Sunday, June 30, 2019

Darklands: Von Eschenbachs Represent!

The dangers of low reputation.
It's becoming clear that a large part of Darklands is developing the party's fame. Fame gives the party access to more political and economic leaders, and thus more quests, and thus more rewards, and thus more fame. This eventually leads to the main quest? I'm still not certain about that. But in a game where the ultimate goal is to retire with a high score, fame is a key metric. Since I began the game, my party has progressed from 0 to 168 ("modest reputation"). I started at 95 ("barely known") for this session.
The party's status at the end of this session.
Related to fame, but not the same thing, is local reputation. I gather that fame is a global measure while local reputation has more to do with how the immediate region sees you. You can be famous and still despised by a particular city. In general, cities seem to be warily neutral towards the party, no matter what fame they've achieved elsewhere, until they start doing things for that city. But it's much easier to gain local reputation. One night of killing alley thieves is enough to get you to "respected" level, and a single robber knight quest makes you "a local hero."
Sneaking into a robber knight's castle.
I thought one approach might be to build local reputation over a certain value (say, 50) in a systematic order as I worked my way through the cities. As this session began, I had just sneaked my way into Schleswig, where my reputation was -20 and guards were actively looking to arrest me. I got it to the positives (albeit single digits) by spending several nights hunting thieves. It's not a bad way to spend time. My armor is good enough that the thieves don't even do any damage by now, and I still occasionally improve weapon skills by clonking them on their heads. 

While dealing with thieves helps with local reputation, it seems to do nothing for overall fame. For that, you need to accomplish things outdoors or to finish quests. Killing robber knights adds a reliable 10 points to fame and also significantly increases local reputations in the towns that gave you the robber knight quest. By the time I left Schleswig, I had 4 quests to kill the same robber knight, and I picked up another 2 in Hamburg. Unfortunately, that robber knight was again Anton Seibt. I guess the game just keeps re-using the same names for robber knights in the same region, no matter how many times you kill them. That breaks the immersion a bit.
How many times do I have to kill you?!
This session, I kept careful note of what actions led to what effects on reputation and fame. This is what I noted.
  • Killing a robber knight: +10 to fame, +50-60 in local reputation at city where quest was given
  • Retrieving an artifact from a shrine: +10 to fame (even before turning it in to the quest-giver)
  • Donating money to a small village church: +3 to fame (may not be consistent)
  • Killing a pack of alley thieves: Between +1 and +3 to local reputation.
  • Getting rejected for an audience with the leader of a city: -1 to local reputation. 
  • Getting physically ejected from the city hall: -10 to local reputation.
  • Attacking city guards: -40 to local reputation
Actions that didn't have any effect, which surprised me: trying to sneak or coax my way into or out of cities; giving money or escorts to traveling pilgrims; bribing guards; donating large amounts to churches; rescuing merchants from bandits; destroying villages practicing witchcraft; or killing bands of roving marauders in between cities. I also didn't find any actions that had a negative effect on fame.
Getting a miscellaneous artifact quest.
In this session, I spent over a year moving randomly around the landscape. I mean that literally. Every time I reached a crossroads, I used a random number generator to determine which path I took. Yes, sometimes this took me backwards, but I almost always had as many quests (or quest rewards) in my backpath as in any of the forward options.

Upon reaching a city, I settled in to a comfortable pattern, at least assuming it was a new city and my reputation was 0:
  1. Enter during the day
  2. Immediately head for the Kloster or university and ask to study a saint. That process usually takes until nightfall. Donate money if I need the divine favor.
  3. Spend the first night killing thieves, so as to boost my reputation to "respected."
  4. The next day, visit the political leader and the Fugger, Medici, and Hanseatic League representatives for quests.
  5. Sell any excess equipment in the markets and look for potions and potion ingredients to buy.
  6. Rest at the inn if I needed it; otherwise, continue on.
Purchasing potions is a good way to get rid of excess money--fast.
In between the cities, I've killed numerous robber knights. I purged at least three villages of Satanism. (Each one offered me a hint about where the Satanists would next meet to "get revenge," but I've always been too far away to get there in time.) I killed a couple of lords who were oppressing their peasants. I've escorted and donated to countless packs of hapless pilgrims. I've killed so many bandits and highwaymen that I must be approaching a whole percentage of the population. I've recovered several artifacts from pagan altars. I've fought off wolves, boars, spiders, and schrats in the dozens.

I've come to not like the quests in which I'm asked to sneak into a Fugger, Medici, Hanseatic, or other office in the middle of the night and retrieve documents or something. Success in these missions involves a sequence of skill checks, starting with sneaking into the market in the first place, then actually opening the doors. Sometimes, the doors are trapped, and several times, they've refused to open even when I have an NPC with a high "Artifice" skill. They often give me the option to use "Eater-Water" potions (which never work) or "Thunderbolt" potions (which inevitably summon the guards). If I happen to be successful, the rewards are low, and I think it might lower my local reputation. I'm probably going to stop doing these missions.
I'm not even sure he's telling me the whole story.
I had meant to return to Goslar eventually and finish that "knocker" quest. Now I'm hearing rumors that the mine at Freiburg is having the same problem. I'm not sure if this means there are two potential mine quests, or if I waited too long in finishing the first one. I guess the only way to tell is to return to Goslar and see if I can resume.

A couple of interesting things happened regarding the Wild Hunt. In a couple of cases in which I heard the Hunt approach, I perceived that it was after a helpless schrat--a hairy "wild man" of Germanic legend who I suppose is equivalent to Bigfoot or the yeti. Both times, I saved the schrat, who rewarded me with an increase in strength for one character. Later, a holzfrau--a female schrat--showed up a few times to warn me of an approaching Wild Hunt. She told me that I could protect myself from the Wild Hunt if I learned of St. Wenceslaus. As it happens, I know quite a good deal about Wenceslaus and flesh and wine and pine logs hither, but I suppose my characters don't. I haven't been able to find a Kloster that teaches of him. This would be more of a priority if my party got seriously beat up by the Wild Hunt, but it's always just one hunter, and it's not hard to kill him.
A holzfrau helps protect me against the Wild Hunt.
I had been so used to thinking of the schrats as friends that I was surprised when a group of them attacked me later in the game. There didn't seem to be any "noble" way to avoid the combat, so I reluctantly killed them.
Fighting schrats. I thought they were my friends!
Miscellaneous notes:
  • The mayor of Flensburg has given me the quest to kill Anton Seibt three times and has never rewarded me for it once. The quest utility says that all three are still active.
  • Nothing has ever happened to me at the clothmakers' guild. I only ever get options to leave.
I'm sure glad I visited!
  • Similarly, reading notices, engaging in gossip, and listening for rumors only ever produces the same notice prohibiting people from being out at night. 
  • During this session, Lambert achieved a skill of 45 in "Healing," and now my characters regenerate 3 points per rest session. That really makes a difference.
Lambert studies while everyone else just relaxes.
  • The save game system is a bit annoying. Every time you save, the game generates a new file. To whatever name you give the file, it prefixes your current location and date. It then precedes to sort these files in absolutely random order, so it's a hunt to find your last save, and you have to constantly delete the excess.
What is the logic of this order? It is neither by date, nor alphabetically by location, nor alphabetically by the name I gave the file.
It took me this long in the game to realize that the "leader" is different than the person at the head of the "marching order." This is why I got kicked out of every alchemist's shop for the first 20 hours. Somehow, the leader had been set to Bianca, who has the worst charisma and speech skills, and for at least two game sessions, she's been doing all my bargaining and coaxing. It's a wonder I've been successful at anything.
That Bianca passed this particular skill check--which resolved the situation at the top of this entry--is a miracle.
Towards the end of the session, something happened that I think may be the first step--or an early step--on the main quest. While sheltering from a blizzard one night near Passau, everyone in the party had the same dream. It started with a terrible demon looming over a bloody altar stone while crazed Satanists danced nearby. In succession, we then saw an ancient monastery populated by monks wearing white robes with blood-red crosses, and two seals that broke apart to reveal seven paths on the other side, each path with its own terrors--famine, fire, storms, poison, etc.--that slowly grew to overcome the world. 
You all awaken from the dream in the early morning sunlight. There is no doubt that you have been called. The only question is, what should you do now? As in most dreams, there is no clear path of action only premonitions.
True, but I have a couple of ideas. One involves returning to the northern part of the map and trying to find the seer that I encountered early in my career. The second is running around to the small villages until I find one where the residents are practicing satanism and swear revenge at a time and place I can actually reach. Whatever the case, this new mystery came along at just the right time. Things were starting to get repetitive.
The party has a vision out of Revelations.
I've compiled enough information now about combat and potions that I think I can finally focus on those things for my next entry.
Time so far: 36 hours

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Waxworks: Hammer and Sickle

Sometimes the game is more fun for its gruesome death images than from actually defeating the challenges.
I've solved two of the four or more Waxworks scenarios, and started to explore a third, and it's a measure of the game that I have no idea what to expect from the last. Waxworks seems to delight in changing the rules between scenarios, which is good for variety's sake, although I haven't found any of the scenarios so far terribly challenging or compelling.

The first one had me explore a six-level pyramid, with each level getting smaller as it went up (just as in the recent Beneath the Pyramids). There were branches here and there, but in general the pyramid's levels were linear enough that I didn't have to map. I died about a thousand times, with 950 of those deaths due to tripwire traps, which you have to click on and "avoid" every time you cross. No matter how many times I told myself to watch out for them, no matter how many times I thought I remembered the positions of specific ones, I just kept setting them off.

The rolling-rock traps are unavoidable but also easy to dodge. You just have to dart down a nearby hallway when you see the rock coming. If you back up, you can easily outrun it.
The rock rolls harmlessly by as I hide in a side passage.
The levels had a fair share of spear-wielding guards and dagger-wielding priests, and my survival against them was mostly luck. Among the six levels, you're limited to the hit points you start with, those you develop by leveling, and another 40 or so that you can restore by having Uncle Boris create the scrolls for you. Combat, meanwhile, is just a matter of activating it and clicking around the screen. For the pyramid, I wasn't able to detect that a particular area of the screen resulted in a greater chance of hitting, or more damage, nor was I able to determine whether choosing a variety of attacks had more success than just spamming the same attack over and over. There was a clear escalation in weapons--dagger, sword, spear--and the enemies definitely went down faster as my level increased.

That level is the only thing that really qualifies the game as an RPG. I like that you get experience points for every square you step on; it encourages full exploration. But in the pyramid, where the experience was so linear, any sense of "leveling" is really illusory, since every player will pretty much reach every stage at the same level.
I misread the room.
I failed to get out of the way.
I took too long.
I fell in with the wrong crowd.
It turned out not to matter that I loaded up my inventory with everything not nailed down. You have no encumbrance statistic and no maximum number of items, and carrying a bunch of redundant pots actually helped at one point. You just have to take care not to accidentally stick new items in jars or baskets, because you then have to spend half an hour looking into every one that you have to find it.

That leaves the puzzles. One recurring puzzle required me to find a series of tuning forks and then use them to shatter glass walls. The tuning forks all had different frequencies, and I thought there might be some complex puzzle associated with that, but the game never made use of the frequencies as such. Different tuning forks shattered different walls and that was it.
Captured this screenshot just at the right time.
I also had to watch out for blocks propped up by wooden beams and collapse those beams with a hammer, thus causing blocks to fall from upper levels and clear the passages. There were a couple of points at which it was possible to put myself on the wrong side of the passage before collapsing it, and thus end up in a "walking dead" situation. In fact, there are enough walking dead situations in the game to require a careful approach to saving, and in particular keeping a save from the last time you were in the Waxworks in case you have to start over completely.
Collapsing the passage.
Level 1's major puzzle involved a pool of water where I needed to fill up some jugs, so I could pour the water on some hot coals on Level 2. Messing with the water got me attacked and killed by a crocodile, so I had to find a way to lure the crocodile out of the water while I held my spear ready. The only thing that made sense for bait was a pile of entrails I'd found in one of the jars. By dropping that on the tile before the water, I was able to entice the croc out of the pool and then kill him with a thrown spear.
See ya later.
We already saw the door puzzle between Levels 1 and 2. The major obstacle here, other than the many traps and guards, was that square of burning coals. The game did me a favor by filling up all my jugs with water on Level 1, so I had enough (it turned out I needed 5) to cool the coals instead of making me fill, say, three, and then realize I didn't have enough, and have to trudge back and forth multiple times.

The transition between Level 2 and Level 3 had a door puzzle in which I had to twist a series of valves to divert a flow of water into a preferred jug (with an ankh symbol on it), filling it faster than the jugs with snakes on them. It really couldn't have been easier. I just had to trace the pipes backwards and turn the valves accordingly.
An easy puzzle.
Level 3's big challenge--again, after traps and enemies--was to weigh down a pot and thus open a door. There was no more obvious object to weigh down the pot than two piles of sand I'd previously found in some corridor. Thus must have been an introductory level.

Level 4 had a couple of obstacles. One required me to knock down a bridge by shooting it with a bow and arrow, but again the choice was fairly obvious. Later, I had to cross an area of tiles by stepping on the right hieroglyphic tiles. This one took me a few minutes to suss out. A message said to "follow the path of life."

The only other hieroglyphics I'd seen were on a piece of papyrus from the first chamber. Each row of tiles, from which I had to choose one to step on, had two tiles that were on the piece of paper and one tile that was not. I figured the trick was to step on the one that was not, and that did get me safely across the room. Only later, when I thought about it, did I realize the game's logic. The specific arrangement of the hieroglyphics on the papyrus didn't matter; what mattered is that they were all associated with Anubis, the god of death, and thus the "path of life" would take me across symbols not associated with him. That's reasonably clever.
Crossing the perilous floor.
On Level 5, I was almost immediately stymied by a puzzle in which gas started filling the corridors and the exits were closed off. I found a "mirror" on one wall, but it threw me for a while because it seemed to show a picture of a guard. I realized well after I should have that the "picture" was actually my image in the mirror. I'm not me in these exhibits; rather, I have taken possession of the "good" brother, who in this case is a pyramid guard named Cassim. This was all explained later when I made more liberal use of Boris's head. I had been conserving my "psy," but I realized later that I was just wasting it.
This is supposed to be me?
Solving the gas puzzle involved shattering the mirror, which of course was done with a collection of the tuning forks, something that should have been more obvious.
Later on Level 5, I reached a couple of rooms with murals on the walls--very nice murals, I should add. Graphically, Waxworks can be lovely. The two consecutive murals on the south walls all produced hollow sounds when tapped, so I realized I could smash through them with my weapon to reveal chambers beyond. The first one had a piece of tile that, when I picked it up, released snakes into the room. I couldn't fight the snakes and they killed me. The solution was to spill oil all over the floor and ignite it before picking up the piece, so that the snakes emerged into an inferno.
A treasure room holds only a couple relevant items.
The transition between Levels 5 and 6 required me to arrange four tiles (which I'd picked up at various places along the way, the first three without any fuss) in a particular order. I never found anything that helped me determine the order, but there were only 24 possibilities, and I got it after about 6.

On Level 6, I rescued my princess by opening her sarcophagus with a scarab beetle found all the way back in the first room. She oddly ended up in my inventory, which was also what happened to Elvira in Elvira II.
I don't mean to complain, but her face looks rather masculine.
To finish off the level, I had to balance a scale using a series of weights I'd picked up in various places throughout the pyramid. It took me a while to realize that the weights are not all the same weight; by examining them, you see that they are "very light," "light," "heavy, "very heavy," and "extremely heavy." The puzzle still took a while longer because it didn't occur to me that you might be able to solve it without using all the weights. I believe the solution had the extremely heavy and light weights on one side, the heavy and very heavy ones on the other, and no use of the very light weight.
Trying to figure out a balancing puzzle while "my betrothed" sits in my inventory.
Solving the weight puzzle opened a door where I confronted and killed my evil twin brother, then exited the world somehow by putting a brooch into a hole on a statue's belly.
A nice final shot of Egypt before we leave.
I was not prepared for my accumulated experience and levels to drain away the moment I left ancient Egypt. But that's what happens: in between each of the scenarios (at least, I assume the pattern continues), everything resets to 0. Your inventory also disappears, too, which is more of a blessing. I guess it really doesn't matter, then, which order you experience the exhibits because there's no way to save the harder ones for when you're stronger. I guess I get the logic, but it's another blow to Waxworks as an RPG.
Hey! Don't you work for me now?!
When I returned to the waxworks, Uncle Boris's butler became weirdly hostile, pushing me down the corridors and trying to shove me into any exhibit I happened to come across. I had to run ahead of him to enter the exhibit of my choosing, which was the undead graveyard.
Transitioning between areas.
This was a very different experience, and I wasn't prepared for how different it was. Instead of multiple levels, it occupied only one "level" about the same size as the first level of the pyramid. It had only a couple of puzzles and was, overall, a lot shorter than the first challenge.

What it did have is zombies. Dozens of them. They pop out of the ground right in front of you, and I don't think you can ever kill them all. You only have (or I only found) one weapon to fight them: a sickle. To kill a zombie, you first have to chop off one arm, then the other, then its head, so the locations that you click do make a major difference in these combats.

I'm not sure why I couldn't have gone right for the head.
A lesser challenge, but perhaps more annoying, was simply mapping the area. Gravestones serve as "walls" within the cemetery, but it's very hard to visually judge how close you can walk to them and exactly where you can turn and move forward. While you're dithering around trying to find paths, zombies are appearing around every corner.
Is it clear to you that you can move one step forward here? Because you can.
If you find the heart from a dead woman in the middle of the cemetery, Boris can use it to heal you once during the adventure. Since your hit points are thus finite, you want to avoid combat as much as possible, which is hard when you're trying to comprehensively explore the map. Eventually, I just resigned myself to dying a lot of times while I mapped, and to then complete the level after a final reload.

There were three major puzzles in the area. The first required me to get access to the family crypt, for which I needed some tool to exploit a hole. Uncle Boris's head suggested I search the fence around the graveyard for a loose bit of railing. I'm glad I consulted him because I absolutely never would have found that on my own. It's hard to find even if you know what you're looking for.
You have to be facing a particular direction. Even then, it wouldn't have occurred to me that you can pick up that broken piece of iron. It looks like it's still attached.
Once inside the crypt, I was able to speak to my ancestor Druec, who somehow knew I was from the future and not the original inhabitant of the body before him. He confirmed Uncle Boris's accounts of the curse and said that in the current time, Vladimir had bound the souls of his forebears, not allowing them to die, using their energy to fuel his necromantic rituals.
Conversing with the first generation of cursed.
Boris said he could break Vladimir's spell, but he would need an "absorbent material." This turned out to be a hunk of bread, found in an altar in a chapel in the far northwest corner of the map. A vampire guarded it, but I'd found a stake on the way, sharpened it with the sickle, and pounded it into the vampire's chest the moment he appeared.
As I put the stake to his heard, the vampire appears to be regretting life.
Vladimir himself was just up a stairway from the chapel, but he was impervious to physical attack and killed me. Boris, meanwhile, had to fashion his counter-spell within the family crypt, so I had to trudge back through most of the map, killing zombies along the way. In the crypt, Boris completed the spell and told me to activate it, I should simply touch Vladimir. I turned around and walked back through the graveyard again, fighting more zombies.
This game is about to offer an interesting take on "destroy."
In my best run, I still made it back to the chapel with only a few hit points to spare. Boris said I should "touch" Vladimir, so I equipped my hands as weapons and poked him in the chest. For reasons I don't fully understand, touching him caused him to collapse into a baby. Moments later, I was back in the waxworks, the butler approaching me menacingly down the hallway. As before, my experience points and level were reset to 0.

If anyone has an explanation for this, I'd appreciate hearing it.
I immediately leapt into the Jack the Ripper waxwork and found myself on the streets of Victorian London, over the body of Jack's latest victim. This one is clearly going to offer a new challenge--avoiding patrolling bobbies and mobs of Londoners on the streets. Every time one manages to enter my square (or I blunder into theirs), it's an immediate death. I still prefer it to the tripwires in the pyramid.
The Met has come a long way since then.
By now, it's clear that Waxworks mostly fails as an RPG, and what we have here is not a hybrid but an adventure game with "RPG elements." A few years ago, I wouldn't have known the difference. Now I realize that a good hybrid manages to preserve what people enjoy about both genres. On the RPG side, it offers a fully-realized combat, equipment, and character development system. It doesn't just toss in hit points and experience points.
That means that to the extent that I'm enjoying Waxworks, it's mostly for its adventure elements. So far, most of the puzzles have been relatively fair, particularly with the optional Boris-head hint system, and I've had some moments of satisfaction figuring them out. The graphics are well-done and immersive, though on the sound side the developers put too much effort into the music (which is era-appropriate, atmospheric, and, for me, as usual, turned off) and not enough into sound effects, which mostly only occur during combat.
Unless the game pulls the rug out from under me with additional unlocked scenarios, it looks like I'm already half done with this one. I'll try to finish it up in one more.

Time so far: 10 hours

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Darklands: Travelogue (Part 2)

Alas, the mines proved too much for my journeyman party.
We pick up where the previous entry left off:
Sometime after 5 August 1401. Goslar Mines.
Since you can't check "Party Info" while indoors, I have no idea how much time has passed since the party entered the mines. As the session begins, we find a second ladder down on Level 4 that we must have missed earlier.
With Maximian and Lambert so low on health, I've reconfigured the marching order to put Bianca first (she has the best "Perception"), followed by my NPC companion Hanse. Maximian, in ignominy, picks up the rear. Clearly, I should have waited until I had more prayers or alchemies before attempting this type of quest, but in fairness I had no idea that the mines would be so extensive. Everything until now had been a series of menu options.
We fight one gargoyle before coming to yet another puzzle door, which challenges us to figure out the next number in a sequence that goes 27, 64, 125, 216, 343.
I suspect either you'll get it right away or it will take you a while. The numbers are cubes of 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7, so the next would be 8^3 or 512. Anyway, beyond the door, another dwarf told me that I'd find enemies further along who were guarding some kind of holy relic.
It would have been nice to have found this.
On the level below, four gargoyles attack just after I get off the ladder. Hanse is seriously wounded. In a side room, Hanse is unable to disarm a chest after multiple attempts. I size up the situation and conclude that I need more skill and craft before I'm able to fully clear these mines. Reluctantly, I make my way back up to the surface, camp, and restore much of my lost strength.
17 August 1401. Wilderness. Party Fame: 52 (barely known).
We notice a strange darkness in the woods: twisted trees, black birds with harsh cries, the smell of smoke. Investigating, we determine that witchcraft has taken place here. We're soon attacked by a pack of wolves but manage to slay them with minimal damage.
Fools. Everyone knows that the wolves are the enemy of the Shadow.

23 August 1401. Wilderness.
Attacked by a group of bandits. Everyone is wounded more than they ought to be for a foe we've fought many times before.
26 August 1401. Erfurt.
We arrive in a city at last. Night is falling just as we go through the gates, so we immediately see about our task to steal notes from the Medici offices. When we get to the central market, we have options to sneak past the guards and custodians, bribe them, or attack them.
Options when skulking about the market at night.
My party isn't very good at sneaking, but I try it and surprisingly it works. Hanse is able to defeat the lock, and we enter the Medici offices and recover the debt note that the Hanseatic League in Lübeck wanted.
In victory, we check into the Lilie and stay several days to return to full health.
5 September 1401. Erfurt. Party Fame: 62 (barely known). Local Rep: 3.
It's time to head back east, find a way to cross the Elbe, deal with Anton Seibt, and get to Berlin. Before we leave, we buy some reagents in the main market, but are once again tossed away from Alchemist's Lane when we try to buy some formulas.
Moving east from Erfurt, we finally find a bridge across the Elbe and thus begin angling back north.
7 September 1401. Wilderness.
On the road, a nobleman appears with knights and retainers and demands that we pay the "road toll" of 1 florin. I choose to "try to talk him out of it," and the nobleman blanches upon hearing our names, graciously letting us use his road for free. "Such are the benefits of reputation and fame," the game muses, as if we'd earned much of either.
The nobleman acts like we've introduced ourselves as the "Gambinos" or something.
9 September 1401. Wilderness.

The party investigates a castle, and it turns out to belong to the robber knight Rainald Nöttelheim. He's not a high-priority target, as the only quest we have to kill him is from the Medici representative in Goslar. But there are other benefits to killing robber knights, and we're right there.
I have no idea how my clumsy, armored characters passed this test.
Our usual tactic is to knock and ask for entry, then stay the night, then sneak into the robber knight's chambers at night. We can't do that this time because it's already night. So I choose to sneak into the castle entirely, and it works. We then sneak into his room, defeat him in single combat, and loot his armor as we did the first two times. This is too easy.

13 September 1401. Halle.

We come to a small hamlet on the way to Berlin. As usual, the schulz is no help. We go to confession at the church instead, and something odd happens. The penance given by the priest is to slowly kill a small animal, then recite 10 prayers backwards, then drink so much sacramental wine that we pass out. Needless to say, the party declines to perform this so-called penance.
A warning sign.
Wondering if this oddity is something we should act upon, we return to the schulz and note that one of the options is to accuse the village of satanic practices. We choose that, and in response multiple villagers attack us with clubs and tools. But they're just peasants, and the resulting combat is both brief and non-damaging to the party.

After the combat, one of the villagers gasps, just before dying, "We will have our revenge East of Strassburg on September 22." Afterwards, we hike up to the top of a nearby hill and find a demonic altar. With no alchemical or saintly options, we choose to "call forth the demon haunting the site and defeat it in battle," and we do in fact defeat him in battle. The altar is destroyed and we all gain some virtue points.
The cultist's statement alarms us, but Strassburg is awful far to the southwest, and there's no way we can make it there in 9 days.
14 September 1401. Leipzig. Party Fame: 72 (barely known). Local rep: 0.
349 years from now, Bach will die in this city. We have no luck here. The burgermeister won't see us; the alchemists won't talk to us; the Kloster won't even let us study saints. We buy some reagents and move on.
Through the woods to Wittenberg.

23 September 1401. Wittenberg. Party Fame: 72 (barely known). Local rep: 0.
We reach Wittenberg on the way to Berlin. We arrive at dusk. Rather than immediately head to the Goldene Weintraube for the night, we spend a couple hours on the streets beating up thieves. Maximian takes way more damage than makes sense given his plate armor. We retire to the inn and rest a couple of days to restore hit points.
Immediately on the road after leaving Witternberg, we are attacked by, and defeat, a party of wolves.
25 October 1401. Wilderness. 
Huddled mass of beggars on the road. Give 2 florins. 

4 November 1401. Berlin. Party Fame: 72 (barely known). Local rep: 0.
We arrive in Berlin at last, on a mission to steal reports from the Medici representative. That has to wait for night, so we spend the day shopping, and Maximian spends a few hours learning of St. Willebald. Just as we're about to leave, for the heck of it, we toss a few florins in the collection plate and a mysterious monk tells us to come back in the morning.
This led nowhere. Maybe we were too late in the "morning."
At night, we are able to sneak into the offices of the Medici representative and steal the treason plans that the Hanseatic League representative in Flensburg wanted. We finish off the evening with a bit of the old ultraviolence, courtesy of some hapless thieves, then settle in for a night's rest at the Alter Krug Dahlem. The next morning, we return to the Kloster but nothing special happens. I don't know what that was about. We depart the city, heading northwest along the east bank of the Elbe.
I'm beginning to wonder if these quests are really worth the trouble.
15 November 1401. Wilderness. Party Fame: 82 (barely known).
Attacked by bandits. Bluffing doesn't work. We kick their butts. Everyone's "Impact Weapons" go up a couple of points; the characters are now mostly in their 40s with the weapons after six months of practice.

26 November 1401. Wilderness.

At last, we come across the keep of Anton Seibt. We save the game and try challenging him to single combat. He attacks with a group of his retainers instead, and three of my characters are killed. Reloading, we try the tactic that has worked multiple times already: ask for entry, ask to spend the night, sneak out and find him in the middle of the night, defeat him in five-on-one combat.
Seibt doesn't fall for any of that "single combat" nonsense.
We now have multiple people to call on for rewards, including some at Lüneberg across the river. This time, there's an obvious bridge between the two sides. Why didn't we notice it last time? Did it get washed out?

5 December 1401. Lüneberg. Party fame: 92 (barely known). Local rep: -9.

The alchemist and the Hanseatic League are both grateful for the death of Anton Seibt. The game tells me that Hanse leaves after the League gives us our reward, but he doesn't right away. He stays in the party while we're still in town. Just as I'm beginning to assume it's a bug and we'll be able to keep him, he leaves us as we depart the city the next day.
Our friend announces his departure. Maybe we should have avoided turning in this quest. He was worth 10 florins.
At the alchemist's shop, I finally find someone willing to sell me alchemical formulas. Even though they cost a pretty 16 florins, I purchase four. This almost ensures that I'll be able to write about alchemy and potions next time.
23 December 1401. Wilderness.

Horrible day. We're attacked by giant spiders and just after we finish with them, we're attacked by The Hunt. Maximian is nearly killed.
What is this Hunt dude's problem?
30 December 1401. Wilderness.

Attacked by wild boars. Fortunately, no one is very hurt. Then we're ambushed by thieves. Maximian manages to bluff our way out of combat.

31 December 1401. Lübeck. Party fame: 95 (barely known). Local rep: 39.

The oberste, Adam Schmidt, gives us nearly 60 florins for killing Anton Seibt, and our local reputation goes up 43 points ("a local hero"). The Hanseatic League gives us a 7-florin reward for stealing the debt note from Erfurt.

I spend a bunch of our wealth on reagents and then spend a couple weeks at the Rathskellar, healing.

19 January 1402. Flensburg. Party fame: 95 (barely known). Local rep: 80.

Eight months after we left, we return to our city of origin with three rewards to collect. The Fugger representative gives us 6 florins for Seibt. The Hanseatic League representative gives us 3 florins for the reports regarding a plot to overthrow the city. (This lowers our local reputation by 10. What?) But the erbvogt, who also gave me the quest to kill Seibt, refuses to see us two days in a row. This is the second time he's blown us off after we've defeated a robber knight, and I assume it's some bug in the game. The quest-tracking utility, which I'm no longer using, says that we need to visit the mayor of Flensburg--twice.
The Fugger hates parting with money, even when it's due.
We decide to settle in for a period of learning and skill development, but this is hard to do in a concentrated way. For instance, the monastery seems to allow you to learn about one saint per visit to the city, not once per day. If you get someone to agree to tutor you, the agreement only lasts for a few days, during which there's no guarantee that you'll actually increase.
After a couple of frustrating weeks in which we accomplish little, we leave the city.

13 February 1402. Schleswig. Party fame: 95 (barely known). Local rep: -20.
I don't know what happened to our reputation in this city. As far as I know, we've done nothing negative here, and yet the guards accosted us when we tried to enter the city. We glibly talked our way out of it, but the experience left us rattled. Maybe our growing fame in Flensburg and Lübeck hurt us here.
Our ruse works--but we're still not in the city.
I'll leave off here as the party considers a new plan and exploration pattern, probably returning to summary entries when I come back.

Time so far: 29 hours