Tessa knew what she had to do, and, as a welcome change, it was something she was able to look forward to putting in the work it required.
“We have to become a team,” she said, casting her gaze towards the farmhouse which waited, dark and foreboding off on the distance. It stood there, a silent and deadly challenge that a part of her couldn’t wait to tackle, while a smarter part reminded her not to try tackling it alone.
“I thought we already accepted your invites?” Rip said. “I can see you on my party window.”
“Yeah, we’re a party now,” Tessa said. “Anyone can be part of a party though. Just accept the invite. Just show up. Just stand around. Being part of a team takes a bit more. Team’s work together. They know each other’s moves. They have plans and they have each other’s backs.”
“We’ve got your back,” Matt said, ernest seriousness writ clearly on his metal face.
“Not yet you don’t,” Tessa said. “We don’t know each other’s abilities well enough. We don’t know what each other’s limits are. We don’t know how to maximize what we can do collectively so that the four of us can accomplish more than four times what any one of us could do alone. We’re are a party, but we need work to become a team.”
Rip looked like she was going to argue but Alice cut her off gently before she could speak.
“She’s right, and it applies to all of us.”
“But you’re a veteran, you know this game like the back of your hand don’t you?” Rip asked.
“Yeah, I can carry us to some extent,” Alice said. “But Pillowcase is right. There’s a huge difference between a group where one skilled player is handling all the problems and a group where everyone is working together.”
“Well, we’re trying,” Rip said.
“Good,” Tessa said. “That makes four of us then. Alice has the most experience here, but as a healer she needs to be nearly precognitive, and she can’t do that without knowing us really well. She needs to know how we fight, when we’re likely to take damage, and how dangerous it is to leave us partially healed.”
“I’ve got a a bit of a learning curve to deal with too. My class, [Grave Mender],is a new one, so I’m sure there are some surprises or optimizations I’ll need to work out,” Alice said. “And, even beyond that, I’m not used to being this low level, or fighting immersively like this.”
“So how do we become a team then?” Rip asked.
“We march in there,” Tessa pointed to the farmhouse. The dark wood which made up its walls seemed to swallow the abundant moon and starlight which lit the High Beyond’s night. In places where the thatching on the roof had caved in though the darkness took on a seemingly tangible quality. “It’s not a dungeon, but it’ll help us get ready for one. Before we do that though, let’s go over what we can do now.”
Tessa went first, describing what a [Soul Knight] could do and what her role in the party was meant to be. For Rip and Matt’s sake, she described the basic mechanics of tanking in the Fallen Kingdoms, how tanks had significantly more durability than any other class and how different tanks were setup to achieve their enhanced survivability, from being able to simply shrug off blows, to possessing preternatural reflexes which allowed them to dodge heavy hits, to (in the case of [Soul Knights]) being able to recover health which they’d lost by stealing it from their foes.
She also covered the general rules for “hate management” or controlling who a monster was going to attack. From the specific [Provoke] effects which forced a monster to attack the one who provoked them, to the more complicated [Emnity] calculations which monsters used to determine who was the biggest threat based on things like damage done, conditions inflicted, and distance.
“Hate shouldn’t be a problem for us right away,” Tessa explained. “I’ve got a couple of abilities that should let me drag mobs away from you even when you go all out. I want to hold off on using them though because I want you both to learn how to pace yourselves so that, once your abilities can outstrip the tools I have, you’ll already have a sense of when it’s safe to burst something down to the ground and when you need to hold back and let me keep whatever it is focused on me.”
For Alice, Tessa went on and explained some of the mechanics of the personal healing she had access too, both in terms of how strong it was and the limitations on each ability.
“I’ll try to keep from topping you off then unless we’re fighting something hellacious,” Alice said. “I have a passive skill which boosts my healing on injured targets, so I’ll be a lot more efficient if I’m healing you when you’re below at least three quarters of your max health. If you can fill up the rest, I should be able to space out the heals even more to make sure I don’t run out of magic mid-fight.”
From there, Tessa took her turn, describing the healing role [Grave Menders] played. She offered contrasts with her main class, [Solar Priestess] too, noting how her new class lacked the ability to convert damage she healed into spells which inflicted damage back on the enemy. In exchange [Grave Menders] had some of the strongest group healing in the game.
“I don’t have [Mass Life Return] yet but the beta-testers were calling it required for raids going forward,” Alice said, sounding less than entirely thrilled with the idea.
“When does that show up?” Tessa asked.
“Level 60,” Alice said. “So, not really a factor for us.”
“How long will it take us to level up that much?” Rip asked.
“If we were being power leveled?” Alice said. “We could probably make it to 60 in a couple of hours. On our own though it’s going to take longer. A lot longer.”
“A few days longer, or like a week?” Rip asked.
“When I leveled up my first character the level cap was still 60 and it took me about ten months to make to 60,” Tessa said.
“It’s gotten easier and quicker since then,” Alice said. “But that’s in the game where we can take all kinds of risks. We’ll have to see how things go here before we can really say what our leveling speed is going to look like.”
“I wonder if we’ll even be here that long,” Matt said. Tessa thought he sounded unhappy at the prospect that they might not be, but he was able to keep his metal features schooled into a neutral expression.
“My suggestion is we act like we will be,” Tessa said and glanced over to Alice. “I’m not saying we have to commit to being a team from now till then, but right now it doesn’t look like there’s an option for getting back and making plans around that is like building a sand castle on a cloud. If we can keep up contact with the folks back home, we can use that to keep our option open, but for now I think we need to make sure we can survive and prosper here if we need too.”
Matt nodded, his voice mute but the tension in his body eloquently expressive. He was more than happy to make sure he and Rip had a stable life here, which told Tessa everything she needed to know about what his life was like back on Earth.
“If we can find a portal back to the regular zones, I can get you all invites to [AOL], the guild my main character is in,” Alice said. “They’re idiots, but they’re a good bunch, and they can handle most of the stuff this game throws at us.”
“I’d be glad to sign up,” Tessa said, “but shouldn’t most of them still be on the other side of the monitor?”
“Hopefully,” Alice said, though her expression indicated it was probably a hope which was unlikely to be fulfilled. “That’ll limit what they can do for us, but for low level quests, it’s probably safe for them to help out, and Cease All is a full crafter so she can make whatever we need, equipment-wise.”
“They’d take us even though we’re low level?” Rip asked.
“Yeah,” Alice said, “We take in fresh blood whenever we find people who are worth playing with. It’s how we’ve kept the guild going for this long.”
“That’s good,” Rip said. “I was just worried we wouldn’t be able to do enough.”
“Right now, we’re in a weird position,” Tessa said. “We’re incredibly weak because we’re so low level, but we’re also free to try things that the players who haven’t been drawn in yet can’t risk.”
“In level shifted areas there’s plenty that you can do already too,” Alice said, and began to break down the role and abilities of Rip Shot’s [Archer] class.
Tessa had always like good archers. Unlike melee fighters, they tended to be out of the range of wide area spells and effects which boss monsters unleashed. As a wise man once said “the best defense is not to be there”, and for a healer that meant not having to worry about healing [Archers] at all most of the time.
On the other hand though, when an [Archer] did manage to draw the monster’s hate off the tank, things could get ugly very fast. Unlike Pillowcase, Rip Shot’s defenses were roughly the equivalent of tissue paper and even once she was higher level they wouldn’t be improving by very much.
Good positioning could help a lot there, and [Archers] did get movement related abilities which helped keep them away from things that wanted to squish them. Additionally in a duel against other ranged characters they had some nice tricks like short hops of instantaneous teleportation and even the ability to snatch projectiles aimed at them out of the air, but those were all much farther down the line for Rip.
For the time being her strengths were simple. She could shoot things and make them dead.
“That leaves you as the one who we’ll eventually want to have keeping an eye on the overall battlefield,” Tessa said. “There a lots of fights where additional monsters are scripted to spawn in during the battle and being surprised by them sucks horribly.”
“I can do that now though can’t I?” Rip asked.
“It’s something to practice now,” Tessa said. “When we go into the house, I’m going to want you to hang back and be the last one in. It’ll be your job to tell us if anything is coming in from the surrounding area. More importantly though, I need you to follow the kill order I setup. We need to make sure we can coordinate and focus down the right enemies or we’re going to get torn apart by some of the tougher ones.”
“What about me?” Matt asked. “What will I be doing?”
“You’re our controller,” Alice said. “Rip’s all damage, all the time, but your spells do damage and have other effects.”
She and Tessa took the most time running down how the various conditions in the game worked, from [Paralyzation] (which randomly locked up movement and blocked ability usage), to [Sleep] (which temporarily incapicitated the target but left them in a state where a single tick of damage would wake them), to [Mystic Breach] (which left the target vulnerable to magical damage of all types).
Matt’s class, [Dream Spinner], was an illusion-based caster. His early spells were simple damage dealing ones, though they also slowed the targets abilities and inflicted their damage through psychic channels where few things had much resistance. Later on he would get ones which summoned illusionary figures or even incapacitated his target, but for the time being he was essentially a weaker ranged damage dealer than an [Archer] but with a few added perks in terms of slowing the monsters they were fighting and making them more vulnerable overall.
“I want you to be focused on what we’re fighting,” Tessa said. “Different enemies will throw off the effects of what you do faster or slower. You need to learn to pick out when one of the effects fade, or eve better when it’s about to fade, so you can renew it. Just casting things randomly means you’ll run out of magic really fast and not deal anywhere near as much damage as if cast the right spells at the right time.”
“I can do that!” Matt said, an excitement kindling in his eyes which warmed Tessa’s heart to see.
“Good,” she said. “Then let’s make like real adventurers, find the scariest place around, and go kick its butt!”