Today we’re gonna meet a human. I know, it’s Orctober, but there’s reasons why. I mean besides me promoting The Demons Within. Manyara Arendse is a ranger. Given that this is a fantasy western: yes, I mean like a combination of Texas rangers and Tolkien’s rangers. But we’re here for her. Manyara is a tall, black human with a nearly shaved head. She’s hardworking, hard-fighting, hard-drinking, and her commanding officer, marshal, is an orc named Bringar. And she does have a softer side, especially with who she would say is one of her best friends, Emerald. We don’t learn as much about Manyara in the book as we do about Emerald but we do learn, from Emerald, that she’s dyslexic and if she wanted, she has the potential to become a fairly powerful magic user. As of The Demons Within, Manyara is still the least senior member of her posse but has been there long enough to be respected.
She was fun to write. Manyara fell somewhere between Emerald and Grimluk. Like Grimluk, she likes the work she does, even when it’s dirty and deadly. Like Emerald, she’s never dealt with demons before and never wanted to. Due to being a ranger, she can be a little stoic but she’s still plenty capable of being personable. Especially if there’s Cimmerian whiskey involved.
I hope you like her as much as I do. Get yourself a copy of the book and go meet her properly!
To tempt you further, I thought we could take a look at a couple of the new characters for this story. First up, like Grimluk, we’ll meet Emerald. Now, you’ll learn some things about her in the book itself so this is more surface level.
Emerald is an orc who lives in Downingville, New Gilead. She works and lives at the Coming Conqueror Saloon and Hotel as a Companion ala Inara from Firefly except without the cultural appropriation/fetishization and much more saloon girl. She’s a sex worker and damn good and proud of her job. Like most orcs, she’s on the bigger side, with dark hair, and a somewhat rare beauty trait among orcs in the shape of her pupils. Though I don’t name it in the book, she stands about 6’3″, and while she doesn’t cultivate muscle, she still has a measure of her people’s inherent strength. She has some magical aptitude, as well, something she uses as part of her job, mostly in the form of minor spells using heat, cold, and electricity for massages and/or sense play. She could be considered one of the core members of the Conqueror’s Companions, as illustrated well in the book itself. She loves her peers, but especially one of her best friends, the elf named Tulip (who is the very picture of androgynous beauty). Emerald is gregarious, flirty, and good-natured, with a low tolerance for bullshit and not one problem speaking her mind. She’s happy to help those in need and happier still to ply her services.
I sincerely hope you enjoy meeting her in the book as much as I enjoyed writing her. When I was planning the book, I had the idea of having a saloon girl be one of the major characters and eventually, Emerald was the result. So get your copy of The Demons Within, and meet Emerald!
So I figured maybe I could share a bit more of The Demons Within than the first chapter for y’all. This is in chapter 3 and I’m still pretty proud of the whole interaction. Still makes me smile reading it. You can get your copy here. Enjoy!
Cigar smoke met him immediately but faded enough to mingle with the smell of whiskey. No one seemed to pay him any mind as he looked about. Everyone was busy drinking or gambling or singing around the little piano. Grimluk cut toward the bar in the back, passing by several poker tables, each covered in soft green or red or blue felt. Wooden chips clicked and clacked against each other while the players took their chances with bluffs aplenty. The smell of the place shifted near the bar, filling his nostrils with the scents of beer and, strangely, just a hint of flowery perfume.
The bar was long and well polished, covered in bronze accents and a fine stone top. Maybe marble? Grimluk didn’t really know much about rocks. If it’d been steel, he’d have had a better chance, but he liked the stone, whatever it was. It was dark and speckled with gold and silver.
Grimluk stepped up and waited his turn as several others gave their orders to the barmen on duty. He looked up at the mirror hanging behind the bar and noticed an orc talking with a human to his left.
When it was his turn, Grimluk ordered two tankards of the house brew and a shot of their best whiskey. The man talking to the orc bumped into Grimluk but didn’t seem to notice or care. The orc wore a dress of reds and golds, a similar color scheme as the barmen and a few others Grimluk had noticed, showing what some might describe as a generous amount of cleavage. She was frowning heavily, with hands on hips. The look and her stance made Grimluk pay attention.
“I said no, Roscoe,” she said.
“Think yer shit dun stink?” the man asked angrily. “Think yer better ‘n me?”
For a moment, it sounded like his words were slurred with drink but Grimluk realized the man’s accent was helping out as well.
The woman didn’t answer, which seemed to make the man madder. The human hauled back like he would slap the orc but Grimluk caught his wrist as the barman set his drinks down.
“Pardon, friend, but I reckon this might be a foolish course of action,” Grimluk said. The barman watched with a cautious glare.
The man ripped his hand free and spun on Grimluk. “The fuck you say, gerblin?”
Grimluk’s throat rumbled and he ran his tongue along one of his tusks. “Reckon I said your behavior might not be the best. Reckon that’s double now.”
“Ain’t your woman, goblin.” He made a clear effort to enunciate the word this time. “Ain’t no point in protectin’ her none, neither!”
Grimluk downed the shot of whiskey and turned to face the man proper. “Not protectin’ her, friend. Tryin’ to protect you. I reckon you could say I know a thing or two about orcs. Here’s what I know, friend. You hit her and she’s gonna break your hand. And you say that ugly word around either of us again, and I reckon she’ll break something else, too. Now, if I were you, I’d take a walk outside and let the wind cool me down a bit before somethin’ bad happened.”
The man opened his mouth to protest more but Grimluk cut him off with a growl. “Before something bad happened. Friend.”
A conflict of emotions warred on the man’s ruddy face as he weighed the situation. “Fah! Troll fuckers!” he shouted before wandering away to some dark corner, no doubt to tend to his wounded ego.
Grimluk nodded to the woman and turned back to his brew.
The barman set another shot of whiskey down. “On the house.”
Grimluk held the glass up in a small salute and downed it.
“Didn’t have to do that, stranger,” the woman said, moving closer to him. “Barrier spell in here prohibits violence. He’d have been turned away ‘fore he hit me.”
Grimluk shrugged and set his hat down. “He might be an ass, but there wasn’t a need even for that. He’ll either rethink his strategy next time or else the spell will do whatever it does and he’ll learn the hard way.”
She gave him a momentary laugh and a smile. He thought both were beautiful. Her tusks were clean and strong, if a little on the thin side, and framed by lips that were painted bright red. He couldn’t help but think of the now-dead demon, but he’d learned long ago to let thoughts like that slip away. He smiled back.
“Ain’t you a real sweetie,” she said, giving a wink. Her eyes were a dark red, made all the more striking with the help of her makeup. A pale green hand brushed Grimluk’s sleeve.
This close, he could see her eyes better. Among orcs, there were certain physical characteristics considered particularly beautiful. Grimluk saw such a feature in her eyes. Orc pupils were usually diamond-shaped, but sometimes, the points of those diamonds stretched out a little, resembling a shining star.
“Well,” he started, “I see enough violence.” He shrugged. “I figure a saloon should be a haven. Doesn’t always happen that way, but that’s my view all the same. Especially given my proclivity for travel.”
“Aaah, I bet you’re a cardsharp, ain’t ya? Clean house and then move on, am I right?”
He grinned again. “Sometimes. Speaking of travel, though, does this place have any free rooms? Given your presence, maybe even something comfortable for an orc? Deputy Amos told me to find someone named Emerald, too.”
She nodded and gave another smile. “Matter of fact, I’m Emerald, hun. And we do have a nice room for a fine gentleman like yourself. If you’d like, I could show it to ya. What’s your name?”
“Thank you kindly,” he said, gathering his hat and remaining drink. “Name’s Grimluk. Lead the way, Miss.”
Emerald led him through the throng to a stairwell he’d missed when he entered. She made her way down a long hall that connected both sides of the building, her hips moving rather exaggeratedly. Grimluk wondered if maybe she’d hurt herself at some point, but the thought drifted away. Wasn’t any of his business either way and he appreciated her kindness.
She stopped and opened a door before disappearing inside. “Illumo,” she said as he followed. The lamps around the room flared up, along with a small wood stove in one of the corners. It was easily the biggest hotel room Grimluk had ever seen in his travels, aside from one trip to Varnerton. He knew it was a modestly sized room, though. The type easily found in towns of this size. Still, it had a couple of high-backed chairs, a table, a dresser and chest, and, as he’d hoped, a bed that would fit him well. Soft wallpaper lined the walls and thick red curtains hung across the windows. Everything looked quite comfortable. Plush even.
“What do ya think? Nice enough?” Emerald asked after he finished taking in the room.
“It’s very nice. Only one nicer was in Varnerton.”
“You’ve been to the capital? Goodness, hun, you really do like to travel.”
He nodded once. “That’s the life.”
“Maybe you can tell me about it later. Now, it’s a bilt for two hours, three for the evening, and ten for the night.”
His throat rumbled as he frowned. “A mite on the expensive side, ain’t it? Ah, well. It’s warm and your drinks are damn good.”
“Expensive?” Emerald said, the sweetness draining from her voice. “Excuse me?”
“Reckon so,” Grimluk replied, unbuttoning his coat. “Usually get a night for a bilt, maybe two.” He slipped out of the coat and hung it up on a nearby rack along with his hat.
“Expensive? What a pile of troll shit. I’ll have you know I’ve gotten extra pay for a night!”
Grimluk’s brow furrowed. “Extra for the night?”
Emerald’s eyes narrowed and she marched over to Grimluk, every inch of her suddenly fierce and aggressive. “Cause I’m gods-damned worth it! And I don’t care how big your gun is, if you don’t agree, then get the fuck outta here, mister! Gun or no gun, I’ll whoop ya good!”
Realization struck Grimluk. “You’re a Companion?”
“The fuck else would I be? You asked for a room!”
Grimluk had to steady himself as the laughter rolled through him, heavy and sincere. Emerald looked at him like she would knock his head clean off. He held up his free hand in a sign of surrender. She looked at him warily but stepped back. Her own face lit up for a moment.
“Oh. Maybe you don’t like girls, then?”
“No, no, it’s not that. I like girls just fine. Don’t really have a preference one way or another. I really was just lookin’ for a room, though. I didn’t realize you were a Companion.” Another chuckle rolled out of him. “I’ve no doubt you’re well worth your prices, though.”
“Didn’t realize…” Now it was Emerald’s turn to laugh. “I’m so sorry! I just thought…”
“I know, I know. Reckon a little miscommunication goes a long way.” He sipped some of his brew. “Been a while since I seen another orc. How ‘bout I pay you for your time and we can just sit and talk? Still need a room, too, if these are actually for rent.”
I’d meant to do this Monday but I got a little distracted. SO! Today then. I want to acknowledge and thank the following people for backing the Kickstarter campaign for The Demons Within!
In order of pledge, a very orc-sized thank you to…
Matthew W. Mueller
Robert Woods Tienken
Mega Ninja Publishing
Michael Adam Childers
Not only did you help me get this book out, but some of you were involved in the final 12 hour victory, which saw the campaign go from $1077, not quite half of my $2200 goal, to $2225! I hope you enjoy The Demons Within as much as I enjoyed writing it!
Welcome to the party fellow orcs and orc lovers! It is Orctober once again and the very first thing you need to know is that The Demons Within is live and for sale and ready for you to read and review! You check out the first chapter in the link there or pick your retailer of choice here!
Mostly this year, I’ll be hyping up this book but I’ve got a few other things in mind as well. Along with some snippets from The Demons Within, I’ll do some character introductions as well, a revised version of Grimluk in D&D (RAW and Homebrew versions), and a Grimluk AMA (Ask Me Anything) at the end of the month. If you’ve been wondering things about Grimluk, you can totally shoot me a message via the contact form on the Socialize page, or tweet me, or send an ask on tumblr, whatever way you prefer! Finally, I’ll be sprinkling some art and artists throughout as well!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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:
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 Withinkickstarter!
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!