D&D 3E/3.5 Making sense of the Orcs of Thesk


I've been diving into the various sourcebooks for the Northeast Forgotten Realms again these days, and one thing was to take another look at the various given demographic numbers given for the various regions. At first look, it appears like the modern D&D approach were all the different peoples live together as a diverse, integrated society that is very different from the original presentation of the Forgotten Realms as a nearly human-exclusive world.
But on a closer look at the region descriptions, it turns out that the many dwarves of the Damara and Impiltur regions are isolated holds up in the Earthspur Mountains and not actually subjects of the kingdoms of Damara and Impiltur. The half-elves of Aglarond are effectively a separate country in the Yuirwood, and the gnomes of Thesk almost all live in the Dragonjaw Mountains on the other side of the mostly empty plains. So still basically human nations with isolated outposts of other peoples in the wilderness.

But one group stands out, and that's the orcs of Thesk.

In 1360, a great horde of horse raiders from the steppes between Faerûn and Kara-Tur invaded Thay from the South, and they were so much trouble that the Red Wizards gave them free passage to their land to go bother Rashemen and Thesk instead. The success of the Tuigan Horde scared the rulers of the Heartlands, and so they briefly set their differences aside to send their armies to Thesk and destroy the foreign invaders before they got to their own doorsteps. Among those armies were several companies of orc soldiers from the Zhentarim. Once the great battle was won and the invasion repelled, the Zhentarim didn't consider it worth the cost to have the remaining orc troops shipped back to the Moonsea, and the ships from Cormyr and Sembia didn't want to take them either. So 50,000 orcs were just abandoned in Thesk and left to fend for themselves.
In 1362, the merchant lords of Phsant hired orc mercenaries to kick out the brigands that had been occupying Tammar since the end of the war, and they did it. Which was a bit weird for the liberated townspeople, but they were grateful for the mercenaries who saved them anyway.
It is now 14 years since the Time of Troubles and 12 years since the Tuigan Horde.

The idea of orcs establishing themselves in a small, remote, but still civilized land is certainly interesting. But how is that supposed to look in practice? How are GMs supposed to use that in a campaign?

I see the Northeast of Faerûn as being primarily inspired by Eastern Europe. There's few real equivalences here as with other regions, but the Easting Reach reminds me of the Baltic Sea, with Impiltur, Uthmere, and Telflamm like Hanseatic cities, Rashemen like Russia, the Great Dale like Lithuania, and Thesk as the plains of Ukraine. And the Tuigans being obviously straight up Mongols, of course.
Soldiers and mercenaries being released after the war is won was quite common to save money, and with no income and nothing to do, they would often become brigands. Such brigands are explicitly mentioned in the sourcebooks, and the situation of the orcs would really be no different. With the orcs being Zhentarim soldiers, I really can't see them as being essentially good guys who just want to settle down in peace. And as orcs, the humans in the region would give them even less opportunities to start making a honest living. It's hard to imagine any believable scenario based on the realities of abandoned soldiers in the middle ages, in which the orcs don't end up as stereotypical pillaging bandits.

Being all soldiers, the orcs should overwhelmingly be men, which very much limits the possibilities of settling down long term. There are a quarter million orcs living nearby in Thay, presumably half of them women. But those orcs are basically disposable slaves of the Red Wizards. I don't see Zhentarim soldiers who have been abandoned by their cruel masters to rush pledging themselves to Thay. Maybe some did take their chances there, but there's still 50,000 of them left in Thesk in 1372.
Instead, the opposite movement seems more likely. Thayan orcs hearing about free orcs in Thesk doing quite well for themselves might see that as the first shot they ever had at escaping from the Red Wizards and finding a place that will take them in. Former Thayan orcs could be a substantial portion of those 50,000. Including several thousand women, which would allow for some chance to establish long term settlements.

However, if there is any place where the odds are the least stacked against the orcs, Thesk is it. The country was recently ravaged by the Tuigans and so it is probably quite depopulated. Also, the Tuigans had with them many slaves from Kara-Tur, and had also pushed other tribes out of the steppes as they advanced west. There are now thousands of these Shou living in Thesk as well, and more are coming now that trade is growing along the Golden Way leading to Kara-Tur. There is also a small realm of gnomes nearby, a real rarity anywhere in Faerûn. Thesk is possibly one of the most diverse places anywhere in the continent.

It has now been 12 years since the orcs were abandoned by the Zhentarim, and by now it's probably certain that they will never be called back into service. Orcs don't live very long, so most of the original soldiers probably are already feeling age crouching up on them. Many of them would likely have settled into a life of brigands, but the books say that the orcs are slowly gaining some respect and acceptance among the humans. How could we envision these orcs creating a home for themselves and a future for their society without turning them into regular humans who just have been facing unjust prejudice?
They are mercenaries who worked in the service for the most despised masters 9in the continent. And they are abandoned soldiers in a foreign land, who have no skills and experience other than to fight and plunder. They also come from a culture dominated by gods who are cruel and brutal and are beating any kindness out of their subjects. I don't want to take a path that simply drops these aspects or glosses over them. But in the end, three should still be people who are making an effort to make a future for themselves and perhaps even their descendants.

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I would first point out that the average army has a lot of female followers, so you can figure on at least a couple thousand.

Note the orcs as Troops, have to be orcs a bit more on the "civilized side", just to be troops at all. They have to march and follow order and such. I'm sure the novel Crusade had the orcs in heavy metal armor and steel weeapons(so more like Tolkien Urik-Kai).

Being left in a strangle land did not bother them much. I would guess plenty just broke up into smaller mercenary companies. And the people of Thesk were happy to hire them.

Other then war craft, the orcs would be good at basic labor. But also filling the need for such things as guards, watchmen, bounty hunters(and the gray orcs have scent too), and even bouncers.

In FR the orcs have The kingdom of many arrows, and Vastar. Vastar was an orc empire that lasted hundreds of years. And they had farms and mines, and metal working ans ship builders.

That is where the Orcs of thesk are headed....


I'd have at least some of the orcs form themselves into a mercenary company and hire themselves out as caravan guards for some of the trade going across the Waste. Not everyone will want to trust them of course, but some merchants might hire them. Or they could hire out as mercenaries for various local conflicts that pop up. I think their numbers will fall at least a little bit from fighting the Tuigan. The Zhents probably just used them as fodder and probably didn't care too much about sustainable casualties, and their numbers could have dropped a little more from later mercenary work or infighting.

You could have them settling in an unpopulated area and creating their own society. Some might have turned to banditry too. They could have splintered into several groups.

One wrinkle here is that 2e had orcs as Lawful Evil, where 3e made them Chaotic Evil. So do you keep them LE, or change their alignment. LE orcs would be a bit more successful at setting up their own society.

With Thay setting up trade enclaves in the cities of Faerun, it's possible that these orcs might try to purchase orcs slaves from the Thayvians to grow their numbers, especially if they want more females.

The orcs don't need to be rabid followers of Gruumsh either. Maybe they prefer Ilneval instead or aren't particularly religious.


My memory of the Tuigan trilogy was that the orcs had made some sort of deal that set them up after the war as their own new kingdom with agreements not to be hunted down by their former allies. It has been 30 or so years since I read it though and I have not really followed up on that storyline thread in the 3e stuff I got. I thought they had their own Orcish warlord/chief/king in the trilogy though who was making deals with Azoun and the dwarves who wanted them all dead.

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