Wednesday, August 14, 2019

We Should Throw Out All the Dungeon Master's Guides

We should throw out all the Dungeon Master's Guides...and replace them with the collected works of William S. Burroughs.

Need a baroque-weird, quasi-religious punishment for your fantasy setting? Ol' Bill has you covered with this gem from Wild Boys:

Criminals and captives sentenced to death in centipede are tattooed with those pictures on every inch on their bodies. They are left for three days to fester. Then they are brought out given a powerful aphrodisiac, skinned alive in orgasm and strapped into a segmented copper centipede. The centipede is placed with obscene endearments in a bed of white-hot coals. The priests gather in crab suits and eat the meat out of the shell with gold claws.

Need some decadent and deranged NPCs for your urban campaign? Interzone is chock full of people like these:

Hans sat several tables away. He was a German who procured boys for English and American visitors. He had a house in the native quarters--bed and boy, two dollars per night. But most of his clients went in for "quickies." Hans had typical Nordic features, with heavy bone structure. There was something skull-like about his face.

Morton Christie was sitting with Hans. Morton was a pathetic name-dropper and table-hopper. Hans was the only one in Tangier who could stand his silly chatter, his interminable dull lies about wealth and social prominence. One story involved two aunts, living in a house together, who hadn't spoken to each other in twenty years.

Need an adventure seed? Flip to any random page in Naked Lunch and you'll get something like this:

Squatting on old bones and excrement and rusty iron, in a white blaze of heat, a panorama of naked idiots stretches to the horizon. Complete silence - their speech centres are destroyed - except for the crackle of sparks and the popping of singed flesh as they apply electrodes up and down the spine. White smoke of burning flesh hangs in the motionless air. A group of children have tied an idiot to a post with barbed wire and built a fire between his legs and stand watching with bestial curiosity as the flames lick his thighs. His flesh jerks in the fire with insect agony.

or this:

Did any of you ever see Doctor Tetrazzini perform? I say perform advisedly because his operations were performances. He would start by throwing a scalpel across the room into the patient and then make his entrance as a ballet dancer. His speed was incredible: "I don't give them time to die", he would say. Tumors put him in a frenzy of rage. "Fucking undisciplined cells!" he would snarl, advancing on the tumor like a knife-fighter.

or maybe even this:

In the City Market is the Meet Café. Followers of obsolete, unthinkable trades doodling in Etruscan, addicts of drugs not yet synthesized, pushers of souped-up harmine, junk reduced to pure habit offering precarious vegetable serenity, liquids to induce Latah, Tithonian longevity serums, black marketeers of World War III, excusers of telepathic sensitivity, osteopaths of the spirit, investigators of infractions denounced by bland paranoid chess players, servers of fragmentary warrants taken down in hebephrenic shorthand charging unspeakable mutilations of the spirit, bureaucrats of spectral departments, officials of unconstituted police states, a Lesbian dwarf who has perfected operation Bang-utot, the lung erection that strangles a sleeping enemy, sellers of orgone tanks and relaxing machines, brokers of exquisite dreams and memories tested on the sensitized cells of junk sickness and bartered for raw materials of the will, doctors skilled in the treatment of diseases dormant in the black dust of ruined cities, gathering virulence in the white blood of eyeless worms feeling slowly to the surface and the human host, maladies of the ocean floor and the stratosphere, maladies of the laboratory and atomic war... A place where the unknown past and the emergent future meet in a vibrating soundless hum... Larval entities waiting for a Live One

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Coldheart Canyon

Coldheart Canyon brings together two amazing tastes--horror icon Clive Barker and Hollywood decadence--and the results are... maybe not what one would expect. Set in the 21st Century Hollywood of blockbuster movies, big egos, and bland artifice, the novel tells the tale of fading megastar Todd Pickett who attempts to escape from recent trauma by moving into a mansion formerly owned by a glamorous silent movie star. Things take a turn for the bizarre when it becomes clear she's still living there, along with the very literal ghosts of old Hollywood and several even darker beings.
What is it like spending 600-plus pages with characters deliberately constructed to be as one-dimensional as possible? Why can't we just stay in the haunted Romanian monastery? Who is Keever Smotherman? More importantly, who is the Suburban Noble Savage? Find out the answers to all this and more in this month's episode of Bad Books for Bad People.
BBfBP theme song by True Creature 
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Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Andastros Qualenethi, the Butcher of Beren Thuul



ANDASTROS QUALENETHI
Andastros Qualenethi was the captain of one of the most feared mercenary companies in war-torn Raben Vol Shai. When Qualenethi’s reputation as a war criminal became too infamous in the riven elven homeland, his enemies united against him. He fled Raben Vol Shai with his most loyal warriors and took control of Koraaz. His bloodthirstiness is legendary; he is spoken of in hushed tones as the Butcher of Beren Thuul.
  • Appearance. Elf, tall and imposing, gray hair and eyes, leather armor ornately detailed with floral flourishes.
  • Abilities. Master strategist, expert archer.
  • Traits. Scheming, affects a noble pretense.
  • Ideal. Create an elven kingdom in Cinderheim.
  • Bond. The warriors of his old mercenary band are absolutely loyal to his regime.
  • Flaw. Addicted to the spectacle of violence.
  • Warband. Former mercenaries under Qualenethi’s command are now Koraaz’s military force.


SPECIAL FOLLOWERS
  • Legionnaires. The elven legions that followed Qualenethi from the battlefields of Raben Vol Shai are masters of the longsword, and highly trained in the art of fighting in formation.
  • Sand sleighs. Qualenethi’s warband is bolstered by the addition of experienced two-man sleigh teams: one expert sleigh driver and one arcane archer.
  • Nordak Rumna. Nordak Rumna is a dwarf warlock in the employ of Andastros Qualenethi. Nordak uses his powers to uncover potential threats to Qualenethi’s life.
KORAAZ
Koraaz is supposedly the most democratic of the encampments in Cinderheim, but since the only citizens possessing the right to vote on its leadership are members of Andastros Qualenethi’s legions, the elven warlord faces no serious opposition to his continued rule.
  • Population. Half of Koraaz’s population are elven refugees from Raben Vol Shai, but large numbers of humans, half-elves, and dwarves are also present. Minotaurs and goliaths are among the minority.
  • Aesthetic. Ancient buildings of white stone, carved columns, triumphal statuary depicting revered warriors.
  • Supplies. Copper, wine, grain, leather, stone. Water is drawn from five public wells with extensive subterranean cisterns beneath the encampment.
NOTABLE FEATURES
  • The Golden Agora. A public marketplace where traders from across Cinderheim meet to peddle their wares. The Golden Agora is preyed upon by pickpockets, and is a fine place to recruit mercenaries.
  • The Cryptorum. The Cryptorum is a vast, underground dungeon in which Andastros Qualenethi keeps dissidents, prisoners of war, and lawbreakers.
  • The Sundered Temple. This temple venerates Raaz, the Praetor of Slaughter. Warriors sacrifice captured foes at the temple for Raaz’s blessing and luck in battle.
ADVENTURES IN KORAAZ
  • Assassinate a particularly cruel legionnaire general.
  • Rescue an important captive from the Cryptorum.
  • Destroy a gang of ruffians extorting protection money from the merchants of the Golden Agora.
  • Sabotage the warband’s sand sleighs before an important battle.

* * *


If you like the content above (or any of the content here), consider checking out Cinderhein: The Land Under the Demon Sun, a system agnostic apocalyptic fantasy setting, now available in print and pdf from DriveThruRPG.

Monday, August 5, 2019

The Grand Dark, Monoceros, Ugetsu, Deathreats, Gods of Earth and Heaven

Things that brought me delight in July, 2019:

Richard Kadrey, The Grand Dark
A bike courier gets in over his head in a secondary world based on Weimar-era Berlin. Secret police, Grand Guignol theaters, automatons, a carnival, masked war veterans, an Anita Berber-analog, a radical resistance movement, thugs, a strange plague, man-made monsters, and a wicked morphine addiction stand between the protagonist and his lady love. Did I mention that he's in over his head?

Monoceros
Monoceros is a multi-author anthology of art and short fiction focusing on the unicorn. But these are not the unicorns of your Lisa Frank folder. We're talking blood and magic here. 

Ugetsu
Ugestu is one of those movies I like to watch every couple of years. It's a perfect parable of how the families ultimately pay the price for male aspiration. All that and a ghost story to boot.


Drew Hayes, 
Deathreats: The Life and Times of a Comic Book Rock Star
Deathreats collects the editorials and letters column from Drew Hayes's comic Poison Elves. The early editorials are a fascinating window in the world of self-published comics in the early 1990s, but unfortunately they take a turn into documenting Hayes's failed relationships and the bitterness that ensues. His unwillingness to self-examine and take some responsibility for his part in those failures becomes intensely grating. Unfortunately, we never get to see him grow; the next shift comes in the way of charting his rapidly declining health and untimely death.


Joel-Peter Witkin, Gods of Earth and Heaven
Joel-Peter Witkin's photography was foundational in establishing my aesthetic sense in the dark corners of the 1990s, yet oddly I never owned any of the collections of his work. As a teenager, I am sure they were out of my financial reach; in later days, they just never fell in my path even though his imagery is indelibly etched in my brain. And then, this book appeared on my doorstep from a mysterious benefactor who has my eternal thanks. You likely know about Witkin's preoccupations already: he specializes in the grotesque, in desecration, in the fallibility of all flesh, and an eroticism you wouldn't dare call desire. But have you ever noticed that his arresting central image is often providing the cover for a more pernicious image or idea to sneak up on you from some unobserved edge of the composition?


Vampire, With Primeval Force and Untitled
If we were to classify Vampire by what kind of vampire they'd be...it wouldn't be the seductive vampire, but it would instead be the bestial variety from Eastern European myth. Vampire deals out pummeling sarcophagal slabs of thrashy death metal, with touches drawn from the sinister side of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal moon. And if the sound of a sword being drawn on that one track doesn't make you want to play Castlevania, I don't know what we can do to help you. (Bandcamp link)

Stranger Things 3
Stranger Things never blows me away, but it's always a satisfying watch. Oddly, this is the season where some people have cottoned to the fact that maybe this show has something to do with 80s nostalgia.


Six Feet Under, Haunted
I don't really know why, but my metal listening friends in high school were Chris Barnes diehards. When he left Cannibal Corpse, Cannibal Corpse was deemed to be no longer worthwhile. But they weren't really that steadfast; turns out that all that was needed from his next band, Six Feet Under, was the first record. Anyway, Haunted is still a fun album. While Six Feet Under aren't mind-blowingly technical, they manage some thick grooves. "Human Target" would make for a good stage theme in a fighting game.


Kameron Hurley, Infidel
Infidel, the second novel in Hurley's Bel Dame Apocrypha series, amps up the pace and action. Kameron Hurley really excels at exciting, cinematic action scenes and there is no shortage of them here. Also, please note that I am #TeamInaya.

 D&D Essentials Kit
Pretty nice box of stuff for new D&D players. The sidekick rules are already seeing quite a bit of use.


Kingdom
The Crown Prince of medieval Korea finds himself embroiled in a political power struggle while a strange plague that creates a zombie uprising. Kingdom has solid action scenes, genuine moments of tension, and some very funny comedic moments. Finally, a zombie show that isn't all dour "humanity tears itself apart in times of crisis" posturing!


Hannah Berry, Adamtine
A train stops mysteriously in a darkened tunnel. Its passengers are each connected to a suspected serial kidnapper (and perhaps murderer) who was acquitted of the crime and who blamed the disappearances on a monster. Complex and unsettling.


Slayer, Hell Awaits
Rough production, but any Slayer is good Slayer.


 Glen Cook, Shadows Linger
A quick read, as was the first Black Company novel. Not a complex story, but it's very satisfying to see the three narrative threads--Croaker's account of the Black Company chasing down rebels in the hinterlands, Raven's continued flight to protect Darling, and an indebted innkeeper with a weakness for vice--intertwined and playing off each other like notes in a plucked chord. Also, Cook realizes that capitalism makes mercenaries of us all: "Essentially, the mercenary sets morality aside, or at least reorders the customary structures to fit the needs of his way of life. The great issue becomes how well he does his job, how faithfully he carries out his commission, how well he adheres to a standard demanding unswerving loyalties to his comrades. He dehumanizes the world outside the bounds of his outfit. Then anything he does, or witnesses, becomes of minor significance as long as its brunt is borne outside the Company."

Electric Wizard, self-titled
Sabbath-worship, yeah yeah, but there is something so bright-eyed here in Electric Wizard's full-length debut that it's hard to knock it as humble beginnings.


The Perfection
This movie seems pretty divisive, but to be honest I didn't watch it with an eye toward if it was doing feminism right. I just wanted a weird, semi-brutal movie, which it provided. I really could have down without the "let me explain the movie you've been watching, idiot" rewind scenes, but this is where we're at as a culture.


Molly Tanzer, Creatures of Want & Ruin
A strong-willed bootlegger and a bow-wielding socialite take on demonic fungus to save Long Island. I got so engrossed in this one that I read it in one day. I was already a fan of the first book in this loose "series" (and we did a Bad Books for Bad People episode on it here), but I loved this one even more.

   
Heiling, Futha
Heilung return with more Scandinavian pagan ritual music. But don't mistake this for ambient music; it's hard to relax when it sounds like your village is being invaded.   


Steamtown
I had a nice day out at Steamtown in Scranton, PA. I am a big fan of Old Man vacations, so a day of looking at old steam-powered trains was just right for me.

Philip Reeve, Infernal Devices

There's so much going on in the third Mortal Engines book and it doesn't coddle or talk down to its young adult audience. Things get complicated when Tom and Hester's daughter gets kidnapped and ends up involved in a plot to unleash a super-weapon on the already traumatized world. Personally? I'm fully on team #HesterDidNothingWrong.


Richard Sala, In a Glass Grotesquely
The three pieces at the end of the book feature stunning art, but the real draw is "Super-Enigmatix," the story that fills most of the pages of In a Glass Grotesquely. That story feels...disquietingly prescient, but I suppose the writing had been on the wall for quite some time given our levels of media saturation, shock doctrine politics, and cultural self-absorption.


Jess By the Lake, Under the Red Light Shine
Jess, from the band Jess & the Ancients, arrives with her first solo effort: a bluesy, psychedelic slab of heavy rock. (Bandcamp link)


Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, Carmilla
(introduction and annotations by Carmen Maria Machado)
Le Fanu's Carmilla is, of course, a unparalleled classic of vampire fiction. What tempted me to buy another edition was the furor generated by this interview with Machado. As a fan of literary hokum, I had to read the introduction and annotations for myself. To be honest, the introduction and annotations feel slight; they do nudge the narrative in new directions, but they don't go nearly as far as I thought they might in altering the tale. Which may be for the best--it is a perfect Gothic tale and requires no embellishment. However, what I didn't know I would be getting would be some utterly lovely illustrations in this edition. Those proved to be the real unexpected pleasure of this edition.


Eyehategod, self-titled
The New Orleans sludge masters returned after something like fourteen years with a new slab and it's like they never left. I got caught off guard by the full-speed punk opener, but things soon settle into familiar misanthropic blues with an orchestra of feedback serving as punctuation.

Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque, Sean Murphy,
American Vampire vol. 3
This was a welcome relief after reading the disappointing New 52 reboot of I, Vampire. One thing I really appreciate about American Vampire is how it takes the reader on a tour of the non-capes comic landscape. This volume is a horror take on war comics; we've got the horror of the Pacific theater, doomed units, and, of course, Nazi vampires. Man, I'll never get tired of Nazi vampires.