Sunday, February 8, 2015

Ur-Known World

A portion of one of the maps, annotated based on the notes

Over on Black Gate, there's a fascinating post by Lawrence Schick, a former TSR employee who among other work wrote the classic module S2 White Plume Mountain, and edited the original Dungeon Masters Guide, both released in 1979. The post is called 'The "Known World" D&D Setting: A Secret History" and it recounts the origins of B/X's Known World campaign setting, later known as Mystara. The setting was first published by TSR in the module X1 Isle of Dread by David "Zeb" Cook and Tom Moldvay, which was included in the original Expert Set (1981). But the published setting drew one earlier campaign materials developed by Schick and Moldvay, who was his pre-TSR collaborator. Head over to Black Gate to the read article and see four pages of the original material, including two pages of notes and two pages of the map. 

The map I posted is a portion of one of those maps, with annotations in red that I added based on the notes. You can see the original positions of some well-known locations such as Glantri, Darokin and Ylaruam.

You can see how the picture-in-hex style of the published map of the Known World was influenced by the original.

* * * * *

Here are some things I love about the pre-TSR Known World: 

Created for OD&D!

Weird fiction influences are much more pronounced.  

Schick: "Moldvay did most of the initial culture write-ups, whereas I created the leading non-player characters in each homeland; I was also the Name Guy and came up with most of the location names, drawing on Dunsany, Vance, and Clark Ashton Smith for inspiration."

Schick: " every land there would be hidden cults that worshiped Lovecraftian Elder Gods."

Shoggoth in the list of languages.

Malpheggi and Quastog tribes being footnoted as "marginally human".

Kzinti, Tharks and Mahars among the non-human races.

Giganthropithici (Giant Ape-Men?) among the races that speak Ogre.

"Keraptis" appears on the list of city names...this was also the name of the wizard in Schick's White Plume Mountain.

"Tentrumtoom...K88 (ruined city & pyramid dungeon)" - precursor of B4 The Lost City? There's also a city of Cynidicea but it appears to a be living city.

Update: According to Bruce Heard in the Mystara Reborn group on FB, he didn't know about this original Known World even when he was working for TSR on the Gazetteer series (thanks to Havard for pointing this out on DF). This is useful to know because it limits the publications that would have been inspired by the original Known World campaign to products originating from Moldvay/Schick/Cook. So any new material appearing in the Gazetteers would not be from the original campaign.

See also:
OD&D Discussion thread
Piazza Discussion thread
DF Discussion thread 


  1. Interesting. Looks like some of the nations and regions from the original 'Known World' that didn't get used in Mystara ended up in the Hollow World (i.e. Malpheggi Swamp) and some others became referenced in future products (i.e. The Cynideceans becoming a lost race).

    1. They did use Malpheggi in the Hollow World, though it also appears in the original map of the Known World in the module X1, to the southwest of Darokin, much like in the original map.

  2. I wrote a very long serial about k'own world history. Among my guess, i suggested it was the original moldvay & schick campaign. Ans i was right !

    1. Is that posted on-line Nicolas? I couldn't find it on your blog.

  3. I do wish there was more info about the original setting online. Or just a fat dump of any notes, maps, etc they have

    1. Agreed! I was hoping more info would have come out by now. You could try getting in touch with Lawrence Schick and ask him some more questions.