You don't need to understand the gameplay mechanics to play Gothic. But understanding the mechanics allows you to play in completely different ways.
Some games, like Doom, are just action. That doesn't mean there is no strategy involved (which monsters do you waste your ammo on? can you start some infighting?), but the general rule is: if you want to kill bigger enemies you need bigger guns. The math behind all of it is hidden from the player. Gothic allows you to play like this, and partly encourages it.
However, while Gothic is obviously realtime and if you just stand around while wolves are gnawing on your thighs, you'll die. But here's a surprise: Gothic is partially turn-based, and you probably never knew because it doesn't play like that!
You were secretly playing Dungeons & Dragons
On the other end of the spectrum, there's Dungeons & Dragons. Here, the math is left, right and center. You can't ignore it, the math is the game. And Gothic took some obvious inspiration from it. Some of the math can be compared to D&D. But in Gothic, this math is typically hidden from the player. At least, when it comes to enemies.
You can see your own stats. How much life you have, how much armor of various types, your strength, your dexterity.. But generally you can't see any of this for other characters or enemies. There are a few ways to see the stats of enemies:
- For a few of them, you can use a "transform into.." spell scroll, become one of the monsters and open the stats screen. This only works for those monsters for which such a spell scroll exists.
- For human NPCs, the control spell could be used (after which you can open the stats screen), but this is very time-consuming and during normal gameplay you wouldn't be able to control characters over roughly level 20. The theoretical limit is
- Enable test mode/marvin mode, select any character and press "o".
- Go online. We have tables.
This is a bit strange, actually. You can buy armor, it gives you "+15 weapon protection", but what does that even mean? You're left to guess.
So to clear a few things up:
- Gothic is realtime like Doom, not turn-based like D&D.
- Gothic is turn-based when it comes to calculating damage. Pyrokinesis does 20 damage per mana. Even though you can cast pyrokinesis in one continuous flow, if the opponent has 20 magic protection you'll never hurt them at all, no matter how long you keep casting your pyrokinesis. There is actually no way around armor. Armor doesn't wear out and there is no way to inflict a lot of damage at once (beyond what the game allows), so armor is always a factor.
- If you didn't select your opponent, you're not hitting them. Even if you did! Not selected? Doesn't count. Your stray arrow accidentally hits something? Doesn't count. Unlike Doom.
- Gothic is not random like D&D. There is a random element (critical hit), but even that will likely even out during a battle. And various if not all enemies are incapable of delivering critical hits. Random is not a significant factor in Gothic.
- Gothic has underlying math that mimics the style of D&D in various ways.
You start at level 0. You level up when you get 500 XP, and again when you get 1500 XP, and again at 3000. This keeps going up by an amount that is increased with 500 every time, but you also earn more XP for defeating tougher monsters and completing quests further into the game, so you'll keep gradually levelling up. When the game is over, you'll be somewhere around level 25-35. You get 10 skill points/learning points every time you level up, as well as a +12 increase in maximum life. (you start with 40 life)
For the first ten levels, you need 500, 1500, 3000, 5000, 7500, 10500, 14000, 18000, 22500 and 27500 XP respectively.
To become a shadow/rogue/novice, level 5 is required. To become a guard/mercenary/templar, level 10 is required.
You start with 10 strength. You can increase this up to 100 for 1 skill point per strength. You can also increase it (over 100 if you wish) by using amulets and rings as well as potions.
Your strength affects your punches and melee weapons. Melee weapons all require a specific amount of strength to use them at all, but the blow that is delivered also depends on your strength.
When you punch a creature, you do weapon damage (yes, bear with me) for whatever number your strength is.
When you hit a creature with a melee weapon (like a sword, mace, axe, etc) you do whatever number your strength is plus whatever amount of damage that weapon does.
For monsters, the same is true. In this case, a wolf biting, a bloodfly stinging or a scavenger picking all count as weapon damage and the severity of their attack depends on the strength of the animal. It's no different from you punching them, really.
For example: you have 15 strength and you are using a withered axe. (13 damage) When you hit a creature, you'll inflict 15+13=28 weapon damage. Assuming your target has no armor, so this is a good time to talk about that before we continue with the attacks.
Gothic has 4 visible armor types:
- Weapon protection protects against punches, biting, stinging, etc and melee weapons.
- Arrow protection protects against arrows (from bows) and bolts. (from crossbows)
- Fire protection protects against fire magic like fire bolts and fire balls but NOT pyrokinesis. (despite the name)
- Magic protection protects against ice magic like ice bolts and ice block, pyrokinesis and some other magic spells.
There are also some protection types that are not clearly communicated to the player:
- Hammer/blunt protection. For most creatures, this is identical to their weapon protection, but in particular stone golems and skeletons are more vulnerable to blunt weapons.
- Storm damage, this is the type of damage that Fist of Wind and Storm Fist do.
- Fall damage. No character or monster appears to have this. Learning acrobatics doesn't appear to give it to you, either.
- An unknown protection that no character or monster has and may or may not have any effect.
In test/marvin mode you can change your armor levels.
So for example, you are hitting a scavenger with your withered axe (13 damage) and you have 15 strength. That's a total of 28 weapon damage, but the Scavenger has 9 weapon protection so you only inflict 28-9=19 weapon damage. The Scavenger has 40 life, so it'll take three hits (assuming no criticial hits) to send the Scavenger back to its maker.
See? Dungeons & Dragons.
An interesting thing is that while if you do, say, 20 weapon damage and your target has 20 weapon protection you won't even scratch their armor. You could be hitting them until the sun goes down, nothing will ever happen. This can be particularly confusing to new players. When an enemy attacks you they will always do at least one damage, even if your armor should negate the attack entirely. It's unclear why.
Unlike strength, dexterity doesn't increase the damage you do. It increases the range from which you can hit a creature though, which is very useful considering circle-strafing isn't really a thing in Gothic. Also, bows that do more damage require more dexterity.
Also note that (cross)bows are not hitscan weapons in Gothic. Arrows actually fly through the air and if the target is moving in any direction other than directly towards or away from you, they're basically impossible to hit.
For example, you have a short bow (20 damage) and you are still trying to get that scavenger for dinner. The Scavenger has 40 life, but also 5 arrow protection. So your arrows will do 20-5=15 damage. So it'll take 3 arrows to get that delicious scavenger meat in your pan.
Why am I unable to hurt Kharim?
While beating Kharim for brownie points from Scatty is indeed an option, his stats (in particular his armor) make it clear you're not really supposed to beat him. You wouldn't fight him with arrows in the arena, you wouldn't be expected to take him down with magic spell scrolls (also that would result in a kill, which isn't in the spirit of the game) and his armor against weapons is so tough you'll likely be unable to even make a dent in it. For example, say you're level 3, put 20 skill points into strength and 10 into one-handed weapons level 1, obtained the axe and completed Horatio the Peasant. You'd be an experienced player, but this is reasonably possible. You would now be able to do 64 damage. Kharim has 55 protection against weapons, so you'll only do 9 damage to him. He has 172 life, so 172 / 9 = you have to hit him 20 times! Good luck doing that while he has 70 strength and and a sting mace for a total of 95 damage each hit. He'll most probably take you down in 1-3 hits. And if he does, you won't get a rematch. You can challenge the fighters only once. Good thing you don't have to beat him, really...
Why am I unable to hurt Vrash Harrag Arushnat?
This happens near the end of the game and is is a bit more of a special case. You may be tempted to think it's a cheap cop-out and they made Vrash Harrag Arushnat invulnerable to everything but URIZIEL, or even just made his character completely immortal until you find URIZIEL. But that's actually not the case. Vrash has 1000 weapon protection, 1000 arrow protection, 1000 fire protection and 100 magic protection. If your strength would be over 1000 (cheats only), you would be able to use any sword, or even just punch him to death. There is no bow that does more than 100 damage and no magic that does more than 150 fire damage. And there's also no magic that does more than 100 magic damage, except.. URIZIEL. If you're thinking pyrokinesis, nope, only 20 magic damage per turn, even if you have infinite turns it won't hurt Vrash. So you might be thinking: well Death to the Undead, that does 9999 magic damage, right? Well, yes, but maybe that's where the developers painted themselves into a corner and simply made Vrash not undead, even though he rather obviously is, but according to the game code, he's not. Nameless just shrugs if you try to cast that spell.
So that's why you can't hurt him without URIZIEL. Also, there is a third option. You might have noticed in the notes on armor types above that there is armor against fall damage, but nothing in the game has it. That includes Vrash Harrag Arushnat. There's a trick move that involves jumping from the bridge onto the area next to the bridge that causes Vrash to casually walk into the chasm during his force-dialog. And he dies from that. This would be useless as his sword is also out of reach now, but if you leave the scene and return, his body will appear where Vrash was originally standing for some reason, waiting for you to loot it.
Guilds and clearance
Your guild will result from the choices you make. As far as the game mechanics are concerned, it will mostly determine what clearance you have and what training you can receive.
If you approach a guard that is guarding some entrance (like the castle, the ore baron's house or the tavern) with a "strange" guild (this could be accomplished with the "transform into.." spell scrolls), they will say "finally you give me a reason!" and attack you on sight. That's right, you can't meatbug your way past Thorus and his guards. They'll know!
Entering the castle
For your amusement and increased understanding of how the guards work, here are some ways (not) to enter the castle.
The castle gate is guarded by Thorus and two guards. Thorus is actually immortal and will leave somewhere during the night, but it doesn't matter. Thorus won't stop you. The guards will. The guards will be alerted whenever you come too close to them, which is a circle around them.
If you pay Thorus 1000 ore, talk to him while having the messenger's amulet in your inventory, are about to become a shadow or you are delivering weed to Gomez, Thorus will say you can pass. The guards will still force-dialog you, but a different conversation plays out and they won't attack. This is the usual way of entering the castle. Once disabled, the guards will permanently remain disabled.
If you kill both guards, which is very hard (especially when Thorus is around who is immortal), you can enter the castle after Thorus has cooled down. Again, Thorus was never going to stop you anyway. In fact, you only have to kill one guard and stay close to the wall. You won't get into the proximity of the other guard and you can pass. Once inside, if the guards at the entrance weren't alarmed, nobody will attack you.
If you draw your sword while near the guards, they will also draw their swords. They are unable to be alarmed about you entering the castle in this state. If you time it right and put your sword away again before they attack you for having a drawn weapon, you can just walk around the castle.
If you ignore the warnings of the guards, you will be seeing arrows left and right. But if you're fast (and being able to absorb an arrow or two helps..), you can stick to the left, run around the corner, climb up the wall and go into the door. Climb the ladder and find a bed. Sleep. And now something strange has happened. You can walk around the castle, and you possibly won't be attacked anymore. Even stranger, you can walk into the ore baron's house, and the guards don't even flinch! It seems that the guards are still in "attack" mode, but they have.. forgotten about you.
Each new chapter is triggered by a specific event, or more specifically, meeting an NPC under certain conditions. StoryHelper (insert sh) allows you to skip to various story points. Technically chapters can be triggered out of order, but this isn't normally possible because you lack the needed item/aren't on the needed quest/don't have access to some area/etc.
- Diego triggers chapter 1. After starting a new game, Diego talks to you. When you end the conversation, the first chapter begins.
- Lester (once you have a guild) triggers chapter 2. Once you've joined a camp, you'll have to see Lester at the entrance of the swamp camp. He will force-dialog you and after the conversation the second chapter begins. The actual trigger is approaching Lester with a trueguild different from 0 (none). Even if your trueguild is "meatbug", Lester will force-dialog you. Note that "transform into" spell scrolls won't trigger this.
- An unnamed templar or novice triggers chapter 3. After delivering the Almanac to Cor Kalom, he will tell you the invocation of the sleeper will happen that night. When you come near one of the templars or novices on the temple square at night, they will force-dialog you. But instead of a dialog, the FMV of the invocation of the sleeper will start and the third chapter begins.
- Saturas triggers chapter 4. After delivering the last focus stone to Saturas, talk to Saturas again. He will send you off to the old camp and after this dialog, chapter 4 begins.
- Gorn triggers chapter 5. When you leave the free mine with the ULU-MULU, Gorn will force-dialog you. After this conversation, chapter 5 begins.
- Milten triggers chapter 6. When you bring identified Uriziel and the spell scroll Xardas gave you to Milten at the water mages, an FMV will be triggered. Now the final chapter begins.
Chapters can be triggered out of order, but this generally requires cheats or meatbugging past closed gates. Speedrunners never trigger any chapter beyond the first as they stab the five hearts and still complete the game.
If you kill an NPC, it'll stay dead. They won't respawn. You will never run into an endless stream of respawning enemies. There's only one exception, which is optional, and in that case you're literally asking for it. Everything that attacks you without provocation can be killed, and after you've killed everything, the world of Gothic will be remarkably quiet. There is a set number of animals/monsters/characters in the game. However, each time a new chapter starts, most groups of animals and monsters will be increased by 1. So if you kill a group of 4 scavengers, when the next chapter is loaded there will be 1 scavenger. And if you don't kill it, in the chapter after that there'll be two.