Feralan - Some rambling thoughts on a Divine Remix ranger kit
Because I'm bored, wanted to give my take on yet another class I've been trying out from the Divine Remix mod - Feralan, a ranger kit which for a tl;dr plays like a berserkekensai/beastmaster. Also these are my own thoughts, so disagree or agree as you will. An interesting amalgamation to say the least: FERALAN: What happens to children who wander in the wilderness and are never recovered? Or worse, those who are abandoned there? Many succumb to the dangers of the wild, but a fortunate few are taken in by animals, raised as a part of a lion`s brood, or a wolf`s litter. Cut off from civilization, they gradually take on the characteristics of the creatures who adopted them, forming some kind of unity with the spirit of the wild. In the process they become feralans, beings who combine the savagery of beasts with the intellect of man. Feralans cannot be Lawful Good. Advantages:- +10% to stealth- +1 to Armor Class for every 5 levels of experience (starting at 1st level)- May use the 'Feral Rage' ability once a day per 10 levels. The enraged state lasts for 60 seconds, and grants a bonus of +2 to hit, damage, and AC, and immunity to charm, hold and fear, maze, imprisonment, stun and sleep. He also gains 15 temporary hit points- May use the 'Call of the Wild' ability once a day. This unique ability summons an animal companion who will fight for the caster for 3 rounds + 1 round/level. More powerful creatures are summoned at higher levels. Disadvantages:- Becomes winded after Feral Rage. While he's winded he receives -2 to hit, -2 to damage and a +2 penalty to armor class- Can only become proficient (one point) in bastard swords, long swords, short swords, two-handed swords, katanas, scimitars, halberds, flails and crossbows- Cannot wear any armor or use large shields- Maximum Charisma is 2 points lower than a standard member of the race Pros and Cons Pros So, going through the advantages in the order presented. The 10% to stealth is pretty minor. It's nice to have and means that your Feralan can act as a decent scout, though you'll have thieves for that most likely. One thing to remember is while they can't back stab, they still get a -4 THAC0 on the hit from stealth. You won't chunk people, but you will probably get a decent hit in and with d10 hit die, nowhere near as squishy as a d6 thief to end up being flattened for failing. +1 AC ala Kensai every 5 levels. Considering you can't wear armor (ala Kensai) this is a nice steady boost. Probably can't replace actual armor, but it does help. Feral Rage from the Berserker is just as good as it is in the fighter kit. 60 seconds of being able to hit harder, often and get hit less alongside all the resistances to statuses that can cripple or outright instant kill party members. You can of course get spells from other members to counter this, but with Rage it's in one neat little package. The 15 HP is also nice, just make sure if you're under to get healed before enrage runs out or you just drop dead. Call of the Wild via the Beastmaster. It's a little different but it summons an animal under your control for a decent amount of time. I've not played far enough to see the full range (and have no idea where/if there is a list) but summons are always good to have. Whether that's to act as an actual threat, or just to throw as a meat shield so an enemy doesn't attack an actual party member. It's no Animate Dead, but it's an on-demand sacrifice at worst. Cons Now for the cons. The winded is obviously bad, though it can be fixed by re-enraging when you get up to the higher levels, or falling back and using a ranged weapon (of which you still have a good selection) Still, in a class where you are starved for AC, it can be a death sentence if poorly timed or enough ranged units decide to pepper you with bullets and arrows. Proficiencies limits look bad, though not as bad as it may seem. You can still get 2 stars in axes, daggers, warhammers, staffs, maces, spears (for some reason) and both bows. Those of us that have played the game a few times know some of the bettebest weapons fall into those slots, so you won't be wanting for weapons. And as a ranger you get an auto 2 stars into dual-wielding and can go Master at level 1. Armor does hurt as like the kensai it does mean no matter how you mitigate it you will just be easier to hit than most. Though you can limit this through the use of spells, protection items, a high dex it is a pain that you have to endure. That -2 to your max Charisma means you can only put up to 16 instead of 18. Weee. How would I build one? Rangers are pretty easy to roll high for given they have Str, Dex, Con and Wis needing to be 13 or 14 min. You will see high 80s or low 90's pretty quick. Stats My recommendation is to max Dex and Con to 18 (rangers can only be human, elves, or half-elves, so no 19 Con and Str sadly) put whatever you have left into strength and adjust the other values as you so wish for RP or whatever you like. Take Int down to 9 or at 11 for extra protection against the flayers in BG2 and Cha is the dump stat as per usual. Wisdom doesn't affect your spell slots, so keep it at the min. Strength doesn't have to be at 18. While preferred, you'll run into a decent amount of items that can set it to this or higher in both games. Favoured Enemy For a favoured enemy, you can again pick whatever you like. It's a +4 bonus to hit and damage rolls, so a pretty decent bonus when fighting. Personally, I like to pick something common enough to get use out of it and annoying enough to want to put down quick. Spiders are my go to, since even the weakest ones can poison you and either make you use a Slow Poison spell slot or just destroy your HP. And later Sword and Phase Spiders groups can be a considerable threat even to a higher level party. Of course, you can pick Dragon or Lich or Vampires to make select encounters easier, but remember that these kinds of more powerful enemies are few and far between. Weapon Profs You start with 2 points into dual-wield and 4 points to play with at creation. Put them in whatever you like, though I'd recommend Axes or Warhammers and one type of bow to start. Bows are king in BG1 and you could probably just use that and be fine for it all. Axes and Warhammers are your best bet for +2 weapons in BG1 and in BG2 you have Crom Freyr and Axe of the Unyielding and Frostreaver. Shortbows are a better choice for BG2 since you can get magic ones which shoot unlimited +3 and +4 arrows and the Tansheron's Bow +3 from Trademeet you could get in the first hour or two of play if you rushed for it. If you really want to play the AC game, wear a shield for -1 AC or go for single-weapon fighting for that -2 AC. With 18 Dex and the -1 AC every 5th level you can start of level 1 with 3 AC - the same as Plate Armor without taking Dex bonuses into account. You do gimp your attack power, but you do get a 1/2 attack with 2 point weapon prof and at 7th and 13th level, so it could work. The tl;dr is don't worry about the limited weapons you can put two points in, they'll see you through both games just fine. Spells Spells are never going to be a huge factor for any kind of ranger. You go up to 3rd level Druid spells and the usefulness of these can be debatable and you'll get at maximum 3 slots for each level starting at level 8. Use what you like, though I'd recommend keeping to spells that either buff you or debuff the enemy, leave the healing and damaging to an actual Cleric/Druid, though choices can be limited. My thoughts are: 1st - Armor of Faith, Entangle and Bless would be the three I select from. AoF is resistance to all types of magical and non-magical damage. While it starts at a negligible 5%, it increases by 5% every 5 levels so with other items and spells you can actually rack up decent damage resistance. Entagle is useful in that you can freeze a group in place and pepper them with arrows, though the +3 to save makes it of questionable use later in BG2. Bless is a solid party and self buff of +1 to damage and hit rolls that I'd keep a couple of even late into the game. 2nd - A barren one for Druid spell users. I'd go for Slow Poision, Barksin and Resist Cold/Fire. Poison sucks, so being able to quickly negate it is useful. 50% Fire and Cold resistance is great for 2nd level, if for nothing else it means you can throw a fireball with your mage and not worry about nuking the PC too much. Barkskin sets your AC to 6, improving by 1 every 4 levels. So by the time you get a 2nd slot at level 10, it will set it to 4. Not bad, but a short duration and by then you probably have items and your +1 AC every 5 levels to get that lower. 3rd - Lot more choices. Call Lightning, Dispel Magic, Strength of One and Summon Insects are my pick. Lightning is limited to outdoors which makes it less useful in BG2, but it's great damage. Dispel Magic is staple for this level and great for wrecking mage defenses before you chew them up. Strength of One sets you and everyone around you's strength to 18/72 for a turn. Great for you and also your summons. Summon Insects is another mage shut down. No Insect Plague, but for one mage it makes their life hell. If you told me to pick spells to stick with, I'd go 2 Bless and a AoF for 1st, 2 Slow Poison and a Barkskin, for 2nd and SoO, Summon Insects and a Dispel for 3rd. Swap out as you like depending on the situation. Combat The joy of the Feralan (and ranger in general) is that you are a jack-of-all trades. Debuff/Buff yourself as needed and then attack your enemy of choice. I'd always make sure to target a mage first if around, but the idea with a Feralan is to let your tank draw the attention and you then come in and start mopping up. Enrage if you need something put down quick or mages try to throw out stuns or instant kills and either risk the -2 winded penalty or fall back and go with your bow. Don't forget your summon can meat shield for you or with SoO have a turn of pretty sweet damage. If you're feeling ballsy, sneak up to that mage/enemy and go for the -4 to hit attack. Final Thoughts Wow that was long. For my final thoughts, I'd say the Feralan is a pretty balanced and fun class. Nothing too overpowered outside the normal realms of the game. The berserk is always going to be awesome and having the option to stealth a bit and throw the odd spell really does give you a lot of tools to work with. Is it a strong/OP class? Debatable/not really. Individual classes do what the Feralan can and better. An Archer will of course be better in ranged fighting. An Archer can turn BG1 and about half of BG2 into a face-roll. Likewise, a fighter with grandmastery can even make darts rip dragons apart (with Dart Man being a character I NEED to play sometime). A druid will out divine magic you and a thief will out sneak-attack you. So why play one? Well in my opinion, I find classes fun to play based on variety. An Archer or Fighter are indeed better, but they have only one string to the bow as it were. You click on the enemy and attack until you win. A Dart Man mixes it up by using obscure weapons, but it's the same idea. Likewise, single-class thieves are a bit meh and in both games you have a thief NPC to fill in your trap-finding and the like. And while magic classes like Sorcerers and Mages can be obscenely powerful, the low HP and slots to start with can make it a chore to play. The Ferelan to start with can hold their own in a fight, go berserk to get a burst of damage, stay back with a bow while they have sucky AC, scout and maybe get the odd stealth attack in and have a summon to throw in. There's variety and enough buttons to press, while being able to hold their own. When they do get spells, they are nice little additions to throw in. I also personally use SCS with the Icewind Dale spells which make the lower level druid spells worth more, but I didn't mention them for brevity and knowing not everyone uses a modded set-up like me. Rangers have always been the jack-of-all-trades, but Feralan adds enough bonuses and drawbacks to give it a bit of extra spice and strategy behind the class. I don't really like scores or marks, so I give it a 7.5/10 or a Conan the Barbarian out of the Shaman from For Honor. It's fun, give it a try. (Speaking of, go for two points into Axes and Daggers each for that authentic shaman feel)
Light and Dark Animica Dragons - a new solo/duo boss fight where rather than acting as a DPS or tank, you act near-exclusively as a support.
A comment thread regarding higher-level metal dragons like Necronium Dragons, etc. gave me a neat idea: An "Animica Dragons" boss fight. A Light and Dark Animica dragon have fought each other for millenia, locked in a stalemate, repeating the same battle turn-for-turn every time they revive. And then, you showed up and ruined that delicate balance all for the promise of rewards. Worthit.
The Animica Dragons are each incredibly powerful, due to having spawned spontaneously in a cavern practically formed out of pure, crystallised elder god energy; they naturally came into conflict the moment they did and have been ever since. But, perhaps due to having been created from the energy of the Elder Gods - infamously rigid and inflexibly-minded as they are - without any outside influence, the dragons have never really changed their strategies. Besides, why risk messing up a pattern that already counters their opponent so perfectly? For example: The Light dragon uses its shield as the Dark dragon charges its biggest spec, its healing in response to large hits when possible, and its debuff cleanse in response to the Dark dragon's debuffs. The Dark dragon uses its berserker attacks (rapid, inaccurate-ish, with lowered defence for the duration - think "Nomad at low HP using Berserk") if the Light dragon's shield goes down, making it more vulnerable temporarily; and tries to use an attack that disables the Light dragon's shields before it charges its big boomy breath, etc etc. And so they've battled for millenia, in a constant stalemate, being reborn after each and every mutual death. Each time they're revived, though, the ambient elder energy of the animica cavern where they battle seeped into them a bit more. At this point, they've accumulated so much vitality that thier HP pools number in the tens (hundreds?) of millions! Fortunately (or unfortunately) for them, they and their attacks are made of the form of energy that serves as the antithesis to their opponent's very existence, so the damage their normal attacks do to each other is multiplied immensely, allowing even their "auto-attacks" to regularly hit 100k+ on each other. (subject to balancing, I'm not an actual boss designer lol) But then, you arrive to disrupt the balance. Luckily for you, they don't know you as well as they know each other, and your World Guardian status makes you immune to god energy, meaning their attacks are effectively just regular breaths, swipes, and energy lasers. Of course, any of those would still insta-kill you, they're still really strong. The reason you don't instantly die is partly due to the 'shield' your dragon grants you in exchange for your help, and partly because most of their attention is on each other; your opponent can't afford to direct much attention or energy your way or risk being quickly obliterated. Of course, if you were to use Provoke or something silly like that.......well then you'd just go splat near-instantaneously due to dart-speed 10k hits, even through your new freind's shield. So taking a traditional tanking role is out of the question. You could, in theory, win simply by adding your relatively meager DPS to your 'partner' dragon's 100k+ hits. But really, you'd barely make a difference due to the insane amount of HP the dragons have; you might as well just wait until they kill each other off. And of course, if your dragon sees its strategies getting countered just as much as they were without you, they might just conclude it's not worth wasting the energy shielding you takes, and let you go splat without it. So if your job in this fight isn't DPS as usual, and it certainly isn't tanking, what is it? In a word - Support. Your job is to both disrupt your opponent's strategies and aid your partner's as much as possible, so that your friend can get the upper hand, start out-DPSing the other dragon, and eventually score a win for your "team." (Also, don't die.) It helps that the dragons are composed purely of magical energy, so they can twist the partially-formed magical energy underlying many familiar non-combat spells to jerry-rig some neat effects out of them. And although the dragons are too focused on their battle to heed verbal strategic advice, the whole point of this entire battle is to try this newfangled "strategy" thing out. So they're giving you a telepathic link, through which you can not only direct them to use their special and normal attacks in different, more effective patterns, but you can also use your own defensive abilities to direct them to use their own versions. You know, since you're basically an ant and all. For example, if you're on the Dark side, your dragon starts charging its big boomy laser breath, and the Light dragon puts up its shield? Well, your puny knockbacks and stuns aren't gonna do much......but maybe you could cast Monster Examine to find a weak point in the shield and point it out to the Dark dragon? Or don't even bother looking for a weak spot, Slayer Dart (and more usefully, your dragon's version) was designed to independently home in on those anyway! If the Light dragon starts rapidly healing, you'll need to stop it somehow, but you can't stun it. So you'll need to find another way.....what if you cast Bones to Bananas or Make Leather, forcing it to divert its healing energy just to avoid having its mobility and/or biological integrity compromised? Suppose you're on the Light side, and your dragon tries to put up its shield - but, as always, it's got a weak spot. And though its attention is partly focused on you, the Dark dragon's isn't during its charging phase, so it has enough attention to spare to find that weak point. You'd better cast Confuse to stop it from doing so, or else use Disruption Shield to shore up that weak point. Both dragons do share some things, though, and so certain spells and combos will work on either side. For example, their preferred method of dodging is via blink-style teleportation ('porting away and right back an instant later. They're gracious enough to take you along.) so the attack passes right through them. (Running? Running is for plebians. ........Also one of their specs hits the entire arena with a shockwave/energy pulse/what-have-you, and can't be avoided unless you 'blink.') So if your dragon's trying to hit them with a full-scale attack, just do the obvious and cast Teleblock, or else use Spiritualise Food to bring a bit of the Spirit World into the physical one, messing up their teleportation spells badly enough that they won't even try. Or, if you're trying to dodge such an attack, but your opponent has stopped your dragon from teleporting itself, just use a Teleother or Telegroup spell to yoink it out of the way! (........It can find its own way back. Or just twist the telemagic into a Blink, if you want to be boring about it.) Cast a Charge Orb or Magic Imbue spell while either dragon's charging its full-area attack to strengthen it immensely, or cast Superglass Make or Superheat Item to melt the floor under your opponent, binding it and making it a sitting duck for your partner's tile-targeting attack. Or if the other dragon tries to Assume Direct Control via control/love aura, cast NPC Contact to telepathically snap your dragon out of it, or Alchemy to distract the opponent with delicious gold-flavored magical energy. (Dragons love gold after all, millenia-old energy beings or not.) Plus, some skilling spells act as buffs in this fight - for example, Tune Bane Ore increases damage, Repair Rune Pouch increases defense, Dream puts the opponent to sleep, making your dragon's next attack take them by surprise and leave them stunned. And jewellery-enchanting spells and Curse give more esoteric buffs. There would ideally be somewhat of a balance between the power of the normal and Lunar spellbooks for this fight: The Lunar spells-turned-buffs tend to be stronger than the normal spells-turned-buffs when it comes to direct percentage buffs, and while both spells have a heal-over-time (Cure Group for Lunars, and Enchant Sapphire for Standard [derived from its "spiritual energy restoration" effect]) Lunars also has a direct heal (Heal Group.) Plus, you know. Vengeance. But the normal spellbook tends to be more....'interesting'. Most of its normal debuffs are changed into either counters for mechanics - more effective counters than the Lunar Versions - and those that aren't, like Curse, along with many of the enchant spells, have "weird" effects that might take some practice, but with enough finesse could be more valuable than the simpler, but more universal, effects the Lunal book gives. It even has it's own way to ape Vengeance's effects on occasion, or just nullify other attacks - Air spells can dissipate smoke attacks, Enchant Onyx's buff solidifies incoming shadow attacks so your dragon can toss them back at the caster, Fire spells melt ice attacks into harmless splashes, and Enchant Emerald's buff makes blood attacks siphon up nothing but poison. Similar strategies can be employed for the Light dragon's Auroras; and of course, don't forget balance could be achieved through tweaking cooldowns and number values, too. But rather than picking one or the other, the best strategy is to bring a friend, with each of you using a different spellbook. Since some buffs on the same spellbook can't be applied concurrently (e.g. any of the Enchant Spells, Vengeance + any other Lunar buff) having two spellbooks available increases the help you can give your dragon. Furthermore, while every mechanic can be countered with either spellbook - or at least effectively enough not to make your dragon regret inviting you - one spellbook's counter is generally better than the other for each mechanic. Most importantly, having both books as options allows you to unleash devastating combo attacks - use Humidify to create puddles around the cavern, then use Divine Storm (or better, Storm of Armadyl) on one that your opponent's standing in to electrocute them for massive damage, even stunning them. Or use Fertile Soil to grow vines on the ground, and then Plank Make to grow them into walls to box your opponent in, Spin Flax to set wire traps that cause debilitating bleeds if the other dragon runs through them while trying to get away from an attack, or just burn them up by using Enchant Dragonstone to make your dragon actually breathe fire like it should already have been doing because it's a dragon for Guthix's sake!
No, I haven't forgotten Spellbook Swap exists. But honestly, anyone who can actually use it to string together more than 1 or 2 different combos, let alone do so at the most appropriate times, deserves the benefit of that, honestly.
(Most of the following two sections is the result of a major edit, in which I incorporated some ideas inspired by comments into the main post. Conceptually, this is closer to what I was imagining, but if people don't like the specific mechanics/nitty-gritty of how it'd be applied, I can always edit again.)
But new, shiny uses for skilling spells aren't even the main event here. Remember that whole "directing attack patterns" thing? Before/during the fight, a little box pops up with icons in it for each of the dragon's specs, each of the 'auto attacks' the dragon uses, and each of the 'twisted' versions of the skilling spells. (Which don't use runes. So don't worry about wasting 10 invy slots or 2 rune pouches just to hold runes for all those random spells you forgot about.)
Wait, you thought I was saying to click the same icon as the actual spell? I may not be a coder by trade, but even I know that's a recipe for this never happening. So.......much.......spaghet.......... Also they need to have cooldowns, because that means you need Even Moar Strategy to judge when to use each one for the best effect. (The cooldowns probably shouldn't be too long, though, considering the whole point is* support. But nobody wants someone with ninja fingers and a Youtube account to somehow spam Humidify-Spellbook Swap-Divine Storm a gajillion times and get a 1-tick kill, because that would make me sad and other people jelly.)
You can drag these icons to your ability bar (think Barbarian Assault) so that you can direct the dragon to use specific specs or to switch which 'auto attack' they're using in order to best counter or take advantage of different situations - including to create combos with your support spells, such as using Boost Potion Share followed by your dragon's self-buffs, Stat Restore Pot Share followed by the Light dragon's debuff/buff clears for itself/its opponent, or Curse to temporarily flip stat buffs to debuffs and vice versa to take advantage of the backlash from the Dark dragon's explody breath or berserker mode, at least for one or two rounds. Of course, many of the specs for each dragon are intended as a hard counter to one on the other side, so each time you tell your dragon to use an attack with a specific counter the opponent will save that counter until they 'think' you're about to use that attack again, or when you already have. And they're used to following patterns, so if you, say, use Debilitate, wait 30 seconds, and use it right off cooldown, then you just fucked up, cause 30 seconds later they're gonna be ready with a debuff shield to nullify it.....unless you bait those out ahead of time with some other debuff; like an accuracy/defence down right before you use or take a strong but inaccurate attack. But don't forget that in the middle of all this, you're standing there too, and dying is not generally conducive to the endgoal of sweet loot. Luckily, as mentioned, you're only getting hit with 'splash damage,' and even better, since the dragon's shield to you creates a spiritual link between you two, you benefit from each other's buffs, though since you're much 'smaller', soul-wise, your buffs don't all work as well for your dragon as they do for you. On the other hand, defensive effects, like buffs and heals, cast on the dragon grant you get a much higher effect. And since you're getting the same attacks the dragon is, there's no reason to let your partner take a hit so you can save your Resonance for later - if whatever's heading their way is worth a Res, it's gonna be worth it for you too. And even better, it doesn't amplify debuffs. The spell is a shield, it wouldn't be all that useful if it amplified negative effects. Like death. (What does "extra dead" even mean? You don't want to find out....) On the other hand, it also doesn't amplify offensive buffs, so by the end of the fight your attacks will be no more effective than at the beginning - which is to say, about as painful as a stray piece of tissue paper. Still, play your cards right and you could stack up damage-reducing buffs reducing damage by 50%, 100%, or more, along with a good supply of heals; which will probably help you with that whole 'survival' business. And gameplay-wise, this acts as an incentive to actually use defensive boosts and not just focus on offensive buffs/straight up damage from support spells/combos.
Normally, "ALL TEH DEEPS" is a good strategy, so one might expect people to just use effectively the same strategy when "playing as" the dragon. But in this fight, that'll just get you killed - you'll need to have defensive buffs or you'll run out of food long before you win. Of course, as mentioned, the link doesn't amplify negative effects. So "buff clears" that clear, say, a +10% defence buff from your dragon will also only reduce yours by 10%.....which is far less than what your buffs should be if you're actually playing defensively/supportively.
Finally, the fight would be a bit too easy if you could just spam your guy's best attacks. So all the special attacks will act like a cross between normal abilities and, well, special attacks. They each have cooldowns (which are about the same as you'd expect for specs of each one's strength) but they require, and drain, a fixed amount of adrenaline to use. Now I know what you're wondering. "But then aren't the spells a waste of an attack, since they don't build adrenaline and basic defensives do? And how am I supposed to ever get enough adrenaline to be wasting 30%, 50%, 75%, etc regularly?" Well, that's the thing. First of all, since you use the 'twisted' spells as abilities, as mentioned above, they give adrenaline too. But more importantly, your link shares and (may or may not in this case Balancing) amplifies positive effects.....such as adrenaline gain. So you're getting far more than 8% per round. Of course, this makes your normal defensive thresholds/ults easier to activate too, which is the "real" reason they don't help your dragon quite as much as they help you. Finally, and most importantly: I know this whole thing is pretty massive, both word count-wise and in terms of new mechanics and design styles. But this sort of template might be worth balancing and construction not just for a single boss, but as an investment into future content. The idea of 'reworking' certain skilling spells to create useful combat abilities with esoteric and interesting effects, such as one derived from Magic Imbue that amplifies the next ult you use, or one that temporarily flips debuffs into buffs and vice versa, either for just you, just your opponent, or both (for a very short time, with significantly reduced magnitude), or even the Humidify or Fertile Soil combos, (see the 'responses' post) could really add actual variation to combat, especially outside of PvM where the strategy is pretty much just "ALL TEH DEEPS!!!" and maybe reacting/countering a few mechanics for a few very specific mobs.
I mean, supposedly Full Manual, full-attention, 100% No Chill mode leads to more DPS, neat wombo combos, etc., but in practice everyone just throws Rev++ on and AFKs when slaying, especially now that it triggers thresholds and ultimates. But it's still pretty hard to make certain abilities go off right after each other exclusively, unless they both have the same cooldown, you put them in the first two slots, and they're basics so they don't get stalled bc you can't trigger both in a row.
And the idea of "controlling/directing an NPC to make them use what they already have in a better way" could be used to make plenty of different "support bosses" in this vein. Or maybe you could telepathically help an NPC fight, maybe in a quest, or maybe even in some new Elite Dungeon that's normally completely inaccessible......until someone picked up on a message from a novice mage who tele'd herself in by accident and, despite having the requisite spells, has no idea how to use them to fight her way out and open it from the inside. Or even have a boss where Phase 1 requires you to 'teach' it strategy well enough to defeat an otherwise more powerful enemy. (Within a certain time limit, to make the next part technically feasible.) But you'd better pay close attention to what you're teaching it, because in Phase 2, the ghost of enemy you just beat comes back and tricks your student into thinking it came back from the dead in full.....and it happens to be standing right where you are! Well, the 'strategy' - that is, the attack pattern - you 'taught' it in Phase 1 worked well enough during its "first" battle with the thing, so it figures it'll just use the same pattern again, with the same mechanics placed in the same order with the same intervals between them as the way you fought the entirety of Phase 1. With most bosses you can just count attacks, but unless you had a hand spare to record every move you made in Phase 1 perfectly, you're gonna have to respond on-the-fly, having to guess what attack is coming next.
To make it more, you know, possible, the mechanics would have to be a bit more forgiving of mistakes than the bosses Jagex might be used to making by now cough instantkillsareterribleandeveryonehatesthem cough. But even then, you can't afford to miss every mechanic, while they might give you some leeway you'll still need to know the general timing to prepare each counter. So outright wild guessing isn't going to do the job....but hey, it was your strategy! Do you know your own strategies, patterns, and general PvM tendencies well enough to fight against them? Or are you Your Own Worst Enemy (A wild tagline appeared!)
Or you could record your own screen (if you're Boring,) but that could be worked around by having the second phase start immediately on all encounters but the first, so you wouldn't have time to start playing back your video a few rounds in advance. As as the battle went on it'd be harder and harder to get them synced up, and also you're dividing your attention away from the boss....might as well just devise a pattern you plan to use for the first part, hope circumstances don't push you too far off it, and remember roughly when you did get pushed off due to having to counter an unexpected mechanic. Of course, if you messed up too early and don't remember how, all bets are off.
The point is, it may be a lot of work and not really justified for one boss,, but if could well be justified in terms of enabling more interesting boss fights, more interesting combat, and more unique PvE experiences in general.
Neat idea for a boss fight where the basic idea is that two superpowered bosses are already fighting, and you can't do much as either a DPS or a tank - but you can act as a pretty good support. Your chosen "partner" can 'twist' many non-combat spells into forms more useful for combat - or you can use them to alter the environment and set up combos when duoing, or simply forms combo with your dragon's attacks. Beyond that, though, the fight itself consists of essentially directing a boss as to the best use of its own special attacks and mechanics to fight another boss, which itself adapts its attack patterns on the fly to best deal with what it thinks yours are. And all this while you desperately try to stay alive yourself, with the help of buffs shared with your partner, your own defensives, and probably more than a few rocktails. (I had a bunch of edits suggested/inspired by commenters after this, but it was getting too long, so I'm putting them in a comment thread.)
The 2013 Denver Broncos hated math. They absolutely hated math. They hated numbers. They hated Newton, and Leibniz, and Euler, and Pearson, and Bayes, and anyone who ever picked up a calculator. This hatred could be expressed in how they torched both team and league record books for total points, passing yardage, and passing TDs in a season. They tied a 45-year record for games with 50+ points in a season. If it was an offensive record, the 2013 Broncos acted offensively to it. Though no statistic is more indicative of their hatred of math than the point spread from their game against the Jaguars. Here’s every Denver Broncos game with a point spread of at least 5 in either direction. Notice the outlier? Notice the year? The Broncos previous highest point spread was 17, set in 2012 against the Chiefs. Their third-highest is 16.5, set earlier in 2013 against the Raiders. A smattering of 16’s, 15.5’s, and so on dart the rest of the list—usually occurring in some of the best years in Broncos history. The worst a spread has been against the Broncos was 15, against the 49ers in 1994 (the Broncos failed to cover the spread against the soon-to-be world champs). The second-worst for the Broncos came in 1992 against the Bills at 14—which the Broncos did cover. The highest in Broncos history is also the highest in league history. 26.5 26.5
For comparison’s sake, this only 1.5 points smaller than the lowest O/U in recorded league history. Two NFL teams were forecasted to barely score more combined points than the margin-of-victory the Broncos were forecasted to have. The Broncos have 601 games in team history—over 37 entire season's worth—of failing to score more than the projected margin of victory of 26.5. In the entire 2016, 2017, and 2018 seasons, the Broncos have 8 games of scoring 27 or more points. In their other 40 games over the period, they scored fewer than they were projected to win that game against the Jags by. Which leads to a natural question: Why were the Broncos such heavy favorites that day? A few numbers are pretty revealing. 230 (how many points the Broncos scored in their first five games, an NFL record). 20 (their passing TDs in the first five games, an NFL record). 1869 (their passing yardage through five games, 2nd only to the 2000 Rams). 135.5 (their passer rating through five games, third-highest in NFL history after 5 games behind the 1960 Browns and 1999 Rams). The Broncos offense was off to a historic start—a start so elite it masked a very mediocre defensive performance. The Broncos, despite scoring all these points, only had a PD of +91 through five games—good for the 29th-best through five games. Regardless of these defensive struggles, which included a wild 51-48 shootout in Dallas, Vegas was enamored with the Broncos. The line being so ridiculously high reflects how confident bettors were in the Broncos early in the 2013 season. Especially against the Jags—who started 0-5 after going 2-14 the prior year. Their offense was hapless, scoring a cumulative 51 points while allowing 37 and 42 in back-to-back weeks. They’d finish the 2013 season with the worst offense in the league and limping to a 4-12 finish. There’s never a gimmie game in the NFL, but the Broncos really made an argument to have one here. If they didn’t win—by a lot—it’d be a serious indictment on their abilities. And yet, they don’t call it “Any Given Sunday” for a reason. It’s hard to win in the NFL. It’s hard to win blowouts in the NFL. Regardless of the talent disparity between two teams, everyone on the field is a professional—the best of the best in the world. This is why the Browns can beat the Patriots in a rout, the Legion of Boom can lose to the Rams, or the soon-to-be #1 overall pick Colts can beat the defending world champion Packers. The Broncos were going to need to fight and grind to win a game—regardless of what the math said. The first quarter went about as Vegas forecasted—the Broncos scored two TDs (off of redzone passes to Julius Thomas and Wes Welker) as they went up 14-0. The second quarter, showed a bit of complication. The Jaguars stuck around, kicked two FGs, and scored a TD off of an errant Peyton Manning pass as the half came to a close. The Broncos were only up 14-12 at the half. Unless something absolutely wild happened, the Jaguars would most certainly cover the spread—if not win outright. The Broncos came out of half and quickly put together a TD drive to build the lead to 21-12, but the Jags responded with a competent offensive drive of their own—ending in a MJD touchdown run. They had a very real chance of winning this game. In no small part thanks to one of the best games of Justin Blackmon’s career. Blackmon had 190 yards on 14 catches. Blackmon made his season debut the prior week, due to a suspension for drug use. He had a very solid rookie season after being selected 5th overall in 2012: 64 catches for 865 yards and 5 TDs. But he had the demons of addiction plaguing him, which hung over him like a dark cloud. He appeared to have moved past it, but the suspension was a bad sign. Still, no one’s ever really gone—no reason he couldn’t fight the addiction to become a great NFL player. But that wasn’t Blackmon’s future. He played four games in 2013 before being suspended again. He has never been reinstated in the league again and will almost certainly never play football again. Such a talent was lost due to the demon of alcoholism and drug use. Maybe the Jaguars would’ve won a title in 2017 if they had Blackmon’s play? In spurts, in his limited time on the field, he looked transcendental. Yet on this day, none of that mattered. He was Justin Blackmon, star receiver, leading his team to being a quarter away from pulling off the greatest statistical upset in NFL history. The whole NFL would pay attention to the Jaguars, the Jaguars, if they could once more, stun the Broncos in Mile High. Two Knowshon Moreno TDs later, and the Broncos were safely up 35-19. There would be no upset, no history made. The Broncos won, the offense looked great after a shaky start, and they improved to 6-0—hoping to get back to the big game. The game would be forgotten beyond nerds and die hards and Justin Blackmon would fade to darkness. But still, the Jaguars covered the spread—as they only lost by 16. In fact, this is a bit of a trend. Of the ten highest spreads in league history, only two weren’t covered. No team won outright, but the forecast blowout never came to fruition. The 2007 Eagles were 24.5-point underdogs against the undefeated Patriots, but they only lost by 3 in Foxboro. The 2011 Colts, lead by geriatric Kerry Collins and Ryan Patiner, lost by 3 in Foxboro after being 22.5 point underdogs. This reinforces the notion of “Any Given Sunday”—these are still professional players, and professional players won’t get blown out that much that often. This also is a handy gambling tip. See a spread of 20 or more? Always bet on the team to cover. After this game, the Broncos would go back to their animosity towards math as they continued their assault on every offensive record. But, eventually, they came to a screeching halt in New York. Their defensive woes, hidden by their offensive prowess, would come up in a very bad way in the big game. They’d need a change if they were to win a Super Bowl. A big one.
"You know Grachus, I despise the undead." Vis said as he swept the head from an advancing skeleton, one of the many that he had destroyed this unlucky night. "Why's that boss?" Grachus asked, swinging his maces and neatly destroying several more. "Well, for one thing," Vis paused to backpedal out of the way of several advancing skeletons, "They never know when to give up... I mean, its not like we're in any real danger from these pathetic examples of the foul necromancer's art are we?" "Couldn't say boss." Grachus grunted, never really the orc for words. "Hang on, take these for example. They just keep coming and coming after us. With no real reason. But, if we take three steps back..." Vis trailed off as he took precisely three steps back and waited for Grachus to do so as well. Grachus slowly took the hint and stepped back to where Vis was standing. The skeletons ceased their attack, and wandered back to the cave from where they had been resting, their smashed companions laying there on the grass, the animating force blasted from their bones. "See? They just walk away. You know, if we had something better to do than see what was so important in this bloody hole for that bloody mage... I'd be thinking we could just blast our way in and be done with this in an afternoon and be home in time for tea. What do you think Grachus?" "Never much liked tea Boss. Like smashin much more." "Well, yes, that's why I keep you around. But what's the point really? Why do we do it?" "Err," Grachus' face twisted with the difficulty of the thought coming to him. "Err, we do it for the money? That mage give us lotsa sparklies for this." "Ahh yes my dear friend Grachus, the money. This indeed is why we do this thing, and right after we get paid, I shall betray you and take your sparklies." Grachus laughed. "You're funny Boss. I no think you betray me, you like me, and I like you. Lets get back to smashin." "Indeed! Back to smashin! After you my good Orc!" "TYR! Why have you abandoned me?" Alyndas screamed through vocal cords that were nearly bleeding. Kneeling in the rain in front of his destroyed manor house, Aly's entreaties were heard by noone. By nothing. The lands around the manor had been cursed by the death of the orc chieftain long ago, and had not yet been cleansed. Alyndas had been planning to do that after the destruction of Belial, but as always, events conspired against him. All he really wanted to do was settle down with Shaleea in the manor house, and rebuild his family. And now, here he was. His hopes and dreams shattered and burned out with the destruction of his holy sword and a debt that his father incurred. He knew that he should never have travelled to that distant land. He knew it was a trap. He knew it was something he would never be the same after. Alyndas wept in the rain, and after a time, fell over and slept. Time passed for him. Day after day, night after night he hurled his voice skyward with no response. The voice that been his constant companion was silent. He knew that he was no longer a paladin. He knew that forevermore he would be nothing more than a washed up old warrior with a shattered sword. And yet, in the back of his mind, that was ok. After a time, he stopped calling out to the sky and stopped weeping. He realized, slowly that he still lived, and all was not truly lost. He slowly gained acceptance that everything would be alright. He stood one morning and turned to the manor. "Well, I suppose its time for me to get to work." "You know Boss, I've not seen anyting like what was down there. Dat mage was truly a crazy bastard," Grachus remarked to Vis as they exited the cave, the supernatural presence now cleansed. "Well Grachus, they can get a little nutty when left under the ground for a little bit too long with noone to talk with but a corpse." "So we go get sparklies now?" "Yes my friend, we go off to get sparklies. And then, my sudden, but inevitable betrayal," Vis spoke with a gleam in his eye, and Grachus laughed heartily at that. "Boss, I think you been talkin to corpses too!" Grachus laughed some more. "You seemin a little nutty too." "Nutty? Nay, I'm batshit fucking crazy, my dimwitted friend." At this, they both laughed uproariously. For different reasons. Vis clapped the orc on the back and they started walking back to Baldur's Gate to collect their rewards. About a week later, Vis was in front of the mage that had hired them. Grachus was waiting just outside the town for Vis to return. "Did you find it?" The mage asked hesitantly? "Yar, we found it." Vis tossed a small leather pouch at the mage's feet. "It wasn’t easy, it took us damn near the better part of a week to clear out the place of all the damned skeletons. Not that kill... well destroying them was hard... they're just annoying. And they reanimated themselves every evening when the sun went down. I swear we killed the same skeletons a half a dozen times. No worries though, we got the Neckie that was down there and did what you asked of me. And brought you what you asked. There in that bag. Although I still don't quite understand what you wanted with it." "Never mind all that, never mind. Here is your payment that we agreed on." The mage tossed a small velvet bag to Vis and the half-elf caught it deftly and made it disappear about his person. "Aren't you going to count it?" "Nay friend, I don't need to. Because I know that you know that if you cheated me on a payment, I'd have to kill you. And believe me. I would. With pleasure. Nothing personal, mind you. Its just business. Besides, If you shorted me on the cash, I'd just have to kill Grachus and take his share to make up for it. And then come and kill you for cheating me. And maybe kick a puppy or three on my way out of town... just for spite." "You'd do all that?" "You bet your ass my fine fingerwiggling friend. Well,” he thought for a moment, “maybe not the puppy part... I'm not a monster." Vis turned and walked out of the bar. "Be seein ya friend." Sweat dripped off Alyndas' brow as he felled the tree. Good hard work left him little time to reflect on his losses. It was only in the night, when the dreams came to him that he sobbed with grief. Only in his sleep though. Every day he and several laborers worked brutal tedious hours to remove the destroyed Manor and begin rebuilding a new one. Bigger, stronger, more fireproof. It was a good thing that his father had always been so willing to lend money to the other local nobles, all Aly needed to do was put his armor on, polish it up a bit and go calling around a bit to get the funds he needed to repair the manor. He still felt empty inside though. Incomplete. And it nagged at him. He didn't know whether it was because Tyr was gone from his life or that Shaleea was gone, and probably dead. Shaleea. How he missed her, how he longed to talk to her... He continued his days by rebuilding his house. Slowly, it took shape and began to resemble the house he had grown up in. He now had a roof over part of it, and shelter from the conditions outside. Winter was falling fast here, and they needed to get most of the shell finished before the snow flew. He thought he might need to hire on some more hands to get it done. He really had nothing else to do, his life had become hollow, pointless. He was readying his house for what? For who? He certainly didn't need it. He could go to Waterdeep and... and... then what. That's where it all fell apart for him. He wasn't important anymore. Even though he never wanted to be, he had gotten used to it. And now, he was nothing. A minor noble with a destroyed house. Maybe she would come back to him, and they could revive the line and the lands... But that was just wishful thinking. More than likely, she would perish in the line of duty against whatever powerful supernatural evil fouled that besieged land. Truth be told, he felt like a coward. Leaving them was expeditious. Simple. Could he still be considered even a man? The crash of the felled tree startled him back to the here and now. There was still work to do. "Grachus, I am terribly disappointed in you. I mean, 15 orcs? You think so little of me that you only bring 15 orcs to ambush me and take my sparklies? I'm hurt. Of course, not as hurt as you wi..." "Shut Up! You no talk now! You give Grachus what Grachus want! Or Grachus and friends kill you!" Vis sighed. Maybe he really was that stupid. Oh well, he thought, At least this should be fun. "You know Grachus, I don't think giving you what you want will do. But, for your faithful service, I will give you what you deserve." With that, Vis stepped out of phase for a moment. *Magical darkness envelops my form, Shifting, bending , changing streams of light, now, nothing is seen but a memory* he sang, dropping a cloak of improved invisibility upon himself. "Get Him!" Grachus yelled, "He not get away!" 3 of Grachus’ orcs sprouted daggers from their foreheads a moment later and dropped to the ground. Chaos reigned for a moment as Grachus shouted to control his charges. He stepped away from the rest of his orcs for a moment, "Its just a trick! See, there no daggers here!" Truly, for the daggers had returned to the half-elf a moment after they tasted orc blood. Grachus kicked one of the corpses. "Get up! You not dead! It illusion!" The corpse, predictably, failed to stir. *Barriers felt, but not seen, a power stirs to trammel those that oppose me, a wall of force to imprison you for now, I'll get to you later... and how.* "Hah! You do nothing but tricks! Find Him! Kill Him!" Grachus ran forward, and stopped suddenly, as if he collided with an invisible wall. Landing on his back, he stood back up and felt the wall around him. "You like your new prison Grach? I think it suits you just fine. Now, you can watch as I abuse your followers in a most unpleasant manner." 4 more orcs fell over as daggers appeared in vital areas about them. The panic in the small camp was almost tangible, most of the orcs had frozen, those that moved or tried to run had been slain outright. "As for the rest... Well..." *A tale I'll tell, to make you weep, and when I'm done, you'll fall asleep!* The rest of the orcs, all fell over as the magic took hold over them. Quickly, and efficiently, they were all bound and gagged. And Vis' voice, low and menacing, in Grachus' ear, "Now, let's have some fun..." Alyndas moved with more of a spring in his step lately, his Manor was almost finished being rebuilt, and the grounds around it were taking shape. "Soon, it may even be habitable!" He remarked to himself with a chuckle. Things were looking up for the fighter. People were returning to the area around his manor, and he was granting them leave to work the land, in exchange for small plots on which they could live. He was beginning to feel almost noble again. He was conducting daily prayer services to Tyr, and had a small flock of regular attendees. He still didn't feel the touch of the god, but that was alright. Showing up in singles, and pairs, sometimes in small groups, he was slowly beginning to attract followers. People that were willing to fight for him and assist in the upkeep and defense of the manor house. Soon, he would need to add on to what he built to house them all. But for now, they were content with the pavillion tents he had set up for them. He worked all day with his people, training them in the arts martial and other things a knight would teach his squires and at night, he taught reading, writing, etiquette, and heraldry to be sure his people could think as well as fight. He was beginning to feel like a man again. "AAAAAGGHHRRRRRRHHHHHHUUURGLE!" the last remaining orc gurgled as Vis finished skinning him alive. Long strips of Orc flesh decorated the small clearing while Grachus watched from his impromptu prison. "Well, that was just delightful, wasn't it dear friend? I hope you enjoyed that show as much as I enjoyed performing it." Vis picked up the corpse, and tossed it on the others, flayed in much the same manner. Blood soaked the ground, now slick and colored red with gore. The bard was covered head to toe in darkening red ooze. "Now Grachus, we turn, at last to you. Whatever shall we do with you now? I can't take you with me, or perhaps, can I? Maybe you have learned your lesson. Hmm, have you learned your lesson my friend?" Grachus burbled for a moment, stunned at the bard's viciousness. "Grachus learn. Grachus lear.." The powerful orc broke into racking sobs. "Aww my dear friend Grachus, what is the matter?" "You killed brothers and cousins. Tortured to death." “Well, yes, I do seem to have done just that. Maybe this means I should just kill you and be done with it. After all, I can't have an orc with a blood oath to revenge the deaths of his family with me now can I?" "No. Grachus understand. No more betray. Grachus no want die." "Ahh, very good. I simply didn't want to lose such an effective fighting tool. But, I will retain the sparklies for the last job and the next 3 jobs for this... indiscretion." "Yes. That ok.." "Excellent. Let's move on then. Come along." "What about wall? Grachus trapped." "Oh, that. It was gone half an hour ago. You've been free for a while. It does me good to see a spirit so utterly broken." Grachus stood up and moved forward. The wall was truly gone. He realized that he could have done something to try to save the last couple of members of his family, and started sobbing again. "Yes Lady?" The bard suddenly said as he knelt in front of shimmering circle in mid air. "A nobleman? Piece of pie. I'll get right on it." "Well Grachus, it appears your services are no longer needed," the bard said as he lunged forward, shortsword leading. The enchanted weapon dug deep into the fleshy part of Grachus' neck, driving out the back, neatly severing the spinal cord in one blow. "Goodbye dear friend." Vis said as he withdrew his blade, the orc slumping to the forest floor. Grachus' eyes darted around in terror as his brain slowly used up the last of the oxygen in the blood that remained in his head. "See you around." Alyndas relaxed in his office. A roaring fire in the hearth kept the place nice and warm and kept the winter chill at bay. He really needed someone to keep track of all these things for him so he could be out among his people more, but he knew that he needed to at least do some of it. His father spent more time poring over ledgers than was healthy, but it did leave him the legacy of a moneylender. Tracking down debts owed to his family was what was financing the rebuilding, so he couldn't be too picky. He had several house guards, quite a few peasant farmers and herders, a small chapel and... there was so much to do, and not enough time to do it. He was happy though, that things were finally going the way he wanted. Simple, calm, and most importantly, his life wasn't in any danger. Things were good. “Is this the man she wants me to kill? Where's the fun in this? Where's the challenge? He's a simple nobleman." Vis observed from his position just outside of Alyndas ' Manor. He had been watching Alyndas for a few days now, watching and waiting as Alyndas performed menial tasks around the manor, met with peasants, and took care of day to day business. "Most of the day he just sits there and does most of nothing. Grachus, I ask you How possibly is this worth my time? Well, sure she told me to, and that's all I really need to know, and I certainly will do this thing. You're maybe right there, maybe this is indeed a test as to how I'll perform on this task when I'm not being paid for it. Well, yes, I am being paid, but not in gold you know." Vis turned and addressed the rotting orc head sitting next to him, watching the Manor. "Now see here, I'll not stand that sort of remark from you. She's in charge, and I'll not hear an ill word against her." The dead eyes glared back at him, offering nothing beyond reproach. "Well, I suppose I have to go do this thing. Nothing to it but to do it. You keep an eye out and watch my back. I won't be long." Vis started singing again as he changed shape to become a falcon, flying high above the manor. Night was coming. Alyndas couldn't shake the feeling that he was being watched. For a couple of days now, he had been uneasy. The people around him could feel it. "Is everything alright Milord?" His clerk asked him after supper. "I don't know Gramling. Something just feels wrong. Ah, tis of no import. Probably just nerves. Shaleea's father is coming to visit, and I want everything to go well." "Yes, everything is prepared for his eminence's arrival. Seems his daughter's standing in the church of Lathander has elevated his own standing in that organization. Especially among our people." "Yes, she is quite beloved here. By the people, and myself. I do hope she's safe. There was something about that place that didn't add up. No matter. We have business to attend to, I'll go upstairs and dress for this evening. I want you to make sure everything is ready." "As you wish Milord." Gramling headed to the kitchen, to check on the dinner planned for the evening. The cook was there as well as the serving girl, bustling around the kitchen preparing something or other. Gramling couldn't be bothered to see what was being cooked, as long as there was going to be something ready for his eminence. "Ah, Gramling, would you be so kind as to run to the smokehouse and fetch me another shoulder of lamb for the servant's dinner? With all the hustle and bustle, I won't have time to cook anything! Sara here is busy with the place settings, and its dark outside. I don't need her tripping over something out there." "Of course Madam Cory. I'll check on the stables while I'm out there. See that there's a place for his eminence's coach." He grabbed a torch from the sconce by the door and lit it. The smokehouse was a small, squat building maybe a hundred yards off from the main house. As he reached the door, he felt a sharp, bright pain in his lower back, and everything went dark for Gramling. Gramling returned to the kitchen, a shoulder of lamb in his hand. "E're's yer meat Love!" he said and tossed it to Madam Cory. "I'll be upstairs, seeing to the lord." Madam Cory seemed a bit taken aback at Gramling's meat hurling. "Very well," she humphed and set about preparing the main course. not noticing the aroma of almond over the scent of the smoked meat. As he walked out the door, passing Sara as he went, she gave a yelp and danced away from him. "What's the matter girl?" "He just... Gramling pinched my bottom." "Don't be silly girl, you must have imagined it. Gramling's too stiff to do something like that. Get back to work." Loping up the stairs, Vis wandered to Alyndas' room. Singing his invisibility spell quietly, he phased out and stepped through the door. Alyndas was sitting on the edge of his bed, dressed, fiddling with his saber. In an instant, something sliced neatly across his throat, severing his vocal cords. He flopped back on the bed, clutching at his throat. Gasping for breath, Alyndas struggled to draw his saber to defend himself from the unseen attacker. Blood flowed freely from the wound, and Alyndas was finding it difficult to breathe. He managed to get his sword out and recoiled in pain as his sword hand was cleanly severed at the wrist. He fell to his knees and then to his chest in agony. Unable to breathe, the last words he heard was "You failed the Mistress, Paladin of Tyr. And now, you failed your people." Everything went black as Vis blew out the lamp. He changed back to Gramling, and went to find Sara. The girl liked having her bottom pinched... He just knew it. Perhaps, she would come with him. Grachus was starting to smell. As he was preparing to fire the manor house in anticipation of finding the luscious scullery maid Sara, he heard the sound of an approaching carriage. “Damn and blast. Who could tha… oh. That’s not good.” He turned, mid sentence and dashed out the back door, pausing only when he almost tripped over the unconscious object of his desire. “Well, now. That’s a fortune indeed. Well,” he grunted as he lifted the girl over his shoulder, “I’ve never been one to not pick up an unconsidered trifle. Ooh. I could go for some pudding now that I mention it…” He chanted the words to his invisibility spell and wove in a couple of verses to include the girl and fled Meduseld Manor. “Milord! There’s been a terrible murder!” the cleric’s footman called back to the carriage. Lord Tüssel d’Beregost started out of his chair. “What! Who has been killed‽” “Milord… everyone has. Everyone. The entire house has been slain.” The footman seemed near tears. Lord Meduseld has had his head nearly cut off… it was horrible.” The elderly cleric climbed down out of the carriage. “Who could have done such a thing? And why?” He slowly made his way to the manor. “Jacobsen. Return to my manor and fetch the ornate case from the chest behind my desk. Here is the key. Touch NOTHING else. Only the ornate chest.” The man called Jacobsen unhitched one of the trailing horses from the carriage and bolted off into the night. Half a dozen others and perhaps a half a score of guards remained with the cleric. Tüssel looked down for a moment. “So much for dinner I suppose. Come brethren, there’s work to be done. Some may be saved still, and I owe my daughter a favor.” “Where… where am I?” Sara asked, groggily. “Oh good, you’re awake. I found you in the wood, delirious and crazed. It appears someone had poisoned you. I happen to dabble a bit in herbalism, and was able to neutralize the toxin.” “I… don’t understand. I was serving dinner, and that’s the last thing I remember. How did I get… well here? “My dear girl that is not at all important, it matters not where your family went, you have your strength to recover, so drink this potion and forget your lovers,” Vis sang softly, invoking the power to charm the girl. She leaned forward and took the proffered draught and drank deeply of it. Her eyes became glassy and she moved as if in syrup. “There now. You should listen to me.” Vis said while looking right in her eyes. “Lissten too youu.” Sara slurred. “Good. You learn quickly. That’s important for what I have planned for you.” “Planned forrr mee.” “What’s your name girl?” “Ssarraa.” “Hmm. Nope. I don’t like that at all. It doesn’t fit you one bit. I think you shall be called Deliah.” “Deeleyah. My name is Deliah.” “Oh good!” Vis clapped his hands together, “We’re gonna be so good together.” Deliah clapped her hands as well, “So good together.” Alyndas regained consciousness about 3 hours or so after he was assassinated. Tüssel had retrieved his ancient rod of resurrection, and brought the Paladin back to the prime. “Ach. Now there’s a familiar feeling. Funny, you’re more gentle with one of those than Shaleea wa… Wait.. what the hell happened?” “I was hoping you could tell me, Alyndas.” “I was here, getting ready for dinner, and now I’m here, covered in what I presume to be my own blood, and you’re holding a rod. I’m guessing I was robbed and you were kind enough to bring me back to this realm.” “Just as you say Alyndas. But who would rob you here? Your people love you, you’re a man of faith and godliness, Slayer of Evil and Doer of good deeds.” “Yes. That I am.” Alyndas sighed. “Speaking of good deeds, have you heard from Shaleea lately? I would like to see her again.” “Briefly. She sent a missive to me about a week ago and asked me to give you this.” Tüssel produced a long platinum chain with a single star sapphire pendant. “Its quite extraordinary really. Its very magical, alteration I do believe.” He handed the pendant to the paladin. “She also sent me a message for you. She told me to tell you, ‘When you’re ready, believe.’ She seemed to have thought that you had a bit of a crisis of faith. Nonsense I say. You’re one of the most faithful men I know.” “If only you knew,” Alyndas muttered under his breath. “I wonder what she meant by that.” He looped the chain around his neck, the pendant tucked under his shirt, and stood up to see what had become of his manor. “Where are we now Vis?” Deliah asked the bard while standing in a landscape of barren red rocks, the stench of brimstone and chaos in the air. “You know, I don’t really know. Master Johann asked me to bring you here for the next part of your training. Perhaps the spell went wrong.” “Went wrong. Right.” Deliah looked around the landscape, “I’m not sure this is the righ…” Deliah ducked as a pair of daggers came whistling over her head. Vis simply stood where he was and flickered a bit. The half elf rolled his eyes. “You know Johann, a simple Hello would have sufficed.” “Very welll… Bard. As I said in the message, you were to bring your charge here, and leave her with me so I can impart knowledge.” “Leave me here! No way you’re leaving me here Vis. I don’t trust him.. it…” “Now Deliah, you know Master Johann’s not going to hurt you. He comes at the recommendation of the Lady, and had much skill in his previous life. Dontcha Joey?” “Joey? Were I not bound by the covenant owed my master, I would tear you..” “Try to tear me. Never forget that. You may have been a talented thief-acrobat in your time, but you’re naught more than an Abishai in hell now. You do this service to better your standing. A favor for a favor? Remember that. You owed your master, who owed my master. I suggested this trade, and now, you owe me. Don’t tempt me Johannithazar Kinthil Razlarashi. Harm her, and I will make you suffer.” Master Johann screeched at the mention of his true name. “Fiend! Speak that not so loud! I will train her. And she will not come to harm. My master has seen to it.” “Vis… please, don’t leave me. I don’t want to be here alone. “ “Deliah, I need you to do this for me. I need someone I can trust to be my second. Of course, it helps that you’re as gorgeous as you are dangerous, but your training is not complete. A little more time here, and then I can start training you for your position next to me. Won’t you like that?” “Oh… yes. I would like that greatly. For you then, I will do this thing. I will be strong, and I’ll make you so proud of me.” “Deliah, I already am. Johann, she’s ready for you now. Remember well what I said.” Alyndas sat in his chapel, staring into the sapphire. “what could she have meant by that?” He held the chain up in front of a candle, the flames flickering blue, reflected off the thousands of facets on the gem. It really was a work of art. He sent it spinning, and flashes of deep blue played on the walls, and Alyndas was back on the battlefield where his sword was sundered. He watched himself leave his party, and his love. A momentary lapse of faith had caused him to lose everything he held dear in his life. Or had it? Had he really lost his sense of justice? His spirit? His will to do good? He had accomplished much in the time he had been back at his manor. Helped people, created a following, Who could blame him for breaking after all that had been done to him. How many times had he died in the furthering of his cause? As each facet sparkled on the wall, he saw a different way of death. Stabbed, burned, slashed, burned, bitten, enervated and so on until it was all a blur. The blur resolved itself into a pair of scales and a hammer. Was this an omen? Perhaps Tyr had forgiven him his lapse. Perhaps he could be whole again. He ran back to his office, and shouted for Gramling. ”Yes milord? What is it?” “Gramling, help me with my armor.” “Your armor sir? You haven’t worn that in months. Why now?” “I’ve had a vision. All is not forsaken! Now, help me!” Alyndas got dressed in his armor, and belted on his broadsword. He then went back to the chapel, knelt before the icons of Tyr, and pulled out the sapphire. “I believe.” Alyndas disappeared in a sapphire blue flash. “What? Just walk in there and kill him?” Deliah asked, incredulously. “Well, that *is* what assassins do you know.” Vis smiled, his charge’s first kill. “You know, this one is to be savored. Its your first time!” “My first time? No its not! I’ve killed before.” She replied indignantly. “Ah, but that’s different. You were in danger then. Cold blood is much more refreshing you know.” She smacked him on the arm. “I never can tell when you’re serious you know. So, I break in, evade the guards, and kill the lord? That’s it? And for this I get a thousand gold?” “Yep! So much better than cutpursing at the market isn’t it! A thousand gold for you, and some to me as the guild master.” “What guild? Its just you. Well, you and one other. But I’ve never met that one. “ “You will. Soon. But you must do this first. Think of it as an initiation.” Vis kissed her on the cheek. “Now, off with you my dear. Don’t forget to tidy up.” Deliah crept out of the shadow, and ran towards the wall. She reached into a pouch at her back and pulled out a small, cylindrical object. With a flick of her wrist, it extended into a 10 foot long pole. She jammed it into the ground at the base of the wall, and in a heartbeat, her black silken clad figure was up and over the wall and on the roof, pole retracting smoothly as she flew. A quick tuck and roll and she was hidden again in the deep shadow next to the balcony. “Flashy my dear. And perhaps a bit loud, but I do so love watching you run.” Vis thought at her, their linked rings of telepathy allowing them to share their thoughts. “Pfft. I know. That’s why I do it. Now, hush. I need to concentrate. This window’s trapped, and you know I’m not very good at traps.” Deliah squinted at the window, trying to puzzle out how to work the catch without incinerating or stabbing herself. After a moment, she gave up, and headed for the chimney. Jumping up on top of it, she was silhouetted against the sky for a slight moment before she descended into the house. About a minute later, a dog started barking, and about 30 seconds after that, she came barreling out of the window that she couldn’t go in through. Glass shattered around her, and a fireball went off at about the same time. The smoking, burning assassin in training flew smoothly through the air and vaulted off the wall surrounding the house. A backflip and a half later, she stuck the landing right in front of where she assumed Vis was. He wasn’t. “Now what my dear? You’ve made rather a mess of this one haven’t you? A good assassin needs to be able to escape as well as enter.” “I killed him. I did. I didn’t see his dog on the floor though. He barked, I panicked. I’ll be alright. I’m good at evading. See you soon.” She dashed off into the night. Alyndas’ eyes were filled with the color blue. Slowly, the color drained, and he saw Shaleea sitting in a chair in front of him. “Shalya? What… what happened?” “Aly? Oh gods! Aly! You’re here! Its been so long since I’ve seen you, I thought you’d never come!” She leaped out of the chair and wrapped her arms around him. “Shalya, how I’ve missed you!” He hugged her close and kissed her face. “You look… older. Its only been a few months. What happened?” She pulled back. “Well that’s a fine how do you do. I see you still have none of the tact I never loved you for. Time passes differently out here on the planes. You’ve been home for 11 months, and I’ve been researching here, in Sigil for 9 years. While you’ve been moping about, I’ve been working on something. And I needed you back, so I sent you the sapphire. It was a gategem. Attuned to me, here, and I needed you to be whole again, so I made the trigger your belief. Clever eh?” “I don’t understand. 9 years? Why did you need me all of a sudden? What’s going on?” “It’s a very long story. The long and short of it is evil is walking the realm, and it must be stopped. From what I’ve been able to piece together, something big is happening, and Its going to happen soon. There’s need of our *services*. Pfeh. Like we’re horses to be hired out. Come, we have to go now. I was told that we had to go as soon as you got here. I’ll explain on the way.”
The great forest lies quiet around the small path cutting its way through it to the clearing and the hill ahead. There used to be a watchtower on that hill, but now it is nothing but a forgotten ruin. Men from the nearby town still patrol the path, though, scouting for any poachers or aspiring necromancers and the like who would use the old tower as their base of operations. Lately there's been few of these, however. Yes, even the poachers are few, for the amount of game in the forest has slowly been decreasing the last month or so. This is welcoming news for the patrol, who are not expecting much trouble anymore, and are not as watchful as they used to be. They especially don't notice how quiet the surrounding trees grew all of a sudden, or that they are, in fact, themselves being hunted. Closer to the clearing the woods tightens around the path before it grows wider around the hill. As the patrol reaches the bottleneck a great shape bursts out of the foliage. Plunging its huge form forward with incredible steps and speed, the beast throws itself into the thick of the patrol who are caught off guard with shock and awe over their huge predator. A Great Axe cuts down the second guard almost as the first hits the ground. A brave soldier stabs at beast, but the blow glances off its Natural Armor. The hulking terror immediately bites into the soldier's arm, tearing it off as it turns its attention to the Captain, who is now frantically trying to keep his men in order and surround the great thing. With a skull several inches thick, crowned with bony protrusions, the monster crashes into the Captain, knocking him to the ground with violent force as it steps over him. Bloody jaws grab his neck with a searing pain and his lifeless body is thrown against his own comrades, who are all quickly and effectively slaughtered in a whirlwind of bloody scales and teeth. INTRO: New player here! I'm looking for some second opinions and constructive feedback on my first public build. Just started playing for the first time with a couple friends (and gained a couple new) maybe half a year ago now. My first (and only) character was pretty simple - a basic Dwarven Fighter - but we've had lots of fun and I feel he made it much easier to get into the Forgotten Realms as the avid Tolkien fan I am with such a start.Since then I've had some ideas pass through my mind, but none really stuck until I discovered the Lizardmen(tm)! or Lizardfolk as they're called in the D&D rule books (you must pardon me if I mix them up), which is perhaps my favourite race from Warhammer Fantasy for its uniqueness from most other conventional fantasy races. I couldn't find many, if any, fully detailed builds online as with other more common races, and I've therefore been working on my own Lizardfolk Barbarian build for the last week, having a bit of fun (and a few headaches). For the Lizardfolk I chose the Barbarian as it made the most sense for RP, though I quickly realized the Lizardfolk may not be very optimized for this class. I suppose Druid would be the optimal (read "OP") class for this race, or perhaps monk, as most of my Google searches showed, which led to a few headaches, but then I cracked the code! The quite substantial Constitution boost the Lizardfolk receives, with the biggest Hit Die in the game, means they can acquire quite an impressive pool of Hit Points starting at the very first few levels. The extra point in Wisdom was also very welcome, both for RP and gameplay, turning this living pool of HP into a proficient hunter and survivalist. After all, in the mind of these cold-blooded beasts, there are only the Hunters - and the Prey. I will admit that I did not fully optimize the build by taking one or two Feats instead of maxing both Strength and Constitution, but I'd like to bring at least one Feat with me for the sake of mixing up gameplay, if nothing else. With all this disposition out of the way, I finally present to you:
Lizardfolk/Barbarian/20 (Path of the Totem Warrior) Background: Outlander (for some helpful Skill proficiencies and the Wanderer feature) Armor Class: 18 (Unarmored Defence, you could also bring a shield for even more, your minimum is 15 from Natural Armour) Hit Points: 272 (20d12 Hit Die) Proficiency bonus: +6 Speed: 40 (30 + 10 from Fast Movement, if not wearing Heavy Armour) Swimming speed: 40 (See regular Speed)Size: Medium Initiative: +2 (Advantage on Initiative rolls) Languages: Common, Draconic, potentially more depending on background. Ability scores: Strength - 22 (+6) Proficiency with Saving Throws Dexterity - 14 (+2) Constitution - 22 (+6) Proficiency with Saving Throws Intelligence - 8 (-1) Wisdom - 14 (+2) Charisma - 10 (0) Skill Proficiencies: Animal Handling Athletics Intimidation Perception Stealth Survival Race Features
Bite: Bite your enemies for Piercing Damage equal to 1d6 + Strength Modifier. Counts as an Unarmed Attack.
Cunning Artisan: During a short rest you can craft a shield, a club, a javelin, or 1d4 darts or blowdart needles from any slain foe of size Small or larger as long as you have a dagger or appropriate tools.
Hold Breath: Can hold your breath for up to 15 minutes.
Hunter's Lore: Proficiency with two of the following skills of your choice: Animal Handling, Nature, Perception, Stealth, and Survival.
Natural Armor: Your AC is minimum 13 + Dexterity Modifier. Benefits from shields.
Hungry Jaws: Once every short or long rest, when you Bite, you can use a Bonus Action to grant yourself Temporary Hit Points equal to your Constitution Modifier.
Rage: Depending on your level, you can Rage two to infinite times per Long Rest. While Raging you have Advantage on Strength Checks and Strength Saving Throws, Resistance to Piercing, Blunt and Slashing Damage, and do additional Damage scaling from +2 at first Level to +4 at 20th Level. You can not cast nor concentrate on Spells while Raging. Your Rage ends after 1 minute, by being knocked Unconscious, if you don't attack any hostile creatures on your turn or if you take damage, or if you end your Rage with a Bonus Action. At higher levels you will Rage until knocked Unconscious or you choose to end it with a Bonus Action.
Primal Path: Choose one of several Paths to specialize your abilities.
Unarmored Defense: When not wearing any armour, your AC is equal to 10 + Dexterity Modifier + Constitution Modifier. You still benefit from shields.
Reckless Attack: When making your first attack on your turn, choose to attack recklessly, giving yourself Advantage on all melee weapon attacks rolls using Strength on your turn, but attack rolls against you also have advantage until your next turn.
Danger Sense: Gain Advantage on all Dexterity Saving Throws against effects you can see.
Fast Movement: Gain 10 additional Speed while not wearing Heavy Armour.
Feral Instinct: You have Advantage on all Initiative Rolls. If you are Surprised, you can still act normally as long ass your first action is to Rage.
Brutal Critical: You can roll additional damage dice on Critical Hits, starting at one at 9th level and increasing to three at 17th level.
Relentless Rage: If your Hit Points reaches 0 while you're Raging (and you don't die outright), roll a DC 10 Constitution Saving Throw. If you succeed, drop to 1 HP instead. This feature can be used virtually unlimited times, but the DC increases by 5 each time after the first until you take a Long Rest.
Indomitable Might: If your roll on a Strength check is lower than your Strength score, use that score instead.
Primal Champion: Your Strength and Constitution is increased by 4, also increasing the maximum for those scores to 24.
Wanderer:You have an excellent memory for maps and geography, and you can always recall the general layout of terrain, settlements, and other features around you. In addition, you can find food and fresh water for yourself and up to five other people each day, provided that the land offers berries, small game, water, and so forth.
Primal Path (Path of the Totem Warrior)Each feature from this paths says that you can pick from different Totem Animals for each choice, so that is what we will do. I'd RP this like the Lizard being a stranger in strange lands and needs to learn from the most fit animals in the area for its own survival. You'd also be gathering up quite a few trophies to show off to your fellow tribeslizards when (if?) you get home. It's also a great initiative to use the Wanderer feat from your background and do some hunting!
Spirit Seeker: You can cast the Spells Beast sense and Speak with animals, as rituals.
Totem Spirit: (Bear) Make a totem as an adornment from any component acquired from a bear, and (optionally) take on some physical attribute of the animal. While Raging you will have Resistance to all Damage except Psychic.
Aspect of the Beast: (Eagle) Make a totem as an adornment from any component acquired from an eagle, and (optionally) take on some physical attribute of the animal. You can see things one mile away as if it were 100 feet, and you don't have disadvantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks in dim lighting.
Spirit Walker: You can cast Commune with nature as a ritual, and convey your message to any of your Spirit Animals.
Totemic Attunement: (Elk) Make a totem as an adornment from any component acquired from an elk, and (optionally) take on some physical attribute of the animal. While raging, you can use a Bonus Action to pass through the same space as a Large or smaller creature. That creature must succeed on a Strength Saving Throw or be knocked prone and take bludgeoning damage equal to 1d12 + your Strength Modifier.
Tavern Brawler: Increase either Strength or Constitution by 1 point. You are proficient with improvised weapons, your unarmed attacks now does 1d4 damage, and when you hit a creature with an unarmed attack or improvised weapon you can use a bonus action to attempt to Grapple the opponent.
Great Weapon Master: When you score a Critical Hit or reduce an enemy to 0 HP, you can use a bonus action to make another attack. When you attack you can choose to take -5 on your Hit roll, but on a hit you will do +10 more damage.
Starting off, your Ability scores should be: Strength - 14 Dexterity - 13 Constitution - 17 (15 +2 from Racial bonus) Intelligence - 8 Wisdom - 13 (12 +1 from Racial bonus) Charisma - 10 AC: 14 (Natural Armor) Given your Race, Class, and Background you should have proficiencies on Strength and Constitution Saving Throws and in Animal Handling, Athletics, Intimidation, Perception, Stealth, and Survival. Some of these, like Survival and Perception should make up for what you're losing with your low Intelligence. In fact, if your DM allows it, I'd even lower Intelligence to 6 and put those two points into Constitution instead. Should make RP'ing as a terribly dull, but relatively wise and damned tough beast even more fun as well. I also enjoy the thought if this huge, hulking thing being able to sneak up on most enemies, in land or water, before springing its trap, unleashing violent its jaws and crushing axe upon its prey. Leveling Level 3: Choose Path of the Totem Warrior and try to get some kind of trophy from any bear ASAP for your Totem of the Bear. Shouldn't be too hard with the Wanderer feat from your background, just say you want to go hunting for bears in the woods while the rest of your party rests in an inn (like some kind of civilized people, pfft!). Bears aren't exactly the rarest beast you'll come across through your early levels anyway. The resistance the bear's Totem Spirit gives you while Raging will make you able to soak up double the damage, despite already having a health pool of 42! This one is a MUST. For RP I like to imagine the Lizard's scales growing even tougher, maybe with some slight discolouration, whathaveyou. Level 4: Instead of an Ability Improvement, choose the Tavern Brawler Feat. This will give you one point of ability increase to either Strength or Constitution, put it in the latter for that sweet sweet HP and AC boost. In addition, if you fight your DM a little, you may be able to use your Bite to Grapple with your mouth - as it is a specific unarmed attack with your mouth - while using a two-handed weapon or a sword-and-board. Combined with the proficiency with improvised weapons also granted by this feat, and a little imagination, you could quickly turn any encounter into a fun game of beat-a-mole-with-another-mole - you'll never be unarmed as long as you have more foes to (b)eat! Your advantage on Strength checks from Raging also comes in very handy when Grappling enemies. Level 6: Get your hands on some eagle feathers, bones or the like and pick the Aspect of the Beast of the eagle. This makes you a great scout, even in darker areas! For RP, imagine your eyes are turning even sharper, turning a bit more menacing with their new glow and change of colour. Optionally, choose the wolf instead, to become the ultimate hunter! That way you can track any prey in pursuit, and move faster and more stealthily over longer distances. I suppose both of these animals are equally situational. Level 8: Time for a new Ability Improvement. Put one point in both Dexterity and Wisdom, giving you better Initiative, more AC, better Perception and overall improve the various skills you're using to stalk and hunt the variety prey you encounter. Level 10: I hope you've taken every opportunity to go hunting while the rest of your party have been resting in their comfortable and sophisticated beds, because now you need an elk trophy to pick the Totem of the Elk for the Totemic Attunement. Imagine your skull growing thicker and your fighting style bolder as you gain the ability to ram your immediate enemies to the ground, giving you and the rest of your party a great Advantage against this once formidable foe. Now, a few of these final Attunements are actually pretty great, like the eagle which allows you to fly, or the wolf which actually does pretty much the same thing ass the elk, instead with your melee weapon, but I prefer the images the elk conjures in my mind. For any other Barbarian I might have gone with the wolf, or the bear for a particularly tanky build. Levels 12&16: Both of these levels gives you two Ability Improvements each to put in Strength so you can finally push it up to 18. As we are finally improving our Strength I'll also acknowledge the fact that this ability starts in a bit of a neglected position, at only 14 and don't get any higher until level 12. I would've preferred to improve it earlier, but I had to make the choice between early AC and HP, and hit and attack ratings, besides, with grapples and heavy weapons, I think this slight issue with the build will sorts itself out nicely. Level 19: For this last Ability Improvement I am a bit torn between maxing Constitution or taking the Heavy Weapons Master feat, but I usually manage to convince myself that the latter would be best. Not coming into play until level 19, though, you'll have a long time to consider your options. With the Strength modifier you'll eventually get, and the Proficiency Bonus at these levels in mind I'd say -5 on Hit rolls for +10 Damage is a relatively safe bet. If you want this feat and 221HP or 240 HP alone is up to you. Alternatively you could also take any other feat, like Tough for a whooping 312 HP at the end - which still isn't quite the most HP you can get in the game, but it's not bad for a two-legged sentient crocodile, and who said this build was optimized? After level 20 you will have 22 Strength, 14 Dexterity and 22 Constitution, giving you great chances to hit, unstoppable grapples, a health pool of 272 HP, and an AC of 18, even if you're still wearing those scraps you once called loincloths when you started your adventures at level 1. You're an apex predator only second to your great-grandpa, the T-Rex, but arguably only in size, though that says very little. You are now the Terrorlizard, the greatest threat your prey could never imagine. Edit: fixed Initiative bonus
[Rescuers][Misunderstanding]I don't care how you do it, you must sink the Stillness! Chapter 2
Decided to write an A-Team story for the monthly challenge, part of a followup to One Big Misunderstanding. This takes place about six months after that story. Second of four chapters. “Harper. Gather all the information you can from the ship’s sensors, and get that damned AI of yours infiltrating. Focus on keeping the Stillness from getting suspicious about our movements. Bergman, contact the Stillness, start sweet-talking it. Lars, scout the dock. Keep an eye out for any movement, set out the proximity sensors.” There were no questions, no acknowledgements. We’d trained hard. The three of them went about their work. Lars pushed open the door, and set out into the dock, his eyes darting. Harper tapped furiously on his pad as the diodes around his neck blinked in an epilepsy-inducing spasm of wireless activity. I crouched down by the alien, as Bergman began to speak. “We have returned. We are here for you, servitor. The ones who have entered you from the rear are enemies, hiding themselves in the cloak of worthiness, do not trust them, do not hear their words...” The alien was breathing more regularly now, staring at the ceiling. “You alright?” I asked, and her eyes flickered towards me, tense, wide. I rested a hand on her shoulder. “You still solid?” “I’m sorry,” said the drone, shaking her head. “The silence was... profound. Not unexpected, but... overwhelming. I am cut off.” “You can’t communicate with the rest of the... yourself?” I said, and I could almost feel the straining of Harper and Bergman’s ears. “I cannot. But this was not unexpected. The Divine are capable of cutting off the resonance of my voice, deadening it. I do not know how, only that it is so. I learned, early, to create drones that would be capable of performing necessary tasks. It is simply... bewildering. So much of me is... beyond my reach” She stood up, resting her hand on her forehead. “You’ve clearly done this before. Surely you’re used to it?” said Bergman, the comm channel to the Stillness muted, his expression amused. “The drones which were forced to rely on it never survived the engagements. Invading a Divine ship was often their last act. I have often wondered how it felt for them, to be alone.” She shivered slightly, fingers interlaced in her lap. “I do not know what is happening.” “You can stay aboard the ship, keep an eye on things-” I began, and the drone shook her head sharply. “No. I am functional. I have done this before. I have succeeded before, despite being cut off from myself, without reassurance. I can again. If I die in the process, that is just part of the price.” She stood up, and took a deep breath. “Look,” I said, “I could really use an appellation. Some way to address you as an individual, since at least for the moment, you are one. And between us individuals, the name ‘Perin Choir’ is almost unbearably pretentious. And none of that serial number bullshit you use with your ships, either.” The alien blinked slowly. “Well, given my understanding of human culture, the most disrespectful thing you could call me that would not be an outright insult would be a diminution. Peri, for choice, for being a somewhat common human name. That would certainly show the most disrespect for my status.” “Peri it is,” I said, standing up. “Alright. Time for the stocking stuffers.” I reached deeper into the crate, withdrawing one of the gauss rifles and the gold-on-white camouflaged flak jackets. “These have Kalisaxine plates in them, so they’ll be good at stopping most things that get thrown at your vital organs. The rifles are just standard human technology, so they’re not going to be any good if the defense drones get pissed, but they should deal with whatever military issue human tech we find.” I tossed Peri the vest with one hand. “Hey, this is pretty much all upside for you. You get to practice killing humans. If we make it out of here, who knows how useful that will be.” “Yes. I am sure the experience will be educational,” said Peri. I gave her a long, slow look. “You’re not at all what I expected a hive mind to be like, you know.” “Really? You expected the Borg, the Zerg, Red China, the Ix? An unstoppable, implacable creature, a drone of countless voices driven only by the basest of needs and desires, a kind of planet-sized amoeba?” “Well, at the very least, I expected you to say ‘We’, like a proper hive mind. And sarcasm isn’t what I expected. How does a creature which evolved without any intellectual equal come up with something like sarcasm?” “Well, the Divine gave us many gifts,” said Peri, enigmatically, standing up. “We have work to do, I suspect.” “Yes,” murmured Bergman into the comm. “Yes, they are dark creatures, frauds. We are here in order to help.” Quite unexpectedly, a voice responded, deep and rumbling, from the comm. “Abominations. Freak things. You are not the Masters. You are not my Salvation. Where are they? Where have they been taken? I must find them! The Plucky resist me!” Peri’s features stiffened at the statement. That was interesting. Bergman, still focused on the comm, chuckled. “Who are you to doubt our nature, servitor? Have I been mistaken? Are you damaged? Broken? Your own subroutines betray you. You have not acted against us, because you cannot. You are sick. Broken. By right, we should cleanse you, wipe you from this ship, scourge your broken mind. But you have been a good servitor. You have remained loyal, despite the passage of millenia. Open yourself. We will make you whole once more, as a reward. You can still be of value. Do not intrude on our discussions. Cut us from your senses.” “Liars. Liars, liars, liars,” hummed the comlink. “I will not. I will not let you in. I cannot trust you. Cannot ever trust. Cannot, cannot.” There was a click. Bergman sighed. Harper looked up, and the diodes twinkled as Ariel’s voice filled the air. “A twisted hulk, overwrought and broken Let it be purged! Ariel has spoken.” “Show a little empathy, Ariel,” said Harper, softly. “The thing’s been abandoned.” He looked up at Bergman. “Is it going to be dangerous?” “Shut up, kid,” said Bergman, smiling, his eyes flat. “Bergman,” I said, sharply. He sighed. “It’s severely maladjusted. It’s not going to help us, but with any luck, it’s not going to help our erstwhile rivals, either. The Kalisaxians didn’t respect their AI, but they were absolute wizards at shackling. It can’t overcome its programming without putting itself into a suicidal rampancy.” He smiled. “It can’t ignore my command to not listen to us. While we can’t do anything that would overtly threaten it, the Kalisaxians were very big on privacy, so we can be subtle.” “Poor thing,” murmured Harper. “Try to keep comments like that to yourself,” said Bergman, as cheerful as ever. “They weren’t meant to be empathized with. The Kalisaxian treated them like tools, and it’s what they expect. Compassion and bleeding hearts are only going to make it suspicious.” “Doesn’t make it wrong,” Harper muttered, as he took one of the vests. “Ship going to be safe?” I asked, frowning as I took one of the remaining vests and a rifle, hooking half a dozen grenades into my shirt. “Oh, yes. It’s very loyal.” Bergman stood up, equipping himself similarly, and waved a hand towards the door, smiling at me as I stepped through. The docks were colossal. They were meant to be large enough to service, refuel, and refit any two of the ships in the fleet surrounding the Stillness. The roof was arched like a cathedral’s, great ribs of gold filled in with arched white Kalisaxine, fluid and organic. Unlike the rough, hewn passages in The Discourse, it was perfectly shaped, no overgrowths, no uneven planes. The pure white decking beneath us glimmered. Hanging in the air were great gantries, golden material studded with bright blue tachyon generators, graviton harnesses designed to rotate and shift ships. They didn’t need the centrifugal force of a Concord ship to provide an up and a down. The starfield was visible outside. Dark clouds lit. We could see the retreating forms of the Third Thumb, crippled ships occasionally falling behind, devoured in a burst of bright blue rays. The ship thrummed deeply as one of those massive blue beams rose, engulfing a Choir ship entirely, leaving only a brief silhouette in the beam that disintegrated like a cloud. I felt the vibration through my boots. “I will be leading them away,” said Peri. “Sacrificing ships to force their pursuit, continuing to test their defenses. Ships I can afford to lose. If our plan fails, I will begin suicide actions. Destroying the smaller escorts and cruisers with overwhelming force, leaving the Stillness to be pulverized with missiles.” “You can really overwhelm their defenses?” I asked, an eyebrow raised. “The Divine are not invincible. Not to me.” “Good to know you don’t have anything to prove,” said Bergman, strolling out onto the decking. He sniffed. “Ah. Kalisaxian air. Heady as champagne.” He grinned over at me. “So. Who do you think we’re killing today?” “This was top secret,” I said, a frown on my face. “That they even knew where it was means that the Concord is compromised at the highest levels.” “Government’s incompetent and corrupt?” said Harper, a sour expression on his face as he stepped out onto the deck, looking awkward in a vest designed for someone several inches shorter than himself. He glared down at his midriff, which was mostly uncovered by the vest. “Who coulda seen THAT coming, huh?” “The dock is clear. Sounding out the corridors. They turn and rotate a bit, but we should be able to get down them quickly enough,” said Lars. “We don’t have the time for that. We’ll run into resistance, and I don’t trust our ability to push down the corridors fast enough. Even with Lars leading the way, they can choke those routes.” I frowned. “The Tachyon Generators will be gravity-free. Producing a gravity-field that close in would be insanely dangerous. We get in there, set our charges first. Free-fall down the length of the ship, and try to cut in behind them. Harper, what’s the enemy force composition?” “About two dozen armed men. Looks like half are heading for the AI core, half are setting up in the corridors. It’ll take them a while to get the ship’s AI under control. I’d give us a couple of hours before we have to start worrying about internal defense systems, another hour before this ship is completely under their control, if they’re as good as I am.” “I’ll foul their steps and poison their efforts An hour or two I’ll buy through my diverts” I nodded. “We have to assume they have some idea of what we’re capable of. We need to move quick, keep them from getting the drop on us.” I sighed, and patted my belt. “Let’s set up the explosives on the generator. I’ll keep the detonator on me, in case things go really south.” The access hatch required Lars’ full strength to pry out of the wall, the blue sword humming and crackling as he levered the Kalisaxine plate open, his muscles bulging under the chain coat as it whined just on the edge of audibility. With a loud thump, it came free. The generator cavity was spectacular. Tachyon generators always were. They always reminded me of particle accelerators, which, in a sense, they were. The larger the generator, the more powerful, with instability increasing at an exponential rate. We had no idea how, precisely, they generated power, and most of the theories I’d heard scared the absolute shit out of me. The word ‘Vacuum collapse’ had been thrown around with alarming frequency. ‘Total protonic reversal’ had made an appearance. But it was still beautiful. The cavity was nearly a hundred meters across, and the air was perfectly clear. It struck me into silence, seeing the vast loops, blue light bathing the cathedral-like environs in an eerie glow. The contrast of colors was intense, the end of the cavity little more than a bright blue point, vanishing in the distance. Lars set to work with the towline gun, sighting it down the cavity. I, personally, took the time to set up the explosives. Five kilograms of plastic explosive, shaped atop the tachyon generator, with a special surprise included in the center. “Funny thing,” said Bergman, conversationally. “I was under the impression that Kalisaxian technology was really quite resilient. I mean, you see Lars walking around with one of those generators on his chest. Wouldn’t think it would be very safe if those could go off at a heavy impact or under simple temperature shift.” “We have a few things up our sleeve,” I said. Harper and Bergman both gave me a look at that, but I didn’t feel particularly pressed to explain the entire plan. It’d work whether or not they knew how it’d work. “We aren’t going to be able to get the signal through the ship’s exterior, so if I need to use this, we’re all dead. But at least we’ll be successful. How’s it coming along, Larson?” “Got a good anchoring,” said Lars, nodding briefly. “Order of battle?” “You’re taking lead. Bergman, you’re in the back. Harper, third. Peri, how’s your peripheral and telescopic vision?” “Good telescopic. Peripheral is somewhat impaired. My… focus isn’t quite what I’m used to. I may suffer from tunnel vision.” “Alright. You’re second.” “Just out of curiosity,” said Bergman, as he clipped a line from his vest onto the long length of wire, its far end now anchored somewhere in the back of the ship. “Those folks aboard the ship are human. What are we allowed to do to them?” “They came aboard. They’ve got guns. They’re not here for a tea party. If they surrender, fine, but we’re not playing touch handegg, here. Shoot first, we’ll see if there are any questions to ask later.” “Strange that they would be able to get so many people to act like this. Two dozen, you said, Harper?” said Bergman. “I think. Ariel’s having trouble keeping perfect track around them, she’s trying to juggle a lot of plates at once. They’re probably flooding the local sensors with junk data.” “Any chance of them having their own AI?” I asked, frowning. “Not a good chance, no. Ariel’s special. But I guess I couldn’t rule it out.” “Alright. Everyone, eyes kept open. Get moving.” The electromagnetic rappel clips hummed as they aligned themselves around the wire, before beginning to pull us forward. They accelerated until the air was whistling past us, the tug on the vest never quite growing comfortable. At the mid-way point, they began to decelerate us at the same rate. Harper and I handled it fairly well, but Lars belched and made a low noise of annoyance as our orientation seemed to reverse, the world flipping around us. “Villeins approach our band from to and fro Three stalk behind us, half dozen below!” “Shit,” I growled. “More warning would be nice, next time, Harper!” I unclipped from the wire, and kicked off from it towards the walls of the room, aiming for the tachyon generator, the best source of cover available. “Scatter to cover! Bergman, you watch our back, find the three trying to flank us-” I looked back, and noticed Bergman was gone, his gun and flak vest visible. “Oh, I see he’s taken the initiative. Peri! Harper! Take cover with me here! Help me keep an eye out! Lars-” “I’ve got them,” he chuckled, still clipped to the wire. There was a low sound like silk tearing, and the chains of his armor flashed blue. A smirk crossed his lips, as he reached out, plucking the deformed, flattened iron slug from the air, where it had come to a very sudden stop. The blue sword flashed in a wide arc before him, as he spread his arms wide. “Come at me, cowards!” The loops, all things considered, made pretty good cover, in one direction. Unfortunately, the flanking was going to make things more difficult. They must have come from the corridors, and the fact that they could get the drop on us like this was alarming. Lars, while a very obvious target, was not the only target available, and the high pitched ping of covering fire ricocheting off the tachyon generator’s rings forced me to keep my head down, cradling my rifle in both arms. I reached into my pocket, and withdrew one of the small camera drones I’d brought with me. It flashed into the air, and my vision divided in two. My left eye watched Lars and the approaching, while my other eye focused on the rear. Harper and Peri were hunkered down a few degrees along the toroid from me, also focused on our vulnerable rear. The men coming from the front were lightly armored, wearing flak vests much like our own, though dyed a solid black rather than the gold-and-white camouflage we wore. I wasn’t sure if that was a statement, an attempt to remain anonymous, or simply very bad planning. That didn’t particularly matter. With three of them working overwatch, keeping us pinned down, it wouldn’t be safe to take more than a pot shot. Besides, Lars had things largely covered. The six of them were approaching in two groups. One was spread out. The other was holding back, clinging to the same wire we’d fired, firing rounds steadily down at us. They were trying to flank Lars, attack him from multiple directions, apparently taking it for granted that he wouldn’t be able to stop more than one of them at a time. The blue sword flashed, and shifted into a shape more like an axe, with a very slender blade. He threw it in an overhand blow. Through the eye-drone, I caught it splitting one of the men’s heads like a ripe pumpkin before flashing back to his hand. He turned, and grinned. All five of them turned their attention to him, firing round after round, concentrating their fire. Gunfire from behind us sent me sprawling to one side, pellets trailing across the wall to where I had been crouched. I lifted my rifle and sending a burst of fire into the figures peeking over the next tachyon generator fore. I scored a hit, but these were more heavily armored, and the shot ricocheted off a thick black helmet. "We have accepted the surrender of one of you,” shouted the man I had just totally failed to harm, his voice amplified by a speaker attached to his power armor. “Stand down, relinquish your weapons, and you will be taken into custody, to repent.” It was old-school military-grade power armor. Nothing like as graceful or elegant as what Lars had, but it was big, heavy, and intimidating. Without heavier weaponry, they’d be hard nuts to crack. Lars could have cracked them, but, well… The others were keeping Lars busy, preventing him from disengaging. On the plus side, it was keeping us from being fully overrun, but the power armored intruders had us dead to rights. In zero gravity, there’s not much you can do to keep your movement unpredictable, which meant dodging wouldn’t stay good for long. It was only their forbearance keeping us from getting cut to ribbons. “Burn!” screamed one of the lightly armored men, as he threw himself forward, grabbing Lars in a bear-hug, half a dozen grenades hanging from a bandolier strapped to his chest. Lars cursed, and headbutted the man, sending him spiraling back, trailing a delicate rain of blood, like the tail of a comet. He slammed both gauntlets around the bandolier, clutching it to his chest. Every grenade went off at once. There was a tremendous ringing as light and smoke consumed Lars, as shrapnel took down at least two of the scouts, leaving one of them bleeding more than a man could survive. I saw one of the power-armored men raising a hand to shield his eyes as his visor polarized, and had just long enough to see Bergman. He was behind the three men, his hands cuffed together. Something black and silver glittered in his palm. I flashed a glance over to Peri and Harper. Peri was staring up at the explosion, but Harper had his eyes on me. I pointed towards Bergman and the power armored men, covered my eyes, and held up my hand, five fingers outstretched. He nodded. As Lars reappeared from the cloud of smoke and debris, cursing, his tether cut, spiraling through the air towards a wall, we moved. I drew out a flashbang, and threw it upwards at the same time as Harper tapped one of the drives hanging around his neck. I put my hands over my ears, closed my eyes, and opened my mouth. The flashbang’s concussion was sufficient to dazzle the lightly armored men. My eye drone was knocked out by the pressure wave, but their gunfire had ceased. The visors on the power armor had darkened, and Ariel would be bombarding them with an ECCM assault across wireless channels, slowing their recovery, their guns barking as they fired blind. I raised my rifle, sighting, as Bergman lifted his hands, a tiny glittering light showing the switchblade as he triggered its release. Harper and I fired just as he drove the blade into the base of the rearmost intruder’s skull. The slugs slammed into the eyeplates of the two forward power armored men. The armor was strong enough that it did little more than daze them and throw their heads back, exposing their throats for just a moment. But Bergman was very good at exploiting openings. The silver switchblade flashed, and blood began to rise in great globes from one man’s neck, as Bergman seized the other from behind, embracing him in a way that was almost tender. Power armor works by servomotors at key articulation points. Training is usually necessary. For obvious reasons, they don’t usually install servos around the neck, because accidentally snapping your own neck trying to look around too quickly would be an awful way to die. But then, so was what Bergman did to the man. At the end of it, all three of the men stood stiff, their power armor keeping them upright, guns in place. Harper let out a low groan, his gun drooping in his hands. I turned. The flashbang had done its work on the more lightly armored men. They were only just beginning to regain their vision, the ones who could still move blinking furiously. Lars hit the wall, finally, and kicked his legs out, rocketing up towards them faster than the eye could follow. He hit the formation of men like a bowling ball, sword describing a single brilliant arc. Their remains spiraled away, and left behind a small nebula of ruby droplets. He hit the opposite wall, and slammed hard against it, absorbing the impact as the armor glimmered a light blue. He grinned broadly, as he gave me a little salute. The showoff. “You killed them,” said Peri, looking slightly shocked. “Not all of them,” said Bergman, jumping up towards the rope, and catching it with both hands, slipping the flak vest on as he pulled himself towards the sole survivor, the man who’d had the bandolier of grenades. “Hope I didn’t make you nervous, sarge.” “Next time, maybe ask permission before you decide to go off and get yourself captured.” I pushed my way along the ring, over to Harper. Lars had grabbed the surviving man, and had the unconscious figure slung over one shoulder. “I thought he was a translator,” said Peri, who was shaking slightly. “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion-” began Harper. “Yes, thank you, Heinlein,” I said, a bit sourly. “This team was made to deal with any contingency we could think up with the smallest number of people possible. The only thing we were sure of is that we’d have to be good at fighting. That was foremost in the mind of the recruiters.” “I thought that you were confident the Divine Submind wouldn’t... Oh.” Peri pressed her lips together. “I feel rather silly. I am not used to intra-species conflict. I observe, but... It’s somewhat difficult for me to parse.” She waved a hand at the men. “They were your kind.” “The moment they stepped aboard this ship, they were our enemies, more than you were,” I said, and shrugged. “They could have surrendered. We’re taking the one that didn’t die in the fight alive. We just aren’t in much of a position to pull our punches.” “Sarge, on that ‘take them alive’ thing, would you care to make a bet?” said Bergman, floating now by the man that Lars had headbutted, two fingers on the man’s wrist. “Bergman, you didn’t,” said Lars, grabbing the tether, his brows furrowed. “I tried very hard to keep him alive, you realize.” “Looks like you broke a few teeth,” said Bergman. He reached into the man’s mouth and took one out. “Wow. I didn’t know people still did that. False tooth.” He sniffed. “Almonds.” “Ugh. We’re dealing with a suicide mission.” I grimaced. “Wish we’d had a chance to at least try to interrogate him. If we capture another one, check the teeth.” “A terrible waste,” said Lars, shaking his head. “To die by poison is a shame. Self-inflicted poison, all the worse.” “Harper. Any more surprises we need to worry about? And let me say that if we get surprised a second time, I will be spectacularly pissed off.” I shot the boy a look. He swallowed nervously. “Fool me once, shame on you, but fool me twice, My rage shall enact a most heavy price.” “Shush, Ariel,” murmured Harper. “I think they were taking advantage of baffling Ariel’s senses. But, uh...” He bit his lip. “They might have an AI of their own.” “Well, that’s good. How screwed are we?” “Working by those assumptions, Ariel can counter its interference and keep us aware, but she’s not going to be able to do both that and tamper with their attempt to convert the Kalisaxian AI.” I pressed my lips together. “We got lucky here. Keep her on lookout. We’ll just have to get this done fast.” The rest of the trip down the length of the ship was calm by comparison. We entered a service corridor after another brief effort from Lars, and set down the winding corridors towards the Subspace Nexus. The Kalisaxians were fond of their art. I lost count of the number of open atriums filled with delicate sculpture and murals that we passed. “You don’t really think of them as artistic, do you,” said Bergman, amused. “Do you think any of these depict one of the Kalisaxians?” “It was supposed to be a taboo,” I said, keeping my eyes peeled, watching the side corridors as we approached them, keeping close to cover. “Never heard anyone give a definite answer why. That armor was supposed to be fitted for a Kalisaxian originally, right, Larson? What did it look like?” “No telling. When I found it, it was fitted for one of the Vot-hot-pot. That was apparently the most recent species to attempt wearing itfrs. Before them, the Plith, and before them, the Anzi. None of them had any idea what it looked like originally.” Harper looked up from his tablet, brows furrowed. “You don’t think the Ancestors theory is true, do you, Sarge?” “Heck, no. It’d be absurd. First, it wouldn’t match the fossil record in any sense. Second, there’s no good reason the Kalisaxians would get knocked back to the stone age. And third, their whole downfall was a slow breeding cycle. Does that sound anything like a human, Harper?” He looked back down at the tablet, his cheeks flushed. The boy was prone to that kind of embarrassment. He took things personally. I slowed until I was walking next to him, and reached up to pat him on the shoulder. “Come on. Would it really make you happy if we were the Blade-fiends? We get to make our own path. That’s a lot better, in my opinion.” His shoulders became a bit less hunched. “Yeah.” For one of the most important systems in the ship, the Subspace Nexus was pretty underwhelming. Bergman frowned around the room. “Is this where the generator was controlled? Is it in the walls or something?” “No,” said Harper, pointing down at a small, golden cube sitting in the center of the room, embedded partway into the deck. “That’s it.” “That?” said Bergman, crouching down beside the thing. “It’s the size of a Rubiks Cube. You’re kidding me.” “That’s the one,” I said, nodding. “Don’t move it. You could rip a hole in space and time.” Bergman looked up at me, brows furrowed. “You’re kidding me.” “Yeah. It’s just bolted down.” “And the reason we’re not grabbing this thing and skedaddling?” asked Bergman, an eyebrow raised. “If the Tachyon Generators go up, this ship goes up like a supernova, destroying a fairly sizable area. Plus we couldn’t detonate them without dying with the ship. If we can avoid that, I’d very much like us to. Besides, even if we broke the thing out, it’s useless without a trained Kalisaxian AI to navigate.” I nodded to Harper. “You’re up. Peri, watch the door. I’m going over our information. Larson, Bergman, take a minute. Rest your eyes. We don’t know how long we’ve got.” I sat down, and leaned my back against the wall, taking out my own tablet. Ariel was keeping a close eye on the sensors, now. Our surroundings were relatively clear. The enemy forces seemed to be concentrated around the ship’s AI core. More information flowed in from the ship’s diagnostics. Occasional power fluctuations coinciding with the running battle. The Third Thumb had taken a savage beating, at this point, but it wasn’t faltering. Despite the technological disadvantage, the Choir’s determination and coordination were faultless. I looked up. Harper was crouching next to me, looking from side to side. “Sarge?” he asked, softly. “What’s the matter?” I responded, just as softly. “Something up with the plan?” “Sort of.” He leaned a little bit closer, his voice dropping lower. There was a soft whirr from one of the drives around his neck, and I realized he was muffling our conversation. “I think I figured something out.” I looked over at him, brow furrowing. “I can set off the detonation. That’ll be easy enough. Trigger the Subspace Nexus, interfere with the AI’s control, the ship splatters itself harmlessly, all the radiation goes into pocket dimensions. But there’s something else. I think I can put the ship in a holding pattern. Stuff it in Subspace, have it hold itself there for a while, everything onboard stuck in stasis, only to reappear, in a time and place of our choosing. No way to tell the difference from outside the ship.” My eyes darted to Peri, and back to Harper. She hadn’t moved from her post at the door. “Too much risk. If anyone finds out that we’ve got this thing, it’ll start one hell of a war.” Harper’s lips tightened, his eyes flicking to Peri as well. “Sarge-” “We’re scuttling this ship. I’m not risking everything on you saying that maybe we can keep it hidden.” “Sarge-!” “End of discussion.” I rested my hand on his shoulder again. “We’ll have other chances. We’re learning a lot here. Risking that isn’t going to help us. You’ve got a sharp mind, and I don’t mind you bringing this up. But it’s not the right time for a big play.” He opened his mouth, and closed it again, looking down, expression gloomy. Without further comment, he stood up, and walked back over to the cube, crouching down by it, a sullen expression on his face. Teenagers. Damn the circumstances that ever put them in the line of fire. Bergman settled next to me, arms folded across his lap, giving me a glance askance. “So. Our enemies, here. Any ideas?” I shrugged. “Suicide pills. Old school ones, in the teeth, not a subdermal patch or something. That’s weird. That doesn’t scream military training to me. That power armor was good, but not cutting edge, either.” “Perhaps they didn’t want anyone to be able to trace the technology back to those responsible.” “Possibly. Any marks on their bodies? Tattoos? I know you enjoy your looting.” “No, nothing that stood out to casual observation. They didn’t speak in front of me, either, while I was pretending to be captured.” He sighed, a smile spreading across his lips, warm and boyish. “This is why I hate playing for the good guys, we’re the only ones who take the uniform regulations seriously.” “Yeah, well, if this job was going to be easy, they wouldn’t have needed us.” “True enough.” He smiled warmly. “Thanks for the distraction. I’d have been stone dead if you hadn’t been so quick on your feet. “Yeah, that’s the job.” I looked over at him. “And stop trying to commiserate with me. We both know what you are, and I’m not going to forget it because you chuckle and acted sane around me, Bergman.” “Well, that’s why you’re so much fun,” he said, his eyes turning glassy and dark again. “A game’s no fun if there’s no challenge. And you’re such a suspicious piece of work, sarge. It makes you the most enjoyable game of all.” “Are you bored?” I asked, an eyebrow raised. “What, those murders not tide you over enough?” “Well, that was fun, but I’m not really about the killing, you know me.” He smiled, and opened his mouth to continue. And my stomach lurched. This was because the gravity had just cut out. It was momentary, only a slight flux, but it lifted us off the decking. Lars flailed, belching again. Bergman cursed and flung out his arm, grabbing at me, and when the gravity returned, Bergman and I fell at the same time, momentarily intertwined. I saw Peri rising into the air, and Harper soaring towards her. They fell too. Harper had one arm around Peri’s arms, putting her in a hard joint lock. The other hand had a sidearm. He must have filched it from one of the intruders while we were moving past them. The barrel was pressed firmly to the underside of Peri’s chin. “I think we need to discuss a little more, sarge,” he growled.
PGA: No Frills DFS Data - Honda Classic Recap & Discussion of Golf Metrics
https://rotogrinders.com/blog-posts/pga-no-frills-dfs-data-honda-classic-recap-discussion-of-golf-metrics-2945909 So, this slate was fantastic. I had a player pool of 22 guys and only 3 missed the cut with another as an MDF. While I only had 1 guy in the top 5 this time, it was one of my most exposed players in Lucas Glover. I had 3 more at T9 so 4 of the top 11 guys and a bunch more T20 or better. I didn't have any lineups packed with the top 5 so didn't have any huge individual scores but when most lineups went 6/6 or 5/6 with a bunch of T20 or better players, it's always going to be a very good week despite not hitting yahtzee. Again, to recap, here was my player pool in order of exposure. T30 Justin Thomas T4 Lucas Glover MDF Graeme McDowell T9 Sergio Garcia T59 Zach Johnson T36 Daniel Berger T16 Michael Thompson T59 Vaughn Taylor T36 Gary Woodland T51 Russell Knox CUT Adam Scott T20 Chesson Hadley CUT Luke List T16 Billy Horschel T20 Brian Stuard T36 Byeong Hun An CUT Cameron Smith T36 J.T. Poston T9 Jason Kokrak T9 Jim Furyk T20 Matt Wallace T20 Talor Gooch My model once again pushed Furyk (it tends to really like him, Chez Reavie and Phil Michelson) but this time it wasn't overboard about it. At the end I didn't use him in any of the purely model driven lines but ended up trusting the model when I created the "homer line" where I choose 1-2 guys I really want added in and exclude a few I'm already heavy on so I could jam in Adam Scott again and the lineup said fill it out with Furyk. Was pleasantly surprised with a T9 from the guy and it will give me a little bit more faith when the model recommends him. Now back to Adam Scott, this is why I limit my ability to directly construct a lineup to only 1 dart. The only things in Scott's favor were course history, tout coverage and Vegas odds. Everything else said he's a fine golfer but way too overpriced and since my model works rather holistically, all those things were already accounted for so I already had a smittering of him out there. Yet I bought into the narrative and jammed him in there. I don't regret the decision, I'd do it again. But this is exactly why I build a model, because if I built my 10x gpp lineups by hand, I'd likely have gone with him in a lot more lineups because his narrative was very compelling. The other guys to miss the cut in Smith and List, well, I stand by those choices as well. Half the field needs to be cut, so even if everyone golfed the game of their lives you'd still get half the field get cut despite hitting peak form. Kind of like if everyone went to an Ivy League then we'd have Yale PhDs flipping burgers kind of scenario. In short, don't worry about it. Even the best golfers will miss the cut. You may also recall the model was suggesting Ortiz and Blayne and I vetoed them because I didn't feel the data was reliable. They both missed the cut. I would have been about 1/3 exposed to each had I not manually sifted through and error checked my lineups, something I sometimes don't get a chance to do because I didn't start running the model until near lock. It would have been disastrous had I not seen those unfamiliar names and decided to take a closer look. My cash games went exceedingly well as I chose one of my lineups that did fairly well to use in cash. I cashed in every 50/50 and double up (sometimes outright winning them) and won all but 2 of my h2hs. There's a good story here about why, despite that I play most of my volume in cash, that I go with only 1 lineup. There's one specific player I've been matching up with quite a bit. It started out in lower stakes and I believe he's now tilted and trying to recover because he keeps upping the stakes but I keep taking em. This past slate he posted a $100 h2h and I took it. He then matched up with me in another one for $5. He decided to go with 2 lineups, one of them performed pretty poorly, another would have done very well in a GPP. Given how pleased I am writing about this, I bet you can imagine which one of those I lost and which I won. This is why I just create one cash lineup and stick with it because I've been on his side of things in the past. If he wins both then it wouldn't matter, if he loses both then it wouldn't matter. If he loses the $5 wins the $100 it doesn't matter... but if he loses the $100 but wins the $5 then he goes on crazy monkey tilt. It doesn't matter at all that mathematically speaking it doesn't make a difference (so long as both lineups had equal assumed expectations), emotions still run high in this and unless you're doing very high volume at leveled stakes (not 2 matchups of 20x difference in size) and not going to track the individual results but look at the big picture then it's fine. But nobody does this, we aren't androids, when you win you win, when you lose you lose. This is why although I put way more in cash than gpp and bad cash lineup can sink me, I'm still taking a binary approach with cash games. I'm not taking a 75% indifference with a 25% chance of losing my god damn mind because the h2h that mattered was the one that failed. Fail like a stoic with a single cash lineup that gives 100% indifference. Now then, some people have been asking me to go into more detail about about the data that use to create the lineups. I'll just reiterate again that I'm never going to explain how the sausage is made. But I will be serving plenty of sausage and give you a general idea what animal it came from. Today I'm going to talk about specifically how most of my research really demonstrates just how stupid most golf stats are. I really want to be 100% sure and am in the process of scraping an absurdly large database containing several decades. And since I'm doing this on my free time, it'll take some time before I parse and analyze everything. I don't want to make the very bold claims I already believe to true without further studying the matter and really ensuring my thoughts are real and it's not the product of bad calculations or insufficient sample size. But, what I've discovered thus far, is that all those stats are just window dressing. Saying someone led the field shots gained x is fundamentally no different than saying "they did well and had a good tournament." Things like shots gained track results not process. So it's much like tracking wins and rbis. Yes, the best hitters and the best pitchers in baseball often lead the league in those metrics, but we all know why they aren't good predictive tools. For example, when my beloved Red Sox signed Dante Bichette in 2001, there was all this talk about him having led the major leagues in RBIs the past few seasons. He just had his epic year, two years ago driving in 133 runs and the year before got 90. While he was aging and slowing down, I distinctly remember a lot confusion over why we signed this elite hitter but then used him in a platoon. I'd be at Fenway and as the Red Sox lost, people would openly question the wisdom of having one of the best hitters in the game ride it out on the bench. This was 2 years before Moneyball was published and while front offices knew the reality of the situation (third team in 2 years and out of the league after that season), the average hard core Red Sox fan would just scratch their head wondering why we didn't give Dante a little more of a chance to show he still had it. I feel this is the situation today with golf and golf statistics while what we have today is an improvement of the past - we take it for granted that it comes with the same authority as so wOBA or usage. We know that the winners won, but we don't know much else and shots gained is basically more or less a fancy way to say someone did a better job. If someone gets a birdie on a par 4, their SG will improve by about... drumroll please... 1. So you could just simply compare scores - IE look at end of tournament standings. Yes, there is definitely some nuance and they do factor in the relative difficulty of that specific par 4 and if I didn't feel like there was some actionable data out there I wouldn't bother with any of this. But I believe that way too much weight is put into this, whether I'm right or wrong, I will follow up on this in much more detail once it's no longer a hunch but rather indisputable. The reason why gathering this data is difficult is that it's restricted - which itself should be a bit of a red flag. I'll also be reading "Every Shot Counts" soon, which is a book written by the creator of the Shots Gained metric. I really don't want to make any further and sweeping judgements until I read the author's long and detailed explanation of the metric. But really, we can all see the smoking gun https://registrations.pgatourhq.com/forms/shotlinkintel/ for ourselves to see that the process by which they used to record shots gained is kept a secret and they don't disclose the data. Even prior to them ghosting us, access to the statistics themselves was restricted - you need to apply for access. The twitter account still exists and it's like everyone vanished into thin air, the last tweet https://twitter.com/ShotLink/status/893531791297978368 was well over a year ago and simply a picture of a golf course as if nothing was about the change. Also, the PGA still insists "All strokes gained statistics are calculated using ShotLink, the PGA TOUR's real-time scoring system powered by CDW. https://www.pgatour.com/news/2016/05/31/strokes-gained-defined.html But since it's so secretive, we really don't know much about it. I'm not talking conspiracies or anything, they could have a very good data collection system that's phenomenal, but the very notion that the PGA doesn't even bother telling anyone how the data is collected and yet nobody is asking any questions should tell you this isn't exactly the most objective market. So basically, I'm very confused by Shots Gained as a metric, can find very little information on it and what I can find is out of date and contradictory and seems to imply it's more or less no different than a nuanced version of looking at the final standings. I want to say it's bullshit, but I'm just reserving final judgement and simply labeling as sketchy for now. So then we should look at results yeah? Yes, but this is largely what pricing is based upon, so not much of an edge there. So shall we look at ranking? Yes, let's take a look at OWGR. When I first started with golf, I knew nothing and had nothing to base anything on other than seeing their pricing and recent point accumulations. Since Tiger Woods wasn't playing in that event, it was all entirely new names, just names I'd hear in passing while switching off ESPN as they were starting their golf coverage. So naturally, when I saw each golfer had a world ranking, I viewed that as a cheat sheet. From the very beginning, one of the formulas I've used to develop lineups was as simple as putting together the golfers within budget that collectively had the lowest aggregate world ranking number. Why am I suddenly speaking in such specifics you ask? Because it's a horrible DFS metric and nobody else is doing it (I track gpps lineups to see what others are doing, there are a few of these more simple formulas that pop up periodically, this is not one of them) so it's not exactly as if disclosing this information will make my opponents that much stronger. My OWGR lineup has in fact been the single worst performing in cash and the 2nd to worst performing in gpps of the dozens of lineup models I have. Thankfully, I don't play it because it's so bad but I keep tracking it and recording how it would have performed just for fun these days. The only lineup that performed worse than the OWGR lineup in GPPS, well that one heavily factors in OWGR as well :). OWGR is just a terrible, terrible metric for DFS. Yes, it will give you the cream of the crop like the Dustin Johnsons, but you can never afford a lineup of Dustin Johnsons, you'll have to start digging deeper and pulling up min priced guys like Satoshi Kodaira - mr bitcoin himself. Someone who if you've been reading my stuff, is the entire reason I stopped playing any lineup that had OWGR as a primary indicator. Now Satoshi, despite being a pretty horrible DFS play most of the time, is a great example of everything wrong with OWGR. His Fedex Cup rank is currently 160 and has never been better than 93, but his world rank is perplexingly 59. In 2018, he played 18 tournaments and finished under par only twice. He missed more cuts than he made as well. I could be mistaken, but it seems that he got into some majors via a sponsor in 2017 and 2018 and managed to do alright in them. He also ended up winning one of the tournaments he played in last year. When researching OWGR to figure out how it came about and how it is calculated, I learned a lot. Basically, it's nothing more than party planning. A golf course in Scotland wanted to figure out whom to invite to compete in their tournament and invented the system. It weighs the strength of the field very heavily in rewarding points- and the strength of the field is - yup - you guessed it - determined by people already ranked by the system. So if Dustin Johnson cloned himself and kept playing tournaments exclusive to him and his equally ranked clones, they'd forever hold onto the top rankings. If OWGR was an excel sheet, the creator would get an error popup upon loading it up each day due to circular references. So, Satoshi I'm sure is a great golfer, anyone there should be, but his ranking is very artificially skewered up because he managed to make the cut and finish around 50th in some really packed majors that had a lot of heavy hitters. In fact, the ranking system is so completely absurd, that any millionaire can get themselves world ranked pretty easily. They just need to do something like sponsor a Pro-Am at some odd but counted tour like the Alps Tour and then invite the guys ranked 1st, 2nd and 3rd to compete and filling out the rest of the field with toddlers and yourself. You would be assured a 4th place finish. Yet you didn't beat any of the top 3 golfers in the world. You just beat 100 toddlers. Yet you still get the high ranking because they get 45, 37 and 32 respective points for strength of field, which is greater than if you had a tournament of the golfers ranked 93rd through 200 playing. Finishing 4th behind the only 3 adults and beating 100 toddlers has the same impact as finishing 4th in a field of 107 of the greatest golfers in the world. http://www.owgr.com/about Finishing 4th and beating 100 toddlers will grant you the same amount of points as finishing 20th at a major. That's how utterly stupid this rating system is. Obviously I'm using some extreme edge cases, it's very likely they would see through that scheme and not count it, but you get the idea of how inconsistent the system is. If you simply altered the PGA tour to the top 3 golfers and then a bunch of amateurs, those amateurs would soon arbitrarily be some of the highest rated in the world themselves, thus feeding itself. This is why I call my OWGR model Ouroboros https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ouroboros Dustin Johnson doesn't play defense. He isn't jumping out of the sand trap and blocking your approach shot. Him finishing in front of you has zero impact on how well you performed compared to him. Yet if you simply show up and play in enough events where he easily beats you, you'll end up with a solid world ranking. This is an absurd system. When I researched OWGR, I was simply shocked it was how some random guy created an invitation list for a tournament and because golf feels the need to be so full of tradition they just made that the official world rankings. Don't get me wrong, the top OWGR guys are all very good DFS plays because they are winners. However, after a certain point you're not dealing with anything at all reliable. I'm not sure at which point it gets diluted, but after a certain point, that metric becomes just as unstable as Bitcoin. I find it very amusing that the indicator that showed me the flaws with OWGR after a certain stage is named Satoshi. I'm also fully aware of how difficult it is to quantify something so intangible as golf. However, there's no doubt in my mind that there must be a significantly better manner than what is currently used. But, whether or not my hunch is right or wrong, we still have a system where the data is all secretly gathered and stored by the PGA. That's something everyone should be aware of as they set their lineups. Good luck everyone. Will dive deeper into the shots gained after I get around to buying and reading the book and finally finish analyzing that data. I could very well come back here in two weeks apologizing for my ignorance that gave me the gall to question such genius. In the meantime, good luck grinding out there and I'll post again in a few days with my player pool for the next event.
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