Friday, June 10, 2011

Pool of Radiance: Won!

A gaze in your eyes is all the reward I require, you high-cheekboned vixen.

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.

This screen is funny if you imagine that "sell you my wagon" is a metaphor for prostitution.

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.

Wand of Lightning: For when your enemy is immune to fireballs.

  • 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.

What happened to your hair, mustache, and beard?

  • 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.

I'll be damned.

  • 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:

I could buy 61.1 carts.

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.

Uh...don't medusas slither?

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.

These maps lead to nothing.

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.

31 comments:

  1. Great Victory! Yeah, any NPCs from the training hall always vote for the big T. Hence I usually execute them after the battle with the guards. Sad, but necessary.

    I look forward to the gimlet rating.

    By the way, I noticed in my games that by not standing diagonally to big T, you could avoid the lightening. I will have to try again to make sure.

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  2. Nice set of posts. These made me want to replay PoR one more time even though I'm in the middle of Wizardry VI and having a good time with it.

    I was a bit surprised with the NPC betrayal, actually. I never take them, even when starting out. I just view them as XP leeches, even though there's more than enough XP and treasure to max everyone out and dump money everywhere... It's some sort of ingrained power gamer habit or something. It's actually also a reason why I sometimes have to push myself to consider RP options instead of just killing everything for maximal XP and treasure gain (unless the writing manages to engage me but that rarely happens these days).

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  3. Great write-up of the game. I've really enjoyed following this blog. This brings back such great memories of playing PoR on the C64 when I was a kid. I seem to remember the game took me months to complete back then.

    BTW, very bold of you to remove Lame Brain's armor before entering the final battles. You have great confidence in your characters! ;)

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  4. LameBrain controls the mystic elemental powers of the universe! He bends the cosmos to his will with the power of his mind alone! What good is steel when compared to the firey death that awaits only his command to fling itself upon his foes!
    All who walk before him, Tremble! All that set their wills contrary to his, Tremble! All that would dare to defy him, Tremble!

    Death will come for you all!

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  5. Loved your replay of this game. I never had the patience to finish it at the time I was playing it - I don't think I ever made it out of the city at all.
    Anyways - what are you using to map the games? I'd love to replay some old games, but hesitate to have to use graph paper to map...

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  6. After watching the video it struck me: Did they expect anyone to get into RPing their characters enough that to split their own party by having some characters vote to fight and others vote to join Tyranthraxus? I mean, I've run a tabletop game where a player did accept an offer to switch sides during the climactic battle but it doesn't strike me as the sort of thing that makes as much sense in a single player CRPG. It's a neat detail, though.

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    1. I actually tried it out on the Amiga version of POR. They really implemented a party vs. party fight in the last battle. Any character who votes for Tyranthraxus joins him like the NPCs and is dropped from the party after the battle.
      That's also the reason why if all characters join him, the "monsters rejoice" screen is appearing immediately: There are no remaining party members alive (the condition check if to end the battle is done at the beginning of each combat round).

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  7. or starters, congrats on beating the game. Can't wait for you to do the others in the series. Hopefully they aren't too far away.

    As for Snake Charm, aren't you glad you took my advice now? And, honestly, in the other games, you encounter far more snakes, so it *really* comes in handy down the line. You can definitely trust me on that.

    In regards to the "conquering of lands south of the Moonsea," that's probably due to the fact that the Wizards of Thay are trying to conquer those lands (besides knowing the gold-box games pretty well, I'm also a D&D DM for 25+ years who runs games out of the Forgotten Realms, so I'm pretty familiar with some areas of it). The areas north of the Moonsea are frontier-lands. There is nothing there except the Vaasan Highlands, which is populated by barbarians. All the civilized cities are south of the Moonsea, and that's where people live. That's the areas you would want to conquer. Additionally, Zhentil Keep had a large fortress (called the Citadel of the Raven) in the Dragonspine Mountains and were a force to be reckoned with. The Red Wizards, while powerful, probably didn't want to step on their toes. Believe it or not, you catch hints about these kinds of things in later gold-box games and even games like Neverwinter Nights.

    Finally, Medusas in D&D don't usually slither. They have humanoid legs. That's so that they can trick their prey into thinking they are humans by wearing disguises (this actually happens in one of the later games). I think a Greater Medusa has the body of a snake, but I'm not 100% sure on that.

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  8. Does your wife know about this clerk?

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  9. I played the hell out of this game on C64 back in high school. I remember leveling up my chars til their experience was maxed, poised for the next level, by fighting the random encounters in Valejo over and over (the fighter + giants). The final battles were definitely as you described here on C64 - you face the fighter escort followed by the big T himself. I seem to recall I had some kind of magic item (dust of disappearance?) from the Library or someplace that I kept all game and then used to good effect in the final battle.

    Here's how pathetic I was in High School: For senior year, we got to pick something to appear under our pictures. Most people chose some great philosopher's witticism, or a favorite song lyric - I put "Tyranthaxus lives!"... hoo-boy.

    I would say this is probably my favorite CRPG of all time. I look forward to seeing how it scores in your GIMLET ranking.

    Currently replaying it for the first time in 22 years, though I'm playing the FRUA module version, which isn't 100% identical but is pretty darn close. No Manual of Bodily Health in the library, though... *grumble*

    - Khoram

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  10. Following you along "Pool of Radiance" has been a lot of fun. Congrats for your success!

    Looking forward to reading your journey through "Sentinel Worlds", as that was a game I actually played back in the time (around 1989). I don't remember much, anyway... I know I won the game, though, and that switching back and forth 2 5¼-inch disks every 5 minutes of play (not sure now, but I think the game asked you to insert disk 2 everytime you picked up an item) was a real pain in the ass... but I didn't care then!

    It's funny because, in the Internet age, I have tried to play all these CRPG's I had not the chance to play in the late 80's (like the Gold Box games)and I just cant't stand going through all the keystrokes needed to do the simplest thing... so I end up closing the DOSBox window after 10 minutes. But 20 years ago I had no problem with long and tedious loading, constant disk switching, corrupted save games that forced you to start it all over, etc.

    This is one of the reasons I like your blog so much: it satisfies this big gaming nostalgia reading about the great games I missed when I was 10 years old (your awesome analysis of game mechanics really adds up). The more I read, the more I think contemporary CRPG's (where you rarely need to use your imagination) will never be as satisfying as the programming jewels you are blogging about.

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  11. It's funny how individual elements of a CRPG can dominate your approach to it. The first time I played Baldur's Gate, I had a hell of a time finding a couple of books to give to a couple of NPCs for quest rewards, so every time after that I've obsessively collected every book, even though they take up a lot of inventory space, just to make sure I have it when it comes time to turn it over.

    In the case of PoR, my memory of the game from 17 years ago was so dominated by the level caps, and how annoyed I was that I wasn't getting anything from all that experience, that my approach to playing this time was dominated by trying to blunt that, via multi-classed characters and almost always having two NPCs.

    Stuart, until you pointed that you, I didn't even notice! I was swapping items in and out of "ready" and I must have just hit the wrong item. Wow. It's a wonder he made it.

    Lame Brain is beginning to sound a little like Tiax.

    Fredrik, I use Microsoft Excel. I shrink the columns to make squares and then use the border-drawing tools to draw the walls and doors.

    Sean, I thought the same thing. It does really separate the wheat from the chaff, role-playing-wise. If you split your party with the votes, the computer takes them over in the battle against Tyranthraxus.

    Prophet, feel free to give me any other advice on spells, and thanks for your FR lore. I can't remember encountering medusas in other D&D-based CRPGs. Now I'm going to be paranoid about it until I encounter the one that you mention.

    Khoram, thanks for the correction on the final battle. Memory can play tricks on you. In addition to remembering Tyranthraxus as being surrounded by minions, I also seem to remember him as being a giant instead of a dragon. So clearly I'm thinking about a different fight.

    But here's the odd thing. I KNOW this memory isn't false: when I played the game as a kid, I got slaughtered two times in a row trying to beat Tyranthraxus. So I actually called the SSI hint line to see if there was something obvious that I had missed. The woman on the other end, after consulting with her colleagues, came back and said, "The best way to beat Tyranthraxus and his minions is to cast as many fireballs as possible." I am absolutely SURE that's what she said, because I remember remarking sarcastically that, given the level caps on mages, I could only cast two (having more than one mage hadn't occurred to me, apparently). Anyway, I noted in my replay here that fireballs would have been essentially useless against both Tyranthraxus and the platoon of guards that attack ahead of him. So SOMETHING must have changed about the final battle between versions. Or SSI didn't know what they were talking about.

    Carontesyx, I remember having to go through the disk-swapping routine playing Ultima VI, probably the last C64 game I ever played. It ruined the game for me. The one thing I liked about the slower process back then was that there were graver consequences to dying. Even if you could save whereever you wanted, it was still such a big production to load the saved game from the disk that you avoided it whenever possible. I wish CRPGs today would mimic that by forcing you to wait 5 minutes to reload after each death or something.

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  12. That 'sell my wagon' joke made me literally lol.

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  13. For disguises to work, I think you have to unequip your arms/armour. dont recall 100%.

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  14. Secret of the Silver Blades has the best fake journal entries of the series, if you ask me.

    Slight spoilers for Curse of the Azure Bonds: Perhaps you played that as well, and that's where you memory of battling Tyranthaxus in the form of a giant comes from? Also, I know I used a ton of fireballs in the boss fight of that game, including some from magic items wielded by characters who couldn't cast them otherwise. (I played these games for the first time just last year, so it's still a fairly recent memory for me.)

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  15. Baf...Tyranthraxus shows up again in CotAB? How did he survive? No, don't tell me more. I don't remember anything about the game.

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  16. Is it just me, or is Big T called "Tyranithraxus" (with an "I") in the final battle?

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  17. Damn, Anon: you're right. The "fake Tyranthraxus" was also spelled that way, so I thought it was the game subtly signaling to me that I had the wrong guy. Nope, turns out SSI just didn't know how to spell the names of their own characters.

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  18. BTW, one weird design thing I found is that you find tons of rings of fire resistance, you have a resist fire spell, you hear rumors that the big bad is a dragon, great! you say, dragons breathe fire, this equipement I found is probably meant to help me in the final battle, you jiggle happily down the castle stairs, and, shazambam, the dragon breathes lightning and you go down toasted where you expected to be roasted, with a lame feeling of being toyed with.

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  19. That's a good point! Neither the rings of fire resistance or the ring of feather falling turned out to help in any meaningful way.

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  20. I know it's been a year since the last comment, but I'm playing the game right now for the I-stopped-counting-after-the-20th time.

    The ring if feather falling is really only good for money. Not that you need or even only want the 2,500 gold pieces you get for it at the time you find that ring. But the rings of fire resistance can actually be useful. Give them to your frontline warriors and you can risk throwing fireballs at large groups without having to worry about damaging you characters too much. Not that this is actually necessary, but if I can blow up two more monsters I would otherwise avoid because they're adjacent to one of my warriors, so be it.

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    1. The ring of feather falling is useful to get to the old thieves guild if you don't have a thief to climb down the well. Other than that, yeah, sell it.

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    2. Thanks, 'Nym. I never thought about using the fire resistance ring in that way. Good tactic.

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  21. Nice blog.

    It actually motivated me to start a new session of Pool of Radiance just once again. Must be my fourth or fifth time.

    But I encountered a weird bug, it seems. (Or I have forgotten something?)

    I have just entered the inner tower inside the maze through the correct entrance. (The fake Big T is already dead.)
    I am in the room with the illusionary wall. I pass the wall, see the stairs. I want to climb up the stairs, but nothing happens. I have tried it many ties, but I always stay in the big room.
    Does anybody have an idea? Have I missed something? Or is this a known bug? (I am playing on a PC with dos box.)

    But other than that it was fun and brought back some good memories.

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  22. No-one else ever said anything, so I wanted to give you accolades for actually calling the SSI Hint Line. Oh, would that there were still an SSI Hint Line in business in 2014. I would totally call it once a week just to be like "so...tell me again the best tactics to use when assaulting Gernix, the goblin city, in Sword of Aragon? *dreamy stare*"

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  23. FWIW as I remember the Amiga version, the final fight was also fighters + dragon. But it's been >20 years (I think I only played through this once) I am not sure.

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  24. The dragon fell for rumors that bathing in the Pool of Radiance would give him great magical power. When he actually did, he discovered the hard way that it was a portal to the Nine Hells and bathing in it put him in Tyranthraxus' power.

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  25. Last bit of musing on the NES version:

    1) Tyranthraxus was completely immune to any spell I cast or wand I used. Probably a bug, but it was strange to see even magic missiles cause no reaction.

    It was fun to read these finally in full. I'd played the PC version as a kid many times, but haven't revisited it in many years. The console version was a bit of a disappointment, but still enjoyable. I definitely recommend any PC version over it though.

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    1. I didn't have a lot of specific reactions, but I appreciate your commentary over the last week. It's fun to hear about these differences.

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  26. I won the game last Sunday. After getting past the guards, we faced Big T, and my MU zapped him with the Wand of Paralyzation--much to my surprise it actually worked, and the thief killed him with a fell blow. It was almost disappointing, except I knew I just got a lucky roll.

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    1. You know, I rather prefer that than games where the big bad is immune to everything just because. D&D games make everyone play by the same rule set. That's an advantage overall even when it results in anticlimactic combats sometimes.

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