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The Afterwrath Mystara Campaign Handbook

by pawsplay

My conception of a Mystara campaign for 5e rests on the idea of fidelity to Mystara while leveraging the 5e rules as much as possible. I aim to use, rather than subtract, although de-emphasizing or excising certain elements is a possibility. Although I like Alphatia and some of the classic setting elements, I don't feel motivated to retread settled canon. Therefore, this campaign presupposes one of the likely outcomes of Wrath of the Immortals as a starting point.

I have summarized a few points of Mystar's distinctiveness. If you are a fan of the setting, some of this will be old hat to you. However, I feel like it's important to lay out my personal conception of the setting, and also to provide a jumping off point for people who recognize the setting but are less familiar with the lore.

Mystara is a baroque fantasy setting.
The Mystara campaign is one of bold knights, wizards who dare to know too much, sympathetic thieves, and pious clerics. On the surface, Mystara follows the conventions of heroic fantasy, and the more diverse elements in the element support that. However, it has elements of swords-and-sorcery, especially in its winding towns and remote forests, and epic fantasy, particularly with regard to its Immortals and certain powerful monsters. It borrows where it will from science-fiction, folklore, and pop culture. Notably, it has some quirks all its own, including unique monsters.

Mystara sometimes provides breezy scientific-sounding, natural explanations for things. In keeping with its adherence to pulpy pseudoscience, crossbreeds do not generally happen without magic or Immortal intervention. Darkvision often reflects broad-spectrum light sensitivity, and a dragon's toxic breath might contain deadly chlorine gas or alkaline compounds. Mad inventors dangerously combine magic with machinery and alchemy, until they are undone by their own experiments or distracted by concerned Immortals. Mystar's cosmology is defined as much by its elemental forces and physical laws as its metaphysics. Mystara takes a few cues from light, crossover fantasy like The Dragon and the George and The Compleat Enchanter.

While beginning characters are properly adventurers, they go on to become heroes, superheroes, and legends. Eventually, some become Immortals. As they gain in power and knowledge, they glimpse awesome truths hidden behind the mortal world. A character who begins as a warrior and becomes a knight might go on to became a quest-seeking hero of larger-than-life proportions, diverting history, sundering moons, and even casting down Immortals.

The Immortals.
The big movers-and-shakers in Mystara are the Immortals, beings who are ageless and powerful but not quite eternal. Well-educated people know that the Immortals were once mortals, or the offspring of other immortals. While cults exist that paint their own patron Immortal as all-powerful, most Immortals consider it unseemly it to pretend to be omnipotent gods. Immortals often meddle in civilizations and sometimes tamper with nature. They are divided by their membership in the Spheres of Energy, Matter, Time, Thought, or Entropy, as well their allegiance to Chaos, Law, or neutrality.

In addition to the planes, Mystara exists in a multiverse of many dimensions. Some monsters come from other worlds, some that even have their own physical and metaphysical laws. In the history of Mystara, sometimes entire civilizations have invaded from other places, either leaving them behind to forge a new homeland or being cut off when they lose access to their dimensional portals. Mystara's dimension is distant and hard to access from other places, but history is long, and immortals and wizards seem to often find a way.

Cosmological Uncertainty.
The most powerful Immortals are aware of even more elder beings rivaling or exceeding their own power. Many Immortals and some mortal sages posit a Source of creation, more like an intelligence and spirit which pervades the whole universe rather than a distinct personage. Things like gods and prophecies are an important to the people and beings of Mystara, but right and wrong, life and death, joy and suffering, are ultimately matters of judgment. The Immortals often dissent against each other, and many happenings are the results of their subtle manipulations. While an Immortal lich is certainly dangerous and evil, evil is not an intrinsic property of any object or being. Similarly, good is an aspiration of good and rational beings, but defining what is good engages the interests and limitations of the being making that judgment. Even Chaos and Law, palpable forces in the cosmos, are subject to considerations of some kind of Balance. Outside of Mystara proper is a realm of the Outer Beings, unfathomable and perhaps existentially dangerous. All that is to say, the people and creatures of Mystara tend to rely on faith and wisdom in a world of mysteries.

So what is a god?
A god in Mystara could be one of many things: a presumptuous Immortal (whether powerful or pretending), a powerful monster, or even a fable. Some gods purely exist to control a populace for the benefit of a wicked priesthood, who might actually be wizards or charlatans. Clerics who serve unscrupulous Immortals may also set up cults, either in the Immortal's name or in the name of a made-up "god." Mystara is not a world ruled by dependable or eternal gods. Smaller, less sophisticated communities may view their patron Immortal more like a god, but often recognize that their Immortal watches over their tribe or nation rather than the vastness of creation. Powerful lamas and high priests typically look to the Immortals for protection and guidance, rather than rulership or moral finality.