Portals of the Harvest Gods
By Robert Wiese
The Harvest of Blood
Not everyone views the harvest in the same way. While many farmers and tradespeople view the harvest time as a time of plenty and wealth, others view it as a time of raiding and butchery. Orcs, gnolls, bugbears, and other races don't farm -- they raid other farmers and take what they want, or they buy it. Sometimes they buy or barter for the fruits of agriculture, but more often they see things as theirs anyway and just take it.
Some view the world in an upside-down way, valuing what others abhor, and to these people a harvest means something other than the gathering of food. Among the orcs, the closest thing one finds to a harvest god is Luthic, their god of females, servitude, and fertility. However, another orc god, Ilneval, is responsible for a brutal practice among the orcs that revolves around the Portal of Blood.
The Portal of Blood is the centerpiece of a vast arena where orcs fight each other and "the lesser races" upon whom they prey. The portal itself is located at one end of the arena. It is an arch made of the bones of fallen foes (mostly dwarves) 7 feet high and 3 feet wide. The archway is inscribed with chants of praise to Ilneval, orcish god of war, combat, and strategy. The arch serves no purpose except to mark the location of the portal and to focus religious fervor, because the Portal of Blood is actually a destination rather than a starting point.
Originally, the Portal of Blood was created as a one-way portal from an old orcish capital in the far north to this place, which was at that time a training camp. The orc cleric who crafted it planned to make a return portal so that orc troops could be moved quickly to the capital when needed. However, dwarves took the capital before the return portal could be constructed, and the cleric fled into the snowy north. He has never been seen since. Rumors say that his god Gruumsh was displeased with his cowardice and caused him to go blind in both eyes, and he fell to his death.
Centuries later, the training camp was occupied by orcs again and made into a base of operations against the local humanoids. This group of orcs had as a spiritual advisor a cleric of Ilneval, and, as the orc force grew, Ilneval became more pleased. This led to Ilneval sending a vision to his cleric regarding the portal that had lain unused for so long. The vision showed the cleric, Ogmashk Warbringer, how to adapt the portal to a new use. Thus was born the Portal of Blood.
The portal is unique in the Realms because the arch is a destination. A special miracle spell, granted by Ilneval himself, allows the portal to reset its origin somewhat. Specifically, when the proper invocation to Ilneval is performed, which involves at least one hundred orcs chanting a 1-hour prayer in unison, the portal becomes the destination for any portals within 1,000 miles. (Since the goal is to get creatures here, the portal needs to be capable of transporting creatures.) The first portal to be used in another location sends its travelers to this place rather than their intended destination. Once one portal has sent someone to the Portal of Blood, the miracle effect ends and all other portals work normally. Since the portal is one-way, the travelers cannot simply turn around and leave. And since the invocation is part of a ritual of combat and slaughter in praise of Ilneval, a great number of orcs are waiting to slaughter the travelers as soon as they arrive. Many a group has disappeared and never been seen again because of the Portal of Blood.
How to Incorporate the Harvest of Blood Portal Into Your Champaign
- The easiest way to get the PCs involved with this portal is to have them be using a portal and be pulled to the arena to fight a lot of orcs unexpectedly. If you do this, then assemble a group of orcs that make an EL 2 above the party average level to make it a really scary encounter. (These orcs are the official combatants in a sacred combat. Other orcs are designated as witnesses only in the match, though DMs can choose how to set this up without overwhelming the PCs and making an unwieldy battle. One option is to have the orcs who performed the ceremony unable to draw a weapon against the PCs for a limited amount of time and provide these orcs with some form of invulnerability during this time period. That way, aside from the official combatants, neither group has the advantage over the other for a specific period of time.) If they survive, the PCs can investigate how they got here and decide if they want to do anything about it. This portal could be the gateway to adventures among the orcs for some time to come.
- Travelers are sometimes lost to the Portal of Blood without explanation. Someone, perhaps a patron or parent or ruler with a particular interest in one of the lost (or something that one of them carries), asks the PCs to investigate the disappearance. This could be a long adventure, with many smaller adventures along the way leading to clues to the orcs and their portal, since there are limited ways to track someone through a portal, and clairvoyance is of no help because the portal could be 500 miles away.
- Some person even more evil than the orcs learns of the portal, its properties, and how to operate it. This villain uses the portal (and the required orcs) for his or her own purposes, and he snatches people from the surrounding lands at an even greater rate. The orcs, unable to stop this villain and regain control of their portal, seek out some foolish adventurers with the powers to oppose the villain. Perhaps the villain has a special weakness that the orcs cannot make use of because they are evil or because they don't have anyone of a certain character class available (and thus don't have access to some class ability).
Note: This portal works equally well for any society-forming evil race that you are featuring in your campaign. Orcs are presented as the foes, but gnolls, giants, or even fiends could replace the orcs.