Bad Books for Bad People
Sunday, February 28, 2021
Tuesday, February 23, 2021
Ravenloft, my favorite "official" setting for Dungeons & Dragons, is getting a new lease on unlife with the upcoming Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft book. We don't know the full details of what will be in there, but I wanted to give my impressions of what we've learned so far from this article on Gizmodo. I'll also be including information divulged in this Youtube video by Todd Kenreck. One of the first things that struck me is that they are pushing the idea that this new Ravenloft will be about more than just gothic horror:
“Just like how the original Ravenloft adventure was spread out into an entire campaign setting back in the ‘90s, we’re doing very much the same thing [in Van Richten’s],” Wes Schneider, a Senior Game Designer on Wizards of the Coast’s D&D team and one of the key architects behind the new book, told press in a recent briefing. “We’re starting with the core of Curse of Strahd and then expanding out from there into other domains of dread—and beyond just gothic horror. So, we’ll also be seeing cosmic horror, ghost horror stories, dark fantasy, psychological horror—all these different things depending on what your favorite flavor of nightmare might be.”
As much as gothic horror has always been the main draw of Ravenloft for me personally, I think this is likely a good direction to go in. In fact, I've put forth the idea each domain could be specialized on a specific flavor of horror before on this very blog. For example, I've posited that Bluetspur would be more interesting as a Lovecraftian New England analog than as a barren wasteland that is nearly impossible to traverse; in my vision, you'd get to keep the mind flayers at the heart of the domain, but also make it part of an actual setting rather than the occasion for a single adventure. Perhaps Bluetspur will be the domain they have developed with "cosmic horror" in mind?
Infamous vampire hunter Dr. Rudolph Van Richten may be the titular star of the new book, but Van Richten’s Guide will give players information on a bevy of characters to populate each of the over 30 domains of dread that are detailed in the book, both potential allies on excursions and existential foes—like the Darklords that rule each land in Ravenloft. “Ravenloft has always been so much about the characters, the stories that are really the roots of the various domains of dread,” Schneider explained. “One of the most significant ways of seeing that is that every one of these different domains—just like how Barovia has Strahd — all of the others also have their own Darklord. So, there are these supervillains that are really not just the core motivator behind the plots of domains, but also a prisoner of those places.”
One thing I'm a little leery of is continuing Ravenloft's legacy of leaning too hard on its NPCs, particularly the Darklords, to define the setting rather than focusing on locations that are useful for creating your own adventures and characters who are more grounded than the setting's big villains. Thirty domains is also quite a lot; I would imagine that means that none of them will get compendious write-ups, which is fine by me; Ravenloft has never been a setting that benefited from exploring minutiae.
That means there are Ravenloft domains old and new that are getting twists and spins to present them as different sub-categories of the horror genre. Want a creepy dark fairytale realm to set a ghoulish masquerade in? Take your party to the realm of Dementlieu. Want political machinations as dark powers vie for control of the land in a never-ending war of dread? There’s Kalakeri, a new realm inspired by Indian folklore. Many of the realms already familiar to readers will be represented with new twists to take on a vibe of their own. The forested land of Valachan, for example, is now essentially D&D’s take on The Dangerous Game, as the Darklord hunts your party down for sport. Lamordia is now the realm of Dr. Viktra Mordenheim—presumably of relationship to Ravenloft’s Victor Mordenheim—a mad scientist dedicated to her craft of creating monstrous new flesh golems in an icy twist on Frankenstein.
Now this is interesting stuff if you're a long-time fan of Ravenloft. It is clear that they are changing up the familiar domains and taking them in new directions. I suspect this will upset some hardcore fans who do not want the setting to change, but I'm of a different mind--I think Ravenloft really does need a facelift at this point.
It's interesting to see a mix of familiar domains next to new ideas. It sounds like Dementlieu will remain an advanced, but decadent, culture of intrigue, but now with an added focus on ghouls and fairytales. Valachan remains a realm of primeval forests, but with a specific flavor of horror--the horror of being hunted. In Todd Kenrick's Youtube video it's also stated that Valachan has a new Darklord, and that this Darklord uses displacer beasts to hunt men and women in the jungles of his domain. This pleases me. Valachan's original Darklord, Baron Urik von Kharkov, has an insanely convoluted and fairly useless backstory--and frankly it's also a backstory that carries with it some unfortunate baggage. I'm also excited by the prospect of this version of Ravenloft incorporating more D&Disms into its mix; Valachan as "The Most Dangerous Game" plus displacer beasts is an idea to conjure with.
I'm also curious about how some of the newer elements will be handled. Is Viktra Mordenheim more than a gender-swap of Victor Mordenhein? I look forward to seeing what novel tragedy she brings to the table. Also, Ravenloft already had an Indian subcontinent analog, which makes me wonder how Kalakeri is different and unique. (I mean, aside from the assumption that it doesn't use actual Hindu gods and some other potentially offensive stereotypes.)
Edited to add Polygon's article put names to domains with a little additional flavor information:
Dementlieu, ruled by the cruel Saidra díHonaire, is a twisted take on the fairy tale genre. Lamordia is home to Dr. Viktra Mordenheim, who chases her escaped flesh golem, Elise, across the land. Falkovnia has a new ruler named Vladeska Drakov and has been reimagined as a realm on the brink of a zombie apocalypse. There’s Kalakeri, which draws its inspiration from Indian folklore and mythology, where darklords Ramya, Arijani, and Reeva each vie for control. The last realm teased is called Valachan, where the darklord Chakuna relentlessly hunts down player characters for sport.
Back to Gizmodo:
The wildest reinvention of all might be Van Richten’s Guide’s version of Falkovnia: once similar to Barovia as a riff on vampiric horror, it’s now a full-on zombie apocalypse zone. “Falkovnia was always one of the places where the whole concept of ‘let’s bring these old domains back but really given them a new spin’ started coming from,” Schneider noted. “In the past, it was run by a character named Vlad Dracov, who was sort of Vlad the Impaler—that was sort of the whole domain’s schtick. Well, we’ve sort of got a Vlad-esque character with Strahd, already! So, with Falkovnia, this was one where there wasn’t really a good seed, so, what we ended up doing was when we updated it, it’s like, ‘Here’s a domain, it’s a cool setting, there’s a lot of cool places and whatnot’—what’s the neat spin we can give it? So, we turned Falkovnia into our zombie apocalypse domain.
This is one area where I think the marketing has forgotten to fact check a few things. Falkovnia was never "another vampire realm" and Vlad Drakov (with a K, not a C) was never a vampiric villain! Although it is true that both Strahd and Drakov have their roots in Dracula, Drakov is a human tyrant based on the real-world Vlad Tepes while Strahd is the obvious analog to Stoker's vampire count. Instead of being "more gothic horror as seen in Barovia," Falkovnia was always a place that explored the horrors of living under a fascist military dictatorship. The problem is that nothing interesting was ever done with that fairly rich premise. Turning Falkovnia into a zombie apocalpse is all right; it makes sense, in a post-Walking Dead world, but I hope they manage to make it more than just all zombies all the time.
Tying all the different realms together in the book are a people who will be familiar to players who’ve ventured into Ravenloft before: the Vistani, who formed a major part of The Curse of Strahd’s setting. A nomadic culture, the Vistani provide a chance for adventurers to encounter people who have visited lands beyond the one their current story is taking place in. “You’re not generally going to run into Lamordians in Barovia, or the folks from Valachan—you could in isolated instances, but as a general throughline, these are characters you might run into again and again. Fundamentally, they are people who have a specific cultural experience,” Schneider said of the Vistani’s role in Van Richten’s Guide.
I think the new depiction of the Vistani will have a lot of eyes on it as soon as this book drops. I am positive that certain keyboard warriors on Twitter are already salivating at the thought of being able to denounce whatever is in the book as bad representation. Me, I'm more concerned that once again the notion of Ravenloft as a coherent setting in which its residents can travel from domain to domain is downplayed. I've always felt that does some damage to the setting as a holistic place for D&D adventures. I'd love to discover that my reading-between-the-lines is off here.
“The domains that we present are, in a way, sort of examples for if you want to take a splash of gothic horror and you want to throw in some disaster horror, this is the domain that might come out of it, here’s your example for that,” Schneider added. “But we’ve done a whole chapter on ‘What is a domain?’ ‘What is a Dark Lord?’ ‘What is this specific secret sauce for making your own Domain of Dread?’—What we do is go through a variety of genres of horror just being like, ‘Alright, these are some settings in this genre—these are what ghostly villains might look like, these are what body horror settings look like,’ so, to an extent, you can use that for inspiration or mix and match your own element, put them all together and then have a unique horror experience that you randomly generated. Or, if you wanted to make a more bespoke nightmare, you’ve got all the tools that you need.”
I hope the tools for creating domains and Darklords are robust. Being able to add your own domains has always been an obvious selling point to the setting that weirdly remained unexplored and untapped by official products.
“We’re gonna put it all together into a 20-page adventure called The House of Lament, which focuses on one of Ravenloft’s most notorious haunted houses,” Schneider teased.
The House of Lament is a classic location from the 2e version of the setting, so it's nice to hear that it will be returning in some fashion. The tidbit that the adventure might involve the players performing a seance is extremely my shit.
Hamon also expounded on the more mechanical side of things the book will delve into. Aside from the official arrival of two ‘Unearthed Arcana’ subclasses from Wizard’s playtesting initiative—the College of Spirits for Bards, and the Undead Patron for Warlocks—three new lineage options will allow players to role Dhampir, Hexblood, and Undead characters, either entirely from scratch or to incorporate the transformation of their current characters. If that wasn’t spooky enough, new “Dark Gifts” will give players options to tie their adventurer’s spiritual existence to the realms they’re visiting, having them be haunted by the ghouls and ghosts of the land.
I love the three new lineages. Even if I never end up running a Ravenloft game again, those will find a place in my Krevborna campaign. The new subclasses will also be similarly useful to me. I'm not sure if the Dark Gifts in this book will be different from the ones in Curse of Strahd (they sound like a different kind of mechanic) so I'm interested in checking them out as well. A bestiary will also be part of the book. Is it too much for me to hope that some long-wished-for favorites of mine make it into this hardback? I would love to see mohrgs and penanggalan in this.
As well as the tools to create spooky stories, Van Richten’s Guide will also include directions on how to run them safely and consensually.
I'm not really laughing at the inclusion of "safety guidelines," as I gather some people actually need them, but "consensually" here makes it sound like people are being shanghaied into games of D&D against their will.
Though we probably don't know much more than the broad shape of things to come in this new Ravenloft, I'm definitely excited to hear more. If you'd like to see more:
GRIDSHOCK 20XX, a "Superpowered Fist to the Face of Armageddon," is in the home stretch on Kickstarter. Here's the blurb from the Kickstarter page:
GRIDSHOCK 20XX is a tabletop roleplaying game setting: a superhero world where something went very wrong in 1986. Reality was warped, civilization collapsed, and the world as we knew it was turned upside down. Now the bad guys are in charge of what's left – but a new breed of superhumans called Vectors strive to restore freedom to their ravaged world. Like the heroes of the past, Vectors use their powers to address injustice directly, and with style: by punching it in the face, or blasting it with laser eyes. And with a totalitarian state called the Supremacy in control, there are a whole lot of things in need of punching and blasting.
I've played in a couple of Paul V's GRIDSHOCK adventures; if the Kickstarter page doesn't give you enough of a feel for what the setting is like, check this out or maybe this as well. You've got 48 hours left if you want in on it.
Sunday, February 21, 2021
Thursday, February 18, 2021
Manipulation of Manhood: Julia Gfrorer’s Comic Book Misandry
Monday, February 15, 2021
Below is the alpha version of a custom race I made for my Krevborna games. It's based off the yuan-ti pureblood stats, but toned down a bit since it doesn't get advantage on saves vs. magic. However, it does have more versatility and customization since you get to pick the spells granted by the innate spellcasting feature.
Jagerborn were once human, but the alchemical infusions of given to them by the alchemists of the Haxanjager Guild have transformed them into beings engineered to withstand the attacks of the monsters their guild hunts. Transformation into a jagerborn imparts resistance to disease, an unnaturally prolonged lifespan, and immunity to poison. Jagerborn also development strange magical powers in response to the alchemical modifications they undergo. Jagerborn generally retain their human appearance, but each is marked by a tell-tale sign of their alteration. Unnatural or unusual pigmentation of the eyes, hair, or skin are common among the jagerborn.
Ability Score Increase. Either your Strength or Dexterity score increases by 2, and your Wisdom score increases by 1.
Age. A jagerborn can live up to 300 years, but most die at the hands of the monsters they hunt long before that.
Alignment. A jagerborn can be of any alignment.
Size. Jagerborn retain their human size and weight. Your size is Medium.
Speed. Your base walking speed is 30 feet.
Darkvision. You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can't discern color in darkness, only shades of gray.
Innate Spellcasting. You know one cantrip of your choice from the sorcerer spell list. You can also cast a 1st level spell of your choice from the sorcerer or ranger spell lists. Starting at 3rd level, you can also cast a 2nd level spell of your choice from the sorcerer or ranger spell lists. Once you cast these spells, you can't do so again until you finish a long rest. Wisdom is your spellcasting ability for these spells.
Jagerborn Resilience. You are immune to poison damage and the poisoned condition. You have advantage on saving throws against disease.
Jagerborn Combat Training. You have proficiency with light armor and one simple or martial weapon of your choice.
Languages. You can speak, read, and write Common and one other of your choice.
Thursday, February 4, 2021
I Myself Am a Haunting: In Conversation with Ellen Rogers
- Sabina Stent, MAI
Why So Many Black Horror Films are Horrors Themselves
- Cate Young, The American Prospect
Bedfellows of the Worm: The Early History of Female Vampires
- Dr. Sam Hirst, Tor
Sunday, January 31, 2021
Things that brought me delight in January, 2021:
Therese Doucet, The Prisoner of the Castle of Enlightenment
Therese Doucet is an "online acquaintance" of mine, so that likely colors my perception of this novel, but I feel I can safely recommend the book to anyone looking for a lightly Gothic take on Beauty and the Beast. The heroine is a young widow and former bookseller whose father trades her off to a reclusive nobleman to stave off financial catastrophe. She's sent to the nobleman's remote chateau, where unseen forces cater to her needs. The nobleman writes to her, telling her that he will only arrive to meet her if she expressly desires it.
Our heroine eventually relents and agrees to meet her keeper, but he only appears under the cover of darkness in her bedroom. They have long conversations, but he never allows her to see his face. When she expresses a sense of loneliness during the days, a cast of strangers arrives to enliven the chateau. Each uses a pseudonym to disguise their identity. The house turns into a salon in which art and enlightenment ideals are discussed, though I will say that the lack of development in the enlightenment angle is probably my biggest criticism of the novel. The chateau's Elysium is disrupted by treachery, but things come full circle to the strange legends about the forest and all the enchantments its holds.
It's obvious that I bought this beer because it has a lich on the art, but this beer is actually excellent so I wasn't just suckered in by good marketing. It's a pale ale, very hoppy, with a bit of a citrus kick to it as well. If my local grocery store keeps stocking this, I will certainly keep buying it.
Claire L. Smith, Helena
I wanted to love this book, but I'm going to have to settle for a mild like instead. To be brutally honest, I may be stretching the limits of "delight" by even including it in this monthly round-up. In theory, I should be in love with a novel with this premise: a woman mortician plagued by specters is embroiled in a serial murderer's plans in Victorian England.
There are some really well done gruesome bits in Helena, particularly the descriptions of the threatening unquiet dead, but I was let down by the shoddiness of the historical backdrop. For example, it's set in 1855 and a detective whips put plastic bags marked "evidence"? Additionally, one of the characters has the most implausible rationale for allowing another to pursue a truly insane and monstrous course of action.
Plush Grim Reaper
My plush plague doctor got a new friend.
I've been a fan of Therion since I first heard Vovin. And yet, being a Therion fan be a dicey affair. Modern Therion records can sometimes be a bit too "power metal" for my tastes, and there have been moments where the symphonic and orchestral bombast has overtaken the heaviness that I'm looking for. The indulgent, three-disc Beloved Antichrist is the case in point, and since this is their first album after that sprawling affair, Leviathan seems poised to be either a return to form or a further misstep. In practice, it's neither. Instead, it's a grab bag of the various styles that Therion have accumulated over the course of their discography. There are symphonic metal songs I really like here, but also some moments I'm less partial to.
Bloody Hammers, Songs of Unspeakable Terror
Bloody Hammers is definitely a Planet Motherfucker house band; their mix of lurid, lowbrow spookshow rock hits all the right ghoulish and lightly psychotronic notes. Songs of Unspeakable Terror sounds like...pretty much every other Blood Hammers album, but that's fine by me. You wouldn't expect The Misfits to reinvent their sound and aesthetic, so I'm quite happy for Bloody Hammers to stay the graveyard course they've chosen for themselves.
Norihiro Yago, Claymore vol. 1-2
There is a Berserk-shaped hole in my life. Once you're got caught up on the translated volumes, where do you go? Well, personally, I've turned toward Claymore. Claymore is about a world in which monsters are hunted by slayers who have been hybridized with their prey, resulting in superhumans who are both the saviors of humanity and reviled for their inherent inhumanity. So far, I'm enjoying the dark fantasy elements of this manga. The art has nowhere near the detail of Berserk, but this is a quick-moving action comic with interesting characters and plenty of limbs being lopped off by greatswords.
Kaori Yuki, Alice in Murderland vol. 4
By the end of volume four of Alice in Murderland, there's one less sibling to worry about in the battle royale for control of the family's fortune and mysterious mystical powers. What I've found really interesting in this volume is the depiction of a character who we might call trans in the West, but doesn't seem to fit that description from the story's point of view. Sibling Mare is a "son" of the family and consistently referred to by male pronouns, but "he" seems to have chosen to live as a woman--dressing in feminine attire and adopting a stereotypically feminine characterization throughout the series. It's difficult to parse the gender politics of another culture, but the way it plays on in the pages of the comic is fascinating, particularly as it has yet to be fully explained and honestly might not ever be addressed.
Tribulation, Where the Gloom Becomes Sound
Tribulation has established themselves as a great introductory band for people to bond over, no matter their level of comfort with metal; they're heavy enough for hardcore metal fans, but approachable enough for people who don't generally have a taste for heavy music. Where the Gloom Becomes Sound continues Tribulation's streak of gothic-infused metal. Like Bloody Hammers' Songs of Unspeakable Terror, it doesn't steer the band in a wild new direction--Tribulation have found their niche and they're all the more stronger for it.
Anathema, Alternative 4
One thing that I believe is terribly under-rated is going back and listening to albums that didn't initially hit you the right way. We accept that it's possible to grow out of something, but rarely think about how we can grow into them. For me, Anathema is a great example. There was a time when I drew a firm line regarding which Anathema albums I liked and which I didn't. Alternative 4 formerly fell on the latter side of that line, but I've recently gained a new appreciation of the record's combination of atmospheric metal and Pink Floyd-inspired dark psychedelic, experimental rock.
Mari Lwyd ornaments
Check out these Mari Lwyd ornaments made by Goblin Fruit Studio! They almost make me look forward to the holidays again. Almost. Let's not go crazy here.
I also got this darling mandrake from Goblin Fruit Studio. I've got a nice little family of these guys going now.
Friday, January 22, 2021
|Photo by Leighann Blackwood on|
A religion in my Godless campaign set on Planet Motherfucker
The Cult of the Mouse promises endless entertainments to distract its devotees from the drudgery and dull monotony of the fallen world. The cult’s primary deity is the Mouse, an anthropomorphic rodent with an unwavering and unnerving grin who speaks to the blessed in a trilling falsetto. In addition, the cult also reveres a number of other saints or demigods. Some of these divine figures are anthropomorphic animals, such as ducks and dogs, but others are idealized princesses clad in radiant raiment.
The Mouse is worshiped primarily through the consumption of its holy gifts—cartoons for children, and television shows and movies about the adventures of superheroes and spacemen for emotionally stunted adults. The faithful believe that giving their attention to the Mouse and his sacred media offerings will dull the pain of existence, fill the void in their lives, and give them something worthwhile to devote their otherwise pointless lives to.
Devotion to the Cult of the Mouse can be financially draining for its adherents. Not only are members of the congregation expected to pay for access to the sacred films and television programs made by the Mouse, they are encouraged to show their commitment to their god by buying clothes emblazoned with images of the religion’s holy figures and other decorative religious knickknacks. Each member of the Cult of the Mouse is required to make at least one pilgrimage to one of the sacred amusement parks maintained by the cult—either Mouseland on the west coast or Mouseworld in Swamplandia. This pilgrimage is meant to be undertaken with good cheer, now matter the distance to be traveled. It’s a small world, after all.
Adherents of the cult are easily recognizable as they tend to wear hats that mimic the Mouse’s big round ears. Priests of the Mouse, also known as mouseketeers, gain access to the Arcana, Illusion, and Song traditions.
Monday, January 18, 2021
Monday, January 11, 2021
|Photo by Alberto Restifo on unsplash.com|
Arno dwarf priest
Dyer orc warrior
Glazier changeling magician
Arno, Dyer, and Glazier were criminals being transported to a prison island until the cruel hand of fate intervened. For reasons unknown, the ship transporting them was wrecked; they escaped death in the frigid sea and managed to climb onto shore with what meager items they could scavenge from what washed ashore. Then their real problems began as they attempted to head north through the frozen wasteland. They found themselves harried by fey hunters who occasionally attempted to run them down for sport.
Cresting a snow-covered ridge, they surveyed the territory ahead of them and saw two landmarks of note: a ruined tower sitting amidst a forest of skeletal black trees and a building of stone whose chimneys lazily streamed smoke into the cold air. Considering that the latter building appear uncannily out of place given the geography, the group first opted to head to the tower.
After a day's march to the ruins of the tower, they discovered a few corpses strewn about in front of it. The bodies showed signs of both slashes and blunt force trauma; they appeared to be fairly fresh. The corpses were looted of armor and piled up in the doorway to form a makeshift barricade of the recently departed when the party decided to stay overnight within the tower's shelter. However, during Arno's watch that night, the pile of corpses was disturbed by something outside pulling one of the corpses free and dragging it away into the forest. After finding a better vantage point, Arno was able to determine that the corpse-thief appeared to be a small, humanoid woman whose face was obscured with some sort of chaotic mask.
In the morning, the group set off for the building they had spied from the ridge. As they got closer, the two-story stone building seemed even more strangely placed against the landscape; it was an institutional building and the stone arch before the front door proclaimed the building to be "Drearborne House."
The party entered the house through a back door. Exploration of the first floor revealed the house to be an orphanage. Glazier changed into a dress found in the headmistress's closet. A torn up and defaced pedagogy manual that recommended corporal punishment and deprivation as learning aids lay open on a desk in the library. A ransacked dormitory with a child's diary--the entries telling the sad tale of bullying that the headmistress refused to believe--posed more questions than answers.
In the basement, the group discovered shelves full of pickled foods, tools and a workbench, and what appeared to be a hastily dug grave. Dyer was given the task of unearthing the skeletal remains, which appeared to be of a woman. She was given last rites by Arno and reburied.
And strangely, despite encountering no living beings within the house, it appeared to be warm, well kept, and in pristine condition. Just...empty, abandoned.
However, that is not to say that the house was completely unoccupied. The menacing figure of the headmistress, she who had stolen a corpse from the tower the night before, was spotted roaming the hallways, her heavy cane rapping rhythmically against the flooring. Her face was obscured by a mask made of torn paper--the pages from the book of pedagogy they had found in the library--which identified her as the creature who had stolen a corpse from their barricade.
More ominous still was the figure to be seen in the inner courtyard accessible from inside Drearborne House via a locked door that Dyer jimmied open; beneath a dead tree from which hung a noose sat a creature seemingly encased in ice--the body of a small child was trapped within. Approaching the rime-frosted creature caused it to stir from its rest. It extended menacing claws of ice and attacked the group. Things went badly for the group as the creature slashed at them with its claws and they failed to land any decisive blows. They fled to the kitchen, hoping to use embers from the oven to melt its icy armor. And yet they continued to take fearsome wounds from the creature.
Respite only came when Glazier assumed the form of the headmistress, roughly approximating what she had seen in an oil painting previously in Drearborne. It helped, of course, that she was already wearing the headmistress's clothes. Glazier's guise stopped the creature in its tracks. A sepulchral voice proclaimed, "Bring me the headmistress," and then it stalked away back to the courtyard.
To be continued.