|This article or section is about something oldschool - and awesome.|
Make sure your rose-tinted glasses are on nice and tight, and prepare for a lovely walk down nostalgia lane.
Mystara is the original default published campaign setting for Dungeons & Dragons. The actual original settings were "the lands around Castle Greyhawk," but Gary couldn't get his shit together in time for TSR going to press, and Dave's Blackmoor wasn't much more than a city and a map, so David Cook and Tom Moldvay expanded on the examples they used in the wilderness rules for D&D Expert Set and the starter module X1: The Isle of Dread. The working name for the setting was just "Known World," which you still might see on old maps.
TSR did the right thing with this world, by sketching out a variety of nations and cultures with a very broad brush (hippie elves over here, Corsican pirates over there, Arabs in here and some Cossack/Mongol horsemen up there...), and gave each nation to a writer to flesh it out into a sub-setting product. These products became the Known World Gazetteers, which even today are pure goddamn gold. Do not hesitate to buy it if you see it in an old bookshop, and download the fuck out of them if you catch 'em on
rapidshare Mediafire or Mega.
Arneson's Blackmoor was retconned into Mystara as an Atlantis-style mythic past, and the legendary source of lost magics, efreet bottles, secrets man wasn't meant to know, blah blah. Gygax was already pooh-poohing Basic D&D in favor of his "Advanced" version with mary-sue elves and strength penalties for women, so his "World of Greyhawk" was for AD&D only.
TSR's authorial staff at first hoped You Know Who would let them do a 2E AD&D "Known World". Jeff Grubb cobbled together a draught, but She Who Shouldn't Have Been Obeyed had it all stripped down to Karameikos only. Then her nu-TSR put out some half-assed stuff to do with Castle Amber, and that retcon-heavy Champions of Mystara (from Voyage of the Princess Ark). Since only the old-school players even knew what this shit was about, no newbies got into it, and these moves failed. Then TSR abandoned it all entirely. Lorraine's brilliant marketing savvy, once again!
But fans keep Mystara afloat - rather, aloft, because Mystara. A dude in
Greater England Scotland made the titanic effort to record and correlate all the maps from splatbooks and Dragon magazine articles. There's even been projects to rewrite the settings for D&D 4E. In terms of 5E, there is a conversion project made by Mr. Welch, of "Things Mr. Welch Is No Longer Allowed to Do in an RPG" fame. He spent a long time actively trying to get the attention of the community, in hopes of opening the setting on DM's Guild, but ultimately was forced to concede that WotC deserves only a "fuck it" and he released it online through his own website. Meanwhile Grubb plans to release all his 2E work on Vaults of Pandius, however belatedly.
Mystara was also the setting for the pure fucking awesome Capcom produced Dungeons and Dragons side-scroller beat 'em up games: Tower of Doom and Shadow Over Mystara.
This is a list of nations that were described in the Gazetteer series. They're all on a single continent of Mystara called "Brun," which is only 1/4 of the planet's total land area - and put together they only cover like 1/10 of Brun anyway.
- The Grand Duchy of Karameikos
This is your default middle-ages northeast Europe setting that you kinda expect with Dungeons & Dragons. Big coastline, crossroads for a few other nations, multiracial.
- The Emirates of Ylaruam
Arabian Nights all up in this bitch. A desert basin east of Karameikos, with a people simultaneously snooty with high culture and savage with scarce resources. Magic use is forbidden here, and wizards are hunted down and executed. Clerics are okay in their book, though.
- The Principalities of Glantri
Nation of magic-users, alchemists and militant atheists. Includes some variant magic rules to mary-sue-size your mage NPCs. Did I mention that being a cleric is punishable by death?
- The Kingdom of Ierendi
Fuck yeah pirates. They try to look like "respectable businessmen", so you get some mafia vibe here too. Includes some board-game kinda rules for ship-to-ship combat. Actually, if you have to pass on any of the Gazetteer series, you can pass on this one: Minrothad Guilds does a much better job.
- The Elves of Alfheim
You know the stereotype of elves being tree-worshipping hippies and a bunch of fucking snobs? Totally what's going on here. If it makes you feel better, they get buttraped by infighting and civil war in the canon history.
- The Dwarves of Rockhome
STRIKE THE EARTH! Included rules for characters that were both dwarves and clerics, and some AD&D conversion rules, 'cause AD&D is Gary's baby.
- The Northern Reaches
Fuck yeah Vikings. Included cardboard models of a Viking village for your minis, and rules for clerics to use rune magic.
- The Five Shires
hobbits halflings Hin. You can be homebody big-bellied halflings, or the gypsy under-foot nuisance type.
- The Minrothad Guilds
Merchant of Venice time. Merchants on the high seas, including privateers for the cut-throat businessman.
- The Orcs of Thar
Need a place to lump together all the dirty smelly humanoid "monsters", so let's put them in and under this volcanic mountain range. Has rules for playing monster humanoids as player characters, has a hilarious booklet for what every orc infantry needs to know, and (!) includes a board game by Tom Wham.
- The Republic of Darokin
Fuck yeah musketeers. Includes rules for a new player class "Merchant", and retrofits trade routes into the previous gazetteers and Companion- & Master-level rules for commodity trading between nations.
- The Golden Khan of Ethengar
Fuck yeah Mongol hordes invading your shit. Adds a shaman player class.
- The Shadow Elves
Covers the less popular underground inhabiting Elves, the famed Shadow Elves of Mystara. Shaman player class here too if you missed the Mongol splatbook.
- The Athruaghin Clans
Here we have Amerindian-like clans, living mostly on an isolated plateau. Another shaman player class is given too, the totemic kind.
- Thyatis and Alphatia
As if all the stuff described before wasn't enough, there was also a boxed set for a couple of empires that covered more territory than all the above combined. Thyatis was built like Ancient Rome, and Alphatia is another magocracy but more industrial and bureaucratic than the cultish rulers of Glantri. Includes Norwold from CM1 just north of Known World.
- The Hollow World
Oh shit, and then there was the entire OTHER campaign setting that was all Aztec/Inca-y that was supposed to be set inside the hollow planet of Mystara (just like our Earth where Hitler said the UFOs were coming from). It had dinosaurs, so it couldn't be all bad.
- No-Gaz. Nations
Several adventure modules expanded the description of Brun continent:
- X4&X5 added Sind (okay, just the desert, and Pramayama but deserted) and Hule to the west of "The Known World" map
- X6 added The Serpent Peninsula
- X9 went further west with "The Savage Coast" (later it even became the AD&D setting Red Steel)
- X11 added Wendar and Denagoth (north of Glantri)
Other products like Wrath Of The Immortals and Champions of Mystara, as The Poor Wizard's Almanacs gave a deeper insight on those lands or, in Sind's case, any information at all about them.
Mr. Welch's 5e Mystara PHB
Shortly after Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition became a thing, Mr. Welch launched his Youtube career creating lore videos for new players to try and introduce them to Mystara, his favorite D&D setting. And, once he'd done that, he naturally began working on a full-blown conversion of Mystara to 5e, with plans to release it on the DM's Guild. He spent years working on it, reaching out to other Mystara fans for playtesting, editing the somewhat notoriously clusterfucky mess of Mystara lore into a coherent whole, commissioning precious (and highly expensive!) high-quality artwork and generally get shit fucking done!
...And then WotC screwed him over. See, originally, the DM's Guild was set up promising that it would let fans submit content for D&D settings of their choice... and then they revealed the fine print that they would only accept material that was either "generic D&D" or based on settings that WotC had already released themselves. Which, for the longest time, just meant the Forgotten Realms (though that didn't stop some magnificently crazy bastards sneaking Faerun subsettings like Al-Qadim, Maztica and Anchorome in). Years passed; Eberron returned, Ravenloft was opened up based on Curse of Strahd, and we got two Magic: The Gathering worlds in Ravnica and Theros, but for the most part, WotC seemed content to largely ignore their vast stockpile of other settings.
Then in 2021 came the straw that broke the camel's back. Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft was released, and it became an instant shitshow for how badly WotC had fucked it up. In some circles, it became regarded as worse than the post-Spellplague Forgotten Realms - at least the Spellplague was a legitimate attempt to move the storyline along and address issues spawned by decades of novels crowding into canon, whilst VRGTR was nothing but pure political bullshit. On August 14, Mr. Welch put up a short video, explaining that he was sick of waiting on WotC, and after what they'd done to Ravenloft, the best he could hope for was that they continued to ignore it. So, he was abandoning his dreams of a Print on Demand Mystara Player's Handbook. Instead, he created a new site where fans could download it for free, and maybe offer him donations to both help him recoup the expense of creating it in the first place and to fund the creation of Mystara Dungeon Master's Guide and Mystara Monster Manual.
So, what's in the book? Well, check the link, but for a basic overview... One thing to keep in mind is that Mr. Welch felt it was okay to break some of the "rules" of 5e to better recapture what makes Mystara unique, so that means bringing back racial restrictions on classes.
- Dwarf: The only dwarven subrace on Mystara is the Rockborn Dwarf, who gets Resistance to Magic at a cost of being unable to take any Arcane Caster class or subclass.
- Elf: Your options are Belcadiz, Shadow, Sylvan and Water Elves. No Drow. Mystaran elves don't trance, and Belcadiz & Sylvan elves are basically tweaked High & Wood Elves.
- Gnome: You just use the standard gnomes from the PHB, but forest gnomes are Hill Gnomes and rock gnomes are sky gnomes.
- Halfling: The only halfling subrace on Mystara is the Hin.
- Human: All of the Mystaran ethnicities are options.
- Absolutely NO Dragonborn or Planetouched - Aasimar, Genasi, Tieflings - unless the DM permits it.
- No "half-breed" races, which in 5e terms means no Half-Elf and no Half-Orc. They instead appear as the mixed-race background. He did release the Elf/Ogre crossbreed race the N'djatwa as a free race on the DM's Guild, somehow, and that's A-OK, though.
- Lupin: Brings back the mixed race doggo-folk lore of old, with Bull, Hound and Hunter subraces.
- Phanaton A cross between a flying squirrel and a monkey. Can fly, but can't carry much.
- Rakasta: Same multi-racial deal as the lupin; Domestic, Greater and Wild subraces.
- Sidhe An undying race of fairies that resemble half-elves, with built-in magic, an iron allergy and can't use divine spells because of a long standing feud with the Immortals.
- Tortle Very similar to the Forgotten Realms Tortles, but were created before those came out and were kept in the book.
- Barbarian: The new Reaver subclass is offered.
- Bard: Two new subclasses; College of Philosophy and College of the Islands.
- Cleric: The standard domains are replaced with the Mystaran Immortal Spheres; Energy, Entropy, Matter, Thought and Time. There are also new subclasses to represent racial or ethnic cleric variants; the Hin-Master, the Dwarf-Cleric of Kagyar, the Shadow Elf Shaman of Rafiel, the Atruaghin Shamani and the Northern Realms' Godi.
- Druid: Aside from the new Dervish class to represent the desert-revering mystic warriors of Ylarum, druids don't get any new toys.
- Fighter: There's a bunch of new Fighter subclasses to represent the different cultures of Mystara. You got the Atruaghin Brave, the Thyatian Centurion, the Ethengar Horse Warrior, the Glantrian Gallowglass, and the Ierendi Toa Makai. There's also the Gallant and the Armiger, both of whom are found in multiple cultures.
- Monk: No new toys for monks here, but they aren't banned, either.
- Paladin: Two new subclasses; the noble and heroic Order of the Griffon and the bloodthirsty, warmongering Heldannic Knights.
- Ranger: Two new subclasses; the Thyatian Forester and the Bounty Hunter.
- Rogue: Two new subclases; the Rake, here redesigned as a socially-focused rogue and so very much not sucking, and the Troubleshooter.
- Sorcerer: None of the canon sorcerer subclasses can be found here; only the Wokani and the Glantrian Disciple of the Radiance exist.
- Warlock: In contrast to the sorcerer, the Warlock gets to keep all of its PHB subclasses. There's also two Immortal-based subclasses; the Volva (Wise Woman), who draws power from the Aesir, and the Spirit Shaman of Ethengar who gets power from the Spirit World.
- Wizard: The new subclasses consist of the Treekeeper, Merchant Prince, and Fire Wizard.
Magic: Alongside the obligatory list of brand new spells and magic items, the MPHB offers entirely new systems to represent Mystara's traditionally unique magical elements; the Radiance (the nuclear reactor turned mana font below Glantri) and Nordic Rune magic. The Seven Secret Arts of Glantri have been revived as a Prestige Class called the Craft Mage. Magic items can be sold and purchased in Mystara, in contrast to what 5e claims is the case in the Forgotten Realms, and so there's a big table to explain how the magic item economy works. There's also a sidebar detailing optional rules for magic for those who want to bring more of an old-school feel to Mystara:
- Magic items are disposable, not rechargeable. Wands use the alternate rules from page #141 of the DMG. Other charge-based magic items quadruple their charge limit to represent that you're supposed to exhaust them and then replace them.
- "Arcane dabbling" is prohibited to races with the natural talent - only elves can take the Eldritch Knight subclass for Fighters, and only elves and gnomes cane take the Arcane Trickster subclalss for Rogues.
- Both the Mixing Potions and Scroll Mishaps optional rules from page #140 of the DMG are in play.
- Mystaran summoning uses the Spirit World rather than the Feywild or the Outer Planes, so the only creature type for summoned creatures is Spirit.
- http://pandius.com - The "official" Mystara webpages
- http://mystara.thorf.co.uk - all of the maps of Mystara. ALL OF THEM
- https://rpgmp3.com/mystara-players-guide/ - Official home of Mr. Welch's Mystara Player's Handbook.