Monday, July 25, 2016

The 6 Voyages of Lone Sloane

The 6 Voyages of Lone SloaneThe 6 Voyages of Lone Sloane by Philippe Druillet
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Like Hawkwind, circa the same time these were originally published, but without Lemmy.

The absolutely stunning artwork in this volume more than makes up for flat characterization and the presence of more gods in the machines (I mean this literally!) than ancient Greece could have conceived. Druillet was no storyteller, but, wow, what an artist! The line between organic and mechanical is effectively erased, while the immense scale of the structures, space, and spaceships through which and with which Sloane travels overwhelms the viewer, further adding to the sense of awe that sweeps out from the pages.

Not my favorite graphic novel in recent memory, but well worth a gander. I'll be very curious to read the further volumes to see if the storytelling improves or if it retains it's too-short and under-impressive plott(dd)ing. In any case, I shall absolutely be back for more brain-cracking artwork.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Beyond the Silver Scream

Welcome to Beyond the Silver Scream, a Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG-compatible 0-level "funnel"! Players begin as high school kids in the mid-'70s - early-'80s who go to the local seedy theater to catch the premiere of the new horror flick "Screaming Sorority Girls from Planet Playtex". But the horror isn't confined to the screen! And the special-effects are all-too-real. So take a seat and brace yourself for an adventure where the director isn't the only one doing the cutting!

Includes the full adventure and "The Dimensional Dogs" patron, a fully-fleshed patron for use with DCC RPG. 

Awesome art provided by Thomas Gile, Matt Hildebrand, David Lewis Johnson, Nicolo Maioli, and James V. West!
Praise for Beyond the Silver Scream!

"WARNING: Contents may daze and/or confuse. Unexpected, thrilling, blockbuster fun. Two thumbs up!" - Brendan LaSalle, author of "Hole in the Sky"

"This is the work of the Devil and his minions and should be burned immediately. Jack Chick would be appalled." - The Ghost of Patricia Pulling

“This made me feel the ‘VHS shlockfest’ love so much, I felt the need to adjust the tracking.” - Adam Muszkiewicz, "Drink, Spin, Run" Podcast

“Beyond the Silver Scream” takes teens of classic roleplaying games’ golden age — the 1970s/1980s — into the epic danger of gritty Dungeon Crawl Classics, while providing a unique springboard to your next fantasy campaign. If you want a blast of nostalgia coupled with weird intrigue and action, then buy this module and be prepared for a blast from the past… and beyond!” - Julian Bernick, co-founder, Minneapolis DCC RPG Society

$5 retail
SKU: FA1001

Monday, July 4, 2016

Hey, Michelin Star Man! Alinea Still Deserves All 3!

My wife and I celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary this month. Some people celebrate anniversaries with more diamonds, some go on exotic cruises. We went out to dinner.

Well, not any old dinner.

We went to Alinea, one of only fourteen 3-star Michelin-rated restaurants in the US, one of 117 in the world. Just last month, it was ranked as #15 on Eater.Com's list of The World's 50 Best Restaurants. We knew this was going to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for us.

And how.

From the outside, Alinea is unassuming. I would have driven right past it without even knowing it was there, had I not been looking for it, specifically. The only thing giving it way was the occasional limousine that pulled up front.

We were greeted with a "Happy Anniversary!" by two young ladies at the front, then led upstairs to our table. The first floor was being decorated for the next-day's Gallery meal, which is another experience entirely (and one we thought was just a touch out of our price range), and we got to see the staff suspending paintings from the ceiling (read the linked article above to understand why) as we wound our way up the stairs to the Salon.

We had great seats, right where we could get sneaky peeks at the servers as they prepped to come in and serve the next course to whomever was in "their" room. Natalie's back was next to the waiting station, so we, well I, got to watch waitstaff as they came and went and got to hear some of their conversations.I'm a logistics guy, at heart (and in my day job), so I really enjoyed trying to figure out how they handled the timing of orders while remaining unobtrusive. They are efficient and their timing is impeccable. I chatted with one of the waitstaff about this, and he noted that it takes months, even years, to be trained to "go live" on the floor. These aren't your slapdash college students doing a stint between classes. The service was excellent, they knew their stuff (I had to ask what the heck an "Ebi" was, and the waiter was right there with the answer), and they were . . . just darned friendly and personable. I really felt like they took a personal interest in us, but not in an awkward way. They were genuine, but professional. Even the guy who set the utensils for each course was friendly, and, surprisingly-to-me, very down to earth, but with an air of dignity. Cool people.

Of course, you want to hear about the food, don't you? What did we get for our expensive dinner?

This is where I falter. I consider myself a bit of a foodie, but I am by no means a professional reviewer. My wife is a high school foods teacher, so she knows a bit about food. But she's not a fine-dining chef, either. So if my observations are a little rough and tumble, and if my knowledge of the exact nomenclature is a bit off: Sorry, not sorry.

The Menu:

Unlike most of your run-of-the-mill restaurants, Alinea is one of those that crafts the menu for you. You don't choose your burger and fries with a medium soda, you take what the chef has created. The staff was careful to check for food allergies (we have none, except I'm a little lactose intolerant), and they knew we don't drink (we added that note when we made reservations), so were careful not to serve anything with uncooked alcohol in it. The menu in the picture above (sans the "Happy Anniversary!" note, which they added later) was all we had to go off of. Part of the fun was the mystery. Just what the heck was "Elysian Fields" and "Carnival Rainbow"? This little bit of (welcome) trickery brought a sense of adventure to the meal and enhanced the experience. We had a good time speculating what was coming next on any given course. To read the order of the courses, start at the upper left corner with "ICE," then go down to "CRUNCH/PAPER", then "YELLOW," go back up to "CONTRAST/SPARROW GRASS," then "SWIRL," and so on. Follow the curve and you'll know your path.


Yes, that's a bowl made of ice. I probably should have snapped a photo of Natalie's, as well, as they are roughly similar, but unique. Now, I knew that we would be getting small portions with each course, but this looked tiny. And it's a good thing it was so small. This was incredibly rich, not what I was expecting for the first course. It was like starting with desert, sort of. The flavors were ebi, banana, and coconut, mainly. This was brisk and sweet, but salty. My only problem with this portion was that the ice was so cold that the food, especially the clear gelatin globules you see there, really liked to stick to the bowl. We were warned that this might happen, so I just put some elbow grease into it and got every last sweet, savory drop and ate part of the bowl in the process. Who says I don't get into my food?


Next, we were brought bowls of what appeared to be paper. These were actually a scallop-reduction dried to form large noodles. The server poured in a corn soup (insert fancy name that I can't remember here) that instantly hydrated the noodles. These were served with a pair of small shio kombu/nori seaweed rolls filled with a substance that I can't remember. The rolls were delicious alone and when dipped into the soup mixture. But the best part was the noodles and soup combination. The noodles were more firm than I expected, chewy, but in a good way. Enough resistance to give some satisfaction, but not rubbery. And the combination of the scallop flavor with the corn soup was warm and comforting. I could eat this just about every day of a Wisconsin winter. If I could find the recipe, I might just do that. Besides, the servers encouraged us to drink straight out of the bowl (you only got chopsticks to eat this course, no spoon), and I'm always looking for that excuse. At first, it felt naughty to drink straight from the bowl while wearing a suit. Then it felt . . . liberating.


Notice that I had to photograph this one while holding it in my hand. This was by design, another clever trap by the chefs, who want you to have a kinesthetic experience as part of the beautiful assault on your tastebuds. And we ate this with bright yellow chopsticks, which was tricky, a little messy, and a lot of fun. You'll note throughout that there is nary a "plain" plate here. Everything, even the utensils, were chosen to enhance the experience. Included on this were egg yolks, thinly-sliced onion, mustard, sweet potato, curry, and yellow and white blossoms. This entirely blew me away - each little bite was substantially different from another, even if you mixed the constituent elements thoroughly (which I did about halfway through, just to try it). Every taste was distinctive and unique, which I did not expect. We were told that there were sixteen ingredients in this little dish, That's 2.092279e+13 possible flavor combinations. I think I hit them all. It was diversity in action, in my mouth.

Interlude, water:

Important safety note: If you go to Alinea, or any fine-dining restaurant, for that matter, it's a good idea to drink something between courses to cleanse your palate for the next course. We had sparkling water, since we don't drink, and that worked quite well to wash away the old and prepare for the new. We now return you to your regular blogpost.

Contrast/Sparrow Grass/Swirl:

I began to question things when I was presented with what appeared to be a bowl of foam like you would find atop a clutch of frog eggs. I've eaten frog legs, and they are quite delicious, but I have to admit that I was a little hesitant when I saw this. The stuff underneath looked palatable, so I though that if I didn't like the foam, I could just scrape it off. Well, it turned out just fine. For the life of me, I can't remember what the flavor was, but underneath was lychee (which I've eaten before, thanks to my many Hmong friends), white asparagus (yes, white), and lily bulb bathed in a citrus mouse. This was the "Sparrow Grass" portion of this course. The "Swirl" was a coil of apple drenched in yuzu juice with a sprig of lemon verbena on top. Best . . . apple . . . ever. The piece-de-resistance of this course, however, came in the "Contrast" dish - a sort of gazpacho, so cold it was nearly frozen, served with watermelon and hot parmesan cheese. This was one of the highlights of the meal for both me and Natalie. We're big gazpacho fans, and this was by far the best I've ever tasted. It was exquisite. After all this, the server poured a vial of water into the plate on which the "Swirl" had been served, releasing a dry-ice-induced fog from the vessel - a plate with a hole that opened up into a bowl beneath. A nice effect, which my camera fails to do justice.


Fried food, fine dining? Yes, if it's done right. And this was done right. Breaded, fried icefish in delicate strips were light and airy, not heavy as you've come to expect with most fried food. Thinly sliced radish and blossoms complement the dish, which was set in a vibrant, both in flavor and color, kumquat syrup that I won't soon forget. Oh, and again, a third time, with chopsticks. Good thing I learned how to eat with chopsticks when living in the Philippines at a very young age.


The cracker-looking thing you see embedded in the flowers is a glass made of dehydrated soubisse. I don't recall the exact sauce in the middle, but it was also oniony. Very oniony.  Imagine the essence, the very soul of oniondom, and you get the idea. On the plate was another high-point of the evening: Morel mushrooms smothered in a foie-gras sauce, served with a crystallized blueberry/lapsang souchong tea reduction. Now, I love mushrooms of all kinds, and particularly morel. The contrast of the strong, sweet blueberry flavor with the earthy goodness of morel was something that nearly lulled me into a slobbering coma of culinary satisfaction. But I'm glad I didn't need life support at this point - more greatness was on the way!

Smoke/Bon Bon:

When we entered the restaurant, I caught a whiff of what I thought was stale cigarette smoke. I seriously thought that someone had walked through there smoking or something. Knowing how much many chefs strive for lung cancer, I thought that maybe they had traipsed through on their way in from break. Only when I saw a flaming bowl at another table did I realize that this was part of the "smoke" course. I can't tell what all was in that burning bowl, but there was star anise (you can see it clearly in the photo), palo santo, and cinnamon, among other things. There could have been anything else in there, and I wouldn't have known the difference. All I know is that it smelled wonderful and I didn't go on a vision quest, as a result . . . that I can remember.

After the flame was snuffed and we were enveloped in pleasant smokiness, we were warned that the plates that were coming might be hotter than the flames themselves. On the plate was a piece of chicken striped with three sauces to try to imitate the Mexican flag: Salsa verde, a spicy red salsa, and a white cream sauce. Though there was only a tiny stripe of each sauce, they were each packed with flavor. This seemed to be a common theme: tiny packages with HUGE flavor! This was no exception. The rough ball you see had a chicken-liver center, which was delicious (and I am not a liver person at all) surrounded by some hard, crunchy substance, the provenience of which I forget. It was great, even if my memory isn't. On the candy skull skewer (so poorly photographed in the bottom frame), was a pineapple gelatin wrapped in what I swear the server said was something related to root beer, though Natalie disagrees with me on this. And she's usually right. Oh, and the bon-bons can be seen in the second photo above, up on the left there. I'm a dark chocolate snob, as some of you know, and this passed the snobbery test with flying colors. Snob satisfied!


Hidden beneath that piece of lettuce is a piece of chicken curry. Not too spicy, but very well done. It was probably one of the most "ordinary" things we ate that night. The melon on the right was meant to counteract the spiciness, but it was honestly not that hot. That chunk of lettuce, however: pure genius. Last year, when we went to Indianapolis, Natalie and I ate at bluebeard restaurant where I ate what I considered to be the best salad I had ever eaten, to date. Well, sorry, cap'n, but you've just been outdone. That leaf of lettuce, laced with myoga and anise blossoms, was far and away the best leafy green I've ever eaten. It was extremely sweet - like it had been frosted - and I suspect the sauce that was brushed on had a good deal of sugar in it. I was surprised at how satisfying it was. Who would have expected that a leaf of lettuce would have been one of the tastiest offerings that night? Not me. But now I'm a believer. Lettuce can be the best thing on the menu (to be fair, it wasn't, but it can be). The other part of this course was, as you can see, served on a bone. Those are pieces of wagyu bone marrow served on, of all things, rice crispy squares. I kid you not. I have never had marrow before, but I'm game for just about anything and I like rice crispy treats, so I gave it a shot and popped them in. Not bad. They were, well, exactly what you'd expect bone marrow to taste like. I wouldn't eat more than I did, but these were fine. To each his own. Not terrible, but I probably won't have it again. I've eaten my share of raw meat before, so that's not the issue. I just wasn't in the mood for it, is all, and after that awesome lettuce it was a little bit of a let down.

Elysian Fields:

I'm a big fan of lamb. It is one of my favorite things to eat (pork is tops, in case you wonder). So I was delighted to learn that the next dish would have lamb in it. Three kinds of lamb, in fact. One was a standard cut, cooked to perfection. Then there was shredded lamb neck, cooked in the skin, then pulled from the bone, then a cube of congealed drippings. This was served with blackberries, thyme blossoms, and black garlic scapes. This was the best lamb I had ever eaten. In fact, this was the best dish I had ever eaten. This is the dish that I will look back on, wistfully, when I am on my deathbed and declare in gastro-existential angst, "I will never eat that again in this life. But I had it once, and can die a happy man. *burp*" - I'm so glad that this was the culmination of the meal, before the sweet denouement (more on that in a moment). It was the celestial pinnacle of culinary greatness. And the bread was pretty good, too.


After this, desert. A spot of anise, half a strawberry, raspberry creme, crystallized (yet soft) ginger, glazed fennel, and a gelatin whose flavor I can't recall. Oh, and rhubarb. Yes, rhubarb, which I usually loathe, but this was candied to perfection. It was just enough sweet to swing ones tastebuds around from the incredible savory of the last course. And then . . . then, things got crazy.

Those are, you guessed it, edible balloons, strawberry flavored, with a strawberry-flavored edible string. We were instructed to remove our glasses, "gently kiss" the top of the balloon, inhale, sing, or say whatever came to mind. Natalie did her best Minnie Mouse imitation and I couldn't stop laughing long enough to breathe in. I don't know what they used for the actual balloon, but it was really sticky at first, then it sort of . . . unstickified? At first we thought they should supply us with hot rags to get the sticky off of our fingers, then it just sort of got better on its own. Weird. I don't know if I want to know what material does this. But I do know that I would eat it again if it was offered.


Those who look closely will observe that some of this was already eaten when I took the picture. I forgot and just dug in, realizing about halfway through that I should have gotten a shot of this. Forgive me for enjoying my food. The painting, under the glass, was done by the same artist who curates the art at Alinea. I liked his sensibilities, but can't remember his name. I'm sure he'll be famous when he dies. Isn't that the way of all artists? From the post-apocalyptic photo, you can probably see pistachio nougat, a panoply of cherry, marshmallow, orange (a very "rindy" orange, I might add), and coffee-flavored sauces, along with a hearty slab of chocolate ganache, all served on glass so that you can paint your own picture. Except you can't. Because you're too busy eating the medium. Which is fine. This was the most delicious art I've ever tasted.

And I mean that about the whole meal, not just this last course. My words and photos don't do it justice, and for that I apologize. If you want to really know what it tastes like, you're going to have to go there yourself. I heartily recommend it. From start to finish, top to bottom, first to last course, the service, food, ambiance, and just plain fun was something I shall never forget. Well done, Chef Achatz! You've made my culinary dreams come true. And, incidentally, you should seriously think about opening a restaurant in Madison. Guaranteed, more foodies per square mile in Madtown than in Chitown. Don't wait too long, though: we're getting hungry again.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Burnt Black Suns

Burnt Black SunsBurnt Black Suns by Simon Strantzas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm all about the creepy, not so much about the gory. Give me The Twilight Zone and X-Files over "Saw" and "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" any day of the week. It's not about the blood or guts, necessarily, but about the feeling. I'm not a fan of being grossed out, but am a fan of that lingering feeling in the back of my head that things just aren't right. Perhaps this has to do with my love of existentialism, the thrilling notion that terror and death loom just around the corner, but aren't quite in your face . . . yet.

So when I tell people I like to read horror . . . well, I've been given some recommendations that I really, really hated. Part of it is that, all told, the quality of horror writing in general is . . . well, not that great. There are a number of reason for this, not the least of which was a sort of nepotism which Paula Guran referred to as "tribalism" at one point - the incestuous practice of editors who were also authors and authors who were also editors patting each other on the back and frankly looking the other way when bad writing came through from someone they liked.

Those days may be behind us. At least I hope so. But because I had seen this happen first hand back in the early 2000's, I approached Strantzas' collection Burnt Black Suns with a touch of caution. Not because I though Strantzas had been caught up in all of that, but because I hadn't, frankly, read a Strantzas story before, at least not to my recollection. Plus there was the possibility that this was not the kind of dark fiction I most enjoy. But I read some very positive reviews and I positively loved the cover, so I thought I'd give it a shot.

I'm so glad I did!

Let's start with the first story, "On Ice," because no one reads intros, even when they are written by the talented Laird Barron. Okay, I admit it, I read the introduction. But like most other introductions it was forgettable. "On Ice," though, was not as forgettable. I had expected something along the lines of Lovecraft, but was pleasantly surprised (though I like Lovecraft's work a great deal) that Strantzas didn't just fall into the tropes that one might expect in an arctic horror story. Yes, there is a sense of desperation and fear like you might expect, but it's a slow burn, like holding your hand on the frozen juice freezer at the grocery store too long; mesmerizing and painful, but not so scary as to make you simply close the cover. "This," I thought, "is a solid four star story".

I was not quite as impressed with "Dwelling on the Past," which I felt didn't really get off the ground and, once it did, meandered around a bit too much. Not a terrible story, but not terribly impressive, either. I felt that this might have been one of the "filler" stories in the volume.

I was, however, very impressed with the third story, "Strong as a Rock". I liked everything about "Strong As a Rock". It seethes with the dread of that-which-is-not-seen. The evocative character reactions to "off camera" events carry the horror in this, yes, I'll say it, "Ligotti-esque" tale. This story of two brothers, one full of confidence, one utterly lacking in it, starts blue and clear as the sky, and ends saturated in darkness. You may never look at rock climbing or hospitals in the same way again. Five stars!

"By Invisible Hands" was the weakest story so far, which surprised me, since it appeared in a Ligotti tribute anthology. Maybe it was just trying too hard. The right words were there, but the cadence was not, like a singer off beat. It also missed the emotional "oomph" I get from Ligotti, et al. Still not a bad story. Three stars. No more. No less.

"One Last Bloom" is an interesting title for that story. It took a little while to "grow," to be honest, but once it flowered . . . well, it was really gross and horrific. I was surprised by how well I accepted that fact. Maybe I've become desensitized? Extreme social awkwardness, combined with narcissism, make for some very uncomfortable moments. Strantzas has captured this perfectly, and, boy, is it painful to read! Painful in a way that drew me, begrudgingly, into the story. For a while, the main character's lack of touch with reality had me wondering who was real and who was not. It's an insane fugue of a story, as a result, and in the end, I liked the effect it had on me.

Furthermore, there was a phrase in "One Last Bloom" that caught my attention: "[I] knew the way one knows things in the middle of the night . . ." I love that turn of phrase. In the context of the story it totally makes sense and is one of the most clever articulations I've ever heard of that strange phenomenon of certainty at three in the morning. I've felt that. I know that feeling.

I wish I had thought of that seemingly simple phrase myself. You've earned yourself another star, mister Strantzas! Four total, in this case.

"Thistle's Find" is a good story, well told, of science gone wrong. Not spectacular or groundbreaking, but it still makes it into four-star territory.

Take Carcosa, The King in Yellow, a mysterious bookstore containing an even more mysterious manuscript, a restrained rivalry between two brilliant musicians, and the revelation of the "lesser" musician's grand opus, all wrapped in an emotionally-satisfying tale, and you've got yourself a five-star story in "Beyond the Banks of the River Seine". This one resonated in my mind for a long time afterward. I could see this being made into an indie movie by the same people who did the silent movie version of "Call of Cthulhu". It would definitely not work as a silent movie, per-se . . . well, maybe it would . . . hmm . . . interesting . . .

"Emotional Dues" is more hit than miss, but I thought that it slipped from its emotional footing at the end, favoring monster-horror, when it could have delivered a more compelling punch in the form of leveraged angst. Still the central conceit of the monster was interesting and "new," sort of a twist on Dorian Gray. Four stars, but just barely. Oh, and this is another one that would make a good silent movie. I think I'm sensing a pattern here. I wonder what Strantzas thinks of Nosferatu? He seems to stage some things in a theatrical way. Or maybe that's just my brain setting things up that way in my theater of the mind.

The titular story was as bizarre and horrifying as I like. Surreal and creepy. Though I found the protagonist annoying and narcissistic, I see why Strantzas made him so. This story was all the more horrific because I have a friend who was in a very nasty custody case who idealized his son in the same way Noah did in the story. Kinda hits home. This one also stuck with me, all five stars of it.

Overall, then, four stars, when each story is looked at individually. I felt, however, that the sum was greater than the parts. This really was an exceptional collection of short dark fiction with a weird bent to it. So I'm bumping it up to five. It looks like Dark Regions press has seen the genius, too and is doing a signed, limited, leather-bound edition. Hey, my birthday is next month. Anyone feeling generous?

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Saturday, June 25, 2016


The beginning of a little RPG something I'm working on. I'm intentionally not giving context, so some things will remain unexplained for now. In time, all will be revealed. In time . . .

Your party looks out on the ruins of a city that once was, but no longer is, the same city you left behind, you think. There is a hint of familiarity to the twisted, atomically-charred remains of buildings and vehicles that surround you. At your feet is the bullet-hole-riddled corpse of one of the alien invaders. Its bug eyes stare out blankly from beneath the bloated brain. A serrated scimitar is grasped in its rigid hand. The half-buried remains of the flying saucer loom above, casting a shadow on the party and the body. It stands on-edge, as if cutting into the very Earth beneath.

Beyond the derelict spaceship, the girders of once-mighty buildings reach feebly for the sky with blackened skeletal fingers limned with the rust of ages. A few unfamiliar structures, which can be seen at a distance, remain at least partially intact. Twisted metal and strange, wild plants - some of enormous size - create patches of steel and leaf jungle, while other stretches remain free of everything but litter, crushed glass, and a few small weeds growing through cracks in the pavement, just as you remember them from your youth.

Some things never change.

Some things are of little consolation.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Experimental RPGing: Help, opinions, and insights needed! Part II

A continuation of an experimental piece I began in an earlier post. Thanks to those (especially of the G+ gaming community) that have offered encouragement and thanks to those who supplied me with a list of directors whose work might fit in this "ouvre". For those who were not privy to that initial conversation, I asked people to complete the following list with directors whose works closely match those already in the list:

  1. Brothers Quay
  2. Jan Svankmajer
  3. David Lynch
  4. ????
One obvious one I missed (and shouldn't have) is Guy Maddin. Two of the entries in this segment are stolen from influenced by his movies. Oh, and there's an item shanghaied wholesale from inspired by one of Don Hertzfeldt's brilliant short films, as well (see if you can spot it. Hint: it's red). Again, I am hoping to put together a system-agnostic, stats-free campaign . . . thingy . . . that DMs can use for their own dark purposes. I might throw it together into a loosely-organized world-book, I might not. Tempting. Sorely tempting. But I have other projects pressing right now.

At some point, I should name this thing, this project, book, whatever; though I've already determined that the world in which this is set will only be known as "This Place" by its inhabitants. But that seems like an awfully generic title for an RPG supplement.

Anyway, here we go again:

The Lurker in the Bell-tower (Denizen):

We all know it is there, but no one talks about it. No one even looks up, let alone raises hopes so high as to think we will ever escape. It will smother us with its bumpy, slick mass, rubbery buboes oozing a cold, acidic slime that sloughs skin from muscle, meat from bone. There is no escape. it sees all beneath it from the laced needle-spire of the bell-tower, a black dagger stabbing the sky. It will find us, smother us, consume us. Maybe it already has. 

Scale Mail (Item):

What little protection it does offer - the bony skull, the thin scales as proof against lesser weapons, the spined dorsal over shoulders and neck - is offset by the stench of fish. Still, the immense pale eyes, each the size of a dinner plate, have been known to dissuade would be attackers . . . or perhaps it was the army of cats that trailed behind the wearer.

The Blazing Chrome Sickle-Mantis Scorpion, aka "Scipio" (NPC):

She emerged from the sloughed-off frame of the now-ruined Flower Queen, slicing her way out in an explosion of petticoats and skirt hoops. She has not stopped cutting since. Yet there is no method to her madness. She is without motive, casually wandering, sickle-clawed arms and scything tail waving, flailing at . . . nothing in particular, but whatever may be in the way. Once, she spent five years scoring her way through a castle wall, night and day, battering herself against the stones, never thinking to turn to the left or to the right or to give up altogether. She is relentless, but completely without purpose, Most just avoid her. Thus, there is always a void around her.

The Heart of the World (Location):

You cannot imagine The Heart of the World as it pulsates beneath the skin of the Earth. It is bigger than you can possibly comprehend. Capillaries are mountain ranges, the aorta a continent. If the world was stripped of its skin and viewed from afar, The Heart of the World would appear smooth and glistening. But come in close and you'll see folds the size of entire countries, creases more vast than borders, caves bigger than the largest craters of the moon. But the fiercely-pumping heart is not alone. It crawls with phosphorescent life, of a sort, an infection of blind crawlers, climbers, and spelunkers that skitter across the pulsating bulbs and creases of The Heart of the World. Serpent-limbed moles, venomous glowing yellow sentient slimes, and armies of misshapen and inappropriately-named "star people" plague the ever-changing landscape. ?They are not overly fond of the residual photons carried in, however inadvertently, by outsiders.

Billy's Balloon (Item):

A red helium balloon possessed by an inimical spirit that delights in enticing young children to hold its string, then viciously attacking the child, buffeting the youngling's face with a a rubber staccato assault, trying to strangle the child with its string, then hoisting the hapless youth into the sky by an arm or leg, then dropping it to the ground. It often drops the child one to six times from ten to forty feat in the air, each time, then grows bored and flies off to find another plaything.

The Whispering Grove, the Screaming Oak(Location):

SILENCE! you that enter the Whispering Grove. Here, even the trees make no sound, save one. Their branches silently strain, leaves wave in the unheard breeze, letting mottled patches of milky skylight through, but all is dead quiet. You move your mouth to speak, but cannot. You rap your lantern with your knuckles, but no response. Then you shout at the top of your lungs . .  . and hear a whisper. Listen intently: there are others. You scream until your throat is raw and hear your words trail away, barely audible. 

You feel a hand on your shoulder and turn to see a stranger, also screaming, by her strained expression, her furrowed brows, her jaw agape. But her voice comes across a whispered sussuration, the sound that the trees' leaves should be making, but are not. In time, you both realize that it is your focused thoughts, not your physical voice, which whispers. Shouting forces singleness of thought. Thought here is sound. Any distraction strangles the thought, silences the words.

Then you hear more whispers, like wind through a wheat-field or the fading, dying wishes of the wounded in a blood-spattered sanatorium. There, a large clearing, and in the midst the thick trunk of a gargantuan gnarled oak, limbs as thick as a mammoth and acorns as large as a fist blocking out any hope of skylight. Around the base, figures lay prone, face-down in the crisp, stunted grass or sitting with their backs against the trunk, staring out at the Whispering Grove beyond the clearing.

Voices whisper, thousands-strong, far more than the score or so people present. They are coming from the tree itself.

You touch the tree and instantly recoil, clasping your hands over your now nearly-deafened ears. ?The howling, screeching of thousands in emotional agony echoes in your head. your hearing slowly returns and you recognize the whispered voices as those that invaded your quiet skull box when you touched the tree.

Do you dare touch it again?

And why, why are those others reaching out, yearning for, even resting against, intentionally touching the Screaming Oak's rough and scratchy bark, clinging to its roots?

Do you really want to know their secret desires?

Electra Chair (NPC):

Shockingly beautiful, short blond curls over navy-blue eyes under a wire-coiled metal cap above the face of innocence itself. She was pronounced dead so long ago that her crimes have all been forgotten, her death certificate worn to illegibility by time. Hers is a face to die for, the martyr's price too cheap to honor such transcendent beauty. Many men would die (and have died) for her. But they would not be blessed with her supernatural stamina. Something in that execution left her better, stronger. She was also shot-through with ambition and she works tirelessly (she has already awoken from the eternal sleep) to increase her influence in the criminal underworld, where she is a legend in her own (borrowed) time. She is possessed of a wicked intelligence, belied by the quirky expressions that suddenly seize her face, along with the sparks that shoot from her eyes and ears when she is seized by a stroke of genius. She still wears the burnt coverall and manacles (wrist, ankle, and neck) that she wore to her own execution. No one is quite sure why. It goes without saying that she possesses a sparkling personality, with which she lures in her lovers and directs her minions (all of whom can be readily identified by the lightning-bolt-shaped brand on their left wrist). One would surmise that she is electrifying behind closed doors, though none of her erstwhile lovers could tell you.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Experimental RPGing: Help, opinions, and insights needed!

Below are some experiments. I've just handwritten them and will type them into this post without editing. Here's what I'm wondering: Is this something you could actually use at the gaming table? Yes, they are descriptive and baroque (that's my schtick, I guess), but could you actually put these elements together and run a role-playing session with them? If not, how much in the way of stats and mechanics would you need? I want this to be completely system agnostic, allowing the judge to interpret the implementation of these . . . things . . . in whatever way seems right. So there is no "right" or "wrong" answer, I just need to know, could you, as a judge, take this and apply it at the table and run a game with it, applying mechanics as needed (and as implied, but not revealed outright, in the segments below). Granted, you'll have to put the pieces together to form some sort of arc or narrative motive. I'm not giving a story, just the pieces. I suppose it could be sandboxed, too. Can you make it work?

Note: I'm not asking you to do it, only asking if you can and if it would be worth your while.

I freely admit to be under the influence of the Brothers Quay, David Lynch, and Jan Svankmajer.

Here goes nothing:

King Leer (NPC):

A lecherous codger whose pinprick of a mind is focused on stripping and overpowering the meekest and most virtuous; a devotee to despoiling the purest of virgin minds and bodies, though incapable of physical consumation. Still, he is consumed with the notion of it all. An empty heart that seeks to empty hearts. His crown is bent, dented, and broken; his scepter is sullied (but which rod of lordly might?); robes ripped apart. He is a charlatan with a silver tongue, fast hands, and eyes that lie in wait to deceive. Money holds no charm for him, but hte lack of it in others does. His current queen hates him.

Sepia Lantern (Artifact/Object):

A porcelain lacework of pearlescent beauty gleams with a bright light, until lit. Enflamed, its ruddy brown glow casts those in its fitful shadows into a flickering series of mod-shifts. It can be doused, if one is in the right state of mind, and if the will provides a way.

How strong is your will this round? Enfeebled? Then how?

  1. Lust: for all at once. Jealous. Possessive. Violent.
  2. Despair: All-consuming, debilitating, unavoidable.
  3. Overjoy: Laughing, shouting for joy, maniacal. You don't need a reason. Reason has fled.
  4. Fear: Of everyone, of every shadow. They all want to hurt you. Scram or scream!
  5. Pride: You are so much better than every one of them. Tell them how!
  6. Jealousy: You need their attention. They cannot, they must not, turn their attention to another. Otherwise, they hate you.
  7. Petulence: You can't be told what to do. And you know they want you to do something, even if they aren't saying so. Rebel! Defy!
  8. Jollity: Everyone is joking. Life is a joke. Death is a joke. Everything is funny!
The Cloud Chamber (Location):

The most holy of holies; the wisp of the will; aether, ether, and the tendrils in-between. Nirvana or numbness? Apotheosis-inducing balm or the introduction of abject boredome?

Only the very wise may discern the shapes of the clouds and predict the winds. But only the very foolish trust in what they see. Mists of potential? Billowing possibility?

Or just one more illusion?

Ride the currents and witness the future. Or what you think it might be.

The Sympathetic Hare (NPC):

The Sympathetic Hare's ears have the wigglies! Or are those Delerium Tremens? The Sympathetic Hare is in tune with you, wants what is best for you. Until he doesn't. You always want him to be on your side, and he wants to be on your side . . . for a time. It's all dependent on your personality. When luck is on your side, he will be your most dependable listener - look at those wiggly ears! He'll help you to hear whatever you want to hear, then, he will tell you what to want to hear. Then, when your luck runs out, you will hear nothing for a stretch. You will want him back. You will yearn for him, crave his presence, but once he's gone, he won't come back. Eventually, you will hear for yourself again, but always with the distant sound of lucky feet thumping a hollow log, and the hollow log is your heart, ever beating in rhythm with the friend you will never, ever see again.

Occam's Razorio (Item):

Straitedge damascus steel with a baroque bone handle betraying its purpose: to betray. Cuts to the truth: physically, on its victim's neck; literally by the incontrovertible truth spoken by the victim about the wielder. The cutter is cut by revelatory truths that she may not want revealed. But Occam's Razorio never lies, and it doesn't care who is listening; only that an absolute truth - previously hidden to all but the wielder - is revealedto everyone not the wielder. The truth hurts.

The Sheet That Will Not Melt (Location):

Parched air over the rust mounds, and in the midst of the tinkling red hills, a blue eye, ice, cold to the touch and carven with curlicues of shaved ice under departed blades. There is no relief from the eye-crusting dryness, despite the  clear (so clear!) presence of water solid. No matter how you try, it cannot melt. Not a drop of it. And you are so thirsty. Beneath the surface, past skaters stare back: Those curious who stared too long at those curious who stared too long. How long is too long? The ignorant need not query. And the only danger is in asking. It is the intelligent found most foolish here; the inquisitive trapped by their own insatiable need to know: Who? Why? When? By what power?

The Butcher Bride (NPC):

Beauty incarnate, carniverous. Crinolene dress, corset, and cutting. Wields a makeup kit, a smooth voice, hazel eyes, and a pair of meat cleavers. She does not take kindly to those that bleed on her dress, hence its incarnadine flush and stiffness. She was once King Leer's queen, until the regicide. After his slaughter, but before his resurrection (and subsequent remarriage to another, then another, then . . .), she left him. On the rare occasion that he sees her, he shrinks. She does not see him. She only sees her unknowable motives. She only sees red.

The Confessional Booth (Artifact):

Here, lies are transparent, the truth a foregone conclusion. Half-truths and half-lies find the greatest possible reward. But the pale gray of twilight, the sickly indigo pre-dawn are both treacherous. Still, maybe, only maybe, but maybe!

Lies bind the tongue for days,
Truths blind the eyes as long,
The middle path of sullied candor:
  1. The tongue hath never been so large a member. Eat not, drink not, speak not: the healthier you are, the longer the tongue lives. You can spare it.
  2. I cannot hear near, but afar, so far afield that infant's breathing is as the sound of a a mighty rushing wind.
  3. I understand your speech, dear stranger, but my eyes are strangers to your words. Speak, I pray you, whatever language and I will hear. Write, and I shall not comprehend, not even my own script, for a fortnight.
  4. I see the unseeable, but to my own kind I am blind. Ethereal boundaries are drawn and known, material boundaries forgotten, for a day and a night.
  5. Silver have I none: All that I have is turned to gold, in truth.
  6. My half-truth giveth the weight of veracity to my next three lies.

If you dare venture further: Part II.