Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Dragonflight: The Complete Picture

Slowly building my characters in experience and wealth.

I continue to make slow progress in Dragonflight, though I still don't have any idea what I'm doing as far as the main quest goes.

Thanks to an anonymous commenter, I discovered that the game came with a much longer novella than appeared in the English manual translation that I've been using. I found a full English translation of the long story, which does a good job fleshing out the history of the land and the reason for the main quest (if you check out the site, the version I originally got skips from Chapter 2 to parts of Chapter 14).

In summary, the land used to be occupied by giant fire-breathing dragons who were nonetheless kind, intelligent, and vegetarian. Their leader--essentially ruler of the world--was named Guams, and he kept court in the lush and beautiful Dragon's Vale on the isle of Walronia. Over centuries, he made advances in magic, medicine, and alchemy, used his magic to ward off natural disasters, and taught his discoveries to his kin. Eventually, he was overthrown and murdered by a female dragon named Shetryp and her lover Olastag. These events led to a civil war among dragons that left them depopulated, weak and, for some reason, barren.

One of several nice illustrations from the novella.

Shetryp and Olastag were eventually killed when their castle of bones collapsed on them. Under a new king named Dori, the dragons enjoyed another golden age, including a restoration of the Dragon's Vale, although they still couldn't have children. Eventually, they made contact with elves, dwarves, men, and orcs--peaceful contact, despite some initial misunderstandings--and the various races shared their magic lore, but the dragons never found the "one spell" that would restore their fertility.

With so much magic now available to the mortal races, spellcasters divided into camps of white and black magicians. White magicians were more interested in spells of knowledge and aesthetics; black magicians sought spells of power and battle. The separation, initially just a scholarly preference, turned into a true schism. It all came to a head when both groups decided to throw a jubilee celebration at the same place and time: in the Dragon's Vale. King Keril of the dwarves was the leader of the white mages, and Lord Avaram Souldesecrator of the orcs, calling himself the reincarnated "Garganoz the Evil One," headed the blacks.

This is just going to be a lot of text, so check out this freaky shot of a battle with ghouls in a forest.

Conflict began almost immediately when the two groups arrived, and it was fueled when Avaram's forces sneaked into the white camp at night and ritualistically murdered many of the white mages, including Keril's wife. Avaram also used magic to create horrid beasts like ghouls, gnolls, and trolls. The resulting battle raged for days, devastated the Dragon's Vale, and resulted in the deaths of leaders on both sides. The dragons fled in the midst of the battle and were never seen again.

In the aftermath of the conflict, the various races reacted with horror at the very thought of magic, shunned it, and forgot most of what they knew about it. Peaceful kingdoms regressed into petty factionalism and Avaram's creations bred and still roam the land. The Dragon's Vale is now under a spell that prevents anyone from entering, though travelers there tell stories of a unicorn and a "strange shadow warrior." Dambrano's instructions to the party are to rediscover as much of the old magic as possible and find out what happened to the dragons.

This context helped a lot as I continued to explore the game. Since the last post, I've visited the elven city, Nimraviel, the dwarven city, Brindil-Bun, and two more dungeons. 

Nimraviel is a pretty-looking city.

Brindil-Bun, as you may recall from last time, was on the other side of a mountain range. I needed to get through a small, one-level dungeon, but I was stymied at the front door when a magic mouth asked me the name of the dungeon's builder. Thanks to a light hint from trudodyr, I figured out how to get that name. An NPC in Pegana said that he owed another NPC 30 gold pieces. I had previously tried giving 30 gold pieces to the debtee, but he only replied that he couldn't accept the gift. When I tried giving it to the debtor instead, he gave me more information about the passage, including the name I sought.

I should probably try giving gold to everyone, just in case.

(Incidentally, trudodyr's hint was a perfect example of a hint versus an outright spoiler. He didn't tell me the name of the person with the password. He didn't tell me to give anyone gold. He just directed me to the house number that starts the quest. I still had to do all the exploration myself, and I still had to suss out what was required by the NPCs. And he ROT-13'd it besides.)

Approaching Brindil-Bun on the other side of the mountain pass.

Unlike the first dungeon I explored, the little passage under the mountain had items to pick up in the hallways: torches, held in sconces on the wall, and mushrooms, growing on the dungeon floor. The torches came in handy for future dungeons, of course. I don't know exactly what I'm supposed to do with the mushrooms. I can't seem to eat them or otherwise use them, and they don't mix with potions. I can sell them to healers for a few gold pieces, but since healers sell mushrooms themselves, and they come in various types, I suspect there's some in-game reason for them. The manual is silent.

Looting a torch from a wall sconce.

Brindil-Bun had some interesting encounters. One NPC told me that another values gems, and when I gave the other one a hunk of amethyst, he opened up about a temple called "Farout" near a place called "Sotul." I suspect this is going to be the answer to another magic mouth.

I assume it's pronounced "Far-OO."

Dambrano's friend Benglur was there, but he said he no longer had his piece of the map. He told me to seek out his cousin Ostul in the city of Drombul. I have no idea where that is. In another house, a warrior named Kortan was sick with some kind of disease and wouldn't talk with me. I suspect I need to return when I have some kind of "cure disease" potion.

In Nimraviel, I found a place selling much cheaper food (2 gold pieces for 10 rations versus 5 gold pieces for 8 in Pegana), cheaper healing, and a weapon shop selling bows for my archer. There was also a store selling torches, a hat, a flute, and a compass--the latter three of which were all out of my price range at the moment.

In my first post, a couple of commenters mentioned that they had thought the game's title had something to do with the novel Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey, the first book in the long-running Dragonriders of Pern series. While the plots of the game and book have nothing to do with each other, the creators of Dragonflight were clearly paying homage to McCaffrey, something they acknowledge on a statue in the city of Nimraviel.

Both Brindil-Bun and Nimraviel had large buildings that looked like palaces, but both were guarded by rows of soldiers I couldn't pass. There's no way to initiate fights in cities, and none of the soldiers seemed interested in gold when I tried to bribe them. I imagine I need some item to convince them to let me past them. An NPC had suggested I offer the dwarf king an expensive gem, so there must be some way to reach him. In Pegana, similarly, there's a "Townhall," but every time I enter, the game says it's not open to the public. [Later edit: To stave off spoilers and hints, I did later figure out how to get past the guards.]

Guards block entry to some kind of palace in Nimraviel. No, there's no way to move between them.

After Nimraviel, I explored a dungeon just to the east of Pegana, across a river. I decided to get into the habit of mapping with this one. It consisted of five levels--two up and two down from the entry level--and it seemed to be pitched at a beginner level of difficulty, with easy enemies, some rooms with treasure chests and no enemies, and some rooms completely empty. I'm not sure if, when dungeons respawn, they respawn with the same enemies and treasure in the same locations. I took careful notes so I can determine this later.

One of the levels in a dungeon east of Pegana.

The dungeon had two more of the 12 map pieces, which means I'm about 25% of the way to a complete map.

I remain in the westernmost section. It would be nice if more of these pieces illuminated areas around me.

Since my archer had a bow and my mage had some offensive spells, I was able to experience combat with a wider range of tactics. The enemies seem to know who has ranged attacks, and they deliberately avoid lining themselves up in a row with those characters. Other than that, despite the new options, combat remains relatively boring and easy.

Rinakles fires off a "fire-ball" spell.

Miscellaneous notes that cover things I haven't covered yet:

  • The game offers only one save slot.
  • Exploring cities, visiting houses, and talking to NPCs consumes an enormous amount of food. Given that food itself is relatively expensive, there's a real incentive to take your time exploring, note key NPC locations, then reload and do the "real" visit much quicker.
  • I'll save a full discussion of the spell system for a later posting, but for now I'll just note that each spell is annotated as white, black, or a common utility spell. For those that are white or black, casting them adjusts a status bar that indicates where the mage's affinity lies. It only takes a few castings to move the bar strongly to the black or white side, so a mage could go back and forth multiple times per game.

Rinakles's selection of black and white spells.
  • A mage can only have one active spell selected at a time, and you can't change the spell in the midst of combat. This makes the door-listening dynamic all the more important, because the mage needs to prepare the appropriate spell based on knowledge of what's behind the door (e.g., "dispel undead" for skeletons; "fire-ball" for other enemies).
  • While exploring cities, I discovered that you have to knock at doors multiple times to ensure that you get invited in. When I first stated playing, I interpreted "nobody home" messages as meaning the house was just unoccupied and I'd never get an encounter there. Such places do seem to exist, but other houses will alternately say "nobody home" or let you in, depending on timing.

I'm going to pound on this door until someone answers.

  • One of the dungeon levels had a "level map." I haven't encountered this anywhere else.

I guess mine was sideways. There's no way to tell north in these dungeons.

  • Like Ultima IV and V, there are swamps in the wilderness that poison you as you walk through them.
  • The dynamic for opening chests is a little senseless. When you choose to open one, the game asks who should open it. Since there's no rogue class in the game, and no attributes, I'm not sure that it matters who you choose. More often than not, you'll get a message that the selected character is unable to open the chest and you have to try someone else. Occasionally, all four characters will be unable to open it, but if you just leave the square and return, you can try again. There doesn't seem to be any way to search for or avoid traps on treasure chests. One of them, which made my weapons disappear into vapor, was one of the most hateful traps I've ever encountered. Weapons are expensive.

This totally sucks.

  • I continue to be a little baffled by NPCs who ask me questions, like "What do you want?" and "What is your desire?," but the game doesn't give me any ability to respond to them, except show or give them items. I'm not missing something in the interface, am I?

The interface forces my party to stand mute to such questions.

I feel like I'm starting to get the hang of the game, and it remains an overall pleasant experience, but we might have a little break before the next Dragonflight post. I'll see how I feel tomorrow.


  1. It's very interesting how many similarities are between Amberstar and Dragonflight enginewise. Amberstar is in many things more fleshed out, especially the skills system, and cut a bit back in the combat system, making it less overcomplicated. But there are very useless skills in Amberstar like Listen and now I finally know, where this skill comes from and even what it used to be good for.

    1. But if I recall correctly, Amberstar has a keyword conversation dialog system. Which is a vast improvement.

    2. Yes, Chet will love it, I'm quite sure. It still has its flaws here and there, but it has everything the GIMLET asks for.
      You can really feel the progress between those games, as it seems. I feel bad for missing Dragonflight back then, but I don't think I'd enjoy it today. So I'm glad I can read here about it!

  2. "Miscellaneous notes that cover things I haven't covered yet:
    The game offers only one save slot."

    Steem includes a 'save state' feature if this causes issues.

    1. Yes, I should have added that I've been using it. I don't entirely trust save game files with these emulators, so I also save the current state every time I save in-game. But my general intent is to experience the game's difficulty the way the developer intended, so I try not to abuse save states.

      In any event, save states might be a little dangerous with this game. The game doesn't hold everything in memory; it references map files continually. If I were to reload a save state taken before I saved the game in the Atari, I think I'd get my party back, but the dungeon maps would still show the levels explored and cleared. I might end up in a situation where I couldn't regain key plot items or something.

    2. This game can be unforgiving and unfair at times. So if the save states don't work, maybe you should occasionally backup your save.

      As you've already found out, running out of food is one way to get stuck. But there are at least two other ways to render the game unwinnable, and another that will make it a lot harder.

      And you actually touched two of those in this update.

      Here's some spoilers. First ones are mild, the later ones spell it out:
      1) Cbgvbaf ner ener.
      2) Qhatrba vgrzf qb abg erfcnja.
      3) Fbzr ACPf jvyy arrq gubfr cbgvbaf. Fb vs lbh hfr hc nyy bs gurz...

      1) Purfg gencf.
      2) Gurer ner fbzr jrncbaf gung lbh pna'g nssbeq ybfvat.
      3) Naq gurer'f rira jbefr genc gung znxrf gur jubyr purfg qvfnccrne. Rira vs vg pbagnvaf cybg vgrzf.

    3. Different anon here. "Chest traps can irrevocably destroy plot items" seems like the kind of thing that's worth un-spoilering, IMO.

    4. Yeah, all the Rot13'd text above come across more as warnings of bad or buggy game design than genuine spoilers. They *could* be intentional, like how possible "walking dead" situations in the old Sierra adventure games were intentional... but only if the game designers had a sadistic streak.

    5. This is where the "Choose who to open chest" option comes into play.

      If you have someone who is not carrying important, always let him/her to open chests.

    6. I agree it wasn't necessary to ROT-13 these, but I appreciate the extra consideration. I'd rather people err on the side of caution.

      As far as weapons, I've only lost a few short swords and such, but I have experienced the "disappearing chest" traps on a few dungeons. I have no idea if any of them contained vital items or not. So far, I've explored the dungeon west of Pegana, the dungeon east of Pegana across a river, and the one-level passage to the north. What should I have from these dungeons that's game-breaking if I don't have it?

      I'm currently in a dungeon in the mountains a ways to the east of Pegana, but I don't think I've met any disappearing-chest traps yet.

  3. Were you able to make good use of the 'look' feature in the passage to Brindil-Bun? ;)

  4. Hmm, is it possible "What is your desire?" is just a mistranslation of a basic "Hey, what's up?" greeting?

    It's kind of weird that Light is a black spell. Does it have some offensive capability that's not apparent from the name?

    It's definitely an odd trope of CRPGs that item destruction is far worse than death.

    A dungeon full of weed and mushrooms? Farout, man...

    1. I think that a few spells ("Light" among them) came in both black and white.

      The point is that if you lean towards white magic (by having cast lots of white spells), any black spells you cast will fizzle, until you have fizzled enough black spells to be back in balance... at which point your *white* spells will start fizzling.

      Having "Light" in both white and black versions means that you can always cast this simple spell, no matter whether you are a black or a white mage.

    2. Oh... I thought the Light (B) spell creates light that is "gloomy" while Light (W) would create light that is... er... "radiant"?

  5. Were you able to make good use of the 'look' function in the passage to Brindil-Bun?
    Also, the mushrooms serve no other purpose than being able to sell them - maybe another use was intended, but didn't make it into the game?
    Also, this was effectively two guys making their first video game, so a certain degree of amateurism (in character portraits and otherwise) is to be expected.

    1. It's funny. Sometimes, when I look at a wall with a secret door, it comes up with colored lines between the bricks. Other times, it doesn't. But yes, I found the secret passage with the diamond. I've gotten in the habit of looking whenever there's an obvious gap in the map.

  6. Brindil-Bun the silliest name

    1. Guams is a silly name too - clearly it is Smaug backwards.

      As for 'Lord Avaram Souldesecrator of the orcs, calling himself the reincarnated "Garganoz the Evil One"'... antone who trusts him deserves what they get...

    2. You think I'd be conditioned to check for that by now, but it utterly went over my head.

      I thought "Souldesecrator" would have been an early warning. It's funny because the back story suggests that "black" and "white" aren't necessarily "bad" and "good," and some blame is due to both sides, and then it gives the leader of the black faction a name like "Souldesecrator."

    3. I thought it was just the guy trying to sound "metal". I mean, if I'm into teeny Gothic witchcraft, twinkly vampires and shit, it's gonna be a lot less convincing for my peers to take me seriously if I call myself Tommy Magicalwingedponies.

  7. I'm actually looking forward to your post on Halls of Death. After playing along with you Sword of Fargoal, I immediately loaded up HoD and I'm still attempting to complete it. Curious to read your opinion on this!

    1. How are you trying to "complete" it? Achieve the highest level? "Lord of Light" or whatever?

    2. Yes, exactly. I always have the feeling I'm close to be a Ruler of Light, only to be assigned a new title each time..

    3. That's the problem. It doesn't give you any sense whatsoever about how close you are. A list of the different ranks would have helped.

      I didn't bother to try to go that far. I try to "win" every game, but only in the sense of completing main quests, not spending hours of grinding to achieve some distant point goal.

      I didn't really care for the game.

  8. Nice. World devastating action caused by poor event planning.

  9. I'd take world devastation over Facebook any day :)

    1. What if it's world devastation BY Facebook? XD

    2. That's already happened. We just aren't aware of the destruction yet. I actually deleted my Facebook account a few days ago and my wife reacted as if I just announced we were going to be divorced.

      Look lady, when I was a kid, we had 5.25" floppy disks and we liked them! None of this FaceSpace nonsense you kids are using these days.

    3. Y'know, I've always about calling the 3.5" ones "floppy" as compared to the 5.25" floppy dicks.

    4. I agree that calling 3.5" DISKS "floppy" is improper, but that was a truly embarrassing typo at the end, Kenny.

    5. Knowing Kenny, that wasn't a typo.

      Raifield: I deleted mine back in 2010, haven't really missed it.

  10. I beat Ultima 6! Unrelated to this post, I know. And I may post some spoilerific observations in that game's post, but I wanted to brag-- and also ask some gaming advice.

    The last five games I've played have been Ultimas 2 through 6. As each game ended, I was eager for the next... but I think I need a break from Ultima. My next game would be Savage Empire and while that looks fun and all, maybe I want to play something else. Silver Blades is also coming up in 1990 and I found the first two of those to be fun. Might and Magic 2 also is tempting-- but it seems like it will be very looong.

    So many choices. So little time to play games...

    1. I recently played both 'Worlds of Ultima' games and got the feeling that a lot more care was put into 'Martian Dreams' than 'Savage Empire'. Imho it had the better story (though both are very pulpy) and the more colourful NPCs and slightly nicer graphics, since 'Empire' tends to look very muddled because of all it´s vegetation.

  11. I have to agree with that.

    Most probably, the concept comes with the pulp fiction like Amazing Stories (http://www.spaceacts.com/STARSHIP/seh/amazingj.gif) and inspired by Popular Science (http://pictures.replayphotos.com/images/POP/md/popular-science-photo-store-covers-1990s-automatically-imported--pop-1990s-auto-00006md.jpg) magazines.


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