Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Challenge of the Five Realms: Won!

The game reverts to its preferred likeness of the Prince in the final scenes.
I began this session with three places left to visit: the village of Arinor, Mount Shaska and its portal to the realm of Aerieus, and the island of Vinazia, home of my treacherous uncle, Duke Gormond. Gormond, you may recall, had invaded Castle Ballytogue early in the game, stealing my father's crown and declaring himself the King of Alonia. I had resisted attacking him early in the game just because his castle is far to the north and the destruction was creeping up from the south.

From Havenshire, I had Stellerex teleport us directly to Vinazia. No obvious port entry for us. I had hoped that the populace would rise with us against Gormond, but most of the NPCs on the island were hostile to me, and a few actually attacked. The "nicest" ones pointed out that I had a bounty on my head and that I'd be best off leaving as soon as possible.
What do you mean "although"? Loyalty to my father is why I never cared for or trusted him!
Castle Cologn was in the northwest section of the map, and its outskirts were patrolled by sorcerers, archers, and knights. I think I could have had nearly limitless battles against them, but I found that if I approached the castle by going up the east border and across the north border, I could avoid most of them. 
Placing characters to defeat Gormond's knights. This was a battle-heavy session.
Entering the inner keep, I had a fixed combat with Sir Erigreen, Gormond's bodyguard, and his retinue. They were hard, but with my "grouped" party members, I'm fielding 22 people, including five high-level archers. It took me only one reload to win with no losses on my side. Another battle followed with Sir Brandar, who Chesotor had known from his childhood.

Finally, we confronted Gormond, who remained defiant. He attacked us with no backup, which was never destined to work out well for him. I retrieved the crown from his corpse and put it on.
Presumably I washed it first.
After the battle, I ran into Gormond's wife, Lady Percy. Mourning her husband, she gave me a set of letters that my father had written to Gormond, portraying me as a "weak, timid boy." Clesodor actually said, "The thought of my son in power is sickening and frightening. I have considered naming you, Gormond, as my heir." When I confronted her with the slaughter of innocents at Ballytogue, she said that Gormond's lackey, Sir Blighton, had given that order, and that Gormond, aghast, had later executed Blighton for it. The sequence ended with my depressed character promising to restore Gormond's good name when this was all over.
Just when you thought dad couldn't have been more of a jackass.
Winning the battle didn't convert the island, unfortunately, and the enemies wandering outside were still predisposed to attack us. The party thus teleported to Mount Shaska.

The entire map was just a snaking series of switchbacks between the bottom and top of the screen. The top of the screen held a large building, where oversized furniture bespoke the presence of a giant. I soon ran into the unfriendly but non-hostile creature. He said he wanted to be left alone to write poetry, which he hoped someone would find after his death and take seriously. As it was, people had trouble looking past his exterior and assumed he was a lousy bard.
Which is more ominous when exploring an unknown lair: oversized furniture or mysteriously life-like statues?
The giant offered to join the party if I took a book of his poems to the librarian in Silvermoor. I took the book but I never followed up on the side quest even though I assume it would have made the endgame easier.

A cave at the bottom of the Mount Shaska map held a dragon. He wasn't hard to defeat, although I lost a couple of archers. Beyond the dragon was a portal to the final "realm," Aerieus.
There has been a shortage of dragons in this game. Now there is a greater shortage.
Aerieus was another mini-world, with four map locations. Each consisted of a series of platforms with nothing but air in between, so the party had to have a "Fly" spell active during their visit. Every time we entered a building, the game mentioned that we weren't skilled enough to fly indoors, and thus transitioned us to walking. But the denizens of Aerieus apparently fly all the time, even inside.

Aerieus was populated by a physically weaker, more refined race of humans, pretentious and arrogant. The capital city of Stratavon held the palace of the emperor and most of the realm's elite. We soon learned that the citizens of the realm take a test on their 18th birthdays. Those that score 85% or higher are allowed to remain in Stratavon while the rest have to move to the lesser city of Burano. Retirees from both cities live in Fenaysia.
What part of "at least" does Chesotor not understand?
Combat, labor, and physical exertion are outlawed among the Aerians. It is a crime to break a sweat. Instead, they have a race of avian servants called Peregrines who do all the physical work. The Peregrines are forced to live in a lower city called Nyxx. 
Don't worry. I'll solve all of this in a troublingly short time.
As we arrived, the realm was in chaos. As with all the others, Grimnoth had recently killed the king, leaving his unprepared son in command. The new king, Vonarello, was facing two uprisings. The first was a group of agitators in Burano who wanted to destroy the caste system and allow every Aerian to live where he wanted. The second was a group of rebellious Peregrines, sick of being treated as slaves, who had stolen Stratavon's Book of Wisdom. Finally, rumors of a planned assassination targeted Vonarello himself. 
Aerieus took up multiple individual maps.
Vonarello wouldn't even talk to us until he was convinced that humans were more than just barbarians. Fortunately, I had collected a variety of artistic items--a painting, a sculpture, a book of philosophy, a musical instrument--and together these convinced Vonarello to help us.

We had to solve his problems first, of course. The assassin turned out to be a Senator Tonneridge, unmasked with a "Truth" spell. The same spell uncovered the leader of the Burano rebellion, a man named Renjec Taskmaster, who had recently been expelled from Stratavon for repairing his own roof. I worked with a senator named Glorenzia to broker an agreement between the two sides.
Vonarello shows himself to be a reformer.
Finally, I worked with a Senator McKlennia to bring a peace agreement to the leader of the Peregrines, Quetzl Too. They agreed to go back to work, and return the Book of Wisdom, if the Aerians agreed to see them as more than just manual laborers. 
I got the impression that it had been a recent revolution, but whatever.
In the end, Vonarello joined the party. (I kicked out the archers, who by now had been reduced to two.) At last, I had all five crowns. Vonarello himself was utterly useless. He had no martial skills, and his high "mental" abilities did not translate into any spellcasting skills. 
He could have at least learned to cast something.
The last thing we did in Aerieus is to storm the den of a group of Peregrines who refused to follow Quetzl Too's peace declaration. They had kidnapped an Aerian named Chauncey Gardener. (The name is taken from the hero of Being There, a 1979 Peter Sellers film that I highly recommend.) Vonarello declined to even participate in the battle, and I needed to take Gardener back with me to get a final component for the "Slay Evil" spell. Thus, I kicked Vonarello out of the party, taking a chance that I did not, in fact, need all of the kings with me at the final battle.
Then you will not participate in this party.
Having solved all of the problems in Aerieus, we returned to Alonia. Our last trip was a short jaunt to the village of Arinor, where a descendant of someone who had worked on Castle Thiris had a map leading to the Scrolls of Shamar. There were some Eskimos in Arinor, too, and they might have had some problems to solve, but I left as soon as I got the clue.

We returned to Thiris. We dug in the place indicated on the map--six paces north of the statue in the great hall--and found the Scrolls. These were the final components necessary for the "Restoration" spell. With all the crowns and spells in hand, the portal opened for us and took us to Ruddiquid, Grimnoth's realm.
Sorry about the floorboards.
As we arrived, Cagliostra spoke from her mirror, suggesting that we use the "Restoration" spell to bring life back to the dead realm. I had Stellerex cast the spell, and a cut scene indicated that life had started to grow again and Grimnoth was thus weakened.
Maybe Grimnoth has allergies.
The "realm" consisted of a large maze with corridors patrolled by gargoyles, skeleton warriors, demons, fiends, and "Beezlroths."
The final area had a long, annoying maze.
The enemies attacked individually, but some of them were immune to normal weapons (and I only had two magical ones), others were immune to spells, and some could cast spells themselves. Nothing in the game so far had prepared me for their difficulty. I had to save and rest after almost every battle.
Their immunity to regular weapons made battles against single skeleton warriors long and difficult.
Eventually, I made it to the center of the maze, where Grimnoth lingered near his throne. He attacked immediately. I had all three of my spellcasters target Grimnoth with "Slay Evil." He launched fireballs before any of them could act, killing King Armacan (the gnome) and Emperor Claret III (the fish). But in the second round, one of my spells got through and Grimnoth died.
The aftermath of the short battle.
In a series of screens, Grimnoth's countenance changed to that of a wise old man. He related that he was, in fact, the ancient Emperor Shamar.
I'm not sure you get to keep the title indefinitely.
The prince disbelieved him at first, but he explained that a thousand years ago, he had left his kingdoms to search for eternal life in Ruddiquid. He found it, but he was forced to remain in Ruddiquid, to which a portal opens only once every thousand years. Eventually, he got bored and decided to return to mortal life. But when he entered the dreams of the five kings to tell them of his plan, they ignored and rejected him.
Grimnoth offers a bunch of excuses.
Clesodor went so far as to hire a sorcerer to prevent the emperor's return. But since he'd outlawed mages, the only wizard he could find was a "neophyte" named Shiliko--the one who killed himself in the game's opening hour. The "drunken fool" cast a spell that caused Shamar's physical body to live but his virtue to die, and he became Grimnoth. No word on where he got the name.

Shamar then related that he hadn't killed the kings--he'd only imprisoned them in the jewels of their crowns, trusting that their "young, frightened, weak sons" would be no match for him. As we watched, he undid the spell and the five kings reappeared. 
They all look guilty of something.
There was a heated exchange between the Prince and his father:
It ended with the Prince vowing to imprison Clesodor in Monteplai for the rest of his life. "May you be haunted by nightmares of the terror you've inflicted."
Finally, Shamar expressed admiration for the Prince and named him the next Emperor of Nhagardia, offering to stay and serve as an advisor. We returned home and the Prince was crowned.
The Prince and Grimnoth shake hands. Who would have thought?
A final text scroll set up a potential sequel:
And so, a new emperor's time begins, and peace reigns over the land. But peace and conflict are eternally bound together. There cannot be one without the other. New threats loom in the world of Nhagardia. This was only the first of many challenges for the young Emperor. Can he maintain what so much blood and pain have won? Perhaps . . . only time will tell. For now, applause and excitement rule the day. But if you listen closely, you can hear the whispers of conspirators who plot with careful precision. And you can hear strange grumblings that shake the foundation of peace.
There was a final screen--which I failed to capture--showing Clesodor in prison shouting, "No, no! How dare you!" before the DOS prompt.
I don't remember this promise, but I'm glad the unicorn got to come back to life.
It wasn't a bad ending, but I'd like to make several points:
  • What happened to the cities that had already been swallowed by darkness? There was no mention of them.
  • Despite the early warning from Cagliostra that I needed to keep Felrid alive, as far as I can tell, he contributed nothing to the endgame.
  • I guess my assumption that all five kings needed to be with me was false. In that case, I should have gotten rid of most of them and favored more spellcasters in the party to help with the final battle.
  • I'm not entirely sure what "Restoration" actually did. I wonder if it's possible to win without casting it.
  • I've never been a big fan of the "you can't have good without evil" sentiment prevalent in so much pop culture. But even if you buy that, I hope we can all agree that the idea that "there cannot be [peace] without [conflict]" is senseless. The literal definition of peace is an absence of conflict, and vice versa. Sure, nothing lasts forever, and conflict and peace both occur in cycles, but that's a different statement than "they are eternally bound together."
Finally, I'm not a huge fan of the political implications of the ending, by which an emperor who has been gone for a thousand years suddenly decides to revive the empire and appoint an heir. Don't the individual kingdoms have a say in anything? Does it even make sense for the five kingdoms to be unified into an empire? They're in different dimensions and have wildly different cultures and values. 
Nice use of the passive voice. Crowned by who?
I'll have more thoughts in the final wrap-up, of course. It's nice to start 2020 with a victory.

Final time: 35 hours


  1. "The Peregrines are forced to live in a lower city called Nyxx."
    Wow, that's just the laziest name I've ever seen. Did they think just a straight reference to Greek mythology would be lame, so they added the second X?

    1. Most of this game's names seem to be taken from somewhere.

    2. Flagrantly ripping off Greek mythology makes a nice change of pace from flagrantly ripping off Tolkien, at least.

  2. I want more motelsoft

  3. just to be that person, the book, Being There, is even better than the filmadaption-

  4. I would totally play a game called Challenge Of The Five Kingdoms Drafting a Federalist Constitution They Can All Agree On.

    Like, I joke, but also I'm serious. I have money down on the table for a good game about constitutional drafting. People should step up and sell me one.

    1. Also typically Emperors are crowned by whatever nearby religious authority they have instructed is going to crown them, with a not-very-subtly-implied "or else", so the question is really less who crowned you and more exactly where the power base that allowed you to make it happen was coming from.

      Presumably the various kings you recruited along the way, except their support didn't exactly appear to be unconditional, and nor did any of them seem to become your best friend or anything, or need anything particularly from you past your resolving of their quest.

    2. That would be a boardgame, not a video game. And it would be a negotiation game about playing the other players. You could play Diplomacy instead and get the same experience. It pretty much nailed the negotiation game.

    3. Harland - constitutional drafting isn't military diplomacy. You could do it as a boardgame if you severely narrowed the scope of what was being negotiated to just stuff like separation of powers and the location of the capital.

      But I want a game that goes into, like, how is power divided between the branches of government, how strong is the executive, how many houses of parliament do we get and who's eligible to serve, who votes and how often, are there term limits, can the constitution be amended and how, do prerogative powers remain, are the mediatory roles drawn from elected representatives or from the civil service, etc etc.

      And then when you get your final result the game runs a simulation on it, based on your demographics and cultural history of government, and generates results about how long it lasts for, how stable it is, etc.

    4. Well GregT, the closest I can find are the Crisis in the Kremlin // Ostalgie games, where you try to transition your country (USSR in the former, Eastern Bloc or Cuba/Lybia/NorKor in the former) from Communist Countries to Democracies... or maybe try to maintain communism, or maybe try to transform them into flawed democracies that carry "electing" your clique into power.

      There was also a game about simulating the 1945 peace negotiation as UK/US/USSR (ie WW2 that was not covering the military operations at all except as "events" you had little influence on, but the various conferences) but I can't remember its name.

    5. There's the 1988 game Hidden Agenda, which simulates running a fictional Central American country post-revolution. I think Crisis in the Kremlin is a sequel of that game.

    6. Though the most realistic political simulation is probably the board game Junta, where to try to get as much money as possible from the „Republica de las Bananas" into your swiss bank account.

    7. I always thought 52-pickup was a good example of a political game

    8. I remember playing "hidden agenda" on a black and white mac as a kid. I enjoyed it a lot while understanding little.

    9. There is a boardgame about drafting the Constitution called "Founding Fathers" by Jolly Roger Games

    10. Ah, Junta. Such a delightfully evil game. Guile and skullduggery. They don't make them like that any more. Getting voting support from a player to become El Presidente, sending the lion's share of the budget to him as promised, and then assassinating him on his way to the bank? Delicious.

    11. I'm a mega fan of Hidden Agenda, despite finding its gormless message of centrism somewhat pukeworthy, but sadly its only follow-up at Trans Fiction Systems was STTNG: The Transinium Challenge, a technological successor with a license bolted on in place of a carefully balanced fictitious world.

  5. Glad you called out the "peace needs war" confusing nonsense. I was all ready to say something until you did.

    The allergies joke in the caption cracked me up, too.

    Congrats on another win.

    1. Well, the original saying is based on a Chinese proverb that goes something like "you cannot know peace without knowing war", so it is not about the objective realities of war and peace but about the subjective experience of peace. Understanding it non literally like this, ie "you cannot appreciate peace without experiencing strife", is far from nonsense.

  6. From the impression we get of the prince in the intro, I wouldn't hold it against his father if he didn't want to pass the crown on to him.

  7. I"m not sure about the "no good without evil" thing, but I am a proponent of "no light without darkness". Further, I fully disagree with the idea that dark = evil. There are many instances in role playing over the decades that you can't fight evil with darkness, which seems really stupid to me.

    But that's just me.

    1. No, I agree. White and light and day equaling "good" and black and dark and night equaling "bad" are relatively tired tropes.

    2. Along with East and North being 'bad' while West and South are 'good'.

    3. Is that really a thing? I can't think of a single example.

    4. Mordor was far in the East of Middle-Earth. Besides that I can't think of many examples; Song of Ice and Fire is the only one I can think of where things like "north" and "south" are meaningful, but that world is so shades-of-grey that it still isn't very useful for arguing that a given area is "good" or "bad."

  8. I really enjoyed learning about this game. Very cool stuff in this one!

    Given the creative decisions they made with so many of the player characters, I find myself really curious about what the giant would have been like as a party member.

    1. One thing I remember about the giant was that during battles, his larger character icon took up so much space when placing your party members on the map that I often had to leave him out so I had enough room for the rest of my party.

  9. The peace/conflict cycle works like this, more or less:
    * People who are sick of fighting negotiate a peace.
    * The negotiations for peace require that each side accepts and tolerates conditions that they don't really want, because they're so tired of fighting that they prefer a peace where they're not perfectly satisfied.
    * A couple generations pass. New people who weren't there for the original peace negotiations start to resent the limitations they live under in the name of peace.
    * They decide they prefer to live in a world where they actually get everything they want and start fighting again.
    * Eventually, they get sick of fighting and negotiate a peace.

    1. Majority of wars don't end on compromise, but with one side subduing the other.

    2. I´m not sure that´s totally right. I studied history at school and plenty of wars ended with treaty where yes there was a victor, but the losing side doesn´t completely lose--the peace treaties grant some dignity and privilege to the vanquished. So there is compromise. At the end of WW2 America left Japan with some dignity, monarchy intact and even helped rebuild the economy. So to say Japan was subdued is not completely fair or accurate. America could have enslaved all Japanese, or worse, but they didn´t. Peace treaties actually state that both parties agree to cease all military offensive action and agree on where border lines will be set. It has often been quite gentlemanly. Same with many prior European wars.

    3. Regardless of how wars typically end, I agree that this cycle OFTEN happens but disagree that it's so inevitable that it's axiomatic. Dinner usually follows breakfast, too, but it would be absurd if I put on my Yoda voice and said, "Dinner and lunch . . . never is there one without the other." Neither depends on the other to exist, and there are lots of examples of people having just one or neither.

  10. We can sort out if something is an RPG in a linguistic fashion, just for fun. By dictionary, "role" can mean "the function assumed by a person in a particular situation." So in lay terms, RPG´s let you play at performing a function. This leaves very open the idea of exactly how and with what parameters the function will be done, and that friends, gives rise to the possible optional additions like character development, inventory, plot explanation, party members etc. We might say the more in, the more out. Is it possible to argue that the best rpgs simply let us perform our function, get the mission done and include as many elements as possible in graphics, development, story, inventory, magic, money and more?

    1. The problem is that CRPGs became divorced from any literal meaning of "role-playing" in their earliest incarnations. Thus, a linguistic analysis of the literal term doesn't really get us anywhere. As I wrote in the CRPG Glossary, a CRPG is:

      "A computer game that adopts the mechanical conventions of tabletop role-playing games (RPGs), including attributes, inventories, experience and leveling, and probability-based combat. Please note that 'playing a role' is not a distinguishing characteristic of a CRPG. You play a role in almost every computer game."

    2. I think the kind of role you play is somewhat relevant, though. In an RPG you assume the role of a local agent (the charater or the party), while in a strategy game you act in a role that acts on a more global level, e.g. commanding units all over the map or jumping between regions with a few clicks. Party splitting dillutes this difference a bit.

      Additionally, the role you play has a presence of some kind inside the game, unlike e.g. a flight simulation where you are the pilot. You pretty much described this in your recent blog post.

      But it doesn't help for the distinction between RPGs and adventures.

  11. "Stratavon" = Stratford-upon-Avon? Any other Shakespeare-related names in this game?

    1. I figured "Stratavon" had to do with "stratosphere," but your etymology makes more sense.

  12. So, what happened to the two princes killed in the final battle? Did Shamar just turn to their fathers and was like "Sucks to be you, I guess" or did they come back to life, too?


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