Tuesday, April 9, 2019

H is for Halav and Hutaaka (History)

[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]

H is for Halav and Hutaaka, both important parts of Karameikan history.

Or are they?

[maybe H should be for "Heck of a baseball game last night!" How 'bout those Mariners, huh? 10 and 2? In what is (supposed to be) Year 1 of The Rebuild? Crazy. Still, I've lived in Seattle long enough to see every brand of Ms failure you can find...they had a hot start last year, too. I shall curb my enthusiasm for the time being; the Sounders, on the other hand, are a whole different story...]

I realize these posts have been running waaaay long. It's rather obvious that I have a lot of thoughts flying around my head (at least regarding Karameikos) and no one with whom to discuss them...other than you, dear readers. But day-after-day walls of text can be a slog to wade through, especially when my posts run the gamut of meandering blah-blah-blah. SO, hear's the skinny on today's topic:

Halav: thumbs up. Hutaaka: thumbs down. Apologies to folks who love B10: Night's Dark Terror.

Neither of these topics are "especially B/X" by the way; the history of the region (other than Duke Stefan's recent arrival) is all documented in later (BECMI+) publications, mainly Allston's GAZ1. As such, the pre-Stefan history could be revamped any way you want it...an ancient pre-Glantrian colony of wizards (with ruined towers dotting the wilderness)? Sure. A dinosaur/reptile person infested jungle only wiped out by the recent Ice Age (but leaving ruined cities behind)? Fine. An advanced empire of tech-savvy faerie folk, now decimated and devolved into their pocket regions (i.e. the places marked "elves" and "goblins" on the B/X map)? Why not? And don't laugh at the idea of
hi-tech elves...check out the info on Evergrun and Grunland in the Alfheim gazetteer.

In other words, there are LOTS of possibilities for the "ancient history" of the region now known as the Grand Duchy of Karameikos...if you're happy to stick solely to the description given in the Expert rulebook and willing to cut the rest from whole cloth. But if you're NOT or (like me) you're lazy, pressed for time, and/or often stuck for new ideas, then you might as well adapt the history as given in GAZ1. Or parts of it anyway.

Most of this history is written by Allston, though he adapts from earlier sources (like Night's Dark Terror) for some of it. And it's not terrible. I'm sorry I even have to write that phrase, but I feel like so often in these posts I'm decrying how boring and awful and vanilla the ideas are...I could stand to be a bit more complimentary towards much of the work that's gone into this setting over the years. If a lot of it is a little bland or cheesy, a large part of the blame has to be given to the standards and cultural mandates of The Company (TSR) back in the period when these books were being published.

So anyway: not terrible. Before I get to my specific "likes and gripes," it's probably best to give a BRIEF ("Brief, JB, brief!") overview of the region's ancient history, as told in GAZ1. Please be aware that dates in Mystara ("the Known World") are based on the first crowning of an Emperor in Thyatia (i.e. "fantasy Rome"); all Gazeteers assume play begins in the year 1000 A.C. ("after crowning"). Got it? Okay.


The Nithian people ("fantasy ancient Egyptian") first sent a small colony to the-region-that-would-be-known-as-Karameikos circa 1500 B.C. ("before crowning;" i.e. 2500 years before start of the campaign). Within five generations (about a century) hard winters, monster attacks, and disease have drastically reduced the population and these "Traldar" people (the clan name of their Nithian tribe) have devolved to a "pre-agricultural" (hunter-gatherer) lifestyle.

[I have a lot of comments on this, but they'll have to wait for a later post]

What now occurs is something first described in the (British) module B10: Night's Dark Terror. An advanced civilization of jack-headed humanoids (the Hutaaka) conquers the Traldar, not through military might, but through "economic and cultural superiority," The humans end up working as laborer/slaves to these more effete/spiritual non-humans in a mutually beneficial symbiosis, until a giant horde of gnolls invade the region circa 1000 B.C. Devastated by the warlike humanoids, the Hutaaka decide to pull up stakes and retreat to their hidden valley in northern mountains with a handful of human followers. The Traldar left behind get organized under a trio of war-leaders, of whom King Halav is chief (the other two are Petra and Zirchev). Armed with bronze age gear, Halav slays the gnoll king in single combat but is himself slain, and the humanoids are routed back into the mountains.

The Hutaaka do not return and, bereft of a unifying force, the region descends into a Dark Age. By 500 B.C. the Traladara (as they call themselves) are widely dispersed across the region and share little common besides a common root language and "The Song of King Halav," their national epic. Their actual history is forgotten with legends of Hutaakan masters and gnollish invaders being mixed together to form a hodgepodge mythology explaining their past. This Dark Age continues until roughly 0 A.C. when the arrival of other peoples to the region (the Callarii elves and Highforge gnomes) help usher in a new cycle of peaceable trade relations and unity against humanoid (goblins, orcs, etc.) tribes. By 400 A.C. the Traladara have established trade with outside nations and by 900 A.C. they've grown large enough that Thyatis decides to "annex" the region before a rival (like Darokin) can do so. Stefan Karameikos III takes over in 970 A.C.

OKAY (*whew*). Now onto likes (and not likes).

I LIKE the whole Song of Halav idea. Despite the Czech-ish name (Vaclav Havel portmanteau?) this is just the Arthur myth retold with gnolls in place of invading Saxons and Hutaakans in place of the priestesses of Avalon. Sure, it's not super-original, but it's still a classic concept, and like the Arthur myth it is so far back in the pre-written history of the people that it's easy to embellish it (and, as a DM, determine what parts are fact and what parts are myth). It's the kind of thing you can hang big campaign ideas off of...can we find King Halav's tomb or sword (Excalibur?) or whatever. Likewise the shared identity that comes from this national hero-legend is cool. While I still ask the question why there isn't more revolt/resistance against the Thyatians (the second coming of the gnolls!), Allston offers the idea of a Halav mystery cult, whose priests/prophets are longing for Arthur-Halav's return...and who are preaching that Archduke Stefan may, in fact, be the reincarnation of their ancient hero king. Whether or not it's true (or a well-orchestrated bit of political opportunism) is left for individual campaigns to figure out. Regardless, it's a nice bit of fluff to work into the setting.

King Halav's last battle.

Also: gnolls are badass. For folks into Warhammer, they can be perfectly re-skinned as beast men, but I tend to like them as is. Even Yeenoghu is pretty awesome, at least in his first appearance (Ye Old Monster Manual).

That being said, I am rather "iffy" on the whole Halav & Co. as actual Immortal patrons of the region. I'm just not the fan of the Immortal rules that I once was...neither Mentzer's original BECMI set (the "I" in BECMI) or Allston's later Wrath of the Immortals, both of which I've owned for years (and used in the past). I just don't like the idea of codifying the gods and immortality...or maybe I just don't like BECMI/RC's particular formulaic approach to doing the same. The gods (or "higher powers" or whatever) should break the normal rules...or, at least, give DMs the leeway to do so. Same holds true for "artifacts" and relics...but now I'm digressing (sorry).

The part of GAZ1's history that I really dislike is the whole bit about the Hutaaka. It's not that I don't dig the whole pre-history, human-servitor-race to nonhuman mythology/fiction thang...I'm a fan of Lovecraft, Karl Wagner, etc. But this particular brand of the trope feels messy to me, for a number of reasons.

But I don't feel like enumerating them all (and I said I wanted to cut down on the length of these posts). I suppose, DMs running Karameikos as their campaign setting might get a kick out of throwing Night's Dark Terror at their players and then getting a "big reveal" with the Lost Valley of the Hutaaka and the real history of the Traladaran people. But, jeez: B10 is designed for low level characters, so it's not like there'd be a "big build up," establishing the confused "mythic" history of the land prior to said reveal.

And, dammit, it's just not a very good reveal anyway. I'm sorry (I guess I am going to go into this a bit), dog-headed mystics? Really? Finding out humans were force-evolved by completely inhuman creatures (a la the Mountains of Madness) or star-traveling lizard folk (Warhammer) or some sort of weird fallen angels (Nephilim) is far more interesting than these pseudo-Egyptian dog-people. Damn it, Stargate was more interesting! Conquered by "cultural superiority?" Are you kidding me?

And there's just a lot of inconsistency here: why didn't the Hutaaka come back after the gnolls were driven off? If Petra had the ability to raise Halav (per the background) why didn't he unite the Traldar into a nation afterward? Why didn't Petra and Zirchev? If the Hutaaka were such pushovers, why did it take the traldar slaves in the Lost Valley another 900 years to revolt? If the Traldar had adapted so much of the Hutaaka culture, why didn't they have the ability to write down their own history? Why end up confusing the dog-people with the jackal-people? And why do we have these terrible Gypsy stereotypes?

Here's the other thing: the Alfheim gazetteer established that elf tribes (Callarii and Vyalia) settled in Karameikos circa 800 B.C. and that elves live about ten times the length of a human (expected lifespan is 600 to 800 years with some elves living to 1000). Since this is smack-dab in the middle of the Gnoll War, what part did the elves play? Why didn't they keep records? Why didn't they play a more important role in keeping the region civilized and "out" of the Dark Ages? Yes, I understand that Alfheim was published after GAZ1 and that Allston's history has the elves arriving nearly a millennia later (and thus not being witnesses to the early days of Traladara), but even that strikes me as weird: this advanced species of intelligent, magic-using humanoids arrives from a far-off land and the barbaric, iron age villagers are just like "whatever." Come on, man! At least if the elves were there FIRST (before the humans) they might be treated as "spirits of the forest" to be worshipped and/or feared...but then, would they put up with the Hutaaka? Even if the Hutaaka had exited 200 years before, I'd think a highly intelligent species (the elves) would have been curious enough to follow up on these creatures before the trail got any "colder." Two centuries is hardly "ancient history" to a species that lives three to five times that long.

But maybe it's just me. Maybe I just don't like 'em. Probably I just don't like anthropomorphic animals in my D&D game (I'm not a fan of X1's rakasta species, either). Anthropomorphic animals are fine in their own games (Mouse Guard and Albedo being prime examples), but mixing them in with humans just isn't something I tolerate very well.

All right, that's enough for today.


  1. They might have tried to work in some real world myth about dog headed people, though I don't remember them described as particularly wise in our tales. Fearsome warriors indeed, fitting the Gnoll mould, but then also peacefull folk that raise livestock and whatnot, so who knows.
    I believe one was said to have gained a leadership position in the Roman armies, but a fancy helmet or ugly guy might be the origin for such a myth. Weather or not this is the same as the the one turning Christian I wonder, but Fr. Dave might be able to elaborate on that one.

    I do think Gnolls (as well as Kobolds, depending on ones view of them) are plenty of dog heads for D&D, but something for everyone.

    Side note: Isn't there a single Gnoll living with the Elves in the Alfheim GAZ?

    1. It's a (civilized) pig-faced orc, not a gnoll.

      [double-checks Alfheim gazetteer]

      Yep. "Urgham the Quiet." I don't see a gnoll in the roster (though maybe I'm missing it).

    2. My mistake :) Normally I would check before typing, but the PDF wasn't on my phone. The name ring true.

  2. The lost valley and hutaaka are Central to my 'known world' as we played through b10 as kids and ended up establishing trades from threshold to a city we founded later north the lost valley/mountains; the nithians, halav and co are less integral to my world so I haven't decided exactly what role they played in prehistory, if any.

    Why the hutaaka didn't come back before b10? Well the traldar victory obviously wasn't complete because as per b10 gnolls occupied the whole of the foam fire valley. With the only entrance/exit of the lost valley leading into the foam fire, the hutaaka may have not been able to learn that the humans outside were victorious. For all the evidence they had, the civilization of the traldar was destroyed and the gnolls occupied all their lands in the same manner as the foam fire valley.

    1. Right on, Lance...B10 by itself looks to be a pretty stout campaign foundation (I've never run it myself, having only picked up a copy last year or so).

      Interesting that you set up a city north of the Lost Valley...is it within the Republic of Darokin? Are you making use of that Gazetteer? If you're campaign is outside the normal boundaries (and politics) of Karameikos, I'd guess a lot of the things that rub me wrong about the published setting could be safely ignored (or at least "back-burnered")...but I'm probably judging them too harshly anyway.

      I always like hearing from people who actually use these old Gazetteers.
      ; )

  3. Most of our adventures were actually in karameikos. pretty much all of our PCs were from luln or threshold. We didn't have any of the gazzeteers, just the BECMI sets and a few modules, so my dad made up background info when it was needed resulting in a very different known world than what the gazzeteers present.

    Here are some of the differences our known world has: the elves from alfheim have green skin because of a fruit they eat, ylaruam is ruled by a single king (his daughter was a mystic PC played by my sister), the halfling shires didn't have any towns - just a bunch of hobbitholes with small gardens/farms spread over the countryside, darokin was the capitol of the empire and not thyatis (see my post on the borders of the empire https://42ducktape.blogspot.com/2018/05/the-empire.html?m=1 )

    1. I just started reading through your blog (and your back posts). Very interesting stuff!
      : )