Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Disciples of Steel: Honing the Blade

I'll be back in a few more hours.
All right, let's talk about skills. There are 22 in the game, and all of them are available to every character. They break down into:

  • Defensive skills: Armor, shield, dodge, body, resistance
  • Weapon skills: Edged, crushing, axe, spear, bow, open hand
  • Combat skills: Backstab, hide
  • Survival skills: Track, disarm/pick, perception, haggle, first aid, steal
  • Magic skills: Karma, essence, power

As with most things, the manual doesn't have a lot to offer about what some of the skills actually do. Take the magic skills. Mages use "essence"; priests use "karma"; and illusionists use "power." I can tell that increasing these skills directly improves those spellcaster's pool of spell points, and it also increases the number of spells available. What I don't know is whether a higher skill increases the chances of a successful casting (spellcasters often fail because they're "unable to concentrate") or improves the spell's strength.

For weapon skills, the manual explicitly states that the number affects the number of attacks per round, the possible damage, the probability of a critical hit, and the chances of parrying incoming attacks. I wish it was so descriptive for all the skills.

Each character starts with a certain number of points in each skill depending on attributes and class. These same considerations seem to affect how many experience points it takes to increase the skill by one point. When I first started the game, I paid too little attention to the second consideration and too much to the first. For instance, my warrior started with a skill of 50 in "axe" and a skill of 36 in "crushing" weapons. It makes sense to focus on one weapon type per character, and I figured since he started out highest in "Axe," I'd just keep leveling that. What I should have noted is that "axe" took 8 experience points per level and "crush" took only 6. Simple math would have shown me that after spending around 220 experience points on either skill, my "crush" investment would out-perform my "axe" investment, but I went with "axe" instead. (The specific math doesn't quite work out because the number of points you need to raise a skill increases slightly as you get higher, but the principle is the same.)
My knight improves her "edged" skill.
Similarly, my rogue started with a really low score in "disarm/pick"--I think maybe around 11 or 12. My illusionist started with a really high score, around 35. However, the rogue only takes 6 experience points to increase a point in the skill and the illusionist takes 18 points. Clearly, the rogue is the better investment in the long run. Fortunately, I caught that one early.

Basically, since experience points are so precious and the early game is so difficult, it makes sense to develop a kind of skill development plan for the characters. This is the kind of thing that I might have worked out with a complex spreadsheet, but instead I went with a simpler system: I identified 2 or 3 primary skills for each character and 3 or 4 useful secondary skills. Every time I amass a couple hundred experience points, I allocate points to both sets of skills, with primary skills getting three times the points as the secondary skills.

When I first started the game, "body" was a lower skill for every character, but now I've made it a primary. It directly affects hit points, and ever since I started prioritizing it, I've done a lot better in combat. For warriors, the second primary skill is their chosen weapon, then "armor"; for mages, it's their prime magic skill and then their weapon. (Spell points go fast, and a spellcaster needs to be at least partly useful in melee combat to be useful at all.) My rogue is the toughest. There are so many things that feel like they ought to be primaries--"disarm," "hide," "backstab," "steal," "perception," his weapon--that I've just been giving everything equal increases for him. "Dodge," "armor," and "shield" seem to be useful for almost everyone, so everyone gets them as secondaries (if not primary).

My biggest question when it comes to skills is "resistance." The manual says that it governs how well the character is able to resist certain types of magic, like sleep and charm. The manual also says that it's a "natural ability of each race" and "can never be increased." This sounds great except every character starts at 0 in the ability and can put points into the skill--at a hefty cost of around 16-18 experience points per skill point. So should I be increasing this skill or not? I've been reluctantly tossing an occasional point or two into the skill so that I'm not caught with my pants down when I start encountering spellcasting enemies, but I could be completely wasting those points.

The game translates the number of points invested in a skill to a textual assessment of where the character stands:

  • 0: "Totaly inept"
  • 1-24: "Initiate"
  • 25-74: "Novice"
  • 75-124: "Adequate"
  • 125-???" "Competent"
In this game, being "adequate" at something is a real superlative.
I'm sure there are higher classification, but I haven't reached them. Apparently, the maximum skill level is 5 times the character's level in the governing attribute, so a character who has an 80 constitution maxes out at 400 in "body." Clearly, I'm a long way from that point, and even then you can increase attributes for 1,000 experience points per point.

One thing I like about the game is the way experience points are earned, which is based on successful action rather than just a "kill." I spent some time in a recent battle trying to figure out exactly what I was getting for each action. For all I know, the numbers vary considerably given the type of foe and other considerations, but for my battle with a couple of ogres, my characters seemed to get:

  • 2 experience points for every successful regular attack against a foe
  • 6 experience points for every critical hit against a foe
  • 1 experience point for every successful casting of a spell per points put into the spell, so for a 15-point "magic bolt," I got 15 experience points. What's also cool is this applies to defensive and healing spells, too.
  • 35 points for each kill
Boom! 6 points!
I didn't see anything awarded for successfully blocking or dodging, and I couldn't get "hide" to work in the battle, but I suspect it awards points, too. I also suspect that successful flanking and backstabbing attacks give more points than regular attacks.

If you want to, you can stop and increase your skills right in the middle of combat. I suppose for some combats, that might make the razor's-edge difference.

I do like the overall system. No long waits between "levels." You can save up your experience for a while if you want the satisfaction of a large boost all at once, but otherwise every battle makes your characters a little stronger. I like the choice inherent in customizing a character--the ability to make a guy who's really good at a couple of things or a jack of all trades. I like that I can give even warriors and rogues a few levels in illusion or priest magic so they have an extra tool in tight spots.

In trying to research the "resistance" issue, I found something that might explain why I had such a difficult time at the beginning of the game. On a couple of sites, I found mention that new characters start with 1,000 experience points to allocate as the player sees fit. My characters didn't. They started with 0. An initial 1,000-point boost would have made an enormous difference; it took me maybe 25 successful combats to amass that much--which, coincidentally, is about the time the tables started to turn.

I have no idea how to account for the discrepancy. It might be a platform issue (the game originally came out for the Atari ST; I'm playing the DOS version), or perhaps there's something peculiar about my copy. Either way, perhaps the early-game difficulty I experienced isn't the norm.
The King of Farnus sends me off on the next quest.
To recap the "plot," such as it is, my party of Disciples has to unite the bickering kingdoms of Lanathor to drive out the evil that threatens them all. It appears that they're going to accomplish this by solving a series of quests for each of the continent's kings. So far, there's been no obvious order to the quests except for one imposed by difficulty.
When I last blogged, I had just killed an orc bandit for King Leonidas Krassus of Farnus. He rewarded me with some experience and copper and gave me a new quest: Destroy the leader of some forces from Rathadon who had recently kidnapped emissaries from Farnus to Pallasade. They're apparently striking from a cavern "north of Carta." Again, we turn to the manual for some background. Rathadon is "the evil domain of Krighton Krigg," controller of "the most powerful army in the civilized world." It was Rathadon that was behind the orc invasion of 20 years past. It occupies the northwestern section of the island, across some mountains, but Cartha is more in the middle of the continent, not far from Lone Mountain where I defeated the orc leader. 

Pallasade, meanwhile, is the capital of Constantium in the southwest. It is ruled by Lord Maxwell Romanus, who prizes organization and efficiency and has a vision of a united Lanathor in which order prevails. We know how that usually ends.

I looked at a map and decided to make a long circuit out of the trip, going northeast along the coast, skirting the southern border of the "Serbian Wastelands," heading south to solve the quest, and then getting back to Farnsu via several other cities in the middle and southern regions. I figured I'd visit other lords along the way and see what quests they had in store.
Plotting my trip around the continent. My party is where the white box is. We came from the delta to our south, and we're going to continue looping around until we reach Cartha.
It mostly accomplished what I intended. There were lots of random encounters along the route. My success rate these days in combat is about 60/40, and I can generally predict from the selection of foes in the enemy party whether I'll be successful. I can handle a lot of jabberlings, a moderate number of orcs, and only a few wolfmen and ogres. Assassins are still way out of my league.

The next three minutes: "A single cutthroat! Ha! This ought to be pretty easy! Ha ha ha...heh...heh...hey!.. wait!...stop!...oh, come on!"
I stopped in cities along the way to sell accumulated goods. The regent in Brittney Bay, just like the one in the other Farnus city last time, didn't want to see me. In fact, all the regents in non-capital cities had no interest in seeing me.
How rude.
Things got tough on the outskirts of Serbia. I got massacred a few times in a row by ogres and hill giants, and I ended up taking a shortcut to get out of there.

In Cartha, capital of Denias, Lord Euthor Ennig was happy to see me. The appropriately-named Denias is described in the manual as weakest of the lands of Lanathor, "pitifully defended," and its king as "weak and plotting." When I asked him for a quest, he indicated that he had recently been ripped off by "those money grubbing dwarves to the north." He wants me to go to Tobruk, the  "ancient underground kingdom of the Dwarves" and get the mithril he was promised. He warned me that the dwarves are "strange people" and that I might have to "befriend them first."

Finding Hollengard in the mountains.
I had already passed Tobruk's capital, Hollengard, on the way south. Given that I knew where it was, I decided to go back there first. (Tobruk is supposed to be a vast underground kingdom, but Hollengard is on the surface.) Visiting the king, Lord Firbin Redforge, put us through some kind of skill check that we apparently passed, because he asked us to help find the missing half of the Hammer of Balen, which had been shattered during the Battle of Unthar. He believed it was in possession of an orc tribe to the north. Nothing on the mithril quest, but I assume I have to do a few quests for him first.
Octavianus, the dwarf, is even more skilled.
I found a promising cave a bit to the northeast of Hollengard. After a couple of easy battles with orcs, it was clear that I was going to be outclassed by this place. I kept encountering soldiers from Rathadon, frost giants, ettins, and other tough creatures that I could barely touch. I returned outside and resumed my loop, aiming to at least finish the Farnus quest.
This battle ended poorly for my party, starting with my strongest fighter.
I leave you in a cavern to the north of Cartha, where I'm trying to destroy the Rathadon forces that prompted my departure from Farnus in the first place. I'm on my second level, and the combats have been hard but not impossible. The bigger issue has been traps--they go off immediately when you walk in their squares, doing a couple of dozen points of damage to each character. And they reset when you transition between levels. I can only assume my "perception" skill isn't high enough, because I'm getting no warning about them ahead of time.
Miscellaneous notes:
  • I've been screwing myself by not understanding how "haggling" works. When you go to purchase or sell items, you designate a "haggler" for the team; obviously, you want the person with the best "haggling" skill. I assumed that with that person active, I was being offered the best price for everything I sold. Only when I noticed that my high-skilled haggler was getting the same offers as any random character did I realize you have to keep hitting the "Negotiate" button to activate your haggling skill and get a higher rate. Ugh. Selling stuff takes long enough as it is, what with having to "accept" the price for each individual item.
Through "negotiation," I ratcheted up this price from an initial offer of 530.
  • Time passes pretty slowly. In the 16 hours since I started the game, only 3 weeks have passed in game time. You can walk across the continent in less than a day. I expected food and water to be a big issue, but the meters hardly move at all. 
  • I've been stingy with money since the game began. The shops sell slightly better weapons and armor, in some cases, than what I'm carrying, but I've been reluctant to buy anything until I have a solid financial base (and buy my own ship). My hoarding created a problem when suddenly the game informed me that my characters couldn't pick up any more gold. (It seems to treat monetary encumbrance different from regular encumbrance, because they still had plenty of weight free.) I had to return to Cartha and store my money in the Disciples' Guild vault. The guilds in the different capital cities share a vault, which is really convenient.
Dumping money in our treasure vault.
  • Combats with a few enemies, like bats, are easy enough that I'm starting to wish for the "quick combat" option that Wizard's Crown offered. This is a minor concern, though, because if I set the message delay really fast, I can usually blaze through the easy combats in a minute or so.
  • When you start the game anew, or transition between some screens, you get a copy protection question that asks you to type a word from page X, line Y, word Z of the manual. Although it's a little annoying, I appreciate that the game helps you out by giving you the first letter of the word so you don't accidentally mis-count lines or words. 
Without this, I might have forgotten that the header counts as line 1. The answer was "Index."
  • I've started finding +5 weapons and armor. This seemed like a huge leap, with no +1 through +4 in between, but then I remembered that statistics in Disciples of Steel rise into the hundreds. A sword +1 in Dungeons & Dragons is a big deal because it improves your accuracy and damage by 5% on a 20-point scale; you need much higher pluses with higher scales.
These weapons would be like +0.2 in D&D.
  • Each land has a capital city and a handful of additional ancillary cities. The non-capital cities all have the same layout and same selections of shops.
  • I mentioned last time that I was hesitant to over-use my own blacksmith's "repair" ability because it might take a day or more to repair my party's equipment after a few combats, and the game is on a time limit. Well, it looks like I don't have any choice. The shops have some kind of bug where they insist that they can't repair an item, and you get locked in an infinite loop of this dialogue and have to kill the emulator and restart the game.  
I wasn't even trying to repair "remains."
The game has good and bad points, but overall I honestly like Disciples of Steel. I was prepared not to like it, given that it appeared on Computer Gaming World's "worst" list a few years later, but that's bollocks. In an era full of games trying to do their own thing, and doing them badly, Disciples offers a classic RPG experience with all the traditional mechanics. I like the open-world setting, the non-linearity, the quest-and-return system, the skill system, and even the difficulty (now that I'm over the biggest hump). I like that I have to figure some things out for myself, and that the game doesn't hand-hold you. You can blunder into deadly areas right off the bat if you feel like it. I like that even with skills in the 100s for some of my characters, the meter suggests they have a long way to go. They're going to be epic by the end.

Other than Wizard's Crown, I don't know exactly what previous games the developers played, but Disciples plays like a game meant to correct things that were wrong in other games. It simplifies the combat tactics just enough to make the Wizard's Crown system more palatable. It has some of the descriptive text and encounters of Gold Box games, but in the actual game instead of in a separate journal. It adopts some of the logistics of a game like Knights of Legend but without the interface annoyances that made Knights so difficult to like.
Little bits of atmosphere like this are so much better than just encountering a bunch of monsters.
There are two things that Disciples could do wrong, and unfortunately I suspect it's going to do both. I'll be pleased if I turn out to be mistaken. The first is to drag on for too long. I'm about 17 hours into the game right now, and my party still feels like a bunch of novices. I've explored a couple of dungeons and cleared a couple of quests from a couple of kings. There are many more dungeons, kings, and quests to go. The second thing is to never pull together a cohesive story. So far, the quests have been rather disconnected and not clearly leading to a main plot--again, something it shares with Knights of Legend.

But I'll hope the game surprises me and manages to resolve both issues. In the next post, I'll talk a little more about equipment, and I really need to start experimenting with spells beyond "Power Word: Stun" and "Magic Bolt."


  1. This game really sounds like a serious effort, like a game as one expects in 1991. The mechanics seem so complex that you probably could have had it much easier if you had known how. Maybe there's going to be some replay value, depending on how the overall quest structure turns out to be.
    The skills going aboe 100 again reminds me of Fallout's SPECIAL system, Fallout 1 and 2.

  2. When you mentioned that you had such a rough start due to a possible bug, I finally gave the game a try for myself to see whether I'd get those 1000 experience.
    I did not. After some (unsuccessful) googling around I came across the 1.013 patch and figured, why not try and see if it fixes the problem?
    The patch worked fine and, lo and behold, it gave me a short update log:

    1.012 6/02/94------
    Fixed text display on main menu when 'Cancel' selected. Modified Disciple creation to include 1000 experience to distribute on skills of your own choosing.

    While that doesn't help you any more, unfortunately, it's at least one mystery solved. A new character created afterwards did indeed receive the promised boost.

    1. Oh yeah, in the same forum (same post, actually) that had the link to the patch I also found this useful tip to trivialize the copy protection through a simple edit:

      "The game stores all its passwords in steeldat/steel4.mk1 file, which is the only purpose of said file. Although the symbols are encrypted via symbol substitution (except the first line, which states the total number of passwords - 108), it is otherwise plain text. Each password is a block of 4 lines - password itself and its page, line and word numbers (the order of these three might be different, but it doesn't matter).

      Well, remember the game offers the first letter of a password at copy protection prompt? So this is what you have to do: open steel4.mk1 in notepad, change the first line from "108" to "1", in second, 4-symbol line delete all symbols but one, ignore lines 3-5, and delete everything starting with line 6 till the end of file. And that's it, now the game always asks the same single password, which is one letter long, and this letter is graciously offered at the password prompt. In other words, just hit enter when asked for password, and you're in."

      All credit goes to the "passing by" guest who originally posted this. I'd put a link to the forum here but I don't trust the spam filters.

    2. Good call. Blogger's spam filter has a way of filtering out every comment with a link except for those comments that are obvious spam.

      I really appreciate your efforts to solve this mystery. Those 1000 experience points would have made for a vastly different opening game and probably would have cut 8-10 hours of grinding.

    3. Considerung this, a restart might be in order. You lost (game) time and the time limit will actually be enforced at some time, even though I don't know when or how or whether it's critical.
      I didn't play the game by myself, but read around a bit.

    4. While I don't know exactly how tight the time limit really is, three weeks of in-game time seem pretty much negligible.
      My own experience starting out with those 1000 extra points was vastly different from Chet's, though. Apart from the annoying fact that my Ogre blacksmith cannot hit anything with her mace despite a skill in the 80s, I've only lost to some gargantuan bats and wolfmen so far. Especially the ability to defeat some lower-level humanoids like orcs early on is extremely valuable, since they will provide you with weapons and armor (albeit mostly shoddy) to equip your robe wearing fighters, dramatically increasing chances of survival.
      Still, it seems like Chet has come a little too far by now, despite the initial struggle, to warrant starting over.

    5. Yeah, I'm a little ahead of my blogging, too. I've solved a fair number of quests. I think it's best to just keep going, but I do agree with your logic, sucinum. I may regret it if it turns out I run up on the time limit.

    6. While you surely could replay to your current progress in a couple of hours, going on also has its merits. Bug or not, the game was sold as you play it now and updating was complicated back in 1991. I also think you could beat it anyways.

      I have read a few tips to save game time, basically they suggest avoiding losing time on the outside map by using travel spells and grinding inside of dungeons (where a turn costs less time).

      Since the quests are not really relevant to the progress of the story, the question is if you aim to do all of them or simply search for a good grind spot.

      It's quite interesting that there is a time limit which is really enforced. A lot of CRPGs artifically make haste, but you can still calmly complete every side quest, while the endboss waits for you to arrive just in time. That has to be some trope.

    7. Yeah. All hail The Magic Candle for starting the time-sensitive main quest!

    8. Time-sensitive main quests can go die in a fire. I want to actually explore the world and enjoy its side stories, not rush to the end because of an arbitrary number.

    9. Well, in that case, you can start multiple parties in different savegames to explore in different directions.

  3. I can't help but wonder what, "Discipling" an orc entails...

    1. Getting him to play Disciples of Steel, of course! ;)

    2. Without the 1000xp starting bonus no doubt.

    3. Disciples with skills over 125 are "competant." "Emissaries" is spelled wrong in one of the shots above. "Giantbat" is given like that--one word. Someone already pointed out "reagent." The same screenshot you're talking about has "the" instead of "they." Spelling is not the game's strong point.

  4. You need focus on magic start for magic-users. The higher is it, the more spells you get. For example, for cool priest spell you need (example) 100 karma.

    I didnt use monk, but someone who had monk stunned a lot tough monster (fire giants) with monk attacks.

  5. > skirting the southern border of the "Serbian Wastelands,"...

    That's a strange name for a land in a fantasy video game.

    1. Indeed. I talked about that in the first post. It seems like a geographic example of what "TV Tropes" calls "Aerith and Bob":

    2. Y'know, we ought to lay some ground rules on sticking up TVTropes links & such to avoid having your readers getting kidnapped by aliens and experience Missing Time Syndrome:

  6. I guess the skill system is what puts this ahead of Gold Box games, which have a very stripped down system. On the other hand, Gold Box was great about integrating quests with the overall plot. The game reminds me more of a conflation of Wizard Crown, Gold Box and Wizardry in one big smelly ball.

    So Tobruk is the Dwarf kingdom. I didn't see that coming. During World War 2, the commander of the Commonwealth garrison at Tobruk was an Australian, Sir Leslie James Moreshead - known to his soldiers as "Ming the Merciless". I think the designers missed a good angle here.

    Do the various giants have immunities like D+D? For example are do the frost giants have immunity to cold?

    1. I'm not sure. The manual sucks when it comes to monster descriptions. I don't even have any cold-based spells to test it.

      I've been over-relying on just a handful of spells. I need to explore the breadth of the spell system a lot more for the next post, at which point I should have a better handle on immunities.

  7. Huh, sounds similar to Captive's "spending XP to boost increasingly costlier skills" system. I'm sure that's not where it comes from originally though. I've always kinda liked that system, especially once the M&M games simplified it a little, because it encourages spending the leftover points to branch out a little thereby adding more breadth to each character's repertoire. Of course, if they also make the game as difficult as this one, I could see why you wouldn't want to waste a single point on a skill you might not need (or understand the purpose of due to lack of in-game information, in this case).

    (Oh, and hey: I've posted a few times now and I'm noticing that I'm doing that rando internet guy thing of trying to sound like an authority. Fact is, I have no experience with 80% of the games you've covered and had only previously heard of half of those. It's why I find this blog so entertaining, along with your detailed takes.)

    1. Wizard's Crown is the first game I know to feature this kind of skill development, and much of DoS is based off that game. Believe it or not, I think the documentation was even worse in that game.

  8. I've been lurking on this site for several years, and this is my first comment. It's been said that one is better to be silent and let others think one's a fool, than to speak and confirm it, so, here goes!

    I'd like to offer my thanks, such as they are, for this great compilation. Your style of writing is a really enjoyable read, and you've pointed me to several very enjoyable bits of nostalgia that I'd not have restarted without your unintended prompting.

    This one has really been a lost gem, and I'd never heard of it before. As I slog through the early often unsuccessful combat, I echo your appreciation of every little bit of skill point advancement. I'm still at a point where the very first giant bat strike can (rarely) wipe out a valued character.

    Initially I tried "toughing it out" and "interviewing" new disciples with each loss, but at my skill level, death is common enough in the early game that the whole party can turn over before anyone has advanced appreciably, so without scum-saving I'd never achieve a more developed party. But enough about my superb tactical skills (LOL).

    There is very little online content for this game, so your reviews and these comments make up a substantial body of the available online documentation.

    As you noted from the manual, "The initial skill values for a disciple are based upon a complex relationship between various statistics and the disciple's class." So far, it seems that skill upgrade cost depends upon class, dominant statistic, and the level of the skill. Skill level XP costs appear to increase exponentially at trigger points of 25, 50, and 100 skill points. I haven't any skills over 200 yet, but I am guessing that XP cost increases with each skill level doubling. However, I am guessing that the "slope" of that exponential curve is steeper or shallower depending upon the dominant stat and the class. Your example of rogue vs illusionist disarm/pick was a good one, because you were comparing XP costs for skills that were in adjacent "XP cost zones" (eg 11-12 is in the 1-25 XP cost zone, while 35 is in the 26-50 XP cost zone). The rogue cost was so much less expensive that even after passing 25 into the next XP cost zone, it would still be less expensive to raise the rogue's than the illusionist's disarm/pic. However, if the skills were more "XP cost zones" apart, it's conceivable that by the time the rogue reached the illusionist level, the cost might be comparable (although to avoid confusing readers, it this clearly is not the case in your example). This is one of the aspects that makes the game so enjoyable. It takes a lot of thought to allocate those oh-so-scarce XP for best value!

    Again, thanks for sharing, and for pointing us to this lost gem!

    1. I'm really glad to hear that someone else likes it as much as I did. I thought I might be crazy given how little attention seems to have been given to the game online. Then again, maybe other people just don't like the stats-and-logistics part of an RPG.

    2. I was really enjoying it as well, inspired by this blog to give it one more try, but I seem to have got myself into a dead end on a quest, and I'm debating now if I should just say screw it and try to conquer the entire world or restart.

  9. The best-of-both-worlds award goes to those who created their characters with the original version (lacking the initial 1,000 XP boost), only to patch and THEN discover the joys of foraging, or starvation, or both.

  10. Rangerous the SecondMarch 28, 2016 at 2:19 PM

    Sorry, I've just realized that there is already a Rangerous active on your blog, so in the future I'll post as Rangerous the Second.

  11. Rangerous the SecondMarch 28, 2016 at 5:06 PM

    Another lost survivor of the battle of Unthar!

    Lord Firbin Redforge speaks: "The Hammer of Balen has long been a symbol of strength to the dwarven people. During the battle of Unthar the hammer was clove in two by the magic of one of the wizards.
    I was stunned by the blow and during the struggle the right half of the hammer was taken. I believe it is now in the possession of an orc tribe to the north. Find it."

  12. Rangerous the SecondApril 15, 2016 at 9:51 PM

    Disciples has so much promise, but it could have used more fine tuning. As you advance, the mean is about right, but the variance is too great. Sometimes it seems so random that it's not so much an edge-of-the-seat kind of excitement as a OK-what's-it-gonna-be-this-time kind of resignation. Luck seems a lot more important than tactical acumen.

    The early game virtually demands scum saving. That tends to rob some of the sense of satisfaction you would otherwise feel... Heck, anyone can do this with enough reloads.

    As you noted, this is reinforced at the start of every combat with random enemy positioning. Of course there will be a few occasions when you’re surrounded, but to start every fight in that position is just too random.

    A few other quirks:

    Since the giants are still drubbing me, I've been trying to use a little strategy, rather than just grinding more "levels" before I can handle them. I had a bit of an inspiration during a stone giant attack, but felt more than a small sense of betrayal to discover (mid-combat) that the Priest's "Stone to Flesh" that works so well for petrified disciples, cannot be used to make stone giants just a little more, uh, mortal?

    Formation: Why isn't there an option that maintains the formation relative to your party's direction? There are too few disciples to maneuver like one of Wellington’s infantry squares, so most of the time, you want your formation oriented toward the direction of travel. The Romans could do it. Even boot camp noobs can mostly do it. In Disciples, though, it's as if your party has 30 seconds of tangled confusion every time you turn a corner. That's great for "The Three Stooges," but 30 seconds spent punching Encamped/Formation buttons at every turn isn't my idea of quality gaming time.

    Pre-Combat Buffing: am I missing something? As you noted, combat spells are better spent doing other things...

    Interesting thing about spells: some achieve their full effect with just one point of mana, and cannot be improved any further, even when you spend all your spell energy on them.

    For example, time stop is the same with one point or with max mana points, but your remaining mana pool knows the difference!

    Sprint works the same way. Your speeds double regardless of allocated mana, and it lasts through the combat, whether you spend just one point or max it out.

    Lead to gold yield seems perfectly matched to mana: 1 point = 1 gold, 20 points = 20 gold.

    I always max out fireball, but I should probably experiment to see (for example) if area or damage bears any relation to the allocated mana.

    Your blog is really great, but once you've moved on, Chet, it's a bit of a ghost town here. Too bad there's no ongoing discussions of this particular game anywhere... It's awfully lonely on yesterday's blog.

    1. No reason the discussion COULDN'T keep going about older games. Thanks for keeping this one alive. It's been the highlight of my year so far, and sometimes I wish I could be re-playing it instead of whatever new title has just come up on my list.

      I don't think I ever even cast "Time Stop." I could easily play the game again and have a brand new experience.

  13. Rangerous the SecondApril 23, 2016 at 5:44 PM

    I just discovered something that may have been obvious to everyone else, but my ignorance has been costly to me.

    Tools of a Trade raise a skill by some amount (so far, +10 each).

    When allocating experience to raise skills, cost depends upon skill level.

    For example:
    It costs 36 XP to raise a ranger's perception 1 point when perception is at 290 points.
    It costs 56 XP to raise a ranger's perception 1 point when perception is at 300 points.
    Glasses of True Sight raise perception by +10 points.
    Right now, it costs 200 more points to raise my ranger's perception by 10 points with those glasses on, than with those glasses off.

    Unfortunately, up to now, I haven't been paying attention and have been raising skills with all Tools of the Trade enabled. *sigh*

    1. That's a bad bug/oversight. The developers really should have used the baseline score for pricing those increases.

      On the other hand, does anything decrease stats? I wonder if you could exploit that for cheaper purchases.

  14. Rangerous the SecondApril 24, 2016 at 12:34 AM

    Thanks, good suggestion! I'll keep my eyes open for cursed Tools of the Trade...

  15. The plus side of twinned crystals is that you've got lots of time to write up posts while waiting for cell_now to do crazy amounts of math. (Downside: Everything else)

    Game mechanics from PnP RPGS:
    Class/Level (D&D): XP originally based on how much gold you could carry back to town. Eventually added monster XP, but it was fairly small compared to the gold XP. Many DMs dropped gold XP, which is where early editions got the reputation of levels taking forever to get. (Data at: )
    Later editions also encouraged adding non-combat XP and such. I recall 2nd edition added XP for actions typical of your class, so wizards got XP for casting spells and researching new ones, fighters got XP for training troops, and so on.

    (More later, finished crystal)

  16. Then there are GURPS and similar. They aren't too far off of this: You get character points, you use them to buy skills, abilities (Strength, health, dexterity, intelligence) and so on. You also can get advantages and disadvantages (the most controversial part, as you can take a Code of Honor to offset the ability to shoot fire from your hands. This works very well with a good DM, but can be abused if your DM isn't willing to say no.)

    Then there is the great Call of Cthulhu mechanic: Every time you use a skill successfully you mark it. At the end of an adventure (or set point in the game) you roll each marked skill: If you FAIL it goes up. So you have to use it successfully once, but the better you are at a skill, the less likely you are to get better at it. This leads to more well-rounded characters than most games, as any time you succeed at something you are bad at, there is a good chance you'll get better at it.

  17. You don't see many systems playing around with advantages and disadvantages much (outside Fallout, which was influenced by GURPS). You see Feats a bit more, but not to the extant you do in tabletop games. Heck, there are some tabletop games where you stop getting more HP/Attack bonuses, but instead get more tricks and spells you can use in combat.

    1. Other things you don't see much in crpgs: Action points, penalties on rolls when hurt, dice pools, bonus dice, hit locations. Really, there are all sorts of mechanics from the 80s that were great ideas but to slow, complicated or required a lot of bookkeeping. We have computers to do this for us! Why not use them?

  18. "The shops have some kind of bug where they insist that they can't repair an item, and you get locked in an infinite loop of this dialogue and have to kill the emulator and restart the game."

    Same experience here. Even though the economy doesn't demand it, this bug makes a blacksmith pretty important to your team.


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