Sunday, April 30, 2023

The Fall of the House of Cabal, Rippers, Jinjer, and More

Things that brought me delight in April:

Jonathan L. Howard, The Fall of the House of Cabal

The time had come to finish Jonathan L. Howard's Johannes Cabal series. The final volume finds Johannes Cabal teaming up with his vampire brother Horst, criminologist Leonie Barrow, and the succubus Zarenyia. (Interestingly, Cabal is surrounded by fantastic women but takes no interest in them. He's a wife guy. A dead wife guy, I suppose.) On some level, The Fall of the House of Cabal feels like a "greatest hits" package for most of its chapters--or maybe like one of those video games that makes you fight every previously vanquished boss all over again. But the payoff, the culmination of the series, is sublime. This is the rare series with no low point, in my opinion.

Rippers Resurrected, Expedition: South Pacific and Lord of the Underworld

Besides picking up Deadlands again, I got my hands on a couple adventures for the newest version of RippersRippers is my favorite of the Victorian monster hunting games, of which there are many. In a way, Rippers really is "Victorian cyberpunk"; all it takes is the idea of the characters incorporating bits of the Gothic monstrosities into their bodies for extra abilities to set it apart from other games of its ilk. Anyway, both of these adventures look pretty cool--and might be just what I need come Halloween season.

Jinjer, Cloud Factory, King of Nothing, Macro, Wallflowers

My thirst for prog-influenced metal continued into April, so I ran through the entirety of Jinjer's discography over the course of the month. They're best known for the viral video of the vocalist performing "Pisces," there is a lot more to the band than just that one song. They really display a surprising amount and versatility, and over their discography you get the sense that they're quite serious about the art of songwriting. 

Victoria Dalpe, Les Femmes Grotesques

Les Femmes Grotesques is Victoria Dalpe's debut collection of horror stories, and what a debut it is! There are a lot of stand out stories here. "Folded Into Shadows" has a great premise: the host of a house-flipping show is refurbishing the supposedly haunted house that her brother disappeared in when she was younger. "Rig Rash" delves into an oil boom town and the bodily degradation that follows when greed taps into something that was best left undisturbed. "The Ranch"? A Wild West riff on Doctor Moreau I didn't know I needed in my life. "The Horror on Sycamore Lane" and "The Wife" approach the hidden horrors of suburbia from different angles, but back to back they feel like the author working out a larger theme. If Les Femmes Grotesques is any indication, and I suspect it is, Dalpe is an author to watch.

Wolvserpent, Gathering Strengths/Blood Seed

This is a very interesting release. Gathering Strengths is dark ambient music produced by the band under a different moniker. (I think it was Pussyguts? I could be wrong, but that's a name that sticks with you.) The ambient stuff is not exactly my bag, but the second half, Blood Seed, is Wolvserpent's trademark witchy, droning doom metal. Which, to be fair, is also quite ambient, but it exudes the kind of ambiance I like. It's not the heaviest example of the style, but it's got a cinematic quality that is memorable.

Andy Eschenbach, Brian Level, Kate Sherron, Chained to the Grave

Chained to the Grave is a Western horror comic done up in eye-searing color. The cartoonish art style is fairly unique for this genre, which usually favors muted, sandblasted color of the Olde Timey West, but I think it works with this off-kilter story. The plot goes like this: the protagonist is raised from the dead because he knows the whereabouts of a nice trove of gold; however, he remains tied to his gravestone. He's also chained, in a sense, to his children, who he needs to protect as an evil magician and his retinue of killers gets on their trail. With some erstwhile allies on his side, things move toward a violent siege that pits good versus evil.

Carnival Row, Final Season

Carnival Row is probably one of the best examples we've had of "Romantic fantasy" on the small screen. That said, you can tell they wanted more seasons--things are definitely rushed toward the end. This is particularly apparent in the liquid nature of various characters' motivations, which seems to flow at a rate dictated by the plot and the need to wrap things up.

Still! Creepy monster this time around, and some great performances--particularly from the supporting cast. Carnival Row didn't get a perfect run, but this is a show that definitely deserves to have more eyes on it.

Gothminster, Pandemonium

With a name like "Gothminster," you know what to expect: big, stomping, dumb, goth fun. There's some resemblance to Rammstein in Gothminster's sound, minus the Teutonic-ness, but Gothminster beings more of a schlocky horror movie feel. Gothminster has been at this for quite some time; Pandemonium is something like their seventh album, and it's a fine addition to the catalog. "This is Your Darkness" is my pick for best track on the album.

Hack/Slash Omnibus Volumes 5 & 6

You know, for a comic that probably wasn't intended to become an ongoing series, Hack/Slash actually comes to a pretty satisfying "end" in volume 5 of the omnibus edition. (I say "end" because there is a 6th omnibus collecting the comics that came after the series was restarted.) Volume 5 has a lot going on: Samhain reverts to being a villain! Vlad learns about his ancestry, which stretches back to the infamous legend of Sawney Bean! Cassie finally gets laid!

Most surprisingly of all, the death of a few characters who had been around since near the beginning actually hit with a bit of emotional impact. Things are concluded nicely, but there's always a sequel in a slasher series, right?

Which is exactly what is collected in Volume 6...kinda of. You see, Volume 6 tries to make the best of a bad situation: some of the important plot developments just appear to be straight-up missing, so when we catch up to Cassie Hack a lot has changed and it doesn't make too much sense. It's unfortunate, and I'd say the comics that comprise the "resurrection" of the title aren't particularly noteworthy, but there are some fun moments here and there.

Hideyuki Kikuchi, Pale Fallen Angel, Parts Three and Four

Here's some juicy tidbits from Pale Fallen Angel, Parts Three and Four:

One of the villains is a god of destruction named Vince. Vince is short for Invincible. 

A brothel owner buys a twelve-year-old girl and puts her to work as a prostitute. She escapes before she is raped, but offers to come work for the same guy as an acrobat.

There is another villain called Chlomo the Makeup Lover, who has magic makeover abilities. He uses them to make a male kung-fu master look like a pretty lady so he can go undercover in the brothel previously mentioned.

What I am saying is that these books continue to be batshit insane.

Deadlands: Dead Man's Hand, Volume One

Dead Man's Hand is a collection of one-shot comics set in the "Weird West" of the Deadlands role-playing game. Role-playing game tie-ins have a history of being disappointing, but the comics in this collection are actually really good! They also give a good sense of the "Weird West": you've got your obsessive mad scientist making a hideous weapon powered by "ghost rock," a harrowed gunslinger back from the dead, adventures in the Great Maze, and even the daughter of one of the Reckoners bringing misery to the West. The varying art styles work well here, giving a good range of expression to Deadlands' many moods. As far as I know, there was never a Volume Two of Dead Man's Hand, which is a damn shame.

Shadow Project, self-titled, Dreams for the Dying, From the Heart

I was reminded that April Fool's Day was the date of Rozz Williams's death, which sent me into the always-waiting arms of the Shadow Project discography. This might be one of my most sacrilegious goth opinions: I think Shadow Project is generally stronger stuff than Christian Death. Maybe I think that because Shadow Project tends to be a bit heavier--and there is less cruft. Really nice blast from my misspent youth in these three records.

Patrick C. Harrison III, A Savage Breed

I'm back on the Splatter Western train! Patrick C. Harrison III's A Savage Breed is a fun one. This short novel brings together a cast of truly terrible people: a mountain man seeking vengeance in all the wrong places, a bandit who has teamed up with hardened killers, and a teenage girl who is easily the worst of the lot. There's also an abused Indian woman who is constantly scrambling out of the frying pan only to find herself back in the fire. If that wasn't enough, A Savage Breed gilds the lily by added a species of flying monstrosity into the blood-soaked mix. 

Seeley, Campbell, Terry, Farrell, Crank!, West of Sundown

My yen for horror Westerns continued in April, so I picked up the first collected trade paperback of West of Sundown. Chased to the West by hunters, a vampire and her henchman seek succor on the frontier, but they encounter a vile cult. The fight against the religious maniacs turns enemies into allies, with a few interesting twists. The grindhouse inspired covers collected in the back of the volume are especially fun. All in all, I wouldn't mind more issues in this series in the future.

Deadlands: Reloaded

With my interest in Deadlands rekindled, I dug out my old Deadlands: Reloaded books. There really are quite a few great books from the this game line. The core books give a nice overview, but the real meat is in the book that functions as a combination Monster Manual and book of short adventures and the book about ghost towns in the Weird West. I'm also a big fan of the book on ghost towns. The long campaigns also look to be easily converted to the newest edition, so there's a lot of material here that hasn't aged out of use.

Spiritbox, Eternal Blue

Admittedly, I'm late to the Spiritbox party. Strange thing to admit, but I think it was the guitarist's guest appearance on the Three Levels of Death Metal youtube series that drew me in; those guitar riffs are fairly unorthodox, but they're also super catchy. In context in the songs on Eternal Blue, everything falls into place. It's crazy that this is their debut--this already sounds like superstar stuff.

Jason Aaron and Jason Latour, Southern Bastards Vols. 1-4

Southern Bastards isn't my normal style of comic--there isn't really a supernatural element in play--but god-damn if this book isn't magnificent. Southern Bastards pulls a swerve after the first volume. The comic follows a high school football coach who rules his little podunk southern town; the comic has all the marks of a grand tragedy as we are the audience for his downfall. It's honestly amazing that I like a comic with this much football in it, but Southern Bastards has more than enough blood to sate the thirst.

M. Ennenbach, Hunger on the Chisholm Trail

In Hunger on the Chisholm Trail, an ill-fated cattle drive, an Indian encampment, and a town on the burgeoning edge of becoming something worthwhile all fall prey to a wendigo operating well out of its jurisdiction. There's a high body count, of course, but I'd say this one has one of the "happier" endings. One thing I've been picking up on now that I have a bunch of the books in the Splatter Western series under my belt is that some of them are seeded with small references to other volumes in the line. It's not MCU-levels of annoying by any stretch; in fact, it's kind of interesting how these books inhabit a shared universe of sorts.

Mary Shelley

I was given the dvd of this historical drama about the life of Mary Shelley years ago for Christmas. I think I avoided watching it for so long because the film didn't really get good reviews. But now that I've watched it, I can report that it's...not bad. It's certainly not a cinematic triumph or the final word on Shelley's life, but the cast does a fine job. Now, as a scholar of the Gothic and Romanticism, I will say that it plays things fast and loose in a few instances in Mary Shelley's biography, but as long as you're looking at this as entertainment instead of as an educational supplement, there's nothing truly egregious. Plus, you know I can't say no to the Fannings.

Shadow and Bone, Season 2

This is a minor entry for the month, but overall I found the second season of Shadow and Bone to be good, light entertainment. There are high points (interesting battle scene between wizards and conventional soldiers with rifles) and low points (to be honest, I don't think the way the main plotline is handled is very interesting). To follow on that criticism, the awful poster for the season to the right really illustrates where the weak links are: the two central protagonists are competent, but fairly bland. And the villain of the piece...I can't tell if it's the writing or the actor, but he falls flat and his motivations often make little sense. It diverges from what I remember of the books by the end of the season, and not to its benefit! Still, the fantasy-crime antics of the Crows in the b-plot continue to be quite fun.

Christopher Buehlman, The Suicide Motor Club

After reading and enjoying Christopher Buehlman's Between Two Fires for our episode on it for Bad Books for Bad People, it was only a matter of time until I picked up another one of his books. My choice was The Suicide Motor Club, a rip-roaring tale of drag racing vampires who run their victims off the road and drink their blood. They make a victim of the wrong person when they steal away a strong-willed woman's son and husband; she becomes a nun, which empowers her in some particularly juicy ways for dealing with the undead. This is absolutely a cracking novel--it would be easy to disappoint after the heights of Between Two Fires, but damn if this isn't another near-perfect outing.

Donny Cates, Lisandro Estherren, Dee Cunniffe, Redneck Vol. 1-5

Redneck is a different sort of vampire comic: this time the vampires are a family of shitkickers from Texas. The early volumes have a bit of a Hatfield/McCoy riff going on, but as the comic goes on it just gets weirder and weirder, eventually including a Mexican city full of monsters (something like a south-of-the-border Midian) and a far-ranging set of conspiracies that reach back to the life and death of Jesus. Even though I'm less hot on the later plot developments, this was a damn fun comic. Unfortunately, it seems to be coming out at a glacial pace now, so the story just kinda hovers around an unresolved plot point. Maybe some day!

Naben Ruthnum, Helpmeet

Naben Ruthnum's Helpmeet is a short novella that really hits pretty hard, punching way above its brief page count. The story concerns an upper-class surgeon who is wasting away from a strange illness in fin di siecle New York; he's tended to by his lower-class wife who was a nurse when they met. As his end,  approaches, they flee to an abandoned orchard upstate for his final moments, but when death comes it arrives in a strange, unheralded form. You know how the "Death" tarot card indicates both endings and transformations? That's the move here. Helpmeet is especially recommended if you like body horror; the husband's deterioration (and his metamorphosis of decay) is cataloged in excruciatingly visceral detail. Imagine if Henry James went on a splatterpunk tear and you've got the gist. Helpmeet has got some rich surprises in its narrative arc too, deftly avoiding obvious villainy for something far more interesting and textural. 

Lacrimas Profundere, How to Shroud Yourself with Night

The sound of How to Shroud Yourself with Night falls somewhere between the poles of goth rock and the lighter side of doom metal. As such, astute listeners will hear familiar touchstones, ranging from Type O Negative to My Dying Bride. This is what I tend to think of as perfect music for a nighttime drive with the windows down, particularly if you're up to clandestine adventures of a nocturnal sort.

Kristopher Rufty, The Devoured and the Dead

Kristopher Rufty's The Devoured and the Dead is another entry in the Splatter Western series that I got my hands on in April. Like Hunger on the Chisholm Trail, this one serves up wendigo action--albeit with a more "Donner party"-inspired flavor. You've got to hand it to a book that has the balls to offer "They ate the baby first" as the opening line. And, frankly, it's all downhill for the characters from there. "Who will survive and what will be left of them?" has never been a more appropriate question than when you meet the doomed cast of The Devoured and the Dead.

Kamelot, The Awakening

Kamelot is definitely on the lighter side of the bands I listen to, but their brand of symphonic power metal occasionally produces something just over-the-top enough to catch my attention. And that's the thing with The Awakening. The album is quality all the way through, but I still find myself wishing that the band went over-the-top far more often! As my pal Mattie noted over on my Discord, the vampiric insanity of "New Babylon," complete with cameo from Melissa Bonny, is the undisputed highlight of the record. More like that, please!

Ian Fleming, Live and Let Die

Live and Let Die has long been my favorite movie in the James Bond series, so we committed to reading this one for Bad Books for Bad People to see how it stacks up. You'll have to listen to the episode to get the full monty on it, but suffice to say that the book is...quite different...from the experience of watching the movie. Tarot cards don't enter the narrative at all, and the voodoo angle is much slighter in the book than in the film. Also, the 70s blaxsploitation vibe adds something that definitely feels missing here. Which was a bit of a bummer as those elements were my favorite parts of Live and Let Die! Still, wait until you hear us talk about Bond's prodigious hunger and the visceral shark attack scene in this one.

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

The Ashfire Club and the Cathedral of the Three Anguishes

Two locations in the city of Chancel in Krevborna:

The Ashfire Club Grotto

The Ashfire Club is an exclusive social club for “persons of quality”; its members are drawn from the ranks of Chancel’s aristocratic families, the wealthy, and the socially well-positioned. Many assume that the club is merely a contrivance that obscures its members’ drunken escapades, experiments with unusual vices, and ribald sexual adventures, but rumors have always circulated that the club serves a darker design.

    • The Ashfire Club maintains a secret grotto that is used to host raucous celebrations and unholy rites in a secluded setting safe from the prying eyes of the general public.  

    • The grotto’s chambers are decorated with statues that depict various members of the Ashfire Club as nymphs, satyrs, succubi, and incubi possessing a virile, energetic beauty they often do not evidence in their mortal forms. 

    • Sir Francis Lowood, the club’s founder and de facto president,  promotes an indecent atmosphere of carousing within the grotto, employing a number of prostitutes and entertainers as retainers at his beck and call.

    • Within the grotto's deepest chambers, he introduces his compatriots to the worship of a multitude of devils. 

    • To maintain their wealth, the members of the Ashfire Club secretly engage in the underground slave trade. Their captives are kept within cells in the grotto until they can be transported elsewhere under the cover of night.

The Cathedral of the Three Anguishes

Dominating Chancel’s skyline, the Cathedral of the Three Anguishes is the most magnificent place of worship in Krevborna. 

    • A towering edifice of black stone and ornate stained glass, the Cathedral of the Three Anguishes is the seat of the Church of Holy Blood’s power. 

    • It is rumored that the Church of Holy Blood maintains an archive of forbidden books within the cathedral and that its deepest cellars house cells where inquisitors perform vile tortures upon those they regard as heretics, apostates, and enemies of the faith.

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Final Copies of Strahd Loves, Man Kills On Sale!

I have very few copies of Strahd Loves, Man Kills issues 6. 8. and 9 left, so I'm putting them on sale so I can make room for the next patch of zines! For a limited time, each issue now costs six bucks a pop with the pdf thrown in. Check them out over at Dolorous Exhumation Press.

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Dead City Radio

It's a pretty satisfying feeling when one of your regular players requests that you run a game and setting that you wrote yourself. So, we played PLANET MOTHERFUCKER last week. It's also very satisfying when one of the players remarks afterward that it was one of the most fun games they've played in recent memory. At this point, I'm just bragging, so on with the actual play recap of what went down.

The Characters

Runa Ravensbane, heavily tattooed metal babe (Church Burner)

Dr. MK Ultra, rogue physician prone to experimenting on himself (Doctor Feelbad)

Aleister, occultist with a ferret-shaped familiar spirit (Satanic Witch)


The motherfuckers rolled into Buttrock, New Jersey after getting into trouble elsewhere. It was early morning, so they were looking for a place to get some grub. And then they saw the neon-and-chrome paradise that is Cholula's Tex-Mex Diner, a joint where every entree was accompanied with a side of refried beans. The sign out front showed a man with a sombrero running with his hands clapped over the back of his pants; beneath it, it said "Our huevos rancheros will have you on the run!" 

The only other customer in there was a literal lounge lizard--Franky Naugahyde, a lizardman who was moonlighting as a lounge singer. When Diabolita, the waitress, took their order through to the cooks, the two-ways doors to the kitchen banged open and shut; the motherfuckers could hear the sound of a radio tuned to WHOR, 66.6 on the FM dial, which was playing a morning zoo show apparently hosted by "Norman Necrosis," who was apparently playing voodoo drumming as part of the programing. Their food came, and then...

...zombies attacked. From two directions, no less. The line cooks came shambling out of kitchen and a bunch of zombies came shuffling in through the front door. With parlay off the table as an option, the motherfuckers sprang into action. Dr. MK Ultra injected himself with a experimental serum of his own creation; he began to hallucinate, but was imbued with the ability to bend the whims of the universe in his favor. Runa let out a high-pitched metal screech that exploded the heads of several zombies. The rest were finished off by Aleister, who summoned his own zombies to match the ones creeping toward them. 

As Aleister's zombies munched on their fallen undead peers, Mr. Cholula, the diner's owner, appeared. He told everyone that he had been watching the news and it was reported that zombies were attacking all over Buttrock. He noticed that the motherfuckers were capable (read: violent and skeevy), and being a civic-minded man made them an offer: clean up the zombie menace in return for a payment of some kind. The motherfuckers insisted on a load of drugs as their reward, to which he agreed. Not a problem, he knows a guy.

The motherfucker put two-and-two together and had realized that Norman Necrosis's radio broadcast was responsible for turning people into zombies. The next step seemed to be locating the radio station itself to bring Norman Necrosis to justice. Diabolita threw in that she remembered the Norman Necrosis show having two big sponsors: Big Chan's Unpossessed Autos Emporium and the Butterface Exotica Lounge. 

Predictably, they opted to visit the Butterface Exotica Lounge. The motherfuckers got into their vehicles (a motorcycle with blood-splatter decals for Runa, a coffin on wheels for Dr. MK, and an old Buick with a pentagram on the hood for Aleister) and made their way over to the strip club. The sign out front showed a cartoonishly buxom woman in lingerie, but she had a stick of butter for a head. Even though it was still morning, the strip club was surrounded by Mormon protestors. Inside, the place lived up to its name. The two girls on the clock had rockin' bodies, but also had faces as rough as sandpaper. 

The motherfuckers asked to see the manager, who proved to be a scarred-up John Waters lookalike. While speaking to the motherfuckers, he unwrapped a stick of butter and began eating it like a Snickers bar. He clearly didn't like Norman Necrosis, even though his business bought airtime on his commercial block. He told them that Norman was a particularly pathetic specimen who had tried to make it as a voodoo-themed shock rocker, but failed to excite the youths or even piss off their parents. As he went to fetch the radio station's address from his office, zombie Mormons began spilling into the club. A stripper had her throat bitten through, but the group again engaged the undead and turned them into mincemeat. 

Address in hand, the group left the Butterface Exotica Lounge and immediately saw what had turned some of the Mormons into zombies: a pickup truck was parked nearby with its radio pumping out the Norman Necrosis show. The group peeled out, leaving the living Mormons to fend off the dead ones.

The radio station was deep in Crippletown, an apocalyptically bad neighborhood in Buttrock. The motherfuckers spotted what must have been Norman Necrosis's car parked in the lot; the tell-tale sign was that it was a black station wagon trying to look like a hearse--it had Halloween decorations glued to it and it had a Norman Necrosis and the Necropolitans bumper sticker. The motherfuckers smashed the window with a lead pipe and searched Norman's car. In the back they found boxes of unsold Norman Necrosis and the Necropolitans merch and a rolled up blacklight poster of a wizard pondering an orb.

Rather than launching a frontal assault on the radio station, the motherfuckers decided to smoke Norman out of the building. They piled up his band's merch around the perimeter of the building, siphoned gasoline out of his car, and lit it on fire. The fire alarm went off and two people exited the building with a quickness. The woman who left through the front door was a purple-haired lady dressed in a business casual blazer. She spotted Dr. MK Ultra, who was serving as the group's lookout, and promptly ripped her blazer off, revealing a blue leotard and a chain whip. She came at the Dr., but he managed to talk her out of a confrontation. That's the power of de-escalation, folks.

Dr. MK Ultra ran behind the building, where he found Aleister and Runa battling Norman Necrosis, who had his face painted up like Baron Samedi and who was wielding a skull-topped cane, who was trying to make his way down the fire escape. Norman Necrosis used his dark magic to summon zombies, light the motherfuckers on fire, and turn momentarily invisible, but he was taking a hell of a beating. Runa stabbed him with a ritual dagger and he got brained with a lead pipe. At one point he was being gnawed upon by both of Aleister's zombies and his ferret familiar. The necromancer shock jock was ultimate put down with a brick that caved his head in.

With the mouthpiece of the damned killed, the zombie epidemic was ended. The motherfuckers made their way back to Cholula's Tex-Mex Diner and found a suitcase full of pills awaiting them. The suitcase even had a big red bow on top.

Inspiration for the adventure:

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Clanbook: Malkavian

Welcome back to the continuing segment where I, someone who knows very little about the lore of Vampire: The Masquerade, reads one of the Clanbooks and tries to piece together the insane metaplot and backstory of the game and its Gothic Punk setting. This time we're singing along to Prince's "Let's Go Crazy" with the Malkavians. 

I've always thought the vampire on the cover of this book looked a bit like Weird Al. And now that I've read it, I wonder if he was a big influence on this mess because it's wacky. But ultimately it's not as cool as Weird Al.

The shtick of the Malkavian vampires is that they are, each and every one of them, insane. This has led to the meme of "fishmalks": Malkavian characters who are played as silly weirdos who act "so random," basically as Chaotic Neutral as possible. The fishmalk problem may have started earlier in the game's history, but it's hard to argue against the Clanbook being a strong jump into fishmalk territory as the clan's baseline assumption. 

The Malkavian clanbook starts off by stating that the scholars of other clans attempt to find a method to the Malkavians' madness, although no one has yet been able to untangle the web of contradictory legends about the clan and the very act of examining them seems to inspire madness. There's an interesting note that the Malkavians may be in a process of "becoming," which is tantalizingly Deleuzean at this early stage. 

This eventually morphs into the Malkavians being the clan that believes that there is more to reality that what can be conventionally perceived, making their madness a kind of "derangement of the senses" aimed at breaking through the veil of the mundane to reveal a hidden truth. This makes the Malkavians the forerunners of the "red pill/blue pill" stuff from the Matrix that would come to prominence later in the decade.

The shorter legends don't amount to much. They range from "Global iconoclasm" to "Absolute nihilism," and they're written in that very 90s way of portraying insanity. Which is to say, hip gibberish. Take this, for example: "Ride the stillness like a twilight surfer." No. Fuck off with that.

The Malkavian's history has some gems, of course. After the fall of Carthage, Malkav and his brood moved to the Middle East, where their madness infected the locals and "which continues to this day." Blaming the instability in the Middle East on the presence of insane vampires feels very "this is why the Oriental type is irrational and barbaric"; Edward Said would have had a field day with this, if it wasn't beneath him to consider.

One interesting tidbit in this Clanbook points to the expanding game lines of the World of Darkness and the efforts put into establishing cross-promotional synergy. The Clanbook: Gangrel already leaned heavily on that clan's ties to werewolves and "gypsies," and the Malkavian book ties the clan to the faerie that were to come in Changeling. In retrospect, it probably would have been more helpful to present the various elements of the World of Darkness as a buffet that individual groups could pick and choose from, but this was the 90s and the drive toward metaplot would not be denied.

Apparently the Malkavians are big on playing "pranks" (boo!) on their fellow vampires, but at least they are non-denominational and play pranks on elders and anarchs alike. This is the point where it became clear why the Malkavians never lived up to their promise, at least for me. You see, the Vampire: The Masquerade core book takes the ideas of "personal horror" and a "Gothic Punk" setting fairly seriously, but this Clanbook moves in the opposite direction--and maybe that's an indication of the mood of the entire game line.

There's certainly a lot of "personal horror" to be mined from insanity and mental illness, but to bring that to the fore would require uncomfortable imagery and themes, as well as a careful, thoughtful approach. The writers behind Vampire at this point simply weren't up to that task. Instead, Clanbook: Malkavian prefers "insanity" to be coded as madcap hijinks. It's all "reality hacking" and pranks instead of the harsh realities of mental illness and the tragedy of extreme dysfunction. The writers feel more steeped in Mondo 2000 than Propaganda, if you catch my meaning.

The feeling of not taking the premise seriously inundates the prose, and you can see it in the art chosen for this book too: Clanbook: Malkavian is full of childlike cartoon scribblings that don't genuinely feel like the product of insanity. They don't have the uncanniness of "outsider art" and they don't illustrate a skewed perception of the world. You can hardly blame the writers and designers, as a more concentrated take on mental illness in horror is asking a lot, but the approach they went with lends a palpable air of shying away from the topic that was the clan's genesis in the first place.

In retrospect, Clanbook: Malkavian really illustrates why my high school rpg group couldn't make an honest go of playing Vampire: The Masquerade. Being unserious teenagers combined with the game promising dark "personal horror" but supporting zany vampire antics instead means that the game never really had a chance. We didn't know what to do with it, didn't know how to take it seriously, but the game itself was unsure on those points. 

We might not have realized that disconnect at the time, but I believe we felt it. It's funny; indie storygamers have made a big deal about the mechanical disconnect between the game's themes and its rules, but I honestly think that's a secondary concern compared with the game's thematic inconsistencies. Also funny: a lot of long-time Vampire players don't like the changes made by the newest edition of the game, but I have a lot of respect for the way the line has so far committed to the bit of being a serious, perhaps even po-faced, game of horror.

Retuning to the book at hand, not much here does a single thing for me. It feels watered down and overly silly. Overall, I'd say the Clanbooks have been taking Vampire down a tonally less-dark alley from their outset, and Clanbook: Malkavian is the worst offender of the lot so far in that regard. At least we get ready-to-play templates though, right? Clanbook: Malkavian has the following:

  • Mesmeric Manipulator: Part mesmerist, part con artist. I dated a woman who had the exact outfit in the accompanying illustration.
  • The Freak: Jim Roads Circus Sideshow, but vampiric. I have an especial love for templates like this that feel hopelessly trapped in a 90s vortex.
  • The Conspiracy Theorist: God, conspiracy theories were so much more fun in the 90s, weren't they? Modern stuff, like Birtherism and 9/11 Truthers, just don't compare. Note: the vampire in the illustration has a fanny pack.
  • The Waking Dreamer: A kind of living sleepwalker who is not all there. Reminds me a bit of the Lost Ones from Ravenloft and a little bit of Cesare in Cabinet of Doctor Caligari.
  • Raving Lunatic: Manic depression on steroids. I'm not sure that having someone at the table playing this character would be a ton of fun.
  • The Crazed Monster: It's Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, but a vampire.
  • The Moody Loner: Have you ever wondered what Lee Harvey Oswald would be like if he were a vampire? Wonder no further.
  • Detached Scientist: If you've ever encountered one of those sociopathic "I am arguing according to the rules and without emotion, I am a machine-brained man" people, you may have encountered this archetype.
  • Reality Buster: Hack the planet. I love that the opening quote for this one comes from mild-mannered comedian Lily Tomlin.
  • The Mad Prophet: Crackpot religious nut is actually a pretty solid Malkavian concept.

Closing out Clanbook: Malkavian is a brief who's who of vampires from the clan. My favorite is Rasputin, who has an illustration straight out of an EC horror comic. Crazy Jane, an escapee from a Victorian asylum, is also extremely my shit. The less said about the NPC known as "Malk Content" the better.

All right, let's close the casket on this one. Next time, we're getting ugly with the Nosferatu.

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

The Darkness Beneath the Hill

"Oh, I'll run a Call of Cthulhu one-shot," I thought. "It'll be fun, just a little taste of Cthulhu and we'll move on to something else." Well, below is the recap of our fifth session. We were all having such a good time that the one-shot grew into a mini campaign. Here's how it all wrapped up. What follows is a write up of "The Darkness Beneath the Hill," the last remaining adventure we hadn't played in the book Doors to Darkness. If you plan on playing through the adventure, skip this recap! Spoilers ahead.

The Characters

Sirus Mean, former boxer and hobo

Leslie Cowell, antiques dealer

Hazel Murphy, flapper

Tony Tunacelli, wiseguy


While the Arkham Historical Society was holding their weekly meeting, they received a phone call from a man named J. H. Winscott. (Sirus recognized the name: he knew that Winscott was a writer whose lurid tales frequently appeared in the pulp magazines he favored as entertainment.) Winscott introduced himself and explained that he had recently inherited a house in Providence, Rhode Island. He related that during the restoration of the house, a tunnel was discovered in the basement. At first he assumed that the tunnel was part of the old sewer system, but he had begun to wonder if the tunnel was part of the slave smuggling operation always rumored to have taken place in Providence in the Colonial era. 

As a New England historical society, Winscott thought they might be interested in traveling to Providence to help document the discovery. He said that even though the Arkham Historical Society operated a state away, they came highly recommended. When asked who had recommended them, Winscott said that he had run into a man named Larry Croswell at the Athenaeum who put him on to the Arkham Historical Society. This shocked the group, as they had seen Larry's death firsthand.

Despite their trepidation, they agreed to travel to Providence and help document the tunnel under Winscott's house. When they arrived, Winscott explained what little he knew about Providence's role in the triangular trade. Then, it was time for a preliminary look at the tunnel. From the excavation hole, they could see that the old brickwork tunnel eventually turned to a more roughhewn tunnel at either end. One end proved to be blocked by collapsed stone. The investigators found a pile of human bones while exploring the other end of the tunnel. Some of the skeletal remains still had Colonial-era shackles around their wrists and the remaining fabric seemed to be from the same period. It was also bloodstained.

They also found a further tunnel branching off the main one; this tunnel sloped downward into darkness. The group decided to regroup and come back the next day to delve into the tunnel in earnest, a proposition that Winscott readily agreed to. In the meantime, the investigators headed to the Athenaeum. Hazel charmed a librarian into leaving the library's subscription book where they could take a look at it. Sure enough, Larry Croswell had signed the book, but the group knew that his signature did not match what they saw before them.

They also obtained the purported address of this "Larry Croswell." The house turned out to be a half-burned down wreck. The investigators decided to stake out the house. Once night had fallen, they spotted a hooded figure moving around inside the house--someone they hadn't see approach the house. The group stealthily entered the house, but did not find the person. However, they did find a letter left behind by the figure. The letter read: 

Dear Arkham Historical Society,

You have already begun The Process. You have reached The Epiphany. You have opened The Portal. You have received The Gift. Come forth, and experience The Ascension.

Larry Croswell

The next morning, the investigators returned to Winscott's home, only to find that the front door was already open. There was no sign of Winscott in the upper floors, but they did find a cup of lukewarm coffee by the entrance to the tunnel and the butt of one of his Turkish cigarettes near the pile of bones. They ventured into the downward sloping tunnel, hoping to find Winscott. One thing they noticed as they proceeded through the rougher sections of winding tunnel was that the walls were riddled with smaller tunnels--too small for a human being to traverse. They also discovered that the walls deeper in the tunnel system had patches of luminescent lichen clinging to them. Still, they chose to keep their flashlights on for maximum illumination. 

Several unsettling things occurred while they explored. The found further skeletal remains, but they did not belong to human beings. They were certainly human-like, but too small to be human. Worse yet, they had been gnawed upon by something larger than conventional vermin. They also heard inhuman whispering coming from some of the narrower tunnels. They also found a chamber etched with images of serpent-like bipeds worshiping an enormous snake with a white crescent decorating its brow.

The tunnel they were following culminated in a pit leading further down into the depths. The investigators tied a rope to a stalagmite to repel down. Leslie was the first to descend. However, something happened and Leslie found himself pitching headfirst into the darkness. The rest of the group actually saw what had happened: while Leslie was climbing down, a pale white hand emerged from one of the small tunnels. The hand was holding a tomahawk made of bone, which it used to sever Leslie's rope! Leslie was badly injured in the fall. His compatriots tied their own ropes and climbed down to help him without incident. 

Exploring further, they happened upon two of the pale, degenerate creatures living within the tunnel complex. The creatures were human-like, but unnaturally pallid and small. The two creatures they stumbled upon were busy fighting each other. The investigators watched in horror as one slew the other and began cannibalizing its remains. The group edged around the feeding monster. They discovered more of the creatures tending a vast garden of mushrooms in a further cavern, but those creatures showed little interest in the interlopers as they gathered fungus in small baskets.

They also discovered a chamber with a massive statue of a serpent, in front of which was a bloodstained altar. They refused to go further into that chamber.

Their exploration of the tunnels culminated in the discovery of a strange laboratory deep within the complex. A hooded man had his back to them as he worked with the chemicals, alembics, and alien machinery strewn about a scarred table. In an alcove, another man lay sleeping on a pile of furs; his back was also turned to the party. Tony managed to duck into a hiding place, but the man noticed the rest of the group. He turned around to address them--he had the face of Larry Croswell!

"Larry" told them that their encounters with the supernatural had brought them to the attention of certain parts of "the cosmic consciousness." The creature admitted that he had used Winscott and his discovery of the tunnel to lure the investigators to this spot. When challenged with the supposition that he wasn't really Larry Croswell, the creature admitted to the ruse and pulled the skin away from his face, revealing a squamous, serpent-like face beneath the fleshy mask. 

The creature offered to show them something miraculous. The investigators hesitantly agreed. The creature walked over to the man on the furs, pulled the chain attached to the man's collar, and bid him rise; the man was Winscott, gagged and bound with an iron collar. The serpentman brought Winscott and the investigators into a chamber where leathery sacs hung from the ceiling. Each sac was filled with liquid and a dark shape lurking within. 

(Tony remained hidden and followed silently.)

The serpentman told the investigators that they too could be ensconced in one of the sacs; doing so, he said, would plug them in to the cosmic consciousness and grant them a heightened understanding of all the horrors they had hitherto experienced. They might also change into new forms and gain access to strange sorceries--this was The Ascension promised in the letter that the creature had left for them.

The group contemplated whether to accept the serpentman's proposition--perhaps the stars had aligned to bring them to this point. Hazel made up their minds for them as she leapt forward and stabbed the serpentman with her switchblade. The serpentman retaliated with a curved knife of his own, but he was soon put down when the rest of the group (including the hidden Tony) opened fire on him. 

Winscott was released from the collar. The group returned to the serpentman's laboratory. Winscott told them that he had seen the serpentman walk through one of the walls and reappear hours later. They figured out that touching a series of carvings on the wall in a certain sequence made a portal appear. Each of them walked through the wall in turn.

Winscott traversed the door to find himself in one of his favorite European resorts.

Tony emerged in an Italian restaurant in New York City where the mafia was known to hold court.

Leslie appeared in the tunnel by a wall they had determined was near the river. He lit a stick of dynamite and ran for it. The resulting explosion flooded the tunnels, hopefully killing whatever else was lairing within it.

Leslie ran out of the house and met Hazel, who had emerged at the front of Winscott's house.

Sirus found himself in a trainyard. He hopped a train, hobo style, and felt relief at getting out of town...until a fellow hobo in his car scurried out of the darkness and asked, "Tell me, brother, have you see the Yellow Sign?"

Sunday, April 9, 2023

The Raven's Table

Episode 65: The Raven's Table

In this month’s episode, Jack and Kate set their literary dragon boat to sea with The Raven’s Table, author Christine Morgan’s 2017 collection of Viking stories. Spanning subgenres from grindhouse gore to reimagined fairy tales, this anthology will give fans of historical fiction and horror all the flavors they’re looking for.

What’s the worst thing that can happen if you piss on a troll stone? Who would win in a battle between vikings and bigfoots? What’s a great way to disturb the ghost of HP Lovecraft? All these questions and more will be answered in this episode of Bad Books for Bad People.

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Servants of the Lake

I ran another session of Call of Cthulhu, starring the same characters who survived the previous three scenarios. This time they got a relaxing lakeside vacation. Just kidding; this is Call of Cthulhu--horrible things were happening at the lake. What follows is a write up of "Servants of the Lake," one of the adventures included in the book Doors to Darkness. If you plan on playing through the adventure, skip this recap! Spoilers ahead.

The Characters

Sirus Mean, former boxer and hobo

Leslie Cowell, antiques dealer

Hazel Murphy, flapper

Tony Tunacelli, wiseguy


The members of the Arkham Historical Society were contacted by Prof. Richard Ware, whom they had gotten to examine the strange black substance being peddled as a drug in their last investigation. This time it was Ware who had a favor to ask. Convinced that the historical society's members were accustomed to delving into mysteries, Ware wanted them to track down his stepson, James Frazer, who had gone missing. Ware's gut told him that something strange was afoot, something that conventional private detectives wouldn't be able to handle.

Nine days earlier, James had dropped out of Miskatonic University against his parents wishes to go see his sweetheart in Kingsport. The last time Ware had heard from James was a phone call that James made while on route to Kingsport. James claimed to be stopping for the night at a motel between Arkham and his destination. Ware gave them a photograph of James with his physical description, a description of his car, and his car's license plate number written on the back.

Leslie and Hazel visited Travis Bryce, James's former roommate at Miskatonic. Bryce told them that he and James weren't close, and that James spent a lot of his time talking to Emily on the phone. James had packed up most of his belongings; it was clear he wasn't planning on coming back. They also called Emily, who seemed legitimately distraught that James had disappeared. 

Consulting a map revealed that if James had taken the most direct route from Arkham to Kingsport, the only place he could have stopped for the night was the Squatters Lake Motel. Hazel used her charm to get a man at the library to do some research for her--he returned with a book that related the local history of Squatters Lake: colonists abandoned their settlement in the area due to poor fishing and hunting, and the settlement was later taken over by vagrants, escaped slaves, and army deserters who gave the area its name. Their encampment was eventually flooded out and was now abandoned.

The group drove out to Squatters Lake and easily found the motel. The motel was certainly out of the way, and interestingly was built on stilts--presumably in case the lake flooded again. Instead of checking in right away, they pulled their car onto the dirt track that wound around the lake and headed north. 

On the way, they spotted tire tracks that ended at the lake's edge. As someone involved in the criminal underworld, Tony was fairly sure this was the tell-tale sign of a car having been pushed into the lake to get rid of a body. Hazel volunteered to swim into the lake to see if she could locate a vehicle down there, but there was an oily substance mixed with its water than hampered her visibility. She also realized that the lake was extraordinarily deep and any car would be resting farther down than she dared to venture.

Eventually they came to the ruins of the settlement they had read about. Sirus and Tony both saw a pale, naked man slip behind a ruined wall. Hoping to catch him, they split up and approached the structure from different sides. Unfortunately, Sirus felt the earth give way beneath his feet and plummeted down into the settlement's old well. He hit his head and was grievously banged about by the fall. Tony and the others got a rope and pulled him to safety. However, there was no sign of the man they had seen.

They did find tracks--belonging to a barefoot man missing a big toe--leading from the settlement into the woods. The investigators followed the tracks into the woods, where they spotted the naked man scurry behind a tree. They called out to him. He didn't reply, but he did begin to approach with a shambling, lurching gait. They could now see that he had a horrible wound in his chest and a vacant expression in his eyes. Tony and Sirus wasted no time with parlay--they unloaded their shotguns into the man, putting him down before he could reach the group.

The group then made their way to the motel. They were met in the reception area by a very old man with an English accent named William Brophy. He claimed to run the Squatters Lake Motel with his older brother Robert, but said that Robert spent most days sleeping at his age. Behind William were a number of license plates hung on the wall, but they did not spot James's license plate among them. The investigators rented the motel's four remaining rooms; William and Robert occupied one of the rooms, and there were three other guests currently staying at the motel. 

The rooms were fairly nondescript and functional, but Tony pulled back the rug to reveal that there was a trap door set into the floor. It turned out that all of the rooms they rented shared this "feature."  Tony also discovered a left-behind notebook in his room; it proved to be the journal of James Frazer, proving that he had indeed stayed at the Squatters Lake Motel!

The group heard a commotion outside. They spied a young, pimply man arguing with William Brophy. The young man was insisting that his friend was to meet him at the motel and was questioning why Brophy was covering up his friends' earlier arrival. Leslie later paid this kid a visit in his room. His name was Jacob Trent, and he had made plans to meet up with his "friend" Abe at this motel. Abe was supposed to arrive first, and Jacob was convinced that Abe wouldn't have stood him up--so something must have happened to him at the hotel. Since Jacob was in much the same boat as the investigators, Leslie suggested they all team up. That suited Jacob just fine. In fact, Jacob suggested breaking into a mysterious room with a padlock that he had found at the back of the motel.

Meanwhile, Sirus was laying low and scoping out the motel from a hiding spot in Hazel's car. He spotted the two other guests: a mafioso-looking man in a black suit and a young woman with curly brown hair. Tony would later make the acquittance of the "wiseguy," Bill Dunston, but figured out that he was merely a guy looking to do some fishing after a bad divorce. Not a "made man" at all!

When the time came for the break in, Leslie picked the padlock to the room in question. Inside they found some strange stuff: two crates that had blankets at the bottom (as if they were some sort of nest), jars of cloudy yellow fluid, jars of long metallic needles, and boxes of jewelry, clothes, and personal items that they surmised came from the people who had met ill ends at the motel. Jacob was stunned when he discovered Abe's jacket among the discarded clothing.

As they discussed their next move, the decided to take a look at the lake to make sure nothing strange was going on there. The three boats they had spotted tied up at the pier were still there, but there were strange yellow lights emanating from the oily waters of the lake. And then...everyone present experienced a vision. In the vision, they were all swimming to the bottom of the lake. As they pushed aside a veil of seaweed, they saw a city of black spires and crooked streets. The streets were lined with the dead bodies of red-shelled, alien creatures. They swam to the center of the city and saw a creature with a metal body and three yellow eyes sequestered behind a wall of warped glass.

When the vision faded, Jacob began to walk, as if in a trance, toward the woods south of the lake. They let the man walk. Deciding that William Brophy and his brother must be killed to stop whatever was going on at the motel, they invaded the brothers' private chambers. They didn't find the brothers, but they did discover James Frazer's license plate--again confirming that he had been at the motel.

Unwilling to follow Jacob to whatever fateful (and probably fatal) meeting awaited him, the investigators decided to use the oil casks they had found earlier to burn the motel to the ground. They spread oil and lit it on fire. Then they went door to door to let the other guests know about the fire. Bill Dunston sped away into the night, but the girl's door was already open--she was gone, possibly also drawn toward the woods by the lake. With no sign of the brothers or James, the characters departed in haste to tell Richard Ware that his stepson was in all likelihood deceased.

Sunday, April 2, 2023

Dragon, The Last Duel, Leech, and More

Things that brought me delight in March, 2023:

Saladin Ahmed and Dave Acosta, Dragon

I backed Dragon when it was on Kickstarter and like many Kickstarter projects, it fell prey to delay after delay. When it finally arrived...I promptly forgot about it. I finally broke it out of the plastic and gave it a read in early March.

Dragon tells the tale of a haunted Janissary and a disgraced nun teaming up to confront Vlad Tepes, aka Dracula. Oh, Prince Radu is along for the ride as well And of course this version of Vlad Tepes is a vampire. Dragon sits comfortably somewhere on the Castlevania to Hammer Horror spectrum of things I enjoy. The comic itself is a little short, taking up about half the book, with the rest of the volume being filled with sketches, roughs, and in-process colored pages. 

The Last Duel

I've been meaning to watch The Last Duel for a long time, but the formidable run time made it tough to carve out some spare hours. Now that I've had a chance to watch it, I can say that it's excellent. Ostensibly the story of a wronged woman seeking justice, it's really the tale of how women often live balanced on the knife's edge of men's egos. You might expect a film that replays the same events from multiple viewpoints to dabble in questions about the nature of truth and perception, but The Last Duel is actually pretty succinct in its presentation of the moral issues at hand. And the actual duel? Seldom have I seen something so brutal.

Hiron Ennes, Leech

Leech is an unexpected gem; I thought this was going to be a different kind of novel entirely, but this story of a doctor traveling to a winter-locked domain to figure out what killed her predecessor is full of twists and turns. The most immediate is that the doctor is part of a hive-mind inhabiting all the doctors in the known world that finds itself up against another invasive parasite. I was initially interested in Leech because I saw it referenced in a few conversations about modern Gothic novels, though I admit I didn't see the connection at first. However, by the end of the book you're knee-deep in a Gothic fantasy bloodbath. 

Sonja, Loud Arriver

Sonja's Loud Arriver is a more traditional metal album than I usually go for, but it's hard not to like it. It's a charismatic album, full of rock swagger, an unabashedly sexy mood, and a even a touch of Gothic darkness. I'd recommend Loud Arriver strongly to fans of Judas Priest and Unto Others especially, but more widely I think this is a great metal album for folks who aren't yet avowed metal fans.

Christine Morgan, The Raven's Table

This was a Bad Books for Bad People read, so we have a lot more to say about it when that airs. A quick precise: Christine Morgan's The Raven's Table is a collection of stories that combine Vikings with horror, two great tastes that taste great together, in my opinion. It's also impressive that the stories in The Raven's Table cover such a wide variety of horror: there are a few Lovecraftian tales, a few riffs on colonial horror, a vampire story, etc. More than anything else I could say about the collection, I want you to know that these stories often quite brutal, as they should be given the subject matter.

Hack/Slash Omnibus Volume 2-4

I have to admit, there's a pretty sharp drop in quality between the first and second omnibus volumes of Hack/Slash. I suspect a great deal of that is connected to who is, or isn't, providing the art at the time. Still, there are some fun bits here. The Archie Comics art style paired with a story about a slasher let loose at a school dance in the second omnibus is pretty fun, and it's nice to see Vlad get a little something-something in one of the arcs. The third omnibus gets some digs in one superhero comics, which I always enjoy, and Pooch--the alien dog--is quickly becoming my favorite character in the comic.

Entheos, Time Will Take Us All

I found myself strangely craving metal with technical and progress elements in March. I pulled out records by Archspire, Opeth, and Spawn of Possession, but I also made some time to dig into Entheos's back catalog. Time Will Take Us All, Entheos's latest album, feels like it isn't getting the critical attention it should; I appreciate that they never let the progressive elements overwhelm the heaviness or the songcraft. I think in time this could grow into a recognized classic.

Poirot: The Adventure of the Clapham Cook

I'm still working through the Poirot episodes that are adaptations of the stories in Poirot's Early Cases. "The Adventure of the Clapham Cook" is pretty fun; it's a fairly convoluted story where the crime to be solved is not immediately obvious, but it's a good time getting there. I forgot to read any Christie in March, but luckily I still have this backlog to get through.

Hideyuki Kikuchi, Pale Fallen Angels Part One and Two

It's been a while since I've taken this wild ride, but it turns out that the next volume in the Vampire Hunter D saga is the biggest one yet. D is hired as a bodyguard by a vampire lord headed to the reaches of the Frontier to kill his father. Comically, as much as D wants to fly solo, the trip balloons with the addition of a mean vampire lady, two acrobat kids, and a magician's assistant who join in the journey. (And of course need his protection.)

Of course, a variety of assassins have been hired to make sure D and his employer never make it to their destination; each of them has a wacky superpower or shtick to reveal. The funniest bit: D finds an airport run by an AI. Dracula once flew out of this airport and the AI fell in love with him, causing it to manufacture several Dracula clones, which D then has to fight in some sort of postmodern Oedipal contest.

Funeral, Tragedies

Tragedies is the recently reissued debut album by Funeral, one of the creators of the funeral doom genre. (They kinda gave their name to the genre.) The record is surprisingly melodic, but interestingly I don't think the overall mood of the album is as unrelentingly bleak as you may expect. Melancholic, for sure, but not absolutely devoid of sweetness and light. The reissue caps things off with a live track that I can take or leave and an acoustic track that feels very left-field for this particular band.

Andrzej Sapkowski, Season of Storms

Season of Storms is the newest Witcher book, though chronologically it falls in-between the short stories of the first two collections rather than continuing the novel series. (It does, however, also cap things off past the novels in its epilogue, presenting a new "ending" of sorts.) 

In Season of Storms Geralt finds himself robbed of his swords, embroiled in the machinations of kings and wizards, and once again falling into the bed of a beautiful and treacherous sorceress. The novel showcases Sapkowski's trademark oddity, interjecting a few bizarre scenes amid the standard fantasy to keep things fresh. It also features a good bit of action and has a great deal of the monster hunting that's absent from the "saga novels." Interestingly, it also draws inspiration from the video game series instead of treating those as something from an alternate timeline. This opinion probably isn't widely shared, but in my estimation Season of Storms is the most fun novel in the Witcher series.

Call of Cthulhu Deluxe Classic Box Set

Even though I'm of the opinion that if you don't have a copy of Call of Cthulhu the way to go is buying the latest edition, I failed to resist the siren call of the deluxe classic box that reprints the second-edition rules with a big heap of supplemental material. If nothing else, the contents of the box really illustrate how Chaosium's presentation and attention to the details has always been top-notch. Also, the content is eminently usable even with the new edition; though Call of Cthulhu's 7th edition is the most radical departure in the game's history, you wouldn't need to change much to use the adventures and other widgets in the box.

Cody Higgins, They Built a Gallows For Me and You

They Built a Gallows For Me and You is the first novel I've read in the Splatter Western series--a series that purports to offer brutal visions of the Wild West by multiple authors working their own perspectives on the theme. The novel is quite short, but it has an arresting premise: the children of a frontier town sicken and die, bleeding out suddenly, and the blame is placed on a family who may (or may not) be innocent. I wasn't sold on the style that this particular tale is told in; it feels like it strains its credibility attempting to be dreamlike or poetic, or perhaps even McCarthy-esque. I also found the anachronisms in it a bit distracting. But I'll certainly return to this well to see what else the Splatter Westerns have to offer. Dig that cover.

Deadlands: The Weird West

Between the Vampire Hunter D novel I read in March and the books from the Splatter Western series, my interest in running a Deadlands game in the near future has been re-ignited. The newest iteration of the setting, retooled for the SWADE edition of Savage Worlds, looks really well put together; some of the rougher edges of the setting have been filed down, putting the focus exactly where it should be: shooting zombies with a six-gun, bringing desperados to justice, and avoiding the gallows at all costs. I plan on digging into the core rules, the solo adventure, and the mini campaign to figure out what I want to do with the game. The pre-made "archetype cards," essentially characters you can hand out to players who don't know the rules yet, will surely come in handy.

Tanith Lee, Kill the Dead

Tanith Lee's Kill the Dead follows the adventures of Parl Dro, a wandering exorcist and "ghost-killer." Dro is a type of protagonist that feels rare in a Tanith Lee story; he's smart-mouthed and beautiful, not unlike a sassy Vampire Hunter D, and he seems to be the cause of about as many hauntings as he quells in the course of his duties. He's also bound by fate to a roguish minstrel who plays an impossible instrument. As the two trudge toward their destiny in a fabled city of the undead, the secrets of who they are and why they have been inextricably thrown together come to light. This novel features a sparer style than Lee is known for, but it absolutely fits the tone of the book. Amazing that she had so many proficient writerly voices at her disposal.

Chandler Morrison, Human-Shaped Fiends

I hit up a different book in the Splatter Western series to see how they vary, and man do they come in different flavors and styles. To be honest, I liked this one a lot more than the previous one I had read. It's not great, capital-L literature by any measure, but there is an interesting metacommentary where we switch from the bloody Western tale to a satirical story in which the author is writing the story. 

The most interesting aspect of the self-insert satire is that the author makes himself the butt of the joke instead of presenting a more dashing or knowing figure. In the Western section we get the monstrous description of "Persons with Disabilities" and then the author pats himself on the back for such progressive language in the metacommentary parts (even though he's still painting People with Disabilities as beasts, he wants credit for using the right terminology). The violence in this book is also quite extraordinary, but then it would have to be since the metacommentary's point is to ask if the book has lived up to our grisly expectations.

Call of Cthulhu 4th Edition and Blood Brothers

The Call of Cthulhu obsession continued throughout March, so I pulled out the remainder of the CoC books I had in high school: the 4th edition core rules, my entry in the game, and the Blood Brothers collection of non-Mythos adventures. Aside from the nostalgia I experienced at looking at these again, especially the Cthulhu comics in the core book, there's still a lot of usable stuff in both books that barely requires conversion. That's always been the great strength of the game.

Wile E. Young, The Magpie Coffin

I polished off a third book in the Splatter Western series before the month ended. Wile E. Young's The Magpie Coffin was both the "standard" of the books in the series (in that it most fits my expectations for these kind of books) and the best one I've read so far.

The Magpie Coffin is a tale of revenge--a supernaturally empowered killer is on the trail of the men who murdered his teacher. It has a steely, bloodthirsty protagonist, whiffs of black magic, and the requisitely high level of ultraviolence. This one doesn't have any stylistic pretensions or any metacommentary nods, and to be honest I think it's all the stronger for it. The straightforward style hits all the right notes.