My original discovery of the "Known World" was back in the early 1980s when I got the original Expert set and module X1. I was immediately enchanted by the map of the Known World and its descriptions of the lands therein (I actually didn't know it was called "Mystara" until recently). It was immediately obvious to me that this would be a great "natural" world for a D&D adventure. The mapping system was easy to duplicate, and the world had a certain logic to it that was appealing. The various nations had reasons for existing and relationships existed between them that could provide the basis for adventures. I certainly believe that the Known World is superior in conceptualization to Faerun, and far better than Greyhawk. It wasn't until Krynn that TSR got its head together and created a product that had more to offer in it, but consider the vast amount of resources poured into the Dragonlance line and you will see that it was inevitable that Krynn would be something great. And yet... Krynn was a specialized world, with very specific themes dealing with the aftermath of catastrophe and the loss and regaining of hope and faith. It made for a great campaign, but if you wanted a more generic campaign without those themes, you needed something more generic. So the Known World still stood forth as a decent place to put your campaign.
I was aware of the subsequent material published for the setting but as a kid I never had a lot of money for gaming. Then I and D&D parted ways back in the late eighties as I switched to other games. So X1 sat on my shelf until I recently dusted it off and looked at it again.
While I always appreciated it, there seemed to me to be a few problems with the world, and I figured it might be fun to re-do things a bit.
Now I know that some of you guys have put a huge amount of work into the world of Mystara as it is, and what I am doing here probably won't be compatible at all with what you guys have. But nevertheless I figured I would share on the off-chance that people might be interested.
So here are the things I am addressing with this project:
The original map from X1 shows a variety of nations in what looks like a wide variety of climates. It looks like you have a cold north and a hot south. But actually the scale of the map makes it not a very large region. Either the world of Mystara is much smaller than Earth or the entire map is set in the warm temperate and subtropical regions.
I think that the original intent of the map was that the map wouldstretch from the subarctic to the tropics. The Heldann Freeholds are described as being "like Iceland" and I think it was envisioned that they were at a similar latitude as Iceland as well. With the bottom of the map having jungles on it (such as the Isle of Dread) that would constitute a wide range of climates.
Now I know that there have since been a bunch of things published about lands off the original map, like Norwold and Wendar, which extend the continent up into the far north. I think that someone at TSR realized that there was a scale problem, and rather than trying to make a correction they just rolled with it and added more land. But I think this diminishes the flavour of the original map.
My solution is to change the scale of the original X1 map from 24 miles per hex to 60 miles per hex. The map is 72 hexes high which makes the total distance 4320 miles. I envision the top of the map to be at around 55 degrees north latitude and the bottom of the map to be approximately the equator. That distance on Earth would be about 3950 miles so we're in the right ballpark - this would make Mystara slightly larger than Earth, or I could shave off a bit and say the Equator runs through the Isle of Dread instead of being to the south of it.
The coastline of Vestland and the Soderfjord Jarldoms seems to be drawn with Norway as an inspiration, with the coastline littered with fjords; one town is even called "Soderfjord." But a fjord is created when a glacier digs out a trench as it descends from the mountains into the sea. When the glaciers melt a mountain valley called a fjord is left behind. But in Vestland and Soderfjord, the mountains are far away and the coast is adjacent to a broad plain. This means that the inlets along the coast are not fjords at all; they are simply bays.
In order to preserve the Norwegian "flavour" of these regions I decided to have the mountains stretch all the way to the coast, making these inlets into actual fjords.
Doing this also resolves one other geographic anomaly, which is the altitude of the Ethengar Khanate. The altitude of the coastline is all the same; that is, sea level. But if you go inland up a river, every point on that river will be uphill, a higher elevation than anywhere downstream, because water flows downhill. If you follow the Streel River up into the Khanate (follow the easternmost branch), you will see that the source of the Streel is only one hex away from the coast in northern Vestland. In order for that to be the case, not only does the land need to plunge downward sharply over that hex to return to sea level elevation, but it has to do so in a way to prevent the Streel from just flowing down the nearby hills and to the coast one mile away. Putting a range of mountains along the coast would accomplish this.
3. The "Empire" of Thyatis
Thyatis is described along the lines of an imperialistic state along the Roman model. And yet, Thyatis has no real natural enemies on the map. While they may need to guard their northern border against raiders from Ylaruam (a region which would never be worth conquering by the Thyatians because it is a desert), they otherwise have little need of a standing army and seem to lack the aggressiveness that kind of state ought to have.
Now I know that once the world was expanded the Thyatian Empire was spread overseas to include huge areas (relatively speaking) on the Isle of Dawn and elsewhere, but if Thyatis was capable of conquering those huge areas why does it have so little territory on the mainland? They even gave away their westernmost province to one of their dukes who wanted to go on an ego trip. If Thyatis could conquer half the Isle of Dawn they surely could have taken Minrothad and Ierendi, and perhaps marched past the Malpheggi swamp to take Darokin.
Thyatis is also described as having a strategic location along a "canal" (though it looks like a natural waterway to me) but on the map from X1 if you wanted to avoid Thyatis you could simply spend a couple of extra days going around the cape by boat. I wanted to increase the "strategic value" of Thyatis' location.
Since I do like the idea of the Empire of Thyatis and wanted that Idea to work better, I decided to give Thyatis some more natural enemies, and put the extra land needed to create it at the end of the big Island south of Thyatis (which is unnamed on the map). This basically forms the western end of a new continent, making the Thyatis passage the only way to travel from eastern sea to southern.
The Emirate of Ylaruam is another region that I like the concept of. It isn't especially original but its basis on Earth cultures makes it easy to populate with details.
Yet it bugs me that the Arabs live right next to the Vikings.
Culturally this seems like a very bizarre clash. Climate-wise this seems kind of strange too. While the Emirate is placed within a clear rain shadow caused by mountain ranges, this creates some additional problems. If the prevailing winds are from the west or south the Ylaruam will indeed get little rainfall, but then neither will Soderfjord or Vestland. If the winds come from the north then Soderfjord and Vestland get rain but then Thyatis should also be desert. It seems unlikely that Ylaruam would be the only arid country in a region surrounded by moist ones.
The easiest thing to do was to move Ylaruam. Since I was already creating a new Eastern continent I decided to move Ylaruam there. The region where Ylaruam was would have to be populated with more European-like nations. This also helps the issues with Thyatis (above).
5. The Lands of Chaos
Thpough there's no actual campaign world introduced in the original basic set, the "Background" section in module B2 Keep on the Borderlands has this to say about the world:
This is a really great intro and after seeing it you want to jump right in and battle some orcs. It's a great "feel" for a campaign world.The realm of mankind is narrow and constricted. Always the forces of Chaos press upon its borders, seeking to enslave its populace, rape its riches, and steal its treasures. If it were not for a stout few, many in the Realm would indeed fall prey to the evil which surrounds them. Yet, there are always certain exceptional and brave members of humanity, as well as similar individuals among its allies - dwarves, elves, and halflings - who rise above the common level and join battle to stave off the darkness which would otherwise overwhelm the land.
But in order for that to work there have to be significant areas of the map that are held by the forces of chaos. This doesn't really seem to be the case; humans "and their allies" have filled up all available space, leaving only the broken lands as a home for orcs, goblins, trolls and whatever else, since it seems like the Broken lands aren't actually worth anything.
Where is Mordor? Where are the dark empires or barbaric lands full of monsters threatening to overwhelm civilization? There don't seem to be any. Human civilization seems pretty well secure.
I decided that the territories of chaotic creatures needed to be expanded to pose a genuine threat to civilized folk. Of course, in the case of barbarous monster-infested regions, there is no reason why a Lawful nation would need to recognize its sovreignty and large areas of monster infested areas might be claimed by civilized lands even if they don't police them (much like Karameikos). But there needs to be a lot more "room" for chaotic creatures.
Okay, so those are my goals. I've downloaded Hexographer and I've started working on a new map. This version of Mystara I'm calling "Arcania" as a way of distinguishing it. I'm happy to post it here if people are interested.