Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Orthanc: Delving Deeper

I feel like I'm in the hone stretch with this game now.  I'm currently about half-way through mapping level 8, and I feel like I have the game beat.  As with all the games of this vintage that I've played so far, it comes down to two things: knowing the right spell to use in a given situation, and knowing when to get the hell out of the dungeon.

There is, of course, a third factor, and that's luck.  Just a few nights ago I was trucking along nicely with a 9th level character, only to be surprised by an Evil High Priest and killed before I could even react.  It happens; sometimes the random chance goes against you.  But I've gotten to a point where I feel like I've minimised that random chance as much as I can.  I'm starting to encounter 10th-level monsters now: Dragons, Balrogs, and even the dreaded Programmers.  With smart spell usage and a bit of luck I find that I can take them out without to much trouble, and if I do find myself overwhelmed I can always escape with a Teleport.  Hopefully next week I'll be able to make my final post on the game, and move on to something else.

Before I finish this post, I did want to point out how awesome the Arrows of Slaying are now that I've found some.  I found a bunch of ten and a bunch of eight, and they're indispensable on the lower levels of the dungeon.  If you have any of these arrows, you get the option of firing one whenever you encounter a creature of the Mythical class, and it will kill the monster outright.  There are some nasty monsters in that class: Balrogs, Dragons, Griffins, Lammasu, Purple Worms, Umber Hulks and Wyverns make up a sizable portion of the level 9 and 10 monsters.  Having that instant kill in the arsenal is a life-saver.

This was a short post, so here: have some more maps.

Level 5
Level 6
Level 7

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Orthanc: Grinding to Failure

For most of my time playing this game I've been quickly building my characters up, then sending them to map as much unexplored territory as possible before their inevitable demise.  A few days ago I decided to try something different: I was going to slowly and methodically grind a character up, keeping him stronger than the monsters encountered and increasing his survivability.

It worked, for a little while.  Getting a character from level 1 to about level 6 is no problem at all, and can happen quite quickly.  Things slow down after that, however.  For every level you gain the experience points needed to reach the next level double, like so: 1000, 2000, 4000, 8000, 16000, 32000, 64000, 128000, 256000, 512000, etc.  From level 7 onwards the target starts to get really high, and you need to delve deeper to get a decent amount of treasure, unless you're patient enough to chip away at it on the first couple of levels.  I wasn't.

I managed to grind my way up to 9th level, which gave me 20 spell slots and about 60 hit points.  I also found some choice magic items along the way: a ring of protection, elven boots and the all-important ring of light.  I would wear the boots to avoid random encounters, and the ring of light so that I would always know where the set encounters were.  I switched to the ring of protection before every battle, and also before going through a door.  It was a good system, and it seemed to be working well for me.

Ultimately, I was thwarted by the randomness of the game.  No matter how careful you are, there's no way of knowing what the next fight will be.  It could be against a Level 1 Kobold, or it could be against a level 8 Gorgon.  I wasn't done in by a single combat, however, but rather by the respawning of a dungeon level.  I was grinding on level 4 of the dungeon, and decided to return to the surface with 6 spell slots still remaining, but when I got to level 3 it had been restocked, and was crawling with encounters again.  For some reason every one that I hit was high level, and I was soon left with no spells.  The one that got me was a Sphinx, which is in the Animated category that's immune to most spells anyway.  There was nothing for me to do but chop way at it and hope the numbers came up in my favour.  They didn't.

So I'm going to forget about grinding.  At least with my old tactics I was progressing with my maps, however slowly.  I wasted two days of gaming trying to develop a powerful character, and in the end it got me nowhere.

Also, this happened:

Yes, your magical items can be destroyed after any battle.  Wonderful.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Orthanc: Magic Items

I'm chugging along at a nice pace on Orthanc now, having mapped level 5 and most of level 6.  I'm using my spells more effectively, and I'm also taking the game's comprehensive documentation into account by checking the stats of monsters before I decide how to tackle them.  Basically, I'm playing smarter, and I'm losing fewer characters because of it.  It's not only the spells that are keeping me alive, though: it's also the magic items I've found, and they're what I'm going to write about today.

Equipping my Light Ring.  Note that I also have a +2 sword.

Magic items in Orthanc come in four categories: boots, equipment, manuals and rings.

Boots: Boots are equipped in the dungeon by pressing 'B'.  (For the longest time I hadn't realised that you need to equip magic items, so I was finding them and wondering why they didn't do anything.  Read the instructions, kids.)  You can only wear one set of boots at a time, so you have to make a trade-off, and pick whichever one you think will be best in the current situation.
  Elven Boots: These boots make you completely silent.  You can avoid all wandering monsters, but not those that are stationed in one place.  They're useful for when you're trying to escape the dungeon, as you will most probably have a clear path back to the surface as long as you retrace your steps; if that's the case, wandering monsters are the only ones you might encounter.
  Boots of Speed: These work just like the Speed spell, giving you the first strike in combat and allowing you to move faster.  In the last post I wrote about how a lot of the spells have durations that are too short to be of much practical use.  Magic items are the remedy for that, as a lot of them replicate spells, but function permanently.
  Boots of Levitation: Give you the power of Levitation, permanently.  Perfect for when you're exploring unfamiliar territory, and don't want to fall down a chute.

Equipment: This inaptly named category contains magical weapons and armour.  You can find weapons, shields and armour of +1, +2 or +3 value, which is D&D as hell: the original D&D booklets only went up to +3, so Orthanc is sticking close to the source.  There's also a Mythical Arrow of Slaying.  You can carry up to 31 of these, and they'll automatically kill any creature of the Mythical type.  That category includes Balrogs and Dragons, so yeah, I'd like to have a few stocked up for lower levels.  I haven't found any yet, though.

Books: I haven't found a single one of these yet.  Most of them raise your stats, and there's one for each (Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence and Constitution).  There's also the Book of Vile Darkness (another lift from D&D) that permanently lowers your hit points by half.  That sounds nasty, but as I said, I haven't found any books.  There may be a clue to let you know when you have the cursed book, but I doubt it.  These PLATO games can be unforgiving.

Rings: Magic rings, much like the boots, can only be worn one at a time, and are equipped by pressing 'R'.
  Ring of Light: Works like a permanent Light spell.  My current character has one of these, and it's indispensable, allowing me to see every secret door, and where all the monsters are standing.  It's great for letting you pick a safe path, and for avoiding battle when you're low on resources.
  Ring of Protection: Makes you harder to hit, basically, just like the Protection spell.
  Ring of Invisibility: Wearing this ring gives you the spell Invisibility, permanently, meaning that you're completely immune from attack.  I want one so much - it would make mapping a breeze.
  Ring of Regeneration: Restores 1 hit point for every 25 moves.  Your hit points and magic restore even without this ring, but it takes 400 moves for every point.  The ring makes things a lot faster.

The instructions inform me that magic items can be lost after battle, and are gone forever, but I haven't had this happen to me yet.  I guess I'm just lucky?  Hopefully I haven't jinxed it.

There's a wide variety of items here, much more than in pedit5, and about on par with dnd.  The latter had a tendenct for magic items to be cursed, and blow up in your face, but Orthanc has avoided that, mercifully.  The ones I've found so far have been really helpful, and there's a little bit of thought involved in which ones to wear.  It's a pretty robust system.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Orthanc: Spells

If there's one common thread when it comes to surviving in these PLATO RPGs, it's this: spells are your most important resource.  In all three games I've played, combat has been little more than a process of trading blows until one combatant falls, so spells are the only tactical option you have.  Once they're gone, you're at the mercy of random chance, and that's a quick way to die.

Orthanc is no different in that regard, and it probably has the most varied range of spells I've encountered in the blog so far.  There are four levels of spells, and characters begin with four "units" with which to cast them.  A 1st-level spell costs one unit, 2nd-level costs 2, and so on.  You begin the game with access to all of the spells, but as you gain levels your spell units increase, so you cast more before your resources are depleted.

The spells are divided into combat and non-combat, so that's how I'll split my examination of them.


1st Level:

Charm: This spell is an automatic kill, but it only works on Men and Goblin-Types (the monsters are organised into categories, as I've mentioned before).  It also fails 30-50% of the time.  I haven't used it a great deal.  Most of the Men and Goblins I've encountered are weak enough to be defeated with a Sleep spell, and the rest I usually take out with more direct damage-dealing magic.  It probably won't use it at all, because there's a more effective version at 2nd level.

Sleep: Sleep gives you an instant victory against any foe of 4th level or less, except for Undead.  It always works, and it's the key to surviving the earliest stages of the game.  It's still the spell I use the most.

Magic Missile: A simple blasting spell that deals 2-20 points of damage per hit.  Against Undead it does double that, which has been enough to wipe out most of the nasties I've encountered.  It's a great spell that takes care of the one weak spot of Sleep.

2nd Level:

Hold Person: This works exactly like Charm, but it only fails 10-30% of the time.  Since it only costs 1 point more, I'll probably default to this version when I start encountering more powerful monsters.

Pray: Increases your ability to hit for a single combat, and is twice as effective against Undead.  I haven't noticed a great deal of difference when using this spell; I seem to hit more often than not even without it.

Protection:  This spell decreases the chance you'll be hit in combat, and just like Pray it works better against Undead.  Also like Pray, I haven't noticed much difference when I use it.  It lasts for 24 turns, though, which is better than a single combat.

3rd Level:

Hold Monster: Works like Charm, but it affects Animals and Insects.  I may start using this against Animals on deeper dungeon levels, but to be honest none of the Insects are very powerful.

Blast Bolt: Dishes out a whopping 5-60 points of damage, and double that against Undead.  This is the first spell I whip out against enemies to strong for Sleep.  What can I say, I like to make certain.

4th Level:

Dimension Door: This spell teleports your foe just outside the room you're in.  It fails 20-40% percent of the time, but it can be handy for surviving the battles you know you can't win.  The problem is, why would I ever use it when I have the very next spell?

Teleport: This spell works much like Dimension Door, but it teleports the target further away and fails more often.  The thing is, when it does fail it whisks you away to safety.  It's invaluable for survival in some situations, especially against Animated types, which are immune to all but 4th-level spells.


1st Level:

Cure: Restores from 1-7 hit points, apparently modified by your Intelligence score.  This is another spell that gets superseded by a better spell later on, so I haven't cast it much.

Levitation: Pits and chutes abound in the dungeon, and getting dumped to a lower level that you haven't explored is a real pain.  Levitation lets you avoid that.  You can skip pits entirely, and it gives you the option of using a chute or not.  The only problem is that it lasts for just 12 moves.  It's barely worth casting.

Depth: This spell simply tells you what level you're on.  It's really helpful after you've just fallen down a chute.

Light: Reveals secret doors, and also shows what squares have monsters in them.  It's great to have on during exploration, especially if you want to avoid combat, but it only lasts for 24 turns.

Using a Light spell.  There's a secret door below me, and a monster lurking above.

2nd Level:

Speed: Lets you move faster (meaning that your spells last longer) and gives you the first turn in combat.  That first turn is important.  Sometimes you get jumped by a monster, and it can kill you before you even get a chance to react.  It doesn't happen much if you have a high Dexterity, but the chance is still there.  But again, it only lasts for 18 turns.

Find Traps: This spell is great, and I'd love it if it lasted for longer than 6 turns.  Every time you move, the spell gives you an indication of what's in the squares surrounding you, whether it be a pit, a chute, stairs or nothing at all.  I'd use it all the time, but it's just not worth the spell units for such a short duration.

Serious Cure: This works like Cure, but you can choose how many spell units to spend.  Each unit spent restores 1-7 hit points.  It's a good spell that renders the lower level version obsolete.

3rd Level:

ESP: You can use this spell to discover what lurks behind walls and doors.  I haven't found much use for it, as there are other more effective ways of avoiding monsters.

Using ESP on the wall just above me.

Continuous Light: Works just like Light, but it never runs out.  This is the only non-combat spell that I use all the time.

Pass Wall: Lets you move through a single wall.  It can be handy for exploration, or taking shortcuts, but on the whole I don't use it a lot.  I expect that won't change, unless there are more inaccessible map areas on the lower dungeon levels.

4th Level:

Pass Floor: With this spell you can pass through the floor to the next dungeon level down.  I can't see much use for it.  I don't need to explore a lower dungeon level until I've fully mapped out the current one I'm on, and it uses too many spell units to be a worthwhile shortcut.

Pass Ceiling: This, on the other hand, can be a life saver.  Quite a number of times I've fallen through a chute to a lower level and used this spell to return to familiar territory.

Invisibility: This spell lets you avoid all enemies, and could come in really useful when making a quick flight out of the dungeon.  It's not as useful as it might be, because the rooms you clear out usually stay cleared out, leaving a safe route to the surface if you retrace your steps.  But for those times when you get caught in a dungeon level that has just respawned, it could save your life.  I'll have to remember it the next time that happens.

Monday, March 9, 2015

40 Years of Whisenwood Dungeon

I was logging in to my PLATO emulator earlier today to play some Orthanc, and this is the screen that it opened with:

What a lovely tribute to The Game of Dungeons, also known as dnd.  It's nice to see the folks at Cyber1 giving the game a little bit of love.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Orthanc: Maps Maps Lovely Maps

I've been playing a decent amount of Orthanc through the week, but I don't have a lot to say about it right now.  I haven't experimented with the non-combat spells like I had planned, and though I've found some magical items I haven't really messed around with those much, either.  I've just been exploring and mapping.  Currently I'm in the middle of level 5, and though I'm exercising caution I keep getting myself killed.  The chief culprits are: A) chutes that dump me on levels I haven't mapped yet; B) levels that respawn unexpectedly when I'm low on spells; and C) animated monsters that are immune to all but 4th level magic.  So with little progress made and not much to write about, I'm just going to throw up the maps of the first four levels.

Level 1

Level 2

Level 3

Level 4

If there's one thing I love in old-school RPGs that I miss now, it's mapping grid-based dungeons.  I used to do them by hand on graph paper, but now I use an Excel spreadsheet.  It's something I started doing a few years ago while playing through Bard's Tale III, and I find that it works pretty well.  Occasionally I've run into problems when there are a lot of things to note about a single square, but that hasn't been an issue with any of the PLATO games.

It's a simple system: I use black lines for the walls, brown lines for regular doors and blue lines for secret doors.  The pits marked with a P are traps that deal a small amount of damage, but they can be avoided with a Levitate spell.  The maps are all the same size (24x20), and every square is used, but the stairs and chutes don't match up between levels.

Looking at the maps, I'm reminded of the small, blocked off section in the lower right-hand corner of level 4.  I used a Pass Wall spell to get in there, not realising that I only had 1 spell point, which would leave me without the ability to get back out again.  This is the first part of the dungeon I've encountered that hasn't had some sort of door leading in or out.  I was trapped, but luckily for me I didn't turn the game off and create a new character.  Instead I ran back and forth banging my head against the walls, hoping for some sort of miracle to save me.  The miracle came, as I found out the hard way that hit points and spell points slowly regenerate in the dungeon.  After a few minutes of shuffling from one end of my prison to the other I had the spell points I needed to escape, and I was high-tailing it back to the surface.  I was honestly surprised that the game was so forgiving.

I'm going to continue mapping, and I also plan to check out the non-combat spells.  Not only might they help me to survive longer, but they'll give me something to write about next week.