Chapter 14 (cont.)
I’m going to try to stick to a lot more summary here, just because by my estimate I’m quoting about half of the content of this book, which means I’m going to be running up against the highlight limits soon-ish if I don’t start exercising a bit more caution. The next several pages aren’t particularly interesting anyway, since it’s just Cal rearranging the furniture and refining his chi spiral in a manner that is moderately interesting in terms of arcanobabble but has basically no impact on the story one way or another. I do appreciate that there is some effort put into making the magic system follow some rules rather than having it work totally arbitrarily. On the other hand, it’s not really clear how these rules can be exploited. This isn’t a Brandon Sanderson-style magic system where a few super powers are defined and then can interact the world in a variety of interesting ways. It’s more like the arcanobabble that I developed a while back, where sure, there’s an explanation for everything, but you can’t actually do anything with that explanation, the mystical mumbo-jumbo just goes an extra layer deep.
During Cal’s expansion of the dungeon, we see him being weirdly dungeon master-y about things. Not in the sense of “is literally the master of a dungeon” but in the D&D sense of “bizarrely concerned with fair play.”
Everything I made was of course an attempt to gain as much Essence as possible, but I liked to reward intelligence and ingenuity, so I always added ways for these traps to be deactivated.
I’m reminded of that reporter girl from Sherlock who intentionally pressed her thumb into printing ink to give Sherlock a clue to spot that she wasn’t just a fan girl, but rather a journalist, and then Sherlock also picks out like four different clues that were already there that she didn’t even realize were there. The flaws with that show aside (especially as time wore on), that one scene certainly has a good point: If someone is really super good at something, you don’t need to design a solution for them. You can go ahead and design traps that are as inescapable as possible given the resources available to your dungeon inhabitants. As a game master, you have to ask yourself if you really want to demand that level of focus from your players, and to punish failures as harshly and irrevocably as the kobolds running the dungeon would like. Your players are here to have fun, and maybe they don’t particularly want to approach this dungeon with Tomb of Horrors-grade paranoia.
Cal, though? Cal’s goal is to kill a decent chunk of the people who come down here. Not all of the people, as he explains:
I wanted people to continue coming down here, after all, and with a reputation as a place where the smartest and strongest could almost always prevail, people would always assume they were among the ranks of the ‘certain survivors’.
But still, he wants to kill a decent chunk of the dungeon raiders. Designing a trap that will kill everyone who enters it is actually quite difficult (unless you’ve got access to things like utterly impenetrable yet very lightweight materials and flawless triggers that cannot be disabled and so on), because for all that players can murder-hobo their way into all kinds of sticky situations through pure obliviousness to potential consequences to their actions, once their necks are actually on the chopping block they tend to start paying attention and get pretty clever about finding a way out with most of their extremities intact. When it comes to traps, provided you respect the limited resources and energy investment that most monsters are willing to put into them, you can do your level best to murder your players and most of the time you will fail anyway.
After sorting out the traps, Cal starts developing new minions.
First, I created a few of my Bashers and made them hold still so I could. . . experiment on them. Which kinda feels creepy to think, but it had to be done!
On the one hand, forget “creepy,” running potentially agonizing and/or fatal experiments on animals just to develop new murder weapons with which to acquire more personal power is clearly unethical. It’s unethical to begin with because your ultimate purpose is to kill people for profit and it’s unethical on top of that because you’re torturing/killing helpless animals to do it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not some PETA-style “all animal suffering is unforgivable” zealot, but it seems pretty uncontroversial that regardless of how much animal lives are worth compared to human lives, they’re still worth something, so it’s still extra unethical to hurt or kill animals in pursuit of a goal that is itself unethical to begin with.
On the other hand, Player One morality where ethics are not even a consideration on the path to victory because they’re all just NPCs anyway is clearly what this book wants to operate on, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to tell that story. Protagonists do not have to be moral paragons, and can even be outright villainous. What bugs me is all the excuses made. If Cal would just own it, would just run his unethical mad science experiments and not care when one of them pops like Pennyworth’s blood balloons, I’d like him a lot more. I can respect someone who openly does not share my morals, even someone who simply doesn’t have any, but I disdain liars and hypocrites, which probably has something to do with the fact that the former are rare enough that I rarely encounter them while the latter are common and tiresome.
Oh, and, yeah, the result of Cal’s first experiment is that the rabbit explodes into viscera.
<What the abyss?!>
These kinds of bowdlerizations are common in this book. They don’t bother me nearly as much as they did in Succubus, partly because Dungeon Born is semi-regularly reasonably entertaining – damning with faint praise, sure, but Succubus was constantly aggravating, which made me less forgiving of even minor flaws – but also because there’s nothing about Dungeon Born’s premise that implies an adult audience.
On the other hand, look at the scene that prompted that reaction:
[T]he poor thing gave a startled squeak and exploded into a bloody mist, which slowly settled on the walls and floor, scraps of fur and bone plopping wetly onto the other bashers in the room.
Rated E for everyone! Kinda feels like an audience ready to read about rabbits exploding into gore can probably handle the low-tier swears like “Hell.” I forget if the book has otherwise been swearing, so maybe this is just specifically substituting “the Abyss” for “Hell” as a bit of worldbuilding (except it’s in lowercase for some reason, as though it were an improper noun, despite clearly being referred to as the Abyss, but people do this with Hell all the time even though Hell refers to a specific location – and no, the insufferably smug branch of atheism claiming that it’s not actually a specific location don’t have a leg to stand on, because Narnia and Coruscant are still capitalized).
Other experiments are more successful and result in rabbits that can make cleave attacks or which are extra large and covered in stone plating.
By having one of these as a Mob, I could have my other Mobs focus on attacking and hope that this creature would remain the main target of adventurers because of its size and formidable appearance.
Isn’t it a pack of professional adventurers out there? Even the new guys should have received enough basic training to know what a tank is and why it should be a low priority target. A critical part of a tank’s ability set is the ability to draw and keep aggro, which can be accomplished in a couple of ways, depending on what’s available in your setting:
-Body blocking. This is how real life heavy infantry did it, by physically standing between the enemy forces and the friendly archers they were protecting. It’s a viable strategy in dungeons, due to the narrow corridors, but it requires that the things you’re shielding be able to work at range.
-Hate stacking. This is how it works in most MMOs. You have some means of compelling enemies to attack you whether that’s a sound strategy or not, by taunting or whatever.
-Threat. A tank might hit very hard, necessitating that the enemy concentrate efforts on foiling their attacks. For example, perhaps a tank has powerful but easily dodged or interrupted attacks, which necessitates that nearby enemies concentrate on dodging or interrupting those attacks. If a DPS mob tried the same thing, they’d be quickly splattered. The D&D Cleric can sometimes be a variant of this, being heavily armored and also a source of buffs and healing. This makes downing the Cleric a high priority, but their high AC and decent health means that doing so is no easy feat.
Cal seems like he’s sort of pursuing the hate stacking strategy here, but he doesn’t seem to be investing a whole lot of effort into it. Being big and beefy is only half of being a tank.
Some of these experiments are clearly pretty rough on the rabbits, even when they’re successful:
Next, we tried adding the Essence of fire to the pattern of a basher, but each time the Basher would scream and spasm on the floor until it died.
And similar deal with pumping them up with infernal magic (which, apparently they’re no longer worried about being the target of a crusade? There’s some lip service about being hesitant but they still do it, not out of desperation but just to see what will happen):
Again stopping at F-rank six, we watched as the animal started panting heavily; It began shuddering, almost having a seizure.
Oh, by the way, Cal broke into D-rank when he was futzing around with chi spirals earlier, so now his mooks are all F-ranked. Also, he makes a celestial one, which naturally ends up with some healing powers, and seems to enjoy the experience of being transformed. I don’t think the writhing with pleasure was meant to come across as orgasmic, but it’s also not what I’d expect to see from the sort of warm contentment or triumphant joy I’d normally associate with religious experiences (or non-sex base pleasures like good food, for that matter). I dunno, maybe I just haven’t had enough religious experiences.
Adding water juice to a rabbit isn’t fatal but doesn’t do anything, so Cal ends up with four elementally themed bunnies. His next slew of experiments is to test their physical capabilities.
The ir and infernal types were near matches for speed, the infernal won simply by the length of its horn.
I assume “ir” is supposed to be “air?” This kind of typo should immediately leap out to anyone doing any kind of editing at all, except for the author himself, who would likely know what he meant to write and substitute that on autopilot, without even noticing the error. So did this book not receive any editing? Fair enough that a lot of starting authors can’t afford proper, professional editing, but even if it’s just your buddy Phil from Accounting giving it a read over to catch obvious typos like this, some editing is better than none.
The small Earth-types I named ‘Smashers’, the Air-types ‘Oppressors’, and the infernal ‘Impalers’. The Boss got an actual name, ‘Armored Basher: Raile’, while the golden ones had a slightly different flavor to their moniker, ‘Glitterflit’.
This isn’t a bad overall naming scheme, but why “opperssors?” Why not “harriers,” since that is their actual combat role? “Oppressor” feels like something big and imposing, not something fast and agile.
Also, yeah, Cal made a boss bunny. It’s just a bigger version of the stone-plated earth bunny, albeit one with a mysterious ability that Cal can’t immediately discern.
This is probably the best the book has been so far. It’s fun to watch Cal experiment and see what the results are. Some of the experiments are successful, some aren’t. There’s not really character growth, but Cal is putting in effort and seeing it pay off. The biggest issue does still remain, though: There isn’t really any strong opposition. Whether or not these rabbits are super effective or less frightening than tissue paper doesn’t really matter. Cal’s life doesn’t necessarily have to be in danger, but right now he has no rival dungeon to try and keep up with or exceed, no deadline by which he has to hit a certain rank or else miss some big opportunity, no worry that he’ll lose an arms race with the adventurers outside, who will out-level him and leave for someplace more threatening. Sure, he has a goal and he’s pursuing it, but there’s not really any obstacles.