Friday, January 20, 2023

The Mystic Well: Here There Be (Fat) Dragons

Oh, you poor thing.
Another two and a half levels mapped, another seven character levels gained. The game got a lot harder this session, though I continued to appreciate its simplicity and the way it pulls me into "the zone" while mapping it. 
This session was all spent underneath the opening level. When I finished last time, I had mapped about half of G-1 (ground level minus one); the other half was inaccessible except from below. I had just headed down to G-2, which a nearby sign labeled "The Crypt."
True to that description, the level featured encounters with undead like skeletons and mummies in addition to the ubiquitous bats. The wall patterns formed little cubicula and burial nooks, some strewn with bones and ashes. 
Every enemy in this session looked a little sad.
The level featured a couple of new (to this game) navigational obstacles. The first were "sliders" (sometimes called conveyor belts): squares that automatically move you to an adjacent square, with multiple sometimes strung together in a row. The second was spinners, although they're a little odd in this game, as they always just point you to the north and keep you fixed in that position. You cannot turn and look another direction while still on the square. The only way out of the square in a different direction is to strafe or back up. The spinners were artfully placed in locations where you wouldn't notice unless you were watching the compass. The game fooled me at least twice and temporarily screwed up my maps. I've gotten to the point where I actually admire that when it's done well.
The level had one locked door I never found the key to open. It had three stairways going up to an unexplored half of G-1 level and four teleporters that headed down to what turned out to be G-3.
I went down first, and G-3 really ramped up the difficulty. To the skeletons and mummies were added ghosts and vampires, both considerably harder foes. Vampires seemed capable of casting some kind of draining spell from a distance. I kept getting nailed with it before I even knew they were there.
A vampire kills me with some kind of draining spell.
But there were even harder enemies. In the western side, I kept encountering what I'll call water elementals: squares that look like water until they rear up and attack. They were capable of swatting away a third of my hit points in a single attack, and they took about a dozen hits to die.
They start out looking harmless enough.
Worst of all was something that I'm not even sure was an "enemy," as I wasn't able to attack or kill them. The middle section of the level had these roving poison fields (this is my own interpretation) that swiftly and continuously drained my hit points if they happened to get hold of me. There didn't seem to be any way to attack them, or if there was, I just couldn't do it before my health was all drained away. I must have had three dozen reloads from those enemies alone as I tried to map the area.
Killed by I-don't-know-what.
The level was mostly open and cavernous, with items strewn everywhere on the floor. Some compulsion forced me to map and annotate them all despite only picking up a twentieth of them. I've already remarked multiple times on the game's approach to inventory, but it continues to baffle me. If you want to keep the compass, you only have six free slots, and every level has about 50 useful or potentially-useful items. I slowly upgraded my wearable gear, assuming that the best gear was whatever had the most visible effect on my resistances or attributes. With no weapon statistics, weapons remained a mystery. I had to just guess. Some inventory notes:
  • By the end of this session, I was sporting: a ruby necklace that greatly improved my fire resistance (unlike most ruby necklaces), a holy cap (improves all resistances), a gold ring (same), a tungsten shield (good physical and fire resistance), an "elvin" shirt (all), "elvin" trousers (all resistances plus 1 point to agility), and Khan's Boots (another point to agility). I was carrying a "mythral" sword, which seemed to kill enemies faster than "Flametongue" and casts some kind of spell I haven't figured out.
  • Two new spells: "Two-Step" and "Telepad." "Two-Step" is like a "Jump" spell, moving you forward two steps but not through walls or locked doors. I haven't found any place where I need it yet. "Telepad" does nothing at all that I can see, but I forgot to try using it at a telepad.
I don't really have any interesting screenshots of inventory, so here's a skull on the wall. It doesn't do anything.
  • I found a sword or dagger called "The Enchantress" that seems to duplicate the "Two-Step" spell.
  • G-3 was strewn with silver mirrors. I feel like I was supposed to use them in some way, but I just couldn't figure out how. Holding them in either hand didn't seem to offer any protection against the level's enemies.
  • It turns out "holy mana cubes" are food.
  • I still kept bringing coins, gems, necklaces, and rings to the Mystic Well, but I still haven't seen any obvious benefit from doing so. Maybe only the thief gets that benefit?
Here's a "ghost," by the way . . . of the Pac-Man variety.
  • "Blessing" scrolls and prayer coins cast protection spells, but the limited inventory means you can't really save them for when you need them. 
  • Water is relatively plentiful in the game, particularly since you have an inexhaustible source at the well. Food is becoming a little more scarce. There are some holy mana cubes in my back path that I should probably go pick up.
  • You cannot fill empty vials at the puddles on the floor or at water elementals.
The priest's special ability saved my life numerous times on G-3. The spell not only heals and increases resistances but shields you from the next attack that would have otherwise connected. As long as you see the spell's symbol on the screen, you know you're protected from at least one attack. Against some of the harder enemies, I adopted a strategy of attacking until the symbol went away, backing up, re-casting the spell, and then resuming the attack. This mostly works, but it's tough with no keyboard support. Also, enemies respawned so fast on the level, I was often penned in by them and couldn't back up when I needed to. Thank the gods this game doesn't feature permadeath.
As I said, G-3 was mostly open, but there was a mausoleum-like structure on the western side. A nearby sign labeled it "A TEMPLE FOR THE UNHOLY OF HOLY." Again, I have to credit the developer for at least creating interesting wall patterns and a certain thematic consistency to the levels. There was something hanging from the ceiling just past the entry door, and it set off some kind of alarm when I stepped under it (there was no way to avoid it). I'm not sure what this alarm did, but I did notice there were a lot more vampires on the level after I explored this area.
Looks like a u.v. lamp.
At the far end of the mausoleum, past an artfully-arranged row of bones and skulls, was a second well and a teleporter out of this place. I still haven't explored that teleporter's destination. It seems to take me to one of the upper levels, or perhaps a small unexplored area of G-1, but I keep getting killed when I use it.
Wait . . . is this the Mystic Well?
The other way out of G-3 was a stairway back to G-2 in the southwest corner. It led to an area behind a locked door on G-2. Although I found two keys on G-3, neither opened this locked door. However, going up these stairs also caused a previously-closed passage to open, offering easy access to the stairway back up to G-1 and then the main level.
I finished off the session by returning to G-2 and taking the stairways up to the unexplored half of G-1. A message greeted me as I entered: "IT'S HOT AND RED AND THEN YOU'RE DEAD." I assume this message referred to the pathetic "dragons" I started encountering on the level. Most were red, but at least one was blue. They weren't very dangerous, although my fire resistance was pretty high by the time I got to the level. They died in just a couple of hits from the mythral sword, which I found earlier in this area.
We have to have another look at that dragon.
There were a ton of jewels and gems in the area, which I didn't have room to pick up. In addition to the mythral sword, I found my tungsten shield here, plus a "Staff of Strike" and a Scroll of Death. A staircase went down to a small unexplored area of G-2 where I found a Wand of Fire, my "elvin" shirt, "pubescent" jeans (I don't think I'll put those on, thanks), Khan's Greaves, and something called "twisted mythral." Except for the shirt, most of the items were worse than I had despite interesting names.
Bolingbroke's 17th rule: Despite numerous literal and unaltered borrowings from both Tolkien and Dungeons & Dragons, every game author insists on his own way of spelling mithril.
Back on the main floor, it turned out that a ruby key I had found on G-3 unlocked a locked door on the ground level. This door had been locked since the first hour of the game, and I had been waiting for the key that would finally open it. Behind it was a wizard's robe and a pair of crimson jeans, both of which I had found elsewhere. That was anticlimactic. There are a lot of places in the game like this--places at the ends of long corridors, behind locked, eerie-looking doors, where you find essentially nothing at all.
Also: more weird floor patterns! Do they do something?! Are they trying to tell me something!? Aaargh!
A trail? There wasn't really anything at the end of it.

These were all over the western side of G-3.
I still have one more locked door on the ground level despite a growing stack of keys. For further exploration avenues, there's the teleporter on G-3 and three staircases heading up on G+1.  
My key collection.
I'm still enjoying The Mystic Well more than it probably deserves, but it's time for the game to be coming to an end. Fifteen hours would be good for an RPG of this content. I suspect it's going to be closer to 30.
Time so far: 13 hours


  1. Looks like we've got another victim of the fear that using the word "mithril" (or for that matter "balrog" or "hobbit") gets you sued by the Tolkien estate :P

    1. The Tolkien estate sued TSR very early on for using Hobbit etc. in OD&D.

    2. The bobbit donned his mythral vest and sallied forth to defeat Sorriman, braving such dangers as treants and balrons.

    3. Memorably, you punish hobbits in the Wine Cellars of the first Bards Tale. But in subsequent iterations, there are only halflings.

  2. Maybe that dragon has been collecting too many keys himself.

  3. "It turns out "holy mana cubes" are food." Like manna from heaven?

    1. Yeah, mana means magic, and manna means bread. Lol.

    2. It's hardly the worst misspelling in RPG history.

    3. Mana manna - doot DOOT dododo

    4. I was kind of assuming it was an intentional pun rather than a misspelling.

  4. The ambiguous function of the ground well does make it true to its name, I suppose. Have you tried jumping past the poison clouds/alarm?
    The white trail on the floor looks like the bat's droppings, and the small red things could be the vampires'. No clue about the big red one, though. Those dragons look ridiculous, in the best possible way.

  5. AlphabeticalAnonymousJanuary 20, 2023 at 1:57 PM

    I smiled at the picture & caption of the dragon (and reprise!), but I laughed out loud at the pubescent jeans.

    For all that I wouldn't much enjoy playing this game, I'm certainly entertained by hearing all about it.

    1. The dragon reminds me of those cute pictures of bears. Cute, but you just know if you went near the thing you'd get your face ripped off.

  6. "I've gotten to the point where I actually admire that when it's done well."

    Is that some form of sado-masochism setting in, or how would you call it?

    1. Overcoming challenges is part of the fun, right? Is it sado-masochism to enjoy anything other than a walking simulator?

    2. I just imagined you on the couch going 'Yeah, they did it! They've managed to screw up my map!'

      All in good faith, as you understand ;)

    3. A game managing to screw up one of Chet's maps in a clever way must be equivalent of that Muldoon character getting outflanked by Velociraptors in "Jurassic Park". I can imagine sitting him in front of his map, belatedly realize what has happened, and go.. "Clever girl.."

    4. An obvious spinner is pretty much just an unneccesary nuisance. So I guess non-obvious is how they should be. Very annoying though when you draw your maps with a pencil and can't find a rubber.

    5. When I discover the ruse, what comes out of my mouth is usually an obscenity, but in an admiring way.

    6. Any kind of spinner is an unnecessary nuissance. And let's not mix up challenge and punishment. A game doesn't need to be punishing to be challenging.

    7. Well, I too see spinners and other navigational obstacles as a welcome challenge. That's just my own preference.

    8. A game like this is almost entirely about mapping. If the game doesn't throw you a few curve balls, there really isn't anything else to look forward to.

  7. The Two-Step spell isn't any use to push you past conveyor belts, or that mausoleum alarm?

    1. Not the way the belts are configured. It might work for the mausoleum alarm, but I didn't know what it was the first time I walked under it, so I didn't know enough to jump past it.

  8. I'm laughing my butt off at how the ghost is of the Pac-Man variety but the author still tries to make it look scary by having it have piercing red eyes and being barely visible. Yet... it's honestly still scarier than the Casper variety that Might and Magic 2 scared up. Full points for creativity!

  9. according to the video playthrough: gurer ner 10 yriryf 7 hc naq 3 qbja, ohg lbh bayl arrq gb qb gur 3 onfrzrag yriryf, bar bs gur pynff yriryf naq yriry 6 naq 7, naq lbh arrq whzcvat be gjb-fgrc fbzrgvzrf orsber gur raq. gurer ner nyfb n fbzr pbaarpgrq vaivfvoyr jnyyf naq gur ivqrb gvcf ner gelvat gb chg qbja fbzrguvat naq frr vs vgf na vaivfvoyr jnyy be n fbyvq jnyy

  10. Twisted Mythral, Fat Dragon, and Pubescent Jeans would be killer band names

  11. > I still kept bringing coins, gems, necklaces, and rings to the Mystic Well, but I still haven't seen any obvious benefit from doing so. Maybe only the thief gets that benefit?

    I could have sworn putting treasure in the well had visible xp effects on my level. I played it as a Wizard.

    > Two-step
    I believe you don't need a jump/teleport to finish the game (otherwise half the classes would be screwed), and I don't recall any areas being completely inaccessible without them.

    According to a hint file added to the DOS version: the results of two quick steps in a direction is resolved differently to step-wait-step. I suspect emulator timing will likely mess with this, and considering the sluggish feel on the original hardware, most people would be none the wiser.


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