Sunday, July 30, 2023

Serpent Isle: Easy Virtue

All this because I answered some dogmatic questions and performed well in a test when I knew I was being tested.
All right, so the Banes of Chaos have been released and are inhabiting the bodies of my three former companions, who are holed up at the Castle of the White Dragon. Meanwhile, the people that the banes used to inhabit--Gwenno, Cantra, and ????? (unless it's confirmed somewhere in the game, my headcanon is that it was the guy dressed like a jester in the woods)--have been resurrected, but their minds are still messed up. The reason for their current psychological state is a result of a virtue imbalance caused by their former possession. To restore the balance, I'll have to imbue them with the virtue they lack. When I closed the last session, I thought I knew that Gwenno was expressing insanity and Cantra wantonness, and thus needed Logic and Discipline respectively. But talking to them at the beginning of this session, I'm not so sure. They both say very similar things. I may have to save and try multiple buckets.
Is this a sign of insanity, wantonness, or anarchy?
To instill those virtues, I have to go get some water from the associated temples. (I wish it were this easy in real life.) My first quest as this session begins, then, is to find buckets. Buckets are one of those things you see everywhere but don't really register. I'm trying to remember where I know for sure that they exist. Fortunately, poking around Monk Isle, I find two. In the basement are four more. That should do it.
Back at the serpent gate hub, I dump some excess items from my backpack and try to figure out where to go first. My destination map has annotations like "weird temple" and "temple with stone maze." Only one of them, the Temple of Ethicality, is labeled with a specific virtue, and it's the one I don't need. I try the one labeled "Lodestone Temple." This takes me to the one outside the City of Order where I helped the girl's spirit stuck in the wall. I go to the edge of the water in the temple, put a bucket on the ground, double-click on it, and click on the water. The bucket is full. It is labeled "Bucket of Water." Great. I look back through my previous entries, and apparently the girl in the wall told me that I was in the Temple of Emotion and I would have to put the lodestones on the appropriate pedestals to create the "Water of Emotion." I go through the ritual, and this time when I fill the bucket, it says "Water of Emotion."
Clearing some space.
The problem is, I didn't need emotion. Emotion isn't even an Order virtue--it's a Chaos virtue. So anyone suffering from an imbalance of it would have to have been possessed by a Bane of Order. Unless I'm misunderstanding this whole thing, which I probably am. On the other hand, the temple clearly exists for a reason, so I assume I'll need this water eventually. That probably means I'll need all the others, too. Good thing I found six buckets.
My next stop, via the hub, is a new destination opened by the tooth the Gwani gave me. It takes me to a large stone building with large wooden doors on the north and south sides. Before each door is a set of three pedestals, blue to the north, red to the south. These clearly represent Order and Chaos. A book in a little room beneath the serpent gate tells me that I'm in the Temple of Balance. It says that "only a true serpent of fire and serpent of ice will bring thee to balance." I'm not sure what to do here, but I suspect I'm too early anyway.
I'm sure I'll be back.
My next attempt is "Weird Temple Near City of Order." This one has a blue serpent statue in the center, surrounded by water. There are a bunch of doors and a table with two "y-shaped depressions." Plaques read: "MIND BODY ENVIRONMENT" and "MIND TRANSFERENCE CHAMBER." A barrier comes up when I try to enter an eastern room that says "ENTRY FORBIDDEN." It's full of automatons and has a broken "bane jar." I guess this is where Batlin freed one of the banes. I find some documents in a desk that indicate I'm in the Temple of Discipline. There's an insane automaton in the same room; he babbles something about an automaton fetching water.
Most of the doors around the edges are locked. The "Mind Transference Chamber" is open, with two pads and a button. I suspect that I can transfer my mind to an automaton by having it stand on one pad and standing on the other, then hitting the button with "Telekinesis," but I don't have any particular reason to do that. Another chamber has three plaques, reading: "DISCIPLINE OF BODY," "DISCIPLINE OF MIND," and "DISCIPLINE OF ENVIRONMENT." It looks like there were three platforms in this room, but two have been destroyed by collapsing rubble.
The "bane jail"doesn't look much like a "jail."
Buttons in the two southern rooms open the rest of the locked doors, leading to stairways up and down. In a basement, I find a bunch of urns of ashes on pedestals. A nearby scroll says that they're the ashes of the people who volunteered to transfer their minds to automatons. A northern chamber has a bunch of coffins; I don't know who those people are.
Upstairs, I find a bunch of chambers, most of them walled off from me, and a bunch of books. It's a measure of how tired I am with this game that I groan at the sight of the books. I usually love books. The War of Order and Chaos is an interesting one, as it tells of a titular war "300 years ago," in which Order won and "imprisoned the Chaos Forces," then decided that they missed them. This sounds a bit like the Ophidian War we've been hearing about all along, except that a) Order destroyed Chaos; they didn't imprison them; and b) the book would have had to have been written recently, which seems impossible given the remoteness of the temple and the fact it's written in Ophidian. That suggests there was an even earlier war between Order and Chaos. I probably already knew that. As I think I said last time, this game has been going on so long that I'm actively forgetting it while I'm playing.
I spent an hour solving a puzzle to get a bridge across some water I could easily jump across.
A book called The Symbol of Discipline indicates that I'll need to place a quartz symbol in the left slot and an obsidian symbol in the right slot. A book called My Journey by someone named Shartmannah indicates the way to the fountain (where I presumably will find the Water of Discipline) is coated with acid. Body Transference confirms my thoughts about how the transference chamber works and indicates that the body of the living person is not destroyed automatically; instead, the newly-ensouled automatons were expected to slay their own former bodies as the ultimate test of Discipline.
Another stairway takes me to a different basement where several coffins are completely walled off. I see an invisible chest in one of the "rooms," so I start clicking around for secret doors and soon find one. The chest has a key which opens a door in one of the upper-level rooms. I find the quartz y-shape in a chest. A secret door opens another upper room, where I find a desk with the obsidian y-shape and another key. There's also a shelf with four more damned books. Our Great Leaders may have some clues about the Temple of Balance. It basically says that when ceremonies were conducted there, they required the Hierophants (Order, Chaos, and Balance) and six Masters (three Order, three Chaos). The Importance of Meditation gives me the mantra of Discipline: ISSIT. Our Blessed Serpent Isle and The Book of Discipline seem like just flavor. 
I forgot to check whether "Columna's Intuition" would have identified this.
I take the y-shapes back to the altar and place them in the slots as the book instructed. Nothing happens except that I get occasionally zapped by a lightning bolt from somewhere. I try reversing them and a bridge appears to the island in the center of the chamber. Seriously, are any of the hints in this game accurate?
Downstairs, I find two locked doors, one to the north, one to the south. The key I found upstairs opens the south door. Inside sits a golden chest on a table. It has a key that opens the north door. There's a perfect microcosm for this game's absurd padding right there. Why not just have the key from upstairs open the north door? What possible value does the extra door, key, and chest have?
Oh, right. I killed a rat on the way in here. That must be the added value.
My irritation at the game explains my next choice. The north door leads to a little winding path where a pool of acid spawns every few steps and does 5-10 hit points of damage to me. I walk into it too quickly the first time, die (which is a pretty gruesome death, when you think about it), and have to reload. Clearly, the game wants me to go switch bodies with an automaton and then walk through the acid, although I don't know why it wouldn't damage a metal automaton as badly as me. I decide to stubbornly push forward and see what happens if I just cast "Great Heal" every few steps. I make it through the acid with no problem.
Suck it up, Avatar.
"Thou hast proven, through thy Discipline, to be worthy," a scroll says on the other side. I agree. I think it takes far more discipline to walk through acid, feel the pain, and heal yourself rather than change places with an automaton. That's not disciplined; that's just clever. I fill a bucket with the water, wait a bit for my spell points to recharge, then make the return trip and head back to the hub.
Next stop: The Temple of Ethicality. The serpent statue and water are up the stairs and outside at this one, but just using the bucket on the water doesn't do anything, probably because the basin at the north end is dry. 
I head back down into the basement to see what I can do. There are a bunch of skeletons lying on woven mats. Each has a scroll on its body, blathering about Ethicality, which is how I knew what the temple was in the first place. "Never, NEVER surrender to thine enemies," one advises. "Fight to the death, but do not abandon thine Ethics." What if I could save the lives of millions by surrendering? Clearly, the Order folks believed in deontological ethics. Other scrolls have similar questionable adages. A particularly long scroll argues that wealth is antithetical to ethics because it invariably corrupts. 
This sounds like it was written by someone who has plenty of money.
A note written by whoever among the forces of Chaos sacked the temple says that the Chaos soldiers tortured and killed the Order people here but never got any answers. "These sheep all went to their deaths with smiles on their accursed faces!" He questions whether their calm has something to do with their meditation. "Those who desire to meditate need only kneel before the serpent." The problem is, the game doesn't really give you any ability to kneel. I went outside and stood in front of the serpent, and double-clicked the ground, but that didn't accomplish anything.
I'm not sure how standing on the serpent and double-clicking equals "kneeling before the serpent."
Looking around inside, I find a carpet with an image of a snake. It looks like a serpent gate, except in fabric rather than stone. I double-click on that and am teleported to a small stone room with an automaton. "I am the Educator," he says. "It is my task to determine how far thine Ethicality hath already progressed before the test may begin." I say go ahead, and he asks me these questions:
  • "Question One: If thou didst come upon one who was sure to die, would it be Ethical to risk death trying to save the doomed person." I feel like one of the scrolls addressed this specific situation, but I don't remember what it said. However, knowing that Order's sense of Ethicality is heavily weighted towards the ethics of duty, I say yes. He says I got it right. "Ethicality demands that thou must seek to preserve the life of others, as thou wouldst thine own."
  • "Question Two: If thou didst come upon a room of untold wealth within a structure where thou didst not know if the owner lived, would it be Ethical to take the money if thou wert in sore need? Or wouldst thou leave the money to possibly be used for evil ends?" Ha. CRPG protagonists face this situation every day, and it's rarely a dilemma to them. But knowing this is a Test of Ethicality, I say no, you've got to leave the money. I am again correct.
  • "Question Three: If thou wert faced with the certainty of thy death at the hands of an unethical man, wouldst thou yield to him to save thy life? Or would Ethicality demand that thou shouldst continue the struggle unto death?" Ooh, I know this one. I quoted it above. "Continue." The automaton congratulates me for being right. "Ethicality demands that thou shouldst maintain thy virtue and oppose evil, even at the cost of thy life."
These Order Ophidians are really something. They've tied up their concept of "ethicality" with pure "duty," which admittedly is one interpretation of ethics, but only the most facile one. Even then, I don't think you can make a deontological argument that everyone should always fight to the death. Even Kant would probably say it depends what the stakes are.
The automaton is as pleased as punch, though, and sends me off to the actual test. I'm suddenly naked in a cave with a pile of gold in one hand, a gem in the other, and a gold bar in my backpack. Is that one of the Level 8 spells I'm missing?
I come to a door. "CHOOSE," a plaque says, and the door swings open. I walk in and find a man standing in the middle of a ring of fire. He's screaming in pain. "The button!" he yells. "Press the button!" He's referring to a pillar, also surrounded by flames, on which there is a button. I blithely walk past him and am teleported back to the automaton. He says I failed the test and that I should meditate and try again. I just wanted to see what would happen.
Ah, yes, the classical ethical dilemma: A man is on fire and screaming, and you can put the fire out by pushing a button. Do you push it? Discuss.
I try again and--duh--press the button. I take damage but the flame dies out and the man praises my ethicality. I'm teleported back to the automaton, who echoes this praise and sends me to a new location--a corridor. "A WISE MAN KNOWS THAT BLOOD IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN WEALTH," a plaque reads. There are a couple of chests in the corridor with golden serpents and a pedestal. It takes me a couple of tries to figure out what the test wants, which is for me to sacrifice my riches on the pedestal--as if I have anything else to do with them--and not take the serpents.
No, I'm just not a monster.
For the third test, the automaton sends me into a room with Batlin. "Fool!" he says. "Thou dist think me dead . . . But now it is time for thee to die!" Before I can do anything, he blasts me with a fireball and knocks me over. "Yield to me, and perhaps I shall spare thy life!" he offers. Good lord. This again? Of course I say no. I'm teleported back to the automaton, who congratulates me and sends me back to the temple. Of course, all my stuff is screwed up. I have to spend a few minutes putting things back where they're supposed to be. Oh, and I have the riches from the test. I'm not sure whether this is another test. I leave them all on the floor just in case.
Outside, the water is flowing. I fill up a bucket and head back to the serpent gate hub.
A stick, a stone, it's the end of the road . . .
Next up: "Stone Maze Temple," which I suspect is going to be the Temple of Logic. I screw up and go to the place I found Mortegro, which I realize now is a Chaos temple. I know it's not Emotion, and the guy in the basement mentioned he'd been at the Temple of Enthusiasm when it was destroyed, so I guess this must be Tolerance. I try dipping the bucket into its waters to no avail. There doesn't seem to be any other puzzles here, so I leave and go to the temple I was trying to get to originally.
What I assume is the Temple of Logic has me find my way through a three-level maze (which is why I thought it was Logic), cross a checkerboard floor with fire and lightning shooting at me, and enter a library full of books. They're clearly written from a Chaos perspective, and when I head outside to the well and fill up a bucket, it says "Water of Enthusiasm." Damn. At least I didn't have to solve a puzzle. There are some other things in the temple that I don't understand, including what looks to be a little museum, with plaques that say "CRYSTAL SKULL OF THE MYSTICS" and "GLASS VIPER OF SESSENRA." There's a Sceptre of Enlightenment and a Hammer of Dedication, both on pedestals, and some kind of magic rod in a stone receptacle south of the temple. I grab them all to take back to the serpent gate hub in case I need them. 
This isn't as hard as it looks from the screenshot.
So where the hell is the Temple of Logic? I look at my destination map. Origin loves predictability and symmetry in these types of things. In this case, look at the map and see what you think:
My current map of teleporter destinations.
It's got to be where I've written "Ice Dragon/Silverpate Caves," right? I warp there. Some ice trolls attack as I explore, accounting for most of my spell notes this session.
I come to a passage I don't remember from previous explorations. It has three ice blocks and two dead bodies next to them. In the room beyond are four teleporter pads. One of the bodies has a journal identifying the owner as Dolfo. The journal indicates that the teleporters are a kind of puzzle: "Red directly precedes White: Blue follows yellow: Yellow directly follows Red: Yellow and White do not immediately follow one another."
I've solved this kind of puzzle a bunch of times, but I don't understand this one at first, since two of the statements seem to contradict--unless Red is used twice. Which it turns out it is. Even then, there are two potential orders: RED, WHITE, RED, YELLOW, BLUE and RED, YELLOW, BLUE, RED, WHITE.
The southwest teleporter doesn't look like it has any color at all to me.
It doesn't matter anyway because I can't tell what the colors on the screen are, so I just solve the puzzle through trial and error.
I get teleported to a room with four runes on pedestals and a locked double door. The runes have Ophidian runes on them but Dolfo's journal uses regular letters: "I tried W.O.B. and C., none of the runes were in the correct position. I then tried C.B.W. and O.--again, none of the runes were in the correct position. I then tried the O rune in the first position, which is not where it belonged, and knew I could discern the puzzle."
You could brute-force this in 24 combinations.
This is relatively easy. If W, C, and O are all wrong in the first position, it must be B. If C and O are wrong in the fourth position, and B is in the first, it can only be W. If O is wrong in the second position, that leaves C. So the order is BCOW. I just have to cross-reference the runes with the manual, and line them up in front of the door (as the journal says). That could have been harder, but I'm admittedly losing patience with the game.
The temple is a mirror of the Temple of Discipline, with the "bane jail" in the same place (I just realized I didn't see that in the Temple of Ethicality). I'm hoping I can just grab the water, but no, there are more puzzles. @$#% my life.
Screw your puzzles.
The automatons are on about something. The key to the fountain is missing. Number 7 is missing last seen with Number 2, but Number 3 thinks Number 5 is lying, blah blah blah. I kill all the automatons and loot the key from the body of one of them. (I call this the "Gordion Knot" approach to logic puzzles.) Of course, it doesn't open the way to the fountain; it opens the way to a room with another puzzle. Slide these stones around so that yada yada yada, a scroll reads. I bypass the puzzle with a "Dispel Field" and grab the key. A few steps later, I have the Water of Logic.
This one, too.
Back to the serpent gate hub, back to Monk Isle. Gwenno is in the library. I make a save, because I still don't know what water she needs. I try Logic: "Come, allow me to feed upon thee!" Ethicality: "Blood, blood everywhere!" Discipline: "What a relief to see thee again, Gideon." I reload and do it again.
Gwenno is back to her old self. She says I'll have to work quickly to undo the damage that Batlin has caused. She warns that the peril to the Serpent Isle--which she calls "New Sosaria"--also imperils Britannia and Earth. She reiterates a bunch of stuff about the Ophidians that I figured out ages ago.
She says I'll have to cage the Banes again if I want to "rid this land of the threat entirely." She suggests I ask around Moonshade. She also mentions that it would be useful to talk to Xenka's specter. There's a "JOIN" option, but she says she'll be more use if she stays on Monk Isle and conducts research. I think "Summon Specter" would allow me to talk to Xenka, but I don't know where to cast it. The monks aren't even sure she's died.
Side note: Gwenno doesn't even ask about Iolo.
A commenter already warned me that you can't heal Cantra, but I reload and try anyway. She just continues to rant and rave even after getting doses from all three buckets.
Some commenters have mentioned that Serpent Isle seems to have become a pure adventure game in these latter stages. This entry illustrates pretty well what they mean. I don't completely agree: I don't think an RPG changes its genre just because it stops using its RPG mechanics. It just becomes a bad RPG. That said, there were a few combats during this session--a skeleton in one of the temples, a giant rat, a couple of wolves, a handful of ice trolls. But those types of battles have become worse than "inconsequential." The Avatar really just brushes past them, occasionally swinging his axe if I feel like pausing long enough to do it. I'm not sure how I feel about that. As we approach 100 hours, I don't want anything that delays the endgame longer than necessary. On the other hand, a lack of balance and enjoyable mechanics is what makes 100 hours "too long" in the first place.
Time so far: 94 hours
Comments on Level 4/5 Spells

Level 4
Blink. Fizzles every time I try to cast it. I'm not sure why I would want to cast it anyway. It supposedly teleports you "to a new location about twenty paces from the original location" but doesn't let you go through locked doors or other inaccessible locations. What good is it, then? To confuse you momentarily?
Deter. "Often discourages hostile, non-sentient animals from attacking its subject." I try it on a pack of wolves, and it works on three of them, sending them wandering off while a fourth continues to attack. It's not a bad spell from a role-playing perspective. I didn't like killing snow leopards. I should have used it then.
I try to avoid killing wolves.
Flash. Creates a flash, "blinding all creatures within the affected area, save the caster." So it blinds the rest of the party, too? That's not very helpful. I try it on some wolves, but it doesn't seem to change their behavior. If it makes them less effective in combat, I can't really tell. (They're wolves.) Seeking tougher foes, I go up north to a bear cave and try it there. If it makes them any less effective, I can't discern it. 
Mass Curse. Supposedly works like the third level spell "Curse" ("severely hampers the subject's abilities in combat") but on everyone in the area. Let's try this one scientifically. I take off my magic armor and leggings and head into the bear cave. I stand there while he swings away at me. It takes him 34 seconds to kill me. I reload, head back to the cave, and this time cast "Mass Curse." The bear takes 31 seconds to kill me. I'd say the spell is useless, but it wore off after about 5 seconds, so it simply didn't have any impact on the battle at all. I don't bother to test whether it makes the enemy easier for me to kill. The bottom line is that I'll use this type of spell sometimes in a turn-based, tactical game where I can see the effects. In a game like this, I need more tangible evidence before I waste the spell points and reagents.
Reveal. Negates invisibility. In the Temple of Discipline, I confirm that it works on invisible chests. The problem is that you're probably not going to go around casting the spell in every room, just in case. And if you already perceive an invisible chest (which frankly isn't that hard to see), then you don't need the spell. It's the same problem with "Columna's Intuition," which also makes invisible chests sparkle. Are there any invisible enemies in the game other than the one in the Knight's Test? I can't remember.
The chest in the middle was invisible a second ago. Trust me.
Transcribe. Extremely essential. Turns spell scrolls into permanent spells in the book. I'm pretty sure you can't win the game without this, as there are key puzzle spells that only show up once in scroll form, and you need to cast them multiple times.

Unlock Magic. Another key "puzzle" spell, although this game has far fewer magic doors than its predecessors. 
You may note that I've only listed seven spells. I don't know what the eighth is; there's a blank space in my spellbook, and the manual doesn't list any more spells in this circle.
Level 5
Conjure. Summons wild beasts to help fight for the caster. When I tried it, it summoned some deer, who stood around doing nothing. Tried it indoors against the bears and nothing happened; I guess it doesn't work indoors. Went hunting for some outdoor bears, found it, tried it again. This time it summoned  more deer and a couple of foxes, none of whom seemed the least interested in attacking the bears.
Looking for help in combat, I instead get a Disney film.
Follow-up note: You can kill the summoned deer for food. That's messed up.
Eating these will let me carry an additional 25 pounds.
Explosion. What any other game would call a "Fireball." It half-kills polar bears. The problem with this one is targeting. You don't want to catch yourself in the radius, but the game screen isn't big enough to target enemies far away. Even if you catch them at the edge of the screen, they can close most of that distance in the time it takes the spell to cast. In Ultima VI (I don't remember if this is true in The Black Gate), the spell was basically a substitute for a powder keg. It would destroy doors and other obstacles, and thus you used it more for puzzle-solving than for actual combat. Here, that doesn't seem to be true. I tried "Explosion" on the rubble that I had to attack to clear in The Silver Seed, for instance, and it did nothing.
When I started casting the spell, they were further away and closer together.
Great Heal. Fully heals one person. One of the few essential non-puzzle spells--and as we saw above, it can even be used to bypass puzzles. Just like I'm an "ask forgiveness rather than permission" sort of person, I'm also a "heal the damage later rather than preventing it ahead of time" sort of person, at least in RPGs.
Invisibility. Turns a single target invisible. Not a bad spell. I verified that enemies don't attack while it's active. Useful for just blowing through an area, although only if you're a single character or can cast it on everyone. Extremely short duration, though. One of the more interesting things is that it changes the colors on the screen, washing everything out in white. This actually makes it easier to identify certain things, like invisible chests, at least for me. When you use it on characters, you can still kind of see them, with a whitish outline. If you use it on enemies, they completely disappear. You can bring them back with "Reveal." Yes, I know--why would you?
Mass Sleep. Puts everyone in the area to sleep. This one is pretty useful, I'll admit. The sleep duration is extremely variable, but in a group of three or four, it has a decent chance of taking at least a couple out of commission until you're ready to deal with them. They don't automatically wake up when you start attacking, either. I often think how awful it would be if this spell existed in real life. Imagine you're a soldier entering combat and suddenly you fall to your knees, your eyelids drooping, and your last thought is that the enemy is going to be able to do whatever they want to your unconscious body, and you won't even know.
This is probably the only time it's safe to pet polar bears.
Summon Shade. I just got this. It will turn out to be a puzzle spell, allowing me to speak to the ghost of someone dead. Like "Seance" in Ultima VI, it ought to work in a hundred places in the game, but of course only works in the one place that the plot directs.
Erstam's Surprise. Causes clouds to radiate away from the caster, variably causing fear, poison, or sleep on the enemies they encounter. I don't know. I prefer to know what's going to happen when I cast a spell. Neither fear nor poison are as useful as sleep, so why wouldn't I just cast "Mass Sleep"? Even when reagents were a problem, "Mass Sleep" requires fewer of them.
Whatever joke you're planning to make in the comments, everyone's already thought of it.
Still have four levels left to cover. If I do two per entry, will I run out of entries before I run out of spell levels? That would be a nice problem to have.

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Ambermoon: Ancient History

Nah, we're good.
We're pretty deep in the game, so it's time for a plot recap. Ambermoon, the sequel to Amberstar, takes place in the world of Lyramion. In Amberstar, a party of adventurers foiled (or thought they foiled) the return of a demon-wizard named Tarbos, who had been exiled to one of the planet's moons. It turns out they only delayed his return, or perhaps accomplished nothing at all, as 40 years after the first game, the moon came crashing into the planet, causing earthquakes and tidal waves and turning the continent of Lyramion into a bunch of islands.
The main character in Ambermoon is the grandchild of the hero of the first game--in my case, a granddaughter named Qamara. When the game began, grandfather was on his deathbed, where a vision from his old associate, Shandra, told him that a new evil was rising. Grandfather suggested that Qamara try to commune with Shandra at his grave in Newlake. To get to Newlake, I had to first solve multiple quests for the towns of Spannenberg and Burnville, which finally culminated in acquiring a ship, with which we could sail to all the Lyramionic Islands.
Arriving at the windgate hub--as if we need more fast travel options.
The main quest took us to Newlake, where the spirit of Shandra said that trouble was brewing in the Temple of the Brotherhood of Tarbos (the name gives it away). But the temple is guarded by a powerful demon, and the only way we can bypass it is with a spell called "Demon's Sleep." This requires various reagents gathered from across the islands. At this point, I have all of them except the Kalmir Herb, which is supposed to be found at the "island with the Tower of Lebab."
As we've seen, the game has been generous about upgrading my transportation options. I started on foot and was able to buy a team of horses in Spannenberg to help get around that island. For the first couple dozen hours of gameplay, I was limited to land travel only. The Spannenberg quest culminated in a ring that gave me 99 "Swimming" skill, allowing one character to swim through calm waters to Burnville's island, where I found a skiff that could support the entire party in calm waters. After Burnville was saved, I was able to pay to repair the "Magic Disc" I had found in my grandfather's basement, which combines horse and skiff and allows travel over flat land surfaces and calm waters. During the Burnville quest, I also rescued Spannenberg's shipwright, and he gave me a ship, finally allowing us to leave the starting islands. After defeating the Witch Master, I found a magic broom that combines all previous transportation options and allows swift travel over both land and sea--everything except mountain ranges.
Reassembling the Windchain.
As far as I'm concerned, the game could have stopped here, but it offers a few more upgrades. The first is in the form of the "windgate" transportation system. As this session began, I had 13 Windpearls (I only needed 12) and the Windgate necklace. I flew to the Island of the Winds, used a key to enter the Shrine of the Winds, and put the pearls and necklace on the right altar. It fused them into a single Windchain that, when used, added a permanent icon to the game interface.
The Island of the Winds has a hub of I think 10 windgates, but it turned out all but one were broken on the other side. In the Shrine of the Winds, I also had to combine the Xenobil Staff and a regular gem to create a Construction Staff. This staff allows me to repair broken windgates, but I have to travel to them the long way first.
Entering a windgate that's broken on the other side.
Meanwhile, my explorations of the windgates found one that was not broken on the other end. It took me to an island that I determined by coordinates was Sansri's Island. The island is completely ringed by mountains, so if I'd tried to visit without using the windgate, I would have failed.
I had a reason to be here. The King of Illien had asked us to get some of Sansri's blood to reverse a stoning spell she placed on the eagles that are under Illien's protection. We also have a blood debt to pay; in Amberstar, she told the hero that a particular scroll would destroy the demon Bralkur, and it ended up doing nothing  at all.
The island had two buildings: Sansri's Temple and the town of Snakesign. I went to the temple first but couldn't get out of the first room. It had no exits and no secret doors.
It did have some cool wall art.
Snakesign was a typical town, with an inn, a blacksmith, a healer, a general store, and a sage. From a priest in the tavern, I learned that the lower levels of the temple were destroyed during the flood and remain partly underwater. A young man said that Sansri's winged guards were killed during the flood, so Sansri has replaced them with minotaurs (which doesn't really fit her snake theme). A bandit on the street was worried about war with Illien. A beggar told me that to get into Sansri's Temple, you must have a Serpentstone, which is sold at the general store. But when you leave the temple, the stone turns to dust, forcing you to buy another one. The beggar thinks that it's a scam between the general store proprietor and the priests of Sansri.
A beggar offers a conspiracy theory.
The Serpentstone sold for 2,500 gold in the general store, and it was only one of several things worth buying. The store had a pair of Lightning Boots, which add 25 to speed; a Target Brooch, which adds 25 to the "Attack" skill; and a Mithril Shirt, which offers 25 protection for virtually no weight.
I'm just a smidge short.
To afford everything, I ended up taking the windgate back to the hub, then flying to my house and retrieving most of our money from the chests. I took the opportunity to repair the windgate north of Spannenberg, which must have given me a ton of experience, as almost everyone leveled up. 
We returned to Snakesign, bought the items, and went back to the temple. This time, the presence of the Serpentstone caused a teleporter to become available in the foyer, taking us deeper into the temple. 
The temple was two stories, quite large, and absolutely full of combats with minotaurs. I'm guessing I fought around 30 battles with them. Every single battle had exactly four minotaurs who all started in the same locations on the battle grid and did pretty much the same things. I used the opportunity to get rid of a lot of scrolls. 
Learning about a monster with "Monster Knowledge."
Let me talk about magic for a bit. As I've previously reported, the game has four schools of magic: mysticism, healing, alchemy, and destruction. Each school has a pure spellcaster capable of wielding that form of magic: mystic, healer, alchemist, and mage. The first three schools also have hybrid classes capable of learning those spells, but fewer of them, and with fewer mana points: ranger, paladin, and adventurer. I don't know why there's no fighter/mage class capable of wielding destruction magic. Thieves can use scrolls from all the classes but not learn any of the spells innately.

The schools are very well differentiated. Destruction, as you might imagine, is all offensive spells. About 60% of them do damage, while the other 40% have status effects like "Lame" (paralysis), "Sleep," "Aging," "Blind," and "Madness." Those that do damage come in three varieties: damage to a single opponent, damage to a row of opponents, and damage to every opponent on the map. There are about half a dozen of each, escalating in power as they cost more learning points to learn and more spell points to cast. For instance, if you want to damage a row of enemies, you can choose from "Magic Arrows," "Landslide," "Thunderbolt," "Firestorm," or "Ice Storm." As you move up the scale, the spells also come in batches based on the type of damage, from generic magic ("Magic Projectile," "Magic Arrows") to earth-based magic ("Rockfall," "Landslide") to wind magic ("Winddevil," "Windhowler") to fire magic ("Fire Beam," "Firestorm") and finally to ice magic ("Ice Storm," "Ice Shower"). (I'm honestly not sure if any enemies are immune to particular types of damage. If so, I don't think I've seen it.) Learning point cost ranges from 1 to 25, and spell point cost (to cast) ranges from 5 to 250 ("Dissolve"). The key to spending your spell points wisely is to not get too redundant. If you already have "Earthquake," the lowest "damage everyone" spell, you probably don't want to spend any learning points on "Cyclone," the next "damage everyone" level. You probably want to jump the next level up to "Pillar of Fire."
Mass damage spells never get old.
Mysticism contains navigation and utility spells. It includes "Monster Knowledge," which gives you statistics for your enemies; "Identification," which identifies unknown items so you don't have to take them to sages; and "Mystic Map," which gives you a map of the dungeon you're in. Those are the three that I find most valuable. There are a lot of other ones that show you various features on the automaps, including secret doors, traps, monsters, and people, but my system of exploration pretty much ensures that I find all of these things anyway. I have dozens of scrolls for these spells that I'll probably never use.
A full map of the level is one of mysticism's more useful spells.
Healing has, of course, spells that heal damage and all of the different status effects in the game, including fear, sleep, confusion, blindness, panic, poison, paralysis, disease, intoxication, aging, madness, petrification, and death. Some of these conditions are so rare (or, at least, have been so far) that I doubt I'll ever run out of the scrolls. There are also a few levels of turning undead. Almost all of my healer's casting ability goes to "Medium Heal," the highest cure-damage spell that she has. She can cast maybe 8 of them before resting. Because these healing spells are so important, it's tough to imagine replacing her with a paladin, even though I originally thought I might.
The alchemy school is a miscellany of the remaining spell types. It includes several levels of "Light" spells, exploration spells like "Create Food" and "Levitate," inventory spells like "Repair Item" and "Duplicate Item," and buffing spells like "Magic Weapon" (increases attack ability), "Anti-Magic Wall," and "Haste." I meant to say in an earlier entry, and forgot, that "Repair" means I haven't had to reload because of item breakages anymore, but those have decreased to almost never anyway. I had been neglecting the buffing spells until this session, and I found them very useful. They last for quite a while, often through half a dozen combats, so there's no need to be stingy with them.
Being able to "Repair" broken items saves me a lot of time.
On the subject of navigation, the alchemy school also has "Mark" and "Recall" spells, allowing instant travel back to the marked location. As useful as that sounds, getting around this game world is already so easy that I haven't tried them.
At the beginning of this session, I had hundreds of damage spell scrolls, so I divided them between my thief and mage and just had them go to town on the minotaurs. The creatures were very tough regardless. They hit hard and were capable of casting earth-based spells themselves. But Sabine kept up with healing, and it was rare that I was in any real danger. Each battle earned us nearly 500 experience points, and my characters continued to level rapidly. Each battle also delivered about 1,200 gold, so soon we were facing over-encumbrance again.
A minotaur hits me with a "Rockfall" spell.
Getting through the dungeon meant throwing a series of switches to open passages. I also had to destroy a couple of hourglasses with a special mallet.
I didn't really understand this.
On the second floor, we found a room with eight teleporters, seven of which led to battles with minotaurs and one of which, at last, led us to Sansri:
Before you stands a beautiful woman. At first glance you are entranced by her until you realize that her eyes radiate only coldness and death. As she starts to speak to you, you notice with astonishment and horror her snakelike tongue which curls down to her chin. "Sssso, mortal beingssss dare oncccce more to dissssturb me. Sssso, obssserve my power and die in agony. Ssssss . . ." With the last hiss, a horrific transformation takes place with Sansri. A five-headed hydra suddenly stands before you and, hissing loudly, starts to attack.
Sansri was a medusa in the last game, so I guess she's capable of several forms. She attacked with a pair of minotaurs. I think the battle was easier than any of the four-minotaur battles throughout the dungeon. We dispatched the minotaurs first and then swung away at the hydra until it was dead.
After the battle, the hydra changed forms back into a human(ish) woman, who had time to say, "Why mussssst I always lose? I hate you!" before dissolving into dust. You almost feel sorry for her.
The authors of Ambermoon, unlike the authors of Warriors of the Eternal Sun, know what a hydra is.
We looted from her body a vial of her blood, Sansri's Ring (+25 luck, +25 "Read Magic"), Sansri's Necklace (+5 shield, +5 anti-magic, +25 "Using Magic"), and a key. The key turned out to open the door to a cave that I missed during my initial explorations. In the cave, I faced a battle with eight minotaurs in which I used mass-damage spells liberally. The cave deposited us on the edge of the island (outside the mountain ring), where there was another ship.
We took the blood back to Illien and King Pelanis. As a reward, he gave us a key to his treasure chamber and a magic flute that allows us to summon an eagle, just like we had in Amberstar. Yes, it's another transportation option. This one lets you fly over everything, including mountains, thus replacing the broom (and everything else that came before it). The first thing I did was to ride it home so I could drop off all the gold we'd accumulated so I'd have room for anything in Pelanis's treasure chamber.
I still don't see how we all fit on the eagle's back.
Pelanis's reward was 10,000 gold, 82 magical arrows, an Elf Bow, a Parry Ring, a Mithril Shirt, a Holy Horn, two Wishing Coins, a topaz, and two speed potions. 
Getting low on quests, we next flew north to the fortress of Godsbane. I stopped to restore the windgate on the island before tackling the fortress, which was completely surrounded by a thick barrier of mountains. I guess we couldn't have gotten here before we got the eagle from Pelanis.
Arriving at Godsbane.
The fortress was a single level culminating in two large chambers. To get to the chambers, I had to flip some switches and use some teleporters. I was attacked several times by parties of one or two guard golems, extremely easy enemies for my party.
One of the two final chambers contained a chest with the Amberstar. It kind of gave me a tingle to see it. This game has been generally quite good about callbacks to its predecessor. The second chamber held Gryban, the paladin character from Amberstar, reported to have been sleeping since the events of that game, guarding the Amberstar.
Maybe we'll sell it.
We had to give his name to a magic mouth to enter the chamber. Gryban was up and about, and he immediately offered to join the party. He had no responses to keywords like AMBERSTAR or TARBOS. I don't know, maybe I should have taken him. I was reluctant to give up my pure healer, but Gryban at Level 35 may in fact have more spell points than Sabine at Level 28. He'd obviously be more useful in combat. And yet, I'm happy with my little party. I like their backstories. I've learned their strengths and weaknesses and have a solid approach to combat with them. I don't need some Level 35 hero from the past swaggering in and upsetting the balance. He'd probably insist on leading, too. Thus, despite his grave warning that a "power which is not of this world" is about to destroy Lyramion, we left him in his chamber and exited the fortress--with the Amberstar, of course. I can only imagine we'll need it somewhere.
At this point, I had explored all the islands on the game map except three. One was just southeast of Godsbane--a long island with a desert called Seufzerw├╝ste. I found nothing on the island except a windgate (which I repaired) and an oasis that completely healed the party. I only figured out what it did because I took drowning damage wading into it. There was something that looked like a flower on an island in the middle of the oasis, but I couldn't pick it up or anything.
This could be bad . . .
Before doing anything else, I decided to deal with my surfeit of training points. My characters' totals ranged from 26 (Qamara) to 153 (Valdyn). But even after I did the circuit of cities and put the maximum number of points into every useful skill, I still had plenty left over. I guess I'll have to channel all the excess into "Swimming."
Leaving the world better than we found it.
I also took the opportunity to repair windgates on the islands I'd already visited. I earned quite a lot of experience during this process. At the end of this session:
  • Qamara the adventurer is Level 36. She just got her third attack per round.
  • Egil the warrior is Level 25. He has 5 attacks per round.
  • Nelvin the mage is Level 30.
  • Selena the thief is Level 28.
  • Sabine the healer is Level 29.
  • Valdyn the ranger is Level 25.
Qamara's current statistics. Note that she's hit her maximums on most of her attributes and useful skills. You can equip items that boost you above the maximums but you cannot train above the maximums.
For open quests, we have:
  • Explore the Tower of Lebab.
  • Get the Kalmir Herb from the island with the Tower of Lebab, then make the potion, then invade the Temple of the Brotherhood of Tarbos.
  • Explore a dungeon surrounded by mountains near Spannenberg that I just discovered.
  • Explore the long north/south island to the southwest of the gameworld, which contains the abandoned dwarf city of Gemstone.
  • Explore Donner's Old Labyrinth, but I don't have the key for it yet.
Given our high levels, our maxed statistics, and the diminishing game world left to explore, I would normally say it feels like the game is coming towards an end. But a commenter suggested that he didn't think I'd be able to finish it before I finished Serpent Isle, so I'm not sure what's going to happen. Not bored with it yet, though.
Time so far: 53 hours


Please note that I posted an addendum to Les Chevaliers de l'An Mil; I wanted to keep everything in one entry in case I have to turn it into a BRIEF.