When faced with the unknown there is one decision which reasonable people should almost always make.
“Let’s leave too,” Alice said, when Tessa relayed the information Peter had provided about the [Ruins of Heaven’s Grave].
Tessa couldn’t fault her. When they’d chosen to try for a dungeon, it had been with the idea that a dungeon near [Sky’s Edge] would be appropriate for characters of their low level. For that to be the case though, the dungeon needed to be one which was artificially created to be manageable for low level adventurers. The [Ruins of Heaven’s Grave] was no such creation according to the players who had a line to the beta testers, and that made it both an unknown quantity and eminently sensible to flee from as quickly as possible.
“Leaving makes sense to me,” Matt said. “I mean, we can search for the dungeon entrance that Aie and Zibby found instead right? That dungeon was supposed to be a lot easier, wasn’t it?”
“It was,” Tessa said, “Going there and grinding on the mobs would be simpler and safer.”
She couldn’t deny the reasoning she was coming up with. She had died fighting the creatures that waited deeper in, and they were, usually, the weakest ones you’d find in a dungeon. Pressing forward again expecting things to turn out differently was almost the definition of insanity.
“You want to give this one another try though, don’t you?” Alice asked.
“Yeah. I do.”
“There’s better treasure in here than outside isn’t there?” Rip asked.
“There should be,” Tessa agreed. “But that’s not why I think we should try again. If we chase after the ‘Best Loot’, we’re going to convince ourselves to charge into places we should never go. Being too greedy can and will get you hurt. Badly.”
“Why risk this place then?” Rip asked.
Tessa paused and searched for her real reason.
“I think we can handle it,” Tessa said finding certainty in her words with each one she spoke. “At least the [Soul Blights]. And if we can beat them, we can push on and see what else we can handle in here.”
“You don’t like to lose, do you?” Alice asked, tiny crinkles of amusement at the corners of her eyes.
“There’s that,” Tessa admitted. She hated seeing parties give up on an objective, though she’d often been the one to encourage them to when she saw that they didn’t have the right makeup.
This time felt different though. Their team wasn’t a perfect mix. They had the general bases covered but at four members they had open team slots for four more players, and the missing strength there wasn’t going to do them any favors in a tough battle.
But a successful team wasn’t necessarily a question of numbers. There had been people who’d soloed the most difficult content in the game, and small raid groups who’d done things no other group had managed. Who the people were mattered more than how many of them were present. At least sometimes.
“I think we need this,” Tessa said.
“The win?” Alice asked with a look that was caught between curiosity and teasing.
“The experience,” Tessa said.
“Are the [Soul Blights] worth that much?” Matt asked.
“Not really,” Alice said.
“She’s right. We’d be better off grinding up the centipedes if we wanted to level quickly,” Tessa said. “I mean the real experience of working as a team.”
“Go on,” Alice said, curiosity melting into intrigue.
Tessa took a breath and thought back to her time playing as Glimmerglass. Knowing what she wanted and putting into words why she wanted it were far from the same thing, but she decided to stumble through it as best she could.
“One thing that always seemed to distinguish the best groups from the rest was that they wanted to be the best. Not the best in the world necessarily, but the best they could be.” It felt like she was stating the obvious but the others seemed to with her, so she continued. “Back when I was playing originally, the only thing a lot of groups wanted was to clear a dungeon, or beat a raid boss, or earn a piece of loot, using the easiest tactics they could find.”
“That’s still pretty common,” Alice said. “Even AoL, my guild, tends to follow whatever strategy the top end guilds come up with for raids.”
“I can understand that,” Tessa said. “You were playing the game for fun. Going the easy route means more good stuff with less headaches.”
“That sounds kind of appealing,” Matt said.
“It is,” Tessa said. “But we’re not in a game anymore. This dungeon is proof of that. There aren’t always going to be strategies in place that we can follow. If we want to survive here, we’re going to have to be the ones who create those strategies for ourselves. Or we can wait and hope that other players take pity on us.”
“Yeah, that idea sucks,” Rip said.
“For the record, I don’t disagree,” Alice said, “but didn’t you say Pete was going to make up a community map so that everyone could share their information? Are you planning to trust the other players or are you working under the assumption that they’re basically scum?”
“Both?” Tessa said. “Sort of.”
She caught Alice’s eye roll and continued to explain her reasoning.
“People can be incredible in a crisis, and this definitely qualifies as a crisis, but relying on everyone working in the common interest is foolish if we’re not willing to pull whatever weight we can,” she said. “I’m happy to share any information we find. I think having all of us at max level might give us the best chance at whatever challenges the [Fallen Kingdoms] throw at us. Part of my concern though is that if we rely on other people to tackle the difficult stuff first, we’re allowing them to be the gate keepers as to whether information about hard challenges gets out or not. Maybe it’s selfish, but I’d rather be the one making that call.”
“Ok, and the rest of your concern is?” Alice asked. “You said the gatekeeping was only part of it.”
“Oh, right, that’s more personal I guess,” Tessa said. “It’s just…this matters. What we’re doing now? This isn’t like anything in our world. At my job, I can put in all the overtime I want. I can write the best code in the world. All the extra effort though? It doesn’t matter. The best I can do is avoid getting in trouble for being late, but even that’s not guaranteed. Here though? We’re in charge of ourselves here. What we do, how much we put into this, how hard we try? All that has a payoff.”
She glanced over at Rip and Matt, wondering if they could understand how soul crushing the adult world could be. Even if their experiences were different though, they two seemed to appreciate what she was saying.”
“We could choose to take it easy. We could let someone else solve this problem. And the next one. And the one after that. And maybe that’s the right answer. I don’t know. I just don’t think that’s what I want to be. I’ve tried it. I’ve lived it. And it sucks.”
“And if we can’t beat the [Soul Blights]? Or if the next thing in the dungeon is some level 99 nightmare beast?” Alice asked, her eyes searching for answers in Tessa’s.
“If we can’t win, then we can’t win. And that’s fine. If the next chamber past these guys has sixteen [Elder Dragons] in it, then hell yeah we book it out of there. That’s not giving up, that’s being realistic. It’s like the difference between a high jumper putting the bar another inch past where their best position, vs putting it up in orbit. I think the [Soul Blights] are something we can handle. They feel realistic if we push ourselves and learn from them. That’s why I want to continue on.”
“I agree,” Alice said. “I want to hear what Rip and Matt think though. We had a setback against the [Chaos Centipedes] but this is different. This place might be way too much for us. I think we’re taking a real risk here too, since the deeper in we go, the less we can trust that something’s not going to come along and switch the [Heart Fire] back so we can’t use it.”
“Can that happen?” Matt asked.
“Not in the game, but like Pillowcase said, this place isn’t playing by the game’s rules anymore,” Alice said.
“I still want to go forward,” Rip said. “I think we can do it too.”
“And if we can’t?” Alice asked.
“If we can’t then we come up with a new plan,” Rip said. “We try somewhere we can handle. Or we go back to town and find more people. Or whatever.”
“I like what Pillowcase said too.” Matt looked away as he said it, too embarrassed to make eye contact. “I think we can be good like you said. And I like that we could be the ones to make sure people are helped out by what we learn.”
“Seems like the the yes votes have decided it,” Alice said.
“This isn’t a voting thing,” Tessa said, reaching out but stopping short of taking Alice’s arm. “I don’t want to drag any of you into something you don’t want.”
“Except you’re not dragging me, and I never said my vote wasn’t yes too.” Alice offered Tessa a smile. “I think you’re right about our skill being important. And our mindset. All of the levels and gear in the world don’t matter if you’re not able to use them. I feel clumsy with Alice here. She’s so different from my main character, but that’s no excuse to suck with her.”
“Even though she’s a vampire?” Tessa asked and regretted the pun as the words left her mouth. They did earn her another eye roll though, so her regret was limited.
“Don’t remind me how hungry I am,” Alice said, flashing her fangs.
As weapons of terror went, they were a bit too tiny to be properly menacing. ‘Cute’ was the word that came to Tessa’s mind, which might have horrified the developer responsible for designing them, but she was going to stick with it.
“So, what do we do?” Rip asked. “I mean, how do we fight those things?”
“We’re not just going to run in there right?” Matt asked. “I mean that didn’t seem to work too well for that other party.”
Pete’s party had left arguing bitterly as Tessa had predicted. She’d been pleased to see that Pete was trying to be a moderating influence and had shutdown some of the worst of the bickering. Or maybe Starchild, his character, had? When she had some time to kill, Tessa want to follow up on that. Even within her own party, she saw people having different experiences with who their characters were. She could only imagine what the full range of possibilities might be.
“Running in is a definite no,” Alice said. “At least for now. I’m willing to bet there’s a strategy where we could make that work, but mindless aggression is not how you ‘git gud’.”
“We’re better off seeing if we can make a pull work,” Tessa said. “Sometimes monsters will alert each other when they sense an enemy, but the [Soul Blights] seem like they mind be a bit more bestial than that.”
“Maybe,” Alice said. “They are grouped together though. If they were loners by nature, we probably wouldn’t be facing three of them.”
“True. So decent chance the pull doesn’t bring just one of them?” Tessa said. “I’ll have to be ready for that.”
“What’s a pull?” Rip asked.
“Basically what it sounds like,” Tessa said. “Rather than running in to fight the monsters, we pull them over to fight us. In the right situation, you can pull them one at a time and have a bunch of easier fights than one much harder one.”
“Aren’t we looking for harder though?” Matt asked.
“We don’t need the fights to be hard, just the challenges we chose to tackle,” Tessa said. “Pulling is a tool in our kit, and being good at it can make all the difference sometimes.”
“How do we do it?” Rip asked.
“Well, basically, you get to be the star of this show,” Alice said.
Tessa watch the smile of delight break across Rip’s face as Alice explained what they needed her to do.