Sunday, June 19, 2022

The Return of Werdna: Kaboom

 
This level in summary.
      
The first time through, I called Level 8 "the most hateful [level] I have ever encountered in any CRPG." The passage of twelve years has not dampened that sentiment. Titled "The Death of a Thousand Cuts," it is the ultimate exercise in trial and error: a level in which three-quarters of the squares have mines that kill you (or nearly so), and yet you still have to step in every damned square because one of them might contain some vital item. (And three of them do!) Incidentally, setting off mines does not remove them from the map, so you can't periodically run back to the pentagram to heal and slowly "clear" them. It was an effort of will not to simply use my map from the first experience, which would have turned 5 hours into 15 minutes.
       
My final map of Level 8.
    
This is one level in which your exploration pattern makes a huge difference. Try to map the contours of the level clockwise, and you not only find the summoning pyramid quickly, you're safe from mines until you get there. Go the other direction and you're in for a world of hurt. You'll be reloading a lot as your Level 2 Werdna and whatever allies he has left from the floor below last virtually no time against this level's denizens, let alone its mines.
 
As with the last level, the time I spent here allowed me to get to know everyone intimately, to the point that I was anticipating their actions and yelling things like, "Keep your goddamned hands to yourself, Abduul." I met two adventuring parties here: Arcturus's Avengers and Abduul's Artful Dodgers. The ironic thing about this level is that both parties  are composed of mostly evil enemies. That makes their battle cries ("Murderer, you shall pay!" and "Die, infidel!") all the more mysterious. Both have a melange of characters, including high-level spellcasters and (in the Dodgers' case), a thief capable of stealing your important artifacts. I'll let you puzzle over their names, but I'll say that I'm a bit annoyed the Avengers stole my default name of "Gideon."
      
Perhaps the most annoying message in the game.
       
Unlike the parties on previous levels, neither of these parties drops anything important. 
   
Gideon, you traitor.
        
In between these enemies, as usual, you meet individual foes and occasional pairs and trios: Gytr, a good mage; Tars Tarkas, an evil fighter; Merlin, an evil fighter (?!); Lord Gwydion, a good lord; Xenic, a neutral fighter; Kazrak, an evil fighter; Aspergil, a good bishop; Drip, an evil mage; Bananarama, a neutral fighter; Fank, a good priest; Oger, an evil thief; Thalessa, an evil fighter; Bugnews, a good fighter.
    
Against these enemies, you have a better selection of allies than on lower floors. I thought the best of the bunch were spirits, which cast Level 3 mage spells, including MAHALITO (a fireball that damages all enemies). Their physical attacks poison. Second are Level 5 priests, who continue to keep the lights on and Werdna healed. There are a lot of allies tied for third, including banshees and shades (both cause level drain, but banshees seem to flee more often), rotting corpses (poison and paralyze), and gaze hounds (paralyze, low AC, high hit points). Dragon flies have a breath attack, but it's mild. Ronins have physical attacks and Level 2 mage spells, not high enough to be much use. The rest--harpies, bugbears, wererats---attack only in melee and often flee. I have no idea what "looters" are supposed to be, but they mostly just run away.
       
That was helpful, thanks.
     
The big news is that Werdna himself gets a lot more effective on this level. The two Level 3 mage spells are MAHALITO and MOLITO, both of which cause mass damage of different sorts. 
 
Of course, the ghost of Trebor keeps stalking you across the level, occasionally showing up out of nowhere and killing you. It's harder to get away from him here because if you panic, you end up running into a minefield. 
         
This is so annoying when it happens after you've made a lot of progress.
       
The real difficulty on the level is surviving the mine damage, which gets worse as you go south and west, until by the time you get to the bottom of the map, you're taking 10 hit points per mine. Around this point, I stopped even trying to survive. I would map three mines, die, and reload. There were a few places where I had to get creative just to verify that a square contained a mine. The mine at 0,2 on the map is probably the most difficult. You either have to wade through three 10-point damage mines from the east or a bunch of lesser ones from the north. Either way, you need to fight at least one random battle mid-way so that your priests have a chance to heal Werdna. Spinning around looking for random combats, you have an equal chance of getting killed by Trebor. It was a lot of effort to verify that the square did, in fact, contain a mine.

As noted above, all the mapping is necessary because there are three fixed treasures amidst the mines: golden pyrite, an amber dragon, and a witching rod. The latter of these is found in a pool of acid that costs you 14 hit points to search. I noted their locations but didn't grab them all because until the end of the level, I didn't have room in my inventory.
      
Finding the "witching rod."
      
A safe path snakes its way through the minefield and to the exit in the southwest. Even after you've mapped it, navigation can be perilous. More than once, I miscounted the steps or held down the forward key too long and had to restart. More than half a dozen times, Trebor got me while I was trying to find my way. With persistence, I finally made my way to the 2 x 2 room in the southwest.
   
As you enter the room, a message helpfully asks if you've forgotten something. One step further and you battle a clay golem. He has nothing useful. But in the opposite corner of the room is an assassin named Glum. He has 220 hit points and is capable of special attacks like decapitation. If you kill him, he carries a "weighty cube" that turns out to be a Box of Holding. You want to have room for it when you find it because it makes room for everything else. Alas, when I finally made it to the room and defeated the assassin, I accidentally had a jammed inventory and had to leave the box. 
     
Glum appears to be a frog.
       
There was no way I was going to try to make my way back to the pentagram from the exit, so I took the stairway up to Level 7 and saved. I had four spirits and five priests, so I was comfortable in my chances of making it to the pentagram. That was a little cocky of me. It took me three reloads to get past the parties on this level, reach the pentagram, and summon some new allies. Guessing, I chose priestesses, giant slugs, and strangler vines. It was not an optimal party, but I did manage to kill Glum again and this time retrieve his box. I put everything that wasn't equipped in it. I recall that if you equip the box, thieves can't steal it from you.
      
This is what I had at the end of this session. I'll take a light hint if I seem to be missing anything.
       
Now I needed to get those marked treasures. I returned to Level 7, summoned priestesses, goblin shamans, and blink dogs (again mostly guessing), and headed back down. I had to fight either the clay golem or the assassin again; I chose the clay golem. My party selections weren't bad: goblin shamans have Level 3 mage spells as well as priest spells, and blink dogs replenish themselves by "calling for help." Priestesses take the place of Level X Priests from previous pentagrams. I can't tell exactly what level they are, but they have Level 4 priest spells. I'm getting ahead of the next entry, but Werdna also has LAHALITO (major fireball), DALTO (blizzard), and MORLIS (fear) since hitting the Level 7 pentagram.
      
One of the important treasures on the level.
    
The monsters still didn't last very long, perhaps because I didn't have very many of each, but I managed to pick up the three treasures on Level 8 with a minimum of difficulty. I made it back to the summoning pentagram and replaced my flagging party with my standard Level 8 combo: Level 5 priests, spirits, and rotting corpses. I'm not sure I've mentioned before, but you get a random number of each monster when you summon them, from 1 to some maximum set for each type of creature. Sometimes you have to try several times before you get an acceptable number.
  
With this combo, I moved back down to Level 9. There were a few places I'd marked for a revisit, including the hellhound room, a couple of the "tower" rooms with different kinds of guards, and a random encounter with Greyhawk's Ghostbusters, who I'd been unable to defeat the first time.
   
One of the "officers' mess" groups of the tower guards had a unique item called a Twilight Cloak, but no one else had anything, including the Ghostbusters. My priests and spirits performed beautifully; I had re-explored over half the level before I lost even one of them. Trebor mostly left me alone, too. I was prepared to save if I got one of the messages indicating he was really close (saving re-stocks the level and sends Trebor off to a new random position), but never got to that point.
        
The officer's "mess" is about to earn its name.
      
I was primarily interested in trying to get into the unmapped squares in the level's central room, which is 2 x 5. When you first enter, a message reads "Dante was here." Just north of that, a second message says, "Bring your marshmallows?" North of that, I had mapped the encounter with the hellhound. I guess I screwed it up because this time, I just got an encounter with a random party. I was able to continue north to a new message: "The heat is getting quite unbearable. The glow ahead is intense. What can be causing it? A monstrous statue rises up from the sullenly glowing ground and bars your path. Flee while there is still time!"
    
The game let me search here and then warned me, "You are about to battle something cute!" The enemy that appeared was a "hellpuppy," an evil ninja with 166 hit points. My allies made short work of him. I continued north. 
       
It is kind of cute.
      
"It's the Abyss!" the next square screamed. "May Kadorto have mercy on your soul! Go back! Go back!" That was the furthest north I could get in the room, so I moved west. There, the game told me that I stood before the very gates of hell. I could offer a bribe, use an item, or run away. I ran away the first time, made a save, and then tried the various options. Trying to bribe just wasted gold; it melted and vaporized. I went through each of my items and tried to "use" it. The only thing that did anything were the Demonic Chimes that I'd gotten from the hellhound in this very room. "A hideous wail of many tormented souls screams forth from the chimes, shaking the very foundations of the gates!" the game reported. But after that, the game just returned me to the options screen, and nothing else I used accomplished anything.
        
This is either an homage to Ultima IV or Zork or both.
      
Having participated in several hell-related rituals in games before, including another (Ultima IV) at the entrance of something called the "Abyss," my suspicion is that the Demonic Chimes serve as a "bell," and that I need a "book" to follow before finally using my Black Candle.
 
On the subject of mysteries, I caught the Oracle a few times during this session. Here are all the Oracle hints I have so far:
   
  • "The egress will set you free!" I think I've made fun of that enough.
  • "Your future is black; you feel boxed in!" Probably a reference to the assassin's black box, necessary to hold all the items you need to carry.
       
Tumbuk 3 before they discovered Zoloft.
       
  • "Read The Iliad lately?" No idea. The Iliad deals with the consequences of the meddling of the gods in the realm of men, which might have some ties to the game's backstory. It better not have anything to do with the Trojan Horse. The Trojan Horse doesn't appear in The Iliad, although people often think it does. That's from The Aeneid.
        
Is there an audio version? I'm sitting on half a dozen Audible credits.
     
  • "Chomp, chomp . . . eh, what's east, Doc?" A silly Bugs Bunny reference. Since Bugs's actual line is "what's up, Doc?," this suggests there's some place where I'll have to equate east with "up." Or maybe I'm munching the wrong carrot.
  • "Secrets abound all around you! Psst! Have you met Glum yet?" Yes, Glum was the assassin I killed to get the black box. As for secrets all around me, that seems manifest.
  • "Live the Qabalah!" I think I'd have to take an entire 15-week course to learn how to do that.
  • "The answer is carved in stone! It is right before your nose!" I'll look for something carved in stone, I guess.
     
My character at the end of this session.
               
With everything I could do on previous levels done (for now), I returned to Level 8, stopped and saved on the pentagram, and slowly made my way through the minefield for the umpteenth time, killing Abduul's Artful Dodgers and Arcturus's Avengers for the umpteenth time along the way. By the time I got to the room in the southwest, I was down to two spirits and one priest, not ideal to take on either the assassin or the golem, so I took a save. Aside from the fact that the game offers multiple save slots, this is a dangerous place to save. You could get into a situation in which you can neither move forward nor make it back to the level's summoning pentagram. In this case, though, I needn't have worried. We defeated the golem with the loss of one spirit. It still took me a couple of reloads to get to the summoning pentagram from there, but I made it and am well set for the next session.
     
Time so far: 15 hours

32 comments:

  1. stepped pyramidsJune 19, 2022 at 2:10 AM

    I wonder if there are any true red herring clues in this game. There's a couple that I would describe as being so obtuse that I couldn't imagine anyone making the connection before actually solving the thing they refer to. But then again Chet does cryptic crosswords, so he's very likely better at this kind of lateral thinking than I.

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    1. The Bugs Bunny reference is a very good clue. No spoiler, it's the kind that I'm sure Chet will get at the right moment in the game. Pretty clever, though it makes no sense up to that moment.

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  2. Watching you work out these clues is going to be fun. The game hasn't really given you any ACTUAL puzzles yet. It will.

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  3. Personally I didn't find the minefield all that bad. But the ziggurat was like taking two steps backward for every step forward, and I learnt to hate some of the enemy parties.
    At least one obtuse puzzle in the ziggurat that I had to look up. Will be interesting to see if Mr. Addict figure it out without help.

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    1. The ziggurat was as far as I went the first time. I must have made it through then, although I don't remember much about it other than the shape (which, incidentally, I'd consider a spoiler otherwise, so please be careful).

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  4. "Your future is black; you feel boxed in!"

    i thought it was a reference to the game graphics lol.

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  5. I guess things are going great, and they're only getting better.

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  6. The manual from the first Wizardry explains that the alignments of good, neutral and evil really mean altruistic, neutral, and selfish.

    The example they give is that a good character would go out of his way to help an old woman cross the street. A neutral character would do it if he was going the same direction. An evil character would charge her money to do so. The manual even explicitly says that evil characters are not that evil compared to the monsters in the maze.

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  7. Every time I think about playing this game I remember the minefield floor exists and realize this isn't the sort of game I want to play.

    Considering some of the weirdness the game gets up to later, and the fact you're trying to get into Hell, I'd be willing to bet the bell book and candle is trying to directly reference Catholic excommunication, instead of a different game

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    1. I often replay games whilst wondering to myself why I haven't replayed them before because it's so good, and then you get to that one bit of the game and it all comes flooding back.

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    2. I replayed most of the latest final fantasy games and a lot of them have glorious nostalgic beginnings then comes the3/4 finished fatigue and I end up leaving the game and looking at the ending on YouTube.

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    3. "I'd be willing to bet the bell book and candle is trying to directly reference Catholic excommunication, instead of a different game"
      I think he realized that, and was just noting how lots of other games from this era made the same reference (Zork comes to mind).

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    4. Zork was the first thing that came to my mind.

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    5. I immediately thought of Zork when I encountered it. However since Roe Adams worked as a writer on Ultima 4 that might be the lineage. Of course the puzzle in Ultima 4 was probably a Zork reference since Zork predates Ultima 4. At the very least he would have been aware of the trope in computer games and would expect anyone playing this game to be familiar with it.

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    6. The fun thing is that compared with some of the stuff than comes later the minefield is a walk in the park.

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  8. It sounds like you actually like this game this time around, glad to read about it.

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    1. It has moments of satisfaction when taken one level at a time.

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  9. The hints are obscure but there will be a point in time where some of these oracle hints are critical, no time soon however.

    The minefield is not even close to being the most annoying level.

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  10. Concerning the 'most hated level': in order to do what you do, it takes a certain level of sado-masochism. But that I don't have to tell you, right?

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  11. >In between these enemies, as usual, you meet individual foes and occasional pairs and trios: Gytr, a good mage; Tars Tarkas, an evil fighter; Merlin, an evil fighter (?!); Lord Gwydion, a good lord; Xenic, a neutral fighter; Kazrak, an evil fighter; Aspergil, a good bishop; Drip, an evil mage; Bananarama, a neutral fighter; Fank, a good priest; Oger, an evil thief; Thalessa, an evil fighter; Bugnews, a good fighter.

    Someone may have already mentioned this, but the weird names of the Do-gooder parties is because they used parties provided by players of wizardry 1-3

    From this interview:

    https://hg101.kontek.net/wizardry/wizardry-interview.htm

    "After that point I didn't want to do more of the same. Wizardry 2 and 3 were more evolutionary than revolutionary." Greenberg and Woodhead tried an original approach in Wizardry IV, largely inspired by a new team member. "I met Roe Adams when he was a reviewer for Softalk, IIRC magazine. He handled all the design, and the basic idea for the game was his. We did multiple endings and a 3D maze that was kind of cute from a programming perspective. Since you start as the evil wizard at the bottom level, Wizardry players sent in disks with their characters to act as enemies. We received hundreds of disks, which resulted in some players having the experience of killing their own parties after the product shipped. I'd say we used 40-50 complete parties from players."



    "

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  12. I would just like to say that I greatly appreciate this opportunity to experience one of the great classics of the CRPG genre without having to actually experience it :)

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  13. Unrelated to this entry, I have an uplifting anecdote to share with the rest of you readers, but mainly with Chet himself:

    I've just returned from the Comic-Salon Erlangen, the most important business fair of our profession in German-speaking Europe and, who would've guessed, on the first or second day (it's Bavaria, we drank) a fellow reader of this blog recognized me at my stand, because of my artwork, and since my comic label is called BESTIEunlmt as well, go figure. I think he's fine with me outing him as occasional commenter captaingrog, and we had a lengthy discussion about comics, games, and pop culture in general. I'd posit this is the first time that two CRPGaddict addicts met in the wild and spoke to each other, and I was wondering if anyone has similar stories to share - wasn't there supposed to be a get-together back when Chet traveled near Munich?

    Anyway, I hope you guys enjoyed that little tidbit about how the blog brings people together. (And before you get all concerned: We did fine at the fair, recuperating our investment and then some.) Cheers!

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    1. That's a great story. I'm glad you had a good time, did well, and made a friend. I'm not aware of any other such meeting between two readers, though that will certainly change when I host AddictCon in New Orleans some year.

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    2. Admittedly, it's hard to imagine a worse city for a gathering of that name.

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    3. AddictCon confirmed for August '24, save the date ;)

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    4. August in NOLA? That would certainly distinguish the real addicts from the poseurs.

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    5. I've been to New Orleans several times, but always in mid-July, for Tales of the Cocktail. Rooms are cheap, at least!

      Japan in the summer is also pretty miserable, which is the only time I've been there, but I still loved it.

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    6. That's interesting, i hail from Bavaria too and i attended the Comic Salon as well...

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  14. Yes, your inventory shows everything you're supposed to have so far.

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  15. Is Kaboom alluding to the Atari 2600 game of the same name? Or just the land mines... Loved that game!

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