Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Dragonmede, Dishonored Tarot, Castlevania, The Ghost of Orion, A Dawn to Fear

Things that brought me delight in March, 2020:


Rona Randall,
Dragonmede
Dragonmede was a chance find at an antique auction house. You have to roll the dice and hope for the best with Gothic romances from the 1960s and 70s, but Dragonmede was worth the gamble. This one has it all: a heroine who was raised among her mother's high class gambling den, an effete and effeminate artist, a class-conscious alcoholic evil stepmother, an aristocratic family prone to a multitude of sins, a father crippled by a stoke that prevents him from divulging crucial information, a mysteriously deadly lake and a familial curse, an aged former servant who spies on everyone via secret peepholes, paintings that disclose hidden identities, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. There are more reveals and circuitous connections than should be possible in a novel of this size. I was having so much fun reading Dragonmede that I finished it in a single day.


Dishonored tarot cards
This deck of tarot cards was produced as a promotional item for the first Dishonored game. I had no idea they existed until I stumbled across them on eBay. (If you didn't know about them either, rest assured that there are a bunch of them up on there if you feel compelled to pick up a deck.) The cards don't exactly follow the pattern of most tarot decks; the major arcana cards are themed around important characters in Dishonored and the suits of the minor arcana have been swapped for more appropriate in-game themes. All in all, the deck is surprisingly well done--this isn't a cheap cash-in.


Castlevania Season 3
After its triumphant second season, the third season of Castlevania had a lot to live up to. And it does! The narrative in this one follows four strands: Trevor and Sypha investigating strange happenings at a monastery, Hector "negotiating" with one of the four vampires who rule Styria, Isaac amassing an army to get revenge on Hector and Carmilla, and Alucard hosting two would-be vampire hunters from Japan that want to learn the trade...and maybe more in the bargain. The mix of dark moments (and there are some very dark moments) and comedy works really well; also apparently season three is the sexy season. Of course, there are some truly epic battle scenes.


My Dying Bride,
The Ghost of Orion
The Ghost of Orion was one of my most anticipated albums of the year, and thankfully it did not disappoint. My Dying Bride are at their best when they delicately balance two propensities for glorious excess; few bands can manage both quiet moments of melodramatic sorrow and pummeling, bombastic dirgecraft, but My Dying Bride makes the movement between the twin moods of melancholy a seamless endeavor. My Dying Bride have been justly praised for their contributions to the genre, but one thing I don't think they've received recognition for is their keen sense of grace. The Ghost of Orion feels like a medieval benediction--a breviary that promises catharsis, yet curiously out of step with the modern world. And yet, we're left with the notion that it is not the prayer for the hopeless that needs to change to suit modernity, but that it is we who have gone wrong--rendering that grace an inaccessible promise.


Cult of Luna, 
A Dawn to Fear
Cult of Luna specialize in doomy post-rock, but unlike a similar band like Neurosis their music is more cinematic than downward-crashing dirge. Unlike many groups that are often described as possessing "progressive" elements, it isn't the technical virtuosity that will stun you here--even though it is readily apparent--it's the masterful use of tension. Imagine a thick iron cable, just beginning to be dappled with rust, pulled taught to its breaking point. Now let it throb, dance, threaten to sunder while remaining straight and true, all the while a grim misery becomes transcendent when the light of a new day falls upon the surrounding quivering wreckage.


Damien Mecheri and Sylvain Romieu,
Dark Souls: Beyond the Grave
Beyond the Grave is an exploration of the history and story of the first games in the "Souls" series. It covers Demon's Souls, Dark Souls, and Dark Souls II, detailing the history of their production, summarizing their stories, and delving into the details of their soundtracks, connections to other works, etc. This is a hard book to recommend: a Soulsborne fanatic likely already knows the material inside and out, and casual fans don't need to dig this far down. The information the book presents is interesting, but likely doesn't delve deep enough into any one aspect to make it essential. The best parts, for me, were the bits about how Miyazaki was dead-set on doing the opposite of what was popular at the time in video games when he was working on Demon's Souls and how that paid-off when the game was released.


Within Temptation,
The Silent Force
With the release of The Silent Force, Within Temptation tried on yet another persona. Their first album, Enter, launched their career with a doom-inspired sound, but that was largely discarded by the Celtic-influenced Mother Earth that followed. When "Stand My Ground," the first single from The Silent Force, dropped there were murmurs of the dreaded sell-out; the song had the same sort of electronic flourishes and soaring poppy chorus that graced Evanescence's debut--which had been a huge worldwide success. However, while it's undeniable that Within Temptation were expanding their sound for a larger audience, The Silent Force is a landmark symphonic metal album. The instrumentation is thrilling, the guitars still retain the necessary heaviness, and the vocal work is superb. Yes, The Silent Force was a commercial moment, but if you don't sing along to the infectious, anthemic chorus in "Stand My Ground," are you really even alive?


Angel's Egg
Angel's Egg is a 1985 anime collaboration between artist Yoshitaka Amano and Mamoru Oshii. The animation is somewhat sparse; this isn't a hyperkinetic display of over-the-top action. The pace of the film is languid and dreamlike. The story concerns an amnesiac young girl who protects a large, mysterious egg while she scavenges for food and water through the wreckage of a past age. She encounters a laconic young man bearing a strange, cross-like object--does he wish her good or ill? Ultimately, Angel's Egg is an artful meditation on the failure of faith and the collapse of systems of belief.


Kingdom, Season 2
It occurs to me that Kingdom is telling a story similar to that of Game of Thrones, but that it greatly benefits from keeping focus on the main elements--hordes of undead threatening civilization and nobles scheming to usurp proper authority--and from not throwing everything and the kitchen sink into the mix. It is also an unbelievably tense show with some genuinely scary moments. I really hope this one comes back for a third season.


Vivian Shaw,
Strange Practice
Deep in the throes of quarantine isolation, I was not looking for anything too weighty or emotionally heavy to read. Strange Practice came to my rescue. Strange Practice is a decidedly Gothic Lite monster mash romp in which Great Helsing, her vampire pals, a researcher at the British Museum, and a former demon team up to stop the machinations of a rather Fourth Doctor-style villain: a remnant of primordial creation that has taken up residence inside a forgotten mercury arc rectifier and formed a cult of monk-cowled religious fanatics intent on feeding their master the fear it relishes. Greta Helsing is an interesting character; although it is never explained why or when her family witched from hunting the undead to doctoring them, she feels motivated by her Hippocratic oath to mind the health of an in-need, underserved populace: monsters. Will I read the other books in the series? Well, the weeks do stretch on.


Emily Carroll, 
When I Arrived at the Castle
No one does "fairy tale Gothic" comics quite like Emily Carroll. In When I Arrived at the Castle, a cat-woman comes calling at a seductive vampiress's fortress; she has murder on her mind. But can she go through with it? And what is the root of bloody enmity? As the story unravels, it becomes a complicated web of complicity, transformation, will, and predatory reversal. Although this is a short, easily-read-in-one-sitting comic, the big, intrusive images will stay with you. The crooked take on the visual language of the illustrated children's book style only heightens the perversity. Recommended to fans of Angela Carter and Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu especially.


Portrait of a Lady on Fire
A young artist is called to an isolated island in Brittany to paint the portrait of a woman prior to her marriage. The young woman in question has refused to sit for her portrait, so the artist contrives to pose as a lady's companion while surreptitiously studying the features of her subject. It only gets more complicated from there. Deceit turns to questions to desire, aesthetic content, and the sacrifices required by the sordid necessity of living for other people. Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a beautiful film; easily the best that I've seen so far this year.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Piskaro

Art by Maik Beiersdorf
Piskaro
A location in Krevborna.

Piskaro is a city built atop canals at the mouth of the River Krev, a center of thriving maritime trade, and a haven for pirates. Although it is governed by the pious Reverend Solanka, grave heresies have taken root in Piskaro. A series of brutal murders have troubled the city in recent years; it is believed that these murders have occult significance.

Aesthetics
  • A city that sprawls across canals via stone bridges densely packed with teetering buildings crowded together like crooked teeth.
  • Bustling wharves alive with the lading and unloading of full-rigged ships.
  • Candle-strewn shrines devoted to those lost at sea.
  • Dangerous quayside taverns frequented by pirates, cutthroats, and sailors who call exotic ports home.
  • Occult markings made with chalk on the sides of buildings to ward off the violence of crime and murder.
  • The ever-present smell of the briny deep and all its unfathomable secrets.

Themes
  • The connection between commerce and crime.
  • The primordial sea is the keeper of secrets.
  • Sacrifice and the burden it brings.

Adventure Hooks
  • Break the powerful grip on the criminal underworld currently enjoyed by a pirate captain.
  • Uncover a grave apostasy eating a local church from within.
  • Sail to an isolated isle to find a hidden weapon that even the vilest evil must fear.
  • Steal a priceless map from a crime syndicate connected to a secretive cult.
  • Investigate a series of killings that have left unusually mutilated corpses in their wake.

Notable Residents
  • Reverend Solanka governs Piskaro on behalf of the Church of Saintly Blood. 
  • Captain Vanessa Redmayne, a pirate captain whose face and body are crisscrossed with livid scars, is ruthless in her pursuit of power over the various criminal enterprises in Piskaro.
  • Brooding twin sisters of pale aspect, Pandora and Morrigan Rue dress in the manner of Lamashtuan noblewomen. They own identical clock towers in Chancel and Piskaro, and often hire adventurers for inscrutable ends. 
  • Mad Barnabas is a ferocious assassin sent by the Choristers to deal with heretics who prove adept at evading or defeating the Church’s more conventional forces. Clothed in stinking furs and rags, the single-minded Barnabas unerringly tracks his prey. 
  • Swithun Vanderhaus is a defrocked priest who served the Church by infiltrating the criminal underground to gather information. The truths he uncovered soured him to the Church’s purpose, and he seeks further knowledge hidden by the Church that he believes is inherently dangerous and must be destroyed before it can pose a menace to mankind. 
* * *

Director's Commentary
Piskaro combines a lot of stuff I love: canals! pirates! nautical hauntings! Innsmouth-style shenanigans! Occult murder!

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

The Crucifuge

Art by Hary Istiyoso
The Crucifuge
A faction in Krevborna

Description
The Crucifuge is an order of alchemists and artificers who are fascinated with the applications of demonic essence. Methods of capturing a demon’s prima materia and distilling pure souls are known to the foul members of the Crucifuge; they experiment with the ways of combining innocent souls with demonic essence to birth new monsters.

Members of the Crucifuge are sometimes hired by the vampire lords of Lamashtu to craft abyssal monstrosities for use in their personal armies. However, the rogue experimenters of the Crucifuge are just as content to create horrors solely for the purpose of unleashing them upon the world—they are a nihilistic group who would delight to see the world torn apart.

Motto
Our age shall be one of monsters unbound.

Beliefs
  • Mankind is a stain that should be effaced by the creatures of the night.
  • Demonic essence and the perversion of human souls is the only worthy avenue of arcane research.
  • The vampires of Lamashtu serve the same purpose that the Crucifuge pursues—whether they realize it or not.

Goals
  • Craft nightmarish terrors that have hitherto only been imagined.
  • Drown the world in a deluge of monsters.

* * *

Director's Commentary
I think the Crucifuge is a new one that I haven't shown outside my games yet. They give a good explanation as to why vampires have monsters at their disposal, as well as functioning as an apocalyptic group to be thwarted by the player characters. The main inspiration here are the Devil Forgemasters from Castlevania.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Mephistophela

Bad Books for Bad People, Episode 42:
Mephistophela
Mephistophela by Catulle Mendès (1889) is one of the key works of decadent literature, describing the various paving stones on one woman's descent into an erotic hellscape. Translated into English for the first time by Brian Stableford, the book's lush horrors are now accessible to a new audience. Jack and Kate tackle the lurid and tragic story of Baronne Sophor d’Hermelinge, lesbian seducer and damned woman.
Was the fin de siecle really as prudish as some folks seem to think it was? When does homoerotic desire become demonic possession? How do lesbians even do it? All these questions and more will be explored in this episode of Bad Books for Bad People.
BBfBP theme song by True Creature 
Find us at BadBooksBadPeople.com, on Twitter @badbooksbadppl, Instagram @badbooksbadpeople and on Facebook. You can discover where to get all the books featured on Bad Books for Bad People on our About Page.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Feast Your Eyes

The semi-regular inspirational image post.

Japanese poster for Company of Wolves

 Bryan Baugh

Becky Cloonan

 John Bauer

 L Vallei

Yuliya Litvinova


Bryan Baugh


Melissa Kojima


 David Hartman

David Hartman

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Diavolos, Dhampirs, Draculeçti, Inkarnovati, Molocha

A post about the inhabitants of the Land of the Blood Moon.



Diavolos
In the ancestry of a diavolo is a progenitor who fornicated with a devil. This blasphemy results in a family inheritance of horns, a tail, a forked tongue, cloven hooves, and a disquieting infernal aura. Diavolos tend to be shunned; it is believed that their presence attracts bad luck. In some rural areas, they are hunted.




Dhampirs
Vampires are lusty creatures obsessed with the pleasures of the flesh; dhampirs are the resultant children born of dalliances between vampires and humans. You will know them by their morbid pallor and sharp fangs. Dhampirs often possess supernatural abilities inherited from their vampiric parent. 





Draculeçti
The bodies of draculeçti are reptilian, squamous, and draconic; their skins are covered in scales, they possess fangs and claws, and horns crown their heads. It is unknown why some children conceived by human parents are born as draculeçti, but many contend that their forms reflect inherited sins. The Church of Saintly Blood regards the draculeçti as spiritually unclean.



Inkarnovati
When a soul possessing divine power is reincarnated within the mortal flesh of a newborn child, they are known as inkarnovati. This spiritual rebirth occurs randomly, and those who are born with this gift seldom realize it—but some are visited by angelic mentors who urge them to hunt fiends without regret or mercy.





Molocha
Molocha are humans who have become infected by the baleful influence of the Old Ones that emanates from the accursed stars. Their bodies slowly become fungal, alien, and sometimes faintly luminescent. Molocha evidence unlocked powers of the mind; when they dream, they speak with the phantasms of the past. 






* * *

Director's Commentary
All right, let's cut to how I see these ancestries being modeled mechanically. Diavolos are easy: tieflings, all day every day. Dhampirs are a bit trickier; shadar-kai and drow elves are probably the best fit, but you could make a case for gith as well. Inkarnovati were added specifically because a player in my campaign came to me with an interesting concept. I'd use aasimar for them. And really, you have to admit that inkarnovati is a better name than aasimar, right? Molocha have thus far only appeared as NPCs, but the kalashtar from the Eberron book are probably leaning in the right direction.