Part 17: An Ice Day
"Where have you been? We looked everywhere for you!"
"Who, us? We got nostalgic for Fountain Head so we used Swamp Town's mirror portal to take us back there for some local food, and then I got us back here with Lloyd's Beacon. Looks like we didn't miss much."
"That's because we were waiting for you. But never mind that. I trust now that your bellies are filled with Orc Gruel, we can continue. Much of the swamps remain unexplored, and they are sure to be filled with dangerous monsters and bandits that must be exterminated."
"This hut, for example! Who knows what fiends may lie in wait for us within?"
"Careful. This could be a trick, to make us lower our guard."
"Oh yeah, that's a dangerous bandit right there. You can tell, see, because she's dressed up like a princess and has the complexion of someone who's never done a day's work outside in her life and also she's Princess Freakin' Trueberry. Seriously, am I the only one here who keeps up with politics?"
"She could be a prisoner or something. Hey, I bet there's a reward for rescuing her!"
"I pray thee, bring me the lofty emotion that I lack if it be in your heart to do so."
"An abundance of love, huh? That's a euphemism, right?"
"I fear not. Only true love may lift my curse."
"Well, that's no fun. But hey, if we find anyone who can help you, we'll let you know. Sorry to get your hopes up."
"We can probably rustle up a few deluded knights or something, if courtly love counts."
"And if Courtney Love counts, we can probably afford to hire her to come over here. It's not like her career's been going anywhere lately."
There's still loads of buried and sunken treasure lying around in the swamps for the taking. Most of the items are low-tier and unimpressive, but there's tens of thousands of gold in some hauls, which is always nice.
Not all of the items suck, either. That genius crossbow is worth +30 to Intelligence, which makes it perfect for an archer like Blind Eagle, to boost his spell points. As a weapon it sucks due to a lack of accuracy and damage bonuses, but missile weapons tend to fall off in usefulness later in the game anyway: I've never seen an obsidian bow and I'm not 100% sure it's even possible for the game to generate one.
"We've seen one of these before, just south of, er, Fountain Head, haven't we? I wonder what they are?"
"Although their architectural style is unfamiliar to me, they appear to be buildings of some sort."
"Really? Because I thought they were huge ant hills."
"That seems highly unlikely. Ants would not produce such a regular structure. The presence of a locked door also suggests artificial construction by intelligent beings."
"A most interesting spell has been buried here -- a great bane to the undead. I shall study it in depth as we travel."
For 100 SP and 20 gems, Holy Word has a chance to instantly destroy a group of undead enemies. It's no longer a 100% guaranteed kill like it was in Might & Magic 2, but it can still work on just about anything that's undead and is likely to do a bunch of damage even if the enemy survives. Caelas has just enough SP to cast it right now, but it'll probably be a while before this party runs into any undead worth casting it on.
"Wow, a solid gold lock. Martlin, think you can pry it out of the door so we can sell it? I'm sure there aren't too many traps on the door to prevent that."
"Um, I'd rather not try. My lockpicking tools are kind of, uh, breakable. Also, so are my hands."
"Since it looks like we're done clearing out the swamps, how about we keep heading north? I can see land on the horizon from here, and if my map is right that's where Serpent Wood and the Mutant Mountains are."
"Oh, look, a welcoming committee. As they seem determined to greet us with arrows, it would be only polite to respond in kind."
Archers aren't especially deadly with the party's current level and equipment, but four attacks for 5-30 damage each do add up, especially since they can attack from a distance. The monsters of Serpent Wood also include Evil Rangers and Cursed Fools, both of whom we've dealt with before. Interestingly, all three of these enemies selectively target a specific character class: Archers hate Archers, Evil Rangers hate Druids and Cursed Fools hate Sorcerers.
"Yikes! Nobody told me there'd be avalanches!"
Yeah, at a few specific spots when you're walking in the Mutant Mountains the game just decides to throw 50 unresistable damage at the entire party. Probably not life-threatening by the time you're at a suitable level to face the enemies here, but still a nasty surprise.
"Treasure, at last! I knew those guys had to have something more than the few thousand gold they were carrying around!"
Hello, instant party death! It's been a while since I've seen you. Let's never meet again, okay?
So the thing about the buried treasure in this area is that every treasure cache does damage of a specific element to the party, and lots of it. The treasure itself is okay -- usually a few thousand gold and some random mid-tier items. Protection from Elements spells can help us survive, but they don't do any good against the massive Energy and Magic damage done by two of the caches, which are enough to outright kill our entire party from full health.
"Another of these things? Whoever built them must have lived all over the world. Too bad they didn't leave any keys behind."
"I, uh, kinda feel like we should stay out of this cave for now, you know? Anyone disagree? No? Okay, let's... let's get out of here before we find out where the smell of dragons is coming from."
"So, the dread castle of King Malefactor is still standing. Much as I would like to go in there and burn it to the ground, we're ill-equipped to face an entire army. We'd do better to aid King Zealot by bringing him Ultimate Power Orbs, and let him handle this petty tyrant."
"Maybe. As long as Zealot doesn't just end up replacing him, anyway. Looked at from below, one absolute monarch's pretty much the same as any other, don't you think?"
There are a number of these statues (stat-ues?) scattered around the northeast continent, for Might, Endurance, Accuracy and Speed. Each one grants a temporary +100 bonus to their respective stat for the rest of the day, in exchange for thousands of gold coins.
Here's the most important one for us right now, though.
+500 HP to the entire party is nothing to sneeze at, unless perhaps you're sneezing in triumph. Time to try those fatally damaging caches again!
Blind Eagle got lucky here and made a saving throw against the magic cache, taking "only" 400 damage from it, while Bob just withstood the full 800 damage through having an absurdly high HP total.
The reward is more than worth the pain and the 20,000 gold we just spent on HP boosts, though. Both caches net us several high-tier items, most of which we have immediate uses for and the rest of which can go to the other party.
"Well, that's the northeast continent explored. Seeing as we're already up here getting frostbite, why not take a quick look at the Frozen Isles too?"
"Another cave to mark on the map for later. I've got a bad feeling about this one, for some reason."
"Is there anything you don't have a bad feeling about?"
We come back to the cyclops-infested island we passed by earlier. I was expecting them to put up a bit of a fight, given their large numbers, but it turns out that our obsidian armour means they mostly can't hit us, and our obsidian weapons mean that we can most definitely hit them, so they're just especially large speedbumps.
In the end, we take out all of them with very little damage to the party.
"The Cyclopes had already established a foothold on the mainland, dangerously close to Fountain Head. We should drive them away from these islands, so they can't do anything like that again."
For our trouble we get a bunch of experience, 100,000 gold and several mid-to-high-tier items: mostly Gold stuff, plus a pair of ruby boots.
Straw pallets scattered on the floor indicate a bunk house. Destroy the hut?
"Ugh, sprites. They're like flying, magical cockroaches. Wait, can cockroaches fly? I forget."
"Some can, some can't."
"Thanks for the answer, but I didn't actually care. Come on, let's get to burning this hut down already."
For destroying the hut we get 1,000 gems, and an experience award that would have been nice about ten levels ago.
"A sea nymph who rides a mermaid? How does that even work? Oh well, free water."
"Werewolves. They retreated to this island after being driven away from civilised lands a long time ago, and have spent their time plotting their return, poisoning the earth with their very existence and conducting unholy rituals in their shrine."
"Um, are we sure it's a good idea to provoke them? They've been keeping to themselves on this island, right?"
"For the moment, perhaps. But make no mistake: they are your enemies as well as mine. If we do not deal with them here and now, our descendants will have to deal with them in far greater numbers later."
Destroying the shrine spawns a whole mess of werewolves all around us. They're very similar to Cyclopes statwise, but their attacks seem to be more accurate and can inflict disease.
The disease is mostly inconsequential since Caelas can just cure it, but the party takes a few good hits before taking the wolves down.
"Whew. After that, I need a drink."
Once the werewolves have been wiped out, the Water Bane fountain gives a free, temporary +100 bonus to all statistics. We can come back here whenever we like and get a huge boost for the rest of the day.
"That went rather well. As we have now mapped all of the Frozen Isles, perhaps we ought to broaden our exploration to the open seas to the south and east?"
"Um, this doesn't look good."
"Why do we ever listen to Caelas?"
"We have no need of these meagre squanderings. Give them 25,000 gold pieces to weigh them down and throw them back into the waters."
"Wait, just because you found a pearl on us, you're giving us a suspiciously precise amount of gold instead of taking everything we've got?"
"Are ye complaining?"
"No, no, that's fine. You keep on doing what you were doing."
As long as we have at least one Precious Pearl of Youth and Beauty in someone's inventory when we meet the Pirate Queen, we get 25,000 gold, 100,000 experience and a free ride back to Swamp Town (whether we want one or not).
The Pirate Queen only takes one pearl at a time, so turning them all in can be a pain. She shows up semi-randomly in a number of spots, mostly in the seas off the north coast of the Isle of Fire.
This is what happens if you don't have a Precious Pearl of Youth and Beauty. Yes, you really do unavoidably lose all the gold you were carrying. Hope you kept some of it in the bank!
"Woohoo, free flotsam!"
"In point of fact, this could just as likely be jetsam. Flotsam is floating wreckage from a destroyed ship, and I see no other wreckage in the vicinity. Jetsam, on the other hand, is cargo which has been jettisoned, which would be more consistent with the presence of a single crate."
"Who asked you?"
Well, whether it be flotsam or jetsam, the crate has two top-tier items in it.
"Wait, does anyone else hear that noise?"
"Looks like the sound of fate punishing us for having a stroke of good luck."
Dragon Worms are pretty tough customers. They're hard to hit thanks to their high AC, and their attacks do a bunch of poison damage to the entire party so our own armour is useless. They can also inflict poison, but like the werewolves' disease, that's mostly a non-issue that can be dealt with after the fight.
With the aid of the stat boosts from Water Bane, bonus HP from fountains (or the statue of Life if more drastic measures are needed), some combat buffs on Bob, and a Protection from Elements (Poison) spell, we can fight off the worms. Without all those boosts, we could maybe deal with one of them at a time, but a group would overwhelm us. Sometimes it's important to be reminded that for all their power and fancy equipment, the party is far from invincible.
"I believe we've tangled with death enough for one day. Perhaps some rest is in order."
It's a good thing we discovered Swamp Town, because Wildabar's trainer caps out at level 15. Eventually we'll reach the limits of Swamp Town's trainer too and we'll need to find the fifth and final town in the game, but that can wait a little while.
"Why do they call it that, anyway? I tried winking forty times once and I was still awake after I was done. Also, my eye was a little sore."
"There's almost nothing that can hit me in this armour! Unless they use magic, but that's cheating."
"Don't discount magic so easily. I'd like to see you try to walk on water without it. No, really, I'd like to see that. It'd be funny."
"I know I'm not the best fighter, and I don't really know anything about magic, but at least I'm really good at picking locks and disarming traps. But, uh, I guess we don't run into too many locks when we're exploring outdoors. But there were a couple of locked chests in the Frozen Isles! But they didn't really have a lot of useful stuff in them. But we wouldn't have known that if we hadn't been able to get them open! But--"
"I suppose you're wondering how wielding a crossbow can make anybody more intelligent. Well, thanks to this crossbow, I know the answer. I'm not going to tell you, though. You wouldn't understand anyway."
"My knowledge of the world continues to expand, as does my understanding of the magical arts."
"How come all the powerful scrolls in the swamps were for you, anyway? Doesn't anybody appreciate the importance of sorcerers?"
Well, that about wraps it up for today's adventures, which means it's time for everyone's favourite part of the update. Should the evil party set their sights on a cavern, a dungeon, or Castle Dragontooth? Vote now!