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Interview, continued

The Mystaran Almanac was originally conceived as a project to continue where TSR left off; that is, to produce material which the authors felt would be similar to where TSR would have gone, had they continued the line. However, the Almanac has matured, and has created a timeline of its own, far beyond where TSR might have taken it. In your opinion, what are the Almanac's "new" goals - where do you see it going?

Fabrizio: Well, that's a question you should ask to Herve. Seriously.

Every year, the Almanac is bigger than the year before. It's not just a collection of cohesive events, but a veritable atlas of Mystara that tries to cover all the planet, incorporating the new fan material.

Herve: As the almanac started, we [proceeded as though we were] TSR, in the hope that one day it may be printed by TSR, or used as a basis for official future almanacs. Since then though, we have realized that this is rather unlikely, so we also have taken some liberties and broadened the range of the almanac. Our goal is to create a coherent, possible future for Mystara. However, since TSR is no longer supporting Mystara, and unlikely to do so in the foreseeable future [with a new product line, Editor], it has become the sole responsibility of the fans to build the world of Mystara. The almanac, as a fan-generated work, follows this trend. Thus, the almanac does more than just invent a future; it also creates new elements, or incorporates those created by other fans. As a concrete example, the first almanac incorporated the NACE, and the second one developed little-known Davania. Expect the next almanacs to pursue that trend - in Davania, Hule, and the Hollow World in 1016, and even more later. Likewise, the almanac is evolving from a raw text yearly timeline to a nice yearly atlas with several sections, artwork and maps.

Geoff: I agree with your assessment entirely. Originally the goal had been to "keep the faith," as it were, but now I see the situation as being one in which we have exhausted most, if not all, of TSR's old plot leads. At most, large-scale threads started in the PWAs will likely have played themselves out by the end of AC 1017-1018; we will ultimately have to begin new story lines. With this in mind, I see the Almanac's goal as keeping the essential character of Mystara - with its plots, colourful characters, varied cultures, and high fantasy - intact, while injecting new story lines to showcase new dimensions to the world that readers might not have considered before. If even one DM, for example, were to start a whole campaign based on what I had written for Davania, then I will consider my duty successfully discharged. It's the ideas highlighting the character of Mystara, that's the thing.

Of course, the materials generated on the MML have a vibrance of their own, and they have their own important contributions to Mystara to make; keep an eye out for these as you read future issues of the Almanac.

Andrew: We have some overall goals, I think, as a group. I definitely have my own long-term goals for those areas that intrigue me, and I would bet the others do as well. At the same time, I try to keep myself open to the ideas of the rest out there, to accommodate others' tastes and also to keep some of the spontaneity. Generally, our individual interests seem to be rather exclusive, which gives us a degree of leeway to do what we want.

I don't think we have any overriding direction, except that we try to make things follow pretty naturally from previous events. In many cases, this has led to the almanac's timeline differing greatly from our own In fact, one of my favorite things to do is trying to tie in previous Mystaran history with current events, and I know the other authors have done it in various ways as well. At the same time, we've also tried to insert suggestions from the Mystara Mailing list as well. The first almanac was pretty big on this, using suggestions that had been made over the course of the year. Feedback and suggestions on the list haven't been quite as much since, but I think we try to incorporate those ideas quite a bit.

If we have one goal, I'd say it's just to keep Mystara vital and active by keeping these almanacs coming out year after year. Even if your campaign doesn't follow the timeline in the almanacs exactly (I don't think any of ours do), just providing some suggestions and "background filler" for someone's campaign can be a big help.

DM: It "boldly goes where no one has gone before," just to quote an old line. Its main goal is, I believe, to provide DMs with new campaign information, adventure ideas and as much useful gaming material as possible. The great thing with the almanac is that it offers many things to everyone without forcing anyone to accept everything that's in there. If you like some events, you can use them in your own campaign and you'll know how their outcome could be. You can use what you want and discard the rest. And it's always a good read; it's a well written sourcebook that mixes many different styles and point of views.

Our most important objective now is to detail the undetailed countries, hoping to leave enough room for DMs who want to expand Mystara on their own. Mapping the new undiscovered or underdeveloped regions of Mystara (Davania, Hule, Hollow World, Norwold and Skothar in the future) is our primary objective, but we won't forget the Old World, which remains the heart of Mystara.

Michael: The goals of the Almanac have always been to create a plausible future history for Mystara, as well as to incorporate ideas from as many people as possible. As for where do I see it going? I don't know. We've always taken the Almanac one year at a time as we have learned that to plan to far in advance just doesn't work. The only thing I can say for sure is that the goals will not change.

What does the Mystaran Almanac mean to you, personally?

Michael: I'm proud I started it, and I am glad to see that it is being kept alive by others. Like I said before, at first it was simply a small little timeline for my own campaign. I'm actually glad it spread to the MML and many people got aboard.

Unfortunately, I no longer have enough free time to work on the Mystaran Almanac. Still, I believe I have left it in capable hands (I'll be watching you, Herve!), and I do hope it will continue to thrive. Maybe one day I'll return and work on it again. And even though I'm no longer writing for the Almanac, I will definitely pay attention to how it grows. I just can't help it, since I've spent so much time working on it, I feel that it is a part of me.

Herve: Though Michael created the Mystaran Almanac, I feel it is my baby too, as I participated in its creation and have had a primary role since the beginning. The almanac is almost exclusively the only Mystaran work I do, and I am deeply involved in it as I am the "big boss" since Michael resigned. My best online friends are my fellow elders of the almanac.

Andrew: Role-playing in general has so long been a part of my life, it has certainly influenced me and structured my personality and creative processes. Mystara is easily the place that most exemplifies that, as it has been the primary source of my role-playing inspiration. For me, he Almanac is not only a source of fun and creative exercise, but it's also my way of giving back to something that has given me a lot of joy, and keeping it vital for others to discover and become involved with. That sounds corny, I know, but what can I say? I'm a sentimental sonuvagun.

Geoff: I see it as an opportunity to "do my part"; and I think the Almanac itself, and the people who work on it, have provided me with extra incentive and encouragement to share my work. I have lots of ideas - we all do - and I see this as my chance to share some of them with others; to show people aspects of various parts of Mystara they might not have considered before, such as Davania. I also see it as a regular celebration of our favourite gaming world - hordes of people contribute to its development, and I see it as our way of saying "thanks." In many ways, it is truly a creature of the MML now - the ultimate fan-generated product, if I may be so bold. The Almanac is also one of the forums in which I can work with some of my best e-pals on something that means a lot to all of us. If it weren't for this project, I might never have become so involved in Mystara.

Fabrizio: It means a lot. I've worked on it almost from the beginning. It is the most important Mystara project I've worked on, and I'm very sad that real life doesn't allow me to work on it as I used to. I'm proud of being one of the Almanac Elders.

DM: It is a way to express my ideas and to introduce other Mystarans to some of my campaigns' plots and NPCs. It is a way to continue playing with and working for a game that has given me - and continues to give me - many hours of fun and many friends. I feel honored to write for this game, but also see it as a sort of commitment, a duty I perform in order to thank Mystara (and Mystarans) for all the good that it brought into my life. For this reason I hope I won't leave the group till very far in the future. In the meantime, I'm enjoying my stay with the other Elders in Mystara's outer planes...

Past issues have given readers quite a few surprises (a new Sun for the Hollow World, and dead Glantrian princes come to mind). As we talk, the 1016 Almanac is about to be released; any clues about the upcoming volume? [Editor's Note: The 1016 Almanac was released 1 January, and is available here.]

Herve: The dead Glantrian princes were all resurrected in the Hollow World and now inhabit the new sun, which they will use to collide with the Floating Continent of Alphatia and destroy their enemies once and for all. No, I'm just kidding!

Seriously, I think the biggest surprise is the almanac's sheer size (over 500 pages), and the fact that it expands upon underused areas like Hule or Norwold. There are many other surprises, though. Expect, for example, some big changes in Thyatis, after it has had only defeat after defeat since the Great War. I've also heard about a pure and simple annexation of one of the Old World countries by another. A long-thought-deceased empire also make a come-back, either through inter-world contact, or through archaeological discoveries, or because of fiendish mortal and Immortal plots. Also, suns aren't the sole novelties: expect new races to appear, and old ones to come back to haunt you. This almanac, like the others before, won't let you down on surprises!

Michael: Dead Glantrian princes? What dead Glantrian princes? Oh, I see... because we say that someone is dead, you actually believe us... Pff...Sorry, can't reveal any clues.

Andrew: Glantri continues to be a hotbed for politics, with many changes and surprises on the way (I hope!). As for the dead princes, well, all I can say is that one of them has been dead before. Like they say in Marvel comics, "you can't be sure they're dead unless you see the body."

Speaking of political hotbeds, what's going on in Ethengar now that the Great Khan has passed away? Also, Sind is getting to be a more interesting place with the events of this almanac. I wasn't really a big fan of it, but having plotted the majority of the events there this year, I'm really starting to like the place. Look for some familiar and unsuspected people and things to pop up there.

DM: Well, every issue is a surprise for me, because I tend to refrain from reading the parts of the almanac I'm not involved in in order to be surprised by the events as much as the readers are, so I cannot tell you much on this.

Personally, I am trying to build up a huge campaign plot that will feature prominently in the next few almanacs, and together with Hervé and Geoff, we're working to make this a real epic campaign. I hope we'll manage it, although I cannot reveal anything more for now. The summary seems good so far, and we've already set things in motion in this (AC 1016) issue, so look for more in the next issues.

As for other things coming up this year, well, look for upheavals in the Old World policy, watch out for a big war somewhere up north, see how Immortals walk among us and can make a hell of a life to poor mortals, and finally, never underestimate the power of artifacts...

Geoff: Well, I can't speak for everyone, but I can tell the readers that they should be prepared for some surprises in the Hollow World, and in Davania. Not all is as it seems in either region. Norwold is also due for some surprises. Perhaps I should just say this overall: "That which is, may not be as it is now for long; that which once was, may be again."

Fabrizio: Top secret.

The Almanac proceeds on its own timeline, with its own events. However, each campaign is different, with PCs influencing the course and outcome of events. Can you give an example of how your personal view of Mystara differs from the "official" Almanac view?

DM: It doesn't: in fact, the Mystaran Almanac IS my campaign. Joking.

Actually, I tend to playtest the events I'll write for the almanac in my own campaign first, and then submit them to the almanac. But in some cases I changed things to better suit my campaign. For example, something that will happen this year in the almanac happened in my campaign in AC 1012, and something that was used in the almanac will never be featured in my campaign (i.e. this year's biggest political move). It happens even among us editors, so why not for the readers? As long as it keeps you and your friends satisfied, there's nothing wrong with toying with the almanac timeline and descriptions.

Geoff: Although my campaign is still in the year 1000, I have not decided yet whether I will run Wrath of the Immortals. Even if I do, I will not sink Alphatia; instead, I think I will use the alternate timeline for Alphatia that I posted on the Net a while back. I have also taken a different tack in terms of introducing the Shadow Elves to the surface world: The Second Shadow still exists, but the Shadow Elves are surfacing in other parts of the world, too. In some regions they have been welcomed, and in others rejected, but the way things are going now in my campaign, I think the Alfheim situation will differ from that given in the Almanac.

Andrew: My Mystara is more or less similar. I try to emphasize political skullduggery and the like over the sweeping wars that have been occurring so often since the Wrath of the Immortals set. In fact, to come back to an earlier question, one of the ends I think we are striving towards is to try and scale back on the warfare.

I would probably have some areas be a bit less active, either due to wanting events to occur differently (or not at all), or simply because I don't have a strong interest in those regions. For instance, my Norwold is somewhat different from what the Norwold guys are doing right now, mainly because in my campaign the rulers of the region are very different. Other regions, such as Davania, I haven't really done anything with in my campaigns, because they tend to be focused in the Old (aka, "Known") World regions. I wouldn't have sunken Alphatia, though. My views on that region follow roughly along the lines of Geoff Gander's alternate Alphatia view (though he put a lot more effort into fleshing that timeline out than I ever did).

Michael: Well, in my own campaign, I don't think I would have had the elven crusade into Denagoth, and naming the New Alphatian Empire into NACE is also a touchy subject. Aside from that, everything else we released so far would be pretty much acceptable... assuming of course my players didn't intervene.

Fabrizio:  Well, my campaign stopped right before WotI, so I haven't been able to test or modify Almanac events.

Herve: Unfortunately, my campaigns are stopped, and all of them at a pre-WotI [Wrath of the Immortals] stage. Yet you can see some elements of my campaigns (taken directly, or slightly changed to fit the almanac's timeline) appear in the almanac. However, some elements are also different, especially in Karameikos and the Thanegioth Archipelago, as one group adventured a lot to those places. In my campaign, a PC wed Adriana Karameikos, and was at the same time the king of Thanegioth; and both Oliver Jowett and the Black Eagle were dead.

At times, Mystaran fans can be quite political, generating huge debates over "Mystarapolitik," or what they believe are the core values of the world and its players. For example, Tome of Mystara stands for inclusion of all views of Mystara as equal. Is there any one statement or value which defines your view of Mystara?

Andrew: Probably "an experiment in divinity" which I mean that it is a world that could have been, that has been explored to various extents, and been built upon by a multitude of people. Playing around with it has been an incredibly fun pastime for me (and in a curious way has both influenced and been influenced by my educational background). The world that I have created has borrowed, stolen, incorporated, dismissed, and/or ignored the world views supplied by others, but I have nevertheless enjoyed reading about what everyone else has come up with for their own Mystara. It really has taken on a life of its own, in a sense, but one that is guided and set into motion by individual DMs and players.

Fabrizio:  Being one of the "Elders," I tend to consider the Mystaran Almanac as the canonic future; but I think everyone is free to shape his or her own Mystara.

Herve: I don't think I'm political enough about it to have a "motto." Though I favor an open Mystara, I tend to follow Mystaran canon myself, and as an almanac Elder, I usually consider the Mystaran Almanac the Mystaran future, allowing for less personal flexibility. My view would be, then, that Mystara (including, but not limited to, its future) is for the fans to shape and enjoy.

Geoff: Hmm...that's a tough question. I think the best way of expressing my own worldview is as follows: "All views are valid; all possible Mystaras exist. There is no 'one true Mystara' any more." The main thing is for all Mystara fans out there to be creative, to share their ideas with others on the MML or other fora, and to try to be willing to hear the other points of view out there.

Michael: The only thing I have to say to all the Mystara GMs out there is that it is the Mystara of your players. Listen to what they want and make your campaign accordingly, not to what you read on the net or by TSR.

That having been said, I follow canon [as a baseline] when my players do not get involved in shaping the world. It is easier to fall back to, especially if TSR publishes new material.

The other thing that has always annoyed me is the useless OD&D versus AD&D debate. Who really cares! If you play on Mystara, you are using the world of Mystara. To the people on the world of Mystara, they should simply be living their lives; the game rules should be invisible to them. If role-played correctly, the rules shouldn't even be mentioned. For them, they swing a sword, hit, and hurt the monster. They don't think that some entity made a hit-roll using a Thac0 or hit roll table, and did so much damage according to the weapon or weapon mastery or whatever. The rules are merely to help the GM decide on how things work. Some prefer the OD&D rules, some AD&D, and others use completely different rules for Mystara (I myself use GURPS). Whatever rules you use, you will not change the fact that Thyatis is an Empire, Eriadna is a powerful mage, or thieves run the city of Landfall. That is what Mystara is truly about. With a third Edition AD&D coming out, I bet this debate will get even to those of you who read this, don't bother arguing. Just let everyone use whatever rules they prefer. And when you want to write about something, use whatever rules you prefer. Enjoy Mystara for what it really is; a campaign setting, not rules.

DM: Yes: "The right path stands in the middle." It's good to show different points of view on different matters, but we must never forget what is good and what is evil in Mystara, and above all, we must never forget that only through balance can Mystara survive through the war between Good and Evil. So welcome the changes, as long as they do not make Mystara unrecognizable to the campaign lovers. That's the way I see it.

And that's all from our philosophy corner, guys.

Editor's Note: Many thanks to the editors of the Mystaran Almanac for such stimulating, and thought-provoking, interviews. We wish them all the best in their venture; may the Almanac delight Mystaran readers for years to come! - JFG

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