While orcs can be found throughout Golarion, nowhere else are they as plentiful or live in as densely populated settlements as in the Hold of Belkzen (pronounced BEHLK-zen). Belkzen is an unforgiving wasteland filled with shrub brush, steep mountains, and uneven badlands, where water is scarce and generally limited to the seasonal Flood Road.
After emerging on the surface of Golarion from the Darklands at the end of the Age of Darkness (-5102 AR), the orcs were driven back into the desolate regions of north-central Avistan by their ancient enemies, the dwarves. One particular orc warlord known as Belkzen counterattacked, vowing to reclaim lost holdings and drive the dwarves back underground. His determination and success rallied thousands of orcs to his banner of a black sun. The orc horde quickly reached and besieged the dwarven fortress of Koldukar in -3708 AR, one of the ten Sky Citadels. In the climactic finale known as the Battle of Nine Stones, the orcs captured Koldukar and put the population to the sword.
With the citadel in his power, Belkzen consolidated his position by fortifying Koldukar and renaming it Urgir (meaning “First Home” in orc); to this day it remains as a symbol of orc power. The unity of Belkzen’s realm was short-lived and did not survive his death, immediately collapsing into dozens of squabbling tribes lusting for power.
Aside from this incident in the ancient past, the orcs became fractured for centuries to come, each tribe battling the other for wealth, land, and power. It was not until the arrival of the Whispering Tyrant in 3203 AR that the orcs unified once more. Under the banner of their new, undead lord, they assailed Ustalav, bolstering the Whispering Tyrant’s undead army.
The blue dragon Kazavon also made an effort to reunite the tribes 4043 AR, and likely would have succeeded if not for his death at the hands of adventurers in his citadel, Scarwall.
The nation of Lastwall was established by the victorious forces of the Shining Crusade in 3828 AR as a watchful guardian against the possible return of the Whispering Tyrant, but due to that nation’s common border with the Hold, also became a bulwark against the orcs. Time and again they have tried to expand their territories southward, each time pushing the border further toward the capital of Vigil.
The first border between the Hold and Lastwall was set after the defeat of the Whispering Tyrant in 3827 AR. Called the Sunwall, it was a series of mighty forts and stood for hundreds of years. The next was constructed by General Harchist and followed the flow of the Esk River. For it, new strongholds were built, connected in places by a low wall, but again these proved insufficient to keep back the orcish hordes; the line fell in 4237 AR. The next border, called the Hordeline, was built in 4515 AR, and it consisted only of earth bulwarks topped with wooden palisades. The current border with Lastwall has no name as of yet, but has held due to a large inflow of money and supplies from the south of the country. Judging by the past, it is only a matter of time before the orcs push further southward.
There is no unified government ruling over the whole of the Hold of Belkzen. It simply isn’t in an orc’s nature to try to maintain an organised government. Certainly orcs respect the rule of the mighty, but even this grudging respect is only given to those who are powerful enough to force other orcs to obey them. The most powerful orc in Belkzen is Grask Uldeth the ruler of the city of Urgir, but his rule does not stretch much further than the city walls. The rest of the country is inhabited and ruled by various semi-nomadic squabbling tribes (see Inhabitants below) who rule over whatever land they currently reside in. The most powerful of these include the Black Sun, Blood Trail, Broken Spine, Cleft Head, Empty Hand, Gutspear, Haskodar, Murdered Child, Twisted Nail, and Wingripper tribes.
The cities of Belkzen are ruled much like the rest of the land—whichever tribe currently inhabits the city is its ruler. This system is far from stable, as most cities change hands between different tribes at least once every generation.
There are two exceptions to this system. The first is Freedom Town, which is free of orcs but is even more chaotically ruled than full orc settlements, as it belongs to no nation and is known as a haven for criminals, exiles, and anyone on the run from legitimate authority. The other exception is Trunau in the south, a small town that has held out against the orc invaders since the fall of the Hordeline nearly two hundred years ago.
The Hold of Belkzen is a harsh land, and not just in environmental terms. The only thing more brutal than the landscape of this haphazard nation are its savage inhabitants.