Part 48: Cap'n Calliope's Companion Crunch
The Truth, Part Six - Hesiod's Theogony
Once again we must face the darkness of the Skein. We must overcome the madness of Gulk'aush and find a way back into the dream of the Slumbering Coven.
The Skein is actually pretty atmospheric in Exploration mode. The top-down screenshots may not show the area very well, but at least you don't have to listen to Gulk'aush's ranting.
All right, so in today's accelerated round-up I thought we'd start with the short-cut. Fentomy's key let us skip the petitioner queue and head straight to the Skein; his side-door takes us down a chute and dumps us here, on this pile of rubble.
His quest will also allow us to skip most of this dungeon. Fentomy wants us to kill this Primal Earth Elemental and send it back to its home plane, so he can enslave it.
Releasing the elemental results in a long-if-uninteresting fight. It's a great opportunity to acquire a Pristine Spirit Essence, possibly the rarest essence type in the game.
It also sets the Skein to collapsing, blocking off most of the corridors in the dungeon. The earthquakes do open a previously-sealed door, however, granting us access to Gulk'aush's lair and the stairway beyond it.
If you remember the previous playthrough, a similar thing happened when we activated the pumps. We drained the waterways but locked the door leading to the Primal elemental.
The idea is to forcibly separate the two paths for completing the Skein: either you run around fixing pumps so you can drain the Skein and get to Gulk'aush, or you kill the earth elemental and proceed straight to the exit. It's sort of clumsy but it adds variation and lets frustrated players skip a really annoying dungeon - particularly useful for players with high Craving.
Personally I don't think it balances. Fentomy's path is a handy short-cut but you end up missing out on all the loot in the waterways (including a unique quest item), the experience from killing Skein denizens, plus potentially an important upgrade for One of Many. You get 100,000 gold from Fentomy as a reward but it's easy to match that with the magic items found on the waterlogged corpses, many of which can't be found anywhere else.
It's possibly to cheese the system by splitting the party - leaving half inside the elemental room while the other half activates the pumps. That way, you can get the loot in the waterways and kill the Primal elemental at the same time. You know, if you can be bothered doing that.
* * *
The encounter with Gulk'aush very nearly wipes the party, thanks to a possessed Safiya's Epic spells.
We'll get our revenge, though. A fitting end for the cannibal queen.
: Devour her - her power will help us when we face the Slumbering Coven.
: :: Let me devour it! The power I gain from it will benefit me, Dark One. ::
: I will not fight you. Do what you must.
Devouring Gulk'aush isn't that much different from just killing her. The main difference is that we can enter dreams as an inherent ability, rather than having to use Gulk'aush's Hag Eye.
We had high Influence with Gann, so he gets upset we killed his mother. If he'd had low Influence, he'd approve and we'd get points for it.
I don't think this is a good design decision. It works if you're Good and influencing Gann to be a nicer person, but surely Lawful Evil Calliope's high Influence with Gann should encourage him to be more callous and uncaring?
More interesting is what One of Many said before we consumed Gulk'aush's soul. What would have happened if we'd fed the hag to our pet minion?
The same thing that would happen if we let One of Many devour the Sleeper.
Eating the Sleeper is a hostile act and causes her followers to attack you. That's patently obvious but it was a nice pair of screenshots, so I thought I'd mention it anyway.
But what does it actually do for us?
: :: I believe the Madwoman can be a useful tool for you, Dark One, as she has a powerful command over dark arcane mysteries. ::
: :: Perhaps if we allowed the Madwoman to occasionally control the Many, it would ease her strife, and bring unity again to the Many. The choice is yours, Dark One... ::
: :: Very well. Bring forth this Madwoman. ::
The Madwoman sounds like this.
The Madwoman is the third and last personality available to One of Many. Allowing One of Many to devour either the Sleeper or Gulk'aush gives it access to the Warlock class, in case you needed another spellcaster companion. There's no difference in which NPC One of Many devours - Gann won't take the opportunity to chat to his dead mother through the construct, although he always disapproves of One of Many devouring Gulk'aush, even if it's his idea to kill her.
As a Warlock, One of Many focuses exclusively on Eldritch Blast Shapes and Forms, ignoring the various utility/spell-like invocations in favour of massive amounts of direct damage. This is probably a nod to One of Many's automatic level-up system, since an Eldritch Blast build is hard for the computer to screw up.
* * *
There is another bonus to One of Many's Madwoman upgrade.
: :: Close enough to smell them and imagine what they might taste like, but we cannot reach them through the barriers. ::
One of Many can now follow us into dreams, just as Gann can. This includes the dream-quests in Ashenwood and the Wells of Lurue.
It's not quite as awesome as it sounds. There are already precious few dreams in the game, and it's not like a hellish mobile construct of the lost souls of the criminally insane has many opportunities to interact with other characters. On the other hand it means we have two companions for backup in the Dreamscape!
The only real change is in the Araman dream.
: :: This is the Betrayer's Gate, beneath the Death God's Vault. It is a passage between the world of the living and the world of the dead. Like the Many, it is a brilliant abomination. ::
: :: Several of the Many once flirted about this gate, in terror of it, but attracted to what might exist beyond it. ::
And now, for absolutely no reason at all, I'm going to side with Araman in this fight.
: Yes. My brother was weak. Idealism, irresponsibility... in a leader, those are the worst kinds of weakness.
: And the ability to love? To dream? To see the bleeding wounds that the pettiness of gods have inflicted on the planes?
: In those things, the Betrayer was strong. But you are sagging and impotent, Araman.
The Red Woman's Thayan golems are a lot easier to defeat than Araman's Red Wizards.
: Remember that, when we meet outside of dreams...
* * *
Finally we come to the Slumbering Coven.
Again, not much changes. Same old exposition. Same objective: find Nefris, find Myrkul.
As before, we get a choice: spare the hags and their valuable, unique, stolen dream-knowledge, or destroy their dreamscape for the sake of justice, Gann's vengeance and One of Many's greed.
Only it isn't really a choice because sparing the hags results in massive Influence losses:
: I came here in peace, and I shall leave the same way.
: [Influence Loss: Gann] No! They have dwelled here, causing suffering - I say we destroy them, lay this city low!
: Is that what you want? Revenge?
: I care not what you believe, but these things make their presence felt in dreams throughout Rashemen and beyond, leaving the stain of their evil in every mind they touch.
: All things touch the dream, and the dream of these creatures is foul, indeed.
: I'm not making any more enemies than I already have. We're going... now.
: [Influence Loss: Gann] You spare nothing, you save nothing! The dreams of the dead are only given voice through the Coven, and only to do harm to others!
: [Influence Loss: One of Many] :: How pathetic to show mercy, Dark One. We could have devoured them and gained much power. ::
: :: Then leave us, spirit-eater. We have drunk of your dreams, and you have dined on our wisdom. Make what you will of it - we do not believe this knowledge will avail you much ::
: :: You will succumb to your hunger, as so many have before you. And peace will come to our dreams again... ::
: [At once, the whispers fade, retreating into the shadows like a horde of skittering ants. With them, the dream itself flickers and dissolves away...]
You don't even get a reward - and by this I mean more than just money or experience, but also extra content or dialogue. You're just kicked out of the dream and leave Coveya Kurg'annis, meek as lambs. So boring. What kind of incentive is that?
Wrecking the Coven is childish and petulant, but it's a major source of Influence for Gann and we'll get tons of goodies for fighting our way out of the Sunken City.
Honestly, this sequence should have been an Influence check to get Gann to follow your judgement, not a demand to do what he says or lose Influence. Persuading Gann to show mercy or to only blame Gulk'aush for what happened would afford players a lot more wiggle room for what should be a tricky moral dilemma.
: :: If you end our dream, all that it contains is lost. Imagine... the dreams of a thousand, thousand souls, the knowledge of wizards and kings centuries dead, the hopes and loves of men and women and beasts... all contained within our unending dream. ::
: :: Such a trove as has never been assembled, here or anywhere across the planes... this you would destroy, for your own selfish whim. ::
Okay, this line is pretty good as well. What a hilariously dickish thing to say.
: So be it. My spirits are ready to fight with us - to their second deaths, if need be.
: :: Ah, the Many is eager to sup the crones, if for no other reason than to silence their screeching voices. ::
: [The presence within you stirs, as you concentrate upon it... willing the hunger to come forth. It rises like a dark, shapeless thing, always ravenous, groping blindly for food...]
: [Focus the hunger upon the hags.]
The best thing about destroying the Dreamscape is that when the hags wake up and turn hostile, they're grouped together in exactly the right size for a Spirit Gorge attempt.
* * *
There were some interesting snippets of dialogue that I couldn't find room to include in this or the previous playthrough's update, so I'll just leave these here. The first three are from Bishop's dream, the last an alternative way to end the Coven's dream if Gann is not present/dislikes you and you devoured Gulk'aush (the Hag Eye version is very similar).
: Have you assembled a new circus of capering beasts? Does the pretty hagspawn sing for his supper, or does he dance as well?
: Gann is a trusted friend. More so than you ever were.
: And I dance and sing quite well, I would add.
: Gann has his uses, just as you did.
: Ah, indeed, it is good to be needed, or 'used,' as you put it.
: There, hagspawn, see that? Stay useful, or you'll end up like me. Good lesson to remember, glad I could be 'useful' again.
: Can you hear it? In the screams... underneath the screams? The reason you're here... they all know.
: Why so serious, Bishop? You're not scared, are you?
: No. I made this bed of mold and rot. You never knew me... you thought you could read me, manipulate me, like the paladin or the devil-girl.
: Ah... to forget and be forgotten - that's paradise. It's getting there that's the hard part, but I don't fight it, like these others.
: :: You have not the power, nor the will! Stupid, arrogant thing... how many hundreds have tried to usurp our place, but we took their power, and absorbed their dreams ::
: [Wisdom] [Concentrate your will upon the dream, and attempt to take control.]
: [Closing your eyes, you calm your thoughts and emotions, drawing upon the power you took from Gulk'aush... and reach out with your mind, probing, drifting with the ebb and flow of the Coven's dream.]
: [You can sense the fury of the hags, hear their snarling and hissing. But they dare not touch you, for fear of the hunger, the presence that lurks within you.]
: [The dreamscape is like a vast tapestry upon which the hags crawl, greedily snatching up dream fragments from weaker mortals, and sewing them into their vast, sprawling web.]
: [You see the tapestry as Gulk'aush would... finding the seams... the weakest, most ancient connections that bind the dream together... tearing them asunder... watching as the tapestry splits apart...]
: [... and the hags shriek in agony, as their dream dissolves into a million whirling threads...]