Ard Skellig

Here’s a map of the interiors of the buildings and here’s a map of just the island with nothing on it.

Of the many Irish isles, one would have stood out to ancient settlers as a particularly good place to live. With its rolling hills, thick forests and an abundance of arable land, it was exactly what many of them were looking for. The island was called “Ireland” and, conveniently, it was the big one in the middle.

But for some people, Ireland was a bit too easy. They were looking for a challenge. These people wanted to make their homes on a smaller island, several miles offshore. Maybe a steep, jagged rock jutting out of the sea, preferably with no trees, very little flat ground, and, of course, no farmable land. Because agriculture is basically cheating.

A little ways off Ireland’s southwest coast, they found exactly what they were looking for: Skellig Michael. They headed over, built themselves a few big, stone beehives to live in, and enjoyed spending the rest of their lives away from the fast-living, hectic lifestyle of rural Kerry.

Then, over 1000 years later, Luke Skywalker showed up. Seriously. If you recognize this place, that’s probably why. In 2015, part of Star Wars: The Force Awakens was filmed on Skellig Michael. And if the island’s name rings a bell, that’s probably because you’ve played the Witcher. The Kingdom of Skellige is named after it. I’m not sure how the producers of Star Wars or a Polish author even knew this place existed, but apparently it’s more famous than you’d expect.

Anyway, next, I’ll be drawing another map from the Black Loch. This time, I’ll be drawing the ruins of an Illithid settlement, which should be a pretty interesting place to explore. After that, I’m going to draw the map chosen by last month’s Cartographic Congress, which I am ridiculously excited about.

Once in a while, someone proposes something to the Cartographic Congress that’s very similar to an idea I’ve been wanting to draw for a while. And, once in a while, that proposal wins. This is that proposal: a town built on a bridge over a river canyon.

I’ve seen a couple maps based on similar ideas before, but I’ve got a whole different sort of thing planned. I’m planning to draw buildings along the sides of the bridge, plus a lower level underneath the bridge deck, and hollow spaces inside the support pylons. I want to have the settlement extend into the cliffsides beneath the bridge as well. I’ve got a big vision for this and I think it’s going to be really cool, either as a settlement or as a dungeon to explore.

Well, that’s it for now. Hope you like Ard Skellig. Let me know what you think!

Mountainous Island Settlement (Almost Finished)

I wanted to show you what’s been taking so long. The rest of the island is done as well, I just need to color the interiors of the buildings. That should take one more day, two at most.

By the way, this island is based largely on Skellig Michael in Ireland. My wife convinced me to draw the buildings like the ones they have there, which are very unique. Which is to say, they’re big, stone beehives.

Anyway, I’m going to try hard to finish this up tomorrow, so I’d better get back to work!

Mountainous Island Settlement (Work-In-Progress)

As sometimes happens with me, I started on this map with relatively humble plans, which ended up becoming a bit more grand. I’ve spent the last week drawing this island and now I just need to draw some buildings to put on it and we’ll have our town. I think I’m going to draw some caves underneath it as well, but I’m not sure yet.

Anyway, this is a real island and I’m curious if any of you would recognize it. At least 50% of you have seen it before, probably more like two thirds. Not in person, but it was in a movie from the last ten years. Also, there’s a location in a popular video game named after it. I’d guess that 5-10% of you have played it. Feel free to leave a comment and I’ll tell you if you’re right.

Okay, back to work!

The Grinning Widow: A Ship for the Seas of the Underdark

The Grinning Widow is a ship designed for the Black Loch. In an underground sea, sails aren’t going to accomplish much, so the Widow doesn’t have any. She’s a galley, powered exclusively by rowing, with a crew of 20 oarsmen who all look like they walked out of a “skipped leg day” meme.

For defense, the Widow is armed with a ram on the bow, as well as two ballistas, one of which is a little scarier than the other. You see, I’ve been drawing the “big crossbow” ballista in my maps for a while now, but I wanted to change things up a bit, so I started searching for different ballista designs. I found a few I liked, but then– out of nowhere– this thing struts into the room. Yes please.

I don’t know if it’s real and I don’t care. It’s awesome and I decided it was definitely going in the map. I made a token of it, too, by the way, as well as the other one. You can get them both here. Personally, I’d give it around double the range and damage of a regular ballista in the DM’s Guide, but require a 2-person crew to fire it every round. And give it +1 to damage if the party names it.

So, here’s a funny story from my game. A few years ago, my players spent some time on a ship like this one, down in the underdark. The orog crew ended up teaching them Orcish, which my wife’s elven wizard got quite good at.

Several months later, she’s with a different party, being confronted by orc bandits, and she uses her knowledge of Orcish to speak with them.  The bandits look at each other and burst out laughing, which leaves the party confused. Finally, the orc leader stops laughing and tells her he’s never heard an elf in a fancy dress speaking Orcish. And he never imagined that, if he did, she’d be speaking the filthiest Orcish he’s ever heard.

They end up eating with the orcs, who tell her that everything she says is heavily laced with curse words. She hadn’t realized it, but the orog sailors taught her to speak like they do, which is very crudely, even by Orcish standards. So she knows the language, but she can’t speak it without cursing. Fortunately, orcs don’t tend to be prudish about that kind of thing, but no one expects it from someone like her.

Anyway, next up, I’ll be drawing a mountainous island settlement. And after that, I’ll be coming back to draw something else from the Black Loch. Maybe the illithid ruins? We’ll see.

Well, I’m gonna grab some coffee and start sketching some islands. Let me know what you think of the Widow!

There’s an annotated version of this map and DM notes available to patrons.