2014’s Orconomics: A Satire is the first volume in J. Zachary Pike’s Dark Profit Saga.
Disgraced dwarf berserker Gorm Ingerson is woken from his latest drunken bender by an adventurer doing his best to kill a terrified goblin. Gorm beats the adventurer to a pulp and takes his stuff.
Rather than killing the defenseless goblin out of hand, as tradition dictates, Gorm takes the goblin, Gleebek, to the great city of Andarun to get its Non-Combatant Papers. It’s an act of charity that attracts just the wrong sort of attention.
Soon after arriving in Andarun, Gorm gets an offer he cannot refuse.
The Guild of Heroes takes pride in its members’ work ethic: succeed in quests or die trying. With 40% of the economy based on the loot recovered by wandering heroes, the Guild is highly motivated to encourage diligence. When adventurers abandon quests, the Guild will intervene to ensure that the cowards meet a swift demise. The Guild has it in for dungeon-fleeing Gorm. Now he’s just walked into their clutches.
But wait! If Gorm will do a wee task for the Guild, they’ll forgo punishment. The task? Join a party of adventurers accompanying Niln, who is setting out to prove himself the Seventh Hero of the Al’Matrans .
- Gleebek, acting as Gorm’s squire. Untalented at first, he becomes somewhat less competent over time.
- Heraldin the Bard, a smarmy Lothario whose bardic abilities are unimpressive, but who is good with locks and … ahem … stealthy acquisitions.
- Solamancer Laruna, who is a lousy magician but has a lot of raw power. She bears a strong dislike to …
- Noctomancer Jynn, who has skill but little magical power. He snarks at Laruna’s lack of discipline.
- Gaist, formerly Iheen the Red, an assassin who has not spoken since the disastrous events in the dungeon of Az’Anon the Spider King (the disastrous events that Gorm fled).
- Kaitha the Ranger, once known as the Jade Wind, now better known for her fondness for drink and inability to finish quests.
An impressive band: Heroes of Destiny!
The odds of success are very poor. It’s just as well that the heroes are not privy to the real reason for the quest.
A loot-based economy may not seem sustainable in the long run but of course, when the Heroes Guild first became the basis of the economy, it wasn’t the long run yet. Still, every economic activity has its limits. The Dark Profit Saga explores what happens when shadowkin (designated victim) hoards are exhausted. One consequence: the investors who have profited from the hero economy are going to do anything they can to protect their business. Any resemblance to real-world finance is … not at all coincidental.
It seems likely that the author knows his d8s from his d12s: the book riffs knowledgeably on tabletop RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons — games in which the real people (elves, dwarves, gnomes, and humans ) are given free rein to murder and rob lesser beings (the shadowkin: orcs, goblins, nagas, trolls, and so forth).
The author makes it clear that murder-hoboing is, in fact, murder and pillage. The victims are people too, and they don’t much care for being massacred just to enrich heroes (or as the shadowkin call them, gold-hounds). The lucky few who are useful enough to be granted Non-Combatant Persons (NPC status) are not all that keen on being treated as third class citizens, either, although it is better than being killed and looted.
It’s also clear that the author is recasting the real-world financial meltdown of 2008 as an RPG. Using fantasy to skewer real-world evils is an old theme (Gulliver’s Travels, for one famous example). One of the more recent practitioners of such skewering is Pratchett; this book reminded me of Pratchett. Absurd characters, with tragic backstories and personal flaws, characters struggling with self-loathing, get together to … do something. Pike isn’t as subtle or skilled as Pratchett in his prime, but this is Pike’s first book.
The book is based on tragic events that weren’t at all funny (ask the people who lost houses, savings, jobs, not to mention people relegated to second class status thanks to a racist social hierarchy), so it’s not at all surprising that towards the end of the book the work becomes less comic and more grim. Readers may find this swerve a bit unsettling but it’s one clearly inherent in the source material and worldbuilding. I’ll be picking up the next book.
1: In this setting, just plain humans result from interbreeding between other hero races. Based on what this book tells us about dwarf reproduction, it’s unclear how 1) dwarf-anything hybrids might occur and 2) dwarves could reproduce at all.