Book 3/Page 36/Transcript

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"Grand strategy," said the Chief Warlord of Gobwin Knob, "is not the same as military strategy, where you set your objectives and then prioritize them. Grand strategy is at the highest level, where you decide who you are as a side, and what you want your side to become. We sometimes call it 'national strategy,' in my world."

He took a half step to the left, and held his hand out toward Stanley the Tool. The Overlord had picked a spot in the front row of benches, and was watching him with fixed attention.

"Here in Erfworld," Parson said, looking Stanley in the eye, "grand strategy is basically 'what the Ruler wants.' The Overlord decides the goal, and units like us have to figure out how to make it happen for him. Especially the Chief Warlord."

At this, he couldn't help but throw a glance up to Ansom in the top row. The guy was sitting alone, with a sour look on his face. He had been brooding and silent since his arrival in Spacerock. Exactly how pissed was he not to be Chief any more? Was that going to be a problem?

Parson gave him a respectful nod. "My job...is to figure out a military strategy to get the Tool what he wants. And to whatever degree, you all have to carry out my strategy."

He glanced around the bleachers at each of them as he said this. To his left, Ace was sitting close to Stanley in the front row. Behind them sat Sizemore and Ansom, away from the others and from one another, both of them looking sullen. To his right, Maggie sat primly in the front row beside an unsure, frowning Antium. Parson was glad to see that guy again. He'd have to sit down and have a talk with him sometime.

Wanda sat in the next row up, wearing yet another new outfit. This one looked like something from a funeral, even to the point of including a black lace veil. He couldn't even tell where she was looking, although her posture suggested she was paying attention to his speech. God, she was weird sometimes.

Finally, Jack sat back in the top row, his eyes darting all around. He didn't look like he was tuned in to the lecture, but this was Jack; he was probably paying attention on levels Parson couldn't imagine.

"So...what do you want, Lord Stanley?" he asked his boss directly. "Tell us what you want for the side."

Stanley straightened up on his bench. "I wanna take over the world," he said, giving a mean little grin. He leaned back and looked over his shoulder at some of the others. "Iddn'at what we're doing? That's what the Titans want for me. For us."

There were nods and murmurs of assent, even from Ansom and Jack. Wanda cocked her head a bit and nodded. Only Sizemore looked disinterested.

Parson smiled. "'To drive my enemies before me and laminate their women.' Right. So, leaving aside there may be a level above grand strategy called 'divine strategy,' we'll just call one of our grand objectives 'total military conquest.'"

He considered walking over and writing that on the chalkboard, but he had opted to stand away from the board, right in front of everyone. He didn't want to lose his momentum while he had them. And he was having fun; this was a lot like the speeches he used to give his gaming group before DMming a new campaign.

"And let me suggest another grand strategic objective to go with that. Besides wanting to win, you also want not to lose. Survival is an even higher priority for us than conquest, right?"

He paused long enough for Stanley to give a little conciliatory shrug/nod, but not long enough for the the[1] Tool to start talking. "And...we've had some close calls. A few turns ago, you could have fallen in battle and that would have been a total loss for the side, since we have no heir."

Stanley suddenly stood up. "I'm not getting an heir, Hamster," he snapped. "If that's what this whole spiel is about—"

"Easy, easy," said Parson, holding up a hand. "I understand that. You've said so, and that's fine." It wasn't fine, but Parson knew an unwinnable battle when he saw one. The Tool thought that an heir would be a liability to his rule, and that the Titans would keep him from ever falling. "That's a grand strategic decision you've made, and it's yours to make, Tool."

Parson turned away a bit, to defuse the situation, and started to pace as he talked. "But the side is vulnerable. We can lose battles. Before you summoned me, we were down to one city. And I'm saying we need to make sure that kind of crap doesn't happen again. Wanda, you know this, right?"

She raised her veiled face to him as he addressed her.

"The Titans, or Fate, or whatever might be looking out for us, but things can still go wrong. They can always get worse, right?"

"Agreed," she said, her voice thick with meaning. Behind the veil, she sounded like a fortune teller or something. "Fate will see us victorious. But whether the way is easy or hard depends on our choices."

Parson pointed to her and looked back at Stanley, who sat slowly back down on the bench. "Exactly. Just because the Titans are on our side doesn't mean we can't lose. We got into that situation where we had one city, surrounded by enemies," he said, "because our grand strategy was way too simple. 'Beat everybody and don't lose' is not sophisticated enough for a complex, multiplayer environment. Especially not with players in it like Charlie."

He leaned against the map table. "Now, we've fought our way back pretty well. I mean, we're sitting in the former capital of Jetstone right now. But we've done that by leaning on Decryption. Which means Wanda. Which means a single point of failure on the battlefield. The fight for this city was almost a disaster. Ansom, when you marched up to the bridge, how many armies were we expecting to fight? Just Jetstone, right? And you even tried to make terms with them."

Ansom nodded solemnly. "I did."

"But what actually happened was, not only did we not negotiate a truce or a surrender or an alliance, but we ended up fighting Jetstone, plus Faq, Charlescomm, and Haggar. That wasn't in any of the battle plans I saw; it was an ambush. For Wanda, in fact. They were going for you. You are that scary to them."

Wanda did not move, even slightly, in response.

"Taking this city," continued Parson, "cost us half of our dwagons, and all of our Archons. We lost a hell of a lot of ground troops, as well as several warlords. Ansom was captured, Jack was croaked, the rest of us almost burned up, and we had to change the capital.

"It. Was not. Worth it." He poked the strategy table with an index finger to punctuate the sentence. Then he paused and looked around the bleachers again.

"The fastest way to lose in a multiplayer game is to look like the biggest threat, the one that everybody agrees to gang up on," he said. "So we have to be less scary. We might actually be able to take over the world eventually, but we can't fight everyone all at once. We need some friends right now. We need to try some real diplomacy, not just this "convert or die" crusader crap." He looked squarely at Wanda as he said this.

"Charlie has an Arkentool, you know? And he doesn't act like this. He wins his battles by dealmaking. He's everybody's business partner, even ours now. We need to make some deals of our own."

"With who?" said Stanley pointedly. His tone suggested: who'd want to deal with us?

"I dunno," said Parson, standing up straight and glancing at the broad, empty strategy table. "Maybe someone in the Coalition. They've had their infighting, their holdouts. Maybe with Slately gone, we can break them up."

He gestured toward the edges of the table. "Or maybe we just have to go farther afield, to places like Jitterati and Carport that don't hate us yet. Maybe we spend the next 27 turns surrounding Faq or Jetstone with our allies, so we can avoid the kinds of surprises we got here."

He fell silent, letting the room stare at the empty table and imagine the possibilities. He watched Stanley in particular. The Tool was stroking his chin.

From the top of the bleachers, a throat cleared.

"Or we could deal with Jetstone," said Ansom. "Or Faq."

Parson looked up in surprise. "I was...kind of under the impression that those would be diplomatic dead ends, Ansom," he said, shaking his head a little. "Why, you don't think so?"

Ansom raised his chin and squinted. "I do not know," he said. "But if the aims of the side can be best furthered by diplomacy, then that is how I wish to serve. I know my brother likes to talk. And I know that the Queen of Faq has an interest in me. I believe I should personally negotiate with one or both of them."

As Ansom spoke, Wanda turned completely around and seemed to be looking at him intently. Parson would have liked to have been able to see her face about then.

"You tried to kill them both," said the Chief Warlord with a wry smile. "You sure you're the man for that job?"

"I am," said Ansom, without a hint of humor about it.

"Okay, maybe," Parson said, shrugging. "We'll talk about it. We have a lot to talk about. We've got security issues. Communications issues. Logistical stuff, like restoring the dwagon relays. We've gotta decide if we want to keep the capital here, or go back to Gobwin Knob, or even use the Unaroyal site. We'll have to think about our forces in the Magic Kingdom... Lots of stuff like that."

He took a step over toward Stanley. "But it all starts with grand strategy, and that's your call, boss. So what do you think? Can we be less scary and start making some friends?"

The Overlord put his thumb and forefinger to his chin. "Nah," he said. "It's not really my style, Hamster."

"Right, I know," said Parson, not letting his smile drop. "But it is the fastest and surest way to take over the world. And just remember, every friend you make now is somebody you get to stab in the back later on."

Stanley's eyebrows went up, and he shot a quick glance in Wanda's direction. He leaned forward on his bench. "Okay, yeah. That's my style."