Campaign Settings: Mystara
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Post Posted: Mon Nov 07, 2005 6:53 pm 

[Note: Just realized I blew half the afternoon writing this, which hopefully answers some questions on the early origins of Mystara. Will complete it later, as time permits...]

History of Mystara as a Campaign Setting

Mystara first appeared in the Dave Cook/Steve Marsh Expert set released in January 1981 (#1012, though the cover says 1980), at the same time it appeared in Dave Cook/Tom Moldvay module X1: The Isle of Dread (#9043, 1981, though the cover says 1980). It was then known simply as "The Continental Map M-1." I spoke about the setting extensively with the original designer, Dave Cook. The setting was created from whole cloth specifically for the two books; it had not existed prior to the development of the Expert Set, and was not someone's home campaign, as had been speculated by fans previously.

The entire setting at the time consisted of two maps, one north the other south, each on standard 8 1/2" x 11" hex paper with 33/34 hexes per column (north-south) and 53 hex columns wide (east-west). Each hex was 24 miles wide, with a map scale of 108 miles/inch. Thus, each half of map the took up an area approximately 864 miles north-south by 1,094 miles east-west. The whole map was known simply as "The Continental Map," though it had been originally drawn as two maps. These two maps were included in the Isle of Dread module. There was also a brief page and a half description of the countries of the continent as well as the weather and climate. Most of these descriptions obtained throughout the entire run of Mystara products, with the changes to the Heldann Freeholds being the most dramatic.

The Expert Rules book included an expanded map centered on the Grand Duchy of Karameikos, at 6 miles per hex, 40 miles/inch (approximately 285 mile north-south, 400 east-west), plus a small map of the Gnome Lair (which eventually went on to become Highforge, a gnome/dwarf settlement). All the basics of the Grand Duchy were included in light detail in a page of description, such as Specularum, the evil Black Eagle Baron, and the town of Luln, though the definitive Central European feel of the land was not developed until later.

The original version of module B1: In Search of the Unknown (by Mike Carr, #9023, 1979, 1981) pre-dated the creation of The Continental Map by two years, and as was not designed to be placed there. Nor was the original version of module B2: The Keep on the Borderlands (by Gary Gygax, #9034, 1980, 1981). They were, however, both retroactively placed there, as the new D&D Basic Set was the closest child of the Holmes set for which the two modules were originally designed, and thus they needed the least re-design work to be used for D&D instead of AD&D.

The first modules other than X1 designed specifically to be set on The Continental Map were B3: Palace of the Silver Princess (by Jean Wells, #9044, 1981) and X2: Castle Amber (by Tom Moldvay, #9051, 1981). The first iteration of B3, the orange-cover edition, was directly placed in the setting, complete with map of the location of Haven being on the large plateau to the north and west of The Continental Map. But of course, that version was trashed, literally (I know a guy who worked at TSR at the time, and he told me how he drove the truckload of them, thousands of them, to the dump). The Tom Moldvay and Jean Wells green cover edition is not directly placed in the Known World, and there is, in fact, no direct mention of the continent at all in it. This was probably a conscious choice when the module was re-designed, because the Known World was featured in the Expert Set, not the Basic Set, and there was no need for the added complexity at the time (especially as the re-design of the module was delaying the release of other modules). Plus, the Basic modules were more open-ended and did not need a wilderness placement, as the focus for Basic adventures was on the dungeon, and the Expert adventures was on the wilderness.

X2, of course, became one of the most famous D&D modules due to the strong influence it had on the Glantri setting and the origins of the being that would eventually become the Immortal, Rad. After the original B3, it is the first module placed specifically on The Continental Map. Note that between X1 and X2, many of the creatures that would later show up on the Savage Coast were created!

So after B3 and X2, the next module that released for the Basic/Expert series was B4: The Lost City (by Tom Moldvay, #9049, 1982). You will note that the product number is actually earlier in the series than that of X2; apparently its completion and release was delayed due to Moldvay needing to re-write the Well's version of B3. B4, though a Basic module, mentions "If the continent map in module X1 is used, the Lost City can be anywhere in the Alasiyan Desert." And that is the entirety of its connection to The Continental Map.

Next in the Basic/Expert series is X3: Curse of Xanathon (by Douglas Niles, #9056, 1982), which is very specifically placed on The Continental Map. X3 was the first with a new cover design. This was followed in early 1983 with the Desert Nomad series, X4: Master of the Desert Nomads (by Dave Cook, #9068, 1983) and X5: Temple of Death (by Dave Cook, #9069, 1983). X45 and X5 each took on the sub-title of "Wilderness Module," which was a direct steal (I believe) from the "Wilderness Books" of Judges Guild (the last of which, Witches Court Marshes, was published in late 1982). X4 and X5 both expanded the area of the "official" D&D setting by adding "The Wilderness Map of the Great Waste" and "The Map of Hule," respectively. Also of note is that X4 was illustrated entirely by the late Keith Parkinson, and was, IIRC, the first work he did for D&D, if not the very first he did for TSR.

The Mentzer Edition of Basic D&D was released thereafter in April 1993, though it had no mention of The Continental Map whatsoever. Note that the boxed set did not contain a full-fledged module, and there was only the briefest mention of the modules in the book (one or two sentences in the DM's rulebook section on making dungeons).

Up through and including the Mentzer Edition Basic Set, the TSR logo included "TSR Hobbies, Inc." Beginning with O1: The Gem and the Staff it went to "TSR Logo; TSR, Inc." Then the Expert Set had "TSR Logo; Products of Your Imagination; TSR, Inc," and B5: Horror on the Hill reversed the order with "TSR Logo; TSR, Inc; Products of Your Imagination." Finally, the logo situation settled for a while with AC1: The Shady Dragon Inn "TSR Logo; TSR, Inc; Products of Your Imagination" with the "TSR, Inc; Products of Your Imagination" portion in bold.

The Mentzer Edition of the Expert Set was released in July 1983, and included the northern portion of The Continental Map (now known as "The Lands and Environs of the D&D Wilderness"), a new and tighter version of the Grand Duchy of Karameikos Map, and a new map, of Threshold, a town on the borderlands of Karameikos (Threshold was entirely new, was not in the Cook/Marsh Expert Edition, and was apparently invented by Mentzer as a sample town for the new edition). This edition also distinctly determines the locations of all B and X modules published to date; this is where B1 and B2 are retroactively placed on The Continental Map.

B1 is placed in western Karameikos.
B2 is placed in north-eastern Karameikos.
B3 is placed in far-eastern Karameikos.
B4 is placed in western Ylaruam.
X1 is placed far south of The Lands and Environs of the D&D Wilderness, off the map.
X2 is placed in south-eastern Glantri.
X3 is placed in south-western Vestland.
X4 and X5 are placed to the far north-west of The Lands and Environs of the D&D Wilderness, off the map.

The Expert Book also expands a bit on the Karameikos setting from the Cook/Marsh edition, though there is no mention of the countries of The Lands and Environs of the D&D Wilderness. That is left for the newly-edited version of X1 that is included in the boxed set, though there is no essential change at all from the first edition of the module as pertains to details of The Lands and Environs of the D&D Wilderness.

The Basic and Expert modules released around this time, B5: Horror on the Hill (by Douglas Niles, #9078, 1983) and O1: The Gem and the Staff (by John and Laurie Van De Graaf, #9050, 1983) are quite surprisingly not placed anywhere in The Lands and Environs of the D&D Wilderness. This is most unusual for B5, which is the first semi-wilderness module for the Basic set and was definitely released AFTER the new editions. Perhaps this module was intended to be an AD&D module originally, or mention of The Lands and Environs of the D&D Wilderness was for some reason excised from the module. And as O1, of course, derived from Quest for the Fazzlewood, and thus required a lot of re-work, it is also unusual that it was not somehow adapted to The Lands and Environs of the D&D Wilderness, even though it was released only slightly before the new Expert set. While B5 is later subsumed into what will become Mystara, O1 remains distinct.

Note that both of these modules were likely in development at the same time Mentzer was working on the new edition, and thus he was unaware of them and could not include them in the module listings in the Expert book.

Note that at this time, the TSR numbering system gets a bit jumbled in the timeline. Not sure why, but it probably had to do with scheduling products a year or more out, and then subsequent delays bumped things around a bit. You'll see what I mean shortly, but the first major example is AC1: The Shady Dragon Inn (by Carl Smith, #9100, 1983), which is released in 1983 with #9100, far ahead of numerous product numbers with lower codes.

After all that, the first module definitively set in The Lands and Environs of the D&D Wilderness was X7: The War Rafts of Kron (by Bruce Nesmith, #9079, 1984). War Rafts developed the undersea area of the Sea of Dread, and included the ruins of Colhador, which was important in the development of the Taymor mentioned later in PC3: The Sea Peoples.

Then followed X6: Quagmire! (By Merle M. Rasmussen, #9081, 1984) was the first module to expand the setting since X5, and detailed "The Wild Lands," including the Serpent Peninsula and Thanegia Island, and it introduces Slagovich. This is the first such module from Rasmussen, and the style of adventure (open-ended wandering of the wilderness with many different opportunities) would define his modules in the Expert series.

It was a productive year for Rasmussen, as he also contributed the first two solo modules to Basic and Expert, BSOLO: Ghost of Lion Castle (#9097, 1984), and XSOLO: Lathan's Gold (#9082, 1984). BSOLO is on some unnamed "northern grasslands" (which I take to mean Ethengar), and XSOLO takes place in the Thanegioth Archipelago, originally mentioned in X1. Both remind me much of the computer game of the day, Zork. One would almost expect to encounter a grue... Lathan's Gold adds a bit to Specularum and the Thanegioth Archipelago.

B6: The Veiled Society (by Dave Cook, #9086, 1984) provides the first glimpse into the cultural origins of Karameikos. The local peoples seem to be vaguely Romanesque/Romanian in culture with Italian city-state style politics, clans, and gangs. A map is also provided for the city of Specularum — it is way too large for a medieval city of 5,000. The map is later obviated by the Specularum map in GAZ1.

O2: Blade of Vengeance (by Jim Bramba, #9108, 1984) is a solo adventure that further develops the northern section of Alfheim. This information is later ignored completely in GAZ5.

B7: Rahasia (by Tracy and Laura Hickman, #9115, 1984) is not specifically placed in The Lands and Environs of the D&D Wilderness, but it is usually placed there by fans, somewhere in the Alfheim-Darokin/Karameikos/Ylaruam triangle.

Note that the above release order is speculative only, based on product numbers (which we know are wonky anyway) and module codes. Some of these probably came out in a different order than listed, especially as the above order would make for a major number of releases in 1984 before the Companion Set, which released in April 1984 (and was first announced in passing in the 1981 Expert book). The major Mystara-related developments of the set are the definition of the continent that would eventually become known as Brun and the War Machine based adventure that details the downfall of the Black Eagle Baron. The map on page 32 of the Player's Companion shows the entirety of the continent, along with the placement of all the modules and major maps designed to date, including CM1 which was released at the same time. This includes "The Continental Map M-1" from the X1, "The Wilderness Map of the Great Waste" from X4, "The Map of Hule" from X5, "The Wild Lands" from X6, and "Norwold" from CM1.

CM1: Test of the Warlords (by Douglas Niles, #9117, 1984, probably April) introduced Norwold and Alphatia, as well as the entire Thyatis vs. Alphatia rivalry, the "Glantri Hates Clerics" shtick (introduced in passing in an NPC description), the Isle of Dawn, and the Thyatian colonies on the southern continent (later named Davania). It presumes that the Black Eagle Baron was defeated in the War Machine module from the Companion set, and that this somehow brought peace to the entirety of The Lands and Environs of the D&D Wilderness! Some other oddities are the Norwold map not matching up with the map of The Lands and Environs of the D&D Wilderness (even though it is supposed to), Thyatis being mentioned as being only 100 years old (even though Thincol is emperor), Alphatia being secretly named Atlantis, strange mentions of things in various nations that are later obviated in the GAZ series, and so forth. Many of the "strange" things will be changed later. I have yet to ask Douglas Niles, whom we must credit with inventing Alphatia, as to whether Alphatia existed in his campaign prior to its introduction in CM1.

CM2: Death's Ride (by Garry Spiegel, #9118, 1984) and CM3: Sabre River (by Douglas Niles and Bruce Nesmith, #9119, 1984) both further develop Norwold on the local level. The final module for 1984 is X8: Drums on Fire Mountain (by Graeme Morris and Tom Kirby, #9127, 1984), which details a tiny lost-land Polynesian-style Orc inhabited island a mere hundred miles off the coast of Thyatis. While a decent module, the only thing it contributes to Mystara is the new Kara-Kara Orc race.

In 1985, Dave "Zeb" Cook returned to D&D with CM4: Earthshaker! (#9128, 1985). This continues adventures in Norwold, and introduces what will become known as "tinker" gnomes to Mystara. But again, there is still no specific name for the area mapped out as "The Lands and Environs of the D&D Wilderness."

That is slightly resolved, only poorly, in X9: The Savage Coast (by Merle and Jackie Rasmussen, and Anne C. Gray, 1985), when the continent map that was included in the Player's Companion is expanded to include The Savage Coast. On this version of the map, "The Continental Map —1" section is titled "Empire of Thyatis," which is wrong, as there are a whole lot of other countries not controlled even vaguely by the Empire in that area. This module also introduces Tortles and Snappers, and will be vastly changed by Bruce Heard at a later date.

Then there's B10: Night's Dark Terror (by Jim Bambra, Graeme Morris & Phil Gallagher), which, besides being one of the best modules in the entire B/X/CM/M series, introduced many, many elements that later became canon in Karameikos, including the Traldar, the Slavic culture of northern Karameikan natives (as opposed to the vaguely Romanian culture of the southern natives), various tribes of Karameikos, the Hutaaka, the Iron Ring, and a ton of other things.

Then in June 1985 TSR released the D&D Master Rules, which included a map of the entire D&D world, of which The Lands and Environs of the D&D Wilderness were merely a small part. And here, for the first time, the entirety was given the name "The Known World." The map, of course, was wrong in many places, especially where it divided up the world into regions. It included the Great Waste in the "Serpent Peninsula," the entirety of The Lands and Environs of the D&D Wilderness as part of the Empire of Thyatis, it renamed the Savage Coast as "Southold," and so forth, just to list the true mistakes. Most of the other material was later obviated by further developments of the setting, such as "The Four Kingdoms" of The Coast, and so forth, though in a mix-and-match way, never with much rhyme or reason. And that was the extent of detail added to the campaign setting henceforth known simply as "The Known World." Whether that was intended to serve as the name of the setting originally, or if the appellation was there simply to note that "this is the world as it is known," I don't know. But the name, "The Known World," stuck.

D&D Basic Set (Holmes Edition)

B1: In Search of the Unknown [Original]

B2: The Keep on the Borderlands [Original]

D&D Basic Set (Moldvay Edition) [January]
D&D Expert Set (Cook/Marsh Edition) [January] (First appearance of Grand Duchy of Karameikos, Stefan Karameikos the Third, Baron Ludwig "Black Eagle" von Hendriks, Specularum Black Eagle Barony, Luln)
X1: Isle of Dread (First appearance of what will eventually be known as Mystara, first called "The Continental Map")
B3: Palace of the Silver Princess (First appearance of Haven)
X2: Castle Amber (First appearance of Etienne d' Amberville)

B4: The Lost City
X3: The Curse of Xanathon (First appearance of Rhoona)

X4: Master of the Desert Nomads (Adds "The Wilderlands of the Great Waste")
X5: Temple of Death (Adds "The Map of Hule")
D&D Basic Set (Mentzer Edition) [May] (First appearance of Bargle the Infamous)
D&D Expert Set (Mentzer Edition, first called "The Lands and Environs of the D&D Wilderness") [July] (First appearance and map of Threshold, new map of Karameikos)
B5: Horror on the Hill

X7: The War Rafts of Kron (First appearance of Colhador)
X6: Quagmire! (Adds "The Wild Lands")
BSOLO: Ghost of Lion Castle
B6: The Veiled Society (First map of Specularum, later obviated, plus Romanian-style natives in Karameikos)
XSOLO: Lathan's Gold
D&D Companion Set (Mentzer, first full appearance of "northern continent") [April]
CM1: Test of the Warlords (Adds "Norwold," first appearance of Alphatia and Isle of Dawn)
CM2: Death's Ride
CM3: Sabre River
X8: Drums on Fire Mountain

CM4: Earthshaker! (First appearance of Russian-like culture)
X9: The Savage Coast (Adds "The Savage Coast," calls the original X1 map "Empire of Thyatis")
B10: Night's Dark Terror (First appearance of Traldar, Hutaaka, Iron Ring, plus Russian-style natives in Karameikos)
D&D Master Rules (Mentzer, first called "The Known World," first appearance of the full world map with all three major continents) [June]


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Post Posted: Mon Nov 07, 2005 6:58 pm 

Wow! Thanks. Has anyone ever given thought to a Library section where posts like this could be archived for easy reference. There is so much knowledge here it would be great to collect it all.

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Post Posted: Mon Nov 07, 2005 7:25 pm 

Marlith wrote:Wow! Thanks. Has anyone ever given thought to a Library section where posts like this could be archived for easy reference. There is so much knowledge here it would be great to collect it all.

I agree totally!! Thanks for the awesome post JM. :)

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Post Posted: Tue Nov 08, 2005 1:02 am 

My favourite world :D :D :D

That's a great post :)

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