Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Legend of Faerghail: Encounters, Combats, and Stuff

Where I spent the next five hours.
What do you suppose the developers were going for with "Faerghail"? Some combination of "faery" (or "fair") and a place-name suffix? A "phantasy spelling" of the last name "Fairgale?" They didn't seem to have adopted it from existing literature; the only other thing that uses "Faerghail" is a metal band from Finland, and since they were formed in 1995, we're left to suspect that they took their name from this game. In any event, I'm rather sick of typing the name and having to do a brief check to make sure I spelled it right every time.

My map of the first monastery level.

The dungeons in the game are quite large. They have to be, because there are only a handful of them. Most of my playing time since the last post has been in the monastery of Sagacita, which comprises four 34 x 34 levels--the game's standard. The Count of Cyldane had sent me there to find more information about the elves from the monastery's libraries. When I arrived, I found that the complex had been recently invaded and sacked by evil dwarves--so perhaps it's not just the elves who are acting inexplicably hostile. It appeared from the messages that I received that after the dwarves destroyed the upper levels, they were slaughtered by undead in the catacombs below the monastery before achieving their objective.

Before I arrived at the monastery, while still exploring the outdoor area of Cyldane, I was joined by a "woodkeeper" whom I met in a random encounters, so that's an additional reason to talk to non-hostile monsters (other than trade). He stayed with me until the first level of the monastery, where I dumped him for an NPC named Eljot--one of the monks seeking revenge on the invaders. Throughout the monastery, I ran into parties of monks and clerics who clearly belonged there, and who responded in a friendly manner to my greetings before allowing me to go on my way peacefully. I don't know if there are any in-game consequences to killing such friendly parties.

Actually, he said his name was "Melian" when I met him, but it became "Eljot" once I had him in the party.
What's slightly annoying is that the levels are much bigger than warranted given the things that you find there. Four huge levels of the monastery served only to deliver into my hands a couple of books on the titular legend of Faerghail and a sarcophagus whose purpose is unclear to me. I'm not saying the rest of the dungeon was completely empty--there were random encounters, treasures, and the occasional "atmospheric" message--but in general I prefer games with a higher content-to-square ratio.

A typical atmospheric message.
The sarcophagus was a bit of an annoyance. It weighs a ton, and when I originally tried to pick it up, the game said it was too heavy for any of my characters. So I (l)eft it, shuffled some inventory around, and went back to the square, only to find that I no longer had the option to get it. I imagine if I had gone all the way back out of the dungeon and returned, it would have been there, but as it was I just reloaded.

Transitioning between the two monastery levels and the two catacombs levels. I had to find a rope down below to get back up.

The inter-related encounter, combat, magic, equipment, and economy systems of this game have some interesting ideas but ultimately don't work very well. One of the primary reasons that they don't work is that combats are essentially optional. You have the ability to "withdraw" at any time, including the first round, with no penalty. You'll even get experience if it's not the first round. The enemies stay in the area and may re-encounter you again, but they don't actively chase you; in fact, movement of monster parties seems to be entirely random. If they encounter you, it's because they happened to wander into your square, not because they made a beeline for you. I assume there must be some fixed, unavoidable encounters in the game, but I haven't found them yet.

One of the more interesting monster types in the game.

If you want to play out an encounter, you can try talking to the parties, with success determined by whether you know the language and (I think) both your charisma and negotiating skill, the latter of which often increases during a successful encounter. If the encounters were more meaningful, this would be a fun dynamic, and there would be reasons to learn as many languages as possible. As it is, a successful "friendly" encounter offers nothing more than the ability to trade (rarely do the monsters have anything I want, with the exception of the occasional torch or lantern), get an NPC companion (of limited utility), or negotiate a withdrawal, which you can do without talking to them in the first place. You get no lore or other assistance from monsters.

It's notable that any character who successfully "talks" to a non-hostile NPC party gets some modicum of experience. Since monsters don't disappear when the encounter ends, you could theoretically "grind" by encountering and talking to the same friendly parties repeatedly. I haven't done  that, but I have tried to have my lowest-leveled character do as much of the talking as possible to try to cure some of the experience imbalance.

Grace gets 50 experience points for saying hello.

The dynamic for combat itself is okay. As with other games from the Wizardry lineage, you define an action for each of your characters--attack, defend, cast a spell, or use an item--and then everyone executes the actions at once.

The characters plan their actions.

In the execution, you can choose a regular (a)ttack, in which you get a blow-by-blow report accompanied by a little animation...

...or (q)uick combat, with just a final status report of how everyone fared, including damage they received to hit points, armor, and weapons. The summary doesn't tell you anything about how the monsters fared, but you can see the total number of monsters decrease as you go through round after round of quick combat.

The combat animations are cute but they take too long (among other things, you have to hit ENTER after every one), and the only time I ever do a regular (a)ttack is if I accidentally hit the wrong key.

One thing that the game adds is the ability to specify one of four ranks in which the character is standing. Forward ranks increase risk but also increase the likelihood of a successful attack. Theoretically, anyway. I haven't noticed that much of a difference. I've typically kept my most well-armored characters in the forward-most "kill" rank and everyone else in the standard "attack" rank.
At the end of the combat, you get a final tallying of  gold received, rations received, experienced received, and damage done to each character.

The party after a dangerous fight against buffalo.

Combat was deadly when all of my characters were Level 1 and could be struck dead by a single blow. Now that most of them are Levels 3 or 4, that almost never happens, and I can heal or make a withdrawal if a character gets close to death. The ability to withdraw in any round fundamentally makes the game a little too easy.

Magic hasn't played a bit role in the game for me, and I think it might be possible to play successfully without a single spellcasting character, though you'd have to rest a lot to recover hit points. The magic system is of the most basic sort, with characters able to learn new spells as they rise in levels. Spells require spell points, and they deplete very fast. My cleric can manage 5 or 6 "cure light wounds" spells in between rest breaks; my mage can do about that many "magic arrows." Except for the occasional healing spell, an attack is almost always the better option, and again the withdrawal system makes it pointless to carefully plot spell attacks. I've found the thief's sneaking skill quite useless for the same reason.

Holt prepares to cast a spell against some phantoms.

I also haven't noticed much of an effect from equipment upgrades, which have been slow to arrive anyway. The game is a lot like The Bard's Tale, where the character's level, statistics, and skills mattered a lot more than his gear in combat. There have been several times in which some weapon or piece of armor has broken, leaving my character to fight unarmed or unarmored, and I haven't even noticed the difference.
The equipment condition/repair system appears (I think) for the first time in Legend of Faerghail, and like most other things in the game, it's a good idea with poor execution. The system essentially requires you to have a smith in your party to effect repairs as equipment deteriorates. If you do have a smith in your party, it takes only a few moments to repair anything back to 100%. There's no strategy or skill associated with the system, and thus it accomplishes nothing but add a few minutes to the gameplay.
Ladd prepares to work on his own equipment.
One other aspect of the equipment system is that there are stricter rules about what characters can and cannot use than most other games. It's not like D&D where all of the fighting classes can use almost any weapon or armor.

The smith, for some reason, is incapable of using an axe, flail, or quarterstaff.

The economy is frankly a little baffling in its extremes. The vast majority of the treasure chests in a dungeon yield only between 1 and 9 gold pieces, if anything, and most combats produce essentially the same number. I've found a few treasure rooms behind secret doors with a dozen chests that, collectively, earned me around 40 gold pieces. Then, occasionally, you'll find a chest with 500 gold pieces or a major treasure that sells for 1,500.
In most games, this sight would be very welcome.
Expenses are similarly bipolar. The cost of almost anything in this game--equipment, repairs, new languages, new spells--is entirely trivial with the exception of training (acquiring new levels), which costs thousands of gold pieces. So almost all of your money goes into training, and characters would almost always have more levels available to train than money available--except that chests respawn, so if you find a couple that offer major gold hauls, you can just repeatedly enter the dungeon and get them. Again, a very weird system.

A large number of miscellaneous observations:

  • The graphics, including the monsters and dungeon textures, are quite nice, especially coming from the unvarying walls of Wizardry VI.
  • Experience points offered by each enemy are extremely variable and don't seem to have anything to do with the enemy's strength. I get the most from animal creatures (apes, bears, buffaloes) encountered in the wilderness.
  • Traps are annoying. Usually, my thief doesn't detect them. When she does, she usually fails to disarm them. In addition to doing damage, they sap morale and require a rest after a couple of them.
"Does a boob"; sinks up to his knees. Got it.
  • Attributes and skills increase when going from level to level, but completely randomly.
  • In complete opposition to the DOS version, you get copious amounts of food from encounters. I haven't had to buy any since the beginning. Oddly, although the game displays the party's food total, each character actually carries individual rations. You have to make sure that one character doesn't run out and thus gain no benefit from resting.
  • The game has one of the first crime/jail systems that we've seen. When you're in an inn, a thief has the ability to (p)ick-pocket. If she fails, she gets a warning the first time, then sent to jail the next time for a few days (you have to leave the town, wander around for a while, and return to pick her up). Since pocket-picking isn't very lucrative (certainly not enough to balance the annoyance of getting caught), this is yet another example of a good idea poorly implemented.
That's kind of a weird punishment, isn't it? "You will stay in jail until your friends come back."
  • I found a bunch of scrolls in the monastery titled "Book of Stars" and "Lord of the Rinse." I assume these are jokes and there's nothing to do but sell them. Nothing happens if I try to "use" them. Then again, I can't figure out how to use a scroll called "Enchant Armor," either.
  • Secret doors are identified as dotted outlines on the wall that you have to look for. It's not a bad system--probably better than running into every wall headlong. You can usually figure out the presence of a secret area via large unused portions of the map.

Can you see it?

  • Dungeons can be cleared of enemies but seem to reset, including all treasure and monsters, when you leave and return--not go from level to level, but leave the entire dungeon and return.
  • For some weird reason, when you're navigating dungeons and you're at a square with a door, you have to hit a key twice to turn or move. This has messed up mapping for me more than once.
  • The translations must have been done by different people, because there are some places in which the English is extremely good, and some places in which it's atrocious.

Is this supposed to have something to do with Indiana Jones?

The books I found in the monastery tell the "Legend of Faerghail" and are written by the "Great Wise Magician Ihl, Grand-Master of the nine and a half schools of the occult. According to the legend, in ancient times, a race of "moon people" called "Wer" lived with the world's inhabitants and helped guide the younger races (the god-creators had adopted a non-intervention policy). During this time, a demon "Lord of Darkness" named Balaan arose and began enslaving people from his headquarters in the "ice desert" in the north of Faerghail. To enhance his ability to destroy the other races, he allied with Istrildiar, the King of Dragons, who was angry at mankind for hunting dragons.
Reading the legend.
Eventually, a group of champions, composed of representatives from the various races, defeated the axis of evil, threw Balaan into another dimension, and imprisoned Istrildiar in a cave. (The book helpfully notes that no one knows what became of the champions,  "but if they have not died, they're still alive today!") The implications of this story on current events is for now unclear.

Back up on the surface, I have no intelligence on where to go next. Options include a complex in the north of the east valley which includes a bunch of characters asking riddles, the "derelict castle," the elven headquarters (where I have to answer a question about Findal's lineage), and the "Temple of the Savants." There are also a few encounters I need to revisit on the first map.

My lack of postings lately hasn't been because I don't like the game, but rather a combination of work and vacation. But Legend of Faerghail does continue to seem rather blah. I don't mind it, but I don't see what its point is. Its core gameplay elements are simply adopted from other games, and almost everything new it introduces fails in some way. Still, it's possible that my mind might change as I continue to explore. I'll probably give it until the end.


Further Reading: My first, second, third, and fourth posts on Legend of Faerghail, plus coverage of the game on "CRPG Revisiting old classics."


  1. Might and Magic I had at least one instance where a character could go to "jail", if you stole the town treasure in one of the towns, though that was more of a specific item that a general mechanic.

  2. I suggested in a previous post that 'Faerghail' may be an homage to 'Fargoal' - Sword of Fargoal being an early and popular roguelike that you'll play in a few months time.

    1. Sorry, Tristan, I had forgotten that. You're probably right. Thanks for the connection.

  3. A custodian race staying to guide the younger races after the gods "left"? That sounds a bit like a certain sci-fi show of the 1990s...

    1. And many games like Wizardry and Might & Magic.

  4. Chet- Remember The Magic Candle? It has the Repair system as well.

    And why do Bastards look like that? Are they like, real, bastards? Or were, unfortunately, named thus because a victim happened to be regaling his encounter as such, "That bastard almost bit my hand off! Goddamn bastard!"

    1. I'm pretty sure German the word bastard has some slightly different (additional) meanings from its English version. I imagine by bastard they meant something like crossbreed or halfbreed and, when the game got translated, they kept the name bastard not realizing that in English it doesn't have the same precise meaning.

    2. Nah, I'm german and took the time to have a quick dictionary google to make sure - there is nothing there. Very localized folklore may be an option, but I doubt it.

    3. German wikipedia says it's a colloquial/antiquated term for hybrids or crossbreeds. The thing looks like it's half human, so it kind of fits.

    4. Yes, well... then wouldn't sirens, harpies, minotaurs, satyrs, fawns, centaurs, sphinxes, manticores, merfolks and every demihuman race be called "bastards" too?

    5. Oh, Kenny, don't be pedantic. There are plenty of foes from numerous franchises that don't have mutually exclusive names. Consider "goblin" from D&D, which means a specific thing there, but comes from a much more generic background. Or Wasteland's whole catalog of humanoid foes: cutthroats, bikers, and whatnot. In fact, let's pick on "skeletons." When you think about it, isn't there a skeleton inside ALL of us?

      I think Giuseppe and the other anon commenters have solved the mystery quite well, and I'm learning a lot about German.

    6. Oh, Kenny, don't be pedantic. There are plenty of foes from numerous franchises that don't have mutually exclusive names. Consider "goblin" from D&D, which means a specific thing there, but comes from a much more generic background. Or Wasteland's whole catalog of humanoid foes: cutthroats, bikers, and whatnot. In fact, let's pick on "skeletons." When you think about it, isn't there a skeleton inside ALL of us?

      I think Giuseppe and the other anon commenters have solved the mystery quite well, and I'm learning a lot about German.

    7. Oh, and thanks for reminding me about the repair system in The Magic Candle. I'd forgotten completely. I really need to keep better track of this stuff.

    8. I can't help it if I'm used to calling the wizard in our party an "elven bastard". XD

    9. re: the german bastard thing

      the meaning of 'crossbreed' does not mean animal hybrids or fantasy creatures, it comes from the fact that a bastard primarily means illegitimate child. An hangover from times when it mattered, any mixed-race child would be a bastard, assuming a non-christian foreign parent, since they would not be (properly) married. Hence bastard as a word for mixed-race children (or simply of the wrong religion, of course).

      Point is, we germans get 'crossbreed' in the dictionary under bastard *because of* the 'illegitimate child' meaning, not because it also refers to something else.

    10. Me again,

      1) it seems there is no way out of posting a comment once you hit publish, not even page refresh. Nor is editing possible.

      2) adding to my previous post, of course this does not mean that the game designers didn't call a mythical creature a bastard. People can have ideas of their own.

      Just saying the dictionary does not support the previously postulated theory.

    11. Are you the earlier Anonymous? Because, I swear, you all look alike to me. XD

      Anyway, still very confused on the the German context of what the term "Bastard" actually means. It would be a stinker if I wanted to curse at a German guy only to find out later that it's a compliment. That'd suck pretty hard.

    12. Addict, you killed Kenny's argument. You bastard!

  5. I've been praising this game/reliving my memories in the previous posts, this time I'd like to try and tell people what I really liked about it (aside from me being too young to know better): just like another favourite of mine, dragon wars, LoF was a standalone thing - while I surely liked series, there was (and is) something beautiful about an entertaining one-off.

    Sure, when played in a row with other, similar games LoF doesn't offer much to make it stand out. When you get into it without knowing anything about it (I rarely had manuals in my amiga days and mainly figured things out on my own), the fact that it offers the leveling up system and has a unique storyline is actually entertaining enough! That the different parts of the game do not really come together that well was lost on 12 year old me, and I was more immersed into it as a result than I had been into bards tale, for example. Now dragon wars on the other hand...[wanders off still talking]

    1. I appreciate your enthusiasm for the game, but I have to say, you didn't really "sell" it here.

    2. That's the point, I can't. If not played in a row with similar games it is pretty neat, otherwise not so much. I promise to be less high next time I try to make a point.

      Btw, I just started playing Buck Rogers (amiga)!

  6. Arrrgh - "Blogger has a way of "eating" comments", yes it does!
    Anyway, and much shorter now: "but if they have not died, they're still alive today!" is the german "and they lived happily ever after". Maybe the translator didn't know that, otherwise the legend ending could have been as goofy as in German. Or he did know and decided otherwise, because he wanted to hint on the champions still being alive in some undead way.

    1. Thanks. That was an interesting thing to learn. I guess it makes about as much sense as "happily ever after" instead of, you know, "happily until they inevitably died."

    2. I always took "And they lived happily ever after." to mean that no one died ever and they were just happy doing what they did at the end of the story- FOREVER.

    3. I'm pretty sure you're actually right, Giauz. I saw Snow White, Cinderella and God-knows-which-princess-is-dressed-in-green (all living Happily-Ever-After, no doubt) in the advertisement for Disney-On-Ice.

    4. I've seen it used in some English fairy tales as well; though,. they could easily have been English translations of German ones.

    5. Yes, I was going to comment and say this was the ending of some of the Grimms' fairy tales until I read the other comments and saw it had already been mentioned. I didn't realize it was a more general standard German fairy-tale ending, though.

  7. 2400 AD had a repair system and a crime/jail system too ;)


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