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Mystara a la Pathfinder (or Pathfinder a la Mystara)

by Christopher Richard Davies

So here I am again with yet another attempt to create a distinctive version of Mystara that weaves the original adventures with the Gazetteer era and a newer version of the rules. Hopefully, I've learned a few things from my own previous crash-and-burn versions of this, and from other people's attempts. But mostly from my own screw-ups.

This was partially inspired by the two major supplements to the Pathfinder rules that are coming out this year -- Ultimate Campaign, which updates the wilderness exploration and kingdom building subsystems introduced in Paizo's Kingmaker adventure path, and Mythic Heroes, the forthcoming supplement for ... well, what says on the tin, which I consider to be a decided improvement on the various "epic/divine" versions of the game, including the Immortals rules.

However, rather than go big, this time I'm going to follow the Expert set's advice and start small, exploring the history and personality of the various 'points of light' (and one big 'point of darkness') in the Grand Duchy of Karameikos, as well as the people who live there. Let's start off with where it began ...

(For those wondering 'what do these numbers mean', see here.)

Threshold
LG Small Town
Corruption -2, Crime -1, Economy +0, Law +2, Lore +2, Society -1
Qualities: Insular, Pious
Danger: 0
-----
Government: Magical
Population: 550 (500 humans, 30 halflings, 15 dwarves, 5 half-elves)
Notable NPCs
Patriarch Sherlane (LG male human cleric 11)
Aleena Halaran (NG female human cleric 7)
Sergeant Arthol Galidor (LN male human fighter 5)
------
Marketplace
Base Value: 1000 gp; Purchase Limit: 5000 gp; Spellcasting: 6th level (divine only)
Minor Items 3d4; Medium Items 1d6; Major Items

While a typical town -- crowded, smelly and dirty -- in most respects, Threshold is surprisingly distinctive in many others, often unbeknownst to much of the populace. While the average citizen takes great pride in his hometown, they would be surprised to learn of the depths of Threshold's history, which dates back centuries before the formation of the Grand Duchy itself.

Roughly 350 years ago, this region was occupied by only a handful of fisherfolk who eked out a poor living from Lake Windrush. Then came Gygar, a mighty wizard, who raised the nearby castle Mistamere in a single day and night.[1] Not even those who have studied the history of this brief era in the history of the region can say for sure whence came the wizard, nor why he chose this region for his home, for he left no testament to his life.[2]

What is known is that, following the construction of Mistamere, Gygar sent magical messengers to the other communities of Traladara announcing his conquest of the region. None of them were at all inclined to go to war with a wizard of unknown but clearly vast powers, and so sent -- by far more mundane methods -- messages indicating their acceptance of his rule, along with tribute. These offerings were accepted, and so began the reign of Gygar.

While he was largely pacificistic, or at least focused on his magical studies, the wizard was surely a powerful deterent to the goblin and orc raiders who had been the bane of settlements in Traladara since time immemorial. Even beyond his magical powers, he soon had the fealty of a number of ambitious fighting men who volunteered their services to the rising power in the region. Thus, it was probably inevitable that a community would grow up in the shadow of Mistamere ... or, rather, on the threshold of Gygar's royal domain.

Gygar's reign lasted sixty years, but for all his might, he had clearly not won the secret of immortality. Nor had he any children or even apprentices to carry on his legacy. For a decade after his death, power fell into the hands of the leader of his warrior followers, one Morphail Woszlany, but he soon abandoned Mistamere following a poorly documented tragedy[3], departing for parts unknown along with his family and several followers.

For the next two centuries, Threshold went into a gradual decline, though it was never abandoned as Mistamere was. However, it also acquired a fell reputation, thanks to the presence of the wizard's castle and a peculiarity of the populace. Gygar had been utterly indifferent to religious matters, refusing the offer of the Traladaran church to build a sanctuary in Threshold. Woszlany followed that policy in his much briefer reign, as did the various mayors and self-proclaimed lords who followed him, each peacefully (or not so peacefully) turning back Traladaran missionaries sent to rebuild the faith's influence in the region. Eventually, they stopped being sent at all.

Thus, when the Thyatian cohorts marched west to conquer Traladara, the stage was also set for Threshold's rebirth. It's believed that Tarn Cavott, Bishop of the Church of Thyatis, may have been following in the footsteps of Chardastes as he toured the new province, but he also followed his own path, which led him north to Threshold. There he found a much reduced community which was ripe for conversion to the Thyatian faith, unlike most of the other towns and villages of the region.

Cavott built the somewhat immodestly-named Tarnskeep in the village itself, as he was reluctant to brave the reputedly monster-haunted ruins of Mistamere.[4] He proved a wise and clever ruler. Unlike Gygar, he made provision for his curate to succeed him as the local bishop when he himself returned to Thyatis in 930 in his attempt to achieve the Pontifical seat, from which he never returned.[5]

The dissolution of the united Church of Thyatis in 965 caught the then-reigning Bishop of Threshold somewhat off-guard, leading to questions about the legitimacy of his rule. However, the establishment of the Grand Duchy a few years later, and the institution of its church, answered those concerns rather decisively, when Patriarch Sherlane Halaran of the newly-formed Church of Karameikos was dispatched to take the reigns in Threshold. He wisely offered his predecessor an advisory position, and has ruled peacefully ever since as the Duke's only Patriarch-Baron.

Sherlane is assisted in his duties by a Clerical Court, the leading light of which is his neice, Aleena. In addition to this role, she is actively engaged in exploring the local cave systems and leading the ongoing hunt for the wizard bandit Bargle, who apparently takes the town's laws prohibiting arcane magic as a personal affront.[6] Sherlane is concerned that Aleena takes too much on herself, and would very much wish to recruit other adventurers to relieve her of some of those burdens.

Secret History

[1] An exaggeration. It actually took him several weeks, but he disguised the process with other magic so that it seemed to the neighboring fisherfolk that the castle appeared as though built in a single day.

[2] He was from Soderfjord, and had been the last apprentice of the legendary wizard Sargon of Lion Castle. There was no particular reason he chose this area to settle down in; he was simply passing through on his way south when he became enchanted with the region, and decided to live here. And since he couldn't see any reason not to do so, he declared himself king. While he may have learned about the Lost valley of the Huutaaka later in his life, he wasn't searching for them when he came.

[3] Morphail, driven by jealousy for his late master's magical might, fear of encroaching old age, and lust for his younger brother Amadio's fiancee Dominique, sought out forbidden magics. He performed a ritual that involved the murder of Amadio and which resulted in his own rebirth as a vampire ... at which point Dominique revealed herself as a cleric of Alphaks, used her magic to place him under her control, and commanded him to lead his family out of Traladara and up into Braejr, to cause problems for the Flaems.

[4] In fact, Cavott sent a small band of soldiers and acolytes to reclaim the castle. They were never seen nor heard from again -- though not all of them were slain, none of them chose to go back to Threshold and report the magnitude of their failure. Any treasure to be found in the upper levels ruins likely derives from their losses.

[5] This isn't nearly as ominous as it sounds. While Tarn Cavott failed in his bid for the pontifical seat and saw it given to one of his rivals instead, his own fate was simply to be ordered into a monastery on the Isle of Dawn, where he spent the remaining fifteen years of his life. His rival, on the other hand, would be slain during the Alphatian invasion of mainland Thyatis just a few years later.

[6] These laws, which sentence those who violate them to a series of embarassing curses and ultimately exile persistent recidivists, date from shortly after Tarn's era. A young wizard named Emrikol, for no reason that anyone was later able to determine, went on a murder spree, flinging magic missiles as he rode a horse through the streets. He eluded capture and has never been seen in the region since, but the fear he inspired has outlasted even the memory of his deeds. Emrikol is still alive and presently resides on an estate in the Thyatian island of Sclaras, though he is seldom there, preferring to explore the planes beyond.

Verge
NG Hamlet
Corruption -2, Crime -2, Economy -2, Law -2, Lore -1, Society -1
Qualities: Magically Attuned
Danger: -5
-----
Government: Autocracy
Population: 60 (40 humans, 10 halflings, 5 elves, 3 dwarves, 2 half-elves)
Notable NPCs
Lord Retameron Antonic (NG male human fighter 9)
Lady Halia Antonic (CG female human wizard 8)
Lathan Lancehand (N male elf fighter 4/Wizard 4)
Brother Gregory Sergenov (LN male human cleric 7 [cloistered cleric])
-----
Marketplace
Base Value 240 gp; Purchase Limit 1200; Spellcasting 4th level
Minor Items 1d6; Medium Items -; Major Items -

Verge's history is reasonably short, especially when compared to that its close neighbor Threshold, though it's not without incident. The hamlet was founded just twenty-five years ago, after a group of Thresholder magicians, led by one Virgil Tellarian, a war wizard from Thyatis, presented a petition to Patriarch Sherlane to overturn the town's laws against arcane magic. While the Patriarch heard their petition and expressed some sympathy for their position, he refused it nonetheless.

This came as no surprise to Virgil, a rather bombastic gentleman whom many (at least in Threshold) suspect was looking for an excuse to do what he did, which was to denounce the town and lead an exodus of those frustrated with such restrictive laws.[1] That this constituted slightly more than a score of persons didn't greatly trouble him. He had a vision.

That vision led him up the Windrush River, to the juncture of the Windrush and its sister Foamfire. There, Virgil declared that he had discovered a powerful locus of magical energies which would make this planned community, to be named Verge -- as a synonym for Threshold, certainly not derived from his own name -- the true leader in the region, eclipsing its parent community within a generation. Most of the other arcanists in the party thought he was speaking grandiose, egotistical nonsense[2], but the area seemed as good a place to build a new home as any, so settling commenced.

Unfortunately, neither Virgil nor any of his colleagues knew that the wizard Skarda and his band of brigands were beginning their murderous rampage just as the first buildings were being erected in Verge. The hamlet seemed ripe for the plucking, and so came under attack in its first winter. Whatever else may be said about Virgil, he fought bravely and well, saving many lives at the cost of his own. His self-sacrifice held Skarda's raiders at bay long enough for reinforcements, called from Threshold and led by Sherlane himself, to drive the miscreants away.

While Skarda never troubled Verge during the remainder of his career, preferring safer targets in northeastern Karameikos, the township of verge went into a decline with its founder's death. That decline only ended ten years ago, when a group of adventurers led by Retameron Antonic took up residence here and soon became the hamlet's leading citizens. Retameron reorganized the militia and trained them to a higher standard. Having become well-known to the Duke, he applied for permission to build a keep in the town, which was soon granted.

Owing to the religious persuasion of Retameron's clerical companion, Verge is also a stronghold of the Church of Traladara, though both Brother Gregory and Lord Antonic have spoken against the more radical members of that faith who have sought it out. (The Cult of Halav has been officially declared unwelcome.) This difference in religions further contributes to the mild, more-or-less friendly rivalry that Verge has with Threshold.

In terms of adventuring possibilities, Verge is much quieter than Threshold. There are several caves in the hills, which show signs of intelligent design, and which are rumored to connect, through the underworld, to the dungeons of Mistamere.[3] Retameron's Roughriders are thought to have cleared them out, but that was quite some time ago, and new monsters may have crept in since.

Despite all this, it may well be that in later histories, Verge will be best known as being the home town of a certain fighter ... who will be introduced in the next segment.

Secret History

[1] Yes, he was. Virgil had gotten sick of either marching into the hills to do magical experiments, or doing them in the basement of his townhouse and hoping no one heard or saw anything. He didn't think that his petition (as he saw it, viewing those who agreed with him as his subordinates) had a hope of being acted on. Had he lived, Verge would probably have become a much more chaotic, much more magocratic town. Halia, who owns his surviving spellbooks, views him as a heroic figure.

[2] In fact, there is a very weak magical nexus in the area, akin to a weak good magic point in Alfheim. It doesn't do anything, or affect anyone's spellcasting, but it could, if someone did the research and figured out how to wake it up. This is one of Halia's projects, but she is much distracted by administrative concerns. The nexus' origins likely have something to do with the Hutaaka.

[3] They do, but the connections were added by goblin miners after these structures were built. The caves themselves were carved by Virgil during his early explorations of the region; the magic mouth enchantment in one room was left by him as part of a planned way to get money out of less-intelligent adventurers. (The majority of them, in his view.)