Monday, March 19, 2018

The Dark of a Tavern in the Cemetery

Campaign: The Excruciata (Umberwell, 5e D&D)

Characters: Raymondo Cortiz (human assassin rogue); Grumli Fellhammer (dwarf path of the ancestors barbarian); Zanna Cobblestop (gnome wild magic sorcerer); Nina Kessler (genasi way of the frozen fist monk); Hiroshi (human samurai fighter).

Events: Having secured a source of kraken blood, as well as the sulfur and charcoal needed to make black powder, the Excruciata now needed to find someone crazy enough to add arcane power to the mixture so it could be sold on the black market for enchanted weaponry. Spreading a little coin around in the occult underground netted the gang an interesting piece of information: just south of the Tarnished Ward in a shanty town outside the city's walls, there is a cemetery in which a cult devoted to the Adversary meets by night--and that cult might be capable of providing the kind of power the Excruciata was looking for.

Venturing into the shanty town, the group found the cemetery--a sprawling mass of shallow graves and hastily erected monuments in the center of a sprawling mass of lean-tos and shoddily constructed shacks. Oddly, in the middle of the cemetery was what appeared to be a ramshackle pub bearing no visible name. Ducking inside, all eyes turned to the gang. The drinkers within were dressed in furs and the sober clothes of scholars; the Mark of the Adversary was etched on the flesh of everyone in the tavern and worn openly in defiance against the religious prohibition against dealing in arcane ways. The interior walls of the pub were covered in mounted antlers draped with magical wards and charms.

Raymondo decided to keep things on the level before any trouble started; he explained in clear terms that he represented a criminal organization looking for occult aid. An especially black-eyed pureblood woman named Freya stepped forward and explained that the group was a sect of the Church of the Outlander, an apocalyptic cult devoted to the study of occult texts. A possible alliance was discussed, but the Outlanders wanted some assurances that they were aligning with a gang that could get things done. 

A series of trials--something like the cult's version of a job interview--were proposed. First, the diminutive Zanna had to face off against one of the cult's younger adepts in magical combat. A circle was formed around Zanna and the adept as they brandished wands and traded spell for spell. Zanna's unpredictable chaos magic carried the day; no one expected that one of her dweomers would send a ripple of necromantic magic through the assembled crowd that instantly healed the wounds Zanna's foe had inflicted on her. (Even Zanna didn't expect that.) The thought of having to face a newly rejuvenated foe was too much for the adept; he yielded the victory.

The second trial was simply a ritual signifying a formal alliance. Raymondo was placed in the awkward position of having to marry Freya as a way of symbolically linking the Excruciata gang and this sect of the Church of the Outlander. The ceremony was performed in the Adversary's name; the ritual befouled the air--everything stank of dark magic. The marriage was not official as far as the state or normative religion would recognize, but Raymondo felt like it had been sanctified by a far older and viler power. He was also surprised to find that her could now hear his new "wife" speak to him inside his head.

The Outlanders had one last trial to pose to the Excruciata; to cement their business agreement the Excruciata would need to assassinate a physician named Doctor Nymenholt, and make off with his collection of occult tomes.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Crime and Punishment in Umberwell

  • The Carrion Worms. Specialized in smuggling contraband and river piracy. They are filthy and tattered. Their favored weapons are gaff hooks and thrown vials of acid.
  • The Urn Street Soldiers. Dealers in bootlegged tonics. They affect Orientalist style, and their trademark weapon is alchemist's fire.
  • The Cuckoos. Operate black markets for the sale of stolen goods and kidnap innocents for ransom. They dress in top hats and carry meat cleavers.
  • The 47 Rodents. Run protection rackets and deal drugs. Most members are halflings, gnomes, kobolds, or goblinoids. They were masks shaped like rat skulls, and fight with axes.
  • The Shriekers. Deal in experimental arms. Their plague masks feature mouths wide open in mid-scream, and they favor ornate pistols. They have a few gargants “liberated” from the Umberwell Watch.
  • The Slaughtermen. Known for general thuggery and assassination. They wear nautical-themed masks, and carry short swords and hand crossbows. Their ranks have been infiltrated by the Voidsighted cult.
  • The Council Street Carvers. Known for burglary and housebreaking. They ply their trade in the wealthier districts and wards, targeting estates and mansions.
  • The gray-coated members of the Umberwell Watch push back against the city's gangs, but the majority of its forces are deployed against dissidents, labor strikes, and rioters.
  • The Watch uses a number of technological devices designed by Malishnikov Industries. Gargants, mechanized suits of armor equipped with auto-crossbows and spotlights, are used to suppress crime and dissent. Watchmen facing rioters or large gangs are given lightning shields that crackle with shocking concussive force to subdue protesters and the unruly masses.
  • The River Watch police the river and its tributaries, cracking down on smuggling and illicit trade.
  • The blue-uniformed Marshals Mortuaria are tasked with containing or destroying the undead. They patrol quarantined plague areas and are mustered to hunt any undead that threaten the city.
  • The most dangerous criminals in Umberwell are incarcerated in Bleakbone Gaol. No one has ever escaped from the walls and cells of Bleakbone.
  • It is not unusual for the citizens of Umberwell to carry arms to defend themselves; the city is a dangerous place and the Watch is unreliable at the best of times.
  • The Empire maintains a standing army and powerful naval fleet. Soldiers and sailors may either be enlisted or conscripted by government press gangs.
  • The Empire's army has recently been bolstered by the introduction of automaton soldiers created by Kiero Jebali, a genius inventor and owner of Jebali Munitions in Cirqus. Rumors circulate that some automatons achieve self-awareness and develop fully realized personalities due to a flaw in their programming that creates a viral consciousness.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Krevborna: The Cookbook

It's been exactly a month since Krevborna: A Gothic Blood Opera was published. I can honestly say that I did not anticipate how successful it would be; it sold more copies at a faster rate than any other role-playing book I've written, it became a "Copper Best Seller" and then a "Silver Best Seller" in short order on DriveThru, it's been well-rated, and people have said awfully kind things about it. I am very pleased by the reception, especially that people keep noting the information design that went into making the book easy to use--I spent a lot of time thinking about the format of the book and how to convey a campaign setting with only the useful, interesting bits facing forward.

Of course, I'm not adverse to even more success. More success means more art budget for the next thing I write; I don't have a Patreon or do Kickstarters, so this is just good ol' fashion hobby publishing at work. Tell your friends about the book if you think they'd like it! Post a review on or reddit or some g+ community I never go to! (But also let me know you posted a review so I can read it.) 

As a way of saying "Thank you" to everyone who bought the book, I'm offering a free pdf of a chapter that didn't make it into the final book: The Krevborna Cookbook. In this pdf are five honest-to-god-you-can-make-these-yourself recipes for you to enjoy with your gaming group. Playing rpgs is a social occasion, so celebrate that with good friends and good food. Each of the recipes in the pdf is themed around one of the major locations in Krevborna--even though this pdf is purely for fun, I think it does give a little more ahem flavor ahem to the setting's most notorious locales.

Of course, if you haven't taken a look at Krevborna: A Gothic Blood Opera you can pick it up here in print and pdf.

Monday, March 12, 2018

The Bloody Chamber

Mini-episode: Angela Carter's "The Bloody Chamber"
For this mini episode, Jack and Kate take a look at the "title track" from Angela Carter's famed short story collection, The Bloody Chamber. This feminist reimagining of the Bluebeard story blends sensuous language, heady atmosphere, and clever inversions of typical fairy tale tropes.

What perils await young women as they venture into the wider world? How do fairy tales translate into the modern world? Is there a reason why some stories end exactly where they do? Find out all this and more in this month's mini episode of Bad Books for Bad People.

BBfBP theme song by True Creature

Find us at, 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, March 9, 2018

The Art of Ian McQue

I found Ian McQue's art randomly via Twitter and I love it, particularly this "urban ramshackle" style I'm showcasing below. He works in a wide varieties of styles but these are my favorites:

Check out his site here

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Umberwell: Blackened Be Thy Name

The city of Umberwell is both a bastion of civilization and a perilous, weird fantasy megalodungeon—a contained, but sprawling metropolis rife with opportunities for picaresque adventure.

Umberwell is the capital city of the vast Enclave Empire. It is a sprawling metropolis at the center of the world's trade and cultural exchange.

Although Umberwell's populace is dominated by humans, its citizens are an anarchic mix of races, such as aarakocras, aasimars, elves, dragonborn, dwarves, firbolg, genasi, goblinoids, goliaths, halflings, half-orcs, kenku, lizardfolk, purebloods, tabaxi, tieflings, tortles, tritons. 

Umberwell is a metropolis gripped by a fervor for industrialization. Technological innovation has achieved marvels such as mechanized factories, automatons, trains, and turbine-driven ships.

Umberwell's modernity is contingent on the whaling ships that stalk the seas and slay krakens for their oil—a fuel rich in galvanic power.

The People's Covenant, the state religion of the Empire, venerates a number of astrological signs that represent ideals that guide the faithful through the cycle of reincarnation. It is also an authoritarian organization concerned with its own exercise of power.  

Arcane magic is capable of wondrous feats, but its use is outlawed in Umberwell because the source of its power is regarded as spiritually unclean and corrupting.

Empress Franziska Corvinus rules the Enclave Empire from her palace in Umberwell, but she may be responsible for the murder of her sister, the rightful ruler, and might be in league with the Adversary—a being of spiritual evil.

The Umberwell Watch focuses its attentions on quelling political unrest, leaving the populace to be preyed upon by criminal gangs vying for territory and power.

A mysterious plague known as the Verminous Doom has descended upon the city. Its victims are transformed into living dead abominations that hunt and devour their fellow citizens.

There are rumors that the Enclave Empire will soon be at war with the City-State of Yesha. The coming conflict has many concerned about the dark days to come.