Monday, October 16, 2023

Ambermoon: One Small Step for Dwarf

Who needs Starfield?
Ambermoon's story so far: The granddaughter of the hero of Amberstar sets out to uncover a new threat to the world, delivered in vague hints as her grandfather dies. As she pieces together clues and artifacts from her grandfather's old party, it seems that the source of the threat is going to be the Brotherhood of Tarbos, a monastic order dedicated to the wizard/demon whose imminent return drove the plot in Amberstar.
But it turns out that the Brotherhood is just a front. They couldn't care less about Tarbos. They are, instead, lizard-like invaders from another planet. They've already tricked the dwarves into building some kind of terraforming machine meant to make Lyramion more like the invaders' home planet. Then they "rewarded" the dwarves by sending them off on a flying ship to a jewel so enormous that it looks like a moon--except that it's really a forested hellscape on which the dwarves are now stranded.
In the last session, the party stormed the stronghold of the Brotherhood and killed its high priest. They also killed Thornahuun, the King of Hell and the father of Tar, who became "Tarbos" when he united with his father in the distant past. Apparently, when the moon on which Tarbos had been exiled crashed into Lyramion, Tar and Thornahuun were separated--Tar eventually wandering into Spannenberg, insane. The healers there imprisoned him (for his own safety and others') in the basement beneath their temple.
As I wound up the last session, I had found two amulets that I felt were necessary to restore Tar's sanity, but I didn't know what to do with them. Fortunately, in reviewing all my notes on the game after a long absence, I was alerted to a woman in Burnville who would repair broken jewelry. I visited her as this session began. She repaired the amulet, though angrily, as it "is the work of the devil" and has "the name of the God of Chaos!"
Having a space between letters lets you know it's a powerful amulet.
We returned to Spannenberg and showed the amulet to Tar. It caused him pain at first, but then somehow cleared up his madness. For the first time since his childhood, he was both sane and separated from the demon. He collapsed crying into a corner. "I brought so much evil, sin, and suffering to everyone . . . How can I settle the debt I have incurred. How can Lyramion ever forgive me for the wounds I have caused?" Sensing that we were about to face great danger, he offered to join the party and "dedicate [his] life to this good deed!"
As painful as it was to give up Nelvin, I really couldn't pass up on the opportunity to have the villain from the first game join my party in the sequel. Such is not a unique occurrence in CRPGs or fiction in general--the Fast and the Furious franchise seems to thrive on it--but it is somewhat unusual. This might be the first appearance in CRPGs. (Werdna is the first example of a previous villain coming back as a PC, but he doesn't join a "good" party.) The only other one I can think of right now is Sarevok in Throne of Bhaal.
Tar's full name is Tar the Dark; let's hope the sobriquet refers to his facial features. He joins at age 40 and Level 35 (two years younger and one level higher than Nelvin). His skills and attributes are actually a bit worse than Nelvin's, but he has about 25% more hit points and 12% more spell points. He also comes with every mage spell already memorized. I shifted most of Nelvin's equipment over to him and sent Nelvin back to the alchemist's tower.
Let's talk for a minute about the "the Dark" part of your name . . .
We then returned to the Brotherhood of Tarbos and to the flying ship we had discovered on our last trip. We put the Navigation Stone in the receptacle for FOREST MOON. The ship came to life, lifted off, and landed on the new planet.
The moment we emerged from our airship, the game told us that we encountered a nine-foot tall, bearded, red demon who snatched our broomstick, smashed it to splinters, and disappeared. This is the game's ham-handed way, I guess, of not allowing easy transportation options while on the Forest Moon. I don't know if he would have smashed the magic disc, too, as I didn't bring it. [Ed. I later read that the "red demon" is an insert for producer Erik Simon, who hated the broomstick.]
Some games have been clumsier about this.
Directly north of where we landed, just a few steps from the airship, was a walled city. As we approached, we were greeted by excited dwarves. "Your arrival is a sensation!" The dwarves explained that they arrived 20 years ago to learn that they'd been betrayed. Their promised "jewel" was instead a hot and steamy moon full of dangerous predators. Nonetheless, the leader, Kire, insisted that it be named Kire's Moon and that the first city be named Dor Kiredon. As time went on, the dwarves became divided between those who clung to the old ways and continued to see the moon as a hostile place and a younger generation, born on the moon, that strove to learn more about the plants and animals and live with them in harmony. This latter faction eventually left Dor Kiredon to form their own city of Dor Grestin. The dwarves then gave us the bad news that Navigation Stones last for one trip only, so we're now stuck on the moon, too. 
The town had a lot of encounter text.
I started exploring the town. The first place I entered was Ferrin's Smithy, a large building where I could get repairs, buy ammunition, and sell excess items. The NPCs in the building were sad and crying, and Ferrin eventually told us that his young daughter disappeared from the storage cellar. He gave us the key with the implicit hope that we might be able to do something. 
Some nice lighting effects in the basement, I thought.
I briefly considered exploring the rest of the town first, but instead I opened the door and headed downstairs. The basement was a top-down level, but it soon led to a first-person cavern beneath it. Both areas had boxes and barrels stuffed with shovels, ropes, pick-axes, crowbars, lockpicks, lanterns, and torches. I had not left these items on Lyramion, but these caches would have been helpful if I had. I also found a bottle of Ferrin's Liquor and a random Amber Stone on the floor.
Hmmm, that seems to be the same size and shape as the Navigation Stone.
The cavern area was small, and I fully explored it in a few minutes, finding nothing. Valdyn's "Map View" spell showed a corridor to the east, but none of the walls seemed to have secret doors. Some of the wall textures looked a little odd, though, and given that the game had just tried to put crowbars, shovels, and pickaxes into my hands, I decided to try these. At one wall, the using the pick-axe caused it to collapse, as if "the bricks were held together by a kind of gluey saliva."
Would you have thought this was anything special?
On the other side, I found a hole leading upward and thus had an opportunity to use a rope for the first time. I was surprised to find that they're one-use items, but "Levitate" works as a spell backup. (Most items have spell backups; I wonder why shovels, pick-axes, and crowbars do not.) In the upper area, where I had to use the pick-axe multiple times to progress, I encountered numerous pairs of beasts called "tornaks." They were clearly modeled on rancors in Star Wars. They had lots of hit points and a devastating physical attack every round, but I was able to keep up with healing. Fighting them, I realized that none of the "earth" spells from Lyramion (e.g., "Mudsling," "Rockfall," "Earthquake") work on the Forest Moon.
Why isn't it the "wrong world" for wind and water, too?
The last battle in the area had us fight three regular tornaks and a larger one called "tornakweibchen," or a female tornak. I guess they're a matriarchal species.
"Tornakweibchen and the three Tornaks" would be a great rock band name.
Another hole dropped us into a cavern absolutely full of tornaks, but fortunately they were docile. Ferrin's daughter was in the middle of the group, apparently having made friends with them. We convinced her to go home to her parents, and the monsters let us leave. (This is all told automatically in text, of course; there are no role-playing options like this in the game.)
Nobody sneeze.
Ferrin's parents were overjoyed to see her, and Ferrin gave me a magic crossbow that almost any class can use and requires no ammunition. 
As for the rest of Dor Kiredon:
  • There is a little "crystal garden" showcasing treasures found in various expeditions. I don't know how they got here.
Why did you bring them with you?
  • Kire's palace is enormous and ornate, suggesting the dwarves have suffered few privations during their two decades of exile. 
Where did they get the raw materials for this?
  • In Kire's house, I met Storgat, the "head of the digging team at the test mine of Dor Kiredon." Apparently, some years after the dwarves arrived, they did what dwarves do and sunk a mine. The results were disappointing, just some amber and shiny rocks used for floor tiles. Lately, it's been overrun with tornaks. Kire has the key.
  • Kire was happy to hear about what had happened on Lyramion recently. He mentioned that his wife, Dorina, disappeared 10 years ago, but she has recently been seen in the "swamps to the south of Dor Grestin." He gave me a message to give to her. He wouldn't even consider giving us the mine key.
  • Various chests in Kire's palace held food, adventuring supplies, and basic weapons and armor.
  • A dwarf named Doreb runs an inn in the center of town. He said that Brog, who visits in the evenings, might be able to tell us more about Dorina. She was apparently a talented magician.
  • Donner, a dwarf from Gemstone in Amberstar and namesake of Donner's Old Labyrinth in this game, was hanging out at the inn. He gave more context on Dorina's disappearance: it happened after Kire's son, Ketnar, stormed away from home after an argument with his father.
  • Darbog, another inn patron, comes from Dor Grestin. It lies to the south and west. He warned that "the forests are not exactly safe!"
  • Brog, a rare dwarf mage, confirmed Dorina's talent for magic and lamented her loss.
  • Multiple dwarves refer to the Forest Moon as a "compost heap."
At least you have plenty of liquor.
  • At night, the town is threatened by curse wasps, annoying creatures capable of causing sleep, blindness, and madness. They suck up damage like stones  and only deliver 5 experience points!
Leaving Dor Kiredon, I noticed that the locator device still worked for the new planet. It showed Dor Kiredon at (180,130).  I was curious about the dimensions of the new world, so I set off on a one-way expedition to find (0,0). I was almost immediately attacked by more curse wasps. I realized after a few of these pointless battles (honestly, why are the experience rewards so small?) that you can see these random encounters in the exploration window. There's a barely-visible symbol in the squares that have the encounters, but it pulses on and off, making it a bit easier to see. I wonder if this was true of the locations that had outdoor encounters on Lyramion, and I just didn't notice.
Kudos to the developers for making the place look alien.
The alien landscape had interesting flora and fauna. There were numerous bulbous or tentacled plants, giant mushrooms, and twirling masses of vines. In addition to curse wasps, monsters included gizzeks, which look like giant grasshoppers, and also offer virtually no experience for some relatively tough battles. We crossed swamp and all got poisoned. Eventually, without finding any dungeons or habitations, we made it to (1,1) which crossed immediately to (300,300). So it's only a little smaller than Lyramion and does seem to make use of all the space.
Reloading, I explored south and west, looking for Dor Grestin. I found it surrounded by cylindrical stalks that looked more like plants than anything manufactured. The inside of the town continued this theme. The dwarves had clearly tried to adapt themselves to the planet rather than the opposite, creating a town with plants and trees for boundaries, natural pools of water, and little mushrooms that scurried away at our approach. The few buildings were made of wood rather than stone.
What happens when a bunch of hippies build a town.
  • The first NPC we spoke with, a dwarf named Darla, had already heard of us somehow. She mentioned the town leader, Ketnar, and suggested we speak to him at the Council Hall.
  • A dwarf woman told us that their healer, Asrub, is the best healer among the dwarven people. He knows a lot about valuable herbs.
  • In the northeast corner of town, I found Asrub in his healing shop. He said he prefers herbs and natural processes to magic. One of his patients survived a tornak encounter at the mine in Dor Kiredon. When asked about HERBS, he mentioned that many of the plants on the moon have a permanent effect on the body or spirit.
I thought it was cute that the healer had a poster with a diagram of the body.
  • A dwarf named Gorban was sleeping in one of Asrub's beds. He told me that he discovered that tornak's seal passages behind them; I guess maybe I was supposed to get this hint before rescuing Ferrin's daughter.  
  • An inn called "The Nest."
  • A food shop called "The Treasures of the Forest."
  • In the Council Hall, I met Leira, Ketnar's wife, before Ketnar himself. She told me that Ketnar misses his parents. The game's tunnel vision when it comes to dialogue is reflected in the fact that Leira has something to say when you ask her about KIRE, but when you ask her about KETNAR, she gives the default response: "I don't know anything about that."
  • Ketnar was sitting on a throne surrounded by trees. He reiterated the philosophy of his city: cooperate with nature rather than fight it. He wouldn't say much about his missing mother, but he was clearly worried about her. When I showed him the letter his father had written his mother, he relented and said the password SCHNISM would open the way to her.
Is that really how you're supposed to sit on that?
  • A chef in Ketnar's kitchen, Drongeb, sold herb pies.
  • Randor's Shop sold giant eggs and various plants from the moon as well as ropes and potions. Unfortunately, I didn't bring much money from Lyramion. I sold some minor scrolls to get enough money to try each of the herbs. It appears that Fragrant Herbs increase strength, Glowing Blossoms speed, and Sparking Mushrooms magic resistance. But they only increase the current value, not the maximum, and most of my characters were at or (because of equipment) above maximum in all these values anyway.
As I wrap up, I'm headed out of Dor Grestin to find Dorina. Can we safely say that this is the Ambermoon? Or does green not describe "amber" any more than red does?

And since "Forest Moon" has put Endor permanently in our heads: Does the "Forest Moon of Endor" mean a) the forest moon called Endor, or b) the forest moon that orbits the planet of Endor?

Time so far: 68 hours


  1. I had a vague memory that both the planet and the moon were called Endor - one is "the planet Endor" and the other is "the moon Endor which orbits the planet Endor".
    But I did some research (aka wookipedia) and discovered that the rabbit hole is deeper!
    The forest moon of Endor orbits the planet Endor which orbits - the twin stars called... Endor I and Endor II - of course :)

    1. Whoever discovered and named that system must've had a long day of system naming behind them and no more shits to give.

    2. Maybe it was written in RL by someone called Rodney who wanted to multiple-Werdna himself into the Star Wars canon... only the 'Y' didn't make it through the approvals and into the final script.

    3. It’s possible, though Endor is also in the Bible (the Witch of Endor is a medium who helps Saul commune with the spirit of the prophet Samuel) so I always assumed that was the origin.

    4. Oh, so that's what the Amulet of Yendor is all about. I feel a bit stupid for not noticing until now.

    5. "Endor" was also an Elvish name for Middle-Earth as a whole.

    6. The Amulet of Yendor is different: it is Rodney (the default hero) spelt backwards/

    7. Oh, and Rogue came out around the same time as Star Wars (I remember going with all my friends to watch Star Wars in 1982) and before any of its sequels.

  2. Forest Moon, with small (probably) hairy creatures, and obviously Star Wars inspired enemies... wonder if you're going to need to take down a shield generator at some point

  3. "[...] their healer, Assrub [...]"

    Does he offer therapeutic massages?

    1. I wonder if the first person referd to the healer this way to make fun of him...

    2. the text is corrected =(

  4. This sounds like nice (including graphical) worldbuilding. And indeed having the (former?) big baddie join your team is an unusual choice.

    Regarding the game's title, a forest moon doesn't really sound "amber" to me, same as the "red moon" in which Tarbos had been emprisoned. But the latter had been referred to as the "third moon", so there has to be at least one more. Maybe that's the amber one?

    I haven't played the game yet, so don't know if this screenshot is a spoiler or already showed up at some point (having the red moon still in it, it seems), but (ROT13) gb zr jung V haqrefgnaq vf gur (guveq) zbba, ba gur yrsg - orfvqrf jung V nffhzr ner gur sbezre erq zbba va gur sebag naq gur sberfg zbba va gur onpx ba gur evtug - qbrf ybbx pybfrfg gb jung lbh pbhyq pnyy "nzore" nzbat gur guerr.

    As for this post's title, nice reference. I've always wondered about that missing "a" and it seems I'm not the only one.

    1. They do mention that sinking a mine only produced some rock and amber, I wonder if the "Ambermoon" maybe refers to the material it is made of instead of the color? Logically it seems unlikely that they would name the moon as such, but it could be oversight from the game designers.

    2. I suppose a forest moon would be a natural place to find lots of fossilized tree sap.

    3. I had not even thought of the definition of amber that far. f the trees were especially susceptible to sap it would actually kind of make sense.

  5. In the image at the top of this blog post we see that there are two moons, one of which is a golden hue more similar to amber. Seems like that might be relevant?

    1. Ha, good catch. That aligns with the (different) screenshot I linked in my comment above which therefore does not seem to be a spoiler. So I can add my ROT13'd text on that screenshot here and save Chet (and anyone potentially playing along) the trouble of having to de-ROT13 it:

      "to me what I understand is the (third) moon, on the left - besides what I assume are the former red moon in the front and the forest moon in the back on the right - does look closest to what you could call "amber" among the three."

  6. Amber (both the material and the color) is a yellow or yellow/orange in color, so a green moon doesn't appear to apply any more than a red moon does. Perhaps there's a third moon on the way?

    1. > Amber occurs in a range of different colors. As well as the usual yellow-orange-brown that is associated with the color "amber", amber can range from a whitish color through a pale lemon yellow, to brown and almost black. Other uncommon colors include red amber (sometimes known as "cherry amber"), green amber, and even blue amber, which is rare and highly sought after.[39]

    2. It used to be that I just couldn't see color. Now I actively hate it.

  7. AlphabeticalAnonymousOctober 16, 2023 at 11:58 AM

    In my playthrough a year or two ago, when my party arrived on Kire's Moon I found it to be the most frustrating experience imaginable. So few creaters in Lyramion inflict serious status effects that I was woefully underprepared for the Curse Wasps... my characters were quickly blinded, poisoned, stoned, and I don't know what all after only a very few steps. I can't begin to estimate how many times I had to reload. I'm not sure whether I ever figured out about stepping on the correct, safe spaces on the main map... You also figured out the use of pick-axes underground far more quickly than I did. I'm just glad to see that this area isn't as frustrating for everyone as it was for me!

    1. Yeah, if I hadn't noticed the little symbols on the overland map, I think I'd be howling. Ditto if I hadn't already given my healer most of the necessary spells to undo these conditions. The game could do a better job warning you that you're making a one-way trip.

    2. I also played the game in the last year and did not notice a way to avoid the encounters at the time, I retroactively facepalmed when reading your post.

      Maybe it is something not implemented in the Windows port or I completely missed it, this area was so slow annoying to get through.

    3. AlphabeticalAnonymousOctober 16, 2023 at 11:02 PM

      @Vince: I played the modern port, so (if that's the version you used) perhaps you're right that something wasn't implemented there. Or the two of us are just not as observant as we'd like to be.

      @Addict: "The game could do a better job warning you that you're making a one-way trip." --- I agree I felt that way too, but upon reflection I decided I wanted to try and roll with an authentically surprising experience. A band of adventurers who think they're the biggest, baddest things on Lyramion... suddenly get overconfident and find themselves stuck in a giant, overgrown jungle with no way back. Oops!

    4. The port has these, too, and they look just like in the original. It's a faint glow and it's pulsating so it's very easy to miss if you're moving too fast over the map.

    5. I understand at least there should always be a choice to try fleeing instead of fighting and the manual mentions that a party in good health will always run faster than any monsters (as long as you don't run backwards, that is).

      So even if you wouldn't notice the pulsating monster / enemy thingie, once you realize certain opponents are just annoying, pelting you with negative status effects while not offering any xp or loot worth the hassle, couldn't you just immediately run from any such fight?

      Also, there is this 'monster eye' bought a while ago and one of the special items in the upper right window, which by lighting / opening up is supposed to indicate the proximity of monsters. Or does this only apply / work in the 3D view?

    6. AlphabeticalAnonymousOctober 17, 2023 at 9:24 PM

      @Buck: I believe that the Monster Eye only works in 3D/first-person view, not in the overhead view.

      I can't remember whether I tried running from every encounter; I think that I would have tried it, though. The Curse Wasps cause so many status effects that it could merely be that paralysis/confusion/sleep/stoning/etc. usually prevents someone from being able to retreat.

    7. I'm pretty sure the Monster Eye does not glow in the overhead view in Ambermoon. It does so in Albion, where monsters are visible and move around in the overhead view. I think that makes the forest moon in Ambermoon the only place where the flashing tiles mechanic is used in the "trilogy".

  8. The forest moon is where Ambermoon really starts to remind me of the later Albion. The plant-rich, very alien world is the most obvious similarity. But also the very large houses (I remember getting frequently lost in houses in Albion) and the higher number of overland encounters. AFAIK the forest moon was designed by Erik Simon who was still around for Albion.

    There's a bit more to the broom getting destroyed, according to the podcast with the developers that was posted here a few months ago. From memory, Karsten Köper did not like the inclusion of the broom in Amberstar as he preferred a traditional fantasy world (and I guess witches/brooms didn't fit in his opinion). This lead to some discussions, and the demon destroying it is an in-joke referring to that.

  9. For the “former enemy joins the party” trope, I’m a little surprised no one’s yet mentioned a very high profile example from the console world: PuebabGevttre, jurer gur vavgvny ovt onq nyfb wbvaf lbhe cnegl unysjnl guebhtu.

    1. Yes, Tetrapod, but Ambermoon predates the game you mention by several years.

    2. Of course, but Throne of Bhaal is many years past that, so since Chet mentioned that as the only other instance of the trope he knew about, I thought it was worth mentioning.

    3. Yeah, keep the examples coming. I'm sure there are more, but I couldn't think of any. I couldn't even find a TV Trope page for it, which surprised me.

    4. I cannot think of a game in which the bad guy of the previous game joins your party in the sequel, aside from Sarevok in ToB already mentioned.

      Within the same game, aside from Tetrapod’s example, a much later example I can think of is:
      Qentba ntr bevtvaf jurer lbh pna unir Ybtunva, juvpu unf orra n znwbe nagntbavfg sbe zbfg bs gur tnzr, wbvavat gur cnegl ng gur Ynaqfzrrg, ol gur raqtnzr.

      A more minor but memorable example:
      Va znff rssrpg gjb, ng gur raq bs Fnznen’f pbzcnavba dhrfg, lbh pna qrpvqr gb xvyy ure naq unir ure rivy qnhtugre Zbevagu, juvpu lbh unir orra uhagvat, gb wbva va ure fgrnq.

    5. What about "The Savage Empire" from 1990? The evil Zipactriotl/Spector is not the final boss, but he mandatorily joins you. He also joins the party in the sequel, "Martian Dreams".

    6. Does Jagged Alliance 2 count?

      Zvxr vf jrveq, fvapr ur nccrnef va gur svefg tnzr nf n sevraqyl, ohg va gur frpbaq nf n ubfgvyr hayrff lbh znxr n ernyyl yhpxl purpx.

    7. There is Golbez in Final Fantasy 4: The After Years, though unlike the previous examples the sequel came out over 15 years later.

    8. Super Mario RPG comes to mind, where Bowser (the usual Mario antagonist) joins Mario and friends against an outside-force common enemy.

    9. @MorpheusKitami: First off, JA2 should always count! Love that game. Despite multiple playthroughs, though, I never knew there was a check to see if the guy you're talking about would be friendly!

    10. In one of the Wizardry games, you played the Big Bad from a previous one.

    11. The second BattleTech game involves a former villain turned ally in the last half of the game after many years pass. I don't remember if he was directly controllable or not. 1990.

    12. This comment has been removed by the author.

    13. Sorry about the spoiler, i figured the game was old enough. In Chrono Trigger, n zvqtnzr ivyynva pnyyrq Znthf wbvaf lbhe cnegl nf jryy.

    14. Technically, gargoyles in U6 are "evil" until one of them joins the party.

      There's also the opposite when an U6 recruitable NPC becomes an enemy in U7

  10. Potential subtitle for this episode: "Ferrin's daughter's day off"

    Sorry, that was a lame one. But speaking of the 80s, I stumbled on a game soundtrack (for the 2007 CRPG 'Two Worlds') performed by a band called 'AmberMoon'. It was made by Harold Faltermeyer, the guy who also composed the instrumental 'Axel F' theme of the movie 'Beverly Hills Cop' (a song that was a big international hit and won him the first of two Grammys).

  11. I'm not one who thrives on graphics in games so long as they serve the purpose, but I do love the visuals in Ambermoon here! The devs of this era did amazing things with the tools available.
    Tar joining is pretty cool. I vaguely recall some backstory from Amberstar how "Dark is not evil it's just a form of magic" prior to all the dark magicians going evil or something. I'll have to go back and read your prologue to check.


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