Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Old Beef: Disgruntled GURPS Fan is Casually Bodied by Prominent Intellectual

These are from before I started blogging, so I missed them when they were fresh, but they are still hot fire:

Disgruntled GURPs fan slams D&D for being an "endless hobgoblin holocaust."

Ta-Nehisi Coates fires back and bodies the previous guy with a cutting "Sometimes writers have nothing to say."

All this definitely beats the whatever that was between Cornell West and and Coates, which honestly just bummed me out.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Blighted Mansions


Tracklist:
† Midnight Syndicate - Fallen Grandeur †
† Evoken - Mare Erythraeum †
† Skepticism - The Organium †
† Opera IX - Fronds of the Ancient Walnut †
† Limbonic Art - Phantasmagorial Dreams †
† Virgin Black - Darkness †
† Windhand - Black Candles †
† Nox Arcana - Path of Shadows †

Friday, January 12, 2018

Aboard a Blood-Hunting Ship

Campaign: The Excruciata

Characters: The Excruciata are a new gang rising in the Tarnished Ward of Umberwell. They are looking to get in on the action of stealing, smuggling, and selling illicit goods. The current members of the gang are: Raymondo Cortiz (Human rogue, former entertainer); "Count" Erron Halethorpe (Human paladin, former soldier); Grumli Fellhammer (Mountain dwarf barbarian, former tribesman); Zanna Cobblestop (Forest gnome wild magic sorcerer, former urchin); Nina Kessler (Air genasi monk, former spy).

Events: In the last session, the Excruciata gang had tracked down a cask of gunpowder that had been magically enriched with sea dragon ichor. The gunpowder was still aboard the Hexencrux, a blood-hunting ship that had smuggled the cask into the docks of Old Scar. If the Excruciata could somehow board the blood-hunting ship and steal away with the gunpowder they would have a very valuable commodity with which to make their entrance into the black market.

The gang's initial casing of the blood-hunting ship turned up a member of the crew, Carson, who was unhappy with his lowly duties aboard and was liable to being turned against his mates for a cut of the proceeds. Carson was duly bribed, and was able to do two things for the Excruciata. First, he revealed that the crew of the Hexencrux had been infiltrated by a cult devoted to the Adversary; the cult leader had alchemically altered the gunpowder with sea dragon ichor because the empowered munitions that could be created with it somehow figured into the Adversary's plans to foster instability within Umberwell.

Second, Carson was able to secretly hang a rope ladder over the side of the Hexencrux so that the Excruciata might approach by boat under the cover of darkness and climb aboard the blood-hunter unnoticed. As the gang climbed aboard, they noticed that the ship stank of butchered sea dragon. Luckily, they were able to get below deck without being noticed. There were some tense moments as the members of the Excruciata were almost spotted as they sneaked down into the ship's hold, but they managed to find the cask of ichor-altered gunpowder--which was strangely unguarded.

The cask was placed in a waterproof canvas bag and...touching it activated the invisible sigils that had been branded into the wood of the cask, summoning a pair of one-eyed, grinning aberrations from the Emptiness that immediately attacked the gang. A hasty retreat, with occasional attempts to hold the creatures off by force, ensued. Unfortunately, this retreat through the ship was very loud and fraught, which brought the ship's cultic crew also into pursuit of the purloined cask.

Once the Excruciata reached topside, they realized that climbing down the ladder without reprisal...so they decided to forgo escape by boat and instead chose to leap into the water and swim to shore. The crew of the Hexencrux manned the anti-dragon weaponry and opened fire with the ship's Gatling guns; the already injured "Count" Erron Halethorpe was caught path of a storm of bullets, and was cut down before disappearing beneath the waves in a red mist. 

The rest of the gang managed to make it to shore and escape back to their lair. The canvas sack had done its job; the ichor-infused was perfectly dry, and promised to fetch a nice profit for the Excruciata.




Wednesday, January 10, 2018

My Favorite Hangouts Games of 2017

It turns out that I ran a lot of D&D games online in 2017 via Google Hangouts. It is ridiculously flattering that on any given week I can put out the call to adventure and get a cast of interested and interesting players to traipse through my games. I don't think I had to cancel a single session in 2017 from lack of interest, and in many cases I had more people eager to play than I could actually accommodate. Without interested players, none of these games would have been fun or successful, so thanks for playing everybody.

Every session was fun in its own way, but some sessions stick in my mind more than others:

Krevborna
The House Locked in Enmity
I love a good ghost story, so it was great fun getting to try out some ideas I had for a haunted house adventure that I've had kicking around for a few years. Possibly one of the best compliments I've gotten: one of the players in this session reported having a nightmare afterward.

The Curse of the Moroi
This session had a good blend of the stuff I like in my games: investigation, moral dilemma, and exploration that culminated in a showdown with the supernatural in a horrible, challenging location. The Eastern European fairy tale elements I used here really pulled their weight.

The Horror of Art
The NPCs worked really well in this one; it became apparent that Alice and Nikolai had a more than professional relationship, and it was interesting to see how the player characters treated that. The mosquito monsters were fun, there was some nice social exploration, and Pietra Donna Sangino has the right stuff to be either a recurring villain or strange ally.

Scarabae
One Night at Fayaz's
I had the idea of an adventure that was D&D + Five Nights at Freddy's a while back, and finally got to run it. My favorite bit was the murderous cherub automatons--having them on a "track" added a random element to where and when they would appear and have to be dealt with by the players.

Post-Traumatic Adventure Syndrome
Adventuring inside the consequences of the adventuring life is edges felt like a novel premise, and possibly worked as a cautionary tale. This one became a bit allegorical even though that wasn't the intended effect, but that was a nice surprise.

The Incursion at the Heigelman Clinic
A messed-up medical facility is always already an A+ location for adventuring, but this one played out liked a really good action-horror flick. More than anything, I love that the party had the opportunity to explore more of the basement, but noped out of going further. Probably a wise move--it was pretty horrible in there.


As a player, I didn't get in on many games this year, but it's worthwhile to mention that I did get to play in three playtest sessions of Paul V's GRIDSHOCK (in which I got to play my favorite new character of the year, whose adventures I wrote up here and here and then flaked on writing up the last adventure) and one session in Erik Jensen's Wampus Country which was written up here.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Bad Books for Bad People's Best of 2017

Click here to listen to our Best of 2017 podcast episode.

Jack and Kate take a look back at the year that was and discuss some of their top picks for 2017. The rules of engagement are simple: the hosts each choose one movie, album, TV show, book and "wild card" from any category that was the best experience of its kind encountered during 2017.

Listen and hear about fantastical bookstores, grisly land disputes, pop music about dark episodes in history, melodramatic revenge, melancholy medieval curses, and so very much more.

Find us at BadBooksBadPeople.com, on Twitter @badbooksbadppl, Instagram @badbooksbadpeople and on Facebook. You can discover where to get all the books featured on Bad Books for Bad People on our About Page.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Total Skull, December 2017

Things that brought me delight in December, 2017...

Books

Max Gladstone, Three Parts Dead
The pitch is hard to swallow: "It's like a fantasy novel about bureaucracy!" And while a novel about settling the estate and legal obligations of a dead god might not sound like a thrilling ride, somehow it is. This was one of my best surprises of 2017, and I look forward to delving further into Gladstone's Craft Sequence.

Music

Jess and the Ancient Ones, The Horse and Other Weird Tales
Jess and the Ancient Ones has always been a bit more "big voice" than I usually go in for, but this is quality dark psychedelic rock, so we make allowances. Check it out on Bandcamp.

Electric Wizard, Wizard Bloody Wizard
This time out the Wizard is a bit less crushing, and a bit more...rock 'n' roll. Would it be weird if I said an album that had songs titled "Necromania" and "The Reaper" felt like their party album?

Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Vol. 1
Much ado was made about the reissue of Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats' obscure first album. And to be honest, it's not my favorite of their records; but, it is interesting to hear them in a somewhat stripped-down presentation, not having quite found their sound.


Anguis Dei, Ad Portas Serpentium
This ep of over-the-top orchestral black metal has whetted my thirst for Anguis Dei's full-length debut. Check it out on Soundcloud.

Film

Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde
Many scholars have noted that Hyde might be functioning as an outlet for Jekyll's closeted homosexual yearnings in Stevenson's novel, but this glorious Hammer production flips the script by assigning those longings to a second self that is gendered "properly" for the expression of the essential self's desires. Watch the trailer here.

The Limehouse Golem
I have a weakness for Victorian era tales of murder, mayhem, and life on the tawdry stage, so The Limehouse Golem was right up my alley. Watch the trailer here.

The Invitation
An ex inviting you to a dinner party where they want to tell you about their "life changing" trip to an exotic locale is already pure nightmare fuel, but this thriller ramps up the tension and keeps you on your toes. Watch the trailer here.

The Shape of Water
Guillermo del Toro is the modern master of the fairy tale. After seeing The Shape of Water I refuse to listen to any arguments to the contrary. You especially need to see this if you grew up on The Creature from the Black Lagoon and, like I did as a kid, thought the creature got a raw deal. Watch the trailer here.

Television


Godless
Tragically misrepresented as a feminist Western, Godless still managed to be an entertaining exercise in Olde Time Brutality in a fairly original setting. Watch the trailer here.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Valancourt Book of Victorian Christmas Ghost Stories

The Valancourt Book of Victorian Christmas Ghost Stories, edited by Tara Moore
The Victorians had a very different conception of what constituted a "Christmas ghost story" than what we might expect. Few are the ultimately-well-fed urchins, the inevitable roasted geese, or misers-turned-philanthropists. Indeed, a Christmas ghost story didn't have to take place at Christmas. Unlike Dickens's famous A Christmas Carol, most of the stories collected in The Valancourt Book of Victorian Christmas Ghost Stories don't have any particular or pronounced connections to the holiday; rather, they were tales published in special Christmas editions of magazines and journals that continued the tradition of printing dark, foreboding "winter stories." 

Originally, the "winter story" was part of an oral tradition. Family and friends would gather around the hearth in the coldest, darkest season to entertain each other with thrilling tales of supernatural intervention and ghostly visitations. We see a hint of the tradition in Shakespeare's play The Winter's Tale when Mamillus and Hermione discuss what kind of story is best suited to telling on a winter's night:

MAMILLIUS: Merry or sad shall't be?

HERMIONE: As merry as you will.

MAMILLIUS: A sad tale's best for winter: I have one
Of sprites and goblins.

HERMIONE: Let's have that, good sir.
Come on, sit down: come on, and do your best
To fright me with your sprites; you're powerful at it.

The rise of literacy and commercial publishing in Britain created a venue for the oral tradition of the winter's tale to take new form as part of the thriving ghost story industry during the nineteenth century. Dickens gave us the most famous example, but he was simply popularizing an already existing form. For an earlier example of the ubiquity of the Christmas ghost story, we might look to "Christmas Dinner" in Washington Irving's The Sketch-book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.

When I returned to the drawing-room, I found the company seated round the fire, listening to the parson, who was deeply ensconced in a high-backed oaken chair, the work of some cunning artificer of yore, which had been brought from the library for his particular accommodation. From this venerable piece of furniture, with which his shadowy figure and dark weazen face so admirably accorded, he was dealing out strange accounts of the popular superstitions and legends of the surrounding country, with which he had become acquainted in the course of his antiquarian researches.

The "dealing out of strange superstitions and legends" that Irving cites in his account never really died out or fell into disfavor. The tradition of Christmas ghost stories initiates the frame narrative of Henry James's classic late-nineteenth century Gothic novella The Turn of the Screw

The story had held us, round the fire, sufficiently breathless, but except the obvious remark that it was gruesome, as, on Christmas Eve in an old house, a strange tale should essentially be, I remember no comment uttered till somebody happened to say that it was the only case he had met in which such a visitation had fallen on a child.

Nevertheless, it is worthwhile to note that the notion of Christmas ghost stories was not a quaint, bygone practice that had been relegated to traditions remembered by characters in fiction. In the brief preface to his collection Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, M. R. James states that he wrote his spectral fiction to be delivered at gatherings during the Christmas season; the stories, "most of which were read to friends at Christmas-time at King's College, Cambridge," as James reports, were meant as macabre, and expected, entertainment.

The older examples of Christmas ghost stories, especially those of the nineteenth century variety collected in Valancourt's volume, often go beyond the boundaries of propriety that we might expect of tales meant to be read out loud during family gatherings of straight-laced Victorians. Grim tidings abound, such as a mother-in-law who lights a new bride on fire in the anonymous "Bring Me a Light!" and horrific details drawn from the Indian Rebellion of 1857 in Ellen Wood's "A Mysterious Visitor"--which includes reports of children impaled on bayonets as part of its narrative. More modern holiday horrors, such as the profane Yuletide gathering in H. P. Lovecraft's "The Festival" or the cinematic nightmares of The Krampus, rarely mine trauma and vicious maleficence so blatantly. 

However, not all of the stories in Victorian Christmas Ghost Stories are quite so ghoulish. The variety of the stories in the collection reflects the multiple lens through which the Victorians viewed spectral possibilities. Although ghosts were often items of faddish interest or bouts of fervor in the nineteenth century, such as the rise of the spiritualist movement and performative seances, the very possibility of the supernatural was continually challenged by world views that were increasingly scientific, mechanistic, and based in objective material realities. 

Which means, of course, that there's probably a ghost story for everyone to be found in the pages of The Valancourt Book of Victorian Christmas Stories. When they are not busy manifesting gruesomeness incarnate, a Christmas ghost tale may instead be a story of family tragedy and bittersweet unrequited love, as it is in Margaret Oliphant's "The Lady's Walk." Alternately, a Christmas ghost story may even voice skepticism about the very idea of the supernatural, as "How Peter Parley Laid a Ghost" does. My favorite stories in the collection both treat their ghosts in terms of the uncanny, albeit in very different tones. Ada Buisson's "The Ghost's Summons" leverages the power of the unheimlich to unsettle with narrative ambiguity and disquieting imagery. F. Marion Crawford's "The Doll's Ghost" uses a more restorative flavor of the uncanny, but the end result is no less emotive. I read these stories leading up to Christmas Day, and their haunts have lingered in my mind into the New Year.