Part 104: The Undiscovered CountryUpdate 56: The Undiscovered Country
"This is Dungeon of Death, old home of lich Sandro? Look like any other dungeon from here."
"Well, that's something new."
"No peevish words will be stopping us! Let us go forth and solve this puzzle!"
"Look at the tiny lettering on this plaque. They must have been trying to cram in a lot of information."
... pages I shall dispense a broad overview of the highlights that should be visited for a traveller to gain a working knowledge and appreciation of the magnificent land that is Xeen.
This work is arranged as a simple description of my travels. A traveller wishing to follow in my footsteps should expect to spend around thirty gold pieces per day on living expenses. The traveller should be careful to arm himself well with magic weapons and some sort of emergency teleportation device. Xeen, while beautiful, can be deadly.
My journey began on the Darkside in Castleview town. Armed with little more than a Leprechaun flamberge and an orb of insect repellent, I set out for the town of Necropolis to see for myself whether the legendary city of the undead truly existed or was merely a fable. The trip took me over the mountains that lie to the north of Castleview and through the forbidding central desert. My experience as a mountaineer and navigator saw me past these formidable obstacles.
Necropolis was everything I had hoped it would be. The undead were everywhere -- Zombies, skeletons, a mummy, even a vampire visiting from Castle Blackfang! (I hear that Queen Kalindra was kidnapped by Alamar and turned over to the vampires of Blackfang.) If the traveller is worried about hostility on the part of the undead, remember that they are people too! The undead are just as friendly as the living -- possibly more so. Simple politeness will prevent misunderstandings from becoming lethal encounters with the forces of Hell.
After a brief but pleasant stay in Necropolis, I crossed the mountains north of the city by way of the Griffin Pass. Avoiding Castle Alamar and hugging the edge of the mountains, I headed east until I came to Lakeside town. A quaint vacation spot, Lakeside will refresh your spirit and revitalize your body. Though much of the population of Lakeside is involved in the witchcraft industry, have no fear. The witches only turn CHILDREN into goblins. As long as you leave the kids behind, you'll have no problem at all with these charming and fun-loving ladies.
"I believe he's confused the witches of Lakeside with the witches of Toad Meadow. The former seemed far less choosy about who they turned into monsters -- not that targeting only children would be much better."
"Shh, don't interrupt! You'll make me lose my place!"
I stayed in Lakeside for a few months before leaving. Before I left I purchased a riding beast to speed my journey. A lone road connects Lakeside to the rest of the civilized world, and I set off down that road to find Sandcaster.
Sandcaster is a bustling city of commerce and trade. Though the townspeople are mostly humans, elves, gnomes, and dwarves, the city still has something to entertain the thrill-seeking traveller. Sorceresses and wizards feed upon the helpless citizenry like fleas on a dog. Criminals from all walks of life wander the streets with impunity, free to use might or spells to rob from the innocent. All in all a lively town, though lacking in the kind of high quality entertainment places like Necropolis and Lakeside can serve up.
Quickly growing bored of the night life in Sandcaster, I once again set upon the road, this time travelling southeast in search of adventure. I found plenty.
As I ventured into the dense forest near the southeast corner of the world, my riding beast disturbed a nest of snakes. Startled, the beast reared up, dumping me from the saddle. I rose to my feet and seized the beast's tether, pulling its bloated face toward mine so that we could discuss its error man to beast. I never got the chance.
My pain spell was barely on my lips when an arrow appeared in the side of the best. The beast roared and wrenched the tether from my grasp. Two more arrows streaked from the forest and struck home. The beast stumbled a few steps and collapsed to the ground. I glanced wildly about me and saw barbarian archers closing in on three sides. I dashed for the fourth. Branches and thorns tore at my clothes, scratched my skin, slowed my flight. The Barbarians gained. Just as it seemed I could run no further, I came upon a clearing with one of the many travel pyramids in the centre of it. Hope flared in my breast once again and I redoubled my pace, reaching the pyramid as the Barbarians burst from the forest. I activated the pyramid with the last of my strength.
"Too bad. Flench was rooting for barbarians there. Author seems like huge jerk."
"Obviously he lived to be writing all of this downwards."
"Still, could at least have got some painful injuries."
"Do you want me to finish reading this story or don't you?"
The pyramid whisked me away from my pursuers in the blink of an eye and a sparkle of energy. I found myself in the snow covered hills near the town of Winterkill, a cursed and empty town of ghosts. Lonely Darkstone tower was barely visible to the east. Fearful that the Barbarians would soon find the courage to follow me through the Portal, I set my sights on the hills to the north and began the weary trek through the snow.
Many miles later I happened upon a road. Knowing that the road would eventually take me to the town of Vertigo and civilization, I followed the road east. The road paralleled the hills, and led past one of the many 'dungeon' entrances scattered about Xeen. I must admit that curiosity got the better of me and I decided to explore this one dungeon. This was a mistake.
The dungeon turned out to be the infamous Xeen Arena. I didn't figure it out until too late; the place was barren, except for a few piles of bones and a lone desk sitting in the centre of a very large room. When I approached the desk, a large man appeared in the seat behind the desk and told me that since the place hadn't had any visitors in some while that he would just start the fight without further delay. Then he vanished.
"No profit in having arena fight without audience. Maybe principal-agent problem explain it: arena manager probably paid based on number of fights hosted, so--"
"Anyone got some earplugs? Or wax, wax'll do."
As quickly as he vanished, monsters appeared. There was a gargoyle, a giant armadillo (which looked a little like a member of the swine family because of its snout), a pegasus, a Minotaur, a giant vulture, a Crusader, a sewer rat, a centipede, and some sort of giant iguana. "Have at thee," cried the Crusader, lowering his lance and urging his horse forward. The rest of the monsters simply advanced without comment, implacably hostile.
Needless to say, I bravely charged toward the exit, only to find it blocked. The monsters followed. I sprinted for the desk. "COWARD!" shouted the Crusade, leading the pack. The desk was empty and unresponsive. Cursing, I ran some more, ducking and weaving behind ancient walls and crumbling pillars. With some clever manoeuvring I lost the monsters in the maze and leaned against a pillar to catch my breath. I could hear the iguana dragging its corpulent body nearby. The rest seemed further away. Looking down at my feet, I discovered one of the many corpses that littered the floor of the arena. Clutched in its bony hand was a ring of the elements and a wand of fireballs.
No sooner seen than stolen. The iguana rounded the corner and stopped, belly heaving as though it were going to be sick. Its mouth opened slowly, dramatically, and then it belched forth a stream of acid. I covered my face with my hands, expecting the worst. Instead, the acid lightly singed my hair and clothes. The ring had saved me!
The dragon blinked slowly at me, surprised that I was still alive. Obviously not one of the brighter models. I levelled the wand and fired off a withering blast of heat and smoke. The monster staggered, but remained standing. It went through its 'sick' routine again, and covered me with more acid. I fired the wand again. It covered me with acid. I fired. It fired. I fired. Finally the dragon fell on its side and died.
"I have found you at last!" shouted the Crusader from behind me. "Turn around and meet your fate like a man!" I turned. The crusader was there, flanked on either side by the gargoyle and the minotaur. The rest of the monsters were right behind him. Seeing my chance, I fired into the horde again and again, emptying the wand. When the smoke cleared, nothing but a black spot on the arena floor remained of my enemies.
"That wasn't so bad," I said aloud, dusting off my clothes and straightening my collar. I walked to the desk. As expected, the arena master appeared.
"Congratulations on your awesome victory!" he gushed. "I'll send you to Vertigo now!"
"Uh, don't I get a reward or something?"
The next moment I was in Vertigo, with only a hazy heat distortion in the air to mark my sudden arrival. With the arena and my hasty arrival on this side of the world becoming a bad memory, my journey was almost over. I knew that there was a travel pyramid just outside of town. First thing, though, was to get a hot meal and a room for the night. The tavern was right behind me, so I stepped inside and asked for the special of the day.
Octopus soup with arachnoid garnish. Hmmm. Well, part of travelling is to try the local food, no matter how strange. The octopus was somewhat rubbery, and the arachnoid garnish tasted like chicken. Not bad, but both dishes could have used some more spice. After eating I checked into a room and had a good night's sleep.
The next day I decided to explore Vertigo awhile before I returned home to Castleview. It turns out that Vertigo has all the amenities of civilization, including a town mirror. The blacksmith's shop has everything an adventurer could ask for. Everything from accuracy tridents to venom crowns. Nova scepters were unavailable, though, and the blacksmith had never even heard of a J.V.C. moat maker.
"That doesn't sound like the Vertigo I know. We were lucky if they had anything better than bronze weapons and armour."
The Guild, however, was virtually barren of spells. They didn't even have the clairvoyance and cure disease spells, let alone heavy hitters like resurrection and starburst. They seemed to mostly carry the simple spells that Rangers and Druids used. The proprietor, an agile prestidigitator in his mid thirties, told me that the nearest known version of the clairvoyance spell was in the witch's tower far to the south, where the horn of Falista the unicorn was kept.
Well, rescuing some unicorn's horn sounded both dangerous and unprofitable. The seer within me told me that further adventures would give me a severe case of death, and that I should change my vocation to fisherman, or alligator wrestler. My decision had been made. I left the town and used the pyramid to return to Castleview. This travel guide is complete, but there is one more piece of advice I leave you to ponder: When the sphinx has you baffled, and Corak remains a prisoner, Tito Therewolf, smile, and all will be forgiven.
"Okay, I'm done. Now you can talk."
"That was weird. What's with all those coloured words? You think they're clues or something?"
"Looks like it. I'm pretty sure 'skeleton' was one of the coloured words, so if we write it in the space here..."
"The floor has risen above the water level! That is a good thing, yes? It is meaning we have given the correct answer, yes?"
"As long as it doesn't keep rising and smoosh us into the ceiling, I'd say so."
There are 89 clues, one for every purple-coloured word in the statue's inscription, so I'm not gonna show every single one of them. Maybe in the bonus update I will.
"Technically octopus and squid are related but distinct clades."
"Is this place being kept up to date, or did whoever made this puzzle somehow anticipate us freeing Corak?"
"Name of spell actually 'teleport', but clue said 'teleportation' and word is right length for space available, so..."
"I'm not sure that's the most notable fact about him, but I suppose it's true enough."
"Only thing on inscription that look like initials. Wonder what kind of game he make? Board game? Gambling game? Sport?"
"A king's scepter is more than a mere symbol of his power and virility! Without it, his connection to the land is lost! His kingdom shall drop into ruin and he is sure to sicken and die, unless a brave hero can scour the land to be finding and returning it!"
"Oh, don't be melodramatic. I didn't see any kings dying when Lord Xeen had the Scepter of Temporal Distortion. Besides, even if it went missing again, how hard could it be to find? It's not like whoever takes it is gonna bury it in the ground and tear up the map."
"While we speak of maps, I have finished ours! The puzzle is complete!"
I bet you think I'm about to complain about levels nobody needs any more, right? Well, I'm not, 'cause the upcoming dungeon is actually kind of hard.
Not because of these guys, though. They're weak. Gross, but weak.
"Ewww! Why can't it just bite us like a normal monster?"
Screamers have the dubious distinction of being the strongest poison-using monster in the game. They have 3000 HP, their attack does 10-200 poison damage to the party, and they can inflict the Poisoned condition (which is a complete joke by this point in the game).
Think of them as slightly tougher Octopods and treat them accordingly. They probably won't be able to inflict any damage at all to an endgame-level party with buffs up. If you have trouble with them, turn back now, because you're not ready for this dungeon.
"Always pull levers. It's not just a good idea: it's the law."
"That's not a law! You made that up just now!"
"Always listen to advice I just made up. It's not just a good idea: it's the law."
I'm not 100% sure these levers actually do anything.
"I'm gonna go stick my head in this coffin until you start making sense again, so probably for a long time. Hey, what's this note?"
"Vampires? Ooooh, I wonder if they're as rich as the ones in Castle Blackfang!"
"More thrones for Fubar to prove kingliness on!"
"Don't worry, everyone, I started casting Raise Dead before he even finished sitting down."
"Maybe this one work better?"
"Wooo! Fubar is master of dungeon now!"
"I hope you're aware that if you start turning into a lich you'll have nobody but yourself to blame."
As far as I can tell, this throne doesn't do anything.
"This is one deep coffin. I can't reach the bottom from here. If I just climb over the edge and--"
"Saw that one coming too. Time to get this thing open, pull her out, and practice looking really smug for when she's revived."
"Fubar? Little help here?"
"Sure! Fubar, master of dungeon, happy to help friends!"
Logically, you'd think opening the coffin would be necessary to retrieve your party member's trapped body, but World of Xeen's engine isn't that sophisticated so Trish is equally dead, and equally revivable, either way. A character with 200 or greater Might can get the coffin open again, but all that lets you do is search it again so it'll close on you and kill another character.
"Totally worth dyin' for."
"For those boots? They weren't even fashionable back when they were made. And look how obviously fake that stitching is! It's all held together with cheap glue. The first time you try to walk on lava with these, they'll fall apart."
Some of the coffins do have top-tier items in them, so pay attention to your Clairvoyance heads to find the good ones while avoiding the bad.
"Hm. Maybe this place for playing game made by JVC."
"Oooh, lava chess! Combines strategy of chess with fun of lava!"
"I'd prefer lava hopscotch, if Flench and Vandesloof have some Jump spells left in them."
"Haven't most of the liches we've fought so far been skeletal?"
"Yes. But this one is whole skeleton instead of just head."
Skeletal Liches are nasty. They've only got 2000 HP but they're resistant to all damage, selectively target Sorcerers, and attack for 1000 Energy damage with a chance to cause eradication. Suddenly loading up Vandesloof with energy resistance doesn't seem like such a bad decision.
A round of buffed melee attacks from high-level characters should be enough to finish them off, but they're fast enough that they'll get at least one attack in first. Obliterating them with Holy Word as soon as they come into view is a totally reasonable option, especially when they appear in groups.
"No evil shrine shall be left untouched!"
I'd really prefer to just get free levels directly at this point, but whatever.
"So what's with this whole progression of shrines? Are there people or liches or whatever who are too evil for the Shrine of Minor Evil but not evil enough for the next shrine up? Like, they stabbed a dude to death once but they were drunk at the time and the guy was kind of a dick anyway?"
This one's worth 2 million experience.
"Nothing great about evil!"
5 million experience this time, for all the good it'll do us.
"My clairvoyance is giving me a warning of direness. Perhaps this shrine should be left alone."
Seriously, don't mess with the last shrine.
A number of long passages branch out from the shrine room, each one full of Skeletal Liches and ending in a dial. Turning the correct dials opens passages that allow the party to continue deeper into the dungeon, or take shortcuts back to near the start of the level. The passages are all near the dials that open them, so the easiest way to know which ones do something is to have Wizard Eye active and look for changes in the map.
"It's cute that they think a sign is gonna make us behave ourselves."
"The undead in here are way stronger than in Necropolis, and there's more treasure here too. If I were a lich I bet I'd love this place. Why did Sandro ever leave?"
"Maybe he like being big fish in small pond."
Vampire Kings are by far the strongest members of the vampire family. 10,000 hit points, 90% resistance to physical damage and 80% resistance to everything else, and an attack for 10-2500 physical damage that selectively targets Clerics and can cause eradication. My strategy for them is to load Anleisa up with AC-boosting gear and hope she doesn't get hit before she can wipe them out with Holy Word.
Each coffin in this room can be searched after killing its inhabitant for 5 guaranteed top-tier items.
Among the treasure we pick up is something really special: a weapon that does triple damage to dragons. Weapons with slaying properties are rare at the best of times, and finding a dragon-slaying property on an obsidian weapon is an incredible stroke of luck. This would have been fantastic if we got it before fighting the Mega Dragon; as it is, it's cool but obsolete. Still gonna use it, though, because come on.
Anyway, the stairs to the third floor are just past this room, so down we go.
"Another puzzle level? Sure, that's cool, we're all good at those by now. But why did they have to forbid us from touching treasure? That's gotta be a violation of my civil rights as a gnome."
"Flench have friend in high place in XCLU. Will see what he can do about this."
"It seems we'll have to find those gongs before we can achieve anything more here."
The treasure piles are generally placed at intersections between passages, allowing the party to go straight ahead but preventing them from turning. Stepping on treasure will teleport the party back to the start of the level, and reset any gongs that have been struck. There are also Annihilators and Autobots wandering around this level, but those aren't a big deal by now.
You can cheat a little by casting Jump to land the party directly on a treasure pile and then sidestepping off it before the game notices you're not supposed to be there, which lets you take some shortcuts.
The gongs you need to hit are in the four corners of the level, so if you're not sure where to go next, just head for a corner you haven't been to yet.
"And we're done. I guess that wasn't too tedious."
"Staying hydrated important. By time you feel thirsty, concentration and endurance already impaired."
Pulling the lever after striking the gongs opens a passage to the stairs down and to a fountain that doesn't do anything. For a place called the Dungeon of Death, there are a surprising number of things that don't kill you.
"This seems oddly familiar..."
"... and that seems even more oddly familiar."
It's a good thing the game doesn't let you sell or throw away the Xeen Slayer Sword, because you're gonna need it for this level. Put it on your fastest character and they should easily be able to one-shot Lord Xeen before he can act. Approach from an angle so that he can't attack from range, since he can still inflict eradication.
"Oof! Rocks are Fubar's least favourite thing to get hit in face with."
The squares of terrain surrounding this machine do 2000 damage of a particular type to the whole party (physical for earth, fire for lava, cold for water, and poison for clouds). Jump over them instead of walking through.
"So wait, was the Lord Xeen we fought up in his sky castle made down here too, or are these just clones of him or something?"
"Either way, we'd better smash this thing if we don't wanna get harassed by more Lord Xeens. Or would it be Lords Xeen? Eh, whatever."
More experience we can't use. There are four generators scattered around the dungeon level, and we have to shut down all of them to stop more Xeens from spawning.
"Maybe these are the monsters that prayed at the Shrine of Minor Evil. They're certainly minor enough."
This level has four elemental cores, which don't actually do anything and are surrounded by more 2000-damage happy fun fields, so they're probably best avoided.
"On one hand, dungeon must take lot of work to keep running smoothly. On other hand, this raise questions about every other place we go to that not have maintenance room."
"Whole World of Xeen maintained from here? That only raise further questions."
"Oh man, I bet that means we can mess around with all kinds of stuff in here! Sweet!"
"Now that's just cheating."
The control room is filled with a fuckton of Xeen clones, like 12 of them or thereabouts. It's possible to cheat and get multiple Xeen Slayer Swords, or exploit game mechanics and pass one sword around your party during battle, and it's probably a good idea to do so. The fight is quite winnable with just one sword and one wielder, but there's a high risk of people getting eradicated.
"Code? What code?"
"Do the rest of you remember that secret message in Darkstone Tower?"
"I do believe this is the place to enter the password we decoded."
"... we sure are, dungeon. We sure are."
Next time: we finish World of Xeen!