Friday, April 26, 2019

U is for Uprising

[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 got behind by a couple days because of the Easter weekend, but I'm trying to catch up as quickly as possible]

U is for Uprising, specifically the Marilenev Uprising, a suggested adventure for a campaign set in the Grand Duchy, and one of many included in GAZ1. The description reads like this:

The Lady Magda finally snaps. She and her subordinates begin fomenting revolution in the streets. The adventure is the riot that ensues in the Grand Market when Lady Magda is making the greatest speech of career; all her own soldiers are in the crowd, pretending to be passerby and whipping the crowd into a cheering frenzy. Then the city guard shows up and the riot ensues -- between the city guard and the Marilenev guardsmen, with more arriving to help both sides every minute. The characters can be on one side or another, or trying to keep innocent people from being hurt. (After this adventure is over the Estate of Marilenev will probably have another master and another name...)

Bleah. Just...bleah.

The background for this adventure takes place thirty years ago with an earlier uprising led by the Marlilenev clan. Well, actually, I suppose its origin starts 100 years prior with the Thyatia conquest. Marilenev, named (presumably) for its ruling family, was a flourishing trade city and the chief port of the Traladara region. After its conquest, the Thyatians renamed it Specularum, built walls, and stationed a contingent of Thyatian soldiers to ensure (nominal) taxes were paid and everyone knew who the new boss was. As the wealthy families retained their properties (if not self-rulership) business and life went on, more-or-less, as usual.

Some folks, however, appear to have been less than satisfied with the new situation. When Stefan took over (70 years after the conquest), "the powerful Traladaran families in Specularum saw the political change as an opportunity to reestablish Traladaran independence" and plotted to kill the Duke while still in the early stages of his settling in. The thought was that if they could take the town and erect a strong enough defense, they might make it economically unfeasible for Thyatis to launch a second conquest attempt. Unfortunately:

"...the Marilenev clan prematurely led an armed revolt against the Duke and was decisively beaten by the Duke and the garrison. Most of the Marilenev men died in the attack. Naturally, from that point on the Duke had his eyes on the other powerful families, especially the Radu and Torenescu clans."

The Estate of Marilenev remains, just outside of Specularum: a small farming village of 900 souls watched over by Castle Marilenev, "a Gothic monstrosity of depressing walls and crumbling towers." Lady Magda Marilenev is its ruler. "Magda was the young wife of Lord Marilenev 30 years ago, when the Marilenev Rebellion was put down." Now a bitter, resentful widow in her 50s, she is described as "a barrel of resentment:" resentful of the Duke, resentful of the other clans whose help she required after the Rebellion, resentful of her state of affairs in comparison to that of the city...she is primed with hatred and ready to "snap," as she does in the suggested adventure. Allston (thankfully) stats her as a Normal Human, rather than a classed character; a surprisingly average woman with an Intelligence of 10, Wisdom of 10, and Charisma of 13. Hardly, a scheming revolutionary or inspiring rabble-rouser, she's just a bitter old woman and (as I infer from the final line of the Marilenev Uprising adventure) an obstacle to the "heroic" player characters being given a castle and township just outside the capital city.

This is Lady Magda and her background as presented by Allston in GAZ1 (the first appearance of the Marilenev clan and its history). There's a little more embellishment in the later Karameikos: Kingdom of Adventure. I haven't written much about K:KoA, an AD&D 2E campaign setting credited to Allston and Jeff Grubb, published in 1994 (seven years after the Gazetteer). While it takes into account the events of 1992's Wrath of the Immortals, advancing the GAZ1 timeline ten years and changing Archduke Stefan to King Stefan I, nearly all of the text is a reprint of the material in GAZ1...word-for-word content, with stats slightly altered for the AD&D rule system (BECMI was very close to 2nd edition AD&D at this point, so not much was needed).  If I had to guess, I'd suspect Allston receives co-credit because so much of the text is taken from GAZ1...Grubb's name is listed first in the byline and I imagine he's responsible for what little new material is found in K:KoA.

But as I said, there's not much (for Magda, especially)...but what there is, is very interesting. She's still the average ability, 0-level character, though aged a decade (she's now in her 60s); she's still the bitter, "barrel of resentment" waiting to "snap" (no Uprising has yet taken place in the advanced timeline). However, now we learn that Magda's own children, Britan and Caspar,

"...were captured by Stefan's forces, who were in turn ambushed by orcs, killing all."

Yowza! This is a much darker portrait of the Marilenev Rebellion (quick historical note: if it fails, it's a a "rebellion;" if it succeeds, it's a "revolution"). K:KoA provides genealogical ancestry for noble houses (each going back three to four generations), and Magda was the only known survivor of the Rebellion, with Magda's husband and his three brothers perishing, and her sister-in-law (Melanie Marilenev) disappearing and never again being seen (in 40 years!). Now "widowed, childless, and stripped of much of her power" no wonder Magda's ready to snap. I'd think she'd be closer to the edge of madness...after all, how old could her sons have been at the time of the Rebellion? Magda herself was only in her early to mid-20s at the time.

Lady Magda now...but
not at the time of the Rebellion.
Of course, now I have to wonder: why. Why has this woman been left to fester for four decades? A young widow, a landed, titled noble, still of childbearing age (and proven as such having had two healthy children), and yet possessing no heirs to her estates...WHY wouldn't she have married into some other wealthy or noble family (Traladaran or Thyatian)? This was no Lady Olenna Tyrell (yes, another Game of Thrones reference), long past her childbearing years who, upon seeing the death of her son, grandchildren, and heirs by the hand of Cersei Lannister, had nothing left to live for but "fire and blood." Lady Magda had EVERYTHING left to live for...including sweet, sweet revenge on Duke Stefan. She should have gotten herself married to someone ("Hey! I've got a castle! And lands!"), and got about the business of breeding new kids too carry on a legacy of hatred and vengeance against the Thyatian invaders. 30 years wasted (40 by K:KoA)?! Aleena was a 12th level cleric by the age of 22! Come on!

But, hey, let's talk about these dead children for a moment. Clearly, the authors want to steer away from the idea of any cruel impropriety by our "good" Duke Stefan. "Oh, yeah, sorry...orc ambush. Been known to happen." Yeah, sure, pal. How about having one of your MANY clerical cronies cast raise dead on my kids?! Both Sherlane Halaran and Oliver Jowett accompanied Stefan to Karameikos, and both were prominent Thyatian patriarchs (and, thus, high enough level to raise dead) prior to embarking on their Karameikan adventure. I can understand not raising the adult members of the Rebellion as a suitable punishment to their treason, but the kids? What was their particular crime, Mr. Lawful Good Archduke, sir? Just worm food (or orc food), huh?

A better Lady Magda
Sorry, I'm not buying any of this. If we make the Duke a more recent entrant on the scene (as I suggested a couple posts back), the Marilenev Rebellion can be a more recent affair as well, with the fallout still being sorted. Instead of a bitter, spiteful old woman, Lady Magda can be a vengeful, fiery young woman, ready to put the wheels of revenge in motion. This isn't Lady Tyrell; this is Cersei Lannister, trying to rebuild an empire on the smoldering remains of her family. She has absolutely no faith in the Duke's "orc ambush" story (and, of course, this is a barefaced lie...Stefan wants no young Traladaran nobles growing up with resentment over the deaths of their fathers), and she's willing to make whatever deals with the devil necessary to enact justice on the murderous usurpers. A good model would be the (fictionalized) Kwenthrith of Mercia from the Vikings television series. She's a complex character: manipulative, vengeful, and ambitious as hell, but still possessing some love and compassion that she supresses with ruthless practicality. The only thing she's truly "resentful" of is being born a woman in a society that makes her sex less worthy to rule than...well, than any number of flawed, terrible, male human beings. And, yet, she doesn't resent being a woman, she resents the patriarchy that would denigrate and devalue her for the fact of her birth.

Give Magda/Kwenthrith a real uprising, not some paltry riot quickly supressed by the Duke's Elvenguard. Give her a real chance at revenge, maybe some child-for-a-child payback (make sure you feed the bodies to orcs so they can't be raised...that's a Kwenthrith kind of thing to do). And make sure there are opportunities for the player characters to get involved, and not just "keeping innocent people from getting hurt." I just don't see that many innocent people in Karameikos.
: )

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