View Full Version : [City] Gorshakarum, the Bloody Spiked Shield

2005-07-06, 02:17 PM
All right, its nominally done. Unless I remember something I meant to add but forgot in the next... 2 or 3 days before I'll leave the town, only to be back after the 30th.

Comments and questions, as said before, are welcome.

Gorshakarum, the Bloody Spiked Shield


Approach from the south:

The line of white-topped, grey mountains looms above you in the front, the endless yellow dunes of the Sea of Sands stretch into infinity behind. As the sun rises yet another time to smite you with its tyrannical power, a sharp, white glint strikes you eyes from due north – sunlight reflected by metal. Knowing your destination to be close now, you move out with renewed vigor.

The distance proves deceptive; you march at a forced pace all day, and the sun is low on the west by the time you reach the ancient city of Gorshakarum, capital of the Orcish world, and the fiery flame burning inside every Orc's savage heart. As you look up to take in the sights of its legendary wall, the vision fills you with a sense of awe and dread.

The name-giver of the city, the Spiked Shield. A massive defensive wall, leaning gently inward as it reaches over a hundred and fifty feet into the sky, forms a semi-circle a mile across, its two ends running into the vertical cliff wall of the mesa that stretches east to west before you. The formidable wall is entirely made of metal – you can make out hundreds of great plates overlapping plates in a disorderly fashion, as if an angry giant has slapped them together. The metal panels are bristling with huge spikes jutting out into the air, uncountable arrowslits, and channels for hot oil, rocks and other weapons of defense. Here and there you see gaps in the armor of the city, dark holes exposed by the ravage of the ages; yet, it exudes an air of unbreakable confidence bordering on the arrogant, and a palpable menace. Stone towers jut out their heads a short way above the metal defenses. The mighty keep of Gorshakarum, whose pointed tower you have seen on the way here, is now hidden completely from your view as you stand just below the Shield, which – as they say – no army has ever conquered by force.

You walk towards the wide, low gate in the middle of the great arcing wall. Looking up at the battlements above it, you see King Hatham's Helmet, the giant, bell-sized helm of wrought iron hanging from the spikes sticking through it. Below it, a similarly giant-sized cuirass hangs impaled in a similar manner – a jeering memory of Gorshakarum's greatest victory over the Kingdom of Gladehammer, a slap in the face of the human race the Orc's won't let anyone forget.

The large posse of gatekeepers lets you pass with no more bother than a pointy stare in your direction from their Sandsteel-clad Steelblood officer, and as you walk through the archway's passage, you get a glimpse of the city's true defensive wall. There's a dark, five-foot gap behind the foot-thick steel wall, and on its other side is the inner wall of stone, some fourty feet thick at ground level. You peek up as you pass through the gap between steel and rock, and a thick spiderweb of gangways and scaffolds shrouded in perpetual darkness, lit by scores of torches. You feel, rather than see arrows pointed at you from the shadows as you pass below.

You emerge from the passageway and find yourself in a bustling city. The rock wall of the Spiked Shield now stretches behind and to the sides of you, while your sight ahead is blocked by the mesa wall, reaching twice as high as the wall some half a mile ahead. Looking almost directly ahead, you see the black needle of the keep's single tower climb near-vertically up the cliff, thrust high into the air above its top edge. A way off to its right, a natural ramp breaks the cliff wall, leading up to the mesa's flat top.

Lowering your eyes to your closer surroundings, you see that the are is a chaotic huddling of simple, flat-roofed, rectangular single- and two-storeyed stone huts. A large lot is left empty around the gate, forming a square with several zig-zagged roads – and a single wider, almost straight avenue leading towards the keep – fanning out from it. A number of merchants – most of them smaller breeds of Orcs, but also a few desert-dweller Steelbloods - have set up stands around the gallows in the middle of the square, hawking a motley lot of goods, most of them shamelessly overpriced foodstuffs and water for tired caravans from under open canvas tents. There's a large number of people – most of them Orc residents, but you can also see a handful of humans and dwarves, as well as some caravans that arrived just before you, going about their business. However, not a single local seems to be shopping for anything, though, so you pick a random street and stride into the city's labyrinth to find a real marketplace.


Permanent residents: ~14,000
Temporary residents at any time: ~3,500 to 5,000


Permanent residents:

Steelblood orcs, mountain clan ancestry: ~980 7%
Steelblood orcs, desert clan ancestry: ~3860 27.6%
Other orcs: ~6,260 44.7%
Other goblinoids: ~1640 11.7%
Humans: ~400 2.9%
Halflings: ~150 1.1%
Dwarves: ~490 3.5%
Sand elves: <50
Other elves: <50

Temporary residents:
(assuming ~4000)

Steelblood orcs, mountain clan ancestry: ~680 17%
Steelblood orcs, desert clan ancestry: ~1320 33%
Other orcs: ~560 14%
Other goblinoids: ~280 7%
Humans: ~680 17%
Dwarves: <50
Sand elves: ~450 11%
Other elves: <50

(Note: Layout of buildings is only symbolic.)

Physical description:

Gorshakarum is located on top of, inside and below the Great Rock mesa. The mesa is about 5 miles across from east to west, 1 mile from north to south (on average), and rises to a height of 300 feet above the desert, with a maze-like system of buttes of a similar height but much smaller area located extending to the north. From the south it is surrounded by the northern edge of the Sea of Sands, from the north by the southern feet of the Icewall, a snowcapped mountain range extending south and east from the uncrossable Great Mountains.

Areas of importance:

The Bowl - The Bowl is the large, roughly circular area a mile across that's surrounded by the Great Rock's southern wall from the west, north, and northeast, and by the Spiked Shield wall from all other directions. Built on a flat table of hard rock, the Bowl houses the great majority of the city's populace, mainly the lesser orcs and the other goblinoids. It's a jumble of winding, labyrinthine streets and alleys zig-zagging between ad hoc clusters of shops and residential houses, with canvases pulled out over the street between nearby buildings to protect from the sun. Most of these houses are squat, flat-roofed, single-level huts built of white stone and plaster. In some of the more affluent districts the houses tend to have an upstairs floors as well, and even in most poorer areas there are some hive-like multilevel house clusters, where one hut is built right on top of another.

In general, the houses are cramped in so closely to one another that a more dextrous person could travel a great distance on the rooftops and terraces, leaping over alleyways, without having to set his foot on the ground – a feature that many local criminals put to good use in their business. Most of the Bowl is loud with activity from dawn to midnight, and the poorer merchants and handicraftsmen who set up shop in it are usually open all day and all night long, their "homes" being a sleeping cot in a corner of the shop.

The areas near the Spiked Shield have the advantage of being shielded from the sun for longer during the day, and thus command a higher price.

The Old Town - The northwest corner of the Bowl is known as the Old Town, the name deriving from the fact that this is the only area in it with at least some buildings surviving from the age of the Steel Empire. The ancient buildings are large, brick-shaped buildings built with large, dark grey boulders precisely cut into blocks and fitted together without mortar. They all have one single floor, but still reach as high as most two-level huts elsewhere in the city. While their outsides must have been all identical from the time of their construction, their insides show some variation. Some of the buildings consist of a single large hall, and possibly a few small, separated rooms. Others have narrow corridors and lines of small, single- or two-person cells, and yet other have several larger rooms which might have been small storerooms or barracks-like sleeping areas for twenty to thirty inhabitants at a time.

If one climbs to the top of the Great Rock and looks down on the Old Town, he'll find that the dark old buildings lie in a geometrical order unseen elsewhere in the city. One can tell where the streets must have stood, straight and at right-angles, back in the city's heydays. Today, however, the Old Town is just as chaotic as the rest of the Bowl, with clusters of white houses springing up everywhere between, huddled to the side of, and sometimes even on top of the old constructions.

Today, Old Town functions as a ghetto for most of the city's goblinoid, human and halfling population. At the same time, some of the buildings are owned by wealthier orcs or humans, and operate as workshops, taverns or heavily guarded warehouses for merchants and caravans.

Gate Square – Gate Square is the large open area right at the Spiked Shield's only gate. Several gallows in the middle of the square display the harshness of Orcish law – or rather, the consequences a petty criminal must face if he insists on operating without paying tithe to one of the local criminal rings for too long.

Around the gallows, several local merchants have set up shop, selling their goods from under canvases. Most of the goods here are foodstuffs, water, low-quality Blacktwig, weapons and assorted caravan supplies. All wares sold here are rather low quality, and cost at three to five times their actual worth.

Market Square – The city's bustling principal market stands deep inside the Bowl. Food caravans from abroad head directly here, usually starting to sell their cargo even as it's being unloaded from the wagons or beasts of burden. Pretty much every sort of good can be found at this location, except for magical or particularly high-quality items – for these, a prospective buyer would need to find the craftsman's workshop or the merchant's warehouse elsewhere in the Bow. Most of these merchants and craftsmen have "scouts" working for them at the Market Square, beggars and lowlifes looking out for customers apparently looking for something a cut above the standard fare. For a few coins, these scouts will lead the the interested parties to the places where they'll likely find what they want.

Elfquarter – Not far from the Old Town, at the place where the Spiked Shield's western end meets the cliff, stands the Elfquarter. A small group of Sand Elves who've given up their nomadic lifestyle – almost without exception due to the destruction of their tribe by one thing or the other – have transformed this small square and its immediate surroundings into a stopping point for their berthren when they come into the city. Some of the huts have been pulled down to make the square bigger, and tents have been pulled up in their place. A small but well-stocked stable has been raised at the foot of the mesa, its use strictly reserved for Sand Elves, along with an area reserved to store caravan goods. The majority of the tents stand empty but well-maintained by the local Sand Elves, and let out to others – for a small fee to trading caravans, and for free to the more strongly traditionalist clans who only come into the city to acquare supplies and sell their own produce.

Some trade also happen in the Elfquarter. While the place looks downright sleepy compared to the Market Square, it has carved out its own economic niche. This is the place to go if one wants to buy magical items – charms, amulets and the like, some crafted by Sand Elf shamans, others acquired from distant lands, or exotic magical and alchemical ingredients, some of which are harvested, mined or hunted by the elves in the deep desert. Another available, though much more rare commodity here is Sandsteel armor which the elves acquire from secret sources, and which is much higher quality than whatever could ever crop up anywhere else. Unlike a normal market, the goods are not on display in the Elfquarter. In fact, a less observant traveller could walk round and round the square the whole day and never realize that trading is happening right under his nose. The goods are secreted away in the tents, and if someone wants to buy something, he must approach an elf and tell him specifically what he's looking for. The elf will then bring out the item in question – and only that – from his tent, or direct the inquirer to someone else if he doesn't have it. If the buyer wants to pay with money, he should be prepared to shell out at least triple, but often more, than the nominal price of the item. Alternatively, he might want to barter, offering an item or trade goods in exchange for what he wants. Traditionalist nomad tribes will only accept this latter form of trade, since money is largely irrelevant to their lifestyle.

The Elfquarter is also a storehouse of information. If one wants to hear news about the various tribes, caravan routes, and important events from anywhere in the desert, this is the place he should come. It should be noted, however, that the Sand Elves only share their knowledge willingly with those outsiders whom they know to be friends of their people. Others might have to pay for the information, or, more likely, be turned down altogether.

While the quarter is not physically separated from the rest of the city the Sand Elves take their privacy very seriously. Non-elves, including local orcs, are discouraged to loiter around if they have no business in mind, and trespassers who disturb the elves' holy hours – between the time when the moon reaches its zenith and one hour before it sets completely – are often found dead in the morning at the edge of the Elfquarter.

The Spiked Shield – The Spiked Shield, namegiver of the city, is the massive defensive wall circling the Bowl. It rises to a height of 150 feet – half the height of the mesa - and is 40 feet thick at its base, with wide flights of stairs running up to its top on the inside. Towers are located at regular intervals along the wall, their height surpassing that of the wall by two floor.

This, however, is just the inner wall. Outside of it there is the outer wall which has become a symbol of the city. It's made up of large, thick metal plates dating back to the days of the Empire of Steel, riddles with firing holes and decorated with large spikes several yards long. The narrow space between the outer and inner walls hosts a series of catwalks and scaffolds which gives the defenders access to the outer wall via narrow passages cut into the inner wall, and also the massive supporting beams deeply embedded in the inner wall which hold the metal plates in their place.

The keep of Shumar-Abrin - Shumar-Abrin, the Black Spear, is the name of Gorshakarum's keep. It is a great tower rising from the floor of the Bowl to 60 feet above the top of the Great Rock mesa, cut into and out of the mesa's own wall. From the outside and below, only its smooth south wall is visible "climbing up" the cliff wall. At the top of the mesa, this visible wall widens into an angular structure overlooking the Bowl deep below on its south, and the houses of High Town on its other sides. From this structure, the pinnacle of the Black Spear rises to a height of 90 feet, a slender spire topped by the life-sized statue of a great black dragon curling around it, looking at the desert to the south.

At the bottom of the keep, a wide tunnel called the Low Gate is cut into the mesa, passing through below the Black Spear, connecting the Bowl with the Cleft. The tunnel is wide enough for three wagon to pass each other. At its south end, the tunnel branches. The tunnel itself heads northwest towards the Cleft, while the short northeast branch leads into the ground level of the keep. The passage is defended by four portcullises located at the two ends and spaced evenly along the tunnel ready to be lowered at a moment's notice, as well as numerous murder holes along its ceiling. The keep has second entrance, the High Gate, located on the northeast wall of its top levels that rise up from the mesa in High Town.

High Town – High Town is the name of the area on top of the mesa around and to the west of the citadel's tower. Ancient like the buildings of Old Town – if perhaps not quite that ancient -, it serves as the home of the strongest clan leaders, the powermongers and the wealthies merchants of the city. Custom dictates that only Steelblood orcs can take up residence here, even though a few hobgoblin and bugbear families have started challenging this tradition in the last two centuries or so. The houses in High Town are all villas and manor houses, heavily fortified, surrounded by sturdy walls and most of them separated from each other by wide streets and squares. Usually, every building would have a second floor and/or an extensive basement cut into the hard rock of the mesa, and some might even have a third floor. The older constructions are made of the same dark grey rock as the ones in the Old Town, while newer residences and add-on or repairs to old ones are usually of a lighter kind of rock mined on the south slopes of the mountains. Architecturally, the prevalent style is a lot fancier than the warehouse-like buildings in the Old Town, incorporating sloped roofs, roof and wall ornaments, small towers and crenellations. In most locations, the houses or the estate walls reach out all the way to the cliff's edge.

The households of High Town house about 2000 Steelblood orcs – almost all Steelbloods with mountain-dwelling ancestry, and a sizeable contingent of desert clanners. Additionally, about 800 lesser orcs also live there, serving as guards and household staff in some of the desert clan mansions. The houses here are hardly ever for sale, most of them having been owned by the same clan – often a branch or "embassy" of a larger clan whose areas lie far away – for the last 1,500 years. The few takeovers that happen are usually caused by clan warfare between desert Steelbloods spilling over into the city.

The most notable holding in the High Town is the fortress of Clan Graash-Ourm, sprawling over a separate butte near the western edge of the Great Rock, connected to High Town proper by an ancient narrow stone bridge spanning a hundred yards. Historically, Clan Graash-Ourm used by one of the strongest mountain clans in the Two Valleys area that control most mountain passes to the north. They have been usurped from their original lands over seven hundred years ago in clan warfare, but they've managed to hold on to their fortress in Gorshakarum, ensuring their place as an active power there for the foreseeable future.

2005-07-12, 01:53 PM
The Cleft– on the north side of Great Rock lies a small, canyon-like enclave, called the Cleft, but also referred to as Dwarrendig. Narrow and hemmed in by the mesa's high walls, the Cleft is cast in perpetual shadow for the greatest part of the day, making it a much more pleasant place to live than anywhere else in Gorshakarum. Yet, the Cleft is relatively poorly populated, with the highest ratio of living space to inhabitants in the whole city.

Since time immemorial, the Cleft has been the home to the dwarf population of Gorshakarum; even in the days of its greatest ruin after the Empire's fall, a small group of dwarves has grimly hung on to their existence, refusing to leave. Today, a much larger dwarf population lives there, defiantly ignoring the Thegn's rule. A small number of outsiders, mainly humans and halflings, have settled down among the dwarves.

The origins of the conflict plaguing the Cleft until recently are as simple as they are hard to root out: greed and racial prejudice. For as long as Gorshakarum's past is known, there was always a distinct dwarven population present, and it has always been an isolationist one keeping to itself, ignoring – if not openly defying – the edicts of the city's Thegn. Such behaviour can be received rather badly in culture based on submittance to phisical and military power, and the fact that its cool shadows make the Cleft the most desirable residential area in the city has further aggravated the tensions. In the last few centuries since Gorshakarum started to get gradually repopulated, this has caused intermittent friction between the orc population and the dwarven minority, sometimes escalating to open slaughter on the streets. Under the present Thegn, however, an uneasy peace is maintained. The Thegn uses its power to discourage wealthy, powerful or aggressive orcs from encroaching no the area, and in exchange the dwarves offer their stoneworking skills to the city at a reduced price, performing such tasks as maintaining and repairing the keep, the defenses and the tunnels in the Mines.

The architecture in the Cleft largely reflects dwarf sensibilities: the floor of the canyon is left largely empty, converted into a wise, neatly paved avenue, surrounded by orderly lines of statues of monsters, animals and dwarven warriors, lifelike trees cut out of white marble and dry fountains with smoothly carved waves of rock shooting rigidly into the air. To the sides of the avenue stand workshops and storehouses, built from bricks with a vastly superior workmanship than the huts of the Bowl. This is also the location of the Dwarfmarket, a large trading hall where the dwarven craftsmen, who refuse to go to the Market Square, sell their goods – mainly weapons and tools - to the locals and to travellers. The residences of the dwarves are cut into the walls of the Cleft, with many dark windows and slits gaping on both sides of the canyon from ground level up to the height of five spacious floors and in some places even higher. The complex sprawls beneath the rock wall on both sides of the canyon, accessible through anterooms cut into the walls at ground level. It is said that the north wall complex has secret passages leading to the keep, Hightown, the Mines, the Bonefield and – stretching beneath the avenue – the south complex.

At their present size, the complexes could house a much larger population than there are dwarves in Gorshakarum, the occasional dwarven trade caravan or travelling workmen included. As a result, some areas in the complexes are closed off for everyone except for a small dwarven militia force that patrols these rooms to discourage orcish (or other) squatters. The southern complex also houses an extensive, multilevel underground catacomb where the dwarves of Gorshakarum have been burying their dead for many centuries. Some rumours occasionally arise about dwarven ghosts haunting this catacomb, but these are usually dismissed as malignant but groundless accusations stemming from the long history of enmity between dwarves and orcs.

The real dark: The rumours are actually true. The dwarven catacombs, present here since the earliest days of city, are affected by the curse that permeates Deadtown, causing the spirits of long-dead dwarves to rise from time to time. So far, the living dwarf population has managed to keep this an absolute secret from anyone else, putting the spirits to rest through ritual and, if necessary, force of arms.

The Targ - the canyon of the Cleft is sealed off on its northwest end by the Targ, a large defensive structure and the smaller cousin of the Spiked Shield around the Bowl. In the days of the Steel Empire, it was as tall as its larger counterpart, and also had a metal outer layer with giant spikes protruding. During the collapse of the Empire, however, the Targ was heavily damaged in battle – some theories say it was the same battle as the one that engulfed the Boneyard, others that it was a separate siege occuring during a longer period of warfare -, and could not be completely repaired with the lessened might of the orcs after the fall. In its present form, it some 70 feet tall – half as much as the Spiked Shield –, stretching from one side of the canyon to the other. It lacks the outer metal layer and the spikes, but instead incorporates a large number of openings and archer's slots. These are all covered by slated metal sheets from above, leaving the defenders free to shoot or throw things at the enemy trying to break through while protecting them from incoming arrows. Also, the rock walls have chambers cut into them with windows overlooking the outside of the Targ, giving the defenders even more places to shoot at the attackers from. The Targ has a gate cut into it, wide enough to allow three wagons through and protected by two strong portcullises and murder holes. This gate is usually open, and is used to transport the food grown in the Mines to the city and the Thegn's soldiers heading to or coming from the outlying northern defenses.

Bonefield – when one climbs to the top of the mesa by way of the steep natural ramp to the east of the keep, one can see the High Town to the west, and a nine-feet high, ruined wall with wide gaps to the east. Beyond the wall lies a great expanse of ancient ruins – rubble piles, wall fragments, and a few empty shells of former houses. In the days of the Steel Empire, this place gave home to the majority of the city's inhabitants. Today, Orcish humour has renamed the depopulated stretch of ruins the Bonefield.

In ancient days, some districts of the Bonefield looked quite a lot like the High Town today, while others were more closely packed, almost like the Bowl, but built with the materials, skills and planning of that time. Oral tradition says that the area suffered heavy damage in a battle dating back to a time earlier than the oldest reasonably reliable records, starting a centuries-long process of degradation and depopulation. Some scholars tentatively put this hypothetical battle to the earlier years of the Sand Wars, a long-lasting conflict over a thousand years ago against an unknown enemy power which started the decline of the Steel Empire.

Today, most of the Bonefield consists of worn-down, waist-high wall sections and large piles of rubble, and the gutted remains of the occasional sturdier building, sometimes as little as two full-height walls, sometimes most of it still standing. Like in the High Town, most buildings here used to have cellars, sometimes even a second underground level. Many of these basements lie open and bare today. While some have collapsed, many others are interconnected by narrow tunnels dug by rock-digging creatures over the centuries. Most of the rock-diggers have been wiped out in an exterminating campaign some three hundred years ago, but a few might have survived and started to breed again, potentially posing a long-term danger to the High Town and the keep.

While anything of notable value was removed from the cellars centuries ago, they are still in some use today. Some are used as hidden caches by local residents and possibly even travellers, while others give home to outlaws trying to escape the noose. Various animals and possibly some monsters have also set up home in the ruins, and there are rumours that the ruins are sometimes used as safehouses by spies – humans, orcs, even elves from the northern realms. Whether these rumours are true or false is anybody's guess, but it's a fact that the Thegn of Gorshakarum has soldiers patrolling the line of the ruined wall on the edge of the Bonefield every night.

The Giants' Hall – Near the eastern edge of the Bonefield lies a great building unlike any other in Gorshakarum. A blocky, rectangular structure a flat roof and four closed on the roof's corners, walls gently sloping inwards, built of grey rock and covered by a thin, green moss-like growth despite the dryness and the heat of the desert. The placement of the many lines of tiny windows on all sides suggests that the building has a high-vaulted ground floor and three other, lower floors on top. If anyone is unwise enough to walk around the farther reaches of the Bonefield at night, he'll see flickering lights in the windows, but no other sign of habitation. The building is popularly called the Giant's Hall after a legend that the spirits of dead giants roam its halls.

For DM's only: The legend is closer to reality than most people would guess. No memory or records of this exist anywhere today, but at its height, the Steel Empire extended through the Sea of Sands, all the way to the distant shores of the Southern Ocean; and at its southernmost border, the Steel Empire encountered another nation, one even older and stronger than itself.

That nation was the Federation of Ziml, a coalition of peoples that population another shore of the Southern Ocean, and like the Steel Empire, the Federation was built upon the principles of military power, trade and expansion. The Federation's primary spheres of interest lay far away from the Steel Empire; it only had one single outpost on these shores. Both of them having plenty of other, easier targets for conquest, there was no reason for Ziml and the Steel Empire not coexist peaceful and enjoy some limited trade relations.

A Giants' Hall used to be the Federation's embassy to Gorshakarum. It was guarded by cyclopses – major members of the Federation, and a far cry from the primitive savages encountered in most places of the world – living on the spacious ground floor and in the basement below, while other tasks were carried out by other, more conservatively sized creatures on three upstairs levels.

The ground floor of the Giants' Hall was the where most officials matters between the two empires were conducted, trades, treaties and the like being negotiated under the watchful eyes of the cyclops guardians. The building's only gate, the entrance hall, and the corridors leading out of it were equipped with deadly mechanical and magical traps, which were left primed. The upstairs levels were mainly offices and sleeping rooms for the smaller species. Adventurers willing to brave the Hall might find miscellanious exotic, sometimes even magical items in these rooms left behind when the embassy was closed down. The basement floor, similarly high-vaulted and equipped with giant-sized furniture as the ground floor, served as the barracks, mess hall and armory for the cyclopses. From the basement, it is possible to reach a number of smaller, secure vaults, halls and safes located below the level. These places were used to safeguard documents, valuables (gold, silver, gems, jewels, now incredibly exotic coinage – thin, engraved rectangular metal plate of various material), magical weapons and armor, and miscellanous magical items belonging to the Federation, or handed over by orc nobles for safekeeping in exchange of an annual fee. Some of these items are bound to be still there. Though there are no living guards any more, the entrances to the vaults are usually hidden from plain sight, and they are protected by a great number of ingenious and deadly locks, devices, traps and spells. The vaults are also lined with the same impervious (and magically reinforced) rock that was used to construct the rest of the building.

Note: One of the smaller vaults had a fault in its walls, and was broken into by the same rock-digging creatures that used to plague the Bonefield, and now there's a long, narrrow, twisting tunnel leading to it from one of the cellars among the ruins. The contents of this vault are likely to be undisturbed, but some of the traps are still functional. The vault's door was not designed to be opened from inside the vault, but if someone did find a way of getting past it, he would have gained a safer entry into the embassy than the front gates.

The Mines – On the northern side of the Great Rock, there's an area surrounded by a wooden palisade. Beyond the palisade lies a small camp, and several entrances into the old mines dug into the mesa. The tunnels of the Mines comb the Great Rock through and through, forming a labyrinth whose layout is largely forgotten.

The origins of the Mines are forgotten, surrounded by tales and myth. It is believed that its construction was started by dwarves before the rise of the Steel Empire, which then took over its control. In its years of glory, the Empire expanded the tunnels significantly, mining – as the legends say – rare minerals and gems with many magical and alchemical uses. Eventually, the supplies ran out, and the mine was closed down. After the Empire's fall it lay dormant for centuries, while wandering animals and monsters took up residence in its twisting tunnels. Once the chaos that gripped the surviving orcish population subsided, and Gorshakarum started to be repopulation, the Mines were partially reclaimed and put to new use in supplying the population with food. Irrigated by the scarce amount of groundwater that can be found in the mines' lower reaches, mold and fungus farms are grown, partially for direct consumption, partially to feed edible grubs and worms. Other parts of the mines were converted into corrals and kennels for underground snakes and lizards – both giant and normal varieties – whose eggs and meat are also used as foodstuffs. While orcs, especially Steelbloods, do have burial rites they take seriously, the dead bodies of most of the city's riff-raff usually end up in the Mines and are used to help feed the grubs and the lizards. While the food produced in the Mines is not nearly enough to make the city self-sufficient, it does greatly alleviate its dependence on trade with the desert oases and the northern lands across the mountains.

The mine is nominally owned by the Thegn of Gorshakarum, who has guards posted in the small camp outside the mines. The work, however, is left to private prospectors colloquially called the Mine Lords, who are issued charters for various areas of the mines in exchange for half their produce. Most Mine Lords are wealthy orcs, usually Steelbloods from the desert clans, who employ impoverished labourers to do the actual work, for extremely low wages. There are also a few smaller, independent entrepreneurs, usually goblinoids, dwarves and a few humans, who work their own areas themselves. Always greedy for more profit, the Mine Lords try to force these independents into their employment by any means necessary. This occasionally leads to open fights and blood feuds in and outside of the mines, but the Thegn, conscious of the importance of the food produced in the Mines cracks down on these conflicts quicly and with ruthless efficiency, usually revoking all work charters – and sometimes even confiscating other Gorshakarum-based property – of the guilty party. It is commonly – and correctly – perceived by those in the food production trade that the Thegn tends to give a bit more leeway to small, independent prospectors in such matters in order to ensure that none of the economically powerful clans and individuals can gain a monopoly on food and challenge his rule.

Anyone wanting to enter the mines must carry a permit from a Mine Lord or independent prospector. Normally, these are given out either for money, or for some services.

Significant stretches of the mines lie far away from the food operations. These areas might hold monsters, trace deposits of the minerals that were originally mines here, and possibly even ancient artifacts left behind from the days of the Steel Empire and left undisturbed for centuries. It is also rumoured that there are tunnels that lead into various parts of Gorshakarum. At least one tunnel leading to the Bonefield is rumoured to exist, and it is an open secret that the Thegn can send soldiers into the mines directly from the keep.

Deadtown and the Whitehall – On the far side of Bonefield, several stone bridges span over the ground three hundred feet below, connecting the Great Rock to several smaller mesas. The ancient bridges, whose graceful structure was reinforced by powerful magics in the distant past, lead to Deadtown, a place shunned by the residents of Gorshakarum.

Like the Bonefield, Deadtown is abandoned. Unlike the Bonefield, however, the structures of Deadtown have survived the centuries largely intact, thanks to the same preserving magic that kept the bridges from collapsing. Even today, the place radiates an aura of power and wealth. The paved streets and stairways wind this way and that between houses even more impressive than the High Town. Turrets and battlements adorn mansions, walkways arch over the streets leading from rooftop to rooftop, and balconies open onto small squares where dried-out fountains still stand.

Despite the condition it's been preserved in, Deadtown is completely abandoned. Not only is it located too far from the currently inhabited parts of the city, but it's also said to be haunted by a curse. Rumours speak of dark shadows and luminous spirits haunting the streets and halls at night, waiting for hapless trespassers to prey on. Other rumours, coming from better informed sources, claim that the place is occasionally visited by some sort of magicians or cultist, who raise the undead spirits to keep away inquisitive eyes in their absence.

On the smallest mesa of the three that make up Deadtown, stand a single structure, a great castle or cathedral of white marble surrounded by ivory-coloured walls, its great spire reaching towards the sky as high as the black needle of the Shumar-Abrin. The lifelike statue of a great white dragon curls around the spire at its top, its head turned northward towards the mountains.

This building is the Whitehall, Shindren in the Steelblood dialect of Orcish, and ancient counterpart of the keep of Shumar-Abrin. Its exact function in the past is now lost to the memory of most inhabitants of the city, but two theories exist about it. The first claims that in the ancient past, Gorshakarum was divided up between the mountain- and desert-dwelling Steelblood clans, with each half of the city having its own keep, the western one obvious being Shumar-Abrin. The other, perhaps more fantastic but also more far-fetched theory says that the Whitehall was the centre of power for the wizards, warlocks and priests of Gorshakarum, whose households now make up Deadtown. The weakness of this theory is that while various types of orc magicians did have a significant presence and power during the latter days of the Empire of Steel, it's quite hard to imagine them being so populous as to populate the entire district, even assuming great households.

The Whitehall is named after its central feature, a great elaborate hall located in the middle of the structure, with several levels of galleries running around above it, and with the spire's base rising through its exact center. The main corridor and antechambers leading directly to the hall from the building's main entrance have been walled up sometime in the past, so the only way to enter it is through the maze-like system of chambers and corridors that surround it from all direction, reportedly haunted by the same spirits that walk Deadtown. Whitehall extends deep into the rock of the mesa it's built on, with many underground levels whose existence and layout, let alone their contents, are not known to anyone.

Outer defenses – Beyond the natural protection of the Great Rock, and its formidable walls, Gorshakarum is also defended against potential large-scale attacks by maintaining a number of outer defenses. As it has been mentioned before, a large number of buttes and smaller mesas exist to the north of the city. Many of these have small lookout posts maintained by a few soldiers to spot enemy armies that might be descending from the mountains. These outposts, usually just a couple of huts or caves near the top, are accessible through steep, narrow stairs cut into the sides of the buttes. These are next to impossible to spot from the ground, and can be easily protected by a couple of archers from above. While they certainly couldn't stop an army, they should be capable of deflecting attacks from small raiding companies or from scouts of a larger army trying to take them out before they could report the approaching foe. Some of the larger mesas have stronger contingents, larger caches of supplies, and even some siege weaponry – ballistas, onagers and the like – capable of slowing down even a large enemy force for a while, or harassing its flank, should it try to simply bypass them. Two such larger mesas are located just off High Town, connected to each other and to the Great Rock by wide, magically reinforced stone bridges dating back to the days of the Empire.

To the south, the desert itself provides significant protection. The two oases closest to Gorshakarum – both within two days' march for a large army – have strong fortresses guarded by the Thegn's soldiers. Since there are no known powers in the desert who could actually mount a serious offensive, the worst the fortresses have to face are attacks from desperate desert clans trying to seize the water supplies. Nevertheless, both fortresses carry a stock of poison to pollute the water with, should their position ever become untenable.

2005-07-13, 11:20 AM
Government & Politics:

In the days of the Empire of Steel, Gorshakarum was the Empire's capital. All orcish clan in the Sea of Sands and the Icewall owed fealty to the Emperor, providing him with soldiers and supplies, and a number of lands beyond the Empire's borders paid an annual tribute. While the Imperial Seat was located in Gorshakarum, the day-to-day governing of the city was relegated to the Thegn of Gorshakarum, who also held control of the city's garrison, and all other armies stationed there, in the times of peace. The Thegn had two advisory bodies at his disposal: the Table of Kurshϊn (Tradesmen), and the High Wizard of Gorshakarum. The Table consisted of the representatives of various trades in the city – usually the wealthiest and most powerful merchants and artisans -, while the High Wizard in turn consulted his own set of advisors. The Emperor also had two official advisory groups (and many unofficial advisors), the Lesser and the Grand Clanndvaar. The Lesser Clanndvaar was a permanent organization comprised of representatives from the most powerful and important clans – chosen from among the rest by the Emperor -, while the Grand Clanndvaar included representatives from all clans, and convened only for one month every year, even though the Emperor occasionally extended its session, or even called an out-of-schedule convention.

With the collapse of the Empire of Steel, the Emperor's position and the Emperor's advisory bodies were practically gone, even though the Grand Clanndvaar partially survives among the mountain-dwelling Steelblood clans in the shape of an annual diplomatic and political gathering. The position of the Thegn and its advisors also remained unfulfilled for several centuries. Eventually, though, the orcs started to emerge from the chaos, and the memory of glory and power prodded some to seek the Imperial throne once again.

At the present time, however, that throne is pretty much out of reach of anyone. The total strength of the orcish population is only a fraction of what it was, and it's fractured. Clan warfare is still rampant both on the Icewall and in the Sea of Sands, and so far, every clan leader who was strong and daring enough to establish himself as the ruler of Gorshakarum and declare himself Emperor was quickly taken down by one alliance of opposing clans or another. Eventually, clan leaders learned to call themselves Thegn and be content with governorship of the city, without aspirations for more. To be Thegn of Gorshakarum is still the most desirable title for any orc leader, but without its possessor flinging the Imperial title in other the clans' faces, it's much more difficult for other leaders to forge an alliance strong enough to dislodge the Thegn.

In the present day, the Thegn leans on the reformed Table of Kurshϊn for support, playing his advisors against each other in order to prevent any one of them to become strong enough to challenge his rule. Should the Thegn die, it would be up to the Table to elect a new one, so the Thegn must always be wary of assassination attempts.

All policing, peacekeeping and defensive functions are the responsibility of the local garrison of Gorshakarum under the command of the Thegn. The garrison only accepts orcs into its ranks, and consists of two distinct parts. The Levy Cohorts are made up of units sent by allied clans, partly as a sign of friendship and/or subservience, partly as an attempt to ensure the clan some influence in the affairs of the city. These units usually serve for 5 to 10 years, and are eventually replaced by new units sent by the same clan, or by another one, if the original clan refuses or is unable to supply the soldiers. The Geld Cohorts, on the other hand, take in any orc – no questions asked – who are willing to serve a 25-year term in exchange for a regular salary and a generous settlement at the end of their term. Those orcs who decide to remain with the legion after their term are organized into elite squadrons, and enjoy a great deal of prestige and honour among orcs everywhere.


Basic necessities: The city requires a constant import of food and water to supply its population. The food grown in the Mines make up less then half of the local consumption. The rest is purchased from caravans bringing vegetables, fruit and animal meat from the desert oases, from orc clans herding various animals on the lower slopes of the Icewall, and to a smaller extent, from human traders crossing the mountains from the north.

Gorshakarum has a number of local water supplies, but its own water reserves must be boosted by import. Several mountain clans specialize in cutting out large slabs of ice and snow in the high mountains, and carrying them with fast caravans to the city for sale at a premium price. Other clans, occupying lower territories, also trade in water from the mountain springs and streams which are swelled by melting snow in the summer season. Some desert tribes occasionally attempt to import water from their oases, but such ventures are always brought to a premature end by other desert clans raiding the caravans for the precious commodity.

List of water sources in Gorshakarum:

- There are four wells in the Bowl, tapping into deep underground reserves. These wells are "operated" by various local crime lords and/or legitimate merchants, collecting money for the water. The price is generally low enough for locals to afford, but strangers might be bullied into paying significantly higher rates by the "salesmen" – more like thugs – guarding the wells. The Thegn keeps a close watch on the water prices, and if they're ever raised to a level where it might provoke public outcries, he imediately confiscates them, and appoints a new owner. The water from these wells is bitter and unpleasant, but this is the most easily accessible source for most residents.

- The dwarves of the Cleft operate a well located in the northern wall complex, selling the water to any buyer. They have fixed price that's higher than in the Bowl, but the water is much clearer thanks to the filtering system they have built.

- There is a large water cistern somewhere inside Shumar-Abrin. Some of the water stored there is bought by the Thegn from northern traders, but a significant portion is gathered from underground springs located in a cave system underneath the eastern part of the Bonefield. The keep has a secret tunnel leading to these caves, but other exits from the Mines and possibly the Bonefield might also exist. The existence of these springs is kept a secret (if a somewhat open one) from the locals, and the cistern is used as the Thegn's private reserve, not selling to the public.

- It's said that Deadtown sits on top of underwater water supplies, some of which even makes its way to the surface, occasionally filling the abandoned district's fountains. However, no one would dare to try and find these supplies, and it's rumoured that the water is somehow contanimated by the curse of the area, making it undrinkable even if it was removed to another location.

- While not technically in Gorshakarum proper, it has been already mentioned that the two nearest oases are being held the Gorshakarum's garrison. These two locations also contribute to the city's water and food supplies.

Trade Goods: The city serves as a major trading point between the Sea of Sands to the south, and the Icewall and the human kingdom of Gladehammer to the north, and therefore a heavy flow of goods passes through the city. The oases and the deep desert are home to many rare and exotic materials highly valued by magicians, alchemists, artisans and collectors in the northern land. A great variety of animals, plants and mineral can yield spell components or alchemical reagents, and many Sand Elf tribes hunt or gather these in order to sell them in Gorshakarum, where they will be bought by traders who carry them across the Icewall and sell them for a high profit in Gladehammer.

Some orc clans in the southeastern regions of the Sea of Sands work Sandsteel mines, either fashioning the material into crude armour themselves, or selling it in raw form in Gorshakarum where more skilled blacksmithes – most of them dwarves, but a few orc craftsmen also specialize in the field - can fashion higher-quality armour out of it. On rare occasions, Sand Elf traders show up the city with Sandsteel armour of a superior quality even to Gorshakarum-made ones, but they keep the source of these truly rare items a secret – since Sand Elves do not make or wear armour themselves, it's a reasonable guess that they either buy these superior pieces at some location beyond the desert, or scavenge them from ancient ruins.

Sandsteel armour of all qualities is a highly sought-after commodity, eagerly bought by the Thegn for the elite units of the garrison, desert Steelblood clans who can make excellent use of its non-overheating properties in their desert warfare and mountain clans who incorporate higher-quality suits into their ceremonial garb. In fact, demand is so high that human traders from Gladehammer hardly ever have the chance to buy any, making Sandsteel so rare to the north of the Icewall that most humans have never even heard of it.

At the same time, metal ore comes down from the mines of the Icewall and is sold to make cheaper weapons and tools of all kinds, and ready-made weaponry and armor is sometimes sold by human traders. These items are also in high demand by the locals and the desert clans, for most of whom Sandsteel is prohibitively expensive.

Another major commodity is the narcotic Blacktwig. Blacktwig is cultivated in many oases of the desert, and is in high demand everywhere, especially among the desert clans. It fetches a decent price in Gorshakarum, but is even more expensive in the mountains, where the cold weather prevents its cultivation. The most profitable place to sell Blacktwig, however, is Gladehammer, where its trade and use has been outlawed by the crown – not because it's a drug, but because it brought a great deal of profit to traders without the crown having the means to tax the commodity.

As a final relatively major commodity, Sand Elf tribes often sell their hunting trophies in the city. Sand Elves hunt a great variety of beasts in the deep desert – including desert-dwelling dragons -, and the skins, skulls, claws, bones and other parts of their prey can be always sold to traders from the mountain clans or Gladehammer.

2005-07-15, 09:42 AM
Religion: In ancient times, the Empire of Steel adopted a variation of the One True Faith that's practiced all around the known world as its state religion, and kept a close eye on the older shamanistic, elemental and demon-worshipping faiths that were practiced by the early, primitive people of the desert and the mountains. The Empire's state religion is now largely lost save for old writings and treatises, and the latter days of Gorshakarum have seen an upsurge of the ancient beliefs in new forms.

While the orc population of the city – and in fact the entire desert -, generally adopts a worldview too pragmatic to allow much space for religion in it, two such new cults have managed to gain somewhat of a foothold.

First is the Temple of the Red Veil. This cult is believed to originate from one of the orcish tribes living far to the west of Gorshakarum in the mountains, and has enjoyed a surge in popularity among a number of desert tribes, making its way into Gorshakarum as well. The Temple preaches of an ancient being of limitless power who has created the orcish race, and who now awaits the race to come to it so it can finish their creation and make them into the rulers of the world they were meant to be. This being is supposed to stay "behind the red veil" that separates its dwelling from this world, and this veil must be penetrated through the use of rituals and (sometimes grisly) sacrifices in order to be empowered by it. Outsider scholars agree that this faith is ultimately a form of demon worship – as evidenced by the concept of offering sacrifices in exchange for some form of empowerment, and from how the being is implied to be only one of many others – mixed with a nostalgia for the Empire's days of power.

Wherever the cult manages to establish a foothold, it quickly builds a small temple, lead by a high-ranking priest who has already made the pilgrimage to the cult's place of birth. Any believer can bring sacrifices to the temple where the priest will perform the sacrifice – the weapons, armor, belongings, and sometimes the corpse of defeated enemies being the most favoured sacrifice – on behalf of the believer. Other rituals are also held for members of the cult, most of which involve the heavy consumption of the drug Blacktwig.

Presently, the cult has one temple in Gorshakarum located in the Bowl, which draws a slowly increasing number of acolytes. Most of these come from the common people, but some members are wealthy Steelbloods living in the city whose desert-dwelling clans have already largely converted to the Temple.

The other upstart cult is the Order of the Gray Serpent. Unlike the Red Veil, the Order doesn't build temples, nor does is proselytize in public – if anything, it's more of a secret society than a religion. The central concept of the Order is the Gray Serpent, but it's not clear whether the Order considers this Serpent to be an actual supernatural entity, or just a symbol for power, order and (a certain sense of) honour. Indeed, power is the imediate goal of the Order, and it's actively trying to place its members into positions of power both in Gorshakarum, all around the orcish lands, and possibly even beyond that. It's teachings revolve around the creation of a new world order based on pragmatic efficiency, the subtle manipulation of the masses by the strong and wise few, and honour manifested in a willingness to do what must be done for the greater good.

With its deliberate grasp for power, the local potentates up to and including the Thegn consider the Order to be a serious threat to their interests – up to the point where some of the local crime lords, secretly backed by members of the Table of Kurshun, would have known Order members assassinated, were there identity found out.

Of course, there are other faiths besides the Temple and the Order which have a following in Gorshakarum, and the orcish lands at large. The mountain Steelblood clans practice their own ancient religion based on ancestor- and animal worship, which predates the Empire of Steel, and has persisted even during its long centuries. Many of the desert clans adhere to a jumbled set of traditions, beliefs and superstitions which could likely be traced back to old primitive faiths worshipping the elements, natural phenomena and assorted supernatural creatures. The dwarf, human and halfling minorities in Gorshakarum practice the religions of their own people, all which are but varieties of the One True Faith. And then there are the Sand Elves, whose ancient nomadic lifestyle has preserved the their old beliefs without change for over a millenium. They worship the natural elements as they can be found in the world – the Sun, the Moon, the Water of the oases, the Desert -; and they also believe in the spirits that inhabit these elements and all living creatures, and which must be placated by songs and chants. Therefore, the Sand Elves have songs to placate the spirit of sand that allow them to pass through the desert, to awaken the spirit of fire who warms them at night, to thank the spirits of killed animals for the meat with which they sustain their hunters; and many other songs as well. However, the Sand Elves do not share their faith with outsiders, and thus, knowledge of their beliefs is extremely sketchy.

Arts and Culture: Located in the desert and unable to fully supply itself with basic necessities, arts and culture are not very high priorities in Gorshakarum. Furthermore, even though its economy is primarily based on trade, a significant part of that trade is with the desert clans, who are in an even more disadvantageous position to cultivate arts. Add to this the pragmatic nature of the orc race, and it becomes understandable why the rest of the civilized world considers the city a barbaric and primitive place.

However, the rest of the civilized world is quite wrong. Gorshakarum is, after all, one of the oldest known settlements on the continent, and it has been the capital of an empire quite beyond the scope of most countries today. Even today, when the city is living among the ruins of its past, those ruins carry a significant cultural wealth.

This is most easily observed in the architecture, especially in High Town. Many of the buildings there date back to the days of the Empire, and the newer ones also tend to imitate their style. The primary expression in this style is that of power. Walls are built to be thick, though not so thick as to produce a "stumpy" effect. Buildings are wide with narrow windows and stone or metal spikes – or more complex, decorative crenellations – adorning corners and horizontal edges. Thick half-pillars sometime protrude from the walls around gates or doors imitating baileys. Adapted to the desert climate, the buildings are usually only one or two storeys high – with the second floor, nominally built for defense of the mansion, having several balconies or exits to a flat roof – with one cooler underground basement, and possibly separate cellars below, or branching out of, it. Some of the more luxurious mansions in the High Town have a double-height main floor with the entrance being halfway up the wall, with wide halls and arches resting on pillars holding up the ceiling. The buildings in Deadtown have a similar style, only more exaggarated, more cramped, and with houses often having up to three floors above ground.

Other mansions, usually ones that were originally built by mountain clans, follow an interior style imitating constructions dug out of rock, with excessively thick internal walls, low ceilings and many large fireplaces. Those still owned by mountain clansmen are also heavily decorated with tapestries, exotic skins and furs, heraldic banners, shields and weapons. Residences following the style of desert clans prefer to decorate with tables and shelves displaying all sorts of decorative and functional items made of precious and rare materials, potted plants, and clay decanters with lids of the sort that's traditionally used in the oases to store water.

The Shumar-Abrin, being the historical residence of the Emperor and the Thegn, is full of ancient artworks. Thousand-year-old tapestries hang from the walls, some of them over twenty feet tall and half that much wide. Racks of elaborate weapons and armor stand on corridors, and many chambers and halls are decorated a form of decorative artwork unique to Gorshakarum, the Shradgab-rut. The Shradgab-rut is essentially a mural usually depicting historical events, with a thin and incredibly smooth layer of metal applied over its surface. Simpler pieces are covered in steel, but more valuable and noble materials are also used, sometimes several of them mixing on the same mural.

2005-07-18, 03:47 PM

While there are many buildings in Gorshakarum older than some younger civilizations, and while the entire city could be considered a vast monument to a by-gone age, there are three specific constructions that could be called monuments in a more literal sense of the word.

Hatham's Helmet and Cuirass

133 years ago, King Hatham the First of Gladehammer led a crusade against Gorshakarum in order to put an end to the constant skirmishes along his kingdom's southern border. Most of his ancestors have also led crusades against the city and failed, but his campaign would be the one to be best remembered – for the orcs.

Hatham's army numbered over fifteen thousand men-at-arms, plus three thousand mercenaries from the unregulated Freelands to the east of Gladehammer. Knowing that some of his ancestors' attempts have failed because they tried to move too many soldiers across the treacherous mountain passes and through the lands of the fierce mountain-dwelling Steelblood clans, Hatham has decided to avoid the mountains altogether, circumnavigating them from the east, marching west along the mountains' southern foothills, and coming upon Gorshakarum from the east.

The army has passed the eastern edge of the mountain range without problems, but their westward journey soon run into two calamities. First, while travelling along the northern edge of the desert, they have stumbled upon a pair of mating brown dragons shortly after the forward scouts were lured away from their places by a small band of desperate orc raiders. Rather than attacking outright, the two dragons have dug themselves into the sand before they were spotted, and wait for the army to pass by, a mere dozen yards from them.

As the convoy progressed past the unnoticed danger, one of the dragons lost its patience and attacked, followed immediately by the other. After a brief, but frenzied and disorganized fight, one of the dragons was slain and the other driven off, but not before killing a dozen of the king's bodyguards and felling the king's horse from under him. All in all, the unexpected onslaught of the beasts rendered over a hundred soldiers incapable of fighting – wounded or dead.

The second calamity came a week later. Word of the approaching army was starting to spread among the desert clans by then, and Kreetch Harrokash, the aspiring leader of the Harrokash clan, decided to use the human army to his own ends. As it were, his clan was engaged in a dispute over an oasis, presently held by the considerably stronger Graamsh-Tork clan, and lying rather close to the army's route.

One night, after Hatham's army has set up camp, mounted Harrokash warriors encircled the camp from several directions under the cover of darkness. Suddenly, they lit torches and flaming arrows, throwing and firing them at the outlying tents, then charging into the surprised soldiers slashing left and right around themselves. By the time the defenders could organize themselves, the riders, still carrying lit torches, have withdrawn and set off toward the oasis at full gallop. Once at a safe distance, they extinguished their torches and changed direction, returning to their camp.

Some of the soldiers have witnessed the raiders flee in the direction where an oasis was known to be, and Hatham assumed that the attackers would be resting there. Early the next morning, he sent out two thousand men to wipe out the raiders.

Of course, what the two thousand soldiers found at the oasis was not Kreetchs' raiders, but the numerous and well-equipped Graamsh-Tor clan occupying a wooden fort. Seeing the approaching humans, the Graamsh-Tor orcs rode out of the fortress, and, after causing many deaths, forced the humans to flee, chasing after them and cutting them down as they were fleeing from the lightning-quick strike. Of the two thousand men-at-arms, only fifteen hundred madeit back to the camp. Hearing their report, king Hatham mobilized the entire army and led it against the oasis. After some spirited fighting – and further losses – on both sides, the Graamsh-Tor clan fled, only to return several days later and find the Harrokash clan occupying the fort.

By the time the Gladehammer army reached Gorshakarum, news of their calamities has spread wide, and orc morale was high. The city's garrison was well-prepared, some of the mountain clans have sent significant reinforcements from their territories into the city, and many desert clans moved their warriors into the area to prey on the human army once it turns home, beaten.

Without getting into the details of the siege, it's sufficient to say that the bolstered defensive forces held the Spiked Shield easily, while the desert clans and prevented Hatham's army from even getting close to the two nearby oases to refill its water supplies. About half of the attacking force was eliminated below the walls of the city. Left without enough people to continue the siege, and – thanks to the continuous raids of the desert clans – without enough water to head home the way they came, Hatham turned his army to the north in a desperate attempt to fight his way through the mountain clan territories and one of the mountain passes. Nobody reached Gladehammer. Under the constant attacks and the mountain weather they were unprepared for, the army was ground down to the last man, and king Hatham committed suicide so that he couldn't be captured.

To immortalize their victory over the humans, the Thegn of Gorshakarumhas collected the weapons and armor of the fallen soldiers, and had the city's blacksmiths melt them down and turn them into a giant replica of king Hatham's helmet and cuirass. Once completed, the helmet and the cuirass were hoisted up on winches two hundred feet above the gate of the Spiked Shield, impaled on the iron spikes protruding from the outer wall, and left there to this day.

Sunwish and Moonglare

The black, lifesized statue of a slender dragon is coiled around the spire of the Black Spear, its wings folded on its back, its eyes looking south. In the ruined half of ancient Gorshakarum, a similar statue, only pearly white in colour, perches on the tower of Whitehall, gazing north. In ancient lore, the two statues are called Shabrazod and Nimkairk (pr. "KAA-EERK") - Sunwish and Moonglare, respectively. Today, the black statue is usually just called "the Dragon". The white one, along with Deadtown and Whitehall, is ignored.

At first glance, the two statues are just that – statues. Sages, however, speak of ancient legends according to which the two statues are protector of the city. Some of the tales say they were real dragons at a time, turned into statues and bound to the protection of the city by powerful orc mages in the past. Others say the statues were imbued by subtle protective magics to defend the city against enemies, but they have failed when the Steel Empire collapsed.

The real dark: The long-forgotten truth is that the two statues do carry an enchantment even to this day; but the secret of this enchantment has been lost, perhaps forever. In order to activate the enchantment, one would need to locate a number of magical items, and use them to perform two rituals, one for each statue. When the ritual for one of the statues is performed, the statue becomes animated, taking to the wing and following the orders of the ritual's performer. The performer only needs to think of a goal, and the statue(s) will do whatever it takes to achieve that. The goal can be generic ("Protect the city from the attacking army"), or very specific (Fly to the blue-coloured tent of the enemy, kill anyone in it, and if there is one among them with a red plume on his helmet, then bring his body here), and the statue(s) do their best to comply with it. It should be noted that when inactive, the statues give off no indication of their magical nature whatsoever, and spells will reveal them to be anything more than just statues. The reason for this is that the magic to animate the dragons resides not in them, but in the items used for the rituals.

Both rituals involve performing a blood sacrifice on a specific altar, then producing a note on a musical instrument immediately afterwards. The blood can be of any creature as long as it's killed right before the ritual, and as long as the creature's blood or other parts are not used for any other purpose. Should someone try to perform both rituals one after the other, using the same creature's blood, the statue animated first will return to its perch and reanimate, while the second would fail to animate at all. The type of creature sacrificed has a certain effect on the efficiency with which the dragons carry out their duties, but the exact correlation was only known to the creators of the statues, if even to them. Generally, though, it can be said that the more powerful, more magical or more intelligent the sacrificed creature is, the better the dragons will carry out their tasks – the exact adjudication of this, however, is up to the DM. The dragons will remain animated only as long as their corresponding altar is wet with blood, but under no circumstances for longer than exactly 3 days. If the altar becomes completely dry, or three days pass, the dragons will return to their perches as fast as possible, and will become deanimated for at least 72 hours. If the dragons are too far from the city to return to their perches in 10 minutes, their magic leaves them, and they fall to the ground as ordinary statues, and they cannot be used ever again.

Of course, none of this, nor the identity of the required altars and items, are known to anyone in Gorshakarum today.

In order to animate the black dragon Sunwish, the blood sacrifice must be performed on Sunrock. The Sunrock is a rough-hewn altar of black stone with dragon heads carved into it, located in an out-of-the-way chamber in the Black Spear. Hundreds of years ago, the altar was "upgraded" by the then-Thegn, and dedicated to Zabrung, the orcish equivalent of the crusader-god Harmar of the One True Faith. The "upgrade" consists of an elaborate metal frame, and a tower-like elevated structure placed on top of the altar, containing many small statuettes.

Once the sacrifice is made, a musical note must be produced by hitting the Sharmaz Gong with the Mace of Command. The Sharmaz Gong is a large black gong, three meters across and covered with the engraved pattern of small scales, and is presently hanging on the wall of the Thegn's Reception Hall as decoration. The Mace of Command is a large black ceremonial mace with a plain globe as its head, kept on a rack with a number of other unused ceremonial weapons deep in the keep's armory.

The altar for Moonglare is the Moonrock, one of eight identical white marble altars arranged in a wide circle around the foot of the Whitehall's spire in the building's great central hall. The musical instrument is the Fang Lyre. The Lyre is located in the underground levels of the Whitehall. It is a semicircular lyre about 4 meters across, its frame built into an alcove. Its strings are of a silver-like material, and are too hard to sound with bare hands. In order to produce the necessary note, one must take the Spear of Conflict, and pull its head across the strings. The Spear is a 3 meter-long polearms of white ivory, with an elaborately shaped head. It was taken from the Whitehall by the Siktaeld elves during the great battle at Gorshakarum 629 years ago (see History).

History of Gorshakarum and the Empire of Steel

(Note that this timeline is meant for DM's use. In-universe, only about the last 200 years can be recovered with any scholarly accuracy, and anything involving or predating the fall of the Steel Empire only survives as foggy legends, myths, and hearsay.)

Before 1700 years ago. – The dwarf civilization, hailing from the distant Dwarven Fatherland in the distant northwest, constructs a massive network of underground tunnels throughout the outer limits of it realm. The tunnel system, named the Deepway, opens up the passage to many, hitherdo undiscovered new civilizations on the surface. In the south, the dwarves find a primitive tribal society of large, powerful orcs that later become known as the Steelbloods. The dwarves found a small trading post called Armaz-Harmϊn in the side of a mesa, which becomes the centre of trade in the region.

c. 1500 – 1200 years ago – Their cultural, technological and magical development boosted by contact with the dwarves, the Steelblood orcs start to emerge as a civilization. Diversifying into distinct clans, they spread across the desert, settling in the scattered oases, while the clans that remain in the mountains build extensive castles and sent out expeditions to chart the lands to the west, north and east of them. Armaz-Harmϊn expands into a great city. Other, less developed races are exploited first through trading, than through military conquest. Eventually, the Steelblood clans form the Empire of Steel, ruling over the lesser races. Simultaneously, the dwarf population falls into decline. Experiencing economical and military troubles, the Fatherland gradually decreases trade, then cuts it off completely 1430 y. a., after it loses control of the southbound parts of the Deepway in a military conflict.

c. 1200 – 700 y. a. – The Empire of Steel, governed from Armaz-Harmϊn, spreads across most of the Sea of Sands and through the Icewall, its interest protected by a military of unsurpassed power. The neighbouring lands, populated by humans, halflings, and several dwarf colonies, pay trade taxes and an annual tribute to the Empire. Along its northern border, the Empire maintains an uneasy peace with the elven kingdoms and empires of the north broken by occasional border skirmishes. The cultural division between the mountain and desert Steelblood clans grow ever wider, while lesser orc breeds and other goblinoids are integrated into the Empire as citizens. 1173 y. a. the Empire makes contact with an outpost of the Federation of Ziml on the shore of the Southern Ocean. In the following years, the Federation opens an embassy in Gorshakarum and engages in trade with the Empire. By c. 1000 y. a., Armaz-Harmϊn is a great city sprawling over the mesa, protected by the Spiked Shield which gives it its new, orcish name: Gorshakarum. Between 1000 and 850 y. a., the dragon statues are constructed to help defend the city, using magic learned from the Federation.

c. 700 – 629 y. a. – On its eastern borders, the Empire encounters the Nation of Siktaeld, a militant elvish nation unheard of before. Shortly after contact is made, the elves start attacking the outlying assets of the Empire, eventually pushing deeper into the Sea of Sands. While numerically inferior, the elves command powerful magics, have the ability to summon ravenous monsters, and are aided by a Great Wyrm dragon. For 10 years, the Empire, its military assets spread over too wide an area, is unable to halt the elvish initiative. During this time the elves manage to make their way to Gorshakarum and place it under siege several times, but the siege is always broken. In the first such siege, the Great Wyrm manages to burn and cause heavy damage to the west district of the city – the later Bonefield -, before the dragon statues could force it to retreat. Eventually, the Empire manages to bring its military might to bear, and a decades-long desert campaign ensues in which the resources of both nations are taxed to their limits. Ultimately, the Empire slowly gains the upper hand.

629 y. a. – Its manpower and resources stretched to the limit, the Nation of Siktaeld makes a final desperate attempt to bring the Steel Empire to its knees. Outmaneuvering the orcish army, the elves approach Gorshakarum from the east and strike before the local garrison could send for reinforcements. The Great Wyrm burns the eastern district of the city once more, while the elves enter the the Whitehall on magical flying devices, massacring its guardians before the Moonglare could be brought to life, giving the Great Wyrm a chance to stave off the attacks of the Sunwish for the rest of the battle. Bitter fighting ensues on the streets of the city, lasting for a week before the Empire's main army makes its way back to Gorshakaruk and encircles the attackers. Finally, the elves are killed to the last man and the Great Wyrm is forced to flee, never to be seen again. However, the elves have enough time engulf the Whitehall and the nearby city district with the curse that lingers on to this day. Pressed by its own problem in faraway lands, the Federation of Ziml closes its embassy and withdraws its presence from the area of the Steel Empire.

628-627 y. a. – Enraged by the attack, the Steel Empire masses its entire military strength and embarks on a retributive campaign into the eastern reaches of the desert. The massive army steamrolls over the remaining Siktaeld forces, eventually reaching and besieging their capital city. The exact events at the city are unknown, but neither the Ziktaeld elves nor the Empire's army is ever seen again. With the Empire's resources exhausted after the long war, and its entire military power gone, the tributary lands rebel one after another.

627 – c. 500 y. a. – After the fall of the Empire, orc society shatters. As the non-orcish lands beyond the boundaries of the desert and the mountain throw off their shackles, chaos and anarchy ensues and clans find themselves bereft of trade and unable to supply themselves with food and water. This, confounded by old inter-clan disputes and hostilities lead to civil wars everywhere in the orcish lands, gradually diminishing orcish population to about 15-20% of what it formerly was. Gorshakarum is largely abandoned and left to ruin, inhabited only by a tiny dwarf population and a few temporarily resident orc clans seeking shelter from the conflicts.

c. 500 – 210 y. a. – The orcish population in the desert and in the mountains eventually falls to a level sustainable by the poor natural resources. The endless civil wars over water and food fall silent, and Gorshakarum starts to get gradually repopulated, even though it never reaches half of its former population. While many desert clans carry on sporadic fighting instigated by historic prejudices, most of the mountain clans either adopt strict isolationist policies, or attempt to ensure future peace by reestablishing the Grand Clanndvaar. The venture is partially successful, and the mountain clans manage to reduce the amount of in-fighting to perhaps half of what it might have been otherwise. From c. 270 y.a. onward, all clans start to recognize the symbolic power of Gosrhakarum once more. The more powerful and established clans establish holdings in High Town, which operate as a sort of "embassy" for the clan. Regular attempts to gain exclusive control of the city and reestablish the Steel Empire arise starting from this time, none of them lasting.

210 – 40 y. a. – Seeking to establish its own security and military superiority, the recently founded human kingdom of Gladehammer engages in regular skirmishes with the orc tribes near its border, occasionally striking deeper into the desert. For almost 150 years, every king of Gladehammer takes it upon himself to lead at least one major military campaign against Gorshakarum in an attempt to occupy or raze it. The orcs smash every single one of these campaigns, the most notable being King Hatham's Crusade 133 y.a. in which the armies of Hatham I are crushed below the walls of the city with minor orc losses. The Thegn of Gorshakarum, hailing from Clan Shermagant, uses to victory to cement his power and ensure his son's future succession. Towards the end of the period, King Leth II of Gladehammer realizes the futility of the dynasty's plans against Gorshakarum, and institutes a doctrinal change. After Leth dies without a son 31 y.a., his nephew ascends the throne as Hatham III, dedicated to maintaining a vigilant peace with the orcs.

40 y. a. till present – Unharassed by Gladehammer, Gorshakarum undergoes a slow but steady increase in stability and population. Without being kept in check and unified by human incursions, infighting among the desert clans intensifies, but the city is strong enough to avoid any involvement.

7 - 4 y. a. – A previously unknown orc leader turns up among the deep desert clans. Going by the moniker of Blackhelm, he start uniting smaller desert clans with a mix of diplomacy and brute force, building out diplomatic ties with other desert and mountain clans. Considering him a possible contender to the throne of Gorshakarum, the Thegn starts beefing up the city's garrison while trying find out more information about the enigmatic leader, so far without success. The present whereabouts of Blackhelm are unknown.

2005-07-19, 07:41 PM
Wow, I thought my entry was big.

I'm a fan of this one. You really got the feel of an orcish city perfect.

2005-07-23, 03:43 PM
Adventure hooks/ideas:

- The PCs arrive into Gorhsakarum with the purpose of finding – for whatever reason - a Sand Elf who lives there. The elf is nowhere to be found, and unless the local Sand Elf community already considers the PCs close and trusted friends, it's tight-lipped about his whereabouts. Possibility: From other sources, the PCs might gather that the elf is believed to have been captured by a local potentate from a desert clan. The local Sand Elves are waiting for more of their brethren to arrive, after which they'll infiltrate the orc's High Town estate and liberate or avenge their companion. They don't know that the elf was in fact murdered by a rival orc clan, who then planted false evidence to trick the Sand Elves into assassinating the local potentate.

- Soon after arrival, the PCs are hired out as mercenaries by some of the wealthy orcs in the High Town to investigate the rumours of wandering monsters cropping up in the Bonefield. It turns out the monsters are in fact undead spirits coming out of Deadtown. A group of elf wizards accompanied by well-trained bodyguards has secretly travelled through the mountains from the far north, and set up residence there in order to study the curse that has been lingering there for many centuries. During their studies, they have accidentally stirred up the spirits, which are now pouring forth into the other parts of the city. The elves are led purely by academic and arcane curiousity, but they've invested quite a lot into this expedition. If there's a way of calming the spirits and then resuming their studies without the locals becoming aware of them, they'll try to do so. The local powermongers, on the other hand, would almost certainly insist on removing the elves by any means necessary.

- Independent human prospectors from the Mines hire the PCs to protect their operations from the aggressive Mine Lords. Possibility: the prospectors are in fact using the PCs to bully other prospectors into subservience. Alternatively, the PCs and the independent prospectors are being used by a wealthy local to spark widespread conflict in the Mines, causing the Thegn to revoke and redistribute a large number of charters.

- The PCs arrive into the city in the middle of civil unrest. The local dwarf community is in a standoff with the Thegn's soldiers, and violencce might spread soon. If they investigate, they'll learn that the Thegn has recently arrested and sentenced to death a dwarf caught breaking into the armories of Shumar Abrin through a hidden underground passage. Further investigation might reveal that the dwarves have learned that below the armories lies an underground complex built by dwarves, dating back to the earliest days of the city. In one way or the other, quickly or slowly, they are determined to reclaim it somehow. (This is a more open-ended scenario.)


Gorshakarum was originally conceived for a game set in a homebrew gameworld. Some aspects of it have been "generalized" above to make it more world-independent, but a few things tie in very closely with the basic concept of the city, and have remained. Such things might need to be changed by DM's wishing to adapt the city to their own game.

- Steelblood orcs: Steelblood orcs are significantly stronger and more intelligent than ordinary orcs, even Orogs. A fully-grown male stands about 170-200 cm tall, and is rather heavily built. Their skin colour varies from black through reddish brown to swarthy, often with a slight deep-green tint. Visually, imagine a cross between the movie version of Uruk-hai and orcs from the computer game Warcraft, and you won't be very far off.

Culturally, Steelbloods organize themselves into clans, with the two great subdivisions of mountain and desert clans. Typically, mountain clans are obsessed with tradition and (orcish) honour, and are careful and relatively reliable in negotiations with strangers. Desert clans are more disorganized, more prone to wanton violence, and are in constant warfare over the limited water supplies in the desert. Today, most clans' population includes a large majority of non-Steelblood orcs, though a few rare exceptions remain.

- Sand Elves: Nomadic elves who've lived in the desert (and likely beyond its eastern and western edges) since times unrecorded. They live in tribes, forming an extremely closed and somewhat xenophobic society, even though many tribes today depend on trade with orcs.

- Sandsteel: Deceptively named, Sandsteel is in fact not a type of metal. It's a type of black, obsidian-like rock mined in the southern and eastern parts of the desert, and possibly beyond. Requiring special skills to work, the rock needs to be cut and chiseled into shape, rather than forged. When cut along the grain properly, Sandsteel can be fashioned into armour – usually cuirasses and helmets – which, while often rough- and primitive-looking, offers as much protection from weapons as the finest steel armour. In addition, its peculiar heat-conducting properties allow Sandsteel armour to be worn in the desert heat and the nighttime cold without exposing one's self to heat stroke or chilblains.

- Blacktwig: Blactwig is a plant native to the Sea of Sands. Its wild variety can live in the deep desert, while cultivated breeds are produced in many oases in large quantities. Its name rather descriptive, it looks like a 30 cm long piece of gnarly black twig protruding from the ground. Blacktwig is in high demand among orcs for its narcotic properties. It can be consumed in many different ways including chewing it whole, inhaling its smoke, and grounding it into various drinks. Depending on its manner of consumption and its quantity, it can produce a range of effects varying from relaxants through hallucinogenics to "uppers". In its latter form, it's often ground into a type of local orc-made alcohol and drunk before battle to instill a berserk range – only without hallucinations – in warriors.

2005-07-25, 02:43 AM
That's... wowee, that's incredible!!
Hope you win the comp. ;D


2005-07-25, 04:27 AM

"Quantity is a quality of its own"? ;D

Thanks for the appreciation.

The Glyphstone
2005-07-25, 06:28 AM
That's a lot to read. I'll have a treat ahead of me.

But is this for some particular campaign setting, where orcs are not Chaotic Evil psychopaths that kill everybody else, and each other when that runs out?

2005-07-25, 07:07 AM
"Chaotic Evil"? No, good Sir, NEVER! Orcs are Lawful Evil, and if the new editions changed this, I'll have none of that!

But to answer seriously, I don't use racial alignments as tangible forces of Good and Evil in my games. If a race - or more specifically, if one particular culture within a race - is, say, violent and aggressive, that's because of cultural reasons, not because some uber-god has doused their forefathers with Liquid Evil at the dawn of time. Of course, as you'll see once you're done with the entire text, there's quite enough scheming, backstabbing and even open violence among these orcs, nevertheless.

And then, there's always some leeway in such matter, naturally. Racial alignments can be interpreted in various ways, depending on how a DM thinks of alignments in a larger context. As far as I'm personally concerned, they are only a rough guide to how the game's default - human - culture sees the majority of the race in question.

2005-07-25, 12:47 PM
Um... Not to sound nasty, but an Orc city suspended on mesas and buttes? It sounds like a total rip-off of World of Warcraft's Thunder Bluff City.

2005-07-25, 01:12 PM
Never played World of Warcraft and don't plan to, either, so I wouldn't know if it is or isn't.

PS: But if you want me to, I can show you a campaign map already featuring Gorshakarum which predates even Blizzard's announcement of the WoW project. ;D