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About Mystara

S

o you're new to the Mystara? campaign settings ... or at least you think you are. If you've come to D&D fairly recently, perhaps with the release of the 3rd Edition rules or maybe even during the 1990's, Mystara quite probably is a whole new realm for you and your gaming buddies to explore.

However, if you're an old-time D&D player but don't think you've ever encountered Mystara before, you may be surprised by some of the information that follows.

Here you'll find a brief overview of the origin of Mystara and a discussion of the things that really define the campaign and give it the flavor and atmosphere we love and hope you'll enjoy too.

PRODUCT IDENTITY NOTICE

The details about the realm of Mystara included herein are Product Identity belonging to Wizards of the Coast

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What is Mystara?

I

f you are a long time D&D gamer, you may already recognize Mystara by a different name: The Known World. This was the campaign setting created and developed by TSR Inc. for its original Dungeons and Dragons line, often referred to as BD&D (for "Basic"), OD&D (for "original," or "old") or, more recently, as 0E D&D (for "zero edition"). Developed to an incredible level of detail through TSR's publication of 20+ regional campaign accessories, Mystara would eventually include three complete campaign settings, all located on the same planet yet having certain elements that made each distinct in its own right. These three settings are known as The Known World, The Savage Coast, and The Hollow World.

Collectively, and in the humble opinion of our project team members, Mystara consists simply of the most well developed, world-spanning fantasy campaign settings that TSR ever produced.

Unfortunately, the Mystara line was canceled in the mid 1990's, just shortly after TSR dropped the 0E D&D line and made a failed attempt to convert it into D&D 2nd Edition rules. Even with this abandonment by its originators, Mystara has always maintained a strong presence in the online community. Many fans have spent copious amounts of spare time dedicated to continuing the development of completely new material as well as deliberate expansions on original source material. As a result, Mystara has remained alive and well to this day.

If you are interested in investigation this great wealth of fan developed material, the place to go is our sister site, The Vaults of Pandius, which has Wizards of the Coast's stamp of approval as the "Official Mystara Web Site".

Defining Mystara

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ystara is a high-magic, high-fantasy, high-adventure world; not unlike Wizards of the Coast's officially supported settings of Greyhawk and Forgotten Realms. So, one might ask, why bother with Mystara when these other, official settings are available? Well, while Mystara may have its roots in fantastic magical adventure, it portrays this theme in its own exciting and unique ways.

A good campaign setting, as every role-player worth his or her salt knows, has a unique style and theme to it. Pause a moment and think about a few different campaign settings: Ravenloft, Dragonlance, or Planescape. Or for that matter, Vampire or Middle Earth Role Playing (MERP). Now, try to imagine running a MERP game featuring Monks and Mind Flayers?  A Ravenloft game run as a dungeon crawl where the party simply slaughters anything that detects as evil?  How about a Star Wars game with combat so deadly that characters are paranoid and afraid to take any risks?

While not necessarily impossible, none of these scenarios would qualify as "a typical game" in any of those settings.  Each setting has an aura or "flavor" to it, which is what makes it stand out, worthy in its own right. MERP is (obviously) Tolkien-esque, and neither Monks nor Mind Flayers fit naturally Tolkien's world. The Ravenloft setting expects that the PC's will be unsure of those around them, and unable to detect where the real evil is. And swashbuckling, heroic, risk-taking actions are par for the course in a Star Wars campaign — just like in all the movies that inspired it.

So what makes Mystara different from other "high magic, high fantasy, high adventure worlds", and what sort of adventure can you expect to find there?

Diverse Culture: Mystara comprises a richly detailed tapestry of cultures that exist side-by-side. Want to play a traditional knight in shining armor in a feudal pseudo-European setting? Fancy trying your hand at a Viking berserker or a Roman gladiator? Perhaps you'd prefer to be a renaissance swashbuckler, a horse-warrior Mongol from the arid steppes, or a Native American shaman? Or perhaps you're fond of the culture of China, or India, or Egypt?

In Mystara, there's somewhere with something for everyone, no matter what their tastes are.

Don't, however, think that this means Mystara is just a world of copycat non-originality with incompatible settings forced to exist together. Magic has a way of changing things, making the unlikely perfectly plausible and giving what may seems familiar on the surface enough twists to keep even the most jaded players on their toes. The interaction between these cultures is both natural and often fraught with tension and conflict.

Order vs. Anarchy: Unlike most other settings, in Mystara "Order" and "Anarchy" are far more often at odds with each other than "Good" and "Evil" necessarily are — though that's not to say that Good and Evil never clash.

But let's briefly compare the alignment tendencies of Mystara against those of the two official campaign settings for the 3E D&D rules: Greyhawk and Forgotten Realms:

Greyhawk:
centers around Militant Neutrality — alignments are seen as undesirable extremes and Evil frequently seems to be on the winning side.
 
Forgotten Realms:
has epic, flashy confrontations between Good and Evil, and Good is clearly the stronger power.
 
Mystara:
focuses on the clash between Order and Anarchy rather than Good and Evil, though few wish evil to befall the entire world.

Order in Mystara is found in the many diverse societies and cultures of Mystara: The Plutocratic Republic of Darokin, the Feudal society of Karameikos, the Mercantile Guilds of Minrothad, and the Principalities of Glantri. Usually lawful (and often good — at least from their own point of view) governing bodies try to keep community and economy strong and stable. But the forces of order are not always good — such as the Heldannic Knights and their subjugation of the indigenous people of the Heldannic Freeholds — and may not even be "Lawful".

Anarchy, on the other hand, is often found in the form of monster hordes: The Broken Lands, the Orclands in Darokin, the wilds of Karameikos, the Great Crater, the Desert Nomads... outside forces preying upon civilization, usually chaotic (and often evil) in nature. It is also seen in certain elements within society: the factions of Glantri, the treachery in Thyatis, the civil unrest in Karameikos. The forces of anarchy are not always evil, and not even always "Chaotic" (in the 3e sense of the alignment) — such as the Alfheim refugees who flood the surrounding countries after their homeland was magically laid to waste — but they are always there.

Good guys vs. the ... Good guys?: In most major Mystaran conflicts, it's hard to separate the good from the bad — there is rarely one side that is unequivocally "Right" and another that is unequivocally "Wrong". Sometimes one side is clearly better, but that's more by accident than design: in a world in conflict, it is bound to happen sooner or later. There are a few classic "bad guy" scenarios, and even in those that do exist it's not so much "Good" attacking "Evil" out of principle, it's more like "Evil" attacks a "Neutral victim" (Neutral because they didn't do anything to stop evil until they were personally attacked by it) and then "Good" responds.

This is in contrast to the Forgotten Realms and Greyhawk, where organized societies exist which are devoted to opposing Evil and spreading Good, or, at the very least, to maintaining a balanced Neutrality. These individuals and organizations aggressively crusade against Evil, rather than passively ignore it. But in Mystara — well, the fact is, though we gave it some serious thought, we have not been able to think of even a single example of a Good crusader who attacks Evil out of nothing save sheer principle.

Additionally, most plots and conflicts in Mystara tend to arise from the personal goals and ambitions of all the various parties. At first glance this may not seem any different than other settings; after all, it's the Evil villain's plans that put everything in motion. But the difference in Mystara is that it's everyone who has grand ambitions, not just the Evil villains, and these plans don't always please others. The conflict between Stefan Karameikos and Baron von Ludwig is probably the closest thing to a classic Good vs. Evil plot in Mystara, but even Stefan made decisions that lead to actions that resulted in significant misery for others. First, he was granted autonomous rule of Traladara — a subject-nation that hadn't exactly been happy about being under Thyatian control to begin with — and immediately invited his fellow Thyatians to help him colonize the country. The Thyatians came in droves and their subsequent land-grabbing actions and contempt for the native Traladarans caused widespread misery and suffering. He also allowed his cousin, Baron von Ludwig, to get away with terrible persecution and tyranny for years simply because he was too naive to believe the reports was hearing which, to him, could only be outrageous exaggerations. He would even abandon his Thyatian allies in their hour of need — breaking a mutual defense treaty that he had signed with his former homeland when he felt that his young country's survival could only be guaranteed by forging a deal with Alphatia, Thyatis' enemy. Stephen is certainly good in comparison to von Ludwig but, objectively speaking, he's a far cry from being good 100% of the time. And yet, he remains one of the shining examples of enlightened goodness in Mystara.

All the above is focused on The Known World, the original campaign setting of Mystara. Adding even more spice and variety to an already flavorful role-playing meal are the two other campaign settings, The Savage Coast and The Hollow World.

The Savage Coast is found to the far west, a long way from where the countries of The Known World are nestled in their small corner on the south eastern tip of the continent of Brun. Few merchants and explorers of The Known World who travel so far venture past the port of Slagovitch and into the regions beyond and those few that do rarely, if ever, return to their homes. Rumors abound about the region, ranging from stories that claim most people from the region have superhuman abilities that seem like arcane magic but are something else, to the existence of a strange metal, that cannot be mined anywhere else, that is as strong as steel but much lighter and has certain innate magical properties. It is a region full of swashbuckling heroes and strange lands that may just as easily be run by civilized societies of monstrous humanoids, such as the feline Rakasta or the canine Lupin, as by humans or demihumans. It is a place unlike any other you've ever seen — assuming you're brave enough (or foolhardy enough) to actually go and see it.

The Hollow World, in its turn, is something else again. There are very few people on the surface world who are aware of the fact that the planet of Mystara is a hollow sphere, and even fewer still who suspect that beneath their very feet rests a whole other world full of nations and cultures that were once found on the surface but have not been seen for centuries and even millennia. Although many of those who hear this tale wave it off as pure nonsense, they would be wrong for, unlike most celestial bodies, the planet of Mystara is a hollow sphere. Instead of a hot core of magma, there is open space, and it holds another world on the interior surface of the sphere and upon "floating continents" and "islands" that circle a small red-colored sun located at the exact center of the planet. This world is a museum; a store house of lost cultures from the surface world, placed on the inside of the planet by the Immortals, ostensibly to save them from extinction and preserve their ways forever. And, as with any museum, there are checks and balances to preserve and protect what is kept there, and so characters from the surface world who somehow manage to stumble into The Hollow World will be in for lots of surprises beyond the most obvious ones.

In conclusion, Mystara is a whole world of many diverse cultures with a distant, mythic origin that is based on a techno-magical disaster. It is also a world of peers where a lowly gladiator can rise to be Emperor and where those with the diligence and the courage can even ascend to immortality, transcending the barriers of life itself.

Sounds like just the sort of setting you've been looking for? Then feel free to stay awhile and check us out.

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Why Mystara-3E?

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ystara is being converted to 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons primarily for two reasons.

The first reasons is that, as a truly open-ended system, 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons is an ideal window through which to look upon a world where all kinds of adventure are possible and an adventurer may one day do more than just dream of becoming an Immortal.

The second reason is the far more prosaic one of pragmatism; Since the 3rd Edition is the most recent edition of the D&D rules, it is also the one to which most people will have access, and so it only seemed logical to convert the setting.

It is the hope of the Mystara-3E Project team that this conversion will pique the curiosity of DM's and players who are unfamiliar with the settings that make up Mystara and the wealth of both official and unofficial information available for it, ultimately encouraging them to try their hand at a Mystara campaign of their own.

It is also our hope that existing fans of the Mystara setting will be inclined to use this conversion effort as their baseline for doing future Mystara development and conversions of their own. By starting from this conversion as a baseline for the majority of Mystara-3E campaigns, it should reduce the amount of work a fan has to do to convert from 0E D&D to 3E D&D and can, instead, concentrate on the new and creative aspects of her work. One need only reference this site, and provide details where exceptions to this conversion are assumed and all future developments for Mystara become easier, both for the developer and for the DM who wishes to add them to a campaign.

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