Monday, April 1, 2019

A is for Archduke Stefan III

[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 #AtoZchallenge? Revamping the Grand Duchy of Karameikos in a way that doesn't disregard it's B/X roots]

A is for Archduke Stefan III. Yeah, that guy. Best to start at the top.

The much beloved archduke (later king in the 2nd Edition AD&D setting, following events in the Wrath of the Immortals box set), has his history described in detail beginning with Allston's setting Gazeteer for the Grand Duchy. In brief, Stefan was a Thyatian nobleman who traded his ancestral lands to the Emperor of Thyatis in exchange for independent rulership of the "undeveloped" Traladara territory (Traladara having been conquered and claimed by Thyatis some 70 years before). Taking its main city (Specularum) for his capitol, the 22 year old Stefan renames the land for himself (Karameikos) and puts down the armed insurrection that follows. Over the next 30 years, the now-Archduke parcels out land to his (Thyatian) followers, builds roads and a strong military, and works to establish his Grand Duchy as a maritime power and resource rich exporter, while uniting the mixed Thyatian and Traladaran people in a shared "Karameikan" identity. He does this by using his natural charisma, being an "exemplary leader," recognized throughout the region for his "fairness and honor" and while there is some resentment to his rule (and some outright plotting against him by certain nobles), he is generally considered an "even-handed," "stern but fair ruler" whose main flaw is being "baffled by raw evil" (like his cousin Ludwig von Hendriks). In game terms he is Lawful and good, caring most for his family, his people, and his about that order.


Let's talk a bit about conquered people, shall we? Historically, folks are pretty averse to being conquered and ruled by a foreign power, especially when there's any perceived social injustice like, for example, the invaders being in the nobility and the indigenous folks being stripped of their lands. It's not something that a people with any type of national identity (say, a shared language, religion, and/or cultural values) gets over easily. One might say, well it's been a hundred years since the Thyatian Empire first marched into Marilnev (the regions main community) and renamed it Specularum...that's four or five generations to get used to Thyatian (i.e. fantasy Roman) supremacy, yeah?  Sure...and I can see the Palestinians being okay with this whole Israeli state thing one day, too, huh?

You can see how well that kind of thinking worked in Latin America and Africa and Asia over the centuries. India was effectively ruled by the British from the 18th century until achieving independence in 1947....they never really "got used to it." I'd imagine there are still plenty of "north Irish" who would rather just be Irish, just as there are still Scottish folks who would prefer to be their own country. I have good friends in the Basque region of Spain who absolutely hate being associated in any way with Spain (who they see as attempting cultural genocide) and still hope someday...and work toward...having an independent Basque country. And the Basque region was annexed in the 15th century!

Are folks familiar with Maximillian I of Mexico? He was an Austrian nobleman who gave up his lands and titles in Europe to become Emperor of Mexico. This was with the help of the French (and Napoleon's army) in the 19th century.

["Cinco de Mayo" commemorates the Battle of Puebla (where all Volkswagons in North America are manufactured) when the Mexicans won a small victory against the French forces during this time period]

Historians write that Maximillian genuinely cared for the Mexican people, helped institute reforms to help the people, enacted institutions to help the poor, abolished child labor, broke monopolies held by the wealthy, and worked to make a strong, modern Mexico. He was fought tooth-and-nail by a people who had already thrown off the yoke of Spain in their war of independence, and after "reigning" for about three years, he was overthrown captured, and executed by firing squad. Mexico has only been ruled by Mexicans ever since.

Duke Stefan, per GAZ1, survived a single armed revolt and a single assassination attempt and then...nothing. For thirty years (forty, if you count the 2nd edition material). Just schemers working behind the scenes to undermine Stefan's authority.

Doesn't really wash for me. Even if Stefan was the "bestest ruler in the world" it's hard to see a conquered people (even one that's not particularly "oppressed" - though what constitutes "oppression" is probably a matter of opinion) celebrating Stefan's rule or simply content to go quietly into the night. The Traladarans are supposed to have a proud history, legends of being enslaved by "beast men" and of eventually throwing off that slavery to become free, independent people. And now they're just going to go about their business? With Thyatians in their castles, taking the bounty of the land? It's not like Stefan has been systematically exterminating them and pushing them onto tiny reservations...they should be taking advantage of his (written) naiveté to arm themselves and organize!

[maybe it's just that archduke has the indiginous demihumans on his side...but why? Were there centuries of antagonism between the demihumans and Traladarans before the coming of Thyatis?]

It's important to note that the character of Stefan Karameikos, his personality and background, changed substantially with the advent of 1987's GAZ1 (the Gazeteer detailing the Grand Duchy of Karameikos). Very little, in fact, was said of the archduke (even in B6, the adventure module detailing Specularum); until the publication of GAZ1, he seemed to be nothing more than a high level fighter who had carved out his own dominion. Even Aaron Allston's own adventure module X12: Skarda's Mirror (published just prior to GAZ1), paints a different portrait of the character:

"A distinguished military commander and adventurer by the age of 20, he was offered a baronial title if he settled in and developed the unclaimed wilderness west of Thyatis.

"Stefan Karameikos III built himself a seacoast town, a village which he named Specularum, and began settling his followers all through the region. Eventually the region became the Barony of Karameikos, then the County, and finally the Duchy. Now, 30 years after the initial landfall, the Duchy is flourishing, and the Duke is a powerful and well-liked ruler, the father of strong heirs."

See? That's a perfectly acceptable elaboration on the character's original portrayal in the Cook Expert rulebook. There's no conquered peoples, no political machinations, no Thyatian noble-class ruling over displaced Traladarans. At this point, "Traldarans" were only a primitive, degenerate human subspecies fighting endless battles against the Hutaakan beast-men (to be discussed later) in a lost valley (see B10: Night's Dark Terror). The earlier, pre-GAZ Stefan was just an adventurer made good...just one of us, you know?

Which is how I prefer it, mainly because it's "more B/X." Still, things are not all rosy in Karameikos. There are still ravening hordes of humanoids (goblins, gnolls, frost giants(!), etc.) to contend with throughout the area. And then there's that darn Black Eagle Barony over on the western border about which the Duke seems wholly unconcerned. What's up with that exactly?

Welp, as with the good Baron Ludwig, I can think of a number of different ways to "re-skin" Duke Stefan explaining his lack of progress after a couple-three decades sitting on the throne. Here's a few of them for your enjoyment:

Couldn't find a good
pic of Duke Avan.
Archduke as Absentee Adventurer: Duke Avan Astran of old Hrolmyr is a good example of an adventuring noble of the most doomed sort; of course, most (all) folks who travel with Elric of Melnibone are doomed to a horrible end eventually.

Archduke Stefan as Duke Avan is a fairly easy re-skin: the explorer/adventurer who just can't settle down, even after a life of achievement. He keeps getting on that damn boat and setting sail, looking for lost cities, legendary shorelines. and forbidden knowledge...all when he should be back minding his duchy. Instead, he is gone more often than not on a life of perilous adventure, leaving his dominion to be ruled by henchmen and underlings while his noble wife tries to raise/shape children grown restless with an absentee father. Perhaps, the player characters will end up accompanying him on some random quest or other; more likely he'll disappear and they'll be tasked with finding his remains. Lots of possible adventures in a land left un-ruled by a glory hound and thrill seeker.

"More wine! And where's
my armor stretcher?!"
Archduke as the Life of the Party: who doesn't like a little wining, wenching, and feasting? Robert Baratheon is a great possibility as an archduke resting on his (ever expanding) laurels.

Once a formidable warrior, years of the good life has allowed those muscles to atrophy and those jowls to drop. But it's not a bad life. Who needs to worry when you've got that Black Eagle fellow shoring up your western border? And the elves and gnomes to your north? And that...well, there is a haunted and mysterious forest to the east, but there are hardly ever any monsters popping their ugly mugs out of it. Besides, young adventurers are always happy to go on a quest, and knighthoods are cheap to grant. Maybe they'll take some of my (illegitimate) kids with ' 'em the ropes.

Sure wish the duchy wasn't in so much debt...

"What of it?"
Archduke as the Scheming Legacy Builder: or maybe your debt is just a means to an end. Tywin Lannister is a different kind of warlord: one who is ambitious, ruthless, and utterly dedicated to furthering the fortunes of his family and ensuring its legacy.

Stefan as Tywin would be perfectly happy to allow an equally ruthless warlord to rule the western long as the tool could be sufficiently controlled. Of more importance would be growing his own family, ensuring his own estates were secure, and building political alliances with other, rival nations. The infrastructure of the interior? Low priority compared to keeping up appearance in duchy's capital. A powerful naval force. Plate armored cavalry and perfectly drilled infantry. Evidence of pacified natives. And an open invitation to extra-nationals seeking to exploit the rich resources of the territory's interior.

No petty baron would do as a marriage partner for the ducal offspring; the archduke's children would be yet another resource to exploit and sell and help build the family's dominion and legacy.

"My followers were chosen as carefully
as the disciples of Christ."
Archduke as Bloody Handed Conquistador: But perhaps we'd like to use the native Traladarans...or some sort of indigenous prior inhabitants. Duke Stefan as Hernan Cortes could still be a B/X style adventurer...just one not conflicted about carving an empire out of an existing civilization.

This could be an archduke motivate by religion (slaying or converting the heathen pagans), riches (harvesting timber, mining precious metals), glory (etching his name on history), or bloody savagery (an excuse to kill). Truth is Cortes was a little bit of all those things, and while I've never met or read anything that ever praised the man or his actions, the fact remains that he made an indelible impression on the history of Mexico...and his descendants survive (comfortably) to this day.

Archduke as Chaos Cultist: AKA "Something Rotten in Specularum." Last one, and then I'll get this posted (man, I'm hopeful the next post in this series will be shorter!). Here's a quote direct from the 1st edition of Realms of Chaos: Slaves to Darkness...though with some [words] replaced:

"[Stefan] was regarded as the finest military commander that the [Empire of Thyatis] had produced. His abilities were faultless, and eventually the Emperor granted him the title of [Archduke]. This was a high honor...

"Before [Stefan] could travel to [the Thyatian capital] to receive [additional reward] he fell ill [in] the [primitive territory] of [Traldara]. This was his undoing. During his convalescence [in Specularum] he was inducted into a secret warrior's lodge, which proved to be little more than a coven. A change of character became evident in the [archduke] - he had been possessed by a Daemon. [Stefan's] membership of the secret lodge was not unusual; Imperial soldiers were often encouraged to join warrior societies of this type..."

Late stage cultist Stefan.
Stefan Karameikos as Warmaster Horus may seem a bit of a stretch, but individuals in the Warhammer Fantasy setting fall prey to Chaos worship for all sorts of reasons (though, sure, it's usually tied to some sort of lust for power). Here's the great thing about it though: Chaos cultists usually strive with all their might to keep their allegiance secret. No one's going to pay taxes or follow the laws of a mutant scion of evil! And in a feudal society with a rigorously enforced social caste system, it's actually fairly easy to hide such least until your arm turns into a tentacle (then out will come the witch-hunters and the torches). See Shadows over Bogenhafen, etc. Anyway, the point is, an archduke that's fallen to Chaos has a lot more things to worry about then whether or not the roads are getting built...

All right, that's enough. More tomorrow!

[EDIT: I promise I'll come back and polish this post at a future date...when I have more time!]


  1. Great ideas for alternate Stefans.

    I disagree with your premise however. In Roman times, many if not most local populations welcomed Roman control. Rome provided military stability and incredible public works projects like roads and aqueducts. Commoner Traladarans probably saw their standard of living increase over time as security and infrastructure improved.

    This does not negate anything you write about alternate Archduke versions. Any of these guys would have the same situation to work from and perhaps reach the same point as the traditional one.

    1. @ Scott:

      Having not been alive at the time of the Roman conquest, I can't say for sure that you're not right. I'd only remind you that history books tend to be written by the victors (and most of our knowledge of the Romans comes from Roman writings) and Rome had the western world's greatest fighting force to back up everything they did...and countries were all too quick to revert to local control once the Roman Empire lost that military might.

  2. This is going to be fun. I have to admit I have never given Stefan a second thought. But my Mystara adventures usually happened in and around Glantri.

  3. You awoke my mind :D
    I took the chaos cultist idea and looked at it through a Warhammer lens. The comment is way long, though, so allow me to link it, JB.

    1. Right on, Janich. I'll check it out.
      : )