Sunday, December 11, 2016

Dirgecraft: Krevborna Edition

What was I listened to as I worked on Krevborna? These mixes will give you an idea. Click the links to open the mixtapes at 8tracks.

Red Acid Haze
Trackist: Blood Ceremony - Lorely † Hexvessel - Earth Over Us † Purson - Dead Dodo Down † Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats - Downtown † Earth - From Zodiacal Light † Sabbath Assembly - I, Satan † Jex Thoth - Into a Sleep

The Quiet of Arboreal Graves
Tracklist: Mike Reagan and Chris Velasco - Darksiders Theme † Glenn Danzig - Bridal Ceremony of the Lilitu † Salt and Sanctuary - Sacrifice † Abel Korzeniewoski - Transgression † Dark Souls - Aldritch, Devourer of Gods † Howard Shore - The Defiler † Dead Can Dance - I Am Stretched on Your Grave † Mark Korven - Witches’ Coven † Myrkur - Skogen Skulle Do

Orchestrated at the Edge
Tracklist: Peccatum - Murder † Haggard - Of a Might Divine † Finntroll - Ett Norrskendad † Porta Nigra - Fin de Siecle † Summoning - Nightshade Forests † Lacrimosa - Thunder and Lightning † Therion - Polichinelle † Skepticism - Pouring

Chancel by Night
Tracklist: Myrkur - Onde Born † Cradle of Filth - A Gothic Romance † Dimmu Borgir - The Night Masquerade † Therion - To Mega Therion † Theatres des Vampires - Lilith Mater Inferorum † Ancient Ceremony - Brides Ghostly Dance † Opera IX - The Sixth Seal † Moonspell - First Light

Friday, December 9, 2016

Pickers, Liftmen, Jobs for Picaros

A Faction in Scarabae - The Pickers 
There are those in Scarabae who believe that the future lies in reclaiming the things of the past; they call themselves "pickers," and they can be found scrounging through scrapheaps, old barns, and warehouses looking for “rusty gold” to salvage. These scavengers are always on the look-out for “tonnage” of “farm fresh” junk. They’re always willing to “break the ice” and “pull the trigger” on any “honey hole” or “mega pick” they encounter as they cross the blighter urban cityscape.

Want to play a Picker in Scarabae? The Scavenger background in Kobold Press's Unlikely Heroes is a perfect fit.

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Also, while we're at it, check out these two Scarabae-ready creations from Brian Mathers's blog:

The Liftmen
Jobs for Picaros

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Total Skull - November 2016

Things that brought me delight in November 2016...


Penguin has done an exemplary service by collecting the poetry that burns gemlike in this collection of fin de siecle verse. This is the prefect introduction for readers new to the Decadent movement of the late nineteenth century, as it includes many seminal poems, but it also compiles enough obscurities to be of interest to devotees. Themes of lust, decay, intoxication, artifice, and imagination resound throughout. If nothing else, this volume has made it clear that I need to read more Sarojini Naidu.

The City & the City isn't fantasy or sci-fi in a technical sense, but it's a noir-ish police procedural that is somehow adjacent to fantasy and sci-fi. It's got me thinking about William S. Burroughs and Deleuze again. I think the idea of citizens of two cities that share the same space who are trained to ignore (unsee) each other would be contrived in the hands of a worse writer, but I was surprised at how well the conceit works in the novel. It's more a statement about how political control shapes how we perceive the world (and especially boundaries) around us. As for the overall writing, I think Mieville did a good job taking on the spare, vigorous style of the police procedural style of mystery. There are moments of more fanciful description, but they're used more like punctuation than syntax. I feel like I haven't read enough Mieville to have a favorite yet, but this is probably the best of his books that I have read; thankfully, he didn't flub the ending to this novel the way he did in Perdido Street Station.

Wylding Hall is the book that I wanted George R. R. Martin's Armageddon Rag to be. The story of Hand's novel is told in the form of interviews with the former members of a British 70s folk band and their immediate hangers-on. The horror of the tale is understated, and slightly Wicker Man-flavored. In the end, the horror might be a little too understated, but this does manage to be a creepy little book that mines the connection between folk culture and darker folk practice.


I re-reading the Prophet comics in preparation for reading the Earth War series. After this second read-through I think I understand 80-90% of the story at this point; a new reader might actually be better served by reading the Strikefiles first, as they explain some of the major characters, events, factions, etc. in a clearer way than the comic's narrative. You can safely avoid the Liefeld original comics if you have an interest in the most recent series--the New Weird post-apocalyptic space opera madness of the new books stands entirely on its own.

I read Julia Gfrorer's Laid Waste and Black is the Color at the same time, so consider this a recommendation of both of them. No one does haunting tales of loss (and loss to come) laced with absurdist and erotic touches quite like Gfrorer. I've read as many of her minicomics as I've been able to get my hands on, and I keep coming back for more. It is crazy that her work doesn't garner more attention.


The setting I most regret not getting into when it came out is Planescape, and I feel that regret in large part to all the great art from Tony DiTerlizzi that I missed out on. Luckily, Realms fills that gap by presenting works drawn from DiTerlizzi's career. This book gives me a millions ideas all at once.


My exploration of the Opeth back catalog continues! This one is excellent. Ghost Reveries still got a lot of heavier influence from their earlier work, but it's married really well to the progressive elements they began to work into their sound. 

Katatonia's Dance of December Souls is absolutely essential if you love that particularly 90s flavor of doom. 


I got three of Kobold Press's books of races for 5e: Unlikely Heroes, Southland Heroes, and Midgard Heroes. The new races and backgrounds presented in these books are cool, and seem very well balanced for a third-party publication. These are all definitely going to see use when I run Scarabae. (Plus, if anyone ever wants to play a dhampir in Krevborna now we're set.) Also, I want to say something about Kobold Press's customer service. My books arrived a little bit chewed up by the postal system. I wrote to Kobold Press, not asking for a refund, not asking for new books, just offering some packaging feedback. The fellow who replied to my email sent me new copies of the books in a sturdy box, no questions asked. Between their high-quality content and great customer service, I'll definitely be buying more from Kobold Press. They're doing it right.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Palmer

The Palmer was originally a bogeyman used to parents to scare their children into submission. "Don’t fuss," they’d say, "or the Palmer will get you!" Parents described the Palmer as a husky, short man with a gleaming bald head; he might even pass for human if his eyes did not register an obvious and burning supernatural malevolence. "Finish your milk, or the Palmer will come in the night and give you poison to drink!"

There is a funny thing about belief: as soon as enough mothers and fathers had filled their progeny’s heads with scare-tales about the fictional bogeyman, he became real because the children believed he was real. Now the Palmer stalks the night, seeking children to poison.

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Stats: use the stats of a Shadow (Monster Manual 269), but replace its necrotic damage with poison damage.

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This monster was inspired by the real-life Victorian murderer, William Palmer. You can read all about him in Stephen Bates’s book Poisoner.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Master and Margarita: Absurdity and Writing

The characters in Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita live in an obviously absurd world. The extremity of that absurdity is such that instead of creating a rich tapestry of fantasy or magic realism, it instead renders the plot—such that it is—annoying to many readers. And yet, I don't think that annoyance is truly rooted in an utterly unrecognizable heft of absurdity permeating the plot, characters, and setting; rather, the absurdity in the novel is vexing because it echoes a fear we have about our own existences: our world is also absurd, and if it isn't as profoundly absurd, it is at least persistently absurd. There is an uncomfortable resonance there, which is why the narrative chafes.

Many of the characters in the novel attempt to make sense of the absurdity that surrounds them in a way that is recognizable to many of us: they attempt to write their way toward sense, order, and understanding of the world around them. Take Ivan, the poet, as an example:

'The poet’s attempts to compose a report on the terrible consultant had come to nothing. As soon as he received a pencil stub and some paper from the stout nurse, whose name was Praskovya Fyodorovna, he had rubbed his hands together in a businesslike fashion and hastily set to work at the bedside table. He had dashed off a smart beginning, “To the police. From Ivan Nikolayevich Bezdomny, member of MASSOLIT. Report. Yesterday evening I arrived at Patriarch’s Ponds with the deceased Berlioz …”

And the poet immediately became confused, largely due to the word “deceased.” It made everything sound absurd from the start: how could he have arrived somewhere with the deceased? Dead men don’t walk! They really will think I’m a madman!

Such thoughts made him start revising. The second version came out as follows, “ …with Berlioz, later deceased …” That didn’t satisfy the author either. He had to write a third version, and that came out even worse than the other two, “… with Berlioz, who fell under a streetcar …” What was irksome here was the obscure composer who was Berlioz’s namesake; he felt compelled to add, “ …not the composer …”' (Chapter XI: Ivan is Split in Two).

Even those most comforting pastimes and passions of the intelligent and creative—writing, words, literature, art—fail to give sufficient structure or stability to a world seething with nonsense, surreality, coincidence, and chaos. Words might comfort us, but in the end they don't work; language becomes so slippery and imprecise that even Ivan's third draft of his account refuses to give a definite shape to his experience.

So it goes with all of us, but perhaps writers feel this failure more keenly. Bulgakov certainly does: the novel is brimming with writers and other creatives who turn to writing or storytelling as a bulwark against an uncertain world, only to have a chance for greater meaning slip away into the tumult of a world that cannot be tamed by words alone. Ivan feels this, as does the Master, as does Margarita, as does anyone connected to MASSOLIT, as does Pontius Pilate and Levi Matvei as they witness The Story of Stories unfolding. Does Bulgakov? I'm terrifyingly certain he did.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Delphic Holes, Worm Trains, Religion, Law Enforcement, Dangers

Oh, whistle, in Scarabae, and I'll come to you...

This is my attempt to describe a setting through its material culture, which is probably foolish since I'm not an archaeologist or anthropologist. 

* * *

A Delphic Hole (1)
There are magical regions scattered throughout Scarabae called Incarnate Zones where reality itself goes wrong—areas where magic is stronger or the veil between planes is thin. At the heart of every Incarnate Zone is a Delphic Hole—a black void of negation that has desires and must be fed.

* * *

Badge of office used by worm train conductors (2)
You may wish to ride one of the transmuted purple worm trains if you've a need to travel across the city. The city has a massive span. Up and down it goes, undulating in itself like a great worm.

* * *

Prayer beads (3)
You'll find a myriad of churches, temples, ashrams, monasteries, and shrines throughout the city—each dedicated to one of the archetypes of the tarot's major arcana. Some faithful are particularly feared, such as the ghoul monks who serve the Hanged Man or the fanatical, blinded servitors of Temperance.

* * *

Phrenology bust (4)
Scarabae has no official police force, but a number of independent thief-takers and phrenological detectives (those who detect crime by studying features and head-shape) operate as law-for-hire. Masked vigilantes, such as the Red Wraith, prowl the streets doling out their own brand of justice.

* * *

Laboratory equipment belonging to Dr. Jekaro (5)
Be wary of: the traveling market of the goblin mafia, Morlia the Flesh Crafter and her golem husbands, a range of poxes, labor-unionist orcs and their pride parades, the aesthetic terrorists of the Green Carnation Club, ettercap crime lords peddling opiates from their nests in Webhaus, the reality-warping artists of the Meta-Raphaelite Brotherhood, the vengeful machinations of Lady Magwitch, any technology produced by Jekaro Industries.

* * *

(1) - Inspired by Kathe Koja's Cipher, and probably a Borges story I'm forgetting at the moment.
(2) - Inspired by the bio-punk transportation in the recent Prophet comics.
(3) - I find that I'm less interested in having the usual sort of fantasy deities in my settings these days. The idea of having religion based on the tarot was inspired by Alan Moore's Promethea. Roger Zelazny's Amber Chronicles probably factor in here too. I've noticed that they are doing something similar on Rollplay's Court of Swords, which is cool to see a similar idea in action.
(4) - The phenological detective bit was inspired by Jeffrey Ford's The Physiognomy, and the Red Wraith was inspired by Batman, of course.
(5) - Inspired by Mary Shelley, Oscar Wilde, Romanticism, Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson, etc.