Sunday, October 29, 2023

Game 495: Bloodstone: An Epic Dwarven Tale (1993)

Bloodstone: An Epic Dwarven Tale
United States
Mindcraft Software (developer and publisher)
Released 1992 for DOS
Date Started: 23 October 2023
I was completely surprised when I downloaded and fired up Bloodstone. I had this idea in my head that it was a strategy/RPG hybrid using a completely different interface than The Magic Candle series. I had clearly confused it with Siege (1992), a pure strategy game set in the same world. From my comments at the end of The Magic Candle III (1992), I clearly knew that Bloodstone used the same engine, but I somehow forgot over the intervening years. There's always a certain amount of pleasure in familiarity even when the engine isn't perfect.
"They traded ore for Vitamin D supplements."
Bloodstone is set before the events of The Magic Candle series, though I'm not sure I would know that if I didn't read it somewhere. The only hint I can see in the backstory is that it (at least partly) concerns the magic axe Khamalkhad, which the characters find in The Magic Candle III. Bloodstone takes place in a land called Tarq, and I have no idea where it is in relation to the continents of the first three games. (I spent half this session searching my own entries and other Magic Candle materials to see if any of the proper names had appeared in previous games.) The dwarven tribes in Tarq have fractured and gone to war with each other, upsetting Rohrkhad, the "Dwar-Father," god of the dwarves. Their division has weakened them, making them vulnerable to Taldor raiders. ("Taldor" seem to be a kind of goblin.) Rohrkhad has his eye on a young warrior from the Asarene tribe who might have the right stuff to "penetrate Castle Entemar, retrieve Khamalkhad, and use it as a symbol to unite the warring dwarven tribes." This warrior is, of course, the PC, who by default is named Danat McLagh.
Thank the gods for that loincloth.
After the player selects a new game, some introductory images explain that Taldors have attacked the Asarene caverns. Danat's father shoves a magic axe (called Aroten) and a "spell totem" into his hands and tells him to take three warriors and flee. The player is then asked to choose his companions from a list of eight. Four of them are dwarves--one female and three males. There are two "Amazons," one human, and a "Tlengle," which I take to be the lizard-looking guy in the back. I don't believe Amazons and Tlengles (nor Taldors) have appeared in Magic Candle lore before.
The potential starting companions.
As with the Candle games, each character starts with a set of equipment (including the series' signature herbs and mushrooms), attributes (bravery, strength, dexterity, endurance, agility, loyalty, charm, intelligence, and resistance), and various current and maximum scores in a large number of skills, including "Axe," "Magic," "Stealth," and "Lockpicking." These skills include tradecrafts like "Carpenter," "Metalsmith," and "Tailor." A quick comparison suggests that there are no changes in the attribute and skill list from The Magic Candle III except that the "Hunter" skill no longer exists.
Given the subtitle of the game, I decided to go with a full dwarf party. I chose Makana Tal (Maka), a strong melee character; Ranakaratel (Ranak), a strong magic character; and Entor Glag, a balanced character. The game gives you 30 points to allocate to their attributes and skills. I thought I remembered that skills level pretty quickly on their own, so I used the points mostly for attribute increases.
Some of the game's statistics.
You have the option to rename the characters, including the PC. An amusing thing happened here. I thought about the most "dwarven" looking person I know (short, swarthy, long beard) and I planned to use a combination of syllables in his first and last name. Then I laughed. My friend's name isn't "Aidan Attenborough," but it's something like that. The most obvious combination of syllables makes . . . "Danat." I decided that was fate and kept the default names.
This doesn't feel very heroic.
The game begins with the party ignominiously fleeing the caverns, which they cannot re-enter. We find ourselves in a courtyard littered with skulls (from this battle, or do we just leave skulls around our home?) and one exit. Here, we observe that the interface is identical to The Magic Candle III except for a different font. I suppose it looks a little more "dwarven." The commands in the lower right can all be called three different ways: by typing the first letter of the command; by arrowing to the command and hitting "Enter"; and by clicking on it. Similarly, the player can move around the game window by using the numberpad or by clicking in the window itself. The game thus simultaneously supports everybody's preferred style of play. This is exactly what an interface should be. I'm thus surprised to find myself complaining about it in the III "summary and rating." We'll see if I have the same issues here, but it's a breath of fresh air after the controller interface of Warriors of the Eternal Sun and the icons of Ambermoon that I'm always stumbling over.
We haven't taken more than a few steps before we're ambushed by a party of eight Taldor. Combat also doesn't seem to have changed from Candle except that there's no "whisper" command. I don't even remember what that did. Most battles have clearly-defined battle lines, the players on one side and the enemies on the other, and there's a pre-combat round in which you can position yourself, draw your weapon, bring a particular spell to mind, look at the enemy, and try to parley with them. Ambushes are an exception, though, with characters thrust immediately into the thick of combat. 
The first battle.
I'll cover more about combat later as I refresh my memory about how it works and what the best strategies are. For now, the basic facts are that it's turn-based. Except when ambushed, the characters always go first, followed by the enemies. Each character has a set number of actions, usually two or three, that he or she can perform in a turn, including drawing a weapon (if you were clumsy enough to enter combat with it sheathed), move one or more spaces, use an object, cast a spell, look at a foe, or attack. Moving into an enemy automatically executes an attack, which is nice. I always have to remind myself that you don't have to exhaust a character's actions before moving on to the next character; you can jump among them and thread your actions in a way that makes the most sense.
This battle goes poorly for us, and Ranak is killed before we manage to dispatch the Taldor. Rather than try to figure out resurrection this early in the game, I reload and try again. This time, Danat senses the ambush before blundering into it, so we don't start at such a disadvantage. We manage to kill the enemies and search their bodies for a few coins and an iron helmet. Most characters' weapons skills go up a point during the course of the battle. 
Character development!
We leave the caverns and find ourselves on an outdoor map in the middle of a valley. An "ominous gateway" opens on the other side of the cavern entrance. The manual--which gives you a tiny walkthrough for this part of the game--says to enter it, so we do.
Should have made it a "welcoming gateway" if you wanted us to enter.
The gateway leads to a little dirt patch with a single dwarf NPC. His name is Mantar. I'm not sure who he's supposed to be, and he doesn't really give any background. But he says that he's sorry the Taldor destroyed our tribe. He warns that all of Tarq will suffer the same fate if the dwarves don't unite. He suggests we find magical artifacts and strategically give them to the chiefs of the two major dwarf clans, Tamar and Morin, as well as smaller tribes "in the wastes of northern Tarq." I miss a bunch of his speech the first time because of an irritating part of the interface. Only a few lines of text appear on the screen at a time, and there's a "Cont" command in the window to the right. The logical thing is to read the text in the window and then hit "Cont" to continue. But there's actually more text below the window. You have to arrow down to it and then "Cont" when you reach the end. The authors should have picked one or the other. Fortunately, everything is recorded in a notebook that you can search, which is another awesome interface addition. You can even add your own notes.
Why are you talking about him like he's long dead? I literally just left him. He could still be alive.
Mantar mentions that the Tamar are to the north and the Morin to the south. I'm not really sure where I am on the game map until I realize that Danat has a map object in his inventory. Using it brings up a map of the area, and it's enough for me to see that I'm on the east side of the large main island. The map shows the city of Haraza to my north and the city of Kafari to my south, both of which are mentioned in the backstory as being the homes to the respective tribes. 
The world map.
I head for Haraza first, crossing a bridge and fighting a battle with Taldor on the way. I notice that a few things have changed:
  • To memorize spells, the character must have a "spell totem." I think these take the place of spell books from the Candle games. I have the one that my father gave me, but the other characters don't have any.
  • Stamina doesn't deplete as you explore. In the Candle games, I had to rest or chew a Sermin every 10 steps. This is a very welcome change.
We hold the line on a bridge.
  • Bloodstone seems to have done away with food. We didn't start with any; there's no "Hunt" command; and as previously noted, the "Hunting" ability is gone. I guess we're just assumed to have food when we need it.
Eventually, we make it to the city of Haraza. The town is larger and more spread out than I remember from previous Candle games, though that might just be my memory. As usual, it is full of shops, services, and NPCs who appear and disappear at various times of day depending on their schedules. 
Talking to a generic kid.
NPC dialogue is, I believe, the same as in the other Candle games. It wastes time by offering both G)reet and T)alk options. Some NPCs are named and some are not. Once in dialogue, you have generic keyword choices like NEWS or ADVICE and options where you can type your own keywords, like OTHER and PEOPLE. New keywords given by NPCs are highlighted in red or green and then automatically appear in the pane.  
A dwarf introduces some topics of conversation.
Some findings:
  • The town is ruled by Chief Torongo. An NPC named Tyal tells me that if I want to appease him, I'll have to find a Death Mask created out of pieces of alabaster that rained down from the heavens when Rohrkhad wept for joy at the creation of the dwarves. I can research the subject of the MASK at the library in Morin.
  • The librarian (loremaster) has material on KHAMALKHAD, but none of us have a high enough "Research" skill to access it.
We'll be back.
  • A woman in the tavern named Grep tells me that the loremasters used to have an impressive collection of stone tablets, but raids from the Morin clan have left many of them smashed. Some of the remaining ones talk about TELEPORT combos. 
  • The tavernkeeper warns me about doglike creatures called pennari in the surrounding countryside. They are the pets of the taldor.
  • The adventuring shop proprietor highly recommends that we buy ropes, which we'll need to get over the mountains. I buy enough for everyone and a shovel.
  • Another shop sells snowshoes and sealskin. The proprietor says we won't be able to cross the northern wastes without snowshoes. We buy the shoes but can't afford the sealskin.
  • An NPC named Fazil tells us that the Holy Scarab of Dablaks lies in Pradaga, to the north and west.
  • Other services include a swordplay school, an inn, a weapon shop, an armor shop, a gemcutter, and a metalsmith. As with the previous Candle games, it appears you can leave skilled characters at these shops, earning an honest wage while the rest of the party goes on adventures.
Browsing, but not buying, in the weapon shop.
We find the dwarf chief Torongo in his house in the northeast corner of the map. He says that if we want his help, we'll first have to secure dwarven relics for him: a magic scarab, a brooch, a mitre, a sceptre, a golden bowl, an orb, a crown, a whistle, and the magical Death Mask of Rohrkhad. So that gives me a sense of the flavor of the game: do individual quests for clan chiefs to unite the clans.
Where did the sky and pyramids come from?
I probably miss some other NPCs in the town owing to how they pop in and out of existence at certain time stamps, but I do think to check the tavern again in the evening. New NPCs are present, including a warrior named Volni. She introduces herself as a jack-of-all-trades and offers to join the party. Lacking any other competing offers, we take her.
As we leave Haraza, I find myself with no obvious place to go next. I guess I'll work my way around the continent and see what other locations I find. The Candle games have always offered open worlds, and I'm glad to see that seems to be the case here. It's a familiar game in a familiar engine, and the only way it could go terribly wrong is by being too long. I feel like I've said that a few times this year.
Time so far: 3 hours


  1. Three dwarves, two amazons, a human and a Tlengle made a total of seven characters... What is the eight?

  2. I've never even heard of this game before, but it sure looks charming.

  3. A game using the MC III engine, but without having to worry about stamina or food like in the mainline games - sounds potentially promising. Let's see if it uses the many MC mechanics better.

    There is a website that claims Bloodstone has a potentially game-crippling bug which the publishers even acknowledged by inserting a statement in the game box. I'm not aware of the latter, but since you already reported that 1) the final goal is to retrieve Khamalkhad and have been told 2) to find magical artifacts and give them to dwarf clan chiefs, I think it's no spoiler: supposedly, if you pick up the axe Khamalkhad before handing over artifacts to tribe leaders, these artifacts disappear (or lose their intended effect? The quote is "become dust in the wind").

    BTW, doing individual quests to unite separate tribes sounds a bit like Worlds of Ultima: The Savage Empire.

    PS: Great reply on the first comment ;-).

    1. To me, doing individual quests to unite separate tribes sounds a lot like 'Might&Magic 6', which admittedly came much later.

    2. Nah, in 7 you start as the rulers of Harmondale in between the human vs. elves conflict, and things escalate from there (with the light and dark path later on), while in 6 there's a council in the main city, and you have to solve the quests from the rulers of every province to gain the council members' approval. It's been some time, but I'm pretty sure about that...

    3. Yes, the human vs. elves was what I was thinking of. I must have forgotten most of the plot of M&M 6.

    4. Time to plug 'World of Enroth' (google the mod yourselves), which uses MM8's engine to combine part 6, 7, and 8 under one roof. There's the possibility to switch between worlds, but I've been mainly using it to replay MM6 with much better graphics. Recommended, one way or the other.

      P.S: Wasn't Chet fantasizing about playing BG1&2 plus ID1&2 on one massive world map, can somebody take care of that next, please ;)

    5. "Savage Empire" in coming up a lot, lately. It just popped up in an Ambermoon thread.

      Did anybody expect "Savage Empire" to be such an influential game ?

    6. It sound more like the Disciples of Steel. Same idea - and open-world CRPG where you unite the various rulers against an invasion.

    7. Well, I am a big Savage Empire fan. I still love the unique pulpy/vsf setting and the rpg light model. But, still Iam impressed…

    8. Thanks, Busca. I'll watch for that. BESTIE, combining those games sounds like a great idea at first, but I suspect that I'd eventually grow exhausted with it.

    9. I remember being exhausted by MM6 alone, I took a break of 1-2 years before starting MM7. Which I finished twice in a row.

    10. Anonymous being me. Anyway, I'm busy replaying Gothic 2 as a Paladin.

    11. What's a Paladin?

      (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

    12. BESTIE, will that mod take MM6 saves for those who are halfway through the game? :D

  4. Ah you mention Siege again. I was - and still am - in love with this game. Unique design to this day, still incredible fun. Alas, you will never play it, because there is no RPG element, no equipment, no adventure, just pure siege warfare.

    Before you Magic Candle article I thought Siege was a stand-alone, so I was puzzled at some of the races in-game: in additions to the usual orcs, humans, dwarves or elves it has a few weirder races. I wonder if you (or anyone who played Magic Candle) recognize them from the games:

    - The Domug, weak blue creatures [includes "warriors" and "archers"]
    - The behemoths [warriors only, strong but not as good as the name implies]
    - The Jerrash [sorcerers only, very, very powerful]
    - The Tekhirs [only archers, elite archers and sergeants, effectively the dark side equivalent of elves]
    - The Zorlim [glass-canon who can also heal allies]
    There were others in the expansion but I don't have it at hands.

    Indeed, Siege received an expansion ("Siege: Dogs of War") and a spin-off (Ambush at Sorinor). Dogs of War was just more content for Siege, but Ambush of Sorinor removed everything what was great in Siege (the siege itself) and double-down on everything that was weak. Imagine if someone took Ultima VII, removed the dialogues but left the combats. That's Ambush at Sorinor. Of course, no one would do that to U7.

    Siege was reskinned to make a "realistic" game called Walls of Rome. Gameplay-wise it was even better, but I only discovered it later so no nostalgia effect and there was something special with hurling fireballs at orcs standing on the siege towers or with sending giant spiders to climb the walls from an unexpected direction for a quick assassination/sabotage mission.

    1. Another fan of siege?! I always thought I was the only person on the planet to enjoy the rough charm of this gem!

      I loved Siege and played it for hours. Ambush at Sorinor was equally quirky and also gave me great joy.

      Now, however, I realize that I never played the add-on nor the historical version.

      @Chester: these games have really absolutely no rpg elements, but if you want to idle away some time or take caution against a crpg burnout they might be worth a try. You may enjoy them!

    2. Walls of Rome is worth checking. What makes it even better than Siege is the win condition: instead of just putting your flag on top of the enemy castle (which sometimes end up with hundreds of troops fighting in huge masses in the courtyard of the castles, especially in situations where there are no "brute" troops (minotaurs, elementals, heroes...) and no wizards, in Walls of Rome you need to take 60% of the towers and then hold them, which means all the map is played and being the defender is much more interesting since you need to counter-attack and whatnot.

      I really did not like Ambush at Sorinor. The missions were repetitive and the AI just did not know how to navigate open maps.

    3. Agreed about the AI, but past-Fincas didn’t care (and Siege had the same problems).

      I’m now really intrigued about Walls of Rome. Not only do historical scenarios appeal to the Now-Fincas much more, but what you describe sounds like a brilliant solution to one of the major flaws with Siege. It was too easy to hold off an attacker by drawing off all guards (or 90%) once you knew where the major push would happen.

      I always felt both Siege and Ambush would have greatly shined with a an updates version: better AI, free zooming and gaming with friends via the net would have easily made the true classics.

      That way I remember them as rough gems with their flaws. Neither Pirates! nor Civ, but on the level of Master of Magic and Warlords!

  5. >and the only way it could go terribly wrong is by being too long

    No way a Magic Candle game could possibly be long, right?

    1. You know what I love after an 8-month game? Another 8-month game! (kudos if someone gets the reference)

    2. Heh, Magic Candle is the only CRPG that was so long that I needed a break from it. But it was also so good that I completed it after the break.

    3. Man I loved me some Magic Candle. Someday I swear I’ll make its spiritual successor.

    4. I played this when it first came up on the "upcoming" list (almost one year ago...) and it should be not nearly as long as Ambermoon or Serpent Isle.

      The amount of note taking needed was exhausting though, and I skipped a few combats by the end.

      It's funny, as it was my first Magic Candle game, still a lot of it felt familiar, just from having read the Addict's coverage of previous games.

    5. So I played a (tbh mostly terrible) Genesis RPG called Rings of Power, but the core loop of the game - research and questioning to track down clues was solid.

      Years later I came to this blog and discovered Magic Candle and very much enjoyed! There are times when I prefer the modern conveniences of quest markers everywhere, but I feel the exploration element suffers from it.

      These were formative "open world" games and while I've not played enough, I vastly prefer how they approach that genre.

  6. Based on "I'm not really sure where I am on the game map" I understand you have the map which came with the game, but just in case it can be found e.g. here.

    Might be interesting for others playing this at some point to try going with a mixed party including the tlengle, the human and an amazon instead to see the differences (or maybe someone already did and can comment on it for the final entry). But hopefully these choices will increase replayability and as you reported at the end above, it's possible to recruit additional NPCs anyway. Apparently you can choose the sex of the PC as well, who in the female version is called 'Danta' by default.

  7. "I miss a bunch of his speech the first time because of an irritating part of the interface. Only a few lines of text appear on the screen at a time, and there's a "Cont" command in the window to the right. The logical thing is to read the text in the window and then hit "Cont" to continue. But there's actually more text below the window. You have to arrow down to it and then "Cont" when you reach the end."

    That part of the engine hasn't changed at all, then.

    "Bloodstone seems to have done away with food."

    That might mean there are no mushrooms in this game. That's a big change considering how much you relied on mushroom in the earlier games.

    "New keywords given by NPCs are highlighted in red or green"

    That would be red.

    1. There are still mushrooms and herbs, but you don't need to chew sermins to restore stamina lost from just moving around. You only need it for stamina lost in battle.

  8. >"They traded ore for Vitamin D supplements"
    Heh, I'm always wondering how dwarfs manage to keep their skin tan. Their must be some unexplained dwarf magic at work otherwise they'd all have the skin color of a sand puppy.

  9. I only very recently found this blog, but I'm absolutely delighted to see this one come up. A free copy of it came with a CD magazine my father had brought home randomly, and it was a highly formative title for me. I'd never quite managed to finish it, either, but that was more an artifact of being very young and not yet versed in the genre, moreso than it being overlong or too difficult.

    A small, non-spoilery hint: just like any other item, spell totems can be passed around amongst the party.

    Another one, marginally more so, so ROT13: Gurer'f nabgure enpr, Jvmneqf, juvpu V jbhyq rapbhentr nf na rkprcgvba gb gur nyy-qjnes nccebnpu. Zl erpbyyrpgvba vf gung fgebat zntvp pbhyq urnivyl rkcrqvgr zbfg rapbhagref.

  10. The cities in Bloodstone are actually smaller - at least in terms of buildings/NPCs - than the equivalent cities in e.g. Magic Candle III. Haraza and Kafari are capitals of their respective tribes, so roughly equivalent to Telermaine (or Urkabel) - but have about half the number of buildings. Perhaps they feel larger precisely because they are more spread out - fewer buildings on a same size map.

  11. I bought a boxed copy of this recently, so mustn't read too much!


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