Saturday, March 21, 2015

Tunnels & Trolls: A Full Map

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 exploring 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 plesiosaur 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 piece 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.


  1. I think for once your color-blindness might be an advantage here. I am normally ok with the ugliest of retro but my eyes go into open rebellion with the screenshots.

    1. Jason (another one)March 21, 2015 at 11:09 PM

      Agreed - the last screenshot is awful. I can barely see the monsters myself. Yowzers, that was not very well thought out. Mind you, the game doesn't see all THAT bad so far... I might have enjoyed playing it if I had free time (ha!).

      (And if you haven't heard about it yet, there are new types of glasses that can help with color blindness.

    2. Thirded on the last screenshot. Ugly and hard to make out: not a good combination.

    3. Perhaps its some kind of "Magic Eye"-Effect?

    4. Cool! If you cross your eyes, you can see... the tip of your nose.

    5. You have to look ´behind´the screen, to see the effect.

      Oh no, my fault - just dust!

  2. With Jason on this one - it's hard to make out the colors without color-blindness. They're bodies aren't too colors that look the same with color-blindness... they're exactly the same! Monsters the same shade of green on the backdrop!

  3. A note about your leveling, doing it the way you are, you're losing out on some potential attribute increases

    From the 5th edition (which is what the CRPG is based on) rules:
    Once a character has garnered enough points to pass up to a new level he can modify one of his "prime attributes". Below are the options he may use to modify his attributes.
    A. Add the new level number to either ST or CON, or ½ of level number to both.
    B. Add ½ the number to IQ or DEX or CHR (exclusive, not inclusive).
    C. Add 2× the number to Luck.
    All fractions round down.

    So you see, by using odd levels to increase Intelligence (IQ), Dexterity (DEX) or Charisma (CHR) [Speed (SPD) would follow the same as those too], you're losing out on 1 point increase each time

    Luck (LK) it doesnt matter which level
    For Strength (STR) and Constitution (CON) you're better off alternately increasing 1 of them every alternate odd-level, and doing IQ, DEX, CHR or SPD every even level

  4. This page explains dhesiri:

    1. Cool! It's an article by Stackpole, the guy who designed part of Wasteland 1 & 2!

  5. Friends, I need some help cheating in Savage Empire!

    I have glitched my game-- I dropped a key item (the "giant gem") in a spot where a statue spawns when you complete a quest and now I can't pick it back up again. I can see it, but when I try to pick it up the game tells me there is nothing there. I am completely stuck. I already saved my game since then so I seem to have two options: restart from scratch or cheat. I'm going to try cheating first...

    According to multiple sites, there is a tool "mdhack" which lets you enable the debug mode. With that, you can then tell Triolo "cheat" and it will let you spawn any object. With that, I should be able to get the back back... but using the SE version that comes from, I cannot get this to work. MDHACK successfully says it enabled the cheat menu, but even so I cannot open up the item spawning.

    Any ideas? I'm at least 80% of the way through the game now (having done 11 of the 13 tribal quests, but I don't know what's after those). I could zip through the game faster a second time, but boy would it be annoying to do it all over again.

    1. And I have it fixed! The problem was in he strange way that GOG bundles up apps for the Mac. I was able to reimport the game into Boxer directly, copy over my saved games, and then re-run the crack and I was able to enter the cheat menu. From there, I respawned the item that was glitched.

      I think it is unlikely that someone will be as stupid as I was. I *thought* that the "giant gem" was the God-statue I was supposed to recover, so I put it where the God-statue belonged and when that didn't trigger what I thought it would do, I messed around and found the right solution-- which caused the God-statue to appear right on top of the key item and glitch it.

    2. I didn't even know you could accomplish that kind of game breakingness. Come to think of it, I guess even Origins didn't think it possible since they didn't code it so that it's impossible to do so.

    3. I am actually finding Savage Empire to be somewhat glitchy overall. I had one case where a unique item disappeared on me even though I knew where I left it (gur sver nkr, yrsg va gur yno) and for some reason the game crashes now every time that I die rather than sending me back to the poor-excuse-for-a-Lord-British for this game.

      I suspect that my little glitch did a bit more damage under the hood and I hope that I am not a dead man walking.

      (I also had to revert back to the "un-cheat-enabled" version because with the cheats enabled the game would crash every time I entered into gur haqretebhaq pvgl. But copying my save games with the item in my inventory to the original version was enough to get me going again.)

    4. Ultima 7 was also very buggy: It had a problem that important items would randomly disappear while the characters slept, and the inventory was so convoluted that it was impossible to tell if something was missing.

  6. It's the classic right justified fantasy map, made popular by Tolkien. The other category has an island in the middle, neatly expanding towards the edges of the sheet to make the most use of it.

    Together these two cover at least 90% of fantasy maps ever made.

    1. No, it doesn't. That roughly covers only 75% of it. The rest are islands that are shaped in impossibly accurate outlines of creatures (griffons, pegasi, unicorns & etc.), symbols & words (swastika, cross, 'I Heart U' & etc.) and body parts (hand, footprint, skull, wings, tails & etc.).

    2. If anyone's really curious about the subject, an academic named Stefan Ekman wrote a book about place in fantasy stories, and the first chapter us a statistical analysis on fantasy maps.

    3. What fantasy map is in the shape of a swastika? That seems like a poor idea all around (please say its the FATAL gaming system).

    4. Hahahh Kenny, that made me laugh out loud.

    5. Actually, the original Swastika is sitting upright and is a benign religious symbol which stemmed from the ancient Indus civilization.

      Of course, if you tip the symbol to have it sitting on its pointy end, you get the evil Nazi insignia instead.

    6. And to answer your question, one of the dungeons in the first Zelda game is shaped like the Manji (or Swastika) symbol.

  7. I didn't play that far because of a game crashing bug I experienced back then. And a patch or a workaround during those pre-internet days are nigh-impossible to obtain easily.

    Could being "unnaturally refreshed" help to kill the Baron?

  8. "The ensuing battle involves 23 guards. They're tough but inaccurate, and I kill them all "

    "The Baron then draws his sword and attacks. He kills all of my characters"

    I'm sure there's a name for the pointless guards trope. It's funny/annoying how RPGs regularly make guards unnaturally weak or unnaturally powerful. I think guards should be tougher than the riff-raff and weaker than mid-game heroes.

    1. TVTropes covers the pointless guards trope under 'Mooks'.

      The two Majesty PC games kind of avert the trope. Your Castle will spawn a few guards now and then who, while not as powerful as the hero characters, can hold their own against middle-grade enemies, much like how you want them to be.

      Good games, both of them. I should fire up the second.

    2. is what I was looking for.

      Fallout 1 & 2 get it right. Everyone is about tough as you'd expect their real-world equivalent to be.

    3. We should have a Showdown between all the guards (not invincible or cannot be attacked) of every CRPG.

      1. Citadel Sentry (Wasteland)
      2. City Guards (Ultima series)
      3. Roaming Patrol (Crystal Dragon)
      4. "Took An Arrow To The Knee" Brigade (Elder Scrolls series)
      5. Laeghaire Sentinels (M&M X)
      6. Howe's Dungeon Guards (Dragon Age: Origins)

      I wonder who will be the best equipped and trained militant assigned to perform guard duty instead of saving the world.

    4. Which of those are not beatable by a typical endgame PC? I've not played any of those games to the end.

    5. You've not played a single Ultima or Elder Scrolls game to the end?

      I personally think the Ultima City Guards are the only guards that the Avatar & gang may still get killed by, even at Level 8 and decked out in their finest magical gear.

    6. Not one. Played a few hours each of VII,VIII, UU, Morrowind and Skyrim. I should give Skyrim at least a proper crack.

    7. You should play Arena, Daggerfall and Redguard: Those are the best games in the Elder Scrolls series. I strongly recommend, however, that you back up your saved games in them.

  9. CIA Club member #3March 24, 2015 at 1:37 PM

    Er, just to clarify, the CIA Club in my username refers to the "Chester Is Awesome Club" rather than the Central Intelligence Agency.

    Anyway, I do not particularly want you to play Shin Megami Tensei, but would you mind informing me about what inspired the new rule at the bottom of the blog (I'm curious)?

    Also, I noticed it before when there were only three rules, and considered it rude to point out a typo, but the message below the comment form says "please follow these two rules" rather than "four rules". I'm not sure if I'm the only one who noticed.

    1. Henceforth, it shall be known as that Game-Which-Shall-Not-Be-Named (abbreviated as GWSNBN if even SMT is also inappropriate).

    2. There have been a disproportionate number of comments comparing various games to that particular GWSNBN. Some of those comments contained bizarre and/or borderline content. In some cases there was no apparent relationship to the topic. I am guessing that some specific post was the straw that broke the camel's back?

    3. I believe it's because Chet is being pestered to play that GWSNBN but it's not in his master list because it never appeared on computers. So, unless Atlus starts porting their games over to the PC, SMT shall still remain as... the GWSNBN.

    4. The first Megami Tensei game (on the list but won't be played) has a PC release, but as far as I can tell, doesn't have an English PC release. I'm in favour of fan subs but Chet has said that as a rule, a fan-subbed game will not be played (he made an exception for Black Onyx).

    5. Please call it the GWSNBN, man. Come to think of it, what about Digital Devil Saga? Shouldn't it also raise some ire from Chet?

    6. That's the one I'm referring to. DDS:MT from '87

    7. Ah... I get what you mean. Okay, I can only blame Atlus on this. I thought you meant the first SMT which is a spin off from DDS franchise. Since we're at it, we should add Persona in here as well. It's great that they adopted Citizens of Earth from their Kickstarter-miss. Atlus so crazy but I love them for it.

    8. It was mostly a joke. I'm not really going to delete anyone's posting, but I am getting rather sick of commenters segueing to discussions of JRPGs that barely have anything to do with my posting, and SMT seems to be the most frequently mentioned in such non-sequiturs.

    9. Technically, it should be known as the GWSNBNMTOAW (... More Than Once a Week). A few more days on the clock though.

    10. The version of GWSNBNMTOAW released for Japanese PCs wasn't an RPG anyway, JRPG or otherwise (both the PC games and the Famicom version were based on a series of novels originally, but they're two different games.)

  10. While we're on the topic of game books, here's a hilarious read.

  11. Finally beat Savage Empire! Now I just have to hope that Mr. Addict finishes up the next two 1990s games quickly so that I can talk about it with a clear memory. :)


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