Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Por: entry 4 (inaction)

I haven't been able to play nearly as much as I've been hoping. Many apologies. The gameplay has slowed down quite a bit. Things aren't progressing quite as rapidly as I'd like. I was glancing through the manual again last night and I got a little nervous when it informed me that commissions get harder the longer I take to accomplish them. I certainly thought that I'd get past at least one commission by now!

Before I recap what I've been doing, I do want to talk about something I forgot to mention in the last entry. Remember that wizard who asked me to fetch a potion elsewhere in the slums? Well, I assumed that he asked me to do it because he didn't want to hit the streets alone. When I brought the potion back to him, I had the opportunity to engage him in combat. I did for fun, with the intention to see what would happen and just restore my savegame afterward. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that he had an entire army at his disposal! It totally reminds me of the Phlan city watch. What do these people need my pathetic band's services for when they have armies of thugs on their payroll? Hmm. A thought occurs to me right this minute. Perhaps the potion was an illegal substance and the wizard didn't want anyone in his organization in danger of getting hit up by narcs. Not bloody likely.

I also want to take a moment to briefly respond to this blog's sole commentor, Simeon Pilgrim, who has given me some invaluable pointers in the journey thus far (hopefully he keeps them up). Last entry I complained about having to actually pay to level up. Simeon implied that such a situation should be obvious. I still maintain that the situation is unfair. When we experience things, our skills and attributes raise naturally. We don't actually need a piece of paper from the state to actually do things better. We do things better because we practice. I know this is probably a D&D standard and everything, but the knowledge gleaned from firsthand experience should be the one thing in all of existence that I don't have to pay for. Oh and also Simeon, I always knew that it's possible to map out the Rope Guild, I just knew that it wouldn't be accomplished by me.

So I'm still working on clearing out the slums to the west of the civilized area of Phlan. I only have two rooms left. I'm considering creating a couple more magic-users for the sole purpose of being cannon fodder and incapacitating the hordes with some more sleep spells. After I clear the rooms, the new characters would just be disposable until I make more disposable players or find some NPCs to join the party (which I haven't found yet and that bugs me).

All's not completely well in the slums. I bumped into a gypsy who gave me a fairly cryptic reading. I suppose you get what you pay for and she was pretty cheap. The whole line about friends where you expect enemies and enemies where you expect allies is pretty poignant in the context of cleaning the slums of monsters. Some of the monsters, just before battle, have yelled stuff to the effect of, "How dare you attack our home?" Good point. What am I doing? Maybe if the immigration issue wasn't such a hot topic in real life right now, I wouldn't be getting such a guilty conscience. Sure these orcs and goblins are different than us and maybe they didn't sign all the right papers when they moved in next door, but is it really ethical to exterminate them just because they're not from around here? They're humanoids too! Maybe the establishment is really the true enemy, or "The Man." Perhaps I'll be liberating the orcs by the end of the game. Interestingly, I also had the option of attacking the gypsy. I restored the game really quick after catching a glimpse of the message the game gave after the murder.

I'm still confused about the weaponry I sell. One of my short bows is actually a +1, so the vendors are willing to pay more for it (1750 gold pieces). Surely a +1 bow is better than a normal bow, but is it really worth 1749 more? Same with Derfindor's +1 leather armor (shouldn't armor be -1?). It's now the same armor level as ring mail, but it's worth hundreds more for some reason. It is lighter, I guess. I think I'll hold onto them until something really good comes up or I'm broke.

In the course of my boredom, I did a little bit of wandering to the west of the slums -- the Kuto's Well region. The discovery of a dungeon beneath the well was an exciting one although I knew that I would have a difficult time handling the horrors beneath when it was still hard to handle the horrors above. Inevitably, I bumped into a guy with... sigh... another army at his disposal -- Norris the Gray. Never heard of him. Some of the chatterings in the hemp market mention a gang near the well, but I don't know if this is the same one. Doesn't matter though, cuz my party isn't tough enough yet to beat this guy. Derfindor's still far away from going up one level for Pete's sake. Norris is also immune to my patented sleep spell in battle, so by the time I take this guy down I'll need a new strategy. Here's hoping he'll have some interesting secrets. He certainly looks like he's got something on the mind. Or maybe he's simply nuts or constipated or something.

So just before writing this post, I took a boat to Sokal Keep. Had a little battle with some skeletons and zombies. Got wasted (as usual), but it was fun to finally utilize a little clerical "turn undead" action. Worked like a charm (which I guess it was). Half of the monsters turned and ran; the other half killed us. Before that happened though I passed through some pretty interesting sites. One of which was a sad skeleton that provided me with the weird inscription pictured. Looks like I'll be needing to go back to school to figure this crap out.

Okay. It's time to get pumped. Next time 'round, my party is going to start busting heads. My characters are being way too wussy. The second wind of battle is on its way!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

PoR: entry 3 (action!)

I quickly discovered that the tavern tales are almost not worth writing down. Look at tavern tale 2. Funnily enough I don't know if it's describing the guy telling tale 2 or if he's actually telling me the story of a drunk bard talking to an unappreciative crowd in some other tavern.

After a little bit of battle experimenting, I finally went over to the town hall to grab a commission. I was pretty disappointed to discover that they pretty much just handed off a "go out and kill" mission. I suppose I wasn't expecting anything too detailed.

I headed over to the western slums area and started figuring out how this whole combat thing works. I quickly learned that magic-users can't throw daggers, so I wasted some money there. Also, there was no sense in Chlorine, my cleric, to have javelins. At least all this stuff was really really cheap. The most obnoxious thing about Chlorine is that as a cleric she can't wield a long-range weapon of any sort. As a result, I'm required to put her at the point. She's gotten totally clobbered in a few battles. Derfindor has been the party's savior, just like I predicted. He chills in the back with his sling and is pretty good with it. When the enemy gets close enough, he whips out his bastard sword and is even more consistent.

We've mostly hit parties of orcs, goblins and kobolds. Kobolds are my favorite. They're the weakest. I don't really know what a kobold is, but based on the picture, they look like some sort of canine theatre troupe. Hmm. according to wikipedia, kobolds are sort of like German leprechauns.

After getting used to the battle technique (which took a while actually -- I may have to go into detail about my complaints with the battle system later), the kobolds were no real problem. There are some specific set-piece battle rooms full of kobolds that proved to be more difficult. Even though the rooms contain like 20 of the cute and fuzzy things, I still don't like getting womped by them since wikipedia also informs me that kobolds are sort of considered a perennial loser running gag in RPGs.

For the big kobold rooms (and orc rooms and goblin rooms), my party developed an ingenious strategy. Silver the Enchantress would cast a sleep spell on the front two or so rows of monsters. The sleeping monsters would block the way of the rear advancing monsters and Rexbasior and Derfindor would sling the back ranks to death before putting killing blows on the sleeping foes. This strategem didn't actually work every time and it also only worked once per journey. I had to clean out a room, save the game, go back into civilized Phlan to recharge Silver's spell and then go back into the slums to attempt it again.

In the course of my slum wanderings I happened upon a somewhat more interesting quest. It involved running potion errands for a wizard smack in the middle monster-land. He pointed me toward the Old Rope Guild elsewhere in the slums. The mission was refreshing because I got into something of a story instead of the same old monster and battle screens.

Old Rope was worse than anticipated, however. For some reason (probably just to make the quest interesting) the overhead mapping mode ability is turned off in that area. Also the coordinates seem to fly all over the place. I eventually got to the back-alley potion shop by metaphorically touching my left hand to the left wall and following the same wall through the whole guild. Just for fun I saved the game and investigated the guild further. The monsters I found that killed me will haunt my dreams for several weeks.

In the course of potion-fetching and monster eviction by genocide, I came across not only money, but useful items. The most frustrating thing about finding short swords is that half the time when you try to sell them, the shopkeepers offer you "0 gold." I'm not the kind of person to throw things away so I wind up just being burdened with junk until the keeper gives me one lousy piece of gold for each dumb knife. I stressed out even more about a couple of gems I searched for and found in the slum stable. I sold one for 100 gold and the other for 500 gold then restored the game to see if I could swing a better deal at another shop. After pulling this cheap stunt and finding nothing better I discovered that the original shop wasn't even giving me original prices. In fact the buyback got marked down to something like 14. I had to restore a few more times before I got the right price back. Kind of makes me think that worrying about all the shop prices is pretty unnecessary. I'm also wondering if the items I find aren't worth anything unless I pay 200 gp for their identification. I identified a necklace of missiles (I'm really lost as to what it does) and a +1 ring of protection before restoring the game to just get my money back. Do I still get my missiles and protection? maybe I should just splurge.

Here's the most excellent map I made of the slum areas:

Excellent stuff. It appears there's more fun stuff even further west. Ruins and bigger and nastier monsters. As I was playing last night, my roommate walked by and asked: "How long is that game anyway?" I was like, uh... I really have no idea in the slightest. I've been playing quite a bit already and I'm not even out of the town yet. It looks like it could be a lot more since I haven't really stumbled upon a clear plotline. Sheesh. This could be a much bigger endeavor than I bargained for.

My final stress for the day was when I realized I had earned enough experience points to level up, but I hadn't. I was seriously worried that there was a bug associated with the version I had that disabled me from ever going up a level. Fortunately, before spending too much time online trying to figure it out (how do you google a problem like that?) I found the solution in the training center in civilized Phlan (even though it seems to unjustly cost me some dough). After leveling up, I clobbered Rolf, the guy who knocked Rexbasior unconscious on my first day of actually playing. Oh man, it felt so very sweet. The new spell I picked for Silver the Enchantress is the "charm person" spell. Hopefully I can get a few kobold NPCs to wander around with me. How fun! Pets!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

PoR: entry 2 (tiny souls in a tiny city)

Okay... finally. Well, I finally exist in the strange city of Phlan.

I sort of went ahead with my original line-up. First up, I built my fighter. This screenshot is before I named him, but his name is Rexbasior. The name comes from my website, which is named after some semi-flirty first semester Latin I picked up at college. I'm thinking this will be my go-to guy. I've always been way more of a fan of fighters in these kind of games. Magic always seems to take too much cost and patience to be consistently effective. Fighters always have the consistency. They're not limited by magic. It's like I've always said... hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a crossbow at your side.

I'm wondering if there's any advantage to having female party members. From what I can tell, there isn't, but whenever I play video games I love playing as a woman, so I didn't want to pass this opportunity up. Yeah, I know that sounds weird, and it's not like I want to be a woman or anything, it's just that role-playing games are a wonderful opportunity to... you know, play a different role. Anyway, I named my magic-user Silver the Enchantress. Ever since high school I've always told people that I'm going to name my first daughter Silver the Enchantress. Notice I accidentally gave her the portrait body of a thief. Whoops. That's fine, though. I love that teasy sort of pose.

I'm using my only non-human character as a combination fighter and thief dwarf. I named him after the first set of syllables that went through my head. Here's hoping that his freaky "infravision" will come in handy as well as his freakish old age. I'm wondering now if the fighter/thief combination was a good idea. I might should have done a combination of magic user and fighter. Something polarizing like that anyway.

Even though she's a cleric, I just had to give Chlorine the cleavagy portrait. How could I not. I figured that she's officially evil, so perhaps an evil priestess really would wear something slutty like that. Here's hoping having an evil cleric will be useful. Something tells me that a good one is more practical, but the thought of the undead joining the party rather than merely fleeing from it seems like a much cooler gig. You're probably laughing at some of the stats I wound up with. I really only looked at strength for my fighter, intelligence for my magic-user, dexterity for my figher/thief and wisdom for my cleric.

So after doing the creation thing, I sort of just wandered for a bit. Unfortunately, one of the first places I went to was the figher training area. I picked a fight in there before bothering to go to the armoury and the guy clubbed Rexbasior senseless. Suddenly my go-to man was put to wussy unconscious shame.

After a little more aimlessness, I got out the old graph paper to get some usable maps going. I'm a total girl when it comes to direction. I get really lost in 3-D games, so this'll be rough. Not to talk about Ultima all the time, but I'm really used to the top-view towns from those games. I must admit, however, I was pretty bummed when Ultima VI discontinued the first-person dungeon viewmode. It really took me out of the experience. So, although I am timid and I know I'll get all confused and lost, I'm really looking forward to absorbing the first-person experience.

I bought arms in the first arms shop I came to. I don't know there were other arms shops in town, so I may have been ripped off. Probably makes very little difference when we have so little gold anyway. It was hard to tell which weapons were all that great too. The damage chart in the manual kind of indicates that there isn't too much of a difference in any of the weapons. I went ahead and got a bastard sword for Rexbasior. The sword name is awesome and I needed something to change Rex's pretty-boy image. I loaded up Silver with a couple of quarterstaffs, some daggers and a quiver of darts. Can you throw the daggers? If not, I wasted a bunch of money and carrying space. Derfindor got a bunch of stuff: another bastard (actually Rexbasior's other bastard after I realized it was a two-handed weapon), a battle axe, a halberd, a sling, etc. He'll probably be pulling a lot of weight. Since Chlorine is limited by her clericalness, I at least splurged on some scale mail for her. I also provided a flail, some javelins, a mace and a shield for her. At least early in the game she'll be able to avoid getting hit too much. I can't say the same about Silver and her stupid magic-user non armor wearing ways.

So yeah, after finding the shops and going to my fifth one, I thought it might be a good idea to actually write down what was being offered in each shop. After only bothering to write down the compliment of one silver shop I gave up, realizing that I could just use my iMac's screen capture ability and put a folder on my desktop with pictures showing what each shop has. Pretty smart huh? Knowing me, though I'll be too lazy to check and compare prices (and knowing how little I know about the game, the prices probably fluctuate anyway).

Hitting up the temples is still on the agenda. I only entered one, but they told me the bishop isn't receiving visitors. Strangely, I was given the option to force my way into the temple. I didn't take that option since it's still so early in the game, but I'll bet it's something I'll eventually have to do. It's not like it gives me the option to force my way into the inn. Plus, look at this kid guarding the temple. With a face like that, he's just asking to get jacked up hard.

Speaking of inn, one of the very last things I did during this session was attempt to camp out in the middle of town in an effort to bring Rexbasior back into consciousness. Apparently, I'm not allowed to be a vagrant since the town watch rousted me in the middle of the night and told me to move along. This time, I actually did decide to fight. Shortest fight of my life too. This seven nation army is the freaking town watch? You'd think if the place had a town watch this strong, they wouldn't need to worry about needing to hire adventurers to clean up the town. Heck, they could send the town watch over the entire Moonsea region and have the entire land in order within a week! Yeah, the picture I have posted to the right shows just how big this town watch army was. I didn't even get a turn in battle before they kicked me off to the DOS prompt.

The last thing I did was check out the pub. I overheard one intriguing and possible plot-developing piece of rumor:

This is getting good.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Pool of Radiance: entry 1

In my introductory entry I failed to mention which version of Pool of Radiance I'd be playing. I decided on the IBM-DOS version. That's the version my friend's cousin went on and on about back in the day. In this particular subject, I trust my friend's cousin. He wore black all the time. So step one was getting an old DOS emulator. As far as I know (I could very well be wrong) this program called DOSBOX is just about the only way to go to emulate on my Apple iMac. I got the emulator, but it took me a good long time of experimenting and googling to figure out how to run Pool on it. I still don't quite understand what I did. It had to do with mounting the proper drives and other Dossy stuff. It made me kind of wish I had done this on the Commodore 64 emulator. That's way easier to use. You don't even need to remember the C-64 commands if you want to play the games.

The readme.txt file that came with the download of the game casually explained that some tweaking was involved, but it hardly elaborated.
"*** If you get a message saying "INSERT DISK 3 IN DRIVE C", edit the file `pool.cfg', and add a backslash at the end of both path statements!!"
Needless to say, I was too retarded to do whatever this little message was talking about. The readme also mentioned the rulebook and Adventurers Journal files, but I couldn't find where they were.

Somehow, finally after an hour or so, I had everything I needed (I thought). I sighed and went ahead and began the game by heading right into "Create Characters." Then I hit this screen and realized I shouldn't begin just yet.

I immediately realized that I was now getting involved in some real AD&D here. I was used to beginning Ultima games where you just told the gypsy what you thought of certain ethical situations and she created your character for you. Now, I'm dealing with different races that have effects on different classes with different alignments. Not doing my homework in party creation meant that I could possibly build up a party of if impotent, incompetent RPG laughing stocks. I had no idea what the dwarves special abilities were and what class I should make them. Can dwarves do magic? I don't know. Why in the world would I want a halfling in my party if they're only half as good as a full-ling? Those are just the questions involved in race. For character class I need to consider the benefits of having a clerical magic user and for alignments I need to consider the possibility of having a chaotic evil character. I thought I was the good guys. I considered just messing around on the character creation just so I could get out and play around with the game a little, but I want to start out doing things right rather than starting over later.

I obviously had a lot of studying to do, so I flipped the game off and hit the books. Since I couldn't extract the instructions out of the downloaded game file, I had to rely on a pretty painless Google search. The good folks at replacementdocs.com provided me with the Adventurers Journal (shouldn't there be an apostrophe in there somewhere?), which I read first.

The journal begins with a quick overview of the geography of the Moonsea area. I considered drawing out a map as I read it, but I didn't want to embarrass myself with the final product. I knew it would be way off the actual final product. Maybe I'll hold out on the map until I'm actually in the wilderness. At first glance I couldn't tell if Moonsea is the actual ocean or if it's a big lake. It will be one swell map though. Three rivers are interestingly named Wyrmflow, Tesh and Evenflow. I know there's an Orson Scott Card book called Wyrms, but I don't know what the deal is with the spelling. I'm totally pleading my fantasy vocabulary ignorance. Are wyrms like worms, but weirder? Or are they like feminist worms, and they spell their names differently for the same reasons some chicks went by the term womyn a few decades ago? I assume the Tesh river is named after Entertainment Tonight co-host and new-age composer John Tesh. And Evenflow not only is the non-sensical title of a Pearl Jam song, but is a very popular brand of babies' high chairs.

Catching up on the history of Phlan was pretty difficult for me. I love reading historical synopses, but this was harder because it's all new with no context. I was surprised to find the mentioning very early on of the Pool of Radiance itself. It's far more of a tease than a giveaway since it also mentioned that the pool is more of a mystery than a piece of history. I was also intrigued by the casual mention of the three heroes from an earlier age: Milsor, Rimon, and Alonius. No doubt one or all of them will somehow come into the actual gameplay somehow. Another surprising historical revelation was that at one point a guy named Ferran Martinez held the final garrison to the city. It's just like Phlan to abandon the Mexican in an important battle. Wait! How did a Mexican get to Phlan?

I wonder how complete the book's bestiary is. There weren't entries for beholders, liches or dragons despite the fact that all three are mentioned elsewhere in the journal. Also, apparently minotaurs are often found in mazes. Now I know this is based on popular myth, but that was after all just one minotaur. Why in the world would any creature actually need or want to chill out in a freakin' maze?

After the bestiary I was treated to the numerous proclamations set up by the town council, which are sort of amusing. I guess it doesn't list every proclamation, but it lists a few between the Roman numerals of LIX and CCXIV. Just about every proclamation states something to the effect of "such and such area is infested with such and such monsters, so we need some adventurers to make that area safe for civilization." The town council could've saved a lot of time and paper on like 200 proclamations if they just said "Kill all the monsters you can." Also four or five specifically mention different weird stuff going down in the cemetary. Probably should've just said, "That Valhigen Graveyard is messed up! Do whatever shiz you can."

This proclamation I found particularly interesting:

Nice to know that even in the dark times of Phlan, when a duchess is abducted heroes don't immediately go out to reclaim her, but need to cut through a small series of bureaucratic red tape in order to get the job started.

After gourging on the Adventurers Journal I glimpsed over the game instructions. That's where most of the help came in. I discovered that dwarves and elves can see in the dark and that halflings are less likely to get hit by magical attacks. I also learned that although the thought of having a cleric along for the ride seemed about as boring as having a real-world clerical job, it would be very very helpful. At this point, though, my biggest concern is whether or not I should just have everyone in the party be a human. Apparently, humans have no cap to their class levels while every other race does. Does that mean that while a dwarf fighter can class up to only level 9, a human fighter could eventually class up to level 99? Is level 9 plenty, or will I eventually need the unlimited human class to go beyond single-digit levels?

I'll be sleeping on it. At this point, I'll probably stick in a couple of humans as a fighter and magic user, a half-elf as a cleric and then maybe a dwarf as a back-up fighter. That will give me a few slots left over for some throwaway characters and NPCs.

Tomorrow maybe I'll actually start playing.

so here's what it's about...

I have never played Pool of Radiance. I'm a fool for video games, but for whatever reason, in the 80s I played through most of the Ultima series, but I never played one minute of the SSI Gold Box series even though many friends have told me it's totally the good stuff.

So... I've decided to play through the Gold Box series knowing little more than that they're supposed to be really great games. Hopefully I can make it through without any outside resources and hopefully, the journey will yield enough commentary to make an interesting blog out of it. That shouldn't be a problem, though. If I have an exceptionally lame time, my discouragement may make a wonderful read.

My plan is to go ahead and start with Pool of Radiance and, once finished, move on to Curse of the Azure Bonds, Secret of the Silver Blades and Pools of Darkness. I'll detail the journey with commentary, my own questions, screen grabs, maps and notes. No doubt I'll be consulting online resources for context and history, but I hope to not use the internet for spoilers.

Please, whether or not you've ever played or even like games like this, I'd love to hear comments from you!