Sunday, August 30, 2015

Questron: Some Messed-Up Values

That's because I killed everyone else.
Well, given this was a Charles Dougherty game, the outcome was inevitable: at some point, I emerged from the royal castle, my mace dripping with the mangled blood and brain matter of several dozen castle guards...a hero. Knighted, even. It's a brutal world we inhabit, and only the strong survive.

As I closed from my first post, I was making my way around the island continent, visiting each city and cathedral, fighting monsters along the way. My fortunes waxed and waned as I won a hand of blackjack here, lost a spin of the roulette wheel there. If money got too low, I did my "Double or Nothing" trick until the guards attacked, and it turns out it's not very hard to kill them. I felt a little bad about that, but they were clearly in the wrong. I mean, we'd all be in an uproar if the Atlantic City Police Department tried to kill everyone who won a few keno hands at Harrah's, right?

A mace appears on the list.

Weapons and armor slowly improved. Armor availability went from rawhide to shields to chain mail to plate mail. Weapons upgraded from a flail to a club to a mace to a cutlass. At each city, I talked to prisoners and slowly built a lore book of hints and tips. A sample:

  • There are keys for every door
  • Find the trumpet at all costs
  • The treasure room can make you wealthy
  • Cathedrals reward only the good. [If killing guards doesn't do it, I don't know how to be bad.]
  • Find the castle to find Mesron.
  • You must travel through the northern fog, but only when ready
  • You should put money in the bank in case of death
  • You can steal, but plan your exit carefully
  • The phazor spiders hate the whip
  • There is a leaden key in the castle. Steal it.
  • Only the club kills the piercing pungie easy
  • Give to the evil priest--or he will kill you

A prisoner imparts a bit from the lore database.

As I got stronger, I found myself getting attacked by multiple copies of the same monster at once, and their hit points seemed to increase, too. But despite this, combat slowly became easier and less deadly.

Eventually, I started getting the same message every time I bellied up to a shopkeeper's counter: "MESRON WANTS TO SEE YOU." Around the same time, Geraldtown was destroyed. All shops and people were completely wiped out.

I returned to the castle, explored a bit, and found Mesron in a place I'd missed during my first explorations. When I spoke to him, he promoted me to soldier, increased my strength and stamina by 5, and gave me 5 jars of magic powder. He said that "one use" of the powder was to slow down guards in the castle. I'm not sure what the other is. He also confirmed that Mantor had destroyed Geraldtown.

When I spoke to him again, he said, "You're missing one piece of the puzzle. Find it, and I'll help you continue."

Sigh. I knew what was next: looting and killing. I built up some more funds and returned to the Swamp Cathedral, trading everything I had for about 25 holy water potions. Each gives you 100 hit points, but the starting character has a cap between 500 and 600 hit points. 

Returning to the castle, I found my way to a random treasure chest and opened it. This put every guard in the castle on alert, and they all headed my way to attack. I learned quickly that I wanted to channel them to me one-by-one, and let them come to me so I could get the first attack. Sometimes, I got lucky and killed them in a single hit. Other times, I missed 4 or 5 times in a row and a single guard knocked more than 100 hit points off my total. I drank the holy water when I got low. I saved the magic powder for when my holy water ran out, but fortunately that never happened.

There must be a better way.

I lost track of how many guards I ended up killing. It was more than 50. Among the chests, I found ruby, silver, emerald, lead, and gold keys, and more than 8,000 gold pieces. The keys opened various doors to special encounters. Namely:

  • A doctor offered to increase my strength for 10 holy waters. I was reluctant to sacrifice that many, but I ultimately said yes and my strength went from 20 to 40. This made the rest of the guards a little easier.

  • A princess increased my charisma from 15 to 35 for 2,000 gold. Thanks to her father's coffers, I had plenty!

  • In a "map room," I paid 500 gold pieces for small images of Questron and what I assume is the Land of Evil. I used the Questron one to annotate the cities and cathedrals I'd found.

The Realm of Questron.

  • A treasure room held a couple thousand gold pieces but automatically spawned 8 more guards I had to kill.

They were particularly dutiful guards. They wouldn't cross the threshold into the treasure room.

When I was done looting, the gold key got me into the king's throne room, where I killed about 10 more guards to reach the king. He was understandably unhappy.

But I needed to be there. Behind his throne was a small room with a chest containing the Trumpet, an artifact that I needed to find "at all costs"--according to the word of some random prisoner in a jail.

It turned out to be true, though. This was the other "piece of the puzzle" Mesron wanted me to find. When I re-visited him, he told me that I was now "the most powerful soldier in Questron" and asked me to take on the quest to destroy Mantor. Since I had recently saved, I decided to see what would happen if I said "no." He told me that was wise, then called me a wimp, then petulantly took his magic powder back.

I reloaded and said yes. He told me that I would have to go through the northern mists to find Hidden Port, and from there take a ship across the sea to the Land of Evil. Holy water would be useless there, he said, so I would have to find some way to buy hit points. He dramatically finished with, "Your quest: Seek out Mantor. Destroy Mantor!" He finished by increasing my dexterity from 20 to 40 and suggested I go get knighted.

After I spoke to Mesron, the guards (who had respawned) stopped attacking. I went back to the throne room where, unbelievably, the king called me a "worthy adversary" and said I deserved to be in his service. He knighted me, my stamina went up by 15, and my hit point cap was removed.

Is that your way of saying that you're scared of me?

On the way out, I noticed that guards still beat me and took my gold if I spoke to them. What is wrong with this place?

I had one more stop to make before heading off into the northern mists. The map from the map room showed an island in the middle of Questron, and sure enough I was able to buy a raft in Lake Centre. The island held the Island Cathedral, where I was able to buy hit points directly from the priest--no need for the holy water intermediary.

Having a character refer to them as "hit points" in-game kind of breaks the fourth wall.

Moreover, the cathedral had a fun minigame that increased my intelligence. It was a variation of Mastermind (a variant of which also appeared in Galactic Adventures, another SSI game) where you have to guess the placement of 4 squares of up to 4 colors among 8 slots. After each guess, the game tells you how many you got right in both color and placement and how many you got right by color alone. Slowly, you deduce the pattern--but you only have eight guesses. I'm pretty good at Mastermind, but I also got lucky with my first few guesses, and I was able to beat it in 6. My intelligence increased by 8 points.

After 4 guesses, I knew I was going to make it. The white squares indicate both correct color and placement; the gray squares indicate correct color only. If you use save states here, you lack the character to be reading my blog.
I was just about to head off to the Land of Evil when I got a message that Mesron wanted to see me again. I returned and learned that Mantor was currently attacking the city of Lagoon. I recalled that this exact same thing happened in Questron II, at Seaside. But unlike that game, where I drove Mantor away and saved the city, by the time I got to Lagoon, it was too late.

I'm sorry. I tried.

The "northern mists" are a series of squares that lead from the mainland along a narrow isthmus to the city of Hidden Port. Every step you take in the mists has a chance of moving you in a random direction instead of the one where you were going. After a period of frustrating bumbling about, it occurred to me that the Trumpet might have some use here. Sure enough, blowing it cleared the mists. I made my way to the city.

The trumpet clears the mists and allows me to pass.

There, I was dismayed to find that a clipper cost over 2,000 gold pieces, and I had spent so much on hit points that I only had 1,300 left. I briefly thought about wagering it on an all-or-nothing blackjack hand, but I first decided to see what happened if I tried to take just a raft across the ocean. It turned out to be no problem at all. I might have consumed some extra food, but that's all.

Fighting a whale from my raft.

There were lots of combats with water creatures along the way, but ultimately I arrived in the Land of Evil, where presumably the king will knight me for rescuing maidens and the guards will pat me on the back when I win at roulette.

In the Land of Evil!

This session, though brisk and fun, reminded me of some things I don't like about the Dougherty series. It's not so much the slaughter of castle guards--I can hand-wave that by pretending that they were traitors working for Mantor--but rather the intertwining of character and plot developments. Attributes and hit points increase more from achieving the next stage of the plot than from all the fighting and grinding you do in between. We also have the issue with weapons, armor, and transportation becoming available only after passage of time instead of when you can afford it. At the same time--and frankly just like in Ultima and Ultima II--hit points are all over the place. Their maximum isn't dependent on your overall character strength, but rather how many you can afford. It's a bizarre, slightly uncomfortable dynamic.

I look forward to seeing what the Land of Evil has to offer. I assume I'll find the first dungeons here, but I otherwise have no memory of this place.

Time so far: 6 hours
Reload count: 9


  1. I have to wonder what the princess does to you to make you instantly more charismatic.

    1. You ARE literally a farmer when you start the game. The name of your home town, "Geraldtown," has a western Pennsylvania vibe, so you probably have a mullet. A few basic fashion and grooming tips probably do the trick.

    2. She probably added you to her facebook friends. Its an "IT-girl-thing".

    3. A smile also improves your charisma. :-)

    4. As a lifelong western Pennsylvanian, I'm honestly not sure what you mean by that. I mean, sure, Western PA is has its share of rednecks, but I don't really get the Geraldtown comment. Is there something specific that you're referencing? Or is West PA just your go-to whipping boy for this sort of thing?

    5. It could be selective observation, but it always struck me that western Pennyslvania has more examples than most places of some guy's name with "town" or "burg" or "ville" stuck after it. Blairsville, Johnstown, Martinsburg, Phillipsburg, Lewisburg, Adamstown, and so forth.

    6. Virginia is chock full of Nameville, Nametown, and Nameburg, too.

  2. One of the things about Fallout: New Vegas that was a bit weird was how shops offered gear based on your level. On the other hand, if they hadn't done that, you'd have had the best guns in the game from very early on, given the economy.

    1. Huh. I've played through the game twice, and I didn't know that. I tend not to buy weapons and armor in games like Fallout or TES, though, as I find it so much more satisfying to loot it.

      I'm not sure what you mean by "given the economy," though. I didn't think FO:NV was particularly broken. I thought it took me a satisfyingly long time to get rich, particularly if I paid for repairs.

    2. The Gun Runners Vendortron in Freeside only sells the top tier weapons to characters of at least level 16. I think the situation is similar for the Brotherhood vendor and Silver Rush. Maybe others as well.

      Interesting that we had such different experiences. I found that I always had funds in significant excess of what I needed. Even if I only cleared a few of the quest locations and some ambush encounters on my way to Vegas I'd be able to buy the top quality combat armor and guns pretty much immediately. From that point, the only significant money sinks are the implants - if you think the trade-off is even worth it.

      I scavenge pretty thoroughly but I don't play to maximise my cash (I'll use repair to condense item stacks even if it costs me a bit of value, and I don't bother with paperweights and empty bottle and such), and my barter is usually 25.

    3. In Bethesda games, the best items you can find will always be better than the best items you can craft, the best items you can craft will always be better than the best items you can buy.

    4. Maybe in TES, but in the FO titles, the 'best' weapons are slightly upgraded versions of store-bought gear, and they're generally one-ofs in out-of-the-way or high-level locations. This means you want to make a bee-line for the best shops (unless you know the game inside out and exactly where to find top-level easy-to-reach gear)..

    5. I dunno about being "slightly upgraded". An additional damage point is always an additional damage point.

      What if your current weapon does 60 DMG while Super Mutants roaming around the lands all have 63 HPs and there's a "slightly upgraded" version of your current weapon that does an additional 5 DMG?

      Would it not be a game changer if those Super Mutants could only fire back at you after you empty one round on them?

    6. I didn't really experience that in my playthroughs. Most of my significant gear upgrades came from stores.

  3. I have to say that this seems charming! None of the developments on their own are especially original, but taken together they do have this idiosyncratic "what one person thought would be neat" quality that reminds me of some other early 80s games that managed slightly more depth and variety than they properly HAD to have in order to seem like a playable RPG at that date. It's not in the Stuart Smith level of thematic and mechanical originality (see: the Garriott credit) but it's not SUCH a mindless clone. The minigames, the business of towns getting destroyed from time to time (do you think there was a warning for the first one too, and you just missed it? I wonder if there'll be any kind of flavor text at the end recognizing that you saved all but two towns)... I dunno, if I'd had this at the right moment I probably would have gotten pretty into it.

    I was young enough though that anything with much complication to speak of just washed over me, and by the time I could handle a little more, we had Zelda and games like this would have seemed slow and clunky.

    1. I think the destruction of Geraldtown is scripted, and you don't find out until after it happens. I could be wrong, though.

      I agree with you about the originality, but the problem, such as is it is, is that the game starts with an Ultima I-II base, and neither of those first two Ultimas were very good when it came to the mechanics of role-playing. Character development consisted mostly of buying hit points and was weird and erratic, combat was extremely basic, and you did some bafflingly awful things on the way to becoming a hero. By faithfully including all of those elements, Questron suggests that the developers might not have been aware of other RPG (including tabletop RPG) traditions.

    2. Yes, that's a good point. I'll let the baffling un-heroic decisions pass - I could be wrong but I can't recall TOO many games you've covered from the period where this was approached with any kind of consistency or common sense, and it may be almost a post-Avatar anachronism to even *notice* that the hero seems to be killing off all the other forces for order in the kingdom. "It's a game, you kill things" was probably as far as I would have thought about it at the time!

      The other stuff, however - buying hit points, the weird leveling - do indeed seem super strange and not at all like something you'd expect from a tabletop role-playing fan. I can't remember - was Garriott a D&Der in addition to being a RenFest/SCA type? Perhaps this is another reason I thought of Zelda as a comparison; all increases in stats and abilities in that kind of game are basically quest items in that they are located at specific unchanging points. At least it means there's something worth spending the money on, which has clearly been a problem even for designers of games that have much more extensive stat and combat systems, where you'd think it would be hard to run OUT of possible tempting goodies for the player.

  4. Progression based on reaching certain goals in the game, and not necessarily experience points, does raise the question of whether games like Zelda could be considered RPG's.

    Player-Skill vs Character-Skill is I think the deciding factor in those cases, but it does muddy the definition of the already loose "role-playing game" quite a bit.

  5. Speaking of messed-up values, what is your (and that of other commenters) general stance when it comes to theft in RPGs.

    When will you take stuff owned by a 'bad guy', even if a game calls it stealing?

    When will you take stuff owned by a 'good guy', even if a game doesn't react when you do it right in front of her nose?

    Do you ever go 'complete jerk', ala Questron, if the game doesn't force you to?

    1. (Maybe a post on CRPG ethics would be interesting)

    2. I still really appreciate that you can steal in Link's Awakening, but if you do your character's name changes to "THIEF" and therefore that's how NPCs refer to you for the rest of the game.

    3. They're interesting questions, but there aren't a lot of games that they apply to--that is, games with identifiably "bad" NPCs who aren't enemies that you kill.

      I tend to avoid taking things from NPC houses and persons in any event, not so much for role-playing reasons, but because most games already over-reward you with both the economy and the inventory, so any value you get from stealing simply reduces the value you get from dungeon-crawling and whatnot. I wish that games provided a true INCENTIVE to steal, which would make for a stronger role-playing choice.

    4. Yeah. Like one-of-a-kind artifacts, family heirlooms and whatnots kept under lock-&-key by affluent & paranoid nouveau-riche or old-money families. A thieves' guild that actually recognizes you for what you stole and who you robbed from; a prestige system of sort.

      Something like Thief, but less mission-based and more open-world RPG. It'd be fun to have a CRPG with a stealth-heavy game mechanic that have only stealth-based classes like Thief, Ninja, Assassin, Monk, Scout, Ranger (the Archer type, not the twin-glowing-scimitar-dark-elf type) and whatnots to make up a party.

  6. Since Enchantasy is coming up on the list, I guess I should tell you about the hack. The version you can find on the net (here, for example) is shareware, which limits you to 5 saves (not save slots, just 5 saves total) and starts you somewhere midgame. To overcome that, first delete all .sav files, then hexedit stats.dat and change the last two bytes to FF 7F. This will start you a new game and give you 32767 saves, which should be more than enough. Hopefully, the game will be worth the fuss.

  7. Looks like my comment got eaten. Since Enchantasy is coming up, a quick instruction on how to overcome shareware limitations:
    1) Delete all the .sav files.
    2) Hexedit stats.dat and change the last two bytes to FF 7F.

    1. It flagged the original as spam, probably because of the link. I had to manually rescue it.

      Thanks for the information--that saved me a lot of frustration.

  8. I guess the guards still hit you and grab your gold because of what you did to their peers/brothers-in-arms, you murderous scumbag. XD

  9. Wow, that's quite a spam message from Alhena Amber. I read it all (silly me!) and felt my brain turn to mush.

    1. Thanks for mentioning that. I accidentally overlooked that one.

  10. I will say this about the Questron games. Even if you come to them without nostalgia, they are very, very playable and very addictive. I finished the series a few years ago and I never even had a c64 as a child or anything.

    I enjoy how simple they are while still retaining the 'go anywhere, do whatever' element of proper Ultima games. I enjoy minigames for increasing stats. I enjoy silly gambling and then the guards swarming on the big winner.

    The moral issue of guard killing I got through by thinking that the guards were all corrupt and oppressive, a 'state within the state' that even the King was leery of.


    "A princess increased my charisma from 15 to 35 for 2,000 gold. Thanks to her father's coffers, I had plenty!"

    I found this hilarious and I imagined that the princess sat the hero down for a three-week course in good manners, leadership training and savoir vivre

  11. I figure if the gaurds are beating up and stealing from random citizens you shouldn't feel bad slot giving them a free iron supplement and piercing package. As for the king asking you to join his forces- quite possibly he'd lost control of his corrupt forces. You've killed broken their power enough for him to have a chance of remaining control, and having you on staff is a lingering threat.

  12. The king's line about being a worthy adversary and belonging in his service is extremely similar to a line that Lord Soth says near the end of Death Knights of Krynn. Kind of an odd coincidence.


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