Rendered mute by the terror of… a baby?

People are dumb.

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So this is a rarity, but this post has nothing to do with writing, heavy metal, video games, or horror movies. You might get a kick out if it though if you enjoy any of those things…

I had the most bizarre experience walking with my 1 year old son Gannicus Picard down to the gas station. We’re in line and I’m holding him on one arm and my reusable bag full of drinks in the other, when I notice he’s started spitting up some rather foul smelling something or other. It’s some gross white gunk that’s unpleasant, but not exactly The Exorcist level crazy, either. Not all that unusual for a baby, though, right?

I look at the lady at the register and ask “Hey, you got any napkins or paper towels or something?” and she stares at me, slack jawed, apparently unable to speak. She’s looking at me as though I’ve sprouted a second head. I ask again, and she remains open mouthed and utterly silent.

There’s a woman behind me who looks very mom-ish with a huge purse, so I turn and say “You got any wipes or something I can use?” and she’s staring at me, again utterly silent, as though I’ve not only sprouted a second head, but both of them are prophesying in tongues about the end times.

At this point I’m getting pretty pissed off, because both of these people can clearly see and hear me, but they are both just refusing to respond in any way, so I leave my spot in line and storm off to the counter to find some napkins… but there aren’t any.

There is a kid wiping down the counter with a rag though, who is somehow also fucking staring slack jawed and silent at me, as though I’ve sprouted two heads, one of them is prophesying in tongues, and the other one is shouting the contents of his browser history to his parents. Seriously, this kid looks TERRIFIED. I literally grab the rag out of his hand with a disgusted snort, wipe Gannicus and I off, and then hand it back to him. He says NOTHING during this encounter.

I go back up to the woman at the register, who finally finds her voice to ask about Gannicus as she rings me up… and the total for my soda and three beers somehow ends up $6.66, which makes her eyes go wide as saucers and renders her silent again, as I’m certain she now believes either my son or I are the Antichrist. All I can do is roll my eyes and toss a wad of bills at her before walking out.

Somehow a baby spitting up managed to render three separate human beings deaf, mute, and utterly terrified. I don’t think any of my horror stories have even managed that feat yet!

UPDATE: Someone made this comment on Facebook:

I feel like you’re leaving the part out where you were wearing a promo shirt from some black metal band from Norway that had an upside down burning cross on it or something.
So I just thought I’d address that, since yeah, me wearing a metal or video game band shirt would be within the realm of possibilities. In this case, it was a Great America Eclipse shirt.

 

The subject matter itself of course is harmless (unless you ascribe nefarious events to solar eclipses, which I suppose people who are afraid of the number 666 probably do…) although the shirt had a giant black image of the sun being blotted out that kind of looked like the logo to the Ring horror movies, so maybe that added to the Antichrist vibe for the horrified checker ūüôā
A solar eclipse is seen from the beach of Ternate island

Shadow Of The Demon Lord

Grimdark Roleplaying!

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This one’s been on my wishlist since I saw the Kickstarter back in 2015, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to get in on the crowd funding campaign at the time. Luckily for me, my fabulous brother in law knew about my secret demonic grimdark roleplaying lust and grabbed this one for me as a gift.

The idea here is to take traditional fantasy roleplaying and ramp up the deadliness and darkness, while changing the rules as well so its not just another Open Game License supplement.

That goal was accomplished to varying degrees, succeeding in being unique in some ways but definitely falling short in others.

Mechanics And Influences

 

shadowThe spell system is fabulous, with 28 different traditions covering all your various spellcasting types. Each of those traditions has to be learned separately to provide more differentiation between characters, with traditions ranging from Battle to Protection to Rune to Life to Teleportation, and everything in between.

There is a very noticeable downside here though — I really wish they had gone all out to be a bit more original on the magic front, rather than just transferring over the D&D standards by slightly different names. For instance, there’s a spell that is obviously magic missile, a spell that’s obviously mage armor, a spell that’s obviously shield, and so on, just with new names rather than new mechanics.

I get why the main developer might have wanted to do that though, since he worked on 5th edition D&D directly and Shadow Of The Demon Lord¬†was his ability to make that style of gaming darker (Wizards Of The Coast isn’t exactly known for adult or R rated material), but I’d still have preferred to see something different.

There are plenty of unique fantasy settings that don’t do all the basic D&D tropes, and it feels like this should have been one of them. Earthdawn, Changeling, Exalted, Warhammer, The One Ring, and many others have all broken well away from those basic concepts and gone in totally different directions in terms of spell design and basic game mechanics.

shadow2Those spells — and much of the rest of the game design and world building — don’t disappoint on the grimdark front, however.

The Forbidden spell tradition in particular is just brutal and leaves the Book Of Vile Darkness in the dust. If you thought Seething Eyebane was a nasty spell, you haven’t seen anything yet. Just take a look at the spell effect to your left.

Yep, that one guy is vomiting his guts while decaying away into nothing, and that other guy is exploding all his insides out through his anus. There’s literally a spell called “Hateful Defecation.”

On that note, madness and corruption are built right into the rule set, adding a Call Of Cthulhu flavor to the typical D&D style. At some point your character will have to do something exceedingly immoral to survive, or he’ll see something mind-shattering, and it will have an affect on the character.

The class system offers unprecedented modularity for a D&D style fantasy game, with three tiers of classes available over time that let you retool your character focus. First you start with a classic novice path, which is incredibly broad (Magician, Rogue, Warrior, Priest) then you move onto one of 16 more specialized expert paths (Druid, Scout, Warlock, Artificer, Ranger, etc.) and then finally onto one of a whopping 64 hyper specialized master paths (Beastmaster, Chronomancer, Gunslinger, Exorcist, Duelist, Weapon Master, Pyromancer, and many, many more).

Beyond the number of class options, SotDL shines in the various options for each path, like the wildly divergent reasons for why a character could take the Oracle class (“you angered a supernatural power and caused it to haunt you” vs. “you are a mortal vessel for benevolent gods” vs. “the entity that possess you is a spirit that escaped the Underworld or Hell and takes control of your body when you use your abilities”).

shadow2Unlike prestige classes, there aren’t any pre-requisites for any of the three class tiers, beyond the player and DM figuring out how to make the class mashup fit within the context of the story. If you want to start as a thief, then become a paladin, and finish as a water mage, there’s nothing stopping you.

Granted, you won’t have as many (or as powerful) hydromancy spells as someone who was an arcane caster the whole way through the class progression, but you’ll still have some cool water spells so long as you can come up with a compelling story reason for why a character would have made those drastic changes.

The base ruleset is both simple (which I prefer) but also has the possibility to become unwieldy with too many modifiers. Most rolls involve a single d20 with a series of d6s either adding to the base roll (a boon) or subtracting from the base roll (a bane).

Wrapping it all together is very clear influence from classic games like Warhammer and Rolemaster with “Interesting Things” tables and “Professions” tables to randomly roll and add more flavor to your character.

World And Themes

First and foremost, the depictions of the various demons throughout the book are absolute works of art (with one very notable exception below) that could grace the walls of any roleplayer’s home.

 

shadow3The game presents different ways for employing the “Shadow” itself, echoing the various apocalyptic scenarios from the¬†¬†Elder Evils¬†supplement from 3.5 D&D.

There’s everything from a fading sun to a Warhammer style world overrun by chaotic beastmen to an undead uprising to dreams of a dead god driving the world mad.

The base assumption of the Shadow’s influence is “Fall Of Civilization,” which is the core game story, giving you a campaign along the lines of PC ARPG¬†Grim Dawn. Essentially the Empire has fallen overnight after a coup by the orcs and now everything has descended into chaos. Traveling the roads is a pretty surefire way to get gobbled up by something unpleasant or robbed and murdered by those who are taking advantage of the lack of order.

While I love that style of setting, the annoying part of this modularity is that the game developers pretty much immediately discard that base idea and entirely forget about it. None of the descriptions of the various areas and cities reflect that sort of world that is crumbling as civilization has fallen. They all oddly read as though things are still business as usual, which is a shame.

The flavor of the game comes to life more in the race choices, which are varied and changed up quite a bit from D&D. A series of¬†random tables for each races gives your character some life, and the goblins in particular have some crazy options (“you were orphaned and raised by giant rats,” “a hag made you her love slave,” or “you save all your secretions in small bottles and give them as gifts to people you like.”)

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Remember how I mentioned a notable exception on the artistry of the demons? There are a few places in the text where the grimdark attitude sort of goes off the rails into over-the-top silliness.

Yes, what’s happening in that image to your right is what you think is happening. If you haven’t figured it out yet, just take a good long, hard look and think about this guy swinging around his sword in frenzied bloodlust during battle. It’ll come to you.

I still can’t decide if that’s superbly grim or just silly and gross.

(Un)intended Grimness

That issue aside, there is a core concept to this world that’s exceedingly dark.¬†This honestly may not even have not been intentional and perhaps is just my grimdark brain reading between the lines and seeing the worst in everything… but there seems to be an unspoken truth in the game’s cosmology that maybe the worshipers of the Demon Lord aren’t wrong, or perhaps aren’t even the bad guys at all.

Everyone in this particular universe goes to either Hell or the Underworld after they die and then are purified via torture (in Hell) or live a life of ascetic boredom while slowly giving up all their attachments to the physical world (in the Underworld), and then they return to life in a new body.

shadow3Those who are morally “good” stay in those places shorter times, while those who are exceptionally selfish or morally “bad” stay longer. But since life on Urth is getting worse and worse by the year as everything descends into chaos, neither the good nor the bad camp really have it any better than the other.

Think about it — you can be good and live a life of selflessness in a terrible world (which probably means poverty, sickness, hunger, and death) and get less torture in the afterlife, or you can improve your lot in life by being a backstabbing tyrant who is comfortable while alive and then spends longer getting tortured in the afterlife, but the end result is essentially the same amount of suffering.

The cultists of the Demon Lord maybe don’t have it wrong, and it could actually be better to bring about absolute oblivion rather than keep that awful cycle of suffering going forever.

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2017 Books You Should Be Checking Out

From horror to romance and sci-fi!

Now that Light Dawning fervor is dying down and work is underway on new material (stay tuned for info coming soon), let’s take a look at books from other authors you should be reading this year!

Grimdark Fantasy

darklandsM.L. Spencer’s Rhenwars series is getting a ton of praise lately, and the third and final book Darklands just came out earlier this summer.

Going a bit different direction is the highly-praised Kings Of The Wyld¬†by Nicolas Eames, which interjects rock ‘n roll into the dark fantasy genre as a band of old mercenaries come back together for one last job.

If you like your fantasy to feature an orc invasion, don’t miss out on The Eighth God by Paul S. Lavender either!

 

Grimdark Sci-Fi

lucGrimdark is definitely focused on the fantasy lately, but don’t forget that it very much has roots in sci-fi, with the grand daddy of the genre of course being Warhammer 40,000.

Offering up a futuristic rendition of the dark fantasy style is C.T. Phipps and his space opera Lucifer’s Star.

 

 

 

Sci-Fi Romance

1861379684Now hold on a sec… romance you say? Yeah, it’s not my normal thing, but Wendie Nordgren’s Space Merchants series is actually some pretty legit action sci-fi that happens to have a lot of heavy breathing, beefcake princes, and will-they won’t-they going on.

Teagan starts from humble beginnings on earth but goes on to rule a galaxy-spanning empire. The Space Merchants series is now in its fifth iteration with the recently-released Spider Queen. The whole series just got some killer new covers as well.

 

How About Some Horror?

metalmagicBrian Barr has been pumping out some bizarre and wonderfully weird horror shorts this year, including the Three H trilogy (The Head, The House, and The Hell) along with some music themed stories, which of course always piques my interest.

This prolific author’s heavy metal / horror extravaganza Metal Magic is out now, with a punk themed follow-up also in the works and due out soon.

 

 

Speculative Fiction… With Dinosaur Races!

5120Vk0ivnLWe’ll cap this off with a fun anthology feature Stant Litore, a Facebook friend of mine since I read his biblical zombie epic Strangers In The Land a few years back.

The Jurassic Chronicles features 13 different authors all giving their take on everybody’s favorite extinct creatures brought to life!

A Call Of Cthulhu scenario in movie form

“The Void” delivers a big budget experience on a shoestring IndieGogo budget

topSome years back, Guillermo Del Toro – the man behind visually stunning movies like “Pan’s Labyrinth” – revealed he was gearing up to create a big budget adaptation of Lovecraft’s “At The Mountains Of Madness.”

It seemed like it was time for “Dagon” to lose its placed as the best Lovecraft film adaptation.¬†Fans were split on the casting however, with many upset about Hollywood heartthrob Tom Cruise taking the role of doomed researcher Danforth.

Personally, I think the casting was spot on because A) Cruise is already insane so it wouldn’t be acting and B) his beliefs as a high level Scientologist about humanity’s origins actually aren’t significantly different from what Danforth discovers about how the species started in “At The Mountains Of Madness.”

Sadly it wasn’t meant to be, because some moron studio executive decided putting money into a hard-R horror flick wasn’t going to net a return (although now that hard-R super hero flicks are a thing, maybe that decision will change). For now, the indie film makers will have to tackle the more disturbing elements of horror, and perhaps that’s how it should be.

That leads us to “The Void,” which is now taking the place of the best, most effects-laden Lovecraftian movie of the age, even thought it doesn’t draw from a specific Lovecraft tale and instead is simply suffused with Cthulhu Mythos elements.

A crowd funding success story, “The Void” is brought to us by a small team of film makers with a passion for practical effects over computer generated ones, and it really shows. They manage to do¬†a whole lot with so little in mostly one location.

sideI’d been following the movie’s progress for years now, since before even the crowd funding campaign, so as we got closer to VOD release a certain unease started to grow as I wondered if perhaps I’d overhyped this for myself. Were we about to witness a gigantic flop that just had a good trailer?

Thankfully no, this is the real deal, and of particular note is the level of acting for such a small budget flick. For the most part, the leads are on par with or even exceeding what you get with indie classics like “Grave Encounters,” “Willow Creek,” “Creep,” “Absentia,” etc.

There are a ton of Mythos references throughout the movie (the¬†main character’s name is Carter for instance), including some that are going to delight tabletop RPG fans who dig the Call Of Cthulu roleplaying game. During the movies opening moments there’s a curious lack of sound quality as some odd events occur. The sound evens out shortly after, but then later as the main characters are all gathered in a hospital fleeing cultists, suddenly the sound becomes grainy, static-laden, and distorted yet again.

At first I thought this was just a side effect of the movie’s low-budget nature, but then it dawned on me: we were literally hearing when the investigators are losing sanity. When a stabilizing force comes in, like when an officer takes control of the situation or a horrible thing from beyond is defeated, sound returns to normal as sanity is regained. My interest in the movie immediately shot up even more as I realized we were watching a Call Of Cthulhu scenario in film form.

side2From there you’ll notice a lot of CoC scenario staples, like stumbling upon Polaroids of terrible things and a cache of eldritch tomes filled with unspeakable knowledge when the investigators figure out the identity of the real antagonist. The crew behind the movie clearly has a love for all things horror though, as it’s not just cosmic horror of the Lovecraftian variety on hand.

The last third of the film takes a hard left turn into “Hellraiser,” complete with a skinless man and walls recessing to access the abyss. Those familiar with Italian horror will note the final frame of the movie is 100% homage to Lucio Fulci’s “The Beyond,” another harrowing tale of hell unleashed on earth.

Simply put: “The Void” delivers on the effects, the story, the scares, and the acting.¬†It’s one of the best horror flicks I’ve seen in recent memory, and its blessedly not a remake, reboot, prequel, or sequel. It easily beats out the low budget competition and even manages to create a better experience than most of the big budget schlock coming out of the horror genre these days.

This team needs to be given access to bigger budgets and more stories, and hopefully we’ll see another IndieGogo campaign¬†in the not-too-distant future!

As in real life, sometimes evil wins

Obsidian Entertainment’s new classic RPG throws morals out the window

tyrann2The classic era of RPGs with the likes of Baldur’s Gate and Planescape: Torment has always been my favorite time in gaming history, so it was much delight I witnessed the crowd funding revolution give birth to a classic renaissance with games like Pillars Of Eternity and Wasteland 2.

Taking that same style from Pillars, Obsidian Entertainment decided to do something RPGs have needed for a long time: totally shift the morality from black/white to an ugly, murky gray.

Much like with the Midnight tabletop RPG, Tyranny starts with the premise that the evil god won, and now the world is subjugated by an overlord that brooks no dissent and brutally puts down any resistance.

The entire standard RPG paradigm is thrown on its head, and there’s a lot here that authors and horror fans in particular should find interesting across the many choices present as you decide how to enforce the will of Overlord Kyros. I had the pleasure of covering the game extensively on release, and you can read my full write up of the mechanics and story choices at GameSkinny here.

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The Hellraiser we should have gotten…

Random Turkish indie movie outdoes all competitors without meaning to!

b2The selection of Netflix streaming movies has noticeably dropped off from what it was a few years back, so for the annual 31 days of terror in October our family has gone back to good old reliable DVDs.

Despite the lack of content from times past, there’s still some very solid horror to be found on Netflix, including some surprisingly good indie and foreign films. One in particular worth seeing we stumbled upon was Baskin, which is somehow insanely lowly rated, bringing up the issue of how two people can watch something and come away with completely different opinions.

That’s certainly not unique to film, and is on full display in literature as well, where a book (even my own) can have on reviewer raving and another thinking it was the worst thing they’d ever read.

In this instance, I think the reviewers over at Netflix all got it wrong, as¬†Baskin is a horror flick you’ll never forget, and I’d say it rivals iconic films like the original Martyrs in terms of gore and leaving a lasting impression.

The second half in particular is just completely off the rails, and something anyone who considers themselves a horror connoisseur must see. Without actually having anything to do with that mythology, it ended up being exactly what any given grade-Z reboot / sequel of Hellraiser should have been.

It’s not without flaws – the ending was a cliched horror trope added for no reason – but the movie as a whole is highly recommended for any horror fan who thinks they’ve seen it all.

Ramping up the dread

Outlast 2 demo offers everything I want to see in the upcoming horror sequel

out2wI’ve just been all about the horror video games lately!

A little while back you might remember me mentioning a game called Outlast, which was incredibly effective by removing your ability to fight back against any of the horrors met in an asylum.

The sequel was supposed to drop in time for Halloween, but is now slated for a 1st quarter of 2017 release to work out some of the kinks. Fans of the first game got a surprise taste of what’s to come though when a demo unexpectedly became available this week.

Delivering on the promise from the first teaser trailer, there’s loads of religious elements on display, from travelling back in time to a Catholic school to some clear themes of something terrible and bloody being born in a manger. In what is always a plus for me, there’s also some cosmic horror going on with a little tentacle action.

Best of all, the gameplay seems to have been tweaked to increase the horror factor while decreasing the frustration of playing the same segment over and over.¬†If you don’t mind spoilers, you can read my full run down of the demo at GameSkinny here.

There’s even more Outlast to experience before the game drops though. Developer Red Barrels has also released an online comic series bridging the gap between the first and second games, which take place in completely different locations with different characters.