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Let's Play: The Pools Saga (SSI Gold Box classics)

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Chapter 7: Maniac Mansions


North of New Phlan, across the Bay of Phlan, lies the wealthy district. What's left of it, anyway. But they're still waterfront property! We have two reasons to go there. One, another guild of thieves is operating out of Kovel Mansion, which is a walled estate of a powerful family of days past. The Council is paying for their removal. Two, we heard in the Baneite shrine at Podol Plaza that they converted another large mansion in this area into a Temple of Bane, and that is where High Priest Mace resides.


Kovel Mansion is in the north. It is a very large estate, with double (locked) doors at the single entrance. There are no guards posted in the entry hall. Entering a side room...


This is repeated in about half of the rooms until the mansion is cleared of the guild's presence. The other half of the rooms has a different surprise:



In one of the room, after an annoying amount of backstabs and traps, we find a pile of treasure.


...Or is it?



Cloaks and daggers are inadequate against us. (2nd edition backstabbing is much more limited than 3rd edition sneak attacks).


In one room, we find a number of caskets. All trapped and locked. Is this a test course for our thief? He gets an A+, and they elect him as the new leader?



Around the mansion, we find maps of a large castle. There is only one castle around here, Valjevo Castle, which is a kind of headquarters for the monster army. These maps will be handy later.


We stumble upon a torture scene.




We save the old thief, and he gives us a piece of paper with neatly organized information on it, with lines like:



Strong Rumor: The Boss is a dragon or is a human who can take the form of a dragon.

Fact: Maze inside castle walls. Passwords needed to get past castle gates.


And many more, each item lists the credibility as well. Actually, this information is more valuable than a lot of loot we found. These thieves wanted to rob the castle, and they were doing a great job of collecting intel. We almost -- almost! -- want to thank them for the efforts.


Entering a storage room, we find our biggest haul so far. TAPESTRIES!!!!!


Barack: -- I'm going to hang that one in my room! Oh, those pea****s are so beatifully woven!

Szilva: -- Are how will you carry it home? In case you hadn't noticed, we're being assaulted constantly by these scoundrels. Can you fight with a rolled-up tapestry swung over your shoulder?

Barack: -- I was thinking that maybe... One the strong men in our group would carry it for me.

Szilva: -- That doesn't change the problem, only shifts it to someone else. Besides, you're no less strong than me, and stronger than Eper or Narancs. Remember the arm wrestling we did on our first day in Phlan?

Barack: -- I... must... have... that... tapestry. I know! I'll be using it as a weapon to knock them off their feet, by swinging around!

Everyone: -- *silence*




This is the final battle, no more hit-and-runs, a large group of the guild, led by 6th level thieves. They're human, susceptible to Sleep and Stinking Cloud, say no more.


After the battle, we find even more organized information. We learn a lot about the lords of New Phlan, but no real dirt. It seems that Councilman Cadorna indeed has a secret agenda, but it's not clear what it is.


Szilva: -- Told you so.

Alma: -- Rumor is rumor, fact is fact.


We venture south, into the middle of the once-wealthy district. We find the odd piece of jewelry here and there, and destory a group of ogres and other inhumans lording over the area.


Those black hands reminds us that's we're near the Temple of Bane. We encounter a patrol of Baneite orcs, and take their symbols. Might be useful to pass as believers.




Is this the good touch or the bad touch?


(in whispered voices)

Barack: -- I'm not letting an orc feel me up! Why are we not killing them already?

Citrom: -- Ssh, sister, you haven't tried any kinky stuff yet? We have an Orcs and Medusas party every Thursday night. Want an invite?


We enter the temple, our symbols make the old blind orc think we're believers. Luckily, there was no quiz.



Um, loot? Why is there no loot here? It took so much effort to get here! That makes us... angry. Altar is destroyed.


High Priest Mace himself appears, along with a host of orc. Lots of archers.


Mace carried a Mace +3, which is now in Szilva's hands. After the battle, we search around the temple, and find the missing loot, mostly scrolls and +1 weapons, some potions, and a wand of paralyzation. We caught the scent of this loot back at Podol Plaza, and our perseverance paid off. To boldly go where no adventurer ever looted before!



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Awesome job so far.

Otoh, both Alias the Sellsword and Vala the Amazonian had a profound impact on preteen Nep, which probably goes to explain my particular liking for those games :D
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Chapter 8: It's Raining Kobolds &
Interview With the Vampire-Killer

The mages finally hit level 5. We already have 2 copies of Fireball on scrolls, and one Blink. I chose Haste for both of them, but it was wasteful. There is Haste on scrolls later, for one. But the real bummer is that Haste ages the recipient by 1 year in ADnD. IE games replaced aging with fatigue (that's a non-permanent effect), but the GB engine has it. And as your characters age, first age modifiers kick in, then your characters die of old age. Since there are a lot of battles ahead us in the saga, Haste will be actually a very limited-use spell.
Now that we have Fireball, the game has changed again.  Our game, that is. In the eternal words of Deekin Scalesinger, kobold bard extraordinaire:
Fireball, fireball.
Nice and warm.
Then it burns
And kills you all.
5th level also gives access to Invisibility 10' Radius, Lightning Bolt, Protection From Evil 10' Radius, Slow, all good stuff. Lightning Bolt deserves special mention: they 'rebound' on walls, and travel backwards until their 'length' runs out. Against some strong mobs and bosses this comes in really handy, to hit them twice with the same LB. Also, a good damage spell against fire-resistant mobs like salamanders. Slow is great because it's AoE, foe-only, and no mobs are resistant against it (except for general spell resistance). We don't have all of this yet, but our goal is to have at least one mage have each of these in their spellbooks. There is no magic shop in the game, we can only learn what we find on scrolls and select on level-ups.
Our latest missions from the Council are to deny allies to the Boss. One is a tribe of nomads on the plains, the other a tribe of kobolds inhabiting a cavern system. We leave the city to the east this time, going across the Stojanow River, and then head north, towards the mountains.


To our surprise, the nomads are not hostile. The chieftain greets us.

Barack: -- I only eat healthy foods, a special paleo-vegan-glutenfree diet. Do you have shade-grown spinach?
Alma: -- Don't mind her. We're honored to be your guests.

Narancs: -- Am I supposed to be amused by half-naked primitives hitting each other?
Citrom: -- Mmmm, I like what I see. It doesn't matter what they do, as long as it showcases their shapely, muscular, sweaty body...

Szilva: -- I will not partake in filthy debaucheries. Instead, I will use my rhetorical skill to guide these heathens towards an enlightened lifestyle. I'm sure that I'll find at least some who will listen to my words of wisdom.
Eper: --  *slaps Szilva* SHUT UP! DRINK!
Szilva: -- That is... that is...
Szilva: -- *casts Hold Person, Eper is frozen in motion, falls over* Enjoy the party...

We learn that the kobold tribe's lair is to the east. We also learn that there is a pyramid to the west, on an island in the Stojanow river. A pyramid? Like, a dead pharaoh's monument, on an island? We file it away as drunken rambling, but still note down the directions. And apparently, there is a dragon lair to the northwest, up in the Dragonspine Mountains.
Narancs: -- What kind of dragon? Metallic or colored?
Chieftain: -- I've only seen it flying overhead. It was white, I think, but it was snowing heavily, and kind of hard to tell. Might have been silvery.
Eper: -- What does it matter? Loot is loot, and dragon hoards always have the best loot.
Narancs: -- Your ignorance is only heightened by drinks. Metallic dragons are honorable and only attack when provoked, while colored dragons are violent, cruel and insidious, not to be trusted even if they don't attack on sight.
Eper: -- So? The only difference I see is that Alma will feel bad about looting a metallic one's hoard.
Alma: -- Dragons eat bragging drunkards like you for breakfast, as an appetizer.
Alma: -- *bashes Eper in the back of his head, who collapses on the table* That's enough for today.
Another surprise comes when the chieftain asks us a favor.

It's kind of flattering that they threw a feast to buy our help...
Szilva: -- Our mission was to ensure that the nomad's don't join forces with the Boss. That's already taken care of.
Alma: -- Nomads change their minds easily. But if we help in a big way, their loremasters will remember it, and a bond with the city-folk will be formed, turning them into long-term allies. That's worth some effort -- and since that effort is kicking kobold asses, which we have already mastered...
The next day we fight three groups of kobolds, back to back, each of them number around 40-50. One of the most grating part of the game, since the kobolds are all equipped with shortbows, and I have to watch the slow pew-pew animation and hear the 'pew-pew' sound effect constantly. They're spread out in a 2-3 deep line, so we can only fireball about 1/3 of a wave at once. We have (unneeded) nomad allies on our side, also equipped with bows, which makes the battle an even bigger pain in the ass.


As the last wave of kobolds approaches, the chieftain apparently loses his mind

Flee? As in, run away? From kobolds? Dude, how did you become chieftain of this tribe?
After the battle, we go straight east.


Bigger is better, we suspect the larger entrance leads to a monster's lair. We are right!

A single wyvern is no challenge at this point. A six-pack, maybe.

As we enter the kobold cave from the wyvern's lair, we walk into an ambush, where they hit us with nets. These nets are bugged, the movement reduction (to 2 tiles!) remains until I remove the characters from the party in the Training Hall, and then re-add them. Extremely annoying, thankfully, this is the only place in the game with this mechanic.
We find a prison, but unlike other prisons, the prisoner here already freed herself.

Princess Fatima: -- Are you here to kill the kobold king? That was my mission, too, but I got captured. Sneaky bastards, with their pits, nets, and poisoned darts.
Alma: -- They have a king? We're on a mission from Phlan. We might negotiate a deal with this king.
Princes Fatima: -- Fat chance, there are envoys here from Valjevo Castle. They've already bought him.
Eper: -- More enemies, more loot. Let's go and kill them all.
Princess Fatima: -- Wait, will you allow me to join you? I'm quite capable, as you can see.
Alma: -- You're welcome to join. You can help me keep these morons in check.
We burst into the "throne room". The envoys recognize us, which is kind of cool:

This is the first multi-part battle in the Pools saga. The designer who thought of having multi-part battles was later asked to do an optional extra tough challenge in Pools of Darkness, as I learned over at the TSI forums. That challenge, Dave's Challenge... there are no words for it. But I'm skipping ahead.
This one is not difficult, if you conserve a few spells for the last part. 4 trolls plus kobolds in the first part. Then some unavoidable damage:

Narancs: -- I want to learn the Summon Ballista spell, too!
6 wild boars plus kobolds in the second part, and in the final battle:

The envoys are 8th level fighters with plate mail +1, two-handed sword +2, wand of magic missile. But there only two of them, and we have sooo many Hold Persons (there was no reason to use them in the previous parts). And we still have a Fireball and a Stinking Cloud left for the rest. This multi-part battle could've been challenging, it was almost there.
The cowardly king escapes from the battle, but as we chase him into his personal quarters...

Barack: -- Hahaha! Poetic justice, nyanyanya! *almost falls into the pit as she waves her arms*
Eper: -- Robbed me of the deed. Bastard.
Citrom: -- Maybe this was his secret pleasure pit, only forgot the safety protocols?
We find the a big pile of treasure, the result of years of pillaging.

Eper: -- WHAT IS THIS?!?
Alma: -- The treasure of the kobold king.
Eper: -- Oh, I don't know which one to get excited about! Look at these bone chains! And these rotting rugs, so valuable! And this plain silver brooch, almost worth an entire platinum piece!
Narancs: -- *silently tucks away the scrolls he found*

Edited by Endrosz, 09 December 2014 - 01:20 PM.

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As we look around, mostly at the insistence of Eper, who can't believe this is the entirety of the loot, we do find something else. An ornate brass bottle, stuck into a hole in the wall.

Szilva: -- We shouldn't...
Eper: -- We should! *opens the bottle*


Alma: -- No, we're not vampires.
Samir Ahwahl: -- You don't mind me testing this with the usual methods?
Barack: -- I... I faint when I smell garlic, it's such a terrible smell...
Szilva: -- There is a silver mirror over there, feel free to test our mirror images.
Samir Ahwahl: -- I can sense you're telling the truth. Then I must return to my resting place. Only call me if there's a vampire present, otherwise, I might get angry. You really shouldn't make me angry.

There is nothing left to do loot here. We decide that the rumor about the dragon lair is worth checking out. The pyramid is surely nonsense.

As we travel towards the Dragonspine Mountains, we are attacked by tiny creatures.


This is honestly the first quickling encounter of my life. I've never seen these mobs before! I checked the Journal, and they're listed there. Random encounter only, because no scripted battle in the game has them. The quicklings are worth a lot of XP because they carry gems as loot... LOL.

Eper: -- I changed my mind. We should look for the lair of these talking flies instead of the dragon's. Good loot, lot less trouble.
Barack: -- But they're soooo cuuuuuuuuuute. How could you all hurt them!
Alma: -- Because they were killing us? They were really hard to hit, fluttering around so fast. And packed a decent punch, too, I didn't expect those little swords to hurt so badly!
Citrom: -- Ma-ma-magic missile, I love you so much.

We reach the lower range of the mountains.


We expected a long search, but just following the river upwards...


Narancs: -- It's definitely a silver dragon. We should approach with cautious optimism.

Eper: -- Silver or proudly pink, I don't care, I'm here for the shinies.

Citrom: -- Unless it used an illusion to disguise itself as a silver dragon. I would do that if I were a smart evil dragon...

Narancs: -- Ha-ha, very funny.

Citrom: -- You think I'm kidding? Your thinking is all textbook. One day, you're going to die whispering "but this is not supposed to happen" with your last breath...

Alma: -- Am I the only one worried about entering? Hello, we're not little kids, our parents telling us a nice fairy-tale about how the poor farmer's boy defeated the mighty dragon! This is for real!


After a hot debate, the lure of adventure wins out.


We're greeted by a magic mouth, which bellows out a greeting by Diogenes. It's friendly this far. We are asked to stare our intent.


Eper: -- We should ask for a bit of monetary help. We're killing hordes of monsters left and right, which is surely appreciated by an honorable silver dragon, and there are certain expenses, et cetera.

Alma: -- We'll ask for advice. Whomever this Boss is, who runs the show from Valjevo Castle, he must be powerful. Dragons know everything that's happening around the lair.


Been there, done that. Here's the bottle, o wise Diogenes. It's a brass bottle, by the way, although we understand why you remember it as silver. Silver is really cool, obviously, no doubt.


We already know the business of that efreet, but the info about the graveyard is welcome. We'll be packing a Deluxe Vampire Killer Kit (complete with stakes, garlic, holy water) when we go there.

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Another weird detail that I thought I remembered from this game:  Didn't those kobold caves include a to-hit penalty on certain weapons due to the low ceilings? 



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 The game wasn't anywhere near as interesting as back when it first came out

BS.  Played it recently and it was awesome.




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The game wasn't anywhere near as interesting as back when it first came out

BS.  Played it recently and it was awesome.


Well good for you then. Have a cookie.

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Chapter 9: Wizard's Lizards

We have three missions from the Council.


1. Find the source of the river pollution and deal with it.

2. Another ally mission, this time it's lizardmen camping out in the ruins of an old castle to the northeast.

3. A little boy, the heir to the House of Bivant was captured by buccaneers while traveling by boat on the Moonsea. Intel says their hidden camp is to the west, along the coast.


I haven't mentioned this so far, but the Stojanow River, which runs east of the city to the Moonsea, is heavily polluted. On the earliest game messages you read after you start playing is about "the barren river" that flows around New Phlan.


Since we've been around a lot of places, we've heard a lot of rumors concerning the river pollution and whomever causes it. We've heard about a pyramid on an island in the middle of the river, but we've dismissed it as ludicrous. We keep hearing rumors about it, though, and the sorcerer than runs the place... They say he's paying for certain creatures which he uses is experiments.


A thorough search along the riverbank it is, then, starting from the north reaches of Phlan.

We discover ruined lizardman huts, still inhabited, though. And inside... kobolds?


We release them, four kobolds won't be doing much harm to anyone.  They warn us to watch out for "changed" lizard men, who are bred for killing. Ha-ha, these wimpy kobolds always tell good stories to cover up their cowardice. Then, in the next hut...



I haven't shown the random encounters on the world map, but there's a good variety of low-mid-level mobs out there, along with repeats of familiar faces like ogres and gnolls. Phase spiders and displacer beasts are the most difficult, I reckon, those do require to expend some spells.


As we stroll along the riverbank, we find this unbelievable sight.



Narancs: -- I told you that the pyramid rumor has more than a 22,5% probability of being true.

Citrom: -- You also told us that Mendor's Library is most likely empty. Plus-minus a petrifying basilisk and a life-draining specter, you were so right!


We also see that indeed, this pyramid is the source of river pollution, a black oily substance is released from pipes protruding from it. The burning question is: how do we get in? Swimming in the polluted river doesn't look like a good idea, not to mention the heavy armor half of the party wears. We don't have a fly spell, a flying mount, a walk-on-water spell, a flying carpet, neither of those.


As we circle around this 'swelling' of the river where the island is, we find a rowboat hidden in the reed. How convenient. A few minutes of rowing later:


Inside, there are no guards, no wizardly protections, no traps, just a long corridor. About halfways into the corridor, two small alcoves sit to the right. The alcoves have a number of rocks scattered around the entrance, with no apparent purpose. We enter the first.




Barack: -- This is the first time I've been teleported away! What a wonderful experience, it's better than pony riding!

Alma: -- Where are we? Are we trapped somewhere?

Narancs: -- I could use Wizard Eye to scout ahead... If I had known that spell, that is.

Eper: -- *sniffs the air, knocks on the walls, looks on the floor* We are on a higher level. The draft is different, more vigorous. The footprints tell me this passage is used regularly. I don't think we're trapped.

Alma: -- But I still don't see a way back. How are we going to leave?

Citrom: -- The same way the residents leave.


The next stop is a T-intersection. Past that, Eper finds a secret door. There are a of bunch lizardmen inside, who think we came to kill them. Szilva tries to comfort them, but fails. 'Foul servants of Yarash!" is all we get, and then they attack. We feel a bit sad, it seems they were enslaved here, could've been a good source of information. Dear Yarash, we don't know how you are, but rest assured, a marinated asskicking with pearl rice and pickled plum side dishes is coming up for you!

Yet another secret door leads to a laboratory.



Oh come on, every wild rumor we heard about this guy is true? The pyramid on the island is already unreal, and now it turns out he did mutate the lizardmen? Next stop, world domination plans, to be foiled in the last minute by unlikely heroes!

A third secret door on the back wall of the lab opens on another long corridor, this one twisting. At the end of the corridor, another unexpected teleport happens, and... We're back in the lizard slave room. This place is confusing.


At the T-intersection, we go the other way. Another secret door -- we think Yarash ordered these in bulk, at discount prices -- reveals a place of terror.


No living prisoner, no hidden treasure, just green lizardman bloodstains everywhere.


At the end of this other corridor, we find a place that looks like the first teleporter: rocks scattered about in an alcove.


Narancs: -- We need to study this teleporter in detail. It could take some time.

Szilva: -- I'll tell you the end result of your study: We either throw a rock or two into the teleporter, or we don't. I'm a genius!

Eper: -- Can't stop... the rock. *throws rock*

Everyone: -- HEY!

Eper: -- It wasn't my fault, the rock made me do it!


Another twisting corridor, another teleporter. We don't throw a rock this time, and we're back to a place we've been before. Corridor, teleporter, rock, corridor, teleporter, corridor, for longer than we care to remember... And finally!


Oh yes, another code wheel task! The password is 'noknok'. Ha-ha. Humor level: dwarf. The password is correct, and we finally see something other than corridors, rocks and lizardmen.



This picture is animated, the liquid flows,  it looks great for its age. There were a few animated pictures before, but this one stands out.


Alma: -- At last, we found the source of the river pollution. I'm itching to leave this place. I was never good at riddles, and it's like it was created by a devious riddler.

Narancs: -- This isn't the source, to be precise. This is just the machinery that pumps it out of the pyramid.

Alma: -- Will someone punch him for me? I don't want to hurt a scrawny wizard too much.


We start destroying the machinery, and our final reward is an explosion which hurts everyone. We're going to charge the Council extra for all this **** we needed to endure. Curiously, no one responds to the sounds of destruction. Maybe we can get this one solved without combat?


The true source is not far from here, in a room to the south. In the pumping room, another group of enslaved lizarmen are at work. They are chained, and gladly accept our help.



Bonus reward: We've found the means to turn the lizardmen in the ruined castle into allies! They're not worth a lot of XP, so we might as well help them.


We learn that Yarash has a half-dozen successfully mutated lizardman bodyguards. No problem for the usual fireworks.


Aha, did you hear that? "Subdue them!", he said. Not "Kill them!", as usual. What we have here, ladies and gentlemen, is a Genuine World-Dominating Moustache-Twirling Evil Mastermind Villain. He's got class. The battle screen looks the same, though.



This wizened old fellow wields a Wand of Lightning, so he has a means to dish our Real Damage™ even after being hit during a turn. And after the battle, so do our mages. His magical AC 4 bracers is now the property of Eper, and with that, every character has no worse than 0 AC (that's 20 AC, for post 3ed youngsters). Looking good.


On his desk, we find a mess of papers, including letters. One is a conversation with the Boss, he rejected the Boss, like Norris. And died like Norris. Another interesting letter is about sahuagin, Yarash set a substantial reward for live ones.


Szilva: -- This Yarash was really into lizardmen. What a pervert.

Citrom: -- Everyone has her secret fantasies. I mean, who doesn't dream now and then about being seduced by strangely handsome, well-built aquatic men with forked, sensitive tongues?


The room offers more riddles. Next to another teleporter, we find this device.


Barack: -- Blue is perfect. We set out to the wild blue beyond! I love teleporters!

Eper: -- Gold. The only bet worth making.

Citrom: -- I liked that silver dragon's scales, so magnificent, royal.

Szilva: -- I'm partial to copper. My holy symbol of Lathander is made out of copper, to remind us of the warmth the Morninglord gives us.

Citrom: -- He hugs you regularly or something?


...10 minutes later...


As it turns out, the three "metallic" settings each took us to a treasure room. Magic scrolls, a long sword +2 plus a ring of fire resistance are the noteworthy loot.


The blue setting, which we tried last, dropped us back in the long entrance corridor, right at the first alcoves we saw.


Barack: -- We should try the other one...

Alma: -- No, we're going back. Our mission is complete.

Barack: -- Oh pleeeeease! This is the best fun I've had since I came to Phlan! I wish I could take a teleporter home! I always just follow your orders Alma, you're so self-absorbed, you never listen to me!

Eper: -- I never thought I'd agree even once with happyfuntimegirl here, but we haven't mapped out this entire place. More treasure awaits, and we're not in a hurry...

Alma: -- All right, all right, I feel we're safe enough with Yarash removed to look around.


...1 hour later...


The second alcove drops us into a maze on the lower level, with no teleporters leading out. Only monsters and clean skeletons of other 'visitors' of the place...


.. 2 hours later...


Eper finally finds the secret door which leads to a teleporter which deposits us yet again in the entrance corridor. No treasure at all, just wounds and bruises.


Alma: -- Szilva, remind me the next time I'm softening to Barack's whining: don't.

Barack: -- It wasn't my fault! And it was good fun, anyway!


When we leave the pyramid, an animated sequence plays out, showing how the pollution starts to clean up from the river. It changes the river tiles permanently. It's pretty cool, being able to change the world map!

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Our other mission leads to the northeast, past the kobold caves.



As we enter the keep, our spellcasters detect an anti-magic aura enveloping them, suppressing their ability. This was the seat of someone powerful a long, long time ago. Luckily, already enchanted items, our magical gear, still works.


The walls of the castle are no more. Rubble is everywhere, along with overgrowth. And old, but still mighty lizard approaches us as we walk near the center of the keep.


We tell him the word we learned in the pumping room of the pyramid from the lizardman slaves. The alliance talks proceed smoothly thereafter, until a younger lizardman shows up, and challenges the old one for leadership of the tribe. He's not friendly towards us, so we're inclined to help the other one. This doesn't involve the wholesale slaughter of dozens of lizardmen, to our surprise, only a single combat with the challenger.


Narancs: -- Considering your expertise as a warrior, your magical plate armor, shield, weapons, and the Gauntlets of Ogre Power we acquired from Cadorna's box... No need to worry.





After the combat, the alliance is sealed. We are told that there is a lower level of the keep, mostly flooded, but we can find some items in the pools. If we fight off the creatures who make their home there.



It takes a lot of time search all the pools, this place is full of dangerous holes and such. And all the while the inhabitants hurt us, and we can't use magical healing because of the anti-magic shell.



Barack:  -- For a fistful of gems, this wasn't worth it.
Eper: -- For a few gems more, I'd sell my mother.

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Chapter 10: We Are Terrible Guests

The mission to rescue House Bivant's heir is pending. And a new one is required of us, taking us even further west.
Cadorna calls for us again, this time he wants us to deliver an important diplomatic message to Zhentil Keep.

Ummm.... THE Zhentil Keep? Headquarters of the power-hungry and oftentimes evil-acting organization, the Zhentarim? We have a bad feeling about this one. On the surface, this looks like a solid attempt to gain favors with Zhentil Keep. Phlan is still very much in the process of recovery, the neutrality of Zhentarim would be a great reassurance to the Lords of the City to deal with the enemies at hand. But we wouldn't trust a Zhentarim agent with a ball of pocket filth...
After we leave the City Hall, an argument breaks out.
Narancs: -- That letter. It bugs me.
Eper: -- You do recall that we have friends who can deal with a seal? I don't want to walk into hostile territory without knowing what's inside that letter.
Alma: -- We would have to pay them this time. A lot.
Eper: -- You make a good point. Still, it's our single lives we're putting at stake, while Cadorna just sits on his fat ass here.
Alma: -- I'm calling a vote on this one.
It is decided that we re-visit our 'friends' in the Textile House area. But all we find is a few corpses... Szilva determines that undead assaulted the hideout from within the tunnels. There were no survivors, and the amount of corpses indicate that a number of them entered the ranks of the undead. There goes the safety plan.
We're heading to Zhentil Keep first, because after springing the boy from the slavers' camp, we have to take him home immediately.
On the road, we encounter a pack from the Moo-moo Farm.

The road has few random encounters, it's more peaceful here than in the east.


The commander himself greets us.


The guard who gives us the tour sure likes to brag: the walls  survived a dragon attack, the ballistas in the large guard towers, six hundred soldiers are stationed here. You idiot, that's classified information. We could have you court martialed for telling us. But we're chill folks, don't worry, we only kill for loot, not stupidity, and your equipment is crap compared to ours. After the tour, we're escorted to our quarters.
Szilva: -- In the evening, we'll have to converse with the commander. We have to be careful not to reveal anything important about Phlan, like that foolish tour guide did about this fortress. Let me carry the conversation, engaging in innocent small talk. Talking elegantly is my forte.
Eper: -- Talking people out of their money to 'support your church', you mean? It's hard to admit, but you're better at it than me.
Alma: -- Enough of that. What Szilva suggests is truly important, and I expect every one of you comply.
Eper: -- Bah, if you want the commander distracted during the evening, just sic our secret weapon on him.
Alma: -- Secret weapon?
Eper: -- *imitates Barack, talking fast and in falsetto* ... during the morning, I always check on the lilies first, because they're so amazing, but then the roses are also magical with the morning dew's little drops sitting on their petals, and while I'm smelling the roses, literally, I'm smelling the roses, haha, that's so funny, right, so then Pixie, my cat walks up to me and rubs his body on my leg, and that is so wonderful, it makes my day start fully energized...
Barack: -- You're so mean! So what if I like to chat, all girls like to chat, it's not a sin!
Eper: -- See? Secret weapon, honed to perfection.

At the dinner, delicious meat and red wine is served. Table talk is initiated.


Talking about magic, the commander surprises us by telling the origin story of the Pool of Radiance. Which is rumored to give the Boss the power he wields. A barbarian champion and an evil fire spirit inhabiting the pool have merged together to create a new nemesis, after neither could defeat the other one. Interesting lore.

Managing to steer the conversation towards politics (he's a good one, swept aside Barack's inane chatter), he tells us that Lord Eberhard is involved in corruption. You muckraker, we have solid information gathered in the Kovel Mansion that Eberhard is anything but corrupt: he's one of the veteran commanders who fought hard to retake that small part of the city what is now called New Phlan. He would never act against the city he paid for in blood, sweat and gold. Nice try, though.
After the feast, we're escorted to our quarters again, and the game gives me two choices:
-- Sleep the night.
-- Keep a watch.
Which is the equivalent of asking: Are you stupid?
-- Yes
-- No.

After midnight, a number of solders sneak into the room. No, we weren't stupid, therefore a battle ensues.
And as we start to walk towards the exit, another, then another, then... A total of 6 battles. The seventh one is different:

He's got another Gauntlets of Ogre Power on him! It was worth all the trouble, this trip, in retrospect. Now both of our fighters have ogre-power. In this battle, we used exactly half of our Fireball-Stinking Cloud reserves. The previous battles had low-level soldiers, this one had level 2 corporals and level 3 aides with bows, about 40 of them.


The final battle is similar, 40-some soldiers, but there is a mage here and a strong fighter. Eper wins initative, and uses a wand of magic missile on the mage. Good start. Then comes Barack... Whomever designed this battle, he did it with closed eyes. Putting the mage on the front line? A strong hit from Barack boosted by the freshly looted Gauntlet (the irony!), and the mage goes down. Next up some enemes, only the corporals, no worries. Then Citrom finishes a Fireball, clears out  about 10 enemies and damages another 10. Szilva casts a Hold Person on the Commander, single-target only, to apply a -2 penalty to the saving throw. The commander saves anyway, enjoy your luck while it lasts.
The commander comes next, instead of swinging a weapon, he blasts Alma and Eper with a Wand of Lightning. Eper has taken a lot of damage in previous battles, all those crossbow bolts chipped away at his meager health, so he collapses (but doesn't die). Alma feels the pain, too. Narancs begins his own Fireball. The remaining aides fire their bows, doing some damage, but thankfully not hitting Narancs. This fireball has a higher damage roll, enough to kill corporals with even a successful save, it clears out about 15 foes. Only about a dozen foes standing after one turn, I had good initiative rolls. Those level 3 archers in such large numbers, they can easily prevent spellcasting if they win init (and we don't have Protection from Normal Missiles yet, no scrolls had it; should've learned that instead of Haste). The next turn the commander fails the save on the fresh Stinking Cloud, and the resistance is broken. Zhentil Keep, you're all our bitches. But we're generous, we'll just leave you alone.
Szilva: -- And now we have proof that Cadorna is a traitor, like I told you before. I've found the letter we brought in the commander's office. That wasn't a diplomatic message, he sent us here to die by the Zhentarim's hand. He's working for the Boss, and getting rid of us was his proof of loyalty.
Alma: -- What? This can't be true! He's a Councilman! I could believe that all kinds of wrongs about him, these politicians are no saints, I know, but betraying the city to monsters? What does he hope to gain?
Szilva: -- I don't know, but we should be really careful from now on until this is resolved. He might have other plans to get us killed.
Citrom: -- A pity, he always threw great parties...

The party's morale is boosted by this victory. Surely, dealing with the buccaneers will be a piece a of cake.


We are escorted to the merchant's area, where we can rest as long as we want. We walk around the slave pen in the middle, and it doesn't take long...

He notices that we're eyeing the boy, and says that he'll sell for a nice price. Alma, in a sudden outburst of anger, punches the merchant, a short fight breaks out. A large, well-armed man comes along, comments that the fighting was amusing , but we shouldn't cause any more trouble. The merchant begs for our apology, we're amused, too.

Eper: -- This one's easy. Kill guards, enter pen, grab boy, run outside, escape on the horses. We'll be out of here before they know what hit them.
Alma: -- If we cause a large riot, the slaves will try to break free, and the boy could get crushed underfoot. No, we need a more subtle plan.
Narancs: -- Umm, my plan is not very subtle, but it'll draw the guards away from the slave pen for a while. There is an animal pen here with a large number of pack animals. We could cause a stampede, use that interlude to grab the boy with no one paying attention.
Alma: -- I don't like that either. Still too much risk for the boy. We should get to know this camp very well before we try anything. Walk around, chat, try to act like slave merchants.

Behind one of the buildings...


That pass might be the ticket we need to find a better plan. We buy it, and enter the captain's house, showing the pass to the guards outside.

Alma: -- Excuse us, captain. We need to discuss this among ourselves.
Captain: -- Take your time. That boy's not going anywhere soon. *leaves to his room*
(in hushed voices)
Eper: -- Alma, you're a terrible bargainer. You're too honest, your eyes tell too much. He knows that we want the boy, he knows that he's highborn. The price he set is insane! 40000 gold? You can buy an estate with that! I'm not even sure our gem pouch's content is enough! And we have no guarantee that House Bivant will pay us back... If they really-really wanted their heir back, they would've sent house retainers, not mercenaries like us.
Alma: -- Well, there is the other way... I have no objections to killing a slaver. We could grab his key to the slave pen and free the boy without a lot of hassle or paying a single copper.
Szilva: -- You are suggesting murdering someone who invited us to be his guests?I hope this is not the start of a trend, I hope you're not changing into someone else, Alma. I supported you as leader of our group because you're not a greedy, bloodthirsty savage, like most adventurers. I'm watching you.
Alma: -- ...
The captain is a seasoned veteran, who is able to engage us evenly, and call on his cadre of guards. The strange thing, though, that this is all happening inside his big house, and no one comes in from the outside. The captain is very high level (12+), has 110 hit points, and an AC of -6. Hold Persons and Stinking Clouds mow down the fighter pack. OP **** is OP. On his body we find his exceptional gear, plate mail +3, long sword +4, shield +2, 3 potions of extra healing, a ring of protection, wand of magic missile. That armor is the best in the game, BTW.


We quickly leave the camp, no one chases us.
Back in New Phlan, we carefully approach the City Hall, expecting trouble, and then report our findings. It turns out he fled the city when he heard that we didn't die in Zhentil Keep. This proclamation is music to our ears:


Edited by Endrosz, 12 December 2014 - 02:00 PM.



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Another weird detail that I thought I remembered from this game:  Didn't those kobold caves include a to-hit penalty on certain weapons due to the low ceilings?

Possibly, I don't know. I did notice that I missed more often than I should on the sweeps (kobolds are 1/2 HD, you can multi-kill them like minions in 4ed).
In other news, Wizards of the Coast started to release a stream of content for DnD 5ed, tied into a larger narrative called "Tyranny of Dragons". In this stream there is a new Pool of Radiance-based set of adventures! All of the iconic places around Phlan are featured, from Sokol Keep to the Sorcerer's Pyramid! (A few names have changed a bit, like Mendor's Library is now Mantor's Library). These are meant to be played as demo games at hobby shops, not sold as products.
DDEX1-1 Defiance in Phlan by Shawn Merwin – levels 1-4. Five one-hour adventures. Release date 18th August 2014.

The Cult of the Dragon has come to Phlan, a lawless refuge on the Moonsea. Now, with no significant authority to stop the cult, other power groups in the Realms – the Harpers, Order of the Gauntlet, Emerald Enclave, Lords’ Alliance, and even the Zhentarim – must unite to stop the cult from fulfilling its dark purpose in the city. Join the fight by participating in any one of five different missions aimed at stopping the cult.

DDEX1-2 Secrets of Sokol Keep by Pieter Sleijpen – levels 1-4. Release date 18th August 2014.

Decades have passed since Sokol Keep was reclaimed, and a small garrison placed there along with a beacon to help guide ships. Now, that beacon has gone dark, and the garrison has disappeared. In Phlan, rumors circulate that something ancient was discovered in the grounds beneath the keep, dating to before the clerics of Tyr built the small fortress. Uncover the secrets of Sokol Keep!

DDEX1-3 Shadow on the Moonsea by Greg Marks – levels 1-4. Release date 18th August 2014.

Life on the Moonsea isn’t easy. Bandits, pirates, and cruel lords dominate the land, threatening those who make an honest living there. Now, a new scourge is prowling the waters: A ghost ship has been striking small coastal villages, leaving its victims whispering about the “eye of the dracolich.” Join the adventure and learn the truth behind this threat!

DDEX1-4 Dues for the Dead by Steve Winter – levels 1-4. Release date 22nd September 2014.

For years, the Most Solemn Order of the Silent Shroud has tended the dead at Valinghen graveyard, providing them a peaceful eternal rest. Now, that rest has been disturbed by a necromancer seeking out a key to re-activate the Pool of Radiance. A four-hour adventure for levels 1-4.

DDEX1-5 The Courting of Fire by Jobe Bittman – levels 1-4. Release date 22nd September 2014.

An exiled cultist and his kobold minions are spotted searching long-forgotten ruins in the Dragonspire Mountains. Rumors say he looks for a precious gift to give to a fearsome dragon that dwells there. What he hopes to attain with his gift is unknown, but can’t be good for the citizens of Phlan. A four-hour adventure for levels 1-4.

DDEX1-6 The Scroll Thief by Daniel Helmick – levels 1-4. Release date 22nd September 2014.

Scholars Square is a relatively quiet corner of Phlan, but a series of odd thefts have the headmasters of various schools in the area concerned. The headmasters’ pleas for help have gone unanswered by the Black Fist, and the Lord Sage of Phlan decides to reach out to you and your kind to bring those responsible to justice. A four-hour adventure for levels 1-4.

DDEX1-7 Drums in the Marsh by Sterling Hershey – levels 1-4. Release date 20th October 2014.

For the past several nights, drums have been heard on the wind, coming from the Twilight Marsh. Each morning, more turn up missing from the nearby farms, leaving only muddy, clawed footprints heading towards the marsh. Can you help the find the lost and bring justice to the abductors? A four-hour adventure for levels 1-4.

DDEX1-8 Tales Trees Tell by Thomas Reid – levels 1-4. Release date 20th October 2014.

Despite the shaky alliance that exists with the elves of the Quivering Forest, they do not suffer trespass in their realm lightly, especially from common folk from nearby Phlan. A woodworker’s recent blunder into the forest might set off a diplomatic incident. Can you help find him and mollify the aggravated elves? A four-hour adventure for levels 1-4.

DDEX1-9 Outlaws of the Iron Route by Will Doyle – levels 1-4. Release date 17th November 2014.

The Iron Route, an important trade road east of Phlan, is beset by competing bandits. An exiled Black Fist officer leads his band of mercenaries turned cloaked ruffians, while a mysterious dragonborn sorcerer commands screaming savages from the north. In this war for supremacy over the trade route, the beleaguered merchants are the victims, and Phlan suffers from a lack of important supplies. It’s up to adventurers to strike out and reopen this vital route to the town. A four-hour adventure for levels 1-4.

DDEX1-10 Tyranny in Phlan by Greg Marks – levels 5-10. Release date 17th November 2014

The Maimed Virulence has come. The future of the Cinnabar Throne and the lives of the denizens of Phlan are in jeopardy. The Cult of the Dragon rejoices, and the Black Fist is powerless to stop them. How will the factions of the city respond to this threat? Can Phlan be saved this time? Part One of Under Emerald Claws. A four-hour adventure for levels 5-10.

DDEX1-11 Dark Pyramid of Sorcerer’s Isle by Claire Hoffman, level 5-10. Duration: 8 hours (2 slots). Premiere: Winter Fantasy. Available: March 2015.

Long unoccupied, the pyramid on Sorcerer’s Isle now flows with strange magical energy, warping creatures and the landscape around it. The Cult of the Dragon and Red Wizards of Thay have taken notice, and it’s up to you to keep whatever power dwells there out of their hands. An adventure for 5th-10th level characters.

DDEX1-12 Raiders of the Twilight Marsh by Robert Adducci, levels 5-10. Duration 4 hours (1 slot). Premiere: Winter Fantasy. Available: March 2015.

A black dragon’s treasure horde has been located in the Twilight Marsh, and within it are secrets that hold interest to the factions. With the dragon marauding over the countryside, the horde is left unguarded. Now is the time to plunder its lair! An adventure for 5th-10th level characters.

DDEX1-13 Pool of Radiance Resurgent by Chris Tulach, levels 5-10. Duration 4 hours (1 slot). Premiere: Winter Fantasy. Available: March 2015.

Vorgansharax rules Phlan, using the Cult of the Dragon to extend his noxious gaze. But the green dragon seeks far more than control of the beleaguered town – ultimate power is nearly within reach. Will he reactivate the Pool of Radiance and ascend to greater prominence amongst his kind? Part Two of Under Emerald Claws. An adventure for 5th-10th level characters.

DDEX1-14 Escape from Phlan by Chris Lindsey, levels 5-10. Duration 4 hours (1 slot). Premiere Gottacon. Available April 2015.

Three important citizens of Phlan, who stand against the tyrannical dragon that rules, seek to escape and find refuge across the Moonsea. Can you extricate those that are vital to the factions before it’s too late? An adventure for 5th-10th level characters. 




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Cleaning the Stojanow river was my favourite moment of that game. I remember the awe I felt when they actually showed the river cleaning up and the vegetation growing back.



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Cleaning the Stojanow river was my favourite moment of that game. I remember the awe I felt when they actually showed the river cleaning up and the vegetation growing back.


I remembered the quest itself, but didn't remember the cleanup animation. It was almost as good as back then. :)



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Chapter 11: We Are the Enemy at the Gates


At last, the moment we've been working for so long arrives. Lord Eberhard Urslingen, Head of the Council, a grizzled war veteran asks us to appear before him, and he tasks us with the final Council mission. The first part is securing a bridgehead.

By now, we have a lot of money in the form of gems and jewelry. 50000 gold is spent on two Fine Composite Longbows, which use Strength modifiers for attack and damage. Combined with the Gauntlets and 2/turn bow attack rate, now the fighters can dish out a lot of damage from afar if needed.
We embark for Stojanow Gate, which is north of Podol Plaza, the monster town. The gate is situated on a land bridge between the peninsula that holds Valjevo Castle and the rest of the city -- a perfect place for a fortification. It stands tall at an impressive 30 feet, with watchtowers rising even higher. We've heard a lot of talk that giant-kin are the mainstay of the Boss's Army.
There is a patrol out there, before the gates. Not a safe place, bugsies.

After the patrol falls to our attacks, arrows pepper us constantly from the watchtowers. Our ogre-strong fighters bash the gate with a few mighty swings, and the guards rush to stop us. Half dozen ettins, with a lof of HP and multiple attacks per turn, two mages, plus some spare change soldiers. The ettins hurt us badly, but after the fight, the gate is secured and we can rest. In 14 feet long ettin-sized beds, according to the game's description.
North of the gate is the first quadrant of the Castle, the southwestern quadrant.


We talk nice to them, and they offer local uniforms as disguise. Always be civil to women. It works, the patrols don't bother us.

We find a Temple of Bane, this time with human clerics.

Szilva: -- Welcome, my children. Come forward and accept the blessing of my magical mace. It won't hurt... long.
We find an offering box and two crossed swords at the altar, but on Szilva's advice, don't take anything. Even Eper realized there won't be a lot of money in an offering box, especially compared to the loot and Council rewards we're getting lately.
We go over to the southeast quadrant. As we cross this place,  we hear someone moan for help. It sounds familiar...

A heated debate breaks out, but Cadorna promises two things: one, a password to the inner castle's gate, two, a way through the hedge maze. Oh, so that's what we were seeing on the maps from Kovel Mansion?

We decide to spare Cadorna's life, and carry him back to Phlan, where he will be probably executed as a traitor. Thanks for the password and maze instructions, buddy.

Next to Cadorna's cell a deep well sits quietly. The only logical thing to do is dive to the bottom of it, because, well, because there must be treasure there!

It's a long sword +2 flame-tongue, one of the few unique magic items.

We use the password ('rhodia') at the inner gate, and follow the map we have to the inner castle. The map is wrong in one place, and after some debate, we cross the hedge there. The hedge is poisonous, by the way. No one is pricked by the thorns, we cross over safely. As we enter a large room, we find a powerful man with bodyguards, sitting on a throne.

Business? We're in the death-dealing business, My Lord, are you buying? We're selling anyway.
It turns out that this guy only pretended to be Tyranthraxus. He's an evil spirit, originally merged with a barbarian warrior, who knows what form he wields today. The impostor had incredibly valuable equipment, a long sword +5 and a third Gauntlets of Ogre Power plus other stuff.
We try to leave the way we came in, but this time, Szilva receives a contact wound from the poison ivy, and dies quickly in agonizing pain. We hurry back to town. Battling the false Boss guy set off an an alarm throughout the castle, our disguise is now useless. The patrols check on everyone, even fellow soldiers. The patrols consist of hill giants led by a veteran human soldier.

This is the correct answer, but one misstep and they're on us.
After a visit to Phlan and Szilva's second miraculous recovery and Cadorna's imprisonment by local law enforcement, we continue the walk around the Castle's outer perimeter. The True Boss must be in the other inner castle building, since the south one only had the false Boss (and no secret door, according to our search), but maybe we can find some more clues, help, something before we tackle the hedge maze again. It's a really nasty place.

In one building, we surprise a group of resting fire giants.

The giants look up to us. Look ma, I'm taller than a giant!

Fire giants have a lot of hp, throw boulders that deal a lot of damage, they do the same in melee, and are worth 5+ kXP per patrol. Giants also carry giant loot:

The funny thing? Since money has weight in the Gold Box games, we would be unable to carry this home, even if we needed the money... After the fine composite longbows, there's nothing to buy.
In the northwestern quadrant, we find an important service building!


We mess up the Boss's complicated name when one patrol out of the many asks us for his name, and they attack. Here's how a thrown giant-sized boulder looks like in flight:


After the complete outer castle tour is concluded, we enter the hedge maze again.

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Inside the maze, there is a building in each corner. The northwestern one is kind of along the way, so we take peek inside. A single mage works inside, sitting by a desk, who introduces himself as Al-hyam Dhazid. After we threaten to kill him:


Okay, if you tell us about the inner castle, we'll let you go. Among his research notes, we find detailed info on the Pool of Radiance. It is a singularity which connects the physical realm with the Plane of Fire. The pool itself can be moved if someone's adept at manipulating the Planes. The pool was originally located to the north, somewhere in the Dragonspine Mountains, but according to Dhazid's notes, the Boss likes to have the pool around, so maybe he found a way to move it here? Guess we'll find out soon enough. Dhazid keeps his word, he leaves the Castle for good.


We find another error on the hedge maps. Our goal is so close, should we risk crossing it?




Third time works flawlessly again, and we enter the north part of the inner castle. Here we are, at last!


... an empty room. Not even trash or broken furniture, nothing. We suspect that there must be some hidden entrance somewhere, and find it soon. Stairs lead up to the next floor behind an illusionary wall.


We find ourselves in a small room, where stairs lead down again, to the cellar of the castle. Not where we want to go, but treasure is everywhere, so...



The medusa dies quicker than the basilisk did, unable to harm us. Yes, precious Gauntlets and third level spells, we've grown strong. She was like a guard dog in this place, we find a lot of statues. But where are the Boss's quarters? We return to the small room on the second floor, and this time, we find a secret door. Clever routing, leading unsuspecting visitors to the Medusa's lair.


The Boss's place is unusually quiet. No alarm is ringing, no traps except for a hidden trapdoor opening to the basement with the now-dead medusa, no guard ambushes.

We enter an elegant study, full of books, where another well-dressed wizard is organizing the Boss's plans. He's debriefing a scout, but quickly turns his attention to the armed invaders.



Some of us think that this guy, who introduces himself as Genheeris, would be a great asset to the team. He knows everything about the Boss. Others think that a rat like him cannot be trusted and deserves a pest's treatment. The latter position wins. (It's possible to recruit Genheeris for the final battles and he doesn't betray you. But he uses his Wand of Lightning uncaringly, hurting party members with friendly fire. No thanks.)


He only has a few bodyguards, we're not hemmed in like in the mass battles. During the combat, Alma takes a swing at Genheeris, then Eper moves to his back and backstabs him for 48 damage (12x4), ending his life. Another freshly looted Gauntlet of Ogre Power pouring out awesomesauce.

The only place left is...



We fight a full dozen of elite soldiers with strong magical gear. We take a lot of damage in the process (they have decent saves, a combination of training and Rings of Resistance, saving often against both Hold Person and Stinking Cloud). One of our mages goes down in the fight.  At the end of the fight (there is a "continue battle" option in the GB games, can be used to prepare for the next part of a multi-part battle), we heal up with potions and the fighters gulp the Potions of Strength and Potions of Speed we found during our adventures. There's no holding back now, it's do or die.




Oh ****, his current occupied form is a Bronze Dragon?!? Why wasn't this on the news? We'd take a barbarian champion over a bronze dragon any day!


Tyranthraxus asks us to join him, declaring that's he's unstoppable. Nobody wavers, though Eper does fiddle a bit when giving his answer. That drunken bragging about looting a dragon's hoard was so silly, now that he beholds a dragon in actual combat...




Magic is ineffective against the innate resistance of the dragon. Eper takes a swing at the dragon's back, missing, and before we could spread out the party more, the dragon breathes fire, and three party members are killed outright. The remaining party members are unable to finish the job.


The second time, we are able to spread out the party and the targeted fighter saves successfully against breath weapon. Two turns with seriously buffed up fighters and a successful backstab is enough to fell Tyranthraxus.

He was worth.... (hold your breath)







734 XP per party member. Because he didn't carry any magical loot or a lot of gold/gems like the quicklings and the giants. AD&D nonsense to the max. We received 7 times more for a patrol of fire giants.


The only thing left to do is to watch the fireworks:





What happens next? Find out in the next episode of the Pools Saga, every Saturday afternoon on the Obsidian Oldschool Channel!


What happens next is that Bane, who is involved in the creation of the Pool of Radiance, cuts off Tyranthraxus from the pool's power because he's unhappy with T's management efficiency. So many troops wasted, so little result. T goes away like series villains do, fading out of view and vowing to return and exact vengeance upon us. See you next time.


We return to New Phlan, where everyone's rejoicing at the victory. We rejoice because we receive monetary rewards worth 45000 XP per member. A mound of gems and jewelry.


... is this the end, where we say our goodbyes? Not yet, faithful readers, for there is one unchecked menace left in Old Phlan: Valhingen Graveyard, where a vampire makes his residence.


And that place is actually much more difficult than Valjevo Castle. Hold off on opening the champagnes, we still have work to do!

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Nicely done.  I remember giving up in my attempts to defeat those guards.  (Although I was young, lousy at AD&D character-building, and probably not nearly as thorough in my loot acquisition as you have been.) 



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Chapter 12: 'Yards and Recreation

Welcome to Valhingen Graveyard. Did you bring warm clothes? It doesn't matter, you won't be needing them very soon.

The lightning flash actually happens on screen, lighting up the upper left view unexpectedly for a moment, nice detail.

Alright, I'm sorry for spoiling a large part of the suspense, but I want to explain how this place works and why it is difficult and how I prepared for it. To liberate the graveyard from all the evil dead, a number of things must be done under a demanding condition:
0. Clear the entire place in one go, without resting
If you leave the graveyard before you finish all of the goals, EVERY scripted encounter respawns. You can't slice up the challenge into smaller parts.
Resting is impossible in the graveyard, you're immediately attacked by undead. So it's a single adventuring day.
1. Kill the tower specters
The graveyard has "themed" towers: the skeleton tower, the zombie tower, and so on. Each tower has a spectre creating the tower's specific undead, and must be killed. The towers have a large pack of guards from the specific type, needless to say. Stop the recreation!
2. Clear a few special encounters
Like a squad of mummies in a crypt.
3. Permanently kill the vampire
Because he has a habit of escaping and hiding in his coffin.
And all this while surviving the various special abilites of the inhabitants:
-- juju zombies are very fast and strong, can easily attack our backline on turn 1
-- ghouls and ghasts paralyze
-- wights, specters, wraiths and vampires drain levels (the plural is just figurative for the latter two, thank Lathander)
-- mummies frighten the entire party (terrible, just terrible)
How are we going to survive?
Well, similar to how we won the Tyranthraxus two-part battle, by using up consumables that we hoarded this far.
-- We distribute Wands of Magic Missile between party members. Except for Alma, everyone gets one. Great in the following cases: no more spells left or we are conserving spells for later; the target needs a magical weapon to hit so normal darts and sling bullets don't do any damage; we're hemmed in by low-level undead, and the dangerous mob(s) are out of reach for frontline melee.
-- We have a total of 3 Wands of Lightning, only usable by mages (Use Magic Device is a great 3ed invention benefiting rogues and bards, no such thing here). Not so great against large mobs that were so numerous in Pool of Radiance so far, but great against strong mobs with a wall behind them for rebounding, and most battles will be fought in closed spaces.
-- Eper still carries the Necklace of Missiles. This is the best place to use it.
-- Memorization loadout is changed somewhat. Szilva -- Bless for the difficult battles (we will heal with potions, 5 Cure Light Wounds is not much for a 6-8 level party), Cure Disease (to cure mummy rot), Prayer. None of the Gold Box 2nd level cleric spells are of use here. Instead of Spiritual Hammer, which he could theoretically use, Szilva will just swing his Flail +3. Mages -- Magic Missile/Burning Hands (only Citrom knows Magic Missile), Mirror Image, Fireball is still as good as ever.
-- We have a few spare scrolls with relevant spells, 2 Fireballs and a Prayer.
-- We don't have Potions of Giant Strength or Speed left, used them up at the finale. Since there are many battles here, and the potions expire fast, this isn't a big deal.
Enough of the mental efforts! This is a place of ACTION: listen to Hell's song, the moaning of the undead, and let the bodies hit the floor!

Random encounters in the Graveyard depend on the area. Near the entrance it's just skellies and meaties.


I can't show it to you, but the purple mist in the background is animated, it is swirling over the blue sky and turquoise blue moon and cross and whatnot. It is totally psychedelic, like, shroom-positively. Didn't remember this one, it's fun!
Parlay doesn't work, by the way. Y U NO LIS10 2 ME? I'm bringing the happiness and joy of Scientology Hubology! It's almost the same as being undead, so don't hesitate to embrace it!

The skeleton tower is the first stop, guarded by, you guessed it...


Yes, they're not much of a challenge. But every 20 they roll means damage, and there's no rest here. And we're conserving the Fireballs for the wights. Annoying these fights are, young Jedi.
Inside the skeleton tower, a nasty unavoidable trap hits us.

Again, the damage isn't terrifying on its own. But here, every single point of HP matters. The re-creator spectre is easy, Magic Missiles from the wands help a lot against the good AC.
Two skelly/meatie random encounters later, we get into the juju zombie tomb.

We send off a Fireball here, otherwise too much meat dealing too much damage until we chop them up. Ju-ju zombies have good to-hit and damage.

Another crypt, another challenge.

Citrom: -- Quick, let's jump on the lids to shut them in, then we don't have to fight them!
4 mummies, one of the worst combats in the entire game. At the start of the fight, everyone rolls a save against mummy fear. Fail = paralyzed. I wish they were running away instead! Even that would be better. Two tries = dead party.
Third try, only Szilva fails, and he's out of melee reach at the start of combat. We form a line before him, we might win this one. Narancs uses Wand of Lightning and the back wall to hit 2 mummies twice with one spell, but the final tile of the Lightning Bolt's path hits poor Barack. And that's still better than mummy rot, so it's okay. Mummy rot prevents all healing, including magical, until a Cure Disease is cast on the target. They take half damage from all weapons, Magic Missile wands help out. It's great satisfaction when the final mummy crumbles to oblivion.
We enter the "high risk" part of the graveyard.


The standard random encounter here is led by 4 wights (they always start in melee range, ugh), plus 16 zombies and either 2 juju zombies or 2 ghouls or 1 mummy (by far the worst option, a single one still causes the same deadly fear effect). These are much more dangerous than the early encounters. I need to reload a mummy-enhanced encounter, it's totally FUBAR even before I can do anything.


We take a little detour, to the eastern fence, where a tomb is guarded by a mix of undead. They have a message, too:

So what? We have fought a bronze dragon possessed by a spirit-general of the evil god Bane! Walk away in shame. (The voices are referring to a Forgotten Realms major event in the past, the Flight of the Dragons.)
Paladin corpses have the best loot! Like, Holy Avengers and stuff! You're alone, wraith, and kind of unfitting for a paladin's eternal guard. You're going down.
See, this is the wrong type of question. We're not desecrating the body of a great past hero of Phlan, we're preparing ourselves for the future! What good is magical equipment to a corpse, or a wraith, for that matter? Without magical weapons, we would've been unable to damage the wights and other premier undead! It's the right thing to do, looting indiscriminately. The gear here includes a Sling of Seeking +2, great ranged weapon for rogues. Why would a mighty warrior carry a sling, that's a question for historians.
As we get back on track, another patrol finds us.

The zombie tower plus spectre is not worth an image. The next one, however...
In this fight, we use a Fireball scroll, we're still hanging on to memorized spells. The Fireball's optimal target means that Barack (white-red, in the middle) is inside the AoE, and gets friendly-fried again. And she fails the save. Sorry about messing up your hair, Barack. I swear I'm not picking on you, it's the staggered line of the initial party setup that always puts you before the others .
Inside the wight tower, another unavoidable environment damage hits us, this time it's broken glass. Eff you, Dungeon Master, why can't I roll some save against it? You're so autocratic!
We see the chapel, the final stop in our tour, but there is still one unvisited tomb. 2 specters are guarding it. One reload later (they have a movement rate of 24 tiles, and can run across two screens to attack someone), we are able to send our remaining 2 Fireballs their way (yes, it's worth it), and the entrance is clear.
This turns out to be another brave knight's resting place. However, unlike the other one, he carries a VOICE OF REASON!

Yes, finally someone understands the plight of adventurers! We must loot anything we find, because the challenges always rise! Ironically, his gear is not better than we already have. Sir Reasonable Ghost, you were undergeared. But we appreciate the gesture.
The chapel holds a coffin, and this is where we make use of the Deluxe Vampire Killer Kit we brought.

We kind of understand how this works. You put enough garlic and holy water and pointy crosses into someone's bed, and it just becomes too uncomfortable to sleep in! These clerics are always mystifying their rituals, it's quite simple: you IKEA the coffin, and that's that.
But where is the vampire himself? Or herself, we're not sexist, female vampires are totally worth the same amount of XP as male vampires. Same value, same respect, same treatment: a quick kill.
There is a dilapidated building in the northeast corner. Inside, stairs lead down into a pit.

The battle starts out cramped. A small pack of wolves accompanies the vampire, while we pop the cork on the bronze bottle we carried for so long, and Samir Ahwahl the vampire-killer efreet joins the fray on our side.
One of the wolves blocks the way for Alma and Szilva to the vampire. Alma kills that wolf, Szilva uses Wand of Magic Missile. Barack, who blocks the way for the efreet (sheesh, these setups...) slashes the vampire. Both mages fire a Magic Missile (Citrom's is not from a wand), the second one brings down our main target.


The vampire turns to a vapor cloud, and floats away. Hey, is this what they teach you in business school, to get out of sticky situations?
We hurry back to the chapel. Sure enough, the vampire is here, but he's weakened and alone. Sorry for ruining your bed, it's kind of a **** move (If you don't sanctify the coffin first, he comes back at full strength). Two slashes from magic swords, and the prince of the undead is no more.
This concludes the long, long night we spent at Valhingen Graveyard. The sun comes up, birds are chirping, and we're walking on the beach towards a happy ending. Nah, we're heading back to New Phlan for the last round of rewards.


Oh, we still remember the day when we first stood outside these halls, escorted by the blond Rolf.


No more commissions, everyone's just chilling. Reconquista Rejoicing, commence!


(One more: I'll write an epilogue-of-sorts, which reflects back on the original game when it came out and how it was to replay it in 2014.)

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Pool of Radiance: Epilogue


I forgot to show the box art. It's Elmore-style awesomeness.


It requires HARD DRIVE OR TWO FLOPPY DRIVES! I mean, who can afford that?!? It worked with a single floppy drive on C-64, I got off easier.
I can't say that this was the game that got me into RPGs, because that honor belongs to Bard's Tale 3. However, it was the first RPG that I finished -- I got stuck in BT3 in some fiendishly difficult dungeon with some extra puzzles on the side. There was a Commodore 64 games magazine called "Commodore Világ" (Világ = World, shortened to CoV) which was fond of RPGs, and they regularly published hint batches, partial or full walkthroughs for RPGs. I got much of the info on how to properly gear up and progress in PoR from CoV. Heck, I learned how DnD memorization works by sending a letter to the editors of CoV and asking for an explanation. And I got an answer: I need to rest after selecting which spells to memorize. (True story! The hurdles of playing a pirated game back in the day, without Internet at your fingertips: no manual, no journal. I learned the ins and outs of AD&D later, when I joined the tabletop group in the library.)
The graphics of the game still follow the formula set by Wizardry, the "original" graphic RPG: an isometric first person view that can be constructed from smaller bitmap and draw elements, thereby saving a lot on storage space (the truly old games didn't even store bitmaps, they drew lines real-time every time the scenery changed). The savings are obvious by looking at the PoR portraits, used by party members and some NPCs: the upper body and the head are stored separately, and the combination of the two gives you a lot of portraits that are not exactly the same. The looks of the game is par for its age (1988); Dragon Wars, which Interplay published a year later, looks better, but there were other games which came after PoR and looked worse (look in FelipePepe's upcoming free RPG yearbook for examples).

All of the above are valid portraits. This game is so socially progressive, it allows you to be any combination of man-woman halves! :p
I didn't mention so far  that there is an excellent character icon editor for the tactical view. There is a huge variety of weapons to display, and all the 16-color glory of the C-64 and PC EGA can be applied to 6 different parts from head to legs, twice: one base color, one highlight/shade color. In the picture below, the arms are light green base with dark green shade, the pants cyan base with light blue shade (look at them pixels!!!! it's magnificent, the pixel artsiness!). You can use the icon editor anytime outside of combat, so you can fiddle with looks as much as you want. I matched up the icons of my characters to the portraits and gear as best as I could.


Gameplay also follows the formula of blobbers (tile-based RPGs), where things only happen if you move a tile. The menus are comfortable, the options are always at the bottom (coherent design), the highlighting of the menu keys made navigating easy (easy by '80s user interface standards...).  You can change the speed of text display. The only main gripe I have is that you can't switch between characters after you enter the inventory screen: View -- Items -- Back -- Back -- View -- Items, a total of six keypresses are required to look at a different character's inventory. Other blobbers, like the Bard's Tale engine allowed you to switch in inventory view.


The world map was very good for its time, it allowed you to spot some places for afar, but you still needed to search for less obvious places like the nomad camp, which had no world map icon.




The big difference from blobbers is the tactical overhead view combat. It's not as good as Temple of Elemental Evil, but it still implements a lot of things from AD&Đ:

-- The battle map is created by "magnifying" the adventuring map's tiles . This was a huge change from blobbers where there was no connection between map tiles and combat (except for maybe scripted battles). So if you find an enemy in a dead-end, like the vampire in Valhingen Graveyard, the fight will take place in a dead-end. This is pretty awesome. It's even better with an engine like the Infinity Engine or ToEE, but it was a radical upgrade for an 1988 RPG.

-- Conditions like fear, paralysis, disease, etc.

-- Area of Effect attacks with templates like in miniature games: Fireball has a radius of 3 tiles, for example.

-- Flanking attacks, including backstabs.

-- Persistent spells like Stinking Cloud or Fire Wall.

-- Environment effects in later games

-- Guarding (overwatch)

-- Line of sight restriction and maximum ranges for ranged attacks and spells

-- Item usage

-- And more


There is one thing that I couldn't show you with the PC version I've played, and would've needed to install a C-64/Amiga/Atari emulator to take a screenie. On those platforms, if you wait a while in the main menu without pressing a key, a gameplay demo starts which talks a bit about AD&Đ, Phlan, how to play a game like this, etc. and then shows you a demo combat:



This screen, the sight of such detailed combat where every unit has its own icon, and even size is taken into account, and there are animations and sound effects for the different attacks like firing a bow or casting a Magic Missile -- this is what caused me to fall in love with Pool of Radiance. Look at that tall ogre, so fearsome with its spear! Look at pretty Diane, the demo-mage, blond hair flowing, wearing a purple dress with white blouse underneath, not a stock icon like in other games, sending off a spell! Nasty orks firing their bows from the rear rank with a twang!





After Bard's Tale 3, Pool of Radiance was a welcome downgrade in challenge. In BT3, you are only allowed one save and need to reset the game to load. There is no rest outside of taverns. The Gold Box allows you to save anywhere, multiple saves, and you can at least try to rest anywhere. While the game did feature some mazes like the Sorcerer's Pyramid and difficult dungeons like Valhingen Graveyard, Bard's Tale dungeon design with its spinners, anti-magic, darkness, health-draining, mana-draining, teleporter, pit tiles and all the maddening combinations of these, plus some difficult puzzles as gravy-on-top blows the entirety of Gold Box games out of the cave. Actually, compared to other old-school games, I would call Pool of Radiance "accessible". And I'm sure it's part of the Gold Box's success: it offers challenge, but the dosages are smaller than in truly hardcore, and therefore merciless RPGs.
The main scenario writer, Jim Ward, placed a big emphasis on fleshing out the world with details. There are dozens of small details that I left out of the chapters, for example:
-- There is a kitchen in Valjevo Castle, overlooked by a gnoll, where you can free the slaves and talk to them.
-- In the wyvern's cave, in one corner there is a dying old kobold. If you give him water, he gives you info on the kobold king.
-- Lots and lots of descriptive text.
Pool of Radiance, with its distinct Old Phlan blocks and world map locations feels much more "real" than the contemporary dungeon crawls (with notable exceptions like Ultima IV and Wasteland). It's a lovingly hand-crafted tabletop adventure, it's clearly "lived in" by the scenario writers and the players who played the original in tabletop. Later games in the Gold Box series struggled to provide as much detail as the original.



Next up: Curse of the Azure Bonds, the second part of the Pools saga.

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That was fun.  I had actually forgotten just how much descriptive text and opportunity for non-combat interaction was in the game.  (I suspect that juvenile me took the more direct approach.)  I remembered the journal entries, but a lot of the description screenshots and conversations you posted felt new to me.  


I look forward to the re-visitation of Curse.  I played a lot of that one, but I don't think I got more than 60% through it.  I know I was able to get the Drow and Moander bonds off, but I remember giving up on a game while stuck in Zhentil Keep. 



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That was fun.  I had actually forgotten just how much descriptive text and opportunity for non-combat interaction was in the game.  (I suspect that juvenile me took the more direct approach.)  I remembered the journal entries, but a lot of the description screenshots and conversations you posted felt new to me.  


I look forward to the re-visitation of Curse.  I played a lot of that one, but I don't think I got more than 60% through it.  I know I was able to get the Drow and Moander bonds off, but I remember giving up on a game while stuck in Zhentil Keep. 


Thanks Enoch, I wasn't sure that anyone is still readingl this besides BruceVC. :) It takes several hours to play, capture/upload and write a chapter, I'm glad when someone drops a comment. I'm still apprehensive about finishing the later games with one cleric only, so I have a stake in the LP. We'll see.

Edited by Endrosz, 23 December 2014 - 07:26 AM.

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