Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Savage Empire: Reporting for Duty

From mild computer issues compounded by a bad cold at the start of the month, to getting my wisdom teeth extracted at the end of it, with Thanksgiving somewhere in the middle, all against the backdrop of the madness that is NaNoWriMo, it was a very full November. Of course, that just meant that come the end of it, I was rather Ultima-starved, and therefore that much more eager to dive into Savage Empire again. Everybody was exactly as I left them when I fired up the game, and after reacquainting myself with the system and refreshing myself on my notes from last time, I was ready to venture further into Eodon.


First blood goes to me, I guess.
I still had to decide which direction to head, after all. Rafkin wanted to track down the remains of his lab, thinking there might be useful supplies among them, and I had to agree that he had a point there. Then there was still the matter of Aiela - I couldn't very well just leave her to Darden's whims forever. Ultimately, though, I decided the third course of action available to me was the wisest for the moment, that of tracking down Jimmy Malone. He was a companion of sorts, after all, unintended as it may have been, and it was hardly an Avatarly thing to do to leave him behind. I had a certain duty to those who adventured with me. Besides, I would need all the help I could get to rescue Aiela, if the first (and failed) attempt was anything to go by. And on top of that, another strong back to help carry whatever we ended up finding at Rafkin's lab wouldn't be unwelcome, either. Abiding by my duty to my companions would have its perks.

Intanya had suggested that Jimmy was currently with the Disquiqui, and after consulting my map of the valley, I saw that I had quite the trek to the southwest ahead of me. Fortunately, it seemed it would mostly be well-marked trails there, so we set out to collect our lost, wayward reporter.

In hindsight, it may have been wiser to wait until morning. Not long after we started our trek, we heard a sound out there in the inky black of a night in the jungle, and mere moments after, we were set upon by a jaguar, my first bout in Eodon after waking up in the Kurak village. Spears were flung, arrows were fired, professors flailed around trying to stay out of the way of everything else, and soon the jaguar decided that he'd had enough. He turned tail and fled, out of the reach of our weapons, to our dismay - a wounded creature that got away might turn up again for his retribution, after all. But though he got away from us, when we encountered a friend of his just down the road, we were ready this time, knowing what we could expect, and that second one did not escape us.

Yay, new toys!
Combat is little changed from U6, which is nice, as it means I have to spend less effort getting used to new mechanics - just new weaponry, and the manual is kind enough to give at least a general impression as to which weapons might be more effective than others in what circumstances. The fact you're automatically switched into combat mode when one of your party is struck now (as I discovered during a brush with a few snakes) is going to take a little getting used to, though. It's a useful feature, no argument there, but seeing as how I trained myself to hit the <B>egin Combat button every time I started taking hits in Ultima VI, I've got to unlearn that habit now that it'll end up <B>reaking off combat instead. It's already got me in a slightly sticky situation once or twice, though nothing that's really been that troubling in the end.

In any case, we continued on our way past the jaguar assaults as the sun rose, and after taking note of a few river crossings just off the pathway south beyond the Yolaru village, we spend some time around the outskirts of a rather more advanced, but apparently mostly abandoned, city. This was the city of Tichticatl, and while we didn't spend much time there, wanting to track down Jimmy as soon as possible, we did poke around an empty dwelling or two on the edge of the city, as they were right by the path we were traveling. One or two of them even had a nice new weapon for Aric, swords made out of obsidian. But once again the already strained inventory space reared its head again, and after a bit of shuffling I decided that this too was a place better explored when I had a bit more wiggle room as far as weight issues went. Besides, I hadn't spotted any locals, so I moved on.

Well, this is an auspicious start.
The sun was just beginning to dip below the horizon as we clambered our way over the river and up a cliff face to the Disquiqui village. It seemed like the entire village was gathered around the bonfire in its center, for what appeared to be a celebration of some sort. I quickly found out why after exchanging a few words with Chafblum, their chieftan - they were, in fact, celebrating the impending marriage of his daughter Guoblum to none other than Jimmy Malone! Against his will, too, from the sound of it - I wouldn't expect an excited groom to need to be thrown into the prison hut. At least I knew he was still in the general vicinity, unless he had managed to finagle his own escape somehow. While wandering the village in the hopes of finding exactly where Jimmy was being held, I exchanged a few words with more of the locals, including the rather large pulque-drinking Guoblum herself, Larrifin the shaman, and Lerei the prison guard (who apparently wasn't doing that great a job, as she too was right there by the bonfire instead of standing guard). The overall impression of them as a tribe were... well, frankly, bumblers, what with Chafblum swatting everybody with a wooden spoon for one reason or another, Larrifin finding every excuse he could to keep from providing healing (and acting very relieved when we told him we didn't need it in the first place), and Lerei telling me herself that she normally has quite the easy job as the Disquiqui warriors weren't typically good enough to capture a prisoner in the first place - which only drove home the fact that Jimmy would have a long way to go himself, if he managed to get himself caught and held by them.

Further trouble in the valley...
I did manage to find one in the village who had more of a level head and would speak with me on more serious matters, however. Several of the locals had mentioned a man named Moctapotl, a Nahuatla in exile that was currently residing in the village. I bumped into him while trying to figure out which hut was the prison hut, and he told me of his plight. It seemed that he was the rightful chief of the Nahuatla, but had been deposed of command by one called Huitlapacti, Moctapotl's cousin by marriage, who had been protected by a magical glow bestowed upon him by Zipactriotl. While bathed in this glow, Huitlapacti was unable to be harmed, capturing Oaxtepac the shaman and nearly doing the same to Moctapotl himself while in his invulnerable state. He suggested that rescuing Oaxtepac might be beneficial in finding out how to get around this power of the despots, and that they were likely to be found somewhere in Tichticatl.

Yeah, yeah, whatever.
I promised I would do what I could for Moctapotl and the Nahuatla, and after parting ways with him, I finally managed to find Jimmy, who was very much relieved to see me - despite the fact the door to the hut wasn't even locked. I suspect he hung around mostly because sticking it out alone had got him into this mess in the first place - who knew what would have happened if he'd made a run for it on his own? Nobody really seemed to mind much that we were depriving Guoblum of her groom, however, so it seemed to be something of a moot point in the end. We took a few moments to catch up with each other, and it was Jimmy's enthusiastic scribbling in his notebook when we told him about Sahree's desire to unite the tribes against the Myrmidex (Moctapotl had expressed the same desire as well, even directing us to the locations of most of the other tribes in the valley to further that particular purpose) that convinced me that there was merit to striving to do so myself. Rescuing Aiela would be enough to bring the Kuraks into the alliance, I was sure, and Moctapotl had already laid out what would be necessary to include the Nahuatla as well. I hadn't asked the Yolaru about the prospect yet, but since I was here in the Disquiqui village, I figured I might as well see what they had to say on the matter.

I'd proclaim my feats there, but... well, humility is a virtue.
There was much clamor among the higher-ups of the Disquiqui after asking about the matter, involving the tests one should undergo in order to join the tribe to the forming alliance, whether Aric would be able to pass the test of virtue or not, and the downing of a vile substance called platcha to prove fortitude, they settled on sending me out to put a bell on Sharptooth, the dinosaur that terrorized the village every now and again, so that the Disquiqui would be forewarned of its approach. To do so, I was given a few jugs of platcha in order to make the Spear of Shamap, a weapon that would immobilize the Sharptooth long enough to bell him. Upon returning at the completion of this task, Chafblum told me his tribe would join the alliance against the Myrmidex.

Man, these guys are tough.
So I set out to the southeast of the village to find the beast. I overshot at first, but in doing so, I ended up landing smack-dab in the middle of a different beast - my first brush with the Myrmidex themselves. They hit hard and fast, and even three or four were a large hassle for our merry little band. The fighting was rough and fierce (poor Jimmy took a beating but gave just as good as he got - his experience total nearly doubled when all was said and done!), and I gained a better understanding of just how dangerous these insectoids were. Suddenly finding a way to squash them all felt like that much more of a priority.

Not long afterward, I managed to find the Tyrannosaurus the Disquiqui wished belled, and after judicious application of platcha and a well aimed spear toss, the beast was down and the bell tied around his neck. We got the heck out of Dodge as soon as the deed was done, racing back to the village to tell Chafblum the news, and he readily agreed to join in the fight against the Myrmidex when the time was ripe.

There's a 'dead ringer' joke in here somewhere...


Does it make a train whistle noise, too?
I called it there for a session - once again it didn't feel like I got particularly far in the game, but there were enough interesting corners for me to poke my head into on the way that I still found myself spending a good deal of time in the game and thoroughly enjoying myself. The whole Three Stooges vibe of the Disquiqui (two of them are even right there in the village, in the guise of the tribe's chief and shaman) is equal parts baffling, jarring, and weirdly amusing - somehow it feels both completely out of place and strangely fitting to find this particular sort of slapstick humor dropped right into the middle of an Ultima spinoff, and I can't for the life of me explain why. The very physical reactions to the Avatar's tastes of pulque and platcha wouldn't be out of place in a Tom and Jerry sketch, and they manage to capture that very cartoony effect even though the only means by which they are conveyed to the player is via text, lacking the visual effects so intimately tied to slapstick. It's odd to see this particular brand of humor dropped in for comic relief and played straight simultaneously in such a fashion, but it fits, somehow. I'm not entirely certain whether this particular context was the best one for it, but either way, it's kind of nice to see a game like this not take itself too seriously - I have a great appreciation for people who can take a wacky idea and run with it, after all, and that's pretty much what we have here. It's difficult to narrow down my favorite bits to toss out as screenshots here!

I also need to take a moment to talk about Jimmy, now that I've finally met him in-game. I've gone on record amongst some of my friends as considering the phrase 'charming rogue' to be an outright oxymoron. It's a character archetype I don't have much love for, but Jimmy's one of the exceptions that proves the rule, so to speak. I like him a lot, from his somewhat anachronistic romanticizing of the press to his wit to his bumbling. I think part of what separates him from most of the other rogue-types I've seen in fiction is that he doesn't necessarily get off scot-free based solely on his wit and charm - in fact, that's part of what gets him into trouble, I think it could be argued, as it's the fact he's somehow endeared himself to Guoblum that necessitates his 'rescue.' There's still consequences to his own efforts that need to be dealt with, and though nobody really seems to care much when you take Jimmy away from the Disquiqui, Jimmy as a character doesn't just skirt by on his own sheer awesome - he needs the rest of the gang to bail him out, acknowledges it, and is clearly wrestling with some of the consequences, if only internally, when asked about it. Really, game-wise, he functions as little more than extra inventory space, another weapon in a fight, and the quest log personified, but he's given his own personality and I'm glad he's a part of the cast.

Now, time to figure out where to head next, now that I do have him back in the group...

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