Monday, January 7, 2013

Curse of the Azure Bonds: Four Down, One to Go

The dragons weren't quite this big in combat.

I guess most players go to Dracandros first. That I saved him for last (before Tyranthraxus, anyway, who you have to save for last) meant that I was a little overpowered for him, and this was reflected in the comparative ease with which I blasted through his tower and slew not only him but an entire horde of his dragon allies.

If Dracandros wasn't invented solely for this game, I'm not sure where he came from. He's presented as a Red Wizard of Thay--a cabal of notoriously paranoid, evil, traitorous, and slightly insane rulers from a kingdom far to the east. I don't know of any CRPGs set there, although Edwin from Baldur's Gate was another representative.

From the intelligence I'd collected through tavern tales and journal entries, I knew the following about Dracandros:

  • The Red Wizards had expelled him for being too ambitious, which is really saying something.
  • He's obsessed with dragons.
  • Dragons have been seen flying south for weeks.
  • He considers himself an arch-rival of Elminster of Shadowdale, and thus fashioned his personal crest to look like Elminster's.
  • He seemed to be plotting to spur dragons to lay waste to the Dalelands in another Dragonflight (the first Dragonflight was a mass attack by dragons on the Dalelands that had occurred some years prior; I think it was a D&D module). One of his subjects was training displacer beasts to assist in the devastation (I destroyed them outside Tilverton).


The adventure began in a southern village alternately called Hap and Haptooth. Shortly after entry, I was joined by a Turmish wizard named Akabar Bel Akash--yet another character from Azure Bonds. It was another sign of my comparative late arrival that Akabar was only Level 4 and had only 15 hit points. After a few battles with him in my party, I decided to take him back to Essembra to train up, but he ditched me the moment I left Hap.

I didn't shed a lot of tears. Akabar was a walking disaster. His AI wasn't smart enough to keep him from casting fireballs or stinking clouds in the middle of the party. After a few such fiascoes, I forced him to burn all area-effect spells in camp and only memorize things like "magic missile." I also gave him a bunch of extra Darts of the Hornets' Nest I was carrying, which he took with him when he disappeared. 

Akabar fireballs the entire party to take care of one Drow--who wasn't even affected.

Back to Hap. The terrified villagers were huddled in buildings, hiding from hordes of Drow invading the streets. The map wasn't large--just 8 x 16--but I had to push through several Drow patrols before encountering their leader, an efreet, in a warehouse.

I like the icon for the efreet.

After I killed them all, the village returned to normal life, and I found a map to a nearby set of caves.

Role-playing an evil party must suck in this game.

The caves were also infested by Drow, although not all of them hostile. I still don't really have any idea what the Drow were doing here. Their presence in Hap suggests they're allies of Dracandros, but in the caves I encountered Silk, a Drow woman calling herself a Swanmay, who wanted help infiltrating Dracandros's tower and collecting parts of dragons.

Did she just pick the first female in the party, or was there something about Goldeneye being a ranger?

I assume the Swanmays take greater import in a section of Azure Bonds that I never reached. I'm a bit confused about them. My understanding is that they appear in the D&D Monster Manual as a kind of were-swan, but with an odd and benign form of lycanthropy transmitted through tokens and accepted by choice. In other contexts, though, they seem to be more of an adventuring group. The Drow woman said she was the "leader" of the Swanmays "since Kith and Belinda disappeared on the Great Glacier," and I'm not sure what bit of lore this is referencing. In any event, they seemed to make Goldeneye, my ranger, one of them. After they gave her a marking, several of the Drow patrols stepped aside for us. I also had the option to avoid combat with large groups of comparatively friendly Drow mages and clerics, which I took, less because I was afraid of them and more for role-playing reasons.


At one point, I went down a passage and a bunch of Drow collapsed it, screaming that "none shall reach the divine city," which suggests that the caverns are just an extension of the Underdark. Did some of them partner with Dracandros just because he was their neighbor?


The network of caves culminated in a chamber occupied by a dracolich named Crimdrac who gave me the opportunity to surrender. I always wonder if people actually play that way. They reach a dracolich and say, "Oh, thank god. He's giving me the chance to surrender. I was worried I was going to have to fight him!" I like to think that if you say "Yes," the game just dumps you to the DOS prompt and deletes itself from the computer.


I used the same strategy that I use on all dragons: diffuse my party around him so that he can't hit too many characters with one breath attack. Anyway, he was extremely vulnerable to "magic missile," and I had three characters capable of casting it, so he didn't last more than a round.


When we entered the tower, we encountered Dracandros and he immediately used the bonds to freeze us and haul us up to the top of his tower. There, his plot became somewhat clearer. A mass of black dragons had assembled, and Dracandros used the bonds to compel us to attack one. It turned out to be an illusion, but his point was made: my party was dangerous to dragons. He told them that we were pawns of Elminster, who planned to "destroy all dragonkind in retaliation for the Dragonflight."


The dragons weren't convinced, and they forced Dracandros to release my bonds to see what I did on my own. At this point, I had a choice: talk, flee, attack Dracandros, and attack the dragons. It was a tough decision. On the one hand, the black dragons were evil. On the other, if I attacked them, they'd think Dracandros was telling the truth. On yet another, they'd only think that for a few minutes. Other factors in the decision included a) my characters were already very close to their max levels, and thus did not need the experience from the battle; b) I didn't know how many there were from the description; and c) what kind of sissy adventurer doesn't take the opportunity to fight an entire brigade of dragons? I attacked.

I really liked the role-playing options, though. What would have happened if I'd talked?

The battle was disappointingly easy, even considering that I was supposed to be here several levels ago. Each black dragon had 48 hit points, which took exactly two "Fireball" spells or a few fighter attacks to deplete. I confess that I forgot to count exactly how many there were, but I think it was somewhere around 18. My two mages cleared out enormous swaths of them. The only real danger was their acid breath attack, but the battle started with my characters out of the range of most of them, and the ones that survived my initial "Fireball" onslaught only used their breath attacks a few times. Fairly quickly, I had defeated them all and earned about 11,000 experience points per character for the battle. The game gave me the opportunity to carve out one of their hearts for the Swanmays.

If all of my characters have more than 50 hit points at Level 10, shouldn't black dragons have thousands of them?


After this, I had to battle my way down the tower. As most of this section, this was easy, pitting me mostly against Drow and owlbears (one of many D&D monsters whose conception must certainly have involved psychotropics), plus a few fixed encounters with wyverns. There were some nice treasure hoards containing rings, gauntlets, ioun stones, and other equipment that it would have been nice to have had in Zhentil Keep and Yulash.

The title of the paper was "Avoiding Tower Traps."

One interesting encounter involved a mage with a "Sphere of Annihilation." He offered a game by which he and one of my mages would "concentrate" on the sphere and try to drive it towards each other and see who survived or chickened out first. I won with hardly any effort; I assume it had to do with my high luck score.

At least he wasn't chicken.
I encountered Dracandros in his tower's courtyard, and he immediately attacked me with an efreet army. Again, the battle was easy. I just had to stop him from casting long enough to kill him. He was oddly untargetable with direct spells like "magic missile," but he was still vulnerable to area effect spells like "ice storm"--and so were the efreets.

I have no idea what was in the bag. Maybe lamps to summon all the efreets?

As I exited the tower, Silk appeared and gave me a load of gold for the dragon's heart. Her little address to Goldeneye was one of the few times that the game uses your character names (one of the few times in any CRPG to date, actually), and one of the few times outside combat that your party actually feels like individual characters. I thought it was a nice touch.

The 1980s influence on Drow hair is fairly obvious.

A few lessons from today's gameplay:

1. The series continues to be strong in role-playing options. I'm not saying they're at the level of some modern games, but it's nice to have choices even when the choice is obvious. Surrender to the dracolich or attack? Accept the mark of the Swanmays or refuse? Surrender your gold to random Drow patrols or brace for combat? Explore a lava-filled room or play it safe? This is the first part of the game where I might have done something authentically different if role-playing an evil party. I wouldn't call the game enormously replayable for this reason, but I do wonder what would have happened if I'd chosen different options, especially with the dragons atop the tower.

That the answer was obvious doesn't make the choice less welcome.

2. I'm eternally grateful to those of you who convinced me to keep a multi-classed fighter/thief. Despite his multi-class, Karnov is the most powerful fighter I have, and his backstab ability is just awesome. I probably burn more hit points trying to engineer him into a backstab position than if I just had him attack normally. Unfortunately, my insistence on keeping him in light armor means that he ends combats unconscious more than any other character.


3. The Drow carried some fairly powerful armor and weapons, but these crumble to dust when you take them into sunlight (i.e., leave the town for the wilderness). I'm glad I didn't replace any of my existing armor with Drow armor.

4. I can't tell you how happy it makes me when enemies line up for a lightning bolt.


5. The game has the same essential non-linearity as Pool of Radiance, but with relatively difficulty levels attempting (and failing, in my case) to force you on a more linear path. If you were to map a path through the game and its major stages, this is what it would look like:


Which brings us to the end of the game, and the final battles with Tyranthraxus. When I returned to the Standing Stone after leaving Hap, the "gray-robed figure" who had been giving me advice threw back his hood to reveal himself as Tyranthraxus.

Did my party not notice something odd with the shape of the hood?

He bade me meet him at Myth Drannor for our final showdown. Next posting, we'll see what happens.



76 comments:

  1. A couple of things:

    1) Swanmays are always female (they are loosely based on Swan Maidens from folklore), so they were definitely targeting the first female character in your group.

    2) I don't know if you have a Paladin in your party, but a Paladin with a high charisma makes it so that you can control NPCs in combat. That will usually put an end to NPCs who cast fireballs at the party. Additionally, you can use a key-combination (I think it's either CTRL-M or ALT-M) to toggle magic use on or off for NPCs. That also eliminates that problem.

    3) While there haven't been any video games set in Thay, Red Wizards have made appearances in other Forgotten Realms games as well (including Neverwinter Nights: Shadows of Undrentide), as well as other Gold-Box games, I believe.

    4) You definitely did things in a less than recommended order, but the fact that you beat it all shows that it can be done. Still, if there's a hard way to do things, I expect that's how you'll end up doing it. I've been reading this blog too long not to think otherwise.

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    1. 3) I thought you had made a FRUA module set in Thay, but it turned out the one I was thinking of is set in Tethyr, not Thay. ;-)

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    2. Whaaat? I've never heard of being given direct control of NPCs in Gold Box games, paladin or no.

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    3. In the Death Knights of Krynn, which I just began, I've been given control of NPC Solamnic Knights in battle because I have a Knight in my party. There is even a screen prefacing the battle noting his "leadership" ability coming in to play, allowing this control.

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    4. Well, that's got to be a Krynn-specific ability then.

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    5. My paladin didn't have the top charisma--he only had 17--but I agree with Harland: that sounds fishy. It doesn't appear in the manual for either CotAB or POR, and none of the FAQs or walkthroughs I've read post-game mention it.

      I see that the quick reference card does mention the ALT-M shortcut, though. I wish I'd seen that before I finished the game! Even so, I didn't want to restrict Akabar from casting entirely; I just didn't want him to use area-effect spells.

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    6. Regarding leading NPCs, Enraged Geek was probably thinking of Forgotten Realms Unlimited Adventure, not the Forgotten Realms Gold Box games.

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    7. You visit a Red Wizard Academy in NWN2: Mask of the Betrayer, which is either in Thay or near it. The starting town is near Thay, in a place called Rashemen.

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    8. If you give Akabar lightning bolt he'd probably kill himself with the spell.

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    9. It may be that they hadn't implemented the "Paladin controls NPCs" option yet, so sorry for the mistake. I know it is present in other Gold-Box games, though, so it is something you will be able to do in the future.

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  2. Dracandros can't be targeted since he starts out invisible. This is the one instance I can think of where Detect Invisibility would be useful. But he should be targetable again once he cast a spell.

    Joining the Swanmays in this game may have postive effects in later games in the series, I think.

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    1. I guess I imagined that if any creatures started as invisible, I wouldn't be able to SEE them. It didn't even occur to me to cast that spell.

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    2. In practical terms Invisible just means you can't Target an invisible enemy unless you can Detect Invisible. They also have a -4 bonus to AC against melee attacks, so I the rationale is, that Invisible just means "very hard to see".

      Now because those invisible usually can't be targetted the Invisibility 10' and Mass Invisibilty spells can be good buff spells in if you are facing groups of monsters with magical and special attacks, but only in the older games where they need to target a character to cast AOE spells.

      Also, the Ring of Invisibility means you start each round invisible, so to me it's a very valuable item, especially for a thief, who can then usually move freely about without worrying about opportunity attacks, and get in a good position for backstabs, or for using a Wand of Lightning.

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  3. I played this game for the first time a couple of years back. Of the three middle chapters, I tackled Dracandros first and the cult of Moander last, and, like you, I found the first section I tackled to be extremely tough and the last section a cakewalk. So I suspect that the differences between the sections does not have as much of an effect as the mere fact that you're significantly higher-level by the time you hit the last one.

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    1. Fair enough. The game does suggest an order, though, whether that order results in more even difficulty or not.

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    2. When I tried doing Yulash first I found the Zhentil Terror Teams far more dangerous than the Drows in Hap.
      So for an even difficulty I think the suggested order is best, but no matter what the second area will still be one of the most difficult areas in all the GB games.

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  4. So presumably if you didn't have a female in your party, would you be unable to accept the swanmay marking? This would be the first time I can think of in the gold box games of gender making a difference to something. In fact, this must be one of the first times in any games that you have blogged that gender may have made a significant gameplay change.

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    1. That's a good point. I think the prostitute in Wasteland might be the first time that sex came up as a plot device at all, but this would be the first time that it really mattered. Of course, it's possible I'm forgetting something.

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    2. I guess it's not a plot device, but there is Portsmith in Might and Magic 1.

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    3. Oh, right! How could I forget that? That's definitely key to the plot. I believe there are some sections of MM2 as well in which only males or females can go. Good call.

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    4. If I remember correctly Drow society is matriarchal in the extreme, the swanmays would naturally assume or rather insist your female character be the party leader.

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    5. I don't think the Swanmays had a lot to do with the Drow in particular. The one I encountered just happened to be Drow.

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  5. Oooh, the Sphere of Annihilation! That's one of my favorite D&D artifacts. Your ability to control it is not based on luck, as you surmised, but a combination of character level and intelligence. There are a lot of nice touches in this game.

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    1. I remember the Sphere of Annihilation being ridiculously easy for one reason, if no one is able to control the sphere (based on level and int as Amy said) it moves towards the magic-user with the highest int. I just picked a fighter, and the mage fails enough to kill himself the majority of the time.

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    2. 3rd Edition might have improved the rules, as two characters would make two opposing die rolls (d20 + int modifier + character level). Whoever rolls lowest has the sphere moving toward them.

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  6. It's a good thing they didn't use Tyranthraxus' image for the boxart cover, it'd likely have gone as well as it did for Ultima 3

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  7. Dear CRPG addict,

    Joining the Swanmays not only allows you to get money from Silk but benefits later when you go to Yulash to meet the Red Plume Commander. Silk appears again in POD. Golden eye was selected because she was the first female in the list of characters.

    On the Dragons, if you talk and are nice, the black dragons are convinced that there is no plot against dragonkind and leave you to fight it out with the wizard. The same result occurs if you choose to "attack the wizard".

    Dracandos has both firesheild and minor globe of invulnerability. He may also be invisible as Petrus said.

    The game is non-linear except that if you follow the man at the standing stone, the order he gives is red, green and then black (i.e. Dracandos, Mogion and then Fzoul). I usually made Yulash the last encounter before going to Myth Drannor.

    Don't know what the Drow want with Dracandos. They are a favorite foe in D+D so it was inevitable that they would be included. I find them similar in tactics to the Zhentrim patrols, with the rider that the drow have that magic resistance.

    Karnov is a great character. I used to use an elven magic-user thief and have her dimension door behind some one and then backstab and then dimension door back. Still, it costs two fourth level spell slots.

    Thank you

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    1. I was trying to figure out when I'd possibly use "Dimension Door"; I suppose that would be a good example.

      I screwed up the diagram, then. I figured Moander must come last. I went entirely in the reverse suggested order. Because of this, naturally, the Red Plume commander didn't come "later" for me, so being a Swanmay did nothing for that.

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    2. There is a lot of fun in clever uses of magic in the pen & paper D&D. Often through greatly misusing something from how it was intended or by trying to apply real physics to magic.

      One of my favorite uses was a spell 'Weighty Chest'- designed to protect your belongings, it makes the chest or container get heavier whenever someone other than the caster touches it (so that it would be too heavy to lift or slide, something like 20x body weight). I got to use this to fun effect when my party was trying to use a large desk as a ramming implement- shoving it down a flight of stairs into a group of enemies. As it was about to go over the stairs (with 2 people riding it for some reason), a simple non-combat spell creates effectively a boulder of doom. The DM was only somewhat annoyed by this.

      Unfortunately, spell choice is limited by what can be handled by the game engine. Most people just lean towards damage dealing spells as the simplest option. As you have seen, tougher enemies tend to resist low-level spells.

      Except in Nethack- where the developers think of everything.

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    3. Dear CRPG addict,

      I do not think you messed up. You demonstrated yet another way of playing the game, that is all.

      Thanks

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  8. I'm not sure, but I think the comment "since Kith and Belinda disappeared on the Great Glacier," may refer to the next game, Secret of the Silver Blades (the only gold-box game I owned before buying the collection that I still need to play through).

    That game is in a much more northerly area, with a lot more ice and snow. But its been too long since I played it, so I don't recognize the names or remember much with swans there.

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    1. That would be a good guess. We'll know in about a year!

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  9. The Gold Box games are the only D&D games where I have found Lightning Bolt useful (rather than go for another fireball). Partly because it bounces off walls and partly because of the nice lineups (in BG and NWN it seems impossible to hit more than 2 or 3).

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    1. I often used a Wand of Lightning on the Ogres on the bridge in Baldur's Gate. Very hard to line up properly, but very satisfying when it succeeds. But if the lightning bolt hits an obstacle, it seems programmed to bounce right back at the caster, regardless of angle and not in accordance with simple geometry.

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    2. Yes, it behaves entirely unlike a pool ball.

      I remember a few times, if you could line it up right in narrow corridors, you could get it bouncing in a very limited area and kill tough foes with one casting--but it was very dangerous, because if you were a little off on the angle, you could easily hit your own party.

      Essentially, every time you cast it, you have to move your mage immediately to avoid the bounce-back, and even then it could easily hit another party member.

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  10. dracandros should be the first stop but even then at low player levels he is tough as he casts one of those damnnamble return damage spells on himself so melee characters take damage each time they hit him etc.

    I also think Yulash is easier than the Zhentarim base.

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    1. Those are the times to use "magic missile" and missile weapons. Though I do like to envision my fighter sucking it up and melee-attacking anyway, knowing he's going to get back twice what he gives, but doing it anyway for the party.

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    2. Does Frostbrand grant resist fire in CotAB? If so it might have let your fighter avoid flame shield damage. I don't recall much fire damage in the game, Salamanders?

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    3. I didn't notice if it did. I figured "frostbrand" referred to the type of extra damage it did, not a protective effect on the wielder.

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    4. I thought it did both, as Drizzt carries one of those that lets him stand in fires.

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  11. Just finished rereading the book - I had no idea there was a computer game based on it!

    (Spoilers for the book follow!)

    In the book, Alias believes the Swanmays were the first adventuring company she joined, so it seems like rather than being actual Swanmays they're just a group of adventurers with the same name. She recalls Kith especially fondly, being the youngest in age other than herself. Turns out, of course, she was never actually a member, as they're all a part of the false memories impanted in her by the Nameless Bard, probably taken from a book Elminster wrote about them.

    One thing I didn't quite get from the book - why does Cassana want Alias' creation? All the other groups have clear and obvious goals - Moander requires an unborn child to free him, Phalse requires someone with Moander's brand to kill Moander, the Fire Knives want an assassin who can't be scried by magic, the Nameless Bard wants someone to spread his songs and Prakis wants a replacement for Cassana. Cassana is the main driving force behind Alias' creation, though, and we never find out her reason before she gets exploded!

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    1. Thanks for the summary. I did try to read the book, but I was put off by the abrupt changes in viewpoint and a few other writing things. Now that I'm finishing with the game and Memories of Light is out, it's unlikely I'll be returning to it.

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    2. Sorry--A Memory of Light. I was confusing it with Steven Erikson's Memories of Ice.

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    3. Cassana wanted to transfer her consciousness into Alias' body, which was why she pushed to have it designed as a young, physically enhanced nearly to perfection (17s in all stats!) version of her own body. Moander would have been happier with a drooling vegetable, the Fire Knives didn't care about their assassin's mental capabilities and would probably have preferred she stand out less, Phalse wanted his "prototype" to be as close to perfect as possible but for a reason he couldn't share, and Prakis wanted Cassana's looks but didn't care about her mind.

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  12. The power of a dragon is determined by colour and age. Red and Gold dragons are the strongest, white are the weakest. Black is somewhere in the middle, on the low end I think (Though I could be wrong about that).

    Dragons also get larger and more powerful as they age, so if you were fighting young one then yes, they'd be rather easy to beat. It would also make sense that you were fighting young ones if they were in the sway of one powerful dragon.

    Case in point: The 3rd edition adventure "The Sunless Citadel" has a wyrmling (smallest size) white dragon fighting 1st level characters, and another (who's name I forget) Does the same with a black dragon wyrmling.

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    1. In practice in the BG games the Blue Dragons are the most dangerous ones, IMO. They nearly always use their breath weapon, and they can use it from seemingly unlimited range, while Red Dragons need to be pretty close to breathe on you.

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    2. And Fire is so much easier to protect against, while against Lightning you'll need a Ring of Lightning Immunity, which may or may not work. It's doesn't in the DOS version of Pools of Darkness.

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    3. The Sunless Citadel is a really fun adventure. Meepo quickly became my group's mascot.

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    4. PetrusOctavianus: Now that is just bad implementation.

      AD&D Monstrus Manual:
      Dragon, Chromatic Blue Dragon
      Armor Class: 0 (base)
      Hit Dice: 14 (base)
      THAC0: 7 (base)
      No. of Attacks: 3+special
      Damage/Attack: 1-8/1-8/3-24

      Breath weapon/special abilities: A blue dragon's breath weapon is a 5' wide bolt of lightning that streaks 100' in a straight line from the dragon's mouth.

      Red Dragon:
      Armor Class: -3 (base)
      Hit Dice: 15 (base)
      THAC0: 7 (at 9 HD)
      No. of Attacks: 3+special
      Damage/Attack: 1-10/1-10/3-30 (3d10)

      Breath weapon/special abilities: A red dragon's breath weapon is a searing cone of fire 90' long, 5' wide at the dragon's mouth and 30' at the base.

      So the Red Dragon has better AC, better damage and its breath weapon is a cone 90' long, vs a ray 100' long, either of which should be more then long enough to hit you.

      That is a good point about being able to resist the fire more easily though; that has always been red and gold dragon's weakness.

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  13. In the paragraph mentioning plotting another Dragonflight, I hope you mean devastation. If it's de-VEST-ation, this turns into a whole another kind of game...

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    1. No, Dracandros's plan was to see everyone in the Dalelands unclothed.

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    2. I will not link to 1d4chan, I will not link to 1d4chan, linking to 1d4chan will make Chet mad at me, I will not....

      (While I don't normally go to such sites, I was once linked to the description of a play by post game that is pretty much what you describe above)

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  14. Regarding your thief's poor armor class - a thief (in fact, any character) is generally much better off using a combination of bracers of defense and a ring of protection. The ring's effects combine with the bracers (unlike with armor), and you can achieve a very low AC. As I recall, there are Bracers AC 2 and Rings of Protection +3, providing a -1 AC. The best armor in the game (Plate +3) only affords a 0 AC.

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    1. Didn't notice this until now, but Karnov the Fighter/Thief and the Fighter Octavianus really should have switched places.
      When having six characters, I usually put my Paladin in position 1, which is the front center, with the two other melee fighters on his flanks gaining the benefit from his aura at the start of combat.
      The fragile mage is put in position 4, which is the safest one, while the Fighter/Thief, who really needs to be mobile to get in place for backstabs, take one of the remaining back slots.

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    3. I don't know. I don't see how putting Karnov in the back would have made him more mobile. There are many times in which you fight in congested circumstances, and having to skirt around the front characters might have meant that Karnov couldn't have attacked until the following round.

      I assume your logic is that if Karnov starts toe-to-toe with the enemy, he can't maneuver around them without risking a free attack at his back, but I usually found that wasn't a problem, since you can circle enemies freely as long as you don't leave an adjacent square.

      Octavianus was a cleric, keep in mind; he had been dualed from a fighter, so he had some augmented battle power, but by the end game he was performing much better as a spellcaster.

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  15. 'At one point, I went down a passage and a bunch of Drow collapsed it, screaming that "none shall reach the divine city,"'

    There's actually a [false] journal entry where the drow capture you and bring you before their spider-demon-goddess, Lolth. I so wanted that entry to be real when I first played the game - it would've been such an awesome side quest.

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    1. There's a fake entry that has the party encountering Tiamat, too. It's the first one in the journal. The Drow one you mentioned is the last. I guess they "bookended" the fake entries with ones that sounded awesome.

      Oh, and another one that promised a reunion with an undead Cadorna (the traitor from Pools).

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    2. Right, I remember - thanks for reawakening those long slumbering memories. Although the main purpose of false journal entries was to keep players from learning the real plot by cheating, you have to wonder if some of them started out as real encounters during the design phase, and then got cut during development.

      And hey, if anyone reading this is planning on remaking Curse of the Azure Bonds, here's a plea to include Lolth and Tiamat and undead Cadorna!

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  16. I'm eternally grateful to those of you who convinced me to keep a multi-classed fighter/thief. Despite his multi-class, Karnov is the most powerful fighter I have, and his backstab ability is just awesome.

    Yeah, I was the one pushing hardest, probably. Karnov will peak soon in terms of his fighting capability, probably very early in the next game, but will stay strong into the lategame, and will always be more useful than a straight thief with the same XP. I haven't played this series of GB games, but if it's like real D&D, he'll start to have trouble hitting by the time you're near the end -- but a pure thief would have been having trouble hitting anything for the entire game, so you're still way ahead.

    You may already have him set up this way, but Bracers of Defense, a strong Ring and Cloak of Protection (which I believe will stack in this edition of D&D), a Girdle of Giant Strength AND Gauntlets of Ogre Power (which also stack!) will turn that character into a juggernaut of destruction. I believe that engine does the full backstab multiplier on ALL the damage you do, including strength bonuses, where later engines do not. And the very high hit bonuses from all that strength will make up for a lot of missing fighter levels.

    Of course, this also weakens your other characters. Whether or not this is a viable tactic is purely based on how much loot you get, and I have no experience with this series. But 100+ damage backstabs are incredible fun.

    Oh, and re:hitpoints, remember that AD&D has a soft maximum of 400, which is a major deity, so they probably couldn't give him a ton more hit points while still treating him as a giant.

    He was probably in a maximum-hitpoint storm giant, but as you saw, pitting a storm giant versus a level 11 ranger, hasted, with giant strength and a +5 weapon, will not work out well for the giant. 1E AD&D rangers get +1 damage per level per hit against giants, so if he's hitting four times a round, that's 40 damage, plus strength bonus four times (I think +12 with 24 strength, so 48 damage), plus weapon bonus four times (+20), means 108 damage before you even roll any damage dice. Per round. At that rate of damage, even a god would go down in four rounds or less.

    The overall process is a crude simulation of the later YouTube video series, "Will it Blend?"

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    1. 1) Karnov did such fantastic backstabbing WITHOUT any augmentation that I felt it was better to give the girdle to my ranger, who only had a strength of 16 innately. Since I couldn't always screw around with backstab maneuvering, it was more important to me to have a well-rounded force of melee fighters than one exceptional backstabber. Of course, it felt to me like I ended up with both, but perhaps that doesn't carry to future games.

      2) "They probably couldn't give him a ton more hit points while still treating him as a giant." What you mean is that they couldn't do this while adhering strictly to AD&D rules. Programatically, they could have done anything they wanted. This is one of the problems with the Gold Box series; they seemed to care more about literally interpreting D&D rules than making effective CRPGs. I don't think the Infinity Engine games, by contrast, had quite this hang-up. They used the AD&D rules as a base but modified them when necessary to make for better gameplay.

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    2. Well, his multiplier should keep going up, so he'll hit harder and harder in later games, and it should be just as impressive compared to your other fighters. As levels go up, fighters get weaker and weaker, and spellcasters, particularly mages, get stronger. (I think you're past the balance point, as it sounds like your mages are already killing a lot more bad guys than your fighters.)

      If you get enough loot to load Karnov up with both a girdle and gauntlets, without gimping your other fighters, he should be terrifyingly powerful, probably just about as strong as your high-level casters, albeit focused on only one target at a time.

      What you mean is that they couldn't do this while adhering strictly to AD&D rules. Programatically, they could have done anything they wanted.

      They could probably have declared that Tyranthraxus' possession doubled a creature's hit points (not that unreasonable), without causing too much whinging, but you had to run that fight several times for everyone to survive. I'd call that pretty good balancing. You made it look easy once you knew how it worked, and where it was, but Tyranthraxus gave you pretty serious grief on your prior attempts.

      There has to be enough room for a non-expert player who doesn't know his or her D&D minmaxing to win. Your party is carefully designed and managed, and not everyone's will be that strong. Even your very strong party lost characters on several attempts, so personally, I think the designers did their job pretty well.

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    3. Adhering strictly to AD&D rules was probably more a licensing restriction than a design choice.

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    4. That didn't occur to me. If that's the case, it sounds like TSR loosened up a bit later.

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    5. I may be wrong but by the time Baldur's gate rolled around wizards of the coast owned the D&D license not TSR.

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    6. You're right, UBAh. WOTC purchased the company in 1997 (though they continued to use the TSR logo until the year 2000), and Baldur's Gate was released in 1998. :)

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    7. That explains it, as much as people complain about WOTC they were more willing to allow leeway with their IP. Bygone days when we were younger often get looked at though rose colored glasses, as we have seen with a few old games our dear addict has covered, so people forget how badly TSR behaved at times and only remember them fondly. I bet when Games Workshop goes under all the kids playing their games today will forget how awful they treat fans trying to use their IP too.

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    8. Oh, I agree. There were some excellent things happening after WOTC bought out TSR. I'm a big fan of the d20 system, and some of the adventure modules they came out with (such as The Sunless Citadel) were simply superb. However, I've always had issues with the way Paizo Publishing handled the Dragon and Dungeon magazines.

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    9. If you have questions about Baldur's Gate dev most of the team is on Twitter.

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  17. If you surrender to Crimdrac, he attacks you as you leave Hap anyway.

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    1. Thanks! I was wondering how that worked.

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  18. Oh, and one more thought... it sounds like you're imagining that Tyranthraxus should have been able to stand in the middle of all your characters, like a colossus among ants, shrug off everyone's attacks, and beat your party's brains in. Like World of Warcraft, basically.

    But that's not how D&D works. In that system, the rules are important, and the bad guys figuring out ways to be dangerous and effective within that rule system is much like your own characters figuring out the same things. Yes, the world is imaginary, and we can always imagine something new, but that reminds us too strongly that the whole thing is bullshit to begin with.

    Tyranthraxus being no tougher than an ordinary storm giant is part of what makes that rules system feel like a real place, and not just a trip through whatever unreasonable crap a designer might come up with. ("Okay, he's got five million hit points, but he's super-susceptible to Snilloc's Snowball!")

    Much of D&D in general, through all its various incarnations, has always been exploring implications of the rules, rather than making up new rules on the spot. It adds a lot of realism to a ridiculously unrealistic system. Doubling Tyranthraxus' hit points might have made short-term sense, but it would come with a long-term cost, weakening the fabric the world is made from.

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    1. No, I don't think that at all. I just think he should have been a little more challenging. Tyranthraxus isn't a storm giant; he's an ancient entity capable of possessing a storm giant. In my book, that means he should be more powerful than said storm giant, perhaps with some of his own spells and a higher hit point total.

      I get the adherence to the rules, but it seems like many D&D-based games make exceptions for named enemies.

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  19. The network of caves culminated in a chamber occupied by a dracolich named Crimdrac who gave me the opportunity to surrender. I always wonder if people actually play that way. They reach a dracolich and say, "Oh, thank god. He's giving me the chance to surrender. I was worried I was going to have to fight him!" I like to think that if you say "Yes," the game just dumps you to the DOS prompt and deletes itself from the computer.

    As a matter of fact, this *is* how I always played it. Fighting him at this point just beats you up, which you don't need right now, and if you "surrender", the game unfolds the same way, except that you encounter (and kill) the dracolich later.

    but I do wonder what would have happened if I'd chosen different options, especially with the dragons atop the tower.

    As above - I can't believe you elected to actually fight the dragons!

    owlbears (one of many D&D monsters whose conception must certainly have involved psychotropics)

    Owlbears are my favourite D&D monster. :)

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    1. I understand your explanation on the Dracolich, but you'd have to have already tried it once or twice to know the consequences of the action. I was speaking more from the perspective of a player playing blind.

      My favorite D&D monster has to be the Aboleth. But this might just be because it's one of the first creatures in the Monster Manual and every time I sat down to read the whole thing (I never did get all the way through), I at least covered the Aboleth.

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  20. I am IMMENSELY thrilled that I'm not the only dinosaur that still plays -now and then- games from my salad days such as PoR and COTAB...

    Was wonderfully serendipitous to run into not only this web page, but also this wealth of comments and the coment-ers that spawned them :D

    Peace

    Raz

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