Category Archives: horror

I’ve Got Some Assassin’s Creed Ghost Stories at Playboy

AC Dickens

There’ll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago…

Man, ghost stories at Christmas. Can I live at your house, Andy Williams?

The only holiday ghost story at my house is A Christmas Carol–but then again, it’s pretty great. Victorianism and Christmas go together like eggnog and brandy, and what did Victorians love more than anything?

Ghosts.

Don’t believe me? Well guess what: Dickens himself was a paranormal investigator-I’m dead serious, it’s a documented fact.

And you can read all about it in my new Playboy article “The Truths Behind Assassin’s Creed Syndicate’s Ghost Stories.”

I can’t emphasize how much historical weirdness is in this article. It has:

  • Queen Victoria Being Creepy
  • Lincoln Attending a Séance
  • Mourning Warehouses
  • Spring-Heeled Jack
  • The London Monster
  • Trance Mediums Making Out With Clients
  • Spirits From Beyond Calling for Women’s Suffrage

Check it out–or I’ll haunt you.


Three Great Halloween Board Games

I’m already getting amped for Halloween.  It’s hard not to be in Hong Kong, where the Ghost Festival and Mid-Autumn Festival mean that the season’s already steeped in specters and harvest imagery before October even arrives.

And once the season of the witch officially starts, I’m ready to go berserk on everything Halloween — including Halloween board games.

Board games  are perfect Halloween accompaniments. They bring friends together, away from the night chill (or stifling heat, if you’re in Asia like me).  A good game pairs well with popcorn, tiny candy and hot chocolate, and the role-playing elements speak to the season’s masks and costumes.

So here’s three Halloween board games to get you into the season.

 

Betrayal at the House on the Hill (3-6 Players, $38.60 Avalon Hill)

There is a house that sprawls in every direction. A handful of investigators enter, exploring the tumbledown rooms to find the house’s secrets. But the mansion is alive and watching, and will soon turn one of the investigators against the others.

Betrayal at the House on the Hill is a strategy board game with a brilliant gimmick—the board is never the same twice. As the players move through the house, they pull each room tile at random, building the house as they go. The solarium might be next to the crypt. A wine cellar could hide a secret entrance to a pentagram chamber. The mystic elevator can deliver you to any door in the house. The players poke through the ruins, gaining items and activating “omens” until enough cards get dealt to trigger the “Haunt”—one of fifty scenarios from an included booklet. Once the Haunt begins, a random player gets labeled the “traitor” and controls whatever nasty creatures appear, trying to fulfill some dark plan. The other players use teamwork to stop the traitor’s dark ends.

Betrayal brings B-movie horror to life. The tone is creepy without being ghoulish and the scenarios have sufficient variation to play several times in a row without getting bored. One game might have the players fleeing from a mummy while the next sees the entire house being pulled into hell piece-by-piece.

 

Witch Trial (3-7 Players, Free Download from Cheapass Games)

It’s an age of superstition and social tension, when accusations fly and social deviation can bring a charge a charge of witchcraft. You’re not a witch though, and neither is anyone else, really – you’re a lawyer in the middle of this madness.

This lucrative, lucrative madness. Because you don’t really care who’s guilty or innocent, just like in real life, what matters is who makes the most money.

Of course there’s a problem – witchcraft isn’t exactly illegal per se, at least not in the small-town Edwardian times depicted on the cards. So instead you’ll have to charge people with lesser crimes like golfing, swearing or tampering with the mail.

In Witch Trial, you’re a legal mercenary, defending or prosecuting suspects on a whim depending on how much they’ll pay in fees. The guiltier the client looks, the more they’re worth if you win – but the harder it is to convince a jury.

Each turn, players buy evidence cards and match charges with suspects in order to bring a case to trial, with another player opting in as defense council. Depending on the client’s guilt rating, they jury level’s set at a number between one and twelve. After players put down evidence cards to move the jury level up and down, the defense attorney rolls two dice – if it’s less than or equal to the jury score, the client gets off scot free and the defense gets the money. If not, the prosecution gets the cash. And the client… well, who really cares about that guy anyway?

Witch Trial is exactly the kind of zany fun you expect from the folks at Cheapass Games. It’s fast, fun, easy and leads to an incredible amount of deal-making and wagering. It’s also free at the Cheapass website.

 

Werewolf (9-17 Players, Free)

Lie. Misdirect. Maul and lynch your friends! Werewolf is the ultimate social game of deception and mob rule. A moderator deals out a single card to each player, which they keep face down. Most players are Villagers, but two are hiding something—they’re secretly Werewolves, bent on devouring the Villagers in their sleep. Each turn has a day and a night phase.

During the night phase, the players close their eyes. The Werewolves open their eyes and silently decide who they’re going to kill. After they let the moderator know, they close their eyes and a special villager, the Seer, opens her eyes. The Seer can peek at one person’s card per turn, exposing their true nature to her.

During the day phase, everyone opens their eyes, and the moderator reveals who the Werewolves killed. Then everyone—Villagers, Seer, and secret Werewolves—start arguing about who they want to lynch that day. It’s a classic exercise in social misdirection. Werewolves try and direct suspicion away from themselves. The Seer tries to influence the decision without giving herself away to the Werewolves. When the players universally decide whom to lynch, they flip that player’s card and find out whether they’ve killed a shape-shifting murderer, an innocent townsperson, or even their Seer. Alcohol and grudges building up over multiple rounds things a lot more fun.

Werewolf works best when you play with ten or more people, and tops out at about seventeen. You can play it with an ordinary deck of cards or even post-it notes with the free online rules, but there are also professional versions available. Ultimate Werewolf ($17.99) is the most expansive set, with a dozen optional character cards. The Werewolves of Millers Hollow ($10.76) has several extra characters and the most attractive card art. Are You a Werewolf? ($7.99) is a budget version with lighter card stock and a few blanks to create your own special characters.


You Don’t Want To Eat Lovecraft’s Birthday Cake

How does one talk about Howard Phillips Lovecraft?

You can judge him by his fans.  Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, John Carpenter and Guillermo Del Toro have all cited Lovecraft as a formative influence.  You can see him in the Arkham Asylum of the Batman comics and the album covers of MetallicaBlack Sabbath, and Iron Maiden.  Borges dedicated a short story to him.  Joyce Carol Oates wrote the introduction to a collection of his stories.  The Library of America published a volume of his stories.  Each week, thousands of gamers roll dice in his honor.

You can likewise judge him by his prejudices and his contradictions.  Lovecraft fetishized historical places and speech, yet found astrophysics fascinating.  He was racially bigoted toward minority groups, yet yearned for the immigrants he saw to assimilate to American culture.  (An older, more extreme version of the “Why Can’t My Waiter Speak Good English?”/”Immigrants Are Stealing Our Jobs!” crowd we see today.)  Though his thoughts and stories were profoundly steeped in antisemitism, he married a Ukrainian Jew and had multiple Jewish friends.  Truly, one of the tragedies of Lovecraft’s life was that, for a man who rose above so many literary conventions, his everyday philosophy remained mired in old-fashioned racism that poisoned his friendships and hobbled his fiction.  One wonders what Lovecraft could’ve accomplished had his “cosmic” view of humanity extended to the foreigners and minorities he so maligned.

Still, we must take Lovecraft as he was, not as we would like him to be.  Though many of his stories are problematic and some even repulsive to modern readers, any historian will tell you that a figure can be historically significant and worthy of study despite being an enormous dirtbag.

For me, the real lesson of H.P. Lovecraft is that writers have to dig deep.  Yes, Lovecraft’s greatest addition to the literary canon was the Mythos – the notion that vastly powerful interstellar beings are always a hair’s breadth from destroying us – but that’s not what made his stories scary.  What make Lovecraft sing is that every horror, every fear, every clawing unnamable thing he put on the page originated deep within his psyche.

When Lovecraft was three, his father had a psychotic break while on a business trip.  He died five years later in a psychiatric hospital… so Lovecraft wrote about madness and asylums.

Lovecraft thought he was ugly, a view his mother seemed to instill in him when he was young… so Lovecraft created The Outsider and the abhuman faces of “The Innsmouth Look.”

Lovecraft had intense dreams where he stayed lucid… so he wrote about Randolph Carter in the Dreamlands.

A lifelong fear of the sea – and a visceral reaction to seafood – made Lovecraft write about tentacled monsters and human-fish hybrids.

He had overwhelming feelings of family obligation and legacy, which gave us Arthur Jermyn, The Rats in the Walls, and The Shadow Over Innsmouth.

Lovecraft felt small, and powerless, and isolated – so he imagined a universe where all of humanity was the same, whether they knew it or not.

The reason Lovecraft frightens us isn’t because of his cosmic monstrosities, the titanic inhuman behemoths of which he was so proud.  Actually, it’s the small, human concerns that frighten us.  It is the fear that our lives are meaningless, that our bodies will be corrupted, that we are being manipulated or worse, that the house we live in or the person residing next door conceal a sinister past.  In Lovecraft’s world, we are always living with our backs to the cliff with our heels just over the precipice.  We are never as safe – or as sane – as we think.

These are all things that H.P. Lovecraft feared.  Through his writing he managed to pass on his terrors, his helplessness, his flat-out dysfunction onto his readers.  Connections like that are the hallmark of a good writer.

Many academics talk about how Lovecraft’s stories are divorced from emotion and humanity, with paper-thin protagonists serving as detached narrators.

That’s not the case at all.  Lovecraft is all over the pages of his work.  He’s there in the crawling dread of insanity, the gnawing feeling of something outside mankind’s vision, the revolting rubberiness of a sea god, and the intricate impossibility of the Dreamlands.  These things are the humanity in his work, and the emotion too.   They’re a conduit straight to a human mind buckled by dread and constrained emotion.  The protagonist in Lovecraft stories is – sometimes literally but always figuratively – Lovecraft himself.

HPL put himself all in, and you should too.

So, in honor of that massively-head-screwed genius:  Write.  Squeeze your soul.  Hold it above the page and ring it out like a dish sponge.

Write about things that scare you.