The rest of the Mentzer expert set makes it clear that the Baron is up to nefarious behavior, as his "spies and agents" include Bargle the Infamous, unrepentant murderer and villain from the Mentzer basic set. Much internet ink has been spilled about this particular "bad guy" and I will, too...in a later post.
1984s Mentzer Companion set provides a war-game scenario involving the Black Eagle as a means to test its mass combat rules. Here, Baron Ludwig, chafing under "the yoke of restraint" from the Archduke (oh, boy) decides to march on Stefan, fielding a force comprised of 200 Black Eagle guardsmen and 400-1000 monstrous humanoids (the exact number being variable as chosen by the DM). As the Companion rules are meant for high level characters, the scenario and presumed result (the "fall of the Black Eagle") is not accounted for in later publications...the inference is that DMs keep the Black Eagle barony a source of villainy for low- to mid- level PCs campaigning in Karameikos.
1986 is the date GAZ1 is published and here we get the culmination of the character in Allston's description of Baron Ludwig as the "aggressive and theatrical first cousin" of Duke Stefan, who pretended to be an "upright, eager, and very lawful follower" of the Duke, right up until he was awarded his barony in the newly colonized (conquered) Duchy. Here are some excerpts:
|From GAZ1 (with Bargle)|
"Ludwig would be a handsome man if not for shifting eyes, oily mannerisms, and arrogant sneer. He dresses entirely in black (even his armor is enameled black)."
"He seized Halag, the largest village...by force [even though this was unnecessary]...once it was conquered, he celebrated by announcing to the population his appointment as its new baron. He renamed the village "Fort Doom" to suit his sense of the theatrical, dubbing the barony the "Black Eagle Barony" after his ancestral coat of arms."
"The Black Eagle Baron is an archetypal villain...whenever you need an untrustworthy, dishonorable, compelling villain, you have Ludwig von Hendriks."
|Ludwig II, architect of the|
First off, while it's not a bad (or even "contrived") idea to set up rival political factions within a region, this idea of one (or a handful of) good, benevolent ruler versus one bad apple is just a little too "small time" for me. Even in a world of demonic high priests and supernatural evil, it's too black-and-white...at least for humans.
Plus, it's boring. We've all seen it before. It's Alan Rickman as the Sheriff of Nottingham or Basil Rathbone as Guy of Gisbourne. It's Jafar from Disney's Aladdin or Scar from The Lion King. It's been done...the relative/close advisor who's just waiting for their chance at the throne. And it's silly: does this guy really want to rule over a territory of orcs and goblins? Is this Baltar from the original Battlestar Galactica, content to be hated by his own species and hang with the robots? Do we need another fantasy fascist? We've seen fantasy Nazis before (it's called Star Wars...or any pulp film set circa WWII)...but in a pseudo-medieval setting like your average D&D campaign it's kind of anticlimactic. I mean, most feudal warlords were cut from the "crushing iron fist" cloth.
And that, by the way, is true across eras and cultures. The average peasant-type, whether you're talking Europe or Asia or Mesoamerica, was just happy to survive...when you weren't worried about the planting and the harvest and the winter, chances are you were hoping (and praying) that your lord wouldn't be going to war...with anyone! You'd rather have the back-breaking tribute and taxes then have to worry about raids and battles screwing up your life (let alone conscripting your strongest laborers for a certain death). In a time before there were train timetables to worry about, life was a lot harder, and governments far more tyrannical, than those found in your average fascist regime. Hell, even your religions were brutal, unjust, and merciless!
[we'll talk about the "benevolent" and "beloved" Duke Stefan in a later post]
The BECMI era of D&D could get away with this particular spin of antagonist because of the time in which it was written, the mission of TSR at the time, and the demographic for which it was written. For me...a middle-aged, armchair historian with a taste for B/X and a little more grit...it ain't enough. I don't need the "grimdark fantasy" of Warhammer where every town street is a river of filth, horse dung, and emptied chamber pots, but I do require something more interesting than what Karameikos is serving up...and because I'd like to go back to Luln as the PCs' starting place (rather than the idyllic town of Threshold), this character of Baron Ludwig character needs an overhaul.
I have a few specific ideas/concepts in mind, but as this "preamble" has already run long I'll roll them out in a new post.
[to be continued]