Part 17: Thorn Brenin and the Crippling Lack of A Lion And A WardrobeThorn Brenin and the Crippling Lack of A Lion And A Wardrobe
Welcome back! Previously on Ash of Gods, we endured a storm of signifying nothing. Or rather, beating into us that Gleda is Special and We Should Care About Her.
Anyway, I'm going to pick the route for Thorn this time around, both to beat the looming timer and to show off a Fuck You event.
Down the old road to the ruined tavern.
: Four years ago, the Sinvicta brothers-who live in the backwoods by the Woodland Watch-lost the Corpse Udder Tavern to Trobbel's younger brother in a game of cards. The new owner tried to get rid of it, but found now buyers-and then a lightning strike burned it down. Nobody bought it because-excepting a few hunters-no one really ventures to these parts anymore.
Let's ask Fisk, I bet he knows all the taverns as our resident alcoholic.
Well, I've played enough D&D campaigns with dickish DMs to know to search the brushes first.
: In the shrubs, you discover an armed crossbow. An inconspicuous piece of string tied to it leads to a wooden sign on the ground. The crossbow was set up to shoot whoever unwittingly turned over the sign.
Flip that sign!
Searching the ruins yields nothing except the "strange and ugly" sign, so we leave.
: You give the ruined tavern one more look and return to the road.
: You're very tempted to stop by the Woodland Watch and ask the Sinvicta brothers if the crossbow trap was their handiwork. One of your companions could have been killed.
Yea, this event is a complete "fuck you" though we can visit the brothers later. If you search the ruins first Fisk gets shot and injured.
To the Puppy Ford!
We strike him first.
Then we try to intimidate them so I don't have to deal with this game's combat system.
You all said no robbing merchants, but that doesn't mean we can't rob the robbers.
: You quickly rile through the thugs' possessions, taking everything of value, and hurry back to camp.
We score 100 gold from this, which is much better than a crossbow bolt to the face.
We go down hunters track to save time and get to the arch menhir faster.
: You decided to strike the abominations from behind with your companions. Soon it becomes clear that the stakes which made the Enses dismount will be in your way as well. You'll have to fight the Enses on foot.
I don't know why the game emphasizes this when literally every battle is on foot, You can't bring in horses and fight as mounted units, why would that change?
We're going to take Vai and Ramlin along because they're the new guys and we haven't seen them fight yet. We may as well discuss their abilities.
: This guy's sole role is to wander around restoring health and energy. You can upgrade him to gain a magical melee attack that you will never use, because he's a cleric and the authors have played enough Inept D&D to know that clerics are healbots.
: Seeing as Ramlin is a wizard and that this game is heavily ripping off Banner Saga, you may be expecting an Eyvind-like badass who can call down AoE lightning strikes. You would be completely wrong. Ramlin is a buffer who can raise people's attack stat and also hand out temporary defense in exchange for a battle-long attack penalty. He does get an energy drain attack usable once every few turns that can be surprisingly lethal if he's buffed, but most of the time he just hands out sweet, sweet attack boosts. You can field him alone with Thorn, have him spend all his time buffing Thorn's attack, and then yeet Thorn into enemy hordes when his attack hits some stupid high number.
Here's the formation I go with. Thorn and Sopp bait out the enemy, Ramlin and Vai buff, the archers kill dudes. Vai is useful because he can recharge the archers' Dead Shot so that when they blow off half their health from shooting a bow they can do it again.
Sopp goes out to bait. Now, the AI is set to the lowest difficulty because we haven't resisted the curse yet, so all those Enses will jump Sopp. There's no real way to "pull aggro" on the AI, and most battlefields don't have chokepoints, so you're stuck hoping the Enses don't wander into telekinetic attack range.
The counterattack buff goes up, and instead of describing this battle I think I'm gonna explain why I dislike Thorn so intensely. I like how Sopp is scratching his butt staring at the theological abominations.
If I'm being completely honest, the reason I hate Thorn and his party has a lot to do with the combat mechanics. As we've seen, Hopper and Lo Pheng don't need to interact with spending massive amounts of health on their abilities.
Their abilities run off energy, and both of them have moves that let them refill the energy bar quickly at need. This, combined with the cargo culted Banner Saga turn system, means that it's just more satisfying to throw Lo Pheng and Hopper at the enemy and you don't need to grapple with the systems present here.
We see here Flitt blowing off half his own health to shoot this Ense, which at first glance seems like a high-risk, high-reward game design of whether or not to cripple yourself to turn the tide by killing a key unit.
The problem is that attrition is completely fucked! In Banner Saga the optimal play was to leave weak enemies alive but crippled because they couldn't do anything to you and the enemy had to waste their turn when they came up. It was stupid and counterintuitive, but it at least offered a clear guide to what to do and rewarded figuring out how the system worked.
Ash of Gods doesn't have this. In theory, I can wound an enemy unit down to where they can't use their super moves, but in practice the AI will activate another unit to destroy my now-weakened unit, and at higher difficulty levels the AI straight up begins cheating and gains the ability to go into negative hit points when using abilities (and doesn't die unless one of my crew hits them).
Thus the best units are either units that don't deal with this ass cancer of a mechanic (Thorn, Lo Pheng, Hopper), have ranged attacks (archers), or can mitigate the health loss somehow (People swear by Gleda for this but I don't like her very much)
This is further hurt by the game's insistence on separating mechanics and story that I make fun of constantly. Thorn is supposedly a legendary leader reknowned for leading men into battle, yet he sucks and gets no leader abilities. Sopp is an elite royal bodyguard and is equivalent to Krieger, a provincial political appointee. Flitt and Brett are identical despite Brett being Batman. We get a character later who is mechanically identical to Vai despite having a very different background.
This leads to a discrepancy where the characters are all praising Thorn as a legendary warrior and leader of men when his in-game skills are...jumping up and down like an idiot to deal AoE damage. Thorn really isn't powerful enough to fight by himself in my experience, because his attack is too low for his Parry and Knockback moves to provide enough defense to make him truly survivable. Yet princes send their sons to learn from him, he marries into nobility, and he's so important that Reapers personally show up to confront him. He's the closest we have to an everyman protagonist confronting the Reaping, yet he is a superelite swordsman and heroic commander in every cutscene.
He's also just kind of an asshole. It's not a coincidence we got the options to rob every merchant and murder poor Tenner. Thorn makes an off-handed comment about how he'd take anything for his family, and do we get the opportunity in spades! The writing never manages to portray him as a driven man who'd do anything for his family (a sympathetic motivation) but rather as an angry man stuck leading this cast of unmemorable characters on a pointless journey to do...what, exactly? We know from Hopper and Coronzon that all the menhirs are ruined, but here we are ironically going to one so we can try to get a cure. It doesn't help that Thorn's party is the most ignorant of what's going on, either.
Maybe I'll use this card. I doubt it.
I can't take "Vegan" as a name seriously. I just can't.
: Vegen hurries toward you. "Thorn?! Thorn Brenin?! By thunder and lightning! I never dreamt I'd see you here! I'm so glad, friend! You can't even imagine! Get your companions inside before those abominations return. There will be another attack."
We ask why the gates weren't opened immediately.
: The chief watchman makes a helpless gesture. "They distracted us, those sons of sea urchines! Some of em' climbed over the palisade on the other side. Took some time to beat em' back, run back to the gate, then keep watch on what was left outside."
We, of course, want to know the secrets of abomination prediction.
: Vegen lowers his voice. "I was wondering about that myself. You see, this old healer, Chila, she arrived at the stockade and started raving about it. I almost shooed her off-and that's when the abominations appeared. And then it happened again. From then on, I've listened to every last word she said.
Do we know any old ladies who can predict the future?
: You look around. "She turned out to be a seer? I never thought they were real. I'd like to talk to her. Perhaps she'd predict something of use."
Our only option is to end the conversation and we do that. Before we go, Vegen has some words for us.
: Vegen puts a hand on your shoulder. "If I were you, I wouldn't be so rash. The plague hasn't passed us by. One woman, used to touch the menhir for every sneeze, she tried her luck already. She tried her luck with he stone-that was the end for her. We found a mark on her neck, as if she'd been choked by a flaming noose. Everyone steers clear of the Arch now."
: The head watchman's expression becomes grave. "No, just the masked ones. Though I wouldn't be surprised to see a monster. But I'm no harbor rat, hiding in a dark corner. This is a good place for a breather. Please, make yourself at home. When the abominations come, I'll give the signal. Will you aid an old comrade?"
As much shit as I give Thorn, he does respect his old crew and tries to look after them.
: You nod. "I will. We won't stay long, but we'll give any abomination that comes near that gate a warm welcome. If any crawl through, we'll let you catch them. This is your home turf. In the meantime, we need to rest."
More await! I'm gonna put that off and level up our guys.
Thorn gets an upgrade to knockback so he can use it once every other turn.
Flitt gets a generic attack boost. This increases the damage he does but ALSO increases the amount of damage he deals to himself to use his abilities.
Let's go shopping, we'll be safe from dialog there at lea -
We tell Vegen about the strixes, and:
: You share everything you know about the Reaping with your old friend Vegen, and you also tell him of the useful properties the unusual gems posses.[sic] It seems like you get your point across.
: Vegen thinks it over. "Thanks, old friend, but I'll pass. I don't have extra money for gems, or any chance to look for them, since I'm not leaving the stockade. I believe you'll need them more than I will."
I end up grabbing this steel bracelet and 18 strixes from the menhir figurine. It leaves us at 300 gold, but we're low on strixes and attack boosts are good in this game. Overall, itemization isn't very exciting - you can get...static stat boosts. There's nothing that actually changes your abilities or makes the characters play differently, it's just bigger numbers.
: Hode tosses the comb back on the stall and lets out a disapproving snort. "This isn't for me. I haven't visited Ursus in such a long time. There's a woman there. I want to buy her a gift, but it's so hard to choose."
: You frown. "Well, what kind of woman is she? Come on, you're a prince!"
: Hode looks at you in bewilderment. "I'm talking about my old nurse. Her name's Tante. She nurtured and raised me. She's always held her tongue, the good woman. What do you think I should get her? She's no dignitary, but she already has everything she needs..."
I would have loved to have seen the scene where Hode's trying to buy something for Gleda.
Well, let's talk to Vegen, shall we?
: (Shrugging) It just happened, Thorn. After that Pallian campaign, I served under your brother in law, Brann Vichti. I'm lucky I managed to get out of the capital. He didn't like me much. Maybe because I can't shut up-maybe because you and I are old friends. So no, I never made captain.
Incidentally, I grabbed Vegen's portrait here from the "extras" menu that I discovered recently. It has a pile of character information not revealed in the game. Did you know Tenner is an actual slave? The game says he "was born into a life of indentured servitude" and nowhere does it say he was freed, just that he's friends with our father-in-law and is going to get a pension.
It may or may not interest you to know that Thorn's bio is full of all the sword awards he's won and how he was the kingdom's best swordsman for a decade.
: Where did these Enses come from?
: Who knows? The first few seemed to pop out of thin air right beside the menhir. The rest swarmed in from the outside. I lost too many men-soldiers and villagers alike. The abominations don't seem to wear any armor, but they're hard to kill all the same. It's like stabbing jellyfish with an oar.
This would make more sense if the Ense were noticeably more resilient than human thugs in game, but they're not. They have ranged attacks but move slowly.
: We must have gotten lucky. Our losses were far fewer. The village of Dynford suffered the most. About a hundred locals died, some torn limb from limb while still living.
: And what of Brann?
: They kicked him out of Odalah, he's in Jerana now. He's gained the old king's trust, and he now just does as he pleases. He's in Ursus, at the moment. It's a good thing he wasn't a match for the local commander, fellow by the name of Sheck. Him the king trusts more.
: What are the officials in Jerana thinking? Can't they taste the difference between honey and shit?
: They're cut from the same dirty cloth. All the honorable men joined crown Prince Treeg's army, leaving only scum at the king's court. Lesser nobles are making a stink, of course, but they're not picking fights. Brann has a whole company of mercenaries.
: Did the plague make anyone go mad?
: Every other man has a mark on his neck, but I think everybody has their wits about them. Chila, the healer, she brought some ointment. It doesn't cure the plague, but does relieve the pain. There isn't much of it, but we make do.
: Make do?! You damned...Did you even send for help? Your guards are completely spent.
: All right. I'll see to my duties.
: So much for remembering old times, huh? Couldn't relax then-can't do it now. Well, I want to hear about your family, Thorn. I'm still a bachelor, but you... you're a married man. How are the children?
Foot, meet mouth.
TheGreatEvilKing summary posted:
: My man! How you been?
: Ok, but your brother in law is an idiot who ruined my career.
: Oof. Where did all those Enses come from?
: They teleported. Also they're vile monsters that must be destroyed, but are strangely hard to kill despite being shirtless.
: How's my idiot brother-in-law doing?
: Kissing ass and hiring mercenaries. He's still a moron. What did you do to piss him off?
: My kids' grandfather left Mact and Gleda all his money instead of him, and he's pissed about it. Can't everyone see what a moron he is?
: They're all idiots because all the smart people joined Treeg.
: So why isn't everyone here crazy and murdering each other?
: That Chila lady hooked us up with ointment that makes you not go crazy. How's your family?
: Liki's dead!
Flitt's up next.
: You notice Flitt shambling among the bodies. He stoops, picks up the curious Ense weapon, and regards it intently. You approach him.
: What can you tell me of the menhirs?
: Why are these Enses so intent on getting to the menhirs? The abominations aren't that numerous. If each Berkanan kingdom sent just one detachment to every stone, the Enses wouldn't stand a chance. Can the manuscripts explain that?
: What do you think about the Reaping?
: I don't know what to make of it anymore. I've always thought the legends were nothing more than tall tales. But recent events have proven me wrong...
Flitt, you said you were going to die. That's not nothing.
Did I mention there's an achievement for keeping Flitt alive?
: Rack your brain-you could remember something. We need every bit of knowledge that might be of use.
: Why do you stare at the Enses?
: I'm curious. They're foreigners. Their swords... In the old chronicles, there are instances of the Qimra wielding these lanshes. Some people believe that Enses and Qimra are the same people-or that perhaps the Qimra are their descendants.
: (Noticing your bewilderment) Lanshes are what old scribes call these swords. The wielder, they say, commands the blade with pure thought-and his lansh only answers to him. The Qimra... well, they're a nomadic tribe that lives on the other side of the Milky Mountains.
TheGreatEvilKing summary posted:
: What are you doing, nerd?
: Trying to figure out the forces that are trying to, you know, kill us all.
: What if we just sent soldiers to all the menhirs to kill the abominations? There aren't a lot of them, we could just end this.
: Not sure, but old scribes describe them as teleporting in. Our soldiers can't deal with that.
: No idea. I'll let you know if anything comes up.
: Get anything out of that dead Ense?
: He's got a weird telekinetic sword called a lanshe. Some people called the Qimra can use them two, maybe the two peoples are related? I'm sure we won't meet any Qimra, so this isn't important.
Lastly, we'll talk with Ramlin again.
: No, I've not. Never even ventured this far out. I've heard of such a menhir though. When I was a kid, my granny told me the story of a warrior who walked between two menhirs and was rejuvenated.
: Must be a Vandil tale, I'm not familiar with it. Do you think it's about this menhir here? If so, that Vandil must have traveled very far from home.
: Just like my granny. She used to tell me stories of her homeland. Said she'd never have left, had she not fallen in love with my grandfather.
TheGreatEvilKing summary posted:
: If you walk under the double menhirs, you might get healed!
She has gold eyes.
Hang on, we know at least two ladies who can predict the future. One is Amma, and this looks nothing like her. The other?
Hopper's Chapter 3 posted:
: I dreamt of a terrifying hag who foretold your arrival. She tried to soothe me-said you'd help.
Now, we know one of the two was interested in Gleda, and it wasn't Amma.
: You must already know what I want. It's not every day that one meets a seer, let alone a seer whose prophecies come true.
Decisions lie before us!
What do we ask this powerful witch? Yes, if you all want, we can nope the hell out of here. We still don't know what her game is except that she is messing with the Reaping, cursed Hopper, and has an interest in Gleda.