Monday, July 25, 2022

Strahd Loves, Man Kills Issues Six and Seven

Strahd Loves, Man Kills, my Ravenloft fanzine, is back with not one but TWO new issues! Check them out here at my Big Cartel page.

Issue Six has the following contents:

Lurid Locations explores five locations in the Land of the Mists: the Iscarion Academy, the Trilobite, I’Cath, Rokushima Taiyoo, and Grauwald.

Baleful Backgrounds presents two new backgrounds for characters: rat-catcher and stage magician.

Wicked Wanderings expands on the idea of creating Vistani characters by reconsidering the specialties of several Vistani tribes from past editions of the Ravenloft setting.

Seeds of Evil details several adventure seeds you can use to craft scenarios set in Ravenloft.

Portraits of the Damned presents three nonplayer characters for use in your games: the Black Iron Widow, the Blood-Soaked Diva, and Ivahn Katavarg.

Cryptic Alliances adds the Corvidians, a folk religion that worships the Raven Queen, to the factions detailed in Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft.

Tragic Heroes focuses on metropolitan miscreants you might create as characters for games set in the Domains of Dread.

Random Ruin features tables for detailing the horrors haunting the city of Paridon in Zherisia.

Forbidden Tomes provides a bibliography of the Gothic horror genre for your edification and entertainment.

Issue Seven has the following contents:

Lurid Locations gives Invidia an expansive treatment.

Cryptic Alliances unveils the treachery and horrors of the Church of Holy Blood.

Portraits of the Damned introduces three troublesome priests vying for the hearts and souls of the Invidian people.

Baleful Backgrounds adds apothecary to the roster of possible character backgrounds.

Seeds of Evil outlines several adventure seeds you can use to craft scenarios set in Ravenloft.

Midnight Horrors offers templates for transforming mundane nonplayer character statblocks into ermordenung and undead monstrosities.

Forged in Shadow describes two magical weapons that might be found in Ravenloft.

Tragic Heroes suggests ways to create violent visionaries as characters in your games.

Random Ruin presents a table of art-related adventure seeds for use in the domain of Ghastria.

Forbidden Tomes provides a bibliography of the disaster horror, occult detective story, psychological horror, and slasher horror genres for your edification and entertainment.

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Ohrbach Tower

Below is a location from my Ravenloft campaign--it serves as an area that can be explored when the players and their characters need answers to questions of deep lore. If you enjoy this write up, you can get it nicely formatted in issue five of Strahd Loves, Man Kills, my Ravenloft fanzine. There are only four print copies left, so I wouldn't wait too long!

Ohrbach Tower

Ohrbach Tower is a lonely clock tower constructed from a weathered material that appears to be stone, but is in fact the petrified flesh of a dead god. No matter the climate or weather, the tower’s “stone” is uncannily warm to the touch. 

The tower has no fixed location in the Land of the Mists. The Mists arise, seemingly at random, to momentarily surround the tower; when the Mists recede, Ohrbach Tower has been transplanted to a new location. As such, Ohrbach Tower can be found in any domain. The length of its stay in any one place is unpredictable. Some Vistani claim that Mist talismans exist that allow their bearers to unerringly find Ohrbach Tower.

The interior of Ohrbach Tower is dominated by floor after floor of library shelves, all of which are tightly packed with rare and ancient tomes. Books from across the multiverse find their way to Ohrbach Tower; it is a repository of knowledge that has been preserved for posterity via magical means. Scholars of the occult postulate that one copy of every book that has ever been written, even those that were never copied by mortal hands, exists somewhere amid the convoluted stacks of Ohrbach Tower.

The Librarian of Ohrbach Tower

If an obscure piece of lore needs to be uncovered, the dusty shelves of Ohrbach Tower likely hold a tome or scroll that can provide the information sought. However, finding the right book among the tower’s sprawling libraries poses a challenge. The surest way to find what you seek in Ohrbach Tower is to consult its current librarian. Roll on the following table to determine who the characters encounter within Ohrbach Tower.

Head Librarian

1 Nikolai Valpurga, a nosferatu who is only coherent and lucid for a few hours after he has fed on blood.

2 Azrafina, a fallen planetar who rebelled against the gods by hiding eldritch tomes that were slated for destruction.

3 Varushka, an unusually studious marilith with a keen interest in dragon chess.

4 Menoch, a berbalang who carved the tower from the remains of a calcified god.

5 Ul’vora, an ill-tempered spirit naga who is attended by a number of lizardfolk assistant librarians.

6 Khelana, a drider who was punished by the matron of her house for safeguarding texts related to Eilistraee.

7 Malistrad, a beholder with a disturbingly large collection of illustrated erotica.

8 Kaylisti, a lamia condemned by the demon lord Graz’zt for preferring quite contemplation to the tyranny of seduction.

9 Marovik, an overly chatty lich with a passion for amateur astronomy.

10 Damophet, an arcanaloth who engages in protracted negotiations before agreeing to provide aid.

11 Tserberon, a satyr who refuses to help anyone who will not first consent to a night of raucous drinking.

12 Strixa, a dusk hag who insists on reading the palms of anyone who enters Ohrbach Tower.

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Forgotten Realms Factions in Ravenloft

I like to think that nearly anything that exists in the D&D multiverse has a place in Ravenloft. However, anything brought into the Land of the Mists is likely to be warped by the darkness that permeates its domains. This post explores what the Forgotten Realms’ factions might look like if they found their way into Ravenloft and were irrevocably changed by the Domains of Dread. If you enjoy this write up, you can get it nicely formatted in issue five of Strahd Loves, Man Kills, my Ravenloft fanzine. There are only a few print copies left, so I wouldn't wait too long!

The Emerald Enclave

The Land of the Mists abhors balance, which has greatly upset the Emerald Enclave’s goal of maintaining equipoise between civilization and the natural world. The members of the Emerald Enclave have become eco-terrorists who believe that the only way to save the land from evil is to destroy civilization and let the natural process of death and rebirth cleanse the land of its curse. Agents of the Emerald Enclave engage in violence against logging communities and threaten those who would expand the reach of civilization by taming the wilderness. 

For an additional wrinkle, it may be the case that the Emerald Enclave has been infiltrated by members of the Children of Winter cult from Eberron.

The Harpers

Even the Harpers are unable to maintain the dignity of their cause under the Dark Powers’ corrupting influence. The Harpers have grown more secretive, insidious, and willing to entertain less than ethical approaches to fighting against evil. Many Harpers feel that the end justifies the means and that it is sometimes necessary to sacrifice the lives of innocents for the greater good. 

Because members of the Harpers tend to be fiercely independent and self-reliant, they sometimes clash against other agents from their organization who are pursuing a different angle on the same problem. Rather than being united in purpose, their skulduggery causes them to come into conflict. Consumed by paranoia about being exposed, their cloak and dagger operations are often stymied by a lack of coordination.

The Lords’ Alliance

The original purpose of the Lords’ Alliance has become perverted by the fell influence of the Land of the Mists. Now a faction of lickspittles and lackeys, the Lords’ Alliance works to prop up the power and reach of the wealthy and aristocratic. Fierce defenders of the status quo, members of the Lords Alliance are partisans who protect the interests of the elite.

The Order of the Gauntlet

The Order of the Gauntlet has become a faction consumed by religious zealotry and fanaticism. Members of the Order of the Gauntlet believe that the only way to live a righteous life that will be rewarded in the world to come is to endlessly crusade against the forces of supernatural evil. 

The Order of the Gauntlet’s efforts are usually directed toward combating fiends and the undead. They harbor a particular hatred for vampires, whom they consider to be abominations in the eyes of the gods they serve. The Order of the Gauntlet seeks the location of the vault of the Bellegard family, which is said to contain a trove of blessed weapons and ancient manuals describing the family’s techniques for fighting against monsters.

The Zhentarim

The Zhentarim have evolved into an organized crime syndicate that operates throughout the various domains of the Land of the Mists. The Zhentarim specializes in dealing illicit substances, assassination, protection rackets, and supplying mercenaries, bodyguards, and other thugs-for-hire. Some of the intoxicants peddled by the Black Network’s coterie of dealers have been modified by magic and alchemy to make them both more intoxicating and more addictive. 

For those willing to pay a premium, the Zhentarim employs a number of black magicians who summon demons to perform assassinations in cases where a mortal killer would be unlikely to successfully commit a desired murder.

Sunday, July 17, 2022

The Scholomance

I was pretty excited when I saw the Scholomance on the map of Borca in Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft. I've long been fascinated by the Scholomance's folklore, so it was definitely a welcome addition to the setting--especially since it was so tersely detailed that it left plenty of space to develop it just the way I wanted for my campaign. 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 only a few print copies left, so I wouldn't wait too long!


The Scholomance is a legendary school of black magic located near Mount Gries in the southeastern corner of Borca. Arrival at the Scholomance means traversing the treacherous mountains and braving the horrors that lay in wait. A small, but immeasurably deep, lake sits nearby. The lake is a cauldron where the region's perpetual, never-ceasing storms of thunder, lightning, and rain tempestuously brew. A dragon sleeps beneath the lake’s waters; it is said that the dragon emerges from the lake to devour any uninvited guests who attempt to breach the Scholomance’s stout stone walls. Only young scholars possessing rare gifts—which might be more correctly termed curses—are offered a place at the Scholomance and admitted to its wicked curriculum of occult study.

Students at the Scholomance are taught by warlocks, sorcerers, and wizards known as the Solomonari. The Solomonari are masters of the darkest arts of arcane magic. However, some classes at the Scholomance are presided over by devils summoned from the Nine Hells to provide unhallowed instruction. All manner of arcana is taught at the school; no spell, no matter how malign or horrific, is verboten or forbidden to the promising young scholars of the Scholomance.

Most students at the Scholomance graduate from their studies, are invited to join the Rainmaker Society, and begin to steer Borcan politics. Students judged to be among the lowest performing are sent to the Nine Hells as payment for the devils’ services. These students are transformed into lemures and must strive for advancement amid Hell’s endless strife. Despite the danger inherent to its vile areas of instruction and the hellish fate that awaits some of it scholars, the Scholomance has a rich heritage, an unmatched reputation among students of the dark arts, and a number of infamous alumni in the Land of the Mists.

The Master of the Scholomance

There is much conjecture concerning the identity of the Scholomance’s headmaster. Roll on the following table to determine who is currently the master of the Scholomance.

1 Strahd von Zarovich, whose torment by the Dark Powers includes a stint serving as the headmaster of the school. 

2 Leonora Vos, a necromancer who is using the school’s resources and vast library to ascertain the whereabouts of the Veil of Iron Tears—an artifact capable of summoning an army of corporeal undead.

3 The archdevil Mephistopheles, who is secretly training the students of the Scholomance to aid him in displacing Asmodeus from his rule of the Nine Hells. 

4 Tasha, also known as Iggwilv, has positioned herself as the school’s headmistress to gain infernal knowledge she can use against the archdevils of the Nine Hells.

5 Azalin Rex, whose disappearance from Darkon can be explained by his recent tenure as headmaster of the Scholomance.

6 Baba Yaga, the planar-traveling hag. Baba Yaga’s chicken-footed hut is hidden somewhere on the school’s campus. 

7 Nochvanator, a dracolich obsessed with regicide and the overthrow of Borca’s Darklords.

8 A disembodied voice from the Far Realm, whose name—if it can be said to have a name at all—is a mystery.

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Monsters Attack! Issue Three

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 and the second issue here, so let's move on to the contents of the third issue.

"A Boy's Life"

Story by Mort Todd, art by John Severin

An Eddie Munster-looking vampire boy finds himself in a new town, and all the potential meals are terrified of him even though they have no way to know that he numbers among the undead! So, he takes the easy way out and attacks a crippled boy. Yeah, you read that right, a crippled child. Unfortunately, the crippled boy had polio...which is apparently transmissible to vampires. This also explains why everyone was running away from him; the townspeople were scared of polio-bearing strangers!

"Face It"

Story and art by Steve Ditko

A mad scientist invents a device that allows him to take on the appearance of a wealthier man so he can withdraw money from said wealthy man's bank account. Everything goes off without a hitch, until the mad scientist's robotic servant tires of playing second-fiddle to a two-bit criminal, seizes control of the face-manipulating device, and turns its master into a cartoonish grotesquerie.


Story and art by Rurik Tyler

This is a wild one. An incarcerated hypnotist has mastered the art of manipulating the biological cells of the human body. He transforms three of his fellow inmates into monstrous forms to aid in his jailbreak. Ultimately, he escapes the prison by changing himself into a bizarre, pterodactyl-like form and flying away. The narrator...enlists the aid of the Audubon society to bring him to justice (!!!). This story really makes very little sense, but you can't help but be entertained.

"The Wake of a Monster"

Story and art by Pat Boyette

An invisible demon, who doesn't really understand what he is, wanders around snapping necks and otherwise causing trouble for humanity. This is a weird, comedic take on...something. The image to the left amusing me unduly, for reasons I cannot adequately explain.

"The Daemon"

Story by John Arcudi, art by Gene Colan

A cop is aided by the FBI in tracking down a seemingly supernatural killer. It turns out that one of the FBI agents is a werewolf. Fight fire with fire, I suppose! This is another story in the Monsters Attack! run that makes excellent use of moody black and white art.

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Flash for Freedom!

Episode 57: Flash for Freedom!

George McDonald Fraser’s long-running Flashman series follows the adventures of Sir Harry Paget Flashman, a self-confessed scoundrel, as he navigates the landscape of the mid-nineteenth century. Jack and Kate jump in at the deep end with Flash for Freedom, the third book in the series that finds Flashman enmeshed in the North American slave trade. Buckle up for a tale that leans all the way into the permissive pulp style of the early 1970s!

Is the past really a different country? At what point does an antihero tip over into just plain old villain? Just how much atrocity can be forgiven if a dude has the right kind of facial hair? Find out the answers to these questions and many more in this episode of Bad Books for Bad People.

As promised, here’s a link to the Lady Klingon ad Kate mentions in the episode. 

Monday, July 4, 2022

Waste, Foreverglade, Mordew, Tide Turns Eternal, and More

Things that brought me delight in June, 2022:

Andrew F. Sullivan, Waste

I have learned that when a thing is good, the kids say it "slaps." Well, Andrew F. Sullivan's Waste slaps pretty damn hard, both in the sense of being a great read and in the sense that it pummels you down as you progress through its tale of down-and-out dirtbags in the fictional post-industry town of Larkhill, Ontario. It's so gritty and grimy that I felt like I needed to take a shower every fifty pages or so. On the other hand, it's also comforting to know that Canada has burnt-out towns as fucked up as the ones I grew up in during approximately the same era.

Worm, Foreverglade

I'm sure the name of the band contributes to the association, but to my ears Worm makes metal that Kyuss, the Worm That Walks, would enjoy. The sound on Foreverglade is a mangled amalgamation of Floridian death metal and funereal doom; there's something undeniably earthy and swampy about the album, and you can practically smell the profane ritual that Worm's music conjures up in your mind's eye.

Alex Pheby, Mordew

At first I thought I had made a terrible mistake by picking up Mordew because the story doesn't start until page twenty, after a lengthy three-page dramatic persona and then a list of things that are present in the novel, and the last hundred-plus pages are a fucking glossary and essays, but wonder of wonders the writing is solid and engaging throughout. The first bit feels like a Dickensian dark fantasy (emphasis on the dark) about a gang of urchins pulling heists at the behest of a cruel criminal overlord in an apocalyptic city that wouldn't be miscategorized among a selection of New Weird-inflected urban settings. That gives way, after a personal calamity of sorts, to the main character's dubious "training" in magic--which feels like it's mostly propaganda for the wizard who rules the city. Things get buck wild from there; anything more I could say would venture into hard spoiler territory. 

Dream Unending, Tide Turns Eternal

The "Peaceville Three" sound pioneered by Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride, and Anathema has been hugely influential on the doom genre; you can hear elements of their classic works echoing across the whole of doom metal. And yet, it's interesting that there are so few bands that carry on in the same vein. Enter Dream Unending, a project that has made it their mission to continue the lush, yet crushing and melancholic, sound found on records like Draconian, Turn Loose the Swans, and Serenades. That isn't to say that their sound is derivative; Dream Unending have their own vital spirit, but fans of that bygone era of doom should definitely seek out Tide Turns Eternal.

Yana Toboso, Black Butler XXXI

My long wait is over, a new volume of Black Butler has arrived in translation! I have to say, volume XXXI has one of my favorite covers thus far in the series' lengthy run. The interior content was also well worth the wait, as the first bit, which concludes the Yorkshire arc, has lots of action centering on my two favorite characters. Once that has concluded, we get the start of a new arc about the nefarious doings in a hospital for war veterans. I'm enjoying the origin stories for all the members of the Phantomhive staff, so I'm looking forward to learning more about the cook and his time as a soldier. But can I survive the wait for another volume? We must persevere in these trying times. 

Iron Maiden, all of the records up until Bruce Dickinson's departure

Maybe it was the release of the Street Fighter 6 trailer that did it; back in the day, when we used to crawl from one arcade to another, Iron Maiden was often the soundtrack of the night because one of the guys in my little friend group was a huge Maiden fan. Who knows, maybe Iron Maiden will be the soundtrack to my Dirtbag Summer of chili cheese Fritos and cans of Old Milwaukee. Anyway, all of this is to say that I get the appeal of Iron Maiden now more than ever.

David Lindsay, The Haunted Woman

Fans of weird fiction might recognize the name David Lindsay from his "obscure classic," A Voyage to Arcturus, but The Haunted Woman is more in the Gothic mode, even though it remains solidly weird. If anything, I might argue that it prefigures the whole hauntological and folk horror phenomenon that would arrive later. 

Initially, I found myself interested in the triangular relationship at work in the novel: a courting couple and the woman's widowed aunt. Their relationships are all strained in some way. What brings them together is a house the aunt may want to buy, a house that is rumored to have a spectral staircase leading nowhere, like a ghostly Winchester House. But the strange stairs, that are not apparent to everyone, do lead to a mysterious chamber where society's social rules fall away and the true passions of the heart are revealed--as the engaged woman and owner of the house discovered when they venture into the shadows together. Ultimately, The Haunted Woman is a story about passion, the tragedy of romance, society's rules, and sacrifice.

Blind Guardian, every album from Battalions of Fear to Nightfall on Middle-Earth

As with Iron Maiden above, Blind Guardian was another favorite of my friend from my arcade-going days. Blind Guardian exemplify an eternal principle: to be great, a metal band has to be at least a little silly. In Blind Guardian's case, that silliness comes in the form of full on fantasy fixations and a truly epic approach to capturing the subject matter in sonic form. The band loses me a bit once they start venturing into prog territory, but these albums all really hold up.

Marilyn Ross, The Mystery of Collinwood

I decided it was time to read another of the Dark Shadows novels. I had forgotten how peculiar these are. Although I respect how wildly the world of the novels diverges from that of the television show (and in The Mystery of Collinwood Elisabeth and Roger have a mysterious older brother who works as a hypnotist!), I had forgotten how utterly unhinged the characters are in their motivations. Victoria jumps to insane conclusions, and even though her life is imperiled at every turn, for some reason she never entertains the idea of leaving the Collins family behind. I enjoy these books even if they are formulaic; if you want to place who the villain is, just look for the side character who isn't getting much in the way of narrative detail--they're the baddie, every time.

Peaky Blinders, Season Six

Season six of Peaky Blinders is not a perfect series by any stretch of the imagination, and really the show may have gone on a bit too long at this point, but the final episode brought me back into the fold to some extent. Although I was hoping for more of a concrete ending to the show in its final series (apparently it will be continued with a feature-length movie), there was enough rise and fall here to keep me entertained. I'm not sure that introducing a new character who seems important was the right thing to do at this juncture (in fact, it feels a little like adding Scrappy Doo to the roster), but I suppose time will tell.

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay: Night's Dark Masters

Night's Dark Masters is a supplement for the second edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay that covers the role of vampires and the cursed realm of Sylvania. It's also one of my favorite rpg supplements, hands down. Although I'm unlikely to ever run WFRP again, it's got an amazing wealth of inspirational ideas, characters to steal, and scenarios to repurpose that you really can't wrong with it if you're interested in the intersection of Gothic and Fantasy flavors. If you want to indulge in my influences for the vampire-haunted area of Krevborna, this is essential reading. I'm glad I revisited it as I work on a new draft of my setting book.

Oranssi Pazuzu, Mestarin Kynsi

Tenebrous Kate recommended Oranssi Pazuzu to me a few years back, and while I liked what I heard, I didn't find an album of theirs that really sank its teeth into me. Mestarin Kynsi might be the one that sticks with me. There's something about this particular blend of abstract, art school experimentation, black metal, and absolutely goblinesque vocals that really did it for me in June.

The Old Ways

The Old Ways revives the often paint-by-numbers themes and aesthetics of the possession and exorcism subgenre of horror by shifting the action to rural Mexico and substituting bruja practices for the Catholic faith. The addition of folk horror flourishes really does help the film to stand out from the pack, and this unique take on tired conventions allows the movie to touch on themes such as the loss of tradition and cultural connection, addiction, and sacrifice. While it's not the most tense or frightening horror film out there, I certainly think there is room for this kind of film. Surely you have a friend who can't handle the really sick stuff that would enjoy this one.

Ravenloft: Masque of the Red Death and Dark Tales & Disturbing Legends

I managed to add two more 3e-era Ravenloft books to my collection: Masque of the Red Death, which details a Gothicized version of the Victorian era as a playable setting, and Dark Tales & Disturbing Legends, a book of scenarios based on tales that have taken on lives of their own. I'm unlikely to use these for the edition they were written for, but as inspiration resources they can't be beat.

Motionless in White, Scoring the End of the World

If I were capable of shame or gave countenance to the idea of guilty pleasures, surely I'd be reluctant to include a Motionless in White album on my monthly round up of joyful things. And yet, here I am, banging my head along to the spooky kid theatrics of Scoring the End of the World.

Coy Hall, The Hangman Feeds the Jackal: A Gothic Western

A gunslinger who fears the approach of death and hears the voice of a spider in his mind. A disturbed boy fallen in with a duo of hardened criminals. A married couple too good for the no-luck sawmill town they're hoping to leave behind. All of them are on a collision course in Coy Hall's The Hangman Feeds the Jackal. Hall's novel is gory, pulpy (in the best way), and a real page-turner; it's finely paced, with characters sketched just enough, and action that doesn't relent when it gets down to it. I'll definitely be hunting up more of this author's works in the future.

Eric Powell, The Goon: Bunch of Old Crap Volume 1

This chunky omnibus of Goon comics really delivers. The titular facebreaker finds himself punching down voodoo priests, zombies, fishmen, kaiju, vampire brides, and more. Frankly, The Goon is the comic that El Superbeasto was trying to be--but the latter never felt this well-executed or sure of its own comedic footing. 

Eric Powell is obviously deeply steeped in the horror comics of a bygone era. I see bits of Richard Corben, Basil Wolverton, and the EC crew throughout The Goon's monster mash. Helluva pedigree, but The Goon still manages to be its own thing.

Don't Rest Your Head and Don't Lose Your Mind

Don't Rest Your Head was one of the first "indie" games I ever encountered, and it remains one of my favorites. In this game, the players take the roles of insomniacs who have slipped into a nightmare world that's part Dark City, part horrific Wonderland. Old-school games that tout how grim and gritty they are have nothing on this game's exhaustion and madness mechanics; you can practically feel your character slipping away from you, but you'll still fight the urge to push them a little farther toward the edge.

Don't Rest Your Head's dirty secret is that it's actually a superhero rpg. Don't Lose Your Mind is a supplement of powers that characters might possess, but each one of them is a nasty little beast all its own. Fans of 90s-era Vertigo should love this game, and I really should get around to writing a full-on review and retrospective of it one of these days. Maybe I'll even get it to the table before the end of the year; feels like good Halloween fodder.

Mike Brooks, Rites of Passage

Rites of Passage is a Warhammer 40k novel about a rarely considered aspect of the setting: the Navigator Houses who guide the Imperium's crafts through the perilous Warp. (Rarely considered, perhaps, because they do not have a line of models.) Chetta Brobantis has a lot on her plate: her husband is dead, and she's the one who arranged for his murder, a fact she'd like to hide; her angry brother in law wants to assume control of House Brobantis; his sister in law, married into a rival house, also seems to want a piece of the pie; a mysterious assassin is killing the navigators of House Brobantis; a rival house has declared a trade war against hers; a house vanquished by her own returns with a powerful rogue trader in tow; a chaos cult is sending entire planets to their doom in the Warp. I think we can all agree that's a lot, but even though this is a fairly slim novel, it's all handled in just the right amount of detail and nothing feels shoehorned in. It's crazy how successful the 40k novel line is at avoiding being tie-in trash like so many others.

Katsura Hoshino, D.Gray-Man volumes 16-21

On a sweltering day in June I could do nothing more than read manga in front of a fan, so I consumed double my usual volumes of D.Gray-Man for the month. Volumes 16-18 are mostly a light-hearted romp that acts as a pause in the main storyline. We've got a comical zombie plague caused by a chemical agent created to cure the fatigue of overtime (quite possibly a commentary on manga deadlines and workload) and a supernatural thief that feels inspired by Fantomas. Not the most momentous collection of D.Gray-Man installments, and I lament the lack of many full-page spreads here. Volumes 19-21 are much more serious in tone, revealing Kanda's tragic backstory and yet more examples of how the "good guy organization" has been performing horrid, desperate experiments in the name of righteousness. 

Leah, Of Earth & Angels, Otherworld, and Kings & Queens

Of Earth & Angels is a really interesting debut album. Generally placed within the symphonic metal camp, the Leah project bucks the trend that many of its contemporaries were pursuing at the time. Rather than strive for a bombastic, grandiose sound that overwhelms the listener with maximalist detail, Of Earth & Angels is a fairly stripped-down affair; the instrumentation is kept simple, and though Leah McHenry's vocals are the central attraction, there is a good balance of understated, down-to-earth styles here and moments of soaring abandon. The Otherworld EP feels like a slighter affair; the tracks themselves don't stand out all that much on their own merits. Kings & Queens, on the hand, is the strongest work I've heard from Leah yet. It's a nice, and varied collection of tracks that hit the high notes of the formula in an exemplary way. It's simultaneously heavier and more majestic than the prior records.

Coven 13

We found a copy of this digest-sized horror periodical from 1970 during a two-day blitz of comic spots in June. Although the stories in it aren't exactly superb, the object has all the charm of its era. The cover art (and art on the back cover) alone were worth the paltry price! One thing I found particularly neat was that one of the letters to the editor published in this issue is from someone from Vestal, NY. Given that we bought in a a shop in Vestal (albeit fifty-plus years later), I have to wonder if this copy belonged to the letter writer!

First Kill, Season One

Again, if I were capable of shame, First Kill would have been a guilty pleasure, but sometimes you need something to put on when the tank is empty or you need to turn your brain off for a while. Might as well make it a sapphic teenage vampire show. First Kill is, of course, dumb. We've got a Romeo & Juliet situation, but instead of warring families we've got a family of vampires and a family of vampire hunters. The show insists that you notice the parallel; one of the star-crossed lovers is named Juliette and their high school is staging a production of Shakespeare's play. Yeah, it's that kind of show. Also, somewhat oddly, the characters we're supposed to believe are sociopathic often evidence a more nuanced worldview than the goody-goodies who are putatively the heroes of the piece.

I, Strahd promotional standee

I found this thing on eBay, made a joke about it on my Discord server, and one of the madmen over there actually bought it and had it sent to me. Thank you for this strangely compelling item, mysterious benefactor. I will obscure your identity so that no one speculates on how frivolously you spend your money. Your just reward is already in the mail.