Thursday, December 27, 2012

Curse of the Azure Bonds: Tyranthraxus Again!

Found in the Fire Knives' hideout. Who ever could they be talking about?

I was a little disappointed last year when a commenter spoiled the fact that Tyranthraxus returns as the main (or at least a main) villain in Curse of the Azure Bonds, but it turns out he wasn't spoiling much: the game gives it away in the first act. I'm pretty sure the sigil above shows up somewhere in Pool of Radiance, but if that wasn't enough of a hint, there are multiple references throughout the Tilverton sewers and Fire Knives hideout to Tyranthraxus, including this explicit one, found on a piece of paper clutched in a burned Fire Knife's hand:

Compared to Pool of Radiance, the beginning stages of Curse of the Azure Bonds are fast-paced and frenetic. Where the first game gave you time to explore the city, get used to the interface, and slowly engage the evil monsters residing in Old Phlan, Curse launches you into a series of difficult combats as you fight to escape the sewers of Tilverton, while a war between the Fire Knives and several foes rages around you.

Before we begin, I should note that we've had a change of cast, for three primary reasons:

1. In the comments in the last posting, Tristan and Malor successfully convinced me that a fighter/thief would be a better character than a straight thief, even if he can never advance his fighter levels past 9. The rationale is that being a fighter at all (even if he was only level 1) gives him a huge advantage in the equipment he can carry and wield. The disadvantage, aside from wasting half his experience after Level 9, is that dwarves can't achieve higher than 17 dexterity. Karnov, my level 7 fighter/level 8 thief from Pool of Radiance, rejoined the party. In keeping with a more-thief like tradition, I'm going to clad him only in leather or studded leather.

2. I began to regret the elf magic user. I wasn't thinking long game with that. I'd have had to dump him in Secret of the Silver Blades in favor of a human, since he wouldn't have been able to advance. I took a peek at the Silver Blades manual, and it appears that magic users start level 9. I would have had to sacrifice two levels for no advantage except for the role-playing satisfaction of having an elf in this game. And really, how does that affect my playing experience? What do I know about role-playing elves anyway?

3. That left me with a superfluous fighter. I don't really need four melee characters, and a plain fighter is almost entirely useless in this game. He has no advantages that a paladin or ranger does not have. Octavianus was capable of dualing to a cleric, but I felt I really need another mage more than another cleric, and Koren (my cleric) wasn't capable of dualing to a mage (she only had 13 intelligence), so I decided I couldn't keep them both.

I didn't have a lot of images for this section, so I thought I'd throw in a random shot of battle against trolls and crocodiles.
Dropping Octavianus, my lead character from Pool, would have been painful for legacy reasons (plus, he had really good statistics all around), so I dualed him to a cleric, which means he starts over at Level 1 and will be able to access his fighter abilities again when he hits Level 9 as a cleric (that might not take so long; he rose to Level 6 in the opening area alone). Koren, who had lousy attributes other than strength and wisdom, hit the road. Yorsh, the elven mage, I also sent packing. A human brother and sister, Viola and Cesario, joined the group. Cesario is a cleric who will later dual to a mage when Octavianus gets competent. Viola is a straight mage.

The funny thing is, I could have accomplished all of the above from the initial loading screen of my last saved game. When the game first loads, you get full functionality to add and delete characters before embarking on the continued adventures. I nearly did that, but that would have meant that Viola, Cesario, and Karnov technically don't have the azure bonds! I'm sure the game would have just retconned it for me, but I couldn't handle the paradox, so I restarted and played the initial Tilverton encounters again before continuing where I left off with the guild and sewers. Not mapping Tilverton had felt wrong, so I took the opportunity on the new outing.

The initial loading screen. I suppose you could replace every single character at any point in the game, leading to a Ship of Theseus problem.

With the limited amount there is to do in Tilverton, I still managed to accomplish more on my second outing than the first. I discovered that punching the barkeep or refusing to leave the bar puts you in a brawl with 8 low-level fighters. Drinking something other than lemonade gets you a series of "tavern tales" that flesh out the back story of Princess Nacacia, her lover Gharri, and her father, King Azoun, who is coming to Cormyr to find her.

A clue!

While my party was in town, the Fire Knives (a group of assassins) kidnapped the princess from the tavern and dragged her through the sewers to their hidden lair beneath Tilverton. Her lover Gharri, wielding a hammer and several high-level priest spells, charged to the rescue. At the same time, the Fire Knives started engaging the thieves' guild for the territory beneath the city and my party fled into the sewers after their compelled attack on the king's carriage (which turned out to have an impostor named Giogi of Wyvernspur). Thus, the Fire Knives were beset on multiple sides as I made my way through the opening maps. I frequently came across the remnants of battles between Fire Knives and the thieves, or Gharri, or some random knight from Myth Drannor. There were also signs of other incursions: bodies of mysterious cultists in green, and entire rooms that had been incinerated by fire.

I wasn't clear which of the Fire Knives' many enemies were responsible for this.

These opening areas preceded in three stages: the thieves' guild hideout, the sewers, and the Fire Knives' hideout. The hideout was actually the right half of the city of Tilverton, but with the transition between the two areas via cutscene (there appears to be no way to return to Tilverton proper having left). The sewers area was composed of two 5 x 16 maps and one 6 x 16 map, which together make up a standard 16 x 16 grid area. The hideout was just a regular 16 x 16 area. Already, though, the game seems to be having fun with the standard map area and coordinates.

Tilverton, with the thieves' guild area on the right in yellow.

The sewers. These three areas are technically stacked on top of each other, not side-by-side.

The Fire Knives' hideout.

Throughout the three areas, there were some interesting encounters. A few highlights:

1. The sewers held several packs of otyughs--large, tentacled omnivores that live in filth--and neo-otyughs, their larger cousins. I was curious about their origins, but it appears that they were created specifically for D&D. Anyway, they really pack a punch, hitting multiple times with every attack. Each of my combats with them exhausted my spells and hit points, and usually left one or two of my characters unconscious (fortunately, there were plenty of safe places to rest in the sewers). I wouldn't have thought them intelligent, but one of the groups contacted my party telepathically and asked me to get them some balls of dung from another group in the sewers. The experience rewards were significant.

An interesting side-quest with some role-playing options.

This combat against them did not go very well.

2. There was a hidden thieves' guild training hall in the sewers, thankfully. Since I had just dualed Octavianus back to Level 1, he would have been wasting all his accumulated experience if I couldn't periodically train him up (you stop accumulating new experience just shy of your current level plus two).

3. Several areas of trolls. They were no easier than in Pools. One of them even made a reference to the famous Pools encounter:

Why are trolls always throwing things?

4. This game has stepped up the number of random, non-combat encounters. Each map has exhibited some level of them so far, including:

  • Random clips of conversation on the streets of Tilverton
  • Pieces of trolls occasionally encountered in the sewers. You can watch them regenerate and then fight trolls or burn them before they have a chance.
  • Random shouts heard through the Fire Knives' hideout.
  • A stuffed figure of King Azoun used as a knife-throwing target, encountered randomly in the hideout.

Random notes like this add considerable atmosphere to the game.

5. I found some decent magical equipment, none of which I used until I could identify it at a shop later. Last time, I made fun of the large selection of obscure pole-arms included in the game, so it was somewhat ironic that my first magical two-handed weapon was a glaive-guisarme +1. Also among the items were two different-colored "Ioun Stones" that increase various statistics when held.

A nice haul from the thieves' guild.

6. There was evidence in the Fire Knives' hideout that they were the ones to do the tattoo work:

Combat was harrowing at times, but fun. The creators have continued to do a good job with the blend of random encounters and fixed encounters. When I first entered the areas and started getting random encounters, I girded myself for a long slog against multiple packs of 6 Fire Knives and such. But the developers wisely put a cap on random encounters, so that after you've experienced five or six of them, you don't get any more. Pool of Radiance did something similar, at least in most areas. Throughout the combats, I noticed the significantly greater difficulty in Curse, and at times my party felt like it was back at Level 1 in the ruins of Old Phlan again, missing most of their attacks, causing 3-5 hit points per hit, receiving blows almost every time the enemy swung.

Oh, how I love it when enemies are arranged like this, and I have "Fireball."
The final battle was with the Fire Knife leader and his minions in a large room, where they had Princess Nacacia and Giogi captive. She broke free, brained the leader so he couldn't invoke my bonds, and the battle was joined.
The first time I blundered into the room, my hit points and spells were low, and I died. The second time, I availed myself of some mysterious magical dust that I found in the thieves' guild, and boy did it make the battle go easier! At the end, Princess Nacacia held a knife to his throat and demanded he release my bonds.

Moments later, King Azoun and his guard burst in. Nacacia stopped them from killing me, explaining that the compulsion wasn't my fault, but the King still banned me from Cormyr lands, including Tilverton. Nacacia, meanwhile, escaped again with Gharri.

That night, I had a bad dream in which the remaining four controllers of my bonds taunted me.

That didn't work out so well for the "Flamed One" last time.

And with that, it appears that the linear part of the game came to an end. In a departure from Pool of Radiance, I no longer have an overland map through which I can wander freely, but rather a map of the various cities of the region, to which I can choose to travel by wilderness, trail, or boat. Each method of travel between each two cities seems to carry the chance of some kind of special encounter. I'll cover this next time, though.

The world broadens extensively after the opening area.

Now I have to find and defeat my other four "masters," and since the game world has opened up, it appears that I'll be able to do them in any order. This is what I know about them:

  • The one with the moon that the sage in Tilverton thought belonged to Elminster of Shadowdale actually doesn't. A man in a bar in Shadowdale warned me that Elminster would be fairly irked if he found that someone was claiming to have been bonded by him. He suggested the real owner was a Red Wizard of Thay who has a tower to the south. There are rumors of a red wizard gathering dragons in the south, so this might be the same guy. A note in the Fire Knives' hideout indicated that he's "insane."
  • The hand with the mouth belongs to the cultists of the dead god Moander. They are operating out of Yulash.
  • The ornate Z belongs to the Zhentarim in Zhentil Keep. It appears they've been preparing troops for war.
  • The flaming symbol is Tyranthraxus's. I don't know where to find him.

Before I go, I want to mention that I have started reading the Azure Bonds book, and I can already see how different parts of the game allude to it. For instance, this entry in the thieves' guild "guest book" refers to one of the main characters of the book:

The book also gives a lot of context about the political and martial events of the area. I'd like to finish it before I keep playing. To be fair to the game, it's not strictly necessary to read the book; the adventurer's journal does an excellent job recounting the various personalities and factions in the region. But you do need the book to understand a lot of the little references.

I wonder if the book explains who this guy is.

I'm going to wander the roads a bit, then probably hit Zhentil Keep first. I have a particular dislike for them after the events of Pool of Radiance, and there was some tavern tale that they have had "trouble from an ex-councilman from Phlan."


  1. Oh, and to avoid a lot of sputtering, incredulous comments: I was just joking above. I didn't really waste the Dust of Disappearance on the Fire Knives battle.

    1. I did think at first "Aww, now way, really?" Then I figured you're much smarter than that, and if you don't remember where you ought to use it, you likely will in time.

    2. I think when you said that in your post above several hundred people choked simultaneously as they read it.

    3. I was thinking "this will provoke some serious nerdrage". Thankfully it was just a joke.

  2. one of my favs. my maps are online :) written in ascii in '89

    the improvements over PoR make this much more fun (no more forgetting spells to heal everyone).

  3. It's weird how the beginning remind me the infamous Irenicus Dungeon from Baldur's Gate II.

    Thieves fighting, hideout beneath city, mysterious Big bad getting into people mind, sewer, even an otyugh (not your typical monster on first fight).
    I guess some writer from BDII liked this game / book.

    1. I had never realised how similar the two opening sections were of each game until you mentioned it. That's weird.

    2. You know, I never thought of the connection until now. It does have a very similar feel.

  4. Did you perchance miss Hillsfar? It's not very RPG-ish, but it has a few features, including the possibility of importing a character from PoR which can then be exported to CotAB

    1. As much as I love the gold box games, hillsfar didn't do it for me. I don't remember the story being that strong and the action sequences put me off. I prefered the silver blades even. I vaguely remember being able to import PoR and CoaTB characters into hillsfar, so they may have been about the same time and that it let you transfer both ways.

    2. I didn't miss it; it's coming up on my list. I realized when I was creating characters that there's an option to import them from Hillsfar, which of course means that Hillsfar came out first. But by then I didn't want to muck around with the order.

    3. I don't think you're missing much by coming back to Hillsfar later. It's not a fun game as far as I recall.

    4. Hillsfar is probably best viewed as a side story/solo character trainer. Heck, maybe just take one of your veterans you had to drop and replace from your Azure Bonds party- this is what they end up doing with all their new spare time. Or just roll up a new character in Hillsfar.

      I would suggest using a thief or thief multiclass first- there is a lock picking minigame that comes up pretty often and all other classes are stuck just brute forcing locks. Clerics will have a hard time with the archery game (each ranged weapon acts differently, and slings are both slow and arc). High dexterity is beneficial there too of course. Each mini-game takes some practice, and has harder difficulties the further you progress. But each has patterns you can learn to take advantage of with practice.

      There are differences depending on your main class to how things happen, but the main quest line hits the same major beats. Probably not necessary to run multiple characters unless you just want the slight bonuses.

      And as an FYI to cut down on future frustration- there are secret doors in some buildings- ROT'd for minor spoilers: Tb nf sne abegu nf lbh pna dhvpxyl, rfcrpvnyyl vs gurer vf n fznyy ebbz lbh pna svaq. Gura whfg gel jnyxvat vagb gur gbc jnyy naq lbh jvyy trg n zrffntr.

    5. Thanks. I'll come across this comment when I do a pre-game search.

  5. I'm not sure you should be reading the book at the same time as playing the game. You might want to save it for afterwards, as it might spoil some things.

    As an example, you will meet some people and you might not be sure whether to trust them or not. But, if you've read the book, you will already know their intentions.

  6. "[Otyughs] really pack a punch, hitting multiple times with every attack."
    Apparantly the monsters in the sewers get a +2 to their rolls and your guys a -2 to their rolls.

    So, Zhentil Keep first, eh?
    That's a bold move, indeed. Last time I played I decided to try Yulash first, but learnt the hard way to heed to hooded guy's advice to go south first.

    1. I didn't meet the "hooded guy" until I came out of Zhentil Keep, but...yeah. That was a tough one for my lower-level characters.

    2. Taking the sigils in order seems to be the easiest ramp up in difficulty.

    3. When I entered the sewers, there was some message about the cramped space making it difficult to fight. I wasn't sure how or if it translated to actual combat. That would make sense.

      Zenic, somehow that didn't occur to me. I figured the Zhents would be mostly fighters, whereas the other factions were priests and wizards with dragons and such. Little did I know...

  7. Small comment: You don't actually hold Ioun Stones - once you touch them, they start to orbit around your head, at the height of your temples.

    1. Really? That sounds like it would cause a lot of logistical problems--and look pretty stupid.

    2. If you want to find out where IOUN Stones come from, you should check out "Morreion" by Jack Vance.

    3. It seems the Internet agrees with you ;)

    4. How powerful are they? Could they serve as a weapon on a character who likes to head-butt? Could enemies just snatch them out of the air?

      I just hope my adventurer remembers to deactivate them when he goes in for a kiss.

    5. In Vance their properties are nebulous but their desirability is paramount - powerful wizards with nothing better to do (in Vance no one ever has anything better to do) will go to almost literally the end of the universe for them.

      In D&D it's possible to just grab an orbiting stone. I believe they try to dodge out of the way of obstacles so ramming with them doesn't seem like it would work very well.

    6. Ioun stones are silly, but I feel compelled to observer that they're the third dumbest thing in that picture at *worst*. The second being that guy's glasses, and the first being his choice of a beard that makes his chin look like a pair of.. ahem.

    7. @Chet: They do their best to not physically collide with pepole, but it terms of power level, would you be willing to put up with looking a little silly to be 5% smarter? 5% more persuasive?

  8. I see you found the "dust". Good work on dispatching the fire knives. I recommend taking out the red wizard next. Beware of dark elves and your females will be important.

    Also, for grinding, there are places along the way you can search and find caves for random battles and such.

    As always your blog rocks!

  9. "That left me with a superfluous fighter. I don't really need four melee characters, and a plain fighter is almost entirely useless in this game. He has no advantages that a paladin or ranger does not have"

    I know this comment is quite late but I just wanted to say that your were making a couple of incorrect assumptions there. The advantages held by paladins and rangers are fairly minor and in real usage you probably won't notice much of a difference. However the fighter does actually have some advantages which has always made them my preferred choice; firstly they require less experience to level which from memory means they will often be a level higher than an equivalent ranger/paladin. Secondly rangers gain their bonus attacks slower; in the end they will have the same number but again during Curse and Secrets there are going to plenty of times where the fighter has more HP, a better THACO and sometimes even more attacks. Finally keeping a plain fighter around always gives the option of dual-classing them in one of the later games.

    Personally I've never had much use for either paladins or rangers in any of the D&D games except for flavour/variation reasons.

    1. They fix this in 3rd edition, where Rangers become master archers/duel weapon wielders, and in Pathfinder Pallys are badass.

    2. Rangers are great for their bonuses against Giants. Also, when dual classed to Mage they can use armour and still cast spells, something a dual classed Fighter can't.
      In addition they eventually get level 2 mage spells, so a single class Ranger can be protected by a Mirror Image. So all in all I think they are better than Fighters. Fighters are only better in that relatively short time span when they have more attacks than the Ranger.

    3. I did end up noticing the higher THAC0 and greater number of attacks. Karnov, even dualed to a thief and capped at Level 9 as a fighter, was my most reliable fighter throughout the game until perhaps the very end.

  10. I guess this is as good a place as any to throw out a comment on your upcoming (at some point) playthrough of Baldur's Gate.

    I recommend human dual-class thief, then cleric. 7 levels of thief will allow your character regain his/her thieving skills before the game ends.

    Gnomes are the only other race that can be both clerics and thieves, by multiclassing, and gnomes can only begin with a maximum of 17 in WIS.

    1. Cleric PCs are tough for me. Perhaps the only D&D class that's lower on my list of choices is druid. But I may give it a shot when I get there, just to do something different. Thanks for the recommendation.

    2. Huh???
      A Thief/Cleric is one of the most useless combos, since there's very few weapons such a character can use for backstabbing.

    3. Backstabbing isn't really a big deal in BG, is it?

      The problem with the suggestion is that by the time your thief skills come back online you've probably picked up Coran, who is the best NPC in the game and covers your thieving needs.

  11. This is the smallest of small potatoes, but Ioun Stones, (Section 5 in your posting) aren't held in the hand, they actually orbit the owner's head, like little asteroids!

    1. Yeah, that was covered by Andreas Kaplan above. I still think it's so stupid that I choose to pretend it's not true.

    2. For what it's worth, it's from the works of Larry Niven; one of the authors on which D&D is based. It's probably better in the source material :)

    3. I have been looking at D&D art for a very long time. There aren't many images with ioun stones in them.

      ....they ALL look stupid. They are one of those things that sound kinda cool when written out in text, but don't work very well when you actually try and visualize them.

    4. What are you even doing? Instead of catching up on newer entries, you're re-reading old ones?

    5. Sometimes when I'm on break I look at the emails I've gotten with replies to posts.

    6. I would say that in this case the original context is important. The IOUN stones are the kind of very powerful and very silly magical artifacts that makes all the sense in Vance's Dying Earth setting.

      Those stones orbiting your head are a clear sign of how formidable an opponent you are towards the other mages.

      But yes, it is Discworld-level silliness.


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