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 stringer--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



  1. Just replayed this not too long ago but already I'm not quite sure of the details. I think I had the initiative problem, too, but I must have gotten lucky in my successful try.

    Things I did to win:
    - Finished the second of the three battles in a way that my characters were positioned far to the east of the map (and not surrounded by enemies)
    - Somewhere in the game you find a staff of mass domination with a very large area of effect. This can have a huge effect if you manage to turn a few of the spellcasters to your side.
    - Wall of Fire is a big help. I remember retreating into the eastern canyon and casting Wall of Fire in front of it, which weakened a lot of enemies (and made spellcasters unable to cast when walking through it).

    I think at one point the remaining enemies lost track and I was able to save, but I didn't need a reload for finishing them off.

    I think I never came across the lava area. Must have missed a map exit.

    1. Looking over some FAQs, it appears that the final battle has three phases, and by asking the genies help (with his shadow troops) you skip one. And the phase you skip apparently has the allies from the villages you helped.

      Anyway - the game has numerous versions and patches, and it's entirely possible that only some of those have the "initiative problem". I'm reasonably sure I've beat the game legit, but I don't remember how exactly. Certainly none of the FAQs I've found mention the final battle being unwinnable or in need of an exploit.

      (and, maxing out your stats makes much less of a difference than you'd think, given how 2E D&D works)

    2. I've reloaded a save from just before the final wave, and in my version (GoG) it's just very random. But my elf and my halfling tend to act early, sometimes but not always before any enemies.

      The staff I mentioned is the Wildwynd Wand (found on the Spider Queen's body apparently). It casts confusion with a very large area of effect. This can really help, but you need some luck here, too (both the number of enemies affected, and how they act - if you're really lucky they are attacking each other).

      You're also placed in the same spot when the third wave appears, but it's possible to walk east a bit before combat triggers.

      I don't think you need exploits to win the battle, but you need some luck with initiative and initial spells. Maybe there are even ways to help with the initiative problem - I've read that a wall of fire from the previous wave does not go away.

    3. Maxing out your stats can make an extreme difference, actually. Not on initiative. But a human with a 17 Str has +1 to hit and damage. If you think "17 is pretty good, I'll take it", you are missing out on the +3 hit to and +8(!) to damage you would have gotten from a 20 Str.

    4. Yes, and the common assumption is that maxing everything else makes as much as a difference as maxing strength does (as the Addict is talking about people with 20's across the board). And, well, it doesn't.

      Maxing dex gives an AC bonus that is good but hardly game-breaking. Maxing con and wis does nothing for most classes. Maxing int and cha does absolutely nothing in computer games. Hence, maxing all your stats makes much less of a difference than you'd think.

    5. Eh, I dunno - the stacks-with-anything 4 point AC bonus from an 18 dex is pretty substantial in most circumstances where an enemy has a reasonable chance of hitting you: if they’d hit on an 11+ on the d20, that’s a 40% reduction in successful attacks, and of course 2e doesn’t have the broken scaling and surfeit o f bonuses 3e has... the con bonus is biggest for warriors, though it makes a big difference for them - at 20 con you’re getting +5 hp a level vs your regular hit die giving you 5.5 on average, so almost doubling. And the +2 will likewise almost double a preserver’s hp per level, though it’s not as big a deal proportionally for rogues and clerics. Meanwhile the bonus spells from a 20 wisdom almost double a cleric’s spells per day at the levels implemented in this game.

      Plus, 20 isn’t even the limit! Using nonhuman races get you a +2 to your core stats (or +4 to strength for half giants, for a potential +6 to hit and +12 to damage!) and the level caps mean there’s no trade off of forgoing advancement if you do that. So while I think stat maxing in the Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance games relatively less impactful, the combination of sky-high attribute caps and the low level limit make things different here.

      Of course, 99% of Dark Sun is really easy anyway and doesn’t require stat maxing, and then the final battle is mostly set up so that maxed stats won’t help you unless you happen to have decided to run a crowd-control heavy party, so it’s pretty academic.

  2. I won this game years ago after first abandoning it at the final battle years before that. I think all characters in my winning party were triple classed. I remember specifically making a party throughout the entire game to prepare for that final battle. I think I won using many wall of fire spells. My party probably had all max stats as well, as I didn't consider that cheating.

  3. Congrats!

    I believe that the only impact of making the alliances or messing them up is whether or not the three NPCs show up - it’s a nice idea for a plot, but the mechanical impacts are pretty underwhelming.

    I’ve won this game three or four times with a variety of parties, and have always done it with that exploit for what it’s worth (I seem to recall finding a wand of fire somewhere, which is what I usually duplicated). I think dexterity might impact initiative and some of the times I had a preserver with maxed dex who I think was able to get a spell or two off, and back my folks away from the horse of enemies, but there are way too many enemy spellcasters to lock down, and too many melee enemies to keep from getting overrun, without the kind of wall-based trickery you mention above. I really think it’s impossible for most parties to win the game fairly - even knowing what’s coming and prepping accordingly, the number and level of enemies and the open position make for near-prohibitive difficulty.

    I seem to recall that you can give A’Poss his heart crystal to free him, but it just leads to a quick fight (one of my main complaints about the game is that 99% of the combats are trivial and then you run into the meat grinder that is the finale - there are few satisfying combats, though I think you got more by doing the hardest areas first).

  4. Here's how initiative works in the tabletop game: first, every character declares what he wants to do. Second, for each character, roll a ten-sided die. This is modified by the speed factor of your weapon (if you're going to attack, e.g. 2 for a dagger, 5 for a longsword 9 for a halberd); or by the casting time of a spell (if you're going to cast; this is usually equal to the spell level for wizard spells, or spell level + 3 for priest spells). Oddly, a character's dexterity score makes no difference, although a Haste spell does.

    Lowest number goes first. That matters because e.g. if a spellcaster is hit before his own initiative comes up, he'll lose the spell. This has interesting tactical implications, as weaker spells tend to have lower casting times, and are thus harder to interrupt this way.

    In a computer game, it's rather awkward to declare first and act later, but I think both Gold Box and Baldur's Gate use this to show when casters start casting and when they finish, and allow them to be interrupted in between.

    The rule is optional in tabletop (the alternative being, basically, flip a coin) and later editions make it much simpler (roll a die, add your dex bonus, highest number goes first). HTH!

  5. Dexterity's Reaction Adjustment modifies Initiative (it subtracts from your speed factor in tabletop which never really mattered in any video games). Half-Giants with a max of 15 would have no adjustment while the races with a max of 22 (Elves, Halflings, and Thri-Kreen I believe) would have +4.

    1. That's what I thought, but I can't find it in my player's handbook. Rather, reaction adjustment affects the chance to be surprised (which is unlikely to matter in video games, either).

    2. My memory of second edition is that dex has no impact on initiative. It's a straight d10 to establish the initiative order and then you add your weapon speed/casting time to see when you actually go. I seem to recall that you also announced your actions in reverse order so people who went first could (nonsensically) account for the actions of people who went later. That might have been a Storyteller rule though.

    3. That’s my memory too of how PnP worked - but the earlier SSI games implemented a dex modifier to initiative, see Klaus’s post below, and Dark Sun likely does as well.

  6. On a different note, this was a really beautiful selection of screenshots, the game had an excellent art direction. Everything is clearly recognizable and distinctly shaped, there is some nice contrast on display most of the time, and I also like the slightly muted colors.

    Expect this to rate pretty high, probably highest thus far in the graphics department...

    1. Yes, it looks very nice in native resolution, but unlike more primitive and cartoony graphics, it really suffers when blown up on a large modern widescreen.

    2. I'm sorry, but it's probably me then: I absolutely can't stand the graphics in this game. The perspective and proportions seem so wrong to me that I literally can't play the game. Even the iconographic gold box fights are prettier to me than this ...

    3. I agree Haplo. Something about the perspective just hurts my brain. To me, most of the characters and furniture look like they're laying on their backs or sides. Meanwhile all of the walls appear to be about 3-feet high. It reminds me strongly of the arcade game Gauntlet. I skipped this game when it came out for precisely that reason.

    4. Eh, I'd take this over everyone and everything leaning at a 45-degree angle in Ultima VII any day. That game hurts my neck.

    5. I don't think the graphics are BAD, but there's a complexity to them that has to be talked about in the final entry. My feeling is that when graphics are this complex, you need some way to distinguish interactable items from those that are just background. The Infinity Engine accomplished that by highlighting such things when you hit the ALT key (or maybe TAB?). Here, I was forever hovering my cursor over random rocks and plants just to make sure.

    6. The Infinity Engine did not do that originally btw. Baldur's Gate 1 doesn't have the highlighting function, you have to manually scan the environment for interactable objects. They do light up once you hover your cursor over them though.

      They hid some powerful items in out of the way places, and the spots you need to click on to pick them up are only a couple of pixels wide. That kind of secret obviously wouldn't work with the highlighting function.

      (and pixel hunting like that isn't very fun anyway)

  7. I think Llod must be a nod to Lloyd of Lloyd's Beacon fame.

    I don't recall the final battles being quite as difficult as described here, nor that Initiative was a problem.

    These were my thoughts about it some eight years ago:
    "That final battle was brutal, but I prevailed on my third try. I was a bit at a disadvantage having to learn how to use spells like Hold Person and Mass Dominate, which I hadn't bother with before. I didn't realize the saving throws were made after each targeting.
    Also, the army did not break after killing the commander, despite what some NPC said.
    Web was very useful in this battle, and Haste, of course. Stoneskin was also useful, while Hold Person and Dominate rarely worked. With Free Action and a life stealing sword my Half-Giant Gladiator raped half the army of Drajian while the other party members were out cold.
    I guess my guys were a bit underleveled since there still were large parts of the game to explore."

    "4 groups? Must be 5, at least. Three villages, the mercenaries led by an elf, and the caravan warriors. Any more?
    I killed the mercs since they were slavers, and in the first of the final two fights, only three NPCs from Cedrite appeared. Of them Jasmine the healer was killed in the first battle."

    1. As I noted below, I'm thinking "Haste" is probably the solution to the initiative problem. The rest just comes down to what classes you chose and what spells you picked for the preserver.

  8. Recall the humble 1st level druid spell "entangle" being pivotal to my party, it has a huge AOE and IIRC someone would have to make repeated checks while moving through or be held fast for the rest of the round, and spammed summons to slow them down further while taking out threats w/ spells and missiles

    1. I didn't even think of "Entangle." I'll give it a try.

  9. If you think this battle is hard, try Knights of the Chalice 2... the original Kickstarter backer release before the balancing changes...

    It's pretty much this battle again and again, with no breaks.

  10. The final battle is very difficult. When I beat it, I used a combination of Entangle and various wall and fog spells. Entangle immobilizes the enemy fighters and the wall and fog spells block the line of sight of enemy spell casters. Combine those with Free Action to allow your fighters to move unhindered through the Entangle, and the battle goes from nearly impossible to fairly easy.

    1. Do you remember if you had "Haste" active, too? All those spells don't do much for me unless I get a chance to use them before the enemy damages me.

    2. "Entangle" and "Fog" I think those were the 2 spells I used - couldn't remember the names

  11. I've fond memories of that final battle. After many tries i cheesed it keeping one enemy from the first wave alive and hold as I littered the screen with killing and stinking clouds. This way the second wave had no chance even with better initiative than my characters.

    1. That walls and stinking clouds and such remain on the battlefield between battles is a bit of a game-changer. I think I can win with that knowledge.

    2. I used the same tactic. Positioned myself for the next battle and left clouds, walls, entangle+web etc around. And two draining swords too, of course.

  12. Wall of Stone is definitely a powerful spell, there are some fights that you can actually cut in half and then drop out of combat thanks to it. I found the final battle quite hard but not impossible like you, I didn't seem to have initiative issues like you and remember my spellcasters getting spells off every round in the time that I won. I agree that there should be more options for learning spells that there is no scroll for in the game though, not getting spells at all cancels out the advantage over normal D&D of not having to memorize.

  13. Congratulations!

    My characters in the final battle had no trouble with initiative. Maybe because they all was hasted and also had Prayer on them.

    The final battle has three parts. The first wave is a quite a number of monsters. But the genie's shadow army takes care of those off-screen. That is the main benefit of asking him to help.

    In the geyser area you are supposed to find five stones and block smaller geysers. After doing that, a chunk of iron meteorite is blown from the large geyser. It can forged into a +1 axe with some help from the smith in Teaquetzl. By that point in the game, a waste of time.

    NPCs in the area before the geysers are nearly always glitch, but can be interacted if approached in some strict order. I had to look up that small quest in the official guide for the game.

    There are better treasures in the Underground Temple, a +2 mace, at very least. Can be useful, but again, not by that point, most likely.

    Dwyer's skeleton has one more magical weapon, but it a two-handed weapon. Wielding two weapons gives better damage output anyway, if you don't want to use a shield.

    1. I'm beginning to think that "Haste" makes the difference initiative.

      I did find those other magic weapons. They were just worse than what I already had, so I didn't mention them.

  14. Why are genies always so useless? Here you have a being of godlike power, bound to obey your whim. But can you use him to summon a tornado and wipe your enemies from the field of battle, or smite them with meteors from the heavens? No. Of course not. The guy can bury an entire city but can't kill a few dudes for you. Oh, but he can refill your health the same as a store-bought potion. Thanks for nothing, you big orange jerk.

    1. Good question ! I think the best would be to check the original source material, that is the "Arabian Nights". Djinns are powerful, but not enough to be godlike.

      Here is a quick list of djinns in the Arabian Nights:

      And here the full text:

      My understanding is that classical authors gave the djinns far more limited powers (or masters with less imagination) than modern authors (Dark Sun included).

    2. DnD wishing rules encourage the dm to be as much of an ass as possible. Wish for a girdle of giant strength? Here's one... attached to a storm giant the djinni summoned in front of you. It's a miracle this djinni was helpful at all.

      I guess living in a bottle for eternity, getting out only when you have to do someone's dirty work makes you cranky.

    3. That was only present in 1e.

      When 2e came around, that was removed. There's a "wish is a powerful spell, and DMs might want to put consequences or potential backfires on some wishes for the sake of game balance" mention, but that's it. Most of the spell description is given over to examples of things that are inherently safe to wish for.

    4. It may have only been an official rule in 1e, but every DM I know always tries to twist every wish for maximum negative effect, even now.

  15. I can't tell you anything concrete about how initiative works in this game, but coming from Dark Queen of Krynn, which was released only a year earlier: Initiative gets a bonus from dexterity. DQK had infamous Dark Mages, who all had 18 dex, and thus were likely to act before you and launch Delayed Blast Fireballs at your party, unless your own mages also had at least 18 dex. It may be apocryphical, but I read once that the later Gold Box games were all designed under the assumption that players would max out their characters' stats. The final battle in Dark Sun seems to follow a similar design philosophy.

    1. Yeah, the gold box games definitely implement a dex modifier to initiative, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Dark Sun did as well. Though per the comments above, even a party with maxed stats is still likely to lose this fight (when I played as a kid, my maxed-out parties got stomped) - success hinges on crowd control strategies that may not be available to many parties, and which aren’t needed in the slightest earlier in the game, when there’d be time to recognize and fill the gap in capacities.

    2. The difference appears to be that Gold Box uses first edition rules (where initiative is 1d6 modified by up to +3 for high dexterity); whereas Dark Sun uses second edition rules (where initiative is 1d10 and not modified by dexterity).

    3. Without inspection of the code or confirmation from a developer, on the other hand, I wouldn't necessarily trust that any CRPG is a perfectly faithful representation of the tabletop rules.

  16. Kraxis looks badass with that axe. Isn't it weird that he weilds a sword, though?

    1. AD&D 1st Edition (e.g., Pool of Radiance) has initiative very heavily dependent upon high Dexterity, so it's the most important stat to roll high.

      Standard Dark Sun would have been AD&D 2nd Edition though, so it should have initiative not dependent upon Dexterity at all. (Previous commenters have already noted this, just confirming.) It is only supposed to affect surprise rolls, which itself is a big deal but usually isn't implemented in CRPGs.

      Haste is supposed to have an effect; by the rules it's a -2 bonus. In 2E you roll 1d10 for basic initiative instead of the 1d6 of 1E, so -2 doesn't have as much of an effect. (It's not implemented in Pool of Radiance.)

      In most games (not just computer or RPG), there is a statistic or spell or ability or item that affects action economy, and it's usually overpowered until about 2010. Dexterity in any Gold Box game, Wizardry 1/2/3/5, and Ultima 5/6 are all the most important stat, for instance.

    2. (sorry, clicked Reply in the wrong place, meant that to be a top-level comment)

  17. Happy new year, Addict commenters! May the new year be full of bountiful crpg posts and less actual plagues.

  18. You know I am surprised this game is hardly ever talked about, other than this last battle it seems to be just as good as the Gold Box games which are talked about so much.

    1. There is an extent to which the Gold Box series is the apex of what gameplay can be give the possibilities of its engine, while Dark Sun is an early version of what gameplay can be given the possibilities of its engine. Hence, from a certain perspective, Dark Sun seems worse than the Gold Box. I think it will GIMLET higher than most of them, though.

    2. Perhaps it's the setting. I think traditional high fantasy D&D is more recognizable and popular than the Dark Sun universe.

      Also, this was released during the transition to 3D polygon based graphics from 2D sprites. 1994's Ravenloft, Menzoberranzan, and 1995's Ravenloft sequel were all first person 3D. 3D was the new hotness in the 1990s.

      Finally, SSI was on its last legs at this point and was about to lose the TSR license. SSI itself was acquired by Mindscape in 1994.

      Fun fact: SSI now belongs to Ubisoft, but not their TSR licensed material. PC Gamer has a brief article on how GoG was able to acquire the Gold Box games license here:

    3. Dark Sun was always something of an afterthought in the "Prominent Campaign Settings" department. Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms got huge numbers of novels - to the point where you give the average Dragonlance or FR fan a D20 and he'll try to eat it - as well as a lot of video game adaptations (not all of which were CRPGs).

      Dark Sun got... this game and a handful of novels.

      Even in the tabletop environments, new settings tend to be a "change of pace" thing that get retired fairly quickly. Players and GM's alike get comfortable with a given world, and want to keep playing in that sandbox. So it's always been an uphill battle trying to make a new one into a hit (and the companies try - new product lines are vital for income!).

    4. There was a second game too, but yeah, definitely much less spin-off media than FR or DL! Part of the context though is that this is right when TSR was introducing lots of new campaign settings - after Ravenloft in 90 and Dark Sun in 91, there was Al Qadim in 92, then Planescape and Birthright in 94 - with the Realms and DL still getting lots of support (and a bit of Greyhawk too - I think Spelljammer was largely moribund by now.

      Each got some kind of marketing push, including at least one video game, and new campaign settings are of course good marketing opportunities. But the traditional narrative of the fall of TSR is that this wound up Balkanizing the audience and helped set them up for the death spiral that eventually led to getting sold to Wizards (who largely retrenched on campaign settings and only introduced Ebberon in the 20 years they’ve been doing DND).

    5. I never heard of the Gold Box series or any of the Gold Box games before I found this blog (I do own Unlimited Adventures, but didn't know it was part of a series and only gave it a short try). I was well aware of the Dark Sun games, having bought both of them on budget CDs.

      Now that's just me, and most of my playing was in the 90s when the series was already in decline/gone. But I wouldn't be surprised if the Gold Box games were talked about much more mostly in this community. In the larger gaming community, I'd think neither of them are talked about that much.

    6. Right now I think it's true that both series (well, the Dark Sun series and the Gold Box set of series, since there are actually four different ones) are the province of niche audiences. But your sense of the relative prominence of each seems like it's just a function of when you were playing CRPGs: per Jimmy Maher's history of SSI (link:, Pool of Radiance sold over a quarter million copies, while Shattered Lands did less than 50k, and in fact only barely outsold Dark Queen of Krynn, which was I think the 11th Gold Box game. Contemporaneously, the Gold Box games were a pretty big deal, doing big numbers when RPGs were a strong force in the industry, but Dark Sun did negligible business at a time when RPGs were out of fashion.

      It's certainly true that that relative weight may have shifted in the decades since, though -- it'd be interesting to see sales figures for the GoG releases of the DnD games, though that isn't public info as far as I know. Dark Sun definitely has its share of newer fans, and has an interface that's more accessible to modern audiences than do the Gold Box games not to mention much better graphics, so I can definitely see how these days, folks curious to check out 1st and 2nd Ed DnD games would be more inclined to start with DS than Pool of Radiance and its ilk.

    7. Ah, thanks, I was looking for those sales figures but didn't find them. Well, most of all I wanted to add another perspective. :)

      GoG only has the Gold Box and Dark Sun games as complete sets. Going by the comments, the Gold Box set has about twice as many. But the Dark Sun games have six pages of comments, so I wouldn't say it's hardly ever talked about.

    8. I don't think Dark Sun is "an afterthought" just because it was less popular than THE two most famous and most supported settings. Dark Sun got 30+ sourcebooks and 16 novels; that is WAY more than, say, the Birthright or Spelljammer or Lankhmar settings, or even Planescape!

      However, TSR was publishing so many settings in the 90s that the company ended up competing against itself, and this is one of several reasons why it went bankrupt (and why most of those settings were discontinued when WOTC took over).

      There was probably a fair amount of rivalry in D&D in the 90s, meaning "I play only THIS setting because THAT setting sucks". That would hinder sales of many D&D products, including CRPGs, except those that feel generic enough that they could be in any setting (such as Eye of the Beholder).

  19. I'd have El's Drinker duplicated instead before the final battle. That thing is crazy.
    BTW, didn't this game had a novelization?

    1. Nope. There was 13 novels, published from 1991 to 1996, but none of them are novelizations of the games. The games do borrow a thing a two from the books. Second game takes place in the city of Tyr, and is clearly set after the events from the first novel from Prism Pentad.

    2. The books are pretty good, heavy on the psionics as you'd expect

  20. "After I cheesed my way out of it with an exploit"

    That's one reason why I lost much interest in this blog

    "It's a +4 longsword with no special abilities, worth the same as two of the swords we already had."

    ...and that's another such reason.

    Add to that bad party composition, wrong quest order and inability to win in the final battle.

    1. I mean why? The Addict doesn't normally use exploits.

    2. At the risk of over-reading tea leaves, I suspect the context here is dumb internet drama about Baldur's Gate. There's a faction on the RPG Codex forums that views BG as the Judas Iscariot of CRPGs, since it heralded a shift from turn-based to real-time with pause combat. This Lost Cause narrative has a flip side, which is championing Dark Sun as a stabbed-in-the-back masterpiece that heralded the true way forward, but was betrayed by SSI/TSR/game critics/the audience/etc.

      (OK, I'm using pejorative historical references here, but given that RPG Codex's dominant culture is a GamerGate-y cesspool I think it's fair!)

      Of course, as the world has turned it's now turn-based games that are the new hotness, and RTwP is the nostalgic throwback. And while Dark Sun is a fun game, it has significant flaws too. Still, to keep the narrative going Dark Sun is never failing, but only failed. Add to that the pre-existing anti-CRPG Addict sentiment at RPG Codex, and I'm guessing our first anonymous friend above is channeling this dumbness.

    3. Ah yes, playing blind he did the wrong things in the wrong order with the wrong party. That absolute bastard.

    4. Everyone knows that RPGs have a right order to play them in, and any True Gamer will simply choose the correct order by intuition. This is why we love this genre so much, the linearity and lack of meaningful player choice.

    5. In addition to the other comments, Chet literally stated in the opening paragraph that he was not happy with the way he won. Unless the game in question is absolute trash or frustrating to the point of giving up entirely, I would feel much the same as the addict. I commend him on taking so much extra time to explore other options as he said multiple times he wanted to. I also consider his methods here outstanding, especially considering this is a project most of us are following at no cost. For the final battle, a very difficult one at that, the expectation that the devs would have included a phenomenal drop is not out of line. Being given something less for such hard work is a disappointment. With the game effectively over, what would it have hurt to get a Vorpal Sword of Overkill or some such?

  21. El's Drinker is a great item for Genie duplication.

    I remember winning the last battle by casting one of the cloud spells that prevented archers from shooting from distance, which forced them to move forward. Then, cast a thorns spell in the cloud, slowing and damaging enemies. Finally, got my characters positioned at intervals waiting for the damaged enemies to get out of the clouds and hit them with multiple El's Drinkers

  22. "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."

    This game seems to have a lot of quest-specific programming in order to show quest events in the game world. And in contrast to most games, the game doesn't always stop the time during such events and still lets the player move and interact.

    While this is a remarkable achievement, it's very difficult to do without introducing lots of bugs and exploits. It's far easier to always show events in a scripted sequence where the player can only watch and choose from multiple-choice text options.

  23. The fact that you ignored the psionic class at character creation harmed your gaming experience in two ways.
    You lost options and hurt the game economy.
    A psionic could use the bracelets you found to get more powerful instead of selling them and you could have spent lots of of money to buy psionic bracelets for 9,000cp each.

    1. You didn't lose options though. Psionic powers are effectively the same as wizard spellst, and the practical limiter here is how many actions you get per combat. Just because you have twice as many spell slots doesn't mean you're going to have twice as many turns to cast them in.

  24. Extremely glad the bug where the final battle doesnt start, didnt occur in this playthrough. I had that bug and turned out it required going all the way back to the first time entering the area outside Teaquretzel to resolve, was so sad.

  25. Psionics are able to get dominate, mass dominate and disintegrate powers very early and then spend their other picks making them stronger, so are potentially very powerful quite early on. Also the sheer amount of xp made adding paionics as a multiclass to two other classes relatively painless.

  26. One extreme approach to the final battle would be to use all three wishes to duplicate El's Drinker, resulting in one for each character (which optimally in this game all have fighter/ranger/gladiator classes). Then Enlarge and Strength on all of them to have 24/25 strength each, haste, bless, prayer, barkskin. Then cloud/fog/wall spells to greatly reduce archer/psionic/mage attacks. Not summoning the shadow army results in fighting one more wave at the start consisting of summoned monsters and black mastyrials, which can be deadly due to vrock/mastyrial poison and rampagers destroying armor. But also not an issue with characters doing 40 odd damage a hit (all dual wielding +2 weapons or better)

    Melee combat in this game just massively outdoes everything else in terms of damage output, so spells should be reserved for heavy buffing, crowd control and limiting range spells and attacks.

    1. Yeah, I think this would work, but the cloud/fog/etc. spells would be absolutely key -- I've tried the El's Drinker dupe strategy with 4 half-giant gladiator PCs (NB you can't multiclass gladiator with anything else), and while they absolutely facestomp everything else in the game, in the final fight they're the ones who get murdered without being able to do too much.

    2. Agree that blocking vision is much more impt in that last battle than anywhere else in the game. I took ranger/cleric for my half giant instead of pure gladiator. Still gets the doubled hitpoints effect.

  27. Also the reward for wyvern bandits from the caravan is only 1000cp. The +3 greataxe is either a reward from Craag for putting his body to rest, or looted off the Draj army commander's body (who oddly had both that and the +4 heavy longsword that drops on the ground after the end fight)

  28. You can put characters aside and bring them back later, the way to beat the army is to bring an army, 1 level 9 character requires the exp of 2 level 8s. You can easily throw 20ish lvl7-8 characters at the final battle and with two genie heals it's very doable.

  29. I remember playing Shattered Lands back in the early 2000s and doing something that pissed the Genie off such that he threw me into a pile of slaads far away from the actual final battle.

  30. Btw that mastyrial sting/quirri bird thing is in an area that makes no sense to be accessible at all. Its off one of the cliffs in the Silt Sea cliffs area, there's a weird thing where passing through an arch made of bone somehow lowers you the thirty odd feet down to the silt surface, and then a single mastyrial attacks near some quirri bird nests and drops the sting.


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