Iron Kingdoms, Part 3: The Orgoth
“. . . They are the blackest of things. I have seen them shearing the hair off women and children to make rope with which to hang their own fathers and husbands. While we strike at their armored beasts, they laugh. Their robed women make play with strange words, turning the air dark with hate and causing fires that boils flesh. Even the prayers of our priests faze them little. They are implacable, as dark as the deepest waters of Meredius. They are made of hatred and blood and covered in armor wrought with leering faces that actually howl in torment. These Orgoth have brought an evil stain with them . . ." (WG, pg. 24)
In most role-playing games there exists an ancient evil empire that is the source of all the terrible, vile ruins and artifacts that haunt the game's landscape. These ancient empires are often referenced in long forgotten tomes, barely within the scope of historical record, and more often than not completely forgotten about by the average person.
Not so with the Orgoth.
The Orgoth empire conquered the lands of Western Immoren and held it under their iron grip for nearly 600 years. During that time they held the Iron Kingdoms under their boots and ground them into the dirt, murdering anyone that dared to oppose them and stifling the technological and magical development of the continent. Even in the text of the Iron Kingdoms books they are treated in such a way that reading the text leads you to question if they weren't devils traipsing across the surface of Immoren rather than men - but men they were.
At a time when the rest of the known world (at least as far as the Iron Kingdoms are concerned) had no knowledge of arcane magic the Orgoth had sorceresses that dominated battlefields and strange beasts that shook off the best efforts of the Immorese. That we know that these women weren't clerics becomes clear as the text of the World Guide expressly calls them sorceresses and questions the ability of the Orgoth to control them as though the magic was so wildly unpredictable that it drove those using it mad.
That magical power, especially arcane magic, is a corrupting influence is a major theme in much of the Iron Kingdoms literature. As was discussed in The Philosophy Behind the Iron Kingdoms the creators of this setting have decided to treat magic as another form of physical science; and just as splitting the atom gave the Americans and Russians a hugely powerful weapon to use against the rest of the world, so too did the Orgoth's early mastery of magic. With such a powerful weapon at their disposal the Orgoth acted with impunity and so were corrupted by it.
According to the Iron Kingdoms books magic for the world of the Iron Kingdoms was not available prior to the Gift of Magic in 150 BR and yet the Orgoth clearly possessed magic in 600 BR - 450 years earlier. Where did their mastery of magic come from? To my mind there are two possibilities. The first is that magic was always available but that due to the superstitions and inherent prejudices of the Immorese those with the natural gift of magic hid it from the world around them for fear of persecution and only revealed themselves after the Gift of Magic was more widely spread throughout Immoren in 150 BR. The other possibility is that the Orgoth made a deal with the Infernals (see MM1, pgs. 106-113 and MM2 pgs. 88 - 99 for more on this evil supernatural power) for magical powers. It is entirely possible, and I would argue probable, that both possibilities have some truth in them.
When thinking about the Orgoth during this period there is no cruelty, no activity - including human sacrifice - that these people did not engage in. They are the most dominant military empire in the history of the world and they acted accordingly throughout our understanding of them. In the end though they couldn't hold onto Immoren and left the continent.
Why? What drove them away from Immoren and had them destroying and booby-trapping their holdings?
To the peoples of the Iron Kingdoms it was their invention of the Colossals, the first mechanika, that allowed them to finally shrug off the yoke of Orgoth oppression and drive their long time tormentors to the sea. Yet even as this claim is made in the books the Orgoth seem to be slow and methodical in their movements off the continent. There are no broken lines of panicked warriors racing to the black boats. This seems to indicate that the Orgoth had another reason for withdrawing from the continent.
It is implied throughout the text of both the World Guide and Character Guide that the Orgoth have conquered many lands, much of which the people of western Immoren have no direct knowledge of yet they have been able to guess at their existence. No empire of man has ever been able to successfully conquer and maintain control over any large swath of territory without absorbing the technological strengths of the realms they absorbed. So it seems certain that the Orgoth would have eventually developed Colossals of their own either by capturing the technology or by emulating it - neither of which they are noted to have done. It seems far more reasonable to assume that there was another reason why the left Immoren.
Is it possible that they were facing another enemy on a different front; one that required the fullness of their resources and attention? Or did they suffer some economic collapse that forced them to withdraw? Was there a power struggle within their central government that forced them back? The books are silent on these questions yet one central fact remains. The Orgoth still exist and somewhere across the vast ocean their empire slumbers, waiting for some damned fool to come along and remind them of their lost colonies on Immoren.
Feel like you're missing something?
Part 3: The Orgoth
Martin, Joe and Matt Willson. Iron Kingdoms World Guide. Seattle, WA: Privateer Press, 2005. pg. 24
CG - Character Guide
WG - World Guide
LL - Lock & Loaded
LM - Liber Mechanika
MM1 - Monsternomicon v1
MM2 - Monsternomicon v2
WFT1 - Witchfire Trilogy 1
WFT2 - Witchfire Trilogy 2
WFT3 - Witchfire Trilogy 3
NQ# - No Quarter Issue#