Part 20: Act One Chapter Seventeen - In Nomine Patris, Et Filii, Et Pygmalus SanctiHrm... you know, I can't shake the feeling that we're forgetting something.
The Temple of Tyr is in the Merchant's District of Neverwinter.
Prior Hlam is the guy we see about getting Khelgar into the monks.
: By the Nine Hells we do - I'm looking to sign up.
: You wish to join the disciples of Tyr?
: It is odd that any of the Even-handed would seek out battle. Like most of our faith, they usually only respond when provoked, and rarely violently.
: Eh... well, I may have stirred things up a bit. Just a little.
: But that fight taught me some things - and I want to learn more.
: About our faith?
Um... I think Khelgar's just failed this interview.
: If you were defeated, such a defeat must have been just. Tyr teaches us this - your loss was meant to reveal a truth.
: Truth? The truth is they beat me like a half-clan whelp, and I want to know how they did it!
: I don't think you're hearing the words coming out of my mouth. That's why I'm here. To learn.
: But we cannot help you.
: Tyr puts all who come to him for help on trial - he judges who is worthy, and who is not.
: All right, sounds fair to me, Tyr wants bears fighting for him, not mewling little cubs. So what is this trial? Burning coals? Drinking contest? What?
: The Trial of the Maimed requires that the petitioner face those he has wounded - usually those of his bloodline, or clan.
: Hmph. Never turned a blade against my clan, I haven't. If I knew where some of them were, you could even ask them.
: The Trial of the Even-Handed requires that the petitioner learn to see all around him in an equal light, without the trappings of prejudice.
: Prejudiced? I'm not prejudiced! By the Nine Hells, I even travel with a back-stabbing tiefling of all things, and you know how her kind are!
: I am interested in hearing about the Trial of Justice.
: When you fight for a higher purpose, something beyond the self, you will find that you gain strength through your actions and become impossible to defeat.
It's plain for everyone to see that Khelgar meets none of the qualifications for becoming a monk. He fights for himself, not for a cause; he mistreats Neeshka and Elanee because they are different (not because they're annoying, which they are); presumably he's on good terms with his clan, but since he hasn't seen them for years it's somewhat hard to tell.
This is his special sidequest. Relatively few of the companions have special sidequests - in fact, we've already seen most of them. Most of the remaining companions have their subplots integrated into the main quest.
Maybe we can go over Hlam's head and get Khelgar accepted anyway. In the back is his boss, Judge Oleff.
: Yes... just a little distracted is all. When you came in, I thought it might be one of our priests returning, but...
: Where is the priest?
: I sent him on the monthly rounds of the Tomb of Betrayers here in Neverwinter... it has fallen to the Temple of Tyr to safeguard the tomb, in the interests of justice.
Okay, so it looks like we got roped into another sidequest instead. We can't solve Khelgar's quest right away; in fact, we can't complete it until halfway through Act 2 or so, although we can theoretically get some of it done right now.
This'll give us plenty of time to decide whether or not to make Khelgar into a monk at all.
: I mean, which is shameful. One should respect the dead. Let them sleep... even with valuables.
: But... uh, anyway, so your priest went in there? To make sure the riches are still there? All safe... untouched?
There are good reasons to turn Khelgar into a Monk: high saves, powerful feats, special abilities. On my first playthrough Khelgar was my only remaining character during the final battle, simply because he kept shrugging off everything the bad guy was throwing at him.
There are good reasons to keep him a normal Fighter as well. He gets a nice weapon as part of his sidequest which works better for Fighters than Monks; he can wear heavy armour; he has a terrible Wisdom score which Monks need for their Armor Class bonus; he looks silly in Monk pyjamas.
We can follow the sidequest without turning him into a Monk, so that's all right. If we do turn him into a Monk, we get to re-level him from Level 1, so we don't have to choose Monk-friendly feats while leveling him up as a Fighter. Obsidian didn't really make this very clear, so a lot of people on their first playthrough had Khelgar picking Weapon Focus: Unarmed feats while he was still wielding Dwarven Waraxes, which is a waste of a feat.
: Hmmm. You are not bound by our vows, but... there has been mention of disturbances in the tombs. I cannot guarantee your safety.
: If I allow you access to the tombs, I must have your promise that you will not disturb the crypts.
: I'm just going to sit here and not say anything, then, for a whole minute - maybe two. See how you like that.
: I will allow you access to the tombs, then - and I shall mark its location on your map. I shall send a priest of Tyr to unlock it for you - but make haste.
* * *
So the interview didn't go too well. Better check up on Khelgar, make sure he's all right.
: But chances are - and I don't blame you - you're just asking about me, personally, so let me give you the "short" version. I've been traveling the Sword Coast for a year or two, making my trade at villages and towns.
: And well, making my trade at taverns as well, but you already had a taste of that at the Weeping Willow.
: Why were those men trying to attack you outside the Weeping Willow?
: It's a shame that they didn't keep it a friendly fight. Some people have no stomach for using their fists when they have a weapon at hand.
: Why are you so eager to fight?
: Eager to fight? Well, I suppose I am, if you can call it that - I mean, it's all in good fun.
: Some take pride in craftsmanship, or in hunting, or in haggling for the best price on a blade or other piece of steel. Me? Talking with my fists is my art form.
: But why do you do that?
: Well, I don't know. I enjoy it, I guess. It's a mark of pride to be able to stand tall, and take every punch, then give it right back until I'm the only one standing.
: Is that usually how it turns out?
Khelgar needs help. As we've noted, he's not the most introspective person in the world. By asking him questions about himself, we hope to spark a moment of inner illumination.
We're his therapist, in short.
: Thing is, I'm glad it happened. It was my destiny.
: What happened?
It's not quite as obnoxious as it is in other RPGs. In other games companions like to dump all their problems on you in a massive sob-fest while you sit there and nod sympathetically. Here we're more pro-active; part of the problem is convincing Khelgar that he has a problem in the first place.
: But there was this time in a tavern far from here that I chose a fight that ended up choosing me. It was fate, I tell you.
: You found fate in a tavern brawl?
: Well, it wasn't much of a fight.
: There were chairs getting smashed, people screaming, tankards being used as clubs. Glorious.
: I don't understand the problem.
I don't like Monks.
This is an old complaint, which is appropriate since Monks, like Barbarians, have been hovering around the edges of core D&D rules since the very earliest editions. Monks 'don't fit' the traditional medieval-Europe fantasy mold; the class is a take on the kung-fu-fighting Shaolin monks seen in dozens of cheap martial-arts films.
: So I asked them, well, shouted really, what in the hells they thought they were doing, ignoring the fine entertainment and then insulting the establishment by not having ale.
: You shouted at them?
It feels a bit forced, perhaps - that you've got all these knights and alchemists and pagans running around the streets and then, next door, there's all these kooky bald dudes from a whole other culture with 'kukris' and 'kamas' and this is apparently entirely normal somehow???
: What happened?
: Uh, well, they used me as a bar rag, first. And not a single punch I threw even hit them, they were moving too fast. And plus, I think I was seeing double. Or triple.
: After they smashed my face into the bar a few times, they showed me the floor up close - the floor was pretty dirty by that point, by the way - then, as the final blow, they sent me flying like a drunk hippogriff out the window. Magical, it was.
It's the worst kind of Orientalism, I think; hundreds of years of eastern religion and culture (one specific religion from one relatively small area of Asia, to be precise) condensed into a single class so that a handful of players can feel a bit 'exotic'.
: They seemed a little taken aback by my friendlinees, and it turns out they were part of some order, Sun something or other, and get this - they'd devoted their lives to fighting with their fists.
: Can you imagine? Lifetime devotion to brawling. It's their lives, their craft.
: So they were monks?
Okay, okay, you're probably getting tired of me ragging on D&D and the Forgotten Realms all the time. But it's not just shitty history-nerd-rage, I swear.
Y'see, when you turn the Monks of Tyr into some kind of hybridised Euro/East-Asian martial-arts order, you immediately eliminate the concept of religious orders of scholars and ascetics who exist outside of traditional temporal/spiritual hierarchies. You no longer have any words to describe, say, the Order of Saint Benedict because "monk" has already been co-opted by the player class, with its fundamentally different fluff.
: Anyway, that life sounded like destiny to me. I mean, those skinny excuses for humans were good, and they spent their whole lives kicking the hell out of others. Training for it.
: That's when I knew that's what I wanted to do with my life. My purpose was clear.
The traditional European monastery is a terrific dramatic crucible. A small, rich, tightly-knit group of highly-strung men in dresses who spend all their time reading books and thinking about God and not nearly enough time getting laid? Narrative goldmine! So many rich themes available: knowledge and learning, purity and corruption, spirituality, masculinity and homosexuality, secrets, the forbidden and the mandatory, exclusion and inclusion... you ever read The Name of the Rose? It's just like that.
But we can never have that, because in D&D Monks are these weird Stance-of-the-Tiger types that owe more to films from the 1970s than they do actual Buddhist tradition. It'd be like writing a wonderful campaign setting based on feudal Japan but replacing all the samurai with generic 'knights'. You know, like... dudes in armour who fight each other for their king or something, I dunno, I just thought it'd be nice to have some English dudes in there or whatever!
: Huh? Of course it is - well, as far as I could tell once my head stopped ringing.
: Well, the life of a monk is more cerebral than that.
This is the problem I have with Monks, and Shadow Thieves, and all the other stuff in D&D I whine about : not that it's not 'historically accurate', but that it's throwing away such rich and imaginative possibilities for tedious and mundane cliches. Forgotten Realms is not so much a high fantasy campaign setting based on medieval Europe as it is a high fantasy campaign setting based on high fantasy campaign settings.
Tell me: have you been genuinely impressed with the Shadow Thieves plotline? Has it made you think about order, and control, and how society works its morality into law - and how that morality changes over time, and how society copes with that dissonance? Or is it obviously filler, typical "cops-and-robbers" bullshit that you find in every other fantasy story written, ever? And these monks: have you developed any insight into the traditions of Buddhist asceticism? Or are we still running on empty?
: It's not about violence, Khelgar.
It's worse for NWN2 because the game design is so good; it's just the high-level concepts behind the writing that's so uninspiring. This isn't Obsidian's fault, either - this is all down to the genre as a whole, where any goddamn idiot can throw together elves and dwarves and wizards and call it a high-fantasy masterpiece.
: Hmmmph. Shows how much you know about it. You didn't see them in action.
The Tomb of Betrayers. We've ditched Neeshka because we obviously can't trust her to keep her greedy little mitts under control. Also, Qara's Fireballs will be better against the undead inside than Neeshka's bow and arrows.
Yeah, that's right, we're fighting the undead again.
The tomb's full of traps. Most of them are so weak they can't even hit Calliope, her Reflex saves are so high. But there's one or two nasty ones that we can't dodge.
We're not so hot on the monsters. Ghouls are undead cannibals that can paralyse with a touch; we also fight Ghasts (which we saw last update) and Shadows, who are permanently 50% Concealed, making them harder to hit.
The Tomb of Betrayers has four cool little rooms in each corner. Each room has some treasure and its own custom trap. This one, for example, shoots Fireballs whenever you step on the pressure plates.
Flick the switch and a stone block moves across...
...blocking the Fireballs and stopping them from reaching us! Naturally you have to move the block again for the second set of plates (then do it all again for the trip back to the entrance).
In this hall, Fireballs fire off at set intervals. Calliope, with her high Reflex saves, can dodge most of them anyway.
I know I said we wouldn't loot the graves, but there's no penalty for breaking our promise to Oleff. Besides, we're heroes; we need these trinkets to save the universe!
The plates set off arrow traps. A gang of Shadows are supposed to lure you into a very messy ambush, but they're too aggressive and we take them down by the door instead.
This is the opposite of a trap; Elanee sitting on the pressure plate opens the grate to the treasure. That's it, no tricks.
Now that we're done looting the dead, we should find this priest and get out of here.
Stop snickering at the back there!
: Forgive me... this place has set me on edge.
: Oleff sent me. One of his priests has gone missing.
: Tyr bless you for your actions. However, I'm afraid Oleff has sent you to die here by my side.
: But something has disturbed the spirits that rest here - and now they have risen. It was always our fear it would happen.
: Even worse, the mechanism that seals the entrance has been seized by them. I fear there is no way to reach it... I have tried, but they have driven me back.
: Who leads them?
This line always makes me laugh. You'll see why in a moment.
: He and his fellow undead can be found through the door in the main hall. Be ready for battle. Even with Tyr at my side I was almost powerless against them.
Here - past this door is the abomination leading the undead against the priesthood. Within lies the foulest, most terrible of all the traitors who dared to stand against Neverwinter.
* * *
I suppose I should explain the events of NWN1 to you now.
A long time ago, intelligent lizardmen ruled the Realms. Unfortunately a terrible disaster threatened to extinguish all life and the lizardmen, using powerful magic, sealed themselves inside a magical stone to ride out the worst in stasis.
Thousands of years later they awoke and set in motion their plan to rid the world of the lesser 'successor' races. Using a powerful Luskan archmage named Maugrim as their catspaw, they created a cult in order to... uh... find the Words of Power and... spread an evil plague in Neverwinter?
To be honest I'm not sure how most of it goes - it's been an age since I played the NWN1 OC and I don't want to do it again. It's absolutely diabolical.
Anyway, Act 1 of the NWN1 OC was set in Neverwinter and had the player tracking down the pieces to a cure to the mysterious plague assaulting the city. The plague was actually being intentionally spread by fake priests of Helm, under the leadership of a man called Desther. You knew he was evil because he had a strong Germanic accent and belittled the player at every opportunity.
His best friend (apparently) was Abbot Fenthick Moss, a whiny pathetic elven cleric who was too nice and polite to tell his asshole friend to shut up once in a while. At the end of Act 1, you expose Desther as a traitor, but Fenthick gets caught up in it too and both of them get hanged for Desther's crimes. This is a Traumatic Event that causes the game's poster-girl, Aribeth, to turn evil and start killing people for Luskan.
See, this is why it's so funny: I was expecting an encounter with Aribeth, who was a reasonably powerful and intimidating Paladin/Blackguard, even if she had the worst voice actor in the world. But no, we get Fenthick, an absolute nobody who I had forgotten actually existed.
* * *
Fenthick spends the fight running around the trap-filled room, trying to get us to damage ourselves on the furniture. Qara's Lesser Missile Storm puts an end to that business right quick.
We tell Onan the good news and he temporarily joins us as we fight (walk) our way back to the surface.
Aren't you a little tall for a half-elf?
Anyway, we return to Oleff for our reward - and a bonus as well.
* * *
It's time we had another stab at making Khelgar into a monk.
: Eh? Like who?
: You don't seem to like some of our allies - especially Neeshka. What's your problem with her?
Oh dear. That didn't go well.
: Eh? What about it?
A little Zen wisdom for you, Khelgar.
: Hunh? What, you like switching words around? That makes no sense at all.
: What I'm saying is there's more to fighting than fighting.
: It makes no sense, it's wordplay. Riddles.
Christ, this isn't going well. Khelgar has a Wisdom score of 10, there's no way he's capable of the kind of dedicated introspection necessary to become a Monk.
This is pointless.
Well... it's a start.