Friday, June 3, 2011

Holmes & Cook: The Grand Duchy of Karameikos

I realize that this particular topic does not have much, if anything, to do with the rules, per se; however, within my thought experiment, the Grand Duchy of Karameikos as presented in Cook is virtually the only example I have of world-building. As such, I am actually very interested in what kind of information I can glean from a combination of the example dungeon in Holmes and the Grand Duchy in Cook.

The place I'd like to start with are names, because each name suggests a story. Put all the stories together and I see a bit of an interesting pattern:

Stefan Karameikos

According to Cook, this is the Grand Duke after which the map is named. The name Stefan invokes the first Christian king of Hungary. Though Karameikos is nothing more than a cool fantasy name, it does bear some resemblance to the Hungarian for staff and Nicholas. This very much suggests a divine magicky relic/artifact that might be known as The Staff of St. Nicholas, which may very well be a family heirloom and/or a symbol of the office of Grand Duke.

Koriszegy Keep

More popularly known as the Haunted Keep, this name is even more suggestive of Hungarian with its sz and gy. Szegy means breast and kor can either mean heart, circle, age or disease. Taken together, all these words suggest some kind of tragic love story. Its outcome may very well be the origin of the haunting that the keep is now more famous for.

Gulf of Halag

Since we already have two names which are Hungarianesque, I find it interesting how close Halag is to the Hungarian for death. The Gulf of Death would be a great place to put Fort Doom, don't you think?

Ludwig von Hendriks

Speaking of Fort Doom, the Baron has a most German name. In combination with all of this psuedo-Hungarian it calls to mind the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which is quite brilliant, actually. Take a look at the sheer number of nationalities and languages that could be found inside the borders of the Austro-Hungarian Empire:
  • German
  • Hungarian
  • Czech
  • Polish
  • Ruthenian
  • Romanian
  • Croatian
  • Slovakian
  • Serbian
  • Slovenian
  • Italian
This can easily justify all kinds of different character backgrounds and names, as well as the existence of demi-humans within borders of the Grand Duchy.

There was also plenty of ethnic chauvinism within the Empire. Despite claims to the contrary, I have never got the feeling that the Hungary part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire were playing anything but second fiddle to the Austrian part. This suggests a reason why the Grand Duke would allow an obvious baddy like Baron von Hendriks to have control over any part of the Grand Duchy. Despite being only a Baron, von Hendriks has a pseudo-Austrian heritage compared to Karameikos' pseudo-Hungarian. Therefore von Hendriks' heritage/contacts have enough pull over the Grand Duke to get his little barony.


Though this is basically a meaningless made up name, it does have a Germanic flavor — which fits, given that the town is made up primarily of refugees from von Hendricks' Black Eagle Barony.

Black Eagle Barony

Speaking of which, the name itself doesn't suggest much; however, a black eagle on a gold field is a heraldic symbol used by Germany. This puts more weight behind the idea that von Hendricks has some family and friends in very high places.

Black Peaks/Cruth Mtns./The Steach

Though Steach has a passing resemblance to the German for rise or climb, these names don't imply much; however, it does support the Austro-Hungarian vibe. If you travel within the various parts of Europe that used to be part of the Empire, you will notice that all of the towns will have different names depending upon who you ask.


This is the first real departure from the Austro-Hungarian vibe. It has more of a Latinesque name related to the root of the word speculate. Cook informs us that it was originally a port when the area was first being explored. Given the name, I would guess that the original port and exploration was done by a different people than the ones who currently occupy it. Personally, I would need to decide as to whether this change of hands happened within context of the modern civilization or the classical civilization implied in Holmes. Given the Latin-flavor of the name, I am inclined to choose the latter.


This is the location of the sample dungeon in Holmes. I find it interesting that it could be understood in one of two ways: — it is a town with a port or it is a poor town.


This is the magic user that dug the tunnels that now make up at least part of the sample dungeon in Holmes. The name suggests the Greek for foreigner and foot. Thus, he might very well represent various attempts by a foreign power at getting a toe-hold in the area around Portown. This foreign power is most likely Chaotic and pagan, given Zenopus' activities. This also suggests that Portown is not necessarily within the borders and protection of the Grand Duchy, if this foreign power sees fit to send its agents to explore the ancient city that lies beneath with such impunity.

Thus, by taking all of these names together in order to tell some stories and seeing patterns, three political entities suggest themselves:
  1. A multi-ethnic/national/racial/linguistic empire modeled roughly on Central Europe. It is part of the modern (Christian/pseudo-Christian) civilization. Despite this, it is plagued by ethnic/racial chauvinism. There may very well be a rivalry between the Grand Duke and the Baron of Black Eagle. Whereas the Baron has friends in high places, the Grand Duke is the current holder of the Staff of St. Nicholas, an artifact that brings both power and prestige.
  2. A foreign (possibly secret) power that harkens back to the classical civilization. They are Chaotic and very interested in the arcane secrets of the ancient civilization. They have agents that they send into other countries to find and procure these ancient secrets. Given that Cook gives the Baron a reputation for possible connections with slavers, he may very well be working with this foreign power in order to give him an upper hand in his rivalry with the Grand Duke.
  3. The country and people that originally explored and settled the lands of the Grand Duchy. This may have been the outskirts of a Rome-like empire of the classical civilization just prior to its collapse. Remnants of it litter the land.


Roger G-S said...

"Karameikos" is probably cribbed from the Greek "Kerameikos" or pottery market, a notable neighborhood of Athens.

You may also be interested in this new social science study of the persistent legacy of the Habsburg Empire.

Legion said...

This is one of the most sharp deconstructions I've read in some time. Props.

Alex Osias said...

Ah, I am a fan of Karameikos and have often posted about it -- more!

Erin Smale said...

[Specularum] may have been the outskirts of a Rome-like empire of the classical civilization.

This is, in fact, borne out in the Mentzer-era Karameikos Gazetteer, where the Grand Duchy is explained as a mainland holding of the Empire of Thyatis, itself based on a mix of the classical and Holy Roman Empire.

As always, your logic is impeccable. Another great post.