It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas 2022- Adult Edition

Coming up with this list was incredibly difficult! I love giving books as gifts, but I have a tendency to pick ones that I think will appeal specifically to the person I am shopping for. However, there are a few that I think will be great gifts for the majority of my friends. I’ve included some that I would love to receive myself (assuming I don’t already own them). You can find my previous lists here: 2021, 2020.

Empire of Exiles by Erin M. Evans

The empire moved on. 

Now, when Quill, an apprentice scribe, arrives in the capital city, he believes he’s on a simple errand for another pompous noble: fetch ancient artifacts from the magical Imperial Archives. He’s always found his apprenticeship to a lawman to be dull work. But these aren’t just any artifacts — these are the instruments of revolution, the banners under which the Duke lead his coup. 

Just as the artifacts are unearthed, the city is shaken by a brutal murder that seems to have been caused by a weapon not seen since the days of rebellion. With Quill being the main witness to the murder, and no one in power believing his story, he must join the Archivists — a young mage, a seasoned archivist, and a disillusioned detective — to solve the truth of the attack. And what they uncover will be the key to saving the empire – or destroying it again. (Taken from Amazon)

Good gravy, I loved this book! The writing is phenomenal and the magic system is breathtaking. This would make an excellent book for a reader who is experienced in fantasy and loves being sucked into a book. Just don’t expect to hear from them until they’ve finished: it’s too engrossing. Review

The Shadow Glass by Josh Winning

Jack Corman is failing at life.
 
Jobless, jaded and on the “wrong” side of thirty, he’s facing the threat of eviction from his London flat while reeling from the sudden death of his father, one-time film director Bob Corman. Back in the eighties, Bob poured his heart and soul into the creation of his 1986 puppet fantasy The Shadow Glass, a film Jack loved as a child, idolising its fox-like hero Dune.
 
But The Shadow Glass flopped on release, deemed too scary for kids and too weird for adults, and Bob became a laughing stock, losing himself to booze and self-pity. Now, the film represents everything Jack hated about his father, and he lives with the fear that he’ll end up a failure just like him.
 
In the wake of Bob’s death, Jack returns to his decaying home, a place creaking with movie memorabilia and painful memories. Then, during a freak thunderstorm, the puppets in the attic start talking. Tipped into a desperate real-world quest to save London from the more nefarious of his father’s creations, Jack teams up with excitable fanboy Toby and spiky studio executive Amelia to navigate the labyrinth of his father’s legacy while conjuring the hero within––and igniting a Shadow Glass resurgence that could, finally, do his father proud. (Taken from Amazon)

The Shadow Glass would be the perfect gift for people who grew up loving The Labyrinth or The Dark Crystal. It’s an urban fantasy with fantastic nostalgia lacing throughout. The character development is amazing and anyone lucky enough to receive this book will be cheering by the end. Review

Dragonlance Destinies: Dragons of Deceit by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Destina Rosethorn—as her name implies—believes herself to be a favored child of destiny. But when her father dies in the War of the Lance, she watches her carefully constructed world come crashing down. She loses not only her beloved father but also the legacy he has left her: the family lands and castle. To save her father, she hatches a bold plan—to go back in time and prevent his death.

First, she has to secure the Device of Time Journeying, last known to be in the possession of the spirited kender Tasslehoff Burrfoot. But to change time, she’ll need another magical artifact—the most powerful and dangerous artifact ever created. Destina’s quest takes her from the dwarven kingdom of Thorbardin to the town of Solace and beyond, setting in motion a chain of disastrous events that threaten to divert the course of the River of Time, alter the past, and forever change the future. (Taken from Amazon)

If you know me at all you’re not even remotely surprised that I’d add Dragons of Deceit to the list. Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman came back to the world they’ve created with a bang. While this can be a jumping-off point for anyone new to the world, I strongly recommend giving the Dragonlance Chronicles as a gift as well if the recipient hasn’t yet read them. This book will be even better if they know the original story. I guess that means I’m sneaking in multiple suggestions under the guise of one. I’m a slyboots. Review.

Small Places by Laura Owen

The woods are stirring again. . . . 

Lucia and her sisters grew up on the edge of Mockbeggar Woods. They knew it well—its danger, but also its beauty. As a lonely teenager, Kate was drawn to these sisters, who were unlike anyone she’d ever met. But when they brought her into the woods, something dark was awakened, and Kate has never been able to escape the terrible truth of what happened there. 


Chloe has been planning her dream wedding for months. She has the dress, the flowers, and the perfect venue: Small Angels, a charming old church set alongside dense, green woods in the village that her fiancé, Sam, and his sister, Kate, grew up in. But days before the ceremony, Chloe starts to learn of unsettling stories about Small Angels and Mockbeggar Woods. And worse, she begins to see, smell, and hear things that couldn’t possibly be real. 

Now, Kate is returning home for the first time in years—for Sam and Chloe’s wedding. But the woods are stirring again, and Kate must reconnect with Lucia, her first love, to protect Chloe, the village, and herself. An unforgettable novel about the memories that hold us back and those that show us the way forward, this is storytelling at its most magical. Enter Small Angels, if you dare. (Taken from Amazon)

For this suggestion, I’m veering from fantasy into spooky territory. Small Angels never crosses into straight-out horror, but instead uses descriptive language to paint an eerie picture. This was very enjoyable and will suck in any reader. Review.

The Hero Interviews by Andi Ewington

Heroes… you can’t swing a cat without hitting one. You can’t even hatch a nefarious plan without some adventuring party invading your dungeon to thwart you. So, it stands to reason they’re a force for good—right?
Well—yes and no…
Elburn Barr is a Loremaster who has turned his back on his family’s tradition of adventuring and stepped out into the realm of heroes to interview a whole smörgåsbord board of fantastical characters from stoic, swear-shy Paladins through to invisible sword-carrying Mime Warriors.
Through his transcribed journal, he’ll take a cheeky peek at the truth lurking behind the hero myth—and everything associated with them. Across his many encounters, he hopes to uncover his brother’s fate—a brother who has been missing for ten summers after brazenly setting out to forge a heroic name for himself.

Will Elburn discover what really happened to his brother, or will he fail in his quest and become another casualty of the adventuring trade?
The Hero Interviews is a departure from the usual swords and sorcery yarn—it’s a sometimes gritty, sometimes amusing, but completely bonkers look at the realm of heroes. (Taken from Amazon)

This hilarious book would make an AWESOME gift! I’ve guffawed my way through it multiple times now and each time something different makes me snort-laugh. The Hero Interviews releases on kindle the first week of December, so give it to friends who like ebooks (I think that’s most people). Go ahead and snag it for yourself too. You’ll love it. Review.

The Withered King by Ricardo Victoria

Fionn is the wielder of a legendary Tempest Blade, and he is blessed – or cursed – by the Gift. Though his days as a warrior are long over, his past leaves him full of guilt and regret. Life, however, has other plans for him, when he agrees to help a friend locate a missing person. Gaby and Alex never expected to become heroes… until they met Fionn. As an ancient evil arises and consumes the land, Fionn must help them to master their own Gifts and Tempest Blades. Together the three of them, and their friends, will chart a course aboard the flying ship Figaro to save the planet. Will Fionn’s past be an anchor, or will he overcome the one failure from his former life before time runs out? In a world where magic and science intermingle, anything is possible. Including second chances. (Taken from Amazon)

This is the first book in the Tempest Blades series. I really love the tones of hope and second chances that run through both The Withered King and its sequel, The Cursed Titans. I don’t know why, but I get a bit of a My Hero Academia vibe. I think it’s that both that show and these books have great character development, complex storylines, and a lot of action. That’s a lot to finagle at once and author Ricardo Victoria manages it wonderfully. Review.

Slaying the Dragon: A Secret History of Dungeons and Dragons by Ben Riggs

Role-playing game historian Ben Riggs unveils the secret history of TSR― the company that unleashed imaginations with Dungeons & Dragons, was driven into ruin by disastrous management decisions, and then saved by their bitterest rival.

Co-created by wargame enthusiasts Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, the original Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game released by TSR (Tactical Studies Rules) in 1974 created a radical new medium: the role-playing game. For the next two decades, TSR rocketed to success, producing multiple editions of D&D, numerous settings for the game, magazines, video games, New York Times bestselling novels by Margaret Weis, Tracy Hickman, and R. A. Salvatore, and even a TV show! But by 1997, a series of ruinous choices and failed projects brought TSR to the edge of doom―only to be saved by their fiercest competitor, Wizards of the Coast, the company behind the collectible card game Magic: The Gathering.

Unearthed from Ben Riggs’s own adventurous campaign of in-depth research, interviews with major players, and acquisitions of secret documents, Slaying the Dragon reveals the true story of the rise and fall of TSR. Go behind the scenes of their Lake Geneva headquarters where innovative artists and writers redefined the sword and sorcery genre, managers and executives sabotaged their own success by alienating their top talent, ignoring their customer fanbase, accruing a mountain of debt, and agreeing to deals which, by the end, made them into a publishing company unable to publish so much as a postcard.

As epic and fantastic as the adventures TSR published, Slaying the Dragon is the legendary tale of the rise and fall of the company that created the role-playing game world. (Taken from Amazon)

Okay, this is a gift for a very select type of reader. Not everyone is going to give a fig about the history of D&D or what happened to TSR. This is for those of us who look forward to diving into imaginary worlds and using our imaginations. However, I argue that not only is it absolutely fascinating, Slaying the Dragon is ridiculously well-researched and written in a way that is engaging and flows well. Grab this one for your TTRPG friends. Trust me, they’ll love it. Review.

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

Ten people, each with something to hide and something to fear, are invited to an isolated mansion on Indian Island by a host who, surprisingly, fails to appear. On the island they are cut off from everything but each other and the inescapable shadows of their own past lives. One by one, the guests share the darkest secrets of their wicked pasts. And one by one, they die…
Which among them is the killer and will any of them survive? (Taken from Amazon)

My oldest son has just dipped his toes into Agatha Christie’s writing. And Then There Were None is my favorite of hers. It would make a great gift for mystery lovers old and new.

Dragons of a Different Tail Edited by Marx Pyle

Eighteen award-winning, veteran, and emerging authors bring you seventeen unique dragon tales that defy tradition. Winged serpents as large as continents, as well as those tiny enough to perch on the fingertip of a young girl. Dragons who inhabit the Wild West, Victorian London, Brooklyn, and a post-apocalyptic Earth. Scaly beasts who fight in the boxing ring, celebrate Christmas, and conquer the vast void of outer space. There are rockstars who meddle with dragon magic, clever and conniving shapeshifters, and powerfully exotic hybrids. Science fiction, urban fantasy, mystery, western, epic fantasy, YA fantasy…no matter the setting or the genre—here be dragons! (Taken from Amazon)

I loved this highly entertaining collection of dragon stories! It’s so creative. Each story is so different from the one before it, from tone to genre. Any fantasy reader would be delighted to add these dragons to their collection. Review.

Legends and Lattes by Travis Baldtree

High Fantasy with a double-shot of self-reinvention

Worn out after decades of packing steel and raising hell, Viv the orc barbarian cashes out of the warrior’s life with one final score. A forgotten legend, a fabled artifact, and an unreasonable amount of hope lead her to the streets of Thune, where she plans to open the first coffee shop the city has ever seen.

However, her dreams of a fresh start pulling shots instead of swinging swords are hardly a sure bet. Old frenemies and Thune’s shady underbelly may just upset her plans. To finally build something that will last, Viv will need some new partners and a different kind of resolve.

A hot cup of fantasy slice-of-life with a dollop of romantic froth. (Taken from Amazon)

This book is absolutely delightful! It’s a hug in print. It would be such a great gift for anyone who could use a happy ending right about now, and I kind of think that’s everyone. I really wish this coffee shop existed in the real world but, since it doesn’t, the book would make an excellent gift along with a cute mug.

What books are you planning on gifting this year? And how many are you going to gift yourself?

An Author’s Monster Manual: Table of Contents

I’m a big fan of TTRPGs. I love the imagination involved in creating a story with friends and I love the memories that are made. I often find myself thinking about how cool it would be to include a creature I’ve loved in a fantasy book in a TTRPG setting. I’ve been lucky to have some amazing authors and bloggers share hypothetical Monster Manual additions over the last two weeks.

Here is a list of the awesome guest posts, in case you missed any.

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the writers who helped make my idea an awesome reality! The amount of talent gathered here is incredible.

Table of Contents:

An Author’s Monster Manual

An Author’s Monster Manual Featuring Andi Ewington

An Author’s Monster Featuring J.E. Hannaford

An Author’s Monster Manual Featuring Geoff Habiger

An Author’s Monster Manual Featuring Rowena at Beneath a Thousand Skies

An Author’s Monster Manual Featuring Jonathan Nevair

An Author’s Monster Manual Featuring Dan Fitzgerald

An Author’s Monster Manual Featuring Rob Edwards

An Author’s Monster Manual Featuring Ryan Howse

An Author’s Monster Manual Featuring Sean Gibson

An Author’s Monster Manual Featuring Ricardo Victoria

An Author’s Monster Manual Featuring Jeffrey Speight

An Author’s Monster Manual Featuring Joshua Gillingham

An Author’s Monster Manual Featuring Luke Winch

An Author’s Monster Manual Featuring Virgina McClain

An Author’s Monster Manual Featuring Dorian Hart

An Author’s Monster Manual Featuring Dorian Hart

Dorian Hart is an excellent addition to a hypothetical Author’s Monster Manual. His series, The Heroes of Spira (which is phenomenal, by the way) features many unique creatures. All of them would be great additions to any TTRPG.

First, a thank you to Jodie for including me in this most excellent feature!

I make no secret that my Heroes of Spira series uses  a long-running RPG campaign as its source material. I’ve written at length about the perils and pitfalls of that approach, and about the fundamental differences between novels and  campaigns. That said, like many a good RPG,  my epic quest fantasy books sure do feature a wide variety of nonhuman creatures!

In no particular order, the Heroes of Spira includes, among other things:

  • One-eyed gopher bugs
  • A misanthropic living storm
  • A dangerous turtle
  • A cadre of evil, mathematically-inclined cultists 
  • A dragon
  • Intelligent giant ants AND intelligent giant spiders
  • A tentacled blob-monster
  • A bat-winged marble statue that’s deadly when animated
  • Joyously violent goblins
  • A powerful demon lord whose fortress hangs above a lake of boiling pus
  • A 9’ tall oracular toad
  • A snarky telepathic cat
  • A multi-legged but otherwise featureless ball of insect chitin.
  • Massively powerful talking gemstones
  • A giant acidic slug that, let’s be honest, is more-or-less a reskinned Gelatinous Cube, because those things are great
  • Avatars of multiple gods
  • Some good old-fashioned mummies

There’s more, but that should be enough to let you know what kind of series I’m writing.

For a stat block, I’ve chosen from that list the marble statue, whose informal name is a Blood Gargoyle, and whose official name is a [SPOILER REDACTED].  At the risk of some minor spoilers:

In The Ventifact Colossus, the first book in the series, one of the protagonists (named Dranko) meets a Blood Gargoyle in its inanimate form. Even as an inert statue, it scares the living daylights out of Dranko, instilling an unreasoning fear in the man despite not even twitching a wingtip. Here’s the passage where he first beholds the thing:

* * *

Dranko wasn’t sure what he was looking at. 

No, that wasn’t entirely true. He knew it was a statue, half again as tall as he was. He knew that while it was humanoid, it wasn’t human; no man or woman or goblin-touched had fangs that long, or claws that sharp, or eyes that far apart, or a chin that long and pointed, or wings neatly folded behind its back. And he knew that it was made of rock, some kind of striated marble as orange and luminous as a harvest moon.

But he also knew that this thing was more, and that it was worse, and that he wanted as little to do with it as possible. Its deep-socketed eyes, two blood-colored marbles with cat-slit pupils, were like windows into the Hells, and something looked out of them, eager, hungry. Though it was just an inert stone sculpture, inanimate, incapable of causing him harm unless it fell on him, Dranko had to fight down his flight reflex from the moment he laid his eyes upon it.

* * *

Later in book 1, we learn that (off camera) the Blood Gargoyle attacked  and nearly killed the heroes’ ancient and powerful wizardly patron, Abernathy. But while the reader still has not seen one in action by the end of The Ventifact Colossus, if you think I’m going to let a perfectly good Chekov’s Gargoyle sit around on the mantelpiece for a full five books without it going off, I can assure you that [MORE SPOILERS REDACTED].

It’s one of the more fearsome members of my novels’ bestiary, so I don’t recommend throwing it against low-level adventurers unless you’re itching for a TPK.  If you want to use it in a campaign, I suggest first letting your characters encounter it in its inanimate form, and then springing the “live” version on them many sessions later, once they’re powerful enough to (maybe) handle it. Ideally, your PCs will burst into the villain’s sanctum just as they’re finishing up the animating ritual, and the blood gargoyle will fight your heroes  while the villain escapes via secret tunnel, teleportation circle, enchanted flying contraption, or a similar contrivance.

Here’s a stat block for it:

C:\Users\Dorian\Desktop\blood gargoyle 2.jpg

Regretfully, I cannot supply you with art for the Blood Gargoyle, as my abilities in the visual arts can only be measured using an electron microscope. I hope the above description is sufficient for you to imagine one.

About the author:

Dorian Hart is the author of the Heroes of Spira epic fantasy series, which currently includes The Ventifact Colossus, The Crosser’s Maze, and The Greatwood Portal. He also wrote the interactive science fiction novella Choice of the Star Captain for Choice of Games.

In a bygone century, Dorian graduated from Wesleyan University with a degree in creative writing. This led circuitously to a 20-year career as a video game designer, where he contributed to many award-winning titles including Thief, System Shock, System Shock 2, and BioShock.

Now he writes books in his Boston-area study, serves as the stay-at-home dad for his two teenage daughters, and happily allows his wife to drag him off on various wilderness adventures.

Amazon links:
The Ventifact Colossus
The Crosser’s Maze
The Greatwood Portal
The Infinite Tower

An Author’s Monster Manual Featuring Virginia McClain

No Monster’s Manual would be complete with a creature that is at least a little draconic, although once again my guest author pulled out all the stops. Virginia McClain,author of both the Gensokai series and the Victoria Marmot series, puts a new- and incredible- spin on a massive serpent, showcasing a creature from her next book,  Eredi’s Gambit!

Twisted Monsters or Twisted Tropes?

As much as I enjoy “proper monsters” (killing machines that don’t have much motivation beyond wanting to eat the hapless adventurers unfortunate enough to cross their paths) one of my all-time favorite tropes is the monster that secretly, well, isn’t

Even going back to when I first started playing D&D (around age 8—which was…a long time ago…shhh) I preferred it when our party ran afoul of creatures who had some motive for wanting us dead besides hunger/unexplained hatred of everything around them. Whether it was accidental, “You idiotic humans just got between me and my babies! Perish, foolish mortals!” Or intentional, “I may look like an average bugbear, but I am actually a minion of this super sneaky mindflayer that lives just around the next bend, so why don’t you chase me and see what happens?”

I was fortunate to have a DM (my big brother) who also liked giving motivations to his monsters, so we had some delightfully interesting campaigns even when we were at the age where cannon fodder monsters would have been perfectly standard. Perhaps that’s why I have always leaned into the fantasy books that question the existence of monsters that it’s always morally unobjectionable to kill. 

As a kid and into my teens R.A. Salvatore’s Drizzt books were some of my favorites for precisely that reason. Despite the constraining rules of writing within the Forgotten Realms, Salvatore did his level best to question how an entire group of people could be any one thing, especially if that thing was “evil.” I loved that. I loved it so much that the first novel I ever finished a complete draft of was a pretty solid Drizzt knock off, set in the Forgotten Realms, and with my own original characters, but… let’s just say it was derivative enough that I don’t have any plans to publish it. (Though if Wizards of the Coast ever comes knocking I’d be willing to dust off that old manuscript and see what’s salvageable — just sayin’.)

These days I make my own worlds, and I delight in creating characters that look like traditional monsters but who are in fact quite pleasant once you get to know them. Meanwhile, certain perfectly average looking humans (along with the systems they create/sustain) are the true monsters. I like to keep my readers guessing.

Take, for example, this big ol’ sea serpent. 

She looks intimidating. You probably would be pretty freaked out if you were on the deck of that ship she’s in front of. And, as she can’t speak any of the human languages, most of the humans she encounters take her vocalizations for the rage filled cry of a monster hellbent on destruction. 

Mostly she’s just shouting out questions to try to figure out why the pesky humans are approaching her territory. Why she bothers she isn’t sure. The humans seem far too stupid to answer her, and always attack her rather than engaging in a simple conversation. Lately though, one of those pesky spirits has been convincing her friends to attack humans that aren’t even in their territory. Horribly rude.

Needless to say, when these misunderstandings lead to humans attacking her, she’s forced to defend herself. To say it doesn’t generally go well for the humans or their ships is… a bit of an understatement.

I suppose you probably want some stats for this monster who isn’t a monster though, eh? I mean, I don’t generally roll up characters sheets for anyone in my books because as deep as my D&D roots go, I prefer the freedom of creating people and worlds outside of those rule sets. That said, if this sea serpent were going to show up in a D&D campaign, she’d have stats similar to a dragon. Sea serpents in this world are essentially water dragons anyway. So very high hit points, a water breath attack, a crushing attack, a bite attack, and a tail lash. All of those would deal massive damage, but a human would have a decent chance at saving against said damage by using evasion. Bryllth (that’s her name for the purposes of this sheet) is very large, but not so fast that you wouldn’t be able to dodge if you could see her clearly. Of course, she can hide underwater, so you won’t generally see her coming unless she wants you to. 

In other words, she’s bad news for the people who try to fight her. Still, she’s very much misunderstood by most humans, and certainly her first appearance in Sairō’s Claw doesn’t make her seem like the calm welcoming creature she *can* be. 

But I’m delighted to report that we’ll learn more about her, her motives, and the people who are actually able to communicate with her (and thus clear up a few misunderstandings) in the next book – Eredi’s Gambit. 

Here’s the character sheet I worked up for her pretending that she was a very high level dragonborn ranger. 

I went with a character sheet rather than monster stats as Bryllth is one of the protectors of her people and absolutely has a life of her own beyond sinking ships that show up uninvited and start attacking her without any explanation. That said, a lot of this character info is slightly off, because she’s much larger than any dragonborn, and she’s a natural swimmer with a water attack rather than a cold attack. But it was the best I could do with a free digital sheet from D&D Beyond.

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning a bit about Bryllth, and if you’d like to see her in action, you can find her first appearance in the very final pages of Sairō’s Claw. Bryllth is just one example of the way I enjoy twisting monster tropes; you can find more in pretty much all of my books.

About the Author:
Virginia McClain is an author who masqueraded as a language teacher for a decade or so. When she’s not reading or writing she can generally be found playing outside with her four-legged adventure buddy and the tiny human she helped to build from scratch. She enjoys climbing to the top of tall rocks, running through deserts, mountains, and woodlands, and carrying a foldable home on her back whenever she gets a chance. She’s also fond of word games and writing descriptions of herself that are needlessly vague.

To Purchase:

Chronicles of Gensokai
Sairō’s Claw: Gensokai Kaigai Book One 
Victoria Marmot and the Meddling Goddess

An Author’s Monster Manual Featuring Luke Winch

One great thing that I’ve learned is that I am not the only person who reads about a cool creature in a novel and thinks, “Wow, it would be fun to encounter that in a TTRPG”. It turns out many reviewers have similar reactions to the monsters found in fantasy and sci-fi books.

Luke Winch is a fantastic blogger and podcaster. He is also a fan of D&D and was kind enough to share his STAT Block for…The Sludge Man from The Grey Bastards!

Deep in the Lot Lands, some forty miles from the seas lies a huge swath of miry, boggy, wetlands called The Old Maiden Marsh. For miles are sickly streams, thickets, and crooked trees. There is a foe who inhabits the swamp that even make the mighty orcs think twice about travelling through. He is no man, but he treaties with half-orcs and men alike if it suits his desirous needs. He has been called djinn by outsiders, demon, or a foray of indecent slurs by the half-orc hoofs of the Lot Lands.

He is The Sludge Man. A pale humanoid with soft, fat flesh, a sizeable belly, and thinning hair. His ever-suspicious eyes see all in his domain and if you go to treat with him, words need to be chosen carefully, for to ignite his anger, is to invite a battle, that, if you are not prepared for, or have not the numbers for, you will likely lose.

A team of multiskilled warriors, druids, mages, and rogues are required to beat The Sludge Man in battle. He can control large leech like sludges that surround the party and can envelope and consume their targets. The Sludge Man can move with lightening speed in combat so sharp reactions are required.

This formidable foe also has the ability to send the strongest of elves, mages and warriors into a slumber as the large sludges encase them in their black, oily bodies. Tactics and quick thinking are needed by the party to survive any battle with The Sludge Man, but his arrogance can be his downfall.

So, tread carefully when traversing through The Old Maiden Marsh. Treat with The Sludge Man at your own risk, always read the small print on the contract and, if you go to battle with him, make sure your party is in full health and have their wits about them.

About the author:

Luke Winch is the host of multiple podcasts, including Turn of a Page and Observing the Pattern. He writes for Before We Go Blog as well as writing his own blog. Basically, he’s superhuman. Check out his blog at https://lukewinch.com/

An Author’s Monster Manual Featuring Joshua Gillingham

My Author’s Monster Manual series continues with an awesome addition from author Joshua Gillingham. His books, The Gatewatch and The Everspring, are epic fantasies inspired by Norse myth. Joshua’s addition of the Norosi Troll is hardcore!

The Norosi Troll:

Artist Credit: Antonio J. Manzenedo

About the author:

Joshua Gillingham is an author, game designer, and editor from Vancouver Island, Canada. His fantasy trilogy The Saga of Torin Ten-Trees (Crowsnest Books) is a rollicking, riddling, troll-hunting adventure inspired by the Norse myths and the Icelandic Sagas; it now available in paperback, ebook, and as an audiobook narrated by Alex C. Stewart. Joshua is also the co-author of Old Norse for Modern Times alongside Ian Stuart Sharpe (Vikingverse Books & Comics) and Dr. Arngrimur Vidalin (University of Iceland).

In partnership with Outland Entertainment, Joshua is the founding Worldsmith of the trans-media Outland ‘Althingi’ World set in Viking Age Iceland, featuring his original card game Althingi: One Will Rise and the groundbreaking anthology Althingi: The Crescent & the Northern Star, co-edited with Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad (A Mosque Among the Stars) which explores the under-examined historical connections between Vikings and Muslims.The latest project in the Althingi universe is Althingi: Saga Heroes, the first expansion to the base game, and it is live on Kickstarter now!

To Purchase:

The Gatewatch
The Gatewatch Audiobook
The Everspring

An Author’s Monster Manual Featuring Jeffrey Speight

Today I’m delighted to feature not one, but multiple creatures! Jeffrey Speight is the author of Paladin Unbound, a phenomenal fantasy book that features it all: amazing characters, awesome worldbuilding, and the sorts of creatures that would make any TTRPG campaign fantastic.

Living with Monsters

When I was young, my mom was absolutely obsessed with antiques. During the summer, she would often drag me to flea markets across Long Island in search of her next piece. One time, dying of boredom, I looked through a pile of dusty old books and found one called The Fiend Folio. I had heard about Dungeons & Dragons through the older siblings of friends but had yet to play the roleplaying game that would prove to become a mainstay in my life. 

The cover depicted a bejeweled, sword-wielding monster with evil red eyes and sharp teeth. I had to know more. Eagerly leafing through the pages, I admired the artwork and wondered what a world with Ettercaps, Githyanki, Hook Horrors, and Shadow Demons would be like. 

I somehow talked my mom into buying it for me, and my journey into the world of Dungeons & Dragons began. 

To be fair, my love affair with monsters started years earlier. Nearly every Halloween, as other kids ran from door-to-door dressed as Captain America and Spiderman, I would stalk my neighborhood dressed as Dracula with fake blood running from the corners of my mouth. One of my favorite toys was my Mighty Men & Monster Maker (if you didn’t have one, you really missed out), and nearly everything I read or watched was fantasy or “something spooky”. 

I’ve spent a lot of time over the years thinking about monsters and what the attraction was at that point in my life. The best I can explain it, dreaming of the monsters that lurked in the shadowy recesses of other worlds made our world less scary. Fighting them in D&D allowed me to be the hero I was incapable of being as an undersized, socially anxious kid. Monsters gave me the power I thought I lacked in real life. 

Today, things are a little different. I have come to view monsters as the physical manifestation of the evils I, as an adult, seek to understand in the hearts of mankind. Storytelling, whether that be through running a D&D campaign or writing a fantasy novel, is a way to explore the human condition, and monsters are the embodiment of the struggles we face along the way. So, when I was asked by W&S Bookclub to take part in An Author’s Monster Manual, I jumped at the opportunity. 

In Paladin Unbound, I adapted many of the monsters Umhra and his companions face from the D&D campaign from which the story grew. Early in the journey we encounter archetypical vampires, zombies, and dire wolves. There are, however, a few monsters Umhra comes across that are quite unique in their construction that I’d like to share with you. 

Outside the Stoneheart Pass, the Barrow’s Pact is attacked by a myriapede. While I don’t give much backstory on this gigantic centipede-like creature, there is more than meets the eye. Bettle, as he is known, is the Guardian of the Waystone at the mouth of the Stoneheart Pass, the last known of its kind. Bound to protect the stone by an age-old contract, Bettle relentlessly pursues and attacks anything that comes too close. For this job, I wanted a monster that could not be reasoned with, that would strike fear into the hearts of travelers. If Bettle’s enormous mandibles don’t snap you in half, the formic acid he secretes just may dissolve you on contact. His countless legs end in razor-sharp spikes and his tail has two elongated hind legs tipped with hook-shaped stingers. It’s one thing to dispatch him above ground but, in his lair, he’s got a few other surprises for his enemies. Here’s a character sheet for whoever would like to include a myriapede like Bettle in their game. 

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Next, I’d like to look at something a little more twisted. Viewed as a side quest in Paladin Unbound, the Barrow’s Pact’s short stay in the cities of Amnesty and Retribution puts them in the path of the Three, estranged members of the royal bloodline. Our adventurers are asked by the stewards of the cities to investigate reports of an infant crying in the catacombs beneath the city streets. Here, they come upon an Anathema. A pile of quivering flesh with eight eyes, Anathemas are very rare and are indigenous only to the chaotic alternate plane of Wethryn. The monstrosity lures victims toward it by mimicking the cry of an infant, renders the victim unconscious with one of many glares from its eyes, and then consumes them. Anathemas are highly intelligent despite their appearance and are capable of teleporting over short distances as they are unable to physically move. This one definitely checked a major box for me in the gross category. I like to offer readers and players a variety of monsters—some cool and calculating, others brutish and overpowering, and some just disgusting.

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Finally, I thought it would be fun to give you a little preview of Mystic Reborn, the sequel to Paladin Unbound, which will hopefully be out Spring 2023. In the book, we meet plenty of new monsters. One that I am particularly fond of, however, is the Melacrite. The inspiration for these nasty little guys was my desire for an enemy with an almost Alien-like feel to them. Something skittering in the darkness that would add a touch of horror to the story. I won’t give much away here, but these twelve-legged wolf-sized creatures are half hardened carapace and half tattered fur. Their front appendages are like curved daggers, and they spit a tar-like substance that can slow the progress of an enemy. Melacrites live in large nests coated with their sticky saliva that make entering their homes a very unwise choice. I’m personally looking forward to using Melacrites in a D&D campaign, myself. While they are individually not all that much to worry about, in numbers they can be a formidable enemy. Here are the stats if you’d like to give them a try at home.

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Whether you are a fantasy writer, dungeon master, or both, creating interesting monsters is as much a worldbuilding tool as developing a magic system or pantheon. Sure, our characters can run around fighting other humans. In fact, these adversaries are often eviler than any monster you can throw in your hero’s path. For me, it’s just more fun when the evil lurking around the corner comes with fangs.

About the author:

Jeffrey Speight’s love of fantasy goes back to an early childhood viewing of the cartoon version of The Hobbit, when he first met an unsuspecting halfling that would change Middle Earth forever. Finding his own adventuring party in middle school, Jeff became an avid Dungeons & Dragons player and found a passion for worldbuilding and character creation. While he went on to a successful career as an investor, stories grew in his mind until he could no longer keep them inside. So began his passion for writing. Today, he lives in Connecticut with his wife, three boys (his current adventuring party), three dogs, and a bearded dragon. He has a firmly held belief that elves are cool, but half-orcs are cooler. While he once preferred rangers, he nearly always plays a paladin at the gaming table.

Website: https://www.jeffreyspeight.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/jeffspeight

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jeffsp8/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jeffreyspeightauthor

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/21486809.Jeffrey_Speight

Where to find Paladin Unbound:

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/58022890-paladin-unbound

Literary Wanderlust: https://www.literarywanderlust.com/product-page/paladin-unbound

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1942856768

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/paladin-unbound-jeffrey-speight/1139410896

An Author’s Monster Manual Featuring Ricardo Victoria

An Author’s Monster Manual has to include Ricardo Victoria, author of the Tempest Blades, a series that was a least partially inspired by a TTRPG. This is a fantastic series, full of action and heart.

D&D has played quite a big part in the development of Tempest Blades, even before the novels’ inception as they stand now. I started playing during college when my best friend was DM of his homebrew 3e campaign with his classroom friends and I kinda forced my way when I dropped my three core books, the Oriental Adventures expansion, and my first character sheet, with a newbie character by the name of Fionn… yeah, that Fionn, the MC of the Tempest Blades novels. And that was the start of my descent into fiddling around with the game. So when I’m writing the novels, there is always a voice in my head asking “how this would work to be played in D&D”. I guess in a way I keep writing the novels as if they were my own D&D campaign with a Final Fantasy 7-8-10-13 aesthetic.

That’s why I loved being included in this event… except that I have never played 5e, just recently bought the books, and was familiarizing myself with the system. So I hope you don’t expect balanced stat blocks just yet.

Forsaken Gate of Flesh. (Tempest Blades: The Withered King)

This monster draws inspiration from Hellraiser, The Wendigo by Algernon Blackwood, the monsters from the Shadow Skill anime, and Abomination by Gary Whitta. It’s an incursion –a form of demonic materialization into the real world- but a heinous one because it uses Arcanotech –which mixes magick and technology-, with “willing” human sacrifices, plural. Its apparition into the story unveils a larger, more dangerous plot for Fionn, the Main Character of the 1st book, allows him to meet a new ally, confirms his fears of an ancient enemy of his coming back, and also sets the reader for the reveal of why Fionn is at that point in history, a living legend, showcasing his powers as Gifted and those of his Tempest Blade, Black Fang. Forsaken Gate was made to make the reader witness the dangers of cult following.

 Artist Salvador Velazquez
https://www.artstation.com/salvadorvelazquez Twitter:@rodavlas_

Wyrm (Tempest Blades: The Cursed Titans):

This monster draws inspiration from a trip I made with my wife to Tokyo (her dream trip), just before the pandemic. Once as we walked through the streets of Asakusa, I imagined a metallic dragon flying over the streets. And that’s where the main idea came from. Add the visuals of an HR Geiger exhibition in Mexico City that we attended a few months later and the visuals were locked on. The final inspiration was King Ghidorah from Godzilla King of the Monsters. As dragons are extinct by that time in Theia, the world where my stories take place, it makes sense that the villain of the story created a sculpture that would come to life to mock the dragons’ sacrifice, that’s why it’s a wyrm. In-story, it comes when the Main Character of this book (my books have the same cast, but rotate the MC role), Alex, is undergoing a severe bout of depression, compounded by a big fight with friends and mentors, taking him into a dark place mentally, as the villain tricks Alex into entering a Gaunlet of sorts that will leave him exhausted, both mentally and physically, by doing several heroics that drain him. The wyrm in this case represents the way depression can appear out of nowhere, in the most unexpected place, and set everything on fire (yes, this book is very personal to me as it’s inspired by my own struggles with depression).

The monster design was made by my friend and cover artist Salvador Velazquez, for the Cursed Titans cover.

Tempest Blades.

As a special bonus for Witty & Sarcastic, I designed the stat blocks for two of the titular (and the most famous in-universe) Tempest Blades: Black Fang, which is Fionn’s fangsword (a fancy way to say katana), and Yaha, Alex’s longsword, which is the equivalent to Excalibur… if Excalibur was a lightsaber. Funny enough, it’s Black Fang the one that has its origins inspired by the Sword of the Lake from the Arthuric Myths. Both weapons are meant to be legendary items of incredible power, being sentient (sort of) and all, so they are not suitable for a regular campaign like the one I will start in a few months with some friends and their kids that want to play in the Tempest Blades universe. In a way, the adventures in my novels feature characters that either start above the 11th level, or reached said levels really, really fast (there is an explanation in the story, but won’t spoil that). But I wanted to see how these weapons could look in a D&D system.

Black Fang is meant to represent Justice, and its inspiration comes from the katana of Duncan MacLeod from Highlander the Series (I love that show). While Yaha is meant to represent Hope and it’s inspired by a sword I dreamt of as a kid when I was watching Thundercats on TV, so yes, the Sword of Omens might be part of the inspiration. There are more Tempest Blades in the novels, but these 2 are the main ones, story-wise.

Artist: Kike Fernandez
 https://www.deviantart.com/victor-karnage  Twitter: @Bufon_VBDO
 Artist Salvador Velazquez

About the author:

Ricardo Victoria is a Mexican writer with a Ph.D. in Design –with an emphasis in sustainability- from Loughborough University, and a love of fiction, board games, comic books, and action figures. He lives in Toluca, Mexico with his wife and pets, working works as a full-time lecturer and researcher at the local university. He writes mainly science fantasy.

His first novel, Tempest Blades: The Withered King, was released in August 2019 by Shadow Dragon Press, an imprint of Artemesia Publishing. The sequel, Tempest Blades: Cursed Titans was released in July  2021. He is currently working on the third book of the saga. He has a number of stories published by Inklings Press, and other indie outlets, and has collaborated with the horror podcast The Wicked Library.

His short story Twilight of the Mesozoic Moon, jointly written with Brent A. Harris, was nominated for a Sidewise Award for short-form alternative history. He co-authored a chapter (No elf is an island. Understanding worldbuilding through system thinking) for the book “Worlds Apart: Worldbuilding in Fantasy and Science Fiction, currently nominated for the BSFA.

You can find out more at his website, http://ricardovictoriau.com, or follow him on Twitter, @Winged_Leo

Purchase Links:

Tempest Blades 1: The Withered King
Tempest Blades 2: The Cursed Titans

An Author’s Monster Manual Featuring Sean Gibson

Minotaurs are a fantasy staple. You can find them in most TTRPGs, but I guarantee that you have NEVER seen a minotaur like this. Author Sean Gibson takes the sense of humor that makes his side-splitting book The Part About the Dragon Was (Mostly) True so much fun and throws it at the mythical beast.

MINOTAUR

Sure, the standard-issue minotaur is “born into the mortal realm by demonic rites,” a “savage conqueror that lives for the hunt,” and whose fur is “stained with the blood of fallen foes”…but holy cow those things are giant wusses compared to the Flatulent Minotaur.

The Beast Without. While all minotaurs are solitary carnivores who roam labyrinthine dungeons, the Flatulent Minotaur is the standard bearer for lonely isolation. The Flatulent Minotaur’s sense of smell is not as keen as its brethren—save for its ability to recognize its own nauseating, old-cheese, diaper-filled stench, which enables the beast to unerringly navigate any area in which he has issued forth his fetid backdoor exhalations. Its rages, however, are legendary, making those of common minotaurs look like the mewling protests of a suckling unicorn. When the Flatulent Minotaur starts getting cranky…just run. Really fast.

Cult of the Stin-King. Minotaurs are descended from humanoids transformed by cult rituals, with one exception: the Flatulent Minotaur. The Flatulent Minotaur was once a greedy human king whose gluttonous debaucheries were infamous. Never satiated, the king sought ever rarer and more scandalous delicacies to quell his voracious appetite. 

He quickly grew tired of roasted fawns, puppy kabobs, and ground meat patties made from disloyal subjects. He wanted more, something so rare that it was almost impossible to obtain: the fresh liver of a baby elf.

Though his most senior advisors tried to dissuade him, he formed a hunting party comprised of murderous scoundrels and ventured into the outskirts of an elven kingdom, intent on finding pointy-eared foie gras. An elven scouting party ambushed the group, and after a vicious fight, the king became separated from his band of marauders. 

Stumbling blindly through the woods, he came upon a cave. On a pedestal in the center of the cave lay a newborn elf child, swaddled in a blanket and crying softly. The king’s eyes widened with desire, and he rushed forward, knife drawn, to murder the child and cut out its liver. As he plunged the knife in, he realized the babe was an illusion disguising a powerful spell, one that set off a horrifically painful transformation as his legs and arms lengthened, his head distended, and hair sprouted all over his body while horns emerged from his head. 

Blinded with pain, he wandered to the back of the cave and down into an endless maze of tunnels, where he has lived ever since, cursed not only to live his life as a monstrous beast, but one beset by the worst gas in the history of malfunctioning bowels, mostly because the elf who cast the spell that caused the transformation really loved farts.

About the author:

Sean Gibson, “author” and slackonteur, is not a professional mini biography writer (if he were, this would be much more compelling). Instead, he’s a communications professional by day, hangs out with his amazing wife, son, and daughter by night, and writes somewhere in between. He holds a BA in English Literature from Ohio Wesleyan University and an MBA from the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University, though rumors persist that he also attended mime school (he is silent on the subject). Sean is a fan of sports teams from Detroit, a distressingly large number of bands that rose to prominence in the 1980s, and writing in the third person. He currently resides in Northern Virginia, and, given how much he hates moving, and given that his house has an awesome library, is likely to remain there for some time.

Sean is the author of several stories starring Heloise the Bard, including the #1 bestseller The Part About the Dragon Was (Mostly) True, the holiday novella “You Just Can’t Hide from Chriskahzaa,” and The Chronicle of Heloise & Grimple. He also wrote the Victorian-set fantasy thriller The Camelot Shadow and its prequel short, “The Strange Task Before Me.” Most recently, he contributed the short story “Chasing the Dragon” to the anthology “Dragons of a Different Tail” published by Cabbit Crossing Publishing. He has written extensively for Kirkus Reviews, and his book reviews have also appeared in Esquire.

An Author’s Monster Manual Featuring Ryan Howse

I love reading and I love table-top roleplaying games. They have a lot in common. Both books and TTRPGs rely on creativity and storytelling. Ryan Howse is a master of creative storytelling and he was kind enough to talk about his Lakhesian Ghost from his series A Concerto for the End of Days.

The Lakhesian Ghost

When I was first asked to do this, I admit I was puzzled by what my choice would be. The problem isn’t monsters; I love monsters. But my most recent book, Red in Tooth and Claw, is specifically designed to maintain ambiguity as to whether or not the monsters even exist. One character thinks he sees them and one does not, and both are unreliable narrators. That ambiguity was a big part of the tension of that novel, and to make stat blocks for Hukussu would undercut that.

So then I thought about gaming. My first series, A Concerto For the End of Days, takes place in a drastically adapted version of my old Pathfinder campaigns. The campaigns took some things straight out of Pathfinder books as well as from fiction I’d enjoyed. The campaigns had backgrounds for dwarves and elves and all the other fantasy races, all of which I excised for the books. Heck, the campaigns had clerics, and my setting was several centuries after the war that killed the gods. The way magic worked was also significantly changed, and all of those meant that the history of the setting was changed. So I adjusted that, pushed the setting forward a couple of hundred years, and used that as my starting place.

The magic in my setting (well, some parts of the setting—magic is cultural, and different places have different techniques) is done through summoning and binding creatures known as caitiffs, a catch-all term for spirits from another realm. Some of those spirits are your typical elemental powers (undines, water elementals, are placed with ignans, or fire elementals, to create steam power for trains, for example) but there are others that are a bit less commonplace—dream spirits, spirits of geometries, spirits of law, the sun, and more. But my personal favorite was the Lakhesian Ghost, a spirit of fate.

As a being of fate it could only ever be found in places where something of massive import had or would happen. It wouldn’t observe time in the linear fashion we do, so it could be a place that would have such ramifications in the present of the story, or in the future, or a distant past. When an arcanist properly bound one and could tap into its power, they’d be able to see their own futures depending on what choice they would make. They could observe everything and try it again with different choices to see what would unfold next. Given enough time, one could wage an entire war before the first soldiers fired a shot and know how to win the most efficiently.

The Lakhesian Ghost becomes the fulcrum for the novel, the maguffin everyone wants to capture and use for their own. And we see how different people react to this desire, and what they’re willing to do and give up for a chance at capturing it. 

The ultimate weapon, if it could be caught.

I opted to use the Cypher System by Monte Cook Games for the stat block for this, mostly because I think it fits well in with the sense of Weirdness that Numenera and the other Cypher System games have going for them. 

Lakhesian Ghost (8)

Health: 40
Combat: The Lakhesian Ghost does not need to attack you. It needs to get you to attack it in such a way that you or your allies will be harmed instead. A ricocheting bullet, tripping with your blade, stepping on a loose patch of rocks on a cliff’s edge…

If an attacker manages to lock in on it with a mental attack, it will provide all the information that person asks of it, while also draining their life force.

Damage inflicted: self-inflicted injuries, or 6 damage to your intellect pool if you fail an Intellect Defense task and cannot pull yourself away while attempting to use it. 

About the author:

Ryan Howse is the author of The Steel Discord, The Alchemy Dirge, and Red in Tooth and Claw. He can be found at twitter.com/RyanHowse