Having taken a couple of days to spend nearly all my free time replaying XCOM in its entirety, I’m pretty sure I’m quite finished half-assing my projects, so let’s dive into Dungeon Born with a proper, full-length post.
It had taken a few weeks of hard travel, but the group of mostly C-ranked adventurers had finally reached a city large enough to have a Guild office, an Elven embassy, and a church with a B-ranked priest.
Okay, so we’re following these guys again. Have we seen the last of Dale? Because he didn’t seem like he was done yet, narrative-wise. He ended his introductory chapter all full of ambition, and so far all he’s done with it is write a letter and show these other guys to the dungeon entrance. I like the idea of having Dale as the consistent face of Cal’s opposition, staying the same while the adventuring parties are usually or always new characters after the last ones die or flee. Since the whole point of a dungeon heart story is that you’re seeing it from the dungeon’s perspective instead of the adventurers’, you might expect that this makes the adventurers the antagonists, and it’d be cool if it turned out that no, the dungeon side equivalent to an adventurer is actually a minion, and it’s the quest givers who are the dungeon’s true antagonist.
Maybe we’ll hop back to Dale and get that dynamic going at some point.
In the meantime, this book maintains its commitment to proving Longes right:
Memory stones were Beast Cores that had been further refined by Essence to be able to hold copies of memories, skills, or other pertinent information. When someone used a memory stone, they would gain all of the information in the stone as their own ideas and memories, allowing them to gain knowledge quickly and easily.
Prediction 8 isn’t entirely fulfilled because we have yet to see these attached to a particularly bizarre economy, but we’re halfway there, since skills have been turned into a commodity.
Higher grade stones could be refined with Mana, and were able to hold items in a sub-dimensional space, nicknamed a ‘Bag of Holding’ as these high grade stones were usually attached to bags in order to hide their identity, being very expensive to purchase.
But why? The in-universe explanation isn’t particularly unreasonable, I’m just wondering why, having used his magical physics to arrive at hyperspace storage through a non-standard means, the author then felt the reason to seek out a reason why it would end up looking exactly like a regular D&D magic item? It’s not like this book has been ravenously chewing up the audience’s attention span for new concepts and can’t spare any more. One of the big advantages of a setting, like this one, that’s very familiar in broad strokes is that the audience mostly already knows what’s going on and doesn’t need much explained, which means you can have tons of weird and interesting stuff hidden in small details without fatiguing them.
Also, the reason this all got brought up is because the elven embassy is apparently making memory stones of the elf’s report of the dungeon. Fair enough that these silver tree things are rare enough that finding one is a big deal (although it is said that you are permitted one coincidence in a story, because sometimes you tell a story about someone because a strange coincidence happened to them, but two or more looks like author favoritism – and Cal is already the first human dungeon heart, so giving him easy access to an undiscovered and rare resource is pushing it a bit). Why make a memory stone of the event, though? Are beast cores more common than parchment? Can you not just write a report down? Seems like memory stones would only be important when you needed to verify a memory, but this guy is a fairly high ranked adventurer if the reactions of his team are anything to go by, and he seems like he’s in good standing with the elven community, so what room is there to doubt that his report of “hey I found a silvertree?”
The cleric, meanwhile, goes and shows his holy symbol duplicate to the town bishop. After praying with the holy symbol to charge it up with celestial energy, the bishop completely freaks out:
“W-we need to build a church in that area forthwith.” The Bishop looked down at the pendant, which was now nearly humming with celestial energy. “As my prayer touched it, all of the Essence it contained gained a celestial affinity. This pendant alone represents six months of Inscription work, purification, and prayer. If that dungeon drops more, we will have a potent weapon against the darkness in the world. I think… I think I know the perfect person. Go and find Father Richard for me.”
The cleric blanched at this order.
So, is this gonna end with every adventurer faction trying to colonize Cal’s backyard, and then a war breaks out, and Kantor comes along to murder everything, so Cal has to kill and replace the big white dungeon in the sky? That feels like that’s where this is going.
This appears to be a mid-chapter break? The narrative didn’t feel the need to signpost it like this when we switched from the elf’s perspective to the priest’s, but here’s the name “Frank” in the same format as a chapter heading, except that it’s in the middle of the page, with text before and after, instead of leaving white space at the end of the last chapter to start the next one from the top of a page. So we are now reading chapter 10-Frank, I guess. We’re following the two non-elf, non-priest adventurers as they report to the guild. One of them may or may not be named Frank.
[T]he local Guild leader was about to dismiss this as a beginner training area of no importance when he was told of the Elven nations mobilization.
The Guild Master twitched, and just knew he would be getting a headache soon. “What? Why? No! Come on! It is a low F-ranked at best, suitable for giving our fishies some combat experience, and you told us it dropped only copper on the Mob death. The loot isn’t even good enough for us to justify setting up a training camp there, it is too far out of the way!”
If the value is so low and the location so remote that you don’t even want to set up facilities there, why are you bemoaning the elves getting involved? After all, if it’s too remote to set up a camp to help facilitate expeditions, it stands to reason it would be too remote to mount expeditions to when using a different, further away camp as a starting point.
“Oh you boys just love dropping a shit-storm of politics on my head don’t you?” At their confused glances, he growled, “That land is already contested by the human Kingdoms of the Phoenix and the Lion, now the Elves are going to be making a claim. We need to get there first.” The Guild Master groaned softly, sitting back against his chair.
“Feels like there’s a war starting over this territory we don’t want, we should probably deploy some valuable personnel and material there so we can get in on the losses.”
“What was the affinity of the dungeon?”
“Far as we could tell, it didn’t seem to have one, Frank.” The large man from the scouting party belched.
“Is that so? Hey! It is Guild Master Frank to you, bub.”
So that’s two mysteries solved. Frank is the name of the Guild Master, who happens to be a Data-style android mimicking emotions out of a desire to be more human, but who has still not mastered appropriate use of contractions.
No affinity and a Silverwood tree? That was a combination that promised fast advancement through the cultivation ranks. That could offer power and great influence to whomever established themselves in the area.
I kind of expected there would, at some point, be an actual reason why this adventurer’s guild wanted to get involved, since Dungeon Born has been pretty good about supplying actual reasons for stuff eventually. This one even came only one page late, which is relatively pretty quick, but still, Frank’s earlier resolve to put a colony down despite the area being contested between two human kingdoms and now the elves would make a lot more sense if we’d known why he would care before he decided on a course of action.
Cal harvests the energy from the slain rabbit, bracing for the impact of a massive amount of essence like he got from the human adventurers.
Instead the Chi spiral showed its usefulness for the first time ever! Where the energy had before stuffed my core full of the newly-gained Essence instantly, it now surrounded me and was held in a slowly swirling pattern in the outer spiral, awaiting cultivation.
Why didn’t Dani explain that a chi spiral would allow him to store more essence without threatening to get overloaded and killed when she taught him how to make the thing? Why is this a surprise to Cal? What’s the point of having a tutorial NPC who doesn’t fully explain critical game concepts?
I think I may have to impose a moratorium on Dani’s explanations being shitty and vague. It’s gone past being so tiresome that I stop and snark at it to keep myself entertained and reached the point where I’m starting to get bored with my own snarking.
Cal only has the pattern for a male rabbit, so Dani leaves to lure a female in so Cal can make a set, get them breeding, and I guess either turn them into vampire rabbits or just consume their offspring for their essence.
Dani later explained that this was because it was an animal, usually females tended to be larger than the male, an interesting concept as only male creatures besides Dani had entered my dungeon to this point.
Technically true, but misleading. Female arthropods are very often bigger, sometimes way bigger, than male arthropods. Particularly amongst spiders. And there are a ton of arthropod species, way more than there are fish or mammal or reptile species. When most people think of “animals,” though, the first thing they think of is typically mammals, and rabbits are mammals of course, and it is actually fairly rare (though by no means unheard of, there’s hyenas and shit) for females to be generally larger than males amongst mammals.
This name switchy thing is going to be a trend, apparently, although here it at least makes sense, and I’m glad to see that we haven’t seen the last of Dale. He’s talking to Frank at the dungeon entrance.
Although now the richest man in his village, he knew the Guild Master could likely crush him with the weight of his wallet; using his strength or influence to kill every person Dale knew without facing any repercussions.
Could, but why would he bother? It’d still represent a significant investment of time and effort. At minimum, he has to set aside a full afternoon to pillage the whole valley, and apparently there’d be some amount of expense involved, and generally speaking you need to pay your troops pretty well to convince them to murder a village just for the Hell of it. It’s totally feasible, of course, the amount of money you need to pay troops to pillage a place is not so steep that you can’t maintain an army that will kill whoever the Hell you want them to, no questions asked, but it’s cheaper to not do that unless villager oppression is an actual part of your revenue stream. Which, this guy is an adventurer guild master. I doubt he collects taxes from a medieval fiefdom.
And it’s not like this paragraph came on the heels of Dale threatening and subsequently backing away from any kind of opposition to Frank. The conversation so far is just “this the dungeon?” “Yup.”
Frank offers a deal to Dale: A reduced cut of the incoming profits in exchange for training in cultivation so he can hopefully avoid being murdered for his money, his de jure control over the dungeon, or just by a heart attack because apparently he’s pulling in essence corruption so fast that he’s going to drop dead within a decade. Bear in mind Dale is consistently described as young. So he’s going to have a heart attack at, what, age 35?
Since they had no Chi spiral, and therefore didn’t reduce the amount of corruption they obtained, their cultivation base became full of tainted Essence, which spread through their bodies, eventually killing them as ‘old age’ set in.
So chi spirals can slow down death. How far does this go? Does a functioning chi spiral just give you spare room to shove all the extra corruption, but it’ll still catch up to you eventually? Or is this how non-Cal people get rid of their corruption, thus people with chi spirals are actually immortal? If the latter, and if chi spirals can be taught to whoever in just a couple of years with what appears to be no resource cost, how come chi spirals aren’t common knowledge? Being insanely useful, people would be eager to learn, that demand would create supply, and eventually the market would saturate.
On the other hand, if the former, if chi spirals extend life but not indefinitely, then that silvertree, which (if memory serves) can flush out corruption from someone’s essence completely, is a limited source of immortality. Which would explain both why elves are so long lived (possibly with indefinite lifespans, if we’re going full Tolkien) and why they kill anyone who tries to harm such a tree with extra death. Along with everyone else in a ten mile radius, just to be sure.
“One more thing, if you reach the Mage rank of cultivation, B-rank that is, your natural lifespan tends to jump into the hundreds of years. Unless killed, you won’t die for a very long time. At the Saint rank, or S-rank, we have been unable to determine the natural lifespan. It is just too long for anyone but another Saint to measure.”
Asked and answered. How come only saints can measure it, though? Like, it’d make sense if the deal here was just that the first guy to achieve saint rank was 1500 years ago and he’s still kickin’, but how come a saint can measure it when normal people can’t? It’s not like normal people can’t measure things that occur over the course of several lifetimes. National histories are that, and we still manage to get them written down.
Also, it seems like Dale is just gonna be a regular adventurer, instead of the “quest giver vs. dungeon heart” rivalry I’d been hoping for. Alas.
Later, Dale’s training begins:
“War mace it is. Maybe a Morningstar.” He mused, tossing a few ideas around. “I’d start you with a spear, but in a confined space like a dungeon that is more of a, shall we say, liability.”
If a squad of, let’s say, eight or so adventurers stand two ranks deep in a dungeon corridor with spears (or better yet, pikes) aimed down the hall, they are going to be impossible to outflank and very hard to get close to. And it’s not like they can’t carry swords as backup weapons anyway. Indeed, I’d expect pikes to be the primary weapon of a dwarven military because they’re so damn useful in dungeon corridors. It’s true you might not want full-on Macedonian 20-foot pikes, since those would be unable to take tight corners, but six feet tall can pass through any tunnel a slightly tall human can walk upright through, and eight feet tall can pass through any tunnel tall enough for humans to walk through without feeling claustrophobic (imagine walking through a hallway where the ceiling is constantly two inches from your head – we make even our one-level buildings taller than that for a reason).
Deciding on a Morningstar, Frank turned on Dale and demandingly grilled him, “You know how to use one of these?” It was essentially a stick with a spiked metal ball at the top.
Dale tried to inject some humor, “Spikey ball goes into the enemy?”
“Correct! I think we found the armament for you.” Frank grinned and handed the weapon over.
I remember reading in a Dragonlance book that maces and morningstars and such were easier weapons to learn than swords or axes. So far as I know, this is 100% due to D&D game mechanics in which bludgeoning weapons appear on more class lists (and, from 3.0 onwards, are simple rather than martial weapons) than do swords or axes. I don’t know how to use a mace or an axe, but I don’t see how one would be particularly easier to learn than the other.
Dale tries on some plate armor next.
It was so heavy that Dale could barely move, if he hadn’t been fairly used to hard work, he wouldn’t have been able to stand.
Plate armor weighs about forty-ish pounds (depending on make and quality, of course). If you are an adult human being and you can barely stand in that, you have some pretty serious health issues. Being able to run and jump and fight dragons in plate armor requires a good deal of athleticism, but being able to stand and walk in plate armor is something pretty much anyone can do. If you’ve tried on plate armor and found it difficult to move in and you are not suffering from significant health issues, it’s because the armor sucked.
Dale’s essence is super corrupt (possibly because he murdered a guy?), so his initial training has a lot to do with unfucking his core. It’s mostly just reiteration of what Dani’s already explained, albeit all in one place instead of stretched out over multiple chapters. The only new information is that elements can be combined, like fire and water into steam, but that was pretty heavily implied already.
And that is the chapter.