Phantom islands of the Atlantic (book report)

Hoping to find some inspiration for the island-hopping “5DM campaign,” I read Phantom islands of the Atlantic by Donald S. Johnson.  The book is written by an historian and sailor, and discusses seven legendary islands (or groups of islands) that have appeared, for varying terms, on maps of the Atlantic.  Links go to the Wikipedia pages on them so you don’t have to read the book too.  (It’s not a bad read but I skipped a fair amount of the geography and seamanship heavy discussions of where the islands might have been located and which real islands or phenomena might have inspired the stories.)  The maps included in the book include both some reproductions of the originals and some simplified line drawings, which could be useful.

  1. Isle of Demons — not mentioned on Wikipedia: this was confused with an island where Marguerite de la Rocque  and her lover were marooned, and which is described in the Heptameron.
  2. Frisland — where two adventurers become embroiled in wars of conquest on unknown islands
  3. Buss Island — which was thought to be island that sank and occasionally rose again
  4. Antillia, the isle of seven cities — supposedly settled by Iberians fleeing the Visigoths
  5. Hy-Brazil — (I first heard of this in the wonderful film Erik the Viking!) — this one originated in Celtic mythology
  6. St. Ursula and her 11,000 virgin companions — who supposedly sailed from Britain to Roma and landed on some phantom islands.  Later explorers would name the Virgin Islands after this legendary figure.  St. Ursula was very popular in the middle ages and the modern Order of  Ursulines were founded in her honor, although the Vatican no longer regards her as a real saint.  This chapter has a good reminder about the trade in saintly relics that were big business in the middle ages.  When a mass grave was identified as that of Ursula and her 11,000 martyrs, there was an explosion of shrines built.  1000 skeletons were shipped out to one location. (The skeletons were probably either a Roman era graveyard or late Roman mass grave; there were not really 11,000 bodies there and they were not all women. Still, a cache of relics like that would be an authentic medieval treasure hoard, if you are bored with gold and silver coins…)
  7. The islands of St. Brendan — This is the longest chapter and mentions a number of islands: The Island of Smiths (possibly volcanic); the Island of Strong Men; many mysterious places like an island with food set out but no inhabitants, a rock with Judas Iscariot stranded on it, a massive crystalline cube that might house New Jerusalem, and many other curiosities and wonders.  Brendan and his companions are also menaced by various monsters and devils, and receive aid from magical birds.  The story is fairly repetitive, in the Medieval manner, but has a lot of details you might steal.

The book also drew my attention to the Ebstorf Map, which I’d never seen before.  Some one needs to redo this in English, or better yet do a version for Greyhawk or some other fantasy world.  This is exactly the sort of map players should have.

Published in: on November 16, 2011 at 9:00 am  Comments (5)  
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Fascist architecture

Pyramid of Cestius today

The pyramid of Cestius was built in Rome around the beginning of the first millennium. It was a tomb for a wealthy man who had held several offices.  It was looted, and later built into the fortification walls of the city.  It was discovered much later, and excavated from the wall.  It is something like 40 meters tall.  It looks much smaller in this picture taken some time before October, 1938, when this picture was published in a book that consisted of architectural renderings of a parade route, lavishly decorated for when the Fuhrer would visit Rome.

The pyramid then…either from a different angle, or else demonstrating that a properly tended pyramid will double its height in just 70 years! No wonder the pharaohs kept theirs in the desert.

However much I detest the fascism & the Nazis, I have to admire the artistry of the following painting.  The book was in black and white; I snapped this with my phone.  If you could edit out the flag in front, it would be awesome.  So ignore the nazi flag, look at the castle with torches on all the ramparts.  Look at the body of horsemen before the pyramid.  Are they knights or cloaked figures?  This looks like an exceedingly evil stronghold even without the flag.  It is actually hellish, depicting a black sky, vast flames over the castle, an alliance with unspeakable horrors inside the pyramid.

This would be an awesome location in Hell, or your campaign’s Mordor or whatever.  Muspelheim, I’m thinking for mine.  Crack the castle to get to the entrance of the pyramid (really a vast obelisk, only the tip is visible).  Delve the tombs.  Get MacGuffin.  Escape.

Published in: on January 8, 2011 at 12:24 am  Comments (4)  
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The Alien 3 that might have been

Concept art of the "wooden planet"

Apparently the original idea was to have a wooden planet that is basically a giant medieval monastery!  Much cooler than the (still reasonably cool) prison planet that was used.  Lots of concept art and a fascinating article at Empire Online.

Vincent Ward’s website (Mr. Ward conceived this vision!) is pretty interesting too!

Published in: on October 28, 2010 at 6:00 am  Comments (4)  

Alignment and Religion in Telengard, take two

Having bounced the last post off my brother, and considering his critique (what exactly do Law and Chaos mean?), I’ve decided it would be a lot simpler to keep alignments as written in Basic D&D/Labyrinth Lord and just use the Norse pantheon.  I really like Rolang’s Norse  Catholicism and will use that basic idea: instead of the unorganized, diffuse religious practices of the Norsemen, the gods are worshiped in a hierarchical manner much like the Medieval Church.  Particular temples may be dedicated to particular gods or goddesses, but Odin the All-father is the chief god and worshiped in all temples.

Clerics will use blunt weapons because it is sacrilegious to spill blood except to make sacrifices to the gods. Some of the gods, like Baldur, do not accept blood sacrifices either and his clerics use blunt weapons because they hope to subdue rather than kill foes.

I will keep Kraken because he is just cool.  The major Norse gods are lawful, except Loki, Aegir, and Ran (Chaotic), and Njord and the Norns (Neutral).  The most powerful jotuns (Surt, Thrym, etc.) are worshiped as gods by trolls and giants, and are mostly Chaotic as well.

Within Skara Brae there are several temples to specific gods, but Odin is recognized as the All-father and all lawful gods are considered his children — a few foreign gods are acknowledged in Odin’s cathedral, but their rites always invoke Odin as well.  Priests of the Norse gods are usually dedicated to the entire pantheon but some are specifically dedicated to particular gods.  The clerics of Thor are a militant order who seek to destroy monsters, just as Thor does, and are the most likely to become adventurers.  The clerics of Tyr are the only order who may use swords (they must however cut off one hand to prove their valor!).  Clerics of Loki are regarded by the populace as malicious and unwelcome, but the Church understands the importance of keeping Loki pacified.

Bruce Galloway’s Fantasy Wargaming has a nice section on Norse religion, outlining the “sins” and virtues and also providing a nice cheat sheet of who-is-the-god-of-what, so I may summarize some of that for the players and myself.

Published in: on September 27, 2010 at 7:31 pm  Comments (8)  
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A tweak: Telengard-the-city is now Skara Brae

Someone posted this badass map of Skara Brae from The Bard’s Tale and this will have to be the town near the dungeon Telengard.  A small shantytown is located a little closer to Telengard but this is where the players start and where the Adventurer’s Guild and Hireling’s Guild are.

Published in: on September 26, 2010 at 10:00 am  Comments (3)  

Alignment and religion in Telengard


Alignment does not indicate a particular ethical code or dictate conduct. Alignment in Telengard describes a creature’s relationship to the cosmic forces of Order and Disorder, or Law and Chaos. Law is understood as the motive force behind order, permanence, and reason, as well the impulse to impose civilization and order on the world. Chaos is the motive force behind change, entropy, and magic, as well as the impulse to stop the march of “progress” and civilization.  Those unaligned to either are Neutral.  Neutral creatures are not interested in these abstract cosmic struggles and just want to get on with their lives. (more…)

Published in: on September 24, 2010 at 9:19 pm  Comments (2)  
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Setting: The City-state of Telengard

Tom & John have encouraged me to take the plunge into DMing and I think I finally will. I’ve been trying to wait until I finish this or that project first but there will never be a “perfect” time and I may as well go for it.

I’m going to call the setting Telengard, in honor of the classic computer dungeon crawl game, and also because it reminds me a bit of “Midgard,” and so fits with some Norse myth ideas I’m working into it, and also “Telen” (perhaps because of “Tele-“) suggests classical mythology to me. “Telengard” will be the name of the city-state the game will begin in, as well as the name of the megadungeon near the city, in the tradition of Greyhawk and Blackmoor!

The setting itself will draw on the character background I wrote up for my illusionist (Dagodart Stav) in the C&C campaign I’m a player in. It is basically a mid-sized city-state similar to what you’d expect to find in late classical Greece, situated near a huge mountain that held a copper mine. The copper miners accidentally dug into a forgotten underworld…the megadungeon now known (somewhat confusingly) as Telengard. There will be an Adventurer’s Guild that both helps (and hinders) adventurers, growing in the boom-town arising from the sudden appearance of massive hauls of loot from the dungeon. A Hireling’s Guild also will also be there. The dungeon has, in effect, created a sort of tourist industry, drawing in adventurers who hope to loot the dungeon.

I’m about 99% set on using Labyrinth Lord, as the system that seems the most simple for me and easiest to pick up for players, as well as being compatible with so much of the OSR stuff out there on the internet should I wish to use published dungeons. It also looks very suitable for house-ruling and modifying should I be inclined to do so. (I’m pretty sure I’ll be adopting several of the simple rules in Telecanter’s compilation).

I plan to settle on a few house-rules and put together a character sheet reflecting them, and outline the alignments & religions of the setting, draw a rough map, and design some dungeon levels, and I should be good to go.
Say, in a month. 🙂

Published in: on September 24, 2010 at 4:00 pm  Comments (4)  
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Quick links for monster ideas

(Image source: Edward Foster’s Book of Strange)

David Lovelace’s Book of beings (now also available at Dragonsfoot as a pdf!)

The Cryptoid zoo, a cryptozoology site

Dave’s mythical creatures and places



Published in: on April 21, 2010 at 1:44 pm  Comments (3)  
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St. Andre’s jungle

Attention whore that I am (why else would anyone start a blog?) I am proud to notice Ken St. Andre’s comment on an earlier post and I am reminded by it of Meinong’s jungle. (If you are too lazy to follow the link, the idea is basically that if words refer to things, then some relationship exists between a word and its referent, and if a word is meaningful it refers to something (a thing that exists), so there must be some manner or form of existence enjoyed by non-existent things like unicorns or square circles. Yes, nonexistent entities. And philosophers have dubbed this plane of existence Meinong’s jungle, as it is presumably a chaotic and densely-inhabited domain, like a jungle as imagined by ivory-tower philosophers. The only jungle I was ever in, in the Yucatan, had no unicorns though.)


Published in: on March 24, 2010 at 12:41 am  Comments (4)  
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Other Races in D&D

No, this not a half-assed rant about how D&D is racist. You can find that here, and see it beaten into pulp here. This is another prospecting post about a campaign I may run someday; today’s topic is character races.

I’ve been having a lot of sympathy lately for the view that the only player character race should be Human. A ton of classic sword & sorcery literature and films support that, and especially in later versions of D&D (but also in other games) nonhumans just get too many benefits and too few drawbacks. (4e actually makes humans pretty good though.) AD&D’s level limits got it right, IMO, denying the very highest levels to nonhumans, but that is another post. (C&C does a good job too, giving nonhumans a big disadvantage in that they will have only two “prime” abilities with good saves & target numbers for checks, while humans get to pick three, although I’d rather see level limits.)


Published in: on February 23, 2010 at 3:24 am  Comments (11)  
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