Like many other small villages dotting the wilderness, Portsbere was hit hard by the recent downturn of events. The effects of the Neverending Winter have almost completely squashed the local agricultural industry. As a result, many farmers and homesteaders have turned to other means of scraping together a living. Some went off to work in the copper mines of nearby Keln, while others took up hunting what little game was still available; smoking the meat and selling the pelts. Others struggled to raise livestock; feeding their swine and chickens whatever they could find to keep them alive and growing.
Fortunately for the village, it is located off the main thoroughfare between the municipalities of Port Iverson and Bone Creek. Situated roughly halfway between the two cities with about a day’s journey to each, Portsbere is the ideal location for weary travellers. With Bone Creek’s notoriety increasing almost by the day, travel between the city and port has increased significantly. As a result, none of the locals are surprised to regularly see new faces at the Trading Post, the village’s sole dry goods store. The Smoke House, the village’s dilapidated inn, recently underwent a moderate expansion in order to cater to the increase in traffic. Newcomer Alan Sullivan, the Smoke House’s new proprietor, not only added rooms to the inn, but completely renovated the tavern room; giving it the look and feel of a hunting lodge decorated with pelts, antler racks, stuffed and mounted beasts, and a variety of bows and other hunting accoutrements.
Despite the facelift, the Smoke House continued to serve that which was readily available; a wide range of smoked wild meats along with a modest selection of barbequed pork and poultry. Travelers are treated to a wide selection of roasted and smoked meats, along with mountains of side dishes such as fluffy mashed potatoes and sweet carrots floating in gravy. Groups of first-time visitors are given a complimentary basket of barbequed ribs; a dish which is quite popular among the locals.
When the PCs, en route to Bone Creek stop off here for the night, they are warmly greeted warmly by Alan Sullivan who tells them all about the inn and ushers them into the tavern before disappearing into the back kitchen. A busty waitress provides the PCs with a basket of complimentary ribs and takes their order. Food here is not cheap, but the quality is better than standard tavern fare. The ribs are tender and sweet; with just a taste of smoked hickory. The rest of the food is equally satisfying.
A nasty visit
Towards the end of the heroes’ repast, the front window of the tavern room is smashed by a flaming sphere; sailing through the air to land smack in the middle of the PCs’ table. As the molotov cocktail burns out, the PCs hear shouting and screaming coming from outside, along with some gruntlike speech which can be identified as a local orcish dialect.
Outside is chaos; a man lies in the street, clutching a gout of blood flowing from his side. A screaming woman futilely chases after a massive, loping humanoid with a bundle in his arms; who easily races into the surrounding forest. Several buildings have started burning; the result of more flaming cocktails flung by orcs who quickly retreat into the treeline.
One orc stands in the middle of the street; veins bulging in his forehead and neck as he angrily screams challenges and profanities in orcish. "Retribution at last! You will all pay! Our children for yours!" After a little bit more of this, another brutish voice calls from the forest in the orc tongue "Lightning Strike! Enough! We have what we came for. Move now!" With that, the orc gives one last livid snarl and lopes off into the darkness.
If this orc is attacked, he will retaliate; doing whatever he can to get away. He appears to be in some sort of enraged frenzy; during the entire battle screaming out "Our children for yours!", "Your crimes will not go unpunished!" and the like.
As the shocked villagers gather in the evening dusk in front of the inn, it quickly becomes apparent that the orcs have managed to kidnap about a dozen children from the village; ranging from infants to young kids. Naturally, the villagers are beside themselves. Several folk grab weapons and prepare to pursue the kidnappers, but it quickly becomes apparent that the villagers would be no match for the prowess of the orcs. After some frantic discussions, with villagers hysterically interjecting phrases such as "Who knows what those monsters could be doing to our darlings!", and "Someone should rid us of those evil fiends once and for all!", an old female dwarf steps forward. The priest and unofficial matriarch of the village, she offers of a reward to anyone who can get the children back safely.
Further questioning reveals that there have not been any problems with orcs in the past; occasionally one or two might even pass near the village. This, however, does not stop the villagers from speaking hatefully about the orcs.
Hot on the trail
Although the orcs left few tracks or telltale signs in their wake, the PCs should be able to nevertheless track them to an encampment about an hour’s trek from the village. If all else fails, one of the local woodsmen, for a cut of the reward, is willing to track the orcs. In this large clearing, a dozen orcs stand, armed and ready for battle, yet muttering to one another in hushed tones. At the far end of the clearing is a rock precipice opening into a small cave. From within the cave can be heard the nervous (but not terrified) cries of infants and children. Directly in front of the cave stand several of the largest orcs; ready and waiting.
If the PCs charge in and start swinging, the orcs retaliate; apparently positioning themselves so as to guard the cave entrance. During the battle, the orcs will call to one another in orcish to "protect the young ones". If the PCs kill all the orcs, the story ends here; they can return the children back to the villagers and claim their reward.
If, however, the PCs make any sort of diplomatic gesture, or attempt to communicate, the orcs will be hostile, but will indeed speak with them. The leader of the orcs, a half-orc who calls himself "Owen" (several of the nearby orcs snicker when he introduces himself), tells the PCs in no uncertain terms that if the villagers want their children back, they must return the orcs’ children.
With further questioning, "Owen" explains that over the past several weeks, humans have been raiding the encampment, stealing the orc babies and young children. The orcs have managed to follow the kidnappers to a stronghold a little way off, but have been unable to breach it. Every time they come within range, the orcs are repelled by a barrage of arrows and fireballs. In desperation, the clan kidnapped the children of the villagers in the hope of making a trade.
The orcs themselves make up the Bendashee Orc Clan; a nomadic group who survive through hunting and trapping. On occasion, some of them might even lend their muscle as workers or guards for traveling caravans. The members of the tribe are fiercely independent; they do not give their alliances lightly, but when they do so, are loyal to death. Somewhat taller and leaner than the typical orc, the olive-skinned mountain orcs, as they are commonly called, are particularly adept at wilderness survival. These orcs have an interesting notion that, when one of their tribe is born, the new orcs spirit is drawn from great natural events occurring in the world. Thus, they draw their vitality from the forces of nature. As a result, the tribe members tend to be barbarians, druids, or barbarian-druids.
When an orc baby is born, it is typically named after whatever natural event might be occurring at the time of its birth. Hence, the orcs have names such as Avalanche, Monsoon, Hailstorm, Earthquake, and Torrent. Lightningstrike, the orc from town, has a twin brother named Thunderclap. The two are usually inseparable. Owen, in addition to being a half-orc, is a bit of a misnomer among his kindred; he was unfortunate enough to be born on a slow day where not much was happening. Hence, he was named "Dog eating its own vomit".
To market, to market
The orcs can lead the PCs to the stronghold; which sits in the middle of a large clearing about an hour away from the village. The stronghold has a barred door and two towers. It is guarded by both an archer and a mage; they attack anyone who attempts to assault the building. Any orcs are attacked on sight.
The PCs can try to gain access to the building either through force, stealth, or perhaps even talking their way in. If astute PCs assume the guise of merchants or express an interest in purchasing "meat", they may be let in if they can be convincing enough.
One of the first rooms in the building is set up as a butcher shop; complete with a huge wooden countertop, behind which stands a man in a bloody apron. He is in the middle of a heated argument with Alan Sullivan, the owner of the Smoke House; the establishment where the PCs dined earlier. A black slate up on the wall lists the current price of meat, but does not say what kind of meat it is. (i.e. "Meat: 5 silver per pound") Alan is angry over the recent increase in price. When or if he sees the PCs, his face turns white, and he tries to stammer out any excuse that comes to mind. He is well aware of what type of "meat" these folks are selling, but cares more for his purse than for some lousy orcs.
Behind the "butcher shop" is the actual workroom; where a number of unsavory individuals are busy cutting up carcasses. If, by this time, the PCs still have not figured out what sort of "meat" is being sold here, the carcasses of young humanoids hanging from hooks in the ceiling should clue them in.
Farther back, in addition to various living quarters, storerooms (one of which may hold business ledgers implicating some other eating establishments as clients), and a cold room, is a loud and stinky hallway containing a number of barred cells. While some contain various livestock, several at the end hold about a dozen orc children and babies; whining, growling, and crying.
Although one or two of the meatsmen working here are from the village, most are hunter-types from other parts. They hold the orcs in very low regard, as if they were nothing more than animals. During various encounters, they may question the heroes motives; "What do you care what happens to them?", "Come on, they are only orcs; not much better than animals!", "What are you, an orc lover?", and so on. Although they will behave as if they have done nothing wrong, the meatsmen all realize what would happen to them if word ever got out that they have been passing orc off as meat, and will do whatever is necessary to stop or silence the heroes.
In conclusion, the orcs will be happy to have most of their children back. They have meager possessions, but will want to reward the PCs with what little they have. They might even induct the PCs as honorary tribe members; holding a "grin-grin", which is a spectacularly wild ceremony during which each of the heroes is bequeathed an honorary orc name. Careful observation may result in the realization that several of the clans druids are missing from the festivities. When the naming ceremony begins, the weather turns crazy; changing from snowstorm, to hail, to rain in a matter of seconds. Through it all, the orcs continue the ceremony; naming each PC according to whatever the current weather is. Some possible random names might be Earthquake, Blizzard, Cyclone, Tsunami, Hailstorm, Landslide, Eclipse, Cloudburst, and Tootie. (The last being a lull in the weather, when one of the orcs accidentally breaks wind) In addition to new names, the heroes also have the tribe’s allegiance; which might prove useful in future adventures.
Conclusion II: Seconds, anyone?
Similarly, the villagers are relieved to have their children back, and bestow the promised reward upon the PCs. For the most part, the villagers are unaware of the unsavory operation going on in the nearby stronghold. They may initially be resistant to the notion that such a thing could have actually been going on. Once it sinks in, however, most are horrified at the truth. Some even grow quite nauseated and may feel the urge to vomit. After all, the barbequed pork ribs were a very popular dish among the locals!
Expanding the scenario
If Lightningstrike is slain, his twin brother may bode a grudge against the PCs; which may manifest in revenge further on.
Similarly, the orcs might still harbor resentments towards the villagers, especially since not all their children were returned. Perhaps relations continue to deteriorate between the two groups, with more and more problems resulting.
Afterword: The coup de gras
If you are feeling really cruel, bring in some barbequed ribs or some other meat for your players to enjoy at the start of the session.