Saturday, June 18, 2011

Questron II: Won!

And boy are they happy about it!

Well, I'll give Questron II this: it doesn't wear out its welcome. It's the first game I've played since Akalabeth in which I won before hitting my six-hour minimum. It never got a lot better, although it did unveil some interesting features towards the end. Let me take it chronologically.

When we last left the game, I had been transported to the other continent on the planet of Landor, called the Realm of the Sorcerers. It wasn't much different from the first continent except that the random encounters in the wild were more frequent and did more damage. Fortunately, this didn't last long.

I set out exploring the continent--I already had a rough map from the Room of Maps in Castle Redstone--and got some slightly better weapons and armor. One of the "travel" shops had a boat for sale, which I bought and sailed back to the first continent to make sure I wasn't due a level up from Mesron. The boat, oddly, didn't seem to have cannons, so when I met a creature I was still attacking it with my melee weapon.

Presumably, I'm hanging off the side or something.

It was a good thing I returned, because I was due a promotion, which got me some stat bumps and a new key:

As before, when I reached the new level, I not only got a new hit point maximum (600), but new weapons (axe), armor (chain mail), and transports became available to me.

What a "camalon" is will have to remain a mystery.

One of the transport options was a "trained eagle," on whose back I soared! Not only did this take the place of the boat, but it prevented me from having any random encounters in the wilderness. That fact alone did a lot to get the game back into my good graces.

The Realm of the Sorcerers turned out to have four places to explore: a tomb in Twilight Cathedral, a "great fortress," an unnamed dungeon, and the Dungeons of Despair. At first, I thought the game was opening up its linearity, but it turned out I needed keys to enter both the tomb and the Dungeons of Despair, and my initial raid on the fortress was aborted because I couldn't get through locked doors, so it really turned out that the map was completely linear, requiring me to visit the unnamed dungeon, the fortress, the Twilight Cathedral tomb, and the Dungeons of Despair in that order. Fortunately, at least, there wasn't a lot of backtracking.

Who is actually telling me this?

The dungeon was three-dimensional, and exactly as I remembered from Legacy of the Ancients. There are traps, and you have to search every hallway to make sure you don't hit them. Chests provide food, gold, and items. Occasionally, you find a healing potion or a coffin that effects a statistic increase. And of course there are monsters, but far fewer here than I remember from Legacy.

For god's sake, just call it an "umber hulk." That's clearly what it is.

Then something unexpected happened: I found something called a "Scroll of Scalna," which provided an automatic automap on the right side of the screen. It's the most sophisticated automap I've seen in a CRPG so far, showing doors, traps, coffins, and potions (if you don't pick up the latter two) as well as pits to go up and down. And it's integrated to the main screen--you don't have to call it up with a separate command. It remembers levels (which do not respawn items) after you leave. Well done, Questron II!

The Shape Shifter, oddly enough, does not actually shift his shape.

Anyway, I found an Agate Key and an Onyx Key during my exploration of the eight levels of the dungeon. It wasn't a tough dungeon to explore. There were a few areas inaccessible unless you went down and back up again, but nothing tough, and rendered all the easier by the automap. When I got out, I headed for the fortress and, resignedly, launched into an attack of another castle's worth of luckless guards.

Looting the castle gained me some other keys. I left and returned and was able to march on in to see the king. I was about to remark that the guards have very short memories--they don't attack if you just leave and return--but I guess since I slaughtered them all, the more remarkable thing is how fast the castle is able to replenish its staff.

Just as in the first Questron, instead of ordering me executed for my needless massacre, the king--Kelfar, which is one letter off from Legacy's Kelfor--respected my power, increased my stats, gave me 5000 gold, and appointed me his champion.

I meant to reload and find out what happens if you say "No."

I figured that meant yet another level bump, so I got on my eagle and returned to Castle Redstone. There, an interesting thing happened: Mesrom told me that Mantor was attacking one of the cities.

I couldn't remember where Cramford was, so it took a while to find it. When I did, it was properly destroyed. All the people had turned to piles of bones, and the whole place had a red tinge. It reminded me how the sorceress had destroyed towns in Shard of Spring, and I wonder if, had the game taken me longer, Mantor would have hit other towns.

With the key from Kelfar's fortress, I entered the Twilight Cathedral tombs, which were almost exactly like the tombs in the other continent. Fortunately, I had that map, which made the exploration of the very maze-y (but curiously monster-light) dungeon much easier. The only plot item was the discovery of the Black Key.

I read this as "ASS OF PAIN" at first.

Returning again to Redstone, I was informed Mantor was attacking another city--Seaside--which, fortunately, I remembered where it was. When I got there, Mantor sicked the guards on me, but all I had to do was fling one fireball at him, and he fled like a bitch. The town reverted to normal and everything was cool.

Mesron promoted me to knight and sent me on the final quest to the Dungeons of Despair.

Before heading into the dungeon, I went shopping and found I could buy 2000 hit points! (More on this in a minute.) I got a fauchard as a weapon and ribbed plate mail for armor. The Holy One at Twilight Cathederal sold me 30 loaves of that healing bread. I loaded up on spells and headed into the Dungeons of Despair, which were also 3D.

As I explored the dungeon and drilled downward, I noticed that the healing potions I was finding kept adding to my hit points. Before, they wouldn't allow me to go over a maximum, but at this level, I kept going up--3000, 4000, 5000--and so I wasn't even particularly worried when a trap destroyed my armor and I started taking massive damage from monsters.

I got all the way to the bottom and into a fortress (no longer 3D) where Mantor and the sorcerers were creating the book. But the damned place hit me with 40-50 hit points damage for every step, not to mention what the guards were doing. I soon died.

This shot is from my second visit.

I realized the game had changed the rules on me. Where before there was a hit point maximum, in the endgame, the goal was to get to Mantor's place with as many hit points as possible. With that in mind, I reloaded and checked out the hit point store again. It turned out that the 2000 hit point offer wasn't a one-time thing. Every time I entered the town, I could go to the store and buy another 2000. I spent all the rest of my gold.

In the dungeon, I cast "Time Sap" every time I saw a monster and killed him before he could even hit me, and I took advantage of every potion I could find. By the time I reached the bottom-level sanctuary again, I had over 15,000 hit points.

The video records the last couple levels of the dungeon and my assault on the wizards in Mantor's sanctuary. When I reached Mantor and the Evil Book of Magic, I was able to kill the six insane sorcerers, but none of my attacks or spells would do anything against Mantor himself. Nor could I pick up the book. I bumbled about a bit, trying to use different objects I had aquired (I still have no idea what the Unicorn's Horn or Crystal Goblet were about) before I finally hit upon using my copy of the Evil Book of Magic, in which there was now a "Destruct" spell.

Mantor "flickered and vanished" despite the game's assertion that destroying the book wouldn't change the past.

The end game sequence wasn't as good as I remembered in Questron, but I did get a nice promotion on both planets.

And the last screen promised a sequel that never materialized:

I'm glad it didn't, because the plot already sounded stupid--why is a child playing in dungeon ruins?

This posting is already too long to do the GIMLET here, so look for that tomorrow. For now, I'll just say that Questron II helped cure my guilt for not playing Questron last year, since it's pretty much the same game. It's harmless enough, I guess--a good option for beginners--but I'm looking forward to moving on to something meatier.


  1. I'm glad this was a short one. I never had a chance to play Questron II. I did play the first one and this one seems very similar.

    A note on the Umber Hulk. They may not have called it an Umber Hulk because it is one of a few monsters that is not considered open content. Beholders and Mind Flayers are a couple others. Anyway, I don't know what the legal situation was back then, as this predates the open game license. And D&D was still owned by TSR. Though TSR was not shy about threatening legal action. But anyway they would certainly not be usable in a new product. I'll quote wikipedia here

    "The umber hulk is considered a "Product Identity" by Wizards of the Coast and as such is not released under its Open Gaming License."

    Looking forward to the next game.

  2. The Umber Hulk is one of the few D&D monsters not to be inspired by mythology, therefore it is copywritable. That is why they were not among the Open Game Content ones in 3rd edition: WoTC could keep them to themselves, so they did.

    1. It's not "one of the few D&D monsters not to be inspired by mythology"—there are many, many D&D monsters not inspired by mythology, and most of the other monsters from the 3E Monster Manual were released as Open Game Content, whether they were inspired by mythology or not. The aboleth, the achaierai, the allip, and the ankheg, for instance, just to name the first few alphabetically, were all original to Dungeons & Dragons, and were all released as Open Game Content. WotC only reserved a handful of monsters that it considered particularly iconic.

    2. Of course, the question of Open Game Content isn't particularly relevant to Questron II in any case, because it predated 3E and the Open Game License. It is likely that it didn't call the monster an umber hulk to avoid legal trouble, but it may have been an unnecessary precaution. TSR did go through a stage when it was very lawsuit-happy, but I don't think that came till after Questron II. As I've noted in a comment on another post, the early Ultima games blatantly copied quite a few D&D monsters—including three now designated as "product identity"—and never suffered any legal repercussions for it. (Admittedly, Questron II was a few years later, and it's possible that it was during that period that TSR got litigious... I don't remember the chronology off the top of my head.) For that matter, the original Final Fantasy ripped off a number of D&D monsters as well, including the sahuagin and the otyugh (the names were slightly changed, probably due at least as much to transliteration into Japanese and back as to copyright concerns, but it's still obvious what they were)... heck, it even copied the beholder, though when it was localized to English the Final Fantasy beholder was given a different graphic and renamed the "Evil Eye", so maybe they thought that one was going too far. Though really, TSR/WotC has long been pretty haphazard about enforcing its copyright on its monsters when it comes to video games. For instance, as recently as 2009, the PlayStation game Demon's Souls had mind flayers, despite those being one of the monsters WotC designated as Product Identity.

    3. Jalen: If you want to see a *lot* of mythological monsters check out the original Fiend Folio. It had a lot of monsters drawn from strange and odd European mythology.

    4. Oh, I have the original Fiend Folio... and I remember loving that book as a kid. It doesn't really have many monsters from mythology in it, though, and what few mythological monsters there are in it aren't all European. The Fiend Folio was an unusual book because its contents weren't produced in-house by TSR; it was mostly a collection of monsters submitted by British D&D fans (augmented with a handful of monsters that had been introduced in D&D modules and hadn't been published in a book yet, like the drow, the kuo-toa, and the mezzo- and nycadaemons). And some of them really let their imaginations go wild; there are some weird monsters in there. I think out of all the monsters in the Fiend Folio, the only mythological ones are the following: the berbalang (from Filipino mythology), the booka (this one's iffy, but probably based on the Cornish bucca), the bunyip (from Australian aboriginal mythology), the "Oriental dragons", the killmoulis (from the folklore of northern England and southern Scotland), the kelpie (from Celtic folklore), the penanggalan (from Malaysian folklore), and the vodyanoi (from Russian folklore). I guess if you want to stretch the point you can include the poltergeist and revenant and the variants it includes on the lamia and troll. (And the name "drow" comes from the folklore of the Orkney and Shetland islands, even if D&D drow have very little in common with their folkloric namesakes.) The vast majority of the monsters in the Fiend Folio, though, just came straight out of the contributors' imaginations, with no specific mythological inspirations.

      (Though, as I said, I loved the original Fiend Folio, it sort of got a bad rap over the years. Many of the monsters in the Fiend Folio became notorious later for their silliness: the flumph and the flail snail, in particular, are among those usually first brought up as examples of ridiculous D&D monsters. But the Fiend Folio also introduced some monsters that went on to become important parts of the D&D cosmology and played major roles in later editions, like the slaad, githyanki, githzerai, and mephit.

    5. Oops, two more mythological monsters from the Fiend Folio that I left out: the al-mi'raj (though, again, it's not from European mythology), and the jaculi (though it really should be "jaculus", with "jaculi" as the plural). And I guess you could argue that the hound of ill omen and the sandman have folkloric precedents. Still, even with the most generous and inclusive count, that's at most seventeen monsters drawn from mythology, and five of those aren't European... I really wouldn't say the Fiend Folio had a lot of monsters from European mythology.

    6. Jalen: I see, I've not read it since I was a kid, and I always heard of those examples you mentioned (mostly the penanggalan---How the heck do you say that name anyway?) and assumed that is where they got all the ideas.

    7. How the heck do you say that name anyway?

      Like this.

  3. Hahahaha, holy crap that's a flamboyant ending screen. Especially with the silly hat Mesron is wearing!

    That automap really sounded neat, and it's pretty interesting that the game mixed two different modes of combat in its 2D and 3D dungeons.

    Now I wonder if there was a risk of even more cities being destroyed by Mantor if it took you too long to respond to his attacks. I'd be really impressed if that's the case, given the low expectations I had for this title.

  4. I was mostly kidding about the umber hulks, but your answers do make a lot of sense. I didn't realize D&D had invented them. They drew from so much mythology--some of it very obscure--it's hard to tell which monsters are original to the game without a lot of research.

  5. "ribbed plate mail"... for her pleasure I suppose?

    I think one reason I like these games (Questron 1 + 2, LOTA and Legend Of Blacksilver) is that they are short and simple. Sometimes you're just not in the mood for something as involved as an Ultima, for example. This also came at a time when CRPG makers were starting to use playing time as a selling point, and therefore level-grinding (my biggest pet peave) was more and more prominent.

    BTW, am I the only one who finds the graphics "upgrade" to be aesthetically more of a downgrade?

  6. I assumed that ribbed platemail would have some sort of reinforcement in it, like a ships hull.

  7. RE: Umber Hulks: Yeah, Gygax and his friends were amazingly well read in an era before the internet. I can read at something like 100 pages/hour on most books (Neil Stephenson and Jack Kerouac excluded) and spent most of my time until getting the internet reading SF & Fantasy, and I still haven't read a fraction of what those guys did, so a lot of there stuff is very obscure.

  8. Good one, Keir. You get to be a character in Scavengers of the Mutant World.

  9. Seems like an alright game, but I think its worth really came through in your posts about it.

  10. "This also came at a time when CRPG makers were starting to use playing time as a selling point, and therefore level-grinding (my biggest pet peave) was more and more prominent."

    Urgh. Does it go that far back?

    I've been peeking at some of the Computer Gaming World magazines of the time and I don't remember seeing the playing time touted in advertisements *yet*, but I'm sure it's bound to happen. What certainly hasn't changed is the tendency to use better graphics as the biggest attractive in the newer games.

    Unsurprisingly, they didn't use playing time as a selling point in this ad for Questron II itself:

    By the way, a link to the CGW Museum, where full scanned copies of these past editions can be found:

    The first 100 issues were released by the owner of the magazine, afaik, so don't worry about losing Honesty points by perusing them.

    The link points to the issue where Questron II was "reviewed", although the review reads more like a spoilerific walkthrough of the whole game instead of a proper review. They sure were different times...

  11. Thanks, Macnol! What a great resource. I'm going to try to remember to dig up old ads for games as I begin each new one.

  12. Hit "Post" before I was done. It strikes me that the reviews in this magazine were very poorly written, and I agree--the article is jaw-dropping in its unapologetic and unrestrained use of spoilers. So I certainly won't be reading the reviews BEFORE I begin the games, but there are some good quotes I can use in my GIMLET.

  13. I'm glad I could help. :)

    Oh, those ads are really a gold mine. That same issue has a full-page ad for Paladin that cracked me up.

    I'd also recomend a peek at CGW #47 for a nice article by Dave Arneson - one of the creators of Dungeons & Dragons - on the future of CRPGs. Poor Dave was already worried that too much emphasis was put on graphics and combat and too little on story and characters...

    As for the reviews, I'd rather you didn't read them before playing, even if they didn't have any spoilers per se - a pure review might still unfairly change your disposition towards a game before it's been given a chance to show its own merits. Saving them for the endgame wrap-up is the best choice IMHO.

  14. That Questron 2 ad is awesome. It makes it look the like the World Disco Dancing Championships.

  15. Macnol, you're probably right that I'm jumping the gun a bit with that statement. On the other hand, Bard's Tale III was released in 1988.

  16. I agree, Macnol. No reviews--old or modern--until I've finished.


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