Monday, October 16, 2017

The Horror of It All, 2017 (part 2)

As per tradition (and my natural inclinations) I watch as many horror movies and Gothic thrillers as I can in October. Here's the lowdown on the second week of morbid curiosities I've been parading before my eyes:

Transylvania 6-5000 (1985)
Tabloid reporters Jack Harrison and Gil Turner are sent to Transylvania with two choices: find the Frankenstein monster or find new jobs. But before the jumpy journalists can dig up their big story, they must first face the horrors of an extremely clumsy butler, a nymphomaniac vampiress and a semi-mad doctor, as well as assorted mummies, werewolves and more Transylvanian oddballs. Can these two bumbling heroes unravel this monstrous mystery or are they in for some very scary surprises?

I can't believe I'd managed to avoid this before now. Transylvania 6-5000 was a movie made to free a chemical company's frozen assets in Yugoslavia, and it shows. Not even Geena Davis in a vampy outfit can save this one.

The Asphyx (1972)
English country squire Sir Hugo Cunningham searches for immortality by literally 'bottling up' the Spirit of the Dead, or Asphyx.

Usually I'm a sucker for anything horror set in the Victorian era, but The Asphyx was truly soporific. Apparently the spirit of death looks an awful lot like Slimer's Fraggle-ier cousin.

Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968)
When his brother disappears, Robert Manning pays a visit to the remote country house he was last heard from. While his host is outwardly welcoming - and his niece more demonstrably so - Manning detects a feeling of menace in the air with the legend of Lavinia Morley, Black Witch of Greymarsh, hanging over everything.

A bit wobbly, but Curse of the Crimson Altar has the kind of atmosphere I like. Plus, come on, it has Christopher Lee, Boris Karloff, and Barbara Steele. 

Lore (2017)
From the executive producer of The Walking Dead and the executive producer of The X-Files, this anthology series brings to life Aaron Mahnke's "Lore" podcast and uncovers the real-life events that spawned our darkest nightmares. Blending dramatic scenes, animation, archive and narration, Lore reveals how our horror legends - such as vampires, werewolves and body snatchers - are rooted in truth.

I only watched the first episode of Lore...and it might have been the only episode I watch. Lore is a spooky history-themed podcast that has been turned into a television show by Amazon, just in time for the Halloween season. Unfortunately, the jump to a visual format has really been to the concept's benefit; it mostly feels like a podcast that has been jammed over top dodgy History Channel-style re-enactments.

And then there are the inaccuracies. Mercy Brown was not "America's first vampire." Mercy Brown's story was not the inspiration for Bram Stoker's Dracula. (It may have been among his inspirations, but claiming it as the origin point for Stoker's novel avoids all the scholarship we have about his inspirations.) The phrase "saved by the bell" isn't actually a reference to people who were rescued from death by anti-premature-burial devices. (The earlier known usage of the phrase comes to us from the world of boxing.)

The Boy (2015)
An intimate portrait of a 9-year-old sociopath's growing fascination with death.

Not the one with the doll that looks like Jared Kushner, the one with Dwight from The Office. Slow-burn (hey oh!) about the makings of a future serial killer. Key word: slow.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Krevborna: The Book

I've mentioned this on Google+ but not here: I've been working on a campaign setting book for Krevborna

If you don't know what Krevborna is, it's a Gothic Fantasy setting for roleplaying games inspired by Bloodborne, Hammer Horror, and Eastern European folklore. I've been building the setting on this blog; you can read about the setting here and read actual play reports from games set in Krevborna here.

Take a look to the left; that's the Table of Contents as it stands right now.

Current state of the book: 
- I'm fairly confident that the manuscript is done.
- The manuscript has been handed off to an editor.
- I've been talking about potential ideas with the cover artist and she is at work on an initial sketch. I might be able to preview the cover image at some point, but we're at an early stage with the art.

Below is an example of what the page layout looks like in general. Each major location in the setting gets four pages in this two-page spread format; here is the section on Hemlock, a town of witches and apostates:

It's interesting that Hemlock won the poll of which area I was going to preview in this post as it's also a location that my players steadfastly avoided going to when they had the opportunity.

Aside from location detail on five major locations and four other dangerous locales, here's what else is in the book:
- Brief general notes on the setting, its people, its secrets, and its general aesthetics and themes.
- A map of the setting by Michael Gibbons, so you know that's good.
- People who have played in my Krevborna games will definitely recognize some of the NPCs, monsters, and locations described therein. Don't be surprised if you even run across some easter eggs related to your characters!
- Stuff for players, including advice on character archetypes that fit the setting, dark secrets that lurk in characters' pasts, and details on otherworldly beings that characters might make pacts with.
- Information on the setting's factions and important NPCs, and advice on how to use them in your games.
- Background on the world of Krevborna and its cosmology.
- My best advice for running "Gothic Fantasy" games.
- An expanded adventurer generator, a bestiary of sample monsters in the setting, and a list of inspirations that gives credit where credit is due.
- The book is fully indexed. There's even a separate index for all the random tables in the book for ease of use. Here are the unedited draft of the indices:

Some names are placeholders; some names still need to be added.

Why I'm proud of this project:
- I've put a lot of effort into making this book support the principles of setting presentation I talked about here and here
- The book is designed to deliver adventure-oriented detail instead of big honking paragraphs of frustrated novelist writing; expect setting info to be deployed via bullet points and terse description you can use in play.
- I've got a great cover artist lined up and am super excited to see where her inspiration takes her on this project. Hopefully I'll be able to preview some art in the near-ish future.

Additional details:
- Right now, the book is 100% system neutral.
- The book's dimensions will be 6x9, and it will probably be between 110-120 pages long.
- The book will have a color interior.

Things that still need to get done:
- I need to make some decisions about the interior art.
- I am planning on releasing the pdf and print hardcopy through DriveThruRPG/RPGNow, so I will have to figure out how that works.
- Release date tba.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Paperbacks from Hell

Paperbacks from Hell by Grady Hendrix strikes the perfect balance of context, curiosity, and lurid sensationalism in its approach to the paperback horror boom of the 70s and 80s. Daring to peer beneath the gruesome (and often just plain baffling) covers, Hendrix and his colleague and researcher Will Errickson chart the trends, history, and notable figures involved in creating these once ubiquitous tomes. This book will slake your thirst for killer crabs, Nazi leprechauns, and suburban devil cults.
On this mini episode, Kate and Jack talk to Will Errickson of Too Much Horror Fiction about his horror paperback collection, some of the factors that came into play during this particular period in pulp fiction, and the role of these books in today's popular culture. Catch Will and Grady on the Paperbacks from Hell book tour at Powells Books in Beaverton, OR this Thursday October 12.
Intro/outro music: "Halloween" by the Crimson Ghosts
Find us at, 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 reading list.

Monday, October 9, 2017

The Horror of It All, 2017 (part 1)

As per tradition (and my natural inclinations) I watch as many horror movies and Gothic thrillers as I can in October. I'm off to a strong start; thus far I've managed to watch a movie a day. Here's the lowdown on the first week of morbid curiosities I've been parading before my eyes:

Grace (2009)
After losing her unborn child, Madeline Matheson insists on carrying the baby to term. Following the delivery, the child miraculously returns to life with an appetite for human blood. Madeline is faced with a mother's ultimate decision.

As sub-genres of horror, "Pregnancy horror" and "child horror," don't do much for me; doubly so in a case like Grace where the film isn't particularly well acted or constructed. There was a real lack of interesting ideas and development here. 

Beetlejuice (1988)
When a recently-deceased ghost couple find their now-vacant home invaded by an obnoxious family, they hire a sleazy ghost who gets rid of humans to help them.

Films like this (idiosyncratic, but made for mass consumption) just aren't made anymore. I think Beetlejuice is essentially a perfect movie; there isn't an ounce of fat that could be trimmed. I'm glad I got to see this again recently on the big screen.

My Cousin Rachel (2017)
A young Englishman plots revenge against his late cousin's mysterious, beautiful wife, believing her responsible for his death. But his feelings become complicated as he finds himself falling under the beguiling spell of her charms.

My Cousin Rachel is a quiet Gothic film that has been met with a lukewarm response from critics. I enjoyed it, but then I'm also not vexed by the film's thesis: young white men with authority ruin the lives of everyone around them who don't have the same set of privileges. 

Nightbreed (1990)
A troubled young man is drawn to a mythical place called Midian where a variety of monsters are hiding from humanity.

Nightbreed is truly phantasmagorical. I hadn't seen this in ages...and you know what? This is still a bizarre film. Although it probably isn't a great movie on any terms, it's so unaccountable and audacious. Go on, name a movie that feels like Nightbreed, I'll wait.

Raw (2016)
When a young vegetarian undergoes a carnivorous hazing ritual at vet school, an unbidden taste for meat begins to grow in her.

Raw isn't bad, but this is a textbook example of a film that got too much love from critics without just cause. It suffers from being a series of set pieces rather than a cohesive narrative. There's some decent abjection here, but it doesn't really hang together for a cohesive impact.

The Handmaiden (2016)
A woman is hired as a handmaiden to a Japanese heiress, but secretly she is involved in a plot to defraud her.

The Handmaiden was my favorite film of last year, so it was nice to get a chance to watch this amped-up Gothic thriller again with a class full of undergrads...especially fun noting which scenes made some of them look away from the screen.

Under the Shadow (2016)
As a mother and daughter struggle to cope with the terrors of the post-revolution, war-torn Tehran of the 1980s, a mysterious evil begins to haunt their home.

I love getting a chance to see the new horror films coming from non-Western countries. Under the Shadow was good, but ultimately a little too slow moving for my tastes.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Attack of the Wigmother

Campaign: Scarabae (Open Table, Hangouts, 5e D&D)

Characters: Traviata Manu (human alchemist artificer), Khajj Khala (minotaur life cleric), Gisbert Highforge (dwarf fighter), Crumb (artificer).

Objective: Discover why adventurers are disappearing in Redgutter, and put a stop to the disappearances.

Events: The party met with Koska (tiefling quest giver), Voone Jaskar (tortle fence of looted goods), and Wick (fire genasi owner of the Bullroarer, a tavern that picaros hang out at), who explained that the rash of disappearing adventurers was hurting their businesses. They hired Traviata, Khajj, Gisbert, and Crumb to do some investigating and fix the situation, if possible.

The adventurers had little to go on: a party of crypt-kickers last spotted down by the old wharf, an elf trying to sell a crate of powdered wigs before he disappeared, and the tale of a drunk wizard claiming that something not of this world was active in the Redgutter Ward.

While investigating, the party realized they were being tailed by a halfling wearing a powdered wig. They managed to turn the tables and ambush him, but in the ensuing brawl they discovered that the wig was actually an alien creature holding onto the halfling's head with pincers; the wig had been controlling the halfing's actions.

Freed from the wig's influence, the halfing took the adventurers to where he had been ambushed by his wig-controlled friends and had a wig thrust upon him. They found the box that the wigs had come in; it was an old tea crate with an address for a broken-down warehouse near a disused section of the docks. Inside the warehouse, the party found a well and managed to traverse its treacherous handholds.

A giant skull was spotted in a flooded chamber; Gisbert was secured with a rope and sent down into the water with Traviata's cap of water breathing to ivestigate. Gisbert quickly discovered that a crab-like thing was using the giant's skull as a surrogate shell. Gisbert was yanked back to safety with the rope, but the crab followed. The aggressive crab was fought off.

Further exploration found a chamber in which massive black and violet mushrooms were growing. The mushrooms were being "fed" by rivulets of black liquid flowing from a statue of a woman sculpted from dark stone. The statue appeared to be wearing a white fur cloak, but further inspection revealed the "cloak" to be a giant powdered wig that had adhered itself to the statue's back. The wigmother sprang upon the party and, after a battle marked by many whiffed attacks, the picaros prevailed.

An adventurer was found chained in a chamber with alchemical gear; he was roused and set free. The party also found a bedchamber that was obviously still being used. It was duly looted. In the next room the party found a mockery of a dinner party: missing adventurers wearing wigs were dining with a man wrapped in a leaf-patterned cloak--clearly a member of the Children of Fimbul! Khajj charged in, horns first. Traviata used her newly acquired magic dagger to inflict a massive wound on the druid cultist. Crumb blasted away with his firearm. Gisbert protected the others with his shield while swinging his war pick. The group managed to kill the wigs without harming the adventurers they were controlling. As the druid died, he ominously proclaimed that "It was too late! Our plan is already in motion!"

The menaces beneath the warehouse now dealt with, the party continued exploring the depths. They found a large chamber in which a number of knocked-out adventurers were being kept chained to the walls; all were free, all were thankful, and all were pressed into service carrying the picaros' loot out of the warehouse. 

The party also took the druid's corpse with them, which proved to be a smart idea. When the party returned to inform Koska that they had accomplished their mission, they discovered her frantic and teary. While the party had been dealing with the mystery, more Children of Fimbul had teleported into Koska's home and abducted Yuriko, Koska's adopted daughter!

Aurulent Masque was able to conjure forth the dead druid's spirit from his corpse so that the group might learn more. The druid's spirit admitted that the plot to use the wig-creatures to abduct adventurers was deployed purely to get them out of the way so that the Children of Fimbul could more easily kidnap Yuriko. He also explained that the wig creatures had been stolen from a downed ethercraft while adventurers employed by the Magpie Museum were busy looting other sections of it. Finally, before departing for whatever afterlife awaited him, he let slip that Yuriko had been smuggled aboard a ship traveling to a southern jungle land where the Children of Fimbul hoped to use her in a ritual to bring forth a great marauding beast that will destroy the world!

NPCs: Koska, Voone Jaskar, Wick, Aurulent Masque.

Foes: Bewigged adventurers, wigmother, bone crab, a Children of Fimbul cultist.

Loot: 207 gp, 4 sp, and 5 cp each from looted coin and Koska's payment for the job

Ivory dice 75 gp, onyx locket 25 gp, silk handkerchief 20 gp, feather mask with silver threading 30 gp, soapstone pitcher 25 gp, antique iron dagger 100 gp, trade goods (tobacco, herbs, mead) 105 gp. If sold this adds 95 gp each to your haul.

Dagger of Venom (claimed by Traviata)

Scimitar +1 (Claimed by Gisbert)

Pistol +1 (treat as hand crossbow, the name "Heartseeker" is carved into the handle) (claimed by Crumb)

3 Potions of Greater Healing (split between Gisbert, Khajj, and Crumb)

2 Potions of Poison (claimed by Traviata).

XP: 308 each

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Total Skull - September, 2017

Things that brought me delight in September, 2017...


Myrkur, Mareridt
Mareridt adds even more Scandinavian folk into Myrkur's already potent errant black metal. You can listen to it on Bandcamp here.

Der Weg Einer Freiheit, Finisterre
Finisterre rises above albums mired in tradition by embracing emotional tragedy. You can listen to it on Bandcamp here.

Sigh, Hail Horror Hail
Hail Horror Hail somehow escaped my revistation of Sigh's back catalog last month, which was a mistake as this one is the turning point that illustrates how an interesting Eastern take on extreme metal blossomed into its own irreproducible artistry.

Paradise Lost, Medusa
The return of Paradise Lost continues to go from strength to strength.

Cradle of Filth, Cryptoriana: The Seductiveness of Decay
Same song, but I like it; more Hammer Horror-inspired music from these lads.

Cradle of Filth, Dusk...And Her Embrace: The Original Sin
This is basically an earlier, rougher version of the Dusk...And Her Embrace album that was released in 1996. The original is a classic to me, so it's interesting to hear what the "demo" version was like even if it isn't nearly as good as the more refined version.

Riti Occulti, Tetragrammaton
Riti Occulti make occult doom metal...with traditional folk instruments. Must be heard to be believed. You can listen to it here on Bandcamp.


Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist
This time I was struck by the similarities between the groups assembled to fight the vampire in Dracula and thwart Fagin and Monks in Oliver Twist. You have the doctor (Van Helsing & Losberne), the learned man (Seward & Brownlow), the man of status (Holmwood & Maylie), the pure woman (Mina & Rose), and the gruff man with a heart of gold (Morris & Grimwig). Now that I think about it, Penny Dreadful does the antiheroic version of that archetypal "Victorian adventurer party": the doctor (Victor Frankenstein), the learned man (Ferdinand Lyle, then later Catriona Hartigan), the man of status (Sir Malcolm Murray), the pure woman (Vanessa Ives), and the gruff man with a heart of gold (Ethan Chandler). All of the them are allied against a corrupting "foreign" threat (Dracula, Fagin, Dracula again) marked with some of the stock characteristics of "Jewishness."

Max Ernest, A Little Girl Dreams of Taking the Veil
Frappez, mon enfant, car vous estes la petite tout est inhumain.

Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Blade Runner is one of my favorite sci-fi films, but I had never got around to reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? until now. It's very different, of course, with emphasis placed on empathy as the defining characteristic of humanity. 

Sarah Waters, Fingersmith
I'd read this before, but every time I re-read it I marvel at the narrative construction.

Jean Lorrain, Monseur de Bougrelon
A tour of Amsterdam given by a dandy's whose era has passed.

Bob Stein, The Forest of Enchantment
I had this as a kid and recently had a revelation: Bob Stine is the R. L. Stein of the Goosebumps series. I need to devote an entire post to the personal importance I attach to this book.

Kathe Koja, Under the Poppy
We did a podcast on this one, check it out.

Grady Hendrix, Paperbacks from Hell
Thoughts on this one forthcoming on an episode of Bad Books for Bad People.


Becky Cloonan and Lee Loughridge, By Chance or Providence
Paul V. very generously sent me this in the mail, and now I am absolutely obsessed. Part medieval Gothic, part morbid fairytale...this is right up my alley and the art couldn't be more perfect.

Graham, Roy, Milonogiannis, Wilkins, Ackins, 
Prophet 5: Earth War
It was hard to imagine a solid ending that wrapped up this strange, meandering, and sprawling run of Prophet, but this works.

Mike Mignola, Chris Robertson, Ben Steinbeck, Michelle Madsen, Sir Edward Grey, Witchfinder: City of the Dead
Another solid installment of Witchfinder, this time with a clever twist on the notion of an army of the undead. Feels like it's setting up the pieces for a bigger story arc, but still quite fun. Definitely a series I would recommend to fans of Penny Dreadful.


Anyone saying that mother! isn't a horror film isn't an introvert who lives in deathly fear of people "stopping by" uninvited.


Roger Waters, Us+Them tour
Welcome my son, welcome to the machine


Scream Queens, Season One
And so begins the ramp-up to a horror-filled October. I can't believe how absurdly fun this show was. If you grew up, like me, enjoying the 80s horror parody Student Bodies, you should give Scream Queens a chance.

Over the Garden Wall
Just the right mix of fairy tale and folksy adventure. Not sure why it took my so long to get around to this one. The pumpkin-headed people were my favorite, obviously.


Warlock 1
Warlock is a new 5e 'zine for the Midgard setting from Kobold Press. It's Patreon-funded, and the first Patreon I've ever joined; first issue is pretty fun and usable, so I think I've make a good choice. The Patreon is here if you're interested.

Work continues apace on a Krevborna setting book, and part of my research for it has been to review the various formats that setting material gets delivered in. As part of that research I've been looking at Eberron books again. It really is a neat setting; love the way it takes the pulp basis of D&D in a different direction, but man, it is also a BIG setting that tries to be maybe a few too many things at once.

The Tortle Package
Torltes, for 5e!!! Adventure locations!!! For charity!!!

Various authors from the Adepts program
Return of the Lizard King, Ruins of Matolo, Cellar of Death, Ruins of Hisari, Beasts of Jungle Rot, Encounters in Port Nyanzaru, Heart of the Wild, Ruins of Mezro
Each of these is a tidy pdf to add additional content to the Tomb of Annihilation adventure. They're all really good, contributing adventures, monsters (more dinosaurs), races (lots of lizardmen and wilden), some new backgrounds and class options. This program definitely shows promise, and it's cool to see WotC spotlight the people doing good DIY work for the current D&D edition. 

Azruth Adventures Digest
I talked about this right here.


The Art of the Dragonlance Saga
The introduction to this book is a fascinating glimpse into how the sausage got made at TSR. Of course, the real draw is the art--which predictably has a nostalgic pull for me that the other vanilla fantasy D&D settings do not. Even so, it's interesting to note the variety of styles that were used to depict the characters in the Dragonlance saga; yeah, most of it looks the way Stevie Nicks sounds, but there are several pieces in here that are downright Conan-esque in approach.