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.
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
Charcuterie Board is a 50-page electronic zine (read: pdf), the first from the GLoG community, and laid out by yours truly. I drew the table for the table of contents above. There’s something for everyone in this! It’s almost guaranteed that nobody will like -everything- in this zine (there are conflicting rulesets), so pick it up, take what you want, and leave the rest. There’s an entire playable game in this zine with Sawn-Off by Velexiraptor, and a playable adventure in the Gaoler’s Hand by Phlox. There’s like 20 playable classes on the cover alone!
When the Before Times ended, a lot of spare time suddenly opened up and I found myself partaking in a bizarre Gretchling community on Discord. Who were they? People who casually threw away the worn, smooth prizes other people cherished. Bewitched, soon I too was crudely cobbling together my own Goblin Laws of Gaming. Before I knew it I was laying and designing a GLoG Charcuterie Board Zine. Covid raged across the world in 2020, and I feverishly worked on this zine, seeking some kind of Talmudic balance to the insane mess of comments, pictures, articles, and tables. Was it a success? Success was never a consideration. There is no overcoming struggle, only elevating it to its highest possible plane. The rules will always change. Embrace the chaos.
In the room of busts, the party inspects the different family members. The bust of Priscilla Malévol tugs at Longo’s shadow, and while the party inspects the phenomenon, they hear footsteps coming up the hall. Astaire quickly casts hold portal on the door and everyone stays quiet. Someone tries to open the door, then the voice of Gilbert Malévol cuts in, and he tries the door. Concluding that it’s another stuck door Gilbert and his merry men move on, and the footsteps fade. Jamila and Bandit investigate the sword in the head. Bandit sees “SCRUPULOUS” on the hilt and senses that it is a magic sword. Jamila takes it, and Scrupulous the intelligent sword introduces themselves to Jamila. Astaire examines Claudette’s jeweled eyes and surmises that they’ll bleed if removed, but uses his sword to pry them out anyhow.
Then they hear shouts down the hall–the merry men heard the party, running back to the room of busts! Astaire quickly casts hold portal again, and the merry men can’t open the door. Gilbert orders it kicked down. The party decides to try the unopened door to the east–into a closet! Making their way into the closet, Jamila uses Scrupulous to detect a hidden door. They advance into an empty room with some broken glass on the floor and quickly shut the secret door behind them. The next room is a laboratory. There is a basket of rags in the corner. Lou sees a homunculon bang its tiny fist against the glass, and Astaire takes a closer look. Lou examines the bouncing sparks in the dome. The homunculon is a hand with two fingers that end in smaller hands. The palm has an eye and a mouth. The party hears one of the merry men discover the hidden door, and enter the room. The merry men open fire, and Tugtar, Lou, and Jamila step in to fight. Astaire turns around to survey the room, and sees Merlerik Malévol, Founder, now wraith, passing through the wall into the room! He casts protection of evil over himself, and Merlerik is rebuffed. Jamila steps in to fight the wraith with Scrupulous. Tugtar stands close by, and whiffs with their hammer. A battle ensues between Jamila and the wraith, who drains 2 points of constitution before dying, burning shadows into the walls. Ysambeau witnesses the battle holding the lantern the entire time. After the victory Tugtar gives him a pair of greaves and Ysambeau’s morale goes up a point. Astaire rolls the four bodies of the merry men in the empty room, and eats one of their sausages, and takes their possessions.
Gilbert abandons the battle, leaving a merry man behind. Bandit tackles and gives chase after Gilbert down the hall and through the Knight’s Hall, where he slashes a cut in gilbert’s forearm. There are 5 headless manservants with trays of wine. Gilbert makes it into the feasting hall and Bandit tackles them again. Longo catches the lone merry man and runs them through with their sword, looting their body while they are alive. The merry man attempts to parley, then fight, and then dies. Lou runs into the knight’s hall and is served mulled wine, then runs over to see Bandit punch Gilbert’s head with his Ring of the Ram Goddess. His head explodes. A merry man appears, sees the carnage, and flees. Lou gives chase, tumbling down the stairs with him. Four merry men are down below. One holds a lantern, and the other three attack Lou with their swords, slashing at him. Lou runs back up the stairs, and the merry men retreat. Bandit takes a gold pocketwatch off of Gilbert, and moves the weapons far from the body. He thens looks over the ghoulish feast on the table. Brined eyeballs in a jar follow his movement.
Bandit: Where’s the goddamn salt???
Session Xp 100 xp
Risks Taken Bandit, Lou, Tugtar, Jamila fight the Merry Men 100 xp Bandit fights and defeats Gilbert Malévol the Fox 200 xp Jamila fights and defeats Merlerik Malévol the Founder, wraith 200 xp Astaire casts Protect From Evil and stands against the wraith 50 xp Tugtar swipes at the wraith 100 xp
XP Gained: Astaire = 150 xp Bandit = 400 xp Jamila = 400 xp Lou = 200 xp Tugtar = 200 xp
Gilbert Malevol and his merry men have entered the castle, searching for the party. In the serjeant’s room, the party douses their light and stays quiet. Astaire casts clairvoyance and peers through the walls. In the darkness, he sees Gilbert Malevol and his “merry men” arrive down an adjacent hall by torchlight, opening doors and looking for the party. Astaire ceases the spell and as the torchlight appears underneath the door of the serjeant’s room and the shadow of boots step before the threshold, Astaire casts hold portal on the door.
Merry Man: It’s stuck. Gilbert: Hmpf, let me try!
But the door doesn’t open and Gilbert wanders off deeper into the castle to find the miscreant party. Heading out after the coast is clear, the party avoids the singing in the mess hall and explores several rooms of a barracks, the last of which was crawling with tiny spiders. An obliquely shaped empty room save for a floursack caught their attention for a while. Then the party returns back to a dumbwaiter they walked by earlier, and wheeling ysambeau and longo up, see a caveman statue opposite, a bathroom door to the east, and a hallway to the west. The party wheels themselves up two at a time and open the bathroom door- to Aristide Malévol, Patrician! Emanating a supernatural menace, he casts Geas over the entire group, which only Lou fails; this cheers up Aristide quite a bit, because he needs a few ingredients he’s left lying about the castle for a special ritual he’s going to perform. Without leaving details, he walks off into the darkness.
Lou: He’s a swell guy! Hope I can help him out.
As Aristide departs, magic swirls around the castle, whether it is from Aristide or a dweomer inside the castle, who can say – but the dumbwaiter the party ascended through moments ago has now become the bathroom that Aristide departed, and the bathroom they were in has become a bedroom! Adjusting to their surroundings in the bedroom, Tugtar hears a weeping behind a dressing screen and hits it with his hammer, knocking over a chained casket behind it, which does nothing to help the sobbing from the casket. Astaire finds and loots a dressing room behind a blue cloth draping the room’s walls. Bandit takes a mirror. A puzzle box is found, and Astaire investigates with it before handing it off to Lou, who investigates it but is also unable to solve the puzzle. Then Jamila also investigates it, and like the others, can’t solve it, but by this point wheezing skeletons have made their way into the bedroom, attacking Longo! Longo’s shield is sundered against the bony claws, and another skeleton luches towards Tugtar. Jamila fires with some arrows and Astaire leaps to the bedroom door, shuts it, and stands against the door. The trapped three skeletons are taken down quickly. When the hall is clear, the party then begins exploring the second floor, wandering down some halls. Astaire opens a door into a room with lit candelabras in the corners and a wooden chest in the center of the room. Stepping in, Astaire is blessed with protection from good and is then questioned by a disembodied voice.
Disembodied voice: What is the purpose of thy affront? Astaire: We’re just exploring? Disembodied voice: Mwahahaha!
Astaire opens the chest, it flies open, the doors slams shut, and the candles go out. Everyone runs out of the room and Astaire almost does too, but then heads back and finds a false bottom in the chest- 3,000 gold coin in paper rolls, a hammer, and seven stakes! Moving on into another hall, Bandit leads the way and heads into a ruined bedroom where an invisible figure sleeps in the bed. Bandits sneaks over to the beat-up weapon cabinet against the wall and inspects the wares beyond the broken glass. A suite of different weapons collected over the years is displayed. A longsword catches Bandit’s eye, and but lifting it out of the case caused some noise, and the sleeping figure awoke, shouting “Attention!” The weapons clattered in the cabinet and everyone’s weapons leap to attention. Bandit held onto their sword, and Lou jumps to the fore with his shovel, smacking the invisible figure in the bed. They disappear and all the weapons fall inert again. The lampbearers Wagner and Ysambeau pick out some kris daggers from the pile, and underneath the fallen pile of weapons in the cabinet, Bandit finds a wood box with six military medals inside. Astairs pins a few on the inside of his robe.
Astaire: “If anyone asks, tell them we won!”
Moving on, the party finds the object of their quest: a library! Everyone takes to the shelves and starts a pile of books on the floor they think look promising for finding information on un-petrifying Adelaide, but the books seem to be mostly romances, adventure yarns, and travelogues. Tugtar paws through an overlooked section on musical scores and finds an insane symphony from Ludwig von Schreck and bundled with it, a spellbook of irresistible dance! Bandit finds hardly anything of interest, and the party questions the quality of book subjects in the library. The party decides to try the second floor of the library, and heads into a room full of hunchbacked scribes chained to their desks, writing feverishly. The scribes are writing the most offensive stuff they can think of. One of the scribes asks Lou for some good material.
Lou: I’ll tell you the MOST offensive joke I know in exchange for writing me a stone-to-flesh spell. Promise? Scribe: Yeah, I promise. Lou: *explicit duck sex joke* Scribe: Oh ho ho ho! that’s really bad. exactly what i want. thanks! Lou: My spell? Scribe: Oh yeah. I lied! how’s THAT for offensive?
To which Lou responded by bashing the scribe’s head in. A few scribes are horrified and drop their quills. One is inspired and begins writing with renewed energy. Meanwhile outside the scribe room in the library, the other party members see a wraith floating down the hallway! Astaire recognizes the wraith as the wasted form of Merlerik Malévol, founder, from his history book on the Malévols. Longo goes to tip a bookcase at the wraith but isn’t quite able to tip it and so retreats. Astaire tries out Tugtar’s new-found spell on the wraith, whos fails and is irrestibably drawn into a dancing a quadrille. The party runs away from the wraith, who attempts to follow while dancing.
Astaire: This spellbook I found is great! Jamila: That’s TUGTAR’S spellbook, Astaire.
Heading away from the dancing wraith and the scribes, they head north into another room. The party steps into a room with the warm light of a evening in late summer streaming in through the castle murderholes. On plinths against the wall are various busts of the Malévol family. Aristide’s skeletal grin is here, another has a sword through their head, and yet another’s eyes sparkle like gems…
What new members of the family are depicted in these busts?? What secrets do they hold??
Session Xp (2) 200 xp
Risks Taken Lou kills a scribe 50 xp Astaire casts irrestible dance on a wraith 100 xp
XP Gained: Astaire = 300 xp Bandit = 200 xp Jamila = 200 xp Lou = 250 xp Tugtar = 200 xp
Castle Xyntillan has many things, but it does not have a map for the Valley of the Three Rainbows! so I drew one myself and added bits from the Tegel Manor region map that seemed interesting. I’ve been using this map and key for a while now while it hasn’t been fully explored, the beach caves and winery did seem some play and worked nicely, I think. The resultant map seems too tiny in detail so i’ll probably revisit it sometime in the future and redraw the whole thing in color, but in the meantime I decided to post what I have.
Here is a 3-page key of the valley, a player’s map, and a gm map. Enjoyy