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Owen’s Formation Raiders

(Might and Magic X Legacy sample party) (Part #1)


Power Level:
Game system: DC Heroes Role-Playing Game

Context

Might and Magic is a brand of fantasy-themed computer games that started in 1986. The name has been used for many games, such as the spin-off Heroes of Might & Magic strategy games, making it something of a grab-bag.

The classic M&M titles were “tier 2” games during the foundational days of computer RPGs. They undeniably were important, but not as much as the seminal Ultima and Wizardry series.

Might & Magic X: Legacy was released in 2014. But the game uses lots of gameplay conventions from 1980s computer RPGs, up to and including grid-based map exploration. Despite the retro aspect and being done on a shoestring budget, I and many others found it engaging.

It’s for RPG and CRPG nerds. But heh, it could be a gateway into the genre.

Speaking of which, we also have a strategy guide for M&M X Legacy. We *occasionally* write such on the side.

Party like it’s 1999

This article presents the setting in brief, and a made-up sample party. The approach may be familiar, as there were two previous writeups.org articles in the same vein – the N’Guyen siblings (Avernum) and the Oubliettes (Fall of the Dungeon Guardians).


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Part of the exercise is to take the stylized and “just so” gameplay of these old-school CRPGs , and imagine what it would mean in-universe. Here, it offers rationales for these elements :

  1. The game is played on Warrior difficulty. It’s not the hardest thing in the world, but it does require understanding the game.
  2. Many players will redo the beginning a few times, restarting as they gain said understanding. Combined with the game’s stiff interface — such as the party always making 90° turns — that can convey a machinelike vibe in the execution of this phase.
  3. M&MX uses a “gating” system where parts of the world will kill you if you try to explore them too early. But there’s little indication as to the order things should be tackled in. Save, try, die (or burn through too many potions), draw conclusions, reload. And in some cases, realise that an encounter that looks too tough is actually the proper path. So – another instance of having to work save-and-retry gameplay into the narrative.
  4. A party optimised to do the entire game on Warrior without too much friction ends up being an… unlikely crew, in the Wizardry tradition.
  5. As often in old “blobber” CRPGs , the adventuring party is a bland toolset about which very little is known. They are gaming pieces. Reviewer Alec Meer once likened such adventuring parties to a hydra — one creature with multiple heads — which was a neat turn of phrase.

Party rock, yeah…

There’s also the rise in power. As often with level-based systems, we’ll assume that it is exaggerated. In-universe, a level 20 party presumably isn’t orders of magnitude more powerful than a level 1 one. But still, a level 1 party is oddly weak. Why ?

Which leads to the next question. Why do they rise in might so quickly, and why do they become so powerful as to beat world-shaking beings ? “Because it’s fun” and “because they’re the heroes” are fine answers, but they ain’t diegetic . There has to be something more tangible behind the party’s power as the endgame approaches.

One last aspect is that I generally play using guides. Taking copious notes, screenshooting and writing drafts easily triples the time to play, and going in blind on top of that multiplier would be too long. Therefore, guides. Still, explaining why the party is so good at finding things can be interesting.

And it could also explain how they manage to gradually document the exact strengths and weaknesses of monsters via the in-game bestiary.


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… woo, let’s go !

This profile comes into two parts due to length. You can read the second part of the Owen’s Formation article there.

Oh yes – also, this profiles has S P O I L E R S. However, it only covers the main storyline, so there’s no DLC, no Limbo, no Dream Shard, etc.. Again, time constraints.

And yes, I’d like to eventually write about Xeen (the setting in the original Might & Magic) if there’s enough time.



Setting

There are several Might & Magic settings.

M&MX takes place in the world of Ashan. This is the same world as the Heroes of Might and Magic games released since the mid-2000s.

It strongly evokes the setting of Heroes of Might & Magic III, a landmark 1999 strategy game. HMM3 was huge back then, at least on PC and especially in Europe.

It is a high fantasy setting. So there are dragons, elves, dwarves, magicians, knights, castles and all the usual post-Tolkien, post-Gygax stuff. If you have some familiarity with, say, the Warcraft setting, you won’t experience any disorientation.

Must be talking to an angel

The most relevant bit of lore to the story is the Holy Falcon Empire. This is a primarily Human nation, but it is firmly aligned with a much older species called Angels. It corresponds to the “Haven” faction in the M&M strategy games. Therefore, it’s full of knights in shining full plate, paladins , priests using light/purity/life magic, majestic griffins, etc.

However, the relationship between the Empire and the Angels has gone sour by the time of M&MX. A senior Angel manipulated the faithful Empire into a war against a rival elder species, the darkness-aspected Faceless. That his “proofs” were fabrications was discovered by clever Humans, triggering a religious crisis.

Worse, this came during the Second Eclipse. Though rare, total eclipses weaken the spells holding the Faceless and other darkness creatures prisoner within the world. During these, demons can roam the surface.

Might and Magic X Legacy game concept art - Archangel Michael and Falcon army

The great Angel general Michael leads Falcon Empire troops.

As a consequence, the brand-new Empress has separated the Church and the State. This is violently controversial, and wind in the sails of those with a beef against the Empire. Many priests aren’t reacting well, either. Yet some support the move, leading to ministerial conflicts

Furthermore, there are those who would exploit the window of opportunity of having a new, inexperienced ruler at the helm. The Empire is made of distinct Duchies with their own cultures and languages, and they aren’t held together that firmly.

Secession

A port city, Karthal, was particularly set on independence. Even though it was critical to Falcon trade, resentment had built up in Karthal over the decades. It came to a head after the Second Eclipse. Karthal folks felt that they had received far too little help from their Imperial rulers during this crisis.

This situation degenerated far faster than anyone had expected. A major surge in banditry then took place, with no warning.

Furthermore, the area had not always been claimed by the Holy Falcon Empire.

  1. It had once been part of the nigh-mythical Shantiri Empire. Though the Shantiri had inexplicably vanished, some key ruins of theirs remain in the area. These structures are heavy on undying magic.
  2. Elves used to be quite present. However, previous wars and catastrophes hit them hard and forced them to abandon much land. The Elves are also reeling from a schism that led to the emergence of Dark Elves, aligned with the Faceless. The two factions were manipulated into a war, discovering but too late that they had been lied to.
  3. Parts of the region were once dominated by the Wizards of the Seven Cities. But not much of that is left. Howbeit, former slave species of the Wizards, such as Orcs and Minotaurs, do have a presence in the area.
  4. Free pirates have always operated there. Of course, they grew in power as the Falcon Empire lost control. However, they aren’t closed to negotiation and alliances.
  5. Karthal itself had, ages ago, been a Faceless temple. Before the time of Humans, Angels stormed it, took it and built a cathedral to re-consecrate the site. They eventually gifted it to the Holy Falcon Empire.

Raiders

The adventuring party is part of something called the Raiders. These seem to be a guild of professional, generally benign adventurers. They will help and defend people for a fee.

Based on their code and banter, a good chunk of their activities seems to be “liberating” treasures from dangerous ruins. They’re dungeoneering  experts.

Might and Magic X Legacy game concept art - Party

An example Raider party – but not the one we’ll use here.

The Raiders aren’t as respected as the leading mercenary force, the Windswords, which doubles as a religion. And though like the Windswords they have a lofty code of honour, the Raiders aren’t entirely trusted. This is in no small part because they are entirely independent and forbid religious activities during work.

As the game open, four young Raiders from Hammer Fall are bringing with them the ashes of Owen, their mentor. Owen wished for his remains to be held in his native Karthal after a long Raider career abroad.


Party history

(This section is entirely made-up, since there’s very little data about the party in-game. But you knew that — and the reasons for it — from having read this profile’s Context section. And other sample Player Characters articles on writeups.org. And our video game FAQ.)

Owen of Karthal joined the Raiders at 16, dreaming of action and adventure. He became one of the senior decisions-maker of the organisation. For instance, he commanded the Raider auxiliaries during the Battle of Hammer Fall.

The Hammer Fall area is apparently where Owen conducted many of his exploits, including some high-powered adventures.

The Raiders’ often helped people in dire circumstances, and Owen felt that they were underappreciated. He had grown bitter over the frequent comparisons to the Windswords. Owen felt that the much greater respect given to the Windswords was simply because of their reassuring allegiance to the dragon-god of air.

As he grew older, Owen became obsessed by this. He wanted to field a special party of Raiders that would be strong enough to force respect. One of his more elaborate plans was to steal a cadre of sandstone golems  (and their command rod) from a widely reviled wizard. But that didn’t work out. There wouldn’t be golem Raiders.

A pair of djinns

During this caper Owen worked with Sana, a djinn who had recently escaped servitude at the wizard’s hands. She put him in touch with two reclusive fellow djinns. This couple was only known as the Formation.

(In Ashan, djinns are essentially magic elementals. These blue-skinned humanoids usually wear traditional Middle-Eastern garb. This is due to ties with a powerful mage hailing from an equivalent of Ancient Egypt.)

Might and Magic X Legacy game concept art - Shiny hallway

Sana admitted that the Formation were obsessive, reclusive eccentrics. But Owen would be their only contact in the material world. That was a great position to negotiate for magical rewards in exchange for services.

The Formation’s research was an incomprehensible mix of pentadimensional ur-pyramids of power, third eye perception and sapient  mathematical operators manifesting as birds of smokeless fire.

But they eventually agreed to grant Owen four Raiders who would have a third eye. Using it would allow them to see strange truths, as well as the past, the present and some possible states of reality. As Owen understood it, this preternatural perception would allow for much better tactical decisions and general perception.

Okay, okay ladies…

However, giving a third eye to normal persons was nearly impossible. The Formation had a way around this, but the eye had to be added practically from birth. Furthermore, the babies had to match a lengthy, exacting list of criteria about :

  • The exact day and hour of their birth.
  • The diameter and weight of their eyes.
  • The age of their parents.
  • The astrological configuration during their conception.
  • Etc., etc..

There was a long list of numbers, and the Formation performed seemingly random operations with this bric-à-brac numerology. It was also important that each child be from a different species, and to have two girls and two boys. Or four intersexed children, but that one was statistically unfeasible.

Owen associated with top-shelf slavers from the Seven Cities. These kept detailed pedigrees about their servants. Though the babies would be conceived to order, Owen blinkeredly reasoned that all he was doing was buy their freedom before they would ever know slavery.

Using obstetrical herbs and magic, the four babies were born at exactly the right time for the reams of numbers to match the Formation’s demands.

… now let’s get in formation

Improbably enough, everything worked out. The babies were raised by friends of Owen – mostly retired Raiders. At precisely 3.14 months of age, the third eyes were successfully implanted in all four kids. The Formation declared that the kids were now another Formation. Howbeit, their explanations about what “a Formation” is were incomprehensible.

The children now came across as alien. But they were nice enough and remarkably disciplined, if none too verbal. Owen and selected colleagues trained them from age six onward, with a lifestyle reminiscent of a military boarding school. There were disputes about what Owen was doing, but the kids didn’t seem to mind.

As their mentor had hoped, they could learn well and quickly, and worked far more seriously than ordinary kids. By age 14, they were probably able to beat their number of adult city guards. They took very well to spellcasting, as one of Owen’s key concepts was a sort of “combined arms” doctrine mixing might and magic.

Owen died from an infected wound when the Formation was one week shy of their 16th birthday. But by that point they were considered fully-trained Raiders. They already had accompanied Raider expeditions in the field and into dangerous ruins.

Within days of Owen’s death, the strange teenagers were in a ship bound for the Karthal. They were carrying Owen’s funerary urn.

The troubles there had just started, so they couldn’t make port in Karthal proper. The Captain would instead use the ship’s boat to drop them in Sorpigal-by-the-Sea, in the right general area.


Powers and Abilities

The third eye of the Raiders’ Formation can see how things and persons are, have been, will be and could be. By staring at something, they can thus gain an inordinate amount of data.

When in the field one of the Formation sees the present, one sees the past, one sees the future and one sees alternatives. This means they’re almost impossible to surprise, and have an extraordinary power of observation.

Might and Magic X Legacy game concept art - Red ruins with roots

The four also share a hivemind. This wasn’t originally the case, but their third eye allows them to perceive each other’s thoughts and essence. As toddlers with no sense of identity, they developed a shared one. Glancing at each other with their third eye open allows them to literally read the other’s thoughts, so they are in effect telepathic.

This hivemind, and lifelong training, makes them remarkably well-coordinated with each other. This is especially true in combat. They move as one without a word. Each action flows in the actions of the group with perfect timing and zero friction.

Now that’s real class

Owen also focused each of the kids’ training on specific area. This was based on his decades of Raider experience, and his conclusions about what an ideal Raider party should be. It also was based on the natural affinities of each kid’s species.

Thus :

  1. The Dwarf girl was trained to master angelic (“Light”) magic, and Fire magic (as Dwarves are blessed by the dragon-god of fire). This primarily made her a protector and healer for the rest of the party, but also able to deliver potent fire attacks when feasible.
  2. The Orc boy was trained in the distinctive spear fighting style found among Orc island tribes. It is a fast, agile, rich, hard-hitting martial art. The training also involved outdoorsman and stalking skills, including traps to hunt large animals (and people).
  3. The Human girl could benefit from the Human ability to understand Dark magic, as well as the dragon-god of sky’s racial blessing of Air. Thus Owen had her focus on these as well as primordial magic. Mastery of three magic schools could eventually make her an archmage.
  4. The Elf boy was chiefly trained in Earth magic (matching the Elves’ racial blessing by Sylvanna) and Water magic (which the Sea Elves are masters of). This primarily made him able to hamper and wear down the enemy, as well as bolster his teammates.

The quartet was also trained in general military operations, outdoorsmanship, dungeoneering, the Raiders’ Code, etc.

Doctrine, part 1 – chercher le choc

The ability to rain down spells on the enemy was at the core of Owen’s doctrine, relying on shock. The enemy was to be overwhelmed by a strong magical and physical assault, then the victorious party should bug out, vanish in the woodwork and refocus.

These shock tactics also include strong defenses. At most points, two Formation members are attacking as hard as they can while the other two are erecting defensive spells. Even in lengthier engagements, this allows the Formation to keep up shock tactics. Protective spells allows for more aggressive attacks, and knowing all schools of magic means always having a counterspell.

Such high-energy, full-magic-spectrum manoeuvres allow the Formation to consistently take on enemies that should be out of their weight class. Proficient Raiders parties are Special Forces units of a sort, and Owen’s Formation was quasi-scientifically optimised for this.

Doctrine, part 2 – fendre le roc

The obvious weakness of this approach was in prolonged engagements. In skirmishes, this could be brute-forced by extensive use of potions to refresh magical and physical endurance and keep up the assault-grade tempo. The Formation wasn’t meant for large battles, but even there it could fill the role of a spearhead for a battle-winning move… then vanish from the field.

Might and Magic X Legacy game concept art - Dwarf warrior

Concept art for a Dwarf warrior.

As part of this hit-and-run doctrine, the Formation were camouflage experts. Once they disengaged, they used mundane and magical means to be nigh-impossible to find.

Between an expert hunter doing physical camouflage and anti-tracking measures, an archmage capable of creating an otherdimensional  pocket hideout, water and earth magic allowing to pass without trace… the Formation could get solid R&R even in hostile environment.

(The latter aspects aren’t directly present in the game. But the party rests a lot to renew life and mana even in the middle of enemy bases, and time passes… oddly when you rest in M&MX. So this is an in-universe representation of this aspect of gameplay. This’ll be developed in the game stats.)

Doctrine, part 3

The ideal Formation engagement is an ambush. One selected enemy is snagged by a hidden lasso on the ground and expeditiously dragged toward the hidden party. As the enemy reacts, they’ll advance into booby traps then into a magical kill zone, with a melee warrior pinning them down.

If unexpectedly running into a larger enemy team, the party will go on the offensive using the cover of a Light magic armour, adding layers of magical protection as needed to retain their momentum without becoming overstretched.

If this first shock isn’t sufficient, they will use their perfect and wordless coordination to cleanly fall back to a nearby chokepoint and finish the fight there. Then they’ll immediately vanish into the woodwork. If only to observe and make sure there’s no reinforcements nearby.


We are blessed by dragons

After Owen’s death, his Formation found an ancient ruin – the Elemental Forge, or Forge of Heroes. This temple of the long-since-vanished Shantiri Empire is a place to establish communication with the elemental dragon-gods who created the world.

This is done through ritual trials. The aim is to prove one’s courage, cunning and might until elemental lords are satisfied.

Owen’s Formation explored the temple, reconstructing what the rituals had been and how to undergo them. Then they gradually tracked down and recovered the elemental shards needed to enter the challenge arenas.

Once an elemental lord had been challenged, they would fight until satisfied by the party’s mettle. Then they would ritually grant a boon and depart.

Elemental gifts

In order of acquisition, the blessings were.

  1. From the challenge of Earth, the ability to pass through otherwise impenetrable woods and other vegetation. By calling upon the blessing, trees, massive bramble patches, etc. will part. The canopy will let some light in, and certain hazards will be pacified.
  2. From the challenge of Light, the ability to make hidden traps glow. Light protects and informs the living.
  3. From the challenge of Water, the ability to walk on shallow water as if it were firm ground. Most rivers could thus be forded at points, and it often was possible to walk on the sea if keeping within a vigorous stone throw of the coast. This also dramatically facilitated crossing marshy areas, mangroves, etc.
  4. From the challenge of Air, a trance to make their body and equipment lighter. This primarily meant climbing and pull-ups easier. This blessing allows for climbing cliffsides and mountains bare-handed, yet as if equipped with full 2010s rock-climbing equipment.
  5. From the challenge of Darkness, the ability to hear whispers from the shadows about secrets. Darkness revels in secrets and obfuscation. This principally means the ability to sense secret doors and passages.
  6. From the challenge of Fire, the ability to sense fiery emotions. This chiefly means a sort of “anger/hatred sense”. It allows the Formation to perceive where enemy fighters are even through obstacles.

History (in-game) (part 1)

Carrying Owen’s ashes, the party reached Sorpigal-by-the-sea. This was a quiet walled burg, known for being the retirement spot for many adventurers – including Raiders. However the town was on a lockdown after several disappearances.

The sheriff was a former Raider. Though he was worried that Owen’s pupils were too young, he agreed to let them accompany him in investigating. With his help, the party efficiently solved the problem.

Might and Magic X Legacy game concept art - Spooky corridor

A Necromancer had fled persecution and found refuge in Sorpigal. Once safe, he had his beloved pets shipped to him. These were giant spiders – Necromancer culture seeing these as lovely house pets. However, the smugglers didn’t feed the spiders correctly. When they were disembarked in the hidden smuggler’s caves under Sorpigal, they were ravenous and blindly killed everything, including their owner.

The spiders then had started creeping up wells at night to find more food – Sorpigal’s inhabitants. But with the spiders slain, the issue was solved and the sheriff lifted the lockdown.

Bandits on a grid

With the Empire’s military being less present, banditry was booming. Most of it were ordinary people caught in a bind and/or making a stupid mistake, and thus not that much of a threat. But several brigand factions seemed more paramilitary in nature. This meant opportunities for Raiders to do their thing.

The party liberated a lighthouse that had been captured by Naga shipwreckers. Naga are an amphibious species of serpent-people, often with vaguely medieval Japanese trappings. Though relations with Naga were good in the area — for instance the town of Seahaven had a distinctive Naga Quarter — these specific bandits were a renegade cult hunted by Naga law enforcers.

The young Raiders also eliminated a group of bandits in the Shadow Wood. These had gone to significant lengths to steal… a book, written in a cypher, that a local Duke was dead-set on recovering. Worryingly, this group of bandits fielded fully-equipped heavy infantry, and minor fire mages.

Another bandit force then stormed no less than the castle where the Empire’s representative was working. They picked a time when the troops were mostly away, and somehow bypassed the outer walls.

But the young Raiders came in while the assault was still taking place. At this point, only the keep was holding. Attacking from the rear, the Formation broke the bandits’ ranks and narrowly saved the life of the Empire’s local commander.

The natives are restless

Jon Morgan, the brand-new and just de-besieged Empire governor, hired the Raiders team on the spot. He needed extensive reconnaissance, but sending Empire troops roaming around would be seen as a provocation by separatists in Karthal.

For starters, he sent his new contractors to the Elemental Forge, an ancient ruin where Elves had skirmished with his men. Morgan wasn’t sure what was going on, but didn’t want to accidentally provoke Elves.

Exploring the ruins — as Raiders do — the party determined that it was a facility to undergo religious trials. They also clashed with Elven ambushers, though there was something odd about them.

The young Raiders then defied an elemental at the Forge of Spring, gaining a blessing from Sylvanna – the dragon-god of earth.

After reporting they rebased to the West, in Seahaven, which was closer to the Karthal area. Seahaven was close to nigh-impenetrable woods, but the blessing of Sylvanna would allow the Raiders to cross those with ease.

Every day I’m shuffle-ing

Recon to the West and South of Seahaven brought important information :

  • A contemplative Elf warrior deep in the woods agreed to talk about the Dark Elves, whom he reviled. This led to strong suspicions that Dark Elf assassins were attempting to trigger a conflict between the Imperial governor and the Sylvan Elves. Imperial troops did not know about Elvish schisms, and thus only saw Elves.
  • An Elf druid later explained that the war between Sylvan and Dark Elves had been a tragic misunderstanding, brought about by Faceless sabotage. This made a possible manipulation to pit the Holy Empire against the Sylvan Elves more ominous still. Furthermore, several Elves reported that emissaries of theirs had been attacked by Humans.
  • The elite, deadly mercenaries of the Black Guard were active in the area. These were renegade Windswords, who had abandoned their religious ethics. They took any job, no matter how vile. Though the Black Guards were more proficient than the Raiders, they were overconfident and could thus be outmanoeuvred with enough preparation.
  • Black Guards had been assembling around Karthal shortly before it rebelled and closed its doors.
  • Much of the banditry seemed commanded from the shadow by one Montbard. This man had been the previous Imperial governor of the area. He had been reportedly killed during the Second Eclipse demonic invasion. Yet an Imperial polymath clearly recognised his handwriting on a recent missive the Raiders took from brigands.

While ambushing Dark Guard warbands, the young Raiders reconnoitred a path through thick woodland. Montbard likely was — literally – underground, and there were rumours of a lost subterranean city near Seahaven. These ancient ruins could likely still serve as a base.

Into the Lost City

The Lost City had been built as an underground refuge. During now-mythical ages, a total war between elder races had threatened the survival of mortals. But building vast subterranean bunkers had allowed mortal species to endure.

Might and Magic X Legacy game concept art - Horizontal cover

As the party would discover, the Lost City was immense. It extended under most of the region, making it way vaster than any city above it. Most of it was empty, though.

Part of the Lost City had indeed been reclaimed from the undead and turned into a full paramilitary base. The increasingly hardened Raiders eliminated all brigands therein, then confronted and defeated Montbard.

Montbard’s dying words and his journals revealed that something had been making the previous two Imperial governors — if not more — insane. Thus, the late and paranoid Montbard was convinced that the Empire had been taken over by the Faceless. He and his men were trying to free their nation from imaginary demons.

Depriving Montbard’s well-organised, well-trained partisans of their leader and their hidden base was a significant step. But the situation remained unstable and suspicious.

Arrrr!

The party then worked their way to the Crag, a mostly Orcish pirate city. They had specific objectives :

  1. Morgan wanted them to negotiate a truce between the Falcon Empire and the pirates while the troubles lasted. His goal was to put out one fire for a while. History showed that this was feasible.
  2. The Raiders had deduced that Morgan secretly was the son of Crag Hack , a legendary but now aged pirate leader. This was mostly based on blabbering from Morgan’s kid daughter, Ann, about her grand-dad. That meant that a truce was even more workable than it looked.
  3. Owen had had unclear ties to the Crag. Part of the equipment he had given his Formation clearly came from Crag Hack’s mountainous booty stores. Owen had also told his Formation of the Weather Wizards, the Orc island shamans, and other masters and teachers of elemental magic who worked with pirates.

Though traversing the wilderness to reach the Crag had become difficult with the troubles and banditry, the Formation expertly did so.

Truce with the pirates was easily achieved as Hack wanted to spend time with his granddaughter. Furthermore, numerous parties in the Crag were interested in hiring or working with Raiders.

This article is continued in part 2.

By Sébastien Andrivet.

Source of Character: M&MX CRPG.

Writeup completed on the 15th of October, 2017.

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