Part 61: Fortress of Grah-Hoth
"Wow, overcompensating much?"
"Come on, let's get in there and get this over with."
"One Orb-based aerial assault coming up."
"Landed a bit short there, chap."
"Sorry. The ceiling's dropping and I don't know where the altitudinal adjustment knob is on this thing. I'm sure I can figure it out with a bit of experimentation though. Hey One-Eye, can you dodge the ceiling?"
"I'm not interested in finding out. Let's just walk from here."
"See? No pancaking ourselves against the roof required."
"Geeze, look at that wall."
"Hey, it's the Hundred Profane Postures! Man, the last time I saw those was at the Way of the Word's comparative theology course!"
"Wow, and they carved them all over the walls. I guess those little imps must make good stoneworkers. Hang on, I gotta take a rubbing of some of these. Byff, got any parchment?"
"Can we wait to make our detailed study of demonic artforms until after said demons are dead?"
"Awww, but the place will probably collapse right after we kill them!"
"It stayed standing last time. They're still rebuilding, from the sounds of it."
"And the sooner we stop them rebuilding, the better. C'mon, sister, let's get a move on."
"I'm guessing this is the door that that astral projection was talking about."
"The ghost lady from earlier."
"Well. Remind me to thank her if we ever see her again."
"How uncharacteristically polite of you."
"Look buster, the sooner we get this over with, the better. In, kill, out, done. That's my motto."
"Oh, and speaking of which."
"Let's at least try to be sneaky about this, okay? If we can get to Grah-Hoth without bringing the entire fucking fortress full of demons down on our head, so much the better. No detours, no picking fights just for the fun of it."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"I'll bet. Anyway, point is, who knows what horrors this place holds? Better if we don't find out, that's all I'm saying."
"Ah yes, the horrors of the demonic storage closet!"
One of the things I like about Jeff Vogel's dungeons is that they're still places and make thematic sense. Fortresses always have kitchens, bedrooms, and often a trash pit, for example. Just because you're full of evil demonic horrors, that's no excuse not to have a place to keep your crap! In this case, the place was in ruins up until a few days ago because it was abandoned after Grah-Hoth was captured. Now he's back, so they need to rebuild it. And rebuilding takes time, effort, and tools...so you'll find signs of all of those as you explore.
"Aha! A demon!"
"A demon covered in mud and dirt."
"Submit or be destroyed!"
"Not the reaction I was expecting. Uh, what exactly do you think you're doing?"
"Oh! You're one of the stonecarvers?"
"Yes. Yes, we're here to kill your boss. And end your slavery."
" -- one way or another."
"So we're helping demons now?"
"Enemy of my enemy, right?"
"Besides, if he's one of the stonecarvers, then he's a bonafide artist! Such skill deserves to be preserved!"
There's a lot of duplicates of this imp all over the place, serving as Grah-Hoth's workforce. Enslaving imps probably isn't as much fun as enslaving humans. Poor Grah-Hoth.
"I believe this leads to the main entrance."
"Right, staying the fuck away from there."
"But there'll be demons to kill!"
"What did I just say? We're not here to pick fights!"
"We aren't? But --"
"Okay, we're here to pick one very specific fight. Happy?"
"Hey, I'm just glad we're somewhere warm for once."
"This place is huge. I hate to think what it'll be like when it's finished."
"It could be a real tourist attraction!"
"Now where is that trash pit...?"
"Are those...? Oh my."
"Let's just stay away from those barrels. Anyone got a lead sheet?"
"I never thought I'd say this, but this fortress full of demons is boring."
"Hush you. We've found our ringleader."
"Yeah, yeah. Cower in fear and all that. Got anything useful for us? What're you doing hiding back here anyway?"
"I'm sure I'll regret this, but what would you do with freedom?"
"Oh, it's hard being the principled type."
"Says mister wait-for-them-to-attack-me-before-I-cut-their-heads-off."
"Exactly! That way it's self-defense!"
"So I'm guessing you want us to kill your boss so you can be free?"
"Right, right. You want that so badly? Help us."
"Hey, you know we don't trust you, right? You're gonna come with us, as insurance."
"On second thought, I don't want you anywhere near us when a fight starts, anyway."
"Yeesh! There's hardly room to walk in here!"
"Well boys, better get crackin'."
This tunnel stretches literally across the entire fort. It's almost comically long.
"I wonder what possessed them to dig such a long, straight tunnel?"
"You think demons can possess other demons?"
"I don't see why not."
"Dude, you're addicted to violence."
"Can't hear you, busy chopping undead."
Three Pustulant Zombies, and three more down the corridor. Not remotely dangerous.
"Oh mama, I like what I see!"
"Keep it in your pants, One-Eye."
"C'mon, I can climb this, easy. I'll just, uh...what the hell, they greased the wall! Who does that?"
"I'm sure you'll be able to get your loot once we kill Grah-Hoth."
"Yeah, but I want it now."
This is three Writhing Masses and three Pustulant Zombies. Still not a threat.
"What's with all the undead, anyway? Where are the demonic guards?"
"I believe these were left here, forgotten, when the fortress fell. If there were demons back here, they probably starved to death."
"Demons need to eat?"
"Well, kind of. They get cranky without anyone to torture, and eventually they'll go crazy and kill themselves."
"Really, the whole demon thing would be a self-solving problem if imps didn't breed so quickly."
Two Banshees, a Skeletal Warrior, and a Divine Shade, plus another Shade around the corner and yet more Pustulant Zombies. Now this is a decent fight! The Shades and Banshees can throw out significant AoE attacks and mental spells (One-Eye gets scared and runs off). We actually have to heal. But the tight environs mean that Byff is able to Lightning Spray everything to death pretty quickly.
"Okay! Let's get into the fortress, finally!"
"Err? If that imp sold us out, I am going to murder him."
"Better check this wall. If it's anything like that storeroom..."
"Oh, if only we had a hammer. Like these three in that cabinet."
One of the weirder puzzles of the game. I guess it has a certain verisimilitude to it though. I think you can also use a pickaxe here if you happen to be carrying one.
"Right. Let's be quiet about --"
"Demons! Your day of judgement is at hand!"
"Oh for fuck's sake."
"I don't know why you expected anything else to happen, hon."
"You're the dorkiest knight in shining armor ever, you know that right?"
"Aww, I think it's cute."
"Well, I'd better go pull his ass out of the fire."
Do you like fighting demons? Good news! There's demons all over the place now. Did you think this would be a cakewalk? Bad news!
"What the hell just happened?!"
Forget about those old Cryonic, Mung, etc. Demons. That was the baby leagues! Now we have Demonic Reavers! They hit like trucks and have approximately a million HP apiece. They can also work themselves into frenzies, which either gives them Battle Frenzy (hooray ) or temporarily makes their melee a lot stronger.
One-Eye can usually dodge them, though the cold and acidic varieties can still be major problems. Everyone else is in serious danger, though, and it takes so long to kill even one demon that they have plenty of time to throw their AoE spells around.
"Alright! Good warmup, team!"
"I think I need to sit down for a bit."
Byff's down to half-energy, almost entirely from that one fight, almost entirely from just slinging Lightning Spray, which is by far his most efficient multitarget attack spell.
Note the Mutant Lizard in the kitchens to the north. Lizardmeat is a dietary staple for everyone!
"Hi guys! Mind going back to the burning realms on your own? Banishing you manually is kind of tiring!"
"Look, there can't be an endless supply of them."
"Unless Grah-Hoth is summoning more as we kill them."
"...then he'll get tired eventually!"
Incidentally, remember to check the nests in these little chambers; they have stuff like gemstones and Speed Burst scrolls in them.
"Anyone hungry? There's a -- "
"-- perfectly good lizard shank steak here. Oh well."
"Guys, this is pointless, just give up already!"
"Hey, we're doing fine! Stop being so defeatist!"
"Not us, them."
"Oh, carry on then."
"Okay, I feel perfectly justified killing this guy."
The Infernal Torturer can cause stunning earthquakes, can summon Fiery Demons, and is even more durable than the Reavers. Also, he can --
-- charm. God dammit, One-Eye.
"Uh, guys, I don't mean to disturb you but I kind of can't control my actions right now. Help?"
"Not to worry! One daemonic detox coming up!"
"G̭̺̬͔̎e̹̺t̑̅̚ ͍̳̩͍̯̃̒͒̿ͩͤ̓y̼̫͋̎̾̋ͅọ͕͕̝͙͍̓̍ͭů̘̬ͭͣ̅ͯ̽ͭr̲̩͈͕̹̋̋͛̒ ̬͖̹̺̘̾ͨ̿ͦ̑͛b̟̙ͨ̽̂̿ͩ̿ͦr͖̜͈̝̉á͔̤i̱͔͔̦̹̥̫͋̋͆ͤ̆̽n̠̰͈͔͉ͣ̽́̋̇ͯ̏s̙̻͚̙͉͍̀̌͒̄ b̭̤̲̜̺̞̟̔̏̒̎͌ͣ̚a̲̲̲̤̝ͪ͒͒̌̆̂̈́ͅc̩̭̝ͭ̔͐ͨk͍̐̾ ̻̠̥̞͍ͨ̽̄ͬ̍̄ͅḯ̞̯ͦ͛n͑s̻͉̄̌i̙̎ͬ͛ͯ̈́̒d̙̬̙̩̩̹̺̐̓e̟̻͎͂́͛̆̍̎!̭̮̎͒ͤ̐ͪͧ̚"
"-- oh. Well, that was only mildly horrifying."
"Only mildly? I must be losing my touch."
"Perish the thought."
Anyway, the Torturer dies without too much fuss, but we've spent an awful lot of energy so far.
Oh well, we brought energy potions, might as well use 'em. Energy Elixirs are just about a guaranteed full restore for both Elly and Byff, and we have six; hopefully we won't need all of them.
Also, the Torturer drops a new ring.
"Interesting. Here, One-Eye, take this:"
"Huh, neat. I can't help feel like this is cheating the ancient and dignified art of shooting people, though."
"Is that a problem?"
"Fuck no. Whatever works!"
This should help One-Eye's damage output considerably, since I believe these kinds of damage boosts are applied before enemy damage reduction.
To give you some context for how durable Reavers are, we spent everyones' Adrenaline Rushes on this one (Byff cast Bolt of Fire four times, to conserve energy), and it's still only about 2/3rds dead.
"I find it mildly concerning that one of their priorities when rebuilding was to make some stocks and restraint chairs."
"Oh for fuck's sake, we went the wrong way!"
Yep, this is the entrance again! You don't have to fight the Torturer, or most of the Reavers. The real way forward is straight west from the secret passage's exit.
Incidentally, all the other barriers (including the ones One-Eye swore at) are unbreakable, even with level-3 Dispel Barrier.
"How stupid does he think we are?"
"''Oooh! Shiny gem! I'll just step into this magic circle, nothing could possibly go wrong!''"
"That in mind, I surmise Grah-Hoth is waiting behind that wall."
"Can confirm. Or at least, someone is really anticipating a good meal."
"Then let's give him one. The last meal he'll ever get, of steel and fire."
Full disclosure: the first time I played Avernum, I legit did go "Oh, a ruby! Yoin -- where did those demons come from?" Jeff Vogel is very in-tune with what motivates the people who play his games, I'll give him that.
Also, that's the only way to proceed, so let's go trigger that trap like proper adventurers.
"Talkative fellow, isn't he?"
"Eh. Let's get this over with."
As a little change of pace, I decided to record video of this fight!
Watch the fight!
I recommend listening to some music while you watch. Say, Bach's Little Fugue. Why? Because the original Exile 1 used it as background music! In case you wanted a 3-4 minute MIDI looping continuously as you played the game for hours on end.
The screenshots below are from a separate attempt; it took me several tries before I was able to figure out a strategy that worked even somewhat reliably. Step one, as usual, is to hurl One-Eye's hapless, nigh-unhittable body into the fray.
Also, note the Skeletal Warriors along the edges of the arena.
"Hi there. I'm your distraction for today. Is this bothering you? Is this bothering you? Is this bothering you?"
"HOLD STILL SO I CAN EAT YOU!"
"Hold still so I can eat you!"
"I'll make you regret the chaos you've caused, fiend!"
Step two: Kane, shown here hiding behind a pillar, will serve as our secondary damage dealer (after Byff). Since One-Eye is also in melee range of Grah-Hoth, Kane gets his backstab bonus (from the Backstab trait he got way back near the beginning of the LP). However, he's not adjacent to One-Eye, which is important: practically every enemy in this fight can cleave with their melee attacks, and hits from cleaving are undodgeable. If One-Eye stood next to Kane, then pretty soon he'd be dead from all the spillover damage from attacks directed at Kane.
Also, note the Fiery Demon that Grah-Hoth summoned. He can do this ad infinitum, but can only have one demon out at a time.
Step three: move our squishy casters out of the center of the room. I'd rather they not be adjacent to each other like this, but the main thing is to make certain that any summoned monsters have to go through Kane or One-Eye to reach Elly and Byff.
Step four: use our Speed Burst scrolls and Potions of Invulnerability. We absolutely must be dealing damage as quickly as possible in this fight, and we can't be taking time out to heal (indeed, most of our healing will come from One-Eye throwing Scrolls of Group Heal around; they're weak, but his damage output is by far the worst of the party in this fight). Moreover, if anyone dies, then we've basically lost -- Restore Life brings them up in a random location, almost certainly one that melee enemies can reach. Which means that newly-alive character will soon be dead again.
Step five: unleash the beast! There is absolutely no point in holding Byff back here. Arcane Blow will drain his energy quickly, but it's by far our biggest damage dealer (hitting Grah-Hoth for upwards of 150 damage, when Kane with Demonslayer hits for maybe 50). Byff will just have to drink energy elixirs as necessary to keep the damage train rolling.
"Keep it up, guys!"
Step six: and here's where speed is of the essence. Grah-Hoth is continually summoning new monsters to join the fray. As we deal damage, he summons progressively nastier foes. This first wave is Acidic Revenants, which are no big deal; they have a permanent acid debuff on them (taking damage each turn) and also grant said debuff to whatever they can hit in melee. But they don't do much damage and will die reasonably easily.
You'd think that we could just hurt Grah-Hoth, let him summon, ignore him while we kill the summons, and repeat. There's two problems with this. First is that if you leave him alone, Grah-Hoth gets pissy and starts using a scripted power that isolates a party member in his Pit of Pain (the grating in the northeast corner of the room), tagging them with Dazed and Immobilized in the process. More importantly, he also will continually refresh the Skeletal Warriors he had at the start of the fight. And, more rarely, he'll pull in four Quickghasts.
Quickghasts are assholes. They have enough AP to attack twice per turn, their melee both slows and stuns (costing you turns outright), they're freakishly accurate, and they have so much HP that it takes the entire party focus-firing a single one to kill it in one round. And he gets four of them at a time.
Grah-Hoth's other summons are dangerous, but it's the Quickghasts that really put this fight on a timer. We need Grah-Hoth dead before they can have a chance to stunlock the party into submission.
Oh yeah, and he can summon Gazers too. They're weak, but they also hang way back where Elly and Byff can't hit them, and continually harass us with spells. Also they can give all the other summoned monsters Battle Frenzy (in case Grah-Hoth doesn't feel like doing it himself). We'll just have to leave them back there and hope for the best.
Oh yeah, Grah-Hoth's other abilities:
- Summon a Fiery Demon, as noted earlier. He puts a high priority on this, but the demon is quite fragile, so this is a good way to get him to waste actions.
- Give Battle Frenzy to everything.
- Mass Terror. This one's a bitch if it sticks to our frontliners, of course, and in one particularly abominable run everyone except Elly got frightened. Remember that the only way to cure mental ailments is a single-target spell that only Elly can cast.
- Charm. Actually not too bad now that One-Eye and Kane can semi-reliably resist; even if it hits, it can only affect one party member at a time.
- Divine Retribution, a.k.a. that earthquake attack, a.k.a. both our casters just got one-shotted.
- Some variant of Arcane Blow that causes knockback and inflicts immobility, which is awful if it sticks to Kane and mostly not a big deal if it sticks to One-Eye. That boy can attract aggro from across the room, somehow, so it matters less where he stands. But leaving the path open for melee enemies to reach Elly and Byff is less good.
- A wide-area acid spell. I wouldn't be surprised if he also has frost, fire, and lightning variants of this, too, but I only saw the one.
- A completely inconsequential melee attack.
"Oh, what fresh hell is this?"
"A cold one, hon!"
These Iceclaw Imps can also cause stunning with their melee, just like the Quickghasts! They're a lot more fragile though, and they only show up once.
Grah-Hoth's about halfway dead right now. You might think we could avoid some of the summons by killing him really quickly, on the theory that he can only summon friends once per turn. You'd be wrong: he'll just summon allies multiple times in a row if need be, to catch up to where he should be in the script.
See? This got us the Quickghasts, some Exploding Imps, and some Ironward and Runeward Bones. The Imps have a massive area-effect lightning spell that hurts like hell. Ironward Bones are just nearly impossible to kill with physical damage (and Runeward likewise with magical). We're in the home stretch, though, which means it's time for Elly to kick into high gear.
"C͕̔͒̈́͗̇̄̾r͕̣̲̹̀ͬâ͔̻̪͇̥̭͇͐̑̒͌w̳̯͕̅ͥ̎͒̃̓ͦl̠͚͍͈̗̒͒̏ͅͅ ̂͊̍͒ͥ̿̽oͧ̃͋̈́nͣͧ͆ ̖͑̓̓̎t̟͓̹̖̊ͫ̐ḧ̗̬̘͇̫e̍̄ ͙͋̓ͨ͑̊ͣ̚g̖̤̋̽r͚̙̰̣̞͚̬͑̏o̘͎̱̻̝͗̄ͫ̑u͙̖̯͑̑ͭ̈́̃ͬn͖͇̍͗̐̓ḏ͙̩͖̅͛,̓ m͚̮̂̾is̯̮̺̖̺͔̈̂̇̑͋͑e̫͔̲̯͔ͮ̑̓̓̄̓r̹̒ä̋b̠͎͚͐̀͆l͍̤̠̒͐̅ȇ̲͔ͪ ̈ͫ͂̀͒ͫu̠̯̪̰ͅp̦̰̼̝̮̩͔̓̀s̭ͬ̀́̑ͭ͆ͅt̠͌̄̿͒̀̎͌a̱̟͗̊͊͆̑r̯ͮ̆̓͒ͣͪt̟̥͛ ̥͈͔͇̖̑ͅd͔̖̭͈ͭ̏̆͌̊̌ͥè͇̱m̠̣̜͕̗̼̒o̳̦̤̫ͭ͗ṇ̥̫ͅͅ!͒̊ͯͬͯ̋"
I've been saving Elly and Byffs' Adrenaline Rush techniques for this point in the fight; we need their triplecasts to burst down the remainder of Grah-Hoth's health. Three castings of Divine Retribution, followed by four castings of Arcane Blow, and...
"Yes! We did it!"
"Way to go, boys!"
"And that's how it's done!"
"We still have a problem."
"I don't get it, they're supposed to disappear when their leader dies!"
"It appears they didn't get the memo."
"Then we'll just have to deliver it to them the hard way! One serving of documents pertaining to a restraining order, coming up!"
I'm pretty sure all the summons are supposed to vanish when Grah-Hoth does...but they don't. Surprise! I hope you have a cunning plan for killing these things without getting overwhelmed. I do.
...it does not involve One-Eye being the only party member still standing, completely surrounded by hostile undead and demons. Let's switch over to a different take now. That's the problem with making multiple attempts at a fight -- you get screenshots from alternate universes.
Elly's dead, Kane's surrounded (hiding behind the pillar again), One-Eye's gotten punted by knockback effects to the far side of the arena, and Byff's badly hurt.
"I hate to be a downer, gents, but this is not going well!"
"Not to worry, I have a plan!"
"Sounds great! What do we do?"
"Well, first I push this button on the wall here, and then I run down the corridor it opens up."
"Then I wait for you two to die."
"I don't like where th -- urk"
"Hm, surprisingly tasteful."
"Byff you asshoooooooole"
"I mean, not that I wouldn't have done the same if I were him. In a way I'm almost proud. Now come on, stop trying to hit me and HIT MEoh fuck there go my organs"
"All done? Great."
"Uhh, what just happened?"
"I've noticed that the Return Life spell appears to have a localized teleportation effect. You were all hopelessly mired in the melee, but all I had to do to extract you was --"
"Let us die while you ran away, and then revive us."
"Pretty clever, eh?"
"I don't think much of your idea of teamwork."
"Oh now, if you hadn't been there, there's no way I would have made it to safety in time! Your momentary sacrifice was absolutely vital!"
"''Safety'' is such a relative term these days."
"Oh well, back into the fray. At least their boss is dead."
And then we slowly, tediously whittled down the summons from the safety of this small side room, from which they could only really assault us one at a time. I'll spare you the details. But you can, in fact, do the entire boss fight from this area -- just run right past Grah-Hoth, hit the button, and pile the entire party into the passageway. Grah-Hoth and his minions can only reach you one at a time, so you won't get mobbed and can trivialize the entire fight. It's an incredibly effective and reliable tactic, with the only downside that it's boring as hell.
I have no qualms about busting it out here, though; the various Warded Bones enemies alone make fighting "fairly" a stupid idea. I decided to keep track of the amount of damage dealt by Kane and One-Eye to a single Runewarded Bones enemy (keep in mind it's immune to magic, so Elly and Byff are incapable of helping). Here's the numbers: 68, 44, 47, 9, 29, 54, 58, 48, 42, 37, 53, 44, 59, 47, 52, 39, 37, 59, 40, 42, 37, 71. Each number there is an attack (except the 9 and 29, which were ripostes by Kane), so that's 20 attacks, about 8 turns, for an enemy with around 1000 HP. Bugger doing that fairly.
Some time later...
"And now for our first reward for a job well done."
"You had better believe I am milking that fucker Micah for all he's worth over this."
Some Graymold Salve, an Aranea Fang, a bag of Sugar, and a Restore Life scroll. In theory you could "shortcut" the quest to cure Patrick's Wife by killing Grah-Hoth instead. Not to mention that sidequest aaaaages ago to steal some sugar from Fort Avernum.
A bar of gold, an iron broadsword, some mandrake root, a bronze halberd, and a pittance of coins. This is pathetic.
A steel helmet, some more coins, a Wisdom Crystal (we're up to 16), a Wand of Carrunos (actively harmful -- it makes your enemies stronger!), and a ruby. Also pretty sad.
An emerald, some coins, and some new armor:
I'll consider using this, but honestly if One-Eye were going to swap out the Fibrous Breastplate, it'd be for the Mercuric Plate, which gives +1 action points. The only reason we're not using it right now is because it puts him over the armor weight limit...which subtracts 1 action point.
Aside from the chest treasures, there's also three gold bars and two flawless crystals on a countertop. So in short, there's a few thousand coins' worth of vendor trash here, a useful scroll, a rare herb, and some potentially nice but probably not very useful armor.
"...fuck demons. That's all I got. Let's get out of here."
"We should probably examine Grah-Hoth's council room first."
The barrier on this side can be dispelled, but the one on the other side, which opens into the boss arena, cannot be. So you can't get in here until after the fight (barring cheese strategies).
Too bad Byff's out of energy to break the barrier down! There goes another energy elixir.
All that's in this room is a chest with a Wand of Alacrity (casts Haste when used) and an Invulnerability Elixir (8 turns of 80% damage reduction). I guess that's worth spending an energy elixir for.
"If only we'd known about this passage earlier, I could've taken a hammer to this wall instead of the other one, gotten the treasure without having to fight the demon."
"But then Grah-Hoth would still be alive."
"After I saw the quality of his treasure? No way. Fucker's gonna die for raising my hopes like that."
"Good news, my infernal friend! Your master is destroyed!"
Let's hear it for an end to imp slavery.
"I hope this doesn't mean that they're abandoning their engravings."
"Hey, let's go hear what that ringleader imp has to say."
"Yo, your boss is dead. No thanks to you."
"What did you expect, a reward?"
"Fuck demons. Fuck all of this! Let's go home."
"Hey. It's okay. We'll just take a vacation for a bit."
"Yeah! C'mon, I have some bottles of Almarian wine around here somewhere. Let's celebrate!"
"Celebrate? Out here?"
"Sure! Who's going to stop us?"
"...can't argue with that. Cheers!"
That's the first main quest line completed! Avernum has achieved a modicum of safety and stability thanks to our efforts. This is absolutely a victory to be celebrated.
Next time: we take some time off to tie up a few loose ends.
Finally, before we go, the map to Grah-Hoth's Fortress!
The entrance that we can actually use is in the southwest (the main courtyard is blocked by unbreakable barriers). The Trash Pit where Tyoarik is hiding is in the northwest; the storeroom leading to the secret passage is east of that, and Grah-Hoth's great hall / battle arena is in the center, with his treasure room east of there.