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A Squid's Eye-View of Mystara
Months have passed since I was summoned to the Pool. There, the thoughts of the Elder unveiled to my mind suspicions about a new world. As faint as they were, distant echoes of psionic sentience had caught the Elder's attention. Someone there was using a magic that rippled this far. The Elder wished to unveil this magic - and I was to investigate.
Since then, I have gathered many items from that world, flotsam of the planes. Here, at the edge of my table sits a stack of scrolls, former possessions of a human wizard fallen before me. There, on a pedestal, a ball of crystal glows eerily. Tomes and tablets, tapestries of animated magic, and a few slaves captured by chance, all revealed to me their origins. They came from the place I now seek - a place called Mystara. Before I go there myself, let's first see what else they will tell. Azor, my servant, fetch the first item at once!
Excerpt from Painted Silks, from Tosuglaï, astronomer of Ethengar
"Great Khan, my Honoured Master, at last I have pierced the secret of our world. As I had suspected our world isn't flat. It is indeed a sphere surrounded by a magical force to keep celestial objects out. It is called the Skyshield. Most intriguing is the presence of another world within our own. I had first thought the depths of Mystara to be filled with rock and fire, but it isn't so, my master. The stars have told me otherwise.
"The truth is that our world is hollow, with seas and continents covering its inner surface. At the very centre of the hollow world burns a motionless sun. Its reddish glow radiates softly through two enormous openings at the south and north poles of our world. I could see its glint on the stars.
"I heard that the King of Karameikos had sent an expedition into the northern pole to find its opening. But no one ever heard from them again. Beside the inhuman weather at the poles, the magic of the Immortals prevents mere mortals from getting through. So far, my own magic has failed to unveil any more about this hollow world.
"The stars have never lied to me, nor have they lied to my father, and my father before him. Indeed, our world is the centre of the universe, and you, Great Khan of the Khans, are the greatest of its rulers."
Good! These people aren't yet familiar with the vast universe around their little world, much less with us. Their skyshield may be a problem for our star- travelling ships, however. Perhaps are there occasional windows to enter their skies, but I have little time to try this. I shall use magic to enter their world, quickly and unseen. Yes, Azor, you shall come with me. What is this you hold in your greedy little paws?
Scribbles on a Diary, from a student in Karameikos
"Today we were taught about the Day of Dread and what really happens on the last day of the year. My father had always told me that it was a day of reckoning, a day to think of one's accomplishments and goals for the new year. It is much more. Little did my father know - of course, he knows neither magic nor wizards.
"The Day of Dread is a time when magic recedes from the whole world of Mystara. It is believed that the foolishness of Glantrian wizards who practice forbidden magic caused the Day of Dread. During that time, the spells of wizards and priests fail. Mighty weapons of the heroes and magical wards protecting the abodes of the rich and powerful all lose their power.
"In places like Imperial Thyatis and Glantri where horrid monsters are often kept in magical bonds, people barricade themselves, fearing that these creatures break free. On that day they often do. Thirty giant spiders once escaped from the Imperial Arenas before the gladiators could defeat them. It took weeks to hunt them down. Fortunately, some of the more powerful magical monsters flee to other planes for the day, hoping to escape Mystara's Day of Dread.
"Not all magic is actually gone. Some creatures manage to retain abilities without which they would die for sure. Many say that this is the work of the Immortals whose magic is immune to the Day of Dread. But I live in a simple kingdom. We have no such creatures and the Immortals seem very far away. For me at least, I can see one advantage. I've been trying to reach Constantia after class, away from prying eyes. But she lives at her father's tower - a ruthless wizard with no heart. All entrances are magically sealed. But tonight, when magic fails, Constantia will open her window and I will be there, waiting for her signal."
Well, it seems I'll simply have to avoid that fateful day. I would be stranded there, unable to have it my way with these Mystarans. I care not to test the effects of magical weakening. How unusual indeed.
Letter from a Merchant to his Son
"I like this place. It looks like all the peoples of Mystara once moved to this small corner of the world, centuries ago, and settled here all at the same time. Why? Perhaps because it is the edge of a continent and it sits at a crossroads of a few others. Perhaps because the Immortals guided them here for mysterious reasons. The people here call it the Known World. There, more than anywhere else on Mystara, the nations know each other very well and commonly deal with each other. A good deal of trade exists between them, which is perfect for someone like me.
"The differences among the people are striking, almost impossible. Here, in Karameikos, we have a simple kingdom shared by two main peoples. One is the Traladaran, an ancient tribe native of this region. They fought against tribes of savage humanoids and even vampires to preserve their culture and freedom. Neighbouring Thyatis, a powerful empire, once conquered them and the native Traladarans had to share their land with their new masters. With time, the new imperial province called itself Karameikos, from the name of the ruling family. The empire was greatly weakened during a brutal war against a rival empire to the east. Since then, Karameikos declared its independence and its ruler became a king.
"Thyatis however, rife with greed and corruption, is famous for its arenas, its palaces, and monuments once erected to celebrate the glory of its imperial legions. As early as a few decades ago, all the nations of the Known World still lived in fear of the imperial military might. But ever since its great war against the east, Thyatis has been plagued with civil unrest, endemic slave revolts, and a rotting disease slowly spreading among its population. It is rumoured that imperial cohorts brought the strange epidemic back with them, after plundering ancient tombs during their colonial campaigns. Despite all this, Thyatis still remains a centre of great wealth and influence in the Known World, a place where good business can be found." (...)
So it seems this "Known World" is the place to go first. But I don't believe either of these two realms to be harbouring the magic the Elder detected. These seem more like nations of warriors. I know the type - they have little understanding for my kind. They would, at best, drive a hard bargain. I shall not enter Mystara's Known World there. Let's go on.
"North of Karameikos and its imperial neighbour, lies a mosaic of more than twelve small nations, each almost a stone's throw away from the other. Among them, the tribes of Ylaruam rule the deserts on the other side of the Thyatian mountains. These are proud and fierce warriors with a undying faith for their ancient prophet. It still is a mystery why the burning deserts of Ylaruam exist so close to other nations. A sage suggested that a greater realm once existed there, whose rulers had mastered the secrets of necromancy. But they went too far and angered the Immortals. They obliterated their evil civilisation and cursed their land to burn eternally." (...)
Not a chance. I hate these exalted mindsets. Very inflexible. Too temperamental. No sense of humour. It would be wise to look elsewhere.
"Further yet to the north, exist four other nations, Soderfjord, Vestland, Ostland, and Heldann. These are tall, blond people for the most part, who are notorious for their strength and hardiness. These are people who build longships, the dreaded drakkars, to carry the fury of their raids to distant lands. Of the four realms, Heldann is the one that changed the most today. Several decades ago an order of knights began moving in and slowly took control over the land. In the course of their crusade to spread their faith among the savage Heldanners, they eventually founded a major port on the coast and built a great temple there. It is now the siege of their order, now called the Heldannic Knights. They seek war to raise their black and white banners over more people.
"West from Heldann rule the Ethengarians and the dwarves of Rockhome. Ethengar is a vast grassland, the realm of skilful horse-riding archers. They are a proud people who desire nothing more but the freedom of roaming their vast plain and to honour their Great Khan. Next to them rule the dwarves, controlling a large mountain range. There, on the side of imposing mountains, they built fortified cities extending deep into the rock. The cities are as numerous as the clans that built them and rival among each other." (...)
Barbarians, all of them. I have no use for these, other than cattle. They can cling to their swords and castles. They are no challenge to the power of our minds. No, these cannot be the ones whose magic echoes through the planes. Then, what else is there?
"The dwarves sometimes clash with the elves, their western neighbours. Although, the elves have had to face great trouble. Many centuries ago, a cataclysm shook the World of Mystara and the elves were forced out of their ancestral lands. The tribes split apart and scattered throughout the world. One came to the forest Alfheim where they learned the magic to grow giant oaks. There, they begun living a reclusive, self-cantered life.
Another tribe, in an attempt to escape the cataclysm, went underground. Centuries of darkness turned their skin pale and their hair silver or white. They are the Shadow Elves. Rumours say that they went as far deep as the mid-point between the surface and a mysterious realm at the centre of our world. There, they found a huge cavern where one can walk on the ground as well as on the vault. They built a city up on the vault which they named the City of Stars. Seen from the ground, its lights shine like stars.
"The shadow elves avoided the surface for a very long time, thinking it had been devastated by the cataclysm, that is until they ran across adventurers. They followed them and discovered the truth. Their journey to the surface led the Shadow Elves up to Alfheim. At first, the wood elves welcomed their brethren from the deep, but soon they learned how many they were and refused to shelter any more of them. Angered by their cousins' selfishness, the Shadow Elves cursed the forest of Alfheim, twisting its trees and giving it a dark, evil look. The wood elves fled, some to Karameikos, others to distant elven realm. Since then, Shadow Elves have taken over the forest, but lacking the magic of the wood elves, the trees are slowly dying, perhaps some day forcing the Shadow Elves back to their dark kingdom." (...)
Aha. This shows promise. Let's keep note of the shadow elves, they could be of some use to my quest. They could have the knowledge to wield the magic I seek. Darkness does wonders for one's mind. The underdark has none of this hateful sunlight that pains the eyes and disturbs inner thoughts. It would easy for me to enter this realm, unseen and free to act. I suspect its deepest caverns connect both Mystara's surface and hollow worlds. How convenient.
"At last, this bring me to the Republic of Darokin. This, my son, is definitely the place to run a business. Imagine this: a land founded and ruled by the richest merchant families. It is one of the largest countries, crisscrossed with trails and roads built especially for the passage of caravans. This nation has borders with nine nations and has some trade links with all the realms of the Known World. Its caravans travel from one end of the region to the other, carrying untold wonders and treasures from distant kingdoms. So dear is this trade to the rulers of Darokin that they've sent emissaries to almost every major city and port of the region, for the sole purpose of defusing or fanning conflicts that would benefit the merchant guilds. Of utmost importance is the protection of its cities and caravan trails for which the guilds spend fortunes to maintain and train the very best of mercenary troops and condottieri.
"I like Darokin very much, my son, and I'm sure you will love it too. It is a safe and prosperous nation. I've set up shop at the capital city, from which I sent you this letter. Business is good and I think I'll be able to buy the space next door. I urge you to sell our business and come with the family. You will find my shop across the Merchant Guildhouse. Beware, however, I'm told pirates often raid ships sailing toward Darokin and seasonal forays of starving humanoids from the northern Broken Lands are a regular occurrence. Farewell, my son."
Greed has made the power of man. Greed is also his undoing. If I'm right, there is nothing one couldn't buy from these Darokinians - it is only a question of price. This could be useful. Now, what's this? Human skullcaps, crudely engraved. Ah, yes. Humanoid literature. Let us decipher its meaning.
Various Engraved Bones, from humanoid scribes
I. "We, King Kol XIV, Ruler of Upper and Lower Kol, declare the Broken Lands free of the tyranny of Thar the Despot. We, Lord of the Mighty Kobolds, Master of all Broken Lands, in honour of the Immortals who created the Great Crater, do hereby establish our new throne in Kolossopolis, at the centre of said Great Crater. Further, we also do declare Thar the Despot and his followers outlaws to be brought before us dead or alive for immediate torture, dismemberment, fair trial."
II. "We, King Thar, True Ruler of the Broken Lands, have moved our winter camp to the mountains between Ylaruam and Soderfjord. We declare open the season for plunder among the human villages. Food and slaves are to be distributed among everyone at the winter camp. Gold is to be used to lure, enslave, fairly recruit of new orc tribes. When our arms are strong again, our steel plentiful, and our war machines rebuilt, we shall march again against Kol the Usurper and his vile followers. The warrior breaking his scrawny kobold neck will be awarded rulership of his ancestral domain. Thus said Thar the Great."
III. "We, Kol XIV, do accept the terms of the Glantrian treaty, whereby in exchange for an end to seasonal raids from the Broken Lands into Glantrian territories, we, Kol XIV, are hereby and forever granted Glantrian Principalities of Blackhill and Caurenze, said principalities to be renamed South Kolland, and wherefore the hereditary title, rights, honours, and full authority as a legitimate Prince of Glantri, as well as a permanent seat at the Glantrian Council. We, Kol XIV, shall also retain sole and independent control over the Broken Lands and the Great Crater."
Pest! Rodents, I say. Humanoids are a nuisance that can only be destroyed or enslaved for the good of a greater race. Quiet, Azor! Sit still unless you desire to feel the pain of my tentacles boring through your shrivelled little brain.
Either these Glantrians are manipulating this pretentious kobold, or they are fools. Who are these people? I haven't found much on them yet. Azor, bring me this ebony disk, over there.
Animated Magical Runes, a Glantrian wizard's diary
"So, they hate the werewolves? So much the better. It will keep the commoners away. I have no sympathy for those cursed with lycanthropy, but one must admit they do know their business. No one who isn't part of their circle ever intrudes upon them. Aah, I wished my invisible servants and my magical wards could think as keenly and as quickly as this howling bunch. Why, no later than this morning, an impudent merchant came up to my tower to peddle his goods - enchanted clothing that never soils nor rips. Peh, mere trinkets, a produce from the students' ill-conceived experiments at the School of Magic. The wretch wouldn't stop ringing my bell. I had to leave my work causing my brew to sour and turn to slime. I bestowed upon the impudent a magical quest to forever peddle his goods to Henri d'Ambreville, a rival colleague of mine.
"So, the Council of Glantri awarded the werewolves their own principality? Well, that's just fine with me! It can't be worse than the Principality of Boldavia - the place is rampant with vampires and other undead. I hear that travellers and merchants are always welcome there. At least one does not have to lose sleep every full moon. A little garlic here, a few more wards there, and a wizard can live a quiet life of research and enlightenment.
"And that kobold buffoon from South Kolland. What a scandal! If the Council really thinks this feeble attempt will stop the orc raids into Glantri, they are utter fools. I already have a dungeon full of those bumbling orcs - they drive all the good monsters away! How can a wizard now find decent spell components? I'm sure someone at the Council was paid off to vote for that kobold - it's got to be that mad d'Ambreville again. Where will he stop? Accepting a pretentious kobold as the peer of Wizard Princes! Ha! What a sorry joke indeed...
"Nevertheless, those who will never be stopped are these blasted tax collectors. I know they are watching me, from over there, hidden in their dark tower. I despise their obtrusive bureaucracy and their right to intrude, to spy, to coerce, and to extort, all in the name of the Council of course! Everything requires a license, from running a tavern to casting spells in public, owning monsters, and building dungeons. Everything is regulated and controlled. This is a nation of wizards, created by wizards for wizards, and yet this nation feels compelled to protect itself from the magic its very own citizens. They bleed us dry, these princes.
"Aha! But I know something they don't. I know there is an arcane power within the principalities. It ebbs and flows from under the capital city. I discovered it last year. It made me sick at first, delirious even. It gave me dreams of awesome creatures made of glowing fire. In my dreams, they told me how to build a special scrying device. From it, I can now hear the voices of others who, like me, have discovered the force that radiates from the very City of Glantri. I known not who they are, just like they are unaware of each other's identities. But like me, they study the force. It leads to immortality they say. It gives a wizard greater magical prowess. But I known someone or something ghastly hides behind it, quietly watching, manipulating, plotting."
Now, this is more like it. Here is a place that shows true potential. Let's see about this Glantrian land. Yes, my crystal ball will do perfect. I can now see the clouds swirling. There. Here it is. Strange, the city has no streets, only watery canals with a chaotic jumble of gondolas, row boats, and rafts. I can see a range of mountains in the east, high and jagged. A river flows from the north into the city but the city seem to have more water in its canals than the river can provide. Oh, I see now. There are small gates opening into the elemental plane of water strewn about the bottom of the main canals. Inventive, these Glantrians.
Yes, it is here. I can feel it now, the echo that the Elder sensed. It comes from this place. Someone there is being very indiscreet. I think it is time for me to see who lies there. Azor, light these two candles. They will open the gate to this place - Mystara. Good. Now come with me. Let us visit this School of Magic. It seems like as good a place as any to start. A sudden craving for Glantrian delectable grey matter titillates my intellect. I can already taste the crackle of my prey's nervous synapses collapsing under the strain of my superior brain waves. Azor, my servant, let us go at once!
. . . . . . . .
What? It is a trap! How dare they? Back up! Back up!
. . . . . . . .
...Now, now, children! Be very careful with this sort of magic! It is not because you've just begun your second year at School of Magic that you should go about inconsiderately using summoning spells.
Today we shall study creatures from the outer planes. This morning, I have attracted a creature of great mental prowess. Well, not as great as ours of course. I have placed it in this large crystal jar to preserve its flesh, along with that of its kobold servant.
Observe the purple flesh and the bulging octopus-like head. This is called an illithid. The large white eyes give it infravision. Also notice the three reddish fingers on its hands. ...Tommy! Stop this at once! Don't poke at the creature with your wand and put the lid back on the crystal!
What was I saying? Ah, yes. Look at the deadly tentacles where the mouth should be. The creature uses them to bore into its victims' heads and eat their brains. But this is nothing compared to what it can do with its own psionic thoughts. In an instant, the creature can literally destroy your brain. And who will tell me what illithid ichor is used for, hmmm?
...Very good, Tommy. Yes, illithid is used in the brewing of potions of ESP. Now open your monstrous manuals on page 251, at the picture showing the Illithid. I want you to study its internal organs and read the chapter on the ecology of the illithid. Tomorrow we shall dissect the head, so bring your lab coats and be on time. Come one now, you've got work to do. And don't be late!