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

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!

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.