The Baron’s Eyrie at 26

Dungeon March/April 1996

At the Dungeons & Dragons forum ENWorld, contributor (un)reason has been systematically filing through old issues of Dungeon and reviewing the adventures within. This week, he/she reached issue 58 containing my initial publication in the magazine, “The Baron’s Eyrie,” and had only good things to say about my work from… *does math* twenty-six years ago!?

Things get more interesting once you get inside the castle itself, as the infected lycanthropes hate their master, and would love for you to destroy him & free them, maybe cure them as well, but their magical compulsion means they can’t do anything directly against him. This does still mean they’ll be surprisingly civil if you don’t attack everything on sight, giving you the option to play the adventure in a more political way with various twists and turns as you uncover the various personalities of the place and their secrets. Some of those twists are sufficiently sneaky that I’m not going to spoil them here, and there’s enough of them that it’s unlikely your group will discover all of them, making this both an interesting read and of well above average replayability too.

Whole review here.

“The Baron’s Eyrie” was my first big sale. I was paid $580, which was more than my monthly rent — an enormous sum of money for me in 1996. I would go on to contribute two more adventures to Dungeon in the late 90s.

I fell away from D&D for decades before starting a pandemic group in 2020 that includes my sons, my nephews, and my brother. As a DM I generally try to provide an avenue for the players to resolve encounters by talking their way out of it, even if nine times out of the ten they wake up and choose violence. Having forgotten the particulars of “Eyrie,” it’s gratifying to see I was using that same approach last century too.

The Last Stand of Sassacus House

Love Letters to Poe Volume 2: Houses of Usher

Because the first was so nice we had to do it twice, Love Letters to Poe, Volume II: Houses of Usher is available today.

The anthology features 19 short stories and 11 poems of the Gothic and macabre inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s 1839 story, “The Fall of the House of Usher.”

My contribution, “The Last Stand of Sassacus House,” revolves around one man’s greed not for a house but rather for its absence:

Rueben Tolbridge coveted Sassacus House long before he coveted the woman who owned it. For years Tolbridge slowed his shay past the old Sassacus place in admiration — not for the ramshackle manor itself but rather for its position high above the gray waters of the Sound. Set back from the road, partially screened by tall weeds and braided tree limbs, it staggered his imagination that no one bothered to knock down the decrepit structure and develop the parcel.

Whoever took the trouble of clearing its overgrown acres, Tolbridge told himself, could build the mansion of his dreams, a magnificent home to spoil its owner, then net him a sizable profit when he sold it. If he sold it, and didn’t live out his life there.

Love Letters to Poe, Volume II: Houses of Usher is available in ebook, paperback, hardcover, and large-print formats.

Houses of Usher is the second volume of Poe tribute fiction by editor Sara Crocoll Smith. Meanwhile, the initial entry has been nominated for a Saturday Visiter Award in the category of “Original Works Inspired by E.A. Poe’s Life and Writing.” The winner will be announced in October at the International Edgar Allan Poe Festival & Awards in Baltimore, MD.

The Half That Matters

A little diversion of mine appears in the latest issue of the Australian anthology series Thuggish Itch.

Titled “The Half That Matters,” it’s a story of two fellows on an unsavory errand to dispose of something into the sea.

This one’s a favorite. Not only is it the first time my fiction has been published south of the equator (some of my nonfiction was reprinted in Oz years ago), but it’s also the first time I’ve published a piece of flash fiction.

I wrote “Half” almost back-to-back with “A Tour of the Ramses,” which appears in Professor Charlatan Bardot’s Travel Anthology to the Most (Fictional) Haunted Buildings in the Weird, Wild World. Both stories use a similar first-person perspective in which the action is verbally narrated to an audience, but in the case of “Half,” the narrator is even less trustworthy.

Some of the setting’s description is based upon a real place. There’s a hike I enjoy along a sea wall to a lonely peninsula which terminates in an automated lighthouse. I almost never meet anyone out there except for the peninsula’s inhabitants: a handful of feral cats who live among the rocks and dunes. Occasionally schools of bunker (menhaden) are stranded by the ebb tide on the beach’s mud flats, creating a feast for the cats; meanwhile pools of rainwater collect in the natural bowls of the landscape.

The cats and I observe each other from a safe distance, neither sure about the other. I suspect they live better lives than some humans.

You can pick up Thuggish Itch: By the Seaside over on Amazon.

A Tour of the Ramses

I have a story in the latest anthology from Dark Moon Books, Professor Charlatan Bardot’s Travel Anthology to the Most (Fictional) Haunted Buildings in the Weird, Wild World, which will be on shelves in November.

The anthology is an ostensible guidebook edited by world traveler and occult expert Charlatan Bardot. Each story involves a haunted place that’s not a house. There are haunted diners and restaurants, haunted markets and department stores, haunted bars and taverns, haunted theaters, haunted lighthouses, haunted churches, and much more — but not a single haunted house among them.

The locales span all of the continents except Antarctica (in hindsight, I wish I’d pitched a haunted whaling camp). Originally I pitched co-editor Eric Guignard a story set in New York City, only to learn the chapter for North America was full. I then suggested a story set in a haunted hotel in Cairo, based on my impressions of the city from a trip I took there in 2000.

I felt a little experimental while writing “A Tour of the Ramses.” The story involves a naive guide leading a walk through a former luxury hotel, who inadvertently reveals its tragic past. I had a lot of fun researching 1920s Cairo during the process.

The anthology has already received very nice reviews from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Library Journal, which gave it a starred review. You can check out the full table of contents, which includes big names like Ramsey Campbell, Joe R. Lansdale, Lisa Morton, Kaaron Warren, and other people more famous than me, as well as numerous purchase options, at Dark Moon’s website.

Love Letters to Poe, Volume 1

Later this month, the first collection from Love Letters to Poe will hit digital stands.

Love Letters to Poe, Volume 1: A Toast to Edgar Allan Poe collects 12 months of Gothic fiction that first appeared on the website.

Included among the book’s 55 stories of the macabre is my December 2020 appearance, “An Incident on Mulberry Street,” in which a doctor pays a visit to his former mentor only to discover the old surgeon has developed some strange theories about the phenomenon of phantom limbs.

The print copy is available September 12. The e-book goes on sale September 20 and have a special discounted price for the first six days, so make sure to buy it early and often.