By the way, I couldn't help but notice that the Circle of Sages in Crescent Lake occupies exactly the same territory as the fourth-ring city culture radius in Civilization 3 and 4.
So, the eternal question: Where first? Castle Ordeal, or Ice Cave, or Gurgu Volcano? As with most parties, I picked Ordeal. First, it's a shorter dungeon than the others, usually with only about ten fights total. Second, its challenges are mostly random - the threats are instant kills and surprise attacks, against which more levels and spells really don't make a big difference. And third, the equipment is a great help for the other two dungeons: Zeus Gauntlet and Ice Sword and Heal Staff.
I barely even GOT to Castle Ordeal with a full party, but a bunch of potions and TENTs healed everybody.
My first attempt at the castle failed. Two characters died to MANCAT FIR2s, one to MUMMYs, and my solo fighter beat three MudGols for the Zeus Gauntlet (yeah I momentarily forgot that you can get the Zeus G on the second floor without a fight), but got stoned by MEDUSAs on the second floor.
Second try - two characters again to MANCAT FIR2s, one to MudGols, and the fighter to R.GOYLEs casting FIR2.
Third try - all four characters got stoned by a 5-pack of MEDUSAs that got the "chance to strike first" surprise round. No matter how powerful a party's offense, they can't do anything if they don't get a turn. And this didn't even have anything to do with the variant, since there isn't yet any armor available that resists stoning.
Fourth try - the party ran from MANCATs and got upstairs. 4 SORCERORs landed an instant kill on one BB, but three characters survived. And I made it!
Well, not exactly! I had to take one more step before the ZombieD fight, and that triggered an encounter! With five MEDUSAs!
Fortunately, Kill went first with his FIR3 and killed most of them, and Bash followed up with the Zeus Gauntlet for the win. The ZombieDs were no problem at all, and my three triumphant characters exited into their TENT.
Okay, I must give my Black Mage some credit for this dungeon win. At level 14, he had 4/4/2 spell capacity for FIR2, ICE2, and FIR3. A Red Mage at the same level has only 4/3/0 and might not have had enough bomb power when I needed it. (Or conversely, his higher HP might have survived an additional round to cast another spell.)
So now my choices were Gurgu Volcano or Ice Cave. I chose the former, since Gurgu doesn't really have any dangerous encounters, while a few more levels would help in Ice Cave for bigger damage and shots of magic (including LIT3.)
This dungeon was big enough that the accumulation of blows without Absorb and damage floors would threaten to exceed the capacity of 99 Heal potions. So I made liberal use of the Heal Staff (yes, wielded by Kill, ten points for irony). IGUANAs were a great chance to pause and refill with the staff, dealing only 18-36 damage per hit (unlike the Red Giant on the right over there), and the BBs' natural absorb would take most of that.
I cleared out the big treasure room on the second floor, and all the treasures on the fourth. This dungeon was surprisingly easy, no close calls at all. The only dangerous encounter was a Red Giant who could deal 150 damage to my Black Belts, but my party's offense overwhelmed them in two rounds. I burned lots of HEAL potions between battles, but arrived at KARY with about 30 remaining. On the last floor, I skipped the Red Dragon fight for the Flame Armor - that's no boost to this party!
With his new Ice Sword, Hit was still a stronger attacker than the black belts, so he got the first FAST against KARY. The three attackers just attacked. KARY got off a FIR2 and a DARK, which were no threat, and I won on the first attack of round three.
On the way to Ice Cave, Kill gained level 17 for a second shot of LIT3. I used a HOUSE before entering the cave to recover that spell point.
Close call - WRAITHS surprised me and stunned almost everybody, but Kill got off that critical FIR3. That fight alone cost fifteen HEAL potions, though. The Berserkers usually don't have much trouble winning individual fights, but each fight takes a BIG toll in healing potions and sometimes in bodies, so on the aggregate, their progress can be pretty suspenseful.
Naturally, I skipped the gold room and Ice Armor on the third floor. I had plenty of gold by now (only one mage to buy spells for), and the
goggles armor would do nothing.
The party made it to the EYE with no losses. I reached the EYE... and its XXXX spell missed! The black belts killed it in the first round! Score one FLOATER! On the third floor again, FIR3 cleared the undead trap encounter.
But now things got dangerous.
A trio of MAGEs on the third floor nailed Hit the fighter with a RUB. I won that fight, but that was a harbinger.
Three SORCERORs landed their patented insta-kill on Bash.
The same three SORCERORs landed a one-hit kill on Slam! Kill managed to get out of there; I don't recall if it was by LIT3 or by running.
Kill the black mage now had to get out of the cave all by his lonesome. He made it out of the third floor back to the first. The encounter... is five COCTRICEs with the stoning attack. Please go first, please go first...
The legendarily dangerous Ice Cave cleared in one attempt by the Berserkers!!
Well, Kill still needed to sail back to civilization by himself. And... he failed.
This happened several times, actually. After three deaths, I finally figured out that he couldn't hope to beat these sorts of fights with LIT3, and started running. Even then, a HYDRA with another HYDRA or OCHO, if they went first, could each deal over 100 damage and kill Kill before he could run away. Ice Cave must have been mad that I cleared it in one shot, and it was still getting its revenge, haunting me from beyond. :)
In the ongoing Black vs Red Mage thread, the RM would be clearly superior here, with enough HP to survive long enough to run from each battle.
Black Mage Evilwizardington Kill finally reached his ship, saved again with a TENT, and walked over to Pravoka hauling his pile of bodies. (Heh, if this were the 8-Bit Theater black mage, he'd long since have looted those bodies and consumed their souls to fuel his own twisted power.)