Exploring Non-violence: The Uneasy Truce
Last time I promised adventures, so here's the first one. This political adventure takes place in the quiet rolling foothills, where the halflings live. Cut off from the rest of the world by mountains to the West, a great forest to the North and the unforgiving Sea to the South and East, the land is peaceful and unspoiled. This tranquil realm has been largely untouched by the war raging on the other side of the mountains... until now.
Our story begins in the middle of spring, in the sleepy rural town of Tricklestream Hollow. The ground is still damp from the recently melted winter snow, the air still bears a chill and the days are getting noticeably longer. The halflings of Tricklestream Hollow are starting their work in the planting season and are looking forward to another warm summer. Animals are coming out of hibernation, and the birds are singing again. The Gavial mountains to the west, which for many long months have appeared completely abandoned, now seem to bear some life. Columns of smoke rise from a pass in the northern end of the range, and as the days pass the smoke moves closer. Could someone be traveling on the old mountain pass at this time of year? The mountains are still caked in snow and ice. Someone would have to very desperate to attempt the passage...
The PCs should live in or around Tricklestream Hollow and may serve as hunters, woodsmen, clerics of nature or agriculture, hermit wizards trying to get away from it all, or any other archetype that would fit in a remote, rural setting. If they are not natives to the area, they could be in the countryside searching for rare plants to use as part of alchemical experiments or seeking the help of a local druid or cleric to bless their home town's crops.
I ran this adventure as a side-game while the main party was involved in the war on the other side of the mountains. The party included a halfling rogue (a native of Tricklestream Hollow), a dwarven fighter (who was driven out of his home in the mountains by the war) and an elven ranger (who saw it as his duty to protect the small Halfling community).
The smoke does indeed come from a desperate group of travelers. They are the remains of the Bonecrusher Clan of Orcs, and 2 Snarltooth goblins. Led by Gorash, a proud warrior and determined but inexperienced leader, the Orcs have abandoned the war in the West and are seeking a new home. Gurdak, Gorash' father, was drawn into the war by promises of wealth and power, but after suffering heavy losses and spending months away from home, the rest of the clan began to lose faith. The other shoe dropped when the Bonecrushers were defending a stronghold held by the Lich who had recuited them, only to be abandoned to die when the tide of battle turned. Gurdak was killed, along with many of the clan's warriors. The advancing army breached the stronghold and routed the Bonecrushers, killing man, woman and child alike as they moved through the fort. The few that escaped looked to Gorash to fulfill his father's promises of wealth and success. The war had destroyed their homeland. Even before the war they often fought with the humans to the West, but now they were constantly hunted. Raised in war, educated in war, nursed and fed on war, Gorash rejected tradition and took the clan East to establish a new home where they can live in peace.
If the PCs choose to (or are asked to) investigate, they can easily locate the source of the smoke. Seeking shelter on the lee side of a hill, Gorash and company have set camp in a valley near a stream, only a few miles away from Tricklestream Hollow. From the surrounding hills it easy to hear the noise of the camp. The unfamiliar, guttural language of the Orcs echoes through the valley. As they get closer to the camp, the PCs find arrowheads (broad war-arrows, not slender hunting arrows) from hunting parties and the gutted remains of animals. Every clue should inspire fear and unease in the players.
How will the Halflings react to their new neighbors? Will the Orcs behave themselves? Is there enough fertile land and game for both communities? Will the Orcs be able to support themselves by farming and hunting? Can a trade agreement be reached? Are there more Orcs where these came from? Will the presence of the Orcs suck the local populace into the war from the far side of the mountains?
Below are the names, personalities and D&D3.5 races and classes that I used to run the game. You can stat them out yourself in whatever system you like the best.
Gorash (Orc Bbn7/Shaman1)
Gorash is not a pacifist. Far from it. He is a skilled warrior and has seen many battles. However, he isn't stupid and he has seen the ruin that constant warfare brought his people. He now is trying to invent a new way of life for his people that goes against all of their traditions and instincts. He knows nothing of farming or ranching, and the skill of his clan's hunters is limited as they have always lived off of pillaging. His habits and manners are as vicious and bestial as any Orc, but he has an eye on the future of his people, and he realizes that they will never move up in the world unless they can choose their battles more carefully and not engage in constant wars that only serve to weaken them and stunt their growth. He is willing to negotiate with other races, but is extremely wary. If he thinks people are trying to take advantage of him because he doesn't want to fight, or if they seem to think he is stupid or inferior, he will be extremely offended and talks may break down.
Rando and Brin (Goblin Rgr6, archery combat style)
Rando and Brin are inseparable partners. They were once advance scouts from the Snarltooth clan, but were separated from their unit and now travel with Gorash for protection. They hunt for Gorash and scout easy routes and good campsites, but they care little for his ideals, and would leave him if they had a chance to work in a more profitable situation. Mercenaries and opportunists, their loyalty only lasts as long as they continue to profit.
Bonecrusher Clan - 30 soldiers (War5), 20 non-combatant adults, 15 children. The Bonecrushers are willing to follow Gorash because he has proven himself a powerful warrior, and they are caught up in his vision of a grand future for the Orcs. They do not always see eye to eye with him on the details of his plan. They do not have his patience, and sometimes will resist his will if he seems to be going soft or if their immediate need outweighs his promise of long-term benefits.
Jimbledon Burrowman (Halfling Exp 4)
Jimbledon is an ambitious young politician, and is eager to making his mark on his community. He is willing to go to great lengths and explore many possibilities for solutions, as long as he can take the credit for it. He may try to sabotage other people's efforts, or he may try to hog all the credit for other people's ideas. He will not wait for the best solution, he will simply jump at the first solution he thinks he can accomplish so he can beat everyone else to the punch.
Hamden Wheatstalk (Halfling Com 9)
Hamden is a halfling elder and is a respected community member. He has hunted the hills and worked his farm for many years and he knows there is not enough land or game to support the Orcs as well as the Halflings. He is of the opinion that the whole town should move East to get farther away from the troubles of the world (he always wanted a house by the sea...).
Halfling townsfolk -300 adults, 20 elders, 50 children. The Halflings of Tricklestream Hollow are extremely worried by the presence of the Orcs. Few of them wish to abandon their homes, and yet they see no hope of sharing the land with the Orcs or driving them out by force. "Of all the places they could have settled, why did they pick a valley so close to us?" The longer the situation drags out, and the more the Orcs encroach on their land, the more they will clamor for some kind of guarantee of their safety.
Varidor (1/2E Drd 5)
Varidor dislikes the Orcs and their disrespect for the land. She keeps an eye on them, and tries to keep them away from the sacred places in the hills. She doesn't necessarily want to kill them, but she will try to drive them out of her domain by whatever means are at her disposal.
Durn (Dwarf Com4) Durn is a refugee from the war. He hates Orcs and advocates strongly against them. He is in favor of sending a message to the armies of the West asking for help ridding the valley of the Bonecrushers.
The land around Tricklestream Hollow is not the only arable land East of the Gavial mountains. There are miles of land farther East and South that could be worked, which are sparsely settled by Halflings and Dwarven refugees. Due South there are marshes and swamps closer to the coast. The Eastern coast is rocky and inhospitable, but the fishing is excellent. The Northern Forest is guarded zealously by Elves, and many people say it is haunted.
Running The Game:
This adventure hopes to force the players to explore non-violent options by making the violent option so suicidal that no one would try it. Hopefully, they will learn a lesson and seek more non-violent solutions in the future.
The Orc warparty should militarily outmatch the PCs. If they think they can succeed by fighting them, they will probably try, thus avoiding a lot of the juicy role-play opportunities this adventure presents. I beefed my Orcs up with some extra class levels (they were war veterans, after all) and threw in a couple of goblin rangers for ranged support and flavor. They put up enough resistance for the 5th level characters who faced them that they quickly decided that fighting was not a viable option.
It may encourage your players to negotiate if they see that there are women and children traveling with the Orcs, and if you tip them off that Gorash speaks common (if he yells at them in Common as they approach, for example).
It is important that the Orcs do not take any overt aggressive actions to set the right tone for the game. This doesn't mean that they have to be docile. Gorash may be able to prevent them from pillaging the local farms and attacking travelers on the roads, but he might not be able to stop them from stealing a sheep or two if they are hungry, and he certainly won't stop them from defending themselves if they are attacked. The key is tension. There must be enough tension and danger that the PCs are forced to act, but the military obstacles should be so great that they try to seek a non-violent solution.
The party I ran this adventure for organized a meeting of all the local leaders. They ultimately brokered a deal in which the Halflings gave farming supplies and training to the Orcs as long as the Orcs packed up and moved farther away from the village. Here are just a few of the many other possible outcomes:
If the villagers decide to move East, the PCs can help them rebuild and face the challenges posed by a new environment and way of life.
If they decide to go for help, the PCs must first traverse the still-snowy mountains and must then convince the Westerners that a small band of Orcs is worth hunting across the mountains.
If they succeed in acquiring military aid the cure may be worse than the disease. Who says the soldiers will leave when they are finished? Maybe they will establish a garrison or supply outpost that will allow the army to stage attacks on their enemies from either side of the mountains. Maybe they will continue to demand tribute for their ongoing protection.
If they do nothing, the resources in the valley dwindle as they are overtaxed and eventually one side or the other will get hungry and even more desperate.
The Orcs may be peaceful but carry foreign diseases that endanger the lives of the locals.
If they really have their hearts dead set on trying to drive the Orcs out by force, then let them have it with both barrels. Maybe next time they won't be in such a hurry to get into combat.
If you decide to run this adventure, or have run a similar game in the past, please share your experiences.