Sunday, October 29, 2023

Hemlock Hollow

Art by Becky Munich
Just in time for Halloween, I'm dropping the version of Hemlock Hollow that will appear in the revised Krevborna book. Hemlock Hollow is the area of the setting designed for exploring the Gothic ends of folk horror and cult horror. Hemlock Hollow isn't a town in danger of being taken over by the forces of the Devil--that battle has already been lost. The question is now which Faustian bargains are worth risking your soul over.

Future posts will detail specific locations in Hemlock Hollow, as well as two prominent members of the Graymalk clan.

Hemlock Hollow

A Mining Town in the Grip of Devil Worship

Hemlock Hollow was initially founded as a mining camp after rich veins of silver were discovered in the nearby mountains. The mining operation grew prosperous, and the camp expanded into a fully fledged town. Then, disaster struck. A series of mine collapses brought ruin to Hemlock Hollow. The townsfolk fell into despair and the town’s death seemed all but assured.

The town was granted a new lease on life with the arrival of the women of the Graymalk family. The Graymalks had ready coin to purchase the deeds to the disaster-prone mines. With the mines now under their sole ownership, the Graymalks held a meeting in the town square. Helena Graymalk offered the townspeople a blasphemous proposition: if they would renounce the saints of the Church of Holy Blood and pledge their souls to the Devil, the town would once again know the prosperity of old. The townsfolk initially jeered at this proposal, but within the week the town’s most desperate citizens traded their souls to resume mining under the auspices of the Graymalk family. Most of the town has now converted to the worship of the Devil. As long as the mines remain fruitful and safe, the people see no reason to return to the bosom of their once-adored church. 


The following elements and aesthetic notes define Hemlock Hollow:

  • Occult symbols decorate the facades of Hemlock Hollow’s shops, homes, and inns.
  • Hemlock Hollow’s street signs are written in both the common tongue and in the Verbis Diablo, the infernal language of Devils and Demons.
  • The townsfolk make casual references to the Devil’s glory in conversation, the way other Krevbornites would speak of their saints.
  • It is not uncommon to see sacrificial wicker men or ribald maypole ceremonies on the streets of Hemlock Hollow.

Sunday, October 22, 2023

The Skarnesti Circus

It's true, I have been thinking about what a scary circus would be like in Krevborna. Below is the results of that pondering. Keen-eyed fans of the Ravenloft setting will notice that I have appropriated "the Twisting" power associated with the Carnival from that setting. I feel like it's fair game, since WotC abandoned it--even though it's the best idea to come with the Carnival--in their presentation of the domain in Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft. Of course, I've put my own spin on the Twisting, or, as I'm calling it, "deformography."

The Skarnesti Circus

The arrival of the Skarnesti Circus is preceded by the appearance of fliers calculated to whet the appetites of the curious and those who crave novel entertainment. No one ever observes who—or what—nails these fliers up in public spaces, but they invariable appear a week before the Skarnesti Circus descends upon a town or village.
When the wagons of the Skarnesti Circus rumble into view, they set up camp and begin to erect the circus’s colorful tents, temporary buildings, and lurid canvases advertising the acts that will amaze, horrify, and delight the crowds. Roustabouts and carnies hustle to and fro and the smell of cheap fairway food begins to waft from the area claimed by the circus. When the sound of off-kilter calliope music begins to play, the Skarnesti Circus is officially open for business.

The entertainments offered by the Skarnesti Circus include acrobats, clowns, trained animals, stage magicians, hoochie coochie shows, feats of might by circus strongmen, and a freak show, among others acts. Few are disappointed when they trade a few coins on the midway for entry into the Skarnesti Circus’s brightly hued tents.

Of course, a fair number of the circus’s performances are based on trickery or are mundane acts dressed up by pomp, burlesque, and greasepaint. However, some of the circus’s performers are something more than natural. Among the Skarnesti circus’s many amusements are the following performers, each of which may draw the characters into their dramas.

Zoskia Skarnesti

Zoskia Skarnesti is owner and operator of the Skarnesti Circus; she also serves as the circus’s “barker,” enticing the crowds to part with their coin for the promise of a spectacle. Zoskia is very much a character—her role is that of a ghastly and lurid ingenue whose act is a burlesque on the very real horrors that stalk Krevborna.

Zoskia also possesses a strange ability, which she calls “deformography,” that she uses to keep her circus full of physical curiosities and man-made freaks. When Zoskia calls upon the power of deformography, she can change the flesh and nature of her target whether they are willing or not. Some are made beautiful when subjected to Zoskia’s deformography, but more often their flesh is rendered grotesque, frightening, or uncanny. This physical transformation is often accompanied by the target developing unique supernatural talents. The powers the target acquires are out of Zoskia’s control, but they are frequently tied to the formative experiences in their personal histories. 

Those who undergo deformography invariably find themselves bent to Zoskia’s will. Although she doesn’t always make her subjects into vassals, all of the monstrous roustabouts who work at the circus are people who attempted to steal from the carnival or otherwise offended Zoskia—she has altered them into hulking brutes who labor at her command.
    • Appearance: Zoskia styles herself to deliberately appear morbidly alluring: she dyes her blonde hair black, wears skin-tight black dresses, and uses cosmetics to make her skin as pale as a Vampire’s dead flesh.
    • Personality: Zoskia affects a persona that is a mix of camp, macabre gallows humor, and sexy double entendres. 
    • Motive: Zoskia delights in shocking or stunning audiences into submission with the strange and astounding acts offered by her circus.
    • Flaw: Zoskia endorses no justice save what she metes out personally through her powers of deformography.
    • Adventure Seed: Having offended the sensibilities of a conservative community, Zoskia Skarnesti and her circus are now on the run from a mob that wants to burn them at the stake for indecency and “crimes against public morality.” Zoskia will seek out the characters’ aid in either escaping their pursuers or incapacitating them so she might transmogrify their bodies with her deformography. 

Vandia, The Human Pincushion

Before she encountered Skarnesti’s Circus, Vandia was a woman trapped in an abusive marriage. Hoping to be transformed into a woman capable of holding her own against her husband, Vandia consented to Zoskia’s deformography. Interestingly, unlike most people who are transformed by Zoskia’s deformography, Vandia’s physical form was scarcely altered; rather that becoming a grotesquery, Zoskia’s power only enhanced her quiet, subtle beauty.

However, when Zoskia was done with her, Vandia found that her beautified body was largely immune to physical injury. Though she appears fragile, blades now pass through her flesh without causing lasting wounds and blunt force leaves no mark upon her flesh. Vandia leveraged her newfound resilience when her husband again raised his hand against her; she found the inner strength to rise against him and slay him.

After her husband’s death, Vandia again sought out the Skarnesti Circus and now performs in an act in which sword and daggers are stabbed into her body to the astonishment of the punters. Vandia makes a tidy profit by charging members of the crowd extra if they want the opportunity to stab her with weapons or slash her with razors. It does not speak well of the male of the species that so many in the audience relish the opportunity to visit violence upon an attractive woman.
    • Appearance: Vandia is a delicate woman, with the pale hair and flawless skin of a doll.
    • Personality: She is quiet and appears to be shy; she is an extremely guarded person who distrusts strangers.
    • Motive: Vandia identifies people in the audience who are being abused; under cover of night, she seeks out their abuser and murders them without mercy.
    • Flaw: The sound of raised, argumentative voices make her feel uncomfortable.
    • Adventure Seed: Vandia has been tracked down by her deceased husband’s brothers, looking to exact vengeance against her. Although she is immune to most violence, they have uncovered a way to kill her. She is in need to protection because her brothers in law are cut from the same cruel cloth as her former spouse.

Pyros, The Lord of the Inferno

Daniel Furio was left a disfigured orphan when his family home burned to the ground. Covered in hideous, debilitating burns that left his body a puckered mass of scar tissue, he was forced to live upon the streets as a vagabond and petty thief. Additionally, Daniel’s injuries left him with psychological scars as well. He now suffered from a devastating fear of fire.

The answer to Daniel’s prayers came in the form of the Skarnesti Circus arriving to perform in his village. Unable to pay for entry, Daniel snuck into the circus, but was caught in the act by Zoskia Skarnesti. Nevertheless, she took pity on him and made him an offer: if he would consent to it, Zoskia was reshape his flesh through the power of deformography—though she couldn’t guarantee it, Zoskia felt confident that she could at least alleviate some of Daniel’s pain and debility. 

Daniel’s transformation was better than he or Zoskia had dared to hope. Though now an unnatural hue, his skin was now unblemished and unmarked by burns. His fear of flame left him. Daniel also found that he could exert mental control over fire and make it dance to his whim. 

As payment for Zoskia’s ministrations, Daniel agreed to tour with the circus to pay off his debt to her. Reborn as Pyros, the Lord of the Inferno, his act involves fire-breathing and juggling flaming knives. At the climax of his performance, Pyros commands flames to assume unnatural shapes to the amazement of the crowds. Pyros was supposed to remain with the circus for a year, but he has found he enjoys the traveling life and has chosen to remain with the Skarnesti Circus.

    • Appearance: Pyros is a reasonably attractive young man, but his skin is an unnatural crimson color. 
    • Personality: He is kind, particularly to children and the impoverished. 
    • Motive: Pyros feels incredibly thankful to Zoskia for all she’s done for him; he is intensely loyal to her.
    • Flaw: He has unexpressed feelings for Melusine.
    • Adventure Seed: Something threatens to upend Pyros’s hard-won sense of stability: he finds that his ability to control fire is waning—though it reacts to his will, flames behave erratically when he exerts his will upon them. Can the characters help him discover a way to once again make fire his plaything or will they allow his powers to become unpredictable and dangerous?

Melusine, The Serpentine Seductress

Lillian Ware began her tenure with the Skarnesti Circus as a teenage runaway. Initially, her jobs included selling tickets, vending fried victuals from the food stalls, and assisting in the set up and tear down of the circus’s garish tents, but as she became accustomed to life with the circus she desired more. She saw the dirty glamor and minor fame of the circus’s popular acts and wanted that for herself. She took to begging Zoskia Skarnesti to be transformed into a star attraction.

Though she was unable to promise that Lillian would emerge as a  future star of the circus, Zoskia ultimately relented and used the power of deformography on the pleading young woman. When the transformation was over, Lillian had become a snake-like woman, her skin covered in green scales, her tongue now forked and flicking, her eyes the yellow of a poisonous asp. And yet, this alteration did not truly render her monstrous, despite the negative associations that serpents being to mind; though she had acquired an obviously unnatural body, her movements and demeanor attained a sensual and exotic serpentine allure that had been alien to Lillian’s natural form.

Adopting the name Melusine, she became a celebrated dancer and snake charmer on the main stage of the Skarnesti Circus. Those who watch her dance are enthralled—both by her slippery, enticing motions and often in a more literal sense. Some members of the audience become obsessed with Melusine and fall utterly under her sway; this enchantment gives her the power of suggestion over them, but it also makes them desire her with a feverish fixation.
    • Appearance: Portions of Melusine’s body are covered with fine green scales that render her strangely captivating.
    • Personality: Melusine finds that she is growing increasingly cold-blooded; her ability to empathize with and relate to her fellow creatures is slowly ebbing away.
    • Motive: She lives for the appreciation of the crowds and craves adulation. 
    • Flaw: Sometimes those who have become entranced by Melusine’s serpentine dance becomes dangerously obsessed and fixated on her.
    • Adventure Seed: Melusine has been abducted by an obsessed fan. The characters are hired by Zoskia Skarnesti to rescue her star dancer before the circus moves on to another town.

Dogface, The Hirsute Brute

When Zoskia Skarnesti first laid eyes upon the man who would become “the Hirsute Brute”, she knew she beheld a bestial predator clothed in the finery of a dandy. Zoskia observed how the man reacted to watching Melusine perform; the way he licked his chops recalled a wolf spying a particularly juicy and defenseless lamb. She knew his type immediately: he was a rake, a breaker of hearts, and a despoiler of virtue.

Zoskia had the correct measure of the man’s character—he was indeed a cad and a bounder, a man who used his handsome face, his stylish clothes, and his charming wit to bed (and then discard) a succession of women. Such an affront to womankind could not stand. Zoskia cornered the man, tempted him backstage with the promise of a “private performance” from Melusine, and then used her deformography to transform him into a fur-covered monster with a face that horrifies rather than enchants.

Rechristened “Dogface” due to his hideous, hairy visage, the man now performs an enforced penance for his treatment of women as part of the Skarnesti’s Circus. Now possessing monstrous strength, Dogface performs feats of physical might and terrifies those admitted to the circus’s House of Horrors. Because of his intimidating size, he is also employed keeping the roustabouts in line and Zoskia forces Dogface to serve as her personal bodyguard.
    • Appearance: Dogface’s body, including his face, is covered in a thick brown pelt. His face is twisted and hideous.
    • Personality: Once sociable and extroverted, Dogface avoids company whenever possible. His isolation has inspired a newfound love of animals because beasts do not judge him based on his repellent appearance. 
    • Motive: Dogface wishes to break free from Zoskia’s control and find a place where he can live in isolation.
    • Flaw: The revulsion that people evidence when they look upon him fills him with self-hatred.
    • Adventure Seed: Perhaps the characters could be convinced that Dogface deserves to be freed from Zoskia Skarnesti’s yoke. Is he a changed man or would they risk him resuming his vile ways once he gains his freedom?

Felvolio, The Mirthless Clown

Sometimes when the Skarnesti Circus visits a particularly devout community the pious residents protest against the sinful temptations that its carnivalesque attractions present. On one especially contentious occasion, a village preacher incited his flock to mob violence against the circus and its carny cohort. A riot ensued, and the circus nearly burnt to the ground.

To placate the whipped up fury of the mob, the following day Zoskia Skarnesti proposed a private meeting between herself and the preacher behind the violence that was visited upon the circus. Of course, Zoskia had no intention of offering him concessions; instead, she warped his form using the art of deformography. The preacher was twisted into a hideous clown. Though it appears that he is wearing the makeup of a knave, his face has been discolored into a permanent, richly colored rictus grin.

Renamed Felvolio, the former preacher was set to work in the circus as the chief of its capering clowns. Although he once regarded himself with solemn, deadly seriousness, Felvolio is now forced to play the part of a ridiculous, prancing, yet archly menacing, fool. His act, combines morbid gags with a visage that is by turns comedically pathetic and genuinely unsettling.
    • Appearance: Felvolio looks like a man made up as a terrifying clown, but that is the actual physical form he is currently accursed with.
    • Personality: Felvolio’s preferred brand of comedy is mean-spirited and malicious.
    • Motive: Although he is forced to act the part of a comedic fool due to Zoskia’s control over him, deep within he is still the censorious preacher he was before his transformation.
    • Flaw: Felvolio seethes with impotent rage.
    • Adventure Seed: Unbeknownst to Zoskia Skarnesti, Felvolio has been inducted his fellow circus clowns into a cult that reveres him as the “God of Dark Laughter.” When he judges that the time is right, he plans on fomenting a revolution within the circus with the goal of having his followers overthrow Zoskia as the circus’s leader.

Professor Mohzig, The Puppetmaster

Every performer’s worst nightmare is to have a boisterous heckler in the audience, and Madeline Mohzig was the worst of their obnoxious lot. Although she was a learned professor of mechanical sciences at Creedhall University, Madeline Mohzig used her considerable intellect to belittle other people—especially those she viewed as her inferiors.

Of course, when Professor Mohzig attended the Skarnesti Circus and loudly defamed the carnies on the stage she had no idea that Zoskia was watching her antics from the wings and growing increasingly more irate at how her performers were being treated. Waylaid as she exited the circus, Madeline Mohzig was subjected to Zoskia’s deformography. This was one of the strangest alterations that Zoskia Skanesti had ever witnessed; Professor Mohzig’s head split over, her brain spilled out of her sundered skull, and her body quickly rotted away into dust. Bewildered by this turn of events, Zoskia scooped up Madeline’s brains and placed them in a jar filled with formaldehyde. 

Trapped within the jar, Madeline Mohzig’s brain retained its consciousness and she found that she could now psychically “see” her surroundings. Moreover, she found herself gifted with the power to move objects with her mind alone; using her understanding of mechanical constructs and her telekinetic abilities, she assembled a metal body for herself out of scrap metal. Her brain still resides in its jar, but the jar has since been mounted on her scrapyard body as a makeshift head.

Seeing few other opportunities left open to her, Professor Mohzig has officially joined the Skarnesti Circus. She creates mechanical dolls that gambol and jape for the entertainment of the children who visit the circus.

    • Appearance: Professor Mohzig’s body is a crude mass of scrap metal—her form changes regularly as she accumulates news bits and bobs.
    • Personality: Mohzig can communicate telepathically—she attempts to portray herself as sweet and nonthreatening. 
    • Motive: Ultimately, Mohzig would like to move her consciousness into a fleshly body once more.
    • Flaw: Though she tries to keep it contained, she still judges others harshly. 
    • Adventure Seed: A child goes missing at the circus. Professor Mohzig has abducted them and is trying to inhabit their body.

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Vampira and Elvira

Episode 71: Vampira and Elvira

In a special, super-extended, spooky season episode, your hosts read a double feature of horror hostess biographies! Glamour Ghoul: The Passions and Pain of the Real Vampira, Maila Nurmi by Sandra Niemi and Yours Cruelly, Elvira by Cassandra Peterson recount the drama-filled careers of two of the most iconic, goth-adjacent TV figures of all time. Jack and Kate take a candid look at the trials and triumphs of two real-life Halloween queens.

Does the appeal of late-night metaphysical diner talk span generations? How young is too young to launch your showgirl career? Why do the Red Hot Chili Peppers ruin everything? Is a decades-long goth girl beef even more odious than the Red Hot Chili Peppers? All these questions and more will be explored in this episode of the podcast!

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Dead Light

Our month of horror one-shots continued with "Dead Light," an adventure for Call of Cthulhu. This session was fun because we got to catch up with the characters from our Call of Cthulhu campaign from earlier in the year, plus we got to know a new character who joined the group of investigators for this outing. 

I ran this particular adventure on Friday the 13th, which was particularly apt as the monster at the heart of this scenario is a bit like if Jason were a floating cloud of mercury that was emitting a baleful light. Also, like a Friday the 13th movie, this scenario had a body count.

People say that you can't do horror in rpgs because the players never really experience fear, but if the players decide to bail on a scenario because they're afraid of what will happen to their characters if they press on--I totally think that counts. Which is exactly what happened here.

The Characters

Sirus Mean, former boxer and hobo

Leslie Cowell, antiques dealer

Hazel Murphy, flapper

Tony Tunacelli, wiseguy

Kunihiko Takeuchi, professor of folklore


The investigators had assembled again because a psychic medium called "Madame Zatarsky" was holding seances that were garnering a lot of attention in Arkham. However, the group suspected that Madame Zatarsky was a fraud who was preying upon the grieving. They had managed to secure an invite to one of Madame Zatarsky's seances and were currently en route. Unfortunately, it was pouring rain as they headed north, and the storm behind them looked even worse. Hazel was at the wheel. Suddenly, a pale figure loomed into view on the road. Hazel spun the wheel, but she clipped the person.

The car was now stuck in the ruts of its skid. Hazel and Leslie jumped out of the car, getting drenched in the process, and found that the figure was a girl in her twenties. The woman was wearing a thin dress, hardly reasonable clothes for the heavy rain pelting down. She also wore a strange necklace, the pendant of was a golden, "foreign" coin. Most importantly, the girl was unconscious. She murmured something about her grandfather and "the light." They bundled the woman into the car, got the vehicle unstuck, and continued up the road to find help.

They drove as fast as they dared considering the conditions of the road and eventually saw lights in the distance. The lights belonged to the Orchard Run Diner and the gas station next door. A cattle truck was stranded diagonally across the road, its driver side door still gaping open. The investigators carried the woman into the diner. Inside the diner was a teenaged waitress named Mary, an elderly couple called Winifred and Teddy, and a farmer with a big beard named Jake. The farmer looked terrified; his hands were shaking, causing coffee to slosh from the sides of his mug.

They attempted to give the young woman first aid, determining that nothing was broken and she probably didn't have any internal injuries. She did have some bruises and cuts, but they suspected that they were older wounds. While they worked, Jake claimed that his truck had been run off the road by a "strange cloud" that looked like a floating clot of mercury that was giving off an intense and eerie white light. Sensing that the supernatural had once again reared its ugly head, Tony went out to the car and came back with the group's collection of firearms--and a few sticks of dynamite. 

Leslie moved Jake's truck out of the road while Kunihiko went next door to the gas station to call for an ambulance. Inside the gas station was a mustachioed man named Sam, who owned both the gas station and the dinner. Sam told Kunihiko that there was a retired doctor nearby named Dr. Webb and got him the number. Predictably, the phoneline was out due to the storm. No help was coming.

Meanwhile, back in the diner the group was beginning to become suspicious of Mary. Mary kept looking at the clock and was relieved to find out that the group weren't cops when Tony started handing out firearms to his friends. When questioned, Mary explained that she was just anxious about her boyfriend, who was supposed to pick her up from the diner. Sam came in from the gas station to check on the situation. He immediately recognized the unconscious girl as Emilia Webb, granddaughter of the doctor he had tried to put Kunihiko in touch with. 

At this point, Tony was feeling the unavoidable call of nature. He was told that the bathroom was only accessibly by leaving the safety of the diner and going around the corner. He didn't have to go alone, however, as Teddy piped up that he also needed to go. At the bathroom, Tony let the elderly man go first, but when it seemed to be taking a long time he peaked his head in and saw a pile of ashes in front of the urinal--with Teddy nowhere to be seen. Tony was pretty sure that Teddy had been reduced to ashes by something.

Back in the diner, Emilia was finally roused from unconsciousness. Unfortunately, she didn't remember what happened at her grandfather's house or why she had been running through the rain in the road. The group spotted an intense light coming from the windows of the gas station, so Leslie, Tony, and Hazel went to investigate. 

However, as they got closer to the gas station they could see that an oval shape in the door was boiling away and the wood of the door was smoking. Hazel found a stick and managed to poke a hole in the melting portion of the door. They couldn't see anything through the hole due to all the light pouring out of it; then, an illuminated silvery fluid began to run from the hole. The investigators turned tail and ran back to the diner.

The group watched in horror as the fluid coalesced into a cloud of shining fluid that began to float through the air toward the diner. Some of the group panicked at the sight of it; Sirus ran to the kitchen and contemplated fleeing through the back door, Hazel began screaming, and Tony moved to confront the cloud with a rifle. The rest of the people inside the diner also didn't fare well. Sam passed out, Jake cowered in the corner, Winifred hid under a table, and Mary fled through the kitchen door and ran off into the woods.

Tony exited the diner for his last stand. He shot the approaching cloud, causing a tiny portion of it to dissipate, but it was soon on him--entering his body through his eyes and mouth. Tony seemed fine, but the knowledge that the cloud was somewhere inside of him was extremely disturbing. The rest of the group locked Tony out of the diner, but Tony accepted his fate. He sat in Jake's truck and experimented with using fire to get the cloud entity to exit his body.

Light began to stream from from Tony's eyes and mouth. He felt extremely cold, as if his very core was freezing solid. The light emanating from Tony grew brighter until all the other investigators could see in the truck's cab was blinding brightness. When the light receded, Tony had been reduced to ash and the glowing cloud was again gently floating toward the diner.

The group sped into action. They got everyone present to leave out the back door, into the storm, and then turned all the diner's gas burners on to high. Most of the group fled as well, planning to cut around the building to Hazel's car. Sirus stayed behind to plant dynamite and throw a lighter into the volatile gas once the cloud had entered the diner. He jumped clear just as the diner exploded in a fiery conflagration. Sirus was picked up by Hazel in the car. They drove away, but in the rearview mirror they could see the luminous cloud rise from the wreckage.

History almost repeated itself, as Mary darted into the road as they drove off--but this time they didn't hit the girl in the road. They did bring Emilia with them, but even when she hysterically pleaded to be let out or taken to her grandfather, they flatly refused. They chose to take their chances with the storm rather than solve the mystery of the cloud. 

Tony's death and the fire that consumed the diner and gas station would later be reported in the newspapers as a gangland hit or a revenge killing in the criminal underworld. The continuing unexplained disappearances in the area, each accompanied by a strange pile of ash found near the victim's last known whereabouts, would never be explained.

Thursday, October 12, 2023

The Priests of Abomination and Still Dead: Book of the Dead 2


Bad Books for Bad People, Episode 70: The Priests of Abomination and Still Dead: Book of the Dead 2

In this episode, your hosts dig deep into their collection of vintage paperbacks and share their thoughts on dusty, lurid tales from decades past. Kate reads The Priests of the Abomination, a cult-flavored 1970 crime conspiracy thriller from Ivor Drummond, and Jack selects three gruesome stories from the zombie horror anthology Still Dead: Book of the Dead 2. 

Do rich people have a secret sixth sense that detects perverts? What is it with British pulp authors and their insistence on stopping the action for relaxing, fish-related interludes? Will Jack share the grossest story we’ve encountered yet? The Nineties - a different country or a whole ‘nother planet entirely? All these questions and more will be explored in this episode of Bad Books for Bad People. 

Sunday, October 8, 2023

A Dance with Death

You can tell that the Halloween season has begun in earnest as we're playing horror one-shots all month long. The first game we played was a session of Vaesan, using the adventure "A Dance with Death" from Seasons of Mystery. I chose "A Dance with Death" because I was looking for an adventure with some "folk horror" influences, but while "A Dance with Death" was a fun adventure I do have to caution any prospective GMs who want to run it that it's more of a situation than a tight adventure; as such, it can go in radically different directions than its writer envisioned. You'll need to be ready to improvise if your players go even a little bit off track, but that's fine by me. 

Below is what happened when we played it.

The Characters

Christian Skoog, vagabond

Linnea Skovgaard, hunter

Axl Karsten, doctor

Nils Alder, officer

Bo Ekbom, priest


Despite coming from different walks of life, the characters were united by one thing: they all had the uncanny ability to see the vaesan, supernatural creatures of myth and legend, even when they want to remain hidden from human eyes. Because of their reputation for being able to deal with the supernatural, they received a letter from a woman named Jenny; Jenny reported that a girl working on her farm recently woke up on the shore of Lake Siljan with no recollection of how she got there. Additionally, two of Jenny's cows were drowned in the lake, with no indication of how they could have gotten out of their pens. Sensing something unnatural at work, Jenny reached out to the characters in hopes that they could unravel what was going on at the farm.

On the wagon trip through the woods to Fudal, Axl and Linnea took the opportunity to ask Jenny pertinent questions. When asked, she described Ida, the girl who woke up on the shore, as a well-behaved, reserved, and quiet girl. Jenny mentioned that there were cuts on the girl's legs and arms, and that Ida had a way with the animals on the farm. When asked about the lake, Jenny said that they had always respected the lake, though historically it had been a popular site for suicidal drownings. 

When the group arrived at Fudal, they found the farm to be a collection of log cabins with a fenced in pasture for the cattle. A girl in her twenties with white blonde hair was singing to the cows to corral them; Jenny pointed her out as Ida. Jenny called over two other girls, a striking blonde with tan skin named Boel and an older girl with her dark hair in a pony tail named Freja, to take the newcomers' luggage to their cabin. 

After allowing them time to freshen up, the group reconvened in Fudal's dining hall, where they were served a dinner of sausage, farm-fresh cheese, and ale. While they ate, Bo became gregarious and made a good impression on the farmgirls who worked at Fudal. (Conspicuously, the only men present were part of the visiting group!) One thing that the group noticed was that there was a dark patch above the fireplace; they surmised that something used to hang in the spot but had been removed. Nils discovered a note beneath his plate; excusing himself from the table so he might read it surreptitiously, he saw that it was a handwritten invitation to the group to help celebrate Boel's birthday that night in the meadow to the south of the cabins.

After dinner, Linnea, Axl, and Bo had Freja taken them down the cove so they could investigate where Ida awoke. The cove was choked with water lilies. Axl waded into the water and felt something brush his leg. Lifting it out, he determined that it was an antique tapestry that had been weighted down with stones. Freja identified it as the tapestry that used to hang about the fireplace in the dining hall. The tapestry showed a three-eyed, green-skinned devil. A dagger had been cast into the ground at its feet and it was surrounded by a circle of priests or saints bearing crucifixes. They also spotted a woman's bare footprints going into, and out of, the lake.

Meanwhile, Christian had spotted a man dressed all in black, and wearing a very tall top hat, wandering around near Fudal's cabins. He gave chase, but when he rounded a corner the man was gone. Rallying Nils to his cause, the pair decided to walk the tree line. They discovered footprints leading into the dark of the woods. Within the woods, they saw a man with red hair in a shabby waistcoat walking ahead of them; they followed, but when the man noticed them, he broke into a run. Christian gave pursuit and knocked the man down, pinning him. 

The man, Gustav, was indignant at being attacked as he walked home. He claimed to be a local fiddler and told them he could prove it if they came with him to his cabin in the woods. Sure enough, at the cabin he showed them his fiddle. Talking to him further, they confirmed that he was in love with Boel, and also learned that she had spurned his advances because she had feelings from some other mysterious fiddler that he had never laid eyes on. They apologized and gave him some money for his troubles. He was still clearly angry though.

The group met up again in their cabin and exchanged information. Putting the pieces together, Bo determined that they were dealing with a nokker, a water spirit who used music to lure humans to their doom. Bo also knew that nokkers sometimes made pacts with humans to teach them their beguiling music. Another piece was added to this puzzle when Axl and Linnea questioned Ida and she disclosed that Gustav used to be a fairly mediocre fiddler, but had recently become more more impassioned and proficient with his instrument.

At the appointed time, the group (save Christian, who held back "just in case") made their way to the meadow, where they were welcomed by the farmgirls of Fudal. Each girl was wearing a strange dress stitched together from burlap sack and scraps of more colorful cloth. Each girl also carried a handmade mask of twigs and mud. A bonfire burned at the center of the clearing; around the fire they had arranged a number of rough tables and laden them with small casks of ale, bread and cheese, and small cakes. The girls began to dance an unusual folk dance while Gustav fiddled. 

Linnea had decided to watch Boel, Nils was keeping an eye on Gustav, Bo was watching over Ida, and Axl was mingling with the crowd. Both Linnea and Nils noticed Gustav force a letter upon Boel; Boel was clearly dismissive. When Linnea approached Boel, dropping some insinuations about what they knew about her and Gustav, Boel roped Linnea into a dance--the steps of which Linnea was able to pull off, to the applause of the girls and to Boel's annoyance. 

Gustav was becoming increasingly agitated, to the point where to prove his manhood he challenged Nils to an impromptu arm-wrestling competition--which he immediately lost. Angier than ever, Gustav stalked off into the woods. Bo and Axl went after him, looking for an opportunity to charm him or pry more information from him. In the enclosing secrecy of the woods, Gustav turned the tables on them; he began playing the melancholy music he had learned from the nokker, which sent both Bo and Axl into a trance. He started to lead the pair toward the cove, when suddenly Christian burst through the underbrush and again knocked Gustav off his feet. This time, Gustav wouldn't need to be mollified, as he had hit his head on a tree root and been knocked unconscious. 

Before heading back to the meadow, they snatched up Gustav's fiddle and cut the string with a bayonet--a method they knew of empowering the blade to silence the nokker if it could be cast into the earth at its feet.

Once Gustav was out of sight, a new fiddler stepped forward to take his place and provide music for Boel's birthday party. This fiddler was dressed all in black and wore a very tall top hat. However, when he started playing it entranced all the girls in the meadow. He started to lead them into the forest, in the direction of the cove. The reunited group followed. The group foiled the nokker's death march with a combination of shooting at his fiddle and plunging the bayonet into ground. 

The nokker now assumed his true form: a horrifically tall creature, with green skin, three eyes, and curling ram's horns. The vaesan's full form was too much for Bo and Linnea. The priest ran for it, but Linnea began to attack the creature in a wild panic. The girls from Fudal all ran screaming. 

The situation unfolded in a precarious way. The group's attacks could not seem to harm the nokker, but even robbed of its magic it was more than formidable. Christian tried to hold the monster at bay with a cross, but a single crucifix wasn't enough to frighten it off. Then things took a turn for the worse: a backhand from the nokker knocked Nils into a coma; a vicious claw blow nearly ripped out Linnea's throat. (As it is, she'll never speak the same again.) With two of the group down, and the priest fled, Axl and Christian tried to wedge the nokker between them, but two were not enough to encircle and banish the vaesan.

Luckily, Bo had recovered his wits and ran back, just in the nick of time, brandishing a crucifix. The three of them managed to pin the nokker between the three of them. It's body split open and a small toad hopped out. Christian stamped upon the toad, hoping that his boot would send the creature to hell. Axl treated the injuries of the wounded as best he could, and the group carried their injured back to Fudal. They found the girls hiding in the cabins, save for Boel who had disappeared, never to be heard from again, and told them that the nokker would no longer be troubling them. As the wounded rested, they threw a small celebration in honor of the group--but this time there was no music.

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

The Dei-Phage

We finished up the first leg of the Apostasy Gambit! In this adventure, the inquisitorial agents continue exploring the Haematite Cathedral, make a stunning discovery, and come face to face with a Daemon of Tzeentch.

The Characters

Ash Underblade, assassin plucked from a Schola Progenium and trained for murder

Absalom Athanasius, sanctioned Imperial psyker with a talent for telekinesis 

Erastus van Saar, ancient and venerable savant who hails from a Hive World of scum and villainy

Sister Lucrezia, a Sister Hospitaller adept at both healing and confronting heretics with a hand flamer


The acolytes continued to explore the Haematite Cathedral after Ash pryied open the rusted door to the sanatorium. Unfortunately, as soon as they entered the northern wing of the cathedral they were set upon by rotting mutants. One of the mutants, Vorkas Hekate, made a direct line for Erastus because the savant was still carrying the hunting rifle that used to belong to him. Ash put a few mutants down with headshots from his rifle; Sister Lucrezia lit some up with her hand flamer. Ultimately, Vorkas proved difficult for them to put down. Erastus gave up the rifle, which Vorkas repeatedly tried to brain him with until he was finally slain.

Inside the sanatorium cells they found a mysterious message scrawled on one of the walls, as well as an image of a bird-like Daemon gouged into the plaster. The final room of this wing was a chamber in which a skeleton was strapped to a medical table. A broken-down auto-surgeon loomed above. Sister Lucrezia determined that the auto-surgeon had been used to perform operations of little medical merit; mostly it had been used to perform trepanations meant to increase the patient's "cosmic awareness."

The group then decided to explore the planetarium tower. Inside was a large model of all the planets in the system; each planet was represented by a human skull encased in glass. Above them, it was apparent that the top of the tower could be opened up to allow the planetarium's telescope to gaze upon the night sky. When the inquisitorial agents started to experiment with moving the planets in the orrery, suddenly Koronath Hekate appeared at the room's desk. Koronath's skin was covered in strange mathematical equations, and his appearance in the room was accompanied by the tower opening and the telescope extending. Weirdly, an unnatural light began to pour into the room from above.

Erastus engaged Koronath in a spirited debate over the hidden truths of the cosmos. Koronath's position was that the stars still had much guidance to provide to mankind, while Erastus insisted that the only beacon of light worth following was that of the God-Emperor himself. Ultimately, Sister Lucrezia ended the debate by turning her hand flamer on Koronath, melting his flesh from his bones. As he sizzled and liquified, he thanked them for giving him much to think about. After he dissolved, he left behind the third portion of the skull-and-cog emblem that would fit into the depression by the canon in the nave.

Their next stop was the library. A little searching revealed a hidden alcove of secret books. Sister Lucrezia attempted to read one, but all she got for her efforts was visions of a galaxy on fire; the book then dissolved into green slime that ran through her fingers. Erastus fared better with the two books he examined. The first book made an unreasonable anger boil up within him; however, he mastered himself when he realized that he had drawn his snub revolver and was deciding which of his companion's he should execute with it. The third book, bound in bronze plates, contained the Tzeenchian theories of Koronath Hekate.

The group returned to the nave, noting that there were now three desiccated corpses sitting on the pews, and fit the skull-and-cog emblem into the matching depression in the wall. A section of the floor opened up, revealing a shaft that went down into the darkness. The shaft looked like the inverted image of a spinal cord, complete with handholds and footholds. A quick test, dropping an object into the shaft to listen for how long it would fall before striking something, revealed that the shaft was quite long. 

At the bottom, they found themselves in a small circular chamber lit by servo-skulls. The sound of machinery was very loud down there. A strange map on the wall revealed the Haematite Cathedral's biggest mystery: it was no place of worship, but rather an Imperator Titan! The upper works that they had explored was simply the structures built atop the titan's exterior; now they were in the belly of the Pax Macharia!

As they explored the interior of the titan room-by-room, they found the corpse of Barabus Zanatov, aka "Tauran Hekate." Zanatov's head was missing, but a bolt pistol was by his side and a vox recorder sat in his lap. By replaying the vox recording, they learned that Zanatov had come to the planet bearing a secret uncovered by Inquisitor DeVayne. Zanatov traded his rogue trader riches to establish himself and his crew as the noble Hekate family, all the while building the Black Sepulchre to decipher that secret. He also claimed that the Gilded Cathedral had been built to block the Black Sepulchre from fulfilling its purpose; the Black Sepulchre needed unfettered access to the dark of the Barsapine's night sky. Zanatov also mentioned that he had been pursued by agents of the ruinous powers and the Dei-Phage moved to stop him. Rather than be driven insane, Zanatov resolved to take his own life. The last thing captured on the recording was the chilling sound of Zanatov blowing off his own head with a bolt pistol.

The group also located the genatorium, but the chamber was clearly befouled by Chaos: daemonic ichor ran down the walls and the floor was covered in pulsating flesh! However, in another chamber they were able to restore a cogitator to power; the cogitator explained how to raise the genatorium's shield and replenish the titan's fuel. Donning protective gear, Ash successfully revived the Pax Macharia from its long slumber. In awakening, the titan began to free itself from the "cliffside" that had accumulated around it over the long generations. A mechanical voice called out, telling them to man the "battle stations," as a Daemonic presence was now incoming.

The agents rushed back to the nave, where they saw a one-armed Daemon of Tzeentch rise from the sea and begin to fly on tattered wings directly toward the Pax Macharia. Erastus and Ash sprang into action; Erastus quickly figured out how to make the nave's canon operational, and Ash was ready to fire it as soon as it powered up. When the time was right, Ash pulled the canon's triggers--and the canon promptly exploded, sending both Ash and Erastus hurtling across the room as the canon destroyed itself. Though the canon was now inoperable, it had indeed hit the Dei-Phage. 

The Daemon barreled into the nave ON FIRE and badly wounded. Nevertheless, it was still a great and terrible threat to the inquisitorial agents. Though they had managed to grievously wound it with the titan's canon, they were now having trouble piercing through its unnatural, warp-tainted toughness. (Absalom telekinetically hurling a flaming piece of wreckage at it was fairly effective, though.) The Dei-Phage, however, was not having trouble wounding them. A blow from its claw ripped through Sister Lucrezia, and another blow nearly killed Absalom. The Daemon flew at Absalom again to finish him off, but the psyker managed to send all of his kineblades against the horror, shredding it into a mass of rapidly putrefying meat just as its remaining claw grazed him.

Once the Dei-Phage was destroyed, the Pax Macharia began to march through the sea in the direction of the Gilded Cathedral. When the Pax Macharia arrived, it sent the city into a panic. Masses of people were screaming and running, alarm sirens were sounding. The Pax Macharia announced that it had brought the agents to witness what was to follow. The Pax Macharia then charged its Plasma Annihilator and fired it upon the Gilded Cathedral. The Gilded Cathedral was reduced to golden slag. The destruction of the Gilded Cathedral, and the deaths of all who were within it, immediately robbed the city of all light; all that remained was the Black Sepulchre. But what secret did it hold?

Sunday, October 1, 2023

Disharmonium--Nahab, I'm In the Band, and More

Things that brought me delight in September 2023:

Blut Aus Nord, Disharmonium--Nahab

The great thing about the arrival of a new Blut Aus Nord record is that you never really know what to expect. On Disharmonium--Nahab, Blut Aus Nord operates with a mastery of dissonance. This is a churning, expansive project that evokes the darkest corners of the monstrous and unknown cosmos. Highly recommended for fans of the cosmic strain of weird fiction; this might be the soundtrack to all your favorite books that you never knew existed.

Sean Yseult, I'm In the Band

Sean Yseult's I'm In the Band is a book that documents the bass player's time in White Zombie. The landscape format, while a little awkward to hold, is put to good use here as it's absolutely packed with pictures from tours, publicity, and candid moments from the era. Accompanying the pictures are Yseult's reminiscences about what it was like to be in a weird band that, against all odds, rose out of the ranks of the underground and found unexpected mainstream success. 

House of Darkness

House of Darkness was actually a pretty interesting film. A businessman gets more than he bargains for when he picks up a beautiful woman at a bar and drives her home. The film is mostly one long scene of seduction, interrupted by little moments of weirdness, until the final scene. House of Darkness really extends what would probably be the first half hour in a different film. It's pretty easy to see what's coming, and I'm not sure this is what most people think of as a horror film, but I liked the drama of it all. I guess I just don't get tired of Justin Long being a jerkass who gets menaced along the way.

Christa Faust, Gary Phillips, and Andrea Camerini, Peepland

Peepland is a pretty solid crime comic that captures the seedy vibe of Times Square in the 80s. The story centers on a punk rocker who's working the peepshow booths, when one day an on-the-run pornographer passes off a videotape to her before he is unceremoniously pushed in front of a subway train. When the videotape reveals the truth about a seemingly random act of violence in the city, our punk rock sex worker finds herself in the crosshairs of some powerful people who will do anything to get the tape. This one's a nice little jolt of hardboiled, with very fun, evocative art that really nails the grimy, gritty feel of the era.

EYEHATEGOD, A History of Nomadic Behavior

EYEHATEGOD might be the ultimate in Feels Bad music. Their sludgy, punky take on metal feels like being down and out, hungover, and praying for death. Time really hasn't dulled their razorblades at all; despite being a latter-day record, A History of Nomadic Behavior is lacerating stuff. I'm almost afraid to put on some days.

Joe R. Lansdale, The Drive In 2

I really loved Joe R. Lansdale's first Drive In book, but this second one is definitely a different beast. It's a bit odd, structurally speaking, that the sequel is a mostly comprised of lengthy flashbacks. The narrative's forward momentum only peaks it head out of the carnage in the last ten pages of the book, and even then the story of The Drive In 2 really centers on how sometimes it's too late to get a good resolution. That wasn't what I expected out of Lansdale's b-movie madness, but to be honest I appreciated the turn toward the arthouse. I do wish the dinosaur on the cover did feature more prominently in the novel though!

Christa Faust, Mike Deodato Jr., Lee Loughridge, Bad Mother

My monthly tour through Christa Faust's comic output continues. In Bad Mother, a criminal organization kidnaps the wrong soccer mom's kid! While it may strain credibility if you really think about how easily the mom in this comic slips into the role of criminal-thwarting vigilante badass, remember the maxim of MST3K: repeat to yourself it's just a show, you should really just relax. Come for the unusual premise, stay for the hardboiled crime violence meted out with an unnatural and disturbing precision. 

Freaks on Parade, Scranton PA

Luckily it only started pouring as we were driving away from the venue! Great show, but we've determined we HATE the venue. Absolutely insanely chaotic clusterfuck parking situation and every employee at the place seemed to disappear as soon as the show was over. one directing a massive amount of traffic out of there. Also, compared to the awesome food trucks that showed up for the Ghost show the month before...the only choices were really expensive carnival food.

We got there in the middle of Filter's set and used their remaining time on stage to get beer and pizza because we do not give a shit about Filter. Ministry was surprisingly really good! And I appreciated that they didn't fuck around by playing songs from their latter-day albums that no one knows or cares about. Straight goth club banger hits out of them, bless. 

I have not traditionally been the biggest Alice Cooper fan, recognizing that he is a classic guy who doesn't really grab my attention, but his show was fantastic actually! Also, Nita Strauss was one of his touring guitarists for this tour. If you put "make a rock chick" into the computer from Weird Science, Nita Strauss would step out. 

Rob Zombie was great. If anything he's gotten more energetic on stage--now he does a lot of high kicks? His on-stage banter is weirdly normie--but the setlist was great. Here's a funny thing: before the last song they played a commercial for the release of House of 1000 Corpses. I'm not used to a commercial in a gig, dude.

Witchery, Witchkrieg

I didn't get around to Witchkrieg in last month's return to Witchery, but I sure as hell made time for it in September. Frankly, Witchkrieg kicks like a mule. Super tight blackened thrash all the way through, with a bunch of pretty good guest appearances to boot. This thing threatens to push your face in, and then it follows through.

Christa Faust, Mike Deodato Jr., Lee Loughridge, Redemption

Compared to the other Christa Faust comics I read in September, Redemption is a totally different deal. Taking place in a post-apocalyptic Western landscape, the comic deals in regret, vengeance, and the high price paid for holding onto ideals. There aren't many surprises where the characters are concerned in Redemption, but the worldbuilding is pretty nice; it gets the mix of Western conventions and post-apoc bad times just about right. However, whereas Bad Mother felt nicely self-contained, I wouldn't have minded a few more issues to let Redemption really stretch its legs a bit more. I still really enjoyed it--I mean, c'mon, I'm asking for more here!

Still Dead: Book of the Dead 2

Still Dead: Book of the Dead 2 is a book I got my hands on back in 1992, and it was pivotal. I was just getting seriously into horror fiction at the time, I was exploring the more transgressive ends of art, and this splatterpunk thing was...a thing. This book wrapped all of that up in a putrid little package. I wasn't sure that I'd like it nearly as much after re-reading it decades later, but this thing still kicks so much ass. Nominally based on George Romero's zombie flicks, the book collects a number of stories with a real punk rock ethos. Things are seedy, trashy, sardonic, and there's heart under the black leather and rotting flesh. I can't stress how badass this anthology is--I'm not sure it's ever been equaled. I talk about it more on this episode of Bad Books for Bad People.

Dan Brereton, Night Owls

I found myself turning to Dan Brereton's art books for inspiration after devouring a ton of them last month. In September I got ahold of Night Owls. Night Owls mostly collects pin up art of his characters from Nocturnals, but toward the end you get more of a mix of his renditions of monster girls and characters famous from comics and movies. Brereton has a type and man does he follow that muse no matter what dark alley it leads him down.

Do you like pumpkins? Get this. You like hot spooky chicks? Get this. You like some of the best painterly art out there at the moment? You get the picture.

Jill Bauman's art

I picked up some new art in September, including this piece by Jill Bauman, which was used as the cover art for Tor's original edition of Ramsey Campbell's The Doll Who Ate His Mother. I've long loved this particular piece; I probably love the art for that particular Campbell novel even more than the novel itself! There's something about the contrast of classical ruin with the blood and the threat lurking within that really gets me. Just as a fyi, Jill Bauman's prints are quite reasonably priced and come expertly packaged--if you're an afficionado of dark art, you're likely to find something in her catalog or prints that catches your fancy.

Christa Faust, Pricilla Petraites, and Marco Lesko, Hit Me

Rounding out my tour of Christa Faust's crime comics was Hit Me, in which a "professional pain slut" gets mixed up in the criminal underground when a client dies in possession of a bag of stolen diamonds. It turns out that being a sadist is a valuable skill when you're being worked over by the mob during an interrogation. The comic has a wonderful mix of seedy characters, nice action sequences, and a lively, glitzy art style throughout. Not every author successfully makes the transition for comics--and most who try don't get it together--but Christa Faust feels like a natural.

Ramsey Campbell, Ghosts Know

I've been iffy on Ramsey Campbell's work for a long while, despite really wanting to get into what he throws down. That said, Ghosts Know was the easiest of Campbell's novels to get into, so far. Ghosts Know is about a radio host who is trying to expose a "I can hear your dead grandpa" style psychic who seems to be exploiting the family of a teenage girl who has gone missing, but the radio personality ends up accused (in a veiled way) of her murder by said psychic. I would characterize the novel more as suspense than horror, but I appreciate that Campbell didn't tie up all the loose ends too nearly. Also, it's worth mentioning that one technique he makes good use of is hinting at the violent wellspring of the protagonist's anger before spelling out his dark history.

Slasher: Solstice

I was in the mood for a slasher flick, but the movie I picked out was so bad I only mention it here to warn you off of it: Alone at Night. Disappointed, and with my slasher itch unscratched, I turned to the third season of Slasher, a series I that's been languishing in my queue for years. And you know, contrary to some opinions I've seen, the Solstice season is actually pretty fun! There are some inventive kills, and a fairly intriguing storyline. Sure, it stretches credibility that most of the potential victims live in the same apartment building, but no more so than a summer camp where murders regularly occur staying open. Spoiler: some folks don't like that "bad" characters survive in the end, but I say if you're watching slashers for the ethical lessons you've already fucked up.

El Gato Gomez's art

While I was on my little art buying binge, I bought a couple pieces from El Gato Gomez. As you can from the picture on the right, I picked up a great vintage-inspired spooky print. You can practically hear the wind blowing eerily, right? I also picked up a not-pictured print depicting all the monster cereal mascots. Damn, I love those guys and want to party with them.

Dan Abnett, Pariah

Is Dan Abnett the most talented author to write tie in game fiction? It sure feels like that's the case. Pariah is the first novel in a sequence that threatens to cross the streams on two of his best series; the book reintroduces the character Bequin, though this is a different Bequin than the one we new from previous novels, as a way to set up the epic confrontation between the inquisitors Ravenor and Eisenhorn.

The setting details in Pariah are great. There are streets in the city of Queen Mab considered holy because a saint once walked down them, so they've been abandoned in reverence by everyone except the PTSD riddled augmented soldiers who make war against each other; Traitor Marines are depicted as monstrously as they should be. And readers of the previous books will get the peculiar joy of noticing elements from the past and figuring out how they fit into the scheme of things. 

Ash vs. Evil Dead, Season 2

I'm pushing on with Ash vs. Evil Dead. To be honest, I think this season doesn't hold together as well as the first, at least overall. The episodes in the asylum, in particular, didn't do much for me! But on the positive side, I have to note that Season 2 does all in on some great gross-out gags. And by "gag" I mean you might just gag when some of these scenes roll around. I plan on finishing the series in October; hopefully things pick back up. Spoiler: also, boy, Ash's love interest in this season sure does get over the death of her husband and daughter in short order!!

Famous Monsters, In the Night!!! and Around the World in 80 Bikinis

You can tell that Halloween is right around the corner because I'm digging out all the spooky and fun tunes already. Famous Monsters is an all-girl group who specialized in monster-themed surf rock. Although not the most technically proficient group--if I recall, a couple members may have been fairly new to their instruments--In the Night!!! and Around the World in 80 Bikinis have a primitive charm that's really hard to deny.

Necropolis 2350

Since I was running a hack of Dark Heresy and Savage Worlds in September, I dug up Necropolis 2350 and its supplements for mechanical inspiration. For those who haven't seen it, Necropolis 2350 is basically Warhammer 40k with the numbers filled off and the premise boiled down to a singular focus; instead of presenting a science fantasy world as expansive as 40k's world-building and competing factions, Necropolis 2350 pits a religious human empire against the forces of the undead. There's a lot of cool ideas here, and plenty I can repurpose. I will say, though, that the print in the adventure collection is so miniscule as to be unusable!

Enys Men

I'm not generally a fan of movies with more ambiance than plot, but Enys Men was pretty good. I wouldn't recommend it to many people, but if anyone wants to watch a good approximation of the "hauntological" 70s British horror aesthetic and just let the folk horror vibe wash over them, this is a decent bet. After watching Enys Men, you'll probably be like me: left with no idea what is happening in the movie. Something about an isolated woman on an island with a mournful monolith, reliving her past trauma. Also something about eerie invasive lichen. It hardly matters; just enjoy the creepy ride.

Sandra Niemi, Glamour Ghoul: The Passions and Pain of the Real Vampira, Maila Nurmi and Cassandra Peterson, Yours Cruelly, Elvira

One of these is a biography of Vampira, the other an autobiography of Elvira. I won't say more now, but you can look forward to a very special October episode of Bad Books for Bad People in which we explore both in terrifying depth!

Daniel Way, Jen and Sylvia Soska, Rob Dumo, Kill-Crazy Nymphos Attack!

I hope you weren't expecting subtly from something called Kill-Crazy Nymphos Attack! because you sure as fuck aren't going to get it. Delightfully over-the-top and unafraid of being charged with bad taste, the comic concerns a cut-rate scientist who concocts a formula to make every woman his sexual plaything--except that he's terrible at science, so he just manages to turn all the women in his area into the titular kill-crazy nymphos. You can expect blood, lowbrow gags, and no punches pulled from this baby.

Ghoultown, Best of the Dead West Volume One

Although I've got a bunch of the songs on this "best of" disc from Ghoultown on other releases, there are enough rarities here to make it a worthwhile listen. Of particular interest is "Mistress of the Dark," the band's paean to horror hostess extraordinaire Elvira. "Werewolves on Wheels," "Dead Outlaw," and "Drink With the Living Dead" are also treats.

The Nun II

Let's be honest, The Nun and it's sequel are not good movies, but I'm giving The Nun II some credit for being a bit of decent escapism exactly when I needed it. Although it's a movie that fundamentally doesn't trust its audience--there are at least three instances of flashbacks inserted to explain the (actually quite simple) plot of the movie just in case the people watching are dum-dums--and it's honestly light on scares (even jump scares, oddly enough), but some of the Catholic Lite location work is kinda fun. Also the effect where the demon nun makes a bunch of magazines look like...a demon pretty cool, even if it makes little sense in the context of the movie.

Dan Abnett, Penitent

I enjoyed Penitent, but it might be the first time where I thought Abnett's plotting gave way to a kludge of necessity rather than just being a cool series of pulpy events. Bequin descends into the city's underbelly, where the desperate and depraved are competing against each other in a bloodsport, just to say thank you to a guy who is not going to remember her? Weird.

Anyway, things get better from there, but it's also an odd choice to have Eisenhorne and Ravenor act like children when they're hundreds of years old. Additionally, one funny thing in the climax: Penitent ends with the revelation of a character's real name, but I'm not steeped deep enough in 40k lore to escape saying "Oh...who is that guy?" Now I've got to wait for the third installment, which is nowhere in sight.

Tales From the Loop: They Grow Up So Fast

They Grow Up So Fast is a campaign book for the Tales From the Loop rpg that focuses on some fateful camping trips and what the kids find out there in the wilderness. I was thinking of running one of the adventures in this book as part of my Halloween games, but they fit so well together as a campaign I can't bear to pry them apart; They Grow Up So Fast feels like an "all or nothing" proposition, which I mean in a positive way.

Gordon Rennie and Martin Emond, White Trash

White Trash is one wild-ass comic, man. An Axl Rose-lookalike falls in with Elvis on the road. Elvis, it turns out, has made a deal with the Devil that requires him to mount a comeback in Las Vegas. Along the way, Elvis engages in extreme ultraviolence and says a bunch of slurs; KKK members, rednecks, and evil preachers get merked left and right and Elvis and his little buddy head toward Sin City. White Trash is an absolutely amazing skewering of American trash culture; absolutely essential PLANET MOTHERFUCKER inspiration, if you ask me.

Hexvessel, Polar Veil

On first listen, Polar Veil was a huge surprise. I'm used to Hexvessel delivering weirdo psychedelic, arboreal folk, but Polar Veil presents an unrelenting wall of churning guitar that is somewhere between shoegaze and Emperor. Hexvessel is outstandingly aggressive on this release, and frankly this curveball is a welcome change. This one is going to require multiple listens to really come to grips with, but I'm legitimately fascinated by this record. 

The House That Screamed

Every Halloween season I make a list of movies I want to rewatch (usually ones that my girlfriend hasn't seen yet), but I also always sneak in a few movies that I've been meaning to scratch off my personal list as well. At the end of September, I finally got a chance to see The House That Screamed, aka The Finishing School. This flick concerns a boarding school for young women with some sort of illicit darkness in their past, and of course it isn't a safe or supportive environment. I love a boarding school Gothic, and this one is fantastic. You can definitely see how it influenced films as diverse as Suspiria and a whole host of slashers. Also, I want to note that Arrow Video's restoration of the film is exquisite!

Dark Heresy: Black Sepulchre

We played through Black Sepulchre, the first third of the Apostasy Gambit campaign, in September. (Although we used a hack of Savage Worlds and Dark Heresy instead of using Dark Heresy proper.) I was surprised to see that this series of adventures is held in low esteem in some quarters of the nerd-ass internet; personally, I thought this one had a nice mix of exploration and action, to say nothing of a great introductory scene and a fun "big reveal" at the end of the book that will be especially thrilling to hardcore Warhammer heads.

Soska Sisters Print!

This signed print came with my copy of Kill-Crazy Nymphos Attack! Man, I love the Soska sisters.