Where are you on the Goodreads challenge?

We’re five months into the annual Goodreads reading challenge and I’m chugging along, having hit 13 out of my goal of 21, so its safe to say we will probably surpass that number before year’s end.

What did you set your goal to, and how far along are you? Cruising along or need to pick up the pace? Here’s the 13 books I’ve read so far this year:

conanConan – Adventures In Age Undreamed Of

2d20 RPG Campaign Setting

Modiphius Entertainment

2017

Read my review here!

 

 

1Xas Irkalla

Original System RPG

James Vail

2018

Read my review here!

 

 

devilsnightDevil’s Night Dawning

Dark Fantasy Novel

Damien Black

2016

Check it out at Goodreads

 

 

accursedAccursed

Save Worlds RPG Campaign Setting

Melior Via

2014

Read my review here!

 

 

uncagedUncaged: Faces Of Sigil

Planescape RPG Accessory

TSR

1996

Read my review here!

 

 

51nM0L2MRvLThe Eighth God

Dark Fantasy Novel

Paul Lavender

2017

Read my review here!

 

 

fiascoFiasco / Fiasco ’10 Playset

GM-less cooperative RPG / Adventure Set

Jason Morningstar

2009 / 2010

Read my review here!

 

 

gurpsmarksattacksMars Attacks

GURPS RPG Campaign Setting

Steve Jackson Games

2016

Read my review here!

 

 

horrorsHorrors

Earthdawn RPG Supplement

FASA

1995

Read my review here!

 

 

wraithWraith Knight

Dark Fantasy Novel

C.T. Phipps

2016

Read my review here!

 

 

darkmageDarkmage

Dark Fantasy Novel

M.L. Spencer

2017

Check it out at Goodreads!

 

 

Exalted_Second_Edition_Core_BookExalted 2nd Edition

RPG Campaign Setting

White Wolf

2006

Check it out at Goodreads!

 

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Xas Irkalla: Black Metal Insanity In RPG Form

Xas-Irkalla

Did you see that image above and think it was a logo for a black metal band? Yup, me too, and I think that’s exactly what what the designers were going for with this ultra bleak (and ultra awesome) new tabletop game.

In a nutshell, Xas Irkallla is the RPG equivalent of the terrifying esoteric oddity of a Deathspell Omega album colliding with the blackened violence of any given USBM band. Its dark and grim and mind bending and unpleasant, like being trapped in a Gustave Doré painting.

1Rather than your typical d20 open game license entry, Xas Irkalla features a unique ruleset, and it is woven very well into the fabric of the game.

The rules are simplified and fairly easy, but show off the theme quite well. While a good deal different than players may be used to if they stick to Pathfinder or a system like Modiphius’ 2d20 rules, the mechanics here are easy to pick up and flow well.

Loads of character advancement options are available that reflect the dark insanity of the setting, but don’t get too attached, because characters are going to die frequently and messily. You are squishy like a Call Of Cthulhu character, and in a universe that’s more actively deadly, like an even more horror-focused Warhammer.

2While there are a couple of minor nit picks in the layout and formatting where you can tell this is more of an indie affair, overall I’m pretty impressed with the quality of everything on display, from the art to the design concepts.

Xas Irkalla is an incredibly disturbing version of roleplaying, and that can’t be said enough. As a vast intersection of wildly different worlds and realities pulled together by the dreams of dead psychics, things get deliciously weird.

You might have a qliphotic, tentacled sorcerer in a wheelchair next to a spear-wielding gladiatorial slave next to a soldier from an ultra-advanced space-faring society next to a mischievous trickster god in the party.

4The setting is just relentlessly grim. As someone who writes apocalyptically bleak grimdark fantasy novels, I’m down with that, but obviously a group who wants to play the heroic paladins saving the peasants from evil will not be on board with this setting.

What you get here is a radically different experience than the typical RPG. Xas Irkalla ends up somewhere at the cross section of survival horror, esoteric U.S. black metal, the Cthulhu mythos, a nightmare wrapped in an acid trip wrapped in a sweat lodge hallucination, and even darker, more dreadful things.

After a successful crowd funding campaign, Xas Irkalla is now available digitally, but this is the sort of game you want to hold in your hands, and I’m eagerly looking forward to a physical edition landing soon.

3

Spring Into Fantasy!

A celebration of dark fantasy with 18 books for 99 cents each!

Prolific fantasy scribe M.L. Spencer–author of Amazon #1 best selling series The Rhenwars Saga–has teamed up with 16 other authors to kick off spring with dark visions of vile necromancers, hardened mercenaries, mad kings, foul-mouthed orcs, and eldritch madness.

A host of the best new voices in the dark fantasy scene have banded together to offer a stunning lineup of epic fiction for an exhilarating–and occasionally terrifying–ride out of the darkness of winter and into the dangers of spring.

From April 10th – 14th, all 17 novels (and a bonus anthology) are up for grabs for only $0.99 a piece, filling your to-read list to the brim with new worlds to explore throughout the whole year.

Spring Into Fantasy features stories from such luminaries as Andy Peloquin, Rosalyn Kelly, Frank Dorrian, Ty Arthur, Jesse Teller, Michel Baker, Damien Black, Paul Lavender, Angel Blackwood and many more. This grab bag of epic stories is now on massive sale to celebrate the return of spring:

▪ Light Dawning – Ty Arthur
▪ The Thousand Scars: Counterbalance Volume 1 – Michael R. Baker
▪ Steel, Blood & Fire – Allan Batchelder
▪ Devil’s Night Dawning – Damien Black
▪ Kindling – Angel Blackwood
▪ The Shadow of the High King: The Weaving Shadows Book One – Frank Dorrian
▪ The Dead God’s Due – Matt Gilbert
▪ A Wizard’s Forge – A.M. Justice
▪ Melokai: In the Heart of the Mountains Book 1 – Rosalyn Kelly
▪ The Eighth God – Paul S. Lavender
▪ Devil of the 22nd – Richard Nell
▪ Hellscape: The Fifth Horseman – Samantha Nocera
▪ Exile: The Nandor Tales Book 1 – Martin Owton
▪ Traitor’s Fate – Andy Peloquin
▪ Darkmage: The Rhenwars Saga Book 1 – M.L. Spencer
▪ Song: The Manhunters Book 1 – Jesse Teller
▪ The Hiss Of The Blade: The Celestial Ways Saga Book One – Richard Writhen
▪ Ragged Heroes: An Epic Fantasy Collection – Anthology

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Telling Time In A Fantasy World

“High Noon” and “7 o’clock” don’t exactly exude a fantasy feeling….

Coming up with names for fantasy characters is a struggle all its own, but that’s only part of the battle when building a new world from scratch for a book series. Deities, countries, landmarks, seasons, and even days of the week all have to be taken into consideration.

Like with the main character naming conventions from Light Dawning, I knew I wanted the way in which people distinguish time to veer away from modern words and phrases, but at the same time I didn’t want it to go completely into the overblown high fantasy side of the equation. Light Dawning is a low fantasy novel with a strong horror flavor, so the names also needed to run towards the darker side.

The hours of the day needed to give a distinct feel so that you know this world is different from others, while still making sense at a glance without having to look up terms in a glossary. I want to draw the readers into the world more with little details like this that constantly remind them where they are, and that Cestia is very much not the same as their home on Earth.

Rather than using the standards like “8 AM” or “High Noon” or “Midnight,” I came up with my own system of daily time that gets included in each chapter heading, along with the location where the chapter takes place, to give a frame of reference to the reader.

The daily time segments from earliest to latest are:

  • Light Dawning
  • Morningtide
  • High Sun
  • Aurora
  • Radiantfall
  • Dimmet
  • Eventide
  • Twilight
  • Gloaming
  • True Night
  • Stars Fading

The time slots aren’t necessarily exact or consistent across the seasons (since water or mechanical clocks aren’t commonly available in Cestia during the occupation, and Radiantfall or Dimmet is likely to come earlier in the day during the winter season).

In general though, each time slot is roughly around and hour and a half, and has three versions: early, mid (marked just by the base name), and late. So for instance, it might be early Radiantfall, Radiantfall, or late Radiantfall as the time slot progresses. The TOC below shows you how the time progresses over the days in which Light Dawning takes place.

How do you feel about changing up the times, names of days, and seasons in fantasy and horror novels? Do you prefer something that sticks to the standard modern day systems, or like a little more originality for flavor?

toc

What’s In A Name: Coming Up With Words And Phrases For Fantasy Worlds

A look at how I picked the names for the main characters in Light Dawning.

For fantasy and sci-fi writers, a whole lot of time is usually spent on picking names for characters and locations. Has this word been overused in other worlds? Does it sound too modern? Does it go too far and sound too bizarre?

I’ve found that sometimes the more tongue twisting fantasy names tend to be distracting and really draw me out of a book if I have to look at it and try pronouncing it repeatedly (this really hit me when reading The Darkness That Comes Before with names like Anasûrimbor or Cnaiür) .

When writing Light Dawning I knew I didn’t want standard American sounding names (so no Richard, Jack, or Robert) but at the same time I didn’t want to go overboard into the fantasy side either (so no Blipdoolpoolp or Xanathar).

After coming up with a lot of odd sounding fantasy names I wasn’t altogether happy with, I decided to start throwing words based around character traits into a translator and seeing if I could find anything in random other languages that felt otherwordly while still not being ludicrous, and that’s how I landed on my protagonist names.

The main character is a woman infested with insane, sentient whispers from a place that the religious think of as heaven but is really more akin to hell. If she speaks her inner truth and lets those internal whispers out, the world could change drastically for the worse. To reflect this I picked the name Tala, which is both Swedish and Icelandic for “to speak or chatter.”

Brushstroke Picture Frame: https://www.tuxpi.com/photo-effects/brushstroke-photo-frame

Another character is a thief and a coward who is stuck somewhere he can’t escape. He’s literally mired down by a darkness in his soul that won’t let him go. I went through a lot of different ideas on this front, but eventually settled on Myrr, from the Swedish word myr, meaning “mire or morass,” reflecting both the unpleasant physical location and the concept of being stuck.

The third protagonist is a religious fanatic whose primary goal in life is to get through the darkness of the night, burn a city to the ground, and see the light of a new day dawn over the ashes. Because he is so focused on shifting the balance between light and dark, I settled on Erret (Albanian for “dusk”).

Brushstroke Picture Frame: https://www.tuxpi.com/photo-effects/brushstroke-photo-frame

I went through a lot of different languages and iterations on character names to try to come up with a cohesion in naming while building up a unique world with inhabitants who have different cultural practices that vary by region.

For instance, the characters from the main city in the book tend to have short, clipped names like Myrr, Otta (Icelandic for “fear”), Kina, Shan, and so on.

What sort of names do you prefer in fantasy and sci-fi stories? Something modern and normal, something outlandish and fantastic, or somewhere in-between?

For another look at how picking names can even impact something as simple as telling time in a fantasy world, head over here!

The Occupation Of Iraq Via Fantasy… Except Worse

New review up from author C.T. Phipps!

A killer new review just rolled in for Light Dawning from fellow author C.T. Phipps, who penned series like Wraith Knight, Lucifer’s Star, Agent G, and I Was A Teenager Weredeer.

According to Phipps, the grimdark backdrop of Light Dawning is like “the occupation of Iraq via fantasy, except even worse!” Read the full review at Goodreads here!

ct

 

Games I Had To Hide From The Parents

Whether due to apostasy or pixelated blood sprays, these games all had to be played on the down low….

At the risk of sounding like that old man yelling for the children to get off his lawn, I’ve got to say that kid’s today don’t know how good they’ve got it on the gaming front. Rewind 20 years, and we didn’t all have laptops in our bedrooms and smart phones for getting in some quality RPG time at line in the grocery store.

We had to work for our games, and that was often complicated by the fact that gaming wasn’t really considered a legitimate outlet or serious industry back then. Attitudes have definitely changed, now that parents are just as likely to be playing Rock Band or hogging the Switch as the kids.

When you threw in the fear many parents had at the time of Satanic cults and video games causing violence, some us of had to work doubly hard to play the latest games. Considering that I went to a private Christian school during my middle school years, you can probably guess what my parents thought of video games in general and role playing games in particular.

Although there was a massive list of banned games in my home as a kid, I actually got off better than some of my class mates. I remember one kid in particular who wasn’t even allowed to play Cruisin’ USA on the Nintendo 64.
What could possibly justify banning a racing game with no violence or objectionable content of any kind? Because a fully clothed girl dances while holding your 1st place trophy at the end of a race, and that was just too smutty.

fuck       This was just too risque for 12 year olds to see apparently
In an environment like that, getting to play anything with demon enemies or a supernatural bent in the slightest was a careful balancing act. They usually had to be played late at night when the parents were asleep, or else by going over to a friend’s house whose parents weren’t as crazy on the religious side.

Castlevania: Symphony Of The Night

castlevaniaSOTNWhile a horde of games in the same style have since flooded consoles and handheld devices, when it came out Symphony Of The Night was revolutionary.

To this day it remains an excellent game that has aged well (with a few minor issues), but what’s notable is how some of the Japanese attitudes towards western religions broke through in the original text.

In the opening segment as Richter and Dracula are arguing, that big bad vampire is amused by Richter’s characterization that he steals men’s souls and turns them into salves, idly responding “perhaps the same could be said of all religions.”

Couple that little exchange with Alucard using items that cause gigantic pentagrams to appear on the screen, and SOTN was definitely a game to play on the down low if I didn’t want it removed from the home in a religious purge.

Revelations: Persona
persona

You might not expect it from the pixelated graphics and unrefined gameplay of this earlier era, but there were some seriously subversive ideas getting thrown around as gaming was just getting its footing.

On the PC side you had games like Fallout introducing the first same sex marriage possibility in a video game, and then on console there was the oddball PS1 RPG Revelations: Persona.

Once again the Christianized west wasn’t quite ready for some of the text coming from a game rooted in Japanese culture, which has a very different take on demons and religion. Although it has aged horribly and is nearly unplayable now, as kid I couldn’t get enough of this game with its non-traditional RPG setting (a Japanese metropolis) and cast of characters (teenage high school kids surviving the apocalypse).

The moment that most sticks out when I first realized the game was going to get tossed if discovered was when one character off-handedly mentioned that Christian winged angels are actually based on the goddess Nike, and not on anything found in the Bible. Throw on the fact that the party could negotiate with the demon hordes instead of slaying them, and you had a perfect storm for a game every religious parent would loathe.

Vandal Hearts

vandalhearts
There are so many classic PS1 games that tried pushing the boundaries of gaming in new directions when we started counting polygons instead of pixels.

Vandal Hearts is an interesting example that and had a story deeply rooted in politics (which is actually oddly relevant to modern day U.S. in a lot of ways).

That wasn’t the reason why I had to keep my Vandal Hearts sessions relegated to late nights or weekend mornings before the parents got up, though. Nope, that was squarely on the shoulders of the GIANT GOUTS OF BLOCKY BLOOD that went flying across the stream whenever you defeated an enemy.

They are sort of hilarious to look at now, but at the time this was about as gory as a game could get. Oh yeah, and then there were the flaming pentagrams when your wizard characters cast spells — that was a surefire way for a game to get banned!

Diablo

diablo
While I managed to sneak quite a few games into the house that would have been otherwise declined, there wasn’t even any point in trying to install Diablo on the family computer.

Flaming letters? M rating? Giant demon guy on the cover? Yeah, check and mate. Wasn’t going to happen.

When the original came out I had to stay over at a friend’s house to play this classic of the ARPG genre on the weekends.

When the sequel landed, it took trips to a local internet cafe and to part with 4 bucks an hour to finally get to play Diablo 2! Years later I found that particular gem at Goodwill for a paltry $2.99 and couldn’t believe my luck.

Baldur’s Gate

baldursgate
There was an irrational terror of the phrase “Dungeons & Dragons” in my home growing up, no doubt brought on by the ludicrous Satanic Panic of the ’80s.

That D&D logo was the kiss of death, which made getting Baldur’s Gate really tricky.

There was no way I was going to miss this renaissance of the CRPG style, so I had to immediately throw the box away at the store and instead just keep the manual and CD insert.

That insert was a thing of beauty, flipping open and holding all 5 (yep 5!) discs… it also happened to have flaming skulls on each panel, which resulted in a frown and a “harumph” when my mom saw it sitting by the computer.

To this day It still amuses to me to no end that the flaming skulls were more acceptable than the words “Dungeons and Dragons.”

Final Fantasy 7

ff7I wasn’t one of those kids who got new consoles for Christmas or was just given a car by the parents. As a teenager, I had to save up a whole lot of money for a very long time to get a PS1, and it was all for one reason — Final Fantasy 7.

Now, the game itself was approved and everyone knew exactly what title I’d first be renting once I had enough to buy the Playstation (yeah, having cash enough to outright buy a new game was another matter, so renting was the way to go that weekend).

What caused the problem wouldn’t pop up until playing for a few hours…

It might not be apparent based on how they are viewed today and the powerhouse industry that has developed, but there was a time when games were thought of as just for children.

While any given Battlefield or Call Of Duty will have soldiers throwing out some expletives — and there are series like Kane And Lynch or GTA 5 where racial slurs and F-bombs drop from meth head mouths with great frequency — once upon a time the notion of someone saying fuck or shit in a video game was unthinkable.

Final Fantasy 7 might have been the first game I ever played that had those dreaded four letter words in them, and I knew as soon as Barret Wallace started talking that I’d have to be strategic about not letting those dialog bubbles pop up on the screen whenever a parent might be walking through the room. Not long after, Final Fantasy Tactics caused similar problems, but man was it ever worth the tight rope walk to play!