Sunday, November 19, 2023

Bloodstone: Tower Heist

Finding the next artifact.
Bloodstone revealed its structure relatively early in the game. A young dwarf must unite the dwarven tribes against the taldor menace. To do so, he will need the support of the two major dwarven clan chiefs. They want him to track down nine magic artifacts. Visiting various cities, encampments, and NPCs provides leads as to the artifacts' locations.
When I last wrote, I was trying to find someone named Groval so I could obtain a reagent called Lilten from him and return it to Borton the Apothecary in Phoroshe. Borton had promised to tell me the password to get into the tower of Pradaqa, where the Moon Scarab was rumored to be kept on the top level. Borton had told me that Groval had gone west into "Amqal."
Finding Groval's camp. It would be nice if there was a spell that let you detect locations from more than one square away.
I had thought "Amqal" would be the name of a town or settlement, but at one point during my search, I looked up and saw it on the screen. The starting island is divided into a bunch of different lands, and the screen shows which one you're in. I thus started looking for locations within the land. It took me forever and occasioned a lot of reloads before I finally found Groval in a camp alongside a mountain range. He sold me Lilten for around 60 gold pieces. I returned it to Borton and found that the password to Pradaqa was VUNTISTA.
This almost sounds like a bad word.
The password opened the tower, which turned out to be 7 levels and did indeed have the Moon Scarab in the top chamber. I think I explored all the others along the way. There were several ways to go up, but I backtracked and tried to get all of them, as the gold and other rewards were lucrative. I think I only experienced two ambushes; most combat was fought in rooms.
For some reason, the game has you "whisper" magic words rather than "yell" them.
Room combats in dungeons are just like outdoor combats in the wilderness. They follow conventions established by the first Magic Candle, and as far as I can tell, haven't changed a bit since The Magic Candle III. It's been a while since I covered the combat system in detail, so I thought I'd give some attention to it.
The party and enemies start on different halves of the room. Before combat, there's a phase in which you can position your characters anywhere on your side of the screen. Combat screens are all 11 x 9, and whether you start at the top, bottom, left, or right, the middle column of tiles between you and the enemy is always "no man's land" in which enemies are never positioned and you cannot advance during the positioning phase. Enemies never reposition. Obviously, the ability to study their positions and then move your characters to ideal counter-positions is a major advantage to the player. For instance, if you're facing melee enemies and you plan to take them out with bows and spells, you probably want to move to the far side of the room. If you plan to engage in melee attacks, you may want to move as close as possible--or just far enough away to make the enemies walk to you instead of vice versa.
I like these moments of NPC "banter."
Other things you can do during this phase are look at the enemies to remind yourself what their icons represent, draw your chosen starting weapon (this is vital to do during the introductory phase because it costs an action once combat actually begins), and select an active spell. When you're ready for combat to begin, you can either just hit B)egin or you can take your chances with T)alk, which has two sub-options: G)reet and R)ally. G)reet is an attempt to parley with enemies. If the power differential is great enough, they might offer money if you'll leave them alone. Otherwise, they might suggest that you bribe them to leave you alone. Or they might just attack. Similarly, R)ally attempts to motivate your own troops with a speech; if successful, it provides boosts to courage and agility. It almost always fails for me. Either way, combat begins afterwards. I think the success of greeting is covered by the "Charm" attribute and the success of rallying is governed by the "Leadership" skill.
The "Look" command during the pre-battle phase lets you identify your foes. That's particularly useful to me because I find these graphics very difficult.
The one thing you can't do in the pre-combat phase is eat a mushroom. You either have to have done that before you entered the combat screen, in which case you take a chance that your mushrooms will be wasted on easy foes, or after combat begins, in which case you have to use actions eating the 'shrooms.
Once combat begins, the party members get to go first--another huge advantage--unless you failed a greeting or rally, in which case enemies go first. Each character gets a number of actions between 1 and 3 depending on dexterity. By default, the game will have the first character use all of his actions, then the second, and so forth, but you can manually select the characters to go in a different order, even threading actions so character #1 does something, then characters #2 and #3, then back to #1. 
Enemies come in three major varieties: melee enemies, missile enemies, and spellcasters. You want to prioritize them in the reverse of that order. I've found that enemies tend to pathologically target one character, and it's quite common that if I don't wipe out every single enemy the first round that I end up having to cast "Resurrection" on someone at the end of the battle. 
Slaughtering a bunch of tlatol with bows before they can get close to us.
As I covered in the postings for previous games, a combination of the "Jump" spell, Gonshi mushrooms, and Mirget mushrooms essentially trivializes any battle. Gonshis give you four actions per round (though if you don't already have one in your system, one of them is eating the Gonshi); Mirgets make your first attack at maximum power, usually killing the foe; "Jump" puts you in position without wasting any of your actions on movement. So if I want to be sure I win a battle, I can have one of my spellcasters, say Pran, recall "Jump" and take a Gonshi at the beginning of the battle. He can then "Jump" three fighters into melee range of as many enemies as possible. With their own Gonshi/Mirget combination, they can each kill at least one and up to four enemies depending on the strength of the enemy and whether they had the mushrooms in their system at the beginning of the battle or whether they had to spend actions eating them. Either way, the combo can often end a battle in one round, before the enemies can even act.
I didn't take a screenshot of anything relating to what I'm talking about, so here's a teleportal chamber.
Nift mushrooms, which protect against three physical attacks, and the "Shield" spell, which absorbs magic damage, are also vital to success. "Shield" can be cast ahead of combat, multiple times up to a shield value of 99, and it never wears off. There's really no excuse not to cast everyone's shield back to 99 between combats. I get less use out of Luffin flowers, which ensure accuracy of the next attack (enemies rarely dodge as it is) and Turpin mushrooms, which cast spells at maximum power, for no other reason than I spend most of my spell points on binary spells like "Jump" and "Resurrection" for which "power" is meaningless. Sermin mushrooms, which you had to take constantly in the Candle games because regular movement required stamina, are here used primarily by spellcasters to recover stamina in battle.
Mowing down a row of mages is easier when you can each shoot 4 times.
Mushrooms have been less plentiful and more expensive in Bloodstone, which has forced me to conserve my mushrooms and spend more time experimenting with different tactics and spells. I wonder if this will continue to be true now that I've conquered Pradaqa. I got a lot of gold, gems, and weapons and armor to sell, not to mention that the two NPCs working day jobs should now have about 4,500 gold between them. Of course, I still have a couple spell totems to buy, and I learned about another large expense shortly after leaving Pradaqa.
When combat is done, you have to immediately resurrect anyone who died or lose him forever. You can then loot bodies and open any chests in the room, both of which may have gold, mushrooms, weapons, armor, gems, or other items. In dungeon rooms, you can almost always rest in the now-empty room, which makes things a bit too easy. It would be better if there were fewer rest points.
All that work for a comic book collection.
Some of these rules go out the window when you're ambushed. Ambushes have no "sides" to the combat screen; enemies and party members appear randomly. Enemies get to go first unless you've detected the ambush with a "Sense" spell, but even then there are no sides and no pre-battle phase.
This will be annoying, but at least they won't attack first.
The battles in Pradaqa began with melee enemies: taldor, pennari (taldor dogs), and tlatols. These were easy to mow down with arrows before they even reached the party. As we moved upward, we started encountering more dimelfs (archers) and taldormages, which we had to prioritize. On the highest levels, we had battles with sometimes eight taldormages in a single battle, all lined up against the back wall, and there really was no way to deal with them except the trusty "Jump"/Gonshi/Mirget combo.

I didn't write down the specific composition of enemies in the chamber with the Moon Scarab, but I think it was one of those all-mage battles. Outside the chamber, we met a human warrior named Raran Benach. He gave us the teleportal combination for one of the islands off the coast of the main island. He offered to join the party, but I felt his statistics were only average.
I'll try one of these teleporters soon.
My work done, I made my way back down and out of the tower and continued moving around the continent, forgetting that last session, I had abandoned circular movement in favor of north-south movement. I went north to the coast and then started working west. The first thing I ran into was a camp in which I found a dwarf named Denatrius the Mad. This turned out to be a dwarf I'd heard about in the tavern in Hikar, "a crazy man who thinks that dwarves can walk on the sea." It turns out that what the NPC was referring to wasn't some magic means of walking on water. Rather, Denatrius is the first dwarf (and thus likely the first person) in this land's history to conceive of a "boat" (named "after a great-aunt on my mother's side," Denatrius says). This goes with the lore of the Candle series, in which dwarves found boats so foreign that they got seasick every time they traveled on one.
I guess if you had teleporters between islands, you might be slow to develop boats.
Denatrius had built a prototype, but it sank. He wants to build another one, but he needs wood planks, canvas for the sail, a golden needle, and 3000 gold pieces as a "consulting fee." I'd learned previously that the needle was "last seen in the southwestern regions of Tarq."
We kept working our way along the coast, across mountains and rivers, fighting the occasional band of tlatol or taldor. There were some islands off the coast that I think I could have reached with a "Teleport," but I left them alone for now. As we crossed to the west side of Tarq, I angled for the town marked on the map as Galaq. The town had a lot of fences, and NPCs mentioned loving their fences. They seemed to have a problem with the women (I'm assuming Amazons) of Rulaan to the southwest.
I can't imagine why they'd be upset with you.
The town offered:
  • A carpenter. No one in my party was very skilled when we first visited, but I returned later.
  • An NPC named Narcoti said that when he was exploring an "ancient temple dungeon" to the northwest, a party of flying skulls knocked a crown off his head. The crown was "a Galaqian artifact, rumored to have been created by Ziphanu." This is almost certainly the crown of the quest, and it was the first lead I had on it.
  • A man named Gregor who boasted of his hunting and battle prowess.
So, you have no purpose, then?
  • An instructor taught "Soulreading." I had to look in the manual to remind myself what it is. It basically increases the odds that the character will identify the disposition of monsters at the beginning of a battle, such as whether they'll be amenable to a bribe. It doesn't sound all that useful. A couple of my characters already have reasonable skill in it.
  • In the tavern, I met a woman named Migdalia, which stirred a lot of old memories of a girl I loved in high school. The Migdalia of the game had recently been to Rulaan and had come back brimming with news about the town and surrounding locations. Among them, the princess of Rulaan is missing, kidnapped by "antmen." More important, a magical mitre (which I need for the main quest) and crossbow are rumored to be in Kireini Tower, in a clearing to the southwest of Rulaan. Katrina in Rulaan knows how to enter.
You have to spend a full 24 hours in each tavern to ensure that you talk to all the NPCs as they come and go.
  • A taldor named Layel was eager to demonstrate that not all taldor are mindless barbarians. He told us of the Delqafi Caverns, deep in the mountains of Seneret. He didn't know the word to open the gate. He offered to come with us. I took him into the party long enough to put him to work at the carpenter's shop.
  • A wizard named Ucensio told us of an ancient mage named Tito, and the two magic artifacts he wielded: a sword called Kstapha and a silver quarrel. The town's chieftain, Tanro, has the quarrel. 
  • On the subject of magic items, a tavern visitor named Pikin related the geography lands to the northwest. A ruin called the High Temple has an iron crown and a magical sword called Zlmnrdra. This must be the same place that Narcoti talked about. 
  • I met a wizard named Atun, whose wife had been searching for him back in Kafari. He related some area geography, including the location of Groval, which would have been useful if I hadn't already found him.
  • A trader offered sealskins and snowshoes, but I already have what I need there. 
  • At a gem shop, I sold my accumulated gems for so much money (over 20,000 gold) that it's hard not to imagine that any money woes are over.
(It's become clear that paying careful attention to geography lessons from NPCs is the key to finding things like groves, mushroom patches, and NPC camps without searching every tile in the outdoor map. Fortunately, the "Notes" feature helps keep track of all this, and I've been consulting it frequently as I move around the land.)
As is the tradition in this world, the dwarf chief, Tanro, was in a locked hut, and we had to know his name to enter. He admitted to having the magic quarrel and said he was getting too old to use it, but he didn't offer it for sale. An NPC named JK had told us that Tanro really wants to write his memoirs but lacks a writing instrument, so perhaps we need to find something to give him in exchange for the quarrel. He didn't respond to any related keywords, though. 
This doesn't sound like a good time to be giving away your martial artifacts.
I left Galaq heading northwest for the High Temple. It took me a while to find the "ominous gateway" leading to it. I don't know if it's more than one level, but so far the first level is absolutely enormous. I might be here too soon. Some battles with thamalques exhausted me with all the "restsouls," and I was absolutely slaughtered by a room full of ghosts, who only seem vulnerable to magical weapons and spells, They come with shields already set; they have high hit point totals; they cast multiple damaging spells each round; and they go invisible to avoid your attacks. I may have to go back to civilization first and stock up on mushrooms. I probably also need to experiment more with my own spells. I'll report more next time. 
This was way too many ghosts.
I'm still really enjoying this one. There's a lot to keep track of, but the "Notes" option really helps, and I understand the big picture--where the main quest is going--much better than I ever did in a Candle game. My only big concern is that there's a time limit, in which case I'm going to pay for all my walking back and forth.
Time so far: 17 hours



  1. Lots of names for places, monsters, objects, NPCs...

    "a magical sword called Zlmnrdra" -> Would have been interesting to hear it pronounced in a voiced dialogue or cutscene. I wonder why they even bother with the vocal at the end.

    "An NPC named JK" -> Didn't want to give his full name, just initials, or is this a very short vocal-less name?

    "[...] I've conquered Pradaqa. I got a lot of gold, gems, [...]" -> Not surprising in such a luxurious place.

    Maybe "Narcoti" is a mushroom dealer?

    I also stumbled at "Tito" (long-time Yugoslavian dictator) and "Atun" (= Tuna in Spanish).

    Guess it's hard to avoid any similarities with some real language element when coming up with a plethora of fantasy names. As long as there is no "Pajero"... .

    1. Depending on what the origin of the sword is, it may just be from a species with a very different way of speaking. I.E., different vowels. The enlightened scholars no doubt can pronounce it very well, though people like us unenlightened plebs would probably pronounce it like Zulmonerdra or something. A faux pas if ever there was one. (much like saying the only frame of reference for a real name is tuna ;))
      If someone on the team knew what they were doing with languages, they would have removed the final vowel and could have passed it off as dwarven Ancient Babylonian or something. "No one knows how to pronounce it".

    2. I clearly showed not being much of an enlightened scholar when it comes to languages by mixing those up myself when commenting on them - "vocal" = "vowel", of course, another faux pas ;-).

    3. Kind reminder that Mkrtchian is an Armenian surname that actually exists.

    4. To their credit, they did pronounce the Mmrnmhrm in Star Control 2.

    5. We could always ask one of the people living on the isle called Krk. Or for that matter, a Czech person (vlk is wolf in Czech). Vowel-less words aren't unheard of, for some definitions of vowels. :)

  2. Glad you're enjoying it. Seems like a strong sequel.

    How do you feel about games where combat prep is very important? ie Correct use of M&M's shrines and MC's shrooms seem to overwhelm other strategic considerations.

    Sometimes it adds considerable overhead to resting. Each rest in Hordes of the Underdark would require party member dialogue (cast all your buffing spells which last a long time on your self) and also cast a variety of long-lasting buffs myself. Something like 15 clicks - a bit too much busywork.

    1. I'm not a huge fan of the MM approach, but I like games that offer defensive and buffing spells as part of combat tactics. I just prefer when they give you some indication that a major combat is approaching. The Gold Box games had the spells but never gave you the indication.

    2. I think it depends on if it offers any interesting tradeoffs. If it's something you'd obviously do if only you knew a combat was about to happen, then it's busy work dependent on that knowledge. If it's something you'd never bother with because you had to commit a character's turn then it's just not powerful enough.

      The goal is to make the reward worth the gamble.

      I also think there's an interesting role for semi-tedious gameplay mechanics to serve in difficulty accessibility. I like the idea that skilled performance could be rewarded with smooth advancement, but an overwhelmed player could resort to some grinding gameplay to advance.

    3. When playing Pools of Darkness in 2016, ,Chet mentioned the possibility of a "buffing phase" .

      Commenters, especially Helm, then had some interesting ideas in this comment thread, like a choice between buffing and other actions (positioning, free combat round) and/or using a thief for more advance warning. Not sure if any of these options have been implemented in other (newer) CRPGs?

    4. Good catch Busca. I like the idea of buffs being a more interesting game element. A buffing round is a clever idea. Some games have explicit limits on the amount of long term buffs a character can equipped. I think the best number for that is probably 1 or 2, and they essentially become part of the character build. Shorter buffs should be restricted to in-combat, in order to have a tactical cost.

    5. @asimpkins - I wouldn't mind if all games with extensive combat prep also had a macro system to support it!

    6. Absolutely. It should be hard to decide what to do, not tediously hard to tell the game what you want to do.

    7. An alternative to a buffing round would be the ability to position your characters in a more defensive position at the start of combat. If you have cover, you can safely spend your action points and it doesn't hurt as much. For a fight where you don't want to buff, you just position your characters more agressively, saving the buffing round that you don't need.

      In a game where you can jump anywhere with few consequences, this doesn't work because it makes action points too valuable right from the start.

  3. I enjoyed bringing my Keys to Maramon hero Smith into MCII. He only ever Kearney the disintegrate spell, since it wiped your mind of spells with each cast. It was good for one dead enemy every combat!

  4. >All that work for a comic book collection.
    Random fact: The Japanese actually call those eromanga. Hentai literally just means "pervert" but was at some point in the past adopted as the word for all works of drawn Japanese pornografy by the western audience.

  5. "For some reason, the game has you "whisper" magic words rather than "yell" them."

    If I've learned anything from Pirates of the Carribean, it's that you have to say the magic words right, as if speaking to a lover.

  6. I'm curious of when we'll have games on the blog that feature a rival party or group trying to steal the artifacts or whatever thing we're chasing in parallel to us (within the context of the story, of course), to try and spice up the narrative a bit. But otherwise, the treasure hunt structure is still going strong.

    1. Which game has such a feature? As far as I remember one of the later Might and Magic games?

    2. I believe Wizardry 7 had different factions going around that could pick up items before you.

    3. Didn't the Lords of Midnight series have something like that? The third one even had rival parties that could win the game before you.

    4. The second game - Doomdark's Revenge - had competing factions, and lords that could pick up victory items. I don't know about the third game, except it was a giant, real time clusterfornicate.

  7. This was a really cool combat engine, with just the right blend of preparation and tactics. It also made ambushes a real problem that required attention to detail or they could really mess up your party. Fun stuff.

    1. I've repeatedly thought so, too, about all the Magic Candle games; and did so again before starting to replay this over the past week. But once I'm actually replaying them and past the beginning stages, it feels too swingy - almost all of the time, I either utterly demolish my foes while taking no or very little damage, or I get a full-party wipe (or drained in non-Bloodstone, which is just as mandatory a reload). The non-randomness and the outsized impact of armor - two dozen 30-hp ranged attacks in a round are a whole lot less scary when you're deducting 29 from every hit than when you've only got 10-point chainmail - mean that I only ever face surmountable danger if I get really, really complacent and lazy.

  8. is this a real video game? I cant find records of it...

    1. Also, it's on Mobygames:

    2. I'm flattered that someone thought I might have the skill to fake an entire video game. I should try that some year for April 1.

    3. Sounds like a fun plan. Your review of Downfall fooled quite a few people.

  9. Embark on a thrilling adventure with 'Bloodstone: Tower Heist.' This immersive experience promises a gripping tale of heists, mysteries, and strategic intrigue, inviting you to unlock the secrets within its virtual walls.


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