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Thursday, 24 September 2015

Baldur's Gate: In-Depth Retrospective on the Original Incarnation - Part V


Durlag's Tower: The Venerable Deathtrap
Step right up! Step right up!
There's a sucker born every minute, and you're right on time! - Ike.

Update (April 26, 1016): Lead writer of Baldur's Gate shares insights into Durlag's Tower & Riddlecraft.
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The tip of the iceberg
The legendary Durlag's Tower is a multi-level dungeon crawl added into the base campaign by the Tales of the Sword Coast expansion, the existence of which is revealed to you upon reaching the far-northern town of Ulgoth's Beard [1]. The tower can also be stumbled upon by exploring in an easterly direction from Nashkel, though in doing so Ike's sensational theatrics and the scripted encounter with the Demon Knight are bypassed, and lost forever. Standing outside Ulgoth's Beard Inn is Ike the huckster, offering guided tours of the tower to gullible tourists for the price of 60 gold pieces; standing inside the inn is Hurgan Stoneblade, a noble dwarf who enlists your aid to recover the soultaker artifact (a magical dagger) from deep within the foreboding tower. Having accepted the quest and paid for the tour, Ike slinks away to meet the party at the "venerable death trap" itself.

I'm sure it's safe; they wouldn't let people in if there was any danger...


The overworld trip from Ulgoth's Beard to Durlag's Tower is about a day-and-a-half's march. Greeting us at the barren approach is the roguish Erdane, cynically peddling various wares which include such useful items as the Potion of Perception (5), Potion of Master Thievery (15) and Acid Arrows (340!), albeit sold in half-sized quivers [2]. Just south of Erdane, across a narrow path of rock that forms a natural bridge over a chasm, two tough-ass Battle Horrors stand guard (+2,000 Exp ea), presumably placed there by the devs to scare off scrubby parties brandishing nothing but leafy twigs (i.e, a gating encounter). Having fended them off and wound our way southward, Ike is caught up with on the moat-bridge, whereupon he continues his entertaining bardic recital of Durlag lore.

Erdane the peddler and Ike the Huckster
The party step inside the tower...

Tourists huddle in the entry chamber listening attentively to Ike's tireless spiel; after which Ike sells you a "token", a fake dwarven rune wardstone, for 300 gold pieces (later, the acquisition of real DRWs is necessary in order to progress).


DEATH, WELCOMES YOU! - Demon Knight.

Suddenly, the Demon Knight, a fell servant of the lower planes, gates into the chamber to casually immolate Ike and the tourists; after which he gates back to the dungeon's depths, leaving the adventurers aghast and wondering how the hell they will survive this delve...


With the masterfully-presented theatrics over (BioWare outdid themselves!), Durlag's Tower now takes on a brooding aspect. We're talking here about a subterranean fortress made nigh-impenetrable by hundreds of lethal traps, devious puzzles and deadly denizens!

[1] Ulgoth's Beard is itself expansion content, a hub and launching pad for Durlag's Tower, Ice Island & Werewolf Island.
[2] Unlike Sorcerous Sundries, you can only buy ten per transaction and there is no "double-click to bulk buy" (as in BG2). Grr...

Deathtrap: Overview

Durlag's Tower is, from its loftiest storey to its deepest pit, filled with proximity traps and trapped containers which, when tripped, threaten to inflict all manner of direct damage, debuffing and disabling effects on victims unlucky enough to be unprotected from their effects or fail their saving throw or magic resistance check. [1] Springing proximity traps doesn't normally disable them (like in NWN): they will reset and remain a threat until deftly dealt with by a thief with solid investment in the vital skill, Find/Remove Traps (see Blathering Part II for more info on thieving)Chromatic Orb (Stun) and Hold Person proximity traps are bemusing in that it's possible to be caught within the proximity and held fast over and over again! (Until the victim makes their save/MR check, or the trap is removed from under their clumsy feet!)

Examples of the tower's trap density
By "solid investment" I really mean maxed to 100%. Sure, 80% is fine if you have a reliable supply of Potions of Perception (+20% to all thief skills for 6 hours), but I just prefer not to rely on buffs because I may be dispelled or need to rest. In addition, I say Find/Remove Traps is "vital" because unless you're a pro-player meta-gaming your ass off, having a capable thief is to sanity. Just a reminder, too, that "%" doesn't mean percentage at all; they're just points. "A roll" of sorts does happen, but your skill has to be within five or so points of the difficulty rating to have a hope of succeeding.

Traps include both Trap Detection & Trap Removal Difficulty ratings (TDD & TRD), with success in the latter usually requiring higher investment in the skill. Many traps in Durlag's Tower are 100-rated, and one I know of is erroneously flagged as undetectable! (At least, I would like to think it wasn't dev intent.) In the screenshot below, the trap in question lies between the one being removed and the next one along the corridor, scorching the hapless thief who tripped it. Note also the multitude of corpses littering the area, strongly suggestive of danger being present!

"Ah... 'tis but a flesh wound!" - Coran at Badly Wounded.
Generic (i.e, non-scripted/hardcoded) monsters respawn at intervals to hinder the party as they backtrack through corridors and chambers in their attempt to solve the puzzles, but respawns can be suppressed by camping a party member in line-of-sight of the spawnpoint. Reloading also refreshes generic spawns and may add to already-existing ones (true of the campaign in general). Resting frequently results in ambushes, but having to defend the camp against a few Ghasts is preferable to hiking all the way back to town, which is annoyingly time-consuming and may result in overworld waylays, anyway.

The gating encounters, the convo with Bayard (see the "cellar" section, below), the type and number of hostile denizens, the fifth circle scroll drops and the tough traps and locks all point to the design of Durlag's Tower catering to parties of maximum level, or not far off. Sure, veterans may start off with a first level party and rapidly gain levels as they go, but for the purposes of my treatment the party will be borderline-maxed, as that's what the design calls for.

In addition to a thief, new players are advised to bring along a bard for their valuable loremastery, enabling them to easily identify magical items instead of relying on the Identify spell, which consumes first circle spell slots that should instead be loaded with Magic Missile, Chromatic Orb and Blindness. (Ninth level casters unleash five missiles inflicting 1d4+1 damage each. That's respectable, and it's also handy for dispersing mirrors and spell disruption. A seventh level+ caster will unleash an orb inflicting 2-16 damage and stunning the enemy for 20 rounds. Nice! I have already espoused the virtues of Blindness in my Arcane Spells section of Blathering Part II.)

The rest of this post is given over to treatment of Durlag's Tower on an area-by-area basis, starting with the upper storeys; the tip of the iceberg, so to speak.

[1] Examples of each traps' negative effects in the tower's first two storeys: Flamestrike, Hold Person, Silence, Chromatic Orb (Stun), Dire Charm, Miscast Magic, Lightning Bolt.

The Upper Storeys

Before delving the labyrinthine environments below, players may explore upwards three storeys to partake in optional encounters, and one quest. As with the ground floor (the entry level, where the Demon Knight briefly appeared), the first floor is relatively tame, hosting a pack of Ghasts (nasty for their on-hit hold and disease), obligatory traps and basic treasure to loot. The first floor also grants access to the exterior overlooking the courtyard, where the party may scale an external staircase leading to the roof upon which Greater Basilisks may be battled (also nasty for their petrifying gaze). A magical scimitar may also be spotted, stashed in a chimney (Rhashad's Talon +2).

Below left: The upper storeys.
Below right: Coran scouts the roof-top for Greater Basilisks as night (and rain) falls.


The Ghost of Daitel

Lurking on the second storey is the ghost of Daitel, a high level mage who must be fought regardless of dialogue choice. He buffs himself with Mirror Image, then teleports (Dimension Door) into the central chamber where he conjures an Invisible Stalker and proceeds to unleash an array of disabling and direct damage spells at the party, including Chaos, Lightning Bolt, Fireball, Flesh to Stone and Cloudkill - an extensive repertoire, indeed!

Note: A chest in Daietel's chamber contains a unidentified potion that is cursed to petrify the imbiber. It is identified as a Potion of Invulernability with only a hint of it being cursed in the description: "A strange murky quality".


The Lock of Hair
A female? After all this time I am found by a female? - Kirinhale.
(Note the gender-based dialogue: very rare in Baldur's Gate)

This is an entirely optional quest, and rare, in that it can only be solved evilly. Sneaking around on the second floor is Riggilo the rogue, a seasoned and abrasive treasure hunter made nervous by the plundering party's competitive presence. Initially, I have chosen the unfriendly dialogue options for shits n gigs (below left). As per Riggilo's request, the party leaves him be for the time being and ascends the spiral staircase to the next storey up.

The lavatory on the third (top) floor is occupied by a succubus who wishes us to gift a lock of her hair to a male victim, so that she may finally be released from her binding by Durlag. Mmm... who could we give this to I wonder? Riggilo, of course!


Under the impression the lock of hair is from a nymph, Riggilo gladly receives the gift and hands us a Potion of Cloud Giant Strength in exchange (below left). Now unbound, the succubus returns to the Abyss and the party receives 4,000 quest experience points (below right).


Returning to gloat at Riggilo turns him hostile (below left), but in the interests of the evil outcome he should be kept alive and eternally bound to the tower! Good-aligned PCs may prefer to simply dispatch the (ethereal-teleporting) succubus for kill experience (+3,000 Exp, Staff Spear +2), but there is no quest reward for doing so. There are no alignment checks to receive the quest and alignment-sensitive PCs won't become "Fallen" for unbinding a succubus at the expense of a human life. Those two mechanics are utilized in the sequel (though not satisfactorily so). Still, the quest is just there for a bit of fun.

Incidentally, just to the north of Riggilo stands a chapel with a trapped altar (Dire Charm: TDD 90 TRD 100) containing a Tome of Understanding (+1 Wisdom), one of three found in the campaign (below right).


Well, that's all there is to report of the upper storeys! Let us descend to the cellar...

The Cellar 

Down in the cellar the party meets up with Bayard, a lone adventurer looking a lil' worse for wear (we'll catch up with another member of his party in the fourth labyrinth). He gravely warns the arrogant heroes of monsters, traps, "tests", a fell servant of the underworld (the Demon Knight) and the general lethality and impregnability of the tower due to Durlag's disturbance of the mind and use of wardstones. Bayard's lengthy lecture certainly gets the player thinking about whether or not they're ready for the real deal, one dialogue choice being: Perhaps I will leave this place for another day then. No need to go and get myself killed.


A secret door is detected on the northern wall, leading down to the first (of four) labyrinthine levels: The Labyrinth of the Warders awaits!

Next Up - Baldur's Gate Blathering Part VI 
The Labyrinth of the Warders & The Labyrinth of Doors

6 comments:

  1. Thinking about Bayard and others with their various warnings, it occurs to me that Durlag's Tower may be one of the few dungeons that actually lives up to its in-game hype. In RPGs one can often receive dire warnings about places and monsters that actually turn out to be not that dangerous at all to competent adventurers.

    "...one [trap] I know of is erroneously flagged as undetectable! (At least, I would like to think it wasn't dev intent.)..."

    Given the general nastiness of this dungeon, and the fact that one strictly speaking can avoid the trap (i.e., taking a more circular route that avoids that particular corridor) I would not be at all surprised if it were completely intentional.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 1) Watcher's Keep for BG2 was hyped to the hilt, but the design and engine modifications in the sequel coupled with the epic level of the party meant it wasn't as menacing as I would have liked. WK disappointed me compared to DT.

      2) I thought about that point (circling around) and leaned towards it being dev intent at one stage, but then I thought - what is a player to think is in store for them if they encounter an undetectable trap in the very first labyrinth? It's just so very unfair, and really nasty design! So I'd like to think otherwise, but I do acknowledge it could be on purpose.

      Another interesting thing, and one I forgot to mention (but have just added in), is that some trapped areas have welcome visual indicators of danger being present, like corpses littering the floor in the example we're referring to. But mostly, they don't.

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    2. Watcher's Keep was a good enough dungeon, I suppose, but I did not find it as memorable as Durlag's Tower. It came across as rather random & unfocused, unlike DT where pretty much everything in the dungeon was an outgrowth of Durlag's paranoia & tragic backstory.

      Delete
  2. Hey, really nice guides you got going here.

    //Ezrite

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Ezrite! I'm hoping to get back to this series of posts after my SoD walkthrough.

      Delete
    2. Grand! I be sure to keep an eye on this blog while I play :)

      //Ezrite

      Delete

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