As DMs, how can we add flavor and depth to make the Orcs of Wyvern Tor more interesting and memorable? Both times I ran Phandelver, I decided not to develop the Wyvern Tor hook and had presented the quest to my players pretty much as written: there’s a notice on the Townmaster hall’s bulletin board with a 100gp reward for vanquishing some random orcs that they’ve never met and don’t care about. In both runs my party felt that the other quests were far more interesting and they never visited Wyvern Tor. Frankly, I can’t blame them.
In writing this guide, I decided to give the orcs a second look. During the course of my research, I realized that the orc leader Brughor Axe-Biter, far from being a slightly beefier orc with 30hp, could become a campaign defining character. By connecting this orc leader with the horde of orcs who had devastated Phandalin and Wave Echo Cave nearly 500 years ago, Brughor has a very strong reason to want to find the Lost Mine: He has a destiny to fulfill.
Brughor Axe-Biter’s Destiny
The one interesting detail the Lost Mines Module gives us is that Brughor hails from the Kingdom of Many Arrows (the module says “tribe” but it really is a kingdom). The Many Arrows is a (relatively for orcs) pacifist kingdom roughly 350 miles northwest from Phandalin. Unlike many orc tribes, they no longer roam from place to places as a horde sacking villages, but have an established capital and have made peace with their neighbors in the Silver Marches. They still, however, regularly fight the Uthgardt (werewolf barbarians who had sacked Conyberry) and occasionally participate in raids farther south for fun and profit.
Brughor Axe-Biter, Scion of Gruumsh, Descendant of Uruth
If we want to keep it simple, we could infer that Brughor is leading raids far from home so that his band can conduct violence without breaking the peace treaty with their neighbors. However, I believe that there is more we can do with Brughor’s story.
Reclaiming his Ancestor’s Legacy
What if, for example, Brughor believes he is the descendant of the legendary war chief Uruth who had laid waste to Phandalin and Wave Echo Cave nearly 500 years ago? A shaman of Gruumsh, let’s call him Shurtak, has had a vision and tells Brughor that he has Uruth’s blood running through his veins and that he is destined to overthrow the weak, peace-loving king of the Many Arrows and lead them to a glorious new age of war and bloodshed–just as the great god of the orcs Gruumsh had intended.
The Hand of Uruth: A Symbol of Gruumsh’s Favor
Shurtak tells Brughor that even though he has the potential to be king, he needs to bring back proof to the orcs of the Many Arrows that he is indeed a Scion of Gruumsh. This proof happens to reside in Wave Echo Cave where Uruth lost his hand in battle.
Finding the Hand of Uruth
Canonically, Uruth didn’t lose his hand in Wave Echo Cave, so everything that follows is homebrew. Essentially Uruth needs to have left something behind that he wouldn’t go back for, so his hand makes perfect sense.
The Prophecy of the Hand
Although the hand meant nothing to Uruth or his tribe once he lost it in battle, it grew in significance during the founding of the Many Arrows Kingdom. The shaman Achtel Gnarlfingers, who opposed the rule of King Obould, the founder of the Many Arrows Kingdom, prophesied that Obould’s descendants would rule the Many Arrows kingdom until a Scion would come to restore the “true way of Gruumsh.” This scion would find the Hand of Uruth, which Gruumsh had infused with “great power” and claim the throne for himself. Generations of the Many Arrows kings have tried searching for the hand to prevent a possible overthrow, but to no avail. Hartusk, the latest challenger to the Obould dynasty throne, had been defeated and killed, and many believed it was because he chose not to seek the hand of Uruth.
Where is the Hand?
There are three logical places for the Hand of Uruth to exist, depending on where the players go in Wave Echo Cave. The first is Area #9 where the majority of the ghouls are currently located. Every time they bite into the hand, the wounds in the hand reknit and cause necrotic damage. Thus the ghouls have learned to give the hand a wide berth.
The other possibilities are in area #19 among the possessions of Nezznar and in area #14 among the possessions of Mormensk the wraith. Both Nezznar and Mormensk would understand that the Hand is a powerful magical artifact and would want to keep it for study and possible use.
A Horrific Scrying Ritual
How would Brughor find the Hand of Uruth? To me, a scrying ritual where the orcs have to commit unspeakably horrific deeds in order to gather the ingredients makes sense. Brughor isn’t raiding along the Triboar Trail just to loot. Shurtak, Brughor’s shaman advisor tells him that he needs the right hands of 33 common folk combined with drop of blood from a descendant of Uruth. The hands would be placed in a circle, their wrists buried in the ground around a cauldron. Upon the surface of the water of the cauldron Bhrugor would contribute his own blood to complete the ritual, and be granted the location of the hand.
Since most of the content in Lost Mines is PG-13, it may be worth mentioning to your group that you’ll be introducing some R-rated horror elements if you choose to use this ritual. In case this is too graphic for some folk, you can scale it back so that the Orcs have potential sacrifices held captive until the ritual was ready–implements nearby prisoner cages would suggest that the prisoners are being kept for a live sacrifice.
This ritual can certainly lead into some more compelling plot hooks (discussed below). Should the party be on the Triboar Trail in pursuit of Hamun Kost or Agatha the Banshee they may run across some of the victims of the Orcs, their right hands removed.
Properties of the Hand of Uruth
Uruth was essentially a paladin of Gruumsh, and as such his flesh already had some minor magical properties. Because the weave was strong in Wave Echo Cave, Gruumsh could connect with the hand more easily, and over the centuries he imbued it with more and more of his divine power.
The Hand of Uruth is a unique wondrous item which has the following properties:
- Requires Attunement
- Like many magical items, it’s resistant to damage. The hand of Uruth can burn and bleed but will always heal very quickly. Very powerful magic could destroy it.
- The possessor of the Hand of Uruth can cast the Thaumaturgy cantrip at will.
- Orcs or half-orcs who possess the hand have advantage on persuasion and intimidation checks against orcs.
- “Warrior of Gruumsh” – Once a day, an orc or half-orc can use the hand to call forth the great orc horde leaders of the past (led by Uruth) who will fight on their behalf. This essentially has the same effect as the spirit guardians spell. If you want to make this even more powerful, you could have this power summon 2-3 revenants in the forms of great long dead orc warriors.
- When “Warrior of Gruumsh” is activated, in addition to the hand granting advantage on persuasion and intimidation ability checks against orcs, orcs will suffer a -5 to any ability check they make contesting the holder of the hand of Uruth’s persuasion or intimidation checks.
While the Hand of Uruth isn’t very useful for most PCs, should an orc like Brughor get his hands on it, he’d quickly take leadership of the Many Arrows Kingdom, unite the disparate orc tribes and we’d have an orc uprising that the Sword Coast hasn’t seen for 500 years. Bad times to not be an orc.
Quest Hooks for Wyvern Tor
The quest hooks we are given for Wyvern Tor are from a bulletin board notice in front of the Phandalin Townmaster’s Hall with a reward for 100gp1 and from Hamun Kost who offers to answer some of the party’s questions should they get rid of the orcs pestering him at Old Owl Well2.
It’s tempting to change these quest hooks to make them more urgent. I saw a YouTube video which suggests that the orcs kidnapped the daughter of Harbin Wester, Ophelia Wester. This would explain why Wester is more interested in the Orcs than the more immediate problem of the redbrands. However, I already have a plot hook where sister Gaerele goes missing investigating Hamun Kost, so for me another missing person quest seems a bit redundant.
Modifying the Bulletin Board Hook
The bulletin board idea actually may be more compelling if we change the details of the request. For example, what if no one knows that the raids on the Triboar trail are orcs? Instead, travelers have found trading wagons ransacked and merchants dead with their right hands cut off for the dark scrying ritual mentioned above? Then the quest becomes more than a kill quest, it becomes a mystery that the party needs to solve. So far, no one has learned who is behind the raids, but party members can investigate the scene(s) of the crime and perhaps find clues as to who is behind the raids. Even if the party decides not to take Harbin Wester up on the Orc quest, they will run across the devastation the Orcs have left behind on the Triboar Trail.
Additional Phandalin Hooks
When the Party visits Barthen’s provisions they will notice that the shelves are sparse. Should the party asks about it, Barthen will mention the goblin raids to the north cutting off supplies from Neverwinter and the mysterious raids (with the missing hands) cutting off supplies from the Triboar trail.
“Raids I understand!” says Barthen, “But hands? Who cuts off hands?? I told old Harbin about it and he put up quite the reward, but no one has taken up the offer. I guess they value their lives more. Don’t blame ’em”
The lack of shipments have affected the Stonehill inn as well. Ale is overpriced as they’re running low. Cider is cheapest since it comes straight from Edermath’s orchard.
Players who visit the Lionshield Coster will notice a similar lack of goods on the shelves. When asking Linene Graywind about the lack of goods. She’s already missing the one shipment from the Goblins and she is hesitant to call for a shipment from Triboar because of the raids.
The Hamun Kost Hook
The Hamun Kost Hook can work as is. However, there should be details around Old Owl Well that would signify this had been an orc outpost for quite some time. Also, Kost may have had his familiar spy on the orcs while they were snooping around and picked up some details about them. He may suggest Wyvern Tor as their hideout as well since he has studied the region rather thoroughly.
Wave Echo Cave Encounter
If the party decides to leave the orcs alone, they will have reached Wave Echo Cave before the party. I think the it makes sense for them to be engaged in combat with the Ghouls in Area #9, because this is where the hand happens to be. The party can stealth and leave the orcs alone as the Brughor picks up of the Hand of Uruth. Should they do that, there will likely be dire consequences in a future campaign.
Approaching Wyvern Tor
When the party approaches Wyvern Tor, it should be clear that these are no ordinary marauding orcs. This is what the party sees:
Placed in a circle around a cauldron are hands partially buried in the ground, sticking straight up. An orc dressed in red robes with a single eye painted on the back chants in front of the circle as the sky starts turning a deep blood red.
To give the sense of a larger band, you could some of Brughor’s henchmen go out on a raid. If the party decides not to move, the ritual commences:
A very large orc in bone armor steps up to the cauldron and makes an incision across his palm with a ritual dagger. In that moment all the hands around the cauldon rot, decay, and turn to dust. The dust turns black, and swirls in the air before surging towards the surface of the water in the cauldron. It boils black and red. The orc in robes nods while the large orc reaches inside the boiling water, grimacing against the pain and pulls out a skeletal arm, red and black. With a howl of triumph the large orc throws it on the ground, and it slowly turns toward the west…
The orc in robes is Shurtak, priest of Gruumsh. The large orc in the bone armor is Brughor. The skeletal arm is pointing toward Wave Echo Cave.
Building the Wyvern Tor Combat Encounter
There isn’t a particularly good Orc Shaman stat block out there for lower levels. The Eye of Gruumsh is fun, though a little overpowered. The Death Priest from the NPC Statblock Compendium developed by /u/gaylordqueen69 on reddit I think is a good choice. Just do a text search for “Death Priest” on the pdf and it should pop up. It’s recommended that you use Kobold Fight Club to adjust the encounter. The encounter is originally structured to be deadly, with the possibility of a TPK if the party approaches the situation unwisely. However, since the orcs are preoccupied with the ritual they may overlook party members sneaking up on them. A surprise round with some early spells released is likely the way to go.
In terms of Orc Tactics in battle, I really must bow down to Keith Amman’s brilliant writeup on Orcs from his excellent site on D&D Monster tactics, The Monsters Know What they’re Doing. Read that twice and you should be good to go. There is also a second orc article from Keith, based on insights from Volo’s Guide to Monsters, although these focus mostly on orcs with abilities that might be too much for a lower level party. Do consider including them, however, if the party meets the orcs in Wave Echo Cave.
Roleplaying the Orcs
Since the party may succeed in eavesdropping on the orcs or perhaps even be captured by them, it’s worth fleshing them out a bit. Consider giving each of the orcs a name and a one sentence personality. Below are some ideas about Brughor and Shurtak.
Brughor Axe-Biter is extremely cunning and intelligent for an orc. He can read and write and speaks common with an above average vocabulary. He has an above average intelligence (12) and wisdom (12), which means he’s practically a genius for an orc. Role play him as such. Although he may speak gruffly, as do most orcs, inject a little eloquence to take the PCs off guard. He doesn’t seem to listen to many of the other orcs except for Shurtak.
Shurtak absolutely loathes the peace loving ways of the Many Arrows Kingdom. For years he has prayed to Gruumsh to find a way to overthrow the current king. Eventually he was granted a vision of Brughor as a leader of great hordes and as a descendant of Uruth. Shurtak sought Brughor out, convinced him of his birthright, and helped him quietly build a small band of followers. He was the one who suggested that Brughor seek the hand of Uruth, since Hartusk, the last war chief who rebelled against the king failed without it. Shurtak is very protective of Brughor and treats him like a son.
- My Realms Blogpost on Wyvern Tor – This post gave me the idea of connecting Brughor with Uruth. Must read.
- Volo’s Guide to Monsters – If you plan to run adventures with Orcs in them, the section on Orcs is absolutely invaluable. Worth buying.
- Lutes & Dice Video on the Orcs of Wyvern Tor.
- “The Monsters Know What They’re Doing” articles on Orc Tactics
- Forgotten Realms Wiki Articles