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I grew up with Warhammer. While I was too poor to play, I was into the game, its world and its army books, its setting fluff and maps and stupid little models, from very early days. Before I had ever read The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings, before I had ever rolled a die in D&D, I had bought my first White Dwarf. (It was this one, by the way.)

So I have an affection for Games Workshop’s products that goes back a long way, and their take on what a bog standard fantasy setting looked like helped to shape my expectations of same. Which means that I am likely to give them a pass in places where they may not deserve one. At the same time, something that initially pulled me into Warhammer was that, even as a kid, I saw the satire in it.

This was not a story about Good versus Evil, even if the Empire or the Imperium or whoever you were talking to at the moment might want you to think it was. Sure, Chaos might be evil, but the alternative was little (maybe no) better, and at least Chaos wasn’t a bunch of hypocrites.

It was deployed with varying degrees of nuance and skill, but always there was something tongue in cheek about the setting, whether that setting was the Old World of Warhammer Fantasy Battles or the grim darkness of the far future. You could spot it in sometimes unlikely places, like the company’s genuine affection for the mindlessly destructive orks or orcs or orruks or whatever.

The “good guys” were mostly fascists, and they spent human life like it was going out of style. They portrayed this as a grim necessity, but the game knew better, and let you in on the joke in various little ways. It was (perhaps unsurprisingly) satire in the Verhoeven or Judge Dredd vein – all too easy to misapply and turn into lionization.

As I’ve gotten back into the gaming sphere in recent years, I’ve seen (and occasionally fielded) a lot of questions about whether or not this was still true. This blog post, which is actually about a game called Kriegsmesser and only tangentially about Warhammer at all, makes a lot of those concerns explicit: over the years, much of the satire has seemingly bled away, replaced by an inadvertent celebration of fascism that is, unfortunately, probably too often embraced by fans as a good thing, actually.

To some extent, this is maybe inevitable. It’s hard to sustain satire when you’re building a massive brand across dozens of games, numerous video games, novels, toy lines, you name it. There’s a reason why punk rock was always afraid of selling out, and it isn’t just that it’s hard to be anti-corporate when you’re a corporation. Satire works well in small, bitter pills. Spread it too thin, and the sting dissipates, to become what it was satirizing in the first place. (See also: RoboCop becoming a toy line, a cartoon series, etc.)

So, is modern Warhammer pro-fascist? I wouldn’t go that far. The satire is still alive, if not necessarily alive and well.

The Imperium is still a bureaucratic nightmare that wipes out entire worlds due to clerical errors, but the barbs which were once the beating heart of Warhammer’s various settings now all too often wither on the vine. And while Age of Sigmar may lean hard into its Moorcockian underpinnings, the ambiguity of those stories is often obscured, when it’s not lacking altogether.

I don’t know the people behind Games Workshop in its modern incarnation, any more than I did the ones behind its earliest ones, but I don’t get the impression that any of this is intentional, or a sop to the worst impulses of their fanbase. Instead, I feel like it is the… if not inevitable, then at least most likely casualty of their own success.

To paraphrase the Green Goblin, you either die a satire, or you live long enough to see yourself become the very thing you were a satire of.

For various reasons, I’ve had dungeons (and possibly also, to a lesser extent, dragons) on my mind of late, which I’ve already posted a bit about on here. While I’m known today as a horror writer, to those who know of me at all, I grew up with sword and sorcery every bit as much as I did with horror, and especially sword and sorcery as filtered through D&D, Warhammer, and various adjacent games – not to mention countless JRPGs played on the Nintendo, Sega Genesis, Playstation, and so on.

Those who have been following my aesthetic thread on Twitter or my board game coverage at Unwinnable, or, indeed, just following along around these parts, may not find any of this surprising, especially since, over on Twitter, I posted some art from some particularly formative JRPGs such as the various Shining Force games.

Indeed, this may also not be news to anyone who follows my writing closely, as, even before I started working on the new, 5e-compatible Iron Kingdoms: Requiem books, I had already done a considerable amount of work for Privateer Press over the years on their Warmachine and Hordes games, as well as their previous Iron Kingdoms RPG. In fact, my first ever novel – and, until recently, the only one I had ever published, though my occult cyberpunk (another perhaps unlikely subgenre) novel is currently being serialized on the Broken Eye Books Patreon – was a fantasy tome written for Privateer Press, set in their Warmachine universe.

Which is all a long-winded way of saying that, while you won’t find much “gothic fantasy” in the Ravenloft vein in a lot of my work, my fascination with pulp horror and pulp fantasy has always existed side-by-side and intertwined, even while I tend to like my fantasy brighter even as I like my horror fun – not that there aren’t exceptions, after all, as Castlevania (the video games, not the Netflix cartoon) remains one of my favorite things ever.

Recently, for various reasons, I’ve been crossing the wires a little more often, resulting in things like my column in the latest issue of Weird Horror from Undertow Publications, in which I discuss a few of my favorite recurring themes, such as dungeon crawls, hollow earths, and, of course, the monsters that call both home.

Dedicated readers will probably also remember that I wrote a few stories in what I called a “story cycle” dealing with the Hollow Earth and other things, one of which was “No Exit,” which made it into the Best Horror of the Year. I’m not done with that cycle just yet, though COVID and other things have delayed the planned timeline a bit. There’s still more stories coming, though, and I have plans. Just you wait.

In the meantime, I’ve been playing games more, sometimes solo and sometimes just with one other person (thanks again, COVID) but as vaccinations have all happened ’round these parts, we can start getting together in groups more, playing actual D&D and the like. All this, along with other factors, including that aforementioned board game coverage at Unwinnable, has led me to a few conclusions about the dungeon crawl and my relationship to it.

The dungeon crawl is, at its base, colonialist. We have to grapple with this, just as we have to acknowledge the fact that Lovecraft was a fucking racist if we’re going to enjoy his work responsibly. But it has an undeniable appeal, even to (some of) those of us who oppose colonialism and its various fruits. There’s something about that subterranean ecosystem – something that I tried to capture in that Weird Horror essay, something that I’ve tried to capture in some of those “Hollow Earth” stories – that keeps my monster-loving heart circling back to it time and again.

In some ways, this can be epitomized by a video game I haven’t previously mentioned here: Torchlight, which I became taken with some years back. Its first sequel provided an improvement in pretty much every aspect of gameplay while also adding in overworld areas that opened up the setting considerably. In so doing, however, it also lost a little something: that idea of a multi-level dungeon beneath the eponymous town, each level something entirely different from the one before, all buried in sedimentary layers beneath the small burg with its adventurer-centric economy. There’s a magic there.

Plenty of board games have been made that explore this idea in various ways, some better than others. And I’ve been infatuated them since before I ever even tried to roll the dice in a game of actual D&D. Since the days of HeroQuest, whose box art and board decorate my writing space, I have been dreaming of taking journeys in the dark.

One thing I’ve noticed, though, is that in spite of this, I seem to not be the target audience for most modern dungeon crawl board games. More and more, these games seem to try to get as close as possible to the experience of playing a campaign of D&D, without (in some cases) the need for a dungeon master. But if I want to just play a game of D&D, I’ll do that. No, when I come to a board game dungeon crawl, I want something else.

Thanks in part to Massive Darkness, which I wrote up for Unwinnable a while back, and in part to Warhammer Quest: Cursed City, which I was thrilled to pick up when it came out, I think I’ve nailed down what it is. Most of these games advertise their wares by offering increasingly lengthy and immersive experiences. If they’re offering a single campaign that lasts 30 hours, what I actually want is 30 different adventures that are less than an hour each.

I don’t want the commitment and the time sink. I don’t want to sort through a thousand cards and a million tokens, playing the same game across a dozen nights. I want something that’s ready to plug-and-play. Earlier games of Warhammer Quest (mainly Silver Tower, and its previous un-subtitled incarnation) nail that in ways that Blackstone Fortress and Cursed City have moved away from. Massive Darkness, with its on-the-run leveling, nails it in some ways even more.

But, again, I seem to be in the minority in a climate where most games are striving to be the massive boxed experience that is, say, Gloomhaven. And there’s nothing whatsoever wrong with that experience – it merely isn’t, I’m coming to learn, what draws me to the game. Of course, the great thing about the moment we live in is that it’s got Massive Darknesses and Gloomhavens (and everything in-betweens) rubbing shoulders, so there’s something out there for everyone.

If you’re willing to dig for it…

As an aficionado of fungal horror and co-editor (with Silvia Moreno-Garcia) of Fungi, I have long wanted to get my hands on the first issue of Tales of Ghost Castle, a short-lived DC horror anthology comic from 1975, intended as a companion to House of Mystery and House of Secrets. The reason? Just check out that cover.

It turns out that the story that goes along with the cover is, as is often the case with these old horror comics, considerably more prosaic than what that promises, but it’s still of interest to the connoisseur of fungal terror.

A fairly standard “revenge from beyond the grave” tale, “The Mushroom Man” sees a gourmet who raises rare mushrooms strangled to death by his ne’er-do-well nephew Brian in search of an inheritance.

You can tell that Brian is a decadent layabout because he dresses like a mod version of Dr. Strange. He initially comes to his uncle looking for a loan to pay off his gambling debts before some dangerous Las Vegas bruisers show up to “[mess] up th’ rug with yer blood!”

His uncle refuses to pay, on the grounds that Brian is the aforementioned ne’er-do-well and layabout, but the breaking point comes after Uncle Jannis discovers a formula to grow the rarest mushrooms in the world, called “Nightdreamers,” which are impossible to market because they’re only ripe for three hours.

Brian wants to use the new formula to go into business, but his uncle wants to give it away. “Would you sell a cure for cancer?” he asks. “Make a blind man pay to have his sight restored?”

Not sure Uncle Jannis is familiar with the United States healthcare system.

Brian snaps and strangles his uncle to death with that fancy scarf, then buries him in one of his own flower beds. Months later, Brian is in charge of his uncle’s business, and living in his “palatial mansion,” which, since this is an old horror comic, is some sort of spooky old plantation house.

In the intervening months, the fungal beds in the basement have lain fallow, and now only one is sprouting any fruiting bodies – the one, naturally, where Brian buried his uncle.

The mushrooms growing from it are huge and red and ominous, so of course the cook puts some in Brian’s crab Oregonian (a dish that had no results when I tried to Google it) that night.

Upon eating the fateful mushrooms, Brian becomes terribly sick and, when the maid comes to clean his room the next morning, she finds a suitably frightful sight…

The rest of the issue is pretty standard fare for mainstream horror comics at the time; filled with jokey interludes and well-earned comeuppances and featuring art by Nestor Redondo among others. (Art chores in “The Mushroom Man” are handled by Buddy Gernale.) There’s a jab at dentists that I’m sure dentists don’t appreciate and a story of adoption horror that makes Jaume Collet-Serra’s Orphan seem positively buoyant by comparison.

Tales of Ghost Castle only ran for three issues before being discontinued, but I’m very happy to have added this one to my collection, finally.

It’s all-too-easy to get drawn into the soft undertow of minutia and lose track of how much time has passed, how much has happened, what has changed. The sediment shifts so gradually that it seems like each day is largely the same as the one before, even when they aren’t. So, what’s been going on?

I got my second jab of the Pfizer vaccine a week ago and so far there’s nothing much to report. I was tired right after, and my arm hurt for a day or two, but no other ill effects, save for a disappointing lack of monsterism, as I reported on social media. It’s a surprising weight off my shoulders, honestly, given how low-risk my lifestyle is generally, which is good because my shoulders are going to need that extra weight freed up to hold the giant eyeball I’m hoping to get there.

While the production of new fiction remains throttled, I’ve been working on various freelance stuff apace, including forthcoming game writing projects that, for now, have to remain under wraps. (In case you missed the last game writing stuff I was doing, you can read a bit about it here.) I’ve been doing my usual stuff, too, watching weirdo movies and occasionally reviewing them at Signal Horizon and Unwinnable, as well as continuing to write my regular columns various places, ranging from my column on Friday the 13th: The Series at Signal Horizon to my column on board games at Unwinnable to my column on … whatever the hell at Weird Horror.

I’m also continuing to sort of accidentally co-host the Horror Pod Class at Signal with Tyler Unsell, where we talk about horror movies chosen more-or-less at random and try to apply their lessons haphazardly to the classroom. You can watch it live at the Facebook group or stream it wherever you get podcasts. Speaking of which, I recently bought a new permanent addition to my ensemble from 1000 Dead Draculas, which will be making its Horror Pod Class debut on the upcoming Viy (1967) episode.

In hobby-related news, I’ve played a few games of Warcry and more than a few of Warhammer Underworlds, and I’ve continued collecting the various Underworlds warbands as they’re released. Which means that I’m very excited about the recent announcement of the final warband for this season, Elathain’s Soulraid, because it involves a giant crab!

I’ve said before that Mollog’s Mob is never going to be unseated as my favorite band, and that’s still true. It is basically impossible to top a big, doofy monster with mushrooms growing out of his back who is followed into battle by a gaggle of squiggly beasts. But these guys might end up being a close second. Only time will tell…

I also finally got in my first (solo) game of Cursed City, and while nothing may ever quite top Silver Tower for me in the Warhammer Quest category, Cursed City was fun at first blush and, as with Blackstone Fortress (which I’ve owned for months and still haven’t played), the dynamite miniatures absolutely make it worth it, even without playing.

Does anybody need me to tell them that nothing feels right or normal right now? Time passes in a blur, seeming to at once stretch and vanish. Godzilla vs. Kong is in theatres right now, and not only have I not seen it yet, I have no idea if I will, at least not on the big screen. Not because I’m particularly concerned about catching the virus or even to avoid gatherings and do the right thing, not really, but just because everything feels off and it’s impossible to know what to do anymore.

Next week is Panic Fest. The last time we had one, the pandemic hadn’t yet begun, which is wild because it feels like it was so long ago that trying to imagine it is almost beyond my capacity. I miss all my friends at the Screenland, I miss Analog Sundays, and I miss Panic Fest – does that mean I’m going this year? I’ll probably catch a movie or two, but I won’t be there as often as in the past, in part because only a portion of the fest is in-person while the rest is virtual, and in part because, well, see above.

My recent conversion into someone who actually lets myself be into tabletop gaming stuff is as surreal to me as everything else, but it’s also been a welcome lifeline over the past year. On that note, Warhammer Quest: Cursed City also comes out next weekend. It’s been my latest obsession for a bit now, and threatens to be even more so once it actually drops. So, steel yourselves for plenty of Warhammer Castlevania content.

I’ve kept busy for the past year. I’ve written recurring columns and done freelance work, published a few stories and penned a few others. I’ve been co-hosting the Horror Pod Class from Signal Horizon every other week this whole time (it was every week for a while, when the lockdowns first started) and we’ll have a special episode up as part of the virtual programming at Panic Fest. I wrote a large chunk of the new 5e-compatible Iron Kingdoms roleplaying game for Privateer Press, which launched with an enormously successful Kickstarter.

Yet, I also feel strangely disconnected from so much of the writing world. I’ve been a specter on social media, which doesn’t help, and while I have plans for a fourth collection in the works (and, indeed, more collections beyond that) thus far they are as ephemeral as everything else seems to be. Indeed, 2020 was the first year in half-a-decade that I didn’t publish a book with my name on the spine, and I can’t say for sure whether or not 2021 will be the second.

It isn’t just the writing itself that feels strange, though. I’ve lost touch with so many people, people whom social distancing shouldn’t affect because our relationships are – and always have been – principally online. If you’re one of those people, I apologize. It isn’t you. It’s me. Or maybe it’s just this plague year.

It doesn’t help that all the conventions have gone virtual, or gone entirely. I’m glad that NecronomiCon managed to push itself back to 2022. By then hopefully things will be on a more even keel, and I hope intensely to see and converse with some folks I have badly missed.

There’s a lot that I’ve missed. I’ve enjoyed the new (or newly rekindled) hobbies that have been helping to keep me together over the past year. While I am still not – and may very likely never be – a painter of miniatures, I have found the act of putting them together surprisingly restorative, even when I can’t play with them. I don’t intend to leave these new-old hobbies behind, but I hope very much to reconnect with some of the things and people I enjoyed before. And I hope I have not too completely forgotten how.

Why horror?

It’s a question that anyone who produces – or even consumes – horror in preference to most other forms will run into sooner or later, and probably frequently. Even once you’ve ensconced yourself among others who share your predilections, you’ll find yourself defending the type of horror that is your preferred poison. Why monsters over more psychological fare? Why slashers instead of more grown-up stuff? Whatever your tastes, someone will want to know why.

Sometimes, that someone will be you.

For years, I assumed that I wouldn’t like giallo films. On paper, they seem like the diametric opposite of what I’m normally after when I come to horror. Infamous for their brutal kills and gratuitous nudity, they make a point of victimizing women and have established problems with misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia, often relying on pseudo-psychological explanations that are simply insulting to anyone with actual mental illness, if taken at face value.

Those are all things I Do Not Like, and they are all emphatically true of many gialli. And yet … and yet … and yet … I kind of love them. Not all of them, of course. Who loves all of any subgenre? But a large subset – indeed, most of the ones I’ve seen, especially those by Mario Bava and Dario Argento, recognized masters of the form.

So, if I don’t love so many of the things that giallo are famous for, what is it I love about them? Well, I do love one thing they’re famous for – their scores, which are almost unerringly great, and often used to phenomenal effect. And those scores help to contribute to the larger thing that makes me love them – a sense of weird menace that pervades every frame of the genre’s best installments.

While watching Sergio Martino’s Torso – a movie it seems like I shouldn’t like, if ever there was one – I came across a seemingly throwaway line near the beginning of the film that has burned in my mind ever since. “Everything is bathed in an elegance approaching the supernatural.” The speaker is describing artwork, but he could just as easily be summing up what I love about giallo.

Sure, some of my favorite gialli are ones that are also overtly supernatural, the kind that purists would insist “don’t really count.” Pictures like Suspiria, for instance. But even in a film like Blood and Black Lace, Evil Eye, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, or Opera, that “elegance approaching the supernatural” is there, making the films feel supernatural, even if their ultimate explanations are more prosaic.

It’s this aspect that I think led Ross Lockhart to combine the giallo with another uniquely European tradition in Giallo Fantastique, and it’s what I think the best of the stories in that volume capture. It’s certainly what I was going for in my own contribution, “The Red Church.” And it’s what I’ve striven toward every other time I’ve dipped my toes into the giallo waters, most recently in “Chanson D’Amour,” my “timeloop giallo” that’s coming in a future issue of Nightmare Magazine.

Really, though, it’s what I’m after when I come to most any kind of horror. Maybe not always elegance, but always a sense of atmosphere that makes even the mundane feel touched by the numinous.

If there is just one reason “why horror,” it’s probably that.

Let’s be clear: Yes, there was absolutely an attempt to “steal” the 2020 presidential election. It was not some vast, secret, underground conspiracy of dead people voting and other plot points lifted directly from a Simpsons episode. It happened in broad daylight, in plain sight, and it was perpetrated by an array of right-wing groups (including Trump himself) in an effort to secure a second term for Donald Trump. It failed.

Joe Biden was elected president by both a (vast) majority of the citizens of the United States and by the Electoral College, in an election as free and fair as elections can be in a system overrun with gerrymandering and voter suppression that overwhelmingly favors Republican candidates.

Any discussion about the similarities or differences between the Black Lives Matter protests of the summer and the mob of armed insurrectionists who stormed the capitol building that focuses on their comportment misses the point entirely. BLM was protesting in an effort to stop extrajudicial executions by police officers. The insurrectionists were attempting to overthrow the results of an election in order to install a dictatorship, encouraged and assisted by the sitting President of the United States.

How they went about it matters less than the fact that their goals were absolutely necessary in one case (BLM, in case it needs to be said), horrifically unjust in the other.

Donald J. Trump has been a self-serving disgrace, unfit to hold public office, since long before he ever ran, and his election to the highest office in this country will remain a disgrace long after he is gone.

I will not be taking questions at this time.

Now that it’s December, I think I can say with finality that 2020 will mark the first year since 2015 that I haven’t had a new book out with my name on the spine. It would be tempting to chalk this up to, y’know, 2020, and it’s certainly why there may not be one in 2021 either, but publishing is a slow business, and anything that was going to come out in this dark year would have already been in progress before the year began.

In actuality, there is no reason – either sinister or benign – for there not being a book this year, just as there is no real reason for their being a book each of those others. My first collection came out in 2012, the same year that I co-edited Fungi with Silvia Moreno-Garcia. My second, Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts, was released by Word Horde in 2015. The following year saw the release of Monsters from the Vault, a collection of short essays I had written as part of a column about vintage horror cinema for Innsmouth Free Press.

In 2017, I released both my first and, thus far, only novel – a licensed work for Privateer Press – and a hardcover reprint of my first collection, with a couple of new stories and all-new illustrations by M.S. Corley. 2018 saw the release of my third collection, again from Word Horde, while in 2019 a follow-up to Monsters from the Vault hit shelves.

I have more than enough stories to complete another collection – probably a couple more – but the time is not yet right for any of them. The stories are there, but they do not all fit together. Eventually, those stories will find other stories and together they will form the collections they are meant to inhabit. Until that time, I keep churning.

The next book that’s likely to come out with my name on the cover is probably going to be Neon Reliquary, the short, occult cyberpunk novel that is currently being released in serial form at the Broken Eye Books Patreon. Some delays happened, and they are my fault, but the second installment should be up in the next month or two.

Several stories have already made their way out into the public in various places that are part of a “story cycle” based around Hollow Earths and similar pseudoscience. Once all of those have made their initial bows, the plan is to collect them – along with some original content – into a book, as well. Almost all of them are written and either published or pending publication – one has even made it into the Best Horror of the Year and been reprinted at Nightmare magazine – but various factors have delayed, well, everything, right?

I spent November working on a 40,000 word tabletop gaming-related work-for-hire project that I should be able to announce probably early next year. I had a few new stories published in 2020 that I’m quite proud of. More than in 2019, though not by much. “Prehistoric Animals” in the Weird Fiction Review, “The All-Night Horror Show” at The Dark magazine, “Manifest Destiny” in The Willows Anthology, which also reprinted some of my unfortunate juvenilia from a bygone age, “Screen Haunt” in It Came from the Multiplex, and “The Double-Goer” in Between Twilight and Dawn.

I’ve also sold several stories that have yet to see publication but should be out sometime next year. A Lucio Fulci sword-and-sorcery tribute in Beyond the Book of Eibon, “The Robot Apeman Waits for the Nightmare Blood to Stop” in Tales from OmniPark – both of which were funded via Kickstarter – and new stories in that Hollow Earth “story cycle” I mentioned that will be out in New Maps of Dream from PS Publishing and Tales from Arkham Sanitarium from Dark Regions Press. Plus some others that I can’t name just yet.

2020 has been 2020 for everyone. Someone on one of the Slacks that I’m on said that we are all a decade older than we were this time last year, which sounds about right. But so far I’m hanging in there, and I’m still banging out words on the regular, so expect to see more from me as we end this accursed year and start another, hopefully better one.

I hope you’re all hanging in there, too. Stay safe, stay weird.

I recently discovered a kink in my brain. (Don’t worry, it’s not the sexy kind.) I’ve been into tabletop war games and miniature skirmish games for as long as I’ve known that they were a thing. Some of my earliest exposure to fantasy came, not through Lord of the Rings or Dungeons & Dragons, but diluted from them through Warhammer.

I’ve talked before about growing up poor, though, and when I was young I didn’t have the funds to really support a miniature gaming hobby (not that I didn’t try), so mostly I pored over source books and issues of White Dwarf, constructed army lists of miniatures I would never own, and dreamed.

I loved the models with their intricate paint jobs and I loved the dollhouse terrain. When I managed to scrape up the funds to acquire a model or two, I would try to paint them, because that’s what you were supposed to do. And, in the process, I would inevitably ruin them, because I hadn’t yet learned how to paint. That’s just part of the hobby, I gather, a stage everyone goes through.

Except that I never went through it. I hated painting, and because I hated it, I never practiced enough to learn the skillset needed to get better. For years, this, almost as much as a lack of adequate funds, curtailed my involvement in a hobby that I loved. Painting was so much a part of the field that if I was unwilling to do it, I was always going to be an outsider looking in, or so I thought.

Then I discovered that aforementioned kink in my brain. I was lucky enough to have a talented friend who actually enjoys painting minis and who was generous enough to paint my Hordes gatorman army for me – and they looked amazing. I was so happy. But it’s a laborious and time-consuming process, and he had his own models to paint, after all.

Then I got the Hellboy board game when it Kickstarted a few years back, and it came with just boatloads of minis. He and I were joking about him having to paint them all, and something clicked – while my brain instinctively told me that wargaming miniatures were supposed to be painted, it (equally instinctively) said that board game minis didn’t need to be.

This didn’t get a ton more interrogation until COVID struck and I began getting hardcore into dungeon crawl board games that I had denied myself previously. From there, it was a short and inevitable path to collecting some of the modern equivalents of those Warhammer miniatures I had spent so many hours daydreaming about as a youth.

And that’s where the click came. If the board game minis were allowed to sit in their boxes and drawers unpainted; if they still made me happy, just having them and pushing them around on tabletops and dungeon tiles, then why not the others, as well?

I found a sort of calm in assembling the push-fit models that came with Warhammer Underworlds and, from there, learned how to appreciate the act of gluing the more complicated kits together, even when that inevitably left me with glue all over my fingers.

But I still didn’t want to paint. And I didn’t have to. Nor did I have to push the obligation over onto Jay. In fact, there was no obligation. If the minis made me happy unpainted, then unpainted they could stay. I wasn’t somehow unworthy of them because I was fundamentally uninterested in an aspect of the hobby so central to the enjoyment of so many.

Lest I be misunderstood, this is not a rallying cry for the end of painting. For many – even most – of the people invested in the hobby, painting is a big part of the joy that it brings, as is fielding painted armies. And I love painted models. I love to see the work and care and personality that others have put into what is a genuine artform.

My good friend and sometime publisher Simon Berman runs the Brush Wielders Union, “a community of like-minded miniatures gamers dedicated to playing their games fully painted and supporting one another in their craft.” And that dedication and support are important and commendable and I love them for it.

Maybe someday, I’ll even discover that the bug has bitten me, and I will turn my attempts once more toward the brush and pigments. But if I never do, then I am not prohibited from the other joys that I derive from the hobby, and I can still bask in all my little idiot monsters and soldiers in their gray, plastic glory.

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…