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Time Travelling in Mystaraby John Calvin from Threshold Magazine issue 12
Time Travelling in Mystara
By John Calvin
While the history of Mystara makes it a much richer world, it is a treasure that is rarely experienced by the majority of its players. Dungeon Masters may know about the struggles between the Azcans and the Oltecs, how Blackmoor’s folly caused fire to rain down upon Mystara, and even perhaps of dark saurian beings that the immortals fear enough to lock away in a prison plane. How many Players know how Zendrolion I won his empire, or how Ilsundal led his people from Vulcania to the Sylvan Realm, or that large portions of southern Brun fell beneath the sea long ago?
Yes, there are many adventures that deal with legends, but truth be told most Player Characters are too busy dealing with current events to worry about what happened to their game world thousands of years ago. What if all of those fantastic stories, those rumors and legends, could be more than just window dressing? What if the Players could actually experience those ancient places and cultures, and all of the wonders… and horrors… that they contained first hand?
Perhaps they can…
Perils of Time
Before exploring possible modes of time travel, we should perchance ask ourselves why we might want to send our Player Characters on adventures throughout the eons, and how such adventures might affect our beloved era of modern day Mystara…
Why visit other times?
The Groundwork is Laid
Lots of the work has already been done for us. Many of those adventure modules you have lying around, already have detailed legends about the past. All of that information, upon which the foundation of the adventure must be built, is ripe for the picking. What ancient culture built the pyramids that the PCs are now exploring?
Answering these questions (the author believes), is probably the greatest impetus for the creation of the Hollow World Campaign setting. It is quite clear from the existence of such a setting that other authors and game designers have been searching for ways to bring the rich history of Mystara back to life for PCs to experience directly… however we don’t need to relegate such adventures to the confines of the Immortal’s museum. With time travel, PCs can experience not only the cultures of the past, but the actual events that made those cultures interesting in the first place!
On Mystara, there may be other compelling reasons to visit the past. The Immortals, especially those of the Sphere of Time make all ages in Mystara history their concern. Not only the Immortals, but mortal candidates in the Sphere of Time must also travel time in order to complete their trials.
How will time travel affect the present?
One question that we all must ask about time travellers, especially if we are concerned about (and wish to continue using) the modern era setting, is how will the actions of time travelling PCs affect the present day?
Time Doesn’t want to Change
Many of the PC’s actions may have little to no long term impact on the modern era of your favorite game world. Stopping a thief, clearing out a dungeon full of goblins, or even killing a dragon, may not be significant enough to alter the course that history plays out.
On the other hand, imagine what would happen if the PCs prevented General Zendrolion from murdering the kings of Thyatis, Ochalea, and the Pearl Islands at the signing of the Treaty of Edairo. What would the modern world look like if the PCs reverted the corruption of Nithia, or prevented the Great Rain of Fire from ever happening!
It may not be possible for PCs to change world shattering events such as these… or if they do, those changes may not last forever. Time itself may not want to change. Perhaps the PCs stop Zendrolion, but Lucinius had the same plan all along. Likewise, the PC’s actions may postpone the corruption of Nithia or the destruction of Blackmoor for decades, or even centuries… but at some point (well after the PCs are gone) those events will still take place. When the PCs return to their own time, they may notice little more change than a slight variation in a way the old legends are told.
History as a Backdrop
Another, less intrusive, way to adventure in time, is to use alternate eras merely as backdrops to the real adventures being run. PCs might enjoy traveling back in time to ancient Taymora, having to struggle to survive in an era dominated by nosferatu nobles, vampire vassals, and entire nations devoted to serving them. Perhaps they need to gather the blood of the first werewolf ever created on Mystara1, or maybe their immortal patron has sent them to vanquish a particularly evil vampire queen and bring back the golden relic that hangs from her neck. Throughout their travails the PCs experience earthquakes, storms, and even volcanic eruptions. They may be able to accomplish their tasks and successfully complete their missions… but they shouldn’t be able to stop Taymora from sinking beneath the waves.
Time is Fluid
Enterprising DMs may take a more dynamic route, though with it comes much more work and preparation. Perhaps the PC’s actions in the past can alter their own timelines, either for better or worse. A band of brave adventurers may perform heroic deeds in the past only to find that upon returning to their own time they are met with a disastrous and dire future. Extrapolating the results of a fluid timeline may be done on the fly, or even determined beforehand and tied to specific goals accomplished by adventurers in the past. Regardless of what happens to the PC’s own present era, and whether those results are desirable or not, there is always a way for them to fix it… they just have to go back in time and “repair” whatever it was that they broke.
Instance of Travel
In fact there are already adventures set in Mystara that take time travel into consideration. In DA1 - Adventures in Blackmoor, modern Mystaran adventurers can travel back in time through the Comeback Inn, an ancient building that serves as a portal through time from the founding of Blackmoor to the unseeable future of the world. But the Comeback Inn is but one example of the modus operandi that can send Players hurtling through time… perhaps we can discover a few more.
Said to be able to cross any barrier of distance, and possibly even time itself, the Stone Toad has left a trail of misery in its wake throughout the ages. Created by unknowable creatures even before elves first walked the planet, the Toad has found its way into horror stories and hauntings told by innumerable cultures across Mystara, from the Lhomarrians and Blackmoor, all the way to present day Karameikos and Rockhome. Through all the stories, one thing remains constant - whoever uses the Stone Toad is cursed to bring misery to all they touch thereafter.
The Stone Toad appears to be a statue of a sitting toad made from the blackest basalt. It is 10' wide by 15' long and stands at a height of 10' tall. Eroded by the ages, the features of the toad can barely be made out, although if one stares long enough at its form, bulbous eyes sitting atop a round head, and a wart covered back can be discerned. The basalt itself is coarse and pockmarked, and various portions appear to have been eaten away by acid. Although the Stone Toad appears to be a solid statue, it is in fact hollow.
The inner dimensions of the vessel are somewhat distorted and slightly larger than they should be. Thirteen divots along the ceiling (the largest warts on the toad's back) are lined with spherical iron cages, each fused into the surrounding basalt. In the center of the chamber is a chest high pillar upon which rests an onyx heart nearly a foot in diameter.
Life must be consumed in order to power this fiendish vessel. For thirteen nights, when the darkest hour is marked, the Stone Toad issues forth its siren song, summoning a single lantern archon within its presence. For reasons unknown, lantern archons find the Toad irresistible, and always investigate the object eventually floating near its head. It is then that the Toad strikes. Its eyes alight with blue hellfire, the Toad's mouth opens and a tongue of dark force lashes out to capture the unsuspecting archon. Consumed archons find themselves trapped within one of the iron cages inside the vessel.
Once thirteen archons have been captured, the Stone Toad is fully powered and can jump to another location. A user communicates a destination to the Toad by grasping the onyx heart and creating a mental depiction of the desired location. With each beat of the stone heart, the lantern archons begin to dim, and one by one lose both their light and their life. When the last archon has faded away the Toad stands in its new location.
Gate of Light
Constructed in BC 23192 by dwarves living in what would later be Rockhome and the Northern Reaches, the Gate of Light was designed to be a portal leading back to their ancestral lands3. Though none survived the destruction of Blackmoor in the Great Rain of Fire, those dwarves lucky enough to be outside the blast radius never forgot where they came from. Longing to return to the lands of their forefathers, the dwarves of the Shimmering Lands created a massive techno-magical archway that could take them home. Though a powerful artifact, the Gate of Light did not operate quite as expected, being infused with the very energies that caused the destruction of Blackmoor centuries before.
The Gate of Light is a massive stone archway extending well over ten leagues in length from the base of one foot to the other. Wreathed in metal and dripping with pipework and wires, glowing runes adorn its surface, insuring that the surrounding region is constantly bathed in greenish-blue light, even when the moon is new. Around the southeastern foot is the city of Himnem, a mecca for dwarven radiomancers and their twisted experiments.
Originally built on the Bridge of Oost, an ancient land bridge connecting the Known World to the Isle of Dawn, the Gate of Light has long since disappeared from modern view. Advancing oceans consumed the Gate of Light, at the same time forming the island nation of Ostland. Though submerged in the modern era4 the Gate of Light remains relatively intact, and may be sought out by those adventurers with enough historical knowledge to know where it lies… and with a means to visit it beneath the waves.
Unknown to most, even to the powerful radiomancers who constructed it, the Gate of Light is not only a portal through space, to the ancestral dwarven lands in Skothar, but in time as well. The gate is keyed to open up to a time shortly after the Great Rain of Fire. Radiance from that time powers the artifact, seeping into its very core over a period of a single year, until there is enough energy to physically open the Gate. Once charged, the Gate’s portal remains open for a single month before the energies are drained.
Should an archmage powerful enough in the art of radiomancy find and open the Gate of Light’s portal, they may be able to alter its timestream just enough to shift it to before the Great Rain of Fire. How long before the catastrophe would be hard to know, but the Gate could prove a semi-reliable means of traveling to the age of Blackmoor.
Soul Gems (and reincarnation)!
Soul gems can be found far in the bowels of Mystara’s Shadowdeep, and have existed since the Great Rain of Fire… and perhaps even before. Shadow Elf tales paint the Soul Gems as receptacles for elven souls, sheltering elven spirits after death and providing them sanctuary until they can be born once again into elven bodies. Shadow Elf shamans know the truth however, that the crystals are little more than a repository for the latent radiance energy that permeates the depths. So they believe.
Indeed there is some amount of truth to the old Shadow Elf legends, for some rare soul gems5, imbued with both the World Shield ore and magic of the Immortals, do shepherd chosen souls throughout the ages.
True soul gems appear much as their mundane counterparts, with one major difference. At their core, beneath layers of shimmering translucence, lies a metallic-crystalline shape, often in the form of an animal or magical beast.
Individuals bound to a particular soul gem are always born with that gem’s totem as a birth mark somewhere on their bodies. Soul gems are typically passed along through the ages down a family line, though they need not be tied to a specific bloodline and in fact often shepherd souls through diverse lineages. They must however, be present at the time of death in order to gather the departed’s spirit, just as they must be present during birth in order to pass a shepherded spirit into a new body.
In this fashion a Player may continue playing (at least the essence) of their character through many lifetimes and across many ages. Time travel of this fashion generally only runs forward, from the past to the future, though hiccups in the time stream could cause a soul to travel in either direction, past or future. Reborn characters may begin to recall aspects and memories of their former lives, however skills and abilities are always tied to their current incarnated bodies.
1See Treatise on Lycanthropy
2See the Mystara BC 2300 Campaign Setting, and Gaz BC1, The Shimmering Lands for more information on the Gate of Light.
3Probably one of the mountain ranges surrounding the Kingdom of Blackmoor
4Modern shorelines in the Known World would have been fully formed circa BC 1700, probably shortly after the sinking of Taymora.
5Such gems might be tied to the Dragonstones of Thorn’s Mystara. See more of RobJN’s work at the Vaults of Pandius, and on the Piazza.