Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Shadowkeepin' It Real

The party tries to progress forward a little too quickly.
In my last posting, I mused that since the manual gives you all the passwords you need to open doors to higher levels, I should just skip to Level 9 and head right for the endgame. I was only half-joking. Since there's no leveling in the game, I could imagine a final battle that was only marginally harder than the early-level battles I'd already experienced.

Well, it turns out I was wrong about that. The monsters on the level, including demons, ghosts, and ogres, were more than capable of kicking my butt in a single round. Clearly, even though there's no leveling, surviving higher levels is going to involve a much more careful use of spells and the acquisition of magic items.

The party suffers a full-party death.
But for some reason, I decided to keep mapping the level. Since all the encounters in the game are random, it's possible to get through an entire level without winning any. You just have to be prepared to reload a lot. Save every couple of steps, reload when you die, and keep mapping. It was lame, but I wasn't really that invested in the game anyway, and I wanted to see what the final battle looked like.

Level 9 had some special encounters but not the endgame.

I never found it. Either the final battle isn't on Level 9 or I need to have solved some other puzzles to reach it. I think the first explanation is the most likely. Since all levels are accessible from the central staircase, there's no reason that they have to go in order. The "podium" had taken me from Level 1 to 4, and on Level 4 I found the password to Level 6. Technically, I haven't found the password to Level 5 yet (although one of the ones in the manual works), so it's likely the levels are supposed to be out of order.

I did find another Silver Rose on Level 9, plus an encounter with a statute. The "Perceive" spell suggested that I make an offering to the statue. I tried gold to no avail, then moved on to offering various magic items I didn't really need, like salves and scrolls. This seemed to work, and after my fourth offering, the statue gave me a Chalice of Awe. The manual, which otherwise describes all the magic items in the game, is a little vague on this one, saying only that "a young enchantress once owned the chalice, and used it to rescue those who were caught in the Land of Darkness before their time."

Returning to a semblance of order, I mapped Level 3, which turned out to be another maze like Level 2. In looking at my maps, keep in mind that there's no "locate" spell or any other way to derive directions or coordinates. Since the levels wrap on each other, there's no right or wrong place to start the map. Putting the entrance in the ninth slot south and the first slot east worked well on Level 4, so I've been using it as a convention.

Level 3 is more maze-like than most.

The only special encounters on Level 3 were a rune giving me the password ("SAFE") to Level 6, plus a sword case on the wall. Flummoxed by what to do with the latter, I looked at the hint in the manual, and it said MAGIC SWORD IF TINY OK. At the same time, I noticed that there was a hint for Level 2: ONLY TINY SWORD. Clearly I was supposed to find this "tiny sword" on Level 2 and use it somehow on Level 3. I returned to Level 2 and revisited every square but didn't find the sword. A brief mention on a message board suggests that putting it into the case on Level 3 turns it into a "Kinslayer Sword," one of the most powerful in the game. I can't imagine what I missed, but I hope I don't really need it.

I couldn't solve this puzzle.

At this point, my party was overflowing with gold--so much that I couldn't carry any more. (The game has a hidden encumbrance system.) I returned to the inn and bought everyone Shadow Cloaks and my three warriors the only magic weapons sold by the innkeeper: Souleater Swords.

The party runs out of room.
Both magic items only served to deepen the mystery of this odd game. Despite costing 1,500 gold pieces and, as the manual indicates, doing 15 points of damage (vs. the great sword's 11), I was unable to hit a single creature with the swords. My attacks missed literally every time. I thought perhaps the new weapon had reset my progress in the "attack" skill, but no, that doesn't seem to have changed. Pounding the sword on the Level 1 anvil didn't have any effect, probably because it was already magic. I'm not sure what the deal is, but I had to re-equip my old weapons.

The Shadow Cloaks, meanwhile, disappeared after about 30 steps. Clearly, these are meant for special occasions, not constant wear. I reloaded so I didn't waste the $13,500 I'd spent on them.

As I close this brief post (representing a fairly long game-time investment), I'm in the midst of mapping Level 6. The combats are much harder and I'm dying a lot. I think I need to have protection spells active nearly constantly, but they wear off very quickly and it's annoying to have to keep casting them, particularly since they so often fail and I have to frequently REST (risking random encounters) to restore them. My warriors are all in the 70-80% for their "attack" skills because they get so much practice, but my spellcasters are struggling to hit 50% in "magic."

This happens too often. Here, I'm fighting "fachans," creatures from Scottish folklore. To me, they look like they're wearing police hats.
In mapping, the game's only real challenge is one-way walls and doors. There are no spinners, teleporters, "dark" squares, secret doors, or any of the other usual navigation obstacles. I wouldn't have thought I'd miss them, but I do. The lack of these elements, along with the lack of fixed encounters, makes mapping feel a somewhat senseless enterprise, done only to ensure that you visit every location and don't miss anything. You don't even have to find the stairs! The only saving grace is that since you can see objects and special encounters in the environment, you don't need to literally step on every square. A look down a corridor or around a room to confirm that it's empty is enough to annotate the map and move on.

I haven't heard from any commenters who have played the game recently or won it. Are any out there? I feel like I'm not "getting" the fundamental nature of the game, especially when it comes to items and spells. In any event, I only have about 4 levels left to map, so I probably won't post again until I've won or am stuck. In the meantime, let's dip into Disciples of Steel.


  1. Perhaps the Souleater Swords only work against certain creatures that can't be hit by normal weapons?

    1. That's possible. I've tried them periodically against various types of foes to no avail, but there might be one in particular.

    2. Those only hit non-corporeal entities, most probably.

  2. The souleater sword mystery reminds me of an old and now removed mechanic in World of Warcraft, where weapons of a certain quality needed a certain level of a certain weapons skill. If these swords are very high-end you might not to increase your attack skill even higher to use them.

    1. It might also be that these swords are meant to get used against only a specific type of ennemy, and thus worthless against anything else

      And with this post, I can now officially say I've read trough the whole blog from the very first post to the last one. Took me several month to do so, but definitly worth it!

    2. The skill thing sounds a little too advanced for this game, but you never know. I'll try them again when the "attack" ratings hit 100.

      Steve, I'm curious from your point of view: other than the very beginning and the end of 2011/beginning of 2012, does the blog seem to have any particular high or low points? It's tough to analyze such a thing when you're going one post at a time, but I want to make sure I didn't USED to do something that worked particularly well and no longer do it, or vice versa.

    3. Not Steve, but as someone who has been reading for a long time... I do remember in the past a number of "overarching" posts looking at general themes or common elements (most annoying/hated monsters comes to mind, although there were others) and commentary/insight on the general evolution of CRPGs over time. I don't know if anyone else liked those but I found them interesting as an occasional diversion.

    4. I'd say you stayed pretty consistent, both in your writing style and presentation once you found your style. Low points where mostly due to the games being low points themselves, and the same rule applies to the high points. One could also literally feel at some games by your writing if a game annoyed you or if you where happy to play them. The later additions, like the reload count where also pretty good ideas

      And like Oql noted, the overarching and era/year specific posts are nice additions and could be considered as valuable analysis of the history and evolution on the genre

    5. Damn! The reload count! I've forgotten to put that at the end of my posts since I came back.

      I appreciate the comments on the "special topics" posts. In the early days of the blog I was playing simple games that I could pretty much fly through. If they took longer back in the day, it was because of the hardware and loading times and whatnot. Ultima I and II are 6-hour games. I could play for a few hours and easily get 3 or 4 postings out of it. So I felt I had a lot more "space" around the games where I could think more about them and put together postings on special topics.

      These days, the games have gotten so long and complicated that I feel like I'm always struggling to keep up and get material together for a posting. I might play for 8 hours and only have enough material for a few paragraphs. I think that, more than anything, is why I haven't done as many special topics entries.

      About a year ago, I told myself that once I had 4 entries drafted and ready to go, I'd take a break and do a revision of the GIMLET as a page rather than a posting. Over a year later, I'm still struggling to get to the point when I have that many drafts.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. I believe spoilers should be ROT-13d so you can't accidentally read them. I'm not going to play Disciples of Steel myself so I don't care, but I read your spoiler while looking for the section that was ROT-13.

    2. Better to err on the side of ROT-13, but I don't see Nathan's comment as QUITE a "spoiler," as it really is something that ought to appear in the manual. I certainly don't mind being warned about something so game-breaking in advance.

  4. Those ogres or whatever they are in the second screenshot look less like they have tusks than their noses are extremely runny.

  5. I played Shadowkeep loooong ago and if I remember correctly the final battle takes place at level 8 for some reason I don't remember. It is just a boring battle anyway.

    1. That would make sense, as Level 8 is the only one that doesn't open with one of the passwords in the book. You actually have to explore to find it.


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