Friday, March 22, 2019

Human Lands of Karameikos

From the Cook/Marsh Expert set (page X60):


Specularum - Originally a trading port founded when this area was first explored, the major city of the Grand Duchy of Karameikos. Approximately 5,000 people live in or immediately around the city. The Duke maintains a standing force of 500 troops and may raise an army of 5,000 from the surrounding countryside in times of war. A small fleet of warships is maintained in the harbor.

The city is primarily noted for its excellent harbor facilities and shipyards. Walled on the landward side, the city is also protected by 2 breakwaters that extend into the harbor, restricting passage to a narrow entrance. Overlooking the harbor is the Duke's castle, providing ample defense of the harbor.

Black Eagle Barony - This area of the Duchy has been given as a fiefdom to Baron Ludwig "Black Eagle" von Hendriks. The central town is Fort Doom, a forbidding structure. It is rumored to have dungeons filled with those who have displeased the Baron, an extremely cruel and unpopular man. The Baron may have possible connections with evil slavers and disreputable mercenaries. The Baron maintains a garrison of 200 troops, using them freely to quell dissent and crush attacking non-humans.

Luln - Composed primarily of persons who have fled Black Eagle Barony, merchants who have come to trade with the Baron, and some non-humans who have left the wilderness, Luln is a base town for adventurers exploring the Haunted Keep, also called Koriszegy Keep and the surrounding land. Somewhat lawless and open, the town can provide most of the basic needs to any group of adventurers. The town is poorly defended, relying on the goodwill and capabilities of both the Baron and the Duke for its defense. Approximately 500 people live in the town.

Before continuing, I want to mention "the Haunted Keep," AKA Koriszegy Keep as it is renamed. This adventure site first appears in the Tom Moldvay edited version of the Basic rules (the "B" in B/X) as an example of dungeon design; it is meant to be a first dungeon for new players. For the sake of completeness, I'm adding the Keep's description here, as it contributed to the "lore" of Karameikos (and because this background is later changed in GAZ1):

"In the distant past, the Haunted Keep was the castle of the Rodemus family. It was abandoned many years ago when the family mysteriously disappeared. It is now rumored to be haunted. Strange lights and sounds are often seen and heard in the ruins by passing townspeople.

"Recently, a tribe of goblins has been raiding the countryside. On their last raid they captured a dozen prisoners. The prisoners are all relatives of the player characters, who have banded together to rescue their relatives. The party has tracked the goblins to the Keep or castle, right up to the only door to the east tower..."

What the players do not know is that the Rodemus family has become a family of were rats, and still live in tunnels under their old castle. The family has joined the goblin raiders and are using them to find the strengths of the surrounding countryside. If the raids show the country folk to be weak, the family plans to raise a goblin army and attack...

[excerpt taken from page B55. I've cut out some of the descriptive info of the Haunted Keep and some of its DM notes]

The 1983 (Mentzer) Basic set does not include the Haunted Keep, instead using the ruined castle of Mistamere (one-time stronghold of the wizard "Gygar" and now the lair of Bargle the Infamous) as its introductory scenario. Personally, I find Mistamere to be both too hard and too pedestrian as an adventure (even as an introduction), but I have run it multiple times (with everyone dying in the first encounter: a carrion crawler). I've never run the Haunted Keep as its only coded level is too small and I never felt like filling out the rest of it...however, it's not a bad start and it has some interesting features, the best of which is the Lovecraftian "Rats in the Walls" vibe that's going on.

The original "Haunted Keep" from B/X;
details (and wererats) to be added by DM.
The 1983 (Mentzer) Expert set did retain Karameikos and most of its text (including the stuff in my previous post) is copied verbatim; however, there are differences, some subtle and some not, that point to a very specific direction of development. Here we have the first mention of Duke Stefan's "Elvenguard;" here also we have the gnomes providing the silver that the Duke uses for minting coins (despite the difficulty of trade with the community, retained from the earlier edition). The "somewhat lawless" town of Luln is no longer the presumed base town for the player characters, instead being replaced by idyllic Threshold and its benevolent Patriarch Sherlane. Baron Ludwig no longer uses his troops to crush "attacking non-humans" but simply "attackers," and he is set-up as an antagonist with a "network of spies and agents" including "Bargle the Infamous."

"Koriszegy Keep" is no longer the proper name of the Haunted Keep but is instead the proper name of the family that once ruled it, replacing the Rodemus family (despite the fact that a stronghold need not be named for its owner, or even its surrounding lands: see Mentzer's own example of Tarnskeep, castle of Patriarch Sherlane in Threshold). This become especially irritating in GAZ1 when Moldvay's rather horrific rat-hole of giant, subterranean caverns is transformed into "Ravenloft Lite;" a rather bland little ruin of eight encounter areas with a single crazy vampire (he's cursed to stay within the confines of his castle for the last two centuries, so he must be insane, living off summoned bats and having nothing to do but write on the walls).

The "updated" Keep; coffin and treasure
of vampire is in area #9 (*SPOILER*)
If you haven't figured it out yet, I'm a little disdainful of the changes that were made to Karameikos and its inhabitants (good and bad alike). It's not ALL terrible, of course...several of the ideas (especially from Allston's GAZ1) are worth using/stealing, and some are positively inspiring. Cardia's (Flying) Carpet Service airline...I find to be pretty cringe-worthy. I feel a lot of Mentzer's ideas tend to be of the "juvenile fantasy" vein; Harry Potter-esque years before Rowling was a published author. But his wilderness maps are a bit more readable than the originals, and I really appreciate him locating the various modules' adventure sites within the territory (it's nice to know just how far The Keep on the Borderlands is from the nearest civilized town).

I do have more to say on the subject of Karameikos...specifically some of the changes and "spins" I'd put on the country. But I'll save that for a later post. As usual, comments are welcome (especially from folks who've spent any amount of time playing in or running the Grand Duchy).
: )


  1. I really need to sit down and read GAZ1 all the way through.

  2. When I first heard about Gaz 1, I was super excited to get it. But none of the local bookstores ever had it in stock, and I'm actually glad I never did get it.

    Just getting the Rules Cyclopedia was enough to put me off of "officially developed" Karameikos. We'd been using the Known World from the Mentzer Expert Set/Isle of Dread as our campaign setting since Christmas of 1984. By '91 or '92 when I got the RC, we'd developed so much of our own that it wouldn't mesh with what we'd already developed.

    The blanks in the setting are great. Plenty of room to fill it in however we like. And we did remake the setting in our own way. My Duke Stefan K. was a haughty jerk who was always trying to seduce the wife of one of the PCs who had taken a barony at Name level. Eventually, that PC raised an army, challenged the Archduke, and overthrew him. :)

    1. My preferred reading of the Archduke is even worse. I can't see how any conquered people could ever consider their tyrant "beloved." That's the first thing I'd change.