Part 10: Fort Dranlon and Slith Temple
"Okay. We've proven we can deal with nepharim, if only through sheer bloody-mindedness. Time to go check on the sliths."
"And do we have a plan for this?"
"I say we wander at random and see what we find."
"I'd love to say I have a better idea, but I really don't. We may as well see where the westward road from Cotra leads."
At the southwestern corner of the Eastern Gallery:
"I bet that's the island fortress that job board posting was talking about."
"You're not thinking of trying to raid it, are you?"
"Who me? No, of course not. That would be insane."
"The road sign says this is Fort Dranlon."
"Looks like it's seen better days. I'm amazed the walls are still standing."
"They're using magical barriers to augment the walls! Fascinating!"
Dead bodies and javelins litter the ground outside the fort, remnants of previous assault attempts. One-Eye gets about 20 crude javelins just from scrounging the battlefield.
"I wonder why this particular corner is in such bad shape."
"Remember what the Silvar shipwright said? Sliths are great swimmers. They probably prefer to attack from the water, where they're harder to see coming."
"How do we get in? There's no gate."
"There's a notice posted, says to just approach the barriers."
"My name is Kane. These are Elly, Byff, and One-Eye."
"These soldiers look beat."
"I guess the good soldiers get posted to the front lines, while the bad ones get captured by goblins. Makes sense."
"Does it really?"
"Hm, that man at the table stands out, in a way."
"That seems to be what we've been doing non-stop since we arrived."
"Hm. That's a pointed question."
"Are you an Empire spy? A loyalty officer of some kind?"
"That doesn't make sense. What would he do if he found traitors? The Empire doesn't have any influence down here."
"A fair point."
"So y'know what? Fuck the Empire."
"Its laws are meaningless, its rulers do whatever they please, and its people are powerless. The entire structure is corrupt and needs to be burned down so we can start over. If I could, I would personally destroy it."
"Kane, I'm surprised at you."
"Hmph. Guess I'm still a bit bitter about being exiled."
"Is the Empire really so bad? They mostly just left me alone."
"Because you never dared to get in their way. It really is a corrupt organization, it controls the entire planet, and at this point I don't think it can be fixed. If you have any practical suggestions, by all means let me know."
"While you chew on your newfound rage, we may as well deliver this message to the Captain here."
"Message from Cotra for you, sir."
"Bad news, sir?"
"Reinforcements are gonna be late. We'll hold, but we won't like it."
"You must be in charge here, then."
"How goes the war against the sliths?"
"We noticed the damage to the walls. I'd love to meet the mage responsible for patching them."
"If its intel you need, perhaps we could figure out what the sliths are up to?"
"You seem awfully excited to go attack a heavily-defended island fortress."
"We're gonna get a ship! Maybe I can get an eyepatch!"
"Ahem. Is there perhaps a bounty system for killing sliths?"
"I'm guessing this didn't go well."
"Is this shaman a leader of some kind, then? What significance does he have?"
"So much for peace."
"So hey, nice armor."
"It's in impressively good shape compared to what we have. Granted that our own stuff is scavenged from the bodies of our enemies, usually after we put a few holes in them."
"What's an Empire soldier doing fighting for Avernum? Aren't we enemies?"
"Would that we had more like you, sir."
This dialog is somewhat redundant, but if you ask her about the holes in the walls:
"We'll do what we can against that island fortress, sir. Good luck with the defense here."
"And good luck out there."
"Keeping an eye out for invaders?"
"What a lovely shrine!"
"What does a Ward do?"
"Ahh, but you control the supplies. So you have more power than anyone, really."
"Oh really? Let's have a look then."
Magic pants! Truly the pinnacle of magic item research. They give +10% curse resistance. Too bad everything here is so expensive; those pants cost more than a boat.
"Thanks for your time, sarge."
If you ask him for a job he just redirects you to Commander Rosie.
"So you're the medic?"
"I hope you haven't been too busy lately!"
"Nice scar there. Slipped up in the fighting?"
"Where have you traveled to? Any particular sights you'd recommend?"
"Spiders? Oh dear. Where?"
"So noted. Let's not go north, boys."
"We found a crystal cave, but it was vandalized."
"I don't suppose you could teach us any holy rituals?"
He can! Amazing. I thought I was going to have to take on the sliths with just the starting 4 mage and priest spells. Elly gets the first two levels each of War Blessing (improves your allies' accuracy and damage) and Call Storm (Conic AoE ice damage with knockback and a chance to cause Weakness Curse), and improves her Smite rank by 1. This does in most of our petty cash, but it's going to pay itself back by making fights a lot more feasible.
Summon Shade is basically pointless, like all summoning spells.
"Thanks, Toddric! Good luck out there!"
"Mairwen - Fort Mage"
"I saw your work on the walls. Amazing. What else do you do around here?"
"What do you think of the sliths? We may be fighting them soon."
"I think we've graduated well past ''may'' now, Kane."
"So what d'you do here? Just the barriers?"
"You can dispel magical barriers?!"
"Oh come now, they'd hardly be very useful if they were literally permanent."
"We've got to learn how to do this!"
"Bah. Nothing can ever be easy."
"Why is this such a big deal for you, One-Eye?"
"Imagine you just learned that what you thought was a wall was instead a door whose lock you could learn to pick."
"I don't suppose you know why nobody will teach the dispelling spell?"
"Sounds like they're onto you, buddy."
That's it for Fort Dranlon. Here's the map:
Mairwen is in the red rectangle, with the stores to her west and the infirmary to her northwest. The other ! is Commander Rosie.
Incidentally, did you notice what I missed? Mairwen can teach the basic mage spells, just like Toddric can teach the basic priest spells. Boy I'm going to be kicking myself for this later!
"Guess we'd better go buy a boat."
First, we explore around Dranlon a bit. Just east is a hidden passage in the wall:
The "fine spear" is a Slith Warspear, which grants +10% fire resistance for some reason. One-Eye gets it.
"Did you see that house across the lake? We should check it out."
"I don't see a footpath, and I am not going to try to swim while carrying all this junk!"
"What, you can't breathe underwater along with all the other weird shit you do?"
"Hmph. Do you want to be healed next time we get into a fight? Or should I just let your small intestine dangle out of your torso and get tangled in your boots?"
"I'll be good."
Further east is a little nook:
"Hmm, wonder where they went?"
Immediately to the east is another nook, behind a hidden wall.
"Oh, phew. I thought we were going to be ambushed by sliths, but it's just a pack of brigands."
"Beat it, chumps! Go scare the farmers over by Fort Duvno!"
Evidently level 7 is enough to scare off basic bandits. The potion is a Speed Potion, which gives the user an AP multiplier for awhile. We'll probably need it.
Anyway, we go back to Cotra.
"Hey Eduardo! We're getting a ship!"
"Hrm. I note a distinct lack of sails."
"There's not a lot of wind down here, chum. We're going to have to row."
"This sucks. "
Getting a boat opens up our exploration options a lot. We'll be sticking to the coast of the Eastern Gallery for the time being though. For example, right outside Cotra is this odd island:
"One of the crystals from the cave!"
"And another! We're going to have that cave repaired in no time!"
Remember, we need six Crystals to fix the cave.
"What bizarre-looking growths."
"Better burn them out before they infest the seas."
"Since when did we ever play gardener?"
Ten Burning Fungi. A good opportunity for Elly to try out her new spells. Line up the right spread...
We have a reusable AoE attack, and it feels good. Unfortunately, these Burning Fungi all have ranged poison projectiles, and they can easily kill one party member per turn. At least they're vulnerable to fire, despite the name.
It takes several tries before we beat them. It turns out that getting Protection up helps immensely, reducing their accuracy from around 75% to 25% (!). This allows Kane and One-Eye to stay up and draw attacks while Byff and Elly snipe the fungi down. Once we get their numbers down a bit, their damage becomes far more survivable. The final successful try only uses up two healing potions and a charge from Kane's Fiery Wand.
"This was dumb. We didn't even get anything for doing it."
"Except the satisfaction of a job well done!"
"Can I buy beer with that?"
"Heads up, I see a patrol of sliths."
A Slith Warrior (who moves first and hits Kane with a discipline that entangles him and knocks him back), and six basic Sliths. Note that all sliths have very good fire resistance, rendering Byff somewhat less useful for damage-dealing than usual. Too bad he doesn't know any higher-level spells yet! He just sticks to Smite instead of Bolt of Fire, and suffers for the higher spellpoint cost and his worse priest spell skill.
Oh well, there's still Daze.
"Don't worry, Byff, I'll pick up your slack!"
"I kept saying we should go to the Tower of the Magi, but noooo, we had to go fight sliths! "
The sliths can put out a lot of damage, and out here there's no way to funnel them and limit the number of attacks we take, so this is a tough fight. We slowly wear them down to just the Slith Warrior (who is ridiculously sturdy) without losing anyone, and then play fast and loose with Kane's health and he dies to the warrior's last attack. Whoops.
Cue a quick trip back to Fort Dranlon.
"Think this is that village that Commander Rosie wanted us to take out?"
"We really ought to start asking for more specific directions to the places people want us to invade. But how do you do precise positioning without being able to see the stars?"
"Guess there's nothing for it but to go in and see what we find."
"Only one visible entrance. No sneaking in via the back way this time."
"And of course that entrance is guarded. Trouble, guys."
Slith Shaman, Warrior, and Flinger...and Slith Flingers are no joke. Our strategy is to aggro them by stepping precisely two squares into the corridor, then stepping back out into the small open area at the edge of the map. It takes several tries before we manage to do it without someone dying or the shaman casting a fear spell that literally causes everyone to flee off the map.
Part of the problem is our abysmal hit rates. Kane has a ~45% chance to hit a Slith Warrior in combat when War Blessing is active. Meanwhile, the sliths have 95% chances to hit us even when Protection is active. Even when Kane does hit, we get results like this:
Our offense and defense are just seriously out of line with the threats we're facing. This turns fights into long slogs.
"Guys...we are seriously outclassed here."
"And yet we won."
"Do you think we're going to keep winning?"
"Hey, worst case you two die and we haul you back to town, right?"
"You think you're so funny."
There's two more Slith Warriors, which would have joined the initial fight if we'd moved any further forwards. Taking them down involves Kane tanking hits and plinking ineffectually, One-Eye acting as our healer of all things and keeping Kane on his feet, and Byff and Elly spamming Smite to actually deal damage.
We've killed five units and Byff and Elly are mostly out of spellpoints, so we head back to town for a quick top-off.
"Take heart, boys! This is an excellent opportunity to learn about slith lifestyles!"
"We're in over our head, fighting dangerously intelligent lizard men, and you're excited about the cultural opportunities?"
"Hey, there's never a bad time to learn something!"
"Never a bad time to loot things, either."
"See, we've learned that the sliths like to booby-trap their storage bins!"
A Gnawing Stoneworm, which I think is a unique monster. Durable and hard to hit, deals lots of damage, but not enough to one-shot anyone and it doesn't have any special abilities, so we just slowly wear it down.
"We're also learning that they're awfully fond of worms. That one just spit some kind of frozen goop on me."
"Hey, that means I can probably use Bolt of Fire on it! Stupid fire-resistant sliths."
Frozen Worms have both a ranged cold attack and a ranged conic AoE cold breath attack. They both hurt. At least cold damage doesn't put any debuffs or damage-over-time effects on you.
"There are an awful lot of sliths here."
"It is one of their temples, you know. Were you expecting to find nephilim?"
"Kind of weird how they haven't built any defenses though. We're literally just walking through their bedrooms."
One benefit to being drastically under-leveled is that we gain levels quickly; each kill here is worth around 50 experience for each party member. Everyone hits level 8 pretty quickly, at which point we can take the Negotiator trait, which improves the sale value of items we sell by 10% per character with the trait. Which means we can finally start selling the items we've been lugging around since the start of the game!
"I think we're starting to get the hang of this!"
"It helps that we're not getting swarmed. Do these people even have an alarm system?"
"Don't question it."
The associated stat and skill improvements from leveling also make a big difference. Kane's accuracy without War Blessing against a Slith Warrior is now 52%.
"He's an alchemist! Maybe I can find his notes!"
"Will you even be able to read them?"
"If not, I will learn!"
"Alchemist" appears to mean "has some basic spells."
"Nothing but some potions. Sorry, Byff."
"One of these days I will practice alchemy again!"
"Aw, crap! Back me up here!"
This fight against three Frozen Worms is incredibly dangerous, as the worms all have AoE and ranged attacks, and if any of our characters except Kane gets hit twice without healing, they die. It takes many attempts. Finally we manage to kill one of the worms on the first turn, and Kane is able to move into melee range with the other two, giving them a distraction in the hopes that they use their relatively weak melee attacks instead of their vastly stronger ranged ones.
"Stop covering me in cold slimy crap! And die already!"
"It seems unfair that their pets should be so much more dangerous than the sliths themselves."
"Are they pets? They're in a pen...do the sliths eat these things? ...urp."
"Some kind of ceremony room to the east. This could get ugly."
"It got ugly."
"Let me take a quick look."
Two sliths, a slith warrior, a slith flinger, the unique cultist Gyasshara, and a Cave Demon. Yeah, that's ugly; there's no way we can just charge in and fight them equally. So instead, we carefully position Kane a short ways into the corridor to activate as few targets as possible. Most enemies only move if they can see you on their turn, so if we stand at the edge of their vision then we can pull out the enemies in front while leaving the ones in back undisturbed.
This doesn't work for all encounters, though -- oftentimes the terrain prevents it, and sometimes enemies will be "patrolling", in which case they can wander into sight on their turn and join the fight. But it works fine here, as all of the enemies are stuck in place until they see something.
First we manage to lure out the flinger and kill him -- which is good, because otherwise he's nailing a target of his choice for 20-30 damage every turn. For reference, Kane has 80 HP.
Next is the Cave Demon.
"Uh, guys? Are we sure we're up to this?"
"You'll be fine! Remember your faith!"
"I really don't think a demon is going to care about tariff law!"
Once activated, enemies stay activated, even if you leave their line of sight, so we can hide around the corner to pull the demon out and give us room to maneuver.
Cave Demons aren't actually that threatening, as all they can do is attack. Their attacks always cleave, though (hitting adjacent targets), so ideally you want people spaced out. And they're very hard to hit; Kane has a 44% chance, and One-Eye a 73% chance, with War Blessing active. Even our spells often miss.
"I'm starting to question the supposed intelligence of these sliths."
"And yet we keep almost dying, even though we're only fighting one enemy at a time."
Unfortunately, we can't really pull out any more individual enemies -- next up is the two basic sliths and the slith warrior, and I'm pretty sure the cultist got activated too.
Yep, there he is. And he can cast Lightning Spray, a spell we're nowhere near accessing yet. And Call Storm. We bust out a Speed Burst scroll, giving the entire party double actions for awhile, and things are going well, until this happens:
That's One-Eye, Byff, and Elly, all dazed and thus out of the fight.
"Guys? Guys! Snap out of it!"
Fortunately, the cultist does absolutely nothing of consequence three turns in a row, allowing everyone to recover normally.
"Wait, what? What happened?"
"Hit the lizard!"
Kane's been terrified, and poisoned by the Cave Widow the cultist summoned.
"Suck on this, you overgrown alligator!"
"And everyone's still alive!"
Not in many alternate universes, Kane.
"Wow, this is some nice armor."
"Cool, I'll take that."
One-Eye doesn't need all that much Strength anyway to use his bows and javelins, and by this point he's basically hopeless at melee against the enemies we're facing.
And there's another horribly difficult encounter done! Lest you think the game is super hard, it's not, really; we're just not meant to be here without several more levels and rather more spells in our repertoire.
"So what's this room for, anyway? Some kind of research lab?"
"More like a council / summoning room. Are the lizards consorting with demons?"
"What's this gray mold on the counter?"
"Wait...gray mold? Graymold? That alchemical ingredient that grumpy man in Cotra was talking about!"
The chests have some money, scrolls of Group Heal and Spineshield (causes enemies that attack us to take damage in turn), and this:
"I wish I knew what all these keys we've been collecting are for."
"For all we know this one opens the box that cultist keeps his porn stash in."
"And thank you so much for that lovely mental image."
There's only one thing left in here...