Thursday, December 30, 2021

Dark Sun: Won!

The type of verse for which the term "doggerel" was invented.
Well, I won Dark Sun, but as we'll see, I'm not happy with the way that I won. The last battle leaves me with a lot of questions that I want to try to answer for the final entry.
When we left off with my party, we were in the caves north of Cedrilte village. I had bungled an attempt to reconcile the diminutive first folk, who lived in the lower half of the cave, with the intelligent spiders who lived in the upper half. To do it properly, I was supposed to help the spider prince overthrow the spider queen, but I must have accidentally killed the prince.
The prince gives a rousing speech before helping us slay his mother.
I reloaded and replayed the area, this time taking care not to get ahead of the prince when we returned to the queen's chambers after banishing the malevolent force in the fungus caverns. This time, the prince made a rousing speech before the battle with the queen. I realized during this battle that when you hover your cursor over enemies, they blink black, whereas when you hover your cursor over allies, they blink yellow. Having figured this out, I avoided killing any more spiders than were necessary. 
The prince accompanied me back to the lower caverns. The Outcast, happy with the result, gave me a suit of silk armor, which was nice but not superb. The prince met with the rest of the first folk and worked out a trade deal. (It took some convincing on our part to make the first folk see that the prince wasn't like his mother.) In return, one of the first folk accompanied us to the drawbridge leading to the castle. He shimmied up the chain, went into the hole, and unlocked the portcullis.
What do you call those holes that the chains go into? I bet they have a name.
The castle was two levels. From NPC dialogues and journals, we got the story. The castle itself is ancient and may in fact predate the desertification of Athas. Centuries ago, it was occupied by a cult called the Inner Eye. Its leaders, Tara and Nagi, were siblings, and they quarreled for control of the cult. Tara eventually walled up Nagi in a cell, thinking she'd won, but before Nagi died he placed a curse on Tara and her followers so that they would never die. Their corpses always came back together, even if burned or otherwise completely destroyed. But as they're undead, it wasn't much of an existence. Revenants wander a part of the first floor, begging for the release of death. Two of them attacked me when they saw I had Nagi's amulet.
One of the revenants explains the problem.
Into this haunted place, bandits recently arrived. Tara made a deal with the leader, giving him a "wyvern hook" capable of enslaving wyverns. The leader, in turn, kidnapped citizens of Athas and brought them to the castle for Tara to drain, restoring her youth and beauty. The leader, now known as the Wyvern Master, doesn't really trust Tara, so when the Druid of the Howling Wind showed up to try to lift the curse, the Wyvern Master imprisoned him rather than killing him.
My party did its thing: Killed a bunch of bandits and wyverns (including several in an imaginative wyvern stable), looted money that we had absolutely no use for, and found a few new magic items. Chief among the latter were a +2 bow and a +2 obsidian sword called "Dark Flame" that casts "Burning Hands" on whoever it hits. I gave it to my preserver/druid, replacing his staff, as my other three characters already had pretty good weapons. Somewhere along the way, we also got Tynan's heart crystal.
A battle against wyverns and bandits.
We freed the Druid of the Howling Wind from the earth elemental guarding his door. He had secretly concocted a potion that we could use to disperse Tara's body to the four corners of the world, keeping her from re-animating after "death." He wanted us to kill the Wyvern Master first. We were happy to oblige. There was an opportunity to try to convince the Wyvern Master that we wanted to join his band, and we started to go down that road, but I eventually reloaded and just killed him. I think he was going to lead us to a room where he'd try to sacrifice us to Tara anyway.
After we got the potion from the druid, killing Tara was remarkably easy. She died in one hit, I think. The potion worked as promised. We also used it to destroy the sigils imprisoning the undead. They thanked us as they left the area to die for good, although at least two of the ungrateful bastards attacked us and had to be rendered "dead" the more traditional way.
This seems a bit cruel.
With the bandits dealt with, we returned to Cedrilte and got their allegiance against Draj. The leader was still reluctant, but the Druid of the Howling Wind showed up to promise his protection. And that was it. Two villages. When the game began, I figured we'd be uniting dozens of them. It occurred to me that there were multiple ways to bollix up both sub-quests so that you could perhaps arrive at the endgame having made no allies at all. Given how hard the final battle is when you do things the "right" way, I'm curious now to see what happens if you bungle everything.
Xorns made an appearance in a random combat. I never saw them before or again.
Speaking of bungling everything, I mostly did after this episode. I returned to Notaku with the Terror Bloom and got another 1,200 ceramic pieces that I didn't need. He asked me to go on another quest to find a mastyrial's stinger, but not just any stinger--one from a mastyrial who had recently eaten a particular type of bird. I poked around a few maps but never found one and thus never finished this quest. Similarly, I kind of half-assed the two final outdoor maps, south of Cedrilte. Both were full of lava and wandering fire elementals and thri-kreen.

On the first lava map, I don't know what happened. I found a guy standing in front of some kind of gate, and he demanded that we leave. It seemed like there was no dialogue option that would result in anything but a fight, so I backed down. As I started to leave the area, suddenly a message popped up from a different NPC, thanking me and offering me a "great treasure" for payment. I have no idea what he was talking about or what I did to deserve any thanks. But then that second NPC also started demanding that I leave. I tried, but the message kept popping up over and over. In frustration, I ended up killing both men just to make it stop. I have no idea who they were or what was going on.
Thanks for what?
The treasure that the man had given me was a necklace that shoots "Fireball." And when I killed him, he had a second one on his body. These ended up being pretty vital.
This is a pretty cool image given that I never found anything to do here.
The second lava area had some combats with thri-kreen. I found a circle of five geysers surrounding one enormous geyser. I could click on it, but I couldn't find anything productive to do with it. I eventually just left the area, but I'm curious to look up what I was supposed to do.
And I never found any way to productively interact with these.
Before returning to Teaquetzl and the endgame, I decided to finish the quest involving the ghosts in the buried temple. I returned to the bridge near the slave wagon--the one I discovered about six entries ago--and used a rope to lower myself into that section of the destroyed temple. I found the ghost of Tristram, who was lost and confused and had to be prodded with about two dozen questions before she gave us her heart crystal. I returned to Tynan with it, then found out I needed to coax Tristram's spirit into the crystal, and thus had to return to Tristram. In the end, at Tynan's instructions, I placed the two heart crystals on an altar, and the lovers were somehow reunited in the afterlife. The rubble miraculously cleared from the temple, and I could explore it for lots of combats with otyughs and earth elementals and money I didn't need.
As much as I love my wife, I'm not sure I want to be fused into an altar with her for eternity.
After the quest was all done, I realized that I still had A'Pos's heart crystal (the cleric who betrayed the lovers in the first place). I don't know what I was supposed to do with that.
I spent some time in Teaquetzl organizing my inventory and selling excess goods. I had over ¤100,000 going into the endgame. I wish in such circumstances that games gave you some kind of outlet, like I could hire 2 NPCs for the final battle or something. It would have been particularly useful (and fair) to have some place selling spells, as most of the game's mage spells you can only acquire if you select them upon leveling up.
Some otyughs and a bunch of treasure that I'm going to collect for no reason.
The Teaquetzl council was happy with my progress. They announced the armies of Draj were marching on the village and Chahl would be organizing the offense. But the game had one final surprise before the final battle began: a sandstorm had unearthed an ancient city, and the Visionary was now saying I should go there to ensure success against Draj.
A graphic accompanies the uncovering of the ancient city.
The ancient city was found right outside the gates of Teaquetzl. I don't know whether this is because it was uncovered there or because the game just didn't want me to get lost on the way. Either way, it was a single map. We were greeted upon entry by a strange creature looking something like a giant worm with legs. It called itself a "psurlon." If I've ever met one in a previous D&D game, I don't remember. The psurlon said that the city had once been ruled by a King Dwyer. Dwyer had invited the psurlons to the city to act as advisors. (Dwyer: "The city was stagnating--I needed their knowledge to make the city prosper again.") The psurlons asked in return for a genie bottle that the king had. The king was willing to hand it over, but his advisor, Cragg, objected. Their dispute turned into an actual fight, with Cragg killing the king but suffering a mortal wound himself. Before he died, Cragg used a wish, asking the genie to "take care of us," which the genie somehow interpreted as burying the entire city in sand. The psurlon wanted me to bring him the genie bottle so that, he said, the psurlons could undo what Cragg had done to the city. This would involve first finding Cragg and slaying his spirit.
A psurlon enlists me to his noble cause.
Having no experience with psurlons, I didn't know the race was a bunch of evil abominations from the planes who hate humans and, in the words of the Forgotten Realms Wiki, "relish fomenting discord...manipulating and deceiving leaders." I took the creature at his word and started searching the city for Cragg and the bottle. The city was filled with spirits who didn't seem to realize that they were dead. Some of them attacked us. One of them was Dwyer himself. Unlike the other spirits, he was aware of what happened to the city. He blamed Cragg. However, when I stepped to close to him, he became incensed that I had dared approach his dais and attacked me. I had to "kill" him.
Further doubt was cast on Dwyer's motives by the journal of Llod, the eponymous creator of Llod's Rod (the device that lets me teleport around to monoliths, not that the game world is large enough to make that necessary). In it, he called the king an "idiot," whose "skills at diplomacy are no match for the cunning of the psurlons." The spell he used to summon the psurlons apparently killed him.
You have to wonder about any king whose wizard speaks this way about him.
Thus, I was already questioning the psulons' narrative when I found Cragg's spirit in the northern part of the city. He said that the psurlons want to use the genie to leave their imprisonment on the astral plane and invade Athas.
Cragg's reactions to the psurlons' plan to restore the city.
Confused about how to proceed, I walked away from the encounter and kept exploring. In the northwest, a long corridor was guarded by psurlons. They demanded that I leave, claiming that they were protecting me from "the angered dead," but when I pressed forward they attacked. They were psionics, but not particularly deadly ones. I killed them with mostly melee attacks. 
What they had been guarding was Cragg's body. I picked it up and returned it to Cragg, who was grateful to see it. He said he'd give me the genie bottle if I would inter the body in one of the stone caskets in the mausoleum. I did so and soon had a genie.
Make me a prince?
The genie seemed to be a good sort, not one who would twist a wish. He warned me that the psurlons were evil and said that Cragg's last wish was not "take care of us" but rather to end the psurlon threat by containing the city. He warned that he would not undo a wish made by a previous master, so the psurlon's promise wouldn't even work.
A psurlon demanded the bottle as I left the chamber, and just for fun I gave it to him (I had recently saved). He immediately wished that the genie "open a rift to the elemental plane and free [his] brethren!" About 20 psurlons suddenly appeared in a confined space. I was able to kill them all, although one of their psionic attacks killed Yester. Anyway, I reloaded without exploring further implications of that choice.
The result of giving the genie to the psurlons.
Instead, I killed the psurlons remaining in the city and then used the genie bottle. He said that I had three wishes, but there were only a limited number of things I could choose: to heal the party, to duplicate one of my items, to become wealthy beyond my wildest dreams, or to get the genie's help in the coming battle against Draj. I naturally chose the latter. The genie gave me a set of magic gloves (which seemed to under-perform my weapons; so I didn't try them) and said he would "call forth the shadows from these ruins to fight the troops." He warned me that I would have to kill the commander; "only this will demoralize the army and send them running back to Draj."
The genie agrees to help.
We left the ruins for a generic desert map and the two-part final battle began. The first wave had 12 soldiers, 3 troop leaders capable of magic spells, and 4 daggorans. As it began, we were joined by three allies we made along the way: Jasmine, the mage from Gedron; a "stout fighter" who didn't tell me where he was from; and a random fighter from Cedrilte. Three people.
The first battle isn't so hard.
The first battle was challenging but not overly hard. I mostly had to neutralize the troop leaders and then mop up the rest. I fanned out my gladiator, my fighter/cleric, and my ranger/thief and had them each take a leader. It took a couple rounds to reach them, and not for the first time I wished my preserver had selected "Haste" at some point. Nonetheless, my party took them out on the first try without losing even any of my NPCs. I was smart enough to summon the genie and ask for full healing before the next round began.
The whole "the sorcerer-king is missing" plot never came to anything, did it?
A title card introduced the second round. The commander was named as Kraxis, and he sneered at us. His force consisted of:
  • 3 black mastyrials of Level 15
  • 11 elite guards of Level 12
  • 5 defilers of Level 9
  • 2 psionicists of Level 9
  • 1 army commander of Level 16
I would remind you that the level cap on PCs in this game is Level 9. If that wasn't bad enough, every single one of the enemies acted before any of my characters. The elite guards advanced on us with melee attacks and arrows; the psionicists and defilers pelted us with spells, including some mass-damage spells like "Fireball" and "Ice Storm" that prevented my own spellcasters from acting. From there, it just got worse, and all seven of us (my four PCs plus the three NPCs who joined us) were dead by the end of the third round.
The first of many.
Here's what I did not see anywhere in the two battles:
  • Chahl or any of the armies from Teaquetzl
  • Any evidence of "shadows from the ruins" fighting any of the troops
  • Any other help from the allies that we'd made
  • Any evidence of the Drajian army falling apart if I killed its commander
I lasted longer on my second attempt, when I spent a long time buffing between battles. Everyone got "Bless," "Prayer," "Aid," "Resist Fire," and "Resist Cold." My mage got "Mirror Image" and "Minor Globe of Invulnerability." But the bigger problem was with initiative. Again, none of my characters got to go until every enemy had gone. This meant that Yester was still damaged during the first round by an "Ice Storm" and never got to cast a spell again. I think the battle would be near-impossible even without the enemy spellcasters. Each of the elite guards is a powerhouse who takes multiple rounds to kill and can hit a character for 40 points of melee damage.
Maybe some commenters can fill in the blanks as to how initiative works in this game. The manual is silent about it. I tried looking up the AD&D rules, but they seem to say that it depends on what the character is doing, which of course you don't determine in this game until you actually get your turn. I got the impression that some randomness is also involved, but if that's the case, it's either not implemented here, or the dice never went my way. My party never got the initiative in six attempts at this combat. If I had, I would have tried a couple of strategies, such as having my cleric summon a bunch of fire elementals to draw the enemies away from the party and then filling the field with fireballs.
Violencia is the last holdout as the enemies close in.
After I cheesed my way out of it with an exploit (just a minute on that), I went online to YouTube videos to see what others had done. I had a tough time finding any that seemed to be legitimate. Most of the players, when they showed their character sheets, had clearly edited their characters to maximum attributes (if that even has anything to do with initiative). Others had found a way to duplicate more items that should have been possible. But more mysteriously, none of them seemed to have the initiative problem that I did. This allowed them to use spells first, and in sometimes very clever ways. One player named "rattus 128" did a speed run in less than an hour with three characters. He won the final battle with brilliant uses of "Wall of Stone" (a fifth-level preserver spell) and "Wall of Fire" (fourth-level preserver), essentially shaping the battlefield so that all enemies had to come around the former and walk through the latter. Not only did this bring them to his party one at a time, they were nearly dead when they arrived. Alas, I had not taken either of those spells.
I won with an exploit. In the second or so that you have between the appearance of the enemy and the automatic fanning out of the party members, you can hit "C" to cast or "I" to enter the inventory screen. Actions taken during this period take no game time, even if they involve things happening on the map. Only the leader can act, which means you're limited on the spells you can cast, but you can freely transfer any items to the leader. I had two necklaces capable of casting "Fireball." So I just pounded away at the "I" key before combat technically "began" (not all of the enemies had even appeared on screen yet) and used the necklace to cast fireball after fireball. Killing most of the assembled enemies exhausted both necklaces, but it got all the spellcasters, and the remaining ones were few enough and softened enough that I was able to kill them with regular combat tactics.
Targeting some psionicists and ravagers in the final battle.
When the battle is over, cinematic shows the camera sweeping across the battlefield and coming to a rest on Kraxis's body and sword. One of the PCs retrieves the sword and lifts it triumphantly as lightning bolts strike it and its pommel gem glimmers. The endgame text appears as if a poem:
You raise Dragon's Bane 
Over Kraxis' broken body.
Remnants of his army flee,
And so begins the legend . . .
They will come from the desert,
Bringing objects of old.
Time will not stop them.
All secrets are told. 
After this, the credits roll, but if you hit a key, you can resume playing. The game gives you a 20,000 experience-point bonus for defeating the forces of Draj (that was enough to finally put my ranger/thief to Level 9 as a ranger). The game notes that we recovered "Dragonsbane" (now just one word) from Kraxis's body. The way the text emphasized it, it feels like something we should have heard of before. I don't think we ever heard about Kraxis before. It's a +4 longsword with no special abilities, worth the same as two of the swords we already had. I think El's Drinker is the better sword, despite being only +2, for the extra damage it does.
What exactly makes this the bane of dragons?
The genie spoke up and had a better endgame narrative than the cinematic:
Mortals! You have proven yourselves to be worthy of greatness! Your act of defiance against the Drajian army shall long be remembered--you have indeed written a chapter into the history books of Athas. Look around you! The army has scattered and is fleeing for the safety of the city. Now is the time to celebrate, for I see that you will not have time for it in the future--your actions will attract the attention of powerful forces, both good and evil. However, the future is never certain, so take what meaning you will from my prophecy. I leave you now to your victory. Farewell, mortals! May victory always be your ally!
What do you mean you're leaving? I haven't made my third wish!
You can continue playing, and characters have new dialogue to reflect your victory, which is always nice. Some of that dialogue cleared up some of my confusion. Apparently, there were more battles happening elsewhere. "Chahl fell in battle when he led the charge against the main phalanx of Draj's army," one of the villagers reported. When we went back to the Council chambers, we heard the same story. "Kwerin is not strong enough to fend off the inevitable challengers who will seek to rule us," one of the councilors said. "Will you lead us?" Saying yes got us 1,000 more experience points. Kwerin didn't seem to be disappointed and announced his plans to continue managing the city's trade.
The game offers a major choice even after the "end."
Katura was nowhere to be found; she apparently set off for Nibenay to find her birth parents. A councilor says that he saw the shadow army even though we didn't; I guess maybe it helped in one of the other battles. 

Even NPCs in the other villages had extra dialogue, which impressed me. The elf caravan didn't have anything new, but returning there reminded me that I had never gotten my reward from them for defeating the wyvern bandits. It was a +3 battleaxe.
The leader of Cedrilte has some post-victory comments.
I wrap up with a number of questions about the final battle. I'm particularly interested in how it differs, or whether it differs at all, if you show up without having made the alliances with the other cities and without the genie bottle. I'm tempted to do a quick speed run to check those things out. In the meantime, I'd love your opinions about how I might have squeaked out a more "legitimate" win with my existing party. I'll try again before the summary and rating and try to put together some video at the same time.
Time so far: 35 hours


Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Game 440: Danse Macabre (1986)

I'm not sure the artist got the Llŷn peninsula or Anglesey just right.
Danse Macabre 
Funlight Software (developer and publisher)
Released in 1986 for Commodore 64 and Commodore 128
Date Started: 26 December 2021
Date Ended: 27 December 2021
Total Hours: 5
Difficulty: Easy (2.0/5)
Final Rating: 19
Ranking at Time of Posting: 125/444 (28%)
Danse Macabre is a perfectly normal, playable RPG that draws intelligently from the best American games before it; the only thing that's different about it is that it's in French.
Ha! Wouldn't that be something? I'm kidding, of course: Danse Macabre is a bizarre, senseless game with a strange plot and strange mechanics that barely deserve the "RPG" label. In other words, it's a French RPG. But while some French RPGs have been somewhat charming in their peculiarities, this one is just kind of dumb.
Approaching Newcastle while wandering the isle of Britain.
The game is set in 1476 in Britain. This was the year that William Caxton set up England's first printing press; nine years later, he would publish Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur. The game isn't about that. Instead, it's ostensibly set during a plague, which is ironic because 1476 is a year in which the plague wasn't particularly bad in the U.K. (there was an outbreak in 1471 and another in 1479). None of this matters, as the year and the plague are only part of the framing story and play no role in the game itself.
The plot centers on the wealthy Mac Gregor family, who live in a "huge mansion" on the outskirts of London. Their son has been mysteriously murdered, his charred corpse discovered in a park. The most likely suspect is the child's tutor, a man named Ard, who mysteriously disappeared after the murder. The Mac Gregors hire the player character to track down the murderer. They advance you 40 gold pieces, a diamond, and a "Demonological Cube," which will "protect you from Hell in case you have to enter it."
Character creation offers an awful lot of options given that the game doesn't really make use of them. After you specify the character's name and sex, the game rolls for initial values in strength, dexterity, health, luck, skill, charisma, and wisdom. You only get one roll. The initial rolls are 3-10, but you can later increase abilities to at least 18. You then choose from eight possible races: Gael, Pict, Breton, Gallic, Roman, Arabic, Greek, and Saxon. Some of these options seem interesting, but the choice plays no role whatsoever in the game except perhaps as skill modifiers.
Character creation.
The game then shows you your derived skills: spellcasting, success in making contact with the gods, offense, defense, cheating at gambling, picking a lock, resisting magic spells, and "transformation," which I think simply means curing yourself of poison and disease. Based on these qualities, you choose a profession from a list of 19 possibilities, which is about 18 choices more than necessary given how the game actually plays. These professions are grouped into four categories--"knowledge," "strength," "magic" and souffle, which I can't find a good translation for. The category has thief, healer, bard, spy, and troubadour options, if that helps. Each category has a sub-label indicating the direction of the wind that somehow informs those classes. This is one of many details that makes me think that the authors must have used some other story or game as a template because, again, nothing about the four winds ever appears in the game itself.
The unnecessarily long list of character classes.
Gameplay begins in London, one of six menu cities that you can visit to buy arms and armor, check into a hotel (the only way to save the game), and gamble. The cities are London, Burningham, Newcastle, Liverpool, Glasgow, and Edinburgh. Depending on the city, you may also be able to visit a temple and pray, visit a university to improve your statistics, buy equipment from a master thief, buy spells, and pay for attribute enhancements. Weapon and armor selections are lettered and have a "ladder" of quality and price, reminding the player of the early Ultima titles. 
Find something fresh in this, Besant.
The game's weapons, ranging from a dagger to a diamond spear.
Outdoors, the game is set on a map of Britain. Iconographically, it also looks like Ultima. In addition to the six menu cities, there are 11 hidden locations that you have to find by literally stepping on every square of the map. You get some hints as to the locations of some of these places, but because finding them all is vital to winning the game, you can't take a chance of missing any of them. You've got to literally walk on every square. The area is 72 x 42 at its maximums, but owing to water and mountains, only about half of that area, or around 1,500 squares, is explorable.
The hidden locations each open to their own indoor 16 x 16 maps, some with monsters, some with traps, all with locked doors that you have to pick, all with a handful of NPCs who deliver one line of dialogue.
Getting a hint from an NPC.
Combat outdoors only happens if you step on a forest square. Either indoors or outdoors, combat consists of a number of rounds in which you can attack, parry, or cast a spell. When killed, enemies deliver a paltry number of gold pieces.

I didn't explore spells, but as far as I can tell, they're basically an alternative to weapons for spellcasters. You can purchase, lock, and load up to three spells at a time. You cast them in combat the same way you swing a weapon; once purchased, they never run out, and there are no magic points or other limitations to how many you can cast.
Fighting a bandit in the forest.
At this point, I should mention that Danse Macabre is really two games happening at the same time. The first game is the RPG in which you fight, kill, and use your winnings to improve your weapons, armor, skills, attributes, and hit points in town. (Hit points are purchased directly from a sorcerer in "Burningham" or purchased by paying and praying to the god Belenos, which has a chance of failure.) The thing about the RPG half of the game is that it's almost entirely superfluous, since fleeing from battle works about 95% of the time in the first round and 100% of the time within two rounds. The only exception is the game's final battle, which would catch you unprepared if you spent most of the game just fleeing.
Contacting the gods. Belenos heals you; the other two give you an Amulet of Armor.
To get yourself into shape for that final battle, you do have to engage in a bit of character development, but there are a couple of ways to circumvent actually grinding for all that money. The first is to exploit the gambling system. You can save-scum and play the regular gambling game or put all your earnings into paying Tebaldeo the Thief to improve your "cheat at gambling" skill. However, there's an even easier way: for some reason, the first three types of armor sell for more money than they cost. You can just stand in the armory and alternate the "B" and "V" keys to get all the money that you need.
You can improve your skills at the university.
So that leaves the second half of the game, which is a very basic adventure. You visit each of the 11 hidden locations, talk to the NPCs, and occasionally trade items with them. The 11 locations, in the order that you need to win, are:
  • The MacGregor House. This is just one square northwest of London. There are no enemies and two NPCs. Miss Mac Gregor says: "There's talk of a powerful wizard who is always good to consult." Mr. Mac Gregor says: "Ard lives in Cornwall."
Starting my explorations in the Mac Gregor mansion.
  • The House of Ard. Technically in Devon, not Cornwall, on the northwest edge of Dartmoor. There are no enemies. Ard's mother says: "My son is not an assassin." His sister offers: "He hid in a place where only magic will be able to remove him."
Stumbling upon the House of Ard.
  • The Realm of Gnomes. Nestled in some mountains in Wales. There are no enemies. A small man sitting on a throne says, "I am the king of gnomes." An old gnome says, "There is an ancient city in Scotland that is now abandoned." A young man with an enraptured look says, "Leuse." I'm not sure what that means. As far as I can tell, it's not a French word. Anyway, this young man takes your starting diamond and gives you a love potion.
  • The Manor of Als the Vampire. No enemies. Als the Vampire cries because the woman he loves doesn't want him. The woman cries over her situation. The solution is to give Als the love potion, which he exchanges for the Skull of Lixit, which is supposed to bring luck to the unlucky.
A mummy attacks as I explore one of the dungeons.
  • The Inn of Illumination. There are no monsters in this tavern. The patrons give you clues about the love potion and the Skull of Lixit. A card player named Gorex, destined to always lose, gratefully accepts the Skull of Lixit in exchange for the Cube of Ultimate Magic. You have to come back here at the end.
  • The Sewer of Death. This charmingly-named location is in the Yorkshire Dales north of Leeds. I'm not sure it's actually necessary. Amidst battling (or fleeing from) slimy octopuses, giant slugs, sewer worms, and generic slimes, you learn to "watch out for the slimy octopuses" and " equilibrium is made up of neutrality and the law."
  • The Northern Abyss. This is way up in the Scottish Highlands, practically to John O'Groats. It's a tough dungeon, with major and minor demons, demoscorpuses, and small dragons. Here, you meet Asmodeus, Master of the Infernal Armies, who yells at you for disturbing his work. But he happily takes the Demonological Cube and gives you a Wand of Fire. The first time I visited Asmodeus, I was attacked by a dragon right after speaking to him, and I could neither hit him in combat nor flee the battle. He whittled down my hit points and killed me in six rounds. I spent some time buffing before attempting the area again, but the second time I didn't face an inescapable dragon.
I couldn't get past this battle the first time.
  • The Necropolis of Gaar. This is in Lincolnshire, right about where Lincoln is. The dungeon is full of skeletons, ghosts, mummies, and other undead, plus a number of unavoidable traps. An undertaker offers: "The Master of Chaos does not have total power." A man with a shadowy face says: "Find the City of Sewers. A man can tell you." Finally, a man of ice says, "I am a representative of the people of winter. I know to be very cautious." Whatever he's talking about, he takes the Wand of Fire and returns a crystal butterfly.
  • The House of Dreams. Some kind of abbey west of Aberdeen in Scotland. A man says, "Our lady is sad to have lost her pendant." The lady is a young woman in white who takes the crystal butterfly and hands over the Stone of Law. 
What is legal about a stone?
  • The Temple of Chaos. Another Highlands dungeon, this one in the northwest. The only NPC is the Master of Chaos, who takes the Cube of Ultimate Magic in exchange for the Stone of Chaos.
I speak to the Master of Chaos.
  • The Black City. This is right on top of Castle Douglas in Galloway. You fight or flee from centipedes, bats, giant rats, thieves, and assassins in this area. An old woman warns you that, "Hell is a forbidden place." A blind man with empty eye sockets comments, "There is a place where they celebrate chaos." Finally, the black blacksmith (he dresses in black) takes the Stone of Chaos and gives you the Stone of Neutrality. 
At this point, the character has the Stone of Neutrality and the Stone of Law, both of which are needed for "balance," which according to an old man in the Inn of Illumination is necessary to find Ard. (The game's concept of "balance" is odd; you'd think it would require law and chaos, not law and neutrality.) Most players will be stuck here. After re-visiting each dungeon and verifying that none of the NPCs want either stone, then bumbling about for a while trying to figure out anything else to do, I inspected the code and figured out the problem. The next NPC is the old man (the one who polishes a pentacle) in the Inn of Illumination, but the game's code has him looking for the pierre de neutralite, while what you have in your inventory is the pierre de la neutralite. The extra la prevents him from recognizing it. I edited the save game file to remove the la, and it worked. After giving the stone to the old man, he teleported me to a new dungeon.
I think I got the short end of the stick on this one.
The new dungeon had no enemies and one NPC: "The ferryman of the ages." I gave him the Stone of Law, and he gave me Ard. I guess Ard was dead and the ferryman brought him back from the land of the dead? Who knows.
The final dungeon looks a little like a face but not quite.
I didn't have a chance to question Ard; he immediately attacked. There was no way to escape this battle, so it's a good thing I didn't ignore character improvements throughout the game, as it lasted about a dozen rounds and cost me nearly 100 hit points. Eventually, I killed him. This message appeared:
You regard for a moment the corpse of Ard. And you feel a doubt (a little late) about his true guilt. The evil character of this man does not escape you, but did he commit this crime? With such doubt in mind, you return to the Mac Gregor mansion. You are not surprised to find that it is abandoned.
What really happened? Why were you deceived? The future will answer this question in Danse Macabre II.
The funny thing is, the game's code gives the announced sequel a subtitle: The Litanies of Satan. This does not appear in the game's message, though.
The winning message.
I have no idea what to make of the bizarre story. Ever since we discovered that Tera: la Cité des Crânes was a pastiche of themes and names from Michael Moorcock books, I've been on the lookout for such adaptation. I can't find the source for this game, but it feels like that kind of borrowing--one in which the original made a lot more sense. 

In a GIMLET, I give the game:
  • 2 points for the game world. The story is unique, but I also couldn't really follow it, and it didn't make use of its geographic or temporal setting.
  • 2 points for character creation and development. You have a lot of options, and because I played a paladin, I missed some of them, like the ability to mix potions or cast spells. Any "development" is mostly wasted except for the final battle.
Glasgow has this whole potion-creation mechanic that I didn't understand or explore.
  • 2 points for NPCs.
  • 1 point for encounters and foes. The enemies are not memorable.
  • 2 points for combat. Other classes had some options I didn't get to explore.
Trading blows with Ard in the final combat.
  • 1 point for equipment, a very basic set.
  • 3 points for economy. As the primary mechanism of character development, it remains relevant.
  • 2 points for a main quest.
  • 3 points for graphics, sound, and interface. There's no sound, but the graphics are at least functional, and the keyboard interface works fine. Available commands are usually listed on screen.
  • 2 points for gameplay. Though linear, not replayable, and mostly too easy, it at least doesn't linger.
That's a subtotal of 20, not awful but not recommended, but subtracting a point for the bug for a final score of 19.
The game has nothing to do with the themes on this advertisement.
The game is credited to Jérome Noirez, with graphics by Olivier Lebourg. I believe that Noirez is the same man who became a relatively well-known author of science fiction and children's novels. He would have been 17 when Danse Macabre came out. His life and career alas took an unfortunate turn with a child pornography conviction in 2013. Lebourg went on to a long career as a graphic artist, filmmaker, and editor. He was a producer at Dark Horse Comics and Cryo Interactive in the late 1990s and early 2000s; as such, he has credits on Cheese Cat-Astrophe Starring Speedy Gonzales (1995), Hard Boiled (1997), and Hellboy: Dogs of the Night (2000). Funlight Software seems to have only existed for this game, and if there was a Danse Macabre II, the world has lost all memory of it. Plenty of sites say that even this one was never released, although advertisements and at least one physical copy have turned up.
I don't know what any of this has to do with the Danse Macabre, an artistic theme from the late Middle Ages, eager to remind us that we're all going to die someday. As one year dissolves into another, perhaps there's a lesson for a CRPG addict to take from this genre. I'd better play as many RPGs as I can.