The Great Gray Land of Thar - Part Two: Monsters
In addition to the usual critters I've already described to you, a lion's share of monsters dwells in the Great Gray Land. Thankfully there are only a few major species to deal with, but those few make life plenty difficult for those of us who make our living traveling through the region (and more so for those few hardy souls who live there, by choice or by fate). I present them here in alphabetical order, for clarity's sake; do not construe this order to mean anything as regards ferocity, perilousness, or abundance. One bulette is more than enough for anyone to deal with; a tribe of orcs, however, might not be the worst thing you can encounter. (Then again, I could be mistaken.)
These voracious predators are, fortunately, rare in the Thar region. At least one breeding pair presently exists in the area, however. My single experience with a bulette was enough to convince me that this beast is to be avoided at all costs. (The term "landshark," popularly applied to the creature, is entirely appropriate. Take it from someone who knows.)
Nablus's caravan set out from Melvaunt on a hot summer day two years ago. Loaded with lumber and food for Glister, we intended to return with iron ore, silver, and raw copper.
Nablus was a canny trader from Chult, who had fled from the region to escape the wrath of a local witch doctor. He was known for his extreme caution, and that he was willing to pay top price for guides and guards. This practice paid off for Nablus, and he had never yet lost a caravan to ogre or orc raiders.
This particular caravan was better protected than most. Orc raids along our route had been increasing in frequency, possibly due to a food shortage in the tribal lands. Accordingly, Nablus hired (at great expense) a squadron of armored knights from a mercenary company called the Steel Lords. These soldiers, veteran fighters encased in plate armor, rode with the caravan, providing a heavy strike force against any assaults from either orc or ogre tribes.
The first few days proved uneventful, and I began to wonder whether Nablus had wasted his coins hiring the Lords. I found them all to be stern, humorless men who had seen battle and less formal conflict all across Faerûn. In short, I got along with them quite well.
Four days out of Melvaunt, one of our light cavalry outriders reported sighting a curious formation: a tented crest of earth moving rapidly toward us, as if a large animal was burrowing swiftly just beneath the surface. None of us had ever heard of such a thing, but Nablus decided that it was worth investigating, and ordered the Steel Lords forward.
I watched as, in the distance, the great moving mound of earth approached the Steel Lords, magnificent in their gleaming armor. As the earthwave drew near, a large triangular crest broke the surface of the ground, like the fin of a shark slicing through calm water. Suddenly, I realized what we were facing.
"Nablus!" I shouted. "It's a bulette! A landshark!" I told him I had never seen such a creature, but I knew it was a deadly predator. With this information, Nablus ordered the caravan into a defensive posture, and watched the Lords' encounter with the beast.
It was horrific. The great, turtle-like body heaved from beneath the ground, dirt and stones cascading from its armored back. Two Steel Lords galloped toward it, lances lowered. To my horror, the weapons simply snapped off against the beast's impenetrable shell.
The creature struck back, biting furiously and lashing out with two heavy front claws. A fully armored knight flew through the air to land with a crash nearly twenty feet away.
The surviving knights pressed the attack, with no more success. The bulette surged forward, jaws snapping, making for the caravan. Two more knights found death beneath the landshark's claws and in its gnashing maw before the knights finally made the beast angry.
Hissing loudly, the beast shook its head back and forth violently, intensely annoyed by the Steel Lords. At that, its triangular crest - that which I had seen break the surface of the earth - rose up, revealing soft skin beneath.
One of the Lords swiftly dismounted, staggering forward in his clumsy armor, and swung his sword at the exposed flesh. Black blood gushed, and the creature turned with a painful hiss, dispatching the brave knight instantly.
The single attack had been enough, however, for the monstrous beast turned aside from its efforts to reach our caravan, pausing only to snatch a couple of dead horses and consuming them in a matter of seconds. Then it plunged once more below the ground and vanished.
Half our cavalry unit had been slain and the remainder wounded. Fortunately, the orcs and ogres did not raid us, and we arrived at Glister without further incident. Nevertheless, what I had seen convinced me that the bulette is one of the most dangerous creatures in all Faerûn.
The Eating Machine
The bulette is (thank all the gods) a solitary creature, hunting in territories as large as 30 square miles in area. In this domain, nothing is safe, for the bulette is virtually an eating machine, preying on anything unlucky enough to cross its territory.
This elephantine predator is known to weigh as much as four tons. Its highly energetic hunting practices require a relatively active metabolism - high respiration, large lungs, and a powerful heart. A bulette can tunnel at high speed with very strong front claws, and also moves and jumps with lightning swiftness above ground.
As a result, the bulette must eat constantly, stalking and consuming protein-rich animal flesh. Large prey such as deer, antelope, horses, and humans are favored. Elves are the only prey a bulette refuses, and it seems to dislike dwarves, though it will devour one if hungry. Orcs, worgs, and ogres are also eaten with enthusiasm.
While on the hunt, a bulette burrows beneath the surface of the ground. Highly sensitive to vibrations, bulettes make immediately for any regular rhythmic sound such as hoofbeats of animals. Multiple vibrations, such as those produced by a herd of animals or a caravan, invariably attract a bulette's attention.
Almost nothing is known about courtship and breeding behavior among bulettes. Theories abound, especially among armchair naturalists who have never seen one. Do bulettes lay eggs? Do they bear live young? Do they mate for life, or just associate like ships passing in the night? Do they keep growing as long as they live, or is there an upper limit to their size? How many young in a litter? What kind of parents are bulettes? On and on the debate goes, with little or no solid information.
As I've dedicated most of my life to separating fact from hayseed-spewed fiction, I pursued information on our burrowing friends while I was in Thar. I gained little in the way of facts, but what I did learn was intriguing.
One orog scout who deigned to speak with me claimed that a pair of bulettes wrought havoc on his tribe not many years past. This interested me, since few observers have ever claimed to see more than one bulette at a time.
A bulette spends an inordinate amount of time on the hunt. When not doing so, however, the creature lies dormant beneath the earth, its breathing and heartbeat slowed. These dormant periods can last a number of days, especially after a large meal. The bulette's sophisticated digestive system seems capable of dissolving virtually any substance, given time, including swords, armor, rocks, and earth. It is evidently capable of extracting nutrition from some inanimate substances, but it needs a constant flow of animal protein to thrive.
The orog told me that the bulettes seemed to attack together, rather than being two individuals hunting separately. The larger bulette was perhaps 12 feet in length, and silvery-blue in color, while the smaller one was approximately two feet shorter, and a glossy green. After ravaging the orcs' encampment and eating at least ten tribal warriors, the bulettes abruptly broke off the attack and vanished beneath the ground.
Were the bulettes a mated pair? A few accounts speak of two bulettes hunting together. Perhaps they were parent and offspring - I can't say. The bulette that attacked our caravan was bluish in color, leading me to speculate whether it might be the same one that destroyed the orcs' camp, as the orog described.
A caravan-master from Amn once told me a story from her days as a freelance adventurer, which might also shed light on the bulette's biology. While exploring a cave complex once inhabited by a troublesome tribe of goblins, she and her companions came upon a small chamber containing a dozen gray oval objects. Before they could investigate the items further, a wall collapsed, and a ravenous bulette burst in. The creature dragged one of her companions to his death before the adventurers could escape. The entire cave section then came crashing down, and my employer barely escaped with her life.
Was the chamber a nest? Were the objects eggs? Was the bulette defending its progeny or simply attacking the adventurers for food? Again, the results are open to speculation.
Elminster's notes - See Lyra Sunrose's notes in the Comanthor volume for some intriguing answers to the mysteries of bulette breeding.
Ogres Against Landsharks
Although the bulette is one of the most voracious and dangerous predators known, the ogres of Thar claim to know some surprisingly innovative tricks to turn the tables on the adorable creatures. Such hunts are very rare; to my knowledge, no ogre tribe has killed a bulette in this fashion for some time. However, disturbing rumors from the interior claim that two or three new bulettes have recently appeared - possibly the offspring of the two camp-destroyers. The ogres have begun to think about a new bulette-hunt, and the tricks they would employ bear repetition here.
Although they move through earth easily, bulettes are more at a loss when it comes to solid rock. My orog contact told me that, in past years, the ogres have used this disadvantage against bulettes. Several low hills or rocky outcroppings dot the wilderness of Thar, forming a relatively secure base of operations against the landsharks.
Given the bulette's extreme rarity, ogres have limited opportunities to hunt and kill them. Ogre tribes will hunt a bulette if it moves into their territory, and the entire tribe joins in despite the hazards. Individual warriors may win a considerable degree of prestige.
First, a dozen or so ogres begin rhythmically pounding the ground with clubs to attract the landshark. Inexorably attracted to the pounding, any bulette in the region will appear within a short time, ranging from a few minutes to as much as an hour, moving steadily beneath the earth, its crest ominously breaking the surface. Once the beast has been sighted, the ogres retreat to their rocky outcropping, knowing that once it detects potential prey, nothing short of death will deter a hungry bulette.
For all its speed and ferocity, a bulette is at a distinct disadvantage in the close confines of these rocky regions, and it moves much more slowly and deliberately. Were the bulette more intelligent, it would probably break off pursuit of the ogres once they reached restricted ground, but once in hunting mode, the beast is running on instinct alone.
The ogres scramble up the rocky slopes, the bulette in hot pursuit. Steep slopes are favored, for the more perilous the ascent, the greater the ogres' advantage.
Finally, the fleeing ogres reach the formation's craggy summit. At this moment, with the bulette completely intent on its prey, another group of ogres emerges from the far side of the outcropping, bearing stout wooden poles. Without hesitation (for surprise is their greatest advantage), the burly ogre warriors jam their poles beneath the bulette and push, adding just enough impetus to overbalance the beast and send it tumbling end over end down the slope.
There are many dangers inherent in this. If the bulette avoids the poles, if it does not topple, if it does not land on its back - if any one of these desired results fail to occur, the ogres are in deep trouble, and they are likely to emerge from the encounter minus a few members. But if the bulette lands on its back, the ogres have the advantage and are quick to exploit it.
I find it ironic that the ogres, reputed by one and all to be slow and stupid, have discovered the bulette's one weakness - a fact that has evaded all the great minds of Faerûn for centuries. Very simply, an upended bulette has a great deal of trouble righting itself.
Mind you - given time, an inverted landshark will be able to flip over. Much scholarly speculation has been devoted to the landshark's "fin," with as many theories as there are crackpot theorists. Some proclaim it a vestigial organ that serves no purpose; that it is used by the landshark to mark territory; or that it is used in mating (always a popular explanation for seemingly useless appendages). None of these babbling academics has ever, to my knowledge, even bothered to suggest the most obvious use of all.that the bulette raises its fin simply to regain its feet if it is unlucky enough to find itself overturned onto its back.
This process normally takes several minutes, for the musculature that moves the crest is weak, and the ogres are quick to take advantage of it. They rush down the slopes, their poles at the ready. In addition to their use in upending the unfortunate landshark, the ogres' poles are sharpened, and are driven by the ogres. incredible strength into the creature's belly, eyes, and mouth, or into the soft flesh beneath the crest as the beast struggles to right itself. Even now, things can go wrong: the spears may not go home; their impetus might actually help the bulette to turn over; they may miss. All the same, the ogres' bulette-tipping practice appears to be the only real way of dealing with these deadly creatures if one needs to undertake such a deliberately risky hunt. Not my idea of an afternoon's merry jaunt, let me tell you.
These massive creatures, magically bred from ordinary fire lizards by the priests of Ibrandul, appear to have gained a foothold in Thar, dwelling also in the foothills of the West Galenas. Resembling nothing so much as wingless red dragons, they lack the cunning, intelligence, magical abilities, and malevolence of that species. Nevertheless, an ibrandlin is always a terrifying opponent, and several have begun preying upon human caravans in Thar.
How the ibrandlin came to inhabit Thar is not known, although some ogre territorial stelae portray human-seeming clerics summoning the creatures to attack and slay helpless ogres. As no scholars have thus far speculated on the ibrandlin's origins in Thar, it's up to me to call upon common sense and my practical experience to construct a reasonable theory. Ancient ogre history is uncertain, but many of their legends speak of an invasion by humans led by the hero Beldoran, who supposedly slew the last Tharkul. Perhaps these invaders included priests of Ibrandul among their numbers, and these priests created the beasts to protect themselves and help exterminate the ogres of Thar. This is a bit odd, since Ibrandul's worshipers are generally confined to those who travel and explore below ground, but I can think of no other explanation.
Whatever their origin, the fact is that the ogres hate the ibrandlin with a rare passion. The orcs consider them a nuisance, but occasionally raise large parties to hunt them. One tribe decorates all its banners and clan totems with ibrandlin bones and bestows honors of special significance on those warriors who slay ibrandlin.
Habitat and Biology
Ordinarily, ibrandlin are found in caverns, especially in the Underdark. They can be dangerous, using their overwhelming weight to crush their foes. Whether magical or deific in origin, ibrandlin have long served as guardians, watchbeasts, or adventuring companions. Bred as defenders of Ibrandul's followers, they show a decided preference to dwell underground and defend anyone wearing the purple robes of those who serve the god Ibrandul.
What is remarkable about the ibrandlin in Thar is that they have largely overcome their original imperatives. The way I see it, they have "gone feral," returning to a more natural way of life and adapting their habits to suit their habitat.
The ibrandlins of Thar have retained their preference for dark places and their aversion to bright lights. They live under cairns or in caves in the foothills of West Galenas, and emerge at night to hunt. Surprisingly swift for such large creatures, wild ibrandlin favor goats, deer, antelope, and other large prey. They also attack orcs, ogres, and humans. Domestic horses, often hobbled or tied up when a caravan stops for the night, are especially easy targets.
The ibrandlin of Thar have uncomplicated breeding practices, with pairs of ibrandlin mating once a year. The female lays a clutch of up to a dozen eggs, which hatch in the spring. Ibrandlin pairs defend their nests - usually located in talus piles, caves, or shallow holes - and care for the hatchlings until they are old enough to fend for themselves. This period usually lasts one to three months after hatching. Once they have grown to adulthood, young ibrandlin strike out on their own, finding a lair, and staking out hunting territory.
An obscure deity known only to those who range the Underdark and its environs, Ibrandul supposedly protects humans who venture into such areas. Ibrandul's priests claim to have created the ibrandlin, and the "domestic" creatures still may be found in subterranean regions.
The presence of "feral" ibrandlin in Thar has evidently come to the attention of the priests of Ibrandul. I learned of the interest in the ibrandlin from a fellow caravan guard who claimed to be a worshiper of Ibrandul. His tales of the creatures' presence in Thar made their way to several high priests who served the god in a secret temple complex located in the Underdark. According to my fellow guardsman, these priests began making plans for an expedition to the region, intending to study and, if possible, re-domesticate the ibrandlin of Thar.
The expedition has not yet been launched, but my informant told me that outside adventurers might be hired, especially if they have local experience. This fact may be of considerable interest and use to adventurers in the area. I might even consider signing on, myself.
The leucrotta are ugly, ill-tempered beasts that haunt desolate regions and prey on anything they can get their bizarre teeth into. Needless to say, these creatures thrive in the Gray Land, and their cunning nature makes them a danger to both travelers and inhabitants.
While I'm the last to call these nasty little creatures cute, cuddly, or in any way pleasant, I have taken some interest in the leucrotta and its biology. As with most of my projects, this is mostly in the intent to know my enemy, but my information should prove of interest to sages and scholars as well.
Physiology and Nature
A large creature, the leucrotta stands up to seven feet tall at the shoulder. Its body resembles that of a stag, save for a lion-like tail, and its head is similar to that of a badger. It does not possess teeth in the normal sense; in fact, the leucrotta skull has nothing to indicate the beast's ancestors ever had ordinary teeth or sockets. Instead, the creature is equipped with sharp bony ridges that, powered by the powerful jaws, easily slice flesh, break bone, and even tear metal.
Nasty as they are, these pseudoteeth are probably of great interest to the curious naturalist. They resemble no other dental formation in nature, being extensions of the leucrotta's skull rather than distinct formations. The skull is huge, with a heavy sagittal crest and thick cheekbones, which anchor the powerful muscles and tendons that close the beast's jaws.
While it seems evident that the leucrotta is a mammal, its exact heritage is uncertain. Several sages have concocted complex evolutionary backgrounds for the leucrotta. I find these theories highly doubtful, containing huge gaps as they do, and an equal dose of hypothetical ancestral creatures and pure guesswork.
Personally, I think that the leucrotta is an unnatural creature, possibly created by magic in the same manner as were the griffon, pegasus, and hippogriff. Exactly how this came about is impossible to say, but my guess is that they were the result of a magical catastrophe much like the recent Time of Troubles, or that they were created by an evil power - wizard or god - to trouble its enemies.
Breeding and Family
Leucrotta run in packs of up to four individuals, usually consisting of a male and as many as three females. This appears to be the rule, but I'm sure exceptions are possible, as leucrotta genders are quite similar. (The females are only a bit smaller than the males, but every bit as vicious.) Sexing the creatures is a process I'd rather leave to more dedicated students of natural history.
Females give birth in the spring, and are relatively good parents. By fall a young leucrotta has grown large enough to be a threat to its own pack, and it is driven off. Those young leucrotta that survive the winter form new packs in the spring and summer, or force their way into existing packs, killing or displacing any challengers among the former members.
Adolescent leucrotta sometimes band together in temporary packs, hunting together for mutual benefit. The so-called bachelor packs are very dangerous, as their members are often hungry.
Diet and Hunting
Leucrotta are voracious carnivores, using their high intelligence and talent for mimicry to lure prey animals virtually into their jaws. Ordinarily, leucrotta eat large mammals such as deer and antelope, but they will subsist on mice, rabbits, and voles if necessary. It is the leucrotta's taste for intelligent prey such as orcs, humans, and even ogres that makes it infamous, however, since these victims give the leucrotta full opportunity to use its unnerving vocal skills.
Leucrotta can imitate a wide variety of sounds, including the voices of intelligent creatures. In the wild, this is used to mimic the cry of rutting male deer or elk, the cries of young animals in distress, or the sounds of prey animals. All these vocalizations are intended to attract creatures to the leucrotta, which then attacks (usually from ambush), and dispatches its victim with savage bites from its powerful jaws.
While this might be an interesting curiosity if it was confined to hunting other animals, the leucrotta's mimicry represents a real danger to unwary human and humanoid travelers. Experienced leucrotta have learned many words and phrases in sentient languages, and know what to do to attract their preferred prey. They know humans will follow the sound of one of their fellows in pain, more so if the voice seems to come from a child or a member of the opposite sex. Orcs and ogres will come to the aid of a fellow clan-member, or will respond to a challenge to battle or an insult. Leucrotta's tricks in this vein are legion, and they will rarely use the same ploy twice in a row.
Of course, lone individuals are especially favored targets, but a pack of leucrotta may take on several creatures at once. A small caravan, an orcish raiding party, or a pair of ogres might be menaced by these creatures, whose attacks can be utterly devastating.
Should mimicry fail, leucrotta will generally abandon the hunt. If they are hungry enough, though, they may choose a more direct attack, usually from ambush. In these cases, the leucrotta imitate the sounds of birds or other natural creatures to lull their victims into a false sense of security before launching their attack.
Interview with the Leucrotta
Much ink and parchment have been wasted in scholarly debates regarding the intelligence of the leucrotta - or the lack of it. Are these beings truly intelligent, the dusty scholars wonder, or is their cunning mimicry merely an instinctive process? If they are intelligent, do they have a language, and what sort of society do they have? Many supposedly- learned individuals vehemently deny that leucrotta are intelligent, claiming that they are simply clever animals.
These armchair scientists will, with this record, get the comeuppance they deserve. (If you haven't figured it out by now, I despise such drivelers for their groundless theorizing when they might pursue demonstrable facts instead.) I am pleased to say that, by my experience, I have cleared all the scholarly detritus from this issue and have proved conclusively that leucrotta are intelligent, and that they are fully capable of meaningful communication.
As I mentioned previously, extremely hungry leucrotta will attack their prey directly. On one trip, I was working one caravan stalked by such an individual, which tried repeatedly to draw members from our party with sounds of humans in distress, children crying, or similar ploys. The first time this happened, a large armed party left the caravan to search for the distressed individual, and found nothing. Evidently the leucrotta fled, thinking the party was too powerful for it. It returned later to try again, of course.
Eventually we stopped responding to its pleas and went our way, hoping that it would desist. Of course, we were hoping for too much, and after a couple of days the nasty beast was so hungry that it ambushed us, hoping to drag off a horse or drover and make its escape.
Fortunately for us all, our caravan master had hired a combat-skilled wizard for the journey, and his spells quickly rendered the beast unconscious. I prevailed upon the caravan master not to kill the leucrotta - not right away, at any rate - and, instead, imprisoned it in heavy chains and loaded it onto a wagon.
As the one who pleaded for the leucrotta's life, I was given the unenviable duty of guarding it, leading me to wonder if I'd been too generous.
After riding alongside the wagon for a time and dealing with the loud complaints of the driver (who made no secret of his dislike for the cargo), I noted that the leucrotta was stirring.
Unfortunately for the driver and me, my first clue was a wave of nauseating odor that washed over us as the thing's breath quickened. At this point the driver refused to cooperate any further, demanding either that I kill the leucrotta, or that I take the reins and let him ride my horse.
I agreed reluctantly, and boarded the wagon. Curiously, dividing my attention between keeping the wagon in the caravan and inspecting my captive, I watched as the leucrotta's eyes flickered open and its foul-smelling mouth opened even wider, revealing a lolling, pink, doglike tongue.
"Help me," it whined in a passable imitation of a wounded human.
I shook my head. "It won't wash, love," I said. "You're ours now."
"No," it continued, its tone turning conversational. "Set me free, human. I'll leave you in peace."
I must admit that my jaw dropped. "Are you talking to me?" I asked. "Really?"
It snorted, sending another wave of stench over me. I took this as a chuckle.
"You didn't think it possible, did you, female?" it said slyly. "Yes, I talk. Will you set me free, human?"
One track mind, I mused, rapidly overcoming my astonishment. I returned its pleading gaze with a sly look of my own.
"Perhaps, beast," I said. "If you cooperate with us. Otherwise, you might spend the rest of your days in a circus. Or possibly decorating the floor of my study."
This didn't seem to faze the creature. "I've been threatened with worse. So you want to bargain, do you? I've heard that humans like to bargain. What would you like from me, female? I warn you, I can't give much."
"You can tell me about yourself," I replied. "Tell me your secrets."
It made a giggling sound, midway between a human and a hyena. "You humans puzzle me. All I care about another creature is whether I can eat it or not. I don't care about its secrets. But if that's the price I must pay, I will do so."
In this way, much to the astonishment (and in many cases, the disgust) of the other members of the caravan, I struck up a conversation with the captive leucrotta, the highlights of which I will relate here.
The creature seemed amused by the sound of the name "leucrotta." The leucrotta themselves, it seemed, do not have spoken names, relying instead on each individual's distinctive odor to reveal its identity. Not being equipped to make such a fine distinction, I decided to call my informant "Olaf," after an old boyfriend whose personal habits were only marginally better than the leucrotta's.
Leucrotta do have a society of sorts, based upon interactions between packs. Each pack is identified, like the individuals within it, by its distinctive combination of odors, which persist in a region long after a pack has gone. These odor-markers are used to stake out territory, and are generally respected by other leucrotta packs.
All this was quite fascinating, but it was not what I was really interested in.
"So tell me," I said at last, "how do you see the world? What makes you the way you are?"
I would swear that Olaf grinned at me, its eyes reflecting both surprise and respect.
"Your claws bare my heart with one stroke, female," he said. "You ask much in exchange for freedom."
I remained silent.
"Very well," the leucrotta said at last. "You people think we're animals, don't you? By now you know that we're far more. We 'leucrotta,' as you call us, do have some unique ways of looking at the world. We see through the eyes of the Pack, and the Pack guides us."
"The Pack?" I asked.
"Yes. They are our - what's your word of it? - our gods."
Running with the Pack
That the leucrotta are intelligent was a revelation. That they worship a previously unknown pantheon of gods and goddesses was nothing short of unbelievable.
According to Olaf, the leucrotta worship a group of archetypal predators known as the Pack. This Pack is led, not surprisingly, by the great leucrotta, Toknana. The Pack ranges across the plains of the Abyss, preying upon the tanar'ri, sending prey animals to deserving leucrotta, and defending the species against its enemies.
Toknana is assisted by a number of other archetypal creatures, such as Hruba the Chimera, Ylarria the Red Dragon, and Voal the Hydra. In addition, numerous leucrotta, chosen from the finest and most cunning hunters on Faerûn, also run with Toknana across the Abyss, and are sometimes dispatched to the Prime Material Plane to assist mortal leucrotta if they are threatened or need new tricks to help them deceive and capture prey.
The heroic example of Toknana and his Pack, who fear nothing and hunt even the most powerful of prey, form the basis of the leucrotta's world view. They have been awarded the world as their hunting ground, and those who prove the most dangerous and resourceful (which in the leucrotta's mind also means "most deceitful") will be united with Toknana in a land where they can hunt without fear of death or reprisal.
A streak of nobility in a species noted for its vicious and often cowardly behavior came as yet another revelation. I looked at my captive with renewed respect. Beast he may have been, and in other circumstances a hated enemy, but at this moment I felt something like kinship.
Some days later, after our arrival at Glister, I took my prisoner deep into the wilderness. I had worked with a local wizard to create a spell that would automatically release Olaf's chains several hours after I left it. (Even I did not trust my charge so much that I would release it while I was anywhere nearby! ) The leucrotta did not seem happy at the notion of being left, chained and helpless, for hours in the wilderness, but at this point it had no choice.
As I stopped the wagon and unhitched my horse, I turned to the leucrotta.
"Two last questions," I said. "How did you learn to speak?"
Olaf chuckled again. "For a time I was the victim of the same fate you threatened me with," it said. "I was displayed in a traveling circus. Unknown to the owner, I learned how to speak by listening to the gawkers, then tricked him into opening my cage and... well, I'll leave the results up to your imagination."
"You said two questions," the leucrotta said. "What is the last?"
I grinned. "I never did ask you. Are you a male or a female?"
Another laugh, louder this time. The leucrotta fixed me with the sly expression I had grown familiar with over the last few days.
"Wouldn't you like to know," it said. "Wouldn't you like to know."
To this day, I don't know the answer to my last question.
Another unnatural creature.magically or diabolically created.the manticore is an unpleasant combination of a human head, a lion's torso, a dragon's wings, and a spiked tail. While they certainly existed before the Time of Troubles, manticores. numbers have steadily increased, especially in wilderness regions such as the Gray Land of Thar.
At least three breeding pairs of manticores have been reported in the area. I myself have only observed one solitary individual, and this at a distance. Nevertheless, several caravan guards told stories of the increasing problems caused by such creatures. The information in this section is based largely on their statements - at least those statements I believe to be true.
Hunting and Eating
Although they are unnatural creatures, manticores have taken their place in Thar's ecology, using their flying ability to range all across the land. Although clumsy fliers, manticores nonetheless attack prey from the air, and thus avoid melee with an enemy. Typically, a hunting pair will circle their prey, flinging tail spikes, then swooping down to attack with claws. Only after an opponent has been badly wounded in this fashion will the manticores descend to finish off their victims with a vicious bite.
Among caravan guards and masters, manticores have a reputation for cowardice, refusing to engage at close quarters, and flying off if opponents respond with missile weapons or magic. In all honesty, I'd say this response represents good sense rather than cowardice. Refusing to attack a caravan protected by archers, spellcasters, or powerful fighters seems thoroughly reasonable to me. Perhaps this is one reason manticores continue to thrive in Thar.
Small groups, such as foraging parties, adventurers, or explorers are in far more danger from manticores. A pair of these beasts can do untold damage, especially to inexperienced groups. Orcs and ogres familiar with the beasts. hunting habits always travel in large, well-armed groups in regions known to be inhabited by manticores.
It is almost inevitable that small groups of travelers will find themselves beset by manticores. The natives and residents of Thar - orcs, ogres, and humans - have developed several tactics for dealing with these troublesome beasts. In my continuing effort to bring enlightenment to the ignorant, I record some of these tactics, which might be of use to the traveler who wishes to be prepared.
As manticores always precede their assaults with a rain of tail spikes, travelers in their territories are advised to carry large shields or armored mantlets. In the event of a manticore attack, these shields may be raised to ward off the flying spikes. Additional shields may also be carried and held over the defenders. heads in the manner of the ancient testudo formation.
Manticores have a well-known dislike for missile weapons. All forms of bows are effective in discouraging their attacks, especially crossbows. (The bolts penetrate so powerfully that the attacking creature is particularly daunted.) Of course, archers will find it useful to have gaps or firing slits in the party's mantlets.
Magic also discourages manticores, although I have heard rumors suggesting certain spells actually enrage the beasts and cause them to attack even more ferociously. My informants were uncertain and inconsistent identifying the exact spells, so I find the reports doubtful - the information should not be depended on too heavily.
Once on the ground, manticores must be kept at bay, for their melee attacks are deadly. Good results can be had using long thrusting spears or pikes in the manner of the ancient phalanx. Care must be taken that the second manticore does not circle around to attack from the air while the first is being held off.
An interesting element of the manticores. effect on the residents of Thar is the agreements made with them by several orc tribes. Fearful of the manticores' predations, the orcs offer sacrificial victims every month or so in the hope that the beasts will leave them alone.
These sacrificial victims - not terribly different from the maidens supposedly offered to placate dragons in ages past - may be captives such as humans, ogres, or orcs from rival tribes. If no such victims are available, goblin slaves or condemned orc criminals are offered instead.
Victims are left in the wilderness, bound hand and foot. Gongs and drums are pounded, and torches lit to summon the predators. Although manticores are not noted for their high intelligence, they quickly grow accustomed to the orc tribes' offerings, and arrive within minutes.
Whether these sacrifices actually placate the manticores is not certain, but the tribes continue to make their sacrifices regularly. The manticores, opportunists that they are, accept readily.
Long ago, Thar was home to a powerful ogre kingdom, united under the bone-banner of a great leader known as the Tharkul. Trolls, yeti, orcs, and goblins all paid homage to the Tharkul, but the great kingdom plunged into chaos upon the death of the last Tharkul, Maulog, at the hands of the human hero Beldoran. Not surprisingly, the ogres claim that Beldoran slew Maulog through treachery, but who can know the truth after so long?
My study of ancient texts - dry and thirsty work, let me tell you - has led me to believe that the ancient Thar ogres were remarkably advanced, both socially and technologically, and that their kingdom actually represented a major force in the region.
The Ancient Kingdom
Although ogres are widely believed to be stupid and unsophisticated creatures with just enough sense to bash each other over the head occasionally, the few artifacts left behind by the ancient kingdom of Thar prove them to be a surprisingly sophisticated race.
A series of stone fortresses once dotted the Gray Lands, built of stone quarried and transported by slaves from the West Galena Mountains. A network of roads facilitated travel. Near the center of Thar rose a great, multilevel palace where the Tharkul lived. This palace consisted of a series of cylindrical towers linked by underground passages, and surrounded by an earthen wall bristling with spikes and traps.
These ancient buildings offer a degree of proof that ogres are not merely the drooling mouthbreathers of popular imagination. Today, little remains but some battered foundations and grassy mounds out in the middle of nowhere. The killing of the Tharkul plunged the ogre kingdom into chaos and civil war, during which all the fortresses and palaces were abandoned or destroyed.
The exact date of the ogre kingdom in Thar is uncertain, but its downfall seems to have taken place at least 1000 years ago. Since then, the ogres have returned to their traditional tribal ways, although they continue to speak of the day when the Tharkul will return and once more lead them to greatness.
Appearance and Culture
The ogres of Thar differ from their Faerûn relatives somewhat, lending credence to the theory that they are a more advanced group. They are slightly smaller than ordinary ogres (averaging about eight feet in height), and their heads are somewhat larger. Thar ogres. skin color ranges from lavender to brick red, and they lack the distasteful odor usually associated with the species.
Ogre tribes range in size from two to a hundred, united under a chieftain and his tribal warlords. Tribes will sometimes band together in alliances numbering several hundred. These alliances rarely last for very long, but while they do, they can be quite dangerous.
As in orc tribes, chieftains attain their position through combat, but they rule only with the continuing approval of their people. A bad chieftain may be overthrown by force, with the entire tribe rising against him. Ousted chieftains are either killed or exiled. Thereafter, a few may manage to subsist as hermits, dwelling alone in huts, holes, or caves, emerging to prey on passing animals and luckless travelers.
Females have somewhat more influence among ogres than among the orcs, but they are still forbidden to rule. Some ogre legends speak of female chieftains, so the notion is not completely alien to them, but in fact it has not been seen in modern times.
Restrictions on rulership by female ogres are somewhat mitigated by the fact that only an ogress can serve as a shaman. Powerful in their own right, they cast useful spells, receive visions from the ogre gods, and create the scar-patterns that portray the heroic deeds of other ogres.
Tribes subsist by hunting, foraging, and raiding. An ogre can eat virtually anything (including, some claim, rocks and dirt, although I personally do not believe that). Cannibalism, though, is not unheard of.
Ogre villages are an assemblage of stone or hide huts, sometimes surrounded by a crude palisade. Orcs raid ogre villages regularly, and all tribe members are expected to fight. Unlike orc females, ogre females face no restrictions against serving as warriors or hunters.
As discussed above, a few ogre tribes actually keep orcs as slaves. They do not think much of the green-skinned .mad ones,. as the orcs are called, but will sometimes trust them with menial tasks. Orcs will raid ogre settlements from time to time to free orc slaves.
While ogres are unquestionably a dangerous and murderous race, they are surprisingly indulgent parents, treating their offspring with considerable affection. Ogres dote upon their children, denying them little, ignoring temper tantrums and misbehavior, and engaging in corporal punishment only rarely.
Young ogres mature rapidly, and join their tribes as adults once they have engaged in battle or have slain a large animal such as a deer or antelope. Once accepted as an adult, the ogre participates in hunting expeditions, battles, and raids.
Adult ogres mark their achievements by the creation of ritualistic scar patterns on their faces, arms, and backs. These are created solely by ogresses, who select appropriate patterns based on prophetic dreams and visions, which they claim are sent by Vaprak, god of the ogres.
Vaprak and the Gods
Like other ogre groups, the Thar tribes worship Vaprak, the mighty god of ogres. Normally portrayed as a gigantic, hideous ogre with exaggerated claws, eyes, and teeth, Vaprak is seen by the Thar ogres as a tall, surprisingly noble-looking individual clad in scale armor and carrying a mighty war hammer.
This image of Vaprak has a long history, with some ancient artifacts recovered out of the wilderness portraying the ogre god in this manner. Invariably, he is shown vanquishing numerous enemies of various races.
Vaprak is served by a number of demigods and heroes unknown to other ogre tribes. Chief among these is the last Tharkul, Maulog. Ogre legends describe him as a brave and honorable ogre leader, treacherously slain by a human assassin named Beldoran - the same Beldoran called a hero among humans, and widely reputed to be the founder of Glister. It all depends on who you're talking with, it seems.
Other servants of Vaprak include Ysshara, goddess of healing and heroic deeds; and Mirklak, another ancient hero reputed to have slain a thousand orcs in a single battle.
Many ceremonies surround the worship of these gods, most involving the sacrifice of captured enemies. Orcs and humans are preferred for these sacrifices, but other ogres are used when nothing else is available.
Tribes' female shamans are responsible for communication with Vaprak, usually in dreams or waking visions. They perform the sacred rituals and sacrifices, heal wounded warriors, and create the scar-patterns with which adult ogres portray their deeds and heroic battles.
Tribes and Boundaries
Dozens of ogre tribes inhabit the Great Gray Land. They have names like Jade Skull, Vaprak's Hammer, Falling Star, and Crystal Sphere, all names which hark back to the sophisticated civilization the ogres once possessed.
Tribes control territories up to 100 square miles in area, and mark their boundaries with carved stone stelae. These monuments are surprisingly accomplished works of art, portraying such things as Vaprak vanquishing his enemies, ancient heroes and monsters, all in a style that is reminiscent of both the Ffolke and the Northmen of the Moonshae islands.
Stelae are often carved with runic script, but these designs seem to have been created for aesthetic purposes rather than as meaningful written messages. This leads me to believe that the ogres of Thar once had a true written language, but have forgotten it and now they use its marks solely for decoration. Each tribe also has a distinctive rune, which is marked on its stelae. This rune is also chalked or carved on trees, stones, and other formations in the tribe's territory.
Although art collectors would probably pay a great deal for one of the ogre stelae, adventurers are advised against disturbing them. Not only will the ogres who created the stelae stop at nothing to avenge the theft (even going so far as to pursue the wrongdoers beyond Thar), many of these stelae carry curses that were placed on them by tribal shamans. The terrible curses lead to misfortune, disease, or even death, and they are very difficult to remove once they have taken effect.
The Jade Skull Tribe
One of the most powerful of Thar's ogre tribes, the Jade Skulls occupy a territory southwest of Glister, adjacent to the Black Spear orc tribe. There are over 100 Jade Skull ogres. They are led by the chieftain Okkmog, assisted by his two female shamans, Kurraakkha and Vazgrhaa.
Okkmog is rumored to wield an enchanted sword that can cast lightning bolts. The Jade Skulls extort protection money from caravans traveling to and from Glister, and are engaged in a long and bitter struggle with the neighboring Black Spear orcs.
Okkmog, Ogre Chieftain: AC 4; MV 9; HD 8; hp 50; #AT 1; Dmg 1-10+9 (two-handed sword +3); SA +2 to damage; XP 975
Kurmakkha, Ogre Shaman: AC 5; MV 9; HD 4+1; hp 24; #AT 1; Dmg 1-10; SA +2 to damage; XP 975; Clerical Spells: 1st Level: cause light wounds x2; 2nd Level: spiritual hammer
Vazgrhaa, Ogre Shaman: AC 5; MV 9; HD 4+1; hp 26; #AT 1; Dmg 1-10; SA +2 to damage; XP 975; Clerical Spells: 1st Level: cause light wounds, detect magic, faerie fire; 2nd Level: aid, enthrall
An Ogre's Outlook
Although I've sent a few of them to their final reward, the average ogres of Faerûn and I have never bothered to discuss philosophy. However, I have been in some interesting places in my day, and thus I've learned that the ogres of Thar have quite an interesting view of the world.
They see the world as a testing place, where Vaprak sets obstacles in the path of his children. Only the truly faithful will tolerate the world's pain and unfairness, marking them as worthy of eternal service to their deity. Those who fail are sent to a horrific afterlife of continual suffering and punishment, making each ogre all too eager to tolerate Vaprak's tests and torments. The fall of the ogre kingdom is seen as one of Vaprak's greatest tests, and the current chaos and primitive level of ogre civilization are punishment for the prideful ways of those ancient days.
This does not, of course, excuse Beldoran's treachery, nor does it diminish the guilt of humans in general. The Thar ogres' hatred of humans springs from a desire for vengeance, and the memory of the destruction of their great kingdom. That Beldoran is perceived to be Vaprak's agent in this matter does not seem to concern the ogres. All humans, they feel, deserve punishment for the offense of one.
Other races - orcs, goblins, humans, elves, and dwarves.are also sent by Vaprak. The agonies they inflict upon the ogres are further examples of Vaprak's stern benevolence toward his children. To tolerate the injustices visited by non-ogres is considered noble; to take vengeance for them is the act of a true ogre hero.
The ogres believe that if they tolerate the cruelties of this dark age, Vaprak will find them worthy once more. He would allow a single Tharkul to unite Thar, and lead his followers to greatness. The restoration of the ogre kingdom of Thar would be the ultimate sign of Vaprak's blessing.
Imagine an ugly, green-skinned tax collector who always has a toothache, and you've got a pretty good picture of what an orc is like - or at least an orc from the Thar region. Being the considerate and enlightened individual that I am, I will not condemn an entire group, race, or species on the malevolence of one group, but even I must admit that my feelings toward the Thar orcs are somewhat less than charitable.
Virtually every caravan that travels through Thar has to deal with orcs at some time. This may mean spotting orc riders at a distance, having to pay tribute to some petty orc lordling, or withstanding a raid by an entire tribe, backed up by orog elite warriors and goblin auxiliaries. None of these experiences is pleasant, but the longer one lives in Thar, the more the orcs become a nasty and unavoidable fact of life.
Origins and History
Legends regarding the origins of orcs are as numerous and varied as are the orcs themselves. Some of the stories I've heard claim that the orcs are the offspring of cursed elves who turned their backs on Corellon Larethian and the gods of the Seldarine. Others believe that orcs are the descendants of a warrior race bred by denizens of a forgotten kingdom. Still others promote the theory that orcs are natural creatures, evolved from the same root-stock as humans and halflings - an assertion that, needless to say, both humans and halflings find quite distasteful.
The orcs themselves tell a number of heroic tales of how their race came to be. The most common story presents the claim that Gruumsh One-Eye created the orcs, intending that they dwell peacefully with the other races. Unfortunately for Gruumsh, the other deities sought to cheat him, and cut the orcs out of the deal when they divided the world among themselves and their creations. Gruumsh, of course, was not fooled by the other gods' deception, and decreed that his people would dwell and prosper in the barren and unwanted corners of the world, there to multiply and eventually emerge to conquer the lands that were denied them.
In my eyes, it's all a load of manure, no matter who tells the stories. The orcs of Thar are a violent, warlike race with little subtlety and absolutely no compassion. I grant them no quarter in battle, mostly because they would never grant such to me.
Thar's ancient history is fragmented and hard to follow, but it is well known that the region was once united under an ogre chieftain known as the Tharkul. Depending upon who is telling the story, the orcs were independent kingdoms living side by side with the ogres, skilled mercenaries who voluntarily served the Tharkul, or cringing slaves who obeyed their ogre masters' every whim. I find the last a bit hard to believe - whatever orcs' bad qualities, no one can ever accuse them of "cringing." If you strike off an orc's arm in battle, he will likely laugh at you, and taunt you for not killing him outright. I know - it happened to me.
When the Tharkul Maulog was slain by the human Beldoran, Thar was plunged into chaos, with all the tribes going their separate ways. The orcs founded their own dynasties, allying with or enslaving each other as they chose. Goblin tribes were absorbed and enslaved, and ogres were generally killed. Today, many tribes and proto-nations of orcs exist in Thar, all constantly fighting against each other and the humans of the region without prejudice or favoritism.
Most Faerûn inhabitants believe that orcs have less culture than yogurt, but this attitude springs from prejudice and lack of understanding. The orcs of my acquaintance may have been uniformly obnoxious, paranoid, homicidal, or all three, but they definitely possess a distinct culture. While I admit there are those who feel that spending so many words about orcs is a waste of good parchment, I firmly believe that knowledge of one's enemy provides important advantages - and I have no doubt that the orcs of Thar are among the deadliest of enemies.
The disparate orc tribes of Thar share similar cultural attributes, which I see as evidence that they are all descended from the same basic stock of tribal ancestors. While dissimilar from that of other Faerûn orc nations, the culture of the Thar orcs retains some common orc characteristics, and there is no difficulty recognizing them as "typical" orcs.
The fundamental orc unit is the clan, and an individual's ultimate loyalty is to his or her clan. A tribe consists of one or more clans, united under a single strong leader. The different clans of the tribe may be traditional allies, they may have banded together for political or geographic reasons, or they may even have been dragged into the tribe by force.
Tribal chieftains are chosen strictly through trials of strength, and any able-bodied male may challenge a chief for rulership. Leadership duels are invariably bloody affairs, for orcs have little stomach for fair fights, rules of good conduct, or sportsmanship. Any tactic used to win is acceptable, even if it involves having one's opponent ambushed and murdered before the fight even begins.
Clan leadership is determined in much the same way, although some clans have ritualistic or ceremonial trappings associated with their succession battles. Some allow battles without weapons, while others restrict combatants to daggers. Still others practice the no-holds-barred testing, with the same rules (or lack of them) as is usual in battles for tribal rulership.
In both tribe and clan, society revolves around conflict. All tribe members receive training as warriors, including females, although they are allowed to fight only if the entire tribe is at risk. Ordinarily, females are considered chattel, useful only for breeding and domestic chores.
The orcs of Thar follow a number of different living patterns. Some tribes are semi-nomadic and others entirely so. Still others live in permanent settlements.
The hard ground of Thar is not suitable to orcs. preferred underground dwellings, so they are forced to live on the surface, dealing with the harshness of daylight, weather, and so on. For this reason, Thar orcs suffer few ill effects from the sunlight, and can be active at any time of the day or night.
Nomadic orcs travel light, using giant wolves, called worgs, as pack animals. Camps are built of hide tents, lean-tos, and other temporary shelters. These are often decorated with clan symbols, depictions of famous battles, great leaders - I've seen stranger things, too.
Sedentary orcs live in longhouses constructed of wood and stone. In these houses, entire clans live and eat communally. A large tribe may have up to a dozen longhouses, one for each clan. Settlements of this nature are often surrounded by wooden palisades, earthworks, or even low stone walls.
Orcs and the Ecology
A few words about the effect of orcs on the ecology of Thar are appropriate here, given the overall purpose of this document.
Normally, orcs have nothing short of an utterly disastrous effect on the regions they inhabit - lands despoiled, forests destroyed, streams and lakes poisoned, and so on. In Thar, where the land is as tough and resilient as the orcs themselves, they have a less devastating effect.
Orc hunting and foraging affects animal populations much the way caravan traffic does, but most tribes have learned not to overexploit the lands they inhabit. Tribes that hunt or forage out their lands find themselves weakened and quickly conquered, or completely extinct.
The religious life of orc tribes is in the hands of their shamans, low-level clerical spellcasters, who claim to hear and interpret the words of Gruumsh and the other orc gods. Shamans. healing and combat abilities are vital to the tribe. However, one of their most important roles - something rarely if ever mentioned by outside observers - is to be the tribe's storyteller.
Orc clans have long and varied histories, memorized and retold by the clan shamans. Great battles are recounted around the tribal campfire, and the deeds of clan founders and ancestors are described in loving detail. Shamans and storytellers are not above revisionist history, either - disastrous defeats delivered by elves or dwarves often become glorious victories when retold to the tribe. Even if the shaman tells the truth about a defeat, it is almost always cast in heroic terms, with the enemy successful only through treachery or with heavy losses.
Clans retain artifacts, battle trophies, and souvenirs with near-fanatic devotion. The battle banners, armor, and weapons of traditional enemies are treated with special care, to the point that they are rarely used in combat. Skulls of enemies or fierce monsters frequently decorate clan standards, armor, and weapons. In other instances, they are part of the costume for tribal shamans, who are responsible for keeping the precious tribal artifacts safe from harm.
Some orc tribes travel entirely on foot, and carry their possessions. that is to say, the slaves, females, and young do most of the carrying while the males stand ready to defend the tribe if it is attacked. Nevertheless, most tribes have at least one breeding pack of worgs, and these also bear their share of the load.
Worgs are giant, muscular wolves bred especially for battle and as beasts of burden. In the chill climate of the Gray Land, worgs thrive and are an important part of orc culture.
The health and well-being of a tribe's worgs are left in the hands of the worg-master, a skilled animal trainer who dotes on his charges and treats them with a tenderness that seems completely inappropriate for an orc. Believe me, I've seen them: the sight of a fanged, green-skinned orc billing and cooing over his worg puppies is as disgusting a sight as I wish to see.
I'm well aware that this contradicts the popular image of orcs and worgs, which pictures the wolfish beasts as being foully tortured and warped by their goblin or orc owners, transformed into psychopathic killing machines. If worgs were really treated this way, they would be totally unreliable and as apt to turn on their masters as on the enemy. In fact, worgs are trained with relative kindness and only occasional sharp rebukes. As mounts and beasts of burden, they serve their orc masters faithfully - so faithfully that riderless worgs also fight for the tribe, attacking with a fury normally reserved for the defense of their own offspring. Some claim the worgs see the orcs as their own puppies, or at least as pack members, and that this explains their loyalty and ferocity.
Goblins and Other Slaves
Numerous small goblin tribes once roamed the lands of Thar, warring on each other or being enslaved by the powerful ogre dynasties. After the ogres. fall, the goblins either fled Thar or were absorbed by the ascendant orcs. Today, goblins exist only as a slave race, bred in captivity and cruelly treated by their orc masters. Most orc tribes have goblin slaves, who are considered the lowest order of being.lower even than females, which in orc society is pretty low.
Orcs also enslave other orc tribes in wars of conquest. These captives are treated somewhat better than goblins, being considered a more advanced form of life. Some individuals even earn the right to be adopted into their tribe as free orcs, usually through heroic actions in battle.
Other races are considered unsuitable to be kept as slaves. Humans are considered "untrainable," while elves are thought to be too frail for real labor, and dwarves are simply despicable. These races are usually slain out of hand or, rarely, held for ransom.
Nasty creatures that they are, the Thar orcs have no qualms about enslaving or murdering other races, but they are usually horrified by the possibility of being enslaved themselves. (Their attitude about orc slaves appears to be, "Hey! You guys can't have orc slaves. we're the only tribe that can keep orcs as slaves!")
Several ogre tribes keep orc slaves, which the orcs of Thar find completely unacceptable. Raids against the ogres to free orc slaves are common, although the orcs are reluctant to admit that the .liberated. captives often end up enslaved to their rescuers.
These so-called "great orcs" appear occasionally among normal orc births. Some have speculated that orogs are the result of orc-ogre crossbreeding. Considering the Thar orcs' former relationship with the region's ogre rulers, this may not be far from the truth. Personally, I find the notion slightly revolting, and try to think about it as little as possible.
About ten percent of the tribes of Thar have orog warriors and, in these tribes, orogs make up about ten percent of the tribes' total population. Orogs are always males. Females evidently carry the traits, but never actually express them.
Those tribes with orog contingents are invariably hated and feared by neighboring orc tribes. The orogs represent a serious threat both to nearby ogre groups and to human caravans in the region.
Orogs are bigger, faster, and stronger than normal orcs and their presence in battle is a potent boost to morale. They always receive the first choice of booty after a battle, and invariably lead their tribes.
Several orog bands have struck out on their own, fighting as mercenaries and even trying to create all-orog clans through selective breeding. So far, this has not proven successful.
One of the more bizarre aspects of orog culture is the practice, recently begun by some caravan masters, of hiring orog mercenaries as guards. These mercenary orogs are known for their faithful service. Once they have given their word to defend a caravan, they keep it to the best of their ability.
Personally, I dislike this practice intensely, since it puts more gold and weapons in the hands of the orcs. On too many occasions I have seen orc raiders well armed with trade weapons or items obtained through the orog mercenary trade. If you live next door to a homicidal killer, I don't think you should sell him a sword, but who listens to me?
The Orc View
Many people talk about how violent and disagreeable orcs are, but few really care to find out why. I must admit that I was once in this category, but my experiences in Thar have led me to understand our green-skinned foes a bit better. The hostile world view of the orcs of Thar springs from their belief that the other races of the world betrayed and shunned them. In the orc creation myth, the gods cheated Gruumsh and his people of their birthright. As a result, the orcs foster a bitter hatred of other intelligent races, whom they see as trespassers on the places that should belong to orcs.
Dwarves and gnomes are disliked because they occupy mountains and caverns, usurping the land's carry the mineral wealth. Elves are hated because they live in beautiful forests and, at least in the orcs eyes, live an indolent life of ease. Ancient, bitter wars between the two races have only increased orc animosity.
Humans and halflings are spared the brunt of orc wrath. The orcs rationalize that, while these creatures are widespread and hostile, they can also display favorable characteristics (cruelty, violence, and savagery, for example), and sometimes even make useful allies.
The other major aspect of the orcs' culture involves the value they place on strength and perseverance. The orcs believe that the strongest and fiercest are blessed by Gruumsh. Survival is the ultimate goal: human-style fair play and honor are alien concepts. Only the strong will survive, orcs believe, and only their descendants will live to take back the lands rightfully theirs.
Dozens of orc tribes inhabit the Thar region. As noted above, an orc "tribe" might better be described as an "alliance," since tribes consist of one or more clans banding together for mutual defense or greater glory.
Tribes vary in size from a dozen individuals to over a thousand. Like most orcs, these tribes find sustenance in a region infamous for its barren, hostile conditions. Despite the hardships, their numbers seem to be increasing.
Some of the more prominent orc tribes include the Black Spears, the Manslayers, the Skullsmashers, and the Red Claws. These tribes have hundreds of members, keep many slaves, and verge on attaining the status of a true nation. Many have legends, similar to those of the ogres, that a charismatic orc warrior will someday unite their tribes and make Thar a great orc nation again.
Until then, the tribes fight each other with great abandon. Many smaller tribes exist, with grand names like the Death-Dealers, Grummsh's Champions, and the Dragon-Masters. Some rise to prominence and become major tribes themselves. Most often, however, small tribes are absorbed or exterminated by their more powerful orc or ogre neighbors.
The Black Spear Orcs
The Black Spears are one of the most widespread and successful caravan raiders in Thar. The tribe boasts over 200 warriors, 30 orogs, 100 worgs, and 100 goblin slaves. Their territory is adjacent to the Jade Skull ogres, with whom they fight constantly.
The Spears are under the rulership of the crafty chief Zurig, and his twin sons Julik and Treg. He is assisted by the orc shaman Tharg and his two "pet" hellhounds, Slavver and Druul.
Zurig, Orc Chieftain: AC 4; HD 5; hp 32; THAC0 15; #AT 1; Dmg 1-10; XP 65 Julik, Orc Leader: AC 5; HD 4; hp 24; THAC0 14; #AT 1; Dmg 1-8; XP 35
Treg, Orc Leader: AC 6; HD 3; hp 20; THAC0 14; #AT 1; Dmg 1-8; XP 35 Tharg, Orc Shaman: AC 6; HD 5; hp 18; THAC0 15; #AT 1; Dmg 1-8; XP 650; Spells: [5th level]
Slaaver and Druul, Hellhounds: AC 4; HD 6; hp 30; THAC0 15; #AT 1; Dmg 1-10; SA breathe fire; SD stealth, immune to fire, see invisible; XP 975
The last of my favorite creatures is an ugly, ill-tempered beast that looks like an eagle that suffered a tragic collision with an unfortunate stag. The peryton's temperament is every bit as unpleasant as its appearance, and my experiences with the creature have been all bad.
From its glittering red-orange eyes to its razorsharp talons, the peryton is a truly frightening creature. Although its head resembles that of a stag, its teeth are sharp and jagged, and its form resembles that of the gray-green eagle, a creature with which it shares a similar diet.
Like the other beasties I've discussed here, the peryton is clearly of magical or unnatural origins. Many theories have been advanced regarding the thing's ancestry, but a document I discovered at a monastery near Verdusk sheds some light on the matter. Authored by a Brother Delf, a priest in the service of Deneir, the document purported to tell the origins of several magical creatures. The section on the peryton read, in part:
...and so it was that the Khala of Imaskar did serve Bane the Unclean, the Black Lord of a Thousand Fears. Such was their service to Bane that the gods of law took notice, and visited a curse upon the Khala.
Lord Lathander Morninglord looked upon the Khala and said, "You have been swift as an eagle in your flight from justice, so I curse you each of you with the body of the eagle."
Lady Mystra, Mistress of Magics, looked upon the Khala and said, "Fierce as a wolf have you been in your persecution of the innocent, so I curse you with the teeth of the wolf."
Torm the True, Lord of Duty, looked upon the Khala and said, "Foolish as a stag in rut have you been as you shunned what is true and good, so I curse you all to bear the head and horns of the stag."
Ilmater the Crying God, who defends those in torment, looked upon the Khala and said, "You have tormented and torn heart and soul from your victims, so I curse you with unnatural appetites, so that you may only live and prosper after devouring the hearts of your prey."
Finally, Mielikki of the Forests looked upon the Khala and said, "While you acted as beasts, your heart contained evil which only humans can know. I curse you to always cast the shadow of the humans you once were, to always remind you of your terrible deeds and of the souls that you have lost."
So were the wicked Khala transformed and given the form of a hideous beast - the head and horns of the stag, the teeth of the wolf, and the body of the eagle, forced to consume the hearts of their victims, but continuing to cast shadows in the form of men, to remind them of their transgressions...
While this may simply be a retelling of ancient legend, with no basis in fact, it is the only record of the origins of the peryton that I know of. That they were once an evil race of humans (evidently dwelling in the lost empire of Imaskar), cursed by the gods for their wicked practice, and their worship of the now-slain god Bane, would explain many of their unusual traits.
The human-shaped shadow cast by the peryton has been a mystery for centuries, but if the creatures were once humans, the shadow's form makes a bit more sense. Further evidence of the peryton's origins lies in the beast's scent, which creatures possessing a sharp sense of smell claim resembles that of a human. The notion of such a bizarre looking creature bearing so many human traits only serves to confirm the details cited in Brother Delf's manuscript.
The Heart of the Matter
Creatures possessed of many unusual and disgusting features, peryton are best known and reviled for their taste for the hearts of humans and other intelligent creatures. Like many predators, they select warm-blooded prey to kill and eat, favoring deer, rabbits, and horses. In a most unusual fashion, however, female peryton can only reproduce after consuming the fresh beating heart of a humanoid.
Humans are preferred, although the hearts of elves, dwarves, orcs, and ogres will suffice. Once the heart has been consumed, the female's shadow becomes normal - that is, it resembles the shape she wears - and she will be able to mate and lay fertile eggs for several hours.
(It occurs to me, on rereading Brother Delf's words, that the gods who so cursed the peryton could have prevented the female's reproductive cycle from requiring humanoid hearts - at least those of elves, dwarves, and humans. It is ironic, wouldn't you agree, that the curse laid upon them for their cruelty should render them just as savage in their transformation, and just as likely - perhaps even more so - to kill the same kinds of people whose murders originally led to the gods' wrath. I find myself questioning the wisdom of gods whose vengeance merely alters the evil done by the victims of that vengeance.
I suppose this explains why I live my life as I do; my respect for nature has been strengthened as much as has my disdain for "civilization.")
The peryton that hunt across Thar dwell on the peaks of the West Galenas. They are not especially social creatures, living in family groups of up to four individuals. Although young peryton stay with their parents for up to a year, eventually they depart to build their own nests.
Peryton eggs take up to a month to hatch, and mated pairs trade nest-sitting duty. Peryton young grow to maturity in three months, but must be fed for the first month of life. Sadistic and evil, peryton often bring living prey to their nests, watching with approval as their young kill and consume the victim.
While peryton appear to have their own language - a bestial combination of roars and human sounding screams - no one has yet bothered to decipher it, mostly due to the fact that peryton will not tolerate humans nearby and attack them immediately.
- A-Ranging I Will Go
- Part One: The Land of Thar
- Part Two: Monsters
- Part Three: Rumors, Mysteries, and Legends