My exploration of Cron has not been going so well. On every map, I kept stumbling into fights that were way beyond my ability, whether a trio of Cuisinarts, 250 cat corpses led by a "Cat from Hell," various high-level elementals, impossible-to-hit undead, or a pile of "cosmic sludge."
Ultimately, I decided I was approaching it the wrong way. Working my way systematically through each map, in order, was poor role-playing. The thing to do, rather, was to explore the game world by terrain feature. Naturally, real characters would walk the roads and visit the various towns and castles first. Thus, after a particularly hard battle with a "Jouster" that left my party slaughtered, I shook myself off, re-started in Middlegate, and headed out the front door to fully explore the road network.
The path east from Middlegate took me to a ferryboat crossing, which I paid even though I could have used "Water Walk." It ultimately worked its way south, through maps I had not yet explored, where the path forked, with the easternmost heading towards Sandsobar (where I had been) and the southermost towards Castle Hillstone (where I had not).
My normal inclination was to explore the castle much like any dungeon, following the rightmost path and mapping in detail. But I decided to do this one in more of a role-playing spirit, and thus when I saw two doors, one which said "No entry!" and one which said "Slayer's Palace," I took the latter. I worked my way down the corridor that seemed most likely to lead to the ruler's throne room, passing a horribly unfunny jester along the way.
In no time, I was before Lord Slayer in his throne room. "Heads of monstrous beasts" adorned his walls, and he wanted me to collect more. Offering me a choice of quests at four levels (page, squire, knight, lord), I got a quest to find and destroy a Crazed Dwarf. That shouldn't be too hard. Although I don't know of any certain location for them, I remember encountering them in Middlegate's dungeon.
Of course, I could leave it at this: I needed to fully explore the castle. And this is where the role-playing broke down a bit. In corridor after corridor, I encountered packs of Castle Guards and mercilessly slaughtered them--they left me no choice, attacking the moment I stepped into their squares. But it was important to explore, because at one point I found a N-19 Capitor, which I need for...something.
Let me back up on quests. This was the first official quest I had received, and this is only possible because one of my characters has the "crusader" skill, which allows quests to be bestowed upon the party. One of the oddities of both this game and its predecessor is that once you have been awarded a quest, you can't accept any others until it is completed. Fortunately, if you get a quest that proves too difficult, helpful guards in each of the castles...
...sell "Uncle Spudly's New and Improved Quest Removal Elixir," which does what it suggests, allowing you to get a new quest from the same lord or a different one. This would be helpful if, for instance, I had trouble tracking down a crazed dwarf. From a story standpoint, it makes no sense, of course, and this gets back to what I was saying in my third posting about the game about it not taking itself seriously. While I welcome humor in games, I don't welcome goofiness, and Might & Magic II, while offering excellent gameplay, is simply full of goofiness like this.
It didn't take me long to find and kill a crazed dwarf, and when I returned to Lord Slayer, I got 4000 experience and a new quest to find a Bonehead. I know I've encountered them before, but I can't remember where, so I just continued exploring.
My travels also brought me to a different castle, Woodhaven, and it was much the same. There, the lord also offered four levels of quests, only in his case it was to retrieve specific items, not to kill monsters. In both castles, I found an imprisoned bishop, and the colored keys I'd bought in towns freed them from their chains. Although both granted me experience for freeing them, a note indicated that I'd have a lot more experience if I'd been a "triple crown winner" of the bishop's color. I expect this means I have to win three arena battles of each color. I hope the bishops are re-imprisoned when I return; otherwise, I've missed out on a lot of potential experience.
Each castle also had a dungeon that I haven't yet explored.
At one point, in Castle Hillstone, I fought my way through an entire hall of monsters and got this cryptic message. I have no idea what it means, but I think I got it, under similar circumstances, in other Might & Magic games. I'm afraid of spoilers if I try to confirm.