Friday, August 26, 2022

Dungeon Master II: Outdoor Neophytes IV

Cletus has come a long way in a short time.
I had left my first entry just after discovering the shops outside the "Hall" of Champions. I figured out how they worked, but I didn't really sell or buy anything. I just noted their locations and what types of things they traded. In clockwise order, the armor shop was followed by a clothing store, a tavern, and a weapons shop.
A fountain outside yielded coins but didn't let me drink from it. I was annoyed, but then a couple steps away from that, in the tavern, was a wall fountain that offered free water. The tavern also had a little niche in which I found a key. This fit into an obelisk and opened a door to the east of the shops--the only way out of this area.

It was in the next area that things broke down a bit. I encountered more blobs, plus those giant worms that reliably produced meat in Dungeon Master and Chaos Strikes Back. Around the same time, I remembered that in the Dungeon Master series, a full magic bar is simply wasted character development potential. Since I had enemies to practice on, and party members who needed healing, I decided to start experimenting with spells. I hadn't found any spell scrolls yet, but I knew that I could determine some combinations by just playing with the runes. Also, some of the potions I'd found gave clues as to the necessary runes.
Giant worms and their food form a never-ending cycle of character development and restoration.
Skullkeep's spell system (like its predecessors') works by stringing together up to four runes, one each from a set of six. The first set of runes represents the power of the spell, and I think that any of them can be used with any other valid combination. The second set represents the governing element--earth, water, wind, fire, dark, or light. The third set is the "form" of the spell, which is a little hard to interpret, and the fourth is the "alignment," here a mix of moral alignments and character classes (fighter, wizard, ninja, priest, good, evil).
The manual gives all the runes names (recall the FUL YA forge in Chaos Strikes Back, which meant "fire earth"), but you never see them in the game, only the spells' glyphs. Further, when you're casting a spell, a little icon appears above the spell's glyph to remind you of the rune's associated property. Because of this, I took notes based on what the pictures depicted rather than the runes' formal names.
The dimensions of spellcasting.
Since the first set of runes just controls the power of the spell, you don't really have to think about those. That leaves 6 + (6 x 6) + (6 x 6 x 6) = 258 potential combinations of the others. I don't know how many valid ones there are, but I verified that each of the runes in the "elemental" set by itself (i.e., with nothing else but a power rune) casts a valid spell except for ZO, the rune for darkness or negative material. The others are:
  • Earth (YA): Makes a stamina potion.
  • Water (VI): Makes a healing potion.
  • Wind (OH): I don't know. It casts something, though.
  • Fire (FUL):Casts a light spell.
  • Light (DES): Shoots some kind of missile.

I'm frankly surprised the last two aren't reversed. You'd think light would cast light and anything invoking a missile would use fire. In any event, while I was experimenting, I remembered that in the previous Dungeon Master games, there was a fireball spell that I used a lot because it just required you to click the rune directly underneath FUL, which is IR and has something to do with flying. I tried it here and it worked fine. It feels like cheating a bit to use it already, but the manual does encourage experimentation, and I imagine I would have gotten here by logic. I don't know if all the spells in this game are exactly the same as in the first one; if so, that would give a player with a lot of Dungeon Master memory a significant early-game advantage. Since that one fireball spell was the only one I really remembered, I'm starting from scratch.
Preparing to cast a "Light" spell. It gets rainy and dark a lot in this game.
The one-rune spells gave me what I needed for now--light, healing, and most importantly, the ability to improve both priest and wizard levels. Anything that makes a potion requires an empty potion flask--I had to drink one of my existing healing potions--and helps to increase priest ability. All other spells increase wizard ability.
In my first entry, I had said that I had intended to make each character a specialist, but I remembered a couple of things after that. First, leveling not only improves your abilities in those classes, but it also improves your related attributes. Second, I really enjoy the process of identifying who has the lowest values in what classes and working to improve them. Thus, instead of keeping the characters as specialists, I swapped their positions and equipment liberally throughout this session to help them level up in their worst skills. 
Leveling progress so far.
After I'd practiced for a while on blobs and worms, I continued to follow the map in a clockwise direction. I found a ladder down, some dead bats (why?), and some mana flowers growing on bushes. There was an area full of monsters that looked like a combination of a triceratops and a bull, but they didn't seem interested in us. In fact, so far all of the monsters in the game have been curiously resistant to committing themselves in combat. The blobs and worms didn't so much attack us as take a swipe at us when they happened to wander into an adjacent square. The bullceratopses weren't hostile at all, so we left them alone. There was some evidence that an unfortunate hunter had been killed hunting them; his bow, arrows, and quiver were scattered across the area. I like it when items are found organically like this.
This looks like something you don't mess with lightly.
The next area was full of whirling tornadoes that occasionally tossed rocks at us, blasting us for significant damage. I'm not sure if these were in a previous Dungeon Master game or if I'm remembering the equally-annoying tornadoes from Might and Magic VI. I don't know whether the tornadoes here are enemies or natural phenomena. If they're enemies, they must require special weapons to defeat, as they didn't seem to respond to any of my attacks or my fireballs.
None of my swings would connect with this foe.
Dodging them, I mapped their small area. A group of megaliths framed an interior zone with some kind of stone altar or dais in the center. On it were another magic map--a different color, but it seems to do the same thing--a lightning key, a "clan key piece," and a bag with a FUL bomb in it. I grabbed the stuff and fled the area.
Or maybe a capped well?
Continuing to map, I found two more down ladders, the obelisk and nearby door that require the lightning key, and the entrance to what must be Skullkeep itself. The entry hall has evenly-spaced pillars and lit braziers. It ends at a locked door. A nearby note reads, "To open the castle door, you must get a key piece from each of the four clans of Skullkeep." I already had one, though I didn't exactly get it from a "clan."
The door to Skullkeep.
I backed out of Skullkeep. There's a door back in the blob/worm area with no button and no nearby obelisk with a keyhole. There is an obelisk nearby with a couple of symbols on it--a crescent moon and something I can't quite identify. I'm not sure what it's trying to tell me.
The symbol on the left looks like two tentacles coming up from a hemispherical stone with a picture of an eagle on it.
I went north and opened the lightning area. Some more giant worms appeared, and then this little guy that looks like a dwarf. Like all other creatures, he seemed to have no interest in attacking me unless I was literally standing in his way, but then I noticed my weapons were missing, and I realized he was stealing them from my hands.
Lesson learned: Don't try to confront thieves head-on.
You'd think that such a thief would at least have the decency to die easily, but no. He hit hard and took a lot of damage himself. It took me over half an hour of chasing him around, plus a couple of reloads, to finally kill him--good thing I'd been leveling those ninja skills--and when he died, he didn't even drop the stuff he had stolen. While I was picking up the couple of coins he had dropped, another one came along, and then a third when he died. I couldn't keep anything in my characters' hands. 
This being my fifth or sixth enemy, I guess it's safe to say that the AI I'm experiencing is the norm, not a fluke. By not having enemies pathologically attack the party, the developers made the old "combat waltz" impossible. When you step back and turn, the enemy might wander into the adjacent square, but he equally might move into the diagonal square, or walk away entirely. The only way to get enemies to stand still and fight is to chase them into corners, but that's a bad idea for other reasons, such as low health values for early-level party members. The result is that Skullkeep really puts the "action" in "action RPG." You're either dodging a (temporarily) aggressive enemy or chasing after a (temporarily) fleeing enemy, but you're never standing still.
Flowers and mushrooms grow throughout this area.
I wouldn't mind so much if I could get used to the interface. The game does a couple of things that are internally consistent but nonetheless keep tripping me up. First, the movement panel buttons are mapped to the 4, 5, 6 and 1, 2, 3 rows on the numberpad; the top row does nothing. Second, the game has the strafe buttons below the turn buttons. Both choices work against muscle memory developed from dozens of other RPGs. I also have trouble remembering that I want to click on the character's hand to attack, not right-click. 

I also have trouble using the mouse and keyboard effectively, as my right hand wants to control movement but can't if it needs to be free for the mouse.
I think all these things were probably true in Dungeon Master and Chaos Strikes Back, and I must have eventually gotten used to them, but at least for this session combats were slow-going and involved lots of bashing into bushes and trees (which causes damage), getting lost, and occasionally reloading. Eventually, I discovered that the thieves were taking my things to a particular square and recovered them from there, only to lose a couple of them again when another one of the little bastards spawned. There were even more of them running around the starting area when I returned there. I'll have to just dodge them, I guess.
The thief's stash.
My party members started to suffer from hunger and thirst, even with all the worm rounds we'd been ingesting, so I made my way back to the stores. I drank my fill at the tavern, bought some loaves of bread, and rested for a while. I was a little worried that I'd be spending all my extra money on food, but it turned out that the tavern keeper was willing to trade the mushrooms and blossoms we'd picked up for food, and I think I saw those respawn in at least one place.
The tavern keeper buys a wild-growing mushroom.
I also sold some excess daggers to the weapon shop and bought a sword. I kind of like the little animation where the shopkeeper spins the table to give you your item and your change, which you have to pick up, coin by coin. By the end of the game, I might be sick of it, but I think it gives some weight to the economy that doesn't exist in a lot of other games, where gold is an abstract thing, and buying and selling are instantaneous.
Back in the world, I still have a lot to explore. I've mapped three ladders down. There's an archway that goes to an area with some wolves, and a door with a moon symbol next to its keyhole. I need to finish mapping the area where I encountered the thieves. There's the door with no obvious means of opening it, and finally, there's Skullkeep itself, for which everything else seems to be a prologue.

Time so far: 5 hours


  1. > There is an obelisk nearby with a couple of symbols on it--a crescent moon and something I can't quite identify.

    It looks to me like a grim-looking rising sun – the tentacles being the rays.

    1. After taking a hard look, I can confirm that it's a rising/setting sun with a half-obscured grim face - the moon sports a relaxed/amused face, albeit in profile.

      (Damn, I wanted to make a 'giant vulva giving birth to dragon baby' joke...)

  2. AlphabeticalAnonymousAugust 26, 2022 at 1:01 PM

    > a crescent moon and something I can't quite identify.

    Masaka is coming! [sorry, but I just watched that last night!]

  3. " the enemy might wander into the adjacent square, but he equally might move into the diagonal square, or walk away entirely."

    This seems like it'd make enemies feel less like enemies and more like mobile obstacles/traps

  4. I really enjoyed this one back in the day and don't remember much about it except for how atmospheric the starting area was, and the way the shop system worked with the spinning tables. Here's hoping that you have fun with this one. Either way, I'm looking forward to seeing your progress and bringing back the memories, though I'm half-tempted to run through another playthrough myself, maybe the Sega CD version? Which, BTW, has a goofy (spoilery, I think) intro that I mention in case other commentators want to check it out.

  5. > Light (DES): Shoots some kind of missile.

    I believe that's actually ZO and the spell can be used to vgrenpg jvgu qbbef naq fjvgpurf erzbgryl. I don't think it's really necessary in DM2 though.

    And yes - the spells are mostly the same as in DM1 with only minor changes and additions.

    1. It has the same spells, except for some reason Magic Footprints didn't work. Although I rarely used it, the loss annoyed me as it was a pretty cool spell.

      However, DM2 also has some new spells that actually come to dominate the wizardry sphere somewhat. I'll leave them for Chet to discover.

    2. It's good for repeat players that the spells are the same as in the first; but it's bad design to require the players to remember each spell's runes in the first place. It looks like it's entirely arbitrary which rune combos are a spell and which are not.

    3. On spells:

      Crefbanyyl va QZ2 jung V fcnzzrq zbfg jnf Nhen bs Fgeratgu, n cevrfg fcryy. V erzrzore V fcrag nyy bs Punbf Fgevxrf Onpx "uvtu" ba Xh cbgvbaf gb envfr gur fgeratgu bs zl punengref, gb onfvpnyyl olcnff gur naablvat raphzorenapr flfgrz. Vg jnf pbairavrag, fvapr gur qhengvba bs gur rssrpg jnf ybatre guna gur gvzr vg gbbx znan gb ertra fb lbh pbhyq xrrc vg creznarag. Fnzr guvat urer, ohg vg'f rnfvre orpnhfr lbh qba'g arrq qb qevax synfxf.

  6. "I don't know whether the tornadoes here are enemies or natural phenomena. If they're enemies, they must require special weapons to defeat, as they didn't seem to respond to any of my attacks or my fireballs."

    Haven't played DM2, but I guess they are Air Elementals. In DM and CSB Fire Elementals and Water Elementals only took serious damage from a Vorpal Blade. IIRC there was also a Vorpal spell.

  7. I'm not a fan of the cartoonish appearance of the enemies, as opposed to the dark and moody outside environment.

    This inital part to me felt kind of weird and quite different from past games, due to the AI, as you mentioned, to the environment being so open and the rapid respawning.

  8. "I also sold some excess daggers to the weapon shop and bought a sword. I kind of like the little animation where the shopkeeper spins the table to give you your item and your change, which you have to pick up, coin by coin."

    I know the shopping system is described in the manual, which you've probably read already, but as I've picked up the game this week too, I thought it'd be worth a reminder that it's possible to sell multiple items at once (as long as they match the vendor's type: you drop them on the table one by one, keeping the vendor away by side-stepping) and you can place the money box on the table too (the vendor will directly put your coins into it, and convert the leftovers to the higher coins categories). That makes the system less cumbersome as you don't need to take coins and place them into the money box manually for every single sold item.

  9. When you are purchasing you can even barter. Put down a few less coins than the asking price and he'll think about it and might sell at a discount.

    1. AlphabeticalAnonymousAugust 26, 2022 at 5:42 PM

      It sounds like you might mean 'bargain,' not barter.

    2. English is a strange language and excelling in English grammar makes you "special"

    3. AlphabeticalAnonymousAugust 27, 2022 at 2:03 PM

      Insults, too? How charming!

    4. I definitely meant barter. You don't have to use coins to trade you can put something down of lower value that the item you are attempting to purchase

    5. Yeah sorry for that I didn't really think about how rude my last comment would be

    6. And its ksmb but the last times I tried to put it in as name it changed it to anonymous

  10. IIRC you can re-close the gates between the areas to stop the monsters from running completely amok.

  11. I like that you play this after the same amount of time we others had to wait between dm1 and dm2 so blogging in retrorealtime

  12. Don't worry about using spell formulas from the first game - Dungeon Master 2 barely tells you what runes are used to cast which spells. I guess the devs just assumed you'd already know how to cast spells, either from playing the first game or reading a walkthrough.

    1. There are some new spells - but I think only about 4 -but you need some knowledge from the first game (There were some spells in DM 1 that are superflous now, but the Light, health potion and fighting incorpereol beings like tornadoes are a must IIRC)

    2. Are you sure that there are essential spells that the game never tells the player about? And that knowledge of the first game, or systematic experimentation with the spell runes, is necessary? I'm sceptical -- that would be a potentially severe design flaw.

      I think that it's cool that players can find "undocumented" spells by systematic experimentation, but I think that it would be too demanding to require players to find essential spells this way.

      Possible alternative explanation: While DM 1 showed most spell combinations in scrolls that could be found in the dungeon, maybe DM 2 requires the player to deduce spell combinations from the names and icons of magical items. The manual encourages the player to do this on page 44.

      Back then I used my notes from DM 1 when playing DM 2, so I couldn't have noticed this. Chet might run into these situations, since he only remembers the fireball spell. We'll see.

      I think there's the possibility that this is a misunderstanding, and it might have come about like this: You played DM 2 and encountered a situation A where you realized that you need spell X that you remember from DM 1, which the game didn't teach yet, and thought, "hey, DM 2 requires knowledge from the first game!" Later on while playing DM 2, in a different area, you find an item from which the player is supposed to be able to deduce this spell X. A player without knowledge from DM 1 could have reached this place, deduced the spell X from the item, and then could have solved situation A. Since you already knew the spell, you didn't realize that this item contained a clue that a fresh player needs.

      Since DM 2 is otherwise a pretty well-designed game, I hope that this is the case.

      (But there is some sloppiness visible in the manual, at least. The whole section with technical instructions -- installation, sound configuration, etc., which manuals of DOS games usually have -- is merely a placeholder: "Ye Olde Technical Details: In order to fully realize your quest, the great Magickal box that connects your world with Zalk must first be properly fed. The TechMages recommend... more in this vein from I-play." That's all. That last sentence must have been an instruction for the publisher Interplay to complete this section.)

    3. It doesn't feel like "experimentation" to me if you just have to try all combinations one-by-one since there's no rhyme or reason as to which ones work.

    4. The closest thing this game has to essential spells can all be replicated by casting formulas found on magic items. That being said no spell is really necessary to solve any puzzles or finish the game, and it's totally viable to complete DM2 casting only basic light and healing potion spells.

    5. Okay, but that the magic system is not just hard to figure out, but also largely unnecessary is not really a compliment to the design...

  13. Killing the bullceratopses jvyy fbyir bar bs lbhe vffhrf: uhatre

  14. "The game does a couple of things that are internally consistent but nonetheless keep tripping me up. First, the movement panel buttons are mapped to the 4, 5, 6 and 1, 2, 3 rows on the numberpad; the top row does nothing. Second, the game has the strafe buttons below the turn buttons. Both choices work against muscle memory developed from dozens of other RPGs."

    That's understandably frustrating. It's still a while until most games allow re-mapping the keyboard keys. It's also possible to re-map the keys in DosBox, but my understanding is that you try to play with the original key mapping. This movement key layout is the same as in Eye of the Beholder, though, isn't it? (Except that it is placed one row lower.)

    "I also have trouble remembering that I want to click on the character's hand to attack, not right-click."

    This is similar to what happened later on with RTS games. The progenitors (Dungeon Master, Dune II / Command and Conquer) used left-clicking for attacking / giving an order, then the rivals (Eye of the Beholder, WarCraft II) established right-clicking for attacking / giving an order. What were the developers of the progenitors' sequels (DM 2, the next Command and Conquer game) supposed to do, use the UI conventions of their rivals? That would annoy their own fans.

    1. I had the same "tripping up" experience, and I have to admit the awkward control schema kept me from going far in this game (and its predecessor) and led me to play Lands of Lore instead.


I welcome all comments about the material in this blog, and I generally do not censor them. However, please follow these rules:

1. Do not link to any commercial entities, including Kickstarter campaigns, unless they're directly relevant to the material in the associated blog posting. (For instance, that GOG is selling the particular game I'm playing is relevant; that Steam is having a sale this week on other games is not.) This also includes user names that link to advertising.

2. Please avoid profanity and vulgar language. I don't want my blog flagged by too many filters. I will delete comments containing profanity on a case-by-case basis.

3. NO ANONYMOUS COMMENTS. It makes it impossible to tell who's who in a thread. If you don't want to log in to Google to comment, either a) choose the "Name/URL" option, pick a name for yourself, and just leave the URL blank, or b) sign your anonymous comment with a preferred user name in the text of the comment itself.

4. I appreciate if you use ROT13 for explicit spoilers for the current game and upcoming games. Please at least mention "ROT13" in the comment so we don't get a lot of replies saying "what is that gibberish?"

5. Comments on my blog are not a place for slurs against any race, sex, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, or mental or physical disability. I will delete these on a case-by-case basis depending on my interpretation of what constitutes a "slur."

Blogger has a way of "eating" comments, so I highly recommend that you copy your words to the clipboard before submitting, just in case.

I read all comments, no matter how old the entry. So do many of my subscribers. Reader comments on "old" games continue to supplement our understanding of them. As such, all comment threads on this blog are live and active unless I specifically turn them off. There is no such thing as "necro-posting" on this blog, and thus no need to use that term.

I will delete any comments that simply point out typos. If you want to use the commenting system to alert me to them, great, I appreciate it, but there's no reason to leave such comments preserved for posterity.

I'm sorry for any difficulty commenting. I turn moderation on and off and "word verification" on and off frequently depending on the volume of spam I'm receiving. I only use either when spam gets out of control, so I appreciate your patience with both moderation tools.