Part 55: Act Two Chapter Twenty - Three Things I Like About Illefarn
The ruins of Arvahn are tucked away up round the back of the Sword Mountains.
Along the way we get a random encounter - cultists hunting an innocent peasant. Malar is the god of beasts, the wild and the hunt, and he's not a pleasant fellow.
We kill them all for daring to cross our path.
* * *
Neverwinter Nights 2 Main Theme (listen it's a really good track)
I quite like the Arvahn area. It's a dungeon, just like all the crypts and caves and ruins we've been to, but it feels much more organic.
: This is nothing but a pile of stones.
: It may seem that way to the eyes... but know there is power here, enough to turn the tide of the battle to come.
: Without undergoing the ritual, we cannot defeat the King of Shadows. We must make haste - the sooner we complete the Ritual, the sooner we can take the battle to our enemy.
It's weird, because the Arvahn area introduces a ton of elements common to fantasy that I absolutely loathe. We'll come to those in a second.
Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the mountains... orcs. Orcs everywhere.
And ogres. And spell-casting goblins.
Which are all fighting each other.
What's going on?
First things first: the Ritual. This statue stands at the gates to the ruined city.
Zhjaeve's voice takes on a spooky mystical echo, like she's communicating telepathically or something. Hey, githzerai are psionic!
: Our enemy's home is everywhere darkness lies.
: Know that though the King of Shadows may become legions, this ritual may still be used to drive him back.
So here's the lowdown on the Ritual (and the whole Arvahn area).
The Ritual of Purification doesn't actually do anything; it won't unmake the King of Shadows or sever his connection to his minions or whatever. What it does do is make us more powerful. Each statue grants a bonus feat/ability that we can use once a day to make ourselves into undead-killing machines.
Aurora Chain buffs everyone's weapons so that they get +1 to attack/+1 to damage per four PC levels against evil opponents for five rounds. To translate: we can currently give the entire party +4 to hit and damage almost every enemy in the game for a short time.
The Ritual feats are pretty useful, but the drawbacks are that you only get one use a day; most enemies are easy enough already; you've probably already got enough abilities as it is; and it's cumbersome to select and use in battle unless you mess around with the interface shortcuts (which I might just do after we finish Arvahn).
Part one of the Ritual was easy to find, but we won't be so lucky with the other four statues. Arvahn's a big place and there's several subsections that we can choose to visit in any order.
That's one of the reasons I like Arvahn - you're in control. You're not being herded through a corridor of enemies like all the other dungeons up until now.
: The Illefarn had many such portals, called song portals, that linked their vast empire together. They were unlocked by the singing of the Illefarn people, rather than keys of metal or stone.
It's also full of nice fluffy stuff about the old Illefarn empire. We'll be back to this song portal later.
On the west side of the ruins is an orc encampment. Fortunately they're not hostile... well, they were until we barged in.
Who knew Logram Eyegouger had a brother?
: [Success] Hnh. There is power in numbers, in strength... and in knowing when to fight. In this, my brother was weak.
: Well done. Nevalle could take lessons from you.
Using a skill impresses Sand, but Uthanck wasn't going to attack us anyway. He's got a use in mind for us.
: I know you aren't here to claim this land for Neverwinter. You want something in these ruins, yes?
We agree to kill Ghellu (because Uthanck and the tribe attack you if you don't) but we're not going to Riverguard Keep just yet. We don't even know where it is!
The only other named orc in the camp is Ilrah Broken-Ribs, the tribe priest. He gives you one of his ribs (?!) which is an item that grants you Toughness and Blindfight as bonus feats (?!?!).
Past the camp is this abandoned structure. Is this Riverguard Keep?
No, as a matter of fact.
: This is a part of a city of ancient Illefarn. A temple... if my senses are true.
: But the crafters... it suggests a union of elven and dwarven wills, shaping these halls. A rare thing in your culture.
: Ah, Sand, perhaps I could correct that by smashing you in the kneecaps. Would that suit you, you weak-blooded little potion maker?
: Threats from a dwarf. How droll and unexpected.
: Wouldn't dream of making an elf listen to sense - we all know elven ears are just for show.
Mmm. And what happened to this ancient elven/dwarven empire exactly?
: "The Temple of Seasons is dedicated to the veneration of Elythyn, Vigar, Bluecloak and Beleran, four knighted heroes of the united kingdom of Illefarn. They gave their lives that their kin might live in peace and accord."
: "Across our lands, we honor each in turn at the hearts of their seasons. Within these halls, we honor them forever."
: [There is a separate, slightly more recent inscription below.]
: "In this, the hundred-and-tenth year of the Guardian, this temple underwent renovation to house and protect a Statue of Purification."
: "As the four knights long ago guarded our last hopes in life, may they do so once more in death."
Annaeus... we'll be hearing more from him next update.
Anyway, we proceed through the door into the temple.
The first room is frozen over with ice. There's a book on a pedestal.
: "Vigar of Stone Hearth was the lone dwarven hero of the Knights of the Seasons. In the company's most difficult battles, he was the last to leave the field."
: "In the final struggle against the Great Evil, Vigar was the last to fall, enduring an onslaught of blows before finally succumbing. In his sacrifice, he bought time for all the citizens of Illefarn."
We turn the page...
...and are surrounded by Winter Wolves and Ice Mephits. Killing one monster respawns another at the side of the room, but eventually the room runs dry of guardians and the door to the next room opens.
Blade Barrier's a nice spell to use here, since the wolves and mephits all respawn at static points. In fact, any duration spell would do, although wall spells are easier for your own party members to avoid.
Next room is Spring (obviously). Now that we know what reading the books does, we can buff up and prepare before each fight - hence the summoned elemental.
: "Orphaned at birth, the hero known as Bluecloak took his name from the mantle he inherited from his musical master. Skilled in song and spellcraft and an irrepressible optimist, he was the group's voice of hope and inspiration."
: "As the armies of Illefarn were routed in the knights' battle against the Great Evil, it was Bluecloak's music that gave them the courage to stand their ground once more."
This fight's a bit different. Again, two sorts of enemies spawn in: tough earth elementals and these strong Hunter Statues. Avoid the elementals, since they can take tons of hits, and just pick on the Statues. Once the Statues have fallen, the trial is complete.
Another reason I like Arvahn - it's full of puzzle elements like these. While it doesn't make a lot of sense (the curators of this museum-temple must have really hated visitors) it's more interesting than another room full of zombies.
: "First into battle, first to fall. So it was with Elythyn Rosewarder, the youngest of the heroes. His thinblade was the first weapon to draw blood in the battle with the Great Evil."
: "His wounds so enraged the enemy generals that they focused all of their strength upon him. It is said that even as he lay dying on the battlefield, he would stab at the feet of enemies running by."
Aieee, an iron golem
The toughest and strongest of all golems. They may be big and slow, but Damage Reduction means they take ages to kill and every hit they land can do over 20 damage, easy.
Obviously we beat it, though.
: "Beleran the Fair was the experienced leader of the four knights. After Elythyn and Bluecloak perished against the Great Evil, Beleran directed Vigar to defend the citizens of Arvahn as they cross the Ailwyn River."
: "Beleran led the remainder of her small army into the heart of the enemy legion. She slew the great commander of their black host before she fell."
Here we are attacked by sylphs from all sides. Kill the sylphs as quickly as possible, else a stormcloud appears and everyone gets struck by lightning.
Finally, at last, in the centre of the temple, amidst the sarcophagi of the Heroes of Illefarn: the Ritual statue.
: This is a great memorial... yet somehow, it doesn't feel enough to contain them.
: What's the problem now?
: Is this how all noble deeds end?
: Does any worthy cause last only as long as there are those to fight for it... and die for it?
Casavir's still wrangling over his abandonment of Neverwinter to fulfil his vows. We're nice to him because I want to show you what he says next.
: Perhaps you are right - it only requires that one be willing to see them. And the consequences of such small sacrifices can be just as great.
: I ask this...
How incredibly morbid.
: Feel the power of Illefarn fill you - and see what it is you stand against.
: He knows... he knows what we are doing...
Suddenly Zhjaeve is filled with panic. So what if he knows? What can the King of Shadows do to us here?
: But you have learned how to place the power of this ritual between you and him, like a barrier - and if he attempts to break it, he will only wound himself.
Cleansing Nova is our direct-damage Ritual power. The Nova has a small radius of effect, but it does 1 point of fire damage per second per level to undead and outsiders and last for four seconds - so at Level 20 (when we finally confront the King of Shadows) it'll do 80 damage, straight up, no saves allowed. It also combines with the Web of Purity power (which we don't have yet) to extend its reach.
We also quickly loot the Knights of Illefarn. They each have one or two decent magic items.
Had, I should say.
You know what? Let's move on.
Now, this is Riverguard Keep, around the north side of the ruins.
: This one must have had a great will to lead so many... but it did little to deter those seeking to steal from her once her life was gone. I see no blade, shield or sceptre lying with her.
The last reason I like Arvahn is that the quests, puzzles and encounters are imaginative and well-developed. This inscription is a clue as to how we can get to the third Ritual statue (the last for this update).
With any other developer, that'd be it: get the Sword, Shield and Sceptre to unlock the magic door. Boooring.
Not so with Obsidian.
Riverguard Keep is home to the ogres and goblins that we saw fighting the Corpsewalker orcs earlier on. Ogres are just dumb meat shields but all of the goblins have some kind of magic attack or spell buff.
There's one more species dwelling in the keep - bugbears.
It's a regular humanoid jamboree!
: Is that so? I know where you might find a statue in this keep, but the ogre mage, Ghellu, won't let you near it - if it is indeed the one you seek.
: Why are you telling me this?
: I am Ralidor. I grow tired of the ogre mage. He promised plunder, but I have seen none.
: How did you come to these ruins?
: Wealth, Ghellu promised us. The orcs are weak, he said. Uthanck's brother is dead, so he cannot send help. We came to this place in the night, swarmed over the orcs, and took this keep, slaying many dozens.
We're killing Ghellu for Uthanck anyway. Why not cosy up to Ralidor too?
* * *
Down a floor we encounter more goblins and more ogres.
In the largest room is an 'Ogre Chieftain' - only marginally more powerful than the normal ogre warriors.
He does, however, have the Master's Shield. This may be key to gaining access to the Ritual statue.
Also on this floor is Ribsmasher. He's a prisoner and he can also help us get to the statue.
: I'm Ribsmasher. I smash ribs! Human ribs, orc ribs, elf ribs... sometimes even little pixie ribs.
: But these goblins, they grabbed me before I could smash their ribs! I'll show them! Ah ha ha HA HA HA!
Ribsmasher's genuinely nuts. If you rescue him early on, he'll run all over the level, attacking everything he sees (apart from you) - ogres, goblins, doors, chests... if you want all the loot and XP, better leave him be until you're done.
: I won't stand in your way.
: Ah ha ha HA HA HA!
: Maybe you'll be half as bright as him one day, Khelgar. One can dream.
: I hope so, lass. I hope so.
* * *
Final floor, the very bottom of the keep.
: Under normal circumstances, I would demand such terrible sacrifices. However, as Uthanck and his idiotic orcs are camped not far away...
: Give us more time, Ghellu.
Throne room, incompetent minions, reckless disregard for the lives of his underlings... all Ghellu needs is a moustache to twirl and he'd be perfect.
: In any case, if you have come to claim this keep, you have found its lord. I am Ghellu.
: I am Calliope, well met.
Another Influence point for Sand. He's easily amused.
: Greetings to you in turn. What brings you here?
: I am looking for a statue, a Statue of Purification.
: Then you and I have the same goal. Do you know its purpose?
: It grants blessings that can be used to battle a creature of ancient Illefarn called the Guardian.
: Is that all it's for? Ah ha ha! I've been wasting my time, thinking it was something else. Its importance is mentioned in several elven manuscripts, but they all failed to describe its function.
: What's preventing you from getting through to the statue?
Gah. More ancient Illefarn abjurations. Why can't all the statues be as easy to access as the first one?
Actually there's a very good reason - two very good reasons.
: It's been weakened, though. A dozen goblins more, perhaps, and it will likely dissipate forever.
: Will you allow me to use it if I can get to it?
Ghellu seems like a nice enough chap - civilised, like us. We agree to kill Uthanck for him.
There's a set of stairs nearby that take us all the way back to the top floor, right next to the entrance.
It seems we've made a few too many promises. Uthanck, Ghellu and Ralidor all want to be king of Arvahn, but none of them want to share.
This is a good quest because of all the different ways we can complete it.
One option is to side with Ghellu, which means killing Uthanck and Ralidor. If we hadn't promised to bring Ralidor Ghellu's head, we'd have just killed him anyway inside Riverguard Keep - and at least this way we get a cool fight out of it.
: Yes, I'm coming!
: Uh... yes.
That's one way of opening the door - Ghellu opening it for you.
But we're not done yet.
We can choose to kill Ghellu, for either Uthanck or Ralidor.
Ghellu's corpse not only has one of the Master's items we need, but also... two heads?
If you give Ghellu's head to Ralidor, he becomes lord of Riverguard Keep. Uthanck doesn't actually mind this - Ghellu was a threat, but he can negotiate with Ralidor.
We need the Master's Sceptre, though, and Ralidor has it, so we choose to kill him. Ralidor's kind of a prick and won't give you the Sceptre if you help him - you have to make a Diplomacy/Intimidate check, and if you fail (or can't do it) you have to fight him for it.
With Ghellu's Sword, Ralidor's Sceptre and the Chieftain's Shield, we can open the statue door without event.
But we're not done yet.
Kill Ghellu. Don't kill Ralidor. Don't get the Sceptre.
We're a Rogue, surely we can get through this door without the proper keys?
Not this joker again.
: A door? Consider it smashed!
: What? What are you doing? He'll kill himself on th-
: Arrrrrrgh! Must... smash!
: That reminds me of some of the rituals our people endured at the hands of the illithids - enduring such commands drove many of our people mad, but death was their only release.
That's another way of opening the door - like Ghellu's method, but crueller. And more evil. And it upsets Shandra.
But we're not done yet.
Kill Ghellu. Don't kill Ralidor. Don't get the Sceptre. Don't free Ribsmasher.
We can just open it ourselves.
Yes, we take lots of damage, but we can always stop halfway and have Zhjaeve cast Heal. Or, you know, sleep for eight hours.
Opening the door through
: You're mad. I was just guessing before, but now I know.
: Each part of the ritual prepares you for what is to come.
: Our enemy wears many forms.
: But all of them are darkness.
: Keep this shield close in the dark places in which we walk.
Shining Shield is a defensive power that grants the party protection from negative energy and cold resistance, 3 points/level. That's quite a lot, though it only lasts for two rounds.
All right, that's enough for now. In the next update, we delve a little deeper into the Arvahn ruins and learn a little backstory about our Big Bad Endboss.