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Champions of Mystara: Heroes of the Princess Ark (Basic)
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Champions of Mystara: Heroes of the Princess Ark (Basic)

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Two maps are of select area of Mystara (Sind and the Serpent Peninsula, far to the west of the KW) and two are of the Princess Ark.

The eight cardstock plates have various skyships detailed on them.

The "Heroes of the Princess Ark" book summarizes the Dragon Magazine serial, "Voyage of the Princess Ark", and gives information about the skyship, its crew, and campaigns based on it.

The Designer's Manual details information on Skyship Design, world creation, and the like.

The Explorer's Manual details the area west of Daroking in a gazetteer style format.

Audio components not included.

Product History

Champions of Mystara: Heroes of the Princess Ark (1993), by Bruce Heard and Ann Dupuis, is a core boxed set for Basic D&D. It was released in September 1993.

Origins (I): Continuing the Challenge. As shown on the cover, Champions of Mystara is part of the "D&D Challenger" series, which means it was one of the more "advanced" books released for Basic D&D in the wake of the black box (1991); it was intended for experienced players familiar with the Known World.

Origins (II): Bruce Heard's Known World. In many ways, Champions of Mystara is both a capstone and a last hoorah for Bruce Heard's impressive reign as the developer for the Known World, begun around 1985 with his work on M1: "Into the Maelstrom" (1985), but continuing more strongly through his commissioning of the Gazetteers (1987-1991) and later releases.

Of course, Heard wasn't the first developer for the Known World. It began as a creation of David "Zeb" Cook and Tom Moldvay, then expanded through the BECMI series (1983-1986) by Frank Mentzer. The earlier Known World was a somewhat more sparse, less populated, and wilder land. Under Heard, cities had been growing and civilization had been pushing back the wilderness.

Champions of Mystara marked Heard's last word in that regard.

Origins (III): The Voyages of the Princess Ark. Champions of Mystara started with an annoyance. Bruce Heard didn't like the map of the world that had appeared in the D&D Master Rules (1985). As he said: "The presence of giant empires on a map (Dorfin IV, et al) that were completely out of proportion with the Known World was a problem. Why put something in a rules set with absolutely no written information about it? This didn’t make any sense to me."

So he wrote an article for Dragon #153 (January 1990) whose main purpose was to discredit the Master map. It labels that map as "Wrong, wrong, wrong!" and uses the in-character journal of Prince Haldemar of Haaken to claim that the map was "based on the fallacies of a Thyatian lowlife". Though the Pangean continental outlines are said to be correct, the borders and names of the various (large) kingdoms are all said to be made up.

(Mind you, this whole complaint may have been based on a misunderstanding, as Frank Mentzer has said that the kingdom names were just meant to show areas of influence, not actual borders, just as the traditional Known World is all labeled either "Empire of Thyatis" or "The Serpent Peninsula". But, if this was indeed the case, the nuances were lost in the transition between Mentzer and Heard — which was likely very messy given the bad blood surrounding Gary Gygax's ouster from TSR.)

However, Heard's article turned out to be more than a single article. At the time, there was need for more coverage of Basic D&D in Dragon< magazine, because AD&D's little cousin was often badly neglected in those pages. So Heard's response to a map became a series, "The Voyage of the Princess Ark", which ran for 35 issues over three years (1990-1992). In these articles, Heard did more than just discredit Mentzer's world map. He described a voyage of exploration, where the Princess Ark initially visited very far-flung lands only seen on Mentzer's Master map before returning to more familiar lands, such as the Serpent Peninsula and the Savage Coast:

  • #153: The Jungle Coast
  • #154: Oceania
  • #155: Cestia
  • #156: Heldannic Knights
  • #157: Vulture Peninsula
  • #158: M'banyika
  • #160: The Sky & The Moon
  • #161: The Hollow World
  • #162: The Hollow World
  • #163: The Pole
  • #164: Heldannic Knights
  • #165: Isle of Dawn, Thothia
  • #166: Emerond
  • #167: Planes & Enchantments
  • #168: Planes & Enchantments
  • #169: Sind
  • #170: Serpent Peninsula
  • #171: Slagovich & Red Steel
  • #172: Hule
  • #173: Hule
  • #174: Savage Coast
  • #175: Savage Coast
  • #176: Cimmaron County
  • #177: Robrenn
  • #178: Eusdria
  • #179: Renardy & Lupins
  • #180: Death & Afterlife
  • #181: Bellayne & Rakasta
  • #182: Letters
  • #183: Herath
  • #184: Letters
  • #185: Shazak, Ator & Cay
  • #186: Wallara
  • #187: Letters
  • #188: Jibaru & Phanatons

Origins (IV): What's in a Name? These "Voyages" did more than just expand the background of the Basic D&D world; they also gave the setting a name. Oh, it had long been called the Known World. The phrase appeared casually as early as X3: "Curse of Xanathon" (1982) and became a proper noun during the Gazetteer era (1987-1991). The world had also been called Urt in the D&D Immortal Rules (1986), but that didn't stick. Now, it became Mystara with Dragon #173 (September 1991), a name that was repeated more officially a month later in D&D Rules Cyclopedia (1991).

Heard had run a contest to name the planet, but that there were no good responses. So he created a name of his own, Mystara, from the phrase Mystery-Star-Terra. Apparently, "Nobody in the team objected, so it wasn’t long before TSR’s legal staff had the name trademarked."

The name would come into wider use a few years later, starting with Dragon #197 (September 1993), which announced the upcoming "MYSTARAtm campaign setting", but that would be a sign of much bigger changes for the Known World …

Origins (V): The Champions of Mystara. By mid-1991, when Heard was half-way through his popular run of the "Voyages of the Princess Ark", he decided that he could do more with them. Thus he put an item called "Princess Ark(tm) Boxed Set" on the Known World's 1993 schedule.

Champions of Mystara mainly reprints material from "Voyages of the Princess Ark". It summarizes the first 15 articles, then reprints the next 20 in whole. It also features information on the crew, the ship, the places visited, and the peoples met, largely taken from the original articles. There's considerable new material as well, including an extensive set of airship rules and new geographic material on Sind and on the center of the Serpent Peninsula.

However, Champions of Mystara was intended to be more than just a regurgitation of the very popular Dragon articles. It was also meant to be a new core box for Basic D&D, which would be "the beginning of a new series of accessories continuing the old Gazetteers' task of exploring the Known World", using the "Prince Ark" as a conceit for those explorations. It would have been a nice return to the surface, which had largely been abandoned since the advent of the Hollow World Campaign Set (1990). Heard's tentative plans included a number of "Princess Ark(tm) Gazetteers", including PAS1: "The Heldannic Knights" (1993), PAS2: "The Winds of Sind" (1994), and PAS3 "The Swords of Wendar" (1995). There would also be adventures, beginning with PAA1: "The Crown of Synn" (1993).

Unfortunately, these Mystaran supplements would never be.

Origins (VI): The End of the Known World. These unpublished titles are all drawn from a four-year plan that Heard released in mid-1991. There was to be a new boxed set every year, with the next two after Champions of Mystara being "Adventures in Blackmoor" (1994) and "Red Steel" (1995), each of which would form the spine of a new line of supplements. The D&D Almanacs would continue year by year, and the line would also be supplemented by a series of book detailing Known World cities, starting with DCr1: "Specularum AC 1011" (1993).

Instead, the whole Basic D&D line was cancelled in 1993, as part of a series of cutbacks at TSR. Only one small product followed Champions of Mystara: AC1011: Poor Wizard's Almanac II & Book of Facts (1993). Basic D&D's last hoorah was then a new edition of the black box called The Classic Dungeons & Dragons Game (1994).

Bruce Heard's version of the Known World was dead, though as already noted the Mystara campaign setting would follow it.

Origins (VII): The Known World Grimoire. "The Voyages of the Princess Ark" ended in December 1992, in part because Heard was burned out on coming up with new ideas (as evidenced by the many letters columns in the series' last year), in part because the series was becoming too time consuming, and in part because he needed to end the voyages so that he could publish Champions of Mystara.

However, Heard continued to support the Known World in Dragon magazine through the last year of Basic D&D's existence. He did this through a new column, called "The Known World Grimoire" which ran (slightly irregularly) from Dragon #189 (January 1993) to Dragon #200 (December 1993). These columns were more focused on letters and on game mechanics than the "Voyages" had been, but several columns returned to the Arkian trope of discovering new lands — and they did so by continuing the Princess Ark's path southward, along the savage coast.

  • #192: Nimmur
  • #196: Dark Jungle
  • #200: Arm of the Immortals

Expanding D&D. One book of Champions of Mystara is all about flying ships, expanding on rules from Dawn of the Emperors: Thyatis and Alphatia (1989) and PC2: "Top Ballista" (1989). There are even notes on linking the flying ships of the Known World to those of Spelljammer (1989).

(D&D was absolutely chock-full of flying ships at the time.)

Exploring the Known World. One of the three books in Champions of Mystara is an "Explorer's Manual", which is essentially a new Gazetteer for the Known World. It concentrates on the lands west of the traditional Known World, which had been detailed in the original fourteen Gazetteers. This covers Sind, Graakhalia, and The Serpent Peninsula.

Exploring the Known World: The Retcons. "Voyages of the Princess Ark" began as a retcon, because Bruce Heard didn't like Frank Mentzer's map of the world of Mystara. The first half of the Voyages was technically full of retcons, but it was all descriptions of faraway lands that had never been described before, except as names on a map. The retcons in the latter half of the Voyages were much more notable because they thoroughly revised areas that had previously been well-described in the "X" adventures. There are three major areas retconned in all.

The first area retconned is Sind, which had been depicted as a desert in X4: "Master of the Desert Nomads" (1983). Sayr Ulan, which was a simple tent city in X10: "Red Arrow, Black Shield" (1985), also falls to the retcon pen. Now Sind has become a full kingdom with Sayr Ulan its capitol.

The second area retconned is The Serpent Peninsula, which was largely uninhabited in X6: "Quagmire!" (1984), but it now the well-populated Divinarchy of Yavldom. Heard explained the reason for the change in Dragon #174 (October 1991) where he said "it quickly became clear that there was very little of interest there. I didn’t think anyone would be particularly fascinated by thousands of miles of swamp, desert, and featureless plains with nobody around! I made these changes in order to liven the place up …".

The third area retconned is The Savage Coast, which became The Savage Baronies. Much as with The Serpent Peninsula, the original Savage Coast, which had been depicted in X9: "The Savage Coast" (1985), was an empty wilderness. Heard now filled it with people — but in doing so he maintained one of the original ideas of the Coast. Merle Rasmussen's Savage Coast had been sparsely peopled by many of the Known World's humanoid races like the aranea, the phanatons, and the rakasta. Heard's new Savage Baronies retained these races and introduced many other Known World races including the caymen from AC2: "Combat Shield and Mini-adventure" (1984), the chameleon men from B8: "Journey to the Rock" (1985), and the gatormen from DA4: "The Duchy of Ten" (1986). More importantly, Heard's new stories of the Savage Baronies also introduce cinnabar and cinnabryl, the heart of the Red Steel Campaign Expansion (1994) — which was innovative enough that it'd appear right on schedule, despite the death of the Basic D&D line.

So if the depictions in X6 and X9 (and to a lesser extent X4 and X10) were wrong, how do you incorporate those older adventures into the Known World? In Dragon #174 Heard suggested that "it would be safe to assume all these older modules took place at an earlier period in time". Dragon #176 (December 1991) is even more specific in putting X9: "The Savage Coast" into a historic context, as part of its description of the Claw Peninsula.

Future History. Though Basic D&D was dying, TSR initially decided to preserve the setting of Mystara by turning it into an AD&D setting. This rebirth began with First Quest: The Introduction to Role-Playing Games (1994), a new introductory game, and continued through a number of boxed sets, the first of which was Karameikos: Kingdom of Adventure (1994). The Red Steel Campaign Setting (1994) and its expansion Savage Baronies were released as part of this line, which only lasted through the end of 1995.

Decades later, Bruce Heard returned to the Voyages of the Princess Ark to write a 36th entry, which appeared in Dragon #344 (June 2006).

Even more recently, 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).

About the Creators. Heard was the mastermind behind the golden age of the Known World, but this was his last major work for the setting. He'd continue at TSR through 1997.

About the Product Historian

The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to shannon.appelcline@gmail.com.

 
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