Wednesday, 6 November 2019

[NEWS] Castle Xyntillan: Announcement and Preview

Castle Xyntillan (cover by Peter Mullen)


“The immense, rambling complex of Castle Xyntillan has stood in its mountain valley for many years. Built over several generations, it has now been deserted by its former owners, and left to time and the elements. However, that is not the end of the story, for Xyntillan’s fabulous treasures and Machiavellian deathtraps continue to fascinate the fortune-seekers of a dozen lands – and never mind the ghost stories!”

I am happy to announce the (now truly) forthcoming publication of Castle Xyntillan, a funhouse megadungeon for the Swords&Wizardry game. Xyntillan will be a 132-page hardcover, describing the three massive levels of the eponymous haunted castle, from the soaring tower of the Donjon to the inky depths of the Oubliette (and beyond). The module will ship with four map sheets with both GM’s and player’s cartography by Rob Conley, cover art by Peter Mullen (whose work, above, should speak for itself), and interior illustrations by Denis McCarthy, Stefan Poag, Peter Mullen (again), and The Dead Victorians. The hardcover set should sell for $40 plus shipping, and should be available at the end of November or very early December – allowing ample time for delivery before Christmas. And now, the details!

With Castle Xyntillan, my goal was to create a classic-style megadungeon based on the following design principles:
  • Versatility: The dungeon should be suitable for different game groups and play styles. It can make for fun one-off expeditions and convention games, it can be played as its own campaign, or ­it can become the tentpole dungeon of a broader campaign setting. It can be played with permanent groups, or a “West Marches”-style player and character pool. It is designed for levels 1 to 6, but otherwise, anything goes – from smaller parties relying on stealth and infiltration to more hack-and-slash affairs involving a small army of disposable flunkies, Xyntillan should offer a fun experience – at all levels of experience.
  • Open-ended exploration: The dungeon should accommodate many different approaches to exploration. Multiple entrances and an open structure built around interconnected sub-levels provide several possible paths through the Castle, including two- and three-dimensional exploration puzzles, hidden sections, and fabulous rewards secreted in secret places. Of course, openness also involves a healthy level of risk management: dangerous areas are not usually cordoned off from nosy characters, and the dungeon is not broken down into neat “levels” of difficulty; rather, it is the players’ responsibility to decide when to push their luck, and when to retreat to safety.
  • Open-ended gameplay: Groups (and players) with quite different interests should all find something to their liking. Whether they relish combat or prefer furtive exploration; confront Xyntillan’s denizens with sword and holy water in hand or play them off against each other; go for the choice treasures or seek the castle’s deeper mysteries, it should be possible. Likewise, GMs with different ideas should be able to customise it to their liking with little effort. Nothing is prescribed, but many things are possible – and Castle Xyntillan is a framework that enables and invites experimentation.
  • Complexity and interactivity: Rooms should offer many things to discover and mess with. While some are straightforward puzzles or traps, there are many which involve (or benefit from) a bit of lateral thinking and experimentation. They also have a depth that should not be overwhelming in play, but offer opportunities to come up with daring plans and unexpected combinations – especially when the players start leveraging multiple things in different rooms to their advantage.
  • Variety of challenges: While it does not pull punches, Xyntillan is not a hardcore killer dungeon – it is deadly, but resourceful groups who think on their feet should do well, and, if things go bad, have opportunities to cut their losses and run to fight another day. Not everyone and everything in Xyntillan is out to get you – or, at least, not immediately. However, those looking for trouble will soon find it.
  • Ease of use: The material should be easy to understand and use at the table, and the GM should never be lost in a sea of information. Accordingly, the room key uses a nested bullet point structure, starting from an overview of each room and proceeding towards the finer details and interaction possibilities (a two-page example is provided below). Bolded keywords are used to help navigate the text, which is also carefully cross-referenced for easy navigation. Map slices are placed close to their point of use to reduce page flipping. The map is extensively labelled for ease of use. Finally, the physical book and the accompanying maps are planned to be sturdy and user-friendly. It is printed and bound locally where me and my printer can oversee the production process at every step.
  • Surrealism: Xyntillan is founded on dream logic and loose association instead of strict realism or full narrative consistency. It should be entertaining, fascinating, and always a bit mysterious. As a funhouse dungeon, it is full of the improbable – but there is a method to the madness. Likewise, it is not a serious affair, but it is not a “joke module” either – it is intended to be a storehouse of the macabre and whimsical, where the jokes write themselves – there is no background laugh track.

Careful... careful.....
In summary, the goal was not to make the biggest dungeon (a goal I have, frankly, always considered stupid), but one that’s just the right size, comfortable to use, good to handle, and built to last. Castle Xyntillan also has a (perhaps unfair) advantage: in one way or another, I have been working on these materials since 2006, from my sections of a never-published Tegel Manor manuscript to the finalised module, and there has been abundant time to contemplate, revise, add to, remove from, and playtest the adventure. It has been tried in many different contexts, and with many different groups. It has taken a long time, probably more than it is rational to develop a dungeon. It is, in one word, polished. It is, also, that thing I have been rambling about all these years. And I hope you will also find it to your liking.

For now, here is a two-page example from one of the easier-to-find sublevels: Castle Xyntillan Sample (4 MB PDF).

Q&A (Additions)

"Sounds good but I see nothing about factions. I want factions!"
"Xyntillan has no formally spelled out "factions", but it does have the remnants of the eccentric and corrupt Malévol family, who have their own agenda (represented by a global escalation mechanic) and internal disagreements. There are also (very loosely described) outside parties with their own interests in Xyntillan.

It is up to the GM and the players to decide what to do with this, but the emergent potential is there, and some suggestions are offered in the Introduction. During our playtest, reaction rolls and morale played a significant role, and negotiation with the dungeon denizens became an important source of information, shady bargains, and allies of convenience."

"How large is the dungeon?"
"WRT the size of the dungeon, it is large enough to sustain its own campaign, and to feel like you are exploring something substantial. It is large enough to result in emergent complexity, which is a major appeal of megadungeons. But it is limited in the sense that it should not take over your gaming life (something that has frustrated me about other megadungeons), and it is basically built around three large, loosely "levels" (a sprawling ground floor, various upper floors, and a dungeon level - all with more or less hidden sub-sections and plenty of interconnections). I had a second dungeon level under development but scrapped it because it felt too much."
 

17 comments:

  1. Eagerly awaiting this!

    Allan.

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  2. Release of the Year! Will sure get my copy when I'm back on Europe

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  3. I'm looking forward to this so much!

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  4. Mullen and Poag are the best. I love it.

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  5. Congratulations on finishing this. I rarely by adventures, but I’ll likely pick this one up.

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  6. Why is your name not in the cover?

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    1. It is on the back cover and the interior. I didn't want to clutter up the front. Besides, EMDT products are mine by default, so I only stick names on the cover when it is a guest author.

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  7. When's the expected release date?

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    1. The end of November or very early December. Printing is relatively quick and easy; binding is our main bottleneck, since everyone and their dog wants to prelease their books before Christmas. Including us, of course.

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  8. Good. Someone with talent is making waves and going to make a little money.

    Still. Reading the pdf sample there is definitely something limiting in the standard module format when I compare it to the campaign reports you and Premier wrote for Dragonsfoot. At this late stage I realise it's just me but I would much prefer, as a reading DM, extract from the best report of an adventure than read through a static list of possibilities. The play reports are richer than room descriptions and accompanied with maps and footnotes for significant byways I believe reverse engineering the writer/DM/player realised narrative is preferable to being presented with lifeless facts about locations. IMO it is just something I find impossible to read so I can't use it.

    If some AD&D sessions work out well then the players deserve enormous credit, but that is not reflected in the standard module format. It *is* reflected in the play report.

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  9. So, where will I be able to acquire this?

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    1. It will be available from my webshop (upper right corner, or https://emdt.bigcartel.com/ ), around the end of the month.

      Still a way to go, but progress has been good - the interiors are printed and awaiting binding, and I recently got the proof maps: https://66.media.tumblr.com/491eb6f901f8a2a0b5f56247ad8bf71c/67ee3a872b2afae5-4a/s1280x1920/65a68a70482d0496f596acfc5746e57c810f915f.jpg

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