Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Into the Megadungeon

I am the latest guest on Ben L's podcast, Into the Megadungeon, where I talk about Nightwick Abbey. I always wanted to be a Hallowe'en episode!

 You can find the episode here and Ben's post about the episode here.

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Nightwick Abbey: Secret Origins - Rose Red

We say haunted, but what we mean is the house has gone insane.

I somehow have written for this blog for 13 years and not mentioned what is maybe the most influential text on Nightwick Abbey. Honestly, it's probably because I was embarrassed to admit how big of an influence it was, or maybe because I myself forgot what all I stole from in the eight years between when I saw it and when I started the blog and the dungeon. Who knows?

Before I begin further discussion, I should note that I am pretty sure the miniseries' treatment of Autism is godawful. I don't think I'm really in a position to say, but King's general representation of neurodiversity is notoriously "yikes" and this is again an instance of his imbuing such a character with powerful psychic powers. I'm not going to comment on it further in this post because, as I said, I'm not really in a position to comment on it and it was not one of the things that contributed to Nightwick Abbey.

I have often compared Nightwick's shifting, growing, and possession of consciousness to Rose Red in conversations with players, but apparently have never stated that on this blog. Earlier this month one of those players pointed out to me that the show is currently on Hulu. I responded that I was doomed to watch it. In response he made this image he made:

It's 2002. It's 2023.

I had only seen it when it originally aired in 2002 and thought that it would likely have aged poorly and that my decision, conscious or otherwise, to ignore it on this blog would be the correct one. When I rewatched it with my wife I found that it was a melodrama in a style rarely seen on television anymore that is indeed dated and corny, but the practical effects at least were charming and some of the ideas still echoed with me the way they did when I was 14.

Rose Red, you see, is a miniseries about a house with a consciousness of it's own. As they say near the climax, "the house is the vampire." Based loosely on the Winchester house, the fictional house of the movie was constantly under construction due to the belief by the lady of the house that her daughter would not die so long as the house continued to be built upon. Even after she disappears the house persists under construction, at first with mortal workers and then only with spectral ones.

A college professor who has moved from regular psychology to parapsychology plans on bringing a bunch of psychics to the house to wake it up. It goes poorly. Practical effects are used along with the worst CGI you've ever seen. It's cheesy but I still liked it.

More important there are several lines that are definitive in how I view Nightwick Abbey as a Nightmare Realm. ""You can count [the rooms] one day and it's 74 and another day it's 87 or 96." In Rose Red, space is psychological. Rooms with their own obvious histories appear that are on no official plans and which no present inhabitant has ever been inside. Visions appear to lead you into traps - either to die or to be absorbed by the house, depending on what it thinks of you.* The psychic powers of the team bring the garden in the solarium back to life. It's neat!

In the years since 2002 I've been very into stories about evil places. Netflix once said my most watched subgenres were "Strong Female Character" and "This Place is Evil." I have to think some of that is watching this show at a formative age. It seems to have cemented the idea in my brain of a place that actively hates you. A place with more rooms than you can ever count. A place haunted by the spirits of the dead. I wonder if there's a term for that.

* It's stated that its opinion of you is largely gendered - it likes (and therefore absorbs) women and hates (and therefore kills) men. In the intervening years this haunted me for reasons, but upon rewatching it the statement in the dialog is not supported by what actually happens to any characters on the show. At least three men seem to be absorbed by the house. Weird!

Saturday, October 14, 2023

A Vision Occasioned by the Movement of Celestial Bodies

There was a solar eclipse in North America today. It was a partial eclipse - the ring of fire type - which I mention both for posterity and because the effect is related to the thoughts I had while viewing it. I happen to live in one of the best cities for viewing it, and the building in which I live has a beautiful courtyard that made perfect viewing for it. My wife and I joined several neighbors in watching it in that very courtyard. While the others stared at the Sun for most of the duration - in stark disobedience to the warnings on the glasses we had - I looked behind at the sky and the garden in the courtyard.

Regular readers of this blog will know of my great affection for the works of Clark Ashton Smith, particularly his Zothique cycle. I'm also a great fan of Jack Vance's Dying Earth, probably to no one's surprise.* In their descriptions of the last days of Earth they describe how the dimming Sun sits in a sky of deep cerulean blue and that all the colors and shadows are somehow more lush and beautiful in that final, fleeting time.

And that's what I saw - the deep blue sky, a hue I'd never seen before. The courtyard with its magnolia trees bathing in it in shadow - cast somehow as though it was lunar midnight but with the vibrant colors of noon. The bricks were redder. The pale stone of the statues whiter. The leaves on the trees darker but with the vibrancy of summer even in October. It was as though I could see Mazirian's garden or the shadowed palace of Adompha, right here in southern Texas.

Then 20 minutes later it was gone. As fleeting and fragile as the Earth in those stories. The beauty of the thing more precious for its impermanence.

*Especially since it is one of the primary influences on one of my current campaigns.

Friday, October 6, 2023

In Fair Cuccagna: Lost Adventures

My typical readership will probably be surprised to learn I'm still running Cuccagna. Given my failure to blog about the escapades of the various characters and my propensity for both gamer and actual ADHD behavior, one would be forgiven for thinking this game had been shelved. But it's not true! 

I will try to briefly recount the major points I missed.

The House of the Gnoles
  • Two expeditions were made against this ignoble house of tar-covered beasts! Both involved significant combats occurring on the front lawn. 
  • During the first, they also encountered a spooky sheet ghost and a bunch of animated knick knacks.
  • A fairy sword of great puissance was won and is currently carried by Lord Saurr. It's powers are such that it was perhaps unwise for me to hand it out as treasure, but alas the deed is done.
  • On the way to their second expedition, Saurr almost got eaten by an alerion, the lord of all eagles.
  • The second expedition was mostly mopping up after the first, though a second - and more formidable - ghost was encountered in the attic and teleported using The Sword of Elfland to the manse of Prospero the Orange.
The Temple of Apollyon
  • All the men in the village of Serpentona had gone missing (and many of the women too). Oh no!
  • Turns out there was a cult of maenads worshipping Apollyon there!
  • They were squatting in an Acherontic ruin.
  • They fought a lot of serpents - with at least one causing them to debate the taxonomy of "serpents" vs "snakes" in the World of Nightwick.
  • The also fought, and sometimes captured, a bunch of maenads with snake-like appearance. Weird!
  • The most dramatic fight was possibly with a group of harpies in the second delve (of 5), who attempted to pick up and drop several of the party from a great height. It was clear they had done this with the men of the village.
  • During their stay in Serpentona they met Prospero the Red and found out he is both sexist and totally whipped. What a loser!
  • In keeping with the strategy developed in the House of the Gnoles, both an amphisabaena and a creature I will only call "the Shining One" were both teleported to the manse of Prospero the Orange. I bet he's mad!
  • In the largest treasure hoard of the dungeon they found a treasure map leading to seemingly somewhere in the middle of the Starry Sea. Jules' research showed this place was likely to be the Palace of the Sea King, an Old God formerly venerated on the island chain.
I forgot When Exactly
Current Hooks and Loose Ends
  • Noble men (and a few women) have been building strange seaside doors on their townhouses. Soon after they go missing. Mysterious!
  • Prospero the Orange seems to have moved men into both the Lapis Vaults and the House of the Gnoles. Who knows what he's up to?!
  • Speaking of which, a lot of the lowest level of the Lapis Vaults remain unexplored. I wonder if they'll ever go back.
  • They have a treasure map! Exciting!
  • Prospero the Green's chief henchman Mercutio told Skleras the Stray  to sneak into Castle St Swail to spy on the Knights in White Satin. He hasn't done it yet. I hope Mercutio isn't mad!