|Mind flayers are never fun.|
Thanks to your help (in particular, Marco and Xrzf), I managed to get out of the mire. Marco pointed out that I'd overlooked an obvious stairway, which didn't lead to Level 10 or 11 but did lead to previously-unexplored and interconnected parts of Levels 7-9. More on Xrzf's hint in a bit.
Trying to map the small remaining areas of Levels 7-9 was an exercise in frustration, mostly because the stairways almost, but don't quite, line up between levels. They're generally in the same area, but they might be anywhere from 0 to 3 squares off in any direction. If you're trying to fill a hole in a previously-mapped level, it's hard to figure out where to plot the stairs. After a couple of frustrating episodes where I had to erase everything and start over, I learned to map the new areas external to the main map, then fill them in once I had a sense of the totality of the geography.
|A section of Level 8 with numerous up and down staircases leading to small areas. This was a pain to map accurately.|
At first, the extra effort didn't seem worth it. The treasures were extremely minor--a couple of arrows, a Scroll of Raise Dead, a Potion of Extra Healing--but eventually I got to one area in which I could trade gems for keys. I had several stray blue and green gems, so I used them to get a bunch of "jeweled keys"--more than I actually needed. Later, there was another area that traded keys for gems, and it turned out I had to do this at least once to keep progressing, because I had to "mount" a gem on the wall.
Around the same area (this was on Level 9) was a section of wall that read, "It is written, the key lies on the other side." I couldn't figure out what to do with this, but after mapping the rest of the area and noting a conspicuous void on the other side of the message, I determined to play with it some more. Eventually, I tossed something at the message, and it passed straight through and opened up a secret door. On the other side were three Orbs of Power! (So, Xrzf, you were right.) This was also the "special quest" for the level--the only one I've figured out after Level 6.
|A secret area reveals a bunch of Orbs of Power. I'm not sure why I need more than one.|
At last, I could return to Level 4 and identify my stuff. The small interconnected areas of Levels 7-9 eventually returned me to the teleporter hub, so I went from there to Level 4. I used an Orb in the slot next to the Oracle, and all of my items were named. I discovered that my highest "+" items are the "Severious" sword (+5) and the "Chieftain Halberd" (+5). I have several other +3 and +4 weapons. Based on my experience with other Dungeons & Dragons games, these weapons seem awfully advanced for my level, but then again so were some of the monsters I soon faced.
Other revelations: one of my dwarves had been using a -3 cursed sling all along; my paladin had been wearing cursed platemail (that was bush league on my part; I should have noticed the decrease in AC); and most of my rings and medallions were junk. A wand my mage had been carrying for four levels turned out to be a "Wand of Stick," which I'm guessing does nothing. Darker sling stones are +1 and moss-covered sling stones are +2. I think I missed the opportunity to pick up some more of these.
|The party makes a pile of useless items now that everything's identified.|
I was surprised that the Oracle didn't consume the Orb of Power. Later, I found a couple more, so I have like 5 of them. Do they do anything other than identify items? I can't seem to use them as weapons or anything.
Although all the above helped me progress in the levels I'd already explored, they didn't do anything about the rest of Level 10 or getting to Level 11. Xrzf insisted that the solution was in one of the rooms on Level 9 that I thought I'd exhaustively explored. I returned to the room and found absolutely nothing except the pressure plate I'd already stepped on to close the pits. I spent a while putting random items on the plate to see what happened. I checked the walls extensively for hidden buttons. I rammed my party into every wall to test for secret doors. Nothing. Eventually, in desperation (and perhaps remembering the trick that got me the original orbs), I started throwing things at the walls at random. What do you know, one of the objects sailed right through and caused a secret area to open up, leading to the down stairs. It's possible that this was clued somewhere else and I missed it (I never did figure out how to get through two doors on Level 9 that require "special keys"), but if not, that's a B.S. puzzle.
|Do I have to go back through the levels and throw something at every wall now?|
Level 10 turned out to be smaller than the other levels (22 x 30 instead of 30 x 30) unless I missed something. I had to kill a bunch of mantis warriors but otherwise there wasn't much to it. I eventually had to have my two clerics memorize nothing but "Remove Paralysis" in all their Level 3 slots (excepting a single "Create Food and Water") because I was getting stunned every turn.
Eventually, a series of easy lever puzzles led to a hole in the floor that dropped me to Level 11, a festival of levers and buttons. It took me a while to figure out the opening area's schtick: a zone of three concentric hallways. Each of the walls has a button that, when pressed, opens a secret corridor to the next hallway (but closes any open corridors in the same ring). A message that "alignment must be true" led me to figure out the solution: the secret hallways have to be open in the same direction in all three rings before the final one opens and you can get out of the area. That probably didn't make a lot of sense, but I don't know how else to explain it.
New enemies on this level were xorns and mind flayers--the latter immune to my protests that my characters had been only Level 3 a few days ago. I thought the mantis warriors were bad, but mind flayers are capable of paralyzing multiple party members with their "psychic blast" from several squares away. They were responsible for a good portion of this session's reloads. For the most part, I was able to take care of them with the combat waltz, but occasionally I'd meet them in a hallway and get blasted.
|Xorns were easy in comparison. They hit hard, but didn't seem to have any special attacks.|
I found two new stone portal items--an orb and the ankh--on this level, as well as a new stone portal. When I tried the orb on it, I found myself in a new-textured area with what looks like beholder symbols on the walls. It was too early for me to be here, so I beat a hasty retreat back through the portal.
|This place looks freaky.|
In a final room on Level 11, I found the "Dwarven Healing Potion" capable of curing King Teirgoh. I used the stone ankh to teleport back up to Level 5 and visited the dwarves again. King Teirgoh came out of his coma and gave me the Wind of Slivias, which will somehow help me against Xanathar.
At various points during this session, I resurrected three NPCs. Beohram the Paladin and Tyrra the Ranger duplicated skills I already had, so I let them go.
|You think she'd be a little more grateful. Side question: why does everyone resurrect wearing robes?|
But I decided to keep the last one, Kirath the Mage, and do a better job using magic on the final levels, especially now that my mage has Level 5 spells like "Hold Monster" and "Cone of Cold" (the animation for the latter takes so long I can practically take a lunch break waiting for it to finish). Unfortunately, I had to dump Keirgar, the dwarf warrior who's been with me for half the game.
|The arrogant half-elf is "true neutral" in alignment.|
As I close, Starling the Paladin is Level 8 and at least 150,000 experience points away from Level 9, when she'll finally get a Level 1 cleric spell. (As an aside, I only figured out how to use "lay on hands" towards the end of this session; I didn't even think it existed in this game.) Bugsy is Level 7 as a fighter and Level 8 as a thief and reasonably close to leveling up again in both. Marina is a Level 9 mage, Gaston at Level 7 at both ranger and cleric, and Ileria a Level 7 cleric. My new mage, Kirath, is at the beginning of Level 7. Everyone has 2-4 levels to go before they max out in the game.
Given that, I'm not sure if Level 12 is the final level or the beginning of the final section of levels. Nothing to do but return to the teleporters and find out!
Time so far: 36 hours
Reload count: 21
Reload count: 21