Thursday, October 18, 2012

Psycho-sexual Ravenloft: Dance of the Dead III

The descriptions of Larissa learning DANCE MAGIC linger over the curves of her body, despite these scenes supposedly being about the empowerment of women by women. Worse still is the flashback where Raoul recalls first meeting Larissa: Raoul watches her dance, “performing solely for her own pleasure”; she looks like “a feather caught by a wanton breeze”; he thinks of her as “fey and wild.” You know why this flashback is gross? Raoul is appraising her beauty and at this point she is TWELVE. TWELVE YEARS OLD AND HE IS WATCHING HER THINKING YEAH KIND OF A HOTTIE. Thanks for getting all pedo on us, Golden.

Oh, Raoul is also thinking what a good investment she is because he's just won Larissa in a card game against her father, I shit you not.

While it started off with surprising (albeit minor league) promise, Dance of the Dead quickly spirals into the land of schlock as soon as Larissa's tutelage in the art of DANCE MAGIC happens. The chapters in which the Maiden instructs Larissa are bad enough, but things get even worse when she's sent to the mansion of of Anton Misroi (Souragne's zombie-master Dark Lord) where she learns the DANCE OF THE DEAD! Of course, as the Maiden did earlier, Misroi makes Larissa put on a clothes that give him a better view of her tits; “It was shockingly low-cut,” the narration intimates. She must have some rack on her—everybody in the novel wants a peek at it.

Gosh! As a parting gift, Misroi gives her a riding crop; Larissa discovers that to initiate the Dance of the Dead she has to flog herself with it. Kinky.

On the way back to the Maiden's home, Larissa rides something called a LEZerd. I'm just going to leave that tidbit here and let you mull it over on your own.

At this point in the novel we're treated to some pretty squicky animal torture by its antagonists. Larissa leads a really unspectacular siege against the showboat to free all the animals within. Guess what? She does the DANCE OF DEATH at the climax! That didn't seem like a plot point at all when Misroi taught it to her, right? Unfortunately, Larissa accidentally kills her new will o' the wisp-lite boyfriend with the DANCE OF THE DEAD. Ooops.

In the end, the crew of the magic showboat decides that Larissa should be their new captain since Raoul & co. are now dead. Yeah, I can see how being good at dancing makes one a suitable captain of a ship despite not having a whit of sailing or navigation experience. But, as the saying goes, the show must go on. 

Thankfully, the novel does not.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Psycho-sexual Ravenloft: Dance of the Dead II

Eventually, seeing Larissa prance about in her stage costume like some sort of Ravenloftian Shakira proves too much for Raoul, so he concocts a bizarre plan to have her attacked by a sailor so that he might save her; his theory seems to be that in return for his protection Larissa is sure to give him a little sugar. Larissa reacts with an almost surprising level of horror when Raoul attempts to force himself on her, runs away, and is aided in her escape by some witchy guy from the swamp. Of course, she eventually returns to her “Uncle's” boat even though he just tried to molest her. What a tease or something.

Larissa has to run away from Raoul and his magic showboat again. She takes refuge in the swamps of Souragne, where she meets a spirit of nature known as the Maiden. Up until this point the novel had been cruising at a median depth—neither good nor bad, just plowing along in a workmanly paperback fashion—but once we get to the scenes of Larissa and the Maiden things plunge back into the terribleness I've come to expect from a Ravenloft novel. You see, the Maiden endeavors to teach Larissa...DANCE MAGIC! And the scenes in which Larissa learns to channel elemental magic through the power of DANCE are more than a bit like the scenes in Dirty Dancing where the Swayze teaches Baby to shake it like a Polaroid picture. This is, horrifyingly enough, the Gothic Fantasy equivalent to a training montage from Flashdance or Fame.

But, being a Christie Golden novel, it's got to get a bit sexually weird. The Maiden demands that Larissa where something skankier to...make the MAGIC DANCE better or something: “To Larissa's annoyance, the Maiden made the dancer remove her clothes and tear them into pieces for new garments. Larissa bound her breasts with a halter made of the skirt's material and fashioned a skirt of the lighter-weight chemise. She fastened the skirt about her slender waist and glanced at the Maiden for approval. 'No,' the Maiden chided. She tugged the skirt from Larissa's waist and retied it so it hugged her hips. 'The only time I've ever worn this little is when I was bathing,' Larissa muttered.” What happens in the swamp, stays in the swamp.

But then, this focus on Larissa's body is pretty typical of Golden's writing style. I don't know how else to put this, but she writes about women the way a fourteen year old boy would. From the way the narrative lens glides over feminine bodies throughout the novel it's clear that we, as readers, are meant to be complicity elided with the male gaze that evaluates and objectifies the physicality of women. For example, check out the weird pit stop this description of a woman's anger takes to dwell on her tits: “Her cheeks were flushed and her green eyes sparkling. Her low-cut dress, the same one she had worn at dinner revealed the tops of her breasts. She was absolutely stunning in her rage.” Translation: she is really mad but also she has great titties.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Psycho-sexual Ravenloft: Dance of the Dead I

Last week somebody ended-up on my blog after searching for "funny Ravenloft stories." Welp, here you go.  Laugh until you cry, friends.

Since it's the Halloween season, it's only fitting that October sees the return of the Psycho-sexual Ravenloft series. If this is your first time at the rodeo, the premise is simple: I read one of the official Ravenloft novels from back in the '90s, post about all the weird and yucky sex bits that lurk under the book's otherwise banal surface, and you all get a good laugh at my pain as I slog through this underwhelming sequence of tie-in novels.

Next up is Christie Golden's Dance of the Dead. Oh god, not another Golden novel so soon. I wonder if that guy who had a meltdown the last time I dared besmirch Golden's literary status is reading; are you still out there, buddy? I digress.

I'm actually a bit surprised to find myself saying this, but...Dance of the Dead seems to be an order of magnitude better than Vampire in the Mists. Perhaps I've been brain damaged by the first two Ravenloft books I've read as part of this project, but I'm willing to hazard a guess that freed from the tyranny of having to write about Jander and Strahd has enabled Golden to get an actual plot in motion and to create some characters who are human enough to be at least slightly compelling. The set-up of Dance of the Dead is actually interesting; the novel follows the exploits of a traveling showboat that docks in various domains in Ravenloft and puts on a magic-powered cabaret for the downtrodden denizens of the Demi-plane of Dread. Of course, things go awry and the performing troupe find their boat arriving at Souragne, Ravenloft's Louisiana cum Haiti zombieland pastiche.

Of course, this is a Golden novel, so we're not going to escape having to read about a bunch of rapey male characters. In fact, we get our first abusive guy on the second page of the novel when we're introduced to Sardan, an actor who likes to make the leading woman in the troupe's play sexually uncomfortable: “it was well-known that Liza couldn't stand Sardan. As a result, Sardan made it a point to turn every onstage kiss into a passionate one, taking a devilish glee in the fact that Liza had to pretend to enjoy it.” Yep, we're back in Ravenloft all right.

And back in Ravenloft we are indeed, as we're next introduced to the disturbing relationship between our heroine, the white-maned Larissa, and Raoul, her guardian and the captain of the showboat. From the way Raoul is initially described, it's clear that we're meant to take him as a figure of sexual power. “He was big in more than a physical sense,” the narration winks at us and lolls its tongue lasciviously. Furthermore, we're treated to the “flash of his sea-green eyes, the tightening of his sensual mouth, the clenching of his powerful, callused hands.” Since he's such an obviously virile specimen of manhood, it seems only natural that Larissa would want to ride him like a Shetland pony, but you know what turns it from bodice-ripper to stomach-churner? The fact that she calls him “Uncle” throughout the first third of the novel.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Psycho-sexual Ravenloft: Knight of the Black Rose III

Speaking of what a weird-ass pervert Strahd is, it turns out he likes to be the creamy filling in a big necromantic Oreo. You see, Soth has been injured fighting a dragon so Strahd offers to act as a conduit that transfers life force from some mortal mook to the deathknight. And make no mistake, Strahd likes being the monkey in the middle: “The look on Strahd's face told Soth that the vampire enjoyed the workings of this particular spell. Strahd's dark eyes rolled back and fluttered, showing only their whites. His pale cheeks flushed with color; his cruel mouth stretched into a wide smile of pleasure. The vampire's fangs had extended to their full length.” Extended, to their full length, no less.

At this point in the novel it is painfully clear what Lowder's biggest problem is with the narrative: everything that is happening is just him killing time (and page count) on the way to giving Soth his own domain in Ravenloft. Soth and his werebadger (!!!) pal go to Gundarak on a quest to use a supposed portal out of Ravenloft that amounts to nothing; Magda, the only character we can identify with because she's the only one with a reasonable worldview and graspable goals, buggers off in the middle of the night—never to reappear—because Lowder clearly just doesn't have a plot arc in mind for her. All of this is ultimately meaningless and the novel is really just running down the shot clock before it throws Soth into Sithicus.

Somewhat entertainingly, Soth uses a Bigby's Hand spell at the climax. I mean, come on, that joke just makes itself.

Ultimately, Soth's reoccurring problem is that he can see that he's walking into traps, but he's so dumb he blunders in anyway. This happens in Soth's back-story when he knows he's being tricked into leaving his quest to spare Krynn from the Cataclysm, and it happens again at the end of Knight of the Black Rose when Strahd walks Soth into the mists so that a new domain will form around him. The thing is, Strahd doesn't exactly have to get Machiavellian to maneuver Soth out of Barovia. Essentially, Soth says, “You're trying to trick me into entering the mists!” Strahd says, “Yep, I am.” Soth says, “Okay, see you later! Imma go into the mists now.” Soth is so hammer-headed that it is a wonder that Jander doesn't show up to put the moves on him.

I have to give Lowder credit, though, Knight of the Black Rose at least ends on a note that at least recycles some conventions found in Gothic literature. Nedargaard Keep is described as the unheimlich double of Soth's fortress in Krynn; it's almost like he castle he's familiar with, but the details are off just enough to drive him mad. Still, this bit is too little too late. Here's the Cliff Notes for the novel: “Strahd goes to Ravenloft, Strahd continues to perv, Soth gets stuck in Sithicus.” And that's all there is.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Psycho-sexual Ravenloft: Knight of the Black Rose II

Sadly, Lowder has as tin an ear as Golden does when it comes to writing dialog. “You have no idea how angry you've made me,” Soth sulks to Caradoc, his ghostly servant. Actually, Caradoc does have an idea of how angry Soth is, particularly as Soth has just crushed the skull of Caradoc's mortal remains under his boot and is currently throttling Caradoc with a mailed fist. (Yeah, Soth can strangle ghosts; don't think about that for too long.) Oddly, despite watching his child die in a fire, strangling a ghost is what gets Soth sucked into the mists of Ravenloft. Also, this nets us the weirdest description of the mists EVER: “It crept through the gaps in Soth's armor and rubbed against him like a monstrous cat. Tendrils of the milky stuff ventured into his ears and mouth and nose.” Like...a monstrous cat? Milky stuff going into his mouth? FUCKING RAVENLOFT!!!

And yet, it's neither Soth nor Strahd who turn out to be the creepiest character in the novel. Meet Andari, a gypsy youth who discovers his sister about to be raped by a boyar. Boy does that get him angry! Only he isn't angry at the rapist, he is mad that his sister's pleas of “No!” distracted him: “Look what you've done! Your screeching made me drop my violin!” The reason why Andari isn't angry about his sister's sexual assault is that he was the one to pimp her out in the first place; indeed, since his sister is putting up too much of a fight to be violated for money, he offers up some other members of his extended family for sexual defilement: “Or perhaps you would prefer the company of one of my cousins?” Yeah, that's right, gypsy pimps and prostitutes—it's like a Tiger Lillies song gone horribly wrong.

Even though we've just read Soth's back-story in that ridiculous opening prologue, we get it again when he visits the gypsy encampment. Soth doesn't like people looking in on his past (he likes to stay on the down low) so he flips out and burns the fortune teller's wagon down. If you recall how Soth treated his wife and child, this begins to look like a pattern of how Soth treats women: can't live with 'em, can definitely light them on fire. 

So where does Soth's rage toward women come from? Perhaps we can glean something from a description of Strahd reading Soth's mind: “Strahd ventured further, and a wave of seething hatred and impotent lust broke around him.” IMPOTENT LUST. Yeah, that kind of explains it. In fact, it explains why Soth smashes three tables, knocks down a bunch of doors, and squishes a bunch of Strahd's giant spiders—he is envious of anything that is hard. Soth not only needs Zoloft, he needs Viagra.

(Strahd keeps reading Soth's mind, by the way, because it fills him with “the perverse joy of a voyeur.” Fuck, Ravenloft is yucky.)

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Psycho-sexual Ravenloft: Knight of the Black Rose I

The Prologue of James Lowder's Knight of the Black Rose is a back-story avalanche. Of course, the novel has to do something to introduce a well-known character like Lord Soth, but the rapid-fire summation of his career is particularly clumsy as a narrative technique. Still, there are some elements worth picking at here. Soth belonged to an order of goody-two-shoes knights and seems like he was the goodiest-of-two-shoes amongst them. He marries a noblewoman, builds a keep, quests around fighting evil, and basically lives a Dudley Do-Right lifestyle. Until he gets it on with an elf maiden he rescues from some ogres: “Soon after, they became secret lovers, though in doing so Soth broke both his sacred marriage vows and the Code of the Knights of Solamnia.” When the fact of Soth's transgression gets out, he's sentenced to death. Yeah, you read that correctly, the punishment for having a side piece in Krynn is death. Infidelity is literally a capital offense. Holy shitballs, the Dragonlance setting really was created by Mormons!

With the aid of some still-loyal knights, Soth escapes prison and heads back to his keep where he attempts to do the right thing. His wife having disappeared, he marries the elf lady, prepares to raise their child, and prays for guidance from the gods of good. Yet, for some unexplained reason, the other elf women that Soth rescued decide to play some mind games on him: “The elven women he had once rescued now poisoned his mind with intimations of his wife's infidelity.” Those bitches hate the playa, not the game. All of this results in Soth letting his wife and child burn in a fire before his very eyes, his elfbabe honey cursing him with her dying breath, and Soth emerging as an undead monster.

Already I've got grave concerns about where this novel is headed. Whereas Vampire of the Mists turned out to be The Confessions of a Justified Rapist, Knight of the Black Rose is starting out as a whole different kind of psycho-sexual Ravenloft. Where Golden's novel casually dropped squicky sexual descriptions in your lap like some unwanted, spittle-sodden dog's chew-toy, Lowder's fictive universe is one in which sexuality is wrong and must be punished. Hopefully this aspect of the novel is confined to this prologue of inherited Dragonlance drivel, but I don't have high hopes for where this book is about to take me.

...or maybe it will continue the trend already initiated by Vampire of the Mists. You see, much like Jander Sunstar, Soth has plans to re-animate Kitiara as his eternal companion that can only be described as “a bit rape-y” and “kind of necrophiliac-y": “After retreiving her corpse and trapping her soul, Soth planned to abandon the fight and return to Dargaard Keep. In the shelter of that hellish place, he could perform a rite that would make the highlord his un-living companion for all eternity.” Soth apparently isn't the only undead monstrosity that likes Kitiara's bodunkadunk; the deathless guardians of the Tower of High Sorcery seem to have groped her and stripped off her clothes as they killed her: “Her night-blue dragonscale armor had been stripped away by the tower's guardians, and her black, tight-fitting doublet was shredded, revealing her tan beneath.” All the dead guys love her; what a lucky gal!

Besides having literally unnatural designs on Kitiara, Soth can't stand thinking about the fact that Tanis has already tapped that ass; “Tanis had been one of Kitiara's many lovers,” he thinks as he attempts to duel Tanis to the death. We also get a view into the nature of Soth's curse, which turns out to be little more than run-of-the-mill depression: “Yet the death knight felt no joy at that realization; like many emotions, joy was denied him by his curse.” Take some Zoloft and get over it, Soth!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Psycho-sexual Ravenloft: Vampire of the Mists III

Things are starting to get a bit bizarre in general at this point in the book. Strahd and Jander play what seems like the weirdest board game two vampires could play with each other: “The Doe has reached the warren. According to the rules that gives me five more Kittens to introduce into play.” Oooookay. (Also, Strahd gets royally pissed off when Trina the werewolf messes with his pieces.) Characters are also starting to behave in ways that defy any pretense of characterization. Jander, despite having made a promise of honor to never enter into a particular room in Strahd's castle, declares that he had his fingers crossed the whole time and breaks in while Strahd is away. And what does he find in there? A centuries-old wedding cake. Yeah, Strahd is Ravenloft's Miss Havisham.

Speaking of Strahd, did you think we were going to get out of this novel with him playing his “organ” again? SUCKER! “One afternoon, he sough distraction by playing the organ. The diversion worked for a while, wrapping him up in its reverberating music that sang to his soul/ His fingers flew over the keys, coaxing chords that echoed his torment yet brought release from it.” So, Strahd gets bored, his “fingers flew” over his organ, and “coaxed” something out of it that 'brought release,” huh? Seriously, Golden? So much to answer for.

While Strahd is masturbating furiously, Jander continues to be a shit-heel. Jander asks Sasha to help him fight against Strahd, but Sasha replies that he has real responsibilities—like to the community he serves as a spiritual leader and as a husband-to-be. Jander, predictably, flies into a rage: “Jander's silver eyes flashed with anger. 'I don't want to hear about your responsibilities. I don't care about your fiancee.” Those are real quotes. He says these things in his out-loud voice instead of keeping them part of his inner dickhead monolog. Basically, he's a sociopath. Which makes you wonder, why doesn't he just mentally dominate Sasha into going along for the ride? Oh wait, that's right, because Sasha's a man and Jander only bends women to his will.

In a move that will surprise no one, it turns out that Strahd is the one responsible for driving Jander's dear Anna (the mentally ill woman he was ballin') into madness. In a convoluted “twist” that no reader could possibly give a fuck about, Anna is revealed to be a piece of Tatyana's soul that was transported from Barovia to the Forgotten Realms at the moment she jumped from the towers of Castle Ravenloft. That Strahd is the big villain all along was obvious; he's the only bad guy the novel ever mentions so it was clear he would end up being the Big Bad. What is a mystery for Jander was never a mystery for the reader. Golden is clearly no Agatha Christie.

Of course, the revelation of Strahd as the central villain comes about through an avalanche of back-story and flashback sequences. The only thing I really gleaned from it was this piece of advice I wish I could travel to Ravenloft and give to Strahd personally: Dear Strahd, if the girl you're obsessed with keeps calling you "Old One," either her name is Anna Nicole Smith and she's just being honest or she just isn't that into you.

Eventually Jander & co. confront Strahd in the crypts, and Strahd is driven off but not killed. For a climatic scene, it's utterly empty of any tension or real feeling of threat. Strahd buggers off to heal up so he can play with his organ some more, Jander realizes that Ravenloft has just been funnin' with him this entire time, and Sasha has to go into hiding. The best part about the end is that Jander dies. I just wish that had happened on page 2 of the novel and not page 239.

Cole did this and he wants you to know it is based on an actual picture of Jander.

Oh, and because we can't have nice things and because Ravenloft truly is a world that hates us, Jander is retconned back into unlife in some god-forsaked supplement. There is no justice, none at all.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Psycho-sexual Ravenloft: Vampire of the Mists II

Guess what? Surprise! Jander continues to be a real fuck-nugget! Despite swearing an oath to protect the burgomaster's daughter, he willingly goes with Strahd to her family's house, feeds on her sister, sits on his thumb while Strahd's minions kill everyone else in the house, and does absolutely nothing to stop Strahd from killing Anastasia before his very eyes. What a god-damn champ.

Aside from continually using his hypnotic powers to maneuver women into doing what he wants, we can also ascribe to Jander a pattern of making promises he doesn't even attempt to fulfill. Despite pledging to Anna that he would solve the mystery of her madness, he stays in Strahd's castle for TEN YEARS without doing much of anything. Seriously, he's got this sworn quest and he gardens at Strahd's place for ten fucking years instead of displaying a trace of follow-through.

Thus far I haven't really commented on Golden's writing. The best thing I can say about it is that it is workmanly. There are no attempts at artistry here, and I'm better off for it as they would definitely fail entirely. Her real weakness as an author is dialog; she has a tin ear when it comes to the way people actually talk to each other. Worse yet, out-of-place phrases slip into the prose. Anastasia describes her unborn child as “kicking like mad”; another character answers in the negative with a teenage mall-crawler's “Nope.”

Actually, I take that back. The worst thing about Golden's writing is her inability to resist the temptation that comes with a protagonist who is largely unaffected by the passing of years; that is, since Jander is a vampire she feels no qualms about advancing the novel's time-line by leaps and bounds. This has two very unfortunate effects: first, it results in secondary characters who aren't around long enough to be developed or for the reader to care about, and two, it really makes it seem like Jander is just loafing around Castle Ravenloft and not actually trying to solve the mystery that he pledged to see through.

Speaking of character development, Golden's Strahd is a bit of a furry. Toward the middle of the novel, Strahd brings his new werewolf girlfriend to the castle: “'She makes an excellent spy and a merry bedfellow.' He turned his attention back to the wolf.” Note that Strahd praises Trina's sexual prowess while she's in wolf form. Castle Yiffenloft, right? Also, soon after Jander has another in what are becoming a series of annoying and poorly-crafted flashbacks; this time, he recalls an incident where he was saved by a weredolphin. Let me type that out again in capital letters in case your mind repressed the word I just used: WEREDOLPHIN. Golden has included a weredolphin in her story. That is an amazing lapse of taste, judgment, and decency. Jander doesn't mention how fuckable the weredolphin was at least.

So, remember the Jander is some sort of shining, radiant elf guy? Well, he's so solar-powered that he gets mistaken for Lathander Morninglord, god of the sun, by a priest of that deity. It's important to Golden that we know that Jander isn't just shit-hot, he's as shit-hot as a god. This distresses Strahd a little bit; adopting a very 90210 pose he accuses Jander of upstaging him at some gala party that Strahd has thrown in his own honor. This, more than anything so far, illustrates what vampires are in Golden's novel: they are pick-up artists who peacock around and trick women into sleeping with them/letting them feed off them.

In what seems like a bizarre narrative misfire, Golden has the young cleric Sasha drown one of Strahd's vampire brides. At first I thought this was invoking the whole “vampires can't cross running water” thing, but the description really focuses on the water filling the vampire's mouth and nostrils—and Strahd explicitly states that someone drowned his vampire lady. Chew on that for a moment; I'm over two-hundred pages into a vampire novel and the author of said novel hasn't yet realized that vampires don't breath and therefore can't drown.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Psycho-sexual Ravenloft: Vampire of the Mists I

When I'm not blogging about my spooky elfgames, I teach courses on Gothic literature at a university. I'll be honest with you, the Gothic is often not the most literary of modes; it has never been a particularly respected literary form and its constituting novels were written by amateurs looking to capitalize on the mania for Gothic horror. As such, traditional Gothic literature was, in most cases, the disposable escapist, pot-boiler, mass market fiction of its day. I've slogged through a lot of it in my studies, and it has frequently been rough going.

So, I should be well-prepared to slog through the Ravenloft novels, right? Welcome to an ongoing series in which I attempt to fight my way through the official fiction of the Domain of Dread. Oh god what have I done. First up, Christie Golden's Vampire of the Mists.

The biggest hurtle in this story will likely be the protagonist, an elf vampire called Jander Sunstar. (What a name!) Jander is the Forgotten Realm's answer to Twilight's Edward: he feeds off of animals until the hunger gets to be too much for which point he then feeds on the helpless inmates of an insane asylum (!!!). And that's not even the most problematic thing he does at the asylum; not content to merely take his sustenance from the disturbed, he actually falls in love with a woman who is clearly mentally handicapped. (But she's handicapped because of magic, so I guess that's okay?) Seriously, he visits her every night for ten years and eventually things get a bit physical. Physical, in an insane asylum where she is incarcerated for being mentally ill. Shades of Edward watching Bella sleep here. Also, while he doesn't sparkle, he's some sort of shining “gold elf” and his gaseous form is described as Joseph's Technicolor Dream Fart.

Of course, eventually Jander's lunatic gal-pal gets a fever and seems to be on the edge of death. Even clerical healing will not avail her. As a last-ditch attempt to keep his madwoman madame with him he tries to make her his vampire bride—but she refuses the curse of undeath. Enraged, Jander...flips out, turns into a wolfman, and kills every motherfucker in the place; seriously, he slays the madwomen and jailers, the innocent and the guilty alike. Which, obviously, leads him to be sucked into Ravenloft.

The sexual descriptions in the novel continue to be just fucking awful. Petya, our rogue-ish gypsy youth, has apparently made a career of professing his love to virginal girls so he can get up their skirts before skipping town—as he does with the burgomaster's daughter. “I like her, but I don't like-her-like-her,” is a faithful paraphrase of his rationale. And, if we had any doubt that women who are otherwise on-the-ball and clear-headed would become instantly wet at the sight of Jander, the young gypsy seer Marushka's clothes start falling off as she trades coy flirtations with our proto-Edward: “Marushka sat down beside him on the wooden bench and shrugged, her blouse slipping off one dark shoulder.” 

Also, let's not forget that Jander is a bag of dicks in vampire form. In what is the squickiest scene yet, Strahd sends Jander a young woman to feed from: “I am to tell you that I am untouched here – she placed a finger to her throat – and here – she cupped her hands about the mound between her legs.” Jander makes a big deal of telling the girl that he doesn't plan on hurting her, then uses his hypnotism power to take away her free will anyway because he's basically a self-justifying rapist.

By far the oddest psycho-sexual scene yet, however, occurs when Jander and Strahd bust out their flutes and pipe organs to have a vamp-bro jam: “A sweet, pure sound issued forth, a bird's call to the rumbling waterfall of Strahd's organ. The count looked up, and something like delight mingled with surprise on his pale face. Together, the vampires created spontaneous music. The clear tones of the flute danced and skittered like light over the organ's deep chords." I defy you to not read that as gay pr0n. At least they come away mutually satisfied: "Simultaneously they finished their songs..." If you know what I mean.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

What's the Deal with Igor's Hump?

What's the Deal with Igor's Hump?

FACT #1: All mad scientists (and many vampires) have a hunchbacked assistant.
FACT #2: That assistant is always named Igor (some pronounce it EYE-gore, some EEE-gore)
FACT #3: Here's the deal with Igor's hump:

d10 Hump Type (hey oh!)
1 Black-Blood Blister – if Igor takes any damage there is a 50% chance it will rupture his hump, which is, in fact, a giant blood blister filled with the Black Blood of the Earth. If ruptured, the Black Blood takes 1d4 rounds to congeal into a coherent mass that then attacks everyone nearby (use the stats of a Black Pudding).
2 Camel-like Fluid Storage – Igor's hump contains a randomly-generated potion. If Igor is killed without damaging his hump, the characters may be able to siphon it out of him as the least-appealing treasure ever.
3 Demonstone Tumor – Igor's hump is actually a tumor caused by small pieces of demonstone that are embedded in his back. The demonstone causes any spell cast within 30' of Igor to trigger a roll on the Magical Mishap Table.
4 Embedded Meteor – what looks like a hump is actually an meteor from space that collided with Igor's back. The radiation from the meteor has been slowly mutating Igor; at the moment that is least convenient for the player-characters Igor will transform into an evil Shambling Mound.
5 Hardened Bone – Igor's hump is a giant knob of bone. Indeed, Igor's skeleton is hard as iron, granting him a +2 bonus to his Armor Class.
6 Mold Infection – Igor's hump is really a symptom of an inner mold infection. If Igor takes any damage there is a 50% that his hump will explode into a cloud of mold spores (use the stats of a Gas Spore).
7 Psychic Brain – Igor's hump houses a second brain that possesses the mind blast ability of a Brain Lasher.
8 Pus-filled – instead of being a solid mass, Igor's hump is really a pus-filled membrane. If Igor takes any damage there is a 50% chance that his hump bursts open, discharging a thick yellow and green ooze. This pus takes 1d4 rounds to congeal into a coherent mass, which then attacks everyone nearby (use the stats of a Green Slime).
9 Stunted Twin – what looks like a hump is actually the visible portion of Igor's twin brother who failed to develop properly in utero. The hump can detach itself from Igor's body at will to wreck havoc (use the stats for a gremlin).
10 Tentacle Cluster – Igor's hump is a gift from the Demon Lord Zzorch. It can sprout a multitude of tentacles to attack with; while the tentacles do no damage on their own, they possess the paralytic ability of a Cadaver Grub.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

We Didn't Get the Memo Re: Warhammer FRP

I've been thinking about WFRP 1e a bit lately; it is the game we definitely had the most fun with in high school.

Sadly, it turns out that we were playing it completely wrong.

Warhammer is supposedly a meat-grinder of a game where beginning PCs suck at everything and will inevitably die in gruesome ways.  We got this one totally wrong.  Two PCs (mine and a buddy's dwarf trollslayer) went through the Enemy Within, Doomstones, Drachenfels, and a bunch of one-shot adventures and survived them all, so clearly we were doing it wrong.

We tended to play cautiously, but there is something to be said for starting WFRP characters being a lot tougher than 1st level D&D characters.  A 1st level fighter right off the turnip truck can be killed in a single blow; a WFRP character can't be killed in a single blow because they'll start with at least one Fate Point.

And as for WFRP characters being Eternal Weenies Who Always Suck, my long-lived six-career elf character begs to differ.  Sure, he didn't end up with a super-high Strength or Toughness, but an absurdly high Agility and the Dodge Blow skill meant that it was practically guaranteed that at least one attack per round would miss him entirely.  Oh, and he also had a ridiculous Initiative score and 4 Attacks to unload before his foes got a chance to act.  Good luck with that, warriors of chaos.

Warhammer's Old World is a crapfest with nothing but misery, disease, and poop lying around all over the place.  We honestly never got that sense of the Old World from the 1e setting materials.  Sure, the Old World was a place of danger, corruption, and economic disparity, but I think you need a big element of that in a fantasy setting for it to be interesting.  Nevertheless, it certainly didn't seem as post-apocalyptic as people often make out.

Of course, we actually benefiting from not knowing too much about the culture surrounding Warhammer that favored SPIKES AND MORE SPIKES AND GRIMDARK HELMS WITH SPIKES AND SKULLS ON THEM because we pretty much played the game in isolation from anyone else playing it.  To us, Warhammer was a place where Gandalf could go on an adventure with Conan, Legolas, King Arthur, and  Renaissance German dwarves and Viking dwarves, like this:

That's what WFRP looks like to me, but I guess we didn't get the memo.