79 – Serpent in the Staglands, Take 3

And finally it clicks. I roll up an actual party, I manage to give them some actual skills, I go to those two foxes who insisted on eating me and I give them the fight of their goddamn life, I figure out how to get a shield up and how to heal my characters, I get my 6 XP, I save my game, and I go in the opposite direction of the pack of dogs. I encounter a crop goblin–which I will forever call Crap Goblins because that’s funnier–and my team clumsily orchestrates a battle and wins it. We fight another crap goblin, and another, and two at once. We are cocky. We fight a lizard and we win.

We find a tree with a hollow in it that’s too small to enter, but The Schall casts a spell that turns him into a cat and in he goes, where he meets up with a “possessed child”; the only option is to attack, which ends badly. We reload. We avoid the tree. We kill more crap goblins, more lizards. We are drunk on our power and we find a swarm of lizards. And we fight valiantly and we defeat many but one by one, we fall, first Skrellnik, who was in the middle of things; then The Schall, who had no particular combat skills; then Pagan Joe, my healer and my only hope of survival; and finally Godot himself, the deity lost in the unforgiving Staglands.

I think I’m ready to roll up my real party now.

78 – Serpent in the Staglands, Take 2

It turns out it was not actually a pair of wolves who showed up to eat my characters the moment they walked outside–it was, more embarrassingly, a pair of foxes; and even more embarrassingly, I found it out while I met them for the second time and got eaten again.

(This time I’m putting the blame on the game–like Dark Souls, it doesn’t seem to pause when you open your inventory and so my party was getting quietly mauled while I read some scrolls.)

Third time’s the charm: With a slightly better idea of how the system works, I rolled another party, met up with the foxes, and killed them, losing only one party member and getting 6 whole XP.

Down the road, my game pauses: I’ve learned about the autopause settings and have it set for whenever an enemy is in sight, and at the edge of the screen is a single dog. I can totally take a dog. Combat is Baldur’s Gate-style real-time-with-pause, so slightly empowered by reading the manual again, I queue up some spells and set my melee fighters to take care of business, and unpause the game…

…at which point a literal dozen dogs appear from just off of screen and rip us all apart.

Now that it’s the weekend, I’m going to spend a good chunk of time trying to actually get into the system and figure the game out–it’s not that it’s so convoluted that it’s impossible to navigate menus or anything like that, but it’s very much its own beast. While the UI may be slightly too complex in certain spots, it’s not unmanageable. Probably the biggest thing of the game is navigating the spells and skills: From what I can gather, spells are more focused on buff/debuff kind of things rather than the one fireball spell, and I get the sense that the buffs and debuffs are actually useful provided you can figure out how they hit up against each other. There is a moment waiting in the wings, I can tell–a moment that’s gonna have everything click, and I’m looking forward to that very much. This game is a very particular vintage–it’s explicitly not intended for kids, so to speak–and I am so glad that we’re in this weird CRPG renaissance. It’s like the late 90s all over again!

77 – Serpent in the Staglands

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!