Let’s talk maps

So, a fantasy world (Or, in our case, a vast continent) needs maps. I decided quite early that I wanted to ask Mark Smylie, who has already worked with us on „The Straight Way Lost“ if he would be up for mapmaking again, and I am very happy to say that he agreed. We have been working on the map during the past few months whenever we had time, and now it is almost finished. Ta-Da!

This is the version without any words on it. We have another one, where we have addes names for a lot of the stuff that you can see, plus some cities and special places. At the moment I am compiling a list of things that are still missing, which is quite a lot of work, as I have to go through loads of files. Basically the whole mess I have created since 2016. It’s very interesting that I now have to commit to the stuff I have carelessly named over the years, if a name for a city or mountain range is absolutely terrible, now is my last chance to change it. It feels, well, dangerous.

So, what can you see in the above picture? Well, it’s the continent of Shanarel, which means something like „New Home“ in the elvish language of the world. You have to think so much about names, it sometimes drives you crazy. Most of the time I don’t know what these made-up words mean, I am no Tolkien, and my interest in languages isn’t that great. But it’s also not nothing, so I try not to make a completely terrible job and stay somewhat consistent with stuff. It is quite interesting to think about where names that then stuck for things came from. Most people in Shanarel will, for example, call the oceans by their Malar (Grey Elves) names. They were the foremost seafaring people, and so their language became quite important, even though they never had one of the dominant cultures.

If you think about size, this continent is big, a bit like Eurasia. But then it has this strange shape, which makes travel by boat so much more important.

After Mark and I are finished with this, we will do the political map. Which means that I will draw lots of ugly shapes on a pencil version of this map, give these shape names, and then Mark has to make proper countries with convincing looking borders out of them. The poor, poor man. He is so nice to work with, you should all hire him, by the way.

Also, the first sketches for the illustrations are coming in? Do you want to see sketches? Do you want to read stuff in german? I have written so much, the book will be a little bit long, I’m afraid. Is anybody actually reading this? Please answer if you do, and if you want to see sketches.

Have an excellent day!


Book Three – Shanarel

Hello, this is Benjamin, one of the owners and writers Vortex Verlag. I wanted to introduce you to the project I am currently working on, which will appear after Serenissima Obscura. I have written about 50000 words so far, and just started to talk about the first bunch of illustrations with the wonderful Gwenevere Singley. We are hoping to kickstart the book at some time in 2026, and I will use this blog to keep you informed about the progress I am making.

So, what is this book going to be about? It will have nothing to do with „The Straight Way Lost“, that story will be continued in „Serenissima Obscura“. It is a book about the continent of Shanarel, which covers a significant part of a high fantasy world called Ovu. I have been creating this continent since 2016, and me and my players have been playing a campaign in Shanarel since 2017.

I realize that writing a book inspired by your homebrew fantasy campaign is not always a good idea. There are many fantasy worlds out there, so what does make this one different? Well, this is a world that you would actually want to live in. It is not dark and gritty, it doesn’t have a history that is even worse than the one we have on earth, it is not ruled by evil powers. It’s bright, it’s colourful, it’s filled with amazing landscapes, cities, creatures and people, it’s full of wilderness and magic and mystery. It has a rich history, and sure, many terrible things have happend in this world, but to a far lesser extent than on earth. Which still means that far too many terrible things have happened, but there is more light and hope and goodness around, and I think some of us need that.

When I set out to create this world, I was in a state of grief. One of my best friends had died in a tragic accident, and I was all sad and angry attending his funeral. Wolfgang had been a wonderful person, a man with a huge heart, filled with love and life. In a strange way he felt more alive than most of the people I knew. Every time he visited me, he brought joy and laughter with him. And he always talked about bringing our old rpg gang together again, and every time I said „Sure, I will do something“, and then I didn’t, and then he was dead.

After his funeral, all the funeral guests had gathered in a local restaurant, as is the custom in Germany. As I was looking around the table, it suddenly hit me that I had played role playing games with almost everyone at that table. They came from different groups and times, but there they were, so many players from so many years of gaming. It suddenly seemed to me that the people around me were not only flesh and bone and soul, but also sheets of paper, stats and dice rolls. So there was no way around it, I had to bring these people back to the table, I had to play with them again, I had to create a world to dream together. And since then we have been playing, twice a year, in long sessions, getting together for a few days, no matter where life had driven us. We have maps, figurines, whole landscapes, dungeons, too many dice (You need too many dice!), and we have us, a group of childhood friends that has become close again. And we remember Wolfgang every time, and we still miss him so much.

So Shanarel is basically the kind of fantasy game which he would like, and which I like. Funny, quirky, sometimes even whimsy, full of mistery and magic, with more light than darkness (even though there is plenty of that, too), with loads of interesting and strange cultures, with loads of places to explore. It will have about five chapters: In the first one we will explore the 45 different cultures that make up this huge continent (It is about the size of Eurasia, so plenty of space). In the second chapter we will make a grand tour through all the regions of Shanarel, and we will have loads of maps because everyone loves loads of maps. In the third chapter we will talk about different aspects of Shanarel, like animals, plants, religions, trade, politics, sexuality (Yeah!), art, architecture, and so on. Oh, and magic. As this is a place with a lot of magic, we will have to talk about it a lot. The fourth chapter will concern itself with special rules (We are talking about a 5E supplement here, but really it would work with any fantasy rpg rules), and will most likely have some new subclasses. And the last chapter will be an adventure for levels 1-2, so you have a place to start.

I will regularly give little previews of what I have been working on in this blog, and I will also show bits of illustrations once they start coming in. As I am writing the book in german (It will be translated to english, of course), the previews will be in german, so I am afraid that you might have to use your preferred translation tool if you want to understand more than „Elfenschnitzel Lederhosentrauma Habsburgerfräulein Juppheidi Panzervater Knödelmagie“. But we thought it might still be interesting to you.

So, this has gotten rather long. I will be much briefer in future, I promise.

Have a great day, and don’t forget to play rpg games with those you love.


Picture by Gwen Singley for The Straight Way Lost. This wonderful artist will contribute 40+ illustrations for Shanarel.