Bitter 396

Britta craned her neck trying to see around the corner as she walked down the steps. It was hard to see what was coming when the danger was around a perpetual bend.

She had turned her light off again. She didn’t want them to see it and charge up the stairs. There was a strong chance they would attack first, ask questions never.

There was a very gentle glow on the walls now. The smallest hint of light was reaching up from below, barely revealing itself. The kobolds had sensitive eyes, so the lighting was always set to dim. Torches were their preferred method of illumination. Apart from that piece of information, she really didn’t know very much about them. Most of her time spent in their company had been taken up with trying to stay out of reach of the dwarf. No real opportunity for small talk.

She had meant to explore the world to see what was possible in a place like this, but somehow she had remained stuck in this one corner. She definitely wanted to remedy that. As soon as she had a word with the kobolds.

The light on the wall was strong enough to see the flicker from flames dancing. They were just around the next corner.

“Hello?” she said, trying to make her voice loud and confident. Gnome larynxes weren’t really built for that. “I come in peace.” Her voice went up at the end, making it sound like a question. I come in peace?

“Come down here,” said a thundering voice, “and prepare to die.”

Not exactly a warm welcome.

She took a step down. She could feel Dad behind her. Was the shade still here? She didn’t want to turn and look. She took another step down.

“Erm, no, I said I come in peace. I don’t want to fight. Truce?” She should have brought a white flag.

“We are the protectors of the Korlath Mines,” said the voice, “and you will die at our hands. Hurry and meet your doom.”

He was spouting rehearsed lines. Her ability to draw NPCs into conversation only worked if the NPCs had the programming for it. A simple guardian set up to fight intruders wasn’t going to get into a debate with her. It would give the order to attack as soon as she came into sight. That was why she was keen to stay on her side of the bend.

“I wish to speak to the king. On a matter of great importance.” Just because she couldn’t reason with the kobold in charge, didn’t mean she couldn’t trigger one of his other dialogue options.

This was an RPG. NPCs were here to send you off on missions and quests. And occasionally get you killed.

She wanted to avoid a direct confrontation. Even her fireball wouldn’t be able to deal with two dozen opponents. If there were that many kobolds waiting here for a fight, there was either a secret way to beat them, or you weren’t supposed to win. Maybe you were supposed to talk. But about what?

Unlike a normal game, you didn’t get to see a convenient menu of questions to click on. You had to guess. And hope you didn’t die before you got an answer.

“The king is not here,” said the kobold. That was a nonviolent answer. It showed there was a way to communicate here.

Even if she couldn’t talk to them like they were real people, the computer characters in this world were more complex than Mario and Luigi. They had the ability to understand basic questions, even if their answers were pre-recorded. They had a lot of pre-recorded answers to choose from.

“Take me to see the king,” said Britta.

“The king is not here.”

“I really don’t want to fight.”

“Surrender and your death will be swift.”

That did not seem like a good deal. “I bring a message from the Great Gnome in the Sky.” Worth a try.

“The Great Gnome is not here.”

She could see there would be set answers for certain types of questions. Unlike most players, though, she knew the NPCs could recognise a vast range of ideas and concepts. They knew what she was saying, they just didn’t feel the need to give chatty responses.

“The king will want to see me. Tell him I’m here.”

“The king is not here.”

Maybe she was relying on her previous encounters too much. A new player wouldn’t even know there was a king. They would face an army of kobolds, and then die. If they tried to surrender, they would be executed. Possibly there was a way to beg for your life, but she didn’t really fancy finding out.

What would a new player do?

“I’m here to help.”

“Prepare to die.”

“I mean you no harm.”

“Prepare to die.”

“How much money do you want to let us live?”

“How much do you have?”

That was a new one. They were open to bribes? But new players wouldn’t have very much money this early. And even if they did, pay-to-win?

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