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The RPG Scrollbars: Conning Purple

Grifting in an Age of Decadence

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After what seems like forever, but has really just been ages, Age of Decadence [official site] is out and ready to kick your arse/ass (delete according to your ability to pronounce ‘aluminium’). I’ve not had much time to put into it myself yet, but I’m looking forward to doing so, not least because of the promise of not being your usual combat heavy RPG. There’s combat, but also plenty of scope for talking your way out of problems, as well as a cast not all patterned after the knight that can only tell the truth from that tiresome logic puzzle. You know. Towers of Hanoi.

What really caught my attention on firing it up though was one of the character classes – “Grifter”. Hmm. How would that go? No weapons, just wits. Time to hustle.

I do like the classes/background choices here. Assassin. Thief. Drifter. Loremaster. Along with the up-front warning that getting into fights is likely to end as abruptly and painfully as trying in the real world, it’s a good pointer that thinking things through will be rather more important than usual. As a Grifter, you start as a wandering unknown, no positive or negative rep with any of the different factions. Somewhat disappointingly though, while you can obviously create either a male or female character, the female ones all look distinctly like a man in a dress who lost a bet. Anyhoo, no matter.

In stats, I lower Strength and Constitution on the grounds that I don’t really want to be hit at all and pump them into Intelligence and Charisma. I give myself some sword skills and dodging, but mostly focus on Civil skills – and ooh, so many to choose from. Impersonate. Persuasion. Lockpicking? The 70 points don’t last long. As with the classes though, I love the level descriptions – Streetwise for instance going from “You’re the proud owner of a new bridge” to “It’s not a lie if you believe it.” Etiquette goes from “You can belch your own name and regularly demonstrate this talent in company” to “The brothel whores consider you quite fancy.”

I crank up the griftiest skills and head out to not give suckers an even break.

The story kicks off in the town of Brown. Sorry, Teron. It’s poor, mean, and on the edge of collapsing on its own failure. Clearly, I chose a bountiful place to harvest gullibility. As I arrive in the tavern, for once not full of handy mercenaries to join my team and die for my selfish acts, a storyteller tries to fill my head with lore. I ignore him and chat instead with an old friend and fellow con-artist, Petras. We’re just getting into it when a merchant type approaches the innkeeper demanding to see a Loremaster.

What’s that? Oh, those are some convenient robes. Yes, yes, of course I can help you. A map? Ah. I see that to the simple eye, it might look valuable. Thor-Agoth seals have that effect on the weaker minds. With luck and skill and the fact that this is a tutorial quest and so I’m pretty sure impossible to fail, I persuade him to hand both it and a bag of gems across. Petras rushes off before anyone can notice the healing potions he’s been selling are just dye in water. I head off to sell this map before anyone asks any questions. Especially “Oi, don’t I know this from somewhere?”

But first, to business. A local preacher is trying to convince a crowd that the world is spiralling into the kind of chaos and deprivation that makes Dark Souls look like a pleasant holiday destination, and I sit around for a while to see where it goes. He doesn’t have much luck, but nobody throws stones at him. That’s probably as much as he could hope for. When he’s done, I slink up and try to raise his spirits in the hope of being able to turn this to my advantage. It goes pretty well. I easily convince him that I agree with him. Time to raise the con. Can I persuade him that I’m not simply a believer, but sent by the gods themselves to guide the righteous to glory?

No. Sadly, no. “They test us, place pleasing deceptions in our path to see if we stray. I want to believe your words, but they ring false in my heart.” Spoilsport. The fun I could have had with my own cult of personality. Well. Onwards!

Knocking on a random door, a woman draped with jewels answer. “Ah! You must be Lady Anthea! I’m happy to inform you that Lord Gaelius has agreed!” It sounds convincing, though I have no idea who those people are. Luckily, the woman, Lady Camilla, does, and wants to know more. i fill her head with fictional gossip about Lord Gaelius and his delinquent nephew in need of a good wife, and my current quest to play matchmaker. All very serious stuff, you know. Camilla immediately points out that she would make a good candidate, but… oh. Oh, alas. The young man has already chosen, and it would be most embarrassing and costly and expensive to try changing his mind. Did I mention expensive? It’s like costly’s big brother. Luckily, she agrees that to make money, you have to spend money, and promptly hands over several well-cut gems.

Well, that worked out pretty well. Just think, in The Witcher 3, Geralt would have risked life and limb for that kind of reward, while the worst threat here is a slammed door or a little impromptu cardio with some guards. I pocket the loot and head off.

Exploring more, I pass the Loremaster, Feng. Ah, yes. The map. It’s probably not worth very much, but it’d be a mistake not to at least find out. I have Feng appraise it, and his eyes light up. “I… I can’t believe it! It can’t be…” He puts the map down, looking shocked. “This, my friend, is an extremely valuable artefact. I’ll be honored to research it for you, but it will cost you 50 imperials.”

Uh-huh. In the words of Sun-Tzu, “Don’t bullshit a bullshitter.” My Grifting and Streetwise skills flare up instantly. “Easy there, Feng, don’t play that one on me. Let’s leave this ‘Valuable Artefact’ act for farmers and discuss a reasonable price.’

He chuckles; no harm, no foul. “Alright. I wouldn’t pay 10 coins for it, but I know someone who’ll give you 100 Imperials. That’s what you’ll pay me 20 imperials for.”

Fair enough. Even if he’s lying, that’s pocket change. He directs me to someone called Antidas, before casually adding that as the town loremaster, he’s not a huge fan of competition. Bad news for another loremaster, Cassius, currently hanging out at the tavern. Feng promises profit if he should find himself not wishing to be in town any more, or not in need of oxygen. Either is fine. I talk him up from 50 to 60 imperials and head over to see what’s going on. For starters, it appears I’ve become psychic.

Seriously, how the crap did I know any of that?

No matter. He wants to see Lord Antidas, and coincidentally, that’s exactly the guy I need to sell a map to. I can choose to lead him to an abandoned building and introduce him to the business end of my knife, or help make that connection. Opportunity!

By leading him to Antidas and backstabbing Feng, because seriously, fuck Feng, I prove myself useful and trustworthy. Funny how these things work out, really. The guard grumbles that he had a whole other quest in mind for this, but nope. Nope. There’ll be no slaying rats or delivering packages or finding your underpants for you today.

The only catch – what if Feng’s words about the map were a lie?

Ah, hell, you mean I’ve walked right into a prophecy? Those are always trouble. Almost as much trouble as trying to keep a straight face in front of Biggus Dickus here.

Antidas spins a yarn involving temples and godlike monsters and lost treasure and all I hear is “NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE”. I smile politely and wait for the lore to stop, before making my leave without even getting my 100 Imperials. Goddamn Feng. I’m glad I stabbed you in the back. Why can’t you be more like this trustworthy fellow?

Did I say trustworthy? I meant the other thing. A total amateur. I point out that his deal is clearly too good to be true, but he’s unabashed. “If you’re having doubts and more comfortable paying double at the market, who am I to stop you?”

Right. Yeah. Why wouldn’t I trust his face? This face.

In short: haha, no. Thanks, but I’m not going to your house to buy your ‘surprisingly good value’ items. I think we both know how that would end up, don’t we?

Why, I bet there’d even be a custom death screen, like in Quest For Glory.

Just a guess, mind you. So no. Forget it. Tell it to someone who’s not a total tunahead. Or at least one not hunting around for any more opportunities in this little berg. Not every opportunity seems open to my skills. The assassins guild certainly aren’t interested in giving me a job, though the Imperial Guard only seems to care that you’re warm and breathing. They promise free daily rations and armour if you sign up, as well as the chance to see the world and kill interesting people. All you have to do is swear loyalty. And of course, swearing loyalty just means saying words. I say lots of words. It fell off a cart. Of course it’s a real topaz. Myst is a fantastic game.

Sadly, my decision to dump Strength in favour of Charisma means their doors are closed to me. Not enough muscles, not enough time to build them. “You’re not Imperial Guard material,” the guard insists. Well, fine. I didn’t want your poxy supplies anyway.

Time to leave this town and seek fortune elsewhere. Aside from anything else, I’m not entirely thrilled by how they handle justice in these parts. Whatever happened to comfortable cells where inmates get Playstations and practice macrame?

Yeah. Probably better scoot before anyone starts asking questions about their gold, their jewels, their maps, or that whole ‘quest’ thing that I intend to put off as long as possible because it sounds really dangerous. Not quite as dangerous as pulling this shit on me or anything, but, y’know, pretty darn dangerous…

Oh, please. That old routine wouldn’t scam a rube in Baldur’s Gate. You insult me.

Time to move on. The rest of the world beckons. And this is interesting – that while most games wait until the end to show you what happened, Age of Decadence warns you up-front what the results of your decisions were when you leave town.

So, Master Feng is in Ganezzar? Let me just make a mental note to avoid there until I’ve found someone to craft a really, really nice fruit basket. First though, it’s time to level up and move from rolling over a small town to an entire city. Maadoran, a place of minarets and sandstone domes and, almost certainly, many, many suckers.

Wouldn’t want to live there. But to a professional grifter, it has… potential.

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Richard Cobbett

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