Tuesday, October 30, 2018


Fans of Ravenloft have long used the setting a springboard for creating content more original and interesting than the official products. One of the best kept secrets in the "Ravenloft underground" is Eleanor Ferron's Starcrossed webcomic, which is definitely worth revisiting (or taking a look at for the first time) this Halloween season.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Bloody Tears

The second season of Netflix's Castlevania cartoon is out, just in time for Halloween. Even though the second season is longer than the first season's truncated run-time, its eight episodes are a quick watch. I tried to pace myself, but watched in all within a twenty-four hour span. 

Feels good, man. 

Here's the trailer, if you haven't seen it. 

Anyway, also worth checking out is this rendition of "Bloody Tears":

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Cinderheim on Land Between Two Rivers

So here's a cool thing that happened: Jim Davis, DM of the Land Between Two Rivers used material from my Cinderheim setting in his streamed campaign! Needless to say, I find that super flattering and I got a real kick out of seeing Hamada the Reaver and Niu Bo Wei in someone else's game. 

My stuff shows up at about the 36 minute mark and I get a nice shout-out at 2:31 in the Youtube video embedded above.

Of course, if you'd like to get up to similar shenanigans with Cinderheim, it's currently available here in both pdf and print.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The Haunting of Hill House

I love horror, but the genre often makes me feel like a contrarian; the things that get held up as good examples of the form frequently fail to excite me. I want to like these things as much as everyone else, but in many cases I just don't see what everyone else is seeing. 

Maybe I expect more, maybe I expect something different.

Case in point: after reading the reviews and surveying the general sentiment, it feels like I'm the only one who didn't enjoy Netflix's adaptation of Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House

I wanted to like it. I was excited when I heard it was in production. I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt even after seeing all the red flags in the trailer. Unfortunately, The Haunting of Hill House failed to hit the mark for me on all the important targets:

Adaptation. There's really no reason for this series to be tied to Shirley Jackson's novel, aside from banking on name recognition. The series suffers by comparison to Jackson's masterpiece. The elements shared between the series and the novel are neutered and listless in the former. For example, consider the fate of the "cup of stars." In Jackson's novel, the cup of stars is a powerfully written and subtle symbol found early in the book whose significance only grows in the context of the events that follow; in the show, the cup of stars is reduced to an Easter egg--a knowing nod to the audience, a name-check, a moment of cynical branding that possesses none of the original's punch.

Aesthetic. The Haunting of Hill House would have been more effective is it wasn't filmed in a style similar to that of A Series of Unfortunate Events. The house never really feels threatening or even old; it doesn't have a presence on the screen. The mold-like infection meant to symbolically relay the corruption at the heart of the story is rendered sterile and antiseptic. The supernatural moments look unreal, but not in the sense of invoking dream-like, phantasmagorical atmosphere; it's hard to suspend disbelief that the setting wasn't largely created in post-production. The make-up effects are particularly clownish; you know who the ghosts are because they have bluish or greenish faces that would be right at home in a Goosebumps adaptation.

Tone and theme. Horror as a way of exploring familial trauma is nothing new, but it can work exquisitely well. It doesn't work well in The Haunting of Hill House because the soap opera far outweighs any interesting insights into family dynamics, generational discord, or interpersonal connection. What we get instead is...well, the captioned dialog to the left speaks for itself. What's worse is that some of the family drama rings patently false; the drug addiction subplot, for example, references the relatively sanitized and banal tv version of drug addiction rather than the far more potent horrors of substance abuse in the real world. Ditto the mental health subplots.

Seriously: how tired is this imagery?
Unheimlich. Horror lives and dies on its ability to make us feel the power of the abject and uncanny. In its defense, The Haunting of Hill does have a  few moments of unsettling imagery, but these are few and far between. Instead, we get jump scares--the nadir of the genre--and many iterations of the tired image of a face, the eyes gone pupil-less, the mouth stretched wide to emit the same kind of shriek we use to signal hungry velociraptors and spectral incursions alike. 

Storytelling. Look, if you are surprised at the resolution of the bent-neck lady, you need to get out more and yet also find the time to read more. The plot is a study in obviousness and the ending is as unsatisfying as a Hang in There motivational poster.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Krevborna Halloween Sale

The pdf version of Krevborna: A Gothic Blood Opera is currently on sale as part of DriveThruRPG's Halloween sale. It is marked down 31% through October 31st. 

Monday, October 22, 2018

Fear Street

Bad Books for Bad People
Episode 26: Fear Street
Jack and Kate celebrate the Halloween season with a visit to R.L. Stine's fictional town of Shadyside, a suburban hamlet with more than its fair share or spooky teen-centric violence. For their first venture onto Fear Street, your hosts read and dissect The Wrong Number and The Halloween Party. Surprisingly, the books contain many of the perennial BBfBP favorite themes along with some insight into the psychology and behavior of 90s teens.
Are these books a gateway drug to convert teens into weird fiction fans? Is Zima a very mature beverage? What do Elvira, Psychomania, and Drake in a wheelchair have to do with all of this? Find out the answers to all these questions and more in this month's episode of Bad Books for Bad People.
BBfBP theme song by True Creature 
Find us at BadBooksBadPeople.com, 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.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Truly the Best Time of the Year

The Long Halloween season means getting art cards in the mail from talented friends like Becky Munich (who you may remember from my Krevborna book), spooky beers everywhere you turn, and deals on horror novels at fall book sales.

This fall I also decided to try my hand at home-brewing. Pictured here is a very simple half-gallon of hard cider that I made for about four dollars. Surprisingly, it turned out really well. Not just drinkable, but actually delicious. I've got a gallon each of cherry and orange mead that will be bottled this weekend; stay tuned to see how they turned out.
Speaking of things that will be finished in the near future, check out the cover for the forthcoming Umberwell: Blackened Be Thy Name. Cover art by Tenebrous Kate. Coming soon to DriveThruRPG and RPGNow.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Lexikorum

The Lexikorum
A faction in Krevborna

The Lexikorum is a monastic order of ascetics who believe that contemplation of the holy name of god is the only path to spiritual redemption. Each monk of the Lexikorum is given portions of god’s sacred name; through contemplation, privation, and extreme bodily exercise, they seek to transform the divine meaning of their deity into miraculous physical action.

Only the power of god’s name can save our souls.

    • There is but one god and his name will guide us toward spiritual perfection.
    • Contemplation of the divine is not enough; we must let the word of god flow through our bodies and souls.
    • The darkness that infects the lands of Krevborna is anathema to the holy syllables of creation.

    • Honor god by destroying evil in the world.
    • Discover the missing fragments of the true god’s name.

* * *

The Lexikorum is a faction created by one of the players in my Krevborna campaign that their character belongs to. Here's a bit about their character:

Soriah Red, human way of the shadows monk, criminal background
Soriah joined the Lexikorum to atone for the sins she committed; she has been sent out into the world to defeat evil to attain redemption by the Lexikorum.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Dark Descent

As anyone who loves reading knows, books tend to come and go but some books stay with you and become an integral part of your experience of the world. For me, one of those books is The Dark Descent, edited by David G. Hartwell.

This book entered my life because my aunt joined a mail order book club. Generously, she let me pick out two books from her first allotment of books for myself. The Dark Descent was one of my picks, and it forever skewed my taste in literature.

(My other pick, Edith Hamilton's book of mythology, was also highly formative--I'll talk about that one another day.)

The Dark Descent is an anthology of horror stories, and frankly it is a masterclass in great short horror fiction between two covers. This book introduced me to a number of authors that I absolutely love; this was my first exposure to Harlan Ellison, Ray Bradbury, Michael Shea, E. Nesbit, Karl Edward Wagner, Robert Aickman, Fritz Leiber, Robert Bloch, Manly Wade Wellman, Richard Matheson, Joanna Russ, Dennis Etchison, Ramsey Campbell, Gene Wolfe, Joyce Carol Oates, Walter de la Mare, Flannery O'Connor, and Oliver Onions.

Look, this is the book that introduced me to Tanith Lee.

Also, this book was my first taste of authors I would go on to teach: Stephen King, M. R. James, H. P. Lovecraft, Shirley Jackson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, J. Sheridan Le Fanu, Clive Barker, Edgar Allan Poe, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, William Faulkner, Henry James, Charles Dickens, Robert W. Chambers, Ambrose Bierce, Algernon Blackwood, and Philip K. Dick are all represented.

The good news is that The Dark Descent is miraculously still in print. It doesn't have to be your first experience of these fantastic authors; I have no doubt that it would serve just as well as a repository of dark delights that adorns your shelves.

Monday, October 15, 2018

The Cacophony of the Funereal Moon

I've been prepping some Krevborna adventures lately in advance of starting a new campaign. Which means I've also been assembling a playlist to fit the mood of the new saga. Below are some of the songs in the current rotation. Needless to say, they're perfect for the Halloween season as well. Portal, in particular, might be a good band to put on if you don't want any kids coming to your house to trick r treat.

Myrkur, "Ulvinde"

Chelsea Wolfe, "The Culling"

Portal, "Curtain"

Huntress, "Sorrow"

Carach Angren, "Charles Francis Coghlan"

Cradle of Filth, "Heartbreak and Seance"

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Contessa Fall 2018 Fundraising Bundle

The Contessa Fall 2018 Fundraising Bundle is live!

"ConTessa is a gaming organization dedicated to making tabletop gaming spaces more diverse by bringing marginalized-led events to conventions all around the United States. We run innovative and unique tracks featuring games, panels, workshops, and seminars led entirely by historically marginalized people, yet open to attendance by anyone. Our event runners are volunteers who pick their own games and content, making every ConTessa event as unique as the ConTessans who run them! You're looking at our fall fundraising bundle, here to fund website management, expenses at our last convention for the year (U-Con, November 9-11), and to start fundraising for next year's convention season! 

Bundle Deal ENDS just before midnight Pacific Time on October 22nd!"

Buy here on Drivethru for a mere $10 that goes to a good cause.

This special bundle product contains the following titles:

  • Sandy Peterson's Cthulhu Mythos
  • Better Than Any Man
  • LotFP Rules & Magic (full version)
  • She Bleeds
  • Azurth Adventures Digest vol. 1
  • Cinderheim: The Land Under the Demon Sun
  • Harlem Unbound Keeper Screen
  • Ice
  • Infomercial World
  • Krevborna: A Gothic Blood Opera
  • Nice Monsters & Scary Sprites
  • On the Shoulder of Giants
  • Operation Unfathomable Player's Guide
  • Randomocity #2
  • Sword's Edge
  • The Closed Circle
  • The Dragonspawn
  • The Hack and Slasher
  • The Handler
  • The Infernal Bone Machine
  • The Judge
  • The Nameless
  • The Rat

Special bundle price: $10.00
Total value: $109.72
Savings of: $99.72 (91%)

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

As anyone who loves reading knows, books tend to come and go but some books stay with you and become an integral part of your experience of the world. For me, one of those books is Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, written by Alvin Schwartz and Stephen Gammell.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a collection of folk tales and urban legend horrors retold in a way that makes the stories accessible without lessening their macabre impact. There are many classic eerie tales retold in the first volume of this series, including "The Hook," "The Killer in the Backseat," and "The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs." If your childhood didn't include these stories, you weren't raised right--but the good news is that reading this book will get you up to speed.

Stephen Gammell's art in the book in unimpeachable. It is horrifying, morbid, and uncanny in roughly equal measure--the seeds of childhood nightmares that would persist into adulthood. Gammell's art is so striking that it has frequently been cited as the reason for the challenges offered for the book's removal from school and public libraries. If you aren't familiar with the art from this series, stop reading right now and do an image search.

There are three volumes in the series, and they are all worthwhile. If you do pick them up, it is imperative you get copies with Gammell's art. A softened version with new art was published at one point to quiet mawkish parents, but those are unfortunately an inferior version. Luckily, the originals were reprinted in 2017 so you should be able to lay your hands on the real deal.

14 Terrifying Facts About Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark 
Maureen Monahan, Mental Floss

This Artist Turns Iconic Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark Illustrations into Custom Toys
John Squires, Bloody Disgusting

Scary Stories Documentary Trailer

For the Del Toro-philes: Scary Stories Film Adaptation
Dave McNary, Vanity Fair

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The Ravenloft Remix: Strahd is the Land, but the Land is a Little Lacking

Ravenloft has long been my favorite official D&D setting, but that doesn't mean that I don't think it has problems or doesn't have areas where it could be improved. Over the years I've suggested a number of alterations that I would make to Ravenloft, were I to be placed in charge of it; consider this the second post in a "best of" edition of my Ravenloft Remix. The first post in the series is here.

2) Create cohesion
It has been rightly pointed out that Ravenloft's core feels more like a patchwork of ill-fitting domains than a cohesive setting. Originally, this was by design. The Ravenloft setting was built around the idea that it was a place that D&D characters would visit for a session or two, and then return to more prosaic settings such as the Forgotten Realms or Greyhawk. The intention was never to create a setting with organic unity; rather, each domain was more or less a separate playground oriented toward a specific Gothic trope that had little connection to a larger, encompassing conception of the setting.

As it turned out, fans of the setting actually did want Ravenloft to feel like a self-contained setting in its own right. TSR shifted its presentation of the setting to accommodate this perspective, but the results were mixed. From the Domains of Dread hardcover onward, TSR changed the focus from characters sucked into Ravenloft through the mists for a couple of horrific adventures before returning to the vanilla fantasy grind to characters who were born and bred in Ravenloft, and thus had actual reasons to fight against the evils haunting those lands.

The 3x versions of the setting published by Arthaus followed that path, but unfortunately added a lot of questionable detail while also having to work under some unfortunate restrictions, such as a Soth-less Sithicus. 4e floated some mediocre "domains of dread" articles, then the planned Ravenloft product got shelved. (I'd love to see a draft of it, but frankly it sounded awful.) 5e has walked back from the notion of Ravenloft as a "native setting"; the Curse of Strahd adventure assumes that the player characters are abductees from the Sword Coast because of the edition's Realms-centric approach.

If I were rebuilding Ravenloft, I would refocus on making it a cohesive setting with creating characters native to the core as the assumption--with the option of visiting characters entering through the Mists. Here is where I would apply my efforts:

  • Reorganize the geography based on theme. Ravenloft's geography is already malleable; the shape, arrangement, and inclusion of domains varies wildly over the setting's 2e-era history alone. We could take advantage of that by remixing the placement of the core's domains to make a more coherent cultural landscape. Since so many of the domains are based on themes drawn from the real world, that could be a helpful guide when it comes to placement.
  • Expand on the themes already extant. There are great themes built into Ravenloft's domains, but most are woefully underutilized. For example, Bluetspur was clearly meant to be a place to bring in the possibility of Gothic Lovecraftian adventures, but in execution it is totally barren and really only functions as the setting for a single adventure module. (Thoughts of Darkness, which also happens to be a pretty terrible adventure.) What Bluetsput really needs to capitalize on the promise of Gothic Lovecraftiana is Innsmouth-style fishing villages, weird cults, bloodlines infected by the kuo-toa, and an Arkham analog where scholars have been collecting horrid knowledge of the Far Realm. Every domain could benefit from expanding on its thematic elements in a similar way.
  • Populate the setting. It is a common sentiment that Ravenloft is far too depopulated to sustain a variety of scenario types. My solution is to add more high population density areas. The approach often discussed on the Fraternity of Shadows board works well: multiply the population figures for the larger towns by ten and make them into cities. Mix urban and rural areas for a greater variety of adventuring possibility.
  • Add more interconnection. There should be more movement between domains in Ravenloft, and a greater sense that the domain borders are most often permeable to the land's residents. Make trade and commerce between domains more prevalent. And definitely add reasons to travel by sea! Ravenloft has always badly wanted to feature Gothic Nautical adventure, but the current geography makes it seem insane that anyone would build a masted ship just to trade with a far-off island with a few hundred inhabitants. One way to do this would be to include closely guarded secret paths through the sea Mists that are sought after to secure important nautical trade routes.
  • The supernatural is not hidden. The point of Ravenloft is to mix D&D with Gothic conventions, but this sometimes gets lost in the weird restrictions intended to enforce the Gothic side of that genre admixture. (Which doesn't work for the Gothic anyway because it is such a migratory and mutational mode.) For example, those narrow lists of appropriate monsters? Gone. Use any monsters you want. If you can't figure out how to describe a green dragon as a primeval horror of the eldritch forest, you need to learn more words. Strahd is a vampire and everybody knows it; none of this silly "the peasants don't really think about why he doesn't age and is never seen during the day" business. In a world with clerics and wizards, vampires are not going to be something unheard of--lean into the rich supernaturalism of folklore, not away from it.

Monday, October 8, 2018

My Pretty Vampire

Mini-Episode 13: My Pretty Vampire
Katie Skelly's graphic novel My Pretty Vampire blends an array of 60s and 70s references to create a brightly-colored, deceptively sweet-looking comic that explores repressed desires, poisonous relationships, and vampiric murder. Jack and Kate take a pop art journey into the dark corners of the human psyche, taking some side trips into horror conventions, vintage TV, and the films of Jess Franco and Jean Rollin along the way.
How has the landscape of horror media changed due to the increased presence of female critics and creators? When is an owl-headed mask just an owl-headed mask? Can a sex kitten transform into a tigress? What does Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass Whipped Cream & Other Delights have to do with any of this? All these questions and more will be answered during this episode of Bad Books for Bad People.
BBfBP theme song by True Creature 
Find us at BadBooksBadPeople.com, 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.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

The La Scarla Family

The La Scarla Family
A faction in Krevborna

The La Scarla family have holy blood within their veins; the angelic guides that visit members of the family in their dreams demand that they take up arms against the forces of supernatural evil. The La Scarla possess secret techniques for combating monsters that have been passed down their family line.

We are the light, we are the scourge of darkness.

    • The common people must be protected from the monsters that plague Krevborna.
    • Our family has been chosen for a higher purpose.
    • To die in battle against monsters of darkness is to die with honor.

    • Purge Krevborna of supernatural evil.
    • Seek knowledge of the absent gods.

* * *

The La Scarla Family is a faction created by one of the players in my Krevborna campaign that their character belongs to. Here's a bit about their character:

Nicolette La Scarla, aasimar monster slayer ranger, folk hero background
Nicolette is a reluctant monster hunter goaded on by an imperious avenging angel named Zarethel.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Total Skull: Odinist, Family Values, Stranger Fruit, Through the Woods

Things that brought me delight in September, 2018.

Blut Aus Nord, Odinist: The Destruction of Reason by Illumination
The sound of a mechanized, industrial hell.

Frank Miller, Sin City: Family Values
Sin City possesses an inherent conservatism, but oddly enough the families that truly matter in it are the families of choice.

Zeal & Ardor, Stranger Fruit
The first Zeal & Ardor album showed a lot of promise. Stranger Fruit is the fulfillment of that promise.

Emily Carroll, Through the Woods
The intersection of fairy tales and the Gothic is the most fertile ground going in comics at the moment.

Dark Funeral, The Secrets of the Black Arts
One of the first black metal albums I got into; it's still amazing.

Planescape: Dead Gods
Filled with stuff worth stealing and repurposing, particularly the visages.

Cultes des Ghoules, Sinister
A churning miasma. "Where the Rainbow Ends" and "Woods of Power" are particularly pleasing pestilences.

Waterdeep: Dragon Heist
There's a lot you could do with the potential moral dilemma implied in the Cassalanter "version" of the adventure. Plus, drow gunslingers!

Wayfarer, World's Blood and Old Souls
Black metal, stripped of its grimwinter heritage, thrust into the savage dustbowl.

Blut Aus Nord, Memoria Vetusta I: Fathers of the Icy Ages
The Memoria Vetusta albums only get more interesting as they progress, but even here in the origin story there's something potent brewing.