Friday, January 18, 2019

Danes Just Want to Have Fun

Uhtred is our Jon Snow-esque protagonist
Shotgunned through The Last Kingdom while down with the flu. If you've got Netflix you could follow suit.

Although ostensibly a medieval action-drama about the battles between the Saxons and the Danes, the show sometimes feels like a critique of respectability politics. Alfred the Great chooses what looks "right" over what is actually smart or noble, and frankly he eats shit for it every time.

I'd extend the argument to Christianity as a whole, as it's presented here. 

Hild will fuck you up
Also there's a heavy critique of spin-doctoring in a pre-mass media age. A mouthy monk is equivalent to a thousand twittterers. Gossiping first counts for more than a first strike on the battlefield.

Faster death-rate than Game of Thrones too; Game of Thrones wants you to start liking a character before they eat steel--The Last Kingdom doesn't have time for your affection. That said, it does give you the space as a viewer to take an immediate dislike to some of the squirming wormtongue villains, and it does reward you with some very rewarding death scenes for the same.

The show even gets away with some noble savage nonsense because the difference between Dane and Saxon is (usually) less about ethnicity than it is about heathenry. 

I do wonder at the places where show gets a little squeamish. The use of the word "hump" in place of any stronger language is simultaneously jarring and charming, for example.

And then there's this crazy witch
My early favorite character was Hild, a warrior-nun who kicks ass and takes no shit. Current favorite character is Skade because she has just the right combination of feral witchiness and utter bloodthirstiness that I like in a woman. "There's this witch in season three you'll like," they said...and they read me like a god-damn book.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Worldbuilding Through Backgrounds

Backgrounds and Worldbuilding
Selecting a background for your character in 5e D&D is a way of making an assertion about your character’s history. But what if it was also a way of making an assertion about the campaign setting as a whole? 

Dungeon Masters who are interested in shared worldbuilding with the other players could use the background system as a place to open-up some of the more important worldbuilding details to player input. When a player selects their character’s background, they get to answer questions about the world connected to that background. Those answers become facts in regards to the invented campaign setting; the Dungeon Master is then obligated to include the players' answers to those questions in the evolving campaign in play—those answers must be given weight and they must matter.

Note: this assumes that only one player can select a particular background for their character. Each background is essentially unique.


Background Worldbuilding Questions
Acolyte There is one god who is never spoken of: what is their name and why are they reviled by the faithful?
Charlatan You know the name of the alchemist who has discovered the true panacea: who are they and why are they in danger?
Criminal What is the name of the most powerful crime syndicate? Why are they justly feared?
Entertainer Who is the most famed entertainer in the land? What secret lurks in their past?
Folk Hero Who is raising an army of the dead? To what end are they assembling this unholy horde?
Guild Artisan Which guild is the wealthiest and most powerful? What corrupt dealings are they involved in?
Hermit An otherworldly threat has entered the Material Plane: what is it and what does it want?
Noble Which family possesses a valid claim on the crown? What are they doing to place their scion on the throne?
Outlander What legendary beast still prowls the wilderness? What is the beast’s vulnerability?
Sage Where is the greatest library in the known world located? What unique tomes are safeguarded there?
Sailor What mythical land beyond the seas actually exists? Who are its people, and why do they wish to remain hidden?
Soldier What war rages beyond the boundaries of the kingdom? What caused the conflict to ignite?
Urchin Where do the tunnels in the sewers lead to? What creatures live in seclusion beneath the streets?

Monday, January 14, 2019

Top Metal of 2018

I'm not narrowing this down to a Top Ten or ranking it, but if you like metal here are some worthy albums that came out this year:

Friday, January 11, 2019

2018 in the Rear View Mirror and Looking Ahead at 2019

Not bad for a year's work
2018, huh? What a wild ride.

Over the course of the year I managed to publish five game supplements on the Dolorous Exhumation Press imprint:  

All of those were done without Kickstarter or Patreon--I made them because I wanted to make them. They have been well-received. Krevborna is currently an electrum best-seller on DriveThru, Umberwell is a silver best-seller, and Cinderheim is a copper best-sellers. People I respect have said nice things about them; I met new people who wanted to tell me they liked my work. Thanks to everyone who bought a copy.

It was also important to me to get to work with artists that I love on these projects, so shout outs to Becky Munich, Michael Gibbons, Wayne Snyder, and Tenebrous Kate

An additional shout-out is due to Heather, who edited Krevborna, Cinderheim, and Umberwell. And those books wouldn't have been possible at all without Katie handling the cover engineering for me.

It was always exciting to hear about how these supplements helped people run fun games. Aside from reading play reports of how games went in my settings (which I love, hit me up if you got some I haven't seen), I also got to watch some Cinderheim content see play on Jim Davis's Land Between Two Rivers stream and Krevborna in action in Technoskald's Dungeon World game. And excellent people like Anne have been using Umberwell to make some cool stuff I'm going to borrow for my own games.

The Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque blog continues to roll along. I wrote 198 blog posts in 2018

I ran a bunch of games, but not as many as I ran in 2017. It is still amazing to me that I can put out a call as simple as "Hey, anyone want to play on Wednesday?" and will easily get enough eager responses to get an adventure going. My games aren't for every taste, but apparently I serve it up good enough to get return customers and new player alike.

I played in some other people's games and helped playtest both GRIDSHOCK and B/X MARS.

The Bad Books for Bad People podcast is unstoppable. We've gotten a lot of positive ratings, and even some heartfelt messages from fans and creators alike. I couldn't ask for a better partner for the podcast--Tenebrous Kate is the mvp of our journey through the weirdest halls of literature. Thank you to all the fans who listen and banter with us. We love you as much as we love trashy books.

* * *

So what does 2019 hold? Some thoughts:

  • I'm not exactly sure what I'll do next for Dolorous Exhumation Press, but I've got some ideas for short supplements already in mind. At the same time, I'm never going to publish something just for the sake of having new content. If it doesn't hit my standards, I'll never ask you to pay money for it.
  • At this point I'm happy to move away from earlier game stuff I did, such as the World Between. I'm fine with leaving that stuff out there to be used non-commercially, but I don't think any commercial products (mine or by anyone else) are in the cards for the future. The past is a foreign country.
  • The death of G+ will probably hamper getting online games going, but as we learned from Mad Men, "When God closes a door..." Anyway, I can't get that emotional about Google shuttering one of its projects--that's just what they do.
  • I started writing a short story and I'm going to finish it. I don't really even care if it's good or not; it's nice to knock the rust off and remember how to write fiction. If it turns out good enough, maybe I'll let you read it.
  • This blog will continue for as long as it entertains me to keep up with it. I do wonder if the demise of G+ is going to cause my enthusiasm to flag a bit, but there's no predicting that. Either way, I've got enough future posts saved as drafts to keep it going for a ways.
  • We've got a list of books to cover on Bad Books for Bad People that is long enough to sustain us for at least two years. The podcast is only in danger if we get bored with it.
  • I'd really like to record the material from my Intro to Gothic Lit course as a podcast this year. I need to talk to people wiser about this stuff than I am, but I'd really like that to be out there in the world for anyone who loves Gothic fiction. If it works...maybe I record the material from my Oscar Wilde course after that.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Beast Master Ranger House Rules

Beast Master Ranger House Rules
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that the beast master ranger is poorly designed. In 5e D&D the ranger’s beast is most often seen as a liability rather than a fun constellation of mechanics and theme; choosing the beast master over the other ranger archetypes feels like intentionally choosing style over substance.

The recent errata for 5e D&D went a little ways toward making the beast master ranger a more viable and attractive choice, but I don’t think those small fixes and clarifications go nearly far enough. In my games, I implement the following for any player who might be interested in playing a beast master:

  • Real talk: I will rarely target your animal companion in combat. I will also mostly forget to include your animal companion in area effect damage.
  • When it comes to choosing the kind of animal companion you can have, be aware that re-skinning is an option on the table. If you want a bear companion, we can probably find some stats to use that fulfill the beast master’s requirements for an animal companion.
  • If your beast dies, you can resurrect it over a long rest. Actually, I’d probably let you bring your companion back over a short rest if you ask nicely.
  • When you gain your beast companion we’ll assign it saving throw proficiencies that make sense for the kind of beast it is.
  • We’ll also assign your beast companion some skills. Up to four.
  • Every time you gain a ranger level your beast companion gains an additional hit die and the corresponding hit points.
  • At every level that you gain an Ability Score Increase your beast companion also gains an Ability Score Increase. Note that these Ability Score Increases may affect things such as attack bonuses, hit points, and saving throw DCs.
  • You and your beast understand each other. For example, if you send your beast to scout ahead it can relay information to you upon its return without you having to magic the information out of it.
  • I treat your beast companion as an extension of your ranger character. For example, if you cast hunter’s mark on a foe your beast companion’s attacks benefit from the additional damage provided by the spell.
  • Similarly, your beast companion can benefit from your Hide in Plain Sight, Vanish, Feral Senses, and Foe Slayer abilities.
  • If you command your beast to attack and you’re wielding two-weapons you can make one off-hand attack as part of this action—your beast’s attack counts as the primary attack, your attack counts as the secondary attack.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Best of 2018

For better or for worse, 2018 is one for the history books. Jack and Kate take some time to recommend some of media they enjoyed during the year that hasn't been discussed on the podcast. The rules of engagement are simple: the hosts each choose one movie, album, TV show, book and "wild card" from any category that was the best experience of its kind encountered during 2018.
Your hosts go down pop cultural byways that include corpsepaint, 19th Century British crime, highbrow comics, brave artists willing to take dares from internet cesspools, and very weird dads.
BBfBP theme song by True Creature 
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 About Page.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Umberwell: Blackened Be Thy Name is the Deal of the Day at DriveThruRPG

UMBERWELL: BLACKENED BE THY NAME is the Deal of the Day on DriveThruRPG today!

For the next twenty-four hours the pdf of the book is half-off and priced to move at a mere $4.97.

What for you get for about five bones?

Discover Umberwell, a fantasy metropolis of stunning strangeness and decadent splendor. Explore a city of urban dungeons, encounter marvelous artifice, and hear the prayers offered to the six goddesses of the City of Exiles. Tour the city’s island sprawl, its underground warrens, its undersea domes, and the rusting towers that lead to its skyward reaches. Mingle with devious wizards, thieving gangs, and creatures drawn to the city from across the planar multiverse. All you have to do is learn to survive the streets, crypt-kicker! Beautiful fiends, deadly assassins, scheming secret societies, raucous cabarets, and horrid monsters await just beyond the harbors. Embark and taste the impossible fever dream.

Umberwell: Blackened Be Thy Name is a system-neutral city campaign setting for picaresque urban fantasy adventures inspired by New Weird fiction. The book includes:

  • Art by the incomparable Tenebrous Kate.
  • Details on the city of Umberwell, including information on its demoness mayor, its worm trains, its dangerous gangs and cults, its interplanar zones, and much more.
  • Information on the myriad races who populate the city.
  • Ideas for genre-appropriate characters and the reasons that brought them to the metropolis.
  • Eleven factions and twenty-six NPCs to involve your players in intrigue.
  • Advice and tools for running a fantasy RPG in an urban setting.
  • Tools for use in game, such as copious adventure seeds, random tables, and a comprehensive adventure generator that gives you the basis of a scenario with little prep.
  • A full index of subjects, an index of adventure ideas, and an index of the book's random tables.
  • A design philosophy that prioritizes ease of use and speed of play. All "lore" entries are easy to scan, and make use of bullet points and bold text to draw your attention to the important bits so you can get on with your game.
  • Bundled with the pdf is a free supplement, Scardogs and Scapegraces, which expands the detailed NPCs to fifty characters that can act as contacts for player characters in the city.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Total Skull: Helvete, Gospel,Swell-Looking Babe, Hamartia, Christmas Ghosts

Things that brought me delight in December, 2018:

Helvete: A Journal of Black Metal Theory, Issue 1: Incipit
The essays I've read from the para-academic world of black metal theory have been hit or miss, but the value here is less in the sharp delineation of ideas and more in the rupturing atmosphere the best of these pieces exude. 

Opera IX, The Gospel
Opera IX's theatrical, orchestral black metal still delivers the pomp and satanic circumstance on The Gospel. The orchestration does more work than the riffs, which honestly is a nice change of pace of this style of black metal. Bandcamp link.

Jim Thompson, A Swell-Looking Babe
You're in luck, we did an entire podcast episode about this book here just for your edification.

 November's Doom, Hamartia
November's Doom is death-doom that always weighted their work heavier on the death side of the equation, until Hamartia. Hamartia still has moments of ferocious strength, but that is more of a moody balancing act throughout.

The Valancourt Book of Victorian Christmas Ghost Stories, 
Volume Two

I'm not sure I ever really see myself getting sick of Victorian Christmas ghost tales. There is a glorious alternative here: you don't need to be bah humbug about the holiday--you can delight in the specters and murders and murderous specters it brings instead.

Helllight, As We Slowly Fade
Imagine a mouth opening in anguish, the words emerging only as frost caught on the wind-bitten air. That's the kind of funereal doom that Helllight serves up on As We Slowly Fade--a kind of apocalypse that feels as personal as it does cosmic. Bandcamp link.

Brandon Graham, Multiple Warheads book 2: Ghostown
"Raiding the wizard's tower" is the barest of cliches, but even the most shopworn of concepts cannot escape become unfathomably something else when it comes into contact with Brandon Graham's Multiple Warheads.

Neurosis & Jarboe, s/t
The sound of the chora entering the lingual stage through shrieks and expressive rage against the abjection to come. Bandcamp link.

Kentaro Miura, Berserk vol. 23 and 24
December arrives just in time for a fight with snowmen! But really, this bit of the story feels like a meditation on Wilde's thesis that each man kills the thing he loves.

Octave Mirbeau, The Death of Balzac
Hagiographies are frequently uninteresting, but this one is. "Balzac did not pay his dues. He only paid in masterpieces: coin that was not legal tender in the Academie."

Not exactly a Christmas Eve tradition yet, but maybe it should be.