This probably should have been two postings, maybe three, but I had to take a long break for some work last week, so rather than prolong things, I figured I'd best push through to the end.
When I last wrote, I had left the High Clerist's Tower, having failed to stop Soth's forces from stealing several corpses of knights, including Sturm Brightblade [this sentence originally said "Sturm Majere," but as per the comments, I was getting my Sturms mixed up]. I was on my way back to Vingaard to consult with Sebas Astmoor, an ex-follower of Soth who had "seen the light" and was holding back some secret about how to defeat him. Alas...
I apparently had one more hoop to jump through. Sebas told me to go to the Dragon Pit, in the mountains to the northwest. He really didn't give me any clue as to why. The Pit turned out to be the same "musty cave" I'd previously explored, but this time Sebas gave me a map showing a secret door.
On the way, I got hijacked by another side-adventure when I came upon a group of Kuo-Toans rounding up peasants and forcing them on a slave ship. The game didn't even give me the opportunity to decide whether I wanted to save them.
|The game cleverly elides how I was able to disguise all my weapons, armor, wands, potions, dragonlance, etc.|
Kuo-Toans are fish-men. I always get them mixed up with Sahuagins. I was wondering what mythology they come from, but apparently Gary Gygax created them from scratch. I thought they lived under water; I didn't realize they had ships.
|In this depiction, they look more like frog men.|
Anyway, the ship turned out to be a fairly linear map in which I freed a bunch of slaves, stopped the beasts from sacrificing a slave to their god, set the ship on fire, and jumped off as it burned. I got a bunch of experience and another mace +4 for the effort.
|Squirrel, who just got Level 6 spells, tries "Disintegrate" on one of the leaders.|
As I arrived at the Dragon Pit, I was joined by Maya, Sir Karl's silver dragon lover from Champions, who'd been absent since the beginning of the game. She indicated Karl was nearby and flew off after a brief chat.
Given the name of the dungeon, I expected to find lots of dragons. What I found instead were lots of undead dragons, mostly in random encounters. These guys don't have a breath attack, but they hit hard in melee combat. There were lots of other undead in the area, including some recent knight-to-wight converts.
|Durfey's special dialogue indicated that his staying with my party wasn't a bug.|
The Dread Wolf showed up and taunted me, saying that Maya had been killed. As I pressed through the dungeon, I ran into Sir Karl a couple of times, always heading off in some other direction, claiming he was too "busy" to deal with me. Eventually, he ordered the wolf to stop me. The Dread Wolf attacked with a party of wights and skeleton warriors.
He was capable of what seemed like 13 melee attacks in a single round, but he didn't have any special attacks or defenses, and I was able to kill him and his horde without losing anyone. As he died, he claimed that "Takhisis will return [him] when she walks upon Krynn." It was an anticlimactic end to the beast that had been taunting me since the beginning of the game. I thought he was going to turn out to be a bigger deal. I still don't really understand what his story was.
In a courtyard, Maya landed next to my party and warned me about a Death Dragon ahead. Karl appeared. In a scripted cut scene, Karl attacked Maya with a dragonlance, wounding her, and she flew off with the lance still embedded in her, and Karl still clutching the lance.
The Death Dragon appeared and attacked. In the first round, he "breathed death" and killed Atmos at once. Again not willing to lose my elf cleric/mage, I reloaded and tried again. The second time, the dragon chose melee attacks during the first round, and I was able to kill him in just a couple of rounds. At the end of the combat, the dragonlance suddenly came crashing down into the courtyard, without any suggestion of what had happened to Karl and Maya. But my lead knight has a dragonlance again!
|This couldn't have happened before I got attacked by the Death Dragon?|
And that was the end of the dungeon. As I exited, I encountered an obelisk that said: "For Maya and Sir Karl Gaardsen, the war is over. They have found the peace that was denied them for so long." Huh? Who had time to erect that? And what actually happened? Is Karl dead? Is Maya? Maybe we'll find out in Dark Queen of Krynn, but they never showed up again here.
Back I went to Vingaard and Sebas, only to find him missing, with signs of a struggle in his house. One piece of evidence was left: an earring that the game assured me belonged to Ariela.
I had to look through my previous posts and screenshots to remind myself who Ariela was. She was the "consort and advisor" to Daine, the knight commander in Kalaman. I returned to Kalaman and presented the earring to the knights. Instead of arguing that "hey, lots of earrings look like that," Ariela freaked out, killed Daine ("Curse you. I was almost fond of him."), and ordered her aides to attack. Naturally, they turned out to be Sivak Draconians (a plot device that is getting kind of old), and she turned out to be a red dragon. Fortunately, I had a dragonlance, which does as much damage as the wielder's current hit points.
|Do any of the Knights of Solamnia date normal women?|
When she was dead, Ariela dropped a key that read "Denissa" on it.
Before she had attacked, she had ordered some aides to "take our captive at once to our mistress Kitiara... Do not let Soth's warriors take him alive." I hadn't encountered this name before, but a quick Google search revealed that Kitiara is a major character in the Dragonlance books. The beautiful human daughter of a Solamnic Knight, Kitiara was a lover of both Sturm Brightblade and the hero Tanis Half-Elven despite stepping mostly on the "evil" side of the line. From the summary I read, during the War of the Lance, she was an uncomfortable ally of Lord Soth, "who had become obsessed with her and planned to bind her soul to him for eternity." When she was killed near the end of the war, her "soul vanished before the death knight could bind it."
These events then indicate some other faction operating in Krynn, antagonistic to my purposes but also to Soth's. I was curious how this was going to play out.
The captive turned out not to be Sebas but a random knight who had been imprisoned with Sebas. He related a message: "the key to Soth's doom is the Rod of Omniscience. This fellow found it and hid it in a place called Voice Wood." Voice Wood could be accessed through the city of Dulcimer. Dulcimer, you may recall, was the city I had liberated from a lich early in my adventure.
I returned and entered the Voice Wood, a large tangle of vines and shrubbery where it wasn't always clear which direction you could go. Sprites alerted me to the presence of evil mages.
|In a game that doesn't allow evil alignments, you can script things like this.|
Long story short, the area took a long time to map, and there were several battles with parties of black mages. Ultimately, I reached a clearing where the "Spirit of the Voice Woods" gave me the Rod of Omniscience after I promised to use it only against Soth. The spirit indicated that the password to Soth's keep, Dargaard, was the word "Denissa" that appeared on Ariela's key.
|Once again, I wish I'd saved and reloaded just to find out what would happen if I said "No."|
Three things happened before I assaulted Dargaard.
1. I returned to Gargath Outpost for training, item identification, and resting. I think there are only two places you can train in the game, at Gargath and Kalaman, which is a little inconvenient. Gargath is also the only place that has a bank. Anyway, the keep was besieged again by Sivaks, and I had to fight several battles to clear them out. When I was done, a message told me to see the commander of the outpost, and he told me that "our foes have left" and awarded me a bunch more experience. It occurred to me that I was probably supposed to stick around at the beginning of the game and keep fighting until all the attacking parties were killed. Instead, I fought one battle and headed out into the world.
2. It occurred to me that the plot had never taken me to the city of Cerberus or its graveyard. I revisited and found that the mayor had recently been slain. The two maps took me a couple of hours, but in interests of time, I'll summarize quickly: a mage in town had conspired with Soth's forces to kill the mayor, kidnap the city's cleric, and raise the dead in the graveyard. To stop them, I had to kill a bunch of undead, rescue the cleric, find a buried cache of wards, and set them up all over the graveyard. This ended the threat.
|A satisfying side-area.|
3. On the word of commenter Kirben, I returned to Cekos to see if there really was a magic shop. There was. It sold exactly two items: 10 arrows +2 for 15,000 steel pieces and Darts of the Hornet's Nest for 5,000 steel pieces. I sold all the gems and jewelry in my possession, which came out to 194,517 steel pieces. A couple of scrolls I didn't need rounded that out to 195,000. This bought me 130 arrows +2.
|That seems a little steep for 10 arrows.|
The graveyard in Cerebus turned out to contain a hidden passage to Dargaard, but I don't think going that way made a huge difference. The keep was three levels, full of undead, but also a reasonable number of places to rest. Turning in the keep didn't seem to work very well, and I had to take care of even low-level undead with "Fireballs" and melee attacks.
Four or five times, I got drained by vampires, specters, or wights. Unless I missed something, there isn't a single "Restoration" scroll in the game, and thanks to my multi-classing, my clerics hadn't reached seventh-level spells. After the second time I dragged my party all the way back to Kalaman's temple to restore levels to a drained character, I adopted a reload policy for draining. As often, I reflected that it would be nice if these undead had a chance of draining you on a successful melee attack, rather than an inevitability.
|Dammit, here comes another reload.|
Early in the first level, I was joined by a woman calling herself "Lenore." She said that Soth's minions had killed her husband, and she was looking for valuables to steal so her children could eat. She wanted to come with my party and scavenge bodies in my wake.
Thanks to my previous research, which included images, I suspected this woman was in fact Kitiara, but I decided to let her stay to see how it played out.
On the first level, I freed a bunch of servants by destroying a gem and killing all the patrols. As I approached the second level, Lenore insisted that she had to leave to check on her children, and Durfey--without even checking with us--left to "escort her safely home." I knew that wasn't going to end well.
|Durf, we're in the final dungeon here.|
On the second level, I found Sebas, moments away from death, who confirmed that the Rod of Omniscience was his secret. He warned me that Kitiara wanted it "for her own purposes." Later in the level, some mages had turned some peasants into rats, but I killed the mages and found a reversal spell. The level culminated with a battle against priests trying to turn Sturm Brightblade into a death knight.
|This is my policy when people call me "Fools."|
There was a death knight in their party, but I think it was supposed to be someone other than Sturm. I soon found out that death knights are able to cast "Fireball" even when they've been damaged already in the round. But he died in a couple of rounds. Once they were all dead, grateful clerics took Sturm's body back to the High Clerist's Tower and I continued on.
The last level was very linear. There were a couple of sections where I had to choose among three doors, and a voice taunted me that two of the choices led to death. Indeed, one of the three choices led to an (easy) battle with were-tigers or were-boars, and one damaged me when I tried to open it. There was no logic to the choices, so I just figured out the path through trial and error.
|It would be nice if this was an actual, you know, puzzle.|
I soon came across "Lenore," who claimed that she and Durfey had been attacked by death knights on the road and Durfey had been killed. Sure, and you escaped and for some reason decided to come all the way back here.
|They really do think we're a bunch of "fools."|
Durfey, somehow already converted to a death knight, was the penultimate confrontation of the level. He attacked me with specters and a couple of iron golems. It wasn't a hard battle--"Fireball" took care of the specters and "Lightning Bolt" slowed the golems. When I killed Durfey, the game noted that in his final moments, "you recognize the Durfey you knew and befriended."
|The final encounter.|
I've often complained that the Gold Box games give you no intelligence about impending battles despite the fact that your characters should logically be able to see a horde of death knights and iron golems 10 feet in front of them. For that reason, when I finally stumbled upon Soth and the final battle, I didn't have any compunction reloading and casting some buffing spells before facing him. At my levels, we have a pretty good selection of them. "Bless" and "Prayer," of course. I cast "Protection from Evil, 10' Radius" on a couple of characters. "Enlarge" goes to my first four. Everyone gets "Resist Fire" now that I know death knights cast "Fireball." "Fire Touch" is a neat sixth-level mage spell that causes melee characters to deal extra fire damage. The two mages get "Fire Shield." And for the final battle of the game, I was willing to spend a year of my life on "Haste."
Earlier, I had found that either "Invisibility" doesn't work or death knights can see right through it. It didn't do anything in previous battles.
The battle commenced and I recorded it. Watch it here:
Soth dies in literally the first action--a series of "Haste" and "Fire Touch"-fueled melee attacks from Midsummer, wielding the dragonlance. One of his four associated death knights dies soon after. At 01:05, Squirrel fries the entire line of iron golems with a "Lightning Bolt" before they can act, slowing them down for a few turns.
At 01:16, something happens that proves to be the only real problem in the battle: one of my knights gets "terrified" by a death knight. This is something they can do. Fortunately, 4 of my 6 characters have the ability to cast "Dispel Magic," but I'm worried that he'll flee off the map before I can cast it on him. When he does flee at 01:22, fortunately it's to the west where he can't get away, and I still have a chance to undo the damage.
A death knight makes with one of several "Fireballs" at 01:19, but "Resist Fire" mitigates the damage. At 01:47, after yet another character has been terrified, I discover another advantage of being a death knight: you can reflect "Magic Missile" spells.
Fortunately, in the next few rounds, I get everyone "Dispelled" and take out the death knights, leaving only the iron golems. My mage/thief, equipped with a long sword +3 and Gauntlets of Ogre Power, ends up being surprisingly crucial to this process.
Everyone's in reasonably good shape at the end. Overall, I found the battle a little easy, although it would have been a very different story if I hadn't buffed first, so you can decide for yourself whether I cheated.
At the end of the combat, Soth started to "regenerate," so I struck him with the Rod of Omniscience. For some reason, this caused him to get sucked into a whirling vortex.
Lenore revealed herself as Kitiara and tried to grab the Rod. After a struggle, she messed around with it and caused an explosion. The party got sucked one way into a portal, she another, and we wound up in the High Clerist's Tower. There, the knight commander expressed his belief that Kitiara and Soth had been sucked into alternate dimensions and "there is no leader for the evil forces to rally around."
Thoughts on the end:
- I didn't really like the entire plot. Soth's goals are unclear, the step-by-step progress is a little nonsensical, and too much depends on knowledge of characters outside the game itself.
- I don't know why a Rod of "Omniscience" is something that you strike people with, or why it defeats Soth.
- No dragons in the final battle! In fact, only one dragon after getting the dragonlance! What the hell?!
The game let me keep playing, so I slinked back to the Gargath outpost to level up and identify some of the items I'd found in the keep. Despite hitting almost all the side-areas I could find, my characters are all 2-4 levels below their maximums for this game, which is a refreshing change for a Gold Box title. My spellcasters are all one level below their maximum spell levels, even. Thus, before we wrap this up, I may have to do some grinding so I can properly document "Otto's Irresistible Dance." Plus, there's something called "Dave's Challenge" that a commenter just wrote about...
Time so far: 20 hours
Reload count: 17