Friday, May 7, 2021

Darkside of Xeen: Random Access

The bottom row I had explored last time. The rest of these squares I filled in this time.
I ended the last entry with a long list of quests that I was tracking, five of which could be done right away and five of which could at least be tested (i.e., I wasn't sure if I needed a specific item or higher level). Sometimes, when I have such a list, and there's no clear role-playing reason to do one thing or another, or when the nature of the game doesn't make me care too much about role-playing, I let random numbers direct me. I rolled, and the number that came up was the one that I probably would have chosen if I had been "role-playing": Go to map E1 and find Xanthus the Sorcerer, who had invited me to visit via a message in a bottle.
I decided that I would fully explore every map with the next objective, but not necessarily every map in between. I pointed myself east from Castleview. On the way, I stopped at Sharla the Sprite's treehouse, because I had forgotten to get my reward for freeing the sprite from the Temple of Bark. She awarded me 250,000 experience points, a bunch of gems and gold, and an energy disk. I only need one more for the next phase of Castle Kalindra.
The party made its way to the first column in E4 and then turned north. In D4, a double row of mountains (the Gemstone Range, according to the map) marked the boundary between the Aging Forest and the Desert of Doom. We traversed the cracked earth without incident until we got to E2 and met some vulture rocs. They were harder than the killer cobras from last time--over 2,000 hit points, and with high armor classes. I played with a number of spells, including "Dancing Sword, " "Elemental Storm," "Cold Ray," "Energy Blast," "Fireball," "Fantastic Freeze," "Finger of Death," "Incinerate," "Inferno," and "Lightning Bolt" before I ran out of spell points and the vultures killed us. Not for the first time, I thought that the game could really simplify things by having a generic "Blast" spell that scales with the caster's level. 
This is a great spell, but I can only cast five of them.
Anyway, the battle had been close enough that I knew I'd win if I tried again buffed, and that was indeed the case. The desert gave way to icy tundra, and soon we were in E1, which according to the game map encompasses the Forest of Peril and the eastern part of Magic Mountain.
Xanthus was a bit of a disappointment. I'm not sure why he wanted me to visit at all. All he did was invite us to use the Great Fountain of Magic, a spell point buffing fountain, in a diagonally adjacent square. Like we needed his permission.
Why did you send out a message in a bottle for this?
Right next door to Xanthus was a tent occupied by Slibo the Wizard. Slibo was at the coordinates indicated by the treasure map we'd found in Castleview. I was curious how this was going to play out. You can't have hidden treasure in this game (or III or IV) because the interface gives you no way to interact with the environment if there isn't something in front of you like a door or altar. There's no "dig" or "search" command. So there was no chance that the map was going to lead to a blank square that I would know to search because I had the map. In this case, it didn't make any sense because the map led to Slibo, but Slibo clearly interpreted the map differently. After giving us 2,000 gems for it, he raved about how he now had the map to the "fabled treasure of Jibbo Mox!" and departed for the Desert of Doom. Why did the map lead us to him instead of the Desert of Doom?
Maybe we should have asked for a bit more.
Beyond that, there wasn't much to the map except random combats with hell hornets, which you don't really associate with snow, and arachnids that came spilling out of wood piles. There were also unavoidable "animal traps" that damaged the entire party.
I guess hell has frozen over.
Rolling again, the next quest was to recover the griffin statuette from the hands of Sandro in Necropolis. Rather than walk there, I used "Town Portal." On the Darkside, this spell brings you to the exterior of the city rather than the interior, and since cities on the Darkside require a pass, I had to spend some time searching for one. In the process, I mowed my way through B2, which encompasses the "Forbidden Zone" section of the Desert of Doom. The Forbidden Zone is surrounded by grotesque scarecrows that warn you to "keep out."
I suppose "scarecrow" is a somewhat naive interpretation of what this could be.
As I explored outward from Necropolis, I started to encounter griffons and iguanasauruses, neither of which lasted too long in combat against my unbuffed party (mostly; I had some lingering hit point buffs from the vulture roc battles; they don't go away at 05:00 like other buffs), but both of which hit hard enough that they broke a few pieces of armor. 
The southwest part of the area got into the Gemstone Range, where there were a couple of dungeon entrances, looking a bit like the Red Dwarf mines on the other side. The dungeon was small and full of "beholder bats," who have an eye at the top of their heads but also carry an eye. The have a fire attack, but they died in one hit. The mine had veins on the walls that got me ruby, emerald, and sapphire rocks, although they occasionally exploded for significant damage.
This is sure tough to explain from an evolutionary perspective.
I had to warp out for buffing when I encountered a few "gamma gazers"; hydra-like creatures that had some kind of ray attack.
This is the most terrifying-looking creature in the game so far.
In the middle of the Forbidden Zone, I found what someone was trying to keep out: a spacecraft--likely the one that Sheltem flew from Terra. "The lava blocks the entrance," the game said when I tried to activate it. I'm sure we'll be coming back here later.
My party had no reaction to this bizarre contraption.
Two other encounters in B2: We found two genie lamps in the desert. One of the genies offered the person rubbing it a choice of 2 million experience, 200,000 gold, or 2,000 gems. I took the experience. The second offered 100,000 gold, but suggested that was all the genie had. I decided to be nice and decline, but he gave us 50,000 anyway. The second encounter was a barbarian camp that we destroyed for 50,000 experience. This belies what I said in the last entry about the game not having monster "nests." It clearly has at least one.
B2 features several types of terrain.
Unfortunately, we didn't find anyone offering a pass to Necropolis, nor any secret way into the city. I guess they're not all going to be as easy as Castleview. I marked it as unsolvable until later and moved on to the next one. This time, the roll told me to stop being such a wuss and go explore the Volcano Cave back on the Clouds side.
There wasn't much to the cave except a bunch of demons, devils, and lava. Carving my way through the first two and using "Jump" to get over the latter, I made my way down the four levels and reached Shangri-la legitimately. There were a couple of places where if I was willing to take some damage by walking in lava, I could smash a skull for 250,000 experience.
That desire might be related to the fact that we're standing in lava.
It was back to the Darkside for the next quest: trying to get the dragon statuette from the head witch of Lakeside. Lakeside is a town in F2, and as before I tried to "Town Portal" there only to find myself outside the town at the north end of the map. Most of F2 is the Octopod Lake, including the Isle of Lost Souls in the middle. Gargoyles patrolled the shores of the lake and about eight giant octopods appeared from the undulating waves (the water graphics in the game are about as good as we've seen so far). Neither was difficult for my party. 
I expected these guys to be harder.
The southern part of the lake had a +50 magic resistance fountain. The Isle of Lost Souls had a dungeon, but I had no key. Once again, I finished the map without any town pass to show for it.

I had no real hope of getting into Castle Blackfang in F1, where Queen Kalindra is supposedly being held, but I figured I'd give it a try while I was in the area. The map shows nothing in the area except the castle, some snowy mountains, and a river running through the center labeled "Snowy River Rapids." It turns out every time I walked into a river square, I was carried downstream and dumped into Octopod Lake, with associated damage.
There were more gargoyles in the mountains, and a gargoyle lair to destroy. This got me "Caleb's Magnifying Glass," a quest item whose quest I'm sure will become apparent. There were more animal traps in the woods. On the far eastern edge, there was a +500 hit point fountain, a great buffing spot if there was any good way to get there quickly. Maybe if I later find a "Lloyd's Beacon" item.
Really? Because I see a door, a couple of windows, a couple of towers we could climb. Maybe we could check around back?
As expected, there was no way into Castle Blackfang. There was no guardian demanding a key, just a message that there was no way to enter. 
My list now only had one item that I could do now: the Dragon Cave back on the Clouds side. Before heading there, I returned to Castleview for training (it had been a while) and got everyone up to Level 25/26. I made my usual round of the buffing fountains and took the magic mirror to the caves. I don't know why, but I had built up the Dragon Cave in my mind to be an enormous, sprawling complex with hundreds of dragons. Instead, it was a modest-sized dungeon with about 12 fire dragons, 8 frost dragons, and one dragon king. They had breath attacks, but "Protection from Elements" took the edge off those. The trick was to stop them from attacking from afar by using "Jump" and "Teleport" to get right up in their faces. In melee combat, they died in just a few hits. Even the creepy-looking dragon king didn't last very long.
This is like a dragon with an old man's head.
Side chambers had large piles of gold, gems, and items, including several obsidian weapons and armor. There were also books of "Dragon Lore" on various pedestals. All my characters were able to read Volume 1, got an experience boost, and got the title "Loremaster of Worms." Only my druid and sorcerer were able to read a couple of the higher-level books, and even they couldn't read a couple more. I tried returning with an intelligence fountain buff, but it didn't help (the skill check must be based on raw intelligence). If I care about those extra experience points, I'll have to return when my intelligence is higher.
I wonder if my druid and sorcerer are grateful they have each other to talk to, because compared to them, the rest of the party is a bunch of morons.
Back on the Darkside, I decided to try to get into Sandcaster in E3, at the eastern end of the Desert of Doom. As usual, there was no sign of a pass to the city anywhere in its own area. The map was otherwise chock full of stuff, including a final troll hole, an emerald handle just lying on the ground, and a cluster of gypsy wagons. These included Aldo the Food Vendor, selling sun-dried iguana innards; Caleb the Inventor, who rewarded me for finding his magnifying glass; and three vendors selling robes, boots, and necklaces for outrageous amounts of money. The robes and boots were ripoffs, but the necklace (which cost me 500 gems and 50,000 gold) turned out to be a "dragon necklace," bestowing +38 might. I suspect there's some randomness to all the items, though.
I was suspicious, but she came through.
At this point, I had explored 9 of the 20 Darkside areas, was out of clues, and was no closer to the main quest than when I started this session. I decided to extend the randomization theme to the remaining maps. I rolled the dice (actually, and got D2, conveniently close to where I was.
This place is obsessed with keys.
D2 occupies the center part of the map, including the Dragon Pharaoh's Great Pyramid. As expected, I was unable to get into the pyramid without a key. Enemies in the area were vulture rocs, which still required buffing on my part if I didn't want every battle to exhaust my spell points. There was another magic lamp (offering the experience, gold, or gem option). A scattered group of talking enchanted boulders offered one line each in a word puzzle:
  • "My third is in fable and also in tale." 
  • "My fourth is in lark and also in quail."
  • "My fifth is in wind but not in gale."
  • "My sixth is in glimpse and also in sight."
  • "My last is in night but not in light"
Yeah, that narrows it down. Thanks.
I assume there are two more in other desert maps. I'll wait until I have them to play with it.
Near the southeast corner of the map was a grate. Taking it, I found myself in an underground are labeled "Sandcaster sewers." That was a positive development. The sewers were large and sprawling, featuring combats with beholder bats and sewer hags, and not much treasure, but there was one "gym" that we had to pay 50,000 gold to enter. Inside was a book teaching us "Body Building" (which we already had) and two potions, each with six uses, that permanently increased endurance and might.
This would be a really nasty real-life insult.
Ultimately, we crawled out of the sewers and into the town of Sandcaster, where I expect to find at least some clue as to the next step in the main quest.
Arriving insane (because of the beholder bats) in a new city.
I don't know if it was fun to read about this session, but it was fun to play. Even though their encounters are often silly, Might and Magic's maps are just so much fun to explore. The encounters are varied and the rewards nearly constant. 
Time so far: 16 hours


  1. Thanks, Chet! It's a lot of fun reading your entries. I've had so many of these games since they first came out (because I'm old enough!), but never really played through them back then. You make me want to play through them now, but it's always a matter of time. Thanks!

  2. Hello adventurer

    'The rest of these squares I filled in this time.'

    Why not A3 right above Castleview? I believe MM games intend for players to explore from the starting location generally in an outward spiral pattern, with some exceptions. Or at least until a barrier is encountered or overly difficult mobs. I know the exploration pattern was an issue earlier, with everyone chiming in their opinion on the topic. No right or wrong way to do it, but exploring 'spiral' tends to keep content in the most convenient order, with a lot less missing of important stuff like quests, keys or passes. In fact one needn't enter Sandcaster from the sewers at all as the pass can be found just outside of Castleview.

    The game does have a generic blast spell, Energy Blast. Damages almost everything, is cheap and scales with level.

    It worth it to get all the Loremaster ranks for all your characters, if only for the great experience. Also the challenge of doing it.

    The main quest in Darkside is fairly linear, locations will be locked or unavailable until the prerequisite is met. Seems you stumbled upon a good number of them.

    'I took the experience.'

    Take the gold next time or you'll be working temp jobs.

    Good luck

    1. Good advice above, although I can well imagine the random approach to going places was a lot of fun. Your main quest at this point is really just picking up energy disks, some of which you'll find with just a bit more exploration.

    2. If you check the math, Energy Blast is actually the second-weakest of all the spells Chet mentioned. That's why it's so cheap.

  3. "You can't have hidden treasure in this game (or III or IV) because the interface gives you no way to interact with the environment if there isn't something in front of you like a door or altar. There's no "dig" or "search" command. So there was no chance that the map was going to lead to a blank square that I would know to search because I had the map."

    I guess we'll hear of this again ;)

  4. I have a lot of fun reading these entries, mostly because your experience differs vastly from mine. It just show's what's possible in these open games. I don't think I would have dared to take on Vulture Rocs with a level 25 party, but I guess that's because I never used the fountain buffs...

    I don't remember finding the city passes to really be an issue. However, they all come in order, so you cannot acquire keys for Lakeside and Necropolis independently.

    Also, at least in III, you could hit space in random overland forest tiles and would occasionally find a hidden treasure. (Please don't ask how I noticed.) I don't think it's true for Xeen, though, but since every other square has a troll hole or something it's probably not necessary either. I'd say I like the Xeen approach more, it keeps you in the flow instead of having you check square by square by square...

  5. It's been a long time since I played, so don't take this as advice or anything. I was just wondering if the skyroads lead into locked towns or not, because I can't remember.

    1. The skyroads primarily lead to the towers and castles, I think? The exceptions being Castleview, as we've seen, and Bylzchf.

    2. I think that's right. And Castleview is only accessible because it happens to have a tower inside the town.

  6. I have a word that fits the clues you provided, will be interested to see if that’s it.

    1. So do I, and it might well straighten things out. (And another, but it's a name.)

    2. There are at least four, but one is more CRPG-y than the others.

    3. zlthrffcnynqvavfevtugvubcr

      Only throwing this in to put my money where my mouth is. Glad to hear you're enjoying Darkside, Chet. I liked Sandcaster.

    4. Gerry and I had the same idea, but yeah ML might actually be on the money.

    5. Hm hm well I know the answer but it seems more fun to not tell it

  7. Regarding the blast spells, in theory they all have different damage types, and monsters have varying amounts of resistance to each of them. In practice, the player has no way of finding out what those resistances ARE, and is reduced to spamming whichever spell gives the biggest damage graphic.

    Note that some spells damage one monster, and others hit a whole group; and some spells scale by level whereas others do flat damage. I think this is in the manual.

    Unsurprisingly, the game will never refer to Jibbo Mox again, before or after.

    1. Assuming level 25, the best spell is qnapvat fjbeq, juvpu qbrf gur fnzr qnzntr nf vasreab ohg gur sbezre fpnyrf naq gur ynggre qbrfa'g. Guvf vf orggre guna vapvarengr, juvpu va ghea orngf ryrzragny fgbez, juvpu gbcf sveronyy naq yvtugavat obyg, ohg gur ynggre gjb fpnyr fb jvyy riraghnyyl trg orggre.
      Gubfr ner nyy orggre guna raretl oynfg (juvpu fpnyrf ohg yrff fb guna gur bgure fpnyvat fcryyf). Snagnfgvp serrmr vf ybat bofbyrgr ol abj, naq svatre bs qrngu vf uvtuyl enaqbz naq hfhnyyl qbrfa'g jbex.

    2. And some spells damage everithing in front of you. That is various groups. It is worth to test

    3. "does the same damage as ... but the former scales and the latter doesn't."

      Does that make any sense to anyone?

    4. I think he means that the latter spell scales in cost (spell points) while not doing any extra damage.

    5. He means that at level 25 both spells do the same damage, but the former does 10 damage per level while the other does 250 fixed damage.

      Damage output always scales linearly with cost (spell points).

    6. So they DO NOT do the same damage, except at one very specific point.

    7. scaling is clearly meant with respect to damage in that post: "but the latter two scale so will eventually get better".

    8. Considerin Chet's party IS level 25 by now (according to this blog post), comparing the spells at level 25 seems fair :)

  8. The books in the Dragon Cave check the current INT, so buffs do help. But the most difficult book require as much as 250 INT, which is not very feasible without finding a few accessories to boost it. There is also a similar set of books on the Darkside.

    The items what traders near Sandcaster sell are fully random. The boots and robes are not worth it, as you said. Necklaces can be much more useful, if they happen to have a top-tier stat bonuses. But they are so random, it is not worth to spend money on it too.

    The sword you got from Celia and Derek previously was also random. It is treated as high-tier treasure, so potentially in could've been an obsidian sword.
    Generally, everything you find in these games is random, save for quest items. Even if the type of the item is set, the material/enchantment will be random. There is only a handful of exceptions, like obsidian boots in Ellinger's Tower.

    1. It is random but there are seven "tiers". For instance, a tier-2 item will be wood to bronze, and give a +2 to +5 bonus to intellect; whereas a tier-6 item will be ruby to diamond, and give a +12 to +30 bonus. Tier-7 items are guaranteed to be the best material and the best possible bonuses.

    2. If that so, the tiers seem to overlap somewhat. Royal Guards on the Clouds can drop ruby and emerald equipment, but never above that. From what I have seen, it seems what tier-5 is something like from steel to emerald, in regard of material.
      Also, the sword from Celia and Derek can be obsidian, but was platinum for Mr. Addict. Perhaps the tier itself is subject to random in some cases. Or influenced by level or luck stat.

    3. The tiers do overlap. I miswrote earlier: tier 6 is ruby through obsidian, tier 7 is only obsidian. And yes, tier 5 also includes ruby.

    4. Tier 6 is from gold through obsidian, you can get items of the highest quality from all four traders near Sandcaster for your whole party if you're lucky and have too much gold.

  9. The "right" way to explore with a few exceptions is the entire SW corner, then SE, NE, NW, but I enjoyed reading about you going all over the place instead. It also means you're more likely to run into stuff that's tough to handle because if you dutifully finish each area before moving on you're likely to stay ahead of the power curve.

    I believe the Moutaineering skill in Darkside is found in the NW, so if you don't have it from Clouds then the mountains that run through the middle of the map sort of force that counter-clockwise pattern. It's at least one point where the game tries to do something interesting with a skill.

    1. The map layout does suggest to explore counterclockwise. However, there are various ways across the mountain range even without that skill, such as the road in E3, the Teleport and Town Portal spells, and of course the Skyroad.

  10. This is what playing World of Xeen is supposed to be like! I think this is the first post where you truly channel that spirit: got stuck in one world, go do something in the other world.

  11. Bah, I really hope you will finish the Xeen games soon. The jokes (of the game, not Chet's) got old already in the first part and it is another example of repetitiveness and white male nerd humor and in-jokes found in the game-y CRPGs of the era. I want something better written!

    However, the maximalism is something that makes me also respect the amount of work put into the development. I mean, a pile of shit is shit, but once you pile that shit high enough you actually are an artist.

    1. How do you know the humor in the game is white male? Its nice to know we have plenty of variety in our readers on this blog. You sir, have sexists and racists covered all by yourself.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Indeed - sure this is full of 90s computer nerd humour, but whilst the majority of such nerds where white and male, there’s nothing in the humour to say it’s restricted to those traits.

    4. This comment is a bit much. Might be a good idea to expand the commenting rules to disallow race and/or gender remarks that don't directly involve the game itself.

    5. That's such a white male nerd thing to say.

  12. I'm still delighted by all those different monster portraits...

    Go, Gamma Gazers!

  13. I wonder whether it's the more natural exploration pattern, or Dakside is simply a better game, but this reads like a much more engaging experience than Clouds (or MM3 for that matter).

  14. "random combats with hell hornets, which you don't really associate with snow"

    True story time: I actually climbed Mt. Rainier a few years ago, and one of the biggest problems we had while camping in the snow at base camp was with bees, of all things. No idea if they actually lived below the glacier and were flying up searching for food, or if there was a hive somewhere in the snow, but they were all over the place.

  15. The scarecrows look like some sort of Zombie Jesus. With a sailor's hat? Delightfully scary.


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