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Might and Magic II

Prologue
An account of Corak the Mysterious' unsettling disappearance as told by his apprentice, Gwyndon the Young:

Corak has always held many dire secrets, but recently he had shown signs of being outwardly distressed. This troubled me greatly as what could disturb one so powerful and composed as Corak the Mysterious? Was he not only High Priest as well as being regarded by all as a most accomplished warrior and being the most powerful Archmage other than King Kalohn the Vanquished? He was all that the knowledgeable strive to be and what the ignorant claim to be.

Corak used to tell me stories of different, wondrous worlds with hideous monsters and mighty warriors. He once even mentioned that he came from another world. I thought his stories mere fables or myths meant to entertain me. Little did I know that he spoke the truth and that a problem would arise from this truth that would drive him mad.

One day while I was working on translations of a sorcerous scroll, Corak burst into the library with a harried look on his brow. He told me of an alien criminal from another reality who had escaped into our beloved CRON! Corak then promptly forgot that I was present and proceeded to curse and mumble profusely as he searched through the books for some lost text which contained a gleaming of information which might help him expel the dangerous alien. Being insatiably curious, I attempted to eavesdrop on the conversation he was having with himself. He spoke of CRON being out of alignment with other worlds, of a highly destructive alien being named Sheltem, and of an anointed champion who could realign CRON before a horrific wave of fiery destruction would sweep across and destroy the land.

After his foray in the library, Corak acted quite strangely during the next few days. He would lock himself up in his private study for hours at a time. Frightful noises emanated from behind the locked door and then, suddenly, they would stop. He would emerge changed each time in some subtle fashion. He would enter the study after devouring almost an entire banquet by himself and exit with an appetite as if he had not eaten in days. Other times he would be wan and pale from long hours of intensive research done in the library. He would then go to the study and exit in a few hours with a tan as if he had just returned from Murray's Resort Isle, basking in the sun there for a week.

This weird behavior continued for almost a fortnight. One day, he left his study after an unusually long session and immediately started screaming about the end of the world and how he could not stop it. Amazingly, he was covered in snow and yet it was mid-summer! He then looked about in desperation and withdrew a strange, four-taloned claw which I had never even seen before. Corak then uttered a spell which caused a blinding glow of sheer power to envelope his body. He was terrible to behold, bathed in an eerie shower of what must of been pure ethereal energy, just standing there, exalting in his newfound might.

Seconds later, a clap of thunder shook the building and Corak was gone. I believe that he transported himself away in order to try to stop the mystifying doom which lay upon CRON. Unfortunately, I have my doubts.
Maybe the spell of power was too much for Corak the Mysterious and he brought about his own destruction. I do not know anything for sure. After all, I am now only an apprentice without a master to tell me if I am right or wrong.

A week later, Lord Pinehurst visited and went into Corak's study. The strange, eerie noises started again and Lord Pinehurst was gone. I entered the study and noticed that one of Corak's machines was missing. Next day I received a sealed letter delivered by special courier from Lord Pinehurst. He wrote that he was fine, not to worry and that I should travel to Castle Pinehurst to continue my studies. I go now and hope that this growing chaos in my life will soon end.



History of CRON
This being a synopsis of the histories of CRON as gathered by Corak the Mysterious and found in his study in the Luxus Palace Royale by Gwyndon the Young:

I, Corak, called the Mysterious, have gathered these histories of the world aptly called CRON through personal experiences gained by the use of a magical artifact which allows travel through the very fabric of time itself.

At first, there was only void. Yet, in the nothing something arose. An ethereal substance capable of supporting life came into existence. From the time of this forming shall I, as do all in CRON, reckon time. The shaping of this etherealness took well-nigh one century to occur and develop into recognizable form.

Next, water in vast amounts came from disorder and remained to mix with the ether. Strange beings arose out of this chaotic union. Elemental lords of great power warred for control of the waters. The greatest of these was powerful Acwalandar, mightiest and most majestic of all the Water Kings. Preternatural fierceness combined with uncanny intelligence allowed him to hold unquestionable dominion over all of the other elementals. He reigned supreme for three score and a generation of years, then turmoil erupted.

Potent creatures from an unknown, mystical land charged into CRON with conquest of the brutal Water Lords as their goal. A battle which would last centuries began. Acwalandar and his minions were taken by surprise and the strange beings gained a foothold which they would not release. Puzzlement and fear of the unknown swept through the ranks of the normally stolid water elementals. Who were these warriors who suddenly came from nowhere? They were Spirits of the Air come from afar to expand their empire. Their lord was terrible indeed, a creature of tumultuous air named Shalwend who could call upon tremendous legions of vicious air elementals to blow back the shocked Water Lords. Air fought with Water for over a century, until reaching a level of equilibrium which neither side could change.

Seeking to upset the deadlock and gain the momentum in the war against the air elementals, Acwalandar charged his servitors to create an ultimate weapon. He received much more than he wanted. His vassals summoned forth incredibly powerful creatures of destruction that would remain under the Water Lords total dominance. Fire elementals were issued forth. These hateful monsters sole purpose in life was to destroy, and at destruction their like will never be approached. They sucked the life out of the Air Spirits without mercy, forcing them to endure a slow, consuming burn until there was nothing left. However, the Fire Lords were few in number and could not totally destroy the Masters of the Wind.

The leader of the burning horde, Pyrannaste, Master of Flame, disliked the iron-fisted rule of Acwalandar and the Water Lords. Any hesitation of a fire elemental in carrying out an order issued by a Water Lord would result in extinguishment. Pyrannaste waited, for he was patient, and even though he and his vassals chafed under the rule of the water elementals they hated Shalwend and the air elementals even more.

Eighty years of servitude and war passed for the Fire Lords until Pyrannaste deemed the time proper for rebellion against Acwalandar. Wanting only to escape servitude while still being able to crush the ranks of the despised Shalwend, the Master of Flame attempted to break away peacefully from the air elementals. At first they succeeded, but resentment and overconfidence built up in the Legions of Water, Are not the fire elementals our servants, brought forth by us to serve our Heeds? Can we not crush them as we crushed the Masters of the Winds? This the armies of Acwalandar thought, forgetting that the might of the air horde must be fought once again without aid. Also forgetting that in order to extinguish a fire elemental, a Water Lord loses much of himself in the struggle that ensues.

Shrewd Acwalandar realized that the Water Lords could not hope to end victorious in a war against both the air and the fire elementals. However, his counsel fell upon deaf ears. What good is the voice of reason to an angry mob? For fifty years Water fought Air and Fire, Fire fought Water and Air, and Air fought Fire and Water. Battles were bloodthirsty; and allies were nonexistent. CRON had transformed into a chaotic battlefield with no one group able to assert itself over the others.

And then came disaster. From places vaguely rumored to exist came the most fearsome creatures yet. Emperors of Earth they called themselves. They were led by Gralkor the Cruel. In one fell stroke they invaded CRON and caused the petty struggles between Water, Air, and Fire to come to an utter halt. Ancient enemies were forced to unite for survival against the new, common enemy. At first, the earth elementals appeared invulnerable. Eighty years and innumerable battles later, a method was found to stop them. Acwalandar and the Water Lords would soak the earth elementals with a flood of water. Then, Pyrannaste and the Fire Lords would bake the dissipated creatures into dry silt. Finally, Shalwend and the Air Spirits would lift the silt into the sky and spread all of the particles across the world, leaving the earth elemental utterly eradicated.

Alas, the effort by the three elemental tribes was too late to stop Gralkor the Cruel and the Emperors of Earth. They had pooled together and formed a giant mass of earthen matter which floated upon water, was immune to fire, and which would not scatter as leaves upon the wind. For twenty more years the elementals attempted to overcome the earthen landmass of Gralkor the Cruel. They failed miserably and the Emperors of Earth assumed command of what would become CRON.

By the year 500, Gralkor and the earth elementals were busily constructing a fixed land area with the toil of their slaves. For almost one hundred years all of the elementals, Water, Air, Fire, and Earth, struggled to perfect the landmass. What they tame up with is what we know as the physical land of CRON.

Rumor of CRON spread to other worlds somehow and an inexorable flow, of what were to the elementals, small, pitiful creatures began to populate the world of Gralkor in the seventh century. The creatures were of many different humanoid types, but they all had basic similarities and resistances which enabled them to survive in CRON. Water beaded off them, air swirled past them, fire did burn them, but only under extremes, and mighty earth they trod upon. The humanoids were able to extract properties from each of the four element's features and use it for their own benefit. But perhaps most important of all, they could weave magic. At first, there were few of these pathetic creatures, but they multiplied rapidly and spread across the landmass. The humanoids strengthened after years of toil and pain. Ambitions grew and they attempted to make CRON their own. This aroused the attention of Gralkor the Cruel and forced him into action.

Unfortunately for the elementals, Gralkor acted too late. The humanoids had been in CRON for over seventy years and had acclimated themselves to all the difficulties which the elementals could produce. They had weapons and spells which could immobilize all but the most powerful elemental lords.
Gralkor did not realize this and made a most fatal error, he attacked. He marshaled his forces for the obliteration of the feeble humanoids. The humanoids knew what to expect and lay a trap for the elemental forces.

All of the most powerful spell-casters gathered on the isle of the Ancients and combined their efforts to create an orb of power. This orb had a mystic receptacle, a four taloned claw. There was a talon for each elemental force, and alone that talon could control the elemental creatures it represented. The four talons could be combined to form a holder for the orb. This formed a weapon of incomparable power which could guarantee the complete submission or destruction of any and all elemental creatures. Many tests were made in order to perfect this weapon. Gross mutilations and horrible deaths were the results of most of these. In the latter part of the eighth century there was a human male weak in magic but strong in courage named Kalohn who tested the orb and survived unmolested. Many humanoids died before this because of Gralkor’s attack and the testing of the orb. Kalohn resolved to end it all immediately.

He went to the tallest mountain in all of CRON alone. He then challenged the four elemental lords to do battle. Much damage to the land followed, including the transformation of the mountain into the crater we know as The Dead Zone. Kalohn, armed with the orange, glowing orb emerged victorious and then banished each of the four elemental tribes to a separate corner of CRON and formed barriers to keep them imprisoned. Within each elemental zone he placed the corresponding talon of the mighty claw in the order of the elementals' appearance, water, air, fire, and earth. He kept the orb for himself.

With the elemental forces banished from direct interaction with the humanoids of CRON, civilization evolved and everyone prospered. Kalohn gained much magic power due to his battle with the elementals and his frequent use of the orb. He became King Kalohn the Conjurer and ruled wisely for thirty or more years. Peace spread throughout the land. Education began of the young and living conditions improved. Communities formed and trade developed. People were happy and content.

Then in the mid ninth century, the elementals struck back. Unable to physically enter CRON and maddened at the elementals' defeat at the hands of a single, puny human, Acwalandar studied that which defeated him, magic. He had a great aptitude for sorcery and learned quickly by studying the humanoids who ventured near his realm. He gained particular skill in forming and summoning. Using this skill, Acwalandar formed a fell creature of enormous girth and power. He filled it with life from many of his followers and endowed it with the most fearsome of weapons known to him, fire. He had created the first dragon, a creature of mindless destruction and incredible strength. This dragon was formed just outside of the water barrier and left Acwalandar with the intent to destroy Kalohn and then CRON.

King Kalohn the Conjurer sensed the dragon's creation and the threat it posed. He sought it out to vanquish it and quell the elemental lords forever. He met the dark creature in the beautiful Savannah of Plenty. Unfortunately, mighty as he was, Kalohn had only the power of the now faintly glowing orb with him and perished after a disappointingly quick battle. The dragon breathed barrels of flame and engulfed Kalohn entirely, consuming him in a bath of fiery death. Kalohn had attempted to cast a spell which would form a shield of water to protect himself, but the spell was changed as a last minute surge of power from the orb went through Kalohn's body and caused a flood to ravage the Savannah. For all the might of the dragon, he could not fly without wings and was too heavy to swim. He died a slow death, powerless against the natural habitat of his master.

Aftereffects of the battle were numerous and disastrous. The Savannah of Plenty was destroyed and became the Quagmire of Doom, an area of great evil. However, it is rumored that the orb still exists somewhere in the
Quagmire, though no one has ever found it. Dragons entered CRON through once closed corridors and wreaked havoc among the populace. Princess Lamanda, Kalohn's daughter, assumed a tentative command of the land. All of these factors led to regression and the ultimate downfall of the level of civilization which had been achieved.

Now it is the tenth century and chaos reigns. Swords and sorcery have replaced law and order as the way of life. Monsters roam the lands of CRON freely and do as they please. Isolated areas hold out against barbarism, but are doomed to fall. All that remains of CRON's glorious past are old wives' tales of mighty warriors and wizards doing battle against evil hordes and of a tragic lord, King Kalohn the Vanquished.
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Drug Abuse in Erathia

Castle
Rampart
Tower
Fortress
Inferno
Dungeon
Stronghold
Necropolis

INFERNO

(Author's Note: this information was compiled under great personal danger for the author and their source, a well known Inferno hero)

The current fate of the Inferno communities is a harsh reminder of what can happen when people alien to a certain culture (and in this case alien to a whole world) use strange and unknown drugs. Not long after the first conquest of a Tower, the white powder that Alchemists called "snow" had already conquered the Inferno community for good. However, that wouldn't have been a problem in itself; Devils with their tough nature had no problem with the stuff whatsoever, but found it a pretty pleasant kick actually, allowing them to relax a bit while losing nothing of their sharpness. The problem was the rest of the community demanded the stuff for use too. To keep most of the valuable snow for themselves the Devils would dilute the small remainder with everything that'd work, and to guarantee an effect for the greedy rest of their community they mixed the stuff under what the Alchemists called "speed": it couldn't hurt if the community worked more and harder and the speed surely would motivate them. They would hand the mix over to the Pit Lords (Efreets wouldn't touch anything at that point; they would burn anything before it could actually have an effect on them) - who'd do what the Devils already had done and so on, until the Familiars would get the pitiful remainder - more or less pure speed. This arrangement worked surprisingly well. Inferno troops were sharp on the battlefield. The speed gave the Familiars exactly that and usually the most dangerous moment in any battle would come when the Familiars - already being on speed - got expertly Hasted - a rare occasion, but sometimes it would happen. The pleasantly stoned Devils and the somehow not just as pleasantly stoned Pit Lords would have big problems to suppress the fit of laughter that would bubble up in them. In those cases when they simply couldn't suppress laughter, it was not only bad for the morale of the Familiars, as the Magogs and Demons were asking themselves whether they were missing something and why, and of course they got ever more suspicious about their stuff.

Anyway, still all was well, even though the first ill effects (especially of the speed abuse) were showing and everything might have been well for an unknown time. Then the Efreets found out about the XTC being developed especially for the hated Genies and of course they demanded their own drug, too! And now the communities had a situation. They not only had to find a drug especially for the Efreets, they had to find a way to administer it to them! To encourage everyone in their efforts to help finding a solution, the Devils decided to increase their share of the snow once again and indeed it was the Pit Lords who – under the pressure of the events - found a brilliant solution: they tried to smoke the snow and after trying out a few mixes they succeeded in finding something else. Because the effect reminded them of the sounds their whips made in battle, they named it "whiplash", but shortly after everyone only knew it as "crack". What they didn't know at that time was that they had just discovered probably the most addictive drug ever in Erathian history, and crack immediately began its triumphant march through Inferno society: the Efreets were pleased, the Devils were glad the problem had been solved and everyone else was hooked after the second smoke or so. Well. The rest of the sad story is well known: crack rules Inferno land because the lower-level creatures are so hopelessly and completely hooked they can't think about anything else anymore. The Devils who aren't affected are pretty helpless and everywhere the Inferno loses their gains in Erathia. It's only a question of time when they will be gone for good. Since Devils and Efreets are pretty tough and Cerberi have nothing to do at all with it, they may just survive, but the rest is surely doomed.

AVAILABILITY AND ADMINISTRATION

Snow is snuffed, crack is smoked.

Streets aren't safe anymore in Inferno land. There is no free trade of snow since there is a constant demand but too short a supply. Taverns are mostly empty except for some humans and the business is slow. The atmosphere is hostile and chill. Crack is smoked openly - used up stuff can't be stolen anymore. The only coin buying something of value is white and powdery. Devils avoid public appearances - people know about their subtleties concerning snow distribution.

USE IN BATTLE

Armies will fight only when they get extra snow rations or at least a believable promise of it. Battles are fought without spirit. Magogs don't care anymore about splash damage and Resurrected Demons (if the Pit Lords remember their abilities at all) will usually go back to the Tent first to get some stuff before fighting on. Only Devils, Efreets and Cerberi will still put up a good fight.

ILL EFFECTS

Smoking crack will lead to an immediate steep and euphoric high, soon followed by a steep and low depressive down. One smoke is like the story of the life of a manic-depressive in half an hour. Users naturally have the idea to get over the down by inducing another high - and that's what addiction is all about. There's rarely a way back. Sometimes the high can just be too high and down too down.

Snow is another case completely. For some reasons it is a pretty sensible issue, but let's not forget there was a rather longish period when the stuff could be used legally in every town and only Rampart and Fortress would hold back on it because of certain views about lab-produced stuff or reasons of drug use, even though it seems that Witches found other uses for it, more in the tradition of their ointments (see FORTRESS). This makes it clear that there are no obvious ill effects. Fact is, there is actually no evidence for any physical addiction, but apparently you can get pretty used to the stuff mentally - and pretty fast as well. This, however, doesn't say much more than: people like the effects and don't want to miss them. In small doses, the effects are mild euphoria, well-feeling and sometimes overconfidence. People get talkative and sociable. Reported "nervousness", "trembling", the "urge to do something" and all other reported ill effects are either the result of overdosing or of the speed or other stuff mixed under the snow. In fact it is pretty impossible to get the undiluted "real thing" because the way of the Devils is the normal way this stuff is handled, mainly because so much gold pieces can be made with it. Today there are too many misconceptions around for an unbiased discussion, mainly because the stuff is associated with the Devils, and the sorry fate of the Inferno won't change that. No matter what snow is and what not, it's safe to say that this stuff is proof for Rampart society's view of things, at least concerning drugs: don't try to make better what nature made, right?

FAMOUS AND RUMOURED VICTIMS:

All Efreets are on crack (as Genies are on XTC), but they don't suffer the ill effects usually associated with it. All Demons are at least on snow. All this has lead to some pretty weird skill combinations or effects, especially with the Heretics: you'd think they had picked skills and specials randomly out of some pool: Ash, for example, knows a bit Eagle Eye, but isn't a specialist; Xyron is supposedly a specialist for the Inferno spell, but can't even cast it; Calid can sniff out Sulphur - when she doesn't snuff in snow and so on. The humans are not affected; they are too far down the food chain to even get anything of the stuff and are content to sit in the mostly empty taverns, drink something and watch an alien community carry on with their collective suicide.

TIPS FOR THE VISITOR:

Look for another holiday resort!

DUNGEON

For millennia, the Dungeon society has used dried poppy milk, a stuff nowadays called opium, in different ways: as a healing drug used to cure different ailments, to induce sleep, to kill pain and others. Opium would perfectly satisfy the different needs of the different members of Dungeon society: Warlocks, no matter the race, would perform dangerous spell experiments unleashing lots of energy and often ending with lots of pain and a state of nervous fatigue; Overlords would suffer so massively under the constant pressure of the Nighon power-games that they often have nervous stomachs or would suffer under insomnia; Minotaurs would explode for no reason at all. They have a temper like an excited bull and just to keep them from killing and destroying just to waste some energy they would often be calmed; and of course Trogs are much more willing to serve the Dungeon masters when supplied with the right incentive.

On the other hand, the ability to suffer or stand pain is considered a virtue and a value in Dungeon. Society members will have to prove their value at every opportunity and it takes some time until they have proved themselves as tough and their virtue is accepted. Only then can they use opium in any form, should there be a need, without losing face. Of course there will often be a need for Warlocks and their dangerous and often painful experiments.

So when some decades ago the Tower's Alchemists, intrigued by the painkilling capacities of the opium, isolated the stuff responsible and came up with a few of their "medicines" based on that stuff, Warlocks were kind of interested, but things got going only when the stuff known as "Heroin" was marketed and sold, initially as a "non addictive" healing drug to cure children with illnesses involving the respiratory ducts (and this is no darn joke!), which was as legal for a time in Erathia as was snow. Not long after that, the Warlocks found a way to shoot the stuff directly into their blood circulation, and while the stuff seemed to perfectly satisfy their needs because it helped them, for instance, standing the stoning gaze of the Medusas, not to mention to suffer a lot of pain while not losing consciousness when experimenting with certain dangerous spells like the one called Implosion, they soon found out that it was also addictive like nothing else (which is one of the reasons for the last big Tower-Dungeon clash because the Warlocks took that very personal and suspected a subtle ploy). Since the Heroin never reached the masses of the Dungeon society and Warlocks aren't the way they are because they are weak-minded, most of them could eventually overcome their addiction (their suspicion against Tower Alchemists helped) and turn back to the old Dungeon ways of controlled opium use. Today Heroin is used only now and then, mostly in bad cases of spell damage.

AVAILABILITY AND ADIMINISTRATION

Taverns are used frequently and beside the usual drinks there's always a back room to retreat into and have an opium smoke for some hours of pleasant dreams (and in Dungeon it seems there may be a need for at pleasant dreams sometimes). Heroin was never used widely and is known only in Warlock circles where it is used now and then, but as a rule not habitually.

USE IN BATTLE

Of course opium is used after battle for healing purposes. Some Warlocks are known to shoot small quantities of Heroin before battle to better being able to stand the strain and the pain of extended spell casting. Wider use of opium or Heroin wouldn't be wise prior to battle, however, since it wouldn't do for the Dungeon troops to run around like Zombies on the battlefield.

ILL EFFECTS

The Dungeon society doesn't care much for addicts; addiction means weakness and weakness is bad. Addiction isn't even a public issue even though the high social pressure will produce addicts, but then for the weak there is no place there anyway. There is no one who will help addicts in any way and those who miss the last carriage back, once they are underway, they will die soon after. This means that society members will be pretty careful with any kind of drug and especially with opium because regular smoking of opium leads to sure addiction; the user loses interest in everything and just doesn't want to leave the pleasant dreams anymore. Eventually the body will suffer under the permanent abuse, too, and death will result.

Heroin induces a mildly euphoric feeling of pleasant detachedness; pain, sorrow, problems, grief, but of course the good things, too, nothing doesn't matter anymore and everything is far, far away (which may have had their own merits in a society as harsh as Dungeons and could have easily led to disaster). Regular use leads to addiction fast, physically and mentally, and once hooked the way back is as hard as it gets.

FAMOUS AND RUMOURED VICTIMS

It is known that all Minotaurs will take opium once in a while to calm down, when they are too enraged in a non-battle situation. That doesn't make them victims, however. There are rumors about Jeddite being one of the former Heroin addicts who were able to get off the hook, while Damacon was supposedly seen a few times too often in some known opium dive, but the Dungeon society is pretty secretive and keeps the lid well closed and those who start a rumor often end up dead or at least severely punished, especially when the rumor happens to be true.

TIPS FOR THE VISITOR

Don't ever go alone into the back room of an opium dive!

STRONGHOLD

There is no homogeneous Stronghold society, but rather a loose conglomerate of communities with differences depending on region and leadership. There are some things, however, that at least most of those communities seem to have in common.

It is clear that magic is a dying art in all Stronghold communities; the sentient races there are more and more suspicious of magic and its wielders. That suspicion is transferred to all drugs associated with magic or its users. Consequently the Stronghold Shamans, the so-called Battle Mages, and the Ogre Mages are the only community members making use of a certain cactus fruit growing in the rough terrain preferred by the Stronghold communities, and since those mages and shamans are decreasing in numbers, so is the relevance of that fruit and its hallucinogenic effects, which are comparable with those of the stuff Witches use.

On the other hand, the Stronghold way of life has a lot to do with reaping where others have sown and since the Barbarian communities have a certain natural cunning, it didn't take them long to realize that while they wouldn't touch most of the plundered stuff, a lot of gold pieces could be earned by selling it, especially the Tower stuff, but others too. That in turn means that the prospective customer will be able to buy nearly every Erathian drug at a Stronghold.

Some of the more clever clan-leaders have used their surplus money earned with the selling of plundered drugs to buy real estate in other town communities and company shares - and since they are practical people, most of them have tried to get a foot into the brewing business; after all, ale and beer is the stuff all sentient Stronghold community members use, even the Cyclops, and apparently they can't resist the idea of drinking themselves rich! Drinking-bouts are legendary in all Stronghold communities and they have real contests, the simplest of which is about who is going to be the last man (or woman) standing. The victor will not only have won a lot of face the next day, he or she will have the worst headache, too, which is something of a compensation. Another contest involves walking an extremely narrow catwalk over a bed of red-hot coals (after heavy drinking, of course) with falling down usually leading to a lot of guffawing - only with the bystanders, of course; the fallen will lose face, but win themselves some pretty nice burn scars. The winner will be the person who downed the most drinks without falling down. A very popular kind of contest is the following: after downing a certain number of tankards a contender will lay the left hand (for a right-hander) onto a table and spread the fingers. While the others will count down from 10 (or 20, if they want to make it more difficult) the contender will take the knife and thrust the point down into the spaces between fingers, with a referee counting the thrusts. The winner is of course the contender who manages the most thrusts. Losing a finger or two in the process is no reason for disqualification, on the contrary, even though a knife thrust is counted only when between two originally neighboring fingers (including the thumb), so there is a prerequisite for partaking here (you've got to have at least two pairs of neighboring fingers on one hand), and in fact some known and famous winners ended the contest with less fingers than they began with (which is of course even more true for losers). Sometimes especially this last contest ends with a big brawl because losers often accuse the referee of either cheating or not having counted right (which may often be indeed a not completely unfounded complaint because counting is even more difficult after a couple of tankards than usual for most community members), which may in fact be one of the reasons why this is so popular: apparently brawls are a main source of amusement in Stronghold communities.

While even the Ogres have a healthy respect for the Dwarven brew, they are always on the look for even stronger brews to shorten those rather lengthy contests. Recently some ogrish clan-leaders have invested their drug-dealing money into a new project with the aim to create a stronger and blacker brew than the Dwarven stuff, a seemingly stupid idea worthy of an Ogre. Apparently they researched the qualities of a bush growing in certain mountainous regions and especially the green beans of that bush, and it seems one of the so-called researchers actually got a result: some of the beans accidentally fell into the camp-fire and when the Ogres put it out the next morning with some cups of water the resulting smell was so interesting they had to investigate further. Anyway, meanwhile, in some Stronghold communities you can see people sitting over small cups instead of (or in addition to) the tankards containing ground roasted beans of that bush in boiling water, but, because of the bitterness, honeyed and spiced. They call it coffee and the Ogres who invested money in that business indeed found another black brew and it looks like they will earn lots of money with it because it is already very popular, and not only with Stronghold communities.

AVAILABILITY AND ADMINISTRATION

Taverns have all kinds of drinks, but mostly beer and ale. Meanwhile coffee is available too in most Stronghold communities and some others. For instance the CDD is currently checking whether to allow that stuff for use in Castle communities as well, and well-informed sources see good chances for that, while the Tower Alchemists are already busy trying to analyze this new product. So-called "duty-free shops" not more than roughly but together barracks, are selling every drug known in Erathia, sometimes for a good price.

USE IN BATTLE

Yes and yes. Drinking stuff prior to battle is pretty common and most drink beer as well as coffee.

ILL EFFECTS

For alcohol, see CASTLE (with added "collateral damage" in Stronghold - the contests are pretty hard on their victims in some cases). Not much is known about coffee yet, but it seems that the initial opinion that coffee would lessen the effects of alcohol isn't true. Instead it seems to deepen the effect, while knocking the users more awake, so it may just seem to lessen the effects. Barbarian coffee-drinking contests seem to hint at the stuff leading to addiction when the user drinks lots of it regularly: people used to drinking lots of coffee will suffer under headaches, tiredness and irritability when not getting their stuff anymore (of course all those effects are pretty normal in any Stronghold community anyway, so this isn't conclusive)

FAMOUS AND RUMOURED VICTIMS

All Battle Mages do their cactus fruits - it comes with the trade. Because of this most are a bit more careful with the alcohol (another reason their popularity is sinking), but they all seem to like coffee. All Barbarians are alcoholics - there is no way to avoid that fate in a Stronghold community. Of course they all drink lots of coffee.

It may be more interesting to look at fingers: Crag Hack is missing the ring finger of his left hand; Gurnisson just has thumb and middle finger left; Tyraxor has all fingers of his left hand, but misses the little one and the pointer on his right; apparently he is a right-hander, though. As for the Battle Mages, Gundula is missing the middle finger of the left hand. Terek has all fingers, but he is known for being an accused cheater with some magic and was forbidden to ever participate again.

TIPS FOR THE VISITOR

Never take part in any of the contests!

NECROPOLIS

Of course the undead can't use a drug in the usual sense because they aren't able to feel anything, and especially what drugs are all about: the intoxication, the ecstasy, the rush, the kick, whatever you name it, the same way they aren't affected by morale. Not even Vampires drinking the blood of a thoroughly intoxicated, say a drunk, would feel anything. That, however, doesn't mean they can't have one. In fact they must have at least one because else the taverns would be pretty useless: Skeletons, Wights, Vampires and so on sitting in a tavern drinking is a pretty silly idea. Why should they do it in the first place?

It didn't take the Necropolis leaders long to realize that their own drug would be important: the more things there are the members of a society have in common the better for the unity and the stronger the bonds and consequently the society as a whole. Sitting together at some place and at least creating the impression of having a good time together relishing the specific allowed drugs of that society seemed to be important and while this may not exactly apply to a society of undead, you never know, and in any case one thing was clear: there couldn't be a drug that would be able to hurt the undead, so what?

Over the course of the centuries, Necropolis leaders have made field tests with all known drugs and of course none had any effect on them. This wasn't good because that only led to the undead realizing their being different from all the rest even more, and in this case their leaders couldn't sell it as being better because it led to realizing they were lacking something all others had: the ability to be affected by things.

When it seemed all was lost on that front, a plant was found in an uninhabited region of Erathia. It isn't known whether it was the Lichen Necromancer Nagash or the Lichen Death Knight Moander who first found the plant, but it was a Lich, that much is clear. After some experimenting with this plant, it seemed they had indeed found something: the leaves of this plant could be dried and either smoked, snuffed, chewed or even drunk the same way like tea - even though this last way seemed rather unhealthy, at least for living beings, when an accidentally spilled cup of that stuff killed a whole colony of maggots crawling around nearby. Depending on the kind of undead, it soon became clear that chewing and smoking were the most promising and of course practical ways - even though the stuff wasn't really chewed. Instead it was kept simply in the mouth until it was used up and beings able to produce spittle would have to spit out regularly. To smoke the stuff, the dried leaves had to be cut into small pieces and then filled into a pipe. Another way was to roll the cut leaves into an uncut leaf or really fine-cut stuff into a piece of thin parchment.

The product looked promising indeed: it stinks beautifully, the remains are either (fittingly) ash or a brown sauce when the stuff is chewed which is pleasantly gross and those smoking and chewing and spitting undead look pretty cool, especially when having one of those small sticks of parchment-rolled stuff in their mouths. For no known reason the plant was called "tobacco".

However, the real kicker, the icing on the cake, was a fact the Necropolis leaders have learned not so long ago: of course the undead still wouldn't feel any effect, but what effect would the stuff have on the living except that of being deadly when used in too high quantities? Tests were made with living beings stupid enough to join the ranks of the undead for greater glory and faced with the choice of either marching into a Skeleton Transformer or trying out the new Necropolis stuff, who did, of course, the latter. The interesting result was that while all found the stuff initially distasteful and disgusting, when forced to try it again and again there would come the point when the subjects would use the stuff willingly whether they would smoke or chew it. When asked what they felt they couldn't really tell: "It tastes good." "It helps me concentrate." "It keeps me from being bored." "It keeps me from getting fat."... And so on. In fact, when the Necros withheld the stuff, subjects would ask and even beg for more if they had used it long enough. Slowly it dawned onto the Necros that they had found the holy drug grail for the undead: it not only fulfilled every prerequisite for getting drug-status, it didn't actually do anything except hooking everyone! That of course meant, you could say the effect of it was the same on living and undead (see Ill Effects). Now, if that wasn't something...

AVAILABILITY AND ADMINISTRATION

Necropolis taverns sell tobacco in every form and especially the stuff known as "coffin nails": thin sticks of fine-cut tobacco rolled in thin parchments. Those are smoked and Necro taverns are pretty filled and pretty smoky these days since everyone there indulges in it. You can get a slightly modified stuff, too, which is chewed or rather kept between teeth and lips, spitting out the resulting sauce once in a while.

USE IN BATTLE

Sure. Use of this has greatly increased effectiveness of Necro armies lately. If nothing else, it makes them look even more disgusting and uncanny.

ILL EFFECTS

None, at least with the undead. Ill effects for the living haven't been researched because this stuff is too new and just beginning to find its way into the societies of the living. The CDD is already researching and will probably allow it, reassured by the fact that it seemingly doesn't do anything in the way the other known drugs are acting - there is no kick or rush.

We were able to take a look into the secret research diaries of the Necros and of course they have investigated the stuff a lot further. It seems to be something special indeed. Usage creates something like a scratch that will produce an itching when healing, that is, when not using. You could call this withdrawal symptom. Usage means scratching the itch, but of course scratching means scratching bloody, so healing will produce another itch to be scratched, and so on. Using this stuff is like eternally scratching bloody the same small scratch all over again because the healing itches. How can this work? Pretty easily, the Necros say. The itching is felt as something unpleasant while the scratching is felt as something pleasant, even though it only momentarily restores the state a non-user will live in the whole time (but not feel like pleasant, but normal). A much better way to get the same effect would be to wait until almost starvation and then eat. In a way the users of this stuff humiliate themselves to suffer a bit most of the time to have a chance to relish the great feeling of not suffering anymore - and doing it every time they want at that.

In a way, this is so stupid that we can't believe a living being would really fall for it, even though the Necros seem to be convinced of it, and especially of the humans being indeed stupid enough. In fact they seem to be thinking that this is the perfect drug because it makes use of the imagination of living beings and the fact that there is a phenomenon they call the "relativity of feeling" (which undead don't know). This means there is no absolute well or ill feeling, only a relative one. An example for this principle would be a fat rich man feeling bad about eating simple food below his normal standards, while a poor starving guy would really feel well about it and about the full belly it gave him. Indeed the Necros seem to believe that they will be able to hook the whole of Erathia which would give them as the producers of the stuff a lot of leverage, but that seems to be just another one in a long row of many undead world conquest plans.

FAMOUS AND RUMOURED VICTIMS

All Necropolis heroes are smoking or chewing tobacco.

TIPS FOR THE VISITOR

If you decided to take a trip there, all tips are probably wasted anyway. Still, at least try another town.


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I guess for anyone who likes “Heroes of Might and Magic IV” its AI is a sore point. And I believe for many, this is the only major complaint about this game. Indeed, adventure AI in Heroes 4 is weak, to say the least. The reason is well-known, the publisher that had grave financial problems, was not able to give enough time and resourses to complete the game *.

However, with advanced map editor, community mapmakers managed to "aid" AI, to make game more challenging. Mostly it is done by supplying AI with additional resourses and creatures. Being better than nothing, it’s still very far from desirable. In this aproach, I would mark out two drawbacks. One is that AI is still very bad at making "logical" adventure map decisions. Therefore, such a game is interesting mostly because of the "fighting" part, at which AI is good. Second is that, it’s hard to forecast AI behavior with given bonuses. For example, sometimes AI could spend all given creatures on fighting neutrals, and sometimes it managed to collect them in one army and crush player's weaker forces.

Not so long ago, here, on Celestial Heavens, I've found a good article by Charles Watkins titled "Wrangling the AI" It was nice to find a deeper look into the problem and ways of solving it. There were some fine solutions, but also there were some arguable ones. Sometime later, I started doing my own observations in this area, and today I want to show one of my results.

I am not saying that it will make Heroes 4 adventure AI good or at least "acceptable", I am afraid that it is impossible without the source code. However, it will definitely make AI better. Also, I don’t want just to tell "what to do", I want to show you why it works, and actually, the way how I came across this.
This solution is about making adventure AI better at planning its actions. I believe many of Heroes4 players think that adventure AI is not able to do anything sane at all. Well, as for me, I thought so, sometime ago. I thought that adventure AI is more about random travels with hitting the best achievable target in this turn. But it’s not exactly as this, and that’s really good.

So, below, there are several so called tests, that show how AI acts on adventure map in different situations. I’ll attach all test maps to this article, so that you could test it yourselves. Some notes if you want to do it:
- Maps created in the latest version of the editor (that comes with WoW addon), and results are tested only in the latest Heroes4 version (that is accordingly WoW) and Equilibris 3.51;
- The routes that you can see on the accompanying pictures were made in the original WoW game. (in Equilibris, AI explores using a different algorithm somehow);
- use nwcprometheus cheatcode to see the whole map;
- enable "quick combat", so battles won't distract you;
- all maps were tested on "hard" difficulty, because this is the first difficulty where AI doesn't have limitations (yeah, that funny, I know);
- I’m 99% sure that these maps will work with other language versions of the editor, but I cannot guaranty that. I have the Russian version of it.
Let me know if some maps will not work, maybe I will be able to do something about it.

Ok, let’s start.

MAP0: (ai0.h4c)
Map description:
AI town is in the upper-left corner, player town is in the middle of the opposite side. AI can’t hire new creatures or heroes here. Near AI town there is a hero with a few titans. Player town has a single 1st lvl creature in the garrison.In the lower-left corner, there are some treasures, and further to the right side, there is a gold mine.

Results:
Well, here we have the usual scenario of AI actions. It’s starting to explore, ignoring the town & the gold mine.


My first thought was "this really sucks", because I was sure that AI sees the whole map. However, it does not. Let’s look at the next test.


MAP1: (ai1.h4c)
Map description:
Same as ai0.h4c with the following changes: there are imps that belong to AI, near the player's town, near the mine and near the treasures. They disappear before the first turn, but that’s enough for AI to see where the town, mine and treasures are located. In addition, we have a new hero for the player and enough money to hide it in a monastery for long, so when AI will take the player's town, it will not lose the game.

Results:
Now, that’s a lot better. AI runs directly to the town and captures it, then explores a bit and goes to capture the mine and collects the treasures.



My first thought was "that’s just awesome". However, it is not, yet. Next test shows why.


MAP2: (ai2.h4c)
Map description:
Same as ai1.h4c but the red (player's) town has a script that adds 10 angels on day 4.

Results:
Ok, same as earlier: AI starts to run directly to the red town. However, when half of the way is done, angels appear in the garrison, and AI, of course, cancels its capture plan. That’s correct. However, after that AI doesn’t return to the second obvious target - gold mine or treasures. It decides to explore the map collecting the treasures and capturing the mine only when they are near. That’s pretty weird and inefficient.



But what if we unveil the whole map for AI?


MAP3: (ai3.h4c)
Map description:
Same as ai2.h4c but imps are everywhere :). Of course, all of them will disappear before the first turn, but now AI will have the whole map explored.

Results:
AI starts to run directly to the red town again. When half of the way is done, angels appear in the garrison, and AI cancels its capture plan. But now, when it sees the whole map and doesn’t need to explore, it runs directly to other "points of interest". First, it decides to collect the treasures, and then captures the mine. Now it’s fine.



If you are still unconvinced about the need of "exploring the whole map", check the following tests.


MAP4_1: (ai4_1.h4c)
Map description:
Same as ai1.h4c but there are two red towns and two blue heroes to capture them. Imps open only the mine and both towns. Treasures are removed.

Results:
One of the AI heroes starts to run directly to the nearest town, but the other starts to explore, and captures the second town only because it’s in the way.



Also if one of the heroes has more titans then the other, then he is going to capture the nearest town, and the second hero goes exploring.


MAP4_2: (ai4_2.h4c)
Map description:
Same as ai4_1.h4c but imps open the whole map.

Results:
Both of AI heroes run directly to the towns and capture them at the same turn.






MAP5_1: (ai5_1.h4c)
Let’s see how good AI is at swimming. Well, actually we already know that it’s horrible at that, so let’s place one imp near the player’s town. That might help.

Map description:
Similar to ai1.h4c, but in order to get to the red town AI has to make complex water navigation.

Results:
Well... it didn’t do anything good. As always AI jumps out on some near shore, at the next turn jumps back aboard, then swims a little, and it all starts over.






MAP5_2: (ai5_2.h4c)
Map description:
Ok, now let’s take a similar map but with imp-scouts all over it. It’s not exactly the same map, because for me it was easier to take the map from ai3.h4c example and add water. But as a swimming test, it is as complex.

Results:
AI jumps on the ship and takes the best route to the red town and captures it. Excellent.






MAP5_3: (ai5_3.h4c)
I guess some of you thought that AI failed to take the right course on ai5_1.h4c because it didn’t see it. Let’s check this.

Map description:
Same as ai5_2.h4c, but on the most of the land imps are removed, so for AI only water is fully visible.

Results:
I’ve got a pretty strange result. AI just stuck. All it was doing was boarding on/off the ship.


MAP5_4: (ai5_4.h4c)
And the final test for today that shows that AI can see through unexplored territory if it needs to put the route.

Map description:
Same as ai1.h4c (imp shows only the red town), but no mine & treasures and the red town is surrounded by a stonewall with a little opening, so the shortest route will not work.

Results:
AI hero managed to use the best route as if it knew where the opening was.




Tests conclusion:

1) AI doesn’t see the map. Which is pretty unfair, because most of the time when the player starts playing on some map, he already knows where the towns or some mines are, while AI must explore the map every time it plays on it.
2) AI puts too much priorty into exploring. It wants to explore the map even when there are more crucial things to do.
So, it will help AI a lot if a mapmaker opens the map for every comp. player on it.

Some advices:
- Build the whole map before adding "scouts".
- Always keep a "scout-less" copy of the map.
- You can create one scout and use it as 3-4% brush on the whole map, to make things easier.
- Check how exploring works, there should be no unexplored spots.
To create a scout: Put one creature army and add this script to its "continuous" scripts section:

give to player 1
give to player 2
[..]
give to no one
this army fights Angels


Where “player 1/2/x” are computer players.
"give to no one" is important. So when you will test it, you will not get 200 fights at start :)

As you can see, H4 AI is able to do few things about move planning on the adventure map, after all. It just needs a little help with that.

I hope somebody will find this useful. Even if you are not a mapmaker, you still can use this to improve other, older maps, like I do. Really, this and few other improvements (which you can find below) can make H4 AI play differently.

Some more advices... while doing maps remember that:
- AI can't:
Solve quests
Use market
Use shops & potions

And in the end, here are some well-known advices on other AI weaknesses, keep in mind them as well.
- No building plan.
Solutuion: Forbid to build buildings that you wouldn't build yourself on this map.

- Ignoring the rest of movepoints after picking up an artifact or treasures (not always).
Solutuion: Do not place much of that on the part of the map where AI starts, better give the same amount via scripts.

- Bad hero skill selection.
Solutuion: Give skills that you would take to AI heroes via scripts. (ex: "Combat" is obligatory for everyone)

- Bad allocation of heroes to armies. For example, AI may have an army with 3 heroes in it, and not a single one of them will have "Tactics".
Solution: Give several "Tactics" skills to every AI hero. And if this is a magic-type hero, add few to its primary magic skill. Of course, some heroes will lose one skill cell, but at least all armies that have heroes will take advantage of "Tactics", which is more important.

- Bad armies allocation. The worst situation is army without heroes. It cannot capture, it does not have hero's advantages, heroes don’t get XP.
Solution: There is no simple solution to this problem. But there is a complex one. I have some good results in this area, and most likely will share it in the second part of "Improving HoMM4 AI" sometime in the future.

Archive with test maps can be taken here.


_____________

* http://imdb.com/title/tt0312759/trivia

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Celestial Heavens Patches Page

Here we have assembled a collection of patches for your HoMM and Might & Magic games.

Heroes of Might & Magic: Some games need more patching than others; this was especially true with Heroes IV and V. Still, we have put the older patches up for you for download. The Ubisoft-produced games have large patches and the pages below give you directions to them.

  • Dark Messiah of Might & Magic - there are two patches for Dark Messiah; 1.1 and 1.2. Both are available in either international/US or German versions.

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Website content – M&M Chronicles Celebrating 25 years of Might & Magic

Part 1: The Sheltem Saga

The Might & Magic saga started in 1986 with the release of Might & Magic Book 1: Secret of the Inner Sanctum on Apple II (and later other computers). Created almost single-handedly by Jon Van Caneghem, Might & Magic was a first-person RPG in the tradition of classics like Wizardry or The Bard’s Tale - but instead of confining the player to some obscure maze of caves and dungeons, Might & Magic featured a vast open world, with forests and mountains and castles and cities, a land of mysteries and wonders – and a great sense of humor, too. It also introduced many legendary characters such as Lord Kilburn and Crag Hack, who would later enjoy recurring appearances in one form or another throughout the next installments of the series.

Some images from the DOS version of the original Might & Magic. Those graphics were state-of-the-art at the time.

This first quest took place in the land of Varn, pitting the players against an impostor masquerading as the good King Alamar. This usurper turned out to be Sheltem, an intergalactic Guardian gone mad and rampaging throughout the cosmos. The old Might & Magic universe was not your classic fantasy setting: it possessed a sci-fi background prefiguring the Stargate movie and TV series. The storyline of the early games revolved around an advanced race of precursors, the Ancients, who had built arteficial fantasy worlds linked together by an intricate web of galactic portals.

Might & Magic was the first game released by Jan Von Caneghem’s company, New World Computing. NWC would continue to produce Might & Magic games until 2003.

Might & Magic II – Gates to Another World (DOS version).

Might & Magic Book II – Gates to Another World followed, improving the graphics and transporting the players to a new world: Cron. Then, three years later, in 1991, came Might & Magic III – Isles of Terra, which was the series' breakthrough entry. A new and colorful world, greater accessibility thanks to a brand new, simpler interface (entirely controlled with the mouse), not to mention tons of quests and monsters: Isles of Terra is considered a timeless classic of the RPG genre. The Might & Magic series introduced numerous concepts that were considered revolutionary at the time, such as the automap feature and a generator of items using prefixes and suffixes (“Power Broadsword of Incinerating”, anyone?).

Might & Magic III – Isles of Terra (DOS version).

Might & Magic IV and V followed in 1993 and 1994, building on the strong foundations established by the third episode. These two full-fledged games heralded a new concept: one took place on the Clouds of Xeen, the other on the Darkside of Xeen. If both games were installed, they would combine to create the World of Xeen, one single, giant playground with extra quests and dungeons.

Some cool enemies from Might & Magic IV – Clouds of Xeen.

The World of Xeen arc also concluded the storyline initiated in the very first episode: Sheltem was finally defeated for good by his archenemy, Corak, during a climatic battle. Interesting piece of trivia: Might & Magic V introduced the Necropolis (including the first incarnation of the Great Lich, Sandro). Necropolis would become a popular faction in the subsequent Heroes games and is still alive (well, undead) and kicking in Might & Magic: Heroes VI.

The sci-fi component of the old Might & Magic games is very visible in Might & Magic V – Darkside of Xeen. On the right, Sheltem, the series’ first great villain, is pictured, about to make his last stand.

Some notes about the console versions:

The first three episodes of Might & Magic also received several interesting ports on various consoles. The first game was released on the NES and the PC-Engine (a.k.a. TurboGrafx-16 in North America). This PC-Engine version featured new character designs by manga legend Yoshikazu Yasuhiko (Gundam), with a soundtrack by Joe Hisaishi (best known for his work for movie-makers Takeshi Kitano and Hayao Miyazaki). Unfortunately, this version was never released outside Japan.

Left image: the NES version of Might & Magic. Middle image: the PC-Engine version (beautiful but sadly only available in Japanese). Right image: the cover art of the PC-Engine version, drawn by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko.

Might & Magic II was released on Mega Drive (Genesis) and Super Nintendo.

Left pictures: the Mega Drive version of Might & Magic II. The barbarian hero Crag Hack appears on the back cover of this version. Right picture: Might & Magic II on the Super Nintendo.

And finally Might & Magic III also had a few ports, on Super Nintendo and again on PC-Engine, this time featuring work from Akihiro Yamada, a famous illustrator sometimes referred to as “the Japanese master of fantasy”.

Some pictures from the PC-Engine version of Might & Magic III, including the cover art for the game, drawn by Akihiro Yamada.


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Website content – M&M Chronicles Celebrating 25 years of Might & Magic

Part 2: The Heroes Saga

After Might & Magic V, Jon Van Caneghem imagined a spin-off game to the main Might & Magic RPG series. This new title would mix together turn-based strategy, city building and role-playing elements to create a unique and addictive formula: in 1995, Heroes of Might & Magic – A Strategic Quest was born. As the name implies, the characters of this game were taken straight from the various Might & Magic RPGs, pulled together in a new world: Enroth. Four lords warred to rule this land; their respective factions were the ancestors of the Haven, Stronghold, Sylvan and Dungeon factions we know today. Heroes also marked the arrival to the series of composers Rob King and Paul Anthony Romero, who were instrumental (excuse the pun) in creating the unique atmosphere of the game. Rob and Paul will be back to score Heroes VI.

Image description: Heroes of Might & Magic – A Strategic Quest Heroes of Might & Magic II – The Succession Wars followed the next year and was primarily a refinement of the original game, thrusting two more factions into the fray: the Wizards and Necromancers. Set 25 years after the victory of Lord Ironfist in the first Heroes, the game told the story of his two sons, the good Roland and the... not-so-good Archibald, fighting for the crown.

Image description: Heroes of Might & Magic II. Notice how the interface changes slightly if you choose the side of good (left) or evil (right).

The sci-fi elements present in the RPG episodes were completely left out of the Heroes games, but they returned with a vengeance in Might & Magic VI – The Mandate of Heaven, wherein the kingdom of Enroth was invaded by the Kreegan devils – in actuality a race of star-faring aliens, and the old nemeses of the Ancients. While featuring familiar mechanics, Might & Magic VI marked a huge overhaul of the classic Might & Magic formula: the world was now rendered in 3D and the game introduced a real-time mode (but it was still possible to switch to turn-based combat at any moment).

Image description: Might & Magic VI featured a cover art drawn by fantasy legend Larry Elmore.

The chaotic Kreegans would return in 1999 in the legendary Heroes of Might & Magic III – The Restoration of Erathia, in the form of the new Inferno faction. Old factions were revamped and new ones emerged, including the lizardmen of the Fortress and the Conflux of elementals (in the Armageddon’s Blade add-on). Still to this day Heroes III is considered one of the best games of all time.

Image description: Heroes of Might & Magic III – The Restoration of Erathia.

Might & Magic VII – For Blood and Honor and Might & Magic VIII – Day of the Destroyer were released shortly thereafter, as were new add-ons for Heroes III. The Shadow of Death cast Sandro into the spotlight and firmly elevated the scheming Lich to the status of fan-favorite, while the Heroes Chronicles represented an experiment in “episodic” gaming featuring Tarnum, the Immortal Hero, in his quest for redemption across the ages.

In the meantime, New World Computing had been bought by 3DO. 3DO would release new Might & Magic spin-offs such as Crusaders of Might & Magic, Warriors of Might & Magic, Legends of Might & Magic... though none of these games would achieve the critical acclaim and success of the two main series.

Image description: Might & Magic VII and VIII used the same 3D engines as Might & Magic VI: Horizon for outdoors and Labyrinth for indoors. On the right, you can see Larry Elmore’s art for Might & Magic VIII, where you could play as a Minotaur, Troll or even a Dragon!

The beginning of the 21st century proved to be a hard time for both 3DO and New World Computing. Released in 2002 and introducing a new world, Axeoth, Heroes of Might & Magic IV took a new direction, more centered on the heroes themselves, and as a result divided the fanbase. The controversy created by this game still rages on at the community boards – you either love it or hate it. The disappointing Might & Magic IX was the final entry in the series developed by NWC before 3DO collapsed, putting an end to both companies.

Image description: Heroes of Might & Magic IV introduces a new world: Axeoth.


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Website content – M&M Chronicles Celebrating 25 years of Might & Magic

Part 3: The Ubisoft Era

Ubisoft was no stranger to Might & Magic. For years, the French company had been publishing the Might & Magic and Heroes games in Europe. Knowing how strong this brand was, Ubisoft chose to buy the rights to Might & Magic from the now-closed 3DO. A new Might & Magic team was assembled. Jon Van Caneghem was approached to join the team, but he declined to pursue other projects.

One of the hard decisions Ubisoft had to take was putting aside the old universe for a new setting: the world of Ashan, where the forces of Order and Chaos wage an endless battle through their respective Dragon-Gods. Ashan was the brainchild of novelist Richard Dansky and producer Erwan Le Breton. Like its predecessors Varn, Terra and Enroth, Ashan offered its own background and flavor while staying true to the pillars of what made Might & Magic unique and compelling: its factions, rich bestiary, epic storylines and enchanted atmosphere.

The first game to be released by Ubisoft was Heroes of Might & Magic V in 2006, 20 years after the release of the original Might & Magic. Developed by a Russian team - Nival Entertainment - Heroes V ushered in a return to the classic gameplay of Heroes III, with such new ideas as faction abilities, a new skill system and several new creatures. Six factions competed for dominance this time: Haven, Dungeon, Necropolis, Inferno, Academy and Sylvan. However, the biggest change was the passage to 3D graphics.

Heroes V became the highest-selling Might & Magic title of all time, and would receive two add-ons: Hammers of Fate introduced the Dwarves of the Fortress faction, while Tribes of the East featured the return of the Orcs of the Stronghold.

2006 saw the release of a new first-person game, Might & Magic: Dark Messiah. Taking place two decades after the events of Heroes V, Dark Messiah takes the player to the Free City of Stonehelm where sinister plots are being hatched. Created by the French team Arkane Studios (the company behind the critically-acclaimed Arx Fatalis) and using Valve's groundbreaking Source engine, Dark Messiah offered a unique mix of RPG and action. The player could complete the game as a wizard, warrior or assassin – or create their own way to play. The game also featured dynamic swordfights, a multiplayer mode and a powerful soundtrack composed by Cris Velasco and Sascha Dikiciyan.

Ubisoft returned to the world of Ashan in 2009 with two very different titles.

Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes, developed by talented Canadian team Capybara Games, proposes a unique brand of puzzle-game, RPG and strategy. The game was released on DS to worldwide critical acclaim, and will return in 2011 as Clash of Heroes HD on XBLA and PSN.

Might & Magic: Heroes Kingdoms, imagined by Heroes V producer Fabrice Cambounet, is a massively-multiplayer online strategy game, entirely browser-based. Heroes Kingdoms is now available all over the world.

2011 will mark the 25th anniversary of one of the most beloved and enduring series of fantasy role-playing, adventure and strategy with the release of Might & Magic: Heroes VI


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Website content – M&M Chronicles Celebrating 25 years of Might & Magic

Worlds of Might and Magic - part I

VARN-4

Since we are undertaking a journey through the mysterious worlds of Might & Magic, it seems only natural to start our adventure by visiting the world of Varn, the very place where, 25 years ago, a valiant group of adventurers foiled the insane plans of the intergalactic criminal Sheltem, who had stolen the identity of the good king Alamar. The land is now peaceful again, cruising through the Void toward whatever goal the Ancients had in store for it.

Our journey on Varn begins in the legendary city of Sorpigal, in the region known as Pleasant Valley. We won't spend too much time admiring the statues depicting the travels of the legendary scholar Corak. Our itinerary takes us south, to Portsmith, the city once haunted by a devious Succubus. On our way there, we're stopping at Castle White Wolf, the fief of the powerful Lord Ironfist, cold and merciless as his name implies. It is rumoured Ironfist's father stole the crown by murdering his own brother, and that the true heir escaped to distant lands with a retinue of loyal knights. But better not speak of that within earshot of Castle White Wolf's suzerain.

In Portsmith, we take the ship to Algary, the swamp city, avoiding the tragic fate of the Jolly Raven, sunken in these waters a long time ago. From Algary we'll be travelling north to pay our respects to King Alamar, now old and doddery. His daughter Penelope will inherit the throne sooner than she expects, and it is said that evil forces are conspiring against her from their lair in the ruins of Castle Dragadune, in the Hollow Hills of the Invading Desert. We'll avoid that dreadful place while we cross the arid sands and stick to the path indicated on Lord Kilburn's maps. This should lead us to the twin fortresses of Blackridge, guarding the Ancient Way to the white glaciers of Varn.

There is so much left to see, from the fabled Castle Doom to the Swamp of the Dead, but it is already time for us to enter the Gates to Another World ...

TERRA

Whereas Varn was an artificial nacelle created by the Ancients, Terra is a natural world seeded by the mysterious worldcrafters, once paralysed under the iron rule of the diabolical Sheltem. Our exploration of the Isles of Terra begins in the aptly-named town of Fountain Head, decorated by beautiful founts of blue marble, each engraved with an enigmatic feminine visage. Fortunately, the curse upon this town has long since been lifted. From here we travel eastward to Cripple Creek, avoiding the marauding Orcs and Goblins roaming the roads. Cherishing the dangers of this land, we take a keelboat to cross Piranha Bay (where the term "fishfingers" assumes a whole new meaning) to the lovely town of Baywatch.

Avoiding the Warlock Hills, we continue our journey south to Mount Keystone and the surrounding sands, where we discuss philosophy with the wandering desert Dwarves. They tell us of the newfound balance between the force of Good, Neutrality and Evil, following the defeat and escape of Sheltem. In addition, they claim that three lights spilled upward from the depths of the ocean that night and disappeared into the starry sky, hinting that the battle against the mad Guardian would be continued somewhere else in the Spinward Rim.

In Wildabar – once aswarm with Ninjas - a ship will take us to the Isles of Illusion, where the feuding ghosts of the wizards Greywind and Blackwind are locked in eternal battle. From there we'll continue west, then north, navigating the dangerous waters separating the fiery peaks of the Blistering Heights and the swampy Evermoors. We anchor at Castle Dragontooth, in the Frozen Isles, where an old bard sings the legend of Foerdhal the Mad and his senseless quest for the power of the Ancients.

The ultimate goal of our journey is to plunge deep below the waves to the sunken voidship Shikbath Zera, utilised by the Ancients to oversee this world long before the isles of Terra descended from the sky. The ship lies lifeless on the ocean floor, but one shuttle is still active, ready to take us to our next destination – the newly-created planet of Xeen.

XEEN

As the magnificent world of Xeen detaches itself from the sea of stars and emerges in all its glory, it feels hard to believe this round planet was once a flat, two-sided world - another testament to the genius of the Ancients, capable of creating a whole new planet through the technology of Elemental Manipulation.

Once, Xeen's topology lay divided between the Cloudside and the Darkside. Much of the original geography still exists: we land in Newcastle, where the legendary sword that slew Lord Xeen was once forged. From here, we follow the road to Rivercity, where the ruins of Darzog's Tower can still be seen on the horizon. We continue west to Winterkill, a deathly settlement that loomed dangerously upon the edge of the world and now borders the (arguably equally dangerous) Aging Forest. In our eagerness to explore the former Cloudside, we follow the Barbaric Mountain Range to the city of Asp, which guards the entrance to the Desert of the Sphinx. We persevere north and enter another hemisphere, now crossing into what was formerly known as the Darkside.

Advancing through the frozen Quivering Forest, we reach the Parabolic Barrier. Renting two Griffins from a local herder, we fly above the mountains to the Pyramid of the Dragon Pharaoh, the old and wise Guardian of Xeen. From here, the horizons through the desert give way to Necropolis, the city of the dead. Our next goal leads us to visit the ruins of Castle Alamar, where Sheltem fought his last battle against the forces of Good. But this part of our journey proves much too perilous: the terrifying hydra-like Gamma Gazers guard the lava lakes, and we decide to back off to the Gemstone Range.

Our old friend the barbarian Yog then accompanies us to Castleview on the back of his trained armadillo. There, Queen Kalindra's advisor Ellinger takes us to the Sixth Mirror, the Portal that will bring us to our next destination ...


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Like Tears in Rain: The Untold Chapters of Might and Magic

Foreword


Rare indeed is the franchise which runs for 25 years without amassing a few lost tales or unproduced instalments along the way. By no means can Might and Magic boast as such; the series has undoubtedly seen a very fair share of forgotten, unannounced, heavily-altered or incomplete games and products.

To take stock on the 25th anniversary and summarise the lost possibilities spanning the series, here are some insights into the concepts you never got to experience, new and old alike: the untold chapters of Might and Magic.

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Might and Magic Online (ca. 1995-1998)

Jon Van Caneghem was ahead of his time. With Might and Magic V: Darkside of Xeen released in 1993, he came to the (accurate) conclusion that online gaming was the way forward for RPGs; whether ignoble or otherwise, he sought to capitalise on this emerging medium and extend Might and Magic into the multiplayer spectrum. Might and Magic Online formed the centrepiece of his vision.

In need of finances to back up his next-generation project, Van Caneghem chose to sell New World Computing and its publishing rights to The 3DO Company, headed by EA Games' founder Trip Hawkins. Meridian 59 – the first commercial 3D MMORPG in existence – was a 3DO publication, and the Might and Magic creator made efforts to spearhead the new incarnation of his series between 1996 and 1998. Working with Meridian's developers, Archetype Interactive, he initiated design work alongside some of the first seminal names in the MMO field: the resumes of Damion Schubert, Mike Kennedy and Rob Ellis II each indicate their involvement.

Unfortunately, the game never reached fruition, being cancelled before 1998 to make way for the revival of the core RPG series. In an April 2004 interview with Computer Gaming World, Van Caneghem made a direct reference to its existence, and cited some of the reasons for its failure to materialise:

"Well, there were a few. I believed that MM RPGs and Heroes games could have gone on for a very long time if we had created something new and innovative every 2 to 3 years. But the need for "sales growth," mandated by 3DO, required us to make a new MM RPG and a new Heroes product every year – some in 10 months or less!

Second, one of the main reasons I was excited to go with 3DO was the ability to create Might and Magic Online. 3DO had the entire infrastructure from their game Meridian 59. With all the ideas I had (most of which have still not appeared in current games), we could have created something really awesome. The future for me in 1996 was definitely online games. Alas, the decision was that for the same budget as MMO, 3DO could make three PS2 games."

Though the MMORPG based on Van Caneghem's series didn't find its way to store shelves – and still hasn't, despite evidence of a second attempt under Ubisoft - Meridian 59 spawned a lengthy legacy, and even made its mark in Might and Magic VII: Brian "Psychochild" Green, one of Archetype/Near Death Studios' developers, revealed to Castle Gobs that some of the cavernous dungeon layouts in the game are taken from Meridian's maps.

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Might and Magic: The Worldcrafter (1995-1997)

Might and Magic Online marked the beginning of a trend which quickly extended beyond the field of videogames, when the franchise started to broaden. As covered by Marzhin in 2006, New World Computing recruited Geary Gravel, a Phillip K. Dick award-nominated science-fiction and fantasy author, to extend the backstory of the series on paper: in 1995, spurred on by Bill Fawcett (one of the creators of the Swords of Xeen fan-mod), Might and Magic: The Dreamwright was published by Del Rey Books, and the inside jacket promised two sequels to follow. Whereas the first continuation, Might and Magic: The Shadowsmith, followed in 1996, the third and final chapter – subtitled The Worldcrafter – was nowhere to be seen.

Faithful as they were to the backstory established in Might and Magic's first five titles, it seemed clear that the novels were building up to a much-coveted revelation: the first appearance of the Ancients (the Worldcrafters in question). There are subtle indications in both stories of the Ancients' continued activity, and one character – a mysterious "aged individual" who passes remarks on the Wire (an arcane network of energy first mentioned in Might and Magic V) and provides protagonist Hitch with technologically-advanced gifts, even commenting on a "carefully-managed breeding program" – epitomised their impending inclusion.

The novels were, however, created to serve a purpose beyond extending the fiction of the series: Gravel was assured that their events would serve as a frame to the story of Might and Magic VI, then undergoing preliminary design work. With minimal information to work with, Gravel developed the setting by himself, assured that New World Computing would build their game around them and not vice-versa. Time passed, and when 1998's Might and Magic VI: The Mandate of Heaven finally went gold, it appeared to contain no terms, characters or locations from Gravel's stories. Instead, it had been written as a follow-up to Heroes of Might and Magic II: The Succession Wars, continuing the story of the Ironfists and the kingdom of Enroth.

Now dubious as to the purpose of the exercise, Gravel declined when asked to write a third, unrelated novel to fulfill the deal; he had grown fond of the world he had developed, and had already written several chapters for The Worldcrafter (which still exist, somewhere, in hard-copy form). Disappointed at being unable to conclude the story arc, he was released from the contract with the help of his agent, declining to "switch gears and tackle a whole new universe". Between 2006 and 2009, we contacted Geary Gravel, who kindly agreed to share some of the details he could recall regarding the plot of the final instalment.

He had "planned to detail Hitch and Diligence's long journey back home from the rescue of Pomponderant they had embarked on at the end of Book Two – and incidentally reveal how the ancients had first come to this world, [and] explain the role of the yeofolk and the underground ruins". Another interesting detail from the unfinished conclusion sheds new light on the stories: "The first chapter opens with Diligence finding herself somewhere unfamiliar without Hitch. She starts exploring and encounters strange creatures, including some raucous giant birds and a talking metal mask that she finds in a field." Considering Melian, a similar talking metal mask who appears in Might and Magic VI, perhaps New World Computing did not entirely deign to abandon the universe established in the books?

Further solid connections can be made: the character of Pomponderant has a cameo role in Swords of Xeen, and two locations which debuted in the stories – the jungle of Aldamar/Auldemar, and the quirky isolationist nation named The Wheel – reappeared much later in Heroes of Might and Magic IV, retroactively suggesting that the stories took place on Axeoth, perhaps in the distant future. Additionally, characters from Gravel's War of the Fading Worlds series make a minor appearance in The Shadowsmith, on page 139.

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Heroes of Might and Magic III: Armageddon's Blade – The Forge (1999)

The next discarded concept in the series came in mid-1999, with the advent of the first expansion pack to the extremely-successful Heroes of Might and Magic III. Gregory Fulton, a new designer who had written Heroes III's developer diaries and provided essential contributions to the storylines of Heroes III, Might and Magic VI and Might and Magic VII, collaborated with Jon Van Caneghem to plan the newest faction in the Heroes lineup. They decided to pick up where Might and Magic VII's Evil ending left off: the dark adventurers of Terra and the Lords of Harmondale revive the Heavenly Forge, an Ancient facility capable of creating advanced, futuristic weaponry.

The Forge town was the result, showcasing a true conflagration of Antagarich's fantastical races and the Ancients' magnificent instrumentation. Goblins received blasters, Zombies were armed with buzz saws for arms, Ogres were equipped with rocket launchers, Minotaurs were bestowed with jetpacks, and Nagas became fused with caterpillar tanks. Flamethrower-wielding pyromaniacs and the mechanised Dreadnoughts rounded off the lineup. Dieselpunk was to take Antagarich by storm as Erathia's medieval military locked arms with the grotesque Deyjan armies.

Instead of attempting to prevent its construction (as in the finished product), Catherine, Roland and Gelu were to seek out Armageddon's Blade of their own will – ultimately using the superweapon to wipe the Forges from the face of the continent. Oil Pumps, mechanical generators, a runway, the Tesla Coil grail structure and facilities radiant with artificial light adorned the town screen's bleak, overcast sky. The Cyborg (might) and Technician (magic) heroes would command these evil-aligned armies. Though highly overpowered – the strongest in the game, supposedly – the Forge units were to be campaign-only inclusions, slow to generate in towns, and costly to recruit. Even some non-7th tier creatures were to cost precious resources.

When the Forge was showcased at E3 in May 1999, New World Computing met an unexpected backlash: the Astral Wizard fansite proposed a boycott of the expansion, with roughly a hundred fan e-mails requesting the town's removal. Upon the leak of one Naga Tank sketch by NWC artist George Almond which displayed partial nudity, some became worried that the Forge would prove distasteful. Greg Fulton received a death threat from one indignant individual. Later, when management made light of it, he was so incensed that he quit his job.

In interviews prior to his resignation, with the fan community and GameSpot's Andrew Park and Micheal Mullen, Fulton confirmed that the Forge had been removed from the game and replaced with the Conflux (an elemental town originally intended for the second expansion) but pushed forward due to the controversy. The storyline had been altered accordingly to include the Kreegans as the new main anatagonists and the Light ending to Might and Magic VII was instead implied as canonical.

Despite disappointment in the lack of community trust, he felt there was not enough pro-Forge activity to justify its inclusion, and that it was unwise to fight the (albeit small) percentage of vocal fans who opposed it. To those who protested against the Conflux, he replied that "you'll get the elemental town, and you'll like it", whereas to Adrenaline Vault, he commented:

"The Forge introduced sci-fi elements into the Heroes universe for the first time, but sci-fi has been a part of the Might and Magic series since the original in 1986. Some of our fans were unaware of the history of sci-fi in the Might and Magic series and were very vocal in their opposition to this new inclusion. There's a 13-year history of listening to the fans at New World Computing, so we decided to move in another direction. I still feel the concept of sci-fi would work in the game. We just need to make sure we don't shock our fans with it."

For several years, the Forge endured as a taboo subject, hotly debated when mentioned: to many fans of the RPGs, it continued an established Might and Magic tradition going back to 1986, whereas to Heroes players it appeared to introduce out-of-place science-fiction into what seemed – to them – to be a purely magical, fantastical universe. Whatever the case, the Forge town – in its justified, yet extreme, attempt to improve continuity – arguably achieved the exact opposite, diluting the storylines of Enroth and Axeoth.

Forge-related developments do continue, though: in 2009, a forum member named benhur appeared at Heroes Community and posted, for the first time ever, a full .RAR file containing the original animated graphic files from the Forge's town screen as it appeared at the town's original announcement at E3, apparently created by New World Computing's Phelan Sykes some ten years earlier.

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Rogues of Might and Magic (ca. 1999-2000)

The Forge was just the first among several unrealised concepts at the turn of the millennium. Following the completion of 3DO's Requiem: Avenging Angel in 1999, the development team was instructed to put their first-person shooter engine to good use on another project – the PC adaption of the ill-fated Crusaders of Might and Magic, a third-person action adventure set on a new, unheard-of world – Ardon – in our beloved fictional universe.

At that point, the original PlayStation concept had already been under production for a couple of years, with a design document and plenty of art finalised; unable to make use of these assets due to engine incompatibilities, the under-staffed Requiem team was, alas, left with only seven months to cobble together a working product. The result was only loosely based on its counterpart, and its release was forced to coincide with the gold master of the PlayStation version in Christmas of 1999. Despite heavy promotion, neither release was particularly well-received and both sold terribly, but these problems didn't dissuade 3DO from investing in the creation of a sequel.

Reasoning that "a new name and a new character" might redeem this false start to their action-adventure spinoff subseries, 3DO's marketing team ordered alterations to be made to Crusaders of Might and Magic 2. It emerged under the title of Warriors of Might and Magic one year onward, in December of 2000. The former lead character of Drake – voiced by Kevin Conroy of Batman fame – was abandoned without any in-game explanation, along with all loose plot threads concerning his fate, to make way for new protagonist Alleron. Lead designer Eric Robson – interested in the back story of the Ancients and the Kreegans – made a valiant attempt to recover continuity with the Might and Magic brand by selecting enemy types and spells from Heroes III. However, with the Requiem team situated in San Francisco, their communication with the creators of the franchise – New World Computing, in Los Angeles – was limited.

Again, Warriors was released on three platforms to abysmal sales and reception, and, again, 3DO inexplicably green-lighted a sequel with further drastic alterations: the concept which began as Warriors 2 was renamed to Shifters, finally omitting the brand name in response to poor sales from the flagship Might and Magic titles developed at New World.

Lead character Alleron was retained from the previous instalment, but at this point the Requiem team felt less concerned with maintaining connectivity to the MM series, introducing steampunk elements alien to the established lore. Much like New World, they contended that 3DO's executives were doing irreparable damage to the franchise with harsh development deadlines, an unending stream of Army Men games, and little concern for product quality. The title of another MM-related spinoff – Dragon Wars of Might and Magic – was also truncated to Dragon Rage in a similar strategy.

In 2000, between the releases of the aforementioned games, Robson and Owen Lockett pitched a far more-inspired game design to 3DO, heavily influenced by the Thief series of stealth games created by Looking Glass Studios. Envisioning an open-world, dense urban setting filled with active characters, they developed a short prototype where every building in the city had a unique interior, with every NPC acting on individual schedules (unremarkable accomplishments today, but considered revolutionary in 2000). Despite a comprehensive game design, their concept was rejected by 3DO because the publisher's officials didn't think the Thief series had made enough money. The only indication of its existence lies in the Warriors game itself, in the form of a piquant Easter-egg: a gravestone marked "Rogues of Might & Magic".

Another poignant quiet goodbye from the former Requiem team, this time specifically to the character of Drake, was also included in Warriors – the player can encounter his corpse while exploring the Catacombs of Ardon. Amusingly, some members from the Looking Glass teams who had worked on Thief eventually joined Arkane Studios, the developers of 2006's Dark Messiah of Might and Magic, which is believed by some to be a spiritual successor to Crusaders – for better or worse.

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Might and Magic: The Sea of Mist – background and plans (2000-2001)

Amidst this growing mound of spinoffs commissioned directly by 3DO, another literary enterprise reared its head. Hearkening back to the botched attempts at creating novels whose plots intertwined with the games, New World Computing and HarperCollins editor Josh Behar began dialogue with prolific author Mel Odom to bring to fruition the third novel in the Might and Magic series: The Sea of Mist.

The book began life as a tie-in to Might and Magic IX, while the project was undergoing brainstorming at New World. Basing his narrative upon the original MM9 plot as envisioned by MM9's then-lead designer Tom Ono – centred on Axeoth's continent of Tamarck – Odom added his own touches to the original document given to him, renaming proposed hero Pazel to "Praz-El", adding the towers of Soronne and taking further liberties. Cover artwork was provided by accomplished digital illustrator J.P. Targete.

When Tim Lang replaced Tom Ono as MM9's lead designer, he abandoned Ono's concept and crafted the setting of Rysh and Chedian for the game. Giving Odom free reign with his writing, Lang severed most of the ties common between his design document and Odom's novel, Tamarck and the events that took place there: he believed constraints created by the events of The Sea of Mist did not afford the player a real chance to create their own stories. In the final novel there is just one remaining passing reference to Might and Magic IX, probably retained as a "development relic" by accident: the city of Heronport, mentioned in MM9's item descriptions, is also briefly alluded to in the book.

The story line ends on a frustrating cliffhanger, with Praz-El embarking on a pilgrimage to the keep of Murlank to be educated in the dark arts, and lead villain Sendark privately revelling in his accomplishments, having never even physically encountered our hero throughout the course of the text. Recently, I learned why: The Sea of Mist was intended to serve as the first chapter in a series, with at least three books, or more, planned. This franchise never materialised; we can only speculate as to why not.

As eloquently summed up in Marzhin's review, the finished plot was not applauded by fans, eschewing the compelling charm and wonder of Geary Gravel's earlier works in favour of a more generically visceral tone, with few ties to the core games' overarching plot and spirit. The Ancients and the Kreegans went unmentioned, with allusions to a conflict between "the Gods and the Dragons" instead dominating the narrative. Furthermore, the few returning characters – Nymus, Alagar, Clancy and Xarfax of Heroes III, along with Daria and Necros from the Ardon instalments – received little more than brief cameos, and without the enthusiasm of its target audience in tow, one can only conclude that The Sea of Mist's sales were probably less than stellar.

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Legends of Might and Magic – the original concepts (2000-2001)

Meanwhile, suffering from severe financial problems (despite the enormous commercial success of Heroes of Might and Magic III), 3DO commanded New World Computing to develop Legends of Might and Magic – a second sister franchise to complement Heroes and the original Might and Magic RPGs.

Assigning programmers originally intended to work on Heroes IV to the new flagship title, New World drew up an extensive, very ambitious and – as one former employee described it – "frankly, cool-sounding" concept for a pioneering first-person adventure, described as a cross between Neverwinter Nights and MM9, featuring co-operative single player and a random adventure generator. A complex time-travelling story line spanning the series' worlds had been planned out between Jon Van Caneghem and designer Christian Vanover, situated on Aalondor, an as-yet-unexplored continent on the planet of Axeoth:

"The Gate of Anduran is an incredible machine that can allow travel between the worlds of the Might and Magic universe. Unfortunately, an evil, power-hungry madman has come upon the secret of using it to transcend both space and time. His plan is to travel back in time and to alter the course of history, an act that could very conceivably result in the destruction of the world. The world is clearly in dire need of someone to thwart his malevolent scheme."

"With King Rydric fighting a war in a far off land, Rydric's advisor and friend since childhood, Zephram Dagrath, attempts to reassemble an ancient and powerful machine that will allow him to travel back to a pivotal moment in time – a moment where he could have done one thing differently to put himself on the throne instead of his friend. After a visit from a strange shaman who claims that the advisor's actions will set in motion a series of events that will destroy the world, the King's son, Prince Golwyn, and his five companions, the six playable characters in Legends, must start a quest of their own – to stop Zephram from using the machine before all is lost."

Some two years of work were invested in the original concept and storyline, with sketches, screenshots, prototype builds and even an impressive, emotive cinematic trailer created and publicised at E3 2000. Even so, the team assigned to the game quickly reached the conclusion that they had over-designed the project, planning far beyond the resources available to them: butting heads with the extreme limitations of the LithTech engine they had chosen, and unable to make serious alterations so far behind schedule, they elected to abandon their bold design document, instead using the assets they had to redefine Legends into a simple death match game, comparable to "fantasy Counter-Strike". Regardless of the fact that it had fulfilled one of its original goals – becoming the first fully-online Might and Magic game – it earned mediocre reviews on release in 2001.

Legends continues to attract a devoted, if small, community of players. Unfortunately, though, the overambition poured into its production overshadowed fellow Might and Magic projects: the Lich Lab, the Inventa Storca and the Tomb of a Thousand Terrors as they appear in Might and Magic IX – the Tomb even containing a statue of the Dragon Pharaoh from Might and Magic V – were originally created as maps for Golwyn and his comrades to sojourn through, and Heroes IV's adventure AI was crippled due to its programmers' prior occupation with Legends.

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Heroes of Might and Magic V – New World Computing (ca. 2003)

Though certainly not unequivocally lauded like its predecessor, Heroes IV received good reviews, and sold well enough to propel forth the development of Heroes of Might and Magic V. Most players know of Heroes V in its current incarnation only: the divisive yet solid offering developed by Nival Interactive in collaboration with publishers Ubisoft Entertainment, which revived the franchise after four years of nothing. However, this was not the first attempt at a Heroes V production: a short-lived development effort under Jon Van Caneghem and some of New World's last remaining artists and designers had previously begun circa 2003, defiant in the wake of 3DO's impending bankruptcy.

When Celestial Heavens was still a StrategyPlanet site, one of its forum members visited New World Computing and saw the planned Heroes V factions on a drawing board. Based on exclusive information, I can confirm that the six planned factions he described were indeed conceptualised under these preliminary names/themes: Lizard, Mythic, Haven, Tower, Necropolis and Fairy. In essence, influence from all eight of the classic Heroes III factions (aside from the Inferno) remained: Haven, Tower, Necropolis and Fairy need no further introduction, Lizard was a clear successor to the reptilian Fortress, and the Mythic town denoted the Gothic themes of the original Dungeon of Heroes I and II, "fused" with the brute force of the Stronghold and boasting architecture comparable to a Greek Acropolis.

As indicated by Christian Vanover, the story – if any had been developed – was supposedly to take place in Axeoth. The actual artwork released includes a slew of pencil drawing concepts by Nowa Morisaku-Yu, rendered structures by Keith Talanay, and fully-textured creatures – both new and old – for three towns by Tracy Iwata, including an oft-praised depiction of a Phoenix. One design is also strikingly similar to the Kirin of Heroes VI's Sanctuary faction, though the creature itself first appeared in Might and Magic as early as 1986.

The new magic system was to fuse the idea of a generic pool of spells from Heroes I-III with the faction-specific schools of Heroes IV, and the underground map layer was to be removed due to Van Caneghem's dissatisfaction with its overuse. Towns would visibly expand on the adventure map, the AI was to be fully rewritten, and the general gameplay would return to purer strategy as opposed to the personal, character-centric questing of Heroes IV.

Ultimately, Ubisoft and Nival used very few, if any, of the NWC elements in their finished game, seemingly abandoning them after Van Caneghem declined an offer to participate on the rebooted project, although one significant change – the Academy/Tower town's shift from snowy terrain to deserts – remained consistent from the game's beginnings at New World, if only by strange coincidence.

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Might and Magic X (2003-?)

Not long after the "Great Cataclysm" in 3DO, Tim Lang found a place as the first game designer in Nival Interactive's new US studio. Nival had a good relationship with Ubisoft, and – interested in ascertaining whether or not the publishers were planning Might and Magic X – Lang drafted his own sequel proposal, its story outline building on inconclusive plot threads from the previous RPG:

"In the nation-state of Mendossus, it's been 5 long years since the king began conscripting the population to fight in the war across the sea against the violent and ruthless Chedian. The Chedians had briefly stopped raiding Mendossus for a short time while the joined together to fight off the invading Beldonian hordes 6 years ago. Because of the conscriptions, the formerly safe nation is rife with violence. The roads are now unsafe to travel because of bandits. Large groups of predators have taken up residence in the forests. Formerly safe temples and forts have been overrun by monsters.

Because of this abuse of conscription by the king, a small resistance had formed in Mendossus. Led by a mysterious outsider, this resistance has become a thorn in the side of the king and his advisor, Archibald. They actively hunt down the members of the resistance. When the player first meets the king, the first mission he gives the party is to infiltrate the resistance and kill its leader.

Once the party infiltrates the resistance, they discover who is in charge of this group of rebels is none other than Nicolai Ironfist, nephew of Archibald and son of the king of the now destroyed Enroth. He tells them a dangerous secret about the conscriptions.

Under the influence of the evil Archibald Ironfist, the king has been lying to the population. There is no war with Chedian, and none of the men conscripted ever go into the army. Archibald has teamed up with a very powerful creature to disrupt one of the most important projects in the history of the universe.

A group of Ancient Scientists, after thousands of years of hibernation have awoke to find that Research Platform Enroth has been disrupted by the destruction of the planet. Banding together, they begin a mission to rebuild the Research Platform and continue its important mission of study. Archibald, along with a creature known as a Sheltem are actively working to not only disrupt the construction of the new Research Platform Enroth, but take it over for their own, nefarious use."

One cannot help but wonder where Tim's plot may have led, had it been fully fleshed out – with the return of the Ironfists, Sheltem, Enroth and the Ancients, many classical elements and plot devices appeared ready to come to the fore once again. Many unexplored subplots and red herrings in Might and Magic IX – the inevitable result of an under-funded and rushed game – may have found resolution and reconciliation had the project been pursued. I still reserve hope that Ubisoft will green-light a new RPG faithful to classic Might and Magic conventions some day.

Currently, Tim acts as an advisor to the Might and Magic X fan project under development by Deyja Vu Studios, an effort which I also contributed to as a story writer before leaving the team; I wish them all the best, and hope they can suitably resolve the legacies of Axeoth, the Ancients and the Kreegans as they stand. Whatever the case, though, at least it's possible to argue that the Ancients have indeed been revealed, somewhat: the three Wyrdes in Arslegard, visible among the Gods at the end of MM9, were in fact the formerly-hibernating scientists planned to feature in the next game.

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Kingdoms of Might and Magic (ca. 2005-2006)

Might and Magic X, it seems, was not the only potential project cut down as Ubisoft acquired the franchise. Heavy evidence suggests that another unannounced endeavour faded into obscurity while Heroes V and Dark Messiah claimed the spotlight: a project which appears to have been the second major attempt at creating a Might and Magic MMORPG. Alas, just as Jon Van Caneghem's Might and Magic Online had failed, this false start also remained buried for several years.

The now-offline portfolio of Ranjeet Singhal – a 3D artist formerly employed by Wolfpack Studios, whose only-released project was the MMORPG Shadowbane – previously contained his rendered art depicting a "Death Knight" and a "Magic Warrior", both evidently inspired by Heroes V's art direction. Singhal and his colleagues are also noted for having worked on Legacy of Kain: The Dark Prophecy and other cancelled, unannounced sequels to various franchises. His resume, and the descriptions which accompanied the images, explicitly cited "Kingdoms of Might and Magic" as the project in question, mentioned it was an MMORPG, and named Ubisoft as his employer. Despite similar nomenclature and the common genre, I can prove that the art bears no direct relation to the Heroes Kingdoms browser game of 2008.

I managed to preserve Singhal's artwork – but not the portfolio – by posting it at the Might and Magic Wiki. The discovery inspired me to further investigate the existence of this enigmatic lost title, and after some scrutiny, webstalking and bad coffees, I eventually came across the little-known website of another of Ubisoft's clients: Robert D. Brown, a conceptual artist who most notably worked on the Oddworld series. There, a piece of very familiar art was visible in his online gallery: the confusing yet widely-known "beta Ashan" map, displaying locations from Heroes V's final incarnation of Ashan such as Irollan, Heresh and the Griffin Empire alongside Axeoth's Palaedra and the overtly-named infernal region of Kreegar.

A recent site revamp also includes some of Brown's other Ashan-related artwork: a painting of what is very clearly a Haven castle, and a map of "Telluria" – the missing link between the beta Ashan map and the canonical Thallan, omitting almost all references to Axeoth's locales. And, of course, Brown's resume revealed that he too had worked for Wolfpack Studios alongside Ranjeet Singhal. To seal the deal, I posted the original map on Might and Magic's Facebook page and inquired about its origins, where Xhane publicly confirmed that it had been produced for a project which had never been announced – this comment coming some two years after the Kingdoms browser game was first revealed.

Everything seems to fit: Wolfpack's only successes derived from Shadowbane, so why else might a publisher absorb them? With World of Warcraft dominating the market in early 2005, we can deduce that it would've been financially foolish of Ubisoft not to pursue some ideas while the specifics of Ashan were still in fluctuation, having so recently obtained the Might and Magic brand. It's probably impossible to confirm for certain how far they were planning to go, but at least we can be secure in the validity of the artwork: a piece quite similar indeed to Robert D. Brown's Haven castle wormed its way into 2009's Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes as part of a cutscene, visible at the beginning of Godric's chapter.

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Heroes of Might and Magic VI – under Nival Interactive (circa 2006-2008)

Obviously, Kingdoms was not the first abandoned project in the series, and certainly won't be the last: no matter the publisher, Might and Magic seems destined to inspire new ideas, some wildly successful and others morbidly embarrassing. It is constantly renewing itself, as asserted in the recent 25-year-celebration video, and even its most recent offering is by no means an exception to this maxim.

While Black Hole Entertainment hold the reins with what is soon to be released under the title of Might & Magic Heroes VI, they were not the first to lead its development effort. As hinted by producer Erwan Le Breton, production on Heroes VI dates back as early as 2006, supposedly reaching some kind of playable demo stage before Nival's participation was cut short, since the very pre-production stage of the game got finalised prior to changing the developer. A few of the earliest Heroes VI images have been released, each one worth a thousand words. I'll try to cut that number down.

One extremely-early, carnal piece depicts a gargantuan, Behemoth-like monstrosity against a surreal backdrop: the disproportionate style indicates the prevalence of Heroes V's Warhammer-esque art direction (moving even further towards direct plagiarism if you ask me, but that's a subjective matter). Exaggeration and Kafka-esque melodrama was to be a staple if this painting is a reliable indication; a more "gritty" style, totally contrary to the fairy-tale charm of classic Heroes, seemed to be emerging. However, it was mentioned that the image was one of the first created as part of a collection of often contradictory ideas raised while the developers sought a new artistic feel for the game.

As for the adventure map, two mock-ups are currently available: the first and the second. I would conjecture that interactivity was to play a far greater role: terrain seemed to be transformable, capable of being altered entirely under certain circumstances. The final image depicts three heroes whose models can be extracted from the Tribes of the East data files – their textures, however, were not included in the expansion, visible here for the first time. With coral armour and varied colour palettes, they signify the plausibility that the Reputation system had been planned even at this early stage.

Based on the fact that the models were located among the Heroes V files, one might assume that they were made for a Fake Gameplay Footage video, akin to the one created for Ubisoft's unknown shooter game. A commentator also mentioned to me that, despite the current town screen debacle under Black Hole, players would likely have been truly outraged had the concept under Nival survived: town screens were apparently to be discarded altogether in favour of an on-the-map expansion framework, typical to most RTS games.

Needless to say, despite a few worthy and redeeming features, the earlier outlines for Heroes VI perhaps had little going for them in the context of the Might and Magic series, abandoning many an essential convention in favour of radical – and, I am certain, heavily-disputable – changes. If the current version of the game is not considered conservative enough by the fanbase, there is at least quite some solace in the fact that things haven't been shaken up beyond recognition.

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Afterword


Reflecting on all of these pared-down plans, I can't help but register some level of frustration, considering what might have been. This article barely scratches the surface; it's a virtual certainty that there have been even more fanciful ideas and titles in pre-production out there which, alas, never saw the light of day.

It's impossible to know whether any more of them will be revealed in time, but, then again, that knowledge would probably take most of the bliss out of the ignorance.

And what of the untold chapters the future holds? Can the Might and Magic brand, with all its peaks and troughs, continue to polarise, shock and, most importantly, delight us for another 25 years to come? I don't know, but one can always hope.

11-Anniversary

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My sincerest thanks to Eric Robson, Geary Gravel, Mel Odom, Sermil and Tim Lang for all of their various exclusive insights into work on the Might and Magic series. Extreme gratitude to Acid Dragon, cuc, Demilich, Marzhin, MMXAlamar and others for their trust, assistance and insights, and a very special thanks to Kalah for graciously hosting the article.
- Cepheus


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