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History of Mystaran writing systems

by David Knott

The descriptions of the Alphatian alphabet and various Mystaran numeric systems got me thinking a bit about the history of writing on Mystara.

To get the easy part out of the way first -- the Darokinians would have been quick to see the value of the Sindhi/Ylari number system and would have quickly adopted it and spread it to the other nations of the Known World. By 1000 AC, that system of numbers would be used by most nations, with the other systems retained only for special traditional applications.

As for general writing: The alphabet was invented by the race of Planar Spiders from whom both Korotiku and the Aranea were descended. Their original writing system resembled the ancient Phoenician alphabet but quickly evolved into a form resembling the Hebrew alphabet. When the Aranea arrived on Mystara, they brought this writing system with them and (in the case of the Herathians) spread it to their neighbours. Hule in particular adopted the original Herathian alphabet and adapted it into a form that closely resembles the Arabic alphabet. Under the prophet al-Kalim the Ylari rejected all "heathen" systems of writing and adopted the Hulean variant of the most ancient writing system.

Among the people who learned writing from the Planar Spiders were the Old Alphatians. However, since their language differed considerably from that of the Planar Spiders, they made major changes to the writing system that they received from them, and they converted the Herathian alphabet into the Greek alphabet variant described in that recent Tome of Mystara article. The Alphatians colonised the island/continent of Atlantis on Laterre, from which their writing system spread to the European peoples of that world. In later centuries the Laterrans would alter this alphabet into a form resembling the Latin alphabet, which in turn was carried by the Averoignese, Klantyres, and Anglais to Glantri.

The Atlanteans in turn made contact with the Neathar of Mystara and taught their writing system to them. These Neathar (who became the Thonians and Blackmoorians) adapted the Atlantean/Alphatian writing system into a runic alphabet that would become universal on Mystara during its first civilised age but fall into almost total disuse thereafter. After the Great Rain of Fire the dwarves and the Antalians would preserve this writing system for future generations but modify it for their own purposes. By 1000 AC, Mystaran adventurers presented with a Blackmoorian coin who could read Dwarvish or Heldannic would be able to sound out the writing on the coin but not translate its full meaning.

Meanwhile, the arrival of the Alphatians in 1000 BC introduced their alphabet to Mystara, and most alphabets in current use are derived from that alphabet. The Milenians somehow received that alphabet and used it unchanged, unaware of its origin before or after their translation to the Hollow World. Meanwhile, the Thyatians also learned writing from the Alphatians. However, seeing that the Alphatian alphabet lacked a few sounds from their language, they added some new letters to create the current "Common" alphabet, which is now used by most Known World and Savage Coast nations and resembles a hybrid between the Greek and Cyrillic alphabets. If there is sufficient interest, I will detail this hybrid alphabet later. Of course, when the Traladarans learned this alphabet they adapted it into a purely Cyrillic form, which they carried with them to other nations -- but the hybrid form adopted by the Thyatians proved far more popular.

A few writing systems exist that are not derived from the Planar Spider writing system. The elves, in particular, developed a completely independent alphabet for their own language. This writing system might be represented by Tolkien's "Tengwar" system. The Nithians would have developed a writing system that would best be represented by Egyptian hieroglyphics. After the Immortals took strong action against Nithia, destroyed the "corrupt" elements of its civilisation, and removed the rest of it to the Hollow World, they created the "Thothian" writing system, which would have been based on the hieratic writing system. Knowledge of earlier Nithian writing would be suppressed by the lack of any writings that could be used to connect the earlier writing system with the later one.