Sunday, November 28, 2021

We Played the Whole Thing


In early November, my online group finished playing through the adventures in Candlekeep Mysteries as a campaign. A grand time was had, and it genuinely feels like an accomplishment to have completed it. It's not every day that you managed to take characters from level 1 to level 16 and it's certainly not every day that a campaign establishes a true ending instead of petering out.

Really, that was all down to the players. So, thank you Michael, Anne, Steve, Dennis, Heather, and Ridgely! I literally could not have done it without you.

Of course, some concessions helped make this accomplishment possible too. Setting the game up as an open table of sorts, in which whoever was free to play in a given week was welcome to join, definitely helped, as did the episodic nature of the campaign established by stringing the Candlekeep Mysteries adventures together into a series. 

I managed to document it all--in two ways, no less. I wrote an actual play report for each adventure and managed to jot down a review of every scenario in the book. If a more comprehensive overview of Candlekeep Mysteries exists, I haven't seen it.

Links below, if you want the full monte.

Actual Play Reports

Candlekeep Mysteries Reviews

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Requiem Infernal

Episode 51: Requiem Infernal

Jack and Kate venture into the grimdark future of Warhammer 40K with this exploration of Requiem Infernal by author Peter Fehervari. Put aside your preconceptions around Space Marines and Orks and find out what hideous delights await you in the WH40K universe (nuns with guns, folks--it's got nuns with guns).

Will our hosts be able to sufficiently summarize WH40K lore in under 15 minutes? Why are Space Marines super-boring? What happens when the reader is made complicit in the untangling of the book's narrative? Haven't we all got a dark demonic monster lurking somewhere inside of us? Your hosts will explore all these questions and more in this episode of Bad Books for Bad People!

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Nova Vaasa

Nova Vaasa is one of the Ravenloft domains that got demoted from a Core domain to a paragraph blurb in Van Richten's Guide. The version of Nova Vaasa I'm presenting below takes the vibe of the blurb and adds some Weird West inspiration. If you like this sort of thing, check out Strahd Loves, Man Kills. There's a handful of both issues left in stock.

Nova Vaasa

Domain of the Accursed Frontier

Darklord: Myar Hiregaard

Genres: Disaster horror and dark fantasy

Hallmarks: Manifest destiny, bandits, wagon trains, homesteaders, miners and prospectors, the Wild West

Mist Talismans: Tarnished sheriff’s badge, noose, scrap of bloodstained flag, rusty horseshoe, ace of spades playing card

The people of the Nova Vaasa frontier were once tribal nomads, but they were united into a nation called Vaasa by a great warlord named Myar Hiregaard. She ruled with strict fairness, though her bellicose nature ultimately made her a poor leader for a populace who desired to set down roots, adopt the ways of settled civilization, and build enduring communities. 

Vaasa was shattered by a civil war known as the War of the Five Stewards. The violence of the conflict, combined with the bloody lengths Myar pursued to stamp out the hostilities, ruined the Vaasans’ attempt to forge a lasting union as a burgeoning nation. In the aftermath of the hostilities, the towns and villages of Vaasa lay devastated, and the land itself was incurably poisoned by the conflict. No crops would grow in the soil tainted by the blood spilled in the War of the Five Stewards. The Vaasans were forced to resume their ranging and roaming. Leaving the ruins of Vaasa behind, they headed into the western frontier to seek Nova Vaasa, literally “the New Vaasa,” to rebuild what they had lost.

Nova Vaasans now find themselves trapped a life of perpetual westward migration. They dearly want to settle permanently, but the land allows them no such stability. Rich veins of ore in the hills and mountains tempt pioneers into establishing mining camps, but lodes mysteriously vanish. Farmsteads are decimated by plagues of locusts. Villages are raided by undead bandits.

On the frontier of Nova Vaasa, nothing is permanent and plans for the future always comes to ruin in the end. When nascent communities inevitably fail or fall to catastrophe, they become part of the desolated east as the pioneers of Nova Vaasa up stakes and move further into the unexplored west. The frontier promises a land of plenty and a chance of establishing permanent settlements, but the Nova Vaasans are chasing a dream that will never be fulfilled.

Noteworthy Features

Those familiar with Nova Vaasa know the following facts:

    • The people of Nova Vaasa continually travel west across the frontier in hopes of finding habitable sites that will blossom into towns, ranches, and farmsteads.

    • The land itself seems to reject settlement. Accidents, violence, and strange phenomena push the Nova Vaasans to continue their westward march.

    • Nova Vaasa’s temporary forts, encampments, and wagon trains are sometimes attacked by a bandit called Malken and her posse of undead riders.

    • As they move westward, Nova Vaasans encounter mysteriously abandoned ghost towns and horrific creatures who hunt in the untamed wilderness.

Settlements and Sites

Nova Vaasa is a domain of endless rolling plains, black hills, canyons and gulches, and sweltering deserts. Due to the curse that afflicts the land, it has no permanent settlements or persistent sites. Most communities last a few scant years at most, and some are forced to move on after only a matter of months. Once the settlers flee further west, the remains of their failed attempt to settle are swallowed by the Mists. Some settlers stick together on the long trail west, continually reestablishing their communities before inevitably having to abandon their current location to try again in another area of the Nova Vaasan frontier.


Bergovitsa is a community of ruffians who travel westward through the mountains and hills of Nova Vaasa looking to establish a profitable mining operation. Though he wields little real authority in Bergovitsa, Soren Rivtoff acts as its impulsive and unreliable sheriff. Whenever Bergovitsa reestablishes itself as a mining camp, it is eventually consumed by bouts of raucous drunkenness, bitter vendettas, and deadly gunfights. 

Ghost Towns

Nova Vaasans sometimes discover eerie ghost towns as they move west. These towns are always dilapidated and appear to have been long abandoned. Searching a ghost town reveals few clues as to the identities of its former residents. However, some Nova Vaasans have noticed architectural elements or stray items that remind them of the towns and villages they’ve left behind in the east—pieces of the lives they’ve forsaken seem to reappear as grim reminders of their fate as rootless, wandering pioneers.


Kantora is a traveling tent revival and missionary movement led by the renegade priest Othmar Bolshnik. The preachers of Kantora believe that their god, a tyrannical deity called the Lawgiver, has ordained that a paradise awaits the Nova Vaasans somewhere in the west. The religious leaders of Kantora favor a fire and brimstone style of sermonizing, and they include speaking in tongues and handling poisonous snakes as part of their rites.


Led by a scheming brothel madame named Lara Vistin, Liara is a community of swindlers who survive by providing services such as gambling, saloons, and prostitution to other travelers on the frontier. The trajectory of Liara’s wagon train frequently intersects with the paths of other would-be settlers. Liara attaches itself like a parasite to drain both coin and resources before moving on to the next marks further down the trail. 

Myar Hiregaard

A celebrated warrior of the Hiregaard clan, Myar united the nomadic tribes of the vast plains of Vaasa. However, Myar Hiregaard made a poor peacetime leader. When brutal games could no longer hold her interest, she incited hostilities between four of her vassal tribes that resulted in a bloody civil war, then led her own forces to crush the opposing belligerents. The wide-ranging conflict of the War of the Five Stewards tore the nation apart and caused a supernatural doom to befall the land. 

After Myar’s greatest massacre, the Mists enfolded the land and split Myar’s being in two. By day, she leads her people west across an accursed, ever-expanding frontier, but by night she transforms into an undead bandit called Malken who preys upon the settlers who follow in her wake across the expanse of Nova Vaasa.

Myar’s Powers and Dominion

By day, Myar Hiregaard appears to be a hardened woman still wearing the uniform she donned during the War of the Five Stewards. Her statblock is similar to that of a veteran. By night, Myar’s becomes a desiccated revenant clad in a moth-eaten duster who sports a black wide-brimmed hat and two matching pistols that spew hellfire.

Malken’s Posse. In her guise as Malken, Hiregaard is attended by a group of wights mounted on nightmares. Malken’s posse is the terror of the frontier, thundering across the plains to assault any travelers or settlements they encounter.

Closing the Borders. When Hiregaard closes the borders of Nova Vaasa, brutal winds carrying abrasive grit begin to tear across the frontier. Those who attempt to reach the Mists find themselves trying to push through a sea of tumbleweed as the biting winds render the border always just out of reach.

Myar’s Torment

Myar Hiregaard wants to be viewed as the founder of a great and enduring nation, but the Dark Powers and her own aggressive impulses conspire to make that impossible.

    • During the day, Myar Hiregaard acts as a leader of her people and a bringer of order.

    • With the coming of night, Malken is driven to cause chaos and wanton destruction.

Roleplaying Myar

Myar Hiregaard is a difficult woman, hard to please and expectant of deference. Malken is an unhinged maniac who delights in slaughter and the look of fear in her victims’ eyes.

Personality Trait. “I must take pains to keep my savage and unnatural alter ego in check.”

Ideal. “Nova Vaasa will emerge as a lasting nation, and I will be revered as the mother of that nation.”

Bond. “I need to be seen by my people as a leader. I can never appear weak or indecisive in their eyes.”

Flaw. “I cannot still the hell that’s in these hands.”

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Crawling King Chaos, Morning Star, Rex

Three howls of the damned for your sonic edification:

Cradle of Filth, "Crawling King Chaos"

King Woman, "Morning Star"

Vampire, "Rex"

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Candlekeep Mysteries Review: Alkazaar's Appendix and Xanthoria

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 hereSarah of Yellowcrest Manor and Lore of Lurue hereKandlekeep Dekonstruktion and Zikran's Zyphrean Tome here, The Curious Tale of Wisteria Vale and The Book of Inner Alchemy here, and The Canopic Being and The Scrivener's Tale here. In this review I'm going to give my impressions of the last two adventures in the book, so you can better decide for yourself whether this is a sound purchase for you and your group.

Alkazaar's Appendix

Written by Adam Lee

Developed by Michele Carter & Christopher Perkins

Edited by Michele Carter

"Alkazaar's Appendix" has a good premise: a search in the desert with a stone automaton for a lost scroll. However, the execution of that premise ultimately results in an average adventure because its strong points are counterbalanced by a few poor design decisions. The stone golem that the party teams up with has great potential to be endearing, but the shape of the adventure does have a bit of a "follow this NPC around" feel to it that the scenario could have done more to mitigate.

Another issue with the adventure is that each of the mapped locations are incredibly linear with few opportunities for exploration. The cave sequence, for example, is really just a straight tunnel with one blockage that needs to be moved out of the way. Since the tunnel leads to single chamber with six murals you need to describe so that the players get the gist of what's going on in the adventure, there is an obvious solution here: turn this tunnel into a branching cave complex with each mural located in a different chamber surrounded by additional points of interest. The necropolis at the end of the adventure is similarly linear: fight the guys at the top of it, go down the stairs, fight the monster down there, wrap things up.

This problem doesn't just appear in the adventure locations, it shapes the adventure itself. The overall plan of the scenario is a straight line: meet the automaton, go to the cave, go to the necropolis, finish the adventure. There are some optional encounters presented that could stretch the adventure into at least a two-session affair if you wanted, but unfortunately they don't really alter the direct course it sets the characters on.

Additionally, I don't really love the conclusion to this adventure as written, which seems to offer a choice between getting the scroll (which means opening a sarcophagus, which causes the prince held in stasis inside to rot away) and letting your new stone golem pal carry his beloved master into heaven. This is especially an issue because I don't think the content of the adventure really telegraphs the gravity of that choice well enough. I changed this in our playthrough; it absolutely wouldn't have fit the mood we had going on at all.

I've been quite critical of several components of this adventure, so to cap this review off I do want to note that we had a good time playing through it. The interactions with the stone golem were very fun to roleplay and actually lent themselves to an unexpectedly emotional session. Also, the addition of lair actions to the dracolich made that fight feel varied and interesting--it absolutely did not fall flat as a boss fight. Though there are some issues here, this was a decent adventure overall.


Written by Toni Winslow-Brill

Developed by Bill Benham & Christopher Perkins

Edited by Kim Mohan

As the last adventure in Candlekeep Mysteries, "Xanthoria" has a suitably strong premise: a fungal disease has swept the world, and it's up to the players to stop it. One thing I was slightly concerned about is that the premise hits at an odd moment; an adventure about a plague takes on a new meaning for people who are still dealing with the fallout of a real-world pandemic. It's not something the people who worked on the adventure could account for, but it nonetheless remained a potential for resemblance I tried to mitigate in play.

I also altered the adventure to make it a suitable conclusion for my campaign; instead of largely taking place in cave of the Lykortha Expanse, our playthrough took place on the moon--which gave the players a reason to fly their rocket tower to their final adventure, which I know was something they were really looking forward to.

Exploring the cave complex was the bulk of the session, and I think it works pretty well as a dungeon. There's interesting stuff that happens in there, unusual encounters (though I did pare some away to fit our time slot), and a good deal of atmosphere. You can get a good bit of mileage out of describing gross fungus and mold. In general, I'd say that the small- and mid-sized dungeons in Candlekeep Mysteries are frequently successful at providing site-based adventure. 

The lichen lich's stats, which are bespoke to this adventure, evidence a solid understanding of what an upper-level threat should be able to do. This is especially obvious if you compare its stats against those of a regular lich from the Monster Manual. The lichen lich is easier to run, has more interesting options, and also feels appropriately dangerous. 

The moral quandary posed at the end of the adventure is also fairly well done. Used as the conclusion of a campaign, "Xanthoria" gave me all the tools I needed to end the game in a way that I was really happy with.

Sunday, November 14, 2021


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 "Xanthoria." Fair warning: spoilers lurk below.

The Characters

Elsabeth, human paladin played by Anne

Gnargar, kobold monk played by Heather

Aula, human rogue played by Ridgely

Rufus, human barbarian played by Steve


The troubles began when the Bone Moon turned a sickly green, a pernicious infection spreading across its surface. Then, the meteors came. Scholars who studied the sky from Creedhall’s observatory claimed that the meteors seemed to originate from the darkest part of the moon’s infection. Where they fell to earth, the meteors left behind craters filled with mottled green and purple fungal matter.

The researchers who studied this fungal stain were the first to become infected. Their bodies became infested, they sprouted hideous growths comprised of mold, mildew, and mushrooms. As their bodies were taken over, so too were their minds usurped; the fungal disease transformed them into ravaging fungal ghouls who spread the sickness throughout Creedhall and perhaps all of Krevborna. The afflicted could say nothing save chanting one word over and over: Medlozka.

The doctors of Creedhall were unable to treat this ailment, and the Church’s agents were also powerless to cure it. The fungal infection hit to home for our heroes. Lady Valor, who had been staying with Elsabeth while recuperating, fell victim to it. Their superior at the library, Horatio Lupa, also fell prey to the illness and had to be locked away in a library vault. The only avenue unexplored was to fly the Old Tower to the moon and investigate the source of the corruption.

Our champions loaded supplies into the Old Tower, fired up the rockets hidden beneath it, and commanded it to take them to the Bone Moon. The source of the fungal plague was obvious when the moon came into view: its white, rocky surface was infested with fungus with a dark lump sitting like a tumor in the center of the infection. The tumor had a number of silo-like tubes projecting from it--possibly used to launch the meteors at Creedhall. That tumor-like structure proved to be a natural cave that had been taken over by mold, mildew, and mushroom. 

Inside the cave's entrance, they could hear the sound of a woman weeping off to their left. Reconnoitering the area, Gnargar found a woman, whose body was encrusted with fungal matter, crying in the fetal position. She revealed that her name was Thalia and that the cave complex was the headquarters of a cult who had come to the moon to fulfill their leader's demonic plan: join all life into one fungal hivemind to put an end to individual cruelty. Thalia explained that the cult was lead by Dahlia Medlozka, but she couldn't remember how many members of the cult remained. However many there were, they were sure to be warped into fungal forms.

With Thalia in tow, the group explored the cavern complex. Toward the back of the first cavern, they found two semi-transformed cult members suspended from a web of mycelia. They discovered an alchemy lab, complete with a moldering book that explained the process for transforming rocks into biological weapons that could be fired at the world to spread the fungal disease far and wide. Continuing on, they found a chamber used in Dahlia Medlozka's experiments in fusing fungus with human flesh. This room held a number of cages, each holding a corpse. Thalia was distraught to find that her friend Boris, a fellow member of the cult, had died from the experiments that had been inflicted upon him. 

They also stumbled upon a ring of lurid giant mushrooms. When Gnargar stood in the center of them, he had a vision of a post-apocalyptic world overrun by fungi. In the vision, a huge woman made of mushrooms and rot grabbed him, her tendrils boring into his face. He tore her hand off, but this did not faze her. Before he was released from this horrid vision of the ruinous future, she leaned close to Gnargar's ear and whispered "Soon." For the rest of his time within the caves, Gnargar's perceptions would be periodically and momentarily overlaid with the sight of this fungal hell.

Upon returning to the central chamber, the group spotted two large vulture-headed demons and a fungal cultist descending from the mycelia web. A difficult battle ensued, but the party vanquished their foes and continued exploring after licking their wounds. After traversing a long corridor that rained dangerous necrotic spores down upon them, the group found Dahlia Medlozka, her humanity forever lost to the transformation into the fungal equivalent of a lich, vivisecting a deer upon a stone worktable. A young boy in a cage was by her side, creepily eager to see Dahlia at work with her knife. When Dahlia noticed the group's approach, she commanded a massive mushroom-man and a boar-headed demon to kill them.

Rufus engaged the fungus-encrusted boar demon, keeping it at bay, ferocious beast to ferocious beast, as the other scrambled to fight their way toward Dahlia. Dahlia cast a spell that drew the life from the boy in the cage, rendering him a withered husk and creating a sphere of magical protection around her. When Aula tried to charge Dahlia, she found that she could not move through the sphere. Instead, she threw her dagger at Dahlia; infused with a saintly relic, the dagger caused Dahlia to lose concentration on her spell, and the sphere shattered.

Dahlia proved to be a powerful druidess. She conjured fire that surrounded each member of the party. She threw bolts of roiling necrotic energy. She attempted to steal their lifeforce to empower her own. She grabbed Aula's stone golem, channeled horrible power into it, and caused it to shatter into rubble. She also caused a pile of fungal matter to animate as a hulking, fetid mass. The boar demon and the mushroom-man were dealt with, so Rufus now held the shambling mound in combat. Gnargar smashed Dahlia with his nunchaku, dislodging her lower jaw before landing the killing blow. Freed from that melee, Elsabeth flew to Rufus's side and ended the fetid mass's unholy existence.

Searching the stone table, the group found another rotting book that detailed both how to create the biological weapons Dahlia had crafted and how to brew a medicine to treat the illness. However, reading the book also unveiled a hideous truth: as a lich, Dahlia would return to unlife eventually if her phylactery was not located and destroyed. A search of the rest of the cave complex commenced. In Dahlia's former bedroom, they found the woman's diary, which disclosed that Thalia was the phylactery into which she had placed a vital part of her soul. 

Thalia was reluctant to give up her life. The group didn't really give her an option, however. They viewed her life as a necessary sacrifice so that the world might live. Ultimately, Thalia was convinced to lay down her life for the greater good. Before accepting Elsabeth's sword through her heart, she made the group promise that they would take her and Boris's bodies back to Krevborna and give them a proper burial.

With their tragic burden in tow, the group boarded the Old Tower and began the journey back to the library. As they left, they used the tower's elemental cannon to destroy the cave complex's silos. Upon returning, they gave Dahlia's books to Creedhall's doctors, who were able to affect a cure for the afflicted. 

Throughout their time with the Special Collections Department, our heroes were librarians, adventurers, and sometimes even agents of chaos guided by a skewed moral compass. Their adventures took them to strange places, even into the wilds of other planes. They encountered the uncanny, nefarious, and unusual, such as a demonic nursery rhyme, a spa overrun by evil, and a lurid fairytale come to life. They slew a mummy lord, a beholder, and more than a few cults. They saved a few innocents and managed to keep a fair number of fell tomes out of the reach of the foolhardy.

But in the end? In the end, they had saved the world.

Friday, November 12, 2021

Candlekeep Mysteries Review: The Canopic Being and The Scrivener's Tale

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 hereSarah of Yellowcrest Manor and Lore of Lurue here, Kandlekeep Dekonstruktion and Zikran's Zyphrean Tome here, and The Curious Tale of Wisteria Vale and The Book of Inner Alchemy 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 Canopic Being

Written by Jennifer Kretchmer

Developed & Edited by Scott Fitzgerald Gray & Christopher Perkins

"The Canoptic Being" has a great, and pretty creepy, premise: a mummy lord has been inserting its organs into folks to make them into "golems" under its control. That's a sick-nasty idea, in a good way, no question about it.

I did make some changes to the opening bits of the adventure, but they were the kind of alterations I think you absolutely should make to every published adventure where possible: I used every opportunity to personalize the adventure for my players. As written, the adventure gives you a list of the mummy lord's victims. I swapped out these characters for beloved NPCs and the characters of players who couldn't make it to the session for additional impact; I rightly figured that the players would care a whole lot more about rescuing their characters' friends from the mummy's scheme than they would about new NPCs they had never encountered before.

The dungeon portion of the adventure worked well. There are some "funhouse" elements to the dungeon, such as antigravity rooms, that don't really serve much purpose other than adding some flavor, but that's par for the course. 

"The Canopic Being" does reveal some issues with the "monster math" at high levels, however. The mummy lord is positioned as the big villain of the adventure, but if you use the standard stats from the Monster Manual he will be a complete pushover, especially in comparison to the golems under his control. The golems clearly use newer monster math that takes the amount of damage that characters can dish out into better account. That said, this is more of a systemic problem than an adventure problem, so I don't hold it against the adventure's author at all.

The Scrivener's Tale

Written by Brandes Stoddard

Developed by Christopher Perkins

Edited by Scott Fitzgerald Gray

I'm not sure whether to place the blame on my general level of fatigue or the convolutions of the adventure's backstory, but I had some trouble understanding the premise of "The Scrivener's Tale" and how all the pieces of the adventure fit together. This one took a couple read-throughs to fully grasp. On a basic level, it's simple: an evil archfey wants to be released from the book they're trapped in and they put a curse on the characters to maneuver them into setting them free.

I will say that I don't think the intro as written is very good. The suggested start is that a bumbling librarian gives the players the wrong book--which inadvertently curses them. Instead of going that route, I started things in media res by having someone else trying to get the book stage an assault on the library while the characters happen to be there to stop it. The curse came about at the close of this encounter and left me a nice bit of ambiguity about whether the curse was the work of the Princess of the Shadow Glass or the Queen of Air and Darkness.

I also cut some of the adventure for either reasons of time or simply because they just weren't needed. There was an entire segment devoted to going to a noblewoman's estate to get information about the titular book's provenance, but my players were on the trail of resolving things without that side trek. The NPC in that part of the adventure seems interesting enough, but this was an easy omission.

I also cut out the waves of golems and mummies that can be encountered in the dungeon portion of the adventure. I made that cut for time, mostly. If I had been more willing to stretch this adventure over two sessions, I would have left that fight in, but I do have some reservations about whether the multi-part war of attrition it posits would be fun. Also, its a little weird that the enemies in the last batch of adventures is a bit repetitive: the previous adventure in the book also featured a mummy and golems, so on some level this feels like more of the same. Of course, you aren't really meant to play the adventures in Candlekeep Mysteries in sequence, so part of the issue is something I am bringing to the table that the book isn't meant to address.

To give this adventure some shine, I will say that the fight against the Princess of the Shadow Glass is very fun. Whoever made her stat block did a great job: she has a lot of flavorful attacks that lend themselves to cool description and keep the players on their toes. She's a great example of what a higher-level foe should look like.

As an aside, there is one thing I want to comment on about the higher-level adventures in Candlekeep Mysteries: many of them feature a sidebar about how to address certain spells that can "ruin" the mystery of the scenario. Luckily, no one I've been playing with is playing a caster with access to these spells, but I think this points to a potential design issue with the game as a whole. If there are known spells that can mess with the fun of players solving a mystery, those spells might need to be addressed in a way other than "here's how to make sure the spell doesn't work as written in this adventure."

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

The Cult of the Rotmaiden

The Cult of the Rotmaiden

A faction in Ravenloft

The Cult of the Rotmaiden is a circle of nihilistic druids devoted to Zuggtmoy, the Demon Queen of Fungi. Rotmaiden cultists wear furs that they have allowed to become sodden and rife with fungal growths. The cult’s goal is to cleanse the land of what they see as the sadistic degeneracy of civilization and clear the way for the rebirth of the “pure” natural world promised by Zuggtmoy.

For the members of the Cult of the Rotmaiden, the desire to ravage the Land of Mists with fungal infections is the promise of vengeance against a world that has wronged them; all members of the cult have suffered abuse and seek revenge. Typical members of the Cult of the Rotmaiden include formerly oppressed serfs, mistreated children, and people who have been wrongfully imprisoned for crimes they did not commit. 

Rotmaiden Cultists

Rotmaiden cultists use the druid statblock with additional abilities from the Circle of Spores subclass. Higher-ranking members of the cult use the archdruid statblock similarly modified with abilities from the Circle of Spores subclass. The cult is sometimes assisted by demons aligned with Zuggtmoy and evil myconids.

Dahlia Medlozka

Once a criminal confined to a brutal prison labor camp, Dahlia Medlozka escaped with Zuggtmoy’s aid and eventually became the hierophant of the Cult of the Rotmaiden. She is a thin, pinched human woman in her late twenties—though the world’s cruelty has prematurely aged her. She wears moldering furs and a ushanka that is festooned with purple and black fungi. Her back is deeply scared by the lash she was subjected to in the camp. 

Although Dahlia is a hardened woman, she has great empathy for those who are abused or oppressed. She views the cult not as an extension of an evil agenda, but rather as a tool of liberation through which the wronged can make the civilized world pay for its misdeeds. She hopes that the cult’s efforts can usher in a better world in which all become equal as Zuggtmoy weaves together the consciousness of every living being into a biological tapestry devoid of individual will.

Dahlia has statistics similar to that of an archdruid, though like most members of the Cult of the Rotmaiden she also has several abilities from the Circle of Spores druid subclass.

Personality Trait. “I will do anything it takes to survive in this cruel, heartless world.”

Ideal. “The people who harmed me will pay dearly.”

Bond. “The downtrodden are my brothers and sisters.”

Flaw. “I am haunted by the brutality of my imprisonment in the labor camp.”

If you like this kind of content and you haven't check it out already, print copies of Strahd Loves, Man Kills are still available here. Only a handful of the first and second issues left, though!

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Alkazaar's Appendix

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 "Alkazaar's Appendix." Fair warning: spoilers lurk below.

The Characters

Elsabeth, human paladin played by Anne

Gnargar, kobold monk played by Heather

Aula, human rogue played by Ridgely

Rufus, human barbarian played by Steve


Elsabeth, Gnargar, and Rufus were tasked with joining a joint operation with the Church of the Sorrowful Vision. After being partnered with Aula, an operative of the Church, the assembled group was asked to return to the strange chamber that Elsabeth and Rufus has previously discovered in the ancient temple beneath the church and use the chamber's portal to Mudraal so that they might search for one of the fabled Blood Sea scrolls rumored to be secreted in that area.

Upon traversing the portal, the group found a younger man and an older man excavating something from the sands. Lending a hand, the group discovered that the item appeared to be a large stone statue of a man-like figure with a blue circle radiating rays of sun embedded in its chest. The pair of men, Pesh and Shamir, had hoped to sell the statue at a profit, but it was unclear how such a heavy object could be transported. This problem solved itself when the partially excavated statue heaved itself out of the sand, stood under its own power, and began to survey the surroundings as if it were getting its bearings. 

Gnargar's attempts to communicate with the stone man revealed that it could not speak, but it attempted to express itself in an unknown form of sign language. Upon further inspection, both Elsabeth and Aula felt certain that the sun symbol on the stone man's chest related to the ancient beginnings of the Church of Saintly Blood. When the stone man began to stalk off across the dunes, the group decided it would be best to follow--since the stone man was related to the church, perhaps it could lead them toward the Blood Sea scroll they were after. Pesh, Shamir, and their camel also came along.

After several days of travel, the group arrived at Haruun, also known as the Caves of the Worm, a set of natural caverns riddling the wall of a canyon. The sands here showed signs of a sand worm's passage. The group also felt the ground suddenly shake ominously, an indication that the purple worm may be nearby. Most of the caves had been filled in by the worm's burrowing, but a crack in the stone wall of the canyon seemed to indicate a mostly extant cave. The group, including the stone man, proceeded inside. The cavern stank from worm dung and the interior passage was partially blocked by stone churned up by the worm's movements; Rufus and Elsabeth's attempts to clear the stone were not as quiet or gentle as they may have liked--part of the wall of stones collapsed, after which the group again began to feel the tremors of the worm's approach. 

The chamber beyond the stone blockage had preserved several murals that imparted important information about the fate and whereabouts of the Blood Sea scroll. The murals mostly involved three figures in clerical vestments and a saintly prince of ancient Mudraal. In one mural, the three priests were shown animating the stone man with holy magic. Another showed the prince and the stone man stowing a golden scroll case inside a vault and attempting to fight off an attacking dragon. The final painting showed the prince willingly accepting a curse causing him to exist in a state between life and death as the guardian of the Blood Sea scroll so that the dragon could not get its claws on it. The stone man studied these murals intently. Contemplation of the story they told indicated that the group's next stop should be the ruined city of Azumar.

However, the worm's attention had been drawn at this point. It erupted from the sands outside the cave. The group chose to wait out the worm rather than fight it off. Their ploy worked, at the cost of Shamir and Pesh's camel, which was tied up outside. Eventually, the worm retreated back to the depths of the earth.

After several more days of travel, the group found themselves in the ruins of Azumar, facing a raging sandstorm that only vented its wrath in a circle around a step pyramid necropolis they recognized from the murals in the Cave of the Worm. Pesh and Shamir decided that they would wait for the party as they had no interest in attempting to traverse the sandstorm. The rest of the group was not keen on venturing into the sandstorm either; it looked strong enough to flay flesh from bone. Gnargar asked the stone man if he could enter the sandstorm; as the stone man lurched into the biting, gritty winds, he held his hands aloft. They flared with blue light, and the sandstorm parted. The group followed the stone man to the foot of the pyramid.

From the pyramid's base, the group could see a number of man-sized figures and giant scorpions milling about at the top. The group attacked from afar, with Elsabeth calling down a holy moonbeam, Gnargar throwing a searing sunburst, and Rufus firing his crossbow. Withering under this assault, the figures at the top of the pyramid scurried down the stone stairs to engage the party; they turned out to be a group of desiccated wights and undead scorpions! The group began to lay into their foes in earnest, but the opposing party was soon joined by a giant skeleton bearing a greatsword and a large horn strapped to its back. After the wights and scorpions were dispatched with, only the skeletal giant remained. Aula proved her worth by climbing the skeleton and dealing a massive strike to its neckbone that severed its head.

The group climbed the step pyramid, then descended into the depths of its necropolis. A door at the bottom of the stairs was blown off its hinges by Gnargar using the horn they took from the undead giant. Inside, the torches in the chamber lit automatically as they stepped inside. The chamber's only feature was a door framed by a dragon bones set into the wall around it. The bones began to crackle with electricity, and the dracolich pulled itself from the wall to attack! 

The dracolich had a number of fiendish abilities: it breathed gouts of lightning that filled the chamber, its teeth and claws arced with electrical power, and its tail lashed fiercely. It attempted to cave in a portion of the ceiling to bury Rufus alive, but he managed to leap out of the way of the falling debris. Elsabeth was knocked unconscious by the dracolich and inched even closer to death's door when the vile creature sent a surge of lightning arcing throughout the room. Ultimately, Gnargar called on every last reserve of ki he had to bash at the dracolich with his nunchaku and finish it with a fiery punch that burned with the heat of a thousand suns. The dracolich was reduced to nothingness; only its shadow remained etched into the stone of the necropolis.

Breaching the door to the crypt, the group found an ornate sarcophagus. Inside was the incorrupt body of the prince from the murals, clothed in funeral regalia, and the golden case containing the Blood Sea scroll. The stone man handed the scroll to Gnargar; Gnargar hugged to stone man in return. The stone man then gingerly picked up the body of his prince and walked toward the far wall of the crypt. The painting of heaven on the wall began to animate; the stone man carried the body of the holy prince into heaven.

Returning to the surface, the group were happy to note that the unnatural sandstorm was now gown. After paying Shamir and Pesh generously for the loss of their camel, the group returned to the portal and brought the Blood Sea scroll back to the Church of the Sorrowful Vision, where it was copied for the library's archives and subjected to further study.

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

The Scrivener's Tale

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 Scrivener's Tale." Fair warning: spoilers lurk below.

The Characters

Elsabeth, human paladin played by Anne

Gnargar, kobold monk played by Heather


As Gnargar and Elsabeth reported for work at the library, they found their morning interrupted by screams coming from the campus grounds. Peering out a window, they saw a dark elf mage astride a malformed, bulge-eyed giant. As this uncanny pair neared the library, they attacked the scholars and students in their path with crackling bolts of lightning and a massive stone club, respectively. Elsabeth and Gnargar rushed to the defense of the university. Gnargar was able to stun the giant with a martial arts technique while avoiding the drow's blasts of electricity. The drow was knocked unconscious, but as he fell he uttered a spell in a strange voice; it began to rain inky black fluid, and where the liquid touched the gathered crowd's exposed skin, it formed miniscule words written in Sylvan.

Although none of the afflicted had knowledge of the Sylvan language prior to this event, they all discovered that they could now read it. The words marked on their flesh seemed to be part of a tale of some sort. They all also disconcertingly found that they cast no shadows! An expert in Sylvan literature, Professor Teles Ahvoste, was summoned to examine the strange words and hopefully make sense of it all. After arranging the afflicted in a rough order so that the bits of the story could be read in sequence, he determined that the words were from a book called The Scrivener's Tale, a story about an archfey of the Unseelie Court named the Princess of the Shadow Glass who had been driven out of the Feywild by the Queen of Air and Darkness.

Once the drow had been revived, he was questioned. His name was Eldrath, and he was a disciple of the Princess of the Shadow Glass. He claimed that the Queen of Air and Darkness was a terrible tyrant who had warped the nature of the Unseelie fey with her cruelty and that freeing the Princess of the Shadow Glass would allow her to wage a war against the Queen's evil in the Feywild. He was under orders, always delivered to him in dreams, to obtain The Scrivener's Tale because the Princess was trapped within its pages. He was to take the book to a place where the binding magic could be dispelled. Unfortunately, the whereabouts of that place had not yet been revealed to him by the Princess.

That night, both Gnargar and Elsabeth dreamed the same dream. They fled a battle between inhuman soldiers by hiding in a ruined tower. Inside, the found a spear thrust into the ground. Hanging from the spear's crossguard were two crowns: a silver circlet and an adamantine crown meant to be worn over a helm. Encircling the spear's blade was another crown--this one made of gold and inlaid with emeralds. As they reached out to claim the crowns for themselves, they awoke. Consulting with Teles Ahvoste revealed that historians believed there was a civil war among the Lilitu known as the War of the Three Crowns. This was culminated in a battle for a city called Delimbria, which was destroyed in the conflict. 

Elsabeth and Gnargar decided to head for the ruins of Delimbria in hopes of finding more information on the Princess and the strange writing that had appeared on their skin. They took a wagon and decided to bring Eldrath, Teles, and The Scrivener's Tale with them on the trip. One night, as they made camp, a shadowy figure approached their fire--they were privy to an audience with a vestige of the Princess of the Shadow Glass herself! The Princess of the Shadow Glass commended them on following the trail to Delimbria. She also informed them that the words on their skin was part of a curse laid by the Queen of Air and Darkness meant to prevent anyone from freeing the princess from her book-bound captivity--and that the curse would prove fatal if it were not removed. Before she departed back into the darkness, the Princess promised to remove their soon as she was released from the book, of course.

When the group arrived at Delimbria, they immediately saw the ruined tower that featured prominently in Elsabeth and Gnargar's dream. At the foot of the tower was a stone spiral staircase leading down into the earth; the walls of the shaft were etched with images of inhuman Lilitu monarchs donning the crowns from their dream. Excavating a collapsed doorway in the chamber at the bottom of the stairs allowed them access to the rest of the underground complex. From the crumbling and ancient desks they discovered, the complex appeared to be some sort of scriptorium. In their explorations, they uncovered a tunnel leading to an underground waterfall (complete with the skeleton of a previous explorer), a stone door with no handle that had three glyphs etched into its surface, and a vast chamber with the image of a dragon etched into the wall.

Examining the draconic image more closely, the group found that an image of a Lilituan abjuring it with an iron rod accompanied it. The iron rod was not part of the etching; it was in fact a real iron rod embedded in the wall. Also, the dragon's eye was an actual hole of some considerable depth. Unable to resist the temptation to toy with the possibilities presented here, Elsabeth pried the metal rod from the wall and inserted it into the hole in the dragon's eye. Formless darkness began to pour out of the rod, pooling on the stone floor. One great taloned leg, then another, then a horned reptilian head pulled itself from the inky pool--a dragon emerged from the mysterious morass!

The dragon had been imprisoned within the wall by the Lilitu, but now that it was free it demanded that the group stand aside so that it might leave and "feast." Unwilling to unleash this creature on an unsuspecting world, Elsabeth and Gnargar pretended to step aside so that they could better attack the dragon from the rear. Enraged at being hindered in its hellish purpose, the dragon unleashed a blast of caustic acid that injured Elsabeth and Grargar, nearly killed Eldrath, and absolutely dissolved Prof. Ahvoste. The dragon's teeth and claws proved extremely dangerous, but Elsabeth was able to ram her sword into its chest. As it reared in pain, it began to dissolve. As her sword fell to the ground, Elsabeth caught it midair. 

Once the dragon had been dealt with, Gnargar and Elsabeth decided to investigate the glyph-warded door further. As they examined it, a spectral Lilituan appeared and introduced himself as "the scrivener" who had written the book that the Princess of the Shadow Glass was contained in and had engineered the ritual that had trapped her within it. When asked about the Princess's motives, compared against the motives of the maligned Queen of Air and Darkness, the scrivener said that both were forces of ill and that it was impossible to weigh them against each other. At this point, Gnargar and Elsabeth's suspicions about the Princess's desire to be released from her prison were all but confirmed--she was not the freedom fighter she claimed to be. 

However, as they were victims of a curse, which they were more and more sure originated with the Princess and not the Queen, her release might be the key to saving themselves. The scrivener confirmed this: the only way to free themselves would be to release the Princess of the Shadow Glass using a ritual, kill her, and then finish the ritual before she could reform from the stuff of shadows. Elsabeth and Gnargar decided to take their chances with the path that the scrivener proposed; however, since they knew that Eldrath was still firm in his allegiance to the Princess, they knocked him unconscious before having the scrivener unseal the door to the ritual chamber so that they might confront the archfey who had guided them to this point.

Following the scrivener's instructions, The Scrivener's Tale was placed at the center of a ritual circle carved into the floor of the chamber and the candles around its perimeter were lit. A presence emerged from the book, taking the form of a tall, willowy fey woman whose silver hair trailed off into wisps of smoky darkness. Elsabeth and Gnargar were right not to trust her; she announced her intentions to kill them and conquer the Feywild! The Princess of the Shadow Glass had a number of tricks up her sleeve; she caused Gnargar and Elsabeth's stolen shadows to attack them, she commanded the long mirrors hung in the chamber to shatter and their shards to explode outward like glass-packed grenades, and she used tendrils of darkness to pull the duo through one mirror only to be spat out another. Ultimately, the two librarians were triumphant. The Princess was slain and the candles snuffed--ensuring that she would trouble the world no more.

Before they left, Gnargar and Elsabeth loaded the many ancient Lilituan manuscripts found in the ritual chamber into their wagon...for which they would be rewarded with extraordinary wealth by the library's Special Collections Department.

Monday, November 1, 2021

The Castle of Transylvania, The City of the Dead, The Low, Low Woods, and More

Things that brought me delight in October, 2021:

Jules Verne, The Castle of Transylvania

I have a lot more to say about The Castle of Transylvania, also known as The Carpathian Castle, on the newest episode of the Bad Books for Bad People podcast, but suffice to say that this is a very interesting foray into the Gothic from one of the authors who is frequently tagged as "the Father of Science Fiction." The late Victorian anxiety about new technologies is here, but given that Verne is generally more positive about scientific progress than, say, the Romantics, that fear gives way to deeper anxieties about a populace that can't be convinced to give up their plebian superstitions.

The City of the Dead

As is tradition, I've been consuming horror movies right and left this October, and they range from new disappointments to old reliable stalwarts. And then there are movies like The City of the Dead, a film I should have seen years ago. This style of horror movie is extremely my shit. Although it doesn't have a ton of action, I love the atmosphere and Gothic aesthetics. Also, call me crazy, but I would absolutely love to vacation in a small New England town that is overrun by Satanic witches. Yeah, okay, you might end up sacrificed, but...worth it.

Carmen Maria Machado, Dani, Tamra Bonvillain, The Low, Low Woods

El and Vee, best friends in a Pennsylvania coal town with a fire raging beneath its streets (in other words: Centralia), wake up in a movie theater with the suspicions that something happened to them while they were asleep. As they begin to investigate what's going on, they're pulled closer and closer to their hometown's dark secret history. The Low, Low Woods lulls you in; it feels quirky at first, even if it's clear that something isn't quite right, but by the end it's absolutely disturbing and brutal. I wouldn't expect anything less from Carmen Maria Machado at this point, so I definitely was not disappointed. One thing I really appreciate about this comic is that from the art to the story, it really captures a little of the magic that 90s-era Vertigo had.

Vampire: The Masquerade, Cults of the Blood Gods and Vampire Companion

God help me, I've been reading  Vampire: The Masquerade lore for fun. You can keep your Gloranthan cults, it's Cults of the Blood Gods for me. And since there isn't (yet?) a hardcopy of the Vampire Companion for the new edition (a mystifying choice), I went ahead and printed my own. You can do the same if you grab the free pdf of it here.

The Reflecting Skin

Back in the 90s I tried like hell to get a copy of The Reflecting Skin in stock for the video store I worked at, but it was impossible to track down. Luckily, tubi has it so I finally got to see it. For a movie with very little blood and very little violence, it is plenty disturbing in a Flannery O'Connor way. In The Reflecting Skin, the fantasy-filled innocence of childhood is a hell, but it's a hell that protects from the deeper trauma of adulthood and all the buried desires, moral culpability, repressions, and terrible secrets it entails.

Low Country Crawl, What's So Cool About Monster Blood?, What's So Cool About Vampire Hunting

Aside from quenching my Vampire: The Masquerade thirst, I also got a few rpg zines from Spear Witch in October. Low Country Crawl is a Southern Gothic-inspired setting; the particular issue focuses on pirate isles. I can probably make use of it to fill out some ideas I've had for Ravenloft's Saragoss. Monster Blood and Vampire Hunting are two very short games about playing monster hunters; to be honest, I probably could have made do getting only one of them, as they're essentially the same game with a thin veneer of difference, but I could see busting out either game with smaller groups when we don't have a quorum to play D&D or the like.

A Pale Horse Named Death, Infernum in Terra

Infernum In Terra may be A Pale Horse Named Death's most solid album yet. On the album's best tracks, the band fuses Type O Negative-style doom to a 90s-flavored desert wind and dark throes of drug addiction vibe. Alice in Chains, but drier. APHND never get as crackly, saturated, or hypnotically enveloping as most modern stoner doom bands; there is a crispness to their sound that provides a nice change of pace.

Barnes, Alexander, NCT, Sienkiewicz, Killadelphia vol. 2

My girlfriend passed me the second volume of Killadelphia when she was done with it and I waited until October to crack into it. Vampire slut Abigail Adams (yes, that Abigail Adams, the First Lady) is out to sow fear and destruction so that her legions of the undead can take over Philadelphia. The main character's dead pops is brought back from the grave to assist, mostly because his son is worried that the case will be handed off to Mulder and Scully. (No, really! Even Walter Skinner is there.) I wasn't expecting Killadelphia to go Gaimanesque with a tour of the afterlife, but I'm still here for the occasional stunning gore spread.

Skepticism, Companion

When I think of doom metal, I think of downward motion, a plunge into the abyss. The first track on Skepticism's Companion bucks this tend; somehow, "Calla" feels like an upward emergence, the triumph of crawling one's way out of purgatory on bloody hands and knees. Don't despair, though, as Skepticism get back to the business of funereal doom in short order. In fact, "The March of the Four" feels like the most quintessentially funereal doom track I've heard in quite some time. 

Brom, Slewfoot: A Tale of Bewitchery

Although I've been a fan of Brom's art since the 90s, probably through those first Dark Sun covers, I never ventured into his fiction. Slewfoot was a good entry point, it seems. Slewfoot is witchy folk horror with a side order of body horror, set in Puritan New England. Do not enter if you've got a bug up your ass about "historical" characters speaking in modern ways because you will have to endure early modern New Englanders talking about "snacks." Also, I don't mean this as an insult, but Slewfoot could make a pretty decent horror film. Events are cinematic, the main roles feel ready to be cast, and the empowerment vs. patriarchy themes are broad enough not to get lost on the big screen.

Kraus, Shehan, Wordie, Campbell, The Autumnal

Good horror can make anything the occasion to be unsettled, even something as mundane and welcome as the falling of leaves in the autumn. A trouble mother and her troubled daughter return to the mother's hometown after inheriting a house from the estranged grandmother; the town is a little too perfect, and the mother's memories of her early life there a little too clouded in mystery. There's a price to be paid for life in the Mayberry-esque town and aww-shucks-isn't-our-town-so-quaint doesn't come cheap in The Autumnal.

The Curse Upon Mitre Square A.D. 1530-1888 and The History of the Whitechapel Murders

This tome is a strange compendium of two books about Jack the Ripper that were published in 1888, the year of the murders. It's a self-published book, with all the usual quirks of sloppy formatting that can entail. The first part, The Curse Upon Mitre Square by John Francis Brewer, is a Gothic novel that supposes that the Jack the Ripper murders are the result of a curse upon that area of London in the aftermath of a lusty monk murdering his sister upon a sacred altar. The second part, The History of the Whitechapel Murders, is a contemporary attempt to write the history of the Ripper killings. It's fairly worthless as a piece of history, but it's pretty interesting to see how people viewed the events without any historical remove. 

Daniel, Moreci, Hixson, Russell, Campbell, The Plot: Part Two

The general consensus seems to be that the second part of The Plot is not as strong as the first. While I enjoyed the conclusion of the comic, I have to agree. The problem is that since the story is separated into two volumes, all the subtlety is sequestered in the first one, leaving the second to function like the final reel of a horror film. That works in a movie since a film is meant to be digested in a single sitting, but it's less successful in a two volume comic. Still, I liked the art style and the gribbly dank horror of it all.


Although I like to keep my attention focused on spooky shit during the Halloween season, there was no I way I was going to miss out on watching Dune when it came out.'s good! Yes, it is slow. One glance at the runtime should alert you to the fact that it's going to be slow. But, overall, this is a solid adaptation of the first bit of Frank Herbert's novel. Do keep in mind that it's only the first bit; it does end a little abruptly. Hopefully it does well enough that we get a part two. We're getting a part 2!

Cassandra Khaw, Nothing But Blackened Teeth

You can't always be sure of what you're going to get with a ghost story. Will it be a tale of psychological ghosts, a classic specter rattling its chains as a dire warning of a doom to come, or something more akin to a b-movie haunted house? I was surprised to discover that Cassandra Khaw's Nothing But Blackened Teeth falls into the latter category. A group of friends (who don't seem to like each other much at all) converge on an ancient mansion in Japan that has been rented out to celebrate the marriage of two of their party. Unfortunately, the mansion is the abode of a ghostly woman whose husband died before be could make it to the altar, which makes it a terrible place for the occasion. Like many an enjoyable horror flick, the characters are generally unlikeable and the words that fall out of their mouths are often insane. And, like a solid example of the kind of horror movie it emulates, it has a s short runtime. Nothing But Blackened Teeth is just short enough to take you along for the ride without overstaying its welcome.

Ram V, Kumar, Astone, Bidikar, These Savage Shores

In These Savage Shores, an ancient evil ventures to India for revenge amid political maneuverings, war, love, colonialism, and betrayal, only to meet with a monstrous force that is perhaps even older still. These Savage Shores has it all, a Hammer-style vampire hunter, beautiful dancers, and really fantastic drawings of full-mast ships. I'd say that These Savage Shores was one of the best comics I've read recently, and I've read a lot of funny books in the past few months. Highly recommended to anyone who might be interested in a Gothic tale far removed from the usual locations and sites of the milieu.

The Night Stalker

Do they still make made-for-tv movies on the major networks? If not, it's a shame we won't get something like The Night Stalker. The Night Stalker introduced the world to Carl Kolchak, an intrepid reporter fated to tangle with the supernatural. In this film, he investigates a series of killings that lead him to encounter a vampire. (The real villains, as in real life, are the cops, who are portrayed as both inept and corrupt.) The Night Stalker isn't particularly deep, but it is extraordinarily fun...the kind of fun that I'm not sure really exists in the basic cable package these days.

Old Horror Comics

Over the course of the year, I've been picking up old horror comics whenever I happened to stumble across them for a decent price at antique stores, comic shops, and random weird stores. I made a point of not reading them until October, which gave me a nice little stack to work through in the spooky season. They aren't all winners, of course, but the high points are extremely high!

Dracula Has Risen From the Grave

Dracula Has Risen From the Grave is one of the many absolutely dependable Hammer horror movies. It hits all the expectations: Dracula does indeed rise from the grave (and he's played with aplomb by Christopher Lee), there are a couple beautiful, buxom women to be imperiled, and the overall costuming and set design nail the aesthetic perfectly. If you like the Hammer flavor of horror, you can't go wrong with this one. Also, that poster ain't half bad, right?

Cradle of Filth, Existence is Futile

Existence is Futile came in the mail a couple of days before Halloween--perfect timing, if you ask me. A new Cradle of Filth album is always welcome, but before it drops you always find yourself wondering what flavor of Cradle you're about to get. Existence is Futile is actually a good mix of all the stuff Cradle does well. The riffs are prominent and catchy. The orchestration and choir elements are appropriately over-the-top and Gothic. (Anabelle Iratni is such a fantastic addition to the band.) Dani Filth has a new vocal effect that reminds me of the undead father in the first segment of Creepshow--and I like being reminded of Creepshow.

Monster of the Week and Tome of Mysteries

Monster of the Week is an rpg designed for the experience of playing a group of supernatural investigators. Think Kolchak, the X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or Penny Dreadful. The game is "Powered by the Apocalypse," but one thing I really appreciate about it is that it avoids the pitfalls of many similar games in the genre. For one, it isn't laser-focused on emulating a particular media property. None of the playbooks scream that they are meant to approximate a specific character. The game is more interested in giving you the tools to play in a particular genre, rather than judiciously filing the serial numbers off of what would otherwise need to be a licensed game. A couple of the rules stick out as things I might want to house rule or change, and I don't love all the art in the game, but I could definitely see myself running this.

I also picked up Tome of Mysteries, a supplement for Monster of the Week. Tome of Mysteries includes brief premade scenarios and villains, four new playbooks, new moves for paranormal abilities, and a whole lot of advice about playing the game.

Midnight Syndicate, Bloodlines

It is very nearly tradition that every October either Midnight Syndicate or Nox Arcana puts out a new album. I guess it was Midnight Syndicate's turn this year. Bloodlines is another album of "Halloween ambiance": music as suitable for a haunted house attraction at the state fair as it is to just chilling out at home with some candles lit and a bone-chilling book by your side.

Forsaken System Player's Guide

The Forsaken System Player's Guide is the first supplement for Cubicle 7's revision of the Wrath & Glory game set in the Warhammer 40k universe. The book reminds me a bit of WotC's supplements in that it combines fluff with mechanical elements so that there's something between the covers for everyone. It functions as part setting guide (with details about several planets and factions), part additional widgets for character creation (potential patrons, new species, and additional archetypes to expand the offerings in the core book), and additional mechanics for "endeavors" (essentially downtime actions that can be taken between adventures). Overall, really solid additions, absolutely does what a first supplement should do.

Archspire, Bleed the Future

I've been looking forward to this one, and Bleed the Future does not disappoint. If you've heard Archspire before, you should know what to expect: murderously technical death metal with percussive vocal blasts that feel like taking a slug in the chest from a shotgun. Of course, the burden that Archspire has chosen to bear is that ever album has to be more technical than the previous one. Somehow, they pulled it off without sacrificing clarity or brutality.

The Red Room Riddle

I had quite strong memories of watching The Red Room Riddle one afternoon when I was all of eight years old. As part of their initiation into a club, two young boys are supposed to venture into an eerie abandoned house and report back about what is inside. Led in by a strange lad in antiquated clothes, the duo encounter the dreaded red which a boy and his dog died in a fire. I was able to watch this again thanks to the archiving efforts on Youtube, and you know what? The Red Room Riddle is still good, creepy fun.

Halloween Stuff

Truly the most magical time of the year: