It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.
Before we delve into the open combat, here's a check-list of the diaries so far...
If you've only been following what's been linked here, you won't have read either Sponge or Hentazu's 21-30 turn reports, so head over there and come back.
Turn 31 - Kieron:
So it appears it wasn't a misreading of Scrof's character at all. But in Solium Infernum, the actual turn results aren't telling the full story. Between this turn and the last there's been desperate begging on my part not to go into war. My attack was opportunistic, etc. I realise exactly how close to the edge he's been pushed, in terms of being openly furious. Everyone's robbing him blind - I didn't realise at the time, but does serve him right for going for a Charisma build - and he's virtually tied down. I basically offer to help him out against Zah'hak by bringing my own powers to bear. While the actual deal appears to have been done in an exchange transcript, here's a snippet of the talk around the game at this point...
KG: Are we still working together then? I'm altering my diplomatic status to your little friend. Tell me when, and I'll rob him blind.
Scrof: Yep, but Sponge is pressing down on my north and I can't afford to lose the Temple of Lust. Won't be in a position to do anything for a few turns.
KG: May just rob him blind anyway. Sponge will be trouble. He clearly thinks you're the biggest threat.
Scrof: Sigh. I'm totally shut down. Nothing I can do as long as I'm still the target for Looting the Vaults.
KG: Gimme a few turns and I'll steal his praetors to equalise the armies a bit.
I can't even remember now what was truth and what was lies. It's that kind of game. One thing which strikes me as probably honest is the Praetors situation. I know I need them. Everyone else has neat ones. I only have a feathered chap. It's time to take one.
Turn 31 – Quinns:
FUCKING SPEEDO DEMON. I want to go to war with the bastard. I want to place a thumb on his meagre legions and holdings, apply some pressure and smear them across the map, but I can't.
The problem here is that Speedo owns a properly ludicrous praetor, a massive minotaur with a hitpoints stat that suggests he's not made of flesh but cast in iron. I absolutely can't let Speedo determine the terms of a vendetta between us, because he always picks single combat of champions and then puts forward this brick shithouse. To set the terms myself and get the ground war I want I need Speedo to refuse one of my demands, but I can't get a word in edgeways because Speedo's ceaselessly demanding things from me, thereby tying up our diplomatic status. I'm rapidly starting to see him as my nightmarish wife.
Gurgh. Looks like if I want a war, I'm going to have to pick on somebody my own size. How tedious. And I definitely do want a war, or two, or three. Sitting here and turtling, I'm not going to win, but if I start fighting I might win or lose. Not exactly a hard choice.
Turn 34 – Quinns:
Here we go! This is gonna be rocky.
I'm maneuvering my armies into a position that'll let me begin two separate aggressions, one against Kieron in the North and another against Zah'hak in the south. If that sounds risky, it's because it is. If it sounds stupid, well, I guess it's that too, but just let me explain my reasoning.
(1) I can't be sure if either Kieron or Zah'hak will accept my demand, thereby stopping my would-be war in its tracks. If I make demands from both of them I can expect at least one of them to refuse. (2) I have an emergency failsafe if either fight gets out of hand. It's an event card called A Great Fissure, and it'll let me turn a couple of cantons on the map into an impassable chasm (potentially swallowing any legions occupying those cantons, too). If Kieron or Zah'hak try and turn a victorious defense into a retaliatory invasion, in theory I'll be able to simply sunder the ground between us.
Besides, fortune favours the bold, right?
Turn 34 - Kieron
As expected since he was slinking his hyperunit close to the border, Quinns has made a demand. This turn, after some thinking, I reject it. I'm pretty sure I've got his number.
His mega army is the Chosen of Quinns. Its stats are 8/14/3 with 17 Health points. What I have to face him is my disciples, who are a 10/3/3 with 13 health points. That's actually my one decent unit which I received because I'm a prince, and it clearly hasn't got a chance in a stand up biff fight against Quinns' monster. Unless I do something to twist the odds a little.
Looking through the Bazaar, I've seen someone who could do exactly this. I've just bought him. He's the chap who's going to throw a spanner in the works.
Descarbia is a pretty decent little Praetor in a fight, and gives two bonuses to any unit he leads. Firstly, +3 to ranged. Secondly, the ability "Ranged Twice". What does that do? Well, as the manual helpfully states: "The Ranged round occurs twice in battle". Now that's interesting. As you may remember from last time, Ranged damage happens before Melee damage before Infernal damage. Ranged is the only stat I already have an edge on Quinns. Unless Quinns throws something else onto the unit, the combat will go...
Ranged attack, Me 13 versus Quinns 8. -5HP to Quinns.
2nd Ranged attack - another -5HP.
Melee - Me 3 versus Quinns 14. -11HP to me.
Infernal - equal, so no damage.
Second round starts, which is the same as the first. So I do another 10HP damage, killing his unit before he gets a chance to remove those last two HPs from my Chosen. I win. The Vendetta will still be on, allowing me to march forward, reclaim my terrain and start chewing on his land.
I'll wait until the last minute to actually add Descarbia, to prevent Quinns from being able to do the maths. I also plan to zap him with my new level 1 wrath ability, which just does some HP damage to soften him up before the battle. As the turn hits, he hasn't added anything... I'm actually quietly confident. As long as he doesn't do anything, I've got him.
Turn 36 - Kieron:
I can't believe the turn results. It actually takes several seconds for me to work out what's happened. Quinns didn't do anything. It went according to plan, except...
Looking through the results shows a couple of problems. The first drives me to teeth-grating rage, writing polite-yet-seething mails to designer Vic Davis, having to explain the whole combat system to Delightful Girlfriend for her to get why I was in a black mood and losing an hour's sleep as I seethe restlessly. The second is fine.
The first? Well "The Ranged round occurs twice in battle" in the manual is somewhat deceptive. What it actually means is "A second ranged round occurs every round, at the end of the combat round". So even under ideal circumstances, I'd only have done 5 damage, he'd have done 11, then I'd have done 5 again. Then we'd have the second round, where I'd have done 5, and he'd have done 11 and killed me with a couple of health-points left. "Ranged before Melee before Infernal" is one of the key golden rules of the game's combat. That this isn't true in this situation and that it isn't in the manual is... well, awesomely frustrating.
As I wrote recently, humanity can stand anything but unfairness. This felt awesomely, epically unfair. I'd actually digested the rules. It's just that the rules were wrong. The game's been going on for a couple of weeks by now. It's a battle which a lot weighs upon - the majority of mine and Quinns' military strength. Quinns beating me would have be fine. Random luck beating me would be fine. But for something to be something entirely out of my control sickened me. I haven't felt as low related to a videogame for all of 2009. I'm still angry at it now, especially as far as I can see, the Manual hasn't been altered. My mail to Vic was, apparently, one of the politest he's received on the topic. VIC! DOES THIS GIVE YOU A CLUE SOMETHING IS SERIOUSLY FUCKING AMISS? YOU HAVE DRIVEN PEOPLE MENTAL.
(He's actually altered it in-game in a recent patch, however. So he's not all bad.)
Of course, it doesn't matter anyway. Luck had also turned against me. In the last episode, I mentioned there were some modifiers which could apply to combat. Basically, at the start of combat a random number is added to a unit's level. The person who is highest has "a small bonus in a random, non-zero combat attribute that it possesses". My unit and Quinns' were the same level. He'd got a higher random roll. It had randomly been added to his ranged. So that alone was a 16-17% chance. And the small bonus was +3. Which isn't a small bonus. That's a free artifact. The manual stating what "small" means (i.e. "A 1-3 bonus" or whatever) would have been helpful, to say the least.
(For perspective, if the random odds were the other way around, that +3 would have been enough for me to kill Quinns, even with the changed turn-order. Hell, even a +1 to ranged would have done.)
Fans of Solium Infernum will say that you really need to read the manual to play it properly. What they don't say is that sometimes it doesn't bloody matter.
FUCKINGSHITPISSINGBASTAR--oh, waitasec. Plan B.
Turn 36 – Quinns:
Zah'hak didn't bite, but Kieron did. Poor Kieron. I'm currently devoting myself in my mighty entireity to tearing a chunk out of his territory. Again. He doesn't have any nearby Places of Power, so this time I've set my victory condition for the vendetta as capturing 4 of his cantons. This is thoroughly useless territory I'm taking, but it doesn't matter. I'm in this for nothing more than the prestige of slapping a weakling into submission.
I'm thoroughly enjoying our war so far, I must say. It's been invigorating and refreshing, like a fruity beverage. I can't believe I spent so long sitting on my hands, content to let the prestige roll in from my places of power! This is much more fun.
Kieron's Very Angry about losing our first fight. He did come surprisingly close to winning, but a ritual he'd targeted at my advancing legion didn't work. I've attempted to soothe him by hinting that it wasn't just bad luck, because at character creation I took the perk that helps me resist deceit rituals. With any luck, he believed me. That might put a stop to him targeting me with them in the future.
In the same conversation Kieron came out with this, which makes me smile:
"I fully admit, I was relying on your overconfidence. IT ANNOYS ME THAT IT WASN'T QUITE ENOUGH."
Turn 36 - Kieron:
You know, if you have to rely on one thing, surely you can rely on Quinns' overconfidence? He's worse than I am.
As an aside, worth noting that I did fall for Quinns' lie about the anti-deceit perk. While it doesn't stop me actually using deceit rituals against him when I need to further in the game, it does mean that he's never my first target for opportunistic pilfery and that whenever I use a ritual against him and it works, I'm grateful for my good luck.
How dare he lie to me? That's my job.
Turn 37 - Kieron:
For some reason, I turn down Speedo's demand - almost certainly because I want my resources right now - which means he claims vendetta by single combat. I'm not going to send any of my Praetors to die on his blade, but it's the last straw. I'm going to have to do something about Speedo after I win with this Vendetta against Quinns.
No, I haven't given up. I'm blasting Quinns with destruction blasts, but they're not even fazing his unit. There is a back up plan.
Meet the back up plan, freshly bought from the Bazaar.
More on this in a couple of turns. With any luck, it will involve Quinns screaming.
Turn 38 – Quinns:
I can dance all day! I CAN DANCE ALL DAY! My conquest of Kieron's territory continues unabated. Better still, I've just picked up a lovely trinket from the infernal bazaar - The Tongue of the Liar.
Ah- don't touch it! You don't know where it's been (aside from in the mouth of a liar). So, yes- this relic gives me a bonus to my deceit, which bumps me up to a high enough deceit level to steal other relics from my enemies. And hey! All I need to do is steal one relic and I'll have completed my chosen objective, Envy. That'll net me a cool 30 prestige at the end of the game.
And it only gets better! For the first time in real-life weeks I've managed to get a word in edgeways at the Infernal Conclave and make a demand of Speedo Demon before he makes one of me. Next turn I'll have completed my vendetta against Kieron just in time to turn on Speedo Demon if he's stupid enough to refuse my demand.
Jesus though, the pace of this game is getting more and more fierce. Not only are our archfiends becoming richer and more powerful, we're all improving our personal grasp of the rules and subtleties of Solium. This game is starting to feel like kayaking down rapids. Worse, the game only ends when the conclave casts all 15 of its votes as to which of us will be the new leader of Hell. At the time of writing, they've cast... 6. Seems we're in this for the long haul.
Turn 39 - Kieron:
Plan B is go!
Turn 39 – Quinns:
Haha. Hahaha. Fuck Kieron with an icicle.
The super Legion that's kept me safe the whole game, the Chosen of Quinns, were intercepted by one of Kieron's legions as they moved to take the last canton needed to fulfill my vendetta. It was a massacre, of course, but Kieron equipped his boys with the Orb of Oblivion, an artifact that mysteriously vanished from the bazaar a few turns back. It meant my legion was obliterated after they won the battle. Well played, Kieron. Well. Fucking. Played.
This is more than a setback. This is... this is, this is. This. Yeah. Not only have I just lost all the prestige I bet on the vendetta and handed it to Kieron, but I've also just gone from having a northern border so strong I could make demands of my neighbours to my northern border being totally defenseless. With the exception of my places of power, it's barren. And this is the goddamn turn goddamn Speedo Demon chooses what to do about my goddamn demand. Prior to losing my legion, this was my chance to deal out some payback.
I'll have my revenge on Kieron, but there's simply no time to think about vengeance now. I need to heal, and think.
Turn 39 - Kieron:
Yes, I turned a cheap-ass unit into a suicide bomber. Never give up, never surrender, etc.
For all my grouching upthread, this is absolutely Solium Infernum at its best. As Quinns said around the time, one of the things he likes is that no matter how much someone looked screwed, they can totally show their teeth. I've actually won the Vendetta - Quinns' unit was annihilated before it could claim the last hex - and removed Quinns' best unit from the game. Being his chosen, it will re-incarnate - but it'll reincarnate with lower stats. Quinns' no longer an unassailable military superpower. Game on.
With hindsight, I'd fucked up a bit with the battle. Blasting the enemy was stupid. Rather than the destruction, I should have used the level 1 deceit skill which would have - since I had Deceit 4 - would have allowed me to reduce one of his skills by a big old chunk (1-6+4, if memory serves). There may have been a reason I didn't do it, of course, like a lack of funds. But still! You live, you learn. Except Descarbia, who is screaming in the pit. Serves him right, him with his silly rules.
Turn 40 – Quinns:
Right. Not only did Speedo refuse my demand, therefore allowing me to claim a vendetta if I only had a legion left to actually fight him, Kieron's made a demand of me. Urgh, irony. That Northern front suddenly looks like my deathbed, and the expense of buying a legion, equipping it, and marching them up there to protect me would be immense. I can't possibly afford that.
I guess I'll bow to Kieron's demand and fob him off with what have to be the last 4 crap tribute cards in the entire game. Oh, and it's only this turn that I've only just figured out how to draw secret objectives. God damnit. It'd be ridiculous to draw one this late in the game, with so little time to fulfill it.
Wait. Oh my. I've just figured out how I can claim that vendetta and go to war with Speedo Demon while keeping my forces in the south. Oh my goodness. Oh, I'm going to enjoy this.