Sunday, May 19, 2013

Knights of Legend: The Fearsome Creatures of My Quest

I hate these guys!

About two-thirds of the way through Knights of Legend (at least, based on the total number of quests), I've become convinced that there's no actual "story"--that the manual's coverage of Pildar the sorcerer, the missing knight Segallion, and the missing duke are all just window dressing. Every quest so far has been utterly unconnected to this setup, instead involving the fetching of some object from a random set of creatures. 

There's the evil Pildar's castle, but I don't think there's any way to reach it.

After my last posting, the game started to introduce harder creatures and some new variations to the tactical combat map. There was a selection of giant-level enemies that caused "fear" in my party members. This meant that every time my characters tried to attack them, there was a chance--it seemed to be around 50%--that the the character would become "paralyzed with fear" instead. Fortunately, this didn't affect defense or movement, and one of my characters had a "courage cloak" that made him immune.

One map featured a series of islands instead of the standard "keep-based" combat map, with tough enemies called sylphs.

Don't let the enemy icons fool you. The icons look like orcish creatures no matter what the enemies really are.

I exhausted my arrows shooting at them from my starting island before giving into melee combat. Even though I could funnel them to me through single squares, only two of my characters were standing at the end of the battle.

But by far the most unnerving addition to some of these quests has been starting in different positions on the combat map. For the first half of the game, every combat started my characters together, in a group, but in the second half, I've had two quests where the group was broken apart--once in two groups of three, and once in two groups of two and two groups of one.

Coll and Onia start alone--with two minotaurs closing in on them.

There's no real logical reason for this. My party arrived at the encounter in a group, so it wouldn't make sense for them to deliberately scatter. But whatever the cause, one of these maps produced the most difficult battle so far in the game. It was the final quest in the "Htron/pirate" quest group, and I was trying to recover a treasure chest from where a resident of Htron had buried it decades before. Unfortunately, a group of minotaurs had built a keep there in the meantime.

Notice it doesn't say, "you approach the stone walls cautiously...and decide to split your party into four separate groups." But that's what happens anyway.

Every tactical battle in Knights of Legend comes with a meta-struggle, fought by the player, between tactics and speed. Battles drag on so long that the player is motivated to get them over as quickly as possible, which involves having the party (deliberately) split up, engaging multiple enemies simultaneously, and running from place to place. There are plenty of combats where this works fine, even if you lose a character or two in the process, but then there's a rare battle where you have to think carefully about literally every step you take, just like a chess game. This was one of them. It took me four tries to win the battle.

The difficulty was half due to the party-splitting. The layout of the map was simple: a central keep bisected by east-west and north-south roads. But my characters started spread out on all four points of the map, two of them alone. In general, when the party starts split up, I've found that the best approach is to try to unite as soon as possible, but in this case, the only place to easily unite was the center of the keep, which meant blasting through a bunch of minotaurs first.

The survivors assemble in the courtyard.
The key to winning the difficult combats in the game is anticipating what the enemy is going to do. Occasionally, if you're lucky with your intelligence and foresight, this is explicit, and it's one of the best parts of the game. Here, for instance, Moro (my Kelder) is fighting alone against a minotaur north of the keep. He's already slain one.

Reading the minotaur's body language, he realizes that it's going to thrust at Moro's feet in the next round. It doesn't plan to really defend itself at all, instead putting all its energy into the attack. Thus, Moro plans his own attack by swinging powerfully at the minotaur's head and preparing to jump to avoid the thrust:

When this works, it's enormously satisfying, and it must be said that Knights of Legend, for all its flaws, is unique in providing this level of satisfaction. Archers, who can target at range, can also make these assessments at range, thus providing a reason to always keep one arrow remaining in the quiver.

Yder the archer correctly deduces that the badly-wounded minotaur is going to slash at the torso of Moro (#4) and defend by dodging. In response, Moro is going to defend by backing up, and Aedd (#2) can put all his energy into attack. I find that the only attacks that reliably connect when the enemy tries to "dodge" are aimed at the enemy's legs.

But even when you don't know exactly what the enemy will do, you can often guess. Consider this scenario:

I have two minotaurs advancing down the walkway on Hela. It is near-100% certain that the lead one will move forward in the next round. So I have Hela plan a "berserk" attack--slow but powerful--for the empty square between her and the minotaur. She may get unlucky and swing before the minotaur moves. But if she's lucky, he'll walk right into the swing of her halberd without any defense.

She was lucky.

Unfortunately, even the best use of tactics can't make up for characters who have to take on powerful enemies solo. The minotaurs were capable of knocking me out in one hit, and even in my victorious version of this battle, my party members went down one by one.

Terrain plays a huge role in combat. You've seen from plenty of my previous postings how I've found doorways and bridges to use as ambush points, luring enemies to me one-by-one. The minotaur map didn't have any good ambush points, but there were other important uses of terrain. For instance, after Coll was knocked unconscious, Onia--an archer with no melee skill--found herself alone with two advancing minotaurs. First, she led them along a peninsula, sniping at them as they advanced...

And when she had nowhere else to go, she took to the air with her Flying Cloak and went out over the water, where the remaining minotaur couldn't touch her.

Nyah nyah nyah.

The fourth time through, I defeated all 12 of the minotaurs, with only Aedd (a fighter) and Yder (an archer) left conscious at the end. By then, Yder was well out of arrows and was resorting to helping Aedd by pummeling the minotaurs with his fists. The two of them together had to collect the quest item and all their fallen comrades' equipment. The winning battle took 90 minutes, but I spent probably three hours on the three losing battles preceding it. That's 4.5 hours to complete 1/24 of the game.

At least I got a ring that does absolutely nothing out of it.

Some notes:

  • Every one of my characters is maxed in training with their primary weapons. This means if I want to gain more "levels" (rising from a peasant to a knight), I need to start training in other random weapons. I'm not sure if there's any purpose in this.
  • Not long ago, I realized that this entire time, I've had Coll equipped with a great hammer instead of a war hammer. All his skill is with war hammers. I guess I must not have realized there was a difference.
  • Lately, I've had enough money that money hasn't been a problem. I realized that my characters were mostly wearing the same armor that they had bought at the beginning of the game in Brettle. I visited a couple of smithies to look at upgrades but I ultimately concluded that with protection/weight balance considerations in mind, the armor I'd bought in Brettle at the beginning is probably what I should stick with. There's no place that you can spend a lot of gold on magic armor that's simultaneously protective and light weight.

Moro is trained as far as he can go with the greatsword, and he's got plenty of cash.

  • I finally bought the best horses for everyone, but to be honest, I haven't noticed any improvement in my ability to ride away from random combats. I've mostly stopped fighting random combats, though; instead, I simply sheath my weapons in the first round and flee.
  • When a character collapses or gets knocked unconscious in combat, it's a huge pain in the neck. His weapon falls on the battlefield and you have to pick it up at the end of the combat. But the unconscious character doesn't revive until after the spoils-distribution phase, meaning he can't pick up  his own weapon. Someone else has to pick it up, then trade it to the owner, then switch to the owner to equip it. 
  • I flirted a little more with magic before ultimately concluding that I wasn't going to fiddle with it beyond the healing spells I'd already purchased. The basic problem is that it's so enemy-specific that you need a good idea what foes you'll be facing before it makes sense to buy a spell. I think the developers had this idea that prior to each quest, the player would collect intelligence on the likely foe and visit one of the magic guilds to customize the spell for that foe. But the whole process is such a pain in the neck that it's not worth it. I didn't even bother for the minotaurs despite losing to them three times in a row.

I probably won't post on this game again until I've won. Not unless it takes a major turn in the plot or gameplay. By the count of open trophy spaces, I have 9 quests to go.

I'm getting there.


  1. It's unfair, it's boring, it's repetitive.. But it's a big challenge anyway! I fully understand your persistence a patience with the game :-) Hold on & good luck :-) Quido

  2. Satisfying combat maneuvers are satisfying :)

    I'm trying to think of other rpgs where satisfaction comes from the combat mechanics themselves.

    Final Fantasy: Tactics had a class called the 'calculator' which had you set up spell parameters on the fly. That was pretty sweet.

    I think satisfying combat mechanics are quite rare outside of squad-based strategy games.

    In some sense, KoL is closer to that genre than the traditional rpg. There's minimal exploration, story, choice, advancement; the setting seems little more than a vehicle for squad-level combat. It's more like an early Jagged Alliance than it is a gold box game.

  3. It sounds that this could have been a hallmark of a tactical RPG, but it's insistence on irritating the player with bad interface, odd limitations (the trainers), etc.

    A lesser addict would have quitted already.

    1. Eh, the first sentence should have ended "seem to make it a tedious game instead of a slow, but exciting game."

    2. Yep, I think we've found the granddaddy of the tactical RPG (though it could be argued that the Gold Box games were the first)

  4. "The basic problem is that it's so enemy-specific that you need a good idea what foes you'll be facing before it makes sense to buy a spell."

    You need to buy the highest level spell for each category of monster. If you buy the highest level of spells damaging "legendary" monsters, it will affect *any* legendary monster. IIRC there are four categories of monsters, of which legendary is the most dangerous, and each guild only offers spells of one category. So which guild you join in important. I think I had two spell casters, the main one being able to cast spells on the legendary monsters, while the other ones was mainly an archer, but was a member of a different guild and could affect another category of monsters with spells.

    Spells can make a great difference. Your party seem to have more problems staying alive than mine did, and I guess it's because you don't use magic.
    Unlike archery it should be of unlimited use in combat as long as your caster is able to rest between spell casting.

    1. I don't understand what you mean by "highest level for each category." So in the "Elemental" category, there are four types: Golem (MU), Djinn (TI), Sylph (FE), and Salamander (MI). You're saying there's one of these that will affect all of the others?

    2. Yes. Buy the most expensive of the spells and it should affect all Elemental creatures.

    3. Once I get some adventure points built up, I'll give it a try, but I have to say this makes no sense in the context of what the manual says. Not that I should be surprised by that.

    4. Yes, I think it does contradict the manual.
      Which is why I adviced you about it before. But I guess it's hard to remember all when your playing time is spread out so thin.

      When I played I had one false start, and then I restarted with a saves states version of DosBox and "breezed" through the game in only two weeks of intense playing. Despite the myriads of faults with the game I found it morbidly addictive.
      I think you really need to get into that KoL "mood" to somewhat enjoy it, and too many breaks make you lose it. Of course that can be said of many game, but for KoL it's harder to get into that "mood" in the first place than for most other games.

    5. Does a save-states version of DOSBox allow you to save literally wherever you want?

    6. So, for instance, you could save before every combat round and reload if you don't like the result? KoL goes too far with its limited saving, but I can't imagine how much of a bastard version of this game I would have played with the ability to almost instantly undo any bad action.

    7. Taken to an extreme, you could save before every single action. Even before every roll of the die, although depending on how the RNG works you may get the same result. I think the most common use for it is to save whenever you like instead of only when the save feature allows.

    8. Precisely. I'm afraid of the game-breaking ability of that kind of power.

    9. That is why XCOM only loads a random seed at the start of the fight: If you save and load before each action you will get the same result each time, so if you have a low roll next, you have a low roll next and need to try something else.

  5. Did you do the quest with the Sledges yet :-P?

  6. This is why the 'blob' (Might and Magic) combat is superior, there the developers cannot split your party.

  7. They can make you do quests with a smaller number of characters, or guest characters, though.

  8. I still can't get over how there's a _single_ monster graphic yet 24 different trophy images. This game is a good combat mechanic away from utter dreck.

    1. Even one monster graphic per CLASS of monster would have been fine.

  9. So something I've noticed on your journey through time is that there is that so many of the games fail by being too ambitious. When one programmer tries to make a sprawling rpg world the end result will never meet the initial vision.

    This illustrates a particularly remarkable quality of Pool of Radiance. The writers set out to transplant an entire pen-and-paper adventure module and its associated system to the PC, and basically succeeded. Most of the weaknesses of the game are actually weaknesses of AD&D.

    1. More then once, while playing Knights of Legend, I've thought how much greater the already-great Gold Box games would have been with this "anticipation" dynamic plus more options for the attacks themselves. But I suspect it would have violated D&D rules.

    2. That's basically Rolemaster (and many other D&D Fantasy Heartbreaker games - paper and pencil systems meant to give more meat or improve upon various aspects of core D&D). You'll play a game based on this system (Aethra's Chronicles) many years from now, but sadly the implemented combat is not as intriguing as KoL's, but it's a step up from Gold Box.

    3. Helm: Characterizing Rolemaster as a D&D clone is unfair. Rolemaster has nothing in common with D&D other than the concept of sword & sorcery fantasy (which it hardly has solitary claim to).

      Tristan: "This illustrates a particularly remarkable quality of Pool of Radiance. The writers set out to transplant an entire pen-and-paper adventure module and its associated system to the PC, and basically succeeded."

      I found PoR extremely devoid of "genuine" content, by which I mean anything that didn't boil down to picking an option from a small handful of choices presented in a text screen, or a simple battle. PoR strove to have a lot of things in it, but due to limitations of the engine and hardware they were [i]illusionary[/i] things, mere symbols of events represented in text instead of actual events. You don't actually get disguises from the women in PoR to infiltrate the enemy's base, because those women don't exist as real things in the game world, and neither do the disguises exist as real armor that you must put on in your inventory: you only read a text screen that said you did. Pen and paper RPGs, most versions* of D&D included, do not suffer from this problem - in them, everything that happens in the game is equally tangible and real, presented in the same way, so there is no crippling feeling that only certain parts of the game "count".

      *) *Cough* fourth *cough*

    4. I didn't call it a clone, actually.

    5. You called it a "D&D Fantasy Heartbreaker". It has nothing to do with D&D and the guy who invented the (nebulous, poorly defined) term, Ron Edwards, specifically cited Rolemaster as an example of a game that he doesn't mean with it right in the same article the term was first used in.

      Fantasy Heartbreakers, insofar as the term means anything, are games that 1) copy D&D and 2) display utter cluelessness of every game other than D&D, touting ancient things like individually advancing skills as major innovations. So in a way they're even worse than clones.

  10. Well, after playing literally all day and most of the night, I've reached a dead end with two quests to go. I did several quests in Shellernoon--including the "Sledge" one that took about 4 hours. I returned the Ward of Shellernoon to the Lord, Norgan, who told me to seek out the dwarf Dundle. Thanks to my extensive notes, I knew where to find him. But no matter what I ask him--WARD, QUEST, NORGAN, SHELLERNOON, DWARF--he has nothing to say. (Norgan didn't exactly pump me up with keywords.) I have no leads on other quests, either. If no one has any ideas by tomorrow evening, I'll probably look at spoilers just to get it over with.

  11. I understand that Dundle gives you last quest, 24th, so probably try another quest path? I maybe not fully correct, as it was long ago.

  12. CRPG ADDICT, attention! i've checked notes and its a BUG.

    "Bring the Sheller Ward back to Norgan. He'll give you the Shade Ring and tell you to seek the Black Dwarf, Dundle. Actually, though, this is a bug; you're not supposed to seek Dundle, but instead Dunsworth, in Olanthen"

    1. Yep, that was it, though even the "solution"--wherever you got it--has a bug: it's "Denswurth." When I mention NORGAN to him, he gives me a quest to kill some trolls. I really appreciate the tip, as I don't have any hair to tear out and would have soon resorted to pummeling my own head.

      Jesus, this game. Imagine getting to this point in 1989 and not having a helpful anonymous Internet commenter? I'd have been at Origin Systems' gate with a pitchfork.

  13. Please remove my first comment (about going second quest) but continue with this quest which Norgan gives you but go to another dwarf i mentioned.

    I think its not spoiler since it was bug, you were told to go to wrong person.

  14. This game has been such a nightmare just to read about. I have "enjoyed" your posts about it but oh my lord what a nigh- nigh- NIGHTMARE this has been. Pointless, senseless, nothing to recommend in any fashion. I admire the fact that you have been able to persevere through it- something I never could have. But is that actually a virtue in this case?

    Waiting with bated* breath for the next game, I remain:

    The Gadfly.

    From the verb bate, alteration by aphesis of the verb abate, meaning 'to reduce' or 'lessen'.

    1. I didn't want to deal with PetrusOctavianus's fury if I abandoned it before winning. I hope the posts have been interesting, anyway.

    2. Heh, I don't have strong feelings about you finishing games or not. If you don't enjoy a game you shouldn't force yourself to finish it; that it too much like work. But if you already have invested lots of time in a game, then I think it's a shame not to see it through.

    3. Come on, it's clear this playthrough is due to some CRPGaddict pride :)

    4. Your POSTS have been interesting and fascinating- your writing style and interests make reading anything you have to say quite enjoyable. It is the SUBJECT MATTER that is horrifying- I imagine there might have been a fun game in there somewhere, at some time, but it got lost. Lost, buried, then it's corpse dug up and sold as a game.

      I'll read damn near anything you have to write, if it's game oriented. I'd pass if you did a blog on pickled pigs feet, or how to skin babies.

    5. Well, I haven't quit on a winnable game since Bloodwych. I don't really want to end the streak.

    6. I applaud your determination, I wasn't criticizing. If you do something, do it right and so on, plus an informed account of these games will help the book(s).

    7. I didn't think you were. You were right: it's some CRPG Addict pride.

      I just realized, though: that streak is almost certainly going to come to an end with the current edition of NetHack unless I get extremely lucky in the next month or so.

    8. Beating normal crpgs is one thing. Beating roguelikes quite another, in my book. The amount of planning and forethought and luck required to beat Nethack make it worth ten times what beating Knights of Legend does.

      So for me they're not even in the same league so it's not a broken streak either way.

      I am confident you can ascend in Nethack, though. If not this month, eventually.

  15. Is it epicaricacy that makes these posts, where your frustration is palpable, so good or does your frustration need an outlet and you poor that energy into your writing? Either way keep em coming for us addict addicts.

    1. I don't know, but I just learned a new word.

    2. In an effort to undermine my newfound smart-soundedness I will come clean and say I learned the word when checking to see if I spelled schadenfreude correctly. The site I went to had epicaricacy as a synonym and I rather liked it.

      I also find it funny that my English spellcheck program doesn't recognize the English word but does recognize the German one.

      To sum it up. Words are fun yo!

    3. It is entertaining that this is a greek word that us Greeks do not use. We use 'cherekakia' which is just the cari-cacy parts without the 'epi-'. Means the same thing. You taught me better greek!

  16. I just got connected to Chet today through my ex-wife.

    He asked if I would write a little about the creation of the game and so...

    KOL was created in San Marcos, Texas in an apartment I rented for $50 per month...yes, $50 per month. No air-conditioning and roaches so big I caught them using my razors.

    I would travel to the library of then, Southwest Texas State University, where I could print out code for free.

    How it came to Origin was a quirk of fate. I called Origin to see if they wanted to publish it and lo and behold Richard Garriott was in Austin scouting office space to set up Origin South. They said if I could meet with him that night, he would look at I drove 30 miles north to Austin and we met, he looked at the game, and we talked all night.

    We signed the contract the next morning.

    Actually, I had a fully 3D simulated dungeon crawler graphics system I had developed for the game, but alas, it was cut early on - it was quite impressive for a 6502. 3D simulated fully textured walls, floors and ceilings...ah the days.

    The credits are, in fact, my college buddies (I was President of the Gaming society in college). Most of the storylines were written by myself and my best friend Jeff Groteboer. Jeff, unfortunately, contracted Cardio Myopathy and actually had a heart transplant and lived for 10 years before passing. His fingerprints are all over KOL...Dungar Stiffknuckles was his favorite D&D he could name dwarves - marvelous.

    Because I was a D&D'er, I wanted to simulate that experience and create the first RPG that allowed you to dress your characters in what they had...the cast shot was an outcome of that. It was the very first I could remember to do this.

    I programmed the game in 6502 assembly. I used bank-switched memory and even wrote the Micro-Dos to enable maximum space in memory and on disk.

    In the final days, I had to hand assemble some parts as I could no longer fit the game and the assembler in memory at the same time!...haha

    The combat mechanics were designed by myself, Dave Barnes and Arvin Van Zante (both residents of Pella Iowa where I went to school). Pella is a tiny town and these guys would join with us to play D&D, RuneQuest, etc, etc, even though they had been out of school for years! Such great memories of starting at 4pm on Friday and finishing at 10pm on sunday...

    I hope those who played KOL could look past it's flaws and see what we were trying to accomplish...something deeper than Bards Tale, with real combat like the rpg's we tirelessly played.

    Best to all,

    Todd Porter

    1. Todd, thanks so much for visiting. I love to hear the stories of how games got made, and how various elements found their way into the final product. I hope you don't mind the tone of my postings, which somewhat unapologetically considers games as if they were released today rather than in the context of the times. KoL absolutely has some great features--the combat dynamic is its highlight--and I appreciate the thought that went into it. I'm sorry that the expansions never got off the ground; it would have been fun to see what you all could have done with some refinements.

      If you return to check out my "final rating" on Wednesday, I think you'll find it well-balanced.

    2. Well, something certainly get across to Chet given that he completed the game despite its flaws!

      Have you ever considered having another go using modern software tools, which make writing games so much easier?

    3. What flaws? Knights of Legend was one of my favourite RPGs. A detailed combat system, elven magic system, many class/race combinations, beautiful graphics, diverse monsters, racist innkeepers, exploration, the foresight skill, remote weapon trainers, tormenting dying creatures until they bleed out, a fantastic map and manual, exceptional NPC writing, old school note taking.

      Thanks Todd Porter, Knights of Legend was one of the best RPGs ever made. A truly astounding and ambitious gaming classic.

    4. Baron, I'm glad you feel so positively about the game. As for "what flaws?," my posts on the game do a pretty good job outlining what I feel they are.

    5. So cool that you got Todd to look at your review of the game. See if you can get him to look at my fan novel I'm writing of it on Tablo. x3

  17. Great Blog, Great game. Knights of Legend should be remade. I used to spend years on this game... yes, indeed. Because I never found the Orcs for the quest in Olanthen. They were supposed to be in Mountains of Lorr and I combed through every mountain and hill in whole Ashtalarea.

    Funny thing is that I never found those orcs on C64 but neither on PC. So where the hell are they? I pretty much did all the other quests. By the way, the Sledge quest I accomplished pretty fast (just ran for the item) to save time.

    1. I wish I could help you, but I don't remember having any particular problem with finding this quest. If it helps, a walkthrough says, " They're fairly easy to find; they're practically right on top of the Kazhad outpost."

    2. yes i am aware of that but nothing there... funny. I have circled that outpost 100 times last 20 years :D .. Thanks anyway. Maybe the version was bugged... C64 was pirate copy, tho it didnt have a crack or anything. It lacked copy protection.

      But the same problem on PC as well... How can this happen to same guy twice? - Bruce Willis in Die Hard 2

    3. hey, i just found the orcs. go to the lower left corner of the outpost and press 'end' on the numpad. you have to go diagonally left and down towards the patch of hills beyond the outpost.

      hope this helps your 25 year quest!

  18. May be kinda late to note that, but "Htron" is nothing else but "North". It looked similar enough to the antipodic "Htrae" I've met somewhere.


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