Sunday, September 8, 2019

Mystara and Me

GAZ1 TSR9193 The Grand Duchy of Karameikos.jpg

I am very much a Johnny-come-lately to Mystara. During the time the originals were being released I had little use for Basic/Expert D&D. My friends all played Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, not the “training wheels version. I did get both “Keep on the Borderlands” (1980) and “the Isle of Dread” (1981) because I purchased the boxed basic and expert sets (If you are interested these two adventures, I highly recommend picking up the Goodman games hardback re-releases which include the original adventures in their entirety, as well as the history of their creation and a 5e conversion). I did purchase all four Blackmoor adventures (1986-1987), but these are Mystara only in the vaguest sense of the world being set thousands of years in the past before content shifting cataclysm. However, I picked up very little of the other BECMI adventures. There is a nice history of the origins of the Known World and how it got grabbed for its first appearance in the BECMI set here. I gave the Gazetteers a pass entirely. If you read my posts on Greyhawk and Forgotten Realms you’ll realize that Gazetteers are not my favorite begin with having little to steal for actual adventure encounters. I did pick up the second edition conversion of Gliantri, however by that time TSR had thrown in the towel on Mystara so there was little else to acquire. There my relation with Mystara sat, until the 2000s. I had some interest in Living Blackmoor when it resurfaced but my friends were hard over on Living Greyhawk so didn’t do much with it. When I got into blogger I started following Harvards Blackmoor blog, which since he is a big fan of Mystara led me to the Vaults of Pandius and Thorfin Taits Cartography. Being a sucker for Cartography Thorfins work led me to try and hunt down some Gazetteers in print (I had already downloaded the free one Wizards of the Coast posted on its website). After picking three or four in print I realized the price to value proposition was not good (having been first sold before people realized they were cool they generally sold for twice their cover price, although the one I grabbed at the library book sale for a couple bucks was a steal). When DrivethruRPG put the complete set of Gazetteers as a bundle on sale I picked up .pdfs of all of them. I still have to read through all fourteen. Vaults of Pandius has another dozen or so Fan generated Gazetteers as well. There is also the whole Hollow Earth series which I have not delved into at all. My friends who liked surface Mystara disliked the Hollow World (Although Thorfin has made a really cool globe showing how the Hollow world and surface connect. I am still delving into the wonders of Mystara so it is hard to compare and contrast with Forgotten Realms or Greyhawk. In general, Mystara seems of larger-scale dealing with empires, rather than the kingdoms and free cities of the Forgotten Realms and Greyhawk. Looking at the maps it seems more densely populated as well. Of course, I also enjoyed the brilliant map by Chatdemon of Mystoearth which uses the Mystara map for the lands west of Greyhawk. It also gives a good sense of scale between Greyhawk and Mystaran Continents, Greyhawk being about a quarter the size (Further research is required, as a quick perusal of Thorfins maps seems to show the actual region covered by the Gazetteers as much less than the continents displayed, so perhaps equivalent to Greyhawk after all). For those fond of Mash-ups, there is this crazy map which smashes together the Forgotten Realms, Mystara, Ebberon and many other TSR worlds together in one map. My impressions of Mystara are as follows. The maps are well done. The Gazetteers are interesting covering a broad range of cultural tropes. In contrast to Forgotten Realms and Greyhawk, there seems to be less unexplored wilderness as most areas are under the control of some empire or kingdom. Some of the cultural juxtapositions are a bit jarring having ancient Rome next to medieval France. In terms of an overall ranking of my preferences, it is still going to come in behind Greyhawk and the Forgotten Realms as a setting.

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