Archive for 2017

The Second Sky: Weapons

We do of course get a steady diet of new monsters and terrain features as the game goes on. Notable additions include spike traps that spring up and kill things every ten turns, temporal beacons that let you deliberately return rooms to their unsolved state to enable elaborate Room Clear/Level Clear gate shenanigans, and Fluff, a sort of aerial tarstuff with enough novel properties to fill a blog post of its own. But there’s one addition that has me particularly interested, because it’s a completely new category of thing for the designers to experiment with: weapons.

In a sense, this isn’t entirely new. The City Beneath gave us one other alternate weapon, that being the null weapon, the state of being weaponless. Also, the idea was played with a bit in Wonderquest, the one game I know of that outright imitates DROD‘s mechanics. Wonderquest had this notion that you were playing as a party of multiple characters with different abilities, and some of those characters had different weapons; I remember in particular one that had a staff that extended in two opposite directions. You only had one character in play at a time, though, and switched among them by stepping on tokens on the floor. It mainly used this to limit access to characters, making the ones you needed difficult to access.

DROD‘s weapon-switching is also based around stepping on tokens, but so far, it’s mainly used this to force you to switch to weapons you don’t want, ones that are less powerful than the default Really Big Sword. The first alternative you get is a mere wooden stick, incapable of killing anything directly. Hitting something with a stick briefly stuns it, and pushes it to an adjacent space if there’s room. Mind you, this can be enough to kill things. Just push it off a cliff, or into a hazard like a spike trap. And the ability to push monsters around isn’t nothing. There are loads of puzzles throughout the DROD series about getting monsters to go where they’re useful to you, and previously, the only way to do this was to make them chase you there.

The second weapon you get is a spear. This is capable of killing things, but only with poking movements. Hit a monster with the side and it just acts like a stick. In a way, this seems like the best of both worlds, because you can both kill and push with it. But so much of my monster-slaying technique relies on swings and side-steps and back-swipes that you can only do with the sword. Killing with a spear is just a great deal less efficient. If you want to stand your ground, you have to keep backing up to do it.

That’s all I’ve found. I expect there will be more, maybe even the long-anticipated ray gun. That’s an old in-joke from the Caravel forums — the ray gun is the canonical example of a player’s request for a feature that would ruin the game by making it too easy. But I trust that the designers would find ways of making a ray gun into a liability.

After all, they’ve found ways to make the obviously inferior weapons better than your sword.

It all comes down to the immense variety of game elements and how they interact. Some monsters, like Gentryii or Wubbas, are invulnerable to damage. If you hit them with your sword, it just does nothing. If you hit them with a stick, it pushes them just like it pushes anything else. So the stick is a better choice than the sword against them. And as for the spear, I’ve recently discovered that it has a secret virtue: it can damage tarstuff at any point, without regard to edge or corner. These things aren’t inferior. They’re specialized.

The Second Sky: The People of the Empire

The intro level to DROD: The Second Sky makes First Chemist seem like an important character, but he disappears after that. Presumably he has chemist business to attend back at the vats while Beethro ventures out looking for more answers. He’s replaced by an array of minor characters, the sort of whimsical and eccentric cast that’s become one of DROD’s trademarks. There are the Truth Vessels, occasionally catching up to report on their findings in their technical-sounding gibberish. There’s a Critic, who just shows up to make disappointed comments about your puzzle-solving — she’s kind of like the watchers from Journey to Rooted Hold, except that her complaints are ones you can’t act on: “Your sword is too big”, for example. (Perhaps a reaction to discussion threads?) On one level, a woman repeatedly pops in to inform you that you’ll never be able to steal her precious diamond doily. Beethro protests that he has no intention of even trying, although eventually her accusations arouse his curiosity about it. The Pit Thing is still around, as pit-thingy as ever.

And there’s a recurring antagonist, the first we’ve seen since the Slayer in Journey to Rooted Hold. In behavior, however, he’s less like the Slayer and more like the final bosses in all the other DROD games: instead of engaging you in combat directly, he keeps his distance, opening and closing doors to force you into traps. He’s the one who sends Beethro into the Gentryii dungeon. His name: First Archivist, leader of the faction that unleashed the Aumtlichs on the surface-dwellers back in The City Beneath.

He’s not the one who ordered that attack, however. He was Second Archivist back then. The previous First Archivist, the one who sent the Aumtlichs to war, is still around, but powerless and nameless. I haven’t yet learned exactly how or why he was deposed. Presumably it has to do with his failed attempt at genocide, but which is the factor that led to his downfall: the genocide or the failure?

At this point, I’m thinking the former, because the more we learn about the Empire, the more it turns out that they’re mostly not bad people, just weird and secretive and sometimes under the sway of Mothingness. Previous First Archivist’s attitudes may well be atypical; indeed, Halph’s big project for the Empire turns out to be a plan to save the surface-dwellers from an imminent cataclysm called “the Turning”. Beethro got off on the wrong foot with everyone with the whole “leave or we’ll send the Slayer after you” thing, but even he’s starting to mellow towards them. He cooperates with First Chemist without making snarky comments about it. Back in TCB, when Beethro briefly returns to Dugandy and discovers that his associate Bombus Gadhan is collaborating with the Empire, he flies into a rage, accuses Bombus of treason, and winds up fighting and then escaping from the Dugandy royal guard. When he returns to Dugandy again in TSS, it’s to sit down and talk to Bombus, and pool their knowledge about what’s going on.

So if the people of the Empire aren’t just automatically evil, we have to ask: why is New First Archivist trying to kill Beethro? If I understand correctly, the sole reason is that when they first meet, Beethro automatically assumes that he’s an enemy just like Previous First Archivist, and as a result is rude to him, then refuses to apologize. And while First Archivist’s response to this is wildly disproportional, it has to be said that Beethro could have spared himself a great deal of effort and grief (and deprived the player of some wicked puzzles) by just apologizing. Beethro has a talent for making trouble for himself. I kind of suspect that his slapdash efforts at saving the surfacers are going to collide with Halph’s at some point, leaving them both in ruins, like Guybrush and Elaine. But even if so, not all the blame will lie on Beethro. What we have, in both this hypothetical and in the plot generally, is a failure to communicate. And Beethro is at least making an effort in that department, what with learning a new language.

DROD: The Second Sky

It’s been nearly a year since I decided to give the first four DROD games a quick play-through in preparation for tackling the fifth. Let’s get on with it, shall we? Forth into the unknown!

But not into the expected unknown. Given the title The Second Sky, I thought that we’d be exploring the world that Beethro finds past Lowest Point at the end of The City Beneath, but that hasn’t happened yet. Instead, we get a time skip of at least a month. Beethro is a wanted criminal in the Empire now, but has formed an alliance with a previously-unseen character named First Chemist. Together, they have a plan to save the surface-dwellers that involves “Truth Vessels”, vat-grown people who are incapable of saying anything false — although they can only speak and understand a goofy-sounding language called “true speech”. Beethro has learned this language. So, quite a lot has happened offscreen, and it’s revealed to the player as part of the “story so far” summary, in exactly the same format as the familiar stuff from the previous games: a series of brief cutscene fragments with expository voice-overs between them, like clips in a trailer, with no division between the old stuff and the new.

To be honest, I suspect that the unfamiliar portions come from the “Smitemaster’s Selection” expansions, which I haven’t (yet) played. If so, this is the first time the Selections have had crucial relevance to the main titles. But I kind of like the the idea of a fake “Previously On” sequence that mixes in items that weren’t actually previously on.

I’m only a few levels into the game proper at this point. We start with a whirlwind reintroduction to the basic game elements. Just as I observed when playing Gunthro and the Epic Blunder, what exactly constitutes the basics varies from game to game. Things that were unfamiliar to Beethro a couple of games ago, such as adders and pressure plates, he now treats as common knowledge. He does comment on not yet being used to the idea of force arrows that can be turned on and off, but that’s because that’s something new to this game.

I’ve gotten just far enough to see the first really major new game element: the Gentryii. These are essentially droddified versions of the Chain Chomps from Mario: indestructible animated metal balls with sharp teeth, products of hubris in a bygone age, chained to the walls of a dungeon and sealed away when they couldn’t be killed. The chains snake around from tile to tile in a way that makes them seem at first like a new variety of Serpent, but they’re really very different from serpents mechanically. Serpents move at right angles, trailing their bodies behind them, like in the classic Snake game. Gentryii chains can lie diagonally, and they’re (usually) fixed at one end, so that the tension of the Gentryii pulling at the other end can straighten out convolutions. This makes it difficult to get them usefully stuck. Yes, you can avoid getting killed by a Gentryii by just staying beyond the chain’s reach, but sometimes they’re positioned right where you need to go, like guard dogs, with the chain preventing them from leaving their post. Part of the trick here is that the chain itself acts as an obstacle. Beethro can’t cross it, but neither can the Gentryii.

In fact, if I’m not mistaken, the Gentryii chain is the only sort of obstacle I’ve seen that can’t be crossed diagonally. Usually, if two diagonally adjacent tiles are both empty, you can move from one to the other, even if the two tiles neighboring them are solid walls. Even the gaze of an Evil Eye or an Aumtlich can be crossed without triggering when it’s on a slant. But a Gentryii chain is impermeable. You can still stab monsters through it, though.

More tomorrow. I’ll probably have something to say about the characters.


I was recently looking over some old browser tabs. One that I’ve apparently been hanging onto since 2015 was a Flash-based room escape game called Elements, the still-latest such work by an artist named Neutral. And I’m glad that I found and played it, because it’s a peculiar example of the room-escape genre. It basically morphs into a small mystlike.

Room escapes aren’t far removed from mystlikes to begin with, of course. Their basic dynamic is the same: clicking around, exploring, looking for ways to unlock stuff. The chief difference is that mystlikes mainly have you explore outward, journeying to new places, while in room escapes, you explore inward, unlocking drawers and peering behind sofas, gaining access to ever greater layers of detail. The moment you’re able to journey to a new place, the game is over. This is a superficial distinction, really. There’s no mechanical difference between clicking a hotspot to walk down a pathway and clicking a hotspot to take a closer look at a bookshelf. But it’s a difference that’s important enough to the feel of the thing to have genres built around it.

Now, I’ve seen room escapes with more than one location, but usually anything beyond the initial room is a mere mere annex to it. Neutral’s previous game Vision, for example, has a mechanism that unlocks a door onto a small balcony where a needed item is housed. Once you’re on the balcony, the door closes behind you, turning the balcony into a small room escape of its own, a sub-escape where you try to get back to the main room you’re trying to escape from. Elements takes things considerably farther than that, with a chain of four additional rooms that are the initial room’s equal, including one that’s a spiral staircase that you walk up and down, looking for clues. Sometimes you’re locked into a room, sometimes you have the run of all the rooms you’ve found. Eventually you loop back to the initial room and open up the obvious front door, and there’s another room past that one.

The initial room has standard room-escape decor: easily-modeled modernist furniture. This creates an impression of genre convention, so that later rooms can break it by putting you in an unfinished cave or an indoor garden. These settings aren’t notable for a mystlike or an adventure game. It’s just the initial false impression that you’re in an ordinary room escape that makes them stand out.

The thing that really gets my attention, though, is the extent to which it’s concerned with building systems of symbols and glyphs, with simple patterns feeding forward into less-specified ones. This is the chief reason it keeps letting you go back to previous rooms: so you can recognize something you’ve seen before, then go back and look at the original with new understanding. Interpreting vague and mysterious symbols is a staple of the room escape genre, but it’s only in a larger game that the system can go several levels deep like that. Not all mystlikes try it, but I wish more would, because it’s one of my favorite things in a game.

ToEE: Conversation Skills

One last Temple post before IF Comp 2017. I keep going back to Hommlet, because I have so much unfinished business there, and because I keep hoping that getting some of that quest XP (which, it turns out, does exist) will help me get my party up to level 4 and make the combat encounters easier. But the remaining quests seem fairly intractable. Person A says “I need person B to do a thing”, but person B either doesn’t have the resources to do the thing, or is unwilling to do it, or just recursively involves person C in the problem. I thought at first that the key to all this would be the “Factions” mechanic, which gets a whole section to itself in the quest log, but that section is still empty after all this time.

I did have something of a breakthrough, though. Perhaps the unwilling could be persuaded if I had the right skills? The 3.5e rules provide several conversational skills: Diplomacy, Bluff, Intimidate. These are all keyed to your Charisma score, and unfortunately, as I was anticipating a game mostly about combat, I had used Charisma as my dump stat for most of my characters. The only character I had put any points of Charisma into at all was my cleric, because it plays a role in turning undead. Sure, I could sink skill points into Diplomacy, Bluff, and Intimidate specifically, and I’ll probably do so eventually, turning my rogue, who gets a ton of skill points on leveling, into the party’s conversation expert. But I can only do that on gaining levels, and that’s going slow.

The breakthrough, then, was realizing that my cleric had access to a spell, “Eagle’s Splendor”, that grants a temporary +4 boost to Charisma. And so I made my rounds of Hommlet again, checking to see if this was enough to change anything. As it turned out, it worked in exactly one case: a miller’s apprentice who wanted to change religion, but was afraid of what his master would say and wanted me to secure his permission. The spell didn’t give me enough of a bonus to change the miller’s mind, but it did get my Bluff skill to the point where I could just lie to the kid about what the miller said, and that’s apparently enough to complete the quest.

It turns out that the conversation skills work a little differently from in real D&D. There, you can attempt to lie, persuade, or scare anyone about anything, because obviously the game is freeform enough that there’s nothing stopping you. The skills just provide a mechanism for determining the consequences, in the event that the DM doesn’t want to just make a ruling by fiat. In the CRPG, however, there is no such thing as a failed Bluff, Diplomacy, or Intimidate check. If your skill isn’t high enough to tell a convincing lie, the lie isn’t even listed. The dialogue UI even puts special icons next to the affected options, to make it clear what your skills are doing. This is a pretty significant change to the feel of the thing, taking out any sense of risk. But I guess risk is more or less gone when you can save and load. The way they’re doing it is probably the best option, on the whole. Random failure in a scripted conversation seems like it would be a bad idea. If you don’t communicate the mechanics to the player, it leaves them ignorant of why they failed, and if you do, it creates a motivation to replay the same conversations over and over until they succeed. Which is how I’ve treated the combat sometimes, but at least combat is complicated enough to vary significantly between attempts. I guess this has significance for procedural conversation systems.

ToEE: Nulb

One way or another, the moat house quest leads the player to the nearby town of Nulb, where you can get directions to the Temple of Elemental Evil itself. I’ve ventured inside the Temple only briefly — it’s still well beyond my capabilities. Nulb was more explore-worthy, although nowhere near as large as Hommlet. It’s basically the same idea as Buccaneer’s Den in the Ultima games: a pirate settlement, built on an irregular tangle of piers, devoted entirely to wickedness and debauchery.

And, as in Buccaneer’s Den, this means it’s all kind of compressed and cursory, without much examination of what it all means. Here’s a pirate ship, there’s a whore house, over there is a tavern that has regular brawls that people bet on. Hommlet also has a tavern, but Nulb, despite being smaller, has two. A blacksmith’s assistant offers to help you steal his master’s wares. Two of the pirates seem to be in an abusive gay relationship, and they’re the only openly gay characters I’ve seen. An old gypsy woman has a young female slave, who you can buy and set free, or for that matter buy and keep. “Gypsies” in fantasy worlds are always problematic, considering that they’re a stereotype of a real-world ethnicity, but if that bothers you, wait til you see the old Chinese man selling exotic weapons, and consider how he was probably played by the typical teenage dungeon master back in the 80s. Heck, consider how the very existence of that whore house in such campaigns. In the CRPG version, it’s filled with naked women, completely interchangeable and without any dialogue. It’s not unusual for the game to treat supernumeraries this way, but context makes it oogier.

There’s one difference between Nulb and Hommlet in the CRPG version that seems particularly strange: in Nulb, you can flirt with all the tavern wenches, and some of the other characters besides. The dialogue menus in Hommlet didn’t even have such an option. It’s as if merely being in such a place expands the range of social possibility a little. Probably it’s another artifact of adaptation, that the original module contained explicit instructions about how characters in Nulb respond to flirting and no such instructions for Hommlet. If so, it shows something about what the creators of the module were expecting of the players, that they would see a place where all manner of licentiousness is practiced and perceive it as permission to throw their inhibitions to the winds.

Hommlet is the picket-fenced suburb of Greyhawk, full of wholesome middle-class families whose chief concerns are getting authority figures to approve their marriages and arguing about which church to attend. Nulb is the attempted alternative to this. Sexier, edgier. There are no children in Nulb. Everything transgressive you can think of happens there. Except it’s all a vision from behind that picket fence, exoticized and othered.

ToEE: Math Riddles

My earlier misunderstanding about Jaroo illustrates some of the difficulty of translating a tabletop RPG module to a computer. A human DM can easily improvise NPC dialogue to address gaps in the players’ knowledge, but there is no improvisation in a CRPG. Every eventuality must be accounted for in advance, and that’s hard to do. But even worse, the need to conduct dialogue through pre-established menu trees makes it difficult to allow the player to communicate understanding, or for the game to figure out what the player does and doesn’t know. I’ve just been through another bit that illustrates this even more clearly.

Off in the eastern part of Hommlet, a pair of semi-retired adventurers named Rufus and Burne are building a castle. I’d heard of them long before I met them; the entire town militia seems to be in their employ and willing to sing their praises to anyone who asks. Note that the game only uses voice acting for a few conversations, chiefly first meetings with important characters. Thus, it was only when I talked to Burne for the first time that I learned to my horror that his name is pronounced like “Bernie”. I’m guessing that he specializes in fire magic, too — he’s the mage of the Rufus/Bernie duo.

If you talk to Bernie enough, he’ll challenge you to figure out a couple of puzzles, decorated as true anecdotes from his adventures. Get them right, and he’ll reward you with a couple of valuable spell-scrolls; fail, and you have to make a donation to the castle-building fund. Of course, the wager isn’t really the thing motivating the player here. The real reason to do the challenge is simply to do the challenge. The first puzzle is a simple people-wearing-colored-hats-they-can’t-see logic problem. The second is more complicated. It involves an irregular set of handshakes among group of twelve people, six wizards and their apprentices, under certain constraints, and concludes with the question “How many people did my apprentice greet?” At first I thought that this was actually unsolvable, that there wasn’t enough information, and I came up with an alternative way of finding the answer: as it happened, Bernie’s apprentice was in my party. If I just told Burne I wanted to take some time to think about it, I could ask the apprentice what had happened at that meeting. I still think this would have made a good alternate solution, but the game doesn’t recognize it. I did manage to figure it out after drawing some diagrams, though.

Now, here’s the hard part: Simply guessing the answers to the riddles is not enough. If you get the right answer but can’t explain how you got it, Bernie gives you a lesser reward than if you actually figure out the solutions. I assume that the puzzles are inherited from the tabletop D&D module that ToEE is based on, and in that context, it’s easy for the DM, acting in the role of Bernie, to ask you to explain your reasoning and judge the result. But how do you do this in a menu-based dialogue system?

The creators of this game decided to preserve the content of the puzzles at the expense of their essential nature. Instead of a puzzle for the player, it becomes a stat check on the character doing the talking. That is, you still have to find the right answer, but once you give it, your character’s Intelligence stat determines whether or not a good explanation of the reasoning behind the solution appears as an option in the dialogue menu. (This breaks the UI somewhat; only the first line of the explanation is clickable.) You can still solve the puzzles before giving an answer, but it’s no longer really necessary. With save/load, you can brute-force your way to a solution.

Which is kind of fitting, because, as I’ve said, this is to some extent a puzzle game overall, with most of the puzzles being combat encounters. Those puzzles are solvable by repeated reloading and retrying, so why not these?

ToEE: Doors

The Temple of Elemental Evil engine supports two distinct types of doors. You’ve got your doors that separate rooms, and you’ve got your doors that separate zones. The former sort are wall features that can be toggled open and closed with a click, and that block movement and vision while closed. The latter are blue door-shaped or stairway-shaped icons overlaid on the world, that transport your party to a different map when walked into. Zone doors are actually a great deal more common than room doors. Just about every store and dwelling in Hommlet has its interior on a separate map, whereas you’re not likely to see any interior doors until you get to the dungeon, and even then, you might not see them. Despite a cursor change on rollover, they’re not nearly as visible as those bright blue zone-change icons. Let me tell you a story.

On the first floor of the moat house dungeon, there’s a room containing an ogre. I had kind of forgotten about this, because the first time I entered that room, the ogre showed that it could easily kill my guys with a single blow, and so I had mentally labeled the encounter as “too tough for now”. But in my latest session, I gave it another try, taking advantage of the “Cause Fear” spell that one of my NPC followers knows. I feel like the best monster encounters in this game have this puzzle-like aspect to them, that they become easy once you hit on the right tactics. That one spell was basically all it took to win the fight.

On the opposite side of the ogre room was a “natural cavern”-textured passage downward, leading into unexplored territory, but also back into explored territory: one branch led down to the home of those gnolls I mentioned last time. There wasn’t even a secret door or anything hiding the passage from the gnoll end; it was just a hole in the wall that I had failed to notice previously. There was, however, a secret door in the passage near the ogre side, which my elf found. Elves have a passive ability to notice secret doors without searching, and I had an elf in my party for this very reason. When the elf passed by a certain point, suddenly a blue icon appeared, indicating inter-zone door, which led back up to the first floor. The destination was a room I hadn’t seen before: the actual hideout of the bandits I was supposed to hunt down. This room, it turns out, is directly adjacent to the dungeon’s entrance room, through a perfectly ordinary door that I had completely missed before, because that part of the room was kind of dark.

Presumably the intention here was that the ordinary door was supposed to be the easy way into the bandit room, and the secret passage was supposed to be found from there, not at the end where I found it. That would make it a way for observant adventurers to bypass the ogre and the gnolls. But I did it backwards, because it’s easier to find a secret door than to spot a non-secret one. In fact, it’s at least an ogre-fight easier.

One more irony: Before I did all this, I made a sally into another hall that I knew to be populated by humans. Not by fighting them, mind you. I had tried that before, and found them to be both numerous and tough. No, this time I just put my rogue into sneak mode and had her do some reconnaissance. Sneak mode is fairly miraculous in this game; you can walk right in front of people in well-lit conditions and they just look through you. At the end of a big room full of guards, I found the chamber of Lareth the Beautiful, who’s apparently in charge of the moat house operation, and who’s so evil, he emits particle effects even when he’s just standing there. I still haven’t confronted Lareth at all. I just rifled his dresser, boosted his diary, and scrammed. The diary told me some things I already suspected, and some other things that I did not, which I may describe later. For now, the relevant part is his delight at the arrival of the bandits: They’re a plausible cover for the murders he’s doing! If anyone comes sniffing around, they’ll just kill the bandits and leave satisfied! It’s perfect! Well, except for the minor detail that Lareth was a lot easier to find. I actually thought that Lareth’s men were the bandits until I found that diary.

Going back to Church of St. Cuthbert, I find that killing the bandits is enough to let me turn in the “clear the moat house” quest, even though I know for a fact that the moat house is not in any meaningful sense cleared. I think I may hold off on that for a little bit.

ToEE: Good, Evil, and Neutral

It’s been a busy couple of weeks, but I did manage to get in a little bit of Temple time. My chief accomplishment was slaughtering a gaggle of gnolls living under that moat house. This was actually optional; if you manage to talk to the gnoll leader without making him attack you — say, by means of a Charm Person spell — you learn that they’re planning on clearing out pretty soon anyway, in fear of the greater evils being awakened in the vicinity. And that’s a useful bit of plot for him to provide, but once I had it, I killed him anyway. In Wizardry III, this behavior, attacking non-hostile monsters, would be considered evil, and start to turn my party evil. For all the care that ToEE puts onto humanizing its characters, its lack of concern here seems like a substantial step backward from the intentions of a game published fully 20 years earlier. In-fiction, I can justify myself on the simple basis that gnolls are Evil, and that if they leave the moat house alive, they’ll just wind up killing and terrorizing innocents somewhere else. But I know full well that my motivation as a player had nothing to do with that, and that I simply kill whatever I can because I need the XP. In the cold light of day, this seems even worse. Valuing others solely for their utility, and their lives for what you can gain from snuffing them out — surely that’s the essence of evil?

Afterwards, I explored Hommlet some more. Small though it is by real-world standards, it’s a pretty big place for a city in a CRPG, and I’m still discovering new people I haven’t talked to yet. In particular, this time around I found Jaroo, someone I had heard several villagers mention before. This surprised me, because I had gotten the impression that Jaroo was a god. I mean, every mention of him is like “We’re attempting to convert Jaroo’s followers” or “The Cuthbertites can keep their new faith, I put my trust in Jaroo” or “Jaroo has the power to heal any sickness”. Well, it turns out he’s s druid. He’s the local leader of the old faith, which is something that I sort of assumed was a folk religion and didn’t need a leader. But no, here he is, the opposite number to the priest in the Cuthbert church. Because obviously alignments are basically just teams, and what’s a team without a captain?

ToEE: Tentative CRPG/Board Game Comparison

Although it took me a while to figure out how to activate the level-up interface, my party is level 2 now. I’ve also found a second exit to the complex underneath the moat house, though a pentagonal room with a large pentagram built into the floor. I’m starting to think that the moat house is the Temple of Elemental Evil, or at least that the moat house is a disguise built over one of its entrances, like the innocent-looking phone booths that conceal the entrances to CONTROL and the Ministry of Magic. Maybe the mission to clear out the moat house will take the entire rest of the adventure, like finding the map in Curses. I could be wrong — there’s still nothing particularly elemental about the place, so it could just be one of those random dungeons that litters the world of Greyhawk, devoid of context or history. But either way, those bandits were taking their lives in their hands by using it as their hideout. It was only a matter time before the ogre or the gnolls living below their feet decided to go hunting, and found some prey very close at hand.

I started playing this game to compare it to my experiences with the Temple of Elemental Evil Adventure System board game, and for the most part, the two games haven’t had any similarity at all. I mean, they’re not even in the same campaign setting. The board game version is set in the Forgotten Realms instead of Greyhawk, and substitutes the town of Red Larch for the village of Hommlet. Presumably someone involved in the board game’s creation felt it would be better to stick with the setting that’s more familiar to most players. The final boss of the original seems to be a demon — at least, a demon has been mentioned as part of the backstory — while in the board game, it was a dragon. Perhaps this change was made to placate anxious parents, D&D having a rocky history with satanic panics. Or perhaps it was just an excuse to ship the game with a dragon mini in the box. Who knows?

And, of course, the board game gave us elemental stuff from the get-go. The CRPG has been remarkably reluctant to fulfill the promise of its title. The idea of an adventure themed around elemental magic was the main appeal of the game to me, when I picked it up back in the day, but so far it’s just been Undistinguished Fantasy Village Adventure. Of course, the mechanics of the board game kind of forced things in that regard. There, monsters are drawn from a deck of cards, and apart from some gradual modification by adding adding tougher monsters over the course of the campaign, it’s the same deck no matter what dungeon you’re exploring. The result is that you don’t get thematically-appropriate monsters like giant frogs in the swampy areas and skeletons on the old battlefield. You get a mix of cultists, gnolls, hobgoblins, doppelgangers, and firebats no matter where you are.

And the deeper reaches of the moat house are starting to remind me of that, as things start to turn into the mischmasch dungeon that formed almost the entirety of the board game. Particularly when I run into a familiar monster, like the Gnoll Archers that caused us so much trouble before.

While I’m talking about the board game, there’s one other semi-coincidence I’d like to note. The CRPG allows you to bring a maximum of five characters in your initial party. (Three additional slots are reserved for any NPCs you pick up.) For simplicity’s sake, I initially created a party of the four basic D&D character types: fighter, wizard, cleric, thief. After my initial failures, I decided to fill the fifth slot with another fighter-type, but for variety’s sake, I made this one a Ranger. It took me a matter of days to realize that I had recreated the board game’s party roster.

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