Sunday, January 19, 2020

Realms of Arkania: The Long and Winding Road

Taking a mountain trail between two cities.
I spent most of this session wandering the sea lanes, trails, riverways, and mountain passes between various towns, on what has become a clear quest to collect various map pieces and other bits of intelligence about Hyggelik's resting place. In its outdoor explorations, the map recalls Curse of the Azure Bonds, where you had fixed travel routes between towns (some of them interesting, some of them boring) which you selected and watched your party move on its own, and upon which various events could divert the party for a while. I gather that Arkania offers a mix of fixed and random encounters whereas Curse's were mostly fixed.

Arkania's encounters tend towards the type of text-driven interface that I complained about in Tunnels & Trolls (and did not, perhaps paradoxically, complain about in Darklands). There have been a couple of occasions in which my progress along the road was broken by the discovery of a cave or dungeon, but most of the time I've been asked to read a few paragraphs and select my options from a list. I won't know until later in the game whether I think it used text for too many encounters, as Trolls did, or whether it achieves a better balance.
The game offers a lot of these textual encounters as you cross the map.
One of the things I like about Arkania's system is the palpable tension that these encounters engender thanks to the limited saving system. As we've covered, the game docks every character 50 experience points when you save outside of a temple, and in between towns there are limited opportunities to even take advantage of that penalty. When you haven't saved since the last temple an hour ago, you're a lot more careful in your choices. You start to sweat some of the skill- and attribute-based challenges, as well as (of course) the combats. When I was writing about Camelot, I forgot to discuss the delightful sense of fear the game imparts when you're exploring a level or two above your head. Arkania evokes some of those same feelings.

Combat has gotten a little easier as I understand the tactics better, as I leveled up, and as I poured spell points into the "Fulminictus" offensive spell. I concede to my readers who argued that the keyboard interface works well once you get used to it, although I still don't see any excuse for not mapping each distinct action to a unique key, nor for the inability to attack on the diagonal, nor for the way that the arrow keys work differently depending on whether you're moving or attacking. I'm also having a unique-to-me colorblindness problem where I find it hard to distinguish party members from enemies (especially when they're standing in a cluster) or even see the thin outlining on the floor tile when it's selected.
Fighting some goblins. The battle wasn't too hard, but it's hard for me to distinguish what's happening in that blob of characters and enemies.
But the worse problem is that combats are just too frigging long. Enemies and characters should both hit and damage each other more often. Even in the rare cases in which the outcome is a foregone conclusion and I use "computer controlled combat," I mostly just sit there and watch for a quarter of an hour as the characters and enemies bang against each other to no avail.

I confess that I have been a bit spell-lazy. The spell system in Arkania is one of the more complicated ones that we've seen, with virtually no overlap with, say, Dungeons and Dragons. In fact, the creators of The Dark Eye system seem to have deliberately created as opposite a system as possible. Making things worse, the manual is extremely sparse in this area and doesn't describe the effects of the spells. (Yes, I know there are external resources.) There are 12 spell categories (e.g., "Combat," "Demonology," "Movement," "Illusion") and four spell "lore" categories (magician, elf, druid, and witch), and about 80 total spells. It isn't as simple as druids are good at "Demonology" and magicians are good at "Combat." Rather, within the "Demonology" category, druids specialize in "Banish Spirits" and "Conjure Spirits," magicians specialize in "Blood and Furor, Deadly Fate" and "Heptagon and Eye of Toad," and witches and warlocks specialize in "Summon Crows."

But theoretically any spellcasting character can cast any spell, if they put the points into it. Every character has an individual rating with each spell that can be increased during level-ups. The manual suggests that if a spell isn't in your "lore" category, it can't be used in combat, but I know that's not true because everyone seems capable of casting "Ignifaxus Lance of Fire" in combat and that's a magician-specific spell.

A lot of spell names are impenetrable: "Solididrid's Rainbow Hue," "Witch's Knot," "Odem Arcanum Sensum Such." The game manual encourages you to "experiment," but here we run into the final issue: spellcasters are nerfed more in Arkania than any RPG I can remember. Even at Level 3, I can cast maybe three spells per combat before my characters are out of spell points. And spell points regenerate much more slowly than hit points--only 2 or 3 per night's rest. Spellcasters need to be melee fighters, too, to pull their weight. Because of all of this, I've only been slowly experimenting with new spells, spending most of my points on "Ignifaxus Lance of Fire," which I know does its job.
Fighting a druid, harpies, and direwolves. Bramble is nominally an elf, but her magic has almost run out, so now she needs to be a fighter.
Most of my characters have leveled up twice now, which is an interesting and long process. First, you get to increase one of your "good" attributes by 1. Then you get to try to decrease one of your "bad" attributes (avarice, acrophobia, etc.) by one. None of the bad attributes have been much of a bother yet, so I've just been decreasing the highest ones. It fails about 50% of the time. The game then randomly rolls for boosts to your magic resistance, health, and magic points.
My dwarf tries to take the edge off his natural greed.
Then you get to assign about 20 skill points to your various skills, but there are a lot of restrictions. It seems that each weapon skill can only be advanced once per level-up (very annoying) and most other skills can only be advanced twice. I've been using the process to make each character stronger at his strengths rather than trying to improve his weaknesses, but even under that philosophy you end up sinking extra points into questionable skills like "Carouse" and "Train Animals." Attempting to increase a skill fails about 33% of the time and it's always annoying when it does.

Magic-users also go through a phase where they get 20 or 30 points to advance their various spells, but again the same rules are in effect by which you can only increase each spell by 2 points per level-up, no matter how low it is to start. Some spellcasters--or maybe just one; I don't feel like checking the manual--have the ability to swap skill boosts for spell boosts or vice versa.
My elf gets better at a combat spell. Notice how poorly she takes to the warlock's "Terror Broom."
Failing your increases is so frustrating, and the random rolls for health and mana increases are so variable, that there would normally be a huge incentive to save-scum the process. In practice, that would be really hard. You're prompted to level-up as soon as you cross the experience point threshold, so you'd have to save before the battle that gave you the experience in the first place, then fight it again with no guarantee that you'd do better the second time. Thus, I've just been accepting what happens. I do generally like the process and feel that the characters are getting notably stronger.
A nice reward for the druid battle.
I have been disappointed in my progress when it comes to weapons and armor. This seems to be one of those "realistic" RPGs where once you've purchased your base items, they don't change much unless something breaks. In 10 hours of play, I've only had a few item "upgrades." I wasted time chasing a tavern lead that "this Tulamidian in Overthorn, Kherim Al Sherammi, only stocks the finest quality [weapons and armor]," but I didn't find anything spectacular when I visited his shop.

There's a "survivalist" element to exploration that I have mixed feelings about. Very often, I'm faced with an encounter that requires some kind of skill or attribute check and/or some kind of inventory check. For instance, we reach a cliff face that's climbable if every party member has a rope or sufficient skill in "Climbing." Or we're sneaking up on a party of enemies and can either trust our "Sneak" skill or the "Silentium" spell. Or we're crossing a high rope bridge and someone misses an acrophobia check and begins to freak out; we can either blindfold him or cast "Bambaladam" to make him trust us long enough to lead him across.
Climbing a cliff face. Either my skill or my rope is responsible for my success.
These occasional inventory checks have made me paranoid about what I'm not carrying. I have some ropes, a couple of pry bars, a hammer, and blankets and extra shoes for each character. But the general store sells fishing hooks, climbing hooks, drinking horns, recorders, cutlery, flasks, shovels, nets, throwing hooks, oil, mirrors, rope ladders, quills, scrolls, hoes, and dishes among other things. Do I really need to load up with all of these possibilities? Even worse, I suspect every character needs some of these things for success to be viable.
Which of these many items do I need to buy?
There are a couple infuriating parts of this skill/spell/inventory check system during encounters. First, the game often asks me who will do something without giving me any ability to check and remind myself who has the highest skill or spell level in a particular area. I can barely remember who's what class, let alone who has the highest skill in "Camouflage." Second, the game often requires the lead character to have the necessary skill or item. That's not a huge problem (although it's still annoying) when you're in town or a dungeon and you can easily re-arrange the characters. But you can't change the order of characters on the road. This led to a ridiculous situation in which the slain Gorah left a locked treasure chest behind, but I wasn't able to open it because the character who had lockpicks (and lockpicking skill) wasn't in the lead. I had to abandon the chest and go all the way back to the nearest town to swap the party order and then go back to Gorah's lair, spending about 5 days in the process. At least the chest was still there.
In contrast, it has not been a big issue (so far) to manage hunger and thirst. A good meal at an inn or tavern refills both meters and lasts for a couple of days. Only a few trips have taken longer than that, and a few backpack rations easily manage the remainder. The game keeps giving me opportunities to hunt for dinner, but I haven't really had to explore that option yet. Perhaps later there will be more extended wilderness trips.
Camp options at night. I've never needed to "replenish stocks."
I had ended the last session in Felsteyn, which was at the head of its river. My furthest-north lead was in Vidsand, so I thought I'd go there and then make my way back south. The path out of Felsteyn led through the mountains to Orkanger. On the way, I ran into problems. A fixed encounter has the party find the corpse of a traveler slain by brigands. On his body, they find a document.
A fixed encounter between two cities.
While they search, a group of brigands attacks. There are options to flee and bargain, but they didn't work well for me. I found myself in an inevitable and difficult combat. When it was over, it was followed immediately by another combat. Then (before you've had a chance to save or even read the document), the game has you stumble upon the brigand camp. Yes, you have an option to sneak away, but it just doesn't feel right.
The resulting brigand battle in the narrow mountain pass.
I know that my obstinacy isn't the game's fault, but the end result is that I beat myself against it until I finally won those three combats in a row, which took more than half of this session's length. The final victory led to my first round of level-ups.

As for the document, it said:
The unicorn knows many ways to help you. He can even recover lost items, if he himself believes them to be of importance. In doing so, he is faster than the wind.
(This led me to a mental digression about unicorns, because they seem prominent in German games specifically. I didn't actually research the matter, but I thought of the various ways that unicorns have been portrayed in media, and it made me think that in Anglo culture, we've basically infantilized them, making them delicate, fey creatures voiced in lilting, worried tones by Mia Farrow, whose horns are a combination between hood ornaments and magic wands--whereas portrayals in continental culture seem to retain unicorns as, first and foremost, horses, with horse strength and horse appetites--carnal beasts whose horns are metaphorically penises and practically lances. Am I on to anything or is it just selective memory?)

The game grew a bit insidious at this point, having me next encounter a cave. I know now that I could have continued on to Orkanger, saved at a temple, and then turned around to go back and explore the cave. But at the time, I thought it might be a non-repeatable encounter, so I checked it out. It led me to a small dungeon map with several random and fixed battles with goblins, who thankfully aren't that hard. Still, I started to get nervous about how long it had been since the last temple, so I sucked up the 50-experience point loss and I saved. Thank the gods. Moments later, the party was torn apart by some "giant stagga" (they look like giant ants) and I had to reload. I avoided that combat--I hate not being able to fully clear an area--looted the goblin's treasure, and returned to the road.
This is not the sort of option you want to see when you've won three battles in a row and haven't saved in an hour.
Backpacks bursting, we arrived in Orkanger to find that the small town had no weapons shop. But the inn was welcome, and there was a temple to save. We continued on the trail to Clanegh, which also had the same paucity of retail. We finally found a weapons shop and unloaded ourselves in Tyldon. From there, we followed the road to the coastal town of Vidsand.

In Vidsand, we met Ragna Firunjasdotter, who after some conversation showed us her piece of the map to Hyggelik's tomb. She wouldn't give us the piece, just show it to us. So later, when we got a third piece, Ragna's piece did not appear on the resulting map image. I don't know if that means it was a waste of time or not. In real life, I'll be able to make a composite of the map from the various images, but I'm not sure if the game will require me to have the whole thing.
With another piece of the map.
Ragna gave me some more names, one of which I'd already visited (Isleif in Felsteyn). This made me wonder if all these NPCs aren't supposed to have maps, and perhaps whether they show or give them to you is a result of skill checks for various social skills. It thus made me think I should perhaps have been saving before each encounter and better ensuring that I had the right party member in the lead. On the other hand, perhaps the game is generous in the number of NPCs who possibly have maps, thus giving you a chance to screw up one or two of the encounters. I wouldn't mind an explicit hint in this area, because if I've put myself in a "walking dead" situation, I'd like to know.
I wonder if I've made the wrong decision in places like this.
From Vidsand, I hopped on a ship that circled a little bay: Vidsand to Liskor to Tjanset. After a wasted visit to the armorer in Tjanset, we took a mountain path to the town of Orvil, where we had a lead on an NPC named Unbrik Sevenstones. Outside Orvil, we saved a shepherd from some direwolves (easiest combat in the game so far), and the shepherd told us of a "foul druid" named Gorah who has been charming wild beasts and sending them against the people of the various towns.
I think Baldur's Gate II re-uses this plot.
In Orvil, Unbrik would only help us if we agreed to kill Gorah and return with his rune bone. Unbrik told us that he was about a day outside of town but didn't specify which direction. We tried south, on the way to Skjal, as we had to go to Skjal anyway, and we got lucky along the way and found Gorah. (Or perhaps Gorah lies along whatever road you choose.) We approached his lair with the "Silentium" spell and attacked him with his group of direwolves.
What I wouldn't give for a "Fireball" right now.
We defeated him without too much trouble even though he summoned a couple of harpies to join the battle. Most of the party leveled up a second time. We had to return to Orvil and come back again because the only character with lockpicks wasn't in the front of the party. From the druid's chest, we looted the rune bone as well as some other herbs and potions.
One day, I'll have to learn what all those herbs do.
Unbrik had another piece of the map and a couple more names. From Orvil, we turned around and went to Skjal, where Jurge Torfinsson gave us yet another map piece. Unfortunately, we were unable to find Swafnild Egilsdotter, a pirate who I heard hangs around the Skjal port.

On an overland path from Skjal to Ottarje, we found a faint trail heading off into the forest. Something appeared to have been dragged along the path. We followed it to a cave blocked by a giant spider's web, which we cut to gain entry. I had to stop playing at this point, so I sacrificed the 50 experience points to save at the mouth of the cave. I'll explore it next time.

As I reached the end of this session, the list of places and people to visit has grown to:
  • Ottarje: Hjore. I realized while I was composing this entry that this is the name of the shepherd I rescued outside Orvil, not far from Ottarje.
  • Some port or another: Swafnild Egilsdotter, a pirate
  • Brendhil: Tiomar Swafnildsson (are they related?)
  • Phexcaer: Gerbald
  • Hjasingor: Algrid Trondesdotter
Miscellaneous notes:
  • I didn't record what the game was asking me to confirm at this moment, but it's fun to speculate on the possibilities.
  • I don't know why the developers made travel routes dependent on specific exits from the town. It doesn't add anything to the game except time.
  • Because favored weapons have a decent chance of breaking in combat, it's a good idea to carry more than one weapon and to have each character specialize in more than one weapon type--that way, you're more likely to be able to press a looted weapon into service.
  • In any given city, about 80% of the houses are just regular citizens' houses. About half of these have an angry citizen who throws you out. The other half are unoccupied, and the game gives you a chance to burgle them. For role-playing reasons, I haven't been doing that, but after a recent save, I decided to try to see what happens. The answer is nothing. In about 8 attempts, I simply found empty rooms. I wonder if this option ever becomes necessary or lucrative.
A completely uninteresting game option.
  • One area of the game that I've left completely unexplored is herbology. I occasionally run into an herb-seller in town, I have a character high in the "Herb Lore" skill, and the game gives an option to search for herbs when you camp at night. Despite this, I've only just now bothered to scan the manual for what these herbs can do. 
  • A couple of wilderness encounters have led to the party sneaking up on enemies and observing them from afar. These encounters have offered the option to "rain a hail of arrows on the enemies"--which I think has been effective despite the fact that I haven't been keeping bows and arrows in the party.
I'm pretty sure I don't have a bow, so unless I'm arranging the arrows on the ground to spell out "HELLO," I'm not sure what this option is doing here.
My takeaway from this session is that I haven't really been enjoying Realms of Arkania but it's mostly because I haven't been fully engaging it. I've been playing it like it's a different RPG. I need to take time to learn the spell system and the herb system, find a more effective way to manage my inventory, and re-read the manual in general.

Time so far: 15 hours


  1. Have you ever played The Oregon Trail? That's what the field map reminds me of.

    1. That's a good observation. It's a bit like a simplified version of The Oregon Trail, though with more stops and travel options.

      Also like the The Oregon Trail, it's important when you travel. Some of the mountain paths Chet travelled become much more dangerous in winter, some even unpassable.

    2. I think it's meant to simulate the part of a D&D campaign where your party is traveling overland, and the DM just rolls on random encounter tables to spice up the journey.

    3. A long time ago. I almost always got bored before the end.

    4. Oregon Trail is more known as a classic for its impact and the setting it was typically played in--schools--than for itself as a stand-alone experience. For a lot of kids, it was probably the first time they realized they could have fun with a computer. It also simultaneously invented and set a pretty high bar for the "edutainment" genre.

    5. Yeah, dysentery puts a damper on everything.

  2. You missed out on Ragna's map piece. You must ask her to show it to you, not give it to you (which I always found a bit unfair...). Maybe with a skill check the other option works, too, I'm not sure.

    You don't need all the map pieces, and there is at least 1 second chance to get a map piece another way. It's unlikely, but if you're really unlucky you can get stuck, so saving before these encounters is recommended.

    1. Regarding the map piece that you have only be shown, I think the game is stupid there. As I see it, the game wants you to reload and try the other dialogue option once you realize that you did not get the piece. Maybe the game wants to teach the player here, that one should not be too greedy but that is nonsense, of course. Since the quest is to retrieve the map pieces, asking for the map, is the most natural thing to do.

      I would probably reload, but it is not a walking dead scenario yet, because of the reasons mentioned above. However, note that at the encounter that allows you to retrieve a missing piece, that piece is chosen randomly out of the ones you do not have, yet. Also at the encounter, it is not very obvious what must be done, it will not just be choosing the right dialogue option and then you have it.

    2. Just a programming error maybe, where prompt and response got swapped?

    3. No I think that's again something lost in translation.

      In German the "show" choice sounds polite and the "give" choice sounds demanding

    4. My 3-year-old has learned to ask to "see" something (like the phone) rather than to "have" it. I know better, but his Grammy doesn't seem to have learned the trick.

      "Give it to me, now!"
      "Do you mind perhaps if I could possibly just inspect that map piece a bit closer for just the barest smidgen of a moment?"
      either way
      "Bahaha! Thanks, sucker!" (runs off with map piece flapping in the wind)

      Though this seems like having the player make the social skill check, rather than the character. If I could pass these skill checks myself, I would be out being a success in life and society, not playing intricate role-playing simulations alone in the dark.

      I like it dark.

  3. Your increase in magic resistance should not be random, but based on the attributes you increase/decrease. For skill/magic increases, the game rolls 2D6 for skills <10, 3D6 for skills >=10, and you need to roll higher than your current skill level. Not that big a problem for lower skill values as you have 3 tries for each increase, but getting over that hump from 9 to 10 is very annoying. Even worse when playing Pen&Paper where you don't "reload" when you roll too badly. I never liked randomness during level ups. I'm not sure what D&D players did when their fighter rolled 1s for hit points increase during level ups.

    There are magic and special weapons and armor in the game, but they're rare and you won't find them in shops. Odem Arcanum helps identifying magic items.

    The game follows the Pen&Paper rules pretty strictly, with all the advantages and disadvantages that brings. You notice it was made for DSA Pen&Paper players as a core audience. Back in the 90s it would have annoyed me a lot if the PNP rules weren't implemented accurately and as completely as possible, including useless items. Nowadays I'm happy games like Shadowrun stay true to the spirit of the PNP game, but implement their own ruleset optimized for computer play.

    1. There's basically two ways of coping with the "1 HP fighter". You can play suicidally and reroll a character after you die, or you can play tactically and try to avoid any combat at all. The latter option is more viable if using classic XP for Gold rules, as well as reaction checks to determine if the monsters are hostile. I've gotten to level 3 without ever having to fight before.

      Unfortunately, in PC games monsters are usually hostile, you gain much of your XP through combat, and you often can't recruit new characters to make up for old ones. So rerolling characters and reloading saves tends to be the coping mechanisms for PC games.

    2. The developers were actually well aware of the drawbacks of this strict adaptation. I've read an interview where they state "Since we have proven to all the ROA-maniacs that we were capable in converting the system to computer, it is now [with the second ROA game] about time to show the rest of the gamers what we can do." Really surprised me when I read that

    3. Clarification to my last comment: At higher levels your HP matters less in classic D&D because a lot of enemies max out damage at doing maybe 12 HP tops if they roll well. So as long as you're careful to use chokepoints, avoid dragon fights and giants, kill wizards before they can fireball you, etc, you can get a lot of mileage out of having a minimum of 13 HP. So as long as you get a solid first few levels, a low roll or two later on won't ruin you. Especially if you're in plate and have a shield.

  4. I always thought it was funny that when levelling up in "easy" mode, the skills to be raised are chosen automatically. Having seen what the game decides in combat, I would never dare to leave the development of my characters to the game.

    I think what would have made the game easier, or at least better accessible, would have been a kind of in-game help with explanations what spells and items do. However it was probably not possible at that time.

    1. I keep forgetting to talk about the "modes." They're mislabeled "difficulty" but what they really mean is "complexity." I feel like anyone who sets it to "novice" doesn't really want to play an RPG.

  5. As far as I remember, you don't use the herbs directly, the way you do with mushrooms in Magic Candle. They're just used for making potions/poisons and in curing diseases (each disease needs its own combination of herbs). They're also your best way of getting rich (much better than collecting loot from enemies) - they sell for good money, weigh next to nothing (so you don't risk getting overencumbered), and you can just gather them each time you camp in the wilderness.
    For spell increases, I think mages get 3 instead of 2 for their favored domain. As I wrote before, your best friend aren't damage-dealing spells but disablers: Dance, Lightning Find Thee, Great Need, later in the game - Paralyze and Salother. The game treats disabled enemies as functionally defeated, so as long as you can end the fight before the spell wears off, you don't have to kill them. It's way, way more AP-efficient than damage-dealing spells.
    If your weapons break too often, be sure to decrease Violent Temper at every opportunity, this should help a bit. I don't think encumbrance system allows you to be prepared for everything at every time, so you should plan ahead: if you'll be going through the mountains, get picks and ropes; if you expect to cross rivers on your way, get some equipment for that etc.

    1. As far as I remember "Einbeere" and "Wirselkraut" (don't know what their names in english are) give you some health points when eaten.

    2. You can consume Four-Leaf Loneberry directly to gain some hitpoints, as well as Gulmond to increase your Strength score temporarily.

    3. Yeah, those two herbs are nice for healing HP (and they stack in inventory!). Other herbs should help with poison and diseases. And "Kairan" allows non-mages to meditate - converting HP to MP.

    4. Ups, mixed up "Kairan" and "Thonnys"

  6. "I forgot to discuss the delightful sense of fear the game imparts when you're exploring a level or two above your head. Arkania evokes some of those same feelings."

    Yeah, I never understood what's so delightful about this feeling. Call me casual, but it's more like a dreadful, frustrating experience for me. Me making a bad decision and getting a game over is one thing, but you can also easily fail by the random number generator screwing you over ("Here's a random unwinnable fight, enjoy."), the program bugging out or even the power going out for a second, which were all common events those days.

    "Some port or another: Swafnild Egilsdotter, a pirate
    Brendhil: Tiomar Swafnildsson (are they related?)"

    Maybe, but only if matronymic names are a thing in this setting, since Egilsdotter suggests that Swafnild is a woman ("Egil's daughter").

    "I didn't record what the game was asking me to confirm at this moment, but it's fun to speculate on the possibilities."

    Heh. If this was a modern game, that screen would already be a meme.

    1. I said "fear," not "doom." Sure, it's no fun if survival is absolutely hopeless. There needs to be a decent CHANCE that you'll make it, but also a small (but nontrivial) chance that you'll die--and there has to be consequences for that death. There aren't many games that balance these factors well.

    2. I feel like limiting save opportunities is the best way to heighten tension. Any encounter can be handily beaten if you save right outside the door or mid-battle, but having to slog back there through parts you've already beaten will make you think twice and genuinely try to win instead of hoping to get lucky.

      I get that encounters are hard, but do you feel like there's enough opportunities to save or does it need more? Or is it just the early game?

    3. Thanks heavens for the custom dosbox versions that let you do snapshots <3

    4. Alex, as I said in the entry, I think the game strikes a good balance. The "penalty" for saving outside of town is enough to make you think twice, but not so much that it's crippling. I really wish more games adopted this approach (or found other ways to limit saving).

      Carlos, I don't have much experience with those, but I'd be wary about using save states for a game this complicated. In non-DOS games, I've frequently run into the problem of my save state conflicting with the save disks. I could easily see the following happening in this game:

      1. I take save state.
      2. I visit someone with a piece of the map and get it. The game saves this fact to the disk.
      3. I get into a touch encounter and reload the save state.
      4. Now, my party doesn't have the map piece but the game has saved the fact that we do.

      I don't know, maybe that's not possible with this game, but I've played others where it is. I feel like save states are playing with fire by the 1990s.

    5. From experience, save states on console emulators are a Bad Idea when you're also using conventional saves - reloading to an earlier save state will usually revert your conventional saves to the same point. It is possible that they've fixed this in newer emulators (I've switched to period hardware almost exclusively, so I wouldn't know), but it was definitely a problem in the past.

    6. That isn't a problem I've encountered with mGBA: Conventional saves are written out to disk to a .sav file, which you can backup or open in another emulator, whereas save states are kept in the emulators database.

  7. Wasn't the problem with Tunnels and Trolls' text encounters that they didn't have much if anything to do with your party's skills and were simply taken from the books and had mostly predetermined "right" and "wrong" answers? The encounters here seem to be a step above that, as they always seem to come with a skill-check. Plus, T&T threw in too many of them, whereas here they are integrated pretty well and make sense, at least up to this point.

    1. Yes, you're right, that was a major part of my complaint. But I also complained that the game handled too many things by "text encounter" that should have been handled in the interface.

  8. It seems like you haven't heeded my advice regarding the manual. ;-)

    Therefore, again, only the manual that can be downloaded at MOCAGH is the complete manual of the first release. It does contain descriptions of all spell effects.

    1. I didn't ignore you; there's just a lot to keep track of. Thanks for reminding me.

    2. I second that advice - at least the sections about leveling up, spells and herbs are kind of a must read for people who have never played the pen & paper.
      In addition, I would highlight that you can always interrupt traveling by clicking the right mouse button (not really intuitive) which will send you to the camp screen but with the additional button to continue or turn around

    3. Addict, you DID ignore it! Please read the manual and prepare!

    4. ^That's not how Ozymandias goes, is it?

  9. I know the game does not fit for everyone, but despite all its drawbacks I like it because of
    - the encounters, whose outcome depends on attributes. This somehow makes the characters and the experience more personal for me.
    - the travelling. Preparing for a route by making sure that I have all my stuff together felt a little bit like preparing for a real voyage. I also liked that action often happens while travelling. It also was the game with the most open world I had seen till then.
    - the soundtrack. I completely understand, if one does not like music in games, but for me it was part of the experience (I had the CD-version with the high quality soundtrack, however). I especially liked the one at the night-camp screen. The soothing mood it created was just the right thing after a strenuous day on the road.

    1. The second game was my first PC Game and as kid I really liked the aspect of traveling

  10. I really feel like I should love this game and I have tried a few times. Going to let you finish it and then its going back on my list because I can learn from your mistakes. It is just stressful since I am so afraid of messing up what I should have with me when travelling. I'll tell you though I find the combats just as hard to see but I always have some trouble with isometric view.

  11. In my opinion, the game *should* be great, but is held back by too much programming inconsistencies and badly designed gameplay elements like that dialogue option for the map commenters are refering above, and skill/inventory role-playing checks for which it's hard to prepare. It's frustrating when you micro-manage your party, skills, battles, equipment, etc., and then fail because of something very random. I think RoA 2 is much better for that reason, its more polished. RoA 1 always felt like an unfinished product for me.

    1. Yeah, the second game had so many improvements while having the same engines.

      Major things like Bows and magic can shoot diagonally but also simple things like having shops and taverns looking different from a normal house

    2. one thing they changed which made it dramatically better was having small villages as dialogue options instead of fully fledged places to explore.

    3. I always found it a bit pitty to not explore this places, like the small dwarfen hamlet with the good Smith, but yeah it's much more efficient.

  12. I gnawed through the 2nd and 3rd part of the series, but never really enjoyed it. The game world, story etc are interesting, but the DSA system is overloaded and inconsistent. Races and classes are randomly mixed, so every Thorwalian has the same base class, while there is another rulebook just for their naming (and it's basically copy/paste from skandinavian names). It takes realism to a detail nobody really cares for when playing. You have to micromanage lots of pointless details and the game enforces this relentlessly and gleefully.

    Many parts of DSA, like the spell, levelling or combat system, feel like the creator had a AD&D-book next to him and was convinced to be far more clever. It's just needlessly complicated for the sake of it, a walled garden against beginners and fans of other systems. Very often, you are taught lessons like "of course you take replacement shoes to a hike, how stupid can you be?" or the mentioned "how greedy to ask for the map, if you were more humble to ask for a look, you would have gotten it!"-situation. Itemization is very broad, but not really deep, owed to the low magic-approach to economy. There is few magical stuff and using it is against some DSA player codex, at least that's what I experienced in P&P rounds and also one of those 3 crpgs.

    But maybe I just never got the point of DSA. Even though I like my spreadsheets like every clichee german, DSA is just too much for me and never hit the right spot.

    1. Although DSA has more complex rules for fighting and levelling, for a CRPG I don't mind, since they are calculated automatically, anyway. The amount of micromanaging probably depends on how exactly the game is realized digitally, I would expect the game to be still compliant with DSA-rules without forcing the player to buy special boots for cold weather. I cannot talk about the pen&paper version, however, I never tried it.

      I haven't played the 2nd part (yet), but the 3rd one felt for me pretty much like a mainstream CRPG where micro-manage-things like blankets do not matter and one can play the game without any special DSA-knowledge and still not feel handicapped.

      That it is a lower-fantasy world is probably not everyone's taste, but I always liked that.

    2. You are still confronted with those rules when making decissions in combat or levelling up. All those very slow combats basically force you to maximize your fighting power.

      The main problem with missing item depth is that there isn't too much progress. I enjoy finding a +1 leather more than finding a replacement leather.

    3. "Many parts of DSA, like the spell, levelling or combat system, feel like the creator had a AD&D-book next to him and was convinced to be far more clever"

      I mean, I haven't read DSA so I can't comment on if this is true there, but that was an entire PERIOD of RPG design. It was made worse by the fact that D&D and AD&D were at many times so bad that a rank amateur could usually improve on at least a couple aspects of the game.

      In English they eventually became known as fantasy heartbreakers (Because they'd break the author's heart when they didn't replace D&D as THE fantasy RPG), but I can totally see how one of them could catch on as the first RPG in another language, and then it keeps evolving away from D&D and towards being something really cool.

  13. Glad to see you're beginning to enjoy the game more. I believe it does some things very well, though its flaws are undeniable, and its complexity may well deter a player from continuing.

    Especially for a player who never played the pen&paper game. Personally, I – and likely many other "original fans" – never had to wonder what all the spells with those cryptic names might do, as we recognized them from the sourcebook. ("Solidirid", for example, is a spell known almost exclusively by ice elves that creates a bridge of light. Alas, there is no situation in Blade where the game lets you use it, even though there are a few that look like it could help resolve them, and in the remake, using it is actually an option.)

    The game really feels like it was designed primarily for players familiar with the source material, and I can fully understand when those who aren't find it difficult to get into. There's a puzzle in the spider cave you just found that's a perfect example for this. I'm curious if you'll be able to figure it out by yourself, but if you can't, don't feel bad about asking for a hint.

  14. Oh, those scripted text encounters with skill checks and/or necessary items have recently made a comeback, in Tides of Numenera and Pillars of Eternity II. I like them, they mix it up a little.

    1. Thanks for the info, I think I will try those once (after I have finally played RoA 2).

    2. I liked them as well in Pillars of Eternity 1, it did mix up things indeed. But since the game benefits from modern game design philosophy developments, it:

      - offers multiple options to achieve it, accounting for different builds (if you don't have an item, a skill check, or a memorized spell, can work instead)

      - allows the option to backtrack, go get the right item/spell and come back, IF it's an essential quest interaction. If it's a "one time" chance, then it leads only to optional loot/exp.

      Thus there's no chance of getting in a walking dead situation because you didn't invest points in skill x or you didn't buy item y from that one npc in a single-time interaction, where you find an empty house now.

  15. I'd wondered if any readers had a solution to the "only the lead character can utilize their skills" predicament?

    Seems absurd you'd need to venture back to a town to reshuffle the party...

    1. I'm pretty sure you can shuffle the party in camp. Right clicking during a wilderness journey makes camp. You then have the options to turn back or venture onwards (in addition to the usual camp activities).

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.


  16. Even for someone with no problems distinguishing between colours, it is difficult to determine who is who in that melee screenshot -- almost all of the characters are wearing red and brown outfits!

  17. One hint: there are seasons in the game and in winter time (you start in fall afaik) traveling over land is pretty harsh - especially over the mountains. Bring additional blankets and sleeping bags! Or only travel by ship in winter. You need to be wealthy for this thought...

  18. Pathfinder: Kingmaker does the same thing with certain encounters, often requiring several skill checks or item checks in a row. It’s entertaining and integrates the skill system into the game in ways that the combat system often does not.

  19. To your observation about differing portrayals of unicorns: As a child, the first place I encountered the ancient traditions of unicorns as dangerous wild beasts was in a book by Willy Ley (German). And of all the books on mythical creatures that I own, the only one entirely dedicated to unicorns is also about those pre-modern traditions, and was translated from... German! Coincidence? Quite possibly.

  20. "First, the game often asks me who will do something without giving me any ability to check and remind myself who has the highest skill or spell level in a particular area. I can barely remember who's what class, let alone who has the highest skill in "Camouflage.""

    This reminds me of playing Fire Emblem: Three Houses over the last year. You've got a *lot* of characters (I had about 20 in my first play through, and over 30 in this one). Each week you can set training objectives and do individual training with them, to help them qualify for various classes. Do you think I can remember which class each character is going for, and what skills I'm currently trying to work on to help that for each one? I had to keep a notepad beside me on the couch, slowly filling it with lists of names and two skills each, crossing the skills out and updating them regularly, and then rewriting the whole list when it got messy.

    This whole thing could have been avoided if there was a way to set a class as a goal, and then have the skills you need to qualify for it that you don't have at the needed level highlighted.

    1. Oh, and I meant to say: In this game you could put a list of the relevant skill on screen while letting the player make the selection pretty easily, even if for some reason you didn't want to go with just having the person with the best skill make the check.

  21. Oh wow, I should read this entry over again: Not realizing it was a 90s game, I actually bought the remake of this a while back and even when to the effort of installing some of the recommended mods for it. You can find it on Steam under Realms of Arkania: Blade of Destiny, and apparently it is a UI/graphics update of the original. The series apparently has a fanbase in Germany but not much of one in English from my studying of the mods; they are all written in German, then a small number of them are translated to English, usually a bare-bones effort (Pages of German text replaced with a paragraph of English)


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