[download] Castle Xyntillan, Rooftops


The Fearless Vampire Killers, Roman Polanski (1967 ...
the original fearless vampire killers

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!


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.

Now I can sleep at night! Enjoy.

maybe there’s a family of wild dogs living up here

[Art] Izvan, Pearl of Hlute, and The Lands of Midnight

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.

A merchant walks along thinking of their wares; meanwhile, a sailor learns of Izvan’s customs.

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.

[Art] The Meeting (in the City-State of The Invincible Overlord)

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.