The Moonsea is safe for democracy.
The end game came surprisingly quickly after my last posting, partly because I started to wane in my commitment to drawing a full map of each level. The last two areas--Stojanow gate and Valejo Castle--were both laid out a a series of buildings ringed around a central hub. It was easy to ensure that I explored the entire area without having to draw anything.
The moment we wandered into Stojanow Gate from Podol Plaza, some beatnik stopped us and divined that we wanted to buy his wagon even though we hadn't thought of such a thing for a second.
By this time, though, we had so much gold that we probably could have just paid Tyranthraxus to leave, so we were desperate to spend money on something. We bought the cart, which I gather was to serve as a disguise so could get through Stojanow Gate. We hadn't taken five steps, though, before a bugbear patrol determined us "imposters" and attacked us. We'd been hearing about bugbears since we first stepped off the dock, but this was the first time we actually encountered any. They went down easily, but then an alarm sounded and our 250 GP cover was blown. We said "screw it" and launched a frontal assault on the gates, battering our way through while the enemy tossed rocks and arrows at us.
On the other side was a reasonably tough crowd consisting of six ettins, two Level 6 mages, and two Level 4 fighters.
You want to achieve CRPG bliss? Toss a fireball in the middle of a group like this. Watch some of them die and some of them just burn--and then hit them with another. Then send in your fighters to slice the throats of anyone who's still limping along with their third-degree burns.
With that one battle, the gate was ours, and there was literally nothing else to find in the entire 256-square map area. We marched forward to Valejo Castle.
The Castle was actually four 16 x 16 maps mushed in several concentric squares. The castle itself was in the center (quartered among the four map areas). It was surrounded by a hedge maze, which in turn was surrounded by a ring of outbuildings. Though we ached to head right for the castle and kill Tyranthraxus, we forced ourselves to explore the outbuildings first. The encounters included:
- A group of laundresses who, angry that Tyranthraxus had conscripted their husbands, gave us some disguises. Like the cart, they didn't last long.
- A smith with three fire giants who saw through our disguise. Once they were dead, the game gave us an option to take from the smith's treasure cache, which included every non-magical weapon in the game--just in case I wanted to change my mind on the guisarme-voulge at the last minute.
- Lord Porphyrys Cadorna the Traitor was chained in a small room, having been beaten--I guess the enemy blamed him for the failure to kill us at the Zhent outpost. He plead for his life, but we killed him like the Clerk demanded.
- A room full of giant snakes! I was so delighted I almost wet myself. I'd been carrying around that damned snake charm spell for days--ProphetSword insisted it would come in handy--and damned if it didn't put them all to sleep. I need to have more faith.
- We started encountering random patrols who, when we spoke to them abusively, asked who sent us. When we told them TYRANTHRAXUS, they just bowed their heads and let us move along. Are the coalition forces even trying this in Afghanistan? "American! Who sent you?!" AYMAN AL-ZAWAHIRI. "A thousand apologies! Please pass!"
- A building full of records. Different files indicated that the Wizards of Thay were allied to Tyranthraxus and that his ultimate goal is to "conquer all lands south of the Moonsea." Why he's not interested in lands north of the Moonsea, given that's where Phlan is, remains a mystery.
- A gnoll overseer with some human slaves. One of them had overheard the password RHODIA to get through the inner castle gates.
- A mage in a tower who gave some notes on Tyranthraxus in exchange for his life. The notes said that Big T was "definitely a product of immersion in the Pool of Radiance," which granted him special abilities. They also suggested that he somehow brought the pool with him from the mountains to Phlan.
- A group of giants (the castle area had a lot of hill giants and fire giants) arguing about whether frogs and toads were the same thing. We tried to explain the difference, but I'm afraid we just ended up killing them.
- The giants are giving ridiculous amounts of gold. Look at all this treasure we're leaving behind after each battle:
As I said, the castle itself was surrounded by a hedge maze. Navigating it was rendered a little easier by some maps we had found in the Koval Mansion, but it wasn't very big and probably would have been easy anyway. When we walked through the door of the inner keep, we encountered someone calling himself "Tyranithraxus, ruler of Phlan" (that's not a misspelling; he had a "i" in it). If that wasn't enough to suggest he was a fake, the fact that he had only two fighters with him and he went down in two hits would have been.
At this point, we returned to Phlan to get our last level-ups and to identify some of the equipment we'd found. Somewhere, we picked up a long sword +5 and a long sword +2 flame tongue, but I confess I don't know what battles got us which. The Clerk didn't have anything to say about the death of "Tyraninthraxus" so we returned to the castle.
Some stairs up behind a secret door took us to a medusa. Fortunately, my characters had the initiative and killed her before she could gaze. Finding some other stairs behind a secret door, we went up a level, through a door, and found a wizard who was all-too-ready to betray his master and join the party. For some reason, we let him.
The rest you can watch on the video below.
If you don't feel like watching, I spend quite a bit of time casting every buffing spell I can think of, scouring my scrolls for more, and drinking my potions. At 02:50, we finally march down to Tyranthraxus's chambers in which, apparently, is the fabled Pool of Radiance. The demon's personal guards--10 powerful Level 8 fighters--attack, and thank god for "Hold Person," or we would have ended up a lot worse.
After battle, we spend some time healing, and then exit to face Tyranthraxus himself. He is, like the rumors say, a bronze dragon (the thief captain had noted that this was unlikely, since metallic dragons are usually good). Tyranthraxus gives each character the option to join him, and of course they all said "no." (Later, after I had won, I reloaded to see what would happen if we all voted "yes," but it just brings up the standard "party death" screen: "The monsters rejoice for the party has been destroyed"; I had been hoping for a cool alternate ending.)
Battle begins at 10:00, and Tyranthraxus is the only opponent. Koren charges him and--what the hell? Why is my swordsman hireling attacking Koren from behind?! The bastard chose to join Tyranthraxus! I've never felt so betrayed. He's been with us since the troll battle in the slums. I personally paid for him to rise from Level 3 to Level 8. I outfitted him with the best equipment I could find--well, no, granted most of it was cast-offs from my PCs, but it was still a lot better than the non-magical long sword that he started with. Do I have to mistrust everyone whose disposition is "evil"?!
My strategy for Tyranthraxus is to surround him and pummel him, which works out well, except that he kills Octavianus with his lightning breath (11:09); incidentally, who has ever seen lightning bounce off walls in real life? Duskfire strikes the killing blow (11:26), but then the stupid mage I picked up nearly kills Duskfire and Koren with his wand of lightning. At first, I figure he's with Tyranthraxus, too, but then I realize no, he was just aiming it at the swordsman and not bothering to notice that my two PCs are in the bolt's path. I get them out of the way and Lame Brain has the pleasure of chopping the traitorous dog's head off (11:47).
Tyranthraxus the demon escapes the dead dragon's body and gives a villain speech. I imagined I was in for yet another battle, but I guess Bane doesn't abide failures. Big T gets sucked into his own pool and it's all over. The game kindly auto-transports us to Phlan, where I raise Octavianus and for some reason I waste time leveling my fighters before going and getting the clerk's congratulations.
I had some fun paging through the Adventurer's Journal and looking at the entries that I didn't find. Most of them were deliberate misdirection aimed at players who cheated and read ahead. There was both a fake proclamation and tavern tale having to do with a woman kidnapped by ogres to the east of Phlan; they don't exist. There are three or four fake X-marks-the-spot maps that start at real reference points. One can picture puzzled players wandering around the area trying to find the hidden treasure that isn't there. There was a journal entry suggesting that Mace the cleric betrays Tyranthraxus, which never happens.
One fake journal entry, supposedly written by one of Tyranthraxus's servants, says that the evil lord is really Maram of the Great Spear, and he's just using Tyranthraxus's name. I've seen this "theory" pop up on some web sites, including the Forgotten Realms wiki, but I think these are based on people reading this false entry and not knowing that it's false. At least, I assume it's false--I never got this journal entry.
There was a fake letter indicating "happy, prosperous people" in a castle in a swamp--this is really the lizardmen's castle. Another insists that the Pool of Radiance is in the Dragonspine mountains. There's a couple of paragraphs that would lead the careless reader to assume the nomads are evil, and attack them. The Adventurer's Journal's writers were good at trolling.
A few thoughts before I start getting my GIMLET together:
1. I could swear that the end fight in this game is different than when I first played it on the Commodore 64. I remember Tyranthraxus fighting with his minions.
2. Given that the game's name is Pool of Radiance, the pool itself plays a minor role. I'm not really even sure what it is. The various journal entries suggest that it was in the mountains, but Tyranthraxus somehow brought it into his chambers in Phlan, and it's not so much a pool of liquid as one of magical energy, and whatnot. Anyway, aside from seeing it from a distance when I enter Tyranthraxus's chambers, I don't get to do anything with it. It's certainly not the focus of the game.
3. So what happens if you return to the castle after the end game and check out Tyranthraxus's chambers, maybe get a look at the pool up close? Tyranthraxus re-appears and gives his villain speech again! Very disappointing, Pool of Radiance. I guess the developers figured no one would want to do this, so they didn't need to make a permanent change to the game map.
4. I'm still a little confused about how Tyranthraxus became a dragon. I guess he was just possessing a dragon's body (which is how he got around the whole metallic=good thing), but I feel like I missed some explanation somewhere.
I thought the ending was a tad anticlimactic, but overall a great game, and I look forward to doing the final review.