The Kartoss Gambit: Questapalooza

For those who are reading these as they come out, yes, this one is late. I didn’t want to do another exhausted post at 2 AM right before going to sleep so I decided I’d just push this one back a few hours and write it in the afternoon when I can more easily focus.

Chapter 2 (cont.)

Danny is able to lure goblins out two at a time, where they’re few enough in number to be easy prey for wolf ambush. Inside are regular, non-dark goblins being used as slave labor, plus a dark goblin warrior and the leader of the outpost. That first one goes down so quick we don’t even really see the fight, Danny just informs us that he quickly kited the enemy to death:

Level thirty. A close combat fighter, being a warrior and all, was running towards me, waving his yatagan around. Think again, wise guy! I can run too. However, unlike an archer, I can summon Spirits as well. The wolves again froze like statues, reluctant to be the first to join the fight. I can live with that – I’ll down this one myself and they can look out for the boss joining the fray. Usually one of those comes part and parcel with a long and hard fight.

I brought down the warrior quite quickly: ten Lightning Spirits and I was done.

That’s not a representative sample of the fight. That is the entire fight. Also, I’ll save you a Google, here’s a yatagan:

Yatagan

After killing the warrior, Danny enters the tent and finds that the boss goblin isn’t, like, a video game boss monster, he’s just a greedy schmuck who’s in charge of the operation. You might think the guy put in charge of a secret mining operation on the other side of enemy territory would be some kind of commando stealth specialist, but he seems like he’s basically just the Govertoad with green skin and a much worse grasp of English. Or Russian. Whichever language you’re reading the book in. I picked this part to stop last time because I figured we were about to go into a boss fight, but apparently the crossdressing seduction wasn’t the build-up to the big climax, it was the bulk of the fighting.

Also, while musing on gobbotoad’s reaction to his doffing his disguise, Danny begins thinking about the most beautiful human girl in Malabar (or maybe she’s an elf or something, I dunno):

Miss World. I even sighed. Each year a beauty contest is held in Barliona. One necessary condition is that the participant’s appearance must correspond to their real appearance. For three years in a row the title of Miss Malabar was given to paladin Anastaria. She was a very beautiful girl. Endless poems have been dedicated to her and many players travelled to Anhurs, the Empire’s capital, just for a chance to catch a glimpse of her. I came across her only once or rather just saw her about a hundred meters away. I don’t know what stat she had leveled up in, but it completely knocks you off your feet. Brrr. At the same time she is the deputy of Hellfire from the Phoenix clan and the second most high-level player in the Empire, as well as the author of nearly all the boss manuals. She is someone who looks at the results of your gameplay, and not at bells and whistles like money or presents. She isn’t interested in them… I pushed away my dreams into the background and focused on the goblin.

I copy this in its entirety here, because Anastaria sounds like she’s going to be a significant character at some point (though not necessarily in this book), and I always kick myself when I get to a point in the story that references something brought up earlier but which I cut to avoid bumping into Kindle’s anti-piracy copy/paste limits.

After knocking out the gobbotoad and tying him up, Danny gets to looting the place, and finds a locked chest.

It wasn’t loot, but part of the scenery: if you took it out of the tent, it would simply disappear, along with all its contents.

Wow, that’s aggravating. There are some quality of life video game features that should definitely be ported into full dive, like the ability to contact people across the world (which is basically just a cell phone built into your status menu) and bags that are bigger on the inside than on the outside, but this is an example of a video game-y element that seems to make the world less convenient. If you’ve already got full dive tech, why not let people carry stuff wherever they want?

In any case, Danny’s gotta open the chest while still in this tent.

Now then… I wondered what’s more impressive – a cannonball that could blast through anything or a wall through which nothing could break?

This translation has generally been superior to the last one, but that only makes this inability to translate common English idioms stick out more. This sentence is clearly meant to read “I wondered what’s stronger – an unstoppable force or an immovable object?” Probably the cannonball/wall phrase is how that idiom goes in Russian (if not, the translator has some serious explaining to do), but the English equivalent is just similar enough to make it noticeable when you get it wrong. I’m calling a second moratorium on nitpicking the translation here, because while I did have a new translation at the start of the book, just like last time the translator is probably not getting swapped out mid-book, so there’s not really anything new to say about it, even if I could wring another paragraph out of every weird error. Bottom line: This translation is less prone to errors to the point where I can sub-vocalize Daniel McIrishlastname as American or Irish, but that does mean that when oversights like this do occur they tend to stand out more.

What the idiom above is referring to is Danny’s cunning plan to open the chest: He smashes it with a hammer. It works. If it’s gonna be that easy, why not just have the goblin drop a key as loot? Inside, he finds some +10 rings, a +12 necklace, several thousand gold, and also a map.

I quickly glanced at the map that I got off the goblin. It had twenty percent of discovered terrain in Kartoss, one percent in Malabar and one percent in the Free Lands. I rubbed my face in astonishment, not believing what I saw. Twenty percent of the Kartoss Empire map could mean only one thing – I could look forward to a long and happy life! I could rip so much money from the players for a copy of this map that even thirty percent, which was deducted from me by the Corporation, would seem like small change. As it stands, players usually venture into Kartoss without any maps, as those are extremely hard to get. Yes, my friendship with the wolves sure brought me luck!

It’s unusual but not bad design for players to be required to fill in their own maps instead of getting their own. It does require that player-made maps be rare and valuable rather than freely distributed, because if player maps are free then not including one in your game is just inconveniencing players by forcing them to alt-tab to get the map. Which is even less convenient if you’ve got to pop out of full dive, but no less accessible. Barliona’s apparently some combination of so humongous and so profit-driven that good maps tend to be exclusive to (in-game) wealthy elites, though.

But here Danny gets one basically for free. It smacks pretty badly of AI favoritism. On top of that, Danny gets a chance to hire those ten goblin slaves for dirt cheap. He does have to pay a token wage, so it looks like he’s actually employing them rather than just assuming ownership, so hooray for the good guys not being obliviously evil. Still, feels like Danny just got several big prizes for basically no reason except that the AI decided he alone amongst however many billion Barliona players deserved to receive this quest.

Chapter 3

“I’m gathering a party for the Rortus Dungeon! Need healers and a tank!”

“WTS 40 Wolf Pelts! Just 20 gold each!”

“WTB a lvl 20 Warrior sword with a bonus to STR!”

This is our in media res introduction to the chapter. Given the acronyms, this is probably meant to be on some kind of chat system, probably the same window where Danny’s damage notifications pop up, but I kind of like to imagine there’s people shouting “Doubleyou-Tee-Ess forty wolf pelts!”

But yeah, Danny’s used his teleport scroll to Farstead.

 In this respect it was no different from all the other standard towns in Barliona, from which only Anhurs really stood out. Similar-looking two-story stone houses, gray walls, from which here and there hung the shingles of merchants or various profession trainers.

Wow, that’s terrible design. What’s the point of having forty provinces – presumably two hundred if the other four continents are similarly sized – if you’re just going to have them all look the same? I forget if Danny specifies which server he’s on, but I’m pretty sure it’s the Eurasian one, in which case everything from Britain to Japan and from India to Siberia should be represented on this continent, but I guess instead it’s all medieval France.

After turning in his prisoner, Danny’s asked to wait for a bit while the telepath mages mindprobe him, and is then informed that there’s multiple other squads operating in the same general area (i.e. across the empire from their homeland). He then gets a unique quest to try and track down whoever’s coordinating all these disparate groups, since the telepaths were unable to get it out of the gobbotoad.

Could a simple goblin trigger the system to give me a unique quest? I can understand it with the Eye – the chance of such an item dropping during the first completion of a Dungeon is very high. Barliona is extremely vast, so quests like that drop quite often. A clan like Phoenix completes them fairly regularly. I’m certain of that. However, getting a unique quest from a Mayor is just nonsense! Could my stars have simply aligned in such a lucky way?

Seriously, this wolf quest that Danny blundered into through sheer dumb luck is paying such dividends that even the narrative has noticed how implausible it is.

Danny heads to the bank next.

A new banking feature in Barliona! The idea of introducing such a deposit was quite ingenious, since now PK-players would only be able to get their hands on Legendary Items, with money remaining out of their reach. But two grand a year and five percent from each transaction, on top of the minus thirty percent from the red headband… This is just way too much money for me. But then again, it would mean greater security…

“All right, sign me up,” ignoring my inner Greed Toad, which was protesting vigorously and stomping around my head with a sign ‘We want our money back!’, I decided to set up the new account. Keeping my money safe was a number one priority, as I had little desire to inadvertently enrich random robbers.

I’m starting to imagine Danny’s homonculi – the Greed Toad and the Hoarding Hamster come up a lot in particular – as little animated shoulder angels/devils in an otherwise photorealistic world.

There’s a digression where Danny gets caught in a cyclic quest between two old ladies just down the street from one another exchanging messages, and there’s some shenanigans and he ends up getting a new quest out of it. It’s not super interesting, so I assume it’s here mainly to set up that hidden treasure quest. Danny drops a bunch of gold on maps, and then goes to visit an aged shaman in town, hoping for some answers on how to shaman and what’s up with the governor of Pyrke Mine being a shaman now. The shaman teaches him how to summon his dragon totem, then tries to kidnap the dragon totem, then gets vaporized by the breath of the dragon totem, and Danny is about to be arrested and sent back to the mine for the duration of his sentence for murder when it turns out the shaman wasn’t actually murdered and instead shows up to the room?

“We are apprehending the criminal that killed you,” taking no notice of Almis’s appearance reported the guard, totally unperturbed by the absurdity of his statement.

“Ah, that’s it, is it? I agree, criminals must be apprehended, but I do not see any in this room. Can you remind me once again, what is this young man accused of?”

“Your murder!”

I’ve spent too much time on Reddit to believe it’s unrealistic that anyone could ever be this stupid. I find it really weird that Danny could have his parole revoked for killing an NPC, though. Even disregarding the fact that it was some shaman spirit projection, even if Danny had legit killed this guy, he’s not even an important NPC for the town, and even if he was it’s not like the game has any difficulty making replacements. This isn’t murder or even assault, it’s petty vandalism at worst.

While speaking to the shaman, Danny gets another quest, this one to find out the truth of what happened to Prontho, the Mine Governor, twelve years ago. He was trying to defeat the evil apprentice of Almis – the shaman Danny’s talking to now – but the shaman council didn’t want to bother. He challenged the head shaman to a duel and lost, but Almis suspects there was foul play involved in the duel. If Danny can prove there was, the results of the duel are void and Prontho gets to be a high shaman again.

So, basically, the endless procession of opportunities handed to Danny continues unabated. Seriously, is this going to be a plot point down the road or something?

5 thoughts on “The Kartoss Gambit: Questapalooza”

  1. > Probably the cannonball/wall phrase is how that idiom goes in Russian (if not, the translator has some serious explaining to do), but the English equivalent is just similar enough to make it noticeable when you get it wrong.

    It’s not. I’m fairly certain that Mahanenko mangles idioms for comedic purposes.

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  2. > But here Danny gets one basically for free. It smacks pretty badly of AI favoritism. On top of that, Danny gets a chance to hire those ten goblin slaves for dirt cheap. He does have to pay a token wage, so it looks like he’s actually employing them rather than just assuming ownership, so hooray for the good guys not being obliviously evil. Still, feels like Danny just got several big prizes for basically no reason except that the AI decided he alone amongst however many billion Barliona players deserved to receive this quest.

    Don’t knock it, it’ll make sense in hindsight. Yeah, for narrative reason Mahan is in a probability warping field that makes him gravitate to important events, but it there’s far better framework behind it than in Awaken Online.

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    1. I think it’s more that this trope sticks out more because it’s out of place? Lucky brakes being critical to success is a staple of fiction, but most fiction doesn’t take place in a world designed to give a balanced and fair experience to every person. Its certainly way excessive here, but the favoritism would still be less obvious in a regular fantasy novel.

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      1. It’s the difference between “the story of someone who got one lucky break and made it work” and “the story of someone who had all victory served up to them by a never-ending stream of good luck.” In the first book, Danny was locked in a prison capsule with a class unusually well-suited to rapid advancement in the prison mine area, but while that one lucky break meant that no one except for him could do what he did, he still had to do it (well, except for the crafting fugue state, that was one given to him for free, but at least *most* of his exploitation of opportunity was down to his actual hard work and intelligence). Here in the second book, Danny’s gotten not just one but a half-dozen rare quests, and the closest Danny’s come to intelligent moves in pursuing them so far has been the crossdressing gambit, which relied more on dark goblins being particularly and uniformly stupid rather than Danny being particularly smart, persistent, or proactive.

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