Friday, October 29, 2021

The Carpathian Castle

Episode 50: The Carpathian Castle

Jules Verne is best known to American readers as the author of beloved adventure tales like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Around the World in 80 Days. But was one of his wildest acts of science fiction to anticipate Bram Stoker's Dracula by nearly a decade in his novella The Carpathian Castle? Jack and Kate will attempt to address just this question by diving deep into this 1892 story of Mittel European suspense.

How does Jules Verne reveal his feelings about rustic people? Why are telephones so damn terrifying? Siri, is it raining? All these questions and more will be answered in this month's episode of Bad Books for Bad People!

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Candlekeep Mysteries Review: The Curious Tale of Wisteria Vale and The Book of Inner Alchemy

I've been running the adventures in Candlekeep Mysteries, a book of seventeen scenarios based around the legendary library of Candlekeep and the strange tomes kept within. The adventures in the book aren't necessarily meant to be played one after another; they're more geared toward being dropped in between adventures of your own devise, but playing them back to back hasn't been much of an imposition. 

But is Candlekeep Mysteries good? I reviewed the first five adventures hereThe Price of Beauty and Book of Cylinders here, Sarah of Yellowcrest Manor and Lore of Lurue here, and Kandlekeep Dekonstruktion and Zikran's Zyphrean Tome here. In this review I'm going to give my impressions of the next two adventures in the book, so you can better decide for yourself whether this is a sound purchase for you and your group.

The Curious Tale of Wisteria Vale

Written by Kienna Shaw

Developed & Edited by Christopher Perkins & Hannah Rose

"The Curious Tale of Wisteria Vale" is a decent adventure, but things become a little too convoluted over the course of the scenario. The characters enter a self-contained demiplane where the main events of the adventure are located, but while they're there they also have to navigate multiple extradimensional spaces within paintings inside the demiplane itself. These paintings have random destinations, with multiple routes leading to the same places without any graspable internal logic to figure out. That's a bit much because it basically leads to a situation where players have to try things at random, hoping to get lucky by picking the right portal that will lead them to something helpful. And woe unto you if your players split up to explore multiple avenues. That way lies a massive potential headache. It is pretty cool that this adventure lets the players face off against a beholder; that's iconic and feels right for the adventure's level.

The Book of Inner Alchemy

Written by Daniel Kwan

Developed & Edited by Hannah Rose

There's no way around it: "The Book of Inner Alchemy" is an extremely linear adventure. Pages have been stolen from an ancient tome about ki, clues point to an evil monastic order hiding out in a forest, so the adventurers go there, beat some evil monks, and retrieve the pages. More interesting investigation options or a more complicated layout of the monks' headquarters would have gone a long way toward making this more than a point A to point B adventure. Also, I would have liked to have seen fewer clues gated off behind skill checks; it's potentially possible that the players end up directionless if they flub the rolls as written, which strikes me as bad design.

This might be an unpopular and unwanted opinion, but it's a little wild to me that a guy best known for his involvement with Asians Represent, a group that is pushing back against Asian themes being relegated to stereotypes and cultural misconceptions, turned in an adventure where the premise is "Fight kung-fu guys, and then fight even more kung-fu guys." I was hoping for something a little less stereotypical, though I do think the premise is fine on its own. My issue is that this was a prime opportunity to show the world that there is more to Asian themes and aesthetics than martial arts, but I feel that opportunity was missed. 

That said, my group had a good time with the adventure precisely because we leaned into the over-the-top aesthetics of Sunday matinee Kung-Fu Theater, which, while it provided some outrageous moments of high-flying action, probably didn't do anything to play against reductive conventions or overused tropes. We had to lean into something to counteract the linear "go here, get into a fight with monks, fight more monks, fight more monks, fight the boss monk" nature of the adventure as written. Still, on a final positive note, I do like the stats for Steel Crane, Jade Tigress, and Bak Mei; although they're all evil monks, the slight variations in their statblocks made them feel different in play. 

Thursday, October 21, 2021

I Put a Spell on You

Episode 39: I Put a Spell on You

It turns out I never posted about this episode when it was fresh out of the podcast factory, but there's no better time than the Halloween season to return to it.

In the 2019 biography I Put a Spell on You: The Bizarre Life of Screamin' Jay Hawkins, journalist Steve Bergsman tracks the life of the noted shock rocker including his rise-and-fall-and-rise to fame, run-ins with the law, and rocky romantic life. Kate and Jack discuss the book as it relates to the biography as a literary form, the perils of the Big Rock Bio, and the challenges and responsibilities of research.

Does Jay's penchant for lying and self-aggrandizement make him an impossible subject for a biography? Where does "rock 'n' roll authenticity" stop and "novelty act" begin? Just how much damage can the Imp of the Perverse do to a person's life? Does anyone know where we can get jobs playing piano in a Hawaii strip club? These questions and a whole lot more will be discussed in this month's episode of Bad Books for Bad People.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

The Canopic Being

I've been running the adventures in Candlekeep Mysteries lightly reskinned for my Krevborna setting. The characters are all employed as members of Creedhall University Library's "Special Collections Department," aka adventurers. This is a recap of what happened in "The Canopic Being." Fair warning: spoilers lurk below.

The Characters

Elsabeth, human paladin played by Anne

Rufus, human barbarian played by Steve


As is usual, Elsabeth and Rufus were called into a meeting with Horatio Lupa to receive their next assignment on behalf of the library. This time, however, Horatio was in a dark mood; he paced the room as he informed them about a book that had already been in the library's possession for nine months. The book was initially thought to be a tome related to ancient burial practices and therefore misfiled, but a scholar at the university named Maya Sadaar realized that it was actually a manuscript detailing the many ways to make an undead mummy. The book itself proved to have an unnerving appearance: it was bound in some sort of scaly hide that randomly sprouted reptilian eyes that seemed to watch everyone in the room.

Maya had deep misgivings about the book, but she had gone missing before she could relate her concerns to Horatio. Worse yet, at the back of the book was a list of "sacrifices" and two of Elsabeth and Rufus's coworkers in the SCD and a friend from two previous adventures were on that list: Rising Leaf, Tobias Wolfe, and Lady Valor's names were there alongside Alessia Baseer (a priest at Our Lady of the Sorrowful Vision) and Maya Sidaar's. Adding a further ominous tone to this list was the fact that both Rising Leaf and Tobias had been unexplainably missing from work. Even more disquieting was that the list of sacrifices ended with Rufus Clarke's name!

Since it appeared that Rufus could be the next target, he and Elsabeth attempted to set a trap for whomever might be after him. Rufus stationed himself in a tavern, with Elsabeth disguised in a hooded cloak at a nearby table. However, the person who approached Rufus surprised them: a woman dressed in clerical vestments, who looked like a fish out of water in the busy tavern, sought him out. Her name was Shira Endellion and she, like the missing Alessia, was a priestess at Our Lady of the Sorrowful Vision. She explained that she knew that Rufus and Elsabeth would be at the tavern because as a priestess dedicated to the saint of foresight she had been blessed with a vision of herself meeting the pair in this particular establishment. She also had a vision of taking the duo back to her church to help them solve the mystery that was currently before them.

At Our Lady of the Sorrowful Vision, Shira was able to add more information to the developing picture. She informed Elsabeth and Rufus that in the catacombs beneath the church lurked an uncanny older temple, and that Alessia had been occupied with researching its origins before she disappeared. She also noted that Rising Leaf, Tobias, Valor, and Maya has all come to the church bearing warrants issued by the Church allowing them access to the old temple complex. Rufus was able to discern that the writs were clever forgeries, but it was clear that all of the missing people had been lured into the old temple's depths.

Rufus and Elsabeth decided that they needed to venture into the old temple in hopes of finding their friends. The brick and stone of the catacombs gave way to strange material; the old temple was comprised entirely of glowing crystal that had been etched with draconic design elements. Like the book they had handled earlier, reptilian eyes would blink open on the walls, floor, and ceiling to spy upon them. Surprisingly, they were greeted by the missing priestess Alessia Baseer in the first chamber of the complex.

Alessia said she was there to welcome them to the temple on behalf of "the prophet" and that all of the people they were seeking were already deep in spiritual contemplation with him. She said they were free to explore the temple as they wished, but she did warn them against the dangers of the temple's hall of mirrors and its crystalline dais. With that, she left them to their own devices and entered her bedchamber. Rufus got the impression that whatever was speaking through Alessia and piloting her body was not the woman herself. Moreover, Elsabeth noticed a fresh scar that started near the woman's left collar bone and descended below her garments. Seeing an opportunity to gain some valuable, if grisly, information, Rufus burst through the door of her bedchamber and knocked the surprised priestess unconscious with a single blow. Alessia was then dragged out of the old temple to where Shira was waiting with four guards. With Shira waiting to provide divine healing, some impromptu exploratory surgery was performed, which determined that the heart beating in Alessia's chest was a shriveled, desiccated organ that smelled of resin and herbs--it was likely not her original heart.

Upon returning to the crystalline temple, Rufus and Elsabeth encountered several rooms of strange phenomena, including a room full of floating mirrors shards (when one touched Elsabeth, she had a vision of herself being sliced open by an unknown assailant) and a domed room where the ceiling gave a view of a far away land of shifting sands and pyramids (gravity was suspended in this chamber, causing the duo to float in mid-air). In another chamber the duo found the corpse of Maya Sadaar. She was lying in a pool of dried blood with a dagger and a strange object laying just out of reach, as if in death she had released her grasp on both. The object proved to be a withered pancreas that smelled of resin and preserving herbs. It appeared as if Maya had realized that she had a monstrous organ transplanted into her body and killed herself digging it out. 

Also found in Maya's pocket was a sheaf of notes that detailed a way to ensure that a mummy could not reform itself after the destruction of its corporeal form: its heart would need to be destroyed to keep it from returning. This knowledge would soon come in handy. After traversing a room full of floating motes of light, the pair found themselves in another chamber in which gravity was suspended. Floating in the middle of chamber was a figure that Rufus immediately recognized: it was Saretomet, the mummy that the SCD had set free in a prior adventure! Having noted the power of the group who had feed him, Saretomet had added them to the list of mortals he wanted to take over by transplanting his organs into their bodies. Rufus was the last "sacrifice" on his list.

The ensuing battle against Saretomet was harrowing. Saromet's hit the pair with some absolutely diabolic spells that left them greatly weakened or poisoned. A massive punch from the mummy left Elsabeth on the verge of death, but Rufus poured a healing potion down her throat in time to save her. A good move, too, as Elsabeth soon had Saretomet impaled on her blade...after which he promptly turned into a pile of dust. However, his dissolution also left behind a pile of healthy organs: a heart, a brain, an eye, a pancreas, and a pair of kidneys. The organs were taken by Elsabeth in hopes that they could be returned to their rightful owners.

After the brawl with Saretomet, Rufus and Elsabeth continued to search for their missing friends. Inside a chamber that contained a number of canopic jars and a crystal sarcophagus, they were met with Leaf and Tobias, who were still clearly under the mummy's control. Another fight broke out, with the possessed Tobias unleashing bolts of psychic fury and Leaf using his peerless martial arts skills against his compatriots. Leaf managed to knock Elsabeth unconscious, but in the end both Leaf and Tobias were knocked out without killing them.

With their friends unconscious, Elsabeth and Rufus were free to explore the chamber. The canopic jars held mummified organs. The question of Lady Valor's whereabouts was soon answered when she appeared, with an eye not her own glaring out of her face, and attacked the duo. A command spell from Elsabeth caused Valor to drop her sword; Rufus promptly knocked her out as well. With Saretomet vanquished, at least for the moment, and their friends and their organs collected, Rufus and Elsabeth elected to stop exploring the temple and get down to the dirty business of restoring their allies.

The unconscious Leaf, Tobias, Valor, and Alessia were taken to Creedhall's medical college. The surgeons there worked in tandem with priests from Our Lady of the Sorrowful Vision to remove the mummy's organs from the unconscious victims and replace them with the originals. Once the surgeries were completed and everyone was stable and on the road to recovery, the mummy's organs, including his heart, were gathered in a metal pail and set afire. As Saretomet's chance to rejuvenate himself was destroyed, his voice came on the dying wind, promising that the SCD could not escape the greater doom he had foreseen in their future...

Sunday, October 17, 2021

The Book of Inner Alchemy

I've been running the adventures in Candlekeep Mysteries lightly reskinned for my Krevborna setting. The characters are all employed as members of Creedhall University Library's "Special Collections Department," aka adventurers. This is a recap of what happened in "The Book of Inner Alchemy." Fair warning: spoilers lurk below.

The Characters

Elsabeth, human paladin played by Anne

Rising Leaf, human monk played by Michael

Gnargar, kobold monk played by Heather


A fatal incident had occurred in a restricted section of the library: two members of the Special Collections Department had been murdered and pages had been cut from a tome called The Book of Inner Alchemy. The book described ways of manipulating ki to serve as a shortcut to immortality. Examining the crime scene provided a few clues. Gnargar ascertained that the two SCD agents had been killed by someone wielding powerful martial arts. Also discovered in one of the SCD agent's hands was a scrap of black cloth emblazoned with a white skull. Leaf and Gnargar both recognized the insignia; it was the symbol of the Death's Head Killaz, a group of monks who had turned from the righteous path to operate as bandits in the Cloakwood.

Into the Cloakwood, then. As they traversed the forest looking for the hideout of the Death's Head Killaz, the group smelled a noxious scent and spotted a writhing darkness inhabiting a hollowed out petrified tree. Approaching the tree were two people wearing black outfits and with their faces painted to resembled skulls. The pair were pushing a wheelbarrow piled high with corpses. The group watched as the two Death's Head monks began to heave the bodies into the oozing darkness, which consumed the corpses. The group decided to follow the two monks back to their hideout.

The group followed the two monks into a clearing that sheltered three wooden structures and a larger stone edifice shaped like a blossoming lotus flower. Between the entrance to the clearing and the buildings stood a forest of stone pillars. As the group headed toward the smallest of the wooden buildings, they were spotted by monks clinging to the stone columns above them, where they were keeping watch. There were four lackeys dressed in black and a man with silver hair who was clearly their leader. The leader identified himself as Steel Crane, and his black jacket was torn exactly where the Death's Head Killaz skull insignia should have been.

Rising Leaf engaged Steel Crane in a high-flying martial arts duel as the two monks bounced from pillar to pillar trading blows. Gnargar and Elsabeth kept the lackeys occupied, felling them one after another. Back up amid the stone columns, Steel Crane swung a metal whip at Leaf; Leaf leapt up and ran along the thin steel coil, closing the distance to land a fearsome kick that knocked his opponent unconscious. Leaf rode his body as it fell, using it to cushion the impact of the fall.

Steel Crane was revived and interrogated. He revealed the Bak Mei, the leader of the Death's Head Killaz was currently studying the stolen pages in the lotus-shaped temple. Sneaking past the Death's Head Killaz acolytes in the compound's library, dojo, and sleeping quarters, the group burst into the stone lotus building. The center of the building was dominated by a pool of water filled with floating lillies, beyond which was Bak Mei, the elderly master of the Death's Head Killaz. Bak Mei was attended by a number of lackeys and by Jade Tigress, his facially scarred second in command!

Leaf engaged with Bak Mei, while Gnargar faced off against Jade Tigress and Elsabeth held the lackeys at bay. Rising Leaf found himself overmatched by the older martial arts master; Bak Mei's manipulation of ki left him stunned and wide-open to a flurry of attacks that knocked him unconscious. Gnargar triumphed against Jade Tigress and her poisonous strikes, but was felled when Bak Mei turned his attentions on him--Gnargar was also knocked out. Elsabeth managed the lackeys by knocking them into the pool of lilies and slaying them as they emerged one-by-one, but she now found herself alone against Bak Mei. Drawing on a previously known inner well of strength, she plunged her sword past the monk's canny defenses, ultimately ensuring the group's victory. The day was carried on a razor-thin margin. Leaf and Gnargar were revived, and  after gathering the missing pages from The Book of Inner Alchemy, the battered and bruised group fled the compound before more lackeys could intervene.

Friday, October 8, 2021

Wait for Night, Judge Dee and the Limits of the Law, Bobby and Her Father

Three items for your reading pleasure as Halloween approaches:

"Wait for Night"

- Stephen Graham Jones, Tor




"Judge Dee and the Limits of the Law"

- Lavie Tidhar, Tor





"Bobby and Her Father"

- Gillian Daniels, The Dark Magazine

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Candlekeep Mysteries Review: Kandlekeep Dekonstruction and Zikran's Zephyrean Tome


I've been running the adventures in Candlekeep Mysteries, a book of seventeen scenarios based around the legendary library of Candlekeep and the strange tomes kept within. The adventures in the book aren't necessarily meant to be played one after another; they're more geared toward being dropped in between adventures of your own devise, but playing them back to back hasn't been much of an imposition. 

But is Candlekeep Mysteries good? I reviewed the first five adventures here, The Price of Beauty and Book of Cylinders here, and Sarah of Yellowcrest Manor and Lore of Lurue here. In this review I'm going to give my impressions of the next two adventures in the book, so you can better decide for yourself whether this is a sound purchase for you and your group.

Kandlekeep Dekonstruktion

Written by Amy Vorpahl

Developed by Christopher Perkins

Edited by Scott Fitzgerald Gray

Kandlekeep Dekonstruktion has an exciting premise: an old tower is actually a rocket about to be launched into space by a tech cult. Unfortunately, that premise is let down by one of the banes of D&D: gamer humor. Kandlekeep Dekonstruktion is supposed to be funny, with the members of the cult using names like Alpaca Macadamia Nuts and Donkey Biscuits, but like Monty Python jokes, that kind of thing wears on me quickly. When we played this I omitted all the "humorous" content because there is no way my players would have enjoyed it. I was able to make something decent out of the skeleton that remained, but I should also note that my players got their teeth kicked in trying to enter the dungeon under the rocket-tower, so we didn't get to play through a big chunk of what was on offer in the adventure.

Zikran's Zephyrean Tome

Written by Taymoor Rehman

Developed & Edited by Christopher Perkins

This one was a surprise hit. On paper, it looks pretty standard, but the variety this one offers really gave my players a good time. I like that the adventure includes an actual dragon, which is something for a rarity for a game called Dungeons & Dragons. My players figured out a solid way to get the dragon on their side without fighting it, which made for a cool moment. The fortress of the spectral giants was also fun. The giants gave the place an aura of eerie menace, and my players quickly discovered that fighting the giants was a losing proposition, so them scurrying around the rest of the giants made for some nice cat-and-mouse moments. The final battle with the genasi was great. They loved that he had a magical elemental cannon and definitely enjoyed usurping control of the cannon to turn it on their enemy. Everyone seemed pretty stoked by the end of this adventure, so this one is definitely a sleeper hit.

Sunday, October 3, 2021

JoJo's Bizarre Adventure

Jojo's Bizarre Adventure is an epic manga series created by Hirohiko Araki that tracks the outrageously gory punch-em-up saga of the Joestar clan. The first installment of the series, Phantom Blood, takes place in Victorian England and features podcast fave themes of vampirism, so-straight-it's-gay manly action, and culturally insensitive gothic tropes. Join Jack and Kate on their maiden voyage into the Jojo-verse.

How could Jack the Ripper possibly be any worse? Are sandwiches the king of foods? What's something that happens in horror stories that's so bad, it almost stops your intrepid hosts from reading? What do YES and Emerson Lake and Palmer have to do with any of this? All this and more will be explored in this episode of Bad Books for Bad People.