Excuse Me While I Grognard

Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition soft-launched yesterday, with the starter set being released at select game shops, and the free basic rules PDF showing up on the DnD website. This is kind of a big deal, as Wizards of the Coast has been very publicly crafting the release for the last two years. Lots of people are very excited, and seeing as DnD is kind of a large part of why I do what I do, I thought I might take some time to write my thoughts on the whole thing.

A lot of what I've seen so far is interesting. The idea of having a core rule set as a framework from which you then add whatever supplemental rules best fit your table is an interesting idea, and is very indicative of the fact that WotC had one primary goal with 5e: try to please everybody.

...everybody except those of us who play 4th Edition, anyway.

To elabourate, I'm sure that plenty of people who played 4e participated in the last two years of open play test, and contributed to the final result accordingly, and that there are plenty of people who played 4e who are very much excited to give the finalized 5e a shot. My issue is not that the opinions of us 4e players were ignored, but that ultimately, our preferred edition was cast aside.

I get it, when WotC released 4e, most of the devotees of 3.5e cursed the company's name, and jumped ship for Paizo's 3.5 re-skin Pathfinder. Much of the internet panned 4e as "too videogamey" or "un-rollplayable". Truth be told, I'm fully willing to admit that 4e does have it's hang-ups: combat can be slow, especially with inexperienced players, the idea of combat powers can lead to a lack of creative play from inexperienced players, a lack of codified rules on roleplay can make it hard for inexperienced players to rollplay.

At the end of the day, yes, WotC could have made improvements to 4e. Truth be told, later releases like Halls of Undermountain and The Neverwinter Campaign Guide really tried to push a lot of the non-combat options 4e had to offer, but in the end, WotC opted not to stay the course and hope to weather the storm, but to cut and run. 4e materials were only published for four years before the 5e play test was announced. Sure, all the seasons of Encounters up until the most recent were 4e compatible, but by and large, the edition was unceremoniously dropped and left for dead.

That, ultimately, is what bothers me most about the 5e launch, not that my preferred edition is no longer being published, but that it was never given a proper chance to evolve, or at the very least that it wasn't even given a proper send-off.

Anyway, long story short, I'm not going to be an edition snob. I may even eventually pick up some 5e material, but if you're at my table, expect to pick some at-wills, encounters, and dailies, because I love 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons, and Avandra knows someone needs to.

That Clicking Feeling

Generally speaking, I'm a pretty analog guy. Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of things that have been made better or easier by technology, and I willingly admit that I indulge in many of these conveniences daily, but there are several archaic practices that I prefer simply because they feel better. I genuinely prefer the feeling of holding a book and turning the pages, of flipping through D&D manuals to write up a character sheet with a pencil. There's something visceral in these kinds of actions that one simply cannot get swiping a finger across a screen or using a point-and-click software that fills in the blanks for you. Among this list of serotonin-seeping sensory triggers, right up there with power chords and no-complies, is the feeling of fingers across a nice loud keyboard.

The sound is a big part of it, I think, especially when rifling off a string of words in rapid succession. It's similar to what I imagine fighting game enthusiasts feel when they keep piling onto a combo. It sounds and feels like progress, like you're really getting something done.

I wrote the first draft of The Summerlark Elf for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). In order to "win" NaNo, I had to write an average of 1,667 words per day for thirty days. During the month of November 2013, I threw myself so entirely into writing that initial draft. I woke up and wrote before going to work, and stayed up until one or two in the morning after work to keep writing. My older brother gave me an old tablet so that I could write on the go, which I did: on the bus to or from seeing Deanna, or on break at work. I even bought a bluetooth keyboard to help streamline the act of writing on said tablet.

I was hungry, driven, and committed. I made sure that I tried my hardest to clock in those 1,667 words every day. I chided myself if I didn't, and resolved to make up the difference the next day. When all was said and done, I passed the 50,000 word goal, and even managed to do so a few days early.

Writing the second book has been... different. There are probably a number of things I could chalk it up to, say the fact that I'm working more hours in a more mentally engaging position at work, or the fact that this book is taking on a broader scope than the first, with more characters and plot-points, but what it comes down to is that, comparatively, I have written roughly 36,000 words in the last four months. I am effectively writing in one week what I used to write in one day. I still write on my breaks at work, but that has been more or less the only time I've written, and there are days where I simply look at a blinking cursor for forty-five minutes, and maybe write a paragraph or two of dialogue, if only for the sake of getting a few words down, to say that I wrote something that day. The fact of the matter is, though, on days like that I don't feel like I get that clicking feeling.

So, what is one to do? I'm not giving up, if that's what you're afraid that I'm eluding to, fine readers. Worry not, the story is far from over. What I need to do, however, is figure out how best to fix up my routine, to recapture that frothing motivation that coursed through me like a disease last November. I've got a few ideas, and I'll no doubt report their efficacy to you all as I try them out, but for now, I'm simply content to be writing down this blog post, to get that feeling of a barrage of clicks under my fingers, that sound of ideas coming to life.


Hey everybody, time for another episode of "Inane Ramblings to Garner Website Traffic!"

In this episode, our hero embarks on a quest of self-discovery with far-reaching implications, questions the nature of humanity and its place in the universe, and waxes existential whilst enjoying a cup of herbal tea with a special guest (whom you may not expect)!

Just kidding... although that does sound like a really fun idea for a piece of short fiction...

Actually, I'm going to start off with the usual on this blog, that is to say I'm going to rifle off some news from the world of independently-published authorship, maybe talk a little bit about the non-authorial goings-on in my life, and end up on some tangential rant about this, that, or the other. Those of you who have read my editorial stuff (see the other sites posted on the "About" page) should have a good eye for this kind of formula by now. That being said, here's Brandon with the News!

My interview on "The Speculative Soapbox" went live about a week and a half ago. It was a lot of fun, the host, TJ Redig is a really affable guy, and I think that allowed me to act really natural during the interview. Truth be told, this was my first time ever being on the subject end of an interview (I did a couple of interview pieces with some pro skaters back on Between Two Junkyards that garnered mild attention), but from the feedback I've received people seem to think that I did well, which I think bodes well for another interview I have coming up next month, to which I'll post more information when I can.

This year, as in years passed, I'll be attending Anime North in Toronto, which is taking place May 23-25. Had I known when Deanna and I had bought our tickets that I would be in the position I'm currently in, I would have planned ahead and got a table, but hindsight is 20/20, so I'll only be attending as a regular conventioneer. It will be strange, though, in that I'm not going to see the con through such a lens. Rather, I'm probably going to spend more time trying to network with people, try and get my name and the book out there a little bit more. I'll have a load of business cards that I'm going to have on hand, and I know it sounds corny, but if on the off-chance you'll be attending, and you've bought a copy of the book, I wouldn't turn down a request to make it a signed copy. All my hobnobbery aside, though, there are still a number of "regular con-goer" things that I'm looking forward to, and are probably the best chances you'll have to track me down.

- Friday afternoon's Evil Laughter contest. I have a notoriously nefarious-sounding chuckle, so this seemed like a no-brainer.

- Anime Hell Friday night. Even in years when I didn't attend North for the full weekend, I made it out to this, because the only thing better than watching surreal and awful videos from across the globe is watching them in a convention hall with three-hundred other people and a delightfully droll narrator.

- Board Game tournaments all weekend. I figure I might as well try my hand at some competitive King of Tokyo or Takenoko. Last year I ran an impromptu pick-up 4e DnD game that drew in a bigger crowd than I thought, but I'm already planning on running my Neverwinter campaign that Sunday night, and lugging around enough supplies for two sessions would have been more trouble than I was willing to put in.

- Drinking Quest Punk-Rock Business, Saturday afternoon. Jason Anarchy is a friend of mine and Deanna's, a game designer, Deanna's occasional employer, and an all-around good guy. If you see his table in the dealer's room, buy a copy of his game. I imagine this panel is going to be informative and entertaining in equal measure, and I encourage people to check it out as well.

- Totally Lame Anime After Dark, Saturday night. Run by the same guy as Anime Hell, and admittedly with some bleed-over, this is equally as entertaining, if more anime-centric.

- The Mega Man panel, Sunday morning. I love Mega Man. So much. I missed this panel last year out of con fatigue and am not planning on making the same mistake this year.

There are plenty more events, but they simply aren't coming to me right now. End of the day, if you spot a guy looking like Wil Wheaton (beard, button-down short-sleeve shirt, and d20 fez), that's me, so come say hi! I'll probably end up giving you a business card, if only because I'm super proud of them, and because I think Deanna did an awesome job on them.

I was planning on going on a bit more about a few things, the audiobook of Erin M. Evans' Brimstone Angels, my budding Neverwinter campaign, how I'd die if I ever got the chance to write a Forgotten Realms novel, and why I feel like there aren't enough fantasy works with traditional fantasy races in them, but I feel like this post is getting pretty bogged down as it is, so take this little outro for what it is, and don't think that I won't probably end up expanding on these topics in later posts.

Everyone's Story

So let's start things off tonight with a couple good pieces of book news. Firstly, my hometown comic shop Stadium Comics (which, it's worth mentioning, is owned and operated by two of the nicest, most down-to-earth individuals I've had the pleasure of working with) is the latest to be added to the list of shops that carry The Summerlark Elf. If you live in Brampton, be sure to swing by pick a copy up, and pick up some comics while you're at it, because Kevin and Ricky are good guys.

Secondly, this Saturday, May 3rd, I'll be doing my first interview about TSE! I was put in contact a couple weeks back with TJ Redig, a fellow speculative fiction author, and host of the Speculative Soapbox Podcast, a short-form podcast wherein small-time fantasy, sci-fi, and other speculative fiction authors get a chance to promote their work. My interview will be live at 9pm EST, and will be available for streaming and download sometime thereafter.

I'm sure I've lain this point on a bit thick before, but I really enjoy Dungeons and Dragons. The game has been part of my consciousness in one form or another since I was a kid, when my dad bought my siblings and I the "New Easy-to-Master Dungeons and Dragons Game" from Toys 'r' Us back in the early '90s (this is a story outlined in greater detail on my tumblr page here, should you wish to read into the matter further). The thing about when I enjoy something, is that I become an absolute sponge about it, trying to mentally ingest anything and everything I can find on it. I could just as quickly tell you the last song on the UK cut The Clash's debut album (1977), as I could tell you who invented the frontside rock 'n roll (Eddie Elguera), and what were the original three playable character classes in the D&D White Box (Fighting Man, Cleric, and Magic User). As such, I also have a habit of scouring Youtube for whatever visual media I can find in an attempt to slake my unending thirst for trivia. This leads me to this video posted by author Ethan Gilsdorf.

It's an actual super-8 recording of a young Gilsdorf and his friends playing D&D. There was something heartwarming about the video because, though it lacks any audio, it shows one thing that makes tabletop RPGs so unique. Part of why I love D&D is because whether I'm playing or DMing (usually the latter), I'm creating. It starts when I build a character, or think of an interesting adventure hook for the players, but that certainly isn't where it stops. If I'm thrown into a situation where I'm being interrogated by the city guard, how do I react? Conversely, if my players don't take my hook, or find some other way to circumvent what I had planned, what do I do next? By their very nature, tabletop RPGs require you to try and think as creatively as you can for the duration of play. As a writer, there's no better way of keeping my creative mind as sharp as it can be. Don't get me wrong, writing every day is important to maintain motivation and momentum, but working on the same project constantly can easily lull a person into inanity, and something as visceral as a roleplaying game can oftentimes give your creativity a nice kick to make sure it isn't becoming sedentary.

That isn't the real reason this video is so great, though. What the video shows in spades is a bunch of friends getting together and enjoying an evening. Of all the positives I can think of to playing tabletop RPGs, what comes out on top is that it's an amazing social experience. You may wind up making new friends (I have), or seeing old ones in a new light (I also have). I enjoy writing because I get to tell my story, but I enjoy D&D because I get to be a part of telling everyone's story, and that kind of combination of creativity and camaraderie is something that I think everyone ought to experience at least once in their life.

A Book by Any Other Medium

So, here's the thing about being a writer who, incidentally, lacks the time and means to be a writer exclusively: time tends to be a commodity that is precious, and oftentimes scant. As such, any time that I don't dictate to writing is usually reserved for a full-time job, household duties, the maintenance of relationships, and all the other things that a normal, functioning human does on a day-to-day basis. I'm not complaining by any means, but to offer an example, I just took a break mid-sentence to help move a table from my dining room. I guess you could say free time is a bit tight. The biggest issue in this is that I don't have nearly enough time to do the one thing that every writer ought to do (barring, of course, actually writing), read.

Now, when I was younger, I had always thought the idea of audiobooks was dumb, and kind of lazy. As I got older, and therein dropped all my adolescent pretense, I simply eschewed the format out of personal preference. Nowadays, I find myself in a position where, without the audiobook format, I would not have become familiarized with the writings of HP Lovecraft, nor would I have ever come across Wil Wheaton's Just a Geek, which was a huge inspiration for me during my time spent writing The Summerlark Elf. Most recently, I decided to start consuming more fantasy fiction, for the simple fact that, despite the fact that I am a fantasy author myself, I am painfully under-read in the genre. So now, thanks to the fact that I can listen as I cook, or clean, or commute, I managed to get through the first book of Ursula K LeGuin's Earthsea Cycle in less than a week, albeit whilst Pat Rothfuss' Wise Man's Fear has been sitting in a half-read state on my end table for a couple of months now (sorry, Pat...).

I imagine some of the people reading this have already read A Wizard of Earthsea. If you haven't, do so, because it is a classic for a reason. If so, I encourage you to give the audiobook a listen, even if you do have time to read. The narrator, Rob Inglis, is nothing short of perfection, and I am very much looking forward to delving into the rest of the cycle, largely because of his job on book one. If ever there was a want for audio versions of my books, he'd be the first person I'd look up.

Nostalgia and Book Updates

I'll start this post talking about the latter half of the title first, because I'm feeling flighty, I suppose. I had mentioned in the last blog post that I had a couple projects that I was working on, and I figure I might as well let everyone know what those were.

Firstly, and perhaps most obviously, is the second book in the Four Kingdoms Saga. As it stands, I'm about 20,000 words into the first draft, and I feel like I'm only just beginning to wrap up the first act. The Summerlark Elf was about 52,000 words when all was said and done, but I feel like book two is going to clock in at a substantially higher page count, it simply has to be longer in order for me to tell the story effectively. The book is also taking much longer to write. Now, I'm not talking George R.R. Martin or Pat Rothfuss long, but I started working on this book in January. There are a number of reasons attributed to this, most notably that a) full-time employment is not conducive to writing, and b) I'm building onto a framework that I laid out in book one, and that takes much more planning.

Secondly, I think I can safely talk about the project Deanna and I have been working on, as it's something that has really even predated the Summerlark Elf. Back in September, I got it in my head that I was going to write a children's book, so I cooked up a quick little poem all about a boy who wakes up to a house infested with goblins, kobolds, an owlbear, and a dragon, you know, typical kids' problems. I worked on fleshing it out, and soon enough I had a manuscript that I sent to Deanna to illustrate. Now, due to various artistic commitments, she was too tied up to dive full-on into this project, however she recently became freed up enough to tell me that I can start talking about the project, which is great, because I think its awesome. The book is called Dragon in the Doghouse, and with any luck, it will be available by the end of the summer. Deanna posted the tentative cover on her tumblr.

Finally, the Nostalgia portion of this post. For a sort of train-of-thought list of reasons, I've found myself listening to a couple old happy hardcore albums that I adored in my mid teenage years. For anyone who doesn't know, happy hardcore is a sub-genre of electronic music that sounds like a trance producer and a house producer got their hands on a circus organ and cranked the result up to a tempo of 160 beats per minute. It's a bit of an acquired taste, but I'm a sucker for a good melody and a frenetic back beat, and these old albums still hold up, even in light of the fact that by eighteen I was a raging punk rock kid.

Now, listening to these old albums, as is the case with anyone who listens to the music of their youth, reminds me of said youth. It reminds me of my old friends, how I fell out of touch with most of them, and how, in a big way, I wish I could reconnect.

I think back to my social group in high school, who were, all of us, a bunch of geeks who got together nearly every weekend and watched anime and played video games. Why we never played D&D at that age is pretty lost on me, to be honest. Matter of fact, there is a part of me, right now, listening to "Eyeopener" on Happy 2B Hardcore Chapter 3, who would give anything to be able to get all those people together for an all-weekend D&D session. This may just be the nostalgia talking, but I doubt it. I miss my old friends. Young ones reading this, heed me: keep in close touch with the people who matter to you, because you'd be surprised how quickly life will get in the way.


A Much Better Welcome Post, and Some Book News

Hey All,

For those of you who saw the site at its outset, you can see that it has already undergone some substantial aesthetic changes, and looks all the better for it. Huge thanks are in order for my girlfriend Deanna, who took care of all the lovely artwork, and all the lovely photographs (You should really check out her Tumblr Page for more of her lovely artwork).

Many a goings-on to report on the whole "me as an author" front (which, I expect, is why you are here). Book One of the Four Kingdoms Saga, The Summerlark Elf, has been available for just over two weeks through Amazon and CreateSpace, and as of Thursday this past week, readers in the Greater Toronto Area are now able to purchase a hard copy off the shelves of actual physical stores! For anyone on the lookout, you can snatch up a copy at Bakka Phoenix Books, the Silver Snail, and Hairy Tarantula. One hopes that this list will increase, and you can be sure that I will keep you, my lovely readers, informed.

In further authoring news, I am well into the thick of the first draft of Book Two of the series. I won't lie, it has been substantially slower-going than the first, for all manner of reasons, not least of which are less time to write, and a book whose scope is significantly larger. Fear not, though, dear readers, I am remaining diligent, and will keep you all abreast on my progress.

Finally, Deanna (my aforementioned girlfriend and lovely artist) and I are drawing ever closer to a project we have been working on for quite some time now. I am incredibly excited to get this project out there, and I think a lot of people will be very into it.

Well, fine readers, that's all for today. Until next time, I leave you all with a pointedly underwhelming closing.

- Brandon

A Sort-Of Welcome Post

Hello All, and welcome to brandondraga.com.

It is most likely that those of you reading this post are people who know me personally, or at the very least, have met me through a mutual friend. This being the case, I will spare you all a whole lot of information that you already likely know. However, there is the off-chance that a few of you reading this might not know me that well, and that, maybe, you would like to know a thing or two. That being the case, here is your introduction:

I'm Brandon, this website's titular hero. I write. Presently there's evidence of my writing scattered hither and thither on the internet, and for that, you could head over to the "About Me" section of this site. I have also written a novel, The Summerlark Elf, which you can see over in the "About the Books" section. I am writing other things, but we will cross that bridge when we get to it. In the meantime, feel free to take a look around, grab yourself a copy of the book, or maybe drop me a line (over in the "Contact" section).

I promise the proceeding blog posts will be more entertaining.