Battles in caves are random; when I say random, I mean chaotic, unpredictable, wildly different between each encounter. I could traverse multiple floors without fighting a single enemy, or have three battles in three successive steps. That's not the worst of it though, the enemies themselves range from simple to "OMG, I'm going to die!" Then there's the fact I have to deal with anywhere between 1 - 8 units. Early on I learned that the only way I'm going to get through more than one battle per cave was to exploit the AI (I mean... use better tactics). So, instead of good tactics, like protecting my flanks, I put one person in front causing a pile up.
|Even at full health, this is what death looks like|
|*blushes* We just met... ;)|
|What's Powder? Hey, where'd my Sands of Time go?! Oh...|
|I am the Fire King!|
The Cave of Fire was my next stop. I didn't think much about the connect between the name and what could possibly be found, so off to mapping I went. Then bad luck hit, 3 encounters within moments of each other depleted my health, but I managed through it back to the exit. Being on the first floor, this actually wasn't too much trouble. Healing up and heading back in proved a bit easier. After mapping everything though, I discovered no ladder. Searching for a secret door allowed me to find it on the first wall I tried. On the third floor is when I ran into some more trouble (and when I started using my "improved" tactics). Beaten down and very close to death, I searched my tool bag for the tent I knew was there. My hope that I could use it inside proved well placed, and I felt a bit better about continuing on. I also realized I had plenty of gems to do the rest of the mapping for me.
|Please arrange a queue in front of AmyK, and we'll get to your death in the order received. Thank you!|
|Why make my own maps when there's an auto-map this good?|
So, I left mostly empty handed. I mean I did have the extra experience and gold, so it wasn't a total wash, but it was definitely less than what I could have gotten in safer conditions outside. As I'm making my way back to the fountain (my safe spot), I fight some tough fights. When I start to ascend again (the action, not the spell), I realize I have enough MP to use ascend (the spell, which is also the action). There were many fights, and by the time I get out, none of my characters had more than 100 HP (most enemies hit for 30 - 40). But, I was out, without a single death. Instead of waiting to heal fully, I start to make my way back to the castle, and I come face to face with a hard enemy.
|Just wait right there, I'll be right back|
I'm fairly sure I'd be toast if I didn't have my horses. While they don't allow my party to actually move faster, I'm getting the feeling it allows them to move more spaces between enemy movements. I turn back to the cave to reset the enemy encounters, and I make it back to the castle without incident when I leave again.
I agree with CRPG Addict (I'm glad I took on his rule to only reset/load a game when I've been completely wiped out) that the experience of surviving through all odds--of coming back beaten, battered, and bruised, but alive (at least partially)--makes for some of the best moments in a game. It also makes for some good stories... if I ever have anyone to tell them to. Four caves Fool, Sun, Moon, and Death, and Ambrosia are all left to explore. Also, the castle of Exodus, but if the hints are true, I shouldn't head there until I have all four marks. Speaking of marks, I don't know what use they actually have (if they have one beyond Exodus). I'm also told that some Guild store has a pick I need. So, I'm going to find a way inside the guarded town next, and maybe explore Ambrosia again before going into another cave. I'm still looking for those shrines I heard about so long ago.
|P.S. Thank you to whomever built the ladders.|