Our new puppet party is playing grindluck to get their stats up and maybe not get ambushed by random encounters every twelve seconds, while also talking over the situation. They are discussing this book’s favorite subject: Something ~*~mysterious~*~.
[“]So,” [Garon] said, changing the subject, “Have you thought it over?”
“Whee!” Missus Fluffbear said, as she rolled over a few times, and Mopsy let her come to a rest before licking her fur. “What? Oh, that. Yes I have.”
It’s not like I’ve accidentally skipped some context or anything. There’s just no indication of what it is she’s supposed to be thinking over. Threadbare spins its wheels for another paragraph or two before shedding some light:
“I’ll do it. It’s not like I have to choose those jobs right away.” Threadbare nodded approvingly. “It’s only three classes, anyway. That will leave you two more to play around with if you do have to take those jobs.”
But, y’know, not that much light. There’s some kind of class combo that Dark Threadbare is aiming to pull off, but we have no idea what. It’s only after a montage scene (there’s a literal montage mechanic that allows Threadbare to teach Fluffbear stuff over the course of 12 hours that blur past in what seems like seconds) that we find out exactly what they’re referring to:
The newly made doll haunters had had a long conversation with the two greater golems, about how their continued lives were literally dependent upon someone having the necromancer/golemist combo, who was sympathetic to them. Therefore, since Missus Fluffbear had already chosen to be a necromancer, she’d agreed to get the unlocks for animator, enchanter, and golemist. Though they weren’t exactly directions she thought she wanted to go in, she didn’t want to risk her friends dying and having no bodies to return to.
In fairness, this isn’t the very first time this was brought up, since the idea of Threadbare being the only one who can rez them was mentioned earlier, but it was still pointlessly vague considering that they end up explaining exactly what they mean in a few paragraphs anyway.
They begin talking about long term plans:
[“]What you want to do, Dreadbear?”
“Save Celia,” he replied, instantly.
“The King and his armies, probably. And Anise Layd’i.”
“A nice lady?”
“Yes, her too.”
In fairness to Andrew Seiple, anyone who was going to get this pun already had, so giving the people who’d missed it an “oh, I never noticed that” moment isn’t really harming the narrative. Still feels kind of weird for the story to wink at its own pun like that, but I probably wouldn’t have noticed if this book weren’t making so many other mistakes.
There is a lot more optimization talk in this chapter. They talk through Threadbare’s entire haphazard build and the older characters (Garon being frequently interrupted by Zuula, which is supposed to be a “audience laughs while everyone in-universe wishes she’d shut up” moment but is instead “I actually want Zuula to shut up because Garon is way better than her” moment) tell him which jobs to focus on and which he should be ignoring. His Model class is normally junk, for example, but he’s got a buff that increases every level he earns with it provided he doesn’t violate his dietary restrictions – and since he doesn’t actually need to eat at all and in fact it takes a lot of effort, that’s super easy for him.
They also discover that the Ruler class he’s been sitting on since chapter three of book one gives out permanent buffs to everyone who swears fealty to him. Following the theme of this chapter and the last:
And so, there in the basement, they knelt and swore fealty to King Threadbare the first of his name, ruler of the basement, at least until they were done and ready to leave the town.
For pretty much the entire rest of the chapter, they just continue discussing build optimization. Dark Threadbare’s gonna become a knight. Threadbare decides he’s going to use Pulsivar as a mount (as seen on the cover). Etcetera.
It’s not until the very end of the chapter when they head out to power level that they encounter an ogre and things start moving again. I’m not complaining, though, because this is the first decent look we’ve got at what the options available both to the characters in the party and the setting as a whole. It limits what our protagonists are capable of not only right now, but also in the future. It’s hard to sort out exactly what is and isn’t important and I can’t just copy paste the entire back half of the chapter, so hopefully my summary is sufficient.
As mentioned, though, we’re fighting an ogre now. Apparently Zuula’s lack of willpower leaves her unable to run away:
But no, the problem was willpower. The correct thing to do with an ogre when you are level one, is to run from it. But her willpower was at half orc levels, and nowhere near what it had been when she was alive. She’d ground that willpower, through eight children, half of whom had survived infancy. She’d ground it through arguments and good times alike with her husband. Ground it since her early days with her first tribe, learning to stand up for herself even when they gave her shit for being a halfbreed.
First thing to note: It keeps referring to willpower, intelligence, luck, etc. etc. being at “half orc levels.” The first time this came up, Garon said he was at newbie half-orc levels, which makes more sense – he had the stats of a five year old. But now it just refers to “half orc levels” on its own, as though all half orcs are stuck with the newbie stats. If Threadbare’s early progression is anything to go by, racial benefits and penalties may make a difference for same-level opposition, but they quickly become irrelevant when comparing across different levels, so it’s weird to refer to a “half orc level” of willpower.
Second, it’s weird that they throw in an incredibly high infant mortality rate. The middle ages did have super high infant mortality (the reason why the average lifespan was like 38 is because of how many people died before they were five – medieval people who died of old age made it to their 50s or 60s most of the time). These people have healing magic and class skills and shit, though. I guess Threadbare wants the second book to be the dark one, and I could see that being pulled off, but not like this. There’s nothing dark at all about a party that’s able to de-escalate homicidal enmity to a rivalry restrained to whining at each other a lot, no matter how many dead babies you add.
But Zuula’s instincts were too strong. She was half an orc, and she would fight. And she was half a human, so she would die for her loved ones.
Do orcs not do that? Gonna point out again that orcs have been strongly coded as Afro-Caribbean, a real ethnicity of people that actually exists. Not just with accents and stereotypes, but with a backstory and worldbuilding that presumes to address the issue of racism, specifically. And apparently, according to Threadbare, orcs – and therefore Afro-Caribbean people – don’t care about their loved ones the way humans (read: white Americans, maybe also western Europeans, when they’re not dwarves or elves or whatever) do?
Just like before, I don’t think Andrew Seiple intends this message, but I am sure as Hell going to take him to task for implying it so strongly even if it’s an accident, because he took it upon himself to directly address the issue of racism, so of course the audience is going to interpret everything to do with orcs as a commentary on race relations. That’s the comparison the book itself drew, and it’s way too late to back out of that.
In any case, Zuula gets gibbed pretty much instantly, Threadbare is dragged away from the fight by a bolting Pulsivar, and that leaves Garon, Madeleine, and Dark Threadbare (riding her own uncooperative mount, which she picked up after the cat lady fight) to sort out how to fight an encounter far higher level than would typically be sane or reasonable.
Thereafter follows a boss fight with the ogre, which is mostly pretty good. The ogre spits out a ton of damage, which makes this a high lethality fight rather than a war of attrition. The ogre has lots of hit points, so it could’ve ended up getting bogged down in the party doing the same thing over and over to wear it down while it makes ineffective attempts to retaliate, but it doesn’t. Much like the cat/vampire/Threadbare three-way earlier, perspective jumps to different characters attempting different tactics to keep the focus on whoever’s doing something interesting and ignore whoever’s doing the same thing eight times in a row because it’s working so there’s no reason to switch tactics until they’re out of blue juice. It took a book and a half, but Threadbare really seems to be getting the hang of how to portray a fight well. We’ve had two good ones in a row.
On the other hand, Threadbare has also decided that Zuula needs to be a permanent party member and has shot its stakes to Hell in a way that the first book not only avoided, but consistently did the inverse of. Stuff and Nonsense steadily escalated the lethality of Celia’s encounters until the last one actually killed people. Sew You Want To Be A Hero showed that actually those consequences were totally reversible and not even really a big deal. Like, if Garon showed some serious psychological damage from being a vampire captive for five years, that would at least show that, immortal or night, he can be harmed. He’s totally fine, though. Mordecai’s mostly fine, too, even though it was supposed to be a plot point that he wasn’t. The extent of the psychological damage to him seems to be that he’s picked up a much more flippant attitude, which, okay? I’m pretty flippant too. I wasn’t locked in a tower and tortured for five years, it’s just, y’know, a personality trait.
The chapter ends with a cut to a pair of cultists watching from a sentry post at the outskirts of their Cthulhoid cult town of Outsmouth. What with all the fire Madeleine is slinging around, the forest is lit up, pretty much exactly like the signal fire they’re supposed to light should the stars ever align themselves. The stars haven’t aligned themselves, but the town mistakes the forest fire for the signal fire and some bells start ringing. It’s not clear what that means, but I’m fine with that. Our characters are headed in that direction, but don’t know much about the town except that it’s the nearest inhabited area. This isn’t like when Threadbare keeps the motivations of its viewpoint characters secret to try and surprise us with them, at the cost of obscuring their actual emotional arc for the first 95% of every chapter. It’s just, y’know, stuff the characters don’t know about is happening, and we don’t know exactly what’s going on either, and that’s fine, because the fish cult doesn’t have an arc so it doesn’t matter if the non-arc is obscured.
In any case, that is the chapter. The focus on the reasonably good fight scene served it pretty well, but there’s still no sign of ditching Zuula or Madeleine to focus on the characters who are actually good, so I don’t really have much confidence that this is going to be a sign of general improvement. Just a brief spike upwards before we regress to the mean of justifying psychopathy.