|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.