Friday, December 28, 2018

It's My Birthday

It's my birthday but you don't have to buy me nothin'. BUT if you want to do something nice, consider giving one of the game books I released this year a rating over at DriveThruRPG if you bought one of 'em.

Krevborna: A Gothic Blood Opera
Cinderheim: The Land Under the Demon Sun
Umberwell: Blackened Be Thy Name
Hexmoon Sabbath: A Folk Horror Doom

Of course, you should feel free to write a review of them on DriveThru if you want to go the extra mile. 

And if you haven't bought 'em yet, well, you could, but seriously no pressure.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Vintage Christmas Cards as Adventure Ideas

(roll and put the ideas the image gives you in the comment section)




















Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Immolating Your Friends and Foes on the Red Planet

High jinks continue on the Red Planet. Our picklehaube-wearing German was abducted by an airborne monster. Unfortunately, the Dancing Swordsman's attempts to shoot the beast down resulted in cooking our Terran compatriot. 

One cannot mourn for long on Mars. It is a waste of precious water. We decided to head toward a guarded tower we had seen nearby.

Of course, we were ambushed on the way by a party of Red Martians and White Apes and stripped of our weapons. We resisted our captors' attempt to lock us away in a prisoner's cell. My character, Cymzo Drox, Menton of Mars, threw a "stingstick" at the group's leader, then drained the lifeforce from our captors to power his mental warp abilities. We freed a Thark! who quickly joined the fray on our side. We then made a mad rush for the tower to escape further pursuit.

The "tower" turned out to be a rocket ship currently operated by our nemesis, Mr. Whip. Although Mr. Whip had been an object of abject terror for us in the past, we quickly liquefied him. He will moonwalk no more. 

Cymzo then realized that the rocket could be weaponized against the Red Martians and White Apes banging on the door outside. He initiated launch, immolating our foes, and enabling the rocket to fly on its pre-programmed course to the moon.

And then we blacked out.

Monday, December 17, 2018

A Swell-Looking Babe

During his lifetime, Jim Thompson's masterful novels of crime, obsession, and dark Americana were published as pulp novels. Intervening years have seen a reassessment of his work, with Stephen King singing his praises and cultural historian Geoffrey O'Brien dubbing him "The Dimestore Dostoyevsky." A Swell-Looking Babe finds Thompson at his sharpest, weaving a taut tale of a bellboy who finds himself drawn into a seedy series of schemes that might actually be about altogether different--and far darker--themes.
Listeners are encouraged to seek out the book before listening, since SPOILERS ABOUND.
Will Kate and Jack encounter any familiar themes as they explore a new-to-the-podcast genre? Are women, once again, the root of all evil? What do manatees have to do with any of this? Find out the answers to these questions and much more on this episode of Bad Books for Bad People.
BBfBP theme song by True Creature 
Find us at, 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.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Hexmoon Sabbath Released on DriveThruRPG!

Hexmoon Sabbath: A Folk Horror Doom has been released on DriveThruRPG at the tempting price of a mere $1.99.

The blurb:

Hexmoon Sabbath: A Folk Horror Doom is a supplement detailing three witches, who call themselves Hexbrides, and a brief campaign set-up that gives an outline of how to use them in a campaign arc. In Powered by the Apocalypse games, this is what they might call a "front": 

The core of any standard adventure, scenario or game session in Dungeon World flows outward from the fronts to the players; the fronts have their impending dooms, the players react, and in the space between, you play the game to find out what happens. (Koebel and LaTorra, Dungeon World

The Hexbrides can be plugged into any setting, but I've included notes on how to use them with the UmberwellCinderheim, and Krevborna settings published by Dolorous Exhumation Press. 

The supplement includes:

  • A one-page introduction to the Hexbrides.
  • A one-page sketch of a campaign arc that gives an example of how they might be used as antagonists in your games.
  • Each Hexbride gets a four-page section that describes the witch herself, her coven, her tower fortress, her unusual weaponry, and a random table of adventure ideas.
  • A one-page sketch of where you might locate each Hexbride's tower in the Krevborna, Cinderheim, and Umberwell settings.
  • A list of musical and cinematic inspirations to take your cues from if needed.
  • The supplement's format includes a pdf for screen reading as well as the files necessary should you wish to print your own hard copy.
Click here to be whisked away to Hexmoon Sabbath's DriveThruRPG page. Click here to view the range of offerings available from Dolorous Exhumation Press.

Dolorous Exhumation Press...a name you can trust all the way to the grave and beyond!

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Unusual Ways of Arriving

As much as I like player characters that are custom-made with the aesthetics of the setting in mind, I don't mind at all when someone wants to bring their character from another setting into one of my campaign worlds. Here's some ideas about how a "foreign" character might arrive in Cinderheim, Krevborna, or Umberwell:

As the light fades from their eyes and they seemingly breathe their last, a character may unexpectedly discover that their life has not ended—they instead live on in Cinderheim. This strange resurrection most often occurs to people who died heavily laden with sin or with unfinished business. For these characters, Cinderheim is undoubtedly a purgatory where they untangle their unresolved traumas.

The roiling, impenetrable, and unnatural fogs of Krevborna sometimes act as conduits between worlds. These horrid fogs warp the fabric of reality, creating temporary portals or gates that abduct creatures from other worlds against their wills. A person who becomes disoriented and lost within what they believe to be a mundane fog or bank of gray mist might emerge to discover that they have been deposited in the nightmare lands of Krevborna.

Although a rarity, some denizens of Umberwell contend that they fell asleep elsewhere in the world—or on other worlds or planes entirely—only to find that they dreamed of a second life in Umberwell. Some say that their dreams only take them to Umberwell intermittently and apparently at random. Others claim to live entire lifetimes in a different waking world, only to return to Umberwell each night in the reverie of sleep.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

In Praise of Lesser Lights

The way "canonical literature" supposedly works is that over time scholars figure out which authors are the best artists of their eras and which of their works are essential contributions to the literary form. Think of canonization as the notion of "the cream always rises to the top" mixed with a largely unseen political impetus. It's a comfortable myth that serves a variety of social and political ends; the intellectual deputies of the status quo tend include authors and works whose virtues just so happen to fit the current and persisting ideological goals of "culture" and "society" when formulating the literary canon. 

Canonization also has the unfortunate tendency to narrow focus on an author's works to a scant handful of their creative expressions; we know that Melville is the Moby-Dick guy and that Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, even if we haven't read either--and the average reader will never even think of straying beyond those well-worn paths.

In this post I am going to draw your attention to some fantastic "lesser lights"--the novels, plays, and short fiction that have been overshadowed by their more famous counterparts and deserve a wider audience.

William Faulkner, The Unvanquished
Faulkner's reputation largely rests on his novel The Sound and the Fury and the oft-anthologized short stories "Barn Burning" and "A Rose for Emily." (Oddly, Oprah helped boost his modern profile with her book club, so some of his other novels have maintained some rediscovered prominence.) The Sound and the Fury has always struck me as a bit of a dodge; it sometimes gets away with really obvious symbolism by cloaking it in a stream of consciousness form that bowls over educated rubes. In contrast, The Unvanquished, though little-read, is a profoundly powerful novel-in-short-stories that addresses the Southern family, the nature of vengeance, and the violence inexorably tied to American history. It's also beautifully written. Consider this prose from a scene in which a young man of the modern world is offered deadly tools of honor and revenge--and is expected to use them as his forefathers would:

I could see that too, who had had no presentiment; I could see her, in the formal brilliant room arranged formally for obsequy, not tall, nor slender as a woman is but as a youth, a boy, is, motionless, in yellow, the face calm, almost bemused, the head simple and severe, the balancing sprig of verbena above each ear, the two arms bent at the elbows, the two hands shoulder high, the two identical dueling pistols lying upon, not clutched in, one to each: the Greek amphora priestess of a succinct and formal violence.

I give them to you. Oh you will thank me, you will remember me who put into your hands what they say is an attribute only of God’s, who took what belongs to heaven and gave it to you. Do you feel them? the long true barrels true as justice, the triggers (you have fired them) quick as retribution, the two of them slender and invincible and fatal as the physical shape of love?

Oscar Wilde, Vera; or, The Nihilists
Wilde was a celebrated playwright in his own lifetime, but that miraculous career writing for the stage got off to a rocky start. Before he hit on the winning formula behind successful dramas such as Lady Windermere's Fan and The Importance of Being Earnest--critique of British society adorned with witticisms and bon mots--Wilde tried his hand at political theater...and failed spectacularly. Vera; or The Nihilists was withdrawn from the theater within a week of its debut, and has rarely been revived since. And yet, although it isn't the kind of play that Wilde became known for, Vera is a moving and insightful look at political and social extremism that is perhaps more relevant today than it was when Wilde wrote it; neither the extremism that defends the status quo nor the extremism of revolutionaries willing to sacrifice their humanity for retaliation are allowed moral ground. For example, look at the internal struggle that results from the "Nihilist's oath," a catechism meant to harden the heart against the very feelings that make human life worthwhile:

Ay, red with the blood of that false heart. I shall not forget it. To strangle whatever nature is in me, neither to love nor to be loved, neither to pity nor to be pitied. Ay! it is an oath, an oath. Methinks the spirit of Charlotte Corday has entered my soul now. I shall carve my name on the world, and be ranked among the great heroines. Ay! the spirit of Charlotte Corday beats in each petty vein, and nerves my woman's hand to strike, as I have nerved my woman's heart to hate. Though he laughs in his dreams, I shall not falter.

Isak Dinesen's "The Monkey" 
Isak Dinesen, real name Karen Blixen, is most famous for her dream-like memoir Out of Africa and the story "Babette's Feast," but it is a shame that so many people miss out on her weirder and darker short fiction, which is a particularly strong vein of oddity. One of my favorites in her bibliography is "The Monkey," part of her collection Seven Gothic Tales. "The Monkey" ushers us in a strange world: we have a soldier wishing to marry to avoid censure for "inappropriate" sexual dalliances, his prioress aunt who is more than willing to engage in secular manipulation, a woman marked out as a potential love-match who towers over her intended with a Valkyrie-like form, uncanny transformations, and a crossing of the boundaries between rational man and irrational beast. Ultimately, we're adrift in a world to which we are poorly suited because we crave stability even amid the maelstrom: 

The real difference between God and human beings, he thought, was that God cannot stand continuance. No sooner has he created a season of a year, or a time of the day, than he wishes for something quite different, and sweeps it all away. No sooner was one a young man, and happy at that, than the nature of things would rush one into marriage, martyrdom, or old age. And human beings cleave to the existing state of things. All their lives they are striving to hold the moment fast, and are up against a force majeure. Their art itself is nothing but the attempt to catch by all means the one particular moment, one mood, one light, the momentary beauty of one woman or one flower, and make it everlasting. It is all wrong, he thought, to imagine paradise as a never-changing state of bliss. It will probably, on the contrary, turn out to be, in the true spirit of God, an incessant up and down, a whirlpool of change.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Umberwell: Dreamers, Elephantfolk, Hybrids

More peoples who populate Umberwell.

Dreamers are a rebirthed race; they are the souls of an insectoid species originating from a lost age of the city’s history reincarnated in bodies indistinguishable from the human form. If the theory that the city’s islands are the remains of a dead god is true, it may be the case that the insectoid souls of the dreamers achieved their initial sentience and innate psionic powers by feeding on a divine body as parasites. When they sleep they dream only of Scarabae—the precursor city that stood on the islands currently occupied by Umberwell. 

Although the elephantfolk tower over most other races in the city, they are justly famed for their delicate, steadfast attention to detail. Elephantfolk stonemasons and civic engineers are well respected in Umberwell and are responsible for many of the city’s grandest buildings. However, elephantfolk construction companies also have a reputation for exerting a controlling hand over the city’s civil projects that borders on the kind of power often exhibited by established crime syndicates. Few major construction projects break ground in Umberwell without the elephantfolk’s assent. 

Those who find themselves destitute in Umberwell have recourse to an open offer from the Ministry of Shields—undergo magical hybridization in return for a bit of coin. The Ministry of Shields is always testing potential tactical modifications for their soldiers and sailors; the impoverished supply a nearly endless population available for modification as hybrids possessing useful and unusual abilities alchemically gleaned from the animal kingdom.

* * *

If you like the content above (or any of the content here), consider checking out Umberwell: Blackened Be Thy Name, system agnostic New Weird city setting, now available in print and pdf from DriveThruRPG.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Why TSR Failed, Manifest Zone, Ravenloft

Some podcasts that aren't Bad Books for Bad People that might be of interest:

Plot Points - Why TSR Failed
There's always been a lot of speculation about the end of TSR's reign as stewards of D&D, but some of the tidbits dropped in this podcast are frankly jaw-dropping.

Manifest Zone
This Eberron podcast features Keith Baker, Wayne Chang, Kristian Serrano, and Scott W. Yeah, that's right, not only does this podcast feature three passionate fans but the guy who actually created Eberron is on it. They do really good deep dives into the setting, but also place the emphasis on Eberron being a setting you can and should customize and use how you want.

Darker Days Radio - Ravenloft
An old episode, but it might be as new to you as it was to me.

Fear of a Black Dragon - Ravenloft episode
Only a single episode--and really the only episode of Fear of a Black Dragon I've listened to--but a Ravenloft fan in 2018 has to take what they can get, you know?

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Hexmoon Sabbath: A Folk Horror Doom

Hexmoon Sabbath is a supplement I've been working on in tribute to a few people who have been nothing but generous to me over the years. It details three witches--they call themselves Hexbrides--and a brief campaign set up that gives an outline of how to use them in a campaign arc. In Powered by the Apocalypse games, this is what they might call a "front." They can probably be plugged into any setting, but I'm also including notes on how to use them with Umberwell, Cinderheim, and Krevborna

This supplement will be available as a pdf on DriveThru for something like $2, but when should I drop it? Save it for my birthday in late December? Hit people with it while they're hung over on January 1st? Bears thinking on. Let me know down below if you have a preference.

Anyway, here's the supplement's introduction:

No one really knows from whence the three sisters who call themselves the Hexbrides came. Their arrival was unheralded; no calamity shook the firmament as they entered the world, raised their clawed towers from the ashes of the dead, and let twisted forests grow to seclude their new domains. The three Hexbrides took root like an infection; when their foul presences were detected, it was already too late—the spiritual disease they embody had spread unchecked. What little is known about the Hexbrides must be discovered through obscure means:
    • The Hexbrides were once mortal sisters. To prolong their lives, the Hexbrides undertook an unholy rite that bound each of them to a demon lord and transformed them into undead creatures.
    • They are not truly immortal; each requires a specific kind of blood to sustain her prolonged existence.
    • Each sister is cloaked in a powerful illusion that grants her a beautiful form. If the veil of glamour is pierced, their corruption and rot is revealed.
    • The Hexbrides don corpsepaint—grim black and white makeup that evokes a sinister aesthetic—to harness malign energies that protect them from harm.
    • The Hexbrides attract depraved mortal cultists who serve them as a faithful coven. Each sister’s witchcult entices a specific kind of spiritually wounded acolyte.
    • Each sister possesses her own clawed tower—a magically created spire-fortress culminating in a peak that resembles a bestial hand extending vicious talons. 
    • A malignant forest of dark woods grows around each Hexbride’s tower. These forests are dangerous; any journey through them is a perilous undertaking.
    • All three Hexbrides are armed with fell weapons granted to them by their demonic patrons.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018


Players seems to love spears, but D&D has never really given spears much love. 

In 5e, the spear is a simple weapon. (Literally.) There's not much to recommend it over martial weapons if you have access to them.

This is a problem we can fix for the spear-lovers out there by creating a spear for all seasons, like so:

Name Cost Damage Weight Properties
Battlespear (1) 10 gp 1d8 piercing 3 lb. Versatile (1d10)
Greatspear (2) 30 gp 1d12 piercing 6 lb. Heavy, two-handed
Longspear (3) 20 gp 1d10 piercing 6 lb. Heavy, reach, two-handed
Quickspear (4) 25 gp. 1d8 piercing 3 lb. Finesse

What I've done here should be obvious: I've really just re-skinned existing weapons from the game as spears:

(1) - It's a longsword.
(2) - It's a greataxe. Could also be a 2d6 damage weapon, as per the greatsword. Whatever you like.
(3) - It's a glaive. Actually, it's already in the game as a pike but people get scared off by pikes when they have a spear fetish. Don't ask me why. But hey, maybe renaming it a "longspear" will convince your DM to let you use it with the Polearm Master feat. I'd allow it.
(4) - It's a rapier. Now your swashbuckling rogue can be that spear guy from Game of Thrones who got his face crushed.

This is a method that can get you where you want to go. And nothing will be broken because you're already using the tried-and-tested stats for weapons that already exist in the game. No need to add new properties, complex rule kludges, etc. 

Need a bunch of Castlevania-style chain whips? Change the damage type to bludgeoning. 

Think the idea of dual wielding two rapiers is goofy? (It is.) Write down "Parrying blade (rapier)" on your sheet and use the stats for the rapier anyway.

Want a bludgeon with the finesse and/or light properties so you can play a thuggish rogue who sneak attacks with a blackjack? Shouldn't be hard to figure out, amigo.


Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Willing Vassals, Skyclad Cathedral, Shrine of Calamity


It’s the not the swiftness of time passing in Umberwell that hangs you up by your feet, letting the blood rush dizzily to your head. Time grins as it goes; it is so eager to part with you, and you can’t help but read that eagerness as unthinking malice—a joke told at your expense, in the end.                                                    

– Marjin Plaaz, priest of Vokara

Part 1 is here, notes on the People's Covenant are here, and descriptions of the gods are here.

The Ashram of Willing Vassalage
The adherents of the Ashram of Willing Vassalage are a forever-dwindling sect of Ravsana’s worshipers who offer up their prayers in the form of crippling addiction. They view being bound to vice—whether chemical, sexual, or behavioral—as a sacred covenant that evidences the depth of their willingness to sacrifice for their creed. To be an addict is to lay one’s free will upon the altar; what offering could be sweeter to Ravsana than that particular property of the soul which separates them from the lower creatures of the world? Common theories of salvation are lies, they surmise, and spiritual ascent is only possible from the bottom of a deep well of addiction from which escape appears impossible. Such are the dictates of a devotion that requires abjection to open the door to enlightenment.

The Holy Skyclad Cathedral
To the worshipers at the Skyclad Cathedral, the six goddesses represent the sacred principle of openness. As such, they attempt to evidence receptiveness and veracity in every aspect of their lives. Only those willing to divest themselves of every stitch of clothing are allowed within the Holy Skyclad Cathedral. This sect are nudists because they believe that clothing obscures the truth of their physicality; they are truth-tellers who view deceit as anathema and exuberant souls who refuse to control their emotions—they express every feeling they experience with an unrestrained frankness that is truly frightening to behold.

The Shrine of Calamity
Those who gather at the Shrine of Calamity come to worship Vokara and Komoa only after they have suffered great personal tragedy. Having what they love torn from them has sent them spiraling into alignment with Vokara’s embodiment of hateful degradation and Komoa’s violent streak. They do not embrace the goddesses because they adore the forces of destruction they represent; rather, they entreat Vokara and Komoa, and make sacrificial offerings unto them, because they pray that those who have brought them ruination will suffer an equal or greater plunge into the abyss of bleak hopelessness. 

* * *

If you like the content above (or any of the content here), consider checking out Umberwell: Blackened Be Thy Name, system agnostic New Weird city setting, now available in print and pdf from DriveThruRPG.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Total Skull: Multiple Warheads, Slayer, Lydia Deetz, Dark Buddha Rising

Things that brought me delight in November, 2018:

Brandon Graham, The Complete Multiple Warheads
Organ-smuggler Sexica and her werewolf-dicked boyfriend Nikoli head out on a road trip after their apartment is destroyed. Meanwhile, a blue-haired bounty hunter plies their trade. Admittedly less about the story than it is the wonderfully frantic art, the characters' perambulations are the occasion to explore a very strange but engrossing world.

Slayer, Show No Mercy, Divine Intervention, and Repentless
Moving from early works to more contemporary albums gives the contours of a movement from wild records that still manage to sound unhinged to a settling into solid craftsmanship.

Lydia Deetz Funko Pop!
So much for not hoarding these.

Dark Buddha Rising, Inversum
Hypnotic, psychedelic doom. Many bands in this style aspire to sound like the backdrop of cult worship, but Dark Buddha Rising gets that atmosphere effortlessly. (Bandcamp link.)

Joyce Carol Oates, The Man Without a Shadow
What I found interesting was the tension between a man who is effaced every day because of his amnesia and Margot's intentional acts of effacement to succeed as a woman in the sciences. Being a woman demands a kind of cultural and personal amnesia. Her transgressions are the crude impersonation of the power important men get to wield without repercussion.

Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats, Wasteland
It was about time that Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats hit us with a dystopian sci-fi concept album. There's something dank in the water supply.

Kentaro Miura, Berserk vol. 20, 21, and 22
Things get nihilistic and irreligious at the climax of an important story arc. I wonder if, as in the careers of many initially satanic black metal bands, things will now inevitably take a turn toward triumphal viking metal.

Heilung, Lifa and Ofnir
Theatrical Norse folk that aims to re-imagine the drama of the ancient Nothern Europeans of the Iron Age. Ritualistic, mystical, but also grounded in the bloody conflict and resolution of the sagas. (Bandcamp link.)

Frank Miller, Sin City vol. 7: Hell and Back
Fans often cite a dip in quality at the back end of Sin City but, although I get what they're saying, I don't think the drop off is actually that steep. Hell and Back, for example, just does what Sin City always does--maybe with a little less character development, but I don't think character development was ever the point.

Witchcraft, discography
November seems like the right month to revisit the Witchcraft catalog--both the month and the band make you wish for a roaring fire in an ancestral lodge, mulled wine, and weird mental wanderings. The newest of their albums is unexpectedly heavy.

Brian K. Vaugn and Fiona Staples, Saga vol. 9
Every volume is a unique punch to the gut.

Evoken, Hypnagogia
A doom album musing on the malevolence of the Great War and using the trope of a demonically poisonous book? Was this album conceived just for me? (Bandcamp link.)

Chris Dingess, Matthew Roberts, Tony Akins, Owen Gieni,
Manifest Destiny volume 6: Fortis & Invisibilia
It blows my mind that some fans of this comic haven't enjoyed the last few collections of Manifest Destiny. This arc--in which the characters are weathering the winter in a fort instead of pushing onward on their expedition--solves the "monster of the week" problem the series was developing. Let's just hope those detractors never encounter The Terror or The Thing.

Chthonic, Battlefields of Asura
Soaring and truly epic metal from a band that has transcended its black metal origins to become something irreproducible.

Dana Glover, Judith
May I never tire of beautiful women bearing severed heads. You can get one here.

Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda, 
Monstress Volume Three: Haven
Monstress has come to read like a delicately inlaid box full of horrors, but I'm a little unsure whether hope lies at the bottom. Might be terrors all the way down--honestly can't wait to find out.

There's nothing fancy about Overlord, but the purity of a movie that says "I am the Wolfenstein-esque action horror romp you didn't know you needed as a palate cleanser" is to be appreciated.

Rammstein, discography
It's been a stressful couple of months, so I've regressed to the music of my angrier youth--but now I have fostered a greater appreciation for Rammstein's tongue-in-cheek moments, of which there are many.

Christopher Isherwood, Goodbye to Berlin
I'm not sure there is a novel that even comes close to the mixture of shabby decadence and melancholic hints of the horrors to come.

Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook, Harrow Country vol. 7 and vol. 8
I put off reading the final two volumes of Harrow County mostly because I just didn't want it to end. If you ever yearned for a version of Sandman that was inspired by Gothic Americana and didn't do that story-about-stories thing, you need to catch up on this comic.