Lore Check:
Failed - Castle Agate is a bustling fortified city, and a hub for local traders, merchants, and the seat of the local lord, Baron Emeril von Agate. Adventurers-upon-Return are welcomed with open arms, and there are great opportunities for those who are willing to brave the Taur Revis. 
Basic - Castle Agate used to be a fortified frontier city, beyond the Eerdergar Uul, a forest that is supposedly haunted by blue haired ghosts. There hasn't been contact with the castle in some years, and there is speculation that it might have fallen, or the road has been broken and can no longer be crossed.
Advanced - Castle Agate and Lord Emeril were engaged in a dispute of some sort with the denizens on distant side of the Eerdergar Uul, most rumors point to greenskins of some sort. It has been years since last contact, merchants and travelers haven't returned in seasons, and the Taur Revis is exceedingly dangerous.
Master - Castle Agate was locked in a war of attrition with an orcish warren, named the Vradgerd Vred, or the Bone Clan. Travel on the Taur Revis has stopped since Agate no longer maintains or patrols the road, and likely several bridges have fallen and reaching the castle is difficult. This war was worsened by the proximity of the Eerdergar Uul, and the 'ghosts' that inhabit it. Danger is high, but so are the possible rewards.

Castle Agate

Castle Agate and the surrounding city of Gem Town were founded decades ago as a mining venture, seeking out the fortunes of the earth by delving into an existing chasm. This provided a great wealth of gemstones that were used both in financing the construction of the castle, and in it's actual manufacture. Many elements of the castle are made from the stones and metal drawn from the earth. This wealth attracted many to flock to it, to take advantage of the boom. Gem Town grew quickly, and adventurers-upon-return were in high demand.

Lord Emeril von Agate was raised to the barony for his services to the King and Crown, though taxes demanded of the barony were low. It was far from the crown, reaching it was difficult, and should it prove rebellious or attacked, providing military forces to quell or protect it would be expensive. The Agate family rapidly became wealthy, and pushed the borders of Gem Town. Land was needed for farming and ranching, as there were hungry mouths to feed, and the town needed a large population to support the miners, gem cutters, enchanters, and the like, who had made a home there.

Conflicts:

The first conflict of Castle Agate was the chasm the mining shafts were sunk into. The chasm was no empty gouge in the earth. It was alive and inhabited, and miners had to have armed escorts and guards. This was a minor concern as the milk eyed underdwellers were neither strong nor numerous. Crossbows and short swords proved enough to keep this threat at bay.

The second conflict of Castle Agate was the bawn of the Eerdegar Uul. As farmers felled trees and broke soil for crops and pasture, they came into conflict with the 'ghosts' of the forests. The ghosts were a clan of reclusive 'elflings', somewhat similar to a halfling were of it elfin stock rather than human or dwarvish blood. They had blue hair, and painted themselves green and brown. They attacked the farms, sometimes took people from the edge of the city, and a number of men and women returned with forest children, taller and more human than the elflings of the wood, but with uncharacteristic blue hair. After a few generations, blue hair is a recessive, but not uncommon trait among the people of Gem Town and Castle Agate. It is considered a sign of mixed breeding, and all of the Agate bloodline were recognized for their strong features and hair so dark brown it could be mistaken for black. Agates with pale, blonde, or blue hair were married off, sent into errantry, or otherwise removed from the castle to hide the mixing of the classes.

The third conflict of Castle Agate was Vradgerd Vred, an orcish warren on the far side of Eerdergar Uul. The orcs of Vredgerd Vred had typical green skin, but uncommonly had coarse red hair, almost like a boar, and had a level of civility and sophistication on par, or slightly below Gem Town and Castle Agate. The leader of Vradgerd Vred, Seng Ssussun saw the humans of Gem Town as an invasive force and responded in orcish fashion, a Flame Crusade. The Seng and his war riders sought to burn Gem Town to the ground and sack Castle Agate. This turned into a bloody war, as the Seng and the orcs lacked any sort of siege engine, and despite their similar levels of advancement, orcish magic did not provide a large enough advantage over the arms and armor the humans had.

REACHING CASTLE AGATE

Reaching Castle Agate requires several days of travel down a forest road that has not been maintained in many years. There are no villages or way stations on the road, so the going is difficult with little support. There were once wooden bridges and guard posts, but all of these are in a state of severe disrepair, and many have been outright destroyed or vandalized.

TRAP! - Tempting Tower

The PCs traveling to Castle Agate encounter the first guard tower that is still intact, all the previous towers have been burnt, or damaged by weather that they no longer offer anything other than a nest for noisome pests and non CR-rated problems like ants, maggot eaten corpses, infestations of poison mushrooms, or the occasional den of skunks, badgers, or snakes. The intact tower offers a refuge from the weather, shelter, and a chance for provisions. NOOOPE - the tower has a number of traps, ranging from forest poisons, to simple traps designed to maim and injure rather than kill. Likewise, there could be a nest of seriously dangerous fauna that has been enticed to live in the tower so that opening the door invites its wrath on the interlopers. Giant spiders, hostile giant insects, a monster that can fly from the top of the tower and roost inside, or an ambush predator like a roper, sentient stump, or whatever dickish monster the DM feels like hiding inside.

Environmental Hazard - Swollen Stream

There are a number of streams and rivers to be crossed to reach Castle Agate. Most of the bridges are in poor repair, and crossing requires dealing with sometimes deep, swift running water, and other problems

1D6 :

1 - Bridge is intact, but there is a large half-orc, half-troll who minds the bridge. To cross, it has to be placated with bribes, possibly song and dance, or a riddle contest. A direct confrontation should be a bad idea, as the half-orc half-troll should be an easy match in a straight toe to toe fight against even armored foes.

2,3,4 - Bridge is broken, and crossing requires fording the stream, at moderate difficulty

5 - The bridge is partially broken, crossing requires skill checks, and a failed check causes the bridge to collapse into the water.

6 - the bridge is being actively repaired by Scabs Snatchflesh, a Gnollish builder and her crew of gnolls, goblins, and a mute human woman. Scabs demands the PCs pay a toll, since she's fixing the bridge up. PCs can use diplomacy and find out Snatchflesh is a merchant and trader, and can do some supply swapping. Or they can drawn steel and face a bunch of toecutters, throat-rippers, and a pissed off Gnollish female with a crossbow.

Encounter: Ghosts of the Forest

The PCs rest, and if the watch fails to stay awake for their stint, the Elflings will enter their camp, pick their pockets, and take their food. The most attractive member of the party will be afflicted with a sleep dust and be abducted. This encounter takes place every night the PCs are on the forest road. Any PC who is thusly taken is returned confused, dirty, and exhausted the further down the road, with a vague impression of being used vigorously for sexual purposes. The Elflings prefer males for this, to females. A male PC can father children inside their secret villages, where a female PC is left to carry their blue headed spawn far from the trees.

THE GATES OF CASTLE AGATE AND THE RUINS OF GEM TOWN

After passing the Taur Revis and its perils and encounters, Gem Town stands, its gates open and broken, and the the buildings abandoned. It is apparent that the town was once very prosperous, and it was in the process of growth, many of the more central buildings starting to add third and fourth floors as there was no room to expand anywhere else. Inspecting the houses and shops will show that the town has been ransacked, and looted, and thoroughly. Shelter can be found, but that is about all.

Gem Town Encounters 1D6

1 - A patrol of orcs, 1D4+1 melee fighters, 1D3 ranged fighters, 50% chance of armored hero orc

2,3 - A small band of orc slavers, 1D6 mundane orcs with prisoners and loot (Vradgerd Vred shares borders other than Castle Agate)

4,5 - Orc Beastmaster and orc hounds (50%) Orc looters (50%)

6 - lone survivor of another band of adventurers, can become minion, or place for new PC to enter

At the Castle Gates

Castle Agate is in poor repair, but not unoccupied. A number of orcs patrol the walls, and it is apparent where all the loot from Gem Town has gone. The orcs have dressed themselves in human armor pieces and bear human crafted steel. Those who lack human weapons are armed with orcish hammers, spears, and clubs, and leather armor. Most are bare chested and have orcish runes painted on their naked skin.

The castle holds 6D6 + 6 orc fighters of various weapons, 1D4 + 1 orc heroes (war leader, dungeon mage, etc). Each orc present has a human slave or concubine, and the orc heroes have 1D4 slaves and concubines each. In addition to this, there are half again as many mundane non-combatant orcs in the castle, mostly younglings and females who didn't take up the spear, and a smattering of orc craftsmen and artisans.

It is worth noting that the orcs do not understand siege warfare and do not have the ability to utilize the defensive layout of the castle. When it comes to battle, they will leave the walls and the choke points to engage the foe in melee as quickly as they can. Glory and honor goes to he who defeats his foe, and there is no reward for closing the gate and throwing arrows and spears at attackers.

Unexpected Allies:

If the PCs are not up to the task of clearing out the defending garrison, there are several potential sources of allies

A party of Castle Agate knights and men-at-arms who've been harassing the orcs, but never had the strength or numbers to deal serious damage. The captain of the Agate knights is a tall and commanding woman in battered plate and they've been mostly catching looters and killing them, waylaying slaver patrols bringing fresh meat to the castle, and making sure the orcs can't find their hidden lair.

A raiding party of Elflings with quick bows and poisoned arrows. These parties are regular, coming out of the forest to reseed the fields that were broken by the plow. They also bring a number of animals with them to help in the fight, like forest bears, boars, and large hunting cats.

If previously encountered and on friendly terms, the gnoll Scabs Snatchflesh and her band of gnolls, goblins, and such can be hired to help in the fight, for a share of the loot inside the castle. Whomever slays the Orc war leader gets the first choice of treasure.

For a truly epic encounter, all three of the allies can turn up, and put things on even footing with the orcs, and let the PCs shine as the point of the spear. If the allies cards are played, Scabs and her throat cutters and the Castle Agate survivors will have no compunction about slaying non-combatant orcs. Gnolls have no compassion for the weak, and the Agate survivors know that those same non-combatant orcs supported the death of their kin, and consumed their corpses and made soup of their bones.

The Chasm

After the orcs are defeated, the PCs can enter the castle proper, and find out what has happened, as well as rest, replenish their supplies, and be healed. The treasures of the castle have been carried down into the chasm, and there are more orcs down below, holding the underground tunnels and passages. This should proceed as a normal dungeon crawl, through a mix of mining corridors and natural underground caverns and chambers, until the bottom is reached.

At the heart of the chasm, a new round of orc heroes defend an improvised altar and a heap of gemstones, some of which are glowing. Among the heroes are orc dungeon mages and it seems that this has been what their focus has been. They're doing ritual magic, and blood sacrifices to the pile of gemstones, and whatever it is they're doing, it's working, but very slowly.

WTF is going on

The Chasm beneath Castle Agate was a dungeon, past tense was. Before the castle was built, the first band of adventurers-upon-return delved into the dungeon, found it relatively small and weak, slew its defenders, and shattered its pulsing heart stone. This slew the dungeon, and ended it's growth. The fragments of the heart stone were left, and this allowed for the continued formation of dungeon gemstones and the haphazard appearance of weak and disorganized monsters. The orcs instinctively recognize what this is, and they have a strong desire to repair the heart stone and bring the dungeon back to life.

The orc ritual is absolutely not working, and the heart stone cannot be restored. The only thing that will fully heal the dungeon is if the seed of a new core were brought in and planted in the same place. The gemstones are glowing because the blood rituals are imbuing them with magical power, and they've basically made a pile of power stones. Useful for mages, but containing the life energy of the people of Castle Agate, and hapless travelers.

Faction Notes

The Castle Agate survivors will claim the castle as their own, and will refuse the Gnolls or Elflings access inside the structure, to the point of turning on their allies.

Scabs Snatchflesh will not enter the chasm, the PCs are on their own, and only have interest in gold and protein

The Elflings will not enter the chasm, and their interest was getting rid of the orcs and returning the forest to its normal state. In the picking of spoils, they are likely to select the orcs slaves and concubines as their prize.

Princess Saphira Agate Elfsdaughter

The Castle Agate survivors send word to their camp, and the remnants of their people return from where they've been laired up. The leader of the remnants is a mixed blood blue haired bastard daughter, Princess Saphira Elfdaughter. She was exiled from the castle for being a marital indiscretion on the part of a randy second son of the late king, and is a ranger/hunter. She is the reason the remnant survived without being caught by the orcs or absorbed by the Elflings.

My grandfather was the King, before. Things were difficult, the farmer folk complained of the raids, and of things like their wives coming up with children that bore no resemblance to their fathers, and of men going to task and waking on the edge of the wood, striped naked and exhausted. But it was considered a minor issue. My father was sent to deal with the people of the forest, and nine months after that mission I was born and my mother delivered me to him.

The bastard daughter of a second son, scandalous.

I have the Agate eyes, and the forest dweller's blue hair.

In time, there could be a peace, but it wasn't to matter.

Seng Ssussun brought war to us. At first it was raids and skirmishes, and the knights proved worthy and up to the task. Seng would raid us, burn a few farms, carry off a few farm folk. The King would strike back, and the knights would burn a few of their villages, put some of them to the sword, and sometimes the missing were brought back, sometimes they weren't. I think things were done, because at first many more were recovered, and then some of the women would have children with greenish skin and pointed ears. Those babes were drowned at a specific bridge and their bodies put into reed baskets and sent down the river. After a few times of that, there were fewer survivors, and almost none were women.

The raids became more intense.

The King started spending money on mercenaries and adventurers-upon-return, like yourselves. They rode with the Knights, or they did their own thing, and there was so much blood shed. But we were winning, the orcs were pushed back to their own warren, a dank place in the ground, built up with temples and shrines, where bodies were ceremonially charred and offered as sacrifice to their gods.

I attended the storming of Vradgerd Vred, bow in hand, astride a forest pony. There is no love between the forest and the orc, they are fire and axes, blood and sacrilege.

Yes, Vradgerd Vred is a dungeon, or it was. The King himself attended the final push, laying waste to many an orc with his greatsword. And at the last Seng Ssussun himself came forth and did battle with the king and his honor guard.

They slew each other. The King took Seng's great ugly head off with his sword, but the orc lord ran the King through with a great spear made of some terrible beast's teeth. Many died, his sons, my father, many of the ceremonial guard. Madness took them when their lords perished. The men went into the dungeon and slew everything inside, turned the place into an abattoir. There was no mercy to be had, and then as quick as it started, it was over.

The youngest son of the King, Artos Owain Agate, took up the heart stone of Vradgerd Vred, and it shone with a terrible light, and he made it his prize. If he had destroyed it, the woe would have never come.

He and the rest finishing burning everything at Vradgerd Vred, and threw the bodies of the dead orcs into the mouth of the warren. They celebrated, becoming drunk on the wine and spirits stolen or made by the orcs. The surviving female orcs were raped, and when that was done, they were beaten, but not slain.

That was a warning sign we ignored.

We were afraid.

The train returned to Castle Agate, and those who were wise or cautious chose to take a different way back. Some went to their homes, some remained vigilant.

At the Castle Artos had himself crowned as the new king, and made a great celebration. Then, he clositered himself, demanding only red meat, wine, and women to be brought to him as he needed.

He was not the true king though.

He had the blood, but only one piece of the King's regalia remained for him to hold. He only bore his father's greatsword,

Where are the rest, oh, I have them. I am the rightful Queen of Castle Agate. I bear the royal ring, the King's Crown, and his scepter.

My fingers are quick, and my eyes are sharp.

But I digress. Artos betrayed everyone. On the first new moon, the gates were opened, the orc prisoners released, and survivors of Vradgerd Vred came through. They slew and took captives, and in a night, the castle fell. The city was looted, and when aid was expected, Artos rode forth and the orcs followed him. He wore the heart stone as a necklace and it glowed with a fearsome light.

When it was all over, those who had not managed to flee were either dead or in chains. The orcs celebrated for days, and when the knights tried to retake the castle, they were beaten back with great fury. I managed to bring them to safety, rather than see them spill their blood in vain.

So, where is Artos, you ask?

He's dead. Had his throat cut by some of those female orcs. Seems that in the scheme of things, the Agates werent the only ones obsessed with blood purity. Human seed isn't desired by orcs. The stone was given to the largest orc, and he became the new lord of the greenskins. 

It will not be long before he returns.

Who?

Seng Grommock, you will know him because he has a fierce mane of red hair, and his body is covered with it, like an animal. You've seen the blood runes on the orcs you've slain, he's the one that puts them on them. He has none of his own, and he is clad in nothing but a loincloth. But his aura, it is so strong that you can see it even without magic.

Seng Grommock

The new Seng of the orcs is the person responsible for the blood sacrifice in the chasm, and the fact that people of all races are being taken in raids and attacks surrounding Castle Agate and Vradgerd Vred. The orc lord is a foot taller than the rest of the clan, massively hairy, and radiates a purple aura of fear and power. The aura is magical in nature and functions not only as a fear effect, but also dramatically increased Grommock's armor rating, so that despite basically wearing a hand towel over his ponderous and offensive genitals, he is no loess protected than a knight in full platemail.

The heroes have an advantage. For all the power and armor that the Heart Stone of Vradgerd Vred gives Grommock, he is still remarkably stupid, even by orcish standards. His attack plans are simple, just fucking attack. It is also why the terrified orcish dungeon mages are sacrificing people to a pile of gemstones. 

Grommock's Folly

The smartest thing Grommock could have done was take the heart stone of Vradgerd Vred back into the dungeon and place it back on the stone plinth that held it. Grommock didn't do this because he correctly believes that if he surrenders the gem, all of the awesome power that has been given to him, including the big muscles and extra girth between the legs, will vanish. Seng Grommock will be Inlug Grommock, Little Grom, again.

Since Seng Grommock has kept the heart stone from the Vradgerd Vred, that dungeon has withered and died. It produces no more mana, raw materials, food, or new orcs to replenish the warband. Instead, Grommock has been using the heart stone to blast magic into slaves and prisoners to turn them into new orcs. These orcs have all been given the name Nimeg, Roteg, or Zahuug. Respectively, these names translate to jokeslave, and waste/shit. The orc survivors of Vradgerd Vred treat these orcs as less than worthy, and they are expected to be expendable, for almost any reason.

The Heart Stone of Darkness

Seng Grommock spends a great deal of time at the ruin of Vradgerd Vred. That dungeon has long since become inactive and dead. The bodies cast into it do nothing, and the dungeon mages are no longer capable of drawing mana from it. This has lead Grommock to spend a great deal of time contemplating the situation. As he is a dim orc, this is mostly maintaining a war camp at the mouth of a necropolis. Grommock has his flesh pits dug here, where victims are thrown in and blasted with magic from the heart stone. Most perish, but some become orcs, a few are twisted into mongrel men, flesh golems, or transform into orcs, perish, and then are instantly reanimated as orc zombies.

The fight will have to be carried to Seng Grommock and his charnel house of horrors will have to be put to sword and flame. Facing and defeating Grommock should be relatively straight forward. He will rouse a strong defense, but without depth, traps, or using advantages like walls, pits, dykes, or any other terrain feature. It will be a simple matter of numbers versus numbers, or the PCs employing cleverness and wit to carry the day, rather than throwing bodies at a foe.

This is a moment for the PCs to shine as true heroes, and demonstrate their prowess. There are orcs, transmuted orcs, and abominations a plenty, but the overall threat level is moderate, their strength is their numbers. The magi they have are few in number, and most of the orc host is carrying out something between a funeral vigil, a wake, and running a sort of gulag.

The Heart Stone

Once Grommock is slain, the Heart Stone will fall into someone's hands. It is a cursed object, the heart of an orc dungeon. It will attempt to dominate the person who bears it, and make them the new champion of it's power and entice them to return it to it's plinth inside Vradgerd Vred.

Options

Destroy the Heart Stone - a suitably powerful magical attack or concentration of magical weaponry against the stone will shatter it, and permanently slay the orc dungeon core. This a decisive victory for the heroes, and will see Elfdaughter restored as the new queen/baroness of Castle Agate, and end Vradgerd Vred as a threat forever.

Bind the Heart Stone - with willpower and magic, a magi can bind a heart stone to either themselves, as a power source, or to a new place, transplanting the stone. Vradgerd Vred perishes, but the stone survives, and its power will return. The mage is mortal and will eventually weaken and die, or the structure the stone is planted in will eventually become an orc stronghold, but it will take a good deal of time for either. Marginal Victory.

The Spoils of War - the heart stone is kept as a prize, and a PC leaves with it. Vradgerd Vred is destroyed, but the stone is uncontrolled, and like The One Ring, it will call orcs and other greenskins to it to slay the bearers, so that it can be ferried to a new secret place. This will take some time, but the can has been kicked down the road. Draw.

The Stone is Lost - by whatever circumstance, such as theft, or a failed skill check, the Heart Stone is lost. No one has it, no on controls it, and it is now in the hands of fate and destiny. Vradgerd Vred is not destroyed, but it is not active, instead the dungeon is dormant. The orcs are scattered, but not all slain. Many lives have likely been lost. Marginal defeat

Grommock Ascendant - Grommock is NOT slain, and the heroes take severe losses. Many are slain, others are maimed, captives are taken, and the forces attacking Vradgerd Vred are scattered. The orcs consolidate their forces, and it is a matter of time before a new host advances of Castle Agate, and the battered and weary survivors, now missing many of their leaders, magi, and heroes. Decisive Defeat.


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