Act One Chapter One - Safiya
: [Your companions... the King of Shadows... you try to remember what became of them, but they slip from your grasp. You are alone... a thousand tons of earth between you and the world above.]
: Who... are you?
: We're in a barrow deep beneath the soil of Rashemen. The locals say that powerful spirits dwell here - hostile to those trying to enter... and those trying to leave.
: Rashemen? That's hundreds of miles from the Sword Coast.
: I don't know how you got here. But I'll take you to someone who might. I'll take you to her and make certain that she gives us both some answers.
: But that's after we get out. For the moment, haste is all that matters.
: Disregard whatever rumors you have heard regarding the Red Wizards. I am here to assist you, and I will do just that.
: Yes... they caught my eye as well. There's almost nothing about Rashemi runes in the Academy archive, but... that rune, there. It's called the Dancing Man.
: It depicts a circle of dancers, surrounding an... evil spirit.
And we're back.
We're not feeling so hot right now. Our physical stats have been lowered slightly on account of the gaping wound in our chest.
And all of our useful junk is gone. Our potions, scrolls, wands... everything that we weren't physically wearing has vanished, including our Silver Sword of Gith.
At least we've still got our Harvest Cloak!
Now... so far, so Obsidian, right? We wake up in a strange and desolate place, with no memory of how we got there, and only a wisecracking skull/gunslinging smuggler/enigmatic wizardess for company. The only thing separating Mask from Torment and KOTOR2 is the lack of a bizarre, unnatural curse that sends us on our epic adventure.
But we've only just got started. For now, let's get acquainted with everyone.
* * *
You should remember Calliope from NWN2. She's had many names over the past few months: Harborman, Shadow Thief, Kalach-cha, Knight-Captain...
Calliope's a Rogue/Assassin/Invisible Blade, which roughly translates to "good with a knife." She can distract enemies into becoming flatfooted, vanish into the shadows, then re-appear to hamstring them from behind. She can even cut through an earth elemental and still dice tomatoes!
She's also got skill points coming out the wazoo. Calliope's a talker, not a fighter... and if said talking involves the wholesale surrender of all the enemy's money and equipment, that's all the better.
* * *
This is Safiya.
Safiya is voiced by Julianne Grossman (Listen here)
As she said, Safiya is a Red Wizard of Thay. Red Wizards are one of the big asshole organisations of the Forgotten Realms that like to run around doing dickish things to other people (and each other). Their homeland, Thay, is a nation built on slavery and aggressive expansion; their current leader is Szass Tam, Zulkir of Necromancy and a powerful lich.
The closest we've come to Red Wizards in CRPGs before is probably Edwin Odesseiron, the super-sarcastic conjurer from Baldur's Gate 2. The Red Wizards we see in Mask have a slightly different aesthetic but the underlying ideology is the same: magic is power, and power is everything.
Again, though, as she said, Safiya isn't like most other Red Wizards. Safiya is interested in magic, but as an academic subject of study, not as a means to advancement. Safiya is also very non-aggressive, almost passive; she doesn't believe in slavery or tyranny, she doesn't start fights or pick arguments. She's True Neutral, which translates to being ethically flexible without actually being cruel.
- likes knowledge and academic study, especially of magic
- likes her Academy and her mother
- likes being complimented and joking around
- dislikes threats and insults
- dislikes appeals to emotion
One of the new prestige classes introduced in Mask is the Red Wizard of Thay class, pretty much made especially for Safiya.
In terms of crunch, Red Wizards are all about the specialisation. Normal (boring) wizards can cast spells from any of the eight schools of magic; specialist wizards get bonuses to casting spells from one school (and a bonus spell slot) in exchange for being unable to cast spells from a second, prohibited school.
Red Wizards take this one step further: they lose spells from another school again, in exchange for more bonuses to their chosen school's spell saves and spell penetration. So, Safiya is a Transmuter; she loses Conjuration as a specialist wizard; then loses Illusion as well as a Red Wizard.
It's not as good as it sounds. Specialist wizards are good because they gain the extra spell slot, not because of the improved saves. The real attraction of Red Wizardry is access to 'circle magic', in which lesser wizards power up their superiors, but that wasn't implemented in NWN2 for reasons of complexity.
It doesn't really matter. The point is that Safiya is a Red Wizard Transmuter, which means she's more of a 'support and debuff' wizard than a 'heavy artillery' caster.
Note also that Safiya is accompanied by Kaji the homonculous, a 7 Construct/5 Rogue. If we weren't a Rogue ourselves, it'd be Kaji pulling trap-finding and lockpicking duty.
* * *
Let's take a look around.
The Lower Barrow is a pretty small area but there are some important clues to find. We'll find out more about who this skeleton was later.
Then there are these runes. I'm not sure if we should be touching them - Safiya said something about a binding enchantment...?
Well, only one way to find out.
: Wait! No!
: [As your fingers brush the stone, a thrill of wild energy surges through your body. The runes grow larger, brighter... they fill your world...]
: [Figures sweep past you in a torrent of sound and light. The presence within you twists, seethes... as if you are peering into its depths...]
: [And then, the vision passes. The runes seem dimmed, and your eyes are clear once more.]
: They're thoughts... or memories. Maybe from within you... maybe from without. The Rashemi claim that these runes can trap dreams... or set them loose.
: This place is... not right. Everything echoes so strongly. I will be glad to leave this barrow behind.
Unfortunately that might be easier said than done.
: No, I did not. We will speak of her later, if we must.
: Who is that little creature? Your familiar?
: Kaji, meet Calliope, Calliope, meet Kaji. Kaji's a friend - loyal, clever and eminently charming... in his own way.
Interesting. I don't believe we ever actually introduced ourselves to Safiya - and for once this isn't an oversight on Obsidian's part.
: You seem to care for him a great deal.
Oh no not again
Influence is back, with a vengeance. Thankfully Mask's Influence system is probably the strongest implementation yet.
We'll revisit Influence later, when we've got a few more companions in the party. For now, just be assured that making friends with your companions is a lot easier, a lot more forgiving and a hell of a lot more transparent than in NWN2.
In the meantime, we have a whole barrow of angry spirits to fight.
We lost all our weapons in the intro cutscene, but luckily for us Safiya planned ahead and brought a short sword and a crossbow along, just in case.
Just in time. A Barrow Guardian (think pared-down Earth Elemental) was lurking just around the corner.
Nice little set-up down here, if anyone ever felt like setting up camp in the bottom of a cave full of angry spirits.
There's a dagger and a spell scroll hidden in the debris, along with a book called The City of Judgement:
Bound in blackened leather, the pages of this tome are brittle and cracked. The text is barely legible, faded and written in a spidery hand:
In my dream I saw a city, gray and forbidding, beneath an empty sky. Before its gates came a hideous procession - all the dead of the world, of a hundred worlds, awaiting the judgement of the gods.
And around the gray city loomed the Wall. Its bricks were souls, mortared by a foul green mold. These souls were the Faithless, who had denied the gods in life, or had never truly believed.
I drew nearer the Wall, and at once I heard the screams of those Faithless souls. "Cursed are we," they cried, "who denied the jealous gods, and now are forsaken." And other voices answered them, saying "Remember the Betrayer's Crusade. Remember the Betrayer, who swore to bring down the Wall. Have patience, for the Betrayer may yet return..."
After this, the original text has faded so badly that it is illegible. But someone has scribbed feverishly in the margin: Another reference to the Betrayer's Crusade... though Myrkul's priests deny its existence. The truth is in their vaults... in the whispering scrolls... the Lamentations of the Dead...
Well, I suppose that's our first lead as to what's going on here, exactly. Not sure how much use it'll be, considering it's badly out of date: Myrkul was deposed as god of the dead in 1358 DR and it's currently 1374 or thereabouts.
It's better than nothing, though.
We find a tunnel leading up to the rest of the barrow. Unfortunately it's a big barrow and there's a lot of ground left to cover, which leaves plenty of opportunity for us to get ambushed.
See what I mean?
Nice paint-job on the dire wolf, by the way.
: Who are you? What is your name, spirit?
: My name... it was Nakata. Memories flow together in this place... it is difficult to know which are your own.
: My howls led an army of beasts across the groaning ice of Tirulag... and there I died, struck down by an eater of souls - a monster that wore the skin of a man.
: My name is Calliope. Return to your sleep, and I'll leave these caves in peace.
: Leave? No... you will not.
: Something was trapped in the Cavern of Runes... a poison at the heart of our dream... swallowing memories and names.
: Anything that emerges from there... cannot be allowed to walk free. Those were the words of our god, before he sank into slumber.
: No, something deeper... vile... and familiar. Why do I remember-
Ooh fuck. We don't look so good.
: It was a hunger... something that welled up inside me...
: And your wounds - they've healed.
What have we gotten ourselves into?