Dungeon Born: Black and White

Before we get started, Longes made a few predictions about Dungeon Born based on its xianxia-derived dungeon ranking system. I’m gonna go ahead and list them here so we can keep track of how many come true by the end of the book. Jury is currently out on whether I’ll read any of the sequels (but signs point to no), so anything that doesn’t come true in this book may come true in later books. I may never know.

Predictions about Dungeon Born based purely on it drawing from Xianxia:
1) Protagonist will find a variety of gimmicks and/or single innate gimmick that will help them skip massive chunks of Cultivation
2) There will be a bunch of time skips because Cultivation takes forever
3) Protagonist will level up to kill and replace God
4) Different levels of Cultivation equate to MASSIVE power differences and absolute curbstomping
5) Protagonist may find a gimmick that helps them fight people on higher Cultivation level
6) Being the very best like no one ever was is the protagonist’s primary motivation
7) There’ll be a bizarre economy and people will interact with it in a very bizarre way
8) Skills or their equivalent (minions?) will be bought and sold via bizarre economy
9) Protagonist will find a way to completely skullfuck said economy
Bonus predictions:
10) Cultivation requires or is greatly sped up by some magic potions or eating monster parts or something like that
11) Protagonist will subvert that, skullfucking the economy in the process

Look at all those predictions. It’s ridiculous. It’s not even funny.

And some more detailed predictions made shortly thereafter:

Based on your two posts I’m going to guess that the main key to skullfucking will be Cal’s ability to spawn matter. He’ll probably progress from a childlike imbecil into a mad scientist, learn alchemy and some kind of frankensteining and abuse that in a way that dungeons should have figured out millenia ago. This may lead to him learning to spawn Cultivation potions.

The story will likely go grimderp and Cal will become an unlikeable douche evil dungeon, probably starting to cultivate demonic chi in the process. He’ll probably fight the big white dungeon in the sky Cantor eventually. Alternately Cantor will get worfed by the real big white dungeon in the sky who is the main villain.

Eventually Cal will have a redemption arc

Chapter Three

The chapter opens with Cal having just finished expanding his zone of influence to cover the entire room of the cave he’s located in.

“Good work!” congratulated a very bored Dani. The poor girl hadn’t been able to order me around for days, I think it was wearing on her.

For those of you keeping track at home, Longes prediction #2 is at least half-true. It wasn’t essence cultivation that took forever (Cal has not increased any ranks so far as I can tell) but timeskips because increases in power take forever are confirmed.

<What about the door? Won’t it flow out?>

“If you focus hard there first, you can direct your will to cause the air to be too dense for less concentrated Essence to leak out, like a bubble.” Dani distractedly stated.

I considered this for a moment. <I like bubbles, they make my puddle dance.>

“HA! What? That took me by surprise.” She chuckled. “Try it out.”

They say you should keep your characterization consistent. Certainly that is true, but Dungeon Born appears to have misunderstood the directive. The idea is to have consistent motivations and personality traits, not for every character to consistently have the same bizarre verbal tics. Or, is Dani just going completely stir-crazy after several days with no one but Cal to talk to?

After expanding his territory, Cal starts cultivating some plants and fungi to draw essence from.

Before I knew it, the room had filled with many varieties of moss, fungus and other low level plants.

The concept of “low level plants” hasn’t been explicitly explained. It’s easy to guess what’s probably going on. Low level plants probably give less essence than higher ones. By itself, though, it strikes me as a kind of non-sequitir “by what criteria can you possibly be ranking these things” kind of statement, like the “what kind of bear is best” scene from the office. This isn’t really a complaint, because like I said, it’s easy to figure out what’s probably going on here, but I had a reaction to a thing so it goes in the blog post. Blind readthrough means you get my free association along with my actually coherent thoughts.

Cal observes his growing army of “shroomishes,” which is the dorky name he’s given to those animate mushrooms.

Because I had created the original shroomish I still had a connection to all of the others, known as ‘dungeon born’ creatures.

Title drop.

With the cave fully claimed, Dani instructs Cal on how to dig out new rooms.

Another room to grow things in?! <Great! How do we start?>

“Build your Essence up on that wall, and convince the wall to open small holes and absorb your influence. Fill a tunnel about six feet tall by four feet wide. When you reach a point where you want to build another room, use your power to compact the stone to either side.

This goes on for another several lines that I won’t bother quoting because you get the idea. What I want to point out here is, you know how within like thirty seconds of starting up a Dungeon Keeper-esque game the tutorial will be explaining to you how to dig new tunnels? We are ten percent of the way into the book, and it’s finally happening. And it’s not because we spent a lot of time with Cal before he became a dungeon heart. Like, if the book had started with a bunch of backstory that established motivations and stuff before getting here, that’d be fine. You wouldn’t want a fifteen minute cut scene opening up a video game because players want to play, but a book is exactly as interactive before the game mechanics are established as after, so it’s fine if you spend some time establishing character and so on before crossing the threshold and giving your character dungeon powers.

But that didn’t happen. This book started exactly how and when a video game would start. There was a brief scene of the character dying and being reformed into a dungeon heart while some wizard cackled vague threats at him and then got killed (by Kira, so far as I can tell), and then he was a dungeon. There were a couple of pages where he figured out what winter is, but that would’ve been equally dull in a cut scene, as “gameplay” where you can’t do anything but watch your starting puddle freeze and unfreeze, or written down as a few pages of a book wherein nothing happens. And a lot of nothing has been happening since then. Cal has a goal and he’s pursuing it, that’s good, but so far we’ve yet to see any significant opposition. Even a video game, which needs to preserve a difficulty curve and has difficulty overwhelming the protagonist early on (a staple of non-interactive fiction) would be serving up opponents way before the 10% mark.

I hadn’t been able to move the stone, but nearly one hundred and fifty feet of rock was now under my influence, my direct control. My mind easily followed the path, and I found some very interesting things I had ignored in my haste. I found a material that revealed itself as polycrystalline tungsten.

I get the feeling that geology is the one science that author Dakota Krout really likes, which is why these scientific terms keep coming up even when more fantasy-ish substitutes would be far better suited, especially considering that things as simple as “fungi and plants are different” are defaulting to their fantasy generalizations. This is probably one of those flaws that’s gonna be so consistent that I have to put a moratorium on pointing it out every time it comes up, otherwise this review will get tedious with how often it comes up.

“We don’t want to bring in people that are too strong, too soon. Although dungeon Cores are supposed to be a well-kept secret, high ranked groups may know about you. You are a needed component in some of the highest powered spells, so if they find you they will want to take you. If you leave the dungeon, your body, it will die. Even if you somehow escape, you will need to rebuild from scratch.” Dani warned, “Which is also why you cannot cut yourself off from your body, you can’t just burrow down and cover yourself in stone to hide, unless you have no other option.”

An explanation for why this trick wouldn’t work was needed, although it remains unclear why Cal can’t just expand his zone of influence downward and then burrow himself in that. Additionally, the only reason this caveat is necessary is because Cal is for some reason mobile. Also, why are dungeon cores supposed to be a well-kept secret? Who’s keeping the secret, and how? There’s probably an answer for this question eventually, but it’s important information to Cal now and it’s weird that he’s not asking about it.

The conversation turns to Kantor.

“He also is always trying to help new dungeons grow so he can relax every once in a while. So long as you aren’t a black or white stone, of course.”

<Why those color stones? Is that why he helped me? So people would attack me and not him sometimes?> I started to get a bit heated. Was I just a way to divert attention? I don’t want to be used like that!

“Remember how he asked you what color you were? If you were a black or white stone, he probably would have killed you. Before you ask, that means that they can only absorb energy from celestial or infernal energy. He doesn’t dislike them, but they have no way to ever grow without horrible things being done around them.” Dani stopped my attempted interruption, going into full lecturing mode.

“They both, celestial and infernal Cores that is, have ways to influence sentient beings. They should just use their minions to bring food, but what usually ends up happening is a war where Demons are summoned and Angels are counter-summoned to fight them. The stone can get really powerful with thousands of people dying around them, jumping from G rank to A in just a few days if it is smart, but usually crusades are declared to destroy them. It is really a lot of bother for everyone, so Kantor usually just kills them.” She explained.

<That is nice of him, I guess.> I admitted reluctantly.

Of course, remember that although Cal is technically a blue stone, he can draw energy from non-water sources. There’s no reason to believe this doesn’t include whatever the Hell it is that white and black stones draw energy from. It’s not really clear what that is, except that apparently their minions could retrieve it, but they get more from it if tons of people fight a war on top of them. Maybe it’s people dying? That would sort of work with it being kind of like people going to Heaven/Hell.

I am going to go look for plants outside that help to increase Essence, or really any plants with a lot of different properties.”

<Isn’t that dangerous?> I nudged her nervously. <What if someone attacks you?>

“Well it is almost noon, so I should be nearly invisible in the sunlight. Thank you for being concerned about me, cutie.” Dani flirtatiously flew a few spirals around me. “Don’t worry, I’ll be right back.” After ensuring I wouldn’t be too nervous, she flew out and away.

Oh, good, Cal’s mother figure is flirting with him. Their relationship hasn’t even evolved from there. Cal hasn’t grown into a more mature being that Dani might reasonably see in a different light (since, after all, she isn’t literally his mother or anything), he’s still receiving lectures and following Dani’s orders and generally operating on the level of an eight-year old. It’s been a while since his last toddler-grade tantrum, but there’s plenty of ground to cover between that and “consenting adult,” especially since it’s not like anyone mentioned a necromancer since, so maybe he still has cartoonish freakouts about it. I’m not saying this book is pro-pedophilia or anything, but I am saying this book’s understanding of characterization is so poor that it doesn’t notice it’s weird when characters in a mother/child relationship start flirting.

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