Opinion: Mystara's Organic Development

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Thorf
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Opinion: Mystara's Organic Development

Post by Thorf » Wed Jun 13, 2018 2:59 am

Working through my recent projects, and thinking about the development of Mystara, I am constantly reminded of something that we (the fan community) often seem to overlook: even though we are aware of the setting's organic development, I don't think we realise the extent to which authors didn't have access to what had gone before — or just didn't have time to check.

Now as fans, it's in our nature not only to collect every possible reference to Mystara, but also to painstakingly check every single little reference in every one of those sources while working on our projects. Moreover, we can do that with a simple Google search, or by text searching the PDFs.
And this is where the disconnect occurs.

Lately I feel increasingly that we're holding the authors (of 22-37 years ago no less) to an impossible standard — one that was made even more impossible due to Mystara's reliance on freelancers, who by definition did not have access to the whole product line.

Perhaps we should take a step back, and look at things a little more objectively. I'm not saying we shouldn't continue to iron out problems; let's face it, most of my projects are still solidly aimed at doing just that. ;) All I'm saying is that maybe we should all try to be a little less critical and a little more understanding of the background to our favourite setting's development.

In short, what I'm saying is that I believe that all of Mystara's authors were striving to do the best they could with the circumstances they were given. We should give them and their books the benefit of the doubt.

(Cross-posted to Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/mystara ... 293564293/ )

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Re: Opinion: Mystara's Organic Development

Post by Morfie » Wed Jun 13, 2018 7:42 am

I agree. TSR staff had full access to the archives, but I'm betting the freelancers didn't and most of Mystara's development was done by freelancers.
Even the TSR staff would've been very short on time to check the archives. I've read plenty of articles where TSR staff were doing very long days to match very short deadlines.
They certainly didn't have access to things like Excel and Access, etc where databases and the like could be built by those who wanted to. A World developed these days could certainly do that. At the very least there are now pdf's and Word files these days where a simple Ctrl+F can find something a lot quicker and accurately than someone manually checking for references, as you have mentioned.

On the whole, they did a very good job with what they had. I haven't seen or heard of many glaring mistakes; only minor things, such as the odd typo. Certainly nothing more than I have seen in regular fiction books.

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Re: Opinion: Mystara's Organic Development

Post by Cthulhudrew » Wed Jun 13, 2018 8:47 am

I've never felt as if the Mystara community on the whole has been terribly critical of canonical work, even when we have diagnosed and drilled extensively (and sometimes microscopically) into attempting to iron out inconsistencies. With a few exceptions that I recall from the early days of the MML, I haven't even gotten much of a sense of the community being critical of other fanwork, either. It's one of the reasons I've enjoyed the Mystara community (and the Piazza) for so many eons now. I couldn't say quite the same about some other communities out there.

I do agree that people tend to forget just how different things were not so long ago in terms of communication and work. The relative ease of contact- even over thousands of miles- and subsequent ability to collaborate just wasn't as prevalent even 20 years ago, much less nearly 40 now (since much of the canon was written). The digital age- young as it still is- even colors the recollections of my own generation, and I marvel at how short memories are.

In the end, much of what was written seems to have worked, and some of it didn't (or at least wasn't to everyone's tastes), but all of it informed the campaign setting and created something that still has us deeply invested even after all this time. All of the creators that turned in work to TSR contributed to that, and that's definitely saying something.
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Re: Opinion: Mystara's Organic Development

Post by shesheyan » Wed Jun 13, 2018 10:22 am

Hence the importance of the editor. He had access to everything. It was his job not only to proof read but to fact check. It was how it was done then and how its done now.

The Piazza Mystara fans are more like a bunch archeologists looking at facts and comparing notes. I really don't see any kind of hate or down putting of the creators work.

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Re: Opinion: Mystara's Organic Development

Post by willpell » Wed Jun 13, 2018 11:12 pm

This sounds a lot like the situation with Marvel and DC Comics. A lot of stuff, especially early on, didn't make sense with other stuff, because it wasn't meant to be cross-checked anywhere near as much as it is now being.

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Re: Opinion: Mystara's Organic Development

Post by Big Mac » Thu Jun 14, 2018 12:32 pm

shesheyan wrote:
Wed Jun 13, 2018 10:22 am
The Piazza Mystara fans are more like a bunch archeologists looking at facts and comparing notes. I really don't see any kind of hate or down putting of the creators work.
I've not spent enough time studying Mystara, but I have seen this sort of thing with other campaign settings.

I think there are several things going on here.

1) Some TSR/WotC product lines did not originally get a big product line. Things had to be compact and able to stand alone. Later, after initial success, product lines were allowed to grow. But that gives the initial products a different requirement and therefore a different vibe.

2) Some of the internal TSR or WotC politics interfered with schedules or forced certain product lines to use specific formats.

3) Later products are "standing on the shoulders of giants" and can therefore go higher than earlier ones.

4) Later products also have to deal with more and more complicated canon.

5) There are a minority of fans who like to invent drama where none exists.

6) There are a minority of fansites that like to invent drama where none exists. (They call this clickbait.)

I think that, so long as people keep an eye out for clickbait nonsense, and take the age and resorces of various D&D products into account, they could have constructive debates about old and new products that are much more useful that a specific product could be.

I am especially interested in the evolution of D&D and how successful a product making a second-pass over an area already developed may or may not be. (So things like Savage Coast vs Red Steel are fun discussions for me to follow.)
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Re: Opinion: Mystara's Organic Development

Post by ripvanwormer » Thu Jun 14, 2018 8:45 pm

Mystara was allowed to evolve on purpose. Things like Blackmoor's location changing, or religions shifting from philosophical institutions whose relationship with specific Immortals was obscure to clerics mostly having individual Immortal patrons, or the date of the war with the master of the desert nomads moving, weren't the result of sloppy editing or freelancers being ignorant, they were deliberate decisions as the writers got new ideas about what was best for the world. They decided just because an older module or gazetteer said one thing didn't mean that they were bound it forever, trusting the readership to either follow the new direction or make their own rulings for their own groups, which is part of the joy of tabletop gaming.

There were some accidental errors and omissions, of course, as should be expected from a project as large and chaotic as Mystara was. The Known World didn't really have a line editor. If you mean Bruce Heard, that wasn't his job, his job was coordinating freelancers, not world-building or consistency checking. He just sort of ended up trying to do the latter in addition to his actual job in the absence of anyone else to do so.

In any case, I think Mystara's evolution and internal contradictions are part of the fun of it. It's supposed to be a world you can make your own, not something beholden to inviolable writ its own creators weren't overly strict about.

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Re: Opinion: Mystara's Organic Development

Post by RobJN » Thu Jun 14, 2018 8:54 pm

One of the things that just occurred to me: Mystara didn't have much meta going on, mainly-- I suspect -- because there was no long-running novel line tied to the setting.
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Re: Opinion: Mystara's Organic Development

Post by shesheyan » Thu Jun 14, 2018 10:07 pm

ripvanwormer wrote:
Thu Jun 14, 2018 8:45 pm
There were some accidental errors and omissions, of course, as should be expected from a project as large and chaotic as Mystara was. The Known World didn't really have a line editor. If you mean Bruce Heard, that wasn't his job, his job was coordinating freelancers, not world-building or consistency checking. He just sort of ended up trying to do the latter in addition to his actual job in the absence of anyone else to do so.
I wasn't talking about anyone in particular. I was just stating a general principal of how publishing should work in theory. Its good the hear Bruce went the extra mile... but its also sad that TSR didn't have a proper system set up. But real life is often very different from theory. I worked 20 years as a graphic designer. Tales I could tell... your hair would fall out.

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