Monday, April 27, 2015


The first in a series of posts detailing what I am currently finding inspiring.

I. Zines

Zines were a big part of my early 90s high school experience, so it has been interesting to watch them make a comeback in recent years. If you're currently in the grips of Zine Mania--whether through nostalgia or first-blush contact with small press insanity--you NEED to check out the zines put out by Heretical Sexts.

Heretical Sexts is a small-press imprint dedicated to producing "weird words on dead trees" and "publications for discerning creeps." Full disclosure: I've contributed writing or editing to the various Heretical Sexts projects, but believe me when I tell you that these things are the real deal. The writing is out there; the voices in these zines are unique; the art and production values are all top-notch. Thus far there are three stand-alone issues you might want to grab:

My Dream Date with a Villain: 14 contributors describe their romantic encounters with infamous characters from history and fiction. Always humorous, sometimes horrific and occasionally erotic, this fully-illustrated volume includes a range of subjects including Elizabeth Bathory, Doctor Doom, Ilsa She-Wolf of the S.S., the Hamburglar, Madame Defarge, and many, many more. (Include my tale of longing for Bellatrix Lestrange.)

Forever Doomed: 28 pages of essays and comics by Tenebrous Kate taking a tongue-in-cheek look at all things doom: The Metal Mid-life Crisis of "Black Roses"; Adventures at Maryland Deathfest; Erotic Rites of the Nazg├╗l; Dennis Wheatley: Unlikely Icon; Style Lessons from "Curse of the Crimson Altar"; "Let Sleeping Corpses Lie."

Witch Women: Witch Women is an exploration of the many facets of the relationship between femininity and the occult. The zine features original art and essays ranging from the esoteric to the light-hearted: “Hag Couture,” cheeky advice on fashion and ritual realness by S. Elizabeth; “Ace of Worlds,” an encounter with the tarot by Tom Blunt; “The Scarlet Women,” an illustrated history of erotic magic written by Heather Drain and illustrated by Tenebrous Kate; “Darkening the Coven,” an RPG supplement by Jack W. Shear; Art by Dana Glover, Becky Munich, and Carisa Swenson. (I actually think "Darkening the Coven" is the best RPG thing I've written.)

At $5 a pop, these are a steal. The BigCartel shop is here. You know what to do. You know what to do.

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Speaking of zines, I just got these in the mail from Thuban Press:

If you like the idea of kinky post-scripts to Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado" and "The Fall of the House of Usher," definitely do yourself a pervy favor and check out "In Pace Requescat" and "The Hideous Dropping Off of the Veil." For a more traditional and lovely take on a Victorian fairy tale, Julia Gfrorer's illustrated version of Oscar Wilde's "The Star Child" cannot be beat.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Actual Play: Blades in the Dark

In retrospect, Wolfram Keel probably looks a bit like Captain Flint on Black Sails
I had the good fortune to play in a Blades in the Dark game run by Andrew Shields of the Fictive Fantasy blog. Andrew has his play report up here.

Before I get into my experience with the game itself, I just want to take a minute to say that Andrew runs a great game. I have the quick start of Blades in the Dark, but I wasn't really able to put together how it all worked in my brief read-through of the text; Andrew, however, made the game sing in practice. He presented the mechanical bits in a really easy-to-grasp way and offered enough introductory guidance to help us along without ever feeling like he was nudging us in one direction or another. Andrew also added a ton of on-the-fly detail to the game's setting and NPCs that made the game have a very particular feel. People talk about immersion; Andrew's ability to add details that popped was all about getting the feel of the setting (weird, gritty, ominous).

My fellow player in the game was Bryan, and he pushed things forward into ever more dangerous territory at every turn (which was much appreciated by me). Bryan's character, Aldo Nyman, had all the social skills mine lacked; yet, despite our different skill sets we both chose "Daring" as our special abilities. This emphasis on "daring" came to define our new crew of thieves: we were looking to make a name for ourselves by taking on jobs (and approaching the way we completed job) in audacious ways that more careful crews would never even consider. My character, Wolfram Keel, was a weathered, perpetually furious ex-whaler whose skills leaned toward violence and skulking about. He may have killed an experienced duelist with a gaff hook in a water closet; Aldo may then have taken the dead man's identity so we could pull off an abduction. These are our unrecommendable methods, but they work.

I was impressed by how brisk the pacing is in Blades in the Dark. In a three hour session we generated our characters, generated our gang of thieves, went on two "heists," and did two episodes of downtime. The heists were short, but fulfilling. Our first adventure was kidnapping the leader of a powerful faction; through Aldo's guile, Wolfram's willingness to step into the fray, and a little help from our weirdo occult adept minions we were able to pull off a pretty amazing score. The second heist involved sneaking onto a whaling ship in plain sight so that we could steal away with some rather unusual gunpowder stored in a literal hog's head. 

Oddly, or maybe not, our most nail-biting encounter in the entire session was with a sexed-up harpoonist who probably isn't even human; let's just say she has scrimshaw teeth, has a penchant for looking into the depths of murderous souls, and has an arm made of bone that was animated by plunging it into a leviathan's eye. Not the kind you take home to mother.

Even though each heist didn't take long to resolve, they felt meaty and compelling. There wasn't really any lull in the game where we planned out our strategy and prepared for contingencies. The way the game works lets you largely accomplish all of that on the fly, adding detail and depth through action and flashbacks. It felt like we got an amazing amount of fun gaming in within just three hours. In other games I've played there are interminable stretches were you're waiting for the fun parts; this was all good parts all the way through. Part of that was undoubtedly the people involved (thanks again, Andrew and Bryan), but part of it was the tight design of the game. Blades in the Dark seems like a clear winner; can't wait to play again.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Ravenloft Remix: Mists Clerical Domain for 5e

In the Ravenloft setting, priests of Ezra have a mystical connection to the Mists that permeate the landscape. In previous editions, clerics of Ezra have had access to a specific "Mists" domain; this is my attempt to work-up something thematically appropriate for 5e Dungeons & Dragons.

Mists Domain
Though much-feared as an unpredictable, mysterious force by the people of the Core, the clerics of Ezra can channel the power of the Mists to help protect the people of the land.

Mists Domain Spells
Cleric Level
entangle, fog cloud
gust of wind, misty step
gaseous form, wind wall
confusion, dimension door
modify memory, teleportation circle

Bonus Proficiency
When you select this domain at 1st level, you gain proficiency with heavy armor.

Wayfinder's Blessing
Starting when you choose this domain at 1st level, you can use your action to touch a willing creature other than yourself to give it advantage on Wisdom (Survival) checks and checks using Navigator's Tools. This blessing lasts for 1 hour or until you use this feature again.

Channel Divinity: Shield of Mist
Starting at 2nd level, you can use your Channel Divinity to envelop yourself in film of luminous mists. This misty barrier around yourself that lasts for 1 minute, or until you lose your concentration (as if you were concentrating on a spell). While protected by this barrier you have resistance to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage.

Channel Divinity: Guardian of the Mists
At 6th level, when a creature within 30 feet of you is attacked, you can use your reaction to conjure a protective shield of mists around it that grants that creature resistance to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage for 1 minute, using your Channel Divinity.

Divine Strike
At 8th level, your gain the ability to infuse your weapon strikes with divine energy. Once on each of your turns when you hit a creature with a weapon attack, you can cause this attack to deal an extra 1d8 cold damage to the target. When you reach 14th level, the extra damage increases to 2d8.

Champion of the Mists

At 17th level, you gain advantage on saving throws made against enchantment spells.