|Karl's this 60-year-old guy and you're a silver dragon who looks like a gorgeous young elven maiden. It's Karl who would be embarrassed if the secret were revealed?|
To recap the plot of the game, the War of the Lance has recently ended in victory for the good guys, but my party is among a group of Solamnic knights who have found evidence of a resurgence of evil in the northwest part of Ansalon. It seems that someone named Myrtani has re-discovered the methods necessary to corrupt good dragon eggs into Draconians and is raising an army. His ultimate aims are unknown, but he has a Dragonlance (a powerful weapon that can kill dragons) and one of his lieutenants is a possibly-undead fallen knight named Sir Lebaum. At the close of the last posting, I had been sent to an ogre base to see about an alliance between the good armies and the ogre king.
|Yes, I actually take the time to use Adobe's text box tools to "check" the check boxes in the journal.|
I arrived at the ogre base in the midst of a civil war. The ogre king, Gravnak, was contending with an upstart, Morog, who had hired a band of Draconian assassins to settle the conflict. As I explored the base, I ran into supporters of both contenders; those that supported Morog generally assumed that I was with the assassins and pointed me to their quarters.
|Another role-playing choice. Do we slaughter the relatively defenseless ogre just because he's on the side of our enemy?|
An encounter with an aged ogre led me to the locations where I could kill the Draconians and collect evidence implicating Morog. The Draconian battle gave me my first taste of combat with an Aurak Draconian, and I already hate them. You can't target them from a distance, they cast spells, they have breath and energy attacks that are not disruptable, and they come back to life twice after you've killed them. On their second resurrections, after a few rounds have passed, they explode into fireballs.
|To be fair, I was making liberal use of my own fireballs.|
After a long combat that nearly killed my party, I defeated the assassins. In another room, I killed some of Morog's allies and found documents implicating Morog. At the culmination of the map, I brought the evidence to a conference room where Morog and Gravnak were arguing.
The final battle, with half of the ogres fighting on my side, was relatively simple, but it made me remember how irksome it is to have a lot of allies on your side. You have to watch them dither around, trying to find a route to the enemy, for what seems like an eternity.
|And most of them couldn't even get around me to reach the opposing side.|
When I was done, King Gravnak ushered me into his office and offered an alliance to help defeat Myrtani. He said he'd come to my aid if I attacked Myrtani's base in Kernen.
|I love the idea that a guy who wanders around in a loincloth has an "office" and speaks perfect English.|
The next quest took me to an outpost of the Knights of Solamnia, from which a messenger had gone missing. From the moment I arrived, it was clear something squirrely was going on. The commandant refused to let me see the messenger, and every street had guard checkpoints where the guards demanded I leave. People started at me in the street and guards kept stopping and checking up on me.
|I KNEW it.|
At last, I ran into a man wearing a tattered guard's uniform who told me what I already suspected: Draconians had conquered the outpost and imprisoned the real guards. The commandant was a Sivak Draconian (capable of altering their appearance), and most of the "guards" were soldiers of the enemy. The guard gave me a map indicating where the real guards were being held, including a secret door into the prison.
The guards in the prison refused to help until I released their children, being held hostage in one of the houses in the north. After slaughtering a secluded guard checkpoint, I freed the children, returned to the guards, freed them, and attacked the commandant in his office.
|No one named "Jadefang" is good news.|
The Draconian "commandant" wasn't very hard--he just had fighters with him--but in the room beyond, "Jadefang" turned out to be a green dragon, capable of breathing some heavy-damage poison. Fortunately, by this time my fighters were doing better with their THAC0s, and I was able to take him down in a single round. Oddly, the wizard who supposedly ran into this room never showed up in battle.
With the dragon slain, the real guards recovered control of the outpost. The game provided some nice touches to show the player effecting permanent change on the game world.
Overall, I liked the role-playing opportunities in this area. I could have just charged in swinging, attacking every guard post, like I did in the buccaneer base in Pool of Radiance, but I took the time to win the map through the more plot-heavy "stealth" method. As we've seen in other games like Dragon Wars, good role-playing choices aren't always about dialogue or single encounters, but rather about general approaches to maps and quests.
When I returned to the knights' outpost, I found it in near-ruins. Myrtani and his forces had led an attack on the place in my absence, and they had kidnapped Sir Karl. Maya was beside herself. Vowing to reclaim him, she asked if I would go with her to Neraka and help with the rescue.
|What kind of player says "no" here?|
While exploring Neraka, Maya never showed up in my party list, but she was always there at my back when combat began. The first such combat made clear what had been relatively obvious since Throtl: Maya was a silver dragon.
|I'm just saying I wouldn't necessarily have revealed this secret for centipedes and rats.|
Having her in the party was pretty useful. She had a high-level "Magic Missile" attack, did fantastic melee damage, and if I could get out of her way, her breath attack was devastating. In contrast to the NPC spellcasters in Pool of Radiance and Curse of the Azure Bonds, who didn't bother to check if any of the party members would be affected by their lightning bolts, fireballs, and cones of cold, Maya never breathed unless none of my characters were in the path.
|Maya takes out a whole line of Draconians.|
Neraka had two maps: a maze-like city and an underground prison. In the twisty passages of the city, I started to encounter desperate prisoners fleeing from Draconian patrols, and it was clear that the "Prison Lord" was running a Most Dangerous Game in the city. I defeated another green dragon in one of the city's rooms and plenty of groups of Draconians.
|Bastards. I haven't lost The Game in months.|
Finally arriving at the stairs down, I found a bloodied Sir Karl climbing up. He entreated me to rescue the prisoners below before dying. His last words were "remember me to Maya," apparently oblivious to the fact that Maya was right there with me. Grief-stricken, Maya collected his body and flew off.
The prison was full of more Draconians and guards, culminating in a battle with the Prison Lord, who was apparently Mola Ram:
|"Drop them, Dr. Jones! They will be found. You won't!"|
"Hold Person" made this battle relatively easy. After I defeated him, I explored the rest of the map and found one of the Heroes of the Lance from the books, Tanis, rescuing slaves. I joined him in defeating the rest of the enemy forces and freeing the captives.
|I'll forgive you if you decide not to go with "Squirrel."|
There were multiple rooms in the prisons in which slaves were being tortured, fed to animals, and suffering other unpleasantness. Every time I freed them, I got a special experience reward.
|Note that there's no option to "Watch and Laugh."|
In one of the cells, apparently occupied by Karl before his escape, I found a dead guard, a letter to Maya, and the silver rose that I'd obtained for him in Jelek. I admit this was a little sad.
There was a battle with two green dragons on the way out, but by now, killing dragons is basically a Tuesday afternoon.
Lots more notes:
- I keep forgetting to mention the "area" maps. Mostly, I don't use them. They give you a sense of the surrounding terrain, but they don't track your own progress and they represent doors as walls. Theoretically, you can move via the maps instead of first-person view, but I'm hard-pressed to think of a reason why I would want to. Perhaps if I wasn't making my own maps.
- I'm trying to make greater use of bows in combat when it makes sense. However, I keep forgetting to un-equip them and re-equip melee weapons when necessary. I wish there was a faster way to do this.
- I thought I remembered that in Curse of the Azure Bonds, there was a "Center" command that you could use when targeting spells like "Fireball" so you could see which people on the screen would be affected. This command doesn't exist in this game, and I keep accidentally catching a character or two in the blast radius.
- Dragons in this game are awfully small. They only take up two squares, suggesting they're about the size of two humans or a single ogre. In Curse and Pool, they took up four squares.
- The game kept throwing centipedes and rats at me in Neraka. I'm not sure why. These enemies have an AC of 9, only 2 hit points, and they're so low-level that my fighters can wipe out 4 or 5 at once with the "sweep" attack. They were utterly unchallenging, and their presence was a bit of a mystery.
- Here's a map of Neraka below. The Gold Box games always feature relentlessly bland first-person views of city streets and corridors, but usually the geography makes some sense. You can discern avenues, buildings, parks, and such. On this map, on the other hand, I have no idea what's going on. What would this twisty maze of corridors and rooms even look like in a "city"? Some kind of shanty town?
- Intelligent enemies frequently "surrender" when I've killed most of their colleagues. I've always wondered what the game imagines that I do with them. Tie them up? Slit their throats? Accept their words of honor that they'll stay out of the battles to come?
- But surrendering is far more preferable to the alternative: fleeing. There's nothing more annoying than an enemy who "flees in panic." He inevitably gets hung up in some corner, and I've got to chase him down. Since my characters are usually laden with equipment and money and enemies aren't, it takes me three or four rounds to catch up with them.
|Stupid bat couldn't have just surrendered.|
- Still can't get enough of this:
- I didn't realize until just before I wrapped up this entry that there's a vault, temple, and bar in every outpost. You access them from a "Next" menu option that I repeatedly overlooked. The vault helps a lot in storing my steel pieces and preventing me from being overweight.
- Tavern tales in the outpost bars refer to recent events. For instance, when I returned from Neraka, they talked about the freeing of the slaves and the death of Sir Karl.
- I'm finding the combats a little easier, but still challenging, now that I've increased a few levels and have both "Fireball" and "Lightning Bolt."
|This never gets old.|
The commandant who has replaced Karl has directed me to join the forces of good in an assault on the city of Sanction. Numerous journal entries and rumors suggest that Sanction is Myrtani's base of operations, that he took the Dragonlance there, and that Sir Lebaum is also headquartered there. For some reason, according to a couple of journal entries, Lebaum has bodies regularly delivered to him and prefers that their bones be intact. I can't wait to see what his secret is.
|I don't even want to know who this note is directed to.|