‘Undead, Forever’ – Ravenloft and the Gothic in D&D

April 15, 2018 § Leave a comment

This paper was initially presented at the Gaming the Gothic conference, held at the University of Sheffield on April 13th 2018. The intial CFP is available here.

This is a transcript of the presented paper, edited with some last-minute changes made during the presentation itself and, where appropriate, links to external material.

Ravenloft - Presentation.001

So begins our journey into the Dungeons & Dragons adventure of ‘Ravenloft’ where Strahd von Zarovich, a centuries old vampire-prince, rules his terror-haunted realm without pity or remorse. ‘Ravenloft’ is riddled with deeply gothic imagery from the flying buttresses of the eponymous Castle Ravenloft to the tortured, endless nature of Strahd’s vampirism. Yet, like all gothic fiction, there is more to ‘Ravenloft’ than simple theatrics. There is a deep sense of horror that comes not just from the story but from how the story is told and, crucially, how it is not told.

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Trembling With Fear, “The Ebbing Tide Calls”

January 23, 2018 § Leave a comment

Another drabble, a story of exactly 100 words, in The Horror Tree’s Trembling With Fear blog, which makes it three for three submissions now. These are forming themselves into something of a related narrative so I’m looking forward to see where they take me…

He watches as the accusatory finger of the lighthouse sweeps across the harbour, in through the bottleglass window and onto the long, blank wall. Each pulse shines a zoetrope puppet-show onto the whitewashed brick.

Click here to read the full piece.

Dead Reckonings #22

January 23, 2018 § Leave a comment

I’m very pleased to once again be published in Dead Reckonings, this time the Fall 2017 issue, number 22.

Dead Reckonings #22

I talk about the nature of mystery and horror in some of the works of Sidney H Sime, an English artists most famous for his illustrations of Lord Dunsany’s fantastical work, and also cover Jeffrey Thomas‘s excellent collection of weird and eerie fiction, ‘Haunted Worlds

Death, exile and madness are all ultimate states of non-being that give the shape to our being. They are the black sea that define our islands of light and life. We experience them only at the very extremes of our lives, as we move from the obvious to the occulted, and it is impossible for us to truly imagine what that moment of transition will be like; before the transition we are as we have always been, afterwards we are fundamentally different.

Dead Reckonings is available directly from Hippocampus Press.

Old Style Tales, The Yellow Booke V

September 10, 2017 § Leave a comment

My homage to windswept vilages and ghostly pursuers, The Bridge At Barrowdale, has been published in Old Style Tale’s collection The Yellow Booke V. The collection can be ordered as a hard copy or downloaded as a PDF, and features illustrated stories from Ever Dundas, Thomas Olivieri and M. Grant Kellermeyer amongst others.

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I SPENT A UNSETTLED EVENING, sitting in a wooden chair by the drawing room’s single window and staring out at the phosphorescent sea. The quiet of the cottage, so inviting in the clamour of the City, now seemed haunted by a spectral silence. I lit a small lantern as night fell but the flickering flame jittered queasily against the warped glass of the window and eventually I pinched it out rather than suffer its fevered dancing. No moon rose into the sky but a bright scatter of stars shone their sparse light down to sparkle on the breaking waves. The eerie bark of a family of seals called from somewhere offshore, rising over the susurration of water on stone. Eventually I slept, fitfully, wrapped in coarse blankets and dreaming of sea-cold fingers reaching out of the night.

“How Do We Kill It?” – Thoughts on Alien: Covenant

May 18, 2017 § Leave a comment

I preface the following thoughts about Alien: Covenant by saying that I actually quite enjoyed watching it as a piece of entertainment; there’s a lot in it that’s well done, tense and exceptionally gruesome. However, while it could be said to be an average sci-fi film it’s a poor Alien film that plays more as fanfic than a studio blockbuster.

Even the soundtrack, good as it is, is essentially an homage to a better one.

There will be spoilers after the jump.

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Aether & Ichor

May 14, 2017 § Leave a comment

A previously unavailable story, A Guest In The House Of Ruin (a much-extended version of this fragment), has been published by Aether & Ichor.

Fitful dreams flickered through the mists of sleep, jumbled up across space and time. Memories floated to the surface of my unconsciousness until they coalesced into one image; Annabella. How she’d laughed with glee at a puppet show in Yellow Park, the jerking dances and squeaking voices making her clap her hands in delight. Her tears, hot and inconsolable, when the news was announced of De Pontellino’s death; days spent locked in her room, playing the master’s cascading etudes on her piano instead of eating; listening over and over to the little music box I had bought her. I saw the day she came to me in my rooms as I was reading my mail. The words she said, having undoubtedly been made to say them by her wretch of a brother. Her face as she turned to leave; her blue eyes, red-rimmed, refusing to meet mine. Her hair tumbling from its amber combs as she fell.

No, she said. Please don’t.

Immense personal thanks to the team at Aether & Ichor for their support and editorial rigour. This wouldn’t exist, certainly not in as complete a form, without them.

O, the Forests of Bhak’khu

October 22, 2016 § 1 Comment

I heard the song a Traveller sang
Which from his mouth with sadness rang
His words befouled with acrid tang
From the forests of Bhak’khu

He told me first of paths he trod14650165_10153858498955334_9193476899983822235_n
‘Cross singing sands and peat-brown sod
Away from men and dying gods
To the forests of Bhak’khu

He walked on heath and moor and fen
Tramped through valley, creek and glen
Past monuments built before men
Knew the forests of Bhak’khu

One morn upon a mist-cloaked hill
He spied an omen, dark and ill,
A corpse who told him ‘Death waits still
In the forests of Bhak’khu’.

‘You may speak true but my reply
Is everything that’s lived must die.
If Death’s both here and there then why
‘ware the forests of Bhak’khu?

The corpse collapsed back into dust
As time turns iron into rust
The Traveller knew then that he must
Reach the forests Bhak’khu

On sun-scorched pan of glass and salt
A serpent, basking, cried out ‘Halt!’
‘No man of wisdom, nor base dolt
Seeks the forests of Bhak’khu’

‘Return forthwith from whence ye came
Renounce your wealth, renounce your name
Renounce all hope that you might tame
All the forests of Bhak’khu’

‘O snake,’ our Traveller did beseech
‘Beguile me not with fork-tongued speech
For the fastness I shall surely breach
Of the forests of Bhak’khu’

The serpent hissed a venom-curse
‘For good or ill, for all things worse
Your sight will fade, your heart will burst
In the forests of Bhak’khu!’

And with such words it disappeared
As shadows spake that evening neared
The Traveller knew why many feared
Of the forests of Bhak’khu.

One night a slinking, jet-black cat
Whispered softly, slyly that
‘You’ll be as tasty as a rat
In the forests of Bhak’khu’

A girl-child wrapped in blood-stained rags
Flanked by a dozen toothless hags
Said ‘What are kings and all their flags
‘Gainst the forests of Bhak’khu?’

Yet nothing kept him from his road
Not howling shaman daubed with wode
Nor armoured knight of solemn code
From the forests of Bhak’khu

He walked for weeks and months and years
His hair grew long around his ears
His eyes were filled with countless tears
For the forests of Bhak’khu

He saw again the corpse, the knight
The cat that came in dead of night
The girl whose rags were once as bright
As the forests of Bhak’khu

They watched him from beside the trail
The knight stood strong, the girl-child frail
The cat smiled at the corpse’s wail
‘O, the forests of Bhak’khu!’

The serpent and the shaman came
Once each to mock his quest again
‘All you’ll find is loss and pain
In the forests of Bhak’khu’

‘Leave me visions, spirits all!
On my quest I’ll never stall
Even if you raise a wall
Round the forests of Bhak’khu!’

With darkness then the land was crowned
Pale ash rained down, without a sound
The Traveller knew he now was bound
For the forests of Bhak’khu

Yet slowly came into his view
A place he realised he knew
‘What is this place that comes in lieu
Of the forests of Bhak’khu?’

A town, with buildings tumbled down
Ash-stained corpses on the ground
And blackened trees grown all around
‘Like the forests of Bhak’khu…’

Down street and alley he did roam
Past crumbled well, ‘neath shattered dome
He gabbled that ‘This looks like home
Not the forests of Bhak’khu’

He found me huddled not far off
My ravaged body bound with cloth
‘What is this place?’ I spat, then coughed.
‘’tis the forests of Bhak’khu’

The Traveller gasped, fell to his knees
‘It cannot be! Recant ye, please!
My soul, my life! My heart doth freeze!
Curse the forests of Bhak’khu’

He told me then of serpent, child
The knight most stern, the shaman wild
The night-time cat, the corpse reviled
And the forests of Bhak’khu

Loss and pain his prize, they said
I made for him a ragged bed
In moonlight cold he lay there, dead
In the forests of Bhak’khu

I heard the song a Traveller sang
Which from his mouth with sadness rang
His words befouled with acrid tang
From the forests of Bhak’khu.

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