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Thorn's Mystara

by Robert J. Nuttman, Jr. from Threshold Magazine issue 1

“My Mystara” is a column outlining the community’s changes to the D&D Known World. In each installment, a different take on Mystara will be explored by a different member of the community.

First outlined by David Cook in the 1981 Expert Set and adventure module X1: Isle of Dread, the Known World was expanded by Frank Mentzer in the 1984 Expert Set’s revision. Bruce Heard became the setting’s shepherd throughout the late 80s and 90s, overseeing development (and writing a couple) of the Gazetteer line of products, which gave readers in-depth looks at the various countries of the Known World. These were followed by the Dawn of the Emperors and Hollow World boxed sets, expanding the view from a single continent to the entire scope of the planet, inside and out. Bruce also developed the setting through the Voyage of the Princess Ark and Known World Grimoire articles published in Dragon Magazine between January 1990 and December, 1993. Much of that work was compiled into the Champions of Mystara boxed set, released in 1993. The setting was further revised and brought over to AD&D 2nd Edition as the “Mystara” line in 1994. Official TSR support in-print of the setting ended in 1995.

Thorn's Mystara . by Robert Nuttman (RobJN)

My Mystara — known on the web and the Piazza forums as “Thorn’s Mystara,” is a spin on the Known World incorporating elements from several d20 products. Thorn’s Mystara may not be for everyone. Many of the more “whimsical” features have been ignored (rather, they have yet to be addressed), and the picture that has been developing over the past five years has been one of a much darker world, haunted by the long shadow cast by Blackmoor’s ruin. Sorry, no gnomish biplanes, and no tropical resorts on Ierendi.

It began with rethinking the cause of the Great Rain of Fire. Rather than the canonical “Blackmoor devices” exploding, my Mystara’s Great Rain of Fire was started by Blackmoor devices — one device, in particular, the Planar Disjunction Device, dubbed by the developers as Andahars Engine.

Magic users took care of the rest.

Reckless summoning by beast men and Afridhi over the course of three wars and two crusades left a plague of demons infesting the planet, their numbers becoming more and more difficult and costly for the Blackmoor Empire to fight off. Blackmoor’s greatest minds at the University devised the Planar Disjunction Device, which would sever the demons’ conduit between the Prime and their home plane, destroying their ability to physically manifest. A second pulse from the Device was supposed to force the demons’ ethereal essences back across the ethereal boundary.

The secondary pulse, a planet-wide tidal wave, not of water, but of pure Radiance, did not burn the demons away, as expected. Rather, it absorbed the demons’ essences, as it would the soul of one failing an attempt to attain Immortality. The increase in volume spilled over into the planet’s natural magical fields, tainting the source for “regular” (non-Radiant) magic as well. The more magic a wizard used, the faster the rot and decay accumulated, eventually driving them mad.

It was in this madness that the magic users brought down mountains, sent seas rushing across the lands, remade continents and coastlines, and wrenched the very stars across the sky.

Magic was not entirely lost, though. Clerical spells still work without any ill effects on its users, and druidic magics have been found to weaken the lingering demons’ hold on the land itself. Magic from the Old World can be made to work, if the user can find the rare, ancient texts. The madness can even be staved off, if the mage is foolish enough to forge a pact with one of the demonic entities suffusing the Radiance, or with one brought over from the Ethereal Plane.

The Radiance is not the only source of magical power on Mystara. It was simply the most accessible, and thus, was the most widely used until its corruption. But much like the glare of the sun is made up of many different colors of light, it was discovered that magic itself operated much the same way. The notion that it came exclusively from the Sphere of Energy was erroneous: Energy was simply either the largest part of the pattern, or acted as the “carrier” to bring the magical effect into the Prime.

Small pockets of would-be magic users felt their way through this re-weaving of magic, but it would not be until the arrival of the Alphatians — with their structured and methodical weaving of threads of Power from the Spheres — that its use would flourish.

My Mystara’s Grand Duchy of Karameikos

The lands of the Grand Duchy of Karameikos were once the seat of a Blackmoor research colony. Specifically, the Black Peaks between the Cruth and Altan Tepes mountain ranges. Belerophon, as it was then known, sat atop great caverns where black dragonstones grew naturally — one of only three places on what was known, in Blackmoor’s day, as the Western Continent.

Left to grow on their own, the dragonstones’ properties were unstable. They had to be harvested and cut precisely to be used to their fullest potential, and this work was not done at the colony’s labs. Lest it fall into enemy hands, the technology of honing the stones into tools and weapons was kept as far away from the source as possible. As such, Belerophon hosted one of the Empire’s most active Lightning Roads, exporting the black dragonstones to Blackmoor University, or to the World Mountain research facility near the planet’s northern polar opening.

When the Great Rain of Fire struck, the colony was shut down, the surviving inhabitants fleeing to the surface, left in the care of the warforged maintenance crews. Twice in the first thousand years of sleep, the colony was breached, first by giants (who had no use for the puny Manlings’ petty magics). The second time was by the Troll Queen of Grondheim (not to be confused with her distant descendant, Haa’k Hordar), intrigued by the giants’ tales of the ‘corridors sheathed in steel’ and of vast caverns full of black crystals. Her incursion awoke the colony’s master defense program, which triggered the collapse of the bulk of the facility. Only the secondary laboratories survived, mostly intact, to be rediscovered by the hutaaka settlers some thousands of years later. Their culture’s advancement is thought to have been the result of discovering the caches of dragonstones untouched by the Troll Queen. Their culture would perish with the coming of the Beast Man hordes. The remaining defenses of the colony were overwhelmed, and it again shut itself down, and its secrets slept beneath the mountains until reawakened by a renegade druid….

The dragonstone caverns served as a magical fallout shelter for the ethereal demons. They survived the Great Rain of Fire, hibernating in the imperfect prisons of uncut black dragonstones. From there, they seeped into the very bones of the land, to be freed accidentally, or by trickery, or, in the case of Ancient Taymora’s lycanthrope thralls, by design.

Taymora’s breaking up and sinking into the Sea of Dread broke the stranglehold vampires and lycanthropes held over the land, and powerful though they were, their numbers dwindled while the human population only grew. The means and methods of battling the monsters were passed down from family to family, generation after generation, and shaped the Traladaran culture into what seems to outsiders as a superstitious and distrustful nation.

Every Traladaran home contains at least one implement edged in silver, and even the youngest in the family know better than to go out after sundown without it. If a stranger begs entry, it is best to bar the door. Never open the door in response to three knocks. What seem strange habits to the Thyatian invaders are what has kept the Traladaran people relatively safe from the demons, werewolves, and vampires that haunt the land. None wish to repeat the mistakes of the brothers Koriszegy.

How have the slight changes to the historical canon changed Thorn’s Karameikos?

No Guild of Magic. The Grand Duke has allowed a gray-robed sister from the Alphatian Tower of Lights to remain at court, as both advisor and ambassador. Her retinue of red and blue-robed sisters are allowed within the borders of the Grand Duchy under strict supervision, their rounds to the villages to seek out those with an affinity for magic performed on a rigid schedule. All of those touched with the spark enabling magical ability must receive the permission of their families, and that of the Grand Duke, to leave his lands to study at the Tower in Alphatia. The Tower is also to compensate the families for each year of the novice’s training.

A Fourth Church. Besides the Churches of Traladara and Karameikos (and, though not officially recognized, the Cult of Halav), most towns contain at least a small shrine to the Alphatian Silver Flame, a strange worship brought by the Wandering Exiles to the East. The patriarchs of the Traladaran and Karameikan pantheons both recognize the superior abilities of the Silver Flame in dealing with deceptive and hidden foes, but neither have seen fit to include the alien, anima-spirit into their respective pantheons.

The Eyes of Traldar: Legendary magical stones, said to have been infused with the last of the pure magic of the World That Was. They appear throughout many of the Old Traladaran legends, passed down through the Golden Age by the druids. Some stories claim there was but one Eye, the Fire Opal used by Queen Petra to foresee the defeat of the Beast Men at the cost of the life of Halav Red Hair. Others claim that there are other Eyes: A Black Opal Eye, said to have bound the souls of the Terrible Sisters Trilena and Karelena; its misuse has also been cited as the cause for the Silent Forest in the middle of Dymrak’s Wood, as well as the Silver Princess’ curse that claimed Lost Haven. Legends tell of an Azure Eye, said to be the source of All Knowledge, the stone through which Zirchev learned and taught the skills of forging bronze to Halav, and use of the loom and wheel to Petra. The Huntsman’s knowledge of the stirrup and laminate bow were also said to have been gleaned from the stone. Some say that his people, the Darine, pay to this very day for Zirchev’s mastery of Runic magic, that the price will be met when they find and master the Last Eye, the Viridian Eye of Time.

The White Witches. Historical anomalies, these figures appear over and over again in the tales of the Traladarans, and, in fact, many other cultures throughout the Known World of Thorn’s Mystara. Tapestries surviving from the earliest days after the defeat of the Beast Men (such as one recovered from the Temple of the Shield) show them in the company of Halav and Petra. Woodcuts of the earliest Thyatian missionaries’ transcriptions of the Song of Halav — even verses of the Song itself — reference the pale golden-haired girls. Are they elves? Faeries? No two sources agree on their origin or purpose, except that they come to the aid of heroes in their darkest hours. Or is it that they lure heroes to their doom?

Zirchevs Folk, and His Gift: One tribe chose to flee Traladara, rather than face the onslaught of the Beast Men, only to return some 400 years later after wandering the Great Waste and the Plain of Fire far to the west. They have never truly been welcomed back, and are regarded with an even deeper suspicion by their kinsmen than most foreigners. They are Traldar’s lost tribe: the Darine, consisting of three main clans. The largest, and most commonly encountered are the Kaledresh, wanderers with a talent for mending and tinkering. Their presence is tolerated among the outlying farmsteads for as long as they are useful in patching pots and re-shoeing horses. The Marikesh clan keeps sheep, goats, pigs, and horses. Their horses are said to only be matched or bettered in quality by those of the elves. The smallest clan, the Lovani, are said to be of direct lineage with Achelos and Zirchev. Their members are among the wisest of sages and most powerful seers. Their craftsmen make the finest cloth and leather goods.

Members of each clan who take up Zirchev’s debt also take up one of his many marks. The Kaledreshi gain power over the roads and many means of travel. Those of Marikesh gain an affinity for animals and the wild. Lovani are granted the ability to See over great distances, not only of miles and leagues, but also years and centuries.

Changes to NPCs within Thorns Mystara.

What discussion of Karameikos would be complete without mention of Bargle and Aleena?

Aleena Halaran, 6th Level Human Female Cleric, Knight of the Griffon. First Lieutenant of the 13th Company of the Fourth Division, Castellan’s Guard Battalion. Soft-spoken, but no shrinking violet when it comes to engaging the enemy, Aleena leads the small squad of Knights of the Griffon attached to Castellan’s Keep. Scuttlebutt amongst the rank and file of the Fourth Division is that she only got placed there because her uncle is a Patriarch within the Church of Karameikos. This is not entirely untrue, as Baron Halaran has placed his niece as far away from the Black Eagle’s Barony of Halag as possible, lest she lead another crusade against Von Hendricks’ right-hand man.

Bargle “the Infamous” 7th Level Human Thief/2nd Level Warlock*. Scoundrel, trickster, hired hand of the Black Eagle Baron, Bargle is wanted in most townships of the northern baronies for robbery, extortion, theft, and at least one murder. He is known to keep company with hounds of the Iron Ring, and is rumored to have provided them with innumerable opportunities to collect slaves throughout the Black Eagle Barony. He is known to masquerade as a Darokinian spice merchant, a bard from Rugalov, and an itinerant actor from Luln. He was last seen departing the Twelve Roses Inn at Luln, in the company of a young maiden that — as the innkeeper put it — “if she was ’is daughter as ’e claimed, then she certainly got all ’er looks from ’er mother. ’Cept’n for those eyes.”

Lord Valen Karameikos, 2nd Level Human Thief. Recently Sheared, the Grand Duke’s youngest son has disappeared into the wilds of northern Karameikos, despite Lady Olivia’s best efforts, and those of her information network to keep track of him. A report from Townguard Sergeant Arthol indicated Lord Valen made a brief appearance in Threshold, but has not been seen there since shortly before the Festival of Lights, when there was a misunderstanding about a purse, a pendant, and a peace-bond….

Text box #1 to go close to the opening ‘graph:

Cherry Picking: Ideas too good to pass up from later editions

(or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the d20)

I blame much of this on Keith Baker and his setting-search-winning Eberron Campaign Setting. There was much in that setting that evoked much of the same “pulp and sorcery” feel I get from Mystara. Magewrights and artificers make perfect fits for dwarven or gnomish subclasses, with their penchant for technomagical tinkerings.

The rules for demonic possession made for fantastic ideas for villains, as well as a delightfully sinister origin for magical weapons in a world where “Magic” is a lost art. Not only that, I was never satisfied with the “trading in” of weaponry for bigger and better plusses. A demon housed in a blade could be bargained with to provide whichever power might be necessary for a given fight against any manner of foes, making for some fun role-playing opportunities. Or it could be boiled down to a “battle of wills” contest resolved with a few dice rolls.

The following of the Silver Flame was also carried over. It is not “native” to Mystara, having been brought over by the Alphatians. With their connection to several newer strains of lycanthropy, it only seems natural that they would wield a power against it, capable of rooting out shapechangers.

The notion that the world is seeded with magical stones of varying abilities was also too good to pass up. Could they have been scattered in the catastrophe that tilted the very planet on its axis? Do they occur naturally or (like cinnabryl), perhaps unnaturally?

The Alphatian “spell weaving” is inspired by Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, and the mechanics are being developed based on those presented in the d20 Wheel of Time Campaign Setting.

Text box #2

Magic users do not ‘technically’ exist as a class on Thorn’s Mystara. Typically, they are used as villains -- NPCs at best -- and many of their spells are lost, wondrous things. Books and scrolls are extremely rare, as the chaos of the Great Rain of Fire purged most original magical writings. This is not to say that stray, mad wizards do not still research That Which Should Not Be Known, or that the demonic presences do not ‘help’ with the reconstruction of Old Magic. For clarity, those practicing Old Magic without the ‘benefit’ of a demonic presence, and thus at risk of going mad, are referred to as “magic users.” Those using Old Magic playing host to a demonic essence are referred to as “warlocks.” Both are to be feared in equal measure.

Anyone forming a pact with one of the demonic essences gains access to “old magic,” multiclassing using the rules set forth in the Hollow World Player’s Guide for Warrior-Elven learning magic later in life, p. 7)

Decay, Insanity and Corruption

The rules in the Glantri Gazetteer’s section on use of the Radiance are expanded to all magic user spells: there is a 1 percent chance per spell level that the withering, rotting disease takes root, corrupting part of the wizard’s body beyond the ability of mortal magic to heal. This “percentage” also builds up, weighing on the wizard’s mind and sanity. So, a magic user casting a 2nd level spell has a 2 percent chance of becoming afflicted with the rotting disease, and adds 2 percent to his running total of sanity loss. Spells of the Radiance carry double the percentage chance. A wizard opening himself to demonic possession is shielded from the effects of the rot and insanity, but that running total is still kept, applying instead to how much control the demon can exercise over its host, as it gnaws away at its warlock’s soul...

Weavers: Sundsvall Initiates and Ciprian Wilders

Those who follow the “new” or “untainted” method making use of cast-off threads of Spheric Power are known as weavers, as the gestures they use in manipulating the threads look much like those worked at a loom. They also refer to their spells and spell-like effects as ‘weaves.’ Weaves of similar properties are grouped into families called “Talents.”

There are two schools of learning, based on the two ancient Alphatian cultures that have found their way to Mystara. The Alphatian method involves a highly structured and disciplined study of the forces and powers behind the weaves. Because the Tower of Seven Lights is located in the Alphatian capital, those studying methodical, rigid coursework are called Sundsvall Initiates. Their weaves tend to be more powerful when working within their Talents, but they are unable to do much beyond what they haven’t yet learned. By contrast, those who forego study at the Tower to learn on their own, or with a non-Tower-trained mentor follow the Ciprian tradition of instinct and trial-and-error. This is the method favored by the Flaemish weavers of Braejr and the Glantrian Alps. While their weaves tend to pack slightly less punch than those of their Alphatian counterparts, Ciprian “Wilders” (as those in Sundsvall refer to them) have a wider breadth of weaves to use within their chosen Talents.

Clerical and druidic magic function just as written in the D&D Rules Cyclopedia.

These changes wrought on the magics of Thorn’s Mystara involve significant alterations to the two magical powerhouse nations of Alphatia and Glantri. But we’ll have to save those summaries for future issues of Threshold....

Sidebar #3: Dragonstones

Initially, Thorn’s Mystara was only host to the three varieties of ‘dragonstones’ outlined in the Eberron Campaign Setting. But the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to make that idea into something uniquely Mystaran. Eberron’s “land, sky, and underdark” varieties were all well and good, but I have expanded Mystara’s assortment to encompass all the colors of the chromatic dragons. Rather than linking to a “parent” dragon’s tropes, though, the dragonstones are tied more closely to the Mystaran cosmology’s Spheres of Power.

Red stones allow the control of objects of Matter and Energy. The user can control flames, alter the composition of stone, and gains resistance to heat. They take their power from the users’ blood.

Black stones are linked to the Sphere of Entropy, and allow the manipulation of electricity and shadow. They can also be used to control any being with a soul, or bind a spirit or ethereal essence into the matrix of the stone. They take their power from the users vitality.

White dragonstones are also linked to the Sphere of Entropy, but in a positive manner: they are used for healing and warding. A white dragonstone’s powers are fueled by the life force of the user.

Blue stones are tied to the Sphere of Thought, and are used to imprint information and memories. They allow the control of winds and the weather. Blue dragonstones feed on the memories of their user.

Green stones are bound to the Sphere of Time. They are used to effect drastic change, allowing the manipulation of existing forms and the speeding, slowing, and temporary stalling of time itself. Particularly powerful green dragonstones allow the breaking of the bonds of time itself, making travel to the past or future possible. Users of green dragonstones activate its powers at the cost of their own lifespans.


Thorn’s Chronicle Blog:

Thorn’s Chronicle Thread index at the Piazza (thanks for compiling this, TAD!):

Magic Items of Thorn’s Mystara:

The Mystaran Artificer:

Exorcist of the SIlver Flame, a clerical “prestige” class: