[Hey. This is part 2 in a series. If you wanna read part 1, you can check that out here.]
[Be forewarned: I’m real bad at remembering to take screenshots, so you may have to use your imagination until (and if) I get my act together. I stole some from MobyGames.com so you would at least have a lil’ something to look at.]
Elminster hurled us back through the portal, but it deposited us in unfamiliar territory. Fortunately, our party members vaguely recognized the geography as an area far to the east of Phlan, so we gathered our bearings and headed west. What the heck, Elminster? Why’d you throw us so far off course?! Ah well.
There are a number of sidequests I normally do at the beginning of Pools of Darkness, but this is the first time I’ve used the class-change feature, and our party is currently stuck with a level 1 thief in Scholtz II. I wanted to level this guy up as much as possible in a fairly controlled environment so as not to get caught unprepared in a deep dungeon with a low-level character. Also, a character can only gain experience points up to one point below the amount needed to gain two levels, so I needed to be able to train frequently to get the most out of my experience, otherwise the points just go to waste.
I needed a training hall, and the closest one I could remember was at a hill giant steading near Dragonhorn Gap, so I headed back to the Phlan crater, then northwest. The hill giant guards at the steading gates let us in, but not without a few poorly crafted, monosyllabic insults. Veda was already testy from venturing into giant territory, so if the insults weren’t already enough, when we took a few steps in and got jumped by more hill giants, she hacked through their ranks like a buzzsaw. The rest of the assembled giants and mercenaries took a step back and pretended to check their phones as she looked around, daring them to take a shot.
The steading seemed to be a gathering place for all kinds of dark forces—many huts and dens full of rogues, evil mages, sellswords, assassins, ogres, ettins, and more. We politely kicked their teeth in when they refused to disperse, getting Scholtz all the way up to level 10 in the process. (Hey, many teeth needed to be kicked in.) There were a training hall and a tavern with a private room (that we took by force from a group of surly cloud giants) right across the street from each other at the north end of the steading. Training Scholtz ended up being a quick and relatively unthreatening process, aside from a couple of times I got caught off-guard by parties of black mages casting lightning bolts.
While in the tavern, I also met one of Sasha’s agents, Kardal, who said he’d heard rumors of a “Gathering” of some sort, and that I should attempt to gain an audience with the hill giant shaman in charge of the steading to get more info. This gathering sounded like a major threat to the Realms and something time-sensitive that I should have looked into right away. Naturally, I added it to my to-do list and decided to tackle some sidequests, first! I had to go back and do all the things I skipped to find a training hall right away. It’ll be fiiiiine.
Heading back to the east, we chased off a bunch of giants terrorizing a crossroads, saved a village from repeated attacks by dragons, and cleared a den of vampires and their minions out of a farmstead. We were unfortunately too late to save the family that owned the farm, but we gave their drained bodies a solemn, distinguished burial. I could tell that James and Vincent were upset about the situation with the vampires, but their strength and favor with Tyr turned away or outright destroyed most of the vampires’ lesser forces. Still, with the sun blotted out, the undead—vampires, in particular—are out all day, and the holy guys in the party are not happy about it.
We had two more lengthier stops to make before trying to get on with this hill giant shaman Kardal mentioned. Coincidentally, they both involved lending a hand to an old ally from our previous adventures. First, we stopped at a plundered temple on the edge of the crater of Melvaunt, where we met Priam, who was the leader of the Red Plume warriors in Curse of the Azure Bonds, and then whom we met again when he was serving as the mayor of New Verdigris in Secret of the Silver Blades. Here, Priam was again commanding the Red Plumes, and he wished to gain access to the temple’s armoury to outfit his men. However, a restless spirit named Brimwulf—doomed to wander the realms in search of his lost bride, Laurellin—had taken up residence in the catacombs and barred access to the armoury via a series of trials. (The Librarian’s extensive journals and knowledge helped us decipher the riddles surrounding the trials.) Laurellin, meanwhile, could be found haunting the temple belltower because she killed herself by jumping from the belltower after her father wouldn’t let her marry Brimwulf. Not to mention vampires and scavengers prowled the temple corridors, pillaging anything of value that remained.
This might be a good time to mention that I may have, erm, not read a prompt closely enough and taken some temple pillage set aside by ransackers. It was an accident, I felt bad about it, and Tyr cursed us because of it, so I quit and re-loaded. I’m not above reneging on my (accidental) roleplaying choices when the system and the situation allows for it. But, ultimately, I would do well to slow down, read carefully, and take things seriously. Otherwise, I end up stealing from a church.
Anyway, I successfully navigated the trials, got access to the armoury for Priam and his men, and reunited Brimwulf and Laurellin so they could spend eternity together. Our deeds restored the temple’s positive aura, and as soon as the braziers on the top floor were re-lit, the forces of good from around the region emerged from hiding and began using the temple as a safe haven and staging ground.
The other old ally with whom we reunited was Vala, a member of the Silver Blades who helped us finish off The Dreadlord in the last game. We found her in a cave near the eastern end of the Moonsea, and she asked for our help to recover a series of artifacts that would allow her to control earth elementals to stop an invading army from Vaasa from tunneling under the mountains and into Thar, where they would align themselves with Bane. We helped Vala find all the artifacts, barreling through a number of undead (no doubt disturbed by the Vaasans’ digging) and unruly earth and fire elementals. We met the primary Vaasan force and sent them scurrying back through their ill-advised tunnels as the earth elementals sealed up the passageways behind them. The Vaasans proved to be powerful warriors and mages, with high hit points and the ability to cast high-level spells, respectively. We also caught them trying to forge an alliance with the Drow, which came as a surprise to nobody within our ranks, having already dealt with those treacherous, spider-loving dark elves again and again in our previous adventures.
I’ve gotta say, the final battle with the Vaasans was not as difficult as I remembered it being from previous experience. It was against two sizeable groups of warriors and mages. I’m quite a bit more patient and strategic in my old age, and I learned to cast buffing spells before combat, so it’s possible I’m just a better player today, or maybe I just got really lucky with my dice rolls, too. I try to target the casters first with spells and ranged weapons, as well, since hitting them prevents them from casting until their next turn (not always as easy as it sounds).
We returned to Dragonhorn Gap to level up and sell our spoils. We grabbed a few key pieces of equipment, including an Elfin chainmail +3 for Scholtz, a silver shield +4 for Veda that was a gift from Vala, a ring of blinking that I think maybe Vincent ended up using, and helms +1 for everybody who could wear them. (They’re a new item in this game.) I had a moment of panic as soon as I sold Scholtz’s old leather armor +5—would he still be able to backstab in the elfin chain, or would it be too heavy? I quickly learned that yes, he could, and that he was as deadly as ever.
We still had one more outstanding sidequest to address before seeking out the hill giant shaman. I’ll tell you about it next time.
Want to play Pools of Darkness yourself? Get it and the rest of the Gold Box games on GOG.com! I’m not even being paid to tell you this!