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If you remember from last time, Uncle Filbert blundered into the heart of the brigand stronghold and said rude things to them. Instead of gutting him, they took his handkerchief and sent him home. For some reason, I’ve agreed to help him get it back. Maybe I’m being nice to him because he’s a fellow Hobbit. Maybe I’m just an incredible idiot.

Getting to the handkerchief thieves is not easy. I have to go deep into the bandit-infested woods. I have to kill more than a few ruffians on the way.

At last I reach the ruins where they are holding Filbert’s frilly nose-blowing aid. This place is going to be a tough nut to crack.

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These lot look like hardened criminals.

Yow. Most of the guys on this side of the woods are a few levels above me.

I slaughter my way in, losing a few quarts of my own blood in the process. These guys must be really attached to the handkerchief to be willing to fight to the death over it. I finally reach their leader.

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It’s the dastardly Cole Sickleleaf, soon to be renamed, “Cole Knifedlungs”.

Cole is an elite, but he’s three or four levels below most of his men. Hm.

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A little while ago Uncle Filbert came in here and called this guy mean names, and all Cole did was take his hankie. But when I show up he goes right for murder without even trying to take any of my accessories. I guess he just really hates bards or something.

We have a knife fight. After a few stabs in the “you really should have worn a codpiece” region he gives up the ghost.

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Fifteen minutes later I return to Filbert. I’ve killed a goodly number of brigands and have recovered his handkerchief, as requested. Holding it with two fingers, I hand it back to him.

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“Oh bless me, you found it!” he says with delight, tucking the blood-splattered thing back into his breast pocket. “Those men were ever so rude. I do hope they’ve learned their lesson!”

“Well, they’re dead, so I’m not sure just how much learning took place in those final moments of violence and screaming. But if they did learn anything, it was probably about how they were idiots to show you mercy.”

“And I got my lucky handkerchief back!” he says gleefully.

“DO YOU UNDERSTAND? THEY LET YOU GO, AND IN RETURN YOU HAD ME END THE LIVES OF DOZEN MEN FOR YOUR BOOGER-RAG!”

“If you ever find yourself in the neighborhood, stop in for tea!” he waves at me cheerily.

I back away from the grinning old codger, watching him smile happily with the crusty, bloody handkerchief poking up out of his pocket.

After bringing shame to my own people, I decide to work with the humans again.

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Ted Pickthorn. His dad was a notorious robber, and was hanged some years ago. If I was the offspring of a right bastard like that I probably wouldn’t bring it up when I met people, but Ted doesn’t seem to mind telling me. His dad had some hidden riches someplace, and Ted wants me to help recover them. Apparently he’s been waiting for a complete stranger to come along so he can have them dig up his secret family treasure of blood money.

We’re drifting pretty far from my mission. Wasn’t there something about “needing lumber”? I remember being told that this was the place to go to “help the people of Archet rebuild.” Where did this all go wrong?

Perversely, old man Pickthorn hid his ill-gotten gains under the tree from which he was hung. I have no idea how he accomplished this, although I give him full points for audacity. When they put him up to swing, he died just a few feet over the riches for which he was being put to death.

Ted gives me the directions, a pick-axe, and sends me on my way. He lets me know that if I recover his family fortune, he’ll kick a whole 90 coppers my way. I don’t actually know why he gave me a pick-axe. Don’t you dig holes with shovels? Moreover, why is he having a stranger go and dig up treasure that’s just over the hill from his house?

But the plot thins:

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The hangin’ tree has been chopped down. Remember that the logging camp is chopping down trees like a legion of dire beavers because they’re trying to get enough wood to rebuild the town of Archet. This place has been clear-cut.

There’s no way to know where the treasure might be. The hanging tree was marked with an ‘X’, and that part of the tree is gone. I dig around a few of them, and manage to come up empty. Oh, and I’m attacked by a bear in the process.

Just for the record, I want to say that digging holes under trees with a pick axe is a tough job even when bears aren’t trying to eat you. As a result, I have a lousy afternoon.

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I return to Ted and give him the bad news, “I can’t find your father’s stash of stolen loot, so it might be time to consider looking for honest employment.”

Now, if I was in Ted’s shoes and I stupidly told an armed stranger where my family fortune was, and if they had reason to be mad at me – like maybe they just did some hard labor and got mauled by a wild animal – and if I was paying them some really insultingly small sum for their trouble, then I might suffer some small, nagging doubts when they told me the treasure wasn’t there.

Ted has no such doubts. Instead he sends me to see Mason Thorne, who is in charge of the logging camp. Ted thinks that maybe Mason… keeps a record of the trees he cuts down?

Why would anyone record the appearance of the trees they chop? Are they worried they might want to put them back up again at a later time?

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The only thing more absurd than Ted’s suggestion is the fact that he’s right. Thorne actually does keep a tree-chopping diary. Unsurprisingly, he no longer has it. Mason Thorn keeps a journal of cut trees, but he lost it when he was run off by brigands. He suggests I track down a brigand leader and recover the journal.

Yes, I’m sure a hot item like a book titled, “A Painstakingly Detailed Account of All the Trees I’ve Ever Cut Down, By Mason Thorn” would naturally end up in the hands of a chief. Why, he’d have to keep it for himself just to keep his men from killing each other over it!

This quest is what they call, “Attempted murder of your character by the game designers”. It’s supposedly a level 8 quest. But to get the logbook you have to assault a Brigand leader, who is grouped with other guys. Here is the camp you have to knock over:

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I was level ten here. If I was level 8 – which is supposedly the level of this quest – I’d be looking at a group with two same-level guys and two guys that have a couple of levels on me. And all four of them are linked, so you can’t pick them off one at a time without playing a dangerous game of hit-and-run. Also, some of the mooks hide on the other side of the hill and pop up after you attack, increasing the chances that you’ll start a fight you can’t finish. Add in the fact that there’s a wandering level 10 elite in the area, and you are very likely to die hilariously in the service of Ted Pickthorn.

There’s another quest like this in the Shire, where killing a single Dwarf on the edge of the Dwarf camp is a level 10 quest, but assaulting the entire camp and killing everyone in it is supposedly a level 8 quest. Not a “group” quest, just a regular level 8 quest.

I don’t mind a challenging mission, but the game needs to signal to the player “this one is a handful.” It sucks getting pancaked by something under your level. It sucks hiking out into the wilderness to find something that’s just too dang hard for you.

I think it’s a really good policy to have a tough mission in there once in a while for advanced or daring players, as long as you get a little extra reward for the extra effort and risk. But this mission gives out the same 90 coppers you get for most other quests. At the end, Ted gets “several” gold coins as part of his dad’s treasure. Just one gold coin is worth 100,000 coppers. So he gets (say) 500,000 coppers, and you get… 90. Yeah. F#@% you too, Ted.

And the same goes for you, quest log.

Mason is in the middle of explaining where I can find the nearest squad of elite killer bandits when I stop him and suggest that he go and bugger a Goblin.

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I return to Ted Pickthorn and tell him to take his pick-axe, his father’s treasure, and the hanging tree, and shove them all up his ass. Sideways. In that order.

Now that we’re done making friends, let’s find someone else to help. I guess part of the blame for this mess goes to me for agreeing to help the son of a highwayman.

Okay, actually I skipped the rest of this quest because there wasn’t anything interesting left to say about it. I would have gone after the treasure if there was a laugh in it for you.

Moral of the story: Be careful and don’t always trust the “suggested level” in the quest guide. Also don’t forget to check those quests rewards before you agree to do the job. Some people will give you pocket change to run to Mt. Doom and swipe the newspaper off of Sauron’s doorstep, and others will give you a Flaming Sword of Awesome for getting a stuck lid off a jar of pickles.

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I manage to track down a morose young lady who needs my help. During the raid her late father’s fishing pole was stolen, and she’d like it back. Yes, I can see how a used fishing pole would be a hot item for rampaging brigands who live in the woods miles from water. I’ve been through the woods a dozen times now, and one thing I do know about these brigands is that they don’t make a habit of carrying any fishing gear. Clearly this job is a ridiculous waste of time.

I tell the lass I’ll do it.

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I march out into the woods, find a bandit, and stab her guts out.

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Turns out she’s carrying the exact fishing pole I’m looking for. What are the odds?

Quest-driven drops can be odd sometimes.

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I return the pole to Gail. She’s grateful, and pays me the going rate of 90 coppers that all the locals pay for random jobs of delivery and murder. While this one was technically a win for me, I’m still kind of feeling like giving a fishing pole to a non-fisher hasn’t really improved the quality of life for people here in town.

Let’s check the score. So far the bandits have claimed the following loot:

1) Purse (recovered)
2) Tree diary
3) Fishing pole (recovered)
4) Handkerchief (recovered)

So now the hundred or so of them will have to share the tree diary, I guess. Glad I was able to leave them with something.

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The brigands are cranky. Chief Cole decomposes.
I took back the hanky, for the blowing of noses.

Ted needs loot (from thieving) though it’s guarded by bears.
He is wrong in believing that I’m a Hobbit who cares.

Out for a stroll here, deep inside the woods proper.
I recovered your pole Gail, so gimmie my coppers.

Next Time: Home again, home again, jiggity jig.

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Shamus Young is the guy behind Reset Button, Twenty Sided, DM of the Rings, and Stolen Pixels.

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