Dungeon Born: Dale Strikes Back

Chapter 7

Dale had returned home with the sad news of the deaths of his comrades, citing a landslide which buried all of them. The recent events and his guileless, lightly bearded face meant he had no issues convincing the townsfolk of his sincerity. He shed tears from soulful brown eyes for the lost men… while at the same time selling everything he owned. With the money gained, he purchased the empty parcel of land containing the dungeon – claiming it would be good grazing for the sheep he was planning to buy.

Oh, good. We’re back with Dale. Looks like he’s going to either gear himself up for a solo dungeon raid or else get himself some better trained reinforcements.

His claim to the land secure, he sent a letter to the Adventurers Guild, announcing that he had found a new dungeon and was willing to allow adventurers to come into it for a percentage of the yearly profit it brought in.

Wow, okay, looks like option B. Is Dale even going to return to the dungeon, or is he just going to be the recurring face of a cast of antagonists that otherwise sees constant turnover as parties are mostly or completely wiped out upon entry? Here’s our first group of schmucks:

Quite an event to have any travelers at all, this far into the mountains, people were shocked to see not only armored knights, but an Elf in the group!

Oh. Oh, wow. This is not the ragtag band of starting adventurers out to scout out a new dungeon and get their start that I was expecting. These guys are stomping around in plate. I don’t know how badass that makes them (maybe magical crystal armor a thousand times stronger than steel is the cap for this kind of thing), but I damn well know it makes them, like, a hundred times more dangerous than a bunch of shepherds.

The adventuring party, upon hearing that the dungeon has killed four people already, is worried that it might be infernal in origin. I have no idea why they are worried about this, because Cal was able to kill those four dudes off with just some living mushrooms, grabby moss, and regular old spike traps. “Untrained peasants enter low rank dungeon and get massacred” seems like it should be a pretty standard result of untrained peasants entering a low rank dungeon at all, and thus not particularly worthy of suspicion. Regardless of how weird it is that the party suspect demonic involvement, they have plans to wipe the dungeon immediately.

“Ach,” an easy-going Guild member tisked at Dale, “Lad, take it easy. The Guild will pay you ten gold for your trouble, and five each year after that for the rest of your life. That is what it is worth to us to stop Demon wars.”

“Ten gold. . .?” Dale breathed. In the mountain, that was enough to live as a lord for a solid decade. For two gold and a small bribe he could likely buy the whole mountain, since there was so little worth to the land. It was harsh and nearly impassable, especially in winter.

I get that Dale is in a backwoods economy, but Jesus, if one gold piece is enough to “live as a lord” all year, then what kind of coins do regular people use? Assuming a 100:1 conversion ratio between copper, silver, and gold (the WoW standard), a single day of living like a lord costs 27-ish copper. Someone living an order of magnitude below, what you’d expect for a peasant (compare someone with an annual income of $300,000 to someone with an annual income of $30,000 – referring to the former as “a lord” would be kind of a stretch but we are in a fairly backwoods area, but people who have to scratch by on the latter totally exist, so order of magnitude differences in wealth are hardly unreasonable or uncommon), is going to be living on 2-3 copper per day. That means they can make a maximum of three purchases each day. Are townspeople forced to buy their meals three at a time because there is no coin whose value is low enough to pay for just one?

Even if this was, originally, a genuine mistake on the part of the author, it’s pretty easy to back out of, just have the conversion ratios be even more extreme or introduce an even lower value coin below copper (or between copper and silver, to reduce the value of copper) for small purchases. I wouldn’t be surprised if this just goes completely unremarked upon, though.

Afterwards, the book calls attention to its own unwillingness to name its antagonists:

“Should I know your names?” Blurted Dale suddenly. By the furtive glances and shaken heads, he assumed the answer was no.

If this was the first time a party of dungeon delvers had gone unnamed, I would assume there was an actual reason for this. But with our previous delve having consisted of Tim, Dale, “the swarthy man,” and two completely unremarkable red shirts, the second of which got no name until the end, this just feels like the author covering up for his unwillingness to name his characters. But it’s not like he needs to come up with names that fit a strange, made-up culture. Tim and Dale are just regular English names. You can call these guys Aaron, Brian, Carl, and Daniel and it’s fine. Maybe you have to make something like Vintalius or something for the elf, but that’s one name, and anyway you’re not required to have elves use weird elf names.

They begin to get close to the dungeon.

“Very close, it is right over here. I left the rope ladders to help us and brought an extra just in case-” Stopping mid-sentence, his eyes nearly burst from his head as he saw that the crevasse was no longer a hole in the ground with sheer walls, but a solid looking spiral stone staircase leading to the depths.

Why is Cal laying out the welcome mat like this? He’s still a tiny baby dungeon. The more people who are thwarted in their efforts to gain entry because they need a ladder and don’t have one, the better. If he could just spend another year quietly harvesting essence in peace to beef up his defenses before making himself known to the locals, that’d go great for him. It would be terrible for the story, but it’d be great for Cal.

“It’s like an invitation!” Dale declared nervously.

“That is exactly what it is.” The large man replied ominously. “Stay here Dale, keep all this money safe for us, ok?” He poured a small sack of clinking coins into Dale’s hand. “We will be right back.”

Looks like Dale is confirmed for the guy who’s gonna be the long term face of Team Adventurers. Provided that Cal doesn’t bite it to these four, which, yeah, probably not, because he’s the main character and we’re 19% of the way in, but I don’t see how he’s gonna make it, except “it turns out plate armor is basically cardboard for all the good it does against even toddler-level dungeon monsters.”

The cold, logical voice of the Elf began cataloging his surroundings as soon as they entered. “Mushrooms and moss, some good for making antidotes, one a needed ingredient in weak health restoration potions, a few monsters with unknown yet weak abilities. But that, men, is why we are here.”

Spock
Fascinating.

Some of the grabby moss is now vampiric, which is infernal, which means the adventurers are now super angry:

All sense of relaxation gone, the men set about systematically destroying every living thing in the room. Within just a few minutes, only a few charred scraps remained. A few copper coins suddenly rained to the ground. “Bribery will not save you from your despicable ways.” A taciturn man with a glowing holy symbol on his chest announced in a ringing tone. “Onward!”

Okay, so we’ve got a cleric, an elf, and probably at least one knight. At least we know going into it that there are four guys in the crew, but since they have clearly defined character classes, it would’ve been nice if those classes had been made clear before coming in, or at the very least if they’d been given names so that when we learn their class during the delve we have something to attach it to.

The cleric gets overconfident and ambushed by some vines in the boss room.

“What? This is a G ranked dungeon, how did it sneak up on me?” He shrieked, fighting to secure a handhold on the too-smooth floor.

This, apparently, is the dialogue of a man who’s been surprised by an enemy and is now being dragged to his death: A “shrieked” analysis of why he was taken off-guard.

Despite the sneak attack and the subsequent battle, the strength of the Boss was nowhere near enough to even dent their armor.

On the one hand, I’m happy to note that this does, in fact, represent such a sudden leap upward in power as to make Cal completely outmatched. On the other hand, really, that’s your boss fight? This would’ve been the perfect place to depict the fight blow by blow, show Cal pulling out all his best tricks – the ranged attackers he’s got now, his new super-shroom boss – and show them failing. Build up some actual tension by revealing that there’s nothing he’s got that these adventurers aren’t ready for. Instead, that’s it. That is actually the entire fight. I struggle to even come up with a sarcastic summary that would be significantly more brief than the actual one-sentence description the battle got.

So you know how earlier Dani talked about how people who come to the dungeon for the tree might not bother with the heart? Turns out what she meant by that is that the elven kingdom(s?) is a bunch of tree worshipers who will declare war on and raze to the ground any kingdom that harms one of these special silvertree things, no questions asked.

“Y-you don’t say…” The large man nervously chuckled, “Forgive me, I have never seen one before. I will dig it up so that we can move it to a suitable location.”

“If you are able to find a way to do that, you will have to show me,” the oddly flat voice resounded from the Elf, “because untold generations of Elves have been unable to find a way to do it. Which is why we build cities where we find them, not the other way around. I think it is safe to say this is not an infernal dungeon. That kind of Essence would stunt its growth severely, and this one, though young, is vibrantly healthy. I’d say our mission is complete, though I need to put protections in place for this tree. After all,” His face jerked upward, staring hard at a point near the ceiling. “If anything were to happen to the tree, I am sure the Elven-kind would destroy everything nearby in an attempt to find what had happened.” He blandly stated to apparently no-one.

That is a significantly different sort of defense than “hopefully people would be so excited to benefit from the tree that they will leave the other treasure in the room (like the dungeon heart) where it is for no reason at all.” So Dani’s tutorials are turning out to be not only dull, but also really sloppy and often misleading.

On the bright side, “dickish elf threatens genocide if shiny tree is harmed” is perfectly in character for a standard fantasy elf (elves are dicks) and a way better reason to consider a special tree to be a dungeon defense. As per usual with this kind of thing, this is the kind of retcon that should’ve been established via editing, having Dani change her initial dialogue to match the later events of the story (or cut it completely and just have her harvest the tree because it’s rare and valuable and should serve as effective bait rather than as a defense). But while editing would’ve been better than this clumsy retcon, a retcon is better than nothing. This story still retains its two biggest flaws: Cal and Dani are annoying to listen to and they face no significant opposition in their goals, so it’s not like I’m gonna turn around and say that it’s an A+ story in the end despite a rough start. That said, it still hasn’t made the kind of mistakes that would reverberate forward to harm the entire story, and it’s showing what appears to be some ability to learn from its mistakes. It’s mediocre now, but maybe it’ll manage to improve to something decent by the end.

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