Thursday, July 30, 2020

To Outlive the Gods, End of Time, Beneath Broken Earth

A few howls of the damned for your listening pleasure:

My Dying Bride, "To Outlive the Gods"

Lacuna Coil, "End of Time"

Paradise Lost, "Beneath Broken Earth"

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

The Golgotha Lodge

The Golgotha Lodge
A faction in Krevborna

The Golgotha Lodge is a cult of monster hunters. However, unlike most slayers, they revel in the hunt itself and the glory of primal bloodshed. Each member of the Golgotha Lodge dreams of shedding the trappings of society by acquiring the curse of lycanthropy. They view lycanthropy as freedom from the effete and enervating burdens of civilization. To the hunters of the Golgotha Lodge, the bestial rages and bloody dreams that often accompany lycanthropy represent a savage, but vital, existence superior to the world of laws created by society.
    • Motto. “Blood makes the beast.”
    • Belief. Civilization has made humanity weak and should be abandoned.
    • Goal. Overcome moral limitations by embracing a more monstrous nature.
    • Quest. Hunt a fearsome wereboar to its lair.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Ancestries in Krevborna

A curse does not always fall on a single individual. In Krevborna, a curse may effect an entire family, altering their lineage or bloodline into something fundamentally inhuman.

Dhampir are the children born of vampires and living humans. They are recognizable by their morbid pallor and sharp fangs. They often possess supernatural abilities inherited from their vampiric parent, such as peerless night vision and the ability to heal themselves when they consume blood. Dhampir are extremely long-lived; they develop as humans do normally until they reach their early twenties, at which point their physical aging ceases and they remain in the flower of youth. 
Suggested stats. Ixalan vampires.

In the ancestry of a diavolo is a progenitor who fornicated with a devil. This blasphemy manifests as a potential family inheritance of diabolic traits that include horns, a tail, a forked tongue, and cloven hooves. However, not every child in a tainted line of descent is born a diavolo; the curse occurs arbitrarily within a family, often skipping generations only to reappear seemingly at random with the arrival of a new birth. Diavolo tend to be born into families with dark reputations, such as families associated with infernal cults or families that have made fell bargains for wealth and power. 
Suggested stats. Tieflings.

The first kathars were accursed by the gods for heresy. Their heirs still bear the mark of their forefathers’ trespasses; they are born with bestial bodies that resemble a cross between man and beast. Some are cursed with corvid forms, others with bodies that are insectile, leonine, or turtle-like. Modern kathars tend to live far from humanity, favoring isolated mountain communities of their own kind. Some kathars seek absolution and forgiveness for their ancestor’s crimes, but others have embraced the sin of their accursed lineage and seek to spread ruin.
Suggested stats. Kenku, leonines, lizardfolk, minotaurs, tabaxi, tortles.

Shae are descendants of the immortal fey who trysted with mortal men and women. The appearance of a shae can vary greatly. Some are ethereally beautiful elves, some are squat and burly dwarves, and some are sharp-toothed goblins—but those are only the most common forms the shae can take. Although some shae live among humans, most feel drawn to live in isolated communities of their own kind in Krevborna’s wilds; dense forests, deep vales, dark caves, and high mountains are the likely sites to find shae who shun contact with mankind. Sometimes shae are left behind when a fey abducts a human child from their cradle. Some shae belong to the Vivörka League, a militant secret society that wishes to organize the shae into fearsome warbands that will clear humanity from Krevborna. 
Suggested stats. Bugbears, dwarves, elves, firbolgs, gnomes, goblins, half-elves, halflings, hobgoblins, satyrs.

Lycanthropy can be passed down through a family in a minor form; familial bloodlines that carry the curse are known as varcolaks. Varcolaks frequently have bestial traits, such as sharp teeth, yellow eyes, or hair as thick as a shaggy pelt. Wolf-like features are most common among varcolaks, but other animalistic aspects have also been noted—their forms are dependent on the nature of their family’s particular curse. 
Suggested stats. Shifters.

Vexlings are a people with the uncanny ability to flawlessly mimic physical appearances. Vexlings are most often found hiding in plain sight as humans—they sometimes even steal the identities of specific people they have encountered or that have gone missing. The most heartless among them have no qualms about assassinating a man or woman and replacing them in the world. Vexlings have no villages or homelands of their own and seem to rarely associate with others of their kind. 
Suggested stats. Changelings.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps

Episode 45: The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps

Kai Ashante Wilson's 2015 novel The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps establishes a new and vibrant fantasy world that draws inspiration from African culture. This sword and sorcery tale depicts the journey of Demane, a gifted healer and fighter who hides numerous secrets, as he helps guard a caravan against enemies of the mortal and supernatural varieties.

What are the similarities and differences to traditional fantasy tropes found in this book? How is language and dialog deployed to depict its characters? Are there limitations to shared warrior brotherhood? Kate and Jack explore all these questions and more in the latest episode of Bad Books for Bad People.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

The Wintertide

The Wintertide
A faction in Krevborna

The Wintertide is a cult of nihilistic druids led by Dahlia Medlozka. The cult reveres the destructive power of nature, particularly the cold northern winds that goad them to plunge the world into an endless winter. Their goal is to cleanse the land of what they see as the degeneracy of civilization and allow only the strong to survive. The desire to ravage the globe with frost is the sweet promise of vengeance against a world that has wronged them; all members of the cult have suffered abuse and seek revenge against the world.
    • Motto. “Winter’s winds favor the strong.”
    • Belief. The strong endure; the weak are destined to perish.
    • Goal. Bring forth an endless winter to destroy civilization.
    • Quest. Infiltrate the household of a callous aristocratic family to recruit their servants to the cult. 

Sunday, July 19, 2020

The Cleric and the Cannibals

Photo by Ines Alvarez Fdoz at Unsplash
As Khamad, Sable, and Casimir rode north, they talked about their motives. "Why are you after my brother?" Khamad asked Sable. She grinned and tapped her eye patch. "He owes me for this with some interest besides," she said. She turned to Casimir, "And you? Why are you travelling with us? There's a good chance we're going to die in this godsforsaken wilderness."

Casimir turned his eyes skyward, as if searching the heavens for an answer. After a few moments he said, "I'm being tested. I've been tasked with finding something. I already nearly failed when I got captured by those bandits. This is a second chance for me. Probably won't get another." Cryptic, but it was an answer of sorts.

Further north, in the realm of Lamashtu, it began to snow. They considered ditching the wagon they had looted from the bandits, as it kept getting stuck in the rough terrain, but Casimir insisted it would come in handy later on down the road, so he made every effort to keep the wheels out of ruts.

Cresting a hill, they saw a terrible thing.

A woman, her blonde hair braided and coiled around her round face, was running from half a dozen men and women clad in ragged, filthy furs. Each of them bore a harpoon.

Unwilling to let the woman be run down, Sable and Khamad rode to her defense while Casimir unslung his musket and begin to take shots at the savages. Sable stove into the unrushing barbarians like a cavalry officer. Khamad summoned fire from the ether, letting it dance upon these infidels.

The running woman, as it transpired, was not without fire of her own. Now that she was not absolutely outnumbered, she turned and faced her pursuers. Fingering a wooden rosary, she chanted words in the holy language of the saintly blood, calling radiant fire down upon the fur-clad barbarians. They screamed and roared, but still they came out.

Casimir's shots rang out, sending a few of them to the Abyss. Sable and Khamad fought back-to-back, holding their new foes at bay. 

The newcomer again touched her rosary. Her eyes when white and inhuman. She rose from the earth on spectral wings. She emitted an aura of unkind death, rotting flesh on the bone.

When the battle was over, Casimir came running down the hill while Sable and Khamad regarded the woman with a mixture of horror and wonder. "Who were those beasts, and who are you?" Casimir asked.

"Those are Helvinter cultists," she said. "To advance in their cult, they need to hunt, kill, and cannibalize their victims to please their fell mistress."

"You're a priest of the Church of Saintly Blood, aren't you?" Khamad asked.

She tucked her rosary away.

"Yes, or...something like that. My name is Devanya. I serve Saint Mairwen and Azrafina, the Angel of Death."

"Why would a living saint be in vampire-blighted Lamashtu?" Sable asked.

"I was heading to the court of the Queen. Someone there has an relic sacred to Mairwen. I mean to recover it."

Sable and Khamad exchanged glances. "We're headed to Castle Siebenhurst as well. Shit, I'll bring the wagon around, you'll ride with us," Casimir said.

It wasn't so much an offer as it was a cold, hard fact.

* * *

Previous Adventures
Losing a Fight in a Frontier Tavern

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Campaign Arc Title Generator

Original photo by Marc Arias on

What, your Krevborna campaign arc doesn't have a title? What are you, some kind of peasant?

Use the following table to randomly generate a title for your campaign arc in the style of the Castlevania games or the Ravenloft novels. It may suggest a direction for your game that you had not previously considered.

of (the) [Noun]
Black Rose
Dark Souls
Tortured Souls
Violent Passions

00, 29 - Tower of Dissonance
13, 90 - Chronicles of Torment
11, 37 - Chorus of the Fallen

Yeah, I'd run, play, or read any of those.

Monday, July 13, 2020

The Graymalk Family

The Graymalk Family
A faction in Krevborna

The Graymalk family of witches control the town of Hemlock. The family is led by the long-lived matriarch Helena Graymalk, and it consists of her strangely innumerable daughters and the menfolk who have married into the family—men who join the clan always assume the Graymalk name, and they know better than to meddle in the affairs of the family’s women. The women of the Graymalk family serve Charnovog as his loyal handmaidens. As part of their diabolic pact, the women of the Graymalk family are obligated to wear pointed shoes. 
    • Motto. “Charnovog lives on our lips and in our hearts.”
    • Belief. Power is the strongest intoxicant.
    • Goal. To enthrone Charnovog as the lord of the world.
    • Quest. Save a witch of the Graymalk clan from burning at the stake to gain the family’s trust.

Monday, July 6, 2020

The West Marches

The West Marches
A location in Krevborna

The sparsely populated hills and plains west of Krevborna’s nominal bastions of civilization are collectively known as the West Marches. Small towns, villages, and farmsteads dot the borderlands between Krevborna and Vezda. These communities are connected by dusty trade roads that lead beyond Krevborna’s borders. In between these outposts are swaths of badlands littered with supposedly abandoned keeps, castles, and monasteries.

An atmosphere of vigilante justice prevails in the often lawless West Marches; its settlements are imperiled by unholy beasts and predatory outlaws, and it lies beyond the protective reach of the Church of Sacred Blood. The lonely farmsteads and villages of the West Marches are encircled by perimeter walls meant to keep out monsters and bandits. Most settlements in the West Marches practice their own forms of self-governance, but some are oppressed by local tyrants, mercenary bands, or cult leaders. 

Losing a Fight in a Frontier Tavern

Photo by Juliane Liebermann at Unsplash
In a lonely wayside inn on Krevborna's unruly Frontier, a lone blood mage from Ustalecht asks the wrong questions of the assorted mercenaries and ruffians gathered within. He thought he could rely on threats and a show of minor sorcery to get the information he wanted.

But he was wrong. 

The things they say about Krevbornites in his home country--that they are cowards raised on soft bread dipped in milk--prove not be to true. The men and women gathered in the inn don't respond well to threats, and they've seen worse than than the paltry little dance of magic he can command on a whim. The beat the blood mage bloody, giving him the kind of thrashing he thought he had left behind when he deserted the Empire's army.

He is thrown out of the inn, face first, into a puddle of mud. It rains, icy and bitter, but he barely notices. Khamad has had worse days.

Consciousness comes and goes, but Khamad becomes aware that a woman is staring down at him from her one good eye as she sits atop a horse. The woman is slight; underneath the bulk of her oilskin coat, she is dressed in finery that is ill-suited to the Frontier. Her clothes, though, are boyish rather than feminine. A rakish hat kept the water off her hair. She wore an eye patch, and a rapier was slung at her belt. In her gloved hand she held the reins of a second horse.

"I will help you fight your secret war," she said. 

Khamad picked himself up and mounted the second horse. They rode.

The woman's name, or so she claimed, was Sable. As they camped in a cave, Khamad tried to explain himself. About his brother, a fellow blood mage from Ustalecht, who had discovered magic potent enough to destroy Krevborna. About how he had seen enough devastation. About how even though his people would dearly love to have Krevborna ravaged, swept clean, made fit to join the Empire, he could not allow it to happen. Not even in the land of his enemies. He was sick of blood.

Sable snorted. "There's more blood yet to come. Rivers of it, miles of it." 

How could she know? She had dreamed of it. Dreams that worried her to the quick, made her abandon a life of debauchery and leisure to seek out a lone blood mage from Ustalecht in the exact place her dream had told her he would be. They got roaringly drunk.

Drunk enough not to hear the approach of bandits until it was too late. Too late for the bandits, that is. The rapier Sable wore was not for show; when it was in her hand, all frivolity disappeared and was replaced with an enthusiastic blood lust. Khamad did not limit himself to pretty magical tricks; the bandit faced fire and lightning. 

The bodies were duly looted. The bandits' wagon was duly looted, but the greatest treasure they were carrying was an abductee--a swordsman named Casimir who had been waylaid days before. Casimir was given his freedom and agreed to travel with them until they reached the next civilized town or village.

Both Khamad and Sable grinned. It would be a long time until they hit a place that could rightfully be called civilized.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

The Wind, The 13th Floor, The Rat, Ruthless Gods, and More

Things that brought me delight in June, 2020:

The Wind
Calling The Wind an example of the Horror Western genre does it a disservice; that notion raises expectations of haunted gunslingers and the like--expectations that The Wind won't satisfy. Instead, The Wind focuses on the domestic horror of westward expansion. The landscape is pitiless. The menfolk are stoic and emotionally mute--when they are present at all. The women are burdened by what they've left behind, what they've brought with them, and by the life they've found at the forsaken ends of the frontier. Add an unhealthy dose of paranoia to the already heady mix of isolation, brutality, and hubris, and things are bound to unravel in hideous ways.

The 13th Floor
Sirenia's The 13th Floor was a controversial album when it was released. The expectation was that every Sirenia album would feature the talents of a different vocalist, but The 13th Floor was the beginning of Ailyn's tenure with the band. Although opinion was divided at the time, I find the album hard to fault. Morten Veland's project has always delivered strong Gothic metal statements; though there is somewhat of a pop direction on The 13th Floor, it is tempered by the use of choir, orchestration, and the occasional "beauty and the beast" moment. My favorite tracks on the album are the ones I never hear anyone mention; give "The Mind Maelstrom" or "Beyond's Life Scenery" a try if you want a taste of Sirenia's best material from this period.

DeConnick, Rios, Bellaire, and Cowles,
Pretty Deadly: The Rat
Whereas the first two volumes of Pretty Deadly explored the narrative space of Westerns and war stories, The Rat stakes a claim as a modern take on noir. Frank, a Conjure Man, summons Deathface Ginny to help him solve the mystery of his niece's death. This mythopoetic version of the detective story plunges the unlikely pair into conflict with stray reapers--agents of Death who have not yet come back to the fold now that Sissy has assumed the mantle. They must also navigate the illusions of early Hollywood and learn to separate the authentic story from its falsified ending.

Emily A. Duncan,
Ruthless Gods
More grasping of problematic lovers by the chin to direct their gaze! More tracing of fingers across cheekbones! Now with added feet up on the furniture in a really insouciant way! All jokes aside, I enjoyed Ruthless Gods but this series has lost me a bit. There's a too much mounting inconstancy, as if the author really doesn't know where her story is going or what actually motivates her characters; for example, a character who has dueling-yet-incompatible desires can be interesting, but if they pursue a course of action wholeheartedly only to change horses mid-stride it just makes them feel flighty instead of conflicted. Similarly, characters just show up or bugger off as needed. (No less than four heirs or current rulers of kingdoms end up in the same place and the same time.) Oddly, the series has become a pretty strong argument for why teenagers should never be regarded as the most important people in the world: if the main characters here are any indication it would be all snark, all petulance, all pointing knives at each other, and all toxic relationships all the way down.

The Great
If you're looking for historical accuracy, keep moving. Although The Great is based on Catherine the Great's coup against her husband Peter, this dark, bawdy take on Russian succession does not care at all about the historical record. There's a great deal of cruelty and absurd moments in this show, but they're sweetened by exquisite comedic timing. One thing I really enjoyed about The Great is that it doesn't turn Catherine into another example in a long line of an increasingly grating archetype: the earnest white lady whose idealism, braininess, and type-a organizational fetish is really just a cover for controlling the lives of the less well-positioned. This Catherine is an idealist, but she's also naive, stumbling, and fairly deeply flawed. And yet we can still want to see her succeed because she's simply less flawed than everyone else in the pointlessly extravagant Russian court.

Triptykon with the Metropole Orkest,
I'm usually not a big fan of live albums. But every once in a while a live album comes along that captures a unique, primal moment. Requiem is of that latter type. Pairing Triptykon's experimental Gothic doom with a full orchestra is an obvious winning move, but Requiem feels as tightly conceived and cohesive as any strategically constructed studio recording could ever hope to be.

Judas Christ and Skeleton Skeletron
Skeleton Skeletron and Judas Christ mark Tiamat's exit from the goth rock sound they adopted on A Deeper Kind of Slumber. As such, they're at the heavier end of Tiamat's Sisters of Mercy worship. These are probably the easiest Tiamat albums to listen to; certainly, they are the least demanding. Though in some quarters that breezy cover of "Sympathy for the Devil" might be unforgivable. 

K. J. Parker,
Prosper's Demon
I've really been enjoying the novellas that Tor has been publishing. Prosper's Demon concerns an amoral exorcist, the artistic and philosophical genius of the age, a demon-inhabited infant prince, and a large bronze statue of a horse. Of course, I'm a mark for these sly little tales that muse on the power of art and the meaning of sacrifice, but this is a particularly cunning and cruel example of the form. This is the perfect book to read in a day after you've just finished something long and feel the need to catch your breath before pressing on with another lengthy read. It was just long enough to stick the knife in and let the pain linger a bit before the end. 

The House with a Clock in its Walls
The House with a Clock in its Walls has a lot weighing against it. For one, it's directed by Eli Roth, whom I am not usually a fan of--which was especially true after viewing Green Hell. Second, it has Jack Black in it, whom I usually try to avoid. And yet, against the odds, I thought this was a fun movie. Not mind-blowing, not an instant classic, but a solid little movie about a kid thrust into a world of horror and magic. There's a good bit of scatological humor, and I couldn't figure out if it was there because hey, Eli Roth, or because that's just what kids find funny. Additionally, I defy you to find a more surreal image this side of Eraserhead than Jack Black's adult head on the body of a urinating baby.

For a while, the trailer for Ma was inescapable at the theater. And honestly, it didn't seem to bode well. Teens stalked by the unhinged older woman who lets them party at her house because she's dangerously lonely is a decent premise, but it had the real potential to be a by-the-numbers thriller. Somewhat surprisingly, Ma is a pretty tight little horror film that plays with deeper traumas and the desire to visit revenge on the more vulnerable descendants of the people who harmed you. It's unusually lurid in places for a Blumhouse production; at times it even has a light V. C. Andrews flavor to it. And it deserves credit for featuring teen characters who actually look like teenagers.

Hideyuki Kikuchi,
Vampire Hunter D: Dark Nocturne
Unlike the other volumes in the Vampire Hunter D series, Dark Nocturne is a collection of novellas instead of a self-contained novel. One novella concerns a haunting vampiric song, another is about an artificial world that harbors a vampire until blood lust overtakes it, and the third pits two sentient weapons of war against each other in a needless, predetermined conflict. I wasn't expecting an overarching theme to be running throughout the three stories in Dark Nocturne--well, other than "D is hot"--but the novellas in this volume all testify to the horrible ends of the vampire Nobility's scientific acumen. 

Victor LaValle, Dietrich Smith, Joana Lafuente,
A Frankenstein for the current moment--so much so that it could be a little painful to read in places. Extrapolating the often under-explored context of why Victor Frankenstein gave life to his creature--the persistent weight of grief--Destroyer focuses on how black lives and black bodies are treated as disposable and the pain of having to grapple with how ingrained that disposability is in our culture. The question becomes--how do you respond to the grief that inevitably must follow from that? Although this ends on a hopeful note, this is not escapism.