Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Another Goddamned Delay

Only a few days after my long-awaited return, my laptop has decided to die while I'm on the road. I had most of an Ambermoon entry ready to go, too. I'll be home on Friday and hopefully back online this weekend.

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Serpent Isle: Sweet Is the Swamp with Its Secrets

The Ultima series has at least been consistent about one thing.
Serpent Isle has really put this party through the wringer. Exhausted after the events in Monitor, Moonshade, and Fawn, the group spent a well-deserved month recuperating. Shamino hunted and fished and communed with nature. Dupre spent a lot of time in the pub and talked a lot about women but never seemed to go home with any of them. Iolo asked everyone entering and leaving the city about Gwenno. Boydon became something of a freakish attraction in a city devoted to Beauty. The Avatar enjoyed the view from the balcony as he compiled his notes.
As we've learned, the Serpent Isle was once known as the Lands of Danger and Despair when it was part of old Sosaria. After Mondain died, various cataclysms knocked it into another dimension or something, so that a traveler from Britannia has to pass through the Serpent Pillars to reach it. The people remaining on the island became known as Ophidians. They worshiped the Serpents of Order, Chaos, and Balance and created a system of virtues around these principles. When the Great Earth Serpent (representing balance) was abducted by Exodus to guard his castle, the forces of order and chaos destroyed themselves in the ensuing war.
After the events of Ultima III, a faction of Britannians disgruntled with Lord British's ascendancy traveled to Serpent Isle and found it depopulated. They built the cities of Monitor, Fawn, and Moonshade near the Ophidians' ruins. (Something is weird about the timeline here, as the people on Serpent Isle refer to the Ophidians as "ancient," when in fact only a few years passed between the demise of their culture and the arrival of the Britannians. Also, why do the current residents think the Ophidians were "daemons"?) One persistent mystery revolves around my companion, Shamino, who was one of the two kings who ruled the Lands of Danger and Despair. He seems to have forgotten this or won't talk about it. If he forgot it, why? If he won't talk about it, why? And how has he lived so long? 
Shamino, do you want to chime in here?
The party arrived on Serpent Isle and found it in crisis. People are falling victim to strange illnesses and lightning storms have ravaged the land. Lighting bolts are capable of destroying, teleporting, and transmogrifying the things they strike. The Monks of Xenka believe that these are the end days, and they have a prophecy of a hero who will make everything okay.
With everything that's happened, it's easy to lose track of the group's original missions, which were to chase Batlin, foil the Guardian's plans, and find Iolo's missing wife. As often happens, new challenges came to light in the process of trying to answer the old ones. Every one of the major cities in the Serpent Isles seems to have been plagued with corruption and abuse. Monitor's leadership decided that party was more important than country, and they allied themselves with their historic enemies, the Goblins, against the other factions within the city. Moonshade was ruled by a lecherous tyrant who banished his political enemies to the Mountains of Freedom. A faction in Fawn had conspired to put words in the mouth of the Oracle to seize power. In solving all of these issues, the party has significantly reduced the populations of these islands. They have also achieved three artifacts: The Helm of Courage, the Mirror of Truth, and the Crystal Rose of Love. 
The party ruins another city.
The following quests remain open:
  • Batlin: He's traveling with a warrior named Brunt, a sailor named Deadeye, and a gargoyle named Palos. He's passed through each of the cities, asking about the Ophidian ruins and stealing a blackrock serpent from Andral in Monitor. Some other Fellowship members came with him, but they seem to be in the dark as to his evil intentions.
  • The Guardian: I have no idea what his plans are. I'm not even entirely sure Batlin is still working for him.
  • Gwenno: She also passed through Monitor and Moonshade on the way to Monk Isle. From Monk Isle, she went north. I encountered her spirit in a seance, so she may be dead, but one of Xenka's prophecies suggested that I have to free her from ice. 
Iolo has literally nothing to say about this after the seance. I guess he's in denial.
  • Cantra:  The precocious 14-year-old girl, daughter of Harnna of Monitor, has gone missing. I've seen a vision of her with Batlin; she's apparently possessed by some other creature called the Bane of Chaos (is that another way of saying the Champion of Order?). I still have her practice sword and need to find the Hound of Doskar to track her.
  • Missing Equipment: We've gotten most of it back. The only things still outstanding are the blackrock serpent (Batlin probably has it), a glass sword, Rudyom's Wand, the sword Magebane, and five torches.
  • Xenka's Prophecy: According to it, I have to "unite the serpents."
  • Mortegro: The necromancer from Moonshade was struck by lightning and swapped with a stone pillar. He may be in danger somewhere.
  • Filbercio: The tyrant of Moonshade has gone into hiding since my return. He needs to die.
I'm not the only one who thinks so.
  • Amulet of Balance: Something that the monks found and gave me. I guess it takes me to the Silver Seed expansion.
  • Demon: I freed the demon imprisoned in the Black Sword to get out of the Mountains of Freedom. He's probably plotting trouble somewhere.
I'm not looking forward to seeing this guy again.
Compiling that list didn't give me any obvious leads, however. The only way forward seems to be visiting places I haven't already visited, and that means making it through Gorlab Swamp. I had attempted this once before, collapsed into a slumber, navigated a vivid dream, and woke up at the entrance. I don't know what will be different this time, but I have to try.
We set out one rainy morning from Fawn, heading along the coast. As we get close, we encounter some slimes, which are easy to kill but do their annoying dividing trick. Elsewhere, snakes, insect swarms, and crocodiles attack. I soon learn the dangers of fighting near the swamp, which is that the party members go charging off into the swamp itself, getting themselves poisoned. (Aside: Why are all swamps poisonous in the Ultima series? Haven't any of the developers been in a swamp? Is miasma theory still a thing in Britannia?) You can technically only walk a short way into the swamp; most of it, the game treats as if it were impassable water. We have to navigate through it on a thin bridge of dry land.
Rule #1 of swamp safety: Don't fall asleep just as a crocodile starts heading towards you.
Before long, the swamp puts us to sleep just as it did before. Gideon wakes up on a ruddy island in the middle of a void. His inventory consists of only the three city artifacts (I think I had only the Helm of Courage last time). "Dream creatures" attack as I explore, and I'm forced to pummel them with my fists.
There are buildings in the dream world, some modern and intact, some ruined: A collapsed tower occupied by a few gargoyles I can't reach; a line of pillars with gold snakes wrapped around them leading to two flaming golden cauldrons; a thatched hut, around which a nobleman plays a game of tag with three naked women. Lights and swirls appear in the void. I meet people from the waking world, presumably in their dreams. In a richly-furnished house, Ensorcio is torturing Filbercio. "I am the mage lord now!" he gloats. In a burned structure, I find Cantra (for some reason named D'Cantra) cowering from a "foul beast" that I can't see. I find Lord British in a ruined castle, fires burning in every corner. He's aware that he's dreaming, but he seems to be the real Lord British. He tells me that things are bad in Britannia. They're suffering the same natural disasters as the Serpent Isle. Earthquakes have put cracks in the foundation of Castle Britannia. The lightning storms have ravaged the land, replacing the Royal Mint with a lighthouse. The gargoyles have fallen into a dream state, just like the ones in the dungeon Furnace. The emps have fallen ill, and many have died. Mages are unable to cast the simplest spells. He has faith that I'll somehow fix it.
I've had this dream.
I should note that to get all this information, the game starts me off with only two keywords: NAME and JOB. To get the other keywords, I have to first listen to Lord British express incredulity that I don't know who he is or what he does. This is the thousandth time that such a thing has happened in this game, and it's growing tiresome. It would have made sense if the game was still using type-in keywords and a player insisted on typing those, but when the game itself is feeding you the keywords, it's a little obnoxious to make the player feel stupid for asking the only words available to him. It's not like they were the only alternatives. When I later meet other NPCs in the dreamworld, none of the keywords I'm given are NAME or JOB; they all jump right into the obvious things that the Avatar would ask about. 
I could think of three dozen other things the Avatar would want to ask Lord British right now.
A chest behind Lord British's throne has a full set of magical gear, including an Infinity Bow, which shoots endless exploding arrows. There are other weapons and armor scattered throughout the dream realm, including a Juggernaut Hammer, a two-handed weapon that magically returns after it's hurled at a foe. The Avatar gains experience from kills in the dream world, but the dream creatures don't do much damage and take forever to kill, so I end up just walking past most of them. The Avatar also gets hungry.

As I explore a frozen building, an image of a serpent appears and says, "Look into the Moon's Eye." In that same building, I find a "Translation" scroll, a golden serpent statue, and a door leading to what looks like a moongate. As I approach, Thoxa (the Monk of Xenka) appears. She says that the gate I see before me, the Moon's Eye, is my "goal in the waking world." I'll find it in the Temple of the Ancient Ones "in the icy wastes to the north." 

There's a copy of the Sleeping Bull Inn, where I find some food. Byrin, the bard from the inn, is here--and aware that we're in a dream. He tells me of the Forest Master, who rules fauna and flora in the icy wastes, to whom I "should be prepared to return the Orb of Elerion." He also explains how Gorlab Village (in the original Ultima) became Gorlab Swamp: A wizard named Rabindrinath decided to destroy the town for unknown reasons. A healer named Siranush opposed him. (Siranush has been previously mentioned, as the woman that Edrin dreamed about when he was turned into a parrot.) When their spells collided, their magic went wild and trapped the residents of Gorlab in the world of dreams. This includes anyone who wanders into the swamp. The wizard and healer still struggle against each other, but Siranush is weakening. To return to the waking world, I have to die in the dreamworld. If I die in the real world, I'll be trapped here, which doesn't make me feel great about the two crocodiles I saw approaching my body just as I fell asleep.
The Avatar applies deductive logic.
I'll pause now to say that dream sequences are second only to underwater sequences in tropes that I wish games would get rid of. They always feature the same tropes, never really make sense, rob me of control, and leave me impatient to get back to the main plot. I particularly hate it when those dream sequences are hallucinogenic or psychedelic, which nearly made me rage quit the Far Cry series more than once. 
I continue exploring and come to a forest of silverleaf trees. In a hut in the middle, surrounded by cats, I find Siranush. She's been expecting me, since Edrin told her about me, and she knows that I'll need the Serpent Necklace to succeed in my quest. She also fills in a bit more of Rabindrinath's backstory: he grew angry at the village when they wouldn't appoint him to the town council immediately after he moved there. His spell had been intended to allow him to invade the dreams of the villagers and persuade them to do what he wanted. The end result makes a bit more sense, and I just love the pettiness of that backstory. Anyway, she'll give me the Serpent Necklace if I can bring her Rabindrinath's Dream Crystal and free the villagers' souls--their bodies are long-since rotted away--from their nightmare. Rabindrinath, she warns, "can only be overpowered by the application of Truth, Love, and Courage." That's convenient.
It would be nice for once if literally anyone else was the hero of prophecy. There's no reason that Dupre couldn't have done this.
I continue exploring and come to a large stone building with a plaque that, after a "Translation" scroll, reads: "THE DREAMS OF THY ENEMIES." A walkway leads to a pair of chairs overlooking an arena. I sit down and am immediately treated to a view of Batlin blasting fireballs at a simulacrum of me. As the fake Avatar inevitably succumbs, Batlin gloats, "Soon I will have power to rival the Guardian himself!" The figures disappear as he promises to torture me for a long time before letting me die. Nothing appears after that. Good to know that Batlin is my only enemy.
Eventually, I come to Rabindrinath's castle, which for some reason has a nightmare prancing around the stone courtyard. As I enter the mage's hall, he approaches and asks a weird question: "Hast thou seen the firebird's death or followed thy dreams to seek power?" I'm about to answer "neither," but he goes on with a bunch of other clearly rhetorical questions that make about as much sense. He tries casting some spell at me, which fizzles. He curses my Helm of Courage and disappears. 
I rather hope that my helm can't kiss anything.
Further back in his hall, a fire roars. The two leopardskin rugs in front of it turn into actual leopards as I approach, forcing me to kill them. I worry about some stone harpies along the walls, but they remain inert. South of the hall, I pass through a dining room and kitchen before I encounter Rabindrinath again in some kind of jail. A body lies on a table in a central room. Two skeletons are in one cell, a live naga in another. A severed leg squirms on a side table.
Do nagas ever appear in this game not in cages? Where do they even come from?
Rabindrinath has some more weird questions, casts another spell, this time curses the Rose of Love, and disappears again. The body has a key, which lets me through the north door of the hall. Here, Rabindrinath wants to know if I have the "reflection of Truth to make [my] dreams real?" A third spell, a third fizzle, and a third curse follow, and the mage collapses dead on the floor. A key on his body leads to a void with the Dream Crystal on a pedestal. Just as I turn to leave, a fireball comes out of the wall and nails me, and I'm back at the entrance to the swamp. I re-enter, fall asleep, and find myself back in the dreamworld with none of the stuff I'd gathered, including the crystal. I reload rather than doing all that stuff again, although I am vaguely curious how much of that stuff I would have had to do again.
This sounds like a new kind of drug.
The second time, I avoid the fireballs by just grabbing the crystal from the doorway, then I head back to Siranush. Before destroying the crystal, she summons Edrin and professes her love. They have a cute conversation. The scene fades, and we awaken again at the entrance to the swamp. 
If I remember correctly, Edrin isn't going to have long to wait.
Before I can move, the ghostly serpent speaks to me again: "Hero from another world! Know that it is I, the Great Earth Serpent, whom thou liberated from imprisonment in the days of Exodus the Destroyer."
You must be confused. That was a party of four people, all of whom were "fuzzies."
"If only thou couldst help me now, Avatar," he continues. Or, rather, "ends," because he says no more after that. 
After re-equipping all of our stuff (why can't this game leave things where I put them!), we re-enter the swamp, this time able to travel without falling asleep. We follow the thin maze of dry ground as it twists and turns dozens of times. We fight more slimes and crocodiles. Everybody gets poisoned. We pass a burning building with the corpse of a woman on top, but we cannot approach it. Eventually, we find the exit. I cast "Mass Cure" on everyone and distribute some bandages to those injured worst.
Note the crucified guy with the cup next to him in the upper-left. Is that supposed to be Jesus?
The map shows us on the northern half of the island. A forest lies north and west of us, and large structures or towns to the east and northeast. Not far to the north, the map turns white, indicating cold and ice. We'll have to find some warm clothes somewhere or make a trek back through the swamp to civilization, something I'm not eager to do.
My current position. I've explored about 70% of the landmasses. One might be fooled into thinking that I'd completed 70% of the game.
I've enjoyed Serpent Isle, mostly, but I've just hit the 46-hour mark. This is where I would be looking for most games of the era to start coming to a conclusion. We've had three large cities with three symmetrical questlines funneling us to this point, and most games would now have me face one final dungeon or test. I honestly don't remember what happens next, but I remember enough to know that, in many ways, Serpent Isle is just getting started.
Time so far: 46 hours

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Ambermoon: Frankreich ist Speck

A pretty well in the center of town. I just haven't been able to find anything to do with it.
It is sixty years after the events of Amberstar. The hero is the granddaughter of the first game's hero, born two decades ago, just as the third moon fell out of orbit and crashed into the world of Lyramion. Orphaned during the devastation, she was raised by her grandfather, who is now on his deathbed. He has sent her from home on a vague quest to "find out what is happening . . . and what risks there are to you and life on Lyramion." To be successful in this quest, she'll need some magic armor, currently buried beneath a pile of rubble in her grandfather's basement. She has thus traveled west to the nearby city of Spannenberg, which has been invaded by bandits. They've stolen four golden horseshoes from the farrier, Tolimar. He'll give the heroine the tools she needs if she'll recover the shoes.
And thus this chapter opens in Spannenberg, which I think means something like "stretchy mountain" in German. The small city has a park with a well in its center. Ringed around the edges are a tavern, a stable, a food store, a general store, a healer, a training center, city hall, Baron George's compound, and a couple of private residences. 
Too bad I don't have Spike from the last game.
If you've played modern games like the Fallout series, the Elder Scrolls series, or the Dragon Age series, you've had this experience a thousand times: You visit a city for one reason and leave with a dozen main quests, side quests, and miscellaneous objectives. Ambermoon might be the earliest example of this common trope, albeit without an in-game quest list. That omission is fine with me, as I enjoy--prefer, even--keeping my own notes and quest lists. This is my list after my Spannenberg visit, including a couple items I had before I arrived:
  • Find some location to use Shandra's Amber to make contact with him.
  • Get tools from the Spannenberg stables to clear the rubble in grandfather's basement.
  • Recover the four stolen golden horseshoes for the owner of the Spannenberg stables.
  • Find the bandit camp in the desert north of Spannenberg and end the threat to the city.
  • Find the treasure that the bandits are searching for in the desert.
  • Deal with the band of orcs raiding the city from the mountains to the west.  
Lots of NPC dialogue about these orcs.
  • Investigate the supposed magic powers of the well at the center of the city.
  • Retrieve a brooch from the gardener in the graveyard, take it to the Thieves' Guild for entrance.
  • Put to rest the undead that the gardener, Gordon, has been raising.
  • Retrieve the golden wine goblets stolen from married couple Canth and Noralael, the first by a green creature with wings, the second by two bandits. 
  • The Baron is missing his chain of office. His wife, Lady Heidi, woke up to observe a couple of blue-green winged fairies gamboling about her house. She followed them to a cave west of town.
  • Explore an old crypt far to the north, near the Tower of the Alchemist, where powerful magicians (and perhaps their artifacts) are buried.
  • A man named Wat the Fisher is at the bedside of his daughter, who is dying of swamp fever. He wants me to ask Father Anthony about an antidote.
  • The healer, Sandra, hasn't heard anything lately from her daughter, Sabine, who practices in Burnville on an island to the south.
I guess when I find Sabine, she'll give me the cat's name.
  • The shipbuilder, Captain Torle, is also missing in Burnville. Without him, no new ships can be built.
  • Father Anthony has closed the Spring of Life, because of the orc threat, the bandit threat, or both.
  • An elf named Sandire is wandering around town, claiming she's been robbed by bandits. She's trying to sell a "Monster Eye," which tells you if monsters are following you, but she wants 5,000 gold.
The bandits are clearly the "main quest." Not only do I have to slay them to get the horseshoes and thus the tools, Baron George himself asked me to do so when I visited his office. He also asked me to deal with the orcs. 
The Baron has some amazing floor art.
The bandits are headquartered north of town in the desert, looking for some kind of treasure. The Baron says they're led by someone named Silverhand. He says that the masters of the Thieves' Guild have disavowed any relationship with the bandits, though he's not so sure. 
I find the town's graveyard during my explorations, and I'm attacked by a couple of zombies. My sword does nothing to them as they tear me apart with bows and blades. I'll have to return when stronger.
This did not end well.
In the "training centre," I find the first NPC who will join my party, a Level 1 human fighter named Egil. He's after the fortune and glory that the Baron has promised. He comes with padded armor, a long sword, a buckler, sandals, and a few potions.   
The first ally willing to put his sword where his mouth is.
The training center gives me my first taste of character development. It appears that every trainer specializes in a particular skill. This training center has two: attacking and parrying. Each point that you train costs 20 gold (at least, in this center), and each raises the associated skill by 1 point. I spend 5 on "Attacking" and 5 on "Parrying" and save the rest for now.
Half an hour every morning.
I haven't been noticing how training points increase per level. I started with 6 and got 5 when I hit Level 2, then somehow got 14 more in three levels. Maybe it's random. Similarly, my maximum hit points went up by 10 between Level 1 and Level 2 but then only 18 more between Levels 2 and 5. Attributes have not budged. The manual, I should note, has little to offer about these issues.
Next to the training center is a building housing the "Wise Men of Spannenberg." Their sign has some runes that I guess I haven't found the in-game document required to translate. One of them will identify items; the other sells spells. I'm a little bit confused as to how spells work in this game, and most of the scrolls are out of my price range, so I leave it for now.
I've been looting weapons and armor from the bandits. I'm eager to sell them to the merchant. I visit his store and he buys a dagger for 11 gold, then refuses to buy anything else that I have. But then I buy a rune table from him, and suddenly he's happy to buy all my excess stuff. Weird. I use the rune table, and it tells me that I can use the table of runes included in the package. Yay! The mage's guild sign translates as: "KNOWLEDGE IS POWER." Indeed.
Still can't use the map, though.
I'm not sure what to do with the well in the center of town. I figured it might be the place where I'm supposed to commune with Shandra, as the well, according to an NPC, was "built by a powerful magician when the town was founded." But using the amber doesn't accomplish anything there. I can't get anything to happen with the "Look" or "Grasp" buttons, either.
The House of Healing is the largest building in town. It has an inn, a scroll-seller, several NPCs recovering from wounds inflicted by orcs and bandits, and a healer named Sandra. The aforementioned Father Anthony is not here, having gone to administer last rites to a resident somewhere. One of the NPCs mentions that some orcs broke the wings on a "green fairy" and dragged her off; I'm not sure how this might relate to the various quests involving fairies. Perhaps they're compelling fairies to do their bidding by holding one of them hostage. 
Oh, my darlin'. . .
The healers' cook, Clementine, tells me of a mad mage in a cell in the basement. He arrived on the island after the Great Disaster, carrying half an amulet and a torn robe. Some farmers cared for him, but he's grown increasingly violent over the years. Clementine warns me not to approach him and to speak to him only through the bars. We head down, easily defeat some giant spiders at the foot of the stairs, and wander into the mage's room just in time to see him fireball a stray mouse. He cackles at us but doesn't respond to any dialogue options. A chest with his amulet is in a nearby room, but it's locked and I have no way to open it. I suppose this is a quest for later.
Egil and I head outside. We travel west into the mountains, round a volcano, and encounter a band of orcs. The leader is commanding his troops to search for more of "those bright-winged beings." By torturing one of them, they apparently found that they live in a cave in the area. They attack when they see us. Qamar is killed in the first round and Egil doesn't last much longer.  
Does this mean that Egil can continue the quest without the main character?
Reloading, I return to the merchant and splurge on some chain armor and leather boots. While I'm back in town, for no reason other than I don't want to remember it later, I spend 200 gold on horses. This puts a little horse icon outside of town, which you have to remember to mount when you leave. 
This is so cute.
Miscellaneous notes:
  • Either the bandit encounters occur at fixed points or their overall number is fixed. At some point, I stopped encountering them.
  • The game requires a certain amount of time to pass between rests. You can't rest just because you want the night to pass. This can make outdoor exploration annoying if you time things poorly.
My character is incapable of just passing time without sleeping.
  • If you try self-typed keywords in NPC dialogue, they remain in the dialogue list if they're words that someone, somewhere will respond to.
AMBER and AMULET got me no results with the madman, but they stayed on the list.
  • I keep being surprised at how non-interactive the overhead view of the game is. The houses and buildings have a lot of interesting objects, and I keep expecting that you should be able to do things with them, I guess since the game feels so much like an Ultima.
I feel like I should be able to do more here.
  • The "continuous" 3D interface is extremely cumbersome. It is too slow with a keyboard, comically fast with the mouse, and too easy to get turned around and lost with either method. Since the world is not interactive, there's really no need for it except that someone thought that it looked cool.
  • Mitigating the interface somewhat is the excellent automap with its fast travel options.
Once you've explored a map once, you hardly ever have to walk through it again. The fast travel points are copious.
I either have to get past one of these enemy obstacles or find some place to grind. I seem to remember that finding easy early-game combats was an issue in Amberstar, too. I'll probably head back to the cemetery next and see if my new equipment and skill points avail me at all against the zombies.
Maybe I'll do better this time.
I apologize for the long break before this entry--it was just a series of things that robbed me of my free time. May is a great time to start playing again, though. The weather is warm and sunny here in Maine, and nothing takes me back to my childhood more than sitting in a dark room playing a CRPG while a woman periodically tells me that I'm wasting a beautiful day indoors. Let's get on to the summer and waste plenty more!
Time so far: 6 hours

Saturday, April 15, 2023

BRIEF: Ackroyd's Saga (1988)

Ackroyd's Saga
United Kingdom
Published as type-in code in the January 1988 issue of Your Commodore magazine from Argus Press
Released 1988 for Commodore 64
Rejected for: No RPG elements
Tagging this game as an RPG, as GameBase64 does, is absurd, but I thought I'd blog about it anyway, because as I started the game, I thought, "This is the first attempt that I know to fuse educational material with even pseudo-RPG elements." Then, after I got this entry mostly written, I remembered Bugs and Drugs (1978), which was an actual RPG. You're getting this entry anyway, because I wrote a bunch and I don't want to waste the material.
Written by Allen and Margaret Webb and published in the January 1989 edition of Your Commodore (a British magazine), the game takes the player on a journey to defeat the King Ackroyd ("the usual evil king") by finding four parts of a key and taking them to the entrance of Ackroyd's castle.
You begin by setting a difficulty on a scale of 1 ("Easy") to 5 ("Hard"). You then select a primary and secondary weapon from a short list.
This is a meaningless choice.
The game begins with your Goofy Cartoonish Little Man (a rare example of a GCLM in a Western game) in a forest in what turns out to be the upper-left corner of a 9 x 12 game world. That means the game has 108 screens. You might as well get used to that kind of math.
Starting out. No matter what you chose, your character icon has an axe.
As you explore the game world, you encounter 11 monsters in fixed locations: ghost, soldier, blob, snake, zombie, whirlwind, eagle, phoenix, enchanted fire, gnome, and mystic cloud. "Combat" with each of them involves correctly answering either three or five multiplication problems from 0 x 0 to 12 x 12. There are thus 91 potential pairs and 169 potential problems. You have a limited time to type in the answer to each problem, which is the only thing affected by your choice of difficulty level. If you get the majority of the answers correct, the enemy pops out of existence.
There is no "answer." Just more questions.
I know my multiplication tables, but rating this "very easy" isn't some kind of flex. The consequence for getting the majority wrong, or timing out, is getting knocked back a square, from which you can immediately try again.
You may be wondering what roles the chosen weapons play in the game. The answer is that your choice affects what graphics show up in the upper-left corner.
Key parts are scattered across the map, but in fixed locations (everything in the game is fixed except the specific problems you get). I had trouble finding the fourth, so I took the time to make a map of the game.
The authors really should have added a few more columns for thematic symmetry.
Once you find all four key parts, you take them to the entrance to the castle in the southeast. They automatically come together and you get your final score. It's a little disappointing that there isn't a climactic, seven-problem battle with Ackroyd himself. 
Why wouldn't you make the number of monsters an even 12?
So Acroyd's Saga is not an RPG and not a terribly enjoyable game, but it does raise some interesting thoughts. The entire action RPG genre is made up of games for which success is a combination of RPG-style probabilities and the player's manual dexterity. Why is there no genre for which success is a combination of RPG-style probabilities and the player's mental dexterity? The problem with Ackroyd's Saga is not that combat includes multiplication tables; it's that it only includes multiplication tables. The way to improve it, and make the game a bit more of an RPG, is to make it so the player's answers improve the probability of combat success instead of making it inevitable. Then make the rest come down to the usual RPG variables.
The counterargument is that RPGs already have a mental component in that the player has to juggle a bunch of different statistics. After all, figuring out if you want a weapon that does 3d6 damage or a weapon that does 2d8 damage requires multiplication. Determining success in a standard D&D battle requires a bit of algebra. But the game does most of the heavy lifting for you in either event.
A good RPG could make the math problems organic. Mixing potions, balancing spell reagents, targeting a trebuchet, crossbow, or sniper rifle, building a tower, and feeding an army all involve loads of math. Are there any games that require it? I'm honestly asking.
This piece of the key looks like someone praying in the sand.
Math isn't the only skill that could be taught in an RPG environment. There are plenty of opportunities to organically involve language, geography, history, literature, psychology, and hard sciences like chemistry, biology, and physics. If I say nothing else, readers will flood the comments section with plenty of examples of games that do seem to require such knowledge; indeed, we had a recent discussion of this topic in the context of having to know a little Latin in Antepenult. We have also seen plenty of examples of things we've all learned as a side-effect from playing RPGs. What I'm talking about is different: an RPG that's designed to explicitly teach a skill as part of the regular mechanics. 
MobyGames has cataloged 4,567 games in the "educational" genre, including:
  • 396 educational/action combinations
  • 480 educational/adventure combinations
  • 492 educational/simulation combinations
  • 221 educational/strategy combinations
There are only 22 educational/RPG combinations. The oldest is the lost Educational Dungeon (1979). The next is a Japanese-only game called 46 Okunen Monogatari: The Shinkaron (1990), which seems to teach natural selection. The next chance I'll have is Dare, Bluff, or Die (1994), which purports to teach the history and culture of various peoples to populate the American West. After that, it's eight years until the next one. (I allow, of course, that MobyGames may have missed or mis-categorized some games.) What is it about RPGs that makes them so underserved as educational hybrids?
A couple further thoughts on Ackroyd. First, it seems to me that it would have been a trivial matter of programming to allow the player to enter the minimum and maximum values for the digits used in the problems. I've always been annoyed that they stopped us at 12 in grade school. (I didn't know until playing this game that 12 was the standard in the U.K., too.) I worked my way through college as a security guard. This was well before mobile phones, and I wasn't allowed to have a book or any other entertainment at some of my posts. To take the edge off the boredom, I decided to memorize more multiples. I got up to around 20 x 20, and I think squares up to 50 x 50, but never to the same level of instantaneous recall as those first 12. Anyway, such customization would have expanded my enjoyment of the game.
I wish I knew why the authors called it Ackroyd's Saga. I can only imagine they named it after someone they knew. I'm not sure why they wouldn't have chosen a title that better reflects the nature of the gameplay, like Sword of Pythagoras or Medieval Times. In any event, I'm not going to give the game a number or GIMLET even though I won. There really isn't a single RPG element evident in it.

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Serpent Isle: Charmed, I'm Sure

She even looks a bit like Irene.
The last update ended with the party emerging from Furnace, back on the main island for the first time in a couple dozen hours. My first goal is to head to Monitor, just to the east, and use the training points my characters have accumulated. Alas, I soon run out of money. The pikemen's bodies I return to the crematorium get me some cash, but only enough to train two characters. I put the only money changer in town in jail on my previous visit.
Up at the Sleeping Bull, I can't remember who changed my money before, but he's no longer there. So to get enough monetari to train, I'm going to need to return to Moonshade or find whoever changes money in Fawn.
"But you still have to pay me, of course."
No one in Monitor or the Sleeping Bull has much new to say. Ensorcio is willing to sell me some spells, but I don't have the money to pay him, either (most of my wealth is tied up in gems). There's a gleeman in the inn named Byrin; either I missed him during my previous visit or he didn't show up until recently. He has a bunch of songs to sing and tales to tell, most of which he requests a tip after telling. I learn a few things from him:
  • He speaks of the Gwani, the "northern savages," who look like men but are covered in fur. Everyone has described them as fierce and vicious, but a verse in Xenka's prophecy said that I'd doom the world if I attacked them. I should probably stop wearing cloaks made out of their skin before I encounter them.
  • He tells the tale of the three serpents. The fire (chaos) and ice (order) serpents continually warred but were held in check by the serpent of earth (balance). But when something happened to the serpent of earth, the war waged out of control and the land was destroyed. We've had hints of all of this before. My working thesis is that the whole thing started when Exodus somehow yanked the Serpent of Balance from its realm and forced it to guard the entrance to his castle.
  • He speaks of the land having once been ruled by two kings, one old, one young. When the young king abandoned his people, the old king went insane, killed his people, and threw himself from White Dragon Tower.
The greater revelation concerns the "young king" who abandoned his people and his lover, who I gather was the White Dragon King's daughter. Shamino is shaken by the story and demands to know the missing king's name. Byrin confirms that it was Lord Shamino. This isn't much of a revelation if you've played Ultima, where Shamino is one of the two rulers of the Lands of Danger and Despair. Shamino's reaction is odd, as if the events are so long ago that he himself doesn't really remember who he was or what he did. The reactions of Dupre and Iolo ("It can't be!"; "There must be some mistake!") suggest that they didn't know this aspect of Shamino's history. I remind you that while the Ultima materials explicitly state that Dupre and Iolo came from Earth originally, Shamino is supposed to be a native Sosarian, and nothing so far has accounted for his unnaturally long life.
Did you wear that hat while you were king, Shamino?
I'm sure we'll hear more about all of these subjects later. For now, we decide it's time to explore Fawn. Actually, we first figure out the destination of the serpent's tooth that we found in Monitor. It takes us to . . . Monitor. While messing around with the portals, I am reminded that we never found a way to open the locked door between the Furnace teleportal pad and the dungeon itself, so I'll be making another pass through the dungeon after Fawn.
My excitement about a new teleport pad lasted a few seconds.
As we head towards Fawn, I set a goal to try to find a use for all of the spells in the spellbook. Here's a quick report on Level 1 spells:
  • "Create Food": I've used it several times already. It creates about 4 food items on the ground. Useful.
  • "Cure": Also already used a few times, though I favor red potions if I have them. It cures poison delivered by snakes, swamps, and other sources. Important but not vital, since you can wait out poison.
Reviewing Level 1 spells.
  • "Detect Trap": I used it in the Mountains of Freedom and will probably continue to use it sporadically on chests, but chest traps are survivable and reagents are expensive and rare. Useful.
  • "Great Ignite": I use it for the first time as we enter Fawn. It automatically lights two lamps at the end of the bridge. I could have just double-clicked on them. Honestly, I can't think of a single reason to ever use this spell. I'm going to rate this "Worthless" unless some specific circumstance comes along.
Well, that was a waste of good reagents.
  • "Light": Saves you from having to carry torches. Vital until you have "Great Light," then worthless.
  • "Locate": I would have thought it would duplicate the sextant, but it's worse than that. It just tells you where you are. Worthless, unless there's some circumstance later where I'll be confused about that.
  • "Telekinesis": Activates switches and such from a distance. Vital for solving at least one puzzle in the Mountains of Freedom; slightly useful in other situations.
I should note that I don't have one Level 1 spell--probably something Mortegro sold.
As we've previously learned, Fawn is dedicated to the "virtue" of Beauty. Is ruled by Lady Yelinda, said to be the most beautiful woman. Three Great Captains (Garth, Joth, and Voldin) serve as her advisors, and the Priestess of Beauty, Kylista, reports on the "revelations" of the Oracle in the temple. The city's economy is based on fishing--an odd pairing with Beauty--and thus has been suffering from the devastating storms. All of the ships have been destroyed, as has the city's lighthouse.
Fawn's palace . . . where no one is ever found, and nothing ever happens.
A group of emissaries from the Fellowship arrived shortly before we did, but their teachings grated with the city's dogma, and they were soon blamed for the storms and exiled. As we arrive, a storm is blasting the central square with lightning. People slowly return after it disappears.
Geographically, the city is probably meant to evoke Venice. It is built atop the water, with buildings situated on platforms connected by white brick walkways. The building interiors are tidy and richly-furnished. 
I'd pay a lot for this view.
It takes us two days to make an initial circuit of the city, talking to the various townsfolk. Findings:
  • Jorvin, Captain of the Guard, thanks us for liberating Fawn Tower and gives us a lot of background on the city. He carries the Wand of Detainment.
  • Olon, a fisherman, asks Iolo for a song. (We meet him outside, but all his dialogue suggests that he thinks we're in a tavern.) He tells us more about the fate of the King of the White Dragon. Olon says he drove away the other king (Shamino) and was thus left without allies when a goblin horde invaded his lands. Anticipating defeat, his mind broke. He invited all his people to a party and murdered them. Now the castle is haunted and the goblins won't go near it. Iolo sings him a sad ballad about the missing Gwenno.
  • Delin runs the provisions shop. He has been cripplingly absent-minded since he lost his wife, Elissa, and the magister of Moonshade kidnapped his son, Freli. He says that he lost a stack of filari during a teleport storm, and the amount we have is exactly what he lost. But the meat that replaced it is long gone.  
I give Delin his filari back, but . . .
  • Alyssand is Delin's daughter. We've already met her in the Fellowship outcasts' camp. Her fiancĂ©, a fisherman named Keth, disappeared during a storm. Lacking direction, she has fallen into the clutches of the Fellowship. She reminds us here that she's with a rebel group called the Cause, which seeks to free Fawn from the orthodoxy of Beauty.
  • Delphynia sells reagents and vegetables. I met her previously when she sold me the herbs that cured my poison. She thinks she's responsible for the storms because she fell in love with Ruggs. She won't sell us reagents unless we catch her in her gardens, but she never seems to be there.
  • Zulith is the chancellor. I've apparently met him before, but I don't remember. He assists Lady Yelinda and arranges her schedule. He also exchanges money. I delay on this because I don't know how much I'm actually going to buy in Fawn. He intimates that it might be a while before we can get an audience with Yelinda, but our work at Fawn Tower should speed up the process. He thought the city might be overrun with goblins until we saved the tower.
  • Great Captain Voldin is in charge of city security. He thanks us for dealing with the goblins, who killed the town's healer, Seth. He thinks the storms have been sent by the gods because they allowed the Fellowship emissaries to enter the city. He thinks the solution is to return to Beauty's Truth: "All good people are beautiful." He seems to be a bit of a misogynist; he makes a couple of asides suggesting that he thinks women can't be trusted.
That question is a bit difficult to parse, Voldin.
  • Great Captain Garth, the youngest of the Great Captains, comes from a family of wealthy traders. He's actually never been to sea. Described by the others as a skirt-chaser, he nonetheless comes across as intelligent and compassionate when we talk to him. Yelinda has tasked him with finding some way for the city to prosper without its ships, a task he worries is hopeless. He says that Joth, Voldin, and Kylista are the real power in town. He thinks that Voldin and Kylista have somehow corrupted the Oracle to say what they want it to say. He's not particularly obsessed with Beauty and thinks that Ruggs is a good man.
  • Great Captain Joth suffered an injury while heroically protecting the town one night after a storm zapped away the lighthouse, replacing it with a "strange haunted building." He ordered his ship to anchor at the mouth of the bay and flash its own lights, but his ship ran aground and injured his back. He was pulled from sea duty and given a place on the great council. I hear about him before the events below but never actually run into him.
  • Jendon runs the Broken Oar, the town's inn and tavern. His business has been suffering since there are no more sailors. Like Harnna in Monitor and Bucia in Moonshade, he has dialogue options on all the people in town and local places, but only a certain number before he won't talk again for a while.
  • Kylista, Priestess of Beauty, I find hanging out in the tavern. She interprets the divine words of the Oracle, which was created by the mages of Old Sosaria. We won't hear one of these revelations, as she's closed the Oracle to outsiders. She agrees that the storms are a punishment from the heavens for hanging out with the Fellowship group, and she advocates wiping them out to return to the gods' favor. She thinks Voldin should be Yelinda's only advisor. I have no options to ask her about the breastplate that appeared in my inventory, but I find a suit of magic armor in a chest of drawers in her house and replace it with the plate that Dupre has been carrying.
One of the best recoveries so far.
  • Yelinda is the ruler of Fawn. The first time we talk with her, we catch her sleeping in her home at 10:00 in the morning. She doesn't have anything new to say about the city, and she comes across as a bit of an airhead. 
"It somehow doesn't bother me that you're in my bedchamber."
  • Some guy named Kalen, dressed like a sailor, starts attacking us while we're exploring. We hit him a few times and he dies, but not before indicating that he works for Batlin. 
At some point during our explorations, Jorvin approaches and says that Lady Yelinda wishes to hear the songs of the honored bard, Iolo, and we should attend her in the throne room after noon. I'm not really sure what building he means, as there are two buildings labeled PALACE, each with their own thrones. It turns out to be the northern one. We arrive shortly after noon. Yelinda has somehow heard about the ballad that Iolo sang to Olon. She gives Iolo a white diamond necklace to give to Gwenno when he finds her.
250 years old, and Dupre still hasn't learned how to "read the room."
She then--despite the lack of any obvious source of drinks--calls for a toast to Beauty. We drink. She  toasts to Love and to Queen Fawn, "who founded our fine society." We drink again. Then Dupre has to be an idiot and propose a toast to Lord British. She immediately orders Jorvan to "lock that criminal away and call for a speedy trial" and execution. Before we know it, Jorvan has blasted us with the Wand of Detainment, and we all fall unconscious. 
I awake at the inn, with everyone but Dupre next to me. A scroll on my bedside table reads: "Thou art required at the temple for trial." We hustle up there, and the trial begins as soon as we double-click on the doors. Somehow, we end up in the accused's box along with Dupre. A huge Oracle statue watches the proceedings from the front of the room. Kylista pronounces the charges as "inciting rebellion against Lady Yelinda" and "allegiance to that archfiend, Beast British."
Yelinda declines to conduct the questioning herself ("I fear the witnesses might be tempted to spare my sensibilities"), so Voldin agrees to do it. Jorvin announces that for the purposes of the trial, "unsavory characters"--namely, the representatives of the Fellowship--have been allowed to enter the city. I'm sure this will go well.
These two are supposed to be the most beautiful women in Fawn? Yikes.
Delphynia is the first witness. She relates how we consulted her for a leaf to counteract poison, to which Voldin ties the most tenuous thread to "Beast British" and dismisses her. Leon, the Fellowship leader, is next. He only manages to get out that he met with Dupre in the Fellowship camp before Voldin dismisses him for trying to proselytize. The addled Delin is third, but he doesn't even remember meeting Dupre.
Voldin then calls on Yelinda to relate what happened. She lies outright, recalling Dupre as saying: "Curse you all, and Beast British shall drink thy blood." Dupre protests. Yelinda suggests they spare him "further embarrassment" since the conclusion is foregone, and Voldin agrees. Dupre asks what I recommend. I tell him to continue. Next, Ruggs is called, admits to having met Dupre, and is immediately dismissed. He shouts his love for Delphynia on the way out, while she sits still and mutters, "I can't."
"And he did pry into everybody's NAME and JOB."
Kylista testifies that she found our lack of understanding of Beauty "appalling." She thinks the Fellowship is "an invention of Beast British, by which he means to destroy us!" Jorvin testifies that he's been following us around, and we've been entering buildings where we don't belong and opening drawers and barrels without permission. I wonder if that's just an assumption as to how most players will play or if it really is tailored to our actions. Voldin idiotically interprets this as us searching for our souls, which we sold to "Beast British." Jendon testifies that we asked a bunch of questions about the people in town. Alyssand testifies that we mysteriously had her missing engagement ring. Voldin naturally interprets all these things in the worst possible way.
Scots, the cartographer, is called, but he gets no further than defending the beliefs of the Fellowship and the nobility of Lord British than he's expelled. I'm not sure why he's not put on trial, since he said as much in favor of Lord British as Dupre did. This whole island just sucks.
As often as Sosaria/Britannia is reconfigured by some calamity, I'm surprised Scots isn't on the Fortune 500 list.
Kylista calls a recess until tomorrow before we hear Dupre's defense. Dupre names me as his counsel. A guard takes Dupre away. I'm tempted to let him go to the headsman's block for being such a moron. I suddenly wonder what would have happened if Dupre hadn't been in the party. I reloaded an earlier save, kicked him out, and visited Yelinda without him. All that happens is Shamino has his lines instead. If you kick out Shamino, it's Iolo--and you can't visit Yelinda without Iolo, so there's no way to stop the offense from occurring. 
Acquitted of being an idiot? I'm not that good.
I decide to start heading around town to see what support I can muster, but I'm no more than a couple blocks away when Alyssand runs up and hands me a key. It's to Dupre's cell, beneath the temple. "One of the temple guards is sympathetic to our Cause," she explains. "If thou dost explore the temple tonight, I can arrange for the guards to be absent." 
For fun, I tried to screw up this part of the game, and I don't think it's possible. No matter how many days pass, the trial won't re-commence until you've used the key. 
I forget about the "tonight" part and head down during the day, but there are no guards either way. Dupre is in a cell, but the key doesn't open the cell--just the door to the stairs. I can't interact with Dupre. I note with some amusement they've left him a bucket of water and a pile of food, but also a corpse on his bedding.
Have you been sleeping with the charred, twisted body or the skull?
A switch opens a door leading to a stairway up. Here, we find Voldin meddling with a row of five levers. "The levers have been set," he says, "and the traitor's fate is sealed." Suddenly realizing we're not Kylista, he attacks us. I don't know why so many evil-doers in this game think they'll prevail with one-on-four odds, but Voldin doesn't even come close.
Says the man conspiring with the Priestess.
I start fiddling with the levers myself. Each one is trapped and damages me when I pull it. When I pull the fifth lever, the Oracle comes to life: "What does thou wish, Master?" I ask for a revelation. The Oracle says that at the end of the trial, she has been told to say that Dupre is guilty of consorting with daemons, that the Avatar is also guilty, and that both need to be executed. "Change revelation," I say, and have three options: "He is innocent"; "The trial is corrupted"; and "Make no change."
I go with "The trial is corrupted." The Oracle is thrilled: "I have waited many years for this moment. I thank thee, Master!" Upon further inquiry, she relates that the Great Captains have been controlling her for a long time. "At last, I can speak the Truth."
But . . . you're still speaking what I told you to speak.
I crash in a random bed--no one actually seems to use their houses in this town--and return to the temple. As the second day commences, Yelinda questions where Voldin and Kylista are. Zuilth says he doesn't know, and that Captain Jorvin is also missing. Yelinda kicks things off in Kylista's place. I'm told I can call anyone in Dupre's defense, but Zulith clarifies that doesn't include the Fellowship members, who haven't been allowed back in the city after their performance yesterday.
My options are Delphynia, Joth, Delin, Garth, Jendon, Zulith, Olon, and Yelinda herself. I go through the list. Delphynia testifies that Dupre drinks too much, is a braggart, and fancies himself a ladies' man. "Dupre doth have an evil heart," she concludes. Not a good beginning. Joth testifies that he's never even met Dupre, which is fair. Delin does a pretty good job. He points out that we returned the engagement ring, and the storms are probably why it disappeared in the first place. He also wants Dupre to marry Alyssand, but Dupre remarks that she's not "lively enough," whatever that means.
I call Garth, expecting his support, but he testifies that Iolo is the most disagreeable man he ever met. At first, I think the game is glitching, but Olon points out that the trial is about Dupre, not Iolo. Garth nonetheless "stands by his statement." He has worse things to say about Lord British, and he concludes by saying that Kylista is "too beautiful to be wrong." What a hypocrite.
Are you sure you're talking about Iolo?
Jendon says favorable things about Dupre, including that he can "out-drink any man in this town." Olon, who is drunk, says, "I love that man!" He recites a ribald song that Dupre taught him. I wonder when this all happened. My companions must get up to a lot of stuff while I'm sleeping.
Zulith is no help. I call Yelinda last and ask her about Dupre's exact words. She claims she doesn't remember, so Dupre repeats them. Distraught, Yelinda runs off the stage.
With all my "witnesses" exhausted, Yelinda proclaims the trial over. She asks for a ruling from the Oracle. "Dupre is innocent!" the Oracle proclaims. "Set him and his companions free!" She goes on to explain that the "true criminals" are Kylista and Voldin.
Yelinda, to her credit, apologizes. She gives Dupre the Crystal Rose of Love. Just then, Alyssand arrives with Jorvin. They announce that they've captured and imprisoned Kylista and that Voldin has been found dead. Kylista has already confessed to an evil conspiracy involving the levers. Yelinda praises the outcome and remarks that she has "much to learn about being a ruler." We're free to leave.
Yelinda conveniently forgets that she started this whole thing.
  • Jorvin must have already been convinced of Kylista's guilt. He clearly arrested her before the Oracle condemned her.
  • Dupre technically isn't innocent. He praised Lord British to Yelinda's face. The whole of Fawn still thinks Lord British is an evil usurper intent on destroying the city. It would have been nice if the Oracle had been clearer.
  • This whole episode seems to have been aimed at putting the Crystal Rose of Love in our hands. Its introduction here is just as clumsy as the Mirror of Truth in Moonshade.
I naturally have to know what happens with the other Oracle options. I reload and give it a try. If you "make no change," the Oracle says what Voldin told it to say, but right afterwards, Alyssand bursts in with Jorvin. They announce that they themselves entered the secret room and found Kylista operating the levers. Kylista arrives to dispute their claim, but Alyssand asks Yelinda to call on the Oracle for a new judgment. Yelinda does, and the Oracle says the same thing she says if you chose "The trial is corrupted." Everything else proceeds the same way from there.
If you choose "He is innocent," the Oracle proclaims: "Dupre is innocent! Gideon and his companions have no wish to destroy Beauty! Free them at once!" Yelinda apologizes and hands over the Rose, but there's no talk about Kylista being arrested. If you go talk to Alyssand in the Fellowship camp, she says that the Cause is doomed. "We somehow missed the last chance to expose Kylista and her minions for the hypocrites they truly are!" 
Any consequences for the rest of the game?
All in all, Fawn was the silliest of the three cities, but also the shortest. I can't find Zulith after the trial is over, so I sigh, walk back to Monitor, take the teleportal pad to Moonshade, visit Topo, sell my gems, visit Bucia, exchange all my riches for gold coins except for enough monetari to train, take the teleportal pad back to Monitor, sleep until morning, train my characters, walk to the Sleeping Bull, and pay Ensorcio every gold coin I have for his spells. It's not nearly enough, and I still need lots of reagents, so I hope my return trip to Furnace yields some more loot.
As I close out this session, Gideon and Dupre are Level 7, Shamino and Iolo are Level 6, and Boydon is Level 5. I've been training in a way that seeks to balance strength and dexterity. 
Boydon had a long way to go with dexterity when I found him. Even after 4 training sessions, there's a hefty imbalance.
I like NPC dialogue and prize it as a key part of the RPG experience, but I'm also slightly elated that--unless I'm mistaken--most of the talking is over. I'm sure there will be plenty more NPCs, but I doubt there will be entire cities of them. I'm ready for, in the words of Elvis, a little less conversation and a little more action, if you please.
Time so far: 44 hours