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Jarandell – The Garden of the Magicians

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The Chateau

I have been working on my own little D&D campaign world for a while, which I want to piece together from various sources, not all of them in English.

There will be B2 Keep on the Borderlands in there, and B1 In Search for the Unknown, The Caverns of Thracia, the original B3 Palace of the Silver Princess, and… I want to finally use Jarandell in there.

So lets talk about “Jarandell – le jardin des magiciens” (Jarandell – the garden of the magicians). It is intentionally inspired by Jack Vance and the illustrations of Brian Froud, so I will show some of the pictures from the article, because they are just fantastic.

I don’t see anyone else talking about it, at least in English. And neither in German or, according to my spurious Francophone Google skills, in French.

(actually, that’s not quite true, a month after I posted about the art on twitter a while ago someone made a video about it. Might just be a coincidence)

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This small setting was published as one of several in the classic French Wargame/RPG magazine Casus Belli no. 59 to 60 (and maybe 61?) back in 1990 (!). This was way before even this old grognard got into roleplaying games, and in the wrong language to boot. Back in ’90 I could say Hello and Goodbye and even count to ten in English and was really proud of it. I might have been able to say merci and bonjour in French. And the Merci mostly because there’s a German chocolate brand called that.

(by the way, quick cross-cultural fact: Merci chocolate is a very popular thank you gift in Germany, for obvious reasons).

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Luckily for me it was translated and reprinted in WunderWelten 40 to 42. Of course that meant that I didn’t have any clue if there were any references I missed. As far as I know this was the only Casus Belli article they printed, and while the article seems to be standalone there are a few spurious connections to other settings published by CB, e.g. the mention of a few cities and locations. 

So the question always was… did I miss something? Or was the mystery intentional?

It didn’t help that I only found the first two parts in German back in the day, and now that I have access to the French ones I am hamstrung by my lack of actual French skills…

For some reason most of the references I did find online seem to regard this setting as a Dying Earth location. That seems wrong, although the liberal use of Vancian tropes in there might be a reason for that. Rather than Dying Earth it seems to be a standalone expansion of the Laelith city setting CB published over a dozen or so installments in prior issues. Laelith was statted for D&D, Jarandell on the other hand has no stats at all.

The description of the place was amazing. Jarandell it turns out is a hiding spot created by a magician called Randell.

Randell created it to get away from some extraplanar threat. And the whole setting starts off with the description of the areas around Jarandell…

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Lots of adventure locations already. In my own campaign setting I intend to use it as the place where the road northwards from the Keep on the Borderlands ends up at.

I will have to translate some of the place names. I mean, Shanpuir sounds amazing as a name, but the Raze du Lynx… hmm… The Lynx Wastes?

Ileterre at least might be just the Earth Island.

And then we zoom in into a single place in that area… which is again a fantastic adventure location obviously intended to make even finding the actual location of Jarandell as fun and entertaining as possible.

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Jarandell it turns out is situated within one of the mills in the area (why a small village and a monastery need 4 mills is not explained, but 3 of them are abandoned).

Jarandell itself is in the attic of one of the abandoned mills, and you have to find a secret door and climb up a “diabolical” staircase that shrinks you the further you go upstairs…and then you reach the garden…

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The Garden Entrance

It turns out Jarandell is a miniature world, secluded away in the attic of the mill. From outside its just a few feet across. On the inside it is large enough to house an expanding castle, a labyrinth around that castle, a village with at least 50 houses, a lake, and expansive “greens”…except they aren’t green, they are bathed in eternal twilight, only lit by bioluminescent flowers, wind created by giant flying turtles, with giant… well, actually normal-sized… bats left over from construction as a sort of megafauna.

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The Castle

By the way, notice the pictures. These seem to have been a stylistic choice. Except for the maps and maybe two other paintings, the whole art in the article is pictures of dioramas and models. Remember, this was back in 1990. This stuff is all handmade, even the creatures and NPCs.

By the way, these seem to have been created by Franck Dion (@franckdion) who also did the art for Dixit Daydreams the last few years.

Dixit Daydreams

Jarandell is ruled by three magicians, the inheritors of Randell. They run a sort of magician’s school in their castle, creating new magic for some mysterious purpose. The whole place is littered with magic items.

Most of the actual magic is actually done by Sandestin, those enigmatic beings of Jack Vance’s fiction (Specifically the Dying Earth and Lyonesse stories). And much space is given as to how these beings act and behave.

I always have wondered how good a setting this actually is. It certainly is an evocative one, but after the characters have found Jarandell and interacted with the people there for a bit… then what?

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After some wonderful buildup and amazing art the whole thing seemed to falter I still don’t know what the extraplanar danger is that scared Randell so, and there are other hints that might or might not connect this to the wider setting Casus Belli had created in previous articles. I always feel like I am missing some context here.

This I will have to work out for my own campaign I guess. The whole place is more of a high level place anyway, so I will have some time until my players get there. Not that there are many players during these times anyway.

Besides Franck Dion, this was a collaboration of a few people from what I can see. One of them seems to have been @JBalczesak, the other collaborators were Denis Beck, Denis Gerfaud, and Didier Guiserix (most of which seem to have no twitter) the photographs are given as Yoëlle (Guiserix according to some Google searches). I cannot really find more of her work, except the other articles in CB (mostly the Laelith setting which seems to be connected). 

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The Sandestin Phoboxen

I really wish there was more stuff in this vein out there, this combination of sculpture and photography as RPG art, especially in this style. But I think outside of some dioramas for the Laelith series of articles they might never have done more. and to be fair, sculpture and modelmaking might be a bit too much work just for some articles in an RPG magazine. On the other hand this is just some of the stuff RPG fans might be into.

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Magic portrait

One response to “Jarandell – The Garden of the Magicians

  1. Falroon October 16, 2021 at 6:54 pm

    Ahhhhh Jarandell !
    You miss nothing of the background. The danger was never truly explain. There’s a following in casus (“les voyages de l’astronome” aka Astronomer journeys) but it was related only with the name of Randell. Usually Casus put the background with a lot of blank for the convenience of the DM. So we don’t have all the answers.
    At that time, Casus Belli want backgrounds with less heroic and more fantasy. They put Jarandell in their basic background “Laelith” but it was more convenient for them than for the story. They’ve also done “Goferfinker” but it was another story.

    An old french rolist 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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