Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Mrs. Davis, Nocebo, Shiki, and More

Things that brought me delight in May, 2023:

Mrs. Davis

Mrs. Davis star Betty Gilpin described the show as "a Rubik's Cube meets a haunted calculator." That's as good as any description because this show is definitely off-kilter and unlike anything else out there right now. A nun is on a quest to get ahold of the Holy Grail and destroy an omnipresent AI algorithm--that's the gist of it, but the story takes a radical turn in just about every episode. I haven't absolutely loved a show this much in a long time, so Mrs. Davis was a very pleasant surprise.


Based on the trailer, I was keeping my expectations for Nocebo low as the idea of a good horror movie starring Eva Green is almost too much to ask for. I ended up surprised at how much I enjoyed Nocebo. The film is about a children's fashion designer, played by Green, who suffers from a mysterious ailment in the wake of receiving a disastrous phone call--the content of which we aren't privy to until the end of the film. Along comes a Filipino woman who enters the designer's household as a helper, and who seems to have mystical powers that conquer her illness. Of course, not all is what it seems and the new caretaker is a obviously a little too good to be true. There's some startling imagery and effects in this one; it's not a knock-down, drag-out scarefest, but the creeping dread inherent in the protagonist being forced to confront her complicity with the dark side of her business works particularly well.

Jonathan L. Howard, A Long Spoon and Other Tales of Johannes Cabal

It's one of the great injustices in publishing that the Johannes Cabal short stories were never collected in a printed volume. It's particularly galling, as they add so much context and texture to the novel series--especially the final book. To rectify that, in my own small way, I made my own printed collection of Jonathan L. Howard's stories so I could re-read them again in my preferred format. Really good stuff here, from malevolent weather to the machinations of the Fay. My personal favorite is "A Long Spoon," in which Cabal traipses through the Abyss with a succubine devil in search of a supposedly dead Chinese wizard--I like the story so much I've elected to make it the title story of the collection!

Sigh, Shiki

I've heard Sigh called "the Mr. Bungle of extreme metal," but if you're going into Shiki expected wild experimentation you may be disappointed. Despite their reputation for being totally out there, at its heart Shiki is a fairly straightforward metal album. It's got great riffs and a steady level of aggression. There are unexpected moments, but they're used as a hit of hot sauce rather than the main event--and frankly, I think Shiki is all the better for it.

Kenzie Jennings, Red Station

I think this is month three of reading my way through the Splatter Western series. First up for May: Kenzie Jennings's Red Station, a short novel about stagecoach passengers who make a stop at the wrong waystation. And boy is it the wrong house to stop at, as it's full of Evil Germans. (Seemingly inspired by the infamous Bender family, though the spiritualism aspect is absent here. In fact, this is the only Splatter Western I've read so far that doesn't have any supernatural elements to it.) What I enjoyed about Red Station is that it leaves you with as many questions as it answers; the mysterious "woman in red" keeps her violent, blood-soaked mysteries all the way to the end. 

The 69 Eyes, Death of Darkness

Death of Darkness is a good time album through and through. Although The 69 Eyes feel like a lab-grown hybrid of The Cult and Sisters of Mercy, they manage to be more fun than those bands have been for a long time. A little bit glam, a heaping helping of rock 'n' roll, and a whole lotta goth, The 69 Eyes pack a lot of record into Death of Darkness. Maybe too much, in fact, but it's all that and a guest appearance by Kat von D.

Snyder and Cupullo, Batman: Last Knight on Earth

For reasons I cannot fully explain, I had a hankering to read some Batman comics. I grabbed a bunch and couldn't resist the idea of Batman wandering around a wasteland with the Joker's head in a jar. That's all I knew about Batman: Last Knight on Earth going into it.

There's a pretty effective bait-and-switch in the comic's opening sequence that's pretty fun. And more than anything, Last Knight on Earth has some interesting ideas--even if they don't all fully pay off. The climax could have used a little more knock-down, drag-out drama, but at least I got Batman carrying the Joker's head around in a jar as promised.

Ad Infinitum, Chapter III: Downfall

It's hard to believe it, but Ad Infinitum are on their third album with this release. Chapter III: Downfall apparently has an "Egyptian theme," but you wouldn't really know that from the music. The record is undeniably on the poppy side of symphonic metal, which is actually my biggest critique of it; I'd love to hear the band get a but more grandiose (or even occasionally gaudy) with the symphonic elements and I wouldn't mind them pushing the aggression every once in a while either. Still, those quibbles aside, Melissa Bonny still has one of the freshest, most compelling voices in the game--rendering the whole thing a worthwhile listen single-handedly.

Seeley, Leister, Englert, Hack/Slash: My First Maniac

Now that I've finished all the omnibus volumes of Hack/Slash, I'm picking away at all the stories that weren't collected in those books. Which has led me to My First Maniac. My First Maniac is an early Hack/Slash story, detailing Cassie Hack's first encounter with a slasher after the death of her mother. (Second death, that is.) It's a little odd that this one didn't make it into the omnis, but apparently Tim Seeley wanted to preserve it as a stand-alone story with a low price point as a way to onboard new readers. I'm not entirely convinced that this is a great introduction to Hack/Slash, but it's got some interesting moments and it's nice to return to a young Cassie Hack for a bit.

Hideyuki Kikuchi, Vampire Hunter D: Twin-Shadowed Knight (Parts One and Two)

I made it through another double helping of Hideyuki Kikuchi's Vampire Hunter D series! In Twin-Shadowed Knight, "D" stands for doppelganger because our gorgeous vampire hunter meets his exact duplicate. Well, almost exact; this version of D calls women "baby," so that's an interesting variation. Other than that, this is yet another installment in the ongoing series that suggests that being anywhere near D is a terrible idea; he's generally untouched by the fallout from his adventures, but everyone else who comes into his orbit really gets fucked over.

Brian Evenson, The Open Curtain

The Open Curtain is a Bad Books for Bad People read, so you can get the whole picture on our forthcoming episode on it. Prior to this novel, I had only read Brian Evenson's short fiction. His short fiction is absolutely harrowing, and it turns out that his novels have much the same effect. The Open Curtain is about a young man who gets obsessed with William Hooper Young's murder of Anna Pulitzer--a real historical crime that has been linked to the alleged secret Mormon doctrine of "blood atonement." Evenson has a real talent for crafting truly unsettling horror that is all too human--no supernaturalism needed to open the door to terrors untold.

Powerwolf, Interludium

Interludium is one of those "odds & sods" records partly comprised of new songs and partly comprised of b-sides, orchestral versions, and the obligatory covers. It feels a bit more girthy than an EP, but maybe not quite earning the full honors of an LP. For me, the standout track is "Sainted by the Sword," which verges on pirate metal but still manages to kick ass. Wonders never cease.

Vampiress Carmila

I had to kill a few hours in a Barnes & Noble in May, which was a mixed blessing. The combination lemonade and green tea I had at the cafe sucked, but I did discover the existence of Vampiress Carmila while I was there. Vampiress Carmila is a throwback horror anthology that hits all the marks. Beautiful painted cover? Check! Black and white interior art on cheap newsprint? Check! Sexy horror hostess? Check! Tales of the macabre, each with their own unpleasant twist? Check! I'm tempted to buy the back issues now.

B'Twixt Now and Sunrise

B'Twixt Now and Sunrise is quite a strange film. It clearly had a low budget and feels like the project of a passionate amateur, yet it was directed by Francis Ford Coppola. It's a bit Lynchian, but it isn't clear if its surreal qualities are intentional or a by product of odd choices made in the creative process. Still, I enjoyed it as a singular oddity.

The story concerns a down-on-his-luck horror author who stops in a weird little town for a book signing event that no one shows up to. While there, he learns of a local tragedy--a mass murder--that the sheriff hopes will inspire his next book. (And inspire the author to sign the sheriff up as a collaborator!) There's a ghost, vampires (maybe), and goths partying out by a lake. Oh, and Edgar Allan Poe plays the part of the author's Virgil, leading him to something like redemption against the overwhelming guilt he feels. 

Blood Ceremony, The Old Ways Remain

It's hard to believe that it's been something like seven years since the last Blood Ceremony album. And they've come back in fine form. Although I'm usually a little disappointed when a band sands down their edge, I'm not disappointed in the least that The Old Ways Remain isn't one of Blood Ceremony's heavier excursions. You won't miss it because Blood Ceremony's satanic take on a variety of 70s pop styles is pitch perfect on The Old Ways Remain. Easily a contender for albums of the year.

Chris Miller, Dust

Chris Miller's Dust was my second Splatter Western of the month. This one features a character who makes a brief appearance in Hunger on the Chisholm Trail--a magic-wielding gunslinger out to kill Cthulhu-esque monstrosities and save the universe. Despite the big heroic premise, Dust stays true to the Splatter Western ethos of blood and thunder. So, you can expect plenty of violence, assault, and in this case, some especially compelling and grotesque monster descriptions. The stuff about the town of Dust being hidden from outsiders, and requiring some occult shenanigans to reach, was also a very fun idea. Overall, I would say there's room for the further adventures of this protagonist. I'd read 'em.

Daniel Schaffer, Dogwitch

Even though I only read a few single issues of Daniel Schaffer's Dogwitch back in the day, it exerted an outsized influence on PLANET MOFO. You can see that influence in the Satanic Witch "class" specifically, but bits and pieces from the comic have filtered into other areas as well. (Some of which won't be evident until the first supplement hits.) That being said, it was super cool to be able to read the entire run in snazzy omnibus format. The black and white art really pops--it's the perfect medium for a story about an insane shock rocker and outcast witch who uses black magic to look for love in all the wrong graveyards. The comic is extremely idiosyncratic, but if you want the grindhouse auteur experience, Dogwitch is something you should at least take a look at.

The Outsider

The Outsider is a miniseries that adapts the Stephen King novel of the same name. While I haven't read the novel itself, and thus can't compare the two directly, I can say that the miniseries was pretty good. There's a nice mix of police procedural thriller and supernatural horror here: investigators are on the trail of a killer who has the ability to mimic others like a doppelganger. It uses its uncanny identity theft to implicate them in its disturbing crimes so that they take the fall and it can move on to its next prey. It sags a bit in the middle, but there a few strong performances that rescue it in the end.

Leanna Renee Hieber and Andrea Janes, A Haunted History of Invisible Women: True Stories of America's Ghosts

A Haunted History of Invisible Women is a nonfiction book that examines real-world ghost stories through a lens of women's history in America. The book breaks its subject into discreet sections that deal with ghosts who fit a particular, confining feminine archetype: mothers, fallen women, witches, spinsters, etc. The authors alternate storytelling duties throughout the book and sometimes collaborate on a section. I found their analysis of the ghost stories included in the book insightful enough and quite fair, but the most fascinating part was how the authors have to grapple with the exploitation inherent in the "ghost business" and their own place in it--aside from authoring this book, both work in the ghost tour business!

The Devil All the Time

The Devil All the Time is a film that revels in the Southern Gothic tradition; a fairly wide-ranging cast of characters, each grotesque and traumatized in their own way, get their own separate narrative strands until the movie pulls them all together into a tapestry of shared pain and darkness. It all barely holds together under the weight of all the violence and degradation--not one, but two corrupt preachermen feature in the film, to say nothing of the disturbing "prayer log" and the wartime atrocity it is patterned after--but hold together it does. The voice over narration borders on the hokey, but maybe we need that lighter touch to make the whole thing bearable.

Alex de Campi and Erica Henderson, Dracula, Motherf**ker!

Dracula, Motherf**ker! is a fun little graphic novel that pits Dracula against his iconic three brides in Los Angeles circa 1974. The art style is bold and striking, making interesting use of period-appropriate color palettes. The story is admittedly a little on the slight side, but I've come to appreciate a one-and-done comic that doesn't overstay its welcome. I wouldn't have minded the comic leaning even more heavily on the "swinging 70s" vibe, even the title makes more of a gesture toward exploitation film vibes than the comic proper attempts, but that feels like an intentionally pulled punch here.

Monday, May 29, 2023

The Dark Descent

Way back in a now largely imaginary era known as the 1980s, my aunt signed up for one of those mail order book clubs. They always entice you in with a batch of free books because the first taste is free, right? Anyway, she let me pick two of the free books for myself. I picked Edith Hamilton's Mythology and a giant horror anthology called The Dark Descent.

Look at this killer lineup collected in The Dark Descent:

I'm sure I'd read Poe, King, and Bradbury a bit by that point already, but this was my first contact with some of the most important authors that shape my brain to this day. First brush with MR James, Lovecraft, Shirley Jackson, Harlan Ellison, Hawthorne, Karl Edward Wagener, Edith Nesbit, Fritz Leiber, Robert Bloch, Manly Wade Wellman, Aichman, (maybe) Clive Barker, Le Fanu, Faulkner, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Matheson, motherfuckin' Tanith Lee, Flannery O'Connor, Henry James, Robert Chambers, Joyce Carol Oates, Bierce, Oliver Onions, Wharton, Blackwood...many authors here I would go on to teach in college courses. It all started here. 

If you find a copy of The Dark Descent at a used bookstore, treat yourself right and pick it up. Even if you've read all those stories before, buy it and pass it on to someone who needs to get knocked crooked by horror's cream of the crop.

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Father Anjelus

After my players killed off the pontiff of the Holy Blood Church in one of my campaigns, I was faced with the prospect of creating a new villain for Chancel. Here's who/what I came up with, clearly inspired by the mythology around Rasputin:

Father Anjelus 

Anjelus Navarre governs Chancel and is the current pontiff of the Church. Anjelus is widely feared, even by the most pious members of the Church’s inner circle. Father Anjelus exudes an aura of palpable menace; when his penetrating gaze falls upon you, it feels as though he bores into your most deeply guarded secrets.

In actuality, he is a fallen angel who uses his position to sate his unchaste desires. Father Anjelus reserves his personal tutelage for a select group of followers drawn from the ranks of the wealthy and powerful. He preaches that in order to deserve heavenly forgiveness, aspirants must first experience the depths of sin. To that end, he secretly encourages them to pursue their vices so that they might more fully experience the grace of repentance.

    • Appearance: In his mortal guise, Father Anjelus has a wild mane of hair and the grizzled, unkempt beard of a mystic. He dresses in shabby robes to emphasize a humbleness he does not truly possess. 

    • Personality: His every word is cloaked in pious dissemblance.

    • Motive: He wishes to become the Church's central figure of veneration, eclipsing even the saints.

    • Flaw: If it were discovered how many people he has sent to their deaths, his position would be jeopardized.

Sunday, May 21, 2023

A Rough Night in Thornlight

We played through another adventure in our ongoing episodic "Savage Krevborna" campaign. This one was an adventure I had run twice before--it's always a hit. I should try to find the time to write it out properly as a scenario so other people can make use of it.


Geradd, disreputable swashbuckler

Raoul Carathis, occultist and necromancer

Countess Catarina Redmoore, prioress of an unsettlingly convent


Raoul, Catarina, and Geradd found themselves aboard the Scythe, a ship captained by Francis Marriott, as it headed to the plantation island of Marat. They had been recruited by Belle Silvra to go to Marat and determine why the island's shipment of cane sugar and molasses was late in arriving. The journey was going well; they found Captain Marriott to be a gentleman of the sea and the voyage had been pleasant. That is, until they were awakened one night by shouting coming from topside.

They quickly discovered that the ship was on fire. They gathered their things and Captain Marriott put them into a lifeboat. The last thing he told them is that they should try to row toward the lighthouse whose beacon could be seen in the distance. Geradd put his back into it at the oars, and despite the sudden squall that fell upon them managed to guide their boat to the lighthouse's rocky shore.

After securing the lifeboat, they made their way up the rough path leading to the lighthouse. Attached to the lighthouse tower was an L-shaped building. Looking in the front windows revealed a lit fireplace, a table with chairs, a cabinet of curiosities, and the tall figure of a woman in a frilly dress and a bonnet. Catarina tried knocking at the door and waving at the window to get the woman's attention, but to no avail. Unwilling to stand in the rain any longer, they tried the door and found it to be unlocked.

Now that they were inside, they could examine things more closely--but the more they looked into things, the stranger they seemed. The cabinet of curiosities held a collection of shrunken heads, jars of fetal creations, a red lacquer puzzle box, an obsidian dagger, and a horned skull. What they took to be a spiral staircase leading upward into the lighthouse tower was instead a rail--there didn't appear to be a way to ascend any higher. Raoul deduced that the ornate rug spread across the floor concealed stairs leading down to a lightless basement.

Stranger still was the unmoving female figure. Her "face" was made of painted porcelain and her eyes were of blue glass; the rest of her body was covered with the dusty rose fabric of her dress, gloves, and bonnet. Figuring that this was a large doll, Catarina tried to take off one of its gloves, but it suddenly sprang to life and grabbed her hand. The automaton, who introduced itself as the Widow, was quite helpful in explaining the lay of the land in the lighthouse. She told them that the lighthouse was the home of Doctor Hessalius Reichman, who used the lonely outpost as a place to carry on his experiments. The Widow was one of his creations. She also warned the group that the island was patrolled by violent creatures who were part crab and part man.

A sound coming from the rails leading upward through the lighthouse's tower alerted them to the arrival of Doctor Reichman himself. The rails turned out to be part of a mechanism that raised and lowered a circular platform up and down the tower. Doctor Reichman proved to be an older man with shriveled, crippled legs; his body was encased in a metal exoskeleton that enhanced his mobility. After offering his "guests" a meal of fish chowder and wine, he explained something of his purpose on the island: his wife had fallen ill and was currently in a comatose state. He was conducting experiments in hopes of finding a cure and reviving her.

Being a generous sort, Doctor Reichman took them to the second floor of the tower--which was curiously empty--so that they might bivouac for the evening and wait out the storm. He even offered to let them stay until his next shipment of supplies came by sea, which was about ten days away. The group was, naturally, suspicious of Reichman's offer. They decided to keep a rotating watch. Their skepticism was born of a sound instinct for survival; on Raoul's watch, a paralyzing gas began to pour from the ceiling, but he managed to wake his companions and they all scrambled into the main chamber below.

The Widow reawakened and seemed happy to see Catarina, Geradd, and Raoul again so soon. Catarina tried and failed to pick the lock barring their way into the other wing of the building, but luckily the Widow had a key--which she was happy to use on their behalf. Behind the door was a chamber with a blood-stained operating table, complete with restraints. Further exploration uncovered the doctor's library, where the group found a journal purported to contain the research of one Doctor Moreau. The Widow explained that Doctor Reichman experimented with combining human victims and animals into horrible hybrid creatures. The library also contained a picture of the doctor's wife, Rebecca, which Raoul cut from its frame.

The Widow next showed them the cells where Doctor Reichman incarcerated the products of his latest experiments: vicious, anguished man-dog hybrids. Catarina killed one of the dogmen so that Raoul could reanimate it as a zombie under his control.

While they were contemplating a trip down into the basement in this area, they heard the tell-tale clank of Doctor Reichman's exoskeleton as he approached. When he found that they had not fallen victim to his knock-out gas, he had gone to deal with them directly. Electricity now arced from his metal exoskeleton. Raoul threatened to destroy the painting of Rebecca if he continued to menace them, but the doctor replied, "It's just a fucking painting. Widow? Kill them." Although the Widow had come to enjoy the presence of the interlopers, she was compelled to follow Doctor Reichman's orders. The Widow smashed her iron hand into Raoul, knocking the wind from him. 

A bucket of water was thrown over the Widow in hopes of shorting her out, but it only made her exclaim, "I'm wet!" Raoul's zombie attacked Reichman, but could not manage to bite his flesh through the metal exoskeleton. Geradd shot at the doctor, but his shot pinged off the steel operating table. The doctor sent a streak of electricity into Geradd, stunning him. An extremely lucky shot from Catarina managed to find its way through the chaos, taking Reichman down.

Once Reichman was dead, the Widow was no longer bound to follow his orders. With the house cleared of immediate threats, the group could now explore and rest at their leisure. They gathered Reichman's notes and found that Rebecca was being kept alive by eldritch machinery inside a glass coffin. Their examination of Rebecca's body revealed a string of sigils raised on the flesh of her left wrist, which indicated to them that her condition was more akin to a curse than a disease; Reichman had been pursuing a dead end as he researched a way to cure her. They also figured out that he was using the lighthouse's beacon to wreck ships so that he might use any survivors in his fiendish experiments.

They decided to bide their time in the lighthouse until help arrived. They knew that sailors had arrived with a shipment of goods for the doctor when they heard shouts down at the beech. From the lighthouse they could see the sailors engaged in combat with the crabmen that the Widow had warned them about. They rushed to the aid of the sailors. The Widow proved to be an able combatant, smashing the crabmen open with glee. 

When the dust settled, the group negotiated a ride with the sailors. They decided they would take the Widow with them, giving her a chance at her own life, and that they would also take Rebecca's body in hopes of finding a cure.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Castlevania Retrospective, Morbid Pop, the Aesthetic of Evil

 A few videos for your entertainment and edification:

Castlevania Series Retrospective

Morbid Pop: The Most Bizarre Trend of the 60s

The Aesthetic of Evil

Sunday, May 14, 2023

The Horrors of Harkenvault

We concluded the adventure we started the week before in our ongoing episodic "Savage Krevborna" campaign. During the last adventure, Pendleton became afflicted with a supernatural illness that threatened to end his life by causing unmelting icicles to erupt from his eyes, mouth, and heart. In this adventure, the group traveled to a forsaken site called Harkenvault in search of a cure. 


Doctor Pendleton Torst, rogue "anatomist"

Geradd, disreputable swashbuckler

Raoul Carathis, occultist and necromancer

Countess Catarina Redmoore, prioress of an unsettlingly convent


Before leaving on the Relentless to sail to Harkenvault, Geradd, Raoul, and Pendleton were re-united with Catarina, who happened to be stopping in Palistraza after doing some missionary work on behalf of the Cult of Scylla. 

Once the group arrived on the island, they followed the map they found in Yurgen's cabin to the ruins of Harkenvault. Harkenvault was a one-story structure that appeared to have been built into the foot of a large hill. It was slightly tilted to one side and not entirely level (1). From afar, it seemed to be made of gray stone, but as they got nearer they could see that it was instead made of a strange alien material. There were no windows and no doors, but there was a large rectangular indentation in one of the walls that was roughly door-shaped. When Pendleton touched the door-like indentation, he found it to be strangely warm. It also responded to his touch and unknit itself in an unnerving, alien way.

Catarina translated the words inscribed on the walls of the entryway chamber; they read: "We delve into the mysteries of life and death, guided by the light of Empress Lithka, untouchable be her name.' In the second chamber they entered they found smashed laboratory tables and two pod-like protuberances of the same gray material as the walls. When touched, the pods opened, revealing more blue glass vials of the sort they had been used to spread the contagion back in Palistraza (2). 

The group heard the sound of something made of metal being dragged across the floor in the next chamber. The portal to that room unknit itself and a large suit of armor--its design baroque and alien in nature--stepped through. The figure was bearing an enormous two-handed sword. Catarina's attempts to communicate with the armored form were met with silence; it assumed a combat stance and advanced on the group. They decided that discretion was the better part of valor and ran in the opposite direction. The figure could be heard to follow them, slowly, but it did not follow them into the next room. 

In this room there was a window looking into the next chamber. The next chamber held several latticed racks--each of a size meant to accommodate a human being. Both above and below each rack were clusters of open-ended tubes. Manipulating a strange lever--which had the appearance of a tumor on a withered arm--caused flames to blast the racks from above and below. Catarina had roughly translated the inscription above the window as "Inferno," but now the group realized that the word could be more faithfully rendered as "Crematory." 

In the next hallway there were three inhuman figures laying in wait. They were tall and gaunt, with mottled skin and sunken, empty eye sockets. Each was clad in scarlet clothes that resembled the operating uniforms worn by surgeons, an impression that was deepened by the fact that each held a rusty surgical instrument such as a scalpel or bone saw (3). At first, the figures shambled toward the group, but then they broke into a run and attacked! The creatures proved to be undead and they were handily dealt with by the party. Raoul also re-animated one of the "doctors" as a zombie under his control.

Catarina had a good idea: perhaps if they donned the scarlet uniforms--they had found fresh versions in a disused bedroom--then perhaps the undead would not attack them if more were encountered. Raoul also found an ornate sword hilt in the rubble. When he concentrated on the hilt it generated a purple blade of energy--a focused form of this own psionic potential.

Before they entered Harkenvault, one of their suppositions was that the artifacts that Yurgen had taken from the site needed to be returned to end the illness assailing Palistraza. This theory was put to the test when they found a chamber with an altar. Behind the altar was a niche of the perfect size to hold the statuette they had found among the Scarabasca's loot. They replaced the statue, anointed it with ceremonial oil, and lit candles around it. Nothing happened, but when Pendleton smeared blood on the statuette's mouth, in imitation of the way they had awakened the dormant Scylla, they heard a voice in the air that chastised and challenged them. The voice apparently belonged to Lithka, the last empress of the Vlaak Empire (4). 

As they explored further, they found a perfectly preserved bedchamber with a desk, tables, bed, and more pod-like chests. On the desk was an ancient piece of parchment on which these lines had been written:

All my people are dead: my family, my friends, and my workers. I, too, am dead. Were it not for my quick thinking and prowess with necromancy, our important work at Harkenvault would be over. I continue to labor in my new form, trying to find a sickness that can infect our eternal enemies. If I have perished, I implore you to find my lab, find my notes, and finish my work. They must pay for the Vlaak’s destruction. All praise be to Lithka, our Empress, our Light.

—Feras Marakainian, Lord Doctor of the Harkenvault (5)

Things began looking up when the group found a ruined library. The walls of this chamber had cracked and water was ebbing and flowing across the floor. Most of the books and scrolls  had fallen from their shelves and were ruined, but two water-tight scroll cases were floating in the pool. Opening them revealed that each contained half of the formula needed to concoct an antidote for the illness!

With the object of their quest in hand, the group decided against further exploration in Harkenvault, though they were tempted by its untold secrets. Of course, exiting Harkenvault was still a challenge as the armored guardian was now waiting for them by the front door. Their attempt to sneak past it was unsuccessfully; the armored horror leveled Raoul and Pendleton with a massive swing of its sword; Raoul's zombie was destroyed instantly by the blow. 

Catarina ran for the portal that lead outside. Although she made it to the door, the creature sliced at her back with its sword, leaving her with a tremendous wound that would have been fatal if luck were not on her side.

Geradd, Raoul, and Pendleton lured the clanking armor into the crematory and threw the lever, engulfing it is flames hot enough to blacken and melt its metal form. Their suspicions were correct: the creature was a mechanical automaton designed to guard Harkenvault from intruders. Pity they never got to find out what happened to the bodies of other trespassers who did not escape with their lives...(6)

Now that they had the cure, the group sailed back to Lachryma, where they were able to obtain the needed alchemical ingredients. They created a medicine that was able to save Pendleton as well as the other folk of the island who were afflicted--which, of course, served the ends of the Cult of Scylla by showing the strange faith in beneficent and nurturing light.


(1) - One thing they didn't discover about Harkenvault was that it was once an artificially created floating island that had crashed into the hill. This is why it wasn't level, why the doctors inside had died, and why several items they found were crushed in the impact.

(2) - Some of the elements of the last two adventures were adapted from the D&D scenario "Frozen Sick." Predictably, I warped things to fit my setting and turned up both the levels of Gothic Nonsense and WTF-that's-messed-up from the source material.

(3) - The Vlaakish zombie doctors were definitely inspired by David Cronenberg's Dead Ringers.

(4) - The characters in this game are probably the only people in the setting who are now aware that Empress Lithka, the last sovereign of the long-dead Vlaak Empire, is still "alive." 

(5) - Lord Doctor Feras (whose name sounds like a Dark Souls boss to me) survived the crash by transforming himself into a lich. He had a lab further in the complex that they didn't visit. Probably for the best, as he was both an inhuman horror and an obsessive undead monstrosity at this point.

(6) - Previous visitors of Harkenvault had been Frankenstein'd together into a corpse golem that was decidedly harder to control than the animate armor.

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Winter's Cruel Contagion

We're back to playing "Savage Krevborna," which marks the return of some familiar characters and the introduction of a couple new characters into the mix.


Doctor Pendleton Torst, rogue "anatomist"

Dalton Thayer, explorer and collector of antiquities 

Geradd, disreputable swashbuckler

Raoul Carathis, occultist and necromancer


All four characters had been enjoying safe haven in Lachryma under the auspices of Belle Silvra, the leader of the Cult of Scylla. However, it had now come time to offer Belle a little repayment for her hospitality. The group was summoned to a meeting with Belle, where she outlined a task she wanted them to undertake on her behalf. The Cult of Scylla had been making inroads into bringing their faith to the isolated folk of the Idlecross Islands.

However, Palistraza, one of the villages on the islands, had recently been struck by a mysterious illness that was possibly supernatural in origin. Belle wanted the group to travel to Palistraza and determine the cause and cure of the disease in hopes of illustrating the cult's beneficence. After all, Pendleton was a doctor and Raoul was an occultist, so between the two of them they should be well-equipped to deal with the issue. Geradd and Dalton were to accompany them as muscle, as needed.

Pendleton inquired about the fate of Captain Laurant, who was aboard the last ship that he had exploded and sank. Belle smiled. Captain Laurant had survived the blast, she explained, and saw her miraculous survival of two shipwrecks as evidence that the Scylla had a greater purpose for her in mind. Captain Laurant would be in charge of the ship, a vessel called the Relentless, that would be taking them to Palistaza. 

The group were rowed ashore from the Relentless to the small fishing village of Palistraza, where they were quickly directed to the jail of Constable Sevda. Sevda took them to examine the corpses of those who had fallen prey to the outbreak of illness. The bodies were being kept in the local ice house; they were draped with old sails as their shrouds. Pulling back the shroud of one of the victims revealed a number of horrors: the man's skin was alabaster white, and his veins stood out in dark blue beneath his skin. More disturbing were the clusters of icicles that had erupted from his eyes, mouth, and the left side of his chest.

As a necromancer, Raoul could tell that the "illness" was a combination of disease and magical curse. Unfortunately, when Pendleton examined the corpse, he carelessly knocked a chunk of a blue substance from the man's eye socket and onto his hand. Pendleton feared he had just infected himself; Raoul used his magic to repress any symptoms for the time being.

Dalton recognized the man as Yurgen Wenislav, a fellow explorer. Constable Sevda told them that Yurgen had recently returned from Harkenvault, a long-abandoned Vlaakish site, with artifacts recovered from its ruins. Surmising that the illness was related to the theft of the artifacts, the group began to plan a trip to Harkenvault. Constable Sevda offered them a key to Yurgen's cabins so they might look for any relevant clues.

The group discovered that someone had already rifled Yurgen's cabin. Geradd found footprints in the mud leading up to and away from the cabin's window, so he and Dalton decided to follow them. Meanwhile, Raoul and Pendleton went through the items scatted across the floor. Within a book of maps they found a receipt: Yurgen had sold a number of artifacts recovered from Harkenvault to a business called Pelan's Curiosity shop. Among the artifacts listed on the receipt were two blue glass vials--the color of which made them suspect they were connected to the blue residue that Pendleton had touched.

Dalton and Geradd found that the tracks led to another cabin deeper in the woods at the outskirts of Palistraza. The group reconvened and made their way to the other cabin. At first, the woman inside refused to speak to them and certainly wasn't interested in opening the door to them. However, when the artifacts that Yurgen had brought back to Palistraza were mentioned, she did at last unlock and open the door. She was clearly in the early stages of the illness--her skin was unnaturally pale and her elfin beauty was marred by the prominent blue veins beneath her skin. She admitted to being the one who had broken into Yurgen's cabin; she said she was looking for a cure among his belongings.

She also admitted that she and her associates had been stationed in Palistraza to get ahold of any Vlaakish artifacts that had been brought back from Harkenvault. When questioned, she admitted that her compatriots were hiding out in the nearby Carag Cavern in the foothills. The group was now working under the assumption that the way to remove the curse or disease that was afflicting Pendleton was to obtain the pilfered artifacts and return them to Harkenvault.

Dalton scouted Carag Cavern and found that it was guarded by strange creatures that had the bodies of dogs and canine skulls for their heads. The group attacked the guardian creatures, who were soon joined by three black-clad thugs who were lurking near the entrance to the cave. The group dealt with them handily, and Raoul animated one of the thugs as a zombie servitor. 

Within the cave, they discovered a blasphemous shrine to Cain, the first murderer, which revealed exactly who the group were up against: the thugs and thieves operating in Palistraza were agents of the Scarabasca, a criminal organization infamous for dealing in alchemical drugs and summoning demons as assassins. In another chamber they found ten bedrolls arranged around a fire pit, indicating that there were more Scarabasca about then they really wanted to deal with. Geradd stationed himself at the cave's entrance to wait for any thugs returning to the cavern; the rest of the group pressed on, desperate to get their hands on the stolen artifacts.

Further in the depths of the cavern, they found the leader of the Scarabasca thugs and her greasy-haired lieutenant. She was the twin sister of the woman encountered in the cabin earlier, and she was also clearly stricken with the strange sickness. The Scarabasca were all too eager for the party to open a chest in the chamber, but Raoul wisely had his zombie servitor lift the lid. When it did so, they heard the sound of glass breaking and a cloud of blue particles filled the air--the Scarabasca had weaponized one of the blue glass vials that were part of Yurgen's haul from Harkenvault. 

The group sprang into action and slew the leader and her lackey. Inside the chest they found the stolen artifacts and resolved to take them back to Harkenvault. They were particularly concerned with a statuette depicting an inhuman Vlaakish figure. We'll see what transpires during the expedition to Harkenvault next time.

Sunday, May 7, 2023

The Midnight Cabaret and Waldenraub Manor

Below are two locations in the city of Chancel in Krevborna. Both of these locations have a basis in actual play, in one way of another. 

The Midnight Cabaret's Yulia Karminova was loosely inspired by Anne's character Traviata. Traviata is a consumptive former opera star, but she never met a tragic end as Yulia Karminova did--essentially, Yulia is me imagining how things could have gone horribly wrong for someone in Traviata's position.

Over on my gaming Discord, we have a healthy interest in "fungal horror." From Andrew F. Sullivan's The Marigold to D&D's Zuggtmoy, we're into it. The Children of the Rotmaiden is Krevborna's humble contribution to the subgenre. The cult featured as the ultimate Big Bad of one of the Krevborna campaigns I ran; the Children of the Rotmaiden had set up shop on the bone moon to bombard the Earth with fungal munitions. Luckily, their nefarious plan was thwarted.

The Midnight Cabaret

The Midnight Cabaret is a shabby music hall on a disreputable lane in Chancel that caters to riffraff and slumming swells. 

    • The venue is haunted by the ghost of Yulia Karminova, a former opera star whose career was derailed by scandal. Rejected by society, she was forced to perform at a lowly cabaret to earn her daily bread.

    • Yulia’s health suffered amid the grime of the Midnight Cabaret; the flecks of blood that began to decorate her lace handkerchiefs when she coughed indicated that she her days were numbered.

    • Unable to endure her fall from grace or face a slow, painful death from consumption, Yulia hung herself from the rafters of the Midnight Cabaret. 

    • Embittered by her tragic end, Yulia’s spirit lingers within the music hall, attacking any performers who seem poised on the brink of greater success.

    • Her true name is now long-forgotten, but her legend lives on under a ghastly sobriquet: “the Blood-Soaked Diva.” 

    • Performers at the Midnight Cabaret have spotted a spectral figure clad in a white opera gown soaked through with blood; they fear hearing the sound of a ghostly aria—the telltale sign that the Blood-Soaked Diva has crept near.

Waldenraub Manor

Waldenraub Manor, a decrepit mansion on the outskirts of Chancel, is secretly the compound of the Children of the Rotmaiden—a cult devoted to an eldritch entity associated with decay, ruin, and the dissolution of the individual self.

    • The cult’s desire to ravage the land with fungal horrors is the promise of vengeance against a world that has wronged them; typical members of the cult include formerly oppressed serfs, the impoverished, and mistreated children.

    • The Children of the Rotmaiden are led by Dahlia Medlozka, a hardened woman who views the cult not as an extension of an evil agenda, but rather as a tool of liberation.

    • She hopes that the cult’s efforts can usher in a better world in which all become equal as the Rotmaiden weaves together the consciousness of every living being into a biological tapestry devoid of individual will. 

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Live and Let Die

Episode 66: Live and Let Die

Ian Fleming’s 1954 novel Live and Let Die places household-name super-spy James Bond on the trail of Harlem kingpin (and likely Soviet spy) Mr. Big. Jack and Kate follow Bond from smoky jazz nightclubs to a Florida retirement community and on to the Caribbean as he relentlessly wanders directly in his enemies’ lines of fire.

What is it with British pulp authors and their diligent recording of their characters’ dietary choices? How does an enthusiasm for jazz become a life-saving trait? And what the hell is keelhauling anyway? All these questions and more will be explored in this episode of Bad Books for Bad People.