Dungeon Born: Stumbling Forward

Chapter Seventeen

The Team emerges from Cal’s dungeon and turns the bodies of the elemental rabbits over to a clerk for inspection, where he also makes a decision that the lower level is too dangerous for lower-ranked adventurers:

As a magically bound document, this would forcibly ensure that members of the Guild below D-rank could not enter the second floor, forcing them to have a C or higher ranked person with them who would have to give them special permission to enter.

This whole “magic document binds people to follow its rules” thing solves all kinds of what might otherwise have been interesting organizational problems. How does the Guild enforce their level gating? Do people ever ignore it? What’s the consequence if they do? You could have people subverting guild authority by going deeper into the dungeon despite standing orders, and others trying to catch them and put a stop to it before the trend catches on and casualties skyrocket. Instead, you sign a piece of paper with a magic wand and it’s impossible for people who don’t meet certain requisites to get down there.

Craig continues his report, describing the loot dropped by the second floor:

“Dropped a small amount of silver coinage, and two possibly Inscribed items, including a helmet and a dagger. We will be getting them both checked for quality and safety before activating them.” Craig didn’t speak quietly enough, and caused an explosion of noise, especially from the groups that were now forbidden to enter the second level. Rune inscribed items were worth up to several hundred gold, even a poor quality one might be worth fifty.

Bear in mind that you can “live like a lord” for a full year in these parts with just ten gold, and that a few copper pieces is referred to as a day’s wages. Now, maybe the local economy is depressed (that definitely seems to be the implication) and cost of living is much higher elsewhere. In the Philippines, you can live off of about $1,000 a month, whereas where I live in a more-or-less middle of the pack cost of living state, it’s more like $2,500 (and in both locations, you’ll want about half again as much to live comfortably). So there’s definitely precedent for even a reasonably developed nation having 40% of the cost of living of centers of economic power (and not even the very heart – cost of living is much higher still in the real core of America’s economic power, places like San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York City). But, still, even assuming cost of living is as much as four times higher for the city these guys would want to live in as compared to the locals, we’re looking at being able to lead an average lifestyle on about 12 coppers a day, which means a fifty gold inscribed item should pay for your apartment and groceries for a century. I’ve made a couple of assumptions here that might not pan out, but they’d have to be off by more than an order of magnitude for even a poor quality inscribed item to be anything else but a treasure so valuable as to enable immediate retirement.

How is it that thinking about this stuff doesn’t come naturally to all adults? Do LitRPG authors not have bills to pay? Do they somehow stumble through life without realizing that just 20% more money would make things so much easier? Actually, I take my skepticism back, that sounds like exactly that kind of thing that an alarming percentage of the population would get up to.

Chapter 17-Dale

The way the narrative keeps pinballing back and forth between different characters’ perspectives, sometimes even minor characters like Craig, it feels like there should probably be less fanfare when perspectives shift. Like, it works when we’re going back and forth between our two protagonists, Cal and Dale, but not when we switch to the perspective of someone like Frank.

In any case, Dale is being taught how to open his second meridian.

“Now, the only reason you are ready right now is that you opened the first of the paired set. You opened the yin heart meridian, so the yang lower intestine meridian will be much easier to open. You don’t have the Essence to open one in a new set, so make sure to listen to my direction.” Craig directed in a serious manner.

This really raises the question of why they just let him open up whatever the first time he tried it, since apparently it’s perfectly possible to explain to someone how to open a specific meridian. My leading guess: The author is making up what the meridians are and what they do as he goes (side note: I’ve been assuming author Dakota Trout is male, based largely on the fact that both protagonists and the overwhelming majority of the supporting cast are male, but it’s actually a unisex name whose -a ending means it’s actually slightly more intuitive as a feminine than masculine name – I guess it doesn’t matter, since the odds of the author or anyone they know actually reading this are basically nil, but now it’s gonna bug me).

These meridians appear to be named more or less at random. The “lower intestine” meridian primarily affects the eyes and ears, increasing Dale’s sensory perception. Sure, it goes through pretty much the entire upper half of his body and does pass through his intestines, and there’s even some dietary side benefits from that, but the meridian starts by going to his pinkies and its primary benefit is sensory, so calling it the “lower intestine” meridian makes sense neither as an intuitive reference to how you open it nor as a reference to the power-up it gives you.

Chapter Eighteen

It turns out Cal can see from his gem, but only directly up, since everything else is blocked off by the borders of the opaque stalagmite he’s stuck in, which is why he has to detect stuff magically most of the time, a sense which only extends to the limits of his influence. While rearranging his dungeon to get at some quartz, though, he opens up a direct hole to the sky above and sees stars.

<Wow. That is so beautiful! I cannot believe people can go up and see them every night.> I articulated with a hint of jealousy, peering beyond the Silverwood tree above me and out into the stars.

“Most people don’t bother.” Dani quietly voiced, also enjoying the view. The sheet of quartz above us acted as a giant telescope, letting us see further and more clearly than usual. It was especially beautiful when the moon came into view, it seemed huge.

<Why is that?> I asked quizzically, disturbed that people actually ignored this beautiful scenery.

She seemed to match my disappointment in others, “Most people tend to only look at, or think about, things that have value to them at that moment. They look so hard at what they want that they drown out the beautiful things that would give them hope, or allow them to look beyond their small lives.

I have an alternative theory for you: Maybe most people just don’t find the stars to be that beautiful. Maybe your taste in background imagery isn’t a sign that you have a deeper connection to the true meaning of life. Maybe it’s just different taste in background imagery. I find ruins beautiful. This is probably not because I have, I dunno, a more pure appreciation for the finite nature of life and thus a greater ability to savor it while it lasts, as opposed to all those stupid plebeians around me who only ever think a day ahead and don’t even realize how quickly death is approaching them. No, it just means I think ruins are pretty.

[“]They forget that everything is important, that the little moments of happiness added up overwhelm the greatness of the few large moments. Like making a friend smile, or making it to the two hundred and eighteenth page of a book.[“]

My ereader claims we’re on page 175, but I’m still pretty confident that in the version the author was using, this was, in fact, page 218, and they’re just patting the reader on the book for realizing the true meaning of life: To reach the 218th page of a book you bought from Dakota Trout.

Further investigation of the quartz above reveals that it is the quartz that the cleric guy made during his demonstration of his magical potence, which means it’s stuffed full of celestial essence. When Cal sees a pair of people standing on top of it, he inscribes some runes into it to strengthen it, planning to hook them up to some corrupt earth essence, but the celestial essence auto-activates them as soon as he’s finished inscribing. This is probably going to have some ramifications further down the road. Like, the priest will declare Cal a saint or something. Also, Cal made that entrance using the cursed earth trick so he can seal anyone who tries to cheat in the staircase and let them starve to death, which, uh…will also render his dungeon exit unusable until they finish kicking it. The book doesn’t seem to notice this. Still not clear why Cal doesn’t surround himself with impenetrable cursed earth.

Chapter 18-Dale

Turns out Dale and Father Richard are the ones who were standing at the top of the quartz looking down at Cal, which prompted him to inscribe the runes in it. When they get auto-activated by the leftover celestial essence:

Father Richard didn’t answer, instead looking at the quartz again, looking for the scratches that had been there. After a few moments, he flopped down into a kneeling position. “It’s a miracle.” He murmured, touching the smooth surface.

Unpredictability is not this book’s strong suit.

Father Richard teaches Dale how to soul bind the item so that only he can use it, and then asks him to spread the word that he’ll pay 50 silver for any of these pendants. That might seem like a scam considering how much even cheap inscribed items were said to sell for earlier, but:

“Aren’t Runed items worth gold usually?” Dale looked at the cheap priest.

“Only if they are able to be activated!” Father Richard responded with a cheeky wink.

So at least the author is able to keep prices straight, even if the value of drops compared to cost of living is completely insane. This isn’t super surprising, since most video games have a perfectly functional economy for player characters, which only breaks down when you realize that the overwhelming majority of people aren’t being piloted by an alien presence whose only interest in this world is adventure and for whom all creature comforts are but ash in our mouths, a gaudy display of wealth at best and at worst naught but a mockery of soft beds we cannot feel and fine wines we cannot taste.

Creepy as the concept of a player character is on reflection, though, we don’t got any of those in Dungeon Born, so player-centered economies make little sense.


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