Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Alphatian Province of Ar

Mystara Alphatia Ar Hex Map
Kingdom of Ar -- Map Scale : 8 Miles per Hex

Although Floating Ar is the name most commonly used when outsiders refer to this famous realm, it isn’t what locals call their nation.  For most of the latter, there is nothing floating or uplifting about their livelihoods.  They are the legions of laborers and farmers living on the ground.  Levitating islands in Ar’s sky are the domain of the wealthy and the aristocrats who own just about everything down below, including throngs of servants.  Floating Ar is merely the most notorious and yet smallest part of the kingdom.  Ar was the name of a wizard specializing in air-related magic.  Aside from his expertise with all things celestial, Ar unlocked the secret of the Cloudstones which enabled the enchanting of great flying monoliths and the creation of Floating Ar.

The Kingdom of Ar includes 16 districts with jurisdictions both in the skies and on the land.  King Quissling appoints a viceroy (either male or female) to administrate each district, along with a military captain.  Viceroys focus on running the affairs on the Land of Ar, maintaining security, collecting taxes, developing cities and farming.  Although they have authority over their corresponding districts in Floating Ar, the latter remain largely autonomous due to the presence of aristocratic domains, mostly those of wizards who resent being disturbed.  There is little for a viceroy to administrate in the skies, since no farming takes place there, and islands are generally the private properties of families who contributed to their creation.  Nobles employ their own household guards and flying ships.  Where Floating Ar is concerned, viceroys and their captains usually limit themselves to organizing military matters when needed, such as levying feudal troops and mustering skyships, or collecting taxes.

First and foremost, the Land of Ar is home to a huge farming community.  The majority are serfs whose role is to grow food.  Land-dwelling bourgeoisie, skyborne aristocracy, viceroys, and the king own patchworks of small farming plots, which account for much of the surface.  A few free farmers hold the deeds to their own lands, while a much greater number simply rent farms and fields from their owners.  Ar is a northern kingdom with harsh weather and a relatively short growing season.  Without the use of enchantments, the kingdom would never be able to support its population of nearly one million people.  Magic is generally dispensed at a fairly low cost to ensure the success of crops despite difficult conditions.  A Guild of Peasant-Wizards in Skyreach-upon-Land ensures the availability of such magic throughout the kingdom, assigning their alumni to specific territories.  Peasant-wizards are benevolent magic-users who seek to improve the condition of the poor.  Their arcane talents also make it possible to preserve excess production, which is sold to foreign seaborne merchants.  Most of this traffic takes place through the ports of Arreghi, Ceafem, Reer, and Ailpon on Crystal Lake.  So far, ports on the northern coast remain woefully underdeveloped and iced up during winter months.  Goods destined for local consumption are carted to the closest town or village, all of which feature airfields where skyships pick up supplies and ferry them to Floating Ar.  Fishing is also plentiful on the kingdom’s shores, with some whaling along the northern coast.

Peasant-wizards occupy an ambiguous position in Aran society.  Nobles and high-brow air mages living in the skies tend to look down upon their poorer, earth-loving colleagues.  Yet peasant-wizards, despite their meek origins and sometimes rough and uncouth appearances, wield a certain power.  The poor and oppressed regard them as their saviors—which they are.  Peasant-wizards are the first to oppose aristocratic or royal abuse, infuriating the powers that be; yet, they are tolerated because food production would tumble without them, causing famine and unrest among the lower classes and royal insolvency in the long term.  This is what the small minority of Ar’s ultra-rich fear most.  Peasant revolts are no laughing matter in these parts.  There are no major rivers in the kingdom and, as a result, water comes from wells exclusively.  Thanks to peasant-wizards, many of them are enchanted to help satisfy the needs of the people while ensuring proper irrigation.

In the vicinity of Skyreach-upon-Land, climate fits in the Humid-Continental category.  Summer temperature averages 19°C/66°F, with moderate rainfall in the form of thunderstorms.  Winter temperature averages –10°C/14°F, with dry conditions and generally light snow.  Spring and fall are wettest.  Northern districts are coldest, while easternmost districts receive the highest amount of rain and snow due to predominant winds picking up moisture from Crystal Lake.  Climate conditions in Floating Ar vary significantly with altitude (from 1,000 ft to 16,000 ft).  Trees generally grow no higher than 8,000 ft, higher under a protective dome.  Rain turns to snow or ice above 10,000 ft while some cloud formations may remain below the highest islands.  Force fields preserving both heat and air pressure to avoid hypoxia are needed above 12,000 ft.  Diagrams and charts below show the various effects of altitude.

Effect of Altitude on Temperature
sea level6016

Clouds Altitude Mystara Alphatia Diagram

More than fifty permanent islands occupy the kingdom’s sky.  This does not account for scores of small monoliths levitating around them.  These include manor houses, towers, castles, and ruins on rocks long abandoned by their makers, anywhere from a few hundred feet above the surface to at least 30,000 ft.  The latter remain exclusive hideouts of anti-social, snobbish mages yearning to rise higher than the rest.  Some islands are continually shrouded in clouds, suggesting tales of storm giants living in the skies.  Amused by these legends, elder mages, known as steam-wizards, actively research magic to create semi-solid clouds capable of supporting structures.  They established their own specialty of magic, neither quite air-inspired nor water-soaked, but somewhere in-between, dabbling with clouds, fogs, and other elemental vapors.  All inhabited floating islands come with at least one private skyship, from small air sloops to fancy three- or four-masted yachts, and for the largest islands, flying traders to fetch supplies from the surface.  The military maintains a few fortified airbases where summoned airships muster.

Mystara Alphatia Floating Ar Map
Floating Islands of Ar -- Map Scale : 8 Miles Per Hex

Mirror-imaging the land below to a point, floating islands form 16 districts.  Each may feature one or more major islands.  Using the imperial nomenclature, islands are referred to by the name of the district followed with a numeral.  The first island (if more than one) is called Prime, while the others are listed by sequential numbers.  Few large islands actually have an official name.  For example, in the District of Archon, the first island is named Archon-Prime, followed by Archon-II, Archon-III, etc, while the last island is named Aquilonia.  This scheme refers to the historical sequence in which islands were sent aloft.

Arans refer to floating islands based upon the leading wizards who contributed to their creation, or upon the main noble houses controlling them.  Only home islands bear their proprietors’ names if multiple islands are owned.  The ages of wizards can be surmised from the manner in which they refer to islands (original creators vs. present owners), older mages preferring the former to the latter.  In the case of Archon-Prime, locals would know it as Haaken Island.  If only one island lies in a district, it may bear the name of the district or its main town.  For example, the island in the District of Manticore is called Boreas, from its town, while neighboring islands are simply referred to as Djinn, Cockatrice, and Harpy.  Some towns exist on both the surface and on the islands—such as the royal capital, Skyreach.  The one on the land is called Skyreach-upon-Land, while the one in the sky simply goes by Skyreach.  As for naming smaller structures crowding the skies, imagination is the norm.  It may seem confusing to outsiders, but in the minds of Arans it all makes perfect sense.

Islands are usually created using a magical mineral found deep below the surface.  Called Cloudstone, the material ranges from white to dark gray, sometimes black, and is naturally infused with anti-gravity properties.  Weightless when mined, Cloudstones are easily fitted to ships or fashioned into huge rocks or castles.  They are quite susceptible to further enchantments enhancing their properties.  Spells determine exactly how high Cloudstones can levitate and how much weight they may lift.  Mooring spells help keep floating structures in place, although they do shift and bob like anchored ships, especially in high winds.  Floating islands are meant to be stationary.  They may be displaced in times of war, but the intent is to move them back to their registered locations as soon as possible.  Matters of taxation, law, and politics govern their positions.  The only islands that do move around on a regular basis are military fortresses.  Spells are needed to displace such large structures and prevent them from drifting in the winds, but their travel speed remains very slow.  Raw magic may be used to drive floating islands, occasionally sails or steam-powered propellers may be of help, or huge creatures of the skies, like dragons or air elementals.  Combinations of the above aren’t rare. 

A project is undergoing study at the University of Air Magics in Skyreach.  It concerns the establishment of permanent power beams intended to help set into motion the heaviest structures along predetermined paths.  It would require an enormous source of power buried beneath the nation’s geographic center, from where kinetic energy would be transmitted through airborne relays, thereby creating a transportation network, a sort of celestial highway.  One would merely need to push a floating island onto a beam to move it around the kingdom.  The actual source of power is the main problem, which remains to be solved.  A select few steam-wizards and top Stoutfellow engineers have been drafting plans for a gigantic machine to generate such power.  Aside from the staggering expense of building this device, another issue concerns the obligation to keep flight paths clear of floating islands and skyship traffic.  So far, this requirement has limited the concept to peripheral air channels preventing major islands from being permanently relocated.  Although unfortunate frictions have resulted from rival air- and steam-wizards working side by side, the military wholeheartedly support the Sky Ways Project and have gone to great lengths keeping it secret.

The Celestial Bureau located in Skyreach-upon-Land administrates the allocation of air space above the kingdom.  Its main chamber features an immense translucent cube (called the Aegis Ocularium) in which miniature images of islands and other floating structures light up.  The bottom surface reproduces the land beneath Floating Ar.  Celestial Bureaucrats use the magical ocularium to regulate Ar’s airspace, property easements for the safe navigation of skyships, and yearly levitating fees based on island sizes.  The device may also track the movement of airborne vessels.  Celestial Bureaucrats rely on flying platforms to move alongside the immense cube, and sometimes through it, to examine something in detail.  They closely monitor all progress with the Sky Ways project.

Sky districts are peculiar in that some actually overlap borders with Foresthome, Frisland, and Ambur.  In exchange for the right to use their airspace, these realms collect levitating fees but otherwise allow Aran jurisdiction over any islands or levitating structures edging past mutual borders.  Several districts exert jurisdiction at surface level although it concerns mostly water, such as Manticore, Vortex, and Skybridge, as well as much of Djinn and Hippogriff.  Their authority there concerns mostly surface navigation.  Districts will be described individually in the following blog posts.

The two main maps can be downloaded here:

Land of Ar
Floating Isles

Special thanks to Janet Deaver-Pack for her editorial assistance.

To be Continued.


  1. Top stuff.

    Re: peasant-wizards? Is this profession/social caste an exception to the general Alphatian rule that 'magic ennobles'? Or are they treated as eccentric 'bumpkin nobility' (like Tolstoy slumming it among his serfs) by the haut Ar-ese?

    1. Hi Chris.

      Peasant-wizards would be Ar's dirty secret. They should be part of the wizardly aristocracy, on paper but not in practice. Snooty air-mages and other arcane Alphatians view them as the ones who've "gone native," and this makes them a lesser kind. Besides, peasant-wizards really don't want to have anything to do with the old aristocracy. They grew from the ranks of peasants, and peasants at heart they mean to remain.

  2. This is the stuff of dreams. Pity that Alphatia went down-under in 1009 AC.

    There is , however I seem, a possibility to dolve this problem.
    As the Hollow World is a Reserve with Great Magical Barriers repressing the use of magic, alone this would definetly alter the basic of that culture, yet alone this would be prevented by the same Immortal Spell of Preservation. this contradictionary could have great effects upon the spell itself. Immortals of Entropy (especially Nyx who despises the hollow worlds sun, and Thanayos who desries to awaken the burrowers) would use this as a means to break the spell.
    as the transplantation of the population was a dire means to save the alphatian culture, the Immortals had placed Alphatia in the hollow world.

    Let assume the following;
    1009 AC Transplantation into the Hollow World.
    Release of the great megalith shark (Behemoth) in the Outer world
    1011 AC Awakening of the population after regeneration and reviving important lost members like queen ariadna.
    Surviving and repopulation of former Alphatian lands
    1016 AC Helldannic knights start influencing Alphatia in watrs. trade and even only recopnosance.
    This triggers interest in the anti-hollow world immortals.
    1020 AC The Entropic immortals have found points of weakness in the spell of preservation in the continent of Alphatia itself.
    To break these points, and the continent and with it the hollow world stationary condition, they start an all out war and attack upon Alphatia. Using and misusing the helldanic knight in the process.
    The initial Immortals who decided that the hollow world could be a sanctuary of any race come back upon this decision, looking upon the effects of the alphatians within the hollow world.

    Together with the alphatian immortals they decide to bring the continent back to the Outer World to prevernt further damages.
    They remove all Heldannic knight with their remaining vessels (less than 20% of their Hollow world number remained due the war) and remove the knowledge of the hollow world from all those aware of it and raise the continent back from the ocean floor.
    This would be done somewhere between 1020 and 1026 AC
    The new alphatians would be merged with the old creating a new balance about equal to the former number of inhabitants.
    local disruptions, monster infestations, and magical mishaps would give much oppurtunity to adventures continent wide, amd have great political effects upon the planet nations.
    the Hollow world would fall back to the state it was before the alphatian continent existed, leaving the Alphatian Neatharium the only Alphatians in the Hollow world.
    The Helldannic Knights would have to renew their conquests and travels as they would be unaware of the Hollow World. with many vessels lost in the wars and the lack of knowledge of the Hollow world, the nations would recuperate as the spell of preservation originally had intended.

    From that moment on the Alphatian floating continent in the hollow world would be no more than a floating continent upion which new cultures could be placed or even flourish without ever affecting other nations.

    Would this be a reasonable solving of the Alphatian problem?
    Please let me know.

    1. Hi Robin.

      Thanks for your suggestion. Your approach is certainly a possible solution, although irremediably damaging the Hollow World's concept to fix the Outer World seems like a Pyrrhic victory. I'm considering another approach, but I'm not ready to disclose it at this time. The goal is the same -- allowing damage to Mystara's surface to be undone (including the Known World), but hopefully in a smoother, more elegant manner that would not involve Immortals breaking their own rules and waging war upon mortals directly or indirectly. :)

    2. Hi Bruce
      I'm curious to your approach about this.
      Although I think the Immortals made their own Pyrrhic victory in trying to save Alphatia. I truly think that a culture purely based upon allkinds of magic, would be severely penalized in the Hollow World where many kinds of Magic are even impossible to cast, and most casters of any magic which now have an intelligence of lower than 16 (wehich would of course be a very impressive amount), that they wold be no longer able to learn magic. alone this would irevocable cause damage to the culture in itself. since the Spell of Preservation is based upon keeping a culture in the basic shaspe it is it would thus contradict itself, and by pure logic fall apart.

      To the Outside world, it would of course be a major impact by returning Alphatia, and especially the Entropic Immortals would be truly pissed, since it would be a major influence there, and slso they wopuld be unable to further the weakening of the Spell of Preservation in the Hollow world.

      For the case of the Shadow Elves occupying I already have another solution, with more logical (natural) effects.
      I've made some pictures with this so I can show you. Yet how do I place pictures here? Or is there another way to get them to you. (i used this method already in my compilation of the monster manual chapter humanoids, subchapter elves).

    3. I understand your point, Robin (although I don't necessarily agree with all of it). There is a very simple approach to all this. This is a fantasy setting. If you, as the DM, believe the nature of the HW should collapse, thus returning Alphatia to the surface, then collapse it will. If you wouldn't as as DM, then it won't. No problem here. Feel free to send me your diagrams for the Shadow Elves via my facebook account or share them via Google drive with my G+ account. Thanks!

    4. I haven't had a chance to read this article yet, but regarding Robin D.'s comments about a magically gimped Alphatia due to the nature of the Hollow World-

      Maybe the effect that limits magic in the hollow world decrease w/altitude? thus, by the time one reaches the elevation of the floating continent (was it's elevation ever stated anywhere?) one only needs an Int of 13 or something to utilize magic. Would that be workable?

    5. Nice Idea.
      Yet as I have read in the Nightwail adventure series, the sun of the hollow World is the source of the spell of preservation. That was the reason the immortal created a black mirror to reflect the light inwards, and that is also the reason the Immortal Nyx want to darken the sun in the Hollow World Millenia gazetteer.. so if your assumption indeed would be right, exactly the opposite would happen. At least this seems to be logical to me.
      And as thus the floor of the hollow world would have the highest possibility to study magic and the higher you get the lowest.
      Apparently natural magic (not those studied) must still be possible thus, as otherwise the floating continent Ashmorian with the magical flora and feathered serpents all magical would be non existent.

      Your idea, upside down however, has some merit.
      it would explain why magic casting seems to be unrestricted several hundred miles down the earth, according the adventure of the Sunwight in the HW box adventure module.

    6. ah.. I don't have any of the those products so I didn't know about the specific references. oh well...

  3. Sorry for my typo's. blame the public PC I'm working on.

  4. Hi Bruce.
    I also have an approximate map of altitudes of the floating isles of Ar, as seen from the side. (made from your cloud picture given here).
    If you like this I can (somehow yet unknown) divert this to here or to you too.

    1. Sure, I'd love to see that too (via FB or G+/Google Drive). Thanks!

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. The link on the blog is working fine. Is there problem with the download process once you make it to the Google Docs screen?

    2. Tried both. Everything seems to be working. What browser are you using?

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. You said "I tried both too (...)" -- both of what? Either you click on the blog's link, and it fails, OR the link succeeds in sending you to Google Drive. If the blog's link fails, you can't even get to Google Drive. If you do get to Google Drive, you have to click on the download button there. If that fails, it's a separate issue. I'm not experiencing any of these issues when I try the link.

      ... thus my confusion as to what is really happening here.

      You might want to install Firefox as an alternate to Explorer. In general, Firefox works better with Google Drive than Explorer (based on past experience).

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. OK. Good luck with "option B" and happy "unboxing" of the new computer!

  8. Could there be a relation between the names of the Floating Kingdoms and the constellations in the starmap of CM7 The Tree of Life (Griffon, Manticore, Chimera...)?

    1. Yes, some of the Aran districts are directly inspired from the constellations, although others refer to different creatures entirely.

  9. Hi Bruce

    Love the write-up of Ar! So many cool things to use in the game. I am curious about the Cloudstones. Have Alphatians managed to keep their existence a secret to the outside world? A mining operation on that scale would create rumours, I imagine? How is trade and distribution regulated? Is the Alphatian military in charge of all the mines?

    I don't suppose Alphatia would ever export such a valuable material, but how do they guard against theft, illegal mining and espionage?

    :-) Jesper / Spellweaver in the Piazza forum

    1. Hi Jesper!

      There is no way Ar could keep such a colossal exploitation of Cloudstones secret. All they can do is enact laws and regulations (by the Royal Ministry of Mining -- if you'll pardon my instant invention!), and then entrust their enforcement to:

      1. His Heavenly Majesty's Sky Fleet (above the surface)
      2. Private Guards (down below, paid by the mines owners)
      3. Third-party bounty-hunters (down below and outside Ar)

      This approach is far from perfect but at least it would be hard for smugglers to extract vast quantities on the scale of what Ar has been doing. Thieves would need ships to exit the fortified shaft entrances, which is a big problem. Besides, the mines are now getting depleted, so the end game is more about "recycling" abandoned or overdue monoliths. I really don't want Ar to have a foolproof system to safeguard their Cloudstones, since that promotes the need to hire adventurers to hunt for thieves in the mines or smugglers who got away with something. :-)

    2. Bounty-hunters would be paid by the Royal Ministry of Mining.

  10. Thanks for the info Bruce! :-)

    I guess even small lumps of Cloudstone are going to be rare outside Alphatia then, which is good. They can be a nice little puzzle to adventurers searching an evil wizard's lab and finding an apple-sized rock floating above a rune-inscribed pedestal :-)


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