Thursday, September 21, 2017

Might and Magic III: Moo and Moose Juice

Yuck?
     
No additional outdoor explorations this time. This entire session was spent cleaning various dungeons and special encounters in the areas I already mapped.

I started with the dungeon below Baywatch. Gnoman was right that the unavoidable pools in the dungeon aren't poison; they're acid. By this point, I had the "Protection from Elements" spell and was able to neutralize the threat. The enemies weren't too hard, mostly the very "bubblemen" that I faced in the first town. A boss-level creature called a "phantom" capped the small area.

I freed a couple of NPCs, including a knight named Sir Galant (did you work hard on that one, JVC?) and a cleric named Darlana. I wasn't interested in taking either since my existing archer and druid already complement my party.
    
You were sold to phantoms by skeletons? What did they do with the money?
    
Up in the town proper, Brother Alpha had told me that I should endeavor to find magic seashells for the nymph Althea. He told me to seek out his brother, Beta, for more information. Beta was in the dungeon and filled in a bit more information--the seashells are on an island--before sending me on to Brother Gamma in Wildabar. Each time one of the brothers passes me along to the next, it's accompanied by a vignette of the brother summoning a small creature to deliver a message to the next brother that I'll be coming. Each one also gave me a "quatloo coin." Although I didn't meet the other brothers until much later, I'll cover the rest of the story now. Gamma said that the name of the island is Rainbow Island; Delta said that one shell is released onto the island on a particular day of the year; and Zeta said that the day is #99.
    
Getting the last hint in the Arachnoid Caverns.
      
Next up were the Halls of Insanity in A3, probably the hardest dungeon of this session, although of course I didn't know it going in. Buffed as I was with the fountains, the creatures weren't so much difficult as thoroughly annoying. Some small dragons were easy to neutralize with "Protection from Elements" set to "Fire," but some creature called "Mystic Clouds" blanks a character's spell points when they hit, and they have ranged attacks. Spells are particularly necessary in this dungeon because many of the chests have teleporter traps in front of them, and you have to cross with "Jump."

Even worse, the dungeon introduces "Evil Eyes" for the first time. They remain one of my most hated enemies from Might and Magic VI. They're already in proper form here, turning the entire party insane with a single blast--a condition that I still have no spell to cure. I had to keep leaving and returning.
      
One day, I shall slaughter hundreds of you with blaster rifles.
     
There were three easy riddles here, all opening the way to areas of the dungeon, all with a common theme:

  • "This river of mine always flows down, never the same as its course. Laden with salt, it outlines a frown. The Great Sea is not its source." (TEARS)
  • "Automatically it's done; I don't have time to think. It darkens my world for a bit; it comes and it passes quick as a wink, with a two-fold, cleansing flit." (BLINK)
  • "A window they seem, that leads to no corridor. Their color lucid like a gem, reflections they cast, tho' not a mirror. Beauty resides within them." (EYES)

In the end, the dungeon was worth it. First, I found a statue that conferred all 18 skills in the game to any character for a 100,000 gold piece payment. That sounds like a lot, but I was walking around with almost a million and had another million back in the Fountain Head vault, earning interest. I bought the skills for all six of my "real" party members (i.e., not the NPCs).
      
My insane knight can't even use all of these skills, but it still seemed like a good deal.
      
I made that back easily when I followed clues to a set of coordinates not connected to the rest of the dungeon (I had to "Teleport" there) and found a chest with 1 million gold. Other chests in the dungeon held an "Ancient Artifact of Evil" (worth a lot of experience when I find the evil castle) and a "Hologram Sequencing Card." Later dungeons would deliver more of those mysterious cards. 

Finally, the dungeon produced my first two Ultimate Power Orbs, which I returned to King Zealot (the "good" king) for 1 million experience each. I later found two more and gave them to the neutral king. Does trying to keep the balance mean that I'm naturally favoring the neutral king? Wouldn't giving him all the orbs damage the concept of neutrality?
      
At least it's hard to miss these.
     
Next up was Dark Warrior Keep in B3, where Corak's notes promised that someone called the "Top Jouster" guarded two more Ultimate Power Orbs. The dungeon was swarming with dark dwarves and lesser jousters. Neither was terribly hard, although the jousters tended to do a ton of damage to one character at a time.
     
Keeping horses inside a dungeon seems cruel.
  
Annoying chests kept exploding and killing my ninja no matter how many hit points she had. I don't think it had anything to do with skill; the chests just inevitably explode when you try to open them. Naturally, I still had to try to open every one, lest I miss a quest item. Fortunately, I had a wand that cast "Raise Dead." Traps that you can't avoid or even protect against are an obnoxious game mechanic.
    
          
There was a math puzzle here involving identifying a "secret number" hidden in the walls . . .
     
    
. . . and then adding, subtracting, and multiplying various amounts written as stories on Pegasus statues.

For some reason, hanging skeletons conferred some attribute upgrades. Ultimately, I killed the Top Jouster and got his orbs.

The Arachnoid Caverns followed, and they were incredibly easy. I should have been here first. An outer ring of caverns was swarming with spiders and "Dino Beetles," and I could summon more with gongs placed throughout the area. I mostly killed them with arrows before they even reached me.
     
These were a lot harder in the last game.
     
A set of secret doors opened the way to inner caverns where a variety of crystals conferred one-time 10-point upgrades to luck, accuracy, personality, and intelligence. It took me a little trial and error before I figured out how the descriptions matched the benefit; crystals that increase luck are described as vibrating, for instance, and those that increase accuracy have a mysterious liquid flowing from them.
     
These increase intelligence.
      
Some of the rooms had thrones. Lord Might occupied one and gave me a puzzle that involved running around, speaking to the others in a particular order, and doing some math with their clues. My reward was 1 million experience points. Plus, I could give Lord Might 5,000 gems and reset the roughly 12 crystals in the dungeon, allowing them to impart their benefits again. I checked my gem total (13,000) and decided I could afford enough for one more round. I could see myself returning to the caves later in the game if I have a gem surplus.
      
This game is more puzzle-heavy than the other titles in the series.
      
Wildabar's dungeon followed, full of phantoms and ogres guarding casks of witches' brew. Two of the casks nonsensically held an imprisoned ninja named Wartowsan and a ranger named Lone Wolf, both available as an NPCs after I released them.
     
A cute reference.
     
The other casks were sometimes acid, but sometimes increased a random attribute. Unlike the crystals, there was no consistency in their descriptions, so I couldn't target the increases to particular characters.
    
I love how only one character can drink from a barrel large enough to accommodate a man.
    
In the Arachnoid Caverns, I had found keys to the last two dungeons in the opening areas. The first I tried was the Cathedral of Carnage in B3, headquarters of the Moo Cult, swarming with gargoyles and Clerics of Moo. The gargoyles weren't hard to kill, but they have an attack that sometimes paralyzes characters. Fortunately, this wears off after a few rounds. Priests and clerics of Moo used a weak electrical attack that "Protection from Elements" mostly rendered . . . wait for it . . . "moot."
      
Corak's notes paint the cult as evil but spectacularly ineffective.
      
Things went sour in the first room when a magic mouth cursed all my characters (I have no reversal spell) and got worse when I was unable to figure out a solution to a puzzle involving rotating heads. I had to mark it for a later return, but I need to solve it to get two Ultimate Power Orbs.
     
I have no idea what this was about.
      
I don't know about this Moo. This isn't the last time Van Caneghem will plague us with this kind of sillineess: the Temple of Baa figures heavily in Might and Magic VI and VII. The symbology there relates to sheep and rams, so you would assume that the priests of "Moo" worship some kind of cow god. But the head that cursed me said that "only the disciples of the Mighty Moose shall walk through these halls in peace," and there were some other references to moose in a cypher puzzle and the "moose juice" chalices, so I guess Moo is a moose. I suppose moose make about as much of a "moo" sound as cows do. Although it doesn't come up anywhere that I can see, the reference is probably to Bullwinkle specifically, as in Might and Magic II, the developer showed a fondness for other characters from the series.
  
Bold talk.

Lame walk.
   
The puzzle I couldn't solve had three parts. The first had to do with those heads. Five of them are lined up in alcoves and can be turned to face any cardinal direction. The heads are named Positro, Penetro, Dynatra, Barytro, and Proto. I couldn't figure out anything obvious from their names or anything. The second part involved an easy cypher puzzle that netted me some treasure. The third apparently involved drinking one or all of a series of "moose juice" chalices, but every sip either killed, eradicated, or stoned a character. I can solve these conditions now, but they have associated magical aging effects, and I figured there was no reason to solve that part of the puzzle when I couldn't solve the first.

Regardless, the trip was worth it. Scattered throughout the dungeon were most of the game's highest-level spells. I got "Town Portal," which frees up "Lloyd's Beacon" to be used in dungeons I want to return to instead of towns. "Raise Dead," "Resurrect," and "Holy Word" were all here, as well as some powerful offensive spells like "Moonray" and "Mass Distortion."
      
My cleric's spellbook now has most of the most powerful spells.
       
My final stop was at the Fortress of Fear in B2. An enemy called a "Plasmoid" seemed like a pushover before I realized that his attacks broke my armor and my attacks against him broke my weapons.

More difficult were a series of mummies, all of whom pathologically went after my druid every single round and caused disease. (Thankfully, that's one condition I do have a spell to cure.) An annoying and tedious lever puzzle (I had to run around the dungeon pulling levers then checking their results in the central room) led to a confrontation with the Mummy King, who had some nice treasure.
     
It looks like the mummies are begging me not to cast the "Fireball."
      
At this point, I had conquered everything in the opening 8 maps except for the two castles and the pyramid, all of which I had reasons for leaving until later. Before moving on, I returned to Slithercult Stronghold to spend some of the "quatloo coins" that were taking up precious inventory slots. Magic mouths in this dungeon give you strength, accuracy, and constitution boosts for each coin. I hope they're not needed elsewhere.

I wrapped up the session by heading to a new map. Rather than cast "Water Walk" to move to Column C or cast "Town Portal" to take us to the two locations I hadn't explored, I decided to do it organically and go see the ferryman at the tip of land in B3. He promised travel to Swamp Town.
       
This rather reminds me of that map in Might and Magic II where you find a ferryman on a river long after any sensible player would have acquired "Water Walk."
      
I'm glad I did it this way. My guide stopped several times to note islands or land features and something of their histories and lore. His first few tips were about areas I'd already explored, such as the Land of the Gargoyles. But soon we passed the ruins of Castles Greywind and Blackwind, and then the Isle of Fire, which holds many "fiery fiends" and a magically-protected town.
     
It's like being on the introductory tour in Pool of Radiance again.
     
I ended up in Swamp Town, way over in area E2, which I'll explore and write about next time--unless I decide to revert to a more systematic exploration back in C1. My guide did warn me that only "experienced adventurers" should venture outside of Swamp Town. The good news is that with "Town Portal," I can zip just about anywhere quickly. I wonder if "Fly" exists in this edition.

Miscellaneous notes:

  • I did try one visit to the arena. I killed a handful of easy enemies and got 1,000 experience points. I assume every time I go back, I'll get harder foes and more experience.
       
Arenas go back to the first title, but this game begins a tradition of making them inaccessible through normal exploration.
      
  • As is his wont, in the Cathedral of Carnage, the developer wrote his initials in the walls. 
     
I assume the "III" refers to the game number, as I've never seen Van Caneghem credited as a III.
     
  • I really haven't been using magic much in combat. The highest-level spells cost a lot of spell points. Weak and mid-range spells rarely outperform a physical attack. I have to start experimenting more now that I just got a bunch of new, powerful spells all at once.
  • Most of my party is Level 19 or 20. The training facility in Wildabar stops training at Level 20, so visiting new towns is a good idea.
  • The inventories of my first two characters are now completely full with keys, keycards, and other quest items that won't become useful until much later. That could be a problem if it continues. 
      
It's a good thing my medieval party recognizes this as something to keep.
      
My party feels awfully powerful for having only explored 1/3 of the outdoor area. I don't think there are very many spells more powerful than we have. Is it possible that the dungeons are frontloaded on the first set of islands? I guess we'll see.

Reflecting on the encounters in this session, I have to call up a couple of paragraphs that I wrote more than six years ago, in the midst of Might and Magic II

I just wish the game took itself more seriously. I don't have any problem with humor, but there's a difference between humor and goofiness, and Might & Magic II leans a bit too far towards the latter. I increase my endurance by listening to a singing ogre. We have NPCs named Thund R., Harry Kari, Sir Kill, Jed I, and Spaz Twit. A zombie, for no apparent reason, gives me an admission ticket to Corak's Cave. I fight armies of cripples. The tavern leaves the "h" out of "roasted pheasant" (ho, ho). A statue references wizards named Ybmug and Yekop (read them backwards). Add this to the nonsensical existence of clues written randomly on dungeon walls, and you have a game that makes it hard to suspend disbelief and just enjoy it. It's always stopping to say, "Hey! This is just a game! And look how clever we are!"

That doesn't make it not fun--it's still probably the best game I've played so far in this blog--it's just not quite as fun as if it took the world it created seriously and populated it with more realistic and interesting NPCs.

I have the same feeling as I go through this third edition. The Temple of Moo, random lords sitting on thrones in the midst of a cavern full of spiders, silly signs in the middle of nowhere, and a dozen other encounters all Jar-Jar-Binks their way through the plot, undermining the otherwise-serious world-building the developers have accomplished. At least the VI-VIII series mostly cut out this nonsense, but never entirely.
   
Time so far: 28 hours
Reload count: 11

*****

Quick list note: Enchantasy: Quest for the Eternal Grimoire was coming up, but I found enough evidence that (despite its copyright date) it wasn't released until 1993, so I moved it to that year.

If anyone has any documentation or experience with Chaos in Andromeda: Eyes of the Eagle, I would appreciate an e-mail. I haven't been able to find a game manual, and I'm having trouble with combat in-game.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Game 262: Inquisitor: Shade of Swords (1987)

I could be wrong, but that just looks like the regular shade of trees.
        
Inquisitor: Shade of Swords is another title from the "Golden Age" of French RPGs, which tends to mean that it offers a plagiarized story, an interface made by someone who once saw an American CRPG but never played it, and a few random weird elements that the genre never saw before or after. I suppose the weirdness starts with the fact that the title is for some reason in English while everything else in the game is in French. The in-game title also lacks the Inquisitor part, although it's found on the manual and game box.

I say "plagiarized story" because every time I recount the backstory of a French RPG, commenters come along to tell me that the same story appeared in Conan, or some obscure British sci-fi novel, or The Adventures of Tintin. Perhaps that isn't the case here, and if so I owe the developer an apology for even suggesting it. But the backstory seems a little too elaborate to have been developed for an RPG of such limited mechanics.

The setting is the planet Astul, a formerly high-tech world on which civilization has collapsed and people have entered a dark age, isolated for centuries from the rest of the galaxy, ignorant of even their own history. Men fell into warlike tribes (called "Hellus Angelus"), modeled after ancient Sparta, and nearly wiped each other out.
      
The manual cover suggests a depth of story and gameplay that isn't quite present in the game.
     
Then suddenly came a warlord in electronic armor named Crassus Laurantus who brought an end to anarchy and united everyone under his tyrannical rule. He has taken over a citadel in the city of New-Cythere (which he renamed as New-Sparta). The citadal used to be a temple to the old gods (beings of great technological achievement), whose departure from Astul caused or was coincidental to the collapse. Great secrets are rumored to reside in a room at the bottom of the temple, and of course Crassus's wealth is scattered throughout. Four adventurers arrive at the temple's door, seeking wealth and answers. 
       
I would appreciate if any native French speakers could help me with nuances I might have missed. I have no idea what the bits about "Ephore" or the whole phrase "ze zouis vautre lit d'air" means.
        
The game starts you with pre-created characters named Alton, Elisabeth, Jofil, and Eddy. Each has statistics in intelligence, observation, constitution, agility, dexterity, mysticism, ego, sensitivity, "aura," and mental ability. They are all set to 7 by default. You can increase some by lowering others; the maximum range is 5 to 15. I tried to make each character good in 3 statistics, but I suspecct I should have invested in agility, dexterity, and constitution for everyone.
     
Trading agility for intelligence.
      
After you set these attributes, you begin in a 3D textured dungeon. The goal seems to be to reach the last room of the temple's crypt and then return to the entrance. Four character portraits reflect current weapons and armor. The interface is meant to be played with a joystick, just as we saw with Fer & Flamme (1986) and L'Anneau de Zengara (1987). While the compass is selected, the joystick moves the party. Pressing the button releases the compass and allows selection of one of the other on-screen commands: search the area, check the compass, mark the current position, have a character attempt to determine in which direction the "mark" lies, manage inventory (with subcommands for picking up , trading, using, and dropping items), check character statistics, and save/quit the game.

The first level was 13 x 24. It had staircases going both up and down. There were a handful of one-way doors but no secret doors.
       
The game's first level.
      
A lot of the rooms have objects in them that look like they should be interactable but are not. They include a statue, urns, totem poles, and skeletons. For some reason, you can't turn right or left in the rooms that hold these objects, only progress forward (if there's a door on the other side), or back out the door you came in. There otherwise haven't been any special encounters or text within the game.
      
If there's anything special to do here, I'm missing it.
       
Combats occurred at mostly-fixed locations, with enemies like decurions, pretoriens, bandits, and in one case a lion. Combat uses a basic Wizardry template: specify an action for each character and watch them execute in turn, along with the enemies' attacks. Actions in combat are parry, thrust, swing, flee, use a potion, and something that translates as "try to influence the person" and has an image of a brain. Maybe this is some kind of Jedi mind-trick? It hasn't worked once. There otherwise appears to be no "magic" in the game.
      
Watching the combat actions scroll by.
     
I found combat relatively hard in the opening stages, at least until I got better equipment. Some of the fixed enemies are harder than others. A couple of my characters, with low dexterity and strength, hardly ever seem to do any damage. I do find that some enemies concentrate attacks on a single character, and if I just have that character parry every round, he hardly ever takes damage and the other characters can kill the enemies.
          
My characters hit a lot, but enemies are just "scratched."
       
Post-combat, you have the option to loot the enemy corpses for equipment, including weapons, armor, shields, helms, and (rare) potions. I don't know if there's a way to tell what items are better than others except by assuming those with the cooler icon are better. For instance, I assume the helmets with horns sticking out from the sides outperform simple caps. Characters are limited in what they can carry by strength. Once I got everyone with blades (some started with sticks) and what looks like studded leather armor, combat on the first level became much easier.
      
Looting a helm after combat.
      
I haven't been able to figure out how to interpret the grid of numbers under the character portraits. Each column is clearly a character, but I don't know what the three letters ("E," "P," and "M") stand for. The numbers seem to be a combination of armor class and hit points but don't respond in predictable ways. All I can say is that when they get down to 0, characters tend to die.

I'm also a bit confused about how health regenerates. It always seems to happen when I'm not looking, and it may have something to do with those urns, totem poles, and so on.

Occasionally, you encounter enemies who greet you with a "salut!" instead of attacking. For these encounters, you have a separate set of menu options to greet them back (which just makes them go away), attack them, barter with them, or question them. That last option always produces the same question: "Where can we find Crassus?" To that question, I always get the same answer: "I don't know."
        
Based on the backstory, I wasn't even aware that I was looking for Crassus.
        
Several of the combat encounters on Level 1 were with named enemies, and these generally produced a key at the end of combat. These keys opened a succession of locked doors, culminating in a treasure room in which I found 7,899 gold pieces. I have no idea what gold does for you except make you more susceptible to bandit attacks. There was one encounter on the level with a "gladiator" that I couldn't defeat. 
       
I suppose part of our mission is complete.
       
I went one level up from the starting area and found a small level that ended in a keyed door for which I didn't have the key. There was another stairway up, which led to an even smaller area with another keyed door. Each level has a different color tint.
      
Finding all that gold made me a bandit target. This one has a name.
    
There were no combats on the upper levels, but there were friendly encounters with some figures that looked like they might have been enemies before. I began to wonder if finding the treasure was causing former enemies to treat me fondly. (The manual suggests something like this.) I tried hitting "barter" a few times and discovered that I could buy keys from a couple of NPCs who I probably would have had to kill before the treasure haul. Unfortunately, the purchased keys didn't allow me to progress much more on the upper levels.
      
Apparently, finding the emperor's treasure elevated me to a new caste.
     
I turned around and went into the basement but also hit a dead end. A keyed door opened into a prison area with some cells and skeletons, but I didn't find anything there.
The summary on MobyGames suggests that there's five total levels, but I don't know where that comes from.

Speaking of levels, my characters don't seem to be going anywhere. There is a "level" variable in the character statistics, but Alton started at 1 and the others started at 0, and none have budged. Two different web sites covering the game say explicitly that there is no character leveling at all, and the manual doesn't mention anything about it, so perhaps this is just a placeholder statistic.
      
Despite all the battles, Elisabeth remains at Level 0.
     
At this point, I'm a bit stuck. The only encounter I haven't completed is with the gladiator on Level 1, but I can't even hit him. I don't expect to find much help online or via any commenters who have played this game, but perhaps I'm wrong. I'll take hints while enjoying another session of Might and Magic III.

Time so far: 5 hours
Reload count: 3

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Might and Magic III: Machinations and Mind-Teasers

    
The second king doesn't even pretend to have noble goals.
          
Lots accomplished in this last session. I explored the second half of columns A and B, a new town, and several dungeons I'd previously bypassed.

Area A3 was mostly forest (called the "Evil Eye Forest" in Corak's notes), dominated by "screamers"--floating heads capable of causing insanity, a condition that increases might and speed but lowers intelligence and personality. I think I need the temple to cure it, but occasionally it just seems to go away on its own. As usual there was a "spawn point," a wagon full of screamer pods, destroying which delivered far more gold and experience than individual screamers.
       
You can always count on New World to throw in a few original enemies.
     
Wagons belonging to gypsy-like travelers called "Zingara" (drawn from one of many exonyms for Romani) were evenly spaced throughout the forest, mostly offering scams. For instance, a supposed artifact ring that a Zingara named Povorka sold me for $1,000 turned out to be regular iron ring worth about a tenth of that, and a "protection aura" did nothing. One of the Zingara did teach the "Arms Master" skill to my knight, however, and another cured insanity.
     
I don't remember if this was a scam or not. I also don't remember how Allan Bow died. I didn't notice for a long time.
      
There was a southwest square in the middle of a bay with a single mountain tile. It held a shack, and inside the shack was a gold card engraved with a pyramid. It was in a glass case that none of my characters were strong enough to break. I made a note to return later, but I'm sure this is the way into the pyramid in A2.
            
           
Only about half of B3 was visitable at first, owing to Piranha Bay taking up much of the northern half. Corak's notes called it the "Land of Gargoyles." It was perhaps the hardest outdoor map so far, full of vampire bats and ghouls, the latter of which were particularly tough. I eventually cleared them out. The mountains in the area held a lot of buried treasure, plus a locked dungeon that I saved for later.
      
Checking out the stats for my ghoul foes.
     
Two of the graves offered simple riddles, the answers to which gave me clues about Greywind's and Blackwind's wedding days (per the last entry, on those days their thrones confer some kind of special power). The riddles and answers were:
        
  • "What is too much for one, enough for two, but nothing for three?" (SECRET). The phrasing is a little weird, but I recognize it as a variant of a riddle I've heard dozens of times before.
  • "The more there is of it, the less you see." (DARKNESS). I got it only after trying and failing with FOG and MIST.
             
My reward for a correct answer.
      
There were two encounters--a shack and a gargoyle altar--that seemed to do nothing but severely damage my party with no reward. A peninsula south of Baywatch held a ship that offered travel to "Swamp Town" on one of the other islands.

Area A4 transitioned to the southern part of the starting island via a washed-out bridge; everyone needs the "Swimming" skill to proceed, but I got it ages ago. The upper island reached a peninsula called "Poison Point," swarming with spiders. I found the "Cure Poison" spell after I'd defeated most of them. The lower island held "Thorn Blossom Orchard," with evenly-spaced trees. It was full of "magic mantises" and more "oh no bugs," neither of which was too hard.
     
A typical combat in the area.
     
Useful fountains generally stopped appearing after the first two maps (that's where you need them most, I guess) so I was surprised to find one in the western part of the orchard. But drinking from it didn't give me a bonus--it teleported me to a square in map E4. Surrounded by enemies, I declined to explore the area for the time being and immediately returned.
       
Thankfully, these guys either didn't know how to use the well or didn't care to follow us.
       
The last map was B4, representing the eastern end of the southern island plus the southern end of the "Land of Gargoyles." In the eastern Orchard there was an entry to "Arachnid Cavern," which I saved for later. I have a note to expect some skill upgrades in there.

The centerpiece of the area was Castle Blood Reign, oddly enough the "neutral" castle despite its name. There, "Tumult, King Chaotic" asked me to tip the balance in neither the direction of King Righteous or King Malefactor, but to give the Ultimate Power Orbs to him instead. At first it sounded tempting. After all, the "good" king is presented as a "zealot." Perhaps balance is the way to go. Then Tumult ruined it by saying that he wanted to maintain balance between the other kings so "my schemes can be executed unhindered." It doesn't sound like any of these kings are really admirable, and I frankly don't know which I'll support with Orbs if I ever find them. Like Righteous, Tumult had an advisor who wanted me to return with "Ancient Artifacts of Neutrality."
       
My map of the world at the end of this session.
     
I've been mentioning the "spawn points" but not the creativity with which the authors described each one. The ghouls in B3, for instance, are explained by some kind of "lamprey" biting corpses in a graveyard and bringing them to life. "Bugaboos" are apparently grown from larvae that the party burned. Orc and goblin outposts (which we burn) are described as having beds, maps, and notes on the area. Spiders spawn from a shack with a "suffocating mass of webs."
       
Magic mantises apparently also grow from larvae.
       
By the time I was done with the four maps, I had a ton of new useful spells, mostly found in mountain caches. They included "Teleport," "Etherealize," "Water Walk," and "Lloyd's Beacon," the combination of which means I can travel just about anywhere. I set "Lloyd's Beacon" for Baywatch so that I can instantly return to town from a dungeon. Side note: Lloyd was from CRON and died there, so how does the name of his spell carry over to Terra? Is this perhaps a sign that the Isles of Terra were populated by the beings whose CRON crashed into it at the end of Might and Magic II?
      
Setting the beacon to a convenient location.
      
Thanks to poison, I was in pretty bad shape when I limped into the city of Wildabar on the southeast coast, so I was somewhat chagrined to find it swarming with hostile ninjas. I managed to get through the initial battles. Corak's notes indicated that the "Wildabar Ninja Clan" had been hired by King Chaotic to take the town from the native dwarves. I ended up having to fight both ninjas and dwarves to clear the town. Wildabar had the usual services plus NPCs who taught "Navigator," "Body Building," and "Arms Master."
      
The party wanders into a bad 1980s movie.
      
I should mention that my routine includes frequent stops in the cities to check whether I'm ready to level up, and to identify and sell equipment. I've managed to settle into a quick process for the latter, and I rather enjoy distributing upgrades to my characters after every few hours of adventuring. Some of my items include a "pearl marksman pike" (4-18 damage and +10 accuracy) held by my paladin, "poisonous ebony charisma chain mail" (+10 armor class, +20 resistance to acid and poison, +12 personality) worn by my cleric, and a "venomous bronze health hammer" (0-8 damage, +2 to hit modifier, +4 acid/poison damage, +15 resistance to acid/poison, +6 hit points) wielded by my druid. Most of my characters have two-handed weapons, but each one keeps a shield on standby in case I find good one-handed weapons later.

Broken items are the bane of my existence. Repairing an item costs half it's sale value, and the worst suit of armor in the party is worth at least $5,000. The aforementioned ebony chain is worth $18,000, so it costs $9,000 to repair. I've noticed that armor only seems to break when a character is knocked unconscious, so I've been dedicating a lot of effort to preventing that from happening. I guess some enemies have an attack that breaks armor no matter what, but I haven't encountered them yet.

After Wildabar, I had a long list of places to revisit and fully explore, including 12 dungeons. I began by using "Water Walk" to map the previously-unexplored water areas. I only found one new encounter in this process--an island in the southwest corner where a nymph named Althea lived. I didn't have anything for her, so she took off, but not before making all my male characters fall "in love" with her. A couple of days later, their condition unaddressed, it changed to "heartbroken." I had to get it healed a the temple.
        
My party, the men appropriately looking like men in love.
   
I returned to the Cyclops Caverns to finally finish them. The damned dungeon seemed like it would never end, opening vast new areas every time I thought I was almost done. But it was worth it. After I killed the Cyclops King, most of the tough enemies were gone. I found my first Ancient Artifacts--one good, one neutral--plus a chest with 500,000 gold.

It turns out that the Ancient Artifacts, when delivered to their respective kings' seneschals, convey a tremendous amount of experience. Several hundred thousand. That's enough for at least one level at my character's current levels (12-14). Their experience was also bolstered by a number of dungeon pools that say "you're a more experienced adventurer!" when you wade in them.
        
Praythos accepts an Ancient Artifact of Good.
       
I next cleared Slithercult Stronghold, a much easier dungeon populated by "cobra fiends," evil rangers, and living candles. Like most dungeons, the greater danger was in the traps, including a large cavern with multiple guillotine traps and teleporters interspersed among them. "Jump" helped me get through it.
      
Well, this looks inviting.

      
In a pool, I found a "Precious Pearl of Youth and Beauty," which vaguely rings a bell. I think there are more of these.
     
Do I give these to someone on the sea?
       
At one point, I reached a talking head who demanded to know who sent me. A message on a wall had given me a clue:
        
        
I didn't know the answer, but I was sure that the clue was referring to the NPC brothers I encountered in Baywatch, including Brother Alpha and Brother Beta. I assumed the rest of the clan used Greek letters for their names, so I just tried the sequence, starting with GAMMA and DELTA, before hitting the answer with EPSILON.

On the other side of that riddle was a chamber where magic mouths took "Quatloo Coins" in exchange for 5-point bumps in attributes. I'd been finding these coins in odd chests lately, so I spent a few.

The final area I explored this session was the dungeon of Castle Whiteshield (the good castle). It pissed me off. There were about a dozen doors with this configuration . . .
       
        
. . . meaning that I had to walk into the blade and kick the door, taking damage twice, before getting into the rooms beyond.

Some of the rooms held elixirs that increased all attributes by 10 points for a character, so that was nice.
    
That's not sudden. I've felt that way my whole life.
     
In the others, notes hidden on skeletons spelled out the following verse:

The good king Zealot was quite a knave
To his wife and her lover a box he gave
The wife's young lover was an orc named Smello
With hell-hound's breath and hair of yellow
Smello's box sent him reeling
And wooden planks were his last feeling
The Queen was shocked by her pine box
For the open end had golden locks
     
That's a bit of a paradox.
     
A further note said that "the countersign lies in the queen's box," which I interpreted from the poem as SMELLO'S HEAD, though it turns out that it's just SMELLO. The "countersign" is necessary to open certain chests on the main floor of Whiteshield, but even with it, guards swam you, and those guards are not defeatable by my characters. ("Lloyd's Beacon" doesn't work in the castle, either.) I saved its use for later.
     
My party soon reloaded.
     
Miscellaneous notes:

  • As my NPCs' levels increase, so do their daily fees. I'm currently paying more than $2,000 per day for each of them. That's a drop in the bucket, granted, compared to what I have after Cyclops Caverns, but I still wonder if it will reach the point where they're not worth it.
    
This number keeps creeping up.
     
  • The game doesn't allow you to stand on water and shoot at creatures on land. Your shots are blocked or just miss.
      
Wasting time shooting at spiders.
    
  • There were a lot of random signs in the lower maps, something that did not appear in the upper ones.
      
I thought this was warning me about sea creatures, but I didn't find any.
      
  • Giant spiders seem to keep respawning in A4 despite my having destroyed their spawn points.
  • I still keep finding silver skulls that the guy back in Fountain Head buys for $1,000.
  • In the Cyclops Caverns, I searched a pool and found something called an "Ancient Fizbin of Misfortune." The search resulted in the eradication--permanent death--of my ninja. I think this still might be recoverable by a temple, but I couldn't remember for sure, so I reloaded and marked the location in case I need the Fizbin later.
       
     
  • It appears that enemies can't fire ranged weapons at you unless you can see them. That means you can turn your backs to them and "pass" until they come into melee range. This was an effective strategy against the "evil rangers," who did more damage to me at a distance than I was doing to them.
  • The game world does not wrap. Trying to head west from column A is just like walking into an invisible wall.
  • The whirlpools out in Piranha Bay don't seem to do anything but transport you to the nearest bit of land, canceling your "Water Walk" spell in the process.
  • I've grown to hate dungeon encounters like this. You just know that you have to search the pool. Probably something good will come of it. But at the unavoidable cost of all the searcher's hit points or something.
       
And there's about 20 of them per dungeon.
     
I've mapped 33% of the overworld, but I still have a lot of dungeons in that area to explore, so I suspect I'm no more than 25% of the way through the game. I seems likely that the next entry or two will be devoted to my clearing up the stuff I bypassed between A1 and B4 before moving on to new areas.

I hope this level of detail is working out for everyone. Next time, I'll try to cover magic and combat in-depth. I'm feeling good right now because I'm writing this on 5 September 2017 but not scheduling it to post until 16 September, and I have other posts evenly-spaced in between. I'm going to be at a conference for the next 10 days with no time to play or write, but for the first time since I started the blog, I've scheduled enough material in advance that we won't have a gap like we usually do. By the time I write about Might and Magic III again, we'll be back in "real time."

Time so far: 21 hours
Reload count: 10