Threadbare: In Which Threadbare Meets An Anarcho-Capitalist Vampire

Chapter 7

Our chapter title today is “Randahm Encountahs,” so presumably it will be exactly like the last six chapters but in a funnier voice. Maybe also happier and with your mouth open.

The Raccants chased Celia and Threadbare around the hills for the better part of a day.

I suspect that what’s happening here is that the author wants the two day time limit on this quest to actually mean something, but in order to make that work has to find some way to burn through a bunch of extra time, so instead of just having the encounter, we instead have half a day gobbled up in the first sentence.

Celia and Threadbare get turned around, start going the wrong direction, and Celia decides to keep going anyway because she’s afraid of encountering the raccants again. They end up in a graveyard full of tombstones that have those spoopy little poems as epitaphs:

Threadbare moved to the next stone, and checked it for words. Celia followed, reading as she went. “Here lies Sandra Schtupp. Pissed off a vampire, never looked up. Here lies Barry the Bold. Went into my mausoleum to get out of the cold. Here lies Dorothy Gunn. Looted my lair but failed to run.” Words started to repeat, here and there as she went, and Threadbare’s mind expanded.

INT +1

Midway through the morbid recitals, Celia stopped, as a spreading look of horror crossed her face. “Oh. Oh no.” And from behind her, from the darkest part of the trees, she heard the slow, steady sound of leather smacking on leather, as someone clapped their gloved hands. Trembling like a leaf, she turned…

…to see a girl just a bit shorter than her, leaning against a tree.

This chapter has all kinds of weird whiplash in it, mainly just because I’ve gotten really familiar with the really good and really bad parts of Threadbare and they’re layering themselves pretty much directly on top of one another. That snippet there, for example, is funny. It’s got a great pace, Celia’s smart enough to figure out the obvious, and unlike what happened in chapter 2, the book doesn’t feel the need to spell it out for us.

Immediately afterwards, this happens:

“Finally, somewahn gets it!” The strange girl said with a nasal accent. “Good on yah! Four stahs! Now scram, kid, befahre I eat yah.”

So now I’m waiting for the part where it gets happier and with your mouth open.

An arrow sprouted between [the vampire’s] fingers, quivering in the tree trunk. The girl’s eyes went wide. Two more arrows appeared in between her fingers. “Oh. Ah. She’s one a yours, then, Mordecah?” Arrows sheeted down, tocking into the tree with rapid-fire precision, tracing out a word in feathers above her. “YES” “Raht. Raht. Message received. I’ll play nahse.”

Is Threadbare going for all out comedy? Is this waste of arrows supposed to come across like a parody? For a story about a stuffed bear, that wouldn’t be out of place, but for a story where everyone is constantly brooding over some big mysterious plan and there’s all these deeply wise speeches about tyranny and the nature of evil and so forth, it’s really out of place.

Context: The vampire girl turns up while Celia is asleep and plays reskinned Go Fish with Threadbare, because we’re not even pretending she’s a threat anymore.

“Thought about making my own dungeon, but what’s the point? Used ta be you made one, it was fun fahr the whole region. Brings in adventurers, tourists, falks who spend mahney. But nah the King’s running tha show, yah gahtta have permits ta go into dungeons. Yah gahtta hand ovah all ya magic loot when ya get out. And if people staht cheating or if he feels like it he sends in tha troops, and they mine it out and break tha core. Where’s tha fun in that?”

There’s three ways this can play out:

  1. There’s a respawn mechanic that really should’ve been mentioned before now that makes death an inconvenience rather than, y’know, death, so it’s not a big deal that some number of monsters and possibly also some number of adventurers will die on every dungeon run. Amelia – the contents of that urn from clear back in chapter one – must’ve bit it in some special way in order to stay dead.
  2. The vampire is a predator, and therefore sees the deaths of her minions and the adventurers who came to raid the dungeon as a minor drawback outweighed by bringing wealth to everyone in the region, and she considers it unlikely that any adventurers would be able to storm her lair to the end and kill her, specifically.
  3. The narrative is trying to pain the king as a tyrant and has failed to notice that the strawman has a point: It’s probably for the best if you have to be certified sane and competent to enter a dungeon, if potentially dangerous magical items aren’t left in the hands of whoever’s strong enough to seize them, and if dungeons are ultimately cleared by an armed battalion of professional soldiers going in to clear the place permanently and with minimal casualties. To the extent that the king is in the wrong, it’s that he only sends the troops in when he feels personally aggrieved by the dungeon or the adventurers raiding it, instead of doing so as soon as troops become available.

Particularly since we’ve now confirmed that people as well as animals can become monsters, the idea of dungeon raiding as a thing you just do for the bennies is perverse and should logically be making heroes fighting for the right to form private armies and storm enemy strongholds entirely on their own initiative and without any government oversight into anti-heroes at best, and very probably outright villains. This is straw libertarian “leave the military to private enterprise” levels of stupidity. Now, I don’t see any compelling reason to believe Andrew Seiple is an actual libertarian weakman who thinks that the Crips have a valid grievance when the police prevent them from engaging in open street warfare with the Bloods. He probably just didn’t think this through, slapped some villainous buzzwords on the king and some  balance of nature deepity buzzwords on the monsters and didn’t ever realize that the actual conflict is between people who want to perpetuate constant low-grade warfare throughout the kingdom and people who want to apply some regulation to the vigilante warbands who roam around pillaging monster homes for the loot. And again, to the extent that the king can be considered villainous in this scenario, it’s that merely regulating this behavior instead of outlawing it completely belies a lack of concern for his people. But, y’know, the people who want to resume totally unrestricted guerilla war are still worse.

Or maybe it’s actually option 2 and the takeaway here is that both monsters and king are villainous, and the vampire appends balance of nature-y buzzwords to her side because it is the side she is on. Hopefully they answer that by the end of this book, because I won’t be reviewing any of the sequels for a while, if at all.

Slowly, carefully, as the bees hummed and settled on him, stinging him with stingers that did absolutely nothing he crawled over to the hive and pushed his paw into the papery structure.

All I’m gonna be able to think about for the rest of the chapter is how sticky Threadbare’s one paw is. Celia gets it on her hands, too.

When Threadbare and Celia turn in their quest to get home on the deadline, Threadbare levels up a couple of jobs at once. So, confirmed: In Threadbare-verse, you level up your jobs with XP, which means the XP transfer trick of having strong guys kill monsters for XP and basically gift it to weak guys in exchange for trivial quests with disproportionately massive XP rewards would definitely be effective. They wouldn’t level their skills, but they could go out and do that after having leveled their job a bunch, which means they’d be far safer while doing so.

For his part, Caradon hesitated. “Two thousand experience? What…” He shook his head. “Getting senile. Must have upped it a bit.”

Also confirmed that if interlopers snag your quest, you have to give them the full reward if they complete it, so definitely something you want to take precautions against, but again, that particular issue isn’t actually something Caradon and Mordecai have to worry about at all, because they happen to already have immediate access to an isolated place to hand out quests from. Someone who lives in town might not be able to use quest XP to power level their kids because other kids (or adults or anyone else unscrupulous) could take advantage and they have to figure out where or how they could hand out quests such that only their kid could complete it. For Caradon, though, the answer to the “where” puzzle is “from my house that I and my child both live in together.” They’re already optimized for this power leveling trick and they’re still pretty much completely ignoring it. Caradon hands out comparatively tiny amounts of XP for household chores when he should be using them as an opportunity to offload some of his XP onto Celia, and only offers significant XP rewards for actually daunting quests, as though he were a GM character trying to maintain game balance rather than a player in the game with his own agenda.

Threadbare opened it. It was the hollow book with the scrolls, and they were glowing. Vaguely remembering something about these, he picked them up, and instantly a chime sounded, in his head. More words appeared, and FINALLY, he was smart enough to read them all.

Step one of help Anise Layd’I complete! Take the scrolls to the hidden chest downriver!

Oh right, right, that thing she’d asked Celia to do, before Celia got mad at the lady for some reason. Well, it was a quest, right? Quests were good.

On the one hand, I’m happy to see the plot trundling along towards getting itself started, but on the other, we’re 43% of the way through this book according to the Kindle app and way past the point where an inciting incident should be setting things in motion. This is probably an issue mainly with Threadbare being a Royal Road serial first and only being adapted into an Amazon book series later, but the Amazon book series is the version people are being asked to pay money for, so I feel entirely justified in judging this story as a series of novels, not as the chapter-by-chapter serial it was/is originally written as. And as a series of novels, it has horrible pacing issues. Spending seven chapters to get to our inciting incident and get the plot moving might be fine if you’re releasing a chapter a week and the languid release schedule means people don’t have a chance to get bored, but people tend to read novels a chapter per day if not more (I read and review two or three at a stretch, and that’s on top of Netflix and Steam).

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