|For the first time in a Gold Box game, the party fights multiple vampires.|
It didn't occur to me until late in this session, but I've been playing Death Knights of Krynn the way I might play a modern "open world" game like Skyrim or Fallout 3. In those games, I try to strike a balance between my quest list and free-roaming exploration. I might, for instance, aim for the next city in the quest thread, but force myself to stop at any unexplored ruins that pop up along the way.
In the case of Death Knights of Krynn, those "unexplored ruins that pop up along the way" are mostly places that I would eventually have to visit anyway, and I'm just there prematurely, throwing the main quest line out of whack. Mostly. I've encountered a few locations that may have never become part of the main quest. This isn't a "first"; we've seen side-dungeons before in games like Phantasie, Curse of the Azure Bonds, and Legend of Faerghail. But they're far from the norm, and the existence of more than a few in Death Knights suggests that we're not far away from the days in which unplanned "exploration" of the game map is truly rewarding for its own sake.
|Roaming the game map gave me a random hint from a party passing by.|
My journeys in this session were prompted by a couple of comments on the first post, from Nathan and Wingnut, that it pays to wander around a bit. I soon realized that Death Knights isn't like Champions, where the outdoor map may as well have just been a menu, with no surprises between listed towns. There are many hidden areas to discover. Fearful of missing any, I retraced my steps to Gargath and began exploring in a somewhat systematic manner, in north-south rows (at least, as much as was possible given the mountains), with the intention of ultimately making my way over to Vingaard for the next step in the main quest. It was several hours, and the end of the session, before I finally got there.
As I recount these adventures, it's interesting to note the proliferation of undead in this game. Pool of Radiance had a lot of undead, culminating in a memorable series of quests at Valhingen Graveyard, but aside from a couple of skeletal dragons and one lich, undead have been absent from Curse of the Azure Bonds, Secret of the Silver Blades, and Champions of Krynn. Death Knights seems to make up for that absence all at once. It's a rare battle here that doesn't feature undead, including wraiths, ghasts, ghouls, wights, vampires, liches, specters, zombie versions of animals, undead dragons, and of course the omnipresent skeleton warriors. (Immune to magic and highly resistant to physical damage, these guys have been responsible for three full-party deaths.) This isn't a complaint--they actually make sense given the game's plot--but it's a rare map in which at least one character isn't drained.
Leveling progress has been quite slow because of it. As you may recall, level-draining can be countered with a "restoration" scroll (or visit to a temple), but it only restores you to the minimum number of experience points for your level. So Midsummer might have 420,000 experience points, right on the cusp of Level 8 (or worse, even crossed over into Level 9 but not trained yet) when a specter comes along and busts her down to Level 5. When she gets restored, she gets restored to the minimum for Level 7: 200,000 points. That's a lot to lose from one unlucky die roll. I suspect most players reload in such cases, but I've been trying to be good, with the result that my two knights, both imported from Champions, still have about the same experience as a freshly-created character in Death Knights would have.
|Entering the first side-dungeon.|
The first area I came across in my new exploration pattern was a shipwreck on the north coast, where the game alerted me that "along with the stench of decay, you sense the presence of great evil." I entered the old pirate ship anyway and soon found myself in combat with a bunch of zombie giants, wraiths, and undead rats, all of whom were pleasingly susceptible to both turning and "Fireball."
|Wraiths and rats.|
By the time I finished clearing out the undead and exploring the small maps, I had a new mace +4, long sword +3, and banded mail +3, all of which found places in my party members' active inventories.
|This guy somehow reminds me of Yorick from Quest for Glory.|
A few columns of exploration later (with many battles with wandering undead; "flee" hardly ever works), I found myself outside a "strange-looking house." Inside, a "fancifully-dressed dwarf" introduced himself as Gluten and said I'd get a reward for making it through his "maze." This turned out to be about four rooms with a series of riddles.
- What runs but never walks, sings, but never talks? (WATER)
- What do you use to slay a foe, hoe a row, wring with woe? (HANDS)
- A bell shares it, a hand wears it. (RING)
It was refreshing that I hadn't heard any of them before. I got the first one wrong. I still don't think the actual answer really "sings," and to me a CLOCK was a better answer. Anyway, I had to fight a tough combat with undead for that one. After the third riddle, Gluten said I needed to fight a couple of battles, one against some easy specters and wraiths and such, and one against a lich. This is the second time I've faced a lich in this game, and I have to say, Death Knights of Krynn liches are pathetic. They don't cast spells; they don't level-drain; they don't charm. They just stand there and take a beating, really.
Gluten congratulated me when I won the combat and gave me my prize: a Girdle of Frost Giant Strength and a magic user scroll. The Girdle is pretty awesome, of course. I've given it to one of my knights, but I may transfer it to one of my thieves for more effective backstabs. (To anyone tempted to comment about how I can use the character-export trick to replicate the girdle as many times as I want: begone. You are weak and unworthy to comment on this blog.)
|I guess the house is now Gluten-free.|
Cerberus wasn't a hidden area, but it was on the way, so I thought I'd visit anyway. The map layout was the same as Dulcimer, where I defeated the first lich in the last posting. Anyway, nothing was happening there--just messages about townsfolk living their normal lives. I suspect I'll have to return later when something happens, but good work on the developers' part to anticipate an early visit and not let the plot get out of order.
|His friendliness makes me suspicious.|
Similarly, Cerberus Graveyard had nothing going on--I ran all over the place and didn't discover a thing.
Nearby Dargaard Keep, I suspect, is going to be Lord Soth's stronghold, but I couldn't get in because I didn't have a password.
I was wrong about something in the last post: in addition to Gargath outpost, the city of Throtl also makes a reappearance in Death Knights. It even uses the same map, minus a huge chunk of the northeast. It had been taken over by Soth's forces, led by a priest named Lessiter.
|More knights should follow this example.|
That I was here too early was evident from the difficulty of combat, but I rather enjoyed the challenge. The somewhat linear map had me chasing Lessiter from place to place and fighting packs of priests and undead.
|Including undead dragons, which thankfully don't have a breath attack.|
At one point, I met a text-only NPC (she didn't appear in my party or on combat screens) named Sarah, who was looking for her companion Sir Michael. We found him when we cornered Lessiter. After a rousing final battle against undead and priests, we killed Lessiter, and Sarah went off with the healed Michael. Lots of experience on this map, but the only decent treasure was a composite long bow +2.
|Before the final battle in Throtl.|
My penultimate adventure during this session was an ill-advised trip to a dwarf village called Turef. Soth's forces had taken it over and somehow brainwashed most of the hill dwarf residents. As I entered, the hill dwarves were assaulting a visiting mountain dwarf named Skomp; I rescued him and he joined my party, asking me to keep an eye out for the boar he'd rode into town on.
|These days, "skomp" is slang for, "crush up Adderall and snort it," but it probably wasn't in the 1990s.|
The village had a complex in its center where the dwarves and their allies had arranged an ambush. The game gave me the option to retreat and avoid it, but I couldn't find any way to circumvent it, so I tried taking it head-on. Bad mistake. Multiple packs of mages and clerics decimated my party with "Hold" spells and magic missiles before I could launch enough "Fireballs" to suppress their spellcasting. (Spellcasters who take damage can't cast for the rest of the round, but that only helps if you go first.) My party was wiped out both times in two tries.
|I prepare to damage one of the groups with a "Fireball." Unfortunately, the other is going to get to attack first.|
Re-circling the other buildings in town, I found the solution, which involved bringing a book back to a librarian, getting a hint about a secret door in the tavern; getting the key number to the door from the bartender, and getting the appropriate key form a locksmith. Entering the complex this way, I came into a room where "soldiers [were loading] Karl's cursed relics onto three blue dragons."
|The blue dragons should feel free to use this distraction to take off with the relics. Just fly off, please. No? Oh, well...|
I killed the wave of soldiers, mages, and undead without any problem, but then the game put me against three blue dragons with no time to stop and rest or cast spells in between the two battles. As I indicated last time, blue dragons suck. There's nothing so far in the game to protect against lightning bolts, each one of which can easily kill a character, especially if it bounces off a wall and hits him twice.
I tried to use a wall to hide the party and draw them out, but it only partially worked. Within a few rounds, two of the dragons were dead, but so were two of my characters. Two others were unconscious. Only my mage/thief, Squirrel, remained.
|Amidst the corpses of her comrades, Squirrel damages the dragon with her "Fire Shield."|
The dragon was out of breath attacks by this time. Squirrel had cast "Fire Shield" on herself, so every time the dragon hit her in melee combat, he took damage in return. I had Squirrel cast "Magic Missile" on him each round, and managed to kill him when Squirrel was down to 17 hit points.
|This is what we call a "Pyrrhic victory."|
To be honest, I was planning to reload, but I thought it would be more in the spirit of role-playing to honor Squirrel's single-handed victory by reviving my unconscious characters and dragging the dead ones back to a temple for resurrection. This would mean sucking up a 1-point constitution loss, but I was willing to do it. Unfortunately, I forgot that elves can't be resurrected, and one of the dead characters was my elf cleric/mage, Atmos. I wasn't willing to lose him. Even more unfortunately, I had saved over my last save from Turef--my next earlier save was from before I had even completed Throtl. I sighed and reloaded. I'll go back later, preferably when I have a Dragonlance.
The last place I found before going to Vingaard, where I was supposed to be, was a forest where a "swarm of faeries" begged me to help "the Father of Trees." The tree was only a small map, with only a few combats, but I could neither use magic nor leave the map and return. Without the ability to heal, my characters got winnowed down fast by mages, some kind of weird tentacle creature, and other enemies. I went into the final battle with one character unconscious and the others with a fraction of their hit points.
I won with a couple of characters to spare and got a Periapt of Proof vs. Poison and Boots of Speed for my troubles. A "periapt," by the way, turns out to be a charm or amulet. I always thought of it as some kind of scroll or book.
|Three of us are barely alive, but at least we feel enriched.|
At last, I hauled my broken bodies and exhausted party to the city of Vingaard, where I ended the game. I can tell that I'm going to have to map this one. Hopefully, by next time I'll be back on the main quest and I can tell you about the dream guy.
- The game probably uses the same copy protection frequency as Champions, but it feels much more annoying here. You have to type a word from a journal entry every time you reload a game, and then every once in a while (maybe 1 in 8 times), you have to type a word from the separate game manual when you go to save a game. I don't mind the first one so much, but the second one really breaks the flow.
- I feel like my characters miss a lot more, and do less damage, than comparably-leveled characters in the Forgotten Realms series.
- The image for a wraith in this game is a riot. This blue, bald-haired guy dances around with his arms in the air like a 1970s guy at a disco. I meant to get a GIF capture but I forgot.
|Just imagine him snapping his fingers and swaying his hips.|
- I still haven't found a single store that sells anything worth buying. So far, they just have non-magical starting goods.
- This freaking guy keeps popping up everywhere. I have no idea what his deal is, where he comes from, how he keeps appearing and disappearing.
Time so far: 7 hours
Reload count: 6