Thursday, February 29, 2024

NetHack [3.1]: Rust and Ruin

I just can't stop drinking from fountains.
After losing Aamanz so stupidly, I took a few days off. When I fired it up again, I created Aaron the Archaeologist (I'm still accepting random characters from the game) who ate a rotted corpse on Level 1 and died before he did anything else of note. Abadan the Samurai followed him, but he died of starvation in a particularly insidious Level 3, on which I could find only a couple of rooms and a long corridor. I know there were secret doors somewhere, but none of my searching could reveal them, and I had to just watch as he starved, fainted, got attacked by a werejackal, turned into a werejackal himself, lost all his armor, fainted again, and was killed by a gecko.
Next came Abastunagi the Elf. I felt good about him. My winning NetHack 3.0 player was an elf. They come with two intrinsics that are hard to get otherwise: "Automatic Searching" and "See Invisible." The automatic searching alone saved me from dozens of traps. The elf has a "chaotic" alignment and prays to the god Erevan Ilesere, who comes from Dungeons & Dragons, I believe. He starts with an elven short sword, an elven bow, 30 elven arrows, an elven mithril coat, and two lembas wafers.
Nothing much happened until Level 4. I destroyed a floating eye with my bow. (I learned the hard way not to attack them in melee combat; they freeze you and some other enemy always appears.) I ate it and got the "Telepathy" intrinsic. On the same level, I found Adjama's General Store, which sold a blindfold (among some other useful things). I spent some time dropping loot in his store and buying what he had.
Killing a floating eye--safely.
Level 4 had two ways down again, and the first again brought me to the Gnomish Mines. I killed gnomes and dwarves and soon found myself awash in boots, helms, cloaks, shields, and weapons. It drives me crazy that it's such an effort to identify it all. On Level 8 of the mines, I found the same town setup that Aamanz had found, including a chaotic altar, and I spent an absurd amount of time dragging stuff to the altar, checking its blessed/cursed status (cursed items flash black) before trying it on. I eventually ended up with some +2 hard shoes and a +2 cloak, giving me a fairly low armor class (-5) for this early. One of the dwarves also had a pick, which I consider necessary for my ascension kit. Unfortunately, eating a poisonous spider (I was trying to get the "Poison Resistance" intrinsic) cost me 3 points of strength.
My biggest liability in NetHack is the inability to wait before trying things out. When I have several unidentified scrolls and potions, I can't help but find a safe space and try them out, hoping for the best. For that reason, I lost a bunch of my potions when I read a Scroll of Fire. I also spent most of Level 7 hovering above the ground, unable to reach anything, because one of the potions I tried was a Potion of Levitation.
Enemies spawn often enough on the town level that I suspect you could stay here effectively forever, especially since there's a food shop. 
The Gnome Mines ended at Level 13. I killed innumerable gnomes, gnome lords, gnome mages, dwarves, dwarf lords, and even a gnome king. I loved getting a bunch of them in a long hallway where they kept killing each other with their own missile weapons. I left so much potentially-valuable stuff on the dungeon floor that it physically hurt. My auto-searching identified a gazillion traps.
Look at all the traps on this level.
When I emerged from the Gnomish Mines, I was Level 9. My strength, wisdom, and constitution had gone up a few times. I had a +2 Ring of Protection, an unidentified (but not cursed) amulet, two Wands of Magic Missile, a Wand of Polymorph, a Wand of Teleport Monster, a pick-axe, a blindfold, a credit card (for unlocking doors), and a Scroll of Enchant Weapon that I couldn't decide whether to use on my current weapon or wait until I had a better one. I had also found two spell books: "Magic Missile" and "Knock." It wasn't a bad haul, but it could have been better. I never found anything good to sacrifice on the altar for a chance at an artifact. I thought about hanging around the town until something spawned but ultimately decided to move forward. 
I returned to the level where the staircases split and went down to "real" Level 5. There, I found something I don't remember from a previous NetHack. A large, rectangular room had a number of centaur statues, which at first I attributed to Medusa. But then I entered the smaller building in the center of the room, where I was greeted by the Oracle of Delphi. You can buy "consultations" from her. I didn't have enough money when I first visited, but later I returned and paid her 50 gold. It appears she just gives hints from the standard pool, which also includes fortune cookie hints and hints you find engraved on the floor. Still, it marginally increases the utility of the economy.
That's disturbing in a lot of ways.
I went around drinking from her fountains, hoping to get a wish again. I didn't, and in fact I nearly died to a bunch of water moccasins that spawned, but one of the fountains did show me my intrinsics. I gained "Sleep Resistant" and "Poison Resistant" from something I ate. The poison resistance came just in time, as I ran into a nest of killer bees on the same level.
On Level 6, I found another new feature in this version: a throne room full of bugbears and gnomes. I'm not sure who the "king" was, but I killed them all. Then I sat on the throne and the game said I "felt better" and restored my health. I got up and sat down again, and it said that I felt "out of place." A third time, and I got a wish! Damn, this version is almost too easy. In moments, I had my Grey Dragon Scale Mail again and the -11 AC that came with it.
Is it just me, or is this version generous with wishes?
The throne was still there, so I tried sitting again. I got teleported to another room. I returned and tried again, and a voice yelled, "A curse upon you for sitting on this most holy throne!" and I was blinded for a couple hundred rounds. Still worth it. When I'm blind, I can see monsters elsewhere in the dungeon (due to telepathy), and I saw a bunch of hill orcs and uruk-hai spawn in one of the rooms and slowly head towards my room. I shot arrows down the corridor as they approached. After I killed them all, I took some of their stuff back to the altar, checked it for curses, and ended up with a couple more +2 items, bringing my AC to -14.

Level 8 was pivotal in a few ways:
  • A magic fountain increased my strength by 1.
  • I found another store where I spent a bunch of time, killed a couple of mimics, and bought a "Remove Curse" spellbook.
  • I killed a gray unicorn and got its horn, an important healing item.

Before I killed the unicorn, I used the "identify" command to look at it and make sure it wasn't black (I remember from the previous version that killing unicorns of your own alignment is bad luck). This reminded me of the extensive monster identification system that NetHack uses. You get a full paragraph about each creature and its strengths and weaknesses. 
This is awesome, but . . . "France"?
I was in no particular hurry to leave this area of the dungeon, but I had two Scrolls of Teleportation by now, so I decided I'd explore until I encountered something hard, then spend time on the upper levels building my kit. But with my high AC and my magic-resistant armor, nothing really challenged me. I killed owlbears, apes, soldiers (one of whom had an elven cloak, which increased my AC to -15, which a subsequent Scroll of Enchant Armor increased to -17), rope golems, dwarf lords, ettin mummies, rothes, xans, spotted jellies, jackals, giant spiders, hobbits, gelatinous cubes, gnome kings, and other assorted monsters without losing more than 15% of my maximum hit points except when I kicked open a booby-trapped door.
As I arrived on Level 11, I got a telepathic message from someone named Earendil that my "help is urgently needed at the great Circle of Earendil!" I have no idea who Earendil is or why he has his own circle. The message went on to say that I should "look for a [something] transporter." Shortly after, I was attacked by a flesh golem, killed it, ate it, and got (I think) the "Fire Resistant" intrinsic.
That's what this means, right?
I soon came to a room with a # symbol on the floor. As I walked across it, the game said that I activated a portal. "You arrive in familiar surroundings. In the distance, you see the great stone Circle, the place of worship to Erevan Ilsere. Something is wrong, though. Surrounding the circle are orcs! And they've noticed you!"
Somehow, I missed that text screen, but I captured this one.
Let me pause to ask: why isn't there more of this in roguelikes? I would love it if there were a little text introduction to every level, or at least the special ones. Maybe even for some rooms. Why are there not more multi-line encounters instead of just quick lines of text on the tops and bottoms of the screens? Has anyone ever created a hybrid between a roguelike and a text adventure? I'd eat that up.
I was on a special, almost completely open map titled "Home 1." It had a circular structure in the center with a bunch of NPCs wandering around. Orcs, goblins, and uruk-hai came swarming at me, but even without the ability to funnel them into a single line, I was able to withstand them just fine. When I reached the center, the NPC in the middle of the circle (Earendil?) said that I was "too inexperienced to withstand the demands" of their quest, and that I should return when I reached "Arandur" level. I was automatically teleported back to Level 11 of the dungeon.
I love when enemies kill each other while trying to get to me.
By Level 12, I was using the familiar strategy of arriving on a level, immediately putting on my blindfold, and identifying any monsters I didn't recognize. I got a point of strength from a fire giant corpse on the same level. I had two pressing problems by this point. First was a lack of ability to identify things. I had three unidentified rings, an unidentified amulet, four unidentified potions, and several unidentified weapons. I had found three scrolls of Enchant Weapon--one of them blessed--but I didn't want to use them until I had a "forever weapon" or at least one that I respected more than my +1 short sword.
Playing it safe with my blindfold and ESP.
Second, I had no light source, and more and more of the dungeon rooms were dark. I thought about pressing forward until I found one, but I decided to play it safe and retreat up to the Gnomish Mines, where there was a shop selling nothing but light sources. I figured I might meet enough random encounters on the way back that I'd reach the level necessary to take the quest. I did end up gaining one more level, but it didn't raise me to "Arandur."
I made it back to the Gnomish Mine town. There was a hill orc roaming around when I got there, so I decided to try sacrificing him on the altar to my god. I got a message about a four-leaf clover, which I assume means that I gained luck, but alas did not get an artifact weapon. Unfortunately, the guy selling light sources had nothing but candles, which don't last very long. I bought everything he had; one of them turned out to be cursed.
Can't do this in any other RPG.
My other problem was solved on the way back up. I stopped into the store on Level 4 just to make sure I hadn't missed anything. I had. The shopkeeper had a chest for sale, and I hadn't bothered to open it to see what was inside. It turned out that he had a Scroll of Identification. I agonized over what to identify with it. Yes, I know that I can find or create a blank scroll, find a marker, and duplicate the scroll, but I hadn't found any markers, and I was desperate. I decided to prioritize the rings. But when I read the scroll, it turned out it was blessed, and it identified everything I had that I hadn't already identified. My rings turned out to be Regeneration, Fire Resistance, and Teleport Control. I put on Regeneration for now, but Teleport Control is going to come in handy later.
I wish I knew what kind of ring I had before I said "no" to this message.
Heading back down, a hill giant corpse got me some more strength, and I got a second horn from another gray unicorn, but I soon hit a wall: I couldn't find an exit from Level 13 of the dungeon. I searched and tunneled everywhere, including into a vault where I looted the gold and killed a guard that showed up. Nothing. 

My guess is that I have to solve the quest first, which means killing more monsters. I returned to "Home 1" because it seemed that orcs were continually regenerating there. This session had treated me pretty well, with my character hardly ever in danger, so it was time for a classic blunder. While messing around on the level, I accidentally bumbled into a water square. No, I didn't drown, thankfully (though I nearly had a heart attack in real life), but when I pulled myself out of the square, all my weapons and armor (save my scale mail) were "very rusted," all of my potions had been turned to water, and all of my scrolls had been blanked. I guess it could have been worse.
My somewhat unfortunate inventory at the end of this session.
I'll keep fighting monsters and hope to deal with this special quest next time. As usual, I'm amazed when I think of all the stuff that they managed to pack into NetHack that still hasn't shown up in the typical commercial RPG of the period, including complex item interactions, monsters able to pick up and use equipment, monsters damaging other monsters, and, well, falling into the water and ruining half your stuff. It really goes to show what developers can accomplish when they're not so obsessed with graphics.
Time so far: 11 hours

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Shadow of Yserbius: Party of One

First-round death came back with a vengeance during this session.
I began this session by mapping The Mines, accessible from the north exit from the Dungeon Entrance. I had already fully explored the level and had found Cleowyn's Key and Cleowyn's Lockpick, but I wanted to annotate a few things for later follow-up. Some notes on the level:
  • There are five NPCs. They mostly tell you about King Cleowyn: He was the King of Thieves; he had a special lockpick; he put all his money in a treasury; his palace, which makes up the upper levels of the dungeon, is full of traps. 
  • I found my first secret door in the southwest corner. It was pretty easy to find because when you stand and face it, the game says, "You see a blank wall." It doesn't say that when you face a regular blank wall. I searched with my "Detect" skill and found the door. On the other side was another door with another message (like the one in the entry hall) that you have to be Level 20 to pass.
Guess it's not blank after all.
  • Along similar lines, some squares in a northern room say, "The room is bare." But searching these squares doesn't produce anything.
  • The middle squares of the level have a large pit. When I tried to walk forward into the pit, a "kindly spirit" saved me, warning me to "stay away from danger" until I'm stronger. I don't know if that means you can just fall down the pit at a higher level.
"Until you are smarter" would have been funnier.
An eastern exit from the Mines leads to the Vestibule. A southern exit from the Vestibule leads to the Hall of Doors, which goes back to the Dungeon Entrance. But the coordinates are all out of whack by the time you loop around. The game doesn't maintain positional accuracy between its areas. I thus split them all apart for the purposes of further mapping.
The Vestibule consists of five concentric squares and four small rooms in the center square. There are multiple doors from each outer square to each inner square. Each door you open causes some other doors to lock tight, so that the first door you open ultimately determines which of the rooms in the center square you're able to access. Furthermore, some of the doors can only be unlocked with Cleowyn's Key. There are some runic messages that clue you into all of this if you have the "Read Runes" skill or the Rune Prism.
I need a slightly higher skill.
I haven't quite figured out the puzzle. It generally seems to operate under the principle that whatever door you use from an outer ring, you have to use the opposite door on the next inner ring. So if I go east through the door in the first ring, I have to circle around and go west through the door on the second. The problem is that the third ring has no door on the south end (that you enter by going north). Instead, it has two that you enter by going west. Because of this, I can't figure out how to open the northern door (that I would have to enter by going south) in the inner group of rooms. In any event, one room that I can enter has stairs leading down to a lower level, but I haven't explored that yet.

A map helps explain it better. If I want to open Door 15 to get to the stairway to the Palace Corridor, I have to go in sequence: Door 4, Door 6, Door 12, Door 15. Similarly, opening Door 16 means going in order: 1-7-9-16. I can't figure out how to open Door 13 and I'm not sure how I ever opened Door 14.
A pick that I found somewhere opened the locked doors in the Soldier's Quarters. These open doors led me to another area of the Basement as well as a Level 3 Prison. I explored the new area of the basement for a while and found a stairway to the Great Corridor on Level 3. I got part of this level explored, but a one-way door kept me from backtracking to map all of it.
There were exits to the Mausoleum and the Rune Room, plus a door guarded by a knight. "I am pledged to guard King Cleowyn's Apartments for eternity," he said. "Of course, if you had the King's Pass, I could let you through. Seek the Pass where Ranger and Troll are blessed." While wandering the Great Corridor, I stepped into a square that said, "Blessed Human or Thief, you may continue the quest," so perhaps there's a similar area that blesses trolls and rangers.
Another NPC warned me not to attack him, as if there's even any mechanism for that.
I spent a little time in the Mausoleum. There were four NPCs in the entry chamber. One, a gremlin cleric, gave me a long speech suggesting there's a puzzle in the Mausoleum that's going to involve a crown, robe, and scepter, and once I start, I don't want to leave because I'll lose the items I've already dropped. A few moments later, I got killed by some undead--my first death in a long time--so I guess I'll save the Mausoleum for when I at least have those items.
Advice not tailored to a single-character party.
I finished exploring the Treasury, which is just a half-map. I plotted the only viable path to the center chamber, where I found a dozen tough battles with enemies like ghosts, zombies, and bugbears, but no real treasure to speak of. I found a portal connecting the treasury to the Hall of Doors. I tried the king hobgoblin battle in the basement again but still died in the first round. 
I had at least four maps open at this point. I decided to focus on the only Level 2 map I hadn't explored: the Palace Corridor, accessible via the stairs from the Vestibule. Returning to this one is going to be a huge pain when I die. It was an odd map. More than half of it was inaccessible; a halfling ranger NPC warned me that there were three major secret areas on the level, and none could be accessed from the level.
Note the full Palace Corridor map shows three large "unused" areas.
The accessible part consisted of one spacious corridor heading south to the palace entrance plus a longer corridor that--wrapping east, south, and west--bypassed the main doors. The main doors were locked but opened with the Key to Cleowyn's Palace, which I believe I got in the Mines. The wraparound corridor only required a lockpick to enter. Either way, all roads led to a double-door in the southwest corner of the level, which took me to Cleowyn's Palace.
I don't know what the business with the "trap" is about. If I try to open the door without the key, it doesn't go off or anything.
An NPC had warned me that the souls of the "tortured dead" haunted the palace, and sure enough, I almost immediately died in battle to a multi-pack of banshees. I reloaded twice, marched 15 minutes back to the location, and died twice more under the same circumstances. Combats in the game had been easy--trivial, even--up to this point, so I was surprised at the difficulty.
Almost everywhere else, I've been able to get through most combats with "Shield" and either physical attacks alone or physical attacks with "Poison Cloud," which works particularly well on the ghosts I found on the same level as the banshees. There are other strategies to try, but not when I die in the first round before I can do anything at all.
I probably need to experiment with more spells.
I went back to the northeast corner of the Palace Corridor, where I'd found a stairway to the Rune Room, also accessible from the Great Corridor. I started exploring the new level, but it wasn't long before I found a human barbarian NPC who warned me that if I didn't have the King's Ring, I wouldn't get very far on the level. Then I got petrified and killed by a cockatrice.
Adventuring sucks with no fellow party members to heal you.
A few other notes:
  • Enemies drop so many potions that my inventory is almost always full of them, despite healing and restoring mana at the end of almost every battle.
  • I found a suit of "Diamond Mail," but judging by the effects on statistics, it's worse than the generic Armor Suit I already had.
The Sword of the Crypt turned out not to be anything special, either.
  • Some enemies have dropped scrolls. They usually cast mass-damage spells on enemy stacks, useful for when you don't want to spend your own mana, I guess.
  • The game definitely doesn't follow Dungeons & Dragons' idea of a "bugbear."
I guess it's just a big toad.
  • When you pick the locks on doors or unlock them, you have to use them immediately. If you take even one other action, the door locks again.
I'm not quite at the point where I don't have any paths available without grinding, but I am at the point where all paths carry a decent chance of death, which at this point is quite debilitating because it takes so long to return from the entrance. I think maybe it's time to wrap up the game. The joy of mapping was temporary, and I haven't been enjoying much else about the game, particularly since character development has slowed to a crawl (I only gained one level since the last entry). It's clear that the game wasn't designed for a solo experience, and perhaps it's best to stop trying to force it.
Time so far: 13 hours

Saturday, February 24, 2024

BRIEF: The Mystical World of Paradigms! (1980)

You keep using that word . . .
The Mystical World of Paradigms!
United States
Independently developed
Released 1980 on the PLATO mainframe system at the University of Illinois
Rejected for: Insufficient character development, game may not be finished
This is another one that I learned about from El Explorador de RPG. It is deeply weird. When I auto-translated El Explorador's coverage and read the first few paragraphs, I thought the translator had gone wonky, as the terms it chose didn't seem to be quite right (e.g., "[the game] manages an entity whose race is changing as it evolves and must create creatures and give them life to form an army"). It turns out that the translator is fine and all the weirdness comes from the game's own instructions.
Nothing is perhaps more odd than the game's use of the word paradigm, which has been used various ways in different fields and historical contexts, but never quite the way the game uses it: "Your goal is to acquire enough skill (which will be shown as movement points) and to create enough armies to evolve into a PARADIGM and become IMMORTAL." Probably one of the authors saw the word and thought that it sounded cool. I went through the same fascination with odyssey when I was in sixth grade, somehow getting the idea that it had a linguistic connection to awesome. 2001: A Space Odyssey was about something awesome happening in space. I was disappointed when someone told me that it just meant "journey." 
This one introduction screen has nonstandard uses of paradigm, entity, mind, and movement.
The authors are given as Kevin Dunn, Tim McMahon, and Joe Stanton. There are two versions of the game on PLATO, an original from 1980 ("oparadigm") and an update from 2013 ("paradigm"). I can't get anywhere with the original. Every time I create a character, I'm just dropped on a screen that shows nothing and repeatedly says "you are not allowed past the energy field." This refers to the border around the world, and the instructions say that if you hit it, you'll be dumped into the River Styx. I don't know why the game insists on starting the character right up against it, but it happened with four characters in a row. None of the options at the bottom of the screen work. 
What happens every time I start the original game.
The remake drops me into a world of various landscapes, including grasslands, forests, rivers, mountains, and mudlands. You see the world from a side-view perspective that I've never seen in a PLATO game before, with the image showing the terrain in the direction you're facing, sort of a primitive version of the "landscaping" used in Lords of Midnight (1984). The movement system draws from the previous PLATO games Think and Swords and Sorcery (1978), which in turn draw from Mike Mayfield's Star Trek (1971). You specify a movement speed and keep moving at that speed in your chosen direction until you run into an obstacle.
Paradigms wants you to build an army of "deadly yits" and "demon riders" and evolve them through several stages of existence. Your primary resource is "movement points" (MPs), which despite their name is an all-purpose statistic representing character health, strength, skill, and currency. You gain movement points through positive encounters with NPCs (and perhaps other players?) and by overcoming monsters, although you can also lose MPs from combat if it goes poorly. The game apparently has an inventory, as one early encounter with "Phssthpok, an Alien" offered me a "Lazer Gun," but neither the manual nor the interface says anything about it. The only interface options are movement and speed (including an option to T)eleport to a random part of the map for 10 MPs), plus whatever the game gives you on the screen during an encounter.
This is the only main game screenshot I got before it crashed.
The encounters come at regular intervals whether you move or not, and between positive encounters and battles, my MPs hardly went anywhere. You need to find something called the Building of Evolution and spend 200 MPs to create a deadly yit or 400 MPs to create a demon rider. Even then, apparently all you've created is a dead body. You have to take them to the Building of Life and spend more MPs to bring them to life.
Meanwhile, your character is meant to evolve through several stages, from gnome (the starting race) through human, giant, elf, and sorcerer before you finally become a phantom. I imagine a lot of Dungeons & Dragons players would object to that hierarchy.
After a few minutes of play, the game crashed with a "gameloop" error message that recurs every time I try to get back into it. I assume I brought it down for everyone. Unfortunately, that happened before I got many screenshots.
For all I know, with this game, this is the winning screen.
I am thus forced to conclude, like El Explorador, that the game is unfinished. Even if it were playable, I'm not sure I'd call it an RPG. It seems more like a  "campaigner" (see the glossary), and in the past I've rejected games with a single improvable variable as RPGs.

Thursday, February 22, 2024

NetHack [3.1]: Blessed and Cursed

Random increases in attributes for no discernible reason were characteristic of this oddly "blessed" session--at least for a while.
Aamanz the Caveman didn't get very far. I overestimated the strength of the caveman's stomach, and he died of poison after eating a rotting kobold corpse. But I did pretty well with the next character, Aanzim the Archaeologist (god: Quetzalcoatl). The archaeologist is modeled on Indiana Jones, starting each life with a bullwhip, leather jacket and fedora. But he also has some useful tools, including a pick-axe, which chops through walls and obstacles, and a tinning kit, which lets you turn corpses into stored food for (usually safe) consumption later.
On Level 1, I noticed two features that I don't remember from previous NetHack versions:
  • The game occasionally gives you messages that "you feel strong!" or "you feel wise!" and raises your attributes accordingly. I'm not sure what actions prompt these messages, but I think I got stronger from kicking down a door.
  • You occasionally run into hints scribbled on the floor, sometimes with missing letters. The first time, I got: "They say a floatin? eye can defeat M?dusa." I think it refers to the ability to see monsters but not to become petrified while blindfolded with the "Telepathy" intrinsic, which you get from eating a floating eye. Later, I got (without the missing letters): "They say that a xorn knows of no obstacles when pursuing you," referring to the ability of the creature to tunnel through stone.
I assume they get harder to interpret as you move downward.
On Level 2, I found a fountain and drank from it. It spawned a demon, who offered me a wish. That was quite a bit of fortune. I spent a long time thinking about the wish. I nearly wished for a Wand of Wishing, but I figured the game wouldn't allow the loophole. I looked at some of my entries from my previous wins and decided to try a "blessed +2 Silver Dragon Scale Mail." The game said it didn't know what I was talking about. I tried again with gray dragon scale mail and it worked. So I have a high-AC item that resists magic. That should help a lot in the early levels. I'm sure many of you will have opinions about better items to wish for this early in the game, and I look forward to hearing them.
I don't know if this would have worked, but I deleted it before it was too late.
Level 2 also had a "delicatessen" offering piles and piles of food. I didn't buy any yet, as I was "satiated" and still had a few rations and tinned items, but it's nice to know it's there. I probably won't starve to death in the first 10 levels.
On Level 3, I managed to eat a floating eye and gain telepathy. I also got a random point of strength and constitution. More importantly, I found my first level in this version with two staircases going down. I took the first, and it led me to the first level of the Gnomish Mines. I confess I didn't expect the gnomes to be hostile, but they were. Although they're pretty easy, a rope golem nearly killed me (I couldn't get away because there was an NPC on the other side of me), and I had to pray to Quetzalcoatl to get my health back after it got too low. 
Arriving in the Gnomish Mines for the first time.
On Level 6, I found a bunch of stores: Luds' Lightning Store, Sarangan's Delicatessen, Budereyri's General Store, and Nosnehpets' Hardware Store. The level was patrolled by non-hostile guards. I don't know if they're gnomes. They got upset when I drank from the fountains or tried to get into locked doors, so I didn't agitate them. 
A couple of awesome things happened on the level. First, enemies--including well-equipped gnome wizards and uruk-hai--kept spawning, so I kept killing them, taking their equipment to the general store, and getting paid. Eventually, I had enough to buy almost everything in the general store. I took a chance on a wand, and it turned out to be--I kid you not--a Wand of Wishing. At this point, I made the rookie mistake of not immediately wishing for a Scroll of Recharging and instead went with my second option from earlier, +2 Speed Boots. But I still have the wand, so I'll hold onto it until I get a Scroll of Recharging.

Second, a room on the level had an altar. When I entered the room, the game said that I felt at peace, so I guess it was probably lawful. I then sacrificed a gnome wizard on it, and my "pleased" god gave me a samurai sword named Snickersee, which I assume is better than my whip.
Nothing about what happens next is, alas, "wise."
Miscellaneous notes:
  • I've met a few friendly creatures. You can talk to them, but they just give one line canned responses. Hobbits always "ask about the One Ring." Dwarves always "talk about mining."
If you don't know, it's already too late.
  • I'm on the road this week and I forgot to bring my external numberpad. I had to play all my sessions with the on-screen keyboard to move diagonally. (There's a way to change the settings to allow diagonal movement with regular keys, but it's a weird cluster and I didn't want to screw up my muscle memory that way.)
Sigh. Go ahead. I'm ready. Explain why that cluster makes perfect sense somehow.
  • Enemies do indeed pick things up and use them against you in this version. They can also suffer effects from using cursed items.
Should've identified it first!
  • At one point, I killed an orc inside a store, and when I went to claim his stuff, the store owner told me I'd have to buy it. I guess that makes a certain amount of sense.
I was feeling pretty good about Aanzim's prospects, but it was time to head down for another conference session. I left the game running on my laptop in my hotel room. I had failed to note that the power cord had come loose from the transformer. I returned three hours later to find my computer had died, taking my DOSBox session and my character with it.
I'm going to need to take a few days.
Time so far: 5 hours

Monday, February 19, 2024

The Shadow of Yserbius: And Maps Have Made All the Difference

Thanks. I'll keep that in mind when I play a completely different game.
At some point in the last five hours, it became clear that continuing with this game was a somewhat ridiculous idea, but I continued anyway. I kept making loops through the various levels of Yserbius, getting as far as I could, dying frequently, respawning outside the mountain, leveling up, and buying inventory upgrades when I could afford them. There is a certain pleasure in getting killed repeatedly by certain enemies, improving, and watching your odds against them even out and then tilt in your favor. I suppose that's the only thing that kept me going.
I started writing up my experiences for this entry, toying with the idea of ending it here, when I got confused about where I had encountered certain NPCs and how certain dungeon levels connected to others. I started making my own maps and, as I should have come to expect by now, my experience with the game completely changed. Manually mapping changes everything. It becomes a goal in itself. It relieves the experience of somewhat boring dungeon slogs by frequently diverting you to a parallel activity. It makes you feel like you're making progress even when nothing particularly interesting is happening in the game. And it helps to keep better track of puzzles and problems. As I mapped, it occurred to me that the experience of mapping a tiled game is one that I should cherish, as the number of games that allow it (let alone require it) is swiftly diminishing.
Making maps gave my gaming a shot in the arm.
Combat got easier with my character leveling, with my equipment upgrades, and as I experimented with spells. In any battle that poses any danger, I typically cast "Shield" during the first round, reducing the damage I take from physical attacks. After that, I've learned that "Poison Cloud" does a great job softening up stacks of enemies. It only does modest damage per round, but if I can survive four or five rounds, the cloud will often wipe out half a dozen enemies at once. My physical attacks, which originally killed maybe one enemy per round, started to rack up a lot more critical hits. One thing I like about this game is that if you swing at a stack of enemies and you kill one, any excess damage is transferred to the next enemy. Some critical hits let me slay an entire stack at one time.
I win the battle after my "Poison Cloud" takes care of 4 troll rangers at once.
Keeping enough spell points to support a long expedition would be a problem if I didn't find mana potions everywhere. I typically start each expedition with my inventory full of mana potions, purchased in the shop. Each potion has half a dozen doses. After each combat, I fully heal, then chug enough of a potion to get my mana back up to maximum. Even with so much use, I often leave potions lying in the rubble because my inventory is full.
Incidentally, inventory might become a real problem at some point. By the end of this session, I had acquired two unique lockpicks and two unique keys. That's 40% of my inventory space right there. I assume they won't be the last picks and keys I encounter. I don't know when it will be safe to get rid of them. 

Some miscellaneous notes on exploration and character development:
  • I don't know if the game has secret doors. I haven't found one so far.  
  • I'm not sure what the "Detect" skill is supposed to do. It hasn't worked in any place that I've employed it.
I try "Detect" at every dead end, but nothing ever happens.
  • Levels are interconnected with teleporters, which look like doors.
  • Aside from keyed doors, teleporters, and trap doors, there have been no navigational obstacles so far--no traps, spinners, hidden doors, puzzle doors, levers, plates, dark squares, and so forth.
  • There's a "Leadership" skill that supposedly "increases strength, defense, and initiative of all party members." I hope that includes the one who possesses it, too, or I've been wasting points in it.
  • I have a high "Fencing" skill. Because of that, when I equip a sword, the game says, "Fencing skill will be helpful!" It does not say this when I equip a katana, supposedly the best sword, so I guess a katana isn't drawing from that skill.
As so.
  • While exploring, I found a Sword of Ice. I got excited, thinking that it was a magic sword that I could use, but the game said that it wasn't allowed by my guild. Later, though, when I found a Sword of the Flames, I was able to equip it with no problem. 
  • I started to find medallions. I'm currently equipping a "Carnivorous Medallion." I have no idea what it does.
  • The game decided that my maximum agility is 8. It won't let me increase it beyond that when I level up.

The Dungeon Entrance to Yserbius is 11 x 10. There are no encounters in its squares. Doors lead south to the Soldiers' Quarters, east to the Hall of Doors, and north to the Mines. The only thing of interest on the level is a locked door in the northwest corner. "Only heroes of the twentieth level or higher may venture beyond this door," a message says. I still have seven levels to go.
He's such a cuddly-looking cave bear.
For no other reason than that it's right from the entrance and I tend to follow the right wall, I spent most of the initial hours exploring the Soldiers' Quarters. An early NPC, a human barbarian, questions why it's called that, as there don't seem to be any quarters or soldiers. A gremlin wizard offers some backstory, indicating that Yserbius is on an island, and its population is cut off from the rest of the world since the volcano makes the seas too rough for ships to approach. Other NPCs on the level say that I can acquire skills in the dungeon, and another says there are polar bears and ice lions deeper in the dungeon. A final one, a troll knight, tells me of a maze under Cleowyn's Palace that only thieves seem to be able to get through.

Random enemies, it turns out, do not scale with the strength of the character. I kept meeting individual wolves, goblins, spiders, imps, and other denizens well beyond my ability to just swat them away. As I reported last time, fixed encounters are a lot harder, but by Level 8, I was handling them with ease. Both the Soldiers' Quarters and the Maze have a fetish for combinations of halfling clerics and troll rangers, the former dangerous for their spells and the latter for their ability to paralyze. "Shield" stops them from doing much damage and "Poison Cloud" kills them both within a few rounds.
Chester reaches an unlucky level.
So far, I haven't solved a few mysteries and puzzles in the Soldiers' Quarters:
  • Four locked doors, two of which seem to go into the same room in the northeast. I've tried all four keys and picks that I found in the Mines.
Nothing opens this door.
  • A troll ranger NPC says: "Unless you have especially sharp eyes for traps, you should heed the sign at the end of the corridor. This bum leg of mine is proof of that sign's warning." The problem is, there's no sign at the end of the corridor, and I haven't encountered a single trap in the game so far.
  • At the end of one corridor, the game says, "You stumble upon an almost-empty nesting area." This sounds like text that would precede an encounter with some monster nesting there, but nothing happens.
The only exit from the Soldiers' Quarters was to the east, through a door marked "STAY OUT!" It led to the Treasury, Level 1, and specifically to an area so full of floor traps that I can barely move without falling down to the Basement beneath. The Basement, meanwhile, is hard to map fully because of a lot of one-way doors. I'm still in the process of mapping both. The basement has several NPCs, including an orc knight who says there's a "strange elfin race" deeper in the dungeon; a human barbarian who gives useless (for a single-player game) advice on party composition; a gnome thief who says there's more to the basement than meets the eye; and a human thief who says there's an area called the Wizard's Challenge on Level 3.
The Basement has a fountain that healed me once and then never again.
The Basement has the only location that I currently cannot pass because of a battle. In the southeast corner, in a 3 x 3 room, I meet a group of enemies that includes at least one king hobgoblin. He always goes before me, blasts through my defenses, and kills me in a single attack. The only luck I've had is to cast "Petrify" the first round on the king, but one of his allies just dispels it immediately.
The only battle I cannot get past so far.
East of the Dungeon Entrance is the Hall of Doors, which is only 16 x 8 unless a teleporter or secret door takes me to another half. Its NPCs mostly recap the backstory, except for a troll cleric who says that he saw a message on the floor that said if you want to reach the King's Apartments, you must "take a turn for the worse." He thinks it means that you have to get sick. There are two doors in the Hall of Doors that I cannot open and a northern exit to The Vestibule, which I've only begun to explore.
The north exit from the Dungeon Entrance goes to The Mines. I've almost completely explored its first level, but I haven't mapped it. I found two keys and a lockpick on the level, all of which were instrumental on some of the doors. An eastern exit leads to the Vestibule. I want to go through the Mines again and see if the lockpicks and keys reappear if you discard them, so I'll know if I can get them back if I discard them too early to save inventory space.
A lot of the NPC dialogue in The Mines has to do with locks and lockpicks.
Just as I was closing this entry, I found another lockpick in the Treasury. Lockpicks are differentiated by color; I've found green and red in addition to Cleowyn's Lockpick. I also just realized that I can manually put stuff in my "Quest Items" pouch, leaving more free spaces in my backpack. I assume that in a multi-player game, quest items are shared among all characters. 
I don't know what to do with all the money I've been accumulating. I've bought every equipment upgrade. I'll have to try some of the expensive scrolls and see if they're worth it. 
The 40,000-gold piece "helmet" was the last thing I bought worth saving for.
I'm inclined to continue with this single-character experience for at least a little while longer. It's a competent enough dungeon crawler, not terribly far from Wizardry or The Bard's Tale in quality, except for the baffling decision not to allow the single player to create a full party.
Time so far: 9 hours