Saturday 4 April 2020

[NEWS] Castle Xyntillan in PDF & What Comes Next

Castle Xyntillan

I am pleased to announce the publication of the PDF version for Castle Xyntillan. A 136-page adventure module for 1st to 6th level characters, this is a a funhouse megadungeon for the Swords&Wizardry game (and broadly compatible with other old-school systems). The module describes the three massive levels of the eponymous haunted castle inhabited by the remnants of a reclusive and eccentric family, from the soaring tower of the Donjon to the inky depths of the Oubliette (and beyond). Hidden rooms, secret passageways and long-forgotten sub-sections complete a collection of the dangerous and macabre from the gothic imagination – providing ample opportunities for exploration, confrontation, and subterfuge.

Castle Xyntillan has been designed to be versatile, open-ended, complex, and accessible. It is above all, a fantastic place – built on surrealism and dream logic, yet a place which makes a certain amount of sense if you look at it sideways. It should be entertaining, fascinating, and always a bit mysterious. Whether you would like a dungeon for one-off expeditions and convention play, or repeated forays and full campaigns, Castle Xyntillan should suit the demands and particulars of your campaign!

This electronic edition includes the following:
  • The PDF version of the module, with cartography by Rob Conley, and illustrations by Peter Mullen, Denis McCarthy, and Stefan Poag.
  • GM and player maps of the module, as well as a set of virtual tabletop maps, with helpful setup instructions by cartographer Rob Conley for Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds.
  • A GM’s Worksheet, used to track time and characters as the company explores the depths of Xyntillan. Adapted from Dungeons and Companies, a Hungarian retro-clone, and designed by Istvan Boldog-Bernad and Andras Szabo, this is a highly useful play aid for dungeon scenarios.

RELEASE NOTE: At this moment, the main document is still a plain PDF, the release expedited to let people under lockdown enjoy the module. An update with improved cross-refefences and functionality shall be released at a hopefully close date.

As always, this electronic edition is provided free of charge to people who have purchased the print issue. (Available again as soon as conditions normalise a little, and international shipping once again becomes feasible.)

* * *

It should come as no surprise that the Bat Plague has put a spoke in everyone’s wheel. Since I had doubts about the reliability of international shipping during global disruption, and did not want to make periodic visits to the post while a quarantine is on (for reasons part safety-based and part ethical), I also closed down my print store for a while. This is not an essential business, and we can wait.

Homage to Catalonia, 1697
This is a time for relaxation, self-reflection, gaming, and background work. We halted our face-to-face campaigns, and started two interim ones online over a combination of Google Hangouts and Roll20. I am a player in Quarantine in San Escobar, a historical fantasy campaign using the Helvéczia rules, and set in a fantastic Catalonia in the Spring of 1697. As it is the way with Helvéczia, there are a few creative liberties involved – historians do not recall the province to have been ruled by a “Prince Franco”, nor have records of the black plague visiting San Escobar, a city close to the Rio Negro (which you might not find on all maps). But surely, the foreboding Moorish dungeons hidden under the dilapidated mansion of the extinct Macabre family; the scandal around the diabolical theft of the staff of Saint John the Reverent (a relic liberated by a mad Basque, who was said to have worked for the Devil himself); the duel where the French bravo Antoine de Castelmorte received a fatal wound; the downfall of the libertine Society of Smoking Poets (whose tower hideout collapsed in a grenade-induced explosion); the machinations of the Italian Auditore Banking House and its sinister enforcer Signor Enzio Conti (whose clandestine activities left a trail of bodies in pursuit of a cache of stolen gemstones); or the altercations at the Golden Ass Tavern (where a Castilian witch was thwarted with the judicious application of Splendid Ludmilla’s Spinaround Spell, and her lackeys driven away by a pack of shadowy hounds nobody had seen clearly), all of these are tales which would haunt the popular imagination. José Emilio Belmonte de Gálvez y Rivera is afoot, and he is now a 3rd level Student!

The City of Thisium
I have also started a B/X mini-sandbox campaign of my own: in The Four Dooms of Thisium, the Wise Owl, the oracle of the eponymous coastal city-state, has delivered a dire warning of the city’s impeding destruction by the angered gods; and four dooms: one from the forests, one from the mountains, one from the sea, and one from beneath the city. As the Owl would explain, the gods had also prohibited the citizens to try and prevent this fate, or hire or encourage outsiders with present or future rewards – only those who would come to help on their own free will could escape divine wrath, and avert the four dooms in the remaining 90 days. Alas, it would only be on day 45 that a suitable company of adventurers would arrive – and that’s where the players came in. So far, 10 player characters have ventured into and outside Thisium, of whom 5 have met their demise in various ways:
  • Solon, Cleric 3, active
  • +Snorri, Dwarf 1, dragged off by ghouls in a dark street
  • Giacomo, Fighting Man 3, active
  • +Thyrsos, Elf 1, ambushed and murdered in the mausoleum of the Vercato family by giant shrews
  • +Ignatius, drained by shadows in the lower crypts
  • Hawk, Thief 1
  • Krandor, Fighting Man 3, active
  • +Codilius the Sneaky, Magic-User 1; strangled to death by living roots while trying to clean a forest altar
  • +Alonso the Humble, Fighting Man 2; promoted from a lucky footman who had drunk from a font that gave him experience in exchange for increased age, he defeated the chosen champion of the Merchant Lord Mornalt Tamburello in single combat, bedded his daughter Hestia, and – sadly – ended his career in the summer villa of Raniero Galasso, where he was burnt to a crisp by the flaming breath of the idol of PORCULUS, an orcish beast-god.
  • Khamir the Enchanter, Magic-User 2

The list of followers is also growing, foreigners recruited from the Pickled Carp Tavern and elsewhere: of the 15 who had joined the party, 5 have died and one retired:
  • +Adalberto, light footman (Giacomo), burnt to a crisp by the idol of PORCULUS
  • +Bonaventura, light foot (Codilius), killed by the rest of the party under an evil enchantment
  • +Sisyphus, servant (Solon), simpleminded but loyal, died to an orcish throwing axe in the summer villa of Raniero Galasso
  • Lorenzo, light footman (Giacomo), suspicious hacking cough but a good rear guard
  • +Socrates, light footman (Solon), suspicious hacking cough, burnt to a crisp by the idol of PORCULUS
  • Septimus, crossbowman (Solon), a dandy
  • [Oriflan, heavy horseman] (Krandor), a capable ally, until he was charmed by a rival Elf, and left the party in disgust when they killed his “old friend”
  • Ario, crossbowman (Alonso)
  • Philippos, light footman (Hawk)
  • Theseus, light footman (Hawk), who had his own retainer…
  • +Alcino, servant (Theseus), a lock-picker with a set of false keys, he was drained by shadows on the second expedition to the lower crypts
  • Adriano Amico, Fighting Man 2, hired from a friendly adventuring party, and capable of holding his own
  • Malek, light footman (Khamir)
  • Khamid, light footman (Khamir)
  • Hector, heavy footman (Giacomo), a dandy & current rear guard

The Coastlands
The company has also made progress: they have stolen a golden harp from the Tomb of Badalamenti; explored the Sacred Grove where the Wise Owl holds council; extracted a great treasure (including a +2 war hammer) from beneath the ruined tower of the mage Harpang with nothing but a few food rations; defeated a rival adventuring company laired in the abandoned countryside villa of the Elerius family; thrown a grand fete where they hosted all of the city-state on a night-long celebration that ended in family tragedy; purchased the wine cellars of the wine merchant Fladevole, and established permanent access to the Thisium Underworld; gained entrance to the Summer Villa of Raniero Galasso (but had to retreat under heavy losses); and converted a band of brigands to the cause of Law, while also looting their considerable treasures. Tomorrow, the adventures continue – the discovery of an underground garden, and other leads offer great treasures and formidable dangers beneath the doomed city!

I hope to publish Thisium when it is finished – I have lately been thinking about the lack of good beginner-level sandbox modules, and how disappointing and limited these offerings tend to be. Thisium aims to be complex, broad, and a combination of dungeoneering, city intrigue, wilderness pointcrawls, and sea adventures – that is, a little bit of everything. It also does not pull punches, whether it comes to grave danger or fabulous treasures – glory and death await in equal measure in The Four Dooms of Thisium!

* * *

Publication Plans

With the ongoing quarantine, I have decided to go ahead and prepare for the post-Bat Plague period. While the consequences are still hard to fathom, and there will be obvious deep changes in the world economy and other areas – some quite long-lasting – I would like to believe gaming will continue to have a place there, and people will continue to have an interest in self-publishing, including my stuff. Accordingly, I have commissioned the reprint of Castle Xyntillan. I was running fairly low on stocks when shipping came to a halt, with 70 out of 500 copies remaining, and based on sale projections, a restock was in order. I decided on this in early February, and while I have closed things down for now, I am putting my money where my mouth is. The print and binding job will be business for my printer (a fellow gamer), a binder’s shop, and later the Post who will ship the printed copies – not their only business, but every little bit helps. I never did my printing in China to do it on the cheap, and I will never do it in China – as long as it is feasible, I will keep it close and friendly, and if it isn’t, I will consider POD options as a last resort. But that would, from my perspective, take away a lot of the magic that makes me love this thing.

In the Shadow of the City-God
(Hungarian edition)
So we will work ahead, and print things as they become ready, to prepare for a reopening. Echoes From Fomalhaut #07 will be the first release after Xyntillan. It is done, proofed (a good idea, as I was mortified to find that one of the adventures was somehow missing a handful of keyed areas), ready for launch except for the cover illustration. Echoes #07 will include a module set in a glacier setting I am really proud of; a two-page mini-scenario involving a forgotten tomb under a cellar; one of the main dungeons from the City of Vultures, which had seen a lot of play over the years; and the description of a secret society, including a smattering of adventure locales you can use in context, or on a piece-by-piece basis. I am also working on the translation of In the Shadow of the City-God, a sinister city adventure by Istvan Boldog-Bernad. This scenario amazed me when I first played it, with its effortless combination of Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, bloody cloak-and-dagger stories from Renaissance short stories, and D&Desque dungeoneering; and when I read the manuscript, with its no-nonsense, effective writing style. This is going to be a lot of stuff in only 32 pages.

After these two, the order of things is still hazy. Baklin, City of the Merchant Princes will be my next large project (and as the main city of the Isle of Erillion, something that could not comfortably fit a single zine issue), but in the meantime, there are two manuscripts that are close to done, and in need of illustrations.

Fight On!


  1. On the topic of the lack of beginner sandboxes you discuss with The Four Dooms of Thisium. Could you point to the ones that in your opinion fall short, and the ones that shine?

    The premise seems very interesting, and I'd certainly be interested in a product like that.

    1. In general, they are mostly just not out there. The majority of recent starter modules have a very narrow and limited scope, offering substantially less than the TSR classics.

      Actual sandboxes are quite rare. I quite like The Fall of Whitecliff, which I reviewed at Whitecliff is a very well constructed scenario which gives the party an important end goal, and an open-ended environment offering several possibilities to accomplish it. This is the kind of thing I would like to see more of.

      While it is too new to judge (released just yesterday!), Hoard of Delusion looks like it might be worth a good look, too - it is a 125-page book offering a home base, a selection of smaller adventure locations, and a main dungeon. I have browsed through the PDF, and it looks good, but I will prefer to read the printed version when it arrives.

    2. Thank you for the pointers, I will check those 2 out.

      My suspicion is that their lack might be because in most instances the exercise of setting up a sandbox is left to the individual Referee by slapping together a few dungeons and locations, scattering them in a region, and adding your own background to it.

      If you end up going ahead and publishing The Four Dooms of Thisium I would certainly be interested in that.

    3. This is the usual model. But there are adventure modules for so many occasions, I am finding it interesting this particular niche is fairly unexplored, even though presumably, everyone needs low-level adventures the most, since that is where campaigns take off. Two possibilities may come into play here:
      1) The sustained effort required to write something complex. This is possible - I am noting most 1st level modules have very limited scope; usually a background, a few overland encounters (if that), and a mini-dungeon (6-20 locations, and 20 is generous). With a sandbox, there is a lot of possibility for overreach and failure.
      2) It is actually quite hard to write interesting stuff for level one that isn't a humanoid dungeon. At this point, characters are fragile, and the challenges you can throw at them tend to be limited. (My solution here has been to create a lucrative meatgrinder, where character death is expected, but the rewards will advance the survivors fairly quickly.)

    4. The Vanilla Adventure by Wind Lothamer / Knight Owl Publishing is a great starter sandbox. The layout is not great, but the content is terrific. Do check it out ("best" from Bryce Lynch).

  2. Is there any way of buying the book in print, but wait for the end of the Bat Plague for shipping, and take the PDF meanwhile? I don't mind waiting, but I'd love to have the PDF right now to start playing, but don't want to pay twice.

    Thanks! :)

    BTW, do you speak Spanish, by any chance?

    1. Hi Rodrigo,

      That is possible - I will try to ship things as soon as shipping again becomes possible. (Actually, my mid-March mail seems to have arrived in various corners of the world, even if it did with a little delay, so perhaps we can still trust the Post.)

      Please mail me at beyond DOT fomalhaut AT gmail DOT com with a shipping address, and I can send you an invoice. Shipping is a flat rate, so everything else beyond the hardcover ships free.

      Unfortunately, I don't speak Spanish - I know English, German, and limited Russian.

    2. Thanks, I'll email you right now.

      My question about the language was motivated by your "Quarantine in San Escobar" campaign. ;)

    3. I will have to ask our GM if he knows Spanish - I do know he has read some contemporary adventure novels in preparation, but those were probably in translation.

  3. Have you considered recording your online sessions and uploading them to youTube?

    1. I have started using Zoom to keep in touch, and believe it would serve well for gaming if each party has two screens, one a dedicated shared screen for maps & art.

      I aim to start a game soon, and have constructed and painted a 4ft x 4ft. == 1 mile sq. battle board, for a post-Roman pre-mediaeval pseudo north-europe millenarian environment. So it seems the Sybelline prophecies are unfolding but *really* there are some powerful nutbag monsters pulling the strings.

    2. Kent wrote: "Have you considered recording your online sessions and uploading them to youTube?"
      No, for three reasons. First, gaming is not a spectator sport: it only makes sense as a particpative activity. Second, there is very little to see: we use voice chat (Hangouts) plus a virtual tabletop (Roll 20). The only thing that happens is the occasional dice roll in the chat window, perhaps a token moving on terrain, or someone sketching on the VTT, similar to a whiteboard. That is not visually exciting. Third, we play in Hungarian, of course.

      Kent also wrote: "I have started using Zoom to keep in touch, and believe it would serve well for gaming if each party has two screens, one a dedicated shared screen for maps & art.

      I aim to start a game soon, and have constructed and painted a 4ft x 4ft. == 1 mile sq. battle board, for a post-Roman pre-mediaeval pseudo north-europe millenarian environment. So it seems the Sybelline prophecies are unfolding but *really* there are some powerful nutbag monsters pulling the strings."

      That is a workable idea. We use a separate VOIP client for the actual talking, and a VTT for maps, art, and game procedures (mostly dice rolling, although some popular systems are actually supported by rules, enabling involved miniature combat and the like). This seems to be the common solution, as Roll20 has a poor reputation WRT its native video/sound chat quality.

    3. I forgot you were gaming in Hungarian.

      ==First, gaming is not a spectator sport: it only makes sense as a particpative activity.

      A good game can be interesting to witness, and is time better spent than reading forums or blogs. You can learn more about the DM's style and imagination, which is revealing when the DM is trying to sell the material he is running. I think if our average age was even 10 years younger we would have all been on youTube.

      Recordings of games can also throw up some truly exceptional players whose humour and engagement are deep and really bring the world to life.

    4. U can find lots of recorded sessions online, but these tend to follow the "celebrities do that geeky thing like a comedy talk show" format. Authentic rpg sessions just aren't very spectacular or accessible to anyone other than fellow geeks.

    5. Kent wrote: "I forgot you were gaming in Hungarian.

      ==First, gaming is not a spectator sport: it only makes sense as a particpative activity.

      A good game can be interesting to witness, and is time better spent than reading forums or blogs. You can learn more about the DM's style and imagination, which is revealing when the DM is trying to sell the material he is running. I think if our average age was even 10 years younger we would have all been on youTube.

      Recordings of games can also throw up some truly exceptional players whose humour and engagement are deep and really bring the world to life."

      I suppose it could be insightful and even entertaining in some cases. Listening to other people gaming compares to something like listening in on a private conversation. But I do believe you invariably lose something, the spirit of being there and taking part.

      Recorded game shows strike me as a different genre altogether - manufactured, lacking in the spontaneity of a genuine game event, not to mention they tend to be rooted in the worst of "geek culture". I could not bear to listen to any of them longer than a few minutes.

    6. When I read your play reports, it seems there's a depth to the world I don't know how to create myself. Maybe it's just preparing many details, maps, materials? For people not accustomed in creating dozens of pages of game-able content for our weekly sessions, this either leaves us with very loose structures that are railroad-heavy and lack depth, or just buying modules that would never be truly ours. And that's considering we buy the right kind of modules, who don't suck.

      So I feel I could learn a lot on how to actually improve my game by watching yours play out, compared to Critical- Role type theatrics. I want to see how games sessions like the one you described above play out.

    7. The polished recordings of 'popular' D&D are unwatchable. There you have people who are *acting* like gamers and nothing interesting is likely to happen because the game is imprisoned by the rules.

      ==But I do believe you invariably lose something, the spirit of being there and taking part.

      Watching how others game is not to be compared to participating in a game but I think it gets you closer to the heart of someone else's campaign than reading through sanitized, and in general awfully written modules and other texts. We all know a guy who is charismatic and funny in conversation but writes like an infant. Speaking is easier than writing, and more to the point. I suppose a video recording would be deadly dull to anyone who wasn't sympathetic to the gaming aesthetic and knew what to listen for.

      Robert Conley had a few sessions up on youTube (can't find them now). There was an English guy playing a hobbit who was an excellent player.

    8. If I was asked who is the most interesting D&Der on youTube at the moment I would choose this Finnish youth.

      Flair and experimentation. Intelligent use of cheap material. Dry humour, modesty, emotional continence.

      This endeavour far exceeds that of the *Sages* of the forums and blogs because you can see the raw talent immediately. Imagine someone like this on youTube describing how he (not 'to') runs a dungeon or wilderness adventure with audio from his game.

  4. Hmmmm...The idol of Porculus is racking up kills like the original demonic oven in Xyntillan. Would love to know what made that oven such a bad-boy.

    1. Area-of-effect breath weapon + confined space + closely placed low-level characters = lots of dead characters... especially if the breath weapon get used twice!

    2.'s nice to know even a prolific and skilled writer of adventures like yourself has 1980s teenager killer DM moments.

  5. Glad to hear that you're still chugging along Gabor! I'm looking forward to Echoes #7 and to the English translation of _In the Shadow of the City-God_, which sounds particularly cool!

    Thanks for helping to keep hope going in the dark times!


  6. Great stuff, Melan. I'll just throw in another sandbox that may be a bit overlooked because it came out for 3E: The Vault of Larin Karr, from Necromancer Games I believe.

    (Converting it to B/X would be a breeze, IMO it could be done on the fly)

    1. I remember it being about the same level as Barakus - maybe I should read it again.

      While we're at it, how about the other sandbox-ish NG modules, like A Lamentation of Thieves or The Doom of Listonshire? Are they worth checking out?

    2. Thanks! I never thought Larin Karr was overlooked (it enjoyed a good reputation in the 3e era), but you are correct the name may carry less weight in modern old-school circles. It does an admirable job of presenting a tightly integrated adventure setting, which goes far beyond its individual building blocks. (Which were decent, but not eartshattering.)

  7. I hope The Four Dooms of Thisium sees publication. Looks great!

    1. I hope so, too - it has been a lot of fun to run. It will be a Hungarian release at first, since I want to support Dungeons and Companies, but after that, it will be translated.

  8. I very much want The Four Dooms of Thisium. It sounds like tons of fun with a variety of adventure locals.

  9. I just finished reading 'Echoes from Fomalhaut' #6, and the "City of Vultures" materials blew me away. Very evocative and flavorful, full of game-able ideas to build upon. The dungeon was Jaquay'ed as I've never seen before, and was full of Xyntillan-like weird riddles and devious characters. Any more dungeons like this (or more CoV materials) coming up?

    1. Thanks! You are asking at a very good time. Issue #07 features The Tomb of Ali Shulwar, another one of the great Underworld complexes under the city (and the most frequently visited one); a mini-dungeon, and The White Hand, an entry-level conspiracy that is perhaps less entry-level than one might think.

      The issue is almost ready for release; it was held up by the Bat Plague, but it is now back on track - when I get the cover art (mostly done), it will go to the printer ASAP.

    2. Lovely to hear that, Melan!
      Oh, I just remembered: what's up with the wierd black pyramid seen from Hisam Singh's rooftop?

    3. It is a throwaway location, and has never been explored, since all the players who have spotted the place and read the inscription got the uncanny feeling it would be a beholder lair.
      "But surely, it can't be a..."
      "No, we are NOT going there."

  10. Starting Xyntillan next week! I notice the gatehouse walls are the largest empty space in castle. Are they simply full of rubble and spiderwebs?