Currently playing: The incredible adventures of Van Helsing, Ravenloft: Strahd´s Possession

December 26, 2013

Black Crypt - Revisited

If there is one dungeon crawler that has stuck into my memory from the Amiga golden ages, it is a game called Black Crypt. It was developed by Raven Software. A pure Amiga only company and this was their first game. The benefit of developing for the Amiga first made it possible to really use the hardware capabilities of the machine. And it shows in this game. It uses the Amigas Extra-Half-Brite (EHB) mode that allows 64 colors simultaneously on the screen at once. 32 unique colors and 32 colors half the brightness of the first. The game had splendid graphics, was fast and full of special effects. It is a true Dungeon Master clone just like Crystal Dragon was but this is game is technically superior.

These are the guys behind the game
I played through the whole game in 1992 during a few weeks or months when it was released but have no detailed memories at all from the game. Actually I don´t know how I did complete the game at all until I for my revisit here saw the manual for the game and sees that it contains all the maps with locations of items and buttons properly displayed. 

 I love the listing of features that a game of that time had. Black Crypt boasts of:
  • Unique monsters ambush, roam, hunt and hide
  • 64 colour extra-half-brite graphics
  • 12 dungeons, 20 levels including special underwater level
  • Over 50 fully animated spells and effects
  • Digitized sound effects and musical score

I have found the game with a setup that uses a harddrive in WinUae so the loading times of the game will be very quick. I have no intention of completing this huge game. This is only a short dive down to one of the finest dungeon crawlers from the Amiga time. The background is so cliché: 

Estoroth Paingiver, a powerful cleric was banished from your country of Astera for unspeakable acts. One year later he returned with an army of demons and other undead creatures to beat Astera into submission. This time, four guilds united and four men managed to banish Estoroth to another dimension.But now it seems to be slowly opening so four new champions must venture down and retrieve four magical weapons and seal him away forever.

I clearly remember the title screens music for the game. If it´s one thing that doesn´t grow old so fast when revisiting Amiga games, it is the good quality sound. 

You start the game with four adventurers and your only options is to allocate attribute points to them. You are stuck with four separate classes. Warrior, Priest, Druid and Mage. You can select their portrait but that is about all. The attributes are strength, wisdom,  intelligence, dexterity and constitution. Even though the manual is easy to read it says nothing about how these attributes affects the gameplay. That´s unfortunate but nothing to do about.

You start the game in the first dungeon. It takes a while to get used to the controls and interface. I had to remap the keys in WinUae to be able to play on the keyboard in a convenient way. The game uses some - in my view - illogical way to attack and access a character sheet. I am yet not used to it. You have three bars. Hitpoints, water and food and the last two gradually degrades pretty quickly over time and especially so when you are resting to regain hitpoint or memorize spells. 

The first two levels is actually pretty hard. Not because of tough combats but because of food draining and quite a number of buttons to find, effects to look for, secret doors to discover etc. All this takes time and you can easily run out of food before you have solved it and then you will be dead. You are totally dependant on your wizards spell "Wizards eye" that gives you an automap but it does not update automatically when things changes on the map like in Crystal Dragon. If you press a button and hear a grinding or sliding noise, you have no idea where this action might have taken place in the whole level. If you are lucky it is very near but otherwise you have to revisit the whole level in search of something different. 

Either remove them with a spell or endure the pain to cross them
Raising in levels occurs suddenly when you´ve got enough XP from fights. Your hitpoints is increased by a random number that could vary quite a lot. I haven´t seen the attributes being affected yet. Spells are not gained by level but by aquiring spellbooks. Certain spells will be more powerful the higher level you have though.

Anyway, the goal in the start will be clear pretty quick. Just down below at level 2, easily within reach of where you start you will come across a huge two headed ogre. He is impossible to kill but some scrolls I found indicate that he could be defeated using the ogreblade. On the other hand, a scroll warned me of using the ogreblade as it would slowly drain my life force away. In order to get past the Ogre I had to look for the ogresword. It took me quite some time amongst teleporters and magical walls. The last ones had to be dispelled by finding a dispel scroll. You also have to travel up and down between the first and second level in order to finally get the ogresword. When you have killed the ogre a previously closed door will allow you access to an area filled with items and stairs leading down to level 3.

These flying....suckers?..are your main foe on this level
They could paralyze the party and then they suck your life
After getting down to level 3 I read some scrolls that told me of unseen enemies and that the only way to avoid being attacked was to empty all hands of weapons. Another scroll also said not to tackle the unseen enemies until I had found an item that makes them visible. I opted to search for that item first which quickly led me down to level 4.

This level is pretty hard. There are green roofstalkers that takes a lot of hits to kill but that poisons you on attack. Since I don´t have any cure poision spell yet and scrolls are hard to come by this required almost ten reloads before I was satisfied. At the same time you are attacked by a quickly appearing grey gremlin thief that stoles an item from your hands and the dissappears. He is very hard to kill and if you are unlucky he grabs your best weapon.

Fortunately when he is eventually killed he drops all stolen weapons. But he is not alone on this level. They do appear here and there and you cannot chase them because they decide when they will appear and disappear (usually after one hit).

Tricky roofstalkers that poisons you
The level also consists of several locked doors that had to be opened in a certain order by small puzzles for each one like pulling a lever that opens up a passage with pressure plates and a locked door that eventually gets you another key and so on.

Can you spot this small button ?
I got stuck a few times and had to check the maps in the manual. I hate that but I had no choice. If this will be repeating itself too often I will rather quit playing than having to cheat but I suppose there was a reason to include them in the manual at first.

Everything runs smooth and the graphics is clean and well done. Monster look great and even though there are no music at all during gameplay there are some pretty good sound effects. You do notice that there are more colors than usual in an Amiga game.

The automap is excellent, although I would have preferred more details such as indicating where you have found buttons or levers. Now I must remember those places manually and since there are quite a lot it is easily forgotten. My tactics in games like these are always NOT to press them when I first found them. Only when I have mapped the whole level and got stuck. In that way I will more easily discover where any changes takes place.

Easily spotted if you look straight at it but not if you pass it from the side
I have already found quite a lot of items which has given me better melee weapons and armours. I have also found a crown of detection which is said to detect traps and a ring of location that automatically casts wizards eye i.e. giving me the automap for free. But it seems that effect is not permanent since after resting it never came back.

You can see the damage dealt from each weapon in combat so after some fights I hope I will be able to determine which weapon are the better one. I have just found the hopeblade and replaced the ogreblade with it, in case the ogreblade actually carries some sort of slow life draining ability. Combat is executed exactly as expected with stepping (dancing) around your enemies to make swings or take a step forward-swing-backward and let the enemy come to you. They don´t seem to travel past door gates yet so that is a barrier you could use to your advantage.

Water is just as important as food
I have just reached a place at level four where it seems I have to leave four different bags with water filled from different fountains. Since I have found only a few I suppose I have to travel back to level 1 to use the fountains up there and then get down. At least now I have got the create food spell which will make it much harder to starve. I am still dependent on water though.

The game have many different spells but I am not yet comfortable with how they are memorized. I have no idea when the time has passed so that I could cast the spell a second time. I do like that I don´t have to mix any runes like in DM or learn cryptic names like in Dark hearts of Uukrul or the Bard´s Tale series. It also took me a few hours to get used to clicking on the portraits in order to attack and right clicking on the weapons to access the inventory (it should have been just the opposite).

Update 2013-12-28

I have completed level four and returned to level three and prepared myself to take on the invisible creatures since I have got the mask of truesight. After having killed the first creature that turned visible it seems my characters cannot hit at all those creatures anymore. My hitchance seems to have dropped to a few percent at best. With those odds it is impossible for me to continue. I believe something is wrong. Therefore I have decided to not continue for now.

December 21, 2013

There will be no Deathfire: Ruins of Nethermore

It is with heavy heart I can tell you that G3 Studios have cancelled the CRPG Deathfire: Ruins of Nethermore. Even though the requested amount of $50.000 was almost reached the low stream of new backers have not been enough to be sure of a successful completion of the whole project. Instead of taking that risk and also risk a good reputation, G3 Studios now cancel everything and I have already got my money back.

Dire news indeed. Because what signals do that send to other developers that also want to revive a dead genre today ?

December 18, 2013

Harddrive failure and one way to recover from it

This is probably my first non game post on this blog. Regardless of what interests we cultivate on the web we are all dependent on working hardware.

I recently discovered that my storage disc (not system disc) with photos, videos, games etc had trouble showing itself in my windows explorer. Or if it was shown I had trouble accessing it because Everything froze or it soon disappeared from my Explorer window. A typical indication of a possible harddrive malfunction.
Something was obviously wrong and my latest backups was...*coughing*....8 months old so I ran the risk of loosing the most valuable things I have on my computer. And no, it is not my old CRPG savegames or games in general but the personal photos, videos, mails and documents.
This will surely happen to everyone sooner or later and I spent all my spare time the last week just to troubleshoot this issue. Here is what I did and what happened and finally how I solved it. Hopefully it will help someone out there with similar problems.
  1. My second SATA Harddrive showed signs of beginning to break down.
  2. I tried to use Windows 7 built in checkdisc on it to scan it for errors but it eventually froze the whole system.
  3. I downloaded some harddrive software to look for the harddrives built in S.M.A.R.T health status.Three values that where red so something was really wrong.
  4. Since I couldn´t fix any problems with checkdisk, I thought I would move the SATA controller from the harddrive to another port to see if it was any error with my motherboard sata controller. I restarted the computer and now I couldn´t boot into windows from my main system disc instead.
Now, this had turned into a MAJOR problem.
When booting the computer I just got a grub rescue prompt. The system disc was earlier used as a Linux disc Before I installed Windows 7 on it. My Windows 7 boot partition seemed to have disappeared.
I tried to use the windows 7 rescue mode by booting up from the dvd but it didn´t find my partition and therefore couldn´t repair it.
I choosed to go to the command prompt and tried to use commands like:
bootrec.exe /FixMbr
bootrec.exe /FixBoot
I restarted and now the grub rescue prompt was gone but replaced with "bootmgr missing" or "System disc not found". I don´t remember exactly.
What I did  to finally fix it was to use the Diskpart command and make the first partion the active one with following these instructions:

Use Diskpart command to make a Windows or Linux drive Active

How to make a partition Active using a Windows installation CD/DVD
  1. Bootup from full Windows 7 DVD/USB
  2. Select Repair your computer at the Install now screen.
    Click No if asked to Repair and Restart.
    Click Cancel if it looks for a Disk Image.
  3. Now in System Recovery Options,
    click the Command Prompt option.
    Press ENTER after you type in each of these commands which are not case-sensitive:
    • DISKPART     (to open the partition utility)
    • LIST DISK     (disk number(s) will be shown)
    • SELECT DISK n     (where n is the number of the disk - probably 0)
    • LIST PARTITION     (partition number(s) will be shown)
    • SELECT PARTITION n     (where n is the number of the Primary partition you wish to make Active)
    • ACTIVE     (the selected partition on the selected disk will be made Active)
    • EXIT     (to exit DiskPart)
    • EXIT     (to exit the Command Prompt)
  4. Restart computer.
This is what finally got my system OS disk back to its original state.
I was now able to try to find the error for my storage disc. I borrowed a third part harddrive adapter that plugs in any harddrive of 2.5/3.5 and connects it via USB Cable. From there it showed up in my device manager and I could access my harddrive, first to use checkdisc that repaired it and then to backup the drive. After the backup I checked the SMART status and all was green again. I now put it back into my computer but used another SATA channel and everything has worked fine since then.
All this trouble gave me a lot of headache though and I cannot understand why modern motherboards of today don´t include such small utility programs that could repair or fix partitions problems or damaged bootsectors etc. I am also disappointed that the repair utility in the windows 7 boot disc wasn´t able to fix my problem. I had to manually use diskpart. 
Ah, and by the way. I now let Backup Maker do my backups regularly once again :-)

December 11, 2013

Deathfire: Ruins of Nethermore plan B released!

Failing to reach the monetary goal in Kickstarter, the new RPG Deathfire: Ruins of Nethermore takes another approach. Instead of securing funding for the whole game at once, G3 Studios have decided to release the game in parts. The advantage of that is that they will require much less money to finish one part instead of all six at once. That makes it more realistic to get funding in steps. The different pledge levels are almost identical to what was seen at kickstarter.

The goal now is to reach $50.000 to secure funds to finish the first part of the game and they have already secured $34.000 of those. I will also make a pledge because I believe in the game and have trust in Guido Henkel and his team. No credit card will be charged if they don´t reach their targeted figure.

This is good news because I think this new approach could be more successful. 

December 4, 2013

Eschalon III release date set!

At last it is official. Basilisk games will release the third part of the Eschalon saga the
14th of February 2014. I have been waiting for this game a few years now. This is good news indeed. If you haven´t tried out the previous games I strongly suggest you do that if you like a single player RPG with turn-based combat and a range of skills and statistics to determine things instead of fast mouse clicking.


November 27, 2013

Deathfire: Ruins of Nethermore needs more support to be realised

The new roleplaying game Deathfire: Ruins of Nethermore is still on kickstarter and the campaign lasts until the 4th of december. To be realised it needs a lot more support to reach its targeting figures. The company has just released a new video detailing some aspects of the game and how they have thought about implementing certain game mechanics. I really recommend watching this video. Guido Henkel - the main person behind the project - has a long range of very good games in his credits, amongst them  Shadows over Riva that scored very high when I revisited it in 2011.

Personally I have just backed this project for $30 to receive the digital edition together with the games soundtrack.

November 20, 2013

Aethra Chronicles - Review

Game reviewed: Aethra Chronicles
Version: 1.0b
Created byMichael W. Lawrence
Released: 1994
Formats: Pc
Difficulty: 6/10
Est. Playing time: 15-20 hours

My interest in this game got colder for each new week passing this autumn. The last hours put into the game has only been to play it in order to finish it, not for its own enjoyment. The feeling of repetetive combat has drained me and even though I hate to leave games unfinished I must abide to the limited time I have available. The few hours I have for myself every week must be spent very carefully on something that gives me great pleasure all the time. 

Aethra of Chronicles is not a bad game. Not at all. And under other circumstance I would probably try to finish it. But I have left great games behind like Dark hearts of Uukrul and Swords and Sorcery Underworld so it would be unfair to them if I spent more hours into this game. I have played the game enough to give it a fair review to readers out there that wonders if this game is worth playing and that is enough for me. My goal of having revisited an old CRPG to present to todays readers have been fulfilled.

Gameworld & Story
The games background is shortly that your father has been blamed for the kidnapping of the new kings child. The reason is that your father and his ancestors has been the kings main paladin for generations and therefore are seen as partly responsible for the security breach. The only way to let your father out of prison is to find the truth about the kidnapping. You cannot save him unless you can find proof of his innocence. With two trusted friends you set out to follow the few clues you can about the kidnapping. Apparantly some rumour goes about a cult and a great evil that is beyond all this, but without proof you cannot do anything.  It shortly turns into a hunt for the book of prophecies that is said to contain valuable information.

The story is ok and the hunt for the book and its understanding seems to be the main objective of the game. The game builds on the story with rumours and main quest leads but otherwhise don´t add much sidequests. Until you come to the point where you actually know how the book can be translated, each step in the mainquest is linear. After that you will have more freedom of where to go next.

The gameworld seems to be of moderate size with a few dozen fullscreen maps that connects to each other through forests, mountains, rivers, swamps and deserts. Scattered about are a dozen or more cities of varied sizes filled with shops, inns, temples and guilds. Here and there are caves not easily seen but you are directed to search in specific directions when you are given quests.
Rating: 2.5

The shops are filled with many different weapons and armours and have specialised shops for magic, ranged weapons and so on. The problem is that you can never see how much damage a weapon does. Not in the shop, in your inventory and not even when hitting the enemy. The only way to guide you is the price of the item. I hate that system but it is unfortunately not unique. Games like Dungeon Master II, Dark hearts of Uukrul and Dragon Wars all employs the same system in this respect even though some of them actually displays the damage when an enemy is hit to give you a small hint of its powers.

I have circumvented this limitation by using an items list from the Aethras unofficial page (listed below) that lists every item and its properties. Only those that I have found tough.

You start out with quite some gold and you could outfit your starting party of three quite well with these coins but if you start hiring people to fill out your party to the maximum six at the beginning you will see that the money will quickly drain away. Also when levelling you have to pay higher and higher prices.

When I opted to stop playing the game, I had around 13.000 gold and was not worried about it. Even though there are magical shops it is not easy to come by magical weapons other than finding them during your adventure. Most magical shops sell scrolls or wands preloaded with certain spells but I never bought them since you will find quite a lot of potions and some wands during your adventure.

One way to boost economy is to sell all the gems you find. I have not found any other use for them than to bring in more money. I am not sure if prices differs between different cities. That would be a nice feature. What is clear though is that it is well worth investing a lot in the skill trading and do all tradings through that character.

Most items must be identified when you find them because you never know if they are ordinary, mundane items or if they are of exceptional quality (+ or ++ suffixed). They will then be both more valuable and add bonuses. If you fail your identification you run the risk of destroying the item in the process. Nice!

In general I find the economy quite balanced but lacks more variety between cities, stocks and prices. What I lack is the ability to spend the money on magical weapons and armours. There are none as far as I remember.
Rating: 2.5

NPC & Interactions
There are no NPCs in the game other than those that are part of the mainquest or the few sidequests.
You have no dynamic dialogues to use at all. The answers are fixed and if you are to proceed in any way you have to take them one at a time. Actually, there are no dialogues just information coming from the NPC. That is unfortunate but I am not at all surprised. Even in 1994 this was beginning to change with games like Legends of Valour, Blade of Destiny and a long range of other games. So this was old-school gaming when it was released.

To the games defense I have to say that there are nothing wrong with the dialogues that do exists. They fill their function well and this is a shareware game after all.

The interactions you have with the environment is limited to lighting dark places by lanterns or found torches on the walls, opening locked chests and search for traps etc. There are no other interactions worth mentioning.

I have yet to figure out how to camp in the wilderness.
Rating: 1.5

Monster, tactics & combat system
The combat system is quite peculiar in this game. There are no visible hexes or squares so you cannot be sure if you can form a solid defense line or not to protect your weak mages. There is no information whatsoever in combat regarding damage dealt or received. The same goes for magical spells. You are informed what type of spell are being cast by the enemy but it is not obvious what effects they have unless it is a direct-damage spell.

The good thing is that combat takes place on a tactical zoomed in view of your surroundings which allows at least some perceived tactics to be used by blocking doorways or standing behind tables. But most often, combat is done in dungeons that looks very much alike without any furniture at all. Combat at least implements line of sight. So you have to position your characters for ranged weapons.

The enemies are so small and the graphical resolution so low that you hardly can distinguish humanoids from eachother except their colors. The only way for you to stay informed of the enemies status is to use the skill monster info to try to discover information about them like hitpoints, damage dealt, special abilities and so on. Good idea, but I found it too cumbersome to use during fights except for very tough opponents.

Each character have a limited number of movement points based on their attribute scores. At the beginning they could only attack or cast spells once a round but certain classes gets more attacks at higher levels, allowing you to use your group much more effective. Especially together with the group hasting spell. Slow characters (like my mages) have low movement points and could not retreat as fast as I would to the back. It is hard to protect them because it is not clear if you could block enemies which also most of the time have ranged capabilities and could attack your mages from distance which is very common.

Monsters could also retreat when their losses has been substantial. But other than that I don´t see any tactics used by the A.I. Most enemies just rush forward to enter melee with you. But they do tend to strike my weak mages if they can so I guess that gives it some credit.

The combat system could have been better implemented. The basic foundations are in place but the major drawback now is that you cannot use any tactical disposition to your advantage.
Rating: 2.5

Magic System
The magic system is based on mana that drains when you cast spells. Just like in almost any other game. You could restore mana by resting at an inn or drinking potions. There are at least half a dozen spell schools and you spend points into a skill called spell list to increase you chances of learning a new spell school at every level raise. This means you are not guaranteed to get to a certain spell school at a certain level but eventually - if you invest into the skill - your chances to succeed will be close to 100 %.

There are many different types of spells from protection, boosting, summoning, teleporting and direct attacking spells. Unfortunately I seldom saw the need to explore these more. Probably because my basic tactics of hasting the group was enough for most combats. I do think however, that there are good potential here.

Almost all spells are only valuable in combat.
Rating: 3

Character generation & development
Characters level up when they have gained enough experience points and you pay for their training into the next level at the right place depending on the class. You are then randomly given a number of skill points that you could put freely into any skill. Certain races have different innate bonuses. These are not listed in the standard manual but I found other resources on the internet that have this information.

When you put skillpoints into fortitude you raise your hitpoints by a random number. You also raise your spellpoints in the same way but at a fixed value that probably are based on your basic attributes. Certain attributes gives skill bonuses. The higher the more. The system works pretty well and it is fun to level up. An important thing to remember is to specialise your group so you don´t have to have several characters investing into trading, mountaineering etc.
Rating: 3

Map design
I like the overland map which is shown when you travel between the cities. It is varied and interestingly laid out. You don´t know how large the world is beforehand until you discover you cannot exit from the edge into the next.

Map design of caves and dungeons are very similar to each other and frankly, quite boring. There are furniture, paintings, tables and such things in noncave complexes but the caves only contains irregular corridors that connects to each other or ends up in a larger room, often with an encounter waiting for you.
Rating: 2

The manual consists of a textfile and is accessible from within the game. It provides you with basic information of how to create the characters and how the user interface works but  no details of how the game mechanics works, if there are any race/class modifiers and so on and no description of any spells. Fortunately complete spell lists could be found online and I have referenced them in the end of this review.
Rating: 1.5

Graphics, sound and interface
I found the interface rather clumsy and slow in this game. The fastest way is to learn shortcut commands on the keyboard but you don´t know which they are unless you bring out the ingame help manual. Everything reacts pretty slowly so I cranked up the cycles in dosbox to at least 12.000 when I played.

To navigate through your party members is also more clumsy that needs to be. Few things could easily be done with the mouse. Often you spend considerable time trading items between your party members and trying to get enough space in the inventory as well as trying to see whoever is best in certain skills etc. The interface feels very old fashioned to be released in 1994.

The graphics is standard VGA with very low resolution. In combats, each combatant is very small and it doesn´t take long until everyone clashes together and you can´t make out the slain enemies from the living ones. The towns consists of many small buildings but you never know which are actually shops or not unless you try to bump into them. To make that part less cumbersome I have used the city maps I have found online to quickly find the shops - At least in cities I have already visited before.

Sound is scarce in the game. The introduction music sounds worse than from a Spectrum 48 game and the sound effects are nothing to take note on. Fortunately a game like this can get away with both good graphics and sound.
Rating: 2

Despite the poor interface, graphics and sound, the game is actually quite ok. It takes some time to get used to the controls but they work.. I was quite enthusiastic about the game in my first hours as I explored the different game mechanics and explored the first dungeon and the world around. But after some hours into the game you notice that the cities don´t differ much between themselves. You need to keep track of where the guilds and temples are so you can train your characters at their correct places and you have to know where you could sell off all types of items. But apart from shops there is only a very few places that is quest related. Either you are given a sidequest or you follow on the mainquest to look for certain persons to give you hints on where to go next.

The combat system leaves much to be desired in terms of allowing you to use any form of tactics. I liked the system used in Dark heart of Uukrul much more. The more experienced you get the more flexibility could be used in the combat through spells and magic items and that makes it a little bit more interesting.

The combats are pretty well balanced and quite hard in the beginning. When I stopped playing I felt I could win almost any fight as long as I was rested and had full stocks of mana. You could wander into places that are way too hard for your group and that is good.

Raising in levels both gives you more hitpoints and attacks per round as well as better spells. The spells are crucial in order to win. I would not have been as lucky without the group haste spell for example. Unfortunately that was almost the only spell I used and the game has quite a number of different spells I haven´t felt the need to try out yet.

Overall, I found the game quite pleasant but after the first initial 10 hours it feels like it repeats itself and it stopped surprise me. If you have the time and are looking for something different this might be worth taking a look into.
Rating: 3

Gameworld & Story
NPC & Interactions
Monsters, tactics & combat system
Magic system
Character generation & development
Map design
Graphics, Sound and Interface
Summary CRPG value



October 31, 2013

Aethra Chronicles - Reaching the critical phase

I left the capital Stormhaven in an attempt to search for a mean to translate the book of prophecies I had found. My only clue was that an oracle might know how to translate it and that I should search for the oracle in the desert and ask about it in the town of Naedarn.

I had no idea where the desert might since I haven´t any worldmap of the game but I decided to go west from the capital and follow the coastline. There I found a bandit cave in the mountains that I cleared before moving on.

The overland map is quite nicely drawn and I found smaller towns along my way before coming to a huge marsh. At a certain spot in the marsh I was attacked by a huge monster which I had no means of defeating at this stage so I reloaded and passed this place, trying to memorise the location. My exploration took time and time means money to pay for the upkeep of the mage and fighter in my group. I think the ask for at least 500 gold per week and my starting gold when leaving the capital was around 3.000 gold. 

At certain places your assistance will be sought

After some exploration I came to a small village in which I met a woman that said she had dreamt of my coming. The village was in dire need of help. The village had been attacked by evil creatures led by some sort of intelligence directing the attacks. Only if the source was destroyed the woman believed it would be possible for the village to manage on their own and fend off the lesser evils. They had located the creatures lair to the mountains in the north and also said that they would be willing to send their warrior Timmar to assist me.

Pretty well equipped in my eyes
I offered our help and looked for Timmar. When I found him I accepted him without being able to look at his character sheet. He turned out to be a strong warrior at level 10, fully equipped with his own inventory. However, I did not intend to undertake this mission just yet. I preferred to look up the book of prophecies instead. I took Timmar with me and continued my exploration. 

Selling equpment at a general store

I eventually reached the boundaries to how far west I could go and begun to travel south. There I came across the small village Naedarn in which I rested before exploring the nearby mountains. There was nothing in the city itself that helped me in my quest for the oracle - or anything other for that matter.

In the near mountains just southeast of the village I found an entrance leading me to a three level underground complex filled with undead. For the first time my priest was in the center and he used the spell Exorcism  with success against the undead. The spell affects all creatures and more heavily the weaker they are.

I didn´t know what I was here for except for plundering this place. I found a lot of good items, amongst them a bow of truth which gave +3 shots and +25 in perception and + 25 in detect traps. Quite handy to be carried around by one of my front fighters. It also inflicts 15-25 damage compared with an elven longbow that "only" inflicts 8-14, so it is a very heavy upgrade in my ranged capability.

I have found that chests generally have random equipment and if you are lucky you could get some magical rings from them. Otherwise they often contains scrolls, potions or valuable stones except for mundane weapons and armours. The latter part has already become quite obsolete for me unless I find a ++ item. That gives either improved chances in your weapon skill or armour bonus.

The first level of three filled with undead

Anyway, after a few hours and several trips back to the closest town for resting, I cleared the dungeon. It was just a distraction but gave me valuable experience points and new good equipment. I begun to explore the area just south of there which led me to the desert. To make a long story short this is what happened:

  • I found some sort of fire elemental in the desert. He said he could give me more information about the book of prophecies but to do that he required that I gave him a desert rose. That was quite easy since they grew just northeast of him a short walk away. He then told me that the only one able to translate the book was the oracle (which I already knew) but the new information was that the oracle could be found in the swamp region in the north. 

  • I located the swamps to the north and soon found a deserted villaged in which I found the oracle. He could help to interpret it but - of course - not without a favour. He has been trapped in this world for a long time and he wants to get home. The only way to leave requires that I collect four gems of power for him. I have already found two such missions but decieded to save them to later. A wise decision it seems, now that I know why I would like the gems of power.

In the middle of this swamp is an overgrown village

Nothing is for free, not even from the oracle

  • He could also give me some information about the future as a fortune teller. I learned that demonic creatures walk the land and the only way to battle these is to find three grey swords. He also told me to find the seals of earth and water. They represent some sort of keys.
So now I had some huge quests ahead of me which will take a lot of time to complete. I still don´t know how the book of prophecies is tied to my mission but I am sure I will find out eventually. I returned back to the regions around the capital Stormhaven and increased my levels to 6 or 7. Timmar was a pretty good fighter addition to my group (even though he seems to be a ranger) so I have no need to switch him right now.

The training gets more and more expensive the higher levels you attain so I spent a few thousand gold to raise levels but fortunately I could afford it. My pool of gold is over 10.000 right now so I will be able to pay for the wages without problems. I now returned back to the northwest in which I picked up Timmar. Now it was time to help the village fend off the evil creatures and try to gain my first gem of power.

The cave lied in the mountains just north of the village and spans at least 6 different screens. I have tried to clear this place at three separate times. I can manage around three combats before I feel I have to return to rest and regain my spell points and hitpoints.

Just north of the village lies the caves

I must admit I am getting quite tired of the combat in the game. It is quite repetitive and the tactical maps are almost the same in the caves all the time. So far my only tactics is to retreat with the two mages and let them cast the group haste spell. If the battle is a tougher one I also cast Tower of Might on my warriors or fling away some mage bolts or pyrotechnics although I don´t think they are any good. 

I am not sure if I will continue to play this game to the bitter end or not. I could barely put one hour a day into it so it will take quite some time before I will make major progress. This point exists in all games I play. When the excitement of everything new about the game has settled and you stop being surprised by the game you find that you must have the patience to keep going.

Meanwhile, I am waiting for patch 6 to Rome 2 Total War. I have told myself to buy the game after that patch since I loved Rome 1 but it is sad that Rome 2 was so incomplete when it was released. Anyway, that is another chapter and we´ll see what happens. Either the review comes up next or I continue with the game. 

October 30, 2013

Deathfire: Ruins of Nethermore enters kickstarter

The new roleplaying game Deathfire: Ruins of Nethermore that I wrote about a few weeks ago will be launched at kickstarter Wednesday, November 6 in order to raise funds for the game. The last eight months a working prototype of the game has been developed but in order to secure the project to its end it will require backers to fund the completion of the project.

There is a special offer for early backers the first 24 hours as follows:

  • Everyone who backs the project during the first day of the campaign will receive a FIRST DAY BACKER badge on our forums and will also receive an exclusive in-game item that will not appear anywhere else in the game. This particular bonus will no longer be applied once the first 24 hours of the campaign have passed.
  • We have another special perk in place for the first 48 hours! If we manage to gather at least 1,500 backers within those crucial first 48 hours, we will create an exclusive cover for the Kickstarter Editions of the game! This cover, which will also serve as the game’s initial loading screen, will not be available to players who will purchase the game online or in stores later.

For more information about the game, see their homepage.

October 19, 2013

Aethra Chronicles - In search of the mainquest

I cleared out the small underground base inhabited by orcs that haunted the small village. It consisted of only one screen so it went quickly fast with perhaps 3 or 4 fights. The good thing is that so far there are a fixed number of encounters that seems to occupy certain rooms or parts of a dungeon. When you have cleared them you won´t get into any other fight in that area. I like this system because it allows you to retreat back to safety without being harassed on the way. Combined with the fact that you can always run from combat this is a little bit too good to be true. 

Anyway, even though the fights in the cave hardly gave me more than 1.000 xp or even less, I was rewarded not only by an amulet given to me but also 1.000 xp each. They where very welcome I can tell you. I decided to leave this area in the northwest and go back to recruit a good thief. I want to try out the deadly strike skill and also let the preassure of my mage Rainwill to be the groups thief.

Farley, the groups tank

I went to several towns in hunt for thieves to recruit but it was only in the capital Stormhaven where I found some. I wasn´t that impressed by them at their level 4. They where only slightly better than my mage and did have a pretty low skill score in deadly strike. I decieded to go for a new mage instead. One that had magic schools I did not possess and that also had the spell that hastes a party member. I finally found him.

Fighting orcs

My priest Aurora

The mage I found was a level 5 spellcaster called Suela. She mastered spell schools my other mage didn´t possess. I was now ready to look for the monastery somewhere in the north. I did have some rude maps but didn´t take much notice on them until I stumbled upon a man who said the monastery had been overrun and that he was the only one to survive. I could ask about the book of Doom but the man didn´t know where it was. I had no option but to enter the monastery in search of it amongst the evil that had taken over.

The monastery took me some time to clear since I had to return back to an inn to rest. It is not possible to rest in order to gain hitpoints or spellpoints. I also avoided the harde fights until at the last minute. The monastery contained some fine items and a scroll that said that the book had been delivered to the guardian for safe keeping. So now I understand why the red dragon had it. Anyway, after I was finished in the monastery my group was ready to gain  a level. My next task was to return to the guardian and try to clear out the caves. This was the most challenging task so far. The caves was filled with orcs and bandits but the most difficult fight was against the dark elves. I took me several hours to clear this place.

The most dangerous part in the fights at this stage is that the enemy melee fighters could reach my weak mages in just two turns. I always try to let my fighters kill enemy spellcasters as fast as possible using ranged weapons together with the spell Aynstyne's Accelerated Action which doubles the attacks and movements. However, enemies often comes in sheer numbers and many of the have ranged attacks. I have yet to see anyone striking down my dwarven fighter with over 200 hitpoints, but easily enough one or two of my mages. I haven´t found any good offensive spells for them yet, except magebow which hardly seems worth the effort. Things are not easier with a system that don´t show enemies hitpoints or status in any other way than that you have to use the skill monster lore, something I am quite lazy to use except against single, strong creatures.

The monster lore skill gives you valuable information about your enemies
The red dragon is just north of my group

It took me at least three sessions to clear out the caves for the guarding. During that time I had to travel back and forth to the nearest town to heal and also loose a lot of time which meant I had to pay the wage for my two new companions. They cost around 350 - 400 gold/week.  I only have 3.000 gold left and I begin to see the need for constant supply of loot and gold in order to keep up. One way is to run from combats until I have found more gold or items to sell. I have begun to sell scrolls which give me some valuable gold as well. 

The guardian rewarded me with the book Prophecy of doom, and I returned it to the man requesting it, now living in the city north of the capital. He told me he had no means to translate the text but that he had heard rumours of an oracle that might. It is said this oracle lives in the desert somewhere and he suggested I should look for more information in the village Naedarn. I have no idea where that village could be and now begin to worry how much gold I will loose before I have found my next source of goldincome. Nevertheless, before leaving my mage Rainwill and pries Aurora increased their levels so now we all are at level 5.

I have to correct myself in my former post. The skill points you earn while increasing level is random, also the amount of hitpoints you get when spending them on the skill fortitude. The rest of the skills increases at fixed amounts based on your attributes.

Before leaving for my unknown destiny I had to sell some stuff and reorganise my items a little. I am still looking for a good thiev but haven´t found any I like yet. I am also not sure I can affor one more right now. Regarding my group I can say the following so far:

  • The priest performs pretty bad in combat. He have no offensive spells and his only strength so far is that he can heal others and have pretty high defense and could soak up attacks.
  • My two mages are mainly used to haste my warriors. Nothing more since I want to save my spellpoints.
  • The two fighters is the ones the whole group relies on. Equipped with elven longbows, power rings and hasted, they normally take out two opponents each every turn. But only lowlevel enemies. Now I have met tougher opponents so I am glad they could take out one enemy. They both have different magical swords but nothing that is overly powerful. 
My plans are to go west from the capital and see what I will find....

October 10, 2013

Aethra Chronicles - Building up

One of the first things I did when leaving the crypt in my last session was to recruit my first npc hireling, a level 4 fighter. I let him take parts of my loot to equip himself and then bought some more. I have to pay him around 100 gold/week but I haven´t found an easy way to keep track of the days or time yet. It seems night and day cycles only occur on the overland map. I don´t wan´t to risk loosing most of my money to pay up for my hirelings this early in the game before I know how hard it will be to get more money.

Eventually the last city screen will take you to the overland map

I returned to the burned out houses in the south of the city which was obviously a thieves den. This part was quite hard and just after two combats I had to retreat in order to rest at an inn. I haven´t found a way to camp underground yet and I am not sure that is possible either. What I did find out though was that if you are using a light source of some sort, not only does the explored parts of the map stay that way when you reenter the complex, but it also radiates several hexes in each direction. This was a much improved experience of how I perceived this in my first post.

My first mission was to recover a stolen painting
This game is pretty strange because you could run from combat and you will almost always succeed in doing that (just like in Legend of Faerghail). Each of your character has the option to run and if one succeeds, all retreat from combat. If all fails that means the enemies get one round to close in but that happens very seldom and the worst case scenario is that enemies might shoot at you with ranged weapons or magic in the first round. A cheap cost to pay in order for a retreat. I haven´t found any mandatory combats so even if the encounter suggests it is a boss or leader you can flee and they will never leave any items. I don´t like that design decision but let´s see if there are any mitigating circumstances for later on.

I used this system to my advantage to only take fights that I knew I would win or that I felt would give me much needed experience points. Or I would put myself in a position where the tactical map would be used to my advantage. But they where pretty far from each other and instead I used this opportunity to look for treasure in hope of getting more powerful weapons and armours.

The den was pretty large. Stretching several screens in every direction and with two levels. It is pretty hard to see items laying around except for chests so it is easy to miss out things unless they are on a table to begin with. Your first three characters are also checked for perception now and then in order to discover secret doors or find traps.

After struggling through this den for an hour and plundnering it for all valuables in chests while trying to find secret doors and avoid any traps, I finally found a room containing the painting I was looking for. It wasn´t easy to see. Many rooms have furniture but it is hard to see if there are items on them.

Anyway, I next had to backtrack my way to the exit. This time I could afford to get into one or two fights and the help of my second warrior Farimar did much to improve my combat skill. I have equipped both my fighters with improved long bows and they are quite adept with those. At least they get a chance to strike one time before the enemies have reached melee and they are perfect to take out mages lurking behind the enemies.

The town north of Stormhaven i Drensea
Anyway, when gave back the painting the man told me that he did not have the book of prophecy but knew that monks in a monastery far to the north would have it in their possession. So much for my hopes of progress in this town. I reequipped myself for venturing overlands and carefully outfitted my group. I had enough experience to gain one level each. At this point you are taken to the character screen where you could spend a fixed amount of skill points on skills of your choosing. I continued to spread the skills so that my priest would be the best trader, my mage the best reader of scrolls, pick locks and disarm traps and my fighters to travel through mountains and fighting. You are not given more hitpoints. You have to spend skillpoints into fortitude to gain any and these are totally random which makes reloading quite attractive.

I had found a lot of gems of different sorts (sapphires, diamonds etc) which I belive is only used for selling since I haven´t found any use of them. They gave me much needed money to buy a power ring which gives a stunning +10 shots with the longbow amongst other boosts. This really helped up my coming combats.

What I soon discovered was that I had totally underestimated my mage. I hadn´t notice he could choose from different spellbooks when his casting sheet is on display. Now I let him get a spell school where the first spell is like a haste in AD&D. It will double up my melee attacks and movement points for the character who receives the spell. This has greatly improved my combat abilities.

I went to the north and soon entered the mountains. After some explorations I came across a red dragon. He said he was a guardian of this place and was in possession of the the book prophecies of doom and also revealed that it could be mine if I did a favour for him. Clearing out the nearby caves. Hmm...I wonder if he actually have the book or not. Someone must have been lying to me unless it is supposed I am to get to the monastery first only to find out it has been stolen by the dragon or whatever.

I just make a short visit to the caverns to find out about the opposition. I had no intention to undertake this mission right now and so instead opted to clear out some bandits hiding in the northwest. That would yield me 1.000 gold in reward. The cave wasn´t that hard to find but it was full of traps which made it hard to navigate. I carefully choose to battle a few of the bandits in favourable positions but otherwhise elected to explore the whole cave first and gathered some good armour to improve my armour ratings.

I had run from several fights and in the end when I had finished exploring the caves they where suddenly gone. I suspected I must have wiped them out but when I returned to the village from where I got the mission he said that there where still some bandits living. I thought this might have been a bug so I reloaded my game from the cave and also restarted the whole game but still no encounters anywhere in the cave. I don´t know if I am supposed to find more caves or bandits outside of the cave to finish the mission. I left it as it where and travelled westward.

There I came upon a small village that where troubled at night by creatures coming from the woods. I explored the wooden region with a small cemetary and found a way down. There is where I am right now. I was startled to get into a fight with the first encounter of a Minotaur. He took tremendous amount of damage before he died and failed to injure me. Now my explorations will continue from here.

I have taken a close look at the XP gained from combats. It is not very much. Perhaps you get 200-300 xp per fight at this stage and you need at least 5.000 xp to reach a new level for the time being. That means I have to do a lot more fighting in the game.