Category Archives: Miscellaneous

It Figures: Qerlak Barleybane

Because in the end, you need to show, not tell


Qerlak2Qerlak Barleybane stands apart as the adventuring hero who retired- or tried to. The rare third son of an Elven noble family, Qerlak stood no chance of inheriting his father’s foef in the Inmark of the Argensian Empire. He is one of five heroes who formed the core of the Tributarians alongside Zoahnstar, Solo, Salling’r and Cheriatte. Returning from the Shimmering Mindsea awash in wealth in the summer of 2001 (The Plane of Dreams), Qerlak got news of a foef on the jungle fringe of the South Mark, and has used his share to purchase it, becoming the new lord of Mon-Crulbagh.

There, he finds life not nearly as settled as it was on his father’s estate, and his disreputable past has given him both friends and habits that come in quite handy (as seen in The Plane of Dreams and soon in the sequel, The Test of Fire).

Qerlak prefers the two-handed ax to a sword, which other knights would see as an eccentricity. He also fights on foot, because he never really learned to ride that well– and this would be a source of immediate disgrace among other nobles (as if his adventuring life were not enough). Qerlak never spent the requisite hours with a lance either, and this would be the final straw if known. But his years of hard adventuring have made him so strong, dextrous and decisive that he can get by in a joust, with an unfamiliar weapon and a horse he doesn’t control with practiced ease.

On foot, bearing his half-plate and enormous ax (both of which are enchanted to be lighter and more puissant than normal) Qerlak is a fighter not to be taken lightly. On top of that Qerlak’s faith in Argens Hopeforger endows him with miraculous powers, especially the ability to Endure under all manner of stress and exertion.


In Qerlak I see the hero who most heartens me. Though among the pre-eminent “front-rankers” of the Tributarians (exceeded for strength and prowess only by Spitz), Qerlak took on none of the airs that would normally form the prerogative of an elven noble son. Several of the villains in The Plane of Dreams are just that, knight-sons who through

The new coat-of-arms for Mon-Crulbagh
The new coat-of-arms for Mon-Crulbagh

precedence or boredom cannot wait for their seat, and have turned to a life of crime.The Argensian Empire suffers from their entitlement and pride. Qerlak, by contrast, accepted his fate and went adventuring as preferable to indolence. And when a fortune fell into his hands, allowing him to purchase first the magnificent half-plate suit of a lord and then a title to go with it, he rolled up his sleeves and went to work on a knight’s foef that could only be described as a “fixer-upper”. mon-crulbagh-detQerlak thrills to this challenge; nothing dispirits him in either the swampy terrain or the dismal weather. His newly hired castellan Elias Fennet, on Qerlak’s arrival to the foef, sees him address the servants almost as equals and marvels at “a lord without lordly pretence”.

Qerlak’s high spirits, enthusiasm, and his willingness to take risks on himself inspire immediate loyalty in his followers. In a short time, he begins to turn the abandoned foef around, bringing him into conflict with the master of those who control the swamps on his border. Then his former adventuring companions arrive for a visit with some bad news, and it all starts to come together for the young new lord of Mon-Crulbagh…

Galethiel the Dream-Seer, former adventurer who also retires and joins him at Mon-Crulbagh.
Galethiel the Dream-Seer, former adventurer who also retires and joins him at Mon-Crulbagh.

Much of the enjoyment in Qerlak’s story-line comes from the detail I’ve observed in his character and the intuitive, sympathetic struggle he’s undergoing. A new knight, trying to

Severyn Illfellow, a peasant-rogue who gets his due when the new lord takes his seat.

do the right thing by his peasants and companions– it makes sense that folks would be loyal to Qerlak, and this trend continues into The Test of Fire.

You can see a map of Qerlak’s rugged, remote foef in the Compendium, as well as a discussion of the heraldry of old and new Mon-Crulbagh, a description of some of the key staff of the manor shortly after his takeover in mid-2001 ADR. There’s even a keep journal, with entries from previous lords alluding to rather strange doings in the murky past.


As before I used my smartphone camera with Nokia Lens, shot under the best light I could muster, on a white tray for contrast. Additional cropping and contrast drawn from MS Picture Manager, which looks to be about my speed. I took many more shots this time,

Some of the castle key staff.
Some of the foef’s key staff…

and eliminated many more as well.

The swamps of the Mon-Morteissk are probably the prime breeding ground of Reptile Men in all the Lands of Hope. Always a significant threat, they’ve practically run rampant in the decade leading up to Qerlak’s arrival. I loved seeing how he gave them their come-uppance, and it served him well in meeting a great new companion as well as helping to solve the mystery of the

Some of the foef's ancestral foes.
…and its ancestral foes.

Dreamquest. Shooting these dark-skinned uglies gave me some trouble, though– the flash washed them out completely and you don’t see the detail no matter what the setting. But sometimes less is more, as in the deep swamp, late night, unfamiliar sounds, heat and humidity…

As always let me know what I could do to (cheaply) improve these posts. I’m not keeping it short for lack of material. I hope to help spur readers of The Lands of Hope to enjoy the experience, and perhaps help fellow-authors to look elsewhere, or even everywhere for inspiration.

It Figures: the Barkeep

Because in the end, you need to show, not tell.

Six years ago, I started to chronicle the Lands of Hope. But for nigh on thirty years BEFORE that, I showed the Lands in other ways.

Like painting.

Here’s a thought: I think it serves all of us well, to reflect on the less-literary approach to a tale, a world, that emotion that makes you interested enough to turn the page. As always, great to hear your remarks on any of it as these episodes roll out. You can zoom in on the page (Ctrl and “+”) to get a better view.

One last note: this is not about skill, even at my best I wasn’t a great painter . But I think I was good enough: these got me to the tale.


For my first It Figures I knew I wanted the Barkeep. He begs the cliche, the timeworn trope of someone living in the periphery of the would-be heroes either celebrating their last adventure or seeking the next. But who is he really?


The Barkeep was the first non-combat oriented figure I ever painted. He’s got lots of use-marks, for obvious reasons. I wanted him stained, and older, and a bit tired and also just a shade skeptical. Probably overdid the red cheeks and lips, but I was quite proud of the complexion, and managing the blue laces.

This is the figure I picture when I think of Noudhal, owner of the Grog’s Lees in Cryssigens and a Barkeep5-closeminor figure in the Shards of Light series. When I observed the actions of the Lands’ heroes in town, it was often over the barkeep’s shoulder.

I see a man who deals with too many people and too few helpers. He spends more time with adventurers than most other “normal” folk. He hears their tales, and puzzles through how to change their odd-looking coins and jewels- or whether to trust them with credit. He keeps a wary eye on their roister, happy for the custom but nervous whenever tempers flare. Without hesitation he will favor his everyday patrons and neighbors over these uncouth intruders, whether they pay in gold or not.

Of course, he may have heard something useful, an old tale or rumor the adventurers will seize on with their usual, almost naive enthusiasm.  Storming out just as they stormed in, leaving Noudhal, or Fairnum (Judgement’s Tale), or any of their unofficial brotherhood behind, shaking his head, setting back chairs, and mopping the table with the same rag he uses on the mugs.

And this comradery extends to all manner of shops and craftspersons around towns and cities throughout the Lands of Hope. These are the decent, right-thinking folk who gape at the heroes of their day as they would at a lightning bolt, amazed to have seen it but glad when it’s gone. The majority are standing right where their parents stood and Craftsmen2doing exactly what they did; why should anyone need an old bronze helmet reforged, when there are three brand-new steel ones in your size… how should I know what kind of gem used to fit there, sir? I have a nice piece of quartz I can shape, will that do or not? Every one of these figures should have an alternate pose, with arms akimbo: who was that lot, and where are they off to now?


I’m no better a photographer than a painter. It would take too long to relearn the latter, plus I’d have to stock up on paints and brushes again, too expensive. My eyes are going too. But if you have advice on taking pix, and don’t tell me to spend money, I’m all ears.

Barkeep7-closeI set up the barkeep on a plain white tray with the best overhead light I have. My camera is just what comes with my smartphone (a Nokia Lumia 920, about two years old I guess) with its standard on-board camera. I found the focus distance was too close for that camera; I saw an option to download another lens (!) and selected the standard Nokia Lens which allowed me to get up to about four inches away. Flash was on, speed set low (200, figured it wasn’t moving), set the lighting to indoors, and snapped away with the phone held against the end of the tray. I simply used the AutoCorrect feature in MS Picture Manager, and a little cropping. The group shot was taken from about Craftsmen1a foot away with a sheet of white paper backing the tray.

I hope you enjoyed this segment. The figures I bought and painted are almost always from Ral Partha, sometime between 1979 and 2000 at the latest. So many more unpainted downstairs… if anyone is interested in using these pictures in their media, that’s fine by me. Send a link so I can see what you did with them.