Sunday, April 5, 2020

Legendary Layouts: Castle Xyntillan, by Gabor Lux

As I while away the quarantine days waiting for online classes to begin (very soon now!) and rid me of my free time, I am very happy I brought Gabor 'Melan' Lux's Castle Xyntillan back home with me. Not in the least because there isn't a PDF for the damn thing available yet, so if I left it in storage I'd have been stuck here twiddling my thumbs.

[Edit: As I sat writing this article, I found that the PDF copy had just been released today as of writing. Rejoice!]


For those who somehow missed the hype train, Castle Xyntillan is the latest big offering out of the Hungarian EMDT group. Besides Gabor Lux, the other member of that crew whom I'm aware of is Sandor, who runs Ynas Midgard.

In any case, Castle Xyntillan is one of the best RPG books I've ever laid eyes on. That doesn't mean much coming from me, but it means something coming from Bryce. I bought the book on his recommendation, and have not been ill-served.

It's a slim, hardcover volume, big and wide, colorful, distinctive front and back. It packs about 289 rooms into 95 pages, with maps, art, miscellany and a hub town taking up the remaining 35-odd pages. It cuts a nice contrast with Veins, the only other hard-copy RPG book I own.

The content inside doesn't disappoint. It oozes flavor, and there's no shortage of ideas I've already stolen. Joseph Manola, in the ever-useful post 'Conceptual Density', asks how many actual ideas there are on each page. For my money, Castle Xyntillan maintains a solid rate of at least one per page.

Castle Xyntillan - First Hungarian d20 Society |
In case it's not obvious, it comes highly recommended

The real draw here, especially for analysis, is the layout. I won't claim to be any sort of expert on the subject, but with as clear an example as this, there's more than enough for an amateur to dig into.


The overall feeling of Castle Xyntillan's layout is cleanliness. Black on white, easy to scan and read. The gigantic megadungeon is split into lettered sections, A through O, with numbered rooms inside each. There's a master map in the back of the book, taking up 6 pages betwen all the levels, but there are also sub-maps in each relevant section. The map is detailed, but not noisy. The margins are generous, allowing for personalized note-taking. The book is dotted with full-page illustrations, the first page of a new section always carries a half-page illustration, and half- or sixth-page illustrations are found regularly, without obscuring readability.

Besides the macro-scale of page layout, the structure of individual rooms is highly readable. I replicate below a section of Castle Xyntillan, visible in the preview on DTRPG. Except for the use of black bullets in the place of arrows, this is a faithful recreation.

B5. Barracks. (20'x20' and 20'x30') Each of these rooms has a few bunks, tables, stools and footlockers with miscellaneous items.
  • The northern room is infested with spiders, whose nest contains 8*80 gp pearls. 
  • In the southern room, an empty chest has been marked: "Contains Type VI Treasure".
Spider Swarm: HD 4 ; AC 6 [13]; Atk swarm 2d4 and poison; ML 5; AL N
Hp           15

B6. Maids' Room. Simple bed by the walls, four zombies sitting around a wooden table. Muffled sounds of movement escape from the wardrobe in the SW corner.

  • The wardrobe is securely padlocked and bound by a length of thick chain. Inside, a tied up but obviously alive liveried youth struggles for freedom. If the ropes are removed, he takes a single, insecure step, exclaims "The curse; it is no more! Let me..." and immediately crumbles into grey dust. Golden hand mirror, 900 gp. 

Zombies (4): HD 2 ; AC 8 [11]; Atk strike 1d8; ML 12; AL N
Hp           7           5           6           10

The structure here is: [Section Letter]. [Room Number]. (Room Dimensions, if applicable) Followed by the content of the room. The names(#XX) of family members and the most obvious features are bolded.

  • Bullet points usually have at least one bolded word, indicating which feature of the room they are describing at a glace. 
    • Where further detail or subdivision is needed, such as with portrait rooms, the first set of black bullet points are supplemented by a further indented set of hollow points. 

Below the room description, the statblocks of common monsters are listed, with conveniently pre-rolled HP values, morale and single-axis alignment included. Any special moves are listed with the attack.

Named family members aren't detailed here, instead being listed by their number in the Rogue's Gallery in the back of the book. So long as you have a bookmark there, you shouldn't take more than a second or two to flip through and find it, though if you end up in an encounter with multiple family members there might be a good deal more flipping.

The legends. Am I distinguishing or just stingy?

It's all very aesthetically pleasing. I spent a couple months in an ill-fated career as a copy editor for my school newspaper, which allows me to appreciate a consistent style guide. The letter-number and name of the room are separated by periods, all of which is bolded. Odds are bolded, and in a ratio such as 1:3, indicating a roll on a d6. There is always a space between the number of coins and their type. Italics, thanks be to Tiamat, are reserved for foreign words, spells, magic items and direct quotations, and are never, EVER used for an appreciable length together.

There is precisely zero boxed text. The GM gets a terse description of the area, and sometimes and illustration, and is considered competent enough to describe everything on their own.

Not sure what else to say about it.There's a full treasury in the back of the book listing all the original magic items and their effects. My only abiding gripe with the book is that all the potions (and there are many, often flavored as alcohol) are from the Swords and Wizardry list without further indication, so I have to go over to the SRD to figure out what they do. Luckily, half of them are potions of heroism, so I just  memorized a couple and I'm mostly good.

In conclusion, it's clean, fantastic, flavorful fun. If you weren't up to have a copy shipped from Hungary before, it's finally in PDF form. What are you waiting for?


  1. How appropriate do you think Castle Xyntillan would be for an open table setup? Does it seem heavily interconnected or plot heavy?

    1. Not sure if by open table you mean drop-in drop-out or multiple simultaneous parties, but it shold work fine for either.
      It's certainly large enough to host multiple parties for a good deal of time. It's not plot heavy; there isn't a single end goal, boss, etc. Most of it is moving from room to room, exploring, discovering secrets, looting, negotiating with family members. There are a couple of proper 'quest' hooks inside though. No spoilers, but there's a major hidden treasure somewhere inside, plus a geas to hunt down certain family members. The map is very interconnected, but not many permanent changes to the castle unless the party goes out of their way to do that.
      There are some campaign dynamics, where certain actions attract the Malevols' attention to the party. Once the party gets used to navigating the dungeon and succeeds in absconding with enough heirlooms/killing family members, the family starts to hit back.

    2. Yes, sorry for that. I meant drop-in drop-out, like megadungeon play where you have 8-12 players, but only 3-5 show up for a given delve into the dungeon every week.

      But it seems by your description that it would work nicely, given a short session report is done after each session.

      The layout really speaks to me for a low-prep game like that. And if it's one of two books you own in print, Xyntillan certainly comes with high praise :)

    3. It's great for low-prep, both because of the clarity and the sheer amount of content. I'd recommend a solid firs read-through with a pencil, to make notes for yourself in the margins, but once you've done that you can come back to the books weeks later and run it right out. Got a game in an hour and forgot to do your prep? Pull out Xyntillan, annotate section A, and you'll be good.