Wednesday, April 14, 2021

101 Mundane Details for Vampire: The Masquerade

V5 Chronicle Tips

I'm a huge fan of Vampire: The Masquerade as anyone who knows me can attest. However, minor details are often overlooked in the spirit of getting to the juicy bits of gaming. In my twenty-five years of gaming, I've created a bunch of little details that helps me make my worlds seem a little more grounded. 

101 Mundane Details for Vampire: The Masquerade Chronicles

1. Vampires tend to set their temperatures upward of 75 degrees in their household for comfort.  

2. Many vampires really like tropical humid and hot environments.

3. Vampires love hot baths and showers. They often enjoy them for sexy feedings.

4. Vampires who can afford it enjoy hot tubs and sun tanning booths. The later don't actually affect Kindred but they are vaguely enjoyable.

5. Vampires often wear sunglasses at night, not just as a fashion statement but because they have to deliberately blink.

6. Generally, vampires lose about 10 to 20 pounds post Embrace due to organ atrophy.

7. Yes, Embracing is nasty ugly business with expelling undigested food. Anne Rice oddly mentioned this but most other media doesn't.

8. Vampire mouths are the one warm part of their bodies as they produce saliva and other things necessary for working elements.

9. This means blood popsicles are things they can and do enjoy.

10. Even with the blush of life, food tastes terrible.

11. Vampires can digest food with blood but they will expell the former eventually.

12. If you have the Blush of Life and are a male, that is actually a way possible to ghoul someone. Technically, women as well. Yes, you know what I mean.

13. The most common ways to ghoul someone are sex, Dominating them into drinking your blood, or outright explaining the process.

14. If someone hated you before Blood Bonding them and they know, they can usually resist and it is a good way to make a Hunter or someone utterly insane.

15. Whenever a vampire dies, the Prince of the City has a process for dealing with their ghouls. They're either sold, traded, or more often killed. This is known as the Funeral Clean-Up.

16. Like What We Do in the Shadows, most vampires never Embrace their ghouls outside of the Giovanni, Ministry, and Tremere. This is due to familiarity breeding contempt. There is no correlation between this and the exception clans' reputations for psychotic evil.

17. Vampires with the Blush of Life can have sex and very High Humanity vampires. That includes an enjoyable finish. It is not as good as the Kiss, though.

18. Plenty of vampires actually sleep in their attics, basements, closets, bathrooms, or underneath their beds because of sun paranoia. They don't feel discomfort when they wake up, being dead during the day, so it doesn't bother them.

19. Obviously, vampires don't invite humans to spend the night with them after sex or feeding.

20. The Kiss does wipe the memory of mortals and make them very suggestible for about the first five minutes before or after. Those fed on think they've zoned out, had sex, kissed, or fallen asleep.

21. Ghouls regenerate much faster than normal humans. Technically, a vampire could feed from them every night without killing them as long as they ate large amounts of food. This sure as hell isn't good for them, though. Ghouled herds are actually somewhat common as a result.

22. Most humans otherwise would only be fed on every eight weeks. It isn't a hard and fast rule, though, because the Kiss also stimulates blood regeneration. A "safe" feeding is about once a week without eventually killing them, barring ghouldom.

23. Kindred eventually change their appearance drastically from their looks while alive. Al Capone went from being a syphilitic old man to someone who looked strongly like a man in the prime of his life.

24. All Kindred in a city have a card for people to dispose of bodies and carnage from frenzies. These people tend to work for the Prince and either also work for the mob or are crime scene cleaners or both.

25. Disgustingly, prisons, lock ups, retirement homes, and assisted livings are places that fuel the Kindred blood trade.

26. Animals bark at vampires due to the sense of the Beast. Vampires who know animals can calm or intimidate them without animalism.

27. Common Kindred punishments other than death are being locked up in a room where the sun is just out of reach, severe beatings, entombment for a month to a year, staking on display at Elysium, and locking in a coffin or room until frenzy (the latter is a Masquerade punishment--usually with a mortal that you've revealed it to as food).

28. The most common Camarilla activities are actually parceling out Domain and feeding rights. 90% of arguments and favor trading goes into making sure your mortals are off limits and vice versa. The Anarchs find this ridiculous but it actually cuts down on unnecessary deaths.

29. Scourges usually have far worse reputations than Sheriffs as the latter usually have a pretense of justice. Scourges are meant to terrify, torture, and exterminate. Their Humanity scores also tend to sink like stones that many don't want the "honor."

30. The most common cause of wassail are usually diablerie and losing control during frenzy before killing obvious innocents (like children or close loved ones). Guilt tends to drive them to suicidal self-destruction or embracing the monster.

31. Wights are hunted mercilessly by other Kindred since they tend to kill about once a week. They are actually often intelligent enough to hide, build lairs, and use Disciplines. Malkavian or Nosferatu wights can last for years but often build up Hunters.

32. The Sabbat obviously have a far larger wight problem than the Camarilla. Packs hunting down and destroying them is a common team-building exercise.

33. Sabbat don't murder most of those they feed on but this not couched in moral terms but irritation. "You kill it, you bury it" is a common Sabbat refrain. Sabbat who would casually kill hesitate to do so because of their need to dispose of the bodies of their victims.

34. The number of Thin Bloods who die from being Embraced is actually very low and most of their Embraces are successful. It's just that they can awaken hours or even days later then get themselves killed out of confusion or die because they were embalmed.

35. 11th, 12th, and 13th generation vampires find animal blood bland but digestable. Thin Bloods find it quite tasty if not possesed of the heroin-like effects that human blood is. Lower generation vampires find animal blood vile and like drinking from a sewer.

36. Coteries are formed by young vampires for survival but by Elderdom, most have alienated or betrayed their former partners. 

37. Vampires often become Wraiths upon death. Far more than any other group of people. They tend to not last long as they carry vast Infamy and strong Shadows. Those that do tend to be long lasting Wraiths who achieve power due to their history of wrestling with damnation as well as no desire to move on.

38. With very-very few exceptions, all Neonates have killed someone they didn't want to kill by the time they reach their first 5-10 years. This is considered part of vampire life and is a reason all undead carry some existential guilt, no matter how deeply buried.

39. Mortals with true faith are exceptionally rare and vampires may never encounter one. Holy places like churches, gravesites, and something almost every city has, though. The faith pools and repulses the undead.

40. Goth culture has never gone out of style and is still thriving as of 2020.

41. The ban against cellphones and the internet is one that Elders primarily use to punish the young. They have their ghouls do it for them. 

42. Many Anarchs make photoshopped social media profiles for Kindred as part of their efforts to cover up the Masquerade. These include sunny vacations and family photos.

43. Kindred havens tends to have a fire extinguisher in every room. Some also install sprinkler systems and other home security devices (like hidden weapons or booby traps or trap door exits).

44. Almost all Kindred love breath spray and mouth wash. The smell of blood is a major turn off for mortals after all. Those who don't also keep alcoholic beverages (perhaps in a flask) on hand for the same purposes while hunting.

45. You can always tell a Kindred kitchen by the fact the canned food is usually years old. There is usually orange juice, cookies, and red meat or fish in the fridge, though.

46. Kindred associate sex with blood and blood with sex. As such, sexual preferences tend to become blurred unless one was strongly down one end of the Kinsey scale or due to a psychological block.

47. Many ghouls suffer sleep deprivation due to the fact they are expected to do daytime chores as well as help with their masters at night.

48. Most Kindred furniture of the discriminating haven is black leather. Plastics and naugahyde are also common. White is almost never done even in non-absorbing fabrics.

49. Architecture styles have been influenced by Kindred throughout history. Rooms without windows are more common, castles were a thing almost everywhere, panic rooms are very common, as are secret exits or passages. This is why all sewers are the size of New York's sewers and people can move around in the,.

50. The Masquerade holds but that's because people tend to have strange beliefs. People sincerely believe in CHUDs, serial killing cults, Satanic panics, and the Illuminati. Sadly, this goes without saying as millions of RL people actually believe in blood-drinking cults on the internet. Just more so in the WOD.

51.  Blood takes 48 hours to decay so mortuaries and funeral homes also provide unappetizing but very cheap blood from local dealers (generally about $10 per pint). Frozen blood can last ten years. Many vampires keep this as emergency stashes or for healing injuries. This is notably the amount of time that it can still be used in a living human in RL.

52. Contrary to the secrecy of their clan, almost everyone knows where the Tremere chantry is in a city. You can also make an appointment with them via their servants. The Tremere trade in favors openly after all. Woe if you don't pay them back or disrespect them.

53. There are Kindred tags and glyphs recognizable to some degree even by laymen. These include indicating where a Rack with a bloody tear drop is or a Wolf's skull for the obvious, "Lupine territory. Stay the fuck away." It's not quite like Blade but they're there if you know to look for them. Which has helped the Second Inquisition.

54. Spray-tanning is a thing that Kindred do as is makeup when they're involved with the public. However, this is considered to be gauche among fellow Kindred who favor the "elegant pale thin" look that unwittingly has influenced supermodel culture.

55. A lot of long-term Kindred havens are haunted. Most Kindred never know but unexpected fires, bad luck, and accidents are more common for them than other residences. 

56. Kindred who work in hospitals tend to spray their masks with a particularly pungent smell to help control their urges. Its help is negligible given the sight of blood is triggering alone but it doesn't hurt.

57. Kindred drug dealers run crack houses, junkies, and hospices (yes) for the tastes of Anarchs who want to get high. Kindred junkies are fairly rare since blood is enough of a high of its own and just as self-destructive. Still, they exist and Kindred who couldn't control themselves in life tend to wassail very quickly.

58. Most Princes have a three strike rule for messy feedings. All Kindred are expected to have one or two accidents but if you can't control yourself then you have no place among the Damned.  

59. The big loophole of #58 is that they must HEAR about messy feedings. If they don't, you at least clean up after yourself. They may even be glad you use their services, at least if you pay for it. 

60. "Liberal" Camarilla domains allow Thin Bloods to exist if they are "adopted" by Kindred. They are usually tattooed with a crescent moon somewhere (which their skin keeps). This is actually quite dangerous as killing them is just akin to killing a ghoul then. Some Thin Bloods believe a Kindred "protector" is better than trying to make it on their own, though, and seek out Cainites to serve or be fed on by.

61. "Infectious Porphriya" is an artificial disease that afficts one or two million people that is a sort of last ditch protection for Kindred from being put in the sun when arrested. It was created by the Tremere and actually exists in a White Wolf magazine article.

62. Most diableries are actually the result of frenzies. It is still punishable by a Blood Hunt.

63. After the first five years, most Kindred only share the location of their haven with close friends or coterie mates. It's not that hard to find out where another Kindred lives but it is considered to be incredibly rude (unless you're a Nosferatu).

64. Most Malkavians don't actually appear insane. More precisely they tend to suffer from derangements like megalomania, blood fixation, lack of empathy, narcissism, sadism, or other things that make them act like every other Kindred on the planet after a certain age. This is at least 60% of their Clan.

65. Some Malkavians do adopt a theatrical (never "wacky") persona, just because it's expected of them. This is always a cover for something else, though.

66. Again, like What We Do in the Shadows, ghouls do in fact have their own subculture. Very often in the day they're chatting with each other or even dating and working out how to best serve you. Many ghouls actually know far more about other Kindred than their masters, though none would ever consciously betray you. 

67. Inevitably, some idiot (often at the prodding of someone else) tries to do a Blood Bath like Elizabeth Bathory. This is like taking a bath in heroin and can result in a vampire frenzying the rest of the night until sunrise. Most Kindred have heard this story but no one actually knows if it ever truly happened--but someone has to have been stupid and evil enough to try. 

68. The Book of Nod is available for download on 4chan. Its been transferred and shared around so much it's impossible to get rid of now. Most Kindred have only heard of it by rumor, though. 

69. In direct hypocrisy of Hardelstadt's law, almost all Camarilla Princes and all Tremere Regents have a copy of The Book of Nod. They come in the Critas, Aristotle de Laurentis, and Black Dog Games (yes, seriously) versions. 

70. The mob is usually vaguely aware of vampires in terms of rich clientele belonging to secret societies, human trafficking needs, covering up bodies, false IDs, and more. While not universal, many Mob bosses are in the know even if they're not ghouled or Dominated. They choose to be selectively oblivious as who would believe them?

71. Silver jewelry are preferred by Kindred as a fashion statement even if it is useless against werewolves. Ankhs are considered passe, though, since the symbol passed into the collective unconscious.

72. Blood based culinary foods are supported among the Kine by Kindred. Blood pudding, special blood sauteed foods, and so on. So buying blood separate from other kinds of meats isn't nearly as weird as it would be in our world.

73. If you've ever wondered who buys those incredibly stupid looking electric fireplaces or fireplace screensavers, it is Kindred elders who absolutely love them. Otherwise, a fireplace will never be used in a Kindred haven with the sole exception being a low-gas fireplace on fake logs. Real fireplaces don't cause Kindred to frenzy as a general rule but they sure as hell don't make them comfortable. 

74. Getting a harmless uncomplicated device like the above is usually a safe bet for an Elder. Yes, a talking fish would be considered fine as a "Mechanical Turk." Other good gifts are ties, stockings, silver jewelry, gemstones ("diamonds are forever and so are you"), or humans.

75. Kindred celebrate Christmas, New Years, and Halloween. Easter oddly makes them uncomfortable even if they're not Christian. 

76. Kindred also have wakes but do not celebrate birthdays. Kindred wakes notably divide up all of the possessions of the dead among them, regardless of legality. 

77. Kindred marriage does happen but has not been a Kindred-separate rite since the Dark Ages when the Church of Caine existed. It's now slowly coming back.

78. Kindred who talk about the various palettes and types of blood are either Ventrue or lying. Blood comes in fresh, healthy, alcoholic, drug laced, bad, and sick.

79. Kindred can taste the emotions of people they feed on, Resonance wise, but this is a supernatural effect. It's also only "straight from the tap."

80. Bizarrely, due to enhanced senses, Kindred love loud and distracting music. It tends to drown out the Beast. As such, Kindred tend to prefer metal, punk, or hard rock.

81. Kindred listening to symphonies or classical tend to need it to strict familiar arrangements t and can be enormous critics. There's no good reason for this. Apparently, they really just like being jerks about it.

82. Dating aps are used by Kindred for "meal delivery." This is dangerous because it does create an online footprint, especially if you get shared, "I was only there ten minutes and slept for days afterward."

83. Prostitution and meal delivery services, by contrast, are a valued Kindred service.

84. Poverty among Cainites is a bigger deal than many suspect as flexible hour night jobs are often impossible to come by. Thus many Cainites do rely on their Disciplines to steal or mooch off other richer vampires or ghoul the affluent. The dawn of the cashless society has caused some distress for those who used to regularly rob their victims.

85. With the above noted, very few Kindred are genuinely destitute as they never have to pay for their meals.

86. Kindred tend to be aware of vampire culture about twenty years after the fact. So now Kindred are starting to make Buffy and Angel jokes. Oh and that Gary Oldman guy has a very interesting Dracula performance.

87. The former Prince of New Orleans claimed he made Anne Rice stop writing about vampires for decades. This actually pissed off multiple Toreador rather than won him respect. Whether this is true or not, it is a popular urban legend.

88. Most Kindred won't spraypaint over their windows or cover them in cardboard (too obvious) but they will have double pairs of heavy drapes.

89. Most Kindred residences in the suburbs have privacy fences if they're allowed. Gated communities are also preferred.

90. Basement apartments are very popular in places above sea level.

91. Gas stations off highways are actually one of the most common vampire feeding spots outside bars and clubs. They're quite valued as feeding domains as are rest stops. It may not be glamorous but Caitiff, Nosferatu, and Gangrel can feed there without incident for decades.

92. Some Princes actually commission royal signet rings to kiss and mark letters. This is usually a sign the Prince is weak, overcompensating, or just an asshole.

93. Expensive personalized stationary with gold frills is another sign of a weak Elder.

94. Elders love writing letters in elaborate long cursive since they don't get hand cramps and never learned to type. Many Ancilla fall into it too.

95. Anarch Democracy is both true and misleading. Leadership is determined by the group instead of a Primogen but if the leader ever falters, he tends to be torn to shreds or beaten then dumped outside of their territory near sunrise.

96. The above is still considered to be an improvement over Princes by Anarchs in the know.

97. Yes, usually the Brujah with the highest Presence DOES tend to lead anyway. Followed by the Brujah with the highest Potence and Celerity. 

98. Body bags and plastic tarp are very common things for Kindred vehicles. The simple sleeping bag is also something that many Kindred cherish as a less conspicuous protection for them while they lie down in the back. 

99. Most Kindred planning a cross country trip tend to use delivery vans, trucks, or UHauls. The absence of trunk space is something many Kindred lament. 

100. Kindred garages tend to have plastic tubs, hand-saws, duct tape, rope, large amounts of bleach, and no electronic openers for the doors with locks from the inside. Even if they're not serial killers, this is stuff that comes in handy. 

101. Kindred hair regrows overnight but hair dye stays and many Kindred do enjoy styling or simply the buzz cut look if men.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Vampire: The Masquerade: Children of the Blood review

    CHILDREN OF THE BLOOD is a supplement to CULTS OF THE BLOOD GODS and a stretch goal for its Kickstarter. Basically, it is a book of NPCs (or SPCs as White Wolf is now styling its terminology) as well as some rules for running cults in the World of Darkness. It is a spiritual successor to CHILDREN OF THE INQUISITION, which was a book that provided some important power players like Dracula and Etrius during the early days of the line. It actually reminds me a bit more of CHILDREN OF THE REVOLUTION in that it is a bit less overt in the importance of the NPCs that it presents.

    There's a little more than twenty NPCs in the book with a mixture of the good, the okay, and the excellent. Rather than focus on the most terrifying and powerful of the undead world, it mostly includes mid-tier NPCs that are a mixture of Neonates and Ancilla. There's only a handful of Elders present among their ranks and they tend to be very distinctive. I prefer this as 5th Edition has done an excellent job of ratcheting down the power level of encounters so that PCs have a chance of shooting or talking their way out of encounters.

    I admit to a certain level of bias with Oscar Vasquez a.k.a "The Operator", Faith Corrigan, and Misery among the NPCs since I contributed Kickstarter-based "pitches" for them. They've been since written up by professional game developers and improved significantly from my rough ideas. Still, I loved seeing them in print so any review reader should be aware. They're a psychopathic assassin from before their Embrace with the latter giving them feelings they didn't have in life, a Church of Caine Anarch spreading her gospel, and an early Gothic Punk band leader turned political genius.

    There's a lot of really interesting and good ideas spread among the characters with many of them being the sorts that could liven up an existing campaign or provide the basis for an adventure or two. Interesting characters include "Doctor Starr" who is regularly the meat puppet of an ancient Malkavian, Belinde Buch the Prince of Copenhagen who looks like a human doll, and Florian Ribiero who is an aggressive mathematical perfectionist that can't reconcile the supernatural to his Spinoza-esque worldview.

    Perhaps the most interesting character in the book is Father Christian Patriot. An obvious parody of your typical Qanon conspiracy theorist, Father Christian Patriot is a Thin Blooded vampire who basically has his weekly rants uploaded by his followers. He's an interesting character as his sire never thought to teach him about the Masquerade so he's just flat out not bothered with it. I found it interesting that in a game about blood-drinking, murder, seduction, torture, and inner darkness that his bigoted beliefs are enough to get a warning sidebar. I don't disagree with it, quite the opposite, but find it amusing since the text is clear that he's a complete moron.

    You're probably not going to be able to squeeze all of these people into your campaign or even a third of them but there's plenty of potential plot hooks to draw from as well as interesting, well, NPCs. The book has a mild tie to LET THE STREETS RUN RED as well with the characters of Akawa, Anastasia, and Freddie Montgomery from the Chronicle "Innocence in Blood" being given full write-ups here. I always appreciate expanding on past characters with Akawa and Anastasia being originally detailed in Milwaukee by Night way back in 1st Edition. I would also love to see Freddie encounter Father Christian Patriot since she was raised by a similar cult. It might be an eye opener.

    Gameplay-wise, this is not a heavy crunch book. The book "technically" introduces two new Bloodlines via Loresheet with the Milliners and Rosselinis but that's stretching my definition of Bloodline with the two Giovanni families. We also got some more Loresheets with the standout ones being the One True Way and Menele worshiping cult. I found the latter a little strange given I don't recall any Menele-worshiping NPCs in the book. On the other hand, I appreciate the detail put into the One True Way in this book as a "False Golconda" cult that is objectively just driving Kindred closer to wassail is a fantastic idea.

    There are also rules for the various kinds of cults you can run and coteries that can emerge from trying to manage your own Kindred religion. One of these coteries indicates that Marcus Vitel a.k.a Lucius Sejanus is building his own religion about himself and that just makes sense. There's a good number of merits and flaws for the Cults of the Blood God religions as well that will appeal to those who like those sorts of things too. Possessing ancient tomes, being excommunicated from your faith, and other good storytelling ideas.

    In conclusion, this is an excellent albeit optional supplement to get. Onyx Path Publishing is doing a lot of the heavy lifting in continuing to crank out supplements for Fifth Edition when other publishers are failing to meet demand. It's also helping set the tone for the line with things like Chicago by Night and Cults of the Blood Gods showing us how "5th Edition in action" works. Really, the books pick up a lot from where Beckett's Jyhad Diary left off and define the setting even more than the official "main" supplements do for me. The painted artwork is also superior to the photograph of the main book, IMHO, too. You'll be able to play without this book but I feel your gameworld will be enriched by it if you get it. 


Saturday, April 3, 2021

Another 25 Recommended Indie Fantasy and Sci-Fi

Gratuitous pic of my 1st book.

Listicles are one of those things that are inescapable on the net and that's because they're awesome, at least some of the time. However, no more useful a listicle is the collections of books that you want to share because you enjoyed reading them. There's a billion books out there and if you tried reading them one after the other, you'd die before you ever got through a percent of them. So, it falls to people like the noble book reviewer to try and sort them to provide others with what you might actually like.

I did a "25 Recommended Indie Fantasy and Sci-Fi" list before this one and it remains one of my most popular posts. There's some overlap in authors between the two but not in series because if you've recommended a series once there's no point in doing it again. You either like it or you don't. These books are all things that have helped me write my own United States of Monsters and Supervilllainy Saga books. Whenever I hit writers block, I just sit down to read them to remind me how much I love writing.

Why indie? Because, well, I like indie and the road less traveled.  I hope you enjoy this collection of stories and check some of them out. They all deserve a second look.

25. The Blighted City (The Fractured Tapestry #1) by Scott Kaelen

The Blighted City is an interesting fantasy novel that I quite enjoyed. A group of adventurers go to an abandoned city looking for treasure like in so many D&D campaigns but what they find is a supernatural plague as well as curse. Basically, it's a series which could best be described as The Last of Us, The Shadow over Innsmouth, meets your typical Dungeons and Dragons dragon crawl. It's a classic fantasy premise played for horror and works very well.

24. Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm A Supervillain (Please Don't Tell My Parents #1) by Richard Roberts

I frigging love this series and it is one of the rare few that I put above my Supervillainy Saga for pure fun (because I'm an arrogant jerk). A group of junior high kids in a superhero-filled world decide to fight crime only to get themselves labeled as supervillains. Finding it hilarious, they proceed to go on a crime spree that more resembles mischief than mayhem. It's just a joy to read from beginning to end.

23. The Second Star by Alma Alexander

Earth's first faster-than-light vessel was missing and presumed lost for centuries. It has since been recovered and six of its crew are still alive, the same age as when they disappeared. It would be a cause for celebration if not for the fact that they're all suffering from Disassociative Identity Disorder. It's a surprisingly serious handling of the subject and deals with the question of whether something "else" had happened to them out there. It's thinking scifi and I really enjoyed finding out the truth of events.

22. War of the God Queen (Age of Monsters #1) by David Hambling

Call of Cthulhu meets A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court is an odd combination. However, it's one that I think works. I've been a big fan of David Hambling's work for a long time and especially love his Harry Stubbs 1920s occult investigative series. Set in the same "world", it is about a young woman transported to a primeval Howardian time where monsters are amuck and she is forced to try to unite the local nomads against the dreaded serpent men. Oddly, less pulpy than it might be since she's an architect and nerd rather than superwoman.

21. Black Heart Stone (The Obsidian Path #1) by Michael R. Fletcher

An unconventional fantasy novel about an immortal warrior who slowly regains the memories of the man he used to be and starts to wish he hadn't. It reminds very strongly of Planescape: Torment and that is very high praise. I love everything Michael R. Fletcher has written and think he deserves a much bigger audience among both dark fantasy as well as grimdark fans. Seriously, I've never read a single book of his that I haven't liked.

20. Never Die (The Mortal Techniques #1) by Rob J. Hayes

A wuxia-themed fantasy about a child who has the power to raise the dead and has begun doing so in order to bring about the overthrow of an evil Emperor. Unfortunately, the collection of warriors they assemble are a terrible band of misfits that are disinclined to help in his quest. Oh and there's also the fact they have to die first. I really enjoyed this story and it reminded me a lot of Jade Empire's main quest. Rob J. Hayes has been a favorite of mine since the Ties that Bind trilogy and this is one of his best works.

19. Star Quest: The Journey Begins (Star Quest #1) by Patricia Macomber 

Sometimes you just want a story about Tony Stark/Elon Musk and some other super-genius heroes journeying into space to peacefully explore Star Trek-style. Its a kind of blatant pastiche but that doesn't make it bad and it's fun just to read uncomplicated heroics.

18. The Beautiful Ones (The Beautiful Ones #1) by Kody Boye

What if The Hunger Games was a beauty pageant but kept the social commentary? Odd premise, I know, but in the future the world is divided into the haves and have-nots in the Deep South. A eugenicist cult is the haves and is in a constant state of war with its neighbors. The only way to get out of a life of enslavement and uncertainty is to be beautiful enough that your genes are judged good enough to be added to the elite. Our heroine wins the contest, to the delight of her family, but finds the life of vapid parasitism unsatisfying. Also, their society exists on the edge of collapse despite its luxuries too.

17. Ashes of Onyx by Seth Skorkowsky

I am a huge fan of H.P. Lovecraft's Dream Cycle, which is a bit more fantasy than horror as compared to his normal stuff. I am also a big fan of Seth Skokowsky's Youtube channel where he reviews Call of Cthulhu and Traveller games. This is a story about a drug-addicted witch who needs to go to Carcosa and I really enjoyed it. I think fans of darker urban fantasy will appreciate it.

16. Poor Man's Fight (Poor Man's Fight #1) by Elliot Kay

Merging space piracy, space marines, and student loan debt! Yes, the future being capitalistic is a safe bet but it's absolute hell on those who can't afford a proper education. I really enjoyed this book because it has the social commentary as part of the world-building without ever forgetting that this is a epic space adventure either. I had lots of fun with this one.

15. The Skald's Black Verse (The Dreadbound Ode #1) by Jordan Loyal Short

A Warhammer-esque world where an ancient decaying spacefaring civilization has enslaved a planet of humans that are not much more advanced than the Medieval Vikings. Oh and there's magic too. Unfortunately, the planet is about to be destroyed by a comet and the empire isn't inclined to evacuate their own troops let alone the population. I really enjoyed this piece of dark fantasy (space opera?) and strongly recommend it.

14. Quincy Harker, Demon Hunter Omnibus vol. 1 by John G. Hartness

I'm a big fan of John G. Hartness' Bubba the Monster Hunter series, which is kind of like Supernatural except with even more redneckery. I can say that, I'm from Kentucky. Quincy Harker is the better series, though, and hilarious. Dracula's "nephew" is an exorcist that fights the forces of Hell while being decidedly irritated about it. Snarky urban fantasy is hardly rare but rarely done as well as this. It's also got a HUGE backlog with dozens of novellas assembled into multiple collections.

13. Shroud of Darkness (Brooklyn Shadows #1) by Brock Deskins

Sometimes you just want your vampires to be scumbags. Leo Malone isn't as bad as some of the nosferatu in fiction but he's a private investigator/occasional hitman and jerkass that doesn't spare much effort toward the moral side of undeath in New York City. Brock Deskins made an enjoyable world that I had a lot of fun exploring in this trilogy.

12. Shadows of Fairie by Martin Owton

One of the rare gems I've found among indie fantasy was Martin Owton's Exile, which was a low stakes fantasy story about a knight errant being hired to rescue a kidnapped Earl. Shadows of Fairie is one of his other rare number of books with a changeling possessed of psychic powers in the modern era. Trying to use his power of psychometry to solve murders, it leads him to a kidnapping scheme involving the Fair Folk. I just really liked this one and also note it's refreshingly free of snark or humor. Its protagonist is terrifed of his situations and treats them with the utmost seriousness.

11. Brutal by James Alderdice

A wandering swordsman heads to a town that is divided between two feuding wizards, a decadent Duke, and his duplicitous wife. It's very much based on A Fistful of Dollars combined with Conan the Barbarian. I very much enjoy James Alderdice's epic pulpy fiction and think he's a throwback to when the genre was more mighty thews than epic sorcery. All of his books are big swinging swords and fun.

10. The Statement of Andrew Doran (Andrew Doran #1) by Matthew Davenport

I am a big fan of The Trials of Obed Marsh, which I feel is Matthew Davenport's best novel. I enjoy most of his work but I think I had the most fun with the Andrew Doran series. It is an homage to Indiana Jones and basically just consists of murdering Nazis allied with the Great Old Ones. If that intrigues you then that's what you'll find within. Andrew Doran is kind of a selfish jerkass but it doesn't matter as long he's slaughtering the Reich and Deep Ones.

9. Deicide (Agents of Mortal #1) by MK Gibson

The supernatural has become revealed to the world with all the gods, fairies, and magicians all being real. Well in what is probably distressingly realistic, the government herds them all to Alaska and forbids them from ever leaving. This (in)human rights violation isn't the focus of the series, though. Instead, it is more like Brooklyn 99 with gods. The first book deals with someone having murdered Hermes with a drug overdose and the human agents trying to deal with it.

8. Heart of a Dragon (The Dechance Chronicles #1) by David Niall Wilson

The majority of urban fantasy novels that I read are very snarky and semi-serious at best. The Dechance Chronicles tend to be on the more serious side with a protagonist very similar to Stephen Strange. This book deals with two street gangs turning to folk religion to fight one another and its up the city's resident archmage to sort it out. The rest of the series has a more complicated Edgar Allan Poe-influenced mythology.

7. The Tale of the Vampire Bride (The Vampire Bride Dark Rebirth series) by Rhiannon Frater

The Tale of the Vampire Bride is the story of one of Dracula's brides. No kidding, I know. However, I think it's Rhiannon Frater's best work with the story of a young woman lured to the Count's castle, changed against her will, and forced to deal with being his prisoner for the centuries after. Gothic and moody from beginning to end.

6. Get Bent! (The Hybrid of High Moon #1) by Rick Gualtieri

I am very fond of the Tome of Bill series by Rick Gualtieri. They're an irreverent, crude, and hilarious series about a Big Bang Theory-esque sexist nerd turned into a vampire. Get Bent! is a somewhat more female-friendly series about a sarcastic teenage girl who is a hybrid of a witch with a werewolf. Something forbidden in both cultures. She reminds me a bit of my creation, Jane Doe, in fact. In any case, I love the trilogy and I feel its undervalued.

5. The Company of Death (The Immortal Journey #1) by Elisa Hansen

I absolutely love the Youtube channel "Vampire Reviews" by Elisa Hansen a.k.a the Maven of the Eventide. Sort of a PG Elvira, she's a great media personality that exclusively reviews vampire media. So I was a bit surprised that she decided to do a zombie novel. Specifically a zombie novel with Death (ala Pratchett) as a side character. It is a profoundly weird, fun, and entertaining novel.

4. The Dragon Mage (Rivenworld #1) by M.L. Spencer

I am a huge fan of M.L. Spencer's Rhenwars Saga. It is a work that managed to be grim and dark without being overloaded with torture as well as shock value. The Dragon Mage is a more PG-13 throwback to 80s fantasy that I read in my Waldenbooks years. Speaking as someone neuroatypical, I also appreciated that the protagonist is autistic even if they don't use that word. It's about a young boy, dragons, and an evil empire. Stuff that never goes out of style.

3. Into the Dark (Alexis Carew #1) by J.A. Sutherland

Steampunk space opera! Yes, get your void sails up and other rigging because there are pirates threatening Her Majesty's Navy! I really enjoy this series of novels because they're just so offbeat and fun. Fans of Honor Harrington will like them as they have many similarities but they avoid a lot of the bloat from later Weber novels. Alexis starts as a Midshipwoman in this story and we get to see her slow but inevitable rise to power. 

2. Forging Hephaestus (Villain's Code #1) by Drew Hayes

I am a huge literary superhero fan. I am always scouring Amazon for new superhero stories and have an entire library of the good, the bad, and the capey. I freely admit Drew Hayes is much better at superhero storytelling than me and think the Villains Code books are even better than his Super Powereds series. They're about a group of villains who have mostly retired due to their adoption of a code of conduct that makes the heroes less inclined to fight them as well as making vast amounts of money in their normal professions. It's also a book about how this is a peace destined to fail.

1. Of Honey and Wildfires by Sarah Chorn

Finally, no. #1 on this list is the steampunk adventure set in a fantasy American frontier. Actually, it feels more like the mining boom towns in Appalachia but its still pretty cool either way. In this world, shine is the most important thing you can get. Its in food, powers machines, and is mildly addictive. Whoever controls shine controls the economy and the miners live their lives in the service of the Shine Mining Company. Our protagonists are intimately tied to its production. Sarah Chorn's best work and strong LGBT representation. Very good character study over combat and special effects.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

The Horror of Supervillainy is available on Kindle, A Nightmare on Elk Street is available for pre-order!

Hey folks, 

 I'm pleased to say that I have more news to share about my release schedule. As of today, The Horror of Supervillainy is now available in Kindle, Audible, and paperback form! Gary and a talking raven take on Dracula, a crooked alien small-town sheriff, a summer camp of badass young mutants, and a friend turned foe! 

I'm very fond of the seventh volume of the Supervillainy Saga and am so glad to have it out after over a year absence due to covid-19 plus other issues happening at the time. Gary's adventures continue to be laugh out loud funny to me and I hope my audience as well.

Available here!

In additional good news, I'm pleased to say A NIGHTMARE ON ELK STREET (The Bright Falls Mysteries #3) is available for pre-order and will be releasing on April 27th! Jane Doe is hired by Lucien Lyons to guard his latest money laundering scheme: B-horror movies! Unfortunately, someone wants to shut the production down and is willing to kill to make it happen!

Enjoy the most final Bright Falls Mystery! Can Jane discover the final secret of her hometown and who is trying to destroy her family!

Available here

Friday, March 26, 2021

Werewolf: The Apocalypse: Earthblood review

     WEREWOLF THE APOCALYSPE: EARTHBLOOD is a AA video game developed by Cyanide studios and published by Nacon. I mostly know them from 2018's CALL OF CTHULHU game that started very strong and then became really terrible. Still, I am a huge World of Darkness fan and am very happy to support the franchise. Still, I kept my expectations measured about the game and what it was good. So, is it any good?

    Eh, it's so so. I'm not going to lie that this game feels like it's a PS2 game let alone PS4 at times and it has a lot of repetitive gameplay as well as reused environments. Still, there's some good elements to it and might be worth a purchase once the price has gone down from its initial cost. If that sounds like a three star review versus something that is either very good or very bad. Well, you would be right.

The combat is okay.

    The premise of the game is you are a Fiana Garou named Cahal who is exiled from his caern after killing another werewolf during a frenzy. Returning after several years, he discovers that his daughter has disowned him and the caern is now home to a human environmental resistance group. The werewolves and humans are fighting against Endron Oil that is based on a combination of Enron and Exxon Oil. 

    Endron is actually more like Woflram and Hart than your typical evil corporation since it is devoted to destroying the environment for their evil spiritual masters. This is all complicated stuff from the tabletop roleplaying game and doesn't really get much explanation. Despite this, it's not really a hard concept to get. "Viking-like Fantasy Werewolves vs. Evil Corporate Soldiers! Save the Earth from the polluting evil doers and their mercenaries!"

    Cahal basically spends most of the game wandering around Endron facilities, sneaking past various group of guards and slaughtering large groups of mooks in battle arenas. It somewhat undermines the realism, as much as realism can be said to apply to the game, that literally hundreds of people can be killed by our protagonists in the "real world" without it being a national news story.

Enemy variety is underwhelming.
    I understand the game was limited by its budget but I think a better way to handle it would have had Cahal fighting Bane spirits like Scraglings or Formori rather than the endless parade of human mercenaries. Not just because it would have made the game more memorable but also because the Delerium doesn't appear to be a thing here. You occassionally fight the Power Loader from Alien and mooks empowered by the "biofuel" but the enemy variety is low.

    It's also interesting to note just how big of a role that stealth plays in the game. Werewolves are not particularly associated with stealth in my tabletop games, so it's interesting to see Cahal sneaking around guards and turning off security cameras for a large chunk of the game. It's fine, sort of discount Metal Gear Solid, but it does feel a little weird. There's no Gifts present in the game either, which I understand, but could have helped liven up the story a bit.

    The graphics are serviceable but, again, feel a bit dated. I think a more stylized version of the characters would have benefited. I can't help but think of HEART OF THE FOREST which took the exact opposite take with the game, de-emphaizing the violence. The latter is a visual novel but shows the benefit of focusing on the character and artistry of the setting versus the bloodshed.

I like how you can switch between each form.
    The ending also feels like it is incomplete. Given all the events that happen to Cahal, I think a more definitive ending to the character would have been better. I won't spoil but the game leaves things on a cliffhanger with nothing really resolved. I don't foresee a sequel being likely and the experience is soured as a result. There's a lot of potential good character development with Cahal and his daughter even if I feel like it's a little too traditional to go, "my wife was killed and now I am mad."

    In conclusion, this is definitely a decent game but I think they could have aimed a bit higher or wackier. If they weren't going to be able to do as much with the environments and characters, then they might have just set the entire thing inside an Endron facility and made it, "Escape from Endron" rather than try to break it up. Something more like Arkham Asylum than trying to do a pseudo-open world where Endron's mine is literally 200 feet away from the heart of the caern. 


Friday, March 19, 2021

Justice League: Snyder Cut review

    JUSTICE LEAGUE: THE SNYDER CUT is something that I wasn't initially looking forward to. While I'd liked MAN OF STEEL and WONDER WOMAN, I pretty much had written off the DC Cinematic Universe as a train wreck. I liked the BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE director's cut as that showed that there was a coherent, if not necessarily good, movie within. I figured that the Snyder Cut would be the same with the movie being more understandable but not significantly different. Even the idea of adding two more hours and 70 million dollars to tweak the film didn't make me think I'd love it.

    Much to my surprise, I did. If you came here for some Snyder bashing them I suggest you look elsewhere because this is going to be a largely positive review. I'm going to say this is my favorite of Zack Snyder's films and probably the best of the DC Cinematic Universe. It has its flaws and I think this definitely should have been two movies rather than the unholy four hour combination that it is. However, it gets right what the previous movie didn't: that the focus should be on the characters rather than the CGI.

    I think this movie pretty much is the antidote of what I thought was the biggest flaw of the Avengers movie that was its over-focus on the spectacle over character development. The Justice League felt like a poor man's The Avengers because that's what Joss Whedon was trying to achieve. This feels much more like a Zack Snyder movie and while that's a double edged sword (there is a massive amount of slow motion in this film), it's a very good Zack Sndyer movie. It also gives us a sense of what he was actually building to across three movies.

    The premise of the film is still roughly the same but it's hard to put into words how utterly different the film is on nearly every conceivable level despite this. Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds) is coming to Earth to recover the three Mother Boxes, use the Mother Boxes to turn the world into a mirror of Apokolips, and open a gate for his master to exit through. Batman (Ben Affleck) is trying to assemble a Justice League in the wake of Superman's death and when that doesn't work, seek a means to restore Clark Kent/Kal-El (Henry Cavill) to life.  

    The first big change is that there's a lot more Fourth World mythology incorporated into the movie. Steppenwolf is more coherently established as a henchman of Darkseid, Desaad is incorporated, and we get the biggest D of Apokolips added as well. Darkseid replaces Steppenwolf as the guy who fought the ancient humans, Atlanteans, Green Lantern, and Themyscirans. This certainly helps establish the character well and there's a few homages to Peter Jackson's prologue defeat of Sauron. 

    The next big benefit is the fact that Cyborg (Ray Fisher) has his story restored. Cyborg was almost an non-entity in the original movie, perhaps because Joss didn't like the character or other reasons. Either way, Cyborg is moved from being a nonentity to having a well-developed character arc as well as central role in defeating the Big Bad. It's a crying shame that so much of the original story arc was removed for the original cut.

    There's also a great number of character building moments that were restored. Moments that helped establish the characters of the Flash (Ezra Miller) and Aquaman (Jason Momoa). A lot of the humor and cheap laugh scenes (like Aquaman and the lasso of truth) are gone but they're not really missed. There's a couple of tonally dissonant moments where Diana (Gal Gadot) splatters a guy into an exploding wall before having a touching heart-to-heart with a little girl about being anyone who she wanted to be. But there's also moments where the Flash rescues Iris West from a car accident while stealing some hot dogs to feed some hungry puppies.

    Joe Morton's Silas Stone is the unsung hero of the movie, providing a believable and powerful portrait of a grieving father who has unwittingly helped contribute to the end of the world. He failed his son before his transformation and all of his attempts to reach out are met with failure. I also have to say there's actually a scene where Jared Leto plays the Joker and it doesn't suck. Even the makeup is right on him.

    The CGI and special effects are much improved from the original cut. There's no more infamous Henry Cavill mustache effect and things look pretty seamless. The action is good but that kind of goes without saying in modern superhero movies. I think Ben Affleck's Batsuit looks kind of ridiculous but that's a small complaint overall. Really, I'm here for tender moments between Lois Lane and Martha. 

    There's a few moments in the movie that are unnecessary and that could have been trimmed. As much as I liked the surprise appearance of the Martian Manhunter, his presence causes you to wonder why he wasn't there with the world at stake. I also really wanted to see more of Joe Manganiello's Deathstroke. If they were filming new scenes then they could have at least thrown in a fight scene between him and Batman. Maybe it's just that I know we're never getting the Batman movie with him versus Batfleck.

    In conclusion, is this a good movie? Oh yes. So much so that I would like to see the rest of the Snyderverse. I want to see more Batfleck, the Knightmare future, and follow up on the Darkseid plot. I even like the small hints of Bruce and Diana even though the latter is far less fetishized this time around. It's effectively like watching two movies instead of one but I don't think of that as a bad thing.