A few decades after the traditional start of Ars campaigns, the Mongols invade the Rus (and later much of Eastern Europe.) I am looking to start a Novgorod Tribunals game, which means that if the saga precedes at even a medium speed, the Mongols will swiftly become an important part of the game. There have been a few high quality posts on the early Mongols in the Middle East here in past months, but I'm interested in places more within the Novgorod space. What have your sagas done with the early arrival of the Mongols in Eastern Europe? Sagas often turn very quickly into alternate histories, did you guys fight the Mongols or even turn back those early campaigns? Did your magi hunker down and mostly leave history as we know it undisturbed while armies flowed past them? Some other third thing?
We're currently fighting the mongols in our saga.
They're kinda nasty.
If I was going to run a Mythic Europe saga, that is a place and period that would appeal to me.
Wondering now how I could get that flavor in an early 21st century saga...
So far, the chronology has mostly respected history, but with some mythic elements, such as this battle:
Which was actually fought by a legion of dead roman legionaries sent by House Tremere, and occured in a magical regio.
I also had a novgorod covenant burned to the ground. My mongols are accompanied by hedge wizard, but so far, they've been a background element in the campaign, and haven't yet been fought by the PCs.
Always hyped to see Mongol talk! This question is auspiciously timed; the past decade has been a sort of golden age for research on the "western" segments of the world-empire and its descendant khanates. I'm considerably more familiar with the Ilkhanate than the Jochids, they're closer to my work (and admittedly, my heart), but a fascinating new book on the Ulus Jochi that came out just this August - The Routledge Handbook of the Mongols and Central-Eastern Europe, edited by Maiorov and Hautala - is pretty useful here. I'm thinking particularly of the paper Diplomacy, War, and a Witch: Peace negotiations before the Mongol invasion of the Rus' by Maiorov in the first section. Yeah, you read it right, magic is involved. Further evidence that the best Ars plotlines are always found in the pages of academic journals.
The oldest academic views of the Mongol arrival in the lands of the Rus', based on face value readings of the Old Russian chronicles, essentially present a nigh-on apocalyptic view of Batu's mission. The Mongols were implacable, bent from the very beginning on the destruction of the Rus' cities, offering impossible and humiliating terms to the princes. Peace was never actually an option, or at least not any peace that would be preferable to destruction, and the "peace conference" itself was just a way to trick the vigorous young Prince Fedor to his death under a false flag. Ryazan and the rest of the cities were more or less doomed as soon as the horses appeared on their doorstep. So on, so forth.
More recently, a new generation of scholars more attentive to Mongol sources and generally familiar with Mongolian history have doubted the veracity of much of the Old Russian chronicles. They note that all Mongol sources and several Western ones (including the Report of Friar Julian, likely the most well informed on this specific topic) indicate that the original target of the Great Western Campaign inaugurated at the qurultai of 1235 was the Kipchaks (also called the Cumans.) Mongolianists also point out that the politics of the campaign itself were far from simple. According to key sources Ata-Malik Juvayni and Rashid al-Din Hamadani, Ögedei Khan was planning on leading the campaign against the Kipchaks personally when the qurultai deliberated on war. However, as the discussion progressed, the ultimate control of the '35 campaign was given to Batu, Möngke, and Güyük with the famous general Subutai accompanying. Batu was technically the commander in chief but his army was composed of several autonomous corps led by men who were destined to become world-emperors in their own right and a legendary veteran. Mongolianists saw the sudden redirection of the Great Western Campaign from the Polovtsian steppes to the cities of the Rus' as rooted primarily within the political jockeying of Batu to preserve and expand his control over the vast army granted to him, while also securing more rich territory for his Ulus of Jochi particularly. According to this theory, provoking war with the Rus' served both functions neatly. After the execution of Prince Fedor (which we will return to) and the attack of the Ryazan princes on Batu's camp, he was able to redirect the campaign into a specific war that was more firmly under his command and brought the Rus' cities into his own ulus' patrimony.
Maiorov's 2021 study of the Mongol arrival in 'Rus lands takes the Mongolianist focus on the internal dynamics of the Great Western Campaign army in specific and Mongol society more generally, then applies it to a revisitation of the Old Russian chronicles. He concurs that all available sources indicate that the campaign inaugurated by qurultai of 1235 was definitely aimed at the Kipchaks:
The general plan for the deployment of the Mongol forces mobilized to participate in the Western campaign...shows that the main direction of the future offensive, where the main forces of the Mongols were concentrated, was to be the Polovtsian steppes of the Northern Azov and Black Sea regions, while the main opponents were the Cumans (Western Qipchaqs) and the Hungarian kingdom allied with them. At the same time, two auxiliary armies – the Caucasian and the Russian – were supposed to protect the southern and northern flanks of the main attacking army, respectively. Thus, at the initial stage of the Western campaign planning, no active offensive actions were envisaged against the principalities of Northeast Rus’, which lay far from the direction of the main attack. The Mongol strategists only planned to block the main communications, linking these principalities with the steppe. For this purpose, apparently, two relatively small Mongol military units were deployed to the southern borders of the Ryazan land in the summer of 1237.
He also agrees with the position that Batu, the Jochid prince placed as commander-in-chief over the operation by Emperor Ögedei, was keeping an eye to the fortunes of his ulus while conducting his campaign. It was with this in mind that he made what Maiorov sees as genuine peace overtures to the Rus' princes, attempting to strengthen his own hand in the region with vassals loyal to the Jochids. This is why Batu, the highest commander of the Great Western Campaign, was out way in the sticks far from the bulk of the army talking to the princes of Ryazan in 1237.
The appearance of Batu on the peripheral sector of the Mongol troops disposition, remote from their main forces, shows that this was the area which he considered the most important for himself, while the rest of the Mongol princes at the time were elsewhere, mainly in the south, in the lower reaches of the Don, preparing to march against the Cumans...Showing his willingness to maintain peace with the Ryazan princes, Batu could have been striving to repeat the success of his father, who started his own ulus through peaceful subjugation of the Forest Peoples of southern Siberia. The people of Ryazan, as well as other inhabitants of Northeast Rus’, who lived in the forest zone inaccessible to the nomads, could have been perceived by Batu as a kind of ‘forest peoples’ that inhabited the western outskirts of the Jochi ulus, ready for peaceful submission, like their imaginary brothers in the east.
Maiorov, analyzing the Old Russian chronicles The Novgorod First Chronicle, Zadonshchina, and The Tale of the Destruction of Ryazan, writes that much of the "outrageous" actions or demands of Batu in those histories were conventional for Mongols in the mid-1200s. It was largely a disastrous series of misunderstanding that doomed the talks. He does this in parts. First, was Batu mocking them by sending a devil summoning woman to open negotiations? Well, no.
According to the chronicle, the Mongols first came to Nuzla, ‘and thence they sent their emissaries to the Knyazes of Ryazan, a sorceress and two men with her’. Since after I.N. Berezin, it had been believed that the main participant of the Mongol embassy to Ryazan was a female shaman...Batu belonged to those Mongol leaders who checked their most important decisions against the revelations of sorcerers and soothsayers. At the same time, following the example of Chinggis Khan, Batu could turn to the Mongol deities directly and receive from them the necessary instructions and assistance before decisive battles, like, for example, before the Battle of Mochi against the Hungarians...There is little doubt that before starting the invasion of Rus’, the leader of the Mongols also asked for the help of supernatural forces, using practices similar to those described by friars Simon and John. If the magical sessions arranged by the leader of the Mongols were connected with Etügen and the spirits of the earth, then it is very likely that female shamans took part in them, including the shamaness entrusted by Batu to lead the envoys to Ryazan.
Batu appeared to take special stock in the female shamans of Etügen Eke (the Mongol earth goddess), conducting complex divinations at the opening of most major campaigns, and was even ribbed for it by the other princes that led sections of the Great Western Army. He didn't mean to mock anyone, indeed it was an honor for him to send an ambassador who "possessed great spiritual strength". However, the princes of Ryazan were shocked by the appearance of a woman, festooned in amulets and other ritual paraphernalia, and believed it may have indicated a desire to forcibly convert them to "devilry." And all of this is taking the Old Russian chronicles at their word; while a shamaness may have been at the head of a makeshift embassy to the city of Ryazan since Batu was especially religious, it would have been rather unusual. Despite this road bump, the Mongol ambassadors were able to negotiate for Prince Feodor of Ryazan to travel to Batu's camp and bend the knee (or so they thought.)
What about the exorbitant, honestly impossible, tribute payments that Batu demanded from the 'Rus princes? Maiorov sees them as total fakes, later interpolations into the chronicles which were composed well after the fact (even if he argues that there are kernels of truth in lots of them):
There is a widespread and, to our mind, erroneous opinion in contemporary research literature that in the autumn of 1237 Batu demanded from the Ryazan princes that they pay tribute or some kind of war indemnity in exchange for peace with the Mongols. The amount of this supposed duty/indemnity is estimated as very high: it is ten times higher than the tribute levied, for instance, on the people of North China. Some researchers even doubt the reality of the demands presented to the Ryazan princes. According to Charles Halperin, a demand for one tenth of the people and property implied a census of the population of the Ryazan land, which the Mongols could not have carried out during their military campaign. Therefore, the whole episode was invented by the chronicler after the Mongols had indeed implemented the census of the Northeast Rus’ population and established a regular collection of tribute.
He also points out that Batu would almost certainly not be making demands of this nature while on what essentially amounted to a side quest he was personally pursuing for the interests of the Ulus Jochi while the vast majority of the army was out preparing for war against the Kipchaks.
Another of his requests, likely intended as an honor, also ended up offending the princes of the Rus' - marriage with a Rus' noblewoman. While it's possible that the Old Russian chronicles are right that Batu specifically asked for the current wife of Fedor in marriage, it's not that realistic and probably is another later interpolation to emphasize the "unjust" nature of the Mongol peace offer, so we'll disregard it. So, what happened here? Again, Batu certainly saw his offer to personally marry Ryazan princesses as a high honor, binding the Rus' princes to the blood of Chinggis much more closely than if Chinggisid princesses were sent to the Rus':
It would seem that a marriage proposal, received from Batu himself, was beneficial to the Ryazan princes, and if they were really looking for peace with the Mongols, it would have been difficult to find better conditions than that. From the point of view of the Mongols, the intention of their rulers to marry Rus’ princesses could imply more privileged conditions for integration than a marriage proposal in the opposite direction. After becoming the wives of Batu (or other princes, participating in the Western campaign), the Ryazan princesses and the children born by them would have become members of the Chinggisid clan, while the Mongol princesses married to the rulers of other peoples and realms as well as their future children would, in contrast, lose their high status....If the Tale of the Destruction of Ryazan indeed reflects the real fact of a marriage proposal from Batu, such a proposal could have been perceived by the Mongols as more advantageous in comparison to other marriage proposals of the Chinggisids. By asking for daughters or sisters of Ryazan princes as wives, Batu seemed to imply that he believed in their peaceful intentions and, for his part, offered the honourable conditions for peaceful integration into the universal empire of the Mongols.
Actually, many other Orthodox Christians had very little problem with this. Famously, Byzantine Emperor Michael VIII married two of his daughters to Mongols - Hulagu Khan and Nogai Khan. The Rus', however, had very particular hangups around this because of the political culture that had developed between them and the Kipchaks:
The complete rejection by Rus’ princes of the possibility to marry their daughters and other relatives to the Mongols was apparently a continuation of an earlier practice that had formed with regard to the relations with other steppe peoples (in particular, with the Polovtsy), which accepted only unilateral marriages. Despite the obvious interest in marriages with the Polovtsy shown by the most powerful Rus’ princes, who repeatedly took the daughters of Polovtsian khans as wives for themselves or married their sons to them, there were no cases (with just one exception) when a Rus’ princess would be married to a Polovtsian ruler or his son.
Yet again a serious misunderstanding. But why did Fedor's flat rejection of what Batu saw as very generous, even friendly, terms get him killed. Didn't he have the immunity of a diplomat? The Rus' certainly thought so, but Fedor had likely engaged in ritual oaths that bound him and Batu in vassal-master relations, maybe unwittingly. He was not a diplomat declining an offer, he was a new vassal both refusing a command and simultaneously insulting Batu directly. This was a grave offence to the Mongols, to say the least.
The Ryazan princes at first seemed to be trying to meet these expectations, consistently performing all the elements of the ritual of peaceful submission to the Mongols, which they might have been aware of to a certain extent. In any case, the Tale of the Destruction of Ryazan lists three of these elements: the arrival of the Ryazan Prince Fedor to Batu’s headquarters, bringing of ‘great gifts’ to the Mongol ruler, and the marriage proposal from Batu. The Rus’ source omits another essential element of the ritual, without which it could not have happened – swearing fealty to the Mongol ruler. However, the marriage proposal from Batu suggests that such an oath had most probably been taken...Prince Fedor was not just an ordinary envoy and that his status was significantly changed after negotiations with the Mongols. It is only under such conditions that the new requirements on Fedor personally and on his wife in particular could have appeared. Given the importance of the oath of allegiance for Chinggis Khan and his successors, the murder of Prince Fedor looks like a natural consequence of his refusal to obey Batu. Fedor’s guilt was aggravated by the fact that the violation of the oath was committed during a military campaign, when capital punishment was to be applied to the offender.
With Fedor dead, Batu looked to maybe forge a new relationship with other Ryazan princes, but the knyazes of Ryazan saw the execution of Fedor as confirmation of their darkest fears. They launched an attack on the camp of Batu himself, putting the commander in chief of the whole Great Western Campaign's life in danger. The fate of the Rus' was sealed after that:
At first, alongside Batu on the Voronezh River, there was apparently only a relatively small Mongol unit, which the Ryazan princes decided to attack. After this attack, Batu called for help from all the Chinggisids, participating in the Western Campaign. Gathered into one striking force, the Mongol troops descended on the Ryazan land with all their staggering military strength.
The Mongol war machine turned its interest from finishing the war it had begun with the Kipchaks back in the day of Genghis Khan to a punitive campaign against the Rus' cities that would see the would-be diplomatic partner Ryazan (and many many other places) totally leveled.
What's the point?
So! That was really long, but I think there's a lot there which is really gameable. Diplomatic missions are fun to play and the magi of Novgorod would certainly be interested in any sort of going ons involving the same guys who just showed up and destroyed a massive Rus'-Kipchak combined army a couple decades back before promptly marching back to wail on other Kipchaks. There's also a powerful shamaness involved as the lead initial negotiator for the Mongols, which could drive interest from magi who want to know what's up with Mongol magic. Perhaps most importantly, if you aren't averse to a bit of realistic historical fiction, massaging the diplomatic efforts of Batu and Fedor could very easily spare the whole tribunal the immense amount of blood and fire coming very soon if negotiations fall through. Batu seriously wants this to work out (besides all the other evidence, the older theory that he tried to pick a fight so he could consolidate power is bunk because Batu actually lost a lot of face for forcing the army to squash the Rus' bug instead of doing what it came to do - kill Kipchaks) and the Ryazan princes do too, your characters just have to negotiate the minefield of cultural barriers to get them speaking the same diplomatic language. If you're not interested in having your Novgorod Tribunal game go through radical saga-shifting changes all of a sudden, this is a very attractive option.
Also, and this may be more of a me thing, but it's an option that emphasizes the Mongols as rational actors (or at least as much as any other folks are.) Yes they could be and often were very ruthless in the business of conquering, but they weren't unthinking deathbots, and every game the Mongols show up in doesn't have to become a war story. Medieval people didn't think so - the Mongols as "agents of the apocalypse" view gets a lot of notice, and it was a genuine one, but it was far from the only or even the prevailing view concerning Mongol interaction with the areas covered by Ars products over the 1200s (particularly as the century rolls along.)
We played a saga with our party settled on Saaremaa and forming a proto Tribunal of the Baltic. We did get a little involved with Novgorod.
The Covenant of Legnica was sacked but after investigations, it turned out to have been an inside job by mercenary mages (which we hunted down). We did mount a few attacks on small mongol armies, but it was using Au magic at sight range from our flying ship before flying away...
Ultimately we mostly used their existence as leverage in our negotiations with the livonian/ tectonic knights.
Any encounters with shamans (or shamanesses, depending?)
A strategy with a long and illustrious history .
I almost replied to this by saying the Routledge Handbook also had an account of this fictional battle but when I went to check, it was an entirely different identity-affirming fake victory over Batu!
Sixteenth-century historians have added to their accounts of the Mongol invasion a fictional character, Jaroslav of Sternberg, allegedly defending Olomouc. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the story of the defeat of the Mongols at Olomouc became part of popular myths and church traditions, acquiring new fantastic details. In the early nineteenth century, the legend was used in the fabrication of the so-called Königinhof Manuscript and became the Czech national symbol. After the forgery was exposed at the end of the nineteenth century, the victory over the Mongols at Olomouc, Hostýn, and Štramberk disappeared from the textbooks.
Only long distance. We chose to maintain, mostly, the non interference policy of the Order. As our Storyteller played it, they were some kind of Magical Animal/spirit binders. So aside from two magical monster which we fought, we did not really deal with the magical side of the Mongols. In our saga they did have some gunpowder supplies, which did not mix well with Sight range CrAu... But once we blew up their supply camp, somewhere on the steppe, west of the Volga (which we hesitated to cross as it is obviously the end of the Earth).
I do wish that we'd seen your outstanding post above two years ago, as a series of botched diplomacy rolls lead to genocide is a far more interesting and tragic story than "the mongols came here to kill, because they are bloodthirsty and God send them to punish us".
Honestly would be sick to see what the Rusticiani could get up to if they were exposed to the siege technology the Mongols brought west with them...even if they have to worry about magi messing with their gunpowder.
Appreciated! Hell, it couldn't have been written two years ago, that's how quickly Mongol studies is developing! Exciting times we live in.
Highly recommend Neil Stephenson's 'The Mongoliad' to mine for ideas. To wit: "The first novel to be released in The Foreworld Saga, The Mongoliad: Book One , is an epic-within-an-epic, taking place in 13th century. In it, a small band of warriors and mystics raise their swords to save Europe from a bloodthirsty Mongol invasion. Inspired by their leader (an elder of an order of warrior monks), they embark on a perilous journey and uncover the history of hidden knowledge and conflict among powerful secret societies that had been shaping world events for millennia." The Mongoliad - Wikipedia.