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From Alphatia to Calidar

by Francesco Defferrari from Threshold Magazine issue 11

From Alphatia to Calidar

by Francesco Defferrari (Sturm)

A quick voyage between Mystara and Calidar the two fantasy worlds settings that Bruce Heard has been involved with; and some ideas on how to use both settings together.

Bruce Heard is a very important game designer, and probably the most important for the Mystaran community. He Joined Gary Gygax’s TSR back in the early eighties and later he became Product Manager of Basic D&D (the BECMI edition which is closely linked to the Mystara setting). He was indeed (and still is) one of the main developers of Mystara as we know it now.

Tom Moldvay in 1981 and then Frank Mentzer from 1983 were the authors of Basic D&D, later the Basic, Expert, Companion, Master and Immortal Boxed Sets or BECMI D&D. In those products first appeared the original Known World campaign setting1, that would become Mystara, where heroes could carve dominions and become Immortals. Aaron Allston (1960 - 2014), author of the first Gazetteer, The Grand Duchy of Karameikos, the sixth one, The Dwarves of Rockhome, the Dawn of the Emperors, Hollow World and Wrath of the Immortals Boxed Sets, and compiler of the Rules Cyclopedia, was also a major developer of the setting. The work of Bruce Heard however is undoubtedly what gave Mystara its definitive shape and feel. From his adventures, CM7 Tree of Life and M1 Into the Maelstrom, to the beloved Gazetteers 3 and 10, The Principalities of Glantri and The Orcs of Thar, and The Voyage of the Princess Ark published in Dragon Magazine, Bruce opened players to whole new regions of Mystara and new perspectives on the setting. He was also for several years the Basic D&D line Product Manager.

After TSR, Bruce did not join Wizards of the Coast, and stopped working on game designing for a while, but he remained an active participant in the Mystaran community for some years, as can be seen from the impressive list of his articles stored at The Vaults of Pandius, the official Mystara fan site.

As Bruce wrote in his blog, his writing years went on hiatus while he explored other avenues, but in 2012, Bruce began his blog, returning to the Mystara community with a bang! He started writing articles which updated some of his old Mystaran material, such as the Nagpas and the Goatmen, and then proceeded to developing the Kingdoms of Alphatia as they were never developed before.

Even if Alphatia was one of the subjects of the Dawn of the Emperors boxed set, together with Thyatis, the sheer size of the country allowed for little detail on the individual kingdoms which form the Empire.

In 2012 and 2013 Bruce Heard wonderfully detailed in his blog almost all the Alphatian Kingdoms, from Arogansa in the south to Frisland in the far north, including coats of arms, maps and adventure ideas, making them much more detailed and interesting places for adventurers.

Given the success of his blog in the Mystaran community, Bruce queried Wizards of the Coast about the possibility of continuing the Princess Ark series. As the reply was negative (see Bruce’s announcement) he decided to develop his own, new fantasy setting.

And so Calidar came to be!2

A first, very successful Kickstarter campaign was completed on January 10th, 2014, raising about 300% of its initial goal and allowing the production of Calidar: In Stranger Skies, a 130 page book detailing the campaign setting, including beautiful illustration by Ben Wootten, John Dollar and Savage Mojo, a contribution by Ed Greenwood for the city of Glorathon, and the wonderful maps and deck plans of Thorfinn Tait.3 The first Kickstarter campaign also allowed the production of a promotional booklet of 63 pages, Under the Great Vault, containing stories only available to Kickstarter backers.

A second, likewise successful Kickstarter campaign was recently completed on January 7th, 2016, raising almost 200% of the initial goal. The campaign will fund the production of a second Calidar book, Beyond the Skies, a book of more than 220 pages unveiling the gods of the Calidar universe. A promotional 60 page PDF containing adventures and new stories, Skies of Fury, will also be available to Kickstarter backers.

Bruce has not abandoned Mystara either, as in December 2015 he returned to Alphatia with the story “Once Upon a time in Ar”, whose latest installment, first appearing in Threshold magazine, you have just read in the previous pages.

Readers of this magazine are probably already familiar with Bruce’s work both in Mystara and Calidar, but let’s briefly review the main features of Calidar for anyone who may not be familiar with the setting, then we will see how it could be used with Mystara.

Calidar is a systemless setting4, but several guidelines exist for conversion to existing rule systems.

It’s hard to describe Calidar in just a few sentences as the setting is wonderfully rich with original themes and distinctive features. It’s not just a world, but a whole solar system, the Soltan Ephemeris, where different cultures interact and clash. It has magical flying ships, but the magic power to travel between worlds is not cheap, and the competition to acquire it is fierce. It has a central world, the namesake Calidar, with a few developed nations and a huge expanse of wild lands, where the World Soul of the planet is ready to react with hostility to any exploitation. It has, indeed, living planets with complex ecologies. It has dragons, obviously, and draconic knights serving them and eager to conquer new worlds and lands. It has steampunk dwarves and imperial elves, gnomes with a special connection to the natural world and savage halflings called fellfolk, who in some places have embraced the gifts of civilization. It has humanoids, who come periodically from the alien world of Ghüle to raid and take prisoners for their dark gods. It has heroes, who can literally become immortals and even gods, if they are able to earn a lasting fame.

And, as it seems from the previews of Beyond the Skies, the whole Ephemeris and the gods have to face a terrible menace from another universe.

But the important feature of Calidar which is particularly relevant for the scope of this article is the Vortex. A mysterious and unexplained tear in the fabric of time and space, the Vortex is a strange phenomenon that often brings into the Calidar universe people and flying ships from many other places. Often, the people who experience this passage have their memories altered, and can no longer remember the place from which they came.

In the setting, this is obviously the perfect excuse to bring to Calidar player characters created for other settings, and also a way to explain why some Calidaran cultures, as also happened in Mystara, closely resemble some cultures of our real world.

In the world of Calidar in fact both the nations which now lie around the Great Caldera, a geographical feature created by an ancient asteroid, and the colonial powers of the Calidar moons from which they originated, have some clear resemblances with real world cultures, and with the Mystaran ones. And that gives us the first idea on how to use Mystara and Calidar together.

Option one: Portals

Magical portals have always been a feature of fantasy worlds. Such portals could randomly open into any Mystaran nation and lead to the parallel Calidaran nation. If such a Portal should open in the Five Shires in Mystara, for example, it could lead the players to the Republic of Belledor in Calidar, similarly inhabited by halflings. Even if at the beginning the players could fail to realize they are in another world, the moons in the skies should soon give them a clue. The civilized fellfolks and gnomes of Belledor should also have many subtle differences from the classical halflings of Mystara.

The same idea could also be valid for the Kingdom of Nordheim in Calidar, which could contain portals to the Northern Reaches of Mystara. Or the Magocracy of Caldwen, which could contain in its territory portals to Glantri or even Alphatia. Or the Kingdom of Bellayne in the Savage Coast, inhabited by cat-like Rakasta, which could have an hidden portal leading to Felix Minor, the planetoid in the Fringe of the Soltan Ephemeris inhabited by the cat-like Feliseans.

Some cultures of the Calidar universe, such as the Munaan Empire in the namesake moon and their colony of Ellyrion in the Great Caldera, could correspond to more than one Mystaran culture, like Thyatis and Milenia, or even Narvaez in the Savage Coast.

It’s up to the DM to decide if players stranded in Calidar will be able to return to Mystara, and maybe create some sort of permanent portal, with many possible and interesting consequences. How could the Calidar World Soul interact with the planet Mystara? How would the Calidar gods and the Mystara Immortals interact? What if Synn and Wulf Von Klagendorf5, probably the most famous villains created by Bruce Heard in The Voyage of the Princess Ark, ally with Sayble the Black Queen and her Draconic Knights?

Or, remaining in the territories recently explored by Bruce Heard, how could the church of the seven archons of Bettelyn interact with the gods of Calidar? How would Randel’s dragons react to Draconia? And many similar examples could be done for every Alphatian kingdom that Bruce developed in his blog in the later years.

Fans of both settings have obviously speculated that Haldemar of Haaken, the captain and protagonist of The Voyage of the Princess Ark is the same person as Captain Isledemer d’Alberran of the Star Phoenix, arrived in Calidar through the Vortex, but what if they are not? Could the two captains ally against common enemies?

Such an interaction between Calidar and Mystara would certainly create some interesting adventures.

Option two: The Vortex

Another option is obviously the “default” one in the Calidar universe, a Mystaran skyship captured by the Vortex and sent to Calidar, as happens to Captain d’Alberran and his crew in the first Calidar book. The crew could suffer from amnesia but slowly be able to recall from whence they arrived, and find a new determination to discover a way to return to their original world. If an Alphatian skyship (or a Thyatian one, as Thyatis began building its own skyships in the Poor Wizard’s Almanacs) is able to return to Mystara, it could bring back knowledge of the Calidar universe. By the way, the Vortex canonically exists in the Mystara universe too, as the supposed dimension inhabited by the Old Ones, mythical beings much more powerful than the Immortals. The Vortex of Mystara is detailed in the Immortal Boxed Set by Frank Mentzer and the Wrath of the Immortals Boxed Set by Aaron Allston.

And besides the above canon Vortex, Bruce recently detailed another one, complete with its wormhole, which also could become a gate to Calidar, in the Kingdom of Floating Ar6 in Alphatia.

It’s up to each DM to decide how Mystaran Immortals, or even the Old Ones, may react to a skyship returning from the Vortex. If left alone, such a vessel could report back to the Mystaran empire from whence it came, and Alphatia (or Thyatis) could decide to fund further explorations of the Calidar universe, at least if they are able to locate a spot where the Vortex occasionally appears.

It’s also worth noting that in the Poor Wizard’s Almanacs by Ann Dupuis an Immortal named Gareth began proselytizing in Sind from the Mystaran Year 1010 AC, saying to his followers he had “returned from the Vortex”. The common interpretation in the community has always been that Gareth should be Benekander, the new Immortal created during the Wrath of the Immortals adventures, but what if he is instead someone who came from Calidar?

Option three: Spelljamming

Calidar has some affinities not only with Mystara, but also with Spelljammer, even if the way in which skyships “work” in the two settings are quite different. But a DM could decide that the Crystal Spheres (as Solar Systems are called in Spelljammer) containing Mystara and the Soltan Ephemeris of Calidar are quite near, or connected with some sort of wormhole.

In this case natives of the Soltan Ephemeris could discover a way to travel in the Void for much longer distances than those previously possible, leading to a contact with Alphatia, Myoshima or some other Mystara nation. Would the first contact be peaceful or hostile? What if Lao-Kwei skyships reach Myoshima, and start a trade route with the Rakastan Empire on the Mystaran moon of Patera? What if Alphatian skyships reach the Kingdom of Meryath in Calidar? Exploring the consequences and ramifications of such a collision of worlds could keep the DM and players busy for quite some time.

To find out more about Calidar, visit Bruce Heard’s blog or the official site and forum:

1Previous editions of D&D, as the original by Gary Gigax and Dave Arneson and the one edited by Eric Holmes in 1977 did not contain a campaign setting except for example dungeons.

2An interview with Bruce Heard, about his work on Mystara and anticipating Calidar, was also published in the first issue of Threshold magazine (page 82) back in October 2013.

3Also Great Cartographer of Mystara, Editor of Threshold magazine and interviewed in this very issue!

4For more information, see here and here

5For more about this topic, see here:

6For more details, see here: