The Stygian City: Caves and Catacombs

The next three levels of the Stygian City are finished! As promised, I updated the previous levels with the lower level windows. I also renamed all the previous levels. I’d originally named the first three floors 0, 1 and 2, but I realized that it would take less time to change them to 1, 2 and 3 than it would to answer questions about that for the next several years.

For patrons, I updated the DM notes with an overview of the history of the pit and how it came to be. I made a copy of this story for non-patrons as well, which you can find above. I’m very curious to know what everyone thinks about it. In any case, this whole place is designed to be very flexible, so if you’ve got a better idea of what to do with it, you can tell your story instead.

Next up is a drow academy of war, where drow males can go to become useful for something other than reproduction or being beaten for the entertainment of others. There’ll be an arena, training areas, maybe even a classroom where students come to study Drow Clausewitz and Sun Tzu. After that, I’ll probably draw another few levels of the pit.

Well, I hope you like how it’s coming so far! Check out the DM notes and let me know what you think of the story. And if you’re not a patron, check this post tomorrow and I’ll have a copy for you too.

I changed some things. What do you think?

Shortly after I posted the first part of the pit, I decided that I hated the colors. And, when you’re planning to draw another twenty or so maps with those colors, that’s a problem. So I made some adjustments and partially recolored the underground levels. I think the colors for the surface were basically fine and, besides, the rest is going to be underground.

So, what do you think?

The Next Megaproject?

Photo Credit: Stijndon, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

So, I have an idea for a new map project and I want to get your opinions on it.

The photos above are from the Initiation Well in Portugal. That isn’t what I want to draw, but I think it illustrates my idea fairly well.

Imagine a large, cylindrical pit in the middle of a small village. The villagers don’t know who made it or how deep it is. But it’s deep. If you drop a rock, you won’t hear it hit the bottom.

Looking down into the pit, one can see walkways and chambers dug into the sides. The villagers didn’t dig them, but they use them as homes and shops. The village tavern is down there, too. Below the village are the mines, where most of the villagers work, digging for copper ore.

The tunnels circling the pit go deeper, but the villagers rarely wander beyond the mines. They know there are giant bats living down there, which come up at night. And there are goblins, or at least there used to be. They haven’t seen one in years.

Here’s a rough outline of what each level of the pit might look like:

  • 1-3: The village
  • 4,5: Villagers’ mines
  • 6: A maze of tunnels and collapsed chambers overrun by mold
  • 7: Caverns inhabited by giant bats
  • 8: Ancient crypt
  • 9: A goblin settlement. Possibly friendly. They eat the bats.
  • 10: Caves inhabited by giant spiders. Huge webs strung across the pit (which caught the rock they threw in earlier).
  • 11: Rough, partially-collapsed tunnels and chambers inhabited by monsters
  • 12: Night Hag’s lair in ruins of an ancient temple
  • 13, 14, 15: Ruins of an ancient settlement
  • 16: Ancient prison covered in mushrooms
  • 17: Myconid colony around a crumbling fountain
  • 18: Ancient catacombs
  • 19: Ancient oracle and library with a long-abandoned scholars’ camp containing notes about the pit’s history
  • 20: Mushroom caves. Below this, the pit is filled with water
  • 21, 22: Underwater ruins with undead
  • 23: The bottom (Sealed vault? Trash and debris? I have no idea what goes here yet)

That’s what I’ve got right now, but it’s all subject to change, especially once I figure out the story of how the pit came to be and what’s at the bottom. If you’ve got a better story in mind, the whole thing would basically be modular, so you could rearrange the levels or remove the ones you don’t need.

Anyway, is this something you’d be interested in? I’d love to know what you think or whether you have any ideas to add. Right now, nothing is set in stone, including whether I draw it at all, so by all means, if you’re into the idea, please let me know!

Castel Sant’Angelo (Work-in-Progress)

These are four of the five floors of Rome’s Castel Sant’Angelo. I’ve got the rest drawn too, but, as you can see, I ran out of desk, so someone had to get cut from the class photo.

As big as this is already, there’s actually one more thing to draw: the outer walls. I’ll draw those in on my tablet. This place is extremely unique as castles go, so hopefully you like it so far. It’s been a ton of work, but I think it’s looking pretty good.

I also had an idea for a new megaproject and I’d love to get your thoughts on it, but let me put that in a separate post. Until then, let me know what you think of the map so far!

The Big Plan (Yes it’s insane, but that’s never stopped me before)

I sat down to lay out what the world outside Tir Thelandira looks like and this is what I came up with. All of this is preliminary and nothing is set in stone. Tir Thelandira is the little island on the right.

I don’t know exactly how long it would take to write lore and draw maps of all the places on all these islands, but I’d guess it would be approximately the rest of my life. That works for me. This feels like a worthwhile thing to spend a lifetime creating.

Of course, it’s not going to be a world for quite a while. It’ll be a number of islands that can be inserted into another setting. That’s what Tir Thelandira is right now and it’s what all the islands will be for a long time. In several years, there may be regions of the map that can be used as a setting by themselves. But the finished world, in which every island on that map has its own story and its own maps? That’s something so far away that you may never see it. I may never run a game in it. But that part of it isn’t for us, it’s for the people after us. It something we can create as a legacy to leave for the next generation of DMs.

Here are a few ideas I had for this world:

  • The ruins of an ancient empire, dangerous and uninhabited except for treasure seekers. Littered with colossal statues, crumbling cities and buried palaces.
  • An island populated by humans and ruled by vampiric noble families who treat the commoners as cattle. A very bleak place.
  • An island of giants who raid other settlements. Basically, super-vikings.
  • An island whose people were wiped out by a disease. Now overrun by undead.
  • An island populated by humans but ruled by giants. There’s an interesting relationship between the two groups.
  • Underwater kingdoms of merfolk and aquatic elves.
  • Greek stuff
  • Islands with cultures inspired by East and Southeast Asia, India, East Africa and Arabia. And Europe, in case that doesn’t go without saying.
  • A Polynesian-inspired region, parts of which are very advanced. Like, imagine the Republic of Venice was built by the Maori.
  • Islands at war
  • Dwarves living on volcanoes.
  • Lizardfolk with an amphibious kingdom
  • An advanced society in an arctic climate.

I’d love to hear your ideas as well. I want to make this thing and I think I’ve proven that I can. So, what do you say?

Tir Thelandira: The Plan So Far

Here’s a map with all the locations I’ve got planned for Tir Thelandira. There are 12 in all, of which 3 are already drawn. For another 6, I have a pretty good idea of what will be there. And for the last 3, I’m going to let patrons decide. I’ll take proposals for ideas for those locations and hold a vote to determine which ones get drawn.

Okay, let’s talk about the first nine locations. If you haven’t seen the lore, here you go.

  • OakenholdFinished
  • Frog’s Haven CrannogFinished
  • Cave of the SunFinished
  • BrochThis is a broch. Historically, they were built in Scotland in the Iron Age. The elves constructed this place as a defense against the Dhasrans and it’s the first large-scale stone structure they’ve ever built. This will be the next map.
  • Elven Town – Like the rest, this will get a more interesting name once I draw it. The town will be laid out in a motte-and-bailey design and there will be a bridge or a ferry over the nearby river.
  • Dhasran Colony – This is the settlement the Dhasrans built around their gold mine. The mine itself may get its own map.
  • Burned Colony – This is the previous mining colony the Dhasrans built, which the elves burned to the ground.
  • Glaver’s Camp – The encampment of the mercenaries of Glaver’s Regiment. Tidy and organized. Very professional.
  • Blackboots Camp – The encampment of the Blackboots mercenary company. So filthy you’d expect orcs to be living here. But nope, just really nasty humans.

The other locations are marked 1, 2 and 3. These are the ones I’m leaving up to you. I did this for the Black Loch and the ideas you submitted were so good I decided to do it again with Tir Thelandira. Here are a few guidelines on each location:

  1. This can actually be in one of two places: the little island in the river OR the swamp to the east of Oakenhold.
  2. This can be anywhere on the island, so if your idea is for a location on the coast, that’s fine. It doesn’t have to be where the dot is.
  3. This can be anywhere near the marked area, so if you want it by the lake or in the forest, that’s fine. It can also be on that small island in the bay.

I’ll send out a message to all patrons asking for your ideas on the first location in a day or two. While a lot of the places on the map are settlements, I’d love to get ideas for other types of places as well. Think it over. I know there are a ton of good ideas out there and I really do want to hear them. Help me make this world.

Secret Room: Psycho Murder Basement

This is the first of three secret rooms I’m drawing. It’s meant to be used with another map that you’d like to add a secret room to. For example, maybe you want to run an adventure in the glorious French castle of Chateau de Chenonceau. But your adventure requires a brutal axe-murder dungeon and, inconveniently, the Chateau de Chenonceau doesn’t have one of those. This map is meant to solve that problem, with two different versions so you can have the secret entrance either behind a wall or under a trapdoor in the floor.

Next, I’m going to draw another secret room map: a hidden prison. This is for situations where you need to hide some hostages or sacrifices or something. You know the adventures where the party has to go somewhere and rescue people? It’s for those.

It shouldn’t take long to draw. I actually got this one done in two days, but I decided to hold off on posting it since it’s probably the most grisly map I’ve ever drawn and Christmas felt like a slightly awkward time to put it out there. I mean, what do you even write in the post? “Have a great holidays everybody, here’s some dismembered corpses!” I don’t even know.

Anyway, hopefully you find the idea of the secret rooms useful! I’m not going to be spending a ton of time on them, but I want to draw a few and see what everybody thinks. If you’ve got any thoughts about these or how to make them more useful, by all means let me know!

The Second Civilization of Tir Thelandira

I’ve come up with three civilizations based on the ideas you’ve given me. There’s a vote, which is open to all patrons, to decide which one will share the island of Tir Thelandira with the wild elves. Here are the choices:

The Kiyaran Khanate:

The Kiyarans are horse-riding, nomadic people with a culture inspired by Turkmen, Tatars and Mongols. They rule a small empire on several distant islands.

20 years ago, five ships of Kiyaran soldiers were caught in a storm and destroyed near the remote island of Tir Thelandira. The survivors came ashore and met the island’s elven residents, who took them to their queen. The queen allowed the Kiyarans to occupy the island’s eastern plains and to tame the wild horses that lived there, giving them bows to hunt with and tents to sleep in. The Kiyaran soldiers were grateful and never made trouble for the elves, for whom they had great respect.

Recently, the Khanate, who had long thought the soldiers to be dead, began to hear rumors that they were alive on Tir Thelandira. A ship was sent to the island, which found the survivors. Their leader, First Lancer Bayar, returned with them to tell his story to the Khan.

After hearing it, the Khan saw an opportunity to expand his empire. The soldiers would use their knowledge of the island and its inhabitants to assist a larger army in the conquest of the elven lands. Bayar asked the Khan to spare the elves, who had saved the lives of his men, but the Khan refused.

The Khan’s brother was sent to Tir Thelandira with ships full of soldiers. First Lancer Bayar returned as well, agreeing to help, but secretly hoping that he and his men might find a way to stop the invasion.

Dhasran Colony:

The White City of Dhasra is a small, tremendously wealthy city-state built on the islands of a river delta. The river, known as the Golden Serpent, was named for the large amounts of gold dust that once flowed through it.

That gold is one of the main sources of Dhasra’s wealth, but lately the mines have begun to peter out. In response, the Raja of Dhasra sent out a fleet of ships to find new sources of wealth abroad. Several of these ships came to the eastern shores of Tir Thelandira, where they noticed a few bits of gold flake in the river. After a bit of digging, a large vein of gold ore was discovered.

Before long, a small mining colony was constructed on the island. The elves living to the west watched the Dhasrans warily, but did not act until they began logging the elven woods. The colonists were warned, but the warning was ignored and the elves retaliated. Swiftly and mercilessly, the colonists were slain to a man.

After several months, the Dhasrans returned to rebuild their colony. This time, they brought two legions of mercenary soldiers to protect it. Neither side has moved on the other, but no one expects peace for long.

Exiles of the Triumphant Dawn:

In a distant kingdom, the priests of the Triumphant Dawn once had thousands of followers. Their god was a righteous and benevolent deity, who encouraged those traits in his worshippers.

When the priests began to demand an end to the corrupt and tyrannical rule of the nobility, they made a great many enemies. The priests believed that, as clergy, they had no need to fear serious retribution. They were wrong. After a number of riots, the nobles began hunting down and executing priests of the Triumphant Dawn.

Realizing that they had failed, the priests fled the kingdom, settling on the distant Tir Thelandira. The High Priest asked the island’s elven Queen for permission to stay, which she granted on two conditions. First, the exiled priests would not expand their colony. And second, they would not attempt to convert her people.

The High Priest agreed, but soon violated the first condition. After the priests left, the nobles had turned their wrath against their followers. When the priests learned of this, they sent ships to bring them to Tir Thelandira. The colony of 150 turned into a colony of 5000. When the new colonists began proselytizing to the elves, the queen regarded it as a complete betrayal.

Relations between the two groups are tense, with some elves launching raids against the colonists. So far, the Triumphant Dawn have exercised restraint, but there are people on both sides pushing for a holy war.

The Island of Tir Thelandira

People seem to like the wild elves, so I drew up a map of the island they’ll be living on. The elves will occupy the left side of the island and their yet-to-be-decided neighbors will be on the right. I don’t know what’s going to be happening on that little island at the top, but we’ll figure something out.

My wife has asked me to name the elven ruler after her and I told her I would. Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean we’re getting a Queen Stacy or Queen Kathleen. My wife is named after Niamh of the Golden Hair, daughter of the Irish sea god Manannán mac Lir, the lord of the Tuath Dé and ruler of Tír na nÓg. So I think her name should fit the theme pretty well here.

Anyway, I thought I’d post this to see if it inspires any more ideas on who the elves might be sharing the island with. There have been some excellent suggestions and I’m planning to compile them into a vote before too long, but I want to give everyone another chance to propose some more ideas. I feel like the other civilization will probably be relative newcomers to the island, but they don’t have to be.

Anyway, if you’ve got any thoughts on the neighboring civilization, let me know in the comments or shoot me a message!

The Black Loch: The Collected Free Versions – Also, news about the next big project.

I compiled all the free versions of the Black Loch maps and tokens, which you can download here. The image above is something I made to post on reddit. I think it explains what the Black Loch is pretty well.

I also wanted to talk about what I’m working on now. A while back, I discussed the next big project I had planned: a series of islands. I finally have a plan for the first island and I want to see what you all think.

There will be two civilizations on the island. The first will be wild elves, or “wood elves,” if you prefer. I haven’t decided on the second, but I’d love to hear your suggestions if you have any. In the lore, the two civilizations will be in conflict.

The wild elves will be transitioning from a nomadic, tribal society into a more unified, settled one and will have a more primitive architectural style, inspired by Iron Age Celtic structures. The map I’m working on now is based on a crannog, which is a dwelling built on an artificial island in a lake, usually surrounded by a wooden palisade. Here’s a good example of a crannog.

The crannog I’m drawing is a little more elaborate than that, with a whole village spread across two islands connected by a bridge. Other locations for the elves might include a brocha Scottish style of Iron Age towerhouse— and a tree fortress based on Oakenhold, which would serve as their capital. I drew Oakenhold years ago and it’s the only map I’ve ever considered redrawing. I think it would fit in very well here.

I’ll go into more details when I post the crannog, but nothing is set in stone yet. Before it is, I want to show you the first map and give everyone a chance to let me know if you like it and want me to run with it or if you aren’t that into the concept. If you like it, we’ll do the Celtic wild elves. If you don’t, I’ll figure out something else.

If you’ve got any ideas for what the other civilization might be, let me know in a comment or a message. I said before that I wanted to give you more input on this project and I thought I’d do that by letting you take the wheel on one civilization while I do the other. Call it an experiment in collaborative worldbuilding.

Okay, I’m gonna get back to work on the crannog. If you’ve got any thoughts on any of this so far, positive or negative, I’d love to hear them!