Saturday, May 21, 2022

WONDERING HEROES OF OGRE GATE PART ONE: THEATER OF THE MIND AND GRID

In the lead up to releasing Sons of Lady 87, I am going to do a series of short blog entries tackling questions or common topics that come up around Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate. My primary aim is to provide a clearer picture of how I run the game, what we intended with certain rules and to clear up any misconceptions or reinforce any accurate assumptions. Today I want to talk about miniatures, tactics and theater of the mind. 

Preview of Sons of Lady 87 art by Jackie Musto

Ogre Gate was never meant to be a light and fast martial arts game. We knew going in, with hundreds of Kung Fu Techniques, each one as complex as a spell in a typical fantasy game, that the game wasn't going to lend itself to rules light. So, like Sertorius, it would have a deep list of options for combat and tactics. But we never assumed tactics to mean grid or miniatures. People can absolutely play Ogre Gate with a grid if they wish. I don't have any particular investment in the game being played one way or the other, but in terms of design it is important because we were not designing with a grid in mind. We designed it with Theater of the Mind in mind. 

I never use miniatures. I think I used miniatures twice while running Ogre Gate (once when we first started play testing it live and once when I ran a very large combat scenario). In all other instances I ran it theater of the mind. There are a few reasons for this. I have never been a fan of grid combat and miniature driven combat. I was turned off by miniatures when I first started (a story I will get into in another blog entry) and only ever used them in campaigns where all the players expected it, or when I was running 3rd edition D&D (where it seemed necessary). Personally I like combat to keep moving. And I find miniatures tend to draw out space between turns as players think about their next move. I also like to focus on what we are all describing rather than what a figure is doing on a grid. But I still keep track of movement as a GM. Tactics still matter in my campaigns, even though things are fluid and not always rigidly pinned down at first like they might be on a grid. 

My method for running theater of the mind combat for Ogre Gate has always been to have me, the GM, keep track of where everyone is on a piece of paper. The players don't see this (I mainly game online). But I put a letter on the sheet with their initial and I use lines with arrows to indicate their movement. Important terrain or objects might be marked down. It isn't painstakingly accurate. I don't track hexes or squares on a map. I just want to know generally where everyone is, and I might throw down a scale key just to help adjudicate questions surrounding movement. More important than this piece of paper is what people are describing. It is just a tool to stay true to what is being described by the GM and players at the table. 

And of course this depends on the specifics. Many combats are simple enough that I don't even really need to write things down beyond Turn Order. 

 

Friday, May 20, 2022

STRANGE NEW ENGLAND: BENDING REALITIES AND THE UNRELIABLE GM

Here is a glimpse of one of the sections of Strange Tales New England, to give an idea of where the game is heading. This is just a rough section of GM advice. We started a regular campaign in the fall when I started work on it and the example is from that campaign (which is still on-going). The character Letha Kane in the scenario is was an homage to the Ninth Configuration


BENDING REALITIES AND THE UNRELIABLE GM 

Reality bends around the central mystery of your campaign and of the conceits of the setting. Player characters may not be who they believe themselves to be, they may mistake friends for monsters and attack or kill them, they may find themselves lunatics in the asylum. The point is psychological horror. And the GM’s role is to intentionally confuse while at the same time offering real choices. 

 

This portion of the game is meant to be very fluid and surreal. The GM should use judgement in presentation of such things. As a general rule, when a player is subject to something false and you believe there should a chance for them to see through it, you can roll 1d10 against Wits and have the delusion fade if the result does not meet or exceed their Wits score. In many cases though such a chance will not need to exist.  

 

When reality is bending, when players are the subject of illusion, false memories or delusion, use the unreliable narrator approach to GMing. This takes a certain amount of care. It is a delicate balance, to mislead while also maintaining the trust of the players. As a general principle, when you are being intentionally unreliable try to be subtle, but also try to include the possibility of the players sensing clues that they are being misled. This technique should also be relegated to things specific to this part of the game. For example when players are venturing into Danvers State Hospital or when the reality of their past lives are unfolding, playing with the truth about who people are, what happened, etc can be helpful. The idea is what the players are seeing and what the NPCs are seeing may not be the same thing. 

 

How this was handled in practice was very much about presentation of information and techniques like artfully switching between groups of characters when they were split (to maximize the impact of information being revealed). In one playtest I ran, the party went to Danvers State Hospital to investigate an inmate who had committed murders that one of the players had dreamed about. Before the campaign began, I rolled a 1 for him when checking for Lunatic Player Characters and slowly started connecting him to a secret past involving this inmate, which came to a head for the player while investigating werewolves near the scene of his original crime. At the hospital they were told this player, Daichi, could interview the inmate, Peter, alone. They agreed and Daichi went to Peter's cell to interview him while the rest of the party went to another area of the hospital with the Physician who had greeted them, Dr. Letha Kane. It was slowly revealed that Daichi was in fact Peter, that he had escaped and they just returned him to his cell. But this was a slow process of revelation. Daichi spoke with Peter, getting pieces of information that started to persuade him he wasn’t who he thought he was. Peter would say peculiar things like “but don’t you remember?”, or “I didn’t do it, that was you.”. I would shift back to the conversation with Doctor Letha Kane and she would begin describing Peter’s multiple personality condition. This went on until it was revealed to the party that Daichi was one of Peter’s personalities. 

 

It is a somewhat cinematic approach but requires a great deal of care still respecting character agency. For instance, only Daichi had rolled a 1 on my check. The other players were fully aware of things. I had permitted a certain amount of illogic and dream logic in the timeline, because this was purgatory, but when they concocted a plan to bust Diachi out of the hospital, the campaign went in that direction. And it was unclear to them for some time if they had been lied to, enchanted by, or told the truth by the people at the hospital. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

DOGTOWN

I visited Dogtown with some friends the other day. It is an interesting site in Massachusetts, a ghost town known for its strange boulders and witches. Now it is basically a nature trail.   

Dogtown was an inland settlement established in 1692 between Gloucester and Rockport, away from the bay so the inhabitants could be safe from attack. It was named after the dogs kept by the wives during wartime, and in its decline became a haven for widows, vagrants and outcasts. Some accounts also say these dogs became feral and roamed freely in the woods. 

Many of its later residents were believed to be witches, including a notable woman named Thomazine Younger. Supposedly she demanded offerings of corn or fish from people who wished to pass through in peace. It became something of a safe haven for people on the fringes of society. The last resident of Dogtown was a freed slave named Cornelius Finson (when they found him he was sick and his feet were frozen, so he was brought to Gloucester). 

In the depression a millionaire named Roger Babson hired stone cutters to engrave inspirational sayings into the boulders in the woods (these are now known as Babson's Boulders). Babson was the founder of Babson College, an engineer, a descendent of the original founders of Dogtown, and had a thing about gravity (attributing its power to moving the stock market and starting an institute to help shield people from its effects: the institute later turned towards the study of gravity). 

The engraved boulders are part of a system of giant stones left behind by the last glacial retreat (the whole area is famous for large and unusual stones). There are trails leading through the network of engravings. The stones are engraved with phrases like "Spiritual Power" and "If Work Stops Values Decay". Some are a little more harsh. 

There are a lot of paranormal legends associated with Dogtown, including stories of a werewolf. There was also highly publicized murder her in the mid-1980s (there is a book about this by Elyssa East called Dogtown: Death and Enchantment in a New England Ghost Town). 

Our main goal was to see the boulders (which we were not terribly successful with). We found cellar holes (boulders with numbers engraved on them). Here are some of my thoughts and below are some photos). 










TOP THREE MICHELLE YEOH FILMS

With the release of Everything Everywhere All at Once, which I haven't yet seen, I thought I would put together my own top 3 list of Michelle Yeoh movies. I saw other blogs and websites making these sorts of lists and just wanted to put down my own recommendations. Originally I was going to do a top 5, but I think limiting myself to three will force me to make tougher choices. I really wanted to narrow it down to the three I consistently go back to again and again. This list is just based on my own enjoyment of a movie, not whether it should have a 100% freshness rating. Often I prioritize the action performance and the charisma of the lead in these kinds of movies (Michelle Yeoh brings both but in each of these three movies, I think she brings them in different ways). Because I am an action fan, I am going to stick with what I know and just do a list of Michelle Yeoh action films. 

1. Wing Chun (1994)

This is definitely my top pick. It is a great movie, with wonderful fight choreography and a perfect blend of action, humor and romance. Directed by Yuen Woo-Ping, it stars Michelle Yeoh and Donnie Yen but also has a nice cameo of Cheng Pei-Pei. The supporting cast is also excellent (I particularly like Kingdom Yuen as Abacus Fong). Plus it has Norman Chu as the villain. Yeoh plays the founder of Wing Chun, Yim Wing Chun, who runs a tofu shop and helps protect the community from local bandits. There is a lot more to the plot than this simple break down. It is a charming story, with a very precise and athletic performance from Yeoh. The final fight is outstanding, and is crammed with subtext. There is also a classic fight sequence in the middle involving a platter of tofu that is simply amazing to watch. I have found this one to be hard to find on physical media in good quality (many of the versions i have picked up have less than perfect image quality). It may be easier to find a decent copy now. 


2. Yes, Madame (1985)

This is one of my favorite physical performances by Michelle Yeoh. There is so much energy in this movie and she is paired up with Cynthia Rothrock as well (they make an excellent duo). The plot is pretty simple and mostly serves the action of the movie, but it has a lot of outstanding characters and one of my favorite one-note villains (I don't mean that as a negative, I like one note villains when they are done well and performed well and in this movie the bad guy always makes me smile: and what a note!). Directed by Corey Yuen this movie kicked off the Girls with Guns subgenre. Like a lot of movies from this era, it is very efficient in the best way. At 93 minutes, I am always surprised how much it manages to pack in without confusing me as a viewer. It has tons of action, plenty of humorous moments and juggles its characters well. It is part of the In the Line of Duty series. She is in the sequel, Royal Warriors, which is also enjoyable (but the first one is what I always keep going back to).


3. Reign of Assassins (2010)

This is a stellar movie. I find it to be her most moving action movie. Reign of Assassins is a wuxia story in the style of Gu Long. My understanding is it isn't based on any particular Gu Long novel but was meant to capture the feel of Gu Long. On that front it succeeds, but it also manages to get very deep and touch on profound religious themes. It is the kind of film where you will notice so many little details the more you watch it (for instance how characters mirror each other in different scenes). This one is very dark with well-drawn characters and a good story with a lot of heart. It is a little involved but the gist is she is a member of a gang called Dark Stone, and flees with a relic she was meant to bring to their leader, has an encounter with a monk that changes her, then goes into hiding and tries to live a normal life. There is much more to the story than this, but I don't want to give anything away. 

Obviously this list is based just on my own set of preferences. Many of her other films would make it to the 1 or 2 slot in most other peoples list so do take mine with the appropriate grain of salt as I don't want anyone to miss out on her better movies. 


HONORABLE MENTIONS 

Michelle Yeoh has so many great movies. Magnificent Warriors is one of the ones I enjoy rewatching. Her performance is great and it is a terrific action movie. Police Story 3 (also called Supercop) is wonderful as well. This movie is notable because she is going toe-to-toe with Jackie Chan as his new partner. Her stunts in it are unbelievable. I think for a lot of people this would be their number 1 or 2. I love the police story films. And part three really stands out. 

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is also another significant one. I remember seeing it in the theater when it came out in the US. It definitely made an impact on me. The only reason I don't include it here is the pacing of that film is a bit slow so I rewatch it less than some of her other movies (it isn't bad that it is slow, it is meant to be a languid and graceful cinematic experience, but that often is a deterrent to me watching it if I am tired). 

One of my favorites, and I know this isn't one everyone likes, is the Heroic Trio (I love the sequel, Executioners, as well). It is basically a martial arts superhero movie (and I am not usually a superhero fan). It is a great cast with Michelle Yeoh, Maggie Cheung and Anita Mui. I think some people might describe this as a somewhat corny movie, but I thoroughly enjoy it. 

There are plenty of other good ones. Butterfly and Sword (I quite like this one but the middle drags a bit). Tai Chi Master is more of a Jet Li movie but I love her character in that film. 

While it isn't a film a regularly rewatch, Holy Weapon is an interesting one and worth seeing. Definitely check this one out if you can find it simply because it is rather unusual. She is part of a very large cast in it and I don't want to spoil any of the details. Suffice to say this is something of a gonzo wuxia film. 



Friday, April 8, 2022

THE WITCH

The Witch is a movie I have avoided watching, for reasons I get into in the podcast below. Last night I decided to see it for the first time and I enjoyed it a lot. I am often very late coming to more recent films. Hear my take six years after the fact: 


Friday, April 1, 2022

TOTAL PARTY KILL THE RPG

This summer Bedrock Games releases its most daring and ambitious roleplaying game yet: Total Party Kill. 

No Time for Stories When you're Dead!

In Total Party Kill the GM gains experience and levels up, as players run for their lives. The gamemaster advances by sending his armies of monsters, NPCs, traps and world ending relics against the player characters. His goal is to slaughter them to the last. Each PC he kills earns the GM Experience and increases the power at his fingertips. In this world, the dungeon comes to you!

Player characters do not advance in level or power in Total Party Kill, but they have one slender, ray of hope: become the GM. The first player to survive 10 sessions, gets to be the next Gamemaster, casting the prior GM back into the hell pit of player characters. And if more than one PC should make it to 10 sessions alive, the GM seat is determined by death match! 

Comes complete with: 

-Loaded dice 

-Complete progression tables for the GM, from newb to that than which nothing greater can be conceived 

-A rich setting, replete with detailed locations and fully fleshed out NPCs that the players will be too dead to explore 

-The hobby's first universal game system made entirely from all the most popular RPGs with the serial numbers filed off: compatible with EVERYTHING! 

-Roaming dungeon rules! 

-Death and dying rules, with an entire Five Stages of Grief mechanic  

-Unified Field Theory   

-Not one, but two, dirge composition tool-kits 

-Two complete adventures: "Big Foot is Angry Kills Everyone!" and "The Entire Party Gets Eaten by a Dragon!"

-More exclamation marks than a silent film!  

-Even more exclamation marks!!!!!  

The Perfect System  

The system for Total Party Kill has been gruelingly playtested by the hobby's 13 most ruthless  GMs. We hired a team of over 100 mathematicians, scientists and engineers to serve as design consultants. Our outer space rules were reviewed by 8 astronauts from NASA. Doctors, nurses, bus drivers, day care providers, deep cover CIA operatives and big foot were all paid to provide valuable insight so we could make the most authentic and believable RPG imagined. 

The result was a system so perfect it shattered our understanding of physics (and cryptozoology). Each rule was painstakingly crafted to grant the GM as much power as possible that he might veto any unforeseen player successes. In order to survive, the player's choices and dice rolls must be unambiguously decisive. 

Total Party Kill was also skillfully worded to maximize marketing potential. We put SEO first and foremost. From book to webpage this is a game designed for blatant self promotion and profit. The index is a massive list of search engine key words and the foreword takes pains to thank all of the most prominent RPG influencers in the hobby. Our sidebars are all inflammatory remarks meant to go viral.  

And it has something for everyone. Whether you like rules light, rules heavy, old-school, new school, narrative mechanics, pure dungeon crawls, hyper-realistic play, cinematic genre emulation, functional systems, linear railroads, sandboxes, broken systems, hex crawls, settings that appeal to your particular religious and political views or settings that attack those views relentlessly, TPK is your game in every situation. We got you covered! 

And it is flame resistant too! There are lines of text in the rules to support arguments for any playstyle or RPG worldview, so no matter what gaming perspective you bring, the rules support your position, whatever that position is, in any flame war you choose to engage in on gaming forums. This game puts an end to RPG forum butt-hurt once and for all. We've even included a handy list of topics to get those flame wars started! 

Coming this summer 2022. We broke reality to make you a better game!



Monday, March 7, 2022

THE MANY SAINTS OF NEWARK: FIRST IMPRESSION

I finally had a chance to watch The Many Saints of Newark. Based on what I heard, my expectations were low, but it was a pleasant surprise. I am sure I will need to watch it many more times to really settle on an opinion about it. On the first viewing, I quite enjoyed it. I found it more cohesive than I had heard. I also liked some of the unexpected turns, and enjoyed the new characters they introduced. While the early announcements, posters and trailers were a little misleading (making it seem that Tony Soprano was more central), I think it was a good choice to make him an important side character rather than center the film on him (and it will make an sequel where he does take center stage feel more believable (because we've had a solid introduction to young Tony). 

Overall I thought they did a much better job than I had anticipated. This is the kind of movie that could have easily failed on multiple levels (especially being a television show brought to the big screen). But I think they made a lot of good choices. 

I had a lot more thoughts about it (it took me nearly 40 minutes to express them all in the podcast below). Listen to find out what I thought of the movie. Hopefully in the coming days or weeks I will watch it again and give more thoughts. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

STRANGE NEW ENGLAND RPG

For the past several months I have been working on a variation of Strange Tales of Songling set in New England. It will use the same basic system (and there should be cross-compatibility between the two games) but offer a very different type of setting. It draws on a broad range of influences, local paranormal accounts and history, psychological horror, religious horror and local legends. 

It is also influenced by a ton of classic horror movies. There is always a lot of horror in my other RPGs and that is because I mainly GM'd horror campaigns and was a huge horror fanatic growing up. That was one of the reasons I started the horror express discussions on the podcast (hopefully we will start doing those again soon). This will be influenced by a range of movies, everything from the Exorcist and the Howling to Jacob's Ladder and Carnival of Lost Souls. And there is a lot of old silent horror movie influence as well. Nosferatu was one of the fist horror movies I saw as a kid, and I like movies like the Lon Chaney Phantom of the Opera. I think the one common thread of the film influences is they are for the most part, films made prior to 2000. I am not as interested in recent horror movies and that is pretty clear I think in the setting material (nothing wrong with more recent movies, there are some I like, I just have less interest in new films in general).  

There is also an X-Files and cryptic element to the setting (a lot of it is structured around local anomaly and paranormal accounts: things like the Dover Demon, the Bridgewater Triangle and the story of Doc Benton). I like to read books about weird local accounts and urban legends, so a lot of that is going to be in here. 

Like Strange Tales, Strange New England has four paths (tailored to the setting), but it takes a slightly different approach to magic. Presently the paths are: Exorcist, Spirit Medium, Charlatan and Combatant (will get more into those in future posts). It also includes a corruption mechanic similar to powers checks from the old Ravenloft line (it is influenced a lot by Ravenloft but also by the game The Esoterrorists, and the Orrorsh material for TORG). The campaign structure is similar to Strange Tales of Songling, with an adventure for each level, but it is more a blend of sandbox and monster of the week: where the players get to pick what they want to investigate that adventure. 

I have been play testing since October as I develop the setting and the mechanics. There are some key concepts I am trying to hash out and refine (and I will talk more about those As the weeks and months unfold after they crystalize more). 

In terms of tone, this is a genuine horror game, where the stakes are pretty high (I think about as high as you can make them). But it is a nice blend because I think one of the reasons people sometimes have difficulty with horror in RPGs is they feel the need to always hit that horror note. My approach is, when you can, definitely go for that, but you also need to allow for fun and other moods (both for contrast but also to allow for the horror t even work). This is a topic I will hopefully be blogging more about as well. 

There isn't any concrete timeline on this one. I have other projects working their way through the pipeline before this one comes out. But my plan is to take a slow-brew development approach to this one like I have for the past several projects. 

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

DIRTY HARRY CONVERSATIONS

I hope to have more updates on Sons of Lady 87 and to start posting the remaining chapters of Profound Masters of Ogre Gate soon (and post some thoughts in general in the near future). Right now I am busy editing so want to post some stuff we've been doing on the podcast. 

Adam and I talked about Dirty Harry movies the past couple of months (these are the first four---will add The Dead Pool to this post when we get to that one). I love the  Dirty Harry movies. The first one remains a truly great film: well crafted and stunning to this day. For me the others are fun movies (all vary in degree of how well they are made but they all are films I enjoy watching). These were always on TV when I was a kid so they were something most people were familiar with. Recently I did a re-watch over the summer in order of release date and that led to my conversation with Adam. 

Listen to the episodes below to hear our opinions on each entry in the series: 


Sunday, January 30, 2022

LADY 87 CAMPAIGN BOOK

 Folks may have noticed I have been on something of a break here. I should be back with the remainder of the Profound Masters posts followed by news of a new game I am working on. But in the mean time I wanted to share the cover art of our the Lady 87 campaign book. I started work on this in 2017 I believe (basically been running that as my chief campaign from then to very recently). We are just working on the final edits, and hope to be getting into layout soon. This impressive cover was done by Jackie Musto, and captures a vibe somewhere between The Crippled Avengers and the Killer Constable. For those who haven't seen my posts on it, the Lady 87 campaign book is a wuxia campaign set in the prefecture of Fan Xu, within the criminal shadow empire of Lady 87. The players get to be the bad guys in this one: 



Saturday, January 22, 2022

HAIL TO THE KING

When I first got into heavy metal, it was roughly 1989-90, which means I was coming in at the tail end of 80s  metal and about to see a massive shift in the musical culture within the next couple of years. One of the first bands I discovered on my own was King Diamond. Back then there were catalogs put out by record companies where you could sign up to get tapes every month, and in one of those catalogs I saw an ad for King Diamond's The Eye. I knew nothing about the band or the man, but it described The Eye as King Diamond's masterpiece, with a picture of him in full make-up. And something about the look, the album cover and the word 'masterpiece' stuck in my brain. 

I decided to buy a King Diamond album, but the only one I found at the record store was something called Conspiracy. For those who don't know, Conspiracy is a follow-up to their previous album Them, and it is a sequel. King Diamond albums each tell a horror story. And so this was like coming into a horror franchise on the second film. But the story was, at least in my opinion, gripping and well-constructed enough (blending music and story in a concept album is not easy), that it made me want to learn more. And by the two-minute mark of Conspiracy, I was absolutely hooked on King Diamond. 

You can hear the full album HERE. And this is the point that sold me on King Diamond. That had everything I wanted in my entertainment at the time. 

If you've never listened to King Diamond (and from here on out I will speak of King Diamond as a person, rather than collective band, simply because his persona is so central to it), or if you've only heard snippets of his screeching falsetto, the first thing to understand, is he is not for everyone. King Diamond is unique, and you either get King Diamond and like what he does, or you just can't. I have never once converted anyone to King Diamond. They always liked him from the beginning or they detested him and never changed his mind. My hope is to explain why I think King Diamond (and by extension Merciful Fate) is deserving of acclaim in the metal world. I should state, I am more of an old school King Diamond fan. I listen to the newer records too, but I think my metal brain stopped developing around 1996, and to me the period I am most interested in is from Fatal Portrait to The Spider's Lullaby. 

It is impossible to talk about King Diamond without also talking about Merciful Fate, and it is sometimes hard to draw a distinction between the two projects because King Diamond himself is such a force in both. For me, the key distinction is largely in the guitar work (Andy LaRocque's playing really gives King Diamond, the band, a distinct sound). Overall there is more flourish and precision in King Diamond on the guitar front, but I love the guitar sound of Merciful Fate. The riffs are both outstanding and were more attainable for me as a player than trying to emulate LaRocque (who always struck me as more virtuoso and neoclassical in style). But even on the guitar front, you still had Michael Denner from Merciful Fate on the first couple of King Diamond albums. The other big distinction is by the time of Abigail, King Diamond albums tell a complete story (a portion of Fatal Portrait tells a story, but the whole album doesn't). Merciful Fate I think is also a bit more raw, slightly more aggressive. There are other differences as well. But the point is it is a somewhat confusing distinction and one I found dizzying when I learned that King Diamond had been in another band. 

Before I even knew that Merciful Fate was a thing, I went through King Diamond's catalog to that point. I started with Abigail, because someone had told me, when they learned I liked Conspiracy, that it was considered on of his best albums. I followed with Them and The Eye. The Eye, I think, has generally been on of his more low regarded albums from that era but I had a fondness for it. 

I discovered Merciful Fate after the compilation album A Dangerous Meeting was released in 1992. This combined some of the greatest hits of Merciful Fate and King Diamond....which confused me even more. I wasn't always clear if I was hearing Merciful Fate or if it was a King Diamond song I didn't know (and I wasn't much of a sleeve reader either at the time, I just listened to the music). But this eventually led me to albums like Don't Break the Oath, Melissa and In the Shadows (the latter was something of a re-union album that came out in 1993, and quite a good one in my opinion). 

One thing I immediately noticed when I shared King Diamond with other people, was the reactions to his music were always strong. If I shared the song Abigail with folks, some were into it right from those opening riffs (in my opinion this song has one of the best riffs in metal ever written). Others would chuckle, or wince. And it comes down to the fundamental sound of King Diamond. Which I will try to explain. 

King Diamond isn't just a metal singer, he is a performer, an actor, a storyteller. Listening to King Diamond you will get a range of tones, spanning countless horror movies, everything from the old Hammer Films to stuff like the Shining and Night of the Demons, or even Gremlins. He is a horror singer for horror fans. That includes the transgressive stuff that shocks and revolts parents, but also includes the winking humor and powerful atmospherics. It isn't just one note or one shade of gray. There is a variety in terms of the musical content and in terms of the voices King Diamond employs. And those voices, you either find them endearing or grating. I don't think there is a lot of in between. This is one of the chief things I loved about Kind Diamond when I first heard conspiracy: it scared exactly the way Evil Dead II scared me. Now that movie is frightening and funny in equal measure and the humor almost makes it more scary. To me, that is King Diamond, he uses doses of humor, and other tones, to help set up the horror. And he has a very good command of the horror genre as a lyricist. 

He also uses very different vocal techniques and voices. Going from high pitched falsetto, to gurgles and goblins voices to sounding like a demon from the pit of hell. Like everything else in the music there is a range. There are also distant sounds, almost like characters, that you come to understand are in his tool box. And when he uses them, you know what he is trying to convey by them. 

The other thing that makes King Diamond work for me, is his warm sense of melody. King Diamond writes stunning melodies, that have a classic feel to them (and classic here means very pre-metal). Some of his choruses' almost remind me of 50s and 60s pop and rock music. But that is juxtaposed against more harsh and dissonant moments. 

And again I think this reflects the tone variety he uses in his voice. It is that movement from harsh, to sweet, from funny to scary, that makes it all come together for me. I think it is a highly cinematic and charismatic presentation. And there is thought behind it. It doesn't feel random. 

I think that last part is also important. With King Diamond, I felt like he took each album very seriously and he took his performance, very seriously. It may sound silly at times, but if you pay attention to what he is doing, there are very few people who can reliably sing the way he does, in the many voices he does. 

The final thing that I always loved about King Diamond was the enthusiasm. It felt like total comithtemnt to the project. And the music is fun. Don't get me wrong, it is often written in minor keys, it is dark, but you always have a sense King Diamond is thoroughly enjoying himself. He reminds me of great horror movie villain actors like Vincent Price. You can really see in this in a song like Halloween or No Presents for Christmas (very few metal acts have given us great holiday anthems like King Diamond).