Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Game 329: Darklands (1992)

When you start up the game, this woman says "Welcome to Darklands" in a digitized voice.
         
Darklands
United States
MicroProse (developer and publisher)
Released in 1992 for DOS
Date Started:
24 May 2019

Excited about killing orcs and finding treasure, I fire up a game and crack open the manual. Three hours later, I could give a university lecture on political intrigue in the court of Emperor Frederick III in the 1470s. If it hadn't already been made clear by the box and title screen, I would know for certain: I am playing a MicroProse game. One of these days, I'm going to add a column to my game rating sheet indicating whether the game manual comes with a bibliography, and thus determine whether it has a correlation to the GIMLET. I suspect it will.
 
Darklands is perhaps the most anticipated game on my blog, so much so that when I went to do my customary pre-game search of player comments, there were far too many to review. Readers were telling me that they were looking forward to the game back in my first year. There are many who feel that it marks the beginning of a new era in both mechanical complexity and quality of role-playing.
           
A brief animated scene shows a gargoyle awakening and flying through a medieval city.
         
The game is set in the Holy Roman Empire, staring in 1400. For those who haven't had much excuse to think about the Holy Roman Empire since high school, it was a political organization in central Europe that existed for about 1,000 years, between 800 and 1806 or between 962 and 1806 depending on what you regard as the beginning. (Pope Leo III revived the Roman title of "Emperor" for Charlemagne in 800, but his empire fractured afterwards and wasn't put together until 962 under Otto I.) At its height, it included modern-day Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, Czechia, Slovenia, most of Italy, and parts of France and Poland. The Holy Roman Empire and its emperor never had the centralized authority of the earlier Roman Empire; kings and dukes and princes existed within it and sometimes had more real power than the putative emperor. The HRE was universally Catholic (Martin Luther wouldn't vandalize any doors until 1516), feudal, and caste-obsessed. Its political machinations are the stuff of legend, and thus it serves as a great place for an RPG. Kingdom Come: Deliverance (2018) will later be set in the same era.

The gimmick of Darklands is that the game isn't really set in historical reality, but in the era as the people of the era believed it to be. Thus, witches and demons are real, werewolves prowl the forests, mixing alchemical ingredients produces results, and saints occasionally deliver miracles. Otherwise, the game adopts realistic terms and concepts from the era. Money consists of florins, groschen, and pfenniges. Knowledge of Latin is an asset. And the player has to get comfortable with terms like schulz (local leader), dom (cathedral), raubritter (robber knight), and zeughaus (barracks).
           
The game map reduces the complex borders of the HRE into a convenient square.
           
The player controls a party of four characters, generated through a complex system that recalls MegaTraveller. After specifying a name and sex, the player chooses the character's social background, from nobility down to rural peasantry. He then spreads a pool of points among six attributes: strength, endurance, agility, perception, intelligence, and charisma. I would note that these are the same attributes as the later Fallout, minus luck, but there is a "luck" statistic in the game in the form of "divine favor." Attributes exist on a scale of 0-99, although only a range of 10-40 is available on starting. They are dynamic throughout the game, as wounds cause direct damage to strength, endurance decreases with fatigue, and agility goes down with encumbrance.

Next, the character can take one or more occupations for blocks of 5 years. Available occupations are limited by skill, attributes, background, and previous occupation choices. After each 5-year term, the player can allocate a pool of points among the game's 19 skills. These skills are organized into three groups: martial (e.g., Edged Weapon, Throwing Weapon), intellectual (e.g., Alchemy, Religion, Latin), and crafts (e.g., Stealth, Riding). Some of these skills are adjusted automatically based on occupation. They exist on a 0-99 scale. Since the game does not have levels as such, I assume increases in these skills are the primary means of character development.
          
Improving a characters' skills between occupations.
         
You can stop the character's career at any time. Older characters will start the game with more skills but will also age and die. My understanding is that the player may end up replacing characters several times throughout the game, particularly since there's no such thing as resurrection, so I didn't waste too much time trying to get it right the first time. I came up with:
           
  • Chestremagne: Heir to a noble house, strong and fit, schooled in edge and impact weapons, Latin, reading and writing, and riding. From ages 20-25, he was a student and developed all his skills a little more. He is presently 25.
  • Lothair the Lender, an unscrupulous trader and moneylender. He comes from a background of urban commoners but used his high intelligence, perception, and charisma to work his way up from peddler to trader to traveling merchant to merchant-proprietor, along the way developing skills in both common language and Latin, streetwise, woodswise, and artifice. He is now 35.
  • Tabitha, the child of a wealthy urban family pledged to a religious and healing order. She worked for 5 years as an oblate and then 5 as a novice nun. She is moderate in all attributes and skilled only in religion, healing, virtue, and alchemy. She is 30.
  • Adelaide the Ant, a famous thief. Ugly but shrewd, perceptive, and agile, skilled in streetwise, artifice, stealth, and the use of edged and thrown weapons. She has alternately been a thief and bandit for several decades, and is the oldest of the group at 40.
             
I can see a couple of weaknesses in the party. First, I have no one obvious "warrior." Chestremagne was headed there, but I stopped his education early. Second, I have no one particularly strong in alchemy. I tried to get Tabitha there, but I guess there really isn't a lot of affinity between alchemy and the religious occupations; I should have moved her along a more "student" track. I probably have too much duplication between Lothair and Adelaide; there really aren't that many thief-specific skills, and I could have combined what I was attempting with the two characters into a single character. Nonetheless, I'll go with this party for now.
           
The first party.
           
Darklands has no particular backstory, so you have to decide for yourself how this weird crew came together and what they're trying to accomplish. The game has them starting at table in an inn. I think the location is randomized; in my case, it was the Rheinischer Hof in the city of Dortmund. Anyway, as the game begins the group has just sworn "a pact as blood brothers, to seek good and avoid evil, and to bring everlasting honor and glory to our names." They then spend some time debating next steps, such as getting jobs locally to acquire more training, improving their equipment, or hunting for street thieves at night.
           
The party unites in a vague quest for fortune and glory.
       
The game then hands control over to you, and you can start exploring the city via a series of nested menus. For instance, if you head out to the main street, you have options from there to visit the stadtplatz (the political center), the alter markt (central market), the churches, the guilds, an inn, a scenic grove, various side alleys, and the city gates. Each of those locations opens up a new series of options. For instance, in the stadtplatz, you can view local notices, listen for rumors, or go to the stadthaus and try to get an audience with a local official. Each option costs time, and the days pass quickly. There are different options at night than during the day.
          
Some of the options specific to an inn.
       
My party first went to the market to check things out, but I was a bit too concerned about finances to make any purchases. We then went into a back alley and nearly immediately entered combat with a group of thieves. Darklands features a real-time-with-pause combat system that I'm still figuring out, but it anticipates the Infinity Engine titles. You basically hit SPACE to pause, select each character and issue orders, and then hit SPACE to watch them carry out those orders to the best of their abilities. At the beginning of the game, I can't do much more than attack.
          
The party and the thieves engage in the very definition of "melee."
         
With the thieves, that was enough. I killed them without taking much damage and looted their bodies for some useful pieces of armor and excess weapons to sell in the market. The game is pretty light on types of equipment, incidentally. You get a melee weapon, a missile weapon, "vital" armor, "limb" armor, and a shield.
         
Hear that? My massacre of the thieves was ordained by God.
        
The next day, I visited the stadthaus and got an audience with the ältere herren. He confided that there is a plot to take over the city. His men had intercepted some reports going to the fugger (banker) in Fürstenberg. He wants me to go to that city and "steal prior reports." From the map, Fürstenberg is quite a distance to the east. My understanding is that you might get similar quests from churches, guilds, and other important people in the town.
          
How do we know that Fürstenberg won't rule the city better than you? Which of you favors universal health care?
       
I left the city to check out the wilderness. (Entering and leaving the cities involves a bunch of options depending on whether you want to pay the associated fees or hide from the guards or whatnot; I'll cover that later.) Outdoor travel takes place on a world map full of landscape features and roads. There are miscellaneous encounters with friends and foes every few minutes. I was able to bluff my way past a couple of hostile parties as I headed east.
           
Lothair bluffs his way past some bandits or worse.
            
Everything I've described adds up to a game that's an awful lot like a medieval RPG version of MicroProse's Pirates! There are direct analogues in the menu towns and the randomization of quests. Just like the earlier game's Spanish Main, here we have a rich backcloth in which somewhat random events transpire, with or without the player's involvement, thus creating a different experience for every player.
         
Hiking around central Germany replaces sailing the Spanish Main.
        
Even the goals are similar. It appears that as I solve quests and slay thieves and whatnot, I'll gain fame and reputation specific to each territory. I can "retire" the party at any point with that fame score, just as you can with the main character in Pirates! There's also a main quest to find, lurking somewhere. Still, it's clear that part of the game's legendary length is related to the dynamic, somewhat random way the game world evolves.

I may roll a new party and choose to stay more local before getting a quest, or just go with it and see what happens. There are lots of things I have not yet explored, including the alchemy system and the praying system. Since the plot can't really be spoiled (I assume), I'll be happy to take plenty of opinions on this one.

Time so far: 3 hours

82 comments:

  1. Awesome, can't wait to read more about this one. I never did get too far in Darklands, though I loved the character generation.

    I bought the game again off GOG a while back during a sale, but I've never gotten around to giving it another go (Wizards & Warriors managed to steal all my attention). Now I really want to dig into it again, see what I missed all those years back.

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  2. Ältere Herren is plural and means either simply "older men" or more specifically in this Case I guess "the elders" (something like a council I would say)

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    1. And "Zeughaus" means "armory". Zeug ("stuff") is a medieval term for armor (and other things).

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  3. "His men had intercepted some reports going to the fugger (banker) in Fürstenberg."
    If we are in the year 1400 Anno Domini, those guys are appearing a bit early: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fugger

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    1. Technically, they are already around, just not as a word-defining bankers yet, just a rather rich family in one of the merchant-heavy cities of the HRE. ;) I'm actually surprised that this word is used, as it doesn't seem to be generally used in German? But I'm certainly no expert here!

      But more importantly: this is the second game in which you can visit Poland that the Addict is playing, after Twilight 2000. :)

      Also: Anno means year, so it's redundant to use year 1400 Anno Domini (which would be the "year The Year of Our Lord 1400" :) ).

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    2. It's supposed to be 15th century. The manual says: "[The] marketplace sometimes includes offices of the Fugger and Medici banks, or even a new concept developed by the Fuggers: the Leihhaus (a pawnshop)."

      The Hanseatic League also maintains offices in major towns. I'm not an expert, but having all three in every HRE city sounds a bit anachronistic.

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    3. The Hanseatic League didn't as much have offices as it was a league of cities in a trade alliance. If you're a merchant who's a citizen of a Hansa city, you got special privileges and were supported by the league in case you had issues with the law.

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  4. Unlimited supply of thieves in the starting city offer a good opportunity for grinding skills and equipment. This is the default course of action when starting a game of Darklands.

    I would alter the party to include someone skilled in alchemy.

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    1. I'll second the alchemy. I don't know if I really needed mine, but it was sure helpful and I found it made the game more interesting to have one. They are the spellcasters of Darklands, in effect.

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  5. "For those who haven't had much excuse to think about the Holy Roman Empire since high school"

    Vanilla medieval is indeed a surprisingly rare setting in games, much less RPGs. Most games go for a Tolkien-esque fantasy world with magic and elves. Anyway, the only thing I remember from that period is a joke that the HRE in reality wasn't German, wasn't Roman, and wasn't an empire. (It's called the German-Roman Empire in Hungarian.)

    "Kingdom Come: Deliverance (2018) will later be set in the same era."

    That was a fun game, and a unique opportunity to hear people that might be my own ancestors swear at me in perfect modern Hungarian and kill them in battle.

    "there is a "luck" statistic in the game in the form of "divine favor.""

    That's an interesting take. In terms of game mechanics, it functions as mana points to be spent to call saints to your aid. Since everyone gets the same 99 points, it might be a good idea to teach saints to multiple people.

    "stats"

    Strength is also hit points, endurance is stamina points, and the sum of the two is maximum encumbrance. Good armor is heavy. A full suit of plate armor is 28+31 lbs, a large shield is 10, and you still have to carry a melee weapon and possibly a ranged weapon. For weaker characters, I'd recommend the Military Hammer. It's light (3), has good penetration, fast and does decent damage.

    Virtue is an unique "skill", as it's basically your karma, or good-evil meter. Very low virtue can get you in trouble in cities, especially with the clergy, while highly virtuous characters can banish evil by sheer willpower.

    "Since the plot can't really be spoiled (I assume), I'll be happy to take plenty of opinions on this one."

    The main quest and a few major side quests can, to an extent, so I'll just give a ROT13 clue on how to start them:

    Main quest: ivfvg ivyyntrf va gur pbhagelfvqr: gurer'f n snveyl qrprag punapr sbe n fcrpvny rirag gb unccra juvpu tvirf lbh gur pyhr.

    Major side quests: Gurl cbc hc nf ehzbef va pvgvrf. Whfg sbyybj gur qverpgvbaf tvira.

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    1. "Anyway, the only thing I remember from that period is a joke that the HRE in reality wasn't [holy], wasn't Roman, and wasn't an empire." That was Voltaire, but he was talking about the HRE in his own day (mid-1700s). There were times that it was all three.

      I appreciate the tips as always.

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    2. Explore the landscape, visit castles, villages, monasteries, try the options there. Listen to rumors in towns. You will stumble upon the main quest and the major side quests. No hints needed, it's not that hidden.

      I'd also suggest experimenting with your characters a bit to find out if they are too weak or lack useful skills, or you don't have skills which are hard/expensive to train. Then replace the ones you don't like.

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    3. Speaking of main quest, there's also an encounter (with the woman from the intro?) that basically gives you the quest and spells out its main stages. But it's arguably even harder to stumble upon it than on the MQ itself.

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  6. Doublepost, since I accidentally posted this under the Journey article:

    Guess I should hand in my nerd card now. This is the era when I started PC gaming for real, MM3 was my first proper CRPG for example. The history and times of the HRE is also something of a hobby of mine. However, I never even heard of Darklands. Strange how it could have passed me by. So major props to Chet for bringing this to my attention, I will try to play alongside the blog.

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    1. Unfortunately... 1992 was about the last year I played CRPGs extensively, other than to finish up Ultima VII. Unknown territory for me going forward, but looking forward to seeing what I missed.

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  7. The day I turn in my master's thesis on medieval history, Chet makes the first Darklands blogpost. How fitting!

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    1. That's a big deal, Frank. Well done. It must have been more specific than "medieval history," though.

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    2. Thanks! My topic were the relations between Christians and Pagans on the Baltic frontier of the 14th century. Incidentally, the PERFECT setting for a CRPG.

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    3. The original setting of D&D. Well, not in name, but pretty much. Go carve yourself a barony out of uncivilized lands full of danger.

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    4. Congratulations, and great timing! Carry on to the PhD and this will one will feel like child's play. ;)

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    5. Heh. It feels like a million years ago that I wrote my master's thesis on christian-pagan relationships (although I focused on the levant in that one). Gratz on handing in yours, Frank!

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  8. Eye of the Beholder was my first crpg love, but Darklands was (and it some ways still is) my yard stick against which all other RPGs are measured. Here, with the manual, the maps, the setting etc I felt RPGs had grown up into a proper, adult hobby and not just a kind of toy for kids.

    After religiously following your blog, I know now that Wizardry et al really weren't kids games at all, but they still "feel" childish in comparison.

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  9. There's a lot of content, and it's everywhere. Don't get discouraged and reload because you went down one of the "bad" paths like getting caught.

    Part of the fun of the game is the unfamiliar skills system and figuring out what works and what doesn't. Doubtful you'll win with your first party, so don't worry about rolling up new characters. Definitely need an alchemist and a priest who can speak Latin.

    Local reputation is important and doesn't transfer with you. Back then news traveled slowly, if at all. Thus it makes sense to find a good base of operations and hang around there for a while. But don't be afraid to travel around because that's where all the cool encounters are.

    I believe you can press spacebar to remove the text and just gaze on the gorgeous backgrounds. Some of them are great, and all of them have people costumed appropriately. An SCA member's dream. The developers went to a great deal of trouble to make a historically accurate game that reflects what it might have been like to be alive back then. The music is period-accurate as well (and might benefit from enabling Roland/MIDI music in the settings instead of the tooty Soundblaster).

    If you know your medieval geography, you can go to certain cities and the historical features will be there. For example, Der Dom is in Cologne, right alongside the excellent supporting infrastructure (universities, etc.) you would expect.

    Alt-C toggles temporary stat changes, Alt-D changes difficulty, Shift displays help, F6 party information. Viel spass!

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    1. Oh and they tried to get the names of the city center places correct. I checked a few cities (among those where I actually have lived so far) and they fit.
      Soo much attention to detail which most people wont even recognize.

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  10. I can genuinely say I've never heard of Darklands. Of course, I was late to the party when it comes to CRPGs, either never hearing about them until years later, or only learning about them from console ports.

    It'll probably be awhile before you get to a game I've either played or have a vested interest in already. I'll still check things out, though. I might find some other things to catch my interest!

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  11. I have tried on and off to play this for a VERY long time and never been interested enough to get out of the menu-cities... I never found menu-cities like that FUN. I'm gonna keep reading tho, try and see what I have MISSED.

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    1. I gotta say, of all the CRPGs that have been lauded by many, Darklands was easily the most disappointing for me as well. I can see why people like it, and I appreciate its attention to detail and history, but it didn't have that "Just One More Fight" feeling for me. But, to each his own.

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    2. It didn't help that the game had so many bugs. I'd say version 5.0 was the first worth playing, 6.0 was the first actually enjoyable with a asterisk, and 7.0 was enjoyable without the asterisk.

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    3. Nathan: That was a shamefully long time, especially in a pre-internet era when patches came on physical disks. It's not unjustified that Microprose lost money on Darklands.

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    4. That is info I had never realized. Hokey smokes.

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  12. When I played I found keeping your characters younger was convenient, with the possible exception of the alchemist. I kinda sucks having your characters age out and die, and marching across the landscape takes a ton of time. I preferred enjoying the open nature of the game without worrying about getting old. Having said that, replacing characters can work.

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    1. A note to my comment, I never actually had a character age and die in game, and I've heard that in at least some versions of the game, aging only matters in Character creation...

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    2. Yeah, characters don't age and die regardless of what the manual says. They just lose stats. A 55 year old monk is a perfectly viable character.

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    3. But what about a 95-year-old monk? The manual says that characters 30 and older (ouch) suffer penalties to various attributes, "the older the character, the greater the penalties." If any attribute reaches 0, the character dies. Is just not something that functionally happens despite the possibility?

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    4. I think it can happen in character creation, but not after you start adventuring, at least if what I'm reading is correct. Which means I handicapped myself a little bit for no reason originally.

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    5. Try it! See if you can get a character to die during creation. It would be the second game to do so, IIRC.

      I've never seen a character die of old age during the game. Supposedly in Goldbox it could happen by casting too many haste spells but I don't think there was any code in the game to trigger it.

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    6. Making super old characters is a bad idea. I wouldn't run anyone over 35. They start losing strength and stamina, which is your health, and factors into their encumbrance. So old characters will die really fast and not be able to wear armor.

      This is not a game where you can really keep characters in the rear, everyone is going to get melee'd.

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    7. Harland:they can do of old age in might and magic 3, if not in others

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  13. Ahh, Darklands. At last. I greatly looked forward to this game indeed. I loved the short time I spent with the game, before I gave up on it, victim of the savegame corruption bug (hope that doesn't wind up happening to you!). I've heard so many interesting stories from others who played this game, too. This will be a lot of fun to read!

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    1. Maybe that's why it's so highly anticipated. It's unique in setting and mechanics, foreshadows modern RPGs, but few people actually finished it and now want to see someone do it :) It's also a relatively obscure game considering its qualities.

      Its troubled production history sometimes shows through, though, and I hope the high anticipation doesn't lead to disappointment.

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    2. Well, if it's the GOG version, they included a couple of tools that may help. As 16-bit programs they only run under DOSBox.

      DKQUE.EXE - prints all quests in progress in case you forgot them
      DKED.EXE - savegame editor that also allows transfer of characters into a fresh save

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    3. I loved the game. Please comment on my comment below, regarding mysteriously waking up with 46,000 florins in my purse!

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  14. This game sounds great!

    We're pretty much in my favorite era of CRPGs - I cut my teeth on the Ultima series and the Gold Box games, but the Infinity engine is where it's at - but I don't think I ever saw this one. The name is ringing a bell, though, and the description looks right up my alley. I loved Pirates.

    Maybe I'll pick it up and play along. I'm juuuuust about done with Pathfinder: Kingmaker (a great game that was probably ruined by being about two hundred hours too long), and was going to move on to the next game on my backlog list. But this is probably cheap on GOG. Might be worth a whirl.

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    1. You think it sounds good normally, boot that bad boy up with Munt32 and prepare to get floored.

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  15. "Everything I've described adds up to a game that's an awful lot like a medieval RPG version of MicroProse's Pirates!"

    Yes, mechanically this is like the first Infinity Engine game crossed with Pirates!
    Really though, it's all about the setting. It takes the Very Late Medieval basis of generic fantasy and makes it real. There's enormous untapped potential in such historical settings.

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  16. I never played this game but I heard it is pretty fun, if you play it as a sandbox but that once you progress on the main quest the bugs and problems start to appear.

    just a heads up, and second hand information.

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  17. You should definitely invest in plate armor, since it will give you a definite advantage in combat situations. And get a good two-hander long-sword.

    If I remember correctly since, it's a very long time since
    I 've played it, you can improve your skills, by continuously using them, just like the Elder Scroll games.

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    1. Good call, if you have the str/end for plate, it's gold! On the other hand, it might be worthwhile to check that two-handed sword recommendation against DOT.

      For me, it was, Amazing! Gotta Play! Gotta Play! Gotta Play! Gotta Play! ...and then, one day, hmmm, no idea why, suddenly it was no longer interesting.

      I'm really looking forward to seeing your take, CRPGAddict!

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  18. Babbages failed me and I missed this one. Excited to read about this one.

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  19. I would like to take the opportunity to provide some information about the first release of this particular game.
    The original Microprose press release of Darklands offered a vague date of fall in 1992:
    https://web.archive.org/web/20120830071240/http://www.darklands.net/files/darkpr.txt

    The chapter titled "Final Notes" of the official hintbook marks early august of 1992 as the start of manufacturing with revisions coming over the course of the months of august and september:
    https://mocagh.org/miscgame/darklands-hintbook.pdf

    The old Usenet newsgroups archived into Google Groups also provide messages aiming at an august of 1992 release:
    https://groups.google.com/forum/#!searchin/comp.sys.ibm.pc.games/darklands$2092%7Csort:date/comp.sys.ibm.pc.games/M79OFGu9uEA/ros_EZoJMGkJ

    https://groups.google.com/forum/#!search/darklands$20patch/comp.sys.ibm.pc.games/wA3vFpuPhxk/ChU5FKgu8IoJ

    Last but not least, we have the legal documentation that the United States Patent and Trademark Office and the United States Copyright Office have stored. Both agree that august, 20th of 1992 is the exact official first release date of Darklands:
    http://tsdr.uspto.gov/#caseNumber=74161792&caseType=SERIAL_NO&searchType=statusSearch

    http://tsdr.uspto.gov/documentviewer?caseId=sn74161792&docId=ORC20051228144733#docIndex=0&page=1

    https://cocatalog.loc.gov/cgi-bin/Pwebrecon.cgi?v1=18&ti=1,18&Search%5FArg=darklands&Search%5FCode=TALL&CNT=25&PID=Ucxoa3DZlQIBe3DylxcrPWiKYiPW&SEQ=20190528173011&SID=1

    Additionally, the earliest magazines that reviewed Darklands were from september of 1992.

    So, I think we can say without a doubt that Darklands was released on august of 1992. The exact day is debatable.

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  20. Yeah, if I recall, Alchemy is one of the harder skills to increase over the course of the game, unless you find tutors, who charge a lot. I ended up rerolling an alchemist and min-maxed the character creation so she could basically whip up all the potions I needed from the start.

    My one recommendation for combat is to put a shield on everyone, at least until their weapon skills reach 70+. There is a hidden accuracy bonus against non-shielded characters which is in addition to the evasion bonus of the shield, which means adding a shield can make a character upwards of 20-30% harder to hit.

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    1. It's one of the reasons why the Alchemist for me is always the "baby" of the party, starting at the age of 18 or early 20s, so that he can level up off the bat.

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    2. Wait, why is that? Does age have an effect on in-game skill acquisition? (I haven't seen or noticed that, but certainly doesn't seem impossible.) Otherwise, there's no age attribute penalties until 30 and none which affect the main activities of an alchemist until much older, so like BJ I usually made my alchemist older, generally as old as I felt like I could handle the Endurance loss.

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    3. No, but what I did was to pool money I'd get from selling loot and very early try as learn as many formulas as possible.
      When my Alchemist actually got to say the age of mid-20s he'd have an arsenal of formulas at his disposal, more than if he started at mid-20

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    4. That means that you'll start without much in the way of formulas. That isn't a deal breaker, but you'll also start with much speak common, meaning it will be difficult to acquire new formulas cheaply.

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    5. Alchemy, and Speak Common and Latin both. I wasn't going to belabor the point, but maybe worthwhile to ensure Chet / other new players finding this thread have the full picture. You need someone with reasonable Alchemy in order to even find a true alchemist in cities, and the Alchemy skill is much more difficult/expensive to raise in-game than most skills, especially relative to in-game utility. You need someone who has reasonable Speak Latin in order to talk to anyone at Universities to get access to purchase formulae there, though that could be anyone in the party. I believe both Common and Latin influence success with Alchemists in general and trading formulae in particular, and since only the current party leader receives the traded-for formula, you need to ensure that your alchemist has enough of these skills to succeed, which is critical since this is the cheapest way to acquire formulae. (ROT13) Gur ynfg orvat rfcrpvnyyl vzcbegnag fvapr rira gur TBT eryrnfr unf gur oht gung bayl 1/3 bs gur sbezhynr yvfg vf ninvynoyr sbe chepunfr. Guvf vfa'g n fcbvyre, ohg EBG13'vat orpnhfr V qvqa'g rkcyvpvgyl abgvpr gur oht ba zl svefg cynl-guebhtu (fvapr genqvat sbezhynr vf fb fb zhpu purncre), ohg vg fyvtugyl uheg zl rawblzrag bs gur tnzr gb xabj gur oht rkvfgrq.

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    6. You can train alchemy through use, same as any other skill, it is cheaper than schooling and only a bit slower.

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    7. Sure, but it can take a long time (both in-game and wall-clock), and I believe the chance of skill-increase per day of potion-making is less than for training. And regardless, it still requires the cost of materials and having a formula to brew in the first place, which is a chicken-and-egg with e.g. being able to find a sweet-talk a true alchemist.

      One of the great things about this game is how flexible it is in terms of party build and initial party skills, but in my experience building up an alchemy newbie to a helpful alchemist is far more tedious than it's possibly worth, especially since you are essentially playing the game without alchemy until you get your alchemist up to snuff!

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    8. Well, I always bring in older alchemists, usually after the Master alchemist job. That almost always gives you enough time to get some decent formulas and high enough skill to get a start.

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    9. @Burzmali Ok, we appear to be in violent agreement :-). My comments in this thread have been contra @Pedro Q's described approach of beginning the alchemist character after only 1 or 2 character-creation occupations in order to avoid/delay characters being old enough to suffer any aging-related attribute penalties. I don't see much reason to start especially an alchemist character before the 3 occupations (age 30) required to have been a Master Alchemist -- as I say above, the aging penalties for characters reaching 35 or even 40 in-game aren't that bad, and avoiding them can be quite by this approach can be quite tedious.

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  21. I've never heard of this game but based on this one post so far I want to know everything about it and sink 40 hours into it.

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  22. If you come to a quest with puzzles, beware that there is a bug where the game coding of one of the puzzles requires an answer the puzzle text itself does not imply. ROT13'd puzzle and answer, from the "Cluebook":

    N qbbe oybpxf gur cngu. Ba vg vf pneirq:
    RNPU SNPR FCRNXF BAYL GEHGU BE NYY YVRF
    Rvtug oenff snprf fcrnx:
    1: "Rvgure gur fvyire be gur pbccre xrlf jbex. Creuncf obgu."
    2: "Obgu gup tbyq naq fvyire xrlf jbex."
    3: "Gur tbyq xrl jbexf."
    4: "Rvgure Snpr 2 be 6 fcrnxf gehgu. Creuncf obgu."
    5: "Vs Snpr 8 naq zlfrys obgu fcrnx gehgu, fb qbrf 3."
    6: "Obgu gur tbyq naq pbccre xrlf jbex."
    7: "Snprf 1 naq 3 obgu fcrnx gehgu."
    F: "Vs Snpr 7 fcrnxf gehgu, fb qbrf 4."
    Sbhe xrlf unat ol gur qbbe. Lbh hfr...
    ...gur tbyq xrl.
    ...gur fvyire xrl.
    ...gur pbccre xrl.
    ...gur veba xrl.

    Senaxyl, jr'er chmmyrq ol guvf bar. Vg nccrnef gung nal pbzovangvba bs xrlf pbhyq jbex jvgubhg pbagenqvpgvba. Jr pbafhygrq gur qjnes jub perngrq guvf, naq ur fnvq gur tbyq xrl jnf gur bayl pubvpr gung jbexrq. Ur ershfrq gb rkcynva jul, fb jr nffhzr vg'f sebz n yvar bs qjnes ernfbavat gbb nepnar sbe uhzna zvaqf gb sngubz. Gurersber, tbyq vf gur nafjre.

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  23. If you've avoided it because of the name, definitely grab a copy of the of the "Cluebook," which is part of the manuals in the GOG edition. It's an odd mish-mash of the outright spoilers / walkthroughs the name would imply and important details on game mechanics which aren't presented in either the main manual or the game itself.

    Useful non-spoiler chapters:

    - "Character Creation" -- the final subsection "Strategies for Character Generation" describes the general mechanical impact of each of the attributes and skill groups, and is quite helpful. The main body of the chapter lists all the occupations, requirements, and mechanical effects, which isn't quite a spoiler but might change the experience of character creation.
    - "Equipment & Combat" -- describes the actual combat mechanics and list the statistics of all the armor and weapons.
    - "Alchemy" -- lists the actual statistics and mechanical effects for all the alchemy recipes.

    Borderline spoiler chapters:

    - "Introduction" -- Some useful overview information, but has a very minor spoiler or two, referencing the existence of elements of one of the quests.
    - "The World" -- lists the statistics for all of the cities in the game. This is definitely a spoiler because most of the statistics can be inferred by visiting a given city, and it spoils exploring to learn these things. BUT you'd expect your characters to possibly know things like which cities make the best armor etc in the HRE. YMMV.
    - "Enemies" -- lists the statistics for each of the enemies; borderline spoilers because it lists all the enemies which exist in the game.
    - "Religion" -- lists the exact mechanical effects of all of the saint prayers; a borderline spoiler because the full list of saint prayers doesn't appear elsewhere in the game/documentation.

    Outright spoilers:

    - "Quests" -- Spoilers for quests.
    - "Puzzzles & Answers" -- Spoilers for puzzles in one of the quests.

    The chapter "Ebhard's Guide to Adventure" is fluff, and the chapter "Final Notes" doesn't contain any spoilers but doesn't contain much of value to someone playing it in the 21st century.

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    1. you seem to know a lot about the game. Can you comment on my comment posted below:
      I finished this game and it is an all time favorite. I experienced something I wonder if anyone can comment on: About 3/4 of the way through the game I came upon a random house along side the road. There was an enchantress inside. i spoke to her and then a screen came up that I had fallen asleep (? a spell), and when I awoke I suddenly had 46,000 florins. As you'll discover, this is an enormous amount that you could never accumulate through regular play. Was it a bug? Anyone else see this happen?
      Needless to say this amount of money gave me access to the goods I needed to defeat the final boss and win the game.

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  24. I finished this game and it is an all time favorite. I experienced something I wonder if anyone can comment on: About 3/4 of the way through the game I came upon a random house along side the road. There was an enchantress inside. i spoke to her and then a screen came up that I had fallen asleep (? a spell), and when I awoke I suddenly had 46,000 florins. As you'll discover, this is an enormous amount that you could never accumulate through regular play. Was it a bug? Anyone else see this happen?
    Needless to say this amount of money gave me access to the good I needed to defeat the final boss and win the game.

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    Replies
    1. I haven't seen that in particular myself, and it certainly sounds like it could be a bug -- goodness knows even the GOG etc releases still have plenty.

      Alternatively (ROT13'd): Jnf gur "enaqbz ubhfr" cbffvoyl gur tbbq jvgpu'f gbjre, FJ bs Zntqrohet? Guvf vf bar bs gur srj havdhr ybpngvbaf va gur tnzr, ohg V qba'g oryvrir nalguvat va-tnzr cbvagf lbh gurer; V bayl ivfvgrq ba zl frpbaq cynl-guebhtu nsgre ernqvat fcbvyref zragvbavat vg. Vs lbh ivfvg snveyl rneyl, fur whfg tvirf fbzr uvagf ba ubj gb cebprrq va gur znva cybg, ohg V qvqa'g ivfvg ure yngre -- vg'f cbffvoyr gung vs lbh'er shegure nybat fur svanaprf lbhe rssbegf va beqre gb rafher gung zbarl vf ab bowrpg gb fnivat gur jbeyq! (Juvpu jbhyq or n jrypbzr inevngvba sebz ubj zbfg ECTf unaqyr gung vffhr.)

      (And also, no need to spam the question! Once was probably enough.)

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    2. There is no (rot13) "svany obff" va guvf tnzr, be rira na "raqvat" .
      I wonder if we should point that out to Chet or let him find out for himself.

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    3. @Pedro Q -- I think Chet will probably take "Unknown"'s comments with the appropriate grains of salt :-). And for the other point: (ROT13) Naq gubhtu gur tnzr qbrfa'g raq cre fr, fvapr zbfg cnegvrf jvyy cebonoyl svavfu gur znva dhrfg jvgu fvtavsvpnagyl qrovyvgngrq nggevohgrf, gur tnzr pregnvayl rapbhentrf gur cynlre gb gerng gung nf na "raqvat" sbe gur cnegvphyne cnegl.

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    4. By Main Quest do you mean (rot13) gur Oncubzrg be gur Qentba? Arire qrsrngrq rvgure ohg nyjnlf urneq nf fbba nf OBGU ner qrsrngrq, gur tnzr pna or pbafvqrerq "jba"

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    5. (ROT13) V zrna gur Oncubzrg / "Jvgpurf" dhrfg-yvar. Vg'f gur bayl npghny dhrfg-yvar, jvgu zhygvcyr dhrfgf juvpu ner bayl npprffvoyr va frevrf, naq pna bayl or qbar bapr. Gur "Qentba" dhrfg pregnvayl srryf rcvp, unf n srj rkgen ubbxf (r.t. gur fbhaq phrf), naq lvryqf n ovt erchgngvba erjneq; ohg vg vf bgurejvfr whfg n "abezny" fvathyne fvzhyngvba dhrfg juvpu pna or pbzcyrgrq nal ahzore bs gvzrf.

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  25. Chestermagne...lol. Remember, Charlemagne is literally the concatenation of "Charles" and "the great", meaning he was so damn great that his name is synonymous with greatness. Best biography I ever read.

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  26. Oh I loved this game. Here's a fun fact. In the game directory there is a program called picshow.exe (if memory serves correct). You can use this program to watch .pic files used in other Microprose games. I suggest to use it on Civilization where you will find some unused terrain and units which look a bit alien.

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  27. This is probably the game that defines the acronym CRPG. People may hate it, people may be indifferent, but Darklands is the ultimate Computer Role Playing Game experience.

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  28. The Hapsburg line had been divided since the treaty of Neuberg in 1295. The senior or "Albertine" line had married into the ruling Luxembourg family, but Albert II had died young,of disease, leaving his wife Elizabeth and a posthumous son, Ladislas. Thus, the German crown went to the junior or "Leopoldine" line. Frederick III was the leader of this branch. Elizabeth would look east and fighting to install her son on three thrones: Austria, Bohemia, and Hungary, with the aid of Czech mercenaries.
    Frederick would turn west, marrying his son to Mary the Rich, the sole heir to the last Burgundian duke, Charles the Rash. Their children would intermarry with the children of Ferdinand and Isabella of Aragon and Castile, respectively.


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  29. I only started playing this game a few days ago, and so far it seems pretty fun... although I had to restart with a new party because it turns out that having your strength significantly lower than your endurance is just a recipe for dying in the vast majority of fights

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  30. By the way, one small, special request - if you get a chance, please stroll over to the eastern edge of the map, and visit Thorn/Toruń and Bromberg/Bydgoszcz. I was born and spent my childhood in the former, and I live in the latter. Naturally, Darklands is not the kind of game that tries to properly re-create historical locations, but it would still be fun for me to see how these cities are portrayed.

    Sidenote: neither of these cities were actually ever in the HRE, and only one of them could properly be called a part of Greater Germany. Thorn was indeed a predominantly German town, established and owned by the Teutonic Order until the mid 1400s (when the German townspeople rebelled and petitioned the Polish king to incorporate them into Poland). Bromberg, or more properly Bydgoszcz, however, was a Polish city that would only be incorporated into Prussia in the late 18th century, during the partitions of Poland. I'm very curious to see if these political and cultural realities are in any way reflected in the game, or if it's all abstracted into German culture.

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    Replies
    1. I understand your curiosity. If Pirates! had gone all the way up the coast to New Orleans, I would have had to check it out regardless of whether I expected to find anything. I'll see what I can do.

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    2. Thanks, looking forward to seeing how you fare with that! :) As for New Orleans... wasn't it kind of included in Pirates!? I mean, a quick Google search reveals that while a part of the northern gulf coast was clipped, the characteristic crow's-foot of the Mississippi delta is present. The spot where New Orleans would eventually be, seems to just barely fit in within the boundaries of the 1987 map. Not sure about the 2004 version. I did once sail all the way along that coastline in the original game - it actually proved to be a major challenge, because there was virtually no ships around to pick up supplies from.

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  31. How's the sound? If I recall, some current versions available online have the sound configured to "crap" by default. You might want to hit up a quick video of it to see if your version is one of the ones that needs tweaks.

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  32. Tardigrade MatsuriJune 2, 2019 at 7:31 AM

    I first played Darklands in the mid-2000s, so not much genuine nostalgia here. Problems I recall having were (a) tracking what items and ingredients each town had, and (b) one particular ingredient never appearing. No idea if that was a bug. Someone came up with a large MS Word file titled "dktowns.doc" that listed each town and allowed players to write-in or highlight what they came across. If it's still out there somewhere, it's got minor spoilers in it. Otherwise, tracking towns' wares is so~ a job for a spreadsheet.

    Beyond that, one recommendation would be to cut against the RPG trope of having a hideous spellcaster (alchemist) in the party. I found that a charismatic alchemist helped for purchasing expensive ingredients.

    (This is my first post on your blog, Chet, after reading it for a few weeks, and I love it. I feel you're a kindred spirit. Thanks for writing.)

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  33. I want to like this game, but I kind of hate it. I enjoyed the style of the towns, but after that, everything became really tedious. Wandering the open world is quite boring and combat is a confusing mess where my actions seem to have no effect on anything.

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I welcome all comments about the material in this blog, and I generally do not censor them. However, please follow these rules:

1. Do not link to any commercial entities, including Kickstarter campaigns, unless they're directly relevant to the material in the associated blog posting. (For instance, that GOG is selling the particular game I'm playing is relevant; that Steam is having a sale this week on other games is not.) This also includes user names that link to advertising.

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