A bit of a misnomer, the Orcish Lowlands from my 3e campaign were actually a high plateau that gently sloped up from south to north and from west to east. They were called the lowlands because of the hilly highlands that rose above them and gradually turned into the jagged northern mountains. I developed quite a lot of material for the lowlands as I ran two of my players through an extended journey across them. This is a general introduction to traveling through the area, and future posts will detail specific sites, monsters, plants and encounters to be found in the lowlands.
First Impressions: Gnarly twisted pines struggle to reach even 10' in height on the high, windswept plateau. Every tree is bent to the south, mute evidence of the prevailing north winds that knife off the highlands, carrying the true cold of the north country along with them. Tough, springy heather and colorful yellow and orange lichens fill the spaces between the choking scrubby bushes which abound like a scattering of thorn covered, four-foot throw pillows. High overhead, the raucous caws of carrion birds remind travelers that should they meet their untimely demise in these harsh environs, their bodies will not have to sit long in decomposition before they rejoin the food chain.
The birds: Large solid black vultures with bright blue heads and 9' wingspans. They circle for hours over any large mammals they see, figuring chances are excellent that something will kill them before the day is out. They are a more or less constant presence; even if not directly overhead, a few are always visible soaring the thermals on the horizon. Clusters of them denote battles and carrion, and they gather from miles around to form great congregations (6d6 in number). They will not attack anything that is still moving.
The Weather: Roll 1d6 to determine predominant wind direction and weather once daily (there are almost always mixed clouds to solid clouds overhead, depending on the wind strength - strong winds scatter the oppressive cloud cover somewhat):
1-3: North wind, bitterly cold, 2d20+3 MPH, 25% chance of snow, 5% chance of rain, temperature: 3d4x4 degrees Fahrenheit, minus 2 degrees windchill per MPH of wind. If it is raining and below freezing, the rain is freezing rain that coats everything on the ground in ice and makes traveling dangerous and miserable.
4: Westerly wind, 1d12 MPH, 5% chance of snow, 10% chance of rain, 25% chance of fog (1d10x10' visibility), temperature: 7d6+8 degrees Fahrenheit, minus 1 degree windchill per MPH of wind.
5: Easterly wind, 1d12+4 MPH, 10% chance of snow, 10% chance of rain, temperature: 3d4x4 degrees Fahrenheit, minus 1 degree windchill per MPH of wind.
6: South wind, 1d20 MPH, 20% chance of rain, 20% chance of fog (1d10x10' visibility), 25% chance sunny (!), temperature: 4d6+30 degrees Fahrenheit
Trails: Many twisting trails cross the landscape, most narrow paths worn down by animals with the occasional well worn orc road, 3' wide and 2-3' deep ruts that wind their way between entrances to the underground warrens.
Roll 1d20 every hour to determine if another trail or animal tracks cross the travelers path; if the results indicate tracks, roll 1d4 to determine direction traveled (1: North, 2: South, 3: East, 4: West) and 1d20 to determine how old the tracks or animal signs are (in days).
1d20 Trail and Track Chart:
3: Deer tracks and droppings
4: Wolf tracks
5: Rabbit signs (droppings and fur tufts)
6: Hill giant trail
7: large reptile tracks
8: Bear trail
9: Large cat tracks (puma sized)
10: bear scat, bent and scratched tree
11: wild boar trail
12: four legged humanoid tracks (wolfen - a sort of were-wolf like creature that only has a man-wolf form)
15-16: Deer trail (regularly traveled by large groups of deer)
17: Dallen (a centaur like creature with a mountain goat body) signs (white fur caught on ochoka bushes, fused-hoof print)
18: Rabbit sign
19-20: Orc trail
Animal trails and tracks normally lead between caves that serve as shelters from the vampire bats that swarm the plateau at night and grazing or hunting grounds that the animals frequent during the day.
Ochoka bushes and Movement Rates: Resembling a tumbleweed with nasty thorns, travelers soon discover (whenever the wind blows) that a bouncing ochoka bush is not a pleasant mouthful. Movement is at half normal rate (1/4 when the wind is blowing more than 10 MPH) unless the traveler wishes to take an automatic 6 hits per hour from the thorns of the ever present and painful ochoka bushes (well established and regularly used trails are normally clear of this threat and can be traveled at regular movement rates, 1/2 when the wind is blowing more than 10 MPH). The thorns are needle thin, about an inch long and detach only if the barb which sits 1/3 of the way up the thorn finds a home to sink into. Six thorn hits = 1 damage, but each thorn also delivers a minute dose of hallucinogenic poison. At 6, 12, 18, etc. doses of accumulated poison in the system (it stays in the system for months as it is stored in fat cells), a fortitude save (save vs. poison) is required at DC 12, 15, 18, etc (or at -0, -3, -6, etc. if using Save vs. Poison rules). When activated by a failed save, the effects of the poison last for 1d6 rounds per point that the save was missed by. The poison acts to dull the senses, inducing a powerful fatigue and also an overwhelming urge to embrace the ochoka bush. While under the influence, the ochoka bush is a soft and fuzzy pillow which radiates a soothing light and warmth, while the rest of the landscape seems alien, dark and frightening. The poison affects balance and movement, making it hard to move away from the bush but extremely easy to move toward it. Every three rounds that a PC is within 15' of a bush under the influence, a Will save DC20 (or a Wisdom check with a -4 penalty) is required to avoid stumbling into a bush (2d6 thorns attach). When a victim dies on top of an ochoka bush, their blood triggers the bush to flower. Within a day, brilliant pink and white blossoms bloom, emitting a sweet scent. Pods soon emerge where the flowers shrivel away, bursting to shower the body with tiny seeds - new ochoka bushes sprout off the corpse like needles from a pin cushion, growing rapidly as they consume the nutrients in the body until a new generation of ochoka bushes rolls free across the landscape. Note - the toxins in the bodies of ochoka victims are deadly to the carrion vultures, so they leave the bodies alone while the bush reproduces.