Le premier est pour le chien: It’s true for crepes and CRPGs. Most old-school games, if they include enough options for different character builds, have a pre-generated party, the reason being not necessarily that you’re going to actually play these characters, but because if you’re playing with a new system, particularly one with a wide variety of skills, you’ll need at least a little guidance. So you take the starter party, which is usually a fairly decent set of well-rounded characters, and you gauge roughly how stats work in the game, how many levels you’re going to gain, and after you’ve sunk a few hours and made your beginner’s mistakes, you start over and roll a new party. That’s how I did it with Might and Magic, it’s how I did it with Wizardry 6, with Wasteland 2–and it’s how I expected to go through Serpent in the Staglands.
See, SitS is billed on how hard and old-school it is. The manual literally tells you to take out a pen and paper because you’re going to need it. There’s a subtle, friendly challenge in all of the marketing material: This game doesn’t hold your hand like all of those other games do. This is one you’ve got to figure out yourself.
And in that spirit, Serpent in the Staglands does not contain a pregenerated party, gives you only so many stat points available and so, so many types of skills you can put your points into, with their own dependencies–it is a game that quite literally begins and then throws you to the wolves, as in, I began the game, talked to a couple of people outside the first room, walked about 20 feet, and immediately got eaten by a pack of them, at which point, I put the game away, said a few prayers, and fired up Disciples: Sacred Lands, which sucked away two hours of my time and I’ll write about that later.
But it’s shit like this that’s my bread and butter. In the first area, you find a couple of scrolls, one containing a runic language you’ll have to translate, another detailing a keyword-based magic system. That’s separate from the regular magic system which you pour points to. That’s separate from a book that asks you to draw symbols in your own blood. It is a game that incarnates you, gives you hints of some of the challenges to come, and then immediately murders you.
Welcome to the Staglands!