Part 5: Forts Duvno and Bandit
"One aimless wandering through monster-infested wilderness coming up!"
"Wait, hang on a second..."
"Shouldn't we have some kind of plan? Several people told us about Silvar and Fort Duvno, so let's head to one of them."
"Sure, there's a sign here, maybe it has directions."
"Or maybe we've already reached our destination. Hm."
Fort Avernum is hiding under the message log. It's really close to Fort Duvno.
"Bandits? I thought that the kitties were the problem up here."
"I get the impression that basically everything that can understand the concept of "enemy" vs. "friend" doesn't like Avernum."
"Well hey, more opportunities for us, right? Maybe someone in the fort is hiring."
"It's more like a walled town than a fort, really. Nice gigantic crossbows though."
"The word you want is ''ballista''."
"Ahh, a bar! Barkeep!"
"Yeah? Whaddaya want?"
"I need a drink like you would not believe."
"Sure, your funeral."
"Uh, how do I get the bottle open? Anyone got a corkscrew? "
Unfathomably, the party is forced to be teetotalers -- ale and wine cannot be drunk, not even for comedic status debuffs. Normal consumables have that little sun icon in the bottom-left corner, like that healing potion everyone starts with.
Food is also pretty pointless -- no matter the type, its only use is to be consumed to heal 5-9 HP. For comparison, Kane has 45 HP right now and he's only level 2. The party automatically heals to full every time they enter a friendly town. This makes the inn kind of pointless.
"We've had rather a long day, dear. Could we get a room?"
"Wait, one room? Singular? For the four of us?"
"I get the impression we aren't welcome here."
"Look, no offense, but I'm busy. You're either buying something or you're leaving, got it?"
"Can we buy some information? Like, where to get a corkscrew or something?"
"Now go away."
"Oh dear, I think we'd best be leaving. Come on boys, let's go, out the door with you now!"
"Hang on, you want some information? I'm happy to chat with strangers."
"Oh, hello! Nice to meet you, hon! And where are you traveling to?"
"She says, knowing that we won't recognize the names anyway unless they're Silvar or Fort Avernum. Or the Abyss, I guess."
"Ha, no, I don't plan on going there. At least, I hope not."
"And what's in Formello that scared you off? Bovine assassins?"
"Uh, no, nothing like that. Just the nephilim."
"Thanks for the advice! We'll be sure to do that. What's Formello like?"
"Damn smart-ass robbing bartender bitch..."
"Hey! Earth to Cyclops!"
"What! I'm tired and can't get a room, I'm hungry and the food's awful and expensive, I'm not fucking drunk and I can't get the fucking bottle open, the bartender's a total bitch, and I'm surrounded by things that want to kill me! And mushrooms!"
"Yeah, we get it! We are too, and from the looks of things, so is everyone else! So stop complaining."
"Not that it's my place to intrude, but it's really not that bad down here. Oh sure, there's the sliths and nephilim, and the undead, and wild monsters, and the occasional actual criminal that gets thrown through the portal in Fort Avernum..."
"Sorry, I'm not making my case very well. But the point is, we aren't constantly fighting for our lives. For example, I'm able to take some time from my journey to chat with you all. Look, if you want some peace and quiet, maybe you should come with me."
"Is the cave we're in not great enough?"
"Oh, no. This is just the Eastern Gallery. You haven't heard of the Great Cave?"
"Perhaps we will follow you, at that. Not like we have much else in the way of leads."
"...I would like to follow up on that Silvar mayor first. And go to Formello."
"Back with us, eh?"
"Yeah, yeah, I lost my cool. Sorry guys."
"Not a problem. It's a long way to the Great Cave, so I understand wanting to stay more local first."
"So hey, nice die there. You a gambler?"
"Wait, there are priests that worship luck? That sounds like my kind of religion. What's the deal?"
"What about magic -- anything you can teach?"
"Byff? You can use holy magic?"
"Oh, you know, you pick up a few things here and there. Power is power."
"Wish I could help, but I'm not a teacher either."
"And you don't want to learn from me? I'd be happy to teach you more about the Words!"
"No offense, Elly, but your methods make my skin crawl."
"Oh, that. Don't worry, dear, you get used to that eventually."
"Well, thank you for your time, Caius. Good luck with your journey."
"Safe travels. And hey, before you go, let me open that bottle for you."
"You're a saint, my friend. Cheers!"
Finally for the inn:
"Not even any proper games of skill for me to make some money on."
"Chess isn't a game of skill?"
"Not the way I meant it, no."
"Let's just move on."
"Our experience in Fort Avernum to the contrary, I really would expect to find someone in charge near the barracks."
NPCs can get random idle chatter while you're wandering around. Captain Johnson here is a bloodthirsty sort, saying things like this, "No rest till we have vengeance", and "Are you a true warrior?"
"Excuse me, sir."
"And what can we do to assist the army, then?"
"But there's only four of us. What could we possibly do that your soldiers couldn't?"
"What, and we don't have to join the army? You'll just hire random wanderers off the street to fight for you?"
"Oh sure. No skin off my nose if you go and get yourself killed. I mean, I'd rather you succeeded of course."
"It's just...look, we get plenty of people down here who can fight. Hell, probably half the population is would-be rebels, it's how the Empire stays so quiet topside. But not everyone has the discipline to be soldiers and follow orders. Doesn't mean we can't use you. Especially if you want to kill some nephils."
"We'd heard you had some trouble with the kitties."
"Oooh, you have some prisoners? I bet that --"
"We'd be happy to go take a look at this fort, sir."
"All I was saying was I hoped those vermin were dying slowly."
"Aaaand that's our cue to change the subject, I think! You mentioned a commander you were taking over the fort for?"
"What axed the boss? More kitties?"
"And you've been going without a replacement for so long? Why haven't they sent you a relief?"
"Need us to get revenge for the Commander for you? I mean, while we're out avenging your lost scouts, might as well kill some bandits, right?"
"Anything else we can help you with?"
"I'll be honest, if you kill one nephil that's more than I expect out of you. Be smart out there, that's my advice; if necessary, run and live so you can kill another day. But yeah, that's about all I can hand to a group your size. Now go out there and kill stuff."
"Thank you for your time, sir."
"And there's our first job."
"I do rather wish that we could get along with other species."
"S'fine by me. More enemies there are, more money's being thrown at soldiers and the like, more jobs we can do."
"How very cynical of you...though I can't fault your logic."
"So, bandits or nephilim first?"
"How about we finish exploring the town?"
"Or did you want to go off to fight armed with nothing but a stone dagger and your cloak? Hello, sir!"
"Sorry, I have no idea how big a boast that is."
"Y'see, because the Gallery's big, so it's a long walk to get out of it."
"And if we did want better than what you sold, where would we go?"
"So you supply all the soldiers here?"
Spoilers: we'll need to repair something at some point
"And who's doing all these raids that keep the poor soldiers so busy?"
"We spoke with him already. He's got quite the revenge list."
"Between the kitties and the bandits, we've lost a lot of farmers and soldiers. Don't you go forgetting that."
"Wasn't planning on it. May we see your wares?"
These are all very minor incremental improvements over the gear (or nudity) we started with. Gold is scarce in this game though, so you're generally best-served getting your upgrades by exploring rather than shopping.
The javelins are notable for old One-Eye, though: throwing weapons have limited ammo. You can find a fair amount lying around, but not enough to be able to use them on every turn. Notably, bows have infinite ammo. They do slightly less damage, but not enough for throwing weapons to really be justifiable.
We can also sell things. Our "Junk bag" is where we can toss stuff that we don't care about but that's still worth some money. An awful lot of your cash comes from stripping dungeons bare of anything that's remotely valuable to anyone and then hawking that crap to some merchant. The bag has infinite capacity so there's zero downside to throwing any old thing in there.
All of the stuff in our bag right now is random junk from the cave under Fort Avernum.
"Thanks for your time, dear!"
"Any time, ma'am."
One point of amusement:
From here, we can see the Iron Short Sword on Grimmet's countertop, but he can't see us. Which makes it stealable, even though logically we'd have to reach into his view to grab it. Yoink!
"I can imagine. Do the soldiers need much healing?"
Practically every NPC not in the inn directs us to Captain Johnson.
"Hey lady, can we get any healing? See, I've got this curse and..."
In previous games, if you had any dead or eradicated characters then healers like Carol were your best bet for most of the game.
"Nnnot what I meant, but I guess you aren't in the cursebreaking business?"
"Sorry, no. More the acute trauma corps. Still, perhaps I can do something for you..."
"You know holy rituals? Show me! I can learn more of the Word!"
"...alas, not on our current budget."
We start out knowing the first rank of the basic spells. Carol and other vendors like her can teach us the second rank (as well as the first rank for more advanced spells), but we must find the third rank in dungeons or receive them as rewards for quests completed. These prices are fantastic and Minor Heal and Protection at least are both valuable spells. We can spare enough to teach Elly Minor Heal level 2 at least.
"You can't teach us anything more advanced?"
"Let's make those locations a priority then."
"Not that we'll be able to do much there if these prices are any indication. We need more money!"
"If we can't afford better spells, perhaps potions would do -- where could we get potions?"
"Wonderful; thank you."
I believe this character is a reference to a family friend of Jeff Vogel, possibly from the Society for Creative Anachronism. "Carol, of the Hamer Clan" is in all of the first three Exile games, and possibly in the latter trilogy (Avernums 4-6) as well, though I'm less confident there.
"Let's hope this sage is less grumpy than the last one."
"I think my eyes are watering..."
"I'll just wait outside, I think."
"Yeah, y'know what Byff? This one's all yours. Have fun!"
"Sorry about that. Alchemy is a smelly business."
"Thanks, and don't I know it. I'm surprised they let you operate inside the fort."
"Can't risk losing their source of healing potions due to a bandit raid. Name's Walner; nice to meet you."
"So what do you do, then? Just the potion business?"
"Bah, I could make the potions myself."
"What, with no shirt? You'd turn your skin into leather in no time. And besides, you're obviously new; I bet you have no idea what proper ingredients are down here."
"Yeah, but...fine. Damn. Curse this curse!"
In previous games you could cook potions yourself with the Alchemy skill. In this game, instead you bring the ingredients to NPCs, who do the cooking for you.
"So hey, you all are obviously, uh, "martial migrants" I think is the polite term these days?"
"Oh, right! Yeah, I guess."
"Anyway, we could use some help."
"You dog! Who's the lucky lady? Or man? I don't judge."
"Not that kind of action. Idiot. I meant fighting."
"Yeah, we already spoke to him. Don't worry, we'll take care of those bandits for you."
"Uh huh. Anyway, I'd just as soon not have to go retrieve ingredients myself anytime soon."
"Don't suppose you'd tell me your recipes in exchange?"
"Sorry. Be happy to make potions for you though."
"Yeah, yeah. Seeya."
"Nah, just a potion-maker who won't talk shop."
"Better than letting them get up in your face. Do you just do arrows?"
"Let me guess, the nephils and brigands?"
"Yep, and the occasional slithzerkai raid."
"Is there no prospect for peace?"
"Not until everyone who opposes us is dead, I expect."
"We'll get right on that. What do you have for us?"
Four different tiers of bow, which differ solely in that longbows are 5% more accurate and deal almost twice as much damage as normal bows. Meanwhile, iron javelins deal...15% more damage than crude javelins.
"Hrm, throwing weapons are expensive down here. I may need to cross-train -- know any archers who can teach?"
"And, no offense, I've never heard of you lot before."
Completing quests increases our reputation, which is checked in various places. Once we get it high enough, we'll be able to outright buy ranks in archery from J.R. here, but she'll charge ruinous prices -- all of the skill trainers do. It's the cost of gaining power without having to spend your precious skillpoints. However, you can only buy 2 ranks per character; all the rest must be trained the hard way.
"Perhaps we'll be back one day."
"This looks right up your alley, One-Eye."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Oh, you just look like a ''farmer'' to me."
"What, like food? Shovels? Wagon wheels? Clothing? That's kind of vague."
"The implication being that there aren't any farms left here any more?"
"Some people don't appreciate how to manage their resources, eh? I don't suppose we could arrange for something to happen to this band of savages?"
"Righto. One bit of altruism, no questions asked."
"I still don't understand what you sell, though."
"Uh, okay, can we see your wares then?"
In previous versions of the game, Jason here would sell lockpicks and a few miscellaneous items; with lockpicks removed from the game (it's just a straight Tool Use check to open locked doors now), he's just stuck with the miscellaneous. This stuff is all pretty useless and/or not worth spending our precious money on. The most valuable items are the potions, but careful play can generally avoid the need to use potions.
"We'll be back when we've dealt with those unwise thieves."
"And before we go, I noticed a small island in the corner of town."
"Hallo there sir. Any luck?"
"Wonderful. Is this your job, then?"
"Someone has to keep these places running, eh?"
"And I think I can guess why you stopped farming."
"I think we'd better head out and do something about this."
"So. Suggestions on which group to attack first?"
"That brigand fort sounded the least organized. And we're more likely to find useful gear from human enemies than cats."
"Sounds good to me. Humans at least have no excuse for not working together; someone should give those bandits a stern talking to!"
A short hike to the northwest...
"Whoof. This place has seen better days."
"They are defenseless before the Way of the Word!"
"Just remember, ma'am, we're on your side."
"Oh Mr. Orvat, of course! You have nothing to fear from me!"
"No sentries, even. This should be straightforward. Best to scout around and clean up any resistance outside before we head in, though. Wouldn't want to get stabbed in the back."
"Vermin in the store rooms. We won't find much here."
They are trivially dispatched; giant rats are no threat even if you have base stats and no weapons skills.
"Hey, what's this do?"
See that button on the wall to the left of Kane?
Buttons open secret passages. In previous games you could just up and walk through certain walls; in this game you have to notice the buttons and press them instead. Much better as it rewards observation instead of mindlessly rubbing up against every bit of stone on the map.
"Now this is more promising."
We net a Shielding Potion (temporary shielding + damage reflection + regeneration), a Bar of Iron, a Bolt of Cloth, some coins, and this:
If we swing around to the outside, we see this:
"Ha! We're smarter than bandits!"
"I would certainly hope so!"
"Alas, not that much smarter. Damn."
"Time to earn our pay, friends."
We get split up -- there's three thugs in the room in addition to the two by the gate -- but they're just thugs, and no real threat. Kane one-shots one of them with a lucky critical hit, though it helps that he has that Iron Shortsword.
Immediately after finishing off those two groups, three more thugs arrive from the south. We've been tossed into an ambush here, but it's a very sloppy one.
"I have had better days. Ow."
"Oh, you poor dear! Here, let me patch you up.
"Why is everything...writhing?"
"Perfectly normal! It's a sign of good health!"
"Then may I never be healthy again."
We pick up a few miscellaneous bits of armor, like boots and a bronze shield. Nothing exciting, but it fills in empty equipment slots.
"We've about finished sweeping the grounds. Just this structure and the main building left."
Pictured: two skeletons, of the ambulatory sort.
"Oh my, this can't be healthy."
"The giant rats I can kind of understand. But in the name of all that's holy, how can bandits and undead coexist?"
"Perhaps they practice an extreme form of ancestor worship?"
Skeletons, like everything else in this fort, are pretty weak. There's three more of them around the corner though, and some Cave Worms in the room to the north.
Kane got ganged up on; note his healthbar is mostly dark blue now, i.e. mostly dead.
"Creepy, isn't it?"
"And stay down!"
"That's not how you exorcise spirits, dear."
"It's not so much their souls I'm worried about as it is their bodies, frankly."
Our loot is some money, an energy potion, some alchemical herbs, and a scroll of Radiate Ice:
"I think that's everything outside the main compound. Which should be full of nice, drunk, and above all still alive brigands."
"Stand and deliver!"
"I think that's their line, chum."
The fetching pink fellow there is a Rogue Acolyte, who can cast Smite, for about half of Kane's max HP. Good thing he had more that half of his HP left...
"Yikes, that bit's supposed to stay on the inside! C'mon, Kane, let's get you patched up."
"Let me help!"
"Thanks. Now which one of the three acolytes I see is the real one?"
"You want the one that isn't glowing purple and only has two eyes."
"Righto, thanks Elly."
"There have got to be some long-term consequences to this kind of healing."
"Maybe, but there's short-term consequences to not healing! Viz., you die."
"There is that."
Finally, after much chopping, the Acolyte falls. He's at least four times more durable than the Thugs we've been fighting. On the plus side, we get a Silver Necklace from him, which sells for some decent cash, and there's a pair of Leather Pants in one of the chests here, allowing Kane to join the ranks of the decently-clad.
"I hope I don't have to do that too many more times; I'm getting a little tired."
"I'm amazed nobody heard us fighting. Oh well, next room!"
A Bandit and three Thugs. Bandits are a lot stronger than Thugs; he starts the fight by shanking Kane in the face for 27 damage, and we pretty much have to dedicate Elly to healing duty to counteract what he does on every turn. He's also distressingly hard to hit. It takes a good six rounds to wear him down (meanwhile the thugs are pelting us with javelins), and Elly's completely out of spellpoints by the end of the fight. My fault for casting Smite too often earlier on; it's expensive!
"Huff...I don't mean to be discouraging, but are you sure we're up to this?"
"Not to worry, I'll patch everyone up. There can't be much more of them!"
"Here, Elly, drink that energy potion I grabbed from Fort Avernum. Writhing vision or no, we're going to need you."
"How are you holding up, Byff?"
"Still got a little juice in me. I'll see it through."
"Found a ladder in this closet. We should check it out."
"Goblins? This'll be easy!"
There's a lot of them, but come on, they're goblins. Even Elly and Byff can reliably hit them.
"Easy but unprofitable. Nothing up here but a spear and this chest..."
"We're almost done here. One last room. Hopefully the bandits won't have much left."
"You were saying?"
"Let's just get this over with."
Five thugs and a unique enemy named Hunter Alos. Elly throws up a Protection spell, which greatly cuts down on the damage poor Kane is taking (for some reason they largely ignore the other party members). Kinda wish I'd remembered about that spell in previous fights. Fortunately, Alos is nowhere near as tough as the Brigand from the previous room, and dies in three hits.
"Well, now this is a pretty bauble."
"Here, Kane, they've been hitting you pretty hard. Looks like this has a shielding charm on it; could help."
"Are we finally done?"
"What's all that racket?"
"Ha! You do know we've already killed your entire camp, right?"
"A big bluff from a small man."
"Also, your stores are full of giant rats."
"Oh, say! Since you're the first brigand to actually wait to talk to us in awhile...heard of Lagran? Dirty fellow, long hair, addicted to skribbane?"
"Also we killed his allies, just as we will kill you!"
"Man, like One-Eye said, you're alone. And I hate to tell ya, your skills aren't gonna carry the day here."
"Your funeral. Well, your death anyway. Nobody's going to hold any ceremonies for you."
We get Perigrin boxed into his quarters, and there's really nothing he can do from there. He stabs Kane once or twice and nails Elly with a bolt of fire, but it's not remotely enough to overcome our healing capacity.
Halfway through the fight he casts Haste, which is an area-effect buff spell that has a chance to give you extra actions each turn. He also summons a Cave Slime...which dies in two hits, before it gets a turn. Just delaying the inevitable.
That said, if we'd entered by either of the other passages into this room, then we would have had to fight him along with his guards. They'd have benefited from his Haste spell, and he would have had a lot more time to cast other spells while we chewed through the grunts in the way. That would have been a difficult fight.
"Curse you! I am your superior! How dare you!"
"That has got to be everyone, right? The fort's empty now."
"Sounds like it. Congratulations, folks, we've completed our first job. Let's get to lootin'!"
"Oh, nice, a magical belt. Elly, I think you should take this one."
It should help stretch her spellpoints slightly, and it's not like I have any better belt for her.
The other items in the room are a locked chest, and this pedestal:
"I hate to say it, folks, but these runes are beyond my skill."
"What, and you're going to let that stop you? Just learn more!"
"You make it sound so simple. It might take years of research to learn what they mean."
"Try minutes instead. Look!"
You can train any time you aren't in combat. Contrast previous games where you had to find trainers in friendly towns, and pay them money for every skill you trained. So we might as well spend our level-2 points that we earned back under Fort Avernum. This breaks down as follows:
Elly: +1 INT, +1 Priest Spells, +1 Arcane Lore, and the Improved Intelligence trait.
Byff: +1 INT, +1 Mage Spells, +1 Arcane Lore, and the Improved Intelligence trait.
One-Eye: +1 DEX, +1 Throwing, +1 Tool Use, and the Improved Dexterity trait.
Kane: +1 STR, +1 Melee, +1 Tool Use, and the Improved Strength trait.
Oh yeah, traits:
These give you miscellaneous bonuses. More options unlock depending on the skills you've invested in and what your level is -- so e.g. One-Eye has access to the Deadeye trait because of his investment in Throwing. The ones we took this time around are just a straight +1 to the stat in question, but there are also percentile bonuses to certain spell types, bonuses to various weapon skills, and so on.
And yes, spending these points before fighting all these bandits would have made my life a lot easier. Shut up.
"I'm still not sure what just happened, but I can't fault your results."
"Hey, and I got Mister Arcanist's chest open!"
"Ew, you put those ribs back right this instant."
"No, I...treasure chest. Treasure. Not organ."
"Really? Oh dear. I think I overdid things a little. Explains the blood coming out of the walls then. And the whispering."
"New rule: no energy potions for Elly."
Just his spare clothes, some money, and a healing potion. Not very interesting, alas. Also note One-Eye's burgeoning food collection.
"Let's go report our success, and get paid."
"Sir, after a difficult battle, we have successfully assassinated the bandit leader."
"But we had more trouble with the --"
"Shush, Byff. It was, truly, a difficult battle, sir, but he shouldn't trouble you any more."
"Thank you sir."
Our reward is 150 coins and a Bronze Helm. Oh well. Kane gets the helm, since enemies target him most often. Our reputation also improves slightly:
See? It used to be a 0!
"Congratulations, team. Ready to head back out and continue the fight?"
"What, immediately? C'mon, man!"