Friday, February 28, 2020

Valley of Plenty: A Grain of Truth

Valley of Plenty 1: A Grain of Truth

Welcome to the Valley of Plenty! In these green and gentle pastures, Jack explains the plots of stories from the Witcher series to Kate, who feels like she already completed her tour of duty in this particular fantasyland. This bite-sized episode covers "A Grain of Truth" from Andrzej Sapkowski's short story collection The Last Wish.  Will this tale have the fairy tale flavors that your hosts are looking for? Listen and find out!

And check out our episode on Blood of Elves if you haven't yet.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

The Masquers

The Masquers
A faction in Krevborna

The Masquers are vagabond entertainers and bards who wander the world by wagon or riverboat. Masquers earn money in their travels as carnival performers, musicians, actors, dancers, and soothsayers; they are distrusted due to their rootlessness, but few do not look forward to the respite from everyday drudgery that their roving circuses and fairs provide. Most Masquer troupes make it their mission to collect local history and folklore. The Masquers possess mysterious bardic traditions and knowledge of secret ways to harness the power of sorcerous bloodlines. 
    • Motto. “We must keep the lore of the land from dying a quiet death.”
    • Belief. Collecting and preserving local history and folklore will keep the world from slipping into a dark age of ignorance.
    • Goal. Disseminate information and techniques for combating the forces of supernatural evil.
    • Quest. Rescue a member of the Masquers from puritanical inquisitors.

Sunday, February 23, 2020


A location in Krevborna.

Avoided by pious folk, the isolate mining town of Hemlock has abandoned the Church of Sacred Blood to follow the vile path of diabolism. Hemlock’s most powerful family, the Graymalk clan, practice the darkest arts of witchcraft and to have made unholy pacts with Charnovog, the Lord of Hell. Although the Graymalks openly practice black magic, they are given respect because they skillfully govern the town and ensure its prosperity.

Hemlock is surrounded by deep forests, marshes and bogs, and stark hills. Hemlock is an uncanny town decorated with blasphemous altars and wicker effigies. Due to the practice of devil worship, the veil between worlds is thinner in Hemlock. It is easier to contact unquiet spirits in Hemlock than in any other location in Krevborna, and seances are a popular pastime for Hemlock’s denizens. A holiday known as Hallow is celebrated near the end of autumn, when it is believed that the spirits of the dead can more easily enter the world. The residents of Hemlock don masks, engage in debauched revels, and light candles to ward off evil on the night of Hallow. 

Friday, February 21, 2020

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The Choristers

The Choristers
A faction in Krevborna

The Choristers are the college of cardinals and the elite upper echelon of the Church of Sacred Blood. They believe that the human condition can be transcended through the consumption of the sanctified blood of the gods created through rites of transubstantiation. Their stronghold is the Cathedral of the Three Anguishes in Chancel. Though they present a united front to the faithful of the Church of Sacred Blood, the faction is rife with internal politics and division. Pontiff Lazarus is the current head of the Choristers.
    • Motto. “We are the silver sword that cleaves the darkness in twain.”
    • Belief. The Sacred Blood is Krevborna’s only hope for survival.
    • Goal. Maintain the Church’s power at all costs.
    • Quest. Explore a haunted library, looking for information about the life of an obscure saint.

Monday, February 17, 2020

The Gods, Church of Saintly Blood, Heathens and Druids

Miscellaneous lore from Krevborna

The Absence of the Gods
Gods were once reverenced throughout Krevborna, but in ages past they withdrew their influence from the world. Some say that the gods abandoned mankind to its dark fate due to unforgivable sins. Others believe that the gods retreated after they were betrayed by the rebellious angels who became demons and devils. Some even claim that the gods were killed and consumed by cosmic forces of darkness known as the Old Ones.

The Church of Saintly Blood
Although the apparent absence of deities is felt keenly, divinity still maintains a foothold in Krevborna through the legacy of the Church’s saints. Saints are venerated in place of the gods. Those of holy blood transmit their sanctity down through the generations; men and women who evidence a touch of the divine spark are regarded as heirs to the saints and their blood is viewed as sacred. The rites of absolution and healing practiced by the Church of Saintly Blood involve imbibing the blood of these saintly descendants—often mixed with the mundane blood offerings of the faithful—or blood baptisms given in ancient fonts. The most common holy symbol associated with the Church is a glass vial of consecrated blood on a silver or golden chain.

Heathens and Druids
Before the precursor faith that became the Church of Saintly Blood arrived in Krevborna, the human population revered the fey ladies Queen Devania, Baba Linya, and Bonnie Maeva as a tripartite goddess. Druids and their flocks still give worship to those fey ladies in isolated, rural regions. Most pagan circles are beneficial to the rural communities they minister to, but some revere the more bloodthirsty and destructive aspects of nature. For example, the druids of the Zatmoor cult led by Dahlia Medlozka use the threat of nature’s wrath to feed their own ambitions and twisted desires. Likewise, hag covens pervert the old ways to serve their own ends. The Church regards practitioners of the old faith as heathens and pagans to be converted or exterminated.

* * *

Director's Commentary
When I started building Krevborna I knew that I wanted an alternative to the kind of typical gods you usually find in fantasy settings. The possibilities that suggested themselves were monotheistic religion in which THE god is a real thing or something based on saints whose veneration survived the disappearance of their gods. Either one was bound to take on a pseudo-Catholic tone, but ultimately I found the latter more appealing to my own sensibilities.

The focus on saintly blood was (obviously) partly inspired by Bloodborne, but it also opened up a space to make the rites of the Church strange and off-putting. They have an intentionally vampiric vibe: the religion focuses on consuming holy blood (as a dark parody of the Eucharest and its resonance with vampire myth) or bathing in it (bringing in shades of Elizabeth Bathory). 

An Easter egg: you can find the Church's holy symbol, a blood vial, in an illustration that Aos did for the Krevborna book.

Regarding the heathenism, I wanted to tie druidry to the fey lords and ladies in an explicit way. But I also didn't want to have the early religion be a woo-woo "the old ways were in connection with the earth and were obviously better and more moral!" thing. I see paganism as just as much of a mixed bag in the setting as the Church.

Friday, February 14, 2020

The Inspiration Zine

Zine Quest 2 is currently underway. I admit, I haven't really been paying attention to what's on offer. I did get a preview of A Visitor's Guide to the Rainy City, and I can definitely recommend checking it out.

I don't have anything of my own to promote for Zine Quest 2 as I don't really feel comfortable with Kickstarter for my projects, but in the old spirit of free content I do want to offer you a free zine: The Inspiration Zine

The Inspiration Zine presents four different ways to use the inspiration mechanics in 5e D&D:

  • Blood Opera Inspiration. Rules for using inspiration to add bloody interpersonal drama to your game.
  • Flashback Inspiration. Rules for using inspiration to account for prior actions, experiences, and preparations.
  • Momentous Events Inspiration. Rules for using inspiration to establish a deeper connection between character development and the momentous events that unfold as you play.
  • Tarot Storytelling Inspiration. Rules for using inspiration to reveal more about their characters’ pasts.

The Inspiration Zine is available in two formats:
Screen format pdf
Print format pdf 

To print your own physical copy of the zine, print the second pdf as double-sided (duplex), set to flip on the short edge. This will give you two double-sided pages to fold in half, for eight total pages that flow in order when assembled.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Blood of Elves

Episode 41: Blood of Elves

Before it was a hit video game series, The Witcher was a series of novels by Andrzej Sapkowski, the "Polish Tolkien." Geralt of Rivia is fast becoming one of the most recognizable modern fantasy heroes, a stoic combo of monster-puncher and irresistible ladies' man who travels the strife-torn landscape in search of dark creatures to battle. Join Jack and Kate as they explore the first full-length novel in the Witcher series, The Blood of Elves.

What unexpected parallels to noir fiction will be uncovered? How does Three Men and a Baby figure into all of this? Just how important is it to stay on good terms with your exes (particularly if they are all sorceresses)? Will coins, in fact, be tossed to our Witchers? All this and more will be revealed in this month's episode.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

The Grail Tombs

The Grail Tombs
Dungeons in Krevborna

The Grail Tombs are ancient catacombs found deep within the earth. These labyrinthine dungeons and burial vaults belonged to a long-dead civilization known as the Lilitu. The Lilitu were an empire of gith well-versed in arcane magic and artifice; their reign predates the rise of man. The Lilituan Empire fell when it embraced a demonic cult that ultimately transformed their empress into an undead abomination and engendered the creation of the world’s first vampires. Although the Lilituans disappeared from the historical record, they left behind many artifacts of advanced technology and magic in the Grail Tombs.

Chalice motifs and frescoes depicted gith nobility dominate the walls of the Grail Tombs. Unnatural phenomena, such as warped time, impossibly convoluted architecture, sentient machines, and malevolent beings trapped in the strange eons of the past, are sometimes encountered within the Grail Tombs.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Krevbornites, Varkolaks, Caliban, and Pomenysh

A post about the inhabitants of the Land of the Blood Moon.

Human Krevbornites
The vast majority of Krevborna’s population are human; they are a people of mixed ethnic origins who share a common culture of folk tales and superstitions. Krevbornites tend to face the horrors of their land stoically, for they know the nights are long and that terrors lurk in every shadow. They work hard, protect their own, and pray for protection against evil. Because Krevborna is a dangerous place, it is not unusual for even the civilized populace to arm themselves. Pockets of barbarians, outlaws, and tribal folk persist in the most forsaken mountains, swamps, and woods. 

Lycanthropy can be passed down in a minor form as an inherited familial curse. Those who bear the curse frequently have animalistic characteristics; the accursed are known as varcolaks. Wolf-like features are most common, but other bestial aspects are also found among their number—their forms are dependent on the nature of their family’s particular curse.

Calibans are not truly born; they are constructed creatures crafted from inanimate matter and given life through miraculous means. Some calibans are created in vats or cauldrons by alchemists or witches who combine rotting human corpses, animal viscera, and fungal matter to create servitors. Others are stitched together from corpses or built of metal and clockwork mechanisms by artificers before given the gift—or curse—of life.

Pomenysh are descendants of the immortal fey. Their appearances vary wildly; some are tall and ethereally beautiful, others are squat and gnarled of spine and limb, and some pomenysh have bestial features such as ram-like horns or furry pelts. Pomenysh may be the emergent result of a sexual dalliance with a fey creature within a bloodline or changelings left behind when a fey abducts a human child from their cradle.

* * *

Director's Commentary

One of the most frequently asked questions I get from people about to run a Krevborna campaign is "What races from (game X) do you think fit in the setting?" The question is common enough that I should have covered it in the book, I guess! This is the first post of three that give some "ancestry" details that I would use.

That said, I also believe in trying to fit whatever a player wants to play if we can tweak it to fit the setting. Talking over expectations pretty much always rules.

Varcolaks are a no-brainer for a Gothic setting. Minor key werewolves feel very much in genre. In 5e, I'd use the stats for shifters or tabaxi to represent them.

Caliban are a gothed-up take on the idea of "manufactured" races.  In 5e, I'd use the stats for half-orcs or the orcs in the Eberron book to represent the "biological" versions and warforged for calibans on the "robotic" side.

Pomenysh, on the other hand, is a place I'm melding folklore about the fey and the "playable doppelganger" stuff that's already in D&D. Since the creatures in this category are widely variable, there's a long list of stats that would work: elves, dwarves, halflings, gnomes, firbolgs, goblinoids, kobolds, changelings, etc.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Monster of Elendhaven, Tangleweed and Brine, Rust Maidens

Things that brought me delight in January, 2020:

Jennifer Giesbrecht
The Monster of Elendhaven
The Monster of Elendhaven is the rare grimdark fantasy about a foppish little accountant, his profound lust for revenge, and the monstrous servant who is an ambulatory weapon against the world. This slim novel feels like it was conceived under the influence of the Decadent movement; the world feels weary of its own historical burden, the prose is wry and poetic, and the characters feel like they were doomed from birth. 

Deidre Sullivan 
(illustrated by Karen Vaughan) 
Tangleweed and Brine
Tangleweed and Brine is a book of rewritten fairy tales; I discovered it on a trip to a children's book museum, though I have to say that I'm not sure the intended audience for this one is actually children. While I might give a child a book rife with blasphemy, incest, and lesbian sex, I'm told this is not how it is generally done. Fans of Angela Carter's tales in this mode will find much to love, but I would hate to see this book written off as derivative; Sullivan very much as her own voice, with its own peculiar cadence, that carries through each story. Instead of men are from Mars, women are from Venus, he learn that men are Kings and women are Witches: a fraught gender dynamic for sure, but one that allows a space to talk about chains of expectation and the leers and fists that enforce them--and the ways they get navigated, even if only ever painfully. The art, by Karen Vaughan, gives me Harry Clarke and David Palladini feelings--which means I love it. In fact, I made a separate post with a few samples of it here.

Gwendolyn Kiste
The Rust Maidens
In a city with a failing steel industry, a a strange malady that turns the bodies of young women into horrific reconfigurations of metal and glass that weep gray fluid begins to take hold. A Rust Belt nightmare than anyone who grew up in a post-industrial wasteland will recognize; the desire for escape from a hometown whose despair, desperation, and sheer small-mindedness has welded shut all routes out is palpable. In such a situation is an inward escape into abjection and monstrosity even a less dreadful prospect? I immediately bought another book by Gwendolyn Kiste after reading this one.

Lisa Kroger and Melanie R. Anderson
Monster, She Wrote: The Women Who Pioneered Horror & Speculative Fiction
As a history of women's contributions to horror and speculative fiction, Monster, She Wrote is part biographical sketch, part neglected history, and part reader's guide. Readers not well versed in the stranger alleys of genre fiction will probably get the most out of the book, but there will probably be a few names that even aficionados of the weird will want to seek out. For example, after reading Monster, She Wrote, I couldn't not pick up a copy of Margaret St. Clair's The Shadow People when I saw it in the wild.

Chen, Benitez, Montiel, Sotelo
Lady Mechanika: The Lost Boys of West Abbey, La Dama de la Muerte, The Clockwork Assassin, La Belle Dame Sans Merci
I never really see anyone else talking about Lady Mechanika, but I love this pulpy, gothy, steampunky Victorian action comic. Realistically, Lady Mechanika probably gives me what other people get out of superhero comics--it's just that I like this book's aesthetics better. Now that I've finished the trades that have been published to date, I need more. Sangre can't get collected in a trade soon enough.

Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
Locke & Key vol. 1-6
I planned to read a bunch of Locke & Key before the Netflix show arrives, and luckily it is as good as its reputation promised. So good, in fact, that I finished all of it within a couple days. The series becomes less horror focused and more fantasy oriented as it progresses, though it never fully loses its willingness to up-end its characters' lives in spectacularly violent ways. I loved the way the "back-up" story about the keys' origins in colonial America eventually made its way into the main plot, and the light touches of Lovecraftiana worked much better than I suppose a more heavy-handed approach would have.

The Turning
It's pretty true to Henry James's The Turn of the Screw, the actors did a fine job (especially the child actors), and it is aesthetically interesting, but most audiences are going to be very put off by The Turning's ending. Or lack thereof. (It either had two endings, or none, depending on how you look at it.) I'm honestly shocked that a major studio let this one hit the big screen in this form. Charitably, you could say the ending is ambiguous. It's doubly odd in that the James story has a very definitive climatic scene that has a lot of impact, but it just wasn't used here. The Turn of the Screw is still ambiguous (just look at the variety of analyses of it!), but you can still point to the ending as something that happened. I enjoyed the movie, but I would have a hard time recommending it to anyone in particular.

The Nightingale
Brutal depiction of colonialism in early 19th century Australia. A convict woman finds herself allied with an indigenous Australian as they track down a group of British colonial solders with revenge on their minds. Abuse and violence beget abuse and violence, but the film also gestures toward the natural ends of brutality and the consequences of the casual disregard of shared humanity that practically define the imperial project. Pair The Nightingale with There Will Be Blood for the maximum bleakness.