Roleplayer #23, May 1991


The Most Dangerous Place on Yrth

by Scott Paul Maykrantz

Orcs are destructive, nomadic, and (compared to other races) have no skill at building things. As a result, they have trouble creating a permanent village, let alone a town or castles. In addition, any settlement they come across is leveled by Orc raids or (if the Orcs explore before raiding it) casual fires set by Orcs who don't know any better.

But there is one exception: Orctown. Orctown is a village in the northern reaches of Orcland, near Sahud. It is a town of danger, excitement, and general chaos, like the Thieves' Quarter of many Yrth cities. A visitor cannot avoid trouble here, and there is no point in trying. The only way to handle yourself in Orctown is to be ready for the trouble when it happens, and plan to make a few coins off it.


Orctown is a small village on the south shore of Black lake. The Karthagg River runs down out of the northern edge of the Bronze Mountains, into the valley west of the Sahudese southern border. In this valley of steep hills and delicate lakes, two rivers – the Karthagg and the Black River – meet at Black lake. The Karthagg continues from here, into Sahud, past the capital city of Kinkaku, and out to the sea.

A mile before the Karthagg meets Black lake, it runs into a large cluster of rocks. These rocks break the river into several strong streams. Orctown is located among these streams, in a swampy acre where the tributaries meet the lake.

The Orctown Environs

The area around Orctown is full of hills, streams, small groves, wildlife, and hunters. At least one Orc tribe (the Poisoned Talon) frequents the area. Cottages and farms can be found everywhere; in the cottages live stout, combat-trained humans who grow vegetables and raise livestock.

The hills are also the home of brigands who roam the area, looking for unsuspecting travelers to rob. The brigands belong to the Orctown brigand guilds (see p. 12).

Those who live in this wild land must be skilled with sword and shield to survive – the brigands, farmers, hunters, and Orc tribesmen prey upon each other for food, shelter and valuables.


Orctown was settled over 70 years ago when an Orc tribe (the Poisoned Talon) camped on the future site of Orctown. There they found a small group of Dwarven outcasts. The Dwarves needed food and shelter; the Orcs needed new weapons. In exchange for a small tent and meals – and, of course, the privilege of continued breathing – the Dwarves crafted weapons and armor for the Orcs over the course of several months.

The news spread and several tribes came to use the Dwarves' services. The coast of Black lake became the hub of activity in the area between Orcland and Sahud. A few stores were established, selling weapons, supplies and food. Travelers stopped there to collect information, merchants arrived to recruit Orc bodyguards, and Orc tribesmen showed up looking for a fight. Outsiders, exiles, and other social refuse found a home in Orctown.

Over the decades, the Dwarves turned to stonework. The Orcs destroyed wood buildings, so the Dwarves had to build stone structures that could not be knocked down or burned. Over the years, the Dwarves created all of the buildings and bridges now standing in Orctown. The Dwarves served as foremen and designers of the buildings, allowing hired Orcs and humans to help with the manual labor. They built each structure slowly, emphasizing quality over quantity, and sold each finished building to the brigand guilds.

With this investment, the brigand guilds were able to take control of the local economy. They collected rent, then used that money to attract merchants in Megalos and Caithness to bring their goods to Orctown.

The town has survived because of a balance of power among its residents. The town can't be destroyed by the Orcs that live there, business is lucrative (which attracts new residents), and the brigand guilds are powerful enough to destroy any Orc tribe that tries to pillage the town. The Dwarves and humans who provide necessary skills are protected by the Orc leaders and by their own hired guards.


Orctown is divided into eight sections by the streams at the end of the Karthagg River. This, and the fact that all of Orctown's buildings and bridges are made of stone, is all that prevents Orctown from being burned to the ground several times a year.

There is at least one fire a week in Orctown. Most are extinguished (using buckets of water from the streams) before they grow too large. Once every two to three months, a fire rages out of control and burns several buildings. Some fires can even burn an entire section of Orctown. Fires will plague Orctown as long as Orcs live there. But arsonists of any race are punished; a casual pyromaniac will be caught and convicted by street justice.

If a fire ranges out of control, it will burn the entire section of Orctown between the streams. Mud and clay is packed on roofs to prevent the blaze from "jumping" the stream (by scattering incendiary debris and sparks in the wind). Occasionally a blaze is extinguished by a heavy downpour of rain (often summoned by a mage).

When the fire has run its course, furniture, roofs, doors, shutters, and any wooden extensions to the buildings must be replaced. The initial repair of necessary structures (such as roofs) takes a week. Completely replacing everything takes much longer.

The three brigand's guilds, Skully's (an inn/tavern), the Black Axe (an inn), and the Erbry (a tavern) have extensive fire extinguishing systems. On the roof of each building are metal barrels, attached to the frame of the roof by a heavy hinge. These barrels collect rain year-round and are tipped on the hinge if the building (or a building nearby) catches fire. In addition, these six establishments have loyal patrons who eagerly help extinguish the fire (including mages with useful spells such as Rain or Extinguish Fire).

The Orctown Economy

The three brigand dukes own Orctown – they are the kingpins of commerce and crime. Each brigand duke is the leader of a brigands' guild, each with a guildhouse in Orctown. The dukes are Adolphe Valerian of Red House, Boss Zirynth of Portan House, and Grath Painmaker of Grath House. (The practice of calling a guild a "House" was inspired by the noble houses of Sahud.)

Each duke is cunning, egotistical and ruthless. They deal with two types of businessmen: those who travel in caravans or ships to sell goods abroad (whom the dukes call "merchants") and the local traders in Orctown who sell goods and services to Orctowners (whom the dukes call "shopkeepers"). The dukes act as middlemen between these two groups.

The Merchants

The brigand dukes encourage merchants from Sahud, Megalos, Caithness and the Nomad lands to bring goods to Orctown. Merchants come by caravan through the Bronze Mountains or around the mountains by way of Orcland or Sahud. Some merchants travel in small ships and river boats up the Karthagg River.

Orctowners depend on merchants for many essential products. The merchants bring everything except pottery, fish, furs, lumber, livestock and hides (which the Orctowners produce locally).

Traveling to Orctown is expensive. Merchants must invest in bodyguards, reliable guides, survival supplies, etc. If they survive the journey, they still face the hordes of brigands who lurk in the hills surrounding Orctown and along the Karthagg. Ironically, the brigands are members of the Orctown brigands' guilds, the same organization that buys the merchants' goods!

The merchants do come, however, because the brigand dukes pay well. Any merchant will be paid at least 30% more than the basic value of the goods. (The "basic value" is the price the goods would bring in another town or city on the Ytarrian continent; the basic value of small quantities of goods can be found on p. B212.) If more than one duke bids for the merchandise, the percentage can rise even higher!

The dukes make a modest profit selling the goods to local shopkeepers for 40% more than the basic value. The shopkeepers make money by selling the goods to Orctowners for 50% more than the basic value. This means that everything is Orctown costs 50% more "normal" prices. A medium shield (basic value $60) costs $90 in Orctown. Orctowners can afford these prices because their own fees are inflated – mercenaries charge 50% more than elsewhere in Ytarria, mages charge 50% more for any spellcaster services, and criminals make 50% more because there is more to steal!

The majority of the dukes' income comes from occasionally robbing merchants en route to Orctown. By capturing goods from a caravan or ship, every coin they make from the operation is profit. This high profit balances the low profit they make from their purchases from merchants, keeping them in business. But they are careful in their manipulation of the local economy. If they capture too many caravans and ships, merchants will not risk coming to Orctown. Any merchant who sells his goods directly to the shopkeepers will be killed. On the other hand, merchants who reach a special "understanding" with a duke will not be molested by that duke's forces – or, usually, by the others.

Although the brigand dukes could sell the goods directly to the rest of Orctown (eliminating the shopkeepers for higher profits), the dukes are just too busy. They have enough work attracting merchants and tending to the brigands!

Favoring Fees

The dukes can decrease the amount of money they pay for shipped goods by giving a merchant a "favoring fee." The standard favoring fee is 10%. The favoring fee is subtracted from the percentage added to the basic value. Thus, a merchant who agrees to a standard favoring fee will sell his goods for 20% more than the basic value, instead of 30% more.

When a merchant agrees to a favoring fee for a duke, that duke sends his troops to escort the traveling merchant into Orctown. These brigands will protect the merchant from being attacked by the other brigands camped in the hills outside the town. They escort the merchant as he approaches and as he leaves. The agreement for a favoring fee will include the distance between Orctown and the merchant at which the brigands will arrive (the standard is 50 miles). The favoring fee rises proportionately with the distance.

Obviously, a merchant must sell his goods to the guild that is favoring him. If the merchant is escorted by one guild and sells any of his goods to another, the guild that escorted him will pillage the merchant on his way Out of town. A merchant can, however, choose a different guild to favor him on a later visit. This is one of the advantages of trading without a favoring fee – without one, the merchant can get the dukes to bid for his goods . . . if he makes it into town!

The merchants who travel to Orctown on a regular basis are always favored by one of the guilds. If the merchant is exceptionally reliable, the dukes may bid lower fees to favor the merchant! A favoring fee can also be reduced if a merchant provides a special service (delivering unusual goods, for example), or by convincing other merchants to sell goods to Orctown.

A favoring fee can be increased (to 15% or even 20%) if the merchant wants the guild to send an especially powerful force for protection, or wants protection outside the usual 50-mile range.

Of course, dealing with the brigand dukes isn't a cut-and-dried process. Wise merchants will bring their own mercenary guards and invest in local freelance spies to protect themselves. The dukes will cheat newcomers when they can, especially by changing the "fine print" of a spoken agreement (see p. 10). And when the dukes are quarreling (which is often), they will send their troops to destroy or steal goods brought by the merchants who sell to their rivals.


The shopkeepers buy all of their goods from the brigand dukes. A shopkeeper caught buying directly from a merchant will be robbed clean by brigands (repeat offenders are killed or run out of town). But Orctown shopkeepers are tough – they deal with the constant threat of fire, robbery, and assassination. They only reason they stay is because the money is so good.

Each brigands' guild has a different relationship with each shopkeeper. Reliable, respectful shopkeepers who get along with the dukes will stay in business. These shopkeepers can even ask for assistance from a duke. For example, a shopkeeper on good terms with Grath Painmaker could occasionally return unsold goods to Grath House for credit. Some shopkeepers, however, resent the dukes' control. Any resistance only make it worse for themselves, though, so the smart shopkeeper toes the line.

Additional Influence and Income

Most outsiders do not realize that the dukes run the economy of Orctown (or how they do it). The brigand dukes like it that way – they avoid publicity.

The brigand guilds collect rent every month from nearly every Orctowner – only the Dwarves live rent-free. On the day after the full moon, a group of tax collectors makes the rounds. The cost is $10 per building; if the building has two floors, the cost is $15. The inns (Skully's and the Black Axe) are charged $35 per month. Each guild owns different buildings (Portan House owns the most; Grath House owns the least). Failure to pay results in immediate eviction.

The dukes have suppressed other guilds for years. They do not want organized resistance to their power, so they act when Orctowner professionals begin to gather. The current rumor of an impending Mages' Guild may be hard to prevent, however – the dukes will start a major feud (and lose valuable allies) if they deal too strongly with the local mages.

The Brigand Guilds

Each guild has 330 to 400 members. With active recruitment and a high fatality rate, each guild will gain or lose about 20 members per month. New members are recruited from the steady stream of immigrants – those who are tough enough to survive a week or two in Orctown make good brigands.


Red House brigands wear strips of red cloth across the forehead or on an arm. Portan House brigands carry two swords at all times, even if they favor other weapons – sometimes the two scabbards at the belt will contain wooden weapons or even broken hilts, but no Portan brigand goes without the two scabbards. Grath House brigands have no special trademark, though the town joke is that they are identified by their filth – they never bathe or clean their clothes. Grath House brigands can be visually identified by process of elimination: any brigand who does not wear a red cloth or two swords is a Grath House member.

Pretending to be a member of a rival guild is extremely dangerous. Members of your own guild will call you a traitor; members of the mimicked guild will hunt and kill you.

The Brigand Profession

The "job" of Orctown brigands involves roaming the local countryside and stealing from wayfarers or Orc tribesmen, protecting favored merchants, stealing from merchants that their guild is not favoring, battling rival brigands, protecting the shopkeepers who faithfully serve their duke, collecting streetwise information and spying, running errands (including delivering messages as far
away as Megalos), unpacking and packing goods purchased by their duke, and taking care of their guildhouse and property.

After dues are taken out, each brigand makes $400 per month. His clothing, armor, weapons, food and housing are provided by the guild. Wounded or ill brigands are attended to by physicians hired by the guild; this does not cost the brigand unless he abuses the service. Although everything in Orctown is over-priced, brigands live in relative luxury.

After-Hours Activities

The dukes tolerate a certain amount of rebellion. Many brigands find ways to supplement their income. Some moonlight (literally!) as burglars. But the dukes are much more strict about stealing from favored merchants. If a brigand is caught stealing from a favored merchant, the thief will be imprisoned in the guild dungeon for a few weeks. (The dukes use the Detect Lies skill and, if possible, magic to detect guilt.) The penalty for a second offense is death.

Corruption and double-dealing among the brigands are common. They are dishonest murderers by trade, so a few bribes and extortion are to be expected. A favorite method of earning some extra income is to collect "protection" money from shopkeepers (usually $15 a month). However, the protection is legitimate – the brigands will keep an eye on the establishment and fight off harassing brigands from rival guilds.

Becoming a Brigand Duke

The only way to usurp the position of duke is to gain notoriety as a brigand (to build a base of authority and respect), then kill one of the dukes. This has been tried on numerous occasions in the history of Orctown. It has succeeded only once in the last five years, when Adolphe Valerian poisoned his former boss (and founding duke of Red House) Brutos the Red.

Creating a new House would be harder. The existing dukes would destroy any such attempt from within Orctown. An outsider who arrived with his own strong power base, and good diplomatic skills, might have a chance.


Some Orctown thieves are not guild members. These "freelancers" make money attacking merchants en route to Orctown or burglarizing shopkeepers. But if a freelancer bothers the wrong person, the guild brethren will kill him or run him out of town. Of course, if the freelancer is tough, he may be "invited" to join a guild!

Guild Rivalry

The three brigand guilds are extremely competitive, and the competition sometimes turns into outright battle. Most of the time, two of the guilds are in a state of uneasy alliance with a third – until one of the allies betrays the other. Sometimes it's every guild for itself.

The competition extends to the streets of Orctown. Rival brigands avoid each other – any conversation they might have becomes an argument, then a fight. Brawls are common, and there are lethal duels or simple murders every night.

Red House

Red House brigands have the reputation of being smart and skillful. Each is an expert in a particular field (level 16 or higher), usually a Combat/Weapon skill or Thief/Spy skill. Adolphe and his lieutenants can also make good use of any brigand with a non-combat, non-thief area of expertise – for example, they will keep a brigand with Accounting in the guildhouse as a bodyguard-accountant. A brigand with Area Knowledge (Orclands) and leadership would be used to set up ambushes on merchant caravans.

The Red House guildhouse is a two-story building located far from the coast (10 on the map). The main building has rooms for the brigands, an armory, duke Adolphe Valerian's personal chambers, a kitchen, and a common room. Other rooms are found in the building next to the guildhouse.

The Red House brigands are not as well-treated as their rivals, because Adolphe is so miserly. The Red House kitchen is understocked, the brigands are paid only 80% of the salary of their rivals, many of the brigands have second jobs (in their areas of expertise), and more Red House brigands can found at the Erbry each evening than in the guildhouse.

To keep his men loyal, Adolphe offers a reward to those who have served him longest – a loyal brigand eventually becomes one of his twelve lieutenants. The lieutenants order the others around but rarely have to do any strenuous work themselves (including combat). They are paid more than twice the salary of the others! The regular brigands tolerate their mistreatment, comforted by the hope of "retiring" to this level of luxury.

Adolphe and his lieutenants select new recruits carefully. Adolphe wants smart, talented people who are willing to be oppressed in exchange for the chance to oppress others later! For this reason, Red House includes several Sahudese martial artists in the membership – the Sahudese are loyal and deadly. One of the Sahudese is a lieutenant.

Grath House

Grath Painmaker runs a chaotic, vicious guild. His brigands are encouraged to be as savage, wild, and notorious as possible. And they are – Grath brigands are very intimidating, with animalistic habits and a potent odor.

The Grath guildhouse (9 on the map) is a single-story building. It was specially-built with a huge basement. This gives the brigands a guildhouse that is nearly impossible to destroy, yet still has space for the entire membership. Not that they stick around for long – every night, at least a third of the guild membership can be found at Skully's.

The guildhouse is dirty and dark, like a cave. But the brigands don't mind sleeping on a dirt floor, among filth and rats, or being forced to carry all of their belongings to prevent them from being stolen. Most of them are barbarians, mountain men, and Orcs, so they actually like the accommodations!

Grath House is poorly managed. Guild leaders are those brigands who survived last night's brawls and battles. Typically, ten of the toughest brigands will hold a position of leadership for a month before one is displaced by another, tougher brigand. Grath Painmaker is the toughest warrior in the guild, but he is also smart enough to surround himself with loyal bodyguards.

Grath employs a few non-brigand professionals to take care of those tasks his brigands cannot handle: business records and calculations (accountants) and weapon and armor upkeep (Dwarves and smiths). He keeps his accountants well-paid (and sufficiently intimidated) to insure their loyalty.

Grath House has a high fatality rate. Grath Painmaker keeps his guild full by recruiting from Orc tribes – he always has a brigand or two riding through Orcland, spreading tales of a guild in Orctown that (in the words of Grath brigands) "pays you to kill and steal." This attracts plenty of new recruits.

Portan House

Portan House (14 on the map) is a coordinated, disciplined guild. The brigands spend a lot of time in the guildhouse training and socializing. The guild-house common room (on the lower of two floors) serves as their exclusive tavern, with a barkeep and well-stocked kitchen. The upper floor is the barracks – large rooms full of beds. The place looks like a military academy.

Zirynth promotes camaraderie and personal excellence, but loyalty and discipline are more important than pure skill. As a result, all Portan House brigands are (compared to the rival guilds) loyal and professional. Portan House also has the oldest (and most experienced) membership – the two-sword brothers watch out for each other. This makes Portan House's membership about 10% higher than the other two (up to 460 members).

The leadership of Portan House is based on traditional military ranks. Common brigands are cadets, Rank 0.10% of the total membership are non-cadet leaders – these are: sergeants, Rank 1 (7% of total membership); company commanders, Rank 2 (3%); and guild commander, Rank 3 (Boss Zirynth). Each company commander is in charge of two sergeants. Each sergeant is in charge of approximately 12 cadets. In Portan House, a "platoon" is a group of 12 cadets and sergeant; a "company" is a group of 24 cadets and their two sergeants.

Boss Zirynth requires his cadets to learn certain skills before they can become sergeants; they must know Swimming, Leadership, Tactics, First Aid and they must be Literate. The Orc brigands in Portan House never rise above cadet level – their destructive and rebellious nature prevents them from learning the necessary discipline and skills.

The coordination of Portan House makes them dangerous opponents. Anyone who thinks their low-key, professional nature is a sign of weakness is in for a surprise! An assault on a merchant's caravan or an attack on rival brigands are strategically planned, countering the expertise and ruthlessness of Red House and the unpredictable savagery of Grath House.

Orctown Locations

There are over two hundred buildings in Orctown. Some 150 of the buildings are businesses. Orctown does not have any parks, paved or cobbled roads, warehouses, a bazaar, or a "town square."

Orctown is also one of the only Yrth towns or cities without a single church or temple; this is because many Orctowners adhere to religions that need no designated place of worship. Pagans worship in the open fields and hills outside of town. Dwarves do not need a temple to feel the Eternal. Sahudese worship everything around them. And Orcs don't worship anything!

Places in Orctown

Local shops in Orctown include: smithy, leatherworker, clothier, potter, wainwright, cooper, scribe, embalmer, stone mason, and carpenter/woodworker. Each smith has a specialty (silver, sword-making, etc.); half of the smiths are Dwarves. Leatherworkers buy their hides from the hunters and trappers in the Orctown environs. Clothiers (most are Sahudese) launder clothes for a cost of half the value of the garment; alterations and mending cost 25% to 100% of the value. Wainwrights double as salesmen of saddles and horse harness. Embalmers (whose apprentices dig graves in the large graveyard outside of town) have a thriving business. Scribes double as mapmakers. Most masons are Dwarves.

There are also a few general stores which stock a plethora of useful goods.

In addition to the common establishments, Orctown has some unique places. These are described below and in the last sidebar. see the map for locations.


Skully's (2 on the map) is a tavern and inn, one of the most exciting places in Orctown. Skully, the owner and manager, is a portly Orc. He claims he killed a giant, an act that gave him his name and the skull that hangs above the tavern door. He runs a lose, wild establishment. However, although he is an Orc, he does not allow brawls or duels inside the building (he can't afford it).

The inn is a two-story building, with thick stone columns inside to add support to the upper floor and roof. Skully's has two fireplaces and a large common room on the ground floor, filled with long wooden tables and benches. The kitchen is located just off of the common room. There is also a large cellar.

The customers of Skully's include most of the non-brigand Orctowners, all Grath House brigands, and most Orctown visitors. Red House brigands and Portan House brigands are not allowed inside Skully's. The large number of customers makes Skully's the central source of street gossip.

A simple meal is $3; a hearty meal is $5. A tankard of ale costs $2. Skully has ten rooms, each with a bed and a lantern. The cost is $7 a night.

The Black Axe

The Black Axe (15 on the map) is Orctown's other inn, though it does not double as a tavern like Skully's. The building is like Skully's, except it has only one fireplace. A large, black double-bladed axe hangs above the door. The Black Axe charges $6 a night. The small stable next door costs $3 per night per horse.

The owners of The Black Axe are a trio of Sahudese gentlemen. They are extremely courteous, but they are also thieves. An adventurer fresh from a profitable venture or a visiting merchant will be relieved of his riches in the night. Guests who do not flaunt excessive riches are left alone.

Customers fluent in Sahudese will have their bill reduced by 20% or more. The innkeepers speak Anglish poorly. They love to converse with non-Sahudese who speak their native tongue as well as them. They will keep such a customer up all night talking about world events and political philosophy!

The Erbry

The Erbry (18 on the map) is a unique tavern. There is no sign in front, but the door is painted red. It the "official" tavern of Red House; members of Portan House and Grath House are not allowed inside. It got its name 15 years ago when a physician lived and worked there; it was "the herbary." The name is still used, though few Orctowners even know what it means.

The common room of the Erbry is located 20 feet below the front door. Inside the door is a 3-yard by 3-yard stone platform. Extending down from the platform is a steep stone staircase that ends at the common room floor.

The Erbry also has special tables located at the same level as the front door, accessible by a narrow ledge. To the right and left of the front door, the platform continues around the inside of the building. Metal railings have been installed along the stone ledges to prevent patrons from falling. Wood planks have been fitted diagonally over the ledge in each corner, creating four sizable dining areas (up to eight people in each). From the ceiling hang four pulleys, one near each dining area; food is placed in baskets hanging from the pulleys, allowing the patrons to be served from the common room floor!

The common room's earthen walls are angled, sloping outward to meet the stone floor. This makes the floor of the common room larger than the dimensions of the building's walls surrounding the dining areas above. The common room has ten wood tables with matching chairs or benches. The furniture is decorative (with engraved designs in the wood) and the chairs and benches have cloth cushions. The common room is lit by a very plain-looking (but large) metal chandelier. Its 16 oil lamps on it are lit and refilled using long metal poles. The kitchen is in an underground chamber off of the common room.

The Erbry is managed by Adolphe Valerian's cousin, Giles Highwalker. The building's unique layout has caused Giles his fair share of problems. Heavy rain has caused the common room to flood on several occasions. Refurnishing after three fires in the past five years has left Giles deeply in debt to his brother. The Erbry can be rough, too, setting Giles back even more – cushions, chairs, pulleys, lanterns, and wood planks have to be repaired and replaced after the occasional uncontainable brawl.

As a result, the Erbry is very expensive. A meal costs $6, $8 with good wine. Red House brigands pay half price. The high prices keep out the more destructive Orctowners. The really rowdy types don't waste their money on here – they would rather go to Skully's, where they can carouse freely.

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