Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Fixing the Misprinted IKHON Booklets for MORK BORG

Back in January of 2021, I backed MORK BORG kickstarter for Heretic and IKHON. IKHON sounded especially cool to me. The gimmick, and it is a gimmick in the truest sense of the word, is that you would have a black box containing four small booklets. Each booklet was supposed to represent an "Old God." When a player called upon one of these Old Gods for aid, they were supposed to randomly pick one of the booklets, roll a die, and whatever the result was according to the booklet--that's what happened.

Unfortunately, the printer who made IKHON didn't understand the assignment; the booklets were each supposed to have a nondescript black cover so that picking one was truly random. Instead, they flipped the covers inside-out, which made it extremely obvious which Old God each booklet corresponded to. Which, of course, defeats the whole point of the gimmick.

Oh, dear.

As you can see from the picture below, the name of the Old God is spelled out at the top of the "cover" page of the booklet.

It was awful nice of Free League Publishing to offer to reprint the IKHON boxes and send out "corrected" copies to backers who got misprinted ones at no cost. Unfortunately it appears that if you live in the US you got send another misprint.

However, if you have a longarm stapler, you can fix them. I mean, I could wait to see if Free League will send me a another, actually correct box, but my experience contacting them has indicated that they might not be the most responsive company operating in the rpg space. 

So, longarm it is.

The problem we're correcting is that the "cover" pages are supposed to be interior pages. The plain black pages are meant to be the cover. Simply take the staples out and reverse that page for each booklet, then re-staple with the longarm.

The above is what each booklet should look like when you turn to the first page.

Note that this won't be a seamless process. For example, this one pictured below wasn't quite tough enough to be unstapled, refolded, and stapled again without the "spine" breaking down a bit.

I put some washi tape on the "spines" to reinforce them and make them uniform. I put a little craft glue down before adding the tape for extra adhesion. I also painted some glue overtop to prevent future "fraying."

Now they look identical enough that a player could choose one without knowing which Old God they'll be invoking. The gimmick is now functional.

Although IKHON came with a craft project I didn't really want, I can at least get some use out of them at the table. Hopefully, the above will give you some ideas on how to fix them yourself if you have a need for it.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

The Funeral Gardens and Havenhill

Below are two locations that might be explored in adventures in Sibersk:

The Funereal Gardens

On a small parcel of land in Sibersk sits the abode of Eurysa Margrave, a celebrated “sculptor,” and her famed garden of statues.

    • Eurysa is a medusa, a fact she takes pains to hide. 

    • Her sculptures are simply men and women who have been kidnapped and turned to stone under her dreadful gaze. 

    • Eurysa prefers to capture her subjects either in moments of pleasurable abandon or at the panicked heights of fear. 

    • The vampire lords and ladies of Sibersk make it a point to visit the funereal gardens to view Eurysa’s latest creations.


Havenhill is an orphanage located in Morgundy where foundlings, forsaken children, and parentless waifs are housed and fed. 

    • The orphanage also secretly offers a hospital wing where women who have become pregnant out of wedlock can bear their children in privacy. 

    • However, many of these women fall prey to a hantu penanggal who masquerades as a kindly nurse by day. 

    • Havenhill is haunted by the ghosts of the women who died as victims of the hantu penanggal’s hunger for the flesh and blood of the innocent and unborn.

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Sins of Our Elders Review

Now that I'm running the adventures in Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel, I'm going to be writing reviews of them informed by my actual play experience, much as I did previously with Candlekeep Mysteries. Next up, "Sins of Our Elders." Warning for those who plan on playing these adventures: spoilers ahead!

Sins of Our Elders

Written by Stephanie Yoon

"Sins of Our Elders" does a lot right. I love a ghost story, and having the heart of the haunting in this scenario be a spirit who is angry at how she has been erased from the historical record and not given her due is a strong motivation that feels unusual and unexpected. 

I also really appreciate that the characters are given a number of leads that they can tackle in any order they want; unlike some of the adventures in Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel, this gives the players the room to guide their own involvement in the adventure and gives them variable ways of piecing together what's going on with the ghost, its attacks, and the strange effect of the populace not remembering the ghost's assaults on them after the fact.

Speaking of that effect, here's how it works: the angry ghost has been attacking the populace, even leaving corpses behind, but the people cannot remember the attacks after they've occurred. There's a nice symmetry there; since the ghost is angry that her good deeds have been forgotten, she is afflicting the people with selective memory loss. I'm of two minds about it in practice, however. On one hand, it's clearly a contrivance to make the scenario work, but on the other it makes the characters special since they can remember the ghost's predations. It does give the players a good reason to get involved since they're one of the few parties who can effectually investigate the haunting.

I do have a few minor criticisms of the adventure. The ghost has multiple ways of attacking the populace--appearing in its own form, manifesting gargoyles bearing the ghost's anguished face, and...giant blue tigers. The tigers feel thematically disconnected; it may not be immediately obvious how they connect to the ghost the way the gargoyles do. My solution was simple: give the tigers the ghostly woman's face too! That's both uncanny and connects all the imagery.

Additionally, I wish the "gwishin" (the name given to this particular kind of ghost) had its own original stats instead of just using the standard-issue ghost stats from the Monster Manual.

Overall, though, this was a strong adventure as written and it was a ton of fun to play. The cast of nonplayer characters is varied and interesting, and this is one of the adventures where negotiating with the villain, instead of slaying them in a climatic "boss fight," works particularly well. Because the players have to propose a solution to the ghost, rather than just talking it down from villainy, it feels more like they did something creative rather than simply succeeding at a well-timed Persuasion roll.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Sibersk: The Realm of Feudal Vampires

As promised in a previous blog post, I'm hard at work revising the Krevborna book for a second edition. I poled the folks over on my Discord about which revised region they'd like a peek at first, and "Lamashtu" was tied for the top spot. 

It's a good place to start, as this region has received some of the heaviest revisions. For one thing, it's no longer known as "Lamashtu"; it's been renamed Sibersk. For another thing, as you'll see Alcesta von Karlok is no longer the undisputed sovereign of the area. This change is fallout from events that took place in my home campaign, but the idea of Alcesta having a rival makes for a setting with more drama and more possibility for the characters in your game to get mixed up in intrigues and machinations.

Below is the overview of Sibersk.


A Cold Realm Ruled by Houses of Feudal Vampires

Once part of Krevborna in the era of the tsars, Sibersk was annexed centuries ago by vampires who arrived with armies of undead marching under their banners. After the land was conquered and subjugated to the will of its new undead masters, Sibersk was divided into fiefdoms, each ruled by a noble house of vampires. 

House von Karlok and the House of Draghul are the most powerful and prominent. They do not yet war against each other openly, but they do commit acts of espionage and venture the occasional assassination attempt against each other. It is inevitable that Countess Alcesta von Karlok and Count Magnus Draghul engage in an overt battle for control of all Sibersk. The conflict is destined to be bloody and ruthless.

Since the coming of the vampire lords, the winters have grown longer and colder in Sibersk. Once Krevborna’s breadbasket, the people of Sibersk must now fear famine in addition to the predatory whims of their vampire overlords.


The following elements and aesthetic notes define Sibersk:

    • Sibersk is a cold northern realm of defiled cathedrals and sprawling castles.

    • The mortal peasantry must pay a tithe in blood to the vampires who rule over them as feudal lords. 

    • A look of fear, resentment, and resignation is common in the eyes of the Siberskan serfs. 

    • Although they are oppressed by undead aristocrats they cannot hope to overcome, revolts among the serfs are becoming increasingly violent and dangerous.  

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Suspicious Statues and a Space Mummy

Aos's Spelljammer campaign continues! The first adventure is chronicled here, the second is here, and the third is here. Here's what went down in the latest installment:

The Characters

Ted, bugbear ranger

Xastra, githyanki warlock

Professor Nefarious Jones, goblin artificer

Suspicious Statues and a Space Mummy

Although the gang had gotten sucked out the door they had opened in the last session, they did not find themselves floating in space as they feared; they were merely propelled out onto a star-shaped platform overlooking the exterior landscape. Once back inside the pyramid, Ted, Xastra, and the Professor took a rest and re-oriented themselves. At some point, they had lost track of Captain Cook, who either ran off, got captured by something, or is otherwise up to no good.

The party explored a large swath of the pyramid complex over the course of this adventure. When the group began finding a series of "mind flayer statues," Xastra became suspicious that there was a medusa or basilisk afoot when she noticed that the mind flayers had been captured in moments of fear and anger. She was also attacked by a cloaker while examining the statues, but a handy misty step allowed her to magic her way out of its murderous embrace.

Xastra was right; the group later encountered a basilisk, which caused them to retreat behind a closed door and debate whether or not they could kill it without getting anyone turned to stone. They decided to go for it, and defeated the basilisk fairly easily. They also found two basilisk eggs that they may go back for if time and safety allows.

They also encountered a mummy, that they absolutely obliterated. Also discovered in their exploration: magic jumping boots, a necklace that allows for breathing in the void of space, and a dwarven axe. Sites within the complex that have been located: aviary, reptile house, observation chamber, and an orrery. 

Exploration to continue next session!

Friday, November 18, 2022

Wages of Vice Review

Now that I'm running the adventures in Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel, I'm going to be writing reviews of them informed by my actual play experience, much as I did previously with Candlekeep Mysteries. Next up, "Wages of Vice." Warning for those who plan on playing these adventures: spoilers ahead!

Wages of Vice

Written by T.K. Johnson

The premise of this adventure is fine--someone is killing off the children of the most prosperous citizens of a city, that's nice and dramatic--but unfortunately it's badly let down by the execution. The central problem is that the adventure is far too linear; the characters move from point A to point B to point C, largely having the same encounter (someone innocuous attacks the child of someone of importance) until they get a big backstory loredump.

"Wages of Vice" would greatly benefit from a more open structure, and a little site-based exploration would have been appreciated too. Why not have the adventure's quest-giver point the characters in a number of investigative directions and let them choose how they tackle the leads they've been given? 

Speaking of the quest-giver, this adventure suffers from a problem common to the adventures in Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel: it presumes that it doesn't strain credulity to have characters show up as strangers to a troubled location and get immediately hired by a quest-giver to sort things out. It's expedient, but as a start to an adventure it beggars belief if the residents of an imperiled site assume that the characters, who are as likely as not a motley crew, are both competent and altruistic enough to risk their lives on behalf of someone's else's issue.

The "hired on first meeting by the quest-giver" isn't the only aspect of "Wages of Sin" that feels repetitive. This adventure is the third in a row that takes place during a local festival. On one hand, I get it: on the surface, a festival is a good in-game event to express the flavor of a ficitonal place. On the other, it starts to feel like lazy shorthand when so many adventures in the book feature one.

Another repetition: The villain in "Wages of Sin" uses a poisonous substance to turn innocent townsfolk into mindless murderers...which is also more or less an idea that appeared in the earlier "Written in Blood" too. "Wages of Sin" suffers from these similarities, as they just make you think of adventures that did something equivalent, but better. 

As written, I think this is the weakest adventure in Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel so far. We had a decent time with it, but the adventure didn't do itself, or us, any favors.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

To the Black Pyramid


Aos's Spelljammer campaign continues! The first adventure is chronicled here and the second is here. Here's what went down in the latest installment:

The Characters

Ted, bugbear ranger

Xastra, githyanki warlock

Professor Nefarious Jones, goblin artificer

To the Black Pyramid

Ted and Xastra recruited Professor Nefarious Jones to help repair their recently acquired scorpion ship, which has been christened The Al Waxman. While repairs were underway, the crew was approached by a mysterious one-legged figure in a space suit, his face obscured by a helmet. The man introduced himself as Mister Cook, but Xastra immediately dubbed him Captain Cook. Cook produced a map to an area that Xastra had a keen interest in: it showed the location of the black pyramid from her dream!

Cook claimed that he wanted to travel to black pyramid because it held the promise of a way to magical heal the burns that covered his body. (Which is why he kept his helmet on at all times, supposedly.) He also said that the pyramid contained heaps of treasure, so that was enough to convince the party to take him there on the Al Waxman's maiden voyage.

The trip to the black pyramid was uneventful, but as the Al Waxman flew into range of the structure its crew saw a disheartening sight: an illithid nautilus craft was parked nearby. Deciding that a little discretion was called for, the Al Waxman touched down amid a field of monoliths that hid it from view.

The party explored the pyramid, and it quickly became apparent that there were two factions already striving against each other within it. They encountered no mind flayers, but they did get into a few scrapes with gnoll janissaries wearing illithid livery. They also encountered several groups of neogi, one of which was large enough to convince them not to engage. Professor Nefarious did sabotage a door (which a little help from Xastra's invisibility spell) that maybe kept them contained to one part of the complex.

The group did manage to score some solid loot in their exploration, including a skull amulet that fires magic missiles and two scrolls.

Their most interesting encounter in the black pyramid was with a flesh golem who was occupied holding up the ceiling in one of the pyramid's chambers. The golem didn't seem to have any self-knowledge about his origins, but he sure was holding the roof up like a champ.

The adventure ended on a cliffhanger when the party opened a door and suddenly they were all sucked into...space? An anti-gravity field? Something. We'll find out next time.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Get 'Em While You Can

Just as a heads up, if you want to pick up an issue of Strahd Loves, Man Kills, you should do it before Thanksgiving as I'll be taking the Dolorous Exhumation Press site offline until 2023. The reason is pretty simple: I hate going to the post office in the holiday season.

Also, if you want to get a copy of the Original Recipe Krevborna book, you might also want to get on that because I'm currently working on a second edition that will take its place sometime in 2023.

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Horror Movie Marathon 2022: The Final Chapter

The last installment of October's horror movie rush:

Dracula's Fiancee

Dracula's Fiancee is a late-era Jean Rollin film, which in some ways is a true testament to his obsession with certain images and themes because it is very much in tune with his earlier, more celebrated vampire films. As it typical of a Jean Rollin film, Dracula's Fiancee doesn't make a ton of sense; it's a dreamlike tale about vampire hunters pursuing Dracula through his minions and the nuns who have been driven insane imprisoning the vampire's secrets. Nice to see Brigitte Lehaie as one the vampire lord's compatriots, and also nice to see that they let her ride a horse for this role.

The House of the Dead

The House of the Dead is an anthology film, with four segments and some frame narrative bits to hang it all together. The segments include: a mean schoolteacher is terrorized by something or someone in her house when she thought she was alone, a creep who likes to film himself killing women, an American detective and a British detective battle it out for the title of Next Top Detective, and a man find himself trapped in an abandoned building that has been converted into a torture chamber. Each of the tales has a moral bent to them, exposing a particular foible imagined to be over-present in the American psychological makeup. 

One thing I found interesting is that this movie was directed by a woman, and an important woman at that as she would be the first woman to win the Director's Guild of America Award, and yet I've never seen this movie listed with the usual suspects on any of those "horror directed by women" lists. Overall, The House of the Dead is pretty fun for what it is!


I was honestly surprised by how much fun X was. There's a fine line between homage and pointless exercise in nostalgia when a horror movie tries to present a retro experience, but thankfully X is much more the former than the latter.

The plot of X is 1970s-tastic: a group rents out a guest house on a farmer's rural property so they can cash in on the porn boom and film a skin flick on the cheap. Of course, there's something deeply fucked up on the farmer's land and they end up being hunted one-by-one.

Knife For the Ladies

Although Knife For the Ladies has a name that feels like it should belong to a giallo, it's actually a strange mash-up of slasher flick and Western. On paper, those are two genres that should work really well together given their native propensities to ponder mortality, the unsettling competition between the civilizing impulse and the dark heart of mankind, and the cheapness of life in general, but the combination doesn't always work in Knife For the Ladies. There's nothing glaringly wrong with the movie, and it's entertaining enough for what it's attempting, but it does sometimes feel like two movies competing for space on the reels.

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

The Fiend of Hollow Mine Review

Now that I'm running the adventures in Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel, I'm going to be writing reviews of them informed by my actual play experience, much as I did previously with Candlekeep Mysteries. Next up, "The Fiend of Hollow Mine." Warning for those who plan on playing these adventures: spoilers ahead!

The Fiend of Hollow Mine

Written by Mario Ortegon

The premise of "The Fiend of Hollow Mine" is good: a magical plague is spreading and the characters have the opportunity to intervene to stop it. Not super original, but no harm no foul as far as I'm concerned.

I appreciate the variety of encounters in this adventure; you've got an ambush by bounty hunters, an interesting cast of characters in a tavern to interact with, a bit of cave exploration in an "abandoned mine," some roleplay with a distraught mother, and a set piece battle in an iron works that even has an alternate roleplaying solution if the players eschew violence. 

(My players for this one did avoid violence, surprisingly! They leveraged the setting to their benefit to avoid fighting the monster at the end, which was interesting and unexpected.)

One thing worth noting: how on earth are players supposed to avoid the elevator trap in the mine? There's no other clear path through the mine, yet the elevator is an absolute deathtrap that could easily cause a Total Party Kill if they attempt to use it. And your players will likely try to use the elevator; if you put an elevator leading down into a mysterious mineshaft, your players will get on it! If my group hadn't had a barbarian with the Tough feat, and who therefore had a metric ton of hit points, I'm not sure they would have had anyone alive to revive the others.

One unexpected thing: the Day of the Dead-esque festival seems cool, but my players missed it by spending a night resting up in the mine! It feels like a shame that we didn't get to include that, but that's certainly no fault of the adventure--sometimes cool elements just get left on the cutting room floor due to the direction an adventure takes.

Also, like the previous adventures, I like that this one features an interesting, bespoke monster. A fiendish, disease-spreading owl creature is a pretty cool notion and can definitely be repurposed elsewhere. "The Fiend of Hollow Mine" is one of the stand-out adventures in the book, for me.

Sunday, November 6, 2022

The Scorpion is Seized!

Aos's Spelljammer game continues! The first adventure is chronicled here. Here's what went down in the latest installment:

The Characters

Ted, bugbear ranger, played by Heather

Xastra, githyanki warlock, played by me

The Scorpion is Seized!

The night after saving the people of Rumble City, Xastra dreamed that one of the lizard creatures was at her window, desperately trying to get in. It hissed, showing its teeth before fleeing down the wall. She then noticed that the shadow on the floor was unusually deep. The shadow began to speak; its voice was in her mind, saying, "Take the white opal from the black pyramid. The scorpion is the key!"

In the morning, Ted and Xastra were asked to gain access to the wizard's compound so that a distress signal could be sent to the giff for reinforcements. On the way to the wizard's home, Ted was pleased to see that the grateful townfolk were engaged in constructing a statue in his honor. Unfortunately, the pair discovered that the compound was sealed off by a stone hatch that, when tampered with, manifested a magic mouth that presented a riddle.

Now, neither Ted nor Xastra are the brightest bulbs, so their attempts to solve the riddle resulted in a man of stone emerging from the hatch to murder them. Violence is usually more their speed than word puzzles, but on this occasion they found themselves in trouble--each of them either missing the construct or failing to damage it for several attacks in a row. Ultimately, Ted managed to shatter it with his sword.

Down inside the wizard's compound, the pair found the communication device and also managed to locate the missing helm from their spelljammer. They also found an additional spelljamming helm. Glancing through the wizard's telescopic device, they saw what looked like a rusted claw sticking up from a dinosaur-infested jungle in the distance.

Further searching revealed two more important bits of loot: a cache of gold coins and a flying carpet. Xastra insisted on a shopping trip for Ted using their newfound loot; the duo were pleased to see that their fame as the saviors of Rumble City entitled them to a 50% discount on all goods, so Ted was soon outfitted with a rapier and a breastplate. 

Some items discovered in the wizard's sanctum gave Ted and Xastra the idea that the metal claw they had observed earlier might belong to a scorpion-shaped spelljammer. Sensing a potential lucrative salvage, or perhaps even the chance to own their own ship, the pair loaded up the spare helm onto their magic carpet and flew out into the jungle. (Xastra also had her strange dream in mind.)

The scorpion ship was in poor repair and perilously perched on a jungle cliff. There were trees growing through rusted holes in the craft, which they carefully cleared away. They also encounter a gravity switching chamber, scared away a hungry displacer beast, and found a locked metal case. Unwilling to spend the night in the jungle with marauding dinosaurs about, they got the helm up and running and flew the scorpion craft back to Rumble City.

After locating someone who could open the mysterious metal case for them, they found themselves in possession of what appeared to be a magical sword.

But where is the white opal and where is the black pyramid? More questions to be answered in the future.

Thursday, November 3, 2022

Wuthering Frights in Wyrd Science

The latest issue of Wyrd Science is out and I have an article in it on the Gothic roots of the Ravenloft setting. I'm not sure my writings have ever been as sumptuously presented! You can grab a copy here in print and pdf.

I love the layout and art that accompanies my article, particularly this perfectly Gothic piece by Enric Torres Prat:

More interior pages:

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

John Silence, The Goon, Hellraiser, and More

Things that brought be delight in October, 2022:

Algernon Blackwood, The Complete John Silence Stories

Readers steeped in the annals of horror fiction will recognize the name Algernon Blackwood; you've probably read "The Willows" and "The Wendigo," his most often anthologized tales. But you may be missing out if you don't seek his John Silence stories as well. 

Doctor John Silence is a supernatural detective, though as a man of independent means he only takes on the cases of those who either can't otherwise afford his services or who are in dire danger from the forces they've encountered. Like Sherlock Holmes, Silence always brings matters to a head. Whether it's a case of disturbed elementals guarding an Egyptian mummy or malevolent echoes from long ago, Silence gets to the bottom of things with an implacable stoicism and mastery of the occult. Highly recommended for anyone with an interest in occult detective stories.

Eric Powell, The Goon: Bunch of Old Crap, An Omnibus, Volume 5

I've reached the end of the original run of The Goon! I'm really glad I gave this one another spin; this comic has a delightful level of monster mash and psychotronic violence that really speaks to something deep in my soul.

Things get dire in the final stretch of the comic, and I wasn't really expecting The Goon to get all emotional on me. I also didn't anticipate the narrative being framed around H.G. Wells's The Island of Doctor Moreau, but that was certainly an unexpected treat. I'm going to go ahead and make time for the newer issues of The Goon that aren't part of the omnibus retrospective. You gotta go all in on The Goon.

Hellraiser (2022)

It would be no exaggeration to say that the 1986 Hellraiser was a game-changer for me. I was already well and truly steeped in horror movies, but I had never seen anything as transgressively weird as Hellraiser up until that point. That fateful viewing turned me into a Clive Barker obsessive in general and a Hellraiser fan in specific; after watching it I was on a path to read the original book, collect the comics, and write my own DIY rpg about characters who had escaped from the cenobites' clutches.

All of which means that the 2022 reboot of the film franchise had a lot of live up to. While I wouldn't call it an essential film, I feel it's safe to say that it's the best Hellraiser movie we've gotten since Hellraiser II, and by a wide margin at that. (Though I do have a soft spot for the oft-maligned Hellraiser IV.) The new film manages to capture some of the original's fetishistic energy, and it doesn't skimp on the gore either. The plot might be a little too self-involved for its own good, but I had a surprisingly good time watching this one.

Marilyn Ross, Barnabas Collins

If October isn't the prefect time for another foray into the sordid world of Dark Shadows paperbacks, I don't know when you'd pick to read one of these. Barnabas Collins is one of those Dark Shadows stories that delves into a past visit of the titular main character to Collinsport. Barnabas is an ultra-creep in this one; he fixates on a child who looks like Josette, adopts her, raises her as a kind of father figure--all in hopes of marrying her the second she comes of age!

Interestingly, Barnabas Collins sets up a potential narrative problem for the series as a whole later down the line. Since Victoria Winters is reading about Barnabas's exploits in the past--in which he is revealed to be a vampire--she should immediately realize what's up when Barnabas shows up in the current era. Ooops!

Ravenloft: Orphan of Agony Isle #4

Aha! Now the presence (and sometimes odd placement) of the "back-up stories" in Orphan of Agony Isle makes sense! Without saying too much, everything comes together in the final issue of this Ravenloft comic. Heh heh. All in all, it's not a particularly deep or even thrilling comic (I think I would have preferred more adventure out of it), but for fans of the setting there is plenty to mull over. And now I have this horrible temptation to put Miranda into my campaign as an NPC. But for good or for ill, that's the question...


Blackbirds is a new roleplaying game "powered" by the Zweihander system. The game reminds me a bit of Christopher Buehlman's Between Two Fires (which we recently covered on Bad Books for Bad People): it is a dark fantasy game that takes place in a Europe-like continent that is currently torn apart by war, where the heavens themselves have been irrevocably assaulted by forces of darkness, and where monsters of legend now walk the land. The book is gorgeous; it's also enormous, so while my initial reaction is very positive, I'll really need to delve deeper into it to have a firmer grasp of what makes it tick and what makes it special. For now, though, I'm very impressed, as Blackbirds looks to be a pretty unique offering.

Peter Straub, Ghost Story

I have a lot more to say about Peter Straub's Ghost Story on Bad Books for Bad People, but for now it will suffice to say that I had some huge swings of opinion while evaluating this novel! While reading the early bits of the novel, I was enjoying it as one of those mid-range Standard American Horror novels--something in the ballpark of a solid Stephen King novel. (And unsurprisingly King loves this book and talks it up in Danse Macabre.) However, by the end of the novel I really didn't like some of the directions it had gone in. Truth be told, I'm still kind of mad about one of its climatic moments! 

Nevertheless, I sat with my reaction for a bit and the more I analyzed the novel the more I can around to enjoying the pieces it had set out for me to rearrange. This may be a case of my brain tricking me into thinking this is a deeper story than it really is, but I'll take it.

Still mad about that climatic scene, though.

Concrete Skull

When I saw this concrete skull at the antique store, I just couldn't resist. I've never really seen an item there quite like this; it reminds me of something you'd see on the cover of a Hooded Menace album. What will I do with this thing? Who knows, but now it is mine!

Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso, Moonshine vol. 1 and 2

A smooth-talking wanna-be gangster gets sent from NYC to the deep hills of Appalachia to secure a deal on some top-quality hooch, but he gets more than he bargained for in Moonshine. And that "more than he bargained for" has fur, claw, fangs, and issues with the lunar cycle. All that in the midst of a burgeoning war that will pit an Appalachian clan against tommy gun-toting goodfellas for control of the hooch supply in Prohibition-era America. Think of Moonshine as gangsters vs. hillbillies vs. werewolves. There are also some hints that the formula may eventually become gangsters vs. hillbillies vs. werewolves vs. witches. It's an odd comparison to make, but it's like if O Brother were a horror tale. Where the first volume sets things up, the second volume feels like the beginnings of a redemption arc. I'll definitely be reading more to see where exactly this one is heading. 

Cider Mill Donuts

I don't really have a lot of holiday traditions, but every year in October I need to make a run to the Cider Mill in Endicott, NY to get a batch of piping-hot fresh donuts. The new variation on this tradition is also grabbing a cider slushy at the same time. That's a combo that can't be beat.

Laura Purcell, The Corset

In general, I'm a mark for modern Gothic novels set in the nineteenth century, but Laura Purcell's The Corset has the advantage of actually being quite good. Concerning a young murderess who believes she has committed a number of serial atrocities with her ability to stitch doom into every garment she makes, The Corset slyly questions the economic tyranny at work in the Victorian era. 

Wisely, Purcell leaves just enough wiggle room for the reader to productively wonder if the central character possesses supernatural powers or if she's just a traumatized young woman seeking solace in magical thinking to make sense of the terrible circumstances of her life. Running parallel to the main story is another thread--this one about a wealthy young woman who is devoted both to phrenology and the charitable act of trying to save the souls of women condemned to death. Of course, there's more to her story as well, and they way the two strands entwine is remarkable. 

Dracula's Fiancee

Dracula's Fiancee is a late-era Jean Rollin film, which in some ways is a true testament to his obsession with certain images and themes because it is very much in tune with his earlier, more celebrated vampire films. As is typical of a Jean Rollin film, Dracula's Fiancee doesn't make a ton of sense; it's a dreamlike tale about vampire hunters pursuing Dracula through his minions and the nuns who have been driven insane from imprisoning the vampire's secrets. Nice to see Brigitte Lehaie as one the vampire lord's compatriots, and also nice to see that they let her ride a horse for this role.

Agatha Christie, Hallowe'en Party

I have decided to embrace being an old man by getting really into Agatha Christie. I may have read some of Christie's short fiction before in anthologies, but Hallowe'en Party is my first Agatha Christie novel. Felt appropriate given the season. When a teenager is drowned in the "bobbing for apples" bucket at a party, Poirot is called in to solve the mystery of whodunnit.

There's a weird fixation in Hallowe'en Party about "kids today" and the mentally ill being allowed to roam free instead of being locked away like in the good ol' days. So many characters mention it!

Dementia 13

Made with the leftover funds from one of Roger Corman's movies, Dementia 13 was Francis Ford Coppola's first "real" film. It's definitely a Psycho ripoff, but it's admittedly a pretty good one. When a man's grief-stricken mother plans to leave the family's wealth to charity in the name of her deceased daughter, his wife begins scheming to get her hands on the loot. Little does she realize that there is more going on in Castle Haloran than she initially suspects. 

One thing that's pretty funny about this one is that the Irish Haloran family has nary an Irish accent to be heard!

Charles Addams, Dear Dead Days: A Family Album

I have no idea how accurate the gimmick is, but Dear Dead Days purports to be a collection of macabre oddities that inspired the Addams Family cartoons. Compiled within are a number of photographs and artworks of freaks, train crashes, coffins & cadavers, and other morbidities. This kind of collection probably wouldn't get a mass-market paperback nowadays, to which I can only say--retvrn to tradition.

House of the Dragon

When House of the Dragon was first announced, I was not interested at all. Having come off the lackluster final season of Game of Thrones, and knowing full well the average quality of subsidiary spinoff products, more Dragon Show did not sound like a worthwhile endeavor. 

But, as it turns out, it is. House of the Dragon really benefits from its smaller cast in comparison to Game of Thrones; the more intense focus on what is an increasingly tense powder keg doesn't feel shaggy or like it's stalling for time. Yeah, the passage of time is still a little off, but damn, this show is much stronger than I would have guessed.


This book is a compilation of all the published issues of Seance magazine, a periodical aimed at stage magicians who did "medium" or "spirit magic" acts. It's really a fascinating glimpse at a world that is most definitely not my own, a kind of snapshot of a very niche audience during a very narrow band of time from the late 80s to the early 90s. 

Also, that cover!

The Cult Films of Brigitte Lahaie

I would assume most folks buy The Cult Films of Brigitte Lahaie for the plethora of naughty pictures of its stunningly beautiful subject, but little do they know that they're getting a really nice, concise history of France's pornography boom in the 70s and early 80s. There are plenty of mini-interviews and quotes throughout from the people who were there and made it happen. Against all odds, it sounds like a period where sex work wasn't necessarily a misery of exploitation. Oddly, at least to me, Lahaie's stint in obscure horror films feels like it's given short shrift by comparison.

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

Topps' adaptation of Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula is having something of a renaissance lately, even being reissued in a deluxe collection, but I had no idea that Topps also did an adaptation of Kenneth Branagh's Frankenstein film until I found all the issues selling for a couple bucks in a weird local shop. The art in the comic is actually quite nice, though it does suffer from the histrionics of Branagh's iteration of Mary Shelley's novel. Perhaps the most interesting bit is the inclusion of a snippet of something called The Frankenstein/Dracula War, another comic I had no idea even existed.

Through the Breach: Return to Innocence and The Voyage Volume

I picked up two adventure books for the Through the Breach rpg. Return to Innocence is actually a sequel to a previous adventure called In Defense of Innocence; if we take Innocence to be the default "starting town" of the game, this adventure serves up more of the same. Initially called upon to investigate the death of the town's mayor, the scenario just gets weirder and weirder from there on out.

The Voyage Volume is a collection of one-shot adventures. One thing I really like about this compilation of scenarios is the breadth of them; you get everything from an undead pirate adventure to wintry horror, and then over to a trip to the moon and one of those neon-colored 80s nostalgia trips. Hell, there's even a Halloween-themed one-shot in there. My only gripe: would it kill them to draw a few maps?

Ripley's Believe It or Not True Ghost Stories

It's tradition for me to read a few crumbling old horror comics before Halloween, but I didn't really find many this year in my (limited) travels. Usually I read some Charlton comics or some DC comics, but this year I had these Ripley's Believe It or Not: True Ghost Stories comics by Gold Key. Fun, and there was even a story about La Voisin, who I last encountered on our Bad Books episode about The Affair of the Poisons.


I was honestly surprised by how much fun X was. There's a fine line between homage and pointless exercise in nostalgia when a horror movie tries to present a retro experience, but thankfully X is much more the former than the latter.

The plot of X is 1970s-tastic: a group rents out a guest house on a farmer's rural property so they can cash in on the porn boom and film a skin flick on the cheap. Of course, there's something deeply fucked up on the farmer's land and they end up being hunted one-by-one.

And let's not forget the bounty of the season: