Disparate war bands
- 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).1 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.2
After emerging on the surface of Golarion from the Darklands at the end of the Age of Darkness (-5102 AR),3 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.4 The orc horde quickly reached and besieged the dwarven fortress of Koldukar in -3708 AR,3 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.2
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.2
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.2 This lasted until the Shining Crusade defeated the Whispering Tyrant and his armies, driving back the orcs to Belkzen where they fell back into their traditional ways.
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.2
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,5 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.2
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, but again these proved insufficient to keep back the orc hordes; the line fell in 4237 AR. 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.2 It stood firm until Lastwall was destroyed by the freed Tar-Baphon in 4719 AR.6
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. 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.6
After freeing himself from his prison in Gallowspire, Tar-Baphon sent a delegation to Urgir 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 teach the orcs some humility. 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 in 4719 AR.6
The orcs of Urgir are concerned that it is only a matter of time before Tar-Baphon sends a larger force to subdue them, or even worse, leads these armies himself, and even the most stubborn tribes realize that they must unify if they ever hope to defeat this threat. Understanding this is one thing, but overcoming millennia of competition, warfare, and mistrust between the tribes of Belkzen makes this a very difficult goal to achieve.6 Some of the tribal leaders are even considering that it might be necessary to form temporary alliances with foreign nations to withstand the threat of the Whispering Tyrant.7
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).8 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.9
There is no unified government ruling over the whole of the Hold of Belkzen. It simply is not in an orc's nature to try to maintain an organised government. Certainly orcs respect the rule of the mighty, but even this grudging respect is only given to those who are powerful enough to force other orcs to obey them. Until recently, 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.10 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.2
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.10
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.11 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.12
- 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.13
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.6
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.14 Due to the orcs' often violent interactions with humans, half-orcs are also frequently seen in this land.15 It is also home to a few small pockets of oni-spawn tieflings, which were the result of the lusts of various ogre mage mercenaries that have found work within the Hold of Belkzen.16
The Belkzen, Hold of the Orc Hordes sourcebook is dedicated to the Hold of Belkzen.
For additional resources, see the Meta page.
- Erik Mona et al. (2008). "Appendices". Campaign Setting, p. 246. Paizo Publishing, LLC. ISBN 978-1-60125-112-1
- James Jacobs et al. (2011). The Inner Sea World Guide, p. 46–47. Paizo Publishing, LLC. ISBN 978-1-60125-269-2
- James Jacobs et al. (2011). "The Inner Sea". The Inner Sea World Guide, p. 34. Paizo Publishing, LLC. ISBN 978-1-60125-269-2
- Erik Mona et al. (2008). "The Inner Sea". Campaign Setting, p. 64. Paizo Publishing, LLC. ISBN 978-1-60125-112-1
- James Jacobs et al. (2011). "The Inner Sea". The Inner Sea World Guide, p. 36. Paizo Publishing, LLC. ISBN 978-1-60125-269-2
- Tanya DePass, James Jacobs, Lyz Liddell, et al. (2019). World Guide, p. 38–40. Paizo Inc. ISBN 978-1-64078-172-6
- Tanya DePass, James Jacobs, Lyz Liddell, et al. (2019). "Eye of Dread". World Guide, p. 44. Paizo Inc. ISBN 978-1-64078-172-6
- Tyler Beck, Jason Garrett, Alex Greenshields, Tyler Beck, Jason Garrett, Alex Greenshields, and David Schwartz. (2014). "Belkzen Gazetteer". Belkzen, Hold of the Orc Hordes, p. 3. Paizo Inc. ISBN 978-1-60125-710-9
- Rob Lazzaretti. (2011). Inner Sea Poster Map Folio, p. 1. Paizo Publishing, LLC.
- Erik Mona et al. (2008). Campaign Setting, p. 64–65. Paizo Publishing, LLC. ISBN 978-1-60125-112-1
- James L. Sutter. (2008). The Hold of Belkzen. Skeletons of Scarwall, p. 61. Paizo Publishing, LLC. ISBN 978-1-60125-099-5
- James L. Sutter. (2008). The Hold of Belkzen. Skeletons of Scarwall, p. 63. Paizo Publishing, LLC. ISBN 978-1-60125-099-5
- Richard Pett. (2008). The Storm Breaks (Pathfinder's Journal). A History of Ashes, p. 77. Paizo Publishing, LLC. ISBN 978-1-60125-093-3
- James Jacobs et al. (2011). "Races". The Inner Sea World Guide, p. 18. Paizo Publishing, LLC. ISBN 978-1-60125-269-2
- James Jacobs et al. (2011). "Races". The Inner Sea World Guide, p. 29. Paizo Publishing, LLC. ISBN 978-1-60125-269-2
- Hal Maclean and Colin McComb. (2012). Blood of Fiends, p. 22. Paizo Publishing, LLC. ISBN 978-1-60125-423-8
- James Jacobs et al. (2011). "The Inner Sea". The Inner Sea World Guide, p. 46. Paizo Publishing, LLC. ISBN 978-1-60125-269-2