The Kartoss Gambit: Crossdressing to Victory

Chapter 2

Danny’s coming back to his house from the graveyard and is intercepted by his landlady.

“When did you manage to get out?” asked Elizabeth as soon as I stepped into the courtyard. “I thought you were having a lie-in until noon, but it looks like you’re quite an early bird.”

“I thought I’d take a walk,” I said, side-stepping the question, reluctant to bring up the monster. “I decided not to wake anyone, climbed over the fence and went to check out the local surroundings.”

“I thought I’d take a walk” is indeed side-stepping the question – telling her why you left instead of how – but then you answer the question anyway, so why bother with the side-step?

Danny has some kind of Shaman(?) power that lets him talk to dogs, and he uses it on Elizabeth’s guard dog Tiny Tim. This gives him the stunning insight that level 70 werewolves are more dangerous than guard dogs. It’s actually a pretty cool scene (though too long to copy/paste here) and a perfectly good way to establish how the power works, but he gets a little pop-up and everything that tells him that what he’s learned is that the monster “terrifies even the largest and most vicious dogs.” Thanks for the tip, Barliona, does it also frighten hamsters and small children?

After interviewing the dog (Clouter sees the dog terrified by the thought of the werewolf and gets after Danny for scaring the pooch, which may or may not be relevant later), Danny turns to the obvious source of information: The wiki and forums. Naturally, it wouldn’t be much of a story if the solution to the entire quest line was already catalogued, but Danny does discover that the quest isn’t tied specifically to the village of Beatwick, but is rather a “variable quest.” So far as I can tell, what that means is that it doesn’t always start in Beatwick, but instead can spawn anywhere. A forum search reveals that the monster is a “Vagren” and is level 100, even higher than Danny’s initial estimate based on its damage output (which he did say was a minimum).

And for some reason 24 people found the definition of “Vagren” so compelling they felt the need to highlight it:

Vagren. A type of Werewolf that keeps its consciousness after a shape-change.

25 now, but I had to highlight it to copy it into my blog and wonder why so many other people highlighted it. What’s their excuse?

What this does tell us, though, is that the local werewolf retains its consciousness, if not its senses, while transformed. I’m guessing that at minimum, the werewolf is able to understand what’s going on and remember what’s happened when they’re transformed. It’s possible that they’re overwhelmed with instinct to the point of being out of control while transformed, but the implication I’m getting is that the werewolf is completely in control and is menacing the village intentionally.

As I left the house I glanced at Tiny Tim. He had now recovered and was rampaging around with Clouter. Having allowed himself to be mounted, Tiny Tim ran around the enclosure like a veteran racing horse and Clouter was laughing at the top of his lungs, grabbing his ears like reigns.

Ow.

Danny heads out to try and hunt some wolves down for his grey terror quest, but can’t find anything, so he starts using his lightning spirit to slaughter random small animals.

But to stave off boredom I continued to repeatedly terrorize the surrounding insects. Oh, there’s a mouse running there. Just hold on, I’ll get you now!

Damage taken. Hit Points reduced by 220: 450 (Arrow hit) – 230 (Physical defense). Total Hit Points: 420 of 680

Despite the excruciating pain in my shoulder, I dropped to the ground and rolled sideways.

Damn. That mouse is hardcore.

Turns out that it’s not actually a mouse, though. Rather, Danny’s been hit by an arrow from a dark goblin (is this a more powerful goblin or a stealthy goblin, or…?). These are minions of Kartoss, which you’ll recall is the local Mordor, but Krong province is on the other side of the empire from Kartoss, so what the Hell? Presumably the presence of this mook out in the middle of nowhere is somehow related to whatever gambit Kartoss is getting up to. It’s a level 30 creature, but Danny is able to lure it into melee and then run it down, keeping it close enough that it can’t use its bow effectively while spamming his lightning attack.

In the aftermath, the wolves show up, and Danny ends up in another misty dream memory probe dealy, like he did with Tiny Tim. The goblins captured a tin mine the wolves had claimed, stole their cubs, killed half the adult wolves, and drove the survivors out. Danny decides he’s going to forego the “kill all the wolves” quest and instead take a new quest to help the wolves against the goblins. Step 1 is to heal the leader’s mate before she expires, but Danny’s healing spell is bouncing off, and then he gets…a legal notice, warning him that proceeding in the quest will turn pain sensations up to 50%, and basically telling him and his lawyer to fuck off if he accepts the quest and can’t handle the consequences. Danny’s got 100% pain to begin with, so he doesn’t actually have to care, but apparently masochism is a critical component of this quest chain.

No way I’m going on with this! Breathing heavily, I got up from the floor, where I collapsed from the pain that suddenly hit me. Could my 100% sensory input have been topped up with another 50%?

Never mind, he does have to care. He stumbles across a method of letting others take the pain, though. If he heals the wounded wolf while touching both her and another creature (or at the very least, another wolf – he doesn’t try it with non-wolves), they’ll take the pain instead of him. He runs through the leader’s stamina and when that runs out he runs through all ten wolves in the pack and still has to remove the last arrow himself, taking the hit while he does so. He doesn’t feel super bad about off-loading the displaced pain onto the wolves, though:

victim. And why not? These weren’t real wolves, but Imitators, let them suffer for their leader. It’s not like I should be the one doing all the work.

Reminder if anyone’s forgotten, “Imitator” is a low-level AI that imitates intelligence without actually having any. So these wolves are actually incapable of pain to begin with, they’re just yelping because their yelp animation and sound effect is triggered by certain thresholds of damage or whatever.

I did not dare invite the she-wolves, who had less Hit Points than the damage caused by the arrow. They were women, after all, even if they did have tails: how could you put them in harm’s way?

Even laying aside the fucked up gender politics, didn’t we just barely establish that these are Imitators? They’re not women or men or humans NOS, they’re unfeeling robots.

Regardless, Danny gets the big wolf on her feet, and then she immediately tries to kill him, for some reason. The wolf’s mate has to intervene.

The she-wolf got up again and was about to attack me, but the pack leader stood in her way. The wolves had a growl-chat between themselves, with the tone of her growl being higher and accusing, and his calm and reasonable. Just like an experienced husband talking to a wife who’s having a bad day.

Man, all the sudden this book has opinions about women. It’s not like the thing where the Grey Death tries to eat Danny is even important. Apparently Vasily Mahanenko just felt this chapter needed a commentary on how women are homicidally unstable. After heading to the tin mine, Danny sees that there’s still a bunch of dead wolves lying around. Since completing the quest to save them from the goblins causes them to clear out from Beatwick forever, he contemplates harvesting the tails from the already slain wolves to at least partially complete his quest to kill ten wolves plus the Grey Death.

At least I’ll get it half done: perhaps the Headman would accept it, even without Grey Death’s tail. By the way, I first thought that to be the name of the pack leader, but the truth turned out to be quite different.

Why wasn’t this realization written into when he first encountered the Grey Death? I’m kind of reminded of earlier when the book backpedaled out of its sequel hook and instead wandered off into something completely different, except this time he could’ve just edited the earlier scene instead of dropping this clarification in like three pages after it first came up.

Those goblins are still each individually double Danny’s level, though, he won’t be able to run them down and fight them in melee where they’re weak when there’s more than one of them, and the wolves already catastrophically failed to clear this dungeon themselves, so he starts looking up the monsters in the game manual to see how he might defeat them.

A Dark Goblin. A humanoid race that lives only in the Kartoss Dark Empire. It is one of the few races that cannot be chosen by players. Race characteristics: +(Level) to Agility, reduced Hit Points and Strength. When they see an orc female, they completely lose their head and do everything in their power to seduce her. The appearance of a Dark Goblin is provided in the illustration.

I didn’t bother looking at the pictures of Dark Goblins, and immediately started to search for the appearance of an orc female. I found it. Oh boy! How could this two-meter green hulk with bulging muscles and a bone pieced through the nose be the object of passion for the meter-high pointy-eared munchkins? It’s a pity that I don’t have any friends with orc characters or I’d ask them to help me seduce this green rabble. As it stands, I might as well be painting myself green… Paint!

A light bulb lit above my head! There is only one trader in Beatwick and although he doesn’t have that many wares, he must have some green paint. It’s a completely standard item. I would borrow or buy a skirt off Tisha. I’d pad out all the right parts with dead grass, paint myself the right color and would look just like a female orc from afar. A wig would come in handy too.

In addition to ongoing opinions about women, let’s throw some African stereotypes in there, too. Side note: Despite the association, I can find no evidence that Africans ever did the nose-bone thing, that tradition came from Oceania, and while there are some tribes who were actual cannibals and used actual human bones, the majority used boar tusks or carved shells. Having boar tusks coming out of your nose looks way the Hell cooler than having some fragment of a femur jammed in there, although it still looks hella uncomfortable.

More on topic, though, this is like the weirdest way to solve a quest. Using disguises or other trickery to lure powerful enemies away from the prize while allies go in to retrieve the pups is not generally a bad plan or anything, but why is “insatiable lust for musclegirls necessitates crossdressing” the route we’re going? Like, the critical weakness of the dark goblins could’ve been greed, or bloodlust, or being taken completely by surprise by the ferocity of the French taunting.

Danny needs to pick up the items he needs for his disguise, plus a teleportation scroll to the nearby town so he can get there without spending more than 48 hours outside his parole village, from a merchant visiting town. While there, he gets a mysterious spider eye identified. I can’t remember where Danny got this thing, but it gives him a quest to prevent an evil spider cult from summoning up ancient Tarantula Lords to plunge the world into a thousand years of darkness, so I hope he got it off of that dungeon he cleared, because otherwise the game is just handing him this hyper-rare legendary quest drop by pure dumb luck. The quest requires a minimum of twenty level 100 players, so it’s far beyond Danny’s current capabilities, but something for he and his prison buddies to sort out when their parole is up and they can all finally meet up.

Afterwards, Danny dons his disguise:

The leather tunic left enough space for me to stuff plenty of grass in the relevant places, giving me a truly feminine appearance.

This book is so shy about Danny making fake tits for himself, but it’s not like there was some law of LitRPG that demanded a crossdressing quest. You could’ve just not had this plot at all.

I tore off a couple of hairs from the wig and used them to tie the bone in place.

How? Don’t you need a nose piercing for that? Did Danny just have a nose ring this entire time that the narrative never mentioned?

One thing made me nervous – the she-wolf kept snorting, as if she was laughing at me. That’s fine, keep laughing, I’ll find a way to get my own back.

It occurs to me that there’s probably nothing stopping Danny from completing the “save the wolves” quest and then immediately turning around and killing the Grey Death to also complete the “hunt the wolves” quest. Well, nothing except the fact that she’s got like eight levels on him.

Yup, those guys were ready – completely losing their heads as they ran towards me, blowing me kisses on the way. How disgusting. One of the lover boys jumped to a shrub behind which a wolf was sitting and tore off a few branches. Were they going to bring me flowers as well? Cool, I think I’d like that… Blagh! What’s got into me!

Are you trying to tell us something, Danny? Does the skirt make you feel pretty?

Things only get weirder as the goblins close in. In order to maintain the disguise while his wolf allies close in for the kill, Danny fends them off with his orc-y mallet rather than his shaman powers, because apparently shaman powers are weird for orcs (or maybe Danny’s singing voice sounds insufficiently feminine, even for an orc woman?). Getting walloped in the face by a mallet causes the targeted goblin to fall completely head over heels for him…which is when he gets a pop-up informing him that there are achievements for seducing large numbers of Kartoss-aligned creatures, and also he can now understand goblin to help facilitate his new social life. This is when the wolves show up:

With huge, tear-filled eyes they looked at me as her who betrayed all their hopes… Err… I mean him, rather! To hell with all this! Now I’m the one getting confused.

Maybe it’s just because it’s super late, but I have no idea what to think about this book’s sudden swerve into how confusing gender identity is when you dress up like an orc woman to seduce goblins.

Being that it is super late, though, I’m leaving off here for now, even though we’re mid-chapter (in fairness, Way of the Shaman has way bigger chapters than most LitRPG).

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