Monday, May 18, 2020

What's Happening with Through Ultan's Door 3?

This a long overdue update on issue 3 of my zine, Through Ultan's Door. I want to tell you what's in the zine, why it has been delayed, and what my plans are for the future. Let's start with the fun part.

Through Ultan's Door issue 3 takes you down the Great Sewer River that winds through the undercity of Zyan. The issue is big. In fact, it's big enough that I had to split it into two zines. So issue 3 will be a double issue, each with its own separate detachable cover with a map on the interior. The covers, each featuring one of a pair of rival NPC potentates, have already been completed. Huargo, who also did the cover of issue 1, is back again with a stunning depiction of the Sewer Wyrm Cephaia, Prophetess of the Muddled Waters. Orphicss, who did a gorgeous illustration in the interior of issue 2 is back with an illustration of Cephaia's rival the Cranemay, a fey sewer witch. (The illustration at the top of this post is a clipping from Orphicss cover.) Here's what the double issue contains:

  • A lovely sewer pointcrawl map by Gus L
  • Rules for pointcrawling the river
  • A huge and lavishly illustrated sewer encounter table
  • A light treatment of four points on the pointcrawl, two of which were features in past issues (The Ruins of the Inquisitor's Theater, Catacombs of the Fleischguild), and two of which are brand new (The Churning Gate, the Harbor).
  • Three separate hidden locations on the Sewer River each of which introduces a major faction or NPC: the Ruins of the Verdant Purveyor, a wreck that serves as the base for the Black sewer pirates; the Fen of the Cranemay from the cover; and the lair of the Cranemay's rival, Cephaia, from the other cover. 
  • A full treatment of the Dam of the Lurid Toads, ominously polite parasites who have established an infestation and blocked the sewer river with their slime, demanding payments in fresh meat. 
  • A full treatment of the Sanitarium of the Benefactors, an entire disturbing settlement on the river with the possibility to transform a campaign. It has its own keyed map by Gus, three opposing factions, numerous NPCs, encounter tables, and so on.  
  • An article with houses rules by Gus L for playing opium dreaming wizards.
  • An article on the maladies and afflictions of Zyan, describing some diseases and conditions of this city of the dreamlands, including Furniture Pox, Floral Buboes, Shadow Blight, and more!
As if that weren't enough, Gus L has also written an entire delightful companion adventure, Beneath the Moss Courts, that expands the wreck of the Verdant Purveyor into a full adventure location and the Black Hand pirates into a major faction. The adventure also reaches up into the law of offices of a corrupt Fee Inquisitors in Zyan Above. (This will thus be the first published glimpse of the city.) Gus played in my original dreamlands game. He has been a collaborator on each issue of the zine, volunteering valuable feedback on the manuscripts, supplying art, and drawing delicious maps. He helped me launch the zine, he gets Zyan, and he is also one of my favorite retro-gaming authors. This issue raises the level of collaboration between us to bring you a fragment of Gus' vision of the dreamlands. 

Gus's illustration of the pirate captain

This companion adventure will be available as a free PDF on DTRPG and, but it will also be available for purchase as a zine in the same house style as Through Ultan's Door. In other words, instead of a single zine, I will be releasing three separate zines simultaneously: Issue 3 of Through Ultan's Door parts I & II, and Gus' Beneath the Moss Courts. And yes, I will also be reprinting Issues 1 & 2 of Through Ultan's Door as well. So actually that's five things all together.

Realistically, with just issues 1-3 and Gus' companion adventure in your hands, it's probably enough to sustain roughly 30 sessions of play beyond the veil of sleep. It's enough to launch a full campaign in the dreamlands.


I have run into a series of delays bringing these five things to you. The first was caused by the size of issue 3. At first I clung stubbornly to the idea it would all be in a single issue. When that didn't work I started carving off parts to put in issue 4. Finally, in consultation with Matt Hildebrand, I hit on the idea of a double issue. Then I had to reorganize the material into that format. All of this delayed the zine quite a bit.

The second delay was caused by the fact that I have to change my printing process this time around. Thus far, I've been digitally printing the zine and hand assembling it. I realized that with five items coming out at once, there was no way I could handle the assembly of the physical products. I also realized by consulting with other people and shopping around that I was overpaying for my printing. I really would love to do offset printing for the next run, and have the print shop fold and staple the interior of the zines. (I think I probably still have to do the covers myself.) It took me a long time to get a series of quotes from a few places. The long and the short of it is that I still don't have this settled. I can get my zine digitally printed and assembled for the price I was paying just for the unassembled zine, so that's an improvement. To do offset printing I have to shoulder some significant costs to do a higher print run, which I might well do. But it's a commitment and I'm not sure.

The third delay was caused by the fact that Matt Hildebrand, who did the layout for Issues 1 & 2  had too much work on his plate, and had to put Through Ultan's Door on the back-burner. I couldn't have launched the zine without Matt, who designed the entire house style of the zine, and worked closely and quickly with me to put issues 1 & 2 together with great skill. It's a good thing, because it means his work is rightly in demand, but Matt has too much on his plate to handle the zine right now. This took a while to figure out. Then I had to find another layout person. Luckily, Lester Smolenski who was an original player and a playtester on all issues of the zine has agreed to do it. He's a wonderful graphic designer.

Then came the fourth delay: the quarantine. I suddenly had two weeks to redesign two lectures courses in an online format. Since then I have been churning out lecture videos at a sickening pace, while simultaneously providing full time childcare. Unfortunately, we're on the quarter system, so I am having to teach two entire 10 week courses under quarantine. I put my two games on hold and set aside working on the zine as well. I needed to take a break from any "deadline" stress in D&D to focus on crisis management. During the quarantine I've enjoyed playing in Nick K's megadungeon campaign, The Twilight Age, which has been a blast. (More on that another time.) I've also been able to do a little more blogging, and tinker with other projects, like thinking about a possible future sword and planet campaign. But I'll be done teaching in 3 weeks, and I'm gearing up to get back to the zine. I'm excited to finally pull it all together.

There is a fifth thing, but I hope it won't be a delay. I need to work out a better system for printing labels and pre-paying postage. With so many products, I can't handle hand labelling everything and getting exactly the right postage on each piece of mail. I need to pay a service that will allow me to print postage and labels. This especially true because I've decided to handle my own international shipping at present. Since this involves filling out customs forms, I need to do everything I possibly can to economize on the time I spend on shipping. I'll still make the boxes pretty, but I need to pick up the speed with more efficient systems.

Future Schemes

This brings me to a report of my plans for the future. I have commissioned a poster from Huargo, who has done the most artwork for Zyan. He has immersed himself in the setting. He understands the vibe well and I find the art that he does for the zine immensely evocative. The sketches he provided at the start of the quarantine were brilliant. We'll see where it goes. When it's available I hope to have it for sale through my Big Cartel store.

I have a pretty good idea where Issue 4 will take us. I think it's going to focus on the religions of Zyan. There will be a writeup on each of the Unrelenting Archons. It will also contain the Temple of the Archons found at the back of the flooded caves occupied by the Lurid Toads. It's a dungeon of portals that takes you to the interplanar precincts holy to several of these alien deities.

Issue 5 is likely to be another double issue. It will contain a second pointcrawl, through the Apartments of the Guildless to the south of the Ruins of the Inquisitor's Theater from issue 1. I have plans for future collaborations with other authors, including an exciting companion adventure that I hope will be released with issue 5. I like this format of modular companion adventures that thematically fit with Zyan, but also give glimpses of Zyan from the fever dreams of other authors. It lets me keep my authorial voice while expanding the circle. Let a 1000 Zyans bloom!

Issues 6-10 will likely take you into to the white jungle, a 3-D hexcrawl through an inverted alien jungles of the dreamland! I'm very excited to share this material with you, which is, I think, my best material.


  1. I've really enjoyed issues #1-2 of TUD, so this update is very welcome. Looking forward to #3 whenever it might materialize!

  2. Thanks for the update, Ben. I'm really excited to see what's next in Zyan!

  3. I'm excited about this. Take your time.

  4. Verily, this is excellent news, and promises to be worth the wait. Onwards!

  5. Oh right on Ben. I know this is going to be great, and totally worth the wait!

  6. Awesome news. Are you going to do some sort of pre-order to see if the extra cost of an offset print run is worth it?

    And I'm really looking forward to Issues 6-10 since descriptions of the inverted jungle and rules for adventuring there were some of the posts that first interested me in your blog.

  7. It's so cool watching this project develop over time. Looking forward to the double-issue!

  8. I am very happy to see more Ultan being released, although double issue connected to shipping rates to my country and the current situation is making me hope it is going to come out in about September, so I can buy it.

    1. It's going to be a while since, I have to get the issue laid out, commission the art, and then have them printed. I can imagine that process being done before mid July at the earliest. I promise that they'll still be on sale in September. I would like to keep them on sale for a longer stint this time around. I'm sorry about the shipping. If I ever figure a good way around that I will take it. But it's rough.

  9. Will be awaiting these with baited breath. Since the start of lockdown I've been running Ultan's Door for a group on Discord, and they love it. Lots of new players too, so for some it's their first experience of D&D, and I couldn't think of anything better to introduce them with.

    They're getting close to done with the first two dungeons and are starting to want to explore, so details of the river and the Dam of the Lurid toads would be a boon right now. I might have to run something else as an interlude or just let them wander down the hole to the White Jungle in the meantime. Not sure I can do justice to the Temple of the Lamia or the Wreck of the Parapraxis.

    I've been trawling through your old posts for when I have to fill in details. My PCs wandered up into the Porcelain Abbatoir and came back with sausages and a book on Zyanese history, so I've been wondering about things like how the city was founded.

    Also, I've been meaning to ask, have you and the OSR community ever found something to replace G+? I only got into OSR this February and I'm constantly finding references to communities there I'd jump right into if they still existed.

    1. Peter, I'm so glad you've been enjoying running a game with the zine. Probably the best thing about making the zine is getting to hear about other people's adventures there!

      As for an alternatives to G+, the short answer is no, there is no one good replacement for G+ that OSR folks ever found. But here's what I'm doing now:

      There's gaming twitter (I'm @benlaurence1). I don't love it, but it's the main thing going right now for me. There's also an OSR Discord, but I have trouble keeping up with the constant stream of conversation, and quickly dropped that since it's not my style of communicating. If you like chat rooms, that might be a good option. There's also MeWe, but it's pretty slow, and so I check it rarely. Finally, there's a new forum, called OSR Pit, which has potential, but needs some more participants.

    2. In that case I'll sign up on the pit and make a gaming Twitter (which I see you already followed back while I was writing this), excuse me, I'm not really up to speed yet!

      I know what you mean about Discord, I use it to run my game and it's great for a small group like that, but I'm on a dozen discords that I can't begin to keep up with and never read.

      I'd love to tell you about the game. It's relatively light-hearted so far due to being mostly new players (and one of my established players excels at tongue-in-cheek characters) but that hasn't really diminished the elements of Zyanese weirdness and horror.

      Let's see, we've got the Erebos the Yellow, sort of Lovecraft/C.A.Smith wizard, a pompous coward who describes everything he encounters as "saturnian" but doesn't know what it means.

      Garviel of Ibis, a cleric of Mitra, who (the player coming from Warhammer) declares everything to do with the Archons 'heresy!' - to which the more sarcastic wizard patiently explains the difference between heresy, heathenism, apostasy and blasphemy.

      (He nonetheless ended up making a deal with Azmarane to defile the Catacombs, and when he explained the arrangement to the party the wizard looked at him in triumph and said "now THAT'S heresy!")

      Marrus Kiwa, a new addition to the group, a cleric of Manannan with a swordfish blade.

      Rea the street urchin, often the only one of the party who actually thinks to look for treasure.

      Aeris of No House, a warrior of uncertain gender, who may be a stableboy in love with the lady of the house in a higher level of dream, and who this week refurbished the bar area of the Inquisitor's Theatre into a watering hole for adventurers coming through Ultan's Door. (Called, of course, Bar Saturn.)

      And Caenn, the sarcastic wizard, who has obtained the Carnal Star and begun to study it, and to my delight may be about to fall down the Sarpedon/Mosekes rabbit hole. I want to play up the Ligottian horror of his discoveries.

  10. Hi Ben, happy to know there's more Ultan material being released. I was wondering, do you have any plans for a reprint of issues 1 and 2 in the future?

    1. Yes, Issues 1 and 2 will be reprinted along with issue 3. In general, my plan is to make back issues available every time a new issue is released.

  11. Very excited for the next few issues!

  12. You said Gus L. is one of your favorite RPG creators. I looked him up, but couldn't find anything published except for two one-page-dungeons from a decade ago, and many commens on tenfootpole reviews. Could you elaborate?

    1. For six years he was the author of probably the best retro-gaming blog, Dungeon of Signs It contains an endless stream of top notch content, much of it related to his HMS Apollyon setting.

      He is now the author of the newer blog, All Dead Generations which is more focused on theory and game design.

      Almost all of his stuff thus far has been free. You can see a bunch of it here:

      Some of my favorites would be these:
      Along the Road of Tombs:

      Prison of the Hated Pretender:

      And most of all, his set of OD&D rules for his HMS Apollyon game, which I consider a tour-de-force:

    2. He's also currently working on an introductory setting book about the Pyre Coast, which has a revamped prison of the hated pretender and another dungeon, the tower of flints, as well as a hexmap, etc. But what it really is is a master-class on faction based sandbox play.

    3. Thank you, but all those links lead to dead ends, and require invitation from Gus to view.

      About a month ago that wasn't the case, but now I got curious and tried to read more of these, but to no avail.

    4. Yes, they working until a few days ago, when Gus decided to take his blogs offline. (I blame Twitter.) Hopefully, he will make the material available again in some form.

    5. Hey Shahar, Dungeon of Signs is back up. Download the materials quick while you still can!

    6. Great news! Thanks for the heads up

  13. Looking forward to the zones, I think I'm on a mailing list to get notified...I hope