|Slowly working my way across the map.|
After about 12 hours of play, I've finally caught up (roughly) to where I was when I was playing Tunnels & Trolls last spring. I thought I'd use this post to walk through the process of explore one of the maps, annotating each of the encounters and the various gameplay considerations they evoke.
My party consists of two Dwarf fighters (Stahr and Stamper), a Hobb rogue (Josefa), and an Elf wizard (Abra). They're all Level 8 or 9. I have the rogue and wizard armed with bows; they mostly snipe from the rear (although arrows run out fast), with occasional spell support. The fighters charge into battle and bear the brunt of the attacks.
|Stahr's equipment at the end of this session. I haven't found a single magic weapon or piece of armor.|
As we discussed in the opening posts, there are no "derived" attributes in the game; enemy attacks do direct damage to constitution, and spellcasting depletes directly from strength. Strength is restored over time; constitution is restored every time you rest or eat food. Either way, it's pretty easy to get fully restored at the end of each battle. Given the importance of these two attributes, you want to level them up in greater proportion than the others. I've adopted the following strategy on leveling up: with every even level-up, I invest in strength and constitution (there's an option to raise both); with every odd level-up, I invest in the character's lowest useful attribute (e.g., dexterity, luck, and speed for the fighters; those plus intelligence for the spellcasters).
My first character loses a point of constitution regularly for no reason. This has been happening since I picked up an "illstone" in an encounter with an orc chief. I understood why it happened while I was holding the stone, but I sold it ages ago and the game didn't seem to recognize that it was gone from my inventory. My condition is listed as "good" and no spell stops the process.
The game starts in the city of Gull, in the far southwest of the game world, in map F1. Since Crusaders of Khazan is fundamentally a "lawmowing" game, in which you want to methodically uncover every square (16 x 16) on every map (5 x 4), I systematically worked east, exploring F1, F2, F3, and F4 before returning to Gull, refueling torches and arrows, and starting with row E. When I finished map E4, I went immediately north to D4 and started heading back west. That's where I pick up the narrative below.
|I guess I'll be coming back to this one later.|
I haven't completed all encounters: I had to annotate some for return when my party is stronger. These include:
- A pleiosaur who lurks in the depths of one of the ocean squares in E2.
- A mountain spire in F2 where I get attacked by a succession of powerful enemies on the way to the top.
- A troll lurking under a bridge in E4. I have to fight him one-on-one with a single character, but he always kills me in the first round.
- In the middle of a E4 swamp, a cave occupied by a hydra.
On the main quest to defeat the evil Empress Lerotra'hh and her monstrous forces, I have made only a little progress. In Blackwater Swamp, I found some dwarves holed up in a mountain fortress, begging for news about the war. (They automatically trusted me since I had some dwarves in the party.) They asked me to take word to their leader, a human warrior named Barengar, nearby in Grip Iron Pass.
I found the pass and helped Barengar and his forces against a slew of orcs. They rewarded me with a magic helm and asked me to take word of "Valdemarton's fall" to "the escarpment pass at Overkill," somewhere to the west. I assume I'll find it somewhere in these subsequent journeys. This dialogue is a good example of the clumsy way that the game introduces names and places, though. I assume a lot of it was adapted from gamebooks. Neither Valedmarton nor Overkill are mentioned in the backstory for the game.
|A rare window on the main quest.|
As we begin, I've arrived in Map D4, titled the "Red Orc Range," from the south. To keep things interesting, I adopt different lawnmowing patterns when exploring the maps. Sometimes, I uncover the map in north-south strips, sometimes east-west, and sometimes I make a ring around the edge and work inward. That's what I do here.
The game lets you choose a movement type as you go across the map. "Walk" is the default. "Run" lets you move faster, but at the cost of strength points. "Slow" helps you avoid traps but takes more time. These latter two are, I think, somewhat useless in wilderness areas. "Horse" lets you move through wilderness faster, saving on food. "Climb Up" is necessary if you want to move across mounts; this is a slow process that takes 12 hours per step. The best strategy when outdoors is to keep it on "Horses" most of the time, but almost everything causes it to revert to "Walk," so generally I just forget about it.
|Setting movement options.|
The first thing I encounter, in the bottom row of squares, is the walled village of Valdemarton, charred and burned from the orc attacks. I choose to enter. A beady-eyed man answers my knocks on the gate and demands 1 gold pieces per person and horse to enter. I say "no," but that leaves me with no options for entering the city, so I re-enter the square to activate the encounter again and say "yes."
For all the talk of its "fall," Valdemarton seems to be doing okay. The general store is open, which is good because I'm low on food. The Adventurer's Guild and Rogue's Guild are closed. In a ramshackle tavern, I'm forced to check my weapons at the door by a "shadow demon" bouncer. This turns out to be a bad thing. It soon becomes clear that by entering the tavern, I've entered some kind of "barroom brawling" competition, and everyone thinks my party is the "pros from Tallymark." I soon find myself in combat with 8 "human scums."
|Restocking on food at the general store.|
I win the combat without too much damage, but soon an overturned oil lamp starts a fire. I grab my gear and flee just ahead of the destruction.
Elsewhere in Valdemarton, the Baron's Inn offers a legendarily comfortable bed. My party consumes a round of ales and stew (this does nothing for me that I can tell) and pays 50 gold for the room. I get a night's sleep but nothing special happens.
|The "unnaturally refreshing" sleep doesn't seem to have done anything for my attributes.|
As I go to leave the inn, a guard wearing Baron Valdemar's colors stumbles into me and demands that I apologize. I refuse, and a brawl with 6 guards breaks out. They don't look tough, so I let the computer fight it, which turns out to be a mistake because Stahr is killed. I reload (my only other option is to wait for a special resurrection gem or replace him with an NPC) and this time, I don't even go into the inn.
|Occasionally, you get these bits of furniture and other obstacles in combat, but they're very inconsistent.|
The Wizard's Guild teaches spell levels 2-8. Abra, my wizard, has only up through Level 4 so far, so I spend some time studying the manual to see which ones I want. I ultimately pick up "Wall of Thorns" and "Second Sight." I make a note to return later with more money.
I wander into the throne room of the Baron of Valdemar. He has a lovely red-haired woman chained at his side, and he nonchalantly orders his guards to kill me. The ensuing battle involves 23 guards. They're tough but inaccurate, and I kill them all with only a little damage taken to Josefa.
|Decent experience for this one.|
The Baron then draws his sword and attacks. He kills all of my characters and I have to reload. I try various strategies in subsequent combats, but nothing I do works and my characters can't even hit him. I mark Valdemar for a later return and head back out to the wilderness to resume my lawnmowing.
In the northwest corner of the map, I'm surroudned by a group of "Red Circle outriders." (Again, nothing about this in the backstory.) They demand a password. I don't have it. They give me a chance to surrender, but I decline. The subsequent battle is easy: all 7 warriors go down without doing any damage to me.
|I wonder where I was supposed to get this password.|
Elsewhere in the range, I find a "tomb carved from dark granite" with a carving of a clenched fist over the entrance. I choose to enter. This isn't a real dungeon but rather a text-only dungeon. It tells me that I come to a room with two silver-gray gauntlets suspended between a pedestal and a large floating stone block. It allows me to put one hand within a gauntlet, place both within the gauntlets, or leave.
|Note how this encounter is taking place as text in the window instead of on the game map.|
I suspect that when I put my hands in the gauntlets, the large block will come crashing down on them, so I use my most dextrous character, Josefa. Sure enough, that happens. She pulls her hands away in time. While I don't get to keep the gauntlets, Josefa's dexterity increases by 6 (not her maximum, just her current).
On the top of a mountain, I find a tomb with a sword above the entrance. Inside, a find a crystalline sword spinning in the air. I choose to have Stahr take it. An image of a warrior appears and swings his own crystalline sword at me. I parry the blow and the warrior's blade shatters. Stahr's current strength goes up by 6.
I pass the ruins of Castle Frostgate. There appears to be nothing to do here.
Soon, I come to a tomb with a carving of a helm above the door. I enter and find a helm inside. If the gauntlets required, and led to, dexterity, and the sword required, and led to, strength, I figure the helm has something to do with intelligence. I have my smartest character, Abra, put it on. Sure enough, her intelligence increases by 6. I wonder how long these bonuses will last.
|Abra with her temporary intelligence bonus.|
Following a wisp of smoke in the sky, I come upon a farmhouse. I hear a scream from a nearby barn. Running into the barn, I find a woman and man threatened by hundreds of "Dhesiri" boiling out of the ground. (I have no idea what these are. By icon, they look kind of like lizard-men. They are unmentioned in the manual. A Google search turns up only spoiler pages for this game.) I engage them to give the couple time to flee.
The ensuing battle with 29 "Dhesiri drones" is easy. I win without taking any damage. But the experience point rewards are high enough that Abra gains a level; since it's an odd level-up, I put an extra point in speed.
|Speed offers increases much more slowly than the other attributes.|
The farmer and his wife escape the barn and torch it behind them, killing the remaining Dhesiri. The farmer has me to dinner and explains that his farm is on the ancient site of a battle between Silvermain the Elflord and Muramaxx the Arch-Demon. He gives me an artifact, the Horn of Lakri Muss, for helping him.
The rest of the map is uneventful, save for a couple more Red Circle attacks and some encounters with Dhesiri who are immediately frightened off. There are a handful of squares I can't visit because they're on the side of verticle bluffs. This occurs other places in the game and I hate it.
|The final map with some maddeningly-unmowable squares.|
The next map to the west, "Khazan Pass," ruins my lawnmowing system. Random encounters with "Death's Host Patrols" keep leaving me slaughtered. Clearly, I need to do grinding elsewhere before I can continue.
Two conclusions from this experience:
1. The storytelling in Tunnels & Trolls is extremely clumsy. Characters and places are introduced haphazardly, and there's no way to tell what's going to be important and what is just a throw-away vestige to the gamebooks. The game effectively requires you to have played the solo adventures to understand the lore behind the areas you're exploring.
|This combat would be much more meaningful if the game had bothered to tell me what "Dhesiri" are. Also, my colorblindness means I can barely see the characters and enemies against the backdrop.|
2. The combat system is oddly binary. Battles are either moronically simple (e.g., the baron's guards) or functionally impossible (e.g., the baron himself).
When I finish the "D" row, I'll have finished half the game. I expect the other maps to offer the same mixture of weird allusions and random encounters, so I probably won't blog about this game again until I have more to say about the main plot.