This is the first in a series - a completely new concept in gaming aids for the Dungeons & Dragons game system. Within these covers is a complete historical, economical, geographical, and sociological overview of the Grand Duchy of Karameikos. Entries on (and maps of) the major cities and towns, as well as biographical entries on the important figures in the Duchy, will aid the DM in preparing his own adventures as well as enrich the playing of published adventures.
In addition, there is a full-size, four-color map showing not only Karameikos itself, but also the capital city of Specularum, the city of Kelvin, and the town of Threshold. This map will be full compatible with those to follow in the series, so the DMs and players can put them side by side for comparison and/or play.
Beginning with the Grand Duchy of Karameikos, this series provides a rich tapestry of background material for player and DM alike, sure to benefit the gamer immeasurably.
GAZ1: "The Grand Duchy of Karameikos" (1987), by Aaron Allston, is the first book in the "GAZ" series of Gazetteers for the Known World. It was published in April 1987.
Introducing the "GAZ" series. Bruce Heard became the developer of the Known World setting by chance. At the time, TSR's Design staff was still writing most of the AD&D products, but that wasn't the case for Basic D&D — possibly because no one wanted to be associated with a product that had strong ties to Frank Mentzer, who had (alongside Gary Gygax) left TSR for New Infinities Productions.
Basic D&D products were instead being produced by freelancers. Meanwhile, Bruce Heard was the Acquisition Coordinator, in charge of freelancers — which de facto made him the guy running the Known World. Because no one else was interested in Basic D&D — or in the Known World — Heard could do pretty much whatever he wanted, which let him create one of the most innovative module series to date for TSR.
The "GAZ" series were different because the modules weren't adventures; instead each one detailed a specific geographic locale — which was largely unheard of at TSR, though there were a few geographic-based precedents, most notably the World of Greyhawk supplements (1980, 1984) and Lankhmar: City of Adventure (1985).
Heard was interested in producing these geographic books for the Known World for two reasons. First, because he didn't like generic adventures, instead preferring them to have specific locales and the potential to impact a larger campaign world. Second, because details were constantly accruing in the Known World adventures — particularly in the "X" Expert series, which was focused on wilderness, and so had to detail wide geographic locales out of pure necessity. Without any sort of written guide, these details could be troublesome. The "GAZ" adventures thus gave Heard the ability to ground the Basic D&D adventures and simultaneously to provide adventure writers with that background.
In designing "The Grand Duchy of Karameikos", Allston and Heard created a basic format for what the "GAZ" books should contain. The 64-page books includes player's background, history, politics, society, and economy, as well as a look at the land's geography. A section on "communities" allowed Allston to detail some specific locales within Karameikos.
Heard was also able to design the graphical look of the "GAZ" books — which stands out in advance of what TSR was producing at the time. The book is printed two color (black & blue), which was something that TSR didn't generally do until the release of second edition AD&D (1989). The use of a single image as the background of the pages (an icon for Karameikos) was also quite unusual for 1987. Finally, the colored hex-map in "The Grand Duchy of Karameikos" is also notable; it would be the basis of the "TM" Trail Map series (1989-1990) in just a few years.
Expanding Basic D&D. "Karameikos" was innovative in many ways. Besides being the first of a new sort of geographical supplement, it also expanded the Basic D&D rules by introducing a "General Skills" system. The idea was in the air at TSR, as similar "non-weapon proficiencies" were introduced in Oriental Adventures (1985). However, Basic D&D would ultimately make more extensive use of its own skills, as it expanded and developed them throughout the late '80s in its Gazetteers.
Expanding the Known World. Heard chose Karameikos for the first "GAZ" book because it was the best detailed area of the Known World, dating back to the introduction of it (and the Known World!) in the D&D Expert Set (1981). "The Grand Duchy of Karameikos" also makes extensive use of B10: "Night’s Dark Terror" (1986), a wilderness adventure set in the area. It draws further details from B6: "The Veiled Society" (1984), which detailed the capital city of Specularum, and X10: "Red Arrow, Black Shield" (1985), which generally described the nations of this part of the Known World.
With that said, there is (of course) lots of new information on Karameikos in this supplement. It also does a soft reboot of the Known World as it had been presented from 1981-1986, primarily by Zeb Cook. In those earlier books, up to and including "Night's Dark Terror", Karameikos was a real wilderness — filled largely with monsters, not people. "The Grand Duchy of Karameikos" changes that by increasing populations tenfold: for example, Specularam goes from a city of 5,000 people to 50,000. This more populated environment would be the basis of the Known World as it developed into Mystara through the "GAZ" series.
Future History. Allston reimagined the setting, with the timeline advanced 17 years, in Karameikos: Kingdom of Adventures (1994) — an AD&D 2e supplement.
About the Creators. Allston was an experienced freelancer who had already written the well-receivedl N4: "Treasure Hunt" (1986) for TSR. "The Grand Duchy of Karameikos" was his second Known Worlds book of the year, following X12: "Skarda's Mirror" (1987). He would become increasingly involved in the setting as time went on.
Bruce Heard continued to shepherd the Known World throughout the '80s and '90s. He's best-known for writing "The Voyage of the Princess Ark" for Dragon (1990-1992, 2006).
About the Product Historian
The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to firstname.lastname@example.org.