• Published 13th Oct 2019
  • 3,355 Views, 721 Comments

Spike of All Trades - Ariamaki

"Wouldn't it be great if life were like a game?", some people ask. Spike can definitively answer... "Maybe."

  • ...

Chapter 28: Purchasing

He had just leveled up.

That bump of experience had pushed him to Level 3, probably even close to 4. And his Balanced Soul made it so that he got... 6 points to distribute per level, according to the Status screen. The level up hadn't increased his HP or MP like in some games, so that was dependent entirely on skills and stats. Nor had the regeneration of either improved: It looked like the sole benefit of levelling was the points he could spend, which implied that stats were very important. And given that passive skills like Balanced Soul couldn't be shut off (that he knew of yet, anyways), he should probably let the restrictions from those passives guide his spending.

Spending. Hm. This might actually be a time to apply more of Twilight's advice: She had taught him a lot across dozens of subjects, but with a serious emphasis on what she called "baseline" topics, concepts that were applicable in many different situations. Several of them were probably applicable right now, but one in particular stood out. Combining that with the notes he took in the arcade...

Spike had a bedrock of information to work with. None of the games were exactly like his power, but he had seen enough that were similar to be able to make educated guesses, most of which he could test without risk. Taking all those games into account... The odds were high that he'd only get exactly 6 stat points per level up, and that spending them would be permanent with no option to respecialize (except as a quest reward?). The "training" point of WIS had given rise to questions, and he had looked into games with similar mechanics and learned... Disheartening things, mostly.

Without a single exception that he had seen, games where you can earn "free" stat or skill points by training made each point harder to earn based on how high the stat was. And it usually did not matter if those points came from training or from freebies, the difficulty in training went up the same. Which meant if he wanted to squeeze everything he could out of training, and if his system worked like those games, then he had to front-load his training and put off on his spending.

And that's where Twilight's lessons on cost-benefit analysis would come in. The name didn't sound great, but the concept was simple: What was he spending, what was he losing, what doors were being opened, what options closed off? The idea was to measure not just positives and negatives, but the things you spend compared to the things you gain in return. It didn't take him very long to sketch up a preliminary comparison in his notebook.

> Spend Now and Train Later
	 Benefits: Immediate 20% bump to everything, further bonus XP now, less up-front effort
	 Costs: All of my hard-earned points, when and if I do train I might get less reward for it

> Train Now and Spend Later
	 Benefits: Probably more total points in the long run, easier to keep stats even for XP
	 Costs: Requires me to work harder & earlier, unspent points will sit there taunting me

To some ponies, that would look like a fairly balanced list. But growing up around Twilight, and even moreso growing up in Canterlot? Spike had learned the value of long-term investment. There was a reason that Celestia still owned ninety-nine percent of the entire Canter Mountain range in her own name, and it was called "2,000+ years of interest". So Spike settled for the reliable old method of training hard and blowing his freebies only as-needed, or once the growth from training stopped.

With his plan of action set in place, Spike nodded to himself and stowed his notebook... With good timing, since he looked up a second later only to run snout-first into Rarity as she abruptly stopped.

"Gah! Sorry, wasn't watching where I was going."

Rarity tutted at him softly.
"Nonsense! This was my fault if anything: I thought you were occupied so I chose not to interrupt you. I myself was distracted by this lovely shop display."

Spike looked over to where she was gesturing and quirked one brow.
"Pouches? I thought you had a very strict NO POUCHES policy after that time with False Field?"

"Mmmh, while his ideas about fashionable clothing design were nothing short of grotesque... I must admit that they have functional purpose. Especially for Aunt and Uncle Ammo: I'm considering a little 'thank you' gift for all of their help today. And there's something chic about a well-constructed tactical vest in its own rugged way, hmm?"

"I... sure? Yeah, that sounds reasonable."

He could picture it, actually. Saddlebags were great when you weren't going to be moving around a lot, but for ponies who jumped and climbed and did acrobatic maneuvers without setting the bags down, they were... counter-productive. And that was being charitable. Come to think of it, this might be a good opportunity to put some of his funds from this morning to use, especially since the idea of what his afternoon would entail was starting to settle down in his head.

"Actually, yeah! Let's head in here real quick. I might pick something up myself... Then I've got to take care of those fines, so don't let me forget."

"Can you forget? I could have sworn you said-"

"You know what I mean."

"Hee, alright. Come along, Spike! Let us go... shopping!"

It was a whirlwind couple of minutes... Somepony might have expected longer, with Rarity involved, but the fact is they both knew exactly what they wanted. Spike socketed his purchases away into his Inventory on the way out, and Rarity hefted hers into a new pair of saddlebags (she saw a set in pink with lace accents that really tickled her fancy, apparently), and that was that: In and out with minimal muss or fuss for a change.

"So, going to hoof those off to the folks next time you visit the arcade?'

"Mmh. If you're able to get in that first date for the training schedule Aunty and I wrote up, that will actually be just a few days from now."

Spike nodded, pushing the aforementioned schedule a bit higher in his inventory.
"Yeah, I'll run it by Twilight's schedule and make sure we're not already doing anything. I bet I'll learn a ton, too, given how powerful they are."

Rarity tilted her head at that, apparently confused.

Spike angled them down a different street so they would reach the house where he had to collect his next fine a bit faster, talking and walking.
"Rarity, your aunt and uncle are crazy strong."

"And how would you know that, having only just met them?"

He could have let his deadpan expression say it for him, but since they were still moving he emphasized the point by gesturing above their heads.
"Titles and status screens, remember? First thing I see when I look at anypony."

"Ah, yes. You never did tell me how I stacked up, did you?"

"25. Close to Twilight, more than double the average pony in town, nearly ten times above me even after I just gained a few, and barely over half of Arcane or Piercing."

She pulled to a stop after hearing that tidbit.
"HALF of them!?"

"Not quite that bad, I did say 'over' half: They're both in the high 30s. Which is weird, because we both know what Twilight can get up to. So having her be like a dozen levels behind them..."

Rarity was silent for a while, and he kept walking: They'd get where they were going at the same speed whether they spoke or not. And they did arrive before she spoke again. The library fine this time was another simple one, just one cycle behind: They paid and kept the book, Spike took note in his impromptu ledger, and they moved on. It was only once they cleared the block and hit a stretch of open road that Rarity replied.

"Perhaps... I am admittedly not the most informed pony on the subject, but what is a 'level'? It strikes me as something that could be very imprecise, if it's measuring up every aspect of a pony. Even if it's just based on the total, what would you call them, points?"

"Points, yeah. It looks like 5 per 'level' is what my system thinks of as normal, most ponies I've seen are a little better, probably from training or special effects. But it's within range of being consistent, so the stat spread probably has an impact on how it's calculating things or vice versa."

"Mh. Well, even if the level you see is just 'take the points, add them up, and then divide by 5', that leaves all sorts of room for... outliers. What about specialists? What about skill, talent, dedication, or experience with the situation at hoof? No, I think levels are... Maybe a bit of a generalization."

"I can see that. A lot of RPGs use level as a shorthand for power in some way, but it never tells the whole story unless the game is really simple. And mine decidedly isn't, from what we've seen."

Rarity nodded rapidly, looking around to make sure nopony was in earshot before continuing.
"Their particular focus also has some bearing, I'd imagine: They have seen more combat this year than dear Twilight has likely seen in her life, even counting the Changeling incident. And that's after they moved to Ponyville and switched to being stationed here as opposed to working in the field."

He couldn't help but whistle.
"Daaang. That does make a lot of sense though: Combat power tends to be a big factor in the level you get in most games, even if you're not a major combat player."

"Mmmh. Do keep me informed, however, if you notice any other interesting outliers? I find this kind of comparison fascinating in a way, given what you've told me about my relatives... and myself."

"Sure thing! Oh, one second though: Last fine on this leg of the trip is riiiiight here."

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