Gorbad Ironclaw is one of the most infamous of all Orc Warbosses.
In 1705 IC, Gorbad led a massive invasion that almost crushed the Empire, already weakened by the civil strife known as Age of Three Emperors. His armies succeeded in slaying Emperor Sigismund IV and wiping the Imperial province of Solland off the map. [3a]
Gorbad was a hulking Orc who rose to fame as the leader of the Ironclaw Tribe. It was he who first built the Iron Rock, the most redoubtable Orc fortress in the Old World. Yet conquering greenskin tribes was no real challenge for Gorbad and so he inevitably crossed into the human land of the Empire. It was his horrific deeds there that raised Gorbad's status, making him a bloody inspiration to his kind and a byword for 'invasions done propa'. It is said that Gorbad could single-handedly destroy enemy regiments and headbutt a war boar into a tongue-lolling comatose state. However, it wasn't his remarkable strength that allowed Gorbad to wreak such havoc. Gorbad was a supreme Warboss, able to drive his troops, whether Orcs or Goblins, to their utmost. Tribes from all corners travelled to join this legendary leader.
Most of the truly hulking Orc Warbosses disdain the weaker types that rush to join a successful Waaagh!, generally considering goblinoids too puny to aid the cause. Gorbad did attract many hard units, especially Orc Big 'Uns, yet he had an eye for when to use lesser types too. He was a master at ordering Goblin screens and Goblin Wolf Rider flank attacks. Despite his brawn and predilection for close combat, Gorbad wasn't above winning a battle through massed archery or war machine batteries. He used the troops he had and drove them to do their best.
It was this flexibility that garnered the mighty Warboss a bloody and unbroken string of triumph after triumph. Of course, it helped that if the battle wasn't going his way, Gorbad could rear up on Gnarla, his immensely large war boar, and bellow out his Waaagh! so that it echoed across the battlefield like thunder. Every greenskin who heard this war cry surged forth with renewed and rampant violence, a call to once again rise to greatness and to bloody victory.
Gorbad came to power deep in the Badlands where he led his tribe, the Ironclaw Orcs, to carve out swathes of territory. From their impregnable base, the fortress known as the Iron Rock, Gorbad sent out warriors to overrun the Worlds Edge Mountains. The only powers that stood in the way of the Ironclaw Orcs were the Broken Tooth tribe, led by the huge Warboss Crusher Zogoth, and the Dwarfs, who still wielded great power near their major strongholds. The Broken Tooth tribe, traditional rivals of the Ironclaw Orcs, were the first to feel the full wrath of Gorbad's growing legions. Gorbad learned to annihilate rival leaders in as horrific and violent a way as possible. This often intimidated the rest of the mobs, who would then rush to join Gorbad's armies.
A horrible fate was in store for the leader of the Broken Tooths. Gorbad used newly subjugated Night Goblins to tunnel beneath Black Crag, the abode of Crusher Zogoth. The Broken Tooth Warboss had no chance to escape the Cave Squig stampede that was unleashed. After viewing the stain, which was all that remained of Zogoth, the Broken Tooth Boyz accepted Gorbad as their new leader, as is the fashion of greenskins who know when they are beaten. Gorbad established a domain over all the peaks between Mad Dog Pass and Fire Mountain. During this period Gorbad began to appear regularly in the Grudgebooks of the Dwarfs. While most greenskins that encountered the Ironclaw Orcs were absorbed, the Dwarfs were another matter. After Gorbad exterminated every last stunt the Dwarfholds were so thoroughly looted that not an ingot of gold, lump of copper or scrap of iron ore remained.
Tales of Gorbad's personal deeds were told in every tribe, such as when the great Orc personally bested two Giants at once and how he chased a defeated army of stunties to the gates of the vast Dwarfen capital of Karaz-a-Karak. It is said that Gorbad dared to knock on the unassailable walls of that fastness and the great dents of his trademark iron claw can still be seen on the mountainside. Soon Orc & Goblin tribes from all across the Badlands rose up to join this King of all Warbosses. It was as if the scent of greenskin victory was in the air and none wanted to miss out on the slaughter.
Empire in Flames
The Dwarfs recognised the futility of fighting such numbers and simply shut the gates of their remaining holds to wait out the tempest. Seeing that the stunties wouldn't come out to play; Gorbad ordered his armies northwards in search of more lively prey. As a terrific thunderstorm crashed about the peaks of the Black Mountains, the Waaagh! pushed its way through Black Fire Pass.  The Empire garrison and their well-built fortresses were swept aside and the Orcs and Goblins descended into the plains of Averland below. [3a]
On the distant flanks of the great force, Goblin Wolf Riders rode to loot and destroy outlying towns. Meanwhile, the numberless Orc & Goblin tribes followed along the Old Dwarf Road. The ground shook, heralding the approach of Gorbad's army. Accustomed to the harsh Badlands rather than the rich green hills of Averland, the horde amassed so much plunder in just a few days that Gorbad ordered an encampment at the ancient Elf ruins of Three Towers on the borders of the Moot. It took three days for the Warboss to sort out his battlelines, straighten up the newcomers, put down a handful of challenges, and stop some of the shiftier Goblin tribes from re-stealing what others had already pillaged.
Surprised to find his lands covered in a seething tide of greenskins, Brutus Leitdorf, the Elector Count of Averland sent messengers to his neighbouring provinces. Amazed to be granted even a short reprieve, the Count used Gorbad's delay to send the bulk of his region's troops as reinforcements to shore up the Moot's defenses. It was a futile gesture. When Gorbad struck north, he caught the Empire armies on the Aver Down, a range of low hills in the southern Moot. The Halflings who lived there were easy prey, even for Goblins, and the rest of the army was overwhelmed. Only a few Knights Panther escaped the slaughter. Their warnings to the Emperor Sigismund IV focused on the immense size of the invasion and on how the Orc Gorbad maneuvered his troops with devilish cunning.
The Orcs and Goblins spent two days ravaging the Moot. The remaining Halflings attempted to escape, often by fleeing down the River Aver. The river grew so overcrowded with boats and improvised rafts that the malicious Goblins couldn't resist setting up their war machines to take target practice. The torment of the Halflings, which the greenskins called 'bite-sized runts' or 'squealers' (for their habit of emitting shrieks when being chewed) proved very popular. Camps held Halfling-eating contests, barrel battles —consisting of a Snotling versus a Halfling fighting it out in an empty crate — and other barbaric cruelties.
Refugees poured into the city of Averheim, with greenskins following hard on their heels. It was not long before that great city was being battered by war machines, most of which were unusually accurate after all their recent practice. After a brief bombardment and a few feints, Gorbad ordered a massed assault. Averheim's gates and walls were broken and the Waaagh! levelled the city in a spate of destruction.
The Fall of Nuln
By this time, Gorbad Ironclaw's reputation had spread even further. Tribes of Orc river-raiders rowed their rickety fleet to join the throng. Innumerable greenskins from the forests, mountains and plains, and from as far afield as the Dark Lands, marched to swell the horde. Gorbad's armies were larger than ever as they looted the remains of Averheim, but Gorbad had greater plans and soon massed the largest Orcs into mobs. These Big 'Uns prowled the ruined streets, gathering drunken greenskins and dragging them back into marching order. Many heads were knocked together to remind all newcomers who was boss.
Gorbad's campaign swept on relentlessly, and Nuln was next to be assaulted. Although the city was able to withstand the enemy for several weeks, the greenskins finally poured over the walls in a rampaging fury that promised to repeat their swift victory at Averheim. [3a]
Count Brutus Leitdorf of Averland ordered a retreat over the great bridge and rallied his troops in the western half of the city. Leitdorf's ingenious fighting retreat and the inspired destruction of the great bridge nearly saved half of Nuln. However, Gorbad not only outfought, but also outmanoeuvred his foe. His newly acquired flotilla, containing every Orc raider from as far away as the Reik and Stir rivers, was ordered to ferry troops. While Gorbad kept pressure on the defenders, he also commanded the construction of a crude but functional floating bridge, cobbled together out of half-wrecked ships and smouldering beams hauled from the destroyed half of the city. His forces gained a beachhead and finally swarmed across the river in great numbers. By nightfall the whole city was burning and the survivors, including Leitdorf, fled towards Altdorf, with fewer than a tenth of the population surviving.[3a]
The Destruction of Solland
The destruction of Nuln was a great blow to the Empire, but it was about to get worse for the greatest nation of the Old World. With a large portion of their fighting forces already mauled by greenskins, Emperor Sigismund IV could only beseech the northernmost provinces for aid and watch the greenskins descend upon the southern territories. With no challenges from the north, Gorbad ordered the plundering of Solland and Wissenland. In a nearly hopeless effort, Count Eldred of Solland and Count Adolphus of Wissenland joined their armies to stave off the invaders. The ensuing battle came to be known as the Battle of Solland's Crown. Count Eldred was cut in half by Gorbad himself, who claimed the ruined body and the Solland Sword — one of the twelve magical Runefangs given to Sigmar's heirs by the Dwarfs in ages past.
Gorbad tore the crown of Solland from the Count and placed it upon his own head as a trophy. The Count's remains were fed to Gnarla, Gorbad's fierce and heavily scarred boar. Over the next few weeks Solland was so utterly razed that its old lands and ruins were afterwards absorbed by neighbouring provinces, and Solland was no more. Seeking further spoils, Gorbad turned his Waaagh back north, heading towards the Empire's capital of Altdorf. Knowing what Gorbad would do to Altdorf should he besiege it, Emperor Sigismund IV called upon the cream of Empire soldiery to mount a desperate sortie while further reinforcements could be gathered from the north. Many Reiksguard, Knights Panther and Knights of the Blazing Sun were placed under command of Erich Adolphus, who had taken refuge in Altdorf after his last ill-fated attack on Gorbad. This hard-hitting force rode out to meet the oncoming hordes, heading for the towering columns of smoke that rose on the horizon — the telltale sign of the invasion's bloody progress.
The resulting battle, known as the Battle of Grunberg, was unusual in that it consisted almost entirely of mounted troops on both sides. At first, the Wolf Riders were driven from the field by the knights, but Gorbad led a countercharge of Boar Boyz flanked by great mobs of Forest Goblin Spider Riders. Perhaps this was foolish aggression, as the main greenskin host was still miles away, but Gorbad was flush with victories and would not wait for his superior numbers to arrive. His opponent, Count Adolphus, was widely considered the best commander and most formidable fighter in all the Empire. Adolphus was hoping for just such a situation, as he had already faced the overwhelming might of Gorbad's hordes. By luring the hulking Orc commander to ride forth with only a portion of his army, the wise Empire general engineered his only chance of victory. With steely resolve Adolphus ordered his troops to concentrate on killing Gorbad.
The meeting of the galloping knights and the charging war boars was thunderous. Wading through it all rode Gorbad, his huge battle axe splitting both man and steed in two. Whole regiments of knights were hacked apart in moments. Desperate to bring down this monster, Count Adolphus charged into the fray with the last of the Imperial reserves. Although his elite Ironclaw Boar Boyz were falling around him, no lance or blade seemed able to topple Gorbad. Instead, Gnarla pushed through the foe while Gorbad hacked about him. Just as it seemed that Gorbad would fight his way out of the thickest knot of Empire knights, Adolphus thrust his gleaming Runefang and pierced the Orc commander through his massive chest. Gorbad roared his anger and, with his iron-gauntleted hand, tore out the penetrating blade, ripping off Adolphus' arm at the socket. The Reiksguard quickly closed ranks to protect the Count's bloody figure. Though they managed to recover the sword from his still-twitching arm, they soon after fled from the enraged Gorbad. The battle was over, with the few surviving knights fleeing for the safety of Altdorf's walls.
Siege of Altdorf
Irritated by his injury and the escape of his foes, Gorbad commanded the recently arrived bulk of his army to move at the double. This march was immediately followed by a direct attack upon Altdorf's walls — an ill-prepared assault that was bloodily repulsed. Impatient with delays, Gorbad ordered charge after charge, demanding that whole tribes traverse the fens and marshes about Altdorf's southern approaches. Countless greenskins perished, sucked into the morass or trampled underfoot. Finally regaining his head for tactics, Gorbad halted the senseless waste of troops and prepared for a siege, but much damage was already done. Despite their horrific losses, the greenskins still outnumbered the humans, but Gorbad's Waaagh! had been checked for the first time. The greenskin camps surrounding Altdorf were full of a grumbling resentment that had not been heard before under Gorbad's iron rule.
While Gorbad ordered the Rock Lobbers dragged into place, some tribes slunk off to do their own foraging. Even as the greenskin catapults engaged in a long-ranged duel with the crude cannons of the Empire, the Waaagh! began to disperse. Sometimes in mobs, at other times in whole tribes, many greenskins slipped away. Soon Reikland was burning from the many disjointed raids committed by these deserters, although Gorbad's remaining forces never profited by such looting. Hampered by his wound, which would not heal, Gorbad still retained his cunning. He realised he could not keep haemorrhaging troops, nor lead the assault himself, so he unleashed his secret weapon. The chains were severed from the great wagons that had been hauled down from the mountains. With ear-shattering screeches, a half dozen Wyverns burst forth. Gorbad assembled all the reptilian beasts into a mass aerial assault, timing this with yet another fill-scale ground attack.
The Wyverns swooped and dived upon the city's guardians, their vicious claws tearing men asunder and unseating cannons with ease. Amongst the commotion a Wyvern smashed into the Emperor's palace, crashing through the roof of the great hall. For several hours the beast rampaged through the building, eating servants by the dozen. Every time the defenders attempted to block its progress, the Wyvern would merely shoulder its way through another wall in a shower of wooden splinters and brick dust. When Emperor Sigismund IV led a group of archers against the beast, the Wyvern brushed aside the bowmen and seized the Emperor in its crushing jaws.
Imperial records cite how the surviving archers fled from the horrific snapping sounds, although some reports describe a second Wyvern battling the first for the regal remains. With its appetite sated, the Wyvern began to make a nest of banners and tapestries in the throne room, only to be slain by furious Reiksguard, who vowed revenge for their Emperor. Elsewhere, the aerial assault inflicted many casualties, but failed to follow their orders to break open the city gates. With most of Gorbad's secret weapons dead or sleeping in well-fed slumbers, the greenskins continued to batter against Altdorf's walls with many losses and little success. With his wound troubling him and his horde dwindling, Gorbad had little choice but to break the siege, leaving behind the battle-scarred capital.
The majority of the remaining tribes broke ranks with Gorbad. Some left to return to their lain, but many turned upon the retreating army, attempting to cut out a larger share of the loot for themselves. Eventually, only the Ironclaw and Broken Tooth Orcs remained, along with a few Goblin tribes too intimidated to leave. Gorbad led his followers along the River Reik, harried all the way by greenskins and revenge-seeking men from Solland. Most of their spoils were lost or abandoned during the hasty retreat. One last major conflict remained: the Battle of Blood Peak. It was fought in the shadow of the red-coloured mountain immediately south of Black Fire Pass. A Dwarf army, led by the King of Karaz-a-Karak, attacked.
This was retribution for earlier violence and desecration, for the Dwarfs never forget a grudge. Though Gorbad hacked a path through the Dwarfen onslaught, his army crumbled around him. As dusk fell, Gorbad was surrounded by stunties, his axe visiting ruin on any who approached. That was the last anyone ever heard of Gorbad; if the Orc leader was slain by the Dwarfs, they have never mentioned it. If Gorbad made good his escape, it is not known to where, for none have ever heard of him again. Whatever befell the great Orc, his reputation and memory live on. To Orcs, clustered around a Shaman telling the tale, Gorbad is a legend — a hero who earned a place beside the mighty Gork and Mork. To Men and Dwarfs, he was the living embodiment of the destructive power of the Waaagh!
Weapons and Equipment
- Gnarla: Gnarla was a large, fearsome (and explosively flatulent) War Boar, a bad-tempered mound of bloody-minded muscle with pointy tusks and a bad attitude. [2a]
- Morglor the Mangler: Morglor the Mangler is one of the most feared weapons ever to be wielded by an Orc warboss. Its thirst for mayhem and death matched only by that of its owner. [2a]
- 1: Warhammer Armies: Orcs & Goblins (8th Edition)
- 2: White Dwarf 329 (UK)
- 2a: Gorbad Ironclaw, pg. 53
- 3: White Dwarf 389 (UK)
- 3a: The Loss of the Solland Runefang, pg. 11-12
- 4: Warhammer: The Old World Rulebook, pg. 43