Orc tribes dominate the region. Some continue their nomadic lifestyle, others reside in small, fortified settlements. Regardless of their living situation, leadership of these Orc tribes varies. Some have hereditary chieftains, others fill the position based on strength and worth. More than a few are still ruled by tribe shamans and elders.
A smaller subrace of Orcs, known as Blight Orcs, have a large population in the region as well. They can be found primarily in Molthal and the Blighted plateau, where they make up the vast majority of the city's population. Smaller pockets may be found in the trade posts and forts Menalus has erected throughout the region.
The Orc tribes of the Blightlands have all sworn fealty – willing or otherwise – to the great fortress of Molthal and its rulers. The ones that did not were chased out or eradicated. Molthal takes tribute from the Orc tribes living outside of the Blighted plateau. In exchange, they are allowed to do as they please, even make war among themselves if they see fit. Molthal only intervenes when its interests are threatened. As a result, who leads these tribes is often immaterial. Some select chieftains by right of combat, others prefer hereditary rulers, or even governance by shamans.
Within the Blighted plateau itself, all goings-on are overseen directly by the King of Molthal: the Fire Giant, Menalus. He rules his city and the surrounding mining settlements with an iron fist. The Blight Orcs who live inside and out of the plateau consider themselves the subjects of Menalus, and obey a strict hierarchy of officers and generals.
Many other species have found their way to the Blighted plateau – usually as slaves, who take up jobs toiling in mines or fields for their Orcish overlords. Many bands of brigands of any race often find their way to the Blighted plateau, setting up camp and swearing fealty to Menalus in exchange for license to operate in the territory. These camps rarely get along well with the Blight Orcs and so the ones that survive more than a few months must be quite formidable indeed.
Religion is not a well-organized affair in the Blighted plateau. Most Orc tribes continue to ascribe to a combination of ancestor and nature worship. These theologies share minor differences between tribes. Ultimately, all are coordinated by tribe shamans, or whatever title they choose to bear.
A minority of tribes have taken to referring to Menalus as a god, though the Fire Giant has not undertaken an effort to institutionalize or spread such a religion.
Blight Orcs themselves sneer in contempt of such superstitious nonsense. Nature and magic are an obstruction to industry.
The earliest history of the Blightlands is not well-recorded. When times were good, no one felt the need to write anything down. When things were bad, no one who could write was left around. Most of what is known is patched together from the disparate oral traditions of human populations in the Ixchel Wilds and Eretejva Tundra
Thousands of years ago, the Blighted Plateau were once a fertile, agrarian idyll. The region eventually attracted the attention of a powerful conjurer, who summoned a legion of elementals that were used to pacify several villages. Sources differ as to the motivation of the conjurer. Some say he immediately enslaved the inhabitants of the region and set them to work excavating, digging for some unknown power he believed was buried somewhere under the earth. Others state he was just motivated by greed and the desire to rule a kingdom.
The conjurer eventually sought to supplement his forces, brokering a deal with several tribes of Orcs in the Ixchel wilds.
The Orcs were able to solidify the conjurer’s rule for some time. However, he was inevitably killed all the same. Some say hero adventurers made it past the Orc encampments and slew him in a climatic duel. Others say the Orcs warlords themselves got tired of playing second-fiddle to the conjurer and killed him, leaving them uncontested control of the region.
A third legend claims there was no deal between the Orcs and the conjurer: they just happened to choose to maraud into the region at the same time, slaughtering the militia and the conjurer with impunity.
As he died, the conjurer cursed the region. The land turned brutal and hard, the farmlands turned barren. The forests withered and rotted, the wildlife withered away and eventually vanished. Pockets of green remained in the western part of the Blightlands, but it’s only a shadow of what it once was.
For centuries, the Orc tribes of the Blightlands lived a brutal existence as raiders. They made their camps on the outskirts of the Blighted Plateau and used the region’s hostility to elude reprisals for their banditry. They fought one another regularly.
Then the Fire Giant, Menalus, appeared.
The reason for Menalus’ arrival in the Blighted Plateau is unknown, even to his bastard sons. Fire Giants are not native to this part of the world and are not known to travel so far alone. Whatever the reason, Menalus quickly bullied one tribe of Orcs into submission. Then another. And finally, a third.
Menalus lead his three tribes-worth of Orcs to a place near to the base of Mount Omen. Menalus ordered his Orcs around like a brute, simultaneously teaching and forcing them how to quarry stone from the mountain and build a mighty fortification. Orcs are not said to be creators and some did not take kindly to Menalus’ foreign ways. So, as the legend goes, he just kept killing Orcs until they learned to listen.
When it was done, Menalus called his castle the Molten Halls, though this was quickly shortened to Molthal. The Orc tribes still on the Blighted Plateau attempted to dislodge Menalus and destroy his castle, but by then Menalus was digging iron from Mount Omen and teaching his Orcs metallurgy. They could not breach the expanding fortress and were repeatedly driven away.
Menalus set about making war on the remaining tribes until at last they were either driven out, destroyed, or subject to his rule. The Orcs that lived closest to Menalus forgot their ancestral ways. They became known as Blight Orcs, behaving more like Dwarves
or Fire Giants than their kin.
Molthal became a place of industry, surrounded by pit mines and labyrinthine forgeworks Menalus designed himself.
The Blighted Plateau remains a region few would ever wish to travel to, but now it is a business opportunity for rulers and merchants willing to get their hands dirty. Menalus rents out parts of his formidable armies as mercenaries, willing to serve any cause for coin. The forges of Molthal belch weapons and armor to anyone willing to pay, and those looking to sell or buy slaves are more than welcome in Menalus’ lands.
Once the slave trade began, Menalus himself took to taking human concubines. With them, he has produced a long line of half-Giant bastards. Aside from raids and expeditions, there are no signs Molthal desires land outside the Blighted Plateau. Menalus and his kin remain cloistered where they are, expanding their fortifications and playing at minor schemes.