Welcome to "The Gate to Carpathia!" – A Tale of Adventure in (1d6 plus 3) Parts


Part 1: The Gate To Carpathia (Chapters 1-7)

Part 2: Side Quests, Snide Quests (Chapters 8-17)

Part 3: Zombies, Teaching Assistants, and Other Freaks of Nature (Chapters 18-27)

Part 4: The Dark Lord Kalmeth, Evil Economist (Chapters 28-36)

Part 5: Heroes, Villains, and the Surge Protector of Doom (Chapters 37-46)

Part 6: Mostly Harmless Minigames (Chapters 47-64)

Bonus Part: Young Jonathan Plays It Dangerous (Chapters 65 and up)


Prologue: The Instruction Manual

A long time ago, the universe was created.

This made a lot of people angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move. Wait, never mind, scratch that. Ripping off Douglas Adams quotes may be good for a cheap laugh once in a while, but using one for the first two sentences of a story indicates a pathological lack of originality. Let's try this again. We can be more creative this time.

A long time ago, the universe was created. This was a small universe, having only one sun, one planet orbiting that sun, and only one continent on the planet. Like most universes, it was created by a set of gods and goddesses, also known by their gender-neutral term, "deities". And these deities were a lot like the deities of Greek mythology: lots of human qualities, prone to bickering, having affairs with each other, and so on. Actually, scratch that, they weren't like humans at all. If they were anything like humans, there's no way they could have created the universe. I mean, come on, anyone who's ever been in a committee knows that if a committee of human-like deities tried to design the universe, after a few billion years they'd still be arguing just over the correct values of the fundamental physical constants, let alone getting around to actually creating anything. But anyway, there were deities for each field of human endeavor, such as Kelendara, the Goddess of Wisdom; Meltrexonus, the God of War; Pat, the Bisexual Deity of People With One-Syllable Names, and so on. But there was one god that was unique to this universe: Technetrion, the God of Technobabble.

Nobody knows precisely what the word "technobabble" actually means. Various scholars have translated the word as "advanced technology," "meaningless jargon," and "contrived, overused plot device." But what is most important is that Technetrion put into the world an "interspatial energy source" – an energy source more powerful than anything else in the universe. The interspatial energy source consists of two powerful devices at opposite ends of the continent, each buried hundreds of kilometers underground, that produce disturbances in the space-time continuum that trickle up to the surface. Technetrion prophesized that when the human race developed technology powerful enough to harvest the energy from the energy sources, it could control the entire planet and eliminate all traces of evil and misery, and after that was done it could use the energy to reach out into space and explore new worlds, new star systems, and perhaps even new galaxies. (Of course, that would not be possible immediately, as the astute reader will recall that there was only one planet in this universe, but that is the kind of thing you can usually fix with post-release patches.)

But the evil goddess Trimexia, ruler of the monsters, had other plans. She wanted to stop the humans from gaining control of the energy sources. One of the energy sources was already occupied by the humans' first and largest settlement. So Trimexia seeded the world with evil monsters, hundreds of thousands of them, of all different types. The monsters had only one mission: to hold on to the other energy source, at all costs.

The humans expanded their civilization relentlessly, and in just a few short centuries human civilization spanned virtually the entire continent, and the humans had encroached upon the monsters' territory. The monsters rose up and fought back, waging a fierce war against the human armies. The monsters were more powerful than even Trimexia had hoped. The monsters beat back the human forces all the way to their original settlement, the one on top of the first energy source, which became known as "Carpathia".

The human forces were becoming dispirited, as they knew they were fighting a losing battle. The red dots of the monsters encircled the blue dots of the humans and began moving in. The human armies' orange morale bars had become nearly depleted. It would not be long before the monsters captured the humans' energy source and then they would be the rulers of the universe. So, all at once, all the humans got together and simultaneously made a desperate plea to their gods and goddesses, beseeching them to save them from the coming onslaught.

Unfortunately, the massive number of simultaneous prayer requests flooded the deities' brains like an onslaught of HTTP requests from a distributed denial-of-service attack, and the deities were so overwhelmed that their only choice was to retreat from the affairs of mankind, and leave the humans to their own devices. Fortunately, a small group of heroes snuck behind enemy lines and managed to travel to the Temple of the Gods, hoping to find the Super-Secret Ancient Divine Artifact (hereafter referred to as the SSADA) that they could use to alter the fabric of the universe. (I use the term "fabric" loosely here, as it was, of course, not literal "fabric" that they were altering. "Scientific laws" might be a better term. This, of course, raises the question of why I used the word "fabric" in the first place when I could have just said "scientific laws" and eliminated the need for this lengthy three-sentence parenthetical digression. But anyway, let's get back to the point. Wait a second, two sentences ago, I said it was a "three-sentence" digression, but if you could the last sentence it's four, and if you count this one too it's five. And if you count this sentence it's six, and if you count the sentence after this one it's seven. Whatever, let's return to our regularly scheduled plot.)

The heroes did in fact the find the SSADA. However, there was a slight problem in that the SSADA relied upon the gods for its power (hence the D in SSADA), and, as mentioned above, the gods were no longer operating in the universe. (They would, in fact, come back online, but not for a couple hundred years, well after the war had been decided.) However, the heroes did find something that was even more powerful than the SSADA. It was a holy book, which contained all the information the humans needed to survive against the monsters. And this book became known by the label which appeared on its cover, which said "Instruction Manual."

The most surprising piece of information contained within the Instruction Manual was its description of the experience-point system. According to the Manual, the way the experience point system worked was that every time a human killed a monster, the human would receive points, and when a certain number of points was attained, the human could "level up," which increases their power. And since, of course, power is the one thing that almost all humans strive for, this revelation had a significant effect on human behavior.

Driven by the desire for levels and power, a large group of humans began fighting with all their might. These humans became known as "adventurers," and they were the most effective fighting force the humans had ever seen. The tide of battle shifted dramatically, and the humans began to make their comeback. (By the way, why do we often use the term "tide of battle"? Tides shift in and out twice a day, never stopping, while in a battle one side wins sooner or later. Perhaps "football of battle" or "soccer ball of battle" would be a more apt metaphor.) With every kill the adventurers grew stronger. Hundreds of blue dots poured out of the green objective point and pushed back the red dots all the way across the strategic minimap. Despite the success of the Instruction Manual at motivating the adventurers to fight harder, some philosophical thinkers soon questioned the authenticity of the Manual, claiming that some of the things in it defied common sense. I mean, the experience-point system can easily be interpreted as a (however imperfect) mathematical abstraction of an actual human learning process. But the part about even the most powerful poisons wearing off immediately after you leave combat? Or the part about having to choose between a limited list of dialogue options when talking to an NPC? Those had to be mistakes. Because of this, people soon came to the conclusion that the Manual was false, and people soon forgot its teachings. The Manual passed into memory, and from memory into history, and from history into myth, and from myth into legend, and from legend back to history again, and from history into superstition, although not necessarily in that order.

The war raged on. Purple resource bars filled up and were just as quickly depleted as both sides poured all their energy into the fight. Blue dots and red dots turned into dark brown corpse dots across the globe. Actually it technically was not a globe, as anyone taking a cursory glance at the world map can see that it was in fact flat. Not that many people knew, however, that the world map did in fact wrap around from left to right, which would mean that the planet was not flat, but cylindrical. Even fewer people knew that in addition to wrapping around from left to right, it wrapped around from top to bottom, which would only be possible if the planet was shaped like a torus, which would be impossible for a whole host of other reasons, but if we keep getting bogged down in little minutiae like internal consistency we'll never get to the exciting parts where things get blown up.

It is now almost four thousand years after the great war. Humans emerged largely victorious, and as of now there are very few places that are still under the control of the monsters. But the victory was not without a price. Driven by their desire for experience points, the humans forgot why they were fighting, and continued their hunt to exterminate every last trace of the monsters long after the threat had passed. The monsters fought back, and the humans and monsters became locked in perpetual warfare which continues even to this day. Even the knowledge of the location of the second interspatial energy source, the original impetus for the fighting, became lost to history. (The phrase "lost to history" may be misleading, as it implies that the information was lost via a gradual, vaguely defined process. In this particular case, however, it can be determined that the aforementioned knowledge was lost at precisely 1:16 P.M. on November 17, 1463 A.C., when someone accidentally turned on the "Hide Strategic Objective Waypoints" option on the Global Map, and nobody could figure out how to turn it off again since they had thrown away the manual.)

Humans settled the entire continent, forming a total of 378 kingdoms. (By the way, 378 is an arbitrary number. So don't try to ascribe any mathematical or numerological significance to it. Although 378 in base 10 is equal to 42 in base 94. And 94 in base 10 equals 42 in base 23. But I just figured that out, after I came up with the number 378. It is a coincidence. Really. Just go with me on this.) The kingdom of Carpathia is still the largest, most technologically advanced kingdom on the continent, and they have developed to the point where they can tap the interspatial energy sources. All that was necessary now was to locate the other interspatial energy source, and humans could end their perpetual war with the monsters.

But unbeknownst to the any of the humans, the evil goddess Trimexia had returned from her multi-millenium-long hiatus and was forming a secret plan to capture both energy sources, and in one fell swoop, eliminate all the humans that were a plague on the land. Also unbeknownst to any of the humans, the second energy source was located directly in the middle of the small, idyllic, peaceful kingdom of Altaria.

And it is here that our epic tale of killing, adventure, killing, romance, killing, intrigue, killing, and more killing begins.

Chapter 1: "Dude, Where's My Evil?"

The kingdom of Altaria contained many of the features common to fantasy kingdoms of their time: primitive medieval technology, outdated monarchical imperialist dogma, ridiculously tall towers that serve no other purpose than to imprison captured princesses in the most conspicuous location possible, plenty of dragons to capture said princesses (you wonder why the dragons do that. They know they're just going to get killed by the hero), and magic, lots of magic. Despite all these apparently primitive traditions, Altaria managed to remain at peace, protected by a dedicated corps of adventuring heroes that fought evil relentlessly. These adventurers could always be recognized by their rallying cry: "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of loot and experience points."

That all changed one fateful day, when a magical teleportation portal appeared just outside the capital city. Ambassadors from the other side came through, and spread the word of great things that were on their side of the portal. They said that on their side was another great kingdom, called Carpathia, and that it was not only peaceful but also had even more opportunities to fight evil for fun and profit. The people were suspicious though, because if there really was that much evil to fight, then how could Carpathia remain peaceful for so long? Nevertheless, adventurers lined up to pass through what would soon become known to all as "The Gate to Carpathia".

Dozens of adventurers passed through the portal, but none ever returned. Each new adventurer who did not return increased the uncertainty about what lay beyond. If nobody was coming back, then something had to be trapping them or killing them. But what could be doing such a thing? Was there some evil demonic being looking to recruit unsuspecting people for a diabolical plan? Or could it be something even more sinister? Each person who went through merely increased the desire of other adventurers to go through the portal, for the adventurers craved risk and excitement. But it was not long before it was clear that something had to be done.

So many adventurers passed through the portal that, if something were not done soon, the entire kingdom would soon be depopulated. So the king gathered all the best wizards in the land to cast a gigantic, powerful spell that would close off the portal forever. However, the spell failed: it did not completely destroy the portal, but merely moved the entry point to a different location. This was considered a success, though, because nobody knew just where the new entry point was, so no more foolish adventurers could succumb to the Gate's temptations.

Nevertheless, the decision to close the portal was made too late, for too many adventurers had already passed through. There were no longer enough adventurers left in Altaria to defend the kingdom against the forces of evil. The forces of evil saw the weakness and exploited it, destroying outlying towns and even invading the cities. The people were angry at the king for dragging his feet on the whole portal issue, and so they stormed the palace and deposed the king. The old era of peace had been shattered, and the era of war quickly took its place.

For the next four hundred years the kingdom was beset by turmoil. Various factions fought for power, the evil forces continued attacking, and the severely weakened adventuring heroes could do little to stop it. But after these 400 years, a new ruler, Prince Arthanis, came to the throne. He ended the fighting, beat back the forces of evil, trained up a new generation of adventurers, and within a decade transformed Altaria from a perpetual war zone into the haven of peace that it once was.

Now, you're probably thinking, "Wow, Prince Arthanis must be a really good ruler." And most of the people living in Altaria at the time thought that too. But they were wrong. I mean, really wrong. Prince Arthanis was actually a quite incompetent prince. Of course now you're thinking, "If he was really incompetent, how did he defeat all the evil so fast?" I could tell you the answer to that, but that would spoil the plot. Wait a second, I might have spoiled the plot just by telling you that giving you the answer might spoil the plot, so I'm sorry. Also, I might have spoiled the plot even more just by telling you that last sentence. Whatever. Now that I've completely spoiled the plot, let's get on with the story.

SPOILER ALERT: The previous paragraph contains plot spoilers. If you don't want to have the plot spoiled for you, don't read the previous paragraph. Of course, by the time you get to this paragraph, you will have already read the previous paragraph. This means I should have put the Spoiler Alert before the previous paragraph. I'm sorry. Actually, now that I think of it, the aforementioned paragraph might not have plot spoilers in it after all. So it's okay to read it. Forget what I just said.

"You have completed your last and final test", Prince Arthanis told Adrian. "Now, you will be officially known as one of the elite Paladins of Altaria!"

Adrian was skeptical. "Are you saying that's it? I mean, I paid 3,000 gold pieces for this training course, and all I got was the three tutorial quests. I 'm still 1st level, and I still don't have much of a clue where to go next. I mean, there was nothing about where to go to get quests or equipment or anything!"

"I'm not sure what you're talking about," said Arthanis. "I am the one who gives all the quests. I have an endless supply of quests."

"Okay," said Adrian. "Can I have my first quest?"

Arthanis looked in his Quest Notebook. "I'm sorry, it looks like I don't have any quests to give you right now. I'm all out. Come back in a few days and I might have another one."

"What do you mean you don't have any quests for me to do? Aren't there evil monsters lying in wait in the wilderness to prey on unsuspecting travelers, and I'm supposed to eliminate them?"

"Well, I guess all the evil's been exterminated for now. If you want to fight evil, you'll have to find your own."

"And where might I do that?"

"That's easy. Go to the tavern. There's never a shortage of work there."