Thursday, April 4, 2019

D is for Ducal Family

[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 it's B/X roots]

D is for Ducal Family, i.e. Stefan's relations.

A few years ago, while still living in Paraguay, I was working on a game design for a very fairy tale-esque RPG based on the Holmes Basic chassis. It wasn't bad, but...well, whatever. The point is, it had all these classic fairy tale tropes baked in; for example, the idea that the nobility was always good and kind and decent, like the "Divine Right" was really divine and kings and queens were all just and wonderful rulers, princes were always brave and charming (or growing towards that) and princesses were, well, the same. In this particular game, player characters wouldn't ever usurp or overthrow a ruler, unless that ruler was an evil usurper him/herself, and only then because the PCs were acting as divine agents (in other words, any such evil lord or lady would only be inhabiting a temporary throne).

Very different from D&D's premise.

Prior to Allston's GAZ1, the Archduke's family is never detailed, save that statement that he has "strong heirs" (Allston's X12: Skarda's Mirror). The Gazetteer is the first place to name and stat up Stefan's nuclear family and extended relations (the later 2nd Edition campaign setting Karameikos: Kingdom of Adventure has an even more detailed family tree, going back a couple generations). GAZ1's (mostly Lawful and good) ducal family isn't a bad one, but it's definitely a product of its time and (TSR) culture. They're cute, with zero controversy...and, I suppose, I find them a little boring 30+ years after their initial publication.

[not that I'm asking for Game of Thrones level malfeasance here, with incest and whatnot...but you'll find more dysfunctional family dynamics in your average Shakespeare play than in the Karameikos household]

Still, it's mostly good. The main issue I have is with the Duchess Olivia (Stefan's wife) being classed as a 9th level thief. There is just no valid reason that a middle-aged Thyatian noblewoman should be picking locks and climbing walls like a master cat burglar. Some might fault the system here: "Where's the 2E "rogue" or 3E "noble" when you need it?" Personally, I DON'T need a class for every important NPC...there's a perfectly good monster type in the B/X basic rules that works just fine: the noble. Regardless, I don't have any problems with the the Karameikos children being adventurers (based on the whole "shearing" tradition...we'll talk about that in a later entry), but they're still a little bland.

And I really mean "a little;" I'm nitpicking here, partly because it's my nature and partly because I find a certain parallel "sameness" between the ducal family of Karameikos and the imperial family of Thyatis (whose Gazetteer was also penned by Allston). Still, Allston has some brilliant bits in the GAZ and he doesn't assume his NPCs have any sort of "plot immunity:" there's a whole section on how the PCs might become Dukes themselves (including open revolt and overthrowing the Lawful rulers). So there is that...very much D&D.

But since I've set a precedent with my earlier posts, I'll go ahead and write a few ways to possibly resin members of the royal family, just because I can and it's fun. Since there are a few of them, I'll try to keep these VERY short, and I won't even bother with "cousin Ludwig" because I don't think he should be related to the Duke anyway.

DUCHESS OLIVIA, the Duke's Wife

Option #1: While it's tempting to go "full Cersei" with the incest and bastard offspring and whatnot, that shtick has already been done. However, I wouldn't mind giving her an illicit affair an my best candidate would be the scheming Lord Cornel Osteric, Ambassador of Thyatis. The motives here are clear: Olivia is a stranger in a strange land who never wanted to leave Thyatis, hasn't ever adjusted, and just doesn't understand her husband's strange fascination with this backwater region and people. Osteric reminds her of the court life and Byzantine machinations she left behind; they understand and fulfill each other, and both long to return to the Empire and are looking for a way to do so (probably regicide).
Or a green dragon...or a
demon...or a seahag...etc.

Option #2: What if Olivia was the Duke's second wife, a native of the region, married to ingratiate Stefan with the people. And what if she were actually a polymorphed red dragon? Here I'm thinking of Angelina Jolie's turn as Grendel's mother in the (animated) film Beowulf...a beautiful seductress, destined to eventually kill the man who wronged her even as she (in her own alien, Chaotic way) somehow loves this short-lived, mortal man. Perhaps Stefan himself doesn't even know her secret; perhaps one or more of the duchess's "step-children" will discover her identity first (but would Steffan even believe them, being seduced by her charms?).

Option #3: You want her to be a thief? Fine...have Olivia be the secret identity of Flameflicker, the Thief-King. Flameflicker is one of GAZ1's NPCs, secretly a girl fortune-teller/palm reader on the streets of Specularum, she heads the major ("good guy") thieves guild in the region. Just discard the "Alya" identity/backstory and make Olivia the character. Perhaps she started sneaking out at night to amuse herself, but the last ten years or so (since her youngest child became old enough to "not need his mother") she's really ramped up the scale of her operation and ambition; fun consequences (for the DM!) likely to result.

LADY ADRIANA, Eldest Daughter
Sleeps in the saddle...if ya'
know what I mean.

Option #1: I know it doesn't work with the geography of the Known World as mapped, but what if the Ethengar Khanate was next door neighbors to Karameikos? And what if the Golden Horde had come a-knocking and Stefan had arranged for a prisoner exchange with the Great Khan, giving his eldest daughter over as a hostage to be raised, even as Stefan took on the Khan's own child in the civilized medieval fashion of negotiating an end to hostilities and providing a means of breaching cultural gaps? And what if Adriana, now returned to court, a young woman in her 20s had fully embraced the Ethengarian lifestyle, stomping around in furs and boots, cavorting like an animal, punching out courtiers, etc. and generally being an embarrassment and nuisance to the palace? And what if the Khan's own child (and perhaps heir apparent) didn't want to return to the savage, wind-swept steppes? That sounds fun.

Option #2: Or how about Adriana as "paladin of the realm?" Sure she's a 4th level fighter...what if she were struck by divine visions and charged with a holy mission, a la Joan d'Arc. A different kind of embarrassment and nuisance...but perhaps one who appeals to the superstitious Traladaran natives in a way her Thyatian-born father never could.

Option #3: Adriana is Steffan's presumed heir to his title (in the 2nd edition Karameikos, she is declared such and destined to be the first Queen of Karameikos). So what if his firstborn, the apple of his eye, was a secret lesbian? And what if the pseudo-medieval Church of Karameikos was as irritable about that kind of thing as religions in the (real world) historic middle ages...or even, you know, the present? And what if Adriana, as a strong, independent woman and fiery youth, was utterly at ease with herself and had no desire to hide who she was...had in fact already found a soul-mate in a fellow adventurer while out on her wanderings? Would she be willing to overthrow centuries of tradition to claim her natural birthright, but on her own terms? Could she do so?


Option #1: Oh, turtle, how we love you. So quiet, patient, helpful, and unassuming. Born the eldest son of the archduke but being favored by neither parent and having no designs on the throne. Except that he does. And he became a chaos cultist some years back during his first merchant sailing voyage. Learning how to slake his lust for blood and depredations while hiding his true face from authority. But soon his plans will come to fruition...and once he sits upon the throne, there will be no need to hide anymore!
Pour some out...

Option #2: Ah, turtle...poor weakling turtle. The spirit is willing but the flesh, not so much. Still your head for numbers has served you well and you've found other...amusements...outside the stodgy facade of court life. Since taking control of the city's brothels and gambling dens, you've delved deeper and deeper into organized crime and methods of making a profit from the suffering of others. What would the archduke think, if he knew his eldest son was the iron ring slavers?

Option #3: Or perhaps Justin is as humble and a-political as he appears. Perhaps what he wishes most of all was that he had never been born the son of an archduke...perhaps his shearing was the first breath of true freedom he had ever tasted, and he would not have come willingly back to court life had the duke's royal guards not dragged him kicking and screaming. But he had to do so: his tyrant father made it abundantly clear that the only way to ensure the safety of Justin's peasant wife and sons was to pretend they'd never existed at all...

LORD VALEN, Youngest Son

Option #1: Valen is a delightful little hellion as written, and as a 1st level thief he's the perfect candidate as an NPC adventurer to accompany the player characters. Incognito, of course. Chaffing under court life (having inherited the same adventurous spirit from his father as his siblings), the kid would be happy to tag along with "real adventurers," perhaps even disguised as a woman to hide his youth (alternatively, you could age him 2-3 years). He would absolutely lie about his family and upbringing, refusing to divulge his relationship with the archduke unless in the direst of straits (for example, if the party is captured by goblins or something, and a large ransom is needed to secure their release). It's a simple use of the kid, but effective.

Option #2: Same as Option #1, but the little scamp already has some adventures under his belt and earned a bit of trouble: Valen is cursed with lycanthropy. Since it's hardly likely he'd have survived an encounter with a werebear or -tiger, I think it's safe to assume he was infected by one of the lesser types...most likely a wererat (though I detest the thief/wererat stereotype), and possibly from venturing too deeply into B/X's Haunted Keep.
Nothing like watching Rudy take
a hot shot...

Option #3: Valen isn't really fit to go on adventures as his wealth, privilege, and hell raising attitude has led to a fairly serious black lotus addiction, or other fantasy narcotic. Think Sean Astin in Where the Day Takes You...he's as likely a source of serious trouble as a source of adventure for the PCs ("Hey, guys...let's go knock-over my dad's house!").

LORD ALEXIUS KORRIGAN, Stefan's First Cousin

Option #1: Uncle Alexius as Joe Biden. 'Nuff said.
We love you, Joe.

Option #2: Drunken lout and embarrassment to the archduke ("Why can't you just retire to a villa like any other entitled nobleman your age?"). After a particularly costly social gaffe (or drunken flirtation with some ambassador's spouse), it might become necessary for Stefan to arrange some sort of "accident" for his cousin. Enter the player characters.

Option #3: Pawn for a foreign power. Probably not Thyatis (too obvious), but definitely Glantri or Darokin could have some sort of blackmail dirt on Korrigan, leading to all sorts of machinations. Perhaps Korrigan's nephew Milo (who first appears in Karameikos, Kingdom of Adventure) is the one being extorted and has been used as leverage against his uncle.  Or perhaps it is the Radu clan (merchant family and leaders of the Veiled Society) or the Black Eagle who are doing the manipulating. Regardless, as seneschal to the Duke's estates, such control would provide any faction with a useful tool.

As with my earlier posts, you can certainly choose to mix-and-match these options.


  1. I kinda like the idea of a thief duchess, and I like your update on it. But even better, the polymorphed dragon, omg :D
    Love your theme! :)

    The Multicolored Diary

  2. I kind of made duchess Olivia head of the secret police in a karameikos who disposes of traladaran athreats more like turkey and its Armenians. Right up to the point where she was threatened by the lord of sulescu with exposure of her activities.