Friday, January 19, 2018

Deathlord: Resurrection

The party, quite appropriately, wanders a graveyard.
Deathlord is just a really hard game to get into, as evidenced by the fact that I'm four entries and 20 hours into this game and can only barely say that I've "gotten into" it. After putting it on the back burner in July, I've spent the last half-year trying and failing to come up with reasons to abandon it. A couple of pesky commenters have made it clear that it's not just going to slip out of everyone's mind.

To recap, Deathlord is the product of a group of first-time game developers who fused elements from several sources. From Ultima, they took the top-down, tiled interface, NPC dialogue, many keyboard commands, and the shape of the main continent. From Wizardry, they took the combat system and permadeath. From Dungeons and Dragons, they took the races, classes, and spells; from RuneQuest, the attributes. After Electronic Arts agreed to publish it, they made the developers put a Japanese skin on everything, "translating" races, classes, spells, and other proper names into Japanese equivalents. 

The story concerns an "outcast wizard" who has raised monstrous forces and attacked the kingdom of Kodan. The emperor offers a reward to a party who can defeat this "Deathlord." The party's quest is going to somehow involve collecting seven words and six items.

The game is famously difficult. You have only one save file, which gets over-written every time you transition areas and, most importantly, every time someone dies. It doesn't even wait until the combat is finished; in fact, it saves so quickly after death in combat that the blank screen that accompanies disk access is generally how you find out that someone died in the first place. It also auto-saves when you do something in a town to turn the citizens hostile. It does not auto-save when good things happen.
Resurrection is expensive. But you definitely want "Resurrection" unless you feel like losing a point of constitution every time.
Wizardry had permadeath, too, but it was a much smaller game in which the action was self-contained in one dungeon with a menu town on top. If a character died, it sucked, but you could replace him without a lot of difficulty, and eventually, given enough funds, you could resurrect him. Deathlord, on the other hand, takes place on a huge continent with only one healer that resurrects. Moreover, there's no way to boot a dead character and create a new one once the game has started. You have to accept the death until you can afford and find resurrection, unless you want to start over with a new party. Since new characters have hit points in the single-digits, it's near-impossible for a player playing "straight" to get through the first few hours.

Still, the difficulty doesn't bother me nearly as much as all the ways that they made the game . . . inconvenient. To enumerate some of them:
  • The towns are indecently large, making it very difficult to determine if you've visited every location. You have to make maps to be sure, and it's always tough to map top-down games.
  • There's no simple command to "open" a door. All doors must be picked or smashed, both of which have a greater than 50% chance of failing. Smashing causes hit point loss when it fails.
  • Towns are full of deadly creatures behind locked doors, so you can't fully explore them at early levels.
  • Towns don't have obvious names. NPCs sometimes refer to town names, but there's no clear "Welcome to Whatever" when you enter a town. You have to figure it out like a logic puzzle.
  • Most NPCs don't have names. And instead of one command to just talk with them, there are separate sub-commands for chatting, talking, and inquiring.
  • It's often not clear which NPCs run shops. You have to use the (B)uy sub-command to make sure.
  • You can pool gold but there's no command to divide it.
  • When you find new weapons and armor, you have to immediately decide whether to replace your old ones without testing effects on armor class first.
I don't know if anybody will.
  • Since the spell names are all in Japanese, you have to constantly refer to the manual.
  • Both towns and dungeons are full of secret areas. There are two types of secret doors: illusory ones, where you just walk through the wall, and hidden ones that you have to search with the "F" key. Thus, you pretty much have to walk into and F-search every wall. Oh, and the F-search might "fail" even if there is a secret door, so you have to try it on every wall multiple times.
  • Outdoors, swamp squares, containing deadly poison, look barely different from forest squares.
  • One I just discovered this session: there are neither spells nor healers that can restore levels lost to vampires and other level-draining creatures. A bad combat could send a super-character back to Level 1, permanently.
Note that there's no "restoration" option here.
To all of this, you have to add the size and scope. It was tough enough when I thought the main continent and its handful of dungeons was going to be the entire game. It turns out that there are over a dozen separate continents and islands. The manual isn't kidding when it promises to fill a "few hundred" hours. 

The answer to the difficulty is obvious enough 30 years later: I can use save states. I have been. But that just means I have to spend a few hundred hours feeling like I'm playing like a jackass. There's no question that, back in the day, I would have played this game with the disk drive open so it couldn't automatically overwrite my save game. I probably would have also backed up that single save game after every session, something that the manual mentions but says is "not the most honorable." You know what? Screw you, Deathlord manual. You haven't earned the right to lecture me on "honor." I'm the goddamned Avatar.

Since it's been 6 months, I spent most of this session re-visiting the cities and towns, checking them exhaustively for secret doors, talking with all the NPCs, and taking a new set of notes. I also peeked into a dungeon in the eastern part of the first continent. I had explored it before but missed a secret door.

I started in Tokushima in the northwest corner, thinking it was the town I had originally explored first but it turns out that was Kawa. Tokushima has the largest selection of stores on the continent, with shops for food, weapons, armor, and missile weapons, a shipwright, and a trainer. I don't really understand the purpose of missile weapons since you can't use them from the rear rank.

Behind a door I hadn't previously opened was a lava area shaped like a skull, and beyond that were fights with two stacks of zombies. I had just acquired "Turn Undead" (tsuiho, which Google translates as "addendum"), so that was a good excuse to use it, and it worked well. But in a room beyond that, with some treasure chests, a couple of ghouls came out and paralyzed two of my lead characters in the first round. I won't get a "Cure Paralysis" spell for another two character levels. I declined to hike all the way to the healer and reloaded instead, marking the area for later exploration.
Getting ready to turn some zombies.
From NPCs in Tokushima, I learn that ruins are rich, kobito hide gold, there is a group of mages staying at the palace, don't get caught outside at night, look to the north, seek the seven, find the words, map dungeons, the yakuza of Kawa are famous, and Kawahara awaits below the palace. No idea who that is. A plaque in a tower reads "Due south of the second stone."

I realized I had enough cash to buy some weapon and armor upgrades. You have to carefully watch the game when it comes to armor. Each character can only have one set at a time. If it's a type of armor they're allowed to wear, they automatically wear it; if not, they just carry it. You have to look at the armor class statistics to see what's happening for a particular character.

I'm a few thousand shy for a boat. That will have to come later. It looks like there's a section of the city only explorable once you have a boat. I smash my way into a cemetery in the south of the map and find a large mausoleum, but I can't figure out anything to do with it or the tombstones.
I move on to Kawa, a large horseshoe-shaped city ringed by forest. I explore the forest exhaustively but find no one. I decide to smash my way into the chambers of the "Daimyo" or "Diamyo" depending on which text you read, and it's here that I have the unpleasant revelation about vampires and their ability to permanently drain levels. Fortunately, I get lucky with a couple motu ("paralyze") spells in a row and only my lead character is drained while the rest kill the vampire. A secret room full of treasure chests next door seems to make it worth it.
Level drains with no "restoration" ability is the apex of evil.
The vampire isn't the "Diamyo," though. The moment I smash open his door, he kills my second character in one hit, then kills two more the next round. I again reload and mark his chamber for a later visit.

In another chamber to the northeast, I smash a door and find myself in battle against 10 kobito. Thankfully, they're as bad at hitting us as we are at hitting them (my fighters miss at least 75% of attacks), and we're able to defeat them with the help of a mass-damage spell and a sleep spell. A chamber beyond holds a bunch of chests with almost 500 gold pieces; we might be able to afford that boat soon. (This area is probably the source of the NPC line about kobito hiding gold.) I'm feeling good, but the next door I smash has 6 shisai behind it, and within two rounds everyone is paralyzed.

Annoyed at getting my butt kicked every three minutes, I abandon my explorations and head to some caves to the east of here that I've already explored, figuring I'll grind a couple of levels. It turns out that I missed an entire level the last time I was here--one of those illusory doors--and it has an area full of pillars and a bunch of treasure chests. Awesome! I start opening them, and I release a vampire, and he kills us.
Just before the vampire. Note that the grinding worked, and everyone can level up.
I think my grinding idea was a good one. I'll just stay on the earlier levels of the caves. My only concern about that is that if a vampire is going to drain me either way, maybe I'd rather have him do it when I'm Level 3 rather than Level 6. But that's probably going to be an issue throughout the game, so I can't let it stop me from leveling here.

My apologies for the paucity of screenshots in this one. I started playing it right after a session of Eye of the Beholder II and forgot that CTRL-F5 doesn't do anything in VICE. I had to go around and recreate some of them from earlier saves.

The game is frustrating as hell, but I don't want to give up on it until I've at least finished exploring the main continent and purchased a boat. We'll see how long that takes. In some ways, it's convenient that this game will probably outlast Eye of the Beholder II, as it keeps a 1992 game from creeping into the second game slot before I make the 1991/1992 transition post. I'll be impatient for it to be over soon after that, though.

Time so far: 20 hours


  1. Some notes on the Japanese:
    -Are kobito supposed to be dwarves or something (literally "little people")?
    -Shisai are probably priests.
    -Should be Daimyo ("big leader").
    -It's probably not supposed to be tsuiho ("addendum"), but tsuihou ("banishment/expulsion"). That would fit better for a turn undead spell. Transliterations for English versions are often terrible about the differences between short and long vowels, though.

  2. "You know what? Screw you, Deathlord manual. You haven't earned the right to lecture me on "honor." I'm the goddamned Avatar."

    This line made me chuckle, reminds me of Spoony's Ultima Retrospective. (If you haven't watched them, definitely do so.)

    1. It made me laugh too. Being too hard on the players promotes the "dishonorable" conduit the manual mentioned. A more balanced approach would work better to keep the players honest. Permadeath, for me, only works if the arc of difficulty is not too steep. Otherwise, it is just frustration and the player gives up, or "plays like a jackass".

    2. I also laughed at this joke, brilliant.

    3. I remember a scene in the Game of Thrones TV series where Bronn used slightly dirty tactics to win a "trial by combat" duel against a stronger opponent in a Royal Court. One stuck-up noblewoman rose up full of indignation and moral supriority: "YOU FIGHT WITHOUT HONOR!!!!" while clutching her pearls and gasping.

      Bronn replied something to the effect of: "I know, but HE fought with honor and look what happened to him" while grinning with self-amusement.

      AT the end of the day, who are we trying to please? If we're constantly trying to please, gain approval from others and constantly walk on egg shells worrying what people think of you, you'll always be their prisoner.

      Or as a great sports personality once quipped when asked about his unsportsmanlike conduct: "If you ain't cheating, you ain't tryin'!"

    4. As hilarious as the aphorism regarding cheating sounds, I am incredibly annoyed by people who use chess engines to cheat against me while I play chess online (I play totally clean, without the aid of any chess computer programs).

      So cheating against other humans is wrong but cheating against computers and in life-and-death situations are OK.

    5. Cheating against a computer is like admitting defeat. Just like grinding.

    6. That's nicely summarized in the cheat and liars post in this blob. BTW, would be nice to have all the meta posts like that one and maybe the year's summaries easily accessible in the blog side menu.

    7. I think the concept of honor usually comes packaged with a metaphysical framework, an afterlife or a karmic circle of reincarnation whereupon 'playing to win at all costs' will have repercussions down a line that involves an immortal soul.

      Even without metaphysics, it's a very modern way of looking at life to say 'do anything it takes to win'. Because if you do, you're also creating human history which arguably is the most important thing we're leaving behind for the next generation and if you leave behind a honorless, shitty history of yourself and your people that probably impacts the survival of your ideals and the way of life you wanted to promote in a very real way.

      On the subject of playing games honorably, the only thing I will say is that every time I've trivialized a game by coin-feeding it, quicksaving the hell out of it or using cheats to do content-tourism I've had a hollow feeling at the end. And the gaming experiences I most cherish involve actually learning them well and therefore learning something about myself through them.

    8. Petrus, I don't see how you look down on grinding in a game like this. With permadeath in place, if you just go charging into the dungeons without properly leveling the characters, you're dead in three seconds flat. I think it might be a little sad in EotB2, since you can save anywhere and the game gives you plenty of strategies to survive in combat, but in a permadeath game you need the advantages that it provides.

    9. I was talking about grinding in general. In my experience no CRPGs require grinding, except maybe Bards Tale 1 (the last two levels are brutal). Grinding just takes too much challenge out of a game, IMO.

      As for EOB 2, I played it back in the days, with imported characters. I recall vividly that about half way through, I became disgusted at how effective the combat waltz was against Basilisks (or was it Medusae?). It just felt so _wrong_ that I could just avoid their stares so easily.

      A few years ago, I tried to replay EOB1 (which I had really enjoyed first time I played it). I tried to play without combat waltz, and was disgusted at how much more dangerous lowly kobolds were in the real time engine than the same enemies would be in a Gold Box game. When Kobolds hit on nearly every attack against armoured opponents, AD&D had not been properly translated to the real time engine.

      IMO the only really good real time blobbers were DM and CSB. Later RT blobbers were mostly dumbed down and didn't really get what made DM so great.
      In fact reading your blog entried about EOB2 makes me want to replay DM again...

    10. > In my experience no CRPGs require grinding

      There's plenty of CRPGs where playing without at least some grinding is highly impractical, but there's at least one I can think of where it is required: Ultima IV. You have to be level 8 to finish the game, and several of the virtues (Valor, Compassion, Honesty) are pretty much only attainable through grinding. It might be theoretically possible for a highly optimized speedrunning route to maximize virtue and experience gain without repetitive action, but that's not an option for an unspoiled new player.

    11. I agree that a well balanced game shouldn't require grinding. I wouldn't consider Bard's Tale's last dungeon as grinding though. To me grinding is fighting battles in an area you've "completed" because you can't successfully fight any battles in the next area to explore. My experience on the NES version was that I could map new parts of the final dungeon without constantly heading back to town to refill without progress.

      On the other hand, Inindo is a game I recently played that required me to grind multiple levels as the difficulty spiked at least three times. There are some items that had I found them would have mitigated some of that, but I overlooked a couple side dungeons until much later.

      Other examples (which are anecdotal as they're mostly console) : Ys - bosses are immune to attacks if you're below a certain level and casually you will be, Willow - the final boss requires you to be max level, which won't happen unless you grind, Crystalis - grinding required to meet minimum power for bosses, Might & Magic - A lot of grinding in the first area before surviving anywhere, Wizardry - In both 1 & 2 I lost parties to the final bosses, which ensured I was grinding back through the whole game.

      Deathlord's inability to swap dead characters out for new ones makes it 10x worse than Wizardry, which I already thought was a bit overkill.

    12. Ultima IV: you need to be careful who gets the XP. In combat Dupre is an XP hog. I don't recall there being any need to grind, what with the thousands of random encounters while you explore.

      Bard's Tale: what I meant is that you may want to grind up some levels before tackling the last two levels, where only luck will save a normal party. At leastthat's how I felt when replaying it some years ago. But I had already completed the Amiga version back in the days, so in the end I didn't bother.

      Might&Magic 1: it's all a matter of playing strategically, and finding the easiest places to explore first. The hard part of MM1 is the beginning where survival is partly due to sheer luck, but once you are about lvl 5 you are "safe". The typical grinding spot in MM1 is the Wyverns at (IIRC) Wyvern's Peak. But by that time you are already past the hardest part, and you have a spell that lets you flee combat.

      Wizardry 1. I played it Iron Man (with one exception), with no grinding. Lost my first party half way though, but the "rescue party" ended up defeating Werdna. The final battle was the only time I reloaded when a TILTOWAIT annihilated the party. For a 100% Iron Man playthrough grinding until all party members have more than 100 HP will ensure that you survive a TILTOWAIT. But grinding Murphy's Ghost is just sad. If grinding to prep for the final battle, grind on the lower levels instead; you may even get some very rare items as well.

      To conclude: I've completed about 100 CRPGs (all older than 2003, I think), and grinding was never a winning strategy.

    13. Here's what confuses me about your position: Say you play Wizardry all the way to Level 6 and then suffer a full-party death. You then roll a "rescue party."

      Since you presumably still have the maps from your first experience, you know there are only three or four key locations and items that you MUST hit on the way back down to Level 6. But certainly your new Level 1 party isn't yet strong enough to make a beeline for those four places. I imagine that you wander the corridors of the earlier levels fighting monsters until you feel the party is strong enough to survive on the lower ones. And I frankly don't see a difference between "wandering around looking for fights to get experience" and "grinding."

      I don't look down on it either way. Grinding is, at least, putting in the effort. I see very little moral difference between a player who grinds a lot and reloads minimally and one who boldly strides forward and has to reload a lot.

    14. "Moral" has little to with it in a single player game against the computer.
      But for me at least it's much more exciting to fight challenging battles I may actually lose or have to flee from, than mechanically grinding away future challenges.

      Of course if you play 100% Iron Man, grinding is certainly a viable tactic if it's a hard game (Wiz 1 is not, IMO). But I doubt very much that many "grinders" play that way.

      In Wiz 1 my second party just re-explored and re-mapped the maze.

    15. "Moral" wasn't the right word but I couldn't think of what I meant. "Honorable," I guess.

    16. For me grinding is fine because the story I'm role-playing in my head is 'this party is going against the big bad wizard Foozle and they want to be prepared for the difficulties ahead. Wisely, they invest a lot of time into solving smaller quests and domesticating the wilderness until they're strong enough to take on the wizard himself'.

      I can square that with myself and it actually makes a pleasant variation from 'Hero Protagonist is the Chosen One and they rush headlong into danger hoping to be saved by Plot Armor'.

      The scenario I am not role-playing in my head, however, is 'this is a videogame made by a video game designer and I want to beat him and his product using as little grinding as possible because that's how the game will be at its hardest and the victory will taste the most satisfying'.

      It all comes down to that I don't think I'm amazingly tactically gifted on one hand and on the other as I said, role-playing games and my role-playing scenario go well together so I don't feel like I'm cheating when I grind.

    17. Domesticating the wilderness is a nice euphemism for going on a killing spree, though, isn't it? :)

      When I grind in a video game it's usually for two reasons:
      - Levelling up is fun, even though grinding isn't
      - Insecurity: Maybe I will need those levels later? Same reason I rarely use potions and wands.

    18. It is, and it's in that spirit that I use it as well. The 'I shall slay all the orcs for they are Pure Evil' conceit baked in a lot of fantasy is surely a metaphor for a particular and very unfortunate view on colonialism.

    19. Most of the people who use that concept are not putting anywhere near enough thought into it for it to be a metaphor of any sort.

      They're generally aping Tolkien, using orcs (or equivalent races) purely because he did. He did put enough thought into the problem to use it as a metaphor, but quite certainly did not have that sort of thing in mind. Besides his oft-expressed contempt for allegory of that sort, the role of orcs in Middle-Earth (once you've gone through all of his writings - which most casual readers aren't going to do) was far too complex for such a thing.

      It is possible for orcs (or equivalents) to be a metaphor for colonialism. I can certainly see how such a thing could be done from either viewpoints. I have, however, never once been presented with a convincing example.

    20. I don't know if I agree with the "metaphor on colonialism" but, but I DO think there's a danger in reinforcing beliefs about racial evil or even absolute evil in general. There's definitely a special topics posting in there somewhere.

    21. I think most of appeal of RPG games and fantasy worlds in general is that there is clear division between good and evil. Evil races and monsters are usually result of some chaotic mutation or breeds of evil magic/mind, and as such are destructive and absolutely incapable of creating culture and/or civilization of any sort - they are here only to kill and destroy. When viewed from this point of view, you can't talk about metaphor for colonialism, because it is like saying that people of Americas' were unable to create culture and societies in general.

      It seems that ideas such as "metaphor for colonization", "reinforcing beliefs about racial evils" and such are a result of putting too much into these stories. Their only purpose is entertainment. It is like like looking for philosophical implications of Twister or Beer-pong.

    22. People can appreciate works on multiple levels. There's nothing wrong with experiencing LotR as a story about orcs and dwarves, nor is it wrong to explore the text via literary criticism.

      Certainly, regardless of the intentions of the content creators, you can often infer a lot about them from the works they produce :)

    23. There is a difference between "analyzing a text via literary criticism" and "deciding that something must be in the text, then twisting it into a pretzel to justify it."

      That is before you get into the difference between "allegory" and "applicability". The former involves the author deliberately structuring a work to convey certain themes, while the latter is a reader deciding that a story is a good way to convey and explain those themes. For example, it is trivially easy to find that both Narnia and Lord of The Rings resonate strongly with Christian teachings, and both are often used to illustrate Christian philosophy. Narnia is deliberate Christian allegory - C. S. Lewis openly and deliberately built the series with Aslan playing the role of Jesus, and the entire work being structured around Christian beliefs. The Lord of The Rings is not allegory. Tolkien's religious beliefs strongly shaped the way he built the world (he struggled with placing Orcs for his entire life, because they just don't fit into that worldview), but those were put in because that was the way he thought, not because he was trying to make a point.

      Most modern schools of thought in literary criticism place most interpretations on the reader, not the author. If you think Orcs are racist caricatures, or that the Ring is an atomic bomb, that is usually because you are looking for such allegories, not because the author put them there.

    24. People tend to interpret things in a way that supports their expectations and/or values. It's a trap that's hard to avoid.

      Regarding orcs being racist caricatures - it depends what you mean. Tolkien said they were "...squat, broad, flat-nosed, sallow-skinned, with wide mouths and slant eyes; degraded and repulsive versions of the (to Europeans) least lovely Mongol-types." So, at least in terms of appearance, orcs were quite literally racist caricatures.

    25. The orcs in Lord of the Rings were supposed to be Germans.

      Tolkien fought in the First World War and his son was fighting in the Second at the time LotR was being written.

    26. Oh, god, Izzy. What a way to throw a cherry bomb in the discussion.

      To stave off rabid Tolkien fans typing in all caps, I'll reiterate as calmly as possible that Tolkien specifically rejected that any of his characters were an allegory for any existing or past people, events, or races.

      From my own perspective, I reject the idea that an author's statement, external to the text itself, is the final word on whether such an allegory exists. To take an extreme example, no one would believe an author who named a character "Floda Reltih" but insisted he didn't mean any association with Hitler. I think that clearly the events of the world wars found its way into some of the themes of LOTR. But it's more subtle and complicated than just orcs=Germans.

    27. I don't see orcs as caricatures of a particular race, but they still raise troubling issues of racism nonetheless. They themselves are victims of racism by everyone else in the book, to whom being an orc is to be worthy of summary execution.

      I've only read LOTR, so I don't know if "good" orcs appear anywhere within the Tolkienverse, but I've never heard of one. The very idea of "racial evil"--that all members of any sentient species are automatically irredeemable--is racist at the outset regardless of what specific race it lands upon.

    28. Victims of racism? They kill everyone & everything they encounter. Mordor is a complete wasteland.

      They eat each other, fer Christ's sake.

      What are other races supposed to do, just roll over & let themselves be killed so as not to hurt Orc feelings?

      I don't think there's any point of looking at it this deep, though.

      The Lord of the Rings is a children's book, so all heroes & villains are clearly defined from the start.

      Like the bad guys wearing black hats in the old westerns, it's just a way for the reader/audience to easily keep track of characters.

      But if you want subtlety and intricacy, you've got dwarfs in the Hobbit.

      Being a simpler book, with far less characters & back story, you have a race with evil and good individuals, where the evil can be good & the good can be evil.

      Really, I don't think it's a good idea to give this much importance to a work of fiction, and I don't know anyone, or even heard of anyone who became a racist by reading the Lord of the Rings.

    29. I think what Chet is saying, is that when you portray an entire group of beings as uniformly 'evil' or worthy of death, it reinforces the notion that such groups exist. This notion is one that people have battled with throughout history. No one is suggesting people become racist from reading LotR, but if you think messaging in media doesn't affect social mores then I got news for ya.

    30. Fine, but let's say the books were written today, with modern sensibilities taken into account, and there were a few sympathetic Orcs.

      Objectively, what purpose would they serve to the story? Let's not forget this is already a 6 volume children's tale, 7 if you count the Hobbit.

      It's a silly book meant for entertainment purposes only, it really shouldn't be dissected this deeply.

      If we go down this route, then every single story is problematic. Damsel in distress is patriarchy, rape is misogynistic, violence is bullying, adventure in far off lands is colonialism.

      Any ideas on an engaging story that won't offend anyone at all?

    31. I don't think anyone's suggesting changing anything about the books. Accepting something the way it is doesn't mean you can't point out aspects of it that might be problematic.

      But an interesting approach would be to write a book that takes the perspective of the other side. E.g. there is a book called Grendel which takes the perspective of the monster from the Beowulf saga. I haven't read it, but I love the Marillion song that is based on the book.

    32. I don't think this discussion has anything to do with people being 'offended'. I do think you can analyse pretty much everything though - more than that, I think it is important to do so. Cultural phenomena set and are set by cultural norms, and cultural norms dictate behaviours. Tbh I think analysing kid's literature is especially important!

      I don't have a problem with orcs or anything else being uniformly horrible, I just think there should be a rationale behind it. Have orcs be elves, who Morgoth enslaved and then stripped of conscience - thus never again able to feel sorrow or love as long as Morgoth's presence remains in Middle Earth. I think Tolkien implied something of that sort at one point.

      Lots of stories clash with my ethos - but I think any story could be told in a way that doesn't, and without much difficulty even.

    33. I believe that *is* the story behind the Orcs, yes.

      My fear with all this is that it starts off small, with someone pointing out something that isn't exactly pristine, and next thing you know, they're banning or rewriting something.

      It sounds like an exaggeration, but it has happened before. Fairly recently, someone was trying to have an opera rewritten. I can't remember which one, sorry.

      Buck, there's a webcomic called Goblins, maybe you've heard of it? It tells the story from the perspective of D&D monsters.

      I don't think that would work with Lord of the Rings. It's pretty much built around Sauron forging the Rings of Power to manipulate all the races.

      It would have to justify a very deliberate, very selfish, very tyrannical act to begin with.

      Maybe a dark comedy?

    34. Eh, the 'slippery slope' argument can be applied to absolutely anything. It's nothing more than a rhetorical device: "Less taxes you say? Just you wait, soon people will be demanding the complete dismantling of the government!" or "You say more taxes now, but how many times do we give in before it's full communism!"

    35. a) TLOTR is not a children's book. The Hobbit, yes. TLOTR, no. It was not written for or intended for children, his son was in the army by then.
      b) Good orcs exist. They're elves. No, seriously, according to Tolkien lore orcs were originally elves tortured into insanity. Don't think about it too long, it'll mess with your head.
      c) It is possible to discuss the tropes within a work and their potentially negative conclusions without arguing for banning the work or all works with negative interpretations (which does, of course, require banning everything). Yes, there are some foolish people who think that finding any flaw in a work means one must advocate for its complete destruction. This is dumb. But EQUALLY dumb is to say 'no one should ever talk about the negative implications of stories', or 'no one should ever try to tell stories in a different way'.

      Nobody is 'made racist' just by reading a fantasy novel with evil races in it. Reading a lot of stories in which ALL people who oppose the heroes are always 100% chaotic evil, no need for negotiating or thinking about the enemy's side, etc... can exacerbate certain negative trends of thinking if they already existed.

      That does not make the books evil, or the people who read them evil. But it's worth being aware of.

      Have you heard of the fascist hobbit camps? Weird but true!

    36. Dear lord, that article.

      I can only hope the sun dies before we can contaminate other solar systems, I guess.

      I honestly don't know what to say. I still don't see racial issues in fantasy, Tolkien, D&D or otherwise.

      I mean, I can see it in the Dragon Age universe, since there it plays a very strong role in the world building of the societies of Thedas, but even there they still have the Darkspawn, which are *exactly* like Orcs.

      Still, to each his own, I guess.

      For me, the Lord of the Rings will always be mainly about coming of age & the passing of the torch from an older generation to the younger races.

    37. "The very idea of "racial evil"--that all members of any sentient species are automatically irredeemable--is racist at the outset regardless of what specific race it lands upon."

      Tolkien himself felt the same way. He was never particularly comfortable with the place of Orcs in the world he'd created, and kept trying to find some satisfactory answer until his death. There's indications in some of his works that there were Orc members of the alliance against Morgoth (Saruon's original boss, much nastier than he is), and the whole "corrupted elf" thing was another attempt to explain it.

    38. One point on exceptions to "good" and "evil" races. An evil member of a good race will most likely survive a long time before anything happens to him. As long as he's not blatantly evil he'll live a long time unnoticed. Any minor slips will usually be ignored as long as he can continue pretending to be good.

      In an evil race, minor differences will usually lead to extreme bullying until he toes the line (acts evil). And eventually leading to his death when either the bullying goes too far or the higher-ups decide to remove him. And if he can pretend to be evil enough to survive long enough in such a society, what's the difference between pretending and actually being?

      In other words, an evil member in a good society will usually survive longer than a good member in an evil one.

  3. Why not just play without reloading?

    It sounds clear to me that the game is fundamentally broken in that 1) winning requires second chances, 2) the devs made second chances impossible without "cheating" which they explicitly identify as such.

    So. Play it their way.
    And review the game wholly on the basis of the content you are able to access in that manner.

    By utilizing a half-assed, home made "save" mechanic the devs were too lazy or short-sighted to include themselves, you do their work for them and unnaturally and unnecessarily extend a painful game.

    Give it a few honest tries their way, and let the game finish itself.

    1. I think it's fair to say that you don't like permadeath, but it's a little unfair to say that it's a "half-assed" save mechanic. Permadeath is just as hard to code as allowing players to save at their leisure.

    2. I like to document a good portion of the game, and I've I played for 30 hours honestly, kept dying, and gave up, I wouldn't be able to do that.

    3. The "half-assed" save mechanic I was referring to was Chet using save states.

      Personally I do dislike permadeath because--for me--it turns "RP" into "squad management." (i.e, Don't get attached to your men; just accomplish the mission.) But I recognize it's a valid approach to RPGs.

      But if you're going to make permadeath the *only* available choice (vs. including it as an Ironman option), you shouldn't make your game so hard that most users are going to turn to half-assed workarounds. That's short-sighted game design, IMO.

      The point I was making was that in that context, choosing to play within the designed constraints and giving up is a reasonable choice. "I can't tell you much about this game because I spent 40 hours playing and got repeatedly wrecked. Given that I'm more experienced at playing and winning RPGs than any player in the world or the devs were at launch, I conclude that the game is so out of balance as to be virtually unplayable by the normal consumer."

      That would be a fair Addict review, IMO.

      But if Chet wants to use pseudo dev tools so he can reach deep into the game to document it, that's in him.

  4. As mentioned above "tsuiho" can be translated as "exile" or "banishment". I recommend this online Japanese-English dictionary - For looking up individual words it is much better than Google.

    "Level drains with no "restoration" ability is the apex of evil."

    That is one of the worst thing about Ravenloft games. No Restoration, no real grinding opportunities, Negative Plane Protection works against exactly one hit from the undead. A sure recipe for save-scumming.

    1. I'm personally a big fan of for looking up Japanese. I didn't even know nihongodict. It seems more basic at a glance, but maybe that's a good thing if you just want to quickly look up a single word and don't care about Kanji and stuff. No doubt both are much better than Google.

    2. Atantuo,
      There is a Kanji Lookup and Hiragana/Katakana Map on Nihongodict. Not readily noticeable though, in a small font just above the search prompt.

    3. Ah, I did indeed not see those. They actually look pretty useful. What I like about Jisho is the "Kanji Details" page, though, as well as spelling variants, sample sentences and some other useful features. Of course, none of those are necessary if you just want to look up the meaning of a single word for this gem of a game.

    4. I use wwwjdic (it's been around for ages). I don't really know how it compares to the others, but there's another option if anyone wants it.

    5. is overly basic and frequently lacks certain definitions for Words, so I wouldn't really recommend it. The Dictionary is my personal favorite for looking up individual words, it has detailed definitions and multiple example sentences for each. Lacks kanji details, though.
      Here's the tsuiho page:

      Google Translate is by FAR the worst alternative and provides just plain wrong translations for a lot of Words.

  5. Deathlord... a game I both love and hate. Frustrating, but at times oddly rewarding. I have both good memories and nightmares of playing it.

  6. I got this game as a kid but couldn't get very far into it. I dislike games with death is common and resurrection is nearly impossible (like Wizardry) and any sort of level draining. As you've discovered Deathlord has both in spades. Thankfully I got it at a discount liquidator for $5 back then so I wasn't out much. I honestly don't think I spent more than a few hours playing it back then, but I'd like to try again now.

  7. This game seems hardly worth the BOTHR.

  8. Thanks for firing it back up and giving it another shot!

  9. Chet, I have noticed game that is missing on your master list?

    On maybe its is not RPG by your criteria?

    1. I rejected it because it didn't seem to have any character development. But it did cause me some pain, and I'll restore it if I like its predecessors.

    2. While we're on the topic of notable non-RPGs, I really recommend you take a look at Star Control 2 (1992). It doesn't have a party, but it's otherwise extremely similar to Starflight 1 and 2 to the point of being a spiritual sequel almost. Also it's just a wicked good game.

    3. Star Control II is on the master list. I'm looking forward to it, although 1992 is going to take a long time to get through.

  10. It sounds like a pretty solid game, less focused of course on graphics and instead gives longevity, admittedly in a tough going way. Addict when you get to the end of your game list, if you´re not out of puff you have to know there are a ton of other games out there still of the roleplay adventure type....whether you might happen to go looking for well written amateur games (new or remake) or dare I say the consoles. Though I´m sure you´re a long way off from this mental crossroads.

  11. Good to see you're doing Deathlord. I was always curious about that game but didn't manage to get it to work on an emulator.

  12. I'm surprised and disappointed I missed this one at the time... and grateful...

    At the time, I thought Wizard's Crown was a really hard game... this one looks brutal.

    Go addict!

    1. I'm looking forward to the original Deus Ex when the time comes. And the modern Dungeon Crawl... Baldur's Gate. 1 and 2...

    2. Also Morrowind... Mass Effect.

  13. The union of pesky commentators salutes your tenacity and wishes you freedom from any feelings of jackassery while doing hard time on Escudero and Wong’s Ultima Orientalist rock, water, fire, and acid piles. If you keep the figurative disk drive open, consult Lau's obsessive FAQ, use Genpei's comprehensive maps, or abandon the beast entirely, the card-carrying union cadre will continue to support and admire your obsessive patience with exhaustive games that don't deserve it.

    To wit, from Lau’s “other tips” on illusory doors: “Gb qrgrpg vyyhfbel qbbef, unir fbzrbar, jvgubhg n ybpxcvpx, gel gb cvpx vg. Vs gur qbbe vf snxr, gura vg jvyy fnl ‘Abguvat gurer!’. Ubjrire vs gur qbbe vf erny, gura vg jvyy fnl ‘Ab ybpxcvpx!’” and as you encountered already, a jumbo-sized high strength door/portcullis smasher is a party necessity.

    A minor possibility on the elusive town name issue: I recall that before entering a town or other location you can "V/iew" in its direction to get the location name. Nevertheless, I agree that the only way to figure out island names is other clues and context (Genpei’s blog names them all and most of them were unknown to me until seeing them there in 2017). In the case of continent and island names, thankfully most of the time it just doesn't matter. Like Tripper from Meatballs, maybe that’s the operative mantra for Lorn.

    1. If that "View" trick had worked, I was going to smash something. It seized me that it might even work on NPCs. But no. For towns, it just says "Town," and for NPCs, it just says their classes, not their names.

      Your support is otherwise appreciated.

  14. I wonder if you could have bypassed the autosaving by setting the floppy to Read Only.

    I wonder if you could do the same thing today by setting you save file to read only?


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