Allen Varney, Writer and Traveler



The orks' legends emphasize their constant struggle for attainment, even at the expense of another race. These stories also signify one more way some orks try for success: Orks were the first to actively seek the Librarians and ask money to tell their stories. The few orks we commissioned told the tales well. They gave good value, as they might say. Their stock of legends overlapped heavily, lending authenticity to this selection.

Why We Fight

The earliest ork tales tell of the slave status of their ancestors' ancestors. Parents tell the following tale of Terath's Chargers when a young ork of either gender reaches puberty.

Long ago we had no freedom. Everyone owned the orks. They bought us and sold us, and when we died our souls went to their heavens and hells and kept serving the masters. If we drank, we drank their water; if we looked at a pretty flower, we looked at their flower. So we prayed to Lochost to give us freedom. We prayed and prayed, but we could not get through.

Then the Therans came. They made everybody slaves. Suddenly slavery was bad. Suddenly people remembered orks can fight better than anybody. Then they set us free.

We built the kaers, and we all hid. While the orks hid, they planned. Since Lochost didn't help us, we are helping us. Someday we will get powerful enough to enslave all of them. Maybe we will enslave them, maybe we will let them go free, but until we are powerful enough to do so, we must always be afraid of the collar. Grow strong my son [daughter], Fight well. Work well. Excel. If you win, you survive; if you survive, you win.

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The All-Thera Tossball League

Many consider this text a scholarly hoax poking fun at both Theran decadence and ork culture. However, like Sidiouious Belew in his Tales of Theran Tyranny, I find it impossible to pass up.

When the Theran Empire made overtures to the Broken Fang tribe, a Theran princeling called Austi Schnurr became quite entranced with the favorite ork bloodsport, tossball. Although Chaork Red-Hand had no interest in joining the Theran cause, Schnurr got his permission to smuggle the two best tossball teams from the Twilight Peaks tribe into Thera. He planned to get a tossball team for every Theran noble house. Then he would build a stadium devoted to the sport. As Therans like nothing better than seeing inferior races blooded, unless it is betting on the outcome, Schnurr figured he had a sure path to glory.

He called the two teams Schnurr's Shooters and the Theran Tigers. Training and grooming them for the games was a nightmare. Schnurr introduced the orks to clean uniforms, baths, and other indignities. In return, the orks nearly bankrupted Schnurr with demands for a steady diet of deer meat and stijian milk, neither of which is found in Thera. However, rumors that these savages had more fight in them than the average gladiator provoked a lot of publicity.

Schnurr built a special stadium for the event. On the day of the match it filled to overflowing. The two teams, charged with combative savagery, eyed each other across the center line. Schnurr himself tossed the cloth-wrapped skull into their midst.

The Tigers were first on the scene, hitting the ball toward the Shooter end-zone. Two Tigers got their skulls bashed in during the first play, and the crowd went wild. Then a Shooter knocked the ball into the crowd.

When the orks play tossball, if the ball goes into the crowd, the crowd joins in the game. So Shooters and Tigers took to the stands, making a bloody path to the ball. The panicked crowd tossed it higher and higher into the stands. The city guard finally had to intervene. They cancelled the match, arrested Schnurr, and confiscated his property.

Before the Therans executed them the next day, several of the orks proclaimed that it had been the best game ever.

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Industrious orks are well known for clearing land from the least hospitable areas. Many view the act of making farmland from wilderness as a sacred proof not only of their own wills, but of the ork race as a whole. They call others for help only in extreme emergency.

A friend of a friend, an ork farmer named Threlkel, writes to one of the adventurers in just such an emergency. A ghost, he says, is haunting his farm out in the Mist Swamps. This in itself is not a problem, but the ghost's request calls for more strength than the locals can offer. He doesn't want to ignore it, though, inasmuch as he knows the ghost personally.

When the adventurers show up, Threlkel leads them to a rare dry spot in the Mist Swamps. He explains it with this story:

The Tale

"We all knew that Maudy would pick the worst place for a farm, and we all expected her to make it into one of the best. She was that way. She set off for the Mist Swamps, and when we hadn't heard from her in a couple of years, we went along to check on her.

"We found her farm, all right. The steam was hot and awful. Only an ork as tough as Maudy would've tried living here. We finally saw the homestead through the mist, and we just about turned and ran right then. The farm had got infested by a glass devil." (Some characters may recognize this as a regional name for a crystal entity.)

We didn't want to get too close. The farmhouse was covered in thick ice, and everything had died for five feet around it. We could see where Maudy had started digging a drainage ditch. That's where she must've uncovered the devil, 'cause the ditch was only half dug. We turned away, when Corleen, Maudy's sister, heard her cry, thin and high, `The needle!'

"Sure enough, a knitting needle made of bone lay on the ground near the house. Corleen took a deep breath and ran into the yard and snatched it up. The Horror didn't move, and we got out fast.

"When we pitched camp that night, the needle started to move. It made motions like embroidering. Maudy had always been a good seamstress, and so we knew this must somehow be a message from her. We ripped up our clothes to provide thread of different colors.

"The pattern the bone needle embroidered showed an ork woman yelling and a barn. We looked at it for a long time, then Corleen says, `Yell barn. Yell a barn. --Yell Aban!'

"We all tried to hush her, because everybody knows that the dragon Aban lives here in the Mist Swamps. The bone needle danced across the floor of our tent.

"We drew lots, and it fell on Corleen. She went as close to the house as she could and still keep some cover. She began yelling, `Aban! Aban, I'm a Horror, and I'll eat your eyes!'

"She must've yelled ten minutes before the dragon appeared. It was hard to believe wings so big could make such little noise. She swooped and attacked the devil, breathing yellow flame. Corleen unfortunately also got roasted, 'cause afterward we couldn't find a trace of her nor the bone needle.

"We finished Maudy's drainage ditch, but we didn't need it. Aban had got all the devil's Earth coins but one. A lot of people said she left it as a reward to us for helping her clean her land.

"But they're wrong. It isn't her land. It's ork land."


Current theory has it that when Name-givers with unusual strength of character die violently, their fading intellectual pattern impresses itself on astral space. Living creatures know these surviving patterns as ghosts or spirits. Ghosts differ from spectral dancers and similar undead in that Horror magic did not create them. Ghosts seem to reflect, not an evil intent, but a neutral property of the mind or the universe.

Abilities: Ghost abilities vary widely, and observers despair of coherent classification. These notes describe a typical ghost the heroes might meet in an adventure. However, the gamemaster can freely alter any or all details.

Ghosts are invisible, but many can turn visible in the form they had in life. They can move silently, pass through material objects, and fly or hover without effort. Ghosts that can speak can usually communicate with any Name-giver in the hearer's language, but not always, and many ghosts cannot speak anyway. A ghost can affect the physical world in minor ways: lifting very small weights to low heights at slow speed, touching a cheek, and so on.

Ghosts can use the following Talents at Step 20: Air Speaking (to any being or beings the ghost chooses), Astral Sight, Disguise Self, Frighten, Frighten Animal Servants, Life Sight, Spirit Strike, Spirit Talk, Temperature, and True Sight.

A ghost may also have one or more of these Talents, as the adventure requires: Animal Possession, Battle Shout, Borrow Sense, Cold Purify (no cold material required), Dominate Beast, Emotion Song, False Sight, Hypnotize, Incite Stampede, Mimic Voice, Read and Write Magic, Reshape Object, Safe Path, Sense Poison, Taunt, Tracking, and Unmount.

The ghost was once a character, and so it may retain skills and intellectual Talents it had in life, such as Book Memory or Creature Analysis. If the character could cast spells, the ghost usually still can. The gamemaster can assign a ghost further Talents and abilities as required.

Vulnerabilities: Ghosts are susceptible to an Adept's Spirit Dodge and Spirit Hold Talents. Questor magic can sometimes drive them away from a haunt for a year and a day, and powerful questors (Circle 10+) can exorcise (destroy) them permanently. Individual ghosts may have weaknesses such as silver, orichalcum, yew wood, hair of a newborn baby, and so on.

Roleplaying: A ghost of little power often shows obsession with some goal, either achievable or remote, such as burying its body in sacred ground or finding its killer. Fulfilling the goal disperses the spirit. A ghost of higher power has full intelligence but other-worldly concerns, pursuing goals that living observers may find abstract or abstruse.

The Adventure

Maud, the ork of the legend, still exists as a ghost. Not long after Threlkel tells the party this legend, one adventurer gets awakened at night by the tap-tapping of a bone needle on her arm. Maud's needle seeks thread and fabric. Once provided with these, the ghost rapidly embroiders a picture of jagged crystals, representing the crystal entity that killed her. Beside it, the floating needle stitches another picture: an arched doorway.

The ghostly Maud wants to enlist the heroes as instruments in pursuit of its goal: destroying a nearby portal to astral space. This portal let the crystal entity into Barsaive. It lies deep in the Mist Swamps, under the ruin of a pre-Scourge alchemical laboratory now inhabited by kreescra and other servants of the late entity.

Heroes who resist recruitment may suffer Maud's angry harassment for many adventures. Her incessant coaxing and pestering eventually forces them to yield or to seek out a questor who can banish the ghost.

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Entering one of the many small, backward, xenophobic villages that dot the Barsaivean frontier, the adventurers find this one uncommonly clean and well-kept. However, the residents appear uncommonly frightened. Before engaging in conversation, they ask if the adventurers work for "Constable Ghorn." Ghorn, it develops, dominates most whispered conversations here. Curious adventurers can learn Ghorn's story from Tontin, a garrulous old man who sits all day in the village square, chewing betel nut from the Liaj Jungle. Too old to care what Ghorn does to him, Tontin tells the characters this story:

The Tale

Ghorn, they say, began with birds. As a young ork (though some deny he was ever young) Ghorn trapped small finches and starlings alive in their nests. He caged them to measure the progress of their starvation, or snapped their wing bones to observe their ground movement.

People in Ghorn's village, near Iopos, scolded the boy or cuffed his ears or spanked him with switches. To no effect: Ghorn kept studying the birds, and he remembered those who hit him.

Later he progressed to dogs and cats. Villagers' pets vanished. Ghorn left no telltale clues, yet everyone knew who was responsible. Ghorn was too young to exile, and so the village constable, a corpulent and easygoing gentleman named Dellorn, jailed him as a token penalty, then forced him to buy or capture replacement animals for the grieving owners. Ghorn complied, but he remembered those who complained against him.

Ghorn grew to strong young manhood, and at last he came to human beings. A young ork woman, adventurous in spirit but with very poor judgment, dashed off with him for "a rafting venture on the Serpent River." After a week he returned alone, blandly reporting that the girl had been swept overboard.

Angry villagers demanded Ghorn's arrest. Constable Dellorn took him in, if only to keep him from being lynched, but Ghorn had grown much stronger than before. He still remembered Dellorn. The constable marched Ghorn into a cell and slammed the door. In that instant Ghorn turned, reached through the bars with both thick arms, and broke Dellorn's neck.

To that moment Ghorn had seemed no more than a ruthless killer, unusual (fortunately) but not unprecedented. A typical killer would have run from the jail and escaped into the wastes. Ghorn took the constable's keys and medallion, the emblem of elected office, and, carrying the body, strode to the front steps of the jail building.

That building faced the village square, and many citizens were passing. Ghorn threw down the body, and screams brought several dozen people within moments. A few made to run at him on the spot, but his fearless, cruel look stopped the attackers where they stood.

"Dellorn is dead!" Ghorn shouted. "From now on, I'm constable around here. Anyone who doesn't like it can get out." So saying, he pinned on Dellorn's medallion and stood there, weaponless but alert.

When the shock wore off, a few of the larger orks assaulted him. They almost toppled him by weight of numbers, and if they had, the rest would have joined in and beaten him. He stayed on his feet and by main force threw three or four burly orks, including the blacksmith and a couple of heavy laborers, against the building wall. He killed them quickly and brutally with his bare hands.

The crowd fled then, but to Ghorn that hardly mattered. Because he remembered them all.

The mob formed shortly after sundown, around the tavern, of course. Orks sat and drank, telling each other the same complaints over and over, saying someone should "do something." After a while, a couple of drinkers began trying to outdo each other in bravery. "I say someone should spear him where he stands!" "Well, I say someone should go over to that office and skewer him like a hog!"

Everyone cheered them on, everyone made loud new suggestions, and in a moment the mob mind seized them. Bearing pitchforks and scythes, the mob flowed across the square toward the constable's office. Animals and passersby leaped out of its way, fearing for their lives. Five yards short of the jail, the mob saw the door open. Ghorn stepped out, stood tall and still, and the mob fell back.

"Hah!" he laughed. "I know your sort. I looked at the birds, who stay in the flock for fear of being left alone. You rabble are just brave enough to fly over here, but not so brave as to stay back and be thought `cowards.'

"And I looked at the dogs, who never attack unless from behind and in numbers. I face you, and you're helpless.

"I would like to look at men and women. I see nothing but dogs and birds in this town. Go home."

Here one ork, braver by a knife-edge than the rest, shouted, "Murderer! We'll --"

"Him!" Ghorn said, pointing.

The ork who spoke got impaled by a crossbow bolt from above. The rest of the mob pulled back like a tide and saw on the jail's roof two of Ghorn's thugs. They were village lowlifes, but they had loaded crossbows.

The victim fell and died messily in the street.

"Well?" said Ghorn. "Who's next?"

The villagers scattered like frightened geese and flew away to their nests. Ghorn laughed and laughed. Many citizens packed up and moved away that very night. In the next few months the others who had mistreated Ghorn in his youth found their lives getting very hard. For constable Ghorn remembered them all.

Constable Ghorn


DEX: 5

STR: 8

TOU: 7

PER: 5

WIL: 7

CHA: 6

Initiative: 4

Number of Attacks: 1

Attack: 7

Damage: 7

Physical Defense: 7

Spell Defense: 5

Social Defense: 8

Armor: 4

Mystic Armor: 0

Knockdown: 7

Death Rating: 30

Wound Threshold: 10

Unconsciousness Rating: 25

Recovery Tests: 2

Combat Movement: 30

Full Movement: 60

Legend Points: 100

Equipment: Broadsword, whip, throwing axe; padded leather; merchant's clothing; hip flask of good wine.

Loot: 1d6 x 10 silver pieces.

Ghorn is a huge ork about 28 years old, now well dressed and remarkably poised. He remains calm unless moved to sudden violence; if he has ever shown fear, no one in his village can remember it.

This adventure hook helps warn naive adventurers about the quality of law enforcement on some parts of the Barsaivean frontier. Ghorn's power reminds adventurers of how rare magic is even in the world of Earthdawn. Against any Adept Ghorn would not have had much chance, but Adepts don't ordinarily visit small villages. By the time the heroes encounter him, Ghorn has shrewdly developed his power beyond that guaranteed by brawn and a few armed thugs. He owns the tavern and the inn, employs honest citizens as well as lackeys, and has become a "solid citizen." Though villagers despise and fear him, they might resent attempts to remove this "pillar of the community."

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South of Throal the mountains rise wild, and the scenery takes on a savage beauty. While travelling that mysterious land, where legends lie as thick as nightfall, the adventurers arrive at dusk at a circle of carved stone megaliths. A lone dwarf, a Circle 3 warrior named Sandor, has already made camp there. He is returning to Throal after a long campaign, but if the adventurers require strength for their party, they can hire him on at the usual rates. After dinner around the campfire, Sandor tells the characters the tale of the Evil-eyed Dargoul and the Circle of Stone.

The Tale

Once was born a very smart ork among the Skull Wharg tribe. He was Dargoul, a shaman like his father before him. He was much stronger than his father or his father's father. He had a spirit that talked to him, he could see what was invisible, and he could see into the past. How intensely Dargoul longed for power! He was a most noble ork.

Dargoul killed his clan's leader by simply looking at him, and so he gained the name of Evil-eyed. After that, no one ever spoke against his strange ideas. He wanted to find out which race was most powerful. He captured elves, dwarfs, men, ogres, and t'skrang. Each had their strengths and weaknesses. Then he managed to capture an obsidiman. Here was a guy tough to beat.

Dargoul asked his spirit how his clan could become as tough as obsidimen. The spirit told him of a potion hidden in Horror-infested Parlainth. Dargoul chose 50 of his strongest, bravest orks to go with him. It was not easy even making it to Parlainth, for many lands do not greet Scorcher bands with open arms; nor was it easy fighting through the haunted city; nor fighting the Horrors; nor to return. All the orks met death, save for Dargoul and seven of his best.

He had to prepare a solemn ritual to go along with drinking the potion. Dargoul and his seven drank the ancient brew when the Moon was full and Ninus was low in the sky. ["Ninus" is the Barsaivean name for Saturn.] Their skin began to change into stone. With glee they spent that night pushing down trees. Their women wept, for they would no longer know the passion of the night with these strange beings.

The wives of the seven aroused the wives of the fallen raiders. The women came and rained down blows upon Dargoul and his seven, but fists can not break stone.

The next day many Skull Whargs came, eager to see the transformation and to hear of Dargoul's plans. Dargoul said come back later, for he wanted to think on it.

So they came the next month and found Dargoul and his band still standing in the same place, and Dargoul told them to come back in a year. So they came in a year, and Dargoul and his orks, who had now become obsidimen all through, remained standing in the same circle. Their Skull Whargs could not even get them to speak.

Trees have now grown up by their feet. Perhaps they are still planning the perfect raid.

The Transformation Potion

Legends like this one thrive all over Barsaive, for a magical transformation from one Name-giver race to another, without major preparation, brings inevitable conflicts. Each legend embodies in its transformed person the stereotypical worst features of the chosen race: the windling's short attention span and silliness, the troll's assumed penchant for violence, and so on. These legends show the classic risk of magic: achievement without understanding.

Not long after they hear the legend above, the heroes discover in a long-deserted kaer a potion that allows such a transformation. The potion has two Major Key Knowledges, a maximum of two Threads, and costs 1,100 Legend Points. In most details it resembles a Potion of Life (Earthdawn rulebook, page 275).

How it works: When used, the potion acts with Step 20 power to transform the user into another race. On a volunteer it works automatically, taking one round; on an unwilling subject, it acts against the target's Spell Defense and takes rounds equal to the target's Willpower. Refigure a transformed target's Attributes to reflect new racial bonuses and penalties; if this means the target no longer qualifies for its Discipline, the target must start over in a new Discipline. The heroes have only enough potion for one target or group. The transformation lasts indefinitely until reversed (see below).

The pitfalls of this easy transformation become obvious. Take the player aside and discuss how to exaggerate the new race's perceived negative traits in the transformed character's roleplaying. A newly formed t'skrang acts with excessive flamboyance and disregard for truth, whereas a dwarf shows stubbornness and a pronounced sense of manifest destiny. A new obsidiman need not stop moving as the Skull Whargs did, but may show torpid indifference toward danger. A new human shows vices according to one other race's least favorable perceptions of humans: stuffy dullness (as per windlings), dishonesty and vice (a common dwarven view), et cetera.

Understand: The new negative traits do not represent actual behavior of that race, but the popular stereotype of its worst examples. Why? The reason lies in the potion's origin.

Why it works: Either recently or long ago, a wizard of power developed intense love of a Name-giver race different from her own. The magician developed this potion to transform her into the chosen race. During the long development process she came to understand the nuances of the race in detail, and her transformation worked well. Later brewers of the recipe, lacking her understanding, changed into emotionally distorted members of the race.

Reversing the effect: If the gamemaster treats the potion effect as a curse, reversing it requires questor magic or other fairly routine treatments. A more challenging approach calls for the victim to undertake research and a long quest to perform some action that exemplifies her original race. For instance, a one-time ork who wishes to resume ork status may have to lead a series of successful scorcher raids and rise to high status in the ork community. An erstwhile windling may need to draw praise from many windlings for a brilliant, daring trick that makes a fool of a troll king. The gamemaster and player together should work out the deed, which is worth many Legend Points. The transformation reverses when the victim completes the deed.

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Copyright ©1994 Allen Varney and Don Webb.

EARTHDAWN, Barsaive, and all Barsaivean names are trademarks of FASA Corporation.

No challenge to these trademarks is intended.