Tuesday, August 29, 2023

The Dead Run

Bad Books for Bad People, Episode 69: The Dead Run

Adam Mansbach brings on the two-fisted action in his 2013 novel The Dead Run, with the results capturing the exhilarating vibe of a vintage exploitation movie. When a series of crimes challenges the police on both sides of the US-Mexican border, the authorities learn that a shocking conspiracy may be afoot.

What’s the most outrageous self-defense weapon? How wise is it to attempt the pronunciation of an Aztec deity’s name? Do prairie dogs even have kitchens? All these questions and more will be explored in this episode of Bad Books for Bad People! 

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Bring Me the Head of the Preacherman

One of the regular players was out, so we didn't want to continue our Savage Krevborna campaign a man down. Instead, a couple of the regulars were joined by someone I hadn't gotten to play with for a while and a brand-new player who got their first game in! I ran a one-shot of Satanic Cavaliers of the Infernal Galaxy, a hack of Lasers & Feelings about satanic sword-swingers in space. Here's the actual play recap of what went down.


Klaal, of House Lilith

Seraphine, of House Lilith

Tallahassee, of House Dagon

Flexerol, of House Legion


The characters were all "Satanic Cavaliers," trained in both the arts of war and the arts of black magic, in service to Her Infernal Majesty. The task they were given was to track Elias Marquint, a rogue Xtian preacher, to his safe haven on the planet Profundera. It was believed that Marquint made planetfall in the vicinity of Lormas, an isolated fishing community on the shore of Lake Redemption. They were also informed that there may be two related incidents in Lormas that could provide leads: a boat had been stolen at the wharf and a child from the local orphanage was missing. The group was supplied with a cruiser called the Dark Solar, which they promptly renamed the "Space Bitch," and comm devices so they could keep in contact with each other (if separated) and with Central Command.

Once the group touched-down on Lormas, they decided to grill the locals for information. Their first stop was the local orphanage, which they discovered was actually an orphanage/hotel staffed entirely by children. When the children proved incapable of providing any information, the Smythe sisters (the orphanage/hotel's proprietors) were summoned. They provided sparse details about the missing child, whom they believed had simply run away--which would not have been out of the pale considering that they were using the children as a source of free labor. They couldn't even remember the name of the child, but Klaal pushed past them, accessed their computer terminal, and came back with the name Isaac 2417-G94 and a picture of the kid. He also learned that the child's original surname had been Moriah.

During their investigation, they learned that there had been in break-in at the village's only store, so they decided to pay a visit to Finch's Emporium. Yanus Finch was obsequious and deferential to the cavaliers; he fell to his knees in praise to the Empress for sending her agents to apprehend the villains who had stolen from his shop. He supplied them with surveillance footage that showed two figures, both wearing hooded cloaks, loading foodstuffs into crates. One figure was about the right size for Elias Marquint; the other was shorter, but not small enough to be the missing child.

They then proceeded to the local place of satanic worship, an old church that had been painted black and "defaced" with various gargoyles and infernal signifiers. The satanic priestess, Uncharity Bizmaal, immediately creeped them out. However, she was able to fill in some important local history for them: Lormas's biggest scandal occurred when it was discovered that Philbin Moriah, a stained-glass artist of note, was actually a secret member of an Xtian sect. He was apprehended, but not before he had sacrificed one of his children upon an altar in his home out on one of the islands in Lake Redemption. Philbin had named both of his children Isaac; the missing kid was the child he didn't kill. Now "Moriah House" was supposed to be haunted, and thus avoided by the inhabitants of Lormas.

Figuring that Elias Marquint was hiding out in Moriah House, since it was studiously avoided by the people of Lormas, the group requisitioned a boat from Marth, the harbormaster. (Marth, who was pounding his way through cans of beer and then crushing them with his cybernetic arm, also gave them a description of the small ship that had been stolen from the wharf.) They cruised out to the island and saw Moriah House, an imposing edifice held aloft by pylons. They approached the house under the cover of an illusion cast by Seraphine.

Instead of entering the house via the front door, they opted to enter via an elevator shaft used to move Moriah's finished stained glass pieces out of his workshop. They found signs of habitation in the house, such as tracks on the carpeting and evidence that a bed was being slept in. At the top of the house's tower, they found the altar upon which Moriah had sacrificed one of his sons; it appeared that the altar was being readied for use again as the police tape that had once cordoned it off had been torn away. 

A strange thing happened in the bathroom: the taps turned on by themselves, filling the room with steam. Something wrote on the condensation on the mirror above the sink: "Take your son, your only son whom you love, Issac, and go to the land of Moriah."

At this point, Central Command used the comms to inform the group that a vessel was approaching the island. From the window, they could see that it was the boat that had been reported as stolen. There were two figures in the boat: one looked to be the smaller person they had seen on Yanus Finch's security cam footage; the other was small enough to be the missing child. The group decided to split their efforts, with Klaal and Seraphine going down to intercept the interlopers and Tallahassee and Flexerol staying to find Elias Marquint inside the house.

Seraphine and Klaal made their way down to the dock under the cover of another of Seraphine's obfuscating illusions. The identity of the second adult from the surveillance footage confirmed the uneasy feeling they had at the satanic temple: Elias Marquint's ally was none other than Uncharity Bizmaal, the satanic priestess. Klaal held her a swordpoint; she admitted that she and Marquint planned to sacrifice Moriah's other child, the second Isaac, on the family's altar to "seal the new covenant with God." The cavaliers had no intentions of letting that happen, but Uncharity lashed out with a knife. She managed to wound Seraphine's arm, but Klaal hacked into her and Seraphine knocked her unconscious with the pommel of her sword.

Back in Moriah House, Tallahassee tracked Marquint to a priesthole in the library. As Elias Marquint attempted to climb out and confront them, Flexerol elbow-dropped him back into the hole. Marquint shot and wounded Tallahassee with his laser pistol. Tallahassee tried to wing Elias with a book, but missed. Then, Tallahassee heard a mechanical voice down the hall state "Defense protocol activated." A cleaning droid came speeding down the hall, breaking a broom in half and brandishing the sharp ends as weapons. Tallahassee dropped to one knee and started firing arrows into the robot--the last arrow caused it to short circuit just as it was about to plunge the jagged ends of the broom into Tallahassee's neck.

Back down in the bolthole, Elias Marquint was proving to be a slippery combatant: he got Flexerol in a leglock and his knee was about to give way. Flexerol dug deep and remembered the grappling technique he had used the first time he bested his father in combat: he reversed the hold and managed to bend Marquint's head back until it was just touching the heel of his foot. The strain was too much: Marquint's back was broken by the hold!

With the miscreant eliminated, the group could now tidy up the loose ends. After interrogation, a limbless Uncharity was left at the wharf as a warning to all Xtian heretics. Elias Marquint's head was placed in a Salome Box for further neural investigation. This section of the Empire was now secure, all thanks to the violent intervention of Her Majesty's satanic cavaliers.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Irreproducible and Fleeting

"A cigarette is the perfect type of a perfect pleasure. It is exquisite and it leaves one unsatisfied." 

- Oscar Wilde

One attractive thing about playing role-playing games that I rarely see talked about is that they are instances of irreproducible, fleeting fun. Everyone who goes to the theater for the newest Star Wars or Marvel movie will see the same movie, but the game you play at your table is a singular, ephemeral instance that will be different from all other games. 

Your estimation of a film might differ from someone else's, but you saw the same movie. Not so with role-playing games. Even if you're using a published setting or prewritten adventure, other tables playing through the same material will have a different and equally unique experience. We might all start with the same rulebook in hand, but where we end up is, by the nature of this type of play, inevitably distinct.

This, to me, if one of the hobby's greatest selling points. In an age of homogenized entertainment that is engineered to be fairly smooth and frictionless for a global market, the game at your table is an experience that can't be bottled, isn't test-marketed, and wasn't birthed by committee to hit a target demographic. It is a transient, ephemeral, and personal thing--you literally had to be there to really "get it." It's also a part of the hobby resistant to the forces of monetization and professionalization: you own it, collectively but only ever temporarily.

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Death Returns to Valekia (Part Two)

Our previous Savage Krevborna game ended about halfway through the adventure, with the characters trapped in the basement of a convent that was under assault by supernatural forces. We picked it up and finished it off. Here's what happened.

The Characters

Raoul Carathis, occultist and necromancer

Countess Catarina Redmoore, prioress of an unsettlingly convent

Doctor Pendleton Torst, rogue anatomist


When we last left our "heroes," they had just maneuvered a statue of the templar Petra Ivanova to open the tomb of Wolfblood Nenika. Nenika's tomb was decorated with animal pelts hung upon the walls, a bronze statue of the huntress from the Silent Forest, baskets of animal horns and antlers, and an ornate wooden chair. When the chair was examined, it was determined that the small pile of dust in its seat was consistent with the dust of a mummified body left to slowly decay. 

The adventurers conjectured that this confirmed their suspicion that Nenika's dead body had been left in the chair as part of her native burial rites, but had been reanimated as the wolf-like monster they had encountered above in the hallway. There was also a glaive leaning against the wooden chair. It proved too heavy for Raoul, Pendleton, or Catarina to wield, so it was given to the Widow.

The group repositioned the statue of Petra Ivanova and opened a third crypt--this one belonging to the heroic bandit Svetlana Silbervaas. Her tomb appeared to be undisturbed; it appeared that she still rested beneath the marble slab laid here as there were no signs that her body had fought its way out of the grave or otherwise risen. There was a wooden chest atop the marble slab. Pendleton picked the lock and found a coil of rope, a grappling hook, and some particularly well-crafted lockpicks. They also found Silbervaas's journal, but it appeared to be written in some sort of code or cipher. 

(They also found a brick that functioned as a hidden switch of some kind, but after pressing it they weren't sure what they had activated.)

They then turned the statue of Petra Ivanova to the last position, which opened the final metal door. Instead of opening the entryway to a crypt, this brought them through a curved corridor that ended in a hidden door in the sinkhole chamber. They examined the wolf-creature's body and confirmed both that its face resembled that of the Bloodwolf Nenika statue and that she had been raised as an undead creature. As they contemplated their next move, they noticed a strange phenomena: small motes of flame were falling down from the top of the shaft. They could also see flickering light at the top of the shaft.

More fire began to spill down the shaft, so the group decided it was time to address the black volcanic boulder. Raoul put his hand on the boulder and it shattered, revealing a passageway with rough-hewn stairs leading down further into the depths. The group fled down the stairs, not wanting to find out what the source of the flames was. Catarina snuck ahead into the chamber ahead and discovered a woman dressed in a white nun's habit, on her knees with her hands clasped. The nun was reciting a prayer to Saint Choreana, beseeching her to keep something evil at bay. When she raised her head, they saw that rivulets of blood ran from her eyes and down her cheeks.

The group attempted to communicate with the nun, which only caused her to pray louder and more fervently. Trying to interact with her only made the nun more agitated; she clawed at her skin, then smeared the blood on Catarina's face as her prayers reached a screaming pitch. 

(Catarina was also had the voice of a woman again in her head, urging to her to kill Raoul and Pendleton. She had the Widow position herself between her and her companions in case she suddenly lost control of herself and gave in to the urge to attack them.)

The source of the flames now made itself known: an undead Jiriel sauntered into the chamber, wreathed in fire, and began sauntering toward the group. They could see that her veins were lit up from within, as if magma was flowing through her body instead of blood. Jiriel taunted them, which at least confirmed that the voice in Catarina's head did not belong to Jiriel. Jiriel's approach was clearly menacing. Catarina took aim and wounded Jiriel in the stomach with a shot from her pistol; instead of blood, fire poured out.

What happened next was horrible. Jiriel cast a pyromancy spell that filled the chamber with fire. Both Catarina and Raoul were gravely injured by the blast. The praying nun was instantly incinerated. And the Widow crumpled to the floor, wheezing and on the verge of shutting down. Catarina and Raoul ran for it, pushing past Pendleton to whatever lay beyond the chamber.

Undaunted, and more importantly unharmed by the fire because he was wearing Jiriel's cloak, Pendleton stood his ground and covered their retreat. Jiriel began to cast another spell, but Pendleton lunged forward with his rapier, pierced Jiriel's throat, and pushed his blade upward into her brain--killing her again. 

As they ran into the darkness, Raoul and Catarina found a stone bridge spanning a yawning chasm. On the other side of the bridge was a stone door set into a wall; eerie green light poured from the keyhole. Pendleton told them that the coast was now clear, so rather than press forward they returned to tend to the Widow.

Unfortunately, Pendleton could not heal her. Her last action was to present one of Doctor Frankenstein's communication devices to Catarina and tell her that she "needed to see the doctor." The light then left the Widow's eyes and her head slumped forward. She now showed no signs of life. Catarina was extremely upset about the Widow's state. She used to the device and eventually got ahold of Viktoria Frankenstein. Frankenstein was slightly annoyed, but her confidence in her abilities was absolute: she told them that if they brought the Widow's inert form back to her laboratory, she was sure she could "fix" the Widow.

Getting the Widow out of the convent was now the group's priority. Raoul summoned a giant skeleton that was able to cradle the Widow and carry her, while the rest of the group clung to its ribs as it climbed up through the convent's ruins. Their attempt to find the mountain specified on their cosmic charts was aborted; they returned to Creedhall and took a boat to the isle in the middle of Loch Riven. 

Viktoria Frankenstein left them in the dining room as she went to work on the Widow in her laboratory. As the hours passed, their anxiety over the Widow's fate increased. Viktoria returned, stripped her bloody leather gloves off, and announced that the Widow was once again among the living--though she was currently sedated and needed weeks of rest before she would be up and about.

The group resolved to leave the Widow in the care of Viktoria Frankenstein while they returned to complete their trip to Sibersk. They used their time in Creedhall to put their ears to the ground and find the answers to some nagging questions. For one, Pendleton confirmed his fear that Serafina had been abducted by the Black Rats. 

Raoul figured out that Jiriel's goal was to kill the praying nun who was keeping the vampire Countess Vlodeska trapped beneath the convent. Vlodeska was now free, and judging by the reports they were hearing of a "strange plague" of exsanguinated victims she was heading south from Sibersk. 

Catarina had an idea: on the way to the Karthax Mountains, they would attempt to find Kairn Volkov--the stronghold of the Sisters Carnifexa, an order of warrior nuns they might be able to recruit to help them deal with Vlodeska.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Savage Krevborna

After posting one of the adventure recaps from our Savage Krevborna game to Twitter, someone asked me why I went with Savage Worlds as the "engine" of the game and how game play has differed from when I using D&D as I have in years past. It's a good question that I thought might be worthwhile exploring in more depth than Twitter really allows for.

Ease of Play

I went with Savage Worlds because I played it a lot years ago and generally think it's a fun game; at one point I probably played more Savage Worlds than D&D, so there was a layer of familiarity there and it didn't present a big "re-learning curve." Savage Worlds's basic rules also seem pretty easy for players to pick up. Although most of my players in this game had no previous experience with Savage Worlds, they got the basics down really fast.

On my end, as the person running the game, Savage Worlds has a lot of stuff I get to play with. By stuff I mean: enemies, powers, and bolt-on widgets to enhance the game. Especially taking the Fantasy and Horror Companions into account, I don't have to spend time kit-bashing cool stuff for the game. I can instead focus on the adventures and overall campaign, as is my preference. 

Krevborna and "Genre"

Savage Worlds felt like a good fit for Krevborna because despite being billed as a "generic" system, it's actually quite geared toward Big Pulp Action, which is mostly what Krevborna is about. Krevborna is a Gothic setting, but the setting focuses more on the swashbuckling, monster hunting end of the Gothic rather than the quiet, contemplative Gothic. Krevborna has always been more Brotherhood of the Wolf than Wuthering Heights, so mechanics such as the Wild Die, exploding rolls, and Bennies it fits the intended experience pretty well.

Character Possibilities

In many ways, this is the facet most interesting to me: one immediately obvious difference between running the Krevborna setting with Savage Worlds instead of D&D is that Savage Worlds opens up a lot of character concepts that fit the setting, but don't really don't fit D&D's class-based system. For example, two of the the characters in the campaign are a noblewoman-turned-prioress and an anatomist, neither of which map easily to a D&D class.

Catarina, the mysteriously widowed noblewoman, has a skillset focused on occult lore, persuasion, and shooting a pistol; I suppose she could be a rogue in D&D terms, but thievery is not her bag. Since she's now the prioress of a convent devoted to a primordial sea entity, cleric or warlock might seem plausible, but she wields no magical powers. (And I'm pretty sure her player isn't too interesting in dealing with the extra bookkeeping that comes with rpg magic systems.) Simply put, I just don't think Catarina exists in D&D, which is a shame because she's a great character!

Pendleton, the rogue anatomist, feels even less like a D&D character. Again, great character! But the mechanics of D&D don't really have a place for a non-magical medical man. (He has since begun to explore alchemy, but he had no magical abilities at the start of the campaign.) It's worth nothing that both Pendleton's and Catarina's "archetypes" are entirely natural to the notion of Gothic fantasy, but they remain a bit alien to D&D's vision of standard fantasy.

As the necromancer in the party, Raoul corresponds more cleanly to a D&D class, but I think Savage Worlds does a better job on delivery the fantasy of being a necromancer. D&D might make you wait until you gain a few levels to get a subclass that really brings the flavor you had in mind to life, but in Savage Worlds it's easier to get the kind of character you have in mind right away. 

Also, to cap it off, I think we've been enjoying the more organic character growth possible when the character exist outside of a class-based system. Catarina's player has been able to focus on the elements of her character that interest her, while Pendleton's player has been able to branch out and add a whole new toolkit (the aforementioned alchemy) to his character. Raoul's player has gotten to pick the type and flavor of his necromancy; man, he's gonna love being able to summon a giant skeleton going forward.

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Death Returns to Valekia (Part One)

In our continuing Savage Krevborna game the characters are making their way to the Karthax Mountains beyond vampire-haunted Sibersk. This session was adapated from the adventure The Bloody Wrath of Countess Mekula by LJ LaLonde.

The Characters

Raoul Carathis, occultist and necromancer

Countess Catarina Redmoore, prioress of an unsettlingly convent

Doctor Pendleton Torst, rogue anatomist


On the way to Sibersk, the party stopped for the evening at a hostelry called The Hanged Man Inn. They arranged for rooms and a meal. As the proprietor brought their food to the table, he noted the weapons they carried, leaned in close, and asked them not to kill anyone inside the inn. This seemed like a strange request, and it quickly began to look like an impossible request when four mercenaries walked into the inn and took a table. Pendleton noticed that they all wore cloaks made of rat fur--a tell-tale sign that they were the Black Rats that Serafina had warned him had been hired to apprehend him by the Holland family.

When violence inevitably broke out, things did not go in the Black Rats' favor. Catarina blew one of their faces off with her pistol; the Widow crushed another's windpipe. Once the dust settled, the innkeeper began to panic. Just then, the inn's door swung open and a black-robed figure, its face obscured by a cowl, glided into the establishment. The strange interloper gathered up the dead Black Rats and stuffed their corpses, rather improbably, into a large sack. The creature then paid the innkeeper for the bodies, dropping coins into his trembling palm. It then departed without ever speaking a word.

The entity had left one of the Black Rats behind, who proved not to be dead. He was dragged outside, and before he expired he intimated that they had "the girl" in their clutches. The group pondered whether Rebecca had been captured again, but Pendleton conjectured that perhaps they had kidnapped Serafina. Examining the coins the creature had given the innkeeper, they saw that they were stamped with the likeness of Countess Alcesta von Karlok--Raoul suspected that the creature was a minion of the Crucifuge, an order of necromancers who sometimes served the vampiric lieges of Sibersk.

In the morning, they resumed their journey. Their next stop was the village of Valekia on the threshold of Sibersk. When they arrived, the village was in the midst of a celebration, which they quickly learned was in honor of the four heroes who had liberated Valekia from the rule of the vampire Countess Vlodeska. Each of the heroes was a woman (Petra Ivanova, a templar of the Church; Wolfblood Nenika, a huntress from the Silent Forest; Jiriel, an elven pyromancer, Svetlana Silbervaas, a daring rogue) as only they seemed immune to the Countess's supernatural beauty. The villager they spoke to recommended that they attend the sermon in the Convent of the Sacred Innocence, where the entire tale would be recounted as part of the festivities. Curious about the village's history, they decided to do something out of character: they went to church.

The sermon was long and tedious...up until the holy symbols within the convent burst into flame and a acrid smoke began to obscure the windows. Attempts to leave the convent were stymied by forceful blasts of vile smoke; the Widow was flung across the room--her shoulder joint was broken by the impact as she slammed into the wall. The group attempted to flee deeper into the convent, but the whole building came down on top of them. They were all knocked unconscious as both the ceiling and the floor collapsed.

They awoke to dawn's light streaming in from above. In the room with them was evidence of a satanic rite: a pentagram drawn in blood, a burned-down black candle at each of its five points, words written in the Verbis Diablo written around the perimeter of the pentagram. They cleared the rubble away from the room's only door, but were disturbed by the sounds coming from beyond the door--alternating sounds of something noisily feasting, growling like an animal, and giggling like a child. Spying through a crack in the door revealed that the sounds were all coming from a wolf-like figure with burgundy fur that was eating something or someone on the floor of the hallway beyond the door.

Unwilling to deal with this monster directly, Raoul summoned the ghost of one of the convent's long-dead nuns to lead the creature away from the door. The nun chastised the wolf-like woman into retreating to one of the chambers connected to the hallway. The group opted to explore a different chamber. As they investigated, they found a shaft where a metal spiral staircase had torn away from the wall. They directed the Widow to hold a rope so they could safely descend into the bowels of the convent. 

The bottom of the shaft was a muddy sinkhole; human remains could be seen poking up out of the muck. There seemed to be no other exits to the shaft, but there was a large boulder made of black volcanic glass. Raoul examined it and found that it was covered in runes warning anyone not versed in the arts of necromancy from touching it. The boulder also radiated an intense cold.

Unfortunately, while the Widow was holding their rope she was attacked by the wolfwoman. She managed to throw the wolfen woman down the shaft to her death, but when the group went back up to check on the Widow they found her badly injured. Pendleton's magic was unable to heal her, but the Widow insisted she could soldier on.

(Catarina found a dagger carved from a human femur. At one point the dagger, or a voice speaking in Catarina's head through the dagger, urged her to kill her compatriots.)

Eventually the group found themselves in a chamber with a statue of Petra Ivanova, one of the four champions who had liberated Valekia. The chamber also featured four iron doors that were impossible to open. However, upon further investigation the statue proved to be movable; it could be swiveled so that Petra's outstretched hand could be pointed at any of the iron doors. When it was pointed at one of the doors, the door swung open, revealing the crypt of Jireal, an elven sorceress who had been part of Petra's band of freedom fighters. 

From the look of things, Jiriel's final resting place had been ruptured from within, which made the group consider the possibility than a now-undead Jiriel was stalking the crypts. They also found Jiriel's personal grimoire and a black bow with 13 ebony arrows. The group conjectured that perhaps a reanimate Jiriel had been responsible for the smoke at assaulted the convent, and that perhaps the wolf-like creature was a returned Nenika--after all, she was also called "Wolfblood."

Returning to the central chamber, they pointed Petra Ivanova at another chamber door, which also swung open. Beyond it lay...well, we'll find out in the next session.

Sunday, August 6, 2023

Edogawa Ranpo

Bad Books for Bad People, Episode 68: Edogawa Ranpo

Edogawa Ranpo pioneered the Japanese-language mystery story, taking inspiration from his pseudo-namesake Edgar Allan Poe and ultimately developing his own unique–and deeply disturbing–authorial voice. Jack and Kate take a look at three short stories from the collection Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination and encounter a world of erotic, grotesque nonsense.

How do Ranpo’s original tales compare to the many film and manga adaptations of his work? Who’s got it worse: a pervert living inside of a chair, or the people who sit in the pervert’s chair? Have our hosts finally gotten to the darkest parts of the Summer of Bummer? All these questions and more will be explored in this episode of the podcast!

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

The Drive In, Polite Society, Nereid, and More

Things that brought me delight in July, 2023:

Joe R. Lansdale, The Drive In

Apparently, The Drive In was a real bitch for Joe R. Lansdale to write, but his paean to b-movie shlock and the lost world of the drive-in theater is a joy to read. A buncha guys get trapped in a drive-in during the weekly horror movie event when a meteor passes by and causes all hell to break loose. Things get as wild and wooly as any low-budget gorefest pretty quick. Who will survive and what will be left of them? Besides the popcorn and blood, they're gonna be left with a whole bunch of trauma to work through. I enjoyed this so much that I used it as the basis for one of the PLANET MOTHERFUCKER games I ran in July.

Polite Society

It's not my usual sort of movie, but I gotta say that Polite Society was a boatload of fun. The movie is about two Pakistani girls living in England: the elder is an art-school drop out who is poised to be married to a guy who's too good to be true, and the younger is a martial arts-obsessed would-be stuntwoman who plans a heist to rescue her sister from the upcoming marriage. It's got lots of kung-fu fightin' and it's pretty funny. There's also a fairly Gothic twist to the would-be groom's family that I enjoyed. Lighter fare than usual for me, but this was a very good time so I'm glad I switched it up a bit.

Ricinn, Nereid

Better known for her role in Igorrr, Ricinn is Laure Le Prunenec's solo, vocal-based project. Nereid is an interesting, experimental record. It's got elements of Gothic bombast, demonical outburst, and neoclassical elegance. You can even tell that this is an Igorrr-related album on the track "Sore." Ricinn feels like a hidden weapon; this project should definitely be more well-known among fans of Jarboe, Chelsea Wolfe, and Diamanda Galas.

Savage Worlds: Fantasy Companion

I've been waiting for the Fantasy Companion for SWADE in hardcopy for a while now, but it's finally here! Savage Worlds' genre companions really hit the spot for me, as they're filled with stuff that's actually useful for a variety of SW games. For my purposes, there's a lot of material here that fits my Krevborna setting.(I've already gotten a lot of use out of the rules for necromancy and alchemy, as well as the wide variety of monsters on offer.) As a mix-and-match grab bag, the Fantasy Companion has ancestries, new edges and hindrances, more powers (and arcane archetypes, clerical domains, rules for familiars, etc.), a big bestiary section, mundane equipment and magical items, domain-level stuff, traps, and lots of worldbuilding ideas. 

Hideyuki Kikuchi (with art by Yoshitaki Amano), Vampire Hunter D: The Dark Road, Part Three

I finished up the last part of The Dark Road storyline. The "twist" is not much of a surprise: the traitorous vampires haven't been revived to kill D, they've been revived so that D can kill them. Here's a weird bit from this volume: one of the vampires is explicitly a pedophile. Make of that what you will. There's also a bit of unexplained weirdness where one character turns out to be something else entirely at the 11th hour without much context; it makes me wonder if something was lost in translation there.

Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata, Death Note vols. 1-12

Death Note is regarded as a classic manga, but to be honest I've been avoiding it because popular doesn't always equal good in the Japanese comics and anime arena. That said, I can report that Death Note is actually good! Really good, in facr. The story concerns a high school student who stumbles upon a magical notebook that causes anyone whose name is written into it to die. There are a lot of other rules attached to the notebook as well, making this something of a story of Faustian power. What surprised me most about Death Note is that it actually manages to pose some pretty interesting moral questions.

Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion

At its core, Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion is a Japanese women-in-prison exploitation movie, but it's elevated by depth of storytelling and some especially artistic visual flourishes. The sequence in which the main character recalls her betrayal by the man she loves and her failed attempt to kill him is particularly inventive. Of course, it doesn't skimp on the violence, torture, cruelty, and nudity that you'd expect from this kind of movie, but I do think it's got enough going on to really set itself apart from the pack. Some of the lighting reminded me of the better giallo set pieces. I hear that the sequel is even better, so I'm looking forward to that one now too.

Sarah Gailey, Just Like Home

Sarah Gailey's Just Like Home pulls one of my favorite Gothic novel routines: from the start of the book, it's clear that something horrible has happened in the family home, but exactly what that something entails is kept obscured for much of the early portion of the book. I love that stuff; keep me on pins and needles, wondering what the hell went so very wrong in the past!

Warning: spoilers below. Skip to another entry if you plan on reading Just Like Home.

Things get grotty in Just Like Home when the family's secret is revealed to be that the main character's father was a serial killer murdering men in the basement. As a child, the protagonist watched him kill through a peephole and tried to emulate what he was up to. The mom also knew about it, though it seems like she didn't participate. I wasn't sure if there would be a supernatural element at work in the novel, or if the protagonist was just traumatized from growing up with a serial killer dad, but there was--and it brings the book to a strange, off-kilter conclusion that emphasizes the lengths a person will go to finally find a place to belong.

Dead Ringers

I generally avoid reboots and remakes like the plague, but I could watch Rachel Weisz wash dishes for an hour, so I thought I'd give this new Dead Ringers a try. And really, this is how it's done. Rachel Weisz does largely carry the show, playing both twins and managing to make each of them a distinct and complete character. 

The Dead Ringers miniseries also deftly avoids one of the great pitfalls of this particular reboot genre: it has none of the self-satisfied sanctimoniousness that often accompanies a gender-swap. It allows the twins to be complex, twisted, and disturbingly flawed, instead of positing a righteous depiction as actual political progress. However, that is not to say that the series doesn't engage with the social fabric; it melds the focus on the twins' warped psychology with a solid understanding of the issues involved in birth and motherhood in ways that Cronenberg's original couldn't tackle.

Deathstars, Everything Destroys You

I'm new to the Deathstars experience, but if Everything Destroys You is anything to go by I like their stomping Gothic-industrial metal sound. I saw someone describe their sound as a crosspollination between The 69 Eyes and Rammstein and honestly that's pretty apt, but they're also playing in the same ballpark as Gothminster and Crematory. 

Shiver Corebook, The Cursed Library, The Art of Shiver, Gothic: Secrets of Spireholm, Gothic: Disciple of Dregstone

I backed the kickstarter for the Shiver: Gothic rpg so long ago that I kinda forgot about it until the physical rewards showed up this month. The package is honestly a little overwhelming; there is a lot of stuff here, as the main Gothic book is as thick as the corebook. I'll need more time to delve into this properly, and maybe I'll write a review here on the blog when I've gotten a grip on it, but so far I like that even though it's a class-based system there are ways to keep characters varied and interesting, the Mignola-inspired art is cool, and the Gothic fantasy supplements seem right up my alley. Things I'm less hot on: there doesn't seem to be any guidance as to what kind of gear characters start with and...ehh, bespoke dice with symbols on them.

Andrew F. Sullivan, All We Want is Everything

All We Want is Everything is a book of short stories packed with sharp, incisive bursts of degradation. It's a parade of the infinite variety of fucked up specimens belonging to irredeemable human animal. Fans of Sullivan's novels, Waste and the more recent The Marigold, take note: this book contains stories that are functionally the "seeds" of those works. See how they grow, see what withers on the vine. Now that I've read All We Want is Everything, Waste, and The Marigold, I'm really looking forward to his collaboration with Nick Cutter, The Handyman Method. This guy always comes to the party with some fucked up shit to show us, and I'm loving it.

Robert Ellis Cahill, New England's Mad & Mysterious Men and New England's Strange Sea Sagas

When I'm on vacation I like to pick up those little books about local folklore, hauntings, and weird shit that you always find in touristy gift shops. Since we went back to the North Shore of Massachusetts in July, I bought a couple more to add to the collection. It turns out I've been working through this series since the 80s. Now I know a whole lot more--and more than I probably need to--about New England's mad and mysterious men, to say nothing of its strange sea sagas.

The Thing

My girlfriend had been wanting to watch John Carpenter's The Thing for a while now, so we finally got around to watching it. The Thing is absolutely a movie that will stand the test of time; this flick is pretty much unimpeachable. There's a real pleasure in getting to watch someone else experience a movie like this for the first time: my girlfriend's verdict is that The Thing had a good level of tension, and that it might be the grossest movie she's ever scene. And when you think about it, this really is an extremely wet looking film--in all the best ways. Practical effects win again!

From Shadows

I wonder how much trepidation there was over at Wyrd as they geared up to release the From Shadows supplement for their Through the Breach rpg. The book covers the Ten Thunders faction, who are essentially an Asian crime syndicate. By some metrics, that probably violates the modern rules of representation, but as I am neither qualified nor interested in commentary on that--my question is, "but is it any good?"

To be honest, there's probably more timeline, lore, and history than I prefer, but once it gives way we have a pretty interesting faction. One thing notable about the Ten Thunders is that it's kind of a pan-Asian faction: it's members are descended from Japanese, Chinese, and Vietnamese origins. (Though one wonders why Korea was left out here.) There's some neat new magic to play with here, and it gives a more satisfying implementation of Avatar-style elementalists than D&D was ever capable of. Also included is a special system of character creation specifically tailored for making characters connected to the Ten Thunders syndicate. Best of all? Sweet bestiary that includes my favorite--the penanggalan!

Gwendolyn Kiste, Reluctant Immortals

Truth be told, I picked up Reluctant Immortals solely on the strength of Gwendolyn Kiste's Rust Maidens. Reluctant Immortals is a very different kind of book when compared against that novel, but it's great fun all the way through. In lesser hands, this premise wouldn't work: Lucy Westenra and Bertha Mason are both immortals haunted by the men who have cursed them with unnaturally extended lives--Dracula and Edward Rochester, respectively. Both women have fled their pasts for California; when that past catches up with them, their forced to navigate the 60s Haight Ashbury scene. At one point some hippie chicks have gotten ahold of an urn containing Dracula's sentient ashes; said urn is quickly painted with psychedelic colors. If that's the sort of thing that sounds like a fun ride to you, definitely give Reluctant Immortals a try.

The Bomboras, Head Shrinkin' Fun

Head Shrinkin' Fun is a record I've been looking for since the late 90s. NOW IT IS MINE! The Bomboras do fuzzy garage rock and surf instruments. There are a few tracks with vocals, but I have to admit that those aren't my favorites. Still, this record is great fun--as good as I always imagined it would be in the intervening years. The only danger is that this is the kind of music that makes me drive fast. Gotta keep an eye on the speedometer. 

Stephen Graham Jones, Night of the Mannequins

I read Stephen Graham Jones's Night of the Mannequins in one day, unwilling to put it down for very long to attend to other things. I don't want to say too much about the plot because you really should experience it for yourself. I can say that it was not what I was expecting, but I loved the way it swerved in a direction I didn't see coming. Night of the Mannequins is a quick little read; you should definitely pick it up if you're looking for a sharp little burst of horror. One of these days we really gotta cover one of Stephen Graham Jones's novels on Bad Books for Bad People.

Ash vs. Evil Dead, Season One

Why did no one tell me that Ash vs. Evil Dead was so fuckin' fun? Certainly more fun than Evil Dead Rise, which tried it's hardest and just couldn't get there for me. Is Bruce Campbell the missing ingredient? He's certainly in fine form here, but the supporting cast ain't no slouches either. Great mix of comedy and I love that every episode features at least one impressively gory set-piece death scene. I'm definitely going to keep watching the other seasons of Ash vs. Evil Dead, even though I know it doesn't really have a "proper" conclusion. I can live with that because this is one of the few shows I've seen in the last few years that makes me laugh out loud.

Thoughts and Prayers

Thoughts and Prayers is a fun little game zine with material for MORK BORG, CY_BORG, and Death in Space, as well as more general stuff like musings about rpgs and record reviews. Even though I'm unlikely to use all the material in this zine, or even play some of the games that the material is aimed at, this is a fun grab bag of stuff. It's practically guaranteed that something between the covers will spark your imagination or amuse you. Plus, the proceeds from this thing go to a good cause.

Chad Lutzke, How the Skin Sheds

Chad Lutzke's How the Skin Sheds is another book I've devoured in the Splatter Western line. In this one, a cattle rancher is driven to pursue a grotesque serial killer after the murderer kills his sister and violates his niece. Impressively gut churning at points, How the Skin Sheds is another example from this line of a short novel that gets a lot done in a small bundle of pages. It's a simple tale of revenge, all things told, but I especially liked the emphasis on how vengeance is always a path that changes, if not corrupts, those who pursue it. You'd know what I'd love? A sequel novel featuring the adventures of the life-hardened niece in the vile West.

Tribulation, Hamartia

Confession: I've actually had Tribulation's Hamartia ep for a while now, but I lost track of it in the shuffle and only got around to listening to it in late July. The ep features four songs, each of which showcase Tribulation's unmistakable blend of goth rock, blackened metal, and 70s hard rock influences. I've heard some metal hipsters posit that Tribulation is the "good" version of Ghost, and interestingly Tribulation has never sounded more Ghost-like than in the Blue Oyster Cult cover on Hamartia. Why quibble? Would love to see them tour together for the ultimate experience.


Now that I've seen it, I'm of the opinion that the trailer for Renfield didn't do a good job of selling the movie. I was expecting something far goofier--along the lines of an extended SNL skit--and even the promise of Nicholas Hoult wasn't even for me to stomach such a thing. But Renfield is actually a pretty high-octane romp with a surprising amount of Mortal Kombat-esque violence too it. Nicholas Hoult is great, Awkwafina (man I hate typing that name) is great as the comedic springboard, and Nicolas Cage gets to chew the scenery with aplomb as Dracula. Watching this so close to reading Reluctant Immortals, a book also showcasing Dracula's "toxic masculinity," might be a bit much, but I had a great time watching this. So much so that I kinda regret not seeing it in the theater!

Vampire: The Masquerade Player's Guide

Speaking of vampires, I got my hands on the long-awaited Player's Guide for the newest edition of Vampire: The Masquerade. The content in this book reminds me of what we expect from rpg zines: it's a real grab bag of stuff that you can plug-and-play into your game as wanted or needed. The book collects the clans published in other disparate books, offers advice on how to run chronicles in different formats, gives alternate clan banes, details rules for playing as various kinds of "cast offs," adds new sorceries, disciplines, merits, and flaws, and has tons of doodads pertaining to coteries. My favorite bit: the quick and easy rules for "instantly" generating a character; I'd love to use them with a group that wasn't immersed in Vampire lore to get things running quickly.