Wednesday, January 31, 2024

The Broken Girls, Berbrian Sound Studio, Coop Art, and More

Things that brought me delight in January, 2024:

Simone St. James, The Broken Girls

Simone St. James's The Broken Girls was the first book I finished in 2024. With this novel, we've got dual-timeline storytelling. It's part Gothic novel about a haunted girls boarding school in the 1950s and part murder mystery about a girl who was found dead in land occupied by the now-abandoned school in the 90s. The protagonist, a journalist who is the murdered girl's sister, finds herself unburying the haunted past to make sense of her sibling's tragic death. There's got a lot going on in The Broken Girls: a Bronte-esque ghost, corrupt cops, and even Nazi war criminals. Definitely recommended if you like the idea of a crime novel mixing with your Gothic ghost stories. 

Berberian Sound Studio

It's interesting to compare Berberian Sound Studio (which I enjoyed) against something like Skinamarink (which I think rules people out from having good taste if they say they like it), as both generally fall into the category of "atmosphere is the point." Although is isn't a plot-focused movie, Berberian Sound Studio is at least anchored by Toby Jones's magnificent performance as a sound engineer who is fraying at the edges until there's nothing left of him. The film is also very attractive to look at, and more importantly, to hear. None of that tomfoolery of masking a lack of coherent ideas with murky imagery and muffled sound here.

Deliver Us

Often, the idea of religious horror is better than the execution, but I think Deliver Us rates higher than most. When a nun gives miraculous birth to twins--one of which is the messiah, the other the antichrist--a shadowy organization moves to kill the children to prevent the End of Days. The nun comes under the protection of a priest who is questioning his faith; in fact, one of the things I like about Deliver Us is its variation on "priest suffering a crisis of faith": this guy know he has to leave the church because he's knocked a woman up. Admittedly, Deliver Us is light on horror and plays out more like a religious morality play with supernatural elements, but I'm fine with that over another Exorcist clone.

Sara A. Mueller, The Bone Orchard

The Bone Orchard is a strikingly original dark fantasy novel right out of the gate: our central location is a brothel where the clients are served by "ghosts" inhabiting vat grown bodies. Spoiler territory: those "ghosts" being put into vat grown bodies at the brothel are actually bits of the main character's fractured sense of self. Each one is meant to serve as a means to keep the central personality safe from harm. The premise of having a brothel madame entrusted with figuring out which of the emperor's sons killed him is pretty interesting; it feels like a different flavor of machinations than we usually get. The stakes feel nice and high too: we've got the politics of trade, the nation losing their colonial war, and a revolution threatening the imperial center as the army tries to impress citizens into service. All of this and a masquerade ball full of intrigues too!

Coop, Devil's Advocate and Idle Hands

There's more PLANET MOTHERFUCKER stuff coming in 2024, so to get pumped up to finish my drafts I've been dipping into Coop's art again for inspiration. Both Devil's Advocate and Idle Hands are great collections of his style of overheated, lowbrow trash culture art. If you like buxom devil women, hot rods, and all the good shit like that, look no further.

Garrett Cook, Charcoal

In Garrett Cook's Charcoal a promising art student is given a set of charcoals by her lecherous professor that may have the ashes of a decadent 19th century libertine mixed into their composition. Now she's drawing terrifying crows that want to be fed on her trauma, and that's the least horrific thing she's experiencing as a result of experimenting with these forbidden art supplies. You can be sure this won't end well. There's a bit of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray in Charcoal, but I'd recommend this especially to people looking for something in the nexus of A24's better films, Clive Barker, and Kathe Koja.

In This Moment, Godmode

On Godmode, In This Moment have evolved into a throbbing beast of industrial metal and dark pop grandeur. While the original tracks are great, it's pretty ballsy that they not only did a cover of Bjork's "Army of Me," but that they made that the third track on the album. Impossible to compete with Bjork, but this is pretty solid. Lots of emo, teenage reprobate moments to savor on this one.

Ai Jiang, Linghun

Ai Jiang's Linghun is a grief-heavy novel about a family who moves to a neighborhood where families are known to be visited by the ghosts of their lost loved ones. Meanwhile, those who hope to one day have a home in the neighborhood--but are currently unable to afford it--camp out on the lawns and forlornly wait their turn. Well, they wait their turn until the unearthly spectacle of a house auction, which routinely turns into blood sport. It's easy to say that a novel is a "meditation on grief," but there's no way around it: that's exactly what Linghun is.

Suitable Flesh

Nominally an adaptation of H. P. Lovecraft's "The Thing on the Doorstep," Suitable Flesh is a difficult movie to figure out what exactly you appreciated about it. I found it hard to tell which elements were intentional homages to 80s/90s horror and which parts were just plain bad filmmaking; truly, this is a film that has no idea about how psychiatrists operate, despite placing psychiatrists at the center of the narrative. For me, Heather Graham and Barbara Crampton saved it; they both seemed like they were having a lot of fun. Also, the use of billowing curtains and sultry saxophone in the sex scenes was A+ throwback work.

Kaori Yuki, Beauty and the Beast of Paradise Lost, vols. 1-5

Kaori Yuki is my favorite mangaka, so I'll pretty much read anything of hers that gets translated into English. Although she isn't the most startling artist, I love the themes she works with throughout her many series of manga. Beauty and the Beast of Paradise Lost is no different. On the surface, it's a retelling of Beauty and the Beast (and to be honest, the "Paradise Lost" bit doesn't factor in literally), but the manga excavates the inherent Gothic romance of the source story and turns it into something surprising and, in places, monstrous.

Nick Medina, Sisters of the Lost Nation

Nick Medina's Sisters of the Lost Nation, a novel in which a young Native American woman grapples with the sudden and ominous disappearance of her little sister, plays off the epidemic of Native women who go missing in North America. I was expecting something more folk horror from the description I read of it, but it was really good nonetheless. In particular, the tense feeling engendered by the novel's structure--it moves backwards and forwards along a timeline of events related to the sister's disappearance--really kept me on the edge of my seat and kept me turning pages to find out what had happened and how the novel would resolve.

The Fall of the House of Usher

When Mike Flanagan's The Fall of the House of Usher series was announced, I was very excited...until I found out it was a Mike Flanagan joint. Despite minor triumphs like Oculus and his adaptation of Gerald's Game, I really didn't like his take on The Haunting of Hill House; I felt like it mined the surface details of Shirley Jackson's novel for very little reward.

I expected The Fall of the House of Usher to follow suit. Though it's a mixed bag, and again really doesn't evidence a deeper understanding of Poe's work than a Wikipedia dive could give, it is buoyed by strong performances from Mark Hammill and Carla Gugino. Though I'm still not convinced that the show benefits from all the "Easter egging" and doesn't do much with Poe's corpus, there were some nice moments strewn about the dross.


It's been many, many years since I last watched Grindhouse--Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez's joint love letter to the sleazy films of yesteryear--but god-damn I still think this is an under-rated good time. Planet Terror is prime Rose McGowan, has some insane ultraviolence, and also features some great visual gags. I was surprised that the car chase in Death Proof still makes me feel incredibly tense even though I've seen it a ton of times. Throw in those great fake movie trailers--several of which have since gone on to become full films in their own right--and you have an absolutely winning combination.

Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obara, Death Note Short Stories

I read all of Death Note last year and was surprised to find that it actually is an incredibly well put-together manga series. Death Note Short Stories is exactly what it says on the tin: a collection of shorter works connected to the main story. One of the stories is a long "sequel" of sorts about the next person to get their hands on the death note; others are jokey four-panel comics or shorter vignette-like stories. Overall, this is a nice companion volume to the main series, though it probably isn't essential to the enjoyment of Death Note as a whole. One hilarious thing: it's canon that Donald Trump almost got his hands on the death note.

Richard Swan, The Justice of Kings

Richard Swan's The Justice of Kings follows the exploits and travails of Konrad Vonvalt, a "Justice" of the Emperor--essentially a traveling magistrate entrusted with occult powers to ferret out the truth and make sound judgements on legal matters in accordance with secular law. 

Although the story concerns Vonvalt's character arc, it is told to us by his clerk, a woman named Helena. In the narrative she is relating, she is a young and petulant woman of nineteen. She's had a difficult life of hardscrabble survival, and at this point in her life she is unsure whether she wants to pursue the path to becoming a Justice herself or if she'd like to leave Vonvalt's service. Of course, Helena scarcely has time to consider her options as a seemingly routine murder investigation involves the protagonists in a conspiracy with ramifications that threaten to shake the Empire's stability. Want to know more? Check out my full review over at Bad Books for Bad People.

Kill List

I watched Kill List at the urging of one of my friends on Discord. It was a great recommendation too because I love this slow-burn style of horror that features a big left-hand turn in the narrative. At the start, Kill List appears to be a crime thriller about two ex-military men who have turned assassins-for-hire. They receive a list of three people they are being paid to kill, but with each murder things get a little stranger and more unsettling. We also see that there is something going on with the woman who has befriended one of the men's wives by being a ready ear for the strain their relationship has been under. Of course, by the third killing all hell breaks loose; the assassins interrupt a bizarre cult ritual and things culminate in an unexpectedly folk horror direction. 

A Cure for Wellness

A Cure for Wellness was another recommendation I got from the folks on my Discord. (Sorry, it was so long ago that I've forgotten who actually mentioned it, but it was a good rec!) In A Cure for Wellness, an up-and-coming financial executive is sent to a wellness center in the Swiss Alps to retrieve his corporation's missing-in-action CEO. Of course, he arrives and discovers that there is something sinister going on at the center and he becomes embroiled in an extremely Gothic plot. Though the plot doesn't make a ton of sense and the film is admittedly a bit overlong, A Cure for Wellness is a beautifully shot film with some truly disturbing scenes. 

Scott Snyder and Francesco Francavilla, Night of the Ghoul

Night of the Ghoul is a pretty cool horror comic from Scott Snyder and Francesco Francavilla. It's very cinematic; the story starts with a horror film fanatic dragging his teenage son to visit a dying man he believes is the director of a lost "classic" horror flick in a secretive hospital. Of course, not all is what it seems--the film, the director's life, and now this father and son duo are deeply embroiled with the monstrous ghoul. One thing I really enjoyed about Night of the Ghoul is the way it leverages the structural possibilities of comics to enable its storytelling: we cut from the main action in the present, back to World War II, and also bits from the lost film. 

The Doctor and the Devils

The Doctor and the Devils is a pretty straightforward retelling of Burke & Hare's crimes, but with a surprisingly hefty bit of talent behind it: Timothy Dalton, Patrick Stewart, Twiggy (!!!), and Julian Sands. (Seriously, did anyone else know there was a movie where Twiggy plays a nineteenth-century prostitute?) To be clear, this really isn't a horror movie as such; The Doctor and the Devils is definitely more in the realm of dark historical reenactment, should that matter to you.

Cullen Bunn, Arjuna Susini, Hilary Jenkins, Lamentation

In Lamentation, a young woman shows up to audition for a play and suddenly finds herself cast in the lead role. The catch is that the theater seems to exist in its own shadowy dimension; the players are all trapped within it until they successfully perform the violent Gothic melodrama they've been given as a script. Which is easier said than done, since murder, jealousy, a maze-like interior, and supernatural horrors all provide obstacles to seeing the play through and finding freedom. 


I really loved Christopher Smith's Black Death, so when I heard he had a recent "religious horror" film out I had to make time to watch it. Although it didn't thrill me as much as Black Death, Consecration is a really interesting movie that puts an unique spin of the subgenre of Catholic horror. When her brother dies under mysterious circumstances, a woman travels to a remote convent to uncover the truth of his death--and along the way uncovers some massive secrets about her own past. 

Kate Heartfield, The Chatelaine

I had been interested in reading Kate Heartfield's The Chatelaine back when it was originally released under the more compelling name Armed in Her Fashion with a much more compelling cover. I've seen it compared to Christopher Buehlman's Between Two Fires, and while I can see some similarities, such as the presence of demons and a medieval setting, The Chatelaine is not nearly as brutal. It is quite good, though; in the wake of a demonic invasion of Bruges, a middle-aged mother with a sharp tongue, her romantic daughter, and an unusual mercenary march into Hell in pursuit of money and treasure that is legally due to them. Interesting, The Chatelaine addresses the themes that a book I read in January and didn't like, Anna Biller's Bluebeard's Castle tried to work with, namely the ways in which women have to navigate a patriarchal world, with much more nuance and intelligence.

Nightmare Alley

I snuck in one more movie before we rolled over into February. Prior to this, I had only seen Guillermo del Toro's adaptation of Nightmare Alley, but now I've seen Edmund Goulding's take on the novel. It's a quite good film noir, though I do think its run time doesn't really do it any favors. This is probably going to sound wildly out of pocket in some corners, but I preferred del Toro's version! As is typical of the era in which it was filmed, this version has a lot of shots that are simply framed around two characters embroiled in a close-up conversation; the additional sense of movement in del Toro's film really does add some interest that I found myself missing.

Sunday, January 28, 2024

The Wolf, the Rabbit, and the Rose

In my head, this is kinda what Laorishe looks like
We've finished exploring the Necropolis of Omera! We're taking a little hiatus from the Savage Krevborna campaign and one of the players is going to run some Pulp Cthulhu for us. The timing is great because given the events of this session I need to rethink the direction the campaign is heading in as we near what is likely the endgame of the campaign.

The Characters

Pendleton Torst, rogue anatomist

Catarina Redmoor, prioress of an unusual convent

Geradd, dissolute swashbuckler 

Panthalassa Laurentide, a very weird orphan

Raoul Carathis, necromancer

Daytona Midnight, dhampir gunslinger

Asudem, a drowned antiquarian brought back from the dead


When we last left our heroes, they had followed lines of poetry scrawled on the ceiling of a hallway and inadvertently triggered a trap that sent a boulder rushing their way. Luck was on their side: most of the party were able to flatten themselves against the wall to avoid the boulder, but even those that were struck by it were merely bowled over and suffered no injuries greater than painful bruising. However, Daytona's doppelganger chose that moment to arrive with a summoned hellhound in tow and began to open fire on the party. Geradd killed the hellhound instantly, but the fight with the doppelganger proved more difficult--especially because wounding the doppelganger was causing injuries to the real Daytona. 

When Catarina managed a kill shot that splattered the doppelganger's brains across the wall, the real Daytona dropped unconscious and began to bleed out. The timely medical intervention of Pendleton was able to save Daytona from the black gates of death. They were able to loot the remaining glass lizard eye they had been looking for from the pocket of the false Daytona's duster. 

Now that the last eye was in their possession, they decided to return to the third floor of the Necropolis and use it to open the locked chamber. The interior of the room was massive; it had a high, vaulted ceiling, a marble floor, and was lit by hundreds of candles. They could see the glitter of golden treasure in nine alcoves within the room, but what drew their eye immediately was a massive object in the center of the chamber that was covered with a shroud. 

Peaking under the shroud revealed that the thing had massive feet of fossilized bone not unlike a bird or reptile. Of course, the fossilized creature began to move, casting off its shroud as its thundering footsteps cracked the marble floor. It revealed itself to be the animate remains of a powerful, primordial creature. Despite its lack of organs, its terrifying roar momentarily stunned some members of the party. The creature proved nearly invulnerable to their attacks; bullets and blows could not even chip the fossilized bone. 

The party was riven, with some members fleeing the chamber while the others tried to stay and fight. The monstrous skeleton's powerful teeth were taking chunks out of the party and the fight was not going in their favor--until Geradd began to climb up its bony ribcage and attempted to pull its head from its neck. Vertebrae were cracking and he was straining in effort, but ultimately he pried its skull loose from its body and sent it crashing down to the floor in a pile of bones. 

After collecting as much treasure as they could carry from the alcoves, they decided to explore one last room they had left untouched. The interior of this chamber was decorated with murals of hunters armed with spears and bows. There was also a sarcophagus of black basalt with a wolf statuette on the lid. Above the sarcophagus a golden orb dangled from a chain. Raoul clambered on top of the sarcophagus and tried to grasp the orb, but it shot a fiery bolt at him that sent him diving for cover. Pendleton, who wears the cloak of an elven pyromancer that he believed made him invulnerable to fire, also tried to grasp the orb, but this merely taught him the limitations of his magical protection: he was badly burned by the bolt that struck him. 

Daytona cut this Gordian knot by simply firing at the orb and destroying it from a distance. Inside the sarcophagus was a leather sack filled with black pearls, a black iron key, a ruby scepter, and a ruby choker. 

Returning to the fifth level of the Necropolis, they took the northern passage and found themselves in a walled rose garden that was open to the purple "sun" that shone above them. A teenaged girl, barefoot and filthy, emerged from the depths of the garden and introduced herself as Thomasina, the third wife of Dorian Margrave. Under her breath Thomasina reminded herself to be "Polite, informative, and regal," though her behavior left the party wondered about her mental state. She offered to take the group to Rosaria and Laorishe or accompany them as they explored this level of the Necropolis.

They opted to explore further and get their bearings. After passing through Rosaria's bedroom, they entered a room with a large blue orb resting on a pedestal. Somewhat oddly, after it was determined that the orb was not a solid object, Pendleton stuck his head into it. His attempts to look around inside of it caused a variety of effects: the blood lake on this level became agitated and began to flood the walkways, an earthquake shook the Necropolis, and he heard a mysterious, authoritative voice in his head. Messing with the orb also caused the door to the chamber to seal shut and a new door to open on the northern wall of the room.

Following the northern passage brought them to a room in which a large brass mechanical orrey was whirring about, its planetary bodies in motion around the sun. Raoul noticed that the sun had a hatch on it; inside was a human-sized chair with many levers. Raoul sat in the chair and began throwing levers. Unfortunately, this caused the purple sun to go out. The temperature dropped suddenly; the group could now see their exhalations. They could hear the tolling of a distant bell. 

The bone moon began to glow with an eerie blue aura. Six androgynous figures, each with a length of chain spilling from a wound in their abdomens, emerged from the moon and attacked the party. Geradd was grievously wounded by one of the creatures, but the outbreak of violence unveiled a different side of Thomasina: she drew a hand axe from her belt and went absolutely berserk. She lopped the head off one of the creatures, and leapt upon another--whom she tore at with her teeth whilst bashing it with her weapon. When three of the creatures had been killed, Pendleton had a clear path to the orrey; sitting in the chair, he was able to throw the right levers to get the planetary bodies to align correctly. This banished the remaining creatures. 

The group decided they had had enough of exploration and asked Thomasina to bring them to Laorishe and Rosaria. The two women appeared much like they had in the dream that some of the group had shared previously, save that they were much paler--due to undeath, of course. Laorishe wore a crown that featured wolf symbology, and Rosaria's crown was fashioned with roses. Laorishe smoothed Thomasina's hair and placed a crown with a rabbit motif on the girl's head. 

After exchanging pleasantries, Laorishe pressed the party on what their attitude was at this point regarding Dorian and the sword they wished to gain possession of (1). The consensus they had come to on their way through the Necropolis was that they would like to negotiate for the Brineblade with Dorian. This news pleased Laorishe immensely; the three wives led the party down the stairs to the final level of the Necropolis where they found Dorian waiting for them with six heavily armored knights (2).

Dorian was a massive man, and now, due to his life of sin, he was a drakoi--a man whose visage had been corrupted to that of a dragon. He bore five swords, two at his left side, one at his right, and two strapped to his back. He greeted the party and congratulated them on making it to the sixth level of the Necropolis, a feat few had managed. He drew the Brineblade, a cutlass with a coral-like handle and a pearlescent blade. He too was pleased to hear that they would like to bargain for the sword. His first offer was that he would exchange the Brineblade for two things: they would disrupt the binding spell that kept Dorian and his wives trapped within the Necropolis and that they would join his conquering army. 

The party accepted the offer (3).

Geradd entered the crawlspace the led to the ritual chamber and broke the binding sigil. Dorian, his wives, and his retinue of knights met them on the way up; Dorian was true to his word: he handed over the Brineblade.

As they exited the the Necropolis together, Dorian told them that he would call upon them for their aid when the time was right. 

Outside the Necropolis, they found Raymond Carathis and hired mercenaries waiting for them. Raymond admitted that he had considered robbing them of any loot they acquired in the Necropolis should they emerge alive, but his errand was altogether different: he had been sent with a letter for his cousin Raoul that he feared not to deliver personally. Raoul broke the seal on the letter and visibly paled. He informed the group that he had urgent business back in Creedhall, and that they needed to depart in all haste.


(1) - If it seemed like the party was still planning on fighting Dorian for the Brineblade, Laorishe would have attacked them and commanded Rosaria and Thomasina to join in the fray. Thomasina is a broken maniac who has been trained to be Laorishe's attack dog. Rosaria would rather not fight the group, but she's more afraid of Laorishe's wrath than she is of the party. For her part, Laorishe is the personification of "Ride or Die": there is nothing she wouldn't do to protect Dorian.

(2) - If the party had resorted to violence at this point, things would likely have gone very badly for them. Although they were uninjured at this point, they were low on Bennies and in this scenario they would have been badly outnumbered; they would have to fight Dorian (who could wield all five swords on his turn), his six knights, and his three wives (two of which are murderous psychopaths). If negotiations turned sour, the session would have ended in a very different way.

(3) - I was shocked that they agreed to Dorian's first proposal, or at least didn't counter with an offer of their own. This greatly alters where the campaign is going.

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

A Dream Within a Dream

We played another session of Savage Krevborna on Edgar Allan Poe's birthday, and I managed to work in a little Poe reference just for kicks.


Pendleton Torst, rogue anatomist

Catarina Redmoor, prioress of an unusual convent

Geradd, dissolute swashbuckler 

Panthalassa Laurentide, a very weird orphan

Raoul Carathis, necromancer

Daytona Midnight, dhampir gunslinger

Asudem, a drowned antiquarian brought back from the dead

Bonnie Prince Dio, cambion knight


When the elevator from the third floor to the fourth settled into place atop a pile of bleeding, writhing zombies, the group found a cambion knight awaiting them. Introducing himself as Bonnie Prince Dio, he informed the party that he had been sent by Hell to bring the false Daytona to heel. Thankful for help, even help of infernal origins, the group pressed on. 

Their explorations brought them face to face with four gargoyles who swooped down from pillars to attack when they attempted to leave the chamber. After the gargoyles were destroyed, they found a room that had a dusty mirror spanning one of its walls; when the dust was cleared away, they could see the six individuals that some of the party had met in the "dream of the Burgundy House." By reading their lips, they could tell that the six cultists in the glass were mouthing the words "Don't break the mirror." There was some debate over whether that message should be trusted, but they decided to leave the mirror intact. 

The corridor they followed ended in a stone block that had been painted with a figure wearing a tragedy mask. The figure's left hand was upheld with two fingers extended; the figure's right hand was held downward with two fingers extended. They discovered no traps on the block, and when Panthalassa tried hitting it with her pickaxe there was no effect, but when Asudem copied the figure's gestures the stone block slid up into the ceiling to reveal a chamber beyond. 

In the chamber they found a black crown, adorned with black opals, sitting upon an equally black throne. On the east wall was a man-size carving of a goat's head--albeit one flayed of flesh. Raoul cast a spell to detect magic on the crown and learned that it emanated a demonic aura. When the crown was removed from the throne, the block slid back into position, sealing them inside the chamber. It also caused all their light sources to dim. A bas-relief of people looking up at a glowing purple sun appeared on the stonework in the room. 

Raoul placed the crown on his head, which immediately made him look more imperious and commanding. Whereas everyone else only saw a black void within the stone goat's head, he now saw a swirling gray mist. He stuck his hand into the mist--and felt multiple cold pairs of hands grasp him and pull him into the void. The rest of the group simply saw Raoul disappear inside, which caused them to panic. Both Geradd and Daytona tried to enter the darkness inside the goat carving, but they were both rebuffed and suffered necrotic wounds for their trouble. 

However, Daytona had the bright idea to see if the purple sun from the bas-relief could be pried off the wall--and it could! Using it as a kind of magic lantern that consumed the void beyond the goat's mouth, he was able to clear a safe path through the darkness to a throne room where Raoul sat upon an ornate black seat. Raoul appeared to be asleep and he now wore princely black robes. He had also been transformed back to his usual appearance, instead of a fish-man hybrid. When he awoke on the throne, he awoke screaming with no memory of what had happened to him.

The stone blocks trapping them inside had also now lifted. In the next chamber they explored they found further bas-reliefs, though these seemed to depict a number of seaside towns being destroyed by massive waves from the ocean. There was also a human skeleton partially embedded in the wall, its arm extended to hold a sconce with a green candle. Unfortunately, stone blocks dropped down at either end of the passageway and water began to pour into the chamber at an alarming rate. Panic again ensued. Geradd figured out that the skeleton's bones could be removed from the wall and that each bone held enough air to act as a temporary breathing apparatus. After those who needed to breath were equipped with a source of air, all they had to do was wait until the water receded and the stone blocks retreated. 

In a further tomb, they found twenty stained glass knights, each kneeling and facing a plain stone sarcophagus. The glasswork that made up the knights had a rose pattern that resembled the dress that Rosaria, one of Dorian Margrave's wives, was wearing in the dream. Despite correctly guessing that the stained glass statues would react poorly to opening the sarcophagus, they opened the sarcophagus. Predictably, all twenty of the glass knights attacked en masse. A massive battle commenced, but Catarina, Daytona, and Asudem's gun shots were putting down statues left and right, and Geradd's wild glaive strikes sometimes took out four statues at a time. Assistance was provided by the giant skeleton that Raoul summoned and from a demon soldier that Daytona conjured. 

Once the legion of glass knights was destroyed, they found a room that could only be opened when someone bled into the open mouth of the statue positioned outside the door. (Daytona did the bleeding.) They found themselves in another throne room, but this chamber was inhabited by three undead creatures whose eyes and mouths were sewn shut. There was a black scepter, also decorated with black opals, upon the throne. Raoul moved to collect the scepter; the three undead creatures seemed to lunge at him, but instead of attacking they bowed to him. 

After this, they found the stairs down to the fifth level of the Necropolis. As they descended, Raoul used the scepter to make a purple "sun" illuminate the darkness above them. At the bottom of the spiral staircase was a small landing; they discovered that the landing was an "island" in a sea of blood. (Daytona confirmed that it was actual human blood.) On the landing was a jetty, to which was tied two rowboats. They decided to scout out the area using the rowboats. The current brought them to a waterfall of blood that rained down from above. They also observed that there were a number of still-living degenerate dwarves hanging from chains high above them. 

Back at the landing, they took a corridor that ended in a long hallway. In the hall, a number of candles were burning in alcoves. Scrawled upon the ceiling was a sentence, "Take this kiss upon the brow." They could see that the writing continued further down the hall, so they proceeded farther into the hallway to read it. "And, in parting from you now" was followed by "Thus much let me avow." And then "You are not wrong, who deem." Then "That my days have been a dream." As they read this final line, they head a loud click as a massive boulder rolled into their path, ready to crush them. 

We'll find out how they get out of this one next time.

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Not Good For Maidens


Tori Bovalino's Not Good For Maidens is a riff on Christina Rossetti's Goblin Market. In Not Good For Maidens, a young woman from a bloodline of witches is faced with the daunting task of venturing into the goblin market in search of her beloved aunt who may have fallen prey to the goblins' enticements. Running parallel to that story is the tale of a different aunt's tragic involvement with the goblin market in the past. Overall, Not Good For Maidens is a decent read, particularly for younger readers, but I do think it could have gone much harder, especially given the rich context of Rossetti's poem. The problem with Not Good For Maidens is that living up to the promise and power of Rossetti's poem is not a task many modern authors are really equipped to tackle. The best thing this novel can do is lead young readers to Rossetti's poetry.

As a riff on a classic Victorian poem, Not Good For Maidens is not the book I think it should be, which may well be an unfair criticism, but I think comparison between the novel and Rossetti's poem is inevitable given the context. To my mind, Christina Rossetti's Goblin Market is a poem of seductive horrors. In contrast, Bovalino's novel is planted too firmly in the young adult "urban fantasy" mode, and any seduction is in short supply within its pages. Though there is horrific content in it, Not Good For Maidens soft-pedals where it should attempt to disturb and challenge the reader. The form of the novel also detracts from its themes; the prose needs to be more seductive, artful, and brimming with monstrous excess, and the words need to carry more sexual threat. Without that, Not Good For Maidens feels pale and fainting in comparison to the strenuous ardor of Rossetti's poem.

Case in point, the protagonist is notably asexual, so the potential to do something interesting by juxtaposing the goblin market's enticements against her lack of desire certainly exists--but that element isn't explored in any depth. Similarly, the protagonist's strange, semi-sensual fixation on her aunt doesn't reach the fevered pitch of the powerful and unnameable force of sisterly love in Rossetti's work.

I also question the author's word choice at various points. Too often, the protagonist is "scampering" away in terror. Scampering? That's like saying someone frolicked in dread.

I know that a considered focus on world-building is often a great curse upon all nations, but the world-building in Not Good For Maidens would benefit from narrative clarification or revision because I'm not sure it makes sense. The goblin market seems to be a known quantity (even the British government is aware of it and when people re-emerge from the market with strange injuries and bearing stranger curses, people know to take its victims to a group of witches in York that can help them), but the American protagonist has somehow never heard of it? Despite the fact that her family members are the witches who help people recover from goblin wounds in York?

The way the goblin market and its denizens are portrayed feels unreal, as opposed to fantastical or even dream-like, which works against the book's themes, its characterization, and its coherency. If the goblin market were real and known, there would be YouTubers and TikTokers making crass videos about it. But in the fictive world the novel presents, knowledge of market's existence is vague and often feels like it comes into focus only at the narrative's convenience, making the stakes of Not Good For Maidens feel flimsy and inconsequential as a result.

Tuesday, January 16, 2024


By popular demand, the latest version of PLANET MOTHERFUCKER is now available on Drivethrurpg!


If you previously bought the zine and would like this pdf version added to your Drivethru account, drop me a line and I'll hook you up.

More news: PLANET MOTHERFUCKER will be getting three supplements in 2024. They're already written, baby. Expect new character classes, lots more monsters and bad guys, adventure seeds, and more questionable humor than you can stand. This shit is for the sickos, so watch this space.

Of course, what that means is that you want to buy the main PLANET MOTHERFUCKER pdf right now so you're all oiled up and juicy for when the add-ons drop.

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Feasts and Fish Masks

The characters in the Savage Krevborna again explored another level of the Necropolis of Omera. Here's what went down.

The Characters

Pendleton Torst, rogue anatomist

Catarina Redmoor, prioress of an unusual convent

Geradd, dissolute swashbuckler 

Panthalassa Laurentide, a very weird orphan

Raoul Carathis, necromancer

Daytona Midnight, dhampir gunslinger

Asudem, a drowned antiquarian brought back from the dead


The first thing that the party noticed is that the third level of the Necropolis was infested with fleshy, alien growths on the walls and ceilings of its corridors and chambers. In one chamber they found a fifteen foot pit with a stained glass statue standing over a small iron chest. To either side of the pit were statues of Scylla and the Chained Scholar. Geradd climbed down into the pit to examine the chest, but the glass statue animated and attacked him. Luckily, his compatriots were able to shoot the statue to pieces before it could harm Geradd. Inside the chest was a key and two glass lizard eyes.

As they explored further, they found two of the degenerate dwarves laying dead on a flight of stairs. Pendleton could tell that the dwarves had been exsanguinated. Following the murderer's bloody footprints brought them to a balcony overlooking a vast chasm. On the other side of the chasm was another balcony with a statue of an eldritch monstrosity standing upon it. Floating within the space of the chasm were five floating wooden disks. 

Eschewing the disks, Daytona cast wall walker on himself and traversed the chasm without recourse to the floating disks; he brought a rope, hoping to tie it off to allow the other to cross. However, when Daytona was about halfway across the chasm, Geradd pulled a lever on their balcony, which caused the chamber to fill with a violent wind and the sounds of howling beasts and grinding machinery. The lever also caused the statue's hand to unclench, revealing two more glass lizard eyes. Daytona's clone appeared on the opposing balcony and began to shoot at the original; Daytona high-tailed it back to safety as his clone retreated. The group opted to send Annabelle, Raoul's familiar, across the chasm to retrieve the glass eyes. They then retraced their steps to explore another in another direction.

They found a metal door with a bronze disk in the center of it. Along the perimeter of the disk were ten circular indentations. They placed the four glass eyes they had into the indentations, which caused a bronze eyelid to close over each glass eye. Six glass eyes remained to be placed. 

In another chamber they obtained a gilded human skull. 

Speaking of skulls, beyond a door carved with leering skulls they found three tapestries. The first tapestry showed nobles feasting and drinking. In the second, the same nobles were fighting each other, fucking on the table, and vomiting in the feasting hall. In the third tapestry, the nobles were shown to be feasting on their servants while the roasted boar laughed at the spectacle. The group then heard the stomping approaching of something with hooves. A towering boarman appeared in the doorway, covered in blood, an apple in its mouth, and bearing an axe. After spitting out the apple, it announced that the Lord of the Feast had arrived. Raoul summoned a grave guardian, but the Lord of the Feast cut it down with his axe. Geradd dealt the creature a horrific blow with his glaive, slaying it; Geradd had split the creature's belly open and golden cups, cutlery, and jewelry began to pour out of the wound.

In another burial chamber, the group found a shrine devoted to Scylla, a magically warded sarcophagus, and a number of frescos that held clues on how to safely open the sarcophagus. Catarina figured things out quickly, and made the appropriate offerings to her "goddess." Which each completed step of the ritual, the group could hear the crashing of waves on a shore and smell the scent of the briny deep. Upon completing the ritual offerings, the sarcophagus's lid slid off. Inside was a set of leather bracers decorated with delicate fish bones. 

Geradd, Raoul, and Pendleton had all donned fish masks they had found in the chamber during the ritual. When the ritual was complete and they removed the masks, they discovered that their faces had been transformed into piscine visages and that their necks now sported functional gills. 

As they traveled the corridors of the Necropolis's third level, they encountered the corpse golems that Catarina had scryed from the prior level. Daytona shot one, but Geradd charged them and single-handedly destroyed them. Further in the Necropolis they found a portal within a large carving of a wolf's mouth. Looking into the portal gave them a vision of an explorer in a chamber stepping on a rune that caused the room to fill with poisonous spoors that killed him. The group later found the room from the vision. Raoul was able to use a summoned zombie to avoid the symbols on the floor and open the sarcophagus in the chamber. Inside were two more glass lizard eyes and a spiral horn.

At this point, the group became nervous about the whereabouts of the false Daytona. Catarina proposed that Daytona cut himself with one of her bone daggers so that she could psychically communicate with both the real Daytona and his replicant. The false Daytona communicated that he had received an invitation to visit "three pretty ladies on the fifth floor." The group realized that he was now en route to visit with Dorian Margrave's three wives--a confluence that could not bode well for them. 

It was decided that they needed to hustle down to the next floor in pursuit. They located an elevator and took it down to the fourth level of the Necropolis. However, as it neared its stopping point, they could see that the elevator shaft was filled with the walking dead. The elevator crushed the milling undead as it settled into place, causes a flood of blood and gore to come up through the grate in the bottom of the elevator. With bloody feet, they now entered the next level within the Necropolis of Omera.

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Mad About D&D

There are plenty of valid reasons to dislike D&D as a game or to avoid Wizards of the Coast as a company. I haven't played D&D in over a year at this point. And yet, D&D seems to have a special quality (its popularity, most likely) that makes some people go insane. It makes them lie, to others and to themselves.

For example, have you noticed that the British guys who complain the loudest about WotC's "corporate stranglehold" all seem to be drowning in Games Workshop plastic miniatures? Look inward.

As another example, it's funny how some indie rpg people are constantly banging the "D&D is crowding out all other games" drum when there are demonstrably more indie games now than in any other point in the hobby and it's never been easier to distribute and/or get paid for your niche indie game. 

D&D isn't the reason your game isn't a bestseller; it's just that you don't have a bestseller on your hands. The milquetoast fantasy juggernaut isn't keeping your ten-page game about coconut farmers trying to resolve family conflict from widespread success--most people just aren't going to be particularly interested in that premise.

There's also irony to be found in the "not all games should be based on D&D's mechanics" perspective, even though it's one I largely agree with, because a lot of the people who hold that view seem to have no problem with everything being either Powered by the Apocalypse or Forged in the Dark based. (It used to be Fate that filled that role, but no one cares about Fate anymore.) On the trad side of things, the Year Zero Engine seems to currently occupy a similar "this system could and should do everything" space.

I have a theory: the most unhinged D&D hate actually funnels people to D&D because regular gamers see that stuff and want to go over to where people seem more normal and less "I'm frothing mad about a game I don't even play." 

Touching grass is always an option, of course.

Sunday, January 7, 2024

The Evil Twin

We're back, having logged our first Savage Krevborna game for 2024. The characters are still within the Necropolis of Omera, still in search of the fabled Brineblade. In this session they fully explored the second level of the dungeon.

The Characters

Pendleton Torst, rogue anatomist

Catarina Redmoor, prioress of an unusual convent

Geradd, dissolute swashbuckler 

Panthalassa Laurentide, a very weird orphan

Raoul Carathis, necromancer

Daytona Midnight, dhampir gunslinger

Asudem, a drowned antiquarian brought back from the dead


One of the first things the group discovered in their exploration of this level of the Necropolis of Omera was a stone font filled with a silvery fluid. When Catarina gazed into it, she found herself apparently looking through someone else's eyes at a massive corpse golem, clad in a knight's helmet and holding a fearsome metal bar, set back into a niche. At least now they knew what they might be up against later.

The also found the fresh corpse of a man in robes who had let go of a staff topped with a bronze lizard's head as he died. Pendleton examined the corpse and determined that he had been hacked to death with axes--they correctly surmised that the degenerate dwarves they had encountered prior had gotten to him. According to the journal they found on him, this man was Harbecker Rohm, a sorcerer who was charged with setting the magical traps meant to keep the foolhardy from setting Dorian Margrave loose from his prison.

The next chamber they explored in detail announced its presence with a stink like spoiled wine before they even reached its door. Speaking of the door, they couldn't fail to notice that there was a large stone block above it that seemed poised to seal off the chamber should some trigger be sprung. And speaking of triggers, as most of the group dithered over whether they should open the door and risk triggering the stone block, Geradd got a running start and shouldered the door aside--to no ill effect. 

Inside, a single ray of light shown down from the ceiling onto a gilded sarcophagus. The walls were decorated with stone dragon heads, which were determined to be the source of the vinegar-y wine smell. Raoul discovered that one of the dragon heads could be removed from the wall, and he and Geradd took it off to see what lay beyond. It had been covering a crawlspace; Geradd and Daytona entered it, but eventually they decided to send Raoul's familiar Annabelle to scout ahead.

Annabelle reported that there was a huge drum of wine within the crawlspace attached to a mechanism that could dump it into the room--potentially flooding the chamber. The crawlspace ended in a chamber where the floor was decorated with an occult symbol drawn in coarse salt. At each of the symbol's five points was a "object" of magical significance: the shell of a monstrous undersea creature, a patch of livid purple and pink mushrooms, a statuette of a fanged worm rearing up, a book with coiled chains, and a fossil of an ancient “lizard” head. 

Making note of occult chamber's location, they retraced their steps to try another path and found themselves in a room with murals depicting a variety of people impaled upon swords. On the chamber's floor was a bas-relief of a dragon's claw; in the center of the bas-relief was a small shaft leading down into darkness. Since he can see in low-light conditions, Daytona peered down into the murk. Daytona saw a bubbling stone font of green slime positioned beneath the hole. A shadowy figured had its back to font; there was something about the mysterious person that unnerved Daytona. 

It was determined that Pendleton would toss a bomb down into the hole. When the bomb went off, Daytona was inexplicable thrown against the wall as if he had been in the blast; he was wounded as if he had been in the radius of the explosion. Pendleton yelled down into the hole to see if the mysterious figure was still down there and got shot at for his troubles. The voice that came up from below sounded exactly like Daytona's. The figure left the room below; unsure how to proceed, they continued their exploration of the second level of the Necropolis.

They knew they were entering a strange section of the Necropolis when they passed through a hallway in which three zombies were chained to the wall, their mouths champing around metal bits. The tomb beyond had a chariot bearing a sarcophagus, statues of drakoi knights, and six purple glass cauldrons filled to the brim with human bones. Nothing happened when Panthalassa demolished a statue, but when the sarcophagus was opened, skeletal warriors began to crawl out of the cauldrons. Some of the characters, particularly Daytona, Catarina, and Asudem who were armed with guns, took out the cauldrons so that skeletons would not continue to be spawned from them, while the others took down their undead attackers. Once the dust settled, they collected their spoils from the sarcophagus: an amulet that warded against plague, three golden cups, a torq, and a shield bearing the legend "Unbroken."

In the final chamber on this floor, the party encountered a lich wearing a laughing "comedy" mask who was working away in his study while a number of severed hands scampered across the desk and floor. He introduced himself as Witherstock, and told them that he had been elected to stay within the Necropolis to maintain the binding magic that kept Dorian Margrave trapped within the tomb complex. He did not fancy their chances against Dorian, but he was able to tell them the following:

  • Dorian could be found on the sixth and final level of the Necropolis
  • The shadowy figure they had tried to explode was a magical construct that took on the identity of whoever was first to look upon it; this meant that somewhere on the floor below was an angry copy of Daytona
  • The Necropolis existed well before Dorian Margrave was trapped within with his wives and lieutenants 
  • The skull in the jar they had been carrying around belonged to the daughter of Harbecker Rohm
  • Rosaria has no great loyalty to Dorian, but Laoirshe is fanatically loyal to their husband; Thomasina, the youngest wife, is under Laoirshe's sway

After bidding Witherstock adieu, they descended the stairs where they opened a chamber emblazoned with graffiti that read "What are saints but heralds deceived?" Beyond the door was a corpse golem; when the golem removed its helm, it revealed a hideously asymmetrical visage that sent Pendleton into a spiral of fear. However, the golem was destroyed...but what had it been guarding? We'll find out next time, of course.

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

The Dream of the Burgundy House

For the last game in the Savage Krevborna campaign for 2023, I found myself in a situation where a good number of people wanted to play, but a mainstay player couldn't make it due to holiday commitments. Since the group had just battled a bunch of golem-making dwarves and were injured, my solution was to have the characters of the players who could make it take part in a shared dream when they holed up in the lab. This actually proved to be a good move on my part as it allowed me to seed information about the necropolis they're exploring so when we return to it in 2024 the party will be better armed with intel about the location.

The Characters

Pendleton Torst, rogue anatomist

Catarina Redmoor, prioress of an unusual convent

Geradd, dissolute swashbuckler 

Panthalassa Laurentide, a very weird orphan

Daytona Midnight, dhampir gunslinger


As their shared dream began, the sleeping members of the party found themselves in a room with burgundy brick walls. On the wall was a shield emblazoned with a coat of arms: a dragon on an azure field. Alongside the shield were a couple portraits done in oils that showed people so consumed by their sins that they were in the process of transforming into degenerate, dragon-like creatures known as drakoi. 

As they moved through this mysterious house, the group noticed that several of the rooms held landscape paintings that featured uncanny movement of the painted figured within. One forest scene featured lascivious satyrs chasing nymphs along the trees. Another landscape showed ambulatory rotting corpses.  

In a bedroom, the party stumbled upon a woman who had her back turned to them as she braided her hair. When she turned around, they found her to be a blonde woman of middling height, dressed as a noblewoman of a bygone era. Her body and face were adorned with blue woad paint, indicating that she hailed from one of the barbaric tribes of the deep forests. They also saw that her teeth had been filed to sharp points.

The woman introduced herself as Lady Laoirse, the first wife of Lord Dorian Margrave, also known as the King Who Craves and the Lord of the Five Blades. Lady Laoirse was clearly sizing them up to determine whether they were guests or interlopers. She was also remarkably free with information; the group learned the following from Lady Laoirse :

  • She confirmed that they were all sharing a dream. 
  • She also added that she was undead and sharing the dream with them as well. 
  • She believed that they were all sharing a dream because they slumbered within the Necropolis, which was suffused with eldritch power.
  • She informed them of the existence of two other wives of Dorian Margrave within the dream; the others two wives were currently in the house's attic. 
  • When they told her that they wanted the Brineblade, she intimated that her husband would not give it up without a fight.
  • However, she also told them that Dorian Margrave didn't dream--and hence he was not in the Burgundy House.
  • Additionally, she informed them that the Necropolis was designed as a prison for Dorian Margrave so that he could not fully use the five magic swords he had collected. 

Once they ascended into the attic, the found another woman, this one chestnut-haired and wearing a small fortune in jewelry, in a bedroom. As they entered, she was working away with a quill at a writing desk. She introduced herself as Rosaria Margrave, and several members of the party noticed that she bore a striking resemblance to Belle Silvra. She was more reserved than Lady Laoirse, but she definitely warmed up to the party when she was informed that in the current era the cult of Scylla had managed to take Lachryma as a bastion of the faith. She even kissed Catarina on the cheek and embraced her as a sister of the cult. She also gave Catarina her manuscript in progress--a shockingly erotic and lurid novel about a monk who seduces his novitiate. 

From Rosaria, the party learned the following:

  • She was Dorian Margrave's second wife--though she did not marry him out of love, as Lady Laoirse had.
  • She was married to Dorian Margrave to seal an alliance between him and the cult of Scylla, in return for their help getting the Brineblade into his hands.
  • She mentioned that her maiden name was Levon. (The characters made a note to see if Belle Silvra had any ancestors bearing that name.)
  • She also told them that Dorian's third wife, Thomasina, might be insane--perhaps dangerously so.
  • Lastly, she told them that if they wanted to challenge Lord Dorian, they were in for a very difficult fight; he can wield all five of his swords at once without even touching them.

Rosaria also took them to a secret staircase that led into the house's basement. Down in the depths they could hear the ominous sound of six voices chanting different words, forming a cacophony of sound. As they explored the chambers where Lord Dorian's bandit army had bunked down, they found a barracks with its own well. When Panthalassa pulled the bucket out of the well, the group were horrified to see that there was a dead, rotting hand attached to it. Feeling the need to experiment, Catarina cut herself and let her blood drip into the well, which attracted the attention of a flesh-hungry undead creature at the bottom of the well. The party debated whether they should haul the creature up, but ultimately decided to press on with their explorations. 

They found a reliquary, which they raided, and a skeletal corpse next to a portcullis. In the pocket of the corpse's decaying garments was a letter that read:


You utter fool. You and your fellow cultists believed that we worked at a common cause–to summon the avatars of the elder gods and let them reign over the Earth–but what man of will would not make those “gods” his servants if the chance presented itself?. I am not bound to the darkness as you are, I am the darkness made flesh. 

I look forward to staining my hand with your blood, 

Dorian Margrave

The group lifted the portcullis and waded into the water beyond. In the center of the water, which only got deeper the further out they traveled, was a large black rock, not unlike an island. Six figures stood on the rock, each of them emitting an eerie spectral glow. The figures included:

  • A man wearing rotting robes, half his face covered in fungal growths
  • A man dressed as a ship's captain, his features strangely fish-like
  • A woman of short stature with leathery skin
  • A primitive man in furs with a necklace of teeth and animal bones
  • A woman in a hooded robe with manacles dangling from her wrists
  • A blonde man clad in Church of the Holy Blood vestments

The six figures were looking at six corpses that lay at their feet. Panthalassa approached the captain, who introduced himself as Captain Vergus. In their brief conversation, Captain Vergus suggested that the party destroy the Brineblade should they be able to wrest it from Dorian Margrave. When asked how they might awake from the dream, he unsheathed his cutlass and slew Pendleton, whose body gently faded from view. Geradd was next. One by one, the party died--some by each other's hands--and awoke. 

Everything they had taken from the dream was with them in the waking world.