Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Game 48: Demon's Winter (1988)

Made glorious summer by this son of York.
Demon's Winter
United States
Strategic Simulations, Inc. (developer and publisher)
Released 1988 for Apple II; 1989 for Commodore 64, Amiga, Atari ST, and DOS.
Date Started: 23 February 2011
I tell you, I haven't been keeping up well on my "upcoming games" list. Until I read an e-mail from reader RJ yesterday, I didn't realize that Demon's Winter was a sequel to Shard of Spring. You may recall that I didn't really like Shard of Spring. I could see it as part of the evolution between Wizard's Crown and the Gold Box games, but I found it trite and boring, albeit with a reasonably good combat system.

Shard of Spring had a group of adventurers recovering the title artifact from the evil sorceress (or troll, or dragon--there was some confusion at the end) Siriadne, whose theft had created an icy wasteland out of the island nation of Ymros. Demon's Winter is set 5,000 years later, and one hopes the island learned from its previous attempt at environmental tampering, as there is no mention of the fabled Shard. Instead, some demon named Malifon has shown up and unleashed armies of goblins and kobolds and whatnot on the peaceful towns of Ymros, and in some vague way that I haven't encountered yet, he's threatening to plunge the land into eternal winter. Honestly, what do these SSI people have against winter? I think it's kind of pretty, and you have lots of excuses for staying indoors and playing CRPGs.

Selecting skills and a "diety" [sic] during character creation.

Demon's Winter does have some innovations over Shard of Spring. First, the list of character classes is quite expanded. In the first game, you could just be a warrior or wizard. In this game, you have a choice of 10 classes: ranger, barbarian, paladin, monk, cleric, thief, wizard, sorcerer, visionary, and scholar. Your choice of class essentially determines how easy or hard it is to learn certain skills (and which skills are available initially). Shard had a skills-based system, too, but the selection of skills was so limited that by the end of the game, every character had pretty much every skill. This game is a bit more balanced. Fighter classes learn combat skills (sword, axe, karate, fencing, etc.) quite easily but spellcasters have to spend a lot of points. The schools of magic (fire, metal, wind, ice, and spirit) are unchanged from Shard but there are some new magic skills--illusion, summon, and possession--in which sorcerers excel. You get to select two skills upon character creation and you can buy more at "colleges" scattered throughout the land.

Some of the classes are intriguing. The "visionary" has special skills that let him see the surrounding area, and the "scholar" can identify weapons, armor, and potions. I experimented with both but ultimately found them too useless in regular battle, and their skills don't help that much anyway. RJ, who has a lot of enthusiasm for the game, sent me some hints (bordering on spoilers but not quite) which explained why thieves and sorcerers are a bit worthless. He recommended two paladins, a ranger, a barbarian, and a wizard. I went mostly with his recommendations but chose a paladin and a monk instead of two paladins.

Like Shard, there are five races: humans, dwarves, elves, dark elves, and trolls (dark elves replaces gnomes from Shard). My current party consists of:

  • Mathamas, a human paladin
  • Grendel, a troll barbarian
  • Constans, a dwarf monk
  • Triamour, a elf ranger
  • Clinscho, a dark elf wizard

There's also a religious system in the game that's new. Characters who choose "priesthood" as a skill gain access to one of five priestly or shaman deities, each of whom does something different when you pray to him or her and he or she isn't feeling out of sorts. For my monk, I chose the god Illo, who offers a chance at resurrection--something that a no-reloading player often needs.

That's a robust marketplace there. It sells exactly one dagger.

The game starts you with no equipment in what seems to be a random place. The first time I started, I was in a dungeon, and the second two times, I was in some part of the wilderness. In no case does the game give you much of a clue about where to go first or what to do, so I just started messing around. The first thing I tested was whether encounters spring up every 33 moves the way they did in Shard. I am happy to say they do not.

Outdoors in Ymros, which seems suspiciously un-wintery.

The basic gameplay has changed little in the two years. You move overland as a single icon, encounter various towns, dungeons, and colleges. Right away, the game world seems larger than Shard, and in much better detail (compare the above to this). In combat, which pops up randomly and at certain fixed positions, you switch to a tactical map in which each character has his or her own icon.

Yes, that would be a rat I'm fighting.

In combat, each character has a certain number of moves based on speed, which you can spend attacking, maneuvering into position, casting spells, turning undead, praying to your deity, healing other party members, using items, or just defending yourself. There are tactics associated with how you position your party members and whether you let them come to you or go charging at them.

This is a bad battle formation.

I outfitted my party with daggers and wandered around until I found the College of Hunting, where I trained my ranger in that skill so food would be easier to come by.

A quest-ish tavern tale.

In a town, I heard a tavern rumor that there was a band of marauding kobolds in a camp to the south, led by someone named Uffspgot or Uffuspgot (consistency in spelling is not one of the game's strong points). I found their camp easy enough and within four or five steps, I was face-to-face with the kobold leader, who in an overheard conversation identified his master as someone named Xeres.

So you don't spend the rest of the day wondering, they were snarling at me.

Uff(u)spgot turned out to be a bit of a pushover. I made quick work of him and several of his minions in tents surrounding his. In one, I found a woman being taunted by some kobolds and freed her. In another, I found a note that said a cult worshipping Xeres could be found in the catacombs under the Temple of Gamur and the codeword needed to enter is -X-.

So far, I'm not regretting taking the karate-skilled monk. He seems to be the only one who does a consistently high amount of damage, but of course most of my characters are fighting with daggers.

At last, I found a note that told me what the manual didn't make explicit: my group of adventurers is simply questing to find out what happened to the village of Ildryn, whose destruction is chronicled in a brief story at the beginning of the manual. They know nothing about Malifon and winter at this point. Now it makes more sense.

Not sure where to find the Temple, I decided to try to circle the perimeter of the map. Heading east to find water, I ran into a group of Level 4 mages and was almost instantly slaughtered by fireball spells. Much like its predecessor, the game does not reward off-the-beaten-path exploration.

That's good enough for a start. I remain a little uncertain how best to allocate my limited skill points, and I'm not sure how my characters level up, but I'm sure I'll figure it out tomorrow.


  1. My next album will be titled "Karate Priesthood."

    Look for it wherever fine SSI products are sold.

    Like 1988.

  2. CPRG Addict,

    1. In the marketplace, hit C for continue. This will go thru other items they have to offer. Why only 1 item appears at a time, I'll never know. I made the same mistake.
    2. Winter comes laters, but it comes!
    3. You level up at "Training Centers" found in certain towns.
    4. The monk is good with Karate, even better later on with Kung Fu, but I found that skilled swordsman consistently hit/hack for higher. I still think the idea of a Monk using his hands is cool tho.
    5. I have two guys who can hunt, but looking back, food cost 1 gp at most towns. It isn't worth the extra intellect points in the long run to learn to "hunt."

    I found the most important skills to be: Sword, Berserking, Fencing, Armor Skin... Weapon Lore allows you to identify 1 weapon a day, and costs a lot of intellect points unless you have a Visionary or a Scholar. Persuasiveness and Monster Lore may come in handy.

    These are all just opinions. You may find differently.

  3. one of my fav games, very non linearish, can be quite hard in places.

    winter does come and it changes the entire map!

    the temple is to the north.. or to the east then north of you..

    haggle only once or twice but no more... the temple is quite interesting lead into the game (the way you need to solve it)...

  4. Worshiping a *diety* sounds pretty good - you could cast spells like Create Low-calorie Food.

    This game has a pretty neat little custom font, but I wonder if it would drive me crazy to read for a long time like the font in Ultima 7...

  5. the main menu has a change font command to a standard font.

  6. This has nothing to do with the game you mention in this post. I mentioned a while back I was playing Lands of Lore 1, and am waiting to see what you think of it in a few years... :) But man, it will not score high on your GIMLET. Totally linear, the economy only buys things you need when you need them... Fun game, but the more I look at it, the more I wonder how my memory made it seem so wonderful :)

  7. RJ, thanks for all of the tips. Still trying to find training schools for osme of htese.

    William, Lands of Lore comes up in like five years. Man, I really need to get moving.

  8. Wow, I'm actually on the same game you are playing. Re: Winter: I don't know where you are from, but winter can be a very scary time in a large number of places. I remember reading about the first European settlers to Canada (After the Vikings anyway, they knew how to handle cold), and how many of them died in the winter. Even if you were ready for the cold, if you didn't store enough food, or it went bad... There are a lot of good reasons that winter is associated with death. Even apart from that there is the tradition of Summer = life, fall = dieing/aging, winter = death, spring = new life/rebirth.

    Actually your last post bothered me as well, as I've been to places that have, from my perspective eternal spring. Comox BC for a lot of years had temperatures from about 0-25 C all year, which is spring- early summer to me. It could just be that they fiddled with climactic regions to get moved to a more temperate zone. If you were careful enough you could reduce the rainfall over oceans or such, and have a net positive effect. Sure, it never works out that way in reality, but this is fantasy; we can assume the wizards or whatever did enough work ahead of time to not screw the rest of the world.

    Bah, monks. I really don't think that martial arts would be that good against a giant lizard, spider or whatnot, I really don't. The joints work differently, there would be all different pressure points, mass too high for throws, you have to get stupidly close just to hit them...
    Also: Hey Mr. Monk. Meet Mr. Fire Elemental...

    It is interesting to see that we are back to the tile based graphics I remember from my brief Gold Box experiences after the much nicer looking graphics of the last couple of games.

  9. I don't know. Earlier this evening, I beat a flame atronach to death with my fists in Oblivion...

    You really took a lot out of a throwaway comment about winter. Mea culpa. Winter is horrid, I agree.

  10. Great game, good review (from a long time ago!) :)


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