Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Disciples of Steel: Cold Forge

Despite my best efforts, this single scorpion is destined to destroy my party.
   
Disciples of Steel is absolutely brutal in its opening stages, so much that I'm not entirely convinced I haven't done something wrong. But Wizard's Crown, Disciples's obvious inspiration, had the same early-game difficulty curve, so I figure as long as I'm making any progress, I'm doing okay.

My first quest, received from King Leoniadas Krassus of Farnus, had been to find a survivor of the Battle of Unthar, rumored to be living in Teal to the southwest. I started my party southwest, but I soon ran into an ocean. While I was bumbling about, I was attacked by a party of assassins and slaughtered. On a reload, I was attacked by a party of ogres and slaughtered. On another reload, I was attacked by a party of orcs and slaughtered. I think maybe I defeated one party of bats in there somewhere, but this pattern has otherwise held steady throughout the game, and throughout the rest of my recount of my session, you have to imagine the occasional interspersed combat in which I inevitably died.

Such as this one.

Eventually, I thought to read in the game manual about Teal. (And much, much later, I discovered that there's an in-game map.) The book notes that it lies on the island nation of Sesserna and ruled by a pirate king named Thelig Rathbone. For years, Farnus has been paying tribute to Teal to forestall piracy in their shared waters.

A map of the kingdom.
  
Since I clearly couldn't walk to Teal, I returned to Farnus and checked out the shipyard. It will be a long time before I can afford my own ship, but the place sold passage to Teal for 160 coppers, so I booked it.


On arrival, I visited King Rathbone's palace and got a quest from him to retrieve the latest tribute from King Krassus.

Teal has a guillotine in the middle of town.
  
In the south of the city, in a random hut, I found Ethan, survivor of the battle of Unthar--the epic battle between the united human kingdoms and the orc/goblin horde that makes up a key part of the game's backstory. Ethan related that he and the missing hero Ustfa Nelor were captured by orcs and loaded onto a ship on the northwest coast. Ethan managed to jump overboard "while en route to an unknown destination"; he was picked up by a trader and eventually deposited in Teal.

Getting the story out of the survivor.
  
I didn't have enough money to book passage back to Farnus, so I wandered around the island a bit, hoping for an easy combat or two, but instead I was slaughtered by giant scorpions and something called a "death knight." Eventually, I realized I had a spare set of robes that I could sell for enough copper to get back. Krassus listened to my story and rewarded me with 20 experience points and 50 copper pieces per party member.

I asked him for another quest, and quite happily he gave me a sack of gold to take to Rathbone, so I made another journey to Teal and got another 20 experience and 50 copper from the pirate king.

Rathbone gives me his next quest.
 
For Rathbone's second quest, he asked me to clear a tower of the giant bats "and other little nasties" that overrun it. I found the tower to the northeast of his palace. My brief foray into its corridors gave me a look at the game's approach to dungeons. In a departure from the Wizard's Crown roots, the dungeons are first-person, with decent textures and atmospheric messages.


Unfortunately, I was unable to come close to defeating the horde of giant bats awaiting me at the top of the tower, so I ignominiously took passage back to Farnus and saved Rathbone's quest for a later date. King Krassus gave me 40 experience and 100 coppers for delivering the tribute.

I was here a little too soon.

Krassus's next quest would have me go to Lone Mountain and kill the leader of some orc raiders, but that sounds beyond my abilities. It's clear that I need to spend some time grinding the party, even if it means I only win 1 combat out of 8 at this stage. I've been lurking around the forest south of Farnus where groups of giant bats (much smaller than the tower horde) serve as relatively easy pickings. I've learned that I need to take everything from the battlefield at the end of each combat and sell it in town--they'll even buy carcasses and bones. Every copper piece counts, and there are plenty of weapon and armor upgrades waiting.

I'll happily take it.

In the meantime, I've begun to spend some of my accumulated experience on skill increases. Increasing attributes costs 1,000 experience points each, and I've only earned about 150 (per character) so far, so I'm far away from attribute bumps. But a skill increase might require anywhere from 4 to 16 experience points depending on the character class and the skill's governing attribute. I've made a list of skills to prioritize for each character; for instance, "Armor," "Edged," "Shield," "Dodge," and "Body" for my knight, and "Hide," "Backstab," "Steal," "Perception," "First Aid," and "Edged" for my rogue. The increases haven't been enough to really make a difference in combat so far, but in a game where I lose 85% of the combats in which I engage, every little statistic bump helps. 

Leveling a character.
   
Lots of miscellaneous notes:

  • You designate a party "leader" whose skills govern what happens to the party in certain situations. I've decided it makes sense to put the character with the highest "Perception" score as the party leader in the wilderness, and the character with the highest "Haggle" score as the party leader in town.
  • For some reason, my characters always seem to miss on their second attack in a given round in combat.
  • The "Aim" action in combat, which sacrifices a round for a better chance of hitting next round, turns out to be a really good investment. My characters have a really hard time landing their blows.
  • Health recovers quickly outside combat once a character with "First Aid" has stopped any active bleeding. If you can survive one combat, you can usually heal in time for the next one just by walking around.
      
Healing a character after combat. The game treats active injuries separate from the hit point total, a mechanism it took from Wizard's Crown.
        
  • Each character has a food and water meter that slowly depletes. I've found that I can "hunt" for food reasonably successfully, especially in a forest, but hunting for water always produces no results. Fortunately, the Disciples' guild has 100 days of food and water in stock, and I can dip into that until I have enough money to pay for my sundries. My priest also has "Create Food" and "Create Water" spells.
  • The game's economy supports platinum, gold, silver, and copper pieces. The manual has nothing to say about their relative values, but all prices so far have been quoted in copper and the game does any necessary currency exchanges for you.

There's a place for a game like this, where it pulls no punches even in the beginning stages and every handful of copper pieces is a major victory. The rare successful combat really does feel like a reward. I just hope the entire game isn't like this. Next time, when I've hopefully advanced more, I'll have more on combat, magic, and equipment.

****

In list news, we just had a bit of a massacre in the "upcoming" list: 
        
  • Sword of Kadash (1984): I can't get it running. If anyone reading my blog has successfully emulated it, I'd appreciate hearing from you so we can compare emulator versions and settings. I can't get it to work with the Apple II or the C64. The C64 version freezes shortly after the loading screen with the bottom half of the next screen loaded. (I have tried messing around with "true drive emulation" to no avail.) The Apple II boots to a prompt and freezes if I try to LOAD the program. I've downloaded both versions from multiple sites and have the same problems no matter what versions I try.  [Update: I have since solved this problem.]
  • Return of Medusa (1991): I don't think it's any more an RPG than its predecessor, Rings of Medusa (1989). The dungeon-crawling part looks like an RPG, but I don't see any evidence in the manual or game screens of character leveling, and I'm not even sure about the inventory. It feels more like a strategy/simulation hybrid like Pirates! than an RPG. I've rejected it for now, but if anyone wants to defend its RPG credentials, I'm happy to listen.
  • Shadow Sorcerer (1991): I was surprised when I looked at the manual for the game and saw that it was an SSI D&D game. I'd never heard of it. It seems interesting, but there doesn't seem to be any character leveling. Its own manual describes it as a "graphic action/strategy game." Unless I'm missing something, it belongs in the rejection pile. 
  • Doom Cavern (1981): Can't find it. I was rather keen to play it because it's a Robert Clardy game, but the usual places don't seem to have it. The best I could do is buy it on eBay and find someone with an Apple II to copy it off the disk, which is a little more work than I normally put into such things. 
  • Ragnarok, the roguelike, seems to have been released in 1993 rather than 1991 as Wikipedia originally reported. 
  • Elfhelm's Bane, after some investigation, seems to have been released in 1986 instead of 1984. I kicked it down the pike a bit. The game has a really interesting story and I look forward to playing it. 
  • Dungeons of Magdarr (1984) is only a slight upgrade to Dungeons of Death (1983). I removed it as a separate title and will cover both in a single posting.
     
Thus, when the dust all clears--unless someone helps or corrects me on the issues above--that clears up the pre-1984 games and leaves only Tyrann, Xyphus, and Zyll left for 1984 and a new set of games drawn randomly from 1991: Vengeance of Excalibur, Dusk of the Gods, and Gateway to the Savage Frontier.

53 comments:

  1. I'm not sure about Shadow Sorcerer, while it doesn't have leveling, it has everything else RPG should have - stats, spells, inventory etc.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Shadow Sorcerer is kind of a RTS/adventure hybrid in a fantasy setting. Doesn't qualify as a RPG by the Addict's standard.

      Delete
    2. Character development is restricted to finding new gear, but other than that it has all the hallmarks of an RPG.

      Delete
    3. Unfortunately, in my definition, an RPG has to offer character development other than improvements in gear.

      Delete
    4. Well that's going to rule out _Planet's Edge_ too. It's one of my favourite RPGs with a great plot, huge variety of settings, and I really like the graphical style and sound. It's also extremely non-linear. But there is no levelling or stats improvement (I think the only stats change is if a character dies and needs to be re-cloned).

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    5. Ugh... Shadow Sorceror is one of those odd-ones-out in the SSI library; similar to Hillsfar.

      Then again, the game is based on a single module of the Dragonlance campaign setting. Usually, a module will only have just enough XP for the characters to advance a level AFTER finishing it.

      This means that your characters will gain a single level only by beating the game, not during. Thus, it is not that the game does not allow advancements, it's just that there is absolutely not enough XP throughout its entirety to be able to do so.

      Delete
  2. Concerning Doom Cavern, I found this...
    http://mocagh.org/synergistic/doomcavern.pdf
    ...don't know if it's any help.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Unfortunately, that's just the documentation. I need the disk image.

      Delete
  3. Sword of Kadash runs out of the box on the latest CCS64 (3.9.2) for me. I used the disk image set linked on Gamebase 64.

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    Replies
    1. Ugh. I was hoping to avoid having to get another emulator (I've been using VICE for the C64), but I guess that's the best option.

      Delete
    2. Gamebase 64 version of the game works here with Vice 2.4 for windows (no special fiendish options or settings needed).I managed to get a game going but it took aeons to load what with the diskswapping back and forth.Note to self : try using a second (emulated) 1541 as device 9 and see if that helps.

      Delete
    3. I used the Gamebase 64 version with Vice 2.2, and also didn't need to do anything special (My default config has "True drive emulation" on... it didn't seem to work without that). Using warp mode (Alt+W) makes the game loading time a lot shorter.

      I should probably mention that _Sword of Kadash_ doesn't have a flexible inventory system, so might not technically qualify by the rules as an RPG. You just use the best weapon/armour that you have picked up.

      Delete
    4. I don't know what happened, but when I tried it again yesterday with VICE, it worked fine. I didn't change a single thing from the day before, when it crashed every time I tried to run it.

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    5. Thing is, Vice has this option "save changes on exit" which can be very confusing :) , just as with VLC needing to be restarted for changes to have any effect :)

      Delete
  4. Yet another game that proves my theory that (almost) every game which has its title on the screen while you play it, is below average.

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    Replies
    1. I have long held exactly the same opinion, and it was one of my first thoughts when I saw it here. (A notable exception in my mind is Wizardry 6.)

      Delete
    2. I'll have to check that out. I suspect it goes doubly true if the author's name is also present on every screen.

      Delete
  5. Top link should be Doom Cavern:
    http://www.oldgamesfinder.com/?q=Doom+Cavern&m=-33

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I had a look at that one. Unfortunately, the .zip folder is empty.

      Delete
    2. There's also one a little further down the page, but it requires registration to download it, so I can't easily test it for you just at the moment.

      The top one is a zero-length file, so it really is empty, not just in need of repair. :(

      Delete
    3. The file is empty when downloaded directly, but you can download the whole 238.2M archive (from this page: https://archive.org/download/Apple_2_TOSEC_2012_04_23/ ) and extract the file from there.

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    4. Searching by that filename leads to places, the first being http://nitroroms.com/show/file-info/35545/Apple_II/insufficient-quota

      There's a 50K zip file with a .dsk file inside. I didn't check further.

      Delete
    5. There's another copy of the same disk here: http://macgui.com/downloads/?file_id=5813

      I couldn't get it to do anything though.

      Delete
    6. I got Doom's Cavern running (I only tested as far as the opening screen). The file I used is called doomcavern_sorcererschallenge_integer_dsk_gz.gz. It is an Integer Basic program. To get this running on Applewin, I used a Dos3.3 disk, typed INT to get to integer basic mode, swapped disks and then typed RUN HELLO to run the program (CATALOG is used to list the disk contents). Hope this is of help.

      Delete
    7. Bad news about Doom's Cavern. It's possible to get the disk to boot with a little file copying, and even go through the character creation process. But the critical Integer BASIC file "MAP OF LEVEL 1" is corrupt. Around line 771 is a large section of gibberish. It can be edited to remove the gibberish but some code is missing. The game will run slightly further but crashes if you attempt to move.

      Delete
    8. Thanks, everyone, for pointing out new file locations. And thanks, Tristrom, for offering such explicit instructions. I don't know Apple very well, and a lot of commenters would have just written something like "try running it from integer basic mode" and left me to figure it out.

      Unfortunately, my experience mirrors Bob's: it freezes when you enter the dungeon. Unless we're able to recover a different version (I tried every one in this thread, and they all seem to be the same image, with the same characters already created), I'll have to keep it as "NP."

      Delete
    9. I've been told to tell you that a redumped version has been uploaded to asimov and is awaiting moderation.

      Delete
    10. The file is available now:

      ftp://ftp.apple.asimov.net:/pub/apple_II/images/games/file_based/DOOM_CAVERN+SORCERERS_CHALLENGE.do

      Delete
  6. Oh you're in for a treat with the "savage frontiers" IIRC gaming magazines (like PELIT) gave them a solid a 90/100 at the time.

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    1. I finished Gateway in my teens, but when i tried it a couple years ago I just didn't like it for some reason. The locales didn't grab me. I won't say when/where, to avoid spoiling anything, but there are also some pretty unfair moments.

      Delete
    2. You're thinking of...
      .
      .
      .
      .
      .
      .
      .
      .
      the final battles?
      IMO they were the only reason to slog through a Gold Box game that otherwise was surprisingly easy, bland and boring.
      Defintitely the weakest of the fantasy GB games IMO, due to the very poor encounter design. The sequel is much better IMO.

      Delete
    3. Lrc V nterr jvgu nyy gung, rnfl crnfl ybj-yriry fghss naq gura onz gung svany znc vf bhggn abjurer.

      I'm trying to think of the point at which 'game balance' becomes commonplace. I think all games need lulls and spikes, but when did they get it right? I guess YMMV but it was probably ~2000?

      Delete
    4. Jeez, Petrus, you sure have a problem with dropping spoilers. Use rot13, please. Some of us haven't played the game, either, and would rather not know that there are good battles at the end, nor that the entire game is easy, bland, and boring.

      Delete
    5. Well, that's my opinion. Many other love the game for some reason.

      Delete
    6. Also, it least I made an effort to hint about spoilers ahead, but anon just repeats what I said, just to make sure of spoilage?

      Delete
    7. Lbh'er npghnyyl abg fhccbfrq gb orng gung svany onggyr--lbh pna rfpncr jvgubhg xvyyvat Innytnzba, naq gur tnzr rira vzcyvrf lbh qvq fb va gur raq frdhrapr.

      Bs pbhefr, xvyyvat Innytnzba gura orpbzrf n sha bcgvbany punyyratr n yn Zhyznfgre Orubyqre Pbecf be Qnir'f Punyyratr, naq lbh trg n srj sha gblf, rira vs lbh qba'g trg gb hfr gurz va gur arkg tnzr.

      Delete
    8. Xvyyvat Innytnzba vf abg arneyl gung qvssvphyg. Gbbx zl Unfgrq naq Raynetrq Svtugre/Guvrs svir onpxfgnof.
      Vs lbh ner yhpxl lbh pna rira gnxr uvz bhg jvgu Ubyq Crefba.
      Ohg V thrff vg'f glcvpny bs Tngrjnl; gur bar punyyratvat onggyr va gur tnzr vf abg rira fhccbfrq gb unccra.

      Delete
  7. I've been playing games since I got Telengard for the C64 in '83. It's a real blast reading about all these old games, but I particularly look for games I've forgotten the names of. Sword of Kadash was one I really wanted to find because I remembered the odd gameplay but couldn't remember the name at all. I can check that one off my list!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Dusk of the Gods rings a bell, I remember it from somewhere, but can't tell if I ever played it seriously. That's the title I know best from the whole posting.

    Disciples of Steel looks like a game I might have enjoyed. Reasonable quick combat is a must for me, though, Dungeon Master spoiled me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dusk of the Gods has one of the most original character generation systems ever. Unfortunately the actual character system is oversimplified and rather underwhelming.

      Delete
  9. While I haven't played Disciples of Steel, I played a LOT of Wizard's Crown. Here's some advice:

    1. Unless you're up against spellcasters or lots of ranged weapons, let the enemy come to you and do whatever possible to exert greater force. In that screenshot with the hordes of bats, for example, you should be positioned something like this: (W = wall)
    WWWWWWWW
    W XXBats
    WXXXBats
    WXXXBats
    WBatsBatsBats

    If your second line all have reach or ranged weapons/spells, you have all eight of your characters able to fight while the bats can only get seven of theirs adjacent.

    2. Grind random encounters and sell everything you find, aye. If you can find a good spot to find easier encounters, keep to that for a while. In WC, that tended to be wandering in the city at night fighting thugs.

    Focus on boosting skills, as you are, being aware that with the possible exception of the spellcasting skills, you won't see serious improvement until you're into the 90-100 range. At endgame in Wizard's Crown, most of my characters had their primary fighting skills at 175-200, despite the massive slowdown over 100 in raising skills.

    If it's like Wizard's Crown, you'll hit a point where easy encounters are no longer a threat, but you'll never hit a point where very hard encounters aren't dangerous.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the tips. In that bat screen shot, I hadn't moved my party an inch; that's where they started.

      Delete
  10. This game sounds like it'll really hit the party development itch, where slowly but surely, the game world becomes safer to explore. I enjoy that a lot (but not so much constant reloading).

    ReplyDelete
  11. I got Kadash to work just fine on AppleWin. My copy has Kadash A and Kadash B. Kadash A boots to an Applesoft prompt. Just type BRUN BOOT and the disk will start. Make copies of the disk images before you start though. The character creation instructions are so bad that you will surely ruin a boot disk before you figure them out.

    ReplyDelete
  12. FYI I played Kadash a bit but it seems like an action game like the first NES Zelda.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think it was called a Berzerk clone back in the day. But it has the necessary RPG elements, even if just the bare minimum: hit points, leveling, a generic 'spell' and a very limited equipment selection.

      I don't know if it's an emulation issue, but I ran into a lot of invisible walls. Even more frustrating is that the path is sometimes narrower on the other side, so you have to run into every pixel of the exits to determine if they're passable or not.

      Delete
    2. I've got it running. I think the "invisible walls" are deliberate--you have to shoot them out.

      Delete
    3. We're not talking about the arcade game Kadash? It's an arcade RPG, something quite rare. It has leveling, NPCs, and all that jazz.

      Delete
  13. YES! Xyphus in the upcoming list! It's my own personal first RPG and I hope you find a better copy than I had as a kid.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have no idea what it's about, but it SOUNDS like a venereal disease.

      Delete
    2. Hmm... maybe I shouldn't you alert you about "The Blades of Ghonnoria" then.

      Delete
    3. You swing and miss sometimes, but that was legitimately funny.

      Delete

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