Duty Session 91: Escort Quest: Artificial Stupidity

A Lander stands just at the exit of town with a familiar quest marker being offered. Apparently, they need to travel to a nearby location which requires traversing through rough terrain, filled with monsters. So, they have reached out to brave Adventurers to help guide them on their way!

It's just a simple escort mission. What could go wrong?

Difficulty:    Moderate
Rec. Party:    4+
Rewards:       2
World Rewards: None

Count V
Alne - Plant Hwyaden HQ

"That is where we come in." Count V reassured the Lander, while sending out a message to his guild to come help him with what is doubtless going to be a stupid escort quest.

Ordinarily this would precipitate considerable action, but... even once the party is assembled, most of what takes place is walking... and walking. More walking. More, and more, and more, until--

The Lander they're escorting says, "I think we're lost... maybe we should have taken a..."

Count V stares into the distance, tuning out the rest of what the Lander has to say. Is there a shrine in this area? He thinks so, but the first thing that comes to mind before he even starts looking as, "We were hired as escorts, not as guides. I'm from Ezzo, not from around here." He beats his wings, a little.

The Lander looks a little panicky, digging around in his belongings for a map. What he produces is crude, self-made, and not at all helpful.

Count V resumes staring into the distance.

Att Syne
Alne - Plant Hwyaden HQ

You know what? Att expected way more monsters.

They've done an awful lot of walking. His initial attempts at chatting with their escort were rendered fruitless by the gormless way the Lander responded, sending him into an almost sullen silence that stretched onward through their tromp through the wilderness. At least the foliage is pretty, even in the middle of winter, Att thinks. It's... something.

His hands itch for a Gameboy in the moments of idleness.

"Same," Att mutters. He finds his way over to a log, hopping up on it and pulling himself into the lower branches of a tree. It doesn't really help. There's an awful lot of... world, around them. Maybe if there were any signs of passage before... is there a game trail, maybe, he thinks, or evidence of people or even monsters? He'd kill for some monsters. Or just kill some monsters.

"Maybe we just..." He trails off, gesturing vaguely.
Shin Heno
Alne - Plant Hwyaden HQ

     "We are *super* lost," Shin Heno confirms as he stands up from a crouch. He'd been looking at animal trails; occasionally, his eyes had flicked to the glowing red bug eyes, but only in brief bursts, never long enough to stay.

     His hands press against the small of his back for a stretch. "I figured there'd be some kind of trails or tracks or something to go by, but there's really nothing. Uhh...can't people navigate by the stars, or something like that? Maybe we just wait till night-time."

     Another stretch. "Plus, monsters'll come out then, and that'll make sure we're not bored."

     "Kinda pretty, though."
Whiskey Sour
Alne - Plant Hwyaden HQ

A tromp through the WOODS?

Why, that's practically holiday!

Crunch crunch crunch goes Whis' feet through the fallen groundcover of the forest. Left at the pass, right at the clearing, twice past a shrine and...

Do... it all over again?

"Wait, back up, I wasn't listening: Where are we going? I forgot we don't have objective markers any more." Whis is equally as lost as everyone else, eyes droopy and expression low. A rude 'awakening' for her to start paying attention to.

"Let me see that." She grouses, grabbing at the Lander's map and turning it rightways up and upways left, squinting. "I think... that way." She points, to a direction perpendicular to the group's prior motion. "Past the... rrrriver? And then around a big rock."

She pushes the map back into the Lander's hands. "We can't get more lost, at least."
Shin Heno
Alne - Plant Hwyaden HQ

     "Factually true," Shin agrees cheerfully, "Lost is a binary state. We can't get *more* lost than we already are."
Count V
Alne - Plant Hwyaden HQ

"We were taking this one to a temple that was... /close/ to town." Count V replies to Whiskey Sour, dully. He does not get them to anyplace useful. As a matter of fact, none of them do. They wander through the surroundings more-or-less helplessly, because only one of their guild members is a cartographer and that person is not actually present. Alas, for lack of a specific profession.

Except for Whiskey Sour who, apparently, knows the area at least a little. She stops them being *as* lost, but they remain lost nevertheless.

Regarding the stars, V replies, "Theoretically. The problem, of course, is that you need to chart them. Are the stars here quite the same? And do the positions correspond to the same things we'd want to navigate to? I'm sure the idea has merit in some regards, of course. But we need to make the tools that actually do that, and identify locations that they can point us towards."

The Lander packs up his Terrible Map, and they wander a little longer. They find a river, which is about when Count V declares, "We should follow this. It's too big not to be populated somewhere up or downriver, so we can figure our way back to someplace useful from there..."

This has nothing to do with helping the Lander, who has some other ideas.

"We need to swim across to the other side. Don't worry, I'm a good swimmer!" He says, before diving into the river. Where there is a river *squid*, of all things. It grabs the Lander, who shouts, "HELP!" immediately.

Count V sighs, exasperatedly.

Att Syne
Alne - Plant Hwyaden HQ

Att leaves his mid-tree perch, finding it ultimately fruitless. He tries searching near the ground, but nothing turns up. They really should've brought a map. It seemed so easy to just walk in a more or less straight line...

"Yeah, I guess." 'Binary state lostness.' Att can't disagree too much. He reminisces aloud, "I remember trying to write a quest like this once. You know, to make it more interesting? I came up with this great idea where if you went too far from the objective or the escorted target, it would start spawning enemies to harass you. You know, to really give it a sense of urgency beyond the usual dumb A.I. being dumb."

Speaking of which --

Att does not jump into the water. Instead, he makes an expression best described as scrunched with thought, then conjures flashes of color in the water around the monster trying to eat the swimming Lander. He's pretty sure if he does it right he can spook it and make it take off without them.

"Add astronomy to the List," he asides, idly.
Whiskey Sour
Alne - Plant Hwyaden HQ

"This is why roads are made! This right here. How do you know where to go without a road or a map or a guide? The world becomes small. The world becomes only what you know and control."

Whis seems angry at this. Incensed.

"I'm pretty sure I can just dowse a direction or heading, but I don't know where we're going. We're following a bad map with no trail and no landmarks. What we need to find is..."

A river!
<Don't worry, I'm a good swimmer!>
"Please, don-" But he was already shouting for help. Large Tentacle was meanacing the party... with their escort target!

Rubbing her face, Whis shouts from the bank with a commanding voice. "No! Bad tentacle! Put the lander down!"

Drawing her staff, she makes pointed splashes at the edge of the river before stepping into the river, wading in after the lander. Rolling up her sleeves, she continues. "It's your choice between regret and escape!"
Shin Heno
Alne - Plant Hwyaden HQ

     "The temple's probably still close to town!" Shin offers helpfully.

     It's really not that helpful.

     Att mentions adding astronomy to the list. "See? If we hadn't gotten lost, we wouldn't've thought of that idea. Serendipitous!" Everybody knows you're not *actually* that cheerful, Shin, you don't have to put up a face for the NPC.

     The NPC.

     In fact, Shin's been suspiciously quiet around the Lander. He hasn't said anything directly to the Lander unless spoken to directly, and even then, it's been short and clipped. He didn't even do his usual 'I'm a Hero of Justice' introduction.


     When the Lander gets dropped in the water, and the large tentacle of destruction rises up, and Whis starts wading in, Shin goes hurrying in alongside her. He's not transforming here. Instead, he punches the water twice with the same knuckle (that's definitely a reference to something); it explodes around them, giving Whis and the others a clear shot at whatever's down there.
Count V
Alne - Plant Hwyaden HQ

"That's the way it is. The world is only big because we made it that way to start with. Before, the 'without' was the big thing." Count V says to Whis.

When it comes time to deal with the giant squid, he slams his staff against the riverbank and declares, "Part the waves!"

It's not the first time he's parted a body of water, but it's probably the first time that he's done it to quite such a large feature of the surroundings. The river splits in half atop the squid, spreading out around it and generally producing a terrain-type hazard for it that denies it its mobility within the water. It also just allows them to... walk through the riverbed, once it's time to move on.

Seems to be holding, this time around.

In an unusual example of a mob proving to be actually pretty smart, the squid ends up shrinking entirely in the face of a direct, scolding challenge and a combo one-two of its environment being completely upheaved. This is not, in fact, worth the food that it stood to gain mere moments ago.

Count V
Alne - Plant Hwyaden HQ

With the river still parted, and the squid withdrawing into the surrounding waves while releasing the Lander, they carry on to the other side of the bank.

The Lander leads them to a ... cave? A cave. A >>cave<<.

Count V summons a will-o-wisp of light, and continues to look as if he has totally checked out on this idiot. The space is big enough that his light doesn't go a long way, especially for several people trying to move in unison. The dripping of water from rock formations above into dangerous pools below can be heard well throughout the cavern.

"I wonder if there is some way around..." The Lander mutters to himself. This is a repetition, which will only be caught if somebody is actually paying close attention to him.

Count V definitely is not.

"Why," Count V complains, "would you make a path to the temple like this? Why? Temples not dedicated to ascetic arts don't DO this. And you're no ascetic."

Count V
Alne - Plant Hwyaden HQ

"Let me impart upon you the wisdom of darkness. Sylvan Sight!" Count V declares, going between each party member -- and the Lander -- and tapping them with his staff as he goes. His eyes turn dark, dark purple, and in turn each of theirs does as well-- but the darkness is pushed back by the spell, not completely but enough that advancement isn't quite as perilous as it was previously.

Then he pushes on, unconcerned with the hazards of the dark. This is, ironically, mildly unwise-- because his sight isn't /that/ good, all things considered. It could definitely use a bit more oomph, even though it probably eliminates penalties to being 'functionally blind' otherwise.

Att Syne
Alne - Plant Hwyaden HQ

"Why," Att asks, the moment they enter the cave, "is there a *cave* now?"

There's a bit of a scuffling, shuffling sound. Then, a yelp. "Stubbed -- my -- ffffaaahh-!! FLAME WALL."

The sudden burst of flame probably doesn't make it terribly comfortable to be given purple-eyed darkvision, at least for a second, but the pillar-shaped source of fire sure seems to shed enough light to navigate by. Att is clutching his foot, standing on the other, and hopping a little forward with gritted teeth. He's armored, so it's hard to tell how this happened in the first place. Maybe something was pointy enough to inflict actual damage. Maybe a special clause makes the pain-dulling part of this world not function when you do a particular action.

Maybe the programmers once stepped on a Lego and needed you to know, too.
Shin Heno
Alne - Plant Hwyaden HQ

     "Light, huh?"

     Shin fiddles around in his pocket until he finds a ring. "Well, I've been meaning to try this for a while, I guess. I was looking at using some of those animal parts for a project idea I had...been practicing a little, just not in the field. I feel like now's a good time to see if I've learned what I think I've learned!"

     His finger runs across the ring.

     He mutters something.

     Absolutely nothing happens.

     Shin frowns.

     He does it again.

     Nothing happens.

     After a third time he just gives up. "OK. I guess I need more practice."

     "This enchanting thing is kind of a pain."
Whiskey Sour
Alne - Plant Hwyaden HQ

A cave? A cave. A cave!

The party nigh-collectively decides to ignore the Lander's actual content as they go from 'scripted water encounter' back onto the path only for the Lander to immediately lead them into a cave. They're less being led or leading the lander, and more 'existing within the window around the NPC so he didn't run back to the start, or despawn'.

Whis still spends a few seconds to smile tiredly at Shin. "I didn't know you were a waterbug. Then again, I don't know my beetles. I'm only into beetles from osmosis."

She wrings out the bottom of her robe as she goes before pap-pap-pap-plap'ing her way into the dry cave floor with her still-wet feet.

All's well under V's held aloft light until Att complains of a stubbed toe as they scuffle around.

"It's fine, it's fine. Here."

A green glow spreads from her staff through her arm, then down, grounding itself through her footsteps leaves a patch of 'grassy' green, highlighted like a hologram over the dark earth.

The effect spreads rapidly from each footstep, creating a circle of fiddler's green around the group -- a pbaoe aura healing effect applied to help show the way.
Count V
Alne - Plant Hwyaden HQ

Several different solutions later, and they emerge from the cave into a field. There's nothing in the field.

"Enchanting /is/ difficult," Count V says, "it used to be less so by far. It was just a gameplay mechanic, you see? Now there are all sorts of things you need to consider."

He asides to Att, "Flame Wall, never gets old, never stops being supremely useful. I would like other wall types, though, you know? Maybe... electric wall? Dark wall? I wonder if we could make that sort of thing..."

The Lander stops partway down the road, stretches, and says, "This looks like a good place for a picnic."

Count V smiles nastily, and looks towards Whiskey Sour. He gestures at her, as if to say, 'come here', and asks, "How do you feel about mushrooms?"

He begins gathering sticks for starting a fire...

Att Syne
Alne - Plant Hwyaden HQ

"It's a Swiss army knife spell," Att says, after gingerly putting his foot down and marching onward within the HEALING ZONE. He shoots Whiskey a /approve, manifesting as double thumbs-up.

He just... does the motion, honestly. No text input. Virtual reality. Life was simpler before integrated VOIP.

Also apocalypsii.

"I'd shoot for Ice Wall," Att says. "That way you could block something with it, and use it to do stuff like make bridges. I don't know that Earth Wall will do anything other than shoot gravel or dirt at someone, or maybe we could..." The Lander stops. Att does, too. He blinks a couple times.

Wordlessly, but with a tensed jaw and a look of malice, Att marches towards a nearby creek. He produces a fishing rod, and sticks a chunk of pixellated monster meat on the end. He casts.

He waits.

Oh, they'll have a picnic, all right.
Shin Heno
Alne - Plant Hwyaden HQ

     While everybody else prepares, Shin just fucks off on his own.

     When he returns, he's got a couple weird-looking animals with crushed necks and a dead Grunty slung over his shoulder, and an unsettling smile on his face. His face is not covered in any blood.

     Wordlessly he tosses the animals down for Whis and V, and then goes to wash his face and hands.
Whiskey Sour
Alne - Plant Hwyaden HQ

"We already have Earth Wall. Stone Cradle, Rock Pillar, we've *got* that. Ice Wall... I guess it's just a cooler 'stone wall'."

Whis huffs, snorting nasally at her own wordplay. I'd like a Wind Wall though."

They continue trudging until they escape the cave to reveal:

Nothing! Absolutely nothing! The cave was useless!

The Lander decides it's lunchtime. V prompts her with mushrooms. "Oh, sure, I'll--"

A cast-iron pan comes out, and a few rocks can be toed together to make a little cairn for fire. Minutes later, Whis has produced a simmering sauce out of dangerous-looking bits of this-and-that thumb-knifed and sprinkled into a splash of water that was reduced and added to in equal parts from her collection of pouches.

When the team comes back with MULTIPLE FISH AND GAME ANIMALS, Whis looks forlorn.

"What am I going to do with all this and my little pan? Was it the water beetle thing?" She puts on the 'have I offended you?' tone for a brief moment, before pointing. "Start another fire for the fish, you boys can try to put some sizzle on some meat."

After a while, Whis' pan sauce gets a whole pouch of long tendril-like mushrooms that grew together in a bunch to bubble and sizzle against.

When the picnic is served, Whis passes out bowls of mushroom-and-`s t u f f`-gravy, which has the consistency of fried mushrooms in gravy, but the queer taste of the 'good kind' of spicy instant ramen.
Count V
Alne - Plant Hwyaden HQ

Count V isn't actually cooking, but he provides the environment in WHICH to cook. A decent-sized campfire later, and whatever anybody wants to fry, they have the perfect place in which to do it. You /could/ stew here, but it's not what he's expecting. Not because he has anything against stew, but because he just doesn't expect to go to that much effort for this guy.

Something does seem to occur to him partway through all of this, though, and his overall demeanor softens.

To Att, he says, "Ice Wall sounds good, but I think electric wall could do unexpected things. Persistent electricity also has a lot of potential general applications as a bridge towards more familiar technologies. A phone would be nice..."

Count V
Alne - Plant Hwyaden HQ

And so, they had a picnic. It wasn't what anybody really expected when it came to this escort quest, and maybe some of them thought it was ridiculous. Among them, at least at the start, was Count V. By the end of it all though, a certain amount of crankiness is alleviated-- from Count V, if nobody else.

The remaining journey is relatively short, revealing the distance traveled to have been nearly nothing at all. They just went along way too circuitous a route. On one hand, perhaps that was simply a coincidence-- following around a clueless Lander, who hasn't gone far from home before. And on the other, perhaps those that suddenly seek to prey on them had a hand in it.

Hooded figures step out from beind the statue at the Shrine of the Beautiful One, bent and twisted humanoids with prominent horns. They come flying in all talons and rotting teeth, swiping towads the Adventurers and Lander alike with unnatural speed.

Whiskey Sour
Alne - Plant Hwyaden HQ

"I'm SO MAD!" Whis fumes, stamping bare foot into the ground. It's the most negatively expressive anyone's seen her, but it's still within the spectrum of 'small japanese girl makes frustrated noise, physically emotes' anger and not the 'intense anime growling while small pebbles raise in their aura' that other people get up to.

"It was right off the path! Look! Path, shrine!"

She gestures up and down the path, just as the hags loom out, tendrils and swooping teeth like wicked spectres.

As one comes low for Whis, the Druid switches staff-hands, swinging out her left to intercept the blow with a crackling shield of sunlight in the shape of a broad shield.

As her staff recoils from the shock, she moves with it, rotating to swing a kick right for the hag's head.

For a moment, her eyes flare like two points of red light, the arc of her foot leaving a trail of flame.

"Show up back in the cave, hags! This is abuse!"
Att Syne
Alne - Plant Hwyaden HQ

"Yeah, that's a fair point, but imagine, if you will," Att says to Count V while he reels in the sharp-toothed catch of the day, "a refridgerator with cold drinks on demand. We could re-invent soda. Or ice cream. Or..." He knife-hands the carnivorous fish. It poofs into fillets, which are added to the pile. "...or, well, anything."

"Living in a medieval fantasy world is cool and all in a lot of ways, but I really miss some things about modernity. Like convenience stores." Att tips his head back and sighs longingly. "Japanese convenience stores are a gift from God."


"...but it had some problems," Att is saying, walking and talking about the escort quest fix he was working on. "Sometimes changing zones would trigger the spawns because an internal play field wasn't actually located within the bounds of the limits. You know that princess escort quest in the Ninetails Dominion from the older Elder Tale? I changed zones into the castle courtyard during that and it bugged out instantly. Filled the whole place with infinite lava bears."

That's about when they get attacked. Att Syne responds to the super-speed rush with a now-reflexive horizontal sweep from his staff to make space, and then a lightning-speed draw with his straight sword. "/Finally/," he says, with obvious relish. He moves in...!
Shin Heno
Alne - Plant Hwyaden HQ

     Shin is very quiet during the picnic. He's not unduly quiet, it's not an unusual sort of silence - Shin's just not especially talkative, uncharacteristically pensieve. He's still sort of looking at the Lander as they eat, his eyes distant and contemplative.

     When they get up, he's walking directly behind the Lander, one hand clamped down on the man's shoulder, as if to say 'you're going to go in the direction I tell you to go in because otherwise you're going to fuck up.' The smile on his face says the same.

     Finally, they arrive at the Shrine. Shin lets out a relaxed sigh. "Finally! We can-"


     Of course there are.

     The hooded figures charge. Shin meets them head-on, bringing up his hands to deflect talons, bringing up his knee to knock aside incoming opponents. But...

     At one point, it seems like he slips.

     Like he let something by to scratch the Lander.

     Like he wants to see how it'll react when it's been hurt.

     But it's probably not the case. The belt comes into his hand. He snaps it around his waist. The red light glows.


                        0 01 0
                      1 /----\ 0
                     0 /      \ 0
   ARMOR BEETLE    ====|  /\  |====  CODE: ALGOL
DEFENSE OF DESTINY ====|  \/  |====    COMPILE
                     0 \      / 1
                      1 \----/ 1
                        0 10 0

     "Masked Ranger, Algol. The Demon Star will guide you back to Hell."

     The red light fades, and Algol's already moving to kick through a whole mess of them in one go, to kick them around into Att's attacks and Whis's blaze.

     The roundhouse kick nails one of them in the heart. Algol hammers it down into the ground. There's a burst of light as it disintegrates. The ground erupts around it.
Count V
Alne - Plant Hwyaden HQ

"That's true," V replies to Att, "though we can probably find places to get ice anyway... and they /probably/ invented ice cream already, anyway. Ice cream goes back a long way, you know. The first 'ice cream' we might recognize was just a mixture of snow or ice and honey. More like a snow cone, I suppose, but the idea wasn't unfamiliar to ancient humans."


"Ah, yes. A shrine. That is exactly where you expect to find horrible 'oni-women'." Count V grouses, falling back to the rear of the group -- particularly, behind Shin -- and raising his staff in a sweeping motion to declare, "Flame Wall!"

The characteristic sweeping flame roars up in a circle that wraps forward from behind Shin, crossing like a bow in two opposite directions on the other side so as to create an overlapping field of fire that surrounds him without preventing his passage, AND forces the Hags into the fire in order to engage him-- which they will, him being at the forefront of the fight.

Count V
Alne - Plant Hwyaden HQ

Between Whiskey's righteous, demonic indignation, Att's blade, V's wall of flame, and Algol going in with a characteristic RIDER KICK, it doesn't take long to mop up the hags and send the ones that DO survive the experience running away from the shrine, disappearing into the surrounding brush.

A few, of course, simply burst into shards of light and dissipate.

The Lander, for his part, is clutching where Shin allowed the Hag to touch him. His reaction is more-or-less in proportion that one would expect out of a regular person, though modified for a world in which damage is represented a little differently. He's lightly wounded, but not desperately hurt-- and he doesn't seem too off-put.

Breathing a sigh of relief, the Lander strides forward and conducts a ritual with bound rice plants, laying them before the statue and bowing his head. He says a prayer, requesting that the Goddess this statue represents offer guidance to the Adventurers.

Count V
Alne - Plant Hwyaden HQ

Count V knocks his own staff against his head a couple of times, and addresses Whiskey, "The pacing was strange, and the enemies stranger. There were better ambush points throughout. Was attacking at the shrine symbolic? Do they dislike the Goddess for being beautiful? Or..." He trails away.

Shin Heno
Alne - Plant Hwyaden HQ

     "Or?" Shin leans forward over V's shoulder, "Or what?"

     He's smiling again, and it's not the weird, uncomfortable smile from killing the animals, nor the smile he had for the Lander, so whatever that was about is probably over.
Att Syne
Alne - Plant Hwyaden HQ

"It could just be scripting," Att suggests, sheathing his sword and looking up at the statue appraisingly. "I'm not sure that there isn't a mix of good ol'-fashioned quest scripting alongside something more dynamic. Then again..."

He sighs, leaning on his staff. "Who knows? I suppose we could ask, but..." He scuffs the toe of his boot against the spot one of the hags once occupied.
Whiskey Sour
Alne - Plant Hwyaden HQ

"Whole shrine should've been in the cave." Whis grumbles, dusting her lap off and fixing her hood. It takes a moment. "Why did the lander lead us off the path into the forest, if the shrine was just on the path in the first place? We just... walked straight through..."

Whis turns back, towards the path, the forest, the cave.

"We went straight, didn't we? We didn't really turn at all. We just walked. Huh."
Count V
Alne - Plant Hwyaden HQ

"Or is there some deeper meaning to this specific choice?" Count V completes the thought, more than a little anticlimactically, "I can think of some, but they don't go anywhere good. Is there a practical effect in disrupting worship of a Goddess? A gain for their deities, if applicable? Too many variables, considering our proportionately small ability to interact with the non-playable sapients of the system."

Regarding quest scripting, V shrugs loosely. He's not certain, either.

To Whiskey, he replies, "Have you ever looked at a place you needed to go, thought you could take a 'shortcut', but ended up taking longer than you would have if you used the path you knew in the first place? It's probably the same thing, if it isn't just scripting. And, er... we did go straight, I think. We even cut through a river to do it..."


"If you ask me..."

"A lunch break in long quests would be pretty nice more often, given the circumstances."