Champions of Mystara (1993) had its origin in an episodic series of 35 Dragon Magazine articles by Bruce Heard from 1990 through 1992.
Heard had guided the expansion of the default setting of Dungeons & Dragons – “The Known World” – through the well-known Gazetteer “GAZ” accessory books (1987-1991). Before the GAZ series, the Known World had been introduced in bits and pieces scattered throughout D&D’s classic B & X adventure modules.
D&D meets Star Trek
The “Known World” slowly became “Mystara” in the course of the Voyage of the Princess Ark episodes in Dragon magazine. The namesake ship – Princess Ark – travelled through the air, exploring the unknown and lesser-known regions of the Known World.
The more the unknown Known World was revealed, it became the un-mysterious Mystara. That’s a head-scratcher for sure.
The aerial Voyage of the Princess Ark echoes Spelljammer a bit. The Princess Ark actually visits one of the moons at one point. But largely, the Princess Ark is an aircraft, meandering around like a dirigible.
The Princess Ark series had a Star Trek style of adventuring: Landing parties, first contact, diplomacy, emergencies, encountering other flying ships, and fighting on and off the Princess Ark. The Trek homage was overt: The 3rd article is subtitled “To seek out new life and new civilizations”.
Bruce Heard was not content to leave empty spaces unfilled. The series had color Gazetteer-style hex maps of regions, far more detailed than in previous sources. In some instances, substantial changes were made, “retcons” in pop-culture-speak.
What is Champions of Mystara exactly?
Champions of Mystara: Heroes of the Princess Ark [BOX SET]
1993 … Ann Dupuis & Bruce Heard … TSR 1094 … ISBN 1560766158
Three books, 8 ship cards, 4 maps.
Here’s Champions of Mystara in one sentence: “A partial reprinting of the Voyage of the Princess Ark articles, info on the ship and aerial travel, plus a Gazetteer of Sind and the Serpent Peninsula.”
The set has the first prominent mention of the new Mystara name. The box got the new D&D Challenger Series badging, which is unfortunate, because CoM is spiritually the next Gazetteer release in that dead product line. I’ll be content with a crude mock-up I made.
I’ll go into greater detail when we examine the parts and pieces below.
Heroes of the Princess Ark (96 pages, 1094XXX1901)
Heroes of the Princess Ark starts right off with an unfortunate editorial choice, choosing to summarize the first 15 Princess Ark episodes in two pages. Instead, characters are dropped right in the middle of the journey, when the ship enters Sind (a fantasy India).
From there, the episodes are reprinted in full to the end of the series. This recounting occupies the first 68 pages. None of the original art or maps from Dragon were ported over, which is a shame. (see the end of this post for a sample issue). The Dragon articles (issues #153-188) were superior in every way to their presentation here, and any DM planning to run a Princess Ark campaign will want the originals.
Then the Heroes booklet spends a few pages detailing the Princess Ark and notable NPCs, followed by some tips on shipboard life and a few monster stat blocks.
The design choices here make no sense. TSR had put 128 and 144-page softcover books in their box sets. The next year’s Ravenloft set had both. 128 pages would have been sufficient to reprint the entire series, nice and clean in one volume. Move the miscellaneous info to another book! 144 pages would have allowed for some maps. The text-only reprinting in Heroes is difficult to follow without maps.
Designer’s Manual (64 pages, 1094XXX1902)
The Designer’s Manual does what it should, discussing Skyship construction and developing your own Princess Ark campaign. The miscellaneous info in the previous book belongs here. The book ends with Spelljammer conversion notes, which makes a lot of sense, given their similarities.
Explorer’s Manual (64 pages, 1094XXX1903)
The Explorer’s Manual. What would you guess is inside? What do the cover art and graphics tell you? More Skyship campaign tips like the prior book? Create your own mysterious lands perhaps?
Nope. We have another poor design choice. This book is essentially the next Gazetteer volume: Sind and the Serpent Peninsula. But you’d never know that from the cover.
The area was roughly sketched in the map in the D&D Master Set (1985). The number 26 is keyed to the Serpent Peninsula and 12 is the Empire of Thyatis.
Sind was first introduced in module X4 – Master of the Desert Nomads (1983). There, it was the Great Waste.
Bruce Heard developed Sind into a fantasy India/Pakistan, and the great desert remains. This is west of the more familiar Known World from the Gazetteer series.
The Serpent Peninsula
Continuing west-southwest, the sourcebook details the Serpent Peninsula, a “darkest Africa” type of setting. It was introduced in module X6 – Quagmire! (1984).
Thankfully, Heard developed the Serpent Peninsula to be more than what we usually see in fantasy Africa settings. The city of Shani Kijiji is noted as being “larger than most cities on Mystara”.
Ship Recognition Cards (8)
These Ship Cards will be familiar in style to Spelljammer fans.
- 2 25mm-scale deck plans for the Princess Ark
- 2 full-color Gazetteer-style mapsheets
- The Great Waste (1094XXX0701)
- The Serpent Peninsula (1094XXX0702)
All the maps “connect” with their partner, which pleases me. I won’t “Wayne-size” them this time.
Here are some Wayne-sized maps from a related set:
After the locations detailed in the Explorer’s Manual, the Princess Ark continues west into the Savage Coast.
Champions of Mystara has little for you at this point, except the ships’ logs. This was going to be remedied in future supplements (that never happened, alas). However, this region would be revisited in Red Steel (1994) & Savage Baronies (1995).
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).from Shannon Appelcline’s excellent essay over at DriveThruRPG
Again, I’d redirect folks to the original Dragon articles. Here is Dragon 174 (October 1991). It explores the small countries just to the west of Sind that lead into the Savage Coast region. They are fantasy Spain and Portugal.