After the very obvious “First” yesterday, today’s #RPGaDay2019 prompt is “Unique”. I’m going to talk about the setting I use for my campaign, and why I think it’s unique in the Dungeons and Dragons milieu.
It is the world now known as Mystara, but which was just the section of the continent called “The Known World” when I encountered it. It was the official world of BECMI Dungeons and Dragons, with the first maps appearing in the Expert set centred on the country of Karameikos, in particular the town of Threshold, and the map of the whole world appearing on the inner cover of the Master set. Since then there have been many more locations from the world; Thorfinn Tait has done an awesome job of reproducing and stitching together all the maps.
So far, so standard. We have Gary Gygax’s Greyhawk. We have Faerûn or the Forgotten Realms which has become the base setting for 5e. We have the Dragonlance world. We have Eberron. So why do I think the Known World of Mystara is unique?
The key thing is how the sub-continent is split up into multiple distinct nations, each of which is detailed in a gazetteer which describes the history (starting 5000BC or “before crowning” and running to today, 1000AC “after crowning”), the geography, the politics, the laws, the people, the religion and various more specific details.
Each nation has a very distinct character, mostly based on a particular historical nation or state, giving a wide range of options for play style depending on taste, and you can either keep the play in a single nation or take the characters roaming from one nation to another, with all the culture clashes that can entail.
The nations are:
GAZ1: The Grand Duchy of Karameikos. A relatively new nation state, formed from invaders from Thyatis 100 years ago and the indigenous Traladarans but now with a ruler trying to bring the two together. It’s pretty primitive and wild, particularly outside the main city Specularum. Grand Duke Stefan is building a network of roads, but these are still few in number and travellers are advised to seek safety in numbers.
GAZ2: The Emirates of Ylaruam. A desert land based on the Arabian Nights, with fierce nomads and proud townsfolk each looking down on the other. The rule of law is respected, and courtesies, rituals and story-telling are important. The nation is united (insofar as it is united) by Al-Kalim’s dream of the flower in the desert.
GAZ3: The Principalities of Glantri. Glantri is ruled by magic users for magic users, and no-one else counts or matters. Each of the ten Princes or Princesses are absolute rulers in their domain, and each Principality has its own character. Chaos, individualism and dark magics rule, “managed” by the central government in Glantri City (think mediaeval Venice) which is made up of the various nobles, each with voting powers in accordance to their rank. Special secret schools of magic have additional powers. Clerics are outlawed, dwarves are blamed for bringing plague (and because of their magic resistance) and halflings are likely to find themselves the subject of experimentation.
GAZ4: The Kingdom of Ierendi. A nation of equatorial islands in the style of Polynesia, expert sailors, catering to tourists (with the aim of extracting the maximum amount of money from them), and a generally relaxed lifestyle. The king or queen is the winner of a contest to test the best adventurer. The islands do hold some secrets, however…
GAZ5: The Elves of Alfheim. Living in a forest land which was magically created from plains in the east of Darokin, the elves are not particularly interested in the outside world. The magic which created and sustains the forest concentrates in various locations within the land, both good and bad, and the bad points often create/transport in monsters – which the elves delight in chasing down (and which can cause problems for unwary visitors). Each clan has its special tree, which confers special powers.
GAZ6: The Dwarves of Rockhome. In the mountains slightly to the east of Alfheim, the Dwarves have made their home, brought by Kagyar who taught them their craft. They live in the mountains – i.e. inside the mountains – and skill and craft are their highest values. The dwarves of the valleys are scorned, even though they provide essential food. This gazetteer also introduces dwarven clerics (in BECMI, dwarf was a class which was essentially a fighter with additional resistances and construction abilities).
GAZ7: The Northern Reaches. We’re talking classic Norsemen here, a fairly primitive people split into three vaguely cooperating nations Ostland (a seafaring island nation, little more than pirates), Vestland on the mainland, and the Soderfjord Jarldoms to the south of Vestland, a poor nation on a poor land of individual jarldoms very loosely held together (mostly by the threat of being taken over by Ostland). Skaalds wander the lands, and runic magic is practiced by those who dare.
GAZ8: The Five Shires. Land of the halflings. Origin of the halfling luck. A pleasant rustic rolling land now, but they have had a rough time being overrun by orcs and then throwing them out and reclaiming the land.
GAZ9: The Minrothad Guilds. Seafaring merchants with trading rules. I’ve really not done much with this one (can you tell?)
GAZ10: Orcs of Thar. The land of the humanoids, forced into the broken lands which no-one else wants. Orcs, goblins, bugbears, trolls, kobolds, gnolls, hobgoblins, ogres, with rules for wiccas and shamans and even player character humanoids. Gives a bit more depth and character to the humanoids to make them more than just bags of hit points.
GAZ11: The Republic of Darokin. Land of merchants and diplomats where money determines everything including your status. Subtlety and diplomacy are valued, and everyone is looking for a trade to earn enough daros to move from copper to silver to gold status.
GAZ12: The Golden Khan of Ethengar. Think of the mongol raiders living on the steppes, moving from place to place following the herds during the spring and summer, then huddling down in their shelters during the bitter winters. Honour and family and obedience to the Khan – don’t expect a welcome as an incomer.
GAZ13: The Shadow Elves. Underground far beneath the other nations, the Shadow Elves live their lives of dedication to the 14 verses of the Refuge of Stone given to them by Rafiel, searching out soul crystals to dedicate to the honour of Rafiel and living on the fungi. But some rebels are agitating to take back the lands of Alfheim…
GAZ14: The Atruaghin Clans. Up on the plateau and nearby, the five Atruaghin clans live off the land, styled on the native Americans. The clans of the Horse, Bear and Elk live on the plateau, the clan of the Turtle on the sea shore nearby, and the clan of the Tiger causing trouble and chaos in the jungles.
Dawn of the Emperors. A boxed set with the two superpowers of the Known World – Thyatis, based on ancient Rome with armies, rigid authority, treachery, backstabbing and gladiators, and Alphatia, empire of magic users which could take over the world if they could agree on how to do it and if someone else would take the risk and be willing to abandon their own studies and entertainment…
So there you go – a very diverse set of nations allowing for all sorts of scenarios, either as settings, character origins, places to travel through or just background for different NPCs. So far I have started in Karameikos and Darokin, though with characters from Rockhome, the Five Shires and the Soderfjord Jarldoms and inspiration from The Orcs of Thar for various humanoids. But the tour has only just started…
And that’s it for today. I don’t know of any other setting which has such a richly detailed diverse set of nations and options. If you want to know more, Pandius.com is set up as a fan site to collect all sorts of information, or buy the Gazetteers on DriveThruRPG.