Darklands: Travelogue

From The CRPG Addict

This session introduced indoor exploration for the first time. Here, the party tries to fight a jumping kobold.
Darklands has given us something of an RPG “first” in that, with the party’s origin, encounters, and quests randomized, no two players will encounter precisely the same game. To be fair, roguelikes had pioneered the way on randomization of content, but only in the context of a relatively confined dungeon. This is the first time we’ve seen such an approach with more complex quests and encounters. “First” may even be the wrong term: it implies that other games adopted Darklands’ approach, and I’m not sure that’s true. I’m not aware of later RPGs that randomize so much of the core gameplay.
I thought I’d give a sense of the variety of encounters and quests by narrating the day-by-day events in the life of the Eschenbach family.
7 May 1401, Flensburg. Party Fame: 49 (unknown). Local reputation: 51
Our tale begins in the same city where the party originally kicked off its adventures nearly 18 months ago. They’ve just returned to get their due reward for recovering the Tarnhelm for one of the foreign merchants. Owing to the slaying of some robber knights, plus a lot of local thieves, their local reputation has grown considerably in the last year and a half, and the party has grown comfortable with the city’s inexpensive lodging.

Owing to my previous questing, they like me in Flensburg.


The party leader, Maximian, has done so much fighting that his “Edged Weapons” skill is 55, but he’s also done so much negotiating and wheedling that his “Speak Common” skill is 57. He’s clad in plate armor and chain leggings, but because he’s so close to his encumbrance limit, he carries a short sword and a small shield. He keeps a javelin in hand just to toss at the outset of combat, but he hardly ever hits with it and his skill is miserable.
The ex-priest, Lambert, has also grown proficient in “Edged Weapons” (47), exceeding his skills at “Religion” (40), “Virtue” (45), and “Healing” (43). He carries a short sword and wears brigandine armor for his vitals and studded leather armor for his limbs. He has some pounds to spare in encumbrance and should probably get a limb upgrade.
The alchemist, Viridia, is the scholar of the group with skills in “Alchemy” (43), “Read and Write” (46), and “Speak Latin” (46). She’s also been forced to develop quickly in “Edged Weapons” (45). My huntress, Bianca, is much the same story. I’d developed her as the “Stealth” (20), “Woodswise” (18), and “Artifice” (16) character (she only worked two terms), but she’s swiftly gone to 47 in “Edged Weapons.” Viridia is wearing cuirbolli and chain and Bianca is wearing scale and cuirbolli.
I have three priorities as the day begins. First, I need to buy everyone some blunt weapons and get started training their skills in them, probably against thieves to start. They’ve done well with the edged weapons, even against plate mail-wearing knights, but it’s clear that blunt weapons will do a better job in certain circumstances and everyone needs to be carrying one. Second, I need to learn some more about saints and what they can do for me if I pray to them. Third, I need to start using my alchemist as an alchemist, and that means learning and mixing formulas. The good news is that I have plenty of money: the equivalent of 43,563 pfenniges (pf). Viridia and Bianca need to regain some strength at some point.

Getting some blunt weapons for my party.


We start the day by heading to the blacksmiths’ shops in the craft district. Everyone buys military hammers for 418pf each. Darkness falls soon afterwards–I guess we started the day late–so we head to the back alleys to test our new hammers. It isn’t long before we encounter a group of four thieves. Though uncomfortable with their new weapons, the party still makes short work of the group, losing no strength in the process. We loot the thieves’ equipment even though the amount it will bring us is paltry compared to what we have. Disappointingly, no one’s skill has increased as a result of the combat.
We continue prowling the streets until we meet another band of cutthroats. The outcome is similar: swift death for the bandits (Lambert and Viridia both lose a little health), but this time Maximian’s skill with “Impact Weapons” goes from 11 to 13. That’s better. I’ll keep these hammers equipped for now.

These bandit fights are starting to bore us.


We head back to the Gasthaus and take up residence for a few days to give the wounded party members a chance to heal. Maximian works as a swordsmith for 7pf a day to help defray costs; Lambert joins him (earning 8pf a day) after he’s healed. Eventually, the entire party is hale again.
15 May 1401, Flensburg. Party Fame: 49 (unknown). Local reputation: 51
We head to the market and sell our excess equipment for a few pennies, then head over to the alchemist’s shop, where Viridia buys 3 of each of the ingredients that the alchemist sells. Alas, the alchemist declines to share formulas with us.

Purchasing ingredients. I assume I’ll need them all eventually.


We next wander over to the Kloster to study saints in their library. It costs 1 florin to study a saint, and we only have time to do one per day. Any of the party members can learn about St. Victor O’Marseilles, St. Julian, St. Christopher, or St. Januarius. Since Lambert already knows several saints, I have Maximian learn about St. Victor O’Marseilles. It turns out that he “enhances charisma and all weapon skills by a modest amount, and ‘Speak Common’ by a good amount.” He can also restore lost endurance and strength. But I’m going to need to develop my virtue more before he’ll do anything for me at all.
It’s nighttime again, so we pound some more thieves in an alley (everyone gains a few “Impact Weapons” points) and then go to bed.
16-17 May 1401, Flensburg. Party Fame: 49 (unknown). Local reputation: 52
It’s time for a quest, we decide. In the city square, we learn that the miners have stopped working at the mines near Goslar because of attacks within the mines; they’re reportedly offering a reward to anyone who can solve the problem. Somehow, it’s already dark after we read this notice, so we retire until the next day.

I come to regret even hearing this.


We go then to the ervogt at the burg and are granted an audience. He asks our assistance in ending the predations of the robber knight Anton Seibt, whose castle is northeast of Lüneberg. [I defeated Seibt in an earlier entry, but I guess the game uses the same pool of names repeatedly for the robber knight quests. Pirates! did that, too.] Fortunately, the Fugger representative also wants us to kill Seibt, so that’s at least two rewards I’ll get for the deed.

It must be his son.


The Medici representative wants nothing to do with us, but the Hanseatic League grants us admittance. Unfortunately, they’re not interested in Anton Seibt. Instead, they want our help foiling a “plot to take over the city” by stealing reports sent by a spy to the Medici representatives in Berlin.
I already had a quest from the Hanseatic League in Magdeburg to retrieve an ancient crown from a pagan altar northwest of Hall. The party consults a map. Lüneberg is about 130 miles south of Flensburg by road; we’ve been there before. Goslar is another 100 miles south of Lüneberg and Berlin about 150 miles to the east of both of those cities. Hall, meanwhile, is more than 500 miles to the southwest practically at the opposite edge of the map, and I start thinking I may not do that quest. But a Flensburg – Lüneberg – Goslar – Berlin – Flensburg route doesn’t sound so bad to start. We understand it might be interrupted by additional quests along the way.

My planned route. The gods start laughing.


As we’re leaving the market, the alchemist tries to enlist us to steal a document proving his family’s lineage from the Hanseatic League in Köln. That’s also pretty far out of the way and doesn’t seem likely in the cards. Seeing no reason to delay our journey, we depart the city.
Outside, we see no particular reason to stick to the roads. We walk them when they go in the direction we want but we travel cross-country otherwise.
19-21 May 1401, Schleswig. Party Fame: 49 (unknown). Local reputation: -6
Just as we’re about to arrive in Schleswig after an uneventful trip south, we meet a group of refugees. We offer them 2 florins worth of food and clothing [despite the option, the game just deducts 2 florins]. Immediately afterwards, Lambert gets a funny feeling and dedicates an ambush ahead. The party heeds his warnings and evades them.

In this game’s mythology, “thoughts and prayers” would actually do some good. I just don’t know the right saints.


We approach the main gate of Schleswig, where the guards want 8 pfenniges to enter. The cost is trivial, but such occasions are a good excuse to build skills. We are able to sneak in the side, and Maximian’s “Streetwise” skill goes from 7 to 9 and Bianca’s goes from 11 to 12.
It’s dark as we get into the city, so we decide to deal with one bandit group and go to sleep. This time, the game alerts us to the bandits ahead of time and gives us options to surrender, scare them away, or talk them into leaving us alone. We do the latter, and Lambert’s “Streetwise” goes from 10 to 11 and his “Speak Common” from 18 to 19. On the way back to the main street, we are attacked, however, and crush the skulls of 4 bandits with hammers. Maximian and Viridia improve in “Impact Weapons” and our local reputation goes from -6 to -2. [I don’t know how it got into the negatives in the first place.]

I’ll try this in New Orleans on my next trip.


After a night in the Zieher, we spend the next day scouting for more quests, in particular hoping that yet more people will pay us to kill Anton Seibt. On the way to the political center of the city, some guy tries to lure us into betting 2 groschen on a shell game, but we decline.

As Harry Anderson famously said, no one beats the monte.


Unfortunately, owing to our low reputation in the area, the duke won’t see us and either will any of the trade representatives. The only thing we accomplish is an armor upgrade for Lambert (limb armor from studded leather to chainmail) and the purchase of some more alchemical ingredients for Viridia. The next morning, we make one more failed attempt to see the duke and then hit the road.
We soon find one disadvantage to walking overland when we waste several days looking for a place to cross the River Eider.

Why is there no “Swimming” skill?


27 May 1401. Wilderness
We’re ambushed by a group of 4 thieves, but they’re not very good, wearing just leather armor, and all their attack does is give everyone some more points in “Impact Weapons.”
28 May 1401. Wilderness.
We stop by a castle on the side of the road. Local peasants tell us that their lord is just and fair, but when we try to gain entry to the castle, he tells us to get lost. We decline to escalate the matter.
29 May 1401. Lübeck. Party Fame: 49 (unknown). Local reputation: 28
Lübeck is the last city before Lüneberg, and we stop to see if we have more luck here than in Schleswig trying to get additional people to pay for Seibt’s assassination. We’re in luck. The oberste gives us the quest. The Fugger and Medici representatives won’t see us. The Hanseatic League representative wants us to “recover” debt notes from the Medici offices in Erfurt. We decide we could work in a trip to Erfurt between Goslar and Berlin.

“Cha-ching!” the party thinks as the oberste drones on.


We visit the monastery in town and Viridia learns of St. Alcuin, a “devotee of both elementary and higher education.” At night, we scare one party of thieves away and slay another party. We spend the night at the Ratskeller and hit the road the next day.
4 June 1401. Wilderness.
In some woods north of Lüneberg, we foul ourselves on some spider webs. Three giant spiders attack, and we have few options except to fight them. For some reason, Viridia runs out of stamina and collapses early in the fight, but nobody loses too much health. We clean our weapons and move on.

Another reminder that I really need to focus on saints and potions.


5 June 1401. Lauenberg. Party Fame: 52 (barely known).
Northeast of Lüneberg, we stumble into this small village, where there are fewer options than in the big city. The schulz and local priest have nothing to offer us and the smithy only sells a couple of items that we don’t want. We don’t stay long.

Lauenberg is the most boring town ever.


Just outside the village, a group of “bandit-soldiers” attacks the party, ignoring an attempt to scare them off. These guys have better armor than the typical city thieves, but the party is still victorious, albeit with modest strength losses. For the first time in a while, we loot our slain foes’ equipment for resale, although none of it improves on our own gear.
10 June 1401. Lüneberg. Party Fame: 52 (barely known). Local reputation: 1
At last, we arrive in Lüneberg. We saw Anton Seibt’s likely castle on the way in, but I wanted to check and see if anyone in the city would also request his execution, plus heal my few wounds before assailing him. Again, I was in luck: the Hanseatic League promised 10 Florins for Seibt’s death. 
This time, however, something new happened. The league representative offered me a warrior, Tassilo Neuber (nickname: Hanse), to accompany us in assailing Seibt’s castle. We accepted, and for the first time in the game got a fifth party member. He came with plate mail, chain leggings, and a long sword. His skills were quite a bit higher than any of the party members’.

Our new NPC companion.


Even better, upon visiting the alchemist’s shop to buy some reagents, he also gave us the quest to kill Seibt. Man, everyone wants this guy dead. I finished off the day by paying a florin to have Bianca learn of St. Colman of Cloyne, a poet and bard.
We spent a few days resting at the inn, and I discovered that despite all my alchemical purchases, Viridia still didn’t have enough ingredients to mix any of her known potions.

If you’re paying attention, it took us 23 days, with some stops, to go about 130 miles. That’s between 5 and 6 miles a day. And we have horses! I thought the game would over-estimate travel time, but if anything it’s going the other way.

19 June 1401. Wilderness. Party Fame: 52 (barely known)
The Elbe River lies between Lüneberg and Seibt’s castle. While we try to find a way to cross it, we run into a small hut. Surveillance suggests it’s occupied by a lone blonde woman. We knock at her door but she tells us to get lost. We decline to escalate the situation and leave.
22 June 1401. Wilderness. 
As we continue to seek crossing of the Elbe [I honestly have no idea how we go to this side, since Lauenberg is on the other side], we get caught in a flash flood. Thinking quickly, we lash together a raft and manage to save all our gear. A couple characters get a point bump in “Woodswise.”
24 June 1401. Wilderness.

As night falls, we are attacked by a Wild Hunter, who pounds the hell out of us. Although we all survive, Maximian, Lambert, and Viridia are left near death. The Hunter has no equipment on him. The game tells us that “the Hunt will be back,” and we’ll need to “find the secret to drive it away.”

This guy was the worst enemy I’ve faced so far.


3 July 1401. Wilderness.
We’re still trying to get around the damned river. We find fresh wolf prints in the ground. Soon, a pack of wolves attacks the already-weakened party. Fortunately, they don’t do so well against our armor, and we win, but a few characters suffer even more strength losses.
25 July 1401. Helmstedt.
This is getting ridiculous. Our attempts to find an Elbe crossing have taken us so far south that we’ve decided to alter our plan and go to Goslar and Erfurt first. We wander into a hamlet called Helmstedt. Just like the last village, the place is unimpressive and we find nothing to do.
27 July 1401. Wilderness.
We run into a Dominican friar and his followers in the woods. We feel compelled to listen to his sermon and give him more than 2 florins afterwards. Afterwards, we waste time checking out an empty cave.

I assume just walking away is unvirtuous. If not, I’ve been wasting a lot of money.


30 July 1401. Goslar. Party Fame: 52 (barely known). Local reputation: 3
We arrive in Goslar, having charmed the gate guards to gain entrance, happy to be in a city again. We waste most of a day trying to get an audience with the city leader. Unsuccessful, we take it out on some bandits that night.

The party benefits from cronyism.


The quest list grows. The Fugger representative wants us to steal some love letters that his daughter wrote to a Medici in Duisberg. That’s pretty far to the west and doesn’t seem in the cards. The Medici representative wants us to kill a different robber knight, Rainald Nöttelein, whose castle sounds like it’s on the way to Erfurt. 
At the monastery, Maximian learns of St. Paul the Simple, who restores strength and endurance, and for the first time has sufficient virtue to have a shot at success. He prays for Viridia’s sake but is unsuccessful. We leave the city and rest for a little while outside of town to regain strength.

More like St. Paul the jerk.


5 August 1401. South of Goslar.
We arrive at the mines. The head miner comes out to meet us and tells us of the “knockers,” or “elves of the mines,” who used to just mischievously knock on walls but lately have been casting evil spells. We agree to do what we can. We enter the mines and get the first experience exploring an indoor area, which is like being in combat but without always fighting. It’s somewhat slow and cumbersome. The pathfinding isn’t very good, and it’s a pain to micromanage the positioning of characters. The “travel as a group” and “travel single file” options sometimes work, but other times I have to untangle the group from itself when the game can’t find sufficient room to maneuver them as a group.

Indoor navigation uses an extended menu with options to open doors, open chests, disarm traps, pick locks, and loot bodies.


Anyway, I expect the miners’ tales of elves to be some kind of misperception, but damned if we don’t encounter jumping, yipping kobolds. We kill a couple of them before coming to a metal door with a classic riddle. Here it is:

A fun introduction to the game.


This one was rather easy. If any face always lies or always tells the truth, then he cannot by definition say “I always lie.” Thus, if the gold face says that’s what the lead face said, the gold face must be lying, in which case the silver face is telling the truth.
The door opened to reveal a dwarf behind it. He asked that we stop killing his people and protested that the dwarves were forced into the upper levels of the mines–taking them over from the miners–because of monsters below. He said if we could take care of them, they’d retreat and the miners could return.

Weepings and wailings indeed.


We moved down a ladder and on the next level started encountering gargolyes. We also start encountering traps, but although Maximian seems to spot them, nothing I do seems to allow us the option to disarm them.

Note the discolored floor to the right of my party. That’s a trap.


Eventually, we come to a second puzzle door:


Another fairly easy one. If the son of Mot is silver and the son of Hod is copper, then the son of Elt is gold. Krocht is the son of Elt and thus is gold. When we answer correctly, a dwarf pops out, recites another poem, and gives Maximian a high-quality battle axe.
We soon come to another ladder down, and by now we’re dreading the long trek back more than anything we might find ahead of us. We fight some more gargoyles and carefully thread our way around more floor traps. We eventually find a chest, which Bianca is unable to open, so she passes her lockpicks to Hanse, who opens it effortlessly. It contains a lot of alchemical ingredients.

My NPC companion opens a chest.


It’s a big level. More gargoyles. Sometimes only one or two of my characters can attack because of the confines of the corridors. Another chest, unlocked, with more ingredients. Maximian and Lambert are dangerously low in strength. I have Lambert pray to St. Devota, and it’s surprisingly successful, although only restores 2 points of Maximian’s strength.

Fighting gargoyles in the hallways.


We come to a third puzzle door:


Since gold and silver agree in their statements, they cannot be the truth/lie pair. One of them must be Krusad, and thus the copper head cannot be his. These riddles are fun, but I wouldn’t mind if they had been a little harder.

Upon selecting the right answer, a dwarf pops out and hands us a bottle that heals some of our wounds–but unfortunately on the characters that needed it least. Beyond the dwarf is–ugh–another ladder.

Another poetic dwarf.


Moving down, we find ourselves in a square room with four doors. This room is not hewn from rock but rather carefully crafted by some intelligence. I began to wonder if we’ve actually descended to Hell. We open the western door and soon find ourselves fighting a demon. He doesn’t seem to respond well to our military hammers, so we switch back to our edged weapons. It turns out that each of the four rooms leading off the main room has one demon, plus weird crystals on the floor and flowing water coming down the walls. The demons do some damage but aren’t as hard as I would have expected given their name.

In this game, I guess demons aren’t gargoyles, but they’re allied.


The fourth room has a chest. As we approach, we find a “carefully-wrapped stone crucifix of great size.” The game has us bow in prayer and feel “spiritually invigorated” by the end. With nothing else to do, we begin the long journey back up, hoping we’ve actually accomplished the quest.

I thought we might have found our first “artifact,” but the game says we can’t pick it up.
I’ve been following a right-wall pattern this whole time, so on the way back, we do find some unexplored areas and fight some more gargoyles. There’s also a “gnome” on the first level and some more kobolds. They nearly kill Maximian (getting him down to 1 strength).
Clearly, we’ve done something wrong, because when we get back to the entrance, we just “leave” with no fanfare, and when we return, we get the same spiel from the miners. I spend a ton of time wandering around the levels again, looking for what I missed, and can find nothing. Thus, I’m going to wrap up here and accept hints. Also let me know if you liked the “travelogue” format, and if so I’ll continue it for another couple of sessions.

Time so far: 20 hours

Original URL: http://crpgaddict.blogspot.com/2019/06/darklands-travelogue.html