Songs of Terror (Halloween, 2022)

My playlist for this time of year. Happy Halloween to everyone.

1. Axolotl, The Veils
2. Waking the Witch, Kate Bush
3. Heirate Mich, Rammstein
4. The Islamic Call to Prayer (Exorcist opening)
5. Intruder, Peter Gabriel
6. God’s Gift (Maggot), Skinny Puppy
7. Lullaby, The Cure
8. Lucretia, My Reflection, The Sisters of Mercy
9. Witch Hunt, Rush
10. Every Day is Halloween, Ministry
11. Something Wicked, Siouxsie and the Banshees
12. Burnt with Water, Skinny Puppy

Listen to the whole list here. And here are the lyrics to song #6, since they are almost impossible to understand.

“God’s Gift (Maggot)”, by Skinny Puppy

(Feels good, it heightens the feeling of power, will to power, power it’s simply not…)

To a life less gleaming
Forgotten is the morning dawn
Learn to read with no degree
Bloody lies and black sun (I’ll tell you why)
In the eyes of God
The sky’s the limit
Proceeding in this darkest way
Glowing back at the end – your halo
You’re bloody righteous

Became a life broken, forever in judgment
Of his righteousness

Absurd Man be afraid
Falling back inane
Over mature
The chair backward falling down
Knives in eyes
Made us feel brave
Fragile
Falling another way

Really brave puts on a grin
On the floor in a pool of blood
On lifeless grin
Back to the bedroom
With a grin

When master knocks down phantoms
Living out miseries
It’s hard to fathom what depth man will go
It’s hard to fathom, hard – talking my god
God gave maggots
God gave maggots
God gave maggots
God gave maggots

Eye sockets feed the faith, no less then back again
Open wound in as much over-silence backwash
God gives maggots
God gives maggots
God gives maggots

In a silent way, back to where they came

Description of a way
Temple’s visit
Ghostly remain
No more room to blame
Now they’re winning
A conservation of life
Prize work
Prize work
Is the undoing
Remains to show the failure of all

(What is happiness? The feeling that power increases – that a resistance is overcome. Not contentment, but more power…)

Bedroom
Borrowed
Solace
Coyness is the easy road
Describe magic
Creation

(Virtue in the Renaissance style, birth, virtue free of moralic acid. The weak and ill-constituted shall perish: the first principle of our philanthropy.)

Oh Sean, your life became mush
God gift maggots

God gift maggot
God gift maggot
My friend maggot
Life filled maggot

Tulsi Gabbard’s Reasons for Ditching the Dems (The Good and the Bad)

Tulsi Gabbard has stirred the pot, and since she’s been a favorite of mine (I voted for her in the 2020 primaries), I will comment on her stated reasons for leaving the Democratic party, reproduced in the blue sections below. There’s plenty of good and bad here.

The pro-war Democratic Party has led us to the brink of nuclear war. The party is led by warmongers who are firmly in the grips of the military industrial complex, and don’t know or care about the cost of war, or who pays the price. President Biden and Democratic Party elite have pushed us to the precipice of nuclear war, risking starting WWIII and destroying the world as we know it. This is the most urgent existential threat we face. I ran for President in 2020 because I knew that this is where we were headed. All the signs were there. I raised this issue every day during the campaign, and on the national debate stage. But politicians and the media ignored it. They didn’t care then, and they don’t care now. Obviously I didn’t win that election, and don’t have the power to do what is necessary to prevent it. President Biden and Congress do. But they irresponsibly refuse to use that power to protect the safety of our country, the American people, and the world from the devastation of a nuclear holocaust. To protect our loved ones, our children, our world, I’m calling upon the American people to join me in standing up to these cowardly politicians now. This may be our last chance to do so.

Yes and no. On the one hand, it is undeniably true that the Dems have devolved into war-hawks since the 90s. The foreign policies of Bill Clinton and Barak Obama were as bellicose as Ronald Reagan’s (and in some ways more so), and Hillary Clinton would have been worse than any of those three had she won the 2016 election.

On the other hand, Joe Biden hasn’t been terribly bad in this regard. Contrary to what Tulsi implies, Biden has kept a pretty level head in his response to Ukraine. He has, very wisely, refused to put boots on the ground or to get the U.S. directly involved with troops. He has advocated assisting Ukraine with material and moral support, and that, in my view, is a morally defensible position. Tulsi’s biggest liability is her willingness to join hands with (the right-wing) Tucker Carlson and (the left-wing) Noam Chomsky in arguing that the U.S. is escalating violence by trying to weaken the Russian regime. (The logic being that this undermines possibilities of peaceful negotiations between Ukraine and Russia.) That kind of reasoning would keep us from taking active steps against almost any tyranny that needs to be checked.

I appreciate Tulsi’s overall sensibilities here. The left has become a parody of itself to the point that if you express enough hate for the U.S. and militancy you might just be considered a good American patriot, but if you are not militant enough when it comes to Ukraine — and if you don’t display enough rage and venom against Putin — this somehow makes you a traitor. People like Whoopi Goldberg, for example, are saying that Tucker Carlson and Tulsi Gabbard should be prosecuted for treason. And liars like Mitt Romney have claimed that Tulsi was spreading propaganda — saying that the U.S. was working to develop bio-weapons for use against Ukraine’s enemies. Obviously Tulsi never said or implied this. What she said is a simple fact, that there are in fact bio-labs in Ukraine researching this kind of stuff (using anthrax to counter anthrax, for example), and the idea that these labs should be left in a war zone with Russians shelling nuclear facilities is a reasonable thing to object to. I have no respect for the Whoopi Goldbergs and Mitt Romneys of the world.

The problem is that Tulsi has overplayed the NATO card and downplayed the problem of Putin’s dangerous regime which demands a measured response. While it’s reasonable to be wary of NATO expansion (one of the few things Obama was right about, against Bush, was that Ukraine isn’t a core interest of the U.S.), at this point harping on NATO doesn’t help Ukraine any. And though the concern about nuclear war and World War III is legitimate, that doesn’t mean that any attempt to thwart tyrants amounts to an irresponsible escalation of violence.

Today’s Democratic Party rejects the rule of law. The people’s trust in the rule of law is the foundation for democracy. By weaponizing the security state and Federal law enforcement for their own partisan political ambitions, Democrat leaders are undermining the rule of law and turning our democracy into a banana republic. Across the country, Democrat politicians call for defunding the police, enacting laws that favor criminal’s rights over those of everyday Americans, and so-called progressive DA’s let violent criminals out of jail, refusing to charge them when many have been arrested 30, 40 or even 50 times. It should come as no surprise that crime and murder rates are rapidly increasing, people don’t feel safe walking down the street in their own neighborhoods, and firearm purchases for self defense have drastically increased. Under the Obama administration, the IRS was used to target conservative groups. Biden’s DOJ recently indicted 11 pro-life activists for organizing an event blockading an abortion clinic. They didn’t use physical force. They weren’t dangerous. But seven of them are facing 11 years in prison and fines of $250,000. The Biden DOJ and Department of Homeland Security has focused their newly formed Domestic Terror Unit to target parents who are vocally standing in opposition to radical curriculums and explicit sexual content being taught to young children in our public schools – labeling parents as “terrorists” for showing up at school board meetings and demanding change. President Biden campaigned on unity and on healing the partisan divide, but he’s now saying supporters of President Trump are the most extremist group in our country and a threat to our democracy. Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris claim the Supreme Court is illegitimate simply because they disagree with its rulings. The Biden administration stood by and did nothing as activists protested outside the homes of Supreme Court justices during all hours of the day and night, in clear violation of federal law. When the party in power does not believe in the rule of law, yet they are responsible for writing and enforcing laws, our democracy is doomed.

Check. The Dems will never live down the idiocy of defunding the police. Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris’s claims about the Supreme Court’s illegitimacy are inexcusable. And Tulsi has been right about things like Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which isn’t homophobic, nor does it discriminate against queer and trans students, nor does it prohibit normal, age-appropriate discussion of LGBTQ culture and history. It simply bars discussion from kids who are too young to make sense of sexual identity issues.

Today’s Democratic Party does not believe in our constitutionally protected right to free speech. Fostering diversity of thought and freedom of expression is the foundation of any flourishing democracy. Democratic Party leaders don’t agree. They are led by fanatical ideologues who pose a threat to our democracy because they don’t believe in freedom — freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom of religion. They try to censor speech they don’t like, labeling it as “misinformation,” “hate speech,” or “violent speech.” They work hand-in-glove with corporate for-profit media and Big Tech to smear and silence political opponents and those who dare to challenge their authority, exposing their insecurities. The Biden Administration even tried launching their own “Ministry of Truth” to control what information we are allowed to read, hear, and say. Their ideology is one of hate and divisiveness, rather than respect and love (aloha) and is diametrically opposed to traditional ‘liberalism’ which recognizes the basic goodness of people and the autonomy of the individual, supporting civil liberties and a government of, by, and for the people. How can a political party that is opposed to freedom be trusted with our democracy? They can’t be.

Check. Biden’s plan for a “Ministry of Truth” was especially shameful, and thankfully it was killed in its crib. If a Republican president had ever assembled a government panel tasked with “weeding out disinformation”, we’d never hear the end of it. Everyone and the media would be howling.

Today’s Democratic Party does not believe in our constitutionally protected right to freedom of religion. The Constitution recognizes that our freedom comes from God — not governments. Unfortunately, Democratic Party leaders reject this truth and are hostile toward people of faith and spirituality, and actively undermine our religious freedom. During that 2020 Democratic National Convention, they chose to omit the words “under God” from our pledge of allegiance. High profile Democratic leaders mock or openly discriminate against people of faith, especially Christians. President Obama once ridiculed Americans for clinging to their guns and religion. Vice President Kamala Harris, as a senator in 2018, remarked that being a member of the Catholic charity organization, the Knights of Columbus, disqualified Brian Buescher from serving as a federal judge. Senator Dianne Feinstein derided now Justice Amy Coney Barrett, a devout Catholic, during a Senate confirmation hearing, stating that “the dogma lives loudly within you.” Article 6, Section 3 of the Constitution states “no religious test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” Today’s Democratic party has forgotten that freedom of religion does not mean freedom from religion. Government must respect every American’s deeply personal relationship with God, and our freedom to express and practice that faith without fear of state-sponsored reprisal, censorship or discrimination. Whether one believes in God or not is not the point. Any political party that is trying to erase the presence of God from every facet of public life and is hostile toward those who choose to worship God, cannot be trusted to protect our inalienable God-given rights enshrined in the Constitution and should not be in power.

Uh, no. Most of this is overreaction. I’m far more worried about the blurring of separation of church and state that we’re seeing on the Republican side of things.

Today’s Democratic Party does not believe in our constitutionally protected right to bear arms. Our founders passed the Second Amendment out of a recognition that every one of us has a right to defend ourselves and our loved ones, and to serve as a check on a tyrannical government seeking to take away our God-given freedoms. The Democratic Party’s hatred of the Second Amendment and their increasing authoritarian instincts pose a serious threat to our freedoms. “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47,” Beto O’Rourke said at a debate when he was running for president. Our founders intentionally passed the Second Amendment right after the First Amendment. The majority ruling from the recent Supreme Court ruling striking down New York’s law that barred people from concealed carry firearms summarized very clearly why Democrats are wrong to try to take away our rights: “Just as we do not need to seek a permit to stand on the street corner and exercise our right to free speech, we shouldn’t have to seek permission for a law abiding citizen to carry their firearm. We as a society don’t get to pick and choose which of our rights in the constitution are more worthy of protecting than another.” Protecting our freedom to defend ourselves and those we love, and protecting our rights and freedoms enshrined in the Constitution against a tyrannical power is exactly why we must ensure our right to bear arms “shall not be infringed.”

No. The Dems are not as hostile to gun rights and the Second Amendment as Tulsi makes them out to be. As for the recent Supreme Court ruling, it summarized very clearly what’s wrong with Republicans (who think like the majority of justices), not Democrats. The majority would have been right if it had been interpreting the Second Amendment correctly. As Clarence Thomas stated, the idea that one must demonstrate a special need in order to exercise one’s amendment right is unheard of. But the Second Amendment applies to militia; it’s not about sweeping inalienable gun rights for everyone.

Today’s Democratic Party is ‘Big Brother’ undermining our civil liberties: The Fourth Amendment of the constitution ensures ‘the right of [the American] people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.’ Democratic elite Party leaders have had many opportunities to get rid of unconstitutional provisions of the Patriot Act that violate our civil liberties — I introduced legislation while in Congress that would repeal the Patriot Act and address the dangerous FISA act being used to undermine our civil liberties, especially those protected by the Fourth Amendment. Every time, they choose the security state over our liberty. Whether it’s using the IRS to snoop into our bank accounts for sending someone over $600 via Venmo, supporting the corrupt system of civil forfeiture to seize property from law-abiding Americans who have not even been charged with a crime, or getting credit card companies to keep track of any and all firearm and ammunition related purchases, today’s Democratic Party stands with giving ‘Big Brother’ more power and control over our lives.

True. But the Republicans haven’t been any better, and I don’t trust them, as a party, when it comes to the 4th Amendment anymore than I do the Dems.

Today’s Democratic Party racializes everything and blatantly foments anti-white racism. The Democratic machine has betrayed Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream of a nation where we are judged based on the content of our character rather than the color of our skin. In their blind pursuit of power, Democrat leaders reduce each of us as God’s children to the color of our skin, using identity politics to tear us apart for their own political gain. Democrats were silent in the face of Chicago’s Mayor Lightfoot’s blatantly racist policy of only accepting interviews with reporters of color because she was struck with the “overwhelming whiteness and maleness.” Modern day segregation in schools is promoted by racial profiteers like Robin DiAngelo and the corrupt self-identified cultural Marxists who lead Black Lives Matter. Today’s Democratic party embraces and celebrates their racist agenda. They support programs that teach children that they are either ‘the privileged’ or ‘the victims,’ oppressors or the oppressed, solely because of the color of their skin. They’ve become the racists they claim to hate.

Yes. Martin Luther King and the civil rights activists of the ’60s and ’70s would be appalled at the way social justice has been perverted into a bigoted identity politics. I remain a true social justice advocate in the spirit of classical liberalism and MLK, and like Tulsi I will keep calling out wokes for their toxic views.

Today’s Democratic Party is anti-woman. There’s no greater expression of hatred and hostility toward women than to erase the existence of women as a category of people. The Democratic Party has long claimed to be champions of women, proud of Title IX and leveling the playing field for women and girls. But now, the Biden Administration and Democratic Party are spitting in the face of these achievements by rejecting the objective truth that women exist and are not just a construct in a person’s mind. They can no longer define what a woman is, demand we replace words like “mother” with “birthing person,” and place women at risk to please biological men who claim to be women at any given moment. They are taking away the opportunities and futures of women in sports by allowing transgender athletes, who until recently identified as men, and who have the biological advantages of men, to compete against women. The Biden administration is quietly trying to change Title IX through a back-door rule change that would remove women and biological sex from the Title IX statute, taking away opportunities for millions of female athletes across the country. They now go so far as to claim it is ‘sexual harassment’ to address someone by the wrong pronouns, trying to force us to comply with this insanity by regulating our speech and thought. By denying that there are biological differences between men and women, they are erasing women and denying the existence of objective truth. If one denies the existence of truth, there are no boundaries in our society and the truth becomes whatever those in power want it to be.

Yes. Sadly enough. Obviously trans people need to be supported and not discriminated against, but gender identity politics has been used to make a farce of biology. It’s become increasingly accepted to claim that biological sex is on a spectrum and not bimodal. Anti-factual nonsense, and Tulsi is right to call it out. And the bit about sexual harassment isn’t hyperbole. Teenagers have actually been charged with sexual harassment for using proper biological pronouns instead of someone’s preferred pronouns.

Today’s Democratic Party is undermining families. Families are the bedrock of civilization. Today’s Democratic Party does not recognize this truth and the importance of the central foundational role that families play in our society and civilization. They want to strip away the rights of parents to raise their kids, claiming the government knows what’s better for your children than you do. Former Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe said last year that there is no role for parents in determining a school’s curriculum. The largest teacher’s union in the country and one of the Democratic Party’s biggest donors, the National Education Association, recently passed a resolution that endorses the teaching of Critical Race Theory in classrooms across the country. Public school districts are implementing policies that sexualize kids as young as five or six years old. Taxpayer dollars are used to bring in drag strippers and encourage gender transition surgery in minors – all kept secret from their parents. HHS secretary Rachel Levine says young children should be empowered to get “gender-affirmation treatment,” which involves puberty blockers, chemical castration, and irreversible surgeries causing long-term harm to children. If parents do not comply, the Federal government threatens to take your children away. Families are the foundation of civilization and our society, and today’s Democratic Party’s policies are quickly eroding that foundation to the detriment of us all.

Not really. A lot of overreaction here.

So there’s a lot in Tulsi’s speech that I applaud, but also a significant amount I take issue with. If she runs in 2024 as an independent or a Republican, I may well vote for her. If I had the power to appoint the next president, and I had to choose between her, Biden, and Trump, and I’d choose her hands down. Biden and Trump have way too many faults that overshadow Tulsi’s.

Modules from Dragon that have aged well

Last year I did my Dungeon Magazine picks, and now it’s time for the best modules from Dragon magazine. I came up with nine. Rereading them gave me an itch to play again; they’re even better than I remember.

1. The Dancing Hut, by Roger Moore. Issue #83, March 1984. Levels 10-14. In the halls of RPG infamy, The Dancing Hut stands proudly alongside Tomb of Horrors and Dol Guldur as impossible challenges. Like the demi-lich Acererak and the Nazgul Khamul, the witch Baba Yaga is for all practical purposes invincible. If you run into her, you don’t stand a chance of surviving (unless you come as a very polite supplicant); the way to survive her is by avoiding her. There are 48 rooms inside her hut, some as big as palace halls, many of which can deliver a TPK in a few rounds. Baba Yaga is aware of what is going on in almost every room at any time (through scrying), is free to teleport around at will and bring enough of her minions to slaughter those whom she deems a threat. As for why anyone would venture into the hut, the module supplies some hooks. The PCs may want a magical artifact owned by the witch. More likely they need to stop the bitch from terrorizing the country-side and kidnapping kids for her midnight supper. Baba Yaga never plants her hut in the same place for long. The hut travels far and wide (across planes, let alone vast distances) and rests somewhere deep in a forest or a sparsely populated region. Animals in a five-mile radius instinctively flee in terror, and people living in a ten-mile radius had best not let their kids out of sight. The Dancing Hut inspired a novel I wrote, and it’s my favorite Dragon module by far.

2. Death of an Arch-Mage, by Michael Selinker. Issue #111, July 1986. Levels 7-9. I love murder mysteries in RPGs, the masterpiece being Traveller’s Murder on Arcturus Station (1983). Some are let-downs, however, like the D&D classic The Assassin’s Knot (1983). Dragon issue #111 finally provided an excellent whodunnit for the D&D game. It occurs at a wealthy mansion and has a precise 4-hour time limit that plays out in real time; it has an ongoing plot line that unfolds with specific events going on in the house as the PCs conduct their investigation. The key to running this module is that the DM must have at his fingertips every detail the characters may never receive. Fortunately, the module presents all the detail wonderfully. A wealthy arch-mage has been murdered in his own home, and there are six suspects. Two of them will appear very likely ones; the actual murderer less so, depending on how shrewd the players are. There’s a thoroughly detailed timeline specifying what all the NPCs are doing in the house between 8:00 AM-12:00 PM (the period the PCs have to solve the mystery). I used this module in southern Middle-Earth, in the city of Korlan, and changed some of the NPCs to reflect the triangular politics of the Koranande, Tanturak, and Mumakan regions. Put simply, this is the absolute go-to module if you want a D&D murder mystery, one that demands intelligent players, and one that has every potential to end on a lethal showdown.

3. The Temple of Poseidon, by Paul Reiche. Issue #46, February 1981. Levels 7-9. The year 1981 was the peak of D&D’s golden age, and so it’s no surprise that three of my nine favorite Dragon modules come from that year (the others are at #5 and #7). This one is thoroughly indebted to the pulps. In another couple of years it would be hard if not impossible to come by D&D modules like this — Tom Moldvay’s The Lost City (1982) and Gygax’s The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun (1982) were the last of such efforts. The influence of Clark Ashton Smith and H.P. Lovecraft can be felt in every room of Reiche’s dungeon. It starts with earthquakes rocking a coastal area, unnatural births occurring, and farmers finding their farm animals crucified and left on their front porches. This leads the PCs to investigate the nearby underground Temple of Poseidon. The dungeon starts out as one thing and then takes a hard left into horror and insanity (like Tharizdun), meaning that PCs will think they have it hard enough dealing with the Poseidon temple, until they realize the temple has been built over something horrifically worse. The worse — the priesthood of Ythog-Nthlei — has wiped out the Poseidon cultists, and are now preparing for their Cthulhu-like deity’s release. A grade-A module with dangerous combat, creative traps and puzzles, and more than enough weirdness (like a conniving and manipulative efreeti)… put simply, this is the best dungeon crawl that Dragon ever published.

4. Aesirhamar, by Roger Moore. Issue #90, September 1984. Levels 9-12. I may rank it fourth, but of all the Dragon modules this is the one I got the most mileage from. (And was Roger Moore on a roll in ’84, or what? First Baba Yaga and now the Norse gods.) In addition to the Aesirhamar adventure module itself, Moore wrote a preface article that maps the outer plane of Gladsheim like a mini-gazetteer. The Norse pantheon was my favorite back in the day, and so this issue of Dragon became something of an obsession — my most heavily used issue, worn and torn within weeks. I dreamed of going to Gladsheim. The adventure involves a war hammer as powerful as Thor’s Mjölnir, forged by a dwarf at the behest of a vengeful giant who wants to kill Thor. (The giant is an entertaining villain named Hargnar Left-Hand, fond of quoting the proverb, “Two eyes for an eye, with a rock through the head as well.”) The Aesir gods get wind of the weapon’s existence and decide to recruit some powerful mortals (the PCs) to retrieve the weapon before it falls into the hands of the giants. I never ran this particular adventure though; I came up with a far nastier plot in the Jotunheim mountains involving the precipitation of Ragnarok itself — it was quite an adventure. Roger Moore’s vision of Gladsheim is one that has stayed with me for many years.

5. The Chapel of Silence, by Mollie Plants. Issue #50, June 1981. Levels 2-3. A creative module — and a rather terrifying one — for beginners. Once a chapel dedicated to benign deities, it’s now been revived by a cult led by a vampire. Yes, the module is for 2nd-3rd level characters, but if the PCs are shrewd, they will find a certain magic item that enables them to kill the vampire. And believe it or not, the vampire is actually the secondary danger; halfway through the chapel the PCs will in all likelihood be struck dumb with such terror that they won’t be able speak for the rest of the adventure (until they put a couple of souls to rest at the very end). That makes for an interesting dynamic, as players won’t be allowed to communicate with each other vocally; they have to use gestures or pictures, or by writing things down which takes time. There are all sorts of terrors waiting in this chapel — paintings of beings that come to life and attack, undead lairs, and more. I wish I’d gotten use out of it back in the day.

6. The House in the Frozen Lands, by James Adams. Issue #110, June 1986. Levels 4-8. For my money, this is one of the best “hostile takeover” modules ever designed for an RPG. (The very best is the abbey in X4: Master of the Desert Nomads.) A matriarchal cult (the Sept of Infamy) has taken over a teaching house (the Scholia). The scholars and priests of the house have either been imprisoned (in a mirror of life trapping), tortured, raped, and/or enslaved — save for one of them, who prowls the house (wearing a ring of invisibility), though he’s a pacifist who refuses to harm any of the cultists as they damn well deserve. The house is way out in an arctic wilderness, and so no one knows about the terror that has fallen on these poor scholars, including the PCs, who are on their way to get a rude surprise. The dynamic that drives the adventure is top-notch, as the PCs work their way through the Scholia, rescuing those they can while learning the best way to overcome the terrorists — the worst of them being a mage/were-tiger (the lead matriarch and full-blown sadist), a fanatical priest, an illusionist, two female warrior twins, and a male warrior. It’s a suspenseful module demanding brains as much as combat ability, as well as the skills of many character classes (ranger, thief, fighter, magic-user, cleric), and one that I’d love to run again.

7. The Garden of Nefaron, by Howard de Wied. Issue #53, September 1981. Levels 7-10. This one punishes good-aligned PCs (even compromising their alignments) while rewarding evil ones — a big plus right off the bat. The premise involves the trapped soul of a high-level mage-warrior (Malakon) possessing ruthless psionic abilities. The thing is, Malakon’s soul was trapped long ago by an alliance and his cage is still secure and guarded by wards and powerful spells (as well as by a ki-rin). He’s as powerless as ever, and so there’s no need to venture into the dungeon and try to destroy the psychogem that has him trapped (an exceedingly difficult task in any case). The party is misled — by a damaged scroll that reveals only fragments of information — into thinking that Malakon or his spirit is somehow responsible for evil shenanigans going in a village by a forest, and so they venture into the dungeon where he was imprisoned. To kill Malakon permanently requires destroying the psychogem that holds his soul while also preventing him from possessing any of the PCs and gaining his freedom. It’s a horribly difficult task set in a ruthless dungeon that abuses the players’ trust left and right. It’s fantastic.

8. Citadel by the Sea, by Sid Fisher. Issue #78, October 1983. Levels 1-3. The premise to this one may seem a bit mundane: orcs have taken over the ruins of an old fort, and they are searching for a spear that allows an orc to wield mighty power. It’s the plot that elevates Citadel by the Sea and makes it a favorite among Dragon readers: the orcs are led by a half-orc disguised as a human archeologist who is “friendly” to the nearby town full of superstitious people, half of whom who have fled their homes. Everyone is convinced (thanks to the “archaeologist”) that a plague is coming out of the old ruins, and that the plague was caused by elves. The townspeople will distrust any elvish PCs as a result. The half-orc wants to find the spear-artifact and become king of the orcs, and make the orcs a mighty and feared race once again. The fun of the adventure is learning exactly what’s going on as the PCs descend deeper into the dungeon of the old ruins.

9. The City Beyond the Gate, by Robert Schroeck. Issue #100, August 1985. Levels 9-12. Every once in a great, great while you can get away with bastardizing D&D, if you know what you’re doing. Gary Gygax did it in Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, giving us robots and laser guns on a crashed spaceship. It shouldn’t have worked but it did. The centennial issue of Dragon does something similar. There are no spaceships or robots, but 20th-century planet Earth qualifies as science fiction by D&D standards. There’s even a flowchart modeled on Barrier Peak’s die rolls for PCs to figure out how alien technology works — guns, cars, computer terminals, flashlights, etc. The PCs’ mission is to find a magical artifact (The Mace of St. Cuthbert), which has been hidden on our prime material plane, and put on display in a London museum in the year 1985. So it becomes a fishbowl experience as the PCs bustle about London and run afoul the law, for the medieval weapons they carry and the outrageous way they’re dressed… and for who knows what kind of hell they end up raising in our world.