Monday, December 31, 2012

Curse of the Azure Bonds: Behold

And, just like that, my day was gone.

I managed to burn an entire day of playing on something that wasn't even part of the main quest: Oxam's Tower. Yes, Stu spoiled the end of it, but if I hadn't known to use the Dust of Disappearance at the final beholder battle going into it, I sure would have known after the first attempt.

The game features a number of side quests, and I thought I'd explore some of them before continuing on with the main quest. Almost every town gives you the ability to "Search Area," and if the town isn't a fully-mapped town that's part of the main quest (i.e., Yulash, Zhentil Keep, and either Hap or Haptooth depending on who's saying), you generally get some kind of generic cave or ruin.

This message appears at the beginning of many of them.
I started mapping these caves with great fidelity before I realized that none of the encounters in them are place-specific. They are, instead, time-specific. For instance, in the caverns outside Shadowdale, after some random encounters, I ran into a couple of Drow trying to kidnap a woman. They got away, but a few encounters later, I saw them again and killed a few. Then there were a couple more random encounters, and the Drow threw a black dragon at me. After that, I rescued the girl and got some treasure from her father. Another set of ruins had some cultists of Moander--uber-fanatics who had broken away from the already-fanatical cult--who threw priests, shambling mounds, something called "vegapygmies" at me before attacking me with a giant blob labeled a "Bit O' Moander."

My first dragon fight in a Gold Box game.
The thing is, you could stand right next to the entry way, keep hitting "(L)ook," and you'd still get all these encounters. Without leaving the entry area in the ruins near Ashabenford, I got the following encounters in order, at spaced intervals:

Incidentally, it feels like a big deal that my party faced its first dragon (followed fairly quickly by a dracolich). But they were pushovers! They had like 48 hit points. Two magic missiles and a couple of successful melee attacks killed them. Granted, they had some tough breath attacks, and my party wouldn't have survived intact for more than two rounds, but the fact that they didn't last more than two rounds is a bit of a problem. I maintain what I said in a posting over a year ago: Skyrim is the first (and, so far, only) game that has made me feel like, wow, I'm really fighting a dragon!

It's too bad that the encounters are random in the incidental caves, because here the developers have shown a willingness to go outside the 16 x 16 grid that dominates the other game maps, and to make truly interesting geographies in the dungeons.

The ruins near Voonlar. Too bad all this mapping was a waste of time.
The side-quest near Dagger Falls bucks the trend, though, by offering many place-specific encounters on multiple levels. When I first searched, I found a magic shop, which made me happy. I worried that the one in Zhentil Keep (to which I cannot return) was the only one, and I'd have nowhere to blow the oodles of money I'm making. Now I can purchase unlimited wands of magic missile, which are a pretty good item. They're not very powerful, but they give my spellcasters something to do if they get struck during a combat round, or if they run out of spells. Magic missile always casts instantly and is a sure hit.

If I'd actually collected all the gold so far in the game, I could probably afford 20 of them. As it is, I bought 4.

Anyway, after leaving the shop, you have the option to explore the nearby ruins of Oxam's Tower. As with Zhentil Keep, I entered this area well before my characters were ready. I had heard about the ruins in Zhentil Keep--Dexam the beholder had made some comments about allies there--and indeed, it was filled with many of the same monsters: Zhentil fighters, priests, and mages, Dark Elves, manticores, gryphons, minotaurs, ogres, medusas, and beholders. I had to retreat from the ruins numerous times, return to town, avail myself of the temple's "stone-to-flesh" and "raise dead" services.

I assume he was going to say, "The beholder corps is mother; the beholder corps is father."

Eventually, I came to an area that suggested the allies of Bane had convened a meeting to discuss "the fate of adventurers." A little "checklist" I found at the scene suggested that efreeti, vampires, liches, Drow, and rakshasa had all been invited to meet with the beholders, but only the latter two accepted. I had to fight through some battles with Drow Lords (very tough to hit) and rakshasa, who cast damaging spells and are immune to magic themselves. A key tactic in battles against rakshasa is to have every PC target a different rakshasa and hope they can score a hit before they cast spells. (For those of you not versed in D&D rules, if a spellcaster is hit during a combat round, he or she cannot cast spells during the round.)

Rakshasas are adapted from demons in Hindu mythology. I thought the D&D versions all had tiger features, but according to the wiki, they can have the heads of any animal.

The toughest battle before the final one was with a group of three beholders. They have death rays, petrification rays, and disintegration rays, plus a bevy of spells, and they can use all of them during the same combat round. Success was a matter of buffing my party with "Bless" (improves chances to hit by 1), "Prayer" (also improves chances to hit, improves saving throws, reduces chances of monsters to hit), "Protection from Evil" (improves armor class and saving throws), "Strength" (raises strength to 18/00), and "Haste" (doubles movement and melee attacks) first, then making intelligent use of the thief's backstab abilities to take down at least two of the beasts in the first round. After that, it was simple reliance on my saving throws to keep the party alive long enough to kill the last one. (I go to a temple after deaths and stonings, but I reload after disintegrations; I don't want to have to start from scratch with a new character.)

Trying to take on three beholders.

The video below shows the battle and a bunch of gameplay afterwards. I didn't narrate it, so I'll comment below on some of the gameplay elements. If you don't care about the video, the story continues after the ****s.

At the beginning, you see me casting the buffing spells on my party. "Strength" is particularly important, turning my ranger who normally has 16 strength into a much more effective fighter. Battle actually begins at 00:50. That pause you see at the beginning is me cursing because my fighter/thief, Karnov, gets to go first. He can only backstab when another character has attacked from the opposite angle first, so having him go first is useless. I choose to "delay" his action even though that almost certainly means I'll face multiple beholder attacks.

The first beholder to attack targets Bolingbroke, the paladin, and all his rays are ineffective. That's one down. But then at 00:57, one of them turns my mage to stone. Then the third starts attacking. I assume my party won't survive this one, but his attacks, including a "Fear" spell, are also ineffective, so I suddenly realize that I'm likely to win. Octavianus goes and softens one up for Karnov's backstab while Bolingbroke and Cesario take on the one on the far right. At 01:15, Karnov gets his chance again, and boy is it successful--two successful backstabs in a row, for 52 and 72 damage! (Those of you who convinced me to keep a fighter/thief, thanks!) Because of the "Haste," he even gets another attack on the beholder above him. A few more melee attacks later, and the battle is over.

At 01:45, you see the post-battle screens. It's my general policy to take gems and jewelry but not coins (they weigh the characters down), and since that's what the beholders dropped, I "share" them among my party members. Now it's time to get out of the caves and heal Viola. (Example of a character sheet at 02:08.)

As I leave the caves, you can see examples of the different wall textures in this dungeon, from a finished "fortress" look to a rougher "cave" look. They put a reasonable amount of work into these graphics, and I don't know why they couldn't have spent more time on things like furniture and banners that would actually be in the scene.

When you're trying to flee a dungeon to get healed, nothing's more annoying than random encounters, and that's what I face with some minotaurs at 02:41. For some reason, these "side-quest dungeons" have a habit of starting combat while the monsters are some distance away, so I either have to charge up to them or wait for them to come to me. Since minotaurs have no ranged attack, I do a hybrid, sending my melee fighters up to "guard" and wait for the monsters. But there are a lot of them, so I decide to weaken them with Cesario's "Fireball" at 03:15. You can see some other examples of spellcasting and melee attacks throughout the battle. Note that monsters can "guard," too, and consequently they get a few free hits.

At 04:34, you see one of the more annoying parts of the game. After combat is finished,  you still have to give an action to each of your characters who have not already done something that round. So I have to "guard" four or five times before the battle is actually over. I suppose I could use this time to heal characters and whatnot, but that would only make sense if I knew I'd be facing another fight, with no pause, immediately afterwards.

There's another random combat, with otyughs, before I finally get out. At 06:17, you can see the overland travel map. I head to Shadowdale as the nearest town with a temple. I heal Viola at 06:44. You can see me rest and "fix," then head to the store. I use the options to pool gold, appraise and sell gems, and then "share" the wealth, making sure that everyone has at least 200 platinum pieces (1,000 gold) before heading to the training hall, where training costs 1,000. Karnov and Cesario both level up, and Cesario gets a new spell. After that, I re-memorize my spells, scribe a few new ones from scrolls, and rest.


How do beholders sit at a conference table? (Incidentally, my options here were "Flee in Panic" and "Throw Caution to the Wind.")

On my return to the tower, I had one last major battle left to fight, and boy was it a tough one. Did it look like I had trouble with those three beholders? How do you think I fared against 15 of them? Plus a 10 rakshasa, a 10 Drow lords, and a bunch of high-level priests?

If you're a CRPG character, this is when your life starts flashing before your eyes.

The answer was about 7 seconds. Any one of these groups, in half their numbers, would be more than capable of killing me. If you think mass-damage spells would do it, think again: beholders and rakshasa are immune to magic.

It would be a mega-geek achievement to win this battle without the Dust of Disappearance, but unless someone proves otherwise, I'm going to assume it isn't possible. The only way I could see that you'd come close is to get your entire party around the corner and use the primitive pathfinding AI to draw them to you one-by-one. But even then, you'd have to be extremely lucky to kill each of the enemies that turn the corner before they launch a few death rays or spells at you. With 15 beholders, I can't see how you'd avoid having your party slowly bled away.

Viola  uses the Dust of Disappearance.

Even with the dust, it's pretty hard. The dust keeps enemies from casting spells on you or attacking at range, but they're still perfectly capable of hitting you with melee attacks, and the Drow lords in particular pack a wallop. I won with a lot of buffing spells, including "Haste," lots of backstabbing, and by weakening the Drow lords significantly with "Fireball" and "Ice Storm" before I engaged them in melee (they often, but not always, resist spells). Without their spells, the rakshasa were comparatively easy. It would have been easier with ranged weapons, but when I reached this area, I barely had any ammo.

My reward was almost 80,000 experience points per character and a huge cache of equipment, most of which turned out to be worse than I already had. I think some long swords +10 would have been in order after that battle, but the best weapon I have at this point is a +3.

The result of the beholder battle. This is enough experience to get you from Level 1 to almost Level 6, but it's not enough to get even halfway between Level 8 and Level 9.

After I returned to town, rested, trained, identified equipment, and so on, I discovered that five of my six characters are one level away from their max levels, and my sixth is at her max level. This even though two of the characters--Octavianus the fighter/cleric and Cesario the cleric/mage--dualed back to Level 1 earlier in the game. (They've both exceeded their earlier levels, meaning Octavianus got his fighter abilities back and Cesario got his cleric spells back.) Thus, the main point of the beholder battle--experience--was hardly necessary, and I'll likely spend most of the rest of the game with no way to advance. I hate that, but I brought it on myself with all of this grinding in these optional areas.

So it's back on the main quest for now, with my next stop at Yulash.

Some other notes:

  • Although you can heal unconscious characters in combat, they never get up and continue fighting. They don't revive until you leave the combat screen. I don't know if they get experience for the combat when this happens.
  • In the wilderness between Ashabenford and Shadowdale, I ran into some Knights of Myth Drannor who thanked me for helping their colleague in the Fire Knife hideout and told me that Tyranthraxus has set up camp in the ruins of Myth Drannor. Since I can't seem to access them right now, that must be where the final battles take place.

I've almost finished cataloging all of these random encounters between cities.
  • Theoretically, the "(F)ix" command should be a shortcut for selecting the various healing spells, resting long enough to memorize them, casting them on the party members that need them, and then re-resting to memorize the original spells. But it clearly doesn't work this way because random encounters are very rare (though possible) during "Fix" even in places where they're extremely common while trying to rest and memorize other spells.
  • I'm beginning to worry a little about the effects of aging. Between all the travel, resting, and my frequent use of "Haste" spells, my party has aged about 4 years since the beginning of the game. The manual doesn't have anything to say about it, but I wonder if anything happens when they get "too old." I'm not so much worried about it in this game as in Secret of the Silver Blades and Pools of Darkness.
  • I already said this in another context, but after making fun of the exhaustive selection of pole-arms available in this game (there are 15 of them, from bardiche to voulge), I had a moment where my paladin had to choose between a guisarme-voulge +2 and a bill-guisarme +2.

Meanwhile, I've yet to find a single magic two-handed sword.
  • Another example of the game's fastidiousness to D&D rules is the inclusion of all coinage types. In a game where I almost never bother to collect the treasure after battle because there's no possible use for so much of it, I can't stress enough how much of a waste of time it would be to pick up electrum or copper pieces. I may end up giving the game a 0 in the "economy" category for featuring so much money that they might as well have left it out entirely.

I can't even remember how much copper, silver, and electrum are worth. A platinum piece is worth 5 gold pieces, and the shopkeepers of the game fortunately convert everything to platinum. Although this makes sense logistically, in a world where the classic unit of currency is the "gold piece," it's funny how you don't end up carrying many of them.


  1. "It would be a mega-geek achievement to win this battle without the Dust of Disappearance,"

    Heh, I guess I'm a mega-geek, then. ;-)

    The first time I played Curse of the Azure Bonds my party ran from them with their tail between their legs.
    Years later I was replaying the game again when one day I met an old buddy of mine on the bus to work. He'd been out of town for some years and had just got back. Soon our talk turned to CRPGs and when I mentioned that I was playing CoAB he asked me if I had beaten the Beholder Corps. "That's impossible" I said, but he insisted he had done it. He didn't tell me that he used the Dust of Disappearance, though. So when I tried it myself I didn't even think of using the Dust, since I thought it was just Invisibility 10'.
    I buffed my characters with all the spells and potions that I had, so my Fighter/Thief was Hasted and had 22 or 23 STR. An open fight is of course impossible without the Dust, so I had to abuse the AI instead. This was done by trying to lure the Beholders, Drow Lords and Rakshasas out one by one, while my mage(s) killed the High Priests by casting Fireballs at an angle vertical to the doorway.
    So, abusing the poor pathfinding AI my Fighter/Thief was able to backstab most of the Beholders and Drow Lords that was willing to come out and play. A few Hold Person and Stinking Clouds probably also worked on the Drow Lords. Unlike Beholders and Rakshasa they are not completely immune to magic, so the higher level your casters is the greater the chance of bypassing their magic resistance. I probably did this battle after having done everything but killing Tyranthraxus again (at which time you can adventure in CoAB no more), so I guess they were all maxed out. It was back in the Amiga days, so I don't remember the details.

    I agree the reward wasn't all that much for beating them.

    BTW, interesting spell selection you have...
    Personally I never bother with Prot Evil 10' since the Paladin already have it as an innate ability. Prayer is a much better use of 3rd level Cleric spell if you have a Paladin, IMO.
    Detect Invisibility is absolutely useless in the Gold Box games. It's possible it allows you to target certain enemies with spells and missiles, but that's all.
    If you want Invisibility, it's much better to use Potions for that.
    The king of the 2nd level spells is Stinking Cloud. Strength is also nice on lower levels, but at some point Enlarge will give the target 19+ STR. Strength lasts longer, though, but Enlarge can be cast in combat.

    1. Enlarge is my go-to spell, a level 10 caster provides 21 str. Especially important given I usually put my big numbers in con.

      I found the dracolich fight suitably epic, but I encountered it early in the game and -6 AC was rough.

    2. How did you get strength in the 20s?

    3. Thanks for educating me as to the virtues of "Enlarge." It's one of the spells I've never really explored thoroughly.

      Petrus, without reading ahead, I didn't of course know that "Detect Invisibility" never comes in handy. I don't have a lot of use for the second-level spells, so I figured it wouldn't hurt to hold on to one in case I need it.

      On protection from evil, I realize the paladin has it, but I can't keep all of my party members around him in battle, so I figure if I memorize one or two and cast it on other characters, it increases the odds. I have "Prayer" too, of course.

      Haven't found any potions of invisibility.

      Please elaborate on "The king of the 2nd level spells is 'Stinking Cloud.'" I find that it works tolerably on low-level enemies, but it has an extremely limited casting range, and you can't cast it in tight quarters without messing up the battlefield for the other characters. What am I missing?

    4. Oh, and Tristan, the dracolich I was referring to was actually a random encounter in one of the side dungeons. I think you're referring to Dracandros's, which I didn't encounter until much later. I think he's a lot toughter than the random one, but by then my party was at max levels and defeated him fairly easily (I think I was supposed to go to Dracandros first instead of last).

    5. Chet, I thought one of the shops sold Potions of Invisibility? Anyway, both the spell and the potions are rather useless, since all they do is make you non-targetable by enemies that can't See Invisible. They can still attack in melee, but with a -4 penalty, I think. The Ring of Invisibility OTOH is a very nice item, since in most of the GB games, including CoAB, it gives permanent invisibility, which means the wearer can move at will without worrying about Opportunity Attacks from most enemies. Very useful for a backstabber.

      Stinking Cloud is very useful for many reasons.
      In the early GB games monsters would enter the cloud, while in later games they would stay clear of it. So in all games it can be used in choke points to either disable enemies or preventing them from reaching you. In later games it could also be used to reduce the amount of enemies that can engage the party.
      Monsters like Dragonshave lousy saving throws against the spell and will more often that not be paralyzed by it. Also, it's an insta-cast spell.
      So all in all, by far the most useful 2nd level mage spell, IMO. It's tactical, it's instant and it can render even Ancient Dragons helpless.

    6. Present day adventure parties would keep getting emails about how the enlarge spell could help their love life out.

    7. Actually, one of my Greyhawk books inovles a romance between a faerie (about 2 feet tall) and a 6 foot tall human. Needless to say they were very happy when they found a bunch of potions of Giant Growth.

    8. You can win without taking a single hit, without using the Dust of Disappearance, without Haste, etc. *(I was a little bummed out when I did this since I had planned to win by drawing all the faster enemies into the treasure room in the back and having the slower beholders trap them there while I wiped them out unmolested via long-ranged bow attacks.) All you have to do to win is simply be invisible and wait. Do not Flee. (I had everyone wearing a Ring of Invisibility which you can get from the Elf Queen spirit if you don't attack/loot everything in sight prior to seeing her. See her first in other words.) The game says you win after enough turns go by and no damage occurs. You get the treasure in the treasure room too which is really lack-luster. *(NOTE: Fellow uber-geeks, I recommend a party with 5 Fighter-Magic User-Thief characters and a Cleric Magic-User for this game. Max them all out with good stuff from prior games. Grinding takes a while, but Shadowdale's 3rd floor dungeon was made for that. Their back-stabs peg out at 100 HP and in their second turn of battle they can do two of them!)

    9. Update. I managed to beat them all without Haste or the Dust. If you have the Ring of Invisibility, you can retreat without getting attacked every turn that you do not attack. Therefore, patience in luring just a few monsters out of the room at a time and dealing with them from a distance is all you need to win. The Drow Lords did the most damage to me so I recommend you stock up on Extra Healing as your cleric cannot heal you when you are invisible. You will need them. Back-Stabs handle the Drow Lords effectively. The Clerics are unusually susceptible to Fireballs. I had 6 Magic Users (as I recommended above) so it was no strain at all to take the Drow Clerics out as they neared the corner of the room. Minor Globe and Blessed Bolts make short work of the Rakshasa. The Beholders are slow, but deadly so take them out with arrows. If they get close, put some distance between you and keep hitting them with arrows. It will take a while, but it is an achievement of which a true gamer should be proud.

    10. Copying the ring of invisibility to all your characters is a bit like cheating, isn't it?

      I just did it fair & square without the dust. But with fairly rolled characters and only with items you get from the game without duplicating them. I have it all on tape :-)

  2. "Skyrim is the first (and, so far, only) game that has made me feel like, wow, I'm really fighting a dragon!"

    How about them dragons in Baldur's Gate 2, like Firkraag? They were certainly much scarier than the adventurer party fodder of the Gold Box games.

    1. Before that, the end dragon in Realms of Arkania 2

      And the dragons in Ultima 7 were no pushover either!

    2. Neverwinter Nights had some threatening dragons.

    3. I don't remember if there's more than one dragon, but the dragon I remember from BG2 I killed by putting 60+ traps around him (he starts out "peaceful" so he'll let you; also you need to go rest to get that many traps) and then initiating combat, at which point all the traps went off at once and killed him instantly.

    4. @Jason Dyer

      That would probably be the dragon in the Underdark, just before you meet the Drow?

      There are at least two others as far as my (hazy) memories recall, and another in the expansion.

    5. The dragon before the Underdark was the silver one, so you'd only kill her if you were evil.

      Jason, how did you possibly place that many traps? Was every party member somehow a bounty hunter?

    6. Oh, Petrus, to answer your original question, the dragons in the IE games didn't FLY. They were difficult, sure, and had those wing buffet attacks and whatnot, but the limited perspective of the games made the dragon battles feel less epic, in my view, than Skyrim.

    7. @Andy: Poking around FAQs, it was Windspear Hill (where I got Holy Avenger).

      @CRPG Addict: Set traps. Go somewhere and rest. Return and repeat.

      According to another FAQ, I might have done overkill; it says 8-10 traps + a magic missile are enough.

    8. Huh. I don't think it ever occurred to me that traps stick around when you leave the screen.

    9. Those BGII dragons were tough encounters, I encountered Firkraag at just the right moment for my party, did battle about 10 times before I got him and I was overjoyed with the feeling of victory. That doubled when I checked out the loot he dropped.... :-)

  3. There's LP video series by DOSBoxMom where she probably beat the Beholder Corps without Dust. Might just be that didn't notice the part, though.

    Drow Elf Lord.. I remember at certain point met just one of them. He got the initiative, hasted and wiped floor with all my characters alone. Ensured that next encounter was with fully healed party.

    1. No, she's using the Dust:
      " Theoretically, it's possible to defeat the Mulmaster Beholder Corps without using the Dust of Disappearance (I've seen a description of how to do it somewhere online), but I haven't been able to do it."

      Next time I replay CoAB I have to redo this battle and record it.
      Too bad Chet has only one save file, or else I'm sure he'd give it a go.

    2. Well, I TRIED, of course. But I didn't last long. No matter what I did with speed, I couldn't engineer it so that every one of my characters moved before any of the beholders, so I could never get my entire party around the corner. After that, though, I don't understand how you exploit the pathfinding to bring them around the corner one-by-one and still get the thief into backstabbing position. It feels like you'd either have to keep him close to the opening, and thus draw more monsters than you want, or give the beholders a few rounds to advance on your party, so the thief can back-stab them while still safely around the corner.

      The problem with that is that the beholders don't really "advance on your party." If they can see the party members, they stop and shoot their eyestalks.

      So one theory is that the thief could rush down, backstab and kill, and rush back in a single round. But miss ONCE, or fail to kill in a single backstab, and you now have a thief standing in full view in front of 14 more beholders and everyone else.

      So I still don't get it. You say you did it and I'm not doubting you, but I'd need to see a video to begin to comprehend the tactics.

    3. One of the keys to winning this battle without the Dust, is to buff with regular Invisibility (I used the Invisibility 10' spell). Of the monsters you face only the Rakshasa, masters of illusion, can See Invisible. This means Beholders can't target your guys in the first round with their eye stalks or spells. The only danger in the first round is the Drow Lords' melee attacks and the Rakshashas' spells. But the Rakshasas are quite slow, and their Lightining Bolts don't do much damage.

      Also, after the first round you must Delay, Delay, Delay to make sure your guys act last to avoid surprises.

      Another thing to consider is that Beholders are completely harmless at ranges greater than about 10 (the range of the Slow spell)! Their eyestalk attacks have a ranger of only 3. So they are easy meat for archers, especially if you have Enlarged and Hasted character with Fine Longbows. Then they can kill one beholder each round.

      I think you must be mistaken about beholders advancing and _then_ using their eyestalks. The AI of CoAB is very primitive, and it wasn't until Pools of Darkness that enemies could move and then use their spells or special attacks.

      I am currently uploading two videos showing how it is done, but it's taking ages.

    4. Just a few trusty +5 Red Ryders and were good to go.

      I just watched a video on you-tube of someone named horsie111 killing the bastards without using the dust. However, it seems they may have fudged just a tiny* bit. They are all packing +5 light crossbows and +5 longswords. They are also maxed out in levels and have -10 AC. The party consists completely of Fighter/Mages and Fighter/Clerics; there is no backstabbing.

      The basic tactic seemed to be to dash as far down the hallway behind you as you can. From there its just a bunch of crossbow bolts and the occasional sword-strike on a Drow that slipped by as you focused on a small group of beholders. Generally the beholders went down at such a long range that they never got any spells off.

      I wouldn't give him/her full credit for doing it, though. It doesn't seem possible to be that powerful at this point in the game without some knowledge of Hex :) (I've never played it through). It is, however, possibly a valid tactic to use, even with lesser equipment, if you can get some great rolls throughout. We all know D&D often does distill down to lucky rolls of the bones.

      Anyway, here it is:

    5. Is it possible that there are small differences between versions? Petrus was playing on the Amiga.

    6. I'm not sure. Everything looks the same, as far as I can tell, but I am not an authority on such things. Petrus seems to be using a very similar technique. The only difference, really, being his lack of those +5 Longbows. If all you have is regular Composite bows, then perhaps sneaking a thief up there is the way to go.

      :) This has gone from impossible to discussion of different techniques.

      Petrus' use of that stinking cloud was very intelligent, I think. He also did not have a string of -10 AC's, so hooray for him; he gets full credit.

    7. It's entirely possible that the Amiga version is easier.

      I know the final battles in the DOS version of Pools of Darkness was made harder due to the Ring of Lightining Immunity not working in the DOS version. When I played the Amiga version that Ring was crucial and made the battles possible even with character not maxed out on DEX.

      The Amiga version of Secret of the Silver Blades is also much easier, since the bugged Cloaks of Displacement makes characters immune to physical damage.

      When I played the Amiga version of Champions of Krynn about a year ago I could swear that some of the key battles were smaller (fewer opponents) than on the DOS version.

    8. That guy had cloaks of displacements on as well. I paused on one of the few times that he brought up his inventory. He had a ton of top notch gear, including robes. Were ALL of the robes of D bugged?

      I never have played any of the Forgotten Realms Gold Box games. Do you think they are as fun as the others?

    9. I know all (I think there were 4 of them in all) the Cloaks of Displacement were bugged in the Amiga version of SotSB that I played. There _may_ have been an updated Amiga version released later, though. But I doubt it, since it's not the kind of bug most players would complain too much about...

      All the Gold Box games are fun, except I didn't like Gateway to the Savage Frontier and the second Buck Rogers game that much due to inferior encounter design (too much fighting the same boring battles over and over again).

      My rating:
      1. Dragonlance
      2. Forgotten Realms Pools series
      3. Forgotten Realms Savage Frontier series
      4. Buck Rogers

      Some of the FRUA modules are better than some of the Gold Box games. But since I play them chronologically I still haven't played the best ones.

    10. I guess I get them all mixed up. I meant to say the Dragonlance series. I've played most of the FRealms series. I loved Buck Rogers Countdown to Doomsday (NEEDLE GUN!), but never played the Matrix Cubed.

      I'm about to fire up some Dragonlance right now. Thanks!

    11. Just noticed the Construction set for the gold box games called Unlimited Adventure. I wish I would have had that when I was a kid. What fun it would have been to easily create your own game.

      Got DL fired up; on with the show :)

  4. If someone wants to test the Corps-battle with/without the Dust, I have some save files for Curse here (to other GB games key moments as well):

    Here's a direct link to the Curse one which has a save just before the Corps fight:
    (It's save slot H and there's a readme-file inside the archive. Replace the characters with your own chars if you want.)

    Thinking of the interface improvements Curse had over Pool, I just wish that SSI had continued to improve the game engine just a little more in the later games. Maybe the support for the 8-bit computers was a hindrance? Or just laziness?

  5. wow, only 15? I'm sure I had more when i did it but that was years ago. I've seen human characters die of old age, but not elves or dwarves, I dont know what the upper limit is for humans.

    I wouldn't worry about bringing your party from CotaB into SSB, you loose everything so gain no advantage. Its also the worst of the gold box games.

    On the upside, there is some better GB games between that and curse, you get the fun of the first couple of dragonlance games which are quite fun, especially since they use the krynn moons magaic system and the different draconian types.

    1. Yeah, the Krynn moons magic system, Draconians, and the different classes of Knights addded some interesting variety to the Dragonlance games.

  6. "My first dragon fight in a Gold Box game."

    Wasn't Mr T a brass dragon in PoR?

    1. Oh. Right. I don't know why that one slipped my mind. He wasn't a "real" dragon, so he doesn't count?

    2. I thought he had just taken over the dragon's body ("enhanced" but not "real" dragon?).

  7. " They put a reasonable amount of work into these graphics, and I don't know why they couldn't have spent more time on things like furniture and banners that would actually be in the scene."

    There's a reason for this. It's very probable they'd have to 'bake in' the props on top of the tilesets in all possible combinations they'd like to use because I don't think their engine supported sprites over tilesets in the 3d view. It would make the game much larger in kilobyte count!

    1. Yeah, I figured there was some sensible game-engine reason, but it's still a significant limitation of the engine, especially since the neither POR or CotAB give you the same quantity and depth of textual descriptions of the areas that, say, The Dark Heart of Uukrul did.

  8. Play Gothic 2 if you really want to feel you're 'fighting a dragon' LOL.

    1. I just looked at some videos of it. They seem much more dragon-ish than the ones I fought in CotAB, but a little small.

      The feeling of "fighting a dragon" isn't just about difficulty; it's about the size and scale of the dragon, and the fact that it can fly, attack from above, and so forth. Most games' engines simply don't support that kind of battle.

      I'm not saying Skyrim's are perfect. They have too few patterns to their AI, are easily distracted by mudcrabs and such, and never use their air superiority to retreat even when they should. But they do approach from a distance, breathe at you from above, hover, snap you in their jaws, and otherwise use dragon-ish attacks. They're massive and practically deafen you with their roar. I'm afraid the ones in Gothic II, at least from the videos I saw, didn't look quite as awesome.

    2. I agree with you wholeheartedly on the Skyrim dragons, they are by far the best dragon fighting experience in any game that I have played. The Gothic 2 ones are OK but they never spend too much time in the air and usually go down very easily by the time you reach them.

    3. I really can't wait to see what the future holds for games. 2012-2013 has really changed gaming. Skyrim and its huge world and dragons. I mean, think about it. Skyrim didn't have the greatest graphics, and it was running on a zillion year old console. Imagine how great it will be on a next generation console or as a PC only game, when it has more then 512 MB of RAM, and far, far better graphics and CPU. Imagine what they can do in future games. Better AI. More diversity in Dragons. Just copy all the types in D&D that grow in size, have different breath weapons and appearances and so on. Giants also felt like GIANTS in Skyrim. I STILL don't want to do anything but kite them at 38th level. Imagine what more we can do in future games. Look how much Skyrim improved on Oblivion, and think about how great Elder Scrolls 6 will be.

      Also: Mass Effect. Sure, controversial ending. But man, you can't fault the story telling. Imagine what other companies can accomplish when they buld on that. Also damn fine voice acting, graphics, etc. Most engadging game series I've played.

      "If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulder's of giants" Despite being partially meant as a slight against a rather short rival, Newton's statement applies just as much to games as it does to science.

    4. Skyrim dragons not retreating isn't an AI oversight, it's characterization. In fact, it's a fairly huge plot point- as I expect you know by now.

  9. Dear CRPG addict,

    You used the dust of dissappearance early! I usually save it for the last fight, but to each his own.

    Congratulations on defeating the Beholder Corps and Friends. Its a pity that defeating them now in COAB does not eliminate the threat in POD.

    Dragon fighting in my games of COAB involved staying as far away as possible and using spells and missles. I noticed that the breath attack would not be used after a dragon moved. So retreat was the order of the day. Same procedure for Beholders.

    With all this experience, your progress should be easier.
    I hope.

    Thanks again.

    1. I thought you were saying that beholders didn't use their eyestalk attacks after they moved. I just reloaded a game to verify, but they do use them. Otherwise, the battle would have been winnable using the "around the corner" trick.

      The dust is such a deux ex machina that I'd hate to use it in the final battle. I might regret that when the time comes, though!

    2. Sorry, I did not distinguish my tactics enough. I agree that Beholders can attack with their rays after a move, unlike dragon breath, but for both, I find retreat and use of spells and bows to be essential. Long before Baldur's Gate, COAB is the gold box game that convinced me of the necessity of having at least three characters with magic bows and ammunition. For me the Beholder should be a pincushin.

    3. Actually, I think maybe we were taking about two different things. You were saying that dragons and beholders can't use their breath/eyestalk attacks after moving IN THAT ROUND, and you're right. When I initially read your comment, I (incorrectly) interpreted it to mean that they wouldn't use those attacks if they moved from their starting positions on the battlefield.

  10. OK, here's how to win the battles against the Mulmaster Beholder Corps without using the Dust of Disappearance. I used the save game provided by the anon above.

    Part 1:

    Part 2:

    1. Well done. My skepticism is dispelled. My three lessons from this are:

      1) I wasn't giving enough credit for the difference a few levels make in saving throws and attack rolls.

      2) I wasn't giving enough credit to the better equipment that can be found in areas my party hasn't explored. In particular, you seem to have some arrows that kill rakshasa in one hit.

      3) I wasn't giving enough credit to how bad the enemy AI is. Not only to beholders not fire their eyestalks at range, they don't advance and THEN fire. Rakshashas and priests happily cast offensive spells before they realize they don't even have a target, thus wasting them.

  11. This blog has inspired me to replay the goldbox series (I bought the ultimate goldbox collection long ago so I have them all). I've re-discovered that my multi-class Elven fighter/mage can remove her heavy armor during combat and cast a spell. I haven't decided whether I'll allow myself this option; it seems unlikely that the enemy would stand around and wait for this.

    1. An Elven Fighter/Mage can already cast spells while wearing armour, so that is a moot point. :-)
      Only Human dual classed Fighter/Mages or Cleric/Mages need to remove armour (except Elfin Chain will work, I think) to be able to cast mage spells. But for them it's better to use Bracers instead of armour.

    2. Hmm, that isn't allowed in some later D&D games. I didn't even try it here.

    3. Last time I played Pool of Radiance I had almost finished the game when I remembered that Elf Fighter/Mages can wear armour and cast spells.
      All those different, often arbitrary, rules from game to game can be rather annoying, when what you think will works doesn't, and vice versa.

    4. Actually, my dual-classed cleric/mage is perfectly capable of casting mage spells in armor, too.

    5. No, scratch that. That only applies to camp. In combat, he can't cast mage spells unless he takes the armor off.

    6. Bracers of Protection are perfect for Fighter/Mages. Can't remember whether PoR has any available.

    7. I believe PoR had at least one Bracers AC 2, and a few Bracers AC6.

    8. Best I've found is AC4 in CotAB, but I'm only about halfway through the game. I don't know why, but these things sell for billions. If I ever run out of money, I just need to kill one party of mages, and I'm set for the rest of the game.

    9. To clarify my hyperbole: I believe that Bracers AC6 sell for 9,000 gold.

  12. >>they put a reasonable amount of work into these graphics, and I don't know why they couldn't have spent more time on things like furniture and banners that would actually be in the scene.

    As you'll no doubt know, the scenery (walls, floor etc.) come form one of several tile sets which are used for all of the towns, dungeons etc.

    If I recall correctly, this game originally came on one 3.5" disk so I suspect that there isn't more variety in the tiles probably due to space limitations.

  13. Do you not use Tandy sound?

    1. You know, the weird thing is that there's no setup program in the version I'm playing. That plus the lack of any copy protection leads me to believe I've downloaded a modified version.

      There's a configuration file, but it's just a bunch of single-letter codes. I don't know if they correspond to anything related to graphics or sound.

    2. Ah. Figured it out. Just deleted the configuration file and I got some options when I restarted. It's definitely different with Tandy sound. I'm not sure it's "better." But I haven't experienced the full range of effects yet.

  14. Yeah, your lack of Forgotten Realms knowledge shows here. The Zentarium are one of the most powerful forces in the realms, made of evil mages and clerics that whorship Bane (or later Cyric or Xactu Zivim or however you spell his name). Anyway, they are regular foes of Elminster in the novels, and he is the most power wizard in the world (30th level, lover of the goddess Mystra (Yes, Lover in *that* sense. Ed Greenwood is a self admitted pervert. I have heard him refer to himself as such).

    I'm surprised you don't remember them from another Forgotten Realms game that I know you played back before you started the blog. Unless you missed that subplot...

    1. I do remember them from Pool of Radiance, and there's a brief mention of them in Baldur's Gate. I know they're a powerful faction in the setting. What did I say that was wrong about them?

    2. Actually, 2 NPCs in BG work for them, and apparently have a plotline related to them if you keep them through the game. I never finished it though, and didn't keep those two anyway.

      Your assumption that they would be the easiest, and mostly fighters. Manshoon is one of the most powerful wizards in the realm, and most of the members are wizards or clerics, they just higher fighters to serve as muscle. Also I think there is something special about them and beholders, but I forget.

  15. Additionally, magic items only go up to +5 in D&D, so +10 is right out (or at least limited to Mounty Haul games, or D&D games using the Epic Level Handbook, which is usually the same thing).

  16. You seem to be learning that in D&D direct damage spells are rarely the most powerful. Fireball is good, but Haste is generally the more powerful spell at that level. Magic missile is pretty weak, since it only does (Level/2 in d4) damage or something like that. It is a good thing to have a wand of though, since it beats using a sling if you are out of good spells).

    Haste also shows one of the huge powers of demihumans: they live a lot longer, so elves pretty much never have to worry about haste spells.

    1. Yeah, I realized "Haste" was aging my characters, but I didn't realize it was aging them a YEAR every time I used it. Who would agree to subject themselves to that? If I'm going to lose a year of my life, I want to be hastened for an entire year, not one battle.

      I find "Magic Missile" incredibly useful. It casts immediately, has seemingly an infinite range, and does up to 30 damage at 11th level. Creatures immune to other magic have no saving throw against it. It's a great way to disrupt an enemy spellcaster, or even take him out entirely.

    2. Ah, I see. That is different between 1nd and 3rd edition (the one I know). Some of those uses are...less useful now. Also you have more spells in 3rd edition, so usually I'd be better off casting Enlarge and turning all my allies into giants.

    3. the game also implements "aging effects" so when you get old enough, your stats are decreased.

    4. The first edition AD&D Haste spell was actually quite dangerous. Magical aging causes system shock - a roll based on your constitution score* - that if you failed, you instantly died from the stress to your body. I wonder if the gold box games took that in to effect?

      *usually a good chance of success, in the high 80's and above, unless you have an abysmal Con score...

    5. No, the Gold Box games didn't have any kind of penalty that serious for using "Haste." Incidentally, I ran a test where I cast dozens and dozens of "Haste" spells on my characters in Champions of Krynn and no one every lost any attributes or died despite reaching over 200 years old (for humans). I suppose it's possible that CotAB implemented aging effects and they removed them for CoK, but I'm skeptical.

  17. well, I managed to kill the horde of rark elf lords and beholders more than 20 years ago when playing from c64 floppy disks :D I remember retretaing from behind teh wall and picking them off several at the time as they were coming to me. I am now preparing to relive my childhood gaming experience by replying this one from amiga emulator

  18. Struggling with playing curse of the azure bonds properly for the first time (I've given up on prior attempts with mapping software struggles getting the better of me).

    The main thing I couldn't bring myself to do is leave all the treasure on the floor. In Pool of Radiance I dutifully converted all my wealth into Diamoned Necklaces. Pointless of course but somehow satisfying to me.

    In Curse, the money comes in platinum, so there's no making it weigh less, and I can't find a jewelry shop. So my solution was to invent banking by creating characters, dropping all their money, and filling them with platinum. I know there's no point, but somehow accumulating wealth pleases me in the way that playing solitaire does.

    1. Darts of Hornets Nest might be the most valuable stacks you can purchase in the game. There's a Magic Shop in Zhentil keep that carries them, and you can visit it without triggering the Zhentil Keep plotline, if you want to do one of the other main quests first. I wouldn't worry about carrying non magical gear. If you never sold a single non magical item you'd miss out on less than 1% of the total wealth in the game.

    2. I don't care how many Darts of the Hornet's Nest you buy, trying to collect all of the treasure in a Gold Box game is the very definition of insanity.

    3. Not to mention that in a couple points, you are given so many coins that even edited characters have to leave some behind.
      I have only played the Apple II version on my first computer (an Apple IIGS) back in the day, and I once cheated the strength to the maximum the engine could handle without bugs, around 233 (hex $E9 aka 0xE9, they used a dollar sign to represent hex on the Apple II). Even with that extra carrying capacity, I sometimes had to leave copper and electrum behind.
      I don't recall which ones exactly, save I think one was a treasure chest you got after a big battle in a SECOND looting screen. Another was a hidden chest you had to LOOK for after being given hints.
      I haven't played the game since at least 2008, probably closer to ten years or more. Details are fuzzy.

    4. Definitely can't pick up all the treasure. There are at least two sequences with no shops and lots of drops.

  19. The wife and I are playing this now via Amiga emulation, hopefully going through all the gold box games. We are currently doing the Mulmaster Beholder Corps fight. If I had to guess, I skipped this fight when I was younger and went through this 30 years ago. I was determined to come up with a strategy and not looking one up online, the fight takes super long without the using the dust. We started the fight once just using invisibility on all the characters, Paladin, Ranger, Fighter/Thief, Cleric, and 2 Magic users. We had the strategy down of luring them out and just using bows, sadly the only magic bow we got so far was 1 Composite Long Bow +1, the other 2 fighter types are using non-magic Composite Long Bows. After determining the strategy, we knew we deffinately we going to need more arrows, so we reloaded walked out and took as many as we could carry and still make it around the corner of the door while hasted. So roughly one full 255 Arrows+1 stack per archer. It's getting the job done, but slow as molasses. Once while baiting a beholder out, 2 characters got slowed, but it eventually wears off... we play a couple hours every other day or so, so probably got about a week before this battle is over lol :)

  20. Also, side note unrelated to CoAB, I wanted to let you know what you are doing is what I dreamed of doing. Going through all the old CRPG's that I remember, and also playing ones I never got to. I have gotten around to owning physical copies of almost everything out there, but sadly, I never seem to have enough time to get to play them all...

    In addition, the site you created to document your journey is awesome. You are living my dream. :) Kudos to you, I'm super jealous

    1. Thanks, Richard. That's very nice feedback. Best of luck on the beholder battle.


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