Stabbing chest pains are never a pleasant part of the day. That the ones which gripped Tessa corresponded with Pillowcase being clawed by one of the Wraithwings was eerie but Tessa knew there was a sadly mundane explanation for it.
The burrito wrapper at the bottom of her kitchen garbage basket had warned her that it contained a number of ingredients which wouldn’t sit well on her stomach. She’d known better than to buy the dreadful thing in the first place but she’d been tired and she’d craved the tangy sauce that came with it, so she’d over ruled the voice of experience which tried to warn her away from buying the gut wrecking dinner, and then warned her even more strenuously before she ate it. As usual though, she hadn’t listened to that wiser voice.
The worst part of her suffering wasn’t the odd gas pains, as it turned out though. The worst part, the part she desperately hoped she would remember next time, was that in the end the burrito hadn’t even been that good.
Getting an antacid, or other remedy for the pain didn’t cross her mind. How her body was feeling at that moment was secondary to the disaster that was unfolding in the game.
Grabbing the Wraithwings’ attention had worked out great, at least insofar as she had absolutely convinced them that they wanted to focus on killing Pillowcase rather than pay any mind to the healer whom they’d been chasing.
The problem was, the Wraithwings seemed more capable of accomplishing their murderous task in the blink of an eye.
“I’m down to one hit point?” Tessa stared at the screen as she threw Pillowcase into a dodge roll to evade attacks for a moment and create some space from the Wraithwings.
A single Wraithwing had hit her once and all of her health had been stripped away. That left her with an unpleasant chill. She knew what had happened. The “One Shot Code” had come into play.
The One Shot Code was an immersion breaking change which the players had more or less forced the developers to implement after one too many foes were given such ludicrously damaging attacks that there was no chance for even the toughest, most well geared of players to survive them. In response to an unusually unified wave of backlash, the devs had put in a special bit of code which said that most monsters weren’t allowed to defeat players in a single hit. The idea was to allow some form of counter-play where the players would at least have a tiny window to react to the monster before they were defeated.
In practice, that generally meant that players spent the time between the first and second hit vainly grasping for anything they could do to save themselves only for the illusion that they might have a chance to be crushed a second later when the monster attacked again.
What was weird was, the One Shot Code shouldn’t have applied to the Wraithwing Assault. That wasn’t because it wasn’t in force. Event related monsters, like the Wraithwings, were subject to One Shot limitation the same as the normal monsters were. Typically though it didn’t come up because Event Monsters were configured to be “level-less” – meaning characters of any level could fight, and survive, them.
The developers’ intention was that both high and low level characters should be able to participate in the grand events which happened in the world and that everyone should get something out of it. That could only happen if the monsters hit the characters differently based on their levels. So low level characters would take small hits that represented a meaningful portion of the health, and high level characters would take much larger hits but which would represent about the same portion of their health as what the low level character lost.
The goal of a game event after all was to bring the players together, not slaughter them by the droves.
“This is definitely a buggy event.” Tessa’s iron grip on the mouse reflected her irritation. Dying wasn’t a big deal. She’d done it countless times on Glimmerglass and, with Pillowcase set as a tank, she knew she would get knocked down even more often. What bothered her was the sheer ineptitude of the design work.
The World Shift expansion was supposed to be a chance for Broken Horizons to bring in new blood to the game, either in the form of returning players like her, or new ones who hadn’t been tempted to play it yet. Throwing new players into a meat grinder right as they finished the barest bit of the tutorial meant there was an excellent chance that a lot of potential new players would leave the game in frustration before they got to see any of the fantastic things it offered.
That wasn’t going to be her. Tessa knew how rewarding the game could be if you broke through the difficult patches, but it galled her that she might be alone in that and all the good work the developers had done would go to waste if the general public thought the game was a flop as had almost happened with the expansion which drew Tessa to Broken Horizons in the first place.
> Lost Alice casts [Minor Blood Channel]
>[Minor Blood Channel] heals Pillowcase for 10 health!
Tessa watched Pillowcase’s health bar fill back up to full. The healer she’d “saved” was returning the favor!
A Wraithwing pressed forward and tagged Pillowcase again. Once more all of Pillowcase’s health except for the last point drained away.
“These things can’t be intended for this zone,” Tessa said as she looped Pillowcase around a box, taking advantage of the Wraithwing’s poor pathing function to create enough space between them to escape the Wraithwing’s follow up hit.
> [Minor Blood Channel] heals Pillow case for 10 health!
The furthest Wraithwing turned away from Pillowcase at that. The game’s monsters had very simple rules they followed when it came to who they would attack. People who healed a target a Wraithwing was attacking moved up in priority based on how much healing they were doing. By healing all of Pillowcase’s damage twice, Lost Alice was riding the borderline of convincing the Wraithwings that she was the more important target on the field.
Pillowcase stabbed at the Wraithwing who looked towards Lost Alice. The attack didn’t even connect but, as a [Soul Knight], all of Pillowcase’s attack had a small enmity factor to them which compelled the monsters to remain focused on her.
Tessa knew there were serious limits to how long and how many of the Wraithwings she could keep focused on her, even if she could survive their attacks, but that was a problem for the Tessa of five to ten second in the future to deal with.
Lost Alice said: “Kite”
In the thick of battle, typing long messages was never a good idea. Even a half second delay in reaction time could be enough to guarantee a defeat. It was why any serious group used voice chat to coordinate what they were doing. Voice chatting with random strangers wasn’t really something anyone wanted to do though, so the in-game chat function was the only method of coordinating their actions Pillowcase and Lost Alice had.
Tessa could picture Alice’s player wondering if Pillowcase would understand the simple command. The only thing harder and more frustrating than dealing with a difficult encounter in the game was dealing with a player who didn’t know what they were doing and wasn’t willing to listen.
> Pillowcase said: “on it!”
Tessa put Pillowcase into a run before she typed that message, and plotted a course around the village square.
She couldn’t run in a straight line, because the Wraithwings had been set to move just a bit faster than the adventurers. Running in a circle didn’t make staying ahead of them any easier, except that by putting obstacles between the Wraithwings and herself, Pillowcase ensured the Wraithwings simple movement routines would send them on a much longer path than the one she was running, thereby negating their speed advantage.
> [Minor Blood Channel] heals Pillowcase for 0 health!
Tessa grinned at the combat log. Since Pillowcase was still at full health [Minor Blood Channel] had nothing to repair. It was still ticked away though, and would probably continue to do so far as long as Lost Alice maintained it. Under the circumstances that was amazingly powerful, but Tessa knew it was also a fluke.
[Minor Blood Channel] was the starter ability for [Grave Mender] class, one of the new healer classes introduced in the expansion. Unlike the more common healing spells which improved as the caster leveled up, [Minor Blood Channel] was set to always tick away at a set value. Ten health per tick was incredible on a 1st level character but by 10th level it would be only a minor aid.
In a sense Pillowcase had lucked out being as weak as she was. The Wraithwings were probably hitting for ten or a hundred times her maximum health, but the one shot code prevented the majority of the damage from mattering since the hits were capped at one point less than Pillowcase’s maximum health value. With [Minor Blood Channel] being strong enough to restore her back to full, Pillowcase was able to stay that precious one health point above the level the one shot code was capping the damage at.
It was an exploit for sure, and one which the developers would certainly be patching out of the game with one of the early bug fix releases, but it wasn’t a perfect defense even so.
Tessa saw one of the Wraithwings peel away from the pack that was following Pillowcase and begin to make a beeline towards Lost Alice. From how Alice was standing, Tessa knew that [Minor Blood Channel] had a limitation where the caster had to remain motionless to continue casting it.
Motionless and alive, which seemed to be mutually exclusive things with the Wraithwing inbound on Alice’s position.
The pack behind Pillowcase was starting to lose cohesion too, as the enmity generated by her initial attacks was gradually forgotten.
Tessa altered Pillowcase’s course, cutting too close to Wraithwings she’d been kiting and taking another nearly fatal hit. The burrito in her stomach seemed intent on replicating the chest bursting scene from Alien but Tessa fought it down.
The battle in the village square wasn’t one they were going to win, and in the end it wasn’t going to matter. There were no real consequences to losing a fight as a fledgling adventurer. There couldn’t be. If anything too disastrous happened to a level 1 character, the player would simply delete them and make up another one. Despite that though, Tessa wanted to show off what she could do.
It was a point of pride she couldn’t defend in any way that felt rational, but being a good player mattered to her. It always had. She knew plenty of people who played “for fun” and refused to take the game seriously. To the extent that they were having fun, there wasn’t anything she could say against that.
All she could say was that she needed to play things differently than that. She needed to play like she cared what happened. Because she did. Her father had never approved of that, and had pointed out repeatedly that defeating a virtual foe didn’t help her at all in the real world, and it was hard to say he was wrong, except that he was.
Even apart from the joy that accomplishing something difficult brought to her, being good at something unreal mattered to Tessa because her victories made it easier to help other people have fun. All she ever saw were pixels on a screen, but the people behind them had real feelings, and if she could make their days brighter by being awesome when they needed her to be that was a win for everyone in her book.
> [Minor Blood Channel] heals Pillow case for 10 health!
Pillowcase slashed at the Wraithwing that was charging at Lost Alice, placing herself solidly back on top of it’s “Hate List”. It was a risky play though and Tessa had to throw Pillowcase into another dodge roll to avoid a trio of attacks from the Wraithwings which had caught up to her.
That was the other reason the “Level 1 character plus [Minor Blood Channel]” exploit wasn’t anything like Invulnerability. As soon as a second monster joined the fight it was extremely likely that its attacks would land before the [Minor Blood Channel] had a chance to tick Pillowcase’s health back up to full, and with only one health point Pillowcase couldn’t survive an attack from even the weakest of foes.
If two foes were deadly, then Tessa knew she was doomed. She watched as roughly a dozen Wraithwings clustered into an overlapping ball of rending death on the screen. She sighed. There was probably no chance that she could take even one of them out. The factors in play for the fight just didn’t allow it.
Lost Alice couldn’t do anything except maintain the [Minor Blood Channel] or Pillowcase would die in seconds since the lead Wraithwing were keeping close enough to get single attacks off every time Pillowcase turned a corner in the village square.
Pillowcase couldn’t afford to seek a more cluttered environment because, the moment she broke line of sight with Lost Alice, the [Minor Blood Channel] would fail.
Best of all though, the Wraithwings health bars were hidden, so Tessa had no idea if the few attacks she’d been able to make had inflicted any meaningful damage on them.
If her suspicions were correct, the overpowered Wraithwings could probably heal faster than Pillowcase, with her relatively low “Tank scale” damage, could hurt them.
> Lost Alice said: “Nice kiting!”
> Lost Alice said: “Thanks for the save there too.”
All the misery Tessa’s fatigue and the burrito had inflicted on her vanished from her mind at the sight of the compliment. Recognition had a harder kick than any drug, but she knew she shouldn’t reply. Not until the fight was over, and a millisecond loss of focus wouldn’t undo all the hard work she’d done.
> Pillowcase said: “thnks!”
Tessa smiled and narrowly avoided taking the fatal two hits that would end her mad run around the village square.
Even in battles you’re destined to lose, you could still find some unexpected victories it seemed.