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Marty was worried. He had a great start with the first two days, but he was rapidly running out of ideas to keep his momentum going. He was also painfully aware of how close he had come to losing on several occasions. He was going to have to do some research, but first he needed something to decompress. Maybe it was time for him to head to that café and meet some of the other beta testers. He altered his clothing to a simple t-shirt and jeans and headed to the other door. The only destination was Café Oblivion, so he chose that and walked through another portal.

He entered into an open air park with a hostess stand. To one side was a set of tables with a few occupied, while the other was a serene park with a small lake in the middle. There were a few ducks lazily swimming around, but thankfully no geese. Nasty little creatures, if they weren’t pestering you for some food they were honking at some ungodly hour of the morning. There were a few people out enjoying the park area, but he wanted something to relax a bit so headed to the tables.

“Mind if I join you guys?” he asked as he came up to one of the partially occupied tables.

“Not at all, I’m Jonathan.” One of the occupants replied. “This is Derrick and Phoebe. We’re part of the monster beta test, how ‘bout you?”

“Yeah, just got done with day two. Need a drink though, how do we order here?”

“Just sit down and type it in. Derrick’s been trying to get toasted for several hours, but they didn’t program alcohol effects into this part. Which is probably for the best.” Phoebe answered.

Marty odered a Seven and Seven and was loving how it appeared right after he hit enter. “Wow, gotta love that fast service, right?”

“Yeah, no waiting, no costs, but no buzz.” Derrick answered forlornly. “Sometimes you just gotta escape for a bit, and they took that away.”

“We’re living in a virtual reality environment with anything you could want at the touch of a button Derrick, what the hell do you need to escape from? Hell, your damn job is to play your favorite game! That’s teenage you’s wet dream!”

Marty made a mental note not to get on Phoebe’s bad side. “So, what’s got you so down about the game Derrick?”

“The monster class. It’s been nerfed to the point of being useless. I picked a troll, because of the strength. I’m stuck in a cave, and I’m so easily distracted it’s ridiculous! Seriously, I spent three hours watching light reflect off a rock. A ROCK! I didn’t even notice I was under attack until I had lost half my life! I would go to attack some of the squishier members, like the wizards that were blasting me with fire, and the tank shouts and everyone else just faded out of my vision. The tank seemed to grow, so I kept hitting him. I have yet to get a single kill.”

Marty was shocked. He hadn’t really given anyone the chance to use skills against him, but to be affected like that had to be horrible. “Easy there Derrick, we’ve all had our butts handed to us. Phoebe has to work with a group of NPC’s if she wants to get her gnoll bonus and don’t even get me started on the smell as a goblin. Besides, I’m so short that I can’t even get a proper lethal blow in. The best I can to is jump up to shank a kidney. Then they turn around and squish me.”

“Ouch, sounds like you guys have had it rough.”

“Yeah, it hasn’t been the greatest couple of days. How ‘bout you Marty? What’s your worst death?” Jon continued.

“Oh, well I like the Kobold Warrens so far. Nobody has managed to kill me just yet.” Everyone stopped to stare at him for a minute.

“Bullshit.” Derrick stated. “Ain’t no way a level one kobold managed to remain deathless for two days. Unless you were hiding and just let them raid the dungeon.”

“Well, of course I was hiding. They have skills and a higher level. The only way I was going to win was get in a surprise attack.”

Jon leaned forward, “So what weapon are you using that you got so many kills? Are you one of those people who practice old style sword fighting or something?”

“No, I would honestly be terrible with the spear they gave me. For my skill I picked Mana Excavation. It let me make some stone hammers and pitfall traps. Plus, the leftover stone dust is great for blinding people.”

Marty’s new friends were staring at him slack jawed. They would occasionally glance back and forth, but that was it until Jon spoke. “So let me get this straight. You made a stone hammer, traps, and blinding powder? How much damage was your hammer doing?”

“Oh, the first hammer was horrible. It did around 30ish damage, but took all my stamina to swing it once. I made smaller hammers that probably average around 20 damage per swing though, and they seem to be doing the trick. Now I’m just worried people are going to start catching on and I will need some new tricks to stay ahead of the curve.”

“New tricks like what?”

“Well, honestly I have never played as a mage before so I know nothing about mana based skills or how to improve them.”

Phoebe perked up at that, saying, “Really? What do you have questions on? I used to play as a high level mage, I might be able to help out. Perhaps we could all brainstorm some ideas to help us all out.”

“Yeah, I’m fine with that.” Marty responded. “I really need to figure out how to improve my skill. It takes forever to tunnel through the rock. Right now I line my claws with mana and I can cut through rock. It leaves four gashes the size of my claws and takes forever.”

Phoebe smiled, “Yeah, that’s the basic manipulation right there. Tell me, do you think that it is the claws cutting the rock or your mana?”

“It has to be the mana, I’ve tried with just claws and it does nothing. Why do you ask?”

“Simple. Why limit your mana into just the shape of your claws? You can make it any shape, just remember that lining physical objects is the easiest way to do it. It gives your mind an image to focus on. Ok, here comes mage training 101. Mana based skills depend on several things. The most important is the mental image of the skill. If you think your mana skill will form and arrow that bounces off the target’s chest, you are going to cast a mana arrow that bounces off the target’s chest. If you truly believe that it will skewer the guy you are shooting and impale him into the wall behind him, you have a much higher chance of that actually happening. So step one, imagine your skill how you need it to act. Step two is to infuse mana into your skill. For you, I would imagine mana moving from a pool in my stomach area down my arm and out to my claws. It will be tough at first, but like muscle memory the more you use it the easier it will become. If you can master this, then you will be able to cut straight through that rock.”

“That…..seems so simple I’m kinda ashamed I didn’t think of it myself.”

“Hahaha, yes, it is one of the first things that gets taught to beginning mages in the better guilds. Don’t feel bad about it, you’ve got quite a few things you have done in the past few days that have stymied the rest of us so let’s improve us monsters, yeah?”

“Sounds good to me. Should we start with Jon? I’ve got an idea or two for the goblins, but first we need what he has available. Jon? Can you tell us your gear and what type of area you are in?”

“Sure Marty. Level one goblin obviously. I have two sharp knives and a simple loincloth for clothing. I picked the slash skill, so I can get a boosted attack every other second.”

“OK, and your go to attack so far has been a backstab coupled with slash to do boosted damage?” At his nod, Marty continued, “Great. So if you know you can’t kill them with a single backstab, even with the crit bonus, why not go for crippling them?”

“Cripple them? How? I barely come up to their waist half the time.”

“You’re thinking too high. I’ve gotten a crippled status on a few adventurers by sending a spike through their foot. Why don’t you slash both of their Achilles tendons? Then they can’t walk and you can run around them faster than they can turn and get your slashes in. Beat them in a war of attrition, or do it and let a swarm of goblin friends take them down.”

“That. . . That. . . Damn.” He looked at Phoebe, “Why the hell didn’t we think of something simple like that? No more jumping, and no low level gear completely wraps the legs so there is no protection against it.”

“We just are used to being the heroes Jon. We stand back, let our skills carry us through the fight. It really brings home how much of a handicap it is when you have no skills at your disposal.”

“Yeah, tell me about it. Plus we can’t level up yet, so we don’t get any stat boosts or choose any classes. When I signed up for this I didn’t think it would be this hard. Perhaps after I get a few therapeutic kills in it’ll be a bit better.”

“That’s the spirit Jon! Aside from the ankles, are there any ledges you can climb on to jump down while attacking? It’ll be a bit harder to pull off, but hardly anyone looks up in the lower dungeons, you could get a fairly powerful strike in.”

“Sadly no, all the walls are smoothed out. I think the dev’s set it up so that the backstory is that the goblins moved into a rock worm nest after the beast had moved on. It explains the uniformity of everything.”

“Damn, that sucks. Well Phoebe, what’s your area look like?”

“It’s a secluded valley with occasional animals. Mostly pine tree forests where the bottom 1/3 of the trees have no branches. My skill is Gnaw, which increases the damage done the longer I am able to bite one spot on the enemy. Thankfully there are no tastes unless you are eating proper food.”

“Yeah, that sounds like a tough spot. Ok, so you get bonuses for being in a group right?”

“Yup, but the rest of the group is stupid. They all sit around campfires, staring into the light and destroying their vision. Then they only attack from the front, in a semicircle. It’s just horrible.”

“Ok, do you have to be in their group before battle starts, or can you get the boost if you join in?”

“It doesn’t matter when you join, why?”

“Great. Then let the fools keep the adventurer’s attention while you sneak up behind them and gnaw on their weapon arm or their neck if they have no armor on. Hide in a tree or something beforehand so you can drop down from behind.”

“Jon, how the hell does this guy keep coming up with such blatantly obvious solutions? We were both part of the top clans damnit!”

“I don’t know Phoebe, but I’m damn glad he’s here now. We might get some kills after all. Hey Derrick, quit sulking and tell us what your troll can do.”

“I’m not sulking, I’m drowning my sorrows. It’s just that my sorrows can breathe underwater, so they aren’t drowning properly. Eh what the hell, he’s got the two of you sorted, he might be able to help me. So, I’m a troll in a cave. I have a tree trunk for a weapon, there are no places to hide, and only a few decent sized rocks. My skill choice is a passive, Stone Skin. I take 10% less damage from bladed weapons.”

“Ouch, bad luck on that. OK, so there’s no cover for you, but that also means that there’s no cover for the adventurers. I’m sure you could take out that pesky tank if he didn’t have a healer, so let’s try this. Practice throwing those rocks so that you can hit what you want with them. Then, when the party sees you across the room, you can catch them unaware when you throw a rock and turn the healer into pulp.”

He started to perk up at the thought of that, so I continued, “Now you just need to teach those pesky tanks why you shouldn’t close in with a troll. Did you ever play baseball as a kid?”

“Huh? Yeah, a little bit. What does baseball have to do with Oblivion?”

“Easy. Ever done solo batting practice where you toss a ball up and hit it on the way down? Well the pesky tank becomes the ball and the tree is your bat. See if you can hit the home run, keeping track of where he splats on the walls. Either that or just pick him up and bite his head off. Either way should kill him rather quickly.”

“Can we do that? Seriously, I thought the only weapon we could use was the ones they gave us?”

“Anything can be a weapon. I’m using hammers carved from the rock of the dungeon itself! Besides, Phoebe can already bite her opponent, why wouldn’t a troll be able to?”

“I don’t know. . .”

“Give it a try. What’s the worst that could happen? You end up not killing them?”

“Alright, fine. I guess it wouldn’t hurt. At least, it wouldn’t hurt me.”

“That’s the spirit Derrick!” Phoebe encouraged him. “What do you guys think, make this a habit? Come here daily to de-stress and talk tactics?”

“I’m in” Marty declared.

“Me too” Jon agreed.

“As long as I can drink a beer or two I guess I’ll show up.” Derrick confirmed.

“Great. We can work out the best way to make sure those adventurers don’t win.”

Marty spent a few more hours relaxing and talking over some of their previous exploits before heading for his digital home and some sleep. There were quite a few plans mulling around in his head, and he wanted to get to work early tomorrow to implement them.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Emily opened up yet another bug report about the Kobold Warrens and started mentally berating Marty and the entire lineage that gave birth to such a headache. When would the players realize that dying because you failed to develop a solid battle plan didn’t mean that it was a bug. This one actually had something that might have been a bug had Marty not been involved. Apparently he had turned part of the warrens into a hallway from a mental asylum, and had spoken to an adventurer before blowing blinding powder into her face. How he managed to obtain high level blinding powder that normally took a level 35 alchemist inside of a level one dungeon was a mystery. She pulled up his logs and just stared. “Damnit, he is entirely too resourceful. Better call Mike and Frank in on this one” she muttered while shooting off an email requesting a meeting. She even mentioned that someone would probably want popcorn.

Ten minutes later she was back in Mike’s office as Frank came in to sit down. “OK, thanks for coming guys. I think we are going to have to up our timetable for releasing information on playing the monster race.”

“Oh really? What did Marty do this time?” Mike asked, intrigued.

“Well, he somehow managed to make blinding powder despite being a level one character and not having either a class or a profession. He also made one of your tunnels look like an insane asylum Frank. When a character was reading his poem about clowns eating him, he finished speaking the line right into her ear and then blowing the blinding powder right into her face.”

“Impossible” Frank said. “Blinding powder requires a fairly high level alchemist, a mortar and pestle, and several rare plants that have been properly dried. It is impossible to make at level one, you need to be at least level 15 to get the majority of the components.”

“That’s what I thought. Watch.” Emily said as she leaned back and closed her eyes, massaging her temples. Who would have thought that one beta tester would be such a hassle?

“Wait, what was that? How did he get a powder?” Frank was blabbering at the screen, especially when the blinded icon appeared over the adventurer’s head. “I don’t believe it, go back to just before he blinds her, I’ll use my credentials to identify what’s in his hand.”

Mike backed up the video, and Frank just started shaking his head. Then he started chuckling. “Damn Mike, I wish I had this guy on my team. He used stone dust to blind his opponent.”

“How did he get stone dust?”

“He ground small rocks with the base of one of his hammers. It’s far less effective than blinding powder, but it is incredibly easy to obtain. The ruling AI decided that the effect of the powder would be temporary blindness, and get this. The duration is dependent on how fast you start blinking. Brilliant.”

“Ok, so we have him talking to the players in an admittedly creepy way. We can’t say it was an NPC, people would rise up and riot. Probably. Alright, I’ll kick this up the chain and see if we can get permission to release the monster beta knowledge early. Emily, what’s his KDR?”

“Twelve kills, zero deaths. Biggest group taken down was four people.”

“Alright, how about this Frank. Marty is obviously a step above our normal tester, and definitely going to be harder to take out than the normal kobolds. Should we make his instance the champions instance?”

“Sure, works for me. I can’t believe we are doing it after two days, but yeah we really need to.”

“Stop!” Emily interrupted. “What is the champions instance, and will it make my life harder than it already is? I’m getting bug reports from players complaining about getting killed enough as it is.”

“Ha ha ha, no it’s nothing bad.” Mike answered. “The champion instance lets players know that they are entering a dungeon with an increased difficulty. The rest of the monsters will get a slight boost to their stats, and Marty will get some slightly increased rewards at the end. The group level limit will be increased from 6 to 8 as well, but the maximum player level is still five.”

“Oh thank God, I’m pulling my hair out as it is with all these bug reports.”

“This should stop the majority of the reports, don’t worry.”

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About the author

Mighty Moushie

Bio: I'm a chemist that gave writing a try, and loved the results. Everything is mostly for fun right now, though I might try and get some things published eventually. Certain traits of my daughter have made it into bits of my stories, and she sometimes keeps me company when we both have trouble sleeping.

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