Tom always smiled and waved at everyone he passed, from the highest Dittomancer to the lowliest Luckamancer. They were all fellow casters, after all. More importantly, you never knew when someone would have a job suddenly come up, and they might want some muscle when they went negotiating with a king. He’d known too many good casters who’d contracted with rulers who decided to take their wages back the hard way.
He was probably the best-liked caster of his discipline in the Magic Kingdom. He spent much of his free time making connections with the other disciplines. There were the wealthier ones, like AV Club and Koume, who made twice what any other caster her level could have, but he greeted Arthur and James just as warmly, even though both were even poorer than he was and relied partly on charity. He and Arthur had worked well together, on the one occasion he’d managed to charm a king into hiring both, and even James had his uses.
His good cheer masked a perpetually foul mood. He rarely earned more than a few turns’ upkeep from a job. Also, he rarely got a job more than once every few turns, and his purse wasn’t very large anyway, so he’d spent his entire life bobbing just ahead of the disbanding point. He’d never gone to the Short Pier, but it had been close, more than once. He wasn’t like those Thinkamancers who could comfortably spend four turns in five playing board games with each other.
Still, he had to at least play grateful, because one of those Thinkamancers had found him today’s job, and they already weren’t happy with him, not with his usual position in Magic Kingdom debates. Today, Lord Adderall Hiller of Bell-End wanted as much firepower as one caster could give in one turn. AV hadn’t gone into details, but Tom had heard that story before. This was probably some two-bit loser whose side was going to fall next turn, and who had either deluded himself into thinking one battle’s respite would turn it all around, or who just wanted some revenge on whoever had been thrashing him. You couldn’t feel too sorry for these idiots, because they were doomed as sure as if it were Fated. The only thing for it was to help them keep the last of their treasuries out of the invaders’ hands, and perhaps to eke some experience out of the deal. Levelling was worth it, even if it did increase one’s upkeep.
Bell-End’s portal had a red sheen to it. Tom paused before it, hitched his smile up, and stepped through.
The portal room was obviously deep underground. It was rectangular, lined with smooth stone, and had no windows: boring, spartan, undecorated. A side that obviously either had no casters or gave them no respect. It was depressingly common.
There were eight units waiting for him: a level one Chief Warlord stacked with some freshly-popped pikers. Yes, definitely a two-bit loser side.
“Good morning, Lord,” he said, bowing deeply. “Tom the Marvel, at your service.”
“Lord Spear,” said the warlord. “Follow me, please.”
Tom surmised that he had been one of those pikers mere minutes earlier; popped warlords were usually more eloquent. They stacked and marched through the city. It was grand, a level five, spotted with multiple towers and all manner of improvements, but deathly quiet. Tom didn’t hear or see a single other unit anywhere.
The main tower contained Bell-End’s war room. Inside were tables, maps, and Lord Hiller, who looked up at their entry. Spear gave a straight-arm salute; Tom took his cue and turned his bow into a deep nod, then saluted in the same way.
“Welcome, Caster,” Hiller said. His Signamancy was terrible; thinning hair, a visible tremor in one hand, a stupid moustache.
“It is my pleasure, Overlord Hiller,” Tom said, trying to jerk his mind away from picking faults with his prospective employer. “Shall we?”
“Of course, of course.” Hiller gestured; the pikers broke stack and went to stand at attention at one end of the room, while Tom and Spear approached a table strewn with maps. “The Empire of Bell-End stands alone against an unnatural alliance of Colesworth, Pro Toast, and Roham. They will attack us later today, when it becomes their turn. Our mission is to hold them off long enough for the Alliance to break apart.”
Tom studied the maps. Colesworth had a classic infantry/warlord army, with a long column of max stacks of low-level infantry, mostly pikers, led by a vanguard of mounted warlords with some other top units, in this case daemons; about three thousand units all up, if the intel was good, which was a big if. They were close to three max hexes of Pro Toast units, a mixture of warlords and heavies with only a few stacks of archers for infantry; they had twelve battle bears, along with Turnamancy constructs and a selection of other terrestrial heavies. Roham’s contingent consisted of four stacks of flying pigs, all with riders, plus a menagerie of assorted flyers, about two stacks.
The first two armies were south of the city. Pro Toast and the head of Colesworth’s army could reach them this turn; the tail would take another. Roham had circled around, apparently to seize some farms and vineyards. Bell-End was in the middle of a wide plain, mostly open fields with minimal scope for terrain bonuses or other manoeuvre warfare. There was a river to the west, whose west bank held Arkham, and two nearby cities south and east called Eagle’s Nest and Wolf’s Lair, all owned by the Alliance.
“I don’t see any of Bell-End’s troops here,” Tom noted. “Except yourself, of course, Overlord.”
“Ah, we haven’t updated that,” Hiller said. “Chief Warlord Spear?”
The warlord reached into a box, pulled out three red figurines, and set them down inside the city beside Hiller’s token: one (diminished) stack of infantry, one (feeble) warlord, one caster.
Tom stared for a beat. “You nine are the only units left of your entire side.”
“That is unimportant,” Hiller said grandly. “These walls are impregnable. Especially with your assistance, we will turn this city into their grave this turn, and rebuild our great empire.”
“I – I’m sorry, Overlord,” Tom said, recovering his deference. His purse had only four hundred and ninety-three shmuckers; less than three turns’ upkeep, although he could stretch it to five with provisions. “This is an unusual situation; I could use some background. What happened here?”
“I ordered half our army here, two turns ago,” he said, pointing to one of Pro Toast’s hexes, which happened to be on a hill, one of the only interesting hexes on the map. “It was a trap. The fastest Pro Toast troops would be lured there by the promise crippling my army outside the city. Then, last turn, my Chief Warlord took the rest of army to destroy the Pro Toast forces before they could heal.”
“Uh-huh,” said Tom, spotting multiple major flaws in this plan. “And then?”
“My plan worked brilliantly. But, the turn after, Roham raided my wounded units. We fought them off, but then a hidden Pro Toast company counterattacked,” Hiller said, obviously pained by this. “Our entire army was wiped out, including our last hobgobwin. Charlescomm refused my contract. The Magic Kingdom was my only choice.”
Tom didn’t blame Charlie: Bell-End was probably close to broke, and it was never good PR to fight against a side you hoped would hire you someday. Cities gave a thousand shmuckers per level-turn; after the cost of promoting the warlord, there was probably scarcely enough for Tom’s upkeep. He was tempted to throw it in. “I see, Overlord. May I ask about the longer-term history of this conflict? What began this war?”
“Does it matter?”
“Absolutely, Overlord,” Tom lied earnestly. “There are certain powerful spells at my disposal that are only usable under very specific conditions. They could be exactly what is needed to turn back an army like the Alliance’s.”
“Very well. It’s pure royalism. I am a non-noble warlord. Six hundred turns ago, I set out to build an empire, to prove to the world that the old order is unnecessary. I was hugely successful, conquering dozens of cities in only a few hundred turns. However, the neighbouring royal empires chose to ally against me and try to cut me down. But they haven’t succeeded. The war is still only just beginning.”
“I see, Overlord,” Tom said. Perhaps Hiller was partly right about royalist bigotry, but Tom had seen this before. A warlord won a couple of battles and thought he’d discovered a new way of waging war that could outperform conventional military doctrine and take over the world. By chance or treachery, he gained control of a side and set about building up his empire. Not knowing the rules of engagement the royals had set up over generations (such as ‘if you invade a neighbour, expect all your other neighbours to classify you as a troublemaker and to ally and crush you’), they did something disgraceful, and promptly had to face a seven-nation army they couldn’t fight off. “How large is the Alliance, in terms of cities?”
Hiller thought. “Intelligence is limited, but Colesworth held ten, Roham six, and Pro Toast eleven, when we had twenty-five.”
“I see. So with eight more each, now they’re all at or past the diminishing incomes limit, and none can spin off a new side for fear the other two will think it’s a power grab and break alliance.”
“Tom?” Hiller said.
Any other caster would have just walked away, or possibly offered to dump their juice into the tower’s anti-air in exchange for the last of the treasury. Tom wasn’t any other caster. He had ambition. This was a unique situation. Even as large as Erfworld was, it was fantastically rare that a ruler anywhere was in such dire straits, with fewer than ten units, and with neighbours who didn’t even particularly want the city.
“Well!” Tom said, his smile genuine for a change. “As it so happens, I do have a spell that will solve all your problems.”
Hiller blinked. “You can defeat three armies with a single spell? What is it?”
“Abracadabra,” Tom said, pointing at the ruler. There was a flash of green light, and the ray hit Hiller square in the chest.
The city turned neutral. Spear and the seven pikers gave a cry, stacked, and charged him.
“Alakazam,” he added. A blue glow suffused the stack, lifting and tossing them against the wall with a toccata of crunches. Three were croaked outright, the other five incapacitated; manacles appeared on their wrists. He’d just captured a city single-handed.
Before he could do anything else, he had to decide whether to keep, sack, or raze. Razing would be pointless; it would make him barbarian again, and his purse couldn’t hold that many shmuckers. Keeping would be even worse; the Alliance would take the city next turn for that much booty. Regretfully, he sacked it down to level three.
His awareness expanded, as he ascended from Tom the Shockmancer to Tom the Overlord. His treasury contained over a hundred and twenty thousand shmuckers(!), he held a level three city popping pikers, and he had one unit (himself) and five prisoners. At the same time, the adrenaline spike from the engagement wore off, and he gradually realised he’d levelled to six and gained two achievements.
He took a moment to breathe it in. He’d dreamt of this moment for a long time. There was no turning back now, though, and no time to waste. When his turn ended in a few hours, three armies were going to come knocking on his door. If the very worst came to worst, he could cede the treasury and flee through the portal and live another day, but Tom was a more ambitious man than that.
First, he picked up a fallen piker’s weapon. He had such a massive to-hit penalty that it wasn’t worth trying to fight with it, but that only applied to defending units; he could easily coup de grâce the four incapacitated pikers. The warlord, he left. Then he tossed the spear away and headed back to the portal room. While he walked, he used his little knowledge of Thinkamancy to hail AV.
«Miss Club, I’d like to send a priority broadcast to the Magic Kingdom, please. ‘Very big opportunity many casters all disciplines. Meet portal Bell-End. Tom.’»
«All disciplines? Really.»
«Why don’t you come too? I can explain it all at once.»
«Are you up to something, Tom?»
He Thought impishly at her. «Who, me? It’s an honest request. I need all the help I can find. As many as twenty casters, or more.»
«Twenty?! I’ve never even heard of so many being hired at once. King Hiller’s treasury wasn’t anywhere near large enough for all that. I shouldn’t think he even has enough for a broadcast!»
«If you come, I’ll explain it to you. Unless you’d be content with a second-hand account from someone else?»
She Thought her tongue out at him and cut the Thinkagram.
When he made it back into the Magic Kingdom, a crowd was already forming. He saw Koume and her sister Kotake, chatting with a couple of Dirtamancers and a Hat Magician, ugly but sleek and well-fed. His friend Genesis, preferred name Jess, was sitting in her wheeled chair, Charlotte the little Changemancer in her lap. His hard luck friends James and Arthur were near the front, standing opposite the knot of Carnymancers he’d rather hoped wouldn’t show up. May, a petite blonde with a purple half-mask and sickly sweet voice and mannerisms, was next to another Dollamancer, exchanging catty insults veiled as compliments; an amused NV listened in. There were Healomancers and Florists, Lookamancers and Predictamancers, and even a Weirdomancer with radish earrings chatting with AV near the back. The conversation died down as he appeared.
“Good morning, friends!” he said, turning on the charm full blast. “Today is a glorious day, the day casters finally take our rightful place in Erfworld!”
There was muttering.
“I know, I know. I’ve talked about this for a long time, haven’t I? Arguing that casters shouldn’t be kept in thrall to mere kings and warlords, that they should serve us. Royalty claims to be superior because of an extra one attack and defence. Whereas we, we can bend Erfworld itself with a thought. I’ve discussed this with all of you over many turns, refining my ideas, and I am convinced of the righteousness of the cause.
“I hear you argue, that is all well and fine, but the Magic Kingdom doesn’t create income; how can we help but live by the whims of mere infantry? I tell you today, that is no longer true, for I have been named Overlord of what was once Bell-End.” The gathered casters all began chattering excitedly again; he raised his voice. “A new side I hereby name Ethereum! We have a home now! There’s enough income for a dozen good casters indefinitely, and twenty or more for many turns with its treasury!
“But we have to work for it. Bell-End is surrounded by legions of hostile infantry. We need to scare them off, and there may even be a battle. However, I give my word that under my leadership, we will win that battle, and not a single one of you will perish! We will throw them aside, and take more cities, saving lives, and building a new world with peace and security, with casters at its zenith! No more will we need to beg for a few turns’ upkeep, casting the most demeaning of menial magic! I respect every single one of you, every single discipline, and I will allow every single one of you to use your talents to their greatest extents. This is the future! Who’s with me?!”
There was quiet, and he cursed himself. It was too big a change all at once; too much to hope that people would rally to his cause. He’d have to name individuals, ones he knew would accept. The hopeless cases would flock to him, he knew, but better to ask for more reputable ones first.
He pointed at May, who was one of his closest and best-respected friends. “May! Are you sick of making dud raiment for pampered little courtiers?” This was rhetorical; she’d complained about this repeatedly.
“Oh?” she asked. “You won’t make me make that?”
He’d said it before many times, but it had always been an abstraction. It was fun to talk about what they’d like to do, how they’d cut loose if they could, but it had been a pipe dream. When your options are to do what you want or to do whatever will pay your upkeep, you did what you had to.
“I’m a caster,” he said proudly. He pointed to his new flag, which had stitched itself into his robe when he got the city: a glass sloshing with liquid, representing the juice they all shared. “I don’t need a nice coat to prove who I am! What I want is to prove that we deserve our place in the world. That means golems! Accessories! Magic clothing! Will you stand with me, May?”
“Heck yeah!” she cheered. A copy of his insignia sewed itself onto her lapel.
“May,” he said, placing a hand on her shoulder. She was level eight; probably the strongest caster he’d get. “I name you my Chief Caster. Together, we’re going to do great things.” He paused for a moment, then looked back at the crowd. “NV! I could use your talents. Will you join us?”
NV smirked and moved forward. “I’m not about to let you guys have all the fun,” he said. “You’ve got a city? Alright. Let’s see how this goes.”
Arthur and James stepped forward. “Did you mean it, when you said every single one of us?” Arthur asked.
Tom had expected this: neither of them had much to lose. “You’ve known me for a long time,” he said. “I said it, and I mean it. You both have your places with me.” Their liveries changed. They weren’t very reputable; if he was worried what the snootier casters thought, he would have forbidden them, but the snooty casters were never going to join him anyway. “Jess! Are you sick of feeding XP to useless princelings? Do you want to earn some of your own?”
“You had me at ‘feeding’,” she said, rolling herself forward. “Charlotte, you want in?”
“Eh,” the little girl said. “Maybe not forever … but for a little bit, if you want. Will there be cheesecake?”
In ones and twos, casters came forward. Only the first five, some of Tom’s best friends, turned outright, but he still got three whole stacks for the time being; one of each discipline except Dirtamancy, Predictamancy, Moneymancy, Carnymancy, and of course Retconjuration, with a number of duplicates and three Dollamancers. He’d made a point of making friends from a variety of disciplines for a reason.
He went over the Moneymancy one last time. Casters’ upkeeps were mostly in the vicinity of two hundred shmuckers per turn, depending on level and discipline; this gave his new side an upkeep of about five thousand, with an income of three. With a treasury of a hundred and twenty thou, that gave sixty turns to get things organised, fewer if he spent more money in the interim.
“Room for one more, hon?” asked Dove Barstool.
Tom’s smile stayed in place, matching hers. “That depends, Dove. For you, absolutely, I can use a woman of your talents … but only if you turn and pledge loyalty. Not just as a hire.”
Her smile slipped. “This cos I’m a Carny, is it?”
“This because you’re one of Charlie’s regulars,” he said. There was a susurration of approval from the crowd; Charlie paid well and on time if he hired you, but you didn’t trust him, and you didn’t trust a Carny either. “I’m founding a side, you’re already in pretty close with another side. I can’t have that conflict of interest.”
“Well, that just figures,” she said, and walked away.
«You’re playing a dangerous game,» AV Thought at him.
«Why are you worried? I stand for all casters, your Great Minds included.» Possibly she was upset that he’d accepted a Baddie Thinkamancer, Lisa, who’d once tattled tales that the Great Minds wanted kept quiet; but, if anything, she should be happy Lisa was out of their hair.
«I’m worried because of the part where you’re planning on taking cities, plural. The royals won’t stand for what I think you have planned. They fear change, they fear casters. They especially fear ones like Arthur.»
«I appreciate your concern, O Great Mind, but I prefer to be more open-minded about my brother casters.»
He broke out of thoughtspace. “Wish us well, Magic Kingdom! Here we go!” And with that, amid cheers, he led his new casters and mercenaries into his capital city.
May looked around. “Kind of a dump, I’ve got to say,” she noted. “How do you hope to keep twenty casters with a level three?”
“Temporarily. We have plenty in the treasury.”
“Oh,” she said, noticing. “Right. So we do.”
“Once we head off the other sides, we can take another city or two and build this place back up. It’ll be fine. Everyone, stop milling around, you can explore the city later. We have work to do! Follow me to the war room.”
He actually had no experience of this situation. Most sides were formed by a large empire fissioning, creating a colony to give a favoured heir some autonomy or to bypass the diminishing income rule. Some came about when an isolated side’s capital was razed and abandoned and later found by a barbarian warlord, although that was rare because whoever razed the capital almost always chose to keep it. As far as he knew, there was no precedent whatsoever for a Magic Kingdom caster to croak a ruler and claim his city.
This was bad, because there were problems he could have used guidance on, namely how to dissuade Colesworth, Pro Toast, and Roham from simply conquering them later in the day. For other new sides, an imperial sponsor would protect the colony until it was large enough to support itself, or an isolated side would build up over a long time without meeting another side, sometimes not even realising there were other sides; either way, there was no immediate threat. He, by contrast, had over three thousand enemies right outside his gates. He had some idea of how to deal with that, but it would have been nice to see whether anyone else had tried it and had it work.
He would have murdered for a natural ally of any sort, even Indolent Elves; when a side had plenty of cash and enemies but very few troops of their own, natural allies were the go-to solution for gaining a large army in short order, as they could convert shmuckers into units at the beginning of turn, limited only by the available funds. In the short term, this would be well worth their slightly higher upkeeps. However, Hiller had said he’d lost his last hob, and it would take at least a few turns to find another tribe and make a deal with them.
“Whoa,” said Jess, seeing the corpses and lone incapacitated prisoner scattered across the war room. The other casters crowded around. “You didn’t … you assassinated the guy who was here last?! Tom, are you out of your mind? What are other sides going to say when they hear about this?!”
“Nothing, because you’re hardly going to tell them, and he’ll depop long before anyone else ever gets here,” he pointed out. “Besides, I didn’t assassinate him. He tried to force me to turn to his side. I refused and tried to leave for the Magic Kingdom. He made to capture me; if I’d been stuck here when the enemy army arrived, I’d’ve croaked for sure. But he underestimated me badly; a stack of level ones was all he had, no match for me. I tried an instacroak as a show of force; it missed the piker and ricocheted into the Overlord. After that, things went about how you’d expect.”
“Titans, Tom,” Jess said. Charlotte nodded emphatically.
“It’s not his fault,” May said. Tom had the feeling she didn’t believe him but didn’t care, either because she was his friend, curious about what he could achieve, or was just plain bloodthirsty.
“Hey, Boss?” said NV. “This map … Titans, there are, what, three thousand of them? We can take, like, ten of them each, tops!”
“Which is why it’s a good thing they’re not going to fight us. They were conquering the last Overlord because he started the war. I haven’t.” And when he did, he’d make sure he wasn’t blamed.
“You think that matters, when we’re sitting on a hundred and twenty thousand shmuckers?!”
“Hey,” May said. “He’s your Overlord. Show some respect.”
Casters generally had the good sense not to fight when they weren’t being paid to. She was also rather higher-level than him and had a very sharp enchanted half-scissor that made a respectable mêlée weapon. He shut up.
“NV does still have a point,” Tom said. “We’re going to need a show of force. Everyone has to chip in to make us an army strong enough to make two thousand stabbers back down. So here’s the plan. Arthur, you do the corpses. Pete, see if you can turn that warlord. Dr Lecter, make sure he survives, please, either way; we can turn him tomorrow if we have to. Jess, we need something impressive. A projected heavy, as big as you can find. No need for flying. NV, Count Flacutono, as many …” He smirked, thinking of a solution to an earlier problem. “… pokédaemons as you can manage. Koume, you’d better help them, deception’s our best bet here. Lisa, save your juice, I have a special mission for you. May, you’re the Chief Caster and Grand Couturier; coordinate with the other Dollamancers to give me some cloth golems.” He kept going, ordering golems and monsters and other units from everyone who could make them, and for everyone else to come with him to pump the tower. It said something about his popularity and the respect he had among his faction in the Magic Kingdom that they obeyed him with a minimum of griping; normally, getting barbarians to do what you wanted took at least ten minutes, and as much as an entire turn if they were particularly self-absorbed.
The rule of thumb was that having a caster for one turn was as useful as permanently gaining a knight of that level, and potentially more if they were used well. For himself, a Shockmancer could comfortably dispatch a number of equal-level infantry before running out of juice; Overlord Hiller had even been two levels above him. May could build cloth golems in a few turns that could match entire stacks of high-level infantry. And so on. They split up and poured their juice into fortifying their new city; by the end of the turn, he estimated they had done the equivalent of popping ten stacks of pikers, purely in terms of raw power.
They were all low on juice, but far from helpless: he’d disbursed his personal stash of scrolls. Like any barbarian caster, he wrote scrolls on turns with no work, and sold them to sides that wouldn’t trust a mercenary during a critical battle, or used them himself during big fights for a little more staying power. They took some instruction to use effectively; there was a huge range of damage types effective against different units and damage distributions effective against different stack formations, and subtleties to everything. Non-Shockmancers never really got it and would waste some potential in any fight, but seeing a dozen casters reading scrolls at once would make any attacker think twice.
After he ended turn, May came and found him sitting behind a crenelation near the gate. She was really, really light-footed and fast; she was old enough to have made herself an entire heavily-enchanted wardrobe, including a pair of whisperfeet shoes, which also gave her a small Luckamancy boost. He made a mental note to ask her to make more. Normally, sides didn’t set their Dollamancers to making more than a few magic items for top units, crafting golems instead, because it was relatively straightforward for an enemy to steal items, either by sending veiled units as thieves or more simply by croaking whoever carried them. For Ethereum, those were hardly concerns when they had multiple Foolamancers of their own, and they could always flee with their equipment into the Magic Kingdom.
“Say, Tom?” she asked. “I know we’ve done a lot this turn, but … there are almost two thousand enemies in range. Can we win if they just rush us?”
“They won’t,” he said, figuring this would be a better answer than ‘not a chance’. “Look.”
The Foolamancers and Koume had managed over a hundred and fifty assorted daemons, which were walking around the battlements or hovering in the courtyard. They wouldn’t hold up to recon by fire, but recon by fire wouldn’t hold up to the staggering amount of juice that the less useful casters had put into the tower under his guidance. It was only enough to wipe out three or four stacks, much less Roham’s entire flying force, but he knew enough about battles to know Roham would pull out after the first wave or two was roasted, if they came at all.
“We have specific counters to each enemy army,” he said. “Flyers can’t get past our tower. Infantry will just feed Arthur corpses. And those heavies are mostly cloth golems. You and the junior Dollamancers can unravel them, can’t you?”
“Yes, but we’re low on juice, and there are plenty of other heavies there.”
“May. Trust me.”
Shockmancy was a martial discipline most useful during or immediately before battles. Capital sides hired Tom for three main tasks. One was to eliminate specific high-value battlefield targets such as chief warlords, or AoE crowd control, for which he provided better value than Charlescomm at the cost of flexibility. The second was to charge tower defences, although most sides’ loyal casters insisted on doing that themselves, never mind their penalties and the fact that juice spent on that was juice unspent on golems or other magic. The third was to help defend critical hexes against major assaults, often supplying most of a side’s air defence single-handed; these were the most dangerous unless it was a capital, with a portal he could escape through if things went bad, and he often turned them down.
He’d therefore participated in a few battles, and read about others, and one common point of failure was coordinating large alliances. With an evenly balanced group of three, when circumstances changed – such as their target being croaked by a third party who then proceeded to claim the city – one of two things usually happened. Either they stopped to negotiate, failed to reach an agreement, and then deadlocked until the alliance dissolved; or, to avoid this, they bulled directly ahead, ignoring the changed circumstances.
He’d thought about the problem earlier that turn, and was quite certain he knew how the psychology would play out. The other sides’ logical decision would be to attack; unless they thought he was content to keep a one-city side, he’d eventually take some of their cities, so they might as well finish him while their armies were already mobilised. However, their troop specialisation would act in his favour. Ultimately, Colesworth wouldn’t attack unless Pro Toast’s battle bears tore down the gate. Pro Toast couldn’t risk their siege until Roham knocked the Dollamancers off the wall. Roham couldn’t go into the airspace until Colesworth captured the tower.
If the Alliance were under a single unified command, the commander would simply pick the most expendable division and send that in first. Probably the infantry; they were the most replaceable, and were numerous enough to swarm the city unilaterally, walls or no, even if the daemons were real. Under three different commands with no one dominant side, though, no-one was willing to accept the heaviest casualties if they were to receive equal shares of the booty, especially if the alliance was already fractious, as Hiller had claimed.
It wasn’t an insurmountable obstacle, not even close, but it was just complicated enough that it would probably take them a turn to decide on a solution. They’d rationalise that as being necessary to bring Colesworth’s column forward. Of course, they wouldn’t yet realise that this meant that twenty-four casters would replenish their juice.
After a few turns’ deliberation, less if they had magical communication, they’d negotiate terms, an automagic division contract or similar. Tom hoped they tried: his casters would make more golems and other defences in the meantime, and he’d be able to parley with the three sides individually. He only needed one to change sides for the other two to have to pull out, at least for a while.
“I know what I’m doing,” was all he said.
The rest of his side filtered out to meet with him for the battle; he sent most of them up to the tower, where they’d have a bonus. He’d join them to manage the tower’s defences if the Alliance attacked; they’d certainly lose to a determined attack, but he could make the difference between ‘determined’ and ‘abortive’. He could feel tension and excitement in the air: they were going to see his strategy in action, but it wasn’t dangerous per se, they could still flee through the portal. He shut his eyes and reached out with his ruler sense. In addition to himself, his side had an uncroaked level three Chief Warlord plus four level one infantry (Arthur and Pete had both fumbled), a projected heavy abomination and four shadowlings, three assorted golems, four garrison plants (he wasn’t really sure what they could contribute), a hundred and fifty-one Foolamancy units, twenty-three casters, and one prisoner. Eighty percent of his side didn’t actually exist. He was certain that no other side had ever had such a bizarre troop breakdown.
It wasn’t long before the enemy arrived. Two stacks of flying pigs, both led by good warlords. They were holding most of their troops back: Sharkey had confirmed some of Hiller’s intel and improved the rest, spotting a fifth stack of riderless pigs kept in reserve. Tom motioned to NV and ducked behind the gargantuan thing Jess had projected; with a crackle of juice, NV turned Tom into a warlord with a crown and himself into a copy of Spear. They stacked with May, climbed atop the muscular shoulders of the projection, and waved to the pigs for parley. Roham’s higher warlord, an eight, indicated agreement, and they glided down to just outside the city.
Pigs were slow for heavy flyers, compensating with good hits and certain bonuses, including a large but little-used rations bonus when harvested. Forty of them, all mid-to-high-level, plus tough warlords and knights and support, could do serious damage on open terrain. The assorted flyers, who were holding back in another hex somewhere, were probably used for scouting or targets of opportunity that the pigs couldn’t reach.
“Hail,” called the higher warlord, a large man in an obscuring helmet. “Prince Baconmer, Chief Warlord of Roham. Princess Baconwyn,” he added, of the woman behind him, whose armour concealed her figure. “We come on a quest to rid this land of the evil of Lord Hiller. Imagine our surprise to find that his city has fallen to a side of unknown livery!”
“I am Lord Godwin,” Tom said, “the new Overlord of this city. Chief Dollamancer Harriet-May, Chief Warlord Spear. I popped as a barbarian this dawn. I and my stack wandered until we found this city, almost undefended. Its overlord demanded that we kneel to him; we refused and slew him when he attacked us in a rage.
“We lacked the move to continue scouting, so I sent a summons to the Magic Kingdom for a Lookamancer. He told me there were three armies nearby. For fear of attack, I hired all these mercenaries. I am glad to hear that Hiller was by all accounts a wicked man. What can you tell me of the other two armies?”
Baconmer looked around the city, probably doing the Mathamancy in his head. A hundred and twenty thousand shmuckers could hire a lot more than a hundred and fifty daemons. He could deduce that ‘Godwin’ had hired more than one caster, and that the tower was probably supercharged. “They belong to the kingdoms of Colesworth and Pro Toast, with which we allied to defeat Hiller. Your arrival is … extremely unexpected.”
The probability of a warlord and stack randomly popping within a few hexes of a city on the exact turn that its ruler had wasted its entire army was awfully close to zero. “I can only say that it is the Titans’ will.”
Baconmer clearly didn’t believe this, but he didn’t need to. The point was that Tom had neither refused to say, nor was there a much more plausible explanation, so it might as well be the truth. He couldn’t have been a ninja-razer from a distant side, for example, not without flyers. Pasta might have guessed he actually did have flyers and had veiled them, but all speculation and intelligence is worthless in the face of a side which can veil enough flyers to carry over a hundred and fifty units.
“I suppose so,” he said. “Sister, fetch Thursday and Pasta. We’ll need them here to decide what to do next.” Baconwyn nodded, and her stack turned and left. “Lord Godwin, you have arrived at an inopportune time. Our sides have waged a long and bitter war against Bell-End. The other commanders may not appreciate having the prize taken from under their noses.”
“I shouldn’t worry about that,” Tom said, going over his plan one last time.
Time dilation meant they had only a very short time before Baconwyn returned with the other commanders. Prince Pasta was tall and blond, and came with another warlord and six pokédaemons, one a heavy dwagon-like specimen one which both warlords rode. Lady Thursday was a woman in a trench coat riding atop a Goliath doll, with another warlord on an LFN. They all exchanged greetings, and he repeated his story.
“This isn’t fair,” Thursday said. “We did the bulk of the conquest of this city, destroying the last of Hiller’s army and taking the casualties. We can’t accept not receiving any compensation, not after yesterday’s battle.”
“It looks as though there’s not too much compensation left to be had,” Pasta said, indicating the daemons atop the walls. “Good choice of allies, I have to say,” he added, as they were the same kind as his own. “I didn’t realise there were any feral tribes here; Hiller used hobgobwins.”
“I found one and populated a new tribe,” Tom said. “It was expensive, but worth it.”
“Your treasury can’t be empty already,” Thursday said. “You would have got a hundred and twenty thousand for sacking Bell-End down to three. It’d take less than twenty for the daemons, and no matter how badly the casters ripped you off, you still have to have almost a hundred in treasury.”
“In gems,” Tom improvised. “The casters offered a discount if I also hired a Moneymancer to convert the rest of the treasury and if I made a contract. If we’re attacked and fall, they have the right to take the gems into the Magic Kingdom. They can’t otherwise take them, and I can only spend them on hiring daemons or paying upkeeps.”
He wished he had actually found a Moneymancer so he could keep the treasury if they had to flee, but that discipline was notoriously rare in the Magic Kingdom. Because of the bonuses they gave to cities’ income, they actually had negative net upkeeps if they allied with large enough sides, and so were usually all taken. He only had one city, so he couldn’t offer that sort of sinecure, and it could take a very long time to find a Moneymancer willing to join him. They had one of the disciplines best-loved by infantry and had little incentive to desire a caster-run world.
The other commanders scowled. That implied the loot was effectively lost; no way to seize it, no way to extort it. “Why did you hire so many?” Baconmer asked, disapproving. “How many did you hire?”
“Nine,” Tom said, not wanting to alarm them too much. They guessed, thought they knew about, or could deduce a Moneymancer, Lookamancer, Florist, May, probably a Dittomancer or another Dollamancer, Findamancer, Croakamancer, and Hat Magician, mostly from the various units visible in the city courtyard; this gave him wiggle room to mention one more, or to let them second-guess themselves about what other tricks he might have up his sleeve. “I knew there were powerful armies nearby and I supposed the treasury should be split between natural allies and casters. Is this not normal?”
“Nine?!” said Baconmer. “Of course not! A side might use two or three or perhaps even four casters, but no more than that, and certainly not mere mercenaries. One should rely on bravery and duty and strength of arms. Especially given daemons already have natural magic of their own.”
Tom’s smile twitched, just for a moment. Time to go back on the offensive. “If I might ask, who was going to keep this city, under your original agreement?”
“We were,” Baconmer said. “Sacking it to three and giving the profit to Pro Toast and Colesworth.”
“Oh?” said Tom. “That doesn’t seem possible any more, then. Does that mean they get nothing?”
“By the letter of our agreement …”
“You already have the farms,” Thursday countered. “We did all the fighting; if there’s no booty left, we should keep the city in return.”
“It seems as though there’s plenty of fighting left to do,” Pasta noted, glancing at the Fooled daemons.
Baconmer gave a huff of exasperation. “Roham can pay sixty thousand out of treasury.”
“If I may,” Tom interrupted, “I actually assumed Pro Toast was to keep Bell-End. If I recall the map correctly, Pro Toast and Colesworth would be isolated from each other if Roham had Bell-end.”
“That was the point,” said Pasta. “It minimises borders.”
“I see,” said Tom. “But if you’re allied, it’s a liability. If one side were suddenly attacked – say, by a large force of fast heavies” he glanced at the Roham group “– that force could make deep inroads before the other had any troops close enough to assist.”
Pasta’s expression became thoughtful, Thursday’s very smooth, Baconmer’s annoyed.
“What if Lord Godwin turns to one of our sides?” Pasta mused. “Or forms an alliance, helping maintain the larger side’s standing army.” Meaning, to pay tribute; that is, to turn and keep only a bare pretence of autonomy. Tom nearly sneered. “That would seem to be the simplest solution. We could provide protection and guidance; help avoid mistakes like your over-reliance on casters.”
“Or, what if we don’t change the agreement specifically to benefit your side?” Thursday asked.
“If you’d like to spend the rest of your force in a war of greed on a neutral party that actually helped us, I won’t stop you,” Pasta told her, “but if you do, I don’t see why I need to involve Colesworth troops. Our enemy is already croaked; I won’t sacrifice my forces pointlessly.”
“Prince Baconmer already said he’d pay anyway,” Thursday countered.
“He said he’d pay you. Implying you’d get all of it.”
“We deserve it. We did all the work.”
“You got attacked and didn’t surrender en masse. Hardly above and beyond. You knew the risks when we formed the Alliance, and we and Roham have fought just as hard.”
On Tom’s silent order, May skipped over onto the Pro Toast LFN. “Hey, can I see something?” she asked sweetly.
“Hey, get –” the warlord said, drawing his sword.
May’s scissorblade flashed through the LFN’s back, tearing stuffing out; it reared in pain. The warlord barely kept his feet, but May leant forward, maintaining her balance with no visible effort. With a drop of juice, she patched the golem back up, and leapt back onto the projection’s back. This all happened in the space of a few seconds.
“What are you doing?!” Thursday shouted.
Attacking during a parley was unspeakable, but it didn’t really count if you immediately healed the damage.
“Well, no wonder you lost so many of those,” May said sweetly. “That’s a weak weave. The Nexus Threads are completely exposed. What level was whoever made this?” She giggled. “One?”
Thursday balled a fist. Between yesterday’s losses and the fact that May was a hard counter to most of her forces, she apparently didn’t have enough to take the city, not without reinforcements. Pasta wasn’t interested, and Baconmer wouldn’t send flyers into an airspace hardened by so many casters. “I have a question for you,” she said. “A level three city won’t provide the upkeep for so many daemons. How long are you going to keep them around for? Will you disband them, or get more income? And how?”
“That depends on all of your actions,” he said, thinking it wouldn’t go down well to say ‘by annexing a dozen or more of your cities’. “I don’t get the impression your Alliance will continue for very long, begging your pardon, now that Hiller is no more. That means my capital is a strategically important city surrounded by three large and active armies. I’ll have to maintain the daemons from my gems for the time being. I can only hope that by the time I run out, the situation here will have stabilised. But I probably shouldn’t talk too much about long-term strategy when my side’s less than a turn old.”
“We all ought to confer with our Rulers,” Pasta said abruptly. “Chief Warlords don’t have the authority to decide strategic matters like alliances. Why don’t we withdraw and wait for them to decide?”
Thursday considered this, clearly trying to guess his angle and whether hers was better. “That makes sense,” she said at length.
“Agreed,” said Baconmer. “Lord Godwin, you should take this,” he said, nodding to one of his knights, who took off her hat and gave it to Baconmer, who moved forward to hand it to Tom. “It’s a dual use message hat, keyed to one owned by King Theoham. He’d appreciate the chance to speak with you directly, I’m sure.”
“Thank you, Prince,” said Tom, and the commanders exchanged formalities and turned to leave. He smiled blandly at them, trying to decide who to ally with and who to manipulate into defeat. If he helped one of the other sides attack Roham, he could claim the nearby farms while they were distracted; alternatively, if he helped Roham attack another side, he could ask for them as payment. If Colesworth lost lots of troops, Arthur could uncroak them, yielding some much-needed expendable units. If they fought Pro Toast, May could neutralise a third of their golems single-handed, and his instacroak was a hard counter for half of their other units, albeit costly in juice.
“You did it!”
May broke him out of his reverie with a fierce hug from the side; he reflexively wrapped an arm round her waist and spun her round. NV barked with laughter, and gave a thumbs-up to the tower.
“Well, isn’t this interesting,” NV said, dispelling his and Tom’s veils. “A practical problem like this is a nice change from the sort of crap they like talking about in the Magic Kingdom. You wouldn’t believe the stuff most Eyemancers think is important.”
“That was great,” Tom said to May, beaming. “Was that doll really that weak?”
She shrugged modestly. “Maybe a level two. Hers looked like a three. But it doesn’t really matter. You know how it takes a lot more juice to fabricate a golem than to heal one? It’s basically free to unravel them. I put almost all my juice into making our own, like you ordered, but I could still take one or two down now. I could take the rest if they hold off until next turn.”
Tom already knew most of this, being an inquisitive person and having been friends with May for a while. “NV, clear the daemons away. We’re about to have another visitor.”
“Huh?” he said, waving a hand; they began to file off the walls and out of sight. “Is this something to do with our Thinkamancer?”
“Yeah,” Tom said, motioning to the main gate to open it. Presently, a three-stack entered the neighbouring hex, and approached. “Welcome. I hope it wasn’t too hard to get away?”
“It waddn’t nothin,” said the pokédaemon commander, a diminutive bipedal feline-looking unit. “So, I hear youse got a deal for me?”
“That’s right. We’re looking for natural allies, preferably with some sort of magic; daemons would be perfect. I know you can’t leave Colesworth, not when you have a permanent alliance with them, and it would cause an incident for us to even ask. So I was thinking this. You give me one starter daemon. We pay you the shmuckers to replace it. On our next turn, we populate our branch of the tribe. Your tribe gets to spread, with no risk. We get a great tribe of natural allies.”
“Colesworth ain’t gonna loik that.”
“They think we’ve already got a tribe of pokédaemons. They’ll never know.”
“Sneaky, eh? I can respect that.” The daemon scratched its chin. “Youse’re getting more out of this than we are. I want some extra.”
“How?” Tom asked, straight-faced. “I don’t have a Moneymancer, and you can’t keep shmuckers.”
The daemon apparently hadn’t conferred with Prince Pasta. “Not a problem. I can do a bit. Only six hundred a turn, so it’s a bargain.”
Tom’s smile almost flickered. Steep. He’d have to get used to all prices being ten times higher than he could pay as a barbarian. Still, he was fairly sure Thursday was bringing infantry up; he couldn’t afford to miss out on this alliance. “It would be very suspicious if you snuck off to visit me repeatedly. Six hundred once off is fair.”
“Mmph. Fine. I want some conditions, too. One, this is our little secret.”
“Two, youse never try for us. If Nat ever goes to war with youse, youse can fight back, but youse never start war with them, and even if youse do fight em, youse never try to wipe us out.”
“That’s acceptable,” said Tom, who figured Colesworth wasn’t as appealing a target as either other side anyway; they’d give Arthur something to do, but most rulers threw tantrums when you reanimated their troops at them.
“And three, youse gots to take care of em. No mass-disbanding after a war, no suicide charges. Treat em like they’re like your own units. Got it?”
“That’s reasonable,” said Tom, figuring that ‘like your own units’ wasn’t too restrictive given how he was planning on using the pikers he was due next turn.
“Then it’s a deal,” the daemon said, offering a pinky; Tom shook it. “Pick whichever of these youse like best. Most of us don’t speak Language, but … eh, youse’ll figure it out.”
Most races and unit types in Erfworld were fairly homogeneous; some cities’ warlords might tend to have flying or seafaring or some other special, but by and large they all had about equal stats and were generally equivalent mechanically. Daemons were different. No two of them were alike. They had radically different combat roles and just about every kind of natural magic or special, and plenty of direct combat types. They were probably the most flexible race in Erfworld, after men. When you paid the money to pop more, you never knew what you’d get; they tended to be similar to the tribe’s chief, but it could as easily be a heavy mountain-capable as a light flyer with offensive Thinkamancy.
Tom looked the three starters over. The first had natural Flower Power. Useful, but not until later, when he could afford to spend turns sitting around not fighting. The second was water capable. Possibly useful for crossing that river to the west if ever they did go to war with Colesworth, but he had a Weirdomancer and two Findamancers. The third had natural Shockmancy. Bingo.
“I choose you!”
“That’s Zippo,” the daemon commander said, as the lizard-like daemon walked forward and allied with Ethereum. Tom felt his treasury tick down by four hundred, then six hundred more; gems spilled out of the daemon’s headpiece. It gathered them up, and gave them to a hooded serpent daemon to carry in its mouth. “Well, I’m done. Catch you later.”
Ethereum’s livery by DoomBlahSong.
Tom’s still a villain, but he does have a point; the strip hasn’t used the word ‘discrimination’ explicitly, but almost all non-caster rulers and commanders squander their casters and treat their game-breaking powers with contempt, only getting real value from either serendipity or the casters’ own initiative. After a long enough time of listening to royalty say that they were born to rule because they have marginally better stats, when you and your friends are literal reality warpers, and having to make nice coats or act as a glorified telephone for your upkeep … well, I could see that fomenting some resentment. Not all casters agree with Tom, but some do, and he’s charming and has a following, especially now that he has money to burn.
Ninja-razing is a tactic I used back in my Lords-a-war days which exploited the weak AI: leave a fast unit within reach of an enemy city, wait for them to build up an invasion force and sally out, seize and raze the deserted city, and run for it. I should think it would work just fine in Erfworld, viz with a stack or two of heavy flyers and maybe some casters if you have the right sorts: find a hotspot, hide in an inaccessible hex nearby, wait for one city or another to get badly weakened, take and raze it, and move on. I should also think that this would be considered extremely poor form, and that the warring factions would generally be willing to ally to deal with the ninjas.
We don’t have an encyclopedia of casters’ abilities. I tried to keep them minimal while having newcomers’ power levels balanced and comparable to the game changers of canon; feel free to quibble, but it felt about right to me (bear in mind that I haven’t said what levels most of these characters are). The only really iffy thing was having Findamancy be a martial discipline based around summoning powerful units, as opposed to an informatic art answering variations of ‘where is such-and-such’; this doesn’t fit the theme of Hocus Pocus very well, but it does mean that it’s not basically the same thing as Lookamancy.
I think it's great. I don't agree that Tom's a villain, at least not any more so than another ruler. Not yet anyway, it sounds like he views non-casters's lives as being essentially worthless, so we'll see. I bought everything in it except the findamancer summoning units, finding them so a warlord could go out and tame them seems about like all you could get. Everything else sounded just right to me. I hope you keep writing this!
Thank you everyone for the tips and comments!
Tom's mostly based off Lord Voldemort, so you're absolutely right that he thinks muggles non-casters are morally worthless. They're practically useful, in that they make efficient meat shields with which to screen casters, and expensive ones like warlords are even worth protecting sometimes, because they make the other meat shields last longer, but the only major difference between live infantry and the uncroaked is that you can uncroak the first type to make them last twice as long.
As for Findamancy … yeah, quite possibly, but I figured that was too similar to Lookamancy ("Jess, find all enemy units nearby. Sharky, look for enemy units in the nearby hexes."), that it would be more interesting if it did something else. It was part of Summon Perfect Warlord, so I went with that.
Good story, looking forward to seeing where it goes next.
I think a good counter to ninja-razing in Erfworld would probably be to use the larger number of units you have and semi-autonomous warlords to routinely scout surrounding areas... which Hiller couldn't do, not having anyone to do it with, and clearly wasn't doing even when he had units, given how bunched together they were.
It'd be the kinda thing someone who thought they were reinventing warfare might not appreciate about the old ways things were done. So it'd be a very plausible thing for them to fall to.
[nods] It's the exact sort of thing scouting is supposed to catch, threats that can cause a lot of damage but for which there are effective countermeasures if you know about them. Ninja-razing means smaller forces than Jillian used after Spacerock and being more careful about only hitting soft targets, scavenging rather than hunting, but the principle is similar: Parson implied she was successful because GK had left their inner cities weak while they hit Spacerock. I figure the standard anti-ninja response would be to evenly distribute troops between cities so that nowhere is soft, and to coordinate scouts and flyers to search and destroy, as Stanley did.
One thing I've noticed on the fora is that a lot of people say, "They should do X," where X is a tactic which looks good but which could easily be defeated by an unknown mechanic or an unconventional counter. (I suspect I'm doing that myself, in assuming that the only reason why sides don't hire more casters is because they're too stupid.) I could imagine warlords having the same sort of idea, winning some battles by surprise or luck, and thinking they'd beaten the system, right until they lost their capital in a sucker rush because "scouting's a waste of manpower".
Voldemort? Oh god, we're in for some horror aren't we? I wonder who The Boy Who Lived will be lol.
As far as the thinkamancer-findamancer dichotomy is concerned I don't think thinkamancers can find enemy or neutral units in surrounding hexes can they? Maggie has never done that, I don't think. They were only able to do that when GK had Misty linked up. When they had archons with the findamancy special they weren't able to summon nearby dwagons, just find them for Stanley to tame. Of course Maggie might say "they do not know they can, they are not findamancers". Still, the fact that this capability has never been mentioned seems to me to indicate they don't have it. I doubt any caster can just summon extant units.
But anyway this is really great and I hope you stick with it and give us the whole story, it's written better than a lot of fanfic, for one thing.
Findamancy-as-location sounds like Lookamancy, not Thinkamancy. So yeah, Misty. Archons don't have Look-/Findamancy, they have Thinkamancy. When they did the dwagon-scouting thing, they were used because of their good mobility and their Foolamancy, so they could scout a large area and know there weren't any veiled ambushes waiting. I know of only two tiny mentions of Findamancy in canon: that it was used in Summon Perfect Warlord, and that Unaroyal had one, Spenser, which admittedly is the name of a PI.
I can only really say 'when it's done'. This is 9,000ish words; I'm 3,000 into chapter two, but I only started a few days after your first comment. Knowing that multiple people are reading is a great motivator. There's liable to be rewrites of one section or another, and a fair amount of dithering. Probably within a few weeks, less if I'm feeling particularly good, more if I get into any of my other projects.
This was fun, and I'm looking forward to more. I do agree that it wasn't clear Tom is a villain, but hey, maybe that just makes him a better villain in the end.
Also found some minor errors.
“What if Lord Tom turns to one of our sides?” Pasta mused." <- Pasta uses Tom's real name here instead of his given alias "Godwin".
“We’ll, I’m done. Catch you later.” <- "We'll" should be "Well"
Red: Not really. I have one arc mostly planned, which will probably last another two or three chapters of this length. I have a vague idea of what would come after, but it's not planned out and will probably never eventuate.
Ovaltine: Huh, that's serendipitous. I just figured they were the race of natural ally which made the best stand-ins for Waffen SS. Tough, brutal, not relying on gimmicks like tunnel bonuses or magic.
The upkeeps were a pain to work out, and you might be right, but 200 is actually my best estimate, rather than just narrative convenience. Dove and Digdoug were 150ish and 160; assuming that that's pretty normal and both were level 1, the question is how much upkeep rises with level.
My head canon is that it's approximately base_upkeep*(1+(level-1)/10), rounded to the nearest natural number and subject to modifiers if the unit has interesting specials or whenever Rob says so. base_upkeep is usually base_unit_value/10, and base_unit_value is roughly 1000*turns_to_pop if it's a unit type that can be popped deliberately (ie not casters or anything they make). This more or less fits the known data, I think, depending on unknown data. The reason I posit that upkeep only increases by one tenth of base is so that levelling is worth it in the presence of large bonuses. I assume that basic infantry's power (combat, defence) is roughly equal to level, and it's fairly common to get +10 from stack, leadership, city defence, or other bonuses. Levelling from 1 to 2 thus increases power from 11ish to 12ish. If upkeep increased by, say, 50%, it could often be better value to disband two level 2 infantry and pop three level 1, and get 33 power rather than 24 for the same upkeep; this seems absurd. If my model is right, and the average Ethereum caster is about level 4, it works out.
It's implied by canon dialogue that casters are very expensive, which rather contradicts the above. Within the logic of Ethereum, the resolution is that they aren't, no worse than warlords, but warlords systematically undervalue them. Who adds more to a Stupidworld war effort, the man who enlists to fire a gun at the other side, or the guy who takes a job in a factory making the bullets? Objectively, the support complex is more helpful per capita over the long term, that's why high-tech societies routinely crush lower-tech ones despite fielding much smaller armies, but the boots on the ground have a deep camaraderie for each other which doesn't extend to the workers behind the scenes. In the same way, warlords respect other warlords and even infantry who fight on the front line, but they're mildly contemptuous of the casters who sit around in cosy quarters in the capital, even if they depend on those same casters' battle bears to punch through the enemy walls.
I'm working on a fic myself (painfully slow, erf-fics are so hard), and have been using a formula of 100+ ((lvl+1)^2))x12 for caster upkeep. Fits with how much Faq seemed to be spending on casters. That being said, your headcanon makes perfect sense as well, assuming a lowish average level in the magic kingdom, and also makes it probable that mid level or higher barbarian casters can actually pay upkeep, which seems unlikely in my model.
BTW, I love that Tom goes for the"abracadabra" insta-kill green ray spell! Show's his true Voldie nature -- but I'm still rooting for him!
Also, love how Tom is the charming younger version of Voldie, before his signamancy deteriorates to the snake-like. Did you intend for Tom to be a bit more "rational" than canon Voldie? Reminds me of HPMOR.
Superb effort. You've done the Titan's own work in expanding how casters feel beyond the core canon we know. It all feels right.
This feels like true Erfworld. Lots of struggle, come-from behind position. Brutality, betrayal, bluffs, politics, war.
It's fun when everything needs doing and fixing and improving right away.
And a main character with major shades of grey is lots of fun right off the bat too. If he slides deeper into darkness, who will be leave him in horror? And who will slide along with him- or even actually encourage it?
@Seraph: Banhammer needing mercs bothered me too. With no need for a real garrison, my model of a city-level's income could support about four strong casters or warlords, and he had three cities; that's like thirty of them, and up to sixty if he built them all up. But at the same time, Digdoug said upkeeps were actually really low (at least at low level), and he gave an explicit figure, which trumps extrapolation. I eventually decided that rich people generally aren't very thrifty, so maybe BH blew a lot on excessive numbers of servants or expensive coffee or something. Kind of a handwave, but there are plenty of rich Stupidworlders who get into heavy debt.
@Cayzle: It bothered me how canon!Voldemort was so Stupid Evil despite being described as brilliant. I always write him as being a little less powerful, for balance, but a lot more intelligent. It makes him a more enjoyable character to write and hopefully read, as well as being a whole lot more dangerous. Yeah, like HPMoR, although I have to admit I stopped reading that after the bit with the twoll.
@Arty: Good guess, but you're Arty Menethil when you're working for Tom. He needs someone to make his Inferi.
@Everyone: Thanks a lot. Encouragement truly does make a big difference.
Pretty cool. :)
As for the findamancy / lookamancy difference, lookamancy in my opinion cannot "look for" things. It can "look at" things. Anyway, this issue is not that disruptive from a story standpoint, it's perfectly feasible with this many casters that they used a thinkamancy or hat magic scroll to make contact with the pokedaemon chief they found via findamancy. :)