Monday, May 25, 2015

Arksylvania: Karnberg, Locksley, Malheim

  • Karnberg is a melancholic town accessible by way of the Vargo Pass; it is governed by burgomaster Isidora Malikov, a white-haired woman whose exotic looks mark her as a foreigner.i
  • Because of its proximity to Castle Konstantine, Karnberg supplies much of Gabriel von Konstantine's required blood tithe; Isidora Malikov is only too happy to turn over her citizens to von Konstantine.
  • The Halehurst Museum contains a number of rare antiquities brought back from the wider world; scholars from Creedhall University in Locksley claim that several of these items possess occult significance.
  • Locksley, the capital city of Arksylvania, is governed by Lord Mayor Cyprian Tremayne, a hedonistic dandy whose lovers tend to take their own lives once he is done with them.ii
  • Locksley is infamous as a den of sin and corruption; taverns, opium dens, music halls, and brothels are hardly in short supply.iii
  • The much-feared Aristrad Asylum lies on the outskirts of Locksley.

  • Malheim is a grim, run-down town governed by burgomaster Magnus Esperbrook, a gaunt man who openly mocks faith in the Wounded God.iv
  • The holding of seances to contact the spirits of the dead is a popular pastime for residents of Malheim.
  • The ruins of Thelemere Abbey lay nearby to the town of Malheim; the ruins are rumored to be the hideout of bandits, highwaymen, and worse.v

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Arksylvania: Exford Heath, Hawking Moor, Hungry Hollow

Before we get back to the locations of note in Arksylvania, I just wanted to show off the above header image I made for the setting. It's been a couple days since I made it and I don't even hate it yet. Thanks go to Gib for encouraging me to illustrate my own setting; the above image will appear in the eventual pdf of Arksylvania.

Back to our brief gazetteer of Arksylvania:

Exford Heath
  • Exford Heath is a windswept town governed by burgomaster Mariah van Kronedale, a wild-eyed woman who is fascinated by alchemy, anatomy, and vivisection.i
  • The roads leading to Exford Heath are said to be haunted by a masked phantom rider; few risk crossing his path after dark.ii
  • The residents of Exford Heath are known for their fiery tempers; duels over matters of slighted pride are not uncommon in this town.

Hawking Moor
  • Hawking Moor is a ramshackle town governed by burgomaster Copernicus Lichefield, a small, fidgety doctor of retiring disposition.iii
  • The animal trainers of Hawking Moor are renowned for the skill and loyalty they impart to hounds, falcons, and steeds.
  • A serial murderer preys upon the populace of Hawking Moor during the nights of the full moon; broadsheets have dubbed the killer “The Butcher Boy.”iv

Hungry Hollow
  • Hungry Hollow is a mining town governed by burgomaster Zuleika Greymalk, a flamboyant half-gypsy who seems to charm all who meet her.v
  • A curious intoxicant called wychwine is masterfully brewed in Hungry Hollow; when taken in excess, wychwine is known to cause hallucinations, phantasmal visions, and prophetic dreams.
  • In ages now past, a witch-hunt uncovered a coven of devil worshipers in Hungry Hollow; the specters of the condemned witches are thought to haunt the old burial grounds located just outside of

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

All Weal Little Woe (III. Penny Dreadful, season 2)

After what felt like a drought of entertaining television, every show that interests me (or that I watch out of a grim determination to see things through to the end) came back within a few weeks of each other. The latest seasons of Mad Men, Game of Thrones, The Lizzie Borden Chronicles, and Salem all started recently.

Of course, all of those shows pale before the return of Penny Dreadful.

It's rare that I find myself in the demographic for a show--or experiencing the feeling that a show was made with someone like me in mind--but Penny Dreadful loves me and wants me to be happy. We're only a few episodes into the season and already we've got enough Victorian Gothic to keep me pleased for a long time.

If you're not watching it but like the kind of stuff I post about on this blog, you probably should give it a chance. If you like fun and insightful recaps, you should be reading Tom Blunt's take on the show. Check out his recap of the first episode herethe second here, and the third here.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Arksylvania: Blighter's Manse and Dunlowe

Major Settlements in Arksylvaniai

Blighter's Manse
  • Blighter's Manse is a canal town governed by burgomaster Lazarus Grafenholt, a hulking man whose body and face are crisscrossed with disfiguring scars.ii
  • Blighter's Manse is Arksylvania's largest port town. It is a center of thriving maritime trade, but also a haven for pirates and buccaneers.
  • Decommissioned ships anchored outside the Manse's bay are used as prison hulks.

  • Dunlowe is a city of spires governed by Prester Theodoric III, a stern man of severe countenance who commands a personal army of masked zealots.iii
  • Dunlowe is home to the Cathedral Lacrimosa, a massive edifice decorated with brilliant stained glass, ornate arches, and sculpted gargoyles.iv
  • The Andronicus Sanatarium, a hospital that trains plague doctors, alienists, and anatomists, also resides within the walls of Dunlowe.

Monday, May 18, 2015


art by Chris Bourasa for Darkest Dungeon
This is the first in a series of posts detailing Arksylvania, a new Gothic Fantasy setting inspired in equal parts by Castlevania, Bloodborne, Penny Dreadful, and Darkest Dungeon. The setting is intended to be system neutral, so do what you like with it. I'm not the boss of you. 

Each entry about the setting will stick to the things that a citizen would know about the world they live in; however, each entry will also have footnotes leading to "setting secrets" that are to be discovered by the characters during play. The secrets will be kept under the "read more" cut in case you fear spoilers and such.

This first entry is merely the basic premise of the setting; specific locations and social institutions to come!

A Blood-Soaked History

Two generations ago, fog-shrouded Arksylvania was held in vassalage by the cruel Taz-Hadamin Empire. Arksylvania's boyars proved weak in the face of Taz-Hadamin dominance until Count Gabriel von Konstantine, an ancient lord who ruled the land in ages past, awoke from his death-like slumber to reclaim his homeland.i Using the forbidden magic of the Black Grail, von Konstantine raised a nightmarish army of the dead and damned, drove Hadamin agents from Arksylvania, and subjected Arksylvania's traitorous voivodes to public torture and execution. At first, the Count was heralded as a liberator and savior. However, soon after he assumed control of the country, a hungry and howling wind swept across the sublime and beauteous landscape; in its wake, unhallowed creatures returned to the domain to prey upon the citizens of Arksylvania: black masses were celebrated upon the mountaintops; villages were preyed upon by ravenous moonhexed beasts; unquiet shades haunted the living, driving them into the arms of tragic madness; uncanny demoniac plagues made victims of the populace.ii Worse yet, Gabriel von Konstantine turned tyrant and demanded that the populace pledge him an unthinkable tithe—the blood of the innocent.iii

Monday, May 11, 2015

All Weal Little Woe (II. Abigail Larson's Art)

II. Abigail Larson's Art

I just added another of Abigail Larson's prints to my walls. I mean, come on, this is a skull-faced Lizzie Borden, how could I resist? Here's what I've got so far:

If you'd like to darken up your home with some of Larson's work, you should definitely check out the Kickstarter for Sarah Faire and the House at the End of the World

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Actual Play: The Horror at the Lighthouse (part 3)

When we last left our heroes they were confronting the insane Doctor Hesselius Reichmann in his laboratory.

Kahl attempted to destroy the Doctor's machinery, which did little more than send electricity speeding up his mace and into his fragile body. Kahl then turned his attentions to the Doctor himself; all were dismayed when Reichmann's clockwork frame produced a series of Liston knives that slid into place as ready weapons for the mad scientist (1). Oskar and Philip rushed to free Martinus from the table. Herman used potent magic against the tortured Reichmann; first, the Doctor felt his inner doubts about his ability to revive his wife surface and cloud his mind, then whispering voices reminded him of the litany of his failures (2). This last spell broke his resolve and sent him fleeing down the stairs.

Reichmann's retreat gave the players the space to plan out their next move. This was where the big moral quandary came into play: even though Dr. Hesselius was causing shipwrecks and experimenting on human subjects, his reason for doing so had some semblance of nobility; at heart, he was just a man pushed to the brink and willing to go to extremes to save the life of a loved one (3). As such, the players didn't really feel comfortable just killing him, but at the same time they couldn't just leave and let him continue on with his murderous ways.

Kahl attempted to heal Jacine with divine magic through the glass coffin, but the spell only caused her to shudder violently before returning to her non-responsive state (4). A plan using a tripwire was briefly considered, and then abandoned. The Doll came up the stairs to inform the characters that Dr. Hesselius wished to just end this stand-off (remember, they had access to his wife's inert form and he was now downstairs) and let them go on their way. At one point he even sent the Doll back with a device that promised to deactivate all the clockwork crab sentinels on the island.

When the party descended from the laboratory, they found Dr. Hesselius a broken and disappointed man. He sat by the dying embers of the fireplace and had clearly been weeping. He begged the characters to just leave him to his misery, but again they were uncomfortable departing without some assurance that he would end his ship-wrecking ways.

A cunning ruse was tried: Herman assured the Doctor that his wife's soul had departed her body, and even used a minor illusion to show him an image of her body in repose. The Doctor, who felt the weight of his curse, refused to believe this ploy but insisted upon seeing his wife for himself. Another fracas ensued, but Herman found an opportunity to cast sleep on the Doctor, which caused him to fall into a magical slumber at the foot of the staircase he so desperately wanted to climb.

This bought the party time. Figuring that the clockwork frame around his body was the key to grounding Reichmann, the party set to taking the brace off of him--and the Doll helped render her creator powerless. While the Doctor was asleep, Oskar and Philip destroyed the lighthouse's lens and emptied his supply of lamp oil over the side of the tower. While upon the promenade, the duo noticed that there was a ship upon the sea and signaled to it.

The party still didn't trust the Doll wholly, and for a time she was tricked and trapped in the cellar. After all, if she were loyal to the Doctor she might aid him or attack the characters. 

When the Doctor awoke, he could do little else but pull himself into the fetal position and let his despair overtake him. 

Dawn was now breaking. On the shore it was apparent that the sailors from the ship spotted at sea had rowed to the island to examine the wreckage of The Sea-raptor. However, those sailors were currently in a life-and-death battle with the mechanical crabs. The deactivation device was used, and the newcomers were spared. A parlay between the characters and the sailors began. The newcomers were definitely sailors of a rougher sort, most likely unsavory pirates and brigands, but their spokesman, a caliban named Silas, promised them safe passage aboard The Eel King. 

The Doctor was not dead, but at least at last the party felt secure in leaving him to his dead wife and his lonely lighthouse. The Doll announced that she would like to join the party and leave the island; perhaps there was a life to be lived for her out in the wider world (5). She nudged the pieces of Hesselius's brace toward him as he rocked and cried, perhaps a last, callus gesture to the one who made her into the thing she is. 

As the group made their way to the waiting rowboats, the Doll gave them a few of Reichmann's alchemical mixtures: three syringes of a thick, blood-like liquid, two flasks of a yellow fluid that are labeled "energizing serum," and a faintly-glowing blue bottle that the Doll claims is a sedative (6). Perhaps the most important bit of treasure, though, was Martinus's new-found respect and loyalty. He pledged that should the party ever find themselves needing help in Borca, they had merely to send him word and he would do all he could to aid them. Given that he has wealth and connections, that might be a considerable promise (7).

And thus, the party left the lighthouse and its horrors behind. Now in the company of savage men, they are headed toward a port town called Blighter's Manse--a notorious haven for pirates and smugglers plying their trade off the coasts of Darkon.

(1) - 5e doesn't have ready-made stats for mad doctors in clockwork exoskeletons, so I just used the stats for the "goblin boss" here. The entire adventure just made use of the stats on the goblin page of the Monster Manual. I did give Hesselius a higher Int score and proficiency in Intelligence saving throws though.

(2) - The spells used were vicious mockery and dissonant whispers, for those keeping track at home. Thematically, they fit really well with the adventure. Mechanically, man, bards are pretty fierce in this edition!

(3) - I actually didn't expect the amount of moral questions that this adventure was going to raise. But here's how I run games: whatever the players lean towards, I focus on. Since the moral complexities were getting the spotlight, I let things go in that direction. I figure this is why we play games: to figure out who these characters are, what they believe, and what the world around them is like. Somewhat inadvertently, it all turned more Gothic than I was even planning for--which I dug. Hopefully it didn't get bogged down for the players, but I think everybody was having a good time working through what the best course of action would be.

(4) - I'm really glad the party didn't try to break Jacine out of the glass coffin. Just sayin'. There is also a good possibility that Jacine's story has fully run its course. The Dark Powers of Ravenloft might not be done toying with her.

(5) - The Doll definitely has the potential to be a reoccurring character. Because of her naivety about the world, I could certainly see her needed to be bailed out of some bad situations in the future...

(6) - The three syringes contain modified blood that acts as a potion of healing when injected. (Shades of Bloodborne again.) The energizing serum is potions of heroism. The sedative is torpor poison. Yes, I realize that players can read this, but...look at the lax rules for identifying magic items! They would have it figured out before they land on Blighter's Manse anyway.

(7) - Does Martinus know the Boritsis? Yes, yes he does.