Friday, April 5, 2019

E is for Elvenguard

[over the course of the month of April, I shall be posting a topic for each letter of the alphabet, sequentially, for every day of the week except Sunday. Our topic for this year's #AtoZchallengeRevamping the Grand Duchy of Karameikos in a way that doesn't disregard its B/X roots]

I can understand folks looking at my last few posts and asking, hey, where's the B/X in all this? Hey...I did point out there's no need to make Duchess Olivia (or any of the duke's family) a particular character class when there's a perfectly good B/X monster ("the noble") available.

In my defense, this series is mainly about REVAMPING Karameikos without "disregarding its B/X roots" (I do say that, right?). The revamp is the important bit...offering potential re-skins of various aspects to make the Grand Duchy a little more fun.

Fun for me anyway.
; )

So, anyway. E is for Elvenguard, the archduke's elite fighting force of elves.

Ugh. Apologies to everyone who feels otherwise, but the whole concept of "Elvenguard" sets my teeth on's the kind of thing I associate with trope-y "vanilla fantasy," of the saccharine-sweet variety. And perhaps that's hypocritical of me, after all I kind of LOVE the Dwarvenguard found in Rose Estes 1983 Endless Quest book Revolt of the Dwarves. However (in my defense), the latter seem more interesting / less vanilla to me for a number of reasons: 1) there's a logical progression of converting a gold-lusting, goblin-fighting species to mercenary unit, 2) the dwarves are portrayed in a different way (riding horses! outside of caves!), 3) they're staging a bloody coup! Not only that, but the book is entitled "revolt" which implies they're breaking a form of bondage which, again, is an unusual way of looking at dwarves (I don't often see them as indentured servant / slave types, instead they're always of the "fiercely independent" variety).

Wouldn't be as cool with elves.
Of course, it might just be that I'm partial to Rose Estes's books. They're perfectly acceptable fare for children (I loved them as a 9-10 year old) and Holloway's artwork is great. And, damn it, they ARE "D&D"...child protagonist or not, you can get killed, eaten, or turned into something "unnatural" if you choose the wrong path...which would be most paths, by the way. Do you know how hard it is to die in a 4th or 5th edition game?!

Ah, well...I digress.

The duke's Elvenguard, as near as I can tell, first appears in the 1983 Mentzer rewrite of the Cook/Marsh expert set. There's no mention of any "Elvenguard" in B/X, or any of the pre-Mentzer, X-series modules; I thus peg is squarely as a Frank Mentzer invention. Here's what happened: the sample wilderness of Karameikos in the (B/X) Expert set has a section titled "NON-HUMANS" in which it details the gnomes of the area (this being important as there is also a "gnome lair" included in the rules, showing how a wilderness map can link to and include dungeon maps). The gnomes of Karameikos will be discussed in a later post; here I just want to quote the final paragraph of the (brief) description. From page X60:

"The gnomes are excellent craftsmen, especially skilled in combining items of wood and metal. Their wares will bring good prices in human lands. Trade is rendered difficult, however, not only by the reluctance of the gnomes to deal, but also because the goblins of the forest and the gnomes are involved in frequent skirmishes."

Okay, so that's pretty awesome. Here we have a brief conclusion chock full of adventure ideas for "expert level" characters: there are some gnomes out here. They'd make great allies. They'd add value to the humans. There are obstacles to this alliance occurring. Here are some suggested avenues of exploration (helping gnomes with goblins, wooing the gnomes). There's also no "right answer" presented...maybe a chaotic party wants to ally themselves with the goblins, conquer the gnomes, and force them to become slave laborers "combining items of wood and metal." Maybe the players want to trade with the gnomes, but set themselves up as the sole distributor of gnomish wares (seeing as how trade is difficult). Who knows? It's wide open...but there's an interesting situation presented.

Mentzer's expert set retain the paragraph in its entirety, but then ADDS the following sentence to the very end:

"Nevertheless, the Duke's Elvenguard pays regular visits to the gnomes, picking up finished metals for the coining operations."

BAM! Adventure ideas wiped out and discarded with the stroke of a pen. The archduke already has an established presence and (presumed) alliance and trade agreement with the gnomes. His "elvenguard" (whatever the hell that is) makes regular visits to pick up finished metals, probably trading foodstuffs and textiles for the same. Hey, player characters: don't look here for adventure; we've got it all sewed up. Fortunately, Mentzer provides a number of other "adventure ideas" around the hometown of Threshold...but while I'm not going to talk about those here, suffice is to say they ain't that great.

But, hey, let's get back to the 'guard...from the additional information found in Mentzer's section on Threshold, I infer the Elvenguard rides around, collecting taxes (?) and acting as escort for high value transport (the Duke's Galley...presumably plying the waters of the Volaga) as well as Stefan's coinage, both in base metal and post-minted states. Module B6: The Veiled Society (1984) sets its adventure in Specularum and adds the following details:

"In the city, the Duke keeps 500 soldiers ready for any emergency. The Duke also has an elite troop, the Elvenguard, who go on special missions and sometimes act as his bodyguard. The entire Elvenguard often patrols the forest lands to the north."

Mentzer's 1984 Companion set offers a War Machine (mass combat) scenario called The Fall of the Black Eagle, that includes 100 "Western Elves" as part of Stefan's forces (in addition to a 500-man strong "Ducal Guard" force). I think it's fairly safe to assume this comprises the bulk of the archduke's Elvenguard (there are options to allow an addition 250-man force of "Eastern Elves," but these appear to be an allied group, not part of the standard army).

For certain, there ARE elves in Karameikos; there are three main forested regions, two of which (north of Specularum and the eastern frontier) list "Elves" as inhabitants. The adventure module B10: Night's Dark Terror identifies these separate groupings as Callarii elves and Vyalia elves respectively, though very little information is provided on these communities. Per Steve Marsh's Alfheim gazetteer, these elves settled some 1800 years before the present day, when followers of King Mealiden fled Thyatis, eventually reaching (and founding) the Alfheim forest within the Republic of Darokin...Karameikan elves were those who stopped "along the way" following the exodus.

Allston (in GAZ1) states that Duke Stefan's Elvenguard is drawn entirely from Callarii elves, the community just north of Specularum and named (per B10) for "their epic heroine" who is also their symbol ("a sad elven woman on a white horse"). Allston describes them as:

"...a merry and hardworking tribe, proficient in river boating, riding, horse trading, hunting and foresting. Callarii elves are robust and healthy, with very pale hair (blonde to white) and blue eyes. They tend to wear tunics of green with leaf-patters embroidered upon them."

Merry-making is hard work.
They also REALLY like white horses (per B10).

The War Machine scenario from the Companion set shows the elves as a combination of light foot and archers (50 of 100 have missile weapons; all are listed as AC 7). GAZ1 beefs them up quite a bit: troop class goes from "good" to "excellent," the typical individual is 2nd level, and all wear chainmail and carry both swords and longbows. The total number of troops is increased to 122 (two companies), led by 4th level officers and a 10th (max) level elf captain. Per GAZ1:

"The Elvenguard is charged with the responsibility of maintaining order in the Duke's Park and in forested areas around Specularum; they are also charged with keeping order within the Kelven-area elven woods whenever the local elves need help."

So, they're kind of a combination forest ranger and (native reservation) police force? Okay.

I don't know. I mean, I realize that elven mercenaries are a part of the B/X game. A force like that described in GAZ1 would cost a bit more than 29,000 g.p. annually (and probably closer to 30K depending on officer salaries). That seems like a lot for some foresters considering the entire 4th Division (732 men, including cavalry), charged with "the responsibility of guarding the northern and eastern frontiers of Karameikos" costs less than 24K per year to maintain. I suppose the archduke might like the prestige (and fear factor) that's associated with having an elvish guard unit...but then, why would the elves submit to being some human's soldiers? Is it just a matter of "better with them than being seen as a threat (that the Duke will have to do something about?)?" The Vyalia elves in the east don't seem overly concerned in this regard. Do the Callarii have some sort of "warrior tradition" that they're trying to maintain? I couldn't find any real info on the "epic heroine" from which they take their name.

Eh. I guess it just bugs me...and I understand that the Elvenguard may be a non-issue for many folks. I suppose I might find the idea more palatable if they weren't ALL magic-users (because that's elves in B/X)...while owning a small army of wizards might be worth the price, doing so makes magic more common and, thus, less "magical." But then, that's a problem with B/X too, right? Right.

Anyway, as with my earlier posts in this series, I've thought up a couple interesting ways to spin/twist the Elvenguard in one's campaign. Here you go:

Elvenguard as Hated/Feared Uber-Police: the Callarii have a long, prideful martial tradition, and for their people there is no higher prestige than military service to a great lord. It doesn't matter that the archduke is human...perhaps he fought a duel to the death with their prior king and, having won, now claims overlordship of the Callarii by right of battle prowess. The Elvenguard will serve Stefan for as long as he lives...but his successor will need to duel another elven champion to retain their loyalty...

"Let's go murder some people!"
Regardless, the Elvenguard struts around Specularum, Kelvin, and the general region wearing shining plate armor astride white stallions, looking down their noses at all non-elves and generally acting imperious and insufferably arrogant (they're also quick to draw sword or spell and strike down those who would insult or impinge their honor). The human population (whom they view as sheep) loathe and fear them, and the only creatures they hold in lower stead is elven adventurers (like PCs) who would rather dig around in ruins and dungeons than drill and march.

Elvenguard as Amazon Tribe: the Callarii were originally women of the Vyalia tribe that threw off the yoke of patriarchy to found their own colony far from the tree houses of elvish tradition. Callarii herself (their founder) was of a martial tradition, and stated she would take no husband, and would look for relationships outside the elves..."for such is the length of the elvish life and memory that they shall never change." For centuries since, her followers have carried on under the laws she set for them, taking mates only from amongst humans (with whom they can reproduce), and then only for the sake of procreation. Female progeny are retained and raised, boy children are abandoned on the edge of the woods, to die or be adopted by others.

A good man (or dwarf) is
hard to find.
The Elvenguard represents a term of service that each member of the Callarii must fulfill, bringing both wealth and honor to the tribe. Service is generally for a quarter-century unless the warrior becomes pregnant (living and working amongst humans, that's known to occur), after which she is allowed to return and contribute to the community in other ways. Callarii ways and traditions are common knowledge to the people of the region, and would-be parents unable to produce children of their own are known to frequent the edge of the woods, hoping for a babe to foster.

Elvenguard as Necessary Allies: the Callarii and Vyalia tribes of elves have been at war with each other for nearly 1500 years...centuries before the first humans settled the region. The elven bloodfeud has had momentary respites brought on by non-elven rivals (humanoid tribes and monsters) or natural disasters (forest fires, etc.) but it always resumes and absolutely will not end until one tribe or the other is wiped out.

The balance of power finally began to shift in the last century with the arrival of the Thyatians. Bearing steel armor and weapons, and being unafraid of the "dark faeries" of the woods, they carved out a settlement along the southern coast, delving deep into the Callarii forests for much needed timber, and destroying large swaths of the elvish population. Seeing their hated cousins so diminished, the Vyalia seized the opportunity to launch a massive invasion, hoping to once and for all exterminate their rivals. Instead, the Thyatians, decimated by the surprise attack, joined with the Callarii to repel the invaders.

"Kill! Kill! Kill!
Now, the Callarii and humans of Karameikos exist in an uneasy alliance, forged to defend against the elven empire that sits in the eastern region of the country. Because of the humanoid tribes that infest the hills and mountains, the Karameikans have been unable to marshall a force strong enough to wipe out the elvish threat, and the Elvenguard (symbol of Duke Stefan's alliance) is a necessary evil to protect his still-young dominion.

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