Sunday, June 15, 2014

Dragonflight: The World Takes Shape

I'm pretty sure the main continent is going to turn out to be dragon-shaped.

When I left off last time, I had finished exploring the human, dwarf, and elven cities but I was stymied from entering the palatial structures in both cities by phalanxes of guards. I assumed I would have to return after hitting some plot point, but it occurred to me to just try to bribe them with every item in my inventory. It was a potion--apparently just alcohol--that eventually did the trick.

Nice discipline. I would have expected more from elves.

With the ways clear, I entered the palaces and spoke to the respective rulers. The dwarf king, Drilba Kerilson, asked me for a gift of "jewels." I gave him a diamond I'd found somewhere and he rewarded me with a magical battleaxe--or "battlehatchet," as it appeared in my inventory--that only my dwarf could equip.

I'm not sure I've shown the inventory screen yet. It's reasonably intuitive. Checked items are equipped.

Aurelien, Queen of the Elves, had a lot more to say. In a series of text screens, she related that although she's the queen, the elves are governed by a committee of elders. When the committee meets, they project their consciousnesses into a magical sphere, where everyone's thoughts mingle and, I don't know, things get accomplished a lot faster. Anyway, during a recent meeting, a sudden storm arose and The SHADOW emerged from the storm and stole the sphere, leaving the bodies of all the council members in a vegetative state. She begged me to find the sphere and gave me an ancient untranslated script that she thought would help, suggesting I seek out an old sage in Pegana who could decipher it.

I don't know exactly what The SHADOW is supposed to be, but it might have something to do with rumors of a "shadow warrior" hanging around in Dragon's Vale, as covered by the back story.

Fortunately, I had taken good notes about the houses in Pegana, and I knew who to visit. An old man named Elkamur translated the scroll, written by someone who was tracking "the Shadow" and "saw his hoards, caves full of treasures, and terrible artifacts." The script said I should "look for them at the end of the tail and in the mountains at the neck's curve," which meant nothing to me at the time, but which became clearer when I got a couple more map pieces and realized the main continent appears to be in the shape of a dragon.

The game gave me a "note" as an inventory item that recaps all of this text. Very handy feature.

By this time, I was almost out of food again, so I returned to the first dungeon I had explored, which had by now re-spawned. I hadn't finished all of it the first time, and it's a good thing I went back, because there was another map piece on the bottom level.

When I got out, I had enough money for over 1,000 rations per character, which I felt was enough to start branching out in my explorations. I wanted to visit some of the towns, dungeons, or other locations that the world map was showing me, but I kept getting stymied by mountains, swamps, rivers, and other obstacles. Since there's a command to board a ship, I assume I'll find one at some point, and more open exploration will be possible.

This path soon reached a dead end.

I did find a couple of temples. You need to meditate at them to get increases in magic power. Unfortunately, they're aspected to black or white magic, the only ones I've found are based on white magic, and my primary spellcaster, Rinakles, had been using mostly black magic. I suspect this is why his power didn't increase while everyone else's did.

I've since switched him over to white magic, and I need to return. Temples also serve a couple of other purposes. If you bring the ring of a slain party member to them, they'll resurrect the person. There's supposed to be some way to use them for teleportation from one temple to another, but you have to find the right spell first.

I spent most of the time since the last post exploring a single dungeon in the middle of a mountain range southeast of Pegana. At 9 levels, it was the largest dungeon so far. It held two more map pieces, a lot of miscellaneous pieces of jewelry, and some tough fights. There was a new enemy called an "energy ball" that looks like an evil Pac-Man.

At least it's original.

Bladus (my fighter) and Dobranur (my dwarf) finally leveled up to the point that they get two actions per combat round. The experience imbalance among my characters became acute during this session. With his magic battleaxe, Dobranur does devastating damage. Bladus's does respectably well, particularly since he's in the front. But Rinakles, because of the magic point problem described above, can only cast one or two spells per combat before having to walk a few dozen steps to recharge. Moreover, Rinakles and Andariel have the same problem: enemies avoid their line of fire. Foes will actively move one step right or left to stay out of the two rear characters' attack range, and the only way they'll remain fixed in place is if in melee combat with the lead characters. By this time, though, the lead characters, who act first in combat, generally kill them. I've had plenty of spells and arrows go sailing uselessly over the corpses of enemies that the lead characters have just slain. The result is that Dobranur now has 3,231 experience points and 1,080 hit points to Andariel's 772 experience points and 120 hit points.

When I got done with the dungeon, I had over a dozen new spell scrolls. Spell scrolls are annotated by number, and the only way to figure out what spells they contain (that I know of) is by trying to have a character learn the spell. Whether the character succeeds or fails, the scroll disappears. This means you want to take careful notes about which characters have already tried to learn certain spells and, if they were learned successfully, which spell goes with which number. [Later edit: Or, as Zaltys points out, you can just look at the damned scroll with the "eye" icon. I somehow missed this and wasted a lot of time (not to mention scrolls).]

Sorting through my plundered scrolls.

Some spells come in both black and white versions. For instance, Scroll 00 is the white version of "Light," and Scroll 11 is the black version. "Magic Arrow" is another one that has both black (Scroll 12) and white (Scroll 02) varieties. I've found numbers from 00 to 28 so far, but not every number in between. A lot of the spells are tagged with a "c," meaning they're not white or black but just common spells. Most of these seem to be spells that might solve some kind of puzzle ("Feeling Ore," "Clearing Fog," "Heal a Tree"), though I haven't yet encountered any such puzzles. I finally got "Healing" during this latest session.

If you already have a spell memorized and you don't feel a need to give it to another character, you can give the excess scroll to Dambrano at Pegana University, which nets 10 "characterpoints" per scroll. I'm not really sure what characterpoints do in the grand scheme of things.

It is satisfying for role-playing reasons, though.

Miscellaneous notes:

  • Dungeons appear not to re-spawn all at once. Instead, there's a timer attached to each room or encounter, and they re-spawn individually after enough time has passed. Treasure items do not re-spawn. In the last post, an anonymous commenter alerted me that chests with "disappear" traps can destroy key plot items, so I've been reloading when I encounter those.
  • The same commenter alerted me that potions are needed as plot items at certain points in the game, and since they don't re-spawn, I've been a bit paranoid about actually using them. I also don't know if the miscellaneous rings, bracelets, necklaces, earrings, and a "cup of gold" I picked up in the last dungeon are quest items or things I should just sell. I don't mind spoilers on that.
  • In general, the trap system in the game annoys me. There's no way to search for them or to disarm them, so what's the point, really? Punishment?

At least poison in this game is a one-time hit point drain, and not a permanent condition.

  • I bought the compass in Nimraviel, so now when I'm in dungeons, I know what way I'm facing. The compass replaced a generic image on the left side of the screen. The same generic image remains on the right side, so I assume there's something else useful I can find or buy that will replace that.
  • Secret doors appear as highlighted lines between the bricks when you look closely at them. Sometimes. Other times, they just look like blank walls. I think maybe they look like the image below the first time. Anyway, you do have to look close before you can walk through them. You can't just go charging into walls where you think they might be.

  • Encounters in the wilderness are rare enough that I'm startled when I do actually find a wandering monster. Between encounters, I forget they exist.
  • Killing a fleeing monster results in a loss of "characterpoints." Fortunately, these are easy to restore by giving scrolls to Dambrano.

I guess even an undead abomination deserves mercy.

  • The type and number of enemies encountered in each dungeon room seem fixed, but their difficulty is variable. Unarmed skeletons are easier than skeletons armed with daggers, which are easier than skeletons armed with swords. It's not just their weapon types that make them more difficult: sword-bearing skeletons also have more movement points and take a lot more damage. A couple of times, after being defeated by hard enemies, I've reloaded and found an easier variant of the same enemies in the same room.

  • A lot of the dungeon doors are locked, and you have to find generic keys to unlock them.

  • A couple of the dungeons have featured teleporters--big glowing balls projected from spikes on the ceilings. The ones I've encountered so far have just moved me to other points on the same level of the dungeon. Going through them does a couple dozen hit points' damage, so you don't want to use them more often than necessary.

  • The process of having to maneuver to a chest post-combat is pointless and annoying. With all the enemies in the room slain, each character gets 9 movement points per round. From their starting positions, it takes Bladus nine steps to reach the chest and another point to open it. This means that after the foes are slain, I have to spend a round maneuvering Bladus into position (while everyone else just rests) and a second round having him open the chest. Why not just allow opening the chest from any point in the room once the enemies are gone?

Wasting time walking to the chest and opening it.

The 9-level dungeon crawl expended almost all my food again, but fortunately I have plenty of gold to buy more. After stocking up in Nimraviel, I'm going to keep exploring the continent, and hopefully I'll make my way to the tail or neck of the dragon for the next post.


  1. Maybe a stupid question... but why not have two melee fighters side by side, and one ranged/spellcaster behind each? Maybe the enemies run because too many are lined up on them....

    1. I didn't explain it very well. That's what I typically do. The problem is that until the enemies get exactly one square away (at which point they'll move so as to attack the fighters), they stay out of the line of fire no matter where I put the spellcaster and archer. Once they're already in melee range, my fighters typically kill them before the spells/arrows can strike.

    2. @Chet- I guess what you're trying to say is that the enemy AI is smarter than the combat mechanics.

    3. Maybe you can put your archer/mage in the front row and fire some volleys till the enemy gets to close and then move them to the side while your melee fighters advance?

    4. There doesn't appear to be any way to change party formation or order. But I don't think it would help. Putting the archer in the front would just mean that she starts a couple of squares closer. Enemies consistently avoid her line of fire until they're in immediate melee range, at which point her bow would be useless.

  2. "I'm not really sure what characterpoints do in the grand scheme of things."

    Since it's in the manual, I'll assume this isn't a spoiler - the manual says that character points are basically a way to track your moral standing - and that you might meet someone/people in the future that care about your "high moral values". Having actually played this game, I won't say what happens, but I remember it making a difference in the story.

  3. It should be possible to just look at the scroll to figure out which spell it is. I distinctly remember doing that in the Amiga version.

    As for the plot-required items? It has been ages since I played this, but from what I can remember: various gems, several types of potions (especially alcohol and healing), and possibly rings; though I remember being able to buy jewelry from somewhere (at high cost).

    It's definitely one of the more annoying aspects of this game. It's so easy to use up potions by mixing them, and then you run into NPCs who would've needed those... Many of them don't even specifically ask for items, but if you encounter any sick NPCs, the chances are that they could use some healing potions.

    1. Oh, for Christ's sake. Do you know how much time I've spent taking careful notes on scrolls? You're right: you can just look at them.

  4. There's something appealing about this game's look and feel, probably just based on my age and the kind of games I played a lot of in the early 90s. The combat sounds terrible, but LOOKS like a shareware action game - cool! The first-person dungeons with this level of detail seem right out of the Wolfenstein era of FPSes. Some of the more detailed "scenes" remind me of, I don't know, Master of Magic...

    Reading between the lines, though, it feels weirdly staged. Is retrieving these map pieces given any kind of emphasis as it happens, or tied into a plot at all? For the amount of backstory this game seems to have, not a lot seems to be going on in-game. I'm comparing to Ultima 6 - that map quest may have had some problems, but you had to do different things to get different pieces. Alarm bells go off for me when you're finding a couple of them in the same dungeon without much fanfare...

    1. Retrieving the map pieces is mentioned at the very beginning. I don't know if it's necessary to win, but it sure helps with navigation. I agree that it seemed weird how quickly I found several of them.


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