I (re)discovered this map in one of my folders. Inspired by Jobe Bittman’s 1-page version of Into the Demon Idol, my version had spiders with floppy legs (14), a rust monster (9), and a magically sealed wizard intent on reactivating the idol (20). Sadly the key is lost, but here are the maps!
The campaign in Erillion continues! Here is a campaign report of the past three sessions of my players. They’ve traveled along the coast, stayed in Gont, sailed on to Baklin, and now have entered Tetuphor! I really thought they were going to sail north to the Forgotten Grottoes of the Sea-Lords, but they desire magical arms first, which is sensible.
At the docks of Gont, a false cleric of Trilgar the sailor imported to the party a secret: that he actually serves the Sea-Our-Mother, and is looking for willing adventurers to brave the forgotten Grottoes of the Sea-Lords to resurrect her powers! Barnacles the sailor immediately carved a triangle into his forehead in devotion to the mission, and became a cleric to the watery god.
However, the company was in need of some magical arms. The smiths of Gont could not help, so the crew west along the cost to Baklin. Their business partner Hagguk arranged for the trip to be profitable by smuggling sunfish fish oil in the ports of Baklin on behalf of their patron Grave-Wight, at old storerooms notoriously neglected beneath the city streets. “Bushels” was there to greet them and staged a diversion with beggars painted up as lepers to distract the city watch from taxing the cargo. They delivered the goods, and Bushels paid them well enough to cover the cost of the trip plus a few week’s stay in the city. He told them to stop by the Nine Doors for grub sometime, and bid them farewell.
With the cargo offloaded, the company temporarily headed topside so the dwarf could commission Ragorlak, the famous smith of Baklin, for a silvered mace of custom make. North of the market at the Cauldron & Bellow, Bruno handed over the crucial piece to the weapon: the skull of his former body! The smith soberly considered the dwarf skull carefully for the rigors of a lost-wax casting process, then agreed to make this skull-topped weapon for the dwarf. “Return in two day’s time,” the smith growled.
Returning to Baklin’s Undercity, the company wandered the former catacombs and dusty passageways. Mornir perused some empty catacomb niches left over from the days of when Yolanthus Kar did not inter Erillion’s deceased in Barzak Bragoth. A false bottom in one of the niches revealed 12 bags of silver! Feeling flush with success, the pressed on deeper beneath the city. They found the underground entrance to the Master’s Guild (and the fiery coals saved for those who like to tamper with the door locks of the Master’s Guild). The archer found an invisible statue and decided to amuse himself by outlining a stick figure in charcoal upon it- but the charcoal chipped at the wrist, revealing an odd seam. Twisting the hand, a niche opened in the cave wall, and inside, discovered an invisible pouch filled with invisible dust! The dwarf thought about a taste-test, but in the end the archer-thief kept it and saved it for identification by a wizard in the city.
Looping back around the halls, the company ran into the bizarre floating eyeballs that they had avoided from a distance earlier. Barnacles, former shipwrecker and devotee to the Sea-Our-Mother, turned two of the eyeballs and commanded them into a leather pouch on his person. The rest of the eyes were readily slain, and the party returned topside to find a place to sleep for the night.
The closest establishment was The Ink Bucket, and although there were but two scribes in the common room, it was a full house…save for Room #6. Lady Vandrallen offered it for free, but warned of the ghost haunting it. Unafraid, Grunt, Bruno and Barnacles marched upstairs to do away with the spirit. Peeping into the room, they were immediately greeted by a fanged phantasm floating towards them with clawed hands. Grunt fired off two arrows uselessly through the apparition. The evil cleric turned out the evil eyes in their pouch, but immediately lost control of them- and so the door was swiftly shut, and the crew decided to plead for sleeping on the tavern floor instead.
However, the princeling of the group Mornir Two-Towers was not to be discomfited in any way and went to the suite to demand it for himself. Who answers the door but Kusub the Cardsman, diviner of mysteriously bound fates! Asking Mornir again if he is absolutely sure he wants the suite, the princeling soon finds himself in the middle of a tarot reading. The diviner promises of a stranger visiting the suite at dawn- and what may come of the meeting, Kusub cannot guess.
Morning comes, and black flags are raised on the towers of Baklin. The cheesemonger is the first to stop by the Ink Bucket and relays fresh gossip: Huberic of Haghill has died! In his place a Lord Otchcall now resides, and with Huberic’s wizard still missing, a Godfred Perladon has been appointed as his wizard and vizier. The company took this news gravely, for they all wore gold rings given to them by Huberic and had been out questing for some time now for a way to deal with the feared Grendel in the Forest of Death. Not only this, but they had met Godfred Perladon once before- crawling out of his crypt in the ruined Perladon Manor! This did not bode well, and they pocketed their rings so as not to be recognized as Huberic’s men; there had been rumors in Gont of someone looking for them by that description as well, along the farmlands between the port city and Perladon Manor.
Bruno picks up his mace, and the smith says reluctantly that his magic is fading- the mace is inert until it has drunk hag’s blood (unknown to the smith, the dwarf had been reborn in the opposite alignment after eating a hag’s pearl). Ragorlak bids him to speak to The Piper in the Forest of Woe, a day’s march north from the coastal village Nex. He promises them magical arms all (!) if they get the Piper to bring back his good luck. Before leaving Baklin, Mornir and Grunt stop by The Blue Bottle for curios and to barter with the invisible powder. A deal isn’t struck, but they do leave with a poem describing the tomb of Yrrtwano the Hunter.
They exit Baklin, and walk on the old stone road west, passing by two wee thorps along the way. Between the imposing peaks of the Kordwas Mountain lay the broken and wooded terrain of the Forest of Woe, crisscrossed with ravines, canyons, and gulches. Reaching the Forest of Woe by evening, the crew makes camp in a ditch underneath a rocky overhang off the side of the road.
They woke to stormy weather, heavy rains and clouds. And to Grunt’s ears, the sound of creatures above the overhang. Grunt performs reconnaissance, climbing up the overhang, and spies three Xvarts on patrol! Mornir is the best dressed of the party and attempts to parley with the group, but one reacts poorly to the sneaking thief in the party, and a quick and deadly combat ensued with the last Xvart captive. Through pantomime and liberal ration-gifting, Mornir is able to have the Xvart let them deep into the woods for hopefully the Piper…it is by evening-time that the Xvart halts in a gulch. It points to where a mossy statue of a piper rests, then flees into the thickets.
Investigating the statue and finding nothing of interest but a broken stone finger in the grass (someone must have stolen the flute), they wander north and find two cave entrances.
They take the eastern one, walk past the charred skeleton of a giant snake, and again Mornir quickly parleys with 8 bandits who were moving in to rob the party. Some gold is placed in dirty palms, and information is given about the bandits, who have started working with some orcs to unseal caves to old elemental gods. Unfortunately one bandit tries to cut down Mornir, and so are all quickly cut down by arrows, a harpoon, and a throwing hammer.
Moving on through the caverns, the party finds charred skeletons (“TOWARDS AN ELEMENTAL UNIVERSE” written on the wall), sleeping skeleton mercenaries, and an altar to an elemental god, which was destroyed with prejudice by the cleric. The company is now in a large cavern with a collapsed ceiling in the center, showing the storming night sky above. The cleric has been taken surprise by a Megabat, and that’s where we ended the session.
Referee Notes Our campaign takes place on Erillion (Echoes from Fomalhaut 1-6, 8-9, Baklin), and Huberic of Haghill (Judge’s Guild Installment K) was a significant starting point. Tetuphor is by Gene Weigel. The Forgotten Grottoes of the Sea Lords (not that we’ve made it there yet) is by Expeditious Retreat Press.
Hexes and Crawls: The game up until this point had only seen travel across a few hexes or so; my efforts in getting a reasonable hexcrawl procedure onto a single page proved very useful. Erillion is written with 12 mi/20 km hexes which gives a nice feel for traveling long distances in a short amount of game time. Hunting (in this case, fishing while anchored) found good use, sights were seen, and any notion of “fast-traveling” somewhere evaporated in the promise of exploration. I’m still learning how to easily grok lairs and encounter tables at the same time. Should I roll for someone who’s wandered off the road from the city, a resident monster, or something completely different? It’s largely a matter of preference that only time will clarify. For example, when I started DM’ing, I used an “overloaded encounter die”: 1=Encounter, 2-3=Omen, 4-5=Nothing, 6=Optional Encounter. In my last session I just went with the typical 1:6=Encounter, and gameplay felt faster. Rolling an omen can provide interesting context and add tension, but it can also drag down decision-making by overwhelming players with sensory input. Rat turds, torch butts, and scuffed floors are ok, but “you hear footsteps” 2-3x just makes things confusing. I’d rather trust the dungeon dressing and room entries and focus on encounter distance instead, which also seems useful for outdoor encounters.
City life: In the cities I’m still unsure what the perfect mixture of “fast-travel” and “dungeoncrawl” ought to be; sometimes they feels like wonderful places to explore and learn history, but they can also feel like they’re getting in the way of a proper adventure, especially when it comes to buying sundry items. I’ve been using BFRPG’s excellent Equipment Emporium; perhaps I should compose smaller lists for different businesses…the trickiest business of all being the Magic-User’s shop. List of Magic-User spell components, magical reagents, and curios, anyone?
First of all, this year was kind of a blur. I drew, I wrecked my computer, the Bat Plague and political neglect got on like a house and fire, I got grant funding to publish adventures, I even got back on Twitter! In between of all this is spending way more time in the kitchen. Whiskey may be the solution for some, but for me, it’s a solid dinner…and hundreds of cookies. So what’s a year in review look like at the Blog of the Castle Librarian. Let’s esteem it by three topics: Blog posts, campaigns, and art. There could be other categories listed, but I like to start simple.
Blog posts: I made a blog post about every other month. Running a campaign report was my sole reason for running a blog in the first place, so I’m not surprised that frequency dropped after the ending of the campaign in Xyntillan. There was a lull for perhaps a month or so before I started up another game, this time in Erillion. Then I transitioned into posting art. Expect more of both this year! I’d also like to start reviewing some adventures I’ve ran (once I’ve finished running them). I thought about including more subjects to increase the post count, but decided to keep this blog for mostly fantasy games. Maybe I’ll change my mind about this in the future. For the persons who don’t see your comments: I deleted them by accident, fending off my blog from bots spamming russian stuff. Comment again!
Campaigns: In 2020 I started up Castle Xyntillan, which ended right at the beginning of 2021. There were some starts on other games, and then I started up a (still-running) campaign in Erillion (from Echoes from Fomalhaut, #1-6, #8, & Baklin -whew!). The first party had a good start in the port town of Gont and traveled on to Haghill, signing up for service to Huberic that very night, but then players moved. So a second party started again in Gont, this time already in Huberic’s employ, but sent abroad for a solution to the killer in the Forest of Death, and this group has gone far, sailing around and exploring places. On non-campaign sessions we’ve been juggling different adventuring parties in Erillion, but all are on hiatus as a new party of 6 players work their way through The Valley of The Barbarian King (I got the entire EMDT ouevre last Christmas as a gift from the players). Maybe this year I’ll work my way into an adventure that Gabor Lux hasn’t written? To my adventuring crews’ credit, back in Erillion, they are making preparations to visit the Forgotten Grottoes of the Sea Lords…
Art: I’ve actually drawn more this year than I have in a long time. Perhaps not in painting, but drawings, design, portraits, maps, and all sorts of other small things (decorating cookies…). I started up business as a fantasy illustrator! So I did some illustrations for The First Hungarian d20 Society, a commission for a collector, and minted some NFTs. A pretty good spread. Fantasy illustration has been quite enjoyable, so I’ll be doing a lot more of that. NFTs is a total cray-cray zone and I can’t make any predictions there other than I would like to mint more NFTs and explore being able to share art digitally through the blockchain. I make art first! But overall it is an exciting and supportive space, if you’re not a jackass looking to get rich.
There we have it, my year in review. I’m excited for a lot of projects that I started last year and in the past to FINALLY come to fruition in 2022. Stay tuned, as tv folk say!
Heed the tale of the chimney-sweep, and beware! The Blind Beast has been seen roaming the shingled slopes! Why does lightning strike the top of the donjon so frequently? Is there a shack on roofs? Run along the rooflines, but if you slip, you may find yourself in danger, or worse!
***PLAYERS STAY AWAY, LEST THE MAZE CONTROLLER ALWAYS FIND HARPY NESTS AMONG THESE ROOFTOPS***
As an artist relatively new to the game of Dungeons & Dragons, seeing Rob Conley’s layouts for Castle Xyntillan was something I’d never seen before. First, a floorplan that was actually interesting (excepting WInchester Mansion, of course), and secondly, the notion of conveying an object’s shape topographically. I do not normally draw my bowls of fruit in “top-down” layers- so looking at something depicted in such a way immediately encouraged my mind to then imagine the entire structure as I’d normally see it. Having nothing depicted for the rooftops bothered me somewhat, but I dismissed it entirely as my players proceeded to encounter the metric fuck-ton of stuff that lay underneath the “invisible” rooftops. Honestly, does this castle need more stuff on top of all that it’s got? Hell yes! Now your players can enjoy the view before harpies drop them plummeting to their deaths.
Thinking of the rooftops occurred again near the end of my first campaign. A nest of harpies in a ruined gallery outside the Greater Library threatened to fly off with several characters. Fortunately for them, things did not turn out that way. But if they had, what if had they broken free and cast fly? What then? What if they had climbed out of the broken windows? After that, I was very interested being able to run rooftop capers. Both Roman Polanski’s The Fearless Vampire Killers and The Castle of Cogliostro by Hayao Miyazaki feature extensive adventures across steep shingled slopes, and both movies in my opinion are excellent inspiration material for both DMs and players alike.
This illustration was made for Izvan, a city nestled in a fjord amongst other islands collectively known as the Twelve Kingdoms, to be published in the upcoming Echoes from Fomalhaut #09. I’m currently running a campaign in Erillion, so these northwestern lands were already on my mind. As for my current party, they’re on the southeast coast of the island, sailing back to Gont after plundering an abandoned manor house right underneath the Forest of Doom- so quite far from these waters.
Izvan is an ancient city nestled deeply in a fjord. The Palace of Knossos and the abbot’s designs in The Secret of Kells were an inspiration, Moebius was cited for the dress of the priest, and NC Wyeth for the stout sailor mercenary holding a torc. For the giant statue, the statue of King Menkaure was used; he’s got a subdued and assertive “eternal foot forward” stance that I think is mysterious.
I squished the layout of the map, doubled the layers, and then “stacking” them, made sense of their structure vertically. I traced it two or three times to get some distinct tiers of elevation. Once I was satisfied with the composition, I moved on to figuring out the foreground.
There was a bunch of fiddling to make sure the interesting bits didn’t overlap each other. With the figures sketched out, I began fiddling around with bands of shadows for added drama, and to visually isolate the two pairs of people. One one side, we have a well-lit priest conversing with a man in the shadows; on the other side, mixed company in mixed shadows. I like making light games of visual distinction like this as I work through a picture. I believe it adds atmosphere and coherence, if that makes sense.
Lastly, I went in for the details: for the background, a very static kind of hatching for the hazy city and fjord walls. For the foreground I used a horizontal ruled line hatching for the shadows, like Hogarth would have done, and many other engravers of his time.
Bonus Art: The Lands of Midnight
While preparing for this illustration, I was pointed to Mike Singleton’s The Lords of Midnight, a 1984 Commodore 64 (ZX Spectrum in Europe) game with a look that is very picturesque. It made me wonder: when did (moving) pictures begin to be called (motion) graphics? Anyways, this game is a lot of fun. Go check it out.
Here, with an almost-countable number of pixels, the clarity of shapes and their arrangement are crucial to the readability of the image. “8-bit” pictures have that quality about them, and it’s stunning that the Lords of Midnight can do what it does with less than a megabyte of code. I shamelessly stole a few pieces from the game. Look at that dragon! I added a wing and another foot to fill it out a bit, but left it be.
Occurences of Till Eulenspiegel in print: 1515 – German chapbook, by anon 1867 – The Legend of Thyl Ulenspiegel and Lamme Goedzak, by Charles De Coster 2017 – Tyll, by Daniel Kehlmann
Tyll as a personage of history is worthy of writing an essay on alone, and I highly recommend browsing the Wikipedia article on it. An actual person from the 13th centruy, in De Coster’s hands, becomes a creature that hovers around the Thirty Years’ War and the resultant Reformation, a kind of chaperone to various events of import. It is this Tyll that Daniel Kehlmann writes, a wanderer in Austria, sardonic witness to the grunting offhand cruelty of the world.
Finally reading this book when I did felt like many of my interests were suddenly being connected to each other in time that was obvious, but completely surprised me. Mennochio the miller from The Cheese and The Worms makes an appearance, it’s set during the Thirty Years’ War, Gluckel of Hameln (in her memoirs) lives nearly in the same time and place…but what about the book!! It just puts together so many historical archetypes in my head. I was also surprised to then later find that Tyll Ulenspiegel lived 300 years earlier- and that the Tyll of Tyll is a contemporary retelling of the 19th century book of the same name, from France. I’d like to read the 13th century original Tyll Ulenspiegel now!
The parts about performing for money and life being difficult resonated with me. I feel you Tyll. Life is hard, people are dicks. Getting good at something is hard too, and nobody cares more about it than you will. People are dumb and suspicious. The local asshole will throw you under the mill wheel just to watch you die. Fun times! The writing somehow prevented me from thinking, somehow, that the world was horrible and bleak. Matter-of-factly? Tyll keeps it pretty real. “You idiot.” he says all the time. Ha! It’s easier to bear cruelty, perhaps, if someone is there to remark on its idiocy. But there’s more! The day I started reading it, I picked up Simplicissimus by John Grimmelshausen earlier that day, and later Athanasius Kircher or someone else is referring to it in the book! I guess my historical interests were altogether more consistent than I thought. I suspect that the time period in the book occurs at the same time as Simplicissumus.
Atmospheric, and vividly expresses the motivations and emotions of peoples without lapsing into intellectualism or moral disdain, but still somehow sympathetic and yet unforgiving. It’s like a Pieter Bruegel painting!
These two depictions of nearly simultaneous moments stem from a campaign one summer in the City-State of The Invincible Overlord. Rules be damned, a floating skeleton and a robot agreed in all things took up an apartment on Wall Street, briefly explored the Wilderlands, then became exclusively preoccupied with improving their neighborhood, then starting an organization.
In the meantime, the skeleton Rharhangarth followed a posting for an apprenticeship under the Wizard Palletti on By-Water Road. Since the duo’s tactics at this time mostly revolved around the skeleton’s ability to give people false memories, the hand-shake between the wizard and skeleton triggered the spell, and to his surprise was repelled by an anti-mind-control amulet the wizard wore around his neck. “The meeting” somehow lasted two sessions as the dream-scenario got muddled and mired in logistics and magical precedence, and eventually the campaign got put on hiatus I as turned my attention to other rules that were less complicated. Now that I’ve ran a deathtrap dungeon and no longer have qualms sending characters to their grave should they make a fatal error- and likewise letting players trounce their problems if they’ve done it right- I’m much more excited to return to the strange and bizarre city (what is up with those lamp-posts???)
White-on-black is a real advantage digital drawing has over watercolor and ink. I broke up the space with a trapezoidal floor-shape silhouette shape, and started from there. I drew a few sketches, then filled out one where both faces were visible, so I could get a sense of personality. It didn’t depict any of the magic wielded by the skeleton, nor really convey the power of the amulet, so a couple of weeks later I filled out another sketch. An embroidered robe, Giotto-esque mountains, the specific gown of Rharhangarth, all accounted for. I had a good time using heavy blacks and using different techniques like the white-on-black effect selectively. Lastly, I find the “wood-cut” effect of the first picture quite interesting- the linking of black shapes, and lines flowing alongside each other.
After the battle, Lou flips off the eyeballs. Bandit hides the jar of eyeballs on a chair against a wall behind a tapestry. Longo enters a room with 5 manservants. Ysambeau bosses one around, fails, and gets strangling for his lack of manners! He manages to survive but suffers a horrible scar. The party jumps in and dispatches the servants. Bandit and Longo open the shutters and look into the night out over the grand entrance to the castle. Astaire is almost taken in by the intense stare of Médard Malévol the Mighty’s bust in a shadowy nook. Lou opens up their pocket laboratory and extracts some blue essence from a headless manservant. Wagner and Ysambeau refill their lanterns.
Shadows dance in the sitting room while Longo and Bandit examine the cracked mirror. While the party waits, the shadows of Ysambeau, Lou, and Jamila coalesce and attack! Bandit leaves the room and runs downstairs towards the grand entrance—only to be ambushed by merry men! Bandit dives through a hail of arrows and survives the ambush, Tugtar rushes in to taunt them, and the battle spreads downstairs. Lou’s strength is drained, upstairs Jamila flees the shadows, also drained of strength, and eventually the tide is turned against the merry men and the party flees from the shadows, past a suprised undead butler gentlemen, and towards the castle doors.
Longo opens the door and warm night air rushes in. The party streams out and Tugtar grabs a coat on the coat rack on the way out—only to be enveloped by a Cloaker instead! A hat floats off the coat rack and lands on Wagner’s head, then beheads him! Stomping boots come out to trip him, and a cane beat on his back, but to no harm. Tugtar manages to esape. Wagner’s body falls to the ground, spilling lantern oil and igniting itself in flames, and that was the last sight the party saw before slamming the door shut and fleeing the castle. The party continues to run until they hear a distant four bells from across the lake, and rested and took lunch. They made it to the priory at the pass by 10:29, according to Bandit’s pocketwatch. Outside Jarl greets them while milking a goat, and inside Ferenc and Ursula asks about the party and missing members. They catch up and then sleep through the day, and awake in the evening to discuss their plans. Meanwhile, Lou’s Geas whispers within him to return to Xyntillan and collect Goatrice blood for Aristide Malévol’s ritual….
Risks Taken Astaire examines shadowy bust 50xp Bandit examines cracked mirror 50xp Tugtar taunts the merry men to draw their fire 100xp Jamila fights the shadows to hold the line 200xp
XP Gained (+100 xp) Astaire = 150 xp Bandit = 150 xp Jamila = 300 xp Lou = 100 xp Tugtar = 200 xp