A Review of Killing Season – The Unsolved Case of New England’s Deadliest Serial Killer by Carlton Smith

Killing Season

As most of you know, I am an author of cold case true crime books so this one caught my attention. With cold cases there are two things that get the reader engaged. First is the crimes. Second, is, “Why did this case end up not getting solved?” It is in this second topic area that this book soars.
Starting in 1988 a serial killer struck in the town of New Bedford MA, killing wantonly and dumping bodies along a highway. The town itself is a character in this book, you get a feel for the grit and the drug culture that makes you feel like you want to take a shower after you read some sections.
This is not about the serial killer as much as a story of a prosecutor gone wild. It is about individuals that may have been (likely) wrongly targeted and a search for facts to back that up, rather than the pursuit of the murderer. If you ever wanted to read a book to learn why most cold cases don’t get resolved – this is the book for you! The author takes a very complicated story of grand juries, bumbled investigations, and outright wrongful prosecution and weaves it into a dark tapestry of lies, deceit, and hollow justice.
Carlton Smith has done a masterful job of guiding the reader to form their own opinions; though we will all end up at the same place…it is just a matter of when and how we get there. It is not a riveting book, but one that infuriates you that the justice system has failed these victims so completely and utterly.  Any book that can make you furious is one worth reading.
I highly recommend this true crime tale that has me marking off New Bedford as a city I never wish to visit. I need to look at what other true crime books this author has to offer.

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Writing BattleTech – A Huge Sigh of Relief For The Weekend

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Welcome to the chaos of my reference material as I work on a BattleTech novel

 

Most of this post will come in the form of a disjointed rambling rant of sorts.  My wife went to Michigan for the weekend, leaving me to work on THE BattleTech novel.  The result, five chapters in two days.  Whew!  Time for a break I think.  When you have philosophical debates with yourself about firing missiles, it is getting close to Beer O’Clock.  Yes, it is a volley of missiles– but is it also a wave, a salvo, or a barrage?  Barrage sounds better for autocannons.  Then comes the entire nasty-ass debate about what color comes from what laser.   So I played a few rounds of MechWarrior Online (and lie to myself about it being research) and I don’t agree with their color choices (or sound effects) – so I broke out Call of Duty (my BattleTech Novel) and opted to go with what I put in there.  When you write the canon, you use the canon.

I have printouts of two Clan toumans, six specific BattleMechs, and a number of vehicles close at hand.  Here’s a photo of the side-desk next to me (above) – littered with its own battlefield of Tech Readouts and references.  I am glad I kept my old MechWarrior Dark Ages Writer’s Guide (that’s the big green cloth covered beast standing upright.)  I haven’t had to use it in ages, but it is nice to.  Of course I get distracted for 15 minutes reading through it.

Your mind gets racing with mistakes you make – warship vs. WarShip, for example.  I know I should use the writer’s guide, but I don’t at this stage.  I want to capture all of this stuff before I forget it. Notes are made on sticky notes for things you have to go back and fix.

Then there’s the goofy stuff you can’t find.  A warrior I found a reference to in the Dark Ages material pilots to BattleMaster BLR-4S-A.  What the hell?  I know what a 4S is – but not a 4S-A.  That A stands for “Argh!”

At one point today I had six PDF’s open at once, searching for specifics about character eye and hair color and – oddly enough scars.  It turns out, we have scarred the heck out of a lot of characters.  I am beginning to think we paid our artists based on the number of scars they drew.  I need to remember that joke for Brent – so I jot that down.  Which arm on that character was bionic again?  Then, surprise, you find contrary information.  What source do I use?  More notes for when the continuity people come back at me.  Sarna.net is a great source at times, but there are lot of Dark Ages gaps.

Being old school, the newer ‘Mechs do drive me nuts.  I have to explore that non-game mechanics of AP Gauss Rifles and MRM’s. The Dark Ages stuff adds in chainsaws and drills too. A lot of head shaking goes on.

Then comes the conversations with myself.  What would he say?  I read the line out loud and realize that on paper the line is great, but it is impossible to say without pausing for a breath of air.  Okay, that has to be changed.

I check Facebook and get into a debate with some fan, which usually ends with me shutting off Facebook for a while.

My mind drifts to the logistics of the operations…how much do I want to put the reader through.  I have read some Warhammer 40k stuff and cringe at some of the detail they sometimes dive into.  You can’t ignore the logistics, but it doesn’t make the novel any more fun.  I know if I gloss over it, the fans will whip out Strategic Operations and make my life a living hell.

On a break, I check the word count.  93k so far.  I remember the days when we are capped at 65k words.  John has warned me to target 124K.  I didn’t want to chuckle out loud when he said that – because I will pass that target. That also means I have to keep a list of things that are candidates to be cut.   More sticky notes.

This book comes with a lot of pressure tied to it.  First off, it is a major storyline book.  Hell, it is the first of its kind in a long time.  Mike Stackpole always made it look so easy.  I have to walk a tightrope between too fanboy, too political, too military, too earthshattering (literally) and too much.  You end up reminding yourself that there is a contingent of fans out there that are going to bitch and whine no matter what you do.  I love the fans, but there are times…   Ultimately I end up reminding myself that I need to write a novel that I would enjoy reading.  That seems to have worked for me a few times in the past.

I reave (deliberate use here) the list of fan names I use for characters and places in the book.  There’s a lot of them here, which is great.  I know a few will not be happy with the choices I made, but it has been a lot of fun so far.

And then the day comes to an end.  Enough BattleTech for now.  Time to respond to some FOIA stuff on my latest true crime book project.  Yes, I am writing two books at once.  I sure hope I don’t get them confused…

I knew I was in trouble at Moe’s ordering my lunch when I was asked if I wanted a burrito.  I replied, “Aff.” I would love to tell you I am joking here, but I cannot.

I’m going to back away from this now…time to chill.

Workplace Humor – Things we send in email and what they really mean

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My buddy Kevin (Dude) sent me three of these last week.  I decided to harvest my own inbox and expand the list.  Note:  These interpretations are my own and in now way reflect my employer, co-workers, etc.  If any of my colleagues recognize the use of these phrases, well, that’s on you.    

  •  “I have attached this slide deck to assist you in understanding…”  You are so stupid, I prepared supplemental material with pretty pictures to make it easier for you. 
  • “Per my previous email…”  You clearly didn’t read or understand what I wrote you before, so now I will repeat it. 
  • “Per our agreement…”  You violated something you agreed to, now I must explain to you what it is. 
  • “I suggest a face-to-face meeting…”  We need to stop firing these idiotic emails back and forth.  Let’s sit down so I can call you ‘asshole’ to your face. 
  • “I am copying in (Name) for his perspective.”  We’ve already met and agreed you are an asshat.  I’m copying him as written proof of that diagnosis.
  • “It is imperative that we…”  This is important and it is embarrassing to all of us that I have to explain that to you. 
  • “I’m circling back to you on…”  You didn’t respond to this last time, so now I have to nag your sorry-ass about it again. 
  • “I’m curious as to your thoughts on this…”  Make a decision – ANY decision.  Just take a stand for Pete’s sake. 
  • “To reiterate…” I am repeating this…again – because apparently you are slow. 
  • “Moving forward…”  Don’t ever bother me with this shit again.
  • “Respectfully submitted,”  The exact opposite.  “Hatefully submitted.”
  • “This was helpful.”  I wish you had sent this to me weeks ago when I asked for it. 
  • “Sorry to bother you again on this subject.”  I’m sorry you chose to blatantly ignore me. 
  • “Thank you for your explanation.”  Receipt of your lame excuse is acknowledged. 
  • “I’m not sure my last message was received…”  Oh, it was received…you just didn’t respond.  I’m not going away dickhead.
  • “I apologize for the misunderstanding…”  I am deeply and sincerely sorry that you are an asshole.
  • “It is difficult to find a time that works for both of us…”  It’s not my fault you can’t manage your calendar. 
  • “As I understand it…”  This is reality as I know it.  God only knows what you think.
  • “I look forward to our meeting.” There goes an hour or more of my life flushed down the toilet.
  • “Thank you in advance…”  You have a to-do item – just fucking do it.
  • “I hope you don’t mind…”  I don’t care if you mind – do your job.
  • “I realize that you are busy, but…”  I don’t appreciate you ignoring me in the last four attempts to get you to respond.
  • “Your comment on _____ is fair…”  Okay, you made your point – I made a mistake.  Thanks for bringing it up again just to make me feel bad. 
  • “Just a friendly reminder…”  I presume you have the onset of early dementia, it makes it easier for me to cope with you not doing what you need to. 
  • “Let’s action this…”  Stop replying to the email string and do some actual work!
  • “You may not be aware of the history…”  Your decision was stupid, now I have to explain to you why; complete with historical context. 
  • “It might help you to know the background…”  You are about to do something stupid, so let me explain why you shouldn’t.
  • “No action required.”  I am sending you this to cover my ass.  Just play along and now one will get hurt.
  • “I understand your role…”  I LOVE you mansplaining to me what you do. 
  • “I included you on this email string to make sure you were in the loop…”  This is part of your job – so stop whining about me emailing you about it.  And the only loop I want to see you in is a noose. 
  • “Brilliant!”  You actually responded correctly and on-time.  You get a star. 
  • “With all due respect…”  Prepare yourself for my explanation as to why you are tragically wrong. 
  • “FYI” I am covering my ass here. 
  • “Please advise…”  There’s a button on the email called, “Reply.”  Give it a try. 
  • “According to the system…”  I hear what you are saying, but the data says something entirely different.
  • “Just to clarify…”  I will use smaller words this time since the big ones clearly overwhelmed you.
  • “Any updates on this?”  I’m not going to let this slide, douchebag. 
  • “I’m sure you are already aware of this…”  I’m sure you are completely blindsided by this…so allow me to be the bearer of bad news. 
  • “I’d like to point out…”  Let me explain just how wrong you are. 
  • “Don’t hesitate to reach out to me on this…”  I am pretending that I will give you the time of day to re-read this email to you.
  • “Per our operating model…”  We put together a mysterious and complex process, didn’t involve you, didn’t communicate it, but expect you to follow it. 
  • “We need to give this the appropriate level of due diligence…”  You might actually have to read this. 
  • “Great!”  You finally understand…it sure took long enough. 
  • “I want to make sure we avoid this in the future…”  I know that you are prone to repeating the same mistake that led to this email, as such don’t make me kill again.
  • “This is a high priority…”  This is a high priority for the next hour or two, then I will be distracted by the next thing that is a high priority. 
  • “Apologies for me not…”  You caught me!  I’m impressed enough to admit it. 
  • “It has been a pleasure…”  Clearly I am into S&M because this has been torture.
  • “Thank you for your valuable input…”  You’ve made your point, please shut up
  • “I want to make sure we are on the same page…”  Frankly, I’m not sure you’re reading from the same book. 
  • “I was hoping we could collaborate on…”  I need someone to do the work so I can claim credit for it. 
  • “I don’t want you to feel like you’re being excluded…”  But you are. 
  • “I thought you might want to see this…”  Someone is screwing you over and I’m willing to bet they haven’t told you. 
  • “Would (insert day) be convenient?”  You need to get this done before that day or I swear, I will come after you.
  • “Many thanks!”  Fuck off.
  • “Best regards!”  Don’t ever contact me again. 

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Mystique – a game setting for Kids on Bikes RPG

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It isn’t often I publish a campaign setting – so use it! 

I really enjoyed Kids on Bikes when I picked it up at Gen Con.  I knew that I needed a small town for the players to be based in.  It needed to be simple – but relatively complete, with lots of stories and legends for players to latch onto for possible adventures.

Welcome to Mystique.

This town can be plopped down in the Midwest, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio – you make the call.  It is generic in nature.  I’ve tried to provide enough color and characters to feed a lot of different adventures.

Enjoy and use!

  1. McGreggor’s IGA. Ozzie McGreggor’s IGA is the grocery store for the town.  It’s small but is almost always well stocked.
  2. The Barber Shop. For men in the town, this is the social network.  On Saturdays the town’s leading citizens sit for hours talking about the football games The barber, Drake Coy, is a wealth of information.
  3. Jacobson’s 5 and 10. This department store is on three floors (two and a basement).  Toys and household items are in the basement.  The old oak floors creak in this place and it still has a lunch counter and a large candy selection.
  4. Trimble’s Hardware. Musty, dusty and everything you might ever need – Trimble’s is where you go for everything from a handful of nails to tools.  You can buy anything here from guns to dynamite.  Old Man Trimble is a drinker and is often found asleep in the afternoons if there are no customers.  He hates kids “There’s no toys in here boy!”
  5. Sugar’s Rexall Drug Store. This is the town pharmacy and is well known for its gift card selection.  There are big leather chairs in the back of the store near the pharmacy counter, almost always filled with an elderly person.
  6. The Hole In the Wall Liquor Store. This store is renowned for its alcohol in the back and magazines and comics in the front.  The magazine rack has wooden covers over the girlie magazines or the more risqué subjects (like Saga).  The comics rack is a favorite place for kids to congregate (no reading more than a minute).
  7. The Mystique Public Library. Miss Harper, an elderly woman, runs the library with an iron fist.  She does not tolerate talking children or anyone digging into the seedier past of her hometown, which she loves.  Her husband died of a stomach ailment and rumors still circulate that she poisoned him.
  8. The GAR Hall. Long ago converted into a local history museum, the GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) hall has a Civil War cannon out front.  The curator, Robbie Biggs, is a creepy old man but knows many of the town’s secrets and is a great source of historical information. On Halloween, the kids like toilet papering the cannon and pyramid of cannonballs…it is something of a local ritual.  The hall is creepy and there are rumors of people seeing ghost soldiers outside of the hall.
  9. Mystique High School. There is a persistent rumor that a student in the 1940’s killed himself jumping off of the roof holding onto a large umbrella.  His ghost is said to haunt the third floor of the building.  This rumor of the death is true!  Timmy Jenkins jumped off the roof in April of 1958.  Some accounts say he was pushed by older boys, but most claim he jumped all on his own.  He lingered in the hospital in Pottsdale where he eventually died.  The boy accused of pushing him is Fred Axman, a bit of a local bully even to this date.  He is constantly being arrested for something and is said to have a vicious streak for anyone that crosses him.  He is the adult Biff Tannen of Mystique – “What are you looking at butt-head?”
  10. Mystique Middle School and Elementary
  11. Blake’s Marathon Station.    
  12. Burger Chef – the town’s only fast food restaurant.  The parking lot is THE hangout for kids on Friday and Saturday nights, especially the older kids.  Cars and bikes are parked there, music comes from open car windows.
  13. Mystique Court House, Sheriff’s Office, and Jail. Sheriff “Digger” Roberts is a Korean War vet..  He was a top-notch law enforcement officer when he was younger. After a high-speed chase one night that resulted in a carload of kids being killed, he turned dark and bitter.  No one blames him, except Madeline Ferguson, whose son Ray was one of the victims.  If she sees Digger, she makes a point of walking up to him and spitting in his face.  He just wipes it off.  He’s abrupt with kids and will not tolerate underage driving.  The sheriff has his own personal demons from his wartime experiences.  Rumor has it his wife left him because of his “night screams.”
  14. Brigg’s Café. This tiny little diner has a juke box in the corner and is a favorite spot for kids to hang out after school. It is a greasy spoon that closes at 7pm every night.  Brigg’s also serves ice cream and on a hot summer night, when everyone is cruising the gut or hanging out downtown, there can be a line into and out of the café.
  15. The Post Office.  There are three postal employees in Mystique.  Mildred Turner runs the post office with an iron fist.  Her two route carriers, Ben Waters and Barton Stain are good men – though Waters is a bit quirky.  Rumor has it he has been seen off-route, sometimes in people’s back yards, sneaking in alleyways.  He is rumored to be trying to sell some short stories, horror stories, based on events in the town to big time magazine.  Most people think of him as strange.
  16. Harper’s Paint and Wallpaper. 
  17. Luigi’s Bakery. Open at 6am and closing at 2pm, the aroma from this bakery fills the streets in the morning hours.
  18. The Cobbler Shoe Store. This is the shoe store in town.  Men’s shoes on the right, women’s on the left.
  19. The Brass Rail Bar. This is the local watering hole.  This is a dive bar at its best, with a haze of cigarette smoke always hanging in the air.  A pair of moose testacies, stuffed by a taxidermist, hang over the front door.  The floors are always sticky and the walls have old beer posters plastered one on top of the other as a bizarre wallpaper.  One regular, almost always drunk, Fester Fishkill.  He will often be found at the end of the bar or staggering home.  He warns kids – “stay away from that Mill Pond!”  Word is his son drowned there years ago.
  20. WZZK AM Radio. This small station has a window facing Main Street so you can see the DJ’s and news men at work.  Kids hang out after school to watch through the window as the latest hits are played.  The afternoon DJ, “Doctor Benny” is pretty popular locally, though he has had some run ins with the law in recent years.  He’s a hippie of sorts, known for his non-medicinal use of marijuana.
  21. Rank’s Pizzeria. A small mom and pop pizza place.  This is the kind of place you can go and play D&D if you want, as long as you order drinks and something to eat.  Four tables – most of their business is carrry-out.  Mrs. Ranks is a rotund lady who loves having kids in her place.  Her daughter Margaret is a cheerleader.
  22. Episcopal Church. 
  23. Elm Hill Cemetery. With a black painted wrought iron fence, this graveyard has two remarkable tombstones.  One is a Confederate grave marker (which is odd given this is in the North).  The other is a small stone marking “16 Bodies from the Reilly Circus Train Accident, September 10, 1938”
  24. Drapes Dress Shop.  A large dress and fabric store.
  25. Dingle’s TV and Radio Repair. 
  26. Forrest’s Dental Office. Dr. Dan Forrest is a third generation dentist.  His father, Francis, still works with him – and favors using whiskey to numb his patients over novacaine.
  27. Mike’s Bikes. This bicycle shop also has a back room where Mike Flannigan also works on motorcycles.  He always has projects going and welcomes local kids who want to sit and watch him work.  Mike is seen as “cool” by most kids.
  28. Mystique Mills Power Company. This vine covered brick building uses the dam to generate electrical power for the town.   Jake Cooper runs the power company – always decked out in bib overalls covered in oil.
  29. The train station. Back in the day, the train stopped daily in Mystique, but now it only comes twice a week.  Trains roar on past this old wooden station.  The loading docks are mostly empty now.
  30. Riker’s Lanes. This six lane bowling alley has a room that has been recently added called “Quarters” which serves as an arcade.  The whole place smells of beer and cigarette smoke, but they do have six different arcade games.  League night is Mondays.
  31. Mortimer’s Roller-Rink. Open Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights – Mortimer’s has a mirrored ball and is often the site for dates or for kids to just hang around.  The older kids like to pester the younger skaters – which sometimes gets them kicked out by Old Man Mortimer who owns the establishment.  The parking lot on a Saturday night is a popular hangout.
  32. Walt’s Welding. The smell of ozone fills the air.  If it is metal and you need it fixed – this is the place to come.
  33. K-Mart. Built five years ago, most of the local businesses hate the K-Mart – but almost everyone does shop there.
  34. The statue of Ira Gray. Mystique’s founder, Ira Gray, in his militia uniform, is at the center of the small roundabout.  Gray is best known for leading early settlers in the driving the local Chippewa tribe from what is now the city.  The original site of the Indian village is where the football field is now.  Old timers say that if you go out on the right night in late May, you can see the spirits of those that died there…but that is mostly a story aimed at scaring children.
  35. The mill pond and dam. A small dam generates power for the town.  The mill pond and adjacent park are popular with kids.  People like to canoe in the pond during the summer.  Sawback Creek feeds the millpond.  Many years ago the pond feed a saw mill and a grist mill at the site.  The foundations of those structures are still visible near the dam site.
  36. The Bellevue Drive In. Located five miles west of town, the Bellevue is open from May to September annually.  In recent years they have been showing some “strong R” movies and a lot of parents are up-in-arms about the changes.
  37. The Daily Chronicle Newspaper.  Published twice a week, the Chronicle is headed by a grizzled old editor, “Major” Preston Drew.  War vet, head of the Republican Party in town and sees his quest for truth in the press as some sort of holy mission.  His little two person operation, in his mind, is the heart and soul of Mystique.
  38. VFW Hall. Reserved for weddings, parties, and anniversaries – this hall has a small bar that is opened three evenings a week for veterans.  While the stonework building has seen better days, it is a hotspot for large family reunions or wedding receptions.
  39. Boxler’s Jewelry.
  40. Rainbow Furniture Store. The finest in late 1970’s furnishings.
  41. Hall’s Men’s Fine Clothing and Apparel. Suits and sweaters are common in the window of this store.
  42. This store has odds and ends from a lot of different families
  43. Nevelle’s Antiques. This dusty old store is filled with antiques and collectables and is run by Nevelle Ferd.  He doesn’t like kids being in his store at all.  His favorite line for anyone coming in with children, “Please keep your children on a leash!  I cannot be held responsible for anything they break – but you will be.”
  44. Andrew’s Billiards. This billiards hall has been boarded up for years yet it still has the stink of spilled beer. Rumors persist that there had been a fight that had resulted in someone getting killed that closed the old hall.

Other Places of Interest: 

The Alabaster.  Situated two miles north of town in a wooded and hilly area rests rotting remains of The Alabaster.  In 1870 the Alabaster was a state mental hospital until 1948 when it was closed due to a fire in the west wing that took the lives of 80 patients.  While the damage was repaired to the facility, it lost funding and was closed.  For a while it was used as a hospital, but that ended in 1952 and since then the old hospital has been boarded up.  The hospital was a center where shell-shock victims from the Great War and WWIII were treated.  Surrounded by a chain link fence, the facility is rumored to be haunted.  Kids challenge each other to spend the night in the old facility which has suffered from vandalism.  Teenagers have parties from time to time.  The facility was rumored to use a lot of experimental treatments including shock therapy on patients.  The equipment left in some rooms certainly validates that.  The west wing is said to be exceptionally creepy.  More than one person has claimed to hear the screams of spirits there or even smells like burning meat in the halls there.   A nearby farmer, Gregory Hanson, rumored to be a former patient, is known to show up and chase off any trespassers.

Avon Labs.  Three miles south of town, screened behind three rings of chain link fence, is Avon Labs.  During WWII the government opened the labs, allegedly as part of the Manhattan Project.  Strangely, it never appears in any history of the atomic bomb though.  Five years after the war the facility closed down rather abruptly.  The small brick two story building with a large attached metallic liquid storage tank is rumored to have deep underground tunnels and chambers.  Locals alive at the time saw a lot of heavy earth moving equipment and a stream of dump trucks taking away rocks and dirt during the construction of the labs.  The barbed wire on the top of the fence seems to be to keep people out, or perhaps, keep them in.

The secret facility rarely appears in the local papers – the people that worked there kept to themselves about their work. When the labs were shut down, a local sheep farmer, Jacob Abernathy, adjacent to the property, claims to have seen a strange green light envelop the entire structure and surrounding area.  Two weeks later the government purchased his farm and Abernathy moved on to Postemville, some 15 miles away.  Was it hush money?  Another local farmer reported that six of his cows died along the fence facing the facility – but it has been attributed to some sort of illness.

Some local kids have tried to work their way into the facility, only to have black suited men show up and escort them away.  Clearly the site is monitored for some reason, but the locals sure have no idea.

The Hanging Oak.  On a lone hill a quarter mile south of town off of Fisher Street is a massive 100 year old oak known as The Hanging Oak.  This is where criminals in early town history faced justice.  The high school kids have as tradition.  On prom night they hold a secret ballot, not for king and queen, but for the “Treeing Ceremony.”  The pair that are voted in are abducted, tied to the Hanging Oak, soaked in garbage and cow pies, ice water, and otherwise humiliated.  It is hazing at its worst.  Rumors persist that one young woman, many years ago, died as a result of this “tradition.” It is not a true story.  Loretta Muir was the subject and she was mentally scarred for life by the incident and has been sent to the state hospital, only visiting her family on Thanksgiving.  Her brother, even to this day (ten years later) is said to be tracking down those involved and extracting his own form of justice on them — or their kids.  So far he’s stayed one step ahead of the sheriff.

Mystique’s Historical Events:

The Reilly Circus Train Accident.  On September 10, 1938, a circus train derailed coming into the town, killing 16 performers, two elephants, and a hippo.  The train wreck resulting in a huge fire.  The locals buried the victims without an effort to identify them, in a mass grave along with the animals.  The Reilly Circus went bankrupt as a result.  Family members searching for their loved ones from the wreck were shunned by locals who wanted nothing to do with digging up the circus performers.  Some loud voices in the community stated publically that, “these tramps and hobos and circus people were simply not the kind of people that should be associated with our fine community.”  Some lawsuits resulted but ultimately the mass grave remains.  In the past, some of the family members of the victims have shown up to cause public stirs, one of them dumping a bucket of paint on Ira Gray’s statue in protest over how Mystique has treated them.  Several times someone has tried to dig up the mass grave – evidenced by the hole – but has not completed the task before daybreak.

Gray’s Massacre.  Major Ira Gray of the state militia led an unprovoked attack on the Chippewa village on the site of the town in 1822.  The official version is that the tribe had been raiding Gray’s camp, but his response certainly was overkill, leading to the slaughter of 22 men, women, and children.  Gray was called Iron Beard by the survivors who cursed him and those that he lived with.  It must have worked, because Gray dropped dead two days after the founding of the village of Mystique.  The Gray family is wealthy and powerful in town, living in one of the three mansions in the town.

It has long been rumored that those that were killed were burned in the village where they died – which would have been the football field for the high school.  That fits in with stories of strange happenings in that area.  People claim to have been attacked by an invisible force – or that they have heard the cries of agony of the victims of the slaughter.

The Murder Spree of Victor Morse.  Every family has a crime in its past and the Morse Madness is Mystique’s.  Victor Morse made his money off selling trusses in the mid-1800’s and amassed a great deal of wealth.  As a young man, he was known to be odd – out of sorts, downright quirky.  In 1868, at the age of 18, something snapped in Victor.  He killed his mother with a kitchen knife.  He went after his younger sister Ruth with a fireplace poker.  Ruth tried to get away, running upstairs after he hit her, but passed out at the top and fell back down.  His baby sister Agnes was found on the front porch in a basket when the police showed up, alive and well, and clearly put there by her brother.  Victor’s father, Anthony, has never been found but he has long been presumed dead.  Rumors of where his body surface from time-to-time.

Victor himself was seen in the community for the better part of a week but never apprehended.  He killed his girlfriend, Becky Jackson, with strangulation – and hung himself in the backyard of her family home in East Towne.

No one knows what drove Victor Morse to his murderous rampage.  The Morse mansion still exists in town but during the home tour, no one is showed the staircase.  It is believed that Ruth’s bloodstains on the oak stairs still remain and are visible.  Another rumor is that there was another Morse child who was born deformed and kept in the attic – and that finding her is what drove Victor over the edge.  The Morse family does not talk about the crimes and remains reclusive even to this day.

The Ferris Wheel Accident of 1955.  When the county fair came to town in 1955 no one anticipated that it would end in tragedy.  There was a structural failure of the ferris wheel ride that killed four children.  The carnival ride operator hung himself in the police cell where he had been taken for his own protection after the incident.  Most troubling was that the investigation showed that someone had deliberately loosened a number of key bolts on the ride, most likely the night before.  Why someone would do this and who is to blame is still unknown.  Rides did not return to the fair for two years after the horrific accident.

The Neighborhoods:

The Bottoms.  Every town has an area known as the wrong side of the tracks – and the Bottoms is it.  Most of the homes here are small, with tiny yards, broken fences, with the buildings themselves being run down, many lacking paint in the last decade.  Many were Sears kit homes that have long been neglected.  It’s not uncommon to see a car on blocks in the front yard.  This is the area where crime is more prevalent in Mystique.

Rumbletown.  Built on some higher ground than the Bottoms and separated by a thick copse of woods, Rumbletown is pure middle  class.  Nice homes, well kept -a handful dating back to the 1800’s, they have larger yards and there is a sense of prosperity.  It is also the kind of neighborhood where everyone knows what everyone else is doing.  Neighbors watch out for each other’s kids.

Oak Hills.  This neighborhood, along with East Towne, are older homes.  Oak Hills is pristine and well kept.  There are not a lot of kids in this part of town…it is mostly older families with long-term ties to the community.  There is money in Oak Hills, though a few younger families have moved in, lured by the charm of Victorian era homes.

East Towne.  The words, “old money” best describe this part of town.  Older homes with large yards, fenced or protected from the street by low brick decorative walls or hedges – this is where the wealth of Mystique has settled.  Here is the Gray Mansion as well as the Morse Estate and Warton Hill – the three mansions in town.  This neighborhood is elite and shuns outsiders.  Snooty blue-haired old ladies are the mainstay in this community – and many will tell any kids lingering around to, “get out before we call the police.”  Who you are in this part of town is determined by your family name and who you are related to.  It is very much a closed community.

Rackton.  Rackton is a mix of old and new homes – some in bad shape, some pristine.  There is not a lot of continuity in this community.  It is a hodge-podge of people – a mixing bowl of wealth and poor alike.  Rackton has a personality.  It is often a place where people buy their first home and there is a strong sense of community there.  Rackton tends to be the best of all of the other communities combined.  Parents watch out for each other’s kids here.

The Fair Grounds.  There are four pavilion buildings on the fair grounds, as well as a harness racing track and a barn.  The rest of the flat grassy meadow where the fair is held is mowed and maintained as an open town park.  The big elms and oaks that dot the area provide great shade and there are picnic tables scattered about to make it a great place to relax.  The parking lot is a well-known make-out spot for the older kids and a target for the sheriff on his nightly patrols.

Life in Mystique

Cruising the Gut.  Summer on Saturday nights is spent on main street.  Cars park on both sides of the street and kids hang out.  Older kids with cars cruise back and forth on Main.  The police try and curtail “cruising the gut,” as it is called, but it is token enforcement at best.  Everyone hangs out.

The Historical Society Home Tour.  The first week of October every year is the historical society home tour.  This is a chance for the historical homes in the town to open up for visitors to see them.  Preparations take weeks and often food is offered in homes for those on the tour.  The historical society sells tickets to the events and people come from over 100 miles away to see the stately older homes in the community.

The County Harvest Fair.  The county fair takes place the last week of August every year for seven days.  People come from all over the county to show off their fruits, vegetables, and prize livestock.  The big event is the demolition derby and the harness races each night.  The kids enjoy the carnival rides and food the most.

The Christmas Parade.  Two weeks before Christmas is the Christmas parade.  All of the stores are open and people fill the windows and sidewalks to see the floats, the marching band from the high school and the arrival of Santa Clause.

The 4th of July Town Picnic.  Held at the fairgrounds, this is a town-wide picnic.  There are several local bands that play and fireworks in the evening.  Rumors are under the grandstands the older men bring in moonshine – but that’s not the real focus of the festivities.

So there you have it – a complete little town awaiting some meddling kids on bikes…  Of course I realize now I could have sold this to Renegade Games.  Stupid, stupid, stupid!

Game Review – Kids on Bikes RPG

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This display got my attention

I was at GenCon this year with my nine year old grandson.  It was his first convention and we both were drawn in to Kids on Bikes, but Renegade Games.  He liked their display at the convention – I liked the very basic premise.  This is a RPG about kids exploring mysteries and strange happenings.  I thought this might be a good RPG to get my grandson going.

I wasn’t disappointed.

Right off the bat, this has the look, feel, and vibe of Stranger Things from Netflix. There are a lot of other potential sources of material though.  Any episode of Scooby-Doo could be the basis for an adventure.  “I would have gotten away from it if it wasn’t for those meddling kids!”  You can also tap films like ET, Goonies, Lost Boys, Stand By Me, Small Soldiers, Adventures in Babysitting, Home Alone, Gremlins, Silver Bullet, and others for some ideas.   This is about kids snooping around and getting into trouble – BIG trouble.  It is a brilliant niche in role playing games.  I recommend you play this in the 1970’s or 80’s. Picture an era before cell phones, before the internet – and you have a basis for gaming Kids on Bikes.

KidsonBikes

This is not a hack-and-slash RPG.  This is about role playing, pure and simple.  If you are looking for how many hit points a chainsaw does, this is not the RPG for you.  Character stats are RPG die, 1D4 to 1D20.  There are two incredibly simple concepts to master – Stat Checks and Conflict. Stat checks are simple.  Conflicts are a little different, where the narrative of how the conflict is resolved flips between players based on the results.  It is simple and oddly enough, eloquent.

A big piece of this game system is character building. I am not talking number-crunching skills, but who your character is and how they relate or interact with the other players.  You start with a troupe – like “Laid back slacker,” or “Reclusive eccentric.”  Yes, you can even be “The brutish jock.”  The folks at Renegade Games have done a LOT to make this work.  They even have guidelines for characters with handicaps.  You can have powered characters too.

Honestly, you can learn this game system in a matter of minutes.  There are only 80 pages (5×7) in the rules book.  While the $25 price might make some people flinch, I have to say I felt like I got my money’s worth with this game.  The artwork captures the vibe of the era and the general kinds of situations you might find the game.

The folks are Renegade Games make some additional stuff for the game and were kind enough to send me some.  First up, the dice.  The dice set is not needed for the game.  I like them though.  They are weirdly sized and have a skull for the high number.  These almost seem to harken back to the horrible dice we had to use back in the 1970’s.

KoB+-+Orange+Dice+V3

They have produced a character folder.  Wow did this bring back some memories.  The printing on this took me back to 1976.  It is not of a lot of use (there are two tables in it) but I have to admit, if you want to get into character – this helps.  If you weren’t alive in the 1980’s, it might be lost on you.  Trust me, Renegade nailed it.

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The most important thing you need is the Powered Character Deck.  Pick this up.  It has one deck that is about fleshing out your character’s traits.  Examples include things like “Lacks an internal monologue;” “Thinks they are pursued by a cult;” “Frequently bursts into song;” and “Loves animals.”  Yes, this could have been a table – but the cards really can put some net spins on your character.  The powers deck are for powered characters – with things such as telekinesis, Palpalgia (the ability to harm others by touch), invisibility, shapeshifting, etc. I think the trait card decks could and should be used in other RPG’s.  For $15 – it is worth adding to your game shelf.

Kids on Bikes2

The rules come in two formats.  One is the $35 big hardcover book that comes with a campaign setting.  Or you can get the $25 paperback that has the basic rules, sans the campaign.

I have set up a campaign setting for the game I am looking to run…and I’m going to share it with you in a separate blog post.  In other words, I am going to encourage you to go out and get this game and play it.

Will I play it with my grandson?  Probably.  This is about kids, and who better to relate to that than another kid?  I will simply not make it too gory or scary for him.

Kids on Bikes was one of my best purchases at Gen Con this last year.  Yes, it is pricy to get started – but worth it.

The Chronicling of our D&D Campaign: Tempora – Part 29 (Bor’s Song)

Hopes

Welcome to the novelization of my current D&D campaign, told through the perspective of the characters. Parts 1-19 charted the first part of the campaign, part 20 began the next phase of the saga: Tempora. For me, it lets me do a little creative writing between more serious projects. Links to the previous posts are at the bottom of this one. Enjoy!

Althalus…

We materialized at the feet of Victor Barristen who loomed over us on the floor.  He was rising out of a rolling cloud of green mist.  His face was a skull, yet in the flicker of torches on the walls, we saw an eerie shimmer of a human face, almost like a flesh covered shadow over the bones.  His helmet was huge, with a glowing crimson ruby in the center and two massive horns jutting out.  A lich – or something of the same ilk – I was sure of it.  He had a twisted staff in his bony hands, clearly magical, clearly deadly.

Cyrilla Drex stood next to him, member of the Sisterhood of the Sword, our enemy that had been plaguing us for weeks.  She held that God-awful sword of hers, almost as tall as I am, its blade reflecting the light. She wore her robe and under it her plate armor, similar to what we had seen on Lexa Lyoncroft.   Her hair was worn back, trimmed short, almost a manly cut to it.

I glanced off to my right and saw a pile of corpses, or what remained of them.  They looked as if every bit of life had been sucked from the men.  Their skin was shrunken and shriveled and many jaws were open, mute in their dying screams.  Seventy of them, at least, were piled like chord word.  The stench of death stung my nostrils.

The chamber was massive, over a hundred heads long.  Thick old rugs covered four spots on the intricately mosaicked floor.  Torches hung in six places and their light reflected off of the massive domed ceiling that was either painted bright gold, or covered with gold flake.  Brandon’s magical blade shimmered so brightly that it was like a burst of daylight.

I glanced at Arius.  He took his sword and licked it, as if tasting the blood of his enemies. I was pleased that one of us was confident.  The fact that we were laying on a pentagram on the floor, surrounded with candles didn’t give me that much confidence.

“I want that sword,” muttered Brandon as he got his senses.  Something told me he might just get it, just not the way he hoped for.  Five of the other paladins had leapt through the portal with us and had spilled out with us on the floor.  We were far from an impressive threat at that point.

A number of other paladins were in the room, their eyes sunken and dark, their faces pale and gaunt.  They wore neck collars of thick leather with a ruby mounted on them.  One of them was an older man, his beard had knots in it.  I remember Arius telling me that was a sign of authority in some holy orders.  It had to be Theris Bentblade – the First Shield of the Order of the Fang!  He stood there with a sword in hand but was not attacking Cyrilla or Victor – which was not a good sign.

Cyrilla Drex pointed her massive sword down at Arius.  “You’ve come to rescue them?  How quaint.  As you can see, you are quite late.” She gestured with the blade over to the pile of rotting carcasses.

“Who sent you here?  Who pulls the strings of these so-called rescuers?”

“We pull our own strings,” Theren said, pointing over at me.

Why are you pointing at me? “No one tells us what to do,” I said defiantly, wondering of those were going to be my last words.

“You fools think you stand a chance against us?”  None of us responded.  Slowly we were preparing to jump to our feet.

“Very well.  I offer you this one last chance.  Join my force against the Church or feed your souls to Barristen the Black.”

I cleared my throat.  “Um, define, ‘The Church.’  And ‘join.’”  I will admit, I’m not much of a joiner – but I also had no love of the Church.

Her eyes narrowed at my words.  “The Church of God – the one that betrayed my Order.”

Barristen seemed to hover in the cloud of green smoke.  In a low raspy voice his skeletal head spoke.  “The Church will pay for what it has done.  Your lives will serve our purpose.  Bow before me and I will offer you quick death.”

“Well, this has taken a turn.  I mean with all of this ‘death’ talk,” I said, still hoping to diffuse the situation. My sense of humor was lost on the lich.  I really had nothing against going after the Church, but the dying part had me a little concerned.

Our paladin Arius took it far more seriously.  “I cannot be a party to what you have done.  That pile is of my dead brethren.”  I could tell by the way he clutched his sword that the battle was soon to commence.

Barristen responded with a sweeping blow of his staff at our comrade while between us and Cyrilla, a magical barrier came into being. Brandon charged – away from the pending melee the moment it erupted.  Typical ranger…

Arius unleashed thunderous smite but it did not hit Barristen, the magical energies swirling in the air unformed, crackling slightly in the air.  I opted to protect from evil on Bor and faded off to the rear.  A warlock must always know his place in a battle.

Barristen’s staff struck at Arius but failed to make contact.  Bor rushed with Skullringer, the brilliant blue warhammer slammed into the quasi-lich, hitting it hard on its armored chest.  Our paladin allies rushed in, weapons drawn, swinging behind Cyrilla and striking at her from behind. A thin stream of blood sprayed out towards me, proof they had hit her.  We had her surrounded, but I was not necessarily convinced that was going to be a good thing for us.

The sullen paladins led by Bentblade charged – but not at their torturers, but at us!  They came at our flank, where I was, so I braced for their onslaught.

Theren waved his hands in the air and I saw her sword start to glow – not from magic – but orange from heat.  He readied his staff as Dimitrious moved to protect me from the rushing possessed paladins.  The blue robed monk stabbed his fists in a furious thrust and hit one of them several times like a tornado of fists bludgeoning the rushing paladin.

Cyrilla tossed some brimstone in the air as she attempted to cast a spell but the surrounding attackers disrupted her spell.  More of her blood splattered in the air.  Dropping her sword, she reached for an amulet that hung around her neck.  I stared at that sword…that was a prize.

Bor was hit with whatever spell was triggered by her amulet – though we could not tell what it was doing.  Theren cast a spell to heat her armor, and it worked, wisps of smoke rose from her skin that seared against the hot metal. The fact that she kept it on said something of how powerful she was.

The attacks on Barristen continued as Bor moved forward in hopes of delivering a killing blow with Skullringer.  The warhammer shimmered brightly in the air and drew back as Barristen pointed the gnarled tip of his staff at the burly warrior.  The warhammer came at the head of the skeletal creature, hitting hard, twisting Barristen’s head hard to the side.

Bor smiled.

A thin blue ray shot out from the tip of the staff hitting Bor in his chest. The smile dropped from his face instantly.  He looked over at Theren, then to me, then he turned to large flakes in the air which crumbled to dust, which then faced away to nothingness.  Skullringer dropped with a thud on the stone floor, knocking over one of the candles.  Disintegration…utter and complete.  His shield and flail remained next to the magical warhammer.

I know we were all stunned for a moment – but all I could feel in that moment was the loss of our treasure that Bor had been carrying.

Brandon charged in with the fall of Bor, emboldened by the changing odds.  I unleashed an eldritch blast attack on Bentblade, searing an emerald beam into him and knocking him back.  Dimitrious rushed back to my aid, hitting the paladin as he got his footing.  The monk was a blizzard of fist blows that ravaged the older paladin.

In the midst of the battle – I noticed those collars that the attacking paladins wore were identical to those we had found before – the Eyes of Rivroast.  They were being controlled!  It made sense now…the ruby on the helmet of Barristen gave him complete domination over their will.  I used my powers to send the message to the members as to the source of that quasi-lich’s control.

Cyrilla was in the process of casting a spell, a mist rose up around her, her glowing hot armor shimmering through it.  One of the paladins hit with divine smite, another with thunderous smite, but she seemed to shrug it off.

She disappeared in the mist and for a moment, I was relieved.  That faded as all eyes turned to me.  Oh shit, she’s behind me!

Dimitrious sprung from the paladins he was engaged with and rushed right at me.  He hit me, knocking me out of the way – taking the blow that was intended for me.  Cyrilla’s staff came down hard, right at the monk, but missed entirely, hitting the floor and sending sparks into the air.

Barristen’s staff came down on Arius, hitting him.  The paladin wailed and staggered back from the blow.  He rarely showed pain, which told me that he was in true agony.

Brandon hit Cyrilla from behind, courtesy of her misty-teleportation.  She hit the sword-mistress hard from the rear as Theren fired his bow at her from the front.  Cyrilla dropped to the ground, unconscious, but not dead.

One of the paladins tried to lift her sword but seemed to struggle with it, as if the blade weighed more than it appeared to.  Arius slid along the floor, grabbing Skullringer, and swinging at Barristen.  The lich-like figure shook off the blow as another pair of paladins stabbed at him.

The paladins collided with their brothers –

Brandon started to reach for Cyrilla’s staff but I cut him off.  “Finish this fight before you begin to loot the bodies!”  Rangers!

One of the possessed paladins struck me, stabbing me in my stomach hard and deep.  My magic triggered defenses instantly and blasted him with fire, wrapping his upper body with orange and yellow flames.

Brandon heeded my words, delivering the coup de’grace on Cyrilla Drex with his magic blade, planting it in her upper chest between her breasts.  There was a blast of ice-cold air blowing out from her body and hitting me and the others around her.  Her body aged centuries in two seconds. Her skin withered, crackled, and turned to dust with large bits clinging to her skeletal remains.

Arius swung and hit Barristen with Skullringer and the paladin that had tried to use Cyrilla’s sword, dropped it in favor of his short sword.  I winced in agony from the cut I had taken to the stomach.  I have worried my intestines would spill out on the floor.  Theren turned himself into a massive bear and charged at the lich-man colliding with him hard.  Barristen struck the bear with the staff, making it growl in pain.

I staggered to my feet and I fired a brilliant green eldritch blast at one of the paladins, while Dimitrious grappled with another one.  The wiry monk was all over his foe, moving like a clinging spider, trying to reach the leather band with the ruby.  Dimitrious got the collar off and the struggle stopped instantly as he shook his head, trying to get his bearing.

Another paladin slashed at me with its sword, hitting me.  I felt my body sag under the hit. I staggered back a half-step.

The other paladins were engaged with each other, hacking and slashing with furious blows at each other.  I wondered in that moment if we even could win.  Suddenly, the rolling green cloud of mists under him rose up and enveloped him.  Victor Barristen turned into a gaseous form himself, drifting up the ceiling and disappearing. Suddenly the battle stopped – the paladins that had been trying to kill one another seemed to come to their senses.  Theren the bear paused, looking around for a foe to fight but there was none.  Barristen had fled!  The fight was over – we had been victorious.

Our jubilation was momentary as we glanced over to where Bor had been disintegrated.  He had been a valiant comrade and we would miss his wall of muscle in the battles to come.

The following are the previous installments. I hope you enjoy the campaign so far. Be sure to follow my blog if you do. 

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

Part 8

Part 9

Part 10

Part 11

Part 12

Part 13

Part 14

Part 15

Part 16

Part 17

Part 18

Part 19

Part 20

Part 21

Part 22

Part 23

Part 24

Part 25

Part 26

Part 27

Part 28

Character Background Material

My New Campaign

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Review of the Film, First Man

Gosling’s portrayal is flat – and I’m being complimentary

Having seen the film, First Man, I wished I hadn’t.  Somehow Hollywood has managed to take the one defining moment of the 1960’s, man’s first landing on the moon, and turn it into a boring snore-fest.  Don’t get me wrong, I know Neil Armstrong was no dynamo in real life, but this movie made him and the landing on the moon as exciting as a piece of stale melba toast.  I was trying to come up with a good metaphor or word for this film and the top contenders are, “shitburger,” “blahfest,” and “ruining-my-fucking-childhood-memory-you-monsters.”  Pick any one of these when you tell your friends about this movie.

Going to the moon was exciting.  It inspired my generation to get into computers, the sciences, etc.  I wanted to be an astronaut as a kid…eventually getting into space as a science fiction writer.  It was something that unified the world for a few minutes in a turbulent decade.

There was plenty of material for the writers to work with to make this a compelling story.  What you get with this film is characters that none of us care about.  We see no growth in them, no change.  They are dull with unimaginative dialogue.  There isn’t a single redeeming character in this film, and that feels entirely wrong.  Even the scenes that could have made us all engage with the characters are downplayed or misrepresented entirely.

What is lost is the sense of national accomplishment in the race to the moon.  Instead they weave in how some groups thought it was a waste of money – making me wonder if this isn’t the ultimate subtext that Hollywood is attempting to tell us with this film.  While the Hollywood elite are all abuzz (pun intended) about Gosling’s portrayal of Armstrong, let me say that I have seen better dramatic performances in Food Lion on a Friday night.

On top of this, it is written in such a manner as to provide no context.  It starts with Neil in the cockpit of the X-15.  It doesn’t tell you why that flight was important or what it was setting out for, only that he is there and almost doesn’t make it back.  It presumes we all know the role of that craft in our journey into space.  There is less than two lines of dialogue between Neil and Michael Collins in the film.  In fact, they never really explain his role or Buzz Aldrin’s.  There is no chemistry whatsoever with the crew, with the Armstrong family, with anyone in this film.  I didn’t even feel like it really portrayed the 1960’s.

Neil isn’t your typical hero-character – but neither was Charles Lindbergh.  Maybe he wasn’t a good family man, but that could have been offset by the incredible accomplishment he did with being the first man on the moon.  Instead this film misses all of that.  We see nothing about what happened after his landing.  This is sloppy, revisionist history at its worst.

I felt this film failed on so many levels that it literally dug a new failure-basement to bury itself in. As someone that lived in that era, it fails to capture any aspect that made this a hyper-historical moment.  Quite literally, the writers took an easy win and made it dark, brooding, and dull.  I found myself suddenly rooting for the Russians to get to the moon first so this movie would end.

Go watch the outstanding series, From the Earth to the Moon. Hell, watch some YouTube videos.  First Man does not tell the story of the first man landing on the moon.  Instead it tells the story of a shallow man, his annoying wife, and somehow he ends up landing on the moon.   Do not waste your time on this horrible film.