[See here Mystara: History of a Myth – first part]
We were speaking about Mystara and, we could say, of its uniqueness within the vast panorama of campaigns and settings developed in the space of about a quarter of century by the TSR (just to stay within the most well-known role-playing game in the world). On the one hand the setting has strong and very classic fantasy connotations, with the magic that permeates the world, the varied monsters and the fantastic races that inhabit the emerged and submerged lands, his intrigues, empires at war, etc. In short, all the best of the most classical repertoire of the fantasy genre.  On the other hand, however, peculiarities and specificities emerge that make it an absolutely unique setting.
First, Mystara has no gods and a defined and “closed” pantheon composed by immortal, powerful and omniscient entities to govern the fabric of the world and to supervise the men (or animals). Mystara has the Immortals. The difference is by no means trivial and irrelevant and, indeed, perhaps this is really the most important aspect that differentiates it from other settings. The Immortals are in fact the intermediate result of a long evolutionary process that, in the intentions of the true ancestors of the Multiverse , the Old Ones , is aimed at their numerical growth . The world is an endless laboratory and the life of every living being is conceived as a test and not an end in itself. Each one is granted the opportunity to reach the status of Immortal, through a life of adventure and the consequent growth of personal power. Obviously not all taking the hero’s journey are granted this privilege. Of them, several dozen in millennia of history (probably) only two or three, at most, were elevated to the rank of Old One: decreeing in fact the end of the game ! Yes, this is another strange and probably unique aspect of Mystara. A mechanical rule essentially define the endgame, for a game genre that in its very conception should have no real end!
Another highly distinctive aspect of Mystara is its geographical vastness and the presence of countless races and species that have given such a high multicultural tone, comparable only to our world, considering its history as a whole. In Mystara there are kingdoms and cultures so different from each other to create a sort of multicolored puzzle , so inconsistent and incredible, but so fascinating too, that it became the hallmark of the entire setting. If we consider also that only one of the three major continents , which account for about 80% of the land of Mystara, was described (and only in part), while leaving the creative freedom to individual Dungeon Masters to create the rest of the world, we understand well what is even today the intrinsic potential of this setting .
Add to it, in the end, the Hollow World, smaller but of comparable size, and created inside the Known World by the Immortals, as a kind of big zoo where to put races and cultures disappeared from the surface world .
Finally, and this is the aspect that I personally find most attractive and intriguing, Mystara had even alien contacts throughout its history and it is thus capable to expand in every direction of the fantasy genre: from classic Tolkienesque to science contamination (Star Wars or the Burroughs novels, for instance), from Howardian heroic fantasy to Lovecraftian horrors .
For sure and I conclude, Mystara is not a setting fated to annoy rpg aficionados, whether Dungeon Masters or Players, even after a long stretch of time, but rather will always be able to renew itself as long as it finds support in the base of its many admirers and in the imagination of its players .
of EPK Team
- It’s a way to define the High Fantasy sub-genre : an example is Dragonlance, several people using magic, clerics healing with a touch and so on. Mystara and OD&D/BECMI have this kind of magic or more. The Lord of the Rings is NOT High Fantasy: few magical objects (usually very old, e.g. Sting from Gondolin in the First Age), few people using magic, always related with Elves (Aragorn and the Mouth of Sauron had elven ancestors) or bad and good superiors beings (Gandalf and the Istari, Sauron). There are many other genres, see in internet: some examples are Heroic/Epic (Howard of Conan the Barbarian), Gothic/Horror (Lovecraft), Science (Cyberpunk or others already mentioned), Steampunk, Supernatural and Sword and Sorcery.
- The set of worlds, parallel universes and planes of existence that make, together, the fantastic universe of Dungeons & Dragons.
- The are some possibly confusing names in Mystara: The Old One(s) / The Ancient(s), e.g. The Valley of the Ancients in Blackmoor and various Immortal names.
- The Immortals know nothing of this, it’s legendary stuff like for the mortals to know how you become an Immortal, with a difference: the mortals know more, they know that you can become Immortal (e.g. the Traladaran Pantheon), while the Immortals debate but have no real clue of the existence of the Old Ones. Of them we have a few hints from the Master boxed set only. What we put here are our own ideas, discussed in several of our posts: Mystara’s Enemy Number One, The Return of the Egg and The Elemental Evil in Mystara.
- Some hypotheses are the mysteriously “disappeared” Immortals (“Immortali scomparsi” chapter in the Codex Immortalis of Marco Dalmonte; you can find an English translation out there).
- Cultural bias and Immortals help to maintain artificial differences between Egyptians, Vikings, Arabians, Native Americans, … We will speak more in the future about the differences between Immortals.
- The major emerged lands of Mystara are the continents of Brun, Davania and Skothar. We know quite a lot, if not all, of Brun, very little of Davania and almost nothing of Skothar. Other equally important areas are the island–continents of Alphatia, Bellissaria and other smaller islands.
- On www.pandius.com many fan works tried to fill the immense gap left by the authors. Among the most valuable and influential, I emphasize the work of the staff of Threshold Magazine
- Technically the cultures about to disappear, such as some Air gnomes from Serraine: the Immortals caught them in flight and they are now in Oostdock. Immortals usually do not resurrect / recreate, by choice, like Blackmoor: interestingly they seem not to have prevented the destruction of other technological races (e.g. the Meks’ insectoid creators) or be hostile to them (e.g. the Oards of M5) or, also, have them changed before bringing them in Hollow World, e.g. the Shiye-Lawr elves that had once technological automata and think they still do but it’s Immortal magic now. Sometimes they are less strict for loyal and religious cultures, e.g. they permit the automata of the Nithian Artificers.
- The Oards are actually aliens and manipulators of time and space. There is no mention if they were competing or hostile to the aliens fallen on Blackmoor or the creators of Meks, there is a lot of space (and time) for some nice adventures!