Thursday, November 15, 2018

Crusaders of the Dark Savant: 10 Steps Behind

This just isn't my month.
As I closed the last session, I was near the gates of Ukpyr, where I was destined to meet (finally) the Umpani, a human-rhinoceros race that I guess represents one of the game's "good" factions. But I had reached the gates by following the right-most wilderness path ever since leaving the Rattkin ruins. Rather than continue to Ukpyr, I decided to about-face and map the rest of the wilderness between Ukpyr and the ruins, partly because I knew there were three more flowers to find.

Let me pause to note (and perhaps slightly complain) that Crusaders doesn't really have an "outdoor" area. It has a huge dungeon with outdoor textures, just like the first Might and Magic. Far fewer than half the squares on the grid are used, and the party is channeled through very narrow passages. I much prefer the open exploration available in Might and Magic III, which retains a first-person interface outside, or Pool of Radiance, which switches to a top-down view. Crusaders' system works okay for the needs of pacing and plot, but to pretend it's a major step up from Wizardry VI is absurd. I find the game map, which copies the style of the Might and Magic series, particularly disingenuous. It suggests there are 54 map squares, from A1 to F9, but most of these squares--including, I think, all of Row A--are completely unexplorable, and others only have a tiny handful of used tiles. 

For that matter, why annotate the squares? Unless I'm missing something, there's no spell or device in the game that provides the party's current coordinates, so why even specify that New City is in square C4 or Ukpyr is in D9? In any event, one consolation is that this type of world is easier to map.
Water exploration is exhausting for both me and the characters.
In due course, I came to a water-filled cave. I spent an hour mapping the damned thing, swimming for six or seven squares and then taking forever to restore everyone's stamina via "Stamina" spells. It was often up to 20 squares between land areas, so there were multiple "Stamina" breaks between times that I could simply sleep.

I should mention that water squares contain as many fixed encounters as land squares. Most of them are with red piranhas or these things called "Dinkle Wisps" that look like flying jellyfish. Nothing too hard.
I refuse to spell "piranha" the way the game does.
When all was said and done, I accomplished nothing in the cave. I'm not sure what it's purpose was. There was one area full of whirlpools that I couldn't pass without dying. ("Levitate" did nothing to help, and I couldn't find any other spell solution.) There were numerous messages about calcium deposits and turbulent waters, but nothing that gave me a clue to use or do anything. Maybe I'll later find something that allows easier passage over water.

I found two flowers on the way back to the Rattkin ruins. I also found another cave, this one populated by giants. (And like the cave I entered last time, at some point it collides with the existing outdoor map, meaning it doesn't exist on the same scale.) The giants mostly attacked individually, and had names like Ogo, Munstachio, and Gruengard. At first, I felt bad about entering their cave and slaughtering them, but it soon became clear that they regarded us as food. The giants have a devastating melee attack that almost never hits. They have so many hit points that I was generally lucky with a critical hit before I actually wore them down to 0.
The ultimate battle of the area was with Spot--sorry, * S P O T *--the dinosaur-ish "pet" of the giants. He had about 1,500 hit points and, like the giants, a deadly physical attack that usually missed. He seemed completely immune to spells and critical hits, so I had to kill him the hard way. Sometimes I miss all-physical combats like this, where buffing spells like "Superhero" and "Bless" and "Enchanted Sword" can really make a difference, and you need healers to run from character to character to minimize hit point loss. You use far different tactics when pounding away at one guy than you do in combat with 40 enemies in 5 groups.
He doesn't even have any spots.
* S P O T * turned out to be guarding nothing more than a buried helmet called a "Necromatic Helm," which is cursed. I have no idea as to its purpose. Elsewhere in the caves was the fifth flower required by Master Xheng.

At this point, I was way back at the beginning of this wilderness area. Rather than hike all the way back to Ukpyr, I decided to walk downriver and see if I could figure out where the two maps connected (I had been keeping a separate map ever since emerging from the Rattkin ruins). It didn't take very long, and with some careful cutting and pasting, I had a unified map again.
My current map of the game world.
Along the way, I explored an area north of the river, accessible only from the river, and found a treasure chest with a lot of great stuff. It had belonged to some kind of knight, apparently, and featured a "Crusader's Axe" and "Crusader's Helm," plus a couple of pieces of magical chainmail. The items are only usable by a fighter, lord, or Valkyrie. I had been building my Valkyrie's "Axe" skill in anticipation of eventually finding one, so I gave it to her to see if it would perform better than my +2 spear. Jury is still out.
Treasure chests are rare enough in this game that it's a major event when you find one.
Munkharama was now only a short distance away, so I went there to bring the 5 flowers to Master Xheng. When I arrived, he was gone, but he'd left a note: "Seek out Father Rulae in the Abbey of New City.  Tell him that you have learned the Holy Sacrament, and he shall aid you in your journey." This was followed by instructions for blending the five flowers together. I had to figure out part of the recipe myself, which was to make a "divine solution of White Dahlia," which just meant mixing the White Dahlia with holy water. In the end, I had a potion called "Snakespeed," and I have no idea what it does. "Identify " doesn't help at all. Drinking it doesn't seem to produce any increase in attributes. I've saved it in case I need it for a puzzle or something.
Part of Master Xheng's instructions.
Back I traveled to New City, now with two things to accomplish. First, I told Father Rulae that I learned the "Holy Sacrament." He granted me access to a new underground area, where there was a chest that contained . . . only dust. Yet another map piece that someone else got to first. There was also a healing fountain that I don't have to pay to use, but I do have to talk to Father Rulae and acknowledge multiple messages every time I want to use it. It might be easier just to use the one in the starter dungeon.
I walked around and picked five flowers. It wasn't particularly "virtuous."
I next visited Professor Wunderlund and told him that I need to visit the ARCHIVES, the keyword I'd received in the Rattkin ruins. He responded that the archives were in the Old City and gave me a key.
I feel like we could have gotten here sooner.
The key opened the way to a small underground area where there were a few easy combats with undead and slimes. I found two treasure chests there. The first contained some miscellaneous goodies--scrolls, mostly. The second contained . . . empty wrappers. Damn it. That's 0 for 2 this session, and like 2 for 7 the entire game.
This graphic makes me think of the "great link" from Deep Space 9.
The interesting thing is that these two chests in New City are keyword-dependent rather than item-dependent. If you were replaying the game, you could presumably get instant access to the maps by feeding the previously-known keywords to Father Rulae and Professor Wunderlund. I'm curious if any of my commenters who've replayed the game have done that or forced themselves to learn the words "honestly."

As I've mentioned before, the game continually assaults you with wandering NPCs. The two I encounter most frequently are Captain Beaurigad, the Gorn soldier I released from prison in New City, and Jan-Ette, the Helazoid I rescued from a party of T'Rang. King Ulgar the Gorn shows up a lot, too. Every time they appear, you have to acknowledge their multi-screen introductory text, and sometimes they pop up literally a few steps from your last encounter with them.
Oh, go screw yourself.
The two positive things about these encounters are that you can offload unwanted goods on them, and by clicking "Lore," you can get rumors about who has the various map pieces. The current status seems to be:
  • We have Temple.
  • We have Boat.
  • We have Crypt (this is the one I bought from an Umpani rather than finding).
  • The T'Rang have Dragon.
  • The T'Rang have Legend.
  • The Rattkin have Crystal.
  • The Umpani have Fools.
Maybe I can trade the lodestone for it.
These are the only maps I ever hear about, but I think you only ever hear about maps whose chests you've already visited, so presumably there are still more out there. I still don't understand why they're called "maps" or what they actually do besides imparting some hints that you don't really need to solve the areas.

Let's do a quick character check-in. For the magic items equipped by each character, I cast "Identify" and gave it to the person that it seemed most suited for at the time, but for most of them, I can no longer remember what they do.
  • Gideon is a human lord of Level 17. He's equipped with the Sword of 4 Winds, a Bat Necklace, a Crusader Helm, upper plate mail +3, lower plate mail +2, cuir gauntlets, and buskins. Every one of his attributes is 18. He also has the highest karma, at 19, but I honestly don't know what karma does for me.
  • Noctura is a Dracon ninja at Level 17. She has a Vorpal Blade, a Blackbelt of 5 Flowers, nija cowl, ninja garb (upper and lower), and Tabi boots (all items of armor given by the Xheng Temple). She has 18 in most attributes except 15 personality and 17 piety. She has the lowest karma, at 3.
  • Svava is a dwarf Valkyrie of Level 17. She wields a Crusader's Axe +1 (two-handed), a Burgonet helm, plate mail +2 (upper), plate mail +3 (lower), an "Amulet of Stillness." Here attributes range from 15 to 18.
  • Esteban is a elf bishop of Level 16. He's carrying a Staff of Blessing and a Cross of Protection and wearing the Necromatic Helm, a chainmail doublet +2, quilt leggins, and buskins. His attributes range from 12 to 18.
  • Prenele is a Level 17 faerie alchemist. I currently have her wielding a short bow and wearing an Amulet of Protection from Magic, a Wizard's Cone, a gossamer gown (upper and lower), and sandals. Because the availability of ammunition is variable, she also has a sling and a faerie stick as backup weapons, but I use her mostly for spells. Her attributes range from 15 to 18.
  • Bix is a Level 17 hobbit mage. I just equpped him with an awesome whip called a "Cat'O Nine Tail" that hits enemies all the way from the back row. He also has an Amulet of Airs, a skullcap, Robes of Enchantment (upper and lower), and sandals. Skilled at "Music" from his bard days, he's carrying a Poet's Lute (puts enemies to sleep), a Chromatic Lyre (casts "Itching Skin"), a Lute of Sloth (casts "Slow"), a Silent Lyre (casts "Silence"), and a Cornu of Demonspawn (casts "Astral Gate" and summons a demon to help the party). I should really be getting more use out of these.
Combat has frankly become easy, and it's my fault for spending so much time switching classes and getting easy skill points, though I guess I'm paying for that wasted time when it comes to the maps. Between Esteban, Prenele, and Bix, they're capable of so many mass-damage spells, and have so many spell points, that large enemy parties rarely last more than two rounds. Ironically, it's individual enemies, like the giants, that pose the most risk because I'm less likely to spend a lot of spell points on them.

From here, I have a few options. There's an unexplored area northeast of the Rattkin ruins, but I suspect it simply dead-ends in the forest, and I'll end up walking all the way up there just to map six squares. Still, I need to take care of it. I also have to finish the Nyctalinth ruins (readers offered hints that I haven't fully digested) and of course Ukpyr. 

But as I was closing this entry, a new path opened up. There's a square in New City, in the "Curio Museum," that I've long left marked "for later." I annotated it with the comment "Twisted heads; several options." To remind myself what I was talking about, I returned to that area and found that there are six heads sticking out of a mural, and they can be twisted around in any order. Their names are Laughing Devil, Silent Devil, Happy Demon, Angry Demon, Surprised Imp, and Scared Imp.
I wasn't looking forward to trying 6! = 720 combinations.
Those names rang a bell because I had just consulted the "Boat" map to support my statement above that the maps just give useless hints. It says:
The waters of life do move as the weather, and in life as the waters, thee shall know both calm and storm. He that must embrace the storm shall soon be swept away. While he that learns to navigate shall make his own journey. When they fear has turned to anger, thee has lost thy soul, and shall make the devil laugh. But to still thy tongue and become amazed, thee begets enlightenment, and thus shall thee know bliss. Thus may one discover a craft, and sail upon the waters. Thus one may discover thyself, and sail upon life.
(Every time I quote text in this game, I'm ignoring that all of the sentences end in ellipses rather than periods. Every damned sentence in the game ends with an ellipse. It is one of the most annoying devices I have ever seen in an RPG.)

Twisting the heads in the order suggested by the paragraph caused a secret door to open. The passage beyond led to a boat! The game noted that it had no visible means of propulsion, so I searched my inventory--why am I still carrying that lodestone?--when I realized that the game called the boat the "Wikum-boat," and I had something called "Wikum's Power Globe." That was obviously the solution, and a few squares later, the party was out on the open sea. This is another area where a second-time player could get this resource almost immediately.
This feels like a major milestone.
A couple of weeks ago, a commenter with the initials L.M. (I'll let him comment if he wants his identity known further) contacted me to encourage me to upload my times to It's an interesting site that gives average completion times in three categories: "main story," "main + extras," and "completionist" (gods, how I hate that term). I frankly don't get some of the distinctions. For instance, it says that it takes 27.5 hours to beat Ultima IV's main story, 35 hours with "extras," and 50 hours as a "completionist." The problem is that Ultima IV really doesn't have a lot of optional content. For a first-time player (which is what the site ought to be polling), you have to visit pretty much every area. I don't see how a "completionist" approach would double the game's playing time. (Nor do I see how a second-time player would take as long as 27 hours.) Frankly, it's well past the era in which my blog currently lingers (1992) before such distinctions become relevant to most RPGs.

Nonetheless, the "main + extras" value is a reasonably good predictor for how long it took me to win games that I've played. Here are some examples:

Might and Magic
Might and Magic II
Might and Magic III
Pool of Radiance
Quest for Glory
Ultima V
Ultima Underworld

I created an account and L.M. agreed to help enter my scores for games already played. A lot of my games weren't in the HLTB database, and for many that were (or were later added), I'm the only player. Mandragore (1985) and Conan: The Cimmerian (1991) are two of them.

Anyway, Crusaders of the Dark Savant is proving to be a bit of an outlier. HLTB's scores show the "main story" should wrap up in 66 hours, "main + extra" at 100 hours, and "completionist" at 112 hours. Again, I don't know how you make these distinctions as a first-time player, when you basically have to explore everything, but the numbers suggest I should be done in about 26 hours, and it just doesn't feel like I'm that close. I guess we'll see.

I'm toying with whether I should reference this site at the beginning of my experience with a game. In some ways, it's a spoiler to know how long it lasts, and the numbers might even serve to intimidate me in the case of very long games. On the other hand, it might help me plan my upcoming list, alternating long and short games to create a better pacing. Of course, I'm still going to run into issues where a decent portion of games aren't in the database. Not a single title on my "upcoming" list is in there, for instance. Still, I'll try it for a while for major titles and see how it goes.

Time so far: 74 hours

Monday, November 12, 2018

Game 309: Sandor (1989)

This game alas has nothing to do with Sandor Clegane.
Motelsoft (developer and publisher)
Released 1989 for Atari ST
Date Started: 10 November 2018

Sandor is another game from Motelsoft, the developer that previously brought us Seven Horror's (1988), a game I didn't hate but couldn't figure out how to win. On the game's official page, Motelsoft offers only that the game is "self-explanatory," which it isn't, at all. But I'll do my best to muddle through.

The top-down perspective has a party of six adventuring over a landscape dotted with towns, cathedrals, and dungeons. I gather that the land itself is called "Sandor." The dungeons are also in top-down perspective--a shift from the previous game, which offered first-person views.
A traveling merchant approaches the party in the land of Sandor.
The game draws some of its races from Seven Horror's, although it seems to merge races and classes into a single list. Attributes are agility, strength, intelligence, endurance, and skill, rolled between 1 and 20 during character creation, although certain classes seem to get bonuses or weights to some attributes. It's worth spending some time on the race/classes, partly because I don't have a lot to discuss otherwise, and partly because they're so weird. I'm hoping they make sense to German readers in a way that they do not to me. They are:

  • Megrim. In English, this word means, "depression." It's a variant of migraine. Some dictionaries give an alternate definition as "low spirits," and I wonder if some developer didn't try to translate that exact phrase, thinking of the other kind of "spirit." Or maybe someone bungled an anagram of "Grimm," as in the fairy tales. I'm otherwise out of ideas. If it helps, Megrims get their highest rolls in intelligence and skill. Motelsoft got a lot of use out of the word. It was a race in Seven Horror's; it appears in a title of a 1994 game, Escape from Ragor II: Megrim's Rache; and it is the name of an NPC in Trauma 3D (2002).
  • Hunch. From "hunchback," maybe? They get high roles in strength and skill.
  • Glonen. Maybe a play on klonen, "to clone"? Also appears to be a last name. They get low rolls in all attributes, making me wonder what they're good for.
  • Psychonaut. This term has been around from at least the 1970s to describe people who "explore altered states of consciousness." Google suggests that the term has been used in numerous RPGs as a specialty class. I'm not sure if Sandor did it first. The class gets high rolls in everything but strength.
  • Exane. I don't even have a guess on this one. Attempts at Googling are overwhelmed by an investment bank of that name. The race or class gets high rolls in everything but endurance.
  • Mensch. This is the only obvious one. It literally means "human" in German, and the race gets very balanced rolls with almost everything around 10.
Character creation. This guy's a true mensch.
After character creation, the party lands on the game map, with options to open, look, take, drop, investigate, use, read, and camp. The game begins near a city called "Kolono," where you can visit a markeplace, pub, or healer.

I took some time to buy starting weapons and shields. It seems that you can wear a piece of armor or hold a shield but not both. Weapons are restricted by strength, but not (as far as I can tell) by class. Fortunately, attributes can increase during leveling up.
I was lazy and went with anagrams for party names.
I set out exploring the land and spent most of this session mapping it. The explorable part of the world, at least at the outset, is around 50 x 50 squares. Rivers and walls block further progress to the east and south, although I can see some towns and other features there, so I know it will somehow be possible to explore further. Towards the eastern edge of the map, there's a little walled compound with a gate, and stepping up to the gate indicates that I need some kind of gem to pass.
The land so far. I screwed up one column or row somewhere, but it basically works.
In a potentially ominous note, visiting the pub at a town near that gate brings up a message that "this is where the world ends for the freeware adventurer" and that to explore further, I need to order the full version by sending DM25 to Harald Breitmaier (one of the two listed developers) in Stuttgart. I got the game directly from Motelsoft, who doesn't offer any option to register it on their web site. They didn't respond to inquiries I sent about Seven Horror's, so I don't have a lot of optimism that they'll respond on Sandor. I guess I'll play until I can't.
DM25 in 1989 would have been $13.30, or about $27.00 today.
Combat is far more advanced than Seven Horror's, showing perhaps some of the influence of some SSI games. It doesn't seem to draw from any previous European inspiration. After you're told the composition of the enemy party (both type and level), you're brought to an 8 x 10 grid, where every character has the ability to move, attack, cast a spell, use an item, get information about the enemies, pray, or pass. The entire party acts first, in some kind of initiative order, followed by the enemies. Each character has a number of points that he can use for both movement and other actions, so if you're right next to an enemy, you can put all the points in attacking. This is quite similar to SSI's Wizard's Crown and Shard of Spring series.
For this fight, I face a dervish, a hellhound, a fire imp, and a brigand.
This early in the game, I don't have any spells or items, so it's just been attacking. There have been some light tactics in anticipating the enemy's movement and trying to get him to come to me rather than wasting all my action points approaching him. I've also learned to target spellcasters quickly because they have a tendency to summon other creatures.
My party members taking on four foes.
Combat hasn't been overwhelmingly common--maybe once every 30 moves. It has been quite deadly, however, and I've had to reload after about half of them. The difficulty of enemies is tied in part to the area of the map that you're exploring, and I've been attacked by numerous parties that I was nowhere near ready to take on. Fortunately, the rarity of combat means that you can just reload and get out of those dangerous areas. It also means that you rarely face more than one combat per game day, and sleeping at night restores most hit points for a Level 1 party.

There are a variety of schools scattered around the land, where characters can literally spend intelligence points (and money) to learn skills like hunting, lockpicking, healing, and spellcasting. Some of the schools are duplicated, and some of the skills are offered in towns, and I'm not sure if there's any difference among them. I haven't found near enough money yet to get any of these skills.
A school. I can learn healing at this one.
It's the skill system that convinces me that the direct inspiration for Sandor is SSI's Demon's Winter (1988), which not only had the combat system from Shard of Spring but also had the same schools around the map. There are some analogies among the skills themselves. There are a lot of other little similarities, including the way markets offer one item at a time, the way you can get lore in pubs, the way that different towns offer different services, the various temples that try to convert your members, the spacing between encounters in the wilderness (Demon's Winter had one every 43 moves, precisely), the requirement to find a guild to level up, and in general the top-down interface. Even some of the tiles and icons look similar. Demon's Winter was a decent game, so no complaints there.
Unlike Demon's Winter, Sandor is clear about how you advance through the items.
Across the map, I found:

  • Three dungeons. None of them have obvious names. I haven't really explored any of them yet, but they use a top-down interface just like the outdoor areas. 
What dungeons look like from the entrance.
  • Six towns. They all have three syllable names, and five of them (if I'm getting the pronunciation correctly) are dactyls: Kolono, Ulono, Nihili, Nalosa, Okokat, and Pelinos. Services vary by town, but among them you can find marketplaces, pubs, guilds (for leveling), skill schools, inns, and healers.
This one town had all the services.
  • Nine skill schools: spellcasting, hunting, "opponent estimation" (analogous to Demon's Winter's "Monster Lore", I imagine), healing, resurrection, fighting, and locksmithing. There are some skills offered only in towns, and I'm not sure I'm translating them right: fallen-beseitigens ("fall-eliminating"?), schiffskunde, waffenkunde, and kartenkunde. I get the first words ("ship," "weapon," and "maps," in order), but every dictionary I consult suggests kunde means "customer," not "skill," which you'd really expect there.
  • Four "faith communities" (Glaubensgemeinschaft), three dedicated to the god Sunlot and one dedicated to Cenobit. Each gives me the opportunity to convert to that god; if I try to pray without converting, it says "you do not believe in this god!" I've kept the party neutral for now.
  • Two weird places where a title screens says: "Holy Blood. Say no to evil." Each character has the ability to "renounce"; if he does, a message says, "You are not in league with the devil." Weird. I can't remember if there was anything similar in Demon's Winter, but I remember I never really understood churches and religions in that game.
I'll be happy if I end the game knowing what this is about.
  • Three gates that I need some kind of "mage-gem" to pass, although one just lets me walk around it.
I'll be back, I guess.
  • An old man's hut. He wants the Wand of Urakus and threatens dire consequences should I return without it.
I think I'll refrain from asking what the hell he's laughing at.
  • A bunch of icons that look like collapsing castles or towers, but with nothing obvious to do there. Maybe they're just visual.
During my explorations, I rose to Level 2, which comes with a satisfying increase in hit points and attributes. There are two guilds, on opposites ends of the map, for leveling. I almost have enough for Level 3. My finances are very slow to grow, however, and I hope that dungeons offer more in that area.
Leveling up.
On the plot, I've got nothing. The best I can go on is rumors from the pubs. A guy in Kolono told me about two caves in the west, and that I should not enter the first unless I have the Ring of Arcan, which I can get in the second. (I apparently need it to conquer some creature in the first.) Unfortunately, he didn't tell me how I could distinguish the first and second caves.

Out in the wilderness, a "lone wanderer" named William Bacon said that his castle, "across the river," was attacked by a "Jonge priest and his hordes." His children were murdered and his wife imprisoned. He asked for my help and I said yes, but nothing else happened after that. This might go with another pub rumor about "hordes" to the east surrounding a city called Habata.
Can you imagine attacking him? "Sorry, buddy; this just isn't your week."
I started this game hoping that it would be a quick one-off like Seven Horror's, but it has a lot going for it. I just wish we could dig up the manual.

Time so far: 5 hours
If you've been looking at my "Recent and Upcoming" list and wondered how we got all the way down to Sandor, here's the rundown:
  • Legends of the Lost Realm: Still can't get anywhere with it. I'm basically waiting until I've scheduled several postings so I can spend time on it without worrying that I won't have anything to blog about for more than a week.
  • Le Maître Absolu: Weird French game based on the engine to Le Maître des Âmes (1987). It loads up the first time, but then every time I load it after that, it sits on a black screen. I might have something misconfigured in my Amstrad CPC emulator, which I don't use all that often. Still comparing versions, testing, etc.
  • Paladin's Legacy. Ultima clone for the TSR-80 Color Computer. Gets stuck on the loading screen after character creation. There's a web site where the creator says he had trouble with MAME (which is what I'm using) and recommends a different emulator. Have to download, test, etc.
  • Sea Rogue. It's an interesting simulation game about searching the seas for valuable shipwrecks. A commenter wrote 4 years ago and made an impassioned argument for the game as an RPG, and I admit it has some RPG elements. "Characters" (basically, people assigned to ship's stations) get better through training and experience, and you get a kind-of inventory to make your explorations easier and more valuable. Combat, on the other hand, is all ship-to-ship (and not even a necessary part of the game), and overall it's not really and RPG. I'd play it if I liked it, but I'm not much of a simulator fan. I gave it an hour and decided, with apologies to P.H., to scrap it.
Numbers and gauges typify the simulator approach to Sea Rogue. This is one of about nine stations on the ship.
Lower on the master game list, I rejected Sleeping Gods Lie (1989; only GameFAQs though it it was an RPG) and, predictably, 1989's Soccer Star. The others remain on my list but will requires some extra work. Advice welcome if you already know what the problems are.