A Hârn Adventure by David Johnson, November 29th, 2004
The gargun tribal lodge is filling up but the pantry isn't. Population pressures have everyone's nerves on edge, and fights are breaking out on the hour. The king is keeping it under control for now, but something's going to bust loose soon.
The characters are gargun caught up in the midst of a swarm. The goal of the adventure is not to create mayhem, but simply to survive.
The "Rathole" is the name affectionately given to the lodge of one of the Moym Gargu-Arak tribes. The lodge is quite large, and approximately half the tribe resides within, with the other half living in burrows and crude huts within the tribal range. The Rathole has belonged to the tribe for several decades, and has become quite extensive for an Arak lodge. The main areas have been shored up with good timber and fieldstone.
Population pressures are building within the Rathole. The lodge is crowded, the tribal range is strained to feed the population. A more intelligent ruler might have postponed the swarming and rioting, but the current king doesn't have the wits.
There are one hundred gargun within the lodge, and eighty elsewhere in the range. Everyday a couple more hungry orcs show up at the lodge.
These are notable personalities within and without the Rathole. Some of these may be available as player characters depending on gamemaster whim.
The current king of the Rathole. He has plenty of brawn, even for an Arak, but not too many brains. He wields the tribe's only iron mang, and the traditional Rathole scepter. He obtained his current status by poisoning his predecessor, and ever since has feared the same fate. The king's food taster is a coveted position in the tribe.
She has been queen for eighteen years, and has seen many kings come and go. She imagines herself above the petty politics of transient kings. Lately she has been fixating on her personal comfort, and demands the softest furs for her bed and the choicest meats for her board.
She will put up a good show fighting, but she really wants to be the one kidnapped. Although the prospect of becoming a bloated egg laying blob doesn't appeal to her much, getting away from the whiny and petulant queen does.
This little guy discovered an uninhabited sea cave approximately two leagues away to the north. It's spacious, defensible and a good distance away from other lodges. It's prime gargun real estate, and only this guy knows where it is.
The current food taster for the king. He has grown quite fat in his role. He has been gradually acclimatizing himself to the poison doshenkana, "just in case".
There are many events that can trigger a swarm in a tribe with sufficient population pressure. The players might even be the witting or unwitting instigators.
Triggers include violent events such as quarrels or stabbings, or bad news such as hunters returning empty handed. These events will escalate into larger fights and the swarm instinct will rapidly spread throughout the tribe.
As the instinct takes hold, the tribe will divide into two factions. One side will join the escaping swarm, and the other side will try and stop them. Thus, the swarm will gain numbers the closer it gets to the door, but will also find greater resistance.
Despite the anarchic nature of swarms, there is a goal the chaos is seeking, and that is the establishment of a new lodge with a queen. Failure in some of the earlier tasks can transform the swarm into a bloody civil war.
The orcs the players are portraying are among the brightest of their kind. They are smart enough to know that a swarm in imminent, and should be given a small amount of time to prepare for it. Among the items to be considered for a swarm are timing the breakdown, the escape routes, the final destination, and how to survive there long enough to breed.
Even without the population pressure, the act of kidnapping a princess alone is enough to trigger the swarm reflex. But whatever the cause, a swarm without a princess will degenerate into a bloody civil war.
Princesses are the fiercest warriors in the tribe, and they do not like being kidnapped. Even Princess Anex, who isn't opposed to the idea, will put up a good fight. If the party members are blundering about, she'll cuff them about the ears and explain how things are done (and cross them off the list of prince candidates).
Once a princess has been kidnapped the goal is to escape the lodge. The closer the swarm gets to the exit the more members will join it, but also the more opposition it will face.
Since he has mated, King Thag will not be under the influence of the swarm instinct. A smart king might seek to manage the swarm to avoid a civil war, or even "divert" the swarm towards his nearest enemy (the Moym Hyeka to the northwest). But Thag isn't this smart.
Because of this, the gamemaster should avoid killing off the princess, otherwise the situation would instantly degrade into civil war.
The swarm now travels from the old lodge to the site of the new future lodge. There will be obstacles along the way.
During this time the players need not be helpless motes caught up in the chaos. This is the perfect opportunity to increase one's ranking in the gargun pecking order. Orcs follow the leadership of the strong, and this is the time for the players to demonstrate their leadership.
Leadership is a precarious position. If obtained it must be actively maintained.
When the swarm is far enough away from the old lodge, the location for a new lodge must be determined. Jaxo has an idea as noted above, but his is not the only one. Some gargun may argue for a ruined manor north of Thay, but that area is dangerous. Others might argue for the bluffs to the west, but those are very near other Moym tribes. There are also Melderyn mines, which sound quite cozy, but could be very dangerous. Then there is the traditional option of digging a new lodge from scratch. But it would take a week or more to dig, with the swarm being exposed.
The new site needs fresh water and defenses. It also needs to be sufficiently distinct from other gargun groups.
If the lodge is going to be in an existing cave or hole, it must be cleaned out and made ready. If one is to be dug, then it's time to start digging.
The new queen needs her own chamber, and it should not be generally accessible by group. There needs to be lookout stations nearby. The site needs to be camouflaged to give the new tribe sufficient time to establish themselves.
Finally, if one has not already asserted himself, it's time to select a new king. Only one male gets the privilege of mating with the new queen, and it's a role all the males want. Kingship is not determined by a democracy. The traditional method is for one strong orc to claim the title, which he will immediately have to defend in mortal combat against two or three challengers.
You didn't think this was going to be easy, did you? There will be other obstacles because squabbling that must be faced. The gamemaster should not introduce all of these, as there would be too few gargun left at the end of the adventure to start a colony.
As stated earlier, not all of the tribe resides with the Rathole. About half sleep in crude leantos and bowers out in the woods.
The swarm will encounter a dozen hunting gargu-arak. Not being exhausted or injured, they will be in better shape than most of the swarm. They will attempt to join the swarm and assume control.
There are other gargun in the Moym range. Most are Arak, but some are the larger and better armed Hyeka. The instinct of encountered groups will be to attack the swarm to further their own tribe's gene pool. The Arak may be the most dangerous, as they will attack from a distance with poisoned arrows.
If the swarm heads south, it may run into a human patrol. The patrols will be wary of gargun, but won't be expecting a swarm. There will be two knights on horseback supported by six to eight mercenaries and yeomen.
If the swarm decides to colonize Jaxo's sea cave, they will find it to be the hideaway for a group of Ivinian pirates. The pirates will not be at home, but will come sailing in about the same time that the kingship is being challenged.
The characters as provided to the players are generic Gargu-Arak. They are better than the average gargun, but they need personalizing by the players.
Choose weapon among spear, club, mankar, dagger or shortbow. Receive this weapon and add 1d6 ML to appropriate skill.
Choose three other skills to raise by 1d6 ML each, or one skill by 2d6 ML.
Choose one of the following:
Additional weapon as possession among buckler, spear, club, mankar, dagger or shortbow. Do not receive any additional ML.
Select one piece of spot armor among leather cowl, leather boots, kurbul greaves or vambraces.
Select one special item from among poison vial, poison antidote (one dose), axe head, waterskin, flint knapping kit, pet rat.