Wednesday, May 31, 2023

By the Light of the Ambery Moon

The game's first "boss" battle.
If you're a regular reader of the blog, you heard my excuse for hardly posting at all in the second half of April and first half of May: I was sick, then buried in work that accumulated while I was sick. I managed to come back for two entries before my laptop broke on a business trip. Honestly, I've been very disappointed in this Alienware laptop. It has no numberpad--which is admittedly on me; I just assumed a gaming laptop would have one. When I bought it, it had an overly loud fan that I had to get fixed. The ports are all in the back, making them inconvenient to reach. Even worse, there's needless cosmetic lighting on the back panel, which makes it hard to see the ports in even a modestly-dark room.
If I leave it alone for a couple of hours, it's a crapshoot whether it wakes up from "sleep" mode, although I recognize this might be a Windows 11 issue rather than a hardware issue. A few weeks ago, it started doing this thing where even when it did wake up, the keyboard wouldn't work, so I had to restart before I could log in. Finally, last week, the keyboard stopped working entirely. I tried restarting, popping out the battery, booting in safe mode, and so forth, and I couldn't get anything to work. I shut it down and packed it away, came home on Saturday, plugged in an external keyboard, logged on, updated some drivers, but still couldn't get it to work. I left it alone the rest of the weekend but turned it on this morning in preparation for taking it to someone who knows what he's doing--and it was suddenly working again. Aargh.
This shot occurs a little before the one above.
That said, I can't blame the last week entirely on the computer. While I was out of town without local transportation and busy during the days, I could have taken a Lyft to an office supply store and bought an external keyboard. My problem was thus partly technological and partly . . . well, Ambermoon. I am really having trouble getting a foothold in this game, and I cannot articulate exactly why. I liked Amberstar, and so far the sequel isn't that different. When I start it up, though, I immediately feel my energy drain, and I have trouble playing it for more than a couple of hours. I don't at all have the same problem with Serpent Isle, so it's not ennui with gaming in general that has me in its grip.
Anxious to get my blog back on track, I told myself that I'd just publish whatever I had accomplished in a few hours, even if it was just what I'd already written above. Giving myself permission to post a very short entry has given me the necessary momentum in the past, and it got me over the hump here.
If you say "no," he just attacks again. I don't see the point.
When I last wrote, I had catalogued all of the quests and quest leads I had found in the city of Spannenberg. I had been stymied by combat difficulty in a couple of directions, which bothered me because I thought the city's combats were fixed, as almost all of them were in Amberstar. Commenter Fincki alerted me to try exploring the streets at night, when I had been sleeping. He was right. There seem to be an endless number of combats at night. They're based on timing rather than geography; you encounter them even if you stand still.
I spend some time grinding against bandits, who pose little risk after you've leveled up even once. Almost all their attacks miss or do no damage. They always attack in pairs and have the same equipment and gold. Leveling is slower since experience is shared between two characters, plus warriors seem to require more experience to level than adventurers. I loot what armor I can carry and sell it at the shop during the day, using the proceeds to buy a little training and better equipment.
I wish there were modern stores in which you could sell anything for at least something.
When Egil (warrior) hits Level 2 and Qamara (adventurer) hits Level 6, I decide to try my luck in the cemetery again. It features combats with zombies, which are also endless if you hang around at night. They start each battle with short bows. After they run out of arrows, they switch to short swords. In between, they occasionally cast "Poison" spells. They're quite hard to hit. Nonetheless, with my improved characters, I am able to defeat several packs without any serious mishaps except the depletion of my "Cure Poison" potions.
The highest level so far.
The graveyard has a front area and a back area. The front area has a statue to Bala, goddess of death, "may you guard the peace of the dead forever." In response to that, someone named "Gordon" has scrawled in runic, "NOT FOR MUCH LONGER, AS I AM THE GOD OF DEATH."
Gordon, the caretaker, is found in the "older part of the graveyard," raising more zombies. He attacks as we enter. The battle is with a skeleton, a zombie, and Gordon, labeled the "zombie master," and it's a little annoying for reasons that get into combat positioning. If I have this right--and it's entirely possible I'm missing something--the enemies get the first three rows of the combat grid and the party gets the last two. Characters and enemies cannot cross the line between Row 3 and Row 4. If Rows 2 or 3 are blank, the party can advance across the entire battlefield and close the distance, but this just means that in the next round, the enemies are one row closer to the characters, who (again) always stay in the last two rows.
From a later battle, note that the character can't move into the third row.
The problem is that if there isn't a blank row, the characters have to deal with whoever is in Row 3 before they can advance to attack any more enemies in melee range. This battle starts with one enemy in each row, and the Row 3 enemy is far to the right. The party has to waste a couple of rounds sidling into position, kill the zombie, advance, and then waste a couple rounds sidling back to the left. If I had spells or missile weapons, I'd be able to target the rear ranks, but I haven't figured out spells yet, and while I have some missile weapons from previous battles, I don't have any ammo.
I thus have to win this one the long way, giving Gordon plenty of time to cast spells like "Magic Missile," "Mudsling," and "Irritate." He manages to kill Egil on my first attempt, and I have to reload and try again. (I'm not exactly sure how to resurrect characters yet.) On a second try, I get luckier rolls and manage to close the distance and kill him.
The left character can't do anything until the right character finishes killing that skeleton.
Two other quick notes on combat:
  • Weapons and armor can break. This seems to happen randomly rather than based on any kind of hidden health meter. I bought a chainmail shirt and it broke in the first combat after I purchased it. Enemy items can break, too.
  • Enemies sometimes lose morale and try to flee. I spent a few combats trying to chase them down, but it appears that you get the experience rewards from enemies who flee. I don't think you get their equipment, though.
No point chasing him unless I want his armor.
Gordon drops a brooch, a watch, a robe, a necromancer's dagger, a mushroom, and several spell scrolls. When I use the watch, it embeds a permanent clock in the interface.
With the brooch in hand, I return to the Limping Rogue tavern, where a thief named Aman was looking for the item in exchange for the password to the Thieves' Guild. He gives it as SILK, the name of the guild's founder. Silk was the first NPC who joined my party in Amberstar, a long-haired mustachioed man.
Good to know he had a meaningful life.
We enter the Limping Rogue's basement, where the interface changes to a first-person view. The ensuing dungeon is mostly a waste of time. The only thing to find is the magic mouth that leads to the Thieves' Guild and two combats with some trivially-easy spiders. As with previous dungeons, there are some items that look like they ought to be interactive, but if they are, I can't figure out what to do with them. Honestly, the first-person interface is too janky to force the player to use it for no reason.
A large map for no reason.
On the other side of the magic mouth, a generic thief welcomes us and invites us to use the guild's shop and training. A nearby door leads to the "Test of Thieves," where a sign says: "Solve the puzzle of the doors and the reward will be a real joy for any thief!" I didn't enter since I don't have any thieves in my party yet.
For some reason, I was expecting a rhyme.
A second generic thief asks if we've been to the House of Healers, where on his last visit, he "found a wonderful book of fables in a bookcase." I did in fact find this book, although I forgot to report on it last time. The book tells a fable of a Bird of Paradise, "half dead from thirst," who finds a well but is unable to reach the water within it. A wart-hog comes along and offers to tell the bird how to get the water in exchange for the bird's feathers. The desperate bird plucks them out and gives them to the wart-hog, who tells the bird to drop stones into the well until the water level rises high enough to reach it. The moral is: "Beauty is nice in life, but with intelligence, you live longer!" The story echoes the Aesop Fable of The Crow and the Pitcher, although in the fable, the crow is facing a relatively small pitcher and figures out the solution on his own. I'm not sure how a bird would drop enough stones into a well to raise the water level before he perished.
Elsewhere, we find trainers for "Find Traps," "Disarm Traps," and "Lockpick," as well as a shop--open only in the wee hours--that sells adventuring utilities like lockpicks and torches. I begin to think that the entire episode has been a waste without a thief (I could spend Qamara's points on thief skills, but I'm not sure that's wise) when I notice a compass for sale in the shop. It costs 2,000 gold--about two-thirds of what I have--but it's worth it when I get a permanent compass in the interface. I really liked this aspect of Amberstar--having to earn your interface tools--and I like it here, too.
He looks really eager to make the sale.
I buy a couple of lockpicks, a flint and steel (I don't know what it's for, but it's cheap), a few lanterns and torches, a crowbar, and a second rope. I return to the surface, again thanking the developers for introducing the fast travel system to balance the cumbersome first-person navigation.
We spend the rest of the night at the House of Healers. In the morning, we visit the healer, Sandra, because while looking up information on Silk in my Amberstar entries, I encountered the name of her grandmother's cat, FELIX. When I fed her the keyword, she touched our foreheads and gave us the ability to understand the language of animals. I assume that will come in handy.
The wonderful, wonderful cat!
The next thing would seem to be to head north into the desert and try to find the bandit camp. It's already late in the day at this point, so we spend 20:00-midnight grinding (random encounters seem to start at 20:00). Egil reaches Level 3. We sleep for 8 hours intending to sell looted goods to the shop in the morning, but the lazy-ass shopkeeper doesn't open until 10:00.
Flush with our success from the cemetery, we marched out into the desert. Almost immediately, we were attacked by desert lizards. They defeated us in a long and frustrating combat. They rarely did any damage, but when they did, they did a lot of damage. From our end, about 80% of our attacks either missed or did no damage, and the ones that did any damage only did 1 or 2 points.
It took us a long time to die.
At this point in the game, I still have two major questions:
1. Is the main character an "adventurer" for the entire game? I assumed I'd have a chance to pick a permanent class at some point, but I've been to one guild and one place that's sort-of like a guild, and there haven't been any such options.

2. How in the world does magic work? My character has a "mana" bar, but if I try to use scrolls, the game says, "Qamara is the wrong class to use that item!" As with the guilds, none of the scroll-selling places seem to offer a different way to acquire magic spells.
So I didn't get very far, but at least I got something out. We'll have a Serpent Isle entry next, which practically writes itself, and then coverage of some miscellaneous game before we head back to Lyramion. I hope that then I can make some more substantial progress.
Time so far: 10 hours

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 a list of tropes that I wish games would get rid of. They always feature the same elements, 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