The length of this post is constrained by the fact that I’m running the first session of Iron Fang Invasion for a paying group in thirty-five minutes, so we’ll see how much of the book I can review in that time. Start the timer!
I looked around the meadow. I didn’t really want to kill anything defenseless, but I reasoned that it was a videogame. I would be killing digital people soon enough. What was some wildlife compared to that?
Over by the nearest tree, a skunk was minding its own business.
I figured the world could probably use a few less skunks.
Currently, my LitRPG rating scale goes from Awaken Online to Threadbare (I could add in stuff I haven’t reviewed for this blog, but that seems kind of unsporting, especially since I plan to reread some of the stuff from Royal Road for blog purposes), which means just acknowledging that how inconsequential it is to kill NPCs gets this book halfway to the top all by itself.
Stig brought his hands together, and a small ball of fire appeared in his palms. When I say small, I mean tiny. About the size of a marble. Then he shot it across the meadow with a farting sound. Thbtpppppt.
Clearly this game doesn’t have empowerment of its players near the top of its list of priorities. It’s one thing to start players out low to give them more room to rise, but I draw the line at directly insulting them.
“See you, boss!” he yelped, and ran in the opposite direction. However crappy he was at throwing fireballs, Stig was a pretty fast runner, I’d give him that. More of a retreater than an attacker, I guess you could say.
“HEY – what are you doing?! Come back here!”
“Okay boss!” he yelled, and started running in a circle around me.
I scowled. “I said come back!”
“I am – I’m just taking the scenic route!” he explained as he passed behind a tree and circled back around.
This is exactly what I want from warlock gameplay. That’s not sarcasm. A game that cast me as a warlock wrangling with uncooperative demons, compelled to obey my commands but free to misinterpret them, would be a ton of fun. I could see real world tech pulling off something close with something like Majesty, where different units have different personalities and tend to pursue their own goals when not given a specific order. There could even be something interesting where single right-clicking a destination gives the unit a directive to go there, but it’ll still run off to the side if it sees something it likes, like a bloodletter running off to engage anything it sees on the way, or some kind of greed demon nipping off to steal anything not nailed down, and you have to right-click twice to give the command of “go straight there, no interruptions,” which will cause the demon to do things like ignore any attacks it takes. Sounds like a great indie game project – the limitations of low budget AI become a feature instead of a bug.
Anyway, Ian gets sprayed by the skunk.
I had been basically been turned into a walking fart-cloud for absolutely no freaking reason, other than to test out my incompetent imp.
Two things here. First up: AJ, buddy, you’re writing an R-if-not-X-rated book, here. It’s okay to fucking swear. Second, you’re writing a sexy book, aren’t you? I mean, it’s not porn. There’s supposed to be other stuff, too, I get that, I’m cool with it. But this book is hardly shy about advertising itself as containing succubus boning. This intro isn’t just non-sexy, it’s anti-sexy, laden with skunk sprays and fart references. Do you have a scat fetish, but for smells instead of substances?
“What the hell was that?!” I yelled.
“I think you got sprayed, boss,” he said quite seriously.
“I KNOW I got sprayed – why didn’t you stay and fight?!”
“You didn’t tell me to, boss.”
Come on, Ian, get with the program. This is basic warlock shenanigans. Maybe I’m at an advantage because I favor spooky classes? But still, it seems pretty straightforward what’s going on.
That enraged me. “What do you mean I didn’t tell you to?! I said ‘come back’ – ”
“Yes, that’s exactly what you said – come back. And I did, boss!”
I frowned. “But I meant – ”
“But you only said to come back, boss. And I did!”
Seriously, Ian, how long is it gonna take for this to sink in? Stig’s a weaselly little coward who will only do exactly what you tell him to. Fortunately, he’s probably also not bright enough to work his way out of commands that have even very slightly carefully wording. Might wanna be more careful with your succubus, she’ll probably be keener.
He grinned at me like Sucker. Just now figured it out, huh?
This imp is either a good judge of character or really dumb. I’d already be telling him to smash his head against a tree until I was satisfied he wasn’t going to fuck me over with any more literalized commands, being smug about it would only make things worse.
I pulled up my Map window to get my bearings, and headed for what looked like the nearest inhabited area. We were apparently near a backwater village named Fernburg in a land called Ostmere. After about 20 minutes of walking, Stig and I came to a small farm where a man was out in the field working his crops.
Guys, I am a crazy mutant. I walk – walk – through Assassin’s Creed games rather than use the fast travel system. I sail around the Caribbean one kilometer at a time. I walk across Venice at ground level in the most reasonably dyed outfit I can pretending that I’m more or less blending into the crowd and avoiding suspicion. I generally only run across rooftops when I have an actual reason to be in a hurry, or when I expect to meet more resistance down below than up above.
So I’m speaking from experience when I say it never takes more than four or five minutes to walk to the nearest landmark of a big open world game even if you don’t have infinite stamina. And there’s no reason we couldn’t make games that big right now! It’s not hard to design featureless wilderness with just generic trees and rocks in it. What makes open world games hard to fill in is the actual content. Even when it’s repetitive like AC games, that takes time. This thing where there’s twenty minutes of empty wilderness? No reason to ever happen. You should never be more than two or three minutes away from an interesting landmark in a video game, even when taking the slow route, unless you are specifically in a sparsely populated wasteland kind of area where going long distances without encounters is somehow part of the point, and even then you’d better have the game design chops to make that work.
At the town, Ian encounters a farmer. It turns out he has not spawned in a spooky-friendly part of the map.
Motherhumper was throwing potatoes at me.
Really, this book has a warning in its description about descriptions of naked breasts, and yet it’s so averse to swearing. I find this baffling. Especially when there’s really obvious substitutions like this one, which draws attention to it. Is this actually just half-assed self-censorship? Or is this gonna be a plot point later on?
“What about that goddess the farmer mentioned – Chalastia? Who’s that?”
“Oh, she’s a real bitch, boss.” It was kind of funny hearing a muppet curse. But still –
Apparently it’s not that AJ’s averse to swearing entirely. At the very least, not up to the “bitch” level. Maybe it’s just “fuck” that’s off-limits. Which is still weird for a book that sells itself on fucking.
Ian dismisses Stig in order to try and avoid any more encounters with the peasants, and Stig says “see you soon” in a way that might be either just an acknowledgement of the dismissal (sort of like his standard “yes, boss!” response to commands) or some kind of ominous foreshadowing.
Game time is in five minutes, so we’re doing two chapters instead of one today.