New Verdigris is free and the Dreadlord is dead. It took me about six hours after my last post. Good thing I didn't have any major work to do this week.
The dungeons had felt too easy, what with all the teleporters back to town every couple of levels. Boy, did this change towards the endgame. The second glacial crevice was an extremely long, linear path from the frost giant village to the Dreadlord's castle. It was chock full of random encounters and had only one teleporter--itself so far off the beaten path that it was hardly worth using, since I had to waste all kinds of hit points and spells on random encounters on the way.
|Those are supposed to be monsters frozen in the walls.|
(The entire game is basically feast or famine with random battles. The ruins, mines, and crevices had them ad nauseum, but most of the buildings--including the castle dungeons and the castle itself--didn't have them at all, unless I tried to rest. I frankly think they could have toned them down. They just prolonged the game and offered a bunch of experience points I didn't need.)
In the middle of the crevice, my tendency to use only one saved game started to haunt me. The random battles with pyrohydras, white dragons, remorhazes, Black Circle fighters and mages, and cloud giants so sapped my hit points and spells that I began to despair that I'd ever exit. With random encounters in all directions, there's no way to "escape"; you have to reach one end or the other. Resting almost always produces an attack. About halfway through, I begrudgingly lowered the difficulty level back to the default, but that only helped a little. After exhausting all the healing potions, cleric scrolls, mage scrolls, and wands that I'd been hoarding, I had to resort to something that we might call "fix-scumming": making camp, saving, attempting the "fix" command, and reloading if I got attacked. Using such dubious methods twice, I finally made it to the other side.
|Ancient white dragons were among the enemies that eroded my health as I tried to make it to the castle.|
There, I found the forces of the Black Circle fighting the spirit of Oswulf, who was guarding the front door. I had to fight two large-scale battles, one with cloud giants and white dragons, one with Black Circle fighters and wizards, both with hardly any spells and resources to my name. Although difficult and frustrating, it was also the first time since the kobold battles in Pool of Radiance that I felt authentically challenged by a Gold Box fight. (There have been a couple where I got completely curb-stomped, but that's not "challenging"; that's just difficult.) I don't know about you, but I tend to sleepwalk through combats at higher levels, relying on the same bevy of spells over and over, and having some characters just sit on the sidelines while my fighters duke it out. Not here. Everyone participated, and everyone used every resource available, whether it was the last shot from a Necklace of Missiles, a stray scroll with "Hold Monster" on it, or a handful of darts. I spent time maneuvering for positions--particularly taking advantage of Karnov's backstabs--in ways I hadn't bothered with since the first game. Winning was mildly exhilarating.
|My kingdom for a "Fireball."|
When I'd polished them off, the spirit of Oswulf greeted me and gave me a Silver Long Sword +5 and a Silver Shield + 5. Both went to my paladin. Oswulf charged me not only with defeating the lich but freeing his brother's soul "from the lich's taint."
|That's a horrible place for his brother's soul to be stuck.|
The Dreadlord's castle was three levels of massive fixed battles (medusas, basilisks, cloud giants, storm giants, driders, pyrohydras) and various encounters. There were no teleporters until the very end, but fortunately I could take the stairs down to the dungeons (I guess they thawed in the meantime) and use the teleporters there. The levels were the only ones in the game (that I could find) to feature a lot of secret doors, traps, and places where I needed to have "Search" active to find treasures.
|This game has numerous mechanisms for providing hints about things for which only the stupidest players would need hints.|
Early in the castle, I encountered a mad cleric of Bane who indicated that he'd just been released from the ice after 300 years. Apparently, Bane had kept his mind from freezing as a punishment for the cleric questioning Bane's interest in the Dreadlord. I remain a little confused about Bane's association with the Dreadlord. During the endgame, the lich makes a point of saying that we're standing in "ground consecrated to Bane." But if the Dreadlord is a servant of Bane, or allied with him, why are the Black Circle mages fighting the Banites for control of the Well at the beginning of the game?
In my haste to get though the description of the castle dungeons, I probably didn't give enough credit to the variety of fixed encounters the creators offered. Some of them were challenging and clever. In the castle proper, these included:
- An entire level in which all the key areas were accessed by a series of rotating alcoves. After using them, I had to find a switch to activate them from the other side and return to the main hall.
- A room with a group of storm giants who claimed to have no quarrel with me and sold me a map through a small maze to the Dreadlord. They took a lot of money and gave me a worthless map.
|Hey! That guy looks like Tyranthraxus from the last game!|
- A room full of basilisks and cockatrices, providing endless battles with both unless my party entered with an amulet found in a different location. Getting past them rewarded me with a nice cache of magic items.
- An encounter with a patrol of driders and medusas. Killing them produced a message indicating the password was "Steeleye," helpful to get past a series of iron golems on the way to the third level.
- An illusion of the Dreadlord who invited me to attack him, but attacking him just randomly teleported me to other locations with traps and tough battles. Letting him attack me dispelled the illusion.
|This was a little counter-intuitive.|
Throughout the levels, I kept running into Sargatha, a medusa who claimed to be the Dreadlord's lieutenant. She kept throwing monsters at me and escaping. In one memorable encounter, she beckoned from the end of a hallway. When I charged her, I blundered into a teleport trap that took me all the way back to the first level of the dungeons. I had to make my way back (via teleporters, so it wasn't too hard) from there.
|We get it. You hiss when you talk.|
The third and final level featured a series of doors in which I had to use keys found in the dungeons (the Well had told me the correct order). There were a bunch of fixed battles with cloud giants and two major combats leading up to the final fight: one with Sargatha, "dread guards," and Banite priests; one with a very tough fighter, guarts, medusas, and priests; and one with six 16-headed pyrohydras.
|He paid for his run-on sentence.|
I got cocky at one point and neglected to save after five or six battles. Usually when this happens, I die, and then I curse myself for not saving more often. What happened this time is that I accidentally attacked Vala, my NPC, in the middle of a combat. This turned her hostile and forced me to kill her to get out of combat (none of my "Charm" spells worked), at which point she was no longer with my party. I didn't want to lose her, so I had to reload and replay about an hour of game time. Reminder: save more often.
|Confronting the Dreadlord.|
Like always, I blundered into the final battle without any warning. If I have any gripe against the Gold Box games, it's this: you get no advance warning about huge armies amassing on the other side of a door, or even in a square 10 feet in front of you. This means that if you want to buff up before a major battle, you either have to know it's coming or get very lucky on a guess. In my case, I allowed myself the luxury of quitting the game the first time, reloading, and casting my buffing spells. I hate having to do that, but the engine really doesn't leave you any choice other than to never buff.
|Going into the final battles, I may have overdone it.|
Thus, after a round of potions of "Giant Strength" and "Speed" and spells like "Haste," "Bless," "Prayer," "Protection from Evil 10' Radius," "Mass Invisibility," "Resist Fire," "Resist Cold" (why is there no "Resist Shock"?), "Fire Shield," and "Globe of Invulnerability," I engaged the Dreadlord and his forces. He attacked with 10 storm giants (recall that the final fight in Curse of the Azure Bonds was with one of these) and six priests of Bane.
|This one is a mite tougher than the typical final Gold Box battle. All the storm giants are capable of casting "Lightning Bolt," and the priests are capable of "Holding" even my high-level characters. Fortunately, I got the jump on them.|
The Dreadlord had a Globe of Invulnerability active but his minions didn't, and the giants and priests that survived my two "Delayed Blast Fireballs" went down easily to my fighters, who had like four attacks per round. The Dreadlord fired off "Fear" and "Lightning Bolt" but didn't do significant damage to my party before everyone surrounded him and slowly beat him to death.
|I wanted to let Vala strike the killing blow for role-playing reasons, but she kept missing.|
This wasn't the final fight, however. In a secret room beyond the Dreadlord's chambers was the gem containing his soul--protected by 12 iron golems and 6 medusas.
|I'm afraid we're going to have to disagree about that.|
Fortunately, my haste, giant strength, and other buffs were still active. I had my mages "Fireball" the medusas and then "Lightning Bolt" the golems to slow them down. After that, my fighters concentrated on them one by one until they were all dead.
At that point, I got the endgame sequences showing the Dreadlord's soul, free from its lich form, rising into the heavens and embracing his brother, Oswulf, before they both departed for, in Oswulf's words, "a better place."
|In Forgotten Realms theology, where would that be?|
A teleporter appeared in the corner and I returned to New Verdigris, where in a lame, single-paragraph denouement, the mayor thanked me and said that the city would be partying for a while. Outside, citizens rushed up to shake my hand.
|That's nice, but I was really hoping to have a celebratory drink in the tavern.|
All the stores were closed for the party, which irked me a bit, as I had some final bits of equipment that I wanted to identify, but it turned out that when I left the city and returned, everything was open for business again. I got my equipment straightened out and then "Removed" each member of the party for later import into Pools of Darkness.
|The Well had this final message. This is the second time Elminster has been mentioned in a Gold Box game, but I'm not sure we ever actually see him.|
Karnov only made it to Level 17 out of 18. His multiclass status means that half the experience points he earns are wasted on the fighter side, where he can't advance. Everyone else was way over their caps and should be able to level-up immediately in Pools of Darkness.
Financially, I have enough money to basically buy the Forgotten Realms--and that's without picking up any platinum for the last 2/3 of the game. I don't think I'll take any of it with me to the next game. The economy is already too easy in Gold Box titles.
On the equipment side, I have some great stuff:
- 2 Girdles of Giant Strength
- Gauntlets of Ogre Power
- Boots of Speed
- Banded Mail +5
- Leather Armor +5
- Plate Mail +5
- Silver Shield +5
- Shield +5
- 2 Shields +4
- Bracers AC2 and AC3
- Silver Long Sword +5
- Long Sword +5
- Scimitar +5
- Mace +4
- Flail +4
- Long Sword vs. Giants
- Ring of Fire Resistance
- 2 Rings of Protection +3
- 2 Rings of Invisibility
- Ring of Wizardry
- 4 Cloaks of Displacement
- 5 Potions of Giant Strength
- 4 Elixirs of Youth
I have this idea that Pools of Darkness lets me keep it rather than finding some lame excuse to render me naked at the beginning. I look forward to seeing how Pools of Darkness begins, and I'm a bit sorry that I have to wait another year even though I've mostly had enough of the Gold Box for now.
It's time for both an update of the "Gold Box: Spells and Their Uses" posting as well as the GIMLET!