Category Archives: World-building

Creating Dark Creatures

AD&D Monster ManualBack in the late 1970’s, I played Advanced Dungeons and Dragons two or three nights a week. Wait, I should correct that. I worked at AD&D because I was always the Dungeon Master. I had to come up with new quests, places, characters, and even creatures. All of my players had access to copies of the hardcover books like the Monster Manual. The problem with that was even if a party had never seen a Bugbear before, they all magically knew how to defeat one and knew the ballpark of its statistics.

Eventually I had to come up with lots of unique dark creatures for my players to fight. I always enjoyed when I described something weird yet totally outside their experience. Their characters then had to react in a realistic manner, which elevated gameplay. Later on, I would use the concepts I developed when writing stories.

Dark creatures, like villains, need to have a method of sustenance – even if it’s a supernatural method. They also need reasons for evolving, waste management, etc. Many times I kept creatures neutral, with a capability to be either a benefit or a burden, depending on how the characters interact with the unknown beast.

As an example, I had a rare creature called a dunnasae (pronounced “dunna-say”). They dwell in damp caverns at least one mile underground. At first glance, they appear to be thick oil slicks on the walls. They eat primarily silicon, and that’s what they’re doing on the wall. Dunnasae can be peeled off and saved in glass containers for up to one week, wherein they digest their way out of the bottle.

Dunnasae appear to be rather innocuous creatures, about a foot in diameter. They do not talk as far as anyone can tell. They move very slowly, and do not fight back if attacked, although they will do their best to eat any metallic weapons used against them. Fire kills them rather quickly – and it is always a good idea to have an idea of what their weaknesses are before bringing them into a story.

So, what good are stupid oily sheets that cling to walls, you may ask? They do have one interesting property – they live in multiple dimensions. If one comes in contact with a human, it will instantly merge with their tissue. They can swim rather quickly to any portion of the human. It will tend to sink to the soles of the feet, wherein it will feast on the dirt and sand the human walks on.

As I mentioned – it is a multidimensional beast. The main benefit of merging with a dunnasae is it can act as a living portable hole, storing any non-organic material up to five cubic meters. As long as the host allows the creature to eat (and having a small pouch of sand comes in real handy), it will respond to human thought and instantly appear at any portion of the body when directed. The beast can make any stored item emerge from anywhere the host wishes, like a sword “magically” erupting from one’s hand or an eight-foot metal quarterstaff bursting from one’s colon, if the the user wants to impress everyone around them.

As with all things, there must be a risk involved for having such a useful creature. The first one is in order to remove the dunnasae, you must will it to a part of your body and then proceed to burn that body part off. The second is that you must never put organic material into the dunnasae, as it will learn that you are organic and will try and absorb you. This event will drive it crazy and force your body parts to attack things around them (and each other). Organic extends to rope, leather, rations, etc. Wooden scabbards or sword hilts are also not allowed.

I’ve used these creatures in a couple of short stories. One of the darkest ones involved tricking a character into placing organic material inside their dunnasae’s storage space. The rest of the story had the main character getting slowly digested from the inside out and having fits of uncontrolled random violent movements as she set off to get vengeance. It was a quirky tale and was published in a ‘zine around 1983.

If you’re a gamer and you write dark works, sometimes it’s a fun idea to combine your talents from both fields. Just make sure your unique dark creatures are well-rounded and explained thoroughly before deploying them on the unsuspecting public.



About the Author:DeMarco_Web-5963

Guy Anthony De Marco is a disabled US Navy veteran speculative fiction author; a Graphic Novel Bram Stoker Award® nominee; winner of the HWA Silver Hammer Award; a prolific short story and flash fiction crafter; a novelist; an invisible man with superhero powers; a game writer (Sojourner Tales modules, Interface Zero 2.0 core team, third-party D&D modules); and a coffee addict. One of these is false.
A writer since 1977, Guy is a member of the following organizations: SFWA, WWA, SFPA, IAMTW, ASCAP, RMFW, NCW, HWA. He hopes to collect the rest of the letters of the alphabet one day. Additional information can be found at Wikipedia and

A Little Darkness Can Be a Good Thing

strength_of_spirit_cover_for_kindleGuest Post by Amanda Faith.

Writing is a tricky business. An author has to have just enough of various elements to keep a reader engaged in a story. Characters, as well as plot and setting, has to be believable enough that the reader becomes a part of the adventure they are experiencing. Nothing should be all good or all bad. Having darkness in your story makes for intriguing reading, if done correctly.

People generally have a habit of thinking something dark is horror. Not necessarily so. It could be darkness within a person. It could be a darkness that follows someone. The setting could be a dark place as in the struggles a town is facing and the good people trying to overcome their circumstances. Maybe Big Brother is watching or the character is invited to the Dark Side. Any of these elements make a story have a dark tendency.

Relatable characters make them believable. Plots that have ups and downs will be more entertaining. Nothing is perfect nor should it be. That would lead to a rather dull story. Adding a little darkness (or a lot of darkness) does instill fear and suspense. There are a few things to keep in mind when adding dark elements to your story.

  1. You have to keep your audience in mind. If you are writing YA, then you do not want your dark elements so gruesome and disturbing it scares off your readers (and upset parents). If you are writing for adults, you may want to make sure there is an indication on the back cover as to how “dark” your tale is.
  2. Does the darkness fit the genre? Although this one does tie in with the first one, there is a distinction. If you are writing horror, then great. Go for it. What about a dark mystery? Do you have your hard-boiled detective set in that urban underworld city with crime and moral ambiguity? How about the gothic dark fiction? You should have that sense of decay and ruin sprinkled with a touch of persecution. Action thriller? It’s that race against the clock that keeps the reader glued to the pages with of all of the twists and turns. With all of the various sub-genres, the writer needs to keep with the fiction of choice.
  3. World building. This is a very important element. Depending on your story, you will have to make sure that your world fits your problem. It adds the dark tone of the story with all of the history and atmosphere you put in place. Getting the world right sets the mood, making the story more believable.
  4. Don’t make a character too good or too bad. Remember, your audience has to be able to relate to this character. The reader needs to care about the characters. You want that emotional investment to keep your readers engaged. A bad guy can have a redeeming quality or two. The good guy will have some faults. Too perfect, either way, will lose a reader quickly.
  5. Have a clean (or nearly clean) resolution. Sure, the bad guy will lose, but we really don’t want to give up hope for him. Maybe he will realize how bad he is and seek some sort of redemption in the end. He may not become “good.” He may, however, become better than he was. The good guy may lose some of his luster, but given his circumstances in the tale, he was not to come out of it totally unscathed.
  6. Some of the best dark elements are not blood and guts. Sometimes the best dark tales are naked of all ickyness and gore. It can be done. Look at ghost stories, for example. It’s difficult to have a ghost be eviscerated – again.
  7. Good is only good as compared next to evil. You have to have the bad to see the good – and back again.

Adding darkness to the mixture will add depth to your tale and make it seem realistic. There is no perfect world. There are no perfect people. The only perfect thing is to have a reader get lost in your world for a short time.



About the Author:

Award-winning author Amanda Faith may have been raised in Dayton, but her heart and home is in the South. With a lifelong love of teaching and writing, she had plenty of encouragement from teachers and friends along the way.

Teaching English and doing paranormal investigations doesn’t slow her down from having a great time with a plethora of hobbies. Her published credits include short stories, poetry, several journal articles, her doctoral dissertation, and her award-winning book Strength of Spirit. She is a staff writer for The Daily Dragon at Dragon Con and an intern for Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta at WordFire Press. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English, a Masters in Education-English, and a Doctorate in Education-Teacher Leadership. Check out her website at

Promise – A Double Nickel Story

Gideon turned away from the scene as the blue planet’s atmosphere shredded like paper. The swelling star would soon absorb the remains of the world and the species known as man. There was no last, frantic attempt to leave Earth despite their knowledge and abilities. The whole experiment was lost. Mankind once possessed such promise.

Mashing Up the Wild West

If you’re of a certain age in the U.S., you were raised with Westerns. John Ford and Sergio Leone filled cinemas and TV screens with John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, the dust of cattle drives, the thunder of cavalry, guns, and the war whoops of Indians. By the time of my childhood, Western films were in their declining years, covering ground so well-trodden the genre itself had become cliché, a collection of easily recognizable and increasingly tired tropes.

However, the genre never quite made it to the grave. Since the Western film’s heyday, we’ve been graced with some spectacularly good fare: Tombstone, Unforgiven, Tarantino’s Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight, the remake of True Grit, the HBO series Deadwood, and Dances with Wolves.

The things that these examples do exceedingly well, and I would submit to you, the reason they’re so damn good, is that they take the tropes and twist them. Unforgiven puts an unforgettable twist on the Hired Gunfighter. Tarantino’s characters are nearly all recognizable archetypes—except they’ve been subverted or twisted in unexpected ways. The Coen brothers’ remake of True Grit takes Charles Portis’ brilliant novel and puts little Maddie Ross squarely back in the protagonist’s seat. Deadwood so brims with fascinating characters, crackling dialogue, and Shakespearean tragedy that its cancellation after only three seasons is one of the great travesties of modern television. Dances with Wolves, with its sweeping grandeur, epic depth, and visionary cinematography, is credited with revitalizing the Western film, and it does so by turning the tables on the Indian Wars. Without this film, none of the others might ever have been made.

But just how far can you twist the tropes? Can you have a science-fiction Western? A horror Western? A fantasy Western? Absolutely. Mix in any of these ingredients and you have what has come to be called The Weird Western.

The earliest sci-fi western mash-up that comes to mind is Westworld, complete with android gunfighters. Another notable is Back to the Future Part III, which nowadays we might call a little steampunk. The Wild West is a favorite milieu for steampunk authors, forming their own sub-genre of Western mash-up, including the Fictorians’ own Quincy J. Allen. Are there other SF-Western examples? Sure, but we won’t talk about Cowboys and Aliens.

Horror is a spice that mashes up tastily with Western stories. The Old West is replete with ghost tales and Native American mysticism. Murder, injustice, and brutality abound, all fodder for stories of the unquiet dead. Haunted trains, phantom stage coaches, vengeful medicine men, ancient knowledge from the dark depths of human history… are your creative juices flowing yet?

So the first step to a good mash-up is to recognize the tropes. You have to understand the nuts and bolts of a genre and how they fit together into the moving parts of the story. Throw in the things you love, the things you want to write about. A sprinkle of vampire saliva, a touch of decomposing zombie, a love story between a man and his raw meat, an angry deceased mother-in-law.

Twist and subvert the tropes into interesting new shapes. Take the Town Marshal archetype and do something with him you’ve never seen before, something interesting, something fun, something unexpected. In Death Wind, we made the Town Marshall an old man, too stubborn and grumpy to admit he’s forty years past his prime.

This kind of subversion is not new. Even in the 19th Century, the Western genre had become staid and cliché. The profusion of dime novels and penny dreadfuls had already created the tropes and archetypes we know today. In 1898 Stephen Crane, author of the Red Badge of Courage, wrote a brilliant subversion of the Western in his short story “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky,” in which he plays with tropes like the Town Drunk, Town Marshal, and The Shootout with great insight and cleverness. The key to any good mash-up is play. Jam things together to see what works, what sounds fun.

Death Wind CoverA few years back, my friend Jim Pinto and I decided to collaborate on a screenplay. We wanted to do something neither of us had ever seen before, so we decided to mash up two genres we loved: horror and Westerns. But how to make it different from other notable horror Westerns around, such as The Burrowers and Ravenous? We threw in another ingredient we both loved: the Cthulhu Mythos of H.P. Lovecraft. And that’s when the fun really began. We were in undiscovered territory. Throwing together a collection of characters under-represented in Western fiction and film, we stirred them together into a juicy stew of crisscrossing conflicts and ended up with Death Wind, a screenplay that placed highly in several screenwriting contests, including Second Place at the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival Cthulhu Con in L.A. and Grand Prize at the Cinequest Film Festival in San Jose in 2012.

After this success, it was a no-brainer to adapt the script into a novel. Death Wind will make its literary debut at Dragon Con 2016, published by WordFire Press.

About the Author: Travis Heermann

Heermann-6Spirit_cover_smallTravis Heermann’s latest novel Spirit of the Ronin, was published in June, 2015.

Freelance writer, novelist, award-winning screenwriter, editor, poker player, poet, biker, he is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop and the author of Death Wind (co-authored with Jim Pinto), The Ronin Trilogy, The Wild Boys, and Rogues of the Black Fury, plus short fiction pieces in anthologies and magazines such as Apex Magazine, Perihelion SF, Fiction River, Historical Lovecraft, and Cemetery Dance’s Shivers VII. As a freelance writer, he has produced a metric ton of role-playing game work both in print and online, including content for the Firefly Roleplaying Game, Legend of Five Rings, d20 System, and EVE Online.

He recently returned to the U.S. from New Zealand with a couple of lovely ladies and toting more Middle Earth souvenirs than is reasonable.

You can find him on…