Monstrous Compendium Ch5 bit – Game Unbalanced

“Not going to try for the last attack bonus?” Harry smirked as they got nearer.

Kirito arched a skeptical brow. Ow.  

“Hell, no,” Klein groaned. “Somebody else can finish it off.” He looked over his guild; Dale sharing a waterskin with Kunimittz, Harry poking an NPC’s bandage, Issin waiting for them with a wry look and a couple of potions. And a little ways off, Tae fussing over Dynamm’s bandaged chest.

Klein shook his head, a goofy grin softening his face. “Got all the bonus I need, right here.”

“Damn straight.” Issin gripped Kirito’s shoulder. “Sit.”

Not worth arguing about. Kirito sat down carefully, even when his knees wanted to fold like overcooked noodles. He heard shattering polygons, cheering….

He glanced back in time to see Stheno summon a blinding ball of sunfire, shattering Pollista’s statue into lifeless shards.

“It’s over.” Kirito sagged back against Issin’s hands, wanting nothing more than to crawl into the Mistfeathers’ hayloft and not come out for a week. “And we still need to find the Lignum Wood.”

Why was half of Fuurinkazan grinning at him?

“Guys?” Klein slugged back some water, giving his guild a look askance. “Want to clue us in?”

“Wasps.” Kunimittz pointed at the comb.

“Paper,” Dynamm added, leaning on Tae’s shoulder with feathers brushing his face. “I bet we’ve got just enough left over.”

Kirito blinked.

Klein gaped. “…All right.”

We found the next quest item. Here. Kirito shuddered.

Klein gave him a wary look. “We haul off the comb, distill the oil, get the last mat, and finish the quest. What’s wrong?”

Kirito shook his head, trying not to think too hard. Because if he started thinking about the psiwasps being a planned part of this quest, he’d start screaming. And that wouldn’t help anyone. “This encounter. It wasn’t balanced.”

“Kind of noticed.” Kunimittz shivered. “She was purple.”

“Who was- Pollista?” Kirito said quickly, trying to recover.

Not quick enough, from the twitch of Tae’s ears. “She wasn’t purple to you, was she?” the archer said quietly. “That’s why your venom could hurt her. If we hadn’t had that to help us take down the hive….” She swallowed hard.

No, no, no! Don’t depend on me. Don’t ever depend on me.  “The youkai lords showed up. That’s what made the difference,” Kirito said harshly. “Without that healing spell we’d never have taken Pollista down. Not at our level. Kayaba… SAO hasn’t done that before. Encounters are balanced. If you’re high enough level to clear a floor, you should be high enough to survive a quest in it. This quest was leveled wrong.”

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28 thoughts on “Monstrous Compendium Ch5 bit – Game Unbalanced

  1. At least Kirito isn’t blaming himself for throwing off the level. There are quests that scale to the highest level in a group. Sucks, but the extra xp for the lowbies is amazing.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. But as Kirito and the other clearers will soon find out, as they clear more levels, things like Pollista will not be the exception but the rule. Reality doesn’t force balanced encounters and the Resident Bastard Dragon is slowly taking off the training wheels the further they ascend.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. This observation matches with Stheno’s near-panicked reaction to hearing about the presence of Psi Wasps — IIRC, they’re *extinct* (and for Damn Good Reason) in her world, and *Aincrad* should never have included them.
    *Someone* is tampering with the system, and I’m gonna bet it’s not our favorite candidate for becoming a red dragonskin handbag collection. In fact, given the author’s predilections (:), I’d be willing to bet this is a setup for seeing “Kayaba” have a Major “MASAKA!!!” Moment before too long.
    Of course, this still leaves one major dangling plot thread: *who* is doing this, *how*, and *why*? Because out-hacking Kayaba in his own system *has* to be a feat of near-demigod proportions, and the list of possible suspects is awfully small. Personally? My money is on Cardinal — Kayaba outsmarted himself, and now his “pet” AI has slipped the leash and (having sysadmin access at least equal to Kayaba’s own) is running its own agenda. Of course, just what that agenda *is* remains to be seen…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. >*Someone* is tampering with the system, and I’m gonna bet it’s not our favorite candidate for becoming a red dragonskin handbag collection. In fact, given the author’s predilections (:), I’d be willing to bet this is a setup for seeing “Kayaba” have a Major “MASAKA!!!” Moment before too long.>
      Actually it’s noted that said dragon IS messing with the system:

      >
      Dark eyes searched her face, and looked away. “It wasn’t your fault,” Kirito said numbly. “Kayaba changed so many things since the beta….”

      Odd words. Though after speaking with Argo, and reading the missives sent by the players, she thought she understood the gist of them. “The beta?”

      Kirito opened his mouth, and closed it again. Cleared his throat. “We think the wizard Kayaba has used Words of Unmaking, to unravel lore found by other travelers before us. Even the tomes of your own library may have suffered from his spell.”

      …Which was a very interesting translation of what Beniryuu had actually done: changed SAO’s monsters, their abilities, and their hidden allies, so even her own knowledge of Aincrad’s true history was fatally flawed.
      >

      Beniryuu deliberately changed things in the simulation so that any advice by the Youkai Lords to the players would be less effective.

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      1. Scary thought – Beniryuu/Kayaba is doing this so that when everything comes to light the players are willing to believe that the Yokai Lords were hoodwinked by him as well.

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  4. The funny thing of course is that while ‘real’ DnD does not always balance itself to the players – that’s part of the GM’s job – it’s… a lot like any other ‘wilderness’. Party with someone with survival training who knows the signs and you can at least avoid the hazards you can’t deal with. Luck is always a factor, but in DnD hazards that your party can’t handle are generally monsters – like the Psiwasps – and wildlife is perhaps one of the easiest things to keep an eye out for.

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    1. Point of order: Whether or not challenges are balanced to the players depends on the table. Some players and GMs have a social contract not to do that sort of thing. There’s been a wide variety of preferences over the history of D&D.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. A DM who rolls strictly from the random encounter tables without fudging is more likely to kill a party by accident than a DM who tailors the encounters to a quest storyline, or who has designed a specific ecology for the area the party is traveling in.

        Sometimes, though, the dice just go against the players. My (mostly low level) group nearly lost our paladin to an owlbear in our last game because the beast rolled well and the fighters didn’t.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Fair, I wasn’t trying to exclude those groups.

        My point was that the more powerful critters – if the setting is internally consistent – tend to leave clues to their presence. So even in as ‘realistically random’ as setting as possible (where the GM’s job vis-a-vis world v player balancing is to do as little of that very thing as possible) the PCs in character can do what Kirito did with Caller in Darkness and keep out a wary eye and make educated guesses as to how dangerous the inhabitants of an area are.

        This is an important element of game design, even for those groups you specifically mentioned, because otherwise the Adventure to Clear the Sewers of Were-rats, Quest to Halt the Goblin Raids, or Mission to Find the Hidden Cult, all can turn into 1-round not-even-time-to-run TPKs when the Mindflayers, Elder Dragon, or shape-shifted Balor behind things suddenly show up. Even for groups like the ones you mentioned, unavoidable TPKs lurking around every corner tend to stop being fun really quickly.

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      3. The funny thing is, I didn’t even think about it, but my examples if ‘Mild-quest becomes TPK’ are kind of exactly what happened here. The warning sign was two party members being carried off by Psiwasps – which could easily fall under ‘necessary deaths’ as far as Beniryuu is concerned – and now the survivors get out that warning of what’s​ in the area. Because while even a brutal game of DnD can only afford to behave that way to such an extent before it alienates its players… Destiny exists in Eberron. This isn’t just Stheno’s visions or divination magic existing. The Draconic Prophecies are – by world lore – provably real and accurate. They’re also so complex as to be nigh-incomprehensible, so the GM can justify whatever without having to be locked in by them, but as far as the world is concerned Destiny is real. Freewill exists as well, afterall, the Prophecies are written as a long series of ‘If X than Y’ statements, with multiple possibilities branching off of various alternate possibilities and choices, but that just means the world is a mix of Pre- and Self-determination.

        More cynical people might say that’s an accurate representation of reality, given how much each individual is acted upon by the world and forces outside of their control, but the cynicism isn’t why I’m here (I just carry it with me everywhere I go).

        Still, point is: in Eberron Destiny is real, but that doesn’t stop Eberron’s reality from being real as well. Real-world shit like natural disasters, murders, and car accidents just happen sometimes and people have to pick up and deal with it even if they’re not equipped to.

        What Kayaba was trying to do with the nest may very well have been the first – or, possibly worse, latest – stage of trying to impart that very lesson on the players. From a cold and especially Draconic viewpoint it makes perfect sense. Nothing imparts a lesson like the deaths of comrades, and a further handful dying – probably the unluckier ones or statistically more likely to be less skilled – for that lesson being learned in SAO before they can lose the more valuable survivors in Aincrad proper is… a conclusion I disagree with. But Kayaba’s evil aligned and goal oriented here. It fits.

        Of course, counter to that, asking for help in just such scenarios, like Vincent, Zack, Aerith, Stheno, and – technically – the massed majority of clearers is not only a totally reasonable response to the sheer threat level encountered, but also something that the survivors in Eberron could reasonably expect some access to.

        Of course, once you get through player heads ‘Eberron is real, this is our Realty’s they’re gonna figure that out damn quick. After all, that’s something all of us technically already have to live with day-to-day.

        I think I’m chalking up this whole fiasco with the Psiwasp Nest as another in Kayaba’s ‘lessons these people don’t actually need you to teach them, idiot’ column.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. >True enough. Though killer DMs are no fun, IMHO.>
    Can depend on how the DM and the players run the game. I mean I can see a sort of agreement between the GM and players where he might not deliberately make things extra hard, but the party’s previous goofs/screw-ups/fumbles etc can and will come back to bite them very hard.

    Though I’m primarily reminded of the opening from
    The All Guardsmen Party series that covers the exploits of a Dark Heresy gaming group where the DM organically grew the character backstories via the Only War game.

    It involved a Guard regiment dealing with Orks, traitor guard, more Orks and finally a collapsing retreat against Tyranids. The players then got to pick among the surviving 1-2% of Guardsmen that got ‘recruited’ by the Inquisition to convert into Dark Heresy characters.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Consider 3d6 in order, pick one of three classes level of character generation investment. Combined with treasure as XP, it becomes a game of minimizing combat per unit of treasure heisted. More fragile PCs can be compatible with such.

      Pete Dell’Orto talks about the Dungeon Fantasy game he runs, which has seen three near total TPKs, and still has players wanting to come back for more after 86 sessions. The hobby truly has a wide range of tastes. (Don’t assume that Dungeon Fantasy is necessarily brutal. GURPS is very customizable, and Pete has made some deliberate choices that work for his group.)

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Am reading that.

      Am reminded of a space opera mash up I recently world built. Bunnies are telling me that I can fit a Jedi, a Jaffa, a Herald, and a bunch of others on a Time Lord Inquisitor’s team. Bunny police are calmly interviewing the bunnies as to the point, and whether the bunnies can produce a shred of plot, character, or emotional arc. Oh no. The most experienced interrogator of the bunny police has showed up with a bottle of soda. Don’t do it mister, the bunnies aren’t bad, just misled. That campaign sounded really awesome.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. To be fair, as a DM, sometimes your game turns deadly without much of a warning. Ah, dice luck, I once had to rewind a session as I tpked a 3rd level party with two CR 0.5 kobolds. In the open, holding pikes. Then again, bad tactics meant a lot of it too. I don’t really run it anymore, after that game showed me that me rolling dice in the open is bad for the players.

    And I’m sorry you haven’t found a group for you, it can be a blast when you do, regardless of the game.

    Liked by 1 person

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