Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Vidya Games That Look Good in 2018

Code Vein
This looks like some Grade-A Dark Souls + anime bullshit.

Sunless Skies
Weird steampunks in spaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaace.

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night
The spiritual successor to Castlevania? Yes, more of that, please.

Darksiders 3
My money's on her, tbh.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Finding Inspiration Elsewhere

Sometimes you read something that burrows under your skin and sticks with you. I remember reading an interview with Jello Biafra (I think it might have been in the second volume of Incredibly Strange Music put out by Re/Search, but don't quote me on that) where he was talking about where he sought out inspirations while writing for the Dead Kennedys. The Dead Kennedys were a punk band, but despite that--or rather because of it--Biafra made a point not to listen to punk rock while crafting his own songs. 

His point was that an artist working within a certain genre or mode of artistic creation who only surrounds themselves with artifacts bearing the expected tropes, signs, and signifiers will inevitably create derivative work. 

To sidestep that paucity of tone, range, and influence, Biafra said that instead of listening to records by other punk bands, he listened to lounge music, oddball country & western, and whatever else seemed fundamentally different from his own creative project. Letting those other influences drift in, as opposed to just coloring safely within the lines, opened the doors to different possibilities for the Dead Kennedys and for what constituted the accepted category of "punk rock" in a larger sense. 

You can hear the end results all over the Dead Kennedys' records. They are recognizably "punk," but I'd be hard-pressed to name bands that are truly similar in sound or approach. 

Of course, the idea of finding inspiration elsewhere is not solely applicable to music. Obviously, the idea can be applied to role-playing games as well. It's easy to get stuck in a rut--such as a sword & sorcery campaign that only takes its inspiration from Howard, Lieber, and all the other usual names. I'm willing to bet that going a little farther afield could liven up what many consider to be the nadir of exciting settings--TSR's canonical campaign worlds. Here's a few campaign ideas that put a new spin on a well-worn setting by going outside the usual inspirations:

High Noon Under a Dying Sun
Dark Sun, but all the adventures are built off of classic Western movies. Water bandits, duels with weapons of bone and obsidian, struggling desert villages in need of black-hearted heroes, escaped slaves, psionic warlords and their cruel mining operations, etc. This one should have enough brutality to make Cormac McCarthy blush.

The Accursed Inheritor
A megedungeon campaign set in Ravenloft, executed in the style of Darkest Dungeon. One of the characters has inherited a manor house in Mordent, but below the house are warrens filled with eldritch things that must be dealt with before the house is habitable; along the way, the players will discover the horrible secrets lurking in the inheritor's family line as they delve deeper in the manor's depths.

Dark Souls of Moonshae
The Moonwells of the Moonshae Isles are dying mysteriously, their sacred waters dwindling, threatening to bring a new dark age without the protection of the Earthmother. The players must travel into the wilds of the islands, braving hordes of barbarous Northlanders and the mystic trickery of malicious fey, to discover that is causing the Moonwells to dwindle and, if possible, replenish them once more by linking their waters to the power of the Earthmother.

Gangs of Sigil
The characters are members of a newly formed criminal organization in the City of Doors looking to take over the territory of their more entrenched opposition. They engage in fights for domination against the orc and goblin gangs of the Hive, backstabbing and double-dealing, planar skulduggery, daring crime sprees, and evade both the Mercykillers and the Lady of Pain. Throw ideas from Peaky Blinders, Dishonored, Taboo, Gangs of New York, and Ripper Street into a blender--and add tieflings on top.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Creatures of Will and Temper

Episode 19: Molly Tanzer's Creatures of Will & Temper.

In Creatures of Will and Temper, Molly Tanzer takes elements of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray and crafts a story of romance, swordplay, and demonology. It's an ambitious premise that goes beyond simply gender-swapping its source material. Listen and find out what Jack, a Wilde scholar, and Kate, a reader with a deep fear of contemporary takes on fin de siecle themes, think about this supernatural adventure.

Just how bent do genders get in this story? How much of the artistic process involves drinking, crying, and puking? Will these fencers ever get an opportunity to have some sexytimes? How do demons fit into the worldview of the Aesthetic movement? Find out all this and more in this month's episode of Bad Books for Bad People.

Listen here!

NOTE: Your hosts apologize for mis-naming the lead character. Her name is Dorina Gray, not Doriana Gray. The mispronunciation is due to a typo by Kate in the show notes, but we trust this doesn't impact your enjoyment of this episode!

BBfBP theme song by True Creature

Buy Jack's new book, Krevborna: A Gothic Blood Opera, on DriveThruRPG.

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.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Oyster Pirates, Tanith Lee's Weird Fiction, Deterring Witches

The Notorious Oyster Pirates of Chesapeake Bay (Kerry Wolfe, Atlas Obscura)

Weird Beauty: The Weird Fiction of Tanith Lee (Craig Laurance Gidney, The Weird Fiction Review)

The DIY Carvings Designed to Deter 17th Century-Witches (Kristen Amor, Atlas Obscura)

* * *

Ad by Trey Causey
Don't let a malevolent specter rob you of your copy of Krevborna! Best buy two copies of Krevborna: A Gothic Blood Opera at DriveThruRPG or RPGNow today, just to be on the safe side! EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Krevborna-Ravenloft Express

It's pretty cool to see people already getting excited and doing stuff with Krevborna: A Gothic Blood Opera. Over at The Gnomish Embassy, B. W. Mathers has a post about ways to import some of Ravenloft's setting material to Krevborna. All of his suggestions feel right-on to me, and there is precedent for importing Ravenloft stuff to Krevborna. For example, in this game I used the "Death House" adventure from Curse of Strahd to kick off a new campaign and eventually had Strahd come to Krevborna as a potentially usurping vampire lord out to annex this strange new land.

Meanwhile, over on 4chan:

Let's take the above quoted question seriously for a second.

Second part first: I think that all self-published projects have to involve a bit of ego. If you didn't think your game thing was worthwhile you wouldn't lavish time, money, and effort on it, nor would you place it before the public. If putting something you made out into the world is too audacious for you, I don't know what to tell you. I'm obviously too biased to judge whether the project is over-hyped, but so far the response has been very positive, it's turned a profit in under a week, and is the best-selling game book I've made. My ego is satisfied with that.

First part second: I've never been shy about admitting that Ravenloft is my favorite Dungeons & Dragons setting and I specifically mention Ravenloft as an inspiration in the Krevborna book because it shaped my ideas about the possibilities of mixing the Gothic with fantasy at a very formative period of my life. Nevertheless, as much of an inspiration Ravenloft has been, parts of Krevborna are a reaction against the setting rather than a retread of what's come before. 

I think there's a basic difference in outlook and purpose that's worth discussing. The original Realm of Terror boxed set from 1990 presented Ravenloft as a crazy-quilt setting designed for "weekend in hell" adventures; the assumption was that Ravenloft would be a place that characters from another campaign settings would be drawn into, encounter and defeat something horrible, and then be returned to their home world. Because it was designed for side treks rather than expanded campaigns, the setting itself feels cobbled-together, thin, and disjointed. Later revisions of the setting attempted to shift the default style of play to characters born and bred in Ravenloft engaging in more expansive, connected adventures, but even those additions were still burdened with some of the choices made in the setting's original execution.

Krevborna, on the other hand, is meant to be a stand-alone setting; the expectation is that the adventuring party is made up of characters from Krevborna who are fighting against the evils in the land because the country is their home--they have vested interests, personal ties, and emotional connections that make the land worth fighting for. 

Also, Ravenloft presents a very broad swath of horror and Gothic tropes, whereas Krevborna is more limited and focused. Ravenloft has domains analogous to just about any European nation you could care to name, but beyond that it also has its own versions of haunted Louisiana bayous, mummy-infested ancient Egypt, spooky-scary India, etc. Krevborna, on the other hand, centers around Eastern European influences instead of presenting a wide variety of cultural pastiche. If you're after the full salad bar, Krevborna will probably disappoint in that regard. So, yes, there is some Ravenloft influence at work in Krevborna, but the point was never to make a Ravenloft clone. 

* * *
A word from our sponsor:

ad by Michael Gibbons
You don't want to be a Jonathan, do you? The easiest way to avoid chronic Harkeritis is to buy a copy of Krevborna: A Gothic Blood Opera at DriveThruRPG or RPGNow today, where it is available  in both print and pdf.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Krevborna: A Gothic Blood Opera Now For Sale at DriveThruRPG

Krevborna: A Gothic Blood Opera is now available for purchase in full-color print and pdf on DriveThruRPG!

Of course, the book was a group effort. The book would not be as fine as it without the art of Becky Munich and Michael Gibbons, nor would it be as polished without the editing assistance of Heather Cromarty or the additional design work of Katie Albitz.

I also owe a debt of gratitude to all the people who played in my Krevborna games, inspired me with their games, or just plain gave me suggestions along the way that made the book stronger. All of these people are listed on the book's dedication page for a reason:

What the book is about:
The blood moon rises above the haunted lands of Krevborna! Once a country of picturesque villages, deep forests, and sublime mountain ranges, Krevborna is now a land of Gothic ruins preyed upon by fiends, ravening beasts, and the unquiet dead. Shadows triumphantly lengthen across Krevborna; the great powers of darkness work to usher in the dread dominion of an everlasting empire of night.

What you get in the book:
Krevborna: A Gothic Blood Opera is a system-neutral campaign setting for Gothic Fantasy adventures inspired by Bloodborne, Castlevania, and Penny Dreadful. The book includes:

  • Art by Becky Munich and Michael Gibbons. Setting map by Michael Gibbons.
  • Details on nine locations in the setting: the corrupt city of Chancel, the Lovecraftian town of Creedhall, the witch-town of Hemlock, vampire haunted Lamashtu, the seaside horrors of Piskaro, the underworld of the Grail Tombs, the foreboding Nachtmahr Mountains, the eerie Silent Forest, and the forbidden town of Veil.
  • Information on the people of Krevborna and their folklore.
  • Thirty-four otherworldly entities to use as patrons for the faithful and the pact-bound.
  • Eight factions and twelve NPCs to involve your players in intrigue.
  • Advice and tools for running a fantasy RPG influenced by Gothic literature.
  • Tools for use in game, such as copious adventure seeds, a bestiary of foes, random tables, and a comprehensive adventure generator that gives you the basis of a scenario with little prep.
  • A full index and a separate index of the book's random tables.
  • The book was designed for ease of use and speed of play. All "lore" entries are easy to scan, and make use of bullet points to draw your attention to the important bits so you can get on with your game.
Art from the book:

Setting map by Michael Gibbons

 Black & white interior illustrations by Michael Gibbons

Color chapter art by Becky Munich

Page layout example:

So far, the response has already exceeded my expectations. B. W. Mathers did a review of the book here and Trey Causey did a review of it here, and somehow the book found its way to RPGNow and DriveThru's bestseller list alongside some august company:

And featured in their newsletter:

Available here in print, pdf, or print + pdf combo (print + pdf is the same price as a print copy, so this is the best bargain if you want to hold a book in your hands).

Monday, February 12, 2018

We Kidnapped Your Son, Sell Us Dragon Blood

Campaign: The Excruciata

Characters: Raymondo Cortiz (Human assassin rogue, former entertainer);  Grumli Fellhammer (Mountain dwarf path of the ancestors barbarian, former tribesman); Zanna Cobblestop (Forest gnome wild magic sorcerer, former urchin); Nina Kessler (Air genasi way of the frozen fist monk, former spy); Hiroshi (human samurai fighter, former knight).

Events: Having made a tidy profit selling gunpowder that had been magically enriched with sea dragon ichor, the Excruciata were keen to capitalize on their economic momentum and corner the illicit trade in enchanted black powder. Unfortunately, since no new source of already prepared arcane gunpowder was in view, they decided that it might be best to procure their own method of creating it. A little research in the criminal underworld turned up a new ally: a man named Hiroshi, a disgraced bodyguard to an aristocratic family living in a country far, far away.

Hiroshi had previously taken a few jobs providing muscle for Antoine Saulk, a wealthy man who owned a prosperous sea dragon ichor refining plant in Umberwell Docks. The Excruciata made a legitimate appointment with Saulk in hopes that he would be willing to sell them ichor they could use to enrich gunpowder, but during the meeting it quickly became apparent that he viewed the gang members with obvious distaste. As a man of rising fortunes, he had no wish to do business with a pack of obvious ne'er-do-wells.

Artby flaviobolla
Plan B was to escalate the situation. Since Saulk was unwilling to deal with them due to their obvious criminal enterprises, they decided to show him exactly how villainous they could be. Hiroshi knew that Saulk's mansion was situated at the edge of Umberwell Docks and Sartorial Square; Nina was able to adopt the guise of one of Saulk's lovers to get access to his social calendar through his secretary. Picking a night that they knew Saulk would be at the opera, they put there plan into action: break into Saulk's mansion, and kidnap his son.

The Excruciata entered the house by breaking into a storm cellar that led into a storage area of the basement. They made as much use of stealth as they could, but when that failed they brought violence into the house of Saulk. They tried to keep casualties to a minimum, particularly among Saulk's innocent servants, but a few guards within the house had to be sniped and killed from a distance. The gang managed to find the boy's room and steal away with him from the mansion. A letter was sent to Saulk the next morning, informing him of his son's abduction, and the Excruciata's willingness to return him for a favorable rate on sea dragon ichor.

It only took enclosing one of his son's fingers with the letter to provide proof that they were serious.

A source of sea dragon ichor now secured, now all the Excruciata had to do was find someone mad enough to use it to enrich a store of gunpowder...

Friday, February 9, 2018

Bad Books Short Story Swap

Bad Books For Bad PeopleMini Episode 7: Short Story Swap

In an effort to atone for the damage done during the Book Battle episode, Jack and Kate trade short story selections designed to delight one another. Do their efforts succeed?

Kate assigns Jack "The Adventure of 'The Brain,'" a 1910 comedy tale by Bertram Atkey that finds a bumbling pickpocket tied up with a cult of phrenology-obsessed suffragettes. Read the story in Otto Penzler's anthology The Big Book of Rogues and Villains. Jack introduces Kate to the work of Vernon Lee with the story "Dionea," a decadent gothic tale of an orphan, a doctor, a sculptor, and the old gods. Read the story in Vernon Lee's short story collection Hauntings, first published in 1890.

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.

BBfBP theme song by True Creature

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

What If I Told You the Flavor Text Was a Lie

As far as I can tell, this is the secret to reskinning stuff in 5e D&D: as long as you keep the math the same, nothing else you change around the math will break the game.

Keep the numbers, change the flavor.

Some examples:

Art by Conceptopolis
Path of the Frozen Fist
The Path of the Sun Soul is a pretty fun D&D approximation of Street Fighter-style martial arts, but if you take it you're pretty much stuck with radiant and fire damage for your special abilities--which seems like a silly limitation when you look at the wide variety of special moves in fighting games. For example, if you're playing a monk who trained at a monastery in a frozen northern land, it might be fun to have that reflected in your character's powers.

Reskin: Instead of doing radiant or fire damage, your special abilities do cold damage instead. Nothing breaks, nothing is out of balance.

Gaira from Samurai Shodown
Strong Monk
You know how in a lot of martial arts movies there's always that one hulking monster of a man whose martial arts seem to stem from his brute strength rather than his agility? As written, the D&D monk doesn't really support that because some of the monk's abilities (Unarmored Defense, Deflect Missile) are keyed to Dexterity--so it just makes sense to focus on Dexterity as the way you deliver your martial arts attacks too, which isn't going to leave you room to make Strength a priority.

Reskin: Use Strength in place of Dexterity for the monk's abilities tied to the latter for a "strong monk." For example, you would calculate your Unarmored Defense as 10 + Str mod + Wis mod. And, of course, you'd opt to use Strength as the modifier for your unarmed attacks. This is also a sound way to use the monk class to make "pugilists" rather that kung-fu hustlers.Nothing breaks, nothing is out of balance.

Art by WanderInPixels
Okay, so we can make a Dexterity-focused class into a Strength-focused class, can we take a Strength-focused class and end up with a non-broken Dexterity-focused class? Let's play with the archetype of the dervish--a character who enters into an ecstatic state that turns them into a whirling, stabbing storm of blades. This sounds like a barbarian, so what if we...

Reskin: It turns out to make this concept work all you have to do is revise one line in the description of the barbarian's Rage ability: "When you make a melee weapon attack using Strength Dexterity, you gain a bonus to the damage roll that increases as you gain levels as a barbarian, as shown in the Rage Damage column of the Barbarian table." Nothing breaks, nothing is out of balance.

Art by GoldenDaniel
General Weapon Tomfoolery
I want something like a rapier that does slashing damage! I want something like a greatsword that does piercing damage! I want to use a spear or a pike with the Polearm Master feat!

Reskin: You can take any melee weapon, keep its properties and damage dice, and change its damage type without causing any problems. The above examples could easily be "sabers" and "greatspears," respectively. Since pikes and spears do the same amount of damage as glaives and quarterstaffs, adding them to the weapons that work with Polearm Master doesn't rock the boat either. Psst...this also works with spells! Change the damage type, but keep the damage dice the same. Nothing breaks, nothing is out of balance.

Art by DireCatepillar
The Well-Read Warlock
Perhaps your warlock bargains with otherworldly entities through the intricacies of contract law, citing arcane loopholes and navigating the labyrinthine convolutions of pacts sealed in blood...rather than nice-guying some fiend, archfey, or Great Old One out of a slice of their power.

Reskin: Swap Intelligence for Charisma in all applicable warlock abilities and invocations. Oh, and that "muscle mage" you guys all joke about? Wizard who uses Strength for Spell DCs and Spell Attack Bonus. Nothing breaks, nothing is out of balance.

Art from War Machine
Admittedly, the idea of a gunmage may not come up in your games--especially since a lot of gamers seem to get sweaty as soon as someone floats the idea of firearms in a fantasy rpg--but it comes up in mine.

Reskin: There are a lot of options here. Arcane Archer fighter, but their abilities apply to bullets fired from guns instead of arrows fired from bows. Blade warlock with the Improved Pact Weapon invocation--except you can summon a gun as your pact weapon. Paladin, but your smites apply to ranged weapons. Etc. Nothing breaks, nothing is out of balance.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Karen Berger on the Birth of Vertigo Comics

This is a fascinating interview. Karen Berger discusses how her lack of interest in conventional superhero comics was actually a strength when it came to the creation of Vertigo--a venue for comics that appealed to people like me couldn't get into capes comics.

Also, does anyone else remember this Vertigo-centric DC Comics commercial from the 90s?

Say "Hi," Tina!

Aside from the huge nostalgia hit I get from watching that again, I realize that this commercial was actually effective at letting me know that comics might be worth my time in two ways: most obviously, it was saying that there are non-superhero comics out there that might appeal to me; secondarily, it showcased the graphic novel format. That second part was huge for me, even if I didn't recognize it at the time. 

As a teenager I didn't have a reliable way to make it to a comic shop every month to pick up the new issues as they arrived; reading them in a collected format was much easier. The graphic novel format also capitalized on a level of already existing comfort: it's easier to pick up graphic novels when you're used to reading regular novels than it is to pick up single issues when you've been reading novelistically for your entire literate life.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Total Skull: The Scar, Madame Two Swords, City of Haunted Dreams, Within Temptation

Things that brought me delight in January, 2018:

China Mieville, The Scar
China Mieville's Perdido Street Station is the best known book in his Bas-Lag sequence, and probably his best known book overall, but it doesn't deserve to be. Don't get me wrong, Perdido has an interesting plot and introduces a really compelling, inventive fantasy world...but it's utterly let down in the end by a lackluster shrug of a conclusion. The Scar should be the Bas-Lag novel on everyone's lips. The Scar amps up the world-building, features more involving characters, and manages an ending that doesn't feel like a cop-out. It's probably a bit early in the game to call it, but The Scar is a front-runner for Best Book I've Read in 2018.

Tanith Lee, Madame Two Swords
Madame Two Swords--words to conjure with! I've been entranced by that title since I've been aware with of it, but the only copies I ever saw on eBay were prohibitively expensive first editions from a limited print run. Luckily, the novella has been reprinted in an affordable softcover by Immanion Press. Madame Two Swords is admittedly slight, but there is enough phantasmaorgical speculation about the way books shape our experience of the world and how art breeds our obsessions to make this a worthwhile addition to any Lee fan's library. 

Simon Marsden, Venice: City of Haunting Dreams
Simon Marsden's photography has long exerted an enormous power of fascination over me. His view of Gothic decay is an essential set of visual building blocks when I work on Gothic settings and rpg adventures. And his work really does invite re-visitation; Venice: City of Haunting Dreams was a big influence on the Piskaro region of Krevborna, so it was especially nice to go back to this one and get a fresh dose of inspiration.

Within Temptation, Enter
I am not much of a Within Temptation fan; their music is a bit too "soft" to scratch the symphonic metal itch for me. So imagine my surprise when I discovered that Within Temptation's first album landed much more on the doom side of things than anything they produced since. Enter certainly isn't the most crushing journey of harrowing riffs one can indulge in, but it's got that balance of beauty and beastliness that I like. Fun fact: this was the first album I listened to in 2018.

Honorable mentions:
Molly Tanzer, Creatures of Will & Temper
Jeff VanderMeer, Annihilation
Chris Dingess, Matthew Roberts, Owen Gieni, Manifest Destiny volume 1: Flora & Fauna
Fiona Staples and Brian K. Vaughn, Saga: Volume Eight
Kentaro Miura, Berserk vol. 1 and vol. 2

The Howling Void, The Darkness at the Edge of Dawn

Limbonic Art, Spectre Abysm
The Handmaid's Tale (hulu)

Alias Grace (Netflix)
Ellis, Shalvey, Bellaire, Injection vol.  3
Katie Skelly, My Pretty Vampire
Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook, Harrow County vol 4: Family Tree
Brom, Offerings
High on Fire, Luminiferous