Thursday, July 20, 2023

Ambermoon: Air, Land, and Sea

This turns out to be a really bad idea.
I started this session by listing my quests and rolling a random number. The one that came up was finding the Fire Thistle on Mera's Island. Mera was a witch in Amberstar; she traded attribute increases for mushrooms and had a piece of the Amberstar in a cave behind her house.
We sailed to the island and almost immediately found the Fire Thistle on the island's northern tip. I started exploring systematically to the south--much easier here than on the forest island because this one didn't have any trees. Eventually, I reached a cottage and entered.
In the game, it's animated and looks like flickering flames.
It was definitely Mera's house. I noted in the relevant Amberstar entry that she had "enchanted most of her furniture; the chairs scold you when you try to sit in them." They did that here, too, and the cabinets scolded me--threatening to summon the "witch master"--if I tried to open them.
The house had a library with several shelves and each held a ridiculous collection of dozens and dozens of spell scrolls. I was still bursting with scrolls from the library in Newlake, and I didn't have enough room for more than a fraction of them. Based on what I've found so far, casting spells from memory is going to be rarer than casting them from scrolls. I mean, it's great that the game gives you so many opportunities to test spells before you commit to memorizing them, but damn
The scrolls on this one screen will probably last the rest of the game.
There was a cat hanging around the library, and on a whim, I spoke to him. To my surprise, he spoke back. (Remember, thanks to the healer in Spannenberg, we can speak "Animal.") The cat's name was Necros, aged 99, and he said that he doesn't get along with Mera's son, "for he cannot bear cats." The two had some past altercation in which Necros scratched the son's face and he retaliated by burning the cat's tail. Thus, Necros was perfectly happy to tell me about a secret wall in the cellar directly south of the steps. I got the impression from the dialogue (and from the fact that I didn't find her) that Mera had died between the two games.
Irene has been teaching our cats to talk with buttons. They've mastered "treat" and "cheese."
Stairs in the pantry led to the cellar. There was a door to my left (east) when I reached the bottom, but following Necros's instructions, I touched the south wall, and it disappeared. This led me to a small area with a chest and a teleporter. The chest had 9,654 gold, 23 lockpicks, a pair of wishing coins (I have four of those now and need to use them), an anti-magic potion, and duplicates of a lot of the stuff I'd already found: compass, locator, clock, excavation tools, iron ring, and necromancer dagger. I didn't need most of this and couldn't carry the gold, so I left it alone for now.
The teleporter took me to an area in which I was attacked by two groups of four minor demons. I took this opportunity to try out some of the mage spell scrolls, as he has the only spells that do direct damage in combat. I raked rows of them with "Ice Storm" and "Thunder Bolt," damaged everyone with "Earthquake" and "Firepillar," and blasted individuals with "Ice Ball" and "Waterfall," among others.
This is a useful one.
The minor demons had a lot of hit points, but they didn't do much spellcasting themselves. They did hit pretty hard, and I had to keep up with healing on Qamara as we whittled them down. Each battle gave us over 400 experience points and almost all the party members leveled up.
The secret wall wasn't necessary to the exploration of the dungeon, just a little faster. There was a bubbling cauldron in the center of one room, but I couldn't figure out how to do anything with it. Another room had two crystal balls on tall stands. One showed an image of a forest, but the game insisted, "you have never seen such trees on Lyramion--even the birds in this forest are strange." We saw some dwarves hewing their way through a thick undergrowth before the image faded. The other ball showed an image of a "huge ship sailing through the air" with a dwarf at the helm.
Everyone wonders where the dwarves went. Apparently, they went to another planet.
Eventually, we ran into the "witch master," apparently Mera's son, Nera. "I hate unwanted visitors," he said, and attacked with two minor demons at his side. As combat began, a very cool animation showed Nera transform into a dragon. It must have taken a lot of work, and for something that is likely only going to appear once.
Nera in mid-transition.
I had to reload twice because Nera was capable of three devastating physical attacks per round, each doing between 50 and 75 points of damage. If he got lucky with all three, or even two, he could kill Qamara in one round. And he always went first. But he wasn't immune to magic, and on my third try, Nelvin nailed him with a "Dissolve" spell and turned him to dust. After that, it was just a matter of mopping up the minor demons.
On his body, Nera had 160 scrolls of 8 different types, plus some other items I'll discuss in a bit. Unlike chests, post-combat loot cannot be left for later; you pick it up or lose it. My inventory and carrying capacity were already at maximum, and I had to decide if I was going to give up that many scrolls. I nearly did, reasoning that I already had plenty, but I eventually sighed, reloaded from way back at the beginning of this session, sailed home, dumped most of my gold and anything over 5 of each scroll plus some other items in the chests in my house, and re-did everything up to this point. It really only cost me about an hour.
The second time I defeated Nera, I managed to loot everything. In addition to the 160 scrolls, he had a Target Brooch (+25 attack; I gave it to Sabine), Nera's ring (+50 "use magic" and spell points), an anti-magic potion, five spell point potions, and a witch's broomstick. More on that in a bit.
Well, this is a pickle.
The way back to the stairs had closed behind me, but there was an alternate exit. I emerged and found myself on an island in the middle of a swamp. There didn't seem to be anything to do here. I tried using the flying disc, but the game said I couldn't use it here for some reason. Swimming would have killed at least one character. Out of other options, I tried the witch's broomstick, and--wow. It allows you to fly over anything except mountains. Unless I'm missing something (such as a limited duration), it replaces all the other transportation options in the game, including the ship. I wish I'd come here first; it would have saved me a ton of time exploring the Forest Master's island.
Yee-haw! But how are we all fitting on this?
Knowing I could get back to Nera's house quickly in the future, I logged its coordinates and left the extra scrolls and items where they were for now. In the meantime, I not only solved the quest of the Fire Thistle but found the "cauldron of a witch or witch master" that I would need to brew the "Demon's Sleep" recipe once I have all the ingredients.
I continued exploring Mera's island and found another dungeon in the mountains at the south end. When I entered, I was informed that it was the Labyrinth of the Gnome. I don't see anything that this corresponds with on the Amberstar map. 
The labyrinth turned out to be the entrance to a small gnome city. I had to activate a lever and a button to open the way, and in the meantime I was attacked by a couple of nasty enemies. Mine lizards have 140 hit points, hit hard, and cast the "Earthquake" spell. Mine spiders are capable of casting spells for almost all of the status effects in the game--disease, poison, sleep, drugs, madness, probably a few others. Each monster attacked in two parties of four enemies, and between the four combats, I used about a dozen damage and healing scrolls.
This screenshot, with the file name "999.png," was the last one I got for a while.
I have to recount the gnome city from memory because it appears WinUAE stops taking screenshots once you have a thousand of them in your directory. I hit that limit right about this time. The city had a tavern, a shop, and a school where we could level up in the "Search" skill. I have to look up what that even does. It's not about traps; that's a separate skill. The ruler of the city, Bralum, said the gnomes had been at war with Nera and asked us to take care of him. He was thrilled when we showed him Nera's Ring, and he gave us a key to a treasure vault that had, if I remember correctly, a Windpearl (giving me the 12 I needed), a couple of wishing coins, and a few other gems. The shop also had a Windpearl for sale, which I bought just in case (it's not like I'm hurting for money). In the tavern, I got a couple of rumors that I did write down: During the cataclysm, the dwarves of Gemstone disappeared, and no one knows where they went. Another gnome talked about a horrible beast roaming an island to the southwest; I realized later that it was the beast that I've already killed.
There was a mystic in the tavern willing to join the party, but the sheer number of scrolls has ruined the idea of pure spellcasters for me. I can't see any reason to dump Valdyn (who can cast mystic spells) in favor of a pure mystic when Valdyn has several dozen of every mystic spell, in addition to those he can learn. Nelvin is safe because I don't think there's another class that can learn destruction spells, but I may trade out Sabine for a paladin when I find one.
By now, the quest list at the end of the last entry had been chopped in half. I still had six items left. To them, I added a seventh that I often add when I start rolling random numbers:
  1. Go to Illien and check out rumors of the city having troubles with the disciples of Sansri. 
  2. Visit any of the cities, looking for mushrooms.
  3. Go to the Island of Winds and see about assembling these Windpearls.
  4. Check out whether that whirlpool really does kill you.
  5. Visit Gryban, the last paladin, in Godsbane, and maybe wake him up.
  6. Get Kalmir Herb at the island with the Tower of Lebab. 
  7. Open exploration.
A random roll gave me #2, so I figured I'd combine it with #1 and go to Illien, which was on a long island a few islands north of my current position. I flew up there and started exploring east to west--a process made almost too easy by the broom--until I found the city.
Illien is the home city of elves, who call themselves "guardians of the Eyrie." The Eyrie is the home of giant eagles, one of which served in the capacity of the witch's broom in Amberstar. Illien has a large palace in the center and services around the edges. Every corner has a small hedge maze leading to a magic mouth who blocks part of the maze. Answering the mouth's riddles gets you into a secret area with a wishing well. The city had wells that increased anti-magic, stamina, charisma, and luck.
A lady doesn't wander all over the room . . .
The four riddles were:
  • I am the barrel's band. A toy in a child's hand. Jewelry on the finger of a bride. The sound a bell makes inside. What am I?
  • It shows a different face to everyone and has none itself. What is it?
  • I have a hole and make a hole. Going through things is my role. No sooner am I through [then] my tail closes it like glue. What am I?
  • I have two wings and cannot fly. I have a bridge you cannot try. I have a bone to a degree. I wear spectacles and cannot see. What am I?
I thought they were all easy except for the last one. Irene got it. I've never heard "wings" used in that context.
Other encounters in Illien:
  • There was a bit of silliness with one of the magic mouths continuing to block the passage that it was supposed to open in order to keep talking to us and give us additional rhymes.
It's good to know that "disk space" is no longer a precious resource by 1993.
  • An alchemist named Leonaria offered to join the party in the tavern. The only class that strikes me as less useful than a pure mystic is a pure alchemist.
Psych! The party's full.
  • An elf woman in the tavern told me that the Master of Music, Matthias, sells elf harps. I visited his house and listened to his music. When I asked about a HARP, he said it would be 10,000 gold. I thought about buying one just to dump some gold, but I really don't have a use for it yet.
I was going to joke about how you rarely hear a harp in jazz, and then I Googled "jazz harp," and then I found out about Dorothy Ashby, and now I'm in love.
  • An elf on the street said that he was in Newlake recently and passed a member of the Brotherhood of Tarbos. A gust of wind lifted his cowl, and the elf saw scaly green skin. The elf thinks Sansri has something to do with the cult.
  • There was a scroll library selling scrolls. Scrolls are the only thing I need less than more money.
  • A potion shop sold lots of potions, including attribute-boosting potions. I bought every one. 
  • The general store had copies of many of the powerful weapons we'd found in the game so far, including Necromancer's Daggers, Firebrands, Elf Bows, and Magic Throwing Axes. I sold Egil's Firebrand, which was getting pretty underpowered, and bought a Dwarf Axe for him.
This has double the attack power of the sword.
  • An elf girl on the street told me of a magic oasis on the desert island to the northeast. It is supposed to have great powers of healing. 
I want to know what the other things were.
  • A racist elf on the street said that it was "wonderful" that she hadn't seen a dwarf in decades. "It is almost as if those little poisonous chaps died out overnight."
  • An elf warrior in the palace told us of her intention to take an eagle to Godsbane and view the sleeping Gryban.
  • A beautiful elf in the palace told us to ask Pelanis, the elf ruler, of his CONCERNS. Pelanis was the ruler in Amberstar, too; elves are long-lived. When fed the keyword, he related that Sansri, the snake goddess, visited Illien recently. They threw her a banquet. During the feast, she demanded a young eagle. The king refused and she stormed out. The next day, she went to the Eyrie and turned all the eagles to stone, as well as their elven guards. The elven wise ones think that only Sansri's blood can reverse the curse. He stopped short of asking us to go get it, but there was an obvious implication.
Alas, the city didn't have any mushrooms. On a return visit to my house to drop off some more stuff, I decided to re-check Spannenberg to make sure they didn't sell the mushroom (I wouldn't have been looking for it back then). It turns out that they sell a "toadstool," which looks bluish. I assume that's it.
Do we have time for one or two more? I think so. A new random number produced the whirlpool quest. I figured I might need to check that out by ship rather than broomstick, so I flew back to Mera's Island and picked it up. The map shows the location of the whirlpool, in the north sea surrounded by four mountain peaks. I sailed to it, saved the game, and went in. The game related what happened next:
I'm not sure the physics of this make sense.
The ship came crashing down in a swampy pond on the Forest Master's island, near Donner's Old Labyrinth. Three characters escaped damage; three died. If the player didn't have the broom yet, I think this would put him in a "walking dead" scenario. I had the broom, but I reloaded anyway. I can cross that one off my list.   
"Open exploration" popped up on the next roll. I looked for an unexplored island and found one a bit to the south of the whirlpool. I don't believe an English version of the map was ever created, but the German version labels the island Ebene von Thal, or "Plains of Thal" (after Thalion?). Technically, the label probably just referred to the plains on the east side of the island and not the mountains to the west, but it was the only label the island had. I checked my Amberstar map and there was nothing important in that area in the previous game. I sailed to the northeast corner and explored it. It was a pretty island, but I found nothing on it except what I assume is an old windgate. I decided to regard it as my island, and I left my boat docked there as I once again mounted the broom.
From foot to horse to skiff to disc to ship to broom, I love the escalating convenience of transportation in this game. I can't imagine what will come next. One of those airships? Maybe I'll check out those windgates next, but I'm not sure they're even necessary with the broom.
Time so far: 48 hours


  1. Giving increased access to the world by upgrading the means of transportation is very JRPGish.

    1. Both Ambermoon and Albion gave me a certain JRPG feeling. I don't know why, since I never actually played one. Must be from what I picked up here.

      In a simpler form Ultima does this, too (e.g. the ship and the lighter than air device in Ultima 4), and I think that's more likely to be the direct influence.

    2. I guess it's more a common ancestry. The first Ultima and Wizardry games were very popular in Japan and influenced later game designer

    3. Funny, you think it's JRPGish, and I'm here getting Ultima 5 vibes. The whirlpool thing for one. In Ultima 5 you also go down the whirlpool with a ship.

      If I know my RPG history correctly enough: it was Ultima 3 that became very influential in the Japanese market. It came out before Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy, and those games used the same overworld map design which eventually became a genre trope for the JRPG's.

  2. The disc doesn't work on hilly terrain, so the other option would have been swimming (maybe you can use the disc while swimming). The broom can't pass mountains so it won't get you everywhere.

    I wondered if calling the sides of the nose wings was a German thing, but it seems to be the same in English (maybe less common?). The developers made it easy though by writing the answers on nearby statues in runic script.

  3. Excuse me, I have to go clear a boulder out of the east wing

  4. "Nasenflügel" is the german term for nostrils. Its literal translation is "nose wings.

  5. random observation: the game does look prettier in these later entries

  6. I really enjoyed this entry. It sounded like you enjoyed playing it :-)
    Nice mix of quests, exploration, world building and combat.

    1. I agree, it seems like a great adventure, and this post illustrates this so well.

      The callbacks to the events of the previous game are great. For those who played these games back then in their teenage years, with plenty of free time, it must have been quite epic. These posts make it clear why many Amiga players have fond memories of Ambermoon.

  7. "Irene has been teaching our cats to talk with buttons. They've mastered "treat" and "cheese." "
    Cheese? It's been a while since I had a cat around, didn't remember they like that. Apparently it does not count as a "treat" for them in your house, though ;-).

    "I was going to joke about how you rarely hear a harp in jazz, and then I Googled "jazz harp," and then I found out about Dorothy Ashby, and now I'm in love."
    Who would have thought that playing a CRPG could lead you to discover a jazz musician?

  8. "Thal" is an old spelling of "Tal" (valley), so "Ebene von Thal" would be somehthing like "Valley Plains". A bit silly, but as locations go ...

    And I wonder whether "witch master" isn't a mis-translation of "Hexenmeister", which would rather be "warlock".

    1. AlphabeticalAnonymousJuly 20, 2023 at 1:57 PM

      As in, "Neander Thal."

  9. Matthias, the "Master of Music", is certainly a reference to Matthias Steinwachs who composed the music for Ambermoon (and Lionheart).

  10. AlphabeticalAnonymousJuly 20, 2023 at 2:51 PM

    If I were to play this game again, after saving the denizens of Burnville I think I would delay delivering the painting to the Baron until I had picked up a motley crew of second-tier NPCs -- Leonaria, etc. -- just to try something significantly different.

    I'm intrigued by your calculation that spell-casting by scroll makes more sense than by memorization. In its way that approach, too, gives the game a bit of a different flavor than it might otherwise have.

    Finally: in the remake's expansion, one can sail into the whirlpool after all and explore an all-new, non-canonical, but thematically-connected undersea area.

  11. About the riddles in Illien. They were kind of boring in the English original as they don't rhyme like the German ones. I tried to improve them together with Alex Holland as he is British but maybe they are still not perfect. Nose wings might not be that common but at least it rhymes. I am always open for better suggestions of course.

    1. The original was even worse as it used things that do not exist at all. For example it used "I have a leg and cannot stand.". There is no such thing as a nose leg in English. In German the "Nasenbein" is the nose bone. So we already improved it in that regard too.

    2. "Nostrils" doesn't lend itself to great puns but maybe something like this?

      "You follow me when you are lost
      I have a bridge that can't be crossed"

      I'm not sure how accurate this is about the idiom "Follow your nose" though!

      To be clear I think you did a good job and changing "leg" to "bone" was a vast improvement--"wings" makes some sense but "leg" would be pretty incomprehensible!

    3. Well, bollocks. I mean, good job with the translation, Pyrdacor, but I thought we had worked out on my first entry that I was playing the unreleased original from Thalion, not the one that you translated. Now I can't even remember where I got this one.

    4. Nose "wings" are enough of a thing in English that Irene got it immediately. I just hadn't personally heard it the term. I can only imagine my reaction if the original "leg" had been in there.

    5. Given that, IIRC, the unreleased original had a game-breaking bug that you had to work around by substituting one of the files from the German version, perhaps it's not a bad thing.

  12. I'm generally terrible at such riddles, do just to confirm, they're evat, zveebe, arrqyr, abfr, right?

    1. Yes. I meant to go back and put them after the riddles in white text, but I forgot.

    2. In the German version, you have to enter aäuanqry (frjvat arrqyr) instead of just anqry (arrqyr). I had to look it up even though the answer seemed pretty obvious. evat in the German version is "reif" instead (which can both mean a thin layer of frost or a bracelet) so it must be a different riddle.

  13. The fantasy Navy Seals are back in action!

  14. Is Nera the most evil character in CRPGs? Glad you got to kill him twice.

    My cat doesn't need buttons to tell us when he wants treats and cheese (he always wants them).

    There's a few jazz harpists doing stuff that's probably more avant-garde than you like. Also there's a fair amount of harp in the more third-streamy/orchestral side of things--a harpist named Janet Putnam plays on both The Modern Jazz Society Presents a Concert of Contemporary Music* and Sketches of Spain--but they don't usually improvise. Dorothy Ashby may be near unique as a relatively mainstream improvising jazz harpist (maybe depending on whether you count Alice Coltrane as mainstream).

    *This is a John Lewis album with sort of a tiny chamber orchestra and the MJQ rhythm team doing some of his compositions, with sax solos by Stan Getz and Lucky Thompson, and an amazing version of Django. If that sounds appealing you should check it out.

  15. There are some spells that raise your attack, defence and magic defence which you can cast outside combat and they last for a while. You can see their remaining duration in the info window where the compass is (and I was wondering to no see it in your screenshots...). These are alchemistic spells and they come in different strenghts. The strongest versions do last very long and you will likely use them as always on buffs.

    1. Thanks. Of all the spell classes, I've probably been neglecting the alchemical spells the most.

    2. I recommend this list of spells by Pyrdacor -

    3. That spell list is very helpful but contains information from the game code that a normal player would not have.


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