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ANDREW STEVEN HARRIS (Editor for the Thunder Rift setting; compiled from the MMB through Sep 4, 2006)

Wow, I'm really amazed and excited to see this discussion. Sorry it's taken me so long to chime in, I only just noticed the topic now. I'm one of the editors who worked on Thunder Rift for TSR back in the day, and I'm glad to see people remain interested in the setting. I always thought it was not only a great introductory campaign, but a really good quick-start space for experienced gamers, since it's a super-fast learning curve with some great adventure hooks.

The truth is, though, TSR was not terribly organised at the time (or, let's be honest, at any time) and the work you've done here in organising information is possibly more than TSR did before it first started producing Thunder Rift adventures and novels. For example, I had to edit Escape From Thunder Rift without ever seeing the first Penhaligon novel, which I didn't get until after the gaming adventure had already gone to press, even though the two products are presumably linked.

A few quick points for right now, and then I'll chime back in as time goes on.

-- Thunder Rift was always conceived to be some part of Mystara, though it was never decided, even unofficially, exactly where that would be, to preserve the "drop it in anywhere" quality of the setting. Personally, I always liked the idea of it being on one of Mystara's other continents (not the "Known World"), and that would make the gateway to Karameikos that much more important. But that's just my preference, and it doesn't have any more canon than anything someone else might come up with.

-- The size problem (for example, whether it takes "several days hard riding" to cross a particular area) is something that we regularly encountered but never resolved, not only in Thunder Rift but in many TSR products at the time. Writers/designers often weren't given the backgrounds they needed to keep things properly consistent, were sometimes given hex maps without the scale drawn in, etc. For example, on another product I worked on, the writer was given a Greyhawk map that he thought was 1 mile per hex, and wrote the adventure (in which the party has to cross a certain area in a limited amount of time) with that scale in mind. Once I got the adventure for editing, I discovered that the hex map he was given actually had a scale of... 24 miles per hex, which meant that just the road trip part of the adventure would take about two years of game time. That kind of stuff happened with TSR products all the time.

Anyway, I'd be happy to be of any assistance that I can, and I'd be thrilled to see this effort continue to go forward.

(A poster commented):

Thanks for commenting on this thread! It is always interesting to hear from the people who have been involved with actually creating the material that we are discussing.

Some points that caught my interest:
1) Connection with Mystara
I find it a pleasant surprise that the Mystara connection was something intended all along. It never made sense to me for the OD&D line to launch a completely new setting at that point, especially if it was to start out as a micro setting, so easily included into Mystara. Your idea of TR being on one of the other continents (Skothar or Davania), could have potential, but at the same time given that the TR cultures are fairly standard fantasy ones it seems likely that the races would be from the Known World, since although the other continents were not very detailed it would be assumed that the people living there would be quite different in terms of culture and appearance.
3)Size of Thunder Rift.
The size issue is complicated. Again, I liked seeing the TSR perspective on this. This problem relates not only to TR, but also to the Known World, which many feel is way too small. With this project, I feel stuck between the demands for larger setting, both from fans and to justify the events involved, and the fact that if I change too much of canon, many people wont like it of that reason. Also, since I want to have TR within the Known World (as it makes it more accessible), it cant be too big.

By the way, any other thoughts, ideas or secrets about Thunder Rift you want to reveal or even rumours about the other designers/editors involved is much appreciated!

(Andrew's response):

Sorry I've been away, I'll try to visit more frequently. (Nice work on the Hollow World connection, by the way.)

In response to your comments:

While it's true that the other Mystaran continents could indeed contain very different cultures (like Maztica and the Realms), there's no reason to think that the rest of the world has to be so different that Thunder Rift couldn't fit right in. Think, for example, of the similarities between Ansalon and Taladas in the Dragonlance campaign. (In fact, it seems that on Mystara, many of those unusual cultures are in the planet's past, and so ended up in Hollow World.)

Putting Thunder Rift on one of Mystara's other continents would, to some extent, solve the size issue that you're talking about, and as I said it would make the gateway to Karameikos that much more important. Again, just some thoughts--nothing canonical about them.

As for Thunder Rift rumours, etc., it's quite difficult to remember--it's been a long time. (Are you looking for titbits like "where did the name Stoneson come from", or more developmental stuff?) I can tell you that one of the reasons the setting didn't get fleshed out as thoroughly as some of us would have liked is that TSR didn't want it to be.

Remember, these adventures and modules were designed with the new gamer in mind: TSR wanted it to be an introductory setting that, as soon as the players got familiar with the game, would immediately lead them to the other well-supported TSR game worlds. (And thus, you see a module like "Escape From Thunder Rift", which TSR reasoned would be the most widely played of the group, since it came with the DM's screen; the story actually sent the PCs directly into a different pre-existing TSR product line, right in the adventure itself. TSR's idea was that the players themselves would migrate there as well.)

From an economic standpoint, I can understand (and even agree with) this approach completely, since it does make more sense to send the players to a well-established game world with loads of already-published products, rather than have to develop yet another "standard" fantasy campaign from scratch. But strictly from a creator's standpoint, you couldn't help but get a bit of a "make it good, but not too good" feeling.

(A poster commented):

Great to have some input from someone connected with the actual products. Was their ever any official (as in TSR) ideas on what kind of races/nations populated the other two continents? I personally quite like the idea of placing Thunder Rift on one of them.

(Andrew responded):

Oh, for sure, I'm certain there were all sorts of different thoughts (including mine) on what kind of races/nations you'd find on Mystara's other continents. But until someone was actually hired to write or design them, none of them would really be considered, as you put it, "official", or any more canonical as something that I would have had in mind. Sometimes, two different sets of thoughts even make it into official published products, which is how you end up with a Blackmoor in Greyhawk and a Blackmoor in Mystara, both with Temples of the Frog, at the same time.

If you asked me which designer whose unpublished ideas I thought would be closest to canonical on Mystara, I'd have to far and away choose Aaron Allston -- not only an extremely talented writer and creator, but the author of the D&D Rules Cyclopedia (one of the best products TSR ever published), along with the first Wizard's Almanac, a number of the gazetteers (Karameikos, Rockhome and the Dawn of the Emperors box) and the Wrath of the Immortals and Hollow World boxed sets as well.

I also think he did work on The Principalities of Glantri gazetteer and the sequel to X2, Return to Castle Ambreville -- all of which pretty much covers some of the best stuff to be found in the Mystara campaign, IMHO. (Yes, Bruce Heard's Princess Ark stuff was great, but it didn't really address the parts of the Known World that come to mind when people think about Mystara -- although, then again, Bruce was in fact TSR's project manager for both Thunder Rift and Mystara at the time, so maybe his ideas could be considered close to "official" as well.)

And, come to think of it, I remember at one point being given a map, way back when, showing all sorts of racial and cultural migrations over the centuries for all of Mystara's continents. I think that made it into the Princess Ark boxed set, but someone else would have to check up on that for me. That might be a good place to start in deducing what you might find on the other continents.

Q: As "The Haunted Tower" boxed set deals with the ruins of the Fighter's Academy, was their ever any 'official' thoughts as to what evils currently reside in Wizardspire?

A: There probably never was any official developmental work done on Wizardspire, though it's possible the idea originated from a location already developed in a designer's home campaign -- as you might imagine, that kind of borrowing/referencing happened all the time.

I like the idea of a lich, though as just a guess it's perhaps not what TSR would have gone with if they had chosen to develop it further; remember, these products were for new players, which generally means lower-level PCs and DMs without the experience to run a powerful NPC like a lich. (Yes, I know, Dragon's Den had a couple of dragons in it, but if you're publishing an introduction to Dungeons & Dragons, you gotta include some dragons in the dungeon.)

Then again, a Mad Mage capable of creating the Gloomfens would be a tough opponent as well, and the lich idea does fit quite nicely into the storyline, so I don't see why people should feel reluctant to take it in that direction, if that's what they wanted.