LEGEND, THE ORK, AND THE ADVENTURE
3-part series was originally written in November 2000, shortly after
the release of John Wick's Orkworld. I shopped it around to a few
gaming periodicals, but the game never became popular enough to justify
several thousand words and the article never sold. Although it is
perhaps most interesting to those who remember the exceptionally
I think there's interest here for anyone running a fantasy campaign.
PART 1: THE LEGEND
This is the story of Fanal the Swordbearer;
Fanal the Mowgd Bane; Fanal the Bashthala. When told by the talda of
the North it is a story of hubris and stupidity. When told by the
Eastern tribes it becomes a parable of the Harsh Times. To the bards of
the West it is known as a story of tala, the false heroism of
foolishness. And in the South the story of Fanal is forgotten as the
detritus of an ignoble age.
But here, in the lands of the Long Winter Glen, it is a tale of fanu –
of a strength which can only be found in the strongest of hearts in the
moment of wa. The story of a hero who rose above the limitations of his
flesh and his people, and who truly earned his name and his heritage.
Here Fanal is not forgotten or dismissed, but remembered as the ork he
was – an ork whose strength of spirit serves still as a reminder of our
common plight; of the thala which make up our lives, and the solutions
which may be found even in the face of adversity and hopelessness.
* * *
In years long since gone by, it came to pass that three of creation’s
fiends walked along a common path: Atheleyaendroovalsai of the
Ahlvsees; Burgon al’Kalthorn, Lord of the Eastern Shtontee; and Petrus
of the Manoo. Each sought the might of the Gray Spear, crafted in the
days before legend and housing a shard of Bashthraka’s soul within a
spearhead made of the metal of Iron Lake, for their own selfish
reasons. Athvalsai would use it as a means of laying waste to his
comrades. To Petrus it would reveal our secret magicks. For Burgon
al’Kathorn its sacred metal would be transformed upon his forge into a
First they sought to seize the spear through force of arms. Each of
them – man, dwarf, and elf – brought to the field their private armies,
and welded them into a single whole: The Army of the Triad. But in
these times the Gray Spear was wielded by Kalabak, the greatest of the
thraka, the eldest son of the Household of Tildahn, and the most
revered ork among the Nine Houses of the Thrush. In his hands it had
vanquished a thousand foes, and washed the Plains of Pain red with the
blood his enemies. When the Army of the Triad marched against the House
of Tildahn, it was driven back.
And so, to wrest it from the mighty grasp of Kalabak, these three
joined in conspiracy and conceived a plan bred of mowgda and seeded
with the treachery of man, the poisoned soul of dwarf, and the twisted
ambition of elf.
In this season, Kalabak was the eldest of three sons. Next came Fanal.
And last came Travlesan. In seeing this, the three conspirators
conceived their mischievous plans. With the arcane magics of the elves,
they cloaked themselves behind the faces of the gods: The dwarf as
Bashthraka, the elf as Pugg, and the man as Gowthdukah.
Each conspirator, in turn, went to one of the brothers: Kalabak saw
Bashthraka come to him as he hunted the wild deer. Travelsan was
visited by one who bore the countenance of Pugg as he labored at the
forge. And Fanal, as he was wont to do, had gone far from home in his
wanderings, and was reached last by the figure of Gowthdukah.
Each of the three brothers was told the same lie: That there was a
companion to the Gray Spear, which had been lost many years before. But
that the god had finally uncovered the secret of its hiding place, and
the spear could now be gained… if only they would follow the god to its
Kalabak dreamed of glory redoubled. Travlesan of matching the exploits
of his elder brother. Fanal of the great deeds which could be done with
such a weapon.
Kalabak and Travlesan were the first to reach the accursed grove which
the three conspirators had chosen: Perched in silver moonlight upon the
tallest cliff. Athvalsai weaved his spells, and the true faces of the
brothers were concealed from each other – and they warred with each
other over a prize which had never been. Travlesan fell that night, and
Kalabak’s blade was stained with the crimson of his own blood.
As Travelsan’s body slipped from the Gray Spear’s shaft, Fanal arrived
within the grove – and would have shared his brother’s fate if chance
had erred but slightly. But Fortune was with Fanal that
night, for in disguising himself as Gowthdukah, Petrus had
also opened his mind to the god’s own soul. Looking out over the
devastation which had been wrought, Gowthdukah reached through the man
and stripped the fiction from Fanal’s vision. Seeing one brother slain
by another, Fanal cried out in horror – and in that instant the spell
was broken upon Kalabak as well.
Kalabak looked down and saw what his hand had wrought. Next he looked
within his soul, and found a shard of mowgda there. And he was ashamed.
He cast the Gray Spear down, and filled with the anguish of his deeds,
he fled over the cliffs to his doom.
Fanal, seeing still with true sight, saw all of the deception revealed.
Reaching down with fury in his heart, he claimed the Gray Spear as his
own and slew the man.
Seeing their failure writ in the death of their comrade, the dwarf and
elf withdrew to scheme and plot their revenge. They drew to themselves,
once more, the Army of the Triad and came again to crush the newly
weakened house and claim the Gray Spear as their own.
But Fanal, fresh in his rage, laughed with the strength of keerisboon
and rallied the Nine Houses to his cause. And thus was born the Second
Battle of the Triad.
The fighting lasted all of the day, and into the night, and into the
next day, and into the next night. But as the dawn of the third day
arose, it came to pass that Fanal and the elf Athvalsai met each other
upon the battlefield. Both were wearied beyond the bounds of mortal
flesh. Both longed for rest. But both knew that their hour of truth had
Their battle lasted all through the day and deep into the next night.
Fanal’s skill was too great for the elf to strike his lethal blows. The
evil Athvalsai’s magics were too mighty for Fanal to overcome. But as
the dawn of the fourth day arose, Fanal – wearied almost to the point
of death – reared back the mighty Gray Spear and cast it deep within
the elf’s foul breast. With a cry to set the tangodo walking, Athvalsai
fell… and the Gray Spear broke.
Fanal fell to his knees, half of the Gray Spear still clutched in his
grasp. The Nine Houses fell back in confusion. The Army of the Triad
fled in terror at their leader’s loss.
That night the battlefield fell silent.
That night a sliver of Kalabak’s mowgda dwelt within the heart of every
thraka in the Nine Houses of the Thrush.
That night Gowthdukah came to Fanal again.
Fanal looked upon the god. “Will they come again?”
“They will,” Gowthdukah said. “Anger lives in the heart of Burgon
al’Kalthorn, and he will seek revenge.”
And a long silence passed.
“You cannot win the day tomorrow, without the power of the Gray Spear
in your grasp,” Gowthdukah said.
“I know,” said Fanal. “Is there nothing you can do?”
And a long silence passed.
“Perhaps,” Gowthdukah said at last. “Perhaps there is. Follow me.”
Without another word the god turned his back and began to walk. Without
another word Fanal followed.
It seemed to Fanal that they traveled for many days, and yet the moon
never moved against the stars and Gowthdukah’s stride never altered. At
last they came to a cave and Gowthdukah stopped.
And a long silence passed.
Fanal descended into the cave. What happened within those darkened
depths is unknown to any ork upon the Wakingside. At last, though,
Fanal emerged with Bashayla, the Long Blade – the Sword of Fanal.
And a long silence passed.
“This is not the weapon of a true thraka,” Fanal said.
“It is your weapon,” Gowthduka said. “And thus it is.”
Gowthdukah led Fanal back to his camp. As sights became familiar to
Fanal once more, the moon resumed its course across the heavens.
As dawn broke upon them, they came to find the Nine Houses already
besieged and the Third Battle of the Triad begun.
Turning from the carnage to Gowthdukah, Fanal found that the god was
gone. He looked down upon Bashayla. He looked back upon his dying
And Fanal descended upon the battlefield, the Sword Bashayla falling
from high above his head into the flesh of dwarf. And blood flowed as
if a river around him, the Sword Bashayla falling from high above his
head into the flesh of man. And rage was transformed into a physical
thing, the Sword Bashayla falling from high above his head into the
flesh of elf.
The Thousand Thraka of the Nine Houses fell that day, and yet Fanal
fought on – the Sword Bashayla falling from high above his head into
the flesh of all those around him – until only Fanal stood upon that
field of gore, and the House of Thrush was no more.
And Gowthdukah came to him for the third, and last, time. And
Gowthdukah led Fanal the Swordbearer to where Burgon al’Kalthorn, Lord
of the Eastern Shtontee, had hidden himself away in fear.
And Fanal slew him.
* * *
After the Three Battles of the Triad, Fanal wandered far and wide – and
great tales of his deeds have been passed down to us today. But those
tales are for another day, for now I see that the sun sinks towards
dusk – just as Fanal has faded from our world to dwell upon the
is one of the lesser cycles of orkish mythology. The story told above
forms its core, and is known variously as “Fanal and His Brothers”,
“The Fall of the House of Thrush”, or “The Second Birth of Fanal”
(among others). The form and content of the cycle varies widely
depending upon which orkish tribes are telling the story (based largely
on where the stories began, whether they’ve survived, and how they’ve
changed over time).
The telling of a tale from the Bashfanal
may provide no more than a little local color to a GM’s campaign, but
it is also possible to weave the tale of Fanal into the fabric of the
campaign itself. The adventure seeds below assume that there is a
fundamental truth to the story of Fanal as told above. As a result they
will most likely work best in an epic Orkworld campaign,
but are also easily adaptable to a realistic or cliché game.
Several of these seeds are incompatible with one another, but many of
them can easily work in combination – leading to the possible use of
Fanal’s story as a continuing theme and element of the campaign.
GMs are also encouraged to remember that, like the Orkworld game
itself, the tale of Fanal – and its off-shoots – can easily be adapted
to a variety of other fantasy settings.
SWORD OF FANAL
One version of the Bashfanal tells of
Fanal’s last journey, which took him deep into the cold lands of the
north. There he faced Galathvarl – a foul abomination spawned in the
sorcerous joining of elven and orkish spirits.
Abandoned at birth by his elven creator,
Galathvarl taught himself the ways of his sorcerous forefathers.
Wishing to end the torment of his divided soul, Galathvarl had
conceived a plan to summon forth Keethdowmga, the Great Mother of the
Orks, and slay her -- believing that in the moment of her death his own
orkish spirit would be vanquished.
Whether his plan would have succeeded shall never be known, for Fanal
was able to prevent the ritual’s completion – but only at the cost of
his own life.
Galathvarl, for his own part, survived the mighty explosion which
rocked the northern mountains – but only due to the perseverance of his
elvish spirit. Through the many years which have passed, he has slowly
nursed himself back to health from his nearly destroyed state. Now he
is ready to repeat the ritual… but this time with the aid of Bashayla.
(GMs looking for a particularly simple way of incorporating the story
of Fanal into their campaigns as a bit of local color could simply
strip this idea down to its essential core: The PCs find Bashayla.
Imbue it with whatever magical powers you feel appropriate to your
campaign and characters.)
Upon the battlefield the Gray Spear was sundered
in twain. Legend has it that while the orks retained one half of the
spear the other half was stolen away by the elves. Fanal summoned a
young ork by the name of Ghurdal to carry his half of the Gray Spear to
a place of safety. When the Battle of the Triad came to an end, a
search was called to find the other half of the legendary spear – but
it had disappeared into the blackened lands of the elves.
Ghurdal carried his half of the Gray Spear to a secret complex of
caves, far up in the mountains. He lives there to this day – his life
sustained by the life preserving magics of the cave complex – guarding
the Gray Spear against all trespassers.
Unfortunately, over the years between then and now, the magical
energies unleashed by the sundering of the Gray Spear have slowly been
building up in its broken halves. Recently these energies have reached
a critical mass, and the mystical connection between the two halves is
warping all of reality between the two.
The PCs must track down the two hidden halves of the Spear – one
protected still by Ghurdal; the other hidden away inside an elven
citadel – and reunite them, or the world of Ghurtha itself may be torn
(A possible complication for risk-taking GMs: Galathvarl could, again,
rear his abominable head in this scenario – seeking the two halves of
the Gray Spear in order to power his foul experiments.)
Not all of the orks who fought in the Battle of
the Triad perished on the battlefield. Those who survived, however,
carried with them a lasting curse – and this curse was carried down
from one generation to the next… right to one of the PCs. It is said
that the only way to rid an ork plagued by the curse is to wash in the
blood of Fanal.
SPIRIT OF ATHVALSAI
Death has never been an effective barrier when
there’s a good story to be told – thus it has been, thus it shall
always be. When Athvalsai’s body fell during the Third Battle of the
Triad, his spirit was not similarly broken. To this day it haunts the
field on which it fell. Recently, however, the spirit seems to have
disappeared. Although orks have cautiously moved back into the area,
their actions may be more than premature – in truth, Athvalsai is
gathering strength (or has gathered strength) in order to possess
another host body.
RETURN OF FANAL: A TIME OF TROUBLE
When his adventuring days were done it is said
that Fanal did not die, but instead crossed bodily into the world of
the Otherside. One version of the tale tells how Fanal, with the help
of Pugg, tricked Gorlam into letting him pass into the Otherside.
Another claims that Fanal had to sacrifice the blade of Bashayla to
Gorlam in order to pass (and that the sword resides until this day
within the Great Toad’s belly).
Whatever the case, there he waits: Living among the gods and the
spirits of the dead, awaiting the day of his Return – when he will save
his people from a dire crisis which will threaten all their lives.
(Using this scenario, the return of Fanal should almost certainly be
treated as the culmination of a grand campaign: The orkish people are
threatened with destruction, and only by securing the return of Fanal
will the PCs be able to save their race. It should almost go without
saying that such a story could easily include the defeat of Gorlam
RETURN OF FANAL: A SPIRIT TRAPPED IN CRYSTAL
Not all versions of the Bashfanal claim
that Fanal passed to the Otherside. Some say that Fanal fell in an act
of sacrifice (the stories vary as to whether this was to great purpose
or merely a small, but characteristic, act of selflessness). Of these
stories, some fraction also claim that Fanal’s spirit was unwilling –
or unable – to journey to the Otherside, and instead remained here on
In this scenario, the PCs discover the dark truth of these latter
tales: At the moment of Fanal’s death, his spirit was trapped in a
blood red crystal through the foul sorceries of an evil elf. For
centuries the orkish hero was forced to serve this dark master, until
finally the elven lord was killed during a political machination. The
crystal containing Fanal’s spirit was lost, but now it has been
recovered by the PCs. In order to free Fanal from his prison, however,
the PCs discover that they must secure an artifact created by the dead
elven sorceror – and the only way to accomplish that is to venture into
the Elven Desert and locate his forgotten citadel.
RETURN OF FANAL: A HAUNTED SPIRIT
Recently, forced onto ever-worsening land by the
encroachment of man, a lesser household has set up their Winter Home in
poor, barren territory which has never been inhabited by any humanoid
race in memory. Unfortunately, this new Winter Home seems to be plagued
by various forms of poltergeist and spirit activity. Upon some
investigation the PCs discover that the troubles are being caused, as a
way of attracting attention, by the wandering spirit of Fanal.
It turns out that Fanal was killed in battle before he could return the
sword Bashayla to the cave from whence it came – as a result, his
spirit has been forced to wander the world. This, of course, is where
the PCs enter the picture: They must obtain the sword and return it to
its rightful place.
BATTLE OF THE TRIAD
In a radically different vein, you might consider
of the possibility of setting the campaign in the same time period as
the stories of Fanal. In this scenario, the PCs are contemporaries of
the Swordbearer and are present during the Battle of the Triad. A
number of possible adventure structures suggest themselves within this
1. One of the PCs might take Fanal’s
place in “history”, living out the events described above and
triggering an entire campaign based upon the structure of the Bashfanal.
2. Perhaps the PCs
accompany Fanal during the Sword Quest to find Bashayla – going down in
history as Fanal’s loyal companions and closest friends. This, too,
could be used as a triggering event which allows them to accompany
Fanal throughout the rest of his adventures.
3. Another option
is to simply use the Battle of the Triad as a backdrop to some other
story: The PCs become involved with the battle through events totally
unconnected to Fanal (although the deeper events surrounding the battle
may have an impact at some later point in the campaign – for example if
they encounter Fanal during his wanderings (see below)).
Another possibility in a campaign set contemporary
to Fanal’s life is to have the PCs encounter the hero during the later
part of his career – when he was a wandering hero among the orkish
people. This encounter can be handled in a number of ways.