Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Magic Candle III: Re-Lit

This clearly advanced technology is powered by . . . bones.
I started The Magic Candle III almost a year and half ago. It was three weeks after I started a new job at a university, and one week after classes began. That whole month was hell. I was trying to develop new curricula and lesson plans while learning a new place, a new commute, new everything. I didn't get a single post on a game completed between 9 September and 16 October and didn't fully recover my previous output until January 2020.
When I finally looked at the game again after a month and a half, it felt like it was too soon to start over but too late to continue with my previous game. I feel like this a lot, with games that I've played for the blog and otherwise, sometimes with books or television shows, too. Anyway, I tabled The Magic Candle III until such a time that it no longer felt too soon to start over. And today, of course, having read my first entry on the game to re-familiarize myself with the initial experience, I decided I didn't need to start over after all. Ha! How ironic! You don't seem to be laughing. Well, please just continue with me anyway. It's not like anyone's selling pitch forks in January.
The orcs' throne room looks pretty cool.
I'll let you refresh yourself with the backstory at the link above. Suffice to say that my party--containing my heroes from The Magic Candle and The Keys to Maramon--arrived on the island of Kabelo in the Solian Islands, on a mission to figure out the source of a mysterious blight. Kabelo is ruled by the parents of Garz, one of my companions, and as I ended the first entry, we had just entered the orcish city of Urkabel.

As suspected, the city had a lot of shops, services, and NPCs (many behind locked doors, but fortunately Garz often piped up to name the resident). From a wizard named Lavinha, I learned that this game's teleportal chambers use the bones of sea birds, and that I would need three skulls to go back to Oshcrun island, and a skull and two wingbones to return to Kabelo. She sold bones, but I declined to purchase any for now. A lot of the city's NPCs seemed to gather in the tea house (these orcs are uniquely civilized) at various times of day. An orc named Dangaladik that I met in a tea house told me that something called "Qaldiur" (I assume a dungeon) is "ripe for the picking," and that the password to get in is MELSHINDE. Lamdurudin recommended that I talk to sailors in Herrington and Elfport about the Blight. There were lots of NPCs with flavor text, and some services that I didn't pursue because I didn't bring enough money.
Garz's father has a quest for us.
We meet Garz's father, the orc king (if he has a name, I never found it) in his palace. While he disapproved of Garz seeking our aid, he said he'd work with us if we could prove our good will by obtaining the orc Scepter of Kabelo from their "goblin allies" in Serivu on the island of Solihub.
At this point, I returned to Oschrun Island and the city of Telermain. I did this for two reasons. First, a check of my inventory made it clear that I hadn't brought nearly enough Sermins. Sermin mushrooms are life in the Magic Candle setting. They're the only way to restore energy and keep the party from collapsing in a heap on the floor, never to rise again because the game prohibits you from sleeping just anywhere. Second, if I took any notes about NPCs or "to do" items when I started in 2019, I don't know where they are. I needed to re-explore and remember what everyone had told me.
The journal reminds me of a password.
The Sermin excuse turned out to be valid, but shortly after I arrived, I remembered why I hadn't bothered to take any notes: the game takes them for you. This is a wonderful feature that we find in so few games. The in-game notebook in The Magic Candle II was useful, but only up to a point. If you didn't remember to export it before the end of your session, you lost it. Here, it preserves the notes with the save file. You can review them chronologically, search them for keywords, delete useless ones, and even type in your own. These options went a long way into getting me back up to speed.
Not everything that the journal records is useful.
With my second reason to be in Telermain thus moot, I returned to the Solian Lands and the island of Solihub. This was marked clearly on the game map, so it was easy to find. It was a typical town, populated by civilized goblins. The mayor said he'd trade the scepter for some kind of charter (I think I missed some dialogue), and that he'd need Garz as a hostage until we returned with the charter. The game did this for us (we had no choice), so after talking with the various NPCs, we returned to Urkabel, where the king gave us the charter, at which point we had to go back to Serivu to make the final exchange. Instead of rejoining our party, Garz went home but said he'd re-join us if we met him there. I didn't feel much like going back to Urkabel again at this point, so I moved on.
The goblin accepts the charter.
I'll cover a few aspects of the game that came up as we explored the two cities. These mechanics haven't changed since the first game, but its worth a couple of refreshers. First, there are two types of NPCs. The first type are generic and interchangeable. You ask them for "News." There are at least half a dozen in each city, and each one gives you a random selection from the same pool of three or four lines. You can't do any additional talking with them. The second kind are named NPCs who you can ask for "Advice," which often leads to other keywords. However, many of the second type are locked away in their houses. You have to know their names when you knock on their doors. You usually get their names as one of the random dialogues from the first NPCs. It was through this process that I met a wizard named Evixu in Serivu and got her to join the party.
A generic NPC gives me a name . . .

. . . which gives me a word to try when I knock on a door . . .

. . . which leads me to a useful conversation with a named NPC.
Character development in The Magic Candle series occurs in two ways. First, as you fight enemies and accomplish a few other tasks, your related skills increase. Your attributes, however, only increase via the second method: finding gods and waking them up. To do this, you first have to get some intelligence about the location of a god's temple. Then you have to visit the temple and find the secret word on the altar. Finally, you have to find the separate location where the god is sleeping, approach him or her, and whisper the word. If you have the right god, he or she will wake up long enough to raise some of your attributes and skills. My notes are full of parts of these variables, like I found a word (BRUNDISHAR) in a temple, but I don't know whose temple it is. Or I know the god Selene sleeps near Eisheim, but I don't know where her temple is.
Not knowing his name or password, we let the sleeping god lie.
As with the past two games, I assume I won't make much use of the teleportals in this one. The developers went through a lot of trouble to create a network of teleportals but then made it too easy to get around the islands without them.
I'm not sure exactly what solving the quests for Urkabel and Serivu did for our main quest, but afterwards, I didn't have any strong clues about what to do next. I decided to explore the islands in a systematic order from west to east, and thus sailed to the far western island of Rastanna. Features on land often don't show up until you're standing in an adjacent square, which means you have to step on at least every other square when you're exploring a piece of land. I'm also alerted to combats one square away, probably because my characters have enough skill in "Tracking" or something.
I fought most combats as I encountered them, at least at first, re-acclimating myself with the rules and strategies. One thing became clear quickly: I needed to invest more in missile weapons. Only a couple of my characters had them. I eventually went back to Serivu just to buy bows for everyone. I started experimenting with mushrooms and spells again. I was reminded how powerful it is to swallow a Mirget (strength) and a Gonshi (speed) at the beginning of a battle, and how important it is to protect everyone with Nifts (physical attacks) and "Shield" spells (magical attacks). I remembered how useful the "Jump" spell is to immediately get a melee character over to a magic-using enemy. I used up a lot of "Cure" spells and Medicin doses recovering from the illness inflicted by blight creatures. On the whole, I think I'll save a discussion of combat for a later entry, but The Magic Candle has always been strong in combat tactics and spells. I don't really see any major advances here, but the system is still pretty good in comparison to other games of the era.
In battle with blight creatures.
As you walk through the Solian Lands, you see evidence of the Blight everywhere--little patches of ground that seem to be clouded with pestilence or toxins. So far, these areas haven't caused any negative effects with my party.
Note the discoloration around the east of the gateway and mountains.
Rastanna was mostly a bust, though I did write down several things to which to return later. I found two dungeon entrances, but I didn't know the passcodes for either of them. There was at least one stronghold, where you can rest, heal, and study spells without interruption, and one temple to an unknown god that gave me the password PINTALDI. The islands south of Rastanna (called the Outsiders) had a couple more strongholds, a sleeping god who didn't respond to any of the words I'd used so far, and a third dungeon (actually a tower, but "dungeon" is the common term).
I arrive in Herrington Bay.
From there, I nudged east and explored the Herring Isles. including the city of Herrington, which seemed to be a human city. An NPC named Enfala told me that South Herring Isle has a shrine to the goddess of birth, Olkanis, and that Olkanis herself rests in the mines of Tarrak on Rastanna.  Elsewhere, a man named Berbedos gave me the password to enter the Tower of Wesgar, which seemed to be the tower I had recently found on one of the Outsiders, and a man named Kenneth told me that the god I had discovered in the Outsiders was probably Bohar (I haven't found his temple yet). Thus do the pieces slowly fall into place.
When I explore systematically, I like to do so in a recursive way, so that I return to already-explored places if given a good reason. Since I now had the password to a dungeon I'd originally skipped, I returned, gave it at the gate, and entered.
Is it a magic password? Is there some guy on the other side of those doors waiting for it? The game never says.
Dungeons don't seem to have changed much from the previous game. They're divided into corridors and rooms, with slightly different rules for each; for instance, the entire party moves with the active character in corridors, but not in rooms. Rooms often have multiple exits, linking various sections of corridor. As usual, I adopted a "rightmost wall" pattern of exploration and hoped it would save me from mapping.

The first room I entered had an ogre. I don't remember if the previous games had ogres. The one here had a ridiculous number of hit points--more than 400. At first, I thought he was alone, but it turns out the little orbs I had taken for decorations or furniture were giant spiders. Something about the graphics in this game wreaks havoc with my colorblindness. I guess it's mostly that the icons are too small, and they attempt too much detail for icons that small. I can't tell people from objects, enemies from bushes. Exploring the dungeons looks like it's going to be much crisper.
It didn't look like a barrel.
Anyway, we eventually whittled him down, killed the spiders, and looted the room for 17 gold pieces and a chest with 20 Sermin mushrooms. We were ambushed in the next hallway by rust monsters, slimes, and an ogre, but we managed to kill them with minimal damage. As usual, I don't think there are any random combats in this game, and once you clear part of a dungeon, it remains clear. I can't quite remember what the rules of respawning were in previous games, but I think they only applied to the outdoors.
The characters occasionally have little banters. One occurred here as we walked down a corridor. Evixa asked whether it was here that "they" kept the "magic candle rot" or "magic candle fungus." Sakar corrected her that they kept the mold here--not mold like fungus but mold like the form in which they poured the wax to shape the candle. That's a weird bit of lore. Anyway, I think the game would have chosen any two random party members for this dialogue. It's not like it grows from the characters' personalities.
Sakar started a sentence with "actually." I have to kill him now.
Another room with an ogre and some lesser foes netted us an iron helmet and a suit of methreal. Beyond was a stairway up. In a room on the second floor, we met some skeletons and killed them easily. I was surprised when they popped back to life a couple of rounds later. I had forgotten that in this game, you have to cast "Restsoul" to permanently deal with slain undead. Fortunately, Fiz had 18 of them memorized. I'm sure I'll need some more.
An extra step that most RPGs don't require.
One thing that I'm noticing is that my weapon skills are increasing at an amazing pace. Every round, someone's archery or sword skill goes up. Unfortunately, this contributes to feeling like the characters stopped developing halfway through.
I think I'll end there. We'll see how the party did with the rest of the dungeon in the next entry. It's good to get the ball rolling on this again after so long.

Time so far: 9 hours


  1. "I feel like this a lot, with games that I've played for the blog and otherwise, sometimes with books or television shows, too."

    It happens to me a lot.

    I started Red Dead Redemption 2 three times from scratch before doing a full playthrough of it.

    I have not gone past the second seasons of Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones after start watching them from scratch 2/3 times.

    Probably your "solution" for MC3 is rationally the best one.

    1. I started playing Fallout: New Vegas in 2016. I got through the entire campaign and three of the four DLC, got stuck on Lanius and gave up. Last month I finally beat Lonesome Road and finished the game in one long session. Thank goodness for Steam cloud saves.

    2. The number of times I did this with reading Lord of the Rings...

      It’s a pain with long form media which has a slow start (or struggles to find its feet at the beginning) as you need to get over that hurdle, But when you do it’s pretty awesome

    3. I sometimes do this but then its mostly because I don't want the story to end.

  2. The one time I tried this game didn't work out too well. I didn't have a background playing the first two games, so I was well and truly jumping in the deep end. I had no understanding of mushrooms. Further, it really didn't help that for some reason my notes were a garbled mess when I would try to access them, which spooked pre-teen me pretty badly.

    I will gladly read this blog to figure out what I was supposed to be doing, since the furthest I got was, I believe, somehow jumping through a teleporter and having no way of getting back to where I came from.

    1. I had almost the same experience back in the day. Not knowing about the NPC's in the houses, the mushrooms, or the sleeping gods is a real handicap.

    2. Yeah, not knowing how the mushrooms worked would make a particularly difficult game.

  3. Comments hijack: This article about early PLATO games pedit5 and dnd might interest some here: https://if50.substack.com/p/1975-dnd

    1. That's a very well-written article. Given the nature of that site, I doubt it will touch often on CRPGs, but he did a good job with this one.

    2. Aaron Reed is himself the author of a bunch of quite good works of interactive fiction so that makes sense! Gourmet is probably my favorite of his: https://ifdb.tads.org/viewgame?id=sj4rxxt9ec0n5zy9.

      (Per the post launching the series, it looks like there might be a couple RPG-adjacent things, like a MUD or two and Dwarf Fortress, but yeah, seems like it's going to be IF-focused).

    3. Heh, only now I read it to the end... and the writer does refer to CRPG Addict as a source! :)

    4. The one who's really done a kick-ass job with these PLATO games is Nathan over at "CRPG Adventures." He's forced himself to win games that I didn't think it was possible to win.

    5. Ahab, too, I should mention, at "The Data-Driven Gamer," but Nathan was generally the first to show it could be done.

  4. I can't recall, did you stick with the newbie recruits from the beginning of the game or replace them?

  5. Ogres were definitely a thing in the first two games.

    (Even if the manual for MC1 alleged there weren't any in Deruvia.)

    1. Magic Candle 3 introduces Ogre Magi and Ogre Lords to the standard Ogre. There’s a tower somewhere that is mostly Ogres.

  6. "I started experimenting with mushrooms and spells again."

    Chester! You're meant to be at university to teach!

    1. You know, in all my trips to New Orleans, I've tried a lot of things, some of which worked as advertised, some of which I became convinced weren't what I was told they were, but I've never tried mushrooms. I suppose I never will. It doesn't seem like something you take up at 50.

    2. I'm pretty sure psychedelic drugs are a young person's game.

    3. Chester, every time you mention about your travels to New Orleans, I instantly want to re-play Gabriel Knight once again. Did those unspecified "things" include voodoo parties?

    4. You know, in all my trips to New Orleans, I've tried a lot of things, some of which worked as advertised, some of which I became convinced weren't what I was told they were

      In retrospect, we might have surmised that bottle of Mello Yello with a licorice stick in it probably wasn't legit absinthe. But back then, who knew?

    5. I've never found much in the way of voodoo in New Orleans, such that I suspect that any serious voodoo culture is over-stated. Then again, it's never been what I've primarily been looking for.

      God, I haven't been to New Orleans in four years now. I really hope that COVID will have declined enough by the summertime that I can go for Satchmo Fest.

  7. IIRC, if you do come back to the Ork King, you'll get some main quest pointers. But of course half the charm of open-ended games is that you can just go around and explore. Don't hang around too long though - IIRC, the blight slowly spreads around as time passes, making exploration more bothersome.
    It's not clear from your post if you noticed, but Evixa comes with a whole new spellbook with some pretty nice spells in it.

    1. Heh. Wait until you see my next entry. When you do, please be aware that I already had it written and scheduled before reading this comment.

  8. You've inspired me to start up my own blog, following some of the patterns that you've now made "industry standards", but hopefully with my own spin that makes sense. But thank you so much for so many nostalgic trips that haven't ended.

    1. Very cool. Let us known when you start posting.

    2. Thank you, will do! I'll probably wait until I have at least 5 posts or my first game finished, whatever comes first :). Thank you for what feels like you starting this trend! It is a MONUMENTAL task, so very impressed you've been able to keep it going and hope you can do so for another decade at least!

  9. Funny you mention your color blindness causing problems seeing in this game, I am not color blind but I have trouble with this game and Bloodstone, the first two were fine but the angle makes it hard to pick things out. World of Ultima gave me the same trouble.


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