Friday, May 14, 2021

Darkside of Xeen: Game Time!

A prophet describes every RPG ever.
As we wrapped up last time, my Level 26 party had finally found its way into Xeen's second town, Sandcaster, hoping to get a new bead on the main quest. As we emerged from the sewers, we were attacked almost immediately by enchantresses that looked more techno than fantasy. As it turned out, the entire city was being bullied by enchantresses and wizards (including a "master" variety).
That's an awfully cyberpunky enchantress.
Grimgrag the Baker told us the spellcasters are sensitive to insults. Sure enough, when I approached Blastem the Wizard in the tavern, he demanded respect. I had a role-playing option that wasn't really any role-playing option at all . . .
If any CRPG player has ever chosen #2 in this scenario, I want to meet you. E-mail me after you get your second COVID vaccine. I'll pay the travel expenses.
. . . which generated a huge tavern fight against a couple dozen mages. Fortunately, I was clearly supposed to have visited Sandcaster many levels ago. For the most part, their spells were unable to overcome my elemental resistances, and they typically died in one hit. The only negative part was waiting for all their spell animations to finish.
Elsewhere, Astra the Good Sorceress asked us to clean out the town of the magic users and their leaders, Xenoc the Wizard and Morgana the Sorceress. Morgana was in a room in town, but to find Xenoc, I had to go to the sewers and back up into a hidden section of town.
With muscles like that, why use spells?
The town had the usual selection of services, including a temple, which was good because half my characters were insane when I arrived. I don't think insanity has a spell cure in this game, although I haven't tried "Divine Intervention." It seems like overkill to cure one condition. Someone who inherited all his wealth and has all day to sit around reading manuals is going to pop in to tell me that there is a cure and it's in the manual. Must be nice.
The double-sized map also had a number of other encounters, most with NPCs in tables and tents:
  • Trainers for prestidigitation (Tibara the Magician), navigation (Gregor the Navigator), linguist (Natalie the Linguist), and merchant (Morgan the Merchant). Perhaps Darkside should have simply required players to learn Darkside-specific versions of these skills.
  • Melissa the Trainer told me that Natasha "will sometimes enchant ordinary things with spells of calm and friendship," useful for taming wild beasts. But when I met Natasha the Enchantress, she said I didn't have anything that she could enchant. I don't know if this is a later quest or if I just need to have a specific type of item.
  • A chest in one of the wizards' chambers had the key to the Great Eastern Tower.
  • Apparently, the Darkside used to have travel mirrors just like the other side, but Alamar shut them down. 
  • The spellcasters' rooms had some potions that gave permanent bonuses to speed, intelligence, and personality.
The game has been generous with these lately.
  • James the Merchant and Edmund the Weapons Forger (that sounds like he makes bootleg copies) both had algebra problems, each of which netted us 250,000 experience for the solution.
p=1, a=2. What else ya got?
  • Digga the Salesman sold me "vulture repellent" for 25,000 gold. Later, an NPC told me that "vulture repellent doesn't work," but that NPC is named "Creighton the Dunce," so I don't know what to believe. I think I already killed all the vultures.
  • Niccola the Guildman sold us membership in the Sandcaster guild for 20,000 gold pieces each (60,000 total for my three spellcasters). Although I purchased it here and in the next two cities, I believe I already have all the game's spells. None of the guilds had anything to offer me.
  • Flint the Treasure Hunter said he's heard of a great treasure "horde" buried "somewhere in the land." I wonder if he's referring to the treasure of Jibbo Mox.
  • Sarah, "a Paladin's Friend," said that a dying paladin gave his magic armor to the "enchanted boulders of the land for safekeeping." That must be what the boulders' puzzle gets me.
  • A monkeydog (there was a second one!) said that I should never take all of a genie's money. "It's greedy." This suggests I played the encounter with the genie in the last session just right. I wonder if that will come back to benefit us.
". . . but you clean one lamp . . ."
  • Drusilla the Clairvoyant offers a hint of a plot twist for anyone who hasn't already played the first Might and Magic:
Just get a floor plan for the basement of his castle.
Most important, Geoffrey the Monitor was selling passes to Lakeside. Since I had tried to visit that city during the last game, and it had one of my statuette quests, I decided to head there next via the expediency of "Town Portal."
Lakeside was a smaller community.
We immediately got attacked by witches when we arrived. What's with the spellcasters in this setting? Imagine if they put this effort into helping the pharaoh instead of menacing small towns. Just like Sandcaster, they were pretty helpless against our "Protection from Elements." The small map was full of cages in which the witches had imprisoned townsfolk. We got a lot of experience for freeing them. One of the freed NPCs, Camilla the Captured, told me that they turn the captured citizens into monsters, who then get shipped to Castle Blackfang as guards. The ones that come out wrong go to the Isle of Lost Souls. 
Y'all aren't going to keep those sobriquets, are you?
Like Sandcaster, the witches had a bunch of potions that permanently increased attributes. They also had a bunch of texts that described in detail how to make such potions. The detail was a little unnecessary, as the instructions are impossible to follow using the game mechanics and clearly aren't meant for the player. Some of the potions were in cauldrons, and some of the cauldrons turned the drinker to stone rather than providing an attribute increase. After one such event, I finally decided to trust the heads on the side of the screen, which activate with the "Clairvoyance" spell (including the packaged "Day of Sorcery" spell). The one on the left shakes if it's unsafe to do something and nods if it's safe. The one on the right nods if there's any benefit to doing it and shakes if there's not. Obviously, he's the one you have to pay most attention to, but if they both shake, you probably want to move on.
I admit I like the witch graphics.
There was a silly word puzzle that had the same shtick as the desert boulders, though much easier because there's only one possibility for each letter, and the answer is obvious anyway. I can't even remember what I got for solving it.
This could have been a little harder.
To wipe out the witches, I had to hit them in both the town and the sewers. The witch leader had a pass to Necropolis and the golden dragon statuette, one of three I have to recover for . . . a dryad? An elf? I forgot. Yes, I could look it up in a previous entry. Why don't you do that, David Allen, and report back to me.
I braced for more spellcasters in Necropolis, but as I should have guessed from its name, its theme was undead. Higher mummies attacked as soon as I entered (I never even got to face regular mummies!), and I had to fight a bunch of power liches when I pillaged their coffins. Things only started to get hard here, but not very. The biggest problem was the power liches kept cursing me, which in turn curses your entire inventory until you get it lifted at a temple or spend the absurd points on "Divine Intervention."
Isn't that a bit redundant?
The most difficult enemy was Sandro the Lich. He wanted us to bring him his heart so I could destroy it and end his curse. Even though we were working for him, his "hunger for the living" compelled him to attack us, and his first blast killed two of my characters. Raising them isn't a big deal at this point, though, and Sandro died (temporarily) with I think a combination of physical attacks and "Holy Word."
To kill Sandro permanently, I had to get his heart from the sewers, which are running with lava instead of sewage. Fortunately, it doesn't do much against my elemental protection. There were some trivial "lava roaches" that popped up as we explored. When we brought back his heart, Sandro expired gratefully and gave us not only another statuette but the key to his "old home" on the Clouds side of the world, the Dungeon of Death. He also gave us 2 million experience and the encouragement that "Alamar can be defeated."
I suppose the town should be commended for building above a geothermal heat source.
Incidentally, the name "Sandro" seemed familiar, so I Googled it. A bunch of wikis say he (or, more likely, another lich of the same name) appears in the Heroes of Might and Magic series on Enroth. There must be some reference to him in VI or VII, because I've never played Heroes
Maybe he realized he liked being a lich and gives away his heart again.
A few other odd things were in Necropolis. One was a very long book. Books in this game tend to be a couple of pages at most, but this one went on forever about a conflict between two brothers, both sorcerers, named Death and Darkness. They battled for years over who was stronger and eventually hashed it out in a cataclysmic battle in which they both died. I'm not sure what I was supposed to take from that.
More interesting were a series of "Books of the Dead." I think there were only five or six, but they were numbered III through VIII or something. Maybe I missed a couple; I guess I should go back. Anyway, reading these generally conferred 1 million experience points on the reader, but also aged him between 25 and 50 years. The final book conferred 10 million experience points but aged the reader 100 years, and could only be read by my druid and sorcerer anyway (there was an intelligence check). I think the "right" way to do this was to help someone named Thaddeus (based on a hint I got in Sandcaster), who can remove magical aging. But not having experienced that encounter, I warped back to the Clouds side (I still have a "Lloyd's Beacon" set in Vertigo) and did the circuit of druids. The thing is, I was afraid to let anyone get too old, even though I don't think there's any danger until you sleep, so I ended up doing this three times.
I hope the shock of "Lloyd's Beacon" doesn't kill him.
That must have been interesting for the people of Xeen: the world went through all four seasons three times in the space of about three days. What kind of system has the seasons advance whenever a druid gets some item from the last druid? But that isn't the only thing that's odd about this game and time. Based on some lingering questions from my previous sessions, I did some experimentation. The results indicate that if you didn't already know Xeen was a false reality, you'd be able to figure it out through a little observation:
  • One minute passes for every move or action indoors, not including inventory, the journal, or checking the time itself. Turning also takes no time. If you enter combat, one minute passes for every combat round.
  • Outside, the rules are the same, but every action takes 10 minutes. However, in combat outdoors, rounds only take one minute.
You have to keep your eye on the calendar. Days can slip by faster than you think.
  • It thus takes about 16 hours to cross the entire world of Xeen from east to west, and 10.5 hours to cross it from north to south ("about" because there are a variable number of inaccessible squares around the edge). Assuming a slow walking speed, that still puts Xeen at roughly 672 square miles. I was trying to find a good comparison to that. It's about the size of Los Angeles, but that doesn't really work because most of what people think is Los Angeles isn't Los Angeles and most of what is Los Angeles isn't what people think is Los Angeles. Houston and London both work. It's about the size of Houston or London. Just the cities, not the metro areas.
  • Using a magic mirror to travel takes no time at all, even though you have to hit SPACE to use it. Neither does entering or exiting a town via the door.
  • Here's where it gets weird. Visiting any town service--temple, tavern, armory--makes one full day pass on the calendar, even if you immediately back out. Oddly, this has no effect on your active buffs. The game acts as if no time has passed at all, and any active spells or healing potions remain active until 05:00 the next day.
  • However, if you get healed at the temple (and only healed; donations don't count), it will remove any active buffs for that character only. That's what was happening to my party all throughout Clouds.
  • Training takes one initial day for just visiting. If you actually train, it's one day per person, regardless of how many times they train. Training removes buffs and spells but not status effects like drunkenness that would otherwise wear off over time.
  • If you haven't slept in 48 hours or more when the clock rolls around to 05:00, the game says, "Your party needs rest!" and everyone gets "Weak," which puts a sad look on their faces and reduces all their attributes by 1. It never seems to get worse than that. Occasionally, even though their appearances don't change, their statuses get restored to "Good" (and their attributes go back up) for no reason.
Everyone is sad and slightly weak.
  • A year is only 100 days. It rolls from Day 99 to Day 0.
When I was done puzzling the mysteries of space and time, the party decided to return to the Clouds side and explore the new dungeon. Given its name and that it had belonged to a lich, we expected it might be full of undead creatures. Instead, it--or, at least, its first level--is a giant crossword puzzle. It violates the rules of any modern crossword puzzle grid, but that's forgivable since nearly every answer is themed answer. In a Sunday New York Times crossword (which has about the same number of clues), you're lucky to get five or six themed answers.
We did not have to consult our notes for this one.
This one has 89 clues and answers, 41 across and 48 down. They all start in dead-end squares, which was probably a limitation of the engine (e.g., you can' t have two encounters in one square, with one clue on each wall). Some of them are generic fantasy, like "half man, half bull" (MINOTAUR) or "knight's attendant" (PAGE). Some could be figured out generically but are also emphasized in Might and Magic specifically, like "savage, primitive person" (BARBARIAN) or "armored mammal" (ARMADILLO). But quite a few require specific knowledge from these two games, including "unicorn whose alicorn was stolen" (FALISTA) and "Castle Basenji password" (THEREWOLF). One of them, "freed from spaceship" (CORAK) was even a spoiler. A couple of them had me shuffling through my notes and screenshots from the last game.
None of them are very hard, however, because they're all given--even highlighted--in a little travelogue given by a statue at the entrance to the dungeon. That really annoyed me. The reward for finishing the puzzle is +5 levels, which is enough that the player should have had to do the work. I didn't use the book. If you want to try it yourself, here's the blank version and the filled-in version.
A statue spoils the entire puzzle.
Solving the puzzle doesn't just get you 5 levels; it also gets you down the stairway to the lower level of the Dungeon of Death. Unfortunately, even with my ninja at Level 65 (including the +5 for solving the puzzle and 10 levels from the fountain), I can't open or bash a door in this area. I thus reloaded from before I got the +5 levels, thinking that if I have to return to the Dungeon of Death anyway, I might as well save it for when those levels are a lot more valuable.
I don't want to seem ungrateful, but I think we deserve more than a haircut.
Miscellaneous notes:
  • When you go into a store or other service location in Clouds, you get a desk. Walking up to the desk and hitting SPACE activates the "store." On the Darkside, instead of a desk you get this wooden thing. I had perceived it as a door, but I finally realized this session that it's supposed to represent stairs going up, to where the actual services are found.
It took me until now to properly interpret this image.
  • For the first time, I had to take money out of my bank account to train. Thanks to the rewards in Necropolis, we each went up about 15 levels at once. I still have about 2 million in the bank, but a couple of my characters could train more; they're just at the maximum level for Sandcaster (50). Lakeside and Necropolis don't have training halls, so I suppose my only hope is the final city, Olympus.
  • Olympus is up in the clouds, and I have no idea where to get a pass.
  • This is fine because I still don't have a pass to Sandcaster, so to get there to train, I was having to sneak in through the sewers. 
  • Lakeview had some flooded squares in the northern part of the city, a couple with boats. I guess it was supposed to be a marina. One boat offered us "safe passage" to the Isle of Lost Souls, but that just took us to the outside. I was surprised we didn't find a key to the dungeon on the island in the city, given its connection to the witches. 
  • I need another 5 energy discs for the next phase of Castle Kalindra. About 12 hours after finding a fourth energy disc, I still haven't found a fifth one.
When I was done (for now) with the Dungeon of Death, I had reached the end of my immediate clues. Everything else requires an item or is at an unknown location, such as the "head heretical cleric" who possesses the third statuette. I thus rolled for a new random area and got A2, just north of where I'd already explored for Necropolis. 
Feeling like a badass, I was almost immediately deflated by a "gamma gazer." I remember beating one before; why would it be hard now that I'm 15 levels higher? I mean, he didn't come close to killing us or anything, but the combat took about 7 rounds, and I had to heal a couple of times.
Griffins--which seem to have a particular hatred for my knight--and giants prowl the eastern edges of this map, which transitions from desert in the southwest to snow in the northeast. I haven't found much so far, but I have found a second space ship. And this one allows me to enter it.
We should have some interesting things to discuss next time. 
Time so far: 18 hours


  1. Pre pandemic Glastonbury was the top festival I went during the summer. It is oficially 3 days long but actually goes over to 5 days, and that makes it difficult after the third day, where it is so hard to wake up and feel good after those excesses during the day. But after a few hours, a coffee, some ciders and some good music, I felt great again and ready for another long day and night of music, dancing and partying.

    And that is what I remembered when the party in Xeen randomly stopped being weak after a few hours. "Oh guys, I have been there".

    1. That sounds like a young man's game. Yikes. I'm tired just reading it.

  2. "Someone who inherited all his wealth and has all day to sit around reading manuals is going to pop in to tell me that there is a cure and it's in the manual. Must be nice."

    That's, er, oddly specific!

    "Yes, I could look it up in a previous entry. Why don't you do that, David Allen, and report back to me."

    Something tells me I've been missing out on some action in the comments section...

    1. Nah, I was just coming up with pre-emptive counters to obvious comments about the things that confused me. Neither are good excuses, but they beat, "I'd rather complain than spend 30 seconds looking up the answer."

  3. "most of what people think is Los Angeles isn't Los Angeles and most of what is Los Angeles isn't what people think is Los Angeles."

    I was told exactly this when I was visiting an old friend in LA shortly before the pandemic made planes disappear.

  4. "Whfg trg n sybbe cyna sbe gur onfrzrag bs uvf pnfgyr." - Lrf, gung'f cerpvfryl ubj lbh svaq bhg uvf anzr urer, gbb.

  5. I think the Weak condition is bugged where it progressively gets better rather than worse.

    It doesn't come up often, but the Etherealize spell can sometimes get you through a locked door that you can't pick.

  6. For the role-playing choice, I envision that second choice being spoken in an overly sarcastic manner and hence angering Blastem and leading to the exact same combat.

    I agree that it would be odd to choose that dialogue if it was intended to be read straight as written.

  7. You live in Maine. Is it really that strange to experience all 4 seasons in a week?

  8. I would have chosen "Do you want your boots licked?" for the wizard. It seems more annoyingly sarcastic.

    1. I'd have thought about it, but at least the first time I played, I'd have gone with the other option. Surely someone saved just before that dialog and chose the boot-licking option, though, and will share the result.

    2. I've chosen both results before, but it's been ages, so I don't remember what happened. I think just a snarky reply from the wizard, and then nothing.

    3. I've just checked a walkthrough, and the other option does avoid combat.

    4. In Prelude to Darkness there's a quest you can only do if you grovel before the questgiver, kiss his feet and call him a genius. If you refuse, he considers you respectless and won't deal with you. Pretty hilarious!

    5. For me, that answer has some sort of BDSM vibe.

    6. I guess it's all in the delivery. That line could easily be dripping with sarcasm and intended to provoke a fight, or cringing and obsequious depending how it was delivered - or even kinky if you're into that kind of thing. Naturally that doesn't come across in text options like this without some kind of tag appended.

  9. "Using a magic mirror to travel takes no time at all, even though you have to hit SPACE to use it."

    Of course, you don't have to hit the TIME key...

  10. Just want to quickly share - visiting today, Google Chrome let me know that there was a phishing risk from this website. No earthly idea why.

    1. Something seems to be going on with Google right now. I got the message, too, but I also got it at The Adventure Gamer and a couple of other Blogspot sites, so I assume it's applying to the whole domain--which, of course, is ironically owned by Google.

    2. I figured as much. I reported it as a mistake and mentioned that the blog posts aren't a problem, but that you get problematic comments every so often and are pretty on the ball at removing said problematic comments... you know, advert comments and stuff like that.

    3. Hey now! I'm sure some of those folks really do make $3,215 per hour working from home and are just excited to share.

  11. My characters did die immediately when they got too old from reading the Books of the Dead in Necropolis. The limit seems to be somewhere around 150.

    1. Good to know. Sounds like I made the right call.

  12. According to the NWC official guidebook, Vulture Repellent indeed does nothing. But I'd assume that most players buy it anyway just in case, given that 25000 is basically pocket change at that point.

    1. It's a funny trap by the developers. You can buy the fake treasure map in Castleview, but get a real map and reward later, if you talk to another NPC.
      Vulture Repellent is completely useless, but a player on the first playthrough will probably think what he'll get something from falling to this obvious fraud.

  13. As a general hint - check the vicinity of the road from Castleview to Sandcaster. There is an opportunity to finish some quests and get a few energy disks.

    Olympus is not the only location to train left on the Darkside. You got a bunch of services in Clouds when you rebuilt Newcastle. About the same thing happens on the Darkside.

    Unfortunately, Divine Intervention and the temples are the only ways to cure insanity.

    Weakness and most other conditions have strength, shown as a negative number if you click on the Condition icon. They will lower the stats by that number. If any single one of the character's stats goes to below 0 as a result, he dies.
    The most hilarious way to die for a character is to get a very high Drunk condition and rest. After resting that conditions turns into the Weak condition of equal strength and kills the character. I think what this is the first CRPG where a character can die from hangover.

  14. >> the name "Sandro" seemed familiar

    You played a German game titled "Sandor". How about its sequel, "Sandor II"?

    "Sandro" is the Italian version of the Hungarian name "Sandor", and both correspond to "Alexander" or its abbreviation "Xander" (I met a British miusician named "Xander").

    1. I though it was a friendly abbreviated "Alessandro" (Alexander). In Italian is common to use shorter nicknames with the ending part of the name.

  15. "I predict that you will die young and be resurrected" - wrong, I reload on character death :p

  16. Did you ever play M&M:VIII? 'Cause I think Sandro is a necromancer npc guy in that.

  17. Not only Sandor, many of the Characters appear as Heroes in "Heroes of Might and Magic 2"

    1. With a few exceptions it's just recirculation of names, not the same characters.

    2. I guess the game has something to do with the heroes from the might and magic series.

      But yeah, although Alamar the Warlock exists (with the same portrait I think) in HoMM, I think it’s just a callback, not actually the same character.

    3. Yeah, some npc are the same characters, but many Portraits and names are reused for the Heroes series. I only really played the Heroes Games, but it seems some Things are very loosly connected and it some cases there seems a direct connection (the Statue of Archibald in MM6)

    4. What If read the Most direct connection in the First three Heroes Games is to MM6 which share the same world.
      The 4th Heroes game shares the world with the MM9.

    5. Enroth is the setting for HoMM1-3 and MM6-8.

      HoMM4 and MM9 share a setting as do HoMM5-7 and MMX

      I have no idea how consistent the narratives are between the games.

    6. It seems they stayed true to the overarching Story, but left the SciFi Parts Out of the Heroes series. The Infamous "Elemental Town" from the Heroes 3 Expansion should be originally a other Town adding the SciFi Part in, but the community really disliked it, so they cancelles that

    7. How consistent is the narrative? Sheltem is killed at the end of MM2. Sheltem is alive in MM3, and that game doesn't explain how or why (or even mention anything about MM2 at all).

      I'm going with "not very" :P

    8. Only MM6+7 and HoMM 3+expansion form a consistent narrative. The Heroes Chronicles also fill in some gaps, but is marred by horrible, fan fiction level of writing. The last of the Chronicles (only one I haven't played yet) leads to the events in HoMM 4 (also on my to do list).

    9. Actually, Sheltem had already left CRON well before the party even started their adventure in M&M2. What the party ran into in Square Lake Cave was a facsimile, a copy he left behind along with the puzzle that was meant to test the people of CRON to see if they were worthy of Terra.

    10. Does MM9 share a setting with HoMM4? From what I remember of MM9, it was completely disconnected from the rest of the series and was more of a vague Norse setting than anything else.

    11. @MaxKnight: I think that "facsimile" business is your headcanon and not stated in the games anywhere.

    12. No, MaxKnight is right; he's just spoiling. Those facts are confirmed later in this game. Fortunately, I had already gotten there.

    13. Wait, it was? I could have sworn it was explained before this, like in 3...? Geez, has it been that long since I last played 3/4/5?

    14. HoMM and the mainline M&M series don't have that much story connection in them. Except for M&M 6 to 8 being set in the same world as the HoMM games... but even then, their stories don't intersect that much. As was already mentioned, the sci-fi elements which appear in every M&M game are entirely absent from the HoMM series. The HoMM games have their own storyline that stays pretty consistent across the sequels, but that storyline is pretty independent from that of the mainline M&M games.

  18. The prophet forgot about the 'you will be able to swallow gallons of healing potions because your bladder is filled with anti-matter'-part.

  19. This entry reminded me of when Gary Gygax wrote in the 1E DMG, in all caps, "YOU CAN NOT HAVE A MEANINGFUL CAMPAIGN IF STRICT TIME RECORDS ARE NOT KEPT."

  20. -The dungeon of death can be pretty tough even for an experienced group. A fully outfitted level 100 party with proper gear and buffs could probably do it but higher levels always help. This dungeon is meant to be completed at or closer to end game. Completing early is certainly achievable, but expect some real punishment on the lower levels.

    -At this point finishing open quests will probably answer the bulk of questions about the locations of passes, items, training, etc.

    "For the first time, I had to take money out of my bank account to train."

    Crystal ball reveals temp work may be in your future.


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