Hold of Belkzen

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Hold of Belkzen
Hold of Belkzen.

Orc champions and clan leaders
Nonstandard (tribal hordes);
Disparate war bands
Source: Belkzen, Hold of the Orc Hordes, pg(s). 1ff. (1E)
World Guide, pg(s). 38–40 (2E)
This article is about the Pathfinder campaign setting nation. For the sourcebook, see Belkzen, Hold of the Orc Hordes.

While orcs can be found throughout Golarion, nowhere else are they as plentiful or live in as densely populated settlements as in the Hold of Belkzen (pronounced BEHLK-zen and sometimes just called Belkzen for short).12 Belkzen is an unforgiving wasteland filled with shrub brush, steep mountains, and uneven badlands, where water is scarce and generally limited to the seasonal Flood Road.3


After emerging on the surface of Golarion from the Darklands at the end of the Age of Darkness (-5102 AR),4 the orcs were driven back into the desolate regions of north-central Avistan by their ancient enemies, the dwarves. One particular orc warlord known as Belkzen counterattacked, vowing to reclaim lost holdings and drive the dwarves back underground. His determination and success rallied thousands of orcs to his banner of a black sun.5 The orc horde quickly reached and besieged the dwarven fortress of Koldukar in -3708 AR,4 one of the ten Sky Citadels. In the climactic finale known as the Battle of Nine Stones, the orcs captured Koldukar and put the population to the sword.3

With the citadel in his power, Belkzen consolidated his position by fortifying Koldukar and renaming it Urgir (meaning "First Home" in Orc); to this day it remains as a symbol of orc power. The unity of Belkzen's realm was short-lived and did not survive his death, immediately collapsing into dozens of squabbling tribes lusting for power.3

The Whispering Tyrant

See also: Shining Crusade

Aside from this incident in the ancient past, the orcs have been intensely tribal and fractured, as each tribe battled the other for wealth, land, and power. It was not until the arrival of the Whispering Tyrant in 3203 AR that the orcs unified once again. Under the banner of their new, undead lord, they assailed Ustalav and helped him conquer most of central Avistan.3 This lasted for centuries until the Shining Crusade defeated the Whispering Tyrant and his armies in 3827 AR.67 The surviving orcs dispersed to the Hold of Belkzen and returned to fractious wars between clans.8


The warlord Kazavon was briefly able to reunite some of the tribes in 4043 AR, and likely would have succeeded in bringing more orcs under his banner if not for his death at the hands of adventurers in his citadel, Scarwall.3


The nation of Lastwall was established by the victorious forces of the Shining Crusade in 3828 AR as a watchful guardian against the possible return of the Whispering Tyrant,9 but due to that nation's common border with the Hold, also became a bulwark against the orcs. Time and again, the orcs of Belkzen expanded their territories southward, each time pushing the border further toward the capital of Vigil.3

The first border between the Hold and Lastwall was set after the defeat of the Whispering Tyrant in 3827 AR. Called the Sunwall, it was a series of mighty forts and stood for hundreds of years. The next was constructed by General Harchist and followed the flow of the River Esk. New strongholds were built for it that were connected in places by a low wall and renamed Harchist's Blockade, but again these proved insufficient to keep back the orc hordes; the line fell in 4237 AR.10 The next border, called the Hordeline, was built in 4515 AR, and it consisted only of earth bulwarks topped with wooden palisades. The last border with Lastwall had no name, but it held due to a large inflow of money and supplies from the south of the country.3

However, from a fortification on Lastwall's northern border, orcs of the Rampart Warband defended Lastwall against fellow orc warbands—both through diplomacy and by force if necessary—by convincing them that the nation's fall would unleash Tar-Baphon.8 Despite this aid, orcs and dromaars in crusader-ruled Lastwall were shunned as assumed traitors.11

Modern reforms

Grask Uldeth, the chieftain of the Empty Hand tribe, seized control of Urgir in 4692 AR and soon began to enact reforms in Belkzen. A powerful and intelligent warrior, Uldeth saw the advantages that could be gained by trading with and not just raiding the neighboring kingdoms. To enact this, he invited non-orc traders to settle in Urgir, offering them low taxes and a complete indifference to wares deemed abhorrent and illegal in other realms. He also created a token system that allowed foreigners to cross the southern plains of Belkzen (relatively) safely, and set up a police-like organization in Urgir called the Closed Fist that kept an orcish "version" of the peace.2

These reforms continued until Uldeth was mysteriously killed by an assassin in 4716 AR. His steward, Ardax the White-Hair, quickly consolidated power using the warriors of the Closed Fist who were under his command. He has been able to keep control of Urgir with the help of a large trove of dwarven weapons he discovered beneath the city, and by training a small group of rust monsters he also found there to serve him.2

Tar-Baphon returns

After freeing himself from his prison in Gallowspire, Tar-Baphon sent a delegation to Urgir in 4719 AR to try and regain the orcs' subservience. But they remembered how their ancestors had been used and discarded by Tar-Baphon before, and instead destroyed the lich king's emissaries and mounted their heads on the walls of Urgir. Incensed by their response, Tar-Baphon sent an undead army to conquer the orcs into his service. They were met on the plains outside Urgir by a hastily assembled army of orcs from numerous tribes under the command of Ardax the White-Hair, who defeated the undead at the Battle of Nine Broken Skulls.2

The Rampart Warband also fought alongside the Knights of Lastwall to combat the revived Tar-Baphon's assault on Lastwall, and formally joined the diasporic organization after Lastwall's defeat;8 the fall of crusader leadership led to broader acceptance of orcs within the Knights' more pragmatic ranks.11

Members of the Burning Sun tribe of Belkzen led by the Sarenite Mahja Firehair fought against Tar-Baphon on the frontlines with distinction and were rewarded by Ardax,12 and Khagrig Daybreak of the Burning Suns also joined the Knights of Lastwall as one of its mounted combat trainers.13

Not all of the Hold of Belkzen's orcs joined the battle against Tar-Baphon, and Ardax banned these orcs from being members of any other hold. Some fled into the Cinderlands, where they became mockingly known as the cowardly Scorched Earth clan.12 Others fled into New Thassilon, prompting a diplomatic visit of the returned Runelord Sorshen to meet Ardax in Urgir in the first of several amicable meetings.14

Holds united

Orcs of Urgir were concerned that it would be only a matter of time before Tar-Baphon sent a larger force to subdue them, or worse led those armies himself, and even the most stubborn tribes realized that they must unify if they hoped to defeat this threat.2 Ardax was named overlord after his victory,2 reluctantly succeeding the assassinated Grask Uldeth, whose body still remained on the Throne of Urgir. Ardax continues to refer to himself as the steward of Urgir.14

This united the orcs of Avistan under one banner for one of the few times in their history.15 Their victories against the Whispering Tyrant have also seen them welcomed into a growing array of the region's societies that once warred to defend their borders against them. The Knights of Lastwall recruited orcs they had once fought against.8 Dwarves of the Five Kings Mountains—orcs' ancestral foes—opened diplomatic relations with Ardax,16 a shift in long-held traditional beliefs of Torag denying mercy to enemies.17

Ardax also opened slow-moving diplomatic talks with the nascent hobgoblin nation of Oprak, and attached diplomatic missives seeking further allies against Tar-Baphon to caravans of survivors that they escort to Nirmathas and in protection of Ustalav's borders with the Gravelands.1418 He has also reached out in Varisia to the orcs' respected Shoanti rivals and the well-travelled Varisians.18

Shirak the Sighted, leader of the Death's Edge hold in Utar Caldera, has staged raids on the Knights of Lastwall with the goal of driving a wedge between Ardax and other orcs, whether through the Knights' retaliation or their lack thereof suggesting cowardice.18


Orcs battle Shoanti humans on the Blood Plains of the Hold of Belkzen.

The territory generally referred to as Belkzen is a dry, wild, and dangerous river valley sandwiched between the Kodar and Mindspin Mountains to the west (where it borders Varisia) and the Tusk Mountains to the east (where it borders Ustalav).19 In the north it runs from the frigid Algid Wastes that stretch up into the Realm of the Mammoth Lords down to the more fertile southern plains of what was once the nation of Lastwall, but is now known as the Gravelands.20


There is no unified government ruling over the whole of the Hold of Belkzen. Orcs respect the rule of the mighty, but even this grudging respect is only given to those who are powerful enough to force others to obey them. Until 4716 AR the most powerful orc in Belkzen was Grask Uldeth, the ruler of the city of Urgir, but even his rule did not stretch much further than the city walls. The rest of the country is inhabited and ruled by various semi-nomadic squabbling tribes (see Inhabitants below) who rule over whatever land they currently reside in.21

The most powerful of these include the Black Sun, Blood Trail, Broken Spine, Cleft Head, Empty Hand, Gutspear, Haskodar, Murdered Child, Twisted Nail, and Wingripper tribes.3

Ardax also elevated additional tribes, such as the agrarian Storm-Screamers of Rull tribe and Sarenite Burning Sun tribe. These have stirred resentment from older tribes like the Twisted Nail, who raised complaints after Ardax awarded the Burning Suns domain over hunting grounds adjacent to the Gravelands.14

City governments

The cities of Belkzen are ruled much like the rest of the land—whichever tribe currently inhabits the city is its ruler. This system is far from stable, as most cities change hands between different tribes at least once every generation.21

There are two exceptions to this system. The first is Freedom Town, which is free of orcs but is even more chaotically ruled than full orc settlements, as it belongs to no nation and is known as a haven for criminals, exiles, and anyone on the run from legitimate authority.22 The other exception is Trunau in the south, a small town that has held out against the orc invaders since the fall of the Hordeline nearly two hundred years ago.23


See also: Tribes of the Hold of Belkzen

The Hold of Belkzen is a harsh land, but the only thing more brutal than the landscape are its inhabitants. The orcs of the Hold of Belkzen congregate in tribes, which is the extent to which they are organized into any semblance of order. These tribes may be comprised of more than just orcs and often include slaves or even fully accepted members of other races including giants, ettins, and ogres. An unstable hierarchy and constant warfare maintain the balance of power between the tribes, and alliances and feuds rarely last long. Many tribes commission battle menageries (cages full of monsters to be loosed on the battlefield) and siege engines, when engaged in frequent warfare with other tribes.24

Now faced with the external threat of Tar-Baphon, many orcs have begun to reconsider their long-held distrust of outsiders, and some even hope to reach out to neighbors for mutual aid. This has caused orc individuals who are not primarily warriors to increase their influence and prestige for the first time in millennia.2

Non-orc inhabitants

The Thassilonian ruins located on the western plains of Belkzen are known to be the home of a few brave Shoanti tribal members of the Shundar-Quah, the Spire Clan.25 Due to the orcs' often violent interactions with humans, dromaars are also frequently seen in this land.26 It is also home to a few small pockets of oni-spawn cambions,27 which were the result of the lusts of various ogre mage mercenaries that have found work within the Hold of Belkzen.28

Belkzen Creepers, a culture of ratfolk, make their warrens amongst the islands of true land within the Dirt Sea. They are renowned for their sled-skiffs that they use to navigate the Dirt Sea, and for wearing masks made of skulls to intimidate their larger orc enemies.29

The eastern Hold of Belkzen is also home to a unique type of undead known as the floodslain, which rise from victims of seasonal flash floods who are reanimated by the shock, horror, and despair of their deaths. Floodslain seek to share their grim fate with the living, their touch can drown a living creature, and they can buffet their foes with spectral waves of floodwater.30


Most orcs only speak their own guttural language. Only those few orcs who live in Urgir and have to deal with outsiders speak Taldane.31


Paizo published the Belkzen, Hold of the Orc Hordes Pathfinder Campaign Setting sourcebook about the Hold of Belkzen.

For additional as-yet unincorporated sources about this subject, see the Meta page.

  1. Erik Mona, et al. “Appendices” in Campaign Setting, 246. Paizo Inc., 2008
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 Erik Mona, et al. Eye of Dread” in World Guide, 38–39. Paizo Inc., 2019
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 James Jacobs, et al. The Inner Sea World Guide, 46–47. Paizo Inc., 2011
  4. 4.0 4.1 James Jacobs, et al. The Inner Sea World Guide, 34. Paizo Inc., 2011
  5. Erik Mona, et al. “Chapter 2: The Inner Sea” in Campaign Setting, 64. Paizo Inc., 2008
  6. Jason Bulmahn, et al. Gallowspire” in Dungeons of Golarion, 16. Paizo Inc., 2011
  7. Erik Mona, et al. “Chapter 2: The Inner Sea” in Campaign Setting, 90–91. Paizo Inc., 2008
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Jessica Catalan, et al. “Chapter 2: Among the Knights” in Knights of Lastwall, 36. Paizo Inc., 2022
  9. James Jacobs, et al. The Inner Sea World Guide, 36. Paizo Inc., 2011
  10. Tyler Beck, et al. “Adventuring in Belkzen” in Belkzen, Hold of the Orc Hordes, 40. Paizo Inc., 2015
  11. 11.0 11.1 Jessica Catalan, et al. “Chapter 4: Knights of Lastwall Efforts” in Knights of Lastwall, 106. Paizo Inc., 2022
  12. 12.0 12.1 Steven Hammond. In Burning Dawn, 3. Paizo Inc., 2020
  13. Jessica Catalan, et al. “Chapter 2: Among the Knights” in Knights of Lastwall, 46. Paizo Inc., 2022
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 Steven Hammond. Ardax the White-Hair” in Legends, 16–17. Paizo Inc., 2020
  15. Calder CaDavid. Orc” in Ancestry Guide, 48. Paizo Inc., 2021
  16. John Compton. “Character Suggestions” in Sky King's Tomb Player's Guide, 10. Paizo Inc., 2023
  17. Jessica Catalan, et al. “Chapter 2: Among the Knights” in Knights of Lastwall, 51. Paizo Inc., 2022
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 Jessica Catalan, et al. “Chapter 4: Knights of Lastwall Efforts” in Knights of Lastwall, 112. Paizo Inc., 2022
  19. Tyler Beck, et al. Belkzen Gazetteer” in Belkzen, Hold of the Orc Hordes, 3. Paizo Inc., 2015
  20. Rob Lazzaretti. Inner Sea Poster Map Folio, 1. Paizo Inc., 2011
  21. 21.0 21.1 Erik Mona, et al. “Chapter 2: The Inner Sea” in Campaign Setting, 64–65. Paizo Inc., 2008
  22. James L. Sutter. “The Hold of Belkzen” in Skeletons of Scarwall, 61. Paizo Inc., 2008
  23. James L. Sutter. “The Hold of Belkzen” in Skeletons of Scarwall, 63. Paizo Inc., 2008
  24. Richard Pett. Pathfinder's Journal” in A History of Ashes, 77. Paizo Inc., 2008
  25. James Jacobs, et al. The Inner Sea World Guide, 18. Paizo Inc., 2011
  26. James Jacobs, et al. The Inner Sea World Guide, 29. Paizo Inc., 2011
  27. Paizo referred to cambion planar scions as tieflings until the publication of Player Core. These cambions are unrelated to the type of demon with the same name.
  28. Colin McComb & Hal Maclean. “Tiefling Heritages” in Blood of Fiends, 22. Paizo Inc., 2012
  29. Patchen Mortimer. Ratfolk” in Ancestry Guide, 52. Paizo Inc., 2021
  30. Tyler Beck, et al. “Bestiary” in Belkzen, Hold of the Orc Hordes, 60–61. Paizo Inc., 2015
  31. James Jacobs, et al. The Inner Sea World Guide, 46. Paizo Inc., 2011