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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Over Encumbered : Side-Quest Shuffle

When I launched the Over Encumbered project – which, in hindsight, was a tad ambitious – I did so by stylizing the games as quests accepted from a “job board.”
Those pieces were fun to write that way, and my hope was that the concept would resonate even with readers who had only a passing familiarity with RPGs. As I’ve adventured my way through multiple worlds this summer, the number of generically-rendered rectangles with pieces of paper affixed to them encountered is staggering. And as I hammer the “accept quest” button as quickly as possible – only later taking the time to actually asses the various tasks, chores, and errands now assigned to me – I’ve come to realize something about not just job boards, but the main-quest / side-quest dynamic in general.

Everyone in the game who is not exclusively urging your hero toward their destiny is a selfish, entitled twat.

With the exception of your character, whose sheer egotism, greed, hypocrisy, and general lack of concern for the well-being of others are every bit epic in scope as the tales being woven around them.

Confused? I would be too. After all, my characters in RPGs tend to be shining paragons of light, luminous examples of the good inherent within us all. Like my character in KoA: Reckoning, for instance: Brought back from death itself, my Fateless One endeavors to never slip past certain moral boundaries in his quest to save the lands from the Tuatha. Maintaining a strict code of never stealing or killing for sport, he works tirelessly toward this goal… Or, he will, as soon as he finishes clearing an area of beasts for a guard who was too chicken-shit for the post, finds those ancient tomes of lewd verse that were stolen from the local monastery, and goes to tell that one soldier’s fiancé that he knows about her cheating, the marriage is off, and the guy wants his mother’s ring back. (I made up none of those. All three are in my active quest log at this very moment.)

Now, before we go too much further, I want to establish that I know full well what the arguments are in favor of job boards and side quests and whatnot: they extend playtime, provide experience/gold/loot, and help create more living, immersive worlds. But, for the sake of amusement, let’s take that immersion one step deeper and talk about the implications of these activities:

Every Potential Adventurer in the Land Hates You

Meet Garthe. After serving in Obligatory Mass Conflict, he came home to find that he didn’t really have any skills outside of the sword-slinging variety; he wandered aimlessly for a while, until finally he found himself in Quiet Village Built Way Too Damn Close to a Cave Full of F*ing Monsters. Here, he found a community full o people who couldn’t perform even basic daily tasks for fear of all the F*ing Monsters, but somehow had access to stockpiles of gold and equipment they would freely give to anyone able to hold a sword the right way long enough to kill a few creatures. Hell, there was an entire house, complete with blueprints for possible expansions, set aside for anyone who could kill the One Big F*ing Monster at the center of the cave.

Garthe was home. His basic combat skills let him amass a small fortune, acquire a home, take the mayor’s daughter as his wife, and gather enough equipment to form a small army of other soldiers to assist in his tasks. Turns out, this village was on the edge of An Entire Kingdom Unwittingly Built at Ground Zero of an F*ing Monster Breeding Ground. He and his troops travelled the land, killing beasts, recovering lost crap, and reaping the ample rewards from happy customers who seemed exceptionally willing to part with all sorts of fabulous items so long as they never had to venture anywhere they might encounter something more dangerous than a small bug.

…except in the instance where your character - who should have been off saving The Entire F*ing World - decided to swing by Quiet Village, accept all the tasks, hoard the gold, sell some of the loot for a tiny bit more gold, renovate and then completely desert the house except for that one chest full of all the loot you didn’t sell but will never equip, and marry then abandon the mayor’s daughter, so that she and Garthe could only meet secretly behind the stables where he  now slept – because let’s be honest, who would hire Garthe when the Savior of Us All in on the job – until the guilt and shame drove her to suicide and him to a slow death at the bottom of a bottle. Good job there, Your Chosen Oneness.

Every Potential Adventurer Employer in the Land Also Hates You

Obligatory Mass Conflict has left An Entire Kingdom in the hands of every man, woman, and child not skilled enough in killing to be a soldier, and all the F*ing Monsters make it really, really hard to get stuff done. Who wants to pick herbs or mine ore or travel to Market Hub Town with goods to promote trade and  prevent the eventual collapse of the economy when packs of teeth on legs lurk around every turn? Sure, there are the local guardsmen, but they’re all either inept or corrupt; worse most of the land’s sellswords, who have a tendency to become mortally wounded during tasks and then just lie there waiting to tell the next guy where they went wrong. Better to just wander the streets, drink at the pub, or stand outside in one spot staring blankly ahead.

But wait! The Almighty Scion of Destiny is, for reasons no one ever asks about, stopping in every city, town, and hut around seeking random tasks that are apparently more pressing than freeing everyone from That One Douche. Instead, places Our Last Hope initially visited report great success in getting thankless work accomplished, or at least agreed to. No chore is too menial, no reward too meager; in truth, most people aren’t even talking to the Great One directly, but just writing to-do lists and sticking them up inside the taverns to be collected. Even so, everyone in town will get a personal visit - probably several times over - just to make sure that no opportunity to recover lost invoices or murder local bandits goes unnoticed.

…although the completion rate of these tasks has dropped off severely since those first few towns reported in. Apparently, Lady Viara’s son still hasn’t been rescued from those bandits; the herbalist in Idyllic Town by the Woods is waiting on the ingredients to mix that plague-curing potion; the guard captain has yet to hear a final report on his recruit who went off to find out why the livestock was disappearing; and the recruit himself has spent the better part of two days sitting just outside an insidious-looking cave, bleeding out, waiting to tell someone that he didn’t see what got him but it sounded terrible and monstrous, before he finally slips quietly into death’s sweet embrace.

Of course, no one wants to try and re-post the job or finish it themselves, having already promised the position and its payment to an Incarnation of Magic Itself; who, by the way, apparently just added the entirety of Northern Snowy Land to the to-do list.

Everybody Who Knows Your True Potential Hates Everyone Else and Also Hates You

“Excuse me, ma’am, but I’m looking for the Savior of Eternity? You see, I helped rescue them from a few Generic Prologue Dangers, revealed their true nature, equipped them with some Basic Things Needed to Stay Alive, and told them to head for the Primary Objective Marker.

That was two months ago.”

“Oh yes! They came by here around then, looking a little lost, and asked about the road to the Marker thing. Well, I told my entire life story, and then mentioned I needed some Level 3 Critters cleared out of my basement. I had a few gold pieces and a Slightly Better than Basic Sword I was willing to part with, and so your Eternal what’s-it pitched in to help. Of course, everyone around here has need of help, and a bit put aside for payment, so that got taken care of, as well. Then the butcher mentioned something about his son being drunk in the next town over…”

“Oh for the love of Whatever Pantheon We Worship! Why is it every time I manage to scrounge up a Chosen One, you people have to burden them with every chore you’re too lazy, stupid, or weak to get done yourselves?!”

“Why, I never…! You watch your tone, mister, or I’ll curse you to Wherever Our Evil Are Condemned. It’s not my fault I inexplicably had better gear to offer your “chosen one” than you did, or that they were so inexperienced that killing some wildlife somehow made them stronger, and you can’t blame me for wanting to get some work done in exchange. “

“But you don’t understand! That One Douche is about to change the course of the Obligatory Mass Conflict by accessing Capitol City So Big It’s Hard to Navigate with help from the king’s Obviously Treacherous Adviser and placing the Magic MacGuffin into the Ancient Device of Unknown—“

“That’s all well and good, but what do I care about such rot when there’s things in my basement keeping me from the fragile boxes I tossed 23 gold into and stacked down there? I know your type; your kind has been spouting off for ages about such nonsense as you just blathered out. If we’re in such great danger, why does it never come home to roost, eh? Why not let your young charges do a little good here and there?”

“Argh, I should have never come here. I can’t expect you to conceive of what’s at stake. But I was so sure I’d impressed the importance of the Primary Objective on the Savior; I was certain they understood that going to my Old Acquaintances house and inevitably discovering them dead was the key to starting something much bigger. At this rate, it will be next year before the Act I Boss gets taken out, and everyone involved in the Act II Plot Twist is likely to be dead by then; of course, by that point, we’ll likely be thralls to the Dark Force Behind it All already. Chosen Ones have no sense of responsibility anymore…”

“If you’re done talking to yourself, I’ve got a few random Level 4 items to lock inside a Master Grade Chest in my pantry. For what it’s worth, I think the people of this land need a helping hand more than a High-and-Mighty World Shaper flitting about altering the course of all history.

Though if you do meet them again, could you ask when they plan on ridding the Level 5 Gobblegooks from my garden? It’s been weeks and they’re still trampling my herbs.”

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