DARK TIMES CYCLE
Peaceful times can’t last forever. Unexpected wars will take thousands of lives in a couple of days. The great storm will make huge kingdoms starve. The curses sent by the gods will change ordinary life for hundreds of years, destroying families, communities, and nations. But even in such dark times, there are those who want more. They are ready to lead the others. They know that it can’t end like this.
The Dark Times cycle will provide players and GMs with three regions that suffer from various disasters. Adventures can make them fight and go into great battles, force them to defend, search for resources, gather allies, and prepare for upcoming attacks.
It’s up to you to decide what happens in your campaign.
The adventure is created without binding to any specific RPG system. You can easily transfer both gameplay features and numerical values to your preferred system. Use the aspects of characters and locations at your discretion, while disclosing or hiding what you want from the characters. Make the heroes pass checks or be guided by common sense – now it’s your adventure!
THE GREAT HORDE ADVENTURE
Throughout the Quiet Age, life in Flatlands has not really been that peaceful. Racial prejudices, land disputes, intrigues, betrayals, and arguments about faith and magic – this all forced people to build the walls around themselves, and not just for protection, but as a “statement”. Grudges accumulated over the years; years grew into decades and by the end of the Quiet Age no one remembered where it all began, but the feelings remained offended. Disputes and conflicts were often cultivated by stories from the past, which were told by each side of the conflict differently. Turning away from each other, the people of Flatlands did not imagine their lives could change in just a couple of years, since the Orcs came to their lands – smarter and more powerful than before.
DANGER FROM THE EAST
The area of Flatlands, which lies close to the East, is full of plains, large forests, roaring rivers, and wild beasts.
But there is a feature that distinguishes it from the rest – a huge rift that begins and ends with giant mountains, which even the craziest inhabitants will not climb.
Orcish tribes. This rift is believed to be a divine gift. For generations, the inhabitants of Flatlands have prayed to the gods to save them from the regular raids of the orcish tribes. Nothing could stop them -while attacking the settlements, they robbed and took everything they could carry, leaving only charred remains. It was often the case that two tribes attacked the same village at the same time, and then looting were replaced by bloody battles between the tribes – for the right to be the first to take the most valuable things from the inhabitants.
The rift. The gods heard the prayers of the Flatlands inhabitants. One night there was a deafening thunder that raised a pillar of dust to the sky for several days. With his mighty sword, the God left a deep wound on the body of the plains – a rift of huge depth. The inhabitants were saved, but the wise elders warned that they should not relax. The gods have only saved the time, but the real disaster is ahead.
And only after hundreds of years, when the orcs, having gathered in one mighty horde, invaded the peaceful territories of Flatlands again, the inhabitants finally heard the warnings of their great grandfathers, but it was too late.
The Eastern Orcs do not differ much from the ordinary ones – they spend life in looting, compete for the right to be a chief in the tribe, and constantly split their territories. But the rift that appeared on their way to endless raids destroyed all their plans. Unable to find enough food for their families, they started to attack each other.
Krong. The bloodshed and battles would have lasted for generations, if there hadn’t been Krong – a half-orc orphan who had lived among elves and humans since birth. Having absorbed their wisdom, learned many languages, and read numerous books throughout his life, by the age of 40 he felt the call of his blood. The gods guided him through the impassable mountains that fenced the rift. There are many legends among the orcs about what happened in the following decades. The emerged half-orc gained respect only for the fact he had managed to pass the Damned Mountains, as they were called by the Orcs, because none of them succeeded in it. The tribe that accepted him was ready to start conquests with him, because Krong was wise and clever. But the half-orc taught his tribesmen other arts – cultivating crops in the most severe conditions, domesticating animals, tricks of hunting which practiced by the elven peoples for thousands of years, and much more. The Krong tribe thrived – its numbers grew, they escaped diseases, and starvation was not a problem even in the hardest times. But it wasn’t enough for Krong. He didn’t want to see wars between the tribes. He wanted to see his people united.
Unification. Krong did something unprecedented – he brought together the chiefs of the three largest orcish tribes that were enemies – the Stormy Water Tribe, the Ruthless Mountains Tribe, and the Burning Ice Tribe. Negotiations lasted many nights, but peace was made. Krong was the force his people needed so much. With his knowledge, the orcs no longer needed to survive. But the hot blood repeatedly showed itself and chiefs of small tribes still tried to show up themselves in bloody fights with their brothers and sisters. They did not want to listen to the Council of Three Tribes, only one orc was authority for them, even if he was half-orc.
At the end of his life, Krong became the only ruler of all orcs, receiving a title – «The Unifier».
Prosperity. Despite unprecedented peace and wisdom, every year the Great Chief Krong the Unifier faced the same problem – his tribesmen were too numerous and the winters were getting harsher. And even his knowledge was not enough to fight overpopulation, the approaching threat of starvation, and renewed conflicts between the tribes.
Expansion. Krong the Unifier, who had got a family and children, was old but still smart. He knew that if the orcs remained on these lands, they would die from their own hands. They had to go west. They had to go through the rift. The Great Horde of Krong began preparations for the relocation.
Krong the Unifier, together with a group of the best warriors from all three tribes went to the Flatlands on unknown trails through the Damned Mountains, demanding to meet the communities that lived isolated from each other – the Wood Elves Community, the human nation called Salanians, and the Free People.
The Flatlands leaders listened to the Great Chief of orcs who demanded to give a part of the territories that were close to the rift to orcs. He has made it clear to everyone that he was ready to resort to extreme measures and that the Horde outnumbered the isolated peoples of Flatlands many times.
An unprecedented treaty of peace with the orcs was concluded.
THE DAY OF GRIEF, THE DAY OF ANGER
A year after a part of the tribes relocated to the other side of the rift, having settled in new lands and built bridges for the other orcs, the saddest news came. The great leader Krong the Unifier suddenly died right on the New Land, as his son reported. It was a great loss for the orcish nations.
The death of such a leader could not have been accidental. Krong’s eldest son, Raark, who had the art of healing, discovered the poison in his father’s blood. The great leader, worshipped by all orcs, was poisoned. And the guilty could have been only those who let them into their territories – the people of Flatlands.
The orcs began preparing for war.
BEGINNING OF THE WAR
With the death of the Grand Leader Krong, his eldest son Raark took over the Horde. He never wanted to do it, willing only to help his people with his skill of healing, but the unexpected death of his father forced him to take over the reign. After investigating the circumstances of his father’s death and examining the chief’s body, Raark concluded that he had been poisoned. Having gathered the council of three tribes, he announced that the Flatlands people would pay with blood for what they had done.
HORDE BEFORE THE ATTACK
The orcs will not attack thoughtlessly. They will hold a number of actions that can be noticed by the inhabitants of Flatlands and the heroes.
Reconnaissance. The locals will notice the orc reconnaissance groups and the camps left by them more and more often.
Preparation. The orcs will cut down the forests and actively mine ore to build siege weapons for the assaults of the towns.
Covert operations. The orcs can carry out sabotage actions to eliminate the leaders of the Flatlands factions, spy and examine the structure of towns and their power structures.
Training. Camps with large groups of orcs training before the upcoming battle will appear at the land borders.
By collecting the evidence of the upcoming war, the heroes can become more convincing in advocating the unification of the Flatlands people before the imminent threat.
HOW THE ORCS FIGHT
The orcs are ruthless in their goals. Their murdered leader became a role model and almost a divine figure for many of them. And they are ready to take revenge until death for him.
Tribal contradictions. Having lost the common leader, each of the tribes will try to gain an advantage for their people. This will provoke conflicts within the orcish tribes which cannot be resolved by Raark – the eldest son of the perished chief.
The importance of leadership. The orc commanders play a huge role in the war. They make plans, perform tactical maneuvers, depriving the enemy of reinforcements and supplies. They inspire their soldiers for the upcoming battle. The loss of even one good commander is a big hit for the entire orcish army.
The call of blood. The orcs are trained in tactics and strategy, but as soon as something goes wrong with their plan or they are not told what to do – their blood starts to boil. They don’t hold the line, attacking the enemy with a raging mob.
Burnt land. If the orcs have to retreat, they will not leave a single intact house or an unburned field behind. Everything will be destroyed without allowing the enemy to have an advantage of it.
Reinforcements from home. Bridges over the rift built in the shortest possible time allow the orcs to receive reinforcements from their native land. Destruction of these bridges will significantly weaken the orcs’ strength because then they will have to use dangerous and secret trails through the Damned mountains laid by Krong.
DISOBEDIENCE OF ORCS
During their adventures on Flatlands and events connected with the orcs’ invasion, the heroes will realize that the enemy is not as well organized and united as it seems.
Worthy of more. Despite the fact that three largest tribes have not been conflicting with each other for decades, their leaders still have personal interests and goals. After the death of the Great Leader Krong the Unifier, each of them now has a chance to make a statement of themselves, their people, their rights.
The rise of the imperceptible. Smaller orcish tribes behaved aggressively even under Krong’s rule. Now it’s their time. By unexpected, treacherous actions, they will do their best to prove themselves, to distinguish their people from the rest, gain special privileges from the new Horde leader. Or to become one.
Internal disputes. The orcs cannot forget the past. They have lost too many of their people in bloody
battles with other tribes. And now they must go side by side, forgetting their grudges? The new leader is weak, and once the orcish tribes feel it they will start disputes because of new territories and the amount of loot. It will inevitably lead to rash and thoughtless decisions, dividing the Great horde more and more.
Quiet life. Among the orcs, there are those who have really paid attention to the words of Krong the Unifier. With every passing year, they understood that endless wars and bloodshed won’t help them achieve prosperity and splendor. The true goals are peaceful life, farming, herding, mastering of sciences, and cognition of life. These orcs are inconsiderable in number, but Krong believed they were the future for his people.
Let the heroes learn about the existing contradictions, because then they can use them. Some orcish clans may have no claims to the Flatlands territories and if its inhabitants help them drive off the hostile clan, then they will fight together. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
HERITAGE OF KRONG
Krong had two sons.
Raark. The eldest, the one who took the Grand Chief ’s place, is called Raark. He was never a warrior. He practiced healing, made drugs and medicines. He was immersed in science, and his father never wished him such life as a soldier. Rapid seizure of lands and establishment of peace on them was a priority for him because he knew he had little time and soon the burden of leadership would pass to his eldest son.
Raark has noticeably weak leadership skills. He makes concessions to the Three Tribes that should not be made. He considers the thoughts of small nation leaders that should be considered with discretion. The warlords take advantage of his weaknesses to give their people more privileges, territories, and gold. But Raark is not going to give up – the desire to take revenge on his father’s killers is too great.
Kraar. Kraar is the younger son of Krong. From early childhood, he had outstanding warrior skills. He deserved his name by his deeds. He inspires the orcs for upcoming campaigns, for fierce battles, and always runs in the front rows to defeat the enemy’s army.
But the orcish heritage is too strong in Kraar’s character. He never understood and accepted his father’s decision on the peaceful existence of the orcs. Kraar admired the aggressiveness and uncontrollability of the orcish tribes, and the struggle between the tribes, however cruel it was, it revealed the strongest and the greatest. He and his father spent many nights in hours-long arguments about the future that went nowhere.
Forced measure. Raark found poison in his father’s body. There was no doubt that the people of Flatlands did it. Whatever the contradiction between the orcs, none of them would dare to kill the Great leader. But Raark always treated his surroundings too well. He would never have imagined that Kraar, the chief ’s son, was the killer.
Kraar could not accept the orcs’ position under his father’s rule. He respected him for creating such a powerful force but believed that it was a crime not to use it properly. He took a serious step that was not easy for him. However, Kraar did not think that his brother would take over the Great Horde. He was the most worthy of the rulers, and now he had to take extreme measures again, without raising unnecessary suspicions.
No matter how strong the Horde is and how terrible their attacks are, the internal contradictions can ruin it. Think of a way to introduce them to the players; give them the opportunity to influence the events, participate in political intrigues of both sides of the conflict, and then the adventure will be filled with moments, stories, and motives.
A COMMON THREAT
The three major factions, the Wood Elves Community, the Salanians, and the Free people cannot stand each other. Old grudges and unresolved problems still torment the hearts of their citizens. Despite the common threat, each territory will not wish to unite in the face of the enemy. Each of them is sure that it will defeat the Great Horde alone.
Depending on the campaign themes you want to depict, you can turn this story into both a great event in the Flatlands life, uniting all sides to destroy the invader, and a story about greed, feelings of revenge, prejudices, and their devastating consequences.
WOOD ELVES COMMUNITY
The wood elves residing in Flatlands do back centuries and their history is full of troubles. Several hundred years ago, they decided that these troubles were caused by abandoning the sacred places and excessive trust in other nations and races, even other elves.
The past. Returning to the sacred lands was not easy for them; the lands were already partially occupied by other races that did not want to simply give up their habitable territories. The elves managed to reach an agreement with some of them by sharing their wealth and trade privileges but had to solve this issue by military actions with the others.
The racial issue. Since then, the elves of Flatlands do not recognize other races. They trade with selected representatives of the other lands and allow paid passage through their lands, but any close connection with the other race is strictly forbidden. Once such a connection is noticed, the elf will be immediately expelled from the Community.
One of the levers of pressure on elves for the heroes can be a love story of a human and a son of an elven nobleman, who carefully concealed it with bribes and connections. Such practice can be quite widespread due to the absurdity of the ban itself.
Doubts. Not all elven clans support such policies. Under certain circumstances, they can influence the other clans in their decision to unite or allocate a part of their troops to a common struggle.
Long-distance warriors. The elves are famous for their archers and their accuracy. They are able to break the enemy lines in a couple of minutes and disrupt a mighty attack on the city walls.
Goals and desires. The elves strive to safety for themselves and their sacred lands.
Salanians are an ancient human nation of the people who moved to Flatlands because of the persecution hundreds of years ago caused by their refusal to give up their traditions and customs.
God-fearing people. The Salanians are true to their traditions formed by their ancestors many centuries ago. They believe that only order, purity, and faith make sense of life. Their rituals that may seem barbaric or superfluous are an important part of their lives, as they lose faith in themselves and their powers without them.
One faith. The Salanians are a very proud nation. They have remembered the oppression from the other Flatlands factions, their encroachment in their culture, and attempts to convert their people to other faiths for a long time. That’s something they can’t forgive.
Dissociation. Despite the unity of faith and customs, the Salanians do not always get along with each other. Different interpretations of the same lines in sacred books often lead to the separation of large families who refuse even to see each other. Because of this, many of them live in tiny settlements consisting only of a few families that gather in larger villages just for trade.
Great pathfinders. From early childhood, the Salanians spend most of their time outdoors, hunting for prey and spotting the outsiders. Many wood elves will envy their watchfulness and a sharp ear. The Salanian scouts can sneak deep into the enemy’s rear, getting all the necessary information about them.
Goals and desires. The Salanians want more land for their own needs. They are too confident of their uniqueness and importance, so, even in wartime, they can go against the common goals to fulfill their own needs.
Free people have formed only recently – these small coastal areas were once part of one of the large wood elven clans that refused to leave their native lands.
Lands of freedom. Many people in this part of the continent know about the prejudice-free lands. Interracial families, half-blood locals rejected by their families, exiled priests and others aspire to this land.
Lands of contradictions. The great diversity of the contingent often leads to internal disputes and conflicts over faith and traditions. They do not believe in one god, follow different traditions, and not all of these traditions are acceptable for others. Free people give a second chance not only to those oppressed in their lands but also to fugitive criminals who continue their activities as bands here.
The power of a weapon. The Free people’s rulers are afraid of the wrath of certain groups, which is why they often do not solve the problems but delay them for subsequent leaders. For this reason, there are no uniform laws here, and every settlement and sometimes every home has its own rules and regulations to follow.
The art of cavalry. The free nations are famous for their horses that are not afraid of fire or whistling arrows.
Goals and desires. The Free people want full recognition in other territories. Not every half elf will be allowed into the Community, and not every adherent of different faith will be welcomed by the Salanians.
STORMY WATER TRIBE ORC (difficulty 6/10)
A ferocious and fierce creature armed with close combat weapons.
Fury. After getting fatal damage, the creature falls into rage that gives a bonus of 1/3 HP of total health for a few seconds (1 round of combat).
Close intercept. If the hero misses in attacking with close combat weapon, the orc immediately tries to knock him down.
RUTHLESS MOUNTAINS TRIBE ORC (difficulty 6/10)
A ferocious and fierce creature preferring long-distance combat.
Sharp eye. The orc can miss a turn to aim with a long-range weapon, gaining an advantage in the next attack and a damage bonus.
Long-range intercept. If the hero misses in attacking with a long-range weapon, the orc will immediately attack back using a bow if it has one in his hands, or throw a dagger.
BURNING ICE TRIBE ORC (difficulty 6/10)
A ferocious and fierce creature skilled in magic.
An ice barrier. With a swing of his hand, he creates an ice barrier: an ice cover of half an orc height; an ice ladder of 2 orcs height; freezes the surface under the enemy.
Magic intercept. If the hero attacks an enemy seen by an orc with a spell, the orc may try to undo the spell. Both perform Magic skill checks. If the hero wins or if it is a draw the spell will not be undone.