Friday, January 22, 2021

The Cult of the Mouse

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unsplash.com
The Cult of the Mouse

A religion in my Godless campaign set on Planet Motherfucker

The Cult of the Mouse promises endless entertainments to distract its devotees from the drudgery and dull monotony of the fallen world. The cult’s primary deity is the Mouse, an anthropomorphic rodent with an unwavering and unnerving grin who speaks to the blessed in a trilling falsetto. In addition, the cult also reveres a number of other saints or demigods. Some of these divine figures are anthropomorphic animals, such as ducks and dogs, but others are idealized princesses clad in radiant raiment. 

     The Mouse is worshiped primarily through the consumption of its holy gifts—cartoons for children, and television shows and movies about the adventures of superheroes and spacemen for emotionally stunted adults. The faithful believe that giving their attention to the Mouse and his sacred media offerings will dull the pain of existence, fill the void in their lives, and give them something worthwhile to devote their otherwise pointless lives to.

     Devotion to the Cult of the Mouse can be financially draining for its adherents. Not only are members of the congregation expected to pay for access to the sacred films and television programs made by the Mouse, they are encouraged to show their commitment to their god by buying clothes emblazoned with images of the religion’s holy figures and other decorative religious knickknacks. Each member of the Cult of the Mouse is required to make at least one pilgrimage to one of the sacred amusement parks maintained by the cult—either Mouseland on the west coast or Mouseworld in Swamplandia. This pilgrimage is meant to be undertaken with good cheer, now matter the distance to be traveled. It’s a small world, after all.

     Adherents of the cult are easily recognizable as they tend to wear hats that mimic the Mouse’s big round ears. Priests of the Mouse, also known as mouseketeers, gain access to the Arcana, Illusion, and Song traditions.

Monday, January 18, 2021

The Lustful Turk

Bad Books for Bad People, Episode 47: The Lustful Turk

The Lustful Turk is an 1828 pornographic adventure that presents readers with a cornucopia of semi-consensual sexual scenarios, fully intended to be read in a one-handed manner. Written by an anonymous writer at a time when publishing and selling pornography came with the risk of stiff legal penalties, this bodice-ripper tracks the turgid horizontal career of Ali, the Dey of Algiers, who ravishes his way through a veritable EU of virginal  concubines. Jack and Kate explore a world of highly specific and uncomfortable fantasies as they probe this classic of erotic literature.

How many virginities does a woman have? How elaborate is too elaborate when it comes to sex schemes? Do all Catholics imprison women in convents? All these questions and more will be answered 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.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Drearborne House (Part One)

Photo by Alberto Restifo on unsplash.com
This was the first time I've run Shadows of the Demon Lord...and the events that are chronicled within are as best I can remember now that a week or more has passed.

Characters

Arno dwarf priest

Dyer orc warrior

Glazier changeling magician

Events

Arno, Dyer, and Glazier were criminals being transported to a prison island until the cruel hand of fate intervened. For reasons unknown, the ship transporting them was wrecked; they escaped death in the frigid sea and managed to climb onto shore with what meager items they could scavenge from what washed ashore. Then their real problems began as they attempted to head north through the frozen wasteland. They found themselves harried by fey hunters who occasionally attempted to run them down for sport.

Cresting a snow-covered ridge, they surveyed the territory ahead of them and saw two landmarks of note: a ruined tower sitting amidst a forest of skeletal black trees and a building of stone whose chimneys lazily streamed smoke into the cold air. Considering that the latter building appear uncannily out of place given the geography, the group first opted to head to the tower. 

After a day's march to the ruins of the tower, they discovered a few corpses strewn about in front of it. The bodies showed signs of both slashes and blunt force trauma; they appeared to be fairly fresh. The corpses were looted of armor and piled up in the doorway to form a makeshift barricade of the recently departed when the party decided to stay overnight within the tower's shelter. However, during Arno's watch that night, the pile of corpses was disturbed by something outside pulling one of the corpses free and dragging it away into the forest. After finding a better vantage point, Arno was able to determine that the corpse-thief appeared to be a small, humanoid woman whose face was obscured with some sort of chaotic mask.

In the morning, the group set off for the building they had spied from the ridge. As they got closer, the two-story stone building seemed even more strangely placed against the landscape; it was an institutional building and the stone arch before the front door proclaimed the building to be "Drearborne House." 

The party entered the house through a back door. Exploration of the first floor revealed the house to be an orphanage. Glazier changed into a dress found in the headmistress's closet. A torn up and defaced pedagogy manual that recommended corporal punishment and deprivation as learning aids lay open on a desk in the library. A ransacked dormitory with a child's diary--the entries telling the sad tale of bullying that the headmistress refused to believe--posed more questions than answers. 

In the basement, the group discovered shelves full of pickled foods, tools and a workbench, and what appeared to be a hastily dug grave. Dyer was given the task of unearthing the skeletal remains, which appeared to be of a woman. She was given last rites by Arno and reburied.

And strangely, despite encountering no living beings within the house, it appeared to be warm, well kept, and in pristine condition. Just...empty, abandoned.

However, that is not to say that the house was completely unoccupied. The menacing figure of the headmistress, she who had stolen a corpse from the tower the night before, was spotted roaming the hallways, her heavy cane rapping rhythmically against the flooring. Her face was obscured by a mask made of torn paper--the pages from the book of pedagogy they had found in the library--which identified her as the creature who had stolen a corpse from their barricade.

More ominous still was the figure to be seen in the inner courtyard accessible from inside Drearborne House via a locked door that Dyer jimmied open; beneath a dead tree from which hung a noose sat a creature seemingly encased in ice--the body of a small child was trapped within. Approaching the rime-frosted creature caused it to stir from its rest. It extended menacing claws of ice and attacked the group. Things went badly for the group as the creature slashed at them with its claws and they failed to land any decisive blows. They fled to the kitchen, hoping to use embers from the oven to melt its icy armor. And yet they continued to take fearsome wounds from the creature.

Respite only came when Glazier assumed the form of the headmistress, roughly approximating what she had seen in an oil painting previously in Drearborne. It helped, of course, that she was already wearing the headmistress's clothes. Glazier's guise stopped the creature in its tracks. A sepulchral voice proclaimed, "Bring me the headmistress," and then it stalked away back to the courtyard.

To be continued.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

The Eyes of Bayonetta, Void's Enigmatic Mansion, Victorian Christmas Ghosts, and More

Things that brought me delight in December, 2020:


The Eyes of Bayonetta

The Eyes of Bayonetta is the art and design book for the first Bayonetta game. It collects both concept pieces and finished images. It's really interesting to see all the work that went into designing the signature look of the game's main character; I can't imagine the kind of artistic patience it requires to do that many iterations of a design. However, as methodical as the art is in The Eyes of Bayonetta, what I really love about the book is the implicit narrative that emerges from it. 

Beneath the surface and the glossy pages of illustrations is a secret tale of the drama of the design process. There are hints of the eternal battle between the creative team and the higher ups who are hellbent on taming the design and rendering it safer and more beige. And that's only half the story; reading between the lines, you also get a sense of how delicately the design team had to navigate the lead creator's personal fetishes. (Desired elements like a bloomer costume and domineering schoolmistress poses emerge like obstacles to be defeated with a combination of acquiescence and diplomacy.) 

I'm also fascinated by highly sexualized women characters, which Bayonetta definitely is, that are created by women artists. There are intimations that the design team kept expecting disapproval from Mari Shimazaki about the direction things were going, but she was honestly just more concerned with getting the lines right.


HeeEun Kim and JiEun Ha, Void's Enigmatic Mansion

There's a bit of a Fantasy Island-slash-Monkey's Paw situation going on in Void's Enigmatic Mansion. Unbeknownst to the residents who rent rooms in the seven-floor mansion, something within the building is able to grant one of their wishes. Of course, getting what you want is often more of a curse than a blessing. The art style is colorful, soft, and romantic, which makes things all the more unsettling when the comic unveils a particularly gruesome image as a narrative punctuation mark that reminds you that you are, in fact, reading a horror comic. That said, the ending was surprisingly bittersweet because redemption is so often found in strange places.


Christopher Philippo (ed.), The Valancourt Book of Victorian Christmas Ghost Stories, Volume Four

There wasn't much hope of Christmas spirit this year, but I did get to read the fourth volume of The Valancourt Book of Victorian Christmas Ghost StoriesThis volume is entirely comprised of North American ghost stories; it was pretty cool to see some semi-local stories that originally appeared in places like a Syracuse newspaper. It was also interesting to glean historical tidbits such as "this relatively unknown author was Ambrose Bierce's favorite" and "Nathaniel Hawthorne's son Julian followed in his  father's footsteps when he penned this Christmastime chiller." There are little historical nuggets dug up from nineteenth century newspapers included as well, but these aren't likely to lift your spirits--so to speak. One of them is about a young boy who was wearing a Santa costume while distributing presents at his school until he caught fire from candle. His last words, "I'll never play Santa Claus again."


Nightfall, Holy Nightfall: The Black Leather Cult Years

Nightfall is one of those bands I never see anyone talking about, even though they are richly deserving of esteem. Holy Nightfall: The Black Leather Cult Years is a boxed set that collects the Parade Into CenturiesMacabre SunsetsAthenian EchoesLesbian Show, and Diva Futura albums, along with a number of EPs as bonus tracks. Perhaps the hell-invoking sounds of the Mediterranean (Nightfall hail from Greece) will never have as much cachet as those coming from the grim north, but they are absolute masters of sepulchral gloom that is punctuated by both gritty moments of fury and primitive orchestral interruptions. 


Pam Smy, Thornhill

Thornhill is a book that alternates between pages of sequential illustration and epistolary text. It's actually a clever use of form: the sequential art bits tell the story of what's happening in 2017 when a girl and her father move into a new house. The girl's father seems to have buried himself in work to make himself absent from the new home (perhaps to stave off the grief over the mother's death). The girl soon starts seeing a mysterious stranger lurking within the grounds of the abandoned orphanage next door. 

The epistolary elements are entries in the diary of a girl who lived in the orphanage in 1982. She suffers horrific bullying and is afflicted with selective mutism; she's basically unable to get anyone with authority to even notice that she's being tormented mercilessly. Slowly, over the course of the book, the two timelines converge. Fair warning: this is a dark one. The art is excellent throughout, favoring shadowy gloom and atmosphere without sacrificing detail. It differs from what we usually expect in "comics" in that it really isn't concerned at all with conveying any movement. Each image feels like a snapshot or a moment frozen in amber. But then, that's what a haunting is, isn't it?


Philip Pullman, Serpentine

"Serpentine" is a short story set in the world of the His Dark Materials series after the events of The Amber Spyglass. This isn't a story with much plot; nothing really happens in terms of action or narrative arc; this is a story about conversations and how they change our lives. Because of its unusual dramatic stakes, it could be speculated that "Serpentine" is an uneasy fit with the other books in the series, but His Dark Materials has always treated its readers as capable of curiosity and understanding, regardless of their age. As a book, Serpentine is a nice little stocking stuffer--it's a tight little tale that can be read in twenty minutes featuring warm, woodcut-inspired illustrations by Tom Dunbury.


Kaori Yuki, Alice in Murderland vol. 1-3

Families are difficult at the best of times, but Stella has more than the usual amount of familial woes. She and her siblings were all adopted into a powerful, wealthy, and prominent family. However, they discover that prestige comes at a price when their adoptive mother and father gather them all together for a "mad tea party." 

During the party, the mother announces that one of the nine children will become the head of the family and be gifted with supernatural powers, so long as they are the sole remaining child after all the others have been murdered. And so begins a battle royale that amps sibling rivalry up to maximum carnage levels.

Stella discovers that in times of stress a different persona, a gun-toting mass murderer named "Blood Alice," emerges and takes over. Add to this a "white rabbit" in the form of a bodyguard-slash-stalker who has sworn to protect and possess her as his own, and you've got one of the wilder takes on Lewis Carroll's classic tales.


The Art of Junji Ito: Twisted Visions

Twisted Visions collects color artwork from famed horror manga artist Junji Ito. Some of the pieces are cover images from justly celebrated works such as Tomie and Uzumaki, but others are from rarer or lesser known venues. Ito's artwork is, obviously, horrifying, but what is striking here is how bringing all of these images together in one place reveals a set of playful obsessions that you might not notice otherwise. Sometimes the constraints imposed by a muse can feel cruel and demanding, but in Junji Ito's example you can't help but feel that his leads him to moments of joy that are too specific to be universal.


Rotting Christ, Thy Mighty Contract

Thy Mighty Contract has all the hallmarks of a black metal debut that was going to lead to greater things down the road. There are problems, of course; the drums are perhaps too loud in the mix and the use of blast beats is fairly repetitive. And yet, you can see the possibilities even from this early vantage point. The tremolo picking is already in fine form and Rotting Christ displays a sensitivity to sound over just straight aggression.


The Queen's Gambit

The Queen's Gambit lived up to the hype. The miniseries follows the journey of Beth Harmon, a girl who suffers early tragedy and then life in an orphanage. Her time at the orphanage is formative in that it introduces her to two life-changing influences: chess and tranquilizer pills. After she is adopted, her love of chess and pills continues--she becomes reliant on both for a sense of self and sense of purpose. Things come to a head when she must disentangle one from the other as she wins match after match as a prodigy in line to play against the Russian champion. The series is beautifully filmed, emotionally resonant, and compelling even if you have no interest at all in chess as a game.


Lafcadio Hearn, Sean Michael Wilson, and Inko Ai Takita, Manga Yokai Stories: Ghostly Tales from Japan

Manga Yokai Stories is a collection of comics done in manga style that adapts the stories curated by Lafcadio Hearn in books such as Kwaidan and Shadowings in the early twentieth century. The adaptations are quick moving; they tend to get right to the point of the ghost stories they interpret without any unnecessary preamble. The artwork is clean and workmanly, with occasionally surprising moments of grisly horror.


Behemoth, Grom and Sventiveth

After taking a trip back to the genesis point of Rotting Christ, I decided to do the same with Behemoth and re-experience the band's first and second albums. Sventiveth (Storming Near the Baltic) is a solid album for those times when you have a hunger for that dark, raw, and somewhat primitive old-school style. The production is predictably grainy, and nothing truly stands out as a harbinger of what was to come, but it's a decent entry in their discography if you like the early 90s era of black metal. (Personally, I really enjoy "Wolves Guard My Coffin.") Grom is a monumental leap forward. The production is a bit buzzy, but the overall clarity of the music and aesthetic intention is much more evident, as is a willingness to explore and push the boundaries of black metal.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Tarts, Elder Gods, and New Companions

Photo by Dayne Topkin on unsplash.com
Sable had to practically carry Devanya back down the Nachtmahr Mountains. Devanya experienced moments of lucidity, but most of her days and nights were spent raving about the voices of the elder gods that whispered and howled inside her head.

When she had control of herself, Devanya clung to Sable and insisted that they need to make their way to Chancel to seek an audience with the Choristers. "They have to be told," she said, "they have to know that the great old ones have returned."

Sable didn't like the sound of that, but she reassured Devanya that she would drag her to Chancel come hell or high water.

When they ran out of food, Sable left Devanya in a placid grove and began to forage. She surprised a beautiful young woman picking berries. The woman dropped her basket and stammered, "Oh, I didn't see you there. Mother sent me to gather fruit. She's making a tart."

Sable ran her good eye up and down the maid's comely form in what she hoped was a rakish and suggestive way. "It looks like she already has made a little tart."

The lady blushed.

But she also invited Sable and Devanya to stay with them and be fed before they resumed their journey to Chancel, which Sable described, half-correctly, as a "pilgrimage of sorts." Whatever else transpired in that humble cottage must remain a mystery, but Mandalia, so the girl was called, did leave her childhood home and accompany Sable and Devanya to Chancel.

* * *

The contrast between that rustic idyll and the muddy, smoky streets of Chancel could not have been more pronounced. Devanya was able to arrange a meeting the the Choristers. They paled at what she had to tell them, but the exact nature of that meeting, and what directives they may have given her, were hidden away behind closed doors. However, it was clear that when she emerged from the cathedral, her status as a priest was restored and she had been re-embraced to the bosom of the Church.

Sable, meanwhile, has roved the streets in search of a new companion who could provide aid in their quest to find the missing heir to Krevborna's throne--a fell task that been given to them by Thronzeker. Her search of the kind of places adventurers frequent--taverns and gutters, mostly--turned a likely candidate: Malachi Vulcra, an inhuman warrior who had previously been a member of the Knights Labyrinthian. Malachi's strange physiognomy--impossibly lanky, with mottled green skin stretched over a gaunt face--evidenced a link to the ancient Lilitu, but more promising still were his claims to knowledge of tracking, arcana, and the history of Krevborna's royal line.

* * *

Previous Adventures

Losing a Fight in a Frontier Tavern

The Cleric and the Cannibals

In the Court of the Vampire Queen


Friday, December 18, 2020

Bloodletting on the Kiss, The In-Between, Firelights

Howls of the damned for a snowed-in December:

Bloody Hammers, "Bloodletting on the Kiss"

In This Moment, "The In-Between"

Swallow the Sun, "Firelights"


Wednesday, December 16, 2020

The Sparrowhawks

The Sparrowhawks
A faction in Krevborna

The Sparrowhawks are a revolutionary secret society of elves, dwarves, gnomes, halflings, and goblinkin who are united in the goal of driving humanity from the lands of Krevborna. The members of the Sparrowhawks believe, perhaps rightfully, that Krevborna was originally the homeland of their peoples in an age before human settlement. Cells of Sparrowhawks use arson and other acts of terrorism to inspire fear in the humans of Krevborna’s cities and towns; Sparrowhawks operating in rural environs act as bandits and raiders who steal food and arms in preparation for the inevitable war to come.
    • Motto. “We will cleanse the land of the disease that is humanity.”
    • Belief. Krevborna is the rightful domain of the oppressed nonhuman peoples who have been driven into obscurity.
    • Goal. Make war against mankind.
    • Quest. Intercept a shipment of arms and armor headed for a fanatical coterie of Sparrowhawk insurgents.