Three videos for your delectation.
Friday, October 30, 2020
Wednesday, October 28, 2020
Happy Halloween, everyone! I come offering a treat.
Necro-Cavaliers of the Astral Galaxy is a tabletop rpg hack of John Harper's Lasers & Feelings that answers the question "What would Warhammer 40k be like if all the grimdark was replaced with haute couture?" There's also a ton of influence from Tamsyn Muir's The Locked Tomb novels in it. I've already posted an actual play report from my first time running it here.
You can grab it in either a screen-ready version or a version meant to be printed as a twelve-page zine here at my Itch.io page. Here's the pitch for what the game is about:
The God Empress Requests Your Assistance
The Astral Galaxy has been ruled by the God Empress, She Who Sits Resplendent on the Opalescent Throne, for longer than recorded history remembers—great fat spans of millennia, at least.
You were born into one of the seven hereditary noble houses that form the God Empress’s court. As a member of the galactic aristocracy, yours has been a life of leisure and privilege. You are a fop, a dandy, a rake, a swell, and a toff. You are accustomed to being garbed in the height of fashion, drinking the rarest of libations, attending the most lavish soirees, and experiencing pleasures of dubious morality, virtue, and legality. You are a pampered, preening child born of wealth and luxury.
However, you were trained to be useful—should the need arise. You were not allowed to grow fallow. You were made to practice the arts of war and the arts of black magic. You were educated, tutored, and made skillful. You were honed, sharpened. You are a tool. You are a weapon.
You were raised as a necro-cavalier of your noble house. You reluctantly or begrudgingly underwent training as both necromancer and cavalier because your elite status comes with an obligation—a duty so sacred your family dare not shrink from it. The God Empress reserves the right to request that the noble houses of her court furnish her with their sons and daughters to serve whatever aims she sees fit. No one can deny the whims of the God Empress.
You have been called upon by the God Empress for a task that will, no doubt, put your life in jeopardy and test your fealty to your noble family and your beloved-slash-feared God Empress. As a necro-cavalier of the Astral Galaxy, you are honor bound to sally forth as the God Empress wills it.
Monday, October 26, 2020
|Photo by Tim Mossholder|
Anomi was called upon to visit Ogra V, a backwater agricultural planetoid. A woman named Joella Mald and her son Micah were expected for a visit with Joella's sister Selenia, but they never arrived at Selenia's home. Anomi's first task was to locate the homestead of Sperlington Mald, Joella's husband and Micah's father. Anomi's initial face-to-face with Captain Varrigan, the constabulary administrator of Ogra V, did not go particularly well; it was clear that Varrigan was trying to dissuade Anomi from investigating further. He posited that perhaps Joella or Micah had fallen ill and forgotten to notify Selenia.
Anomi returned to orbit to delve into the records on her data slate to get a little additional information. Her first suspicion was that Sperlington Mald had run afoul of some enemies and his family had been abducted, but she uncovered no obvious enmity. However, she did discover that Sperlington and Joella had been taking their son to a variety of blood specialists. Delving deeper into the medical records, she found out that Micah seemed to be suffering from an unknown blood ailment that had so far resisted all treatment. In fact, there was something in his blood that seemed...inhuman.
The time had come to investigate the Mald homestead directly. The homestead consisted of a two-story house and a large barn surrounded by soybean fields. Mald's hauler was docked at a nearby landing port. As Anomi made her way up to the porch of the house, she heard a beeping sound that became more and more rapid; she realized, too late, that she was about to fired upon by a laser beam trap! Fortunately, she was tackled out of the way just in the nick of time by a handsome, clean-cut man raised on Wonder Bread. After extricating themselves from each other, he introduced himself as Deputy Durango. Captain Varrigan had assigned him to watch the house for "intruders," but he had found someone by the back door who had similarly fallen prey to the house's traps.
Anomi and her new lackey Deputy Durango resumed exploring the house. The house was in good order, with nothing notable missing, save for the occupants of the house. However, Anomi did discover Micah's data slate, which he mostly used as drawing pad; the first few images were normal, but then it began to seem like Micah was obsessed with drawing a strange alien creature with elongated limbs, dead black eyes, and a mouth full of fangs. Anomi's attempts to search the databases of known alien beings turned up nothing, but she did find strikingly similar creatures depicted in the woodcuts of one culture's historical treatises on witchcraft--these creatures were regarded as "demons" in the historical record.
However, one item in the house caught Anomi's attention: the door to the basement was not just locked with a conventional keypad; it was also being held shut with a necromantic ward made of black magic and bits of ribcage. What secret was it hiding in the depths of the house of Mald? Tune in next time to find out.
Friday, October 23, 2020
- Angela Maria Spring, Tor
The Woman in Black: Why did Britain's scariest horror film disappear?
Wednesday, October 21, 2020
Mastery of the arcane can be gleaned through the study of heavy tomes laden with occult secrets, but some who seek power instead choose to become conduits for the power of entities that are beyond human understanding. The following four fiends are particularly active in recruiting mortals to their service.
Calysti is an archdevil that glorifies perversion and uses seduction as her preferred weapon to corrupt humanity. She is a sadomasochist who views pain and degradation as the highest forms of beauty and art. Everything that should illicit disgust instead excites and titillates her. She even finds the thought of her own downfall and destruction to be arousing. Her favorite pleasure, however, is breaking the will of the pious.
Appearance. A beautiful woman clad in finery and an ornate choker; the archetypal winged succubus.
Common Symbol. A heart engulfed in flames or a braided whip.
Damophet is baseness incarnate. He is a demon lord of many lusts; both an indiscriminate, bestial sexuality and a monstrous lust for blood define his nature. Damophet’s goal is to refashion humanity in his own image, rendering mankind nothing more than a slavering mass of desires that are never truly quenched. Damophet is plagued by dissatisfaction—he is a creature of ruinous want that cannot be satiated.
Appearance. A hulking beast covered with shaggy fur with a ram-like head.
Common Symbol. A ram skull.
Gyraphon is an archdevil associated with war, conquering, and militaristic violence. He cares only for victory and is willing to sacrifice even his most devoted followers on the battlefield to ensure his triumph. In his eyes, everyone and everything is a tool to enable his glory. Gyraphon is also the most philosophical of the archdevils. He is emotionless, and his plans are long-ranging stratagems spanning centuries.
Appearance. A breathtaking androgynous soldier armored in shining steel who bears an elegant saber.
Common Symbol. A peryton in flight.
Khelana, also known as the Demon Womb or the Demon Queen of Fecundity, believes in a curious utopia; she dreams of a world populated by a ceaseless sea of demonic monstrosities that continuously fight and copulate among themselves for eternity. Khelana is a dangerous trickster; she rejoices in spreading disorder and luring mortals to their doom. Some occult scholars also regard her as the source of all arcane magic.
Appearance. Her lithe human torso is perched atop the body of a massive, bloated arachnid. She wields a flaming sword.
Common Symbol. A spider covered in eyes.
Monday, October 19, 2020
Three interesting Youtube videos about Japanese horror.
Friday, October 16, 2020
- Maureen Monahan, Mental Floss
- Elene Theodoropoulos, CrimeReads
Wednesday, October 14, 2020
Let me explain.
It is generally well known that the Ravenloft setting pulls people from other realms into the Land of the Mists. The setting has characters from other settings such as Krynn, Faerun, Athas, and Oerth. The mists of Ravenloft can also abscond with characters from Gothic Earth--a setting that where all the elements of the Victorian Gothic are real rather than fictional. In fact, Ravenloft has a domain--Odiare--that was stolen from Gothic Earth's Italy.
And that's where Dracula comes in.
Dracula is one of the great evils of the Gothic Earth setting. If the mists can incorporate Odiare into its patchwork of horrors, there's no reason why it could not also pull Dracula from Gothic Earth's Transylvania and insert him in Ravenloft as the dark lord of a new domain. Of course, if that were to happen, it's only a matter of time until Dracula and Strahd square off to determine who is the true lord of the undead. What a horrible war for player characters to find themselves in the middle of...
Monday, October 12, 2020
Friday, October 9, 2020
Wednesday, October 7, 2020
Monday, October 5, 2020
So it begins! The yearly horror movie binge is upon us. Here's what I've watched so far:Truth or Dare
Friday, October 2, 2020
Things that brought me delight in September, 2020:
Tana French, The Wych Elm
After a night out celebrating after the resolution of a major office snafu, Toby Hennessy is attacked in his flat and left with a traumatic brain injury. As they so often do in life, the hits keep coming for Toby; he finds out that his beloved uncle Hugo has a terminal brain tumor. Toby moves into the Ivy House, Hugo's home and the "family house" that hosts all the Hennessy's gatherings, ostensibly to take care of Hugo, but also because it's a quiet place to recover from his own ptsd after being assaulted.
Things settle into a comfortable routine until a skeleton is discovered secreted inside the wych elm that dominates the backyard. The remains belong to someone Toby and his cousins knew back in school, but whose disappearance had long been considered a suicide. Toby's fractured mind reels at the possibilities. Is one of his cousins the killer? Is uncle Hugo responsible? Is he himself the murderer?
With his mind in disarray, Toby leaps from one conjecture to another, never able to fully grasp the complex world around him that he never had to notice. Toby's explanation of the events that unfold around him veer from thoughtful, oblivious, and at the novel's most tense moments, nervy and neurotic. He isn't just an unreliable narrator; he's the rare narrator who knows he's unreliable. Most interestingly, this newfound unreliability forces Toby to grapple with a truth he had never before been confronted with: his privilege as an attractive straight white male from a good family has insulated him from experiences he had easily been able to turn a blind eye toward. Dealing with trauma is new to Toby; imagine his horror at realizing that the world he's lived in has been defined trauma he never had to see.
Master of Dark Shadows
Master of Dark Shadows is a documentary film about Dan Curtis that focuses on the history of Dark Shadows, the Gothic soap opera that ran from 1966-1971. As a longtime Dark Shadows fan, there wasn't a ton of new information here for me, but the interviews with the cast and crew were great and the film paints a sweet overall picture. To be honest, I always forget that Dan Curtis helmed two epic, award-winning war series; to me, he'll always be the "Dark Shadows" guy--which would have been to his chagrin. But hey, if you're going to have a legacy of any kind, hard to beat the enduring love people have for Dark Shadows.
Oceans of Slumber, self-titled
Oceans of Slumber's new self-titled album, which is actually their fourth album, is an incredibly dense listen, but that density isn't about monolithic sludge or claustrophobia. The album is complex and multifaceted; intricate progressive acoustic guitar lines give way to doom-laden riffs and sea changes in tone and atmosphere. The record is aggressive, tapping into death metal's deep well of anger, but it also possesses a raw beauty seldom found on a metal release. Much of that beauty is due to vocalist Cammie Gilbert, whose voice is one of the strongest, most varied, and most siren-like deliveries in metal today.
After Forever, Prison of Desire, Decipher, Invisible Circles, Reimagine
With Nightwish's recently released Human. :||: .Nature still in heavy rotation, it felt appropriate to go back through After Forever's (current Nightwish singer Floor Jansen's first major band) back catalog. And what a trove of delights it is! Gothic metal gets one of its essential blueprints from After Forever's discography; although they didn't invent the notion of pairing classic instrumentation with beautiful feminine vocals and growling masculine vocals, they way they brought the whole package together with operatic deftness surely set a tone that was widely emulated.
Leigh Bardugo, Siege and Storm
After the events of Shadow and Bone, Mal and Alina are on the run, desperately trying to find their way to a life not haunted by the Darkling. But an easy egress is not to be had; they find themselves drawn back to Ravka because Alina comes to feel that her newfound power may be the only thing that can protect the nation and stop the Darkling's plan of usurpation. In a sense, she chooses to be haunted--in a somewhat literal way, at points--over having her own life. And yet, the sacrifices that Alina makes often don't seem worthwhile. Ravka is a terrible place, full of terrible people, but I suppose it is home.
I've posted about the single issues of Vision here before, but I've really been looking forward to reading the book again in its assembled edition from Fantagraphics. There's one grim thought among many that continues to haunt me from this comic: the notion that we really are nothing more than how other people see us and what other people desire from us. But that version of "vision" is only part of the story. It at least has substance, it's at least something we can grapple with. What of the ways we lack vision? The ways we are blind to ourselves or blind to the minor creatures around us who, despite our gaze not falling on them with any consequence, struggle under weights as heavy as our own?
D. J. Arneson and Joe Certa, Dark Shadows Story Digest Magazine
The Dark Shadows Story Digest Magazine was part of a series of spin-offs of Gold Key Comics' licensed franchises. The Dark Shadows issue, of which there was only one, pairs a multi-chapter story by D. J. Arneson with green-and-black and purple-and-black illustrations by Joe Certa.
The story is fairly threadbare and the conclusion hasty and ill-conceived; Barnabas willing travels back to the Salem of the past to reunite the soul of a Collins who died at sea with her lover--whose soul has been trapped by an evil witch. Oddly, the Salem chosen for this tale of deviltry and witch trials is the Salem of 1810, not the earlier, more witch-associated Salem you would expect. The illustrations, whoever, are amazing. I love this kind of monocolored art; it fills me with nostalgia. My copy of the digest came from the collection of someone's mother who was a lifelong fan of the show.
Vitezslav Nezval, Valerie and Her Week of Wonders
Better known in film form as an example of Czech surrealism, Vitezslav Nezval's Valerie and Her Week of Wonders is a strange combination of Gothic tale in the mold of Matthew Lewis's The Monk, fairy tale, and social commentary. Youth is the great treasure and great liability of the title character. The particular shade of beauty that only youth can bestow marks her as prey by men who both desire to possess her and hate the power it gives her over them and as competition for women who feel they have aged out of their dewiest years.
Leigh Bardugo, Ruin and Rising
Ruin and Rising, the final book of Leigh Bardugo's Shadow and Bone trilogy, pulls no punches. The protagonists often seem to have a great, if weighed against desperate odds, plan to take back their country from the evil usurper who currently holds the throne, only to have that plan come crashing down around them. Casualties mount; friends are torn apart or transformed into creatures of shadow before their very eyes. By the end of the novel, it becomes clear that Alina may have to make the greatest sacrifice that could be asked of her to insure even the possibility of victory.
Overall, this is a great series. Yes, it has some "chosen one" elements, but Bardugo plays with this idea instead of relying on generic conventions. Similarly, there are more shades of gray in the characters' motivations, including the villainous Darkling, than I usually expect to find in this kind of storytelling. Also, the series doesn't skimp on brutality.
When Eudora Holmes, mother of Mycroft, Sherlock, and Enola Holmes, goes missing, the only one of his children who seems concerned is her daughter. And so, after evading Mycroft's plans to install her in a finishing school for proper young ladies, Enola is on the case, tracking down her mother's whereabouts and reason for disappearing from the family home. Along the way, Enola helps save a young marquis from his overbearing family and an assassin out to end his life before it even begins. Enola Holmes is a fun little movie; I wouldn't say no to a sequel.
Joseph Delaney, Brother Wulf
Brother Wulf is the first volume in a new series of Spook's Apprentice books. It's pretty fun to see Tom Ward, the kid who grew from frightened apprentice to novice monster hunter, now a fully fledged practitioner of his trade after following the course the previous books. However, despite the cartoonish cover they gave this novel, this one is fucking dark. Tom's aid is sought by a young monastic noviciate, but Brother Beowulf is haunted by ghosts, tormented by a faceless demon made of sticks, and can sometimes access divine aid by bashing his head against the floor while entreating the saints for protection. Brother Wulf gets taken into the custody of the inquisition, who promptly show him jars of teeth, tongues, and eyes they removed from previous "sinners." The Spook's Apprentice books have always had elements of the Gothic in them, but this one feels particularly drenched in Gothic conventions.
Marilyn Ross, Strangers at Collins House