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.

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Dungeon Born: Dungeon Renovations

Chapter Fifteen

While Cal has been sealed away working on his new mooks, the adventurers out front have noticed the dungeon is sealed up. Dale and his party are assigned to find a “seeker,” some kind of detection specialist mage, and get them to look at the door. You might assume this entails some kind of side quest, but no, apparently this mage needs an escort from one end of the camp to the other, and then for some reason needs to have their report back to the guild master relayed through Dale’s party instead of just going to talk to the guild master themselves.

We also get our first full look at Dale’s party:

They stopped and the other men in his group, Hans, the near silent Josh, and the ranger Steve, now looked upset at Craig’s words.

I can’t even remember which of Hans and Craig is the monk, and it’s still not clear what class Josh is supposed to be. Rogue, maybe? ‘Cause he’s quiet? Or maybe another Fighter, and he just doesn’t talk much.

In any case, without any dungeons to delve, Craig starts teaching Dale how to manipulate his chi more better. Which kind of mirrors what Cal is doing in his dungeon right now (remember that he spent a lot of time chi refining before he expanded his layout and experimented with the elemental bunnies), but I’m not sure what the parallel is supposed to indicate other than “both of these guys are protagonists of this book.”

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Dungeon Born: Elemental Bunnies

Chapter 14 (cont.)

I’m going to try to stick to a lot more summary here, just because by my estimate I’m quoting about half of the content of this book, which means I’m going to be running up against the highlight limits soon-ish if I don’t start exercising a bit more caution. The next several pages aren’t particularly interesting anyway, since it’s just Cal rearranging the furniture and refining his chi spiral in a manner that is moderately interesting in terms of arcanobabble but has basically no impact on the story one way or another. I do appreciate that there is some effort put into making the magic system follow some rules rather than having it work totally arbitrarily. On the other hand, it’s not really clear how these rules can be exploited. This isn’t a Brandon Sanderson-style magic system where a few super powers are defined and then can interact the world in a variety of interesting ways. It’s more like the arcanobabble that I developed a while back, where sure, there’s an explanation for everything, but you can’t actually do anything with that explanation, the mystical mumbo-jumbo just goes an extra layer deep.

During Cal’s expansion of the dungeon, we see him being weirdly dungeon master-y about things. Not in the sense of “is literally the master of a dungeon” but in the D&D sense of “bizarrely concerned with fair play.”

Everything I made was of course an attempt to gain as much Essence as possible, but I liked to reward intelligence and ingenuity, so I always added ways for these traps to be deactivated.

I’m reminded of that reporter girl from Sherlock who intentionally pressed her thumb into printing ink to give Sherlock a clue to spot that she wasn’t just a fan girl, but rather a journalist, and then Sherlock also picks out like four different clues that were already there that she didn’t even realize were there. The flaws with that show aside (especially as time wore on), that one scene certainly has a good point: If someone is really super good at something, you don’t need to design a solution for them. You can go ahead and design traps that are as inescapable as possible given the resources available to your dungeon inhabitants. As a game master, you have to ask yourself if you really want to demand that level of focus from your players, and to punish failures as harshly and irrevocably as the kobolds running the dungeon would like. Your players are here to have fun, and maybe they don’t particularly want to approach this dungeon with Tomb of Horrors-grade paranoia.

Cal, though? Cal’s goal is to kill a decent chunk of the people who come down here. Not all of the people, as he explains:

I wanted people to continue coming down here, after all, and with a reputation as a place where the smartest and strongest could almost always prevail, people would always assume they were among the ranks of the ‘certain survivors’.

But still, he wants to kill a decent chunk of the dungeon raiders. Designing a trap that will kill everyone who enters it is actually quite difficult (unless you’ve got access to things like utterly impenetrable yet very lightweight materials and flawless triggers that cannot be disabled and so on), because for all that players can murder-hobo their way into all kinds of sticky situations through pure obliviousness to potential consequences to their actions, once their necks are actually on the chopping block they tend to start paying attention and get pretty clever about finding a way out with most of their extremities intact. When it comes to traps, provided you respect the limited resources and energy investment that most monsters are willing to put into them, you can do your level best to murder your players and most of the time you will fail anyway.

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Dungeon Born: Religious Dispute

Chapter 14

This chapter opens with Dale having developed a Spidey sense from having cold water dumped on him on random mornings by Hans, he of the inconsistent accent. Apparently this has leveled up Dale’s ability to anticipate surprise attacks, and he wakes up early to grab the bucket out of Hans’ hands and toss it on him instead. Immediately afterwards there is a meeting with the chef, who has this weird quirk where he yells at maximum volume on auto-pilot and has to remember to lower his voice. This is apparently because he’s used to talking to soldiers, who I guess have terrible hearing? He also threatens Dale and his group into collecting herbs from him (again, it was a quest they did last time, not that it wound up making a difference much at all).

Now not only was he able to keep up in his heavy plate armor, he had a good handle on the skills and abilities he needed to decidedly defeat the deadly denizens of the dark dungeon.

That alliteration at the end feels like the author has gotten bored with his own story and is throwing in little tricks like this in the prose just to keep himself entertained. I have no idea if that’s actually what happened here, but that’s what it feels like and that’s a problem by itself. The narrator shouldn’t suddenly come to life and have specific speech patterns like this unless it’s first-person or third-person limited and matches the voice of the character, which this doesn’t. This sounds like Cal is still talking, showing off his basic linguistic abilities like an eight year old for Dani, but he doesn’t narrate Dale’s chapters. Having it crop up in chapters where it’s not Cal narrating feels less like those things were meant to be Cal’s narration and more like Cal just so happens to talk pretty much exactly like the author. Which is weird, because while the characters are kind of shallow, Dungeon Born doesn’t have that problem where different characters have near-identical mannerisms, with sometimes the addition of a single agonizingly terrible quirk (not that Dungeon Born is shy about attempting to characterize its supporting cast with agonizing quirks, like the chef who yells for dumb reasons or Hans’ terrible on-again off-again accent, but it’s not actually necessary, characters have noticeably different personalities on their own).

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Dungeon Born: I Am Beginning To Suspect The Economics Of This Book Were Not Thought Through

Chapter 13-Dale

Dale is super tired and goes straight to sleep after the dungeon raid. He is then woken up by a guy tossing a bucket of water over his head.

“Good morning sunshine!” A grinning menace, Hans was the group member who had been wielding daggers the day before. He loomed above Dale, holding an empty bucket.

So on top of a bunch of characters not being named at all, some of them are picking up names a full chapter after they’re introduced. Really does feel like the author is just naming people as he goes, not bothering with characters who aren’t important, slapping names onto people who turn out to be more important than anticipated, and not bothering to edit their newly given names into the chapters where they previously appeared.

Hans and Dale talk about the benefits of being in the guild. It’s nothing we haven’t heard before, except that we do confirm that a drastically extended lifespan is one of the benefits of a working chi spiral. Dale is shocked to hear this. It is not clear why an ability this useful and this easy to teach isn’t common knowledge. There is both large demand and large supply, but instead of being a huge market that turns a massive profit off of charging everyone and their dog, it’s instead a rare technique apparently not for sale. I’m guessing this is pilfered from xanxia. You wouldn’t expect the really awesome chi techniques to be taught for money. Real life monastic training is regarded with reverence so it usually makes sense for chi wizards with superpowers to have the same perspective on teaching the techniques. Indeed, I’d expect most people who want to buy chi cultivation techniques would be inherently unable to learn them.

These adventurer guys, though? They’re mercenaries, and the techniques they’re teaching are pretty much just basic meditation. Why aren’t they teaching chi cultivation for profit?

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Dungeon Born: End of the Tutorial

Chapter 12

<People are on the stairs, Dani. Get ready for an incursion! This is gonna be awe-soome.> I nearly sang, enthusiasm dancing in my mental voice.

Hey, Dani, remember how an adventuring party stomped in here and completely wrecked my shit? Well it’s happening again, but this time, I have rabbits!

It’s entirely unclear what kind of party we’ve got entering the dungeon this time. Seems like we’re probably looking at Fighter-y fellows just on the grounds that only those types of guys appear to have arrived right now, but numbers are unstated and it’s not clear how many of them are properly geared up and how many are using hand-me-down chain or leather armor or whatever.

Taking direct control of the largest [rabbit], I launched my new body at the back of someone’s knee. A direct hit in the tender pressure point, and the man fell. The attacks on the other humans had varying degrees of success, with a few landing decent hits against legs, some bouncing off armor, and one even being knocked away by a shield that moved when the guy wasn’t even looking!

So, yeah, they’re not Monty Python style killer rabbits, they don’t have any special powers or anything. Cal is seriously just taking totally ordinary rabbits and using them to try and bludgeon his opponents. And he seems super stoked that this is gonna be super effective. His thorn-spitting, fang-mawed mushrooms are way more threatening, and to the extent that the rabbits are helpful at all, it’s that they might keep a target busy while a thorn ‘shroom lines up a shot.

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Dungeon Born: Foreshadowing of Five Armies

Chapter 10

Having taken a couple of days to spend nearly all my free time replaying XCOM in its entirety, I’m pretty sure I’m quite finished half-assing my projects, so let’s dive into Dungeon Born with a proper, full-length post.

It had taken a few weeks of hard travel, but the group of mostly C-ranked adventurers had finally reached a city large enough to have a Guild office, an Elven embassy, and a church with a B-ranked priest.

Okay, so we’re following these guys again. Have we seen the last of Dale? Because he didn’t seem like he was done yet, narrative-wise. He ended his introductory chapter all full of ambition, and so far all he’s done with it is write a letter and show these other guys to the dungeon entrance. I like the idea of having Dale as the consistent face of Cal’s opposition, staying the same while the adventuring parties are usually or always new characters after the last ones die or flee. Since the whole point of a dungeon heart story is that you’re seeing it from the dungeon’s perspective instead of the adventurers’, you might expect that this makes the adventurers the antagonists, and it’d be cool if it turned out that no, the dungeon side equivalent to an adventurer is actually a minion, and it’s the quest givers who are the dungeon’s true antagonist.

Maybe we’ll hop back to Dale and get that dynamic going at some point.

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Dungeon Born: That Rabbit’s Not Dynamite

Chapter 9

I was particularly nervous that another group would come in soon, due to every living thing in my dungeon except me, Dani, and the Silverwood tree being dead and reduced to ash when the jerks, I mean- the scouting group, had come through.

This is not an unreasonable fear, but injecting the narrative with a “joke” like this is even worse than leaving them in dialogue. With dialogue, you can pull the trick where other characters present roll their eyes, so if the joke lands, then great, the audience is laughing and probably doesn’t care that other characters in the book didn’t like it, and if the joke flops, then at least the joke was supposed to be a dud, which means the audience’s eye rolls are directed towards a character in the story, not the story itself. It might even help improve their immersion into the story by making the other characters, the ones who are also rolling their eyes, more relatable.

Sticking it in the narrative, on the other hand, means that when the joke is bad, I roll my eyes at the story.

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Dungeon Born: Late Explanations

EDIT: I forgot to add this to the queue when it was finished editing and didn’t notice that it didn’t publish until late in the evening. Well, I accidentally published a post 12 hours early a few weeks ago, so I figure if I schedule this one for 12 hours late that’s a wash. Also, the title of “late explanations” was actually picked out before this happened. Maybe I should avoid putting the word “late” in future blog post titles to avoid the curse going forward.

Chapter 8

Once again we begin with Cal’s abbreviated perspective on the raid.

I should never have made it so easy to get down. I just really had a thing for the spiral staircase ever since Dani had suggested it.

I am kind of surprised to see the story admitting this is a bad idea. On a similar subject, it’s kind of surprising to have the story let Cal be completely overwhelmed by this crack team of veteran adventurers, even if the delivery was very much underwhelming. This story isn’t without good ideas, although they are unfortunately very often crippled by the execution. For example:

<Dani… I think they are going to kill me.> I uttered slowly when the strange looking man talked about my bloodmoss.

“It’ll be ok Cal; can you tell what rank they are?” Dani replied soothingly.

<No, I just visualize an ‘X’ when I try to analyze them. I can’t analyze their gear either… What is going on?> I demanded, voice low and scared. I liked to understand things.

“The gear makes sense; their aura would protect it unless it got too far away from them. Oh! I never told you about auras! You see, when an aura is present you can’t affect things in the same way.[“]

You can tell from the bracketed close-quote that this isn’t even the end of the lecture. Much like the Cleric shrieking out a calm analysis of the situation, Cal is very likely going to die here and Dani’s all “oh, hey, now’s a great time for a lecture.” Think maybe Dani is acting like this party is a non-threat to try and calm Cal down? Think again:

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Dungeon Born: Dale Strikes Back

Chapter 7

Dale had returned home with the sad news of the deaths of his comrades, citing a landslide which buried all of them. The recent events and his guileless, lightly bearded face meant he had no issues convincing the townsfolk of his sincerity. He shed tears from soulful brown eyes for the lost men… while at the same time selling everything he owned. With the money gained, he purchased the empty parcel of land containing the dungeon – claiming it would be good grazing for the sheep he was planning to buy.

Oh, good. We’re back with Dale. Looks like he’s going to either gear himself up for a solo dungeon raid or else get himself some better trained reinforcements.

His claim to the land secure, he sent a letter to the Adventurers Guild, announcing that he had found a new dungeon and was willing to allow adventurers to come into it for a percentage of the yearly profit it brought in.

Wow, okay, looks like option B. Is Dale even going to return to the dungeon, or is he just going to be the recurring face of a cast of antagonists that otherwise sees constant turnover as parties are mostly or completely wiped out upon entry? Here’s our first group of schmucks:

Quite an event to have any travelers at all, this far into the mountains, people were shocked to see not only armored knights, but an Elf in the group!

Oh. Oh, wow. This is not the ragtag band of starting adventurers out to scout out a new dungeon and get their start that I was expecting. These guys are stomping around in plate. I don’t know how badass that makes them (maybe magical crystal armor a thousand times stronger than steel is the cap for this kind of thing), but I damn well know it makes them, like, a hundred times more dangerous than a bunch of shepherds.

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