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The Defender and the Light Warriors of Mystaraby Adam Ferreira from Threshold Magazine issue 2
The world of Mystara has known almost no end of suffering throughout the planet’s existence. Dating back as far as the caveman-esque era of Blackmoor and the Great Rain of Fire, to the creation of magic from a nuclear reactor; A meteor that obliterated two principalities of Glantri, to a potential Week Without Magic; Empires lost in a storm, or erased from time completely. From the island continent of Alphatia to the lost pyramids of Nithia, tragedy has befallen the planet at entirely too frequent intervals.
Most of these horrible tragedies are driven, or at least assisted, by some Immortal with a chip on their shoulder. Some others simply come from the horrible luck that behooves the hollow planet. Surely there has been a reason that the planet has not destroyed itself yet (though arguable, as it has already suffered two cataclysms in most accepted realities). Perhaps there was someone watching over the realm? An overseer that only reared their head to defeat a potential threat to the world, then returned to the shadows, researching the next great planetary threat from a hidden fortress?
The concept of the Defender is applicable to all realms of course, and is read about in fictions on all planets in the multiverse. Legends tell of these heroes who selflessly throw themselves at the worlds threats and often come back with grievous wounds. So what of Mystara? Where is Mystara’s hero? Mystara’s great Defender?
An organization known as the "Light Warriors of Mystara" (or the L.W.M. for short) has existed since around the time of the birth of magic. The original creation of the Radiance’s threat was not merely a simple thing. At one time, the magic source of Mystara did not cause the awful Day of Dread after overuse. It wasn't until several Immortals had toyed with the magic-giving engine that they caused it to be detrimental, thinking that this would deter the most powerful use of the item in the form of gaining Immortality (a security function that proved fruitless as Etienne would later show us).
There were eyes on the Immortals that day – disapproving eyes from beyond even the Immortals’ comprehension. An Old One, a "god" of the immortals, observed with disdain at how petty the Immortals could be. Believing that Immortals can be just as bad as they could be benevolent, the Old One decided there needed to be another way, a way that would stand in the way of planetary threats from all walks, including that of the planet’s self-appointed Immortals.
Though the details of the deal with the first Defender are long since lost, the tradition has been maintained ever since that day. A hero is chosen that holds the tenets of good in their heart, and is sent to retrieve an artifact weapon and armor that will help them through the fights ahead. They gain powers that start to rival the Immortals, but without ever ascending to their ranks. Instead, this Defender resides upon Mystara, and – using a vast network of information and technology thought lost (even as far as some Blackmoorian remnants) – they would keep vigil over the planet in their own way. Some Defenders worked alone all their lives, while others would hire clandestine mercenaries and soldiers to help them. The rules of the Defender were always the same: protect Mystara and all that it held.
How and where the Light Warriors of Mystara exist are up to a DM, but the basic tenets are to keep an adventuring group going well past the high levels, allowing PCs to start dipping into demi-god and Immortal level gaming while still functioning as a campaign everyone can enjoy. It gives the DM a huge potential for monsters that simply do not get seen within regular or even mid-level gaming. This gives the DM the ability to have an extremely powerful NPC help the players (The Defender) and an organization for them to operate out of.
It could also be one of the players’ aspirations to become the Defender, and an entire campaign can be based around that character’s rise, quest for the epic level armor and sword of their choosing, and then the trials of forming a base. It allows for that player to design their own base, and put economics into the game, with the Defender choosing to be a more political one as to keep the nations in check as well. In general, the task of protecting a planet with so many bad things lining up to hurt it is daunting, but one that offers an endless supply of high-level adventures.
For the Players
PCs initial contact with the LWM will be almost non-existent. Players taking some abilities in historical/myth knowledge of the planet may know of the group and want to get to know them better. Others may happen upon the legendary group of protectors by accident. Most of the time, it is assumed that the group wants to be a part of the LWM and is working toward such. In this case, the Players will dedicate their campaign time to defending small villages from the threats beyond its farm fences. As the group reaches around an estimated level of five, they should be moving from their villages to a larger goal, such as studying what evil threatens their major area or uncovering a plot to put their kingdom in turmoil.
The PCs probably won't have a direct contact line to the Light Warriors until the DM deems it time. The PCs should be of good alignment and more concerned for the protection of the people and lands than what is popular. Players with knowledge of the Defenders group may find themselves following the trail of the organizations campaign, and even trying to help from the sidelines to assist. Eventually contact is made and the players can plead their case to want to join the cause.
For the DM
The DM should ensure the Defender has taken an interest in the players due to their dedication to protecting the planet from overarching evil. A good rule of thumb that the LWM should follow is "One for every Ten". What this means is that every LWM soldier should be able to kill ten average enemies. The Light Warriors do not employ mass numbers and often have to hold their ground against overwhelming odds. Adventures with the LWM should often seem a dire situation where the enemy vastly outnumbers the team. To accomplish the mantra of "one for every ten" the PCs should be around level ten before being fully accepted into the LWM as a soldier.
This does not mean the game must wait until then. As early as level five, the Defender, or his Commanders (often the tactician) should be taking notice. There isn't always a threat ready to destroy Mystara itself, and the downtime is often spent scouting new items or people to supplement the Light Warriors’ arsenal. Perhaps the PCs made a name for themselves killing a black dragon that was trying to organize all of its kin to destroy a whole nation? Maybe remains of the great magic-sucking machine from the Wrath of the Immortals are being salvaged by a secret society? Even still, perhaps the players have been captured and slated for execution by a government they fought against due to their corruption? The LWM would have no qualms with interfering, both politically or just physically, to save those people and add them to their number. Once a label of "Protector" is established with the player group, they will have the attention of the Defender and his army.
One useful tool of the Light Warriors army is the organization of the "Regulars". Soldiers that don't quite meet the standards of the LWMs "one for every ten" rule. This is where the players will find themselves in the beginning. It is also the most likely way to be noticed by the Defender. Regulars do not reside near the LWM Fortress, but rather they reside in society all around. They train hard and continue on adventures for the protection of the lands until they reach level ten or so. It will be probably be these "regular" scouts that make initial contact with the PC's and even give them jobs. Even at level one, perhaps a "regular" has determined that they want the PC's group in with their ranks and so they began covertly conditioning them for this life. The campaign can fit whatever the DM can imagine, as long as it meets with the standards of protecting societies and saving the innocents. After time in the "regulars" unit, the PCs should be leveled up to handle the major events.
Once a member of the LWM proper, the PCs should be assigned to a group. Below are the different military branches within the Light Warriors of my personal Mystara (seen in the examples provided). While DMs are free to come up with their own, this layout is designed to help provide a greater understanding of where to go once players are involved with the group. The divisions are each indicative of a play style your PCs might enjoy.
Golden Guard: The defender’s personal troops. They are the all-encompassing arm of adventure. Any applicable class fits with them. From Magic-User to Warrior, Espionage to Tactician, this is the default group to put your players in. They will be put wherever the Defender needs assistance. Adventures can range from infiltrating a government for information on a doomsday device to assembling to fight the Tarrasque as it arises from the great crater in the sea. Archeologists may be sent to discover Nithian ruins or a mighty war may be run with the Defender and his group at the front. Overall, this is a great place for players that love to mix it up.
Alpha Squadron: Brute force and massive battles are commonplace when you assign your PCs to this group. They specialize in all kinds of fighting, though emphasis is placed on Melee combatants. Alpha squad adventures should be based in hack-and-slash campaigns where there is more combat and less politics. If Alpha squad is sent in, it’s because negotiations failed, or were never started, and the enemy must be removed. Threats to the planet in the form of large scale fit here and DMs should feel free to provide wonderful adventures with armies of ogres, behemoths, and giants. A great battle in the Alpha Squad record involves an army of these mammoths being arranged by a Titan who felt it was time to reclaim Mystara as his own.
Any warrior class fits into Alpha Squad, Clerics and Paladins are a very close second. Magic Users in this form of campaign are not often used, but can be with some creative thinking. Rogues are almost never used here, as being sneaky and using discretion are often not part of this groups agenda.
Mystaran Special Forces (M.S.F.): Assigning players to this group should be more Rogue and Ranged oriented, with healers a close second. Adventures here are designed to really show what the Light Warriors are fighting for. Saving civilians caught in the awful grasp of war, healing and resurrecting family members out of the kindness of their heart are the healers job while the Rogues and Archers hold back the oncoming assaults. Melee fighters are often involved as well, though as a last resort as it means the threat has reached the innocent.
Evacuation and salvage missions are the norm here, and often the DM will be encouraged to craft adventures with many NPCs that need the players help. This adds a "rescue and protect" style of adventure that encourages PCs to pick their battles. Magic use in the offensive manner causes many casualties on civilians (as any wayward fireball has shown) and is rarely used in these campaigns.
Magestorm: Scholars and Wizards of all kinds assemble to form this division. Campaigns here are very different, and should be considered for much more political or role-play oriented gaming. Magic Users are the primary go to in these campaigns, but all are honestly welcome. The decision to be in Magestorm should involve players digging historical sites, unearthing relics of the past and adding them to the LWMs power. Digging up forbidden knowledge on the Immortals is another favorite of this group. Political campaigns can be made here too, having PCs become emissaries to powerful governments to express their dissatisfaction to some plot that hurts much of Mystara just to improve one nations standing.
Espionage and good role playing skills are just as important as dice rolls here, and sometimes much more so. DMs should take the dice as only one part of the whole here, and encourage players to push range of emotion to sway the diplomats to their way of thinking. Action is not lost here, however. Magestorm is called in to rain "Magic artillery" down on their enemies, tactics they have studied from both Glantri and Alphatia. Of course, outside of military application, no tomb is ever really safe, is it? Rogues assist just as well here, as do heavy fighters, provided everyone has a healthy appetite for knowledge and wisdom. Still, it is often Magic Using classes that rule the day here, even if fighters are paladins and rogues are historian treasure hunters.
Beyond The Rank and File
Getting up into level twenty, players may find themselves having a performance record that looks like a demi-god. DMs are encouraged to keep the game going with even more difficult adventures to challenge them. In every campaign there are supplements that expand the adventure. Epic level campaigns can be used with this to offer the worst of the multiverse and not threats from Mystara itself. The hells and abyss are always looking for areas to wage their blood wars upon, and both thirst for souls to be sucked into their own prison-realms. Thanatos is a malevolent force that will hatch schemes to thwart the LWM at every turn. The crust between Hollow World and Mystara houses over a million humanoids that, if returned to the surface, will be nearly unstoppable.
While the Light Warriors will probably never become Immortal themselves, they will strive to be just as strong as them. Once players become this strong, becoming a Commander is a great way to show their progression. The acting Defender will not be replaced until he officially retires, and at that point even a new Defender can be chosen. These adventures will use books that involve epic levels (Such as 1st editions Codex of the Immortals or 2nd/3rd editions Epic Level handbook) and involve truly history shaping events. The Lord of the 9th level of hell may decide to push against Mystara...and the Defender will have no qualms of marching through hell itself to put a stop to that. Immortals may finally be slain in the pursuit of keeping them in their place. Whichever the case, the DM should be prepared to alter things often not messed with when it gets to this level.
As a Commander
Becoming a Commander in the Light Warriors is no easy task. Around level twenty, and provided the PC has made an incredible name for themselves, the Defender should speak to that PC. The PC should be completely trusted and never doubted in their loyalties to the organization and its cause. The DM should have a clear role picked out for this new appointment of Commander. As outlined below, each of the default Commanders have a specialty they bring to the table. What does the players offer? Ensure they add something unique to the table, even if it clashes with some of the others. A tactician often disagrees with the warlords point of view and only through cooperation (or sometimes complete disregard) do things get done.
A new Commander must have their own division within the military. Players should be just as involved with the DM in this creation. Name your new branch of the military, appoint some of your table mates as generals in your new arm of the LWM. Design a logo or flag that your division will wear. This will define where your players want to go with the high level campaigns and working together will ensure everyone’s involvement.
At this point, the DM should involve the new Commander with all the updates that the LWM has. Meetings within the fortresses war room will involve that player and they will even have a say on how future adventures are shaped via direct input. If a player doesn't want to plow through hell to stop Asmodeus from trying to interfere with the planet, maybe they would rather find a way to banish anyone from the hells altogether from touching down on Mystara. Instead of butting heads with the Immortals on Pandius, the new Commander could be a liaison between the two. The liaison could also be a spy, and has begun pulling information out of Pandius to directly feed the LWM on what the Immortals are plotting next? Investigation missions also include researching the dreaded Black Ball on Mystara, Finding the truth about Synn and her plots, and any number of great mysteries left on Mystara.
As a Defender
The Defender is often controlled by the DM and embodies the die-hard spirit of good. The unrelenting urge to stand up against all of evil and no matter how many times you are taken down, you will stand up yet again. All too many of the Defenders adventures end with a resurrection on his part, and one day...his spirit may just refuse the resurrection. Perhaps the sorrow of seeing a planet threatened by destruction so often has finally gotten to them? Or maybe a golden age was ushered in and the Defender finally decided it was time to pass the mantle on to the next. This means giving a player control of a military that can span all across Mystara. Such a campaign involves a replacement of the Commanders and the Defender, as a retirement often means the old regime steps down for the new one. The difference between a Commander and the Defender is not too large, however. It just means that all final say on activities will go through the Defender, and they do have the power to override the decisions if they so choose.
Defenders should be somewhere in the range of demi-god to immortal in level. Adventures here are sure to include other immortals, or threats of invading planets and species destroyers. The Defender has to make decisions and also be ready to fight, so campaigns involving a player as Defender will need both heavy role playing and long combat encounters.
One of the first things a player should do before becoming the Defender is quest for an artifact weapon and armor. The DM is encouraged to work with the player to determine what these artifacts will be and often will custom make these items to fit the PCs character and style of play. The quest, in itself, should be made with a group of the PCs closest allies (as often they become the new Commanders) and should span all across Mystara at a minimum. This is a hard topic to describe, because it really is custom tailored to each campaign and setting.
Below, in the example section, is my personal design for a sword and armor that fit into my campaign (and the name the player then took). The campaign should be a mix of everything from ancient studies to Mystara-wide searching that culminates in the discovery of the Weapon and Armor the player will use the rest of their days. Some notes to go by when creating the artifacts are that they level up with the player in some way. Level dependant stats often ensure the items are not outshined later on. This can cause a breaking effect if done without much balance, so again, care must be taken when designing these. A safe weapon scaling is to add 1 to either attack, damage, or a saving throw per each level of the wielder (in example, the legendary sword I chose adds +1 to damage every level of wielder and nothing more, but has numerous magic activations per day for truesight, protection from archetypes, and a few magic blasts for ranged attack).
Adjustments should be made with the DM and Player working together if the item gets too overpowered at first, and scaled as the Defender campaign wears on. This can be as easy as giving the weapon a level chart that flows with the owner. The weapon should accommodate the PC so as they get higher in level, the weapon adds damage, magic abilities, or even extra spell casting as it goes. The armor should always offer a high AC, as the campaign will have high powered enemies. As the level progresses, special abilities such as Damage Reduction, Miss Chance, or Spell Turning should start to increase.
(The following is lifted directly from my Mystaran reality and is how I originally envisioned the concept of the Defender and his L.W.M army. Characters and designs that follow are of my own design, and certainly should not be confused with a direct how-to on the creation of the Defender and their army, if they even have one with your campaign. This is merely the foundation I set forth and built upon in my own campaign and offer it to all of you with the hope that many of you enjoy the ideas and concepts therein. Note that all characters have had stats intentionally left out. This is to keep from being aligned to one edition. The descriptions of each of the characters should give any DM a good idea how to designate each character.)
Date: 1029 AC
The Fortress: A floating island 2-miles in diameter kept aloft via magic in almost all areas. Inside of the floating island is enough Blackmoorian engineering to use thrusters to keep the island afloat should magic fail. A small castle merely three stories tall sits in the center, with numerous barracks, magic studies, and crafting buildings to the right of the castle's entrance. An airship port is hidden underground in a tunnel that houses numerous airships. Some of the piping is designed to emit clouds at the bottom as a means of non-magical vision obstruction. Magical activators in the war room of the castle can activate invisibility, mirror image, or any number of protective spells on the island itself. The war room itself contains computers and designs from ancient Blackmoor that have been stabilized and engineered to be useful without self-destructing.
The Legendary Artifact - The Masamune Sword: Throughout over not only Mystara, but so many other planets and their cultures, legends tell of a great sword. The name of the sword is often varied - Excalibur, Muramasa, Hrunting, Durendal, Masamune, Caladbolg. The truth is far more complex than what each legend offers it. The real name of this sword is as unknown as the form it carries.
The artifact is a spirit and not a sword, it merely takes the shape of a sword. Throughout the Multiverse, this soul travels and imparts its wisdom upon those who would discover it. It places itself in an area where it is needed most and becomes tangible for a hero to wield. It can exist in numerous places at once, offering a hero the means to save the people behind them. All of these swords were known for being a hero’s blade that fought evil at every turn. The names change, but the purpose always remains the same. Often, it is created with a protective armor that kept the hero safe while they fought, and all the time the sword took the form of what the wielder wished, provided that form was a sword.
The Defender had heard the legend of a great sword known as "Masamune" on Mystara and took a team of his finest friends to find it. They traversed from Mirros to Darokin, to the great libraries of Glantri, a sunken and forgotten library in the Alphatian sea (even before Alphatia sank no less), to the uncharted continent of Davania and Skothar, and eventually to the Cave of the Masamune hidden within the sands of the red coast.
The cave’s trials tested all the Defender-to-be had in him. He and his friends fought through a maze nearly two miles long, another, deeper layer filled with the undead of the desert, and yet a third layer that shifted them through different planes and realms. At the very end of the bottom layer lay a long path.
His allies were instructed to watch from a rock balcony above while the pre-Defender was challenged to a race with the spirit of the sword. It was no regular race, as the cave layer began to crumble behind he and the spirit. Rocks spat forth in explosive force as the cave itself did its best to stop the man from reaching his prize. The race through the last layer pushed the man to his limits, but in the end he drew the legendary Masamune sword from its place in an altar. The sword took the form he desired most and cloaked him in armor of his own minds choosing, gold to symbolize purity and not opulence as most assume. The man even took the name of the sword, Masamune, from that day forward.
The Defender "Masamune": Wearing gold armor from head to toe and a gold open-faced helmet with a ruby gem in the center at the forehead, Masamune stands as the planet’s current Defender. His real name, much like his allies, was changed at their inaugural meeting. From that night forward, he and his "Commanders" swore to never use their real names again. The title of Commander in the L.W.M. was to signify that they were all leaders, not a one of them higher than the other. Though Masamune held the title of Defender, he would not use it to override the others and hence gave himself a military rank of Commander along with them.
Masamune stood through entirely too many fights during the Wrath of the Immortals, though never against the Immortals themselves. He instead intercepted a team of Alphatian professionals that almost blew Glantri up from under the grounds it sat on. He, conversely, led a team to beat back the hordes of the abyss that were pouring through a huge gate opened by a hidden Glantri war mage team on Alphatia. Masamune was in Sundsvall with his entire team when the great Maelstrom struck and barely escaped. He has seen the Wrath of the Immortals and for that he has become disdainful of their presence. His adventures have taken him from Karameikos, where he became good friends with the King, to Glantri...an empire that has branded him, several times, with a kill-on-sight order for the local militia. At the end of the day, his only concern is that Mystara exists for years ahead. He, himself, stood and attempted to divert the meteor that crashed into Glantri, using every spell he could conjure to divert it from its real target of Glantri City.
Though not often seen with him, due to his reckless nature to try and tackle problems himself, Masamune’s personal division of the military is the fabled "Golden Guard". They are often with him on large military campaigns and other fights in which the Defender realizes its just too big for himself to handle. The Golden Guard specialize in overall efficiency, where masters of all disciplines are present. Magic Users, Rogues, Melee and ranged warriors, Clerics, Paladins. All experts of their fields are accepted into the Golden Guard, and while the team itself does not specialize in one specific discipline, they have the talent to field all manner of problems as the need arises.
Commander "Blackplague": Taking his name from a disease of legend, he has been rumored to have killed more people in his life than that ferocious epidemic. At some point in his life, which some say was as a high commander in the Heldannic military, he saw that killing for a nation was not as honorable and helpful to the citizens as he thought. He changed his name long before he met the Defender, but turned his mercenary sword to aiding those who were being oppressed instead of those who just had the coin.
Sporting the furs of the Ostlanders and the black leather armor of the Heldannics, his northern Known World influence is apparent. His body is a collection of muscles and standing at a large six feet and six inches, he is an intimidating man to behold. He brings brute force tactics to the LWM and is often sent with his arm of the military "Alpha Squad" to the front lines of any major conflict.
Commander "Wyvern": With blue hair on pale white skin, it is no wonder that he attracts the most attention when he is seen. This is something he welcomes, as his Half-Nymph blood loves to revel in parties and enjoyment. He was once known as one of the finest demon hunters of Mystara, having tracked down liches, death knights, and even fought an arch-lich from the nethers of the abyss when it snuck into Darokin during a really bad deal one day.
He carries the name Wyvern in honor of one of his greatest fights, a fight which landed him his trademark "Fang" and "Claw"; his dagger and shortsword respectively. Hewn from the creature he killed for it and then enchanted to perfection, his fighting style is quick and sharp. His care-free spirit often clashes with that of Blackplague, but at the end of the day, the two find peace in the lives they help save.
His specialties are in city-urban fighting where civilians are thick. He trains his team, the Mystaran Special Forces, to protect all civilians while forming defensive points for them to hide in. An outbreak of the orcs from the broken lands saw a city in Glantri nearly destroyed. An hour after the some-thousand orcs came through, only a hundred or so townspeople were dead. The rest credit their lives to the quick reactions of the man with the blue hair, and his mercenary force.
Commander "Mage": Simply taking the name "Mage" in an attempt to stay as humble as possible, Mage came from a dark background of training from a man he had no choice but to accept. Orphaned at infancy, he was discovered by a traveling necromancer who had been studying in the mountains of the small farming town. The necromancer took him and trained him from a young age to be a blight upon Mystara, but in a fight with the Defender, Masamune saw there was good in him and that he had been misled for far too long.
Accepted into the L.W.M. as their newest Commander, Mage fights in a modest red Glantrian robe enchanted with protection. This misleading armor is intentional, as his arts are with the mind and the human psyche far more than physical. He is the L.W.M. master tactician and advisor, though often it falls on him to talk to the governments and groups that discover it was the Light Warriors that were involved in something.
He tasks himself with making sure his team, "Magestorm", can drop magical might upon any opponents that have grown too large in numbers for a mere clash of militaries. In AC 1025, at Mirros, a huge construct known as "The Red Steel Tank1" sought to destroy the empires capitol, Blackmage organized his team in an attempt to rust and destroy the machine. A construct of steamcraft and magic, the tank itself was a huge 6-legged walker with a spell resistant shell of red steel. When direct spells proved impossible due to enchantments and high defenses, his team set about making the weather fierce for the tank, creating huge mudslides with transmute rock to mud, and otherwise slowing the walking death tank long enough for the rest of the Light Warriors to hit it hard and dismantle it.
1 The “Redsteel Tank” event took place in 1025 AC