Darklands: Heaven Help Us

From The CRPG Addict


Praying to a saint causes direct damage to a demon.
          
If you were designing a real religious system from scratch, this wouldn’t be a bad way for it to work. The world is governed by a large number of mini-gods, or “saints,” each in charge of a different portfolio of existence. When you need to get something done that exceeds your normal abilities, you call for a saint’s aid. But doing so requires that first you have been studious–that you have taken time to learn about the saint and his life, and the lessons that his biography has to impart. It also requires that you are virtuous, or the saint simply won’t listen to your prayer. Finally, you can’t over-rely on saints by calling for their help too often.
This is what people in the medieval period believed, and so it’s what the game runs with–a system of divine magic entirely unlike anything presented to us in other RPGs. Perhaps the closest is The Dark Heart of Uukrul, which contrasted a system of deterministic arcane magic with a system of divine magic that basically put you at the god’s whim. But things are more deterministic here. The saints operate on a specific formula. You have to have a minimum virtue to have any chance with them at all. Once you’ve crossed the threshold, your virtue determines the probability that the saint will act on your behalf for a specific amount of invested “divine favor,” a statistic that is replenished largely by doing good deeds.
First you have to know about the saint in the first place. There are about 140 total saints in the game. Each town’s kloster (most towns have one) teaches three or four of them, and your party can study in each kloster about once a week, imparting knowledge of a saint to a single character. You can also learn about saints at universities and from wandering hermits.
        
Part of the very long list of saints that one character has learned.
       
Once you know a saint, there are two ways to call upon him. The first is situation-specific. The game describes a situation and offers “call upon a saint” as one of the options, if you know any saints that might help. Hovering over this sub-menu gives you a list of saints that might offer something in the current scenario. For instance, St. Lutgardis might assist if you need to levitate over something, such as a city wall where the guards are looking to arrest you.
        
St. Boniface is a good one when you need to purify something Satanic.
        
But you can also call on saints at your own whim from the character menu, praying on behalf of one of your party members. For instance, the same St. Lutgardis will temporarily improve perception, virtue, and charisma for the prayed-for character. Every saint has a selection of attributes and skills that they improve.
I find myself using some saints repeatedly. If it’s important that I visit a city’s political leader without getting kicked out, I pray to St. Alcuin. He raises the “Read/Write” skill, intelligence, and “Read Latin.” But he also makes noblemen more disposed to see you instead of kicking you to the curb. More important is St. Gregory Thaumaturg, who among other things increases the “Artifice” skill. It’s only because of his help that I’ve gotten through the doors and chests in most of the indoor areas. None of my characters do well with this skill.
          
Praying to St. Gregory gives Bianca more “Artifice” skill.
        
I was frankly hoping for more from St. Crispin, whose day I know as sure as my own birthday. Every 25 October, patient Irene listens to me recite the speech from Henry V, though in the last few years, in the interests of time, I’ve taken to doing it in the shower. Anyway, I was disappointed to find that all St. Crispin does in this game is improve the quality of non-metal armor. 
In case you’re curious, St. Edward the Confessor is the most laissez-faire saint in the game, responding to prayers from people with virtue as low as 5. He increases endurance, intelligence, perception, all the weapons skills, and “Riding.” On the other side, St. Ita is the biggest prig. She won’t give you the time of day unless you have a virtue of 85. She performs some pretty significant healing, but there are lots of saints who heal.
In my last couple of entries, I mentioned that I was trying to find information on St. Wenceslaus, to whom I needed to pray to end the constant aggravation of Wild Hunts. When I started this session, I made a list of all of the cities in the Empire and crossed them off one-by-one as I visited their monasteries and found no information about St. Wenceslaus. At first, I tried to thread these visitations with quests, but eventually I got so impatient that I abandoned all other pursuits and just ran from town to town. I finally learned about the saint at the kloster in Marienberg, in the far northeast of the map.
       
At last!
        
When I invoked Wenceslaus against the Wild Hunt, it had a satisfying ending–but an annoying promise of return.
           
That’s all right: I know all the saints by now.
          
This occurred after about 6 hours of random adventuring, building my finances and my fame. I ended the session with the party’s fame at 615, or “legendary heroes,” which is the highest classification that you can get. Other than the usual–robber knights, artifact quests, Wild Hunts, boars, spiders, wolves, schrats, bandits, pilgrims, towns full of witches, and so forth–the only new experience was an encounter with a knight, where I had the options to challenge him to either a race or a joust. Since my characters suck in both “Polearms” and “Riding,” the result was predictable.
         
A fancy game for fancy lads.
             
I solved another mine quest. This one involved a bunch of “vulcans”–basically, fire elementals–who had managed to open a gate on the lower level of the mine. I had to battle my way through them and close it. The creatures are particularly annoying because they degrade armor quality, and by the time I was done with the adventure, I basically had no armor left. If I’d had a few “Firewall” potions, the monsters would have been easier, but I just fought through them rather than leaving the mine to go buy some.
          
I want to call attention to the skillful use of dactylic octameter here. You can sing this verse to the same tune as “Out in the West Texas Town of El Paso.”
         
During these experiences, I tested and confirmed my theories about armor. Specifically, I think it’s better to have everyone wearing plate, top and bottom, accepting the consequences of over-encumbrance, than to equip lesser armor and remain below the encumbrance limit. With all my characters in plate, hardly any enemies do any damage at all, so it hardly matters if the characters are slower on the swing. To ameliorate the effects of encumbrance during tougher battles, I invested heavily in “Ironarm” and “New-Wind” potions, which raise maximum strength and endurance respectively.
          
My party hits new heights of fame and wealth.
       
In fact, I spent nearly every coin I made on potions, buying roughly three “Essence of Grace” potions to every one “Ironarm” and “New-Wind.” I sold my ingredients and stopped wasting time trying to make my own. Yes, I know that you can theoretically make more powerful ones if you make your own, but it’s easier just to buy two. 
I kept firing a couple of handgun volleys before each combat, and before long my characters all had near-99 skills in “Impact Weapons,” “Edge Weapons,” and “Missile Weapons.” The handguns are a lot of fun. They’re very slow, but they take the edge off demons and Templars nicely at the beginning of a battle. 
         
The temple had multiple combats with multiple plate-clad Templars.
         
When I thought I was ready, I tried my assault on the Templar compound again. The building is large and multi-leveled, with about 20 battles against knights, soldiers, hell hounds, and bears. (The random battles with multiple enemies were much harder than the two “boss” battles, described below.) There were lots of chests with treasures, including three holy relics (I hadn’t encountered any until now): St. Olaf’s battle axe, St. Hubert’s bow, and St. Raphael’s water. Is it blasphemous to equip the first two as actual weapons? Are they particularly good weapons? I guess we’ll see.
It’s fun to reflect on the game’s treatment of Templars and witches. The manual is unapologetic about basing its depictions on 15th-century popular ideas of witchcraft. It draws a distinction between this kind of witchcraft and benign neo-paganism of the 20th century. Similar, the idea that Templars were actually Satanists comes from 14th-century persecutions of the order by the Avignon Papacy. Hundreds of Templars were arrested, tortured, and forced to confess to homosexuality, Satanism, and the worship of a demon named Baphomet. The authors of the game of course knew that none of this was true, but the average 15th-century commoner didn’t, and thus that’s how the game treats the order.
          
The party comes across a gathering of evil witches . . . which is ridiculous ’cause witches they were persecuted, Wicca good and love the Earth and women power and we’ll be over here.
           
The battles in the Templar headquarters were difficult, but I kept the party going on enough potions to have purchased my own kingdom. Eventually, I found the chambers of the order’s Preceptor and heard him talking about the seals that protect the castle of their “Master.” The Preceptor attacked me alone and died quickly, leaving a high-quality set of plate armor.
          
My first two characters fight the Preceptor in melee combat while my rear characters shoot him.
           
At the top of the fortress, I met a demon in a hot room full of smithy fires. I prayed to St. Dymphna ahead of the ensuing battle, and the demon was significantly weakened. He died very quickly, and afterwards we broke the seal on the holy book that we found in the room. “Suddenly,” the game told me, “you know that your ultimate fate lies south of Salzburg.” I already guessed that from having stumbled upon the castle when I was searching for the witches’ High Sabbat.
          
Another step solved in this quest.
        
Miscellaneous notes:
           
  • I really enjoy the puzzle doors in the mines. Here are a few if you want to try your skill:
            
Hope you have a Bible handy!
Svir’f fgngrzrag vaqvpngrf lbh arrq na rira-ahzorerq snpr gb bcra gur qbbe. Guerr’f rafherf gung gur guerr rira ahzoref unir gur guerr anzrf. Bar’f fgngrzrag ehyrf bhg Qbbe Gjb, yrnivat Qbbef Sbhe naq Fvk. Fvk’f naq Sbhe’f fgngrzragf gbtgure zrna gung Qbbe Fvk vf Tbyvoreg, juvpu pna’g or gur evtug qbbe orpnhfr Gjb fnvq gb bcra vg. Gung yrnirf Qbbe Sbhe.
Snprf Bar, Gjb, naq Sbhe unir qrcraqrag fgngrzragf, fb gurl’er rvgure ylvat be gryyvat gur gehgu gbtrgure. Fvapr vs Bar naq Gjb jrer obgu ylvat, gur nafjre jbhyq or qvssrerag qbbef, gurl zhfg or gryyvat gur gehgu. Fvapr tbyq pnaabg bcra gur qbbe (Snpr Sbhe), Snpr Svir vf ylvat naq guhf fb vf Snpr Guerr, fb cre Snpr Sbhe, gur qbbe zhfg or fvyire.
             
  • I figured out the nature of the bug that has prevented me from collecting any robber knight rewards in Flensburg. It’s not just Flensburg. If the town doesn’t have a “town hall” and the only political leader is located at a separate castle or burg, he never acknowledges that you’ve completed his quests.
  • I haven’t played an Infinity Engine game in over 10 years, but I constantly catch myself hitting the “equals” sign (=) because that was the “select all party members” key in those games. This game doesn’t even have a comparable key. 
  • I started spending more time storming robber knights’ castles in this session instead of just calling them out or sneaking in and fighting them one-on-one. You get more wealth that way.
  • Going into this session, Bianca was my character with the highest “Artifice” ability at about 25. Somehow, she lost all of it–her skill is at 0. I don’t think there’s a non-bug mechanism that would account for this. 
  • I found yet another witches’ High Sabbat and again destroyed it, but I didn’t learn anything new. 
  • You can tell when a town is full of Satanists. when they get something screwed up about Catholic doctrine. 
         
Basic Christianity: knowing good from evil is a bad thing.
        
Selling all the equipment that I looted in the Templar fortress netted me nearly 300 florins, which is about as much as I need to restock my potions and go for the castle south of Salzburg. I’ve been assuming that the witchcraft/Templar/demon plot is the “main quest” of the game, but feel free to tell me if I’m on the wrong track or if there’s anything I should do before heading to what I assume is the endgame.
As I came to the end of this session, I became determined to track down a dragon. I keep hearing rumors of dragons north of one town, east of another, but every time I’ve searched in the stated direction, I haven’t found anything. This time, I started in Flensburg, where rumors around the political center said that there was a dragon ravaging areas to the south. I rode south to Hamburg and heard the same rumors, but this time to the southwest. In Bremen, I heard south again. 
A few klicks south of Bremen, I encountered a message that “the land is sere and lifeless,” the trees nothing more than “blasted stumps,” a ruined village in the distance.
            
Darklands segues smoothly into Fallout.
          
Not far away, I came to the destroyed village:
              
They shouldn’t have killed Missandei!
          
But I found no sign of the dragon. In Osnabrück, they said it was south. In Soest, southwest. There, I got another message that the creature destroying the landscape had also poisoned the waterways. In Köln, rumors had the creature to the east, so I felt I was closing in. But I still found nothing, and suddenly I stopped hearing rumors of dragons when I visited nearby cities. I hope I get a bead on one again. I was looking forward to seeing what dragons look like in this game.
       
Time so far: 59 hours


Original URL: http://crpgaddict.blogspot.com/2019/07/darklands-heaven-help-us.html