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Broken Lands

by Christopher Richard Davies

GAZ10 The Orcs of Thar was the first of the series to almost entirely focus on new character options -- to wit, playing "humanoid" characters -- and served as the template for the later Player Crucible series of accessories. Arguably, one could claim that this book was the germ of the attitude towards "NPC" races that the 3rd Edition embraced; certainly Savage Species, with its options to allow characters to begin as weak examples of their race and grow into its full power, is a clear derivation of the system in GAZ10.

Unfortunately, aside from that, the product introduced some uncomfortable contradictions to the line. Chiefly, it stated that all humanoid species were basically variations on a single species of "beastmen", which didn't develop into the modern species of orcs, goblins, etc., until long after the era of Blackmoor. But this was apparently at odds with the actual Blackmoor era modules by Dave Arneson, which included an encounter with orcs.[1] Furthermore, it contradicted statements in GAZ5 that orcs and elves had been enemies since their earliest days.

Quite a bit of the background introduced in this product would be set aside in subsequent ones. It started with slight revisions to Atzanteotl's background in GAZ13, and continued with the statement, in the Hollow World setting, that while the original beastmen had been the hosts of reincarnated evil souls, the current beastmen (and presumably, by extension, their humanoid progeny) weren't.[2] Another change involved the gradual depowering of Thar himself; described in GAZ10 as a very high-level orc who was also a nosferatu vampire as well as a shaman of Karaash, his shamanic powers were dropped in the first Almanacs, and his nosferatu abilities disappeared in the subsequent ones.

What follows is an attempt to reconcile some of these contradictions, as well as dealing with certain changes in the concept of these creatures (mainly gnolls and kobolds) that have developed over time.

[*] The exact origins of the beastmen of Borea are a mystery. While some sources claim that they were the reincarnated souls of evil humans, sent back to expiate their crimes, this may be nothing more than a myth. Such a myth could have developed among the shamans of the beastmen, designed to inspire their followers with an undying envy and hatred of those species that the gods seemed to favour above them. Or it could have been developed by the Blackmoorian clerics who preached campaigns of genocide against the creatures, to justify slaughtering them to the last infant child. Regardless, the beastmen were the ancestors of all the humanoid species of the modern day.

However, in some cases, there is more to the story than that. The modern species of orc, for example, are descended from the beastmen, but also from the primordial orcs, who arrived in the Evergrun from the Elemental Chaos to assail the elves who had lately arrived there from the Feywild. They followed the elves wherever they spread, and found the beastmen to be congenial "allies" -- for which read slaves and shock troops -- in their wars against them. The fecundity of the two species was a match for each other, and hybrid offspring soon followed. Eventually there were no "pure" examples of either kind left. In the centuries after the Great Rain of Fire, hybrids with more orcish ancestry began to cling together, eventually creating the new orc-kind.[3]

[*] While orcs speak a language derived from Giant, it is sufficiently different from the dialect spoken by actual giants (thanks to extensive word-stealing and word-thuggery from Goblin and various human languages) to make it a language all its own ... and one spoken, thanks to the current dominance of the Legion of Thar, by the majority of beings in the Broken Lands. Substitute Orcish for Giant on any character or creature description for a being from the Broken Lands.

[*] Reports that gnolls were created from trolls, using an alchemic preparation of gnome blood, are true. But what those reports do not say is that the alchemic preparation also involved demonic ichor and certain ... essences derived from jackals. (The details are not pleasant to know.) On the other hand, the claim that the patron of the gnolls, Ranivorus or Yeenoghu, was one of their first generation is a lie. Yeenoghu, a demon prince, is far more ancient than the gnolls who worship him, and guided their creation.

[*] It should also be understood that the "kobolds" of the Republic of Kol are a dog-headed species of goblin, not "true" kobolds.[3] Of course, as the Kollanders see it, they are the true kobolds, and the reptile-creatures who use the name elsewhere in the world, particularly the Falun caverns of the Northern Reaches, are the ones who are deranged and deluded. Confusing the matter is the fact that some legends refer to the Shining One as a dog-headed kobold, and some as a reptilian kobold, much as legends about Yagrai differ as to whether he was a hobgoblin or a yellow orc.

[*] The future of the Broken Lands sees Thar's initial consideration of an alliance with the Master of the Desert Nomads short-circuited when "the Herald of Karaash" convinces him that it's a bad idea. (This risky move for Jagger the Younger pays off; Thar will decide that he'd much rather not be someone else's junior partner.) His iron discipline keeps most of the humanoids of the region out of action during the Desert Nomad War.

Ironically, this will prove to be Thar's undoing. Weakened Darokin will be forced into an alliance with Thyatis, engaging in joint operations against the Legion of Thar. The humanoids will put up a valiant fight, but eventually some of their leaders will realise that they can end the fight and get a bigger slice of the post-war pie by betraying Thar, resulting in his fall from power and almost-certain demise. Without his leadership, the various "nations" of the Broken Lands go back to internecine squabbling, until the next great leader emerges, centuries from now.

This is the central tragedy of the Broken Lands. Where humans and "demi-humans" generally engage in cooperation with each other because they realise that it's in their mutual self-interest to do so, the humanoids usually only cooperate with each other because someone is holding a knife to their throats, either metaphorically or literally. Thus, they can wreak all the havoc they want, and cause much damage, but they can't hold anything that they gain for very long, since any alliance only lasts until someone sees more immediate advantage in betrayal than in alliance. This is not an uncommon attitude among humans, but it is nearly universal among the humanoids.


[1] On the other hand, given that those adventures are all about time travel, those could have been time travelling orcs. But that just opens up another huge can of worms ...

[2] This Is A Good Thing. Given humanoid birth-rates, which are generally portrayed as much higher than that of humans, the idea that they are all reincarnated evil souls is either crazy or indicative of a very low standard for "evil", since it would mean that there are dozens of evil people dying and being reborn as humanoids every second. Even assuming a certain amount of "recycling" runs into the same paradox of population growth that renders any scheme of reincarnation problematic.

[3] The orc sub-species known as the kara kara (orcus viridianus) are probably the "purest" orcs in terms of descent from the primordial orcs, due to their isolation from other humanoid species.

[4] Okay. I'm going to get yelled at for this. I understand your irritation. But kobolds started out as small dog-headed goblinoids in the original game, stayed that way in first edition AD&D and into the early days of 2nd edition ... but began to slowly change into small reptile creatures late that edition. (I believe that it started with the Dragon Mountain boxed adventure, as well as a reference to kobold eggs in one of the Elminster's Ecologies accessories.) In 3rd edition, that transformation was in full force, and it has continued into the current edition, with kobolds now firmly set up as little dragon-worshipping reptile men.

I don't think that the NPC kobolds presented make a good match for the cynocephalic kobolds we know and love, but I should note that in terms of PCs, there's only a few minor differences between goblins and kobolds. (Basically, goblins get a +2 to Charisma rather than Constitution, and get a bonus to Reflex rather than a larger bonus to defences against traps. They also speak Goblin rather than Draconic.) It would be certainly easy to say that the kobolds of the Broken Lands are kobold-goblin hybrids, and thus don't look like other kobolds elsewhere in the world while having the same stats ... but frankly, the idea of reptile critters and (presumably!) mammalian ones having offspring makes me a tad bit queasy. Your mileage may vary.