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.