Clans of Zul Kiras
The clan system is so integral to the culture of Zul Kiras that most Zul Kirans think of themselves in terms of their clan first, as Zul Kirans second, and as their particular race third. They do not necessarily feel a kinship with other goblinoid races automatically, and will slaughter groups of orcs or other goblinoids who don't accept their ways as readily as they will enemies of other racial origins. Scholars point to the Bahrians as an example of one group Zul Kirans have a longstanding mutual enmity with because of marked differences in culture and outlook.
There are several hundred clans composing the nation of Zul Kiras, each having anywhere from several dozen to tens of thousands of members. Originally, these clans were small raiding bands consisting of a single extended family group. Occasionally, a particularly powerful chieftain might be able to unite several clans under a single banner, but these alliances invariably broke up rapidly after the death of the charismatic leader that had brought them together. This changed when Fenris Bonebreaker began building his army in the Xaad mountains, and united all of the mountain clans under the banner of his own Steel Ravens. He continued to refer to his entire army as one clan as one way of fostering unity, even though the term was now inaccurate. The practice stuck, and thus, only the smallest of Clans fit the traditional definition in present-day Zul Kiras.
Several clans have the been raised to Major Clan status. The distinction between major and minor clans is usually based on the contribution that each clan is able to make to the kingdom's perpetually active war machine. This is not simply a quantitative measure of the number of troops each clan can supply; rather, there is a certain element of subjectivity in determining how valuable a particular clan has been. The Firestorm Clan, for example, is counted a Major Clan because of their mastery of destructive magic, and the enormous influence they wield as one of the three founding clans. The Fading Sun Clan is also considered a Major Clan, since the other clans recognize their vital role in the orcish state. In addition, relatively small clans that produce an unusually high number of leaders, or whose forces regularly undertake more than their share of difficult tasks may also be counted among the Major Clans. Major Clans do not merely enjoy a greater prestige than minor clans, but they also have a seat on the Overcouncil, the War-King's inner circle of advisors. While not unheard of, it is rather rare for a War-King to come from a minor clan. The distinction between major and minor clans is not a fixed one, but rather is re-evaluated every few years.
The clan of the legendary War-King Fenris Bonebreaker, the Steel Raven forces were instrumental in the orcs acquiring and holding their territory. Even before the uniting of the clans, Bonebreaker formed a close alliance with the Fading Sun, allowing them to focus almost exclusively on military matters. With the aid of the Firestorm's magic to compensate for Bonebreaker's lack of siege engines and cavalry, the original alliance of Clans proved fatal to the Kingdom of Beren and made an orcish kingdom a reality. Even today, warfare is a full-time occupation for the Steel Raven, and it is rare indeed to find their forces not engaged in training or in actual fighting against some opponent or another. Their forces are almost continuously mobilized, and may be evolving into a standing army for Zul Kiras.
The orcs of the Steel Raven clan are what most people tend to think of when picturing a a Zul Kiran orc. They generally stand between six and a half and seven feet tall and are powerfully built, often exceeding a weight of three hundred pounds. They sport prominent tusks jutting from their lower lips, which are often covered by steel caps, and their pointed ears generally have serrated ridges along the back.
The core of their military forces is the Five Thousand--five thousand heavy infantry soldiers called the Peers, trained and equipped for handling the heaviest fighting in the thick of a battle. Each Peer of the Five Thousand displays the insignia of the Steel Raven on his breastplate and shield: a silver raven with blades for the feathers of its wings. Each Peer of the Five Thousand is accompanied by a squire, typically a young orc who aspires to a place in this revered fighting force. Squires help to carry a Peer's gear on the march, arm them for battle, cook their meals, and otherwise render them assistance as needed as they learn the Steel Raven ways of war from their mentor. In battle, the squires support the Five Thousand as archers and skirmishers, a fact that more than one opponent has failed to take into account when preparing to face the Steel Ravens. Replacements for fallen soldiers are drawn from the ranks of the Squires judged ready to join the ranks of the Five Thousand by the Steel Raven's leaders. The Steel Raven's offspring clans still employ this method of organization, and several other clans have likewise adopted the Steel Raven's methods of war. Thus, some orcish generals refer to the Ten Thousand, the approximate total strength of Steel Raven-style infantry.
They are trained in the use of a number of weapons from an early age, and use a wide variety of tactics and a number of different battle formations. The Steel Raven orcs bear the greatest imprint of Fenris Bonebreaker's personality and agenda, since he almost completely remade them to his liking in his preparations for the invasion for Beren. To some, Steel Raven orcs seem obsessed with military matters, and are constantly looking for ways to improve their effectiveness in combat. They avidly study the formation, composition, tactics, and history of any new military with which they come in contact, and often dispatch bands of their men to foreign lands as mercenaries specifically to observe the local armies. While not on campaign, their commanding officers often stage war games to experiment with new tactics. Indeed, it seems as if they have a great love with all aspects of warfare and military life, to a degree that most people from foreign lands find incomprehensible, if not disturbing. While they are not in general as intellectually inclined as the Firestorm and Fading Sun, it is a mistaken oversimplification to think of the Steel Ravens as the muscle of the Founding Clans, while the other two are the brains. The Steel Raven Clan has produced more War-Kings than any other clan, and this attests to their ability to operate effectively within Zul Kiras' political sphere as well as lead on the battlefield. Their penchant for travelling abroad as mercenaries also exposes them to foreign cultures and novel ideas in a way that most clans never experience, and so it is a grave mistake to consider them an army of faceless, mindless military drones.
One of the three founding clans of Zul Kiras, it was the marriage of Firestorm magic to Steel Raven strength of arms that struck the death blow to the kingdom of Beren. Today, the Firestorm Clan remains the smallest of the Major Clans numerically, but nonetheless extremely formidable and influential. This is the most magically adept of all the clans, as well as the most racially diverse. Most of the individuals from the United Clans that show magical aptitude are adopted into the Firestorm so that they can receive proper training in the ancient stronghold of Orchome. While all the magical arts are practiced at least to some degree by this clan, they specialize in necromancy, conjurations, and elemental magic. To compensate for their numerical inferiority in battle, they are fond of raising armies of skeletal and zombie warriors, and of summoning monsters to fight for them while they weave rituals to unleash the fury of the elements on their opponents.
Their necromantic skills have been a source of friction with other clans over the years, which some other orcs find repugnant. In addition, some clans remain suspicious of their brand of sorcery in general, particularly the Razortooth, who find magic cowardly. Despite a lack of good will from certain clans, the wizards of the Firestorm maintain a leading position on the Overcouncil, the War King's inner circle of advisors, through a combination of skillful political maneuvering and subtle intimidation. The Firestorm wizards are among the best educated orcs in all of Zul Kiras, and have an inclination toward intellectual pursuits that many clans lack. Their practice of magecraft makes them patient in addition to cunning, making them even more dangerous as opponents. While most orcs would react to an insult by throwing down the gauntlet and trying to avenge it immediately, members of the Firestorm prefer to smile now and make people suffer later.
The Firestorm Clan first learned the magical arts from the fearsome dragon Arpharizaud, an ancient and cunning beast who first came to this part of the world some two and a half thousand years ago. Bands of orcs would seek refuge in the heights of the Xaad mountains, and would launch raids upon the humans in the valleys below from their mountain strongholds. Arpharizaud selected one such band and taught them the sorcerous arts, and naming them the Firestorm, he sent them forth to terrorize Elvendeep, Beren, and Phrysilia in his name, burning and raising undead as they went. This brought in much plunder for the dragon's hoard, and more importantly, intimidated some rulers into sending tribute to Arpharizaud to bribe him not to lay waste to their lands. With his orcish wizards, he was able to cultivate the fear he thought fitting for a dragon of his stature, for even a clear sky was no guarantee that one was safe from his predations.
Fenris Bonebreaker launched his invasion of Beren from the Firestorm stronghold of Orchome, a fortress that exists almost literally in the shadow of Arpharizaud's lair. The great dragon has had little overt participation in the history of the orcish nation, however, and it is commonly thought that the ancient scourge has grown old, spending more time asleep than awake these days. Others say that he has grown obsessed with his magical abilities, spending his time in secluded study like a mad hermit wizard. Indeed, it is hard to find someone alive today who has actually seen his massive silhouette blackening the sky. The fact that there is always one or two Firestorm wizards in each generation born with reptilian eyes hints that Arpharizaud has not completely lost interest in the outside world.
In addition, the Firestorm is responsible for one of the orcs' most feared forces, the Army of the Immortals. Created by a jealously-guarded necromantic ritual, Immortals are created by fusing the body of a deceased warrior with the soul of one of the wizards of the Firestorm that is near the point of death, creating undead monstrosities proficient in both magic and arms. Their faces seem perpetually shrouded in shadow, even when standing in full sunlight, and the fleeting glimpses of their face one might happen to catch for a split second are equally likely to be the visage of the warrior who houses the Immortal's spirit, or of a grinning skull with firey eyes. Rather than casting spells in the fashion of living Firestorm Wizards, the process of their creation grants them the ability to cast a limited numbers of spells as an innate ability. It seems, however, that for each spell an Immortal is permanently imbued with, they gain some sort of corresponding weakness, so the number and types of spells each Immortal can draw upon are carefully chosen far in advance so vulnerabilities do not cripple them. Fortunately for the rest of the continent, the process for creating Immortals is so difficult and expensive (and rumored to require Arpharizaud's participation) that the number of Immortals in existence has never exceeded one hundred.
Even so, they are capable of inflicting damage on a battlefield far disproportionate to their numbers, which is why other clans have dubbed this small band an army. Few can forget the sight of the Immortals riding into battle atop beasts of smoke and shadow, unleashing magical destruction in mid charge. They are often deployed to throw enemy cavalry into disarray, since ordinary animals seem to be panicked by their presence--the reason for their sorcerous steeds. These Immortals, several of whom are older than Zul Kiras as a nation, naturally hold influential positions within the Firestorm Clan, even though only living orcs are allowed to hold the chieftainship or their clan's seat in the Council of Clans.
This clan is the antithesis of most people's conception of orcs, being rather business-minded and academic in nature. With the Firestorm Clan, they also tend to be the best educated members of the United Clans, since they are disposed to intellectual and philosophical pursuits more than most orcs. The Fading Sun does not have lands of its own, but rather exists in settlements spread throughout the orcish lands. Physically, they rarely exceed six feet in height and their skin tone is generally light green or shades of grey. Though they are not warriors by any means, they are nevertheless quite welcome among the other clans because they are the bulk of the kingdom's artisans, craftsmen, merchants, and professionals. In short, they are the backbone of the infrastructure that keeps this a powerful nation. It is largely because of the widespread subtle influence of the Fading Sun's ways that many of the clans are starting to move away from primitive, tribal societies. Indeed, this is one of the reasons that settlements of Fading Sun clan members have been spread throughout the entire kingdom instead of being granted their own lands: Fenris Bonebreaker realized that the Fading Sun's knowledge of farming, mining, metalworking, and many other essential skills that the Fading Sun possessed must be disseminated throughout the orcish nation for the new kingdom to survive and prosper. They take their name from the words of their first Chieftain, Silik the Grey-Bearded, who was surveying the aftermath of the battle of the Sindjis with Fenris Bonebreaker. Gesturing toward the setting sun, he said, "Our slavery dies with this fading sun. I will sleep for the first time in my life as a free man tonight."
Orcs of other clans have become quite protective of members of the Fading Sun, rather like the way in which one would watch out for a younger sibling. Fading Sun traders in other lands are always accompanied by bodyguards from other clans, who are usually all too ready to grind someone into the dirt for showing hostility toward their mild-mannered brethren. In warfare, Fading Sun orcs serve in noncombatant roles, functioning as quartermasters and logistics officers, managing supply lines, baggage trains, and distribution networks. They also serve as field armorers, healers, drovers for the beasts of burden in the baggage train, and a myriad of other support roles.
The one case in which the Fading Sun have a consistent record of aggressive behavior is in the acquisition of new knowledge. Fenris Bonebreaker believed that orcs could be greater than any other race, but had hampered themselves by focusing too heavily on martial prowess. There were many other factors that made a great nation, and it was necessary for the orcs to draw even with other races by any means necessary. He found a like-minded individual in Silik the Grey-Bearded, who became the first Chieftain of the Fading Sun. It is by now standard procedure among the armies of the United Clans to take every scrap of written material they encounter when pillaging a town, as well as kidnapping sages and skilled craftsmen. Works of a magical nature are delivered to the Firestorm, while the rest is distributed among the various Fading Sun settlements to be scrutinized for useful knowledge as their clan's portion of the spoils of war. Captured individuals are placed Under the Hand of a member of the Fading Sun that practices the same trade. Those that cooperate and share knowledge with their captors are treated well; those that refuse are sent off to the mines without hesitation. In this way, orcish knowledge in fields such as agriculture, architecture, engineering, and metalworking has been increasing at a rate most other nations find alarming.
The Stormrider Clan excels in mounted combat of all sorts, forming the bulk of the orcish cavalry units. Before joining the United Clans, the Stormrider orcs were a loose confederation of mounted raiders who alternately harassed Dunbold and Kahlahra. Their forces still include their traditional light skirmishers and mounted archers and have added medium and fully armed heavy cavalry (the much-feared Tempest Knights) modelled on units from the nations Zul Kiras has warred against in the past. They have also absorbed a tribe of goblin wolfriders, who are adept in fighting in terrain where most generals would never expect a cavalry attack. The Wolfriders have also become skilled at confronting horse and rint-based calvalry, deftly weaving in and out among larger mounts and attacking their legs.
The Stormriders are quite distinctive among the orcish clans, having a unique reddish pigmentation to their skin, ranging from a bright ruby color, to a brick red, and even deeper shades that approach a purplish coloration. Their mythology says that they were created when drops of Sek's blood fell to earth during his battle with the great serpent Inggok, who had tried to consume the sun. The Stormrider goblins resemble the members of the Dark Torrent Clan, having skin tone that is nearly black, since they share a common ancestral stock. The Stormriders are still closely allied to the Dark Torrent and regularly adopt goblins who wish to become Wolfriders. The Wolfriders function as almost a clan within a clan, choosing a General who is equal in authority to the clan's orcish subchieftains. The Wolfriders apparently find the benefits of a Major Clan's clout outweigh the greater freedom over internal affairs they would possess as an independent clan.
The Stormrider Clan's lands are located in eastern Zul Kiras near the Khalar border, on the wide plains and plateaus that were once the kingdom of Dunbold. Much of the lands are devoted to supporting the clan's mounts, with farms growing grain to feed the horses, and broad tracts of land for raising herds of horses. The ancient mutual raids between the Stormriders and the Khalar tribes survives today in a stylized form. The old hostilities have evolved into an elaborate form of ritualized combat that is more a display of both sides' prowess more than anything else. Indeed, on certain holidays, large crowds of spectators gather to watch, much as they would to see a jousting tournament or a Grubball match. The Slikhtanu and Vekhen tribes participate most often in these events, and regularly trade horses for steel tools and weapons with the Stormriders.
Found primarily within the Great Woods, Onyx Viper orcs have a culture and outlook that some have compared to the Sorani of Elvendeep, a comparison that both sides find offensive and deny vehemently. They live in small, nomadic bands and are rarely encountered in any significant numbers outside of battle. They have no permanent cities or villages, though each extended family generally has one or two preferred sites where they set up camp for the winter. Onyx Viper bands meet for celebrations during the spring and autumn equinoxes and the summer solstice, great celebrations where the clan comes together to share information, trade with one another, and arrange marriages. These gatherings are marked by music, dancing, and competitions of all sorts. They are times of the celebrations of religious ceremonies as well, the most famous of which involves young warriors from the clan dancing while throwing lit torches and sharp swords back and forth to one another.
They tend to be somewhat reclusive, often only entering the lands of other clans to trade for provisions and supplies. They are among the most individualistic of all orcs, and prize the freedom of being able to move from place to place at will. They find cities confining, and consider urban dwelling a violation of the ways of their ancestors. They are fierce defenders of the forests in which they live, and loggers from other clans have learned over the years that they should plant a new tree for every one they cut down for their own good. If they do not, their camps may mysteriously catch fire in the middle of the night, or lumberjacks may be showered with arrows by unseen archers.
Physically, the orcs of this clan are more thinly built than many of the other clans, sometimes giving the mistaken impression of emaciation. Their skin tone is generally the deepest shades of green, often appearing black. They prize stealth and swift movement above all else, and generally go very lightly equipped. The Onyx Viper excel at guerilla and ambush tactics, as well as scouting and tracking. It is in these capacities that they generally in the armies of the United Clans.
Razortooth orcs are an exotic looking bunch, standing out quite easily from most other clans. They spend quite a bit of effort making themselves appear more fierce, though one has to wonder how necessary that really is. They dye their hair garish colors and wear it in bizarre styles, often unique to the orc wearing it. In addition to tattooing, they make use of branding and ritual scarring as body adornments, making them rather uglier than the average orc. They are also fond of body piercing--so fond, in fact, that it is practically unheard of for an adult Razortooth orc to have fewer than five piercings. Males file their teeth to sharp points, a practice from which the clan gets its name, and occasionally have designs etched into their tusks. Physically, Razortooth orcs are quite simply hulking monsters, with an abundance of brawn and often a shortfall of brains. Some speculate whether they have ogre blood somewhere in their past.
In combat, they have little patience for subtlety or restraint, favoring sudden, brutal, overwhelming attacks. They compensate for a lack of strategy with a surplus of ferocity, and can be counted on to throw themselves headlong into any fight, no matter the odds. They will undertake clearly suicidal missions without hesitation. Some suspect that this clan would have extinguished itself several times over if not for the efforts of generals from other clans acting as a restraining force to keep them in check. Orcish generals tend to use these fearsome berserkers to demoralize their opponents, using them for initial assaults, or simply allowing them to roam the countryside and pillage at will. During the siege of Rindona, the mere rumor that the United Clans were sending the Razortooth clan to storm the city was enough to persuade the majority of the city's residents to take to boats and flee. At best, they are considered fearless and unpredictable warriors. At worst, they are considered mentally unstable and too ferocious for their own good.
As one might guess, Razortooth warriors are fond of big weapons, favoring massive swords and axes with hooks and barbs that catch in wounds and rend and tear flesh as they're pulled out, as well as massive hammers and spiked maces. Many of them also wear armored gauntlets with spikes over the knuckles and sharp metal talons attached to the fingertips. These are not used in combat except as a last ditch measure, but are rather used most often for amusements. The Razortooth orcs that wear these gauntlets are very skilled in their use, and put them to uses too gruesome to relate here. These gauntlets are also central to the Razortooth game called Pincushion. In this game, two orcs will sit at a table facing one another with both hands laying flat on the table before them. A gauntlet is worn on the right hand, and the left hand is bare. The object of the game is to pin one's opponent's left hand to the table, while pulling one's own away to safety. After each round, both competitors drink a shot of liquor. The winner is the first one to draw blood.
Like the Onyx Viper, the orcs of the Razortooth clan have resisted the general trend among many of the clans toward a greater degree of civilization. Already long known for being fierce and bloodthirsty even by orcish standards, they only seem to have grown even more feral and barbaric since joining the United Clans, almost as if in reaction to the changes occurring among other clans. They been both outspoken and ostentatious in their maintenance of their old ways, even taking barbarity and savagery to lengths that unnerve other clans on occasion. They are practically the only clan that will eat the flesh of sentient beings, and do so intentionally to horrify and offend other races. Being captured alive by Razortooth orcs is a fate most find too horrible to contemplate, especially if one happens to be an elf. Despite these tensions, there has been no widespread desire among Razortooth orcs to separate from the United Clans, nor do the other clans wish to drive them out.
They are one of the only (and by far the largest) clan that still derives a sizable amount portion of its living from raiding and plundering. Rather than force the Razortooth clan to stop raiding neighboring nations, the United Clans have more than once shifted Razortooth lands nearer to the frontiers of Zul Kiras. Currently, they are settled primarily along the border with Elvendeep, and near the edge of the Great Desert. Indeed, their presence at the edge of the Ferluxebi has pushed the nomadic Yosp and Sibdar tribes to concentrate their activity on the Griffons' Aerie side of the desert, since they are generally much safer targets. Despite the possibility for straining already poor relations with other nations, the United Clans are rather confident that most nations would rather tolerate a certain amount of raiding than risk incurring the full fury of the United Clans.
From a distance a member of the Dark Avenger Clan does not appear much different than any other Orc, but up close they are distinguished by the prominent bony ridges in their brows, noses, and cheekbones. They tend to be somewhat leaner than a normal Orc as well, looking as if they are designed for long distance running rather than explosive strength.
The Dark Avenger clan is known for an almost supernatural speed during campaigns. They are often used as shock troops and advance guards, as their marching speed often allows them to deal a quick first blow to an unprepared enemy army. Similarly, their swiftness has more than once allowed them to overtake a retreating army and finish it off. They excel at wars of maneuver, turning up in places their opponents would never expect them to be. They are deployed as an independent force as often as they are used as the vanguard of the main army, so enemy commanders can never be sure whether they are creating a diversion, or setting a trap for an unwary enemy. When Zul Kiras is invaded, they are generally the first to take the field, skirmishing with the invaders to buy time for the other clans to mobilize.
Dark Avenger troops are organized primarily as light infantry and cavalry, with their elite forces being made up of medium infantry. Most often they carry easily maintained weapons such as flanged maces or axes, swords requiring too much time to keep battle ready, and equip a light shield for protection. Despite the shield they tend not to have much staying power in a fight, due to the fact they rarely wear armor heavier than padded leather. But their heavy weapons, speed, and ability to surprise an enemy often makes any battle they are involved in quick and brutal, the type of warfare the Dark Avengers are best at. The elite medium infantry is usually equipped similarly to light infantry, with the exception that the troops are made up of the best veterans and given a mail hauberk to increase their staying power in combat.
Their cavalry rides sturdy horses designed for the long haul, rather than quick bursts of speed. The riders usually carry a small supply of javelins as their primary weapon, and a light shield on their off arms. The main function of the cavalry is to ride up to a formation of enemy troops, and unleash their javelins, retreat and repeat as necessary to soften them up for the infantry to finish off. If the become entangled in melee fighting the riders often carry a horseman’s pick, another easily maintained weapon that is effective in combat. A secondary function of the cavalry is raiding, where their ability to strike across a vast area of terrain can keep entire regions living in fear and enemy commanders off balance in the extreme.
The orcs of the Iron Fist clan have developed a great proficiency in engineering, exceeding even the Fading Sun in their level of ability. Those who believe that the Zul Kirans only steal knowledge from others and have no aptitude for ingenuity need to look no further to be proven wrong. In fact, it is said that Iron Fists are never happier than when busy constructing or destroying something. In the armies of the United Clans they often serve as military engineers, siege teams, sappers, demolitionists, and artillerists, operating catapults, ballistae, and trebuchets. In times of peace, they are often engaged in building roads and bridges, draining swamps, building aquaducts and irrigation systems, and other such engineering projects that bring in a considerable amount of wealth from other clans who contract their services. Such projects bear the clan's insignia, a black fist crushing a mountain, carved or branded somewhere prominent on the finished structure.
After the destruction of Azagud, the dwarven lands were turned over to the Iron Fist, as they were judged most capable of understanding and operating the dwarven mining operations, and fortifying the subterranean strongholds against the Dark Elves. Their experience with warfare in confined spaces makes them valuable not only in subterranean warfare, but also in the final assault on a city after a siege. Iron Fist orcs are usually very powerfully muscled in the chest and arms and very broad across the shoulders, and have disproportionally long arms. These unusual proportions can give a false impression of squatness, despite being well over six feet tall on average. The Iron Fist warriors all shave their heads as a sign of devotion to their war god Xothall, and usually sport multiple piercings through their ears, eyebrows, cheeks, nose, and lips.
The Howling Wind are a widely dispersed clan of orcs, with settlements Zirak-Zan, Vorschk, the foothills of the Lunit Mountains, and in and around the city of Setaz in the east. There are also groups of Howling Wind orcs who share the Great woods with the Onyx Viper, though their coexistance is strained at times. They adapt just as well to life in cities as they do to life in the wildnerness. They originated in the Lunit Mountains, creating problems from the Tharans until they migrated to the Great Woods to join the Zul Kirans in seizing the forest from the elves.
A typical orc from the Howling Wind is rarely shorter than six and a half feet tall, though considerably lighter of frame than most orcs of the same height, with a runner's lean musculature. They are long of limb, and tend to have exaggerated facial features, along with unusually long tusks and pointed ears. This has led some to say that the Howling Wind are orcs that have been stretched out. Their eyes are usually shades of red or orange, and reflect light like a cat's at night. They are fleet of foot and remarkably agile, and are capable of leaping astonishing distances both horizontally and vertically.
The leaders of the Howling Wind are the Medicine Men, who derive their powers from contact with ancestral spirits. They provide guidance by communing with the spirits through divinations, and provide protection and healing with their magic. These abilities make them renowned throughout Zul Kiras, and it is quite common for individuals from other clans to seek out Medicine Men for healing or guidance. Medicine Men do not cast spells, but rather create runes or focii that are imbued with power by ancestor spirits. One common type of protective focus, for example, is carved from wood, painted, and hung on a wall in a house to protect the inhabitants from disease. Medicine Men commune with the spirits to learn how to create focii, which often require at least one rare or exotic component to complete. Those seeking a Medicine Man's aid are typically sent off on quests to retrieve these items as part of the price for their magic.
Medicine Men play a vital support role on the battlefield, as well. They create charms that can be worn by warriors which increase one's strength, endurance, or speed. Some Medicine Men are capable of creating tattoos which make these enhancements permanent, but these are rare because it requires convincing a spirit to be bound to one of its living descendents permanently. They also create healing circles to tend to the wounded, and magical traps to hamper the enemy. One favorite tactic is to draw runes in the path of an advancing enemy under cover of darkness, and conceal them from sight. As the opposing army advances and steps upon the hidden runes, their forces may suddenly find their strength ebbing away, or their limbs feeling leaden and unable to move. More than one cavalry charge has come to an abrupt halt as horses have collapsed under the weight of their riders after triggering such a trap.
Medicine men have a very distinctive appearance, dressed in brightly colored clothes and adorned with feathers, beads, and bones. They usually wear a variety of pouches and pockets carrying focii, components for creating focii, and special paints for drawing runes. They carry a staff or spear which is important for creating and utilizing certain types of focii, and some sort of device for divinations, like lots, stones, or dice. They maintain their leadership role in the clan through the reverence that their spiritual powers evoke, as well as judicious use of said powers. They do not hesitate to withhold spiritual guidance, augmentation, and healing from those who oppose their preeminence. Medicine Men resolve conflicts among themselves through a duelling ritual, in which Medicine Men bestow their best protections and augmentations on chosen champions. The one who sponsored the victorious champion is acknowledged to command the greater magic.
In the armies of the United Clans, the warriors of the Howling wind serve as skirmishing forces, utilizing tactics that capitalize on their remarkable (and often magically enhanced) swiftness and agility. They specialize in fighting in rough terrain, such as forests and hills, where cavalry's effectiveness is limited. They typically use javelins for ranged combat, and axes for close fighting. They favor rapid hit and fade attacks to disrupt enemy lines and lure unwary units into traps, and flanking maneuvers to skewer the enemy with a shower of javelins from unexpected angles. The first volley of javelins often comes simultaneously with the descent from a great leap, leaving some foes with the mistaken (and terrifying) impression that these orcs can fly.
The Plucked Eye is a very minor clan, a reclusive cabal of Ogre-Magi whose sole reason for still existing and having avoided integration into the Firestorm clan has been their deep and long-standing ties with several Abyssal lords. Because of these ties and a specialization in divination and summoning magic, the Plucked Eye has been able to bring to bear many times its numbers to the battlefield in the form of greater and lesser demons that are all too happy to be wreaking havoc in this world. While the Firestorm are mistrusted by some orcs for practicing necromancy, even many of the fearsome dragon's disciples would rather keep these ogres at arm's length than try to absorb them into the ranks of the Firestorm. Though the alliance is an uneasy one at times, most Zul Kirans are of the opinion that it's better to have them on their side than as an enemy.
The Clan takes its name from an Ogre-Magi named Uelg who took the surname Plucked Eye after he gouged out his own right eye and handed it to the demon lord Ehrgist in return for the divinatory powers for which the clan has become so famous. Uelg is rumored to be a demon himself now, striking bargains with his descendents in return for needed information. The Plucked Eye spend their time secluded in their compound in a remote corner of Zul Kiras, largely left alone to pursue their own agenda. They receive a steady supply of condemned criminals and prisoners of war to use as experimental subjects and sacrifices to the demons in return for their divinatory services. Their sole conventional military unit is a modest contingent of ogres heavily augmented with magical arms and armor, serving as a bodyguard for the magi and defending their territory from trespassers.
Virtually unknown outside of Zul Kiras, the Twilight Blade was originally an offshoot of the Onyx Viper Clan that did not shy away from urban dwelling. This mysterious clan has honed their techniques over the years and raised the stealthy ways of their parent clan to frightening new levels. The Twilight Blade Clan is one of the few clans to take even humans and other rejects of Zul Kiran society into their ranks. This is because of the time honored traditions and clan-held skills in the arts of stealth, espionage and assassination. The Twilight Blade is a clan whose numbers and holdings are well kept secrets. Estimates of their numbers range from a few hundred to the tens of thousands and their presence is thought to be in many of the major settlements of Zul Kiras as well as other places. It rumored that among the Twilight Blade clan that even elven children might be raised to become their most fearsome weapons, infiltrators that are trained by both the Twilight Blade and Firestorm clans to wield magic and the arts of stealth with equal proficiency against their elven brethren. Many elves consider these infiltrators mere bogeymen, a spectre bred by the paranoia of having such an intractable enemy on their borders. The idea is unnerving enough that most elves are never able to entirely dismiss the notion as fiction, however.
The Twilight blade is infamous for the ability to carry out feats of stealth, and their spies in foreign lands keep Zirak-Zan better informed than most would believe. It is often small bands of Twilight Blade killers that carry out the first blows of a war, sowing confusion by assassinating civil and military leaders of their opponents. And it has been speculated that their agents were somehow involved in King Rafold IV of Phrysilia's inexplicably violent death in his own bed on the eve of the Zul Kiran invasion. Beyond their wartime role, the Twilight Blade is the secret police of the Urban Legion and of the War-King. Few things move so silently and adeptly around obstacles to attain their goals as the Twilight Blade and the clan is rumored to have the strictest of discipline. They allegedly possess tattoos revealing their true clan allegiance which are only visible through the use of enchantments jealously guarded by the Blade themselves, but like anything else associated with the Twilight Blade, it is as likely to be speculation and hearsay as it is to be true. The lone publicly acknowledged member of the clan is their Chieftain (and also their Khuld in the Council of Clans), Radush Eyedrinker. Some derisively refer to the wizened old orc as the War-King's pet assassin behind his back, a nickname he is well aware of, and finds quite amusing. Their lack of racial purity is sometimes suspected, especially amongst the Razortooth, but a Twilight Blade proverb is that one can only sometimes see the fog, but one cannot harm it.
An offshoot of the Stormrider Clan, the Skyrenders are an elite force of Wyvern riding aerial cavalry famous for their swift and devastating strikes. While wyverns move with ungainly hops while on the ground, they are graceful and highly maneuverable in the air. The Skyrenders utilize their mounts' abilities to the fullest, making their attacks breathtaking to bystanders, and frightening to victims. The Wyverns are so well-trained and well-ridden that they can making a diving pass over an enemy soldier, strike the intended victim with the poisoned barb at the end of the Wyvern's tail, and climb to safe heights for another pass without slowing down at all. Another favorite tactic is swooping down on enemy cavalry from behind, plucking the rider from his horse with the wyvern's long, powerful legs, and then dropping the unfortunate rider on top of his companions.
The Hunter's Moon is a minor clan that has acted as the War-King's personal bodyguard since the days of Fenris Bonebreaker, the Dire Wolf himself. The Clan claims to be descended from two bastard sons of the great War-King, blessed by the gods with a sign of favor in their father's rule. Bonebreaker did not publicly acknowledge them as his children during his lifetime, and the brothers did not reveal their purported parentage until several months after great orc's death. Regardless of the parentage of Gronak and Eranak Fangmaw, however, it is undisputable that these devoted defenders of the Steel Crown are more than they first appear. The Clan's warriors are all werewolves, and they have a long and well-documented history of willingness to lay down their lives in defense of the War-King. Their loyalty is to the office of the War-King, and not to the person of the War-King, however. The Hunter's Moon was one of the most ardent advocates of the deification of Fenris Bonebeaker, and consider it their sacred duty to protect his legacy. In instances in which the War King has been removed from office by the Council of Clans, the Hunter's Moon has switched their allegiance instantly to the newly-elected War-King, a fact that has undoubtedly made at least one deposed monarch more hesitant to resist the coronation of a replacement.
The Black Bull Clan draws its members from all the other clans, forming a spiritual family of the priests and shamans of the United Clans. The name of the clan denotes their religious duties, as it is a reference to the practice of conducting animal sacrifices at certain religious ceremonies. The orcish religion is extremely polyglot as a natural consequence of the far-flung origins of the component clans of Zul Kiras, having few common threads among clans except for the worship of Sek, the Orcfather. Many clans have entirely different pantheons and hierarchies serving Sek, and have different ways of venerating their gods. Some clans also practice ancestor veneration, and still others give honor to numinous spirits that protect and govern various places and activities. It is the Black Bull's mission to ensure that all of the gods get the proper worship due them. While many of the Black Bulls members serve a specific deity or set of deities, there are a group of special priests, called Hramak, whose job it is to keep track of the torturously complex list of goblinoid deities and make sure that none are forgotten.
Unlike the other clans, a new Chieftain is elected each year by the priests of the clan and serves as a sort of high priest. The outgoing Chieftain cannot be re-elected to the office for a period of ten years. This unique arrangement arose as a compromise to ensure that a priest of a particular deity or pantheon would not dominate the clan's leadership for an inordinate amount of time. The Chieftain's duties are mostly political and ritual, and there are a number of religious ceremonies which can only be performed by the Chieftain. These ceremonies are generally old religious observances which the Black Bull has inherited from former religious functions of other clan Chieftains.
Many among the Brothers and Sisters of the Bull can wield magic, but it is magic of a very different nature than that of the refined hermetic magic of the Firestorm, or even that of human and elven clerics. Theirs is a very old magic, and still in many ways untamed. This magic does not depend on thick spellbooks or arcane formulae, but rather upon what the caster feels is necessary to invoke the desired effect. This may or may not involve such things as dancing, singing, shouting, complex gestures, self-inflicted injury, or the use of totems and focii. Thus, the same basic spell may manifest in different ways for different casters, and the same spell may even produce slightly different effects each time it is used by the same caster.
The magical abilities of the priests and shamans of this clan are so individualized that it is impossible to present a general picture of the magic at a 'typical' shaman's disposal. Those challenging a shaman in battle can expect almost anything. The shamanic magic of the Black Bull's holy men and women is often tied to the sphere of influence of their patron deity or deities. The priests of nature gods are most powerful in the wilderness and weakest in cities (except within the confines of a temple), while the priests of war gods find that their magic is at its most potent on the battlefield. Hramak don't suffer such limitations to their powers, but the price of such versatility is that their spells cannot match the power of a specialized priest in his proper sphere of competence. The rather chaotic nature of this form of magic makes it easily possible for shamans to unleash more power than they can safely control, which can obviously prove detrimental to the one that invoked the spell as well as those around him or her.
The tattooed, pierced, and war-painted gnolls of the Gutting Spear Clan are pikemen whose rather savage lifestyle belies their rigid order in the battle phalanx. The only non-pikemen, flankers and skirmishers, wield spears, wickedly curved sabres, or slings. Armour is spare, consisting mostly of greaves and bracers, but a small shield hangs from a gnoll’s neck to provide hands-free protection while wielding the pike. No members of the Clan will ride a mount in battle, or ever, considering the separation of their feet from the ground an unnatural act.
The battle formation of the gnolls is a rigid phalanx, at least ten deep, with the first five ranks’ pikes extending beyond the front – a literal wall of steel spikes and wood shafts. Those in the rear ranks angle their pikes up to keep them out of the way, and to break up incoming missile fire, until needed to fill a forward space. Following a system of barking from their commander, the phalanx is capable of shifting to square, line, or other formations at a moment’s notice. Gnollish discipline and courage in the face of danger is solid and rarely broken – as long as they are in the phalanx formation and have the comfort of what has been called a ‘pack’ mentality. Outside of their formation, a gnoll’s backbone is considerably less than steely.
One of the most fearsome aspects of Gutting Spear warfare is the famous ‘Gutting Chorus’ a great explosion of barks and howls worse than a hundred dog packs. The gnolls ‘sing’ the chorus when meeting a charge, and the results in bolstering their line and lowering the enemy’s morale are usually stellar.
The half-sunken ‘bunker’ towns of the Gutting Spear gnolls dot the arid foothills of the Cyrmian Mountains in the southwest of Zul Kiras. Though they often face the fierce Yosp and Sibdar nomads of the Great Desert to the south, their more traditional enemy is actually another Zul Kiran clan, the Razortooth. Fading Sun orcs believe that the rigid formations of gnollish warfare are reactions to the unrestrained savagery of the Razortooth orcs.
The rivalry between the Gutting Spear and Razortooth clans has not disappeared entirely in the years since both groups have been inducted into the United Clans. Especially since, despite Fading Sun relocation efforts, a portion of the Razortooth orcs also make the southwest steppes their home. These days, however, the rivalry is generally played out in gladiatorial arenas, Grubball Fields, and in the morbid tallying of the number of Yosp and Sibdar nomads killed by each clan. This dangerous task has done its damage to both clans, but has also pushed the nomads further towards Griffons' Aerie in recent years.
Life has grown steadily easier for the gnolls under the tutelage of the Fading Sun orcs, albeit too slowly and too reluctantly for the orcs’ liking. Food is gained through some primitive horticulture, primarily the growth of ground turnips and an edible form of prairie grass. Widespread herding of small, hardy sheep also provide food and clothing for the gnolls. Herding, horticulture, and child-rearing are all performed by the legally inferior gnollish females, while the males revel in their general laziness. Drilling, warring, and the occasional hunt for the indigenous spotted desert bears are the only activities to break them from their reverie..
The multi-racial Clan of the Green Rood has been something of a thorn in the side of the United Clans for centuries. Hobgoblins, in the form of a Paladin and Knightly class, control the clan from their castles. Their religious zeal, for Sek in the form of the Goblinfather as well as certain Lilist beliefs, have spurred them to enthusiastically adopt Fading Sun civilizing and organize their society into a feudal structure. The Hobgoblins rigidly oppress both the bugbear and goblin serfs of their Clan, though the dimwitted bugbears don’t seem to mind. Whatever their opinion of goblins, the Knights of the Green Rood have even less respect for humans and demi-humans, making them skilled Inquisitors and masters of torture.
In battle, the Hobgoblin Knights are equipped as dragoons. Usually organized in Lances of Twenty, each with one Paladin captain and one Bugbear battle-squire, they ride rints for speed, but usually dismount to fight. Hobgoblins wear mixed plate and usually fight deftly with salamanca-style broadswords, while their battle-squires make devastating attacks with claymores, morning stars, and battle-axes. Although goblin archers and slingers usually accompany a Lance, they are not counted among the actual number and are almost an afterthought.
A special tactic of the Green Rood Clan is the use of a ‘War Wagon.’ These huge, open-top wagons are constructed with thick blackened wood covered with spikes and heavy armor. Drawn by six barded rints and driven by a goblin in a protected compartment, the War Wagons charge full speed at enemy lines. If they are not stopped and if they are able to trample any resistance, the lines to the rints are cut and the brakes applied. Then, in the midst of the enemy forces, three sides of the main wagon are dropped on hinges to the ground, flattening any nearby. Inside is a hobgoblin 'Lance' who charge into the confusion. A small number of goblin archers provide support from the wagon, which is used as a rallying point. The Lance is usually lost with all hands, but the effect of a crack contingent of infantry planted in the middle of enemy formations is usually a good tactic. The main weakness of such an attack is the even and unobstructed terrain the wagon needs to move, and even then the wagon is usually only able to be used once or twice in a battle. Enemy forces learn fast to construct ditches, ramparts, and use caltrops and other obstructions to keep the wagon from their lines.
Hobgoblins appear similar in size to humans, only with green mottled skin, sharpened teeth, and long horizontal ears. The Knights shave their white, black, or red hair into manes, and wear chainmail coifs. The Paladins shave their heads completely, and wear shining helmets with noseguards. Both wear an equilateral jade cross of blades, or rood, as a sign of religious devotion to Sek..The Bugbears are huge creatures, often eight feet tall, and wear a form of kilt and little armour. The dull green goblins are small and pathetic in their dogskin caps, and spend most of their time in drudgery and labour.
The Clan’s lands are at the foot of the Korthos Mountains, where once the League of Princes held sway. Here in antiquity the hobgoblins and bugbears raided the Igmerinds, as goblinoids do. Through treachery, these bands enslaved a neighbouring tribe of goblins, on the very eve of their entry into Zul Kiras and the League of Prince’s destruction. The betrayal has never sat well with the orcs, nor especially other goblin tribes and the Fading Sun. The Clan’s religious opposition to the Firestorm’s practice of raising the dead has earned them another enemy in the United Clans. Always ready to pick a fight, the hobgoblins make no secret of their resentment at perceived Orcish domination of the Council. Only with the Black Bull, to whom the Green Rood consistently sends priests, do they have a relatively easy relationship. But the Green Rood knows that advancement comes not necessarily from how popular a Clan is, but how useful. And their intent, long plotted and struggled for, is to make themselves useful enough to gain the status of a Major Clan. The hobgoblin aptitude for politics and manipulation have insured they are a force to be reckoned with in the Council, despite still being a Minor Clan.
The Dark Torrent Clan consists of a vast population of goblins settled in the Northern steppes of Zul Kiras, north of the Lake of Serpents and west of the River Deepwater. The sun-blackened humanoids here make their day-to-day living by herding, around which almost all of the society revolves. The goblins have a strict hierarchical structure, and class is denoted by what type of beast is herded. As with orcish culture, however, this class structure is not strictly hereditary but mostly based on merit.
The Clan Chieftain and his advisors do not herd at all, but live in the market towns of the south, where the Fading Sun orcs are also settled. The highest Nobles all herd a huge beast known as a Kuut'tha, loosely related to buffalo but about the size of a large wagon and lacking a hump. This herding is done upon well-bred, trained rints, a thin ox-like creature used for riding in the west. Lower Nobles ride rints as well, though these are of a wilder, smaller, and shaggier breed, and herd such animals as cattle and bison. Commoner goblins keep pigs, goats, sheep and other such smaller animals that can be herded on foot. Young goblins even practice by keeping packs of gobbers and other rodents. Commoners are aided by the small but vicious Ghyrkins, a type of goblin-like ground monkey. Excluding kuut'tha, a tribe of goblins is likely to have a good mix of all types of herd animals.
Several times a year, these animals (not including the rodents, who are crushed into pudding) are driven down to the adobe-built market villages in the south to be sold. The best animals are saved for the bi-annual drive to Zirak-Zan, but there are also drives to Bradzhak, Uzur, Tezzat, and Ra'kuul.
The goblins of this clan originally lived as nomadic tribes who attacked human settlements, especially the so-called 'Rintmen' of the Northern reaches (descendants of those ancient marauders known by the same name) from whom they stole most of their prize mounts and against whom they still war occasionally. They began to learn herding several hundred years ago, but were decimated when the peoples who would become known as the Rintmen expanded out of the desert, driving the Igermind and Mingit peoples before them. The kuut'tha herding tribes eventually regrouped and conquered the other tribes, who were still struggling. Since joining the United Clans and gaining territory of their own, the goblin population has boomed, necessitating the division of the scarce rints to only the upper classes.
Also because of this disparity between goblin population and available mounts, the skilled goblin riders do not war as cavalry, leaving that to the Stormrider Clan, to whom their most skilled are often sent as Wolfriders. Instead, masses of conscripted commoners, having limited skill in battle, are rounded up and armed to form huge hordes. These hordes are 'herded' into battle by rint-mounted officers whose whips and shrill horns direct the mass and keep it from disintegrating. A Dark Torrent attack is typically known as a 'stampede,' and the goblin armies are used more often for auxiliary and fodder than for attacks requiring tactics. Many have titled the clan's method of war as 'organized chaos,' but through sheer numbers and a motivated reluctance to retreat they are often victorious.
The small Dark Torrent goblins, averaging about four feet, are coloured a green so dark that they are called 'The Black Horde' by some humans. They commonly dress in sandy browns and dark greys, but higher classes dress in darker colors. An arabesque head-wrapping is customary, especially during the summer to prevent heat stroke. For armour they sew bronze discs onto dark heavy jerkins, and wear bucklers and open faced helmets. Officer's helmets are denoted with rint and kuut'tha horns, and battle standards consist of Kuut'tha tails and any body pieces of the enemy available. Commoner weapons are varied and mismatched, but besides their fierce, nine-tailed whips the goblinoid officers commonly fight with lances and shortbows and are skilled skirmishers when necessary.
While the upper classes of the Clan have adopted their orcish cousins' veneration of honor and duty, the common goblins have proven resistant to abandon their chaotic and selfish ways. Tensions, therefore, have been known to exist between the common goblins of the clan and the Orcs of the other United Clans.
The Clan grubball teams are not placed very highly in comparison with their larger counterparts, but do manage to win a few games thanks to a unique system of herding whistles by which the team communicates and moves almost as one. Goblin fatality rates in games against their larger cousins would be horrendous by human standards, but are shrugged at by the Clan. It is with a grim pragmatism that the goblins incorporate the fact that the opposing team is penalized a goal for a fatality into their game strategy. The goblin nobles also enjoy a form of horseback polo using a stuffed human skull as a ball, appropriately called Skullball. Rint-breaking and other rodeo events are popular spectator sports.
The majority of this clan resides in the port city of Vorschk and in small coastal fishing villages along the shore of the inland sea. The clan is comprised of a race which is translated into common as troll from the Zul Kiran tongue, though they are a breed quite distinct from the creatures native to Elgar Forest or to Bahr.
The trolls of the Crimson Hurricane stand well over seven feet, with individuals passing the eight foot mark are not uncommon. They having a thick, leathery skin that is usually of similar color to stained and polished wood. Their hair, most often shades of blonde or red, grows in profuse manes, and is very seldom cut. Their ears are slightly pointed, somewhat similar to that of a half-elf, and their lower canines frequently jut out past their lower lips, though they are much too short to be considered proper tusks. They also sport curled ram's horns jutting from their temples, and often have bony plates or spines jutting out of their tough hides. The males of the clan are a massive, sinewy bunch, while the females are considered quite comely by goblinoid standards..
Given the United Clans' general indifference to the sea, the Crimson Hurricane stands out for its pronounced affinity for all things maritime. The rest of the goblinoid nation gave up designs on naval power after the annihilation of their initial fleet in a storm, but the trolls have persisted in their determination to master the arts of shipbuilding and sailing. They have made admirable strides so far, considering that they are working without aid of any sort, foreign or domestic, though long range oceangoing craft are still beyond their capabilities. As might be expected, the vast majority of the members of this clan derive their livelihood from fishing, and the women of the clan operate a sizable fish market in Vorschk's wharf.
As a whole, the trolls are a rather jovial bunch, and it is not uncommon for them to deliver a bone-jarring slap on the back, followed by peals of bellowing laughter when someone does something they find amusing. They share the usual Zul Kiran trends toward practical and durable clothing, though they almost always wear some brightly colored object on their persons, most commonly in the form of sashes or scarves. The Crimson Hurricane participates in the orcish custom of ritual tattooing, though they have put their own particular slant on this, as well. Newly married couples have identical designs tattooed to the palms of their left hands on the morning following their wedding night, each marital tattoo a unique creation. They are fond of music, particularly drinking songs. Grubball is extremely popular among them, as are brawls of a recreational nature. Most Zul Kirans can tell the difference between a mere bit of fun and a serious altercation without difficulty.
In combat, they rarely if ever wear armor, since it constricts their movement and would weigh them down if they were to go overboard. Similarly, their choice of weapons reflects an attitude that battle will be typically conducted either on or from ships, preferring swords and axes that can be easily carried and wielded with one hand, as well as carrying several daggers on their person. When utilized on land, they tend to function as skirmishers or light infantry. In time, their goal is obviously to eventually become the backbone of a Zul Kiran navy, but it is nothing but idle speculation to guess how far off the realization of this goal might be.