I haven't posted a ton here about the new D&D actual play podcast I DM for because it's not book related, but we just reached Episode 04 and this is where the story really kicks into gear and becomes terrifying and profound. The first few episodes are eerie but light and playful as the cast gets comfortable, but this week's show is where it gets real, and I wanted to share it with you because I'm as proud of the storytelling we're doing there as I am of the books. The most recent episode is found here and on all your favorite podcasting apps, and the details about the show, including cast information, is over on ravenfollyinstitute.com.
If you like the creepier parts of the Indestructibles, Echo and the Sea, or the Dungeon Crawlers, you may enjoy this too - it's an actual play so there's randomness and dice rolling, but it's pretty tightly woven and broken out into bite sized chapters intentionally to be like a novel.
So I've referenced this a bit in the past, but the Ravenfolly Institute Presents, a new actual play D&D podcast I GM for, has just launched. It features a fantastic cast and a gothic/pastoral horror story arc set in the Sanguine Moors of Bathomir.
For regular readers of my books, the Sanguine Moors and the entire setting has evolved out of Roll for Initiative and the Dungeon Crawlers - not directly, but there's a building of themes and story elements that share a universe together.
We've already recorded a full first campaign/story arc, with episodes releasing each Tuesday. Hope you'll give it a shot. It can be found on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and soon on all major podcasting apps (if it's not there already - much like book publishing, they can release at their own pace sometimes even after the show has been approved). Just look for the Ravenfolly Institute. More information on the cast can be found at www.ravenfollyinstitute.com.
Just a quick note that there's a free writer's conference going on this weekend with a massive number of topics covered. All the sessions are prerecorded, but they've set up a Discord server for conversing with the writers and other panel participants. I'm taking part in Writing Believable Emergencies on Friday, June 10, and Writing an Ensemble Cast on Sunday, June 12.
Registration is still open, it's free, and there's literally a panel for anyone who's working on a writing project right now, from craft and theory to marketing and editing.
Register at: https://writehivecon.org/register-now/
So we're just a few weeks away from the release of Generation Wonder, an anthology by some of the best superhero writers in the game right now (and, well, me, but I'm just happy to be here). The publisher is running a Goodreads giveaway this month for ten copies - if you're so inclined, here's a link to participate: https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/345568-generation-wonder-the-new-age-of-heroes
I've got a few author copies in-hand already and it's beautiful. I can't believe one of my stories is illustrated by the incredible Colleen Doran. (You can spot the lead character from my own story, "My Life as a Houseplant," at the bottom of the cover art.)
And yes, my story DOES take place in the Indestructiverse. It's not required reading for the main series, but there's some easter eggs in there for long-time readers of the series you may enjoy. Check it out!
I think I've mentioned before that I've been part of a podcast on D&D called Characters & Class with fellow author Colin Carlton. (If not... hey, I'm on a podcast!) Colin does all the heavy lifting with editing and such to give credit where credit is due. It's not a bad show for aspiring writers, too, because we randomly roll up characters and create backstories, motivations, lives for them with no prep, which is just as applicable to prose writing as it is to role-playing games.
Anyway, I should've mentioned that earlier, but I'm writing today because we're giving away some dice and thought there might be some RPG dice collectors who follow my work here. The rules to enter are over on this post. The dice are actually here in my office and I love 'em, so I'd love to send them to one of you. We're holding a random drawing on 4/18/22. Feel free to enter and check out the show! We're about to release a few actual play story episodes, too, which have been fun divergences from novel writing - it's terrifying and hilarious to tell a story when you know you can't go back and edit or fix things in a second draft. Plus I'm taking away tons of inspiration for the next few book projects.
It's funny, with all the Fantastic Four casting rumors lately, I mentioned that I'd once blogged about what I'd do if I ever got to write a FF film and forgot that it was on my OLD blog, and not on this one. The original post is located here, but I'm going to re-post it below since this is where I call home these days, and I'm super proud of it.
Originally posted 8/20/2015 (while still developing Echo and the Sea!)
I haven't played this game in a while, but seeing all the reviews for the new Fantastic Four film (which I haven't seen yet, for better or for worse) got me thinking about what I'd do if Marvel ever gave me the chance to write a film script or reboot for the first family of Marvel.
This is a game I play once in a while--purely for fun. I mean, it'd be great if they'd let me pitch one of these ideas (I've previously done it for Aquaman and Martian Manhunter as TV shows) but mostly I'm a fan, and this is my little way of brainstorming and doing fan fiction. (I freely admit that brainstorming the Aquaman mock-TV series gave me a lot of ideas for the Indestructibles-based Atlantis story, so sometimes these little exercises do lead somewhere useful).
My biggest change? I'd make this Sue's story as much as Reed's. In fact, I'd make Sue the main protagonist. Reed is a force of nature, but we need someone more relatable as our audience's eyes and ears. She has to be our central figure, particularly with how I'd establish Reed's powers...
In any event, here it is:
If they let me write Fantastic Four as a film
By Matthew Phillion
Reed Richards has always *reached* for the stars.
A brilliant scientist from a young age, Richards is already a PhD in six disciplines by his early 20's. He holds dozens of patents. If he could stop stretching himself so thin, he could change the world.
An opportunity is coming his way to allow him to do just that.
Sue Storm has always been able to see with *perfect clarity.* The daughter of renown physicist Franklin Storm, Sue has become a scientific authority in her own right, though her expertise leans more toward biology than physics. She dabbles in weather science. Sue and her father have been recruited by a Latverian-owned think tank, where they are part of a team delving into interdimensional travel.
The team needs one more mind to push it from theory into practice. They have the brainpower. They have the clarity of thinking. They just need someone willing to *stretch* just a little to far. to overreach.
They need Reed Richards.
With Reed's added input, the team is able to, they believe, cross into another dimension--a parallel world Richards has deemed the "N-Zone." Sue Storm, seeing the *clear* dangers created by the thousands of unknown variables involved in crossing over, pushes for caution. She is overruled, not only by her own teammates, but by the organization's mysterious benefactor, a man only known as Lord Victor, a member of European royalty and their largest donor.
They will cross over. But they need a team. First and foremost, they need a pilot, and Reed Richards knows just the man.
Ben Grimm pretends he isn't smart.
A brilliant mathematician, Grimm--a childhood friend of Richards', who played the role of street-tough brawler to hide his insecurity at being far smarter than anyone gave him credit for--has grown up to be a test pilot and engineer. He should have been an astronaut, but America doesn't need astronauts these days. The country doesn't reach for the stars anymore.
Richards offers his childhood friend the job of a lifetime. To fly a ship that will not go to the stars, but to another dimension.
Grimm, trusting in his best friend and needing something to make him feel less useless and alone, signs on. He will be the *rock* this flight rests upon.
Johnny Storm expects to *burn out* and fade away.
Sue's younger brother, Johnny seeks his thrills on the bleeding edge. A cliff-jumper, a mountain climber, a documentary filmmaker, Johnny Storm sees his inability to match his father and sister's scientific brilliance as his great failure. To make up for this, he reaches for the stars in his own ways. He takes every dare. He makes every bet. He does stupid things to try to save the world. He is a daredevil, but a highly trained one. He has, quite often, gone places and done things ordinary men and women have not.
He is, by way of his strangely eclectic career, exactly what his sister's team needs. Johnny Storm is the daredevil explorer with a camera.
A ship is built. The team is trained. The media gives them a name.
They are the Fantastic Four.
Last minute, Reed Richards is given command of the excursion. Both Franklin and Sue Storm argue that the mission needs her *clarity* of thought, but Lord Victor wants someone willing to *bend* the rules and *reach* as far as possible. He wants Richards in command. The others acquiesce.
The mission is a go. The ship passes through a rift in dimensions, complete with an assistant-bot Reed has named HERBIE. They find themselves on the other side.
The team heads out into this new world, a blood-hued universe, as if the entire dimension is a dying wasteland. And soon, they encounter something unexpected. They encounter a fortress.
And the fortress calls out to them.
Sue and Ben want to return home. They've made first contact, but this team of four is unprepared for a potential hostile incident. Worse, the team is beginning to feel sick. Reed has become wobbly, his concentration shifting. Johnny is running a fever. Ben has a strange rash forming on his skin, hard scabs he hides from the team. And Sue feels like she's fading away.
Reed determines that he, Sue, and Johnny will go into the fortress. Ben will keep the shuttle prepped for a fast escape. The others agree, Sue reluctantly.
Inside the fortress, they meet a being, entirely alien, encased in bizarre armor. The being calls itself "Annihilus."
Sue and Johnny both agree this is what you might call a major hint about the creature's intensions.
While inside, Johnny collapses, burning up. Sue demands they return to the ship. Her brother is dying. Reed sends them back and say she will be along shortly. He is conversing with Annihilus, the two engaged in a sort of cross-species game of seeing who will blink first.
Sue gets Johnny back to the ship. Inside, she finds Ben barely able to stand, his skin turning to stone, his hands changing shape into huge, three-fingered mitts. He isn't sure he'll be able to pilot them home. He doesn't feel like he has the dexterity he needs to fly the hip.
Sue contacts Reed. Get back to the ship or we will leave without you.
Reed asks for another moment. He offers an apology. Annihilus offers Reed a vial of his own blood. For study. Reed sees in this vial a lifetime of research. He accepts.
On the ship, Sue is preparing to leave Reed behind. Ben straps in, walking Sue through the flight commands. Johnny tries to help, but collapses, his body temperature hitting impossible levels.
Reed arrives just in time. Sue flies the team home under Ben's guidance. They pass through the dimensional rift.
Everything turns white.
No one came home the same.
Sue is walking through the Baxter Building. Everyone ignores her. She isn't sure why.
She finds Johnny's room. He's on fire. He's doused, time and time again, with fire extinguishers. Each time, he emerges, unharmed and naked. He is shivering.
Next she finds Reed Richards, a pile of stringy limbs on the floor. His face is unchanged. He stares blissfully at the ceiling. He looks like he's on an acid trip.
Finally she finds a statue, sitting in a darkened cell. She stares at it. Something about the statue is familiar. Then the statue moves. It speaks in Ben Grimm's voice.
"Suzie?" the statue with Ben's voice says. "You there?"
Cut to: Sue in a room with her father. She's been missing for days, he says. Her transformation--her invisibility--made her disappear upon reentry. Everyone thought she'd been left behind until Ben woke up.
Sue fades in and out of sight. She has trouble controlling her abilities.
They all do.
Organizations begin arguing over who owns the rights to the Fantastic Four and their strange powers. Sue could be the greatest surveillance asset in the world. Ben is a walking indestructible tank. Johnny a weapon of mass destruction. and Reed?
Reed's brain has stretched out like his body. It can bend and twist, adapting to new questions. Reed Richards has become the smartest being in the world. Perhaps not the smartest man in the world, though. No one is sure if he's still human anymore.
And while the world is distracted by the Fantastic Four, the vial of blood Reed Richards brought with him begins to glow. Not long after, the space where their shuttle passed through reopens. From the other side.
Annihilus comes through.
He tears the lab apart. Looking for something. Looking for the technology the Storms and Reed used to open the portal. He needs it to say open. Because Annihilus needs this world. He needs to destroy it. That is what Annihilus does. He wants to bring his swarm over to devour our world.
He encounters Victor. Victor demands knowledge from Annihilus. He wants to know what this alien knows. He wants power. Victor attempts to stop him with a weapon designed by the think tank. It proves ineffective, and in the battle, Victor is seriously wounded, his face burned.
The Fantastic Four are called in. They are the only ones with the power to stop Annihilus. No one is quite sure how, though. The team prepares to go to battle, but Sue stops Reed. He needs to stay and think, to use that impossible brain to devise a way to destroy Annihilus. We'll hold him off as long as we can, Sue says. You do your job, we'll do ours.
The battle between Sue, Ben Johnny and Annihilus are intercut with scenes of Reed brainstorming and building, his arms zipping across the room as he crafts some kind of device.
Annihilus drones begin emerging from the N-Zone. Ben and Johnny engage, destroying the drones, trying to get close enough to Annihilus to hurt him. The battle is going against them. Johnny is running low on strength, his flame-powers draining him physically. Ben isn't injured, but he can't seem to do anything other than knock Annihilus around.
And then Annihilus begins to choke. Sue appears, transitioning from invisible to visible. She is holding her hands out toward Annihilus's head. She has him trapped in a force field, suffocating him. She knows this is murder, but she sees no other way to stop him.
Annihilus fights back, blasting Sue with a beam from his hand. She puts up a force field in time to save herself, but loses her concentration, releasing Annihilus.
Reed appears, a huge, silver, classic sci-fi looking rifle slung across his shoulder. He calls out to Annihilus. And when he has the creature's attention, he blasts him. The weapon light up the night. When Reed stops firing, there is nothing left of Annihilus but charred pieces of armor.
What do you call that thing, Stretch, Ben says.
The Ultimate Nullifier, Reed says.
You are terrible at naming things, Johnny says.
Sue says nothing. She and Reed share a long look, then both look at the bits of remains. Neither of them is a killer. And this does not feel right.
The Fantastic Four have been given a building to operate out of in New York, the Baxter Building. Reed and Sue have hand-selected a team of young scientists. Their Latverian backers have become less enthusiastic since Victor's injuries, but Reed and Sue (and even Ben) have begun locking down patents for world-changing devices. Hints of emotional struggles bubble up. Reed has trouble being normal, thinking so fast the world frustrates him. Sue finds humanity's inability to save itself frustrating, often spending whole days walking Manhattan, invisible, observing the awful things we do to each other. Ben, meanwhile, feels isolated and alone. Sue and Reed vow to find a way to change him back. Even Johnny seems uncomfortable. They tease him about his playboy days, but the younger Storm stays close to his family.
The Fantastic Four realize no one else in the world understands them the way they understand each other.
Then they hear a report of monsters bubbling up from underneath Manhattan. Well, they say. If we can't be normal, we can at least be heroes.
Stinger: Victor hides behind a mask, his face still unhealed. He is surrounded by lackeys. They tell him the experiment is going well. Victor asks to see it. "It," we discover, is a baby Annihilus, alone in a hospital nursery. Doom stands over the infant. He places his hands around its neck, then stops.
You took my face, Victor says. I will use you to do what you couldn't do. I will have this world for myself.
I've been waiting to break the news on this for so long and I'm thrilled to finally get to post about it. Still marveling that I got to be a part of this anthology. Check out this incredible lineup of authors, and an absolutely gorgeous cover by Colleen Doran!
My story is set in the Indestructiverse but introduces a few new characters... and even has a cameo or two of old favorites I was able to include as well. My contribution can be spotted at the very bottom of the cover.
Generation Wonder arrives this June - preorders available at the link below!
I'd like to share a fun little side project that just launched this week: Characters & Class. I introduced fellow author and one of my best friends in the world, Colin Carlton, to playing Dungeons & Dragons at the start of the pandemic, and that inspired this show, in which a couple of writers (he and I for now, but we'll start inviting guests on as well!) sit down with some dice, a microphone, and create a pair of characters from scratch with no pre-planning.
We' re recording these at crazy hours of the day, so if you want to hear a couple of punchy writers brainstorm things like flamingo detectives or hippie halfling martial artists, this might be the show for you. The link above will take you to the Spotify page, but it's also available on most podcast options, so you can listen using your preferred app. If you like it, let me know!
I have an annual tradition of intending to give away "Krampus in the City" on Krampusnacht, and then forgetting to set it up and giving it away a few days late. For once, I actually got the dates right! I you (or someone you think would enjoy a superhero vs. Krampus comedy horror holiday story) can pick up a free copy on Kindle today and tomorrow, December 5 and 6, at the link below. Are you a Krampus fan?
I regularly forget that there is an online shop for Indestructibles merch, but with the holidays coming up, I realize there might be someone out there looking for an Entropy Emily stocking stuff or something like that. By the way, if there's character art you'd like to see on the shop, drop me an email, message me on Twitter or FB, or mention it below - I'm happy to make it happen.
About the author
Matthew Phillion is the author of the Indestructibles YA novel series, its spinoff Echo and the Sea, and the Dungeon Crawlers series of RPG-style novellas.