Survival Quest: Capitalism, Ho!

Chapter 4

It is the next day, and Kart explains to Danny what’s up with the Meanness stat, or at least as far as he knows:

“I don’t know for certain, but from what others told me, in the mine Meanness is used only because it’s the easiest thing to level up in: mix some sand into someone’s food and you get a level. Just to give you a rough idea. But this stat mainly comes into full play outside the mine. After all, not everyone wants to become some great, dragon-slaying hero. Many choose to play the dark side of the game and become thieves and assassins. That’s where this stat comes in handy. But, as I said, I don’t know exactly what it gives you.”

You have to spend one of your limited stat slots to get an alignment? Everyone here in the mine is in it for the cyber-crack, sure, but that seems really annoying for the main game world, especially since the secondary stats can be things like marksmanship that directly contribute to actual combat capability. Maybe you can get sweet faction rewards from Team Meanies if you get it high enough? Whatever it was, it wasn’t prominent enough for Danny to have noticed while leveling his Hunter up to 87 or whatever it was he had before his toon got reset for his sentence. He barely seems to be aware of how any build but his own works, though, so it doesn’t seem like he did a whole lot of player interaction in the first place.

Kart gets a Chattiness level out of the conversation:

Suddenly Kart started to tremble, fell on his bed and became surrounded by a faint glow. This didn’t last long and soon Kart sat up and turned to me, looking rather pleased.

So Danny’s patient ears are the hooker’s ass off which Kart has snorted his latest line of coke. And he goes to work on his next hit immediately:

“I read that the habit of gaining pleasure gives rise to Addiction among the prisoners, which on release is treated in rehabilitation centers. Everyone gets sent there once they finish their terms — it’s compulsory.

So this isn’t just me snarking. This is actually the game stimulating dopamine centers like an actual addictive drug. It’s pretty much literally virtual cocaine. Who added this feature? And why? The pain settings were added by a vindictive plutocrat and standardized because fuck it, why not, but who decided to also get them addicted to cyber-coke? I don’t see how it could get them further addicted to the game, when Kart later describes that the addicts are unable to level fast enough to avoid becoming manic or depressed and burning out, which is an addiction so crippling that it’d just impede their ability to keep their heads above water and so continue to be a source of long term revenue.

“How do you manage to avoid being set up by Bat and the others? After all, you are one of the highest level players at the mine. Level 11, right? Someone can gain several levels in one go if you die.”

“It’s simple. I managed to increase my reputation with the mine guards to Friendly and when someone tried to play me again, the governor gathered everyone and said that he would be very upset if anything happened to me. So it’s been three months now since anyone touched me.

Kart’s been here eleven years, and just three months ago he got to Friendly status, which is still not high enough to get released. That’s 2 3/4 years longer than Danny’s entire sentence to get, what, maybe halfway to the goal? Of course, Kart can’t aggro the rats nearly as easily as Danny, so maybe he really will just work his way out. Or maybe there’s gonna be a prison break.

Danny levels STR from hard labor:

And that’s when it hit me. My whole body was filled with warmth, and it struck my head as if I just drunk a bottle of vodka, I started to shiver – it felt like being immersed in ecstasy. Overwhelmed by these sensations, I fell to my knees and groaned uncontrollably. So that’s what the Holy Grail feels like….

And thus Danny became a seeker of the Red Grail, and entered the Mansus.

There’s a whole scene and I can’t find any single good bit of it to sum up what’s going on, so I’ll just provide a quick summary: Batman rigs up a minecart to go “out of control” and kill Danny without technically having caused intentional harm. It’s a video game, so Danny will respawn, but his levels will be reset to zero and he won’t get any more cyber-crack until he levels past what he had before. It’s been previously established that being cut off from the cyber-crack like this can cause some pretty serious withdrawals, so while Danny’s life isn’t in danger, there’s definitely a possibility of some permanent damage here.

Kart saves him, but in the process deals intentional damage to Batman by knocking the minecart over. Kart is dropped to the ground, drained to zero energy. Without water, he’ll die. Batman and his cronies have hidden the water cups from the well, but Danny is able to get some water on a copper plate that Kart has lying around in his bag from when he studied blacksmithing and uses it to revive Kart. When the mine overseer shows up, though, he insists that the law is the law and executes Kart anyway. Now Batman’s the only one – other than brand new arrival Danny, at least – who’s held onto his levels all through the mine and stands a chance of avoiding withdrawal.

So Danny resolves to straight-up murder Batman with his pick:

Less thinking, more doing! If Bat leaves then everything I just thought of will have been for nothing and I would never bring him down. Getting a better grip of the pick, I run after Bat. Suddenly Kiplev’s song popped into my head:

Above me silence,

I ran up to Bat, swung up my pick and lowered it on Bat’s head. Energy began to fall rapidly and the other prisoners stared at me, astonished. Just as well, less chance they’ll interfere…

Damage inflicted. 6: 19 (Hit with the Pick + Strength) – 13 (armor)

That’s some armor! But the main thing was not to stop now!

Sky, full of rain,

I sharply changed the direction of the pick’s swing and took it back upwards. Bat was shouting something, the people around were shouting something, but none of this mattered any more.  It’s all finished for me, I just had to end it all for Bat as well…

Damage inflicted. 6: 19 (Hit with the Pick + Strength) – 13 (armor)

Energy level was at 5, my feet were giving way. Bat was falling down, this was good. I had to lean forward to make sure I fell on top of Bat. Another 6 damage wouldn’t quite do it. Hells, and I was so close…

Rain is falling through me,

As I was falling down, drained, I hit Bat the third time. From above. Please let it be a Critical hit!

Damage inflicted. 6: 19 (Hit with the Pick + Strength) – 13 (armor)

That’s it. It was all pointless. He survived, the bastard!

But there’s no more pain.

But what’s this? I was lying with my face down on something soft. It didn’t feel like the ground. Something was blocking my eyes and I had no strength to lift my head and look around. Never mind, let’s see if this works…

Damage inflicted. 1 (bite)

Bat’s body flickered and vanished. And now it really was finished. Now I could die. There were no more people in the mine who had not died. Although, no. There’s me, but soon I’ll be gone too. The important thing was that I already thought of what to do with Kart to prevent him wasting away.

Suddenly I was struck with SUCH pain that I forgot all else. The world ceased to exist for me – it was replaced by pain. It tore me apart from inside, it ate away my skin and pierced me all the way through. I was pain and pain was me. I was probably screaming, wheezing, howling, but the pain would not go away; it only seemed to increase. Then it suddenly ended.

“…I repeat the question: Mahan, what happened here?” Air! It was an effort to make my body take a breath. The voice of the governor seemed like the gentle murmuring of a stream to me now. I was still alive and no longer felt pain. This was splendid. I focused on the orc. Well, would you show some emotion at last, you bastard? I’d just killed a person and the orc was standing there asking what’s happened. The snow just fell down, that’s what happened.

“Revenge. Revenge happened here. And this will happen to anyone who would touch Kart or me again.”

I’m reminded of Threadbare tearing himself to pieces to kill something, and that was the best part of Threadbare. Bear in mind, Threadbare may have been dragged down by its bad parts, but its good parts were really good, so it’s not damning with faint praise when I say that this bit reminds me of the good parts of Threadbare.

And it’s probably just because I’m a vengeful bastard myself, but I felt a lot of satisfaction reading that. Awaken Online called its first installment “Catharsis,” but Survival Quest packed more of that into its first three and a half chapters than AO managed in that whole first book.

Chapter 5

Unfortunately, Survival Quest pretty much immediately proves it is not without its flaws. For example, Danny goes to find Kart already slipping into despair at not being able to get any more cyber-crack for the rest of his sentence:

“So, here goes. The story runs like this. In a Kingdom Far Far Away there lived an handsome lad… Or was he just good-looking? It doesn’t really matter. And so this lad got into an unpleasant situation – villains decided to do him in and run him over with a mining trolley. But the lad had a faithful Friend, who saved him, but at the cost of losing all his heroic might, which took him ten years to gain.

I’ve cut it off here, but we have to listen to a full page on the e-reader of Danny just re-explaining what just happened to a guy and an unseen readership who both saw it the first time. After which he comes up with the extremely obvious solution to the problem:

As far as I can see we have no smiths here at the mine and your Smithing profession was only at level four, so we’ll quickly re-level you in this. And your Leatherworking level was non-existent, so we’ll be levelling that up too. I realize that a profession is one thing and a stat is another, but we’ll break through all the same!”

Why doesn’t everyone figure this out? Does it go by slot instead of by specific profession? Like, is Kart’s secret weapon here that only his stats were ever decently leveled, and his highest profession was just level 4? That would make sense, but it doesn’t actually say. And if not, then switching professions upon losing your stats from death is obvious. Anyone who was really desperate to get their next hit of cyber-crack should’ve figured it out instantly.

“Well, aren’t you just the handsome lad,” Kart said suddenly, giving me a sly look. “That’s it! The patient will live! But do tell me, the hero’s good friend, what the heck do you need me for?”

As a meat shield, obviously. Hooray for friendship and all, but this is just the basic human instinct for reciprocity at work – and that instinct is mercenary. It’s reciprocity not generosity. Kart saved Danny from death, so now Danny helps out Kart, because that means he can continue to count on Kart to have his back. To say nothing of the fact that Kart already has over a hundred gold saved up, and can instantly solve all of Danny’s money problems. In fact, the total expenses to get Danny’s crafting up and running are well under 1% of Kart’s haul. The only significant expense Danny has is paying back the loan he took out to upgrade his pick.

“Well, you see, Kart, my life is just so boring, so I just have to give myself something to do. After all, there is absolutely nothing else to do here. It’s not like I should get back to work now. Instead let’s go and find Rine. I have around 60 Rat pelts in my bag and we can start training you up in Leatherworking.”

Or we can give the lamest fake explanation ever.

Regardless, Kart and Danny begin hustling together to improve their skills. Danny starts buying ore surplus at slightly higher prices than the mine does in order to get enough to level up blacksmithing, then hands the ingots over to Danny to work on his jewelcrafting. With his improved pick, Danny can mine enough ore to cover both their quotas and still make a surplus, so Kart is on smithing and leatherworking duty full time.

A few days in, however, trouble gets all afoot:

I closed my eyes, tried to relax and fall asleep. I’d take a short nap now and then continue working like a dog; but as soon as I began to drift off I heard a hushed conversation, which knocked any sleep right out of me.

“You reckon Bat won’t be back?” asked a voice, which sounded rough, with a crack and a lisp. I don’t even remember hearing one like that in our mine.

“No. It’s been a while now and there’s no sign of him. His gang is beginning to get worried, a few have already asked to join mine. Did any come to you?” said the second voice, which I recognized. It was one of the dwarves, who, according to Kart, headed the second largest gang after Bat.

“One or two did turn up. I even gave them a job to do to see what they’re made of: to rub out Mahan. I sense that Bat didn’t disappear just like that — Mahan had a hand in it. Do you remember how he downed Bat? I was watching my back for days after that: what if I’m next? Who can tell with this Shaman: everyone comes back reset to zero after respawn, but he returned with three levels.”

“You’re right: Mahan must be a rare scumbag. I agree that he should be rubbed out. Rine’s become a real pain with the Rats already: he can barely contain his joy every day at the sight of Mahan’s rat tails and puts me down for not doing the same. Can you believe that? Mahan is the only one in the mine who can cast spells and I get told off for not killing Rats. I could strangle the bastard myself.”

“No worries, I set the date. It’s either Mahan or them. They have three days to send him off for a respawn and they’ll be in the clear. And then we’ll have a chat with him ourselves, explaining that standing out from the crowd is not a good idea. We’ll acquaint him with the fact that he’ll have to pay us every month if he doesn’t want to keep starting from scratch. But enough of him, let’s get to the business at hand. If Bat doesn’t return his 80 mooks should be shared. I propose we keep things simple and split them half-half.”

Those levels the dwarves mentioned came from Danny completing a quest the orc governor handed out to him, basically reimbursing him for the levels he lost to execution for his revenge murder of Batman, who apparently went catatonic pretty much instantly and got transferred to parts unknown. Couldn’t find a good place to insert it in as it happened without breaking up the contrast between the “revenge on Batman” bit that was really good and the “Danny tells us a story we just barely read” part that was really bad, but yeah, that happened.

Anyway, Danny’s got a brand new sword of Damocles hanging over his head, but he’s also got a can-do attitude and the power of friendship:

“Those five were unable to meet the daily quota, so they didn’t get any food. Tonight they will be respawned,” said Kart with a sigh. “Despite working until the very last moment, until just thirty minutes before the food stops being served, each is still short of 10 to 12 pieces of ore. It’s a pity about Sakas. He’s a good guy, despite being an orc.”

“Hang on, you’re saying just 60 pieces of ore would save them? Then why hesitate? I have 24 pieces, how many do you have left?” I gave Kart an exacting look.

“I have around 40 on me. Hang on, you want to sell them the ore?” it finally dawned on Kart. “I must be getting slow not to think of it myself,” he lamented.

We made it in time. All five of them had money on them, so Kart and I were not left out of pocket. Although for myself I decided that I’d give them the ore even if they had no money. Even if I didn’t really know any of them, one can’t run away from one’s conscience: if I had a way to help and didn’t do it, it would eat me alive.

Or rather, he’s got the power of rapacious capitalism, with friendship on standby should he ever need it. We’ll see if he ever actually uses the power of friendship. Being fair to Danny, charging people who can in fact pay is pretty reasonable when he’s got a bounty on his head and needs every advantage he can get – plus, a reputation for generosity is often a hindrance if you don’t also have a ton of power so as to frighten off would-be leeches, and Danny’s vengeance run on Batman probably hasn’t gotten him that far.

Survival Quest is, of course, not completely flawless, but it’s definitely serving its purpose of proving to the world that I do actually like LitRPG. So far, at least. Due to its megasize chapters, I’m already a full 36% of the way in. Survival Quest may end up being the shortest review yet, but that’s mainly because I find myself more frequently getting wrapped up in the actual story and forgetting to snark at it for a while, rather than periodically getting bored and snarking at it just to keep myself entertained.

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