Saturday, October 23, 2021

Dark Sun: Sanitation Work

The "sewers" somehow have outgoing drains. There are apparently sewers for the sewers.
After my failure to fight my way out of the slave pits in the last entry, I reloaded an earlier save with the intention of spending longer in the arena and thus getting my characters to a higher level. It was a useful exercise, although not for the reasons that I expected.
I resisted making any changes to the party, but only after I opened the character creator and verified that 14 is the highest statistic the half-giant ever rolls for dexterity. Thus, I couldn't do any better without cheating. By then, I had become attached to my ragtag group, even if they were sub-optimal, and I was determined to find a way to usher them through the game.
I had to replay a lot of the content in the slave pits, and somehow while clicking quickly through the dialogue options, I ended up offending Merzol and his henchmen. That led to a combat in which we killed the crew--and thus cut off that possibility for escape. The precious treasure they were guarding in their haystack was 100 ceramic pieces. I was pleased to see that after their deaths, other NPCs referred to Merzol in the past tense. That type of adaptability is rare for the era.
Note the past tense on Merzol.
This time around, I got the location of the hidden gem from Semyon (the slave tied up in the arena). It was in a pot in Dinos's kitchen, which we smashed with the "sword" icon. Once I knew that was a gameplay element, of course we smashed every pot that we found. We didn't find any more valuables, but I like to think I dealt a blow to the evil sorcerer-king by ruining his pot budget.
The party bankrupts the corrupt city-state.
The amusing thing is that Semyon stayed in the arena. Every time we fought a battle, he was standing where we'd left him. He would try to help us in every battle, but for some reason he only had about 3 movement points per round, and usually the battle was over before he'd even closed half the distance between his starting position and the melee. He had almost limped to the front line for our last battle. I suppose he's still there.
Last time, you heard how Scar wouldn't talk to the party until we'd been in the arena four times. Well, apparently four was both a minimum and a maximum for Scar, because on our fifth visit--even though we hadn't talked with him--there he was. In the announcer's telling, "Scar has become so disgusted with the survival of these scum [i.e, the party] that he has offered to kill them himself to make room in the pens for real gladiators!" The game gave me some dialogue options, including one that would have given us the chance (I think) to participate in Scar's escape plan, just as before, but I just chose the one that led to combat.
A lot of potential outcomes in these dialogue options with Scar.
Scar attacked with himself and his three henchmen. What he didn't know is that my ranger had made Level 3 as a druid in our last combat (or maybe from finding the gem in the smashed pot) and thus had access to "Hold Person." All four of our enemies got held on the first try. "Hold Person" isn't the instant death sentence here that it is in the Gold Box. Characters attacking held enemies must still make their attack rolls (probably at a bonus). But if they hit, they hit with a significant damage bonus, and it wasn't long before Scar's party was dead.
I love how the announcer says this before we've even finished killing Scar's henchmen.
That left us as essentially the only fighters left in the slave pens. Gilal and Mirlon never seemed to get called to combat. It also left us with only a couple of escape options: give a gem to the suspicious Mirlon or just start fighting our way out.
We only fought one more arena combat before making our escape. In it, we faced a wild mull, a strine, and a couple other enemies. It wasn't too bad. But every time we showed up for our seventh combat, we got attacked by multiple high-level foes like daggorans, mountain stalkers, and dune reapers. I tried out a lot of potential spells, but they would just run up and shred my characters. Each of them is capable of 4-6 attacks per round doing an average of around 15 damage. I'd love to hear your strategies for fighting them, but nothing really worked for me.
This was not survivable.
Nonetheless, by now I had two characters capable of "Hold Person," and I figured that would be the secret to all the guards in the slave pens. Overall, it's pretty stupid to keep spellcasters as slaves and then put them in situations that allow them to improve as spellcasters--at least without some kind of magic-suppressing collar or other mechanism of control.
Anyway, after all that replaying, it turned out that my failure to escape the first time was mostly about bad positioning, bad luck, and failure to make use of the overhead map, which clearly shows the positions of enemies. This time, I started by killing Kurzak and Legcrusher, then running down through the slave pens before the general alarm rang, and out the western door of Dinos's quarters. Most of the guards followed down into the slave pens but got hung up there as the party ran to the western side of the map. By watching the overhead map, I was able to avoid clumps of guards while picking off individuals one at a time.  
You have to zoom in to see it, but the map shows all the guards clumped in the slave pens to the east while we're in a corridor in the southwest.
I was relieved when I made it to the sewer exit in the northwest corner, and I made a save there, but I ultimately ended up killing all the slavers by chasing them around the map, never attacking groups of more than two or three at a time. "Hold Person" helped, but it wasn't as necessary as I'd first assumed. I opened every chest and looted every body, although I didn't find a lot of useful items. The "templar" in charge of the slave pens, who attacked me alone in his lavish quarters, had a +1 longsword called "Bloodwrath." Almost everything else was a handful of ceramic pieces or, if I was lucky, some magic arrows.
Our first magic weapon!
With the corpses of men and pots behind us, we pried our way down into the absurdly spacious sewers, an act that got us 5,000 experience points each, enough for several characters to level up. That seemed excessive for the act of opening the grate, and I started to complain about it, but then I realized that "Congratulations! The party has gained experience" has been a feature of SSI D&D games for several years already. They just don't usually tell you how much.
But we've killed everyone who could possibly train us!
Only steps into the underworld, we were "greeted" by a pack of rat-men called Tari. ("I, rat" in reverse? How lazy.) They demanded that we pay for passage. We refused and threatened when they got uppity about it. They backed down. One of them told another to "tell Churr we have visitors." In further dialogue, they related that "Nestmaster Churr" is their leader, and that he's wrapped up in some plot with the "high warren chief's daughter." The sewers are divided into "warrens," and Churr apparently rules the Low Warrens. Other "selfish, cowardly" Tari live in the High Warrens. There are zombies in the "flushing tunnels" far to the north.
I feel like the first dialogue option isn't sincere.
Churr was just up the tunnel and asked us to join his Tari in an attack on the High Warren's Tari. I initially said no. In further conversation, Churr related in addition to the High Warren Tari, there is a third faction in the sewers: the "worshipers," Tari who worship the sorcerer-king in exchange for food. They are led by someone named Mikquetzl. Although I didn't agree to help in the attack, I gave a few bags of grain (which I'd snatched from a storeroom in the slave pens) to his hungry people for 5 ceramic pieces each.
We continued through the warrens. Some doors required us to find a nearby wheel to open. Some gates I could break down. Some drains and skeletons had items of small or no value in them (e.g., daggers, skulls, bottles of mold). Some wheels were broken. I continue to be frustrated by the interface, which is perfect except requiring the player to right-click through different action icons, which always reset after you do anything. Most of the time, you want it on the "talk/use" icon, but it won't stay there by default and there's no easy keyboard shortcut to bring it back.
A Tari guarding a gate refused to let us pass until we said we were escaped gladiators. He said his chief would want to see us and let us through. The chief of the High Warrens, whose name we never got, was more polite and articulate than Churr. He asked us to rescue his kidnapped daughter. She was taken on the way back from the Skull Temple, but the kidnappers have not sent a ransom note or any demands. The chief suspected Churr. Back in the Low Warrens, Churr said that Mikquetzl had paid him to kidnap the High Warren chief's daughter. She was probably sacrificed. 
I didn't understand the first dialogue option until I realized it was literal.
Not far from the chief was the Skull Temple, a religious location for Tari where the memories of their elders are preserved through the magic of someone named Dagolar. This mysterious figure also somehow changed a group of Tari (they look different, among other things), making them the guardians of the temple. The temple guard gave us a bone crank to use on the doors with broken wheels. I found more about Dagolar from a scroll in a treasure chest behind one of the doors opened by the crank. The scroll was written by Dagolar's brother, intent on punishing Dagolar for the "abominations he creates." He mentioned hiding the Staff of Parting before entering Dagolar's tunnels. 
The High Warrens had a firepit where we could rest, heal, and recover the spells we used in the slave pens. I think the only way to rest in this game is to use those firepits.
Moving through the tunnels, we were attacked by a new enemy: Tyrian slimes. They entrapped my characters in sticky webs, and despite not being very hard, I lost a lot of hit points fighting the first batch. But they have a high experience value (2,000), and I killed five of them. Violencia made Level 5 as a gladiator after the battle, and Yester made Level 4 as a preserver. He got his second Level 2 magic selection, and I chose "Stinking Cloud." (I had chosen "Acid Arrow" for his first.) I got attacked by a few more groups in this area. 
I scaled a wall in the northern tunnels and was attacked by a red slaad--the first time I've faced such a monster on this blog, I think. They're mostly physical creatures but have some self-healing and magic-resistance capabilities. I killed this one without too much trouble, and Yester made Level 5 as a druid. 
I think success was based on individual attributes, but somehow the whole party got over.
In one of the drains near the red slaad, we found a +1 axe that I gave to Sunstroke (half-giant fighter/cleric). Sligs attacked us further in the tunnels. There were no undead.
We found two exits from the sewers. One, in the northeast corner, was activated with a lever that we discovered while searching a pipe. The second was in the north-center. As we approached, guards poured through the two doorways. It was a difficult battle because new guards kept appearing in subsequent rounds, but in general, "Hold Person" did its job. We thus could have exited at any point, but we thought we'd see the plot through.
No matter how many I killed, more kept appearing. I think there were ultimately 12.
The "worshipers" were in the central-southwest part of the sewer map. We killed a few Tari who attacked us the moment we entered, then wrenched open a door to find Mikquetzl, a human. Our dialogue options were to say that we, too, worshiped Tectuktitlay (the sorcerer-king), demand the chief's daughter, or call Tectuktitlay the "son of a kank." A kank is apparently an insect creature in the setting. I had to Google it. Further dialogue revealed that Mikquetzl had been the sorcerer-king's high templar, but he was blamed for a slave uprising and cast into the sewers. He thought by converting the residents of the sewers to Tectuktitlay's cult, he could regain favor. We agreed to take the place of the girl on the "sacrificial altar." This allowed Mikquetzl to 18 points of automatic damage to Violencia before the combat began.
That's not quite what I meant when I demanded that you release the girl.
We killed Mikquetzl and his followers in a mostly-physical battle. The only interesting item he had were some Chameleon Gloves, which take the place of a weapon and do only 1-2 damage, but cause blindness or deafness. They also sell, according to the valuation, for 30,000 ceramic pieces. He had a bunch of grain sacks in the corner, but I decided it wasn't worth lugging them to Churr for 5 gold piece each.
A turn of the bone crank brought us into his chambers, where we found the chief's daughter (tied up) and a chest with a metal long sword, a gem, and two scrolls. The Tari woman was worried that Mikquetzl's followers would attack the Skull Temple, so we agreed to go back and help.
Because of her insistence that we go immediately, I never got half my questions answered.
The resulting battle was pretty hard owing to the sheer number of Tari enemies. I decided to try out my new "Summon Water Elemental" spell that Yester had gotten upon attaining druid Level 5, but the creature ended up never hitting anything. "Prayer" was more useful. We managed to wipe out the enemies, but not before they killed the High Warren chief's just-rescued daughter. He was less bothered about her death than we expected. He gave us a Helm of Contemplation as a reward, although the comment he offered with it--"May this helm protect you as well as it protected my daughter"--left us a little confused. A check of its stats once received indicates that it casts "Gaze-Reflection."
The chaotic melee of the final battle.
As the saviors of the Skull Temple, we were able to enter and speak to the skulls, which contain the spirits of the Tari elders. The spirits were reluctant to give up much, but upon repeated questioning, I learned that this Dagolar created the Tari; that I would need the Staff of Parting to enter his domain; that I'd find it in a drain in the room; and that if I took it to the northeast corner of the flushing tunnels, I could use it to enter Dagolar's domain. They also told me how to use the other two exits, which I already knew. I grabbed the staff and headed out to adventures to be related next time. 

I moved on to other topics and never got "What do you know about Draj?" again.
Miscellaneous notes:
  • Enemies often drop fruit and other items to eat. When viewed in inventory, these items are marked with explicit spells that they invoke when eaten. For instance, grapes confer "Neutralize Poison," "Prayer," or "Bless" depending on the color. Starfruit confers "Invisibility to Undead." Guavas "Poison." Food is more expensive than weapons and armor; I don't know if this is because of the nature of the setting or because it has spell effects.
Violencia contemplates some healing grapes.
  • I feel like the automatic overhead map perhaps gives too much away. It's a little too easy that the party can see it for the entire area even if they haven't explored the area.
  • I like the resting system. So far, there's been one place per map where I could safely rest, and even then only at certain times. You can't be too wasteful with spells and hit points in individual combats.
The party can only rest at fire pits.
  • On the other hand, I think D&D games lose something when you don't have to "train" to level up. I feel like there ought to be some kind of player input or ritual, even if it was just delayed until the next time the character rested.
  • I keep instinctively going into the characters' inventories, selecting an item, and right-clicking to close the inventory and return to the main screen. The problem is that right-clicking doesn't close the inventory and return to the main screen; ESC does. I can't remember what game instilled right-clicking to close the inventory into my muscle memory.
  • One of the useless items we could find in drains was a conch shell. "Using" it pronounced a long horn note. Given this is a desert planet, one wonders where all these shells are coming from.
We found something in the sewer drain. Let's put our lips on it!
  • In combat, something weird keeps happening with Featherweight (ranger/thief). She gets attacked by enemies with missile weapons, but when the missiles reach her, there's an animation and sound that suggests a spell effect. She doesn't seem to take any damage. Is the game's way of indicating that she's dodging them or something?
  • Right-clicking on spells in this game tells you what they do. Cool.
We almost have a proper GUI.
Aside from a few interface concerns, I am really loving this game. I love that it offers so many different types of encounters, side quests and areas, and paths to success. (I wouldn't mind if I found something like a shop sometime soon.) I love the dialogue options, the spell system, and the inventory system. My only concern is the pace of character leveling. As I close this session, Violencia is Level 6 as a gladiator and everyone else is Level 5 in their dual classes. The game maximum is 9 levels. I'm over halfway there--two-thirds in Violencia's case, although I can dual her--after only two maps. Maybe I should have triple-classed everyone.
Time so far: 9 hours


  1. I guess those anti-marijunana people have a point. You got into pot and then ran around in a killing spree.

    Seriously though, I wonder how I missed this game. I was an active RPG consumer when it came out and yet somehow I never heard of it.

    1. Shame on anti-marihuana people ;)

    2. The Legend of Zelda influence is clear. Yaaah!

  2. Other than Baldur's Gate, I think this is the game on your "upcoming" list I've most looked forward to you covering. It's an excellent game that doesn't get the credit it deserves - at least as compared to the other gold box games - from most people.

    I think you're going to really enjoy it overall.

  3. As for the shells, sounds like this planet wasn't *always* a desert planet. So, much like fossils, they point to a very different past environment.

    1. I get that, but it's still a little weird to find them copiously in sewer drains. It's not like you find a lot of fossils in sewer drains.

    2. Unless drains were made through excavations and those excavations found the shells but they didn't want to pit them somewhere and just left them around. Just a pitch I thought.

    3. Isn't that conch useful for something?

    4. Yeah, I think that it lets you murder a chubby kid with glasses and assmar.

    5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. This sounds like the sort of game where if you "role-play" your actions (i.e., escaping the arena as soon as possible!) the XP keeps you at the right level. But if you play as a completist and sweep as much as you can for loot and XP, you quickly become overpowered and start meeting level caps.

  5. Was Mikquetzl's image based on Patrick Swayze in Point Break?

    1. ...or was it Ultima's Avatar strung-out on drugs?

  6. "A check of its stats once received indicates that it casts" Gaze-Reflection. ""

    It is a passive ability granted to the character who wears it. And the helm also improves AC, if I remember correctly.

    "In combat, something weird keeps happening with Featherweight (ranger / thief). She gets attacked by enemies with missile weapons, but when the missiles reach her, there's an animation and sound that suggests a spell effect. She doesn't seem to take any damage. "

    Most likely it is another spell effect from equipment or innate ability. Inertial Barrier or something like this. You can check active spell effects on a character by clicking on one of the icons you can see by the inventory icon on most of the UI screens.

    "I think success was based on individual attributes, but somehow the whole party got over."

    It is a class check. In this case you needed a thief as an active character / leader to climb the wall. Dark Sun taken some cues from Quest for Glory, apparently.

    1. Okay, she has "Protection from Missile" active. I'm not sure what's giving her that, though. It doesn't seem to be a piece of equipment. There's nothing in the manual about thieves or rangers gaining it innately.

    2. The Shield spell doesn't do that (it gives you a flat AC bonus instead). There's a higher-level spell that does make you immune to missiles. But yeah, this is probably a psionic power at work.

    3. If it is, it's automatic. I didn't have her cast it.

  7. In my last game I killed Trustee to get the key to the kitchen, and the game acknowledged that too (The cook mentions his corpse was found somewhere, and that one of the gladiators probably killed him). I quite liked that.

    I did most of the stuff in the game and my dual classed characters hit the level cap before the ending, but not too early. I only fought two rounds in the area, though.

    1. It is quite funny, in a way. In Gold Box games a player can create evil characters, but can't role-play them in any meaningful way. In Dark Sun a player can't create evil characters, but can role-play the party as a bunch of violent jerks.

      As an example, the party can murder Gilal in the pens. She doesn't ever puts a up fight, just dies by the script after an attack. Then they can go to Dinos and ask him about Gilal. He breaks down and shouts at the party about them killing her. The party then can intimidate/sneer him to shut up about it.

    2. That IS weird. Under D&D tabletop rules, if you do something like that, don't you switch alignments?

    3. Absent supernatural events like a Helm of Opposite Alignment, the rules leave things like "switching alignment" up to GM discretion in standard D&D. Not least because the alignments themselves are on the vague side, and also because the range of interaction options is so huge.

      In most editions, the advice is "if a player regularly acts in ways that suggest a different alignment than the one on their character sheet, they should be switched to that alignment instead"

    4. I think one of the never-used rules of AD&D was that when granting XP, the DM first applied a multiplier (max 1) representing how well the character stuck to their alignment/class/race.

      "Chet, you're a thief, you weren't sneaky enough, try to steal more from the other players, gonna give you 80% xp for this adventure"

    5. I have no idea historically, but that sounds like a Gary Gygax special to me. A lot of early, otherwise inexplicable D&D rules make sense if you view them through the lens of Gygax being an obnoxious jerk.

  8. In the tabletop rpg, I think that in the "Dark Sun" setting all magic potions were in the form of magic fruits. Maybe that's the reason for seeming to be so expensive in the computer game, because they are not considered normal food, but the equivalent of the Healing Potions, Neutralize Poison Potions, etc, from previous DnD computer games.

    1. And if I'm not misremembering, those magic fruits weren't intrinsecally magic. You couldn't grow "grapes of healing" in your garden, but you could grow normal grapes and, by some magic process, imbue them with the power of healing (or neutralize posion, or resist fire, etc), transforming them in the equivalent of a Healing Potion in other DnD settings.

    2. I appreciate the clarification. The manual has nothing to say about magic fruit, but your explanation makes sense.

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. As others have already said the fruit is expensive because it is your potions. Weapons and armlr are cheap to this point because for the most part they have been obsidian, bone, or wood and have to hit and damage penalties, since metal is so scarce on Athas. The first shop is close but outside of the sewers. You can leave, sell, and come back easily though

  11. I believe the planet wasn't always a desert wasteland, but ended up that way because of defilers using up the world's energy to make themselves stronger. It's a post-apocalyptic D&D setting, essentially.

  12. >But every time we showed up for our seventh combat, we got attacked by multiple high-level foes like daggorans, mountain stalkers, and dune reapers. I tried out a lot of potential spells, but they would just run up and shred my characters. Each of them is capable of 4-6 attacks per round doing an average of around 15 damage. I'd love to hear your strategies for fighting them, but nothing really worked for me.

    Mass Domination does wonders

    Getting half the enemy group on your side turn 1 is amazing.

    Aside of that, three-keen are very powerful early - a three keen buffed with animal affinity and enhanced strenght will have a damage output even higher than those monsters.

  13. "I am really loving this game."

    That's good to hear, and one of the main reasons why many of us are following the blog so fervently.

  14. Also, 'Sanitation Work' is another great title, I can see you're having a run.

  15. Funny, I never found the right clicking to switch interaction mode annoying. In fact I rather love it! I use the mouse to move around and click on things anyway and the button is always within easy reach. I never felt the need for keyboard shortcuts.

    Meanwhile I find most roguelikes with keyboard only and no mouse controls terribly clunky.

    1. While I wouldn't say I loved the right clicking in this, that's mostly because it didn't really register as any sort of issue or benefit to me. It was just there and that was the most thought I put into it.

    2. I didn't consciously notice it either because of how comfortable it was to use. Meanwhile in games that heavily rely on using dozens of keyboard shortcuts, like the Gold Box games or roguelikes, I usually am very aware of the controls because of how comparatively cumbersome they feel.

      I find it interesting that Chet has the exact opposite reaction, with keyboard shortcuts being his preferred method of input while I find clicking icons with the mouse a lot more intuitive and easy to do.

      Might be a generational thing. Chet is a good decade older than me and grew up with 80s RPGs. I started gaming with my dad at an early age, but it was already the beginning of the 90s when mouse-driven interfaces became more common. Some of my first games were Lucas Arts and Sierra point & click adventures. I only got into RPGs once I reached my teens, with games like Diablo, Baldur's Gate 2, Arcanum, Morrowind. All of which make heavy use of the mouse (and between all of these, Morrowind is the only one that can't be played with mouse only - keyboard use is entirely optional).

    3. Personally I didn't really start getting into PC gaming outside of budget releases until around the late 2000s, and even then it wasn't until around 2017ish that I started playing stuff that required extensive keyboard shortcuts instead of just being able to use a mouse. I usually end up having far more issues trying to memorize keyboard stuff than I do with either just using a mouse or some sort of controller. I'd imagine a large part of this comes from generally playing console games growing up, and usually the sort where I have to keep at most 10 actions in mind as opposed to the considerably more you can have with a keyboard.

  16. Man, I can't believe that they forgot about Draj...

  17. I found the fruit to be a core aspect to the game, since spells can run out quickly without resting. Having specific fruits on a character can really turn some battles. On the other hand, I also like the psionic body upgrades. They can really help too.

  18. I have been curious about this game for awhile, funny that you're playing it here and BlueAnklyo is playing it on YouTube at the same time. Still love that you can only rest at campfires, makes good sense. Thanks Chet for keeping this up so I've been quiet but still reading.

  19. --"May this helm protect you as well as it protected my daughter"

    I think he is actually unhappy with you for the death for his daughter. It sounds like a curse: "I give you this helm, and I wish it causes your death".

    1. No, he's not really that upset with the party. In the previous paragraph, he says: "You have saved the Skull Temple! Your names will be legedn with my people! The loss of my daughter, though, is a heavy price."

      I think either the text means, "May this helm protect you as well as it protected my daughter UNTIL TODAY" or it's just a case where the developers forgot to swap in a different bit of dialogue if the daughter had died.

  20. Really enjoying this series! I defeated the seventh fight using 4 half giant fighters and subsequently went on to win the game but I no doubt missed out on a lot of the finer role playing options in lieu of smashing my way to victory.

    I remember looting the entire arena area and coming away with like 20 bags/chests in my inventory which I always thought was a silly way to increase your inventory space by 600% but then again I was a hoarder of items “just in case” type person.

    Happy gaming!


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