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Tieflings in Mystaraby Joe Not Charles
On the Mystara-4E mailing list we were talking about adapting Tieflings to Mystara, and the consensus was that if you didn't want to modify the world to make them a major part of it, you could still allow them as a player option by saying that the Tiefling homeland is off in one of the unmapped areas, and any player that wants to play a Tiefling is a wanderer far from home.
But over the weekend I read over the 4e adventures in Dungeon #155, and I realized that new 4e adventures are going to be chock full of Tieflings, often treated as unremarkable members of society, so treating them this way means you give up all chance of using new material (or at least it will be a lot of extra work to adapt). So I think it would be worthwhile to come up with a better defined role for Tieflings in Mystara.
The obvious thing to do is duplicate the standard Tiefling background with the names changed, by adding a new fallen human empire. The problem with this is that Mystara already has several fallen human empires, so adding another one is a lot of duplication, especially if "this one's where the Tieflings come from" is the only hook. Another problem is that just dropping the standard 4e flavor into Mystara unchanged doesn't make very good use of the setting.
Here's a suggestion for a standard Tiefling with a Mystaran twist:
We know that the Nithian Empire extended a long way south and west of modern Ylaruam. Let's say that it also extended north over what's now the Heldann Freeholds, perhaps even as far as southern Norwold. This area was called Sakaria (from the RW Sakkara, but softened slightly to make the Nithian connection less obvious). As the worship of death spread over Nithia, it took hold in Sakaria as well, but before the end the local rulers and priests rebelled and turned away from the death cult. The Immortals' curse fell on Nithia, obliterating the empire and all memory of it, but Sakaria was spared. The Sakarians memories were modified by the Immortal spell so that as far as anyone could remember the Heldann area was the seat of the independant Sakarian Empire, not merely a Nithian province.
However, Ranivorus was angered that his followers had abandoned him in order to save themselves, and enacted his own spell on the Sakarians, cursing their bodies to twist into bestial and demonic forms. The Sakarian Empire lasted a generation longer than the Nithian, but Ranivorus' curse caused it too to fall. Nowadays the ruins of an ancient civilization dot the Heldann Freeholds, and local legend says that it was once a powerful empire which was cursed because it abandoned its gods. The farmers and herdsmen who live there now shun these ruins, and point to this, and to the plight of the local Tiefling population as an example of the folly of submitting to a ruler's yoke. (Once the Heldannic Knights gain power they will doubtless start a systematic campaign to explore and plunder them.)
Mystaran Tieflings are based in the Heldann Freeholds, where they are able to live apart from others, but after the fall of Sakaria many moved away from the area hoping to escape the curse and established settlements throughout the rest of the Known World. This history means that gnolls and other worshippers of Ranivorus are a special enemy of "apostate" Tieflings, but Ranivorus is constantly trying to corrupt them and lead them back into the fold so there are many who follow him. It also adds some nice colour to the Heldann area, with modern independant folk settling between and among the relics of an ancient civilization. It provides another point of entry into the Nithian mystery, whose main problem has always been that if the Immortals really obliterated all memory of it how can players find out the history of any relics they find - now they can find connections to the Sakarian Empire, whose fate is well known, and then discover that this was really just a small part of a much larger empire. And it gives the Tieflings a better connection to existing Mystaran concepts.
I came up with this while making notes on adapting the adventure Heathen, which takes place in the default 4E setting: a borderlands area of scattered towns where there was once a human empire. This background works well for both Tieflings in general and this adventure in particular, so adopting will give a good path to adapting any 4E material that uses the "fallen empire of Nerath" as a background detail" - set it in the Heldann Freeholds and use the Sakarian Empire as a replacement for Nerath.
A second option uses even more Mystaran concepts - use Diaboli instead. They can have the same stats as 4e Tieflings, but the background is that several years ago (long enough for them to become known but not too common) a large clan of Diaboli was driven from their home by a great crisis, so dire that the only way to escape it forever was to flee not just their home plane but their home universe. In a harrowing journey they managed to cross the dimensional barrier and settle on Mystara. We know that Diabolus explorers are occasionally found in the Astral Plane and the Outer Planes, so they know how to cross from the Dimension of Nightmares to our world, and they fit many of the Tiefling characteristics - they look like demons, but they aren't evil although they have an alien viewpoint and are easily misunderstood. Since Diaboli find inhabitants of our world just as frightening as we find them, the psychology of a Diabolus adventurer would be intriguingly different from a Tiefling, but they still fill much the same role - shunned and distrusted by the superstitious, but enough of them have proved themselves heroic that most people know they aren't evil demons despite their looks.
This definitely gives a uniquely Mystaran twist on the "Tiefling", but it doesn't really explain why Diaboli would have spread throughout the Known World instead of staying in one community after arriving on Mystara. Perhaps several rival clans were all forced to flee through the same portal and as soon as they arrived, their hatred of each other forced them to spread out and put a lot of distance between them. They may also have wanted to move away from their arrival point (which they would have kept strictly secret from this world's inhabitants) in case their mysterious enemy followed them through. Also Diaboli have an urge to explore (or at least, enough of one that they send exploration parties into this dimension) so they may have been driven to explore this new world despite the benefits of keeping to themselves in isolated communities.
Bonus points if the Diabolus landfall was far to the north, in the Wyrmsteeth Range, and was accompanied by a trauma which caused many of the indigenous dragonborn to move south as well, explaining their presence in the Known World too.