Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Might & Magic & Adventure

I do like riddles in CRPGs, even if this one was pretty damned obvious.
You will be pleased to know that I've been living up to my name. I happen to be working on my PhD right now. I should be done with my coursework in February, provided I don't flunk out of the program before then. Yesterday, I had two papers due, but I put them off until today--turning them in a day late--because I spent most of yesterday playing Might & Magic. How far I've come since high school!

Usually when I don't post anything for a few days it's because I'm traveling or working and trying my best not to think about CRPGs. Lately, it's been for a different reason: I've been playing. Over the weekend, I didn't want to tear myself away from my gaming to blog about it. I have essentially the same problem with vodka.

As I mentioned towards the end of my last posting, I was dissatisfied with the combat performance of my spellcasters, largely because I hadn't taken into consideration the effects of speed on combat initiative. I rolled a new sorcerer and new cleric and spent much of my playing time getting them up to speed while still exploring. I've mapped at least some of all of the 20 outdoor areas, although almost all of those maps have notes for things I have to come back and do when I'm at a higher level or have found some key or something.

I'm also finally getting hints about the main quest--I think. Actually, a few things happened and I'm not sure which are related to the main quest. Here are my options:

Main Quest Possibility 1: Something to Do with a Minotaur King

I found clues in two towns directing me to a particular map square where I found a whistle that will allow me entry to the minotaur lord's enchanted lair. Part of me thinks this is the main quest because the hints came from two brothers I was told to seek by the wizard who finished off the first quest in the game. Also there was a statue in the first town that talked about the minotaur lord's castle in the Enchanted Forest. The strength of this possibility is that it appeared early in the game, which main quests usually do.

Main Quest Possibility 2: Aliens

On another map square, I met "the exiled Lord Kilburn" who gave me a map that prevented me from getting hopelessly lost in the desert.
It took me forever to explore the desert anyway because it's full of teleporters that randomly pop you around the map, and even if you don't get lost, walking through the desert consumes a unit of food for every step. Nonetheless, I finally found a circle of mountains in the middle of which was...wait for it...an alien spacecraft.
The game gave me a role-playing choice and I decided to be friendly. Suddenly, the alien spoke English:
Now, any player of any other Might & Magic game knows that the M&M series has a way of diverging suddenly into science fiction. In Might & Magic III, the final dungeon is a spacecraft. Might & Magics IV and V have a sci-fi game ending that I won't spoil here. Might & Magics VI and VII have you battling alien invaders. There is a basic sci-fi mythology to the whole series, and I wondered if it would appear in the first game. I'm glad to see it does; maybe it will solve some of my confusion on the rest of the series. So the sci-fi element makes this very likely to be the main quest, but I can't be fully sure.
Main Quest Possibility 3: It Hasn't Started Yet
Main quests are often introduced by lords and kings, but I have yet to be able to speak to any of them. Why? Every time I go into a castle, I get booted out because I don't have a merchant's pass. It turns out there was one very easy to find early in the game but I overlooked it. Now that I have one, I can start speaking to kings and queens, see if they tell me anything useful, and perhaps expose the alien impostor besides.
Not having any idea about the main quest this late in the game is a bit unusual, but in Might & Magic, you get so easily distracted by side quests and other encounters. I've lost track of all the fun things I've encountered just wandering around the maps. Here's a quick sample:

  • A gypsy who reads my characters and tells me their signs. On another map, accurate knowledge of these signs compels a bridge guardian to extend a magical bridge across the ocean to a hidden area; getting the signs wrong destroys your characters(!)
  • A throne adorned with gems. A mysterious voice poses a riddle whose answer is "love." The correct answer provides the characters with a diamond key (don't know what it opens yet).
  • Very powerful creatures, including a black knight and a sea dragon. I know from a statue in Sorpigal that if I kill them, I'll get rewarded at the Wheel of Fortune (which I found), but I'm a long way from being a high enough level to do that.
  • A mountain peak whose views give you hints as to encounters on other maps.

  • A town (Portsmith) in which every resident is a woman and male characters are continually drained of their hit points, making combat nearly impossible.
  • A cave full of teleporters, the successful navigation of which puts you in touch with a wizard named Ranalou who gives you access to a bunch of portals to other places.
  • Fountains that temporarily raise your statistics.
  • A grove of trees. You apparently get some reward for climbing each one, but climbing them leads to encounters and I haven't survived yet.

  • A statue of a lion asking for a password.
  • A statue with a "scroll of judgment." Haven't figured out what to do there yet.
  • A forest in which mysterious weeping echoes throughout.

And finally, several notes to round out my previous discussion of combat in Might & Magic.
  • Might & Magic continues The Bard's Tale tradition of throwing at you rosters of monsters that seem implausible as coordinated groups. Three clerics, six vampire bats, and a acidic slug. A minor demon, three militiamen, and four swarms of bees. How do you plan an attack with a swarm of bees? Why do you?

  • There's a handy keyboard shortcut, CTRL-A, that makes you cycle through combat very quickly. Each character in melee range attacks, each one with a missile weapon shoots, and other characters just guard. Very handy for low-level monsters.
  • Donating at temples causes the priests to bless you with a battery of protection spells until you rest. You could cast each one individually, but they take time.

  • Attacking certain creatures (unicorns, pegasuses, clerics, etc.) causes your alignment to slip. Good characters become neutral and neutral characters become evil. You have to pay to right things. This is particularly annoying because there's no "talk" option, so if you want to avoid attacking a group of creatures, you have to try to flee.
  • Flee almost never works. Especially when you need it most.
  • Even when wandering low-level areas with high-level characters, you can never get too cocky. Centaurs and sprites, for instance, are both easy to deal with singly, but run into a pack of them and they will repeatedly cast sleep or curse (respectively), destroying your chances of fighting back. One unlucky random encounter can ruin hours of work if you don't keep going back to a town and saving (which has the unfortunate drawback of resetting the map).
  • I am still dying at the same rate as before: for every 30 minutes of gameplay only about 10 is "saved." This isn't as bad as it sounds because most of that time is spent mapping, and once that's done, it's done whether your characters survived or not.
  • I'm not sure what I'm doing wrong, but the "turn undead" spell, even on the basest of creatures, works about 1 time in 20.
Still having a great time, though. Games like this are why I started this project. No question about finishing this one.


  1. I see you have started putting together the main quest! I won't spoil it and tell you what's what ;)

    OK, so maybe I'll spoil it a bit: both #1 and #2 are part of the MQ. So are all the keys you'll pick up. Some of the locations you've encountered but aren't sure what to do about are also linked, but that'll become more obvious later so I won't tell you which ones they are. By the way, #2 is actually more related to the big picture, but #1 is of more immediate interest.

    Turn Undead is pretty rubbish. Against undead you want the awesomely good Holy Word, which your cleric will get at higher levels. That one doesn't always work either, but when it does it wipes out a large number of undead.

    I was wondering why you weren't getting into the castles; now it makes sense. I suggest you go into one and start taking quests from the lords ASAP (though you can only have on quest active at a time; if the quest is too tough there's a spell to remove it). Going on their quests is usually the best way to explore and map the world, and of course while doing this you start stumbling on pieces related to the MQ (one of Ironfist's quests for example is to find Lord Kilburn).

    If you're finding Portsmith too tough, keep in mind you can leave some of your party members behind at the inn - you don't have to have a full party. There's also something in the Portsmith dungeon that'll help somehow with the rest of the city, though the effects are... interesting.

    Odd about the alignment change, I don't remember this happening. I thought the alignment had purely to do with something else (I won't spoil it unless you want me to). As for flee, it's VERY hard to do and will just fail (and get your party quickly killed) more often that not. I think the frequency of success was different in different versions of the game (I read somewhere that it was made easier in the NES version)

    Good on you for trying to finish the game. It's long and involving, but it's worth it.

  2. Hi, Ziad. Yeah, I found the sex change device in the dungeon. I got killed shortly afterwards so none of my characters were changed for good, but I may use it on my next Portsmith trip.

    As for the alignment thing, go ahead and spoil it. I can't see any use for it except that it prevents you from wielding some weapons keyed to a particular alignment.

  3. I don't remember if I've mentioned it but I¨m 99% sure that this:

    "Attacking certain creatures (unicorns, pegasuses, clerics, etc.) causes your alignment to slip."

    is what causes this:

    "I'm not sure what I"m doing wrong, but the "turn undead" spell, even on the basest of creatures, works about 1 time in 20."

  4. Thanks, Petrus. I think maybe I put that together eventually, but I don't remember now. In MM2, attacking things that are about to attack you doesn't seem to affect your alignment, thankfully.

  5. Distant, UNCHARTED islands that you can see from land? Made even worse because the very next description underneath it is of a SHIP,pirate even, suggesting that there's enough seafaring to make piracy profitable.

    I'd understand if this was Discworld. maybe the islands were still uncharted because either nobody had bothered charting them, or because current maps were still in good condition & it'd be a shame to throw them away quite new, hardly ever used, or both.

    Couldn't they just describe them as distant, mysterious islands & be done with it?

    I suppose I'll have to get around to playing this, since I bought on on GOG, but this will always bother me. Maybe I should write a very stern letter to the writer of that particular gem.

    1. You have to give the game a little slack. We weren't seeing much of this kind of world-building at all in 1986.

    2. Oh, I'm amazed at all they accomplished with the extremely limited space & technology at the time - it's the main reason I'm now playing & adoring these games, seeing how inventive they had to be to get around these crippling hurdles.

      It's precisely because of that I'm amused at such a glaring oversight, since the game depends so much in short, evocative sentences to create an atmosphere.

      I mentioned writing a stern letter because I imagined the reaction of someone opening an envelope only to find a penned, scathing critique to something in a 30 year old game they most likely forgot about.

      A modern day trolling done in the fashion of ye olde wayes, if you will.


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