Preparing for the Unexpected (or) The Wrong Way to Fight a Harpy
Anybody who has spent time in the Kingdoms sector of Ada-Kar has probably wandered into the Pirate’s Gold pub for a drink or five. A pleasant and entertaining place, the Pirate’s Gold is always lively. The pub’s owner, Damon Anseti, can often be found pouring drinks, carousing with the patrons, and spinning yarns about his adventuring days. I asked him to sit with me and discuss a few of his favorite subjects.
For this most recent interview I asked him to tell me how to prepare for an adventure.
Valhalla Crier: You must have learned a lot about how to organize an adventure party during what you call your “Grand Adventure.” What important things did you learn by the time you came back that you wished you had known when you started?
Damon: Well, I could cite examples all day. Any one of the stories makes for good entertainment, but none of ‘em will save your life. Lives don’t get saved by stories. They get saved by doing the right thing at the right time.
Valhalla Crier: Okay, so what are these “right things?”
Damon: Number one is to work with a crew you know and trust. The most successful bands are the ones that have been together the longest. Not only do they know what they are doing by themselves, but they know how to work as a team. I don’t give a damn who you are, if you don’t have somebody to watch your back you don’t have a chance. Hell, Dreadnaught Drake refused to work with a partner and see where that got him.
Valhalla Crier: So get a partner then.
Damon: Yeah, but not just any partner. You’ve got to work as a team. Make sure that you’ve covered all your areas of weakness. Your weaknesses are more important than your strengths. You could have some muscle-bound ape that can pound a Minotaur to goo, but if you don’t have the brains to back up the brawn then it’s only a matter of time. You can’t fight your way out of every situation.
Valhalla Crier: So what kind of things are we talking about? I mean, I could make a dream team to cover every potential circumstance, but when is that really going to be feasible? I mean, where is the line and what is a “must have” versus a “nice to have?”
Damon: Hold on now. It doesn’t need to be that tough. You don’t need to come up with every eventuality, and in fact, you can’t. There is always going to be something that you can’t plan for. Crazy shit happens out there all the time, so you better buy in on that before you pack your undies!
What’s really important is that your crew covers a couple of different roles. Some people can manage many roles, while others might specialize in one and be totally useless in all the others.
Valhalla Crier: Okay, so what are these roles?
Damon: First up you got your Capo. You can run your crew any way you want to, but when it’s go time you need somebody calling the shots. There’s no time to debate and vote when a couple dozen screaming hobgoblins come charging over the rise. What this person says goes, at least during combat. You need somebody who can think fast, get everyone on the same page, and above all, not panic!
Valhalla Crier: How do you find a good Capo?
Damon: It’s not easy going, particularly with a new crew. Unless you’ve got someone hiring through the Adventurer’s Guild and issuing the paycheck, who’s in charge can get pretty murky. Every adventurer I’ve ever met wants to be alpha-dog. None of them want to give, particularly if they don’t know each other. Eventually somebody will step up that everyone can get behind, but until a leader emerges things won’t go smooth.
If you don’t have somebody calling the shots, somebody will get shot.
Valhalla Crier: Fair enough, what’s another role?
Damon: You also need a Basher; somebody who you count on to really ramp up the body count. You need someone tough, fast, vicious, and above all, someone who loves to fight. It doesn’t matter if they carry a sidearm or a club. As long as you can trust him to wade through your enemies, you want him on your team.
Valhalla Crier: Okay, who’s next?
Damon: Next is your Thinker. He’s the one who’s got all the angles. He can read ancient texts and talk foreign and what-not. It’s even more than that, though. Your Thinker is the one that’s going to put together connections nobody else can make. They’ll make sure you know which way to turn in a maze, or even figure out a riddle for you. That sort of thing.
Valhalla Crier: All right. Who’s next?
Damon: You need a Scout too. Now I’m using “scout” in a broad sense, you dig? I’m not only talking about someone who can search ahead, find the trails, but also somebody who always spots stuff that others miss. They’re good for finding hidden doors, traps, maybe even catching somebody in a lie. You need this person to keep you safe from what you can’t see and can’t expect.
Valhalla Crier: All right, any others?
Damon: Well, the last one you need is your Jack.
Valhalla Crier: Your Jack?
Damon: Yeah, as in “Jack of all Trades.” You need somebody who will be there as back-up for each of the others. He might not be the best at any one thing, but he can do them all to some extent. That way, when one of your buddies dies you have the Jack to take his place.
Valhalla Crier: Well, that’s a grim thought.
Damon: It’s the truth, though. Any time you head out into the wilds you can bet not everyone’s coming back.
Valhalla Crier: Well how do you avoid that? How do you come back from a successful adventure without anyone dying?
Damon: Well there’s no guarantees, but like I said getting a good crew that works well together is your best bet. Even then so much can go wrong. It helps to have a clear idea of your goals, your enemies, potential troubles you might have. You need to take a good look at the possibilities and probabilities and then make plans.
Valhalla Crier: So you make a plan. How detailed do you get?
Damon: As detailed as you can, but you always have to leave room for improvisation. Your Jack should be really good at that. In fact that should be one of his specialties.
It’s tough to know what is going on until you are in the middle of it, though. Even then you might not know what is really going on. So you make a plan. Then you need a back-up plan. Then a back-up plan to your back-up. And then, of course, you’ve got your “Go South” plan.
Valhalla Crier: What’s the “Go South” plan?
Damon: That’s the retreat plan for when everything goes south. There is nothing worse than everyone running in panic.
Valhalla Crier: Can you give me an example of a time when things fell apart? When you had to switch plans or improvise?
Damon: I could tell you about the wrong way to fight a Harpy.
Valhalla Crier: Oh? Please do.
Damon: Well we were on our way to do this thing in Babylon.
Valhalla Crier: The fortress of the dead? With the White?
Damon: Yeah. I told you about that?
Valhalla Crier: You tell everyone about that. I wrote an article on it once.
Damon: So anyway, we were on our way to Babylon and we were passing through the Phoenician islands when we were attacked by a bunch of Harpies. Have you ever seen a harpy in person?
Valhalla Crier: No.
Damon: Well, you don’t want to. They’re nasty things! And I’m not just talking about the teeth and claws and their bat wings and nasty disposition and all that. The damn things stink! Ugh, it’s like huffing Boca’s pits after a game of racket-ball. (Boca Raton is Damon’s half-ogre partner and bar keeper at the Pirate’s Gold.)
Valhalla Crier: Sounds bad.
Damon: You don’t know the half of it. It’s like somebody took a batch of Sulphur and mixed in some bleach, then tossed it into a bucket of raw sewage. It’s so bad that people gag and pass out when they come too close. That’s their main attack. They come in and everyone starts hacking and gagging, then they carry off the one that will give them the least trouble. Meanwhile everyone else is sitting there hoping they will be able to get the stench out of their noses. Which they won’t!
Valhalla Crier: Okay, so the harpies attacked you. What happened then?
Damon: Well at the time I was below deck when I hear this commotion topside. I grabbed my gear and headed up there just like everyone else. By the time I got up there one of the crew members was already being carried off. Two more of those things were trying to haul away the helmsman. He was holding tight to the helm though and not letting go. I pulled out my gun and was getting ready to shoot one of them when Phil Two-Toes decides to scare them off using one of the alchemic concoctions he picked up in Ada-Kar.
He had a whole pharmacy of crap that he bought before we left. He spent a whole bunch of scratch on that load! It came in useful too, though not to him.
Anyway, Phil Two-Toes pulls out this dust called “Noxious Cloud.” You throw it and it makes everything in that area start to gag and reel. Seems like a good idea right? Scare off the harpies, they drop the helmsman and everyone’s happy, right?
Valhalla Crier: Right.
Damon: Well bad news, square! Turns out Noxious Cloud is made from a harpy’s stink glands! Oh they dropped the helmsman alright! They dropped him and turned right on Phil. They must have thought he was making a pass at them or something. They just shot right over to him and started trying to pull him off ship, all ready for love.
The stink was overwhelming! Phil dropped like a brick. Me and Boca are both retching.
Fortunately the ship’s captain showed up around then and drove a cutlass into one of them. The other was already in the air though, climbing higher. I took a couple of shots at it once I stopped gagging. I even managed to hit it. It dropped Phil about fifty yards off the side then took off flying back to the coast.
We scrambled to try and rescue him, but it was too late. He wasn’t much of a swimmer and he was passed out from the harpy stink anyway. He ended up drowning before we could get him.
Valhalla Crier: I’m sorry. It’s a shame. He sounds like a good man.
Damon: Yeah he was. Well, a good Satyr anyway.
Valhalla Crier: I see.
Damon: I think you also better see how fast things can go sour.
Valhalla Crier: I see. One minute you are resting below deck and the next one of your crew is dead.
Damon: Yeah, it happens just that fast. And that’s why I’m telling you why you need back-up plans and contingencies. Phil was supposed to be our scout. Without him we were suddenly weaker. Fortunately we had Bianca there to take his place.
Valhalla Crier: So each of these positions, these roles, is not mutually exclusive?
Damon: What do you mean?
Valhalla Crier: You don’t need to fill all the roles with one person each?
Damon: No. No. Not at all. You can have a Thinker who is also a Scout, or a Basher that’s also a Capo. Most people tend toward one or the other though, so they fit into those roles better, especially when you have a full crew. When your crew starts to dwindle though, you really miss the blank spots.
I was a pretty good Jack though, and Boca was a damn fine Basher, so that helped a lot.
Valhalla Crier: Well, you guys made it back so that’s the important thing. You did that with a good crew and lots of planning. What other suggestions do you have?
Damon: Well you need the right equipment, but I think I told you about that before.
Valhalla Crier: Yes, you did. I believe that was our third interview. Is there anything else you would like to mention?
Damon: Well, I guess you need something else. The ability to adapt, and to do it fast! You’ve got to know that when you go into these situations, hell when you go pretty much anywhere in Valhalla, you’re going to run into some strange things. You might not know the rules that you’re playing by, what these things can do, or what their weaknesses are. Had Phil Two-Toes known that his Noxious Cloud would do what it did, you can bet that he would have thrown something else.
The rest of us managed to work through it. The harpies and a hundred other situations like it. Danger comes out of nowhere and you can never be ready enough. When it comes you need to move fast, think on your feet, and hope you don’t make it worse.
Valhalla Crier: How do you know you are doing the right thing?
Damon: You don’t. Sometimes it’s just luck. I guess if you make it back, you know you did the right things along the way.