Sunday, December 17, 2017

Quarterstaff: Ashen, Redwood, or Maple

I encounter the statue of the titular Setmoth, but not his tomb yet.
My suspicions were correct. Once I got off the road and back home, and I had a more comfortable environment with plenty of monitor space, I started to enjoy Quarterstaff a lot more.

That isn't to say that I'm enjoying it as much as an adventure game addict would. When The Adventure Gamer finally gets to it, you'll find a much more thorough account. I like adventure games, but I don't like them nearly as much as RPGs, and I don't have the historical expertise to evaluate them. Although a hybrid, Quarterstaff's strengths are definitely with its adventure game parent.

Since last writing, I've plunged deeper into the Tree Druids' underground fortress, with battles and navigation puzzles rendering progress slow. Fortunately, unless I'm missing huge areas, the puzzles haven't been too difficult. Mostly, you just have to make sure you LOOK AT everything and try to MOVE or PULL just about every fixed object. That seems to ensure that you find most of the secret doors.

The more difficult puzzles have involved splitting the party. There was one of these on the first level. Behind a fountain, I found a brick protruding from a wall--not something a game is likely to call attention to unless it's important. Pulling it wouldn't accomplish anything. I soon discovered that the brick reacted to valuables thrown in the fountain. I took a diamond out of it and threw it back in, and the brick started glowing.
A fountain of grotesques.
Pulling the brick opened the way to a "mud room," and pulling a "muddy lever" in that room opened the way to a treasure vault. But both doors only stayed open for a couple of turns, meaning that if I took the entire party to the treasure vault, I was trapped with no way out. So I had to split the party into three separate characters, with one staying by the fountain, the second staying in the mud room, and the third venturing into the treasure vault. That way, someone was always available to re-open the doors. Once I finished with the vault and re-united back by the fountain, the individuals could join into a party again.

It's hard to get used to the commands and interface when the characters are split. Each "party" has to specify a command before any of them execute, since their actions are assumed to be simultaneous. As you switch from one party to the next, the map also switches to show your current environs, and the text window switches to show the last bit of text that applied to the specific party. It can get confusing. It would be so much easier if there was an option to permanently "park" one or more of the parties and just make a single party active. Usually, one of them is trying to get something done while the others are just waiting, and it's annoying to have to keep returning to them and typing WAIT.
One of my characters left with a light source, plunging the others into darkness.
Inventory is still confounding. Every few rooms produces some huge selection of weapons, armor, scrolls, potions, rings, bracelets, and other valuables. The "Identify Wand" helps with scrolls, potions, keys, and wands, but there's nothing that helps determine what weapon does the most damage or what the hell any of these bracelets, necklaces, rings, torques, and other wearables do, if anything. There are so many random valuables that I half expect that towards the endgame, I'll find some kind of vault or magic pool in which I have to toss as many valuables as possible, just like in Zork. I otherwise can't imagine what they're for.

For weapons, I guess you just have to go by name and description. I assumed the "rusted mace" that Bruno found was better than the gnarled tree root he started with, that a "nasty mace" was better than that, and a "mithral mace" was even better than the nasty one. Sword options for Titus, though, have been less obvious, and I have no idea how Eolene is supposed to choose between the redwood staff, the maple quarterstaff, the ashen quarterstaff, and the short quarterstaff.

Some inventory items are, of course, immediately useful. As far as I'm concerned, there aren't enough healing potions in the game. There are a couple of places to get poisoned and a couple of "Cure Poison" potions to help with them. Light sources have to be replenished periodically. Food and drink are necessary after a certain number of turns. A couple of sleeping potions are handy because characters restore all hit points when they sleep, but it takes forever for them to get tired so they'll actually go to sleep. Sleeping potions just knock them out immediately.
This is a weirdly-specific use for a potion.
As in the last session, I keep running into named NPCs who I feel like I ought to be able to interrogate or talk with, but they just attack me. In a guard chamber, I defeated "Spike Slipshod" and a "punker." A visit to an altar room put me in combat with someone named "Peave." A room near him had "Quenlin" and a "succubus." I would think the very act of giving them names would indicate some importance beyond simply combat, but if there's anything else to do with them, I can't figure it out.
The party kills two guys named Boffo and Rufo. Are they druids? Did they kill the druids? There's no way to tell.
Combat, meanwhile, remains mostly bland, although there are some equipment options to spice things up. The aforementioned Peave threw some poisoned darts and sleep darts at us, and I was able to throw them back (at both him and other enemies) for a fairly quick kill. Eolene has a bow and is capable of hitting enemies from a distance, something that became important when Peave attacked me from a balcony while I was on the floor below.

I still have nothing to relate in plot terms. I don't know if I'm missing a lot of subtle clues or if there's no exposition, but I've yet to find any NPC with dialogue or any text explaining what's happened here. The lower level did bring me to an altar room with a statue of Setmoth, the presumed villain of the game, but its presence is a bit of a mystery. Did the Tree Druids always worship Setmoth and things went bad? Did they only break into this section of the underground recently, releasing evil forces? Or did something else go wrong?

Let me cover one room in detail to give you a sense of the game. On the lower level, I walk into a "Deadfall room" and immediately hear a click and see a secret door swing open to the west. The secret door is triggered by walking into the room, but it closes after a couple of rounds, forcing me to leave and return. This time, I head west and enter a "guard chamber." This is how the game describes it:
Titus's group finds a CARD TABLE, some BUNK BEDS, a MAPLE CHEST, the PUNKER, SPIKE SLIPSHOD, and a burning WALL SCONCE. To the east is the Deadfall Room.

This room is rectangular, twenty paces in length and ten wide. The walls and ceilings are rough hewn granite blocks, solidly mortared together. The subtle use of the natural environs in the Druid Complex is completely absent here. Instead, stone and mortar have conquered the earth, worked with a skill that is magnificent in its raw power. The door of this room is of ancient oak, so old it now feels like solid rock.
I try to GREET and SMILE AT the punker and Spike Slipshod, but they just attack. It takes several combat rounds to kill them with my equipped weapons, and they do some damage to Titus. (Enemies somewhat pathologically attack only the party leader.) Once they're dead, I take a look at their inventory. Spike has a smoky potion, a suit of chain mail, and a metal cap. The punker has a leather bludgeon, biker boots, leather armor, a leather dog collar, leather gloves, and a leather helmet.
Things descend into violence.
I don't know if the bludgeon is a good weapon, but armor pieces have been rare in the game so far. Titus happily puts on the chain mail and metal cap, and Bruno gets the leather armor. 

I then start examining the room. On the card table is a silver key and wine bottle. The silver key opens the maple chest in the same room. (Generally speaking, keys in this game have one use and almost always in the same room or same area where you find them.) The chest has a poison needle in it, which poisons Titus, but it also has a red "Cure Poison" potion. There really wasn't much net gain to that.

The bunk beds have a hole with a deck of Tarot Cards in them; I take them but I don't know what they do. Fiddling with the wall sconce produces nothing, but moving the bunk beds causes the secret door to the east to swing back open. I leave the room.

A few more highlights from encounters and items:

  • An "old ring" turns out to be a "Ring of Levitation." It's the key to avoiding damage when walking into rooms with pits, and it also lets you move up and down in rooms with multiple levels.
  • An "old scroll" serves like a mark/recall spell, teleporting you to wherever you last read it. Unfortunately, it only teleports the character who has it. Still, it could be used to create a room to stash equipment.
  • A "circular room" is a tough beast. It's occupied by a huge granite statue with a "Mace of Destruction," and as far as I can tell, there's no way to beat him. No matter how many times you hit him, his health is fine. If you open any of the four doors in the room, they slam open and temporarily pin the character who opened it, then slam closed the next round. To leave the room, you have to split the party, have one character open a door, have the other two hustle through, then have one of the other two open it from the other side so the first character can follow them. Meanwhile, the granite statue is swinging his mace at everybody. 
He also has a "Lock Wand" and a "Potion of Vitality," but I don't like my chances of getting either.
  • A few rooms have water fountains, troughs, or barrels and are good places to rest. If you get thirsty, hungry, or tired you start taking damage every couple of rounds. 
  • An area east of the circular room is divided by pillars into 20 sub-areas, labeled A1 to D5. Some of them have "mines" in them that do horrific damage. One has a pit. One sets off a poison quarrel trap as you walk through a door.
This is no fun.
Unfortunately, the RPG elements continue to be almost non-existent. I found that my primary weapons skills increased by a percentage point or two the first few times I fought, but they capped in around 43% and stopped increasing after that. There are statistics for "experience," but they don't seem to have any effect on character growth.

But Quarterstaff excels in Infocom's typical strengths. There is a strong sense of place to the dungeon, with evocative room descriptions and areas laid out in a logical manner. Whether I'm looking at an entire room, an altar, or a jeweled dagger, I appreciate the quality of the text. If I don't always know what's happening plot-wise, well neither did the protagonist of Zork
A piece of my map so far, but click on the link below for the full thing.
There aren't any obvious puzzles with which I need help, and I still have several unexplored paths. I've uploaded a PDF of my in-progress game map, and I suppose I'll take a hint if there are any areas that I've clearly missed, but otherwise I'm going to keep plodding along and hope I don't get stuck.

Time so far: 10 hours


  1. Not to knock on Infocom, but Quarterstaff is eight years after mainframe Zork was finalized so the "wandering randomly and hope for the best" style of gameplay was long in the tooth. Still, I am glad to see that this game is coming along better, although I am just skimming since I am on the hook to play this game for "The Adventure Gamer"... eventually.

    There is one more Infocom RPG that I am aware of, but you won't be playing it: "Tombs and Treasure", a Infocom-published 1991 NES port of a 1986 Famicom expansion of a 1986 Japanese computer game. The history makes your head spin and I'm not sure how much Infocom added to it, but I believe they supervised the localization at least.

    1. You certainly weren't lying about the wacky history behind Tombs and Treasure. It might be one of the only Mexican themed RPGs I've heard about, and it was made in Japan! They should have kept the "Asteka II: Templo del Sol" title even if they dropped the II it's a much more memorable and interesting title. It comes so close to being something that would be covered in this blog but just misses. It is the translation of an enhanced console remake/port of a sequel on Japanese computer system. And it also had a Japanese only Windows release after that!

    2. The RPG elements in that lack substance, even compared to hybrids. Levels and strength act as key/lock progressions to access different areas. There are no random battles, and enemies never respawn. Still, I covered the console port due to the unique flavor.

  2. There actually is a command to make a given character just stand there until something important happens: GUARD.

    It can be dangerous if there's no way for another party member to get to him, because then he won't come out of it until he's hungry, thirsty, or sleepy, but I believe that will do what you need...

    1. You're right. And I remember seeing that in the manual, too, but forgot about it by the time I started playing. It solves half the problem, since the "guarding" character comes out of his stupor if another character enters the room. But as you say, if you want him to snap out of it and then FOLLOW a previous character, there's no way to do that. Someone has to go back and get him.

  3. Why are some rooms marked yellow on the map? The Red I can understand with the mand mines, but the yellow doesn't make any sense to me unless ou marked them for later.

    1. Yellow is supposed to mean, "I think there's something left undone here," like a puzzle i couldn't figure out. I should have deleted it for the "back of fountain" room because I got that one.

  4. A bit off topic, I know, but I wanted to point out that official english translations of the first 3 Princess maker games are now legally available. I know I only asked for Princess maker 2 in the past to be added to the list (since at the time it was the only one translated into english), but since they are all 3 now available in english you could give it a go with the first one. It's a 1991 game too, so it would probably have to come up soon in the list unless some backtracking later on. Only problem is that the 3 english releases are from the updated "refine" editions with much higher-res graphics (no other changes as far as I know), so you might have to rely on sceenshots of the original for the gimlet.

    1. PM3 drops the wander-around-and-fight-monsters element, if that matters. Only PM1 and PM2 have those bits. PM3 has some tiny fights in class and PM4 has a combat tournament at the festival, but that's all iirc.

  5. I like the feel of this dungeon. Reminds me of Undermountain (which EoB failed to make vivid but which NWN:HotU did a decent job with).

  6. Biker boots? Is this game set in a post-apocalyptic Mad Max world?


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