TL;DR: I’ve joined Bruce Heard’s new Kickstarter Calidar “Alfdaín Ascendant” – an expansion of his Calidar setting to look at history of the elves, covering events in their ancestral moon, Alorea, and in the Confederacy of Alfdaín on Calidar itself, a former colony of Alorea. Join me!
Skyships, mana, space travel, a world with multiple nations, where the world itself has a life force and belief creates and sustains the gods, a setting where the world is not the end, and with sufficient oil of seith the flying ships can navigate through the netherworld and the Great Vault to the moons where most of the races originate…
Bruce Heard was one of the key movers behind my favourite D&D setting, the Known World of Mystara. He wrote GAZ3 The Principalities of Glantri and GAZ10 The Orcs of Thar, and is credited as Product Manager on all the other gazetteers in the line after GAZ1 The Grand Duchy of Karameikos (where there was no Product Manager and he was credited as one of the coordinators).
When the Mystara gazetteers ran out of steam as a product line, Bruce started publishing the Voyages of the Princess Ark, a skyship from Alphatia, exploring some of the other areas of Mystara outside the Known World. These were originally published in Dragon Magazine, and have now been collected as Champions of Mystara: Heroes of the Princess Ark.
Sadly Wizards of the Coast don’t understand what an amazing, highly developed setting they have in Mystara, and refused to licence the IP so that Bruce could continue to develop the world, and so in 2013 he decided to break free and develop his own setting instead. The World of Calidar is the result. Not just a world, but also three moons, the cradles of elves, dwarves and humans respectively, and two other known planets.
As you would expect from something which grew out of the The Voyages of the Princess Ark, skyships feature largely in Calidar, both as means of getting around, and as a way to travel between the central world and the moons. Another feature which mimics The Voyages is that each sourcebook starts with a story about Captain d’Alberran and the crew of the skyship Star Phoenix.
So what is Calidar?
Calidar is the main planet, around which circle three moons, one for each of the main off-world races – humans, elves and dwarves. Calidar, and most of the worlds in the system, are receptacles of a life-force called mana, which ebbs and flows from everything coming to life and dying within the world. This life force can also be called upon by the sapient races if enough of them believe, which means that gods can be created in a similar way to the gods in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld just by enough people believing in them. It also means that one isn’t thought truly dead until all the memories of one’s deeds are forgotten, and that epic heroes do not age while their tales are being told.
The world itself is semi-sentient, and for a long time any invaders from the moons were attacked and repelled by the native fellfolk tribes and wildlife, leading the denizens of the moons to name the planet “The Dread Lands”. A time came when Calidar’s world-soul became ill, and this allowed the races to land and settle; by the time the world had recovered sufficiently, those colonists had become sufficiently established to prevent the return of the Dread Lands in their area.
This area is known as the Great Caldera, a misnomer since it has no volcanic origin, but caused by the ring-like shape of the continent. With the distance across space, and the need for oil of seith prepared from the magical lifeforce to be able to travel the Great Vault to the moons, the colonists of the Great Caldera have risen up against their imperial overseers from the moons and formed independent countries around the Caldera.
Outside the Great Caldera, the world of Calidar is still The Dread Lands, lands which rise up to repel invaders. These lands are also great sources of seitha, needed for the oil of seith which allows the skyships to traverse the Great Vault, so adventurers from the Great Caldera (and from the moons) are tempted to risk the dangers for the rewards.
The ten lands around The Great Caldera form a loose alliance against their off-world overseers, like bickering siblings striving against each other but forming a united front against attack from outside. This gives the perfect set-up for a series of gazetteers in the style of the Mystara gazetteers, looking at the different nations around the world.
As well as the world and the moons, there is also a rogue planet, Ghüle. This is an artificial planet, and hence has no world soul, and is peopled with orcs and other creatures of evil, and when the planet approaches the others these creatures burst forth to raid and capture slaves to feed their beastly gods.
The gazetteers start with CAL1 In Stranger Skies, which introduces the Calidar universe, the world souls and the general setting, and looks at the nation of Meryath, a land in the south of the Great Caldera where heroes rule. What determines a hero? Someone who doesn’t age – remember this happens when your tales are sufficiently well-told.
Next is CAL2 On Wings of Darkness, which looks at the nation of Caldwen, described as a meritocracy, dascalocracy (whatever that is – the only references search engines can find are related to CAL2) and magiocracy and located in the north-east of the Great Caldera. This is a land of magic-users, where captive demons are plentiful (and must be licenced to contain and limit their powers and options), where the powerful and the guilds strive among each other, and where treachery is rife. A mixture of the rivalries and self-centredness of Glantri and Alphatia with added demons.
All the maps throughout the Calidar series are by the amazing Thorfinn Tait, who has created the seminal Atlas of Mystara with comprehensive maps of the whole world of Mystara, stitched together all the maps into a full georegistered model of the world, outside and in (yes, Mystara is Hollow). He has taken the same level of and they are as gorgeous and detailed as you would expect.
CC1 Beyond the Skies was published between CAL1 and CAL2; it introduces all the mechanics, the histories of the various races and their gods. It talks about how heroes interact with the gods, boons and penalties they can receive depending on how they worship, and the obligations they have in return. It also covers the World Soul and mechanics for the Dread Lands, their reactions and the collection and use of seitha.
Calidar is a system-agnostic setting. Mechanics are summarised in CAGM01 Calidar Game Mechanics (available on a pay-what-you-want basis), along with tables helping conversion to any particular game system. Most of the mechanics, such as Life Force, Armour Rating, Abilities, Skills and Defence Checks are described in percentage terms, allowing them to be scaled to your game system. For example, an LF20 monster would be 20% of maximum. For 5th Edition D&D, characters run from levels 1 to 20, so LF20 would correspond to 20% of 20 or 4HD. Similarly, a Strength of 60 would correspond to 60% of 20 or STR 12.
The character, or “philosophy” of the characters in Calidar are described along three axes – Heart: Benevolent-Malevolent, Mind: Rational-Instinctive, and Spirit: Lively-Stern.
Kickstarter CAL3 “Alfdaín Ascendant”
The new Kickstarter, CAL3 Alfdaín Ascendant, is the next in the series. It looks at the elves on their moon Alorea and in the nation Alfdaín in the north west of The Great Caldera, and at the rivalries between these two nations. It talks about the corruption visited on the woods of Alfdaín by the old empire’s nefarious machinations, and about the guilds, brotherhoods, realms and five different elven races in Calidar.
There is also a full description and map of the City of Mythuín, capital city of Alfdaín, and a whole chapter on the off-world empire of Alorea, along with a cast of significant characters, new creatures, and details of various skyships including several pages of deck plans.
Again the cartography will be Thorfinn Tait’s gorgeous maps, and the cover of this edition will be by Jeff Easley, famous to anyone who, like I did, grew up with the Basic / Expert / Companion / Master / Immortals D&D boxed sets. Internal art will be by Joseph Garcia, one of the artists on CAL2 and CC1.
The Kickstarter closes on 8th July 2021, and options range from PDFs starting at $5 for the map of Alorea to $15 for the complete Alfdaín Ascendant PDF, through print versions of Alfdaín Ascendant plus various PDFs at $35 for softcover, $55 for hardcover and $70 for premium hardcover, to the full set of premium hardcover Alfdaín Ascendant, softcover print versions of Adventures in Alfdaín and the Players’ Guide to Alfdaín, along with an autographed postcard of Jeff Easley’s cover and all digital rewards, including maps of Alfdaín, Alorea and the City of Mythuín and three Skyships.
These prices are less than they will be through DriveThruRPG afterwards – for comparison, the equivalent CAL2 bundle to the softcover tier is currently almost $60 instead of $35. Some of these options will not be available after the Kickstarter.
Additional pledges beyond the basic $9000 unlock additional stretch goals; at time of writing the project has reached the Tier 9 stretch goal – the supplement Adventures in Alfdaín has expanded from its original plan of 24 pages to a massive 64.
In short, this is a massive new setting from a master story-teller and setting designer, along with gorgeous cartography. Go along to the Kickstarter and get your pledge in now before it’s too late!