Part 5: THESE are dragons?Update 3: THESE are dragons?
Returning to Throtl, the first order of business is exploring the southeast corner of the map.
I can't get over the ridiculous turtleneck these guys are wearing. At any rate, like good heroes we're naturally going to eavesdrop if given the opportunity.
"Wait, what was that last bit?"
"A pretty good indication that we should get ready to fight."
This would be a lot more challenging if they had some magic users, but since this enemy group only has physical fighters they're pretty easy to deal with.
It's also a good opportunity to try one of our new spells. Stinking Cloud is fairly short range, if you set it up right in front of your fighters the enemy will obligingly charge right through it. There are three possible outcomes when someone enters the cloud: No change, coughing, and choking and gagging. Coughing gives the enemy a penalty to combat stats, while choking and gagging renders them utterly helpless and vulnerable to coup-de-grace. The sick thing about Stinking Cloud is that rather than having an HD limit it remains a simple save vs. spell. That means even on late game enemies it can be effective if they fail their save.
They often give you a chance to attack or leave, which is kind of nice, but usually comes with the caveat that if you leave once you won't get a second chance. Sometimes, as this is a very old game, leaving is just a new way to screw yourself over.
"The clerics are separated are they getting smarter?"
"I think it's just a happy accident on their part."
"Unfortunately for them, I can reach both of them easily.
"I don't know what that was, but get it!"
"It's a good thing we shtocked up in town."
"H .E .L P "
"Hmm that's odd. My Hold Person spell doesn't seem to be working, but his was certainly effective."
"An unorthodox solution, but I suspect whatever he was hiding might be magical and I want it."
"And I was right!"
"It might be magical, but I think it's of very limited utility."
There are are actually two entrances to the northeast corner of Throtl. You probably want to go in through the southern entrance, for reasons that will become clear shortly.
"This is REALLY weird. And I don't like what it's doing to my hair."
"I can't imagine what they're doing to create this kind of aura."
This is the reason you don't want to come in from the western entrance. There's an ambush just beyond the door, meaning the enemies get initiative. This can end badly, as mindless undead are still smart enough to hit paralyzed characters.
"Oy! Who are you guys?"
"We're uh.. here for the package."
"Why didn't you say so? It's over there."
"That answers that question. Can we kill them now?"
"I see no reason not to."
"That's.. uh.. a lot of magic users..."
"That could have gone better."
"I guess we haul them back to town?"
As a note, nobody is actually dead in this screenshot. Characters are considered to be "dying" from 0 to -9 hp, and lose 1 HP per round until they're bandaged. As nothing we're currently facing can do more than about 9 damage, it's impossible to lose a character at this point except by negligence. So, a few minutes of healing (or a quick reset and replay of the battle ) later...
"If we run into Caramon, we probably don't actually have to mention this unless he asks about them."
"The ones who were with Caramon are all the dead ones, right?"
"If not, it would certainly explain a few things."
Letting him go will trigger a few additional pointless encounters. So
"If you say a single word about us being here I will personally tear out your left kidney and shove it down your throat until you choke on it."
"Sam! That's terrible!"
"What? A non-specific threat is nobody's friend. While we're at it, let's tie him up and gag him just to make sure."
"Hey, he's got a few papers here. Let's see what's going on here."
"Hmm. Based on this, I do not think they will succeed in their attempt to breed new draconians."
"Blood for the blood god!"
"Do you even know who it is you're a priest of?"
"Huh, there's a letter did we just kill the local mail couriers?"
"If that letter is the only one sent, then the priests in this temple have no idea that they're supposed to be sending the stolen eggs they have away "
"Then we'd better hurry."
There are six of them. With no backup. This isn't even worth an additional screen shot.
"Huh well, so much for rescuing those eggs."
"Ah man, not again!"
Six casters. I'm not going to lie, this is a pretty tough fight. Even with four spell casters of our own, it's difficult to prevent at least some of the enemies from getting off some kind of sleep, hold, or charm spell. It might be worthwhile to focus on taking out the melee fighters for once in this fight, just because it'll remove some of the enemy's ability to capitalize on their spell effects. Luckily enough, the only one who went down was Rip and I went ahead and slapped a healing spell on him before ending the battle. As far as I can tell the game decides who gets experience based on whether they have more than 0 hit points, not whether or not they're conscious at the time. As long as you can bring someone up over 0 they'll still get a full share.
"Go on and run, you lousy bastards!"
"I think that's the first intelligent thing I've seen them do."
At this point I decided to take a break and head back to town, taking full advantage of RPG time - you know, the way that plot events will hold themselves off indefinitely for side quests and the like. Turns out that Sir Karl has a message of encouragement for people who do this very thing. Also, Boo gained a level. Returning back to the action...
"Well, that confirms it. Brass eggs, not bronze."
"In a rather twisted way, they are trying to protect their future brothers."
"And they're failing. And I'm not sorry for that."
"The eggs and your life!"
"An' yer unlife!"
"We shall have to have a discussion about the meaning of 'parlay' at some point..."
Considering that we've been in sight of the eggs, you'd probably think that we were within minutes of finishing Throtl. Instead, that series of fights is actually meant to guide you into the catacombs beneath Throtl, as seen here. We're not anywhere near done, although there are ways to speed this section along.
"At least these ones are professionals. They're the first ones to actually send somebody ahead."
A couple of short minutes later...
"So much for professionalism."
"The soldiers might be professionals, but there's something decidedly odd about their clerics."
"Wait, if they're not calling on the Dark Queen then who are these clerics of?"
"It seems this letter might be a clue."
"So we know they're going to Gargath any map?"
"No such luck."
A bit further down some very dull corridors...
"Hey! Those eggs are different!"
"They do appear to be bronze no wonder Caramon was so confused. And we don't even have head injuries."
"That point is open to contention."
"Oh, don't mind us. Do continue."
"Thanks. So Tom, I'm telling you, we're not going to be able to just put these things in a cart and haul 'em cross country. And besides, we don't even have boxes or anything to put them in."
"We've got plenty of sacks, don't we? Hey, do you guys have any boxes or anything we could use?"
"No, but I do have a way to end this entire argument."
"Aww if we'd just offered to give them a hand, they'd probably have led us right to the eggs."
"They might have led us to a lot more .I think this is a map of Gargath."
Right next door is a small treasure trove that, being composed of magical items, is worth more than the last half dozen fights we've had combined. In this case, we get a set of magical bracers (armor for wizards), a ring of protection, a healing potion, and a hoopak. The ring and bracers go to Ishmael, while Rip holds on to the potion and Gable is about the only person who has a use for the hoopak.
The treasure room is also the only safe place to rest in the catacombs.
That isn't to say that there aren't some dud rooms. A few dead ends have enemies, while most are just kind of a let down.
Two nearly identical rooms might vary widely in their outcome. Searching makes you take ten minutes per move and makes finding hidden items and doors much more likely if there's anything to be found. It also substantially increases your chance of getting a random encounter. This room has a set of magical chain mail (destined for Rip), while a nearby room that's essentially identical has nothing going for it other than some skeletons hiding amongst the debris.
Eventually the walls change a bit, presumably to give some semblance of variety. There's only so much you can do with early graphics palettes.
"I could watch this for hours."
"You've got to be WAKE UP, YOU IDIOTS!"
"How did we miss those?"
"You were distracted by something shiny."
This fight can vary a bit based on whether or not any of your characters make an intelligence check to see through the illusion. If nobody makes the check your characters will start out with a penalty to their movement, THAC0, and AC. Without that advantage for the enemy, this is a much more manageable fight. It also grants a pretty decent reward of jewelry, gems, and another Ring of Protection +1.
"And I don't trust that white dragon. I don't think it enjoys it here. Too hot for him, or something."
"Listen dwarfmeat, we've got to get the word out that adventurers are on our trail. So shut up and keep moving."
"HA! We're famous!"
"Well then, shall we?"
"It wouldn't do to disappoint them."
"You don't even realize how many of your friends we've went through to get here, do you?"
This fight is very small and not remarkable, except that there's a hidden catch. Enemies do make morale checks and if they decide to run away it's usually no big deal. In this case, if the enemies run away we'll have to deal with 3 additional fights that do nothing but drain resources.
Our final scene change. At this point we actually are getting close, although the area left to be covered is almost as large as the rest of the catacombs. What it has in space, though, it lacks in scripted encounters.
At odd intervals you also get some directional cues to keep pointed in the right direction. Considering that the paths fork, however, there's only so much good that they're going to do.
You have an option to wait here and let the enemy approach you, which is reflected in how you end up positioned for battle. It's a nice touch
"Uh hi? Could we just maybe have those eggs?"
"How about no?"
"It was nice of you to give them a shot at the easy way, Boo. Now we'll do it my way."
"Should we grab them?"
"Hmm I think not. They'll still be here after we've recovered the rest."
"Dragons!? Actual dragons!?"
"Hmph perhaps, but unlikely to have any treasure of note, so far from their frozen homelands."
"They look a bit on the puny side, too."
This fight is one of those that looks worse than it actually is. The hobgoblins are no threat at all, and the white dragons are actually fairly pathetic. They've only got about 14 HP and actually have a worse armor class than some of the fighters we've been dealing with. Based on what I can glean from the Monstrous Manual these are either hatchlings or very young. The main threat they present is their breath weapon, which causes a static amount of damage equal to their HP. This is the first attack that has a possibility of killing our characters, and it can do a number on mages.
White dragons strongly resist sleep spells (and I think these technically have too many HD to be affected), but they do have to breath. A well placed stinking cloud can make the fight much easier, and sleep spells still work just fine on the hobgoblins.
"Um are those all the eggs?"
"Not knowing how many there were to begin with I cannot say, but it would appear so."
"Hey! Aren't we going to kill the rest of them?"
"We could but I'm kind of tired. And they're just hobgoblins, so it's not like they're really worth the effort."
"I I think that we need to get these back to the outpost as soon as possible, too."
"Once there, you should investigate the Tower of Gargath. I am impressed with your progress."
"Would this impression have any material form?"
"Hahahaha oh, that's a good one. Now, move along to the next outpost."
As you might expect, finishing up Throtl and recovering the eggs is worth a substantial amount of experience: 4,000 per character to be exact. It's enough for about a level up for everyone, propelling Ishmael up to the point where he can get a new spell. Although fireball is a favorite, it's actually not the best first choice, since a lot of battles take place in narrow hallways and the like where there's no real method of using the spell without frying your comrades. Lightning bolt actually works pretty well, however, since enemies tend to line up in neat rows for easier killing.
And so, at the end of the first real dungeon this is how our party stands. The holidays beckon, but expect update 3.5 in a relatively short period of time. This is the point in the game where you actually start having options, and I'll be including voting on which of the sub-missions to do next.