Monthly Archives: October 2022

Story Pile: Demon Slayer

Up front Spoiler Policy is that I’m not really going to spoil things in this series I’m just going to tell you broadly about the tone.

There’s this phenomenon in the conversation around pop music where all the best-selling artists of all time were born after like, 1985, a fact that makes a lot of boomer music fans kinda bummed out, because it’s a sign that the musical culture is no longer a sign of how they are the ones who dictate what is and isn’t popular. It’s okay, it’s just how time advances, but it’s also a function of how the technology for making music has just kept getting better. It’s easier to get the best version of any given performer’s art, it’s easier to distribute it faster and it’s easier to express a wider variety of ideas in a lot of different ways. Simply put, it’s possible to make things better these days.

Demon Slayer is a genre perfected.

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How To Be: A Meguca (In 4e D&D)

In How To Be we’re going to look at a variety of characters from Not D&D and conceptualise how you might go about making a version of that character in the form of D&D that matters on this blog, D&D 4th Edition. Our guidelines are as follows:

  • This is going to be a brief rundown of ways to make a character that ‘feels’ like the source character
  • This isn’t meant to be comprehensive or authoritative but as a creative exercise
  • While not every character can work immediately out of the box, the aim is to make sure they have a character ‘feel’ as soon as possible
  • The character has to have the ‘feeling’ of the character by at least midway through Heroic

When building characters in 4th Edition it’s worth remembering that there are a lot of different ways to do the same basic thing. This isn’t going to be comprehensive, or even particularly fleshed out, and instead give you some places to start when you want to make something.

Another thing to remember is that 4e characters tend to be more about collected interactions of groups of things – it’s not that you get a build with specific rules about what you have to take, and when, and why, like you’re lockpicking your way through a design in the hopes of getting an overlap eventually. Character building is about packages, not programs, and we’ll talk about some packages and reference them going forwards.

In this, a Dreadful Month, maybe you need a radiant light. Maybe you need something that makes you feel warm and fuzzy and happy in this time of long nights. In which case, let’s look to the most successful Monsters Inc fanfiction anime there is, and look at the magical girls from Puella Magi Madoka Magica as we ask what it would take to Become Meguca.

Spoiler Policy: I don’t intend to spoil much of the actual story of Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Instead, I intend to approach this exercise looking at the characters as they present, with minimal explanation of the actual narrative of their native series, though there will be some discussion in a broad sense of what characters’ powers are.

This is in part because these characters have very strong vibes to use as basis for a character but also because it’s much funnier.

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CoX: Tideward

Time to time, I write up an explication of characters I’ve played in RPGs or made for my own purpose.  This is an exercise in character building and creative writing.


“You do not want me down there! You want me up here!”

Hamilton, aka TIDEWARD, the SCION OF THE SUNKEN CITY, is a Prince of a deep-ocean nation, of which he says little. A deep sea upbringing made him tough, and strong, and the royal regalia of his home grants him shapeshifting bio-tech armour. A stranger from a strange land, Hamilton has had to learn a lot about human society from things other than the stories his father told him of the surface world.

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The Meat Invasion of Glotharen

I speak of Cobrin’Seil in terms of its people and their homes; this means that more often than not, I am talking about cultures and cities; so many features that are large and inexplicable are usually only mentioned when they are cities, like the Dragon Palace of Amenti. I sometimes feel that this means that the image of Cobrin’Seil, as a world, is that it’s a place where you spend your time engaging with civilisations, of negotiations between people, and it’s not really a space where you can just go out in the wilds and get into a fight.

On the one level, good. I don’t need a roaming empty wild space with dozens of underdeveloped weird humans like Bullywugs and Goblins and Frost Goblins and Bugbears and Hobgoblins and Orcs and Pistos and Half-Orcs and Gnolls and Greenscales and Kenkus and Shifters and Lizardfolks and Grimlocks and Orogs and Tannaruks to fill the world. I’d much rather make cultures that have a lot of variety rather than a few dozen things that are meant to be fully sentient humanoid creatures living their lives. Like, yeah, some of these exist, but they’re not the default thing you find when you wander off a path, just having a culture out there without ever being noticed.

This can create the feeling that out there, in the world, there’s just nothing you haven’t seen before in a city. That’s not true; setting aside that almost any given city doesn’t have the same people with the same reasons for being out there, there are also places with things out there, sites and zones that present mysteries.

For example, there’s a forest that’s slowly turning to meat.

Art by Rocky Schouten.
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T-Shirt: The Demon Core Says Believe In Yourself!

It’s October! Let’s go check out this month’s T-shirt design!

I made this little design both to learn more about how to use Inkscape Vectors, but also as a way to make something appropriate to Dread Month without playing into my weakness as a designer (ie, I am butts and bad at conventional horror aesthetics).

I’m really happy with this friendly li’l Demon Core! Check it out on my Redbubble!

3.5 D&D: Drinking Souls

The Book of Vile Darkness is not a book for players. On the fourth page, it lists Hide This Book!, which states that the book should be treated as if it were a published adventure, that it should inform and add to player experience, but never be treated like other player option books.

Let’s ignore this and talk about the Soul Eater, a prestige class that requires you to be Evil and which is contained only in the Book of Vile Darkness.

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4e: The Warlock Is Alone

It’s a well-worn meme that in the context of the Dungeons And Dragons moral framework, that Warlocks and Paladins are different only in that one has an employer, and one has a sugar daddy. Notably, before you giggle too much, recognise that of the two, the Warlock’s the one with a contract, but the Paladin’s the one with a code of conduct.

No, don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a treatise on how the Warlock in 4th edition has balance problems, or how they have probably one of the most stolen powers in the game, or how the Paladin does most of what I want a Warlock to do, no no. Not even bringing up that the divine characters have their power sources expanded with personalities and ideologies and characterisation and all that, while the Warlock gets maybe try elementals? I’m not bitter.

This is about being a Warlock in 4th edition.

Content Warning: I talk about drugs a little bit, in broad and general terms!

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Story Pile: McGee And Me — The Not-So-Great-Escape

I promise you this is about horror media.

It’s rare that I can just show you the media I’m talking about in a Story Pile. It’s rarer still that I might do so only to see how long some of you last before some part of your good taste shuts the experience down.

Episode 3: The Not-So-Great Escape (Mc Gee and Me! in HD)

This is an episode of McGee & Me!, which I guess can be kind of explained as a ‘VHS TV Series’ from the late 1980s and early 1990s. In this episode, if you don’t have the stamina to watch it all, we learn Nick, our protagonist, wants to go see a scary movie as part of a school social event, and his parents refuse, and ground him. He makes a scheme to go see the movie, then returns home, upset by the movie he saw. He talks to his parents, who explain why they refused to let him go to the movie, then he’s punished off-screen.

It is Christian morality media for nine year olds. No horror is shown, only implied, the acting is wooden and stilted, and the animation demonstrate competence in only the most rudimentary of ways, so the ways it sucks stand out in glaring contrast. It is incredibly mediocre and meaningless in every way.

I want to talk to you about how this episode scared the shit out of me.

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The Alex Jones Readings

Yesterday, I talked about Alex Jones, but I did so with references to specific examples of the man’s behaviour from his show. You might wonder, Talen, do you watch his show? And the answer to that is no, no, I don’t.

Alex Jones’ work is one of those things people mostly experience as a few short viral moments; infamously, there’s the Turn The Frogs Gay clip, or some similarly ridiculous moment that people meme on.

The dude’s got the same basic DNA as a dozen other types of grifter from my own past. These days they’ve moved to ‘supplements’ rather than ‘cures’ but in the end it’s people selling you overpriced horse piss as ‘snake oil.’ I didn’t feel the need to delve into him because I kinda knew what I was looking at when I first saw him. Moment to go viral, pivot to an ad. Promote a weirdo to get their audience engaged with you, pivot to an ad. Frame the world as scary and doomed and dying, pivot to an ad.

When John Oliver did a segment explaining Alex Jones, he noted this exact structure:

Alex Jones: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)

But this is still a surface overview of the man and his process. It’s still something that Alex will claim ‘takes out of context’ the work he does, in general. If only there was someone, you wonder, who isn’t on Alex’s side, who say, watches the entire show and can provide exhaustive proof that no, he’s not being taken out of context, these things don’t get better with more information, and the figleaf of denial that Jones uses is just a tactic.

Well, what if I told you there’s someone who does?

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The Five Stages of Alex Jones

Alex Jones is scum.

This isn’t a complex, researched, authorial notion, this is my opinion, and my opinion is that the guy is scum. It’s based on observing him over many years, and from how he clearly replicates the patterns of a lot of guys exactly like him, who just weren’t as successful at monetising their particular variety of scum.

Of late, I’ve been seeing more of his stuff, more of his particular set of tactics, and I wanted to offer you an easily remembered, simple set of instructions as to understanding What Alex Jones Is Doing. This is much like with young-earth creationists, operant on the idea that Alex Jones is literally never a good faith operator, and that everything he does, in every single context should be regarded as acts of manipulation. I’m sure there are some people he’s honest with but his reputation is so fundamentally broken that you can’t treat him as if he is.

Alex Jones presents the illusion of being opposition, of being able to argue, to fight with people, but if you listen to him, if you pay attention to the process, you’ll realise there are five things he does, and they largely never relate to what he’s being told, not really, not as part of a meaningful conversation with points that can be considered. Everything is instead, smoothed into one Greater Fiction where Alex was Always Right.

What then, does Alex Jones (And His Ilk) do when confronted with dissent?

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Game Pile: Scooby-Doo! Escape from the Haunted Mansion

Scooby Doo was never my favourite franchise growing up. I always thought it looked hokey, all the monsters were disappointing because they didn’t tend to make sense and were always just dudes in suits, and there were always so many episodes of it so that any time you were watching cartoons it’s possible a slot that something interesting could be in would be surprisingly filled by Some More Scooby Doo. As I grew up, there was always more Scooby Doo stuff, almost as if it was just a franchise running in the spot while the timeline of the background spooled in a circle behind it.

I have never perceived Scooby Doo branding as a sign of quality.

Let me then explain to you the surprise and delight that came out of playing this game and finding out that it is a genuinely fascinating, clever board game experience that I thoroughly enjoyed.

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Curse Your Campaign

One of the common problems present in any given Dungeons and Dragons campaign, set in the context of a world of adventure, mystery and combat-ready quarrel-solvers, is anyone ever asking the question ‘can’t someone else do it?’

For a whole host of problems, this is simply true: Yes, someone else can do it. In a world with guilds and support and highways and organisations, there is by definition almost always someone else on hand who can do the job, and most often, the players are the ones with a combination of opportunity and happenstance to be the ones dealing with this problem, right now.

Art by Brian Valeza

There are tricks for it, of course. Chanting. Destiny. Magical artifacts that fuse themselves to your skin. Hypnotists. Walkie-talkies, tempers, fists – but not so fast.

What I’d like to suggest is an idea for a campaign style that fixes this problem, gives you a tone and introduces a reliable tool for the DM to weave into the story: Make it cursed.

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It’s Hard To Enjoy Buzzfeed Unsolved Any More

I’m writing this a while ago, now. Like, this is October 2021, while I write these words down and I write them knowing that they’re not going up for a good long time. The joy of having my schedule more or less down now. But I am writing this because this is the only time that this has seized me to write and, well, the topic is perfect for Dread Month.

CONTENT WARNING: This is going to talk about some real bummer stuff, as it relates to child abuse.

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Story Pile: Midnight Mass

There is no storyteller’s sin you can commit so deep and so perfect with your story than to inspire in the viewer a much better version of the story you were going to tell without ever being able to deliver on it. Such is the tragedy of the third Mike Flanagan Netflix Thing, Midnight Mass.

The story starts on an isolated, impoverished island community out on the edge of some part of America, where there’s not a lot of reason to be there but for the fact you’re already there. In the sad country song way of things, people simply are, the place simply is, and eerie supernatural events start to haunt the town in time with the arrival of a young (hot) Catholic priest.

The poster for the series sets the tone; people, seen through distorted visions of paintings past; the church, a symbol unto itself; candles, leading into fire.

The series’ tagline stands out, simple and pure: Be Not Afraid.

Spoilers below the fold.

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Horror and Loss of Memory

There is a horror we encounter in the everyday, of the slowly dissolving record of our own history that we call to forget.

Content warning: Memory loss and death!

Spoiler Warning: I talk about some movies where there’s a mystery that’s been forgotten, which shouldn’t spoil anything in the movies, but if you absolutely do not want to know, then…

uh, maybe don’t look at the image? Oh come on it’s the name of the movie.

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Game Pile: The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow

The Excavation Of Hob's Barrow - From Where Does Your Horror Grow?

If you want the super-short summary, it’s a point-and-click adventure by Cloak and Dagger games and published by Wadjet Eye, and in that specific genre of current narrative adventures using a point-and-click, Beneath A Steel Sky style, it’s really great. It’s a folk horror game, it does flashbacks and really cryptic puzzles, could be a little more convenient to avoid some of the pitfalls.

The video is, largely, about what we call horror.

Thumbnail below the fold.

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Story Pile: Moral Orel

If you’re already aware of Moral Orel, you probably can guess what I think of it.

If you’re not, Moral Orel is a dark comedy claymation or puppetry or stop motion or whatever TV series made up of ten-minute long episodes that focus (mostly) on the character of Orel Puppington, a member of the Puppington family. Set in Moralton, Statesota, it’s a pastiche parody of 50s and 60s sitcoms where the benevolent patriarch could always be relied upon to sort out whatever chicanery our protagonist got up to that week.

It is also a triumphant depiction of a kind of politeness we don’t usually get.

Content Warning! This series features deep breath religious fundamentalism, child abuse (standard/accepted like paddling and spanking, neglect), gun violence, troubling behaviour unbecoming a minor, racism, sexual assault (adult and child), divorce, emotional abuse (spousal familial), existentional horror, religious existential horror and… I think that’s it? But what more is there.

If you’re wondering ‘hey, with that list, do you really want to talk about it?’ and yeah. Because not talking about it would be polite.

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Asset Brainstorm #10 — Back To Osum

As a matter of practice, it’s important to me that I keep demonstrating different ways to engage with games. Making games is a practice, and when you can look at game assets and consider ways to apply them, you’ll begin to see how much of game design is stuff you can do. Therefore, on this blog I’m making it a project to regularly grab some game assets I couldn’t make myself, that are made for game designers to work with, and see what ideas they inspire.


Okay, this time it’s a simple one: This month, my goal, as a game maker, is to get Camp Osum into prototyping.

If you’re not familiar with Camp Osum, it’s a competitive draft horror game I originally made for Asylum Jam 2017. In this game, each player takes on the role of a camp counsellor roaming around the grounds, looking for things that build their place in the story, rousing the ghosts of the camp and hopefully not getting killed. Eventually, there’s only one player left, as the other players, now some of the ghosts, try to force that player into joining them, while they try and escape.

A big part of Camp Osum‘s life has been committing to boundaries on it; it was made for a jam, and the original draft up on Itch.Io is up there as it was at the end of the jam. I know that in my situation it’s very easy to work on things in private and keep things like prototypes and concepts hidden until they’re nice and polished in ways you, the audience can praise me for. That’s why, even though I think it looks terrible, and it was made in Word, like a lot of fast prototypes, you can go look at it.

Last year I spent a month working on the card face (while doing other stuff, because October is the end of the semester work-wise). This month, it’s time to pick the project up again and get it to the next stage, of being an operational prototype.

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Dread Month 2022

As the good things of day begin to droop and drowse,
Night’s black agents to their preys did rouse.

It’s the season of the spooky; when the internet slowly fills up with people sharing art of skeletons, and not just the ones they want to have sex with. In the United States and Canada, the days are growing colder, the leaves are turning, and people are staying in to watch horror movies or TV shows. The Satanists are up to something, I think, and there are probably some variety of ghoul or witch about under the doorsteps, which is where I guess they hang out.

Here on Press, October is dread month. The Story and Game Piles are about horror media, games and media that gets to delve into things like slashers and guts and serial killers and hauntings and all that.

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