Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Dark Stone Ritual: Might and Magic Jr.

The authors pay homage to their inspiration.
As I write this, my first entry on Magic Tower I: Dark Stone Ritual has not yet posted, so I don't know if some helpful commenter will appear with a 27-year-old manual for the game. What I do know is that a lack of a manual had a reasonably comical effect this time around.

When we left off, I was exploring the city of Umure. Some gnome living in a hut outside the city warned me that 9 "marauding groups" could be found there, and I should return to him once I'd destroyed them all. I was attacked repeatedly by these groups in between my visits to town services, which include a weapon shop, a tavern, a temple, and a training guild. The town as a whole ended up occupying 15 x 10 coordinates with "worm tunnel" walls (where the walls themselves occupy at least a square of space), so it wasn't very big.
The extent of Umure.
The monsters were unnamed. Even when you cast "Identify Enemies" (erkenne gegner), you only get their stats, not their names. I think that's going to be a problem throughout the game. Whatever they were, I found that if there were three or fewer, I could keep up on their damage with my priest's "Cure Wounds." Four or more, and someone would die, which I allowed myself to solve with a reload. The problem is that there's no "load" in this game, only a "save." Loading is a long process of quitting the game and rebooting it, which is nice for discouraging save-scumming in the first place. 

(Save states don't help, even though the Steem emulator handles them perfectly. This is one of those games that generates its next n random values upon loading, so if you reload from a save state, you face the same number of enemies again in the same locations and even have the same chances to hit and same hit point damages assuming you engage in the same combat actions.)

Eventually, I rose to Level 2, which allowed me to survive against four or five enemies at once. I cleared the town and returned to the quest-giver for a nice experience reward.
A gnome rewards me for clearing a nearby city.
Shortly after that, I had a good laugh at my own expense. I had assumed that the asterisk to the left of some weapons and armor in my inventory meant that I had equipped those items. It turns out that the asterisk only means that the items are equippable by that character. When actually equipped, a different symbol appears to the right. I had been fighting unarmed and unarmored the entire time. I should have been doing about 4 times the damage against enemies and taking about one-quarter of the damage from them. What I thought was a very hard game (which, after all, would have been well within the Might and Magic tradition) became much easier after this revelation.
I can equip both the small knife and the +3 slingshot, but only the latter is actually equipped. I'm not sure what a "schwinger" is except that I can't equip it and it sounds like something that would have been featured on Wayne's World.
You find a lot of weapons and armor, but whether a character can use them is dependent upon both class and skill. I'm not sure if "skill" refers to a particular skill (as in, no one has yet trained me in "axes") or if it has more to do with level. Either way, I find a lot of stuff that no one can use. I mostly just sell it.

There are several other items I remain confused about:
  • The only difference I can determine between fast and strategic combat is that in the latter, you can position characters around particular monsters and each participant gets multiple actions per round instead of just one. Since the party always goes first, this would seem to offer a major advantage to the party, particularly if you can kill anyone in the top half of the round. But are there other differences between the two that I don't know?
  • None of my characters are at their maximums in any attribute. For instance, the game says that a "normal" strength for my paladin is 17 but his aktuell strength is 13. It doesn't seem to be an encumbrance issue, sleep issue, or disease issue.
  • There are several places with question marks, which indicate a special encounter or chest, where stepping on them does nothing. There isn't a "search" option or other obvious feature to use.
Nothing happens when I walk over this.
  • As I note later, I'm not sure what some of the spells do.
  • There's a little tilde symbol next to some of my items. I wonder if it means they're broken. But the "Fix Item" button never seems to do anything in stores.
  • A lot of the doors are locked, but there seems to be no lockpicking or bashing mechanic.
  • I paid for the "Forestry" skill and it allows me to walk on some of the squares with more wild terrain, but not all of them. How do I get better at the skill?
  • What do the various "conditions" mean? "Stoned" and "weak" are obvious, but how am I to interpret "~~?~"?
At least he suffers a -0 penalty for it.
But I soldiered on. As I mentioned, clearing Umure got me a nice experience reward. I started exploring the other buildings in the area. "Kalak the Strange" sold me a number (4579) for 5,000 gold pieces. He insisted it would be important later. In another hut, a Lady Miriam said that she lost her wedding ring near a cave and asked that we find it and return it. As we received quests like this, they began to appear in our quest log, which does one better than Might and Magic III by putting the coordinates of the quest's source.
Coming upon a new city.
I decided to explore a set of caves. Since none of my characters are trained yet in cartography, which I am led to believe will provide an automap, I mapped the dungeon myself. This one was about 30 x 15. As with most games that use the worm tunnel approach, a major closed-off area was a good sign of a secret door, which in this game you find by just striding forth. Oddly enough, there wasn't a single party of monsters to be found.
My first cave map.
There were a lot of treasure chests in the dungeon, and my thief only had about a 50% chance of opening one without it exploding in our faces and causing both damage and some kind of condition like weakness or paralysis. I spent a fair amount of time returning to Umure for healing.
At least it's not that expensive.
Four-digit number combinations written on the walls opened three doors. Behind each door was a special encounter and associated quest. "Father Selaman" complained that "Zappo the Common Cur" (my translation of gemeine schuft) kidnapped his daughter. He promised to teach me some magic if we rescue her. "Harib the Magician" had lost his sight and wanted us to bring him the Ring of Light. Finally, "Baltus the Huntsman" wanted us to return once we have the "Town Portal" spell.
A message on the wall is very much in the Might and Magic tradition . . .

. . . but this mechanism for entering a combination seems original to this game.
Moving on, I found myself in the city of Samara. As with Umure, a gnome in a hut near the city told me how many wandering parties it had (7) and said to return once I'd defeated them. The monsters here are squat little things, easier than those in Umure even considering my weapon/armor blunder.

Samara has the same services as Umure but with the addition of a shop selling magic spells for my sorcerer, plus a guild that you have to join to get access to the shop (another Might and Magic motif). Oddly, only a few of the spell names are in German, and some are a bit mysterious:
"Soft Ghost"? "Nothing vs. Nothing?" (in Spanish). And what could "Hoemopatus" possibly mean?
Even more mysterious, both Knorr (my priest) and Laura (my sorcerer) seemed capable of buying the same spells, making me wonder if there are truly separate spell systems.

The "magic number" from above turned out to open a combination door in a cave called Talmos. It was a small cave, using only about half of the squares in its 12 x 17 area. I had to trip a lever to open a secret door--the closest thing we've seen to a Dungeon Master-style puzzle. There were some non-interactable alcoves with mystifying graphics.
Any idea what that's supposed to be?
Like the first cave (which was called Brelock, if I forgot to mention that), Talmos had no random combats, but it did have one fixed combat in the final square. Graphically, it looked like three undead and a cleric. The cleric died easily, but the undead had hundreds of hit points and lasted many rounds. They were also capable of some serious damage. It took me a couple of tries to win without a character loss. I had to keep up with healing each round and use spells like "Individual Shield" to improve each character's armor class. The battle was about as satisfying, tactically, as any battle using this system could be.
I really wish the game had given the monsters names.
When it was over, I was rewarded way out of proportion with the combat difficulty, with each character getting more than 1 million experience points (the average until now had been around 1,500) and the party getting 741,000 gold, or about 7 times as much as we'd already collected in the game. We also got the Ring of Light.
The post-combat reward screen has never been more rewarding.
I returned to Brelock and gave the Ring of Light to Harib, and I re-visited Baltus now that I had "Townportal." Both offered much more modest experience and gold rewards. Baltus suggested I use "Townportal" with the keyword VERTIGO.
Ooh, 1000 gold. I'll just add it to the pile of 700,000 we got when we found the ring.
Back at Umure, they trained me one more level and then said they didn't have the ability to train me anymore. This is another Might and Magic borrowing, where you have to find progressively more advanced training academies.
Sounds like you guys need to level up.
VERTIGO ended up being the name of a town nestled in dense thickets, so I never would have gotten there on my own until I find teachers of more navigation skills. As usual, a gnome in a hut nearby told me how many marauding parties there are and invited me to return when I'd slain all of them. I entered the town, hoping to visit the trainers, but I was almost immediately attacked by a party of 8 monsters and soon killed.
The full-party death screen is freaky . . . and for some reason shows the bartender in the tavern.
Miscellaneous notes:
  • Nobody ever completely misses in combat. You always do, or are hit for, at least 1 point of damage. 
  • The game has no sound at all.
  • You can get hints in the taverns.
I have no idea what this hint is saying, however.
This one solves the character creation mystery. Motelsoft apparently sold a separate "character editor" for 19 gold pieces.
  • I have yet to find any gems. Nor have I had to use any.
  • The "Townportal" and "Caveportal" spells require you to type in the names of towns and caves, so you have to have visited or at least heard about a location.
Teleporting to the town of Vertigo.
  • Each cave has presented me with a four-button puzzle at the entrance. You have to hit the buttons in the right order to open the entrance. So far, I haven't found any clues to these doors, but since there are only 24 possible combinations, it doesn't take much effort to get in.
Only 23 more to go.
  • Although some of the indoor areas have no monsters and some can be cleared of monsters, if you want more combats you can always hit the "ambush" button on the main screen, which has you lie in wait for a suitable party.
I've been enjoying regular equipment upgrades throughout the game, too. I often find an item or two after combat, and I regularly check the city armories for new items that seem better than what I already have. The game has been generous enough economically that I don't feel constrained from buying things. At first, I thought that all the German I had learned from previous games had been forgotten, as I was only recognizing half the words in phrases like Uta schild, Brelum stiefel, and Ramin kappe. But it turns out that the first words in each of those phrases are (usually) made up by the developers--this game's equivalent of "mithril."
Some of Monky's items at the end of this session. I need to evaluate whether an Uta shield is better than a small Holzschild.
I'm having about as much fun with Dark Stone Ritual as I did with the first Might and Magic, perhaps with the small exceptions caused by the things I don't understand, and also subtracting my usual annoyance at having to do everything with the mouse (the Atari ST had both arrow keys and a numberpad; it's unforgivable that the developers didn't at least map movement to these keys). I like the variety of encounters and the regularity of character progression, in both attributes and equipment. There's no sign of a main quest yet, but as a reader pointed out on my first entry, that's also very much in keeping with Might and Magic.

Time so far: 8 hours


  1. I suppose that "soft ghost" actually means "weaken ghost", and that the "homeopathy" spell cures poison or something. As I recall, Vertigo is the first town in Might & Magic IV.

    1. "Weiche Geist" translates to "Begone ghost"

    2. To elaborate, "weiche" in this case is the imperative of "weichen" (to move away, flee).
      The adjective "weich" (soft) would be declined as "weicher" in this case to align with the masculine gender of the noun "Geist". Of course, that is only because there's no definite article, or else it would be "der weiche Geist"...

      Man, explaining German grammar always makes it sound so daunting.

    3. So something like "Turn Undead." That makes sense.

      One of these days, it's going to alarm someone that I don't know any German except for dolch, schwert, axt, messer, schlager, etc.

    4. Schlager being particularly bad.

      (Schlager is German country-pop music)

    5. Here, have some umlauts (?) for free: äöü

  2. I don't think the use of items is class dependent. One of your starting characters has a spell for identifying items, and with that you can see that each weapon and armor has a minimum strength/might requirement. Your priest (?) and mage just happen to be weaker.

    The equipment you sold was probably just very high level. You can find a lot of that very early on, but not use it because of the high might requitements (> 60 in some cases).

    Attributes increase with time - I didn't pay that much attention to it but I think it happened with combats and not with leveling up.

  3. It feels eerie seeing the Dungeon Master graphics (lightly retouched) in a different game...

  4. Tried plugging the hint text into a translator, got this:

    "The landlady says
    Xoon is supposed to live on nine like a cat
    oh god, introduce yourself
    bocky part 9 awful"

    I'm assuming the 2nd line is "Xoon is supposed to have nine lives like a cat".

    1. Yes, and "stellt euch vor" in this context means "imagine", not "introduce yourself". (The word can actually mean both, as weird as that might appear.)

      "Xoon" looks like another Might & Magic reference to me, as does the town name "Vertigo".

    2. Can't make sense of "Bocky Teil 9 furchtbar!!" From the context I guess it's something about the ninth life being horrible, but what? "Little goat Part 9 is horrible"?

    3. (Or is it somehow a pun on "Rocky Part 9" and the awfulness of sequels?)

    4. The Bocky->Rocky association was what came to my mind right away, but if there's any connection to the first part of her "hint", I sure don't see it.

      This game's writing in general is quite... special.

    5. Later, I got a tavern tip that said something like "Xoon is not Xeen, we promise," making the connection even more specific. But if this game really did draw material from MM4, then either the 1992 date is wrong, or it was a hell of a fast turnaround time.

    6. Considering the amount of games these guys released, I wouldn't be surprised if they made this in the same year as Clouds of Xeen. They must have been incredibly fast to create the amount of games they did.

      Also, the "Bocky Teil 9 furchtbar!!" definitely seems to be a reference to Rocky and movie sequels getting progressively worse.

      As for spells, as someone already said Weiche Geist is turn undead, although I'm not sure if it applies to all undead or only ghosts. Hoemopathus might be some kind of healing spell, as it sounds similar to homeopathy.

    7. MM4 is when the series started giving you a defined quest from the beginning, so in that regard this game was still following the first three.

    8. There is a MM4 Demo, which has a file timestamp of July 6, 1992, and the game likely had previews in magazines at the time as well. So a late 1992 release is still very possible. Meaningless easter eggs don't take a lot of time to implement anyway.

  5. Miscellaneous comments:
    -I miss the good old days when we used gold pieces as our currency.
    -This game's writing is *weird*.
    -The training hall guy is actually the inn keeper in a wig and fake beard.
    -They're also the twin sister(s) of all the temple maidens, as well as the god of death, apparently.

    1. Could you elaborate on the writing? Does it sound like someone trying to affect antiquated speech, like we sometimes see in English with "thou art on a quest!"?

    2. The writing is definitely not trying to be antiquated, that would look a lot different It's more like... colloquial, with some things that have to be insider jokes between the developers, a bunch of spelling mistakes, and jarring references to out-of-game things like the pop culture reference of "Bocky" (clearly has to refer to Rocky), or directly naming Might and Magic and Xeen.

      It's very... proletarian in a way.

    3. That's a good way to put it. In a way it doesn't look like what you'd expect in a commercial release. It's like they wrote whatever the hell they found funny/made sense to them at the time, without anyone else proof-reading.

      It's refreshingly casual, but at the same time sometimes jarring, like the inconsistent and abundant use of English terms. Most German (versions of) fantasy games would rather use little to no English vocabulary to help evoke that old-timey feel associated with pseudo-medieval settings.

    4. Agreed. It writing reads like it was written by a group of teens joking around and not caring about spelling or breaking the fourth wall.

    5. With the random English thrown in for spells etc it reads like something my friends and I could have written when we were playing AD&D aged twelve or so.

  6. The Beloni Schwinger Plus is only three easy payments of $19.99 if you order from this infomercial now. It's never been this easy to Schwing Beloni!

  7. What you translated as "Zappo the Common Cur" ("gemeine Schuft") could be more accurately translated to "Zappo the Evil Cur" or "Zappo the Nasty Cur". Although "common cur" has a certain ring to it...

    Anyway, as Atantuo said before me, the game's way of writing is very weird indeed.

    1. gemein can translates to common, ordinary or mean, cruel where the latter meanings are more childish.

      Schurke translates to rogue, rascal, rapscallion.

      When you know the target language good enough a pure dictionary is often better than a dictionary that translates. When a translating dictionary fails to translate a word then a pure dictionary can help with the definition(s) and synonyms.

      Schwinger is a swinging blow (boxing).
      Perhaps an weapon that is swung? A cantilever chair is a Freischwinger, or short Schwinger. So I imagine the hero is swinging a chair. (Now I feel silly.)

    2. While a "Schwinger" doesn't commonly refer to any kind of weapon (but indeed to a boxing blow), it certainly evokes an image of some sort of blunt, inelegant weapon. Most likely some kind of club, or maul -- or a chair, I suppose. :)

    3. ...or a Beloni (Baloney?) sausage.

    4. It would be the same with a weapon called a "swinger" in English. You'd assume it was some kind of club or bat, but you'd have to see a picture to know exactly what it was.

      gemeine seems to be used in German the way that "vulgar" is used in English. It originally meant "common" with no pejorative but later took on more negative associations while still retaining its original meaning in some uses. I went with "common cur" for alliteration value even though I realized there were other possibilities.

    5. Yes, that's a very good comparison. You can find it in its original meaning as part of words like _gemeinsam_ (together) and _allgemein_ (general, universal), as well as idioms like _das gemeine Volk_ (the common people, the plebs). Though the colloquial meaning of _gemein_ nowadays is closer to "mean", as in "nasty" or "underhanded" - also no coincidence, as the two words are descended from the same root.

    6. I ought to be credited for not remarking about a schwinger's sexual mores.

  8. Can't you throw off the RNG by opening a combat with a spell instead of a sword thrust, or something like that? Anything to use up one of its values and thus change the following ones.

    1. I thought of that. At a more macro level, I was trying to prevent battles with more than 3 foes, so I hoped to throw off the inevitability of a 4-foe encounter by casting a healing spell or doing something else that required a random number before the encounter even began. Unfortunately, the game seems to use different number lists for different purposes, because nothing would prevent the 4-foe encounter. I'd have to test it out, but even in combat I think I determined that if next round, an enemy struck Monkey for 15 damage, that was the inevitable result no matter how many things I did to try to interrupt the list in between.

  9. Pretty sure that Vertigo was the first town in Clouds of Xeen.

  10. The 1M+ experience points for the Ring of Light combat look like a bug to me, at least I only got ~3500 experience and about 4000 gold pieces for it.

    The priest icon monster did have a name, I think it was "Kahn Nosa" (a word play on Canossa?)

  11. re:"wer hinein will sol hinein"

    It translates to "who wants to go in it" (thanks google translate) but I misspelled it at first. I typed in "wer heinen will sol heinen" and got "whoever wants to belong is said to belong" in return.

    I think that could be a just as good riddle...

    Just sayin'.

    1. Google translate is (understandably) confused about this non-sentence. It's a weird German expression that doesn't actually use a verb. By itself, "hinein" simply means "into" or "(moving) inside/indoors". Colloquially, it can be used the way it's used by the game, in this case to mean "who wants to enter, shall enter". If you put a comma after the first "hinein", GT translates it acceptably as "who wants to get in, should go inside".
      "Heinen" isn't a German word, so I have no idea what Google was smoking.

    2. Wait, that's not quite true. "will" (wants) and "soll" (shall) are verbs, of course. Just not "hinein".

      It's also not that different from an English expression like "he wants in", except that you'd need to use a verb of movement at some point, like "who wants in, shall *go* in" or something.


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