Thursday, April 24, 2014

Slithdale Hollow: The Music Behind the Phantasmagoria

As I worked on the Slithdale Hollow setting, I was also reading Morrissey's Autobiography. The early bits of the autobio, the parts where Morrissey describes his hopelessly gray childhood in Manchester, made me realize that my Gorey-and-Night Vale pastiche was likely fueled by an untimely exposure to Moz's songs of a delipidated and dangerous childhood. These were the songs lurking in my subconscious, informing every gray brick wall and the terrified children seeking shelter behind them:

The Smiths, "Suffer Little Children"

The Smiths, "The Headmaster Ritual"

The Smiths, "Cemetry Gates"

Morrissey, "November Spawned a Monster"

Morrissey, "Ouija Board, Ouija Board"

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Lowedon Museum, Cruciform Station, Orxham Circus, Coronet Theater

The Lowedon Museum – A magnificent building styled after the ancient patterns of the Relmeenos Empire, the Lowedon museum houses the cultural treasures of Ulverland. Contentiously, it also houses the cultural treasures of other nations that were “liberated” over the years by Ulverlandian explorers and conquerors. The museum contains paintings from Morgundy, marble statutes from Relmeenos, and sarcophagi from Mord-Stavian as part of its permanent displays. 

Cruciform Station – The southern-most terminus of Ulverland's only railroad line, which connects Lowedon to Gallowsburgh. Other major stops on the line are Elderburgh, Midenbrook, Covenant, and Orxham. Although it has only existed for but a decade, the Cruciform Line is already said to be haunted by the specters of those who died laboring upon its construction.

Orxham Circus – A prominent ring road in the Center City district, Orxham circus is festooned with a variety of shops, taverns, and eateries. Among its most famous attractions are the Drover's Wheel and the Eld Shoppe. The Drover's Wheel is a public house frequented by the intelligentsia; playwrights, poets, and philosophers gather there to drink absinthe and find inspiration. The Eld Shoppe is a curious little store that sells antiques and oddities; each item they sell has a lengthy story attached to it.

The Coronet Theater – Though Amphis is widely known as the theater district du jour, the Coronet Theater is a theater with a long history that still remains popular today. Once frequented exclusively by the nobility, the Coronet now stays open by mixing theatrical entertainments on the weekends with weekday bouts of bare-knuckle boxing and bear-baiting. It is said in some circles that the Coronet came be hired out privately for those wishing to see a nastier sort of bloodsport. 

* * *

Wherein I show my work and list some influences on the above:

The Lowedon Museum - The British Museum, with its death-grip on many Grecian treasures, is the most obvious inspiration, but there's probably a bit of the Mutter Museum in there as well. 

Cruciform Station - King's Cross and Charring Cross figure in the mix here.

Orxham Circus - the Chester Cheese informed the Drover's Wheel and the Eld Shoppe is a riff on Dickens's Old Curiosity Shop, with a bit of Obscura in there as well.

Coronet Theater - bits of the Globe Theatre, bits of grand guignol, like you do. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Wolfmother Cult

Accursed Armbrand of the Wolfmother Cult
These armbands are given to women beyond the Northwall by Wolfmothers; such women are seen as potential recruits and are usually chosen because they display fierceness, independence, and a quarrelsome nature. Sometimes these armbands are hidden where the potential recruit may find them, other times they are only offered after a Wolfmother has ingratiated herself with the woman and stoked her anger against her father, brothers, or husband. Any woman who dons an accursed armband runs the risk of being transformed into a Wolfmother by its malign power. A woman who succumbs to the armband's power will change into a Wolfmother over the course of two or three days. Men are immune to the supernatural influence of an accursed armband.

Wolfmothers are women who have been warped by the foul curse of an armband of the Wolfmother cult into brutish, warlike cannibals that take to the wilds, prey upon mankind, and recruit other women to their cause of obliterating civilization. They adorn themselves with wolf pelts, teeth, bone, and feathers; they wear very little in the way of civilized clothing, but do not appear to feel the cold of the Northlands. They are cruel servants of their own unnatural lusts, and are known to steal the seed of men with which they birth their foul wolfen progeny.

Wolfmother's Child
When she has ravaged a man and stolen his seed, a Wolfmother gives birth to a monstrous wolf with glowing, evil red eyes. These wolfen children heed their mothers and are often used to harass villages and towns by killing livestock, stealing children, and depleting the number of fighting men so that the Wolfmothers may utterly extinguish a community. The presence of one of these wolfen children creates a zone in which magic, whether arcane or holy, does not function.

The Queen in the North
At the center of the mystery surrounding the dissemination of accursed armbands in the Northlands is a sorceress who styles herself "the Queen in the North." She is a descendent of the native Kell tribes who inhabited the North long before the Ulvers and Frostreavers colonized the land. She believes herself to be the chosen disciple of an ancient pagan goddess associated with winter, but it is possible that she is possessed by a demon who has deceived her with delusions of grandeur. The "Queen" is a beautiful young woman and is usually clad in a gown of white and a crown of ever-cold ice.

* * *

All of the above was inspired by Amber Benson and Christopher Golden's novel Accursed, but I switched out the accursed idols in the novel for accursed armbands, exchanged the rakshasa-like Children of Kali for my own Wolfmothers, traded frogs for wolves as their spawn, and swapped Kali for something a bit more in line with the "northern winter Gothic" of Ulverland's northern reaches.

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Best Source for Monster Folklore

Are you looking for monster ideas to stat up and surprise your players with? Are you looking to add folkloric touches to the monsters you've already got stats for? Surprisingly, the solution to both of those problems can be found in the same place. Check out two books by Carol Rose: Spirits, Fairies, Leprechuans, and Goblins and Giants, Monsters, & Dragons, both published by Norton. 

Each book is an encyclopedia-style tome with comprehensive entries on a variety of supernatural creatures drawn from world mythology. And I do mean comprehensive; everything I've looked up has been in one of these two books--I haven't been able to stump them yet. (Though the entry on the penanggalan was disappointing.)

Best yet, each book has a lengthy appendix that sorts its entries by type (angels, nymphs, spirits associated with corn or grains, etc.) and by Country, Region, or People. So, if you've ever wanted to do a game influenced by ancient Babylon, these books will point you toward the monsters drawn from Babylonian stories.You will not believe what a wealth of resources these books have.

Friday, April 18, 2014

I'm on Bleeding Cool; Tomorrow: The Cover of the Rolling Stone

I'd be officially defrocked from the OSR for lack of self-promotion if I didn't mention this, but I'm in this article on Three Fantasy RPG Supplements You Won't Find in Game Stores on Bleeding Cool. Come for my contentious and bombastic statements, but stay for the good company I've been placed in--Trey Causey and Jason Sholtis and both in the mix as well.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Oh GURPS Swashbucklers, Shut Your Pretty Mouth


Generally speaking, GURPS's genre and historical supplements are regarded as the best in show, and with good reason; they tend to give decent overviews of their topic and be chock-full of gaming inspiration even if you aren't planning on using the GURPS system. That said, it's interesting to note which supplement authors are more attached to the idea of "genre purity." 

Enter GURPS Swashbucklers.

In a rather stuffy sidebar about whether history should be changed in a swashbuckling game, the author designates what facets of real-world happenings you can change, which ones you maybe could change, and which ones you should never change. Under the DO NOT CHANGE section, he writes:

"No, don't grossly alter the lives of major personalities. For example, there were many plots to kill Queen Elizabeth I. The PCs may become embroiled in one of these on either side, but Elizabeth should not be assassinated. If she is, the game embarks on an alternate timeline, and all of history after that date is radically affected!"

Wait, you're telling me that a game in which the players have to deal with the political intrigue and upheaval that would erupt in the aftermath of Elizabeth I's assassination wouldn't be awesome? GO HOME GURPS SWASHBUCKLERS, YOU'RE DRUNK.

Most of the book is commendable though. Also, if anybody has copies of GURPS Faerie, Age of Napoleon, or Steam-Tech they want to sell, hit me up at