The Kartoss Gambit: Reversal

Chapter 4

The chapter opens with Danny examining his quest log and deciding that his first priority should be the treasure hunt quest. By that I mean his first priority as a quest. He’s still got other town business to attend to, including a visit to the local mage. There’s a puzzle door you can try and enter through to get a discount from the mage, although the price actually goes up if you’re unable to answer enough questions in the time limit. Danny goes for the puzzle door, answers some math riddles (example: “We have a ten-digit natural number. We know that its leftmost digit is exactly equal to the number of zeroes in the number written out, the digit following it is equal to the number of ones and so on until the rightmost number, which is equal to the number of nines”), and gets a discount of two. He buys a few teleportation scrolls for Farstead and Beatwick and a scroll of “bone trap” that works on level 100 creatures to try and capture the werewolf.

He next goes to a jeweler, is asked what specialization he would like, and picks gemstone cutting on pure intuition, despite the fact that rings have been his bread and butter since he started this character. He makes the decision on “pure intuition,” because that is how shamans do, apparently.

The next trainer Danny hunts down is the mining trainer.

The Mining trainer was an almost square-shaped dwarf, who taught me the Hardiness specialization for three hundred gold. He even presented me with a patch for my cloak: ‘Swinger’. No stat bonuses, just Attractiveness increased by 1.

Does the “swinger” pun translate to Russian, or is this just a minor title for reaching high (ish) level in a crafting profession that happens to be a pun when translated to English?

Danny doesn’t have any prison buddies to take care of blacksmithing for him anymore, so he decides to learn that profession for himself. The bonus from his crafting stat makes him reasonably likely to find even incredibly precious gems if he gets his level high enough and starts smelting weird magical metals like phantom iron, something which is completely unknown on the forums and in the manual. Danny suspects that manual managers were bribed to scrub any mention of it. The amount of information blackout that goes on in Barliona is really weird considering a playerbase that is presumably at least tens of millions strong (it’s the Illuminati global government’s psuedo-state sponsored entertainment and all). If crafting is so rare that only .01% of players ever discover it, that’s still thousands of players, and apparently none of them have made a forum post or updated the wiki (unless the bribes passed around to keep this under wraps included an extensive coverup, one thorough enough to thwart the Streisand Effect).

Danny sets out for his quest after attending to all his town business, heading into the wilds to find the lost treasure he’d heard about from the old ladies.

Cartography was a great thing. Even with my non-existent drawing ‘talent’ you could still draw good precise maps. The main thing was to remember, preferably in detail, the entire route you’d travelled. Then the quill in my hand would itself sketch in the necessary marks – in all the scales at once.

This is another thing where it seems like an unnecessary departure from standard MMO practice? As it stands, MMOs just automatically fill in a map of where you’ve been. It’s pretty easy to imagine a system that increases your cartography XP the more of the map you fill in. Why add the necessity to draw things in by hand, especially if the computer is going to jack your motor control to do the drawing for you?

The treasure lies in the center of the bog. There’s a couple of encounters along the way, but none of them are especially compelling. There’s a swarm of mosquitoes that Danny gets away from by submerging himself in the water and swimming away, leeches that he gets away from pretty much just by frying them with lightning every time one of them latches on, and a pack of crocodiles or alligators (the narrative refers to them interchangeably as one or the other, and it’s not like I’d be able to tell the difference if I were playing the game) which gets a detached description. Danny blasts them with lightning until they die, and mentions that he nearly runs out of hit points a couple of times and has to scarf some potions that he bought back in town. There’s a giant turtle that almost eats him. It’s not as exciting as it sounds.

In the center of the bog, underneath some trees where, presumably, likes the treasure, Danny meets with some amorphous hairy thing called a woodwothe. The woodwothe tells Danny that he must answer riddles to get the treasure. Danny unloads a bunch of lightning spirits on him. The woodwothe decides that maybe riddles aren’t necessary. Danny’s able to extract an oath from it promising not to harm him, and then blacks out from some kind of sleep spell. When Danny comes to almost half a day later, he starts negotiating with the wothe, and…it turns out that a dragon Swiftbel was friends with left the treasure here? And also that all dragons are basically the same (at least according to the woodwothe), so Danny summons his dragon totem and the woodwothe hands the treasure over. Then they play hide and seek with the dragon for two hours, because it’s a little kid and wants to play. And it turns out the treasure is just a really great dress which can make any female NPC fall in love with whoever presents them with it.

It’s all kind of dull and aimless. Danny’s primary motivation in coming out here is just that he wants treasure, not for any particular purpose but just because hooray for treasure, the encounters along the way just kind of happen, and the only particular outcome is that he got an awesome dress and also learned that at least as of 40 years ago (before Barliona was actually released, so in the fictitious backstory) there was at least one actual, real dragon in the world. Danny got a little notification drawing attention to that, so I assume it is somehow plot relevant, but it was a whole lot of book sacrificed on the altar of establishing that.

The whole back half of this chapter severely lacks both any particular reason to care if Danny succeeds and any particularly interesting opposition. Danny responding to a challenge of riddles by blasting the monster with lightning was kind of funny, but then the actual solution to the quest was just to show off his rare Pokemon. One thing in particular to note: If dying was a serious, near-fatal setback to Danny the way it had been back in the first book, that would’ve at least given this whole quest some stakes relevant to that (plus, unless Danny’s got a death wish, he’d presumably

Chapter 5

In this chapter, Danny meets Anastaria, the one super high level and also phenomenally attractive (and verified to at least mostly match her real appearance, too) girl mentioned earlier. That happened way faster than I was expecting. And we also learn that Danny’s such a city kid that he won’t abandon the “only tourists look up” principle for anything:

“Hey Mahan,” my thoughts were interrupted by a low and self-assured voice. “What are you doing here?”

I looked around and saw no-one. What the…? Am I starting to hallucinate now?

“Look up,” said a breathtakingly beautiful female voice. I looked up and saw two griffins, silently flapping their wings above my head.

Why are the griffin wings silent, anyway? Most flying mounts make flapping noises. Is it just so that Danny can be confused when he first hears Anastaria’s voice?

Griffin number two is ridden by a dwarf named Hellfire, Anastaria’s clan leader and the founder of the Phoenix clan, best on the continent and among the best globally. They’ve heard about Danny from when he got the first clear on that dungeon back in the prison mine, and are wondering what he’s doing out in the middle of nowhere.

“You didn’t answer my question. What are you doing here? What does this ‘exile’ mean? Since when do ‘red riding hoods’ get exiled?” [Hellfire asked]

I briefly told them the main points of the law, which required the first six months of the sentence to be served either at a mine or in a settlement.” [sic]

“So you’ve managed to earn Respect with the guards in less than six months?” Anastaria’s somewhat distracted demeanor changed to visible interest. “How did you manage that?”

“Red riding hood” isn’t a term I think has come up before, but very likely refers to the red headband that brands Danny as a convict. I’m not sure if it goes away once his six month psuedo-parole is up.

But more importantly, Anastaria was apparently not interested in Danny before now. So what the Hell is she doing here? I had assumed she and Hellfire were all “hey, this Danny guy seems cool, what with the unique quest and all, let’s get to know him.” But apparently not?

Danny tells Anastaria that he mainly lucked out getting released so early. Most of his success came from being a shaman and therefore able to reliably aggro rats from a distance instead of chasing them down with his pick.

“You got lucky with the Dungeon too?” now Hellfire joined our conversation.

“To be honest, yes. Eric, one of our five-strong group, saw a dot in a mountain. He played Barliona before prison as a tank, so we believed him. That dot turned out to be a cave entrance. We completed the Malachite gathering quest and went through the Dungeon. It was aimed right at our level, so it wasn’t too difficult.”

“But Eric, as you call him, Leite and Clutzer said it was actually pretty hard,” judging by the way Hellfire was watching me, he was expecting some sort of a reaction. It was strange, but the more time I spent in Anastaria’s company, the more I wanted to curl up in a ball under her feet. She’s just an ordinary girl, even if unbelievably beautiful, with such wonderful hair that you want to… Right, pull yourself together, you sop!

“‘Hard’ is when you’ve had a hundred wipes and are out of ideas on how to keep going. When a Dungeon is completed at the first attempt – it’s not that hard,”

Damn straight. I’m surprised a veteran player would call a dungeon cleared on the first attempt hard. Sure, it wasn’t easy. It was touch and go for a bit, and they had to pull some shenanigans to kill the final boss. It wasn’t that difficult, though.

“And how did you find out about Leite, Clutzer and Eric?”

“They’ve gone through a trial and became our Recruits. They’re part of Phoenix now. When you get to Anhurs, drop by our clan’s representative office. You’re expected there already. When you complete the trial, you’ll join us as well,” Hellfire did not have a shred of doubt that I would be unable to turn down his offer, and my pride reared its head. So what’s this then – Eric, Leite and Clutzer are already in Phoenix? Have all our plans for creating our own clan gone to the dogs now? Well, you can all go bugger yourselves! I won’t join, and that’s that!

I am extremely sympathetic to this reaction. What the Hell, guys?! We had plans! We were going to rule the world together! Well, fine, then, I’ll show you! I’ll show you all!

Second point, though, you may be wondering why it is that these two don’t already know how Danny’s parole works given that they’ve already spoken with other prison players. The answer is that apparently the parole thing only applies to the first six months of the sentence. Danny spent three in the mine so he’s got three left before he’s just a regular player. The others were all past the six month mark when they left the mine. Now, I’m pretty sure in the last book Danny and his buddies were all planning around meeting up after the three month parole period expired, which rather implied that they would all be going to different places and be unable to leave. After all, if Danny’s the only one early enough in his sentence to be nailed to a specific location, why don’t the others just come to him? If I’m not remembering that wrong entirely, though, it must’ve been retconned.

Hellfire and Anastaria are looking for information on where the Kartoss squads are hanging out, and they can’t just scout from above because there’s a ziggurat in the area, a bit of Kartoss infrastructure that can blanket a 40-mile diameter area in invisibility buffs for Kartoss units. I guess the group Danny fought was outside the range? Or maybe the invisibility only works on creatures who are a certain distance off the ground, or even just a certain distance away?

A ziggurat in this province? Guys, are you sure you’re not confusing something? All right, there may be a squad of dark goblins, even ten quads with ten goblins in each. They are all level twenty-thirty. A ziggurat is something a lot more serious! Only a Magister can set one up! Why would there be a Dark Magister of Kartoss in the Krong province?”

“You really aren’t a noob,” smiled Anastaria.

“When you join the clan, I’ll take you into my squad. Although… stop! Hel, get him!” A gust rushed through the area. Hellfire, who was standing a couple of meters away, was suddenly sitting on me – I was pinned to the ground and practically immobilized. “Stacey, what happened?” though Hellfire didn’t understand anything, he carried out Anastaria’s command without question. Like an experienced raider – first do, then ask why. It’s the only way it works in the Dungeons.

“Our little Shaman here is getting just a little too curious. Are we looking at competition here? Even if he’s too much of a small fish to be a competitor. Hel, think about it: we didn’t say how many goblin squads there were. We didn’t say what level they were. We didn’t say how many goblins there were in each squad. But Mahan told us all these things just like that, while the Herald shared this information with us as highly confidential. You don’t find it all a bit strange?”

“This guy seems to know a lot about this quest we’re on that originated in the region he is obligated to spend 100% of his time in. Quick, antagonize him!”

“Mahan? Is there something you want to tell us? Or will we have to be persuading you? You think I don’t know what the red band on your head means?”

Even if you didn’t know what the headband indicates, he just told you he was a prisoner who earned his way into a psuedo-release into the game world proper.

They don’t end up shanking Danny on the spot, and he tells them how he found the goblin quest, albeit without mentioning the wolves (I guess he told them he just went wandering in the woods looking for them after being ambushed by the first goblin?). They then helpfully explain to him that they slaughtered his work crew from above with a meteor shower because they mistook them for the enemy, at which point Hel begrudgingly offers him a few thousand gold as repayment. Danny’s not just a rando, he’s someone they’re specifically scouting to recruit into their clan, but Hel doesn’t seem to be making much of an effort to persuade him.

Danny soon after bumps into Plinto, the leader of the Dark Legion, the number two clan of the continent and Phoenix’s main rivals. Apparently their schtick is that they’ll accept anyone and try to overwhelm Phoenix with pure numbers. A strategy that is apparently not effective? One line in particular indicates that the Dark Legion’s average player level is significantly smaller, but if this MMO has even a soft level cap, it shouldn’t be hard to get a huge number of players who’ve hit it. It’s been out for years, the early rush of people power leveling up to maximum should be long over. So is there just no level cap at all, then?

Attention! The ‘Last Hope’ quest chain has been blocked due to the destruction of Grey Death and her pack. Pack respawn time: 4 months

I blinked in surprise at the message that popped up. The wolves have been killed… I had high hopes of getting a nice bonus at the end of this rare quest chain… But then these high-level players flew in and destroyed everything… I threw myself at the Tin Vein in powerless rage. Why am I so unlucky of late?

Guess the other foot had to fall sooner or later.

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