Thursday, December 23, 2021

Dark Sun: The Dark Web

In this setting, it's apparently "wrong" to just slaughter giant spiders.
The first area south of Gedron has a bunch of mineral springs. As we approach what looks like an elevated bath, some guy pops up from under the sand where he was hiding. He asks if we're the gladiators escaped from Draj. We answer truthfully. "You are of the Veiled Alliance," he says, which I guess maybe is a name that someone came up with for our attempt to unite the slave towns. He warns us that a templar named Theofil is in the area, convinced he can mine copper here.
Mere steps away, we meet Theofil and his guards, who demand to know our business. I choose something banal ("we're just travelers"), at which point one of the guards announces we are now slaves to Theofil. 
One of these days, I'll have to do a special entry on my general role-playing tendencies, no matter what the game or character. There are times when I try to force myself to go against those tendencies and role-play a particular character, but otherwise I'm going to choose the "good" option 95% of the time. I will almost always be kind to children, generous with my money (this is partly because the economy is so broken in most games that you're grateful for the opportunity to spend it), and protective of the innocent. I will be unmotivated by choices that have to do with loyalty to my own family or clan if they're the ones in the wrong. I almost always take choices that involve speaking truth to power and denying the divinity of gods. Most important for present purposes, I have no patience with or sympathy for slavers. The moment I find out that's what I'm facing, my general tendency is to attack. 
While I agree with the sentiment of #2, I wish the game had given me a less cringey way of expressing it.
Thus, although the game offers a path of guile here, Theofil and his guards are soon dead at the ends of our swords. Man, you commenters weren't kidding about El's sword. It's terrifying. Not only does it do plenty of damage on its own, it has a "Vampiric Touch" effect that effectively doubles the damage. Violencia can sometimes kill three enemies per round with it. One problem I'm having, though, is that the game "forgets" my strength bonuses in between sessions. I have to have Violencia unequip and re-equip her belt, and Featherweight unequip and re-equip her sword, to get the strength bonuses back again.
Theofil has a magic shield that provides protection against fire, which is nice. I give it to Sunstroke.
Inventory items remain relatively clear about what they do.
Elsewhere on the map, we find a mercenary band heading to Draj to join the army "to smash the slave villages." Again, there's a guile option ("I, too, am a soldier traveling to Draj"), but we don't see any reason to take it. The combat is brief and easy enough that I check out the auto-combat option for the first time. It works well enough. It favors bows more than I would like and doesn't cast spells at all, and I don't think there's a way to enable this (unlike the Gold Box).
The only new way to go from here is to the south. The next map has more of the mineral springs, plus large crystals growing out of the sands. We meet a mul who calls himself the Druid of the Steaming Waters, exiled from his oasis by a defiler and his band of guards. The "defiler" turns out to be another Drajan templar, this one named Takan. As before, his guards challenge us as we approach. As before, we decline to lie our way in, and again a bunch of guards and a templar lie dead on the shifting sands. This templar has an obsidian necklace that casts "Disintegrate." For some reason, he didn't use it on us. The grateful druid tells us about a treasure hidden in the badlands to the east; based on his description, it is the very treasure Violencia wears around her waist.
Next map south, we find a bunch of geoglyphs on the overhead map, including one of a dragon. I suspect this is where we might collect the "dragon's eye" treasure that the announcer told us about. (I have no idea why I didn't kill him.) Unfortunately, clicking in and around its eye produces nothing, and there's no "search" command in the game. However, I remember that some of the guards two maps ago had tools that I didn't pick up. When I get back to the location of that battle, most of the dropped equipment is gone, but both a shovel and a pick-axe remain. I take both.
This all looked pretty cool, but none of it amounted to much. At least not yet.
Back at the geoglyph map, before I reach the dragon's eye, I find a lizardman named Ssovan chasing a dust devil around the desert. He says that he's lost his tribe, so he's looking for a totem to gather new people, and he thinks the dust devil will somehow turn in to this totem if he proves his stamina by following it around long enough. He thinks we might be there to help him, or might be there for him to kill to prove his strength. Either way, he's uninterested in our "city wars."
I think dust devils are the very antonym of "plan."
Digging in the dragon's eye with the shovel produces a chest with a "Flame Arrow" and the heart crystal of A'Poss, the cleric from the temple who betrayed Tynan and Tristram.  
This is a pretty obvious place to dig, when you think about it.
In the northwest, amidst a geoglyph for a sideways "2," we find a man named Maris, a former instructor at the psionic institute in Draj. He is annoyed that we have interrupted his following of "the path." He invites us to follow him by simply walking the contours of the "2" three times. Each time we reach an end, the game notes that we're closer to enlightenment. At the end, we gain some experience. He then offers to sell us some psionic bracelets, but having no psionics in the party, I can't use them. I offload some items, including two previously-looted psionic bracelets, and get up to ¤63,000.
I guess I won the game!
Nothing else happens at the other glyphs in the area, some of which look like futhark runes. Rather than continue west or south, we decide to head back to Teaquetzl and a couple of other earlier maps. On the way, we find Laussa the lizardwoman in the desert and tell her about the would-be chieftain to the west. She likes what she hears and says she will seek him out. 
We also stop by Nokatu in Red Mesa and sell our accumulated sand howler eyes and fire eel tongues, but he otherwise has nothing new for us.
Back in Teaquetzl, almost everyone has new dialogue. Everyone, including Chahl, is happy with the new alliance. The Visionary tells us we have one hand clasped in friendship but the other remains empty, suggesting we need at least one more ally. Katura is hanging out in our house. I have Yester (male) speak to her, and indeed there are some flirtation options that lead to Katura giving Yester a ring to remember her by. She expresses some interest in learning about her birth parents, but we don't have any idea who they are, just that Chahl saved her from sacrifice.
Down in the ruins below the well, A'Poss's heart crystal does nothing for us. I guess we need Tynan's and/or Tristram's.
In the geoglyph area, Ssovan and Laussa have found each other and have started a new tribe. Laussa gives us a magic ring as a reward. This "metal steadfast ring" increases constitution by 3. I give it to Featherweight, who has the lowest at 14. Ssovan still isn't interested in helping us against Draj, but he has designated us "not prey," so I guess that's something.
We exit to the west to a new area, where men immediately start screaming at us: "The wyverns! The wyverns! Run for your lives!" Sure enough, a bunch of wyverns land in the area, and their riders jump off and join the battle. The battle is short--there are only three wyverns and guards, and we're way overpowered by now.
Fighting a wyvern.
Afterwards, it turns out that I'm in Cedrilte Village. The place is the worst-off of any of the three villages I've found so far. The place has been decimated by bandit raids. Their crops are gone, their huts are little more than ruins, the well water is fouled, and game is scarce in the area. They are subsisting on roots and grubs, believing that it is their fate to be destroyed. They're far too busy trying to stay alive than to think about rebelling against Draj. Their leader, Chaya, won't even talk to us until we agree to end the bandit threat. At that point, she softens. She says that they live in the castle on the mountain. It's so steep that we can't climb it, but someone named Kirkor knows a way. We've been carrying four or five sacks of grain since the first map, and we get some experience for giving it to Chaya.
The town's designated carpenter isn't much use.
The town's loremaster tells us that to get a Terror Bloom, we'll have to get a rampager to chase us, then slay it under the shade of a serpent tree. I'm starting to think this little side quest is going to be too much of a pain, but it turns out there's a serpent tree in the northwest corner of the village, and I can summon a rampager just by blowing on a horn. Rampagers damage your armor, so before we blow the horn, I summon a creature to take the brunt of the rampager's initial attacks. I'm confident that if we delay acting until he exhausts himself against my summoned ally, we can kill him before he acts again. The plan goes as I hoped, and a Terror Bloom grows in the shade of the tree after we've killed the beast. We grab it to return it to Nokatu later. 
Fighting the ravager under the shade of a tree.
A ladder in the well takes us to the same ruined underground temple that we can access from Teaquetzl. A ghost named Zeefram greets us and tells us to wander no further, but we appease him by telling him we are not here to plunder. We find Tynan's old chambers and his diary, although it tells us nothing new. A couple of ghosts attack as we explore, and we're forced to kill them. We don't find anything else in this section--most of the passages are blocked by rubble--though it occurs to us that we didn't try climbing down the well in Gedron and should perhaps go back.
A dwarf named Kirkor is highly annoyed that we're bothering him, but he grudgingly shows us a stone concealing the entrance to a cave--the only exit from the village other than the way we came in. We move the stone and enter. The cave opens into a maze of tunnels.
It is a legitimate criticism that the overhead maps give away too much. The player should have to actually explore to uncover these areas.
Other than bugs, the tunnels are inhabited by little blue creatures that the game labels "first folk." They are telepaths, and they live connected to other first folk, sharing all thoughts and experiences. They call their cave dwellings "mindhomes."
One of the "first folk" describes the issues with the spiders.
Recently, the intelligent spiders who inhabit the upper parts of the caverns (the "Darkhold") have become inexplicably hostile. The first folk were of two minds as to what to do about it--attack or maintain the peace--and thus the hive mind was split into two groups, the peaceful ones living in the east caverns and the warlike ones moving to the west. Unaligned with either is the "Outsider," who nonetheless wants peace and peaceful trade with the spiders. Each faction asks me to help. I agree to help the Outsider.
After we scale the walls to the upper caverns with the Outsider's silk rope, we meet the spiders. They have a prince and a queen with absurd names that I'm not even going to try to recount. Anyway, they're also mystified as to the sudden violence shown by some of their species. There's talk that it has something to do with a "curse" localized in a northwest chamber or an "entity" occupying the south fungus grove. She wants me to destroy this entity. As we leave her chambers, her son stops us and says that his mother is devious and evil. She will kill us after we've done her bidding and will never re-establish trade with the first folk. He asks us to help him overthrow her after we've lifted the curse.
Negotiating with the spider queen.
We find the supposed "cursed" room, marked by a floor glyph. We have to break down a wall to get into an inner chamber (this summons some red slaad for a brief battle). The inner chamber has three skeletons chained to the wall. A chest contains a journal written by someone named "Nagi," presumably one of the ancient people to inhabit the castle above us. Nagi writes that he wanted to lead a society called the Inner Eye, but someone named Tara usurped his place. It was Tara's evil that summoned the entity that took over the fungus grove. She then imprisoned Nagi in the chamber we broke into. He used his time in prison to fashion several necklaces to protect against fungoids, and one that will somehow destroy the entity. We scoop them up.
On the east side of the dungeon, we find the fungus chamber protected by "evil" spiders and have to kill them. They've apparently been guarding a hole from which a sense of evil emanates. I fiddle around for a while before discovering that the way to lift the curse is just to hurl Nagi's golden pendant into the hole. This lifts the evil miasma and releases the spiders.
Killing the last spider before the evil hole.
On the way back, a group of spiders tries to kill us ("the queen promises great rewards!"), but we make short work of them. The prince intercepts us on our way to the queen's throne room and assures us that he's right behind us. When we reach the queen, she assures us that she's thankful for our service, but then she orders her spiders to attack. The ensuing battle has a few spider mages who cast "Lightning Bolt," but they're otherwise not very hard. We have to kill eight of them.
He was not "right behind us."
Afterwards, though, I find no sign of the prince. The other spiders in the area are non-hostile and thank us, but back in the lower caverns, the Outsider yells at us for killing his spider friends and refuses to help us any further. So I'm not sure what I did wrong. Maybe I accidentally killed the prince in the battle, not realizing that he was an ally. But do I have to handle the upper caverns without killing any spiders? I'm not sure that's possible.
I object to the characterization of what I did as "slaughter."
My last save is from the village, so I'll contemplate replaying the area. I'm starting to get a bit impatient, though, and it's all tied to the game's level caps. I have no problem running around doing side quests if the experience is going to do me some good, but in this case only Sunstroke and Featherweight have any levels left to gain, and in both cases the experience points necessary are so high that I doubt I'll make it. I'm slightly mollified by the knowledge that there's a sequel, so presumably the extra experience isn't completely wasted.

I otherwise continue to enjoy the encounter design, and I'm finding the NPCs relatively interesting and memorable--not late-1990s quality, of course, but definitely in comparison to other games of this era.
Time so far: 27 hours


  1. The Veiled Alliance is a secret society of preservers - since the cities are run by defiling sorcerer-kings, they have to stay underground. They’re the main “good guy” faction in the setting, so it’s a reasonable assumption that your party is working with them, especially since you’ve got a preserver in the group.

    I remember the spider bit as resolving fine but seem to recall the prince giving a speech pre-battle - maybe you outpaced him on the way in?

    1. "Good guy" does sometimes have to go in scare quotes there, since they're primarily opposing defiling and the sorcerer-kings. Which is good because they're trying to support ecological preservation, which happens to include fighting tyrants, but fighting slavery is not actually their primary goal.

      The Veiled Alliance will also often either choose to, or think as if they're forced to, make dubious ethical moves to make their ethical goals happen.

    2. I think the Veiled alliance is the counterpart of the Harpersin the Forgotten Realms setting. IIRC in the PnP Setting there is a chapter in each of the city states, but the are so "veiled", that each chapter is independent. Even members of the VA of others cities don't know anything of the about the others, neither members nor location etc as part of their protection

    3. "They are so secret a society, I'm not sure they know they exist" - Beckett on the Society of Leopold, should the Addict ever get to 2004.

    4. Also I would expect the Veiled Alliance to be a tiny minority of the total opposition to the Sorcerer-Kings, since Preservers are supposedly super rare.

    5. Well, I think they're meant to have many members who aren't Preservers, but support the Alliance's goals and help Preservers however they can -- but yeah, it's sort of odd that the major opposition to the sorcerer-kings would center on their use of defiling magic as opposed to all the other things they do to make life miserable for ordinary people.

    6. "Yo, oppression and abuse of power is cool and all and as a mighty wizard I would do the same... but I also like food and water being readily available, and green landscapes are so much nicer than barren hellscapes."

      "Yeah considering the alternatives, I'm totally going to join up with you. Better to live as a slave in a garden than a slave in a desert!"

  2. The evil spiders can be cured without killing any, but I don't think it's necessary. I don't think it's possible to avoid the queen fight. What probably happened though is that you killed the prince. Several spiders fight on your side and it's very hard to tell them apart from the queen's spiders. I think the mages can be safely killed, apart from that you have to check who is attacking you - but I think even that became bugged sometimes.

  3. I'm really intrigued how complex the quests are in this game, even there are some hickups here in there

  4. In the battle with the spider queen, bad spiders blink black when you hover the cursor over them. Friendly spiders blink grey. The prince might have died from stray lighting bolt or some other attack, he is a rather fragile NPC.
    I remember that I had to replay this battle several times because of him keep dying. The best way to keep him safe is to identify spider spell-casters and hit them hard with your own spells. They can dish out noticeable damage, but can't take much themselves.

    As of your impatience, you are almost at the end. Once you help this village, you can proceed to Teaquetzl and to final area. Two areas south of the geoglyph area are completely optional, as was the two areas between that area and Gedron. The quest with the underground temple is optional too. But if you want to complete it, one more area of this temple is accessible only from destroyed caravan area you explored just after escaping from the drajan fields.

  5. Happy Christmas Chester

  6. "presumably the extra experience isn't completely wasted"

    I understand that generally one is advised to start the second game with fresh characters. They unsurprisingly had balance issues with importing buffed heroes from the first game, so to compensate for it when you import, I recall that all enemies have doubled hit points. I am told that this solution does not scale properly as you approach the end game.

    1. Yeah, there’s definitely some s along going on if you import - though I actually found that it made the first part of the sequel hardest, with things getting easier later on (it helps that the final fight in Ravager is way easier than the one in Shattered Lands).

    2. Yes, it is easier, whereas it should be one of the hardest battles in the multiverse of D&D if they would have strictly applied the P&P rules. It's still my opinion that an epic battle is not required for an epic ending.

  7. While it's been fascinating watching somebody play Dark Sun in just about the opposite order that it's designed to be played.. you've set yourself up for considerable disappointment with regard to character development and the economy.

    This is the first game that I played in real time as it came out that you've covered, I fear that your decisions will leave you with less of a positive impression than you may have had (and I did have back in the day).

    The game is pretty clearly designed to be played by triple class characters, and a party that includes a psionic caster. If you would have played say, a half-giant fighter/psionist, a human triple class gladiator 8/psionist 9/preserver 9, a mul fighter/thief/druid (fire) and a half-elf fighter/druid (earth)/preserver, would still be getting routine development (getting near the cap).. Also, if you had a psionist, you would be trying to decide which rings to spend your fairly tight resources on, instead of having 60k+ in the bank. ​

    This isn't a spoiler, but when your preserver levels, you can click through the level spells in the lower left corner and take earlier level spells, so haste should still be available.

    Nyfb, gur 3 pba evat punatrf gur ahzore bs UCf lbh trg ba yriry hc, naq fubhyq nyjnlf or tvira gb gur arkg punenpgre gb yriry. Lbhe UCf ner ernyyl ybj sbe gur svany onggyrf.

    1. Seriously doubt it was designed to be played with triple class characters. That's something people decided after the fact to make the screwy XP economy more palatable.

    2. Agreed -- for most of its run time, you can play pretty much any party you want, since Shattered Lands isn't a very hard game... until you hit the brick wall that is the final battle, and realize that you need to approach it in a very specific way to have a chance.

    3. "The game is pretty clearly designed to be played by triple class characters." I think this needs to be justified with actual evidence.

    4. It could be that as a teenager who wasn't super experienced with RPGs, I just assumed more classes = better.. but the impression I've always had after reading the manual, was that Athas sucked and you wanted to maximize the potential of your characters.

      It could be that as a teenager who wasn't super experienced with RPGs, I just assumed more classes = better.. but the impression I've always had after reading the manual, was that Athas sucked and you wanted to maximize the potential of your characters.

      Even if you take a fairly conservative trip during the Arena phase, insulting the announcer once each time and then escaping with Scar.. you're already close to half way to a single class xp cap before you finish the breakout.

    5. Triple classing was definitely not normal play of 2E.

    6. This comes across a bit like the Skinner meme — if you don’t think this is the best game ever made, then you’re playing it wrong. A really silly statement. Like how is Chester meant to know the order you’re “meant” to do the encounters in, when the game is open and there’s no sign posts? And so on. If the game wanted you to do it triple classed, then why give alternatives? Especially when triple classing wasn’t usual RPG practice.

    7. I think that the problem lies with the experience tables being balanced towards a 6-person party, but there is only 4 characters in Dark Sun.

      In Ravenloft and Menzoberranzan games creators balanced XP gains towards a 4-person party, and the problem with banging your head on the level-cap in mid-game disappeared. On the contrary, being careless with level-draining enemies could've resulted in the party being stuck at woefully low level with no hopes of gaining more XP, as there is no Restoration spell, nor any grinding opportunities in those games.

    8. The game slightly nudges you towards going clockwise - the healer in Teaquetzl sends you northwest on a quest to Gedron. The encounters are also probably easier that way. But if you can handle it you're free to go any way you want.

      The level cap isn't that bad. Most of the characters may have hit it by now, but it's close to the end and most of the optional encounters have been done. Triple-classing just for the sake of extending the level cap a bit is not really worth it.

    9. It's also partially to do with how xo for multiclassing works in 2e, being split between your classes but also having different level milestones for each one. I always played this with a straight gladiator, a psi/thief, a druid preserver fighter and a cleric preserver fighter, and you keep getting levels like crazy. The second game, (wake of the ravager) even moreso

  8. Chester's description of how he plays RPG speaks to my style in a way that is eerily familiar. It's me to a tee.

  9. Maybe for the sequel you can experience the difference of a full psionicist class character given how much experience you already have with the rest of d&d gameplay.


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