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Thursday, 30 October 2014

Hordes of the Underdark Retrospective Walkthrough - Part I


Table of Contents

Part I: Waterdeep & Undermountain I.
Part II: Undermountain II & III.
Part III: Lith My'athar, Shaori's Fell & Isle of the Maker.
Part IV: Zorvak'Mur & Cavern of the Eye Tyrants.
Part V: Drearings Deep, Battle for Lith My'athar & The Valsharess.
Part VI: City of Lost Souls & Wastes of Cania.
Part VII: Mephistopheles.

Hordes of the Underdark can hold its own against most mods of the epic, sweeping scope type. It's also got the big budget feel to it which no mods have, not even The Aielund Saga. I'm referring to Gaider's writing, the voicesets, the innovations of the demonic grappling hand and puzzle ring, environmental dmg in Cania wastes, the almost peerless design of its dungeons (teleporting, secret doors, puzzles, it's got the lot), and the fact that it separately pays homage to Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale and Planescape: Torment over its chapters. Very impressive, hugely underrated campaign, and I'm just really surprised there aren't many people talking about it. Yes, it's fairly easy and that's why the mainstream should be lapping it up. I think I'm the only one to give it extensive treatment in the last few years...

Introduction

Hordes of the Underdark is the second and last expansion for BioWare's Neverwinter Nights, introducing epic rules with a campaign level range of 15-30. The latest and definitive version of the game is 1.69, which I have installed along with Project Q for improved visuals.

After burning myself out on the exhausting MXL: Ultimative mod for Diablo 2, I decided to relax and recount a run of Hordes of the Underdark on D&D Hardcore Rules difficulty. I can't stand excessive waffle or reporting combat encounters in dice-rolly detail, so this is basically a recounting characterized by "brevity" - in so far as over-caffeinatedness allows - and interspersed with pro-tips. It will contain little in the way of comments pertaining to the story, lore, dialogue and moral choices, or characters (ie, "role-playing"), focusing more on comments about combat encounters, area design and mechanics. Note that obviously this document is still spoiler-heavy; new players should not read this if they have any intention of later playing Hordes (unless of course they don't mind spoilers), and veteran readers might have their memories refreshed or discover something new. I hope to learn more from this run, too!

Chapter One: Descent into Undermountain

Character Creation and Building

So, the first choice to make is whether to go with a newly created character or import from Shadows of Undrentide. Since I don't have an Undrentide character, I'll be creating a new one. Newly created characters start at fifteenth level, and can either be auto-leveled or built manually by the player, level by level. This makes Hordes an attractive campaign for those who like to experiment with various characters without having to plod through the low levels, first. One advantage of importing is that gold carries over, but paltry gold bonuses from low level modules don't factor as concerns in epic campaigns like Hordes. Your imported gear also gets stolen as part of the plot, and, while you can get it back later on, by that time you'll mostly have better stuff - and selling it off just isn't worth it, either. A certain Undrentide quest item also carries over to be used in mid-Chapter 2 of Hordes, but its all but useless (and bugged). The second choice to make is "which build"? 

For this adventure I've decided to go with a ranged combatant, specifically an elven Bard (1) /Fighter (x) /Arcane Archer (x) wielding a longbow. I'm a huge fan of archery in RPGs, yet to my disgrace have never built one in NWN. Anyway, with this build I want to meet the pre-requisites for the AA prestige class fairly quickly and then dedicate to AA all the way into Epic levels. After manually leveling my character to Bard (1) / Fighter (6) / Arcane Archer (8), I'm ready to roll. But before any major combat encounter, BioWare lavish on the player an array of items from the Yawning Portal Inn's armory; so I equip a +2 Longbow and other build-relevant gear as can be seen below. As you can see on the Quickbar, I already have a decent bag of tricks. My active or "clicky" feats are Seeker Arrow, Imbue Arrow and Hail of Arrows. My most-used clicky will be Rapid Shot. Relevant passive feats are, first of all, Point Blank Shot and also include the usual Dodge, Mobility and Spring Attack along with Weapon Focus, Weapon Specialization and Improved Critical, all obviously for Longbow. Awh yeah! (I will describe the clicky feats as I use them). Note also on the left of the quickbar I have Stand Your Ground, Follow and Attack Nearest hot-keyed. I recommend everyone do this, it makes controlling your Henchman much easier and faster. Oh, by the way. The plot: Drow are ravaging the Inn and Waterdeep - kill the Drow!

Yawning Portal Inn and Waterdeep

Left to right OC Henchmen: Daelan, Sharwyn, Linu & Tomi
The first major combat encounter occurs in the common room of the Inn, and here I face off against several Drow and Duergar. But since I have about a dozen allies (including the heroic Henchmen from NWN OC), this fight - while dramatic - is mostly introductorily benign, but there is a Drow Priestess who can be killed for a staggering 3,780 experience, the most Exp for any enemy kill in the entire Hordes campaign. The reason for this, to put it crudely, is that Exp is awarded based on your level relative to the enemy's level, and if the enemy is theoretically supposed to be much more powerful than you but despite that you still manage to beat it, then Exp yield will reflect that. Anyway, suffice it to say this first combat encounter is always won by the allies without any player intervention. And actually, the next encounter down in the Well Room featuring several more drow can play out the same, with Durnan the Innkeep casually pwning them all...


When the fight's over I recruit the universally-adored Deekin, a highly amusing kobold bard companion from the first expansion, Shadows of Undrentide. I immediately enter dialogue with him to ensure he levels up as Bard exclusively and not Red Dragon Disciple. Bard Song and higher level spells are far more important than what RDD offers (at least for me, in this run). I remove unneeded items from Deekin's inventory and ensure he only has a crossbow to wield, so that he's never tempted to wade into melee. I also tell him not to help me open locks or disable traps, and to stay in close proximity to me whenever possible. Talking to White Thesta is recommended here as she bestows upon you a Rod of Resurrection with 20 charges. But unless you really need particular class items from her shop, you shouldn't trade with her as she's a tight-ass. Deal with the Magic Shoppe in Waterdeep, instead.

Waterdeep 

Realmslore has it that the City of Splendors is one of the largest cities in Faerûn, but in Hordes it's nothing more than a merchant hub at the start of the campaign and a stage for the final showdown at the end. I've always been able to deal with that, bored as I was with BioWare setting their RPGs in sprawling cities like Baldur's Gate, Athkatla and Neverwinter. HotU is a refreshing change in that it's almost all about delving dungeons and exploring the Underdark and infernal wastelands.

The use of ambience in small hubs like this makes them feel larger and deeper than they in fact are
As I exit the Inn onto the streets of Waterdeep, I meet the first combat encounter that isn't decided by immortal NPCs. There are a few duergar littering a courtyard, so I ask Deekin to cast Haste, Improved Invisibility and to Sing, then I hit the Rapid Shot clicky (for extra attack rate) and make my bow sing, too. The duergar were mowed down before they could cast much or close in on us, though I did get in two stinging crits of about 40 damage each, and that always helps.

  
All unneeded inventory items are sold off in the Magic Shoppe for 30,000 gold; then I use The Relic of the Reaper (a teleporting device, think "evolved Stone of Recall") to "bind" a position within the shop, right under Sobrey's nose, to which I can later immediately return to sell off inventory-clogging loot that BioWare loves to throw around like confetti. I then head to the blacksmith to buy a Composite Longbow +3, several arrow quivers and a set of entry level armor. Appropriately geared up, the reunited duo head down the well-lift to delve the infamous Undermountain.

Undermountain Level One
 
Deekin and I look down upon the entrance to Undermountain
This sprawling dungeon consists of three separate major sections (north, south, central), and is largely non-linear and explorative in nature. There are mazes, teleports and secret doors that spice up navigation, and also traps to avoid and (simple) puzzles to solve. Deekin's comments are wonderful and the OC Henchmen comments aren't bad, either. I even noticed a Spellcraft check related to the environment. Enemies can persistently be found in certain areas (campers), but some types roam around the corridors making nuisances of themselves (ie, drow skirmishers). The drow and duergar are the most interesting generic foes here, using stealth and Darkness spells to tactical effect.

Undermountain Level One: Central, North and South areas
There are many secret doors leading to hidden areas, containing extra encounters and loot, which can be very difficult or take time to spot without at least some investment in the Search skill. Goggles of Minute Seeing bestow +5 to Search, and are found early. Otherwise, rely on a Henchman like Sharwyn (+9).
The first thing I do here is use the rod to resurrect Sharwyn, the bard Henchman from the OC. I'm not sure why BioWare decided to give the player another Bard so soon when you already have Deekin, but I set Sharwyn to level up as Fighter (since she also specializes in longbow) and give her my old Composite Longbow +2, so now we have three snipers in the party.
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Pincushioning the Mummy Lord with Sharwyn.
Push-over dragon due to a permanent ward against fear.
The best way to tackle this dungeon, for most any character build, is to head to the North section first to take out the ogre mage (Olgin) for the Dragon Slippers and a "tailored-to-build treasure drop" (in my case, Taralash, a +4 Mighty longbow granting perma-Haste); then hunt down the drow skirmisher for the Cowl of Warding around the same area. Between the slippers and cowl you're bestowed immunity to Knockdown and mind-affecting spells (including fear), and granted modest SR and freedom status. Fear immunity is then worn against the neighboring Mummy Lord whose sarcophagus contains a Greater Amulet of Health, bestowing immunity to level drain, disease and poison, and granting regeneration. Equipped with these three items you're set, because you're permanently warding off the most annoying and lethal debilitations in the game (keep an eye out for Petrification throughout the campaign, though; there is no immunity in NWN - and it's game-ending).

Apart from the encounters shown in the above screenshots, most of them are small-time skirmish stuff or trashmobs, which are so trivial they just aren't worth relaying. Loot acquired on this level - other than the few items mentioned above - is mostly incremental/temporary or picked up only to be sold off for gold.

Ogre mage Olgin
Sharwyn is capable of spotting secret doors and picking most locks on this level. For the chests and doors that are beyond her skill, I simply incinerated them with an Imbue Arrow "fireball". You can also cast Knock on locked chests, otherwise you need Power Attack because they have like 40 dmg soak...
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Undermountain Level One can be solved in two ways: either by collecting colored rods scattered around that, when inserted into the correct leavers, lower corresponding colored pillars blocking the central exit of the Central area, or by blowing open a sealed passage in the North area with a barrel of alchemist fire found in the South. I solve both exits for extra experience (+2000 EXP ea), and then the trio descends deeper into Undermountain!



5 comments:

  1. I'm waiting for the next part before judjing, but it looks interesting right now. I would argue on some points:
    - I'm pretty sure that removing melee weapons from Deekin won't stop him from occasional engaging in melee, even if it means barehanded. In fact, let him keep a melee weapon, coz it's much more useful if blinded and other rare ocasions. What you need is rescript his behavior and forbid engaging in melee (only if directly ordered);
    - Anyways, are you really going to keep Deekin AND develop his bard class only? Won't you need more, err, tank-ish type of guys in lategame? Plus you chose to play an archer, which stresses lack of muscles in party even more.

    But I may not be recalling it right, it was a long time ago. You might want to copy that on Codex playground, if you're gonna complete it anyways, just for more feedback. They will grumble on lack of screenshots and roleplaying, but the current LP there are shit. Its either videos, which nobody watches, or something like Hatoful Boyfriend. Good LPs are either dead or make a new post once a month.

    Seriously, I heartly suggest to post this on Codex as well.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I haven't noticed Deekin wading into melee without a weapon, but as I said in the blogpost, I also have him staying close to me. Most things are dropped dead before they reach the party, mowed down by arrows from Sharwyn and I. Deekin just casts spells or sings, plinking away with his xbow every now and again.

      Deekin's going full-time bard for more spell progression, I always have him go RDD so this is just a change for the sake of it. He won't need extra survivability with my killspeed, I surmise.

      As per your suggestion, I've posted this on the Codex.

      Delete
  2. Did you ever realize you're eating a 20% multi-class XP penalty the entire campaign? :P

    "Won't you need more, err, tank-ish type of guys in lategame? Plus you chose to play an archer, which stresses lack of muscles in party even more."

    Not in something as easy as HotU...and dexterity classes wind up with more AC than tanks in NWN, weird as it is.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I thought something was amiss when I killed the Drow Priestess early on, she didn't give me the full 3,780 EXP for a lvl15 char, but it didn't "click" at the time until baturinsky on the Codex pointed it out - I actually thought it might have been a bug from Q Campaigns because I encountered another major bug with it... but I definitely should have gone with Wiz for a few reasons, that's for sure. Still, it turned out I was only one level behind in the end and still kicked ass, so I've proved the -20% is fairly trivial.

      Delete
    2. Yeah, the XP penalty means a lot less when the campaign is already easy and you start at high level.

      But, as you can imagine, being level 1 when level 2 is expected can be a massive problem (or 2 when 3 is expected).

      Delete

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