This entry is part 23 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…

This is the material that in the original plan (as revised a couple of weeks ago), would have been posted last week. Chapter 59′s content would have appeared as Chapter 55.

And so would the content of Chapters 60, 61, and 62.

Clearly, I had far too much content planned for inclusion in the old Chapter 55. In fact, I had so much content that I have not had time to even put it into full first-draft form; this is still very much just an outline of the content.

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Chapter 59

Clan Wars VI: Point Of View

For a time, all had proceeded as Baghtru had prophesied to the Mailed Fist clan: “The Red Eyes will attack the Mailed Fists, seemingly in alliance with the Bleeding Swords, but this alliance will then be apparently betrayed by the Bleeding Swords, who will rush to occupy the Home Ranges of the Red Eyes.”

Compare this to events as perceived by the Mailed Fists: They were besieged by the Red Eyes and Bleeding Swords as forecast. The Bleeding Swords then betrayed the alliance with the Red Eyes and invaded Red Eye homelands to the Sunrise, also as predicted. What they thought they would gain by this is unknown, but was thought irrelevant because the Mailed Fists believed the Bleeding Swords were being manipulated.

In response, the Red Eyes had then divided the Army Of The Crescent Moon into three; one force, 150,000 strong and renamed the Army Of The One Eye, withdrew to the Sunrise (presumably to fight the invading Bleeding Swords), while a second subdivision of 70,000, now named the Army Of The Skull withdrew to the Sunset and into Bleeding Swords home ranges for reasons that didn’t make a lot of tactical sense, but this was (once again) thought irrelevant because the Red Eyes were also being manipulated. Unknown to the Bleeding Swords, a second levee of 54,000 Orc Soldiers was separated from the Army Of The Crescent Moon two days later to act as reserves for the Army Of The Skull, leaving 140,000 besieging the walled cities of the Mailed Fists clan. 40,000 of these were killed in attempts to overrun the walls and other skirmishes, at the cost of another 5,000 of the defending City Dwellers. The remaining 100,000 had no hope of overcoming the 105,000 defenders; it was all they could do to keep them contained and besieged until one of the other Armies returned.

The defenders within the cities had made repeated attempts to break the seige, concentrating forces on this side or that, but somehow the besieging army seemed to know about their preparations as quickly as they were begun, and reinforcements summoned from other areas accordingly. This was a puzzle, but one of little urgency, because the Mailed Fists expected that the Burning Swords would now secretly make overtures toward renewing their alliance with the Mailed Fists.

Much to their surprise, this didn’t happen. Instead, a horde of 200,000 Bugbears – known allies of the Burning Swords – passed through Burning Swords territory without conflict and fell on the Army Of The Skull like a breaking wave, grinding it into Orcburger in less than a week, before marching toward the central regions and the Army Of The Crescent Moon.

The involvement and actions of the Bugbears were completely unexpected according to the guidance offered by Baghtru, who had returned to his Citadel in the Frozen Wastes to spy out the movements of the enemy. He returned in spirit form with fresh intelligence of what was happening, but not why. He told the council of the Mailed Fists that his father had sent part of the Army Of The Eye to besiege his citadel and prevent him from returning in the flesh, and that he would only be able to spend limited time with his children until that siege was lifted.

He reported that as the Bugbears advanced, they had split off squads to capture and hold the territory that had come into dispute, so that the invading force was reduced in size by the time it reached the City Walls and confronted the Red Eyes blockading the cities of the Mailed Fist clan, but still outnumbered them better than two-to-one.

Now the Red Eyes – trapped between city walls and Bugbear Horde, unable to maneuver without weakening or lifting the siege of the Mailed Fists – sent out negotiators to attempt to establish peaceful relations with the Bugbears. Those negotiators were skinned, dipped in honey, and returned to the Red Eyes in contemptuous manner.

Chapter 60

Clan Wars VII: The Insights Of Ambassador Tathzyr

Lolth is not one to ignore a potential resource even if she had no immediate need of it. Living within the city of the Mailed Fists was an Ambassador of the Spider-Queen. Tathzyr normally kept a very low profile, bringing himself to the notice of the Orcs as little as possible, always aware that he was surrounded by a throng of hostile enemies who might turn on him at any moment. Shy, retiring, and scholarly (compared with most Drow), he was of the impression that both his Queen and the Orcs around him forgot that he was there, most of the time, and that was exactly how he liked it. It was with some disquiet that he received a summons from the Clan Council. When he reached the council, he was asked to shed any light that he could on the puzzles confronting the Mailed Fists.

Proceeding with caution and logic, he contributed little save tentative speculation; but chief amongst the notions that he hesitantly placed before the Council was the thought that if an enemy was not behaving as expected, it usually meant that some assumption about motives or objectives had been incorrectly assessed. Perhaps Baghtru had been misled, manipulated, in the same way as he believed the other Orcish Deities had been? He promised to use the arcane devices he had been issued by his Queen, against such need, to request any further intelligence that her infinitely greater resources and faculties could provide – but there was no treaty between the Mailed Fists and the Drow, and she might well refuse to disclose anything that she knew without one. Tathzyr desperately hoped that this line of arguement would persuade the Orcs that his offer was so unlikely to be productive that they would tell him not to bother. Instead, they simply grunted and pressed for an assessment of what he thought would happen next.

He replied that to assess the mind of an enemy, one had to attempt to put themselves into their boots. Gruumsh was in absolute command of the Red Eyes; in effect, the envoys sent by the Clan-Chief of the Red Eyes were personal representatives of Gruumsh. These had not just been rebuffed, they had been humiliated; when Gruumsh learns of this, he is likely to regard it as a personal insult, and do something Rash and Violent.

Now, the Bugbears, he continued: Gruumsh towers over the battlefield, unmistakable in his vastness. The Bugbears could not have failed to know that they were rebuffing and denigrating the personal envoy of a Deity. Something gave them the confidence to do so and while it was not apparent what that might be, it has to be of equal magnitude to Gruumsh – at least in the minds of the Bugbears. The Mailed Fist clan dared stand against Gruumsh only because they had the personal backing of Baghtru; the Bleeding Swords dared oppose him only because they had the support of Ilneval. The bugbears must have the support of a Deity of some sort, or think they did. Whatever Gruumsh did, the source of the Bugbear’s confidence could not fail to respond without all unity in his forces disappearing. Logically, then, he expected that the next development would be pitched battle between the Army Of The Crescent Moon and the Bugbear Horde, and an equally-direct confrontation between Gruumsh and whatever was backing the Bugbears.

Finally, consider the tactical situation: The Red Eyes were vastly outnumbered. Gruumsh has played at war for long enough to recognize this as a losing position; no matter how angered he might be, he is still a God Of War. Before he can properly punish the Bugbears for their disrespect, he will need to do something to equalize the forces of battle. From where can his additional troops be found? He cannot call apon the Mailed Fists, as he once might have done, because he is engaged in a Holy War with you. He has been betrayed by the Bleeding Swords. He has few remaining troglodytes to draw apon; they were engaged against the Bleeding Swords. It would take too long to negotiate an alliance with another mortal race and bring their armies to the battlefield. His only chance will be to call apon the troops that have supported him in his conquest of the places Beyond The Sky. The first sign of the coming conflict can only be the appearance on the battlefield of The Army Of The Eye.

Suddenly, Tathzyr realized that all eyes within the council chamber were focused intently apon him, that he had become so carried away by his own thoughts that he placed himself firmly in the spotlight, and that he had no idea of how to extricate himself from that position. Desperately, he tried to remember everything he had said – had he managed to insult the Clan, or the putative Deity, Baghtru?

The Orcish council shifted nervously in their seats at the silence that followed, until one by one their eyes turned to Baghtru. “Your thought is good, Tathzyr Consult your mistress. Tell her what is happening here. Tell her that I say you have spoken well, and with understanding, and should be rewarded.”

It was at that moment that Tathzyr discovered just how much he had exposed himself; if he disobeyed, his life might well be forfeit, and if he obeyed, his Queen’s attention would be firmly fixed apon him, and his life as he knew it would be over. With sinking heart, he acknowledged the instructions of the Orcish Deity.

Baghtru then rose from his position within the Council. “The Army Of The Eye is vast beyond numbering. Even a fraction will be enough for my father to bring superior numbers against the Bugbears, and leave enough spare to overrun your cities, my children.

“There are those who fight the Army Of The Eye; I did not wish to involve them but we may have no choice. They are creatures of horror and nightmare, over which little control may be exerted, and will be almost as dangerous to you as the Armies of Gruumsh. But I will teach the rituals of summoning to my shaman.”

Chapter 61

Clan Wars VIII: Rituals Of War

Tathzyr, the Drow ambassador, almost had it right. Any casual observer would have said that his prognostications were right on the money, and paid off any bets accordingly. Only very close examination, and consultation with an Orcish Shaman, would have revealed any discrepancies.

Mid-afternoon on the third day after the council meeting of the Mailed Fists, howls of fury informed all within earshot that Gruumsh had received some personal insult and was infuriated by it. In his anger, he swelled in size to tower fifty feet above the heads of the tallest Orcs, and with a wild gesture, leveled one of the inner towers of the City, which crashed down in ruins apon the citizens below. Observers within the city watched reverently as he cleared a large space in the centre of the Army Of The Crescent Moon and thrust the head of his spear into the vacated ground, which began to reshape itself into a model of the terrain of the Orclands. Uprooting the tree which had been sheltering his pavilion since the commencement of the siege, he set it afire with a glance from his one good eye, a flame that burned with unnatural speed and ferocity. In minutes, the entire tree was wreathed in flame, and before much more time had passed, it was reduced to charcoal. Crushing the embers between his fists with one angry blow, he watched them rain down over the miniature continent, where they flowed unnaturally until each marked the disposition of a single participant in the conflict. Comparing the size of the bugbear horde with the numbers besieging the cities of the Mailed Fists, he again bellowed in fury. He then fixed his gaze apon the cowering Shamans who accompanied the Army Of The Crescent Moon, who sprang up as though poked with a stick, and began to race back to the tribes to which they belonged. With a cruel smile, and a somewhat smug expression, but still with a glare in his eye, he retrieved his spear, permitting the earth to resume its former shape, and returned to his pavilion, shrinking to his normal 20′ stature as he did so, and there he remained.

Each of the tribes of the Army Of The Crescent Sword, under the exhortations of their Shaman, then began to make preparations for what appeared to be a great feast. Wood was collected and built into vast bonfires, around each of which the entire tribe would tramp and dance, their voices raised in a song of unnatural language. From time to time, the shaman would sprinkle something on the flames which caused them to erupt in a shower of sparks. When the Orcs were exhausted by their frenzied efforts, others would take their place. This ‘feast’ was obviously some vast ritual. Why was he not summoning them himself, for surely he could do so more quickly and reliably than his Shamans could? Was it possible that Gruumsh was so infuriated that he planned to sacrifice the entire Army Of The Crescent Moon in order to summon forth the unnamable, uncountable hordes of the Army Of The Eye, that otherworldly force that Gruumsh commanded in the world beyond the Sky? Filled with apprehension, the Mailed fists began preparing the rituals in which Baghtru had educated them.

As the crescent moon reached it’s zenith in the sky that night, white flames began to flow outward from the bases of each great bonfire, following lines unnaturally straight, and unnaturally curved at the same time, and each Orc dancing around the bonfires was surrounded by a circle of white Flame. At all points where the unnatural lines of flame intersected, the flames grew into towering pillars of fire, so great that those within the city could feel their heat through the thickened and reinforced walls of stone. Abruptly, these pillars became a black so deep that the night sky was but a deep indigo in comparison, and from each came a flood of monstrosities. No two were alike; all were like unto a blending of Orc and other fell creatures. Some had vast bat-like wings, others antlers, still others tails or scaly skin, or long forked tongues that licked the air. All were tainted and rotted as though a week or more dead; some were almost completely skeletal. Baghtru had described the enemies of the Army Of The Eye as “creatures of horror and nightmare”, but had not described the Army itself as comprising the undead issue of mating between Orcs and these creatures. By morning, with the fires reduced to pyres of smoke rising to the heavens, the Army Of The Crescent Moon had been swelled in number eight-fold.

Only an Orcish Shaman could have known that these new forces bore no resemblance to those described in their Holy Lore as The Army Of The Eye. What they were was unknown, but the fact remained: 105,000 defenders and 160,000 bugbears now faced 900,000 enemies – more than enough to overrun the cities or annihilate the bugbears, but not quite enough to do both at once without suffering extreme casualties. In his current temper, though, casualties were not going to be uppermost in the mind of Gruumsh. They had no choice; the Shamans of the Mailed Fists began preparing the rituals of summoning.

As the sun rode ever-higher into the sky, Gruumsh emerged from his pavilion once more. With a bellow, he raised his axe overhead into the air and then let it drop like a banner. What will continue to be described inaccurately as “The Army Of The Eye” turned as one, facing in the direction of the Orc-God’s gaze, and with a single great roar, charged through the lines of the Army Of The Crescent Moon, led by the War-God himself. Some 10,000 of Gruumsh’s Orcs were killed or maimed, trampled underfoot as the throng of monstrosities charged. And, even as they did so, the Bugbear horde appeared, a distant smudge on the horizon, no more than 20 miles from the city walls.

Chapter 62

Clan Wars IX: Battle Of Two Gods

As Gruumsh led his forces in a charge toward the Bugbear horde, he again began to swell in size. The bugbears responded with an uncoordinated and lumbering charge of their own. The crash of arms when the two armies reached each other was titanic, and clearly audible within the city. The sharpest-eyed inhabitants had once again been positioned in towers to spy what they could of the outcome, while others watched the forces which continued the siege lest they attempt to take advantage of the distraction to the sunset.

Then Gruumsh reached the enemy lines and began to swing his great axe, which had grown in stature with his own transformation. With every stroke of the blade, enemies and allies alike were tossed aside like leaves in the wind, many torn to shreds by the sheer force of the blow. The bugbears fought desperately, outnumbered by a crushing margin, until Gruumsh, panting with effort and soaked in blood and sweat, paused to recapture his breath. From behind him, one of the Bugbears began to glow and swell in size even as had Gruumsh; this apparition was also armed with a monstrous axe, though one with a longer handle and smaller blade. Without warning, the Deific Bugbear swung his axe, and the blade bit deep into the relatively unprotected back of the War-God of the Orcs.

This surprise assault was not enough to lay the War-God down, however; and what followed was a truly epic contest between two rivals fully matched in power. The earth split, nearby mountains spilled flame and molten rock from within their cores; the afternoon sky was ripped open to reveal the lurking night beneath it, and every swing of those gargantuan weapons was accompanied by a thunderous detonation of sound. So violent was the exchange that both armies retreated in disarray, for anyone nearby was torn to shreds by the magnitude of the forces unleashed, pausing to watch the contest from a distance, enemies standing uncaring beside each other and gazing in wonder at the battle.

For hour after hour, the contest raged; the Bugbear had speed and greater ability to maneuver, while Gruumsh struck less frequently, but with greater effect when he did land a blow. As the day wore on, though, it became clear that the Orc-God was struggling more and more; he had tired himself in mayhem before the Great Bugbear had emerged from his place of concealment as just another member of the Horde, and had received a terrible wound in the first blow. Gradually, he began to slow, and was forced to do nothing more than block the rain of blows from his enemy; and then he began to miss with even these defensive strokes, while his enemy seemed to remain as fresh as ever. Axe-stroke after axe-stroke found purchase in the flesh of the War-God, and his once pristine form was soon bleeding from over a score of deep wounds. Finally, his hands slick with his own blood, the great axe slipped partially from the hand of Gruumsh; the Orc-God snatched for it, while attempting to dodge the blow he knew was coming, but with one great overhead stroke, the Bugbear cleaved the Orc-god from the crown of his head to mid-abdomen.

For a moment, the Orc-god wavered on his feet, rocking back and forth as though trying to comprehend his defeat; and then, with a great crash, he fell to the ground, twitched thrice, and was still, and the Army Of The Eye crumbled to dust. With a great roar of victory, the Bugbear-deity raised his axe overhead, great horns erupted from his temples, and his snout began to lengthen and change in shape. The Bugbear horde stood and watched in disconcerted amazement, and then, as one, they turned and fled from the field of battle.

It might have been expected that the council of the Mailed Fists would have celebrated the fall of Gruumsh, or despaired, but they were too distracted by an unexpected development to react, for those guarding the tunnels carved through earth and stone by the Troglodytes at the start of the Clan War had intercepted a dozen intruders attempting to gain surreptitious entrance to the City while the besieging forces were distracted by the battle on the plain. But these were not Orcs, or Troglodytes, or Bugbears – they were Elves!

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I don’t normally comment on articles in this series after the article itself, but I wanted to point out a couple of consequences of the difference between a proper first draft and the material above, now that I can do so without giving the plot twists away.

This post started as a single chapter, with a brief summary, which read something like “Bugbears refuse to negotiate with Red Eyes, Red Eyes summon nightmare army, Gruumsh killed by Bugbear God. Set up alliance” – where the “alliance” is defined in the notes on the following chapters.

Looking at the preceding, it seems like a reasonable single chapter, perhaps two at most. But what is not described is the context – how to get from the situation (as it was at the end of the last chapter) to the point where these actions make sense to the reader. Why do the Red Eyes send out negotiators? How do the bugbears react? How do the Red Eyes react? Why and How does this lead to the Red Eyes summoning the nightmare army? How does the battle between Gruumsh and the Bugbear God begin and end, and what happens in between? And one question whose answer is not going to be obvious from the preceding chapters: how does all this fit in with the overall narrative? Why is it happening, what’s the point?

Guided by the (still secret) answer to the last question, the next step is to fill in the answers to the rest of them – usually in the form of scrawled notes on a page with a lot of empty space around them. These are then connected by arrows to give the order in which particular points should be brought out, and writing these up in that order should give a logical narrative flow to the whole thing. Sometimes, the way this bullet-point blow-by-blow summary is translated into text suggests a minor tweak of this flow, but for the most part it works in a pretty linear fashion.

The differences between this rough draft and a finished first draft are three-fold: Descriptions are sparse or missing altogether; Dialogue is sparse or missing altogether; and the language of the actual text has to be cleaned up. I’m very aware, for example, that the word “besieged” is over-used in chapters 59 and 60. In the final form of the first draft, I’d put effort into rephrasing and polishing the text to eliminate that problem.

Why is all this useful information? Because a lot of the time, when preparing an adventure for a game, you have to follow this exact process – working out in broad strokes what is going to happen, filling in the blanks needed to get from A to B to C, then working out how best to get the things they need to know, in order to make decisions, to the PCs! The final polish to a finished first draft is adding descriptions, and exposition, and any key pieces of dialogue.

But, in a pinch, you can do without those polishing touches; the full-note-form is enough for you to be able to get on with play. And that’s the first point that this postscript is intended to emphasize.

The second point is this: If I had focused on getting the first chapter or two into fully polished first-draft form, I would have run out of time to get the third and fourth chapters done at all. That’s the equivalent of running out of game prep half-way through the day’s play, which is no fun for anyone. It’s better to have enough done, in somewhat rougher form, than to have part of what’s needed done to a higher standard and the rest not at all. This is analogous to a process called stepwise refinement – laying something out vaguely and then refining the details of each component to a higher standard. Something else for GMs to remember when they are pressed for time – and I’ve never known a GM who was actually running a game who wasn’t pressed for time.

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Next time (if all goes according to plan): What the Elves are doing there, Who the guy with the big horns is, and answers to a great many questions begin to be discovered. Oh, and the most unlikely alliance of all. That’s All (supposed to be) in Chapters 63-65!

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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