Friday, August 31, 2018

OSR Commentary - Skyships, Bruce Heard, Champions of Mystara,the OSR, & Beyond

"Developed from the original Dragon Magazine series, Champions of Mystara is a major compilation of the Princess Ark adventures, a magical flying ship that explores the World of Mystara. Discover the heroes of this legendary skyship, their deadly foes, and their wondrous ships. Packed with background information and adventure ideas, this set allows DMs and players to run a long-lasting, globe-trotting campaign based on a unique flying ship. Champions of Mystara goes an extra step and also provides experienced players with new rules on magical flying ship construction, operation, and movement. As a final gift, this set offers a Gazetteer developing the region west of the Known World, from the burning lands of Sind to the mysterious jungles of the Serpent Peninsula. A make-your-own world guide finally helps DMs expand the horizons of their favorite campaign world. "

Known as Bruce Heard's last voyage  on his impressive streak on 'The Known World' as developer Champions of Mystara remains one of my favorites of the "D&D Challenger" series for Black Basic or Mentzer Dungeons & Dragons.
It all started with the world  map from the  D&D Master Rules (1985) & it grew into a whole project to discredit that map by following the exploits of the  journal of Prince Haldemar of Haaken & his incredible sky ship The Princess Ark. Man I really used to look forward to Dragon Magazine to find the latest entries in the journals of Prince Haldemar. The box set Champanions of Mystara was packed with everything a dungeon master would need to run a campaign with a sky ship both in Mystara or their own home campaign setting. There's the infamous conversion rules for taking sky ships into the Spelljammer campaign setting. That being said I've been looking into possibly incorporating skyships into my own home campaign. Bruce Heard would later on find success again with the CAL1 Calidar, In Stranger Skies series of products 
Both of those books are for the Pathfinder & Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 style systems that being said they are very nice books. Yes I'm an OSR guy telling you to get one of the better 3rd party Pathfinder game series of campaign books & think that  CAL1 Calidar, In Stranger Skies series of products is a good marriage of both Heard's world building & design chops in one book.

While you can't specifically publish anything for Mystara except as fan reference for BECMI cyclopedia Dungeons & Dragons there is another option on the table. Once again Dark Dungeons from
Gurbintroll Games
is there with my skyship solution! Not only are there skyships but unlike Spelljammer these ships can hop the planes with easy. They've got all of the OSR rules laid out and that means that technically you could run the  CAL1 Calidar, In Stranger Skies series of products using this rules set with a bit of imagination. 

So why graviate toward a Pathfinder product with
Calidar, In Stranger Skies (2014)? Because Bruce Heard is someone I've met at GenCon back in 2006 after he revisited Mystara with
"Bruce Heard returned to the Voyages of the Princess Ark to write a 36th entry, which appeared in Dragon #344 (June 2006)."  More recently he tried to return to Mystara with Wizard's of the Coast's permission but that fell through according to the Champions of Mystara Drivethrurpg entry;

"Bruce Heard queried Wizards of the Coast to see if he could license Mystara and continues his Voyages of the Princess Ark. He was told that "any arrangement regarding Mystara was out of the question at this time" and that there "was no interest in anything involving a transfer of rights, a sale, a license agreement, a permission to publish, or any other option--as a matter of policy". He considered trying to write a Princess Ark without the setting details, but decided that would irrevocably damage it. So instead he created a new world in the style of Mystara and the Princess Ark. This new setting's first book was Calidar, In Stranger Skies (2014)."

So how do Skyships relate to OSR settings?! They can & should have a lot of impact on OSR campaigns. First of all the Europe of Lamentations of the Flame Princess might have such ships being built by renegade wizards who have the coffers of Europe on the chain. I came across a fan made Spelljammer set of rules for LoFP with a download copy of the rules. 


I can totally see the world of Dark Albion having had sky ships before the toll of the Hundred Years war empties the coffers of Europe perhaps as a remnant of the late Roman Empire or as the remains of some aspect of the Elves of that setting. But perhaps the Greys of that setting don't want to see the humans once again gain the knowledge to bring their ships into the skies of Albion.

Dark Albion's Cults of Chaos contains a huge section about these cults & their dire influence upon humanity in that setting. I could also write more extensively about the horrors of these things in the Lion & Dragon game but that's another blog entry on its own.
This brings me up the influence of Clark Ashton Smith & the skies of Hyperborea within Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea. I've gone into the swaths of material that CAS wrote about & their lots of evidence within his stories of the Hyperboreans having the ability to build, maintain, & create whole fleets of skyships & void ships! Both
"The Anthropophagi of Xambaala" &
"The Beasts of Kraggoth Manor" adventures have the whole cloth lost wreckage of the Hyperboreans feel about them. I would suspect that there could be one or more skyships lurking in the wastes of Hyperborea or the depths of space around that world.

The blistering hot sands of the diamond desert holds more secrets then man has dreamt of. Hyperborea holds its secrets very well! Adventurers sent after the remains of a skyship better beware the incredible horrors lurking below those sands.

Another possible OSR location to salvage the hull of a skyship is Venger Satanist's multidimensional island adventure known as the 
The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence. I've had any number of adventure groups lose space craft, sky ships, & dimension hopping ships to the dark forces of Lovecraftian horror that rule that time haunted place!

The one location in Mystara that seems to be totally ignored for sky ship hull salvage is waters surrounding X1 The Isle of Dread. There's massive weather issues, magnetic & magical disturbances, & even sky borne horrors that surround the waters of that infamous island yet I've only heard about salvaging off the waters or the beaches of the isle within Spelljammer circles.

X1 The Isle Of Dread is this catch all location for many lost ships in many of the campaigns I've played in over the years. So much so that in one of the campaigns I've played in a wizard specifically has a set of adventurers go back to the island to recover the hull of an expensive ship. We'll not talk about the fact that our party crashed the ship in question.

Ten advantages of Skyships in Old School Campaigns
  1. Skyships give the DM an option for running players through modules that might not seem related. The skyships provide the adventures with a solid plot device & prime excuse to gather treasure. 
  2. These creations take the equivalent of the gross national product of a country or two to maintain.  They can be upgraded to Spelljammers rather easily. 
  3. Skyships can propel adventurers in a whole new campaign direction. 
  4. Dungeon masters have to realize the fact that sky ships can break campaigns backs rather quickly as well as make campaigns work. 
  5. Skyships provide unique encounter opportunities on a number of levels. 
  6. Skyships can be the perfect & seemingly safe mobile headquarters for adventurers
  7. Exploring the campaign world  in style & comfort in a leather clad skyship 
  8. Skyships are the perfect excuse to introduce new magic items, spells, & NPC's to finish of the party. 
  9. Skyships are the perfect way to liquid every last penny the PC's will have or make. 
  10. Sky tolls from kingdoms the PC's visit can help motivate adventurers to go back into the dungeon!

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