The first time I played Dungeons & Dragons as a pen-and-paper game, I remember spending a long time rolling dice, naming, and coming up with a background for a thief character. I seem to recall he was a halfling, although I can't think for the life of me what made me want to play a halfling. Probably my companions told me they made better thieves. I had a handful of starting gold, and I equipped the character. I remember being confused about why he'd want a 10-foot pole (especially when he was only about three feet high), but my companions assured me I needed one.
After maybe an hour of character creation, we began exploring the dungeon. While my memory is probably off that I died in the first room--it may have been the second or third--I do remember what killed me: a ghoul. I was exploring a cabinet and a ghoul came out, paralyzed me, and ate me while my comrades were searching another corner or something (I remember the DM whispering to me that they didn't know what was happening just yet). That added insult to injury: I got eaten by a ghoul, and no one noticed.
I don't think I had even heard the word "ghoul" up to that point, and I certainly didn't know they could paralyze on touch, which seemed horribly unfair to me. Even now, when I encounter a ghoul in a CRPG, I have this ingrained sense of dread and I concentrate all my attacks on it until it's dead. Nothing worse than getting paralyzed and eaten.
Valhingen Graveyard featured eight types of undead: skeletons (including a giant one), zombies (including a "juju" variety), ghouls, wights, spectres, wraiths, mummies, and a vampire. Probably no list better exemplifies the amalgamation of mythology in modern high fantasy. Skeletons are pan-cultural, but zombies (as we think of them) are west African in origin, as is the term "juju." (The Forgotten Realms wiki says that a juju zombie retains its consciousness and knows that it's dead and is thus "horribly vicious and cruel.") Ghouls are Arabian. The term "wight" was used in Middle English synonymously with "man" and only became attached to the undead, I think, in Lord of the Rings. "Spectre" has long been used as a synonym for "ghost"; the word itself is French in origin. Wraiths come from Scotland, mummies from Egypt, and vampires from eastern Europe.
In the game, all but skeletons and zombies are hateful, hateful things. I don't know how much the creators of D&D relied on folklore in crafting the effects of the undead, but that list of eight creatures can inflict your characters with just about every harmful effect except poison, including paralysis (ghouls), disease (mummies), fear (mummies), level drain (wights, wraiths, spectres, vampires), and charm (vampires). I suffered all of them in my quest to clear out Valhingen Graveyard.
Valhingen Graveyard took me several hours and featured some jaw-dropping experience point rewards. My first major battle, with a spectre (fortunately, I killed him before he could drain anyone) was enough to get 1,900 experience points. (Part of it must have had to do with the large amount of treasure I found on him.) I think my top XP reward up to this point was around 400. Just as I was basking in that, I defeated a giant skeleton nearby (38 XP) and opened a marble chest he was guarding, receiving 4,367 XP!
This was enough to send Koren, my pure cleric, to Level 6--the top level she can achieve. Think about that for a minute. I haven't even begun to explore the outdoor areas yet. I can't be even halfway through the game. Yet one of my characters is already maxed out. If I had any pure mages, they'd be in the same boat.
There were some nice illustrations in the graveyard. This one was animated with flashes of lightning in the background.
I thus decided to use Koren to help with the graveyard and then dual her to a fighter. Dual-classes, for those uninitiated, are available only to humans in the first and second edition of D&D rules. Once they switch, they lose the abilities of their first classes until they achieve one higher level in their second classes. I'd dual her to a mage except mages also max at Level 6, so I can't get her to Level 7 in this game. Fighters can go up to Level 8. With luck, I thought, by the end of the game and the big battle with Tyranthraxus, she'll receive her cleric abilities back again. If not, I always have Zink, and I can get a cleric NPC. More on this at the end.
The good news was that at Level 6, Koren has the ability not only to just turn, but also to destroy skeletons and zombies.
The turn didn't work so consistently on wights and spectres, who swiftly became my most hated nemeses because of their level drain abilities. The infuriating thing about level drain is that although it can be undone with a "Restore" spell, the spell only restores as many experience points are necessary to achieve the minimum of the level. If your Level 6 fighter has 58,000 XP, about halfway to Level 7, and he gets level drained and restored, he'll have 35,001 XP. This means that a good time to fight level-draining undead is immediately after you've gained a level, or if you've already maxed your levels. Thus, Koren made an ideal melee fighter against wights here. I orchestrated it so that she and the NPC swordsman took most of the damage. Unfortunately, they didn't take all the damage. Lame Brain got knocked down to the bottom of Level 4 magery when he was on the cusp of obtaining Level 5, and Octavius lost about 3000 XP (he had recently achieved Level 6 as a fighter). The one saving grace is that the game equips you with a metric ton of scrolls of restoration.
Unfortunately, wights appear as random encounters in the graveyard, so I had to flee a lot. Fleeing generally takes you back to the entrance. From there, I'd retrace my steps only to encounter wights again and have to flee. It was slow mapping.
The graveyard had a lot of fixed encounters with spectres creating skeletons, zombies, and wights. Killing them knocked down the number of random undead and was key to clearing the entire area. I faced three mummies in a stand-alone crypt with no treasure. Oddly, I finally got Karnov's backstabbing skill to work, although it shouldn't have worked on undead.
There were a couple of caches of arms and armor that had once belonged to paladins, one guarded by a wraith, but the other simply handed to me by a kindly spirit. In one or the other, I found a sword +2 that, although not explicitly cursed, severely wounded any character I tried to have equip it. Finally, I figured out it could only be carried by someone who was lawful good. Fortunately, I had one lawful good fighter/mage, Duskfire, and she's got it.
The big bad in the cemetery was a vampire. I found his coffin before I found him, and in it was an account of previous adventurers who had slain a vampire. It noted that the first time, he didn't "die" but rather retreated to his coffin, where they had to kill him again. This clued me in that I needed to do the same. Octavianus lost levels again fighting the creature, but none of his "charm" spells worked and neither battle with him was overly hard. I'd rather face him eight times than any more wights.
So I got back to Phlan and decided I'd better dual class Koren before I get all my experience rewards from the Clerk. I went to the training facility and...ha ha, joke's on me. Pool of Radiance didn't implement dual classes. I don't know what gave me the idea that it did. I guess Koren will just have to go through the rest of the game having already reached her potential.
The experience rewards were considerable, and they enabled both Lame Brain and Duskfire to get Level 3 spells. You know what that means: fireball!
Mage spells tomorrow, though. Now that both of my clerics have Level 3 spells, let's take a look at them. The creators carefully imported all the pen-and-paper spells for each level whether they made sense or not. The first issue is that the game has no source of healing that doesn't involve paying absurd amounts to the temples. Resting only heals one hit point per 24 hours--a very literal adaptation of the D&D rules. The only healing spell in the game is "Cure Light Wounds," which means that you have to assign this spell to almost all your clerics' Level 1 slots. Healing after a tough battle, or tough series of battles, is a long process of memorizing the spells, resting, casting, and memorizing again.
With most of the Level 1 slots needed for healing, it's tough to imagine ever using some of the other spells. "Curse" lowers the THACO and morale of enemies by 1, but it only lasts six rounds and is hardly noticeable. "Detect Magic" puts a little * next to magic items in your inventory, but usually you know when something is magic; you just don't know what it does (for which you need to have it identified at a shop). "Protection from Evil" only affects the caster, which doesn't make it worth the slot. "Protection from Good"...does anyone deliberately fight good characters in this game? "Resist Cold" would be helpful if I ever met a monster that did cold damage.
There are some other mysterious ones in Level 2 and 3. I've never gotten "Find Traps" to work, and I haven't found any snakes on who to cast "Snake Charm." "Animate Dead" turns one of your dead PCs into a zombie NPC--wouldn't it be better to raise him? I haven't needed "Cure Blindness," and the effects of "Cause Blindness" don't seem to be enough to waste a Level 3 slot. "Cure Disease" is helpful when you have it, but "Cause Disease" takes more time to do any damage than you'll ever spend in combat. "Bestow Curse" has "variable effects determined by the computer." Uh-huh. Finally, anyone who goes around equipping items without identifying them first deserves what he gets, but otherwise "Remove Curse" works here.
Essentially, I go through the game using five cleric spells out of 24: "Cure Light Wounds," "Bless," "Hold Person," "Prayer," and "Dispel Magic." If anyone has honestly found the other spells valuable in Pool, please tell me how.
The Graveyard was my last city area, aside from the castle itself, to take care of. Tomorrow, I head into the wide open wilderness to solve the quests involving kobolds, nomads, and the source of the river's pollution.