If there was one person whom Kratawar hated to talk to, it was Defa, the spiteful demon lord of the neighbouring city. Usually, their communications consisted of raids and the placing of the heads of the slain on border defenses. Defa might speak a dozen languages but the only voice the demon lord listened to was that of power. What was always particularly galling about Defa, was how superior he thought he was. Kratawar came away from their conversations with the message that he was merely a stupid undead skeleton, while Defa was a genius to be heeded. However, the truth was the other way around and one day Kratawar, 'stupid undead skeleton', would prove that a Lich Lord was a far more powerful being than a braggart demon.
The Cauldron of Visions rested in the most secure room of the castle; the chamber containing the broken ruby pillar. Surrounded by the blood-red glow of the shattered gem, Kratawar stood, steeling himself. With a sigh, he waved his fleshless arm and cast an enchantment. Within the silvery water of the cauldron, a picture came into view: the broken pillar and throne of the demon citadel to the north.
‘Kratawar, I knew you would be in touch. So the imps have let us down?’
‘You felt it, all the way over there?’
‘Of course.’ Defa was sneering.
‘Well then, you know we have to agree a truce while I recapture the ruby tower for the forces of darkness.’
Leaning forward, Defa grinned, showing long incisors. ‘Maybe I will, maybe I won’t.’
A number of responses ran through Kratawar’s thoughts. Being smart – and next in line should some hero actually make a success of the new settlement – he quelled the desire to swear at Defa.
‘This a situation where we come to an agreement or we both fall. As do our brothers and sisters of the other pillars. I have to act fast, before the forces of good turn that settlement into a strong point.’
‘Yes, yes, you do.’ Defa waved a long-nailed hand dismissively. ‘Off you go then. Send your best troops.’
‘I will, when you cast Oath of the Ruby Pillar and swear to a truce. A month should be enough.’
‘Or, I could take advantage of your weakness.’
‘Hardly a weakness.’
‘Tell you what,’ Defa was smirking now. ‘I’ll give you a truce if you give me Dearbhgilla’s Forest. It should be mine in any case.’
‘You ask too much. Never.’
With a feigned yawn, Defas tail swishing too eagerly for him to really be tired, the demon lord settled back into his throne.
‘You know how to contact me if you change your mind about the forest territory.’
A swift motion of his enemy’s hand and the surface of the liquid in the cauldron showed nothing more than the reddish reflection of the room.
Kratawar felt rage surge inside him. Yet it was with a certain detachment that he noted the sensation as it rose to a peak and then subsided. It was difficult to really taste any emotion in full when you had been dead for over 500 years. Very well, he would face the challenge alone and he would triumph over Defa.
After several minutes adjusting his production priorities and mulling over his options, Kratawar conjured a skeleton scribe so he could dictate two scrolls. The first was to his extremely competent northern general, Supitha the Wraith.
Take the northern army and the next cohort of Grim Battlecarts to come from the Barracks Level Five and occupy defensive positions in Dearbhgilla’s Forest. I'm anticipating a major thrust from Defa. If, no, WHEN you defeat his army, you may destroy as many of his buildings as you can, so long as there is no substantial risk to our elite forces.
The second was to Captain Trakada, a promising minor-lich.
Take thirty skeleton archers and fifty zombies to the Guardian Tower. The imps there have lost control of it. Kill anyone you find and destroy the gem if it has been restored. Once you have seen to your duties, send word and wait for further instructions.
If all went well, Kratawar should be able to influence the new dark commander of the recaptured Guardian Tower. He relished the thought of tipping the balance against Defa. And beyond ….
With the thought of the demon lord one day begging for mercy eliciting a rather unpleasant smile, Kratawar turned to his leadership management tools. Was everything balanced for optimum military growth?
**** Restart ****
Whistling cheerfully to herself, Alyss strolled around the top of the tower, feeling like the queen of all she surveyed. Beyond the crenelated battlements were lands that were mostly hers, at least to judge from the pale grey hexagons that her new Village Tool UI allowed her to superimpose on the view. The mountains to the east, however, were beyond her domain, the hexagons disappeared beyond a rise of hills. Far too short of the nesting gryphons, which was a shame.
To the south, a fine river flowed through green and fertile fields. Walking clockwise around the central pillar of ruby light, Alyss studied a swampy-looking land, the swaying reeds giving way to a lake. No good for farming, but perhaps there was hunting or other useful purposes for the swampland. Northward were more hills and interestingly, when she opened a buildings menu, the menu cascaded into several options that looked like like they could help make her fortune. She noted copper mines and iron mines with particular interest. Alyss concentrated, focusing on the copper mine option.
Basic Open Cast Copper Mine
Laborers required: 2
Tools required: 2 picks and 2 shovels
Output: 1 copper ingot / day
Prerequisites: smelting furnace
Cost: 360 planks of wood
Interesting. Yet there was so much else to look at. Like diamond mines! Or even the buildings. Dozens of options were available and they changed according to the land she was looking at. There was the Player Market, massively out of reach. It needed thousands of planks of wood, hundreds of blocks of stone, also marble, iron and gold paint. Gold paint! Damn. Frustratingly, even a basic villager’s hut required 48 planks of wood. And as she had no wood, Alyss wasn’t sure how she could even begin to create the vibrant community that would make her fortune.
She remembered an ominous phrase from the book. Hadn’t it lectured her in it’s sombre voice, saying, ‘Beware! As each new pillar is activated your enemies will become more determined and ruthless.’
Were there enemies on the march already? Those goblins had disappeared from view, and her mind invented an image of them gathering to attack. The magic of the ruby pillar was like a beacon, telling the whole world where she was. If she could have, she would have covered up the magical pillar and in a hushed retreat, carefully built a community away from any attention.
This wasn’t an option, so she turned her attention to the information she could find on troop building. Alyss searched and came across pay dirt.
A level 1 soldier armed with bow, dagger and wearing leather armor
Cost: 2 cp a week.
Prerequisites: Barracks level 1
Right, so, Barracks level 1, where are you? Several frustrating minutes later, in which her sense that time was hurrying past her was exacerbated by a cloud front crossing the sun and bringing a dark line flowing over her lands, like the approach of a vast enemy army, Alyss found that by looking at some flat grassland, she could call up the barracks branches.
Barracks Level 1
Yields two inexperienced militia soldiers or one inexperienced archer per day
Cost: 220 planks of wood
More planks of wood! Everything needed planks of wood it seemed. She had better get started on that right away. The obvious place to rest her gaze and call up some kind of forestry building was on the treeline to the south. But that was miles away and there were some promising small copses of trees much closer. To the east, towards the mountains, were several resource rich sites within a mile of her. And to her great pleasure, Alyss found that she could indeed select a woodcutter’s hut by staring at one.
In the middle of the grey hexagon, a ruby icon appeared. It was of an ax, an adze and a trestle table. And after a flick of her finger, the icon slowly turned from red to green. There was a clock underneath, counting down from just over eight minutes. Fine. Now another one at the next nearest copse. And another at a third. Why not? Wood was such a basic resource. But wait, wouldn’t it be wise to think about upkeep? What if these woodcutters needed food? Her nine copper pieces wouldn’t go far, even if she found a place to spend them.
It was a shame she was on her own. Experienced players would have flown through this set-up and known exactly what to build to get started. Still, there was no point dwelling on feelings of loneliness and inadequacy. She was off to a great start and she knew she could figure this out. Alyssville (if Alexander the Great could do it … ) was going to be awesome, a veritable gold-plated fantasy town full of thousands of players.
Alyss paced the battlements of the tower, looking carefully at her building options as she stared out over the landscape. It was the swamp that had the building she wanted, a hunter’s tent. No wood needed, hurray, just a fifteen minute countdown on the build. May as well get two more then. However when she tried signalling with the twitch of her finger, a method which had worked for her with the other buildings, she recieved a disappointing message:
ALERT! You have reached your maximum allocation of villagers
‘Damnit!’ It felt good to hear a voice, even if it was her own, so she swore again. Then she made a mental note. Maybe she should buy a villager’s hut first? Would that allow her to build more hunter’s tents?
While she was brooding on this and the question of a barracks versus civilian infrastructure, a gladly recieved message popped up.
— Fwoosh —
You have completed a woodcutter’s hut.
You gain +5 Village Builder Exp.
The woodcutter’s hut created six planks per hour. Deciding to go look at it close up, Alyss descended the tower steps; stone, worn smooth in the center of each when the same message popped up and then a third time. She was halfway to her nearest woodcutter’s hut when she got the hunter’s tent message.
— Fwoosh —
You have completed a hunter’s tent
You gain +5 Village Builder Exp
— Bong —
You have reached level one Village Builder!
You have gained one leadership skill point
Oh, leadership skills. That was new. Just as she was beginning to feel like she was getting up to speed with the game, Alyss found herself thrashing around in darkness once more. What the hell were leadership skills all about? And what choices did she now face? Still, Alyss wasn’t going to stop and figure out how to spend her new point just now though, not when there was an intriguing sound ahead. Her first woodcutter was systematically hacking into a tree trunk; she couldn’t yet see him but two annoyed ravens came cawing out of the copse, flying erratically around the treetops.
Alyss walked towards the noise of her hard-working villager speeding up to a run in anticipation. This was exciting. Fun even. And there he was, younger than Alyss had expected, with a loose shirt, open down his chest, short black hair and a solid face. Not unattractive, she noted. Except for perhaps his brow which was currently lined in concentration.
Forgad the Woodcutter
Poor, but honest
Equipment: Simple axe
Poor but honest, thought Alyss. Like me. ‘Hello, Forgad.’
‘Oh,’ the woodcutter looked over at Alyss, tugging at a few spikes of his hair. ‘Good afternoon ma’am.’
‘You can call me Alyss.’
‘Thank you, ma’am.’
‘Thank you, Alyss.’
The NPC might be little more than a chatbot, but she was confindent he could learn. Slowly.
‘How do you get to become level one?’, Alyss wondered aloud.
‘By chopping down fifty trees ma’am.’
Scratch that about learning. ‘Is there anything I can do to help?’
‘I believe if you had the motivation leadership skill line, that would increase my output and so I’d also level more quickly.’
‘Oh, good tip. I don’t know anything about leadership skills.’
Forgad paused, mid-blow. ‘But you’re the Lady of the tower.’
‘Yeah but I’m new to the game.’
‘Aren’t we all?’
Alyss stared at him. ‘What did you just say?’
‘I said we are all new. Or at least, that’s what I meant.’
‘But you’re an NPC, you’re not new?’
Putting down his axe, Forgad began to chuckle. ‘Really? Am I that dumb sounding?’
Alyss rushed to answer, ‘No, no of course not. It’s just I was expecting to meet an NPC. How did you come to be here?’
‘Mind if I take a break, ma’am? It’s not a long story but when I’m chopping trees, that takes all my breath.’
Forgad brushed his hands on his shirt and then sat on a log. ‘I started yesterday with a warrior but got killed about an hour ago by some goblins. Restart is supposed to have crafting progression that's really important to the end game. And it matters more to me to make money than become a famous fighter. So when I saw the new options for character creation that were available with the Guardian’s Tower unlocked, I took one of them.’
‘How does that work though? Are you just going to chop wood for hours, all day every day?’
When Forgad smiled, it was infectious and Alyss found herself smiling back at him.
‘I hope not. When you have enough wood to make a crafting building, you can promote me. I’d like to be a bowyer eventually and make high-end player bows.’
‘What if I don’t? What if I leave you here?’
‘I can up and go at any time. Set up somewhere else and practice my skills outside of the community. But progression in crafting is supposed to be a lot faster inside a village. And you’ve unlocked the first of the seven pillars. This should be an amazing place given time, with all the other crafting buildings inside, so I won’t have to travel far for components.’
Alyss fell silent. She had so many questions she didn’t know where to start.
‘Can I ask you something?’ Forgad picked up his axe again.
‘How did you get control of the tower? You don’t look like a powerful wizard or anything.’
‘I’ll tell you if you promise not to laugh at me.’
‘Knitting, nine hundred and ninety-nine.’
For a moment Forgad stared at her. Then he clapped a hand over his mouth. It was no use though, his shoulders were heaving. His eyes, wrinkled with humor lines at the edges, were filling with water; he bent over, sides quivering. And after a few moments of this, a huge series of laughs burst out through his fingers.
‘Idiot,’ fumed Alyss and turned away, walking quickly back towards the tower. She wasn’t really cross with Forgad though, in fact, she liked him. But there was a lot to do and he really needed to get on with his job while she figured out what else she ought to be doing.