Retrospective: Edward M. Erdelac’s Merkabah Rider

In 2010, I was made aware of a new book thanks to an old blog I was following at the time. The Weird West Emporium (which moved to Facebook but is far less active these days) had posted about the release of a book called Merkabah Rider: Tales of a High Planes Drifter. The concept hooked me immediately and, since I was really exploring the Weird Western at the time, I bought it and devoured it. That year, I’d also done a double review for the Emporium and decided I wanted to review this for the blog as well. This book was a starting place for several things in my life.

First, Ed saw the review and commented. I bought the second book and devoured it as well. When Ed released the third book, I was a fan-friend, asking him where would get him the most royalties. He offered to send me a signed copy for a little less than what I’d pay retail. When the fourth book came around, Ed was dissatisfied with the publisher, Damnation Books (a company that was later revealed to be utter garbage by a slew of other authors), and self-published it. By then, we were friends. Still are and I’m happy to know Ed. This was the beginning of my shift into the writing world, with a peer group of other writers.

Second, it crystallized some concepts I’d been chewing on for a series. In 2007-08, I was reading the Dark Tower. It had a profound effect on me and I knew I wanted to make a weird western story of my own. The first idea started off as a comic that didn’t go anywhere. The comic story shifted and I decided to try my hand with it in novel form. This, too, went nowhere. Reading Ed’s books made me realize what I could really do with a weird western. I’d also gotten into Lovecraft and Howard around that time, so by the time Merkabah Rider came along, I could see the things Ed was doing. I distinctly remembered thinking, “this is like Howard and Lovecraft had a baby.” It’s a description I still use. I’d had inklings from the Dark Tower but flat out injecting Lovecraftian entities into the setting clicked something in my brain.

In the very first Rider story in the first book, the Rider comes up against a demon. Later on, he meets a gaggle of them. He encounters several Lovecraftian entities, and even winds up using the modernish, star version of the Elder Sign to fight one of them. In another story, he comes up against the Crawling Chaos himself, in a scene that seared itself into my brain. It went on like that. And Ed sprinkled in various other references, including one that, to my knowledge, and to Ed’s knowledge, I was the only one to catch. By the end of the Rider’s journey, I had a lot of ideas cooking in the background.

The third thing to come out of all this came as I started working on writing more regularly in 2013. I tapped Ed for advice and he was happy to share. He gave me a bit of advice he got from Joe Lansdale. “One thing [he] told me is to treat your writing as if you’re exercising a muscle. Pick a certain time to do it and stick to that same time everyday, same amount of time, like two hours.” I’ve definitely not written everyday. But I made a schedule. I did my best to stick to it. I started off writing prose about my Skyrim play sessions (something I’ve shared before). In early 2014, I decided I wanted to write a swashbuckling orc story due to all the Skyrim…but there was a nugget of an idea sitting behind that. I talked ideas with a friend of mine, and he loved the swashbuckling idea but when I said I was also thinking about writing a gunslinger orc, he latched on to that. Suddenly Grimluk came into being. An orc who hunts demons with a six-shooter. I seized it and started work. Ed offered more advice, an especially critical piece of which was that when he felt stuck, he’d kind of block out bits of the plot to get going again. This turned out to be an immense help for me in the early days.

With those three things, I can say, without a doubt, that without the Merkabah Rider series, there would be no Grimluk. The ambience, some of the themes and tone, the entities. I took some ideas from my comic-turned-novel notes, and got to work on what would become A Demon in the Desert. I took inspiration from Ed as well. The Rider walks the lands, riding no horse but traveling with a donkey. Grimluk walks the lands, riding no horse unless it’s an absolute life-or-death emergency. One day, I’ll let him explain why. Grimluk, like the Rider, cares about people. True, the Rider seeks vengeance, but he has a heart. I don’t know how well I succeed at it but I’ve been shooting for that Howard/Lovecraft mixture that Ed has in the Rider.

If I hadn’t told him before, I’ll say it here for sure: Ed, thank you for writing what you did. Thank you for being a friend. Thank you for humoring my silly ass asking questions and the one or two critique requests. There are others that have helped me get to this point but you were the genesis, man. Thank you.

Some of you may be wondering if this post has anything else besides the word salad above. It does. See, I decided to do this as a means to help Ed. After all the fuckery of Damnation Books, Ed got the rights back to Merkabah Rider, five years after each was published. They’ve long since been out of print, but now? Now Ed has all the rights and is re-releasing them. The first book, retitled as just High Planes Drifter, just saw its return to print. Ed has new cover art, interior illustrations, and an extra short story. He’ll be doing the same for the other three books as well.

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The new cover for High Planes Drifter.

This series is a joy to read. If “Hasidic Jewish mystic seeking revenge against his former teacher for betraying their mystic order” doesn’t hook you right away, I don’t know what else to say. If you want some prime weird western action, I’ve yet to find better than this series. I’m fuckin STOKED to be able to hurl this recommendation at people again. Once again, I take up my mantle as unofficial Ed Erdelac Hype Man. And he’ll be guest posting on Friday!

Buy this book, y’all!

Good News!

For those who missed all the social media shouting, the Kickstarter campaign for The Demons Within successfully funded in the last few hours of the campaign, hitting $2225 of the $2200 goal! I am ecstatic, as are many of my backers, and rightfully so! I couldn’t have done it without them, especially considering I had a bunch of folks adjust their pledges in hopes of hitting 100%. So, what does that mean going forward?

Well, it means that whenever I finally get the funds, and Bob Kehl gets back to me, I can get the cover art started. Editing is set to start in April, provided by the wonderful Laura M. Hughes. The second draft is currently with a couple of beta readers, and once I have their notes back, I’ll begin working through them in prep for Laura. Like Demon Haunted, The Demons Within will be set for an October release. Cause duh, Halloween and Orctober, the time of year when I am at my most powerful!

So, thank you so much, yet again, to all my backers and readers. You are amazing.

Now I just have to get back to work on Grimluk 4!

Orctober: Grimluk in D&D

Having gone through and looked at orcs, half-orcs, and my homebrew tweaks for them as player races, it’s time to look at how Grimluk would fit in D&D 5e. Below, I’ll be listing two different versions. The first will be a medieval style Grimluk based purely on the Player Handbook rules with only slight homebrew (for weapons). The only major thing is that to do Grim properly, he has to be multiclassed. There is no getting around that, especially considering he usually works alone. The second version is heavily homebrewed, which I’ll discuss below the link.

Grimluk, version 1

Pretty standard standard fair, multiclassing aside. Half-orc, Crossbow Expert and Resilient for feats, rolled stats that are fairly high (Grimluk spent eight years training as an apprentice, I think it’s warranted), plus fiend slayer weapons (based on the dragon slayer). Grimluk’s base class is a Fighter, taking the Champion archetype, followed by the Hunter Ranger, and one level in Monk. Crossbow, shortsword, crit fishing, a pretty solid build. While I went for unarmored defense, I would probably just go ahead and take the starting chainmail from the Fighter.

Grimluk, version 2

Now, this one gets intense. My tweaked Orcs with Powerful Build swapped over Aggressive. For classes, once again, a base Fighter but this time, the archetype is the Monster Hunter I made a while back, along with Hunter Ranger, and Monk, again, for martial arts and unarmored defense. Like before, this version uses two-weapon fighting and archery for fighting styles, but this time, I use the firearms from the Dungeon Master’s Guide combined with the Fiend Slayer features I used before. And since my Monster Hunter uses what is essentially the Colossus Slayer feature from the Hunter Ranger, I took Horde Breaker to compliment (and damn does that stack will). Resilient shows up once again along with the Gunslinger feat, which I based on Crossbow Expert. It works as follows:

GUNSLINGER
Thanks to extensive practice with handguns, you gain the following benefits:

* You can ignore the reload property of handguns you’re proficient with.
* Being within 5 feet of a hostile creature doesn’t impose disadvantage on your ranged attack rolls.
* If unsurprised at the start of combat, you can perform a quick draw, giving you advantage on your first attack roll.

The feat might need some tweaking, for the quick draw feature, but otherwise, it’s the same as Crossbow Expert.

Now, once I got done with the second version of Grimluk, I was really surprised and pleased at just how close to the real thing it reads. I briefly considered a feature for the gun that uses the mechanics of the Arrow of Slaying for the blood runes featured in Demon Haunted but that seemed a bit overkill for D&D (especially since you’d get six chances to use it). Overall, the builds kick a lot of ass, with the total level for both versions being 12.

There are certain things that are hard to implement. Grimluk’s ability to shrug off getting shot being the major one. There aren’t really any rules for how to play AC when guns are a thing. There’s few rules for Wild West D&D and Grimluk’s ability to withstand multiple bullets is a unique trait (at least as far as the first three books are concerned). And I fully realize that he’s got Drizzt levels of OP going on cause he’s a book character, not a player character. That’s okay.

So that’s Grimluk in D&D. Friday will see Scott Oden talking about how personal D&D can be and on Monday, I’ll be posting a massive D&D game post where me and a few other folks played an orc-centric one shot. And don’t forget, if you want to see more of Grimluk, head over and make a pledge for The Demons Within kickstarter!

Orctober: The Demons Within

I’m currently waiting on a few guest posts and thinking up some more topics to discuss, so I thought I’d take today to talk about The Demons Within and its kickstarter campaign.

The most obvious is that it is the third book in the Grimluk, Demon Hunter series. It also represents another personal milestone. My THIRD book…holy shit, I’ve done this three times (or will have by its release). And I keep getting better at it! It’s no secret that A Demon in the Desert was a bit of a mess. Debut effort, lacked proper editing, was learning my process as I went, etc. etc. I still turned out a respectable book that people have enjoyed, but I had some growing to do. Demon Haunted was a marked improvement, especially with Tim Marquitz’s editing notes and encouraging me to maintain POVs and not head-hop.

The Demons Within puts all of those lessons together. I keep my POVs tighter but still give them a little bit of breathing room. My process is more defined, which has allowed me to write better. I went in with a clear plan and went at it.

But, this is Orctober, so I should probably focus on the orcs, huh?

The Demons Within shows Grimluk, at least at the start, more in his natural element. He travels to a town with demon troubles and proceeds to take the thing down. Up until The Plot arrives, you get to see him interacting with folks in a more regular matter, talk about his people some, and even get a look into what his dreams are occasionally like as someone who deals with a never-ending parade of the eldritch, the abominable, and the demonic.

And then there’s Emerald. Emerald is a Companion. If you’re reading that like from Firefly, then yes, it’s a lot like that, except no weird cultural appropriation/fetishization, and more bawdy saloon girl. The Companions are, explicitly, sex workers, and viewed as an important part of society in Grimluk’s world. The town of Downingville is basically built around the saloon/hotel where Emerald and her peers operate. Emerald, again explicitly, says she loves sex, loves making people feel good, and loves her work. But she still has other interests, and even does other things besides sex. Companions can just as easily serve as escorts for fancy events, masseuses, or just a temporary friend.

I’m quite proud of Emerald. She didn’t become a sex worker due to trauma or anything of that nature. She just liked the idea of being a Companion and went after it. She’s clever, feisty, self-assured, and, being an orc, more than capable of taking care of herself. She also presents as a unique orc, which I would love to talk more about but would be kind of a character spoiler and I would really like to let people meet her properly in text.

There are only two other orcs in this book and one of them is a passing character. The other, though, is the Marshal of the Rangers we meet. His name is Bringar and he is…surly, to say the least. I will talk about the Rangers another time, but I can tell a little bit about Bringar, though there’s only a little to tell. He’s a tertiary character but one that affects one of the main characters heavily, considering he’s basically her boss. You could say that he’s a bit of a mirror to Grimluk. An orc whose line of work tends toward traveling and fighting. Bringar, though, has a chip on his shoulder. He’s got some issues, probably a lot of which come from being an orc and being a marshal. Grimluk warns him to avoid the big bad of the story and Bringar ends up paying for his hubris.

I hope that this piques your interest, if you haven’t backed already. I would very much like to get this book to you next year, properly edited and with cover art. It will set up a recurring villain and a few other bits and bobs of Grim’s world, as well as shed some light on some older things. If you love orcs, then love my son, for his big and good. You can pledge here.

On Friday, we’ll see James Jakins talking about the effects D&D had on writing Jack Bloodfist. Until then!

Orctober Begins

It is October 1st. While the ghouls and ghosts rise from their graves to haunt the night, as the werewolves descend to share their cursed bite with swarms of bats swirling overhead, something else marches to join them. Something big, sometimes green, sometimes not. Something that looks right at home among the denizens of Halloween.

The orcs have arrived. It’s time for

orctober

For those who are new to Orctober, you can find a primer over on Fantasy Faction today, where Laura Hughes gave me a guest spot. For those returning and/or already familiar, welcome, friends.

Before we get into this year’s festivities, I’d like to take the opportunity to inform everyone that the kickstarter for the third Grimluk book, The Demons Within, is officially live! Get those early bird slots before they disappear!

Last year’s Orctober was a fairly successful event, in my estimation. Between having plenty to talk about, I had also just released Demon Haunted, and this year has a similar bend. I decided to go with a more cohesive theme for this year: Dungeons & Dragons. Partially to help me focus on content to post, partially because I’ve been playing my first full campaign this year after playing for the first time last summer and just digging into it with glee. On top of that, while I’m not releasing the third Grimluk book, I am running the Kickstarter campaign for it.

So let’s talk about what’s in store for the month.

First up, I’ll go over the current lore of the Orcs (including Half-Orcs) in Fifth Edition D&D. That will set up a couple of things for later revolving around tweaking the Orcs, for stats and lore. I’ll also be doing a big write-up on Gruumsh and evaluating his place as a Chaotic Evil deity.

Secondly, several of the creators form last year will be back this year with their own guest posts. Not everyone will be discussing D&D related topics but that’s hardly a problem. On top of that, we’ll be doing a one-shot D&D game which I’ll be recording and will be released towards the end of the month in mp3.

Thirdly, I’ll be doing some “Grimluk in D&D” type stuff, which will include a character sheet for our big hero. I’ll be doing two types of character sheets; one for D&D as written, and one for the changed rules I’ll be posting.

Somewhat related, while all this is going on, over on r/Fantasy, the Reading Resident Authors club will be reading Demon Haunted (which is currently still on sale for Kindle through Saturday night). If you’re interested and haven’t read it yet, that’s a pretty good excuse. There will be two discussion threads, the first on the 14th and the last on the 29th. And, once again, I’ll be doing a r/Fantasy Writer of the Day AMA on the 30th, where folks can come and hang out and ask questions and scream about Stranger Things season 2 with me. I’ve said it before, I know reddit can be a toxic place but, for the most part, r/Fantasy is a wonderful and chill place, so don’t be afraid to make an account and pop in.

Should be a good month. So brush your tusks, practice your war cries, and get ready.

Two Year Anniversary

It’s been two years since I released A Demon in the Desert.

Two years, man. It’s wild. Now I’ve got the third book drafted and I’ll be starting the fourth soon as well, with a Kickstarter for book 3 happening in October. I’ve learned a lot in the span of two years. I want to thank everyone who’s helped me and made this possible. Everyone who’s backed me, everyone who’s reviewed me, sent encouraging words, everyone who’s taught me craft and business. You’ve all been amazing. Who knows where things will be by year five!