|Getting to this combat with Tanetal was a lot of trouble.|
Well, my visceral reaction to the whole Moander experience was justified, and though my memory was short on facts, it was perfectly accurate in how I felt about the map. It was probably the most annoying quest in the entire Gold Box series, and it featured a new entry in my list of "most annoying enemies": Bits O Moander.
The area required me to explore little tunnels and crevices leading into the body of the dead (or at least dormant) god Moander, with the wall textures consequently made to look like flesh and blood vessels and such. (This is the second game, after Mandragore, in which you adventure inside a planar being.) Some of the entrances were in obvious places, like the mouth and a big hole in his chest, but others aren't visible from the overland map (like the little farmhouses and whatnot on the main map), so you have to systematically explore the whole thing. This is harder than on the overland map because of all the gaps created by Moander's limbs.
|Ugh. I suppose.|
Every 6-10 steps, you hit a random encounter and end up unable to flee about 50% of them. Most are, inevitably, with "Bits o Moander," which are completely immune to fire damage, highly resistant to most other spells, and resistant to physical damage. They respond about 30% of the time to "Hold Person," but you only have so many of those. With the substandard weapons that you have to loot on the planes, it takes forever to whittle down their hit points. In the meantime, they do something like 3d12 with each of their two physical attacks per round, and various bits are capable of stoning, poisoning, or suffocating your characters. Not to mention, it pisses you off just to look at their stupid faces.
In addition to the Bits o Moander, you face dozens and dozens of cultists, each capable of casting Level 6 cleric spells, and every damned one of them leads off with "Blade Barrier," casting it any place they can, hitting some characters multiple times per round and royally screwing up the battlefield.
Compounding all of this: there are almost no places to rest without returning through the Pool of Darkness to limbo.
Winning the map meant wading through all the random combats to explore about half a dozen sub-areas, then finishing up at Moander's heart. The mini-maps off Moander's body include:
- On his foot, a set of caves occupied by cultists doing unspeakable things to human slaves. You free them and get some weapons and armor.
- On his arm, a gash that you can enter and kill a bunch of mages who are animating pieces of Moander's flesh. A guy named Aeghwaet, who says he's been living in the caves for 3,500 years, gives you a couple of potions if you clear the caves. These are later necessary to enter the heart.
- An old hermit living in his ear that will train you if you clean out some marauding pieces of Moander.
- A small area accessible through the eye where black mages are attaching some devices to Moander's neurons. Once the mages are cleared out, you can use these to view scenes on other places around the body. None of these helped me.
- In some caves off the middle of his hair, you rescue a priestess who tells you to drop an "amphora" in his mouth to slow his heart. This becomes important later.
|I'm not sure why Moander cultists all look like crazy farmers.|
It all culminates in the heart, perhaps the series' most annoying map. The hallways are veins and aortas, and some of the rooms are atria and ventricles. (Others are somewhat safer inter-muscular spaces). As you explore, the heart goes "dub" and "thub" or whatever, and if you're caught in the blood vessels when it happens, you get tossed around and dumped into one of the chambers.
In addition to Bane's lieutenant, Tanetal, the chambers are occupied by an elven woman who calls herself the Watcher, apparently assigned by some elven council with "the supreme responsibility of keeping Moander forever trapped in this dimension." You have to do a series of things with the Watcher, but she keeps moving around the heart, so you never know exactly where to find her.
|My map of Moander's heart. Several of the vessels "cross" at certain points, making it hard to map. "D" is all the places that I found the Watcher. I had to explore some of them multiple times.|
As you bumble about, trying to find the Watcher, trying to map the heart, trying to make any progress, getting tossed this way and that by thubs and lubs, you occasionally get attacked by Tanetal's minions. A typical party might consist of 250 Bits o Moander and 97 iron golems. Okay, I guess that's an exaggeration, but it doesn't feel like an exaggeration. I had single combats--random combats, you understand--deplete every cold-based spell, "Haste," and "Magic Missile" that I could summon. Four or five times, I got almost to the end of combat only to have someone get killed at the last second. I did quite a bit of save-scumming in this map.
|This was a random combat.|
Given all this, you can imagine how excited I was when Tanetal finally attacked me himself, and I was able to kill him within a couple of rounds. Then, post-combat, his body "decayed into bits of Moander" and was thus revealed to be a fake. This happened like 5 times.
|Oh, go to hell.|
I don't feel like describing and can't really understand all the different things I had to do for the Watcher and why some of them sped up Moander's heart, creating more dubs and thubs, and others slowed it down. I'm not sure why my weapons got magnetized at one point, but whatever. The ultimate goal was to part the real Tanetal from his Talisman of Bane. I had to do this by creating an eletrical spark inside the ventricle where Tanetal was hiding out, causing the heart to contract and send Tanetal careening through blood vessels, during which I guess he lost his grip on the Talisman.
|This is the kind of plot point I'm skipping over here. I lost interest in the details in the third or fourth hour of the same map.|
I then had to wander around until I found him, at which point he ran off, and then wander around until I found him again, at which point he died of a heart attack, and then the Watcher picked up the Talisman, and then it turned out Tanetal was only pretending to be dead, and then he back-stabbed the Watcher, and then I was able to finally enter combat and kill the bastard for real and get the hell out of there. This one stupid map by itself took me almost 5 hours.
|I didn't believe this for a second. I wish the game had just given me the option to chop up his body.|
|You bet I did.|
Back in the Realms, there wasn't much left to do. The next visible location was the city of Mulmaster--way on the southwest side of the Moonsea region. On the way there, I found a couple more farmhouses and such, but nothing particularly worth recounting. I went past Mulmaster and made sure there was nothing to its east, up in the hills, but I didn't find anything. This suggests Mulmaster leads to the final areas.
I don't know if Moander's area is really objectively "bad." It offered a new and different sort of challenge for a Gold Box veteran, which I should praise. On the other hand, after 8 titles in the same engine, you get used to a certain set of rules and it's a bit jarring when the game breaks them. I'm curious what other Pools of Darkness players think about this area; it's bound to be controversial, at least.
Some miscellaneous notes:
- The "Aieee!" sound that enemies make upon death is so annoying that I've been playing mostly with the sound off.
- On returning to Zhentil Keep, I got this encounter even though I'd already dealt with Manshoon and the Drow. Usually, the series does a better job reflecting the current reality.
- After this session, I had to quaff enough Elixirs of Youth to get my characters back down to age 25 from almost 50. The expense is still trivial, but having to sell gems one-by-one is getting old.
A fairly short posting for a very long, annoying gameplay. Most of my characters are in the mid- to high 30s for their levels now. I hope the final areas don't stretch on too long. Man, look at that reload count below. That's so embarrassing that I think I might stop including it entirely.
Time so far: 42 hours
Reload count: 50
Reload count: 50