We met on the ship: six rank amateurs who, for one reason or another, couldn't return to our homes. Octavianus was the son of a noble from Cormyr who fled his home after his father led an unsuccessful rebellion against the king and was executed. Karnov was a blacksmith whose clan had lived in the Thunder Peaks. He had gone trading in Tilverton and returned the next day to find that orcs had risen from the depths of the mines and slaughtered every dwarf in the city.
Lame Brain's merchant family had kicked him out of his native Sembia--and had given him his unfortunate nickname--after a mistaken punctuation mark on a contract forced them to trade six ships full of fabric for 13 silver pieces and a cursed girdle of femininity. Beautiful Duskfire, a shopkeeper, had fled Neverwinter ahead of a plague only to be picked up and sold into slavery by pirates. She was eventually bought by a kind wizard who taught her a few tricks before dying of old age. Zink was an acolyote at a temple of Waukeen in Amn who had been accused (falsely) of stealing church funds. Finally, Koren was a descendant of Phlan's original settlers. Her family owned an inn in Hillsfar and, growing up, she listened to them talk and talk about someday reclaiming the city. She decided to do something about it.
One by one, we made our way to Hillsfar, picking up a few skills and bits of knowledge along the way and choosing the paths that would become our professions. In the city, we encountered--on every street corner, it seemed--posters proclaiming riches and glory in Phlan, and each of us sold the last of our possessions--horses, jewelry, heirlooms--to procure passage across the Moonsea and to buy arms when we arrived. The ship was crammed with adventurers like us, and I know not what caused the six of us to find each other, recognize something different, and take each meal together. Perhaps we all recognized that none of us had anything to lose; that we had no other place to go. Whatever the cause, by the time we stepped off the ship at the docks and encountered a tiresome local named Rolf, we had become a party.
The maps in Pool of Radiance are 16 x 16, and almost all of the squares are used. The civilized section of Phlan was fairly easy to map, as there were no encounters, and may of the shops were clones of each other.
Between the six of us, we had almost 550 gold pieces, and it was a measure of the bond we'd already established that no one objected to simply pooling our gold to make our equipment purchases. Octavianus bought a wicked-looking great sword, Karnov went with a battle axe, Lame Brain and Duskfire both outfitted themselves with long swords, and Zink and Koren hung maces on their belts. With the remaining gold, we bought what armor and missile weapons we could afford.
The creators of the game took pains to ensure that every non-magical weapon from the AD&D rules was included in the shop. I could be wrong, but I don't think any other D&D-based game features glaive-guisarmes, fauchard forks, and becs-de-corbin.
I suspect you could count on one hand the number of players who have ever bothered with these more obscure weapons. There's hardly any reason to. The game's own manual says that the long sword does the most damage of any one-handed weapon, and a two-handed sword does the most damage of any two-handed weapon. For clerics, the obvious choice is a mace or flail. You have to admire the attention to detail but wonder at the waste.
I'm pretty sure the game was based on the first edition of the D&D rules, which had the race level caps (as we discussed yesterday) but also had fewer equipment restrictions on multi-classed characters. My fighter/cleric cannot equip bladed weapons (oddly, he can't equip a morningstar or sling, either), but my fighter/magic users are happily wandering around in long swords and mail, and my fighter/thief seems to have no problem with metallic armor.
Although you find coins of all denominations in the game--copper, silver, electrum, gold, and platinum--when you make transactions at stores, your money automatically gets changed to platinum pieces, which prevents you from having to lug around too many coins. Coins and items have weight, and they limit the number of moves each character can make in combat. I remember abandoning heaps of coins in previous plays just so I could effectively fight.
Thus equipped, Zink insisted that we check out the nearest tavern. I thought it an odd suggestion for a priest, but he pointed out that taverns are usually the places for the best local intelligence. The common room was dominated by an anglish lord, boasting at the top of his lungs about his adventures, but we ignored him and pressed into the back rooms. In the midst of gambling and winning several platinum pieces, we heard that a group of ogres east of Phlan were holding a princess captive. Somebody also mentioned a silver dragon living in the Dragonspine Mountains. But a crazy man screaming about a man called "Turtle," walls that weren't there, and living daggers drowned out any other attempts at intelligence-gathering.
Unfortunately, we had only been in the tavern a short time when the tensions caused by the huge influx of adventurers arriving on our ship erupted, and we found ourselves smashed between eight armed and drunken mercenaries and a company of the city guard. With no other recourse, we took the side of the guard. The mercenaries gave us no chance to offer them quarter. Karnov took a blow to the head and fell unconscious. With no other options, we grimly felled them and then suffered the added indignity of fleeing from the city guards, who apparently could not tell aggressor from defender. Lacking the funds necessary to pay for Karnov's healing, we rented a room at an inn, and over almost nine hours of resting, Zink and Koren memorized and cast "Cure Light Wounds" until our party was hale again. The magic users also took this opportunity to memorize sleep spells.
Facing down a group of brawlers. I'll talk more about combat--including the fact that NPCs sometimes fight on your side--in a future posting.
Taverns are deadly to first-level adventurers. Every few steps, a brawl breaks out for one reason or another. I stopped visiting after I fought two of them.
One of the great things about playing this game in the Internet age is that I can use the Forgotten Realms Wiki to look up things about deities, cities, races, monsters, and other aspects of D&D lore that the creators of Pool of Radiance simply couldn't fit into the game. I wish I'd had this when I was a kid. I've always been confused about how the god pantheon is organized in Faerun, and now I know.
Resuming our exploration of the small city, we found temples dedicated to Tempus, the god of battles, Sune, the goddess of love and beauty, and Tyr, the god of justice. In addition to several arms and armor shops, there were stores selling silver items--handy if we need to face undead--holy relics, and expensive jewelry of all things. The city park was drab and lifeless, and the Barren River to the north of the city was foul and poisoned.
When we felt we had a strong sense of the layout of Phlan, we decided to approach City Hall about our first commission. There were four proclamations posted outside. Three of them concerned the Valhigen Graveyard: the Council wants to know about reports of undead roaming the graveyard, and wants a report on previous missions and mercenaries sent to inspect it. The fourth simply asked interested adventurers to clear out the monster-inhabited sections of the old city. I consulted with my fellows. Zink, who bears a special hatred for undead, wanted to stalk out for the cemetery at once, but the rest of us persuaded him that a little experience with less dangerous enemies was probably best for the time being.
The screenshots below show the in-game proclamations and the related text highlighted in the Adventurer's Journal. It's odd that the quest for Valhigen Graveyard--which I think is a fairly high-level quest--is showing up in the proclamations so soon:
We stepped inside the building and paid a visit to the pleasant but dutiful city clerk. She reiterated that the old city needed to be cleared of monsters but also gave us two commissions that were not listed in the proclamations: the scouring of Sokal Keep on an island near Phlan, and a general quest to find any maps, books, or other materials that provide information about the city before its destruction.
We left City Hall and stepped into the bright sunshine and looked nervously at each other, as if wondering which of us would be the first to fall. Duskfire half-heartedly suggested that we spend one more night resting up in the inn before taking on the monsters, but even as the words left her lips, she knew what we all knew: there was no use waiting any longer. Not knowing whether we'd find bugbears or beholders on the other site, we marched through the gate and into the old ruins.
I can't say for sure that I'll keep up with all the storytelling, but I can say that this is one of the few games that makes me want to tell it like a story. This game and Ultima IV offer the first game worlds, so far, that are large and yet maintain thematic integrity. The two Might & Magic games I've played so far are great games, no doubt, but the sci-fi angle doesn't work very well, and both have assorted goofiness that distract you from the plot and story. Most of the other games I've played are simply too limiting in their scenarios or role-playing options to be great "stories."
I don't want to suggest that Dungeons & Dragons is the end-all, be-all of roleplaying. There are plenty of great franchises out there. But the D&D games do benefit from a familiar world and a consistent set of rules and expectations. Because the Forgotten Realms has so much existing lore, the game world feels a lot larger than the extent you can travel in the game itself.
None of this quite explains why setting out on a quest to clear ruins of monsters feels somehow more heroic than saving an entire planet, which is what most CRPGs ask you to do. Perhaps the unpretentiousness of the task makes it easier to view the PCs as real characters with a real story to tell.
To make the game as fun and challenging as possible, I'm going to follow my usual rules. Only one save per game map, and reloads are only permitted in cases of full-party death (barring cases in which I want to explore an alternate path for purposes of the blog). Slain characters must be raised or replaced.
Off to the ruins!