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by John Calvin from Threshold Magazine issue 3

Of Pirates, Merchant-Princes and Sea Monsters

The Sea of Dread. For those living on or near the coastal waters off the shores of southern Brun, the name evokes darkness, danger, and terrors unknown. The Sea of Dread is treacherous, and vast… and even those of us who only write tales about it have experienced its terrible grandeur.

Although I have been a fan of Mystara for as long as I can remember, and even contributed to fanzines like the Tome of Mystara in the past, nothing could have prepared me for traversing these uncertain waters in Threshold Issue #3. When I began my journey in November by asking the community for contributions, I wasn’t sure we would have an issue at all. My fear was that the grand onslaught of holidays fastly approaching would drown out anyone’s time, enthusiasm, and energy to prepare an article for submission, and when I had to extend the proposal deadline by two weeks in December, my fears seemed to be proving true. As we approached the final deadline in late January, still with no manuscripts submitted, I was very worried indeed. I was sure we wouldn’t have more than 20 pages to put in this issue.

That couldn’t have been further from the truth. When storms hit in the Sea of Dread, they hit hard, and final manuscripts began to pour in just as I had lost all hope. Instead of the drought I feared however, I was presented with a maelstrom of biblical proportions. It soon became clear that we had too much material to fit into a single issue. In fact we may have too much material to fit into two issues… but we are going to try to do it!

In this issue we’ll sail through the waters of Minrothad and Ierendi, delving into their past and exploring how those two countries developed into the nations they are today. We will set foot on the strange shores of the Thanegioth Archipelago meeting some of their twisted inhabitants, cross swords with pirates and catch glimpse of the dangerous game they play. We’ll discover plots in Minrothad, see the rise of the Firelord, and much, much more. But our adventures won’t end there. The Sea of Dread will return in Issue #4, where our adventures across these treacherous waves will continue.

I think when all of this is over, I’m going to need a vacation. Hmmm… I hear Bararna Island is nice this time of year.

John Calvin (Chimpman)

Editor-in-chief, Threshold Issue #3

Remembering Aaron Allston

Aaron Allston was a fundamental part of the world of Mystara as we at Threshold have come to know it, in addition to being a great creative mind and prolific writer outside of the RPG industry. He will be missed, but not forgotten.

Allen Varney originally shared some thoughts about Aaron on Google+ and was kind enough to allow us to reprint them here.

Allen Varney, Feb 27, 2014

(originally shared on Google+)

Novelist and game designer Aaron Allston has died in Branson, Missouri, age 53. Cause of death is currently unknown, but Aaron suffered a massive heart attack in March 2009 and bouts of poor health thereafter. Aaron was an endlessly inventive creator, one of the best roleplaying gamemasters ever, a mordant authority on bad films, and a rare wit.

Though he later became well known for his many licensed tie-in novels for Star Wars, Terminator, and other franchises, Aaron started in the plantation fields of gaming, editing Space Gamer magazine for Steve Jackson Games and writing a lot for Car Wars. He achieved early stardom in roleplaying games with his standout work for Champions and the Hero System; his Lands of Mystery lost-worlds supplement for Justice Inc. pioneered the idea of tailoring rules and setting to match genre conventions. Aaron's Strike Force remains, after decades, one of the most engaging and thoroughly grounded treatises on the development and maintenance of a long-term campaign. He wrote from experience, having refereed three different years-long Hero campaigns with months-long waitlists.

Equally recognized for his extensive contributions to BECMI-series Dungeons & Dragons, Aaron wrote hugely for the Known World (later christened "Mystara"), and he edited the fondly remembered Rules Cyclopedia. His AD&D Dungeon Master's Design Kit was an amazing toolbox, one of the first of its kind, and his Complete Fighter's Handbook set the tone for the long-running AD&D 2e "Player's Handbook Reference" series.

Aaron also contributed to several computer RPGs from Origin Systems, including the "Worlds of Ultima" games Savage Empire and the primordial steampunk precursor Martian Dreams. He brought his highly developed sense of genre conventions to a company best known for open-ended worlds. The combination was an artistic success but a financial disappointment. Though he worked intermittently in computer games throughout the '90s, Aaron seldom played them himself and never really warmed to the field.

In 1988 Aaron turned to novels with Web of Danger, a tie-in for TSR's Top Secret S.I. RPG line. A decade later he started writing for the Star Wars X-Wing novel line almost by accident. His X-Wing predecessor, Michael A. Stackpole, recommended Aaron to his Bantam Books editor as a likely candidate to continue writing the series. After Mike and the editor both left the line, the next editor saw Aaron's name and assumed he had already been chosen. Months later the new editor called Aaron's agent and asked "How's Aaron coming along on the new X-Wing book?" Huh, whah? In two days Aaron put together an outline for his seventh novel, Wraith Squadron, and then wrote the book at speed against a ferocious deadline. He went on to write a dozen more.

Aaron enjoyed a high reputation among connoisseurs of Star Wars fiction. He once told me he seemed to be everyone's third-favorite Star Wars author -- every reader had two top faves, always different, but they all had Aaron in the #3 spot.

Aaron's non-licensed novels include Galatea in 2-D and a delightful pulp-faerie mashup, Doc Sidhe. (The sequel is Sidhe-Devil.) In recent years Aaron had turned to short fiction and was excited with the success he'd found contributing to several high-profile small-press anthologies.

A lifelong lover of genre film, Aaron made a foray into screenwriting and directing in 2005 with the zombie rom-com Deadbacks. He assembled dozens of friends and local actors as a full-on low-budget indie production company, and they filmed for a couple of months of weekends on a friend's farmland in Lockhart, Texas. He completed production, but the project died in editing. It would be nice to think that fun and funny film, like its ever-hopeful undead farmhand characters, might rise again. It is so sad Aaron won't.

Inside Cover Illustration Text

On the Shores of the Island of Dread (by I. Calvin): This piece was commissioned several months ago from my daughter, who up until that point had never seen the cover of X1 (either version). I gave her a vague description about a knight fighting a T-Rex on the shores of a jungle island, and this is what she came up with. Only after the piece was completed, did I show her the originals. I think she’s done them justice!

- John Calvin

Back Cover Text

The Sea of Dread - these dark tempestuous waters loom off the southern coast of Brun, a raging force of nature that has shaped many of the nations in the Known World. Many of us have set sail upon these waters before, featured in adventure modules from X1 - The Isle of Dread, XSOLO - Lathan’s Gold, X7 - The War Rafts of Kron, and many more.

These waters hold dangers both above and below the surface. Pirates from Ierendi, the Shires, and even far away Alphatia terrorize the shipping lanes, while the Tritons of Twaelar and sea monsters extort and terrorize ships that sail in deeper waters near the Thangioth Archipelago and along the shores of Davania.

The third issue of Threshold the Mystara Magazine follows in the tradition of exploring the unknown waters of the Sea of Dread… a tradition that will be continued in the next issue when we return to these waters.