Letters to Belgo, vol I

I've been playing in a D&D campaign set in the world of Greyhawk. In a way, it's a spin-off in classic TV tradition, originating in another Greyhawk campaign which just wrapped up after several years, culminating in our heroes slaying Demogorgon and ending the threat of the Savage Tide... I don't usually care much for 'save the world' plot hooks, but this game really worked, and the finale was a great payoff after years of character development and some wonderful memories formed.

I say it often: we play these games - RPGs, wargames, boardgames, and so on - firstly as a form of socialising, secondly to tell the stories, and also for the puzzle of the game itself. For many people, that'd be the wrong order to list them in, but those are my priorities. In some instances, such as video games, the story is key and the social aspect goes away. I have plans for reporting on some solo tabletop games, for which the full purpose is the creative exercise and the stories told as a result.

That creative drive can be channelled into the more social games too, providing a creative hobby adjacent, but not directly connected to, the others involved in the games.

I haven't used this blog to document a great deal so far, but as I find myself recovering emotionally from a difficult few years, I hope I'll be more inspired to not just create, but to produce write-ups as well.

So, here's the first.

This campaign is, by most measures, our DM's first. He's doing a great job. My character Beata Tuin is a cousin of Belgo Tuin, one of the Heroes of Saltmarsh, from that campaign we just spun-off from. Belgo, through the sort of organic play that I find most fascinating, built up a pretty substantial trade empire based out of Saltmarsh itself. I'd already taken some inspiration from his exploits and worked with Belgo's player to produce a coat of arms (that's a story for another time), which of course I then re-used for Beata's family crest. I'm a fan of medieval history, and was always tempted by those cheap wax sealing kits one can find in English Heritage shops and the like. I've also been pulled into the hobby of 3d-printing via my wargame interests. You can see where this is going...

I haven't the time (yet...) to turn this into a full tutorial, so suffice to say that, as I was alluding to earlier, this little project has involved learning quite a few new skills to a basic level.

Very broadly the process was:
* Create the coat of arms - itself taking several steps of finding artwork and merging it together in proper layers * Create a copy of the arms in outline, in order to be able to create an inversion of the lines later, so that the stamp would work * Convert the artwork into a vector - so it can be understood as a spatial object by Blender * Import the vector into Blender and extrude it to have depth * Find a free wax stamp 'blank' off Thingiverse * 'Cut' the coat of arms out of the surface of the stamp blank to create the impression into which the wax will flow when pressing the seal into it

That's... really oversimplified. I found quite a lot of the process a bit mind-bending - visualising how to turn the coat of arms imagery, which was a set of shaded shapes in essence, into a flat set of lines, isn't something I'm a natural at! A critical step in my understanding was grasping that the line-art version of the coat of arms wasn't contiguous but is formed of many distinct shapes; and the lines are three-dimensional, they need depth, width, and height in order to create the gaps in the wax which in turn form the impression of the shape we actually want to see.
Might be obvious to readers who find this sort of thing second nature, but this is way outside my comfort zone!

Anyway, after a lot of wrestling with Blender and learning about vertices and surfaces (I'll be honest, I mostly fudged my way through), I had a workable stamp. The first print was no good as I printed it with the face of the stamp touching the build plate... I'm not 100% sure but I think the base layers covered up the 'engraved' surface of the stamp. In any case, rotating the stamp and supporting it in the slicer did solve matters.

Image of stamp in Blender

The final sealed envelope can be seen in this article. It's not perfect. Part of the detail in the engraving is a bit too shallow and/or narrow so doesn't make a proper impression. But you know what? It'll do. I imagine in 'real life' use, one would be writing and stamping enough letters that the seal wouldn't always be perfect, so I consider this to be adding verisimilitude.

Image of sealed letter

The last thing I'm sharing here is the letter itself, written from Beata to her cousin Belgo, to update him on the status of her mission.
I tried to give it a feel of the way letters were written in the medieval period, but still comprehensible to a modern audience. I'm at best an amateur historian so there's no pretentiousness intended here! Probably owes more to Shakespeare and Hilary Mantel than much else... I'm pleased with the outcome, enjoyed the process, and the GM of the game enjoyed it, so overall I'd say job done and I hope to write further letters in future.

Note: chronology in game is often... fluid. Thus the date might be corrected later on.

Image of sealed letter

By the hand of Beata Tuin on the xth of xth month in the year of x

Sweet cousin; I pray Ye’Cind smiles on you, bestows you with fortune, and that Her hand rests lightly on your company as they go about their work. May Zilchus shower you with the riches you deserve and let Pholtus be your bulwark against the litigious.

I have made good progress these past weeks in executing your most erudite wishes. I yet reside in Archus having made contact with one Lissora, who I believe was your recommendation, and a well-made and worthy one for she fights as one possessed - and we have had cause to fight, cousin, though I tell of that not here - and one Oleg, styled Uniter of the North. Do not concern, pray, over this latter, for though he has appointed me minister of trade, his kingdom thus far encompasses four “grimlocks”, one elemental of fire, and one kobold known as “Pike”; and I but play the part for tis easier than arguing with Oleg, whose voice, amongst other of his parts, is mighty. Nevertheless these are steadfast companions and we have already blood debt to one another. I am reminded of your tales of Cara, Skarl, and Vinzent, may their gods smile also upon them.

I fear, good cousin, that my mission may be some time in the achieving, for these lands are plagued by an evil, and there is little harmony even amongst the good folk of Blackmoor, though they speak often of the return of their king - yet of his advances we have seen nought in Archus. Here there lies some opportunity. Already we have claimed for ourselves an ancient tower, built by a mage long departed, and a mine beneath it. From this we seek to quarry such stone and rubble as may allow the building of a quay, whence your vessels and others may seek safe harbour. For a lighthouse we have the tower, and further a lighthouse to the north, though yet abandoned, may serve to create passage beyond. I shall not impinge upon your worthy time by describing how we acquired said assets but - o cousin! - what adventure was had.

As it comes to me now let me put down in this missive two warnings. Should you encounter one Lord Garret, though I whit that you will not, so far south as you remain, be cautious; we know not whether he be friend or foe, though we hope - again I spare you the detail - he be friend.
Next, cousin - beware! - your erstwhile enemies sought to slay me in hopes of laying fear in you. I entreat you fear not, for I have allies here which I have already told to you, and some besides I have not.

Of one I will speak now, and I hope good cousin that you may return by letter to me forthwith any further information as you may have; the being is called Zarn and speaks to me from a locked box which I lack means to open; and more, he came to me in a dream passing strange of Saltmarsh and environs, where Zarn celebrated a victory over the Sea Princes and showed me visions of what I suspect was your victory over the sahaugin near to Saltmarsh in times past. More I cannot say save that he is of great charisma and seeming power for I believe he saved my life when that jagged-badge made an attempt upon it. More I shall not put down here for tis not circumspect, though I am most confident this missive shall reach you due to the pains I have taken. Lest the meaning not be plain, the one who made attempt upon my life spoke of “Uncle”.

To return to the matter, I have yet to seek Divath Fyr but have met one Sif who seems to be worthy, and have also some level of friendship with the de-facto ruler of Archus, Lady Hawkstring. As I have yet written, we possess now the tower there, which no other had entered for some hundreds of years, so I have some confidence that the people of Archus themselves are gaining trust in us. We have the support of the lady in our aim to construct the quay, and be proud cousin for I have secured a good percentage of taxation from said harbour, of which I shall of course set aside a portion for the Tuin Company.
There is also here a sizeable community of those fled from depredations elsewhere in Blackmoor. We have had cause to aid these folk and Lissora and I in particular, have their trust. They dwell in the shamefully ruined castle of Archus, upon which we have designs to restore it. I have no doubt you would be pleased with our works in aiding these people, cousin.

Good cousin I must return now to my books or to the wine, as will be decided by whatever hour Oleg awakes.

Pax nos servat, dii nos tuentur