Thursday, June 1, 2017

Game 251: Time Horn: Il Corno del Tempo (1991)

Nothing about this game is in English except the title, and even that is repeated in Italian.
     
It's never a good sign when you're role-playing a "hero" named Mordred, but that's where we find ourselves in the curiously redundant Time Horn: Il Corno del Tempo from Lindasoft. It is the first RPG on my list from Italy (and one of only three on the list at all), raising the question of whether other efforts have simply not been catalogued or whether the Italians, having sent America its best food and singers for 100 years, decided to be a good sport and import for a change.

I have not been able to find documentation for the game (which seems to exist only for the Amiga), but fortunately an introductory screen offers the basic plot: In the world of Soldoro, a knight named Mordred struggles to save his kingdom from an invasion by the Occult Master. He has sold an artifact called the Globe of Falibar to get the 4,500 gold coins needed to hire other adventurers and outfit his party. His ultimate goal is to find the Time Horn, kept in the Temple of Soldoro, and use it to destroy the Occult Master.
      
The only documentation I have for this game.
     
The game begins on a  map with five cities (Knheim, Yoras, Darjor, Argat, and Filbrim), some kind of ruined city or castle in the middle, and a temple in the northeast. When you click on each city, it brings up a screen indicating whether you've completed the city's three "missions," so my best guess is that you have to complete all 15 missions before you can do anything with the ruined city or temple.
     
The game world.
     
You don't actually move on the map; you just click from location to location and indicate whether you want to go there, a process that advances the game calendar several days. I'm not sure if there's any real penalty to this or if there's a time limit to the game.

Each of the cities offers the same menu of services: a castello (castle) where you can take missions, a locanda (inn), where you can enlist other adventurers to your cause, an emporio for buying food and drink, an armeria for weapons and armor, an orefice (goldsmith) for uncertain purpose, and a gilda dei maghi for learning new spells.
     
Buying items in the armory.
    
Mordred begins with 30 strength, 15 wisdom, 20 dexterity, 30 resistance, 19 weight, 12 mobility, and no protection. The armory sells a typical set of D&D-derived equipment, translated to Italian, including mazze (maces), pugnali (daggers), and spade (swords). Mordred comes with a sword, a large shield, and something abbreviated "arm. legg." which I suspect is armatura leggera (light armor), which seems to be halfway between armatura cuoio (leather armor) and armatura di ferro (iron armor). As he equips items in missions, his protection goes up but so does his weight. There aren't any expensive or magic items in the armory's list to save for.
     
Checking out Mordred's statistics on the main "town" screen.
    
Characters recruited at inns include a mage, an Amazon, a paladin, a barbarian, and a dwarf. Each costs between 500 (barbarian) and 2000 (mage) gold pieces per mission. The mage starts with a few spells like "Arrow," "Heal," "Poison," and "Cure Poison."
     
The selection of NPCs waiting in the inn.
    
Until I experienced (and lost) a couple of missions, I didn't realize the importance of stocking up on water and food. The characters need to eat and drink frequently during missions (perhaps influenced by the weight carried), and food and water are rarely found during the mission.
     
A sign announces the setting of this city's first mission.
     
Accepting a mission takes you to a mission map, where you encounter monsters, find items, and solve small puzzles. The overall structure feels something like Paladin or HeroQuest, or perhaps a light version of Knights of Legend. Unfortunately, there's no in-game text indicating what your quest or objective is. I don't know if this information accompanied the manual.

During the missions, each character has a certain number of movement points to get around the map. He or she can also go into the inventory to equip and un-equip items, eat, and drink; examine objects and signs; cast spells; and attack enemies. Characters (or, at least, characters at the opening levels) can only attack or cast once per round. When dealing with enemies, there thus aren't many tactics except not to blunder into them, ensuring that they get the first attack. This is hard, because clearly they can sense you from well off-screen (and even use missile weapons from off-screen), but you have no way of seeing them until you're only 6 squares away.
       
My dwarf has just finished attacking the goblin. He then stood aside so my Valkyrie could finish off the goblin with an arrow.
      
Enemies drop weapons when they die, but I suspect the sale value of the items is outweighed by the encumbrance issues.

I attempted the first mission in Knheim twice, the first time with just the mage NPC, the second time with the paladin and barbarian. Both times were miserable failures. In my first attempt, I didn't know enough about how the food and water system worked and didn't bring enough. Both my characters "died exhausted" before the enemies killed them.
     
The paladin is hungry. But his fatigue meter--under his name--depletes whether I feed him or not.
      
The second time, though, the same thing happened, even though I packed plenty of sundries. I did make it a lot further into the level. It starts in a small forest patrolled by "gollums." You have to find a lever to open the gate to a small fortress, where you fight goblins and gnomes. A stairway goes down into a dungeon from there, and multiple rooms and corridors eventually lead to yet another level. The "gnome lords" that inhabit the dungeon were too tough for my characters and ultimately killed them.
     
Somewhere during the mission, I had to find a key that opens a door.
     
Reasoning that without the manual, I needed an advantage for the first mission, just to understand it, I allowed myself to resurrect by save-state-scumming (you otherwise can't save during the missions). But even with this cheat--even reloading after every successful hit by the enemy--I couldn't win. The dungeon just seems to keep going on forever, and my characters have some kind of "fatigue" meter that depletes regardless of whether I have them eat or drink regularly. They kept "dying exhausted." Ultimately, even reloading in those cases, I blundered into a large room with about 5 gnome lords capable of killing each character in a single successful attack. No amount of reloading save states ensured that they missed 5 times in a row. I had to give up.
      
I lose my barbarian during the "monster movement" phase.
    
For my third attempt, I went to a different city, splurged on the Valkyrie, paladin, and dwarf, and tried the first mission there. It started me next to a large farm with several buildings to enter and a large number of goblins swarming the area. After clearing the goblins in the outdoor area, I adopted hit-and-run tactics for those inside: assembling outside the doors, charging through at the beginning of the turn, attacking, and then retreating back outside where the monsters couldn't easily retaliate.
      
My paladin kills a goblin, then prepares to rush back out the southern door so the other goblins can't retaliate during their turns.
      
Once cleared, some of the buildings had chests with gold, jewelry, food, and water.
      
These chests held riches, and ultimately the object of the mission.
      
During the combats, as in the previous scenarios, several of my characters leveled up. This causes each of the characters' attributes to increase between 2 and 6 points. You get experience from successful hits as well as kills, which is nice.
     
The paladin levels up after killing a gnome.
     
Finally, in one of the chests, I found a map. Picking it up gave me the message "missione terminata"--but nothing else happened, and my characters remained in the mission. No new menu option appeared. I hunted around for some kind of exit or extraction point but found nothing.

This therefore seems like another one in which I won't be able to progress unless someone is able to turn up the documentation. I expect that it includes the objective for each mission, instructions on how to get out of the missions, and better information about the fatigue meters. I'll leave this one open for a while and see if anyone shows up with the manual.
    
Just another shot of my characters fighting gnomes and gnome lords in a small dungeon room.
    
I haven't been able to find much on Lindasoft except that it was active from around 1986 to 1992. Time Horn seems to have been an odd lark for the company; its other offerings are sports games like Holo Squash (1992) and Franco Giardelli Hockey (1990). The authors of Time Horn are given in-game as Ignazio Corrao, Sergio Zimmerhofer, and Marco Zimmerhofer. Of the three, Corrao is the only one with a MobyGames profile; he has credits for graphics on a number of European games through 2012.

1991 continues with Synergistic's take on Conan!


56 comments:

  1. The game world map seems a little familiar, but I can't place it. Maybe just a bit like Pools of Darkness? (Though with the same release year, it's probably not a copy.) I like the graphics on the NPC hireling screen, too.

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    1. It reminds me to the world map of shadow sorcerer too.

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    2. The sound effects are definitely stolen from Pools (same hit sound, same Wilhelm scream when dying), so it's quite possible.

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  2. It's nice how in one of the screenshots, the paladin is adventuring but never forgets to bring along his milk and cookies

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    1. Haha. Paladins have always been giant babies.

      I hope someone finds the documentation for this game though. I want some more of these sweet VGA graphics.

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  3. I am unsurprised that an Italian game puts such a large emphasis on regularly eating and drinking.

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  4. I like the little detail of backstory about finding the quest. It adds a bit of weight to the story that our hero looked around, saw that nobody else was stepping up, and was willing to hock a priceless heirloom to do the right thing.

    Also it raises the stakes as there probably aren't three dozen other possible heroes waiting in the wings who can pull together that kind of cash.

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    1. 'Finding' should be 'funding' there.

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    2. Also, the companions be like, "Oh! You're going to save our world? Awfully noble of you. That's 500GP upfront, please."

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  5. I think Franco Giardelli Hockey was a reasonably successful game in Italy. I'll ask my Italian friends if they ever heard of this rpg

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  6. Che peccato! It would be a shame if you were unable to continue your first and only Italian RPG.

    Maestri occulti are those who have attained a complete mastery of something unbeknownst to the world, in secret. The word occulto obviously overlaps with English occult to a large degree, but just as often means secret or hidden. It doesn't necessarily mean some sort of magician, although given the standard vaguely Tolkienesque fantasy setting, I would not be surprised if it did.

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  7. The title screen suggests that its written in AMOS, which is an Amiga variant of BASIC. I remember AMOS being all over the place in Amiga fandom. The magazines were always banging on about it, and I'm sure versions were given away on cover disks, and it was popular with bedroom coders.

    Its origins in AMOS would explain why it's only available on the Amiga.

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    1. I'm blown away by what people are accomplishing with basic. I never got beyond simple text programs for school assignments to calculate area of triangles and do simple math on a theoretical restaurant calculating the rate of tax.

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  8. I dug up the following review:

    https://archive.org/stream/k-kappa-rivista-34/k-kappa-rivista-34_djvu.txt

    Lindasoft, Amiga, LNC
    Retrieve the time horn and save the kingdom from the dark forces that dominate it. This, in short, is the main purpose of the new LindaSoft game.

    Time Horn is an RPG that puts you in the shoes of the knight Mordred, in an attempt to save his kingdom. To do this, he will first have to retrieve five keys, which are stored in the five fortresses of Soldoro. As soon as he collects them, he can head to the Soldoro temple and attempt to retrieve the sacred horn.

    At the beginning, however, these missions can not be directly tackled; in fact, it is necessary to increase your strength and experience, and above all to hire companions who can help the player in the enterprise. You start your adventure alone, tackling missions at the start of little danger, so that you can earn the money that will allow the player to buy new weapons and redeem new adventurers. The view is from above, but with a certain angle that makes it similar (?), and a stats window on the right shows various experience tallies, hit points and all the necessary information one expects in an RPG. Time Horn, in short, can be considered a well thought out and well-made game, especially considering that it was made with Amos.

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    1. Sounds like maybe you're just supposed to grind and scavenge at first to build up your stats and funds?

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    2. But if you're constantly dying of exhaustion, and aren't 100% clear if you've even finished a mission or how to leave it...

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    3. The grinding approach seems to make sense to me as well. That is, *if* you can leave a mission prematurely and gaining levels increases your "stamina", or whatever makes you able to go adventuring longer before dying from exhaustion.
      I haven't had the time or will (mostly will) to look into Amiga emulation and try the game to test this hypothesis, but it looks interesting enough that I actually might. I'll make sure to report anything useful I find out, of course.

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    4. I mean, there's no way to "grind" without going into a mission, so I'm sure the review means that the missions to find the KEYS cannot be directly tackled--you have to do the minor missions first.

      In any event, thanks for digging up the review, Chuck.

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  9. I will give it this, it does look very pretty.

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  10. Lindasoft was a small Italian software house, which started producing video games for 8-bit Atari computers in the second part of the Eighties. Then they moved onto the Atari ST, developing each of their games with the STOS language. Since the Amiga was much more successful than the ST in my country, the next step was to translate some of their games from STOS to AMOS and then produce a few exclusives for Amiga. In fact, Time Horn was an Amiga-only game, developed I think by independent free-lance developers.

    The Italian gaming market was rather limited at that time, and I think Time Horn and the other similar products have sold a low number of copies. Today they are quite sought after as collector items. Unfortunately I sold my original Time Horn years ago and cannot provide the manual, but if there are long screen texts that are not understandable, publish them and I'll be happy to translate. I played Time Horn only when it came out and I do not remember anything about it nowadays.

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    1. Always great to hear from someone with period and area recollections! "Developed I think by independent free-lance developers"--that would make sense given Lindasoft's usual genre.

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    2. The key person of Lindasoft was Doriano Benaglia, who once also had a role in Atari Italia, the italian subsidiary of Atari Corp (that explains the initial Atari productions of Lindasoft). It was a strange software firm because it produced also tabletop games, like "Conquista la corona" ( https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/68631/conquista-la-corona ) and they also developed a real playable prototype of their video game Holo-squash, but it wasn't sold.

      In your post, you spoke about three italian crpg: I wonder which are the other two, since at the moment I don't remember any other game like that, produced in the same years. Here we had a long tradition of native text adventures, but crpg were far too complex to develop for the few local small teams. For example, I remember a game called "Avventura 1", which was a text adventure with rpg elements, like a sort of gamebook. ( http://ready64.it/giochi/scheda_gioco/id/818/avventura-1 )

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    3. From Chet Master list:

      Etrom: The Astral Essence (2006) and game that is on list but is not RPG Alfa Romeo Racing Italiano (2006)

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    4. https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/etrom-the-astral-essence-review/1900-6168832/

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    5. I was really hoping Alfa Romeo Racing Italiano was somehow an RPG. Someone must have thought it was.

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    6. According to Wikipedia: A distinguishing feature of the game is that it models driver development using a system almost identical to a role-playing video game. In addition, cars get damaged, both visibly and in performance, by collisions or by driving off course.

      Its racing simulator similar to Gran Turismo but with RPG elements.

      Only other racing game with RPG elements that I know is japanese only PlayStation game called Racing Lagoon from SquareSoft

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Racing_Lagoon

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    7. Etrom, yes, thank you. I didn't remember about it because I've never played it (even if I got it from an Italian game magazine), far too "modern" for me :)

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    8. I want to see RPGs in more settings and genres. We've got more fantasy RPPs and a good number of science fiction RPGs.

      What about a sports RPG, where you get special moves with refresh and whatnot. Heck, there are a ton of sports manga about this already.

      A combat racing game that uses RPG attacks and spell-type effects.

      A professional wrestling RPG that well, same thing as a normal RPG but with more sweaty half-naked men and smacktalk.

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    9. (I've been wanting Elite but as a turn based RPG forever)

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    10. Sports RPGs: come to think of it, the sports game I've played the most of, by a very wide margin, is Baseball Stars on the NES, which works on an RPG-style premise. You start with a team of weak scrubs and by playing games earn money to train your players, improving a range of stats.

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    11. There was a Captain Tsubasa soccer game on the NES which was turn based, very rpg-like, with lots of commands and special moves. And a story. But no stats if I remember correctly. And only in Japanese I think.

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    12. Inazuma Eleven is a football-based jrpg. Good fun.

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    13. Blood Bowl is as close as I can think of to a team-sport rpg.

      Punch Club is like a kickboxing RPG.

      But really, it's kind of an unnecessary genre: There are mind-bogglingly detailed sports sims out there where each of your players has on the order of 50 attributes all of which can change due to training, age, injury etc.

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    14. Captain Tsubasa came out in the states as the generically named Tecmo Cup Soccer Game on the NES.

      ChoroQ is another racing RPG. Final Lap Twin made an attempt at combining the genres as well.

      Pro Tennis: World Court was a tennis game that had an RPG mode (which is just a story tacked on). Mario Tennis and Mario Golf also incorporated some stat building.

      Pinball Quest had an RPG mode, probably as close to an RPG as any pinball game. It all depends on how you define an RPG. With a loose enough definition any of the trading card game (TCG) video games could be an RPG (e.g. Pokemon: TCG, Duel Masters, Yu-Gi-Oh).

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    15. Tristian: But those are a) Action based and b) realistic.

      I'm thinking more of the sports anime genre, where people use hidden powers that suddenly cause the ball to light on fire and spin in physics defying ways, or summon the spirit of their ancestors to help them shoot better or whatever. Like, actually take RPG powers and put them into a game.

      Blood Bowl is something I've wanted to get into for a long time. Wasn't their a computer version of it in the 90s? I can't WAIT to see Chet play that.

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    16. So CG has sent me out looking for examples of magical sports anime. The only ones I know of for sure are Yugioh and a couple of the Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha spinoffs, but there are quite a few sports anime in which young athletes perform feats of superhuman strength and agility, such as:

      * Prince of Tennis
      * Eyeshield 21
      * Kuroko no Basket

      This may be actual superhuman abilities, or just the general level of drama sports anime applies to its subject.

      I'm also gonna throw Yuri!!! On Ice in here, not because it has any actual magic in it, but the skaters regularly perform jumps that I've been told are not (yet) physically possible. Also it is a beautiful story and I love it.

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    17. The Kunio-kun series of sports games has some impossible magical shots in most of its titles, but there's no stat gaining or character development in any of the ones I've played.

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    18. Canageek: I'm unsure what you mean by action based. Management sims don't offer direct player control - you are effectively programming a team and then crossing your fingers. It's surprisingly gripping.

      There was a Blood Bowl pc game from '95 but it won't satisfy Chet's RPG requirement, so I can't imagine him playing it unless he's particularly curious about a (not particularly good) fantasy NFL game.

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    19. I'd add that Blood Bowl itself is a fun concept, but it's quite dated in its gameplay. It hasn't changed a huge amount in 30-odd years and game design has come a long way since then. There are a lot of frustratingly important 6-sided dice rolls.

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    20. Tristan: Oh, ok. I think I've heard of those. I was thinking like the stuff EA puts out every year, not management things.

      I was thinking more of a hockey game, where everything is turn based, each player has stats and special moves and whatnot. Think Chroma Squad or Final Fantasy Tactics on ice.

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    21. There is are two very recent Blood Bowl computer games. Blood Bowl came out in 2009 (in various versions with more teams, the last of which came out in 2012) and Blood Bowl 2 came out in 2015 (with the most recent team expansion released in 2017).

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  11. When i goodle "Time Horn" it always brings up a german goalkeeper of the same name...

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    1. May I humble suggest that you should type Time Horn, not Timo Horn.

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    2. Actually, its Google that changes Time Horn to Timo Horn, unless you tell it not to.

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  12. The Hall of Light Amiga site has a box scan, giving a bit more backstory but not really the kind of operational documentation you are looking for. http://hol.abime.net/3871/boxscan. Uselessly, there is a miscellaneous image which appears to be the title page of the manual, and which gives only the title.

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  13. From the look of the game, the narrator should tell you something like "Warrior needs food, badly"

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  14. I can only make a slanted Futurama reference.

    "Harvest the lower Time Horn."

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  15. Fired up the old Cheat Engine for some much needed invincibility and unlimited movement, and managed to figure out the gnome forest mission. Once you have the quest item (a statuette found in an urn in the room with the horde of gnome lords), you simply have to walk back to the starting area with the remaining party members, and press end turn. This produced a message: "Vomini in salvo: 1/1 Vuoi terminare la missione? Si/No" and the mission was a success. Mordred was also awarded $2,000.

    Haven't checked them all, but the rest of the missions seem to follow a similar pattern. A long (and horribly difficult) gauntlet of monsters/traps/switches, then a quest item in the last room.

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    1. Update: managed to complete all 15 missions. The ruined city did not produce any new results, but the temple did: a message appeared saying "Carico la Missione del Tempio" (Loading temple mission?)... then the game promptly crashed with an "errore!" message.

      Not sure if it's caused by the emulator or the copy is simply faulty (the only version I was able to find has a cracker intro so it's possible they screwed something up).

      I've uploaded my saves and screenshots, maybe someone can find a working version, or try it on a real Amiga. https://drive.google.com/open?id=0BwlM6LUXUzHMUmhndGc0RE1Tcnc

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    2. I'm impressed that you managed to finish all 15 missions even by cheating. Meanwhile, I can't survive the first one playing it straight.

      Your account puts me in a bind because I don't really feel like playing 15 missions and then not being able to continue to the endgame. Can you give us a little more on your experience? Did the missions get more interesting? Offer any puzzles or special encounters? How was the sense of character development and inventory?

      I'll probably play a couple more missions and GIMLET the thing, but if you can offer any more details from your experience, that will help flesh out my entry.

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    3. "Did the missions get more interesting? Offer any puzzles or special encounters?"

      Unfortunately, not much. Puzzles never got more complex than the simple "find the key" or "find the switch to remove an obstacle or extend a bridge" types. There were many traps scattered around, but all of them were in plain sight, making them easy to avoid if one paid attention. Corridors often had turrets that could only fire in a straight line. Rooms sometimes had holes that dumped the character on a lower level and mines that exploded in a 3x3 area, hitting enemies as well.

      All five cities followed the same pattern. The first two missions were fetch quests that required finding an item (a statue, a map, etc.) in a chest or urn and carrying it out. Sometimes they were in obvious positions, sometimes just randomly placed in one of several treasure rooms. Unless I missed something, most maps had only one, single use key but sometimes multiple doors to use it on, getting you possibly stuck if you opened the wrong one.

      The third mission in the set was always about assaulting a stronghold literally swarming with enemies. The objective here was always killing a "maestro nero", and taking a "chiave om" from his corpse. He usually had anywhere from 4-10 "corazzato" or "strega" bodyguards, and a similar number of arch druids and druids, plus a horde of "rankor" fighters and mages. Arch druids did nothing but cast an always 100% effective paralyzation spell on a random party member, making them very deadly. They thankfully had very low hit points and defense, usually dying in a single hit. Rankor mages tried the same tactic, but their spells were usually resisted. Druids loved poison spells that did 3 damage per turn if they (rarely) connected.

      Rewards were $2,000, $4,000 and $6,000 for each set. Missions cannot be repeated and I couldn't find any grinding opportunities other than methodically clearing out every quest, picking up all loot. No special encounters or NPCs, just a few signs.

      It had a nice variety of roughly 35 monsters though: skeletons, zombies, ghosts, minotaurs, sirens, krakens, cockroaches, slugs, goblins, gnomes, devourers, lava and mud "men", "destroyers", moving cannons, vikings, druids, witches. Plus a few Google Translate couldn't find: rankor, buncow, cefalon, coatlus, wyki. Their AI was fairly simple, they either rushed the nearest party member in melee or pelted them with shots and spells. They were smart enough to not set traps off.

      "How was the sense of character development and inventory?"

      Inventory upgrades were nonexistent. Never found any magic items or artifacts, each piece of loot was already available in stores. The loot was mostly gems, food or gold anyway. Each character had up to five fighter and five mage levels, depending on their class, displayed as red and blue dots respectively above their statistics. Mordred was 5 fighter/3 mage. Leveling was fairly underwhelming, even maxed out characters barely got any stronger, except for magic levels that granted a new set of five spells on each levelup, buyable from the guild. For example, Mordred with his 5+3 levels went from 30 HP to 58, still not enough to withstand a single lucky hit from tougher opponents.

      Magic on the other hand had pretty nice AoE spells at higher levels. Their damage was quite random, doing anywhere from 0 to 50 damage per hit. Mages could also summon golems (only one can be active at a time), turn enemies into frogs, and heal people. There were no mana points or any other limits on magic, other than the "1 action per turn per person" rule.

      Well, unless someone can dig up a working version, I'd suggest to not waste any more time on this one. No story, characters or anything worthwhile to see here. I bet the ending is a single line of disappointing text.

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  16. Glad Zardas could ignore your rules so we got to hear more about it even if it cant be played straight.

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