Saturday, November 26, 2016

Fate: Jail Release

NPC dialogue in this game inevitably ends in an exclamation point. I don't think there's a single exception.
I recently emerged from the Grottos of Gahmos after 20 hours. Seeing the virtual sun and streets of Valvice was such a physical relief that it nearly approaches how I would feel if I'd just come out of 20 hours of real-life solitary confinement. Boom, subtitle justified.

Fate long ago crossed the line from "audacious" to "obscene" in its physical size, and the Grottos of Gahmos really drive it home. Each of the 7 levels used at least 1,500 squares. A couple of them had no special encounters--one had no treasures, even--just huge mazes from beginning to end. And the combats on some levels came literally every step. In both successful battles and reloads, my experience in this one dungeon alone must approximate the total number in all my RPG-playing so far.

I had finished Levels 1 and 2 when I last blogged. Some of the enemies had been tough--a few were able to kill my lower-HP characters in one hit--but basically I got through it. Level 3 is where the nightmare really began. It featured bafflingly hard enemies called "dracs" which always acted first in combat and immediately stoned or killed half my characters. I didn't have a chance against them. If I'd really tried and gotten really lucky in the first-round rolls, I could have maybe won 1 in 20 battles with them, and there must have been 50 parties of the damned things.

Dracs are difficult for another reason: they never seem to die from hit point loss alone. I've met a few other creatures like this. I can deal thousands and thousands of points of damage per round, and they remain standing. The only thing that kills them is a lucky "critical hit" or a special attack from one of my unique weapons, like stoning from the "Medustaff."
The end of a typical first round against dracs.
Now, mitigating this somewhat is the fact that most of the level is completely optional. The staircases up and down are at two ends of a fairly short corridor. Passages jut off from this main hallway and take you (via teleport) to the resting chambers of various named heroes--Etrin, Grendal, Bendarion, and so forth--where you can loot their most powerful artifacts. The dracs are found in those chambers. I could have continued my explorations downward and saved the cool weapons and armor for later. 

The problem was, I wasn't 100% sure of the level's structure until I was already through most of it. In this game, so much depends upon obscure items and messages found on individual squares, that you can't blithely plow through an entire dungeon level and head for the down stairs. You'll miss the one clue that's vital to get through a lower level.

The difficulty associated with the dracs thus led me to experiment with a few of my other pre-combat options. Fleeing was always an option, of course, but it left the enemies on the screen and only really worked in a permanent sense if there was a door nearby. It turns out that Holy Scrolls--which I hadn't used at all before--destroy the entire enemy party before they can even act. But I'd only found about half a dozen in the game so far (I'm going to have to check and see if they're sold anywhere, now that I know what they do), so it wasn't a long-term solution.
They are quite satisfying, however, in the short-term.
The biggest surprise turned out to be the priest's "pray" ability, which will literally pray away the enemy party. That's not what the game says it does. It says, "a silver sphere appears and enables your party to escape unseen." But what it actually does is remove the enemy party from the map. I guess at higher levels, it works nearly all the time. At my priest's level (roughly 25 going into this), it only worked about 25% of the time. But fleeing worked more often. So with the dracs, I settled into a pattern of trying prayer, then fleeing if that didn't work. If they re-encountered me after fleeing, I tried prayer again. I had to reload a lot when neither option worked, but it got me through the level.
A life-saver.
The rewards were worth it, or nearly so. I ended up with two weapons--a "Hulkhammer" and a "Vixhammer"--classified as "greater melee weapons," meaning they do damage to every enemy within range, in all groups, not just a single enemy or single group. Winwood finally gave up the "Ice Sword" he found early in the game. There were several nice pieces of armor, plus several potions that permanently increased attributes.

The rest of the dungeon served up some hard combats, rendered easier by my new weapons, but nothing again on the level of the dracs. I continued to make liberal use of "prayer," particularly when I encountered enemy spellcasters at range.
Yeah, screw that.
One thing I noticed, though, moving forward, is that my characters almost never go first in combat. I understand that order is influenced by both skill and dexterity. I had invested quite a few improvement slots in the +3 skill guild in Larvin, getting all my characters up above 45. I guess that wasn't enough. Frankly, given how hard I was finding the dungeon, and given the fact that several of my characters still had dozens of unused improvement slots, I should have gone back to the surface and done some more character development. Instead, I stubbornly persisted onward, using "Refresh" potions and "Rejuvenation" and "Vitamins" spells in place of proper sleep and food.

Level 4's major contribution was in the form of a small statue. Digging around the statue produced a brush to go along with the paint can I'd previously found. Why it had to be under a statue, I don't know, but that's par for the course with Fate, which revels in unnecessary details (e.g., all the nonsense with the Mongards and the Shade Ghosts and the Cavetrain).
Level 5 was a huge maze with enemies practically every step. They were curiously bipolar in difficulty: I might encounter 1 giant spider in one battle, and then 8 giant spiders, 9 evil frogs, 5 bane wizards, and 6 saurians in the next battle. There wasn't a single message, treasure, or special encounter except a couple of fountains and teleporters to the escape stairs. I was tempted.
The next combat was one frog.
Level 6, another huge maze, offered two types of vital special encounters. The first was with a series of eyes painted on the walls. The only productive thing I could find to do with them was to paint over them, but since the game so readily jumped at this solution, I figured it was correct. It later turned out that once every eye was painted over, a teleporter deactivated and allowed me access to the down stairs. I think there were 10 eyes on the level.
This seems somewhat rude.
The level also offered a bunch of gold plates on the wall that had something to do with jewels and a sequence. "Press as first the jewel at the right end of the lower line," for instance. I catalogued all of these for later.
Finally, I reached the last level: a maze of independent areas interconnected by teleporters. Most of the teleporters dump you back to the starting area, but with careful mapping you can find your way forward. I eventually reached an area with a hallway that I couldn't enter. Every time I tried, it eliminated all my spellpoints and knocked me back to an earlier square. I explored the area exhaustively, looking for buttons, secret doors, plates, or anything, but I found nothing. Eventually, I went back to the corridor and tried entering again, and it didn't give me any trouble. So I'm not sure what was going on there.

The corridor held a lot of treasures that were inferior to what I already had. At the end, I faced a wall panel with a bunch of jewels of different colors "in a geometrical arrangement." The game then asked me what order I wanted to press them. I knew this had something to do with the messages on the previous level, but the messages hadn't said anything about jewel color.
I was in the midst of writing a version of this posting that had me still stuck in the dungeon when I had to consult the manual for something to do with a spell, and I happened to notice this:
I think if a puzzle is going to refer to something in the manual, it ought to be a little more explicit, but I'll remember to go through the manual when I get stuck from now on. Based on the diagram, I was able to enter the colors in the right order and enter the chamber beyond.
But where is he?! How is he positioned?!
There, I found an archmage--the famous Mandrag--asleep. The only thing I could do was add him to my party. This meant giving up a character, so I reluctantly spun my assassin off into his own party and picked up Mandrag. One casting of "Rejuvenate" was enough to wake him up, at which point he thanked me and went into a long spiel about Thardan:
The key to breaking the force of Thardan is located in the city of Cassida, but we can't go there 'til we find Bergarac's heart! I was on a quest for this heart when I was ambushed by Thardan's army! I've heard that the heart might be somewhere in Katloch, but also that a magical key is required to open the magical crypt where it's located! This key, called "Opal Key," should be hidden somewhere in the Grottos but I don't know where! Would you like to help me? I"m reading your mind and I see that you're on the same quest as I am! Winwood's return isn't possible until Thardan's force is broken!"
I consulted my map of the Grottos and found only one area that I hadn't fully explored. Back on Level 1, there were a couple of pressure plates and an inactive teleporter. I reasoned that activating the teleporter would mean weighing down those plates, which required splitting my party into three. As I was making this happen, Mandrag piped up that he though he heard one of the myrmidons saying it was going to hide the key in a fountain. Sure enough, the newly-activated teleporter took me to an area of fountains, and searching one produced the Opal Key.
At last, I made my way to the surface, slept in a proper inn, and ate a few proper meals. I guess I'll keep Mandrag. I suspect I'll need him later, and in any event, he has excellent statistics and 5 spellbooks.
Mandrag's appearance is a bit odd and worthy of a side comment. Many of the NPCs in the game have had unconventional features. Earlier, I had a warlock named "Billy" who was listed as a female, but looked like....well, frankly a transvestite. I chalked that one up to bad art and made a dumb joke of it. But here comes Mandrag, who seems to have some kind of macrocephaly. Meanwhile, the rest of the art in the game is quite good, so I don't think we're seeing careless use of a brush. I think the graphics department deliberately made a bunch of NPC portraits--a lot of which the average player might never see--that represented a wide variety of human faces, some conventional and attractive, some unconventional or even representative of genetic disorders. I think it's an admirable effort.

When I entered the Grottos, I was just shy of 1 million piaster. I emerged with over 12 million piaster. I immediately bought a ship for 3 million, which appeared in the outdoor area near Valvice. I'm not even sure how to board it, but I'm not quite ready for that yet, since I have more intelligence to collect on this island, Katloch, and Thardan's "Forbidden Zone."
This geography sounds confusing.
I need to spend a while on character development, including visiting various guilds and spending my improvement slots, seeing if I can get better weapons for a few characters, and improving dexterity through conversation. I also forgot to finish the mini-quest where I have to ask the women in Herman's Wood how to use diamonds.
My new ship is called "Katrina." She might set sail in time for the next post.
My biggest problem right now is weight. The advanced weapons and armor I found in the dungeon are cool, but they weigh a ton. I had to divest Winwood of all potions and special items and only just barely got him under the amount where he starts having problems. No matter what I do, Toronar is overweight unless I have him give up Gord's Axe for something less awesome.

The manual says that carrying capacity is governed by strength, so I went to Laronnes and got 5 new strength points for each character, but it didn't make a bit of difference in carrying capacity. I'll be happy to hear spoilers if there's anything else I'm supposed to do to nudge up that number.
In the meantime, I guess I'll be sleeping in the best rooms.
Miscellaneous notes:

  • At one point, just because I was experimenting, I had Winwood drink a "Berserk" potion, which turned him into a "Berserker" class. This jacked his strength, dexterity, and skill up to 99 and seemed to give him infinite hit points, but it reduced his intelligence and wisdom to 1 and made him act automatically, out of my control, during combat. He always went first, but instead of using his Hulkhammer, he just did something that killed one enemy. I spent a long time trying to rest him out of the condition before I consulted the manual and realized I need to cast an archmage spell to revert him to normal.
A typical combat action for a Berserker.
  • I would kill for a "passwall" or "teleport" spell in this game.
  • I don't understand the rules on how many potions my characters can make. On some early level, I made 3 or 4 "Refresh" potions and then the game never let me make any more, not even after I'd rested and days had passed. I had the same issue with strength potions earlier.
  • At this level of power, combat really comes down entirely to who gets to act first. If 3 of my characters can beat the enemies to the initiative, I can take down all but the hardest foes with some combination of melee weapons and spells.

Fate has its charm, but it's long past time for it to be over. I suspect that despite that, it won't be over yet for a long, long time.

Time so far: 111 hours


  1. 100 hours is definitely the point where, unless things are REALLY interesting, you are likely to completely lose even the most dedicated players. I don't think even Wizardry 7 rivals Fate in length.

    1. Yeah, this seems to just be dragging on and on. I can't imagine staring at Fate's overly brown palette for over a hundred hours without wondering if there's another game I could be playing.

    2. Someone on some message board somewhere said I would never finish it, so of course I have to.

  2. "Dracs are difficult for another reason: they never seem to die from hit point loss alone."

    Yeah, there are quite a few monsters like this. In fact, every enemy seems to have some sort of regeneration each turn. It wasn't an issue so far because of low health totals and relatively overpowered weapons. Killing a barbarian with knife hits of 20 damage may take around 10 hits or so, while a sword hit of 100 will kill him outright. Sadly this means that fighters will be pretty much useless.

    "But I'd only found about half a dozen in the game so far (I'm going to have to check and see if they're sold anywhere, now that I know what they do), so it wasn't a long-term solution."

    Nope, that precious few you find is all you get, they're not sold anywhere. (Some dungeon treasures have a bunch of them, though.) I'd save them for really stupid fights.

    "One thing I noticed, though, moving forward, is that my characters almost never go first in combat. I understand that order is influenced by both skill and dexterity."

    Looks like levels also play a fairly large part. You probably noticed level 45 Mandrag almost always coming first.

    "The first was with a series of eyes painted on the walls."

    You can also look into the eyes which induces a magical sleep on the hapless victim, or touch them which will permanently burn off his right hand. That's right, he can no longer fight at all. Fortunately I think temples can restore it.

    "I eventually reached an area with a hallway that I couldn't enter."

    You're supposed to kill all enemies to continue here, but thanks to the random spawns it's fairly unpredictable, sometimes it just refuses to open up.

    "I guess I'll keep Mandrag. I suspect I'll need him later, and in any event, he has excellent statistics and 5 spellbooks."

    Yes, you'll need him later.

    "The manual says that carrying capacity is governed by strength, so I went to Laronnes and got 5 new strength points for each character, but it didn't make a bit of difference in carrying capacity. I'll be happy to hear spoilers if there's anything else I'm supposed to do to nudge up that number."

    Nothing. Carrying capacity is determined at character creation and will not budge an ounce, which is really bad game design I'd say. Strength does not help at all. Unfortunately this means you will have to optimize your equipment on weight instead of raw power.

    But now that you have the ship, you can go around the world on some treasure hunting. There are roughly 100 small islands in the sea, and most of them contains one buried or hidden item, some of them the game's most powerful items.

    Of course this means a huge amount of work, so if you'd rather skip it, I've copied a complete map here:

    "I need to spend a while on character development, including visiting various guilds and spending my improvement slots, seeing if I can get better weapons for a few characters, and improving dexterity through conversation."

    I'll add some information on recommended stats in another comment.

    "I don't understand the rules on how many potions my characters can make."

    I'm not sure either. Maybe it checks the total number of potions the whole party has? I just ended up buying my potions.

    "Fate has its charm, but it's long past time for it to be over. I suspect that despite that, it won't be over yet for a long, long time."

    Nope. I'd say you're about 40% done.

    1. "Carrying capacity is determined at character creation and will not budge an ounce, which is really bad game design I'd say."

      I know there's at least one other game that works this way. Can't place it at the moment, though. Maybe Wizardry 6? Definitely one where starting strength sets the capacity, and isn't changed by later increasing strength. I can see how that might happen, programming wise, but it's frustrating nonetheless.

    2. Wizardry 6 works this way because of a program bug. There is a patch for remedy that "problem".

    3. It is Wiz 6, I cant bring myself to play that without a bug fix patch for that reason.

    4. Yep, that was W6. There was a fan-made patch for the problem, though.

    5. As always, I appreciate the clarifications. I'm really irked about that encumbrance thing. No one else can use Gord's Axe and it's an awesome weapon. Also, the best armor tends to be roughly double the weight of the second-best armor.

      I don't remember having that problem in W6, but perhaps I got a patched version.

    6. Good news, looks like I was wrong about encumbrance. Turns out Strength does have an influence, but it's only recalculated on level up. Starting Winwood has max. load of 104 lbs, and now with 70 Strength he has 138.

    7. That's great to hear. I'm glad you told me that before I got rid of some of my best equipment!

  3. Strength (+3, Katloch 8/36): Increases damage done by weapons. Unlike most RPGs, it does not affect carrying limit, so only fighters need this.

    Stamina (+2, Mernoc 35/44): Determines how quickly a character regenerates hit points. The effect is way too small to warrant spending points here.

    Skill (+3, Larvin 21/47) and Dexterity (+2, Pirate Rock 34/44): Weapon accuracy and physical attack avoidance, respectively. They also determine turn order, very important.

    Intelligence (+2, Cassida 19/14): Influences the success chance of many special attacks, like Dupe or the use of crystals. Unlike other RPGs, has no effect on spells. Good to have later, but not a high priority.

    Wisdom (+2, Cassida 19/14): Determines regeneration of magic points and some special attacks. Pointless considering you can buy unlimited Restore potions that instantly restore all MP.

    Charisma (+2, Cassida 45/24): Powers the special abilities of Nymphs. Increases chances of befriending people in dialogue. Since everyone important can be befriended with money anyway, it's quite useless.

    Magic Power (+3, Cassida 12/25): Determines success chance for magic spells and many special abilities. Very important for damage dealer mages.

    Anti-stone (+2, Cassida 33/30): Protects against petrification. That happens rarely and it doesn't offer 100% protection even maxed out anyway, so there are better ways to spend those points.

    Anti-fire (+8, Katloch, 52/9): Offers damage reduction against fire attacks. Must have, many nasty monsters have powerful breath attacks that do a lot of damage to the whole party.

    Anti-magic (+3, Cassida, 23/19): Protects against spells. Quite nice to have, but lower priority than damage reduction.

    Anti-crit (+3, Cassida 29/39): Protects against critical hits. See anti-stone.

    Anti-shot (+2, Cassida 43/36): Protects against arrows, boulders, thrown weapons. Getting invulnerability and dexterity is a much better investment, since they defend against melee attacks as well. Avoid.

    Magic Eye (+6, Pirate Rock 28/29): Discovers and disarms traps. Only one character needs this, but no need to go overboard, around 100 is enough since trap difficulty doesn't seem to scale with dungeon difficulty.

    Invulnerability (+6, Katloch, 26/2): Offers general damage reduction against all forms of direct damage. Very versatile and useful.

    Anti-poison (+2, Fainvil 14/30), Anti-infect (+4, Perdida 42/33), Anti-charm (+3, Cassida 18/1): All of them are completely useless. As far as I remember, enemies don't even have a charming attack. Poison and disease have negligible effects and some monsters spew so much that it can't be avoided anyway, just remember to cure them before resting.

    1. Oh, bollocks. I guess I'd better wait until I get to Katloch to continue developing everyone, then.

    2. Doubly so since it turns out that it DOES effect encumbrance!

  4. I don't know if you named the boat or the game did, but it's certainly convenient that its name begins with a K.

    Folk got their money's worth with this one, huh. I admire that you decided to stick with it (and with Knightmare, which sounds like it's a bit more hardcore than I remembered).

  5. This game has looked amazing. I can't imagine I'd have the patience for that long of a slog with an older UI. I'm glad I at least get to experience it vicariously through your blog. Thank you.

  6. This holiday, we gives thanks for many things, not least this blog and forum.

    We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
    For he that today sheds CRPG blood with me
    Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
    This day shall gentle his condition.

    Chet, thanks for the terrific work which, great as it is, is even further improved by the quality of comments you draw.

  7. I'll join the crowd.. How wonderful to read a thorough and entertaining account of this amazing game without having to play it.

    1. Indeed, thanks for playing this game and blogging about it! It sounds fascinating, but I wouldn't have the time to play it myself.

  8. Is there a link to Chet's package of WinUAE with Fate? I managed to get it working but it's v1.6, there seems to be a v1.7 and something about my graphical settings don't make it look as crisp as the screenshots do on the posts

    1. As far as I know, 1.7 is German only.

    2. Maybe you can try FS-UAE. It is build upon winuae, but it has Launcher and it will automatically set up correct settings for the game

  9. I've gone through the same steps in those last few REALLY LONG game (Disciples of steel, Knights of Legend and Fate) : I'm a bit interested at first, I stop reading after a few posts and hope you'll quit, I get interested again and reread every posts on the game avidly, I get the game and try it. So thanks for hanging on. It's my first time on WinUAE and it's been WAAAAY easier to get the game running than I anticipated.

  10. Hi,
    2 remarks from a long time fater:
    1.With monsters as the Dracs,it is important to use the right spells in combination with not only hitting them with weapons.
    Using Elementar spell "Stop Time"or Banshee spell "Freeze",you then can Dupe the Dracs one by one which always kills a Drac outright.This will be important later,when many enemies do no longer fall to your weapons.
    Learn to use Dupe - requires intelligence - and
    Grope - requires magic power to be successful.
    And make some levels.Every action in Fate is dependent on Character Level.Hall of Frogs in Grottos is good for training.Later ,when you meet Bog Ingrols,youll be happy for every Level you have.
    2.With potions,its easy:You need a bottle of water to make one.If a char has five bottles,you can make five potions.

    1. I'm sure I could have been more creative with spells, but the bigger problem was that the dracs ALWAYS went first in combat and always stoned or killed at least a couple of my characters in that first round. I probably should have been a higher level before attempting that map.

      I really appreciate the explanation on the potions. I didn't realize we were making them out of existing bottles. That makes sense: I ran out of rations during this exploration session.

    2. Potion bottles make sense as a limited resource in a pre-industrial glassblowing era. Heck, even today people who have worked in chemlabs can tell you how rare, precious and expensive certain types of glassware are. (Shelnk line adapters for example, bombs [glass bottle that can survive low pressure when filled with solvent])

    3. Ah, so it was the water bottles. You always learn something new, though I wish the error message was more clear about this.

      Well, you don't have to worry about overpowered spells like time stop anymore -- they simply don't work in the remaining dungeons.

      Levels indeed have a major effect on everything. Mandrag with 50 dexterity/skill still acts faster than my level 30 fighter with 99/99. Also just noticed that levels even add some carrying capacity, probably based on race/class. Winwood went from 138 lbs to 140 after a few levels.

      I've gotten a lot of use out of the Banshee's Madness spell. Many later enemies are immune to Medustaff stoning and other instant-kill effects, but this protection is apparently willpower-based. If they turn mad, they become vulnerable.

  11. You know, I was thinking about how they fit this all on disk, it seems really crazy. I'm wondering if they used some sort of algorithmic generation, like Elite did, then with a list of special locations. So it uses an algorithm to draw the map based on a set input (so the map is known), then has a list of what tiles have special encounters on them. That would let them pack entire maps into a much smaller space, and this type of algorithm was known (Rogue, Nethack and Elite all used it by now).

    I don't suppose anyone can let me know if I'm correct?

  12. I don't know how you do it... But God bless you! The game's ambition is inspiring, but I wish someone with the energy to make a game like this would actually match its size with depth of story/characters, rather than focus on combat/skill development. If it felt like I was actually meeting interesting people and finding interesting things, rather than hacking away at stuff for hours, I might give it a go myself.

  13. Oh great. ANOTHER Moron who is an archmage.

  14. Rangerous the SecondNovember 29, 2016 at 6:38 AM

    At some point in many of these extended games, I get stuck, or bored with repetitive combat, or unmotivated. Then I shift to another element of gameplay that I really enjoy: instrumenting the game to try to figure out what makes it tick.

    The extended world of Fate provides a real gold mine for this kind of activity.

    Characters are a critical and very interesting aspect of Fate. It seems as if NPCs come in many different flavors.

    Unique NPC Villains, such as Miras Athran, exist as plot elements that will never join your party.

    Unique NPC Heros, such as Bergerac, exist as plot elements and are essential to winning.

    Some unique NPCs, such as Toronar, exist as plot elements but are not essential to winning. These fixed NPCs span the gamut from relatively undistinguished to extremely powerful.

    Some routine NPCs have recognizable names, like Marvin or Beverly, but in other respects don’t appear to be particularly distinguishable from randomly generated NPCs with unrecognizable names, like Hengam or Unachie. I wonder if the random name generator uses rules that can produce recognized names, or instead, if recognizably-named characters are preprogrammed or in any way special?

    There are 32 different character classes, plus additional NPCs that are unique regardless of class, but you can only retain 28 characters in your parties, and it’s advisable that a few of those “slots” remain open. It’s clear that you must prioritize. This is likely to be the first triage decision you’ll have to make in Fate – who stays and who goes? This is further complicated by the fact that you don’t know who, if anyone, is absolutely critical to winning the game. For hoarders, this is one pain point that can lead to approach-avoidance syndrome (I can’t be bothered to play / I can’t stop playing).

    Interestingly, a memory editor can bypass this problem. Each Fate party member is defined as a sequence of 500 bytes, with 14,000 total bytes set aside for the 28 party members. Meticulous or obsessive players can always copy and save the 500 bytes that define interesting characters. This offers the ability to reinstate a dismissed party member simply by pasting those 500 bytes back into one of the 28 party positions (or 27 party positions, considering that you wouldn’t want to overwrite Winwood). This makes it easier to experiment with the effects of various classes and genders without being hampered by the party limit.

  15. Wow, this game really seems to be one of the most ambitious things ever. I've seen screenshots before and always thought it'd be worth checking out, but I never got around to it because Amiga emulation seems so complicated to me. I wonder if there has ever been any other game to rival this one's size.


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