Friday, May 4, 2018

Martian Dreams: Prickly Situations

After a quick jaunt back to the 1895 landing site - I'd bumped into one too many sextellegers and was in dire need of Dr. Blood's services, not to mention I'd forgotten to take down the coordinates the last time I was there - I followed Buffalo Bill's directions toward Cooter's place. It was a slightly roundabout route to take an accessible bridge across the canal and then into the entrance of the labyrinthine canyons that Cooter called home, and I found myself swarmed by a good-sized... herd? pod? cluster? of creeping cacti. Poking around the canyons themselves was occasionally punctuated by the bounding of jumping beans, and between them and the cacti, it was a nice refresher on Ultima VI's combat engine and a very nice source of experience.

Interesting descriptor of telekinesis.
Buffalo Bill had stated a few of the Martian berries might prove necessary to get into Cooter's place before supplying us with some, and his statement proved true. Eating one of the berries bestowed temporary telekinetic powers, and this allowed us to move a board and cross a small chasm at the entrance of the McGee abode. Nobody was home, but some rummaging around provided swift answers - we found a note from an "R" demanding Cooter reveal his oxium sources and bring his map to Coprates Chasma, and another from Cooter himself (with rather poor spelling) saying that he hid his map from Rasputin. This was enough for us to piece together what had happened, but before we headed off to the Chasma itself, we poked around to see whether there was anything else of use in the caverns. We certainly did, too. There proved to be a hefty amount of oxium in the caverns, some of which was guarded by ammonoids, but when all was said and done, all four of my little band of adventurers had enough oxium to last them a good long while on the surface of the red planet.

With our oxygen needs now seen to, at least for the foreseeable future, we wound our way through the canyons to what we surmised was the designated meeting place in the Chasma. And sure enough, we found Cooter himself, hidden behind a narrow passageway blocked off by a large trunk. He was quite relieved to be rescued, saying that he'd been captured by Rasputin and his "varmints" at Argyre, over his knowledge of the oxium stores on the planet. He mentioned one in particular, a motherlode of the stuff beneath the station at McLaughlin - the only problem was that it was behind an electric-powered door, which would not open unless power could be restored. Mr. McGee suggested that Edison, one of the expedition members holed up in Olympus, would probably be able to figure out what needed to happen there, and in the meantime, told use where he'd buried his map to the motherlode, just outside the entrance to the Chasma. It was an easy effort to find said map (and I was rather amused that I needed room to 'move' the dirt I was digging up in order to do so, a nice touch), and from the looks of it, the motherlode was east of the Xanthe Terra, nestled in a corner by some canals just to the northeast. I made a note to look into it when I passed by the area, but for now, it seemed clear Olympus was my next destination.

So. Many. Cacti!
We picked our way back out of the maze of canyons, aiming for the settlement - and once again found ourselves facing a veritable wall of creeping cacti standing in our way. Aric and Dibbs bravely flung themselves onto the front lines, with Nellie Bly and Spector taking potshots from the sidelines. All was a flurry of sap and sabers and shells and needles, but they just kept coming! I think when all was said and done we'd somehow managed to beat back upwards of thirty cacti, and the sap we'd spilled there on the edge of a canal might have gone a decent way toward filling it. We were mostly unscathed, save for a few scratches, but weary, and by the time we came to the gates of Olympus, we were aching for a safe refuge and a friendly community to catch our breath.

Unfortunately, we would not find it at Olympus. Nathaniel Peters, the gatekeeper, expressed a good deal of skepticism, saying nobody could be let in unless they held proof of their soundness of mind. After an incident at Elysium that drove the denizens there mad, the occupants of Olympus were taking what they saw as all necessary precautions. It was just as Dibbs had suspected, and sure enough, he too had been away for long enough that his assurances were worth little to Mr. Peters. He informed us we'd need to seek out three men known to be of sound mind at Syrtis Major, giving us an affidavit for them to sign. If they could vouch for our character and our sanity, then we would be allowed in to Olympus.

So off we went to find a way to Syrtis Major. This took a fair amount of wandering, on account of the fact we had to find some way over the canals, and since the power was off, we could only make use of the bridges that had already been lowered. We also desperately needed to resupply, and so we made another trip to Calamity Jane's using a considerable portion of the oxium we'd found in Cooter's place to replenish ammunition. After this particular adventure, I find myself less worried about the economic balance, using oxium as both currency and means of keeping the party in tip-top fighting condition. What supplies I had depleted at what I felt was a very reasonable rate, meaning that by the time I needed to actually spend it, I had at least a decent sense of what a "reasonable" stock was, and thus how much I could afford to spend. I'm still a little concerned about how quickly I'm going through bullets, but that feels like a much more manageable situation in my mind now - now that I had a couple levels under the gang's collective belts (more on this later), I feel more confident sending them into melee range now that they don't seem quite so squishy.

It's interesting to see snippets of Martian history.
In my wanderings trying to find a way to Syrtis, I stumbled across the station I suspected Cooter's motherlode might lie beneath. It turned out there was a whole network of caves there, and some complicated-looking equipment connected to a conveyor belt and a large furnace. There were also two mechanical men present! Talking with Coker and Stoker, as they called themselves, we learned that this was the place that powered Mars. Coker dug out coal and placed it on the conveyor belt, and Stoker took the coal off the conveyor belt and moved it into the furnace. The power produced by burning the coal was sent to broadcast towers on the eastern end of the mine tunnels, and from there sent across the planet. The process had come to standstill because one of the conveyor belts was in need of repair - Dibbs chimed in to suggest that Trippet at Olympus might be able to do something about that. Further exploration of the caverns revealed some closed doors (Stoker had confirmed there were large stashes of oxium behind one), a scroll detailing the Martian Industrial Revolution, and a bag containing a seed and pod knife. That last one seemed somewhat important, so I took it with me.

Eventually I made my way back out and finally found a bridge to cross the canals, just behind Olympus itself. D'oh! Oh well, the exploration would surely come in handy in getting my bearings. After a long trek and a night's rest, we finally made it to Syrtis Major, where we found David Yellin, one of the three men Nathaniel had told us to find, in a panic. He and his two companions had been searching for more iron to use for Carnegie's cannon to return to Earth, and the others had been trapped within the mine they had found by a cave-in! He directed us to a repair drill, but it needed to be put together and placed on a cart to be used properly and dig Sherman and Duprey out. Mr. Yellin lacked the tools in order to do so.

Gee, I wonder why!
However, we did not! Spector was carrying the tool kit we'd taken with us from Tesla's own cannon, and so he made quick work of putting the drill together. We pushed it into the mines, and after a fair amount of drilling past large rockfalls, we found two rather familiar-looking and very grateful men. Sherman in particular was thankful enough to join with us, citing his familiarity with several places on Mars. Another pair of hands was very welcome, so we were glad to have him with us. (Although I'll admit I'm a bit confused why he was carrying a copy of Dante's Inferno - and doubting how accurate the translation was, judging from the typo in the Italian title.) Anyway, the three of them took the incident as evidence of our sound minds, and were more than happy to sign Nathaniel's affidavit stating so. With the three of their signatures, we had everything we needed to enter the community of Olympus, and from what we had heard on our adventures thus far, we had plenty of business to see to there. It was time to get to work.


In my wrap-up for Savage Empire, I said that I never had a good sense of character progression, most of the choices for party members already being near max level already and any actual improvement coming sporadically and only for specific characters. I find that I'm having what's basically the opposite problem here in Martian Dreams. I'm absolutely drowning in experience, and that was even before the Shootout at the Cactus Canal! Every time I rested, I had at least three party members ready to level up. The Avatar's already hit level seven, and Nellie, who started at level one at the game's beginning, is ready to hit level six the next time I rest. The levels are coming very fast and furious, which means I expect it to taper off considerably, and probably in the not so distant future. Still, I think this feels like the better situation - I definitely feel like my characters are getting better this way! Even if I hit the level cap for these guys somewhat early on, at least I can say I've had some input as to how they develop, which is, I think, a preferable situation in what's at least ostensibly an RPG. I've even managed to avoid the die-hard need for strength I encountered in Savage Empire, and while most of the levels my group's achieved thus far have been spent improving strength, I've felt I have enough room to give Spector a bit of a boost to dexterity as well. All in all, I like how Martian Dreams is handling the experience a lot better than its predecessor.

Of course, all those levels need to be used on something - hopefully the denizens of Olympus will give me plenty of leads to do exactly that!

Found this outside Olympus... iiiinteresting.

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