Part 4: Operation KarenUpdate 04: Operation Karen
No roof over our heads, no one's paying taxes, we're out of enemies already... Harmondale is a rip-off.
I'd complain to the manager, except that's us!
Not exactly... we should have a talk with Lord Markham.
I'm not sure how good an idea this is. I really can't see it ending well!
At least it'll be a break from Harmondale. Just looking at the castle riles up my mold allergies.
It's almost strange seeing a fortification that isn't besieged or crumbling.
Yeah, almost like Erathia has some sort of competent leadership.
I'm surprised there's no border check. Do they just let anyone walk in? What's keeping the peace around here?
...I think it may be that very large bird just above Steadwick.
That's no mere bird, that's a catbird.
If you want to use the non-scientific name.
Queen Catherine of Erathia has proven that she's a better administrator than 90% of the rulers of the continent's kingdoms by virtue of replacing her cops with giant angry birds. Like most town guardians, they'll remain peaceful unless we start some sort of shit. So let's have a look around.
As usual it's hard to express exactly what makes MM7 towns feel more "alive" than MM6 turns, but like most of the rest, Steadwick has it in spades. Let's see what the locals have to tell us.
Mostly they praise Queen Catherine and lol at the idea that someone would get suckered into picking up Castle Harmondale from Lord Markham.
There are also a lot of trainers around we want to visit: Expert Sword, Expert Mace, Expert Shield and Expert Mind Magic. Between them they make Zaggut and Owen a decent bit more dangerous. There are also some folks here in Erathia who can hammer ore into items, far as I know there are no tier differences between the different crafters, only depending on what ore you feed them.
Also some of the fluff dialogue is reasonably entertaining.
There are, of course, also some quests to pick up in Steadwick.
Gah! Wall of words! Wall of words!
Well, we're going to talk to Lord Markham anyway, so we might as well do it.
Oh no, tackle him!
He wriggled out of my grasp!
I need to know more!
I say we cut his hamstrings and toss him in a ditch before he embarasses us by losing to a five-year-old.
I think you're being rash about this.
Yeah, we could cut his hamstrings and then still carry him around to heal us.
No, no, you neanderthals. What I mean is that organized gambling tends to mean big money. If Zaggut actually wins this for us... it could be worth our time.
...I, er, just thought it might be fun to play some more.
Steadwick also has two class promotion characters hanging out.
Cool, we could use someone else to contribute on the front lines.
Oh, I couldn't possibly.
The point is for me to see how you all do, after all!
While I'm here, I hit up the Steadwick tavern for a game of Arcomage.
I lose an embarrassing number of games before I manage to pull in a win, I think it was about five plays to succeed.
And this promotion is actually relevant, since Cavalier is the first Knight promotion! Class promotions are less important for the non-caster classes, in my opinion, since until they hit their second promotion and get access to their GM skills, mostly what it means is that they get more HP, so it doesn't actually contribute to their offensive power at all. Casters, on the other hand, get a much-needed boost to their SP pool, which really defines how much they can kick ass, and they need the HP boost more than the non-casters, too.
Promotion quests do tend to be a fat chunk of XP for everyone, though, so that alone is a good reason to do them.
The Steadwick town hall. Sadly town halls are less important in MM7 since I don't think they ever contain quests or important NPC's, just the monthly bounties you'll never be able to get and a place to pay your weregild if you accidentally commit any war crimes they can tie back to you and you need to talk to the local nobles without getting thrown in jail. The Fountain here does provide +50 Might temporarily, though, which is a very nice boost.
I guess we're headed on to Tatalia now, huh?
Not quite, I borrowed a map from one of the homes we visited...
And I think that since we're here, we should have a look around.
I desperately want Disarm Trap expertise since it functions as a skill point doubler, meaning there'll be a massive saving on how many quickloads I have to make to not blow the entire party up when opening chests. The fastest trainer to reach, as far as I can tell, is the aforementioned Bill Lasher who hangs around the Steadwick sewers.
I suppose that's one way to make us happy that Castle Harmondale doesn't have free-flowing sewage...
I'm not sure why we're headed into the sewers here.
Well, we need some spending money, and there are thieves down here. If we steal from people, it's a crime. If we beat up thieves and liberate their stolen goods, it's a service to society that no one will arrest us for.
The sewers aren't a bad dungeon except for two things. Firstly, it does a thing that a few MM7 dungeons do where the floor is a constantly scrolling texture. It's hard or impossible to capture in screenshots, but fucks with my eyes some. The second thing is that as far as I can tell you can't actually do anything down here without Jump.
Or, well, I mean, you can mangle a bunch of thieves and take their stuff, but you can't actually reach Bill Lasher who gives you quests and trains you in skills.
Thieves are incredibly weak, do very little damage and have no resistances. Supposedly they can "steal" from you, but I don't know if that's meant to be gold or inventory items, but in either case I didn't notice anything going missing from the party's inventory at any point. Presumably it has a very low chance of triggering, or maybe I just got what they stole back from their corpses after flattening them and resultingly never noticed the discrepancy. They also prefer to attack Paladins.
Of course it also has a couple of teleporters, like the "wall" behind this guy that'll warp you to...
You need to reach the opposite side to get access to Bill, and as far as I can tell there is no way to do that with the party's inherent anemic jumps, and I've found no way to move around the platforms or extend bridges or anything of the sort.
Alright, I may have to admit that Lasher's security has me outwitted. For now.
Also the reason I want to get that Disarm Trap up is that chest traps are, like in MM6, absolutely brutal.
Two times out of three, they just flat out kill Zaggut and Zina when Stashley tries to open them.
A most rousing battle against the forces of evil, friends! Truly a way to warm up before facing a mighty wyrm!
Well, it's nice having a positive attitude around, even if what he's positive about is us risking our lives against an overwhelming enemy.
The sewers under Steadwick have three exits, which is a nice touch, and also an upgrade over MM6 where every dungeon only had one entrance(and even if they had an extra exit, it always took you to the same entrance).
There's a little tent village of trainers down in the lower right of the map, complete with chests that instagib Zina and Zaggut like three times before Stashley lucks out and cracks one of them well enough to only KO them.
Past them is this little shrine which gives a permanent +10 Luck to anyone who interacts with it, which is actually kind of a rarity! While stat boosting barrels are more effective, permanent boosts from shrines are almost completely absent, with many of them downgraded to a +2. This is also part of making the stat booster potions from GM Alchemy even more important.
In the upper right of the Erathia overworld there's another settlement and... try and squint real hard at the minimap. See that tiny brown sliver to the east of the road? If you can believe it, that's a dungeon entrance. Super easy to miss since there's no road leading to it and you really have no reason to approach it from the side where it's visible.
Looks like someone's taking issue with us poking around their hideout.
Oh ho! More villains to smite! I would love to join you on the front lines, but I've got this terrible pain in my elbow. If you all don't mind?
More gibs for me!
Even more generic than thieves, Bandits' only real claim to any sort of interesting attribute is their preference for fighting Elves, which kind of makes sense since they're the secondary guard type for Steadwick, loitering around in a few places, and Erathia has an established rivalry with the elves of Avlee. They have slightly higher basic stats, but even so, the party still blenders through them once the buffs are up.
Following the trail of raiders leads to this little outlying village that they appear to have occupied.
It ends about as well for them as it did for the rest. Mind, I find it interesting that as long as you stick to the roads, Erathia isn't actually tougher than Harmondale. In general this seems to be a thing for MM7, where there are few enemies on the roads(as opposed to MM6 where the enemies usually camped ON the roads) or the ones on the roads are weaker, while going off-road breaks you into tougher territory. Even in Harmondale I'd say you could skip about 90% of the goblins just by staying on-road.
The village itself is another little stash of master and grandmaster trainers including...
Let's enjoy the nice coastal view while we're here.
Ahhh... the sea air's truly bracing.
Almost hides the smell of blood and guts.
...is that griffon getting closer?
It keeps getting closer!
What a shame, guess we have to stand and fight it. Dibs on the drumsticks.
Of all the things in Erathia that can choose to attack you, Royal Griffins, the third tier of Griffin, do not fuck around.
Once again, uncomplicated enemies with no special effects or preferred targets. They just happen to have an absolutely massive 180HP(the biggest damage we can do with a swing boosted by Heroism and Fire Aura at this point is about 25) which guarantees it'll be able to hit back multiple times, and do a crazy 3d8+10(13 to 34) damage per swing. Considering that, for instance, Zaggut has 39HP when fully topped up, this is an absolutely brutal amount of pain to hand out.
You can put his arms back on, right?
As peaceful as it would make my world if I didn't... yes.
After a short nap, the party jaunts over to the Bandit Caves.
...why are we doing this again? It seems pointlessly hazardous.
And Darvik back in Harmondale asked us to find his signet ring for him, any group of dickhead bandits here could have it.
The Bandit Caves are literally two corridors and a single room, with a barely two-digit number of raiders and thieves inside.
They all suffer unfortunate sword-related accidents, freeing the party up to liberate their stolen goods and redistribute them into the local economy by paying for training and gear. Their boxes also contain a few items of interest.
I was incredibly sad this crown didn't have any beneficial enchantments on it so I would have an excuse to equip someone with it.
Sucks for them that no one warned them to hide from Harmondale forces.
The other chest holds Darvik's signet ring, which is a nice little XP bonus to keep in mind when I eventually return to Harmondale. Also note how both times, opening those chests, the best scenario was both Zaggut and Zina merely getting knocked out rather than outright killed.
Erathia is relatively low on dungeons, with the Bandit Caves and the Sewers being two out of four. Of the remaining two, one is a single room(that we can't access yet, and possibly won't be able to access at all) and the other... we'll be leaving alone for now.
Boo, spoilsport. I wanted to raid Castle Gryphonheart!
Perhaps we can hold off slightly on major international incidents for now?
The particularly eagle-eyed may also have noticed that the trees actually have leaves in these screenshots. This isn't because of my entering a new section of Erathia, but simply because time has progressed sufficiently while I was dealing with the Bandit Caves. The switchover from winter to summer/spring seems to happen between in-game January and February or thereabouts. It has only one mechanical effect that I'm aware of, which is that fruit trees which yield free rations have fresh fruit at this point of the in-game calender.
The only real areas left to explore are both in the south of the map. First the southeast.
What are we even doing here.
C'mon, Zaggut, we're helping enforce law and order! Making the world a safer place!
And my wallet a richer place.
The bandits are guarding some forest gold and a single cauldron that gives +2 fire resistance once. I'm exhausting every source of gold that I can in Erathia since I need to pay my trainer fees.
Also a nice view of the bridge the party crossed to get here. I like that it actually has supports rather than just being a floating arch.
Then, south of Steadwick, there's an odd geometric canyon maze.
...almost like some form of gigantic hive...
Or an art installation.
It also has a bunch of low-level ore lying around. I collect it all for exchanging back in Steadwick and despite throwing in 10-ish lumps of ore, I get one single item(a cloak) that's an upgrade. One of them even yields a club, somehow, a wooden club.
The residents of the maze are gryphons of various tiers and Blayze, the Grandmaster Fire Magic trainer.
A corner also hides the region's obelisk and a sneaky Royal Griffon. It manages to own the party like five times in a row, killing both Zina and Zaggut, before I get lucky and kill it with no fatalities.
You don't suppose killing royal griffons will get us in trouble with Queen Catherine, do you?
We'll be good, I think, Owen's disposing of the evidence.
Buuuuuurp. 'scuse me.
These messages make no sense at all. Pohuwwba? Ininhil? Are these elf names or some such?
We can puzzle that out on the road. I think that about exhausts our chance for making a profit in Erathia for now, we should scram before someone starts asking questions about all the blood stains.
You have to hand it to Queen Catherine, Erathia was pretty safe as long as we kept to the roads. I wonder if Tatalia's as well-kept.
...by the gods, imagine if Markham maintains Tatalia as "well" as he did Harmondale.
Well, Tatalia's certainly...
The south of Tatalia is a boggy marsh and the north is a frozen wasteland, with a sliver of temperate, dry-ish ground wedged in between where most people live. There's also a small settlement in the icy north, but it mostly contains a dungeon we haven't a reason to visit yet(and which would probably kick our asses) and a bunch of angry people who threaten us with death for browsing without buying anything or offer to steal our wallets.
Surprisingly, they don't actually steal anything from you, just talk about it.
Maybe we should stop by a house and ask for directions. I'm not too familiar with the place.
Tatalia, of course, has its own selection of sidequests. This one is somewhat rude as I recall no in-game hints to the paintings' locations and if you rightfully assume that pissing off an entire castle's security team is a dangerous idea, you'll never simply "stumble" across them.
Tatalia also has some much-needed expert trainers. It always felt a bit rude to me that you have to get this far to be able to get Expert training in your basic mage skills. In general, there's a lot less doubling up on access to Expert trainers in MM7 than there was in MM6, where most expert skills had multiple locations within relatively easy reach and only Master trainers had a single location.
Of current interest to us, Tatalia hosts: Expert Disarm Trap, Expert Armsmaster, Expert Air Magic and Expert Fire Magic, all four of which I pick up for anyone who can learn them.
Damn, Tatalia looks even more tumbledown than Harmondale. What the hell is wrong with Lord Markham?
Maybe visiting him is a bad idea, he might try to flip Tatalia for Harmondale.
...say, anyone else smell blood? Like, a lot of blood?
...going in here feels like an incredibly stupid idea.
Yeah, but blood means dead people, which means corpses to loot. And there's wine!
You had me at loot. Back us up here, Zina, Zaggut.
Entering the Wine Cellar at this point is an INFINITELY stupid idea. Like horribly, incredibly terrible. So of course, I pop on my buffs and head in, since I don't bother to look up first what's in there.
Oh, heh, just a few vampire bats. Easy!
That's not a bat, that's a necromancer! Oh by the gods we're doomed!
Necromancers are real bad news for our current level. All three tiers have solid HP, decent resistances and, in addition to being able to cast offensive spells, they can also summon ghosts for backup. For context, their mid-tier version casts Shrapmetal at 8 skill points' worth of power. There's one down here I ran into while poking around and it could reliably kill the entire party in one shot, or half the party the rest of the time. We are incredibly out of our depth.
The low-tier Necromancer "only" casts Toxic Cloud at 4 skill points, almost blasting Zina to death with one shot before summoning a small army of mixed undead.
I somehow pull off a win, but look at the cost, and then promptly run for the exit.
Alright, this was a bad idea.
Turns out there's such a thing as too much blood. Uh. What now?
Well, you pick up Zaggut's body and I'll tuck his head under my arm and we'll find a temple.
...anyone know where the local temple is?
Eh, we'll ask around, not like Zaggut's going to become deader for the wait.
Neither of them people I'd trust with someone alive, much less dead. Imagine selling sand.
Thankfully Tatalia does have a temple, but it's a slightly less eye-catching structure than in some of the other towns, so it took me a bit to find.
I feel like that was an entirely avoidable experience.
Rather than complaining about your misfortune, young Zaggut, perhaps you should be happy that your loyal friends brought you back from the brink!
Mostly because one day I'll need your help to outvote Owen's bloodthirst or Stashley's greed.
I was considering turning your skull into a cup, but the nice mapwork won me over.
Anyway, back on the search for Lord Markham.
Don't drink from the water trough outside the stables. I did anyway, though, just to show off the party's "diseased" faces.
The docks host Tatalia's tavern and a few trainers, as well as the bank.
Pretty cozy little place to indulge Zaggut's gambling addiction.
I can stop any time I want! I just don't want to right now!
My faith in the heart of the cards serves Zaggut much better here than in Erathia, and he effortlessly pulls off a win at the first try. The 2000 gold reward is actually quite nice at this stage of the game, it's a piece of Expert skill training or an Expert-tier spellbook, both of which are greatly needed.
Enough of that, lets get back to questioning the locals.
Yes... I sure do wonder why people are going missing in Tatalia...
Also this guy living in one of the little swamp huts in southwestern Tatalia has nothing important to say, but his name was amusing to me.
Damn, what sort of prick would have a pristine mansion, with private security out front, right next to a bunch of people living in dilapidated shacks?
Well, I think we found out where Lord Markham lives.
He's even living within earshot of a vampire murdernest! I bet his private security don't care because the vampires are only killing poor people.
Wow, even I think Lord Markham's a bit too much of a jackass.
'tis a shame there's no option to kick his minor nobility ass into the swamps!
I confess I am somewhat seething.
I'd take a dump in his mailbox if he had one!
Mmm... maybe we should all calm down in the nice, soothing sea breeze.
And then calmly plot how we're going to get back at him? I agree.
A: Attempt to kill Wromthrax the dragon since we're here anyway.
'twould be the virtuous course of action!
B: Return to Harmondale, picking up quest rewards as we go along, and head for the Barrow Downs.
The best kind of revenge is the slow burn that they don't see coming.
C: Murder Lord Markham's security and attempt to ransack his mansion.
Overthinking your problems just makes them worse! Plus it gives me a headache.
D: Pick up Jump from a guild now that we have Expert Air magic and see if the master thief in Steadwick's sewers has any good suggestions.
My personal favourite, obviously.
I'd just like to not be the one to die, this time.