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Today and tomorrow are big days here at the Grey Crypt, for reasons that probably don’t need explaining here. While the pandemic makes the usual Halloween festivities prohibitive, there’s still stuff going on and not even 2020 can shake the Halloween spirit out of these bones entirely.

For those who may not be aware, today is my birthday, and if you feel like getting yourself a present to mark the occasion, it seems like a good time to remind you that (for a very limited time) both of my nonfiction books Monsters from the Vault and its sequel Revenge of Monsters from the Vault are on sale for cheap via Kindle. Plus, since electronic delivery is instantaneous, you can use ’em for reference if you need help planning your Halloween viewing.

Last night, I watched the dubious seasonal “classic” Hack-O-Lantern for the first time, live-tweeted it at the hashtag #HPCGoesDark, and then Tyler Unsell and I did an off-the-cuff live episode of the Horror Pod Class on it, which mostly amounted to us talking about everything from the Satanic Panic to bathrobe etiquette.

If you followed along live, thanks for joining us! If not, the episode will be up on YouTube and all the usual podcasting places in the near future. In the meantime, I was also a guest for a very special Halloween episode of the Haunted Hangover podcast, so check that out.

Plus, today marks the launch of Marta Oliehoek’s long-in-progress Horror in the Eye of the Beholder, which combines a series of colored pencil portraits of the eyes of horror writers (including yours truly) with in-depth interviews with same about horror practice, film, literature, and much more.

I’ll be doing a lot of festive stuff around the house this year – I already carved a pumpkin – and there’ll be some other announcements to celebrate the holiday, but for the most part I won’t be on social media a lot until after All Hallows.

(Which, incidentally, is going to be a full moon for what I hear is the first time in 76 years. So, I dunno, go worship the devil or something. Turn yourself into a werewolf. Whatever it is you do.)

If you’re having trouble getting into the spirit, though, I have a couple of recommendations. The Screenland Armour, my kickass local movie theatre that just got named the Best Theatre in KC by The Pitch, is struggling during the pandemic, but they have nonetheless put on some amazing, socially distanced October programming, including a special online Tricks and Treats edition of Panic Fest that’s happening all weekend long. The eagle eyed might even catch a glimpse of yours truly in a segment.

If that’s not your thing, Unwinnable is doing their annual Halloween subscription drive, including their Hallowstream event, where members of the Unwinnable crew do everything from a spoopy live-reading of The Importance of Being Dracula – like The Importance of Being Earnest, but with Draculas – to live games of Call of Cthulhu and a late-night viewing of bonkers flick The Boneyard (that’s the one with the zombie poodle), to name just a few.

Go, watch, subscribe. It helps them keep paying me to do things like writing about board games I haven’t played, movies that I have watched, and my recent “Dungeons & Dollhouses” article. Plus, Unwinnable is just an awesome publication put together by great folks, and the Hallowstream event should be a blast, even if I won’t be in attendance.

It’s hard to believe that it’s August 2nd already, as I write this. The pandemic – and with it the rest of the garbage fire that is 2020 – has been … having an effect on my overall life and output, to be sure, and rarely an altogether positive one. (When I told my therapist – via a Zoom call, of course – that I had spent a few days freaking out the prior week, she was like, “Only a few days?! Bravo!”)

As someone who already worked from home, I am far from the hardest hit by this slow-motion apocalypse, but it’s also impossible to be an even remotely empathetic human being and not feel the miasma of strain that currently grips the world.

I am proud and envious of the folks who have turned this time toward productive ends by writing their novel, carving through their to-be-read pile, or even just watching a lot more movies; even while my own TBR pile gathers an ever-deepening layer of dust and the very notion of putting words on the page carries a kind of low-key existential dread.

To my own surprise, I haven’t even watched that many movies during the lockdown. In fact, June was the lightest month since I started keeping score several years ago, with only ten movies watched. Part of that can be chalked up to the (hopefully temporary) death of movie theaters and breakdowns in the supply chain for new review titles, but a part of it is just how I’m coping with [gestures at everything].

July picked up a bit, thanks, in no small part, to Arrow Video’s Shinya Tsukamoto collection, my review of which should be dropping any day now. At ten movies all by itself, it basically guaranteed that I was going to at least eclipse June’s paltry sum.

I’ve still been writing, of course, just not a lot of fiction. My last post was partly about my new gaming column for Unwinnable, and I also wrote about getting into Dungeons & Dragons during the plague times for our local dirtbag/cool kid newspaper The Pitch. (Observant readers may recognize a thinly-veiled version of The Pitch as The Current in my story “The Red Church.”)

This is probably my first byline in an actual print newspaper since college. Like most writers my age, I entertained some fantasies about one day being a journalist, mostly when I was in high school and later a bit in college. Even by the time I was in college, though, the future of print newspapers was already pretty close to utter collapse, so I kinda wrote off the notion of that ever coming to pass. Every once in a while, we get a nice surprise, instead of just a box full of the plague.

As you may be able to gather from that, I’ve been spending a lot of the pandemic getting really into games that I mostly can’t play right now. In addition to D&D, I finally took the plunge on Descent: Journeys in the Dark, a game I’ve been wanting to try for years, just in time for it to probably go out of print, it looks like? (Speaking of, if anyone happens to have the Stewards of the Secret expansion for it, I would love to take that off your hands.)

So far, for a game that I basically haven’t played, I’ve really been enjoying my time looking at and thinking about playing Descent, anyway. I guess there are worse ways of coping…

Apparently, I am a writer of nonfiction these days.

That’s not completely fair. I’ve had new stories in The Weird Fiction Review and The Willows already this year, and It Came from the Multiplex is coming soon, not to mention my story “The All-Night Horror Show,” which went live at The Dark and got a “recommended” from Paula Guran in Locus. I’ve got new stories coming out in Ben Thomas’ OmniPark anthology and some other places I can’t yet name.

But I also can’t deny that I’ve been publishing a lot more nonfiction of late. Besides my usual movie reviews – which, for various reasons, have actually dried up a bit due to the pandemic, but there are more in the wings – I’ve also got a column in Michael Kelly’s forthcoming digest-sized Weird Horror mag, the first installment of which is about those Crestwood House monster books.

And that’s not even my only new column! Those regular readers of this here blog may remember a while back my mentioning a new monthly column that I had coming out over at Unwinnable called “I Played It, Like, Twice,” in which I discussed the joys and sorrows of really wanting to be into board games, but hardly ever playing them.

As it did with most everything else in the entire damn world, the pandemic changed plans for that column somewhat, but I’ve still been writing it, and given that the announcement was a few months ago, I’ve written a few of them!

The first installment discussed playing Horrified during the pandemic, while later installments covered the difficulties I ran into with the rules for the otherwise-admirable Vast: The Mysterious Manor and the pleasures and perils of Rum & Bones, a pirate-themed game of shoving piles of minis around.

Though playing board games is necessarily a different proposition in this brave (?) new world we find ourselves in, I’m still plowing ahead with the column and also I’ve recently gotten really into Descent, in spite of not having yet played it even once, so expect some more about that in the future …

I recently got super into 5e D&D. Because, if I’m going to get really into a socially-focused role playing game, I’m going to pick the middle of a pandemic, when I can’t be around other people, to do it. (And no, I haven’t yet tried Roll20 or its ilk, though I’m sure it’s on the horizon at this point.)

I have played, to some greater or lesser extent, every version of D&D since at least 2nd edition, but that doesn’t mean I liked most of them. I think 3.5 is probably the one I played the most, and I hated it, which is why I never got into Pathfinder, in spite of all the fun art by Wayne Reynolds that graces their covers, which have always had the energy that I feel like a D&D encounter needs.

(Please note, I don’t mean to diss 3.5 or Pathfinder. I know a lot of people love them. 3.5 was just very much not my particular cup of tea.)

In some ways, I picked a good time. I’m here just in time for Wizards of the Coast (the folks who make D&D) to finally catch up with how I (and every other GM I’ve ever played with) have always run games since forever, by getting rid of “evil” races, among other changes.

Here’s the thing that plenty of people who have thought and read and written way more about this topic than me have already talked about at great length: D&D has some problems that are baked into it from its very core.

Those of us who play the game and aren’t horrid bigots tend to ignore them or create homebrew workarounds or just not play the game that way, but the core ideas of D&D are based in colonialism and the “othering” of different peoples, and it’s hard to unring that bell. But it’s good that they’re trying.

Something I’ve seen Pathfinder doing in recent editions is to refer to player character options as “ancestries” rather than “races,” which I like. The word “race” is so fraught, and it’s so easy for things to fall into gross stereotypes in games like this anyway, that the way “race” has been deployed in D&D to, say, give bonuses or penalties to certain traits like Intelligence, leaves a bad taste in the mouth. And that’s not even getting into the idea of having whole races that are “evil.”

Word is that D&D is looking to make some changes to how they do ability score increases at character creation, which is probably not the worst idea. But it’s really a band-aid on the bigger problem of how ideas of “race” are often used in this kind of fantasy world-building, and have been since Tolkien, at least.

I’m not predominantly a fantasy writer, and though I’ve worked in tabletop gaming a bit, I’m far from an expert in the field. As I said before, lots of people much smarter than me have written extensively about this, and I recommend that you go read some of them, if you’re interested.

None of this is meant to denigrate D&D, a game that I’ve been trying to love for most of my life, and finally managed with 5e, its best incarnation yet. The way I ultimately got into 5e is actually kind of a funny story…

I was approached about doing some work for a possible product that would use 5e’s system (via the Open Gaming License), but I had, at that time, basically never played 5e. So I started doing some research, and found that I really enjoyed the new system.

(Whether that side project will ever come to pass or not it’s too early days to tell, and COVID-19 has disrupted, y’know, everything.)

As I was digging into the system and setting, the protests around the murder of George Floyd were happening all over the country, and so it felt like high time that the makers of D&D finally stepped up to try to address some of the colonialism and baked-in racism of the game.

None of this is really going anywhere. I’m just writing to say that, hey, I finally found a version of D&D I like, and that I’m glad to see probably the world’s biggest tabletop gaming platform at least trying to address some problems that have needed addressing for a long time now.

So, it’s been a minute. (Approximately 28,800 of them, actually.) What have I been doing with myself during quarantine? Not what I would have expected, necessarily.

For example, unlike a great many people, I haven’t been watching a lot more movies or television, though, like, I gather, a great many other people, I also haven’t been reading any more books than I was before, maybe less.

Mostly, I’ve been working, and while that’s occasionally been on fiction, more often it’s been on, more or less, the same kind of freelance stuff that I was doing before the pandemic. I’ve also increased the frequency of my appearances on the Horror Pod Class, where we’ve been doing weekly episodes due to the lockdown.

Recent episodes have included talking with author Max Brooks about bigfoots and the reassuring quality of Peter Graves, chatting with Pitch editor and semi-professional podcast haver Brock Wilbur about how, where we’re going, we won’t need eyes to see, and just our usual bullshit about cursed films.

None of that new fiction stuff is in any fit state for public consumption just yet, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some news on that front, too. My story “Screen Haunt” will be showing up in mailboxes and bookstores (if there are still such things) later this year in It Came from the Multiplex, a fun-looking antho from Hex Publishers themed around ’80s horror. My contributor’s copy came the other day, and the book looks fantastic, even if I haven’t had a chance to read it yet.

Speaking of reading, I somehow managed to swallow down my anxiety enough to perform the narration of my story “Dream House” for Pseudopod recently. (Listen to the story and you’ll hear why.) You have my apologies for the narration, but the story has always been a favorite, and it brings back good memories.

The lockdown means that I haven’t been out to the theater in a while, and there’s been a commensurate slowdown in my reviews of other titles, as well. But I haven’t been idle! Earlier this month, I kicked off the first in a new recurring column that I’ll be writing at Unwinnable in which I talk about the eternal allure of board games … especially those that we pretty much never play.

The first installment talks about playing Horrified in the midst of a global pandemic, which has naturally limited my playing options. I have plans for future installments that will hopefully include, y’know, playing them with actual other people. We’ll see.

On a similar note, I’ve also been digging into 5e D&D for the first time in a while and … enjoying it a lot more than I would have expected. While the lockdown has put certain necessary constraints on my actual playing options, I’ve really been enjoying what we have done, and just paging through the books and acquainting myself with setting and rules. I’m surprised, but happy to be so.

Oh, and I did that Penguin Classics cover generator thing that was going around for a minute there with my books, too. So that’s fun.