Magical Mystery Puppy Mill


Age of Wonders 3 is a beautiful game and I mostly use it to do terrible things to wyverns.

There is a mid-level Sorcerer spell called Invoke Extraordinary Mount, and it is exactly what it sounds like: you do an invocation, you get a mount, and it will be extraordinary.

Or a raptor, because what more would you want from forty mana than a bow-legged, land-locked lizard? I never allowed them to hatch. My lands were littered with abandoned eggs, discarded the moment I realised the reptile within was flightless. I was the reason the RSPCA makes adverts.

Did you know that if you give a rat a button which provides it with a pellet, it will largely use it as and when it needs to? The stability keeps it calm. But if the button is unreliable, only paying out five times out of ten, that rat will lose its tiny shit. It will hammer on that button until its little velvety paws quiver with exhaustion, hoard what it gets, and take more than it needs to. There’s a theory that this is the same sporadic reward system that makes humans drop our rent money into slot machines. It’s fascinating.

I like to call it the Unpredictable Wyvern Effect.

Once I research this spell, my game enters a death spiral. I stop raiding tombs, building cities, or, in fact, doing anything except casting it. I become a tennis ball machine of hellhound eggs. Wandering ghosts take over my watchtowers and bandits stalk the outskirts of my land, and I sit on my daintily-robed arse, waiting for Dread Spider #3 to gnaw its way through the shell.

All my heroes are saddled up on something that flies, prances, lollops, or skitters. This spiderling will have no rider, but still I summon. When it hatches, I will ship it off to a distant hero and when it arrives I will tell him to send it back. It will spend its life in a custody battle that nobody wants to win.

I dream of modding the game so my leader can stand, one foot on each mount, and waterski twin unicorns across the battlefield.

The day I remembered that heroes can carry unused mounts in their packs, crumpled up in the bottom like so much Kendal Mint Cake, was the day I started to hang around city gates like an awkward babygoth outside McDonalds1. My armies milled around while I weighed my options, trying to decide what goes against Goblin Warlord this season. Vampire Spider, for blight protection? Or Bone Wyvern, for flying over walls and adding a much-needed touch of hair metal chic.

Where mid-’00s Hollywood had the purse dog, I had the satchel wyvern.

If it were possible to sell unwanted mounts, my kingdom would be fueled by the tears of baby unicorns. I would sit astride a majestic throne of unhatched raptor eggs; not scatter my shame in long grass or mountain passes or occasionally the sea. I would be the capitalist god of the backyard hellhound breeder.

As it is, I can’t get shot of the bloody things. It’s not long before I start hawking them off to my rivals for ten mana and a sense of blessed relief. Eventually I will be attacked in my own wooden-walled throne city – defence research went by the wayside long ago – by an army kitted out from my own hand. I will stand in the wreckage and I will whisper, “How. How could this be.”

I had so many wyverns.”

1 You get these in other cities too, right? Because in Glasgow they’re like a little flock of dejected crows and it is the cutest.

This was written for Critical Distance‘s June Blogs of the Round Table, and the theme was pets. Some really cool motherfuckers submitted to it, so go read their stuff.

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