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The Borea Project

by Rodger Burns

Lucius Valentinium growled in weary triumph as the last of the brambles parted beneath his blade, opening a space large enough for an agile person to squeeze through. Nothing had seemed to go right ever since that apportation spell had malfunctioned, sending them here - it might have been nice to see that sneak Bertram befuddled by the half-worn markings on the great stone plinths that towered around them, but for Marcosia to judge from the sun's position that they'd either become unstuck in time or else travelled thousands of miles from home at best was far less pleasant. And the air was chillier here, and strangely scented, as well. No, he'd be glad to be quit of this place.

Lucius stepped forward, blade at the ready... and gasped in astonishment. The ruins behind him were on the edge of a sharp, barren bluff; below him stretched a broad river, wider and probably deeper than anything in the Empire or most likely any of the lands beyond, and along its banks could be seen stretches of at least four different kinds of completely alien terrain - red-furred grasslands, riotous jungle, black-glassed bare stone, broken as if struck by a giant's hammer, and ominous, purple-oozing marshland. Probably more lay hidden beyond his view, and none of it was anything he'd even heard of before.

A sudden rustle of movement, cut off in midstep, told Lucius that at least one of his companions had reacted exactly the same way he had. It was suddenly a lot less important, though, as the warrior detected the shape of something else approaching from his left. A quick turn of the head spotted the new arrival - a huge lizardlike creature, bipedal and with a mouth the size of Lucius' forearm, that sounded a lot like one of the creatures Uncle Acrision had mentioned battling in an expedition to the Thanegioth islands, once. Only Acrision had never mentioned anything about throbbing shards of rusting metal sticking out of the creature's body, or occasional sparks of blue lightning sparking from its claws and tail. Glancing quickly behind him to see how close his companions were, Lucius wondered once again about just how far from home he really was, and whether he should fight this thing or run...


Beyond the Adri Varma Plateau and the Great Northern Wilderness, west of the Wyrmsteeth Mountains and the Marshes of Maggorath, north of Great Hule and a source of mystery and fear even for them, lies the river valley of Borea. A place that might have been the cradle of civilisations, now home to forbidden magics and things beyond mortal understanding, Borea is a place of mystery, wonder and adventure.

* Design Notes: I'm thinking of Borea as a place for me to run pulp stories in Mystara - Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter of Mars, Howard's Conan, Moorcock's Hawkmoon, and similar stories. It's a place full of things and powers that can be neither fully understood or controlled, free of high-powered NPCs who can dictate campaign events (even the Immortals have good reason to avoid Borea!), and lots of opportunities for PCs to be heroes.

This is also not intended to be the be-all and end-all of Borea - just a starting point. Additions to, expansion on, or changes to the material given here are welcome - others should feel free to post ideas and contributions.

* Timeline:
BC 4500: Beastmen are created by Hel in the Borean river valley. At this point in Mystara's history, the orientation of Borea is almost completely reversed from that of the present day - headwaters in the subarctic northeast, river mouth to the south.

BC 3500: The Blackmoor civilisation rises to world prominence, founding settlements and colonies along the southern coast of Brun. Early conflicts with the Borean beastmen soon blossom into a holy crusade; armies moving into the river valley are supported by the construction of fortresses, outposts and settlements.

BC 3200: The war against the Beastmen ends in triumph, as the Beastmen are driven into the harsh and barren lands of Hyborea further to the south and east. [This is a bit of retconning to the established canon history, which described Hyborea as being *colder* than the Borean valley - which, given that the North Pole was somewhere around Ethengar at the time, is kinda ridiculous. A better compromise is for it to be a temperate climate, but with a terrain composed mainly of inhospitable steppe and rocky desert.] The rich river valley of Borea is reclaimed for civilisation, and the men of Blackmoor begin expanding into it, building several great cities full of magic and high technology.

BC 3000: The Great Rain of Fire destroys the realm of Blackmoor, and shifts the planetary axis of Mystara. The Borean river valley is turned almost upside down, completely disrupting the climate of the region. Several Blackmoorian devices located in the cities also detonate, for reasons that will never be known; the devastation, though comparatively minor, is more than sufficient to wreck the Borean civilisation. The few humans that survive flee for more hospitable lands, or place themselves in suspended animation deep within the ruins of their cities. Several Immortal avatars present in the Borean valley at the time of the disaster find themselves trapped or damaged in the disaster, leading to a general interdiction being placed on the region by the Council of Pandius.

BC 3000-2000: The Borean river valley slowly recovers from the devastation of the Great Rain of Fire and its aftermath. Vulcanism and flash floods have ripped and reshaped the surface of the land, adding chaotic terrain into what was once a rich, alluvial flood plain; in many places, native life has been stripped away, leaving a bare slate to be populated by whatever can take hold and thrive. Thus, arid scrubland coexists next to volcanic obsidian mesas and teeming jungles - the latter made up of animals and plants escaped from the zoos and parks of Blackmoorian cities.

BC 1750: The Great Horde of King Loark sweeps through the lower Borean valley on its way into eastern Brun. For the most part, the ruins of the region are shunned, due to ancient legends among the humanoids about the ferocious, merciless human warriors that once came from this land, but a few kobolds and hobgoblins choose to settle here.

BC 1500-1000: Explorers, exiles, nomads, outcasts, and adventurers of all kinds slowly gather and settle in Borea, forming a culture and civilisation from many disparate threads. Some of these arrivals choose not to disturb the Blackmoorian ruins, but others dare to, returning with fragments of texts that form the basis for a unified Borean language and written script... in some instances, and dying in spectacular manners that form the basis for many a cautionary myth, in others.

BC 910: The immortal, entropic being Hazaern the Moaner attempts to enter into and destroy the land of Borea, but is defeated by a nameless warrior who identifies himself only as the Blademaster. Hazaern's lifeforce is trapped and sealed away beneath the ruins of the city of Mirrormere, and the Immortals, newly aware of the potential dangers of Borea, reaffirm their refusal to investigate the region.

BC 854: The first League of All Borea is founded, uniting several of the city-states and smaller kingdoms into a unified nation. Not all of the dominions of the region choose to become members, but the new League is too large and powerful to be challenged openly by any of its neighbours. Fortunately, the League appears more interested in internal affairs than open conquest.

BC 850-400: The League establishes its cultural and economic superiority in Borea, gradually grows to fill the entire region, and decays into corruption and decadence. Its ruling class, almost unbelievably wealthy compared to the common folk, begin to take their power and privilege for granted and start exploring forbidden lore in search for even greater power. The capital of the League moves to Mirrormere.

BC 386: A rebellion against the elite of the League begins, led by a battle-mage whose attack spells all take the form of swords formed from pure elemental energy. Though this wizard is manifestly not the Blademaster of centuries past, the rebellion soon hangs the name on him in order to take advantage of the legend, and is able to topple the government of the League. Unfortunately, the strife does not end there, as city turns on city over the spoils. The League soon collapses, with its former members cast adrift once more.

BC 150: Hobgoblins attempt to exploit the power of artifacts discovered on the outskirts of Manicora. They are transformed into the first thouls.

BC 73-19: The Autarch Kerobus rises to power in Borea, taking control first of the city of Denarius and gradually conquering all of the other kingdoms of the region through force of arms. Though in theory the Autarch rules all of Borea, his realm is constantly wracked with rebellion and unrest; the Autarch rules from the saddle, constantly crushing minor uprisings, and his empire dies with him.

AC 0: Far to the southeast of Borea, the first Thyatian Emperor is crowned. Word of this doesn't reach any of the Borean cities for decades, though, and then only as distant and unimportant trivia.

AC 115: Hulean forces attempt to march north into Borea, but are stopped by the Guardian of Bonewatch. Half a Hulean legion goes to feed the monster's hunger; the rest retreat in disarray. The Huleans accept the Forest of Silence as their northern border, and limit their meddling in Borea to mere espionage and religious proselytising.

AC 283: The Select begin to awaken within the Veiled Citadel of Manicora. Finding themselves mostly powerless in a world greatly changed from anything they remembered or expected, the Select choose to remain in hiding and slowly build their power through a careful campaign of kidnappings, interrogations and targeted experiments.

AC 400: The first of many False Gods cults arises in the city of Lazareth, creating a religious tradition that will eventually come to dominate that city, last until the modern day, and be seen as a serious threat by many of the other rulers and powers of Borea.

AC 479: Alzendarius, an Alphatian mage and explorer, discovers the lands of Borea. He trades some of the secrets of manufacture of skyships in exchange for Borean archaeological and mystical lore, and establishes a tenuous trade route between Alphatia and the northern port-city of Azure. Though this trade partnership will rely on skyship travel, careful planning and luck, it will prove to be the best way into or out of Borea other than travelling through Great Hule.

AC 500-800: The second League of Borea is founded on ideals of common defence and improved general welfare, to deal as an equal with the nations of Hule, Alphatia and other, more distant neighbours. It presides over almost three centuries of prosperity before collapsing in acrimonious squabbling and a new round of petty wars.

AC 803: Hydrax establish a stable vortex to, and subsequently conquer, the citadel of Xacaras in the western volcanic highlands. Their presence on the Prime proves to be an immediate danger, but they are unable to extend their dominion very far beyond their initial beachhead.

AC 921: The Molt Plague sweeps the city of Eyriewatch, resulting in the overthrow of the Falcon King and the rise of the Black Guild as a player in the city's tangled politics.

AC 1000: Present day. Most D&D products are set in this period.