reviews
C.T. Phipps

C.T. Phipps

C.T Phipps is a lifelong student of horror, science fiction, and fantasy. An avid tabletop gamer, he discovered this passion led him to write and turned him into a lifelong geek. He is a regular blogger on "The United Federation of Charles".

He's written Agent G, Cthulhu Armageddon, Lucifer's Star, and The Supervillainy Saga.

Winter Tide (The Innsmouth Legacy #1) 01, Jan

4.5/5

WINTER TIDE by Ruthanna Emrys is a book which came out last year, I read and I loved, but for whatever reason I didn't get to review. This is strange and an oversight on my part because it ticks most of the boxes for what I love in fiction: not only is it an H.P. Lovecraft-inspired story but it is also something that reinterprets the Mythos for a modern audience. Like Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff or my own Cthulhu Armageddon, it's a work which tackles HPL's controversial elements head on and does something interesting with them.

Interview with M.L. Spencer 29, Dec

Fantastic news, folks! We've got an interview with M.L. Spencer about her awesome finale to the RHENWARS SAGA. I've reviewed every book in the series and loved them all.

So tell us about the RHENWARS SAGA. What's it about?

The Rhenwars Saga is about an overpowered mage--the last of his kind--who is tasked with the job of defending a Western-type society called the Rhen from an invasion of an “Enemy” horde from the Northern “Black Lands”, an intentionally Mordor-esque region on the map. The mage, Darien Lauchlin, commits terrible atrocities in order to defend his homeland. But then, in a turn of events, he is taken to the Black Lands, where he discovers the Enemy are a people living in perpetual darkness, who will die without a means of escape. Darien switches sides and soon begins using his appalling power to help the Black Landers invade the Western nations he had formally sworn to protect, committing more atrocities in the process.

What is the set up in DARKFALL?

By the time we get to Darkfall, we have seen Darien’s character go through a tremendous transformation from hero to a haunted man driven by desperation. He has now become a demon, tasked with fighting for the other side against his former allies. This has caused him tremendous mental anguish. However, Darien has now resolved this inner struggle, and he is committed 100% to his new cause.

Can you tell us about Darien and Kyel?

Kyel Archer was Darien’s acolyte, who has become the mage Darien had always wanted to be. Of the two, he is the more traditional hero-type character. He sees both sides of the war as equally human and deserving of protection, while Darien swings from 100% support of one side to 100% support of the other. In Darkfall, Kyel stands against Darien and resists him as much as he is able, while keeping his oaths, morals, and integrity intact—which is no easy thing to do.

Who are the villains in the book?

There really are no true villains in the Rhenwars Saga, at least none that exist in that state permanently. Villains become allies and protagonists become antagonists fluidly throughout the course of the series. The main “villain” in Darkfall is Zavier Renquist, an ancient mage whose goal is the protection of magic. He wants to go about doing this by releasing the equivalent of Iblis (think of Satan-but-not-really) from the Netherworld. To most people, this solution sounds worse than the problem. But not to Renquist, who sees magic as worth any price.

How did you subvert traditional fantasy expectations?

The first book in the series is written to resemble a very typical Lord of the Rings setup, where you have the beautiful Western civilization filled with white people who are resisting an invading horde of evil creatures from some dark area on a map (these creatures being evil because, well, evil.) You have all the typical fantasy tropes: a dashing, powerful hero with a broken heart. His noble fellow-adventurer who trails after him like a faithful puppy-dog. And the beautiful love interest who remains steadfastly by his side through it all. This should end as expected, right? Boy falls for girl and they share a never-ending true love. Our hero repulses the invading horde with the help of his faithful Samwise-type friend. Good triumphs and Evil is vanquished. And they all live happily ever after in the Great White West.

Nope. Not in this world.

It turns out the invading horde are very human, with a very real and dire problem. They are not white, but brown. They are not invaders, but refugees. Not evil, just desperate. Our Western society is not as good and pure as we thought, but rather barbaric and sanctimonious. Our hero is a damaged man capable of atrocity. Romances devolve into betrayal and heartbreak. Friends and allies become enemies, oaths and loyalties are shattered, and there is no Happily Ever After for anyone. The Rhenwars Saga de-fantasizes the fantastic and brings it crashing into reality.

Can you describe the Westerners and the Darklanders?

The people of the Rhen are the typical people we are used to meeting when we open a fantasy novel. The Rhen resembles Western Europe, filled with kingdoms, towns, temples, and all the usual trappings.

The people of Malikar (The Black Lands) are based on a Middle Eastern society, both Bedouin in the outlying areas and the Ottoman Sultanate in the northern region. They have a strict code of honor, a rich culture that has adapted to the lightless conditions they have been forced to suffer, and are highly disciplined.

What were you going for in your epic? Themes and ideas behind it?

The Rhenwars Saga is an allegory for the modern-day relationship between the West and the Middle East. Rhenwars was conceived after 9/11, when I was still trying to wrap my mind around why anyone would want to fly an aircraft into a building (or three). So I started trying to understand the conflict between the West and the Middle East from both sides of the War on Terrorism. After learning a bit about the area’s history with the West, cultural climate, religious perspectives, etc., I was able to get a better understanding of both sides of the picture, and how each side believes they are morally justified in employing sometimes atrocious tactics in order to advance their political agendas. It’s really a very fascinating topic, how two sides can view themselves as justified and morally righteous, while labelling the other side as malevolent and morally bankrupt. It all comes down to a perspective shift.

How has response been to the books?

Mixed. I get a lot of reviews on Book One complaining that it is very generic. Unfortunately, some people don’t go on to Book 2, where you find out the “point” of the entire series. With the launch of my Box Set, more people are reading through, and the response has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic. I’m getting a lot of fantastic feedback from readers who say they love the direction the Saga goes in, and that it is wonderfully different from any fantasy series they’ve ever read before. There seems to be a great deal of excitement over it.

Any advice for self-publishers?

Advertise your book. And do so in ways that get you the best return for your advertising dollar. Above all, don’t try to sell your book to other authors. Sell it to readers.

Is it true there's a collection available and on sale?

Yes! The entire Rhenwars Saga is available as a box set for only $0.99 right now, which is a steal!

What's next for you?

Right now, I am committed to helping a fellow author who passed away finish his series, so I will be helping to ghostwrite that over the next several months. After that… Well, that’s where it gets complicated. I had a new series in a different world planned, world-built, and ready to go. But then I started getting a lot of feedback from my readers that they really wanted another Rhenwars series. So I am now writing a spinoff series that takes place roughly 20 years after the Rhenwars Saga.

Can you recommend any other authors and their work?

Absolutely! I love the works of C.T. Phipps, Richard Nell, Eric T. Knight, JA Andrews, Jesse Teller, Frank Dorrian, Rob Hayes, and Sean Hinn.

Pick up your copy of the series here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07KLXCH5X/

Interview with Matthew Dawkins II 21, Dec

Hey my fellow tabletop gamers,

We have a great new interview today with MATTHEW DAWKINS, Onyx Path Publishing's best writer and content maker. Today, he's here to talk to us about the company's newest Kickstarter for THEY CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA. It is a retro-scifi 1950s B-movie influenced roleplaying game.

You can check out the Kickstarter here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/200664283/they-came-from-beneath-the-sea-a-tabletop-roleplay/updates

1. What is the premise of THEY CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA?

The premise of They Came from Beneath the Sea! is that you get to play the strong-jawed veterans, plucky journalists, mad scientists, and grizzled everymen of the 1950s, where the Cold War is starting to boil and suddenly, without warning, aliens invade our perfect towns! It's a game strongly set in the world of B-Movies of the era, which can be played as seriously or as farcically as the table desires.

2. TCFBTS is inspired by 1950s B-movies. What ones in particular did you draw from? Why did you choose this as a format? What made you think this would be a great game? (three questions in one, I know)

There are so many fantastic B-Movies. Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) is of course a classic, but don't overlook It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955) and Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957), the former of which is a magnificent Ray Harryhausen piece and the latter is a Roger Corman oddity. Of recent movies, I strongly recommend the work of Larry Blamire, especially The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra (2001) and The Trail of the Screaming Forehead (2007). Both really evoke the humour present in these kinds of movies. I enjoy this format for cinema, but it took many playtest iterations to land upon it as an RPG medium. I've found groups love to have fun and laugh around the table, and a game that encourages that is a rarity in this market.

3. What sort of rules system does this game use?

We use the Storypath System (d10, dice pools, standard difficulties of 8) for They Came from Beneath the Sea!, as established in Scion, Trinity, and Dystopia Rising. However, our version is slightly modified to account for some of They Came From's unique powers and features.

4. How would you describe the game's tone? Funny? Horrific? Horror comedy?

The tone of this game is what you make of it. I've now run so many games of it with different tone and flavour, I can honestly say They Came From can be horrific or comedic, or any mixture of the two. While the game is set up to allow you to make a funny game, it doesn't dictate to you what good humour is. We're very conscious of allowing groups to find their own levels of fun.

5. Do you think fans of the Fallout or Bioshock games will like this game?

There's definitely a little of the Fallout tongue-in-cheek humour to this game, especially with all the talk of atomic devices in day-to-day life. I love BioShock, but we've not really attempted to emulate any sort of genetic splicing-Randian horror. Not yet, anyway.

6. Will the communists in the game be evil baddies or sensual slavs seduced by the heroes or heroes themselves?

While the default setting of the game is 1950s America, making "commies" default bad guys in the eyes of G-Men and other stalwart American "patriots", this game doesn't dictate that all communists, Soviets, Russians, or indeed any other group acts in a set way. Think of how they're portrayed in your favourite movie of the era and roll with that in your game.

7. What can you tell us about the enemies of the game?

There are so many! The writers on this book knocked the Threats out of the park. We have gill-folk, crab people, were-lobsters, teenage shrimp, centopus, the Prefecture of the Pod, the Sirens of Ness... So many! There are plenty more than that, each divided into the brackets of Destroyers, Invaders, Enslavers, Spies, and Primordials. Each has its own ecology and motivations, and they don't necessarily get on.

8. What sort of heroes will be the players be expected to play?

Heroes will tend to be the kinds of characters portrayed in B-Movies of the 1950s and 1960s. A little wooden, a little hammy, but ultimately earnest in their beliefs and ambitions. You'll have everything from the small-town sheriff just looking to get a restful night's sleep, to the blue collar everyman wanting to defending his patch of land. There are five Archetypes: Everyman, G-Man, Mouth, Scientist, and Survivor.

9. The 1950s are a frequently satirized period of history. Will this book engage in any social satire?

There's definitely some social satire. In some of the fiction within the book, men underestimate women, communists are taken as uniformly black-hearted villains, governments want a pacified populace, and scientists are unpredictable lunatics. In most such cases, expectations are thwarted with the foolish party soon taken to task. Also, Joseph McCarthy gets eaten by a giant clam.

10. What are some of the Kickstarter rewards which donors will be able to get?

The Kickstarter is the best place to look for such things, but at bare minimum we're offering the PDF of the game, through to the book, a Director's screen, and cards for your Quips and Cinematics. If the Kickstarter hits stretch goals, we might see additional supplements or artwork for the game, among many other things.

11. Do you see this as a potential ongoing series of books or a limited collection of them?

I could see a whole series of They Came From games if this one were successful. Spitballing here, but I could see a Hammer Horror-influenced game, a Goosebumps-inspired game, and others that take inspiration from other forms of cinematic media. I'd love to do one based on Italian giallo cinema, but I understand that would have a limited audience (outside Italy).

12. Describe to us a typical adventure of this game in your view.

The typical adventure sees your characters reacting to a rapid invasion of bodysnatchers such as the crab people, or a ship offshore going missing and your heroes having to investigate the whereabouts of its crew. Adventure thus unfolds!

13. What projects will you be working on after this?

I have a few V5 books to develop, the Contagion Chronicle to get finished, and a bunch of projects for companies other than Onyx Path such as an unannounced Chaosium book, Solemn Vale for Dirty Vortex Games, and pushing forward with my Onyx Path media role! If you've not subscribed to Onyx Path on YouTube and Twitch, please do so! Content will be thick and fast come 2019!