Saturday, August 12, 2017

Eternal Dagger: Exasperating Demons

Somehow, "demons riding wolves" reminded me of this comic.
A couple of decisions that I made going all the way back to Wizard's Crown came back to bite me in this session of The Eternal Dagger. The first was a general one: relying mostly on "quick" combat. I've covered before how the Crown/Dagger combat system leans a little bit towards the extreme end of combat simulation, causing even simple battles to take 30 minutes or more. Yes, a player using the right tactics is likely to incur less damage in tactical combat than quick combat, but when healing and resurrection are so easy, it's tough to force yourself to do things the long way.

Relying on quick combat has one huge weakness, though: it means you haven't built up the skill and experience necessary for tactical combat when the hour arises. There are some battles that quick combat just won't win, mostly because they involve tactics that the AI doesn't apply. In the middle of one of the dungeons covered in this session, for instance, you face combat with a group of "jesters" who basically have one weakness: the "Fear" spell. Since there's no way to tell the AI to use this spell exclusively, characters in quick combat beat their heads against the enemies using the wrong tactics and inevitably die. A tactical player can win quite easily, but this isn't the time to begin exploring the tactics in depth for the first time. I wasn't quite doing it for the first time, but I certainly hadn't achieved any level of mastery the way I have in, say, the Gold Box games.
Another cramped fight. Fortunately, an anagram helped me with the enemy's weakness.
My second error was undervaluing missile weapons. Not valuing them at all, to be honest. In Wizard's Crown, there was little need for them, as most combats took place amidst generously open terrain. Rather than split my skill development between a melee weapon and a missile weapon, I went all-melee. That creates a problem in Dagger, where so many of the dungeon combats occur in narrow corridors that only accommodate one character at a time. When I started this session, my imported characters didn't even have the 100-point minimums that new Dagger characters start with. I had to rectify that pretty fast.
Combat in the wilderness, with its open terrain, is much easier to navigate than dungeon combat.
If you're not ambushed, the tactical combat process begins with a "positioning" round in which you set the starting points for each character. This process is very limited in dungeons, as you can only move characters to positions for which they have a clear path (as if they were actually moving, not just being dropped into starting positions). Moreover, the lead character (in my case, usually the thief) can't move at all. So many dungeon combats occur in tight hallways just after you open doors that the lead character is almost always immediately thrust into melee combat, and all you can do is somewhat uselessly re-arrange the other characters' positions behind him.
No matter how I arrange my characters, only one can fit through the door at a time.
During combat, characters can choose from five types of attacks: aimed (despite name, it involves less accuracy and more damage), defensive, killing, normal, and thrown weapon. They can also move, change facing direction, cast spells (including a "quick" option that consumes twice the points for twice the power), "guard" (automatically attacks when an enemy moves next to him), load a bow (only necessary once per battle), use a magic item, pray, change items, sneak, turn undead, scan the battlefield for hidden enemies, view enemies' statistics, dodge, and simply end the turn. The number of options diminishes if you move or turn during a round and if you're adjacent to an enemy. Even this far into the game, I don't always understand all the rules.
Fighting the boss of one of this session's dungeons.
In its combat options, Dagger drops two options that were in Wizard's Crown: (F)all prone and (S)tand up, meant to protect against missile weapons, but apparently considered one step too far. The whole system would be simplified even further for the Gold Box games, with fewer types of attacks, no need to take a combat turn to load a bow, no way to (non-magically) scan for invisible enemies. Facing direction in Gold Box matters, but it's simply determined by where you move and attack; you can't adjust it separately.

I have mixed feelings about the injury and damage system in these games. On the one hand, the approach taken by most games--having a simple pool of "hit points"--is laughably unrealistic. It makes little sense that a character fights just as well at 1 hit point as at 50, then suddenly keels over when he loses that one. Dagger's system of bleeding, injury, and health as separate considerations makes more sense. Injuries detract from ability but don't have to be fixed right away. Bleeding can kill you if not stopped. A character's health can fail for reasons unrelated to cuts and wounds. Certainly, in modern games, I vastly prefer body part-specific systems like Fallout to generic health systems as in Skyrim--or at least I do for the enemies. The ability to literally disarm ghouls or stop fast-moving deathclaws by crippling their legs is glorious. I enjoy micromanaging such injuries much less for my own characters. Crown/Dagger doesn't really let you target specific body parts on enemies. Nor does it really feel like a crippled enemy performs notably worse in combat. Thus, the system that theoretically applies to both you and your foes feels more like it just applies to you.
This is nice flavor text, but I'm not sure if specific injuries to enemies really matter in the long run.
Of particular annoyance is the inability to see how badly your enemies are hurt. The amount of damage they can take is sometimes staggering. I'll land blow after blow, doing severe injuries every time, and yet somehow the bastard is still able to keep his feet. I'd really like the ability hear to see how badly an enemy is injured and how close he is to death (again, two separate considerations). It would allow better planning in combat.

The spell system, of course, multiplies the tactics available in the game. In addition to healing and turning, priests get a "Bless" spell in combat. Wizards can choose from 22 combat spells, including a "Fire Ball" that works much like the Gold Box variant. There are a couple oddities with the system. First, visibility doesn't seem to play a role in where you cast spells; you can target fireballs and such around corners and past closed doors. Second, most offensive spells are multi-enemy spells. "Paralyze," for instance, has a small chance of paralyzing all enemies instead of being targeted at one. So does "Magic Blast." Protection spells, meanwhile, always apply to the whole party, including "Countermagic" (halves damage from magic attacks), "Magic Protection" (+6 against magic attacks), "Missile Protection" (confers missile immunity for one battle), and "Armor" (+6 against physical attacks).
Spell options available in combat.
When I fight in tactical combat, I usually get my spellcasters working on those protection spells right away. This makes it all the more annoying when we fight enemy spellcasters who simply "Dispel" those protections, often multiple times per round. A lot of magic enemies also seem to have some kind of teleportation ability, as they'll suddenly show up adjacent to characters who they shouldn't be able to reach by walking. Enemies capable of stealth and invisibility are rife at higher levels, and I end up having to cast "Reveal Enemy" practically every round. The end result is that I find tactical combat most frustrating against magic enemies, and of course this is when you most need it.

Even this deep into the game, there are a lot of things I don't understand. In addition to points covered above I don't really understand what governs how far my characters can move in a round, and whether they can attack when they're done. Sometimes, I can't seem to move in a direction even though there's an empty space there. Other times, I seem to be blocked from turning in a particular direction. The blast radius on certain spells seems to change between castings. Sometimes, certain attacks aren't available for no particular reason. Healing sometimes works, sometimes doesn't. I don't even really know what "sneak" accomplishes. 

Because of all of these issues, I don't find the challenging combats of Crown/Dagger as fun as the challenging combats of other games, including the Gold Box series and Disciples of Steel. I've noticed that visual feedback and sound also plays a role. Combats are so much more satisfying when a successful attack results in a hearty "thwack" rather than a barely-audible "pip" indistinguishable from the sound used when the attack misses.
Quick combats are less efficient but are over faster.
To recap the plot so far, my party is amid a strange series of islands in Middle World, which has been invaded by demons from another dimension. These demons will soon finish their takeover of this world and then progress to our world if we can't stop them. To do that, I have to find the "sunken city of Enolho," go through the portal there, and use the Eternal Dagger somehow on the other side. (It occurs to me belatedly that the Dark Designs trilogy basically cribbed the same plot. I suppose so did Pacific Rim for that matter.) To get to the sunken city, meanwhile, I needed the support of Gray Eagle, who I ended the last session trying to find.
Great. Now I'll have "Love Lifts Us Up Where We Belong" stuck in my head for three days.
Some NPC clues got me to his aerie without trouble, but he said that in order to prove myself "worthy" of going to Enolho, I would have to get the "feathered cloak" from the dungeon of Mad Avlis. I'd been to the dungeon before, but was turned away at the entrance because I needed the "Bag of Winds." Gray Eagle gave that to me.
Working to stop an alien invasion apparently doesn't make me "worthy."
Mad Avlis's dungeon turned out to be full of puzzles, and most of them were quite fun. There was a cryptogram that used combinations of only three symbols (1, &, and -) to make up its letters, but solving it wasn't too hard, as there were a couple of obvious THEs, which in turn revealed an obvious THERE IS A.

The full phrase ended up being THERE IS A DOOR BEHIND THE BED IN THE HO?? ROOM. I guess the second-to-last word is probably HOWL, referring to a room full of howling enemies. There was indeed a secret door, leading me to a Great Sword +7, which is interesting because I thought the highest you could go in this game was +6.
All the extra characters in this cryptogram made it more annoying than difficult.
Later, to open a door, I had to solve a math puzzle:
The answer is (7). See if you can figure out why.
There was also an anagram and a variant of the "knights-and-knaves" logic puzzle, plus one that I never really figured out. I was trapped in a small room with levers on the walls and a button. Pulling the levers at first accomplished nothing--they wouldn't move. Pressing the button led to a countdown starting from 20. During the countdown, pulling the levers just caused gems above them to light up. I went around pulling them randomly and I must have done something right, because when the countdown reached 0, the doors opened and allowed me to proceed.
I never figured out what this was about.
The final battle with Avlis wasn't too hard--I did it in tactical mode just to keep my skills from getting rusty--and the cloak was found in a piece of furniture beyond. A door puzzle led to the exit.
Back at Gray Eagle's, he commended me for finding the cloak but said we'd need to retrieve "Aqua Helms" from the Dwarven Island before going to Enolho.
I have to admit this was kind of funny.
NPC elves had warned that the dwarves were money-grubbers, and it was true. They charge for using the temple, which is free everywhere else. Equipment and enchanting costs are double those on the Elven Island, and sale prices are half.

Dwarven Island isn't as big as Elven Island, but it has a huge mountain range criss-crossing the interior, so getting anywhere means working your way around the circumference. Dwarf patrols attack a lot, and if you can't run from them and don't want to surrender all your gold, you end up getting the whole island after you. They carry very expensive equipment, though.
Well, that's nice.
The key dungeon on the island is a series of caverns belonging to someone named Sri. As I explored, I fought a bunch of low-level battles with demons and vampire bats--nothing that would have prepared me for the dungeon's final battle. This combat takes place after you've opened a door. The enemy--Sri and a dozen "high demon" allies--begin in a room south of the door. You can see the configuration in the screen shot below.
A high demon undoes all my work from earlier in the round.
It's another tight corridor that allows only one character to pass at a time. I can't even get through the door on the first round because some of the demons start right there, meaning I can't fight in melee combat with more than one character at a time. I can't back up and let them come to me in the more open area to the east because the demons are perfectly happy to cast spells and drain life from a distance. They can also seem to teleport themselves to wherever they want, so occasionally melee opportunities do open up, but never when or where I want them.

I can't counter those spells with "Countermagic" or "Magic Protection" because the demons cast "Dispel" multiple times every round. Since they also keep casting "Mass Invisibility" on themselves, I have to spend most of my spellcasting on "Reveal Enemy" so I can see them. Oh, and if I happen to get lucky and kill a demon, Sri is capable of resurrecting him!

Attempting quick combat led to my entire party dying without a single demon killed.

This is where my mistakes came to haunt me. If I'd spent more time in tactical combat earlier, I'd have a much better sense of how each of the spells works. And if I'd invested points in missile weapons, my rear characters wouldn't be so useless. I probably also should have stocked up on offensive scrolls and potions. But even given these considerations, I must say, the battle seems absurdly hard.

Thus, I settled in for a period of grinding. I spent an entire rainy Saturday alternating bouts of work with bouts of grinding. Every time I got up to 255 experience points, I spent 100 on advancing an attribute and 155 on skills (prioritizing missile weapons). I cashed in any loot I'd found and spent whatever I had on upgrading my gear. Then I attempted the battle again. Having lost, I went back out and started another cycle.
The richer the loot, the more I can spend on item enchantment.
As I leave you now, after about 8 cycles of grinding as just described, I still can't win the damned battle and I'm thinking about resorting to lowering the difficulty level of the game. But I could be overlooking some obvious tactic, so I'll take hints while I see what I can do with MegaTraveller. Next post will be a final one whether it involves a win or not.

Time so far: 30 hours


  1. I have to say I admire your tenacity with these games.

  2. A. Schultz's walkthrough doesn't contain info specific to the battle sadly, but he does mention that you need to make sure everyone takes a helm when that opportunity rolls around.

  3. The math puzzle is not as simple as it first looks but not that hard either. Below is my solution:

    Since the two guys brought 3 and 5 respectively, they first eat from their parts. Each man eats 8/3 = 2.667 approx. So the two guys are left with 0.333 and 2.337 respectively (= adds to 2.667 for the third guy). Each should be paid according to what he provided to the third guy so simply:
    (0.333/2.667)*8 for the first guy = 1 coin
    (2.337/2.667)*8 for the second guy = 7 coins

    1. It's a bit simpler if you break each cake into three so they get eight pieces each.

    2. I interpreted the cakes as distinguishable, in which case, the third guy should give the first guy 5 and give the second guy 3. The second guy should give the first guy 2, but that's really none of the third guy's business.

    3. The third guy should have tried to make smaller change, as the solution is the same no matter how little he gives them.

    4. You actually don't need fractions (of either numbers or cakes) to solve this.
      One man's share costs 8 coins, so the total cost of the cakes is 8x3=24. Since there are 8 cakes, the cost of one is 24/8=3. The second guy brought 5 cakes, which amounts to 5x3=15 coins. But out of that sum he has to pay for his share (8 coins), which leaves him with 15-8=7 coins.

    5. VK's method his how I did it, but it's all just a matter of how you order the formula.

    6. Actually, it's easier than all of you are making it.

      There are 8 cakes and 3 men. Dividing 8 cakes 3 ways, each eats 2 cakes and 2/3 of a cake. Another way of saying this is each eats 8 thirds.

      Since the one man paid 8 coins, then each third is worth a coin.

      You would think that you would divide it up 5 and 3, but that's wrong since he was paying based upon what HE ate, not what they brought. They ate some themselves.

      One man brought 3, but himself ate all but a third of a cake himself, so he gets 1 coin.

      The other man brought 5 cakes. After eating his share, there was 2 & 1/3 left over for the third man. That's seven thirds, so seven coins.

      All the cake and all the coins are accounted for, so 7 must be correct.

  4. I won the game thirty years ago, but I don't remember that specific fight. Here's some stuff I do remember:

    Re: The combat system

    The difference between light and serious wounds/bleeding is mainly the karma cost to heal them, and that first aid can only fix light wounds/bleeding. If your first aid check fails, those wounds/bleeding become serious.

    I understood the interaction between wounds, bleeding, and life to work this way: If your wounds exceeded your life, you became unconscious. If your wounds went higher than your life by a significant (unknown) amount, you were killed. (It's also possible that instead of having high wounds killing you, wounds over your life value reduced life. Never really looked into it that hard) Bleeding reduced your life over time, and the more bleeding you had the faster you lost life. If your life hit zero, you were dead.

    Movement in combat: Every action had an "AP" (my term) cost. Each turn you move, you got a static number of APs - you never got more, you just get to move more often if you have a high Dex. (IIRC, Dex does nothing else for you other than increasing the number of times you act and determining the base of some skills. Still very important!) Turning cost APs, moving cost APs, attacking cost APs. So the further you move, the less APs you have for changing facing/attacking/etc. If you move full out eventually you stop being able to change facing, and you eventually run out of points for attacking if you move fully to the maximum distance.

    (From the manual: "Prior to moving or after moving only one square, a character may make an unlimited number of facing changes in the square he occupies. A character who moves two or three suqares may make a maximum of one facing change. A character who moves four or more squares may make no facing changes. NOTE: When a moving character is attacked by an enemy, that character's movement ends immediately.")

    Re: Party composition

    I gave everybody either fighter or ranger as a class, as that gave them the ability to use some decent weapons. I don't remember exactly what I did at the time, but it might have looked something like this:


    Against SRI, you'll want to find either Wizard's or Drain Proof armour and enchant it as much as possible. In fact, grab every piece of Wizard's gear you can - gives you the best defence against every kind of magic attack.

    In case you don't have it, I found a copy of the manual here:

    1. Actually DEX also gives you a chance to get a critical hit (double damage). You want to improve your DEX.

    2. I did not explain that right. You get more chances for critical hits because you get more moves from higher DEX. The higher your DEX; the easier fights become. Basically raising LIFE to 250 does not help much, but raising DEX to 50 would allow for some easy fight wins.

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. From Schultz's walthrough:

      First, I recommend that you keep weapon skills at 250 as it gets too prohibitively expensive later to do otherwise. Also, if you don't know what to do, spend on dexterity. Eternal Dagger sometimes awards critical hits, and the more moves you have, the more chance you'll get one. Life really isn't as important, especially when your players use the Countermagic spell(even in quick combat,) which sometimes increase your life or even undoes injuries when an enemy hits you.

      When a character gets a very-magic item(cold, holy, storm, flaming, life drain, i.e. something with magic damage too) then you can start to improve his weapon skill. It's nice to have a variety of damages and with randomly finding items that should happen. With the way we are playing, someone will be left in the cold with a magic weapon, leaving him to use the Eternal Dagger, which is an awesome weapon(25 holy, as opposed to the usual 5.) So he needs to improve Close Combat, which is not hard at all. But if he's improved another weapon skill to 500, that is at least 250*6=1500 experience wasted and possibly 2000/3000 that could have gone to dexterity or even life(75/100/150 points.) Plus, for critical battles such as versus Sri, you'll want to make sure you're as quick as possible. I've had a party who couldn't beat him. I improved everyone's dexterity to 50: a few easy wins. Life to 250: couldn't pull it off.

    5. I guess the dexterity thing is what I've been doing "wrong." Every time I spend the 255 experience points, I spent 100 on a single attribute increase, but I've been cycling strength, dexterity, and life when I guess dexterity is the most important.

    6. "You'll want to find either Wizard's or Drain Proof armour and enchant it as much as possible." Yeah, that would definitely help since the high demons seem to rely almost exclusively on "drain life." I haven't found a single set yet, though.

    7. While I really want to see this one end in a win, it would seem vaguely appropriate for the ancestor of the Gold Box games to thwart an expert player in the final battles of the end of a series due to PCs' limited Dexterity.

    8. Ha! I agree that the foreshadowing would be most appropriate.

  5. I thought of Avlis's tower when you complained about the lack of puzzles in Wizard's Crown, but I didn't want to say anything for fear of spoilers.

    I don't remember Sri's fight as being that difficult. Wizard's armor would help, but I don't think I went out of my way to get it. I may have increased my DEX as Soulblazer suggested.

    You're basically at endgame though past this room.

  6. The post title makes me think of: "Exasperating demons / You've got me on the go / 'Xasperating demons / I'm all a-quiver."

  7. At least in the C64 version of the game, spear wielders have an attack range of two squares. This allows a few extra melee attackers in those fights with narrow corridors. Also, I think the "Load" combat option is necessary once for a bow, and only if your party was ambushed so the character was surprised. For a crossbow, the manual says you need to load each round.

  8. Are all your characters named after money? With an extra letter added? Mark, thaler, lyra, floran, etc.

    1. I thought those sounded familiar...

    2. I was led down that path by "crown," I think.

    3. Fitting the currency-named party members: "NPC elves had warned that the dwarves were money-grubbers, and it was true." -> I wonder if the big bad on the dwarven island, "SRI", is supposed to be "IRS" backwards?

      Also, is it my lack of English or is "dispel(l)" misspelled in that screenshot? Wouldn't be surprising in a shareware game, but a bit more so in an SSI product. Unless it is (supposed to be) an older or alternative form of spelling it.

  9. Please keep going, you're so close to finishing the game. As a previous commenter stated, Dexterity is your most important attribute in combat. Hoarding staves, wands, potions and scrolls comes in handy during the tough combats the game likes to hand you. Anybody can use an item with a spell and you don't have to see a target. Bows are quite useful and necessary to do well in combat. Also, you can use +2 shields from Alvis' dungeon with two handed weapons.

    1. Make sure you keep your characters spaced far apart versus the demons. Bunching characters together increases the effectiveness of Fireball and Magic Blast against you.

    2. Good tips. You're going to be disappointed in me.

  10. ...'one round to load a bow'? That doesn't even make sense. A trained archer can 'reload' his bow in the blink of an eye. Roleplayers...

    1. This is one time per combat. If it represents taking out the bow,stringing it, and nocking an arrow seems right. Keeping a bow strung will make it lose pull.

      role players who keep a bow always strung are like roleplayers running with swords drawn and shields out. Any competent GM will penalize them.

  11. Can the player get a teleportation spell? Seems like that would even the odds a little.

  12. Countermagic halves the enemy's casting skill, not the damage of its spells. The main effect is that when it is in effect, you can cast only half of the spells per round that you could usually cast. That's why it's very important to have casters with high Dex scores, so you get to get your countermagic and magic/missile protection spells off first.

    One strategy you can use vs Demons that can be effective is to cast many Freeze spells against one target (I remember being able to cast 10-15 a round depending on Casting Skill buffs)instead of using area spells. The SRI combat is very tough and you probably want to lower the difficulty level unless you don't mind grinding a bit longer for Wizard's and Drain Proof items.

    A fun tactic to try when in outdoor tactical combat is to wall off tough enemies (like Giant Cockroaches) with multiple castings of Create Terrain. Then you can fight them one at a time and still throw spells through the doorway.

    Also, for the final sequences of the game it is very useful to have n Pybfr Pbzong fxvyy bs ng yrnfg 250 sbe nyy lbhe punenpgref orpnhfr lbh pna'g gnxr nal vgrzf rkprcg sbe Gur Rgreany Qnttre guebhtu gur Qrzba Tngr.

  13. Teleportation is a great way to make up for poor pathfinding algorithms that can't deal with tight spaces.

  14. You may be able to win the magic battle just by using quick cast(Q) in tactical combat for all spell casters.

  15. The Eternal Dagger was so much fun back in the day. I like the little details like the fact that you don't save a game, but you "tell the minstrel your deeds".

  16. It is coming. The fight against Anawt is set up. It will be a Patreon exclusive.

  17. Hehe, the linked Calvin and Hobbes comic is great fun. In my case, "demons riding wolves" made me think of this (even though she is not a demon):

    @Chet: Knowing you're not a big anime fan, but value Roger Ebert's opinions (even if you don't always share them), in case you haven't seen the movie yet, I'll add these quotes from the review (which you probably already read back in the day anyway):
    ""Princess Mononoke" is a great film. Do not allow conventional thoughts about animation to prevent you from seeing it. ... It is one of the most visually inventive films I have ever seen. ..."Princess Mononoke" is a great achievement and a wonderful experience, and one of the best films of the year."

    Of course it might still just not be your cup of tea. Life would be boring if we all liked exactly the same stuff.

    1. Yes, I've seen the movie. I think I watched it specifically after reading Ebert's recommendation. I thought it was good. It didn't change my life, but it transcended any normal dislike I had for the animation.

      Irene became a lifelong fan of Studio Ghibli, but I don't know if it was from this movie or a different one.

    2. Irene is a Ghibli fan? I think your wife has great taste.

      Another candidate for having her made one could be this for which Ebert had similar praise:
      and which he watched at least three times:

      Much older and less known is this other great one from 1984 (!):
      Ebert didn't write the review, but was the editor and endorsed it, calling it a masterpiece:

    3. NausicaƤ of the Valley of the Wind is what got me into Studio Ghibli, after reading a recommendation for it as a movie that would inspire roleplaying (To which they were not wrong, the campaign setting I'm currently working in draws from a couple scene in it)


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