D&D Basic has been a fascination of mine ever since I found out that it existed. To understand this situation, you need to know that not much of D&D was around in my country before the 90s.
There were, of course, heroes in our community who knew about the game, but I think role-playing games became popular only in the 90s, after the political changes. We were already in the AD&D 2nd Edition period at the time, and TSR was heading towards a dead-end lead by Lorraine Williams. I think most, if not all, of us, were oblivious to this, of course.
Trivia. D&D Basic product line was dropped around 1991 by TSR, due to financial reasons as explained by Jim Ward (below) in this interview published on Dragonsfoot. That's an interesting read if you guys are interested and have the time. According to Jim Ward: "The reasons were mainly financial ones. TSR didn’t have to give a royalty to Dave Arneson (below) if no product was made for D&D..." Why is this important for us? Because the Hollow World was ultimately a D&D Basic product.
So, back to me and my country. The people did not really speak English here after the political changes when all the borders opened up – schools just started teaching that language in the 90s. Some language barriers still plague the gaming community here even today, unfortunately – thankfully nowhere near that severely.
Knowing all of this, you will realize, that officially no D&D Basic material was ever released here, as far as I can tell. I am sure my country is not alone with that. This means that I gathered the things I have from the UK, Germany, Italy, and even the USA, using a few well-known online stores, Amazon and eBay. I quit trying to collect everything since that would cost me a fortune (beyond purely an arm and a leg). I did manage to get my hands on a few things, and I am very proud of that: I have all the original Gazetteers, a lot of the Basic adventures, some of the Expert series, and some of the Companion and Immortal series as well. I also have other adventures linked to these from other product lines and some beautiful boxed sets. Some of the material I have is PoD from DriveThruRPG, and some are both PoD reprint and original. (Avid RPG collectors, I believe, have an unspoken, wow never to try and figure out how much they have spent on their hobby. Ignorance is bliss.)
I am a proud owner of the Hollow World campaign set, the boxed original and PoD, and some of the adventures related to it. I have these both as PoD, and I have the originals as well. I know it sounds silly, but I consider this an achievement – I am sorry about bragging.
So what’s so special about these, or what the heck are these actually? I am going to reply in two parts. First, we will address what the Hollow World is if I just look at my shelf. Second, I will tell you what that is if we look at Mystara/The Known World, the true campaign world of the D&D Basic.
First, let’s take a look at what exactly was published for the Hollow World:
This is the main campaign set, detailing the Hollow World, published as a boxed set, written by Aaron Allston (in the gallery below). The boxed set consists of a yellow RPGA flayer, a Dragon and Dungeon Magazine subscription form; the Dungeon Master’s Source Book (128 pages), the Player’s Guide (64 pages), an Adventure Book (30 pages) with two adventures in it: That Sinking Feeling and The Gem of Neathar; and four large folded maps of the Hollow World and its regions. I spelled this out for you, but this is actually clearly written on the back of the box in the above pictures. (I took the pictures of my own boxed set)
Now, if you get the PoD version from DriveThruRPG, you’ll get all of the above crammed into a chubby booklet – even the maps, which are mostly useless like that, but you also get them in digital version, so I guess that’s not a tragedy.
All three related, consecutive adventures were written by Allen Varney (gallery).
HWR1, written by John Nephew (gallery), is the first of the “Resource” (Hollow World Resource – HWR) product line, which actually serves the same purpose as the Gazetteer (GAZ) series for The Known World/ Mystara. The resource details Azca, an Aztec-influenced part of the Hollow World.
Trivia. The Maztica Campaign Set (TSR1066) by Douglas Niles, was also an Aztec-influenced setting published in the same year, just a month before Sons of Azca for the Forgotten Realms, 2nd edition of AD&D.
HWR2 was written by Blake Mobley (no picture found) with Newton Ewell (gallery). The Kingdom of Nithia was an Egyptian-influenced setting. Today, if you check out the product on DriveThruRPG you’ll see the following note there, added by Wizards of the Coast:
“We (Wizards) recognize that some of the legacy content available on this website does not reflect the values of the Dungeons & Dragons franchise today. Some older content may reflect ethnic, racial, and gender prejudice that were commonplace in American society at that time. These depictions were wrong then and are wrong today. This content is presented as it was originally created, because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed. Dungeons & Dragons teaches that diversity is a strength, and we strive to make our D&D products as welcoming and inclusive as possible. This part of our work will never end.“
I am not convinced that a fictional setting displaying racial, ethnic, or gender prejudice warrants such an apologetic note. This has nothing to do with the world we live in after all, but I also understand Wizards of the Coast would do anything to keep the money flowing and the sales figures up. Business is business, after all.
HWR3 was the last of the resource books; it was written by Anthony Herring (no picture found). The Milenian Empire depicts a land influenced by ancient Greece and, maybe to some degree, the Roman Empire.
An adventure that Anthony Herring wrote. This adventure is the only HWQ (probably Hollow World Quest) product after changing from HWA (Hollow World Adventure), and it was very near the last D&D Basic publication.
Trivia. On Dungeons & Dragons logos changing between the publications above: Upon closer examination, you might notice that the symbols change on the publications above. That is because of the revision of D&D Basic in 1991 with the publication of Rules Cyclopedia and the revised version of the Basic Set, labeled as The New Easy-to-Master Dungeons & Dragons Game and nicknamed the "black box." The "black box" could take players to level 5 (instead of the original level 3), while Rules Cyclopedia published later in the same year could take the characters further. This revision brought about first the ampersand with the red background, then the new logo with the red-purple/blue ampersand that is visible on the later products. After this revision, D&D Basic product line releases were also labeled as part of the "Challenger Series."
The idea of the Hollow World came from Bruce Heard (right), the product manager at the time, as you can read it here in an interview with him at Stargazer’s World.
Trivia. Bruce Heard also came up with the name of the campaign world Mystara by consolidating Mystery-Star-Terra (also in the interview).
The very basic idea is: what if we had a world within a world, somewhere deep down, beneath the surface? This concept cannot be alien to anyone who has ever heard of the Journey to the center of the Earth by Jules Verne (Voyage au centre de la Terre, 1864).
Above are some of the cross sections of the world. Some of them are quite scientific (or should I say pseudo-scientific). 3 of the above drawings were created by Thorfinn Tait (Cartography), who is a dedicated guy working on recreating all the Mystara related maps. If you are into this or would like to find a quality version of a map, check it out at Thorfin Tait Cartography. The fourth drawing is on one of the maps provided with the campaign set itself.
So, the Hollow World campaign set is actually found within the planet, at the core of the world of Mystara. It is a wild place; a patchwork of strange places and creatures, sometimes prehistoric – maybe it is just me, but I always felt that it would have a more Swords & Wizardry taste than the usual Dungeons & Dragons. By the way, we will discuss what we see above in a bit more detail shortly.
NOTE: I keep using The Known World and Mystara interchangeably, but I am talking about the same thing. As some would point out, this is not totally precise and professional, and I am aware of that, but for our purposes right here, it does not matter.
So, when the world was created, it was designed to be a hollow sphere with an earthen crust. The crust is about 1,000 miles thick. The planet at that time did not have enough mass to generate gravity and hold an atmosphere, so a thin layer of gravity belt was inserted into the center of the planet’s skin—the immortals of the world call that the World-Shield.
The World-Shield does not just provide gravity, but it also is an anti-magic barrier of immense power; this also explains why the Hollow World is undetected by the scrying of magic-users.
The first entity to find out about the Hollow World was Ka, the Preserver, who was the first and oldest immortal of the Known World. Ka, became an immortal a very long time ago, when prehistoric creatures ruled the planet, so it too is one of those creatures; a 45′ long sentient, magic users carnosaur (right).
I have to give it to the guys, maybe Aaron Allston or Bruce Heard or whoever; this is a strange idea. All of this so far – I think it is easy to see that Aaron was a well-known sci-fi novelist.
When Ka discovered the empty core of the world, it was dark, and it had no idea yet what it could be used for.
The great serpent spent years thinking about a use case and finally decided to convert it to a museum of sorts. Ka would use it to preserve races on the brink of extinction; move them to the Hollow World, pure and unchanged, keeping them somewhat isolated.
For this, Ka needed allies, so it persuaded other immortals to help – what was sorely lacking for this work was a Sun, which Ka, the immortal of the Sphere of Matter, could not create. So the sentient carnivorous reptile involved Ixion, the Energy-Sphere immortal; Ordana, the Time-Sphere immortal; and finally Korotiku, the Thought-Sphere immortal.
What exactly did these immortals contribute?
After these, they started populating the Hollow World with different species that they knew would soon perish in the outside world.
As it happens, there were, of course, problems with this Beta version of the “museum.” The different nations and races started interacting with each other. Some of these interactions were peaceful, while some not. Also, the immortal of the Sphere of Entropy, Thanatos (right), decided that he wanted to have some fun, so he created the burrowers. These monsters, the Burrowers or Annelids, were very powerful; according to the book, their power and cunning rivaled the average immortal. They came in many shapes and sizes but usually had writhing tentacles and squid-like anatomy. Their task was to burrow through the core, hide and corrupt the minds of the creatures in the Hollow World.
Now all of this introduced chaos and changes. The landscape and the Hollow World were changing permanently; this is not what Ka originally intended, of course. The solution was what they called the Spell of Preservation, which is a massive, continuous magical energy fueled by the Sun. What that accomplished was:
The Spell of Preservation is, of course, not omnipotent and had its limits, but it did the job. It did not freeze time and advancement, nor did it completely remove chaos from the Hollow World.
The below is just a list of countries, nations, or territories within the Hollow World. These include places for beast-men, elves, dwarves, humans, shadow elves, but also, for example, lizardman.
It is important to remember why and when the immortals brought these creatures or races to the “museum.” That hints that these are nowhere near the same technology level, and the book, of course, details that. Some are in the stone age, some in bronze or iron age, but the Blacklore elves use robotics, prosthetics, and flight devices! (I still think this could go as Swords & Wizardry).
The above points are, of course, detailed in the book, and my goal is not to copy text from there but to give you an idea of this not-too-well-known campaign world.
The Hollow World was published at the wrong time I believe, and maybe even for the wrong version of D&D. Don’t get me wrong, I like D&D Basic, but that limb of the company was destined to die in my view. I think that the designers felt that too, hence all the changes, and the revision, and Challenger Series, and the notes at the end of Campaign book on how to convert this to AD&D.
The design of these products are also a bit awkward with its lot of light blue and white colors and unusual illustrations. I guess the mainline artists were tied down trying make deadlines for the Advanced version of the game. I feel like the Hollow World could have been a big hit, with at another time, with a bit more effort and money spent on it. Then again, these reviews are always biased.
I just hope that this has been informative and you picked up something you did not know.
“Gone, gone the form of man,
Rise the demon Etrigan!“