|The session ended with the unceremonious appointment of my party as Silver Blades. Does that mean we have to go to war with the Companions?|
The entirety of my gameplay since the last post has been spent in the nine levels of the Verdigris mines, attempting to recover the eight pieces of Oswulf's Staff. Even though I was correct that I didn't have to map them (simply following the left or right wall took me to all important areas), it took a good six hours to fully explore the levels, fighting a ton of random and fixed combats along the way.
Most of the levels were indistinguishable from each other. They all had twisting corridors, dead-ends where I could dig and collect gems, random battles every 20 or so steps with minotaurs, giant slugs, gargoyles, margoyles, giant spiders, displacer beasts, umber hulks, mongbats, wyverns, and (in the lowest levels) basilisks and medusas. Most of the levels had rooms with fixed encounters that produced a selection of magic items at the end; one of these fixed encounters on each level held the piece of Oswulf's Staff.
The point of the canary sold in the New Verdigris shop became all too clear as I started to encounter pockets of gas. If I had a live canary, it would die, giving me one move to escape backwards. On the other hand, there were generally nice hauls of gems on the other side of the gas pockets (I don't need money, but they came with a nice dollop of experience points, too), so I suffered through the damage. I stopped buying the birds after a couple of them died. It seemed needlessly cruel since I was going to ignore the warning anyway.
|Poor thing. You'd think we'd have some magic way to detect the presence of noxious fumes.|
Things became a little different on Level 6, where a portion of the mine was occupied by some lizard men. The poor, misguided creatures had no idea that their hit point totals were far below the damage done by my "Fireballs" and "Ice Storms," even if they made their saving throws. A series of battles against javelin-throwing lizard warriors culminated in a battle against dozens of the things and their king.
|A huge pack of lizard men that lasted one round.|
After I'd cleared them out, I found a strange shimmering wall which shattered when I approached, damaging my party and expelling Vala, a lawful good human fighter who had been one of the original Silver Blades, magically imprisoned for the last 300 years. She was happy to join my party and continue the fight against the Dreadlord. She's been a solid addition so far, though I'm not sure how long she'll stay.
|Go ahead. Tell me some nonsense about how there's a magic force field between those plates.|
Level 8 had Oswulf's tomb, meaning I was wrong about it being in the ruins. Since Derf had told me that Oswulf was buried "above" the temple, I can only assume I was ascending rather than descending as I went into the mines. I'm not sure how that makes any sense. Anyway, I got the final piece from him. Level 9 was only accessible through a broken teleporter on Level 8, and it just had a bunch of gems and battles with gargoyles. A final level labeled "B" moved me forward to another section of the ruins. The game is pretty linear at this point, and I'm not sure if it will open up again.
|Again, we must note that it would occasionally be nice if the Gold Box games showed rather than told.|
When I had all eight pieces, I journeyed back to Derf in the temple, who united the staff pieces into one and said I'd need the staff to get past Oswulf's ghost, guarding the passage to the Dreadlord at some point.
|That seems awfully short-sighted of him.|
Throughout the mines, I received incremental upgrades to equipment. My best weapons at this point are a Trident +3, wielded by my paladin, and a Long Sword vs. Giants, wielded by my ranger. Vala also came with a Silver Longsword +3. No one has any weapon worse than +2. On the armor side, my paladin is in Banded Mail +5, my thief in Leather +5, and my ranger and cleric in Plate Mail +3. My two mages have both found Bracers AC3.
I have a lot of accessories: several Rings of Protection +2, a Ring of Fire Resistance, a Ring of Invisibility, a bunch of potions, Boots of Speed, three Cloaks of Displacement, a Girdle of Giant Strength, Gauntlets of Ogre Power, and a couple things I don't understand. These include a Stone of Good Luck and a Periapt of Health, both of which are equippable but not usable. I'm not sure what effects they have. Something called Eyes of Charming apparently casts either "Charm Person" or "Charm Monster"; I've never seen this magic item in a game before.
|At least one of my characters can counteract "Haste" spells.|
My mages have amassed enough wands, scrolls, and necklaces to destroy a mountain, and late in the session I forced myself to start burning them whether I technically needed them or not. Eventually, I just started dumping scrolls that I knew I would never use.
I did a scan of my levels before posting this, and I was surprised to see I still have quite a way to go. My paladin is Level 12/15, my thief 13/18, my ranger 13/15. My two mages are Levels 13 and 14 out of 15. Only my cleric, at 14/15 and only about 20,000 points away from the final level, is likely to max out any time soon. If I'm about halfway through the game (which I suspect only based on the number of journal entries I've circled), that means the pacing isn't too bad. As we know, I hate running into level caps long before the end of the game.
- I'm all for some miscellaneous flavor text in the dungeons, but sometimes it feels like the developers weren't really trying:
|We had to pause for that?|
- Early in this session, I switched the difficulty to "Veteran" (one step up from the default) because I was finding combats too easy. The change didn't make a huge difference, since it primarily affects enemies' hit points. It doesn't do anything to their AI.
|Altering the difficulty of the game in camp.|
- Through some bug that I didn't catch when it happened, my dwarf fighter/thief has 99 charisma. Since charisma doesn't really seem to be used in the game, I don't think it's giving me an unfair advantage.
- This is perhaps the dumbest role-playing choice I've ever encountered:
- When I found gems in the mines, the game was careful to note that my dwarf found them. I'm not sure if that means I wouldn't have found them without a dwarf in the party.
- Displacer beasts are just the weirdest creatures. They have too many things. A lion with sharp tentacles would have been enough on its own, you know? Why did they have to add this weird illusion thing to them? And why doesn't any other creature have this particular trait? Also weird: phase spiders.
|"You have too many things! You get one thing!"|
- I mostly relied on luck and speed to get past the basilisks and medusas. I have one mirror in my party, and no guarantee that the gazers will target that one character. Vala, who came with silver plate mail, automatically reflects gazes. For everyone else, I relied on saving throws and my ability to blast the creatures with "Fireball" and "Ice Storm" before they could gaze. This resulted in a few trips back to town to get "Stone to Flesh" cast.
|Eventually, I realized I could cast "Invisibility 10' Radius" on everyone else, let Vala charge ahead, and let the medusas and basilisks kill themselves on her armor for a few rounds.|
- One of my mages just got Level 7 spells, which includes "Delayed Blast Fireball." I confess I don't really get it. When you cast it, you can specify a delay of 1 to 50, which seems to be the number of character actions (not rounds) before it goes off. I have trouble understanding when I'd cast it with any delay at all. You'd have to be pretty sure that the enemy was going to assemble in a particular formation--and that none of your own characters were going to be in the area--for the delay to make sense. I suspect I'll just end up using it like a regular "Fireball" almost all the time, setting the delay at 1.
|Why delay the destruction of these creatures at all?|
- I'd like to have switched to "Quick" mode for a lot of the random combats, but I didn't think I could trust the AI. It wastes spells and magic items. Late in the session, I bothered to re-check the manual and found out that ALT-M toggles on and off magic use for characters under computer control. That would have been nice to know six hours ago.
|I don't like being called a "fool."|
As I leave you, I've entered a new area where an apparition just appeared and called us "fools." I still like the game, but the random encounters are getting excessive (especially where I don't need the experience), and I wish it didn't take so long to clear small areas. I'll probably intersperse some Silver Blades playing with Dragon Sword to keep both games from getting too monotonous.