[and some people, upon reading these ideas, might actually WANT the Disney-ish cartoon villains for their own campaign...perhaps they, like me, have small children they want to introduce to D&D. If any of this encourages people to go back and acquire these old books, maybe even run an older edition of D&D...well, so much the better. And if they still want to adapt the material to their own 5E or Pathfinder campaign? Well, at least I'm encouraging folks to read and think and explore and experiment and we definitely need more of that in our world, IMO]
So picking up where I left off: here are a few ideas I've had for re-skinning the "Black Eagle" to make the character more interesting to me. I write these down to record my ideas (so I don't forget) and to offer possibilities for others. They may be just as trite and tropey as what TSR did back in the day, but at least they're different...and I like these ones better.
Baron Black Eagle as Vlad the Impaler: Karameikos has a certain "Hollywood Transylvania" vibe going on with its nosferatu lords, misty forests, and forbidding mountains. Why not go whole hog and model Ludwig after the voivode of Wallachia himself, Vlad Tepes? I've read more than a couple books on Vlad over the years (fiction and non-), but I find his most colorful portrayal in the film Bram Stoker's Dracula. The man was indeed cruel and bloodthirsty, with a penchant for torture and brutality; Ludwig's "depredations" positively pale in comparison.
|Blood drinking? Sure.|
It would be very easy to reskin the "Black Eagle" as the "Young Dragon," using the monstrous humanoids of western Karameikos as a stand-in for the Ottoman Empire. A strong warlord would be considered a necessary evil by Archduke Stefan, and model why Ludwig is allowed to operate in the fashion he does. Keep in mind the reason (in B/X) that a fighter is granted the title of "baron;" the character must be of sufficient level (9th) and be able to keep a territory controlled and cleared of monsters. As the Halag was awarded to Ludwig/Vlad as a fiefdom, he must have demonstrated sufficient ability to the duke.
Baron Black Eagle as Aethelwulf: now that it's available for streaming (and my wife's gotten into the show), I've finally been able to get back to watching the television series Vikings. Despite some historical inaccuracies (mostly the specific timeline of events; for example, Ragnar's first attack of Paris in 845 was basically a "walk-in touchdown" while the famous siege when Count Odo successfully repelled the Norsemen was 40 years later against the historic Rollo) I find the show both fascinating and interesting, especially the way it dramatizes the events of the 9th century in light of the politics and (especially) religion/faith of the time.
|Banner still has|
a black eagle.
Baron Black Eagle as King Haggard: as I've written before, I love Peter S. Beagle's novel The Last Unicorn, and for whatever reason I am particularly fond of the animated version of King Haggard (voiced by Christopher Lee). I wouldn't mind adopting the character wholesale to replace Baron Ludwig, age and all. Halag would become Hagsgate; "Fort Doom" could keep its name (a fitting euphemism for Haggard's dire keep), though it would retain the witch's curse from the novel. Heck, I'd probably add the Red Bull and adopted son Lir to the mix. I like a little fantasy whimsy (as I've written before), and King Haggard is plenty callous and dangerous without making him all mustache-twirly. He should be more of a "force of nature" in the campaign than an outright antagonist.
|Described as "seventy|
years old, or eighty,
|Will not be driven away|
by halflings. He eats halflings.
And yet, Ludwig/Clegane has the title and power and fighting prowess that allows a man of such horrible character to not only survive but thrive in a savage, brutal world. Other lords and would-be kings WANT him on their side, because of the terror he instills in their enemies, because of the threat he poses, should they decide to let him off the leash. Like star athletes that have committed despicable acts off the field, people still want The Mountain on their team; definitely better to have him on your side than fighting against you! However, he has no designs on the throne...I prefer this option for the Black Eagle if there are other vying factions in Karameikos (allowing Ludwig/Clegane to act as wild card). He's a man of "simple pleasures," after all.
|Beloved by all...except|
In this scenario, Baron Ludwig gets his bad press from his rivals at court (i.e. other barons, nobles of Karameikos) who are vying for the attention/largesse of the Archduke. Alternatively, the rumors could be spread by Duke Stefan himself, keeping in mind that he's ruling a conquered people who have no great love for him (oh, wait...I haven't gotten to that post yet). Maybe the Black Eagle is descended from Traladar nobility or perhaps he is "half-blooded." Maybe he has married into a once-noble Traladaran house, despite his Thyatian roots, "going native" and earning the epithet "black eagle" (like "black sheep") based on the Imperial crest of Thyatis. Such an individual might be loved (or better respected anyway) by the indigenous people of the region, and a focal point for rebellion and the eventual overthrow of Duke Stefan. Being from Luln, the player characters might have more reason to discern truth from the scandal (Lulnish refugees either being from other areas of Thyatian control or victims of humanoid raids and looking to the Black Eagle for protection). That would make for a more interesting campaign then simply overthrowing "Bargle's boss."
But then, I find ALL these alternatives "more interesting" (which is why I bothered to write them down). Derivative? Sure...but fun in a way that "Bwahaha! I'll throw you in my dungeon and feed you to Bargle!" just isn't. Not for me, anyway.
[hmm...I don't think any of these guys are the type to even use dungeons. Torture, sure, but generally "to the death" and in spectacular, public fashion. Only Ludwig/Haggard is likely to drop a character in an oubliette...and then just to forget about him]