Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The Daughters of Misericorde

A secret society of seducers and manipulators at work in Umberwell.


The women who belong to the Daughters of Misericorde are all graduates of finishing schools trained to use their social graces and psychological wiles to influence the course of history subtly behind the scenes. Members of the Daughters are recruited for their beauty, charm, and physical presence—all attributes they use to catch the eyes of important men and women so that they can insinuate themselves as trusted friends and lovers, and thus position themselves to pull the strings of authority unnoticed. Daughters are skilled conversationalists able to prize out secrets under the guise of casual banter, as well as experts in poisoning and deception.

We are the power behind the throne.

  • Those who have power should be manipulated like puppets.
  • A great war is coming; we must have a military force of our own that is unfailingly loyal.
  • Beauty and charm are deadly weapons.
  • Form romantic relationships with powerful men and women, and exert the Daughters' will through them.
  • Send emissaries to the Cinderheim Reaches to unite the desert encampments into an army loyal to the Daughters.

I Have a Use For You

  • Discover the weakness in a prominent politician's amorous armor.
  • Help an exposed Daughter escape a jealous lover.
  • Obtain an invitation to an exclusive gathering of nobles.

* * *

The Daughters of Misericorde were mostly inspired by Gail Carriger's Finishing School series:

and also kinda-sorta Red Sparrow:

Monday, April 23, 2018

Tanith Lee's Dark Dance

Episode 21: Tanith Lee, Dark Dance
Bringing the ennui of the Decadents to tried-and-true Gothic themes, Tanith Lee's Dark Dance is a fascinating entry in the 90s horror novel canon. Heroine Rachaela drifts back and forth from her shoddy apartment to her dull retail job until the relatives of the father she never met lure her out to their rambling seaside mansion. Once there, she learns the secrets of the mysterious and sinister Scarabae clan and experiences a shocking sexual awakening that ultimately spells the doom of the family. Jack and Kate enjoy a spooky nostalgia trip by returning to a book that holds up rather well across the decades.

How does the shape of a story change when its heroine is outrageously passive? What taboos are smashed within the pages of this book? Is the real world more monstrous than being part of a family of maybe-vampires? What does Bigfoot have to do with all of this? Find out the answers to all this and more in this month's episode of Bad Books for Bad People.

BBfBP theme song by True Creature
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, April 20, 2018

A Gathering of Megatalent at the Oddities Market

I would be remiss and cruel if I did not inform anyone near the Jersey City or NYC area that three very talented friends will be selling their impossibly wondrous wares at Spring Mourning: Jersey City Oddities market on Saturday, April 21st, from 12-6pm.

Tenebrous Kate, my partner in the Bad Books for Bad People podcast and artist/publisher of the Morbid Fantasies book on Gothic fiction, will be there.

Becky Munich, who did the cover and chapter illustrations in Krevborna: A Gothic Blood Opera, published my stuff in the Occult Activity Books, and contributed to Morbid Fantasies, will be there.

Carisa Swenson, who contributed to Morbid Fantasies and made the pocket puffin I talked about here, will be there.

And they'll all be at one table. How could you miss that and still live with yourself?

Hey, here's some directions:
Where is Kearny Point?

· Kearny Point is located in South Kearny, New Jersey. Below are approximate distances and driving times to nearby transit centers and highway arteries:
o U.S. Route 1&9 direct access
o I-95 direct access / 0.4 miles Exit 15-E
o Journal Square PATH station 3 mi. / 10 min. An Uber Pool Ride from this point is typically from $5-9
o Newark Penn Station 3.8 mi. / 15 min. An Uber Pool Ride from this point is typically from $5-9
o Exchange Place PATH 4.6mi / 20 min. An Uber Pool Ride from this point is typically from $7-11 * You can also connect to NJ Transit #1 Bus from this PATH station stop*
o Holland Tunnel 4 mi. / 15-20 min.
o Newark Liberty Airport 6.4 mi./ 11 min.
· We are also served by the NJ Transit #1Bus –
See above link to schedules. This bus travels between Newark and Jersey City. Kearny is literally in the middle of these two cities and the #1 Bus stops on both Hackensack and Central Avenues (Central Avenue runs parallel to Hackensack Avenue – our building entrance is on Hackensack Ave)
These are the stops closest to our site:

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

A Giant is an Accumulation of Ambitions

Campaign: The Excruciata (Umberwell, 5e D&D)

Characters: Raymondo Cortiz (human assassin rogue); Grumli Fellhammer (dwarf path of the ancestors barbarian); Nina Kessler (genasi way of the frozen fist monk); Hiroshi (human samurai fighter); Wexel (goliath college of valor bard).

Events: The Excruciata tracked Doctor Nymenholt down into the basement of the clinic, where they discovered a hellish industrial laboratory. Unfathomable machines spit galvanic arclight across a field of corpses on metal tables--a horrific charnel factory. Nymenholt was ready for the group; behind him stood a giant whose body was stitched together, obscene.

Nymenholt cackled madly, and spoke: "Do you know what a giant really is? A giant is nothing less than an accumulation of smaller men's ambitions." Nymenholt waved his hands, gesticulating wildly to the giant that lumbered and glowered behind him. Then, the Excruciata saw it as it really was, and Nymenholt was right: the giant was not just a monstrosity of flesh, bone, and hate; it was revealed to be comprised of men and women, harnessed together with sutures and hellish surgery to form something larger than each minuscule individual, their bodies thrashing together with the syrupy sick sound of sweat-coated skin striving against other sweat-coated skin.

The amalgamate giant charged the party. Grumli, Hiroshi, and Wexel met the charge and engaged the giant in melee, while Raymondo and Nina attempted to cross the laboratory to get to Nymenholt. The giant hit like an avalanche, its fists pummeling the crew. Nina and Raymondo's sprint toward Nymenholt was halted by the rise of the corpses laid out on the metal tables. 

Nina became a whirling engine of destruction, taking down zombie after zombie. Raymondo tried to break away from the horde to reach Nymenholt, but was felled by the monsters he was trying to evade. By the time Nina fought her way to him, Raymondo had been torn apart by the zombies. Nina began to climb the room's uncanny machinery to get out of the reach of the things, all the while throwing bolts of radiance at Nymenholt as he struggled to find cover.

Meanwhile, Hiroshi, Wexel, and Grumli were slugging it out with the giant. Grumli was knocked prone by the giant's meaty fist, and then he was trampled underneath its feet--crushing him utterly despite his barbaric dwarven resilience. Moments later, Wexel cut the thing asunder, spilling the bloodied bodies that made up its bulk like ropes of offal falling to the floor.

Hiroshi's bow put an end to the cowering Nymenholt, and his remaining animated dead were duly put to the sword. Down two long-standing members, the Excruciata ransacked the clinic quickly, locating Nymenholt's collection of spellbooks and occult tomes for their cultist allies. 

Crime pays dividends in violence, and the Excruciata had held up their end of the bargain with the Church of the Outlander. They would have the magical backing they needed to go into the production of magical gunpowder for sale in the criminal underground.

* * *

Deaths over the course of the campaign: Ramondo Cortiz, Grumli Fellhammer, Zanna Cobblestop, and Erron Halethorpe.

* * *

Other installments in season one of this campaign:
Enter the Excruciata
Aboard a Blood-Hunting Ship
Rumble in the Urban Jungle
We Kidnapped Your Son, Sell Us Dragon Blood
The Dark of a Tavern in the Cemetery

Misery and Death Have Their Own Staccato Rhythm

Stay tuned for Season Two!

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Total Skull: Iron Council, Thinner, The House of Dead Maids, Planescape, etc.

Things that brought me delight in March, 2018.

China Mieville, Iron Council
I remember the reactions this book got from more conservative readers when it came out, but I'm not seeing where the umbrage came from. Is it triggering somehow to have to read about characters who endorse left-of-center politics? Is it the causal homosexuality that some of the characters indulge in? Is it the rifle core of men in dresses who embrace in loving camaraderie as they die?

But I'm also shaking my head at how the fantasized politics of Iron Council reiterate the most frustrating parts of academic Marxist theory: there's a lot of thought put into how to achieve freedom, but not a lot of thought put toward how people are going to get fed. (Seriously, how do the train's occupants get food, water, fuel, and other bare necessities?)

It's hard not to explicate Iron Council, and the iron council of the title, in terms set down by Deleuze and Guattari--as a line of flight away from the state apparatus of Bas-Lag that, as a consequence of rhizomatic movement, that has inadvertently become a war machine. And I'm left holding the bag at the ending, wondering if the perpetual stasis of the time golem is a functional version of the terminus that D&G outline: being appropriated as a trapped history might actually be a form of propagandistic, ideological fascism. 

Carisa Swenson, Pocket Puffin
I got the above smol frand in the mail and it definitely brightened my day. Made of wood and epoxy clay and hand-painted, this little guy has already earned a spot in my Wunderkammer. The striped ones are currently sold out, but the equally charming natural style are available from Goblinfruit Studio if you want to add one to your collection.

Stephen King, Thinner
After re-reading Stephen King's Thinner I have to admit that I liked it an awful lot more as an adult than I did as a teenager. I remember being annoyed at the novel's swerve into hardboiled crime territory, but now I find King's gleeful detour into Jim Thompson homage to be very entertaining. If you're read it, you'll definitely see where King's love of The Killer Inside Me informs Thinner.

The real themes of the book also flew over my head when I was younger; I think I just hadn't live long enough to get what King had to say about "white men from town" for the book to feel as rich as it did during this second reading. The connection between Thinner and Iron Council is probably not obvious, but it's interesting that both novels, despite being very different kinds of fiction, both revolve around the idea of the commons and how we've lost sight of it to our detriment. Sometimes the pieces just line up that way.

Clare B. Dunkle, The House of Dead Maids
The House of Dead Maids was my biggest surprise in March. I don't remember when or why I picked it up, but at first blush it presents a trifecta of warnings that it might be pretty bad: that cheesy photoshopped cover! young adult horror! a Wuthering Heights tie-in! And yet, The House of Dead Maids turned out to be a really slick little Gothic novel that excavates a uncomfortable truth: the prosperity of the English estate was predicated on both the devouring of the working class and a Freudian generational struggle for inheritance. Throw in some Wicker Man-esque folk horror flourishes and you've got a potent little chiller that is more than worth spending a few hours with. Against all odds, even the coda that connects the novella to Wuthering Heights and the Brontes' biography works well.

Planescape reprints on DriveThruRPG
I used a little bit of my profits from the Krevborna book to buy the POD versions of the Planescape books available on DriveThruRPG. The quality of the prints are pretty good, despite some of the books being obviously resized to fit the print on demand format. The color art reproduces well, the text is clear, etc. But more importantly, there is some really quality content in the Planescape line that I missed out on when it was fresh off the presses in the 90s. Uncaged: Faces of Sigil is probably my favorite of the lot right now; it's essentially just a book of NPCs living in Sigil, but the characters it describes are inventive and idiosyncratic. Anybody who claims that 2e AD&D didn't have any real creativity to it hasn't seen this stuff.

The Alienist
Watching The Alienist is probably another entry in a long-running attempt to find something to fill the Penny Dreadful shaped hole in my heart. It doesn't hit that mark, of course, but The Alienist was a surprisingly well-down miniseries. The story centers on a rag-tag group of misfits from outside the police force investigating the crimes of a serial murderer who preys on male prostitutes in the New York City of the late nineteenth century. Interestingly, the show was part of a commonality that colored my television viewing this month: in both The Alienist and Babylon Berlin, we have a male lead in the investigating team whose genius and skill we're supposed to marvel at, but they are consistently show up by a police secretary who does the actual investigative heavy lifting. Dakota Fanning kills it, in other words.

Brian De Palma, Body Double
Brian De Palma's movies probably don't count as technically "good" films, but I find them absolutely compelling. Body Double was the last flick I watched in a run of De Palma's movies, and it is a movie that lives at the juncture of Hitchcock pastiche, popcorn art film, and American giallo. The level of psychosexual imagery is jaw-dropping, and the scene in which Frankie Goes to Hollywood perform "Relax" on the set of a porno in a film-within-a-film sequence is absolutely astounding.

Bell Witch, Longing and Four Phantoms
Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper was undoubtedly their break-out record; it got a lot of justly-deserved attention, making it onto several "best of" lists at the end of 2017. Hopefully that success will lead listeners to do what I did: check out Bell Witch's earlier albums. In March I spent some time with Longing and Four Phantoms, and both are definitely rewarding experiences. Unpopular opinion: Longing might even be better than Mirror Reaper. The conciseness of Longing leaves you wanting more; the more ethereal textures are elusive, compelling.

Honorable mentions:
L. P. Hartley, Facial Justice (we did a podcast on this one)
Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda, Monstress vol. 1: Awakening
Jeff VanderMeer, The Strange Bird
Therion, Beloved Antichrist
The Frankenstein Chronicles
Red Sparrow
Kentaro Miura, Berserk vols. 5 and 6
Tom Parkinson-Morgan, Kill 6 Bill Demons Book 2: Wielder of Names
Moonspell, 1755
Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook, Harrow County vol.6: Hedge Magic
Chris Dingess, Matthew Roberts, Owen Gieni, Manifest Destiny vol. 3: Chiroptera & Carniformaves

Monday, April 9, 2018

Mel Gordon Tribute

Mini-episode 9: Mel Gordon Tribute
Jack and Kate take a different approach in this mini episode by paying tribute to author, scholar, theater expert, and collector Mel Gordon. Mel's books had a huge impact on both of your hosts and they discuss his importance and the legacy he leaves us with. Kate talks about her personal encounters with Mel and Jack dives into where he fits within an academic context.

How does one get cast in a Mel Gordon theatrical production? What kind of gift would one receive from him at one's wedding? Why is there no Weimar Berlin simulation for the Oculus Rift and how do we fix that? Where does Werner Herzog fit into all of this? Find out all this and more in this month's mini episode of Bad Books for Bad People.

Books discussed include:

Voluptuous Panic: The Erotic World of Weimar Berlin

Theater of Fear and Horror: The Grisly Spectacle of the Grand Guignol of Paris, 1897 - 1962

The Seven Addictions and Five Professions of Anita Berber: Weimar's Priestess of Depravity

Horizontal Collaboration: The Erotic World of Paris, 1920 - 1946

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, April 6, 2018

Dragon #243: Street Avenger, PC Report Card, Magical Crossbreeds

I get the best gaming value-for-the-money out of old issues of Dragon magazine. No matter what edition the magazine was currently supporting, there's always at least three ideas worth the price of admission--and in almost every issue the density of ideas-to-dross skews in the right direction. In this series of posts I'm going to pick back issues at random, give them a read-through, and point out the things that (hopefully) illustrate why I think picking up old issues of Dragon for a couple bucks when you see them in the wilds is damned worthwhile.

"In a Class By Themselves," written by Tom Doolan and illustrated by Rags Morales, is not the sort of article that usually appeals to me. Essentially, the article takes up the system for creating a new character class in the 2e AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide, and gives a few examples of how to use it to create hybrid classes that act as a kind of multi-classing for human characters. However, the second example--the street avenger--did catch my eye: "Here is the peasant’s paladin, the back-alley hero. The street avenger has made it his personal quest to rid his city of violent crime. He uses the criminals’ own methods to root them out and destroy them, yet he remains the hero and savior of the helpless victim." Although the concept of the street avenger isn't the most original character concept ever, it occurs me that I've never played a character fitting that profile, and that the core idea of a street avenger would fit very well into the Umberwell. In the spirit of making something new from something old, I've borrowing Doolan's character class idea and made a 5e D&D character in that mold: Elzabeth o' the Gutter.

Peter Adkison's "The PC Report Card" is halfway toward something I can use. The notion of grading the players' performance to assign XP seems weirdly one-sided in a game that is essentially a collaborative effort to have fun, and since I grade people's work in real life this isn't something I want to do when I'm off the clock. However, the idea of having players write down the things they feel they accomplished or were significant on a 3x5 card after a game session and using that information to award XP or other rewards is interesting and worth tinkering with.

"Magical Crossbreeds," written by Johnathan M. Richards and illustrated by George Vrbanic, takes a tried-and-true D&Dism out for a walk: wizards are always using magic to glue two different creatures together into a monstrous amalgamation, ala the owlbear. The article gives a full Monstrous Manual treatment to six new monsters, including the amadillephant, dragonfly turtle, duckbunny, moat cat, spider-horse, and venom dog. Although these beasties might be a little out there for most D&D campaigns, I can certainly see them getting some use in a Gamma World game or perhaps a homebrew D&D setting based on Jeff VanderMeer's Annihilation.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

The Ashford "Twins" and Patterson Creed

This pair are not twins, as such; one of them was abducted by an insane mage and cloned as a being of the opposite gender—they share the same memories, so neither is sure which is the original. They use their uncanny synchronicity to bewilder their foes.

Occupation. Leaders of the Carrion Worms gang.
Appearance. Human, androgynous, lean, blonde hair chaotically shaved and spiked, dressed in stylish light armor.
Abilities. Street fighting, smuggling.
Traits. Greedy, competitive.
Ideal. To uncover the secrets of their origins and create an army of Ashford simulacra.
Bond. Unbreakable bond with each other.
Flaw. They care more about each other than anyone else.

Patterson Creed is the third son of a wealthy merchant, and it was expected that he would join the Covenant rather than enter into the family business. Instead, he left home to find Esme Corvinus and restore her to the Empire's throne.

Occupation. Knight errant.
Appearance. Human, handsome, blonde-haired and blue-eyed, wears a bandanna over his mouth.
Abilities. Magic-enhanced marksmanship, mystical teachings, mercantile matters.
Traits. Calculating, laconic.
Ideal. Live by the gun, die by the gun.
Bond. Devoted to Esme Corvinus.
Flaw. Treats others, and himself, harshly.

* * *

This is a preview of the "supporting cast" section of the Umberwell book, which has a meaty section on contacts that your criminal character might know. The Ashfords and Patterson Creed are examples of who you might know in Umberwell.

Monday, April 2, 2018

February 2018 Redux: The Birthgrave, Dreadnought, Shutter, Brian De Palma, Annihilation

A redux of this post because somehow it got published without the commentary bits.

Tanith Lee, The Birthgrave
The Birthgrave was Tanith Lee's first published book for adults; it reads like it was written by an author unsure if they will get a chance to publish another story. It's got a little of everything--sword & sorcery banditry, a military campaign saga, "life among the primitives," a journey of self-discovery, and...a literal deus ex machina in the form of a crash-landed UFO. It's all a bit much when taken together; there are enough ideas and concepts in The Birthgrave to flesh out four or five separate novels. 

Still, you catch glimpses of the powerful, idiosyncratic author Lee was to become: the use of a compelling, but strangely detached and impersonal heroine; the prose has moments of purple-tinge, but never fully blossoms into the luxuriant language she would become known for; feminine passivity is used to dramatize the dearth of choices allotted to women; Lee's version of fantasy draws on strong tropes, but the genre becomes personalized and unmistakably her own. This isn't her best work--it reads like an early offering--but it hints at the great things to come.

Cherie Priest, Dreadnought
I want to tell you why Cherie Priest is one of the few authors who should be allowed to write steampunk fiction. Steampunk novels tend to have two problems: they suffer from "put a bird on it" syndrome (although in this case the "bird" is inevitably a brass gear) and they traditionally feature weak characterization, instead preferring to fall back on faceless stock characters like the Dashing Victorian Scientist and the Victorian Adventuress Clashing Against Gender Expectations with No Discernible Problems.

Cherie Priest's Clockwork Century series sidesteps both of those problems. Though it isn't wildly off the beaten path of what we expect from a steampunk story, the setting for the series is grounded--it has enough realistic grit to it that it avoids feeling a sanitized, revisionist history of the 19th century like so many steampunk fictions do. But it's the diversion from the second problem that interests me most: Priest's characters aren't the larger-than-life adventuresome pulp stereotypes that burden many steampunk productions. That the protagonists in Boneshaker and Dreadnought are more or less regular women with understandable goals (Briar goes in search of her runaway son, Mercy is heading west to see her estranged father before he dies) places the Clockwork Century books head and shoulders above other offerings in the genre.

Joe Keatinge, Leila del Luca, Owen Gieni, John Workman,
Shutter, Volume Five: So Far Beyond
It's interesting to watch a comic develop over its run, but always a bit bittersweet to see a really strong book come to a conclusion. Shutter began as a New Weird-ish deconstruction of pulp adventure, and ended up being a statement about the necessity of breaking away from familial obligation and inherited duty in favor of constructing a family of choice and living your life on your own terms. Along the way, the comic pulled off a feat that a lot of comics struggle to achieve: it created a cast of characters whose ultimate fates I genuinely cared about.

Brian De Palma, Sisters, Femme Fatale, The Black Dahlia, Passion
When the first of the interminable Saw franchise hit the theaters, I remember reviewers trumpeting the notion that finally the US had its own giallo. This was, and remains, a stupid statement because we already have a prolific American giallo director in Brian De Palma. The hallmarks celebrated in giallo films have always been present in his thrillers: the psychosexual themes, the insane set piece death sequences, the improbable plot twists that you excuse because the cinematography is so daring that qualms just fall away like scales from your's all there, and the Hitchcock worship was just a red herring. Even the varying quality of the giallo canon is embedded in De Palma's ouvre; but even when his movies aren't technically good--and both The Black Dahlia and Passion especially struggle at times--they are always something to behold.

Alex Garland, Annihilation
It's hard to talk about the Annihilation film without resentment; it's easy to go on at length about how Hollywood's reluctance to market a film that isn't a Fast & the Furious sequel, the viewing public's reticence to be challenged by anything more strenuous than Thor's haircut, and all the other various shenanigans that keep the multiplex from being a place of wonder.

If you didn't get to see Annihilation before it was unceremoniously yanked from the screen, here's what you missed out on: a strong cast, incredible visuals, a whole lot of weirdness, and one hell of a monster design. Here's hoping this one ultimately achieves cult status posthumously.

Honorable mentions
Angela Carter, The Bloody Chamber (we did a podcast episode about the title story here.)
Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea
J. G. Ballard, Crash
Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Max Gladstone, Two Serpents Rise
Raison d'etre, Alchymeia
Tribulation, Down Below
Attic, The Invocation and Sanctimonious
Summoning, With Doom We Come

Cullen Bunn, Tyler Crook, Carla Speed McNeil, Jenn Manley Lee, Harrow Country: Abandoned

Kentaro Miura, Berserk vol. 3 and vol. 4
Chris Dingess, Matthew Roberts, Owen Gieni, Manifest Destiny, Volume Two: Amphibia & Insecta
Toukiden art book