Part 10: Everything You Do Be Buggin' Me"My sources inform me that monsters have been spotted on Chaos Pass, the road to the south of Baywatch. Now that our local area is safe, we really ought to head down there and see what we can do to help."
"A hero's work is never done, huh? Well, I guess the money's good, when you're not spending it all on getting brought back from the dead for the thousandth time."
"Is that one of those giant insanity-causing floating head things off in the distance? I hate those."
Yup, Chaos Pass is so named because it's packed to the gills with Screamers. At least when they're out in the open it's generally possible to pick them off with arrows or magic before they send the party insane.
In case you're curious, Blind Eagle is currently above his max HP because I had him equipped with a weapon that increased his max HP (but did shitty damage) and then swapped it out for the Ruby Flamberge without resting. I suppose in theory you could cart around max-HP-boosting gear for the express purpose of doing this, but come on, there are a million other ways to break the game that have a better return on investment.
On the bright side, there are some chests in the mountains with very useful spells in them, in addition to the usual random treasures scattered around. Time Distortion works just like it did in Might and Magic II, allowing the entire party to flee from battle and regroup at a relatively safe point nearby. It's less vital now that monster encounters aren't randomised and you can save anywhere instead of just at inns, but it's still good to have.
Dragon Breath does 5 damage per experience level of the caster; just like Elemental Arrow, you can choose whether it does fire, cold, electrical or acid damage. It costs more than Fireball or Lightning Bolt for the same average damage against a single group, but unlike those two spells it hits all enemies in a straight line ahead of the party, so it's great for clearing out large rooms in dungeons.
"Oh, hello there. I'll bet anyone 100 gold this is a trap."
"'Ello mate. There's often a ship sets sail for the ports of Swamp Town. If ya likes I can sign ye up for passage. 2000 gold be the crossing fee."
"Um, no thanks. My mother always used to say that if a town names itself after a swamp, it probably doesn't have very much else to recommend it. Well, she didn't actually say that, but she would have if it had occurred to her."
We can swing by Swamp Town later on, when we're better prepared. It's a pretty dangerous location and the boatman doesn't offer a return trip, although there's a mirror portal in town that you can use to teleport back.
There are a couple more unexplored dungeons to the south. Note the handy colour-coded text telling us exactly which key we need; I'm pretty sure the red key is on one of the hirelings right now, so I'll dig it out once I get around to exploring this dungeon.
"Ah, the Zingaro gypsies. It is said that they have remarkable talents in both combat and healing, and are willing to share them for a price."
"Aren't they bothered by the giant screaming heads flying around everywhere?"
"Oh, they learn to tune out the noise eventually."
This guy sells a one-time +10 bonus to the Might and Endurance of Knights, for a price that's pretty reasonable in the long run. I'll be taking Sails here after this update.
"Wait, so they're not undead? They're just monsters that happen to take the shape of flying, disembodied human heads?"
"Looks that way."
"That's somehow even worse. Can we destroy them now, please?"
We also get 100 gems for our trouble.
"Well, we just crushed a wagonload of half-developed screaming heads. I'd say this is the most horrible thing that will happen in my life, but I already know better than to tempt fate."
"Hmm. These eggs are almost as large as the fully-grown screamers. I wonder how they manage to reproduce."
"Why would you ask that? Why would you even think to ask that? I'm a ranger and even I'm not that curious about nature! Come on, let's just get out of here."
In another wagon, this creepily intense-looking guy will give the party 25 points of magic resistance for one day. The price is kind of steep, and more importantly, it's not actually that useful in this area: the Screamers do energy damage, not magic.
There's another dungeon deep in the forest, guarded by screamers and vampire bats. We've got the key for this one lying around somewhere too.
Speaking of vampire bats, if you get poisoned by one there's a wagon where you can get cured, to save you walking all the way back to town for healing. Ideally you should be able to just avoid getting hit in the first place by killing them first, though. Another wagon nearby will cure insanity for 10 gems, which is nice what with all the screamers.
... the wagon has been used as a breeding ground for some time. Destroy the wagon?
"Hell yeah! We're guano burn this wagon to the ground!"
No gold, gems or items for this one. But hey, it's free experience and it means the bats stop respawning.
"It is rumoured that one of the ten heroes of the great battle once wore it. 1,000 gold is all I ask."
"1,000 gold? What a bargain!"
"Wait, don't just hand over--"
"... you know that ring doesn't actually do anything, right? It has no magical properties and very little resale value. It's essentially costume jewellery."
"But look how shiny it is! That's how you can tell it's full of history!"
"For a fee of 1,000 gold I will instruct you in the intricacies of my sport. You will find your accuracy bettered."
Sir Poleman can raise any character's Accuracy by 1 point per 1000 gold spent, up to a maximum of 25 (plus bonuses from equipment).
"What are two royal knights doing hanging around with gypsies anyway?"
"Hey, don't knock the nomadic lifestyle. There's a reason why so many people these days are downshifting. Look at us."
"We haven't slept in nearly three days. Every time we go to "work", we run the risk of being eaten alive by monsters. If being an adventurer is your idea of downshifting, what the hell were you doing before?"
Toward the south end of the forest, we start encountering giant spiders. They're basically stronger versions of the vampire bats: not hard to kill, but fast and venomous. Being arachnids, they attack eight times per round, and while each attack doesn't do much damage, that's a lot of chances to poison you.
Like all outdoor monsters, they have their own lair, too.
"Hey, speak for yourself, narrator! I'll have you know my stomach remains unturned!"
Our material reward for destroying the lair is only 50 gems, but more experience is always good.
If we swim over to a little island nestled in a branch of the eastern river, we find this hut.
"Hey, lookit that! Think it's magical?"
"Not magical, exactly, but it does have some useful properties."
"Good enough for me!"
"Oh, I should probably have warned you about the bullet-resistant glass."
"Why would a case in a hut on an island need to be resistant to landshark attacks? And how do you know so much about it anyway?"
We need a character with at least 50 Might to break this glass. This can be accomplished by chugging Might potions from that merchant outside Fountain Head, finding and drinking from a might-boosting fountain, or just stacking enough permanent stat boosts and items on one party member. I'll come back to collect it later, once we actually need it (and we will need it).
To give you some context on the area we just explored, you can see most of the forest in this map screenshot, complete with a couple of the Zingaro wagons, the red and green dungeons in the northeast and northwest. That line of mapped-out water extending to the east is tracing out the border of a land mass, which is what we're going to explore next.
"Sure, time for some more exploration. Whatever. We're probably just gonna run into more monst--"
Meet Bugaboos. They have 60 HP (a pretty decent amount) and are resistant to physical damage. Lightning Bolt works okay on them, but attacking them with magic is problematic because as you can see they selectively target Sorcerers. Bugaboos do magical damage with their own attacks, so if they're giving you a lot of trouble you can make use of that wagon that raises your magic resistance, I guess. On the other hand, if you can't beat the Bugaboos, you probably can't beat the Ghouls accompanying them either.
The small stones you throw at the larvae strike them with a dull thud.
Another 25,000 XP and 50 gems for the party, another species of dangerous monster rendered locally extinct. Not bad for a day's work.
There are more scrolls hidden in the mountains on the eastern landmass, too. Etherealize costs a whopping 30 spell points and 8 gems, meaning that Murphy can currently cast it twice before having to rest, and it does the same thing it did back in Might & Magic II: teleport you forward exactly one space. Its only real use is getting you through locked doors and grates in the handful of dungeons where the Teleport spell is blocked but Etherealize isn't, and normally you want to pick those locks for the experience anyway.
Speaking of Teleport, there's a scroll for that here, too. For 10 spell points, it teleports the party up to 9 spaces ahead. Apart from the obvious application of getting past barriers and sometimes reaching otherwise inaccessible areas, there's also the less obvious application of using it to get right up in the faces of enemies with ranged attacks before they can breathe/spellcast all over you.
Enchant Item is one of those spells that seems like it should be good but isn't really. For 30 spell points and 20 gems, it'll turn a standard item with no special material or magical properties into a random low-to-mid-tier item. The trouble is that by the time you get it, you generally have mid-tier magical items coming out your ears anyway, and there's no guarantee the enchantment will even be beneficial: your chainmail might turn into Amber for an AC bonus, or it might turn into Bronze for a penalty. Putting aside the fact that this implies fossilized tree sap is a better protective material than a metal alloy known for its hardness, this means that using Enchant Item efficiently requires a lot of saving and reloading.
"You're not thinking of robbing that grave, are you?"
"Relax. I'm just trying to figure out where all the ghouls are coming from."
"What is too much for one, enough for two, but nothing for three?"
"Seriously? The dead are crawling out of their graves to ask us riddles now? Fine, fine. The answer is a secret."
"Well, if you can't trust a dead man with it, who can you trust?"
"No, I mean, 'secret' is the answer."
"Good to know, I guess. Thanks for the info. You're okay, for a corpse."
Oh, hey, another dungeon. I'm pretty sure we don't yet have the key for this one. We'll be clearing out all of these eventually, I promise.
In the centre of the hut is a hideous black marble statue of demon's wings outstretched in ritual pose. It is the shrine of Shagreen, General of the Gargoyles that once haunted Locust Grove. Pray at the shrine?
"I see no harm in continuing to pay our respects to the local gods in areas we travel through."
"Why do we ever listen to you?!"
"Huh. Looks like ancient gods of evil aren't really big on the whole 'mutual respect' thing."
"To commend you on your brilliant deductive skills."
The trick to this shrine is that if you have any Good characters in the party at all, everyone takes 50 damage. If there are no Good characters in the party, then Neutral characters will be unaffected, while Evil characters receive a whopping +50 temporary bonus to AC, making them nearly unhittable by most enemies' physical attacks. For this and a few other reasons, an all-Evil party is probably the mechanically optimal choice if you want every possible advantage.
There are more horrible venomous bug monsters on this island, too. Magic Mantises (Mentis?) are a little tougher than Giant Spiders, but on the other hand they don't have 8 goddamn attacks per round so it kind of evens out.
(I just looked it up and the plural of mantis is apparently mantes. The more you know.)
Anyway, the reason to mess around on this monster-filled landmass in the first place is because of this very accurately-named area on its southern tip.
Dig around in the mountains here and there's a very good chance you'll find several top-tier magical items.
Obsidian weapons and armour are, bar none, the best in the game, and by a wide margin too. They're a big part of the reason why melee fighters tend to outshine spellcasters in combat in the later parts of the game. This cutlass is going on Sails in the other party as soon as this update is over.
"Oh look, another talking corpse. Gee, I wonder: could the answer be 'darkness'?"
I hope you're all taking notes at home, because there's going to be a test. Anyway, time to head up to the northern end of the island and kill a whole bunch more ghouls. It's funny how only a couple of levels ago we had trouble beating one ghoul: better stats, spells and equipment make a lot of difference.
Your boot pushes through the chest of the corpse as you stomp the Lamprey, putting an end to the undead plague. (100,000 Exp)
And that's the ghoul lair dealt with. We get a few decent-quality random items for our trouble. But wait, what's that hut just ahead and to the left?
"Well, I don't--"
"Are you about to tell us you don't see the harm in investigating? Because that's what you said about the gargoyle altar, and look what happened there."
"Oh, c'mon. What's it gonna do, collapse on us?"
Hello, 100 damage to the entire party.
Even from full health, this is enough damage to kill two party members outright. Yikes.
"On the bright side, I picked a really awesome flail out of the wreckage. Well, time to drag everyone's bodies back to town for healing. At least it helps to build upper body strength."
So just how good are these obsidian weapons that I've been raving about, anyway?
This good. The +10 bonus to hit is nice, but look at that damage. A cutlass does a base 2-8 damage, and the obsidian material adds a whopping +50. This means it doesn't really matter that much what weapon you're using, as long as it's obsidian: even an obsidian dagger is better than a diamond great axe, the strongest weapon in the next strongest material.
"Now that we've mapped the entire island, I think perhaps we've pushed our luck far enough for now. I hear there's a town across the river to the southeast; we can travel there and rest, and see if they have any problems that need solving."
"Um, wait, shouldn't we drop off these ancient holy artifacts at Castle Whiteshield first?"
"Where'd you get those?"
"Oh, uh, I... I got in touch with an old contact who was selling them. He said someone had found them in a tomb or something and, um, 'didn't want to risk being turned into do-gooders by keeping them around'. Wait, do you think -- no, never mind."
"I welcome that which you present to us and beseech you to return any other artifacts you may uncover in your quests."
Returning Ancient Artifacts of Good grants a reward of 500,000 experience points to every Good party member, and 100,000 to everyone else. Obviously, this means our good party members will edge a couple of levels ahead of our neutral ones, at least until we find a place to turn in neutral artifacts.
Wildabar is quite some distance to the southeast of Baywatch, but fortunately there's a road to lead you directly there. There are some Giant Spiders and Magic Mantises (I refuse to call them Mantes, that's much too goofy even for me) along the side of the road, but nothing new or particularly dangerous.
"Ah, Castle Blood Reign, ruled by King Tumult, the Chaotic. You know, he once raised an army to attack Castle Whiteshield, just to 'keep his power in check'. If Tumult had his way, Terra would remain in a state of anarchy forever."
"Intriguing. I would be most interested in visiting his castle one day, to see for myself if what you say is true."
"Don't see what's wrong with a little anarchy, myself. That's what lets us make our living as adventurers, isn't it? Would you rather be a miner or a carpenter?"
"If the world were more in need of miners and carpenters than of saviours, then yes, of course."
"Oh, great, now he thinks he's saving the world."
"Look, I don't like having to go around crusading for justice either. But if we don't try and make Terra a better place, who will?"
"D-don't fight, everyone. I'm sure you'll all feel better after a good night's sleep in a real bed."
"... um, after we fight off these ninjas, I guess."
If you're strong enough to walk to Wildabar in the first place, you're strong enough to fight ninjas. They're fast enough that they'll probably get the first strike in combat, but they're not particularly strong or tough.
"Well, now that we've dealt with those bastards, I know where I'm headed."
"You have cider here, right?"
"We've got a side o' beef, a sidereal clock, and last week we had a homicide, but no cider. Sorry."
"This cider house sucks."
"You should be more worried about food. Our supplies are running low."
"Don't say that in front of the barkeep, you idiot! He'll charge us the tourist prices!"
"Now look what you've done."
Food is a lot more expensive than it was in the first two towns, but 250 gold is still not really a lot in absolute terms, and 15 days' worth of rests is a pretty respectable supply.
"... Mantis Mush? Is it... is it okay to eat this?"
"Hey, when in Rome, do as the Romans do."
"Eat until we vomit, and then eat some more?"
Aaand that's about it for another update.
"Y'know, we make a pretty good team. I mean, when we're not wandering into collapsing houses or praying to ancient evil gods. At least I'm tough enough to survive when we do something really dumb."
"It's kind of ironic that recovering ancient stolen artifacts of good and returning them to their rightful owner made me better at picking locks, huh? Well, uh, not that I'd use my abilities for evil or anything."
"I have to say, I could get used to this whole 'doing good' thing. I mean, even if we're just holding back the tide for a while, it beats drowning, right?"
"That's one way to put it, I suppose, but I'd hope we could set our sights a little higher. We've already made Terra a little safer."
"Perhaps. Of course, there is also the possibility that eliminating the monsters roaming the countryside will simply make it easier for bandits to move in. Life would be much easier if one's actions only had the consequences one thought of in advance."
"Wow, and I thought I was a pessimist. Look, we're already a lot stronger than when we set out from Fountain Head. Whatever we want to do, even if it's just getting rich enough to retire, we're closer to having what it takes to do it. We can at least be happy about that, right? I mean, until demons invade and kill us all or something."
With that update, most of the area directly south of Fountain Head has been explored, and a whole bunch of new areas are available to us. Should the evil party continue exploring dungeons, check out the town of Wildabar, or see if there's any work to be had at Castle Blood Reign? Vote now!