💀 Necro [Let's Read] The Known World/Mystara - ALL of it, from the beginning

Inspired by this post from JoeNotCharles in the Rules Cyclopedia thread:

I've been thinking of doing a Let's Read of all the Mystara material. Yes, all of it. In chronological order. (Which is interesting because it's a setting that had a lot of retcons, some of them not very obvious, so reading in chronological order lets you track the development of it from a sketchy sandbox to glorious gonzo mess.) I don't actually own ALL the Mystara products, but I figure I'll run out of steam before getting to the later ones that I don't have, and it's the early / middle ones that are most interesting anyway.

The problem is time...
Since JoeNotCharles doesn't have the time I thought I'd have a go at this...

First a bit of background.

Over the course D&D's history there have been many published settings. Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, Al Qadim, Ravenloft, Eberron, and so forth. However, in all these cases the setting was actually created and published as a main work - either a set of books or a boxed set. Some of these settings have since been updated with either meta-plot like elements or wholesale ret-cons and re-writes, but each was specifically created with a general guide to the world.

However, there is one D&D setting that is unique - and that's the setting of The Known World/Mystara. For those of you who aren't familiar with it, this is the setting that was used in the "Basic" D&D line from the old B/X sets to the BECMI and Rules Cyclopedia sets. However, unlike all the other settings that were designed and published this setting was never designed. Instead it evolved. It started as a generic sample wilderness and slowly got expanded and added to as modules and rule books were published. There was never a time when someone sat down and decided what style it would have or what it would contain. In fact it wasn't even named as "Mystara" until late in its life.

As a result of this, the setting changed radically over the decades, but in an organic manner.

So in this thread I'm going to start at the very beginning and trace the development of the setting chronologically from before its first mentions as a small "sample wilderness" all the way through to its final death throws as TSR cancel the Basic D&D line and half-heartedly try to convert it to an AD&D setting (or as JoeNotCharles puts it, from a "sketchy sandbox" to a "gonzo mess"). To do this, I'm going to read through almost all the products that mention it - although I'm only looking at what setting material they introduce or change. I'm not going to be going through all the rules and dungeons and so forth.
 

Leonaru

Taxidermic Owlbear
Validated User
Nice. Crynos already did a Let's Read of the 2e MCA which has bits of setting information here and there, just in case you missed that.
 

Evil Midnight Lurker

What Lurks at Midnight
Validated User
Freakin' subscribed! (Says the guy with the entire GAZ line and spinoffs, and all the Poor Wizard's Almanacs on his gaming shelf.)

So... starting with Isle of Dread, or is there some earlier version which I have somehow missed?
 
Freakin' subscribed! (Says the guy with the entire GAZ line and spinoffs, and all the Poor Wizard's Almanacs on his gaming shelf.)

So... starting with Isle of Dread, or is there some earlier version which I have somehow missed?
That's actually an interesting question in itself. As the setting expanded, a lot of things that were originally independent got absorbed into it. Notable examples are the adventures B1 and B2 - both of which contain dungeons with no other setting information and both of which were retroactively placed in Mystara in later publications. I don't think those two modules contain much that's relevant to Mystara though so I'm not planning on spending any real time on them.

On the other hand I don't think that Mystara and Blackmoor can be separated easily. Although Blackmoor was created by Dave Arneson before the invention of D&D (he used it as the setting for his "Braunstein" games) it was later ret-conned into existing in Mystara's past and many of the later Mystara setting elements are heavily reliant on what happened thousands of years ago in Blackmoor.

So I thought I'd start by a looking all the way back at the 1975 Blackmoor supplement for OD&D and go in chronological order of publication from there onwards (although most of the products before the Marsh/Cook Expert set have no setting information so I'll be skipping them or only giving them a very brief mention).
 

JoeNotCharles

Registered User
Validated User
One of the interesting things about the Known World / Mystara is that everything published under the "Dungeons & Dragons" banner after the D&D / AD&D split started to get lumped into it by default. So there are a bunch of early B-series modules that actually have setting detail that's not related to anything else in Mystara, but there's a temptation to try and make them fit in somewhere. Plus Mystara itself has so much unexplored empty space that it's really easy to just add a kingdom for all the stuff with High Gygaxian names that doesn't otherwise fit...

Which is why I was planning on spending quite a bit of time on B1, actually, discussing all the hints it drops of an implied setting, even though they're totally ignored.

(Speaking of which, is Holmes Basic in that zone or not?)
 
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One of the interesting things about the Known World / Mystara is that everything published under the "Dungeons & Dragons" banner after the D&D / AD&D split started to get lumped into it by default.
And not just by default. Some of the later maps actively (and "officially") place the locations in which the earlier modules happen.

Which is why I was planning on spending quite a bit of time on B1, actually, discussing all the hints it drops of an implied setting, even though they're totally ignored.
We'll do that - although I'm not sure there's that much implied setting in it. We'll have a closer look when we get there.

(Speaking of which, is Holmes Basic in that zone or not?)
From memory, I don't think there's much setting info in there at all. I'll have a look when we get to it though, to check.
 

JoeNotCharles

Registered User
Validated User
And not just by default. Some of the later maps actively (and "officially") place the locations in which the earlier modules happen.
Which is part of what's interesting, because they just stuck them all in Karameikos by default, even when it makes more sense for them to be their own thing... So I can't help but think of "what might have been".

We'll do that - although I'm not sure there's that much implied setting in it. We'll have a closer look when we get there.
It goes into quite a bit of the background of the two famous adventurers who used to live in the caves, including mentioning some of the surrounding people they interacted with (barbarian tribes, IIRC).

Well, by "quite a bit" I mean "about a page", which is about as much as the whole continent got in X1...

From memory, I don't think there's much setting info in there at all. I'll have a look when we get to it though, to check.
The sample adventure is available from https://www.wizards.com/dnd/files/Basic_1977.pdf, and it includes a paragraph-long sketch of the city of "Portown", on the Northern Sea. I don't know whether the rest of the book goes into any more detail.

This is the kind of thing I like to speculate about - ok, let's try to fit this into Mystara. Where would a city named "Portown" fit, linguistically, that has a "northern" sea? The Isle of Dawn, I think - with places named "East Portage", "West Portage", "Crosston" and "Battleford", place names that are derived from English words make more sense there than Eastern-European flavoured Karameikos.
 

Silvercat Moonpaw

Quadruped Transhuman
Validated User
Definitely going to follow this: I was intrigued by Mystara ever since I saw the Basic covers on the TSR Archive site.
 
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