Sunday, January 30, 2022

Escape from the House of the Dimmer Sisters

We played a one-shot game of Blades in the Dark two weeks ago. It was my first time running the game, and the players' first time trying out the game. This is the second half of the write up of the session. The first half is here.

The Characters

Noodles, leech played by Michael

Lightstep, lurk played by Aaron

Contralto, whisper played by Anne

The Score

When we last left our scoundrels, they were ascending the stairs in a turret of the Dimmer Sisters' house, seeking a meteorite they wanted to steal on behalf of their benefactor, Baszo Baz.

The gang avoided the second floor of the turret, believing that the item they were after was on the third. The door to the room on third floor was closed, but light spilled from the gap beneath it. Contralto peeked underneath and saw someone's legs, but oddly one of those legs was clasped in a manacle chained to a heavy staple in the floor. Opening the door, they discovered that the legs belonged to a young woman with a wild shock of white hair, surrounded by books and strange apparatus. The woman initially mistook them for people she was expecting, a misapprehension that only solidified when Noodles showed her the red sash he had taken from the corpse at the bottom of the turret staircase.

The woman asked them to release her from the manacle, but they explained that they needed to get the meteorite before they could leave. The woman did not like this "change of plans"; it turned out that she had hired the Red Sashes to rescue her from captivity in the Dimmer Sisters' abode, which explained the imprisoned or dead gang members they had encountered. She had mistaken Lightstep, Contralto, and Noodles for her rescuers. 

They managed to come to an agreement: she would tell them where to find the meteorite if they released her and allowed her to leave the house under her own power. The gang agreed to this, and Contralto set to work with her spirit key, undoing the supernaturally empowered manacle that bound the woman in place. Though Contralto was successful at undoing the manacle, she knew she had also tripped its ward--it was only a matter of time until some fiendish trap was activated.

The woman, Doctor Irelen, told them that she had been forced to build a device that would allow the Dimmer Sisters to communicate with the spirit world, and that the meteorite was used to power the device. The device was located on the floor beneath this one in the turret, but some of the Dimmer Sisters were sure to be in there with it. Apparently, their ploy to lure the sisters out of the house had not enticed all of them to leave! Irelen also cautioned the gang against messing with the sisters before she departed.

Returning to the second floor of the turret, Lightstep used a silence potion to creep up on the door, open it slightly, and peer inside. Four of the Dimmer Sisters murmured to each other while adjusting the dials of the strange apparatus that the meteorite was powering. Figuring that if the meteorite could withstand re-entry into the atmosphere it could also survive a small explosion, Lightstep threw a small bomb inside the room and slammed the door shut. The explosion blew the door off its hinges; both Noodles and Contralto were lightly concussed by the fallout. 

As the smoke cleared, they could see that two of the Dimmer Sisters had been killed by the blast and that their machine had been destroyed. The meteorite was unharmed on the floor. The two remaining Dimmer Sisters were beginning to pick themselves up off the ground. One sister's veil had been shredded by the blast, revealing a mouth rotted away to reveal teeth and gums--the rumors that these women were something more than human proved to be true. Lightstep rushed in to grab the meteorite and the two sisters rushed at him. 

Looking to create a distraction, Contralto summoned the first spirit she could pull from beyond the veil: the ghost of an urchin holding a doll with a missing head. The specter caught the attention of one of the Dimmer sisters, but in the moment of summoning the boy's shade, she realized that she had attached the spirit too strongly to herself--he was going to be hard to shake in the future. The other sister tried to grasp Lightstep, but he juked and left her clutching only his discarded jacket. He scooped up the meteorite and the group made for the stairs. Noodles dropped the red sash to the ground, conveniently framing the Red Sashes for their theft of the meteorite.

Unfortunately for the gang, the ward from the manacle was now active--it had summoned a spectral hound with a skull-like visage that began to stalk them down the hall of the house's first floor. Lightstep slowed it by throwing a spiritbane charm at it. Noodles decided to load his pistol with electroplasmic ammo and stand his ground; he managed to put two bullets into the thing, causing it to leak spectral essence, but it bit his leg and dragged him to the ground. Lightstep threw an eldritch dagger into the thing's skull, saving his compatriot in the nick of time. 

Down at the small dock beneath the house, the group found that their raft is still tied in place, though the sabotaged boat was now gone. As they began to float down the canal, Doctor Irelen pulled herself from the reeking canal onto their raft, loudly complaining that the boat she had attempted to escape on had been sabotaged! She was, in fact, quite loud; loud enough to alert the guards in the garden to their presence. The guards took a few potshots at the fleeing scoundrels--Contralto got tagged in the shoulder. However, though they were bitten, concussed, haunted by an urchin, and now bullet-ridden, they had successfully pulled off their heist. 

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

The India Fan

Episode 53: The India Fan

Jack and Kate venture into the world of romance novels with Victoria Holt's 1988 novel The India Fan. When the daughter of a reverend in the English countryside is drawn under the influence of a wealthy family, she must balance her need for independence with the schemes and desires of the Framling clan. Your hosts will encounter ghost nuns, secret babies, blackmail, Orientalism, and pretty much all the other flavors found in historical romance along the way!

How do romance novels actually get made? What's the real lesson behind the Sepoy Rebellion? Does this book feature the least careful lady character in the history of fiction? All these questions and more will be explored on this episode of the podcast.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

In the House of the Dimmer Sisters

We played a one-shot game of Blades in the Dark last week. It was my first time running the game, and the players' first time trying it out.

The Characters

Noodles, leech played by Michael

Lightstep, lurk played by Aaron

Contralto, whisper played by Anne

The Score

The characters were all part of a new, as yet unnamed, criminal gang operating in the city of Doskvol. Baszo Baz, the leader of the Lampblacks, had provided the new gang's initial stake of capital, but now the time had come to pay the piper: Baszo enlisted the gang to steal a meteorite possessing occult significance that had recently fallen on Doskvol. It was known that the meteorite was currently in the possession of the Dimmer Sisters, a "family" of recluses who have their hooks into the spirit trade in the city.

In preparation for the heist, Lightstep staked out the Dimmer Sisters' manor house, noting that the buildings on either side of it had been long vacant. (No one wants to be the Dimmer Sisters' neighbors.) He also deduced from the flashes of light emitted from the top floor of the house's turret that someone inside was working with electrical power. However, he also began to suspect that his observation of the house had been noticed, as the servants left en masse one day--only to be replaced by a number of heavily armed mercenary guards who set up position on the house's roof and in its garden.

Contralto summoned the ghost of Nyryx, a chef who was killed after berating his sous chef one too many times, to ask him for advice on luring the Dimmer Sisters out of their abode. Nyryx related that the sisters didn't really keep a social calendar, but the one thing that might tempt them out of the house would be an auction for a rare occult tome. The gang arranged for the sale of a fraudulent book of dark magic, seeding the underworld with rumors about its rarity. Their ploy worked, and on the night of the auction they watched as five Dimmer Sisters, each wearing a black funereal dress, their facial features obscured by veils, exited the house and sped away in rented carriages. 

With the sisters out of the way, the gang made their approach. They had commandeered a raft and outfitted it with shiny black fabric to make it difficult to see on the waters of the canal that ran under the Dimmer Sisters' house. They tied their raft at the small dock beneath the house, and Noodles cunningly sabotaged the boat already moored there--the boat looked fine, but any weight added to it would cause it to quickly sink. The gang entered the house through a basement trapdoor, which was curiously already unlocked, and noted the wet footprints on the stairs. Once inside, they decided to skip exploring the house and make a concerted effort to get to the turret, where they supposed the meteorite was being kept, and get out. 

The steps leading up from the basement spit them out into the kitchen. Peeking down the hallway, they saw a door that presumably led into the turret. However, one of the doors they'd need to pass on the way was open. Light was spilling out of the room, but the way the light was periodically interrupted indicated that someone was inside that room. Noodles decided to sneak up to the door and look in, but as he peered inside he saw--nothing. As Contralto and Lightstep watched from the kitchen door, they saw a woman in a maid's uniform emerge from Noodle's shadow, draw a knife from her apron, and place it to Noodles's throat. Noodles reacted by whipping out a loop of rope, slipping it over her wrist, and using it to leverage her off of him. The maid's nose cracked against Noodles's fist, knocking her unconscious. 

The gang dragged the maid's body into the kitchen's larder, stowing her under bags of potatoes and flour. While in the larder, they noticed that one of its walls was newly constructed, but one brick remained yet to be placed. Peering inside, they saw a man interred within the wall. From the scarlet adornment the man was wearing, they knew he was a member of the Red Sashes--another of the criminal gangs of Doskvol. They began to suspect that they weren't the only criminals trying to get their hands on the meteor that night.

Those suspicions only deepened when they opened the door to the house's turret and found a corpse lying facedown near the stairs. The body's hand was outstretched, its fingers inches away from a curved saber. Turning the body over revealed that this was another member of the Red Sashes. They checked the corpse for wounds, but found none. Judging by the rictus grin on the gang member's face, he might have died of fright.

What was going on in the house of the Dimmer Sisters?

to be continued.

Sunday, January 16, 2022


Below is my re-imagining of the domain of Sanguinia in Ravenloft, taken from the pages of the third issue of Strahd Loves, Man Kills, which just so happens to be available for purchase. (And I've already sold more than 2/3 of the print run, so don't sleep on this one.)


Domain of Feudal Excesses

Darklords: Count Magnus von Karlok and Countess Yulia Skarnstein

Genres: Gothic horror and dark fantasy

Hallmarks: Oppressed peasants, decadent nobility, blood tithes

Mist Talismans: Bejeweled goblet, fragment of shattered crown

Sanguinia is a cold northern realm of defiled churches, sprawling castles, and humble farming communities. Once a land held in thrall by a single capricious feudal prince, Sanguinia is now a realm divided. Two vampire nobles vie against each other for control of Sanguinia. In the south, Count Magnus von Karlok holds sway over the territories encircling Fagarus. In the north, Countess Yulia Skarnstein rules the villages, towns, and hamlets that surround Kosova. 
A look of fear, resentment, and resignation is common in the eyes of Sanguinian serfs. The mortal peasantry who populate the land are forced to work the unforgiving and often barren soil of Sanguinia just to eke out a meager existence. Worse yet, they must pay a tithe in blood to the vampires who reign over them as undying lords. Although they are oppressed by undead nobles they cannot hope to overcome, revolts among the lower classes are becoming increasingly more common, incendiary, and dangerous in Sanguinia. These petty rebellions are always violently suppressed by the vampires who govern the domain.
Countess Skarnstein and Count von Karlok contest each other’s rule in both overt and subtle ways. Each wishes to usurp the other from their territory so that they might rule all of Sanguinia. Yulia Skarnstein has spies hidden within the Count’s household and plots to lure him into a cunning trap that will end his unnatural existence. Magnus von Karlok has marshaled his troops, annexed villages that belonged to the Countess’s dominion, and hopes to one day meet Yulia on the field of battle so that he might kill her personally. Neither can rest easy while the other still exists. The people of Sanguinia are caught in the middle of this ferocious and unending enmity. 

Noteworthy Features

Those familiar with Sanguinia know the following facts:

    • Sanguinia was once a united kingdom ruled by Prince Ladislav Mircea, but is now divided between the vampires Countess Yulia Skarnstein and Count Magnus von Karlok.

    • The oppressed peasants of Sanguinia are required to tithe their blood to feed their undead masters.

    • The worship of the gods has been outlawed throughout Sanguinia. The land’s many churches and cathedrals stand vacant or ruined, though some Sanguinians meet in secret to continue practicing their faiths.

Settlements and Sites

Sanguinia is a hard, unforgiving land of frost, cold winds, and rocky soil. Most of the populace live in villages and hamlets that are little more than open farmland dotted with crude shelters. It is only around the estates of Sanguinia’s vampire lords that anything approaching urban civilization can sustain itself.

Castle Guirgiu

Nestled at the foot of the mountains, Castle Guirgiu is an abandoned keep that was once the seat of Prince Ladislav. The people of Sanguinia have a pronounced dread of Castle Guirgiu. The castle is haunted by a spectral memory of the once-whole prince; he continually weeps over his currently divided state and inability to reconcile his warring passions.


The heavily fortified city of Fagarus is the seat of Count Magnus von Karlok’s realm in the south of Sanguinia. Count Magnus demands that the people of Fagarus suffer meekly under the imposition of austerity. Fagarus is the central hub of trade in southern Sanguinia, but the townspeople do not benefit from increased access to food or other goods. The Count stockpiles grain and other necessities for the war he wishes to wage against Yulia Skarnstein. Order is kept in Fagarus by the Count’s brutal enforcers, who are immediately recognizable by the ashen coats they wear and the executioner’s axes they carry as grim badges of office. Overlooking the town is Castle Myrkrana, Count Magnus von Karlok’s spartan and imposing keep.


Kosova is the largest city in Countess Yulia Skarnstein’s northern realm and the acknowledged center of culture in Sanguinia. The Countess’s court attracts artists, dancers, musicians, poets, and actors who find the unnatural allure of undeath to be aesthetically inspiring. Similarly, the pleasures offered in Kosova dull the pain and monotony of toil on behalf of the Countess. Taverns, brothels, and gambling dens litter the streets of the city. At the center of Kosova stands Castle Siebenhurst, Yulia Skarnstein’s seven-spired fastness of gleaming white stone, elegant galleries, and stained glass windows depicting acts of carnal depravity.

Lake Argus

The winds blow cold and harsh around the shores of Lake Argus. Save for a few brief weeks in the height of summer, Lake Argus is sealed over with a thick crust of gleaming ice. Those who stare into the lake’s mirror-like surface on nights of the full moon are granted strange visions, such as glimpses of a wintry apocalypse that will make the land inhospitable to life or the presence of a sunken city lurking at the center of Lake Argus.


The town of Tirgo is caught at the border between the lands claimed by Count Magnus von Karlok and Countess Yulia Skarnstein. Ownership of the town and its farmland alternates between the two vampire lords of Sanguinia depending on the fluctuation of the border between the two vampires’ holdings.

Ladislav Mircea

Sanguinia is a domain possessing two Darklords, but it was once the province of a single man—Prince Ladislav Mircea. Ladislav knew he ruled his principality as an unloved despot. Though the suffering engendered by his rule troubled his conscience, rather than attempt to reform his tyrannical ways directly he enlisted a foul priest of a deity known as the Lawgiver to enact a ritual that would magically purge him of his most pernicious flaws.
Unfortunately, Prince Ladislav was a man of many sins. He was as warlike and bellicose as he was lusty and depraved. The ritual did not free him from his worst impulses—it instead rent him asunder, giving separate life to the failings that marred his essential self. His anger and love of exercising authority was encapsulated in Magnus von Karlok, the very embodiment of the imperious vampire. His licentiousness and ungovernable attraction to physical and spiritual corruption was given form as the vampire hedonist Yulia Skarnstein.
As equal portions of the same blighted soul, Yulia and Magnus hold each other in the deepest contempt and are cursed to forever war against one another in a battle that neither can win. The Dark Powers ensure that the hubris of Prince Ladislav’s vain attempt to free himself from his transgressions will be punished in perpetuity as the two halves of his nature are forced into a never-ending conflict to control Sanguinia.

Magnus’s Powers and Dominion  

Magnus von Karlok is a towering vampire of rigid, militaristic mien, with a long mane of hair and piercing eyes. He only ever truly feels comfortable when striding across the battlefield clad in his blood-red ancestral armor and giving vent to his violent impulses against whoever dares to oppose him. Magnus von Karlok’s stats are similar to those of a vampire warrior.

The Knights of Draghul. Magnus von Karlok maintains an elite band of warriors known as the Knights of Draghul who direct and lead his militias. The Knights of Draghul are mostly comprised of the scions of dragonborn families that the Count has allowed to settle in estates around Fagarus. Count Magnus trains each of his knights personally; they are fanatically loyal to him, viewing him as a veritable demigod of war who will lead them to blood-soaked victories. 

The Brides of von Karlok. Magnus has few close relationships, but his most trusted advisors are his three monstrous brides: Lithka is a cunning harpy who acts as his spymaster, Phaedra is a medusa who operates as his private assassin, and Maxima is an erinyes who assists in drawing elaborate battle plans for the conquest of Countess Yulia Skarnstein’s territories.

Roleplaying Magnus von Karlok

Magnus is inflexible, believes in a strict code of honor, and is a reactionary traditionalist at heart. However, his chivalrous nature is compromised by a domineering streak that flares into violent rage at the slightest provocation.

Personality Trait. “If a subordinate does not bow and scrape before me, they must learn a grievous and painful lesson.”

Ideal. “I am driven to seek glory through military victory.”

Bond. “I feel a kinship with all honorable warriors.”

Flaw. “My belief in the superiority of my martial skill sometimes blinds me to obvious danger.”

Yulia’s Powers and Dominion

Yulia Skarnstein is a vampire of breathtaking beauty who refuses to be dressed in anything less than the height of sumptuous fashion. She is a masterful gatherer of information and an adept manipulator. Yulia favors indirect machinations; she prefers quiet assassination and complex stratagems over blatant aggression. Yulia Skarnstein’s stats are similar to those of a vampire spellcaster, though her spells lean toward enchantment, divination, and magic drawn from the darker end of the cleric’s spell list.

Cult of the Razor’s Kiss. Yulia is the high priestess of a pleasure cult that venerates Malcanthet, the Demon Queen of Succubi. The cultists of the Razor’s Kiss view pain and degradation as the highest forms of beauty and art; they venerate Malcanthet through sadomasochistic rituals that test their endurance and devotion to the Demon Queen. As Malcanthet’s chosen prophet, Yulia Skarnstein has a number of skilled enchanters, cambions, and succubi from the cult sworn to her service.

Roleplaying Yulia Skarnstein

Countess Yulia fears the inescapable ennui that comes with long centuries of undeath. She regularly holds salons in Castle Siebenhurst to stave off boredom and keeps a harem of breathtakingly beautiful intellectual and artistic men and women to provide her with whatever stimulation she requires.

Personality Trait. “I appreciate witty conversation and demand to be amused by those around me.”

Ideal. “I want to be privy to every secret and experience every possible pleasure—no matter how base or degenerate.”

Bond. “Whoever gratifies my desires is my current favorite, but my favor is forever fickle and inconstant.”

Flaw. “I cannot conceive of others as anything else but playthings.”

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Baptism of Fire


Valley of Plenty 5: Baptism of Fire

Welcome to the Valley of Plenty! In these green and gentle pastures, Jack explains the plots of stories from the Witcher series to Kate, who feels like she already completed her tour of duty in this particular fantasyland. In this bite-sized episode, Jack explains what he's learned about the world portrayed in Andrzej Sapkowski's Baptism of Fire, the third novel in the ongoing saga of Geralt of Rivia and his various adventures and... not-so-adventures.

What will we learn about vampire mythology in the Witcher universe? Are there any fantasy lawyers in this book? What if the real treasure was the soup we made along the way? All these questions will be answered in this episode of the podcast!

Sunday, January 9, 2022

2021 in Review

Another year in the End Times. Here's what I got up to in 2021:

According to Goodreads, I read more in 2021 than in any other year that I've kept track of. Apparently spending the majority of your time indoors because there is a pandemic going on will give you a lot of book time, who knew?

My favorite books of the year: Catriona Ward's Rawblood, Andrew Kelly Stewart's We Shall Sing a Song Into the Deep, Caitlin Starling's Yellow Jessamine, Carmen Maria Machado's In the Dream House, and Tanith Lee's At the Court of the Crow. In general, it was a good year for novellas, but maybe that's just where my attention span was at in 2021.

I also caught up on or finished two lengthy manga series: Claymore and Black Butler.

If you want to hear more about my favorite stuff of 2021, check out the Best of the Year episode of Bad Books for Bad People.

Speaking of the podcast, we came out of our unplanned for hiatus and managed to get seven episodes out into the world despite months of dormancy. Our episode on Requiem Infernal already seems like a fan favorite.

On the publishing front, I published the first two issues of Strahd Loves, Man Kills and wrote five more issues for publication in 2022. The third issue just dropped, so if you haven't picked it up yet keep in mind that I've already sold more than half the print run. You can expect the zine to get a little bigger in 2022--I'm expanding it from 28 pages of content to 32. I also contributed to the second issue of KNOCK, The Book of Gaub, and another rpg project that should see the light in 2022.

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Strahd Loves, Man Kills: Winter, 2022


A new year has arrived, and with it a new issue of Strahd Loves, Man Kills, my Ravenloft fanzine. My hope is that SLMK will give you new toys to play with and inspire your own unique take on Ravenloft. 

This issue features 28 pages of content. The zine is professionally printed by the fine people at Best Value Copy. Additionally, I will send a pdf version of the zine to the email address attached to your order!

This issue's contents include:
  • A version of Sanguinia inspired by the Gothic fear of feudalism’s oppressive excesses.
  • A new background for characters: penny dreadful writer.
  • Two adventure seeds you can use to craft scenarios set in Ravenloft: the grim possibility of a war between Dracula and Strahd and a campaign framework based on stopping a malefactor from resurrecting the Darklord of Barovia after his demise.
  • Two nonplayer characters for use in your games: Reverend Krast and Sister Vulcra, two witchfinders corrupted by fanaticism and zealotry.
  • Two additional factions to Ravenloft from my home campaign and offers an alternate take on the Vhage Agency detailed in Van Richten’s Guide.
  • Ideas for sinister spiritualists you might create as characters for games set in the Domains of Dread.
  • A table that generates Dark Secrets for the characters in your campaign and suggests mechanics for making those secrets matter.
  • A bibliography of dark fantasy works for your edification and entertainment. 
  • Cover art by Michael Gibbons.

A few copies of earlier zines remain:
  • SLMK #1 (8 copies of the second printing left)
  • SLMK #2 (3 copies of the first printing left)
  • Dirge of Urazya (8 copies of the second printing left)
These are unlikely to be reprinted anytime soon, so if you want a copy--now is the time!

Monday, January 3, 2022

Black Butler, Last Night of Fall, India Fan, Silver Bayonet, and More

Things that brought me delight in December, 2021:

Yana Toboso, Black Butler Vol. VI-XXX

I made the executive decision to make as big a dent as possible in the Black Butler series in December. I can't believe I managed to catch up on all of them! The individual arcs are quite good: the mysterious disappearances of children at an ominous carnival, a locked room murder mystery that ends up inspiring Arthur Conan Doyle to write more Sherlock Holmes stories, a horrific episode about the creation of scientific zombies aboard a luxury liner, a Tom Brown's School Days-esque mystery in a British public school (with bonus left turn into sports manga with a big cricket match), a detour into boy bands and the strange venue that seems to be drawing fans of all social classes into a vampiric scheme, the main cast finding themselves on the run when a doppelganger appears, the maid infiltrating a nefarious manor on the Yorkshire moors, and that's where the series leaves off for now. Can't wait for a new volume to drop in May.

False Memories, The Last Night of Fall

False Memories deals in the kind of Gothic metal that comes from the Nightwish and Within Temptation branch of the family tree. Their sound is accented with touches of symphonic metal and power metal, but it is just a little heavier than many bands working that vein and perhaps even a bit more progressive. Of course, the true test of any band of this ilk is the vocals, which are powerful, melodic, and melodramatic over the course of The Last Night of Fall's runtime. 

Victoria Holt, The India Fan

You'll hear much more about my impressions of Victoria Holt's The India Fan on a forthcoming episode of Bad Books for Bad People, but suffice to say: I'd recommend this novel especially to Jane Eyre fans who want an extra helping of Orientalism as a side dish. We've got a "plain" but "highly intelligent" woman acting as a governess, falling in love with a man of a higher class, the Sepoy Rebellion, the sexual foibles of the beautiful and rich, and a peacock-feather fan that may or may not carry a baleful curse. You know, the usual.

The Silver Bayonet

There is something very appealing to me about the idea of buying a bunch of cheap plastic Napoleons and zombies and making them fight each other using the rules in The Silver Bayonet. Beats shoveling snow, that's for sure.

Green Carnation, Leaves of Yesteryear

Green Carnation is one of those bands that is like an old friend arriving unexpected to the party in a disguise--you never know quite what to expect or when to expect them. The title track on Leaves of Yesteryear possesses what a reviewer termed "gentle proginess," and that's a hard assessment to argue with. Things do get a bit heavier on the other tracks, but it's definitely not a unified style or aesthetic that they're going for. Rounding things out is an acoustic cover of Black Sabbath's "Solitude," a perfect parting shot for the end of a party, really.

Andrzej Sapkowski, Baptism of Fire

Another book in the Witcher series down, another episode of Valley of Plenty to come on Bad Books for Bad People. It's interesting how each of the novels in this series has a different purpose, and therefore has its own bespoke structure. The previous novel was all about unveiling the explosive start of the war and establishing who is doing what and where they are doing it. Baptism of Fire, on the other hand, is a more conventional fantasy journey through the horrors of the war already underway. As such, it's more about Geralt finding his fellowship with companions, though of course, since this is the Witcher, he'd much rather be going it alone.

Cold Hands Dark Hearts

Cold Hands Dark Hearts is a supplement for the Big Eyes Small Mouth rpg, an anime-inspired game that I have zero experience with. The premise of the supplement is that players will play Darkstalkers-style monsters with an anime flair, fighting against a greater threat to the supernatural world. Characters could include vampires, mummies, shapeshifters, oni, and other staples of Gothic horror drawn from both Eastern and Western traditions. 

The book is fairly terse; I'm not entirely convinced that it gives you everything you'd need to play it the way it wants you to play. Also, the art style is definitely not going to be for everyone. (It is not, in fact, for me.) It's got a heavy manga influence, but done in a cutesy way that reminds me of Slave Labor Graphics' comics for goths. However, there is one innovation here that I think is very worthwhile: instead of text or a timeline describing the events of the setting's backstory, it uses a comic to convey all that info. That's such a huge improvement, it's a shame that hasn't become a more standard practice.

Opera Diabolicus, Death on a Pale Horse

Opera Diabolicus specialize in over-the-top, theatrical metal. Death on a Pale Horse is their second album; even though it arrived about a decade after the first, it is still obviously a continuation of the same project. The choral and operatic elements are present, as are the heavy riffs and dramatic vocals, but there are some new bits to enliven the proceedings, such as progressive touches that verge on giallo soundtrack vibes.

Tanya Kirk (ed.), Spirits of the Season: Christmas Hauntings

Since Valancourt didn't release a book of Victorian Christmas ghost stories last year, my girlfriend bought me this volume from the British Library's Tales of the Weird series to fill the holiday gap. Spirits of the Season collects a number of spooky Christmas tales, with authors ranging from well-regarded innovators in the field of spectral literature such as Edith Nesbit and Algernon Blackwood to lesser-known scribes like A.M. Burrage and H. Russell Wakefield. Some stories are fairly light, but some are also surprising in their brutality.

Heretic, Ikhon, and GM Wall of Doom

Enough time had passed that I had forgotten what I pledged for from this Mork Borg kickstarter. I'm not going to call Heretic a zine (because it isn't, sorry), but it is a nice expansion of odds and ends for Mork Borg, including new classes, rules for firearms, and a handful of adventure sites. Ikhon seems a little over-produced for what it is; shame it was misprinted, too. The Wall of Doom is quite sturdy; I have no doubt that it would quickly prove invaluable for anyone running the game.

The Murder of My Sweet, A Gentleman's Legacy

The Murder of My Sweet is definitely on the lighter end of things I usually listen to, often placing themselves more in the poppy hard rock arena than the metal one I tend to enjoy more. Still, this is a pretty fun album. I take it that it's the "sequel" to the through-line story initiated on another band's album, but I can't follow that thread at all. Good record to unwind to, even if the vocals are maybe a little too prominent--often overshadowing the instrumentation to a degree.

The Witcher season 2

I was really looking forward to the second season of The Witcher, but I have to admit that I merely liked the season rather than loved it. On one hand, I think it is more important for any adaptation to chart its own course rather than stick slavishly to the source material. On the other hand, there were some big narrative decisions that just didn't thrill me. The main cast continues to be great in their roles, but the story feels a little off the rails to me. There are great moments, but I'm not sure how well the whole thing hangs together--the season does feel a bit like a side-story by the end of it. Still, I'm game for another season, even though the tv show is my least favorite iteration of The Witcher.

Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos

Strixhaven is admittedly a bit of a niche D&D product. Unlike other books that adapt Magic: The Gathering sets to 5e, Strixhaven is less of a setting book and more a campaign meant to cover the exploits of a group of students as they navigate their educational journey at a school of magic. The rest of the book, which includes a brief overview of the school as a setting, bits and bobs for creating characters, and a bestiary of fellow students, mages, and monsters, is meant to support the campaign rather than the other way around.

Green Lung, Black Harvest

Green Lung sound like Black Sabbath headlining a festival on Summerisle. There is a great deal of warmth, if not outright sunlight, on Black Harvest, but it's always in service of illuminating the dark pagan underbelly that this doom outfit excels at. The retro vibes at work aren't just a throwback or dull pastiche; Green Lung adds something to the tradition all their own.

Zin E. Rocklyn, Flowers for the Sea

Flowers for the Sea is one of the short novella-length fictions that Tor seems to specialize in lately. A pregnant woman aboard a seemingly doomed ship, itself floating amid a dimly defined apocalypse, readies herself to give birth to the child she can only ever think of as a parasite. And once the child is born, we're knee-deep in a chosen-one style story that is more The Omen than it is the coming of the Christ child, if you catch my meaning. I'm not sure I've read a more brutal depiction of birth, and this is certainly not a feel-good story that eases the anxieties that come with global climate change.

Light of the Morning Star, Charnel Noir

Charnel Noir was Tenebrous Kate's pick for album of the year over on this episode of Bad Books for Bad People. Since Kate is one of the few people whose musical taste matches my own with an unusually high incidence of congruence, I had to check it out. And she was right, it's great! Light of the Morning Star are like the hypothetical answer to the question "What if My Dying Bride came out of the black metal scene instead of death metal?"

Andrew Maclean with Jordie Bellaire, Head Lopper vol. 2-4

After finishing the first volume of Head Lopper, it was a foregone conclusion that I'd need to read the rest of it. So, onward into a fantasy land rife with monsters and decapitations. The second volume, Head Lopper & the Crimson Tower, is a bit of a dungeon crawl. The third, Head Lopper & the Knights of Verona, explores the Head Lopper's backstory in greater depth. Things move into fantasy political intrigue in Head Lopper & the Quest for Mulgrid's Stair. No matter what mode of the genre the comic is currently exploring, the big action get underwritten by a surprising amount of heart.

The Black Sepulchre

It's weird that the first bit of this Dark Heresy adventure series seems harder to come by than the next two parts, but now it is mine. It's incredible that they felt the need to make this rather thin book a hardcover to match everything else in the line, but the adventure itself does look sound. I'll probably end up adapting it to Wrath & Glory rather than playing it with Dark Heresy, but the base potential is there--which really is about all you can hope for with published scenarios, I reckon.

Yana Taboso, Black Butler Artworks vol. 1-2

Not only did I read all of the Black Butler manga over the last three months (well, all of it that has been translated into English), I also spent some time browsing the first two artbooks for the series. They reproduce the covers and color pages from the manga, as well as including promotional art and crossover bits as well. Surprisingly thick and luxurious paper in these volumes!

Eve's Bayou

Eve's Bayou is probably a weird pick for the holiday season, but I saw it was soon to be leaving one of my streaming services, so the time was ripe. If you haven't seen it, the movie centers on a well-to-do family in Louisiana, particularly on the father's infidelities and the effect that has on his wife and daughters. There's also some interesting intersection with hoodoo, history, and fate that take this to a Southern Gothic place, rather than just a standard drama. The hoodoo angle becomes especially captivating as a lens into the way children want--badly want--to have some sort of power to steer the adults who are failing them.