Wednesday, March 31, 2021

At the Court of the Crow, Hermitage, Omega, Wild Card, and More

Things that brought me delight in March, 2021:

Tanith Lee, At the Court of the Crow

At the Court of the Crow is an unfinished work consisting of three chapters written for a brief that included the ominous phrase "steampunk ambiance," and that was set aside never to be completed. (It also never got to the "steampunk ambiance" aspect, if it was ever going to.) There is often something ineffably sad about reading an unfinished work whose author died before putting the final words to the page; Dickens's The Mystery of Edwin Drood continues to haunt me, for example. But thankfully, despite its technically incomplete status, Tanith Lee's At the Court of the Crow is a satisfying volume that reads like a finished manuscript.

At the Court of the Crow centers on a nameless young woman who survived an alluded-to-but-never-described calamity that claimed the lives of her parents. She was then sent to live with her aunt and uncle, their children, and their servants, in a great, grim house that is functionally her prison. Everything changes when a mysterious, shapeshifting man named Olon "saves" the aunt and cousin from death by fire in a carriage, ingratiates himself into the family, and begins the slow process of destroying the household from within.

Although it's possible to see threads that could have been developed further if you begin reading knowing that this is an unfinished work, I suspect that it would feel whole if you didn't know the piece's history. The elements that are described, but never explained, such as why the stars fall from the sky, why the worship of god has been outlawed, and what catastrophe has befallen the world, don't actually require more development. Instead, they add to the unknowable mystery of the text and bring a true sense of unease in their wake.

Moonspell, Hermitage

Over the last thirty years, Moonspell have crafted an insanely diverse back catalog of albums--each with their own hidden pleasures. Hermitage may be the most accessible Moonspell record to date; although the gothic metal and semi-progressive songs that make up this album aren't likely to challenge listeners, there is something undeniably human and inviting about this release. The high level of musicianship is reined in tastefully, the emotions on display strike true, and the gloom is tempered with great, blinding shafts of light. Hermitage should appeal to both fans of the heavier stuff as well as folks into, say, The Cult or Fields of the Nephilim.

Epica, Omega

I expected Omega to be good, but I had no idea that it would be this good. It's very early to call it, of course, but Omega may very well be an album of the year contender. Epica's latest is an exemplary album of gothic symphonic metal that does everything it needs to. When it needs to soar, it soars; when it needs to dig in and get heavy and technical, it digs in and gets technical. This hit me exactly how I needed to be hit. Oh, for the days to come when we can drive someplace with this record blasting from the rolled-down windows of a car!

ReVamp, Wild Card

Following the demise of After Forever and before she joined Nightwish on a permanent basis, ReVamp was Floor Jansen's primary avenue of expression. In many ways, Wild Card feels like the midpoint between the two. ReVamp hits hard like After Forever, but the aggression here strikes a different, more frantic and jagged tone. The album also features symphonic elements reminiscent of what was to come with Nightwish, but without the latter band's trademark bombast.

Leaves' Eyes, The Last Viking

The cover of Leaves' Eyes' The Last Viking depicts singer Elina Siirala as a Valkyrie choosing which slain warriors will ascend to the halls of Asgard. This is a fitting visual for the album because it feels like Siirala is doing her damnedest to give the band a chance to fight again after the contentious loss of their much-beloved former vocalist, Liv Kristine. As such, I think it's best to evaluate The Last Viking on its own merits; without the baggage of Leaves' Eyes' history, I think any listener would have to admit that this is a solid album in the symphonic metal genre. A little overlong perhaps, but let's just call that "epic" and get on with enjoying it.

Vaesen: Nordic Horror Roleplaying and A Wicked Secret and Other Mysteries

Vaesen is a gothic horror roleplaying game set in nineteenth-century Scandinavia, which is obviously a very specific niche, but it becomes even narrower when you consider the scope of Upsala, the same starting location for the game. The book does a good job of giving the setting a gothic feel; the usual dichotomies that structure Victorian gothic novels are all here: Christianity versus pagan remnants, the past versus the industrialized, Enlightened present, and forgotten monster lurking in forlorn locales. 

The characters in Vaesen are all blessed and cursed with the Sight, the ability to see folkloric creatures and monsters, and they belong to the Society--an organization that seems like a less violent BRPD. The monsters the Society confronts are the vaesen, beings drawn from Scandinavian folklore rather than the usual gothic haunts, vampires, and werewolves you might expect. One of the fascinating aspects of Vaesen is that its monsters all have folkloric ways to banish or defeat them without resorting to combat. Also, the book is exceptionally attractive; the art is fantastic and its pages are weighty.

Penny Dreadful: Days Without Incident and The Obsidian Gate

Both Days Without Incident and The Obsidian Gate are part of the Penny Dreadful range--a series of adventure books for the Through the Breach roleplaying game. One thing I enjoy about these adventures is the way they supplement the setting. Days Without Incident expands on the working-class Union politics of The Corners, while The Obsidian Gate takes the adventurers to Japan and back. Although either adventure could be run as multi-part sessions on their own, they also give you enough of a toolbox to dig in and tinker with the setting for your own scenarios.

Stephen King, The Shining

I recently re-read Stephen King's The Shining because I decided to teach it for the first time this semester. I probably haven't read the novel in twenty or so years, but I have to say that it really hold up. Though most people are likely more familiar with Stanley Kubrick's film adaptation, I think the novel has many charms of its own that didn't make it onto the big screen. The ever-present economic pressures weighing down on the Torrance family are much more palpable and visible on the page, for example. There are some obvious King-isms throughout: many references to that old-time rock 'n' roll, characters who say amazingly banal things, and some dodgy racial caricature; that said, The Shining is prime King--easily one of his best novels.

Candlekeep Mysteries

Candlekeep Mysteries is the new adventure book for fifth-edition Dungeons & Dragons. Unlike most of 5e's hardback adventures, this one isn't a necessarily a full campaign; rather, it's a series of adventures based on a simple premise: the adventurers are employed by the library at Candlekeep to go forth on their behalf and engage in book-related quests. My plan is to gently reshape the adventures presented here and fit them to the Creedhall area of Krevborna. Expect updates on how well or how poorly that goes.

Kaori Yuki, Alice in Murderland vol 7-11

In these last volumes of Alice in Murderland, families members continue to fall in the deadly competition to see who will be left standing as the new head of the family/ We learn about the terrible events that shaped Alice into the proficient murderess we know and love, and Alice and Stella come to an understanding about the body they share in common. 

As we enter the end game of the competition between the family's children, all that remain are siblings who like and care for each other, which only heightens the tension. Like most Kaori Yuki manga I've read, Alice in Murderland has many convoluted twists, and the end of this comic is no different. The twists and outlandish explanations come fast and furious. Things are a bit rushed at the end, but these eleven volumes were a wild ride down the rabbit hole and through the looking glass.

Crematory, Inception, Antiserum, Oblivion, Unbroken, and Monument

I did a deeeeep dive into Crematory's back catalog this month. (Usually when people say "deep dive," they don't really mean it; but I listened to fourteen of their records. That feels deep to me.) Getting my hands on Inception helped the adventure get underway; it's a box set of ten of their early albums. I chased that with the most recent four records in their discography. The predominate thread running through their sound is gothic metal, but over the course of their career there are elements of death metal and industrial metal that come and go as well.

From Nightmares

From Nightmares is a long-promised supplement for the Through the Breach roleplaying game that adds the option of playing as Neverborn--the monstrous native inhabitants of Malifaux who push back against the human invaders from Earth. From Nightmares gives you all the tools you'd need to run a game of Through the Breach in either a villainous mode or as freedom fighters looking to take back their land through any means necessary. I'm not sure that Avatar meets Hellraiser is the right turn of the phrase, but it's close enough.

Norihiro Yagi, Claymore vol. 7-10

Sometimes you lose an arm, only to gain a better one. Or at least that's what happens to Clare in these volumes of Claymore. Still on the trail of the awakened monstrosity who killed her friend, Clare parts ways with Raki when they are pursued by one of Clare's fellow claymores who loses control and transforms into a ravenously hungry beast. (Cue the Vicar Amelia music from Bloodborne.) Clare gains a neat new power, attempts to reunite with Raki, but is instead drawn into a confrontation with an awakened who seems to be gathering an army of monsters. And thus, the Claymores travel north to confront a battalion of ravening beasts and fallen comrades; and, of course, the north just happens to be where Raki's gotten to. The story arc is coming into view nicely.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

A Visual Tour of Boyhood Influences

The post below originally appeared on this blog in September, 2013. I'm reposting it here in the spirit of Anne's post about formative influences on the DIY & Dragons blog.

* * *

We are, of course, the sum of our experiences. When it comes to how we view fantasy, we are each a crucible in which our influences are made molten and then shaped into something new. Our early influences are at the core of our imaginative alloy.

I’ve been tracing the early fantasy visuals I was exposed to and attempting to unravel where each fits into how I imagine

How do you judge what was an important early influence? This is my (undoubtedly shoddy) rubric: if you look at it now, you still feel a visceral reaction to the possibilities it hints at. 

Below are the early influences I still find wonderful, and what I think they taught me emphasized in bold type.

As near as I can tell, the run of the "I...Vampire!" story in The House of Mystery comic was my first exposure to a lurid gothic aesthetic. I still find the cover pictures to the left, with its suave-but-dangerous vampire supping on blood amidst a veritable field of guttering candles to be absolutely enthralling. It was likely this same cover the started my lifelong interest in all things gothic. Whatever I learned from that is about commitment and following a muse wherever it will lead you. Get obsessed, and stay obsessed.

My first D&D book wasn’t a game book at all. Instead, it was The Forest of Enchantment AD&D storybook I bought from the school book sale in elementary school. This scene of ren faire bards and druids vs. sword & sorcery warriors and wizards set an important tone: in fantasy, anything can be mixed. Do not bat an eye; do not cry about maintaining a narrow "milieu!"


We didn’t get the paper at my house when I was a kid, but when I was at my grandparents’ house I would try to piece together the narrative of Prince Valiant comics from whatever Sunday papers they had forgotten to throw out. There would be gaps in the story, of course, but that didn’t make my interest in it wane at all. I still believe that it is okay to have "gaps" in your game’s story.

The mini-story books that came with the first bunch of He-Man toys were also terribly captivating. The cartoon was a massive, sanitized disappointment after the weird sword & sorcery aesthetic these comics deployed. It seemed like the creative team didn’t feel the need to check their weirder impulses: a skull-faced would-be conqueror? A barbarian on a giant green tiger? A space cop entering the fray? Yes, yes, and yes. Let weirdness be your permission slip.

Speaking of He-Man, I could spend all day looking at this decal for the dungeon of Castle Grayskull and wondering what each of those beasts entailed. The monsters you see are only half the story; there are also the monsters you never see fully–those are the ones that stay with you.

A friend of my mother's gave me a tarot deck illustrated by David Palladini one year for my birthday. I still have it, although at this point the cards are worse for wear and one of them is marred by a strange purple stain that I can only assume is some sort of eldritch infestation. And yet, these strangely pale denizens of a time shrouded in mists and all the mystic trappings of post-New Age aeonizing still compels me. Incorporating resonant symbols is a useful shorthand.

The Dragon’s Lair video game was always broken and unplayable at Chuck E. Cheese, but that didn’t stop me from watching the demo loop over and over again. It was all action scenes, really; remember action and keep things moving.

The Sorcery! books were the intermediate step between Choose Your Own Adventure and D&D for me. They were chock full of grotty, weird John Blanche art. These were definitely the gateway drug that led me to play Warhammer in high school. Sometimes it’s okay for your character to die horribly–as long as that is entertaining, you’ll be moved to start again from the beginning. Also, it’s also okay to fudge things to get to the end!

My first D&D book was the original AD&D Monster Manual. (Orange spine--come on, I'm not that old.) To be completely honest, when I got my hands on the Monster Manual I had no idea if I'd ever get to play D&D, but that was immaterial. What really mattered was having a book chock full of gribly illustrations of monsters. I could say something here about the valuable lesson of mistakenly using the monster stats in the Monster Manual with the B/X rules (we had no idea they were separate product lines), but what I really want to say is this: there are only two things that matter in life--monsters and hot chicks.

My aunt gave me the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books. The art by Stephen Gammell is utterly amazing. I will never get over this stuff. The pictures are all from well-worn campfire tales–but even though the shape of those stories aren’t surprising, the art does surprising, haunting things with them. You can do new things with old ideas.

The cover art from my first Lovecraft books was done by Michael Whelan. I love the limited palette, even though the art still unsettles me to an extent I'd rather not measure. It’s liberating to do a lot with a limited pool of color.

The summer I started playing D&D was also the summer I was reading Moorcock’s Elric books. In my mind, D&D was mystical and hazy and effete and decadent like the covers of these novels. I was never really struck by the murderhoboism that many others latched onto. Elric does not survive a funnel; Elric does not die to some kobold in a dirty little mine. Instead, Elric lived and breathed through an epic cycle that took place far away from the world of mundane cares. Escapism is one of the finest things.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

The Traveler of the Far Realm

The Traveler of the Far Realm

Not all warlock patrons from the Far Realm who answer the call of mortal petitioners possess alien and unknowable origins. The Traveler was once a crew member onboard a spelljammer that ventured, either by accident or design, into the space beyond reality known as the Far Realm. 

Many legends about the Traveler claim that he or she was the spelljammer's captain or its navigator. However, all tales about the Traveler agree that this was to be a tragic journey; the Traveler's companions were all destroyed by the unthinkable horrors of the Far Realm, and the Traveler was driven insane and warped into an immortal, eldritch thing by the corrupting influence of that malign plane. 

Although they were born neither an Elder Evil nor an forgotten god, they have become a Great Old One who sometimes agrees to make a pact with a would-be warlock, granting them arcane power and steering them toward obscure ends.

Dread Possibility: The Desire for an Earthly Vessel

What is it that the Traveler of the Far Realm desires? One horrifying possibility is that the Traveler empowers its warlocks because it is searching for a mortal vessel into which it can transfer its life force to escape imprisonment within the Far Realm. It may be the case that the Traveler is priming its mortal petitioners by granting its pact-bound warlocks increasingly powerful arcana--essentially acclimating their bodies to the level of power that possession by the warped remains of the Traveler's soul would require.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Songs for the Dead

I've been working on some stuff for publication, which means I've been in need of background music. For the kind of mindset I like to work from, nothing really beats this recently posted King Diamond set that captures the unimpeachable Abigail album in a live performance:

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Not My Ravenloft: Languages

With the imminent arrival of Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft, I wanted to revisit a series of posts I started, but never finished: Not My Ravenloft, a series where I talk about how I ran the setting in a way that was often in opposition to its presentation in the official supplements.

Ravenloft is easily my favorite of the official D&D settings. However, there are some bits in the setting that I just don't use, for one reason or another. Today I want to talk about the languages introduced in the third-edition Ravenloft Campaign Setting book and why I see them as a misstep.


Prior to the release of the third-edition Ravenloft Campaign Setting book, little attention was paid to the role of language in the setting. In the second-edition version of the setting, it was assumed that, as in most D&D settings, the majority of the land's residents spoke a common tongue. The Common language, I feel, is one of D&D greatest innovations in terms of playability. It makes the linguistic aspect of communication simple so that everyone at the table can speak as though their characters expects to be understood in the vast majority of situations.

It's unrealistic, of course, that everyone speaks a language in common, particularly given how far apart different nations and territories can be in fantasy settings, but it also means that the players get to receive and relay a maximal amount of information when they interact with NPCs. There generally isn't a language barrier to get in the way of roleplaying, and if a language barrier does rear its ugly head it's actually noteworthy and special because it runs against the norm established by the presence of the Common language.

The third-edition of the Ravenloft setting retconned Common from the setting. In its place, a number of number of languages that covered specific domains were introduced: "The Dread Domains are home to widely differing and often isolated cultures. Thus, no Common language has arisen." 

This was a disastrous idea, in my opinion. It is entirely possible, should the players create characters with no languages in common, that they will not be able to communicate with each other. And the potential slowdown in every roleplaying encounter where you have to check to see who speaks what is the wrong kind of nightmarish for a Gothic setting.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Not My Ravenloft: Outcast Ratings

With the imminent arrival of Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft, I wanted to revisit a series of posts I started, but never finished: Not My Ravenloft, a series where I talk about how I ran the setting often in opposition to its presentation in the official supplements.

Ravenloft is my favorite of the official D&D settings. However, there are some bits in the setting that I just don't use, for one reason or another. Today I want to talk about the Outcast Rating mechanic introduced in the third-edition Ravenloft Campaign Setting book, although it should be noted that similar mechanics have existed for the setting since the Realm of Terror box set.

Outcast Ratings

Outcast Ratings are a numerical disadvantage of varying severity assigned to nonhuman player characters attempting to interact with people who are unlike them. The Outcast Rating also provides a bonus to intimidation against people who are not your "kind" if you are a nonhuman.

I think I understand where this mechanic is coming from. It wants to present Ravenloft's brand of dark fantasy as one where the common people who inhabit the land are superstitious and xenophobic peasants. However, I feel like this butts up against another idea that the setting tries to establish: the people of Ravenloft are worth fighting for. It's difficult to get worked up enough to put your life on the line fighting monsters on behalf of ignorant bigots.

In my Ravenloft games, fantasy racism isn't a trope I want to give undue prominence. I figure that since it isn't unusual for the mists of Ravenloft to pull strangers of all ancestries into the land, the people who inhabit the land might be a bit more used to encountering unusual humanoids from abroad. Although the average farmer in Mordent may not have ever seen a tabaxi or loxodon before, I don't take it as read that they will react with fear and revulsion. I'm not saying that bigotry doesn't exist in my games; it's just not an idea I want to emphasize enough to warrant mechanizing.

Also, I don't really like how the Outcast Rating mechanic tramples on certain character concepts. There's no point in playing a charismatic race or a class that relies on charisma if you're always going to be fighting against a mechanic that won't let you be good at the thing you signed on to be good at.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

The Raging River, Avigon, A Dowry of Blood, and More

Things that brought me delight in February, 2021:

The Cult of Luna, The Raging River

If you've ever come face to face with an actual raging river, you know how utterly remorseless and unforgiving nature can be. One slip and you will have to make peace with the fact that the river will take you where it will and that it could easily break your body without there being a damn thing you can do about it. The Cult of Luna's The Raging River captures that feeling. This record's crushing churn is powerful; you either let it sweep you along until you reach the end, or you end up being destroyed by it. Fans of Neurosis, post-metal, and other sonic landslides will love this.

Jimmie Robinson and Che Gilson, Avigon: Gods & Demons

Art-wise, Avigon looks like it should have been a Slave Labor comic from the early 00s. Story-wise, this is one of the more interesting comics I've read in a while. The comic is about a robot named Avigon who runs away from her creator, but is expressly allowed to run away, and while free grapples with "what it means to be human." Not the most original premise, but the way it plays out is surprisingly brutal. 

Avigon discovers that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who see her as an object and those who view her personhood only in terms of what they want from her--an essential division of dehumanization that we rarely see so starkly contrasted. Returning home to her creator, she realizes that she's always lived under a third, largely unexplored, category of dehumanization, but this is one she can at least negotiate. The striking, though muted, ending put me in mind of a number of other "happiness in slavery" narratives I've encountered.

S. T. Gibson, A Dowry of Blood

If you find yourself craving that old-school Anne Rice style of vampire novel, the kind of stuff she did pre-reptoids, embodied ghosts, and crisply ironed jeans, definitely check out S. T. Gibson's A Dowry of Blood. I can't be the only one taken back to the heady goth club days of the late 90s when I read lines like this: "When I was well enough, we made love, my fingers digging into your flesh with the mating drive of a creature that knew it was dying. When I wasn't, you read to me or plaited my hair. ... I think, my lord, that this is when you loved me best. When I was freshly made, and still as malleable as wet clay in your hands."

Of course, every vampire tale uses the undead as a metaphor for a cultural anxiety or larger societal fear. In A Dowry of Blood, we get a tale of abusive vampire love through the ages. The monster is dark, possessive, unrelenting, and tyrannous love. The fear is in the untested desire to break free, to live for oneself, to define again what it means to love and be loved.

My Dying Bride, Macabre Cabaret

The ominous drone of a funeral organ is interrupted by the lacerating tone of a doom-laden guitar riff...must be a My Dying Bride song. Macabre Cabaret is a three-song EP that illustrates My Dying Bride's workmanlike commitment to a sound that has often been imitated but rarely equaled and perhaps never surpassed. Its twenty-minute runtime only has room for three tracks, but it's My Dying Bride, so you know what to expect: majestic sorrows, soaring melancholy, crushing despair.

Sirenia, Riddles, Ruins & Revelations

Riddles, Ruins & Revelations marries the band's expected Gothic, symphonic metal to a surprising retro vibe. Electronics have been increasingly prevalent on Sirenia's albums, as they have for many of the bands in their genre, but on this record Sirenia bravely push that sound to its logical conclusion; these aren't just electronic flourishes, this is a full-blown combination of symphonic metal with elements of synth and pop. I suspect that purists will not give this a fair shake, but to my ears it sounds fresh even though the influences are decidedly nostalgic at this point.

Udon's Art of Capcom 1-3 and Street Fighter Swimsuit Special Collection

It's funny, superhero art leaves me cold but I find the character designs from Capcom's fighting games, which really aren't very far afield from superheroes at all, visually pleasing. Well, most of the time; you'll never convince me that Abigail is a cool character. The volumes in Udon's Art of Capcom collect art based on Capcom's various properties done by a variety of artists; images from Street Fighter predominate, but also included are pieces inspired by Darkstalkers, Rival Schools, Strider, etc. The Street Fighter Swimsuit Special Collection is exactly what it sounds like: art of the fighting game's characters in swimwear or otherwise at the beach. 

Semblant, Obscura

One of the great things about metal bands from South America is that they really seem as bound to the traditions of genre as bands from elsewhere. On Obscura, Semblant mix Gothic and symphonic metal with styles from the more extreme end of the metal spectrum, such as melodic death metal with a particularly "European" sound. I discovered this band purely by happenstance; since I don't recall hearing about them more widely, I'd say they deserve to be better known. Obscura is a good place to start; I'll definitely try to dig up some of their earlier work.

Malevolent Visions: The Art of Der Orchideengarten, 1920, issues 9-15

Malevolent Visions is the fifth volume of Century Guild's series that collects the art from the German magazine Der Orchideengarten. The artwork is, of course, amazing and the reproductions could not be of a higher quality. However, there is a feeling of sadness here in the underlying narrative that's inescapable. As the text notes, the artists whose work is featured here found themselves on opposite sides of the Germany's internal conflict in WWII. Some ended up in the camps as "degenerate artists," while others worked for the Nazi regime. The specter of disease also hangs over this volume; Thomas Negovan draws a comparison to the virulent influence of the era to our own grappling with a pandemic illness.

Norihiro Yagi, Claymore 3-6

The first two chapters of volume 3 of Claymore conclude the fight against the yoma that has been killing the priests in a cathedral and reaffirms that Clare has chosen to let Raki travel with her, even though this seems at odds with her personality and her demon-slaying mission. However, the story then shifts to filling in some of the blank spaces in Clare's back story that explain why she might make this decision. As it turns out, Clare was once in a similar position to Raki; she was "adopted" by Teresa of the Faint Smile, the deadliest of the Claymores, when she was a child with nothing left in her life.

We also discover that, although it would be easy to assume otherwise from the fight scenes we get early in the manga, Clare is one of the weaker members of the Claymore organization. Speaking of the Claymore organization, it's clearly up to some shady dealings. Claymores who use too much of their power risk becoming "awakened beings," monsters even stronger than the usual yomi.

The story is heating up this far into the series, but the art remains fairly average. I do like the extra effort put into the awakened beings, though. Gotta love a good monster.

Kaori Yuki, Alice in Murderland 5-6

The battle royale between siblings continues! In these volumes there are startling (and, frankly, really confusing) revelations about Zeno and Tsukito, the unveiling of murderous elder sibling Ibara, and even killing the family's mother is floated as a distinct possibility. There is also a really interesting theme emerging surrounding the "battle spirits" that the various family members possess; most of the family seem to work in tandem with their battle spirits, but Stella's relationship with Alice feels more like a version of R. D. Laing's theory of the divided self. It will be interesting to see how that plays out in the volumes to come.

Deadlands: The Weird West, Deadlands Companion, Welcome to Crater Lake, Horror at Headstone Hill

Deadlands is one of my favorite RPGs, so it's nice to see a new edition arrive. The new Deadlands books adapt the Weird West rules to the latest version of the Savage Worlds system; they also adapt the setting, jettisoning or toning down some of the elements that didn't age well or might not match the expectations of modern audiences. Overall, I was struck by how complete a package this feels like right out of the gate. Due to passing several Kickstarter goals, almost all the options you could want are here with no waiting for later "dlc" to drop. My one complaint is that the new book size for the Savage Worlds line sometimes makes the art feel a little small or cramped compared to other full-color productions. Also, Horror at Headstone Hill is an honest-to-god box set. It's been a while since I've encountered one of those.

Leagues of Gothic Horror: Guide to Faeries, Guide to Hags, Guide to the Walking Dead

I'll probably never actually play Leagues of Gothic Horror, but I love the supplements as general sources of inspiration. The monster guides, in particular, collect folklore and alternate takes on the kind of monsters I use in my D&D games. These three guides will give you great ideas for changing up the lore of some classic Gothic monster types. Overall, I'd recommend this series of supplements to fans of GURPS supplements; they have the same rough-and-ready-but-full-of-interesting-and-usable-bits feels to them.

Anathema, Eternity

Despite its extremely naff cover, Anathema's Eternity marked an interesting turning point for Anathema. Eternity stands at the mid-point between the death-doom of their earliest releases and the alt rock and prog that would come later; taken on its own merits, Eternity has a nice mix of atmosphere and metal that remains heavy but not to an extreme that would frighten off the uninitiated. Admittedly, the clean vocals threw me off when this came out, but I've come to appreciate it more now than I did then.

Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel

Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel is a documentary series that covers the disappearance of Elisa Lam, a Canadian college student who went missing during a trip to Los Angeles. Her story is fascinating and tragic. One aspect of the case that captured the public's attention is that footage from inside the infamous Cecil Hotel shows Lam seeming to interact with a person or persons (or otherworldly entity, as some speculation will have you believe) who is outside the camera's view; Lam's behavior in the elevator is strange and erratic, leading to a multitude of theories as to what was going on the day of her disappearance. My takeaway, however, is that internet sleuths are some of the worst people on earth.