Saturday, December 16, 2017

Rescuing slaves in Kenshi

Phoenix Rising in the Great Desert of Kenshi (click pictures to enlarge)

Yeah, I don't blog at all, anymore. I certainly don't make game posts. But I had such a blast with my first attempt at rescuing slaves in Kenshi that I thought I would write it up.

Note that I didn't plan to write this, so I haven't saved any especially beautiful screenshots, even though the world can be really beautiful in Kenshi - especially for an indie game. So I'll just take a look at my saved games and try to come up with some illustrations here. (Note that all of the screenshots in this post were taken in the Great Desert. The terrain in Kenshi is more varied than this.)

I've written about Kenshi a few times previously. It's an open-ended squad-based game of exploration, combat, and construction on a arid, alien world devastated by environmental destruction and violence. (It's single-player, so you don't play with other people.)

I've been playing it off and on for three years, and it's been great fun, even though it's still in development. (The final part of the already-huge map is supposed to be finished early next year sometime.) But the game just gets better and better.

You start the game by creating a character. But this character starts off with no impressive attributes, no skills, nothing heroic at all. He's wearing rags and wields a crappy sword, and there is literally nothing in the whole world which can't kick his butt. A puppy would leave him bleeding in the dirt. (Admittedly, the puppies in Kenshi are pretty tough.)

And the only way you get better is by doing. You learn to fight by fighting. You learn to heal by healing. You learn to cook by cooking.

Your strength increases when you carry heavy weights or fight with heavy weapons. Your dexterity increases when you fight with light weapons and no encumbrance. Your toughness increases whenever you get badly damaged or even defeated in combat (assuming that you don't bleed out and die).

I don't want to talk about strategies here, but you start off staying near a town and just running everywhere, so that you get fast enough to escape from danger. (Again, you have to run in order to get better at running. The whole game works like that.) But you need to eat, too, and your starting money won't last long.

North Port at midnight

When you recruit other characters to join your faction (some will join you for free; others require a payment), they become no different from your initial character. Often, they start with some skills, but otherwise, it's exactly the same. Indeed, if your initial character dies, the game will continue as long as someone in your faction is still alive (or so I've heard, at least).

But you can play the game however you want. You can have one character or dozens (there's a mod which increases the maximum from... 30, maybe?... to 256). You can explore, just running away from danger. You can look for fights. You can trade. You can steal. You can even build a small city (and/or several smaller settlements). You play the game the way you want, and the only goal is whatever you decide for yourself.

So, anyway, I wanted to stick with just the one character and explore the world. It's huge, it really is. Even with part of the map unfinished, it's absolutely enormous! It's rather empty - this is a damaged world - and parts of it were much too dangerous for me to explore, but I tried to make a start at it, at least.

Then I decided that I really needed some help, so I recruited a few more people - just a handful. (They are pictured in the first screenshot at the start of this post.) And we continued to explore. But I got pissed off at what I was discovering. The Holy Nation is a bunch of bigots. The United Cities seems better, until you take a closer look. And both make extensive use of slavery.

It's funny, since this is just a game, but I absolutely hated seeing how they treated their slaves. And the Traders Guild nobles - who make their money off slavery - really pissed me off, acting as arrogant as rich, evil bastards can be. So I decided that my goal was going to be to free the slaves - some of them, at least. (I tried to steal from a noble, but... they've got a lot of guards in their homes!)

Eventually, we found ourselves near North Port, a slave compound far to the north, bordering the sea in the Great Desert, in United Cities territory. (This was a bad place to start, as it turned out. But it was lots of fun.) And I didn't really know how this even worked in the game. So I figured I'd just give it a try.

I waited until after midnight, but the gate to the encampment stayed open - and well-guarded. I wasn't expecting that, since I'd seen slave compound gates locked at night in Holy Nation territory. Here, I was able to walk right in, but it would be a lot harder to get any slaves out. (I left the rest of my team hiding outside, just west of the encampment.)

Starving North Port slaves at midnight, before my rescue attempt

The North Port slaves were still working, even in the middle of the night, but their overseers had gone to bed, apparently. In the dark, I was able to sneak around and pick the locks on their shackles. But other than their expressions of gratitude, nothing else seemed to happen.

Eventually, I realized that I had a bunch of slaves following me, sneaking along as I was. I figured that I'd release as many as I could, so if we rushed the gates, maybe the guards wouldn't be able to stop all of them from escaping.

But then I noticed that the guards had been pulled away from the gate by an attack of skimmers - giant, dangerous, insect-like monsters which inhabit the desert. This seemed to be a great opportunity to free at least some slaves.

I'd removed the shackles of ten or twelve slaves by then (it's hard to tell, because some slaves are so beaten down they won't even try to escape), and there were lots more. But I felt that I couldn't pass up this opportunity. So I led the slaves to the gate, all of us sneaking through the darkness until some of them were discovered, at which point we started running for freedom.

Most of the guards were still fighting the skimmers. Only two followed us, and both had been injured. Even so, they were much too tough for my squad to fight, but their injuries probably slowed them down. At any rate, after awhile, they gave up the chase, and we started sneaking again - heading west along the shore, through the sand dunes.

Note that my faction hadn't been identified as criminals. No one saw me unlock the slave shackles - a crime in United Cities territory - and although the guards chased after us, they were just trying to recapture the slaves. Either they didn't recognize the rest of us or they didn't connect us with the crime.

Of course, the world of Kenshi is dangerous enough even without the active enmity of the United Cities or the Traders Guild, but it would be far worse with it.

After awhile, one of the slaves expressed his everlasting gratitude and joined my faction. One by one, the others did that or simply ran off into the desert. Six of the slaves had stayed with me - three of them human and three of them Shek (which would become important when trying to get through Holy Nation land, because their guards will attack non-humans on sight).

[Correction: The Holy Nation people are bigots, and they hate non-humans, but they won't necessarily attack them on sight. Apparently, I was mistaken about that.]

The rescued slaves (disguised now, and well-fed) who joined our faction

They were all starving. Slaves are kept at the ragged edge of starvation specifically to make it difficult for them to escape. They had no skills at all, they were wearing slave rags, and they'd had their hair cut off to make it obvious that they were slaves.

Note that this is exactly the same thing which would happen to any of my characters if we were captured by slavers. We're just... ordinary people in the world of Kenshi, just like the NPCs. And now that the slaves had joined my faction, they were exactly the same as even my initial character. They were just skinny, slow, weak, completely unskilled, and really, really hungry.

I gave them food, but starvation is like injuries in Kenshi - there's no magic solution here. It would take time to recover from near starvation, and in the meantime, they'd eat a lot more food than normal.

And they were obviously slaves. For the next ten hours, anyone who saw them would know instantly that they were escaping slaves. (And even if they weren't recaptured then, that recognition would reset the timer to ten hours again.) So we really need to stay out of sight - not just from the slaver patrols and the manhunters, but from everyone. And that's not easy to do.

As the night went on, we continued sneaking towards the west, since I had a plan (not a good plan, as it turned out, but... well, I suppose we were lucky).

Sneaking is a lot easier in the dark, of course, but it's also harder to see people at a distance (one benefit of being in the desert). When it got light, we stopped sneaking - so we could run - whenever the way looked clear. Note that sneaking is very slow, especially with unskilled people, so we couldn't stay ahead of any slaver patrols coming from behind us is we didn't do anything but sneak. And the ex-slaves were quite slow even when running.

At one point, I saw a trader's caravan in the distance, so I ran off - just my initial character, who has become very fast - to buy some more food. Starving ex-slaves take a lot of food, and we were already getting low. The whole trip was very tense - trying to spot patrols, estimate where they were heading, and then attempt to avoid them - and we'd barely begun.

Crossing the Great Desert

After ten hours, though, my new recruits were no longer "escaping slaves." Now, they were "escaped slaves." The difference is that they wouldn't immediately be identified as slaves, provided I could disguise them a bit. And if they could avoid being recognized for another 100 hours after that, they'd be free and clear.

And that's when we had a real stroke of luck. We'd seen a small group of bandits traveling from the west, and I was hoping that they'd stay far enough from shore that they wouldn't spot us hiding there (while also hoping that they'd move quickly enough to clear the way for us to continue west before slaver patrols came up behind us!).

But then they were ambushed by skimmers. As I noted, skimmers are insect-like monsters which live in the desert. But they're especially dangerous because they can hide under the sand and then spring out to ambush you when you get close. And that's exactly what they did to the bandits.

The bandits fought back, and it was a very tough fight on both sides. At the end of it, all of the skimmers were down, along with all of the bandits but one, who limped off, severely injured.

Note that these were starving bandits, ragged people living on the edge, owning almost nothing. They didn't have any first aid kits, or the surviving bandit would have bandaged himself and his friends (not "healed" them, but at least bandaged to stop them from bleeding to death).

And note that none of them were dead, though most of the bandits were dying. Without help, they'd eventually just bleed out. The skimmers were a lot tougher. They were unconscious - and badly injured - but they would get back up again (and be almost as dangerous as they were before).


But I ran over before that happened (just me, again). By taking even one piece of meat or claws from an unconscious skimmer, that would kill it completely. And I wanted them to stay dead! Besides, we needed the food (and the claws could be sold for money).

I was sneaking (my first character is very fast by now, and very accomplished at sneaking), so the surviving bandit didn't see me. Most likely, he would have continued leaving anyway,... except when I started stealing everything from his buddies.

Yes, I stripped all of them naked and left them to bleed to death in the desert. What can I say? It's a rough world. And I needed that stuff.

You see, that bandit clothing would help disguise my escaped slaves. I had them throw away their slave rags and dress in that bloody bandit gear that was probably just as ragged. But it made them look less like slaves. After that, there was only a 10% chance that a person getting a good look at them would recognize that they were escaped slaves.

Those aren't real good odds, given that we had six escaped slaves and that there might be a dozen people in any patrol we encountered. Slavers and manhunters are especially good at identifying escaped slaves - and they don't really care anyway, since they'll enslave anyone they can, regardless - so my new recruits were still at huge risk. But... step by step, huh?

Indeed, shortly after I ran back to my people, a group of manhunters saw the dying bandits and gleefully ran over to bandage them up,... and then enslave them. Well, it was that or death, I suppose. But I was very glad to see the manhunters head back east, carrying their new 'property.'

It was time to try to make our way south, through or past both the United Cities and the Holy Nation. (Just before we left, I saw a nomad caravan and ran up to purchase a pack bull from them. I could afford it, and I thought we could use it to carry stuff. As it turned out, though, I ended up carrying the pack bull myself, much of the way - plus everything it was carrying. Heh, heh.)
Note: This is getting very long, so I'll continue with the story in Part 2.

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