Part 4: The Angriest Care-Bear
Act One Chapter Two - The Angriest Care-Bear
We may still be trapped underground with a barrow-full of raging spirits, but...
...actually I don't think there is a good side to this.
We are feeling a bit better, though. Whatever we did to that wolf-spirit healed our wounds quite nicely.
Way, way back during the opening chapters of the NWN2 LP, I made the rather grand claim that Mask of the Betrayer had the greatest opening of any RPG ever. I'll admit that these caves don't look very exciting: too many greys and browns, and the weird glowy mushrooms look a bit off. However, I stand by the assertion that it's really totally awesome deep down underneath.
You just have to view it with hindsight, that's all.
Also it's not actually that boring. There's a few side-areas we can take a look at before we go upstairs.
Our first new Mask tileset looks pretty cool, don't you think?
Imaskar is yet another of the Forgotten Realms' many, many ancient magical empires from long ago. Imaskar in fact is the ancient magical empire, probably the oldest and biggest.
Thankfully the Imaskari have nothing to do with Mask's main plot, but we will be running across more of their ruins later in the story.
In a workshop-type-room we fight some animated weapons...
...and pick up this Imaskari Rod, which casts Greater Dispelling three times a day.
The other chamber on this sublevel is a golem factory or something.
Safiya can reanimate the golem and make it join us.
So far the opening's been fairly combat-heavy. It's been no problem for us since Calliope's Level 20 and very well-equipped but if you start Mask with a new character you'll have less experience and no decent items. And as your first companion is a lightweight wizard, well...
Mister Golem here takes a bit of the strain off our unlucky twosome and is actually pretty decent in his own right, especially if you boost his strength with a rejuvenating salve.
There's a second set of ruins deeper in the barrow.
The Helmed Horrors are tricky but the reward (spell scrolls and juicy XP) is worth it.
Maybe not worth a Cone of Cold to the face, but that's where resting comes in:
Resting in Mask is more old-school than NWN2 in that you now sleep for eight hours and can be interrupted by wandering monsters. It's riskier than NWN2's five-second-sitdown, so spelunking now requires a degree of planning: we cleared these Imaskari ruins out, so now they're safe to rest; the main barrow is haunted, so don't sleep there.
It'll get even more complicated in the next Act, mind.
Back to the main barrow. This is the way out, apparently.
: Yes, I can sense a residue of magic in the earth. A powerful spirit - or many of them, perhaps - reshaped the soil to block our way.
: We have this rod we picked up in the Imaskari ruins...
: There are dreams in that rod, or... some nightmare - shaped and bound. Its magic is... familiar.
: Like your mother's magic, mistress.
: As long as they want. The earth of this barrow is full of spirits - and they will never tire or fade.
: So what do you suggest?
: The Rashemi have rituals to appease angry spirits - burning offerings to placate them.
: The offerings in question are usually things that appeal to animals, such as food, or the twigs and trinkets coveted by scavengers.
: The spirits have been trying to kill me. Why would they accept an offering from me?
This is our first puzzle. Not our first ever puzzle, but our first locked-door-that-isn't-a-locked-door in Mask.
We backtrack a bit and go right where we previously went left. Some wolf spirits attempt to bar our path.
Along the way we level up.
Level 21 in D&D is Epic territory; up until 4th Edition the core rules only went up to 20th level, then you had to buy the Epic Levels supplement. Epic characters have access to all sorts of overpowered feats to represent the fact that they're now closer to gods than mortals.
Alas Calliope has a shitty build and we qualify for none of the interesting ones!
It's not really that bad but Epic feats often have very high requirements. Epic characters get feats more often than normal characters (every two levels instead of three, not including class bonus feats) but it'll be close if we can get the two feats I'm aiming for.
Epic Precision is dead useful for Rogues/Assassins as they allow you to Sneak Attack Sneak-Attack-immune creatures. Mask has a metric shit-ton of these monsters, like elementals, undead and these goddamn spirits. First, though, we need Crippling Attack, a special Rogue feat that we can't pick until Level 10 Rogue (that's three more levels away).
Perfect Two Weapon Fighting lets us attack as many times with our off-hand as with our main hand... but we need 25 natural Dexterity and we've only got 21 so far.
For now we take Great Dexterity to boost our primary stat. We might make our goal if we get all the way to Level 29...
Odd... snow underground?
This one is an orglash, a spirit of ice and wind.
It's another elemental knock-off, basically. All these barrow guardians and golems and orglashes... don't worry, we'll see some interesting enemies soon.
Anyway, it's been bound here to guard the offerings of the Rashemi - the sticks and incense they leave to curry favour with the spirits. It's a weird kind of punishment:
A spirit called "Okku" is its master and the god of this barrow, apparently.
We could kill it but enslavement is definitely more our style. It turns into a crystal that sits in our inventory and grants us complete cold immunity. We can also summon it in combat!
: You can't trust that creature... it's like every spirit, every god. It will use you for reasons of its own.
: They embody the wilderness - they're capricious, shifting, rarely friendly for long. Even the Rashemi don't trust them.
Safiya's right - the orglash will eventually betray you. Or at least it would if the encounter hadn't been cut. No matter.
Inside the ice cave is a sacred pouch that we can use to bypass the barrier.
In fact there's three ways to get past this obstacle. Burning the pouch is one; another is using the Imaskari Rod to dispel the barrier, destroying the Rod in the process. There's a non-hostile lich inside that thinks the Imaskari Empire is still around, bless him.
The dick move is to smash the bones of the bear and fight all the spirits maintaining the barrier.
Up another level. Last area now.
We must be close to the surface, there are tree roots dangling from the ceiling.
You'd be surprised...
: There was this shard of an ancient sword stuck in my chest. A lot of people have tried to rip it out... and it looks like someone finally did.
: A fragment of a sword was... inside of you? That's... the first time I've heard of such a thing. Sounds rather painful - I'd rather think its absence is a good thing.
Not really. The Silver Sword of Gith was the one thing that made us a hero. Without it, we could be just another NPC.
: When we're out of this barrow, we can try to determine who took that sword fragment, and why.
: You arrived with bandages in hand to deal with my wound. You must have known I'd been cut open...
Mmm. She also knew our name without us telling her. Something dodgy is going on.
: Actually, I do mind. I'm not going with you until I know why you're here.
: I'm guessing you rarely settle for half the facts... That's a good trait to have.
: A powerful wizard at my Academy - my mother, actually - told me you'd be here and ordered me to find you.
: My instructions were... rather brief... and given in haste. Trust me when I say I knew only that you'd be here, and likely to be incapacitated. As for why, well... that's something we'd both like to know.
At least we can take comfort from the fact that Safiya knows as little as we do.
The top level of the barrow has fewer barrow guardians and more telthor spirits. They're all in the form of wolves and bears and leopards, for some reason.
We're almost out of these caves when Safiya starts gassin' about something, I don't know. We're nice about it for plus-plus Influence.
: Thank you... but it's nothing. Look, the tunnel's angling upward. We're nearing the exit.
: I passed through a chamber on my way in. There were bones. Bones of a great bear, atop a carved stone.
: The Rashemi say a god dwells in this place... an angry bear god who rules the barrow. Rashemi tales are colorful, but they're always true in part. Be on your guard.
"Bear god." Pfft. Where do the Rashemi get these stories from?
: I am Calliope. Who are you?
: And you... defiler of my grandfather's bones... devourer of my loyal friend Nakata...
: I know what you are, little one. I smell the hunger that wakes in you.
: You don't know me. But I know your kind. I know that your present form, for all its... color... is only a shadow of your true self. And I've shaped and bound far greater things than you.
: And I smell a wild storm in you, Thayan. Does your ally know the secrets you hide? Grief and confusion beyond measure... and something more...
Hooray, a boss fight!
Okku's big and tough, but not complicated in the slightest. He'll summon some bears to aid him but they're all just big damage-sinks at the end of the day.
Good news is that Okku's flesh-and-blood, so he's vulnerable to Sneak Attacks.
Instead of dying, though, he vanishes in a swirl of lights. This isn't the last we've seen of Okku.
It'll be good to see sunlight again.