Massive Chalice: the breathless caberjack

, | Game diaries

As my game moves into its third and final century, I’ve suffered a couple of serious setbacks. I’ve lost two of my five keeps. When a keep is overrun and its territory falls into the sea, it takes with it the regent who presides there, his or her spouse, and all of their children. But you don’t just lose the territory and the heroes. You lose all the heroes they would have brought forth in later years. It is, quite literally, the end of the line for that family.

After the jump, let us tell sad stories of the deaths of keeps.

House McCarthy, a recent line of caberjacks, and House Grimaldi, one of my oldest houses of alchemists and caberjacks, were both losers in Sophie’s Choice scenarios. Two territories were attacked, each with two points of corruption accumulated, each with a house’s keep. I had to choose which to defend and which to leave to its third and final point of corruption.

I immediately start building another keep, which will mean I’ve built in all of my territories. This is very different from the first time I played Massive Chalice, which was really just a learning game. In that game, just sort of bopping around not quite knowing what I was doing, attacks were rarely dire because I could always spare a territory. I made it to the final battle, of course, but I failed that battle dramatically. And that’s what Massive Chalice is all about: making it to the final battle with enough strong bloodlines in play to prevail. You’ll know what I mean when you get there. It’s a bit of a spoiler, so I’ll warn you before I get into it at the end of this series. Discovering how the final battle works is one of the true joys of Massive Chalice.

Despite the serious losses, my remaining bloodlines are thriving. I have two Standards staffed with high level teachers, who pass along experience points to children as they train. I’ve been careful about selecting high level regents and spouses, who also pass along experience points to their children. As a result, almost all of my newly battle-ready fifteen-year-olds are level eight. That’s eight in a game where the level cap is ten! That’s a huge advantage. Right out of the gate, my new characters have high stats and four of their five skill slots filled with special abilities. The trick now is to keep this going for another hundred years. If I can maintain this momentum, I should be in good shape for the final battle.

Unfortunately, one of my new houses is cruelly cut down by what I can only describe as an assassination attempt. In Massive Chalice, a battle happens every eight to twelve years. Most of the time, this means two territories are attacked. You choose which one to defend. The other receives a point of corruption.

However, every time there’s an attack, there’s a roughly 15% chance that the monsters will target an actual building instead of the territory at large. When this happens, you don’t have a choice. You are dropped into a battle inside the targeted building, and you must defend whomever lives there. When this happens to the Sagewright’s Guild, your heroes have to rescue a bunch of pansy sagewrights wielding ineffectual hammers. But when this happens at a keep, those heroes who thought they’d been retired to a life of sex and parenting get another taste of battle.

All battles start with randomized starting positions. Sometimes you’re dropped smack dab in the middle of a bunch of monsters. Other times you start safely removed from the action and you can move out at your own pace. When you’re defending a building, sometimes you start right alongside the people who live there. In this attack on the Flink keep, the five heroes of my fighting vanguard are deployed directly in front of the regent and her spouse. Perfect. Glad to have you along, m’lord and m’lady, but we totally got this.

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It’s a really gratifying battle for how I get to play with the characters’ higher level abilities. We take out the monsters on top of us easily enough. Since we’re at a chokepoint, we fall back a bit and take up a defensive position. My alchemist deploys clouds of bees — yes, bees! — at the entrance to damage any monsters that approach. I have a couple of ranged characters peeking into antechambers on the left and right to take potshots at monsters out in the courtyard. My alchemists huck explosive flasks over the walls before the monsters can even see us. It’s a perfect defense.

But in another attack on a keep several years later, the regent and his wife are at the far end of the map from my starting point, alone and immediately set upon by ruptures, wrinklers, and lapses. The regent is Justin Flink, recently installed in this newly built keep out in Ebbott Marsh. Justin is starting a second Flink bloodline. Across the continent in the Pale Sea, one of his brothers is raising a line of boomstrikers (an alchemist primary crossed with a caberjack secondary). Justin and his wife, Lyros Gaffney from the fabulous Gaffney girls, are raising brewtalists (an alchemist primary crossed with a hunter secondary). They’re a lovely couple, still in their twenties, seventh level, sporting stalwart for extra armor, hearty for extra hit points, and longevity for longer lifespans. Justin is genetically predisposed to have daughters, which should delight his Gaffney in-laws. If he lives, that is.

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It doesn’t look good.

To rescue the beleaguered couple, my vanguard heroes have to rush across the map as fast as they can, fighting monsters along the way, while a murderous horde closes in on Justin and Lyros. Malin Grimaldi, one of the last survivors of her fallen bloodline of caberjacks, makes a beeline for the throne room while my accompanying alchemists and hunters pick off monsters along the way. Malin’s priority is to save Justin. I’d rather not lose Lyros either, but the fact of the matter is that I have plenty of Gaffneys to marry off, and not so many Flinks. I’m sure Lyros would understand.

Malin uses all her movement to cross the map, not stopping to engage monsters along the way. She has in her pocket something called a skipping stone. In Massive Chalice, many of the items you research appropriate a monster’s ability. One of the monsters, a brutally powerful melee attacker called a twitcher, is unique for how it can swap places with your characters. This means it’s not just a heavy hitter, but it can completely disrupt any positional security you might have. Furthermore, it can use other monsters’ line of sight as a spotter. Even if you can’t see a twitcher, there might be one out there ready to pluck your character from the safety of his group and strand him at some removed point on the map. Twitchers are seriously annoying.

Once you kill a certain number of any given monster, you unlock the ability to research its special power and appropriate it for yourself. That’s how I have skipping stones. I killed a mess of twitchers, I set my sagewrights to studying the corpses, and I got skipping stones that characters can carry in their inventory slot. Anyone with a skipping stone can swap places with any other character. As many times as he wants. And if he has an action point left over, he can move or attack. So if a forward scout is suddenly set upon my monsters, use a skipping stone, bring in a hearty caberjack, and have an action point left over to punch one of them.

This is Malin’s plan as she hurries across the keep. Her mother, Revka Grimaldi, married an outsider. Your sagewrights can take a break from research to explore the kingdom for a handful of new young heroes. You can fight with the new arrivals, but they’re mostly useful for injecting fresh blood into your families. Malin’s mother married one such outsider. His name was Scott Crisostomo. He had asthma. Malin inherited this asthma from her father. And now, as she dashes across the map to try to save the regent of this new Flink bloodline, she has to slow down every other turn, recovering from the loss of breath.

Malin doesn’t make it in time. The exploding ruptures have backed Justin and Lyros against the far wall behind a pool of acid, corroding their armor. The wrinklers have stolen nearly two decades from each of their lives. When a wrinker hits a hero, the hero ages five years. I’ve had older heroes with full hit points sustain a hit from a wrinkler and then drop dead of old age. Lyros, now in her forties, is fatally mauled by a wrinkler. Justin holds out a little longer, but dies barely a turn before Malin arrives. If Malin’s mother had married someone else, someone who didn’t have asthma, would she have made it in time? Was this ultimately her father’s fault?

We win the battle easily enough, saving the territory, but with Justin and Lyros dead, the keep is empty. I have to choose a new regent from among the Flinks. There aren’t a lot of options. As the new regent, I’m left with Keroan Flink, an old woman with some admirable qualities, but who is puny and depressed.

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The puny trait decreases strength. The depressed trait reduces speed and intuition. Reduced speed is particularly painful (just ask Malin Grimaldi). Keroan acquired the depressed state when I took away her child. She came to me in a random event, claiming the child had an evil omen birthmark. She begged me to kill it. I had three options. I could have obliged her, killing the baby. I could have thrown the baby into the eponymous massive chalice to see what happened. Or I could have secretly given the baby to another family to raise as their own. I chose the third option. I gave the infant girl — her name is Talana — to the Gaffneys, who raised her as their own, alongside Zoey Gaffney and Jillian Gaffney. Telana Flink — she keeps her birth mother’s name — is neither puny nor depressed. She grows up to be a fine young woman. When her birth mother Keroan dies and it’s time for a new Flink to be put in charge of this keep out on the Ebbot Marsh, I chose Talana.

Up next: Where do I get these wonderful toys?
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