Jack and Kate look at what they've read and watched in the year that was 2022 and make some recommendations in the world of books and beyond. The rules of engagement are simple: the hosts each choose one movie, album, TV show, and book that was the best experience of its kind, regardless of when it was actually produced. Spoiler: very little of what’s discussed was actually produced in 2022.
Tuesday, December 27, 2022
Best of 2022
Thursday, December 22, 2022
The Holidays in Krevborna
With the holidays upon us, spare a thought for the poor folk of Krevborna, whose wintry "celebrations" are often times of horror rather than fellowship. And you thought it bad with your family coming to visit!
This is probably my final post for the year. See you in 2023 if the Kruagh doesn't get us all.
The Coldest Night
In the villages and towns of Sibersk, the Coldest Night is observed at the height of winter. Although it is a hardship to do so, many of the people of Sibersk light no fires in the hearths on this night, for they believe that a roaring fireplace is sure to attract the attention of the Kruagh, a hideous demon who will clamber down their chimneys to mete out horrific punishments to the entire household. The Kruagh is known to favor lashing his victims, but he enlivens his standard hellish chastisement with flourishes that include thumb-screws, eye-gouging, and tongue removal.
When he visits a home on the Coldest Night, the Kruagh has been known to abduct young boys and girls who have been particularly naughty over the course of the year. These abducted children are taken to the Abyss when the Kruagh departs the world at dawn; in the Abyss, these children must survive in an unimaginable world of horrors. Those who manage to stay alive for more than three months are invariably transformed into minor demons by the corrupting power of the Abyss.
Some Siberskans believe that a visit from the Kruagh can be staved off by offering it a selection of delicious baked goods. The Kruagh has strangely rarefied tastes what frequently require a household to spend what little it has managed to save on precious, sugary delights for the demon. Some foolhardy souls keep their fires lit against the cold in the vain hope that the confections they leave out for the Kruagh will temper its terrible fury; this is, of course, brazen folly.
The townsfolk of Hemlock Hollow believe that during the winter solstice three hag-queens ride across the sky on dire wolves during “the witching hour.” On the night of the solstice, the witches alight upon a nearby mountain peak, where they hold a black mass in honor of the infernal lords of Hell. All witches, diabolists, and heretical maniacs are welcome to dance around the hag-queens' bonfire, slather themselves in a foul unguent made of nightshade and the fat of unbaptized children, and take to the night sky while in the grips of a pleasurable delirium.
On Hexanacht, those who hold a dark and secret wish buried in their breasts are invited to petition the hag-queens for unholy aid. At the close of their dark sabbath, the hag-queen's offer anyone they can help the fulfillment of their heart’s desire in return for signing their name in the Black Book of Malistrad. Once the compact has been sealed, the petitioner is sure to get what they want—at the cost of their immortal soul.
The Night of the Hunted
Hunting wild beasts is a proud tradition and necessary way of life for the people of the Vespermark, but all the land’s hunters fear the Night of the Hunted—the night of the winter solstice on which predators sometimes become prey.
On the Night of the Hunted there is a chance that a beast who died in excessive fear or agony due to the hunter’s trade may rise again as an undead abomination; such creatures visit the homes of the hunters who killed them and stalk their slayers until dawn breaks. Across the Vespermark, hunters often keep their weapons close at hand on the solstice in case they are visited by one or more of the animals they have slain over the past year.
Tuesday, December 20, 2022
The Royal Gorgana Opera House and the Tvarblinka Plague Pit
Two locations in the Sibersk region of Krevborna.
The Royal Gorgana Opera House
The Royal Gorgana Opera House is the heart of high culture in Morgundy.
• Beneath the opera house is a vast system of caverns that host the Supplicants of the Razor’s Kiss, a pleasure cult that venerates Khelana, the archdevil Queen of Forbidden Pleasures.
• The cultists of the Razor’s Kiss view pain and degradation as the highest forms of beauty and art; they worship Khelana through sadomasochistic rituals.
• Countess Alcesta counts the cultists as her most ardent and loyal supporters.
The Tvarblinka Plague Pit
Before the arrival of the vampires who would become the overlords of Sibersk, the grand city of Tvarblinka suffered through a prolonged and virulent plague. Before the last remnants of the populace emigrated elsewhere, they threw the corpses of the dead into a colossal mass grave.
• Because Tvarblinka was founded at the northern edge of Sibersk, the corpses in the plague pit were largely preserved by the cold and frost.
• Although the cause has yet to be discovered, the corpses have begun to dig themselves out of Tvarblinka’s plague pit and march south to devour the living.
Sunday, December 18, 2022
Sepulchre of the Swamp Witch
When Mattie asked if there were any games going on for Friday in my Discord, the temptation to squeeze in one more session for the year--even if I hadn't planned on running anything--was too much. I grabbed my copy of MORK BORG, put the call out, and gathered three interested players to run through the "Sepulchre of the Swamp Witch" adventure from Heretic. This was the first time playing MORK BORG for everyone involved, including myself, so I might also do a review of the game as whole later on.
Kutz, a Gutterborn Scum, played by Michael
Daeru, an Esoteric Hermit, played by Mattie
Graft, a Heretical Priest, played by Andrew
Akhenaten, Kutz's small but vicious dog
Jude, Graft's pet monkey
"East of Lake Onda in the Slithering Swamp is the Swamp Witch's ancient sepulchre and an altar of dead roots covered in lost symbols. They say if certain forbidden words are chanted at it, any wish is fulfilled. Even stopping the approaching Doom is not outside the powers of the Swamp Witch's altar. You stumbled on these forbidden words on a murdered messenger wearing mad King Fathmu IX's crest in a ditch. You just need to get past the Strange Serpent Drug Cult lairing in the ancient tomb and reach the altar."
The characters arrived at the Swamp Witch's sepulchre armed with the following rumors: the snakes guarding the entrance are not to be harmed, the cult kidnaps people to use as sacrifices, chanting the forbidden words backwards will raise the Swamp Witch from the dead.
The group found that the entrance to the sepulchre was a partially submerged stone door too heavy to be opened by brute force alone. The party was then addressed by a large, emerald-colored snake perched upon a leaf floating in the swampy water. The snake told them that only those who received its bite were allowed entry into the cult's compound. Graft was the brave guinea pig; once bitten, he found that the world now seemed kaleidoscopically, psychedelically brighter. He saw colors he had never seen before, including jale, dolm, and ulfire. Observing few ill effects in their companion, Kutz and Daeru soon followed suit and let the snake inject them with its hallucinogenic venom, and the the stone door raised like a portcullis.
Inside the first cavern chamber, the group encountered members of the serpent drug cult cooking gator meat over a fire. The cultists assumed that Kutz, Daeru, and Graft were new recruits. (They were also pretty high on serpent venom, so their guard was definitely down.) When questioned about the whereabouts of the Swamp Witch's altar, the cultists said they weren't allowed to talk about that. The party then ventured further into the compound to find it on their own.
Eventually, the group stumbled into the cult's "worship hall," which proved to be little more than a number of filthy blankets laid on the ground--two of which were occupied by drugged-out cultists celebrating their unholy rites in disturbingly carnal ways. Also present in the room were three large cages, each of which held some starved-looking prisoners. Guarding the cages were cult members with forked tongues and snake-like scales creeping up the sides of their faces. When asked about the location of "the altar" (the group wasn't specific in asking for the Swamp Witch's altar) they were directed to a nearby chamber.
In this chamber there was a stone altar, clearly stained with blood, overlooking a pit of skeletal remains and flesh-hungry serpents. Assuming this was the altar they sought, Graft and Kutz bum rushed the cultist who was busy throwing meat to the snakes below. The cultist toppled into the pit, but a large emerald snake similar to the talking one they had encountered outside emerged from the pit to question them as to what the hell they were doing. Melee broke out at this point and Kutz was riding too high on snake venom to keep ahold of his shortsword, which clattered down into the snake pit. Daeru ended up whipping the emerald snake to death.
When the group tried reciting the forbidden words at the altar...nothing happened. This was not the altar they were seeking.
Exploration continued. In a room filled with luminescent plants, Kutz found a large trident made of an unknown, alien metal. The trident was so large that he had to wield it with two hands, but it made for a nice replacement for his lost sword. Graft also scored a ruby ring, which he promptly gave to his pet monkey to wear. Among the human remains, the group discovered stranger skeletons that belonged to massive, three-eyed bipeds.
The group wandered into a room in which hundreds of colorful moths were endlessly swirling. The moths emitted a sound like a multitude of human voices engaged in a slow-motion, high-pitched scream. The moths were circling thirteen obelisks, in the center of which was an open sarcophagus. Tentacles of light emerged from the sarcophagus and waved slowly in the air. Kutz threw a bomb into the room, attempting to clear away the moths; the moths dispersed momentarily, which gave the group a glimpse of what else was in the room: a woman hovering two feet off of the ground, her head a whirling mass of smoke, a humongous zweihander chained to her back.
Not ready to deal with her, the group cut down another corridor and found an altar made of tangled dry roots. Surrounding the altar were a number of man-shaped wooden figures scattered on the ground. Kutz decided to say the forbidden words and sacrifice Akhenaten, his small but vicious dog, but the sacrifice was rejected and Kutz was slammed into the ceiling by a mysterious force.
To glean more information on how to get the altar to grant their wishes, the group decided to confront the Swamp Witch. "Luckily" she had sensed the failed sacrifice and was on her way to the altar chamber. She told them that only an unwilling human sacrifice would be acceptable.
A plan was hatched: they drew one of the forked-tongued fanatics into an isolated room in the sepulchre and ambushed him. The fanatic fought for his life, nearly killing Daeru--who was saved only by fate intervening to spare her. Kutz knocked the guard out with a mighty blow from the trident, but using the item changed him. He now found that his eyes were bulging and his skin was green and coated with slime.
Dragging the unconscious guard atop the altar, Kutz brought the trident down again, ending his life. Arcane light flared, and Kutz's wish to suspend the approaching apocalypse was granted. However, using the trident again turned his flesh rubbery--providing him with some natural armor as he further transformed into something other than human.
Deciding that the guards were too formidable, the group lured three more standard-issue cultists into the chamber and sacrificed them one by one. Further wishes were granted: Daeru was granted a hot spring in her hermit's cave, Akhenaten was brought back to life to assuage Kutz's guilt, and Jude was given the ability to talk. (Jude immediately asked his "boss" if he could have a pipe because he always liked the idea of smoking.)
Although their wishes were granted, using the altar had several other strange effects. The Swamp Witch was greatly weakened and fled the chamber. A magically barrier holding back an army of frog-demons was ruptured, allowing them access to the cult's compound. The fallout from these events was evident when the party made their way to the sepulchre's exit: the Swamp Witch had been killed, and her zweihander was left laying on the ground. (Graft scooped it up to add to his inventory.) The remaining cult members were now in a pitched battle against the frog-demons and were clearly losing.
Using the chaos of the battle as cover, and relying a bit on Kutz's new resemblance to the frog-demons due to the trident's corruption, the group left the Sepulchre of the Swamp Witch. Ultimately, they had forestalled one apocalypse and possibly initiated another: the frog-demons would soon take over the immediate area and rampage throughout the world.
Would our "heroes" survive? Daeru might retreat to her hermit's cave, never to be seen again, waiting out the tumult in the newfound luxury of a hot spring. Kutz, destined to become a frog-demon due to the trident's taint, might one day come to be king of the demonic invaders. And Graft, in his mighty armor and wielding the Lunar Zwiehander, might wander the world, pushing back the chaotic horde.
Friday, December 16, 2022
Cryptworld is a retroclone of the first edition of the 1980s horror roleplaying game Chill. As you read through the Cryptworld corebook, it is readily apparent that it has its basis in 1980s game design. For example, Cryptworld is dedicated to that peculiar "more stats is better" perspective, with eight basic ability scores plus a handful of derived stats--some of which feel unnecessary or extra fiddly.
Most task resolution in Cryptworld is handed with simple roll-under percentile rolls made against your basic attributes. However, there are times--mostly combat, certain skills, and fear checks--where things get a little more complicated and cumbersome. These special checks are percentile rolls as normal, but then you need to find the margin of success by subtracting the number rolled from the ability score or skill in question; that result is then cross-referenced against the following extremely 80s chart:
Combat in Cryptworld deserves a few notes. Weapon damage is entirely dependent on skill and the result found on the chart above. A screwdriver is as handy a weapon as a Luger, more or less. (Though having more skill with a handgun will let you fire it more than once, but again that makes the damage dependent on skill and not the weapon in question.) In general, Cryptworld focuses far too much on detailed rules for combat and on specific edge-case combat skills. Again, this is likely the residue of the hobby's wargame roots.
One particularly egregious wargame-y aspect of the game is how it handles initiative. It looks simple at first; each "side" in a conflict rolls a d10 to see who goes first, but it's all uphill from there because once you've established the sides, they take their actions according to this absolutely bonkers "order of operations":
Side A uses their Paranormal Talents
Side A makes their Missile Attacks
Side A Moves
Side B makes their Missile Attacks
Side A makes their Melee Attacks
Side B uses their Paranormal talents
Side B makes their Missile Attacks
Side B Moves
Side A makes more Missile Attacks
Side B makes their Melee Attacks
At the start of a new round, you roll for initiative and do the above all over again. I find that practically unfeasible.
Amusingly, there is a "Penetration Bonus" derived attribute that only applies to melee attacks made against armored foes, which doesn't really feel like something that will come up all that often in a game that is either trying to emulate Hammer Horror or 80s slasher flicks. But it's there because the hobby hadn't really freed itself from the specificity required by the wargames of Chill's era.
Cryptworld also has an extremely idiosyncratic approach to skills. Characters tend to have few skills, which differentiates the game from skill-focused percentile horror games such as Call of Cthulhu, but the skill list is quite strange. Some skills you expect, such as Investigation or Stealth, but most of the list feels oddly specific given what isn't there. There are no Persuasion or Deception skills, as those are basic rolls against the Personality attribute, but Mounted Melee and Bullwhip are detailed as skills your character might have--which seems far-fetched given the "modern horror investigators" theme of the game.
There is an option in Cryptworld to give your characters Paranormal Talents, the kind of psychic powers most often found in horror stories. These are all well chosen and seem fairly well defined. Using them successfully is never certain, and the attempt to do so temporarily costs a character some of their Willpower.
However, Cryptworld is also one of those retroclones that preserves both the system of an older game and its haphazard organization. Cryptworld is not an easy game to navigate, despite its short page count. As an example, there are three hit point-like attributes you need to track for every character: Current Stamina, Wounds, and Current Willpower. The rules for regaining Current Stamina and Wounds are both found in the combat chapter, but the rules for recovering Current Willpower is buried without a heading in the Paranormal Talents chapter. In a cleaner, better organized game, the rules for all three would be found in a "Recovery" section. An index would also be helpful here, but alas, we do not get one.
There is a good chance that most of the above critique sounds unrelentingly negative. I do think that by modern standards Cryptworld is clunky, overwritten, and often clumsy, but that doesn't preclude it from being fun. Take this with a grain of salt as I've only run it once, but my group had a great time with it because we leaned in to the creaky, olde timey feel of the game. Any roll that needs to reference the Action Table absolutely did slow the game down, but we treated these moments as an event. We absolutely rejected the game's proposed initiative system and just rolled a d10 to see which side got their turn first because refusing to use the rules as written is a tried and true part of the hobby's early days.
And honestly, there is a special kind of symbiotic beauty in using a tottering, aged system for throwback genres like 80s-inspired slasher flicks. If you're feeling nostalgic or treat the game as a bit of schlocky kitsch, Cryptworld finds its niche.
Wednesday, December 14, 2022
Morgundy and Myrkrania
Two of the most important locations in the Sibersk region of Krevborna: the seats of its two most powerful vampire lords.
Morgundy is Countess Alcesta von Karlok’s fiefdom in eastern Sibersk and the acknowledged center of culture in the land.
• The Countess’s court attracts artists, dancers, musicians, poets, and actors who find the unnatural allure of undeath to be aesthetically inspiring.
• The pleasures offered in Morgundy dull the pain and monotony of toil on behalf of the Countess. Taverns, brothels, and gambling dens litter the streets of her domain.
• At the center of Morgundy stands Castle Siebenhurst, the Countess’s seven-spired fastness of gleaming white stone; its stained glass windows depict acts of carnal depravity.
Myrkrania is the heavily fortified fiefdom of Count Magnus Draghul in western Sibersk.
• Count Magnus demands that the people of Myrkrania suffer meekly under the imposition of austerity.
• Myrkrania is the central hub of trade in Sibersk, but the serfs do not benefit from increased access to food or other goods. The Count stockpiles grain and other necessities for the war he wishes to wage against Alcesta von Karlok.
• Order is kept in Myrkrania by the Count’s brutal enforcers—vampire knights trained by Count Magnus himself.
• Overlooking the fiefdom is Castle Draghul, Count Magnus’s sprawling and imposing mountain keep.
Sunday, December 11, 2022
The White Pearl Has Been Found!
Aos's Spelljammer campaign continued in a short session in which we finished off our exploration of the Black Pyramid.
Xastra, githyanki warlock
Professor Nefarious Jones, goblin artificer
Hemlock, tiefling rogue
A Pal Goes AWOL, a New Friend Appears
During the exploration of the black pyramid, Ted went missing. However, Professor Nefarious and Xastra were soon joined by Hemlock, a tiefling adventurer they found wandering around the complex. This new acquaintance proved to be a real lifesaver when Xastra and the Professor plummeted from one level of the dungeon into the cold rushing water of the level below. Hemlock managed to get a rope tied in place so the now-soaked pair could climb back up to safety.
The group were also confronted by a giant spectral eye, that seemed to be the projection of a sleeping dragon, who was none too pleased to hear that they were seeking the White Pearl within the pyramid. In another chamber, half-finished mummies were found; Hemlock and Xastra rolled up their sleeves to loot in the bodies, and found several grave goods to add to their growing stash.
The next significant challenge came when the group found a door that had clearly been spiked shut from the other side. Foolhardy and overconfident, Xastra teleported past the door and...stumbled into the midst of a mind flayer and its gnoll cohorts resting. Shouting "Ta-da!" Xastra smashed the spikes out of the door and flung it open so that Hemlock and the Professor could join the fray.
Luckily, the mind flayer's mental blast fried the brains of its gnoll companions. Unfortunately, it also did a number on the Professor and Hemlock. Xastra, being resistant to psychic assault, faired somewhat better. Indeed, her hatred of mind flayers rose to the surface and a combination of hex and eldritch blasts soon exploded the mind flayer's head into a gooey mess. Searching the chamber revealed the White Pearl in an ark-like encasement.
Beat up from the confrontation with the mind flayer, the group took shelter in a more defensible room, then decided to head back to the Al Waxman with the White Pearl, the basilisk eggs they had located earlier, and all the treasures they had looted from the pyramid.
Thursday, December 8, 2022
Gold For Fools and Princes 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, "Gold for Fools and Princes." Warning for those who plan on playing these adventures: spoilers ahead!
Gold for Fools and Princes
Written by Dominique Dickey
The premise for "Gold for Fools and Princes" feels a little tired: people are trapped in a mine and need to be rescued! To be fair, though, the premise is enlivened by the presence of two nobles who snipe at each other endlessly and are locked in mutual enmity, each of whom wants to be seen as the "savior" in this situation. Unfortunately, it's also one of the many adventures in Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel where an NPC immediately offers to hire the characters to help out as soon as they show up. No one checks resumes or calls references in DnDLand.
There are elements of this adventure I felt compelled to change in play. As written, the two noblemen don't feel as textured or even different as I'd like. To be honest, I struggled to differentiate them in my own head at first, which made presenting them as unique characters a bit of a struggle at the outset of the adventure.
Additionally, although this adventure does some site-based exploration in the mines, the actual map is extremely linear and doesn't take into account that players will try to excavate blocked tunnels--which is a no-brainer in a scenario that asks the characters to descend into a mine to find trapped miners!
I ended up altering the map on the fly as we played to account for player actions, but I shouldn't have had to do that--the adventure should have addressed that to start with because it's an obvious thing that players might try. In terms of adventure design, I believe that actions you can reasonably expect players to attempt should be taken into account in the overall design of an adventure. I suspect not including them as part of the scenario evidences a lack of DMing experience on the author's part, but that's just speculation. Space constraints in the adventure could also be a factor here.
Also, since the adventure focuses mostly on a single creature afflicting the mines. and even though it is an unusual creature, it doesn't lead to surprising encounters in the mines after the first combat.
While I'm griping, it isn't clear why the mine overseer doesn't help with the expedition into the mines or why the other miners aren't involved in the rescue effort. They're miners; they should be better at that than the characters.
Overall, I thought this adventure fine, though it does have a few issues that could have been avoided. To be absolutely fair to the scenario, I do have to note that the player who I ran it for absolutely loved it. While I wonder how much my alterations kept it afloat, his praise for the adventure was glowing--which really has to be taken into account. In the end, this adventure led to a quite successful and memorable adventure.
Tuesday, December 6, 2022
Professor Crotchington's Crabs
Aos had a joyous occasion to celebrate, so while his Spelljammer campaign was on hold I snuck in a little Planet Motherfucker--this time powered by Savage Worlds. Here's what went down:
Herk Supreme, funky starman
Silence Jameson, hellfire preacher
Milhouse, ninja urchin
Riley Stiletto, undead rockstar
A Night at the Circus
The characters were all currently in the run-town town of Old Bay in what used to be Maryland before the apocalypse. It was mid-autumn and the circus had come to town. Each of them knew the ringmaster, Professor Crotchington, and he had invited them to dinner at the circus. When they arrived, the fairgrounds were hopping; barkers were saying outlandish shit to get rubes to buy tickets to see the Wild Cro-Magnon of Cincinnati or get a peep at Tattooed Mimi, the Obscene Human Tableau. The rides, operated by shifty looking motherfuckers, were are all awhirl. Somewhere in the distance they could hear the sound of a badly played calliope. The crowd was pretty dense; there were a lot of sailors in their little sailor outfits about--every few seconds one of them drunkenly shouted "SHORE LEAVE!"
The group found themselves seated for dinner within the so-called Tent of Curiosities. Surrounding them were a number of glass cases holding the tent’s exhibits. Among the other dinner guests were Chuckles the Fuckface, the circus’s most popular clown, although his name may have been Fuckles the Chuckface, no one is sure; Bertha the Blockhead, who still had a nail protruding from her left nasal cavity; the famed contortionist Dirk Fleximan, of the New Hampshire Fleximans; and of course Professor Crotchington, resplendent as always in his striped trousers, waxed moustaches, and monocle.
As dinner was being served, dinner being a motley collection of fairground food like funnel cake, deep-fried hotdogs, jalapeno cheese fries, and cotton candy, Professor Crotchington rose from his chair to address his guests: “Ladies and Gentlemen, I have gathered you here today to tell you of a great discovery I’ve made in the field of…”
Just then the lights went out.
The circus’s generators must have all cut out, as they could hear people yelling in surprise outside the tent. Then, they heard the sound of breaking glass coming from inside the Tent of Curiosities. Herk quickly fashioned a pair of glasses that acted as a spotlight wherever he turned his head; from the illumination he provided, the group could see a bunch of thugs in striped shirts and black masks wielding wrenches, lead pipes, and baseball bats. The thugs were stealing exhibits from the curiosities tent. The group sprang into action, taking down the thugs--but leaving one alive for interrogation.
The remaining thug spilled the beans and told them that the theft was actually a ruse to make their break in look like a robbery, and that the real target was Professor Crotchington, who had been abducted by thugs who had fled. He also told them that their gang was led by Freddie the Finger--whose home address he gave up pretty quickly under the threat of a leg-breaking. Searching the pockets of the now-deceased thugs revealed that they each had a wad of opium and some broken poker chips that seemed to have a tiki logo on them.
Inside the Lair of Freddie the Finger
Somewhat incautiously, the group went over to Freddie's apartment and kicked the door in. What they found was that Freddie the Finger lived in a squalid room, complete with a stained mattress on the floor, lots of empty cup o soups, and gross dirty socks strewn around. Piled by the mattress was a stack of magazines that turned out to be Big Unnaturals, the rag for the gentlemen who prefers bosomy mutant women. Also scattered around were a lot of wallets and wristwatches--the fruits of many muggings.
Investigating Freddie's place uncovered some gambling slips indicating that the Finger carried a big debt at Chief Comeoniwannalayya’s Pleasure Hut--the slips had a tiki logo that matched the poker chips found earlier.
Bad Times at the Pleasure Hut
The group found the entrance to the Hut down a dark alley. Loitering in the alley were some shady-looking characters, including some sailors who occasionally muttered “shore leave” under their breath. The door to the Pleasure Hut was barred, with a slit in the door to examine would-be entrants. A woman answered their knock at the door, but Milhouse promptly poked her in the eyes, causing her to back away from the door while it was shot open by Riley.
The inside of the Pleasure Hit was dank and dingy, with a carpet covered in truly disgusting stains. The place smelled of cigarettes and cheap incense. Everything inside was tiki themed: bamboo on the walls, waitresses in fake silk “Chinese” dresses scurrying to and fro with tiki mugs, etc. Most terrifying of all: an all you can eat crab leg buffet. Also, many gambling tables!
Every eye was on the party after their forced entry into the tiki speakeasy. Presiding over the operation was a pudgy guy in a Hawaiian shirt and straw fedora (though if you called it a fedora he would tell you it was a trilby); he questioned what they were up to, but when they told him they had been misinformed and told that shooting open the door was the special "knock" required for entry, he bought it and let them go about their business.
Milhouse joined the poker table while Silence chatted up a man at the bar. Their recognizance paid off: they both realized that people kept slipping down a dark hallway of the Pleasure Hut. Reconvening with Herk and Riley, they slipped into the hallway themselves and found it lined with framed pictures of the latter-day Beach Boys. Touching a photo of the Beach Boys eating sushi off of John Stamos opened a secret door leading down into the depths of the Pleasure Hut.
On the stairs down, the team could smell the sickly sweet aroma of opium being smoked. At the bottom of the stairs, they found themselves in a full-blown opium den with people lying on big, fluffy cushions while blissed out of their minds as they chased the dragon. A woman who looked like an aging Wendy-from-the-fast-food-place asked what their pleasure was. Milhouse pretended that he was the son of Freddie the Finger and said he was looking for his dad. Not-Wendy ushered the group behind a brocade curtain, and there was Freddie, a few thugs, and a tied up Professor Crotchington. Freddie took one look at the group and exclaimed, “It’s them! The mooks from the circus! We gotta scram!”
The Final Battle!
A couple of thugs grabbed the Professor and ran off with him down another hallway while Freddie and his gang engaged the group in fisticuffs. Additionally, a number of ninja from the Leg Clan (they dress like ninja on top, but wear fishnets and high heels down below) emerged from the shadows and attacked as well!
This is where things got weird. Milhouse produced a boombox that began to play "The Time Warp" from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which triggered the ninjas of the Leg Clan to start dancing. Riley joined in, using his movements to commandeer the ninjas and steer them out of the fight. Freddie the Finger and the thugs were soon dealt with, and the group was in hot pursuit of the other thugs and the kidnapped Professor Crotchington. Before the thugs could spirit the ringmaster away into an unmarked van, they were taken out and Professor Crotchington was freed.
But why was Professor Crotchington abducted in the first place? And what was he about to say before the lights went out back at the circus? Professor Crotchington explained that he had been exploring the occult mysteries of summoning giant crabs from the eldritch deep. Which meant that someone operating in the shadows had hired thugs and ninjas to kidnap him because they wanted Professor Crotchington's crabs.
Sunday, December 4, 2022
Three Act Tragedy
Bad Books for Bad People, Episode 61: Three Act Tragedy
Agatha Christie’s clever and charming mystery novels have been loved by generations of readers, spawning PBS Mystery icons like Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. Jack and Kate discuss Christie’s 1935 novel Three Act Tragedy, which chronicles a series of cocktail party poisonings among Britain’s upper crust that draws the attention of quirky Belgian investigator Hercule Poirot.
Is it rude to turn down a party invitation that might lead to your untimely demise? Is there room for a meet-cute while a multiple murderer is on the loose? Did the butler, in fact, do it? All these questions and more will be explored in this episode of the podcast.
Thursday, December 1, 2022
The Daughter of Doctor Moreau, Moonshine, and More
Things that brought me delight in November, 2022:
Silvia Moreno-Garcia, The Daughter of Doctor Moreau
I've been saving Silvia Moreno-Garcia's The Daughter of Doctor Moreau for a metaphorical "rainy day," but its time has finally come round at last. Moreno-Garcia's novel imagines that the Doctor Moreau of H.G. Wells's novel has moved his operations to an isolated house in the Yucatan. Moreau's dutiful daughter has come of age, which makes her a tool in Moreau's arsenal that he might marry off to a man who will fund his experiments. But what does she want, kept as she has been in a state of parental dependence in a world purposefully small and secluded?
The Daughter of Doctor Moreau is a slighter novel than Mexican Gothic, and its twist (if it can truly be said to have a twist) is fairly obvious straight away, but it definitely lived up to my expectations.
Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Rizzo, Moonshine Vol. 3 and 4
Well, I was wrong in my supposition that volume two was the beginning of the redemption arc, but there's only more pain, indignation, and misery to go around in volumes three and four of Moonshine. "Handsome" Lou Piro continues to struggle to keep his lycanthropy under control by self-medicating with booze, while Tempest Holt has moved to the big city to get a shot at taking down Joe the Boss--but instead gets lulled into accepting the easy life as a gangster's moll. I really liked the way these issues incorporated the Cleveland torso murders and Eliot Ness's razing of the Kingsbury Run homeless encampment into the narrative. Nice touch.
Crimes of the Future
I finally got a chance to see David Cronenberg's newest film! I found this film about an unspecified future where people are generating unheralded new organs and the powers that be are threatened by the implied redefinition of what it means to be human to be oddly relaxing. Buried within Crimes of the Future is a film noir mystery, but the languid pace and dream-like imagery never really gives the skulduggery the room to reach a point of narrative tension. This in itself is interesting; it is perhaps a way of gesturing toward the primacy of ideas and not action during moments of epochal change or epistemic shift.
I've been waiting for quite a while for Cadaveria's Emptiness to filter down into the import sellers' inventory, as things being what they are, paying the shipping to get it from Italy proved prohibitively expensive. I am glad I finally got ahold of it though, as Emptiness is the strongest record in the Cadaveria catalog. The black metal fury is still there, but this is a much more layered, artistic, emotional, and exploratory album.
Kentaro Miura, Berserk vol, 41
The forty-first tankobon volume of Berserk is a bittersweet read, as it is the last we will get with Miura's direct involvement. Weirdly, and against all odds, it actually provides as fitting a conclusion to the series as could be hoped for under the circumstances. Although it doesn't give me as much of a resolution to Casca and Guts' relationship as I'd like, the way Guts struggles with wanting to be there for her and also wanting to confront Griffith feels like a decent place to end if that's the way the cards lay, but perhaps this is just a pause until Miura's team is ready to continue without him.
Zweihander Starter Kit
God-damn I gotta say that the Zweihander Starter Kit feels like the only modern beginner's box that is actually full of stuff. The box is surprisingly heavy and, when you open it, it isn't half-empty. The books inside might be a tad much for absolute rpg beginners, but you can't fault how comprehensive the overall package is.
Epica, The Alchemy Project
Ignore the insane cover of this album and instead marvel at the strange and beautiful collaborations between Epica and their guests on The Alchemy Project. Much like alchemical experiments, the combinations don't always work without caveat, but there are a number of collaborations that work well here. For example, Epica plus Fleshgod Apocalypse delivers maximum orchestral bombast, while Epica plus the singers from Delain and Myrkur really does feel like an embarrassment of Gothic symphonic riches.
Eric Powell, The Lords of Misery
The Lords of Misery is basically like "What if the Suicide Squad was a bunch of psychotronic weirdos headed up by the Goon?" Of course, that automatically makes it better than the actual Suicide Squad because the cast of characters is kept mercilessly short and the action actually gets underway in short order.
I wouldn't mind seeing more of La Diabla; imagine that, introducing a cool, NEW character that the audience can get interested in. Capes comics, take note.
Guillermo del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosities
I enjoyed Cabinet of Curiosities overall, but in fairness I can't claim it as an unparalleled success. For one thing, each episode is about 10-20 minutes too long; as it turns out, one thing that surprisingly made the horror anthology shows of yore stronger was having to fit each episode into a standard-issue tv slot complete with commercial breaks.
There are also some strange choices that are made, particularly in the episodes that adapt H.P. Lovecraft stories. What's up with the accents in the "Pickman's Model" episode? And why is Brown Jenkin's name changed to "Jenkins Brown" in the "Dreams in the Witch House" episode? At its worst, as in "Dreams in the Witch House," the episodes sometimes feel like they would be better without even referencing the material that they are diverging so far from.
At its best, however, Cabinet of Curiosities serves up some fun Tales From the Crypt-style anthology horror. Oddly, critics didn't seem to like "Lot 36," but I thought that one was a lot of fun.
Dio, Holy Diver, The Last in Line, Dream Evil, Lock Up the Wolves, Sacred Heart
Ever since we played that game of Tales From the Loop last month and Aos picked "Holy Diver" as his character's anthem, I've been on a Dio kick. Listening to old Dio records really does reveal how different the philosophy of arranging songs on an album used to be. There was a time when all the good songs weren't front-loaded on a record in hopes that you'd just skip a lackluster back half. Witness Holy Diver, where "Rainbow in the Dark" is a late-album cut!
Brown, Walker, Greene, Dodgson, Cowles, Bitter Root Volume Two: Rage & Redemption and Volume Three: Legacy
In November, I picked up where I last left off with Bitter Root, a comic about a monster-hunting family operating during the Harlem Renaissance. Having finished all of what's available for Bitter Root, though I hear it's coming back next year with a time jump into the 1960s, I'm left thinking that it's an interesting comic with fun art, but I always wonder if these books go in the wrong direction when they portray human evils (like racism) as something external instead of as a part of human nature that isn't particularly special or inexplicably--or even of that cloaking hatred's root cause as "supernatural" isn't a form of narrative abdication of dealing with the issue. The notion that otherworldly forces of evil are causing bigotry to transform people into monsters isn't that far afield from "the Devil made me do it."
Agatha Christie, Murder in Three Acts
I'll have more to say about this one on Bad Books for Bad People, but suffice to say that buying a huge lot of Agatha Christie books was a really sound investment as I'm enjoying these mysteries immensely. One thing I can say about Murder in Three Acts, in comparison to last month's Hallowe'en Party, is that this one struck me as being quite funny. Perhaps not always intentionally, but there are some genuinely good lines in there!
I've also been on a huge Judas Priest kick lately, revisiting all the albums before the split with Rob Halford. (Well, accept for that one album that everyone agrees isn't good.) It's honestly pretty refreshing to look back to an era where rock songs could just be about rockin'. There's something almost pleasingly naive to the Judas Priest discography, like it's music that comes from a metalhead Neverland.
Eric Powell, The Goon: Ragged Return to Lonely Street, The Deceit of a Cro-Magnon Dandy and Roger Langridge, Mike Norton, Marissa Louise, The Goon: Fishy Men, Witchy Women, and Bitter Beer
Hot off of finishing the omnibus editions of The Goon and The Lords of Misery, I'm back on my Goon shit. A Ragged Return to Lonely Street has the Goon and Franky slouching back to their old stomping grounds, where they are faced with the messy prospect of once again cleaning up the place and getting the supernatural/criminal element back in check. Things heat up in The Deceit of a Cro-Magnon Dandy, where the machinations of a behind-the-scenes villain threaten to ruin the Goon's semi-good reputation. Oddly, the last volume of Goon comics isn't by Eric Powell at all. Fishy Men, Witchy Women & Bitter Beer is decent, but it doesn't quite have the verve of the original recipe.
Dan Abnett, Ravenor
I know I started reading the Ravenor series at one point, but I have no idea where I fell off. Since I enjoyed Abnett's Eisenhorn books so much, I'm digging back in. Ravenor is pretty fun! None of the retinue characters have grabbed me yet (well, Kys has potential since I love a creepy icequeen), but Ravenor cuts an interesting figure as an inquisitor of the Imperium. Since he's incapable of physically leading the charge against Chaos, he's a much different inquisitor than Eisenhorn, but the way he is present psychically (and by sometimes possessing the bodies of members of his retinue) does make for an interesting dynamic.
Therion, Leviathan II
Therion hasn't exactly been on a roll lately with their last few albums. Beloved Antichrist was interesting, but far too sprawling to really have a tremendous impact, despite its epic three-disc runtime. The first Leviathan album was good, but it didn't really have any songs that stuck with me. With those previous records in mind, I wasn't chomping at the bit to get my hands on Leviathan II. And yet, Leviathan II is great! I'd say it's definitely a return to form. Yes, the symphonic and choir elements are still quite complex, but this puts me in mind of Vovin, my favorite Therion album.
Tragedy in Three Acts
After finishing reading Agatha Christie's original novel, I found some time to watch the David Suchet-helmed adaptation of it, my first foray into the much-loved Poirot series. And it was quite fun! I think I could make a hobby of this: reading a Christie novel, then watching its adaptation.
Chin, Benitez, Ching, Montiel, Sotelo, Lady Mechanika vol. 6: Sangre and Benitez, Sotelo, Heisler, vol 7: The Monster of the Ministry of Hell
Sangre pits Lady Mechanika against...vampires! Finally! It's actually a pretty well-done tale about prejudice and discrimination, and I really appreciate the lively action scenes in Lady Mechanika. The Monster of the Ministry of Hell dips back into Lady Mehcanika's origins, telling the story of her treatment in a brutal Victorian asylum for the strange and unusual. Interestingly, this one shows exactly how warped by trauma she is; this may be the first time that we see Lady Mechanika as a deeply fallible character.
After having such a good time with Three Act Tragedy, I decided to watch an adaptation of the other Poirot novel I read: Hallowe'en Party. This one is a bit slower than the previous one I watched, and it's funny how they re-arrange the plot so that they don't have to film any scenes outside of the main settings, but overall I had a good time with this one too.
Grim Hollow: The Monster Grimoire
I am, admittedly, a sucker for well-done monsters books, but a well-done monster book that focuses on horrific, dark fantasy, and Gothic monstrosities? Easy sell. I especially like that there is a separate chapter on vampire villains at the back of the book; given the kind of lackluster vampire in the 5e Monster Manual, that's something I will definitely get some use out of that in my games. Also, I enjoy the "salvage" section of each entry that details the kind of treasure you get from a given monster or what you might do with the remains of the monster you've just slain.
Agatha Christie, And Then There Were None
My Agatha Christie binge continued with And Then There Were None. Rather than picking books of hers at random or because they felt seasonally appropriate, I decided to make a conscious effort to tackle one of her acknowledged classics. And Then There Were None definitely deserves its reputation, though I would hazard to say that it could have ended about two chapters earlier--without the full reveal--and I would have been just as happy with it!
Slipknot, The End, So Far
It's not unusual for Slipknot to throw a curveball at some point on their later albums, but I don't think they've ever made as bold a move as starting The End, So Far with a bit of indie neo-soul. No, really, check it out. The rest of the album is the kind of aggression you'd expect, but this one makes my mind churn.
And Then There Were None
Since Poirot isn't in And Then There Were None, there is no David Suchet-helmed adaptation. However, I was turned on to this absolutely perfect miniseries adaptation with a stellar cast instead. You really can't go wrong with anything with Maeve Dermody and Aidan Turner in the leads--especially when they have such tremendous chemistry with each other--but add the talents of Charles Dance, Toby Stevens, Burn Gorman, and Miranda Richardson and you can practically guarantee that it will dazzle. Darker and more erotic than Christie's novel, this is one of the few adaptations were every addition and alteration really works to bolster the themes of the source material.