The Long, Weird History of Satanic Panic in America's Courtrooms

Feb 10, 2016

The infamous witch-hunting manual, The Malleus Maleficarum, or Hammer of Witches, helpfully lists the types of evidence one can find to prove diabolic allegiance. A witch will have a devil’s mark, a blemish where she has been suckled by her supernatural familiar, or a mark placed on her flesh by the devil himself. No such evidence was found in Salem, however, but claims of witchcraft persisted, and twenty people lost their lives.

Even Ancient Romans Loved Fast Food

Jan 13, 2016

Before it was covered in ash and pumice from nearby Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D., ancient Pompeii was a thriving resort town. Wealthy Romans retired to their villas, enjoyed entertainment at an excellent amphitheater, drank or bathed in clean water delivered via aqueduct, and savored food from thermopolia.

We Shot These Furry Friends into Space. For Science!

Jan 04, 2016

It wasn’t until 1957 however, that the dog Laika became the first living creature to orbit the earth. Laika was a mongrel stray found by Soviet scientists on the streets of Moscow. Vladimir Yazdovsky, a medical scientist on the project, called her “quiet and charming.” Although she took to the training well, Laika died several hours into her mission due to stress and overheating—a fact that was kept secret until 2002.

In 1859 a Man Declared Himself Emperor of the United States

Nov 02, 2015

San Francisco is a city that welcomes dreamers. A long list of eccentric personages have called the city home over the years. To really get a scope of the weird, let’s name a few: there’s the World Famous Bushman, who devoted his life to hiding behind eucalyptus fronds and scaring unsuspecting tourists, Bummer and Lazarus—a wild pair of canines whose adventures were chronicled by 19th-century newspapers, and intergalactic activist Frank Chu, who has spent the past decade trying to end the treasonous alliance between the U.S. government and the “12 Galaxies” (a nefarious network of alien populations). Even Anton LaVey, the Founder and High Priest of the Church of Satan, can be counted among the odd many.

While all of these characters are fascinating, none are quite so grand as Joshua Abraham Norton...

Lovecraft Must Die! Part 1, Part 2

A two-part essay that explores the reach of seminal modern weird fiction writer H.P. Lovecraft and poses the question, did he have to die for his work to live on? Originally appeared on the geek culture site Unwinnable, and then reprinted in their first print publication Unwinnable: Year One.

Alan Moore: On Villainy

"With Moore, you have an outspoken creator who has more or less created the modern mainstream comic industry and who is generally dog-piled with derision and bile every time he opens his mouth. Moore, who has written some of the most complex villains to grace a nine-panel grid, who stalks around Northampton Borough wearing skull rings and his trademark big bastard of a beard, who is extremely outspoken and opinionated, certainly doesn’t go out of his way to not seem nefarious."

Original interview appears in Slice Magazine issue # 7 "Villains".

A Guided Horror

"For those who don’t know, Sleep No More is an immersive, interactive (to a point) play that takes place inside a fictional old, renovated hotel on Manhattan’s West Side. The stage is composed of all five floors of the building, each floor a different set. The first floor I was on was a kind of market arcade with a candy shop, tailor, photographer, witchy apothecary shop, speakeasy and more. Some of the other floors included forests, apartments, a ballroom, graveyards with crumbling stone walls and statues of angels pointing ominously off into the darkness. "

Miskatonic Theatre

"When one thinks of the worlds of H.P. Lovecraft, especially one who is already familiar with his works, downtown Manhattan isn’t the first thing that springs to mind. Generally the 20th Century’s master of the weird tale causes people to think of long dead underwater cities, reeking chthonic tunnels, and dark clusters of ancient forests. But, if you’re in the city, and are an intrepid investigator, you’ll have head down to Manhattan’s East Village. There you’ll mount the cracked and pitted stone stairs outside of 85 East 4th Street. Once inside you’ll sidle up to a ticket-booth, a glass partition separating you from the bespectacled man within, lit by a yellowish light. The man in the booth will either sell you a ticket, or check your name off of a list. When you’ve got your ticket, you’ll walk through a dim entryway lined with dark and dirty velvet curtains. Once through, another gentleman will take your ticket from you and without a word point you toward a small flight of black wooden steps. Those steps will lead you to a dark pit, a small recessed stage area. Dark, creaky, dusty; there are sloping tiers of seats, a number of them occupied by other seekers of the strange, but many others are empty, lifeless." 

In a world where geek culture is becoming ever more pervasive, where video-games sell millions of copies and comic books are adapted into blockbuster movies, there still remains one hobby that rides along the edges. There is still one hobby that is shunned by the mainstream. Join me now as we explore the world of tabletop role-playing games. Join me, the TABLETOP WIZARD!

The Devil and the D20

"One of my first experiences with the idea of role-playing games was the 1982 movie, Mazes and Monsters. The film was loosely based on the real-life case of James Dallas Egbert III where, supposedly, a mentally unstable young man who was playing a live-action game of D&D went missing and was believed to have committed suicide in the steam tunnels beneath Michigan State University. That was a false hypothesis put forth by the private detective that Egbert’s parents hired. It was parroted by the local media, thereby lending it credence. Egbert was actually hiding out at a friend’s house the entire time, and while he had played D&D in the past, it wasn’t the reason he went missing."

Save versus Superstition

"There’s a scene in the role-playing documentary The Dungeon Masters where one of the subjects, Scott, is sorting and arranging his hundreds of dice. As Scott’s doing this, he’s talking about how the dice need to be touched so that they’ll gain some of your personal vibrations and roll well; then he starts to talk about the die that roll poorly. Those die are separated from the rest, dipped in water and put in the freezer. Once the offending die is frozen, all of the other dice are lined up and the frozen die is placed in the middle so the other die can “see” it. Scott then smashes the frozen die with a hammer as a lesson to the rest of his dice. “This is what happens when you roll poorly!” he shouts at the rows of unshattered dice."

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

"Okay, so you’re running a game for your friends. They have their characters rolled and ready. You have your plot outline or module all set, and your enemies and monsters are ready to go. You start the game and you want the player characters to rush right to the haunted house or cave of dread, but they want to go to a bar first or pick up some weapons for the upcoming fight. They want to question the person who gave them this mission; they want to question that person’s sons and daughters – then probably his gardener, too. It’s their right to do so, as PCs live in a vibrant world of people and danger. The very essence of role-playing games is to become immersed within another world, to explore and interact with the people and creatures that live there, be they friend or foe, right? That means that you as a Game Master need to prepare for one more thing: non-player characters."

To Screen or Not to Screen

"Imagine you were casting a commercial for a role-playing game. What would your set look like? Your actors? Your props? You’d probably choose a dinner table scene – to try to get away from the whole “playing in the basement” thing that haunts RPGers. You’d cast both men and women, probably more men, which is most likely statistically accurate. You’d populate the table with chips and soda, with game books and dice; and then to show your viewers who is the Game Master, you’d probably have him behind a GM’s screen, right? I can see it now, his sallow face scanning the room, bags under his eyes due to lack of sleep, fingers marred with pencil lead from drawing and redrawing maps on blue-gridded graph paper, the bottom part of his face – likely hiding a sadistic leer – hidden behind a protective screen."

Role-Players Assemble!

"I write a lot about fantasy role-playing here – partly because those are the RPGs that are most dominant in the marketplace, and partly because that’s probably what most people think of when someone mentions role-playing games. But magic and monsters is not the only type of RPG out there – far, far from it, in fact. I’ve written about horror role-playing, so now it’s time to tackle something a little bit different: superhero role-playing."

The Tabletop Wizard Plays a Great Old One

"October! The time when most people are thinking about black cats, witches, what kind of sexy black cat or witch they’re going to dress up as (or where they’re going to go to view women dressed up as sexy black cats or witches), the Tabletop Wizard is thinking of something completely different: Horror role-playing."

The Future is NOW! Sort of.

"When you think of role-playing games, the image that most likely comes to mind is a group of players sitting around a table, talking, laughing and rolling dice. This is certainly how it’s worked out for me whenever I’ve clustered around a basement or kitchen table with my pals. There is something inherently magical about co-creating a world with the people who are breathing the same air as you."

Dungeon Master Sacrifices Virgins in the Name of Role-Playing: Part 1, PART 2

"Something I’ve always wanted to try: Round up a bunch of adults who have never played Dungeons & Dragons and run them through a full-on fantasy role-playing D&D campaign. At this point, I’m kind of a role-playing evangelist. To me, the idea of role-playing is not a nerdy thing. It’s a creative and artistic pursuit that blends improv, strategic thinking, creative writing, visual art, problem solving and social collaboration. It’s uniquely social, it’s non-competitive and it relies on actual human face-to-face communication. Even the Dungeon Master needs to be a team player and productive member of the group, because if his intention was to just kill his friends each week, his friends would stop showing up."

The Tabletop Wizard at NYCC 2011

"Amid the chaos of New York Comic Con there existed an oasis of calm and reason. Far from the crush of the crowds, the flashing lights of video games, the cloying scent of vinyl, sweat and popped corn, lay the North Hall. That fabled land where few would tread, home of the D-list celebrity (may their autograph hands always be strong!), a life-sized roaming R2D2, a time-traveling DeLorean, two Batmobiles and the Wizards of the Coast gaming area. While the main halls were packed with mainstream movies, comic book companies and book publishers, a large portion of the North Hall was filled with tables and chairs. Around those tables people, often strangers to one another, sat across from each other playing Magic: The Gathering, Dungeons and Dragons 4th Ed. and a slew of D&D based board games. I’ve never played an RPG at a con before, and outside of my experience with D&D Encounters (See TTW#3), I’ve never played with strangers before. I mean, it’s not always the easiest thing to pretend that you’re a fantasy warrior in front of people you hardly know, but we were all there for the same thing, so judgment was at a minimum."

Casual Encounters – Fighter seeks Mage for NSA Adventure

"One thing Dungeons & Dragons has done well through the years is reinvent itself for each generation. It began as an add-on to a miniatures war gaming system; it then spun off into at least four further tabletop editions, each one taking a different crack at defining a rule set for fantasy-adventure role-playing."

What’s Your THAC0?

"I remember my father and my brother opening the box, flipping through the book, and realizing that this wasn’t a board game. This was something completely different. There were crazy uncolored dice in that box, with a little wax crayon that you had to rub onto the dice to see the numbers."

A Brief History of Role-Playing

"The defining pleasure in playing an RPG for me is in the interactive storytelling. Why settle for just watching Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones on a screen when you can have your own fantasy adventures, face-to-face with live people?"