Friday, March 20, 2020

The Underhills

Deep beneath the Earth, there are entire landscapes, nations, inner places. The vast darkness of the underworld, black oceans, and the subterranean realms of endless cave systems. The mythic underworld. Hell, or an inner sun.

The Orcs come from a place like this. Their Underhills. This is a vast inner chamber, a huge expanse where one can see for miles. It has days and nights, its own weather, vast hills and grasslands. While a chamber within the inner earth, it is a realm like any on the surface; mushroom forests, farms, black lakes with shadowy islands with myths and legends surrounding them. On the perimeter are gigantic artificial slopes; built through a combination of earthworks, carving, and masonry, which lead upwards into the P'Orc walled fortresses that defend their heartlands from the rest of the cavernous worlds, and from interlopers from the surface. These ramps can extend up to 100 feet into the air, and provide the space and gentle angle for huge caravans of soldiers or giant monsters to be led around.

There are little towns, orc mansions, escaped slaves hiding out in lichen woods. Instead of being harassed by wolves, travelers are attacked by three foot long carnivorous centipedes. There are tiny, nigh-extinct tribal species of almost-races who carry spear and sling. Man-Orcs live here, with their slaves, with their empire build within and around it. Slaves are more common here then orcs for the most part; unemployed Squealers- which are like tiny goblin-sized runt pig people without darkvision, must fumble through this dim place looking for work, or trying to avoid getting eaten. P'Orcs sometimes lay out a blanket and take a picnic in this vast darkness.

Around the outside perimeter of the vast underhills is the true heart of the P'Orc civilization. The Sow's Tail, as it is called, due to the fact it wraps around and up the Underhills. It defends the land from the outside, and it defends itself from the inside. The occasionally awakened monster, slave rebellion, or Orcish civil war will generate a threat in the Underhills themselves. The real rulers of the Orcs, the Great Sows, don't even live in the Underhills. It is the grand fortress where they live, defended in all directions. This facet of Orc civilization explains much of their racial consciousness; us versus everybody. An empire of fortresses. The Underhills isn't so much their heartland as their backyard.

The Hills
While what is actually wandering in the Hills now is a subject of stories told round the campfire, everybody knows how they got here. It is said in the ancient days, the first Great Sows cast their first great spells to command the great boar-wyrms to swallows the lands above and brind them down, away from the wretched sunlight that Orcs cannot stand. The boar-wyrms went, devouring whole forests, swallows oceans, vomiting them out in great masses. The great mess settled, rotted, becoming soil and mixed with the bodies and shit of the first great Orcish wars- the fertile land became the Underhills, an entire world under the world. Some believe that this ancient act of theft is where the animosity between the Orcs and the Elves come from; though no P'Orc is alive today from those years to speak of it, there are probably a few Elves who recall.

The Hills are covered in bright blue, somewhat glowing cavern moss. Great herds of beasts feed from this grass, and it is fed by the cavernous ecosystem, Orc droppings, and slave farms around the land. There are black rivers and estuaries. The air is damp, ever so slightly, but peaceful and quiet. The Hills have both day and night. The “day” is when flocks of great glowing birds; seemingly leagues above your head, cry and fly around the roof of the chamber. From your vantage, it looks merely like some kind of strange magical glowing clouds have risen to the top of the world. Sometimes these birds fall to the ground dead, and their glowing oils in their feathers can be used as tattoo ink or useful for writing in a dark place like this; they command high prices and many slaves buy their freedom through routine collection of the fallen skybeasts.

The Hills are home to slaves, squealers, monsters, and Man-Orcs. There is a semi-autonomous slave economy. Mortals trapped in this realm find it easy enough to navigate in the day, even if it isn't too bright. While during the “day” here, you get -2 to hit with ranged weapons unless you can see in the dark. During the night, it is even darker and you can't see two feet in front of your eyes. Slaves are sometimes allowed to travel between camps with few, if any, chaperons. They ply their trades in Orc-owned estates, picking at the fallen stalactites or flattening out the stalagmites in search of gems and ore for their Orc masters. Many young orcs will gladly be “hired” by some slaves or escapees, pretending to be their master for any orc patrols and just traveling together. It is a land of adventure.

Orcs fight for status- but not all do so through conquest. While it is by far the most popular, Man-Orcs who choose a less warlike life can still find some status through trade. After all, an army marches on its stomach. Orcs farm down here, tracts of land raising bulbs of garlic, or “cattle” ranchers, who tend to huge flightless bats that nip at the cave moss and grow to huge sizes. Some Orcs perform massive projects of engineering. Creating the ramps into the great wall fortress, building megastructures, even expanding their own cavern inches at a time. All of these require the slave labor that keeps the Orcish economy going. However even the most accomplished civilian P'orc is still mocked, and rightly so. Any male without missing limbs, torn of ears, scars, or a limp is hardly a man at all. As if they have ever turned the head of Sow. They are insulted by the term that fits them best; Virgins.

There is a town. It is the only “free” town down here, where the P'Orcs respect some boundaries, but are still cruel tyrants. This town is made up of free slaves or the occasional traders from other civilizations, living among a few ramshackle huts and longhouses built from fallen mushroom wood. Any escaped PCs will have to rely on this town to hide them, as the young orcs will gladly recapture any escaped or upstart slaves and beat them to death for honor and status. This is the one place where you can regain supplies down here, and find somebody nice to talk to, if you aren't an Orc at least. Squealers live among this town too, finding the residents no less suspicious then the true Orcs, but at least they don't get beat as much. The town is led by a “Head Witch” as tradition; P'Orcs would never respect anything in their own homeland not ran by a woman with magic powers.

While traveling through the hills, you'll have a wandering encounter table. Put Orc Slaver patrols on it, along with desperate escaped slaves, groups of Squealers acting as “bandits”, albino pigs squealing and alerting nearby Orcs of your presence, giant cave bat cattle, centipedes, worms, wyrms, and whatever else you like.

Orc Sex
Now, dear viewer, it is impossible to continue to talk about Orcs without first discussing their unique biology. I will spare you most of the details, but Orc society and the Underhills themselves are greatly influenced by the omnipresent desire for pig sex. There is no other way around it.

Simply put, to humans, elves, and most people, there is a generally agreed consensus that the two genders need each other to survive. While some cultures may put one over another, they are inextricably linked. There would be no men without women, and no women without men. This is simply a fact. But for Orcs, this is not true.

Orc Women do not need Orc Men. Firstly, Orc Women are better then Orc men. It's not up for debate. Great Sows have a bloodline that stretches back to ancient days. Each is huge, bigger then any man-Orc, and is skilled with magic. They can make underdark creatures cower from the sound of their voice alone, and their skills at summoning and black magic are second to none. And secondly, Orc Women, the Great Sows, are pregnant for life. It wouldn't be too hard to find a willing male being from another race to lay with a virgin sow. There are plenty of neutral, even friendly, monster-men who would gladly take the virginity of a young Orcess. Even moreso; Great Sows will eventually come to term with a pregnancy of not a Squealer or Albino feral clever-pig, but with another female Orc in her womb. Sometimes thought to be the gift of a dark god, or the spirit of their race, reproducing all without the touch of any man.

Of course, Orc Women want Orc Men around. It's nice if, for your first time, you can sleep with something that roughly looks and smell likes you, and is more then vaguely biologically compatible. They want intimacy too, and a stronger bloodline beyond these runts, from which they need men, and men more then once. And it's even nicer if who you have sex with goes out of their way to conquer empires, carving a path, gather gleaming gold and servants to put at your feet. That is why Men Orc exist, and that is why they fight.

Orc biology is not the same as humans, or most intelligent races for that matter. Orc women are always pregnant, which means they are not gestating one baby at once. They're ballooned with many young at once, they have many heaving breasts to feed them. Giving birth is a not a dangerous and somewhat special event, but a common chore. Their bodies are well adapted for this. They can breed with an Orc while pregnant with another child and later on birth a warrior son. Orc women even know sorcery that allows an Orc-Man to come back to life after death; the greatest old orcs will mate with a Sow, die in glorious battle, and she will feel his soul return to her womb to be reborn as a warrior once more.

Since Orcs are commonly thought of as a dark mirror to humans, humans often point to Orcs as an example of what not to do. "This is why women can't be in charge, least we grow floppy ears and want to move underground!"

Orc Society
With the above information, we can finally speak about Orc Society, and understand it fully. Orc society does not really live in the Underhills; it truly lives in the walled Fortress. This grand structure, which extends around the Underhills acting as a defense from within and from without, are home to the linchpin of Orc society- The Great Sows.

These fortresses are dungeons. They have traps, monsters, armies of elite Orc warriors within, and a boss. The Great Sows themselves surround themselves by their suitors, young sons, and squealers to defend them. Even if the thought of invasion from humans from the surface is ridiculous, it has happened before. Even moreso, dangerous from other trbies of Orcs and underdark races sneaking into the forts to kill the Sow are a danger. Between these fortresses are hidden passages and tunnels; some so small and tight that only a Squealer carrying a message (or surface-dwelling gnome, far in over his head) could pass by. There are false walls made of paper, with centuries old goblin mummies waiting for an intruder to pass for a quick stabbing.

Once a raid is done, and the Orcs return home, celebrations begin. Slaves are divided up and put to task. Loot is thrown into huge storerooms to be sorted at later, or simply to increase the coffers of treasure for the Orc Queens to feel pride over. Stolen food is quickly emptied into great troughs in communal dining areas and sloppily devoured. Orcs view food separated and presented as humans do it as humiliating- it's slave food. Why would you put all your favorite things apart from each other, instead of mixing them together and getting to enjoy it all at once? For this reason, Orc-slaves are fed small traditional meals on plates, ingredients separated, and then the warriors smugly eat their slop; beaming with pride as they humiliate the lesser humans. Unlike humans, Orcs of higher status sit at the center of the feeding trough instead of at the head of a table. This way, more of the food falls down into their lips as they eat.

Orcs craftsmen aren't bad either. While the great melt days produce slag iron used for slave collars and basic tools, more advanced crafts are used. Orcs care little for the aesthetic quality of their work, or even really its objective quality, preferring strength of arms over a sharp cutting edge. But still, when it comes to prosthetics is where orc engineering really shines. Civilizations that exist within the underground tend to learn iron working and smelting before learning how to read and write or build shelters, as the ease of getting both ores and coal and the need for it in these rocky realms and the necessity for tools to fight the monsters here and to mine extra chambers or side areas is very high. Orcs use bartering as much as possible, but if currency must be used then raw nuggets of silver and gold pulled from the cavern walls and washed in acid to burn away the dirt can be carried and used as a convenient currency. They judge them by size and weight, and the gift of a cart load of these nuggets or a well crafted magic clever can sometimes gain the favor of a Sow for an Orc who has never fought in a single war.

Orc Culture
There is still art. Great Sows are the consumers of it for the most part, Man-Orcs being too busy fighting and raiding. Female orcs adorn their bodies with uncut gemstones from the deep earth, tattoo their flesh, create their dark magic iron rods that ply their magical craft. They teach their magic in mother to daughter tradition- reading and writing is secondary and they mostly rely on slaves to scribe their knowledge. Of course, slaves are told that if they do not write accurately and truthfully, the next slave to read the text will be beaten to death, so slaves will obey and write textbooks for their illiterate masters regardless.

Orcs celebrate a few holidays. They have great melt days, where iron objects stolen from the surface world is melted in huge magma & magic fires to create piles of scrap iron to piece together their armors and basic tools. They have hallowed days, where Great Sows lock themselves in a room, see no suitors, and practice chastity in prayers to dark gods or in soulful meditation. They have free-slave days, where the best behaved are let free, and they tip their whips in feathers to soften the blows. The most holy day of all is a day of bloody sacrifice, where slaves, squealers, and animals are taken to remote and quiet places in the hills- they are accompanied by Great Sows into the Underhills for this one occasion, where she will oversee a cart full of beings have their limbs chopped off in specific orders with great cleaving axes and butcher knifes on stone altars. This day is also said to be where the true magic of the Orcess's comes from; this ritual rite powering their sorcery for the rest of the year, every year.

How to use this in your (my) Games
The next time the whole party gets killed by the P'Orcs, you do not need to fade to black or narrate their deaths. Instead, they wake up enslaved. Your wounds are healed and you are told you are now property of the Orcs. You are fed slave soup (watery soup that counts as a light meal, but is filled with mushroom-juices that make you dull in the head and light-sensitive, to better control you) and marched downwards on the two week trek through cavernous lands and dungeon hellscapes to reach the Underhills. Female PCs or hirelings are left behind, sometimes left for dead, sometimes given a single rusting knife and told to fight their way back to the surface.

Once outside the Orc stronghold, you may be given one last chance to escape as an upstart young orc will challenge the expedition leader to a “duel to ears”, as in the orcs slash at each other with knives until one gets an ear cut off. Orcs wait until just before getting home to try this coup- that way they can cross the finish line with all the loot in tow while doing none of the work. You could free yourself here, but then you'd be twenty feet from Orcish territory and lost in the deep parts of the ancient subterranean world, Veins of the Earth style. Maybe this is your transition into that sort of campaign.

Or, you could just play an Orc campaign. Some players are Orcs, some are Squealers, you travel around the Underhills in a big hex crawl. This is your “starter zone”, until you think you're ready to fight to the surface world and carve your own path to a Sow's bedroom. Good luck.

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