Thursday, June 30, 2022

The House of Lament, Part Two

I ran The House of Lament, the adventure included in Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft. I covered the first bit of it here, and this is the conclusion. I plan on reviewing my overall impressions of the adventure in a separate "post-mortem" post.

The Characters

Rolo, minotaur cleric played by Andrew

Gnargar, kobold monk played by Heather

Ludovic the Red, human wizard played by Andrew


The characters awoke from their nightmares to find that Katherine, their bard companion, had disappeared in the night. The mystery of her whereabouts had to be set aside in pursuit of their other goals: finding the witchstone and ridding the house of evil specters.

The party first explored the house's third story. They found two doors that were magically warded against entry. When touched, the doors displayed a symbol resembling a kite shield. When Rolo rushed at the door, trying to batter it down, he was repulsed by a dangerous blast of energy.

One of the servants' rooms proved to have been the domicile of a very pious person, as it was decorated with small devotional figurines of a woman bearing a kite shield that resembled the one that appeared on the warded door. Closer examination revealed that the shield was decorated with a sprig of belladonna, a feature not present on the symbol.

In this room they also found a bag of holding sitting within a circle of human teeth and fingernails. Gnargar's love of looking behind paintings also paid dividends; they found a secret alcove hiding a lockbox--the key to which they had found earlier. Inside the box was a medallion bearing the sigil of the Keepers of the Feather.

Remembering that there was a conservatory down on the first floor of the house, the group made their way back down in search of belladonna. The plants had all long died in the conservatory, save for one: a belladonna plant rich with fat, black berries. They took a sprig of belladonna, returned to the warded door, touched the sprig to the shield symbol, and gained entry. Inside, they found the remains of what appeared to be a nursery.

Beyond the nursery was a children's bedroom, where the group encountered the ghosts of the Halvhrest children and the skeletal remains of their mother in a rocking chair. The spectral children explained that their mother had warded the room to keep them safe from "the hungry things," the malicious ghosts inhabiting the house. However, Esme had a theory: now that the group had breached the ward on the door, the children's ghosts were now vulnerable to predation by the evil spirits within the house. This made solving the haunting a more pressing concern.

The group then made their way up to the widow's walk, to light a candle there as one of those ghosts they contacted during a seance had directed them to. A storm was still raging outside, so the party tied a rope to Rolo as an anchor and sent Gnargar out to leave a lit candle on the witchstone. At first, the candle went out in the wind and the rain, but then the wick flared with a strong green light and the runes carved into the witchstone also blazed with an eerie glow. Ludovico cast comprehend languages and learned that the stone was something of a pact: it guaranteed the witches who travel in the night a place to rest, but it also stipulated that if a lit candle was left on the witchstone it would summon aid from the witches of Ravenloft.

It was now time to venture beneath the house. The basement led to a sublevel that would have been beneath the original castle that stood on the grounds. They uncovered a pit leading further down into the depths; through the goggles that Esme had given him, Gnargar could see a writhing mass of tormented spirits rising from it. With few other options presenting themselves, the group tied ropes to the boulders circling the pit and descended.

The walls of the cavern undulated with the tortured faces of ghosts who were trapped within the house. At the center of a pool of dark, inky fluid stood an amber monolith. The monolith gave off a terrible light, and a dark entity squirmed within it. As Rolo approached the monolith, the air grew cold and the imperious red-headed woman he had seen in his dreams materialized in spectral form before him. She declared to the monolith that she would sacrifice the interlopers in return for her own freedom!

The ghostly woman plunged her sword into her own stomach and let loose a terrifying wail. Esme dropped immediately at the horrid sound. The rest of the group split their efforts between fending off the ghostly warrior woman and attacking the monolith. Unfortunately, cracking the monolith let loose dark tendrils that also joined the melee. Speaking of joining the melee, a witch flew down the pit to aid the party; she has been summoned by the candle they left lit on the witchstone. Although she managed to do a bit of damage to the shadowy tentacles, she was also knocked unconscious rather quickly.

Ultimately, our heroes carried the day. Ludovico's wand of magic missiles tore through the warrior woman's ghostly form. Rolo kept everyone on their feet with his healing magic. Gnargar shattered the monolith with a combination of kicks and punches. With the monolith destroyed, the inky water in the pool receded, revealing the bones of all who had come before in the attempt to purge the house of evil. Returning to the house proper, the group found it quiet and devoid of ghostly presences; the ghostly children were also absent. 

After recuperating and gathering up their possession, they all ventured outside the house. As they waited for their carriages to return, they saw the ghostly forms of the two children join their mother in the Mists as it receded like the tide pulling away from the shore.

Sunday, June 26, 2022

The Unholy Order of the Grave and the Ring and Wand Society

Below is my revision of the Unholy Order of the Grave, a faction in Ravenloft that originated in the second-edition version of the setting, and the Ring and Wand Society, a faction of my own creation. If you enjoy this write up, you can get it nicely formatted in issue five of Strahd Loves, Man Kills, my Ravenloft fanzine. There's about five print copies left, so I wouldn't wait too long!

The Unholy Order of the Grave

Hidden within Darkon is Necropolis, a city populated by the undead. Necropolis is ruled by an entity known only as Death. Death is a primordial being—some occultists believe Death is the embodiment of the very concept of the extinction of life. Others believe it is merely an antediluvian undead creature of great power. The Unholy Order of the Grave is a faction of corporeal undead agents who advance Death’s obscure purposes.

Each undead member of the Unholy Order has been infused with a portion of Death’s necrotic essence. This infusion marks the flesh of the Unholy Order’s initiates with a sigil in the shape of an hourglass. Death can telepathically communicate with any member of the Unholy Order of the Grave, no matter the distance between them. When Death speaks to one of his minions, their hourglass sigil drips with beads of black blood.

The Unholy Order of the Grave carries out Death’s behest within Necropolis and abroad. In Necropolis, the agents of the Unholy Order act as Death’s enforcers, keeping the undead inhabiting the city in line. The members of the Unholy Order who are sent into the Mists venture into other domains to pursue a number of missions assigned by Death, but chief among them is to seek the consort who will bear Death’s child—a prophesied bringer of destruction whose unnatural birth will spell the end of all life within the Domains of Dread.

Ring and Wand Society

The Ring and Wand Society is a secretive cabal of human scholars within Ludendorf University who study the fey, hoping to uncover the secret of their magical longevity. The Ring and Wand Society is mostly comprised of faculty from the university, but they do admit the occasional student who shows the right combination of promise, drive, and discretion.

The goal of the Ring and Wand Society’s members is to endow themselves with the longevity of fey creatures. For the researchers, scientists, and scholars of the Ring and Wand Society, stealing the powers of the fey marks the next phase of human evolution. To arrive at this desired result, the Ring and Wand Society pays monster hunters to capture fey creatures for their horrifying experiments. The most callous of the Ring and Wand Society’s members are willing to vivisect and experiment on humanoids, such as elves and goblins, who possess fey ancestry.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Monsters Attack! Issue Two

Monsters Attack! was a short-lived, magazine-sized comic put together by the then-editor of Cracked magazine. Each issue features a number of horror comics, as well as articles about horror movies and all things gruesome. I got my hands on the first issue when it debuted, but the pharmacy I bought it from never seemed to get the following numbers. Now that I have a copy of the Monsters Attack! Ultimate Collection, I plan to go through the series' five-issue run and briefly review the comic content from each issue. I've covered the first issue here, so let's move on to the contents of the second issue.


Story by Mort Todd, art by Gray Morrow

A couple guys catch a mermaid and manage to haul her back to an aquarium, somehow without the one guy's girlfriend noticing. Of course, this is a murder mermaid who kills the aquarium owner (and a hapless employee sent to clean the tank), even though the guy has resolved to set her free after he has the experience of swimming with her. The remaining friend decides that it's time to commit mermaid genocide (despite the fact that they kidnapped the mermaid for what was essentially slavery), arming himself with underwater grenades and poison. This is a pretty weird story; didn't really hit the spot.

"It's All in His Mind"

Story and art by Steve Ditko, finishes by Mort Todd

A man experiences the surreal nightmare of literally falling to pieces, both as a mortal of flesh and blood and as a robot. It turns out that he was an anti-robot activist who detonated a bomb to destroy a scientist's automatons--and killed himself in the process. The scientist preserved the activist's brain, keeping it alive in a vat of fluid where his mind continually experiences the horrors of falling apart over and over again. I love that the explosion somehow knocked his undamaged brain clean out of his skull.

"The Outsider"

Adaptation by Bhob Stewart and Steve Harper

This one is an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's story of the same name. A nameless ghoul thinks he is climbing a tower, but in reality he is nearly ascending out of a charnel house. The reception he receives when he bursts into a party of revelers is apt, as is his reaction to his own hideous visage in a mirror. Now that I think about it, the story is fairly prescient; it's really the tale of an incel leaving mom's basement, isn't it? Anyway, the artwork in this piece really is stellar; it leans heavily on blacks and negative image and really captures that Weird Tales vibe. That said, apparently the decision to change the original pages to a negative inversion was made by the editor; although it looks cool, I'd hate to think this was presented in a way that the artist didn't intend.


Story and art by Rurik Tyler

This is probably the most intricate story in the issue, and again I think the best has been saved for last. A mortician on the make doesn't want to carve up an unblemished corpse for its organs, despite the presence of an organ donor's card, so he substitutes organs from other corpses so he can use this perfect one for an altogether stranger purpose: he freezes the corpse, then slices it into sections for a Body Worlds-style exhibition. 

Unfortunately for him, the corpse in question belonged to a powerful sorcerer who had planned to take over the bodies of the people who were to be given his organs as transplants. His plan thwarted, he reanimates as slices of his original body that move as one! That is a hell of an idea. The dark, moody art style really works well here.

Note: This issue originally also included an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado," which is not included in this "Ultimate Collection." That's unfortunate! I wonder if Mort Todd couldn't get the rights to it.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

The House of Lament, Part One

I ran The House of Lament, the adventure included in Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft, and here's how it went.

The Characters

Rolo, minotaur cleric played by Andrew

Gnargar, kobold monk played by heather

Ludovic the Red, human wizard played by Andrew

Katherine, human bard played by Stefan


Rolo, Gnargar, Ludovic, and Katherine were all hired to investigate the legendarily haunted house known as "the House of Lament" by a mysterious benefactor named Professor Vole. When they arrived at the dark, delipidated three-story house, they discovered that although each of them had been given a key to the front door, its lock required five keys to open. Undeterred, they found an unlocked side entrance and made their way into the house through the debris-strewn kitchen. They also made an odd discovery: there was a freshly baked cake with the oven, despite the oven being cold, covered with dust, and evidencing disuse. 

Exploration of the house was interrupted by the arrival of a fifth investigator: Esme, a Vistani who had brought crates of books, mechanical equipment, and foodstuffs to aid in the endeavor. Esme handed out a few devices that would prove helpful, such as an a spectral voice amplifier, an aurascope, and apparitional goggles. 

Esme also proclaimed that the parlor of the house was warded against malign ghostly intrusion; as a medium, she held several seances in the room so that the characters could question a few of the spirits trapped within the house. Esme told them that she could perceive three entities that were willing to speak to the party, though each only appeared as a dim, shadowy figure: there was a knight, a mother, and a woman who had played three roles over the course of her life--princess, warrior, and revenge seeker.

The group chose to communicate with the mother and the tripartite woman. The spirits answered their queries as best they could, and also sent to exorcise some of the dangerous spirits from the house. They were alerted to the presence of "the Chimney Witch," a spectral hag, and in the confrontation with her a long, many-elbowed arm reached out of the oven and pulled Gnargar into the flames. Nevertheless, she was delt with accordingly and purged from the House of Lament.

They also defeated the ghost of a suicide known as "the Leaper." The Leaper attacked them on the stairs of the house's tower; he used concussive blasts of force, not unlike the wind that would rush by a suicide as they plummeted to their death, to attempt to knock the group off their stairs. Gnargar was again targeted, but a well-placed featherfall spell from Ludovico saved his life. 

At the top of the tower, the group found a set of blood-red ringmail armor that was curiously unaffected by exposure to the elements. The armor lay within a strange symbol that was later identified as the insignia of the Keepers of the Feather. Rolo donned the armor and felt a spectral presence near at hand, watching over him.

The group were also in pursuit of a witch stone, a rune-inscribed flat stone that was held by local superstition to discourage witches from laying a curse upon one's house. The witch stone remained unfound as they closed their first night of exploration.

They made their sleeping arrangements in the parlor. Although the parlor seemed safe from ghostly attacks, it did not protect the group from bad dreams. One dreamt of a knight wearing a skull-faced helm laughing and lounging on a throne as his subordinates walled a man inside an alcove; one dreamt of a woman in blood-red armor forcing her soldiers to march toward a castle on a hill in the midst of a terrible storm; one dreamt of the same woman on her knees, howling into the night as shadows consumed her; one dreamt of the woman in blood-red armor running a sword through the knight with the skull-faced helmet and then going on a murderous rampage, killing everyone she could find in the castle.

What do these dreams signify? Where is the witch stone? Perhaps we will find out, if there is a reprise for this adventure.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Lady of the Lake


Valley of Plenty 7: Lady of the Lake

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 The Lady of the Lake, the final novel in the epic saga of Geralt of Rivia and his various adventures and... not-so-adventures.

What does a meet-cute look like in fantasy France? Will drunk-flying vampire Regis make it out of the climactic battle alive? And what do our hosts think of the finale’s numerous shocking revelations?

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Test Subject 0011

Stranger Things is back, and the fourth season has a lot of D&D related elements in the mix. I was thinking about how you could make a character like Eleven in Ravenloft setting, and this is what I came up with:

Test Subject 0011 

The Ulmist Inquisition scours the Domains of Dread in search of individuals with the psionic potential to become trained inquisitors of its order. However, the Ulmist Inquisition made a terrible mistake when they brought test subject 0011 into their fold as a child. Although test subject 0011 showed an unusual amount of latent psychic power, the examinations, exercises, and instruction they were given opened their mind too widely—allowing an aberrant entity from the Far Realm to contact them directly. Now free of the Ulmist Inquisition, test subject 0011 hears the call of a darker master from beyond the planar veil.

Suggested Build: Human Aberrant Mind sorcerer

Sunday, June 5, 2022

The Shadowlands

Below is my write up for the Shadowlands, a Ravenloft domain that I've given a bit of a revision for my home campaign. It's always been a "dark fantasy" themed domain, but I've pushed it in an "Arthurian horror" direction, with added influences from Elric, The Witcher, and Dark Souls. If you enjoy this write up, you can get it nicely formatted in issue five of Strahd Loves, Man Kills, my Ravenloft fanzine. Also, there's one more print copy of issue one left if you want to get in on the ground floor.

The Shadowlands

Domain of Arthurian Horror

Darklord: Ebonbane

Genres: Dark fantasy

Hallmarks: Falls from grace, heroic sacrifice, tainted ideals

Mist Talismans: Tarnished grail, green sash, ancient sword scabbard

When a teenage girl named Elena Faith-hold drew the black runesword Ebonbane from the rock in which it was embedded, the people of the Shadowlands rejoiced to see the fulfillment of a foretold prophecy. To the folk of the Shadowlands, this feat was a sign that Elena was the promised Knight Protector who would lead an army to liberate Avonleigh from the clutches of the dreaded necromancer Morgoroth and his legions of the undead. When the unicorn Addar knelt at her feet, even some of the most skeptical Shadowlanders were convinced that their savior had arrived. Peasants and nobles alike flock to her banner, ready to march against the evil that has befouled their sundered kingdom. 

However, not all is as it seems in the Shadowlands. The land is divided, and competing factions prepare to make war for control of the domain. Is Elena a pawn in a larger conflict or will she usher in a terrible age of reddened swords and anarchy?

Noteworthy Features

Those familiar with the Shadowlands know the following facts:

    • The realm of Avonleigh has fallen to the undead armies of the necromancer Morgoroth.

    • Following Avonleigh’s fall, the Shadowlands have become a haunted land where fantastical monsters threaten the lives of its populace.

    • After she pulled the sword Ebonbane from a legendary stone, Elena Faith-hold was recognized as the Knight Protector of the Shadowlands, seemingly destined to lead an army to liberate Avonleigh and unite the Shadowlands’ two human realms.

Shadowlander Characters

Characters from the Shadowlands are raised on tales of chivalry, bravery, and knightly valor. They are generally firm believers in the idea that virtuous behavior and selfless action always carry the day, no matter the odds. When players create characters from the Shadowlands, consider asking them the following questions.

Which realm do you hail from? The people of Avonleigh live under the thumb of an undead tyrant, but some manage to escape their occupied realm. In contrast, the people of Nidala possess more freedom, but a different kind of fervent despotism has begun to take hold of those who follow Elena Faith-hold. The majority of the Shadowlands’ nonhuman populace lives within the Phantasmal Forest.

Which faction do you owe fealty to? The lives of adventurers in the Shadowlands are often colored by allegiance to one of its factions. Do you support the Knight Protector, the Knights of the Circle, the druids of the Dolmens, the Sparrowhawks, or are you an agent of Morgoroth?

How do you seek glory? Many Shadowlanders hope to win glory and etch their names into the annals of history—to be remembered for their valor, purity of purpose, and chivalry. What lofty ideals do you pursue?

Settlements and Sites

The Shadowlands would be an idyllic realm if it were not for the corruption of Avonleigh, the false savior dominated by the malign sword she carries, and the gloomy atmosphere of fallen glory that has settled over the domain. 


Prior to the rise of the necromancer Morgoroth, Avonleigh was a verdant land of bountiful farms, deep forests, and gentle hills. Avonleigh was the chivalrous seat of the land’s kings and queens. Now Avonleigh is a blighted place of darkness, haunted fens, perpetual storms, and undead horrors. Morgoroth is served by death knights, wights, and legions of skeleton warriors who oppress the people trapped within his realm. From Tergeron Manor, Morgoroth uses the shards of a shattered magic mirror to plan his conquest of Nidala and the subjugation of the Sparrowhawks hiding in the Phantasmal Forest.

The Dolmens

The Dolmens are a circle of ancient standing stones tended by druids who maintain a sacred bonfire at the center of the henge. The druids view both Morgoroth and Elena Faith-hold as enemies; they believe that both must be cast upon the flames to save the Shadowlands. 

The druids give credence to a prophecy concerning a warrior who will willingly sacrifice themselves to their holy bonfire and emerge as a Hollow One. This warrior is fated to defeat both Morgoroth and the false savior Elena Faith-hold. Some members of the Knights of the Circle have allied themselves with the druids and their cause; a few even dare hope that they are the warrior destined to be granted a lofty purpose by the druids’ sacred fire. 


The Knight Protector has ignited a zealous and oppressive fervor in the realm of Nidala. Acting under the fell influence of Ebonbane and the corrupt unicorn Addar, Elena’s paranoid dictates incite violence. She decries traitors, spies, and nefarious “demihumans,” a slur she uses to denigrate the realm’s nonhuman populations, which has led to accusations levied against the innocent, instances of false imprisonment, and public executions in the city of Touraine. 

Many members of the Knights of the Circle believe wholeheartedly in Elena’s mission; elevated to the status of a political saint representing a righteous cause, the Knight Protector’s Decrees of Faith have become law—though few realize that Elena is a fallen paladin and a puppet of the insidious magical sword that is always at her side.  

The Phantasmal Forest

The Phantasmal Forest clings to the southern borders of Avonleigh and extends into the Mists. The depths of the Phantasmal Forest are home to a confederation of elves, dwarves, gnomes, firbolgs, and halflings who call themselves the Sparrowhawks. They are the remnants of the domain’s native nonhuman populaces who have been victimized by Elena Faith-hold’s pogroms and usurped from their lands. The Sparrowhawks fight a guerrilla war against humankind in the Shadowlands, hoping to one day claim the domain as their sole dominion.

The elves of the Phantasmal Forest safeguard a number of ancient scrolls written by eladrin visionaries. These writings give them hope that a great sorcerer will be born among them. They believe this scion will free them from persecution and usher in a gilded age in which humanity will be banished from the land. 

Shadowborn Manor

On the outskirts of the Phantasmal Forest sits Shadowborn Manor, a keep haunted by Lady Kateri Shadowborn—the first Knight Protector to wield Ebonbane. Ridding herself of the sword by plunging it into a fabled stone did not save Kateri. Upon her death, Lady Kateri’s specter was trapped in Shadowborn Manor. Anyone brave enough to breach its threshold to release her could potentially rally her vengeful spirit to their cause, whether it be for good or ill. 


The accursed runesword known as Ebonbane is the root of the evil that has overtaken the Shadowlands. Ebonbane is a fiend trapped in the form of a black, sigil-etched longsword—a tool forged for the Blood War in the Lower Planes. 

Ebonbane’s Powers and Dominion

Ebonbane has stats similar to those of Blackrazor. It is aided by the many powerful creatures who have fallen under its sway.

Elena Faith-hold. Ebonbane has completely dominated Elena Faith-hold, its current wielder. As a paladin who has succumbed to Ebonbane’s influence, Elena has stats similar to those of a blackguard.

Banemaw. Ebonbane holds an ancient green shadow dragon called Banemaw in thrall. Ebonbane uses Banemaw to terrorize the populace of Nidala, keeping them in a state of heightened fear. Banemaw and Elena sometimes engage in mock battle to ensure the populace’s dependence on Elena’s protection. 

Addar. Despite presenting an image of mythic purity, Addar is a corrupt unicorn who keeps Elena under Ebonbane’s control.

Closing the Borders. When Ebonbane chooses to close the borders of its domain, ash and cinder fall from the sky.

Ebonbane’s Torment

Ebonbane is continually frustrated by the fact that it must rely on mortal vassals to encourage the violence and unrest it feeds upon.

    • Ebonbane must find a wielder it is able to dominate and has a limited ability to act on its own in the Shadowlands.

    • Ebonbane is troubled by the idea that Elena could reassert her will and break free of its control. 

Roleplaying Ebonbane

Ebonbane is bloodthirsty and delights in the chaos of war. Created as a weapon intended for the endless conflict of the Blood War, Ebonbane can think of little else save the suffering that springs forth from the clash of competing and irreconcilable ideologies.

Personality Trait. “There is no sweeter sound than the anguished cries of the battlefield.”

Ideal. “The Shadowlands will be a sea of spilled blood.”

Bond. “My wielder is but a pawn in my schemes.”

Flaw. “I burn to be able to kill under my own power.”

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

The Woman in the Mirror, Redacted Records, The Batman, and More

Things that brought me delight in May, 2022.

Rebecca James, The Woman in the Mirror

The Woman in the Mirror has one foot in the past and one foot in the present: a new governess arrives at a cliffside manor to take charge of two uncanny twins in 1947, while an orphan in the present day discovers that the same manor has just now fallen into her hands after the death of a relative she never even knew existed. Rebecca James's novel will certainly appeal to fans of Henry James's The Turn of the Screw and Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca. Although its twists and turns will be unlikely to surprise anyone steeped in the Gothic novel's standard conventions, The Woman in the Mirror is a fast and fun read.

Wrath & Glory: Redacted Records

My favorite rpg supplements have always been of the "grab bags" and "odds and ends" sorts. While a hyper-focused supplement can be just what the doctor ordered for a specific need, I find that a more scattershot offering of new material often spurs my imagination in directions it wouldn't have gone otherwise. Redacted Records presents a small buffet of new widgets for the Wrath & Glory rpg: it has a few chapters on generating spacehulks to be explored, a sampling of additional talents for characters, and a handful of cults that characters might encounter. While the editing on Cubicle 7's 40k line continues to have immediately obvious issues, this is a welcome collection of stuff that will likely see use at the table.

The Batman

The Batman is probably the first movie about the character I've enjoyed since Batman Returns. It's genuinely nice to see Batman do some actual detective work instead of moving from point A to point B, punching and kicking his problems away all the while. Paul Dano's Riddler won me over; he definitely came across as genuinely mentally disturbed instead of someone acting like they are crazy. The movie is probably over-long, often feeling like both a movie and its sequel jammed together, but you can always pause it halfway through and pick it up later. Well worth the time, if not a single burst of attention span.

Dean Motter, Judith Dupre, and Sean Phillips, The Heart of the Beast: A Love Story

Sometimes it's difficult to take the temperature on a title; The Heart of the Beast has plenty of negative reviews on the usual sites, but it isn't infrequently reprinted--sometimes with the deluxe treatment. The Heart of the Beast is one of those Vertigo titles I remember kicking around in the 90s, but it wasn't until May that I finally clapped eyes on it. I enjoyed its premise of "Frankenstein's monster skimming the edge of the art world," but then I do love a painted comic. The interesting and unstated notion that the monster knew Mary Shelley and the Romantic poets hums along in the background.

Rob Zombie's Spookshow International 1-9 and The Haunted World of El Superbeasto

As I began work on a new edition of Planet Motherfucker, I decided it was time to revisit the Spookshow International comics. They're not technically good by any definition, but they are fascinating. Some stories and artists work better then others in this anthology, but even the good ones are ticking time bombs; how long will it take before an aside to the reader admits that they're lost the plot and it's all nonsense from there on out? In retrospect, it's not surprising that this comic disappeared with several stories just on the verge of conclusion. In any event, there are enough raw ideas here to make the return trip worthwhile even if nothing fully works on a satisfying comic level. One more issue to wrap things up would have been nice, but then we just don't live in a nice world, do we? 

But wait, you can wrap things up, if you have the collected edition titled The Haunted World of El Superbeasto! Not only does the collection gather all the installments of the Superbeasto, Suzi X, and Simon Deadmarsh stories that appeared in the single issues, it also includes the conclusions to those stories that never saw print! (No Captain Spaulding Presents or Screaming Lord Zombie, though). The sex and nudity are feel significantly ramped up in the concluding bits; I wonder if that's why they pulled the plug on Spookshow International?

Clive Barker, Tortured Souls: The Legend of Primordium and Infernal Parade

I got my hands on the collections of the little fictional vignettes that came with the Clive Barker-branded toys that McFarlane put out in the 00s. (I actually had a full set of the first run of them; I sold them for a tidy profit right before grad school.) Tortured Souls: Legends of Primordium tells the tales of the doom that befell the decadent city of Primordium; it all feels a bit like Tanith Lee on a splatterpunk kick. Infernal Parade is more of the same, except this time the stories involve foul souls being recruited for a satanic, carnivalesque collection of oddities known as, you guessed it, the Infernal Parade.

GURPS Horror

I've been reading not one, but two editions of GURPS Horror in preparation for an upcoming campaign. GURPS has a rightfully earned reputation of quality for its supplements, and I've found GURPS Horror (in its various incarnations) to be one of the best overviews of the genre out there. Plus, the cover on the older edition (on the left in that picture) is one of my favorite pieces of rpg cover art, hands down.

The Night House

Watching The Night House made me feel tense, particularly in its first half. The premise should give you a good indication of what you're in for: a widowed woman struggles to process her grief after her husband's suicide, and discovering his secret life and suspecting that her house is haunted isn't helping matters. There's a little bit of everything in here: haunted house, psychological breakdowns, occult architecture, and, of course, my favorite: repressed secrets. I went into this one expecting very little, but I really enjoyed The Night House.

MWWB, The Harvest

MWWB, formerly known by the more unwieldy (but far more evocative) name Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, continue to rocket their 90s alt-rock infused brand of doom metal into the far reaches of deepest space. The Harvest is MMWB's most mature album to date; there's something truly cinematic about it, though of course the movie in question would have to be something about a spaceship haunted by an eldritch evil from beyond the cosmos. If you like doom metal and Event Horizon, this is the record for you.

Second Inquisition

Second Inquisition is a supplement for the fifth edition of Vampire: The Masquerade. Second Inquisition is essentially a book of antagonists for Vampire campaigns, covering mortals who hunt the undead. The material in this book could help you cook up some lone hunters or even hunters belonging to well-funded and tactically proficient squads of would-be vampire slayers. I'm not an expert on Vampire's mechanics, but some of the hunters detailed here look like they'd be more than a match for even powerful vampires.


Inheritance got fairly negative reviews, but I have to confess that I actually enjoyed it! It helps to have a high tolerance for nonsense, as the movie serves up heaping helpings of it. A high-powered New York City DA from a wealthy, well-connected family receives a strange inheritance when her father dies suddenly of a heart attack: a man who has been kept locked in a bunker underneath the earth for the last thirty or so years. The man guides her through a catalog of her father's misdeeds, hoping to win his release from captivity. There's a moral struggle here: the man literally knows where the bodies are buried and could easily blow-up her brother's political aspirations and their mother's unblemished memories of her marriage. 

There's a twist in there that demolishes the ethical burden posited by the film, and though it's a twist that isn't set up precisely it is rife with the kind of "repressed family secret" flavor of Gothic nonsense that I like. Part of why this movie hit the right chord for me is that I had recently re-read Clive Barker's "The Midnight Meat Train." Although the two stories are very different in execution, they both dwell on what the rich and powerful are willing to do to maintain their place in the hierarchy and the history of horrors that always entails.

Mournful Congregation, The Incubus of Karma, The Exuviae of Gods, Concrescence of the Sophia

Funeral doom was what I needed at the end of my last semester, and I was in luck: The Exuviae of Gods, a new EP by Mournful Congregation, had just came out. Of course, in the hands of a doom metal band, an EP eats like an album. Still, I was intoxicated enough by the sound to seek out The Incubus of Karma and Concrescence of the Sophia as well. I am pleased to report that they are all of extremely high quality.

Steve Niles and Greg Ruth, Freaks of the Heartland

Trevor's family has a secret: they keep his monstrous, mutant brother under lock and key in the barn out back. And yet, their secret isn't unique; for reasons unknown, women who became pregnant in their isolated rural community all gave birth to misshapen children who have since grown to terrifying proportions. Unwilling to let his brother be executed for his supposed monstrosity, Trevor helps the misbegotten children escape. I don't want to say that it's rare for a horror comic to have heart, but Freaks of the Heartland feels more emotive than most as it dwells on the choices we make about who gets to count as family.

Tales from the Darkside: The Movie

I know I saw the Tales from the Darkside movie at some point in the 90s, but even though I was a huge fan of the show I didn't really remember much about it. Viewing it basically anew, I can say it's definitely a fun little anthology. The first tale is an adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle's "Lot No. 249," the second adapts Stephen King's "The Cat From Hell," and the third is a bespoke nightmare written by Michael McDowell about a failing artist who has a run in with a murderous gargoyle. Wrapping things together is a frame narrative about a witch planning to eat a kidnapped boy, but he tries to 1001 Nights her by telling the horror stories that we see on screen.

This is the rare horror anthology where all the segments work well. With a screenplay by George A. Romero and Michael McDowell, and performances from powerhouses like Deborah Harry, Christian Slater, Steve Buscemi, William Hickey, and Julianne Moore, you really can't go wrong.

Watain, The Agony and Ecstasy of Watain

Even though Watain is a pretty high-profile black metal band, I'm not really too familiar with their impressively deep back catalog. However, the buzz (both laudatory and critical) around their new album was enough to push me toward finally checking them out. And I'm glad I did because I've been in the mood for something to scratch the traditional black metal itch. There really aren't any curveballs or jaw-dropping innovations to be found on The Agony and Ecstasy of Watain, but what you will get is satisfying black metal riffs, plenty of grim, satanic atmosphere, and occasional blasphemous touches of inverted classicalism. 

Niles, Sampson, Paitreau, Bidikar, Winnebago Graveyard

I can't fault Winnebago Graveyard for its classic horror premise: a vacationing family stops at the wrong town, their Winnebago disappears, and ultimately they find themselves on the run from satanists who want to sacrifice them to reincarnate their evil compatriots. The story sticks to the script; there really aren't any surprises, but I think a story like this doesn't strictly require them. The art is suitably grotesque; characters are cartoony, but their forms are distorted, garish, and maniacal by turns. This one is a quick read: some have complained that there aren't many words in this comic (???), but that's just fine by me.

Elizabeth Thomas, Catherine House

A young woman with a dark past has been accepted into a mysterious college that demands total isolation from the outside world for its students. For three years, they are expected to be completely cut off from their friends and families, and the larger culture in general, never straying from the Catherine House campus. The school has a divided reputation: many prominent members of society are graduates, but it is also suspected that the school does secretive experiments in some kind of occult pseudoscience. 

The characters in the novel remind me a bit of the characters in Gideon the Ninth, minus the sci-fantasy trappings, as they're gifted, talented, and amoral people who have been thrown together--even if they don't particularly like one another. There's a lot of meaningless sex and drunkenness  exploration of identity, and, perhaps above all, a lot of snacks. I really enjoyed this novel, but I'm not sure I'd recommend it to any college students or recent graduates. The way it magnifies the horrors of higher education might be a little too real.

Wolves in the Throne Room, Primordial Arcana

Primordial Arcana comes on like a summer storm; it's occasionally a little terrifying, but when it's over you feel cleansed. Wolves in the Throne Room's trademark organic black metal is in full effect on this release. "Spirit of Lightning" is a particularly fine moment--if you like that, check out the entire album. If you're already a fan of the band, this won't be a let down.

Frederic Bezian, Adam Sarlech: A Trilogy

The three tales in the Adam Sarlech trilogy all bloom from the garden of dark delights planted by Edgar Allan Poe. The tales are Gothic and psychologically layered: the first concerns a doomed family and their spiritualist fixations; the second deals with a man haunted by his vices; the third is a story of revenge from beyond the grave. Frederic Bezian's art is the perfect venue for the expression of these tales: his figures are defined by grotesque, frenzied linework, while the settings and backdrops are more solid, more grounded, and free of the psychosexual mania that troubles the agents of his dark fictive world. Absolutely recommended!

Wrath & Glory: Litanies of the Lost

Litanies of the Lost is a collection of adventure scenarios for the Wrath & Glory rpg set in the dark future of Warhammer 40k. I've been dragging my feet on running some 40k games; I like the newer version of Wrath & Glory done by Cubicle 7, warts and all, but haven't really felt like I had a handle on what the adventures should concern, how they should be structured, etc. Litanies of the Lost looks like the prefect thing to solve my issue: I can just run the adventures in this book without sweating the details so much. Now, I just need to talk some folks into point-buying their way to a cast of mutants, space marines, and agents of the Imperium.

Blut Aus Nord, Disharmonium: Undreamable Abysses

It would be nice, perhaps, if Blut Aus Nord showed a little human weakness, a little relatable failure, at least once in a while. Atmosphere has always been one of Blut Aus Nord's strong suits, and over the years the project has conjured a variety of tones, colors, and (especially) horrors. In the past the project has explored industrial terrors, dread-soaked religiosity, and grim black metal from the frigid north, byt Disharmonium: Undreamable Abysses finds Blut Aus Nord working in the fraught intersection of the spectral and the cosmic.

Katura Hoshino, D. Gray-Man, Volumes 13, 14, 15

More big brawls in these volumes of D.Gray-Man! The slugfest is livened up by a few things. For one we get to see Cross Marion in action finally--he's a got a holy firearm and a weird undead servitor, so that's something that lights up the pages a bit. We're also introduced to a high-ranking Order bureaucrat with a Hitler mustache--there's no way he's going to end up being a cool guy. Finally, we meet our first Level 4 demon, which apparently is a new kind of monster that no one has ever encountered before.

Kirstyn McDermott, The New Wife

I'm a sucker for stories based on the legend of Bluebeard, so Kirstyn McDermott's The New Wife was right up my bloody chamber. The solution to the usual "Bluebeard Problem" occurs early on in this novella, but the sudden resolution only serves to ask a more interesting question: how do the wives who died previously receive restitution for their murders, particularly if they are now trapped for an eternity in Bluebeard's castle with the dangerous specter of their abusive husband? Although this is a short, brisk read, the characterization is fairly taut and there's a lot to take pleasure in if you're a fan of Gothic fairytales.

Septicflesh, Modern Primitive

Septicflesh is back again with their brand of symphonic death metal with all the trimmings. This is a style of metal that really requires a bit of bombast; Modern Primitive is at its best when it is straining against the line of "tasteful" by brandishing heavy riffs, orchestral swells, choirs, and lines cribbed from Middle Eastern musical traditions. Septicflesh pack so much sound in each track that they feel longer than they really are; this is not a bad thing--maximal is always preferrable when it comes to Septicflesh.

Mort Todd's Monster's Attack!: The Ultimate Collection

I'm going to need to qualify this one a bit to warrant it's inclusion on my monthly best-of list; I want to consider this comic collection in two ways: as a compilation of horror comics and as a physical artifact.

It is as a collection of mostly forgotten horror comics that his collection really shines. I managed to pick up the first issue back in 1989 when it hit news stands; the throwback to the horror comics of earlier decades really captivated me, but as my local pharmacy never got the subsequent issues, it's awesome to have them collected in one place. The vast majority of the stories are worth your time if you're a fan of horror comics, Creepshow, or monster mashes in general. This will be especially valuable to fans of some big comic names (Ditko, Colan, Toth, Severin) who haven't seen the work they did for this magazine.

On the other hand, the physical presentation is a little bit of a letdown on several fronts. The reproduction of the images is good, but not what I'd call great. The pages often suffer from a common artifact of POD printing, particularly where black page edges aren't actually "full bleed," leaving an unfortunate white strip along the top, bottom, or side of the page. Monsters Attack! also warranted nicer paper for its printing; considering the amount of black ink used, the pages are a little too thin, resulting in wavy pages and a little bleed through. One of the stories is misprinted; as is, it is an incomplete tale. Finally, it's odd that the "Ultimate Collection" doesn't actually include every story that originally appeared in the magazine.

Rammstein, Zeit

No on really expects a radical invention from Rammstein at this point, right? Zeit sounds like a Rammstein record, albeit perhaps a little less hooky and grandiose than the previous album. And therein lies the challenge: it's a good record, but I'm going to need to live with it a bit more to shake off the feeling that it is a bit of a disappointment compared to their previous offering.

Stranger Things, Season 4, Part 1

It feels fashionable in some quarters to bag on Stranger Things, but personally I find it a decent show if you don't feel the need to take it seriously. (And why would you, given the premise?) This part of the season doles out four separate narrative strands: Eleven confronts her past to get her powers back, part of the gang is on the run from shadowy military agents out to stop Eleven from getting her powers back, the other part of the gang is investigating the strange murders taking place in Hawkins, and Joyce, Murray, and Hopper are battling the Soviets in a prison camp. It's an imperfect show, as always, but I still find it a fun watch. The "haunted house" elements added in this season, the Vecna-from-D&D tie in, and the cameo from Robert Englund didn't hurt!

Predatory Light, Death and the Twilight Hours

I find that it's often the case that music coming from the intersection of black metal and doom often loses its sonic definition along the way, but that isn't the case with Predatory Light's Death and the Twilight Hours. The sepulchral atmosphere is enveloping and suffocating, yet everything remains crisp and needling. As with the Wolves in the Throne Room and Watain records mentioned earlier, this certainly scratched my black metal itch for the month.

Clive Barker, Books of Blood Volume Two

Although the Books of Blood are often treated as subdivisions of the same overarching project, I think it's worthwhile to think of their individual specificities. Volume One is the introduction; its stories are the most in-line with an abstract notion of "standard horror," easing the reader into Barker's idiosyncratic universe of grotesqueries. Volume Three, on the other hand, is full on phantasmagoric fantasy. What can we say of Volume Two, then? In my estimation, it sits at the halfway point between the other two. Unpopular opinion(?): Clive Barker's "New Murders in the Rue Morgue" would be right at home in the lit anthologies they make you buy for creative writing classes.