Monday, March 19, 2018

Pellatarrum: A Brief History of the Fire War

Really, it's the elves' fault.

Everyone thinks the Fire War is the fault of the orcs. and to be fair, they did start the war. But you see, there's an important distinction between "Who started it" and "Who caused it", and it's the elves who caused it.

Back before Pellatarrum was created, when the Heroes Who Would Be As Gods discussed their rebellion, the original plan was to overthrow the genie races and have each servitor race live in their native elemental plane as conquerors: air for dragons, earth for dwarves, fire for orcs and water for elves. However, that plan was quickly revised during the initial slave uprising when it was discovered just how powerful and how entrenched the genies were. The four races' strategy was converted into something which looked like a rag-tag rebellion but was really a delaying action while They Who Became As Gods looked for places where their people could escape and the genies would not follow.

Unfortunately, their choices were limited. The negative energy plane was nothing but entropy and death, with positive energy plane not much better because the life energy radiating from it would be too much for any mortal body to contain. The ethereal plane was a realm of formless mist with no resources for sustaining a civilization, and the timeless nature of the astral meant that their populations would never grow and their people would forever be stuck in stasis.

Therefore, it was decided (mainly by the dwarves, but the dragons thought it was a good idea and so everyone else went along with it) that they would make their own realm for their people to live, one with bountiful resources for all and toxic to geniekind.

Thus began the quest for the Engines of Creation, objects of mystery and wonder of which little is still known. The wisest sages of Pellatarrum can only describe them as "conceptual lenses" (Do you mean they're lenses for concepts? Or do you mean that they are lenses in a conceptual sense? ... yes.) which focus the raw creative force of the positive energy plane into true substance. Through means unknown, They Who Became As Gods re-aligned the Engines of Creation for a brief period of time, creating Pellatarrum according to the dwarven blueprint.

And everything was fine... for a time. The dwarves lived in the Dayspire, the elves in the seas, the dragons ruled the skies, and the orcs had everywhere else. Yes, all right, technically the dragons lived on the ground and under the ground and underwater and wherever else they wanted, but 1) they were big and 2) they were loners, not a growing and sprawling civilization, so the orcs were generally okay with this because they had all the rest of the land. Besides, dragons are apex predators, and orcs respect strength.

Yes, everything was fine for thousands of years, until the elf schism. Something happened within their culture to split them so thoroughly that roughly half of their population fled the seas and used magic to evolve themselves for land habitation.

This was, to put it plainly, a massive problem for the orcs, because now they were competing with the elves for territory and resources. While elves didn't reproduce as quickly as orcs, they lived far longer, which gave them an edge in terms of knowledge and power. More importantly, to the orcs this was a violation of the treaty which had been forged at the creation of the world. Was the full and proper name of the realm, written in the tongues of the four races, not "This beautiful thing, crafted with toil, and home to all orcs?"  It was right there in the name, and yet the elves invaded their lands and violated the compact. To the orcs, this was not just a legal misunderstanding or a diplomatic gaffe; this was invasion. This was rank betrayal and theft. And they would not stand for it.

So, in proper orcish fashion, they invaded the elves right back, to show them how it felt and to drive them back to the sea where they belonged. Naturally, the elves didn't care for this and counter-attacked, and soon it was open warfare.

Both sides petitioned the dwarves and dragons for redress of grievances. The dwarves essentially said "This isn't our problem and we don't like either of you enough to make it our problem. Work it out or kill each other as you see fit, but leave us alone." The dragons had to be swayed on an individual basis; some sided with the orcs, some with the elves, but most of them also just wanted to be left alone.

Then the orcs had The Idea. Since elves magically evolved themselves to live on the land, the orcs could do similar (they were not the broken, barbaric race of today, but a people of great strength and magical power). They took advantage of their short lifespans and rapid breeding cycles by force-evolving themselves into perfect warriors, and then they created many races to serve in their armies. Goblinoids, ogres, beastmen; all had a part in the Great Conflagration, with the orcs as their heroes and generals. The war was long, and bloody, and took many orcish generations (both in terms of time and in terms of lives lost). But the Fire Army was powerful, and they broke the back of the elven foothold and began to drive them back to the sea.

If the orcs could have contented themselves with beating the elves, they would have won, and Pellatarrum would be a different place indeed. But they were insulted by the dwarves' lack of honor, and irritated with the aloofness of the dragons, and decided that they would make "home to all orcs" a literal truth by destroying everything which was not orcish.

The fact that the elves, dwarves and dragons needed to create ambassador races to facilitate diplomacy and cooperation during the war shows just how real the risk to them was. Think "Zerg Rush" on a massive scale, bolstered by powerful magics and champions who could inflict hideous casualties even after being dealt a mortal wound. The Great Conflagration was indeed like a terrible wildfire, whipping itself into greater and greater fervor, consuming everything in its path.

The Fire War was terrible in ways that Pellatarrum has never seen again. It was every fantasy battle you've ever seen the movies combined with World War 2. Yes, even the atom bombs. It reshaped the landscape, flattening mountains and creating valleys, boiling seas and burning nearly everything into ash. The most brutal, decisive battle of the war took place around the Dayspire, which had been turned into a massive weapons factory and siege engine platform. Dragons and elves lured and herded the Fire Army into cleared killing fields around the dwarven stronghold, then took shelter in pre-made bunkers which ringed the perimeter. Their job was to prevent the army from escaping while the dwarves annihilated them with technology, and magic, and raw elemental power.

When all was said and done:
  • Agnakorem was a holed, smoldering mess that had lost much of its defenses and more than a few outer layers. 
  • The dwarven army was exhausted, having used nearly all of its weapons and resources in the war. 
  • The elves were nearly extinct, numbering only in the low hundreds and with no home to speak of. (So great was their schism that only a few returned to the sea.)
  • The dragons had lost nearly half their adult population. Fortunately, they had laid many eggs in preparation for such an event, and there were plenty of kobolds to sing their eggs through gestation. 
  • The orcish civilization ceased to exist. Those who survived fled into the wilderness as refugees, where they had to compete with the other orc-spawned races for resources.
It took centuries for the land to recover. Humans and gnomes, having been granted their freedom, built towns and cities. The elves secreted themselves in the deep forest and the dark jungle, using isolation as a shield while they rebuilt their civilization and studied the magics the orcs used in the war. The dwarves repaired as much damage as they could and returned to being craftmen, albeit ones with an eye towards defensive weaponry. The kobolds were content to serve their dragon overlords. And as for the orcs, one of the few things that the allied races agree upon is that the orcs must never, ever, be allowed to return to their former greatness, so they periodically attack and destroy any orc settlement they can find. The only reason that the orc race is not extinct is because good warriors are also good survivors.

Just to be blunt about it: yes, the three races of dwarf, elf and dragon cheerfully committed genocide during the Fire War, and if they could have killed every single orc child they would have.

As you can imagine, the Fire War is a touchy subject.
  • Don't mention it orcs at all. If you're lucky, they'll be ignorant and not know what you're talking about. More likely, it will be seen as a challenge ("You're calling me weak and defeated? I'll show you who is weak and defeated!") that ends in bloodshed. 
  • Dragons these days don't care (much) about what the orcs are up to, but they have their spies and their strings to pull if necessary. Some red dragons, though, are very interested in what a new orcish nation could achieve. 
  • The dwarves are shamed by their actions -- partly because of the atrocities they committed, and partly because if they hadn't been so isolationist the Grand Conflagration might not have happened -- but they aren't so shamed that they've found room in their hearts to forgive the orcs of today. 
  • Elves, on the other hand, practically relish the thought of killing orcs, and those they capture are ritually sacrificed. Elven hatred of orcs is so concentrated, so refined, that it's (nervously) joked that elves don't truly want to kill all orcs, because that would mean there would be no more orcs left to kill; instead, they want to put them in farms so they can be killed in quantity at leisure. 
  • Halflings avoid orcs whenever possible. 
  • Humans and gnomes are the only non-orcmade peoples willing to give orcs a chance. Sometimes that turns out well, and sometimes it's rewarded with violence. 

In many ways, Pellatarrum is quite literally post-apocalyptic. It's just managed to clean up rather nicely.

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