The beginnings of what would become the Cursed Invasion of the Bone March started with a series of interconnected events. The first event was the rise of not one, but two orcs, Nar a hill tribe chieftain, and Gorsh, a mountain tribe shaman. Raised in the harsh environment of orcish clan life, both would eventually set their sights on the same goal, the establishment of an orcish empire. Their paths were destined to be intertwined, and the joining of these two ambitions would spell the doom for the Bone March.
To understand the humanoids of the Rakers Mountains is to know that humanoids existed there in tribes of varying sizes for ages. These tribes, at the largest, usually numbered only a few hundred. The constant war between these tribes made it easy for the dwarves of the Anvil Clan, the main dwarven tribe of the western arm of the Raker Mountains, to keep them under control.
The chief distinction between these tribes is the division between the tribes of the lover hills, called hill tribes, and the tribes that lived in the valleys and high mountain plateaus called mountain tribes. Mountain tribes are smaller in numbers, but more savage and aggressive. The mountain tribes are also of pure orc stock having little contact with the humans in the lowlands. The main targets for mountain tribe raids are the dwarves of the Anvil Clan, or after the dwarven civil war, the Brokenstone, and Blackanvil clans. As the dwarves wared amongst themselves and eventually withdrew into their mountain fortresses, the mountain tribe orcs had fewer targets upon which to raid. So the mountain tribes began moving into the lower foothills looking for loot and plunder, which brought them into contact with the hill tribes.
The hill tribe orcs are more numerous in their numbers and have a fair amount of half-orcs that live amongst them due to raiding humans in the high moors and rolling hills of the Bone March. Their main targets in ages past were the Flan and then the Oeridians that settled these lands. Like their mountain cousins, the hill tribes never grew in numbers beyond a few hundred before internal strife would cause conflict, and the tribes would split or have a mass purge of opposing factions within the ranks. What the hill tribes lacked in brute ferocity, they made up for with superior arms and armor pillaged from humans.
The Mountain Tribes
In 554 CY, the first of the two orcs that would change history in the region came to prominence, Gorsh, a shaman of Gruumsh. A powerful shaman originally of the Blood Nails tribe, Gorsh, imbued the orcs with the power to ignore pain by taking a concoction called Red Paste. The herbal brew was so potent that these orcs became utterly fearless, and could sustain mortal wounds but continue to fight for several minutes. While hyped up on Red Paste, a Red Nails warrior was witnessed fighting even after half its head was sheared off. With the aid of this herbal concoction, Gorsh led his tribe to conquer several other mountain tribes. Gorsh used the Red Nails as his shock troops until they had all been wiped out, but not before several tribes had been gathered into a new horde. The last of the mountain tribes to fall to Gorsh was the Death Moon orc tribe. The Death Moon had been the largest and strongest of the tribes, and Gorsh enlisted them without bloodshed by magically dominating their chief Gergash.
Gorsh never used the Red Paste on the Death Moon tribe or any of the other tribes after the Red Nails tribe as the paste made them uneasy to control. Gorsh now installed Gergash as the figurehead of the horde, a command structure the orcs were comfortable with. With a new figurehead in place, Gorsh orchestrated the consolidation of the remaining mountain tribes into the horde or pushed those unwilling to conform out of the mountains.
Gorsh had intended to attack the divided dwarven kingdom with his new horde, but news of this hill tribe horde gave him pause. He heard tales of its witty half-orc chieftain named, Breka, and his successful raids into the Bone March. So, with plans of dominating Breka like he had Gergash, Gorsh went to meet with this hill tribe chieftain. What he found was not some ignorant chieftain scared by his magics but instead a mighty warrior wise in the ways of magic. Instead of trying to kill this chieftain Gorsh allied himself with him, and the groundwork was laid for a massive horde of orcs to assault the unsuspecting Bone March.
The Hill Tribes
While the shaman Gorsh gathered the mountain tribe orcs, so was Breka among the hill tribes. Born into and raised in the Vile Rune tribe of orcs, Breka ran away from his orc brethren to Spinecastle as a young boy. While half-orcs are not uncommon among the hill tribes, they were still treated poorly. Orcs treat half-orcs as second-class citizens out of fear of them when they grow older. They know that half-orcs are on average more intelligent than regular orcs, and this intelligence and their brawn make older half-orcs a dangerous rival. Because of this mistreatment, Breka fled to try and live among the humans believing that they would be more understanding. Unfortunately for young Breka, he learned that some humans looked upon him with even more disdain than the orcs. Despite the continued mistreatment, Breka decided to stay among the humans to learn their ways, which he did rapidly.
Breka was welcomed into a street gang, which he eventually took over and ran until he was fourteen, then he used his growing bulk to better by becoming mercenary. Over the next few years, he learned of the ways of war among humans and, most importantly, magic. While Breka was never able to master the arcane techniques, he did learn the tactics that his fellow mercenaries used to fight them. Eventually, the mistrust among humans led Breka to travel back to his roots. He rejoined the Vile Rune tribe of orcs, but not as a follower. Shortly after returning, Breka deposed the chief and set himself as the new Chieftain of the Vile Rune tribe.
Like Gorsh had done with the mountain tribes, Breka led his tribe in a campaign of conquering and consolidating other hill tribes. As he gathered more tribes to his banner, Breka began sending them raiding into the Bone March.
As Breka gathered orc tribes, he also began collecting half-orcs like himself. If there were half-orcs in a tribe that was absorbed into his new horde, they were brought to the Vile Rune Clan and trained to be part of his Iron Fangs, an elite troop of warriors that served as his bodyguard. These recruits were the first subjects to be indoctrinated into his plans of turning the Bone March into a kingdom ruled by half-orcs. He did not declare this news to his followers in general, but only a select few of his inner half-orc circle.
During this time, Gorsh came to visit and see for himself who this half-orc was. The gnarly shaman grudgingly admired the half-breed but sought to use him as a tool for his conquests. Breka also came to a similar conclusion towards Gorsh, and an alliance was struck between them.
Other Monsters of the Raker Mountains
While the orc tribes dominate the Raker Mountain humanoids, they are not the only humanoids that live there. Ogres, giants, trolls, goblins, and hobgoblins all can be found there as well. These other monsters and humanoids are usually as much a threat to one another as humans, dwarves, and gnomes. On rare occasions, these monsters and humanoids might rally together to fight a mutual enemy, but these alliances always end badly. However, when Gorsh and Breka came to power, both Grosh and Breka, sought to enlist these monsters and humanoids with a promise of loot and pillage.
Gorsh was successful with recruiting some hill giant and ogre tribes, while Breka made alliances with the weaker, but far more numerous, goblins and hobgoblins. Besides the extra power, these alliances added to his horde, it ensured that the tribal lands of the hill tribes would not be raided by them when the orcs marched to war.
Surprisingly, these alliances have lasted to this day. After accompanying the orcs out of the Raker Mountains into the Bone March, these allies found the plunder worth staying. Currently, goblins make up the bulk of the raiding parties that cross the Harp River into the Flinty Hills and Nyrond. Breka found the Hobgoblins especially useful, and after the conquests of the Bone March, Warlord Kekvar, became one of the leading members of the ruling council formed in Spinecastle.
Part 2 of the article coming soon.
I figured since I'm posting up these alternate histories I might as well say a little something about my decisions on what I included and what I excluded. This history is told from the point of view of the humanoid invaders. We have information about this time period, but what we do have all comes from the point of view of everyone but those that did the invasion. What I've presented draws heavily from the early Gygax writing from Dragon magazine on the state of affairs in Greyhawk. Also, I distinctly excluded any reference to the Scarlet Brotherhood and their involvement as written about in roughly only 2 paragraphs in the Scarlet Brotherhood supplement by Sean Reynolds. While I enjoy most of Mr. Reynolds work I hate the tendency for most writers to chalk up all the achievements of humanoids to some one else, mostly evil human wizards and priests. In my opinion it discredits the humanoids making them seem incapable of make their own decisions and plans, something I totally disagree with. An orc tribe doesn't need some overbearing wizard to tell them to raid the puny humans. They have their own chieftains and priests of Gruumsh to do that for them.