Saturday, April 28, 2018

Legend: Getting Nowhere


My depressingly small map of the second dungeon.
               
The spell system described in hyperbolic terms by some of my commenters is indeed impressive, and it's made me think a bit about magic in general. This game treats magic as a series of effects, intensities of those effects, and systems for delivering those effects, and it's up to you to string them together into recipes that we think of as "spells." Most games just offer only the spells themselves. That's never made a lot of sense to me. If your Dungeons and Dragons wizard truly understands magic, he should be able to cast a "Double Bless" that increases the "to hit" rolls by 2. If he knows how to create fire, he ought to be able to mold it into a single small projectile or a large explosive ball, and in the latter case vary the size of the ball, not just cast a single ball of the same size and intensity every time. But he doesn't. He's like a cook who only knows how to make things from a set of defined recipes and can't figure out for himself even how to double or halve the ingredients, let alone how to add new ingredients.

I suppose this is explained in-universe by saying that the adventuring wizard isn't much of a researcher. He's on a quest--he doesn't have time to study and catalog spell effects. The only thing he can do is take the recipes developed by others and cast them exactly.

Oblivion offered something like Legend's approach to spellcasting. You could buy pre-determined recipes, but you could also make up your own, deciding for yourself the target of the effects, how far to extend them, and how to combine them. It was too bad Skyrim didn't keep the system.
              
Another key, another door. When will it all end?
           
However, there are a few problems with this system. First, the more effects you attach to a single spell, the less flexibility you really have. Sure, it's nice in theory to be able to craft a spell that first heals the caster, then casts "Anti-Magic" on everyone around the caster, then blasts the approaching enemy. But it's somewhat rare that I'm going to encounter a situation in which I need all those effects in that order. It's much more common to encounter situations in which I want just one of those effects independently. And since there's only a slight delay between casting, and mixing a complicated spell requires the same number of reagents as a bunch of individual spells, it hardly makes sense to combine multiple effects in one spell. Better make the spells individually and cast them in rapid succession when you need to.

The worse problem, however, is that the nature of the combat and movement systems makes it nearly impossible to do what you want with spells in combat. Consider these variables:
               
  • Most rooms are small and offer little maneuverability.
  • You cannot control what paths your characters take to destinations. You can only set destinations. Often, they are blocked from reaching them, give up, and just do their own thing.
  • Characters can only move at square angles. And I'm not sure about this part, but from observing them, I think they can only change facing direction as part of a movement. So if a character kills an enemy and another one attacks him from behind, he can't just turn around. He has to walk forward into an empty square, turn around, and come back.
  • You cannot exempt characters from negative spell effects.
  • You cannot exempt enemies from positive spell effects.
  • You cannot identify the enemies even by name, let alone by armor class, combat effectiveness, or magical capability.
             
These factors come together to create an utterly chaotic combat experience. Chaotic combat does not well-serve a spell system in which the spells must be carefully targeted. It's cool that I can cast a "Paralyze" spell that affects every enemy in a radius, but I'm almost never in a situation in which only enemies are in my radius. Similarly, it's theoretically useful that I can "rally" characters around a single character and then heal them all with a single spell--except there's virtually no way to avoid catching enemies in the healing effect. Any ranged spell is almost certain to hit an obstacle before it hits is intended target.
           
Mixing my first "Surround/Paralyze" spell.
             
Let's say I want to cast a targeted healing spell on a fellow party member. First, I have to identify the right character in the sea of combat. The "pause" option helps a little with that, I admit. Second, I have to hope that he's not behind any of the physical obstacles in the room. Then I have to find an unobstructed path from the caster to the character--no objects, room gaps, enemies, or other characters in between. I might try to maneuver the caster around the periphery of the room to get a clear shot, but while I'm doing that, the position of the enemies and characters in the melee is constantly changing. Also, the character I'm trying to move doesn't necessarily follow the clear, unobstructed path to the destination. She might just wander directly into the melee that I'm trying to avoid. At this point, enough time has passed that the original character is probably dead.

The same considerations are true of targeting enemies, with the additional consideration that I don't really know who to target. I don't want to waste my spells on trivial mooks, but I can't distinguish them from their harder leaders. I could try to watch them, but enemies are always moving and teleporting and whatnot, and the overall chaos of combat makes it difficult to track what any one enemy is doing. Maybe some of you will be better at it than I am. My colorblindness and general . . . whatever . . . make me less responsive to visual cues. Tell me that I'm facing a "ghoul," and I think, "Oh, hell. Those guys can paralyze. I'd better be prepared." But just show me an image of a ghoul that's barely distinguishable from every other undead image in the game, and I don't have the same reaction.

I just fought a large battle with what looked like a bunch of little guys in stocking caps. Some had green pants and some had blue pants. Was I supposed to carefully note which enemies were fighting which characters and write down "green pants=easy; blue pants=HARD!" If so, that's more effort than I'm willing to put in.
         
A reminder of what combat looks like. I can barely distinguish enemy from friend, let alone position characters carefully in such a cramped room, or identify a path from my spellcaster to a particular enemy that won't be blocked by another person.
          
Thus, I find I only get use out of a couple of spells: First, those that heal the caster. Since the runemaster has the smallest number of hit points, she's always in danger of dying, and a simple healing spell can keep that from happening. Second, I get some use of out of spells that affect the square directly in front of the caster. There's no targeting necessary with that one. As soon as you see that your runemaster is facing an enemy, you can cast "Damage" or "Paralysis" knowing that no one else will be hit. Third, a "Surround Speed" spell is a good option for when the enemies start entering the room, just before the party breaks up in whatever direction to go fight them. But that one's pretty expensive, reagent-wise, so I almost always make sure a combat is actually going to be hard (by someone dying) before I reload and cast it.

I do occasionally cast a "Surround" healing spell, figuring it's better to heal both my characters and the enemies than let the enemies die. Beyond that, I don't know. Maybe there's something I'm missing? Maybe I just need more practice? I don't have all the runes yet, either. I should also point out that reagents aren't cheap, so the game doesn't encourage a lot of experimentation.

When I last wrote, I was in Fagranc, but I wasn't getting very far. I got tired of getting my ass kicked in every combat, so I decided to march all the way back to the starting to see about buying more runes. I soon found that I couldn't even get back to the entrance of Fagranc without save-scumming. The random encounters kept overwhelming me. At last, I had to move carefully from one screen to the next, save if no random combat appeared, and reload if it did.

Back on the surface, I marched back to Treihadwyl and then to the mountains to the east. I attempted a couple of banner encounters along the way, but they were way too powerful for me. I notice that sometimes evil forces capture a city, but then good forces often liberate it again. I assume that the wort that happens is the enemy holds a city and I can't enter it until I can defeat the forces there or some other good army comes along and does it for me.
             
I would, but I can't.
          
I found The Ancient without much trouble, but his runes were way too expensive (especially after I spent most of my accumulated funds on bard songs). So I returned to Treihadwyl and grinded for a while, earning enough experience to get most of my characters to Level 4 and enough gold for all of the directional runes plus several new effects: "Speed," "Paralysis," and "Anti-Magic."

On the way back to Fagranc, I tried a few more banner combats and won a couple, although almost always with my runemaster dying. Fortunately, resurrection is free. It will be nice when I can afford the "Vivify" rune, but of course that won't help the runemaster herself, who needs to be alive to cast the spell.

Fagranc was a little easier on my return, but still not easy, and my reload count would horrify most of you. Another annoyance is that the only "Guild," where you can level up, is way back in Treihadwyl.

Some other notes:

  • The only guild, where you can level up, seems to be back in Treihadwyl. That's a little annoying, since I seem to be earning some solid experience in Fagranc.
  • The game shares Dungeon Master's tendency to give you cool-sounding equipment and tell you nothing about what it does. I found a pair of "Chaos Gloves" that only my runemaster can equip. The only thing they seem to do is reduce her armor class by 2. Surely there must be more to them than that?
            
Of course, this entire game is chaos.
            
Fagranc is much like the first dungeon, though larger, where the purpose is to find the right sequence of keys to find the right sequence of doors. There are fewer puzzle rooms so far. One of them required me to step on a couple of pressure plates, but invisible squares throughout the room teleported my characters back to the beginning. I had to mentally remember the right path to avoid the squares--and still couldn't figure out any way to open the chest in the room, since it has a teleport square right in front of it. But there must be some way to open it because I'm out of keys and can't progress anywhere in the level.
         
The room in question.
          
I really feel like I'm getting nowhere with this game, which despite all my negativity has some good points. The economy is well-structured, for instance. I like the contrast between dungeon exploration and the strategy-game-like mechanics happening on the surface. And, of course, in a game where you could more effectively position your characters and target spells, the spell system would be wildly innovative and fun.

Time so far: 10 hours

37 comments:

  1. "I assume that the wort that happens is the enemy holds a city and I can't enter it until I can defeat the forces there or some other good army comes along and does it for me." - the forts have limited supply of troops, so in later game you can't rely on soldiers (unless you pay the forts so tha they could hire more troops).

    "mixing a complicated spell requires the same number of reagents as a bunch of individual spells" - that's not strictly true, as it only concerns effects. But directional runes require reagents as well. So missile+damage+paralyze is both faster and cheaper then casting missile+damage and then missile+paralyze. Plus you can't have more than a set number of different spells mixed.

    "Any ranged spell is almost certain to hit an obstacle before it hits is intended target" - that's what the forward rune is for. Casting missile+forward+heal will bypass the first obstacle it meets and heal the character behind it (unless he's at a distance, then you'd need another missile before heal). In principle, having an assortment of spells with different targeting options + liberal use of the pause should somewhat alleviate the pains of combat. Given the previously mentioned limited number of spell slots, you achieve the most flexibility by having spells with different targeting options but the same mishmash of effects. And positioning will be easier once you get teleport rune for yourself. But that's more of a lategame stuff of course. It makes a lot of meta sense that your low-level runemaster only casts simple spells.

    Oh, and another thing that the manual doesn't mention is that the surround rune doesn't just give you an AoE, but also boosts the spell effect. I.e. surround+heal will heal more hit points than forward+heal.

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    1. Add to that, you can combine some of the directional runes.

      1) Surround-Damage-Missile-Damage will damage the surrounding monsters and then shoot new damage bolts

      2) Surround-Damage-Missile-Damage-Surround-Damage will do as above, and then on each bolt will do a surround damage again

      3) Surround-Damage-Missile-Damage-Surround-Damage-Missile-Damage... you get the point :D

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    2. As impressive as that is, I can't possibly at this stage imagine a combat in which those missiles wouldn't be equally or more likely to damage my own party.

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    3. You just cast continuous+heal+surround+continuous+heal at the start and stop caring ;)

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    4. May also throw an antimagic rune in the mix. Just make sure you do that after heal. something like antimagic+surround+antimagic+missile+disrupt+surround+disrupt+missile+disrupt is a nice opening spell for late-game combats (add other positive/negative effects to your taste). Shit's flying around in all directions and you're completely immune to it. Generally, I think your mistake is that you're treating the flexibility of the magic system as a tool for precision - which you would in a tactical game. But given the chaotic combat, you should be aiming for everything-but-the-kitchen-sink nukes instead.

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    5. Isn't friendly fire still a problem? If spells affect both the party and enemies, how are enemies not immune? Or is that the critical key for making spells actually useful? Does antimagic only affect the party?

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    6. In this formula, antimagic is only applied to the caster and his immediate surroundings. At the beginning of combat (that's why I said it's an opening spell) that should only include your party members. Even if a couple of enemies get into the antimagic zone, they can be dealt with in melee.

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    7. If you grind for enough cash and then donate enough cash to boost Luck on all your characters, friendly fire doesn't even matter.
      Remember, Luck only does one thing: every time you'd suffer fatal damage, you lose 1 point of Luck instead.

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  2. I think the usual explanation for the D&D style magic system is that magic is fickle and mysterious, not scientific. So just because you know the incantations, movements, reagents (etc) to shoot a magic missile doesn't necessary mean you instantly know how to modify it to make two magic missiles, or a bigger missile. D&D allows for the mage to create a new spell, but it's not something that can be done on the fly, and it's not simply a matter of doubling ingredient X to get twice the power.

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    1. Correct. This is why so many spells start with "Mordenkain's" or "Tenser's" or "Bigby's". Those are the archmages in universe that were able to create useful spells on their own instead of just relying on the well-known spells that have been in use forever.

      I don't know if 2E D&D had cofified rules for spellcasting (as opposed to "whatever you can talk the GM into), but 3.5E does have involved guidelines. It is a non-trivial task - the "super bless" spell would require two weeks (assuming that, as an improved version of a level 1 spell, it was a level 2 spell) and 2000 GP. If the player blew the skill check needed, then they would have to start from scratch.

      More in line with what the Addict was talking about would be the metamagic feats introduced in 3e. These allowed the caster to boost an attribute of a spell at the cost of it needing a more powerful spell slot. I don't remember if any CRPG implemented these.

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    2. Well, that, and because the people playing at Gary Gygax's table had wizards named Mordenkainen, Tenser, and Bigby...

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    3. Don't forget...old school AD&D spells didn't require just that you had certain items(not all did) some required you say something and others required you make certain gestures.(If you used a higher spell slot you could skip a requirement I believe), and some required all three....even if one assumes a researchable scientific basis for them there are a LOT of possible variables and without at least renaissance level of tech(printing press) experiementation would be...very dangerous in a small village or town(I was just trying for a light breeze I swear your honor!).

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    4. Every edition except 4E has specified material, verbal and somatic components for spells. Most sensible GMs (and most videogame interpretations) largely ignore them, except (a) in the few spells where reagent cost is meant to be a limitation on how often the spell is cast, and (b) for the purposes of determining what spells can be cast while silenced or with bound hands. D&D should be a game of heroic fantasy, not a game of logistics.

      D&D generally doesn't allow for customised spellcasting for four meta-reasons:
      (1) It's intentionally an entry-level RPG and the assumption is that many DMs are not qualified to game-balance new spells on the fly (or possibly at all);
      (2) Magic generally tends towards being overpowered even without letting players create new spells; and
      (3) One of the pleasures of D&D magic (outside of 4E) is producing unexpected or creative effects from within the existing spellbook of spells, which the game largely encourages. The illusion school in particular suits a player who likes to get creative; and
      (4) One of the explicit benefits of high level magic is access to more flexible spells that deliver effects outside of the coded spellbook, such as Contingency and Wish.

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    5. I think Neverwinter Nights and NWN2 implemented the Metamagic feats, but I could never really figure out why I'd use "empowered Fireball" at a +2 spell level modifier over something like Chain Lightning, or why to use a Maximized Cure Light Wounds that's +3 spell levels higher over ... a better cure wounds spell.

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    6. Re multiple magic missiles: as the characters gained levels they would be able to cast multiple missiles from one single casting. Lower level spells often leveled up with the PC's ability.

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    7. Temple of elemental evil fully utilises all D&D 3e rules but unfortunately it's better as a combat rule simulator then RPG.

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  3. I think with practice you can find spells that suit your playstyle.

    I personally always enjoyed Continuous-Speed-Healing to make my runecaster attack faster while self-healing.

    Speed-Surround-Speed when entering a room will make your entire party faster

    Missile-Thrall will grab that annoying green-pants monster that's annoying and make him fight for you

    There was also a very useful bard song, was it the AC one? Buy one, try it out, if you don't like it, reload and try another one :)

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    1. Why not surround+missile+thrall though? Just let those fuckers exterminate each other as you watch ;)

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    2. ohhhh run in with your runecaster and go surround+thrall+missile+thrall :D
      I wonder how it works in terms of xp - who gets xp when a monster is killed by a thralled monster?

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    3. Who cares? You'll farm money -> get more reagents -> more mass thrall spells -> no need to battle anyone yourself -> no need for levels.

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    4. "Target-paralyze-continuous-damage" was the classic solver for individual problem enemies.
      It feels a bit mean though, freezing an enemy and slowly killing him.

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  4. I'm pretty sure Temple of Elemental Evil had those feats (a 2003 game - gonna take a while until Chet reaches it!) but I didn't really play around with them. It had feats like extend spell, enlarge spell, etc. Not sure how exactly they worked in practice since I never used them.

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    1. NWN games also - modified spells took up higher spell slots. It had its uses.

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    2. There are two good reasons for metamagic spells that I can think of: if your controlling stat is too low to cast spells of a given level, for instance if you have a 14 intelligence you can't cast 5th level spells, but you can use the slots for metamagic versions of lower level spells, or if you are a wizard and don't yet have access to the effects you want in higher level spells. In play, it never seemed to me or the people I played with that the abilities were worth the feat and spell level expenditures. There were always ways to accomplish what you wanted to do without resorting to metamagic, or just change what you wanted to do to reflect your actual capabilities.

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  5. >>Oblivion offered something like Legend's approach to spellcasting. You could buy pre-determined recipes, but you could also make up your own...

    Just to say that this was also possible in the Elder Scrolls earlier game "Morrowind" :)

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    1. Spellmaking has been a pillar of TES series since the very first game, Arena.

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    2. IIRC it was actually more versatile in Arena than in any of its sequels

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    3. The only thing Arena spellmaking had that the later titles didn't were saving throws. I'd say Daggerfall is the most versatile in terms of available effects, but Morrowind could have spells with up to 8 effects, while Arena and Daggerfall limited to 3.

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  6. After reading all the comments on the magic system AND your posts on this game, I can say I am so damned glad I skipped this game when younger and I am glad it left me cold when I tried it afterward. This sounds like... well, it's a game I am glad I never played.

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    1. I played it on the Amiga and won it, and the Addict's posts make me want to play it again. I really loved the colourful little rhinos/stegausauri in the overland battles!

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    2. But the puzzles were great too!

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    3. It's having the opposite effect on me. I hadn't even heard of this game before, but all these posts talking about the magic system makes it sound really creative and fun.

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  7. Certainly some of the more attractive screenshots we've had so far. It's got the kind of look that makes me *want* it to be good...

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  8. I remember this game, buying it out of a bargain bin somewhere (I want to say Costco, but I could be wrong) as it was something my behind the times PC could actually run. I don't think I even made it past the final puzzle in the starter dungeon, but it has been something I always meant to get back to. Of course, my install disks completely degraded, but that's not such a major concern right now.

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  9. Seems like a game that would be a lot better with turn-based combat. But of course at the time, real-time combat was all the hype.

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  10. You must fund the cities forts to defend them. When enemy troops destroy all units in City, You lost this city. This is a little stratygy in the game.

    Casting system is fantastic, it´s more alchemy then wizardry, but in combat is very difficult casting spells, because battles are too fast. Battles are terrible and I think, that only way to little more enjoy this game is level up characters, make then more strong and they kill enemy alone without your tactic in battles. You only watch, not play battles :-)

    So, alchemy is perfect in puzzle part of game.

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  11. If Spellcraft: Aspects of Valor wasn't a glorified arcade game with a flimsy plot, the spellcasting system and the setting of a secret world within our real world would have been so much cooler and creative .

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