Saturday, 24 October 2015

Encyclopedia Dominia


When Matt Cavotta interviewed him, Pete Venters revealed that way, way, waaaaaay back when, there were plans for a Magic lore themed coffee table book, called "Encyclopedia Dominia". This was actually the first step in the consolidation of the storylines that would eventually get us from the mess that was the early Harper Prism days, with its wildly inconsistent portrayals of planeswalkers, to the Dominian Chronicles article we looked at a few weeks back, which finally nailed down some rules that would stick for years, at least till the Mending.

The coffee table book that started all this never materialized, but the name Encyclopedia Dominia lived on, as it was used for a part of the Duelist Online website devoted entirely to Magic lore. In fact, quite a lot of the original idea lived on in this site. It featured stories, lore facts (in the form of an encyclopedic list of people, places and objects) and even a framing sequence featuring Taysir, just like the book would have had! Pete Venters also mentions in the above interview that his consolidation of the storyline was continued after the book was cancelled because there was still the possibility of a Magic RPG being made, and I think this website was supposed to tie into that. We will see, when we look at further paper issues of The Duelist, that Pete was still trying to drum up interest for the RPG at this time.

That website, essentially the Ur-ancestor of both Uncharted Realms and the MTGSalvation wiki, is our subject for today. I'll be going through all the stories and the framing sequence one by one, like I did with the stories from the anthologies I covered in... oh jeez, that was March?! Man, time flies! Anyway. That's what I will be doing. As for the encyclopedia entries, there is not all that much to say about them. They are really neat, although sometimes a bit inconsistent in how much attention they pay to a subject. (Freyalise gets one line while the Church of Angelfire gets an entire paragraph?) What's especially cool is that stuff that is essentially thrown in here as random background fluff will remain canon for a good long while. For instance, the Order of the Steel Leaf is introduced here, but after a few years they will suddenly get their own card in Planeshift!

The Kavu are not yet mentioned, of course.

EDIT: Of course, I upload this post and the Archive goes down... luckily some very, very intelligent people decided to re-post these stories over on MTGSally a couple of years back.


TAYSIR'S JOURNAL
First, the framing sequence. Not much to it, it is just Taysir musing over various things. There are some nice continuity references in there, mostly to his appearances in the Armada comics, but these journal entries are not exactly thrilling reads. It is noteworthy that Taysir was also used as a supposed source for the timeline in the Fourth Edition Pocket Players Guide. It almost seems he was being set up as some Multiversal sage before the Weatherlight Saga derailed things. Oddly when he finally returns, in Invasion, it is alongside Commodore Guff, a guy with an infinite library who plays much the same role Taysir could've, had things been different.

Two minor continuity notes here: the Mirage War is described as having happened "Years ago", but these journal entries can't have been written after the Invasion. You'd think a planeswalker of 4000+ years would see 8 years as a blink of an eye, but I guess a good scholar like Taysir knows he's writing for an audience of mortals.

The second note: Taysir says that Llanowar has ten Elfhames, but the Llanowar entry in the encyclopedia talks about eight. Then when Elfhame Palace gets printed a few years later its flavor text mentions seven Elfhames. I guess Llanowar is so secretive no one really knows how many kingdoms are in there...


Now, on to the actual stories.

A HERO'S TALE
Okay, maybe "the actual stories" was to optimistic a phrase. This is just a short note from a Benalish Hero in training to her mom. There will be proper stories to look at, but also bits of lore fluff like this, just narrative accompaniments for the encyclopedia entries.

HISTORY OF BENALIA
Still no proper story, but very interesting nonetheless. It's a discussion of Benalish history and culture by the historian of Clan Rosecot with notes included by the historians of other clans, all of them completely disagreeing with one another. So its another story like Oasis, where the ultimate truth is unknown. However, here I don't really mind. The point of the story is the clan rivalries, not the history itself. Plus, the really important bits of Benalish history, like the roles of Torsten Von Ursus and Tobias Andrion are given clear descriptions in the encyclopedia anyway.

That brings me to the next cool bit about this story, or story-like-entity or whatever: how it ties various parts of continuity together. Benalia was first introduced through the flavor text of Benalish Hero, which mentioned a bizarre caste system. Arena and Shattered Chains then introduced the Clans of Benalia and their scheming and politicking. This story not only manages to merge these two versions (by stating that Clans try their darnedest to make sure their kids get born in the right caste), but also introduces D'Avenant, Torsten and Tobias into the mix. (Remember, originally the legends from Legends had no lore behind them. They were just the D&D characters of the Legends design team ported over into Magic.) The only seeming continuity error is that one of the historians mentions a D'Avenant prince getting mad over his daughter being kidnapping leading to the split between the island and Benalia. We know from Wayfarer that the island is a matriarchy in which the men have very little say. But we can easily explain this away by saying that the historian in question clearly is unfamiliar with D'Avenant culture.

Clans Tarmula and Deniz were already featured in Shattered Chains, but here the rest are named, including the only one people seem to remember these days: Clan Capashen. I guess having the chosen one and savior of Dominaria as a member is pretty good PR.

Timelinewise there is little to say about these stories. For all of the stories below that don't specify when they happen, I will presume they happen somewhere during the "present day", still defined as "about 4000 years after the Brothers' War", so basically between 4000 AR and the Invasion.


EATER OF THE INFINITE
An actual story! I told you there'd by some! This is a tale about Rabiah's history. A planeswalker summons a Serendib Efreet, who serves him well and is then granted a wish. Turns out it wants to be the only creature in existence. So the planeswalker... eh... gives him a hook for a hand that can shrink things, a second mouth that destroys everything related to anything swallowed with it, and a jewel on his forehead... just because. The efreet goes on an exterminating spree, but he is eventually stopped when a mysterious shadow sends a Bird Maiden and a Desert Nomad after him. The nomad gets himself shrunk by the efreet, but then jumps into his other mouth, which causes a whole bunch of other desert nomads (who had all gone extinct of a plague) to appear across the land. The efreet tries to get him out his mouth, but in doing so shrinks and swallows himself, which causes a whole bunch of Serendib Efreet to be reborn (although the story gave no indication that they had gone extinct as well), except they now all had the same disfigurements as the one that met the planeswalker, but luckily not the powers.

...eh. Yeah. This story is weird. It's clearly meant to be an in-world fiction, a creation myth of sorts. And creation myths tend to be pretty weird, with giant cows licking people out of glaciers and fully grown people growing from sowed spear-points, that sort of stuff. I don't find it a great read though.

What I do find interesting is that we can see Wizards trying to make Rabiah a bit less controversial. We still get references to real world places like Bassorah and Baghdad in the encylcopedia, but in this story the narrator and the Bird Maiden both talk about generic "gods", rather than Allah.

Timelinewise, this story happens after the Thousandfold Refraction, if we assume it happened at all. I'm skeptical about that, but I'll put it on the timeline just for completion's sake. Since it clearly happens in a distant past, I'll put it next to the Refraction itself, with a "some time later..." attached.


CITY OF BRASS
Once there was a wizard called Fatima, who told her lover not to marry her, since she wanted to remain in control of her own life. Yet one day he did ask her, which she felt as an immense betrayal. In her rage she focused entirely on her magic, build the City of Brass, became a planeswalker and then moved her city to the furthest edges of Rabiah, so she could be alone. Eventually she did feel the need for companionship but still wanted to shun people, so she build the first Brass Men.

Another fable, but this one I actually quite like. It's short, to the point, and simply not as weird. A woman wanting to remain independent in a patriarchal society is simply much more grounded than a demon-thing shrinking and eating stuff because it wants to be the only thing alive. Even if the woman in question then becomes a planeswalker and creates a city filled with automatons. Oh, and in the intro Taysir states that he likes this story because it's about pain and love, which is a nice touch for the continuity minded.

Timelinewise: Like Eater of the Infinite I wonder whether this story is supposed to be real or just an in-universe myth, but we do see Brass Men at various places in the canon, so maybe it did really happen. This story clearly needs to happen before our first appearance of a Brass Man. Since the story "The Brass Man who would Sink" from Tapestries (another story written as a fable, by the way) states it happened before the rise of the Null Moon, I'm placing this all the way before the Thran. Which, incidentally, also means this happened before the Refraction of Rabiah.


THE INTERROGATION
Written by Scott McGough (uncredited)

Hurrah, an actual, proper, non-fluff, non-fable story!

A Priest of Yawgmoth has been captured by the Ebon Hand, and is being questioned by Endrek Sahr.

And eh... that's it. It's cool though. The dialogue is well written, and what's especially neat is that this story forms a kind of turning point in the depiction of Phyrexia. Previously it had always been portrayed as a "Hell of Artifice" in the sense that this was were artifacts go to die. Both in Shattered Chains and the unpublished Planeswalkers War comic Phyrexian demons and gremlins popped up to grab an artifact and take it back to their own plane to destroy it. Here though, we are given an explanation as to why they do so.
"We do not destroy, soft fool, nor do we accept your distinction between 'true' and 'artificial' life. All life is energy, and we would rather see that energy put to constructive use than allow foolish artificers--or breeders--to make a mockery of it."
It is still a bit inconsistent that soon, after the start of the Weatherlight Saga, we will see a whole load of Phyrexians, none of which seen the slightest bit bothered by gathering up any artifacts to destroy. Yet I do think this quote smooths over the two depictions of the plane as best as can be done.

More problematic is the next quote, but more on that in the discussion of the following story.
"As I lie here now, so does Mishra lie deep in the center of Phyrexia, his body wracked with fresh pain and torments day in and day out."
Timelinewise: This story is set in the Fallen Empires setting, so I've put it at ~170. Since the Thrulls are mentioned it has to happen after Reod Dai joined up with the Ebon Hand, but as there is no mention of the Thrull Rebellion it most likely takes places before And Peace Shall Sleep.



TANDE'S JOURNAL
A mage, Tande, sees his lover Trebecia dragged into a Phyrexian Portal and jumps in after her. What follows is a tour through the first four spheres of Phyrexia as he tries to find her. Eventually he does and manages to open a portal back home. Everyone obviously thinks he's insane, but he is now convinced that one day Phyrexia will come for the rest of the Multiverse.

Another historically significant story, as it is our first extended look at Phyrexia after the glimpses in Shattered Chains and the Antiquities comics. Speaking of those comics, Tande mentions seeing "Saurian creatures" made of living metal, which sounds a lot like what Mishra ran into in Antiquities War #4:


Though if this was the inspiration for that line, I do wonder why this story is about a new guy named Tande, and not about the Morath or Jarsyl mentioned in that caption. Especially since the flavor text of Gate to Phyrexia makes it clear that Jarsyl also went to that plane.

Having mentioned Mishra, while journeying through Phyrexia Tande sees this:
"two men--one blond, the other dark--forever struggling, each clutching the other's throat"
Now, I don't have the issues of The Duelist that deal with the Brothers' War, so I don't know if the ultimate fate of Urza and Mishra is discussed there, but the final issues of the comics remained unpublished, and the interview with Skaff Elias and Pete Venters in the backmatter of those comics spoiled a lot, but not what happened to the brothers. So if The Duelist kept this a mystery as well, these stories must have been huge revelations at the time! Of course, subsequent stories featuring Urza as a Planeswalker then invalidated them. But eventually, in Planeshift, Urza will see Mishra tied up on Phyrexia. That was probably a fake made by Yawgmoth, but it would re-validate Tande's Journal and The Interrogation, which is nice!


BIGASDAT'S ESCAPE
A goblin from the Ironclaw Mountains crashes his kite on the edge of Llanowar, and brags about escaping a whole host of Steel Leaf elves upon his return.

It's another of these stories where the only joke is that goblins are stupid. I've been pretty harsh on those in the past, but this one gets a pass, mostly for being really short.

STILL WATERS, DEEP ROOTS
Another short story, about an elf who wants to know why his Elfhame is so xenophobic. Actually, it's another fable, told by the elves of that Elfhame itself, so you can pretty much guess this elf discovers the danger of the outside in the worst possible way.

Yeah, another not terribly interesting one that at least is short. It does portray the elves of Llanowar as very, very isolationist. In fact, it reminds me a little of the stories about Kithkin we'll see when we reach Shadowmoor. We already saw a little of that in the Tapestries story Gathering the Taradomnu, which is also where the idea of Llanowar being made up of Elfhames came from, but this story turns up to ten.

On last thing: I was surprised to find that this story mentioned the Glitter Moon. Not the Glimmer Moon, the GliTTer Moon! Like the thing was called in the earliest Harper Prism novels! That suggests that Dominian Chronicles #1 calling it the Glimmer Moon was actually a mistake, but a mistake that then became canon as that article became a much more well known source of lore than the old novels. In-story it's not such a big problem though. Throughout the Harper Prism novels we've seen a whole bunch of different names for the moons, so clearly some cultures say Glimmer, other Glitter and still others even weirder names.


AMBASSADOR'S JOURNAL
The titular ambassador is a Shanodin Dryad who lives in Llanowar. In her journal she describes some scenes from the forest. There's not much story here.


SCALEBANE'S ELITE
By Teeuwynn

Finaly! Another proper story, and one with some actual importance to the larger canon! This is the story of Mangara's release from the Amber Prison, as told by one of Scalebane's Elite, three warriors from Rashida's army that she selected for the mission. They head out with Asmira to find the Prison in one of Jolrael's palaces, but get bogged down in the zombie infested jungle. Luckily Sisay (guided by Teferi's visions) shows up, and they ride the Weatherlight to their destination. Then there is a great big massive fight that ends when Rashida dons the Dragon Mask, which gives her superhuman powers. Unfortunately it completely drains her of energy after a short while, and Purraj of Urborg had been lurking in the shadows. Purraj mortally wounds Asmira, who was just trying to free Mangara. She manages to hold on long enough for the spell to work though, and Mangara is freed in a burst of light that seemingly consumes Asmira and Purraj.

Like Visions: the Oracle, I like this story simply because it gives us a bit more detail on the Mirage War. Jamuraa has always been one of my favorite settings, with its unique look, interesting cast and detailed history, so its a shame that it is one of only two blocks that has no novel, comic or Uncharted Realms collection to its name. This story at least gives us something.

It does read a bit oddly though, as if this is all pay off for stuff that was never actually set up. Dragon Mask's flavor text, and its prominent use in the climax of the story, suggest it was an artifact that had been tempting Rashida for a while, but that she refused this temptation until she really needed the power it provided. But since the previous parts of the story were never told, the mask seems to come entirely out of left field. Same with Purraj of Urborg. My interest in the Mirage story was really first roused by a fanfic by Zazdor, which featured Purraj as Kaervek's main lieutenant throughout. So I didn't realize for the longest time that we don't really know anything about her, that she was only featured in this one scene here. Still, that's not really a problem with this story, the problem is that the rest of Mirage is missing!

More historical significance here, as this is the first story featuring Sisay, and the first mention of a "sharp-eyed minotaur" aboard the Weatherlight, who can only be Tahngarth!

Timelinewise this story obviously happens in 4196, as it is the conclusion of the war. I want to mention though that the Elite telling the story has fought for Rashida for "over a year now", and says Mangara "disappeared many months ago". This supports the idea that the Mirage War only lasted slightly over a year.


DYING BREATH
By Teeuwynn

Qhattib, vizier of Amiqat (the capitol of Suq'ata), dreams of the Breathstealers, the Pasha dying and Telim'Tor taking over Suq'Ata. Meanwhile, a Breathstealer is looking forward to making his first kill.... the twist? The Breathstealer is not hired to kill the Pasha at all, Qhattib himself is his target. Though it is indeed part of a plan to eventually put Tor on the throne.

Another short-but-cool one. The online tellings of the Mirage story ended by saying Kaervek's corruption still lingered in the form of the Breathstealers, and also gave an interesting backstory to Telim'Tor, only to then never use him. This story shows us what that lingering corruption entails and gives us more Telim'Tor, so it's all good in my book.

It's a shame that this story was never followed up upon, but remember that there were only 8 years between the Mirage War and the Invasion. Heck, this story says Kaervek's army is "little more than memory" at this point, suggesting it is closer to the latter than the former. And in Invasion the whole region of northwest Jamuraa phased out. Sure it seemed lost in Future Sight, but if Teferi ever finds a way to return the missing bits of Jamuraa to Dominaria this plot could be picked up again!

One final thing: the Breathstealer calls the Glimmer/Glitter Moon the "Bright Moon". So here we've got one final new name for that thing before Glimmer Moon is established as the standard way of talking about it!

I've always adored this piece of art by the way.

RETURN OF THE EMPRESS
By Richard Thomas Rowan

It's the time of Fallen Empires again, and Vodalia is fighting its last battle against the Homarid. Empress Galina decides to teleport to the colony of Etlan Shiis in northern, warmer waters. Something goes wrong though, and she and her army end up thousands of years into the future! Etlan Shiis, founded by the artisan caste, has since surpassed old Vodalia in greatness and has done away with the barbaric caste system. Galina isn't that bothered. She has powerful wizards with her and quite easily retakes the throne.

Another cool one. Granted, the teleportation spell seemingly turning into a time travel spell for no reason at all is a bit random, and Galina retakes the capital veeeeery easily, but it sets up a lot of potential stories, which is taken further by the next one we'll look at. I also like how bad-ass Galina is written, despite being an underwater tyrant. She takes having teleported 3000 years into the future in her stride, and seems to be a very powerful wizard herself, killing an underling who broke caste by touching her very easily. And as a continuity nerd I obviously appreciate how this story explains why Ashes of the Sun said the Voda Sea was in the Domains, while the Vodalians appeared in Fallen Empires, which was set in Sarpadia: the Voda Sea was named after New Vodalia, which grew out of Etlan Shiis, Old Vodalia's most distant colony.

It does make me wonder, if the Vodalians have names like Karel Volnikov, was Marshal Bikov from Shadow Mage from Etlan Shiis? Merfolk having Slavic sounding names isn't that common.

This story has a bit of a timeline conundrum. The wizards estimate that they have traveled 3000 years into the future. Since Fallen Empires happens in ~170, that places the second part of this story at ~3200. (Rounding off because 3000 years is such a vast period of time) But this is the same Empress Galina that got a card in Invasion, which happens in 4205. So... is the empress immortal, living another 1000ish years after having traveled to the future? Or are the wizards wrong in their calculations and is it actually 4000 years? To answer that question, we should first look at the final story on the site.


THE ENEMY OF MY ENEMY
By Christopher R. Wilkes

An Orvadan fisherman is contacted by rebels of Etlan Shiis, who need help fighting against Galina's forces. He brings them three guys: a Kukemssa Pirate, an Urborg war-mage and a Breathstealer priest. The Etlan Shiians reveal they have a lot of sunken treasure they don't need and the ability to allow the mercenaries and assassins to breath underwater, and a deal is made.

More set up for a coming conflict in New Vodalia, presumably one that would've end up in the Magic RPG, if it had ever been made. I especially like that the Breathstealers are used here, tying two strands of world building from the encyclopedia together. The story is okay, but it's a downer that it's all set-up for a story that never got told. I would've liked to see the battle for Etlan Shiis. Presumably Galina's side won, considering she's still around in Invasion. Oh, and note that the fisherman is from Orvada, the seafaring empire first mentioned in Ashes of the Sun. Continuity!

Now, back to the timeline. Again it is said that Galina game from 3000 years ago. Furthermore, her return was "during my grandfather's days" according to the war-mage, so surely in the past two generations people could've gone back an checked their history books to see how long she has been gone. I initially thought the presence of the Breathstealer hinted that this story happens after the Mirage War, but he seems to come directly from Urborg, so that proves nothing.

If this is true then Galina must be really old by the time she appears in Invasion, but we already know she's a wizard herself, and employs a whole host of other wizards. Extending her age shouldn't be that hard. Plus we don't know how old merfolk usually become anyway. The bottom line is that Galina's timeline is just really weird, and we'll probably never know for sure what was going on with her. Personally I prefer to just assume that everything said in the stories is true, and then to come up with a fan solution for why she is still around in Invasion, rather than to assume the dates in both of these stories are wrong. So on my timeline I'll put her emergence at ~3200, and then say "The Enemy of my Enemy" happens two generations later.


FINAL THOUGHTS
So that was the Encyclopedia Dominia. The encyclopedia itself is pretty cool, and just the fact that Wizards was making a major attempt at cataloging the story of Magic in this way is amazing. The stories are unfortunately a bit of a mixed bag. I'm not sure why this site was discontinued. It could be because Wizards wanted people to focus on the Weatherlight Saga instead, or maybe because the RPG project this seemed to be tied into fell through. But it could also be that there simply wasn't much interest for this project, and I can sort of see why that may have been the case. I myself obviously gobble up every morsel of lore we are thrown, but many of these stories are just extended flavor texts for Benalia or Llanowar. More stuff like Scalebane's Elite and the two Galina stories would've been far more entertaining.

Still, this website is tremendously interesting. It paints a very intriguing and detailed picture of Dominaria and shows a lot of attention to continuity, with lots of cross references to other parts of the site and to older stories. As a lot of this stuff was never followed up upon there is a lot of untapped potential here. If Wizards ever needs inspiration for a return to Dominaria, I would advise them to look at this page and the behind the scenes work it stemmed from (that we never got to see). There is good stuff to be found. Good settings in themselves, but build upon old lore (well researched lore at that, virtually without continuity errors.) Great for the old school continuity nerd and the casual fan alike!

And with that... I have reached the end of the pre-revisionist period! I have now covered almost every storyline source before the start of the Weatherlight Saga, missing only some stuff I simply do not have, like the earliest issues of The Duelist and the calendars. Well... every official source. There is one more thing to look at. A fan site, but one made with insider information, and one which became the source for information about Magic's earliest sets for several generations of Vorthos after the Harper Prism and Armada stuff had gone out of print. So please join me next time when we close the pre-revisionist period with a thorough appraisal of Jeff Lee's website The Legends of Magic! 

3 comments:

  1. Very good article. :)

    Typos: "Vrothos", in the last paragraph, and "Ferzo" in the timeline page!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks mister editor! It's been updated!

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