Part 31: Aa? Zzz.
This update, we'll explore the last and toughest outdoor areas in the game. As you may remember, the good party didn't quite finish exploring the ocean last time they attempted it, on account of how they kept getting torn limb from limb by horrible sea monsters. We can handle them now, but for once we're actually going to run into some real difficulty!
By looting the crates around the southern coast of the Isle of Fire, we get a bunch more top-tier items (including an Obsidian Padded Armour that will be very nice for Murphy), and in the process we spawn... that thing that's in front of us.
"How is it an octobeast if they only have six tentacles? Oh, hey, there are the other two -- ow. Ow! Let go! Somebody help!"
Octobeasts hit 8 times per round for 5-250 physical damage per attack, which is an average of over 1000 damage per round if all the attacks hit. Even with Armour Class in excess of 100, a pretty large fraction of their attacks connect. They have 100 Speed, so they go before the entire party. They also inflict Weakness, but that has basically no impact on how the fight goes, unless someone gets a stat drained to 0 in which case you'd better have a cleric cast Revitalise so they don't die.
3000 HP takes a couple of rounds to whittle down, but the party's up to the task. Octobeasts carry a bunch of gold (somewhere, somehow) and have a good chance to leave behind a random top-tier item too.
"I know how to deal with these! You flip them over and attack the soft underbelly!"
"You want me to flip it over."
"Right. What's the problem?"
"I want you to think about what you just said, and then I'm going to ask you one question."
"Okay, I've thought about it. What's the question?"
"We are in the middle of the ocean. Flip it onto what, exactly?"
"Also, this crab seems to be some kind of biomechanical monstrosity, so I'm not convinced that its underbelly is any softer than the rest of it."
Kudo Crabs have less HP than Octobeasts, slightly lower Speed, and only half as many attacks for similar damage per attack, but they have a much better Armour Class: even for our high-level, obsidian-armed party, it's hard to get attacks to connect unless they're buffed with Heroism. Plus, they can break PCs' armour, meaning you'll be taking even more hits until you do some expensive repairs back in town.
With their high HP they can survive a couple of Implosions, but it's still good for softening them up and getting the battle over with more quickly.
There are a few Major Demons and Major Devils hovering over the seas around the Isle of Fire too, but any party that can survive Octobeasts and Kudo Crabs will wipe the floor with those.
"That was a rewarding little excursion, but there doesn't seem to be any way to enter the Isle of Fire from the seas surrounding it. Shall we return to Blistering Heights and begin our exploration of the isle from there?"
The first thing you may have noticed about the Isle of Fire is that it consists entirely of damaging lava and completely impassable rock formations. Having Protection from Fire up at all times is essential if you don't want the entire party to take 50 damage per step, and it isn't possible to rest anywhere on the island so it's important to have a way to zip back somewhere safe, like Lloyd's Beacon.
There's a hut near Blistering Heights which gives a temporary +50% bonus to all elemental resistances, but it's no substitute for a protection spell and the toughest monsters on the isle use physical attacks anyway. It's worth remembering for later, though, since it's one of the few ways to buff Energy and Magic resistance.
The local fauna of the isle include Major Demons, Major Devils, Fire Lizards and Fire Stalkers, all of which we've seen before and most of which barely qualify as speed bumps at this point.
The hoofprints of a Major Demon trace paths across the floor. Destroy the hut?
"How is a hut even standing in the middle of a pool of lava, anyway?"
"Who cares? The important thing isn't how it stands up, it's whether we can take it down."
In addition to the experience reward, we get 100,000 gold and a few mid-tier items for destroying the Major Demon lair.
"Um, g-guys? Am I hallucinating from the heat or did a massive hydra just walk out in front of us?"
"What a remarkable creature. I wonder where it finds the food to sustain itself in such a hostile environment."
"I can tell what it's trying to feed on right now! I'm all for appreciating nature, but maybe we can kill it before we start speculating about its place in the ecosystem?"
Great Hydras have the second-highest HP of any monster in the game, high AC and Speed, a whopping 12 attacks per round for 12-144 damage each, and enough accuracy to actually connect with some of those attacks even through the party's armour. They can also inflict Poison, although I don't know how you'd even survive long enough to see a Great Hydra if you don't have a cleric capable of casting Cure Poison.
Their damage output is high but survivable, so my strategy is basically to just throw a few buffs on characters and beat on the hydras with physical attacks while healing anyone who gets to critical HP with Half for Me. If the whole party is hurting badly, I can bust out Divine Intervention.
They drop impressive amounts of gold and gems when killed, and can carry top-tier items. They're also worth 4 million experience points, which means about half a level for the entire party for every single one we kill. Not bad!
"Why do hydras use a hut as their breeding grounds? How do hydras use a hut as their breeding grounds?"
Two levels' worth of experience, plus 1 million gold and some top-tier items. Not bad at all.
"You'd think this island would be bad enough already without somebody summoning devils. They're actually kind of redundant, what with all the hydras around. Or at least, all the hydras that were around before we killed them all."
For destroying the devils' lair, we get half a million gold and some mid-to-high-tier items. I've had to Lloyd's Beacon back to town a couple of times just to sell some of the excess treasure we've collected from all this fighting and looting, so that the party's inventory doesn't completely fill up.
"Seriously, I want to know who's building all these huts. It's not like a bunch of dudes made of fire have any use for them. How would they even get in and out without burning the place down?"
100,000 gold and a couple of mid-tier items for clearing out some pretty weak monsters.
"I suppose the hydras must have fed on these, seeing as the only other possibilities are demons or beings made of pure flame. But then what did the fire lizards eat?"
"Hydras, of course."
"Don't be ridiculous! You can't have an ecosystem where two organisms are each other's main predator! That's not sustainable! Where's all the biomass and energy coming from?"
"Duh. They're hydras. When you cut off a head to eat it, it regenerates. They probably run off geothermal energy or something."
50,000 gold and some lowish-tier items. Easy money.
"Hmm. It appears there's one last pyramid for us to explore. Somehow, I have a hunch it's important."
"If beings as powerful as the Great Hydras lived outside the pyramid, I dread to think what might await us inside. Perhaps we should save it for another day."
We can get into this pyramid with the key card, but until we've given 11 orbs to one of the kings there isn't a whole lot we can do here except fight some monsters, so I'll leave it for the endgame.
This is a fairly representative map of the Isle of Fire, now that we've finished exploring it. The Great Hydras mostly stay around the southwestern quarter of the isle, so a mid-level party can avoid them and clear out some of the other monster lairs for experience and treasure if they're careful.
The whole party gained a massive amount of experience from killing all those monsters, enough to go up about 15 levels, but training gets very pricey at such high levels. By the time I finish training everyone, we've gone from having over 3 million gold on hand to just 600,000. Luckily, we've still got another 16 million or so banked for future expenses.
"Those hydras were tough, but we're tougher. I guess two heads aren't better than one after all."
"As a ranger I should probably feel guilty or something about destroying a unique and special ecosystem, but seriously, fuck hydras."
"I, um, didn't really get to do very much this time except hang around and stab a few hydras. Maybe next time I'll get to pick some more locks!"
"I doubt that pyramid contains the last few Ultimate Power Orbs we need. Where could they be, then?"
"The archmages Greywind and Blackwind possessed great arcane knowledge. Perhaps their castles will hold some clue."
"I've got the magical oomph to throw Implosions around all day, and now I've finally got some decent armour too. Whatever's in store for us, I'm ready for it."
"I may not be as young as I once was, but I still have enough strength left to see our quest through to the end!"
You may notice that Charity and Darlana's AC are much lower than the rest of the party. The last two characters in the party won't generally be targeted by attacks as long as the rest of the party is still conscious, so it's less useful to armour them up and better to give them elemental resistance gear instead.
"In the name of King Zealot and the forces of good, we shall not fail!"
We're so close to the endgame now that there isn't really much room left for a vote on what to do next. On the bright side, the evil party is badass enough by now that I can go send them off to slay some dragons. Stay tuned!