Part 4: Clowning AroundUpdate 004: Clowning Around
Are we there yet?
My feet hurt. Are we there yet?
I got a pebble in my shoe. Are we there yet?
So help me, if any of you ask one more time, I'm turning this adventure around.
Doesn't help that with this fog I can't tell if we are there yet. Let me get out the map...
Having arrived via the road, we arrive where the road enters the map, in the lower right. If we'd used flying to come in over the mountains a bit farther north of the path in New Sorpigal, we would have arrived at an equivalent spot on the edge of the Castle Ironfist map. Usually, though, it's worthwhile to follow the roads since you can otherwise sometimes enter a map right in the middle of a monster cluster or in some hard-to-navigate geometry that you need to cast Fly to wriggle out of at all.
I think I see some travellers up ahead, maybe they can help us. Yoo hoo! Sirs! Are we anywhere near Castle Ironfist?
"Yoo hoo?" Really?
Wow, they're really rushing over here quickly! They must be eager to help!
Those aren't travellers, this is an ambush!
Followers of Baa are puzzlingly weak enemies, being more fragile than practically anything on the New Sorpigal map, only marginally stronger than goblins and definitely less of a threat than rats, spiders, bloodsuckers or cobras. They also break the usual three-recolour scheme somewhat as their second tier, the Mystic, only recolours the sash around his waist and shoots Mind Blasts at the party, which can be a bit of a suprrise since they look like the Followers at range, and their top tier, the Fanatics, wearing stylish pistacchio-green robes, are actually less dangerous since they only attack in melee and don't cause any conditions.
Hey Richmond, you mind stopping with the exposition and helping out with the explosions?
Wow, Deadeye, that was actually mildly witty.
Thanks, I've been practicing.
The initial ambush is pretty easy to handle, in general the Castle Ironfist overworld has relatively few obvious threats, but it does have a couple of non-obvious ones.
Oh hey, we're there!
At last. Let's hand over this letter and get richly rewarded.
First goal of any new town: check for horseshoes at the stables. I believe horseshoes and other grabbable items, like fruit trees, refresh at the same pace as monsters do. I.e. 6 months to 2 years, in-game, depending on which region you're in.
I can't see a damn thing in this fog. Bobelix, go knock on some doors and ask where the castle is.
You got it!
Well? What'd he say?
He told me that knowledge was the truest treasure and also he said he'd pay us to find his harp that he lost in a cave full of dragons.
Dragoons, Bobelix, dragoons.
This guy also sells Berserker's Fury memberships, which I buy since that's where I can teach the party to use bows. It's the building right next door and everyone gets a lesson, then armed up with the spare crossbows I found in Goblinwatch. Thanks to Bobelix's Expert Spirit Magic, he can bless everyone at once, and this actually means that even the terrible combatants like Agnes and Richmond can land shots. Not that there's a great difference between them and Bobelix, since there are no class-inherent combat bonuses, only skill bonuses, so Deadeye is the only member of the party that's actually a notably better archer than the rest. I also get Expert Swordsmanship for Bobelix while I'm here, since the trainer is just around the corner. This makes him have less cooldown between swings in melee.
Pretty sure the castle isn't down by the harbor. Well, you're up next, Richmond, knock on some doors.
My intellect feels tragically under-utilized.
The next door has the Expert Bowmanship(for Deadeye) teacher and a chatter NPC. Though she also introduces us to the guilds from here on out having a membership per-element. Thankfully memberships are all incredibly dirt cheap, so I'm not quite sure why they bothered. At least in M&M5, finding the membership NPC sometimes took some effort(if I remember right, the one for Necropolis was in the lava-filled sewers) or cost a decent amount of money.
Now, watch as the clever boy screwed this one up.
...well I admit I got distracted by a story about fabulous lost magics and didn't really think to ask.
At the end of the road is a better inn than the one in New Sorpigal, letting us fill our packs to almost four times as much food as previously. It's also worth noting that it's not some world map sections that require more food, but literally the type of tile you try to rest on. I discover this later as Ironfist has grass, dirt, road and swamp times around. The swamp tiles are 3 food per rest, the road and dirt tiles are 2 per rest and the grass tiles are 1 per rest. If you don't pay attention to that, you can easily end up spending more food than necessary.
In hindsight maybe it was obvious that the castle would be at the top of the hill.
Keep... off... it says not to step on it.
Huh! No damn platform's going to tell Deadeye what to do!
Wait, Deadeye what if it... uhh... what if it teleports you into a nest of furious lizard people who riddle you with arrows?
That's ridiculous, but fine. If you guys are going to be worrywarts about it, I'll stay off. For now.
Predictably that is exactly what stepping on the platform will do. It's a place we want to visit, though, but it's much smarter to walk there, for a number of reasons.
Among other things that have changed from New Sorpigal to Castle Ironfist is that while the New Sorpigal healers say "Luck be with you" when you leave, the Castle Ironfist healers say "Live long and prosper!" They do this because Jon van Caneghem and the rest of the New World Computing team are completely unapologetic trekkies and huge nerds besides.
The guilds up here also have an expanded selection of Mind, Spirit and Body spells:
Remove Curse: Fuck me but Curse is possibly the worst condition to be hit by. Unlike the rest it has no penalties to health, spell points or stats... but it just fails a flat 50% of all your actions. Fuck everything in this game that can Curse, you need and want Remove Curse. Thankfully there are no cursed items that stick themselves to you.
Guardian Angel: While active, if the party dies, they lose half their gold and are warped to the last temple they visited, all returned to life. Would be great if the game had any means for enforcing an ironman mode or permadeath, but as it comes with a save and load function, this spell is a bit unexceptional, though I suppose that with clever use, it could be abused for expensive, early town portal effects and is probably part of some galaxy brain speedrun stat.
Heroism: Like Bless, but affecting damage instead of chance to hit. Is part of keeping your melee and bow combatants competitive into the endgame. Even if you only had 1 point of Spirit magic skill, it would be a +6 damage, and considering that a lot of weapons at this stage do something like 3d7 damage, that's a pretty big addition!
Turn Undead: Forces all Undead enemies to turn around and run away from you. I have never cast this spell, but I can see it being useful to get breathing space in dungeons where there isn't a lot. All spells that make enemies run away end as soon as you hit them, so make sure they get some distance before you turn the arrows and spells on them again.
Cure Paralysis: As expected, Paralysis simply prevents a party member from acting at all. This is very bad. Be sure to have the spell for curing this before you enter the midgame. You can also mix potions to deal with it, and it's worth having a couple of those stocked up.
Charm: Stops a single creature attacking you until you attack it again. Magnificently useless unless you're up against a single boss enemy, but since enemies also get to resist conditions, based on their level, and bosses usually have really high levels... yeahno.
Mass Fear: Turn Undead but for living enemies. Again, maybe useful but... note the thing about enemy saves.
Feeblemind: Prevents a single enemy from "casting spells." Enemies do not cast spells like PC's, but some enemies' secondary ranged attack is explicitly a spell(one of the same the PC's can cast, usually, but with no details on what skill level they cast it at), and this would defuse those assuming it stuck. Still, only a single enemy so... I guess maybe worth hitting some bosses with, but largely a waste of time, in my opinion.
Cure Wounds: The first scaling healing spell, 5+2 per skill. A must-have since the non-scaling healing spells really start falling off fast.
Cure Poison: No surprises, you want to be able to deal with all conditions when you can.
Speed: Another of the attributes that're worth boosting, once you get it to Master and it affects the entire party, I'd have this up as often as possible since being able to act more is good, and at sufficiently high levels Speed gains you an AC bonus as well.
Cure Disease: Once again, get this. Every time you have to haul your ass back to a temple to recover, you're wasting time, and Poison and Disease basically prevent in-dungeon resting entirely, so it's also possible to paint yourself into a corner by getting diseased or poisoned at the wrong time.
Around the back of the castle is one of the few wells in the game we can't drink from. Not just shouldn't, but can't. Either this is an oversight or maybe it'll have some vital and spooooky plot purpose later.
There are stairs up to the roof of the castle which display an unusual amount of graphical jankiness without me even trying to provoke it. The rooftop features a couple of people living in the turrets and also the royal library.
Is that kid sassing me? I'll show him!
For pete's sake, someone distract Deadeye.
Hey Deadeye, the royal library is just around the corner! That guy said there was amazing treasure inside!
...what's the treasure? All I see is books and a dusty old statue.
We can't do anything with the royal library yet, but we'll be back, as just about anyone with half a brain could guess.
Right, let's get paid.
Must be a nice, unstressful job being regent. You get to order around some kid and if anything goes wrong with the kingdom you can just say the kid did it.
Oy, your highness, we've got this letter for you...
All classes have two promotions that largely serve to upgrade their basic hitpoint/spellpoint progression and little else, though some of them do unlock extra training(for instance we need to do one of the Cleric promotion quests, even as non-clerics, before the Master Spirit trainer will give us the time of day), and in the case of Sorcerers and Clerics they also need to class upgrade to get Dark/Light magic access. The places to get said promotion quests are always the various regents' castles scattered around Enroth.
Quests, eh? Tell us more...
Hello your other highness.
Finally someone talks to me! Everyone else just ignores me and goes straight to Humphrey.
What's it like, being a prince?
You've got it, your highness! I bet the others will love it!
So it's agreed, we work for Humphrey until he makes us knights and then we remove him in a bloody coup and take the throne.
I... don't think it is.
That is, in fact, the opposite of anything that's gonna be agreed.
Hey guys, look who's coming with us!
Bobelix, the adults are talking. Anyway, we never do what I want to do.
Because it's always rash and ill-considered.
Usually needlessly greedy and violent, too.
Bobelix... what the fuck?
No, no, hang on. I think Bobelix outsmarted us all. We get in good with Nicolai, we could be the new regents. How you doing, your highness?
Looking forward to seeing what real adventurers do! Can we go to the circus?
C'mon kid, I'm gonna show you something better than the circus.
You ever seen a man die?
While Deadeye indulges his Id, let's take a look at the second new enemy on the Castle Ironfist overworld: Lizardmen. They take slightly more damage to take down than the Followers of Baa, and regularly drop low-level bows(which upgrades everyone from crossbows to longbows before we're done clearing this area), they also have a new type of AI which, rather than running towards us while firing, maintains distance or actively runs away while firing, even at full health. Thankfully the amount of damage they do in all three incarnations is relatively low, though the second and third tiers(Lizard Archers and Lizard Wizards) occasionally cast spells that jump their damage up some.
BLOOD! Phew, that was a workout. What did you think, your highness?
I... I wanted to go to the circus...
Tough crowd, huh. Well, maybe you'll be more impressed if you see my other skills, I spotted a chest over by the water...
Now behold, as I disarm the trap and reveal fabulous treasures within this chest!
I feel like we should stop him before he traumatizes the prince.
Eh, if we're lucky he'll order Deadeye hung when we get back to the castle.
Keep your eyes open, your highness, Deadeye's lightning fast and dexterous, it's like magic!
Ha ha, whoops! Little slip of the fingers there... uhhh... I feel like normally there's a disapproving, mocking chorus when that happens...
Ah, but I'm sure the contents of this chest will be worth it!
...alright, your highness, this is how you carry a corpse without straining your back.
Some time later
See, your highness? Good as new, now they just need a nap to get them back to fighting form and we'll find something new to show you!
...I feel like someone stitched me back together.
The... the prince! Is he okay? Your highness?!
So I got good news and bad news. The bad news is you all kind of died, the good news is that I saved you all. Also someone kidnapped the prince.
You moron! We have to get him back or we'll all be on the gibbet!
Poor prince Nicolai, all by himself, kidnapped, when all he wanted to do was see the circus...
If we think about this logically, I'm sure we can recover Prince Nicolai in a timely enough fashion that we'll merely be severely lashed and banished from the kingdom.
Right, the map from the Enrothian Tourist Council says there's someone up a nearby cliff called the "Seer." He might be genuinely psychic, or he might just have a tall enough vantage point that he saw something.
The Seer is an optional part of the game, of sorts. In the era before it was easy to google up a comprehensive FAQ or wiki, he was actually a useful help.
So the Seer has three functions: He can tell you which Shrine is active each month(of course not where it is), and then if you can make it there before the month ends, you can get a permanent stat or resistance boost(+10 to the entire party on the first visit, +3 on subsequent visits). Note that the shrines aren't active until the Seer tells you they are, so you can't even just randomly stumble into them, you need his help.
Secondly, you can lament that you lost a quest item, and he can re-provide it for you, if, say, you hucked it into the ocean or some such. But he won't give you things you never had.
Lastly, he can suggest where you should head next and what you should do when you get there.
Oh wise seer! Aid us! What should our next move be?
Yeah, yeah, self-improvement, etc. we lost the prince. Help a buddy out.
Only clowns would sneer at my advice.
Richmond! Help me hold Deadeye back!
It's all fun and games until someone loses an eye.
Guys, I think he's trying to hint at something...
I'll feed him hints! With my bow!
Dreadfully sorry, sir, we'll see our friend outside.
So he left to join the circus, right?
What a sham. I'm leaving him one hell of a bad review when we're done finding the prince. What's next?
Well, according to the map, the Castle Ironfist area is home to several caves and dungeons... he might have wandered in, or been brought there. The nearest one is... just at the foot of this cliff, really.
If nothing else, maybe Humphrey will spare us for killing all these bandits and highwaymen down here.
...how do we know they're bandits and highwaymen?
...because Wizard Eye says so?
Huh, yeah, guess it wouldn't mark them as enemies if they weren't safe to kill. Onwards!
No sign of Nicolai outside, but back at New Sorpigal they did want us to clear this place out.
And thieves are fair game for stealing from. File that way for later. Next place.
Castle Ironfist hosts the Shrine of Electricity, but we'd have to wait until September to use it. Once we get access to some fast mover spells at the top of the Water magic spellbook, we'll certainly want to make use of the shrines as often as possible.
Jeez, my boots are getting all soggy walking through this swamp. I'm gonna get blisters.
Not much farther, just past this inn and there's supposed to be an old mine...
Dwarf mine, a kid could have made his way in there, or Snergle could have kidnapped him so the Ironfists would be forced to recognize him.
Dwarves are supposed to be very protective of their mines, maybe we shouldn't loiter... the next place is down south.
This area has several swarms of Bloodsuckers in addition to the usual suspects, and I do mean swarms.
Is that a mansion in the swamp?
I damn well hope so, I need to dry out my everything.
Oh no, oh hell no, if Nicolai is in there, he's on his own. Someone back at town told me that Corlagon was a lich. I'm not adding my bones to his collection. We're heading right the fuck back.
Ugh, not again. Agnes, where's the nearest temple?
Well, the tourist guide says that the scenic Temple of Baa up ahead offers low-priced healthcare to all.
...whatever, fuck it, I'd accept antibiotics from a goblin right now.
The Temples of Baa aren't entirely free, but goddamn, they're still charging close to 5% of the prices that the normal temples do. On the other hand they cackle maniacally as you leave. A small price to pay for cheap medicine.
I sure hope that visiting that evil temple didn't make some baleful deity curse us.
Something on your mind, Agnes?
I mean. Who do the other temples pray to?
For a setting with paladins, crusaders, clerics, druids, a spell called "divine intervention" and churchy temples, Might and Magic has always been extremely vague about its internal mythology. There are no named deities, there are no defined religious codes of morality, no holidays, nada. I mean, it's fair for a game to just treat divine magic as another service if it doesn't want to get into that, but once it starts setting up evil cults as an opponent, they start making you think about these things and you start realizing there's no real answer or reason why anyone should trust the normal temples more than the Temples of Baa.
So, uh, why are we headed up this way?
Well they wouldn't build a road here unless it lead to something, I wanted to see what it lead to!
So yeah, that teleporter back at Castle Ironfist would have dumped you half the map away. You could PROBABLY run back without TOO much damage if you realized what happened, or use an alternate way back, but it would be easy to panic and get picked apart by the local lizards.
The fountain is just a boring healing fountain, and the platform takes you back to Castle Ironfist, the obelisk, however...
It isn't a Might and Magic game without a long-running cipher/puzzle that'll run the width and length of the game before you get it figured out.
Graffiti really gets everywhere.
Or it could be a clue!
Not you and clues again.
A clue to where Prince Nicolai is! I'm noting it down! Maybe we'll find more!
Hells, this place still has more caves and dungeons?
Just two more, both down here!
Killing all these people just doesn't excite me any longer, you know?
Richmond, I got blood in my boots!
Bobelix, stay away from them when they're on fire!
It does get kind of commonplace, I think we're in the low hundreds by now.
I hope we find something more exciting to fight soon, I'd hate to lose my passion for adventuring.
I hope we don't, I'm pretty happy fighting things that can't really hurt us.
An evil cult seems like the kind of people who might kidnap the prince.
On the other hand, if we kill their buddies they might start charging us more for healing.
This the last one?
Last one on the map.
You know, why are weird dungeons on the tourist board's maps?
Good question, but I figure as long as we don't ask, they won't stop doing it and that makes our lives easier.
Why dragoons, though? It doesn't have a very... rogue-ish sound to it.
Maybe they just misspelled dragons and once someone pointed it out, they had to stick with it to avoid looking like idiots. Anyway, another gang of bandits, prime suspects, but no incriminating evidence outside their doorstep... let's think about this one.
Vote of the Post
Where does the gang go next? We're flush with options for once:
Pros: We have a quest pointing us here. I might be able to kill the locals without too much trouble.
Cons: Short dungeon.
Pros: We have a quest here, long dungeon
Cons: Locals will almost certainly own the party seven ways from sunday, stupid name
Pros: Skeleton puns
Cons: No quests, tons of conditions I can't do anything about, even if I can beat the locals the "end boss" is way out of the party's league
Temple of Baa
Pros: We have a quest here, enemies actually scaled for the party's abilities, long dungeon
Pros: Might be able to beat up the locals, mid-length dungeon
Cons: No quests, dwarves might own me
Pursue the Circus
Cons: Clowns, completely irrational course of action that gets us no closer to finding Prince Nicolai, will probably drag us through several zones that will own me hideously(possibly should be a pro?)
Please drop in two votes, just in case the first vote drags me somewhere the party can't handle, so I'm guaranteed a second option without needing to ask for a re-vote.