Part 2: A Place Called VertigoUpdate 1: A Place Called Vertigo
"So this dream you all had -- can you tell me more about it?"
"Let me think. It went something like this..."
"You talk about dream with tower and wizard? Fubar have same dream! But wizard voice strange. Like... like from long way away."
"Not just far away. Flench think it like he talking to someone else."
"Yes! That's exactly what it was like. And no matter what I did, the dreams just wouldn't stop. Two or three times a week for two months, starting about eight months ago. And the morning after the last dream... well, you know what happened to Newcastle, don't you?"
"Nobody knows what happens to Newcastle. Six months ago, she is hit by the huge bolt from the sky, and the whole place goes upwards in smoke. No survivors."
"That's my point. It can't be a coincidence, can it?"
"Ah. So you're saying this wizard's message was meant for someone at Newcastle? To warn them of this Lord Xeen?"
"Could be. But it's not like anyone from Newcastle can do anything about it now. So that leaves us to work out what's going on and stop it."
"Wait. Wait wait wait. Some kind of horrible skeleton king is apparently trying to take over the world, he may well have destroyed a castle in one blow, and you want us to get involved?"
"You'd rather wait for the horrible skeleton king to succeed at taking over the world, then?"
"Plus, we help real king save kingdom from dead king, real king thank us. Maybe throw big party with food! And money! And food!"
"Well, when you put it that way... what are we waiting for?"
"We not wait for anything! Fubar got axe, Fubar got armour, Fubar ready to rumble!"
Fubar is a Half-Orc Barbarian, so his main assets (and, indeed, only assets to speak of) are his top-notch hit points and melee combat skills. Fortunately, those are good enough that he'll be a valuable party member through the whole game. Half-Orcs get penalties to spell points and thief skills (neither of which matters to Fubar) and a bonus to HP and elemental resistances (which do matter). He can use most weapons, but his choice of armour is pretty limited. Barbarians don't really need much beyond Might, Endurance and maybe some Speed and Accuracy, so Fubar is sitting pretty with regard to stats right now.
The character screen also shows a bunch of other information besides basic stats, but I'll explain the rest as it comes up.
"Such enthusiasm! I do believe I'm going to enjoy travelling with you people."
Ms Swallow is a Human Paladin, with pretty impressive starting stats. Humans have average HP, SP and resistances, so they're good for hybrid classes. She's a bit worse in melee than Fubar, but will be able to use all weapons and armour, and cast Clerical spells (mostly healing and buffs) with half the SP pool of an actual Cleric. That high Speed means she'll act earlier in combat and get a bonus to armour class: this makes her great at staying alive, while her magic means she can keep the rest of the party on their feet too. As a human, she starts with the Swimmer skill, which allows the party to cross shallow water, but only if everyone in the party has learned the skill. As a Paladin, she also starts with the Crusader skill, which is required for certain events.
"Flench not see what to be enthusiastic about. We go on dangerous quest. Time to celebrate after victory, not before."
"Fubar say Flench need to stop being sadsack and get pumped!"
"Flench not sad. Flench pragmatic."
Flench is an Archer, and the party's second Half-Orc. Despite the class's name, Archers in this game don't get any particular bonus with bows, although they can certainly use them. Archers have so-so HP and armour choices, are about as good in melee as Paladins, can use most weapons and can cast Sorcerer spells (mostly attack magic with some utility spells), although they only get half the spell points of a Sorcerer. Between that and the SP penalty for being a Half-Orc, he'll have limited spell points early on despite his high Intellect -- still, for as long as his reserves last, he's as good a caster as anyone, and his race will make up for Archers' lowish base HP. Flench has good overall stats that will make him competent in both physical and magical combat in the long run. I've also equipped him with a Swift Ring from the pregen party's inventory, bumping his starting Speed of 14 up to 17.
"Guuuuys! I'm ready to goooo! What are we waiting for?"
Trish is a Gnome Robber. Robbers are respectable in physical combat (about as good as Paladins or Archers), can use most weapons and have pretty good HP and armour. They're also one of two classes with access to the Thievery skill, allowing them to pick locks and avoid traps. Gnomes have a little less HP than humans, but have the best thief skills of any race plus good innate poison resistance (in M&M3, Gnomes had magic resistance and Dwarves had poison resistance; in Xeen, this is reversed, which may be a bug). Gnomes also make good spellcasters, but Robbers can't use any magic. Finally, Gnomes start with the Danger Sense skill, warning the player when monsters are nearby. I put Trish's highest stats in Endurance and Luck, so she's good at surviving damage (say, from traps) and avoiding status ailments, and her other combat stats are still decent.
"Would you be quiet? You can't rush these things. I'll be ready when I'm ready."
"What's the hold-up -- wait, are you still doing your makeup? Seriously?"
"What? If I'm going to become famous for saving the world, I can't have all the bards memorialising my open pores, now can I?"
"OK, I'm done waiting. Out you go!"
"What are you-- hey! Stop that! Unhand me!"
Anleisa is a Human Cleric, and a pretty good one at that: she has the highest possible starting Personality, and her Endurance and Speed are decent too. Clerics aren't very good in melee (and Anleisa's poor Might and Accuracy won't help), can use only blunt weapons and have low HP, but they do have good armour options, cast Clerical spells and have twice the SP of Paladins. She'll be the party's main healer, with Ms Swallow serving as backup for emergencies.
"Did I hear a struggle? Is there to be a fight of cats?"
"Ahem. No. Everything is fine. Shall we be going, then?"
Vandesloof is an Elven Sorcerer, with stats in just the right places to be good at it. Elves have the lowest HP of any race and pretty poor resistances, but make up for it (arguably) with a significant SP bonus for Sorcerers and Archers. Sorcerers have the worst melee skills, weapon and armour choices and HP of any class -- as you may notice, Vandesloof has miserable starting HP despite his very respectable starting Endurance. On the bright side, they do cast Sorcerer spells with twice the SP pool of Archers. Finally, they start with Cartography, an essential skill that enables the game's automap function. Vandesloof will be a powerful spellcaster both in and out of combat, as long as we can keep him alive.
There are some classes and races that aren't included in the party; I'll cover those in more detail in a bonus update.
"This town really has gone downhill lately. What is that horrible thing up ahead?"
"Oh, that's the blacksmith's shop. It's always been like that."
"Not that, you halfwit! The green thing that just jumped onto my leg and started enveloping -- uh-oh."
"That can't be good. Quick, cut her out of it!"
"For what do you look at me? You are the one with the sword!"
The Slime isn't a particularly dangerous opponent, and will most likely die to a single attack. But it is fast, so if you let it close to melee range it'll get in a couple of hits for minor poison damage before anyone can act, and can potentially knock out a weaker character. Having been reduced to 0 HP or less by the Slime's attack, Anleisa is unconscious and can't take any actions. If she were reduced to a negative HP total equal to her maximum HP, she'd be dead, which would be more difficult to treat.
Also note that the gem underneath Anleisa's portrait has turned blue: this is a measure of her state of health. A green gem means a character is at full HP, a yellow gem means they're injured, a red gem means they're close to 0, and a silver gem means their HP is boosted above its normal maximum. A character with a blue gem is unconscious and a character with a black gem is dead.
"Anleisa not look so good. Possibly suffering harmful aftereffects of partial digestion."
"Not a problem! I simply have to use my divine powers to heal her, and she'll be good as new!"
"... um. My divine powers appear to be a little rusty. Perhaps she can sleep it off instead?"
The party can rest whenever they have adequate food and aren't in immediate danger (not within sight of a monster, in a lava pit, etc). Resting restores the party to full HP and SP and cures some negative conditions, although others can get worse. It also causes all temporary magical blessings and boosts on the party to expire.
"For a team of would-be heroes, you sure do suck at protecting people..."
"Let's just go see the mayor already."
"Mayor live in tent? Wow. Town really is dump."
"Please help clean up our beautiful town."
"Woohoo! Party find first quest!"
"Pest extermination? Well, I suppose we must all start somewhere."
"Flench say we go tavern first. When people drink, talk easy. Learn lots if listen in. Also, drink help build courage for fight."
By going around the tables and interacting with them, we can have conversations with the tavern's patrons.
"This place is deserted. You should go to Rivercity -- now there's a town full of action!"
"Some fool said that money's now growing on trees. Ha!"
"That Gunther, what a dunce! He paid that con man Joe a fortune to clean up this town."
"Get lost! Can't you see I'm drinking?"
Well, we can have conversations with the ones who are willing to talk to us, anyway.
"It seems the townspeople are none too happy with how the extermination is going. Rather a good thing we came along, isn't it?"
"Say what? Who's breeding what in the where-house? Hey, are you even listening to me?"
"In talking to her there is no use. She could not contain her drink, and has passed outwards."
"I guess we're on our own, then. Too bad. Whatever she was saying sounded important."
"She set good example. Fubar say less talk, more drink!"
Gameplay-wise, the most important function of taverns is to sell food. Food is only consumed when resting, and one day's supply of food is good for three rests. Since we've only rested once, there's not much point buying food right now.
"Got enough food! Give Fubar most strong drink in house!"
By buying a drink for one gold coin and then tipping the bartender another coin, you can receive useful information and gameplay advice. Each town has its own set of hints available, and the game will cycle through them as you buy more drinks. You can also listen for rumours, which are free, but there's only one rumour available per day of the week, per town.
"Thanks! Hot lady got other tips for Fubar if Fubar buy more drinks?"
"The Witches of Toad Meadow have been snatching children and turning them into goblins. An old woman in Toad Meadow holds the key to the Witches' Tower."
"More! More tips! Drink and listen to hot lady forever!"
"Okay, big guy, you've had enough. You don't have to go home, but... well, you've heard this enough times that you know the rest by now."
Each drink has a small chance to make the drinker drunk, in which case that character can't buy any more drinks until they've sobered up.
Drunkenness raises a couple of stats and lowers the others, and wears off with time or rest, although it has a chance to leave behind an equally temporary Weak condition (lowers all stats).
"We should check out our room before we, well, check out. People leave stuff behind in inns all the time, you know. That's how I made my first thousand gold, and how I lost it!"
It's worth remembering to search beds, cabinets, junk piles and the like in this game, because some of them contain items or other treasure. The exact content of treasure is usually randomized: for this playthrough I won't be saving and reloading just to get better loot, so I'll have to live with whatever the game gives me. A sling is the weakest missile weapon, but it'll have to do.
"A sling I can understand, but a suit of armour? Not that I'm complaining... it even looks like it's in my size."
Not every character can use every weapon or every kind of armour. Splint mail can only be worn by Knights, Paladins, Clerics and Rangers, so let's go ahead and give this to Anleisa. It'll raise her armour class by 3 compared to the scale armour she's currently wearing, making her harder to hit with physical attacks.
"Fur-hat man in booze house say money grow on tree! We find out if true!"
"I don't believe that was exactly what he said..."
"... but apparently some old sayings have a grain of truth in them after all."
Most trees in towns throughout the game can be searched for small random amounts of gold. It's not much, but it adds up.
"More slimes where first one came from. Flench say we use money to buy weapons, help not get eaten."
"Why throw our money away, when we are eligible for a discount of five fingers?"
"Whoa, easy there. What are you going to do, smash the case and take it?"
"Think before you act! What would happen if someone saw you?"
Trying to steal from a display case with anyone other than a Robber or Ninja advances the game's clock by a year -- and of course, you don't get to keep what you stole. Characters do eventually start losing stats from aging if enough time passes, so you don't want to just waste a year for no reason.
"Here's how you do it. Watch and learn. Actually, don't. Go keep the blacksmith busy instead."
As long as you have a competent thief, stealing from the display cases nets you free items with no consequences. In the grand tradition of old RPGs that aren't named Ultima IV, Xeen can be pretty resolutely amoral at times.
From the cases in the blacksmith's shop, we lifted various bits of equipment and some items that cast low-level spells when used; the number on the right is how many times they can be used before running out of juice. They might come in handy, if I remember to use them.
"If you're entirely done robbing the townspeople we're trying to save, shall we at least buy something from the poor man?"
Now it's time to explain another World of Xeen game mechanic: materials. Equipment can be made of various materials and have other special properties to improve its effectiveness. Crystal is one of the lower-level materials, and crystal weapons have a small bonus to accuracy and damage compared to normal weapons. Of course, they're also significantly more expensive.
We can also sell equipment for a quarter of the purchase price. All of these accessories we got from the pregen characters are useless except to sell: unlike in Might & Magic III, items with a zero base AC bonus in Xeen will never get an extra AC bonus from their material, although other bonuses like stat boosts and resistances will still take effect.
Blacksmiths offer two more services: repair and identification. A blacksmith will tell you the exact properties of any item for a small fraction of its cost, including what classes can use it, how much damage it does and any other abilities it possesses. As for repair, I'll show that off as soon as we have something in need of fixing.
"Ooh, I've heard about these mirrors! They say there's one in each of the five great cities. Tell it your destination and step through, and it'll take you right where you want to go!"
"But we not have anywhere we need to go. We still fixing pest problem in town."
"Can't argue with that point. Let's go check out that tent opposite it, then."
"A guild of mages! This is an opportunity which we must not pass upwards! Think of the knowledge! The power! The chance to meet beautiful young sorceresses! Maybe she will be practicing the forbidden magic, and with gentle seduction I will lead her away from the temptation of evil and to walk the path of right by my side! Or maybe it will be a tragic and doomed affair of the heart, as she is torn between love and ambition, seeing no escape but to take her own life! Ah, the terrible mystery of love!"
"How about we just pay the damn guild fee and see what they have to offer those of us back here in reality?"
"Gilbert? What kind of name is Gilbert? Wizard should have scary name full of weird letters, like Xyrax the Destructor! Fancy name help make people forget how weak and squishy he is!"
"I suppose either Gilbert is a surname or the manager isn't the proprietor."
"Or else they specialise in a very different kind of magic from anything we'll have a use for."
"You'd think with all that magic she could do something about whatever is going on with her face there."
"Ooh, neat. I was really talking more about the forehead, though."
To buy spells at a guild, a character must have a guild membership and be a member of a spellcasting class. Paladins, Archers and Rangers pay twice as much gold for all spells compared to Clerics, Sorcerers and Druids. Unlike previous games, there no longer seems to be a level requirement on learning spells: access to them is controlled by what town guilds you have access to and what you can afford to pay.
I'll go over the exact details of the spells in a bonus update. We're not exactly swimming in gold at the start of the game, so I don't buy anything just yet.
"Fubar thirsty! Good place to take break!"
"Ughhh! Instead of water, well full of slime! Very mean trick to play on visitors! Bad for tourist industry!"
"Flench think not trick. Flench suspect connection to pest problem in town. If fix problem, maybe fix well too?"
"If we're going to do something about the pest problem, the town exterminator seems a reasonable person to ask."
"Careful, everyone. I hear something behind the door."
Notice how the gargoyle at the top of the screen has its mouth open? That's Trish's Danger Sense skill at work. If a character has the skill, the head will animate when monsters are nearby.
"Eww. Joe is really not doing the best job with this whole extermination thing. You'd think he could at least keep his own office bug-free."
Doom Bugs hit quite a bit harder than Slimes, and have more health as well. They're still not extremely dangerous, but they should probably be a higher-priority target than the Slimes if you're fighting both.
"Sure, and I'm King Burlock. Something tells me he's not gonna be much help to us. Let's just move on."
"We go in and look at maps! Maybe show way to houses of famous people! Maybe Fubar build up autograph collection!"
"You have an autograph collection?"
"Fubar try make one once. Last time Fubar try, people all run away when Fubar run up to them. But this time Fubar with friends, so maybe less scary! Or if still scary, friends can help block escape routes."
"I am already a grapher of carts, and so we have no need of your teachings. But I will wish you all of the best as a fellow lover of the creative arts!"
"Um, Sloof, if you think mapmaking is a 'creative art', that might mean you're doing it wrong..."
"Philistine! I will not be giving dignity to your womanly chatterings by making a response."
"I wonder, how can a slime have a temple when it doesn't even have a head? Oh well. Let's see what's inside, shall we?"
"A bit plain, isn't it? Maybe there'd be more worshippers if they'd spruce up the place a bit."
"The plague is upon us. The end is near."
"OK, these guys are a little too intense for me."
"They don't appear to be evil, merely... somewhat pessimistic. Given the state of their town, it's hard to blame them."
"At least the priests seem welcoming enough. Anleisa, you could learn a thing or two about manners from them."
"And you could learn a thing or two about minding your own business."
"I'm terribly sorry for my companion's rudeness. Please, accept our donation as a show of good faith. Er, so to speak."
Temples can heal characters and cure all negative conditions (for a price that depends on both your character's level and what's wrong with them), and remove curses on equipment. They also accept donations: donate enough times and your party will be granted a range of buffs until either you rest or the time hits 5 AM. Those little icons that just appeared above the character portraits represent the buffs we've received.
"Fubar feel strong as ox! Wait, no. Fubar already strong as ox before! Now Fubar strong as... as ox bodybuilder!"
I'll explain exactly what all those buffs do when we can cast them, but basically right now everyone will do a bunch more damage and take a bunch less.
"Joe's advertising pest control in the park? Who to? This town's already paying for his services, and nobody from out of town ever comes here any more."
"We come here."
"We don't count. We are pest control."
"It appears that the good people of the Slime Temple are spreading their doctrine here as well. As charming as they were, we'd best try to keep their prophesied future from coming to pass."
"Maybe we rent last bench! People want help, we tell them talk to us!"
"So they're just letting people camp out in the town park now?"
"Mayor live in tent. After Flench see that, nothing surprise Flench any more."
Pathfinder skill allows the party to travel through dense forests, as long as there are at least two Pathfinders in the party. It also costs more money than we can afford to throw around right now, but we'll come back for it soon.
"Looks like we'll have to search the quarantined back alleys of Vertigo if we want to root out this pest problem. Good thing you've got me around to get us in, huh?"
"Couldn't we simply ask Mayor Gunther for a key? We do have his blessing to help, after all."
"Bah. Where's your sense of adventure?"
Whenever we come to a locked door or chest, we'll have to pick the lock in order to proceed. Lockpicking is based on a character's Thievery skill, so only a Robber or Ninja has any real chance of success; whether the attempt succeeds or fails, it's also possible for a trap to be set off, inflicting some damage on either the thief or the entire party. Successfully opening a lock is worth a nice little chunk of experience to the character who picks it.
It's also possible to bash down doors if the two lead characters have high enough Might, but this always causes some damage, only works on doors, not treasure chests, and doesn't give any experience.
"Wow, and I thought the situation in the rest of town was bad enough. There's just bugs all over the place back here."
"Ugh. Don't tell me we're going to have to root around in all this garbage for evidence of the source of the pests now."
"If it make you feel any better, pretend you look for treasure."
"Someone say treasure? Fubar find treasure!"
"Treasure help Fubar make lots and lots of friends!"
"You know, Fubar, sharing is an important part of friendship. Perhaps you could find it in your heart to share that brooch with me?"
"Hooray! Fubar share treasure with friends!"
This broach (sic) is an accessory that gives a 3-point bonus to Personality. Because of the way statistics work in this game (as your stats get higher, the amount you have to increase them by to get the same bonus gets larger too), Anleisa won't gain any benefit from it right now, so it goes to Ms Swallow.
"Aha! Perhaps now we can be learning the reason why Joe has been making so little progress with his work!"
"Gaaah! What the hell is that thing?"
The colour of an enemy's name works like the gem under a character portrait: when it's yellow the monster is wounded, and when it's red the monster is nearly dead. The Breeder Slime has much more HP than a regular slime, but it's still not especially dangerous, and two or three good hits can take it down.
"Whew. That not so bad."
"Not so fast! There's a second one!"
"I thought we were going to be fighting regular kinds of evil, like demonic legions, malevolent sorcerer-kings and ancient gods from beyond the stars. I didn't sign up to deal with horrible slime monsters!"
"Well, looks like we finally exterminated all those pests. But what were they doing in Joe's warehouse? Maybe there's a clue in one of these crates."
"No clue here. Just more treasure. But Fubar fine with that too!"
"Fubar not know how use funny sword. So Fubar share with Ms Swallow again. Share treasure, make lots of friends!"
Katanas are the strongest type of one-handed weapon; I guess nerd culture's love affair with Japan was alive and well even back in 1992. Like all the Japanese weapons in this game, only Knights, Paladins and Ninjas can use it. I put it on Ms Swallow right away.
"Some of these crates actually have bugs in them. There's definitely something very suspicious going on here..."
"Hey, speaking of suspicious, I just found something. Look at this!"
"Well, this certainly explains a few things."
"Mated pair? Those things reproduce sexually? Ugh. That's a fact I could happily have gone without ever knowing."
"Even in the most loathsome of creatures, there remains the urge to propagate the species. Is not that too a kind of beauty?"
"I can understand why you'd see things that way."
"Focus, guys. We'd better go expose Joe's little racket before he hires assassins to come after us or something."
"... from the dwarves who reside in the Red Dwarf Range. They have urgently requested help and promise great reward to whoever is brave enough to come. Apparently, their gem mines have been invaded by the Mad Dwarf Clan, preventing them from mining. Help them out and report back."
For their services to Vertigo, the whole party earns 5000 experience points, a good whack of gold and some gems. Gems are important for magic users, as they're consumed when casting certain spells.
"We should make sure to put some of this reward away for a rainy day. It wouldn't do to spend it all at once, now would it?"
The bank is a good place to store valuables that you won't need in the immediate future. Banked gold and gems earn a small amount of interest, and are safe from certain events that may take them away. Of course, the catch is that if you want to have that money available to spend, you have to hoof it back to the bank to withdraw it.
"Not put all in bank. Use money to get strong!"
Levelling up doesn't happen automatically in Might & Magic: after earning a sufficient amount of experience, you have to pay a trainer, and the cost increases quite dramatically with your level.
"Fubar fight monsters, get treasure, make friends, get stronger! That way of hero!"
Fubar's beginning to grow into a formidable melee fighter. As characters level up, their melee attack can hit multiple times per round. Barbarians gain those extra attacks faster than any other class: Fubar's already gained a second attack per round from hitting level 4, effectively doubling his damage output.
"Vertigo's problems are solved, but there are still many others in need of help. We can't let ourselves relax too much... but I suppose even heroes need a little rest sometimes."
Ms Swallow's done quite well out of this first update too: between her high Speed and being the only party member who can equip plate armour, her AC is very high for so early in the game, making her almost untouchable to enemies that use physical attacks.
"Flench never need much sleep. Ready to go whenever you are."
Note that Flench and Ms Swallow are only at level 3, while Fubar is level 4 despite having the same experience total. Some classes level up faster than others. The difference becomes less dramatic at higher levels, but at the start of the game it's significant.
"I thought that went pretty well. Is the rest of Xeen gonna be as easy to save as Vertigo was?"
Trish is higher-level than the rest of the party and will probably remain so throughout the game, thanks to both a high innate levelling rate and the extra experience from picking all the locked gates in town.
"Really, the question you should be asking is: is the rest of Xeen that helpless? It took two years for anyone to come along and point out to Mayor Gunther that his exterminator was robbing him blind. Is the world really just sitting around waiting for us to solve all of its problems?"
Anleisa's toughened up a bit, and I'll pick up some new spells for her at the guild before next update so she can put that solid spell point total to use.
"We have done what is done. Vertigo is the problem of her people now. As for us, we move onwards to the next great adventure!"
Between his slow levelling rate and low base HP, Vandesloof is going to be quite fragile for a while yet. Still, at least he's got a decent spell point total with which to rain death upon our enemies now.
We're not even out of the first town yet and we already have two heroic leads to follow up on! But the party can only be in one place at a time. Should they drive the Mad Dwarf Clan out of the nearby mines, or investigate that rumour they heard in Vertigo's tavern about the Witches of Toad Meadow? It's up to you, so cast your vote!