Eschalon Book I: Text, Economy, and Random Numbers

By Shamus Posted Friday Jan 11, 2008

Filed under: Game Reviews 44 comments

The biggest loss that RPG’s have suffered as they have evolved over the years is the abandonment of text as a vehicle for environmental data. You know, the cute little text window. Planescape Torment had it. Fallout had it. (Although it was sadly underused in the Fallout series.) The newer games don’t have it, and the games are inevitably more shallow for it.

Modern RPG developers take note: I can see here that the town has been destroyed, but the text that pops up still adds flavor and helps establish a mood.  Which is something your fancy full-scene anti-aliasing can’t do.
Modern RPG developers take note: I can see here that the town has been destroyed, but the text that pops up still adds flavor and helps establish a mood. Which is something your fancy full-scene anti-aliasing can’t do.
The mechanics of text window itself aren’t important, but the idea of giving the player some text to further describe what they are seeing is. No matter how good you make the graphics, there are things you can’t convey visually because they aren’t things you can see. What does the room smell like? What’s the temperature like? Humidity? Stuffyness? Low level vibrations? Greasy, oily surfaces? Odd taste in your mouth? Eye irritation? What’s the floor like? Spongy? Muck that pulls on your boots? Slippery? Wobbly or loose bricks? Loose gravel that rolls underfoot? These details add flavor to the gameworld, and you can’t convey them with polygons or sound effects.

Text is also a great way to convey things that the player might not know, but their character would. “These soldiers are wearing the uniform of the royal guard. They probably spend most of their day in or around King Pancibald’s throne room.” I think it’s much smoother to convey that sort of thing in narrative text, as opposed to clumsily working it into NPC dialog and hoping the player stops to chat.

Eschalon Book I reminded me of how useful the text window can be and how much we’ve been missing out with newer games. Words are powerful. Words are potent. Words are so powerful that you can run an entire tabletop game and relate a new, unfamiliar world using nothing but text which you read aloud (or make up on the spot) and convey everything the players need to know. Visuals complement text nicely, but visuals in lieu of text can deprive the player of tremendous depth and subtlety. That’s fine if you’re playing a quick game of “Kill the Monsters and Take Their Stuff“, but most games aspire to be something deeper. And nothing adds depth like well-written prose.

In Eschalon, I liked when I would enter a room and the game would give me a bit of descriptive text. It was, in a lot of ways, like a minor reward. I could have done with more of them, and I would have liked a way to have a description repeated later (hey GM, what did you say this room is like again?) but even the classics I mentioned before were annoyingly short on text for my taste.

The economy in this game is nicely balanced. Far too many games starve you at the start, but then allow the player to accumulate vast sums of wealth, to the point where they should be able to buy and sell towns. Certainly adventuring should make you money, but if it makes you enough cash to employ an army it’s not clear why the player – now one of the wealthiest people in the world – would continue risking their neck for more. Eschalon doesn’t have this problem. At the start I really was starved for cash, and every bit of loot was important. But even in the late stages of the game I still felt like money mattered and I was still being careful with my resources.

I would say the biggest drawback of the game so far is the sheer randomness of it. Aside from the dice-rolling at character creation, there is dice-rolling when you loot objects and (naturally) dice-rolling during combat. It’s not that things shouldn’t be randomized, it’s that the outcomes vary so much. I can trade a few blows with an enemy and die. I reload the game, fight the same enemy and walk away with half my health. In some cases it feels like the strength of my stat-building is overshadowed by the noise of the random number generator. There has to be a pretty big delta between two combatants before the outcome of their battle is at all certain. Randomness should add flavor to a battle, but it shouldn’t be the driving force.

I waited for nightfall so I could sneak back behind this building and loot some containers without getting caught by the town guards. Turns out they’re empty.  How disappointing.  However, if I load the game I might try again and discover them loaded with fabulous cash and prizes.
I waited for nightfall so I could sneak back behind this building and loot some containers without getting caught by the town guards. Turns out they’re empty. How disappointing. However, if I load the game I might try again and discover them loaded with fabulous cash and prizes.
Given the tight, well-balanced nature of the economy, the randomness in looting is a bit unwelcome. Loot is randomized when you click on the container. You might get a set of worthless rags. Or you might hit the jackpot and find some great armor. My first character (which I eventually abandoned) never got lucky and I was poor for the first few hours of the game. Note that this is not a bad thing. My second time I got lucky more than once, and ended up with a comfortable surplus. This is also not necessarily a bad thing, although the fact that I had such wildly different outcomes due to randomness led inexorably to the realization that…

I can keep clicking on the same barrel and then reloading the game if I don’t get something good. By doing this, I can make more money in 30 seconds of clicking & reloading than I could in a half hour of just playing the dang game. The incentive to act this way is just too strong, and the rewards are too great. Again, randomizing loot adds variety, but the randomness shouldn’t overshadow the other factors. Randomness should be spice, not the main dish.

Still, I’m now on my fourth character, which should be seen as an indirect endorsement. I wouldn’t have spent so much time with the game if I wasn’t enjoying it. This is, despite my nitpicking, a fun game. The story and character progression are the meat and potatoes here, and I haven’t even touched on those yet. I’ll get to that eventually.

UPDATE: Can I get an “amen”?


From The Archives:

44 thoughts on “Eschalon Book I: Text, Economy, and Random Numbers

  1. Kameron says:

    I’m not a fan of 100% random treasure. As a designer, I prefer a mixture of random and pre-placed. And the random should really not be that random. There should be several different treasure tables that reflect different character builds. If I’m playing character_build_A, my random treasure should be selected from treasure_table_for_character_build_A, thus providing the character with useful treasure a majority of the time.

  2. Henebry says:

    One thing I really appreciated was the interactive dialogue with NPCs, which provided a fair range of choices through which one might shape one’s PC as a “character”.

    Moreover, as Shamus noted in an earlier post, you can choose to murder and pillage the NPCs, though there are in-game consequences of doing so.

    I tend to play my PCs as I play myself in real life: a decent guy who tries to do the right thing. So I’d be almost as happy with a game that set me on rails. But, like the uptight Protestant in Monty Python’s Meaning of Life, it’s nice to know that I can wear a rubber and have sex with my wife any time I want, even if I’m not that interested in actually doing so.

    One thing that bothered me, though: according to the game FAQ you get in trouble if you break or pick a lock in someone’s home, but NPCs don’t seem to mind if you rifle through their unlocked bureaus and barrels and take stuff right from under their noses. Doing that makes me really uncomfortable, and I’ve only done it once, accidently. (Lame, I know, but I have an overactive imagination, somehow, about stealing stuff””but not about killing stuff.) So perhaps this was an anomaly, but it struck me as a very odd way for NPCs to behave.

  3. David says:

    I can understand why the loot is randomized. It’s a lot of work to come up with a loot list for every single chest/barrel/body in the game.

    That said, I feel like I’d appreciate the system more if it was a more tightly defined randomness. “This chest contains 200gp of loot,” or “this chest contains a piece of armor and a potion”, with the exact details being sorted out randomly.

    As it is I find myself rerolling each chest until I get something useful, and it’s feeling like a chore. (Sure, I could just not do it. But it’s hard to pass up such an easy character efficiency gain.)

  4. Mark says:

    Another solution would be to randomize the loot at the same time you generate your character.

  5. Cineris says:

    Agreed with Kameron.
    That said, I didn’t find myself reloading the game to pick up treasure. Maybe if I had a better idea of the goods I might be getting if I spent 10 minutes reloading on each chest … But not knowing that, it seems a little too obsessive.

  6. Eric the Baker says:

    I was playing the Demo of the game, and at least in there, I got attacked by the NPC in the room when I looted the chest in front of them.
    He offered me a quest to deliver a potion to someone. I declined. Finished up the conversation, wandered over to the chest, opened it. Ohh, nice potion! I moved it over to my inventory and got the text “NPC saw you commit a crime. He attacks you.”

    Nice addition that. It always bothered me that you could walk into someone’s house in a game and take their family heirloom sword from the chest in the corner and never fear that they’d even notice.

  7. Daemian_Lucifer says:

    I agree on every point of yours here.Those text do add a lot to RPGs and are always wellcome.I cant remember,but I think NWN had them as well.

    And yes,the complete randomness can be annoying at times.Actually,the problem lies in the system here:The battles that use the system of checking the ToHit first,and than damage usually create absurdities like you barelly hitting your target and killing it in one blow or hitting it excelently and just scratching it.As for the loot,it should be randomized between certain values:Finding a 5 sword of everything slaying in a shabby barrel should never happen,but finding nothing in a jewl encrusted golden box in the kings treasurry would be just as absurd(although snatching the box itself would be advisable in such a situation).

    Btw,Shamus at which attribute points total do you manage to get yourself to finish character creation?I usually leave at 115(counting the bonus 15 you get),but I am willing to settle with as low as 112 if its a long creation session.

    As for looting,avernum has a nice solution for it:All the stuff not labeled NY are free for taking,but those that are Not Yours cant be stollen without penalty(unless you make sure no one sees you,by closing the door,for example).

  8. J Greely says:

    Ah, the good old days of Might and Magic, where you’d reload the game in hopes that looting a chest would deliver a Crap Of The Gods item that would fund the training you’d been putting off for three levels.


  9. DGM says:

    I find that a CRPG-like game where nothing is random can be quite interesting, and even more fun than the traditional variety.

  10. Varil says:

    I think loot randomizing should have some sort of limits in place to minimize the reloading to only the most obsessive.

    Random barrel? Holds food, junk, or a few gold.

    Chest of some bandit king? Specific loot table, consisting of a good bit of cash and a few pieces of useful items/equipment.

    Dragon horde? Nonspecific, high-end loot table, with maybe a few more specific items tossed in based on what a dragon might find useful.

    But whatever. The important part is the randomness is balanced to be tolerable. The ‘lowest’ loot you can get should let even average characters squeak by(barely, and with a bit of luck in combat). High end loot should be enough for a character to feel provided for, but not wealthy. A narrow margin, but the price of randomness is how random it is ;)

  11. Jeff says:

    Fallout had some pretty neat text in relation to combat. It’s nice that every hit generated a bit of text.

    As for the random treasure… I’d rather have D&D style treasure tables, where you’re bound to get something within a certain value range, rather than here where I can get nothing, or a 100gp+ item, depending on chance.

  12. DGM says:

    Alternatively, perhaps all random loot should be set at the start of the game. Keeps the randomness without encouraging reloading.

  13. John says:

    Easier than the “generate all treasure at chargen” would be a simple running variable. Call it “nLootLuck”. It increases when you find valuable stuff (by its gp value, perhaps) and decreases when you get nothing (or a cursed item). The random treasure is then biased by nLootLuck: if the character hasn’t gotten anything good for a while then the chance of getting something good goes up.

    In a fictional world, the Gambler’s Fallacy might be true…

  14. Deoxy says:

    Without randomizing the whole world in advance (difficult to do if there are also random encounters!), you could have a hidden value (nLootSeed, perhaps) that was your random number seed. It’s quick and easy, and the only real abuse potential would be several containers in relatively close proximity, and even then, there are only so many different orders to open them in.

    Of course, having some type of value range would be even better… but there’s reason you can’t do both.

    Another choice would be to randomize stuff the first time it is created in the game world (that chest that you see when you first start, but can’t get to until 4 hours into the game? Yeah, you’d have to restart…).

  15. J says:

    I said “random” was a dirty word in the last post. I stand by my statement.

    Tiers of randomness is ok though. But even then the items within the tiers are not really balanced. Takes too much effort, I guess.

  16. I loved the text in fallout, even more than I liked the visuals… this proved especially true when the text and the visuals did not match.

    As far as randomness for treasure? I am of the school of thought that any significant treasure hoard should pretty much be a set piece, or maybe differ by your specific character or character choices a bit. Everything else I would just echo the general feeling that randomness is alright, so long as it’s not extreme.

  17. Snook says:

    One thing I’ve noticed with the loot is that I tend to find an exceedingly large amount of completely useless junk – many, many alchemy ingredients that I can’t use because I have no alchemy skill, *tons* of the opposite armour type than what I’m skilled in, very powerful weapons that I can’t use because I have no skill in them, scrolls for spells I already have/can’t use… See the trend?

    I’d say that the game should look at what skills you have (which should be accomplished easily enough) and generate random loot based on those skills. Have you got 10 ranks in sword, and that’s it? You’re much more likely to find good swords (you know them inside and out, so you can recognise them) than other items. Maybe add a modifier that checks your mercantile/INT/WIS scores and gives you more random gold based on them (since you’re smarter/wiser, you know the worth of things.)

    This game brings out the obsessive in me, and I spend more time trying to optimise my loot, than I do playing! I know I could just leave it, but find *nothing* in a secret bandit hoard just seems silly when I found a +5 sword in a rotting barrel in town. Plus, comparing to my first game where I didn’t optimise loot and my latest one where I obsessively do it, I have a much easier time in the latest game.

  18. Davesnot says:

    Flavor Text… totally doable in NWN.. with triggers to send the text to you when you enter a certain location.. to even tell you different things depending upon your class/race/etc.. some NWN1 designers use it.. some don’t..

    But it’s totally there.. a tool to make whatever you want..

    You can have the loot be randomized.. partially randomized.. or specific stuff..

    But.. nobody will check out an old game.. they’d rather buy new stuff.. ahh.. humans.

  19. TooMad says:

    Hey Shamus Rampant Coyote just said he has more sex appeal than you. :P

  20. Dana says:

    I’ve been playing the game and enjoying it, but there are a couple of things I find quite annoying. I agree with the random loots sentiment, but it’s not a deal-breaker for me. I dislike the randomness in the character generation process far more. There is no reason in the world that I can see to having it – ever.

    In tabletop games, randomness in character generation just means that I might not be able to transport a character I love to any other GM’s campaign, because he won’t believe my rolls. In video games (and let’s be honest, in tabletop as well), it means a bunch of pointless re-rolling that adds nothing to the game. And anywhere it is used, it detracts from the skill of the design process and makes a disproportionately huge amount of your later success dependent on just a few rolls.

    If that’s your objective, why play at all? Just roll some dice, add up the totals, declare victory or defeat, and get on with your life.

    Instead, put the randomness where it belongs – into wandering monster encounters. I hate games where monsters never respawn on a map (as seems to be the case here – though maybe I’m wrong), because then I am on a fixed experience budget. I don’t have the option to wander around somewhere I’ve already been to ‘level up’ if I need to.

    Randomness aside, I find the need for a Cartography skill the most obnoxious, perhaps due to my obsessive relationship with maps…

    However, as far as I am concerned, mapping should be automatic. It’s a major nuisance to not be able to see where you’ve explored and what you found there. I can see charging a slight amount for this convenience, but you need a Cartography skill of 5 for it to even be useful (i.e. so that it doesn’t, say, color both land and impassable water both the exact same shade of green). So there are 8 of my precious 20 (effectively 23, with the free skill) initial skill points gone right off the bat (because if I don’t get it right off the bat, I will need to retrace my steps later if I want accurate maps of the starting areas).

    I don’t think video games should force trade-offs between GAME FEATURES and CHARACTER SKILLS. To make me get kicked in the head (at least a little) harder by monsters for the entire length of the game (since I never get those points back) just so that I can remember where I’ve been if I set the game aside for a week (to, I don’t know, work or have a life, not that I’m planning to) seems terribly cruel to me. But then again, I’m the one with OMD (Obsessive Mapping Disorder).

    The REVEAL MAP spell is an interesting twist on the situation, but really doesn’t change anything – it’s very expensive to buy (it costs as much as any other spell, so it basically costs you a combat spell if you take it) and it is even MORE expensive to power. My first character was a mage who (cleverly???) tried going this route but who found he either had to either camp constantly or fight monsters with a dagger because he never had any bloody mana.

    IMHO, the interface has problems as well. Mouse-only movement is simply a bad idea, because mice are ergonomic horrors. And it’s especially pointless in a turn-based grid-map game. I played for a few hours last night, and I can still feel it in my neck and shoulders. That seems a terrible price to pay to be able to sit here and watch my little man walk from one grid square to the next, because…

    The movement is also painfully slow on my computer (which admittedly, is an old one). It takes about 1.5 seconds to move a single square. Is this just my computer? Because it really tries my (extremely finite) patience and sucks most of the fun out of it for me. I would rather have the entire map ‘blip’ once with each move like they used to and have done with it.

    Overall very good effort, but a couple of things that I think they could have done a good deal better. The last problem I mentioned (very slow mouse-only movement) is very likely a game-breaker for me (due to RSI issues(, which is too bad, because the game did have a lot of promise. :(

    P.S. Sorry, Shamus, for the egregious length. Guess I should think about starting my own blog… :)

  21. Nick Pitino says:

    Adding together other peoples thoughts from earlier, there’s several ways in which I would change the loot system.

    Right off the bat I’ll say that I don’t mind randomly generated loot at all, to me it gives the game a fair deal more replay value being that your second play through won’t be the same as the first play through and so on so forth being that you won’t find the same things every time. That being said, having the loot be generated WHEN YOU OPEN THE CONTAINER is just begging to be abused as many have noticed and exploited. Instead, I would have the loot be generated when you load the map for the first time with a character solving the ‘reloading and rechecking’ issue.

    Second problem is what’s IN the container, it makes no sense for a rotting rickety barrel to have 50 gold coins and spices in the bottom of it. How could this be improved? There’s two main qualities of an item I can think of right off that should be kept in mind; Value and Type.

    The rotting barrel off in the middle of the forest should have an item Type assigned to it appropriate for an open container sitting in the forest such as Plant Detritus and the like.

    Also, because this is after all the rotting barrel sitting in the forest for who knows how long, anything of value would have been taken long ago and whatever is left should be of a Low value.

    So, looking in it should yield things like Pine Cones, Mushrooms, or a Dead Chipmunk. NOT a Steel Dagger of good quality and a loaf of bread.

    On the flip side, if you find a chest in the camp of the bandits who have been attacking travelers passing through, it would be more reasonable to find item types like Clothing, Weapons, Food and the like. Also, depending on what kind of people were being robbed as the developer reasons, the items might be of those types with a Value of medium to high.

    Just my two cents.

  22. Davesnot says:

    @Nick… which is totally what you can do with NWN1

  23. Daemian_Lucifer says:

    “In tabletop games, randomness in character generation just means that I might not be able to transport a character I love to any other GM's campaign, because he won't believe my rolls. In video games (and let's be honest, in tabletop as well), it means a bunch of pointless re-rolling that adds nothing to the game. And anywhere it is used, it detracts from the skill of the design process and makes a disproportionately huge amount of your later success dependent on just a few rolls.”

    Totally untrue.Especially for tabletop games.As for transfering the characters,after seeing my brother roll 18,18,18,17,18,18 in a D&D game ones using 4 dice,I am ready to believe almost any roll.But more importantly,rolling a bad character in the begining is way better for roleplaying IMO,and I usually choose such a player as a center for some of my quests,as well as granting him more roleplaying XP.Providing that they are good a good player,of course.

    “I don't think video games should force trade-offs between GAME FEATURES and CHARACTER SKILLS.”

    In this lies a big problem.Personally,I dont see mapmaking as a game feature,I see it as a character skill.And I do ban players from drawing maps if they dont have paper,ink and someone with a skill for drawing maps,or a mapmaking chip installed.However,if it was a long wsit between the ssessions,I do remind the players where they were and where they werent.This is difficult to do in a cRPG though.The solution where your skill influences the details on the minmap is a nice one,but there is the problem of no map when you havent got the skill.Personally,I think that a really rough sketch of the boundaries would be a nice solution here.

  24. Ryan says:

    I downloaded the game and have only played it once. The game was overall enjoyable and had a feel like dnd but there was just something about the game that said, slow. I can’t pinpoint that idea but still, rather enjoyed the game, actually I was amazed by the game. Graphically backwards but still better than most games out there now.

  25. I played it for about an hour. I liked: Turn based, text descriptions, non-trivial quests, sound effects. I did not like how the game slowed down to a crawl when I entered the first village (playing on an old iBook G4 but with 1G of RAM), moving the pointer around the map pops up hidden treasure chests, the arrow keys cannot be used to move around (something I love about Ultima 4 for example). I did not mind randomness and bad mapping because I’m not obsessive. :)

  26. MSchmahl says:

    I haven’t played RPGs much since the Infinity Engine series (BG/PS:T/IWD), but if memory serves, save-loading was little help in those games, because all random loot was generated when the map was first loaded. Open a chest and find a Potion of Healing and a +1 Broadsword? If you save and reload, you will find the same things. Unless you load a really old game, which was before six random encounters, three dialogs and one subboss fight.

    On the other hand, I really like John’s suggestion that luck in loot should balance itself out. Found a +1 Mithril Plate Breastplate in the very first area of the adventure? Well, then don’t expect much help from the Dice Gods for a while.

  27. method3 says:

    I’m just wondering if you’ve made a post and/or played The Witcher? It’s not exactly a new game now, but I just recently beat it and am on my way on another round of the game.

    While I’d say the game is very hack & slash, the RPG elements go a long way in replayability for this game. Text? Check. Mixed random/fixed loot? Check. Badassedness? Check.

    While I can’t speak about Eschalon (give me a few months and I’ll get around to it), The Witcher seems to have done a great job concerning all the points mentioned here.

    Text is huge in this game, albeit hidden in your Journal (which also contains your quests). There’s text concerning every major character in the game that updates as you progress and interact with them. There’s text for every location you visit and learn about, also updated for instance if you get a book about the location. There’s a glossary that tells you everything you need to know about the world, updated as you go. Finally, there’s a good deal of text for all the monsters you can learn about and ingredients/potions that you can make from them. Definitely above par, awesome in my book (bad pun)!

    Play balance in my opinion is the most important aspect of any game, and randomness with a load/save is really just annoyance. I’ve never had that problem in The Witcher unless you want to make mad amounts of money gambling, and even that you can’t do more than twice in a row usually because the character you’re playing runs out of money to play. Check it out and tell us what you think about that game, it’s the best RPG I’ve played in awhile!

  28. Dana says:

    Well, I did look at this game a little more, and it has continued to be worth my time after all. I was able to find workarounds for two of the biggest problems I had with it (the lack of “free or even “cheap” mapping and the slow gameplay).

    One of the earliest quests gives you an opportunity to up your cartography skill in exchange for gold, so I need not waste skill points on it at the start (sure, it still costs gold, but with the looting so exploitable, I will just re-loot some choice chests to get it).

    And setting the color depth to 16-bit and the screen to windowed seems to have made a big difference in game speed for me. I still am a little irked that I can’t use the cursor keys instead of the mouse, but I guess you can’t have everything in this life… ;)

    If anyone is still reading this thread, I was wondering what sort of builds people have been having luck with? I have found a “fighting healer” build to be quite effective (choose ‘healer’ class to get lvl 1 Divination and Flame Boil spell at start, then rank Divination up to lvl 5 and start with at least lvl 1 in Heavy Armor and some kind of melee weapon [I generally take Bludgeoning]).

    Then, buy a Divine Heal spell with your initial cash, and you can walk around bashing monsters and saving your mana for healing yourself afterwards (which uses a lot less mana than nuking everything from afar). You may still want to ‘nuke’ monsters that give bad status-effects in melee (like disease or poison), however, as those effects cost gold to fix and can be really unpleasant to run around with. :)

  29. Daemian_Lucifer says:

    If you find the cloak for survival,or bump your skill a bit,you can just get the poison to disappear after some 20 HP.Survival druid combo is an excelent one.

    Im playing a mage with skills in unarmed(for bashing chests)and heavy armour.Nuking works fine for me with a 1-2 hits finish when the enemy reaches me.

  30. Jeff says:

    One of the most effective builds in this is a fighter with divination. Bless is the most cost-effective buff, and by focusing on a combat skill (put at least 1 or 2 points every level up, and into speed and str. Although it’s recommended you get perception up to 30 (or was that 40?) up ASAP, so that you get the MP when you level up) means that you can kill everything easier as well as have spells to back up your lesser skills.

  31. Dana says:

    Jeff (#30): “Bless is the most cost-effective buff”

    For my part, I would say that is arguable. Cat’s eye is incredibly powerful in darkness conditions, which (between dungeons and nighttime) it is possible to arrange for almost any encounter (even if you need to “pull” them back into the darkness).

    Right now, a lvl 3 Bless seems to give me an extra 7% to hit on top of, say, a 56% base chance, making it about a *13% improvement* in my chance to hit. To contrast, a lvl 1 Cat’s Eye spell (since level only affects spell duration, there is little reason to use a higher level spell) can improve my chance to hit in darkness from, say, a 28% chance to 42% or so – a *50% improvement*!!! And since every monster I’ve fought yet takes the full darkness penalty, you can gain a huge relative advantage this way.

    I know that Bless also adds damage, which is important, but I don’t think that even the added damage makes up the difference. And since you must use higher levels of Bless as you go along to keep it scaling (having a similar relative advantage), whereas Cat’s Eye can always be cast as level 1, Cat’s Eye becomes relatively even more mana-efficient as you go on (always costing just 2 mana).

    But the real trick for tough encounters is to use them BOTH (and perhaps leatherskin as well). And the nice thing about having all of these combat buffs is that there is little chance of ending up completely outclassed by any enemy – it will instead just cost you a bit more mana to take him down. :)

  32. Daemian_Lucifer says:

    Or,you can use the torch exploit which came back in 1.04.

  33. Jeff says:

    Cat’s Eye is Divination anyways. :P

    Of course, you could always use Predator Sight, which eliminates the light penalty entirely, iirc.

    Bless’s efficiency is not in terms of MP used, but in damage/to-hit for min/maxing your skill points. Skill points are limited (the system supports a maximum of level 20, and if you don’t camp-spawn xp farm, you hit roughly level 18 at the end). In essence, improving strength/speed (the sum of both, divided by two, round down) or a weapon skill gives less return than upping Divination and perception (to 40, for max MP) and using Bless.

    None of the calculations are mine, mind you, but from their forum.

  34. Dana says:

    Jeff (#33): “Dana: Cat's Eye is Divination anyways. :P”

    I never claimed that it wasn’t. I was just making the argument that it can effectively be a better combat buff than Bless (which I read you claim as being the best combat buff).

    “Of course, you could always use Predator Sight, which eliminates the light penalty entirely, iirc.”

    Yes, I could, if I had the full version and not just the demo. But I was talking about what I knew for certain.

    And given that Divination presumably gets Predator Sight later on (and that it eliminates the ENTIRE darkness penalty), that only strengthens my argument that Bless is NOT the best combat buff in the game – Predator’s sight obviously beats it hands-down.

    After all, which would you rather have – a slight (say 15%, or even 20% increase) to both tohit and damage? Or would you like your opponents to hit you HALF as often (while still hitting them just as frequently)?

    The former (using just Bless) gives an increase in your damage output of 44% (at 20% increase in both). The second (just using Predator Sight in darkness) gives a decrease in your enemies’ damage of 50% – which effectively ups your RELATIVE damage output by 100%. To me, that looks at lot better, regardless of what is written in the forums.

    And furthermore, if you use Predator Sight instead of Bless as your main buff, you would not NEED to burn all of your skill points in Perception/Divination. Or if you did, you would do that much MORE damage (relatively) by using BOTH buffs than by using Bless alone (since the mana costs of level 1 Predator Sights would presumably pale in comparison to level 6 Blesses).

    All it requires is for one to think outside the box a bit and to do one’s adventuring in the dark. And if the people in the forums haven’t figured out this simple fact, then it seems to me that they must be approaching the problem rather naively (thinking of these “night-vision” spells as mere torch replacements rather than incredible combat buffs). Even the army knows better than that (which is why they came up with night-vision goggles).

    Maybe I should go over to the forums myself and shake things up a bit. ;)

  35. Jeff says:

    No, you’re missing the point of Bless, which is the +6 Damage and +6 To Hit.
    Towards the middle levels I almost never had a problem hitting, the major concern is damage output. When you’re surrounded by a horde of critters, you need to take them down fast.

    Besides of which, I had plenty of MP to have Cat’s Eye and Predator Sight up at all times indoors, and toss Bless on top of it when I encountered enemies.

    The point here is that Divination is superior to any of the combat skills, in terms of Skill Points, at least up until you’re able to cast level 6 Bless. And Perception 40 so that you can get a ton of MPs and keep a ton of buffs active, after which you switch to Strength and Speed to continue uping your damage output.

  36. Randomscrub says:

    Is there a manual somewhere explaining some of the system? I’ve been trying to figure things out from the demo, but there seems to be nothing in there to answer basic questions. What does another rank in swords actually do? What does “Base Damage” (or Armor rating) really mean? What is the effect of encumbrance? All these and more are just begging to be answered. Does the full version come with instructions? Or is it a “throw you in and sink or swim” approach? Without a detailed explanation of what the heck this stuff really means, I’m not going to buy it. It simply isn’t worth the time for me to invest 20+ hours just trying to figure it out.

  37. Jeff says:

    I just spent a bit of time browing their forums, heh.

  38. Dana says:

    Jeff (#35): “No, you're missing the point of Bless, which is the +6 Damage and +6 To Hit.”

    No, I’m really not. I INCLUDED rough estimates of the additional damage in with my calculations. You don’t appear to be listening to what I am saying, which is that you gain a much bigger advantage from adventuring in the dark and using Predator Sight than you do from ANY level of Bless, because the increase to your (relative) chance to hit results in a much larger overall (relative) damage boost than from Bless’s damage bonus and (much smaller) tohit bonus COMBINED. That is why Predator’s Sight is a better buff than Bless (even though both can be used as needed).

    Jeff: “Towards the middle levels I almost never had a problem hitting, the major concern is damage output. When you're surrounded by a horde of critters, you need to take them down fast.”

    I haven’t played that far yet, but I can guarantee that you WOULD have a problem hitting creatures if you were adventuring IN THE DARK as per the strategy that I outlined in my previous post UNLESS you were also using Predator Sight (as I advocated). And if you were doing BOTH of these things, you wouldn’t need to be so concerned about “taking down a horde of critters fast”, even when surrounded, because each of them would be hitting you only HALF AS OFTEN (making them far less dangerous). Your “normal” (non-darkness penaltied) tohit and damage would then be MORE than sufficient for the job and would in fact create a LARGER damage differential (ratio of damage you inflict to damage you take from monsters) than by using Bless in daylight (or torchlight).

    Understand yet? I’m not saying that Bless doesn’t increase the damage you do to monsters. I’m not even saying that investing in Perception and Divination doesn’t bring larger rewards than, say, investing in Strength and Speed. What I am saying is that if you are looking for the best combat buff in the game in terms of the maximum benefit for the least investment (in terms of skills and mana usage), or even simply in terms of the maximum absolute benefit in terms of relative damage output (ratio of damage inflicted to damage taken), then this honor CLEARLY goes to Predator Sight, not Bless. And all that you need to do to achieve this amazing benefit is to arrange to do most of your fighting in the dark, which the game just as clearly makes easy to do.

    *Whew* If you are still unable (or unwilling) to grasp what I am saying at this point, then I give up. I don’t mean to be rude, but I’m sure that everyone else has it by now, and I’m starting to feel like I’m wasting my breath.

  39. Jeff says:

    You’re overly concerned with the ability to hit. It’s not a problem late in the game. The ability to increase your hit probability is an extremely minor concern. It’s EASY to raise – Predator’s Sight, Cats Eye, Torches, Lamps, whatever.

    You’re missing the point that the most difficult thing to increase is damage. To-hit is a minor concern.

    Of course, I’ve beaten the game, and my viewpoint may well be different, but the reason I’m totally unimpressed with you being all hyped up over Cat’s Eye and Predator Sight is that it’s essentially the same as breathing to me – it’s taken for granted that you have them up. Unlike Haste, Stoneskin, Bless, etc.

    Haste is sweet, and if you’re concerned with both to-hit and damage, would have to be the ‘best’ buff, as you double your actions, and thus have an increase of 25% in your chance of at least hitting once a round, as well as the potential to hit twice and double your damage. Not very effecient in terms of mana, but the only time I even notice running low on mana is when I spam three mass boils and it empties. Otherwise, just going with Predator Sight and Cat’s Eye running continuously, with Bless at every major fight, I had yet to fall below half before finishing an area.

  40. I was waiting for someone to mention NetHack, but it never happened. NetHack makes great use of the text display, especially when you get messages like “the dungeon acoustics change noticeably.” I guess it should make good use of the text display, since the graphics aren’t much.

    I see what you mean. When playing modern RPGs, and RPG-ish games like STALKER and Deus Ex (which has a nice text display but not for environmental data), I often miss the communication styles of NetHack.

  41. Dodo says:

    I say, stick to physicals and forget about magic. I just played the Game again, pure sword / str / speed char, makes 136 dmg crit every hit (lvl 19), thats taurax in 2 hits (usually 3). Well, there is a downside of this: it’s so easy now, it’s kinda boring having no enemy that is worth that name. Even Dirachnid dies in 5 hits.

  42. Henebry says:

    Just an update: they’re working on the sequel to Eschalon, and from what I can see they’re adding some great features to promote replayability, much of it in response to seeing what players were discussing on the company’s game forum. For instance, the new challenges system keeps track of what your character has managed to do so far during play: most damage done in a single blow, whether you’ve ever been caught stealing something, etc. If you manage to avoid ever being caught by a trap unawares and never just bash open a trunk but always pick the lock, at the game’s end you’re recognized as a “True Thief”. There are similar awards for “True Warrior” and “True Wizard” etc.

    The game allows you to turn on a setting which uses a single, consistent random seed for loot generation, so that players who want to prevent themselves from loot farming can put the hooch in the top cabinet, so to say, out of convenient reach. This was one of your complaints, as I recall, Shamus.

    And you can also toggle on a setting so that, in addition to keeping hp above zero, you have to find food and drink for your character if you want to stay alive. All in all, lots of options, lots of ways of playing the game. Me likey!

  43. oriz0r says:

    I like the text windows too. Jeff Vogel is the undisputed master of that realm.

    I agree with the other points too; another well written article.

  44. Thomas Steven Slater says:

    If you like reading text descriptions more then mor pixels!!!! Then sryth should definitely appeal to you. By cutting out graphics entirely it has been possible for a single person to make a near 30k pages monster of game. That doesn’t includes the more then a thousand item descriptions and hundreds of entries in the in game encyclopedia.

    Also the game has many fixed loot drops which provided the equipment that you need to the beat the end game and which is far better then any random drops and even the lower tiers of the premium currency only equipment (which you can also buy with the generous but fixed supply of free premium currency)

    Also you can wander all the map from the start and find quests you can actually do all over it.

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