Succubus: Revolting

We’re on evil ex-boyfriend two out of nine, but also 85% of the way through the book. So, clearly that sequel (and presumably one or more others, at this rate) was planned in advance. This one runs into a Hell world and seeks refuge with his level a billion demonic patron. Alaria tries to confront him and negotiate for her ex-master’s life, since the demon lord doesn’t seem super fond of him anyway, and then the demon lord just decides to take Alaria for himself, Ian tries to intervene, it ends poorly for him.

“Go ahead and kill me, asshole,” I said, just waiting for the new ten-second counter to hit zero.

“No,” the demon lord said thoughtfully, “I don’t think so. I know your kind. Warlocks like you are not bound by the normal human rules of death. If I kill you, you’ll just come back to bother me again, like some unnatural pest.” Shit. I had never run across an NPC who understood the mechanics of respawning – but this bastard certainly did. He was right – and both he and I knew it, unfortunately. “No,” the demon grinned. “I think you will serve far better as a slave in my mines.”

Wow, what an awful gaming experience. “Face off against NPCs who know you can respawn and will instead contrive to imprison you forever, rendering useless your toon who you poured dozens if not hundreds of hours into leveling!” Again, Succubus runs into the drawbacks of being an MMO and not just portal fantasy.

“Do you think he loves you?”

Her eyes flickered up at me again, and then she looked down, shamefaced. “Yes. That was why he came with me to kill Odeon.”

Now, see, just a few pages ago I extended Succubus the benefit of the doubt that maybe Alaria being awful may have been going somewhere after all, that maybe the book knew she was abusive. I didn’t really consider it likely that it might also go so far as to recognize that Ian is also awful, because he is the vehicle for shitty wish fulfillment, but hey, at least it could fill in one of the three holes it had dug itself. That third one is the tonal whiplash problem, which just can’t be fixed with any amount of reveal or character development. Regardless of what happens here at the end, the fact is that the beginning involved rape used like sprinkles on a cupcake in order to establish that our villains were bad, and that our hero was heroic for not liking them. Even if Ian turned out to be an actual good person at the end, no one could be blamed for giving up on Succubus at around the 25% mark when Ian staked out his claim to heroism as “opposed to rape.”

I’m not even willing to buy into those first two holes being filled in, though. Ian got within spitting distance of actually standing up for himself, but he didn’t actually do it. In fact, Alaria just immediately turned that around on him and used it to extort sexual favors out of him, and Ian was right back to being wrapped around her finger – despite having just got finished saying that yes, he was unhappy with how she treated him. This isn’t just a relationship that would be abusive if it happened in real life but which our protagonist emerges from unscathed by the power of a naive author, Ian actually is suffering from Alaria’s emotional abuse. That realization lasts all of about a page and a half before we instead have six pages of oral sex. I’m not complaining that the book contains a lot of sex. It’s a book about sex. That would be a weird thing to complain about. I am complaining that the book portrays an abusive relationship and doesn’t seem to realize it’s abusive, but instead devotes multiple pages to how great the sex is, and none at all to how this is bad for Ian. It mentions that it is bad for Ian, but that’s not an actual plot point. It’s foreplay, used by Alaria to set up a sex scene entirely on her own terms, for her own satisfaction.

So when the book shows a brief sign of self-awareness here by admitting that Alaria has used Ian, I have no confidence that it’s going to actually result in the narrative admitting that Alaria is an abuse victim turned abuser who isn’t ready to have a healthy relationship with anyone. For starters, that’s a really weird direction to take for a book about succubus fucking. It’s not a harem plot. If Alaria gets herself eliminated from the running on these grounds, there are no other love interests to take her place.

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The Enclave: Blind Men and Jumpers

This rounds out the Enclave. Next time you hear from Vestitas, it’ll probably be an urbancrawl for either Grey Harbor, Echo Lake, or Imberkavitas, and hopefully soon, because I’m hoping to finish up the whole project and get it out of the way before Imbolc in February of 2019. It’s one of my largest outstanding projects and yet also one of the ones I’ve completed the most of.

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Succubus: Abuse

Apparently at this point in the story Succubus got bored with itself and entered executive summary mode:

We went on a series of quests, and temporarily joined a group doing some dungeon diving. I got new cloth armor and some trinkets that gave me increased critical strike. I nearly doubled my intellect, and managed to level up all the way to 9. Along the way I got a couple of new abilities.

Mana Conversion let me trade in 25% of my remaining Health and gain back 20% of my total Mana. It was great for when I was in a really hard battle and ran out of Mana, which left me unable to cast spells – like that time when I fought the bandits. Now I could refill my Mana, then Soul Suck some sad sap to rebuild my hit points.

Another three paragraphs are spent on describing two more abilities and Stig and Alaria or Anaria or whoever getting some upgrades. Now, it’s not like this is a Let’s Play where the creator is limited by the content of the game they’re playing, and sometimes if there’s a boring patch they might be better off making a supercut of just the good parts. This is a wholly made up video game. The author is free to hand out levels wherever he wants and to have his quests be appropriate to whatever level he likes. Our next encounter of actual significance is an assassin sent to retrieve the succubus’ collar, which will stop Ian from resummoning her, specifically, and instead allow whoever holds the collar to control her, and I don’t see any reason why that encounter couldn’t have happened immediately after the baron. Maybe hand out a level for escaping the baron’s clutches if you want some new abilities on Ian, Stig, and the third member of the trio whose name I can never seem to hold onto.

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Succubus: Cringe

After being totally deprived of his followers’ support by the unsupported accusation of a single outsider who’s strongly coded herself as one of their most hated enemies, the local high priest calls upon his goddess for support, at which point she complains about having had her scripture misinterpreted and delivers divine retribution upon the high priest guy, depriving him of all mana and class levels so that the succubus can kill him. Because apparently what this book really needed was some heavy-handed moralizing.

It’s not like the analogy is entirely baseless. There’s a few verses in the New Testament where some people ask Christ what they should do about immodest women provoking sinful thoughts with their skimpy clothing and Christ’s response is (paraphrased) “that sounds like a ‘you,’ problem, have you tried gouging your eyes out?” When a bunch of people tried to stone a prostitute, he had that famous “if any of you are without sin, let him cast the first stone” line, and then he, the actually sinless guy, just asked her to please stop being a sex worker. So Jesus seems to be pretty opposed to sex outside of marriage, but also opposed to taking coercive action to prevent it.

More important than relatively minor differences in philosophy between the actual Jesus and the NPC drafted into playing Jesus for this morality play, the only reason I know all of this is because I already know all of this. Using quotes from the actual Jesus to illustrate the hypocrisy of an allegedly Christian preacher would still be kind of preachy, but if a book included a scene like that I could at least appreciate the scholarship. There would be an actual point made and people who didn’t know this already would learn something. People probably don’t pick up a book about fucking a succubus to learn theology, but they probably don’t pick it up to hear the author whine about how Christians don’t interpret the New Testament the way he thinks they should. And let’s get real here, AJ Markam is spectacularly unlikely to be Christian himself, so this isn’t even a Christian insisting (baselessly) that his interpretation of the New Testament is more valid then everyone else’s. It’s an outsider to the religion telling them how they should interpret their own scripture, not because he’s studied their scripture and can point out valid hypocrisy between what is written and how they act, nor because he has a greater moral philosophy about how the world should be regardless of what’s written in a book, but just because he said so. Because he apparently feels that his book should be regarded with more reverence than theirs.

The counterargument that immediately springs to mind would be “does the book have to be saying something?” And the answer is no, it would be way better if it hadn’t, but after drawing explicit parallels to Christian churches of 1850s America, you cannot then claim that your preaching is not meant to have any applicability to American Christianity. Shamus Young recently described this kind of thing as like a white guy showing up to a Black Lives Matter rally with a shirt that says “******* black people,” and then when someone asks what the asterisks stand for, saying “what? I’m not saying anything. It’s just a shirt. Why does it have to be saying something?” Once you’re making overt political or religious allegories, you can’t then back out of the allegory because you find it inconvenient.

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The Enclave: Pale Ladies and Pelagers

Enclave Map

Pale Lady Territory

Pale ladies camp out in the long dead reactor of the facility, which operated not on nuclear or hydroelectric energy but on some mysterious energy beam that is now completely non-functional. Instead, the pale ladies have turned it into a spook workshop, using some spook addicts brought in from Brandt’s Landing as essentially slaves to produce the spook and then serve as smugglers out to the Grey River.

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Succubus: Hypocrisy

You might think that the last post is going to precipitate either a total abandonment of Succubus or else some in-depth rantviewing. If so, you may wish to prepare to be disappointed, because we are now entering detached summary mode. Succubus is not recovering from chapter 11, but the thing is, there isn’t much room left to go down. Sure, there’s some, and I even have confidence that Succubus will at some point pull it off – but mostly I expect it to continue making the dumb mistakes it already has. As a rabid completionist, I’m going to see the book through, but I’m only going to go into details if Succubus shows signs of either getting better or somehow getting worse.

All that being said, Succubus does manage to fuck up in a novel way almost immediately:

Stig and I raced past the livestock pens over to the simple stone house with its timber roof. Three bandits were out in front, holding their hands over the mouths of three small, wriggling children.

Crap – I didn’t know if my powers would hurt the kids if I attacked the bandits.

So I opted for some real-world strategy instead.

“Kids – bite their hands!” I yelled. The children must’ve followed my orders, because every single bandit screamed and let go of them.

“Go to town and get help!” I yelled, and the children took off for the woods. Of course, that meant three bandits were coming right at me.

This is apparently how you solve a hostage situation. Have the hostages bite their lethally armed captors. That’ll go well.

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GM’s Guide Video: Art of Rulings

If I’ve done my job right, there will be an actual, working video here once this post live.

As usual, I recommend the written form of the guide over the video form (even if the video is working properly) because I’m good at writing and formatting words but bad at voice acting and editing video, but I’m offering the video version for people who strongly prefer to listen/watch instead of read. I hope it’s not too rubbish in this medium.

There is also more Iron Fang Invasion:

Succubus: Abandon Hope

Chapter 11

So now Ian’s chipping away at his bandit quest. He has a new power that allows him to temporarily summon a four-imp hit squad to help him out on a two-minute refresh, so he just hangs around waiting for the timer to recharge between kills. This isn’t necessarily bad game design – Ian might just be pushing up against quests he’s a little underleveled for, and using what’s intended as a bosses-only panic button for clearing regular mooks. On the other hand, we’ve yet to see any sign of any stats besides health, mana, stamina, and intelligence, so giving this book the benefit of the doubt on game design decisions is probably unwise. Look at this, for example:

The bandit’s corpse yielded another 80 coppers, plus something else: a silver necklace with some sort of religious symbol made up of overlapping circles. When I inspected it, I found out it was the sign of Bartok, patron god of thieves, and added +3 to intelligence.

Why would a symbol of a thief god add intelligence and not agility or dexterity or some other stat associated with stealth? Well, because this game has two stats, which is insufficient to even cover the distinction between warrior, rogue, and mage, so the rogues have to timeshare with the mage stat, and it’s not clear if the stamina stat does anything except determine how much health you have – at which point why not just have a health total by itself?

When Ian’s stat sheet was so sparse early on, I kind of assumed it was because the author was introducing stats piecemeal rather than all at once. He felt the need to explain what Health and Mana were, after all, so maybe he was only going to have other stats added to the sheet as they became relevant, but for that to still be true it means that a god of thieves is handing out INT bonuses, which seems unlikely. If AJ Markam (our author) really was introducing stats piecemeal, now would be a spectacular time to tell everyone how DEX works, but it’s not happening.

But, wait, there’s something just a page later that makes this sloppy game design seem like peanuts. Remember how earlier I said that the best thing Succubus had managed to do so far is not fuck up, failing to manifest any strengths and instead just avoiding any serious failures? Well keep your arms and legs inside the ride, because we’re about to nosedive hard enough to make Zuula seem like sledding in a field.

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The Enclave: Beastmen

It’s Litha (or at least, this post is scheduled for Litha), but instead of doing one of those goal-oriented updates I usually do I’m just gonna drop the Vestitas stuff I’ve been working on. I can no longer think of any goal oriented things to post, so clearly that was never going to be a long running tradition.

This is for the Enclave, one of three unfinished areas left in the Vestitas hex crawl. Just like the hex encounters, it has no specific stats, just vaguely defined monster roles the details of which I’ll fill in later. This isn’t really the content that the audience this blog stumbled into cares about, but it’s a part of my ongoing quest to complete all my unfinished projects, so I’m tossing it up anyway. It’s not gonna slow down the Succubus review in any case, since I’m only posting these on the Tuesday/Friday non-review article slots.

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Up Next: Way of the Shaman

You may have noticed Longes, the only confirmed real human being reading this blog, posting in the comments about Way of the Shaman. We’ve also talked about it in Discord some. Since he is also the only one who voted on my last poll, and since I could really use a mostly-positive LitRPG review before I end up cementing myself as disliking the entire genre, I’ve decided to dispense with a poll and just go with his recommendation, which means that I’ll be reviewing Survival Quest, book one in the Way of the Shaman series, after Succubus finishes up about a week and a half from now.