Friday, July 7, 2023

Serpent Isle: Going to Seed

The Avatar continues speaking to himself.
The material in this session exclusively covers (I think) the Serpent Isle expansion called The Silver Seed. The reason I have to qualify the statement is that Origin fully integrated it with the backstory and gameplay of the main game. Expansions that occur after, or separate from, the original game are as old as RPGs themselves, going back to the Dunjonquest and Wizardry series. But expansions that occur within the context of the original game, essentially indistinguishable from it, are much rarer. (My old college law classes want me to call these "interlocutory expansions.") I'm still not sure that The Forge of Virtue from Ultima VII, Part 1 wasn't the first.
Material specific to The Silver Seed is introduced when the Avatar first visits Monk Isle. Some new dialogue was added to both Karnax and Miggim indicating that Miggim had found the Amulet of Balance in a forgotten chest in the cellar. Karnax delivers this news, and the Amulet, to the Avatar the first time he visits Monk Isle, which is usually the first time he dies. Thus, the player can start the expansion from literally the first few moments of the game.
I spend the first few minutes of this session hunting through my stuff trying to find the damned thing. I then put it on and use it at the serpent gate in Moonshade. This causes the Avatar to have convulsions for a few minutes, get struck by lightning and explosions a few times, shimmer, sparkle, and finally disappear and reappear in some Ophidian ruins--well, more accurately,  an Ophidian structure. The Avatar actually remarks that they're not "ruins"; they look new.
Part of an unnecessarily long animation.

I start poking around. We appear to be in a two-story castle in a void, protected by towers and ramparts. A winch opens a portcullis to a drawbridge extending over an abyss. There's a mute automaton working a forge and others patrolling the walls. There's a well and several stocks in the courtyard, as well as numerous brass urns with roaring flames. The serpent gate is in the middle of the fortress.
A set of metal double doors at the north end of the courtyard leads to a large dining room with a table set for eight. An automaton sits at one end of the table, and unlike the one in the forge, he's responsive to my attempts to talk. He introduces himself as Isstanar, Commander of the Serpent's Fang. The dialogue with him is so long that I'll bullet the individual points:
  • Although he calls me the "Champion of Balance," he's skeptical, particularly since I don't seem to know anything about being the Champion of Balance, or the Ophidian virtues in general, or what I'm doing here. Almost every keyword I choose is followed by Isstanar saying something like, "How could the Champion of Balance not know this?!" It gets pretty old.
  • The Hierophant of Order, Calithiss, predicted my coming. She foretold that I would restore Balance and heal the land. Isstanar doesn't know how I'm going to accomplish this with the Calithiss dead and the Great Earth Serpent silent. I tell him that I don't know, either, and he seems to accept it.
I meant to reload and try the other options but I never got around to it.
  • The war between Order and Chaos is known as the War of Imbalance. It started when the forces of Chaos killed the last Great Hierophant of Balance, Ssithnos.
  • The forces of Order had some kind of process for turning the most virtuous of them (by their standards) to automatons. Isstanar went through this process.
  • Serpent's Fang is the keep from which all the Order attacks on Chaos were launched. They were led in those days by Commander Ardiniss, a brilliant tactician who died in the war. Isstanar replaced him. The keep was also known by its inhabitants as DeathWatch.
  • The Isle of Crypts was the resting place of the Great Hierophants of Balance.
  • He has some weird justifications, some of which echo the books I read in the city of Order. The Order Ophidians somehow believe in the importance of Balance while insisting that Order is the only right path. They lament the loss of the Great Earth Serpent while still insisting that it's best if Order comes out on top. He says at one point that the way to restore Balance is to ensure that "Chaos bows before Order." 
I'm not sure you have a complete concept of "Balance."
  • The way to restore Balance to the world involves the Silver Seed, an acorn from the Tree of Balance. It is hidden somewhere in the keep, but he won't tell me where. I will somehow have to recover some magical orbs in the process of finding it. They're scattered around the keep, guarded by dangerous creatures, including a dragon and a lich. 

Isstanar talks about the War of Imbalance as if it's still ongoing and the Chaos forces are still around. He doesn't put any sort of time frame on when Calithiss died. Either I've gone back in time, or Serpent's Fang has been sitting in some kind of pocket dimension and the denizens have lost track of time. By the end of the session, particularly based on something that Tsandar says (see below), I'm leaning towards the former.
As part of the dialogue, Isstanar gives me a magical key ring, previously owned by Calithiss. It acts like a container. You put keys "into" it, and they disappear, but from that point forward, it will open any lock that key fits. The mechanic obviously has nothing to do with The Silver Seed and is just supposed to be a mechanical bonus for players who complained about the ridiculous number of keys in the original game. As such, there was no reason Origin couldn't have programmed the expansion to introduce the key ring during the main game, rather than waiting for the player to come here to get it. In any event, it's a welcome addition to the game, as keys probably account for six pounds of my weight. It takes me about 15 minutes to add them all to the ring. Two keys that I found in (I think) Furnace, the Key of Fire and the Key of Ice, won't go on the ring.
This took a while, but it was worth it.
The castle has some other inhabitants:
  • Surok, the healer, occupies a room full of beds on the main floor. He's one of those generic "information" NPCs who will tell you about other people, places, and items. 
  • Tsandar, a subcommander, hangs around a jail/torture room under the castle. He says it's only been nine months since the forces of Chaos killed Commander Ardiniss. He admires Isstanar for having the Discipline to become an automaton, but apparently it's made him cold. He credits Order's advantage in the war to their automatons. He tells me that Order recently captured a Chaos creature, but it escaped from Surok's dissection table--Tsandar suspects Surok let it go--and fled into something called the Endless Maze. Tsandar will provide training if I ever make it to Level 8.
Tsandar argues against the virtue of "Tolerance."
  • Elissa, a mage "of the First Rank," occupying a lab in the basement. She thinks I might be a Chaos spy, but she drops her doubts when I shake the Amulet of Balance at her. She's confident in Order's forthcoming victory, especially since Isstanar is the Ultimate Warrior. Most of the rest of what she says just repeats what Isstanar told me. She offers spells and training. I have all the spells she sells except for the ninth-level "Imbalance," for which I don't have enough gold.
Would a bath help?
I find a library on a lower level to the north, and it has a number of scrolls and books that I assume elaborate on what I'll be facing in this area, as well as other elements of the setting. In summary:
  • Report on the Cleansing of the Fiend's Domain. The Fiend's Domain has already claimed the lives of a company of soldiers and a bunch of brass automatons.
  • Servants of Order: Presents a typology of automatons. The lowest are living suits of armor, then brass automatons, then iron automatons, then Lords of Discipline (underrated movie) like Isstanar.
  • Denizens of the Caves: A bestiary for the expansion that tells me about Arachnians (driders, basically), liche, naga, Shasrajah (lizard-like humanoids).
  • At Ease: A manual on conducting oneself in the military.
  • The Lost Orbs: Expands on what Isstanar told me. There are apparently four of them, each stolen from the keep or intersected on the way to the keep. The golden one is in the Fiend's Domain; the purple one is in the Eternal Maze; the red one is in an outpost that fell to monsters; and the blue one is possessed by the liche Aram-Dol.
Having explored the castle, I head out the front gate to look for some orbs or any other adventure. The map is no help in determining where Serpent's Fang is located. The castle has a low wall encircling it outside the moat/abyss. While I'm exploring it, I find something that looks like a big hunk of blackrock. I try pointing Rudyom's Wand at it, and it raises a puff of dirt that causes me to sneeze. This happens when I try to use the wand on any of the blackrock serpents, too.
Good thing I got that wand back.
Serpent's Fang seems to be in a large, rectangular cavern with gates to the east, north, and south. As I approach the northern gate, a diabolical-looking woman with skull earrings apparates in front of me. She says she's been sent to help me, and amidst flirting, she gives me a hint: I'll come to a passage where my way is blocked, and I'll need to figure out what levers to move to go forward. "Pull every other lever down to break free," she says. In her dialogue, she won't tell me who sent her, but she suggests she's not an Ophidian herself. 
I go through the northern door and find myself in a maze of cavernous passages. My first combat is with a few spiders, and then with the aforementioned Arachnians. Combat with a single character has both good and bad points. On the good side, it's less chaotic, and I can cast spells without worrying about catching my allies in the area of effect. On the bad side, the Avatar doesn't act as automatically as the other companions. He won't go running after an enemy; he'll only automatically attack those enemies already in melee range. And if an enemy falls unconscious, the Avatar stops attacking. Neither things were true of the other characters. I thus find myself having to be more of an active participant in combat than before. One thing I notice is that when an enemy decides to flee, he remains docile--no changing his mind and charging back into combat. I missed this before because my companions would always chase them down.
They sure look like driders to me.
Even though I need most of my spell points for "Great Light" and "Great Heal," I'm determined to investigate more spell possibilities, so I've decided to end each entry from now on with a review of all the spells of a particular level. Level 1 appears below.
I keep cleaving through giant spiders, Arachnians, and giant scorpions, making Level 8. An Arachnian manages to kill me at one point, and I wake up back in the healer's room at the keep.
The maze is quite large, with multiple levels, and I have to resort to dropping gold pieces to mark stairways I've already taken. There are a few doors that require keys, and it's a delight to just hit the "K" key to bring up the keyring and not have to worry if I have the key but I'm just not finding it. 
I never found one for this door.
Eventually, at the bottom of a stairway, I find a scroll that says to proceed onward, I'll need to pass three puzzles. "At the first test, throw two down," it says. "At the second test, throw three down to get eight. At the third test, throw four down to get twelve. If the levers are not in the correct position when the button is depressed, thou wilt surely be destroyed." It is signed by Aram-Dol. 

Beyond the scroll is a sequence of rooms with levers and buttons. Plaques give numbers to the levers. The first room has levers numbered 1, 2, and 3. I interpret the scroll's "throw two down" as meaning to pull down lever #2, not two levers. I am correct. 
I don't remember why I'm glowing here.
The second room's levers are numbered 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1. Two combinations of these levers give a sum of 8: 5, 2, and 1 and 4, 3, and 1. I try the first one and it works. I reload and try the second, and I'm struck by lightning and die. I reload rather than walk back from the keep. In the next room, where there are 7 levers, there are again two combinations of 4 that add up to 12: 1, 2, 3, 6 and 1, 2, 4, 5. The first one works. I try to figure out what the difference could possibly be. Neither of the correct solutions can be reconciled with the mysterious woman's advice to pull every other lever. 
After getting through the puzzle, I go up some stairs and find myself at a dead end. There's a wall in front of me that looks like one of those walls that have a secret door, but I can't get it to open. I test all the surrounding walls and don't find any illusory passages. And because I took a teleporter to get into this area, I have no way out. I purposefully let myself get killed by some undead and set out again from Serpent's Fang. 
Couldn't I just bash it?
On this next expedition, I take a stairway I haven't tried before and find myself in a large room with a dragon. He's proud and arrogant, refusing to give his name at first, but he also says that he's a bit lonely and welcomes the company after 112 years. After I tell him my name and that I'm not an official emissary from Serpent's Fang, he introduces himself as Draxinar, nicknamed Stumpy. He warns me about the dangers of Arad-Dol's domain, including the undead and Arachnians that I've already met. (He says they're vulnerable to fire.) He also tells me of fabulous treasures the liche is rumored to hold, including a magic axe and a pair of gauntlets that belonged to a thief named Karas the Quick.
Draxinar asks if I like riddles and asks if I want to play. Of course, I say yes. He gives me one that involves three mystics, some of whom tell the truth and some of whom lie. The hypothetical player asks the first one if he tells the truth, and he nods yes. The second one says, "He said yes." The third one says that the first one is lying. The second one is clearly telling the truth regardless of whether the first is telling the truth or lying. So either #1 or #3 is lying but not both. Thus, there's only one liar. 
No easy multiple choice in these answers, either.
The second riddle involves a young noblewoman getting ready for a royal ball. She has two pairs of gold earrings, three pairs of silver earrings, and four pairs of copper earrings. They're scattered throughout the box. The question is how many the woman needs to take out to ensure a matched pair. I've heard variants of this before, and the answer is always the number of types of earrings that she has plus 1 (in this case, 4). The specific number of each type of earring is always a red herring. 
The third is a little harder: Draxinar's cousin Longtooth claims to have stumped more than 100 creatures with his riddles. Longtooth's mother says that the number is less than 100. Draxinar thinks he's probably stumped at least 1. "If only one of us is correct, how many creatures has Longtooth stumped with his riddles?" I actually see two potential answers here. The first is 0, in which case Longtooth's mother is the only one correct. This turns out to be the right answer. But I don't see why 100 wouldn't also work. Since 100 is neither more than 100 or less than 100, both Longtooth and his mother would be wrong and Draxinar would be right. 
He then gives me a fourth one: A clothier named Sedrick has received an order to make five dresses, all with the same pattern. Sedrick has three designs of embroidered cloth laying on a table. He tells his assistant to bring five pieces of cloth with the same pattern. The lazy assistant just scoops up an armful. How many pieces would he need to grab to ensure that Sedrick could make five dresses with the same embroidery pattern ("discounting pure luck")? This is just a variant of the earring problem where you need 5 of one type instead of just 2. The way to solve this type of riddle is always to figure out what a perfectly even distribution that falls just short of the mark would be and then add 1. In this case, if the assistant took 4 pieces of each fabric, or 12 total, it would be short of what's necessary. Thus, the answer is 13. Well, Draxinar tells me I'm wrong. I reload about five times, going through all the riddles again, before I find out that the answer he wants is 14. 
I wish I could say the same.
All that reloading was for naught, because Draxinar doesn't even give me anything for solving his riddles. He just congratulates me. So I leave wondering why the hell I bothered to come in here in the first place. Just to learn I was in Aram-Dol's domain? I already knew that.
After messing around the dungeon for another hour, I finally decide that the only way you can possibly go is through the teleporter I've already been through, but the only thing I found on the other side, other than the lever puzzle, was a locked door and a blank wall. I save and go through again, this time searching everything extra carefully, and I at last notice a barely-visible key behind an altar. That's bull@#$, Origin.
Look at this nonsense.
The key opens a door to a lever, which in turn opens the wall, and now I'm back in business. I work through an endless corridor, a secret passage, a bunch of mummies (which in this game are basically just zombies), another barely-visible key, a floor of illusory fire, two skeletal dragons (which took me a few reloads), and more hidden passages--you basically have to search every wall.
I come to a cave full of living suits of armor in jail cells. A locked door blocks the exit. A lever pokes up from a pad. Pulling it causes all the doors to open and all the automatons to attack. This sounds bad, but I'm not sure they hit me once. Within a minute or so, I have them all dead or fleeing.
These are Type 1 automatons.
Each of the cells has a switch, and thinking that maybe this is the room that the mysterious woman was talking about, I try pulling "every other lever" down, although I have to guess what that could possibly mean with levers on both sides of the aisle. Anyway, it doesn't do anything. I then pull all the levers down, which still does nothing, then pull the central switch again, which finally opens the northern door.
I head downstairs and around a corner, and I'm suddenly attacked by a liche! The floor erupts in flame--I'm not sure if it's a trap or a spell--and then the liche is pelting me with fire and ice and who knows what else. I die pretty quickly. I reload and have to do the whole automaton section again, then save before fighting the liche. After a couple more reloads, I beat him by casting "Protection" and "Mass Might" before the battle, equipping Magebane (which cancels his spells), and casting "Great Heal" a couple of times during the battle.
The liche reacts to the effects of Magebane.
In his treasure chamber, I find Gauntlets of Quickness (raises dexterity to 30), Erinon's Axe, an orb, a bunch of gems, a bunch of reagents, and a bunch of gold. One chest holds a full suit of magic armor, but I've already got that. 
Now this is a reward!
I head back to the keep, noting in a combat along the way that Erinon's Axe is not a throwing axe despite its icon, but it does look pretty deadly in the paperdoll view. It seems to kill enemies faster than the Black Sword I'd been using, although that may be a function of the Gauntlets of Quickness.
I always picture magic weapons and armor in games like Dungeons & Dragons as actively glowing. I think the Ultima series is why.
Back in the castle, no one has any new dialogue, so I guess I have to find all four orbs before anything happens. I still don't have enough gold for "Imbalance." I decide to head back to my serpent gate hub to get some more gold and to drop off some of my excess stuff. That's when I find that you can't just teleport in and out of The Silver Seed at will. The Amulet of Balance will only work once a week. I could pull out the bedroll and just sleep a week away, but it's not that important. 
Guess I'll have to leave my excess stuff here, then.
The Silver Seed seems to have roughly the same structure as The Forge of Virtue--a central hub area with several branching sub-quests. I guess it was too much to hope that it would be the same length as the earlier expansion. At this rate, I'll be happy if I'm done with Serpent Isle by the end of the summer.
Time so far: 75 hours
Comments on Level 1 spells
Create Food. Straightforward. Creates a few food items. Food is plentiful enough that you shouldn't have to use this spell often.
Cure. Useful when you get poisoned. I prefer red potions to avoid having to spend the spell points. I haven't found much that poisons me beyond swamps. "Mass Cure" at Level 2 supersedes this if multiple people get poisoned. 
Detect Trap. I've never gotten this to work successfully on floor traps, so I think it probably only works on chests. I guess it's useful, since chests are often trapped. On the other hand, the traps rarely do that much damage, so I'm not sure if it's worth the spell points and reagents.
Great Douse. Theoretically puts out all non-magical flames in an area. I can't think of a single use for it.
It unsurprisingly did nothing here.
Great Ignite. Theoretically ignites all sources of fire in the area (e.g., unlit torches). I can't think of a single use for it, either.
Light. Makes light. Useful until you get "Great Light."
Locate. Tells you your coordinates. Useful until you get a sextant, which does it for no magic cost.
Well, that's helpful.
Telekinesis. Allows you to activate buttons and switches remotely. I've used it a few times. There's at least one puzzle in the Mountains of Freedom that requires it. Most of the rest of the time, it's optional. At best, it's a shortcut to somewhere that you would have found a long way to eventually.


  1. Was first thinking this is a spoiler, but actually it's hidden in plain sight in the manual (page 7) and in the letter you find in the cave near Shamino in the beginning. I'll still rot13 it since I think there may be another chance to learn it in game.

    Vg'f npghnyyl Beqre jub fgnegrq gur jne, zheqrerq gur Terng Uvrebcunag, oynzrq Punbf sbe vg naq fgnegrq jne ("...sbe V pna nyernql urne gur sbeprf bs Beqre oernpuvat gur xrrc jnyyf." sebz gur yrggre). Punbf vf cerggl oynzryrff.

    1. Huh. You're right. It does say "the forces of Order" are breaching the keep. Now I have to go back through the dialogue again. Is the "covered it up and blamed Chaos for it" simply to be inferred, or is there dialogue and documents that speak about this specifically?

    2. Not really, except that the Order people in the expansion genuinely seem to believe it was Chaos.

      In the main game there are a few other signs Order started it, for example Skullcrusher seems to have been attacked without warning from visiting Order troops.

    3. The real question is: why the ruse? There are only two factions on the island. It's not like Order is trying to avoid upsetting someone else.

    4. Ultimately, we can only speculate, but my impression is that many Order followers would not have gone along with murdering the Great Hierophant.

      For example, there is no reason not to believe that Isstanar did not truly have reverence for Balance and the Great Hierophant, as he claims. It's likely that he believes it was followers of Chaos who killed Ssithnos.

      So the ruse being for internal benefit would be pretty consistent with the rest of the narration. If I had to make up the rest of the backstory, I would probably have the Order Hierophant Calithiss the Avenger behind it.

      On a different note, I actually like when games do not reveal every background detail of the history. Often, it's as if those fantasy worlds have perfect record keeping, but I like it more when there are multiple conflicting accounts. Morrowind did an excellent job with that.

    5. Good argument. Makes sense to me. And I agree with your final paragraph, particularly about Morrowind.

  2. Wow! You did the hardest dungeon first and so casually solo too!

    1. AlphabeticalAnonymous

    2. AlphabeticalAnonymousJuly 7, 2023 at 2:13 PM

      Spoilers, @Joshua!

      [apologies for the prior, abortive Comment]

    3. Well, it's a minor one. I didn't realize that was supposed to be the "hardest." As for the "solo" part, I'm not sure that adding characters to the party makes things appreciably easier. What you gain in extra firepower, you lose in having to keep them alive and being unable to control their specific actions.

    4. Sorry, didn't mean to spoil.

      Such a moment deserves recognition when Chet just casually strolls in and Magebanes the most difficult enemy in the entire game to death.

      I never realized how effective that sword is.

    5. Either did I, frankly. Most of the time in this game, you don't need to worry about tactics like what weapon you're holding.

      Still, it did take me about 4 reloads. But sure, I strolled casually on the fifth try.

    6. my guess is that most people who start the Silver Seed don't wait this long, and therefore don't have magebane to deal with Aram Dol, making this a lot harder for most players, even when you have companions to distract him.

  3. AlphabeticalAnonymousJuly 7, 2023 at 2:12 PM

    I understand you likely referred to your own personal experience... But I wonder what the first game to feature glowing, enchanted weapons was. *Rogue* features that, which at least pre-dates Ultima.

    I was amused that you mapped the dungeon's "twisty little passages" by dropping inventory items - a grand tradition dating back to Colossal Cave Adventure.

    How did the "At Ease" book's advice compare to your own experience in the military?

    1. This is the full text of At Ease:

      This handbook will help the Commissioned Soldier to realize how important it is to know how to handle the masses of lower rank soldiers. Only a well trained army is capable of winning a war. The only way to have a well trained army is through the Commissioned Soldier. He is responsible for the training, dedication and devotion of his troops. This is not a training manual. This handbook merely emphasizes the importance of authority. Only the strong and strict leader will receive the respect from his troops that a good leader deserves. Only troops which are willing to take orders are good troops. Therefore troops will follow only orders that are given by a strong leader whom they respect.

      Conclusion: there is only one rule on how to train masses of soldiers: Showing strength and authority to the lower rank soldiers, the noncommissioned troops. Only the Commissioned Soldier that interacts on a strong and strict basis with his troops will lead them to victory in combat...


      I never rose above an E-4, so I'm definitely not the audience for the book. But in my experience: a) NCOs rather than commissioned officers handled most of the training; b) most of the officers I worked with were slightly goofy. I wouldn't say they showed "strength and authority" on a daily basis. Then again, we weren't at war.

      As for Rogue, are you talking about the roguelike? How does it depict weapons as glowing? It just uses ASCII characters.

    2. AlphabeticalAnonymousJuly 7, 2023 at 2:29 PM

      When you enchant a weapon, you're told that "Your (weapon) glows blue for a moment." The game depicts it by relying on one's imagination, of course.

    3. Ah. I had forgotten that. But it glows blue FOR A MOMENT, not perpetually.

    4. if we are allowing roguelikes and being told (rather than shown) your weapon is glowing, then Nethack has its own version of Sting that glows when orcs are around:

      Caveat is that although Nethack predates 1993 by some time, I don’t know when Sting and that behaviour were added

    5. I'm not sure which game did feature glowing enchanted weapons first, but they must've all been inspired by 'Sting' which Bilbo acquires in the troll camp during his adventures of 'The Hobbit'. There, the blue glow even signifies something story-related (the presence of orcs), which is even cooler than a +2 damage bonus.

    6. In the early Zork games, there is an "elvish sword", which is clearly a reference to Sting.

    7. AlphabeticalAnonymousJuly 7, 2023 at 3:42 PM

      Right - and Tolkien can't have invented the concept. Presumably there are much older references to glowing swords (does Excalibur ever glow? if only we had an expert we could ask...). Or do we go all the way back, and count the flaming sword guarding the Garden of Eden? (though I for one would argue for a distinction between flaming and glowing)

    8. It looks like Sting was added to Nethack 2.3 as a kind of easter egg/bonus for source code divers--if you named a short sword or dagger "Sting" it would get +d5 damage against all monsters. It doesn't seem like it glowed in 2.3. But in 3.0.0 it seems to have its property of warning against orcs: see line 40. And from line 226, it does seem like its way of warning you is to glow.

      Nethack 3.0.0 was released in 1989, so that's before 1993... but I don't know the first game to feature enchanted weapons that glowed continuously.

    9. Good question about Excalibur. I can't remember any source in which the sword is really even described, let alone described as glowing. I went back through a few texts that mentioned it:

      Culwch ac Olwen: Just named (and called "Caledfwlch" here), not described.

      Geoffrey of Monmouth: " excellent sword made in the isle of Avallon..." No other description.

      Wace: "Mighty was the glaive, and long in the blade."

      Layamon: "Wrought in Avalon, with magic craft."

      Malory: "It was so bright in his enemies' eyes, that tit gave a light like thirty torches." I would have interpreted this as the sun shining off of it, but screw it, I'm going with it glowed.

      And here we have Tennyson:

      With jewels, elfin Urim, on the hilt
      Bewildering heart and eye--the blade so bright
      That men are blinded by it--on one side,
      Grave in the oldest tongue of all this world,
      'Take me,' but turn the blade and ye shall see,
      And written in the speech ye speak yourself
      'Cast me away!'

      Verdict: Excalibur glowed, and not just when orcs were near.

    10. I assume that Malory quote just contains an unfortunate typo - maybe edit it to avoid running afoul of any filters? ;-)

      You can of course delete my comment if you do.

    11. I'm sure it's hardly the first, but my own understanding that enchanted weapons and armor should glow comes from Castle of the Winds - all enchanted equipment icons explicitly show the object with a glow. I think it was even blue for positively enchanted and red for (known) cursed.

  4. I don't think I ever realised how useful Magebane was, until reading your playthrough. I think I mostly used the magic axes where possible.

    I look forward to your thoughts on the rest of the spells too. I found I used so few of them, the ones like "great douse" and "great ignite" very much seem like filler. You could, I suppose, make an argument for having such spells as a way to suggest how mages in this world use their magic, but it seems like not a great use of reagents!

    1. I want to see a fantasy series in which mages are employed to just do regular jobs. Imagine the uses of "Great Douse" in a Fire Department or "Telekinesis" on a construction site.

    2. AlphabeticalAnonymousJuly 7, 2023 at 2:31 PM

      Sounds like a Sanderson novel, waiting to be written. (His latest, Yumi and the Nightmare Painter, is better than his latest few.)

    3. I missed the announcement that had come out. Thanks!

    4. I'm reminded of a bit from the old Zelda cartoon, where you see a blacksmith heat up a sword by just blasting it with a fire spell. I'm not sure if that sort of thing was a regular occurance or just a one off, seeing as how it was before my time and I've only seen a few episodes off of a VHS tape

    5. Infocom's Spellbreaker text adventure has a crisis where magic disappears, and the local guilds such as the bakers complain about having to do everything by hand now.

    6. Final Fantasy XVI actually has that. Mages, or "bearers", are used at every level of society to keep the wheels turning by heating up forges, or creating water, cutting wood, and so on. It's at a very mundane level - no grand acts of magiks.

    7. The web serial The Wandering In is absolutely made of this.

    8. There are corporate wage mages in the Shadowrun universe.

    9. Kind of like in the screenshot - I suppose if you knew (or suspected) a big battle was coming, through 50 torches on the ground, wait for whomever to get in the middle, and cast Great Ignite, and they’d be killed by a giant fire.

    10. Hmmm...that presumes that torches on the ground do damage in this game. I'll have to check that out.

  5. Hi Chet. Just giving you a heads up that Jimmy Maher linked to your site in his newest article on The Digital Antiquarian about Rogue

    1. That's cool. Great article--it clears up a lot of stuff about the development of Rogue that I didn't know. I cringe that he linked to my early 2010 entries, though. I wish I could go back and rewrite everything I wrote that first year.

    2. we are happy to have your first year becuse everyone needs a startingpoint and the first year is only there to show how far you have taken this projekt, so dont feel embarrest feel proud

    3. If it's a consolation to you, you might have seen that, in addition to the in-game link, in the sources section at the end he links to your (starting) entries on many different rogue-likes you've played so far on/for the blog: Rogue, Hack, two versions of NetHack, Moria and Angband, so anyone interested should be able to see that evolution nit just of the genre, but of your writing and the blog as a whole, too.

  6. Also, I wanted to take the time and give a quick thanks for this string of highly entertaining articles every other day.

    I've been coming here for such a long time, one tends to forget...

  7. Neither of the correct solutions can be reconciled with the mysterious woman's advice to pull every other lever.

    She did not say "every other lever", she said "every SECOND lever", that is every combination including lever number 2.

    In the first room, that is just lever number two.

    In the second room, 1+2+5 = 8 is good; 8=1+3+4 fails because 2 is not included.

    In the third lever room, there are two series of levers; the second lever in the east row in n.6, therefore 1+2+3+6 = 12 is good. 12=1+2+4+5 fails because the second lever in the east row is not included.

    1. ooh, that's clever! bit of a shame it can be cheesed by reloading.

    2. I have to admit, I realised what the hint meant well after winning Serpent Isle (and the Silver Seed) twice.

      Chester, remember: "north" and "top" are different directions...

    3. Thanks for solving that mystery. Your explanation makes perfect sense to me.

    4. Now if you can explain the two issues with the dragon's riddles, I can go to sleep tonight.

    5. SHORT ANSWER : the Silver Seed was rushed, too.

      LONG ANSWER: The issue with the 4th dragon's riddle is, I think, another mistake by the programmers (after the automaton's answers in the city of Order). Then, the Dragon gives you nothing for finding the answers just because, I think, Origin Systems never learned how to do side-quests.

      Have a good sleep ! Although... it's morning on this side of the Atlantic.

    6. Abacos, you were wrong, I'm afraid. I was just writing about this in another comment, and she definitely says every OTHER lever, not every "second."

  8. i always giggle at the word sextant... (tant means older lady in swedish)

  9. The word "Key" shows up only when you mouse over the key, I take it.

  10. The most "intrusive" expansion I'm aware of is Gothic II's Night of the Raven, which significantly changes the mechanics of the main game, adds and rebalances items, introduces new skills, and adds a new mandatory chapter to the main quest. Basically it's a significantly updated version of the main game.

  11. Every time I see your character portrait, I'm reminded of this guy:

    (not Chekov)

    1. So am I! I forgot he was in Star Trek II; I've been picturing him in The Terminator. In my first entry on the game, I made fun of the portrait for looking like Paul Winfield. Then, after the entry was published, I felt bad about it. What's so funny about Paul Winfield? He was a badass actor. Played Martin Luther King Jr. Thus, I chose that option.

    2. Man, that was five months ago. I can't believe I'm still playing this game.

    3. I totally missed that reference. I thought I was making a novel contribution to the discourse! Well, I think it's ok to joke that someone looks like someone else famous without diminishing either person. At least, I do that all the time.

      If you say something like, "Skeet Ulrich is the poor man's Johnny Depp," then that could be considered mean spirited. So, I wouldn't say that.

    4. You're not the first to remark on finding the U7 engine tiresome by the time you reach Serpent Isle. I think that's a big factor in the frustration and delay of playing; you need other games to keep you going.

      For example, the key ring is great. WHY is it only available in the expansion? Holding back useful interface tools in a paid expansion is... well, I guess Origin was ahead of the curve with bilking customers.

      Also, being sick for several weeks didn't help with the timeline either.

    5. The key ring was probably added in the expansion because fans only started complaining after the release of Serpent Isle. The key situation is not nearly as bad in The Black Gate. Yes, they could have had better foresight; but they did react to fan complaints as well as they could in the era before automatic patch downloads.

  12. So that door you never found the key for: it's a secret passage from the Keep to the dungeon. The key is hidden in the kitchen, underneath flower pots. The passage is in a room with three barrels (and secret walls of course).


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