Monday, January 23, 2017

Fate: Reuniting the Wand

I'm having flashbacks to prom night.
My next session started on a bit of a down note: I had lost all the progress I'd made in the previous 12-hour session. I'm not sure exactly how, but when I re-opened the emulator and loaded the saved game, I was way back on Fairy Island having just retrieved the Spiralgem.

The problem has something to do with my complete cluelessness as to how this emulator even works. Abalieno set it up for me, so I didn't take the time to learn the details myself. I still don't really understand what "WHDLoad" is. I just know that I load its configuration before launching the emulator, and if I don't properly quit the game and get back to the desktop (or workbench, whatever), my in-game saves don't save. Maybe I forgot to do that after the end of the last session. It's not impossible that I left the emulator running, intending to continue playing later, and Windows 10 helpfully rebooted itself in the middle of the night to install updates.

I tried reloading a save state from the end of my last session, then quitting and saving, but that didn't work. I just got a slew of error messages like I reported a few entries ago.

In most games, this would be a game-killer, but on reflection, all I had to show for those 12 hours--aside from the more detailed maps, which of course I still had--was a few more experience levels and a couple of useful potions. Definitely nothing I couldn't replace. I sucked it up and continued playing. What else was I going to do? Throw away 213 hours?

I made a major push over the weekend to find the last three pieces of the Moonwand. As the session started, I had no clues or leads except I knew I'd have to finish exploring Mernoc eventually. After wandering around and filling a few more holes in the map, I hit upon the strategy of using the small-scale magical maps to identify interesting patterns or structures in the overworld, and then investigating them.
Hmmm. That bit to the northeast looks interesting.
*Mostly, these areas resulted in more mysteries. In the northwest, a pattern of roads and water appeared in the middle of a forest. A sign said "linger on a while here." The screen flashes when I walk into the middle of the area, but nothing happens. The end of this entry explains why there's an asterisk at the beginning of this paragraph.

In the southwest, another pool appears in the middle of another forest. A statue of a stone lion sits in the middle of it. No idea what to do. Northeast of Cassida, a wand is stuck in the ground like Excalibur, and nothing seems to move it (strength doesn't matter). There were several interesting patterns of mountains that ultimately resulted in nothing.
I'd love to know more about this.
However, two of these investigations got me closer to my goal. Northwest of Cassida, in the middle of a stone circle, I found a clue that was necessary to solve a riddle in Mernoc. Most important, southwest of Valvice, in the midst of a forest, I ran into a dwarf who had one of the Moonwand pieces.

He's lucky I didn't kill him. The area was swarming with dwarves, gnomes, imps, and other creatures who use the same graphics. Generally, you can't speak to them, so encoutering one doesn't make me pause and consider dialogue options the way that encountering humans does. I could have easily attacked him out of force of habit. But I was on alert because I was in the clear center of the forest, near a single paved square, so I caught myself just before hitting "fight" and successfully entered dialogue with the little bastard.

If he's lucky I didn't kill him by accident before talking to him, he's doubly lucky that I didn't kill him on purpose afterwards. He said he had one of the pieces, "Lightpearl," but he wanted me to do a task first: recover a coffin from a graveyard with a black monolith in it. I had already visited the graveyard and knew where it was, and finding the coffin was just a matter of searching squares in the area, but the place was like 300 squares away, and I had to trek there and back. The dwarf warned me not to open it, and I was looking forward to opening it anyway (after saving and before reloading) but the game never even gave me the option.

Upon my return,  I gave him the coffin and demanded lightpearl, but he then said he'd only do it if I completed another quest: fill a bottle with the water from Demon Tower. Again, I knew where this was (another Moonwand piece required me to visit), but it was a long 400+-square trek to the northwest.

When I got there, the demon kept coming out and killing us every time I tried filling up the bottle. I experimented with a number of protection spells and finally had success with "Time Stop." With the bottle in hand, I returned to the dwarf...
...only to receive a third quest: to retrieve  a gem from the catacombs of Larvin. I saved the game and killed the dwarf, but Lightpearl wasn't on his body, so I had to reload and sullenly complete the quest. It wasn't that bad--I had already fully mapped the catacombs--but it involved a lot more walking plus two trips on the Cavetrain. While I was in Larvin, I used the occasion to re-visit the altar in the Whatever Vaults. More on that in a bit.

Upon return from this third quest, the dwarf finally handed over Lightpearl--after hinting that he wanted to give me a fourth task--and I had the fifth piece.
The dwarf successfully "reads the room."
Exhausted and out of ideas, I consulted a walkthrough for the seventh piece, which turned out to be called "Shadeshag," which sounds like a euphemism for an affair.  I was disappointed to resort to spoilers, but it was a good thing: the key NPC was on an island I'd already explored, and it wouldn't have occurred to me to return. Apparently, on the large island south of Fawn Island, I'd missed an NPC named "Spock."
"Spock," looking like he's gone full Romulan.
This one was refreshing after the dwarf's three-part quest. Spock said that he'd buried directions to the Shadshag but couldn't remember where. I had to search practically every square of the island before I finally found the directions on the north coast. They directed me to a particular square of Spectre Wood, in the nortwest part of the map, and a simple "dig" provided me the piece.

The directions from the hidden chest.

Thankfully, I"d already mapped the maze-like woods.
For the last piece, which turned out to be named "Erinstaff," I had to go back to Mernoc. Thanks to a comment from Zardas, I knew that the ingols and "bog ingols" that gave me so much trouble last time don't come out at night. (If there's any way to discover this in-game, I missed it.) While waiting for nightfall, I explored the surrounding area and discovered a graveyard with a stone slab covering the "Erin Crypt." I couldn't move it.

Freed of the need to fight every single step, Mernoc isn't all that big. The southern part of the map has five rooms, each of which contains an iron switch. The clue north of Cassida had told me "two must go down and three must go up; only then can you enter the Erin Crypt." That's great, but it didn't give me any clue which two levers had to go down, and the crypt was like 200 steps from the levers.

I sighed, saved the game, and began working my way through each of the 5!/(2!(5−2)!)=10 possible combinations of levers, walking all the way to the crypt after each choice (fighting multiple combats along the way) and reloading if it wasn't open. Fortunately, I hit the right combination on my third try. 
Yes, I could have split my party and had someone hang out at the crypt. I forgot about that.
I had expected the crypt to be a dungeon, so I was happily surprised when Winwood just dipped in and back out again, Erinstaff in hand.

From a previous hint, I knew that I now needed to find the Chamber of Lhanis to reforge the wand. I had no idea where it was, but it started showing up as a dialogue option once I had the Erinstaff, so I was confident I'd find it eventually. While I sought the right hint, I decided it was time for some serious character development.

As I covered a while ago, the altar in the Larvin catacombs gives you attribute boosts and extra "improvement slots" based on your combat statistics since the last time you visited. This includes the number of hits you've struck (separated by melee, missile, and thrown), the number of spells you've successfully cast, and the number of special actions you've succeeded at, including item use, mocking, enchanting, duping, groping, and so forth.
My reward for a lot of melee combat.
What I discovered when visiting the altar was that my default actions haven't been serving my party members well. The first few characters to act strike almost all the hits, and I've been using everyone, even the mages, almost exclusively as melee fighters. As I pointed out earlier, outdoor combats are like brushing away gnats after Level 30 or so. I hadn't needed to do anything else. But by always just spamming attacks with the first characters to act, I've created a very unbalanced party.

After my sobering visit to the altar, I decided I needed to use the outdoor combats as practice sessions for my various combat options, achieving a greater balance in both actions and the characters who performed them. I started using random numbers to determine which character would act first in combat (skipping past the others with the "Defend" action) and what he or she would do. I hope this approach pays off the next time I visit the altar.
Improving my attributes in a guild.
Meanwhile, some of my characters had dozens of improvement slots unallocated. I studied my guild notes and plotted a path to the various cities, prioritizing various attributes and resistances over others. The cities with the best guilds--Katloch, Cassida, and Pirate Rock--aren't exactly close to each other, and you have the issue where guilds are only open certain hours of the day. It took several hours to spend all of my slots, padded by the fact that I used the excuse of traveling from place to place to fill in other random parts of my map.

During this process, hints on the Chamber of Lhanis were few and far between. One NPC said, "Find it in a small graveyard." Another said that "you have to linger on a little while to find it." I was going to close this section saying that I'd need more hints--both in-game and in the comments--but while I was scanning my map to catalog the various "mysterious places" for the beginning of this entry (starting with the asterisked paragraph), I realized that one of the locations had a sign that said  "linger on a while here." That's close enough to the NPC's advice that I suspect I'll find the Chamber of Lhanis there. Next time, we'll see.

After that, all there is to do is explore the dungeons of Katloch to find Bergerac's heart, free Bergerac in Cassida, and take on the Forbidden Zone. Clearly, we're only looking at another 100 or 200 hours, tops.
The latest update, for all you map-philes.

Time so far: 231 hours