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17 June 2015 @ 07:27 pm
Dorchadas Plays Baldur's Gate II, Part III: I'll Make You an Offer...  
So Imoen has been taken and now I'm in Athkatla. What's an adventurer to do? Why, wander around and get sidequests, of course!

At least, that's what I do for a bit. I head to the southern part of Waukeen's Promenade where a circus is set up, and chat with a few people about how people have been entering the main tent and not coming out for a while now before I decide that I should go see if I can get Imoen back from the Cowled Wizards before I head out and fill my journal with irrelevant fluff, so I head to the north end of the Promenade, gather my party, and am greeted with this:


I like how people coming from the rich north part of the city have to go through the slums to get to the market.

In Baldur's Gate, you spend the first three-quarters of the game on the road, in small towns and wilderness and ancient ruins, and by the time you finally solve enough of the region's problem for the titular city to open its gates, there's not much left to do out in the world. But then you enter the city and you're greeted with nine screens filled with buildings and people. It would be overwhelming if the game started out that way, but by the time you reach it you're ready for it. BGII assumes you've played through BG for its dramatic urgency, and here it assumes you've been to Baldur's Gate and Athkatla is just more of the same.

The only choice it gives me is the slums, and there I'm immediately met by Gaelan Bayle, who tells me that he has powerful friends who can help me find Imoen but he won't tell me who those friends are.
Gaelan: "Coo! You'd be the one I be looking for, if I not be mistaken. Chiyo be yer name, aye?"
Chiyo: "Yes, I am she. What is it that you want?"
Gaelan: "'Tis not what I want, but what I can be doing for ye. You might be wanting information about a young lass arrested by the wizards on your arrival here, aye?"
Chiyo: "You're talking about Imoen? What do you know about her?"
Gaelan: "Now, Imoen, aye... that be her name. Young lass made the misfortune of castin' a spell or two in a city that frowns on such business. Bad timin', it was. You be thinkin' ye wants to find her, then?"
Chiyo: "Of course I want to find her! What do you know?"
Gaelan: "Coo! I knows very little meself, me lady. I can, however, link ye up with a group that knows. Or can be findin' out. But this be not the best place to hold such a dialogue. I be having a place that would suit far better. It be just a short walk from here. Why don't I take you there right now? Unless you have some reason for not wanting to come along?"
Chiyo: "How do I know that this isn't some kind of trap?"
Gaelan: "Hah! I have no interest in settin' up a trap. It be more profitable to serve. I will speak no more...come with me and you can decide whether to enter me house."

Chiyo goes to his house, and...

Gaelan: "Coo! It's good to be seeing ye once again, me lady! I see that ye were able to keep up with me alright, eh? I was afraid I'd lost ye there, heh..."
Chiyo: "I kept up just fine. Now tell me what all this is about."
Gaelan: "Aye, I'll be doing that quick as ye blink. I tell ye straight that I know a powerful group that can be helping ye. They can be findin' the wizard and the young woman both, they can. But they can be doing far better than the tellin', my friend. They can also affect the rescue of your lass, to boot."
Chiyo: "Just what is this organization, anyway?"
Gaelan: "This I cannot tell ye. Rest ye fine that they be willin' to help... and havin' enough power to challenge the Cowled Wizards. That all ye be needin' to know."
Chiyo: "All I need is to know where Imoen is. I can handle the rest myself."
Gaelan: "Ye might think this, but I be tellin' it isn't true. Without my organization there be nothing ye could do. Choose, then, if ye be wanting their help or nay."
Chiyo: "How much is this 'help' going to cost me?"
Gaelan: "It may seem to be costly, but think of the danger in crossin' the Cowled Wizards. A fair price, if ye think about it. It be 20,000 gold pieces for their help."
Chiyo: "20,000 gold pieces! That's an outrageous sum!!"
Gaelan: "Outrageous, is it? 'Tis a lot, but ye ask me friends to go against the wishes of th' Cowled Wizards. I told ye it not be a thing to be done lightly."
Chiyo: "I do not have that much money... how am I supposed to raise it?"
Gaelan: "I am sure ye have spent as much in the past and will again. Surely there be work in the city for ye. Or perhaps some of yer expensive goods to sell?"
Chiyo: "It's too much to ask when I don't even know who will be getting it."
Gaelan: "You might think so, but the offer I make is good whether you act on it now or not. You will come to see the reasonable nature of it, I am sure."
Yoshimo: "He may be right, Chiyo. It would take someone of power to find good information on the Cowled Wizards... this may be your only opportunity to find Imoen."
Jaheira: "One should not turn away an offered hand so quickly, Chiyo, but I would be wary of its secretive origin. Perhaps we can find Imoen on our own."
Gaelan: "Spend not a coin now, then. Seek your fortune about the town, but remember that here is where your help is. Strangers are not always to be feared."
Chiyo: "Is there no help to be found elsewhere?"
Gaelan: "There be no aid elsewhere. Raise the coin or nay, ye'll come back, and I'll be waitin'. Ye may want to speak to Arledrian upstairs, to help ye out. Good luck. Brus 'll be waiting for ye outside. He's me nephew, an' he'll show you to the Copper Coronet. Ye'll find work easily enough there, ye will. If you need work, I remember a boy from the Umar Hills looking for help. I think he was wandering the central park of the Government District. Fare ye well, then... an' give me greetings to Lehtinan if ye happens by 'im, heh..."
Now I have a reason to go do all those sidequests!

Chapter Two
There's a brief crawl of text about having to find Imoen, and then I'm treated to a cutscene with Imoen and Irenicus being held captive by the Cowled Wizards (spoilers after 5:09). Imoen is panicky, Irenicus is arrogant, and eventually the head wizard orders the "deviants" sent to Spellhold. That sounds just ominous enough that I'm sure I'll be breaking in at some point in the future.

When I get control back and leave Bayle's house, the boy outside suggests I head to the government district, since Chiyo is a mage and there was a Cowled Wizard looking for adventurers to perform a task. Sure, I think, I need to get in good with them. After a stopover in the Bridge district where I learn there's a serial killer on the loose, I head to the government district and meet Xan.


Flaming sword and all.

Xan: "What...what are you doing here?"

Memories of Chiyo's past flash through her mind. She vividly recalls the days they spent arm in arm, and nights that followed afterwards. Friends, soulmates and lovers, they were inseparable.

Xan: "Chiyo...it is a miracle."
Chiyo: "You...here...how? How did you find me?"
Xan: "It was easy. We share a bond, so I felt you every step of the way. As well... as well as your pain. What happened to you?"
Chiyo: "A powerful mage kept me underground for quite some time. There were knives... and spells... and fire... and cold fingers..."
Xan: "Corellon's mercy... Forgive me. I would not have shielded you from this, but if I were with you...even in the next cage, if nothing else...you would not have been as forlorn as you were."
Chiyo: "I wanted you to be with me, more than anything. But then you would have suffered, too."
Xan: "If it could ease your pain, my own would not matter. But perhaps I will avenge you, yet. You are intent to pursue him, I take it? Or not? Regardless, you need better equipment than this. How I wish you could share mine... but of course, misfortune never comes alone. I was robbed on my second night in Athkatla. A spellbook and some potions is all I have. Oh, and my moonblade, certainly." Sighs. "A fine pair we are."
Chiyo: "Oh, who cares about some rings and robes? What is important is that you are alive!"
Xan: "Ah, your optimism is inflexible, as always. I should have known. There is something else you need to know. Do you remember our last stand in the Undercity? We talked about our future then, and I promised you to leave the Greycloaks and travel with you. Well, I did - and didn't. A powerful vampire established a coven in Athkatla, endangering the city, and I was asked to investigate. I will do so, but only if it does not hinder your plans. My first and only priority is your well-being. That said, shall we go? I am eager to be alone with you once again, I admit."
Chiyo: "Yes and yes. Come, and quickly, before the others catch up!"
Xan: "The same old Chiyo."
And after he joins my party, I click on him and am immediately greeted with "We're all doomed." Oh Xan, how I've missed you.  photo emot-glomp.gif

To the south is a lynch mob, all set to burn Viconia for the crime of being a drow and hiding her face, which proves that she's a drow spy and not that, say, she didn't want to get burned at the stake. I free her and fight the mob, which is a valuable experience both in that SCS makes it far more difficult than I expected and because it confirms that magic being illegal is just fluff, since I avoid magic but the mob doesn't and no one shows up to stop them. It's a mistake I won't make again. Viconia thanks me, but I gently turn down her offer to join me and she says she'll be hanging out in the graveyard.

After picking up a couple other sidequests I go into the building, where the Cowled Wizard Tolgerias tells me that he has a great task for me but can't tell me what it is until I accept. Jaheira, Minsc, and Yoshimo all point out that this is stupid and I should refuse, but since Chiyo is a manic pixie dream girlhappy-go-lucky I figure what can possibly go wrong and take the job, which turns out to be tracking down a murderer named Valygar Corthala and bringing him to justice. I point out that I'm not a murderer and Tolgerias says bringing him in alive is just fine, after which he gives me a starting location--the docks--and sends me off.

I leave the government district to head back to the Promenade and proceed to spend the next hour getting murdered over and over again by a scripted encounter with a guy named Eldarin and his gang of slavers. One thing Sword Coast Stratagems does is assume that in some encounters the spellcasters would have made the perfectly reasonable precaution of buffing before you meet them, as you can see in the screenshot here. Look at the "cast previously" in the combat log:


Incoming ouch.

There's a strategy in later versions of D&D called "Scry and Fry" that involves buffing up, using magic to find your target, then teleporting in while they're in the bath or asleep and murdering them, and that's basically how this battle goes for me. Sometimes the slaver mage gets off a Confusion spell and it's good game, sometimes the invisible thief backstabs Xan and kills him instantly, sometimes the cleric charms Minsc and he kills Chiyo or Jaheira, etc. After an hour, I finally manage to win by using the wand of frost I got in Irenicus' dungeon to gib the mage immediately and Xan gets off a charm spell on the cleric, after which I use all his hold person spells on the other bandits and make mincemeat of them.

I actually won once before then, but ran into a random encounter after that killed me. And since the first encounter took place in a temporary encounter area, I couldn't save after I won. Baldur's Gate II!!!  photo Kirby_Shake_WaddleDee_Emoticon_by_D.gif

Also, Xan had stoneskin memorized, which is one of the most broken spells in AD&D. It has an indefinite duration and completely blocks a fixed number of attacks no matter how much damage they do, so it's frankly inexcusable he's not walking around with that on at all times. I probably should have cast it, shouldn't I?  photo emot-sweatdrop.gif

Let's Go to the Circus
In the Promenade, I rest at the end and go boldly into the circus tent, where I am no longer in Kansas anymore:


Just another day in the Forgotten Realms.

It's an illusion funhouse run by a sadistic djinni, notable for two things. The first is that all the purely melee opponents are pathetically easy after the brutal magical duels I've fought so far, and the second is Aerie, the now-wingless winged elf who I free from her illusionary prison in an ogre's form and accept into my party, giving me a full group of six:

  • Chiyo, female elf Fighter 8/Mage 9
  • Jaheira, female half-elf Fighter 7/Druid 9
  • Minsc, male human Ranger 8
  • Yoshimo, male human Thief (bounty hunter) 11
  • Xan, male elf Mage (enchanter) 11
  • Aerie, female elf Cleric 8/Mage 9
Multiclassing is the path to power in AD&D 2e, so I'm doing pretty well on that score.

After fighting my way through illusions and solving riddles, I find an ogre mage running the show. He gives me a quick speech about how will I win if I don't know what is real and what is illusionary, then it turns out it doesn't matter because Xan charms him immediately and I win without a struggle. It turns out that he's neither a djinni nor an ogre mage, but rather a gnome illusionist who worked for the circus. Sick of short jokes and being forced to perform cheap tricks for a jeering audience, he decided to show them all in a way that would finally let him stand tall (direct quote). I talk to Quayle, the circus owner and Aerie's adopted uncle, and his response is basically, "Thanks for saving us and all, you and Aerie have fun adventuring!"
Quayle: "I... I think you need to find out, my dear. I've taught you everything I can. It's time, Aerie... time for you to learn the rest on your own."
Aerie: "You're the wisest and the smartest and the kindest man I'll ever know."
Quayle: "I wasn't always, my dear. You changed that. But I can't keep you here. Chiyo... you can provide for her better than I. Perhaps you will take her with you?
With a full party, I need gear, so I go on a shopping spree. Everything is mostly either too expensive or not worth buying, but I do get Aerie and Xan magical slings and pick up a set of glasses that let me cast Identify three times a day so I can stop having my wizards memorize it, then I head over to the Copper Coronet. Being a tavern in the slums, it is loaded with people looking for wandering murderhobos to solve all their problems, and I quickly get a number of requests. Lord Jierdan Firkraag wants me to clear out some trolls and ogres from his estate in the hills and is willing to pay 10,000 gold for it, Nalia De'Arnise needs a group of shit-covered scumfilthy peasants"less fortunate" individuals to help recover her ancenstral keep, and a dwarf named Korgan wants a book recovered but demands to come himself.

I take the first two requests and turn down the third, then head outside, where an elf named Aegnor recognizes Xan:
Aegnor: "A moonfighter! My lord, you should leave the city immediately!"
Xan: Sighs. "Believe me, there is nothing I would rather do."
Aegnor: "My lord, this is urgent! You must leave, this city is doomed!"
Xan: "I fully agree. But wait - you mean something more immediate, do you not?"
Aegnor: "I..."
Chiyo: "What is going on here?"
Aegnor: "My lady, I am Aegnor of Tethyr."
Chiyo: "I am Chiyo of Candlekeep."
Aegnor: "Please, understand me when I say that I cannot reveal anything. I am in no position to! But, I implore you, flee this wretched city at once. Something most... terrible and wondrous for the elven race should transpire here, and soon."
Xan: "What madness is this? Are you planning an attack on Amn by the elven forces, or some such foolishness?"
Aegnor: "Oh, no, my lord. It is much more subtle. In fact, we would welcome your presence. One of the Defenders of Elvendom... you would be most welcome to aid our cause. Should you wish to speak with my betters, meet me in the Government District at night. I shall wait there, and, should you arrive, I will alert them of your coming. I shall be expecting you alone. Though of course, your esteemed companion may also come, if she wishes it. With that, I take my leave."
The way he talks makes me think he might be a member of the Eldreth Veluuthra, but I guess I'll have to find out.


There's no way to read this other than creepy.

Gang Warfare
On the way to the city gates to head to the De'Arnise Keep, I run into a group of thugs attacking a man named Renfeld, and after dispatching them he says he's been poisoned and asks me to take him to his friends at the docks. I'm a bit suspicious of this, but I accept the offer and drop him off, whereon his friend shoves some money into my hands and takes him inside the building...which is locked. Well then.

When I entered the docks, Yoshimo mentioned that the Shadow Thieves were not happy with him doing freelance thievery and it might be a good idea to go talk with them, so I go ahead. The head of the Shadow Thieves says he has a job for me, to infiltrate another one of the Shadow Thieves guildhouses who might be a threat to it power. I accept the job because getting involved in mob warfare is a safe career choice, and then head to the gates, where I rest for the night.

That night, Chiyo has a dream:


Symbolism.

Aerie also has a dream:
Aerie: "AHHH!! HELP ME! HELP ME, PLEEEAAASE!!"
Chiyo: "What is it, Aerie? By the gods...you're drenched with sweat! What's wrong?!"
Aerie: "I..." Gasps "...I was having a dream. A most dreadful nightmare!! Please...please sit with me for but a short while...I am shaken to my very core..."
Chiyo: "Certainly. What was the dream about?"
Aerie: Shudders. "I...I was back in the circus, after my owner had decided that my wings had become too diseased. I had been laying in my cage, sweating and delirious for days...his men came and pulled me out, and my wings burned so! I could barely cry out, I was so weak! And...and they began to saw off my wings...hacking at them with rusted knives!" Shudders. "I screamed and screamed! They...hacked off...my wings and then used...torches to seal my wounds. Oh, Chiyo...!" Sobs "Oh, Chiyo, I...I...!"
Chiyo: "Shhh...calm yourself. I understand."
Aerie: "It...it felt like I was there again! I can...I can still feel my wings being torn from my back... I...I'm sorry, Chiyo. It was so long ago, I should not still be so torn. I...I must resign myself to my fate. Come...let us continue on with your journey..."
Then Xan mentions that he had one too, but since his nights are a series of unending torments not too different from his days, everything is fine except for all the doom.

The dreams in Baldur's Gate were all text crawls, and the dream here is an in-engine event. It's a little difficult to compare when I played Baldur's Gate a year ago and I've only seen one BGII dream, but I think I prefer the text crawls, partially because they take less time to play out, but also because being narrated instead of experiential places it at a remove from the player, which I think is a better way to convey a dream since playing it out in-engine places it on the same footing as the actual gameplay.

Also, BGII dreams don't give you superpowers like BG dreams do, so there's that.

When I leave the inn, I find a group of Shadow Thieves fighting a woman, who I can tell is a vampire because the combat log is pointing out the level drain she's inflicting on them. When she handily murders them, she speaks:
Hareishan: "No, you are not to see this yet. You have not chosen your side. When the time comes, obey. Obey, or you will join the thieves in death. Such is the will of the mistress."
Chiyo: "What are you talking about? Why were you fighting these people?"
Hareishan: "Such things are not for you to know... yet. When the time comes you will know much, and if the Mistress bids it, you may also live."
Then she vanishes into the darkness. So, having involved myself in mob warfare and in warfare between the mob and blasphemies against all that is good, I leave Athkatla while the getting is good.

Getting to the De'Arnise Keep keep takes a while because I keep running into a random encounter, and here I run into a problem where Sword Coast Stratagems breaks my suspension of disbelief. The encounter spawns with a bunch of orogs literally right on top of me, and a slaver mage with several buff spells already cast. But that implies that my party was staring at their shoes the whole time and repeatedly failed a Spot check until I walked right into the enemy party, which is incredibly stupid. I tried the fight a couple times, then decided life's too short and took a circuitous route to the keep, arriving without incident.

Game time elapsed: 4 days, 19 hours
Imoen rescue fund: 886/20,000


It's a good thing that I played Baldur's Gate, because this is ending up exactly like the complaints I hear about most open world games, where you load into the world after the intro and end up with a questlog full of places to go and things to go and get totally overwhelmed. I know it's probably artificial, but Nalia made the best case for saving her keep being something I had to do immediately so that's the quest I went with. I do like how the quest to save Imoen has enough narrative weight that you definitely want to do it, but no obvious timeline so you don't feel like you're betraying a friend if you wander off to accomplish some trivial sidequest. And it all goes toward making that 20,000 gold.

Well, that was much more verbose than I expected. I'm going to end up writing a novel about this game as I play it, aren't I?

Next: Part IV: Have Fun Storming the Castle!
 
 
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