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21 June 2015 @ 05:42 pm
Dorchadas Plays Baldur's Gate II, Part IV: Have Fun Storming the Castle!  
The De'Arnise Keep is set among pleasant woodlands and green grass, so I wander forward a bit through the verdant fields and find that they've set out a welcoming committee for me:

Do not want.

With that lovely sight greeting our heroes, I figure that maybe a frontal assault is a bad idea, and I wander around to the south. As I'm walking, the telltale glow of someone teleporting in appears, and I get the party into fighting order when a dryad teleports in and walks right up to Chiyo:
Phluafae: "Ho, there, mortal! A fair girl like you, wandering in the woods... whatever are you about?"
Chiyo: "Shh... there may be trolls about."
Phluafae: "Oooh! Really? That's so scary! Lucky me, a fine hero such as yourself skipped by! Yes, indeed."
Chiyo: "I have the feeling that you did not start this conversation because of any worry over trolls. Do you require something of me? If so, please state your business."
Phluafae: "Why, yes! How swift of you to see it! I hope my offer will please and interest you. My business is perfectly simple, and an opportunity for you to be ever-so helpful. You are carrying a bundle of acorns native to the Windspear Hills. They belong to my sisters, and as such, they are very dear to me. Would you, could you, part with them? Returning them to me? I will give them the precious care they deserve!"
Chiyo: "No, a promise is a promise. I swore I would deliver these acorns safely to Windspear Hills, and that is what I shall do. No exceptions."
Phluafae: "Oh, will you now? I would have rewarded you for your assistance had you been willing, but no, you have to keep your word. Spoilsport! Oh, well. Too bad for you. You shall suffer for your mistake sooner or later. Hopefully sooner."
Having informed me that we shall pay for our insolence, she teleports away.

Tucked in a corner of the map we find a small camp with a remaining contingent of De'Arnise guards and Nalia:
Nalia: "There you are! I have been waiting positively AGES for you. I did a little scouting around and the outer walls have been breached. That means they are inside, and we'll have a tough time getting them out."
Chiyo: "I can stumble no further blind as I am. I must know who we are up against."
Nalia: "Yes, I...I should have told you previously, but others refused to help when they found out. We are...beset by trolls. A vast number of them. Worse yet, there are some kind of snake creatures with them. I had never seen the like of them before, but I've been sheltered most of my life. The main assault began just a few nights ago. I think they were driven from the north by the elves, or perhaps the new settlements south of Tethyr. They are nasty, right? I know trolls can only be permanently killed by fire or acid, but those snake things look even meaner. Why would they come here? Whatever the reason, they are here. I am sorry, but I don't know numbers or tactics; I only know that we must get rid of them...we must rescue my family, that is all."
Chiyo: "We don't know how many they have, how smart they are, or even if there is anyone left alive to rescue. "
Nalia: "I know, I know. Wait! The servants wouldn't have posed much threat to the trolls. Some of them may be alive inside, and they would know numbers and strengths. Perhaps...oh, what's his name...Daleson! He worked in the stables. They may have left him to tend the animals for food. He would know! He might be inside."
Chiyo: "Is there a safe way inside? I don't want to have to knock on the front door."
Nalia: "You don't have to go through the frontlines. Approach north of the palisade. There is a secret door that allows entry along the base of the keep wall. I...I use it to occasionally sneak out while my parents aren't looking. They don't much like me interacting with the local peasants, but I can do so much for them. You can go on your own, but I am still willing to join. I know the keep well, and I can take to a shadow as quick as nobles to wine. I studied a bit of magery too! I've practiced! I'm going to be someone that gives to the poor and takes from the rich, I am. We've got lots to spare...and it's fun, too.
Chiyo: "No, I prefer to keep you out of harm's way. I will return shortly. Wait here."
Nalia: "Very well, I shall wait here. Tell Daleson I sent you, or he may not trust you, and who could blame him? Nobody goes out of their way to help his kind, but I will."
The captain of the guard clarifies that the "serpent men" are yuan-ti and says that that if I can get inside and open the drawbridge they'll attack from the front. Mission in mind, I head out to find this entrance and start running into trolls.

Let's talk about Dungeons and Dragons trolls. The lanky regenerating troll is common enough now because of D&D and its later ripoffimportation into Warcraft that it's not weird, but it's not really mythically resonant at all. That's because it comes from a single book written in the 60s that Gary Gygax liked:
"Like a huge green spider, the troll's severed hand ran on its fingers. Across the mounded floor, up onto a log with one taloned forefinger to hook it over the bark, down again it scrambled, until it found the cut wrist. And there it grew fast. The troll's smashed head seethed and knit together. He clambered back on his feet and grinned at them."
-Poul Anderson, Three Hearts and Three Lions
So D&D trolls regenerate and require fire or acid to put down permanently. Most D&D-based computer games abstract this away or ignore it entirely, but not Baldur's Gate II! In two groups of trolls I blow through all the fire and acid spells that Aerie and Xan have, and so I settle down to camp and reshuffle their spells to provide more troll-exterminating ability.

That night, Chiyo dreams.

There's a metal band title.

I'm not sure whether these are pure dreams brought on by Chiyo's divine blood or whether Irenicus and Imoen are contacting her somehow, but I guess that's something I'll find out. They're a bit too on-point to be random divine blood dreams, but I would have expected being imprisoned in a place called Spellhold would prevent direct magical interaction between Irenicus, Imoen, and Chiyo. Unless Irenicus broke out somehow and took over...

That morning, Xan and Chiyo share a moment:
Xan takes a step in Chiyo's direction. He tucks a small flower behind her ear. She cannot see what it looks like, but its aroma is breathtaking. So breathtaking, in fact, that she feels as if she is about to sneeze, and with a toss of her head, she does, sending the blossom flying... and stopping right in her cleavage. Xan stares, his mouth half-opened.

Xan: "Yes...this is much better, I admit."
That was incredibly close to one that could happen between softlykarou and me. Just don't ask me how Chiyo has cleavage while wearing magical chain mail.

Storming the Castle
Touching moment completed, I head into the secret passage that leads into the castle. After a couple empty rooms I find a servant and a troll, whose interation plays out basically as, "DON'T KILL ME PLEASE BLARGH" and then the troll attacks. This exact interaction occurs a few more times in the castle, but doesn't really carry any emotional impact because there's no way I can save the servant--they explode into giblets in a single blow, leaving no time to distract the troll. It's a scripted "look how EVIL trolls are!" moment, and because of that it loses all its effectiveness.

In the next room the a servant named Daleson that Nadia spoke of:
Daleson: "What? And who be you then? Come 'round the back way did ye? I suppose ye must have. Nothin' but trolls and snakes the front way. What are ye doin' here then?"
Chiyo: "Fear not, I have come to rescue you."
Daleson: "You? Rescue me? I ain't nobody, even the trolls know that, so they left me to tend the animals cuz I ain't no threat. Did Miss Nalia send you?"
Chiyo: "She doesn't want any more people to die, and she hired me to make sure of it."
Daleson: "If you are here at her request then you might at least mean well, though we shall see if you actually accomplish anything. Miss Nalia is a caring noble, but she is still a noble by any measure. No offense meant, but are you here to really help or are you here to say how much someone should help? Miss Nalia is a bit more talk than action sometimes."
Chiyo: "I will do my best. How many people are still alive around here? Are they hiding?"
Daleson: "I don't know. I seen a few make a break for it, but they were killed as they ran. Maybe a few are hidden here or there. I know Lord Arnise is still alive, at least he was this morning. He was trying to get the parts for his flail. He keeps it in pieces, and would never say why he left it like that. Wasn't my place to ask, really. Probably took him down to the dungeon. Lord Arnise had his dungeon boarded up, but I think them trolls sniffed it out. Don't know why they didn't just kill everyone."
Chiyo: "How many trolls did you think were here?"
Daleson: "Maybe thirty. There was a big troll that seemed to be in charge. I've kept out of sight, but I also heard him bossing something called a "yuan-ti". I don't know how many of those there are."
Chiyo: "Alright then, I'll be off to do my dirty work. Try to keep out of harm's way."
Daleson: "I'll just be staying right here, thanks all the same. They ain't bothered to come get me yet, and if you go out there making trouble, I think this is the safest place for me. If you do see Miss Nalia, let her tag along. She knows this place better than anyone, or at least thinks she does. One's as good as the other sometimes, and it's better than going blind. Oh! There was something else as well! I don't know if it will help, but I'd best tell you anyway. The big troll, he's got a whole pack of nasty looking monsters that dig like mad. I had to feed 'em, and nothing gets between them and their food. Abandoned their post for the dog stew I made. Had to kill four dogs per meal. Disgusting! They guard the main room of the dungeon, but they feed in one of the cells...to the south down the hall, in the back of the room where they first broke in. Just wanted to warn you about them. They almost killed me and all I was doing was dropping their food in the cell. Nothing keeps them from their food."
Chiyo: "Thank you, Daleson. I'll be on my way now. Good luck to you."
Daleson: "I hope this all works out. Be hard finding another place as comfortable as this. Remember to use fire on the trolls when they fall down, otherwise they'll get up again."
I suspect those weird creatures are umber hulks, but I don't think they eat dogs...

The rest of the first floor is pretty uneventful. Three elves in the party means that secret doors aren't, and in a hidden room I find part of the flail that Lord De'Arnise was trying to assemble. Other than that it's just killing trolls and looting random treasures until I take the stairs up to the second floor. There it's more of the same, though when I stop to rest to regain my fire and acid spells, Aerie and Jaheira have a conversation where Aerie points out the elephant in the room of D&D pathos:

Other than the Constitution drain, but basically yes.

The library we finally find our first yuan-ti, who hisses that TorGal will be pleased when it brings it our corpses, followed by Minsc running across the room and the yuan-ti exploding under the power of his blows. The trolls hiding the shelves attack, and other than a bizarre incident where one of the dead trolls splits into two smaller trolls when it gets near death, they are easily dispatched. One of the shelves contains the De'Arnise keep key, letting me go back and start opening the various doors that were immune to Yoshimo's lockpicks.

On one of the resting periods that the party takes while clearing out the keep--and it's really hard to maintain the suspension of disbelief when I can freely sleep for multiple long periods inside the castle and no one ever bothers to come check on the sounds of combat and the screams of dying trolls--Chiyo dreams.

This is the appropriate time for a hearty "Mwaaaaaaahahahahahaha!"

There's a throwaway comment in this dream that's the most convincing thing Irenicus has said so far, about how if Chiyo won't think of herself, think of the others who have died who she could have saved with her powers. Most of the thrust of his interest seems to be that Chiyo is wasting her power as a Bhaalspawn, but wasting it how? What does she want to do that the powers of the Lord of Murder would help her accomplish that she's not capable of doing already? I haven't run into any unbeatable enemies in either Baldur's Gate or Baldur's Gate II, and before that, Chiyo spent her entire life inside the walls of Candlekeep. Irenicus keeps asking her if she knows how much power she has, and saying that she is a slave instead of a master, but I beat Baldur's Gate just fine.

The only really convincing point he makes is a throwaway at the end of the dream, when he mentions that she should use her powers for no other reason than to protect other people. This is actually an interesting problem--in a world with objective morality like the Forgotten Realms, is it justifiable to use power derived from the Lord of Murder to save lives--and hopefully Irenicus takes that angle in the future rather than telling me that power needs to be used for its own sake and not using it is some kind of failing.

In a room on the upper floor I find an armored man named Glaicus, who yells that he will destroy me for the glory of his new masters, throws on an oil of speed, and attacks. While Chiyo and Minsc hold off his attacks, Xan casts a Greater Malison and Jaheira uses Charm Person or Mammal (I am not making that up), causing Glaicus to come back to his senses.
Glaicus: Groans. "Wh...what's going on? What's happening here?"
Chiyo: "You were charmed, I believe, by the trolls..."
Glaicus: "Yes...yes, I remember now. It was...it was horrible! Oh, thank you so much for freeing me from that enchantment! You...you must find the leader of the trolls...TorGal, I believe his name is. You must find him and kill him! If he falls, the rest of his minions will flee. I am afraid that I do not know where he is, though...or where Lord de'Arnise is, exactly. I...I wish I did. But I think I do know something that might help you...Lord de'Arnise was looking for a flail that belongs to him...it was disassembled long ago and the heads spread throughout the keep. I was helping him search when we were captured. He said it had powers of flame and acid and the like...things that would have aided us greatly against the trolls, had we found them in time. I...have the first of the heads with me, still...you may have it. I cannot thank you enough for releasing me. I...I would help you, more, but I simply cannot face them again. I...I wish you well..."
And he runs. I can't blame him, really.

In another room that was previously locked, I find Lord De'Arnise's sister and let her escape even though she's the worst stereotype of an arrogant noble, and through two secret doors past that I find what's clearly the treasure room:

I'll just show myself out, then.

Golems in AD&D 2e have all kinds of ridiculous rules exceptions and immunities, so I decide to cheat. I take the last part of the flail, which fortunately doesn't trigger the golems, head downstairs and reforge it, give it to Chiyo, then head back to the golem room, where I attack the golems one by one while they're inert. They activate when I attack them, of course, but doing it individually is much easier than doing it in a group. I kill them all except the iron golem, which gives me a ton of trouble over multiple tries, so I cheat--everyone except Aerie leaves the room, she casts sanctuary, loots everything while the golem glares impotently at her, and then after giving Chiyo the Frostreaver ax and Minsc the Elven Court bow, we head to the stairs in the library.

The roof is mostly empty, but proving my earlier hunch correct, Phluafae teleports in as soon as I arrive.
Phluafae: "I warned you, dear girl. Someone with a clever head on their shoulders would have let me have my way instead of being impertinent. The time has arrived for your comeuppance. You have made me very cross. I shall crush your eyeballs like little figs!"
She goes down a couple blows, and the shambling mound and dire wolves she summons don't last much longer, even though I forget about friendly fire and Aerie's color spray catches most of the party. After taking care of a few more trolls and yuan-ti, we head around the gatehouse and open the drawbridge, letting in the De'Arnise guards, who help us take down the trolls and yuan-ti in the courtyard with their fire arrows and a couple more in the front hallway. Then they say the rest is up to us and let us clear out the remainder of the keep, so we head up to the second floor and take the extra set of stairs down to the basement.

In the basement we find the umber hulks Daleson warned us about. Umber hulks have a confusion-inducing gaze, which Baldur's Gate II represents by them firing off a confusion spell every few seconds. Fortunately, Yoshimo, who I use to lure the umber hulks one by one into the next room, makes all his saving throws instead of the last one, and that he spends most of his time wandering in circles instead of attacking the other party members.

The fights against the umber hulks and the golems remind me of part of D&D combat that I don't really like, and that's the swinginess of things. High damage output from enemies coupled with no way to reduce incoming damage--armor just makes it more difficult for enemies to hit you--means that combat is miss miss miss miss WHAM miss miss WHAM miss WHAM WHAM, and hopefully you've responded by withdrawing people from the front lines or casting cure spells in there. Otherwise, someone is going to explode. I can only imagine it getting worse as the game goes on until it's all rocket tag by the time I get to Throne of Bhaal. Though the swinginess might also be exacerbated by the mods I have installed--I don't remember how my old playthroughs went well enough to tell.

While we're resting in the room formerly occupied by the umber hulks, Xan is an appalling asshole to Aerie:
Xan: "A bunch of doomed fools. Sometimes I wonder why I joined this lost cause."
Aerie: "Don't you think that's a little rude?"
Xan: "No. If I wanted to be rude, I would point out that Chiyo has sunk to appalling lows, using the crippled, fragile, and severely weakened to achieve her goals."
Aerie: "Are you talking about me? Am I...am I weak to you?"
Xan: "You are, Aerie, there's little point in denying it. Had the situation become a little more vulnerable, your inexperience could have been the death of us."
Aerie: "I...I do not have as much strength as you or Chiyo, it's true...but must you be so cruel to remind me of it? If you wish me to leave, I will...you just need to say a word..."
Xan: "It is not cruelty to you, but mercy. What can you do here but die? You have no real experience in spellcasting, you are not use to long walks, you have gone through a terrible trauma. It is not my decision whether you should go or stay, but I wish it were."
Aerie: Sobs, "There is no wonder they sent you away from Evereska: you only say cold, horrid things! Chiyo, I do not want to listen anymore!"
This is one of those situations where you realize that maybe some of what your friends have been telling you about your S.O. is correct. I try to talk to Aerie and get "Aerie has nothing to say to you," and Xan has a ton of dialogue options, but nothing that would let me chew him out for being a jerk, so I settle for asking about his childhood. He says that he spent a lot of time alone, which is a problem for elves, since they have a bone-deep sense of community that's enforced by the practice of communion. That's why Xan is telling Chiyo so much about the People (for Forgotten Realms elves, elves are Tel'Quessir, "the People," while everyone else is N'Tel'Quess, "not the People"), as a way of drawing her into the community. Which is kind, but quite a bit less touching after he stabbed Aerie in the back.

The Troll King
In the next room is TorGal, and while I try to play to his greed, he is unmoved
TorGal: "Sniff...SNIFFFFFF...I smell you...I do...you gradunk no be hiding on TorGal!"
Chiyo: "I come here to speak with you. I do not wish to fight."
TorGal: "CowardalRrrrr, you no fight? We come to fight! Stronger ask for things, but we fight anyway! You worthlessrrr if you gerrtragg no fight! What good you?!"
Chiyo: "I am quite good at cowing even the strongest creatures with words and guile. What good am I? What good are you?"

Who is this Stronger, anyway?

Since this fight has a wizard, it's much tougher than any of the other ones in the castle, and it takes me quite a few tries. I think I'm going to have to accept that the mods I have installed are balanced around trial-and-error pre-battle buffing--for example, TorGal has an aura of fear, so several battles went very poorly for me until I started having Aerie cast Resist Fear before I went into battle.

Even then, things would be going well, and then because of the rocket tag problem I mentioned above, TorGal or the elder umber hulk would land two hits in a row on an injuried party member and eviscerate them, or the yuan-ti sorcerers in the room with them would get off a spell and ruin the attempt, or a yuan-ti would cast dispel magic and strip the party of their remove fear spell, whereafter TorGal's fear aura would send them running.

I spent a couple hours on this battle because my pride won't let me lower the difficulty level until finally I decided to play dirty and ended up pulling the trolls through a gauntlet of Jaheira's entangle and ice storm spells to the stairs. Only one or two at a time made it through, and I'd head upstairs, they'd follow, and then I'll destroy them and repeat. It took a while, but eventually TorGal and all his minions lay seared and acid-scarred on the stone floor of the keep--sadly accompanied by Lord De'Arnise, who apparently did not survive the attempt to recreate the flail.

And after the battle, Minsc muses on what brought him so far west:
Minsc: "Ahh... this land is fine, but I wish I could show Boo the fields of Rashemen. We could run free through the snow, though Boo would look some kind of funny in a drift, I tell you this... ha ha!"
Aerie: "You are from Rashemen? I had--I had thought such a land was the stuff of fable."
Minsc: "No, it is as real as Minsc, though even larger! It lies far in the direction of the sun at morning. Ah, but it has been long since I left it."
Aerie: "Why would you ever travel so far from home? I--I was torn from mine and had no choice."
Minsc: "I was on my dajemma, a journey to prove my manhood! Oh, we were a pair, me and my witch! I was to watch over Dynaheir and bring her home in... in safety. Oh Boo, I can never return to Rashemen! I am proven unworthy! I am no man and you are no hamster...we are lost! Oh the sorrow!!!"
Aerie: "Oh, don't cry. You and Boo have fought bravely! Who could count the foes you've vanquished! Dynaheir would be proud of you..."
Minsc: "You have been good friends, you and Chiyo... Minsc would ask something! Will you be my witch, Aerie? Boo and I are nothing without a witch..."
Aerie: "If you will be my guardian, Minsc, I shall be your witch. Your dajemma has not been for nothing and Dynaheir's death shall not go unavenged."
Minsc: "My sword, my soul, my hamster...all of these I pledge to...to Aerie, my witch... HEAR THAT, EVIL?! MINSC HAS A NEW WITCH!! WOE IS YOU!!"
I knew this was in the game script, but I still found it touching, especially after Xan was such a dick earlier. Watch what you say now, Xan, unless you want Minsc's boot planted firmly on your butt.

I head outside, where I find out that due to pre-rendered backgrounds, lowering the drawbridge doesn't actually lower the drawbridge and I have to take the long way back. After I break the news to Nalia, she takes a moment to compose herself, and then tells me of her betrothal to another noble that she wants out of and proposes to make me lady of De'Arnise Keep to do so. Chiyo really doesn't want to be saddled with a human noble's lands to rule, however, and so I gently decline the offer. Nalia snaps that she hopes I'm happy with "the misery that I leave behind" and storms off, indicating that I certainly made the right choice.

Task accomplished, I head back to Athkatla. There's a thieves' guild I need to present myself at.

Game time elapsed: 10 days, 22 hours
Imoen rescue fund: 5,025/20,000

This was the mission that taught me that I'll need to treat Baldur's Gate II more like a strategy game than a pure RPG if I want to win. I usually don't like pre-buffing before battles, or going in and dying so that I know what the enemies capabilities are and can tailor my spell selection against it--there's no way the characters would know any of this, after all--but in this case I'll have to make an exception. And it certainly felt good to finally kill TorGal without having to drop the difficulty after he had murdered me so many times. I also picked up some magical weapons for Chiyo and magical armor for Yoshimo, so hopefully future battles will be less of a hassle. And I should get to use to just freely using magic to win everything instead of trying to conserve my spells. That's not the kind of game I've set myself up for.

Next: Part V: Every Hamster Has His Day.
Current Mood: accomplishedaccomplished
Current Music: Chrono Trigger - Far Away Memories (Neil Benjamin OC ReMix)