The Halfling’s Lament

Note: Early in my blogging, I wrote imaginary tales using my toons to greater illustrate issues or techniques. Not only does it give me some writing practice, it’s hopefully less boring to read than a stodgy, dry post about how the game is played from the real-life mechanics we see as the player. So, indulge me while I introduce a new build of mine, Cassietetica, who has trained a few levels of Monk but has a calling to the rogueish arts. Cassie is my first serious attempt at multiclassing using 2 or more Monk levels. Either she will end up 18 Rogue/3 Monk (I moved to three Monk levels to gain negative energy attacks/debuffs using Fists of Darkness) or the more likely move to 14/6, where Cassie trains to Ninja Spy I for its invisibility, stealth, and shortsword prowess benefits. In any case, trapfinding and lockpicking will be Cassie’s speciality.

– ~ ~ ~ –

tavernSounds of smashing chairs, loud music and conversations assailed my ears just on cracking open the door to the Wayward Lobster tavern.

Adventurers and city-folk from all walks of life sat or stood about in conversation. A few people looked at me for a moment. I had the feeling I was being assessed to see if I could be helpful in some way.

A halfling girl looked up from her tankard but didn’t drop her gaze at me. With a barely perceptible movement, she motioned me over to sit. I recalled my notes from the abbotess Syncletica: the halfling matched the description that the sensei gave me.

“You one of Syncletica’s?” the halfling asked, not taking her eyes off me as she took a draw from her tankard.

“I am. My chosen name is Cassietetica.”

The halfling slammed down her mug a little loudly and wiped the foam off her mouth with her forearm. “Someday, somebody’s going to explain to me why all of you make such complicated names for yourselves. Can’t just have a simple name like the rest of us.”

“Cassie’s my birth name. My new name just illustrates my allegiance to my vocation,” I said, taking a seat at the table and regretting it immediately. Apparently I sat in a small puddle of something that began to soak through the bottom of my robe.

Allysen drank the last of her ale and put the mug aside. “”Vocation”, huh? Most people that Syn recruits just do their monk thing. It’s pretty cool to see them at work, sure. I don’t get along with most of them, though. Too goody-two-shoes. They aren’t into the adventure for the money, you might say. I sniff out a chest but they’re somewhere else, fighting.”

The rogue motioned at the barkeeps for another round. She pointed at me to ask if I cared for a half-pint. I raised my hand, shaking my head.

The new tankard arrived and Allysen took a long swig before saying, “I do like one of them–Ryncletica. She can’t bust a lock open worth a damn but she can avoid getting frozen and fried by a trap better than I can. Good fighter, too. I thought I was invisible. She can go invisible anytime she wants.

The rogue stretched her small figure across to the adjoining table on my left to steal a bowl of nuts to chew on. “But you. I can see something’s different about you. In fact…” The rogue squinted at me, reached over to my right arm and tapped my sleeve, slowly and emphatically with her index finger.

“I knew it. You’ve got thieves tools in there. Don’t know of any Monks that can pick locks–or think it’s right to do so.”

“That’s why the sensei asked you to meet me. I have some basic training in the martial arts. I know my basic elemental forms. However–the dojo cannot teach me all that I want to know.”

“You want to go rogue,” Allysen said, her voice muffled a bit by a mouthful of peanuts.

“For most of my training, yes.”

“Why not go all the way?”

I crossed my arms. “Because you die too easily.

Bits of peanut stung my face as Allysen coughed. “You take that back!” she yelled. Her right hand left the table surreptitiously while her left rose to point an angry finger at me.

“Calm down…and keep your blade sheathed. It wasn’t meant to be an insult. We can’t all be everything. I wouldn’t ask you to lead a charge against a pit fiend, and I can’t either. But the sensei said that you were a good rogue and could give me some advice.”

“Advice, huh?” the rogue said, the flickering anger fading from her eyes. A trace of a smile darted on and off the corners of Allysen’s mouth before she said, “Sure. But talk ain’t cheap. You’ll have to make it worth my while.”

I pulled out a small bag and placed it atop the table. “This is the pre-arranged fee for your time. I’d ask you not to haggle for anything else.”

Allysen looked a bit disappointed as she took the bag. “Was hoping that somebody else was going to pay me so I could cash in a little more.”

“You were actually going to con me out of more money in addition to what the sensei planned to pay you?”

“It’s our way. You shouldn’t be surprised. Boy, you got a long way to go before you’re going to be a good rogue,” she said, pouring the platinum coins into her hand, eyes darting about in a silent count before returning them to the bag, her head bobbing a couple of times in satisfaction.

“That’s just it, Allysen. Our dojo could use more money for our charitable work. You’d be surprised how many places get damaged from invasions, the wars, people displaced and out on the streets. We do alright in trading what we find to the shopkeepers–”

“And I bet they rip you off. That’s why I haggled you. If you don’t know the better part of negotiating, things get expensive real fast. Might want to spend time learning to haggle.”

I nodded. “I don’t think I can afford to. In any case, our costs in repairing our own equipment, combined with selling equipment and tending to our clinic for injuries, is barely helping to make ends meet for the dojo and those we care for.”

The rogue sighed. “And you want to cash in a bit more.”

“If I can find and retrieve more gear in an adventure without great expenditures to repair items or my injuries  in that adventure, it would help a lot. Of course, that would include accessing locked doors and the chests behind them.

“So you’re here to test out.”

“Someone in the Free Agents told me that you’d put in a good word to start me off with better rogue tools if you tested me.”

“Bunch of damned liars. As if I had any influence with them. Still, I’m curious myself.” Allysen pulled out a small wooden box, flat like a book, from side pocket of her armor. “Okay, let’s test you out. Open this up.”

At first I reached for the box but stopped myself. One of Allysen’s eyebrows rose as well as a corner of her mouth.

“Good. I thought you were going to get a faceful of water. Rogues always look before they touch anything. Examine the floor, the walls. The walls next to those walls and floors ahead and behind. Traps can be anywhere.” She motioned at the box. “It’s still not open, though.”

I pulled a lock pick from my sleeve and a pair of goggles to examine the box. Something about one top corner didn’t look right. I plunged the pick’s tip into a small hole and heard a snapping sound.

“Very good. That was the water trap disarming,” Allysen said. “You heard that snap?”

“Yes.”

“Must be your half-elven blood,” she said. I apparently gasped when she revealed her observation. “Yeah, I could see the traces of your ear points,” she admitted. “Most of you look a bit prettier than ordinary humans, too. Keep going on that box.”

I examined the rest of the box and noticed an almost imperceptible crease on the left side. Carefully holding one side, I scooted a finger over the crease and pushed.

I heard a snap–but was thankful it wasn’t the sound of my finger getting crunched.

“That was the second trap. Nice. A rogue can’t assume that one chest has only one trap or one control box. There could be several traps and control boxes. Let’s see what else you find.”

I picked up the box. On its underside was a tiny keyhole. I took out my lock pick set and carefully worked. After a few moments, the box clicked. I twisted the box and out dropped a small copper coin.

The rogue smiled as she took the box and coin, fiddling with it to reset it back. “I’m impressed. That’s a pretty high-difficulty lock I made on that Rogue’s Toy. So you got some good instincts and skills. If you keep up on your training, buy or find some better gear, I bet you’ll be fine.”

She leaned across the table. “So–why are you really here?”

“My problem–is how to keep better defenses as I train. If I am to fight in the monastic way, I can’t wear that light leather armor that you do. It’s too heavy and cumbersome. It…disturbs my calm.”

Allysen realized the problem. “But wearing that dress of yours is liable to get you cut up and pounded silly. Not a lot of protection on robes.”

“No. One discipline will help as I train–but only to a point if I train more on rogue skills than monastic ones.”

“So outside of your robes, there’s always better bracers, rings, necklaces.”

“I was hoping that you would know more sources.”

“That’s more of a question for Ryncletica, I think.”

We sat in silence for a bit before Allysen said, “I’ll admit something. I’ve been at this trapper thing for a while now. Lately it’s been quite a grind, very challenging. I can sneak into places just fine, usually find the nastier traps and pay the bills for my party. But when a fight shows up nowadays…” she stopped talking, shaking her head.

My monastic training, limited as it was, could detect a pale aura about Allysen. A trace of it stays around everyone that’s been killed but resurrected before their soul becomes too long detached from their body. The more deaths you experience, the brighter or more substantial that aura becomes to those trained to see it. Allysen’s aura practically formed a grayish silhouette about her body, as if her body smoldered after being scorched often.

“The game, the hunt…it isn’t what it’s used to be. I may have to–go back to get some better training.” The rogue had been twirling her testing box in her hands absentmindedly before she realized what she was doing and put the box back in her satchel.

excerpt_rogue1“I hear this from Ryncletica so much that I want to punch her in the face, but I want to hear it from you, Cassie…somebody that gets the rogueish way of doing things. How are you planning to survive in places where enemies are far tougher? I’m good with my quarterstaffs but…I guess I’m just not fast enough.”

I took a breath before I answered. “Rogue skills are often just straight training.  I’ve been taught that, if you have only one way to fight, there will be many more ways that an enemy has to kill you. The monastic arts allow me to be fast and nimble, like you. But I can also change my fighting stances. Be a little stronger, wiser, flexible, faster or durable.  Learning to stun things helps. Elemental attacks to my fighting help a lot. Keeping out of sight–well, I don’t have to tell you how handy that can be.”

“I don’t get into that book-learning. I think learning on the job and using what you see is better.”

“For Monks, what you call ‘book-learning’ is wisdom that improves our mystical powers. Without it, it would be like a wizard that didn’t study and so can’t use magic spells or have much in the way of spell energy to wield them.”

Allysen’s attention didn’t waver. “Go on,” she said.

“I’m not sure how much you fight..but maybe fighting is the problem. I’ve learned from Teacher Ryncletica that fighting is not the first option of the ninja. Maybe it shouldn’t be the first option of a rogue, either. Which means, we need to be able to stay out of sight but also to maximize our prowess should we get cornered.”

“I should learn to stun things, then,” smashing one fist into the palm of her other hand. “Gods know that my paralyzing quarterstaff isn’t as good against the nastiest hordes.”

“Maybe. You might need to get stronger first to make stunning work with a staff. The monastic way is different there, emphasizing attention to finding vulnerable points on the body using ki and wisdom, not strength. Might help your damage quite a bit, too.”

Allysen shifted in her chair uncomfortably, grabbing  her head suddenly as if she thought it would fall off her neck. “Ugh. Too much ale. Okay, okay…maybe I need more sword training, too, as  as a backup.”

“Perhaps. A staff is like my fists–it bludgeons an attacker but isn’t as good against things that are more resilient. It’s zombies that I dislike. I cannot use my negative energy attacks on them and they don’t drop as well from martial attacks. I carry around a kama for those occasions.”

“That hooked thing? I would think a shortsword would do better.”

“It isn’t. You need to slash zombies apart, not ventilate them like a leather punch on hide. Shortswords just pierce.”

Allysen looked off to the side in thought before suddenly turning her head to me, chin lifted in challenge. “What’s the three most important abilities to you, in doing what you’re trying to do? So you can still open locks and find traps but still use your bar-brawling fisticuff stuff?”

I scratched my head and said. “First, keeping dexterous. That helps my reflexes and perhaps how much armor protection I gain from monastic training. Next, staying wise, which also helps my mystical armor but also helps determine my overall ki.” When Allysen’s eyes squinted, I said, “Ki is like the spell energies of a wizard or sorcerer but for Monks.”

The bar noises overtook us again as we sat without talking before Allysen opened up the bag I gave her and put down three platinum coins. “Here,” she said.

“What’s this for?”

“For your advice. Can’t earn a living for free, you know.”

“Thanks,” I said, gathering up the coin and standing up.

“Good luck out there. Shoot me a Orienmail if you need something,” Allysen said with two fingers from her forehead in salute.

I bowed and left the bar. I wondered if the sensei wanted me to teach more to Allysen than the rogue would be able to teach me. There are times I don’t understand our ways.

But then, as Allysen hinted, a rogue does things her way, and it’s not the same for every rogue. Perhaps I may have to do things differently. Use swords sometime, like Teacher Ryncletica. Or consider a quarterstaff. I can still show charity, but I would do so through subterfuge, rather than brute force. I can tell that Ryncletica’s Dark School may be more useful to me, at least to training level 6.

If I can find that path that joins the monastic and rogueish craft, I might find my answers.

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