Sunday, March 3, 2024

Shadow of Yserbius: The Ghost King

Fighting the ghost of King Cleowyn. Oddly, he doesn't seem to do anything once his companion ghosts are dead.
I was supposed to give up Shadow of Yserbius for this entry but, for whatever reason, I kept on playing. I kept making maps, hitting deadends, going in other directions, and making more maps. As I wrap up this entry, I'm Level 16 and I've explored various parts of 5 dungeon levels, for 20 total maps.

The dungeon is structured in multiple interconnected levels with multiple maps per level. The dungeon level isn't necessarily indicative of the difficulty of the monsters. I found the Pit Bottom on Level 5 far easier than Cleowyn's Palace on Level 2. Some of this is going to be redundant, but I didn't do much over the last 7 hours except map, fight, die, get kicked out of the dungeon, and enter it again.
The structure of the dungeon so far.
  • The Dungeon Entrance (Level 1) is a half map with no encounters and exits to the Mines, the Hall of Doors, and the Soldiers' Quarters. The only thing undone on the level is a special door that I can only open when I reach Level 20.
  • The Mines (Level 1) has some mazelike rooms on the periphery. Cleowyn's various keys are found here. An east door goes to the Vestibule and a pit drops you down to the Pit Bottom on Level 5. Once I hit Level 15, the spirit stopped saving me from falling down the pit. The only thing left to do here is yet a second door that says I have to be Level 20 to enter.
The "friendly spirit" seems to have disappeared.
  • The Vestibule (Level 1) is that puzzle level I told you about last time. I guess the first door you open in the outer ring determines what doors open on the inner rings. The center of the map has four rooms, one with stairs down to the Palace Corridor (Level 2), another with stairs down to the King's Domicile on Level 4, but no combination of doors gets you to this room. I think you can only come up from the King's Domicile. A southern door leaves out of the entire area to the Hall of Doors.
  • The Hall of Doors (Level 1) is a half-level with a bunch of doors and teleporters leading to the Basement (Level 2), the Dungeon Entrance, the Mausoleum (Level 3), and the Vestibule. 
The appropriately-named Hall of Doors.
  • The Soldiers' Quarters (Level 1) is a former barracks with many locked doors and exits to the Prison (Level 3), the Treasury, and the Dungeon Entrance.
  • The Treasury (Level 1) is a half level with a lot of trap doors dumping you to the Basement. If you can navigate past them, there isn't much of a treasure in the central chamber, just a bunch of combats. A teleporter goes to the Hall of Doors.
  • The Basement (Level 2) is the receptacle for all the trap doors from the Treasury, plus stairs from the Hall of Doors and the Soldiers' Quarters. Stairs lead down to the Great Corridor (Level 3). There's a battle with a king hobgoblin in the southwest that I haven't been able to win, but I haven't tried for a few levels.
  • The Palace Corridor (Level 2) has large, open hallways leading to Cleowyn's Palace. Much of the level is inaccessible, but an NPC hints that you can get to those areas from other areas. You need the Key to Cleowyn's Palace to take the main corridor; an alternate longer hallway just requires a lockpick.
  • Cleowyns Palace (Level 2) is full of ghosts and banshees. I cannot survive banshees; no matter what I do, they kill me in the first round. However, last time I leveled up, I put points in a spell called "Light Shroud" that's supposed to protect against undead. I'll have to test whether it works. The throne room is full of trap doors that dump you to the Prison (Level 3). There's a pit in the center of the throne room that tosses you down to the King's Domicile (Level 4). If you sneak into the throne room via a back hallway, you can avoid the trap doors and fight a battle against the ghost of King Cleowyn and several other ghosts. It took me a few tries to win, but victory gives you the King's Ring.
Cleowyn's Palace has a fixed combat I can't get past, and I have no idea how to reach the southwest corner.
  • Level 2 also has three Secret Rooms, accessible only from the Rune Room (Level 3), which I'll talk about more below.
  • The Great Corridor (Level 3) has a wide hallway running around its circumference and maze-like rooms in the center. I've found exits to the Mausoleum, the Rune Room, and the Basement (Level 2). I haven't explored a lot of the interior. There's a guard in front of a door that demands the King's Pass to let you in.
  • The Mausoleum (Level 3) is a giant crypt that I've only explored a little of. There's a teleporter here from the Hall of Doors (Level 1) and a southern exit to the Great Corridor. I believe it's the site of a major puzzle that I'll describe below.
  • The Rune Room (Level 3) is a puzzle level with a cross-shaped set of rooms in the center. Many of the doors are locked, but they unlock when you exit the central cross in the same direction that the doors are facing. That means you have to go through the central room at least four times to unlock all the doors on the level. NPCs warn that you need the King's Ring to fully explore the level, and I think there are doors that don't appear unless you have it. More on this room below.
Going through the central switch in the Rune Room.
  • The Prison (Level 3) has a bunch of old, empty jail cells. There are some locked doors I can't open and some battles with monsters in the cells that I can't win. NPCs that you find in the Prison indicate that they are stuck, but a pit leads down to the King's Domicile (Level 4), and a stair goes up to the Soldiers' Quarters (Level 1).
I have no idea what she means by "Rainbow Bridge."
  • The King's Domicile (Level 4) immediately offers a locked door that doesn't open to any of my keys.
  • The Pit Bottom (Level 5) is a small level (8 x 8) with an exit to the Lava Cellar and a door that says it requires the Lava Key. There's a healing fountain at the end of one corridor.
This was nice, but I keep plenty of potions with me.
  • The Lava Cellar is west of the Pit Bottom. I have not begun to explore it.
NPCs on the various levels expand upon the story of King Cleowyn. Taken together, the narrative goes something like this: King Cleowyn was a cruel ruler who everyone hated, principally because he over-taxed his subjects. He was also the King of Thieves and thus fond of traps and lockpicks. He created mazes and puzzles to deter invaders, which was kind of a waste of time since Twinion was cut off from the rest of the world, so there was no one to invade. Cleowyn was obsessed with discovering the secrets of the wizard Arnakkian Slowfoot, whose carelessness had caused Yserbius to rise and bury the old castle in lava. Cleowyn built his palace in the mountain so he could search for information about Arnakkian. His search somehow led to his death, which was horrible, and Cleowyn's ghost now haunts the corridors of his own palace.
I stumbled on a quest to put Cleowyn's ghost to rest, most of it divulged in the Rune Room. Various messages and NPCs told me that I would need to return Cleowyn's crown, robe, and scepter to the Mausoleum, placing them in that order. The three southern staircases in the Rune Room lead to three separate Secret Rooms on Level 2, each of which has a door that must be opened with one of the three Rune Keys found in the Rune Room. I assume that each Secret Room will have one of the three artifacts. 
I use the "Read Runes" skill to decipher a tapestry.
After that, I'm not sure if I'll also have to find Cleowyn's bones; an NPC in the Mausoleum says they're "guarded by snow elves," but I'm not sure if they're guarded in place, or if I'll have to find them one place and bring them back to the Mausoleum.
As I explored this last session, I fled combats a lot more often than I previously did, which I hate to do--but not as much as I hate restarting from outside the dungeon every 10 minutes. I'd normally rather grind a previous level and get stronger than flee, but that's not really a possibility anymore, now that I have to earn close to 200,000 experience points between levels. (A tough battle might give me 1,300 experience points but most are less than 500.) I've been marking locations where I've had to flee fixed battles, lest I'm missing some particular treasure.
I got killed twice from this fixed combat and had to save it for later.
Miscellaneous notes:
  • Skills seem to cap at 12 points. The game won't let me put any more points into those skills, anyway.
  • I sure wish there was a way to buff before combat begins. I hate having to waste the first round on "Shield."
  • The Rune Room offered the first combats to use four of the six enemy slots. I wonder when I'll meet a party that fills all six of them.
These guys weren't very hard.
  • I rarely use skills in combat. It strikes me that they'd be much more useful in a proper multi-character game.
  • It was nice to see so many pillars in Cleowyn's Palace. Games (and films, literature, etc.) that propose vast underground spaces need to address how the load is being borne. 
I suspect these pillars are just decorative, though.
  • Every time I find something that seems like an equipment upgrade, I take it back to the town and find that the stuff I already had is worth more (and it doesn't seem to have any better effect on my statistics). The one exception was a Sword of Radiance that I found this time; it was worth more than my Sword of Flames.
I thought maybe the Rainbow Chainmail or the Plate of Iron would be better than the Armor Suit, but wow, not even close.
A typical combat still starts with me casting "Shield." It never works the first round, and I still don't know if that's because of initiative or because that's just how the spell works. After that, if there are only a few enemies, I go right into physical attacks. But if there are more than two stacks, or more than two enemies in a stack, I typically cast "Poison Cloud" on them and let it soften them up while I engage the smaller stacks in melee. Sometimes, the spell does its work in just a couple of rounds and kills all of them. 
Wyverns showed up as a new enemy in the Secret Rooms.
The biggest problems I have in combat are with enemies that cause confusion or paralysis, which often lets them attack me with impunity round after round until I shake it off. None of the spells ("Energy Field," "Aura," "Resist") or skills ("Deflect Magic") that are supposed to help me against these effects ever seem to work.
I'm afraid those 1,800 words are the best I can do from the last 7 hours. The game is very slow-going and unrewarding for a solo player. And yet I'm now determined to at least see this quest to the end.
Time so far: 20 hours


  1. I found price to be a bad indicator of how good an item is, but checking the stat increases gives you a good picture. Some items give protection against status effects, but I don't think there's a way to find out except by trying them out. All items may carry spell charges, but for a Wizard this wasn't much use.

    I don't think it's much of a spoiler to say that the door opened by strength in the vestibule leads to the final section of the Vestibule. But it's just a shortcut IIRC.

    I found the Great Corridor a good place to level up, as the enemies there give good XP and aren't too dangerous. I hit level 20 easily and was a bit overleveled for the Mausoleum. Past the level 20 door, there are only a few places left which are sensibly playable by a single-player character without insane levels of grinding. I am ready to give up with my level 26 character facing stacks of dragons and no more alternative routes. Maybe I'll finish it online if a party can be found.

  2. There is a very easy way to get exp in this game and most others. Just use a memory editor like ArtMoney or Cheat Engine to edit your amount of exp. This will save a lot of time. I do this in every offline game that tries to force me to grind.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. "Rainbow Bridge" makes me think about the Bifrost, the rainbow bridge of Norse mythology which connects Midgard (Earth) with Asgard, so I suppose the NPC is talking about some kind of teleporter.

    1. Also, it was common in MUDs (essentially, text-based MMORPGs that were popular in the early 90s) to have a Rainbow Bridge that only moderators and admins could cross, and would lead to a mod-only area named Asgard.

      Specifically, this comes from the DikuMUD family; and it's clearly inspired by Nordic myth. If you leveled up enough, you could be invited to become a moderator and cross the rainbow bridge (essentially "winning" the game).

      I would not be surprised if Yserbius took inspiration from these.

    2. Makes me think about that last SNES Mario Kart level ;)

  5. It's nice when dungeon maps have titles, instead of just "level 4". They add some thematic meaning, make drawn maps a bit more interesting and help with building up a mental map.

  6. "Games (and films, literature, etc.) that propose vast underground spaces need to address how the load is being borne."
    I do appreciate that I am not the only person that thinks about infrastructure in CRPGs.

    1. "I suspect these pillars are just decorative, though"

      Especially since (ROT13) fbzr bs gurz frrz gb or zbinoyr... .

    2. My pet peeve are Indiana Jones style automated traps or secret passages, how the heck are they powered on? Counterweights will only get you so far...

      Oh, and lit dungeons without apparent light source.

      Sorry about the post above, I should learn to post after 8 AM and at least one coffee...

    3. It really depends on the game. If its obviously intended to be a game first, realistic place second, banging on about things like load bearing walls and power sources makes you sound pretentious at best. Being upset at a game for being a game doesn't come off as wise much at all.
      But, there are a lot of games who bang on about how realistic they are before engaging in the same things without a hint of irony. Because they really don't want to admit they only added as much realism as would make the game look cool in screenshots, while in actuality they aren't any more realistic than the gamey games.

  7. Even a title as early as 'Might&Magic II' would have a short animation of a blacksmith clanging an anvil or something similar beside that store interface.

    This might seem like nit-picking, but little flourishes like that go a long way in making the player feel more immersed in the game world, and SoY simply doesn't.

    1. The monster portraits are animated. Or at least some of them are (e.g. ghosts fading in and out). The focus of the game clearly lies on the dungeon, plus maybe the tavern for player interaction.

  8. I seem to recall there's a helmet or something you should be coming across soon that'll resist at least some of those status effects. I don't know that the original version of the game gives you any indication that's what it does, though.

    1. Oh, god. I probably already ran across it and tossed it because it didn't seem to improve my statistics.

    2. Given the fanbase this game has, it surprises me that there isn't an online source for information about the game's equipment.

    3. Here's a hint: V oryvrir V tbg vg sebz bar bs gur svkrq rapbhagref jurer lbh trg Pyrbjla'f vgrzf. Cbffvoyl gur yrsgzbfg bs gubfr frperg nernf.

      I think if you go back there and run the encounter again, you should get that item again. I don't think this game checks whether you've already got an item from previously beating a fixed encounter.

      Agreed that it would be nice if someone put together an item/equipment list and where various things are. What confuses it a bit is that Medievalands has a greatly expanded item list.

    4. An equipment list does or at least did exist, see e.g. this exchange. However, I didn't see anything that sounded like it on the download page - plus it seems you'd have to register (assuming that would still be possible) to download.

    5. I'm sorry, Bruce, are you talking about the Mines level where you get Cleowyn's keys and lockpick or a different map?

    6. I'm talking about one of the secret rooms you get to from the Rune Room.

    7. Ah, okay. I haven't even mapped all of those yet. I'll watch for a helmet.

    8. PS re equipment/item lists: There is a list of items which I understand was extracted from the data of the original game, not the MedievaLands recreation, on the github page of Zane Wagner ('ZaneDubya'), the creator of MedievaLands, here under YserbiusData. You'd have to 'decode' it, though regarding what the numbers in the table mean.

      The list I had linked in the comments to an earlier entry appears to be based on it and is easier to understand directly, but incomplete (e.g. no weapons or armour).

      Plus there a google site which seems to have lists of item categories, based on search results, but it requires a google login.

      The Yserbius data on the github page also contain a file on skills & spells which might be useful, too.

    9. Those are all literal lists, yes, but unless I'm missing something, none of them tell you anything particularly useful about the item/skill, except the sale price, which everyone wants to tell me is not the best gauge for the item's utility.

      Bruce, I finished the Secret Room last night and never found what you were talking about. There was a Basilisk Amulet that I thought must be it, but it didn't protect me against paralysis. I'm done with the game anyway, so it's moot.


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