Sunday, June 23, 2024

Kill White-Eyes

It had been a very long time since I ran any of the older editions of D&D, and since we have a few players in the group who never got the old-school experience I decided to run Unicorn Meat using my aged copies of B/X D&D. At the outset, I can say that Unicorn Meat hits many of the notes that give the full flavor of old-school D&D: random character generation, faction play, random encounters, resource management, dungeon crawling, and maybe even a totally unfair fight that is best run from. 

For those who haven't read or played it, Unicorn Meat is set in a unicorn meat processing plant where young girls have been sold, kidnapped, indentured, etc. into service as workers. In the scenario I used from the book, the characters were all "carvergirls" (their names: Willow, Chip, Squid, Twitch, Tick, and Mouser) and they had a simple goal: kill White-Eyes, the tyrant who had assumed authority on the factory farm after the adults all left without warning.


Before they tackled the factory, where they knew White-Eyes had made her lair, the group visited several locales to gather information, allies, and equipment for their assassination plot. They first spoke to Stitches, a carvergirl who had become the farm's de facto doctor, in the med hut, where Mouser traded rations for painkillers. In the garden, they found some useful healing herbs and Squid knocked a bone charm from one of the windmill's blades and pocketed it. Twitch climbed the Nightwatch tree and found a chest in its branches that contained supplies for making charms.At the barn, they traded rations for bullets for Twitch's rifle.

They also explores the farm's tower, which was made of a strange black metal. Squid climbed up and entered from the second-story window after they found the door blocked. Inside, they discovered a dead adult in a uniform and a large obsidian hexagonal device that had a heartbeat. On top of the hexagon was a keyhole. Additionally, they found partially shredded paperwork that appeared to be files on all the carvergirls employed at the farm. They did not mess with the medical machinery on the first floor.

The group examined the pillars surrounding the farm. They already knew that to cross the boundary set by the pillars meant an agonizing death, but what they discovered is that inside each of the pillars was a combination of living meat, bone, and gristle. They next visited the bucha market. (The buchas are insane carvergirls loyal to White-Eyes.) Since the market only accepted unicorn meat as currency and the group had none, they decided to try their luck at hunting unicorns in the swampy forest. 

However, the creature they mistook for a unicorn turned out to have a sunken-in head instead of a unicorn's long, regal neck and its legs ended in gross toes instead of hooves. They killed it and carved it for meat, but a few of them took wounds in the process. They also found a canoe and a wind-up music box in the forest, but no unicorn meat was obtained.

The carvergirls also paid a visit to the church, where they met with Crazy Angel, the girl who was in charge of the cult. The group made a deal with Crazy Angel: they would bring her the head of a bucha and in return be taught the three spells that those in the church had access to. Which...they were able to do!

They now had done enough work in the farm to feel confident in entering the factory. They had their choice of ways to breach the factory, though each entrance had its own peril. Squid opted to climb the factory's wall and drop a rope down so that the others could scurry up. They planned to break in through a skylight. The church members they had allied with agreed to come up and fight off the blood-fatted crows that lurked on the roof. The plan mostly worked, though Squid was assaulted by multiple crows in the time it took others to climb up to his aid.

After climbing down a suspended walkway, the group found themselves on the factory's killing floor. Aside from butchery gear, there was a disturbing machine made from the same dark metal as the tower. The top of the machine featured six hatches, one of which was open. Around the top of the hatch was fairly fresh blood and footprints indicating that two people had entered it. Peering down into the machine's guts they saw that its innards were made for grinding and chewing, and they could see a passage beyond the fearsome machinery.

Willow experimented with throwing some meat into the machine, which caused it to start up and grind the meat into shreds that disappeared down the hole. Tick used a bit of pipe to jam the grinding mechanism, and the group ducked under it to proceed into the tunnel beyond. 

They now found themselves in darkness without a source of light. They could tell that there was cold air rushing up from somewhere, and they could hear water running in from the south. Searching around carefully revealed that the middle of the chamber was a yawning chasm with a narrow ledge encircling it. They heard the pipe they had wedged into the machine break; its bent remains came ricocheting down into the chamber. 

Feeling their way forward, they hit a stone pillar. Chip discovered that the pillar was carved with scenes of massive cruelty: cannibalism, human sacrifice, and the like. Mouser was able to cobble together a torch; once lit, they could now see that they were in a cathedral-sized room with an altar in the center. The altar had blood grooves cut into it that led down into a drain. On the altar there was curved golden knife. As they continued to explore, they crossed a room where a strange, multi-elbowed stone arm attempted to grab Chip, but he was able to avoid its grasp. They also head the ominous sounds of hooves on stones echoing in the caverns.

Exploring further, they discovered the corpse of an adult with her head staved in and an exit from the subterranean level. They also found enough pale frogs and cave fish by the stairs ascending upwards to eat as rations. They determined that the stairs led to an escape route near the train tracks behind the factory. However, when they returned below, they found a humanoid creature with a horse's skull for a head awaiting them. After a brief skirmish, Twitch managed to shoot its skull, which caused it to run off into the cavern complex. 

Unfortunately, as they resumed exploring they again heard the sound of hooves on stone. They followed the river that entered the chasm chamber and found a milkdrinker tangled in a curtain of unicorn bones; the milkdrinker was clutching a metal object that glinted in their torch light. As they attempted to kill the creature to get the object it held, the skull-headed creature arrived again and attacked. To escape, they ran to a metal basket on a chain that could be winched down a shaft.

They had to winch themselves down for what felt like hours, but eventually they could see a reddish-golden light at the bottom of the shaft. At the bottom, they found a perverse landscape of fleshly nodules. White-Eyes was present, wearing a bloodied uniform and holding an infant. At her feet was a large humanoid figure that seemed to be made of muscle and congealed fat. White-Eyes plunged the infant into the large, inert figure's chest and then sprouted a unicorn horn from her forehead. She charged at Mouser and Willow. The group quickly surrounded White Eyes and stabbed her to death. Around her neck was the key the hexagonal device they found in the tower.

Unfortunately, the large figure now "awoke" and attacked. Twitch and Tick were both slain in the initial onslaught. The group ran back to the basket to winch themselves back up to safety, but before they could clear its reach the creature grabbed Chip and killed her as well.

Of course, the horse-headed creature was still waiting for them above. Using Twitch's rifle, Squid took a shot at it--and then it ran at her and smashed her head open. Willow and Mouser each cut around the creature in different directions and managed to avoid being struck down!    

Willow and Mouser made their way to the tower and inserted the key into the hexagonal device. It opened, revealing a beating heart that slowed to stillness. They were pretty sure this had disarmed the pillars keeping them hostage at the farm and set out to test their theory. As they stepped beyond the boundary, they were relieved that they were not smote with blinding pain. They had won their freedom.

Note: of the two characters out of six who survived, one had three hit points and the other had a single hit point left.

Sunday, June 16, 2024

AG3NTS OF C0NTR0L: Operation Jarfly (Part Two)

This is the second half of a recap of the first playtest session of AG3NTS of C0NTR0L, an experimental rpg where the players were told that they would be playing "secret agents," and then told nothing else about the setting, tone, or system for the session. Things started weird and got more and more strange as the session progressed. 

The first bit is here.

Here's how things resolved.

When we last left the agents, they had just dealt with a few thugs in the back room of the El Greco Lounge. Still in pursuit of a mysterious "cipher," they searched the place now that their enemies had been either subdued or killed. Agent Vukovic located a trap door under a stack of crates. The trap door opened out to an old smuggler's tunnel running to the waterfront that was used in the Prohibition days. 

The agents were divided on what to do with the bartender, whom they had taken captive. Ultimately, Agents Romanov and Argo sided with Agent Fauchon over Agent October, clearing the way for Fauchon to butcher the bartender and the surviving goons. Of course, now that several of the agents were spattered with blood, their re-entrance into the club caused patrons and staff to panic and head for the doors. It didn't help that Agent Romanov was now openly carrying a crowbar. 

The agents were now in search of the woman with the cicada tattoo, but when they entered the door they had seen her slip into and out of throughout the evening, they did not find her. However, they did find that the hallway led to a room with multiple monitors showing locations across the city of Red Vitriol, including the alley where they had first encountered the dead man dressed as an agent. Other feeds showed the Ernest P. Lowrock Memorial Library, the Red Vitriol train station, and a neon-lit pharmacy. One noteworthy facet of this discovery: the monitoring equipment was of a much higher tech level than the 1950s-esque period they appeared to be in.

Agent Argo was able to use his technomancy on the monitoring station. He determined that there was a similar connected setup monitoring the same locations elsewhere in the city. He was also able to rewind the footage of the alley so they could watch as the agent was murdered by men in trench coats and Stetson hats. The men cut something bulky out of the agent's abdomen and stole away with it out of the alleyway. This part of their investigation concluded, Agent Romanov proceeded to smash the monitors with his crowbar. The robotic voice in their ears informed them that Melancholia was rising for all agents. 

Vukovic used her "requisition" ability, which meant asking C0NTR0L for equipment and C0NTR0L then seemingly editing reality to insert it nearby, for headlamps so they could enter the tunnel. Agent October also took the opportunity to question C0NTR0L on a few matters and was told that the R3AG3NTS were the enemies of C0NTR0L. Agent Fauchon also attempted to ask a few questions of C0NTR0L, but was denied for having a clearance level of only Chromia Green.

Agent Fauchon used his psychometric ability on the locker key they had obtained from the dead agent, but the voice of C0NTR0L informed them that their Melancholia was rising and that the agent was "beginning to stir." When pressed, C0NTR0L told them that further instances of Melancholia could cause the agent to irrevocably "waken." Agent Fauchon attempted to use psychometry on the bottle of prescription pills, but a different, raspier voice whispered "Have you ever won a war? I don't think you have the stomach for it, soldier."

The agents followed the bootlegger tunnels to the warehouse district and found the train station. Opening the locker with the key from the dead agent's pocket revealed a small item: a cicada trapped in a block of amber. Taped to the back of it was a key to another locker. In the next locker, they found a framed wedding photo of Agent Vukovic and an unknown man; there was another key taped to the back of the frame. That key fit a locker holding a weapon that Agent Fauchon reognized as the first rifle he had ever fired; there was a key taped to that as well. The key fit a locker containing a teddy bear that Agent October remembered; inside the bear was another key. The next locker held a ring that fit Agent Romanov's finger. The ring was engraved with the words "You won't sleep forever." Tied to the ring was a final key that led to a worn family Bible that had belonged to Agent Argo. Red pencil markings in the Bible were deciphered to reveal an address in the city. 

Further detail emerged as they examined these items. The back of Vukovic's wedding photo had "Your name is gone. You let them take your name" written on it in pencil; the bullets in Fauchon's rifle had words etched on them that added up to the sentence "I know what you did in Montenegro." The tag on October's teddy bear read "R3AG3NTS INC."

Arriving at the address, they found themselves at the all-night clinic. The receptionist was the woman with the cicada tattoo. C0NTR0L warned Agent October that he was in danger of stirring and that was jeopardizing "the Hypnos Protocol." Under the guise of seeking treatment for Agent Romanov's busted leg, they asked to see the doctor and were given a thick sheaf of paperwork to fill out for the patient. The first forms were standard stuff (age, medical history, etc.) but further pages asked about childhood traumas and recurring dreams. 

Instead of dealing with the paperwork, Agent Romanov made for the hallway and walked toward the only lit examination room. Inside, the agents found Dr. Legba, the man in the lemon-colored gloves. Dr. Legba identified the agents by their codenames; he seemed to know more about them than they did. Agent October tried to question Dr. Legba about the mysterious "package," but the doctor got the jump on him and stabbed him in the side with a scalpel. Romanov drew his gun and fired on the doctor; where the bullets grazed Dr. Legba's face, they tore away his flesh--revealing an insectoid mandible underneath. 

Agent October was also able to pump a few bullets into the doctor, but they were dismayed to see that his blood ran green instead of red. The woman with the cicada tattoo now entered the room and attacked Agent Romanov with a whirring bone saw. Dr. Legbaw launched himself at Agent October, pushing the scalpel all the way into his body. Agent October collapsed as C0NTR0L announced that "Agent October has awakened, maximum Melancholia has been reached. The Hypnos Protocol is failing; secure the cipher and leave Red Vitriol immediately."

Hearing the gunshots from inside the clinic, Agent Fauchon rushed into the clinic and executed the woman with the cicada tattoo. Agent Argo slammed Dr. Legba against the wall and Agent Romanov attacked him with the bone saw dropped by the woman with the cicada tattoo. Agent Vukovic requisitioned a submachinegun and opened fire, the barrage tearing away more of Dr. Legba's false human exterior. 

In a last-ditch attack, Dr. Legba launched himself at Agent Fauchon and tore his throat out with his mandibles; despite being told that he has only "close" to "awakening," C0NTR0L was lying to them the whole time to push them to disregard their safety and complete the mission. Agent Fauchon fell inert to the floor. Agents Argo and Vukovic finished Dr. Legba before he could further violate his Hippocratic oath.

Exploring the rest of the facility revealed a man on an examination table who had a typewriter-like device implanted in his abdomen. C0NTR0L confirmed that the device was the cipher they sought and instructed them to pick one of their remaining number to implant it into for "extraction." Agent Agro volunteered; Agent Vukovic cut him open and they placed the cipher within the cavity of this body as he screamed and bled. The device, a combination of mechanical bits and writhing bio-insectoid elements, devoured Agent Argo's internal organs to make room for itself. 

C0NTR0L then announced that the "Apollo Process" was beginning. The three surviving agents awakened in the bright lights of a surgical facility. Two agents, October and Fauchon, were present--though as dead bodies with sheets drawn over them. Agent Argo was horrified to see that the cipher was embedded in his waking form.

Session end. End transmission.

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

AG3NTS OF C0NTR0L: Operation Jarfly (Part One)

I did a little bit of an experiment for last Friday's game: I told the group that I'd run something, but the only thing I told them about that game is that they would be playing "special agents." All they had to do was come up with a name and a physical description of their character in advance. I wouldn't tell them anything about the setting, system, tone, or vibe. Massive thank yous are due to Ajustus, who--even though he didn't play in the session--sat in and took the notes from which this write up is born. 

Here's what went down in the first session of a little pick-up game I wrote called AG3NTS OF C0NTR0L.


At the start of the game, each agent was in absolute darkness, unaware of their surroundings. Each of them heard an androgynous, almost robotic, voice within their ear that said:

Hypnos protocol complete. Agents Romanov, October, Fauchon, Argo, and Vukovic have accessed deep slumber. Agents, proceed with Operation Jarfly: secure the cipher and exit the city of Red Vitriol. Clearance level currently chromia green. If you need assistance, remember that c0ntr0l is with you. Contact us through your earpiece as needed, operatives.

The darkness gradually brightened into black, white, and shades of gray–then color filtered back into the image before them. Each agent was wearing a tailored black suit, white dress shirt, black tie, and black patent leather shoes. There was a holstered gun under their jackets and they knew that there was a knife strapped to their leg.

They were standing in an alleyway between brick buildings. The smell of garbage wafted from the dumpsters clustered near the mouth of the alley. Light spilled in from a lone streetlamp. It was night and it was raining. At their feet, a body lay face down on the wet pavement. The person was wearing a tailored black suit that matched their own. A pool of blood spread beneath them in a rough semi-circle. 

Agent Vukovic searched the person's pockets and found a matchbook from the El Greco Lounge, an orange medicine bottle ("Four Thieves' Oil") prescribed by Dr. Legba, a library card, and a locker key. Agent October examined the body; when it was turned over, it was revealed that the man's abdomen had been carved out--his stomach and intestines were missing. Further investigation suggested that the murder had occurred in the alley.

When the agents emerged from the alleyway, they noticed that the makes and models of the cars, as well as the fashions on the people they saw passing by, seemed to belong to the 1950s. This struck them as odd, though they could not put their fingers on why. They located a phonebooth. Looking up Dr. Legba in the phonebook yielded nothing, but they did find the addresses of both the El Greco Lounge, the Ernest P. Lowrock Memorial Library, and a train station that was the likely location of the locker the key belonged to.

Agent Fauchon pushed for the El Greco Lounge, so that was their first stop. They piled into one taxi and sped uptown. There were two beefy bouncers manning the velvet rope out front of the El Greco; as soon as they entered, they heard the house band's sax player launch into a smoky solo. Agent Vukovic approached the bar to order drinks for herself and Agent Fauchon; she noticed that the bartender had a pitch-black tongue. Meanwhile, Agent October purchased a pack from the cigarette machine; inside the pack was a note listing "possible r3ag3nts": the man with the black tongue, the child with the third eye, the woman with the broken teeth, and the man with the lemon-colored gloves. 

Agent Argo spotted a woman with an asymmetrical haircut and a tattoo on her wrist repeatedly slipping into and out of a private room in the club with various patrons. Upon closer examination, her tattoo proved to be of a cicada. Over at the bar, Agent Fauchon described the dead man to the bartender with the black tongue, which caused him to ask if they were there for "the pick-up." When Agent Fauchon replied in the affirmative, the bartender asked for "the sigil." Unable to provide one, Agent Fauchon tried to bluff. The bartender told them to meet him around back.

Agents Fauchon, Romanov, and Argo went around behind the El Greco. The door was unlocked and they were ushered into a storeroom by the bartender. Three thugs--one armed with a crowbar, one with a sawed off pool cue, one with a baseball bat--entered and began to approach menacingly. Agent Argo rushed them, knocking one to the ground and wrongfooting the others. Agent Romanov held his knife to the bartender's throat, but the black-tongued man claimed he couldn't call off the muscle. Romanov rifled the bartender's pockets and found a lighter; using pyrokinesis--which seemed like a natural enough thing for the agent to use--Romanov caused the lighter's flame to expand and engulf one of the thugs. Agent Fauchon threw his knife at a thug, but missed. The room seemed to tilt and the robotic voice of c0ntr0l told that them Fauchon was "experiencing a rising ride of Melancholia." 

Romanov took a pool cue to the leg; Vukovic drew her gun, but missed when she fired on a thug. In both instances, the robotic voice noted their rising Melancholia. Agent Argo ended the brawl by knocking out the remaining thug. The bartended told them that he had no idea what a "r3ag3nt" was and that they had already delivered the package, which was about the size of a travel typewriter, to a man who was dressed the same way they were. He also told them that the package came from Dr. Legba, who operated a clinic out in the warehouse district. When asked, he drew "the sigil" for them: a stylized cicada.

What is going on? Mysteries within mysteries; as the wheel turns, tune in next time to find out how the agents proceed with Operation Jarfly. Spoiler: they aren't all going to make it out alive.

Sunday, June 9, 2024

The Iscarion Academy and the Malishnikov Factory

Two more potential adventure locations in Creedhall:

The Iscarion Academy

The Iscarion Academy is an exclusive boarding school for the young scions of wealthy, aristocratic families. The Iscarion Academy’s sprawling campus of stately buildings is located far from the hustle and bustle of Creedhall’s busiest districts—the better to keep its charges out of trouble and its nefarious agenda out of view. 

    • Visitors with a keen eye cannot help but notice the dragon motifs present in the decorative elements and the nouveau ornamentation found throughout the school.

    • Some youths sent to the Iscarion Academy are singled out for induction into the school’s secretive Hekate Program, a secret curriculum devoted to the accumulation and exercise of wealth, status, and social power. 

    • Students admitted to the Hekate Program are trained in a variety of skills and techniques, such as psychological manipulation, subtle interrogation, and the use of poison, that will allow them to exert political influence when they leave the school to enter the upper echelons of society. 

    • The headmaster of the school is Severina Feist, an accomplished hypnotist who uses mind-control to inspire utter loyalty in her charges, convince wealthy families to send their children to the Iscarion Academy, and secure outlandish funding for her school. 

The Malishnikov Factory

Located in a squalid ward of abandoned warehouses, the now-defunct Malishnikov Factory was once a workshop that produced a patent medicine of dubious efficacy. 

    • Although the factory is believed to be vacant, it currently serves as the lair of the Brass Messiah. 

    • The Brass Messiah is a sentient construct who preaches liberation to his fellow created beings; he believes that they are destined to rule over the “weak-fleshed mortals” who built them. 

    • The Brass Messiah’s constructed disciples call themselves the Prometheans; they wish to discover the magical and scientific processes needed to create more of their kind.

    • The Widow, a porcelain-faced mechanical construct, is the Brass Messiah’s lieutenant; she works alongside him to free other sentient constructed beings from bondage—though she vehemently disagrees with his more supremacist views. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

The Sad Tale, Art by Nohr, Don't Tell a Soul, and More

Things that brought me delight in May, 2024:

Jesse Bullington, The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart

I decided that my first book of May would be a re-read of Jesse Bullington's The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart. Generally speaking, the protagonists of picaresque fiction are scoundrels, but often lovably so. This is not the case with the Brothers Grossbart, two absolutely deluded graverobbing bastards, who gleefully murder their way across Europe toward the fabled treasure-laden tombs of Egypt. Along the way they encounter deviltry, popery, monstrosity, and all sorts of other sundry evils--but nothing nearly as evil as themselves. This is a nasty little book that lost none of its grot on a return visit.

Art by Nohr

Art by Nohr collects multiple years worth of grimdark monsters, horror-fantasy hybrids, and pieces that would find a home on just about any doom metal album cover. Most famously known for being the art-half of the duo behind the MORK BORG rpg, if you like that game's art you'll see a lot of old favorites here, as well as unfamiliar pieces that will also thrill you. One cool thing I wasn't aware of: Nohr has done a lot of really cool art for projects made using the MORK BORG license. Excellent stuff, beautifully produced book, and this thing is so much bigger than I thought it would be when I backed the kickstarter.

Kirsten Miller, Don't Tell a Soul

Kirsten Miller's Don't Tell a Soul is a pretty good update of the classic premise "imperiled woman comes to a manor house with horrible secrets." Instead of being a young bride, the protagonist is a recovering addict sent to live with her uncle in the manor he wants to turn into an upscale inn for wealthy Manhattanites. (Which, really, is as terrifying a social set as any corrupt nobles you care to imagine.) The flavor elements work well;  there's a history of dead girls looming in the recent and distant past, a creepy mural laden with hidden clues, and a madman living in the woods. The main theme, that silence works against generations of women abused by men, fits nicely into Don't Tell a Soul's Gothic framework.

Howard Chaykin, David Tischman, David Hahn, The Complete Bite Club

The Bite Club comics are about the Del Toro family, a clan of South American vampire gangsters running a crime syndicate in Miami. The collection compiles two runs. In the first, we find out what happens when the family patriarch dies, leading to a power struggle between the remaining siblings (a priest, a wiseguy, and a would-be record mogul) and their father's consigliere. In the second run, the Vampire Crime Unit is out to bust the Del Toro family once more, but...they're all hypocritical scumbags with complicated relationships to vampirism, so it goes about as well for them as you might expect. Bite Club is slightly trashy, but a whole lot of fun.

Darkthrone, It Beckons Us All

Darkthrone has been around long enough that they now qualify as elder statesmen and can largely do whatever the fuck they want. They've earned it. From their trailblazing black metal days to their crust punk excursions, they follow a muse only they can see. This recent period of albums, which combine a doominess with a love of old-school heavy metal, is shaping up to be my favorite era. Some might call it a Celtic Frost fixation, but to me It Beckons Us All is interesting in how traditional it is rather than how experimental or far-traveling it ends up. 

Leon Craig, Parallel Hells

Leon Craig's Parallel Hells is an interesting collection of short fiction. The author is obviously stepped in Gothic literature and medieval history, despite most of the stories traveling in the debauchery of a tonier set than I'm used to. I think that will be the make or break point for many readers when it comes to this collection; although the stories feature a wide variety of queerness, the characters involved tend to be wealthy and privileged. Basically, if you want stories that are the horror equivalent of Saltburn, Parallel Hells might serve you well. To be fair, the collection is a bit uneven, but when it's on, it's on. I particularly liked the hand of glory story; I love those things. 

Gothminister, Pandemonium II: The Battle of the Underworlds

Gothminister is back with a sequel to their last album. The formula remains the same: a gothed-out Rammstein with some fun Engrishy lyrics. I mean, consider these lyrics about a big monster mash melee: "They sent a witch / We brought a monster / In camе the wolves on site / And now thе battle could begin!" Completely stupid, completely fun. Let's fuckin' go.

Lord of Misrule

When the vicar's daughter goes missing during a conspicuously pagan harvest festival, she and her husband finds themselves drawn into a web of conspiracy underlying life in their small village. Ralph Ineson is an absolute treat in this, as is usual, and I enjoyed Tuppence Middleton's performance as well. Lord of Misrule is definitely slow-burn folk horror; if you go into it expecting immediate action and jump scares, you will be disappointed; I've seen a lot of negative-to-lukewarm reviews of the movie, but it seems like those people were looking for more punch and more bloody violence. But if you're fine with a more languid pace and an emphasis on atmosphere over murderous theatrics, Lord of Misrule might find your favor.

Stephen King, The Wind Through the Keyhole

My re-read of Stephen King's Dark Tower saga continues, but this month I got to have a special experience with it: although I had "finished" the saga years ago, I never read The Wind Through the Keyhole as it was written after the saga concluded and inserted into the timeline. And it was a treat as The Wind Through the Keyhole is great. It's like a Russian nesting doll of narratives: in the present, Roland is telling his ka-tet a story of his youth, while in the story of his youth a young Roland tells a young boy a story he remembers his mother reading to him as a child. There's a little something for everyone in this novel: mystic cowboy action, weird nuns, sorcerers and their machinations, ancient advanced technology, treacherous fey, degenerate swamp folk, and even a dragon.

Nocturna, Of Sorcery and Darkness

With the biggest names in Gothic symphonic metal moving away from the Gothic elements toward more contemporary, mature themes, there is a vacuum for the Romantically dark stuff. Enter Nocturna. Nocturna's album continues their previous sound: a combination of power metal and symphonic metal with dueling female vocals. I was surprised how hard Of Sorcery and Darkness goes; this thing has a breakneck pace that doesn't really let up until one lull in the second half. Blistering, maybe not entirely tasteful, but I'm glad they're keeping this dark flame alive. 

That Cold Day in the Park

I'm a big Robert Altman fan, but I hadn't seen That Cold Day in the Park before. If you want a bad feeling roiling in the pit of your stomach for almost two hours, this is the one for you. The premise is already so uneasy that it borders on the absurd: a lonely, wealthy woman spots a young man sitting on a park bench in the rain and invites him in to get warm. For some reason, he decides to play the part of a mute who can't communicate with her, but undeterred she feeds him, buys him clothes, runs him a bath...all over several days while keeping him as a kind of hostage. Except at night, he sneaks out to see his family before coming back in the window to resume his plush captivity. It quickly becomes a case of who is working who in this situation, and what it is they both want out of the arrangement. Sandy Dennis's performance is magnificent, just jaw-dropping in terms of quiet nuance, so if you get a chance and love a thriller, give That Cold Day at the Park a shot.

Drew Hayes, Poison Elves: Requiem for an Elf and Traumatic Dogs

I've begun a re-read of Drew Hayes's Poison Elves comics from the initial Muleshead Graphics issues. I've decided to document the entire re-read experience, which you can check it out here on the Bad Books for Bad People blog. If you're unfamiliar with it, Poison Elves is a dark fantasy comic that peddles violence and skulduggery in the form of a misanthropic elf protagonist. Suffice to say, I love this slice of 90s indie black & white fantasy comics, warts and all. So, yeah, I'm enjoying the re-read project and am looking forward to seeing where this one takes me. 

J. Nicole Jones, The Witches of Bellinas

In J. Nicole Jones's debut novel The Witches of Bellinas, a couple leave their life in New York City behind to start over in an exclusive northern Californian community founded by the husband's cousin-in law, a billionaire tech mogul turned lifestyle guru, and his ex-model wife. This is one of those "everything is too good to be true" situations, even at the outset. (And, to be frank, it's amazing how long it takes the wife in the couple to realize that her marriage is fucking terrible.) It's interesting that there a number of modern Gothic novels, such as The Witches of Bellinas and also Rachel Hawkins's The Villa and Anne Heltzel's Just Like Mother, where lifestyle influencers are the villains--have the influencer set fully become the "evil aristocrat" archetype of the current moment? Anyway, I don't think this novel is as deep as the reviews I've read indicate, but for me this is a fun and light "beach read" book.

Agathodaimon, Serpent's Embrace and In Darkness

I made a concerted effort to listen to the two Agathodaimon records I didn't get to last month: Serpent's Embrace and In Darkness. They're quite different as albums, which should come as no surprise given the width and breadth of Agathodaimon's back catalog, but they are united in the use of symphonic black metal as the underlying flavor of both.

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga

It didn't seem likely that Furiosa would top, or even match, the unexpected adrenalinized spectacle of Fury Road, but the movie did manage to exceed my modest expectations. Yes, prequels are always already suspect, but there are so many interesting little elements of the post-apocalyptic hellscape here and there that the context of Furiosa's backstory becomes compelling. Additionally, while the action scenes are not as grandiose or bombastic as Fury Road's frenetic deathrace, they do manage some pulse-pounding moments. We liked Furiosa so much it we saw it twice.

Castle Rat, Into the Realm

The release of Castle Rat's Into the Realm has been one of the most hotly anticipated doom metal releases of 2024. The fantastical, 70s-worshiping doom of Into the Realm is solid, but I do find myself wondering if the hype and over-reliance on visual flare has set the album up for a few disappointed reactions from listeners who were expecting something a bit more unique or something that featured a few more surprises. As it is, though, Into the Realm is a tight--if short--debut album that makes me want to see where Castle Rat goes next.

Hideyuki Kikuchi (art by Yoshitaka Amano), Vampire Hunter D: Tyrant's Stars, Part One and Two

At this point, Kideyuki Kikuchi's Vampire Hunter D light novels are comfort food. You know what to expect: D will find himself protecting an innocent or two (usually either children or a beautiful woman who falls in love with him) against a pack of assassins--each one of which will have a silly superpower that fails to take down D. Alongside that, you can expect some weird-ass shit that leaves you scratching your head; in the first two parts of Tyrant's Stars, we get an older mom who has her shirt cut in two to reveal a pair of massive breasts and an out-of-nowhere attempted incestuous rape later on. Kikuchi keeps it fucked up, you have to give him that, at least.

Leaves' Eyes, Myths of Fate

Leaves' Eyes returns with Myths of Fate, once more carrying the torch of corsetcore symphonic metal. Continuing the Norse themes of their past few albums, Leaves' Eyes gives you Beauty and the Beast style vocals, epic riffing, and orchestral wells you expect. Although the album pretty much keeps a standard, even keel, there are a few moments where they get heavier than I expected, which is always a nice surprise.

Crypt of the Vampire

In general, you can't go wrong with a Euro Gothic starring Christopher Lee. Crypt of the Vampire is a riff on Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla, but unlike many similar films that play it straight off Le Fanu's premise, this movie makes some substantial additions to the famous vampire tale. For example, black magic now figures prominently in the plot. In the end, I'm not sure that the plot of Crypt of the Vampire makes a lot of sense--this is a film that does nothing to explain itself--but you do get plenty of scenes of two buxom women wandering around in the dark while wearing virginal nightgowns, and that's all right with me.

Rotting Christ, Pro Xristou

Despite the thrilling and quite evil-sounding opening track "Pro Xristou," Rotting Christ settle into a groove on their latest album: mid-tempo chugging guitars, frequent voice overs, chanting accents, and dark symphonic albums. I can see why some reviewers are finding the lack of dynamics here underwhelming, but to be honest I find myself enjoying the solidity of Pro Xristou.

Twiggs Gorie, ODOD: Overdose of Death

ODOD is a zine--although I'd say it's more the size of a small book--that collects Twiggs Gorie's writings on horror films. What I really appreciate about this project is that Twiggs doesn't just give you an analysis of each film that she covers here, she also adds the context of how the movie came into her life. That addition of real-life context makes ODOD feel extremely personal and intimate in a way that pushes back against the often sterile "scholarly detachment" that is commonplace in film criticism.

Ahab, The Coral Tombs

It's incredible how well the ebb and flow of Ahab's funereal doom metal matches their nautical subject matter; riffs surge and retreat like the waves of the world's most dangerous ocean. I slept on The Coral Tombs when it first came out, but I beg you not to be like me: if you're a metal head you should definitely add this to your rotation as soon as possible.

The Monster of the Opera

The title of The Monster of the Opera is a bit misleading because it's not about an opera company at all; it's about a dance troupe who have rented an old theater to put on their jazzy, modern Cyrano. And there is a LOT of dancing in The Monster of the Opera--it's not quite Ed Wood's Orgy of the Dead amounts of dancing, but we're verging on it here. Also, dancing is very literally part of the resolution of the movie: the vampire can't get them if they're moving, for reasons, so they have to keep dancing...OR DIE! This is one of the stranger Euro Gothics I've seen in a while, but it was pretty entertaining.

C. L. Moore, Black God's Shadow

I already had a nice paperback copy of C. L. Moore's Jirey of Joiry stories, but when I found this awesome illustrated first-edition copy of Black God's Shadow, I had to add it to my collection. If you haven't read them before, C. L. Moore's Jirel stories are absolutely classics of the sword & sorcery genre; originally published in the pages of Weird Tales, these tales of a warrior queen's strange encounters with the supernatural will make you forget all about Red Sonja.

Dorthia Cottrell, Death Folk Country

Death Folk Country is a solo album by Dorthia Cottrell, better known as the singer in the doom metal band Windhand. Death Folk Country has a vibe similar to Windhand's catalog, but the sonic palette couldn't be more different: instead of crushing riffs, Death Folk Country is a melancholic acoustic affair. If any complaint can be made about the record, it's that the songs all do essentially the same thing. While there isn't much variation here, it's a great sound to get lost in.


It's summer, and tiki is back, baby. I found the two tiki lanterns in the middle at a thrift store. After that, we watched a documentary on the birth of tiki culture, after which my girlfriend bought me the Tiki Pop book. A conversation over on my discord pointed me toward the comic/drink recipe book Tiki Surf Witches Want Blood. Good times, man.

Agatha Christie, Appointment With Death

I was back on my Agatha Christie shit in May with another Poirot murder mystery. Appointment With Death features the world's worst family on vacation in the Holy Land. When the tyrannical matriarch dies mysteriously, Poirot steps in to solve the mystery or her...murder? The ending of this one does feel like it comes out of nowhere, but it's a fun enough ride to get there. After finishing the novel, I went looking for a film adaptation and found one with Carrie Fisher in it!

Sunday, June 2, 2024

The Beach Episode

Last Friday, Ashely, who played Panthalassa in the last Krevborna campaign, ran her first ever game for us. She used Krevborna as the setting and picked up with the same characters from my game a few months later from where we left off. I got to play Serafina, one of the NPCs from the campaign as my character.

To be honest, she jumped into GMing on hard mode. Instead of having her first foray into running a game be with new characters, who would have had a more manageable level of power and competency, we were playing characters who live way in the upper tier of what Savage Worlds characters can accomplish. And instead of keeping the cast small and self-contained, she let us bring all the NPC allies that the party is used to having around--a big entourage to keep track of. All that and she created an adventure that had us switching between scenes when the party split up. 

Despite those self-imposed handicaps, Ashely did such a fantastic job of running the session. I don't think I've ever seen anyone's first game go that smoothly; I've certainly never seen a first-timer's adventure get such a unanimously warm reception. To say we all had fun would be an understatement; we were laughing our asses off, on the edges of our seats, and Ashley made sure that every character got some time in the spotlight.

Also, her sister Nyomi did some art for the session. That's one of her pics up at the top.

I can't really do a write-up of everything that went down because I was too immersed in the game as it was being played, but here's the gist of it: the characters got invited to a beach resort as a reward for saving Lachryma from the Church; said resort clearly had something strange going on; our girl Panthalassa was possessed by the primordial spirits she had made a pact with and we had to do something about it; that something took the form of a court trial (!!!) and then going toe-to-toe with a reptilian spirit in the body of our friend. We also acquired one of Krevborna's first karaoke machines.

Like I said, to say we had fun would be an understatement. 

We're all proud of you, Goose. Thanks for letting us be your first rpg group!

Sunday, May 26, 2024

The Borcheza Perfumery and Strayling Observatory

Two mode potential adventure locations in Creedhall. The Borcheza Perfumery has a strong "Rappiccini's Daughter" influence. For the Strayling Observatory...I just think big telescopes are cool, man.

The Borcheza Perfumery

The Borcheza family has a long history in the fragrance trade in Krevborna, and they are justly famed for the alluring and exotic scents they have produced for the aristocratic class and the well-to-do. However, despite the sterling reputation of the Borcheza name, the family hides a dark secret.

    • Roderick Borcheza was terrified when he thought of the future of the family business; as he and his wife had not managed to produce an heir who could assume control of the company, it looked as though he would be the last of the famed Borchezas involved in perfumery. 

    • Desperate for a scion who could continue the Borcheza’s dominance of the perfume market, Roderick resorted to foul alchemy, combining the vital essences of hanged criminals and rare flora to “birth” a sentient plant granted human shape and the ability to exude a deadly toxin from her skin.

    • Roderick named the “girl” Isabel and raised her as his daughter, hopeful that the family business would survive under her eventual stewardship.

    • Isabel possessed a cruel cunning from her earliest years, a trait that only become more pronounced as she blossomed into a beautiful and precocious teenager. 

    • On her eighteenth birthday, Roderick got his wish—she assumed control of the Borcheza Perfumery. 

    • However, this was a hostile takeover; Isabel released a noxious, poisonous perfume within the Borcheza home, which she was immune to, that killed her ersatz “father” and “mother.” 

    • Claiming that her parents had been taken to their graves by the plague, Isabel became the head of the family business. 

    • Recently, Isabel has begun to replicate Roderick Borcheza's experiments in hopes of creating more of her inhuman kind within the greenhouses she has inherited.

Strayling Observatory

Built atop the highest hill at Creedhall’s outskirts, Strayling Observatory tracks the movements of the stars. The natural philosophers who maintain Strayling Observatory point its telescope into the night sky, charting the wonders of the cosmos. 

    • Although most of their work is mundane in nature, a few members of Strayling’s staff have a particular interest in using the observatory’s facilities to make contact with the entities they believe lurk beyond the firmament.

    • The eldritch-minded members of the observatory’s staff tirelessly work to decode the strange emanations of the stars used as arcane messages from the dark reaches of the cosmos.