Thursday, October 13, 2016

Pools of Darkness: The Final Battle

The problem with the final battles in one animated GIF.
The famous final series of battles in Pools of Darkness begins when Gothmenes returns from his expedition to Limbo, a tied and subdued Elminster in tow. The party has had about an hour to run around Gothmenes' palace, scavenging what weapons they can and getting hold of the Crystal of Bane, which I guess is the source of his power. Once Gothmenes starts the clock, there's no escaping the palace--even if you could get very far before the countdown ends, you end up fighting endless battles against Minions of Bane (or so I'm told--I didn''t try).
The extra "g" really bothers me.
One or two steps before Gothmenes returns, the game gives you some kind of warning--I forgot exactly what it says--that basically alerts you that it's time to cast your buffing spells. Because the moment he gets back, you go directly to combat.
That just seems so undignified for Elminster.
Buffing at this level takes a while, and a few spells must be cast in a precise order. For instance, if you cast "Globe of Invulnerability" on your spellcasters too soon, they won't get the effects of "Haste" and other beneficial spells. Some of the low-level buffing spells make only extremely minor adjustments at this level, but for the final battle, you need every advantage you can get. So you scatter a few "Protection from Evil, 10' Radius" around the party to improve AC by 2. The mages all cast "Mirror Image" and the ranger can toss a couple of "Barkskins" on the highest AC characters. A cleric casts "Bless" and "Prayer." Everyone gets "Enlarge," "Resist Fire," and "Resist Cold." One "Haste." Mages give themselves "Fire Shield" and "Iron Skin" and cast a few "Fire Touches" on the melee characters (the spell makes melee fighters do extra fire damage). Then you try to cover as many characters as possible with "Mind Blank" to protect against psychic attacks.
This wasn't a hard choice. I don't even really like Elminster.
Once the mages have all the early level spells active, they can cast "Globe of Invulnerability." I used to finish off with a "Mass Invisibility" (you have to cast this last, or the very act of casting dispels it, I think), but I haven't had a lot of luck with invisibility working in this game.

If you're not an idiot like me, buffing also includes the use of potions (Potion of Speed and Potion of Giant Strength, maybe, though "Enlarge" and "Haste" duplicate their effects and don't really stack) and scrolls. In particular, you want to give someone the Scroll of Protection from Dragon's Breath, which also protects against the breath of Minions of Bane and maybe some other creatures. Because I didn't bring any of this stuff through the pool, I didn't have any of these items. As we'll talk about later, I'm not sure it wouldn't be cheating even if I did have them.
That's fine. "Resist Fire" is a thing. Just don't tell me I'll run out into a lightning storm to escape your wrath.
When Gothmenes gets back, there's a series of cut scenes. He notes that you have the Crystal and then shows the party Elminster, bound in Gothmenes' whip. He offers to trade the wizard for his Crystal. I don't think what you do here matters, because if you say yes, Elminster just shouts "no," frees himself, and instigates the final battle. If you say no, Elminster gets tortured a little and the final battles begin anyway.
Is it a flail or a whip? Get it together, Pools of Darkness.
Gothmenes summons allies from a Pool of Darkness. The party gets one choice: whether to try to use the Crystal to "countermand the summons." If you do, whoever has the crystal suffers a near-total loss of hit points, but I guess you face fewer monsters in the final combats. I unfortunately didn't see what happened when I didn't use the crystal.
That's not nice. I haven't even met them.
I love how "Bane minions" is an afterthought here, like they're not about to be the biggest pains in the neck in RPG history.
It is a word; that's just not what it means.
Elminster escapes his bonds and keeps Gothmenes occupied while his beholder ally, Xoham, spurs the summoned minions to attack. It all begins. You have to fight a sequence of three battles with no opportunity to save or rest in between. You cannot lose a single character within the first two battles and have much hope of defeating the third one, so no one can die, get stoned, or get disintegrated. There's no recovering if that happens.
Guys, note that he did not say, "Breathe lightning at them."
The first battle consists of a large group of Blue Minions of Bane, dracoliches, Pets of Kalistes, and Bits o Moander. The first time I played, I swear they weren't too hard. Blue Minions and dracoliches both breathe lightning, against which you have no defense (save the ring, which I didn't bring through, or scroll, which I didn't bring through), so you have to kill them quickly. Blue Minions fall easily to "Delayed Blast Fireball" but dracoliches don't. My mages went early in the round and destroyed most of the Blue Minions and Pets of Kalistes with fireballs. My hastened fighters pounded away at the dracoliches. I didn't kill them all in one round, but I reduced them enough that by the second round, the few stray lightning breaths that got through didn't really matter.
Preparing to take out the first batch of enemies.
Suspecting I was about to go into a second battle, I didn't end the combat when the enemies were dead, but kept playing long enough to restore everyone to full health. Easy peasy. 

Second battle: About 8 beholders. No magic helps here. I rushed to engage them in melee combat. This happened my first time through:
In subsequent tries, the beholder battle was trivially simple, because I used the exploit by which my characters would run up to the beholders and then run a step away, causing them to attack their backsides and ensuring they therefore wouldn't use their special eyestalk attacks that round (the same strategy that keeps dragons from breathing). I'm sorry if anyone thinks this is cheating, but once you know it works, you can't not do it, particularly in a battle this hard. It would take more willpower than I possess to stand there and watch characters get stoned and disintegrated because they failed random rolls than to use a quick and simple exploit.

But the first time, I was doing it honestly and paid for it with 3 character deaths. I killed the game to restart, which turned out to be a bad idea, because I could have used my doomed party to explore an option coming up.

Reloading, I started the first battle again, and you know what? It was harder than the first time. I had to review the videos to see what was different, but it appears that my first attempt had lots of Blue Minions (which are vulnerable to "Delayed Blast Fireball") but only a few dracoliches. The second and subsequent attempts reversed that ratio, so that I was able to clear fewer enemies with spells and had to resort to individual battles with the dracoliches. (I think there were a couple extra total enemies, too.) Trying the same strategy that had won the combat the first time, my party was wiped out within 2 rounds from the lightning breaths.

So I had to switch up my tactics. North of where the battle starts is a hallway with a 2-square entrance. I figured if I could get all my characters up there, I could lead the enemies to me in smaller groups and try strategies like delaying my spellcasters' actions until the end of the round, popping up to the entrance, firing off fireballs and lightning bolts, and then retreating around the corner at the beginning of the next round.
My party hunkers in the hallway while the enemies come around the corner one-by-one (the Black Minion of Bane is mine).
The first time I tried the tactic, one of my mages got the first initiative. I had her run up through the opening and into the hallway, then cast "Monster Summoning." A couple of Black Minions of Bane appeared around my lead character. I hoped they'd serve as fodder for the enemies' attacks while my other characters all got to safety. It almost worked. 5 of my 6 characters got up around the corner, but last, my paladin, suffered a poor initiative roll, apparently. Since all my other characters were in hiding, he suffered the brunt of every breath attack and soon died.

I reloaded. This time, I got luckier with the initiative rolls and everyone was able to get around the corner. After that, it was trivially simple, if long, to wait for each creature to wander into the hallway and kill him individually.
Keep fighting that single enemy, Elminster.
The second battle began. As I mentioned, I used the exploit and managed to kill the beholders with very minor injuries. I healed up, refreshed "Haste" and a few other spells, and moved on.
I was even able to get the beholders to damage themselves on my "Fire Shield."
Another series of cut screens. Gothmenes manages to throw Elminster into the dark pool. He surveys the damage I've already done and looks doubtful. "Perhaps you have earned the use of my gem," he says. "With it, you can rule the Realms!" He offers to teach me the "word to command it."
I just know this is going to be a bad choice, but I frankly would like to rule the Realms.
I silently curse. Of course I have to explore this option, even though I suspect it will end in ruin and I'll have to fight the first two battles all over again. I say "Yes." Gothmenes gives me a code word, and fortunately I screen-shot it, because it's only up for a second. I type it in when prompted.

Elminster lurches out of the pool, twisted and dying, screaming "no!" Gothmenes says, "Fools! You have opened the crystal! Welcome your new master!" I don't know exactly what that means, but all my party members instantly die and the game is over.
What if we'd been evil?
It takes 2 or 3 more reloads to repeat my success with the first and second battles. This time, I say "no" to Gothmenes' offer. "Minions! To me!" he cries, "but only a few lumber forward." He screams, "Bane! Protect your chosen one," and it first it seems like Bane doesn't answer. And then it happens: a light comes from the Pool of Darkness and wipes my spellcasters' memories. The final battle begins, and my party members don't have access to a single spell. (My buffing spells are still active, though.)
Aw, come on. This is bull#%#&.
The enemies: Gothmenes, 2 Bits o Moander, 2 green dragons, and 7 Blue Minions of Bane.

At this point, the full force of the mistakes I made last time comes crashing down. Gothmenes, for all his status as the "big bad" of the game, is just a balor. SSI's adaptation of AD&D rules doesn't allow for individual, named enemies to be notably more powerful than generic enemies of the same type. So though he has some special attacks and defenses and whatever, he goes down in a single attack from a hastened fighter (who gets 4 blows per round).
What should be the hardest villain dies right away.
Similarly, the green dragons don't last long against melee weapons. The Bits o Moander are tough, but there's only 2 of them, and they can be avoided until later. None of these enemies is trivial, I hasten to add--the green dragons and their poison breath are particularly vexing--but none of them is the real problem.

The real problem is the 7 Blue Minions of Bane. Not only are they blasting everyone with lightning bolts every round, but they've got this electric field that does double damage to anyone making a melee attack against them. If one of my hastened fighters runs up to one and hits him for 16, 18, 20, 14, he gets hit for 32, 36, 40, 28 in return, and probably immediately dies. In previous combats, spells made it easy enough to kill them at a distance, but I don't have any here. I also don't have any healing spells to at least restore hit points to wounded characters.

Nor do I have any wands, nor any scrolls, because I didn't bother to try to bring them through the Pool of Darkness, not even to see if it would have worked.

So my only recourse is missile weapons--which I've been ignoring the entire game.

I check my inventories. One mage has a staff sling, the other a regular sling. My thief has a short bow with 10 arrows. This is not enough, not even with my non-missile-equipped fighters sacrificing themselves to take down a couple of minions.

For a little while, it seems like I'm going to be able to win after a really long fight. My two mages have Rings of Blinking (you get one for fighting with Vala early in the game, but I repeated this area twice). This causes them to "blink out" after they make their attacks every round, and no enemy can target them. Because both mages have 18 dexterity, they almost always act first. (They have 18 dexterity because I kept re-rolling until I got it, not because I edited them to it.) They're horrible shots with their missile weapons, but I assume that given enough time, they can whittle everyone down and kill them.
My mages try to hold the line. (This from attempt #3 when I didn't kill Gothmenes first, for some reason.)
But "almost always act first" doesn't mean always, and they lose the initiative enough times that soon even they're dead.

After I lost this battle the first time, I knew I was in serious trouble. I hadn't even made a dent in the Minions. I looked through my paltry inventories and mentally reviewed all my tactics, and I couldn't come up with a single path to victory.

I did try. In two subsequent attempts (it took me 6 total reloads to get there because I had to win the first two combats first), I tried moving my characters around corners, keeping them at a distance, and so forth, but the enemies all have movement totals in the 20s and 30s, so they were able to close the gap and swarm me within a couple of rounds. And the Minions don't seem to have any distance restrictions on their breath attacks anyway. I tried giving the staff sling, sling, and Rings of Blinking to my fighters, and I managed to kill about half of the final enemies but it still wasn't enough.

As we reviewed last time, I had at this point exactly 2 saves. One was about 2 steps before Gothemenes started the final battles--just enough time to buff. The other was 40 hours ago, just after I defeated Thorne. As I write this, my previous post hasn't been published yet, but I'm going to assume you've already beaten me up pretty bad for that dumb mistake, so let's try not to do it again.

I honestly couldn't see any recourse, barring cheating, except to export all my party members, re-import them into a new party, and start the game over, not making the same mistakes. I'd also earn a few more levels, I reasoned.

But then I reflected how long it would take me to do that, even skipping the optional areas, and I decided to adopt a compromise--one that remedied one of my many mistakes and only left me with an advantage comparable to what I'd have had if I hadn't been stupid in the first place.

It really is an odd fact of the Gold Box games that when you load up a saved game, until you actually hit the "begin" option, you have a full menu of party options. This allows you to create, delete, and swap out party members even in an active party. An unscrupulous player could use this advantage to smuggle over all their equipment from the other side of Limbo by stuffing it into the hands of a throw-away character, removing him from the party, and then adding him back to the party while in Gothmenes' realm.

I couldn't even do that, since I didn't have a save state from prior to entering Dark Phlan. All my stuff was in storage in Limbo and wouldn't be available again until the end of the game. I suppose I could have done it with whatever equipment my party was carrying after the battle with Thorne, but I didn't want to cheat that badly.

What I did instead was to load my game in Gothmenes' realm, remove one character, and create a new fighter. New fighters start with, among other things, a Composite Long Bow +2 and 50 Arrows +2. I gave those items to one of my fighters, removed the new character, and repeated with my other two fighters. I finished by adding my original character back to the party. Yes, it's technically a cheat, but it's a cheat that gave me roughly the same equipment that I would have had if I'd been picking up missile weapons from the moment I entered New Phlan.

It still didn't make things easy. I had to reload 3 more times to get through the first battle again, then my party was wiped out in the final. But I came close enough that it was encouraging. I slowly developed a strategy by which my best fighters would first take out Gothemenes and the dragons in melee combat, then switch to missile weapons and pick away at the Minions of Bane. They were capable of firing enough missile shots to kill the Minions in two rounds; they just had to survive that long.

I didn't stop making mistakes. I totally forgot the option to switch the Rings of Blinking from my mages to my fighters--who with their bows, were much more important. If I'd remembered that, I might have won in a single try instead of 4. (That's 4 for the last battle; it took me 7 total reloads to get to the final battle 4 times, owing to problems in the first battle.)

On my 16th time entering the final battles, with adequate ammunition and missile weapons in the hands of my paladin and ranger, I was victorious. This time, I only had my paladin and ranger kill Gothmenes in the first round before switching to missile weapons and shooting at the Minions of Bane. I had everyone else attack the green dragons and Bits o Moander with melee weapons. Taking out the Minions so much faster made a big difference, and I finished the battle with only two characters dead.
My status at the end of the victorious battle. I have no idea why everyone left Dromio alone.

The third of the three battles strikes me as just fundamentally, obnoxiously unfair. Spellcasting is such a huge part of the game that to remove it for the final battle betrays a lot of what you've built your characters to do. On the other hand, no matter how much you all warned me about the final battles, I couldn't imagine ahead of time what the game could possible do to pull the rug out from under me--and this was definitely it.

I'll cover what happened after the victory next time, but lets talk a little more about that final series of battles. It strikes me that a  player who's willing to cheat and bring all his equipment "around" the pool would have a trivially easy time with it. No, I couldn't verify this myself, but I'm 90% sure that if my characters had their best armor and weapons, their Girdles of Giant Strength, their rings of protection and Scrolls of Protection Against Dragon's Breath, maybe cleric scrolls with "Heal" and mage scrolls with "Delayed Blast Fireball," I would have won on the first try, maybe with a couple of character deaths. Heck, even a single dragon's breath scroll (which has more than 6 castings) would have rendered moot the difficulty posed by the Blue Minions and dracoliches. (Though it turned out to be good that I saved it--see the next entry.)

So it's cute that someone online, playing the game with a single magic-user/paladin at "champion" level, managed to win the final battles taking hardly any damage, but he did so by editing his character to max statistics and bringing over equipment that he wasn't meant to have. At least my cheat only gave me stuff that I would have found in the final area anyway.

On the other hand, I wonder if even having my Vorpal Blade and two Rings of Blinking wasn't a bit of a cheat. Elminster warns you that all magic items will be destroyed when you go through the pools. I think that's what was supposed to happen. The fact that some items aren't destroyed seems like a bug rather than a deliberate feature to give the party a slight advantage.

Winning the game took me literally all day. When I went to sleep that night, I had dreams about the final battle--dreams in which I found all kinds of loopholes that don't exist in the game, such as my party leading the enemies to favorable terrain (like a long narrow hallway with multiple 90-degree bends) before the battles begin. I kept waking up and whispering angrily to myself, "The game brings you to the final battle, not the other way around. There's no way to control the terrain!" Then I'd fall asleep and dream that there was some secret way to rest and save before the third battle.

Having spent so much time defeating the battle, I was curious what different spoiler sites had to say. Here's GameBanshee's summary:

The final trio of battles required for defeating Gothmenes is stupidly difficult. There are just way too many one-shot things that can go wrong, including stoning, poison, death, and disintegration--none of which can be corrected while you're in battle--that your odds of finishing the battles successfully is exceedingly low. After failing dozens of times to complete the battles, we finally got frustrated enough to switch the game difficulty to "novice," where we were finally able to succeed (but even that took a few tries).

It sounds like they were most afflicted by the second battle against the beholders, not knowing about the "run up, run away" trick. I don't know why I didn't consider lowering the difficulty level. I don't consider that a "cheat," exactly; it just feels a little lame.

The "Spoiler Centre" walkthrough encourages players to set the difficulty to "novice," too, and it recommends my strategy of having everyone run up into the northern hallway for the first battle. It also suggests that the mages' "Globe of Invulnerability" should have protected against the breath lightning of dracoliches and Blue Minions. Is it wrong, or did it not work for me simply because the spell ran out before the third battle? Maybe I should have memorized a few of those. Come to think of it, it didn't really occur to me to re-cast any buffing spells (except "Haste," which I lost because one of the Pets of Kalistes cast "Slow") between the combats. I assumed once was enough. I should have checked the time-outs on them.

I tried to watch some YouTube videos to see what tactics others have used, and the answer seems to be "cheating." I haven't found one in which the party members didn't have equipment they weren't supposed to have (including obvious item-duplication exploits), weren't cheated to at least 18 (sometimes 25!) in all their stats, and didn't have more hit points than should be plausible for party members of their level. 

So now I'm tempted to re-play the final battle at the intended game difficulty, using only the equipment I think I'm supposed to have, and record it for posterity. I'm not going to do it right away because I know it will take a full day or more, but perhaps sometime before I finish 1991. The only problem is, I don't have a saved game from before the final battle anymore (except the one that's way back at Thorne's). If someone sent me a saved game from, say, Arcam's fortress, would I be able to load it and then swap in my own characters? If not, or if no one has one, I suppose I can just replay the necessary areas after Thorne. It's not like I need to do a lot of leveling. I just hate the thought of going through the Moander dimension again.

Next up: the denouement.

Time so far: 60 hours
Reload count: 70


  1. "I tried to watch some YouTube videos to see what tactics others have used, and the answer seems to be "cheating." I haven't found one in which the party members didn't have equipment they weren't supposed to have (including obvious item-duplication exploits), weren't cheated to at least 18 (sometimes 25!) in all their stats, and didn't have more hit points than should be plausible for party members of their level. "

    I recorded my own final battles some years ago, but I failed to make a title that makes them turn up on searches. Also, the _sound, so mute it._

    My characters are all non-save scummed, not maxed out, and IIRC they didn't bring any magical equipment from the main map. I played on default difficulty and didn't use any cheats, except I edited every character's DEX up to 18. Then I was able to beat the final battles on second try, with one only one man left standing.

    So here's the honest YouTube version of the final PoD battles:

    BTW, Fire Touch also works with missile weapons, not just melee weapons.

    1. Sound is bugged, so make sure you mute it.

    2. That's awesome. That makes me feel like I don't need to do it all over again myself.

      I really did discount the power of ranged weapons.

    3. Few thoughts:
      -You spend a lot more time scanning the battlefield than I do. It must be a patience thing. But I'm sure it's why you won in 2 attempts instead of my 16.
      -I always forget that "undo" exists. You seem to use it quite a lot.
      -Didn't even occur to me to try to "hold" dracoliches.
      -Got some use out of "Power Word: Stun" towards teh end of the first battle, which I never did.
      -That "Monster Summoning" sure did you a lot of good.
      -Particular kudos for winning the second battle without using the exploit. You got a lot luckier than I did with those rays.
      -Isn't that BS that you can't cast "Stone to Flesh" in combat?
      -I'm not sure what's going on with "Haste" in your combats. By the second, it looks like only one character has it active. I wouldn't have thought it possible to win the final battle without "Haste" active for everyone.
      -It must have been infuriating to watch your characters "miss" Gothmenes. You can't afford to waste attacks like that in this battle.
      -Freaking "Dispel Evil!" Why didn't I have that active on everyone?!
      -By 09:00 in the final battle, I was wondering how you were going to possibly end with only 1 man left standing. But those lightning breaths are just relentless, aren't they? Especially when they bounce off the walls. Shouldn't there have been some kind of max range on those attacks?
      -At around 10:15 in Part 4, I can see you struggling with what to do with Aragorn. Do I sacrifice him against the minion? Do I walk away from the minion and get hit with free attacks so I can use my bow? Do I just attack the bit o moander even though he's the least dangerous foe on the board right now?

    4. Re: long-ranged weapons, I remember having a hard time as a kid with BG1, until on my second playthrough I gave my lead character and Imoen short bows with the skills to match. Two Archers in the party made me clean house in the Mines dungeon like never before!

      Plus, in BG1, once you get the cash to buy a useful number of magic arrows, most enemy Spellcasters can go suck it.

      This was a huge revelation to me as a 12-year-old and I was super pleased with myself...

    5. Yeah, Bowder's Gate it is. It's partly a function of real-time w/ pause combat.

      IIRC Chet said he played through without ranged weapons as a challenge at some point.

      There's an NPC called Coran who has Dex 20 and several proficiency points in longbows and he almost single-handedly doubles your ranged damage output.

    6. RE: few thoughs:

      - Yeah, it pays off to plan carefully and not rush it, especially when there are several fights in a row with no saving inbetween.

      - Undo is very convenient for finding to optimal path and check if your character reach their target. I sometimes find myself trying to use it games that don't have that function.

      - Holding Dracoliches: I think I did it because I had some left over targets and thought I could just try it. Hold spells are not supposed to work in the Undead, though.
      - Monster Summoning is yet another underwhelming spell. I think I'd rather fill up the lvl 8 and 9 spell slots with lvl 7 spells.
      - Stone to Flesh not working was annoying, especially since I could target the spell on anyone but the one who needed it!
      - Second battle was in many ways the most difficult ones, since you start surrounded by Beholders and it's not so easy to avoid their Rays. Also they like to cast Slow, and I didn't have enough Haste spells to counter them all.
      - Yeah, Lighting Breath should have a ranger requirement like the other breath attacks. Probably a bug.

      Thanks for the feedback.

    7. Pet

      How few reloads do you reckon you could finish PoD with?

      I wonder if it's ever been done with no cheats.

    8. I completed the Amiga version with no cheats, and with non-maxed characters. A working Ring of Lightning Immunity helped.

      Aa for number of reloads, it's probably possible with none if you are lucky and patient, and have some meta knowledge.

    9. Oh I meant a no-cheat no-reload run, but you answered that.

    10. Petrus, do you remember if the Ring of Electrical Immunity protects you from those "retaliatory" attacks by the Minions of Bane? If so, I can see where that, particularly coupled with a Scroll of Protection from Dragon's Breath, would let you win with a single character.

    11. "Retaliatory damage" would have been a better way to say it.

    12. Fire Shield protects aginst Cold or Fire, but not Lightning, so the Ring should have no effect against minions' opportunity attacks.
      If all characters have missile weapons, a good non-cheating tactic would be to have it equipped on your best tank who is in the LOS of most of the minions, while your other characters try to stay out of sight from most of the minions (and Dracoliches).

    13. Does Stone to Flesh change Stone Golems to Flesh Golems? I can't remember!

  2. The third of the three battles strikes me as just fundamentally, obnoxiously unfair. Spellcasting is such a huge part of the game that to remove it for the final battle betrays a lot of what you've built your characters to do. On the other hand, no matter how much you all warned me about the final battles, I couldn't imagine ahead of time what the game could possible do to pull the rug out from under me--and this was definitely it.

    Thank you. Somebody had to say it. As you have pointed out in the Buck Rodgers game, magic is an essential component in the game. To remove it arbitrarily is unfair. I would go further and say that any magic using creature or character cannot have magic resistance. Leave that to Dwarves and other races that cannot use magic.

    Also, I agree with you about Eliminster. Forgotten Realms would be better without him.

    1. I like how in BG 2, you can refuse to help Jaheira and tell her to 'get Elminster to sort it out'.

      FR suffers from the Marvel/DC universe problem, whereby anything significantly bad should immediately acquire the attention of a ton of super powerful beings rational enough to want to work together to solve it. But it doesn't happen because reasons.

      Oh we'll just let the Child of Bhaal disappear, what could possibly go wrong.

    2. It's funny you mention that, because I put some Civil War analogues in my final post on the game.

  3. Perhaps I'm mistaken, but doesn't Elminster tell you that 'all but the most powerful of magic will be destroyed' or something to that effect when you cross through your first portal to Thorne's realm? If all magic were destroyed it would stand to reason that those artifacts you've been collecting would die too.

    Oh, and the the 'non-cheese' way to deal with the beholders is to just put a bunch of distance between you and them and pick them off with missile weapons. Their eye attacks have a limited range and they can only move 3 squares a turn.

    1. You are correct. I just found the journal entry where he first brings it up. He does leave it open that the most powerful items can make it through.

      The problem remains whether you really want to risk taking something through that you THINK is ultra-powerful. I would have thought the Girdles of Giant's Strength were pretty damned powerful. Ditto Boots of Speed. Both are destroyed. None of the +5 weapons or armor make it through, but the Vorpal Blade does. I mean, I guess I understand why that's more powerful, but it's not in raw damage.

      Unless you're willing to save-scum, you're taking a big gamble, and it's not hard to see an honest player refusing to risk it.

  4. Obdurate Hater of Rhythm GamesOctober 13, 2016 at 2:18 PM

    Those are not the biggest annoyances in R.P.G.s, the biggest annoyance is the Holo Holo Bird in baten Kaitos Origins:

    It appears at the very beginning of disc 2, with nowhere to grind or buy equipment. Saving in the same slot at a major checkpoint like a disc change is really stupid, but if you do so, I guarantee you will never win the battle.

    It has tens of thousands of hit points, sky-high attack and defense and two chicks that will attack you and heal it. You cannot kill the chicks, because it will immediately create new ones.

    Killing it is nearly impossible, because the chicks can resurrect it at will--although the chance of getting to that point is virtually nonexistent.

    Even if you kill it, and you get to act against the chicks before they resurrect it, you may not be able to attack because skills are randomized in the game.

    You will be wildly underleveled: Even if you are overpowered at the end of disc 1, you will be about 20 levels below any level of power that could feasibly allow you to win. Grinding will take about 10 hours and have to be done in disc 1.

    Even a successful battle will take forever: My final battle with it, after hundreds of failures and endless grinding, took three and a half hours and I barely survived. It did make it very sweet when I finally beat it and the game, but still, most annoying R.P.G. battle.

    1. You may either find this interesting, or curse the person that recorded this to the deepest hells for making it look easy, but I looked up the Holo Holo Bird after you mentioned it, and here's someone that does it in just under 8 minutes, including pre-and post fight scripted dialogue.

  5. I must confess that I found this post to be pretty suspenseful. I knew you'd win at the end, but the blow-by-blow was very well written.

    Completely unrelated: this may be the first time I've looked at the list of upcoming games and recognized none of them. Should be an interesting couple of months!

  6. Powerful wizard caught by the whip of a flaming creature with bat wings? Followed by an extended battle between the two? Hmmm.

    (I'm reminded of the Charles Mingus song "Gunslinging Bird", except I guess this version would be subtitled "If Tolkien were a gunslinger...")

    Anyway, great post!

  7. I feel better about bashing my head up against that final battle a half-dozen times during the Clinton administration and then giving up, now.

  8. In the spirit of OWB's guest post, the tabletop 1e rules for magic items on other planes are actually quite complicated (something like -1 to the plus for each plane you travel through without first going back to Limbo, or something like that). The rules are not "any item not named X, Y or Z go poof", so this is another difference that SSI made, obviously just to up the difficulty level.

    I do have my old Pools saves from the early 90s if you want them, although I have no idea at what points in the game I saved. Most likely they're bunched up by the end, but there's no guarantee of that. I also have pdf's of my hand-drawn maps too for extra nostalgia (well, at least to me).

    1. And even if they become nonmagical, they would still function as non-magical weapons or armor, so none of this lugging extras with you.

  9. I remember this last battles pretty well, I've recently played through the GOG version of the game, just to grab some screenshots.
    What I did during the last of the three fights was to hide on the left side of the battle scene, where the lightining couldn't reach my men for some time. And than I've used my ranged weapons:
    But I needed several times to achieve the final victory. Even though I didn't counted my tries, I'm pretty sure that I needed 5 to 10 attempts.

    1. "What I did during the last of the three fights was to hide on the left side of the battle scene, where the lightining couldn't reach my men for some time." I'm not sure how that works. Two Minions of Bane start in that area, and two more can work their way down from the top without many pathfinding difficulties. I tried to hide in that area but it didn't do me any good.

    2. Even that little bit helps; I did the same thing as Claus. Rushed everyone (hasted) into that corridor and shot down the two that were there with massed missile fire, then took down the others as they approached.

      The key difference was probably stockpiling the nonmagical Fine Long Bows - these allow for Strength bonuses to apply to missile fire and make a HUGE difference in how quickly Enlarged Hasted Fighters (or dual classes with fighter attack routines) to mow down the Minions.

  10. You're definitely overlooking something, though I'm not sure what. Based on old my victory screenshot, my characters had AC ranging from -3 to -13. Yours is 3 to -4...

    1. And that's with rolled stats. Here's a screenshot from someone with maxed stats:

      -14 to -23 AC.

    2. Those ACs are with equipment that you can't bring through the pools to the final battle. In the final battle area, you just get whatever drow chain and a few shields that you can salvage.

    3. If you're careful about it and clean out Dark Phlan, there's quite a bit of stuff you can pick up. At the very least the Evil Knights in the 'training hall' analog can be looted for Plate Mail +2, and there's a Dark Lord nearby with Plate Mail +3. There's one suit of Plate Mail +4 in the treasury, which also has a shield +4 and ring of protection +4, and another in the beholder lair in Gothmenes' palace.

    4. Okay, I understated it, but to ACs of -23, you'd have to have your +5 plate mail and shields plus several other things. Frankly, I don't think it's possible to have SO MANY characters with ACs that high (in Heliophanus's screen shots) without item duplication glitches. So Heliophanus, I think whoever took that screenshot cheated on several levels.

    5. True, and +5 weapons can't actually be gotten in the game--you have to bring them over from Secret.

      I think the best you can do is 18 DEX (6) + Bracers AC 2 (-2) + Cloak of Prot +4 (-6) + Ring of Prot +4 (-10) + Shield +5 (-15) + Helm + 4 (-19) + Boots of Speed (-21). Not sure where the extra 2 points of AC came from--I think if you hack your DEX up to 25 you get -6 to AC.

  11. OK, now I vaguely remember the battle from way back - though Elminster's Gandalf impersonation triggers more memories than the fight itself. For me it was not that hard since I had all characters dual class from fighter with percentage strength and always stocked up and used missile weapons to save on spells. Moander plane was tougher and more of an achievement at least in my memory.

  12. "If someone sent me a saved game from, say, Arcam's fortress, would I be able to load it and then swap in my own characters? "

    I've been replaying POD as well and have got a save for just before entering Mulmaster (every other prior area (and mini area) done ). You'll just have to deal with Mulmaster, Arcam's caves, Dark Phlan and the end.

    If you could give me an email address, I'd be delighted to send a copy over.

    1. Oh and I should add that it shouldn't be a problem to use your own characters with my savegame.

      Load one of your savegames, remove your characters from your party (it'll be saved as individuals).

      Load up my savegame, drop my characters and add your own characters.

      Not sure if you can do this from the opening screen, but you'll definitely be able to do it at a training hall (Mulmaster, Zhentil Keep, Hill Giant Stedding for example).

    2. Now that we have Petrus's 4 videos above, I don't really feel compelled to video the final battle anymore. He accomplishes exactly what I'd be videoing my own battle to accomplish: to show that the final battle can be won with non-cheated characters and only the equipment that you find on the far side of the pool.

  13. I can't recall the first time I finished PoD. I doubt I won the final battle the first time through, but I don't recall any particular frustration with it.

    In future plays, I typically had all my wizards dual-classed from ranger, so only the cleric couldn't pull out a Fine Long Bow and shoot their way through the final encounter. I can attest that the difficulty level drops substantially if you do that with five out of six characters; between Haste and Enlarge you can expect to kill one of the minions each time a character goes. If memory serves, I always had non-magical gear ready for diving into pools, though once replaced with better stuff I'd drop it and then repurchase before the next dip.

    1. A party of dual-classed rangers would be pretty bad-ass in this game, particularly since there are so many large enemies against whom Rangers get a bonus.

    2. Half-Elven Ranger Clerics are also very good, but only at lower levels.

  14. Been enjoying all your posts on Pools of Darkness, but this last one brought back the most memories when I played this game on my Amiga 500 back in 1991 or 1992. Good times...

  15. Gothomes looks like the child of the Heat Miser from "The Year Without Santa Claus".

  16. Don't forget, that the game still is not over, there's "Dave's Challenge" just as in DKK...
    Good luck, Chet, you will need it!

    1. Since I didn't use the Scrolls of Protection from Dragons Breath in the game proper, it was more like "Dave's Mild Annoyance."

  17. Congratulations on winning a tremendous nightmare of a final battle!

    Just imagine all those newly recruited fighters valiantly sacrificing themselves to deliver precious bows and arrows to heroes battling evil gods in another dimension...

    1. They die? They just get removed from the party, which I always assumed meant they went off and did their own thing.

    2. Quirkz needs to make this part of his next book.

      "All right, welcome to the party. You're an elf fighter, lawful good, male. Sound good?"

      "Actually, I...."

      "Is it all right if I depict you as a garish blue color with no weapons?"

      "Well, I'd prefer...."

      "Great, great. By the way, your name is 'AAAAA'."

      "No, my name is...."

      "Okay, let's take a look at that bow you brought along!"

    3. I'll be sure to get right on that, once I sort out the anagramming trope problem.

    4. DV and AAAAA would make a great starting party if they can get a Cleric and a Bard to join them.

  18. Not much to add except congrats to anyone who won this. When I played this battle last week it took me from 9pm to 2am in the first evening. I happily concede that this was not my finest hour - got far in the first try and convinced myself that victory was just round the corner. The next evening I needed another two hours.

    Finally, I set the difficulty to novice. I do not think the fewer hp made a huge difference,though. Lame? Perhaps, but the game cheated, too, by turning off the magic in the final round. Ok SSI, lame trick, absolutely. In the end, it was more like a lucky punch after the umpteenth try.

    Still, it is a series of battles worthy of ending a wonderful CRPG campaign and as such it is meant for players who played the game in serious and focused way. I played it lazily and casually - no multi-classed characters, most of my sc were unmodified, I was somehow convinced that almost nothing (except the Vorpal Sword and Drow stuff in Kalistes' realm) survives the journey to different planes so I arrived there naked, did not bother with distance weapons (not because lack of experience per se - they were just not necessary up to the point). There were some hard battles before, I barely won against Kalistes, but in a way this just boosted my confidence (arrogance?) that I could beat PoD the easy way.

    I mean, the game lulls you into a certain rhythm with all your overpowered spells and then just pulls the rug from underneath. Still, grand finale.

    1. I agree. If you aren't aware of the battle's difficulty already (as I was), and you don't take preventive steps, like dual-classing and not accepting characters with less than 18 dexterity (which probably means kicking out cherished characters from all the way back in the first game, as I did), you're in for a world of hurt in the final battle. As such, I can't recard lowering the difficulty as "cheating" even though I for some reason didn't think of that.

    2. Not to mention role-playing a non-human.

    3. Dropping my elven mage and dwarven fighter from the party I brought over from SOTSB was my first lip service to power gaming. Modifying one newly created fighter was the other. I have no honest excuse for the final - I just thought that I was good enough to coach my party through that hell and power gaming like multiclassing everyone to a Fighter/Mage combination was something for, now I run and duck for cover, pussies (seriously no offense meant) and 14 year olds with too much time to spend, i.e. me in 1991/1992.

  19. I role-play demi-humans in Pools all the time. I like multi-classing, though I admit its advantages fade over the course of a game where single classed humans are reaching 30th level. The key is "role-play".

    But that should not really matter. Yanking magic in the last battle overturns what is fundamental about the D+D experience. My party, being 2/5 elven did fine until that final encounter. I suppose the problem would have gone the other way had SSI not opted to take the magic away. But with magic, that fight would have not been much more difficult than say the fight with Tanetal. Well I am trying Dark Queen of Krynn again. I never finished that one. This time I do it. Now my party is 4/5 elven and we caste haste whenever we want.

    1. - I always loved to create half-elves as characters, and a proper fantasy party for me has at least one dwarven fighter and one elf Ranger or Mage.
      - It is damned hard to make a fight challenging at these levels, and I think the various limits of the GB engine did enhance this problem. They had to come up with something. Still, this was not fair.

  20. I played through the entire series with the same party, then hit this battle. I strongly suspect that it was literally impossible for my characters; they were all stupidly high level, but without being designed from the ground up with (for example) sufficiently high dexterity, and with a heavily magic-oriented playstyle, they were being massacred before they could even act. A design decision that seriously soured me to the entire series.

    1. I'm pretty sure I've finished the game with a non-altered party created for PoR only hex-edititing fighters to Paladins and Rangers after the first game, but the depictions of the final fight made me doubt my memory. It seems very unlikely for me to have beaten this battle without using some exploit or the other.

      I DO remember the challenge dungeon (and I failed beating that one), so I must've survived the final fight somehow...

  21. Feels good to be catching up again- Mara and I have moved in together, so now I commute by bus instead of walking. Not a long commute, but good for reading on my phone. Today though I'm getting lots of reading time as I'm measuring the wavelengths of light my compounds give off. right now it takes half a second each point, and I measure each point between 400-700... Then do it again several dozen times.

  22. I would have looked up what rammed weapon lot was in the final area, that I could have picked up but didn't, them added that to my characters.

  23. Ran into a very odd bug today. While exploring the Hill Giant Stead, I stepped into a square and got a "Pic not found" message. The screen seemed locked up, but when I hit enter a couple of times it loaded a combat screen, with 12 Gothmenes as my opponents. You said he wasn't much of a threat in the final battle, but a dozen of them decapitated my party of ~15th level characters pretty quick. Figuring that was a crazy fluke, I reloaded and got the same error, this time with 24 Gothmenes. A third try got me "only" 10 of them, at which point I used Gold Box Companion to hack them down to 10 HP apiece and fought my way through. I actually remembered to record video of the third combat loading, but then foolishly re-saved over the apparently bugged save slot rather than keeping it around for further experimentation.

    A Google search turned up exactly one other instance of something similar, so it's happened before. My guess it was supposed to be a hill giant patrol and the enemy ID got over-written by Gothmenes. I also wonder if, since there are at least two reports, how many other people may have gotten the same thing and shrugged it off? Or thought it was an intentional obstacle and gave up on the game because they kept dying?

  24. Looks like D&D (and the rest) panic comic writer Jack Chick fought his final battle and entered the pool of darkness.

    His hateful rhetoric won't be missed, but his shitty hilarious comics will live on forever.

    1. I'm glad he gave permission to a group of games to make a movie out of the D&D Chick tract "Provided it wasn't a parody". (I don't think they told him they were gamers) before he died. So they made a played-straight version of Blackleaf. Haven't seen it yet, but....

      My girlfriend grew up in Illinois and went to high school in a rather rural part, and tells me people are still handing out Chick Tracts.... ;-;


I welcome all comments about the material in this blog, and I generally do not censor them. However, please follow these rules:

1. Do not link to any commercial entities, including Kickstarter campaigns, unless they're directly relevant to the material in the associated blog posting. (For instance, that GOG is selling the particular game I'm playing is relevant; that Steam is having a sale this week on other games is not.) THIS ALSO INCLUDES USER NAMES THAT LINK TO ADVERTISING.

2. Please avoid profanity and vulgar language. I don't want my blog flagged by too many filters.

3. Please don't comment anonymously. It makes it impossible to tell who's who in a thread. Choose the "Name/URL" option, pick a name for yourself, and just leave the URL blank.

Also, Blogger has a way of "eating" comments, so I highly recommend that you copy your words to the clipboard before submitting, just in case.

NOTE: Spam has gotten so bad lately that I've had to turn on comment moderation for posts older than 10 days. I apologize if it takes a little while for your comment to appear.