Thursday, January 9, 2020

Realms of Arkania: Basic Training

The party death screen. I got this a lot this session.
             
One thing I like about modern games is that they seem to share a philosophy about their initial stages. For the first roughly 4 hours, you don't expect any particularly difficult combats in a modern RPG. You expect rather that the game is going to ease you into its mechanics and conventions--sometimes with an explicit tutorial covering the first few battles--before throwing you to the wolves. You expect that you'll gain one level without any fuss before you really have to work for it.

Realms of Arkania is a game clearly developed before this kinder era. I have virtually nothing of substance to cover in this entry because I spent most of the five hours since the first entry trying to win a single battle against some bandits in the starting dungeon. This battle alone took me almost three hours, partly because of its difficulty and partly because combat in this game just takes an insanely long time.

When I closed my first entry, I had explored the town of Thorwal, had received the main quest (to stop an uprising of orcs by finding the subtitular Blade of Destiny), and had received a side quest to explore the "old fortress" and find out who was stealing all the supplies. I explored one level, killed a few bandits, and thought I was done, but I hadn't taken secret doors into consideration. There are two types of secret doors in the game: illusory ones that you can just walk through, and hidden ones that some character has to "perceive" before you can open them.
           
If you suspect this type of door is there, you have to wander back and forth until "Perception" kicks in.
        
In the case of the old fortress, my first secret door led me to a small room stocked with wine, brandy, and rations. I took them all and sold them to the shop on the surface. I spent a lot of this session porting items out of the dungeon and selling them on the surface. The game is so relentless with its encumbrance system--combat movement is restricted if you're overweight--that you don't want to carry any extra items for long.
          
When this happens on Bourbon Street, trust me--keep walking.
          
The second secret door was the illusory type, and it led to the battle with half a dozen bandits. As I covered in the first entry, Arkania blends the combat mechanics of the SSI games (Wizard's Crown, Gold Box) with the rotated axonometric perspective of British RPGs of the era. The SSI mechanics are fantastic--I've repeatedly heaped praise on their Gold Box iteration--but here they're coupled with a horrid interface that depends far too much on the mouse and refuses to let you attack, shoot, or cast on anything but straight lines (no diagonals). 

One huge annoyance is that when targeting an enemy, you not only have to click on his square but first hover your cursor over it and wait for the game to acknowledge (by highlighting the square in blue) the targeting. It's annoying enough when targeting squares to the west and south of the character. To the north and east, where the squares are partly hidden by the perspective, it's a nightmare. Adding to it is the need to specify a normal, aggressive, or careful attack every time you attack. A good game would accomplish this entire thing by having the player strike "A," "N," or "C" on the keyboard and then an arrow direction, not fiddle around with all this clicking.
          
A very difficult battle with brigands. I had to fight it multiple times.
         
Aside from the interface, the combat options are solid. There's even one that mitigates the interface by having the character simply repeat what he did last round. (Although I'm not sure I trust it--it feels like it fails more often than entering the same actions "from scratch.") I just didn't expect to have to explore all of them to survive the third battle. Each round, each character has a number of movement points that he can expend on an attack, guarding (a free attack when the enemy walks into an adjacent square), casting, using an item, changing a weapon, or delaying until later in the round. These are the lessons I learned while trying to win the bandit battle:
              
  • Never walk up to an enemy when you can "guard" and wait for him to come to you.
  • At least with my Level 1 characters, "aggressive" attacks don't seem to succeed more, or do more damage, than "normal" ones--and they leave characters open for retaliatory strikes.
  • You want to have a backup weapon to a bow and arrows because enemies will rush into melee range.
  • At Level 1, your physical attacks fail about 95% of the time.
  • Missiles are kind of useless anyway because they can only be fired in direct lines with no obstacles (including characters). Maneuvering archers into place is more trouble than it's worth.
  • Spells almost never work either--at least, not the ones I invested points in.
  • The only spell that works reliably is "Lightning Find Thee," which doesn't do any damage but rather blinds the target. Four of my characters can cast this spell, so in my one successful game I had them blind each target before moving on to melee.
           
The only spell that never lets me down.
          
  • Enemies (and characters) can only parry once per round, so it's best to gang up on individual enemies and take them down while still trying to avoid having more than one enemy target a single character.
           
The game has a "quick combat" option--which would normally be a godsend given the interface--but it's one of the worst that I've ever experienced. In combat with the brigands, it made my spellcasters waste all their points on ineffective spells before rushing the closest enemies in melee combat. Even against single enemies, it tends to put the worst fighters adjacent to them while leaving the best ones in back with nothing to do. I occasionally activate it towards the end of combat, when everyone is in place and there's nothing left to do but attack round after round, but otherwise I haven't been able to make much use of it.

Given its difficulty, I rather hoped that the brigand battle would elevate us with enough experience points for Level 2, but it wasn't even close. Instead, it gave us access to some decent loot (potions), a lot of money from the bandits' sold weapons, and to the stairway to the next level.
            
Selling excess stuff after the bandit battles.
          
Level 2 of the tower had a few treasure chests, locked doors, and yet another brigand battle nearly as difficult as the first one. I suppose it was as difficult, although I'd learned quite a bit more about combat tactics. This one only took me about an hour to win and left me in the same position as the first one. There was one door that I couldn't open--not with picks, not with bashing, and not with the one key that I found. Nonetheless, the nature of the encounters made it clear that the brigands had been stealing the supplies. There was a ladder down to a shore cave, which answered the question of how the brigands were getting in without Master Dramosch seeing them.

When I returned to the surface, Dramosch awarded me for solving his quest. His congratulations came with some experience points, and I thought surely this would bring me to Level 2 . . . but no, I was only about 2/3 of the way there. I have definitely stopped saving outside of temples, which costs everyone 50 experience points per save.

Solving the first side quest.
             
Meanwhile, Bart got tetanus. I'm not sure how it happened--I guess maybe brigands don't regularly scrub their weapons. Nothing I tried allowed me to cure it. Trying my characters' own "Cure Disease" abilities not only failed to help--it made it worse. So did visiting the healers in town. No amount of rest seemed to work, and praying at temples got me nothing. I don't know what I'm missing. Normally, I'd like to roll with the punches on something like this, but the game had already been needling me so much with combat and encumbrance issues that I just reloaded before the combat where he presumably got it and ran through the final stages of the dungeon again.

Back on the surface, I sold my loot. The good news is that I have a lot--or what seems like a lot--of money. The bad news is that there's no Sword +2 waiting at the shop for me. I could buy some improved armor, but that would just exacerbate my encumbrance issues.
                 
How, pray tell, does the two-handed "war axe" belong to the "Swords" category?!
               
With nothing else to do (barring finding a way through that locked door in the fortress), I decided to hit the road. I could travel to a number of destinations from Thorwal depending on the exit. The Hetman had suggested that I go to Felsteyn to find the last surviving descendant of Hygellik, whose name is Isleif Olgardsson. The game map showed Felsteyn directly north, along a branch of the river that runs through Thorwal.
         
You can click anywhere on the map to get a description of places, but you can only travel along fixed routes.
          
You can't just walk around on the overland map. You have to right-click on it and choose from pre-set destinations depending on where you are. I could travel to several places from Thorwal depending on the exit that I took. A northern exit led by foot to the city of Vaermhag, north along the coast, and a southern one led to the coastal city of Serske. By ship, I could travel to the next two cities north on the coast (Vaermhag and Varnhome) or the next two to the south (Merske and Etherdun). I decided to go east to Tjoila Ferry Station along the river, trusting that I could keep hopping river ports all the way up to Felsteyn.

We spent one night on the road but otherwise made it to Tjoila without incident. The ferry station was tiny and had only a few houses and an inn, so I didn't bother to map it. Sure enough, one of its exits led me to the next port, Rukian. It wasn't any more exciting.
          
The dusty streets of a small river town.
          
On the second night to the next port, Angbodirtal, the game gave me the option to track a group of wild pigs that had wandered by the camp. We lost them, but the experience reminded me that I probably wanted to shift my druid, Bart der Wald, to the front of the party while we were on the road. Almost all the game's skill checks are made against the party leader, so it's useful to have someone who specializes in wilderness navigation ("Track," "Animal Lore," "Survival") for the road, someone who specializes in towns ("Streetwise," "Lie," "Human Nature") for towns, and someone who specializes in dungeons ("Danger Sense," "Perception," "Locks") for the underground. I had arranged for my dwarf to be my dungeoneer, my magician to be my townswoman, and my druid to be my forester, but I haven't been good about moving them around.
          
What were we even chasing them for? Food?
         
There wasn't much to do at the Angbodirtal Ferry Station, but when I explored the nearby town of Angbodirtal, I randomly stumbled upon the house of an NPC named Beorn Hjallasson. The game gave me the option to tell him about our quest for Hyggelik's Sword, and it turned out that he is also somehow a descendant of Hyggelik. He told us we might find luck asking Hjore Ahrensson in Ottarje or Ragna Firunjasdotter in Vidsand. Both were a bit west of my current location, so I decided to continue on to Felsteyn. 
          
You're making those names up, right?
          
And thus through Auplog, Vilnhome, and Upper Orcam I traveled, staying in the inn at each town and paying for a square meal, but otherwise finding nothing interesting except the occasional smith, temple, or tavern. These towns could have perhaps been better handled as menu towns if travel was going to be menu-based anyway. It would be nice at least if the different types of shops were discernible from the outside, so you don't have to bash into every one of them. As it is, you can only tell temples from the facade. 

We finally made to Felsteyn, a moderate-sized town, and found Isleif Olgardsson living on its outskirts. When we told him our quest for Hyggelik's blade, he suggested that we consult . . . Beorn Hjallasson in Angbodirtal. But he also gave us the name of Umbrik Sevenstones in Orvil and he gave us a piece of a map that looks like it might ultimately have 9 pieces.
         
The first of probably 9 map pieces.
        
I hope that the bulk of the game isn't going to involve the party going from one nondescript town to another so that we can talk to interchangeable NPCs hoping to find map pieces. If this game does it right, it will be like Ultima VI, where there's a lot of variance in the length and type of quest needed for each piece. Perhaps by next entry, we'll know.

Time so far: 10 hours

109 comments:

  1. That is one metal game over screen. I love it. Is it animated at all?

    I feel it's a shame that games really don't put much effort into character death. The music cuts, "YOU ARE DEAD" pops up, restore/restart/quit, it's very boring. Fallout's narrated death screens, the short cutscene in Daggerfall after you die, being resurrected by Lord British in Ultima IV; all of these give a lot of extra weight to their respective game worlds. It feels like you losing is an event in the story, not just an accident that you'll reload and try to avoid. While NetHack's death screen with its little ASCII gravestone isn't as poetic or pretty, it serves much the same purpose in a far more mechanics-oriented game.

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    1. Remember Too Human's death animation?

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    2. Personally I'm not usually looking to be entertained by being dead, I'm mashing the reload key to try again. Unskippable death animations or cutscenes feel like the game getting in an extra dig at me after I've already failed.

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    3. I'll just drop this here: https://youtu.be/gw98ARXfcqk

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    4. I remember a couple of games back in the day had some pretty game over sequences:

      Elf - a fantasy game about being an Elf and collecting items... and then when you die it shows you getting guillotined: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0yoM44z3xD0

      Shadow Warriors arcade game, the game over countdown was particularly disturbing for me as a kid - it had a buzzsaw slowly descending toward your chest. (apparently called Ninja Gaiden in some regions):
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LVz9__a8x-I

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    5. some pretty disturbing* game over scenes

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    6. I loved the funny deaths in Sierra, Legend and Access games. They are half the fun and add some some tension to the games.

      Some recent games have had interesting deaths: Super Meat Boy with its showers of blood, The Binding of Isaac with the grim messages, Little King's Story with the dismal shot of the King's coffin, Mario games with amusing animation and off key game over music, Splatoon with showers of ink and psychedelic loading screens, Mega Man 9 through 11 with the classic explosions an game over screens, Out of the Box with its merciless Sierra-style deaths and dead ends and the Resident Evil games with their bloodbaths. These are great games.

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    7. Space Quest had some great sarcastic death notices, such as when stepping on the roots of a giant plant monster:

      "Good. You've succeeded in establishing contact with one of this planet's life forms, and it looks like you'll get to examine it up close and personal. The giant root-looking thing is giving you a guided tour of its digestive system.

      What you experience next is too horrible to describe. Let's just say that you die as a result. You are dead. Trust me.

      It may please you to know that, during the night, you didn't digest well. For a while, gastric distress made it extremely unpopular with the other root monsters."


      The cartoony deaths of the old Crash Bandicoot games also gave a fun Wile E. Coyote vibe.

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    8. Jet Set Willy on the Spectrum squashed you with a Monty Python style foot.

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    9. To answer Alex's original question, no, no animation on that screen. I agree it's pretty cool, though.

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  2. Trillions of years ago one neighbour told me "you have to play the Das Schwarze Auge games, they are like Eye of the Beholder but more complex and with more depth! And they translated it into English!" and I got scared just looking at the screenshots. Seems I was right on that one.

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    1. I read your comment and went looking for more images of Das Schwarze Auge and I came across a boardgame of the same name on boardgamegeek.com .
      THAT is an impressive upgrade of Heroquest!

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    2. Thank you for reminding me of that gem. Many fond memories there...

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  3. I always treasure the combats at level 1. It just seems the high level combats lack that same feeling of terror and genuine struggle. If you lose you just reload and try again. But with the low-level combats, you're not even sure if you can win.

    By level 3 or 4, things have gotten easier and of course it's nice to gain levels. Lots of players like higher levels because they feel more in control, and having a sense of control is primarily why they play games. But you just can't recapture that early game magic, when a half dozen goblins are a deadly peril.

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    1. No, Jesus, I don't. I remember the first hours in Baldur's Gate with absolute fear.

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    2. "But you just can't recapture that early game magic, when a half dozen goblins are a deadly peril."

      Sure you can. It's not even particulary hard.

      You just have to remove reloading :P

      In a good roguelike, endgame combats are rather tension filled even if your character is a godlike murdermarchine - because a few mistakes and you end up dead anyway. a 15 rune game of DCSS really makes you sweat.

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    3. I don't like most early games in RPGs because of how limited your tactics are and how luck based your survival is. Enemy rolls one critical? You're dead. In D&D your level 1 wizard has 2 or 3 spells and after that he'll just have to pray that his attacks hit and the enemy's don't. Fighters at low levels are boring. 3rd edition D&D made mid to high level fighters fun and flexible due to feats, but at level 1 all you can do is attack and hope you roll high on your d20.

      Especially CRPGs based on d20 pen and paper systems are heavily luck based at low levels due to the huge variance of numbers you get by rolling a d20. Low levels have low BAB/THAC0, so you usually have to roll above 10 to hit most enemies, which means statistically over 50% of attacks miss. But you don't yet have the tools to try any other approaches than attacking and hoping your die roll is good.

      I like combat being deadly at low levels. I don't like it when it's based more on luck than on tactics, though.

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    4. I'm in the early combat camp too. I'm playing Pillars of Eternity right now (1st time), and combat was AMAZING in the 1st part, tactical, interesting, with meaningful equipment choices. Now I'm near the end, and I've totally lost interest, my chars are lvl 16, I have 300K$ gold, 20 different enchanted mythic swords of awesomness with 15 different stats and modifiers each, same with a billion spells, and I just pick one at random because anyway enemies have thousands of hp so it doesn't matter much anyway. I remember the same thing near the end of Baldur's Gate ToB when I was level 20+ and it got so boring, despite fights being supposed to be more epic than epic. At some point the game just loses control usually, it's something that is really really hard to balance.

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    5. Yah, it gets dull at the end when you can destroy everything effortlessly. But a lot of people absolutely love that. They have endless obligations and their lives are one long session of fulfilling other people's needs. When they get some precious free time and load up a computer game, they want to feel in control. Destroy enemy after enemy effortlessly until it's time for little Jimmy's bath. Then it's back to the dull world with a sigh.

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    6. The game balance of DCSS is impossible to recreate for any commercial CRPG, because it's been beta-tested for like 25 years! That said, it is really beautifully balanced; I think there's a lot that other developers could learn from it.

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    7. I imagine devs have to balance between players that explore every nook and cranny of the world and fight every single battle they come across, and those that mostly follow the main quest and do a few side quests at most, so that the game is still beatable by not OP characters.

      Difficulty in an RPG is not a trivial issue, I remember by midgame I was cruising at the highest difficulty in both Skyrim and Witcher 3.

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    8. @Georges - Pillars of Eternity lets you turn up the difficulty mid-game, right? And from memory the highest setting is pretty punishing.

      If you're breezing by on the highest difficulty, I don't know what to tell you.

      Personally I didn't find the combat good enough to make me want to make it any harder. There's clearly a lot of tactical depth there, but Obsidian's user interfaces do a terrible job of giving you the information you need to understand it. Yes, my fireball will do damage at range, but how much damage? Yes, this spell has a chance to dominate the enemy, but how much of a chance? I ended up forsaking almost all of the tactical depth in favour of the few skills that I thoroughly understood how they worked.

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    9. I played through Pillars on hard and mostly enjoyed, and never felt that it was easy. My problem with the combat was that they provide you with a wide variety of protective spells, but you can only cast them once combat starts. And enemies rush at you so fast you can only really cast one, and there isn't much time to cast any AoE or status effects, it always ends up being about straight damage and healing. Maybe I just wasn't good at it. Time for little Jimmy's bath.

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    10. I played through both Icewind Dale's so I understand that kind of combat- but with ID I felt like I could use interesting strategies, like setting up choke points and casting grease so I can whittle down enemies before the melee. In Pillars it always just felt like two groups rushing at each other. That would happen in ID as well but it was often a boss or some big moment, so the desperation felt dramatic and planned, not forced upon me by mechanics.

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  4. You should be able to select your target by using the cursor keys. The menus should work with keys, too. It's been a while but I don't think I used the mouse much during combats. Maybe there's a setting somewhere?

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    1. I also wondered about that. No need for the mouse in combat at all!!!

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    2. You guys (and a few others in this thread) are suggesting an ease to the keyboard that doesn't exist. Yes, you can arrow through commands and hit ENTER to select them, but that's not the same as mapping them to an easy shortcut. As for targeting, the cursor only works when it starts on the character's position. So yes, if you're on the character and hit right, it moves "east" (although with the rotated projection and the obcured partial views, it's not all that intuitive where the enemy is in relation to the character), but if you then want to move it "north," you have to arrow BACK to the character before pressing "up."

      This is completely different than how it works for moving where you can arrow flexibly around the screen. But I shouldn't have to move around the screen to target and hit ENTER; the character should MOVE when I press the damned arrow.

      I'm sure I'll get used to it eventually, but 3 minutes with the keyboard inputs of this game vs. the Gold Box would show anyone that there's no comparison.

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    4. I'm suggesting an ease to using the keyboard compared to using the mouse, which from your entry you seemed to do. I also got the (probably false) impression that you thought the keyboard could not be used for targeting at all. I didn't say it couldn't be made better.

      (Although I've heard enough vi vs. emacs discussions to not really care about people's opinions on control schemes anymore :) )

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    5. Yes, my argument is that the keyboard interface that this game uses, however possible, is still too cumbersome--perhaps even moreso than using the mouse, although I may not feel so after I've used it for hours.

      Oh, god, and that da-da-da noise every damned time the options box comes up. That's going to make me play with the sound off, I think. I can't take it much more.

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  5. Didn't play that a long time AFAIK but some maps are tide to a quest and some not, I guess saying more is to spoilerish

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  6. "How, pray tell, does the two-handed "war axe" belong to the "Swords" category?!"

    This may be a translation error. If I remember correctly in the early DSA editions battleaxes and twohanded swords all fall into the twohanded weapons category.

    In later editions there are more categories.

    Here are for example the categories of the newest (5th) edition:
    daggers, fencing weapons, slashing weapons (one-handed), chain weapons, lances, brawl weapons, shields, swords (one-handed), polearmes, swords (two-handed), slashing weapons (two-handed)

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    1. Yes, it's a translation error. The German version of RoA has it as "two-hander".

      "Firunjasdotter" is a perfectly normal Thorwallian name. -dotter stands for "daughter", Firun is the god of winter and hunting, and "ja" is a diminutive. One of the many examples of the detailed worldbuilding in the PNP game.

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    2. According to the stores in this game, a knife is a "pointed" weapon, cudgels and flails and maces are "cutting" weapons, a short sword and long sword are "swords" but cutlasses and sabres are "cutting" weapons and foils and epees are "pointed" weapons, one-handed axes are "axes" but two-handed axes are "swords" but not "two-handed swords," which are a separate category.

      I suppose I'm going to have to study the "attack/parry" values individually with everything I equip just to be sure.

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    3. Yes, that's probably one of the most reality-defying aspects of this version of The Dark Eye. The PnP original had even more combat skills: there, "Knives and Daggers" was separate from "Pointed Weapons", "Polearms" was separate from "Spears and Staves" and "Crushing Weapons" (cudgel, mace, hammer etc.) was separate from "Cutting Weapons" (sabre etc.). There also were multiple categories for two-handed weapons, of which only the one for swords made it into BoD, which I guess is why the 2h battle axe counts as a "two-handed sword" (not a regular sword).

      Personally, I choose one or two weapon categories for each character to level, generally the ones the class is best at but also making sure I have all (or at least most) weapon types covered in case I find a particularly good specimen. So my warrior would level swords and two-handers, my dwarf, axes and cutting weapons, and so on.

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    4. The translation is wonky too, in German the game separates betweens "Hiebwaffen", so weapons you strike with, and "Stichwaffen", weapons for stapping. Swords could do both so they are a own category, why axes are Idk

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    5. So "cutting weapons" do more damage to monsters who are not prone to stabbing but more to bludgeon damage, like skeletons

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  7. Combat tactics are hugely important as you noticed. The fact that there's only one parry per round may be the most impactful find: ganging up on one guy at a time yields very strong results. As you also noticed, it is extremely important to take individual enemies out of the fight for even a round or two with spells (although I can't figure out why you have so little success with any but Lightning Find Thee) - so you can gang up, and don't get ganged up upon.

    Missile weapons will be very useful in the successor game Star Trail. Against missiles, there's no parry roll, so chances to hit are often much better. The Ultima IV-style "attack in straight lines along cardinal axes only" thing seems really bad for a 1992 game, and makes missiles more or less useless here.

    About encumbrance: this is the reason why you give everybody as high strength as possible at character creation. Levelups will mitigate this problem (melee types increasing Str is useful anyway), and there's some higher-end equipment that will help later on.

    Good armor is very useful, despite the encumbrance penalties. If you rely on the guard option a lot, your melee guys may not even need that many action points (5 should suffice most of the time, iirc). Getting even worse at hitting stuff is bad, though. You'll find a good balance eventually.

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    1. "(although I can't figure out why you have so little success with any but Lightning Find Thee) - so you can gang up, and don't get ganged up upon."

      I suspect is because his mages are, well Lv1.

      I replayed both Blade of Destiny and Shadows over riva recently, and the difference is stark. Because in Shadows your mages start at Lv 6 and can actually do stuff. (And the enemies are barely, if at all, thougher than in BoD)

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    2. It depends hard on the skills of the spells. The manual even says if you have a skill below -5 don't bother, and in my experience -5 almost never works.

      I found I had to have a spell skill of 4 before it was even halfway reliable myself. If lower than that I'd save it for when you are desperate.

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    3. Spell skill is only one determinant if they accurately modeled the pen&paper system. Every spell and skill requires three attribute tests (d20, must be lower or equal to attribute). The spell or skill value can be used as a pool of bonus points to mitigate slight failures.

      Example: a spell requires rolls on Intelligence, Charisma, and Courage, you have a 12 in all of these, and you have spell skill 6. This means you roll 3 separate d20s. Each roll must be 12 or lower for the spell to succeed, after mitigation with spell skill points. Say you roll 7, 14, and 13. The spell still succeeds, as you can take 2 points out of your spell skill pool (6) to mitigate the 14, and another point for the 13. Rolls of 7, 1, and 19 would be a failure here, since the 19 would require 7 points to mitigate.

      What this means is that high attributes are very important to succeed at basically anything.

      Most spells require a combination of mental attributes, with many wizard spells skewed slightly towards intelligence and charisma, witch and druid spells towards courage and intuition. Elf spells are a mix.

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    4. Paul explained the skill/spell system nicely for positive skill levels. For negative levels that level is applied as penalty to all three attribute rolls! So don't even try.

      And skill/spell levels can be modified positively or negatively by the difficulty of the task. Typical example is the magic resistance of enemies when casting mind-control spells which can be a major problem on low levels

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  8. I don't remember using the mouse in combat much, and I found it quite manageable with just the keyboard. Sure, using arrow keys and Enter to select an option doesn't seem as convenient as having dedicated shortcuts, but the most frequently used options aside from the default "Move" are just one button press away from it. Also, "Repeat Options" is fantastic and I used it all the time. It should only fail if the last action can't be repeated for some reason (the target is gone, the character has lost their weapon or is out of ammo / magic points).

    Not being able to attack diagonally is indeed a major flaw in the engine. (That was changed in the sequel – and eventually in the remake – for ranged attacks and spells, albeit not for melee attacks.) Still I wouldn't give up on archery. In my experience ranged attacks are more likely to hit (if the user is somewhat competent with them), which helps a lot especially at low levels. They also deal good damage (especially crossbows, though those are heavy and not all weapon shops carry bolts).

    And yes, progression is slow in this game – glacially slow compared to some newer titles. Of course, the game was conceived as part 1 of 3, with the option to carry your party into the sequels, so character development needed to be limited in order to allow for more progression in the future. Unlike, say, Pool of Radiance, RoA doesn't employ a hard cap on levels or XP, but the way XP gains work creates an effective soft cap; you can expect to reach around level 7 by the end of Blade. Considering that level gains also tend to be less meaningful than in Gold Box AD&D, it's no surprise that players not used to the system might feel they're barely making progress at all.

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    1. I agree about the ranged weapons. They seem to hit more often than melee attacks and they can make your spellcasters a lot more efficient in combat. I usually had 3 melee fighters and 3 ranged fighters, and tactics were mostly centered around keeping my archers at range and positioning my melee fighters so that the archers always had a clear path to shoot. Even with the engine's limits I found combat satisfyingly tactical.

      As for the glacially slow character development, I always thought the XP system was buggy. Don't know if it's in the manual, but once you've killed a certain type of enemy, you only get 1 point of XP for that type of enemy in all later fights. So if you get into your first fight with 1 brigand, you get 50 XP or so. Next fight, 8 brigands = 1 XP. If you fight the 8 brigands first, you get 400 XP, then 1 XP for that single brigand. And then 1 XP whenever you meet brigands, till the end of the game. Nothing you can do about it, but it makes progress much slower than you would expect. Luckily there are many types of enemies.

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    2. It's 285 EXP if you fought the monster for the first time * number of monsters, 57 EXP per 3 every battle after that.

      Reason I remember it is I found a way to get to that 6 brigand fight without fighting one before, and I got 285 * 6 EXP, instead of 114 EXP when I fought it after fighting others.

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    3. I agree with Alrik on all points. Didn't use mouse in combat at all and usually relied on my archery guys to strike everyone dead from afar. It helps if you guebj lbhe zryrr thlf vagb gur senl erpxyrffyl, ovaqvat rarzl zryrr svtugref, naq gura cvpx gubfr bss jvgu neebjf. Gurl jba'g punatr gnetrgf rira vs gur nepuref ner qbvat jnl zber qnzntr gb gurz.

      Also, there's not a single shop in the game that sells even something like "swords +1" - the game's generally stingy with magic items. There are some magic weapons, but gur tnzr jvyy bayl fubj gurz nf "fjbeq" (sbe vafgnapr), vs lbh cvpx gurz hc nf cneg bs ybbg; gura lbh jvyy unir gb pnfg vqragvsvpngvba fcryyf ba rnpu gb svaq bhg gur bar gung tvirf +1 nggnpx. Gur Zntr Npnqrzl va Gubejny urycf jvgu guvf, ohg vg'f ernyyl abg jbegu gur rssbeg.

      Spending your surplus money on poison for difficult fights is not the worst idea.

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    4. The hint with the poison is good, but be aware that you get much less XP if you use poison!

      Delete
  9. Yeah, a fair number of the problems you mention in this post are solved in the second game (although leveling still takes damn near forever). You start at a higher level, so casting works a lot more; you can shoot diagonally (I think?); and most importantly, towns have more than one kind of building. I'm not particularly graphics-obsessed in normal times, but it really does help here, since there are so many towns to visit and you need to be able to navigate them.

    The remake also solves the interface and exploration problems, I suppose, and it's not actually that bad of an option for anyone to check out if the game sounds interesting--even if it is deeply and intensely ugly.

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  10. If you're missing 95% of your attacks, that sounds like something is wrong. Even a level 1 fighter/elf with some armor should hit more than a third of his attacks. Weapons can break and it's pretty easy to miss that it happens, so you might want to check on them by dragging them on the eye symbol.

    You can also select "Att./Parry values" in the character sheet. The "Present" value shows the values for the currently worn weapon. You can change weapons and armor pieces and check how it changes.

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    1. It might be more like 80%, but it's definitely at least 4/5. I'll follow your suggestion when I get back into it.

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  11. You can also use the "Check Values" command in combat to view your character's stats.

    You probably know this already, but an attack roll is made with a D20 and succeeds if the number that comes up is less than or equal to the character's AT value. Thus, for their attacks to miss 80% of the time a character would have to have an AT value of 4 or less after all modifiers have been applied. That's extremely low and indicates a very disadvantageous combination of weapon proficiency, weapon's AT modifier and/or armor encumbrance. For a melee-centric character it should be reasonably easy to reach at least a 7-8 at level 1.

    (Of course, even a successful attack might be parried, so your effective hit rate will be lower than your attack chance. The star-shaped hit indicator flashes in a distinctive color for parries so you can tell them apart from misses.)

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    1. When I said "miss," I meant more like "do no damage." Sometimes they seem to hit and do no damage or the opponent successfully parries. I'm not sure if you're including that in your assessment or not.

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    2. Parries are a factor for sure. If we assume that even a level 1 opponent has a 30%-40% chance to parry, that will drag down your effective hit rate much closer to those ~20%. As others have written, the best way to deal with this annoyance is to gang up on one foe, as they can only make one parry attempt per round.

      As for dealing no damage, that happens when the damage roll doesn't beat the opponent's armor. With low-damage weapons like knives or staves, that can certainly happen occasionally; with more serious weapons, it should be impossible unless the opponent is heavily armored. (A regular sword, axe or mace deals 1D6+4 damage, so even on a roll of 1 it will damage anyone with less than 5 armor points. In entry-level quests, no one except maybe the final boss should have that much armor.)

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    3. If you're including parries, missing 80% with a level 1 character sounds about right. That's why ganging up on opponents is important. I like to increase the parry value of my mage and use him to attack cautionsly, getting my fighters a free, unparried attack.

      A fighter with a sword not doing any damage when he hits is very unlikely.

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    4. Just to be sure, Buck: Are you saying that even when your mage misses his attack, it still "consumes" the opponent's parry attempt?

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    5. No, you're right, I don't think it does. It's been a while. But there's a good chance that it does, and its better to have a low damage attack parried. At low levels, its too dangerous for your mage to do this anyway.

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  12. This seems like an interesting, expansive game. The brutality of the level 1 combats, though, is striking. Even Might & Magic I's early game combats weren't as unforgiving as this game seems.

    -Alex from The Adventure Gamer

    Chet, I also remain impressed by your attention to detail in spelling all of these names correctly each time . . .

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  13. The latest version of the tabletop RPG has moved away from traditional leveling up and embraced a "point buy" system for improving individual skills. It's also surprising up front about the ability to create more powerful characters right off the bat. It seems to be much more narrative-focused than game-challenge-focused.

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    1. Yeah, as an old-school-player of the Realms Of Arkadia time (90s) I never got warm with that new levelling. It totally removes the awesome joy of a level up, because that was somethin VERY SPECIAL back in the days!

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    2. Are you German or German-speaking? We anglophones have unfortunately few materials available for the game.

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    3. Personally, the idea of characters having a "level" never appealed to me, in RoA or otherwise. I much prefer the point-buy or train-by-use systems. I do lament the loss of negative attributes though.

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    4. I certainly could have done without the chance based attribute and skill increases when leveling up. Point based systems are a bit prone to min/maxing, but I like their determinism and flexibility. DSA4's character creation is delightfully complex, you can spend hours on a character even when using a software like Helden.

      I've never met anyone who played DSA for its mechanics, though. The people I played it with did it because its detailed and active world building.

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    5. @AdventureMaterials: yes, I was born and live in Germany

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  14. Wasn't this the game with the bugged poison system? Have you tried poisoning a weapon yet? I can't recommend it though, because it made every combat way too easy.

    I'm also curious: The second game of the series had a very interesting event, if one of your characters was wearing indecent clothing: No trousers on a male character, or no shirt on a female character. Is that in this game too?

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    1. It is. I cheesed a few battles with that bug when I was younger.

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    2. I wouldn't call it a bug, I don't think that a feature like poisoning weapons can slip in by accident. I am not even sure if venoms can be used for any other thing than poisoning weapons. I would therefore call it at most "not perfectly balanced". But given the fact that fights can be tough, I am fine with the feature.

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    3. Yeah, poisons meant to be strong, but however there is one bug about poisons which they fixed in the second game:

      jneevbe pna hfr gur cbvfbabhf jrncbaf, ur vfa'g zrnag gb or vg'f ntnvafg uvf ubabhe.

      Gurl cebtenzzrq gung gur jneevbe pna'g hfr gur cbvfba ba gur jrncba ohg jura fbzrobql qbrf vg sbe uvz naq tvirf uvz gur jrncbat ur vf cresrpgyl sva jvgu vg

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    4. Ah, ok. Thanks for the info, I didn't know that. Then I would have a magician beat people with a poisonous staff. This would still be RoA-compliant.

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    5. I hust saw there is another bug for poisons, also only affecting the first game, that's non spoilery and Chet should know this:

      Poisons don't work on arrows and bolts, only on close combat weapons,

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    6. I distinctly remember applying some potent poison to my magician's throwing stars to turn them from barely relevant into one-hit killing devices. So it's not just close combat weapons.

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    7. Maybe it works on throwing stars but not on arrow/bolts.

      However since the second game it also works also on arrows which make them very potent (that "fear poison" (Ajax?) can clear out everything but undeads very fast)

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  15. Keep in mind that damage spells are pretty bad in DSA. Debuffs and status spells are great--especially since recovering magic is such a pain. A spell that takes a guy out of the fight or lets your melee guys take him out (or holds them in place for archers to hit them) is better than a spell that maybe does a third of their health.

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    1. Fulminictus or Iginifaxius are pretty decent damage spells from afar. But most elves/mages start with 0 or even negative values...

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    2. They deal damage just fine, the issue is how fast they drain your astral energy and how long it takes to regain that. A single Fulminictus from a level 1 character deals 3D6+1 damage and costs as many astral points. Unless they roll very low, it'll take multiple nights of rest to regenerate them. These spells are best reserved for emergency situations.

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    3. True, my mage was always kept in the back doing nothing unless there were really hard foes. Or easy ones even he could smash with this staff.

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  16. Arkania is right, this already sounds plenty arcane. This and Ishar's going to lead to a lot of fun raging at obtuse Euro RPGs this month. I've heard enough good things about this series to imagine it's worth the investment though, or at least its sequels will be.

    I gotta say I'm mildly curious why the game over skull has "kiss me" written in one of its sockets. That's one coquettish cranium.

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    1. Realms of Arkania and Ishar are incomparable. RoA is a solid CRPG with a good combat, magic and skill mechanics, detailed game world and a lot of lore. Ishar, on other hand, is quirky style-over-substance attempt at CRPG. German developers clearly knew how to make a good CRRG, while French developers remained mostly clueless.

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    2. I remember Ishar being well-loved at the time, but I suspect it was probably because UK Amiga magazines tended to like style-over-substance.

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    3. Ishar (the first two installments at least) has plenty of substance, it's just characteristically weird French substance.

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    4. I played a bit of Ishar 3; ISTR it was a solid enough seeming blobber. I wasn't fond of the graphics - they were pretty but somehow they seemed very flat and 2D for a 3D game.

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  17. I remember how much I liked that you can get descriptions about all locations on the map. When the game showed me the map for the first time, I spent the next 10 minutes or so, reading all the descriptions.

    I think the reason why I like the game is related to this: It was probably the first RPG which gave me the impression that I can travel around in the whole world. You have probably already seen other games before BoD, which did this better, but to me it was the first one.

    Regarding missile weapons, I agree with the above commenters, that they are worth the effort. It's a great advantage that they miss less often than melee weapons.

    The healers in the game are of different quality, you probably got to a bad one. When it comes to temples, you can be cured at a Peraine temple if your sacrifice is generous enough. Just in case you are interested, there is this German fanpage which has information about all kind of things in BoD, including a healer ranking:

    http://nlt-hilfe.crystals-dsa-foren.de/

    In contrast to the travel destinations on land along roads, not all possible travel destinations on water are obvious immediately, since there are not at any time ships to all possible destinations in the harbor.

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    1. The boxed game actually came with a huge and high quality paper map of the Thorwal region. I loved it!

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    2. This is about it: https://de.wiki-aventurica.de/de/images/0/0b/Nordwest-Aventurien.jpg

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    3. This map is actually much biggern than what you can travel in the Game. But it was the same grade of detail and size as the maps that came with the pen and paper edition. Perfect for those, who also played that.
      Part 2 had a similar paper map coming with the boxed edition as well.

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    4. Just checked GOG, but unfortunately they do not have this as part of the digital version. They usually have tons of extras for classics like this...

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    5. This is the map for Part 2: https://de.wiki-aventurica.de/de/images/a/a5/Svellttal.jpg

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    6. For those interested, here's a high-res map of the entire continent: https://www.orkenspalter.de/filebase/index.php?download/48/ (9 megabytes). It's a very diverse place, with many regions and cultures inspired by various real-world ones. The playable area of Blade is in the northwest.

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  18. The encumbrance system is there precisely to discourage what you did - hauling loot out of dungeons. There'll be many dungeons where it'd be a very bad idea to do that because they're far from the cities. It's a way of keeping economy relevant in a relatively low-magic gameworld (no swords+5 for you in this one, sorry). Shops are still more useful than in Goldbox games because weapons break (the higher your "violent temper" stat, the more frequently), so it's a good idea to have a (light) backup even for melee fighters.
    With spells, it might not be a good idea to go "all in" in every combat. As you may have noticed, they regenerate very slowly, at most a handful per night. Once again, it might not be an issue in city combats, but when you're attacked on the trail with no inn nearby, you can get very screwed that way.

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    Replies
    1. I mean, spell points (AP) regenerate very slowly.

      Delete
  19. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  20. You think this is hard? Wait until you get to Blade of Destiny, the Kaizo version of this game: When all the annoyances of travel like disease and cold hit you ten times as often, your shoes wear out over time, you have to travel across dangerous mountains many times and the enemies are much harder. Fair warning: Get the teleportation spell, named something like Transversialis because it is mandatory in Blade of Destiny and I hear it become even more important in Shadows over Riva.

    ReplyDelete
  21. You mean Star Trail. Yep, this is a rare example of a trilogy where the second title is more hardcore than the first. Not something we'd expect nowadays.

    Transversalis is not mandatory; it can be used to "cheat" yourself into or out of places, but all puzzles can be solved without it.

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  22. Hey Chester, you complain about the fight in the first dungeon was too hard? The hell it was!! You are NOT AT ALL supposed to enter that part of the dungeon with a level 1 party. Ususally you get slaughtered a few times and let it be, IF you ever find out about the hidden walkthrough door. I did not find it at all in my first walkthrough and was only able to win that fight with a midgame level 3-4 party!
    All other figths at the beginning are definitely easier, you may only die if you have either a weak party or bad luck with random encounters while travelling.

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    Replies
    1. Well, I wouldn't go so far as to tell anyone how to play a game, and I've certainly brute-forced my way past enemies and obstacles that were clearly intended to be faced later in the game, just because I wanted to see if I could do it.

      That said, I think this game expects you to travel a lot all across the region, giving you many opportunities to revisit places, and the dungeon in the starting town isn't necessarily expected to be fully cleared by a fresh party.

      But then, apparently, it can be done at level one. I wonder how much less of a pain (and how much faster) it would have been if the keyboard commands worked as they're supposed to.

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    2. That's an interesting take on it, but I can't imagine that the opening dungeon and its quest wasn't meant for a new party. I mean, it's a side quest in the opening town. If it wasn't meant for a Level 1 party, 99% of players were certainly going to THINK it was.

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    3. At the risk of making myself look like more of an ass...

      Of course it's not unreasonable to go into the starting town dungeon expecting to clear it for some relatively easy early game rewards. But if I run into a combat that takes me the better part of five hours to beat, through a combination of sheer difficulty and awkwardness of the controls, I'd personally at least start to wonder if I'm really supposed to be there yet. I might still decide to see it through, just because, mind you.

      It's been years since I played it, but I don't think this dungeon is necessarily meant as a hurdle you need to overcome before your party is ready to move anywhere else in the game. There should be all kinds of easier combats out on the road or in different places while searching for the map pieces.

      If this sounds patronizing, or like backseating, I'm genuinely sorry. That's the opposite of my intention. I should probably just stop writing anything on this matter.

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    4. >if I run into a combat that takes me the better part of five hours to beat...I'd personally at least start to wonder if I'm really supposed to be there yet

      ::Troll fight from Pool of Radiance has entered the chat::

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    5. Don't feel that way, Atantuo. If I seem grumpy, I apologize. I usually get grumpy when I get to a popular game that a lot of people seem to know very well.

      You are correct that the sheer difficulty of the combat perhaps should have sent a signal. But it's not like you can just pop out of town in this game and find monsters around the periphery. You also can't find random encounters in town the way you can in, say, The Bard's Tale. Moving across the map is a big production, and it feels like leaving the starting town isn't something that should be done lightly. Those factors plus the ages-old trope of having an easy starting dungeon in the starting town led me to believe that the bandit battle was meant to be conquered first.

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    6. Did replay the start today with the pregenerated party and didn't have any problems winning the battle with the six brigands even as first battle in the game.
      I suspect your party was under-equipped, there's a reason why you immediately get sent away to equip yourselves when accepting this quest.

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    7. When I played this back in 1993 I was always under the impression I was supposed to be able to handle that 6 brigand fight with level 1 party. If they didn't want you to do that then it should have been communicated better honestly.

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    8. The CRPG addict won the battle vs 8 Brigands afterwards relatively quick with the same characters without a level up between so it's just a matter of strategy.

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  23. The starting quest spans the first two levels of the dungeon. The door that leads to the lower levels should be (almost) impossible to open, and as you approach it, a textbox should pop up telling you that you've dealt with the brigand issue and Master Dramosch will be pleased. At that point, you can collect your reward and leave the rest of the dungeon for later.

    However, all the brigand battles do indeed belong to that entry-level quest and are meant to be fought at level 1. And yes, depending on the party's combat prowess (and equipment) that can be tricky when the enemies appear in numbers. The only suggestion I can offer is to try and attract as many enemies as possible with your armored fighters and then focus-fire them one by one, as hard as possible.

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    Replies
    1. That was supposed to be in reply to the thread above. Sorry.

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    2. And the levels below that 'locked' door led me to the scariest part of the game I felt. I did feel terror down there.

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  24. Hi ! Dome hints: you only get the full XP when fighting someone for the first time
    afterwards it's 1 XP per enemy.
    So 50 XP per save is a lot. You should be on level 2 after cleaning the old fortress.
    You should really invest a lot of time in character creation. To suffer a bit less in the fights you need a party with decent stats. Especially str for all but the magic users. Do the level ups in a temple and save before every character's level up. As every gain of every attribute or skill is chance based. To heal sickness or poison by a party member you need to have a high skill and the right herbs. Read the manual about this. It might make sense to knock on every door in every city to make sure you find everyone important.

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    Replies
    1. Just to clarify: the US version multiplies all xp with 50. The loss per save equals the German version.

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    2. Might be a version difference, but mine (US version) is 57 EXP per 3 monsters if you have fought them before and the game always gave me EXP in multiples of 57. So 1 2 or 3 monsters I got 57 EXP, 4 5 or 6 I got 114, etc.

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