An Author’s Monster Manual Featuring Geoff Habiger

An Author’s Monster Manual wouldn’t be complete without including Geoff Habiger. Not only is Geoff the coauthor of the fantastic Constable Inspector Lunaria Adventures, but he has also designed games. I’m happy to feature him and his addition to a hypothetical Author’s Monster Manual.

Today, he’s here to introduce you (or reintroduce for those who have read the book) to the Disciple of Pain!

I have often thought that writing a book is like making a movie, except in a book the author is responsible for everything. The author is the location scout, set builder, wardrobe, and prop master. You pick the cast, write the dialogue, and try to get your actors to follow the script all while making sure that everything follows a plot the audience can understand. And if you write in horror, science fiction, or fantasy then you may also do fight choreography, model building, special effects, and creature design.

This can be a daunting task even for an experienced writer. I like to think that I have a secret advantage in this regard since I’ve been doing all of this for years before I ever became a writer. No, I’m not a famous actor or director. I’m not even the best boy or key grip. 

My secret advantage? 

I play RPGs.See the source image

I’ve been playing RPGs for 40 years starting with the iconic D&D red box in the 5th grade with the funky plastic dice you had to color in with a crayon. (Yes, I’m THAT old!) I was instantly hooked and have played and GM’d games ever since. Being the GM (game master for those of you in the back) is a lot like being a movie director or an author. The game system gives you a framework to build upon, but the game, like a book or a movie, is only limited by your imagination.

I you’ve ever played any sort of RPG you know that the rules for character creation and game play are important to making the game work. Ability scores, skills, hit points, powers or feats, and saving throws are there to shape the character, NPC, or monster. Giving them life and allowing them to interact with your imagined world with a few dice rolls. 

Having spent so long playing RPGs the transition to writing fantasy felt natural for me. I’ve made hundreds of characters of the years, as well as creating the worlds into which to play them in. In fact, the setting for our Constable Inspector Lunaria Adventures is the world we (my co-author Coy Kissee and I) created for our D&D campaigns – Ados, Land of Strife.

While there are similarities between RPGs and novel writing, you can’t take a character or monster from your RPG and just plop them into your book. (Unless you are writing LitRPG, I suppose.) The stats for your character or monster need to be translated into the story in such a way that it doesn’t feel like you are using a stat block. (Stats, if you don’t know, are the numbers that make the RPG work – ability scores, weapon damage, hit points, etc.) In the RPG I can say that my character did 8 points of damage to a monster with their longsword and the GM will duly record that information, letting me know if the monster is still a threat or not. But that doesn’t work when writing fiction. 

In our second Constable Inspector Lunaria Adventure novel, Joy of the Widow’s Tears, we introduce a creepy undead creature for our heroes – Reva Lunaria and Ansee Carya – to face. This creature, the Disciple of Dreen, was based on an undead monster we created for our D&D world. In the D&D game the Disciple is a nasty undead, able to resist being turned by clerics, deals painful attacks that drains a character’s strength, and, most nasty of all, reflects any damage they take back on their attacker so they can experience Dreen’s “blessing” of pain all while speaking a repetitive, droning mantra to their foul god. (Dreen is a minor god of pain and suffering in the Ados setting.) An unprepared party will be severely challenged by even a small number of Disciples. 

But we couldn’t just take the Disciples and drop them into our novel. We had to figure out how their game states would translate to the novel so that a reader, even one who’s never played a RPG before (shocker, I know!), would be able to know what was happening. For example, a fear effect in the game only requires a dice roll to see if your character runs away or stands fast. In the novel we had to describe this game effect for the reader:

“Gania swallowed and felt his throat go dry and his palms begin to sweat. Butterflies shot through his gut and he had to steel himself to keep from running.”

Having the stat block gave us the framework we needed to write the fear that Constable Kai Gania felt and showed him making his save. 

Having the stat block made the job of writing the Disciples into Joy of the Widow’s Tears easier. I knew what they could do from a game sense, so I didn’t have to think up anything new, just translate the game rules into the flowery descriptions needed for the novel. 

In the end we were able to make a monster that was a very real threat for our heroes while grounding that monster in the “reality” of the RPG system. Could I have created such a monster without having the RPG background? Probably. But I don’t know if it would have been as menacing or felt as real. It would certainly have been less fun. 

Here’s the D&D 5e stat block for the Disciple of Pain. It’s slightly different from the original one created for the 3.5 edition of the game, but still just as nasty. (Huge thank you to my co-author Coy for translating the Disciple from 3.5 to 5e as I have not played the 5th edition yet.)

Disciple of Pain

The creature shambles toward you, ragged skin falling off of flesh and bones. Holes and tears cover its body, and its bony claws reach out toward you. A hollow, nearly silent moan issues from it, the rhythmic tone becoming clearer as the creature nears you, “Dreen brings pain, pain brings life, join with the pain!” Strange tattoos and ritual scaring can be seen covering the creature’s body. A cold shiver of fright runs up your spine as you realize this zombie is not what it appears to be.

—–

Disciple of Pain

Medium undead, chaotic evil

Armor Class: 10

Hit Points: 15 (2d8+ 6)

Speed: 30 ft.

STR: 13 (+1)

DEX: 6 (-2)

CON: 16 (+3)

INT: 3 (-4)

WIS: 6 (- 2)

CHA: 5 (- 3)

Saving Throws: Wis +0

Damage Immunities: necrotic, poison

Condition Immunities: poisoned

Senses: darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 8

Languages: can only repeat its mantra in the languages it knew in life

Challenge: 1/2 (100 XP) 

Frightful Presence: Each creature with fewer Hit Dice than the disciple of pain within 30 feet of it and can hear it chanting its prayers to Dreen must succeed on a DC 13 Wisdom saving throw or become frightened for 1 minute. A creature can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, with disadvantage if the creature can still hear the disciple of pain’s chants, ending the effect on itself on a success. If a creature’s saving throw is successful or the effect ends for it, the creature is immune to the disciple of pain’s Frightful Presence for the next 24 hours.

Blessing of Dreen: In addition to bestowing the blessing of pain upon those that would be converted by the disciples, Dreen also gave them resistance to the actions of clerics to turn the disciples. A disciple of pain has advantage on saving throws against features that turn undead.

Reverse Damage. Dreen, in granting the final wish of the first disciple of pain, gave His disciples the ability to feel the pain of attacks directed at them, but the damage itself is redirected at the disciple’s opponent, allowing them to feel the glory of Dreen along with the disciple. Any time the disciple of pain receives damage from any source, it must make a Constitution saving throw with a DC of the amount of damage received, unless the damage is radiant or from a silvered weapon. On a successful save, the disciple of pain is unaffected, and the damage is reflected back at the attacker as though it originated from the disciple of pain, turning the attacker into the target.

ACTIONS 

Claw. Melee Weapon Attack: +3 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target.

Hit: 4 (1d6 + 1) piercing damage plus 3 (1d4+1) necrotic damage. The target’s hit point maximum is reduced by an amount equal to the necrotic damage taken. The reduction lasts until the target finishes a long rest. The target dies if this effect reduces its hit point maximum to 0. A humanoid slain in this way rises in 1d4 rounds as a disciple of pain.

Strategies and Tactics

Disciples of pain are feared in combat. They quickly move to attack any creatures that approach them, hoping to make a new disciple. Their frightful presence, relentless attacks and damage resistance make them dangerous opponents. A disciple of pain attacks with its clawed hands and will focus its attacks on the first creature it sees, ignoring all other attacks directed at it.

Ecology

The first disciple of pain was a devoted cleric of Dreen who, upon his death, was raised by Dreen as an eternal disciple to spread fear and pain through the world. New disciples were formed, many willingly and some not, and now they can be found throughout the land. 

Environment: Most disciples haunt ancient Dreen temples or places of worship, waiting for victims to be ‘converted’ until they have a large enough group to spread across the land. They can be found in any land or environment across the planet. They are most commonly found in dungeons, abandoned temples, or places of worship to Dreen.

Physical Description: A disciple of pain is often mistaken for a zombie at first. They move with a slight shuffling when not attacking and their bodies have a rotting appearance from a distance. Upon closer inspection an observer will notice that the bodies are relatively intact but are covered in scars, tattoos, body piercing, and flayed skin. Their skin is a pale white color and the hands have been skinned, their fingers elongated into sharp talons. A disciple of pain usually wears the clothing they wore at death, now torn and ragged. They constantly mumble prayers and praises to Dreen, usually a variant on “Praise to the God of Pain, praise Dreen.” When attacking they will let out a long wail and chant, “Dreen brings pain, pain brings life, join with the pain!” one of the lines of prayer in Dreen services.

Alignment: Disciples of pain are always chaotic evil. They seek to cause as much pain and suffering to the world as only through the glory of pain can Dreen’s blessing and knowledge be fully understood. 

Disciple of Pain Lore

Clerics and others with access to the Religion skill are aware of many traits of the disciple of pain. When a character makes a successful Religion skill check, the following lore is revealed, including information from lower DCs. (Followers of Dreen automatically know all lore about the disciple of pain, though they would not share this information so their companions could feel Dreen’s blessing for themselves.)

DC 10: This creature is a disciple of pain. It is an undead creature devoted to Dreen, the Lord of Pain. Though they resemble zombies, they are very dangerous and constantly mumble prayers to the Lord of Pain. They have some resistance to being turned.

DC 15: The disciple of pain seeks out other creatures to ‘convert’ them to Dreen’s teachings. A person hit with one of their clawed hands will have some of their lifeforce drained from their body. A creature that loses all their lifeforce to a disciple will become a disciple of pain in short order.

DC 20: The disciple of pain blesses other creatures with Dreen’s teachings of pain. Nearly all physical and magical attacks directed at the disciple will instead deal their damage to the attacker, allowing him or her to rejoice in the pain. Only radiant damage or silvered weapons are effective in damaging a disciple of pain.

For Player Characters

A player character can create a disciple of pain by using the spell create undead. In addition to the normal components, the caster must also either be a follower of Dreen or have a holy symbol of Dreen. A follower of Dreen that creates a disciple of pain in this manner can automatically control the disciple. 

—–

A huge THANK YOU to Jodie for letting me ramble on about RPGs, writing, and monsters. Sorry if this was a bit long, but get an author and a gamer going and we just won’t stop. 

About the author:

Geoff Habiger is the co-author of five books with Coy Kissee, 3 about Prohibition, Gangsters, and Vampires (the Saul Imbierowicz Vampire trilogy) and 2 Constable Inspector Lunaria Adventures. Our 3rd Reva adventure – Fear of the Minister’s Justice – will be out in October. No Disciples of Pain in that one (thank the gods) but there is a very determined wizard assassin who’s made Ansee his next target. Geoff lives and writes in the Land of Enchantment (kinda appropriate for writing fantasy don’t you think). You can learn more about him, our writing, and other cool stuff at our website: habigerkissee.com. Or follow Geoff on the blue bird app @TangentGeoff.

An Author’s Monster Manual Featuring J.E. Hannaford

There are always books that have amazing creatures in them that I would love to see featured in TTRPs. This month, some awesome authors have kindly joined me to give their creatures the TTRPG treatment. I’m excited to have J.E. Hannaford, author of the Black Hind’s Wake series, share more about her Leathergill Siren, found in The Skin (Black Hind’s Wake book 1).

About the author:

J E Hannaford is powered by coffee, dragons and whisky. She teaches Biology in the real world and invents fantasy beasts to populate her own. She lives in Suffolk, UK, and pines for the coast and mountains of Wales. A love of nature and the ocean washes through the pages of J E Hannaford’s stories and pours out of the characters who live in it. Her debut series is The Black Hind’s Wake Duology.

You can find her here: https://linktr.ee/jehannaford

To purchase The Skin:
Amazon

An Author’s Monster Manual Featuring Andi Ewington

One of the great things about playing TTRPGs is that you never know what sort of unique creature might show up during a gaming session. Of course, we all enjoy the classics: dragons or ogres, but sometimes it’s fun to see something a little more…unique.

Author Andi Ewington is an expert at putting new, creative twists on fantasy. His soon-to-be-released book, The Hero Interviews, takes classic fantasy and shines a comedic light on it.

Here, he shares his STAT Block on the fantasy favorite, the Behol—wait, the Behearer???

Bewarned, brave adventurer, for there is a foe more dangerous than any found within these ancient pages, a monster so terrible that it strikes fear into the hearts of the bravest Paladins, the hardiest Barbarians and the most cowardly of Clerics. Whisper its name and pray the Behearer is not listening.

Behearers are notoriously grumpy creatures, a literal ‘ball’ of ears that has a gigantic central ear surrounded by smaller tentacled ears around it. As you can imagine, the Behearer can hear EVERYTHING, from the soft footfalls of a Rogue to the heavy clanks of an over-encumbered Fighter noisily crashing about. As a result, it’s not uncommon for a wandering Behearer to silently float up to an unsuspecting adventurer and ask them politely to keep the noise down a bit. More often than not, it’s this unexpected polite request that results in a full-blown noisy confrontation—with plenty of ‘shhhing’ added for good measure.

A legendary monster that surpasses all others, the Behearer is a monster that simply wants a bit of peace and quiet—which is exactly what an adventuring party is not!

To pre-order The Hero Interviews:
Amazon UK
Amazon U.S.

About the author:

Andi Ewington is a writer who has written numerous titles including Campaigns & Companions, Forty-Five45, S6X, Sunflower, Red Dog, Dark Souls II, Just Cause 3, Freeway Fighter, and Vikings. Andi lives in Surrey, England with his wife, two children and a plethora of childhood RPGs and ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ gamebooks he refuses to part with. He’s usually found on Twitter as @AndiEwington

Fantasy Focus: Historical Fantasy Featuring J.T.T Ryder

This year I’m doing a new series on my blog: Fantasy Focus. Each month, I’m focusing on a different fantasy subgenre. Fantasy is such a broad genre with so many different things to offer. So far, there have been focuses on Comedic FantasyRomantic FantasyGrimdark, Urban Fantasy, and Epic/High Fantasy.

This month I’m focusing on Historical Fantasy. J.T.T. Ryder, author of Hag of the Hills, was kind enough to share his thoughts on historical fantasy.

Defining my historical fantasy
By J.T.T. Ryder

I write historically-based fantasy set in a real period, in our world, with fantasy elements. My series is the Bronze Sword Cycles duology, set in 200 BC in the La Tène period, or Celtic Iron Age, on the island of Skye in what is now Scotland. I am an archaeologist that specializes in the Iron Age, and I decided to set forth to base my series on archaeological, historical, folkloric and mythological sources. The goal was to craft a historically-based world of the Celtic La Tène period to set my story in.

In reviews and among discussions of the first book of the Bronze Sword Cycles duology, Hag of the Hills, readers have described my book as historical fiction, historical fantasy, dark fantasy, epic fantasy, fantasy with horror elements, heroic fantasy, and sword and sorcery. That is a plethora of genres!  

So what genre exactly do I write?

Firstly, history cannot be separated from the Bronze Sword Cycles. The historical side of the story is vital, because the story is not just placed in a historical setting. Historical sources are what drive the plot and the motivations of the characters. The historical sources form the basis of the culture of the people in the book, and the unshakeable mindset and worldview of the characters, and I put great effort into crafting this mindset to be as historically accurate as far as my knowledge goes. One cannot just pluck my characters out of the story and drop them off a thousand years before or after. This series is by any stretch of the imagination a historical series.

Yet there are clear fantasy elements present. I attempted to ground these fantasy elements within the mindset of people of the past; particularly, I drew upon folkloric sources from pre-industrial times. The mindset of the pre-industrial person often included fantasy elements – the supernatural and natural often blended. Someone alive in the Iron Age in 200 BC Scotland would not have been able to separate themselves from these beliefs. Yet including these elements renders this book fantasy. Thus, I cannot in good faith call it pure historical fiction.

However, the term historical fantasy draws up connotations – such as what-if scenarios, fictionalized or fantastical accounts of real historical figures, and suchlike. My duology touches on something entirely different than that.

What exactly is the genre of the Bronze Sword Cycles? Despite potential connotations to types of stories with tropes that will not be found in mine, I do think historical fantasy is the single best describer. All in all, I believe I crafted a series firmly rooted in history, where even the fantasy elements are derived from the beliefs of the people of the past.

About the author:

Joseph Thomas Thor Ryder is an archaeologist and author of the historical fantasy duology THE BRONZE SWORD CYCLES. He is a published author of Viking archaeology, and a doctoral candidate specializing in the Viking Age and Celtic Iron Age. He resides in Norway where he conducts archaeological research and writes heroic fantasy set in historical periods.

Purchase link:
Hag of the Hills

Fantasy Focus: High and Epic Fantasy Featuring Roland O’Leary

This year, I’m doing a new series: Fantasy Focus. Each month will have a week-long focus on a different fantasy subgenre- fantasy is as varied as its creators’ imaginations! If you’ve missed them, there have been fantasy focuses on comedic fantasy, grimdark and romantic fantasy. This month’s focus is on high and epic fantasy.

I’m delighted to feature a guest post from Roland O’Leary, author of The Hand of Fire, book one in the Essence of Tyranny series.

I’m delighted to be here on the Witty & Sarcastic Book Club discussing epic and high fantasy.  Fantasy is an increasingly broad church, but I think its foundations and highest spires are crafted from epic high fantasy. It’s fair to say I’m a fan. 

I’m in the process of writing my own contribution to the genre, The Essence of Tyranny series. The first book, The Hand of Fire came out in 2020 and was in the SPFBO7 competition. In this post I’ll cover what it is about high and epic fantasy that appeals to me as a reader and author, and also where I see the pitfalls in the genre. 

Housekeeping first – what do those terms ‘epic’ and ‘high’ fantasy even mean? I can’t say my answer is definitive, but this is what I am talking about when I use those terms.

‘High’ fantasy is the counterpoint to ‘low fantasy’ – this is a scale measuring the prevalence of fantasy elements in a novel. If the book is set in its own imagined world, with created species, magic, dragons – that’s high fantasy. If it’s set in our own reality/world, with just a couple of magical elements, that’s low fantasy.

Raymond E. Feist’s Riftwar Saga and Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen are great examples of very high fantasy, with lots of magic, alien species and author-created realms. Similarly, The Wheel of Time series is at the higher end of the spectrum, with magic a huge element of the world and story.

I would say The Lord of the Rings is only medium-high fantasy. Yes, it’s a created world (albeit based on Dark Ages Europe), but there’s not that much magic that happens in the live action of the book. A good friend of mine talks about “the disappointment of Gandalf” as a wizard! George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice & Fire is in the middle of the range too, in my opinion – the action in the cities of Westeros is almost historical fantasy set in Renaissance Europe, lower end fantasy. But north of the wall, in the wildernesses of the other continents, there are “snarks and grumkins” – and indeed dragons. My favourite parts are always with Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen which are the high fantasy elements! 

Low fantasy has lots of sub-genres. A common feature usually involves magic or magical creatures occurring in the ‘real’ world that we recognise. My favourite example is The Dark is Rising sequence, though there are lots of other children’s and young adult books that fit the bill. Personally, I don’t include things like Harry Potter where the real world is only a jumping off point into the high fantasy world of wizardry.

‘Epic’ is usually used to contrast with ‘sword and sorcery’. I think this is a gradation of the scale or scope of the story. Sword and sorcery is usually high fantasy in setting but the focus is the travails of an individual or small group, the dangers personal rather than existential. The stories often tend towards episodic encounters. Epic fantasy on the other hand encompasses the fate of nations, the world, even the universe or existence itself. They are often multi-perspective stories of sweeping scope, sometimes taking multiple books to complete the entire story arc.

One way I like to look at is using Homer. If they were translated into fantasy worlds, The Iliad would be epic fantasy, The Odyssey would be sword and sorcery. 

So now we know what we’re talking about when we use the term ‘epic high fantasy’. What are the pros and cons for the reader? Let’s take the good stuff first. The high fantasy aspect means that you get the chance to encounter a new world, with different rules; different rules of society, of physics. Magic. It fulfils the human desire for travel, to experience novelty as you navigate the environs of a different reality. The epic nature of the story means you get to meet many characters and visit many settings; ultimately you get to spend more time in and see more of that world. If escapism is part of the reason you read, then epic high fantasy has a lot to recommend it. 

As a reader I love the scale of the plots of epic fantasy and the stakes at play. If the characters don’t succeed in their goals then the whole of existence might be destroyed. That ramps up the drama for me, makes me invest in the characters more. 

As an author I think the world-building of high fantasy is the purest act of creativity I know. I’m sure different authors approach it in different ways but I started with a map. The shapes of the landmasses and the terrain start to delineate nations, barriers of rivers and mountains and seas separating tribes who develop different cultures. Then I created a dated timeline of history of the whole world I’d invented, encompassing all its countries and races and cultures and religions and mythology. I invented some languages (although not being an expert in this I gave myself an ‘out’ of a common tongue too. Of course there is also a reason for that). This is all before writing a word of the story that I’d thought I was going to tell. 

Once you have a whole world you can decide the entry point for your story in its history. My story takes place in the ‘now’, the present day of the world I made, but I have another series in mind which is set in its past. In epic fantasy you can also go big on the plot – mine ultimately involves entities that are considered to be gods by the human cultures.

That leads to an element that is both a joy and a potential pitfall for the high fantasy author. Dare I even mention magic systems? I worked hard at my magic system as an author but it won’t satisfy some readers I’m sure. Personally, as a reader, as long as the magic used is intriguing and consistent I’m content. I don’t even mind magic that makes characters super-powerful – as long as there are limits to their ability somewhere and it doesn’t resolve every single conflict. Other fantasy readers however are into their hard magic systems and may pick through your writing analysing whether your magic system is sufficiently realistic.

I’ll give only a glancing mention to the snobbery of some people against epic high fantasy, because this happens across the whole fantasy genre. As a reader across many genres I recognise that there are high and low quality novels in all of them. Some novels appeal to my taste more than others. As an author this kind of snobbery against fantasy can be a bit frustrating to encounter but ultimately I’m looking to appeal to fantasy fans. The people I’ve met who most look down on fantasy writing tend to be quite ignorant of it. 

What are the other cons of reading (and writing) epic fantasy? Let’s talk tropes. 

Good versus evil is a traditional theme, forces of darkness versus forces of light. This has been done a lot. It’s been done really well. Some readers are tired of seeing it again. Some readers will think it’s unoriginal. Similarly, there are other tropes: the chosen one, the dark lord, a pseudo-Western European medieval setting. As a fantasy reader there is an extent to which I want to see fantasy tropes to anchor the novel in the genre that I love. For me it is a matter of the deftness of touch, of the quality of story and writing and characterization that will distinguish a novel.

Some readers think good versus evil is an immature way of looking at the world. Good for one is bad for another, good is not necessarily a moral absolute. There is definitely a trend in modern fantasy for ‘morally grey’ characters. I like this but I don’t think it’s something special. In my opinion good writing is more about ensuring your characters seem like real people making real choices than the way their moral compass points. I personally feel that a story of good versus evil is satisfying at quite a deep psychological level. The world you create doesn’t have to break down into neat factions of good guys and bad guys. But as a reader I’m still happy to read stories that do. The prevalence of superhero movies suggests that there is quite a wide audience for this sort of story too.

I think originality is a difficult concept as every author has been influenced by what they’ve experienced and what they’ve read. I think it would be very difficult to be a good writer without being a dedicated reader. As I get older and read more and more I can see the influences on books I previously thought were completely original. 

I’ve detected a focus on exploding or defying tropes in recent years. I don’t think in and of itself this is a worthy goal. In a sense, you are just as influenced as someone who is following a trope, you are still writing in reaction to something. My view is every person is a unique individual so the book they write will always reflect that, even if its influences are similar to another. I would say to authors not to let their reaction to a trope define their work. I don’t want to read a polemic against fantasy in the guise of a fantasy novel. Just aim for quality, whether you are using a trope or reversing it. Write a good book, as good as you possibly can. Pay that respect to your readers. And your readers will respect that in turn. Or not. One Amazon reader called my book “classic fantasy storytelling at its best”. Another called it “rehashed plagiarism at its worst”. I am certainly not a plagiarist – but the truth probably lies somewhere in between.

For me, I like reading fantasy because it enables me to experience things that I cannot in other genres, where the rules of reality constrain the story to what is possible in real life. I can read a well-characterised and well-written novel of intriguing plot and character development in any genre. What epic high fantasy gives is momentous scope and scale to place that story within. In The Wheel of Time I read on to find out whether Rand would ever overcome his trust issues, whether he would bear the psychological burden of the impossible role imposed on him. But I also wanted to know how the Last Battle would play out, to know what the end of the world looks and feels like.  

I like real-feeling characters and dialogue, I like a well-crafted story that keeps me intrigued. But more than that I like to travel in an imagined world, to see its lonely places, its monsters, its gods and demons. I like to see battles that stretch my imagination. I like to see magic; huge conflagrations, world-altering spells. And sometimes, I like to see dragons. 

As well as the traditionally-published books I’ve called out in the post above, here’s a list of recent SPFBO entrants that I’ve read that fit the epic high fantasy bill:

Dragon Mage – M.L. Spencer (SPFBO7 semi-finalist)

The Mortal Blade – Christopher Mitchell (SPFBO7 finalist)

Of Blood & Fire – Ryan Cahill (SPFBO7)

The Forever King – Ben Galley (SPFBO7 finalist)

The Sword of Kaigen – M.L. Wang (SPFBO5 champion)

There will be plenty of other brilliant indie epic high fantasy novels – I just haven’t read them yet.

Of course, you could always check out my own novel The Hand of Fire

A quick note – if you like my book (or any indie published novel), it would be fantastic if you could leave a positive review or rating on Amazon. It means an awful lot to authors to learn about reader reactions to their novel, and a review also helps other readers find novels they will like in the absence of traditional publishing marketing spend/hype.  It makes a big difference! 

About the author:

Roland J. O’Leary is a lifelong incorrigible reader turned author. He lives in London, England with his wife and two young sons. He has been a barrister, a legal journalist, a marketing copywriter, and for the last ten years has worked in product management. He is still not sure what product management is. He is the author of The Hand of Fire, the first novel in an epic high fantasy series called The Essence of Tyranny. He’s working on the next book which should be ready within the next year. You can learn more about him, his writing and the books he likes at his website www.bookslike.co.uk

To purchase The Hand of Fire: Amazon

Fantasy Focus: Grimdark Featuring Beth Tabler

Banner Credit: Beth Tabler

This year, I’m doing a new series: Fantasy Focus. Each month will have a week-long focus on a different fantasy subgenre- fantasy is as varied as its creators’ imaginations! If you’ve missed them, there have been fantasy focuses on comedic fantasy and romantic fantasy. This month, I’m taking a walk on the grittier, darker side of fantasy- grimdark!

To wrap up the week, Beth Tabler, creator of Before We Go Blog, author for Grimdark Magazine, and grimdark expert gives her thoughts on this subgenre!

I read grimdark for the hope. What? Hope in grimdark? I know, I know… Hope and grimdark are not seen as exactly bosom buddies. But hear me out, grimdark is not nihilism, far from it. If nothing were worth it, none of these broken characters would give a damn, and there would be no story. 

In the beginning, we are talking Warhammer 40,000; grimdark was ultra-violent and nihilistic. Everything and everyone sucked and killed each other. Life had little meaning beyond the tip of a spear. But as the genre grew up and grew outwards, it changed. As a heavy reader of grimdark, I have observed that instead of violence for the sake of violence, grimdark has developed to mean grimness, agency, realism, and hope. This last one is essential as a story needs to have something to strive for. You see, you can’t have a story unless you have something for the reader to grab on to. It might be a bit of humor, a break in the gruff demeanor, something. But it is there. 

Instead of predestined Tolkienesque positivity, we have characters as flawed as you or I, thrust into a situation that they must battle their way out of. Instead of great monarchs, we have flawed rulers. Instead of great heroes, we have Geralt of Rivia or Arlen the Painted Man. While the protagonist is being put through the wringer, I am right there with them. I am living for those moments like it is the air I breathe. And the best part is I have no idea what will happen. Arlen can do anything because his journey is not predestined.

This is why I adore grimdark. Give me a single beam of light shining through a dirty window instead of a field of artificial flowers basking in sunlight. Maybe I am jaded, or perhaps as I get older, I search for something more authentic, but this is why I read the gruff, dirty and dire. I like my fantasy with a side of realism. And I think if readers can get past the reputation of violence-porn that grimdark has, they would feel that way also. 

About the author:

Elizabeth Tabler runs Beforewegoblog and is constantly immersed in fantasy stories. She was at one time an architect but divides her time now between her family in Portland, Oregon, and as many book worlds as she can get her hands on. She is also a huge fan of Self Published fantasy and is on Team Qwillery as a judge for SPFBO5. You will find her with a coffee in one hand and her iPad in the other. Find her on: instagram.com/elizabethtabler https://beforewegoblog.com/ https://www.pinterest.com/scottveg3/ https://www.goodreads.com/Scottveg3 https://twitter.com/BethTabler

Author Guest Post: Jason and Rose Bishop

Today I’m pleased to welcome Jason and Rose Bishop, authors of the Storm’s Rising series.

It is a story of a world torn apart and those who vow to see it healed again. It’s a story of love, scarred by centuries of tragedy and sorrow. It is a story of redemption – for our characters, for the races of Cyrradon, and for us.

THE BEGINNING

“Just throw your story up into outer space and see what happens!”

We were at the end of our wits. We were frustrated. We were feeling like we’d put so much work into our story, and we had so much more to tell…and no publishers could see the potential. How does anyone get through the minefield of query letters, endless rejections, and the carnival funhouse swarming with vanity publishers and scam artists, with scarcely a hint of a genuine soul among them. Add to it an unhealthy disdain for publishing independently, and there’s the opening chapter to our dream of becoming famous epic fantasy authors in a nutshell.

We’d been working on the story together for nearly two decades. Imagine it: a married couple, with typical married couple issues, trying to write different parts of a story alongside each other, then editing the other’s work. It was a situation ripe with opportunity for enriching and strengthening our love for one another…or quite possibly becoming something that drove us apart.

On that fateful Valentine’s Day in early 2020, though, Paul (the gentleman quoted above) spoke into our souls and redirected us from focusing on the past to being inspired about the future. I think we’re both glad it turned out the way it did. We took his advice, got over ourselves, and launched our first book into the indie heavens.

THE STORY

(With minimal spoilers) Our tale begins with a pair of elven sisters, Dia and Mea, who despite being twins are as different from one another as the meanings of their names. While on a hunt near the boundaries of the elven Ghreyewood, the sisters wander too close to the human-owned Yeoman’s Wood, and (tiny spoiler) Mea is captured. But she has unwisely brought with her a piece of their history, a tie to the legacy left for them by their mother: a brooch carrying a secret even Mea and Dia are not fully aware of.

In the nearby city of Granite Hedge, a young human thief named Lendil awakens in his flat in Gutterside when his drunkard father comes home, and Lendil recalls with disgust how far the family has fallen. His father was once a knight, a personal friend to the king, a hero about whom stories were told and songs sung. To see him like this, and his once noble mother now turned to late night carousing and whoring, is too much for him to take. A secret tragedy tore them apart years ago; a thing so painfully obvious but so long unspoken that it makes every moment pretending to be a family a lie. In one final tear-filled plea, Lendil comes closer than ever to getting an answer from his parents but fails and ends up leaving in search of his own answers and his own life.

The story begins to unfold when Lendil crosses paths with Dia in the company of two half-elf cousins later that morning. Unbeknownst to each other, they carry pieces to a puzzle none of them truly knew existed. And the answers impel them down a dark road into a world of deception, into struggles against powers they never thought to confront, toward destinies they couldn’t possibly have dreamed awaited them.”

Published in May 2020, our first novel in the Storm’s Rising series,The Call, tells the tale of Lendil, Dia, and the half-elves Antonio and Derek, seeking answers to the tragedies of their past, and discovering their paths to those answers lie alongside one another. 

It’s a coming-of-age story, a story of people dragged from simple lives to the front lines of a battle between evil kings and dark mages and the gods themselves. 

It’s a story about the breaking of the world and its restoration to the balance envisioned by Aralieth, its creator. 

It’s a story of redemption.

…And this is only the beginning.

THE SAGA

We are proud and thrilled to have published four full-length novels that follow our main characters through many trials and dangers, leading them to learn so much more about the events that brought them here, and what they must face before the end. Our story and world are richly layered with history and subculture, with very few things actually as they appear. There are mages and priests, dark fiends and ancient wyrms, underground societies and bloody cults, kings, politicians, merchant lords, covert agents and assassins. There are lands far and wide to be travelled, diverse cultures to be explored, mysteries and prophecy to be unraveled, vile horrors to be overcome, and battles to be fought.

We’re still not famous epic fantasy authors, but there’s more to it than that. My wife and I continue to write together. And though our interactions in that processes continue to evolve, we’re learning more about each ourselves and coming closer to understanding each other with each chapter. Maybe one day we’ll write a book about all the things this journey has taught us! As I said, it’s a story of redemption.

On a larger scale, we’re accomplishing our mission: we’re telling the story in our hearts, the story we would love to read, and we’re sharing that magic with others. One reader—one you—at a time.

🙚☸🙘


If you’ve read any of our works, please RATE and REVIEW them! It takes only a few moments to give a fair rating and say a few words about what touched you from our world. You’ll be blessing us more than you may know.! If you enjoyed our post, please share by forwarding, reposting, retweeting, liking, subscribing, and recommending to others! We couldn’t do this without you!

Happy Adventures!

Jason and Rose Bishop

Epic Fantasy Authors at Legends of Cyrradon

Visit our WEBSITE

Latest release: Storm’s Rising Book 4: Eye of the Witch

FREE audiobook preview of Storm’s Rising Book 1: The Call (click above)

Follow us for news, previews, blog posts and more!

Author Page – https://www.amazon.com/author/jasonandrosebishop

Twitter – @cyrradon

Instagram – legendsofcyrradon

Facebook – @cyrradon

Goodreads – Jason Bishop / Rose Bishop

Wattpad – jasonandrosebishop

Email – legendsofcyrradon@gmail.com

Fantasy Focus: Romantic Fantasy Featuring L. Krauch

This month I am doing a Fantasy Focus on Romantic Fantasy. This is a subgenre that I have had a great time learning more about. Today I am privileged to have L. Krauch, author of the The 13th Zodiac series, talk about her experience with romantic fantasy.

While I classify The 13th Zodiac as “Final” Fantasy in aesthetic, it also has elements of romantic fantasy. The core of the story revolves around the two main characters, Jase and Liya, finding one another. 

It begins with happenstance (or is it?). Jase Raion is set on a mission by his father, the King of Chall, to track down someone he was certain was dead. Low and behold, he finds her. Well, she runs into him and drops his apple in the process. What follows it is a whirlwind of longing touches, a distant prince who had been burned in the past, and a plot to not only end her life but all life on Gaea. I would say that The 13th Zodiac is Star-crossed lovers with a dash of One True Pairing. 

When I set out to write The 13th Zodiac I didn’t do so planning to write a love story. It was just one part of a much larger story. Twenty years ago it was a comic book that mostly consisted of cute anime boys that my friends thought were hot. (Jase being the hottest, of course). But twenty years and one pandemic later, I sat down and wrote my first novel. 

The love story within wasn’t the first thing on my mind. Yes, I wanted to get them together, but I wanted it to feel real and not just because they were meant to be. The hardest part I found with writing it was trying to keep it real. That the love between them grew in a natural way, and I wasn’t just throwing them together for a “Hey I just met you, let’s totally do it” type feel. 

Jase is distant and scorned by an ex-girlfriend and he tries to keep his feelings hidden from even himself. While Liya does fall for the first guy she met that wasn’t her adoptive brothers. There are, of course, roadblocks in the way of them being together. Jiroo (one of Liya’s adoptive brothers) sees her as his, even though she would never see him the same. This causes a rift and puts into motion a series of events where the reader is actually happy someone is kidnapped. 

Our lives tell stories just like we tell in our books. I drew from real-life inspiration for my romance and the obstacles within. Which also included some of the more negative sides to it (infatuation). 

Romance can also be anything, from love between two people, the love between siblings (or in my case love from a sibling that is misdirected), love of family, and love of self. (Or even love of something dear to you) There isn’t one right way to write it. And it doesn’t always end in happily ever after. You do what feels right, and natural to you. Someone will connect with it on a level you never expected. 

I certainly didn’t expect to write romantic fantasy, but after all was said and done I discovered I had. I always planned to get my characters together. I am glad I wrote it the way I did and wouldn’t try to change it. 

About the Author:

The 13th Zodiac is an Epic Fantasy, slow-burn romance with a hint of Anime. Originally, L. Krauch wrote it as a comic book in high school. Back then, it was merely pages drawn on computer paper to bring smiles to her audience of thirteen. The problem was, it had no plot. Now, twenty years, and three kids later, she sat down, gave that plotless comic a plot, and turned it into a sprawling multi-pov fantasy novel. 

Her day job is sticking things to newborns, and by sticking things to newborns, she means hearing screens. 

In her free time, she hangs out with her black cat, Luna, and keeps three small humans from killing each other. She and her husband have been happily married for twelve years and originally met in an MMO. To maintain her sanity, she now writes. And she may or may not have a thing for apples. 

To Purchase: The 13th Zodiac

Final Fantasy with actual romance

A Crown Prince running from his past, and a girl who can barely remember her own, are thrown together to combat the evils of the King of Chall. 

Time is not on their side. And Fate has other plans.

Fantasy Focus: Romantic Fantasy Featuring Carissa Broadbent

Banner Credit: Dan Fitzgerald

This week my blog is focusing on romantic fantasy. I’ve had several wonderful authors kindly share their time with me, to talk about their writing and about romantic fantasy as a subgenre. Today, Carissa Broadbent, author of The War of Lost Hearts series, talks a little bit about the stigma surrounding romantic fantasy.

The strange, wonderful, ever-evolving world of romantic fantasy – or, stuff to think about before smack-talking romance books

Here’s the interesting dichotomy about fantasy: it pulls us into a world utterly foreign from our own, full of quite literally limitless possibility, and yet, the things that we connect most to in those stories are almost always the most mundane, human elements. The things that are larger than life marvel us, but it’s the things that reflect the qualities we see in ourselves that make us feel stuff. And hey, that’s what I’m in this business for: feelings. Lots and lots and lots of feelings.

My name is Carissa Broadbent and I’m an author. I’m best known for The War of Lost Hearts trilogy, which, at time of publishing, should have just concluded with the release of its third book, Mother of Death and Dawn! I am delighted to spend my days in the wonderful world of romantic fantasy – or, as I often put it, magic-and-kissing books.

But what does “romantic fantasy” mean, exactly?

What exactly qualifies? I’m going to start with the big caveat that no one has carved these definitions into some sacred tablets somewhere – undoubtedly, some people out there have very different definitions of what constitutes romantic fantasy than I do, and I’m in no position to tell them they’re wrong! But here’s how I define it:

Romantic fantasy books focus on a fantasy story and arc, and have a romantic element that is inextricable from that story – meaning, if you were to remove the love interest and romance, the story would no longer exist. That said, fantasy is still the primary genre, so the characters may go on epic multi-book arcs. A great example of romantic fantasy is Sarah J Maas’s A Court of Thorns and Roses series.

Closely linked to romantic fantasy but ever-so-slightly different is fantasy romance – in which romance is the primary genre, and the romantic relationship is the story. These books follow romance novel conventions and requirements in a fantasy world, meaning that each individual book gives each couple a HEA (happily-ever-after). A great example of fantasy romance is JD Evans’ SPFBO7 finalist Reign & Ruin, which you should read if you haven’t because it’s fabulous.

Most casual readers use these terms interchangeably, and anecdotally I’ve noticed the lines blurring between them significantly as the subgenres enter the mainstream.

Being an author active in the world of romantic fantasy in this era has, to put it lightly, been an interesting ride. It’s such a unique subgenre that straddles two very different worlds, at least one of which has a history of being, frankly, a bit hostile to its existence.

I know! Those are some strong words. Let me explain what I mean.

For a long time, romantic fantasy didn’t quite exist as a defined genre. SFF – particularly adult SFF — was seen primarily as a man’s genre, while romance is predominantly read by women. In the aughts and 2010s, young adult fantasy exploded, and it was here that many women found the female-led SFF stories that they were unable to find in SFF shelves. Readership of YA SFF blew up, not only in teenagers, but with adult women who simply connected more with these stories.

There are, of course, a plethora of reasons why people read YA SFF during this time, and the breadth and variety of stories coming out of this genre go far beyond romantic fantasy. But, in general, a number of women turned to this subgenre during this time because it was simply where female-led or romantic fantasy existed.And that, my friends, created a vicious self-fulfilling cycle in traditional publishing, which went something like this:

  1. Lots of romantic fantasy titles were published as YA.

2. Lots of adult women started reading these books because it was, largely, the only place that romantic fantasy existed.

3. As many of these readers grew into their 20s and wanted, to put it bluntly, sex in their romance novels, there was a brief push by publishers to create the subgenre of “NA”, or “New Adult”, fantasy – but it never took off, largely because bookstores were not creating entirely new shelves for this subgenre, and this seemed to reinforce the belief that there was “no market” for adult romantic fantasy.

4. But, there very much was a market! Publishers simply kept relegating it to YA.  YA fantasy becomes the place where “girl fantasy” goes, while adult SFF shelves were left to more traditionally-male-oriented fantasy books. And because now, even adult readers of romantic fantasy had been trained to look in YA shelves for the sorts of stories they liked, it became even more difficult for adult-oriented romantic fantasy to break out.

5. More and more romantic fantasy titles are published in YA that are clearly aimed at a much older audience, often with spicier sexual content than one might expect in a YA novel. A Court of Thorns and Roses, which has since been rebranded and re-shelved in adult, is a great example. But the downside is that now, so much of the money in YA publishing was in fact going towards elevating and marketing stories really intended for adults, while actual teenagers in the 13-16 range were increasingly neglected as the audience for young adult books.

6. Meanwhile, indie publishing really starts to take off, and romantic fantasy finds its footing as a genre that thrives in an indie environment not bound by the challenges of traditional publishing shelving.

It’s only very recently – as in, within the last two years – that I’ve seen this cycle start to break, with books like Sarah J Maas’s ACOTAR and Jennifer L Armentrout’s From Blood and Ash series now (rightfully) shelved in adult SFF.

But why did we face this problem at all? Why did publishers feel the need to create “New Adult” as a new subgenre, instead of moving these series to regular old SFF shelves? I can’t see into anyone’s mind here, so I’m theorizing, but… well, sexism probably had something to do with it!

The perception was that adult SFF is where the boys hang out, with their big chonky dragon books and grimdark stabby things and throne games. And those books are just so different from this girly stuff over here, with, you know, kissing and whatnot.  No, those things aren’t for real grown ups.

Look, I don’t think anyone was sitting around twirling a mustache while scheming over these things! But I really do believe that many people felt that those two things were incompatible. And can anyone blame them? Historically, SFF circles have been a bit hostile to romance. Describing something as “like a romance novel” or “basically a Harlequin romance in disguise” was considered a blatant insult. I would frequently see SFF authors try to describe their romance plots as “not like other romance,” attempting to elevate their own work by diminishing the craft of romance novels. Many SFF readers and even authors made it very clear that they had little respect for the artistry or craft of romance books.

Of course, I will never ever fault anyone for personal taste – we all like different stuff, and life would be really boring if we didn’t! And so many of us – long ago, even myself included – have been trained by society to see traditional romance novels as “lesser than.” It’s such an ingrained perspective that I guarantee that most of the people who say things like the examples above don’t at all consider it sexist.

I’m thrilled to say that I have been seeing these attitudes shifting so much in a very short period of time. I was a bit nervous to enter my book Daughter of No Worlds into the Self-Publishing Fantasy Blog-Off, because I feared that I was putting my book in front of an audience that was simply not interested in what it had to offer, which is always a little scary as an author. 

But not only did Daughter of No Worlds perform quite well, gaining a semi-finalist title, this was also a banner year for romantic fantasy in general in the competition! I was delighted that Reign & Ruin took a well-deserved finalist slot, and I have also heard the Legacy of the Brightwash, another highly-lauded SPFBO finalist, has a strong romantic subplot (coming up on my TBR!).

Even just the fact that so many SFF blogs – like this one! – are doing features on romantic fantasy says a lot to me about shifting attitudes towards romantic fantasy in the broader SFF community.

There is so much beauty in romances. I love the genre – in fantasy, and in every other subgenre – because it’s all about people connecting. And if you’ve never read a romance or romantic fantasy book, maybe it’s time to give it a shot!

A well-done romance novel is a masterclass in character writing. And those lessons are core themes that carry over into every other type of book – whether it be sci-fi, fantasy, historical, literary fiction… pick your poison. 

After all, is there any more universal human experience than to fall in love?

About the author:

Carissa Broadbent has been concerning teachers and parents with mercilessly grim tales since she was roughly nine years old. Since then, her stories have gotten (slightly) less depressing and (hopefully a lot?) more readable. Today, she writes fantasy novels with a heaping dose of badass ladies and a big pinch of romance. She lives with her husband, one very well-behaved rabbit, one very poorly behaved rabbit, and one perpetually skeptical cat in Rhode Island.

To purchase books: Amazon



Fantasy Focus: Romantic Fantasy Featuring Rebecca Crunden

Banner Credit: Dan Fitzgerald

This month’s Fantasy Focus is on the romantic comedy subgenre. Today, I’m privileged to have Rebecca Crunden, author of many romantic fantasy books, talk about the joy of writing romantic fantasy. Thank you so much, Rebecca!

I was writing up a movie review the other night – In Time by Andrew Niccol, good film! – and spent a good amount of it discussing the joys of romantic sci-fi, and I think so much of what I love about romantic sci-fi is also what I love in romantic fantasy. I love the world-building, I love the different times/eras/settings/universes, I love the escapism and the imagination. In fact, I think of all the genres I’ve written in, romantic fantasy is probably my favourite. Although if we’re being really specific, dystopian romantic fantasy is my top tier favourite. Examining power structures, oppression, politics and greed with a side helping of magic and a dash of romance? Sign me up; I will read ALL THE BOOKS! 

My most recent novel, These Violent Nights, is thus unsurprisingly a dystopian romantic fantasy. (Two of my earlier novels, Haze and A Game of Wings and Marks are paranormal romance and urban fantasy romance, respectively, so they fit into the broader umbrella of romantic fantasy but focus almost entirely on the characters more than the world-building. My short story, The Man and the Crow, is also a romantic fantasy.)  For its part, These Violent Nights is a big chonk of a book at 600+ pages and spans two alternate futures, each one dystopian and forbidding in a different way. I wouldn’t say it’s quite cyberpunk paralleled against steampunk, but there are elements of cyberpunk incorporated into one world while the parallel universe has steampunk-lite elements. 

The book is initially told from the point of view of Thorn, one of the last humans in a world overrun by magical creatures who have spent centuries hunting humans to near extinction. Her love interest, Kol, is one of those very magical beings. Their paths cross when their best friends fall in love and they’re forced to be around each other. And ooooh, there’s drama and angst and fighting! It’s very enemies-to-lovers. Then, in the second volume of the book, you meet another couple (Lucien and Nik) in a relationship that is in every way different and paralleled to Thorn and Kol’s. I loved exploring the nuances of the relationships and examining how two souls who have no reason to trust each other can ultimately work together and even fall in love. But like any good fairy tale, there’s a long, grim road to travel before the happy ending. 

I suppose for me the greatest joy in writing fantasy romance novels is imagining other worlds and universes, and the souls within them. I spend far too much of my time daydreaming inside the universes I’ve imagined, or coming up with new ones. And in addition to being a hopeless, incurable daydreamer, I’m just a romantic at heart. I love love. My favourite film of all time is The Princess Bride (the book is fantastic, too) and it’s been a genre and a theme that I’ve always returned to whilst writing. 

I think imagining worlds where, in the midst of fighting with, or alongside, dragons and spells, witches and elves, you also have characters who are enduring it all together, is just terribly romantic and fun. And while I adore the theme of love-conquers-all in every genre, I think the escapism of romantic fantasy really sells me on it being my forever fav. Sometimes the last thing you want is to spend time in the real world, but you still ache for that us-against-the-world theme. Romantic fantasy is the perfect place for that!  

About the author:

Rebecca Crunden is an indie author of fantasy and science fiction who lives in Ireland.

You can find her My Amazon Page | Website | Twitter