Thursday, October 15, 2020

Dark Queen of Krynn: Total War

You know you're overleveled when your reaction to this is "yawn . . . dragons."
Motivated by commenters who told me that I'd missed some of the Oracle's clues, I turned around and returned to the Tombs to find them. It turned out that the problem didn't have anything to do with having missed any encounters; it was, rather, related to my failure to have used the "search" or "look" functions. It's frankly been a long time since I even remembered that they were there. Pool of Radiance made use of them extensively; almost any time you got a textual description of an area or object, you wanted to at least "Look" to see if there was something more to it.
To ensure that I never missed anything, I adopted a policy early in my Gold Box experience of keeping "Search" active all the time. The only downside is that it takes 10 minutes per move instead of 1, but none of the Gold Box games have time limits or actual calendars. If I particularly needed to hustle through an area, I could turn it off. But as the games marched forward, the number of things that I found with "Search" grew so low that I eventually stopped turning it on by default. Now that I know it's important in Dark Queen, I have restored my previous policy. 
The Oracle is so small and cute!
Searching turned up a few items that simply walking over each area had not, including the two remaining Oracle pieces. With them, the totality of my Oracle hints are:
  • "The bright key opens the door to the crypt. Within you will find some words you should heed. Then find the Book that Amrocar wrote. Within its pages, words you must read." The "bright key" bit referred to the choice between the golden key and rusty key that Fastillion gave us, and it proved useful in the Tombs. The Book of Amrocar was reportedly stolen from the library in Kristophan.
  • "A dragon you'll meet, more mighty than all. To stop his rampage, seek help from three friends: the black robed, the winged ones, and also the small." I'll probably know who these allies are when I find them.
  • "Find the realm where Tremor is lord. Choose the right present to add to his hoard." That one, I'm not sure about yet.
  • "You followed the monsters that landed ashore. They killed and they burned, but also found friends. In the men who bring fact to the dire Sharkmen's lore." This refers to the draconians we pursued from Ansalon, but I don't know what "men who bring fact to the dire Sharkmen's lore" means.
  • "I see flames and an egg and a crack and a head. Then another, and another, and another, and more. She rises up, the Queen of the Dark. She conquers and rules leaving only the dead." That seems pretty straightforward, with imagery of draconians and Takhisis.
As we left the Tombs, Midsummer said she wanted to leave the Oracle there, for other adventurers to find. As we moved to implement Midsummer's suggestion, we discovered that Selias had stolen the statue. His consequent defiance was interrupted by the statue exploding in his hand. And with that, both Selias and the statue were gone.
This has to be the 50th time I've been betrayed by a thief NPC in an RPG. You think I'd learn.
Back on the world map, I could see several things that looked like fortresses and towns and such, but I thought I'd reach them systematically by exploring north-south in strips, moving one square east after finishing each column. Other Gold Box games had featured un-annotated encounters on their world maps, and I wanted to see if the same held true here.
The answer is mostly no, although there were quite a few random encounters. Some were with enemies--trolls, spiders, and gorgons, mostly. I don't like fighting outdoors, so I typically let the computer take over for these. As with past Gold Box games, when you have the computer fight, you can toggle the "magic" option on and off. It's interesting to watch the computer's choice. The AI heavily favors missile weapons and will run through your entire supply of arrows if you're not careful. For spells, it can be both smart and stupid. Targeting of mass-damage spells is excellent; I've never had it catch one of my own characters in a "Fireball" or "Ice Storm." But it also has a habit of wasting those spells against single enemies or against enemies immune to their effects. The AI casts a lot of spells I hardly ever use myself, including buffing spells in combat, but it never casts healing spells. Moreover, it often decides to cast a spell before it realizes there are no valid targets, resulting in it aborting the spell. This happened a lot with "Hold Person" and "Blade Barrier." Finally, I noticed it cast "Invisibility to Animals" on enemies.
The AI makes a reasonable choice in this case.
There are also quite a few random non-combat encounters in the wilderness, most mimicking the services of a city or town. You can find wandering traders, healers, and trainers, plus other adventurers who offer to share your fire (and guarantee uninterrupted sleep).
In case you can't make it to one of several cities in the same area.
As some commenters warned me, there's a chunk of western Taladas that you can't enter. The moment you approach, voices warn you that you are "not allowed in the land of the Armarch." If you press it, volleys of arrows attack the party from unseen archers every round until you turn around and head out. 
The Armarch elves apparently meant what they said.
Most of the visible cities on the map turn out to be menu towns. These include Thera, Vinlans, and Trilloman. I visited each one and used their services, but none of them had anything worth purchasing in their shops. I got a handful of hints in each tavern and tried to make sense of them:
  • "Takhisis? You mean Erestem. That's all we need; more foreigners." Apparently, they call Takhisis "Erestem" in Taladas. Good to know.
  • "The League has had trouble with the Thenolians before but the way Trandamere has been building up the army, we can expect a real war this time." I haven't heard much about "the League," but the map in the journal shows that the northern part of Taladas is governed by the League of the Minotaurs, so I'm guessing it includes Kristophan and most of the free cities I've visited. Thenol occupies the southeast part of the continent. From previous lore, Trandamere seems to be a recently-crowned ruler of Thenol who's stirring up trouble.
  • "Draconians? You mean Traags? We've got plenty of those, but they're no real threat. All the real draconians are over in Ansalon." This man is misinformed. "Traag" is a type of draconian new to this game, weak compared to the others. I guess until recently, they were the only type that Taladas had.
  • "Belgrag was killed by the Armarch elves. All he did was set foot in their land. I'm never going near those crazy elves again." I have no idea who Belgrag is, but this is just a warning to stay away from Armarch territory, as I found the hard way.
I have no idea what this is about.
  • "Hith, Hitheh, Hiddukel! Taladas sure is the land of plenty. Plenty of names for everything . . . even gods." Very true.
  • "I heard some soldiers defected from the Thenolian army. Not surprising, considering the way Trandamere treats them. I wouldn't want to finish my enlistment as a zombie." As I later discovered, Trandamere has a habit of pressing people into service as undead.
  • "Too bad we live so close to the Hulderfolk. They're not so bad if you humor them. Even then . . . you never know." The meaning of this statement would soon become clear.
  • "I would love to trade with those clever gnomes in Aldinanachru, but it's so hard to travel there. Now, if I only had wings . . ." This refers to a city in the far northeast of Taladas, across a river or straight. I don't know if there's any way to get there.
As we kept moving east past the marked towns, we reached a "cleft in the hillside." Entering brought us to an enchanted valley, where the party fell asleep and awakened with no food or water. Since the game doesn't normally have a food/water mechanic, this was a plot device to get the party to lose hit points, which forced us to rest, which allowed the rest of the plot to unfold.
In a glade, we ran into Tasslehoff Burfoot, one of the famed Heroes of the Lance. He remembered us from Champions of Krynn and was happy to join us again. It was the most pointless marriage of an NPC with a party in RPG history, since he did absolutely nothing, said almost nothing, and disappeared at the end of the episode, before we'd fought a single combat. He did offer that we were in the realm of the Hulderfolk. Fastillion had suggested we ask for their help, but warned that the price would be high.
Having never read the books, I have no foundation for this opinion, but I simply do not like Tasslehoff.
As we rested and healed from our hunger pains (which doesn't feel like it should work), an elf named Elea kept visiting in the night and whispering to us. She was teaching us the Hulderfolk language--not in any systematic sense, starting with the major parts of speech and progressing to verb conjugations, counting, and essential vocabulary. Instead, we learned highly ritualistic statements such as:
  • GEBENE: "We have peace in our hearts"
  • LIMENE: "We will do that instantly."
  • BILBARA: "We politely but firmly decline"
  • SHUWARA: "We block our ears to language of that sort."
  • HOLBANI: "Your humor is your greatest treasure."
This is like living in New England, where you constantly encounter historical markers saying, "The Abenaki called this place 'Danaug,' meaning, 'beautiful flowing river that sparkles in the sunlight and is bountiful with salmon.'"
Eventually, we were greeted by other Hulderfolk, to whom we responded with GEBENE. This got our foot in the door, and suddenly the area was filled with elves putting on a banquet. The party was brought to the king and queen of the elves, both of whom tested our knowledge of their tongue by asking questions like, "Will you swear an oath not to destroy any of our trees?" and "Will you raise arms with us against our enemies?" I had saved just before the encounter, so I decided to see what would happen if I answered the questions "wrong." It turns out if you just say something kind of silly (e.g., HOLBANI to most questions), the elves look at each other but move past your faux pas. If you say something actively offensive (e.g., BILBARA to whether you'll swear an oath against destroying trees), the elves pack up and leave. If you answer correctly, however, the conversation moves forward and you get experience.
The conversation ended with the queen demanding that we stay for a month-long feast. Naturally, both the party and Tasslehoff objected. The queen refused to relent, but the king got around her demands by making us his "official emissaries." He demanded that before we leave, we prove the health of the "mother of trees" by counting its leaves.
We found the tree, and the process of counting the leaves took a while as I sat there and watched the number increment on my computer. When it was done--at 14159--we went back to report the results to the king and queen. The queen pointed out that leaves had fallen since the count, so the number was no longer accurate, and we were sent back to do it again. At that point, Tasslehoff suggested that we just pull all the leaves off the tree so the elves couldn't trick us again. We did that, saving one leaf that wouldn't budge. I suppose 1992 players who didn't have Tasslehoff in their party are counting still. Part of me wants to know what happens if you keep shuffling back and forth with new counts. Does it reach 1 on its own?
A prime number!
The king was amused by our solution and rewarded us with some gear, including 20 arrows +2, a composite long bow +4, and elfin chain +4. He also gave us a ring that reveals deceit and a necklace that somehow helps hunting dragons.
The elves had one final trick for us. Assuring us that we should rest and "tomorrow" they would open a passage out of the forest, we took their word. We woke up a month later, our weapons rusted, our facial hair grown, Tasslehoff gone. The game actually made a point that only Dutch's beard had grown, the other characters being elf or female.
The game suddenly pretends it has a timetable.
Elea met us on the way out of the forest and realized with chagrin that we weren't "back" but had never left. She said her own mother had been similarly tricked. She arrived in the forest newly pregnant, fell asleep, delivered the baby, awoke, and left, completely unaware that she had ever been with child. Elea asked us to tell her mother about her if we ever find someone who seems to fit the bill.
I'm not sure just your name will be enough. I think I'll probably have to tell her the whole story.
Shortly thereafter, our expedition came to a halt as we reached impassable mountains on the eastern side of the continent. North was out of the question--we found no ways to cross the river between the landmasses. West had gotten us shot with Armarch arrows. It was then that I realized you can walk south, off the map, to an entirely new map. Somehow, I hadn't realized this previously.  

A whole other map! But the Armarch still control half of it.
Fortunately, owing to the placement of the Armarch lands and various mountain ranges, I hadn't missed much. The only available route channeled the party to two southern fixtures. The westernmost, and the first I explored, was Hawkbluff. It was a town at the foot of a fortress, and the town had the usual shops and services. I couldn't get into the fortress, however--I couldn't even provoke combat--because I lacked an "incense pass." There were bad signs in Hawkbluff, though, including people who greeted me with "Death to all enemies of Hiteh!" and "Death is life!"
Shopping has gotten weird during the pandemic.
I thus moved on to the fortress city of New Aurim, which seems to be the capital of Thenol. The city consists of a large inner fortress ringed by various shops and services to the south and east. We explored this outer area first before entering the fortress. 
In addition to the 6,000 we already have? No, we're good.
As we stepped into the first building in the outer area, we met some recruiters who asked if we'd like to join the Thenolite army. This is the type of choice we've seen dozens of times in Gold Box games, and I'm not sick of them. What the encounter is really saying is, "Do you want to approach the rest of this area with guile or force?" And while I appreciate the role-playing choices inherent in the "guile" path, I'm also of the philosophical disposition that when you're nearly Level 20, capable of essentially infinite "Fireball" spells, and facing an enemy that allies with evil dragons and kills innocent people just so they can be converted to undead soldiers, there's only one response: total war. Ooh, that would be a good subtitle for this entry.
Although I know it doesn't really have any effect on the game, except perhaps in terms of my experience level, I like the idea that we're not just going to beat this enemy--we're going to completely destroy his ability to make war. We're going to burn every barracks, destroy every weapons cache, overturn every evil altar--and of course put to the sword any squad, company, or brigade that stands in between. In real life, foes are rarely so incorrigibly evil, and thus you rarely get to crusade with such moral certainty.
If you mean what do I do first, sure, it's "talk."
I thus responded to almost every encounter with "attack," even though the game was patently giving me lots of opportunities just to sneak a pile of uniforms. In the end, I had to put on the uniforms anyway, because apparently the palace guards a) stand behind doors impervious to even "Meteor Swarm"; b) have managed to remain ignorant of the fact that literally every soldier outside the palace has been slaughtered, so they'll just trust anyone wearing the right colors. In the meantime, though, I got a lot of experience.
The battles were pretty tough. It's a rare one these days that doesn't include at least a few high level wizards with "Mirror Image," "Fire Shield," and "Globe of Invulnerability" going as combat begins. They're immune to any spell lower than seventh level and arrows usually just knock away their images. If I can't damage them every round, they cast their own "Delayed Blast Fireballs," and my party can't last more than two of those. Sometimes one is enough to kill someone. Meanwhile, they soak up mass-damage spells like my own "Delayed Blast Fireballs" and "Meteor Swarms" like sponges, requiring at least three castings to kill them. I essentially have to concentrate all my resources into the mages, no matter how big the surrounding army, until they're gone. Some commenter was right that those "Eyes of Petrification" sometimes help. "Monster Summoning" sometimes distracts the mages with meat shields, but the monsters almost never appear where I want them to appear when I cast the spell.
For once, "Monster Summoning" puts monsters in a useful place.
From snippets of conversation, scraps of paper, and other encounters, I learned that Trandamere, once a "petty religious official," usurped the legitimate king and queen and has taken over. He has invited draconians into his army, even into the palace guard. They're being bred in the basement of the palace. New draconians are often sent in batches to Hawkbluff, but many of them desert along the way, so escort soldiers have started accompanying them. Those escorts carry a "clay pass" from a commander outside the palace.
Trandamere has closed temples to the good god Mislaxa and only allows the temple of Hith/Hiteh to operate. Press gangs round up citizens on the street for conversion to undead, and Trandamere plans to wage war on the League of the Minotaurs.
A healthy rebellion has formed. Most of its leaders were in prison when I started the map, but I freed them and got access to special rebel inns and stores. (One of the stores sold a few magic items, but I'm still waiting for a store that sells magic arrows.) I also freed slaves from several press gangs, and one guy who was being tortured. This was all fortunate because the rebels ending up giving us the clay pass we needed since we'd killed the commander who was supposed to give it to us. 
Freed rebels give me some assistance.
The clay pass got us into the palace, which had multiple levels. There weren't a lot of combats, which was good because a gong went off in the basement every few minutes--honestly, it got annoying to constantly acknowledge the message--and prevented sleep.  We looted a broken clay tablet from some draconians and found that Trandamere has a special interest in the stolen Book of Amrocar, which is supposedly in Hawkbluff.
We weren't the only invaders in the palace: a young female dwarf fighter named Grunschka joined us and suggested we talk to the real king and queen, held as virtual prisoners upstairs. But draconian guards wouldn't let us pass without a signet ring from Lord Trandamere. Instead, we went to the dungeons, where the draconians mistook us for an escort party sent to bring the newest batch of draconians to Hawkbluff.
If "attack" is there, I'm going to use it.
Clearly, this was what we were meant to do, but I'm not a fan of doing things the intended way, so I chose "attack" as soon as I could. This put us in two back-to-back battles with enormous parties of draconians, but draconians these days aren't really that hard--not even the special "enchanted" ones new to this game. There are some--enchanted Bozaks?--who have "Fire Shield" permanently cast, so you have to avoid hitting them in melee combat. A lot of draconians explode when they die, and the new "enchanted" ones mostly just explode more, which means that sometimes the party's fireballs and other mass-damage spells cause some delightful chain reactions in which they essentially kill each other.
A nice tight cluster of draconians awaits a fireball.
The double battle was still challenging, especially as I probed the strengths and weaknesses of the new draconians. A lot of them can cast spells, but fortunately just low-level ones like "Magic Missile." Again, it helps a lot having so many characters who can heal. Unlike all the other NPCs we've had so far, Grunschka turned out to be actually useful, especially after we gave her a spare long sword +4. 
We couldn't go much farther after killing the draconians; the way to the rest of the dungeon (and the gong, and presumably the eggs) was blocked by a guard post. Unsure what to do (I had explored everywhere, I thought), I made another circuit of the palace, and this time there were no guards to challenge me on the way up to the royal chambers. I wandered into the king's chambers without a fuss.
The king at first seemed sympathetic to our cause and listened as we described the atrocities being committed by Trandamere. But he then showed his true colors by declaring his utter allegiance to the Hith priesthood and to Trandamere--he wasn't usurped at all; he was complicit. The queen, however, was more sympathetic. She'd had a dream in which a mysterious dark figure told her to give a message to us, "Destroy them all" (meaning draconians) and then find him. She gave us a ring to give to the jeweler in Hawkbluff for assistance, then let us use her secret door to get to another part of the basement.
This guy could do a decent job in Britannia.
From there, we slowly made our way to the egg-hatching ceremony, destroying the cursed gong along the way. The ultimate encounter involved three consecutive battles against draconians, but I could at least heal and buff between battles 2 and 3. None of them were as hard as the previous draconian battles I'd fought. After the draconians, there were some mop-up actions against fleeing priests. Trandamere himself appeared in one room, burning papers, but his allies held us off long enough for him to make his escape. Grunschka suggested that he probably went to Hawkbluff. We still don't have an "incense pass," but maybe that's what the jeweler will help us with.
Preparing to destroy the mechanism for creating new draconians. Somehow, this still isn't the end.
Grunschka stayed with the party as long as we agreed to continue killing draconians, which was an easy promise to make.
She's a few steps behind, but good in a fight.
Miscellaneous notes:
  • The "Area" command, which serves as the series' approach to automapping, hardly ever works in Dark Queen.
  • This has to be the most common spelling mistake in the RPG genre:
The gods know I could use one, though.
  • "Turn Undead" never works against skeleton warriors. I would like to know why. 
  • It's a bit ridiculous that none of the high-level enemies I kill ever have any magic gear. This is far cry from early Gold Box games where every Level 4 mage had bracers AC6 and a dagger +2. I'm not complaining because I don't need the gear or money, but it's still weird.
  • While we're on the subject, I don't mind an explicit spoiler on this, particularly since I seem to be running out of places: will there ever be a store worth shopping in, or am I saving all this money for nothing?
I could have done without getting jerked around by the Hulderfolk map, but otherwise it wasn't a bad session. I wouldn't mind if the game wrapped up in Hawkbluff, but I suspect it still has a long way to go.
Time so far: 21 hours


  1. Skeleton warriors are flat-out immune to turn undead. I haven't found a reason for this, but it's just part of their statblock. One of the "gotcha"s of early D&D, I suppose.

    It baffles me that a high-level party is unable to cross a river, of all things. I get that maps have to stop somewhere, but they could have made a better excuse than that.

    1. The means via which skeleton warriors are controlled clashes a bit with turn undead. On top of that, they're the same 'level' as death knights, which also can't be turned. I think the oddity is that Liches can be. They come from an earlier book though.

    2. Skeleton Warriors were a Dragonlance specific form of undead; they're one caveat was the Turn immunity

    3. They're in the fiend folio, which is not specific to any plane. Soth created some though, from his loyal knights, and those ones aren't bound to circlets like the rest of them.

    4. Their description (originally in the 1981 fiend folio pre-dating Dragonlance) is almost like a bone golem type creation, although they are undead. The thinking behind them seems to me as if someone said hey, what if you had a lich, but from a fighter instead of a wizard. So the story is they're created with their soul bound into circlets (like a lich's phylactery), and the fighting abilities of a high level character (including psionics if they had those when alive!). "A skeleton warrior's sole reason for remaining on this plane is to search for and regain the circlet which contains its soul," it says.
      The wearer of a circlet can assume control over the skeleton warrior. But it's unmoving and inert if they want to move around or do things themselves. I imagine the question came up that if someone turned it, and the controller rendered it passive, wouldn't it stop fleeing? The full description imagines some situations:
      "In either case, control is lost if the skeleton warrior moves more than 240' from the controller, or vice versa, or if the circlet is removed from the controller's head. If the circlet remains in his possession, the controller can resume control at a late; time, but if it leaves his possession, whether by accident or deliberate act, the skeleton warrior will immediately stop what it is doing and proceed at double speed (12" movement rate) to attack and destroy the former controller, never resting until this task is accomplished or control is reestablished. If the circlet falls into the possession of the skeleton warrior, it will 'die' and vanish, never to reappear, and the circlet will turn to fine, valueless dust.
      When a circlet first comes in to the possession of a character, particularly if he does not recognise (sic) its significance, he may be unaware that the skeleton warrior whose soul is imprisoned therein will be
      tracking him. To establish control, he must not only put the circlet on his head but must also be able to see the skeleton warrior and concentrate on the establishment of control over the creature. If he does
      not do this, the skeleton warrior will attack him in an attempt to destroy him and gain possession of the circlet."
      CRPG only used them as bland un-turnable undead opponents though. :(

    5. Wow, that's a pretty involved description. I would think that the more detail like that you include, the harder it must be to fit the creature in a campaign.

    6. It sounds like a creature designed to be a major character, the final boss of a section of a campaign. I can just imagine a campaign book calling out the circlet as an alternate solution to a boss fight.

      Unfortunately, it's hard to represent complicated mechanics like this in a video game without turning into NetHack levels of detail or relegating the whole thing to a scripted event. While Gold Box combat is incredibly detailed for its time, particularly in the early days, it's hard to imagine a GB game accurately representing all those rules and caveats in a meaningful way. Just one of the ways that a human DM can allow for more creative gameplay than a computer program.

      Finally, although it pains me to say it, a tanky un-turnable undead just fits a computer game better than one that turns to dust as soon as it gets the circlet back. It's one of those things like "Delayed Blast Fireball" where the relatively straightforward flow of tactical combat supercedes rule accuracy. Most tabletop RPGs have very nitpicky rules about encumbrance, food and resting, but the majority of CRPGs simplify or outright ignore them.

    7. To be fair, in my experience most DMs also ignore or simplify those rules

    8. A CRPG can implement encounters with this type of detail, no problem. Remember the mage with a sphere of annihilation in Secret of the Silver Blades? Without having played that, one might just as easily say it's too hard to put a weird item like that into a computer game. Just takes a little imagination, scripting, and menu selections in an encounter.

  2. In early versions of D&D, skeleton warriors were closer to Lord Soth from Death Knights of Krynn than your typical skeleton.

    1. As distinct from measly 1 HD "skeletons" who happen to be holding weapons and fighting you, which are a totally separate monster.

    2. You see, those are warrior skeletons, not skeleton warriors. Easy mistake to make!. /sarcasm

    3. Oh, it's worse than that. Champions of Krynn had skeletal knights, who are tougher and harder to turn than average skeletons (who were also in the game!) but still affected by spells...and Gateway had skeletal fighters (similar to the skeletal knights) and Ascorian skeletons, who are a little tougher still.

      I figured the programmers were thinking "well, we can reuse the combat pic but just boost the levels a little..."

  3. While I do not recall the details of what they offer, yes, there is a shop in the area before the final dungeon (gur tabzvfu pvgnqry bs Nyqvananpueh, abegu bs gur fgenvg ba gur obeqre bs gur Ynin Frn) where you can buy magical arrows and such.

    I suspect they decided to stop having enemies routinely carry magic gear because a) they realized that it was loading people up with absurd amounts of money, and b) they either developed or figured out a way to let their monsters act like they had magic weapons & armor without actually having any.

    Including Hawkbluff, you've now got roughly svirvfu areas to get through to finish the game, though they're not all the same size and difficulty.

    Expect Hawkbluff to be frustrating; the place is a maze.

    And do be aware of the potentially game-breaking bug another commenter mentioned in Hawkbluff: nccneragyl, vs lbh pbzr hcba Genaqnzrer va uvf fvqr ebbz bss gur Frangr punzoref sebz oruvaq, guebhtu gur frperg onpx qbbe—juvpu vf ubj lbh jvyy trg gurer vs lbh nfx Qnivx gb thvqr lbh gb gur Frangr—engure guna svtugvat lbhe jnl va guebhtu gur sebag qbbe gurer, gur gevttre gung cynprf gur Obbx bs Nzebpne va gur qhzojnvgre vf abg cebcreyl frg, naq lbh jvyy or hanoyr gb svavfu Unjxoyhss naq cebprrq gb Onv'be naq Oynpxjngre Tynqr jvgu gevttref frg gb pbagvahr gur fgbel.

    I like that Grunschka has a strong personality; I don't think the previous Gold Box games made enough use of NPCs making side comments, partly because there were rarely NPCs who stayed with you for more than a single area. (Except the hirelings in Pool of Radiance, but they were utterly generic.) She...does sometimes get to be a bit much, though.

    Getting a Fireball in that severely wounds several Enchanted Bozaks, but kills one, so that its death throes cause a chain reaction killing all the rest....

    ...That's good stuff.

    1. Son of a bitch. I hit that bug last night without realizing it. I've been wandering around Hawkbluff forever, killing every damned thing, and now I have to restart from outside.

  4. Good to see that you finally got to Hawkbluff, save there using different save slots.

    Just a side note: It is possible to die while in the Hulderfolk forest. If you fuck up the royal meeting too much (or if I remember correctly, the meeting with Elea), they leave you to die.
    Resting attempts will halve your hitpoints each try until death. No escape out of the woods possible anymore!

  5. I wonder what happens to the oracle if Selias is dead?

    1. Since it was found in pieces, perhaps it returns back to pieces for the next party to find?

    2. There's a suggestion that it was the vampire who broke it in pieces and scattered it about, so that's probably not it.

  6. The lack of arrows in the early game is the reason you want to buy as many arrows (And Darts of hornets nest) as you can in DKK). Or just cheat with the export exploit.

  7. To be fair, real language textbooks do have an annoying habit of starting out by teaching you highly ritualistic statements such as "Hello," "Good morning," "May I please...", and "Thank you" rather than proper verb conjugation.

    1. Yes, because foreign people are more likely to react positively to someone who is polite, than to someone who can conjugate properly :)

    2. And so tell the people of the tounge island monkey

    3. I sometimes feel that there's a double standard. Russians and other speakers of East Slavic languages almost never seem to use articles correctly, but English-speakers just regard it as a quirk. I've never met a person who spoke Spanish as his primary language who could properly pronounce an English "i." Asians who learn ESL never even seem to TRY with plurals and verb tenses. But if I forget conjugation and switch to the infinitive, the native speaker always looks at me like, "Behold this creature who walks upright like a man, screaming je requérir l'aide!. I shall ignore him."

    4. Well, English language IS a very simple one after all - which means you get to sound a bit stupid at first when using foreign language because of reliance on ingrained language intuition, by the virtue of other languages being harder. I mean, English does not even have grammatical gender for non-living objects! It surely seemed easy to me after trying to learn German!

      But then, the upside of this simplicity is it being the "Common" language of our world after all =)

    5. As for native speakers being rude, that's not linguistic, that's just same old "homo sapiens being jerks" stuff. =(
      In other words... nothing new or unusual here.
      I feel for your pain.

    6. English has its difficulties, too, mostly the highly irregular pronounciation. And prepositions are "difficult" in most languages as you pretty much have to learn them.

      Most of the time I find people are rather friendly when you try talking in their native language. As an English speaker its probably more likely that people will start replying in English.

    7. I must confess that France is the only place I've had people genuinely look down their nose at me for mangling their language. Elsewhere, I've certainly encountered a mildly patronising "that was adorable, but why don't we just speak English" response, but never more than that. I think it might have something to do with the history of French being the language of diplomacy.

      That said, even that was only a handful of people among hundreds of interactions, so maybe I just got unlucky. As said above: people being horrible is, alas, an international affliction.

    8. I think it might have more to do with the history of Frenchmen being rude and arrogant.

    9. The French people I've known and met have all been appreciative of my attempts to speak their language (granted, my written French is decent and my spoken French at least comprehensible).

      I've gotten far more attitude from Italians, who (in my experience) seem extremely proprietary about their language and don't want to hear it spoken by foreigners.

    10. Yeah, I'm afraid we french might be a little proud... I know I had to learn (after reading about that habit we had) not to correct foreign people trying to talk french and be more supportive.
      English-speaking people are great for that !

  8. There are three or four shops that sell magic items. One you should have already encountered. One is in an area you can't reach yet.

    Vapyhqvat bar va Arj Nhevz.

  9. Your comments on attacking evil things as role playing remind me of Baldur's gate 2, in the Drow city, I could never resist killing the entire city just before I left it every time.

    1. I don't often engage in omnicide, but when I do, it's in New Reno.

  10. The most common spelling mistake in the RPG genre is definitely "rouge" for "rogue", but I'll take "dieties" as a runner-up.

    1. There are quite a few treasure "hordes" lying around too, and all those ancient books and maps must get ruined with all the adventurers "pouring" over them.

    2. Yeah, even I mess that one up a lot. I have to pause and think whether I mean "hoard" or "horde," and even then I get it wrong about 10% of the time even though I know the difference.

    3. Don't forget to bring a helmet that compliments your armor...

    4. Is a large group of mimics a horde or a hoard?

    5. Just for fun, I'll throw in, maybe not the most common, but one of the most irksome German fantasy word mixups: Schild. The tricky part is, it can be grammatically masculine or neutral. The former means "shield", the latter "sign", as in a shop or street sign. The latter is, of course, far more common in everyday usage, but I still cringe everytime some warrior raises his "sign" proctectively in front of him. Ugh.

    6. Funnily enough, street signs are a popular post-apoc shield.

    7. Man, that's one thing that annoys me when people complain about English. Sure it's inconsistent, but so is any non-constructed language. How many languages with gendered nouns use male conjugations for female-sounding words? Or special verb conjugations that only apply to certain handfuls of words? Or phrases that don't make any literal sense but mean something to native speakers?

      If people really want a 100% consistent language, we should all speak in computer code. It'd be hilarious to shout "ERROR! TRACEBACK: SENTENCE 15, WORD 4 IN CONVERSATION "GENERIC GREETING:" CANNOT MATCH ADJECTIVE TO NOUN"

      ...I just described grammer nazis, didn't I?

    8. Atantuo, that's a good one. Early on, when I started translating German games, I frequently got "sign" where I knew "shield" was meant, but I never knew exactly why.

      You also reminded me that there's a similar confusion in Nennius's Historia Brittonum of c. 838 about whether Arthur carried the image of the Virgin Mary on his shield (Welsh yscuit) or his shoulders (Welsh yscuid).

  11. I almost never feel like a game lets me defeat an enemy force in the way you describe, by physically destroying their offensive capabilities. The game spawns generic enemies from the ether until you trip a flag somewhere that turns them off. Not even strategy games are immune, as the AI in a strategy game often doesn't play by the same rules as human players.

    The depth of simulation that would satisfy me is somewhere along the lines of Dwarf Fortress, or certain kinds of hardcore space combat sim (Star Trek Bridge Commander is an old favorite) but how hard would it be to give guard NPCs a random name instead of just calling them "guard?" At least Morrowind gave every bandit, witch and barbarian a unique name... with the caveat that they never, ever respawn, but you win some and lose some.

    1. In Nethack, it's possible to drive an entire species to extinction by killing them one by one (or by reading a scroll of genocide, of course).

    2. Even in Morrowind, there's still respawning guards with no names (so too bad if you wanted to wipe out the Tribunal Temple and kill all the Ordinators while you're at it), and there's some circumstances where nameless enemies will just continually respawn (particularly in the expansions, where there tends to be a lot of generic NPC enemies).

    3. This is another area in which the original Pool of Radiance excels. The enemy DOES run out of forces after a fixed number of battles per map, so you can always just fight them to exhaustion. I agree, however, with Alex that the average RPG doesn't support this approach enough. I was particularly annoyed with Kingdom Come: Deliverance, in which a particular quest plays out the same way whether you flee from an enemy camp or kill every soldier in the camp.

    4. Incidentally, if anyone ever takes me up on Downfall, that will be one of the legitimate strategies.

  12. I don't remember if there's any shops with magic equipment on the main continent, but one thing to spend money on is in the Mislaxa temple in Kristophan. You can buy mage scrolls with random spells there, and either due to a bug or by design, it's possible to fill up your Red and White spellbooks with a bunch of spells that should be exclusive to the other school. That was my main money sink.

    Other than that, you need to explore the Southern map more thoroughly, as there are a couple of locations you missed. Actually, I think they're pointed out in the map in the Adventurer's Journal, they're not supposed to be secret. There's Blackwater Glade, and I think you can simply cross the strait to the southeastern town Bai'or.

    As for Thenol Mages, I remember them being easier to kill than Dark Mages. Either way, Cone of Cold should be a stand-by spell against mages, it cuts through both fire shield and globe of invulnerability. Powerword Kill works, once you can cast it. Hold Monster should also work, if they fail the save.

    1. I hadn't missed anything in the southern map. I just hadn't gotten there yet.

    2. FRUA the Long Night kinda tries this, since the module it was based on treated a lot of the campaign as a mutual siege, seeing who runs out of resources first.

  13. "As some commenters warned me, there's a chunk of western Taladas that you can't enter. The moment you approach, voices warn you that you are "not allowed in the land of the Armarch." If you press it, volleys of arrows attack the party from unseen archers every round until you turn around and head out."
    Let me ask people who know that I assume this does not advance your position to the east and is just an infinite loop of arrow prompts?

    "Having never read the books, I have no foundation for this opinion, but I simply do not like Tasslehoff."

    Not a rare opinion in- or out-of-universe...

    "A prime number!"
    Are you a professor in maths or something? I would have never thought to check, either with a calculator or using the "rules" of how you can determine if a number is prime. I love seeing people latch on to things like this that they know a lot about in completely unrelated media.

    1. Nah there's no checking it. It's memorable though, because it's the first 5 decimals of pi.

    2. "If I can't damage them every round, they cast their own "Delayed Blast Fireballs," and my party can't last more than two of those. Sometimes one is enough to kill someone."

      That is my main beef with the combat. Knowing what to expect from the blog entry for Pool of Darkness, I had rolled characters with 18 dexterity back in Champions.

      And yet, enemy mages had the initiative a surprising number of times, insta-killing some of weakest party members in the first turn of combat.

      I didn't mind working my way around their defenses, but being nuked at the beginning of combat (without being able to resurrect elves), just sucks.

    3. Resist Fire is a viable defense and has enough duration to last several combats as long as you aren’t Searching.

    4. 'Enlarge' was a good reason not to search in games which had it.

    5. So if I WAS a professor of math, that the number was the first 6 digits of pi would have occurred to me faster than it was prime.

      It's actually a funny story how I knew it was prime. As far as I know, there's no easy way to check. However, I wrote a python program that does it. It first checks if the number is divisible by 2, 3, 5, or 7 (all of which are easy to figure out). If not, it sets i to 11 and checks whether the number / i leaves a remainder; if not, it moves up to the next odd number and keeps checking until it either finds a factor or it reaches the original number / 10 (since I've already checked for factors up to 10). I wrote it just last week for a programming class I'm taking, and it was fun that I got to use it for this game.


    6. This is the Sieve of Eratosthenes

      It was a popular (if crude) way to compare the relative speed of different computers/BASIC implementations back in the 1980s.

    7. The mage combats are the biggest reason I came away with a negative opinion on the game. Those fights almost always boil down to whoever gets spells off first wins, and at that point the outcome's more determined by initiative rolls than anything the player has control over. I ended up coming away with the impression that luck is far more important than any sort of skill or tactics, which is the exact opposite way something with combat like the Gold Box games should feel.

    8. That's exactly how I feel about most of the magic-heavy combats in the Gold Box series. Spells like Hold Person, Sleep, Stinking Cloud etc. are so devastating that you might as well reload until your spellcasters move first. It's not tactically interesting to have 3 or more of your characters get coup-de-grace'd in the first turn because of bad dice rolls.

    9. You can improve your luck by good planning.
      Make sure your guys have high Dex to improve iniative, stay out of range of the mentioned spells, use wands and necklaces on your fastest characters to prevent and disrupt enemy spell casting.

      IOW, git gud.

    10. The issue there is that the battles still come down to who goes first. High dex helps, but that's not something that can really be improved after starting, while the other things aren't that useful if the enemy goes first anyway. It just ends up making the game feel like it's balanced for people that maxed out all their stats at the start, while screwing over people that tried to work with what they rolled with

    11. I don't max out my characters, but I do emphasize Dex over all the other stats, and I found DQK perfectly balanced for a consistently challenging game play without it being unfair.

    12. I suppose the difference is I think being able to lose before doing anything is inherently unfair, and being able to make it happen less doesn't make me think any different

    13. I don't think the game's combats are UNFAIR, exactly, but as the end of the game looms, I have largely lost patience with them. Especially Enchanted Bozaks.

    14. Yeah, that's really what the issue is. There's way too many combats that just end up being far more annoying than they're worth, it's just the mage fights are the ones that stuck with me.

    15. GB combat is definitely 'punishing'. There is a lot of high-impact variance to navigate. Doesn't mean its bad, some people live for that stuff. Other players will get sick of reloading (Me: Age 12).

    16. Initiative in AD&D1 is modified by Dexterity and other factors, but is rolled on a d20 so can still be quite swingy.

      AD&D2 uses a d10, which is less swingy, but despite coming out three years after AD&D2 was published I think DGoK is still based on the first edition.

      So that may explain the wizards getting the jump on the party.

      (Sorry if you know all this already.)

    17. I never really knew how it was SUPPOSED to work. I'm not sure if that's the problem here since the dark wizards' "go" position doesn't seem all that variable. Squirrel, my thief/mage, almost always goes first, and a dark wizard almost always goes second.

    18. Or maybe that's just selective memory.

  14. Explicit spoiler: the best thing you can do with your money is to save it for magical arrows. They're expensive.
    Dark Wizards: Globe of Invulnerability is only 1st through 4th level. It doesn't protect from Cone of Cold. That said, now I can say that the no. 1 single mage destroyer is Power Word, Kill. It's instant cast and works every time. Its range is very limited, though, but increases with your caster level.

    1. The dark wizards have some other form of immunity, then, because although "Cone of Cold" works against them, some higher-level spells often don't. I just got PWK, so I'll give it a try, thanks.

      Just found the shop selling arrows +2, too. MAN are they expensive. Still, nothing else to spend on....

    2. Cracked open Gold Box Companion.

      They have: shield, detect invisible, mirror image, prot vs normal missiles, fire shield (cold), fire touch, iron skin, globe of invulnerability, and mind blank.

      Mirror Image will cause many single-target spells to fail ('lost an image'), Globe of Invulnerability will block anything 1st through 4th level, and Mind Blank will stop hold and charm spells.

    3. Fire Shield (cold) protects against Fireball and DBF.

      Fire Shield (warm) would protect against Cone of Cold.

    4. Yup, but you take double damage from the form of energy the shield is attuned to. So you would really only use Hot Fire Shield against White Dragons.

      Enemies in FRUA will stupidly cast the Hot form of Fire Shield, which is almost always the wrong one.

    5. i don't know if all dark wizards are the same, but I faced four of them in a late game battle (second level of the Tower of Fire, I think) who wouldn't reliably take damage from any spells. Fortunately, they started behind a barrier, and I was able to defeat them by sending summoned creatures at them, causing them to waste their best spells.

    6. Oh, nice one! Using summons to burn their good spells is just about my favourite tactic in BG 2. Never knew you got to do it in a GB game.

    7. It's not as easy here because you can't control where the monsters appear. But occasionally it works.

  15. Yeah there are four stores that I remember each with different items for sale but the only thing I purchased was arrows.

    There was a fight in New Aurim against a large group of vampires that ambush you in close quarters...I remember that as one of the more challenging encounters in the game. I think the forces of evil should just focus on creating more vampires...easier then stealing dragon eggs and more of a pain in the butt than Draconians....

    1. The magic store in New Aurim has some items, but the last thing you need is more junk to carry. I'm still working off the Wands of Fireball and Necklaces of Missiles that I already have. I did buy a few potions of speed at a potion store (if they'd had youth, I would have really splurged), but until I got to the gnome fortress, nothing made sense for mass purchases.

    2. And its really a shame, it would have just taken a bit of coding to add magical arrows/darts to any of the other stores, maybe some wands of cone of cold etc. It would have been the first truly useful economy since the first part of POR (POR's economy collapsed after you hit level 3, but still its the only game where selling loot was needed, mostly for training.)

    3. Sure...or you could buy Death Knights of Krynn, or Champions, and give SSI more money. ;)

      That's why I always figured there were no +5 weapons in Pools of Darkness. Want 'em? Go shell out the 40 bucks or whatever for Secret. ;)

  16. "This has to be the most common spelling mistake in the RPG genre"

    Surely that crown has to go to "rouge"? :)

  17. I liked using Thenol uniforms. Having them on did not prevent me from conducting my war. Also wearing them up north gets you into fights with the Minotaurs.

    The Hill Dwarf NPC has the same bad encounter design. If there is ever an Aurak enemy, she is bound to end up attacking it, until it explodes, either killing her or stunning her.

    The map of Taladas is beautiful, but largely empty. I wish the Armach area was open. If you start the game with a new party, finding enough experience becomes a problem around this point in the game.


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