fixed apon the third force of the Red Eyes Clan, the Army Of The One Eye.

This force was dispersed into small hunting groups, and detailed to hunt Bleeding Swords as though they were a large herd of horses, wild cattle, buffalo, or other such natural grouping of wildlife. Strike without warning at a convenient location, kill a few enemies, then melt back into the natural terrain to emerge a day or two later to repeat the process. To infuriate the foe, where possible, the kills should be dressed and hung as though they were a side of venison, and the locations of these passed to the nearest nest of their allies, the Troglodytes. The Bleeding Swords were not sentimentalists any more than the Red Eyes; they had no funerary rites to observe, and would leave the dead to rot as they found them, but the vulnerability these kills implied would make them uncomfortable (to say the least) and prime them to react appropriately when those Troglodyte Allies showed up to claim the bounty offered. They would either move away from the location, disrupting the orderly progress of their army, or they would remain and be engaged in a battle in which the Troglodytes held all the advantages, suffering brutal damage. Either course was a net victory for the Red Eyes, at least on a small scale.


The Coldness Of A Reptilian Heart

Since Troglodytes and their society thus become significant, this is an opportune moment to discuss this race, who offend almost all sentient life.

To a Troglodyte, all life that is not Troglodyte is meat, or feeds meat. This includes the dead of their own kind. Exclusively carnivorous, they will eat anything or anyone they find or kill. A troglodyte nest consists of four or five mated pairs, twenty to twenty-five nestlings, and fourty to fifty eggs, and are located in all sorts of terrains. Their preference is cooler temperatures, and they are most active at night and when underground; they will naturally gravitate to caves and natural shelters to remove them from the midday heat in summer, though some will nest in the branches of a clump of sheltered trees or in swamps. Only in winter do they become dangerous when the sun is at its height. Possessed of a simple intelligence, their culture and societies are primitive and their grasp of technology almost nonexistent. Beads and decorations are prized, but even more highly values are implements of metal, and weapons of steel are valued most highly of all. They have no concept of loyalty other than to their own kind, and even that is limited and must be continually earned anew, a fleeting and ephemeral thing.

Each nest is ruled by the strongest male. Each winter, the males contest for primacy and for the favor of the most attractive and strong females, to whom they will partner and with whom they will mate for the next year. Each pairing will produce a clutch of eggs in the spring while collectively supervising the young of the female’s previous layings. At the beginning of summer, when they are at their most languid, they can no longer spare the energy to provide enough food for all; the adults feed first, and then the youngest clutch; those approaching maturity get what little remains. Hunger drives the weakest out to face the dangers of the world outside, encountering and competing with those of other nests, returning to the nest with the dawn. As they mature, their range in these nocturnal expeditions will increase; in due course, they will either challenge one of the weakening males of their own nest for his place, find a suitable location and attract a mate, founding a new nest, or find their way into an existing understrength nest and join it. The weakest, and the unlucky, simply starve. At the end of summer, as the leaves brown, the nests hatch, just as the Nest is growing more active and able to hunt for additional food to provide for the newborn.

They have a number of natural abilities that aid them in this lifestyle. Acute night vision, better than that of many other species; claws; and hunting instincts. Add to those a poison brewed from certain toadstools which induces temporary blindness, an innate ferocity, and a brutality born of their racial convictions, and the result is a species that is far more effective than their size suggests. They are also natural diggers and burrowers, able to conceal themselves below ground or erect earthen defenses in a fraction of the time it would take even trained soldiers from other races, and they are a race to be feared and respected, however disliked.

Troglodytes are fiercely territorial, and will fight to the death to protect their young and their eggs. Only if all the eggs are killed unborn will a nest be considered untenable and abandoned in a nest migration, as the adults search for a new location in which to nest. It is almost certain that an abandoned nest will be claimed by the young of some other nest within a season or two.

All may be meat, but that does not preclude the tolerance for certain “pets” who provide meat for the nest. The society of the Red Eye Clan is the only one that could possibly forge an alliance with the Troglodytes; a ritual outgrowth of the hunting-oriented society made it a social practice to share the spoils of a particularly-successful hunt with visitors from other tribes. Inevitably, given their proximity, a pair of hunting Troglodytes came across a Red Eye tribe about to begin such a celebration; recognizing the behavior of the reptilian strangers, and aware that they were intelligent enough to have created and using primitive weapons, the Chief Hunter decreed them fellow hunters, and that they must be included amongst the guests at the feast. In one night, the Troglodytes were fed more richly than they would normally fare in a week, and the basic relationship was established; the Orcs left offerings of meat and offal for the nests closest to their hunting grounds, and the Troglodytes left them alone and unmolested, and even joined with them for the occasional joint hunt or other mutual action.

Alliance did not come naturally to the Troglodytes, it was always a function of convenience to them. Nevertheless, its advent had a great impact on their society, essentially doubling their food supplies. Nests grew larger, and stronger, and prospered; and while they could never understand why the Orcs did this, they were perfectly willing to take advantage of it. Over time, a social symbiosis developed between the Red Eye Tribes and the Troglodytes. Both sides view the other as something to be tolerated for their usefulness, and consider themselves to be the dominant partners of the alliance.

Of course, the Red Eyes had no reason to explain any of this to the other clans, and less social opportunity; and the Bleeding Swords had fundamentally different social customs; so the invaders from the Bleeding Sword clan did not behave in the customary manner, did not offer the traditional obeisance or expected offerings which would have earned them tolerated status in the eyes of the Troglodytes. That made them meat, the same as any other animal. The Army Of The One Eye, on the other hand, did practice the proprieties, and even left offerings of meat; it did not bother the Troglodytes one iota that the Bleeding Swords might fight back, that simply gave them the opportunity to add treasured relics of steel to the spoils of their hunts. The Red Eyes may not have been territorial, but the Troglodytes were, and the Bleeding Swords had invaded that territory. The only significance of the home ranges to the Red Eyes was that the Troglodytes defended it for them.


Clan Wars V: The Fires Of Sunset

The third division of the Red Eyes, the Army Of The One Eye, had been sent to rampage through the home ranges of the Bleeding Swords that lay to the Sunset of the walled cities. Unlike the Red Eyes, the Bleeding swords were only semi-nomadic, and were territorial by society. Also unlike the Bleeding Swords, they had not sent virtually their entire populations to the front; their herds and the farms that fed those herds still required maintenance, and their martial leadership was separate to their social leadership. The clan leaders had remained behind, in their positions of power, save for a few who were more naturally belligerent. Of course, the phrase “more naturally belligerent” takes on a slightly different meaning when one is speaking of Orcs!

Seventy Thousand Orc Warriors – plus semi-combatants and family members – is a force that is not to be taken lightly, however; factoring in the renowned ferocity of the Red Eyes in combat, and the adoption of tactics that took advantage of their greater mobility, and the rampaging hordes of the Army Of The One Eye packed a punch beyond that of the mere numbers. While a strict nose-count may have given the advantage to the defenders, they were isolated and dispersed; by focusing their efforts on one or two tribal grounds at a time, the Red Eyes were able to overrun the defenses one bite at a time, capturing the herds, and slaughtering them to feed the oncoming army. Nor could the defenders strip their tribal lands of effectives to create an army capable of making a stand against the invaders; their alliance with the Bugbears was based on strength, and would be quickly abrogated if they betrayed any sign of weakness, exposing them to danger on two fronts.

Fortunately, that alliance also held the solution to their immediate problem, though it would come at a price. The leaders of the Bleeding Swords went to the chiefs of the Bugbears, and told them of the oncoming hordes, depicting them as an irritation that could be easily smashed by a superior force, and stating that while they had sufficient force to do so, they thought the bugbears might like to lead the counterassault – on the usual terms: captives as slaves, and first choice of the booty.

The Bugbears had been considered simple by the Orcs, an attitude they had been happy to foster; they knew instinctively that being underestimated would always bring opportunities for gain. They were craftier, and had a better grasp of the tactical situation, than the Orcs had given them credit for, and they chose this moment to show their hand. While they were happy to accept “the usual terms” for leading the attack on the invading Red Eyes, they insisted that the Orcs feed their Strongarms while they were fighting for the Bleeding Swords; and that for every Bugbear-length of territory that they recaptured from the invaders, they would keep one half, to be ransomed back to the Bleeding Swords with future booty and largesse – and that they would keep their share of the captured territory until payment was agreed and made. This amounted to a shifting of power in the alliance from the Orcs to the Bugbears, and would vastly complicate future relations; but the Orcs needed the Bugbears to fight off the rival clan, and this was the price that would have to be paid; the Red Eyes had already established that they could reach an accommodation with a more territorial ally, and if they didn’t agree, the bugbears could very well take what they wanted (and more) anyway, then establish a new border with the Red Eyes.

Faced with no other prospects save ruination, they reluctantly agreed, and renewed their alliances with the Bugbear tribes. Their allies enthusiastically launched themselves into the campaign, with the Bleeding Swords surprised to learn that the Bugbears were far more numerous than they had ever suspected. Rather than the 20,000-or-so Strongarms that they expected their allies to field as a strike force against the invading army, two-hundred-thousand armed and armored veteran warriors streamed across the border to meet the invaders in a titanic clash of arms, each the equal of a similarly experienced Orc. These were numbers sufficient not simply to defeat the enemy, but to grind his bones to powder; nor had the Bleeding Swords made any arrangements with respect to the lands currently nominally the property of the Red Hands, but this multitude would have no reason to stop until deep within lands. They might even divide the Orclands, sundering all connection between the Clans. But that, too, was a problem for another day.


The Measurement Of Abasement

Bugbear society is more complex and rich than the Burning Swords ever appreciated, because its depths do not show to the casual observer. The central principles around which it is organized are Strength, Intimidation, and Abasement. The strongest lead a tribe until successfully challenged over a question of “what to do next/today”. Like troglodytes, Bugbears consider all prey to be food, though they are more refined in that they demand that the meat be fresh, and will not eat offal. Minor contests of strength and brutality occur constantly within the tribe, with the pecking order continually being reappraised. While these contests are rarely carried to the point of permanent injury or death, accidents will happen; there are no old Bugbears.

A Bugbear will concede authority to one who is stronger, and their social interactions contain dozens of ways of reminding the lesser of their place; their dialect of Goblinoid contains over one hundred different ways of demanding “obedience”, with different nuances and contexts, many of them non-verbal. It is considered a sign of weakness to directly concede that another is superior, and a Bugbear will fight to the death against impossible odds rather than do so. However, there are numerous indirect means of acknowledging that another is – at least temporarily – superior in prowess, strength, or position (tactical, financial, or social). There is absolute equality between the genders, though the females are usually less ferocious than the males except when defending their cubs from direct attack.

At the same time, Bugbears are fully conversant with the concept of strength through numbers. A Bugbear who concedes superiority to another gains authority in proportion to the combined strength of the association; such concession carries the implication that the stronger will support and protect the weaker, so while he may concede some of his personal authority, he also gains a small part of the authority of the stronger partner in the arrangement. The stronger the Bugbear, the more lesser Bugbears have conceded to his authority, and the greater the strength of the group that results. Bugbear protocols may be superficially simple, but beneath the surface of what appears to be boasting and wrestling, sophisticated relationships are established with minimal bloodshed. “You will obey me because while I am weaker than you, I have greater numbers behind me” is conveyed by a single word describing the demand. “I obey because it amuses me to pretend to be weaker” is conveyed by a different word.

(Side-note: if bugbears were not constitutionally unable to bow to another – that being a direct concession of inferiority – their society would bear considerable resemblance to a more primitive version of that of feudal Japan, without the concepts of Giru and Gimu.)

Obligations are accepted or refused according to whether or not the individual believes he can carry out the obligation; once accepted, there are no excuses, it’s succeed or die trying. Accepting an obligation demands that the Bugbear commit his or her every resource to the completion of the task. Only if released from the obligation by a superior to whom the Bugbear has conceded authority can the Bugbear avoid this commitment. The entire society will turn against one who offends this propriety. Nevertheless, refusal to accept an obligation demanded by one to whom the Bugbear has conceded authority is a public humiliation that strips the Bugbear of all respect within the society; the remainder of those who have conceded to that authority will be shamed by association and exact violent revenge against the one who showed the superior as being too weak to enforce his demands.

As a result, Bugbear society is constantly collapsing and being reformed around new figures of strength; it is inherently anarchic.


Next time: The material that was supposed to appear this week: Nightmares are given flesh, the Orcish Gods join the brouhaha, the Huyundaltha find themselves in the middle of a powder-keg, and the unlikeliest of all possible alliances – all in Chapters 59-62!

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Orcs & Elves Series:
  1. Inventing and Reinventing Races in DnD: An Introduction to the Orcs and Elves series part 1
  2. Inventing and Reinventing Races in DnD: An Introduction to the Orcs and Elves series part 2
  3. Inventing and Reinventing Races in DnD: An Introduction to the Orcs and Elves series part 3
  4. Inventing and Reinventing Races in DnD: An Introduction to the Orcs and Elves series part 4
  5. Inventing and Reinventing Races in DnD: An Introduction to the Orcs and Elves series part 5
  6. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 1-4
  7. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 5-10
  8. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 11-14
  9. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 15-17
  10. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 18-20
  11. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 21-23
  12. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 24-26
  13. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 27-28
  14. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 29-31
  15. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 32-36
  16. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 37-40
  17. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 41-43
  18. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 44-46
  19. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 47-51
  20. Inventing and Reinventing Races in DnD: An Orcish Mythology
  21. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 52-54
  22. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 55-58
  23. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 59-62
  24. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 63-65
  25. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 66-68
  26. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 69-70
  27. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 71-73
  28. Who Is “The Hidden Dragon”? – Behind the curtain of the Orcs and Elves Series
  29. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapter 74
  30. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 75-77
  31. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 78-85