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Monday, 9 January 2017

Icewind Dale: In-depth Retrospective on the Original Incarnation - Part II

Part I: Overview | Part II: Easthaven Part III: Kuldahar | Part IV: Vale of Shadows

   P R O L O G U E  :  E A S T H A V E N   


The travel-worn party begins the adventure warming themselves by the hearth in the Winter's Cradle Tavern. A scripted cutscene fires in which a veteran warrior from Hillsfar steps into the common room and introduces himself as Hrothgar. In tutorial-like tone he informs the party of his position as protector of the town and politely requests that they meet him at his lodge after they have rested and equipped themselves for adventure. So kicks off the main quest of the campaign...


Each member of the party begins with a trusty quarterstaff in hand and a nest egg based on their class, as per AD&D rules; e.g, the Warrior range is 50-200 GP. Collectively, this starting gold is enough to deck out traditional six-person parties at the emporium run by the pompous Calashite merchant, Pomab Ak'azmhir. However, presumably due to the remoteness of Easthaven and the orc raid on the caravan from Caer-Dinival, both the quantity and quality of his stocks are low; e.g, only one Large Shield, one Composite Longbow, no Plate Mail, and nothing magical in nature on offer. In fact, it is quite possible that certain party compositions will venture into the orc-infested starter dungeon feeling a lil' under-equipped. And you know what? That's fine.

Already charismatic Mages who self-buff with Friends ensure a notable markdown on vendor wares (18 natural + 5 Friends = 23 Charisma). Take for example the Helm of the Trusted Defender, sold by Conlan in Kuldahar and coveted by shorties for its AC +3 and immunity to sleep & fatigue: Cha 3 (11,730 GP), Cha 18 (9,931 GP), Cha 23 (8,758 GP). Unimpressed? Well, such discounts add up over the course of the campaign and are especially important in the early stages when party cash-flow is limited; so much so, that new players may feel the need to skin yetis and sell off their pelts to get some going. But due to the inventory management issues that entails, I prefer simply to haggle.

Reputation modified by alignment does actually factor into the reaction mechanic, but only for the first character created in chargen. So yeah, powergamers want this character to be of Lawful Good alignment. Apart from that you are unlikely to feel the effects of reputation because no quests yield bonuses, there is no "donate option" in temples, and most innocents can be killed without incurring a penalty. One exception that I can think of, off-hand: Orrick can be slain for a 5 point reputation penalty. The result is that other vendors jack up their prices - campaign wide, and irreparably.

EZ Experience

The Prologue hubs for Icewind Dale & Baldur's Gate

As with Candlekeep, the starter-hub of Easthaven offers several introductory quests to ease new players into the adventure; namely: 

• Clear out the beetles in the cellar for the barkeep, aka the obligatory "rats in the basement".
• Dispatch a stray wolf lurking in the scrimshander's shop.
• Retrieve a fish for a boy from a pack of goblins.
• Buy a bottle of wine from merchant Pomab and gift it to the fisherman standing in his ramshackle hut, or convince him to give up drinking with a highly intelligent and charismatic character.


The quests are pretty standard fare, but they yield notable experience point rewards that put the party on-track to advancing to their second level (+1,200 XP ea).

There is also one quest that is particularly rewarding...

The Blade of Aihonen

This well-written quest is quite simple to satisfy: 

• First, we talk to the weary fisherman, Jhonen, who is standing in the center of town, looking troubled. We learn that his sleep is plagued by dreams of a singing sea-spirit.


• Next, we talk to the sea-spirit, Elisia, standing on the shoreline of the icy lake. 


• She hands us the Shattered Blade of Aihonen to gift to Jhonen, which was wielded by his dragon-slaying ancestor. The blade has lain dormant at the bottom of the lake for a full century, inside the heart of the last of the white wyrm matriarchs, Icasaracht.

• Next, we gift the shards to Jhonen. Note the two options, here. Selfish characters may think to hold onto the shards in the hope the sword can be reforged by a smith, but this is not the case: it can only be reforged by Jhonen in his dreams.


• Finally, we return to Elisia and let her know that Jhonen has the shards. She will then disperse and bother him no more (+2,400 XP).

There is also some reactivity for Bards, who, upon their first meeting with Elisia, may communicate with her through song and convince her to sing from her heart (+2,400 XP).


The reward for delivering the shards to Jhonen is far-reaching. Upon the party's return to Easthaven for the Finale, Jhonen will gift them the Restored Blade of Aihonen to wield against the invading hordes. Moreover, the party receives a whopping 280,000 XP for the completion of the quest.


Here are the stats for the Restored Blade of Aihonen: 1d8 +1, +5 to-hit & +5 HPs within a dragon's flight of Lac Dinneshere, +25% cold & fire resistance. It is possible that the party will have found superior wields than this over the course of the campaign, such as the Longsword of Action +4 and Pale Justice +7.

Everard, Battle-priest of Tempus

The Temple of Tempus is a holy site that marks the field where the barbarian shaman, Jerrod, sacrificed himself in battle against demonkind brought forth into the Prime by the evil archmage, Arakon. Everard believes that Jerrod's sacrifice was wasteful.


However, he changes his tune for the Finale and sacrifices himself just as Jerrod did.


Despite being a key player in the campaign the lengthy Prologue dialogue with Everard is not plot-critical. Besides, most of his lore-dump is covered in the opening FMV which consists of a series of artistic slides and is narrated by David Ogden Steers.


There are a few flavor dialogues to be had in town, too. Here, my boorish dwarf confronts Erevain Blacksheaf, a noble elf from Evereska who also happens to be Xan's cousin. If you slay this elf - or, for that matter, any innocent of Easthaven - Hrothgar will come for you and you won't be able to kill him. So yeah, reload time. We'll find Erevain's corpse deep in Dragon's Eye, later in the campaign.


Hrothgar's Lodge

Armed, armored, and on the verge of gaining their second level, the fledgling party reports to Hrothgar in his lodge. He requests the party join him on a south-bound expedition to Kuldahar in order to investigate reports that evil is stirring in the Spine of the World. (This is a linear campaign: you either agree to join the expedition or disagree and live out your days fishing for knucklehead trout.) But first he requests the party scout out the hills west of Lac-Dinneshere for an overdue caravan, which is en route to Easthaven from Caer-Dinival. This brings us to the first dungeon crawl of the campaign...


Orc-raider Cave

Left: The tiny "hills" map from which the orc cave is accessed (right)
.
The party leaves Easthaven by way of the south bridge and arrives in the surrounding snow-clad hills, the wind howling about them. The wolves would be howling, too - if the devs remembered to set their attack sounds. Having dispatched a pack of them the party arrives at the mouth of a cave, surprising a straggling orc who was rummaging through the wooden wagon abandoned just outside. This is the wagon we have been sent to look for. The orc quickly scurries into the cave to announce our presence to its clan.

Now, there is an invisible trigger on the ground just here that, when crossed, actually allows us to return to Hrothgar and inform him that we found the caravan and no survivors or supplies, thereby bypassing the cave altogether. This yields 1,200 XP. But, if we make an effort to clear out the cave and locate the missing supplies, the quest yields double that. Plus, we can find the carvavan contract on an ogre's corpse and report the caravan's fate to Gaspar the fishmonger for a further 1,200 XP.

The cave is teeming with orcs of the warrior, archer and shaman type; in fact, no fewer than 37 are on alert, all told. There is one elite, two shaman, and one hard-hitting ogre boss holding the caravan contract and guarding a chest at its deepest point. Remember, the party is still only first level. One arrow in the guts and our mage is out for the count. A couple of lucky hits by the enemy and our Dwarven warrior is down, too. Such is the cruelty of the to-hit roll at first level. About all we can do is take precautionary measures: squishy spellcasters and archers stay back to fire projectiles, at-will, and anyone attracting aggro is heavily armored and able to swing back hard. We can also flee and rest outside when things are looking bad and likely to get worse (there are no on-rest ambushes scripted in the hills). Right: As per Baldur's Gate, the first circle arcane spell, Sleep, is king against bottom-feeders. Here, our tanks lure a baker's dozen together and our mage puts each and every one into a comatose slumber with a wave of her hand. Hacking, chunking, and morale-failure ensues.

This is a stock-standard crawl with no traps, no puzzles and no dialogue whatsoever. Other than the sheer number of orcs to butcher, the only thing likely to surprise a player coming off Baldur's Gate is how one encounter tends to bleed into the other due enemy positioning, making it a lil' more difficult to cheesily creep forward, pixel by pixel, in order to lure them out from the fog-of-war in bite-sized chunks. But it's still disappointingly easy to do, which is why the Heart of Winter expansion implemented "calls for help" into their AI scripts.

Below left: Battle in the central chamber. A shaman prepares to Curse the party, but the arrow trained on him causes his incantation to fizzle. One round later, his arrow-filled corpse flops to the floor.
Below right: Buffed with Bless, the party takes on the ogre boss backed up by several of its orc minions.


It won't be obvious at first, but one of the chests holds random treasure drawn from a pool of a few magical items. The item is set upon entry to the area so nothing is stopping cheaters from saving outside the cave and reloading until they net the desired item, but if you're going to go to such lengths you might as well just console the item in and be done with it. Both of these cheats take the enjoyment out of the game, so I advise against stooping to them.

Below: The Girdle of Beatification is a coveted random item due to its perma-Bless. Note the lack of an accompanying sketch on the "examine object" screen. Black Isle cut some corners in regard to aesthetics, though the soundtrack more than makes up for it.


Spell scroll itemization is limited to the (largely useless) Protection From Petrification and Horror, a fairly useful spell that I rarely cast because chasing down morale-failed foes is annoying.

Anyway, we report back to Hrothgar, inform him of the fate of the caravan, and gain our second level of the campaign. In the meantime, he has assembled the expeditionary force and is all but ready to embark on the journey to Kuldahar. We deliver a supply list to Pomab at Hrothgar's request (a simple FedEx quest) and make some last minute preparations before departing (e.g, stock up on ammo). As we file out of the village we lift our gaze to the storm-clouds gathering over the mountains of the Spine of the World. An ominous sign...

Number of kills: 52.

*Fade to black. Cut to FMV*

So it was that the patchwork militia set off from Easthaven, bound for the troubled village of Kuldahar, with the party of strangers in-toe.


On they travelled, across the windswept tundra of the Dale, through the foothills of the Spine of the World, and upwards on the steep and treacherous trails of the Kuldahar Pass.


Eager to seek out the evil that threatened the Pass, they did not expect it to find them first. High upon the cliffs of the Pass, a band of Frost Giants had prepared an ambush... hurling boulders and dislodging massive outcroppings of rock and snow, the giants sparked an avalanche that thundered down the mountainside and crashed down upon the heads of the unsuspecting expedition.


Those fortunate enough to survive the avalanche pulled themselves free of the mountain of snow and bodies that now barred the way back to Easthaven. Battered, and disheartened by the loss of their comrades, the survivors had little choice but to continue on to Kuldahar... alone.


   K U L D A H A R  P A S S   

The narration by David Ogden Steers sounds epic in the above cutscene, however, the ensuing goblin-infested Pass in which the party finds themselves could not be in more opposition to that tone. Seriously, we have just taken out a clan of organized orc raiders and you are gonna pit us against a feeble rabble of mooks, now that we have doubled our hit point pools?

Anyway, the way back to Easthaven is snowed in and blocked. We won't be able to return there until end-game. The heroic Hrothgar failed his save vs. avalanche check and is now dead and buried under tons of rock and snow. In fact, the whole expeditionary force rolled badly yet our band of second level scrubs made it through, unscathed. This also amazes the hermit who force-talks us upon entry.


Much later, it is revealed by Brother Poquelin that he ordered the Frost Giants to cause the avalanche after he wasn't quick enough to freeze the Pass with Crenshinibon to prevent the expedition setting off in the first place.

The content in the Pass is completely optional and there is no lasting wealth or experience point penalty for skipping it, which is what I normally do. But for the sake of my claim to completeness I am compelled to make some remarks.

All we need to do is make our way from our starting position in the west to the exit in the east in order to arrive in Kuldahar itself, slaying the goblin raiders who stand in our way. There are about 25 dotted over the map, led by one goblin marshal. As with the orcs in the cave their experience point yield is low even for this stage of the campaign (35 XP). The terraced terrain and fencelines play their part in making the archers - who are on higher ground and firing down on the party - more difficult to close in on. So our tanks just need to go the long way round to get in their face, hoping to deflect the arrows as we do so. It helps also to have our own archers return fire from behind the tanks, taking advantage of their 2 ApR.

Tank AC should be as follows for this point of the campaign:

Base AC: 10 (AC 10)
18 Dex: +4 (AC 6)
Splint Mail: +6 (AC 0)
Large Shield: +1 (AC -1)
AC -1.
Factoring in armor and shield modifiers we also have a two-point AC bonus versus piercing/missile attacks (AC -3). This is helpful. Right: My battle-hungry Dwarf bites off more than he can chew.

Along with 28 HPs and a helmet to negate the double damage inflicted by crits, we feel pretty safe. The only danger comes from the on-rest spawns that consist of up to six goblin marshals of either melee or archer type. They are capable of stinging us for a max of 11 and 8 damage per hit, respectively. So yeah, nasty. Especially if they spawn on the party's flanks to focus on our squishy backrow.


Now, there are two or three buildings of mild interest in the Pass, all of which have been abandoned by the peasants who have fled to the safety and warmth of Kuldahar after Brother Poquelin froze the the passes in Icewind Dale with Crenshinibon.

• Watchtower. Inside is a non-hostile ogre who we can talk to, named Ghereg. Indicating an intelligence score of 3, he wants to pound his head into the wall to make his headache go away. Nothing is stopping us slaying him on the spot, but there is some class-based reactivity here for Druids that allows a peaceful solution; otherwise, only Archdruid Arundel of Kuldahar can prescribe a remedy for the voices he is hearing in his head (again, emanating from the artifact known as Crenshinibon, wielded by Brother Poquelin). 


• Old mill. This building consists of three separate areas (ARs): mill, basement and loft. Upon entry we are confronted by the chief of the Bleeding Eye clan, Uligar, who demands we pay him tribute. He is very weak for a chief. 


Of note, he drops the Blur scroll and the second random item of the campaign, again, drawn from a pool of three items. Glimglam's Cloak is the most coveted:


Down in the basement, hiding in the closet from the goblins, is the little boy, Jermsy. We can rescue him for 2,400 XP and he will make a run for it back to Kuldahar. Note the dialogue for noble characters; but it's for flavor only.


There is nothing in the loft but a pack of goblins. Whoop-dee-doo.

Do you really want me to cover the beetle cave? Ok, it's a small, separate area that consists of a dozen or so goblins, a few of which are hacking up beetles for food. Beetle cave covered!

Ok, I'm getting impatient plodding through this Prologue. Let's move on to Kuldahar and Chapter One to see how the campaign shifts up a gear!

Number of kills109.

Continued in Part III: Kuldahar.


Notes On My Playthrough

• Game version. Just a reminder that this retrospective is based on IWD 1.06, pre-Heart of Winter expansion.
• Difficulty setting. For the purposes of this retrospective I'm playing on the Normal (aka Core) Rules difficulty setting.
• Party composition. My party composition is as follows: Dwarven Fighter, Human Paladin, Elven Ranger, Halfling Fighter / Thief multiclass, Half-elven Cleric / Ranger multiclass, Human Fighter (2) / Mage dualclass.

Why so many warriors? Please refer to the ApR section of the previous post. But basically, you want to be hitting things hard and often. This is the truth of IWD combat. Its encounter design almost entirely consists of swarming, tough monsters that are most efficiently dispatched by physical means. In addition, IWD itemization is tailored to parties in which warriors are the mainstay; that is, it overwhelmingly consists of arms & armor that bestow powerful on-hit effects and perma-buffs to keep them on their feet and fighting for prolonged periods, without the need to rest.

But what about arcane bombardment? For the most part the hordes will laugh in the face of your limited ability to cast direct damage spells. I still have ample access to the arcane & divine spell ranges, but their true value consists in long-term buffing, debuffing & disablement rather than direct, party-unfriendly bombardment. Of note, too, is that arcane scrolls are stingily itemized; so much so, that pure Mages will break into higher spell circles and have only one or two scrolls scribed to them. There is also little point in having two Mages because there are not enough scrolls to go around.

Continued in Part IIIKuldahar.

EoP

9 comments:

  1. Oh boy, the nostalgia is strong with this one, glad to know its not forgotten and people still messing around with this game.
    The countles party configurations i created back in a day, gosh! The hours spend clicking at the dice roll for best result! Priceless! :))

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  2. I play through this game about once a year. I absolutely love it! It's like playing the perfect dark fantasy hack n slash rpg; never gets old. And the soundtrack! Oooooooh that soundtrack--best ever! Right now I'm trying IWD EE for the first time with a new party config. Having the time of my life! Although I hear that EE is considerably easier than vanilla game--someday gonna have to go back and play through vanilla IWD to see what that's like again. Never played through any of the HoW expansion or Trials stuff, hope it's good when I get there. Can't wait to get to IWD 2! I played through most of it long ago, but never finished. Gonna give it another go after I blaze a trail of blood and glory with it's predecessor. Cheers for writing this up! Can't wait to read the whole thing when it's finished!

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    Replies
    1. You might be also be interested in my recently posted review of IWD:EE, which compares IWD:EE 1.4 with IWD: Heart of Winter 1.42.

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  3. Lonely VazdruJanuary 16, 2017

    Hi Lilura ! Nice review/analysis/playthrough of a game I'm very fond of. Everything in the prologue is well covered but I'd still add the message in Hrothgar's chest, berating you for being a thief, if you manage to picklock it open that is. Along with the race based dialogue bits, it's the kind of little detail that goes a long way toward giving the game some soul.

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    Replies
    1. Hi LonelyVazdru, and thanks for commenting.

      It was on a whim that I decided not to cover that message, but an example of race-based reactivity - which I did indeed forget about - has been given in Rogueknight 333's comment.

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    2. Hi Lilura

      Jus OOT question, but just wondering, will you be doing some more NWN module-walkthrough's in the future?? Thx

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    3. I would love to but have not the time in the foreseeable future!

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  4. Lilura, i know this is not the right place to ask this, but i have found a nwn 1 module through your site, swordflight, i played it (chapter 1) and i loved it. But when i try to load the chapter 2, the game crashes back to desktop :( i`m almost sure i`m not missing any .hak and the mod and haks are in the right folders. Please, do you know what it could be? i really want to see how it ends.

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    Replies
    1. Hi, the reasons for CTDs are manifold. Please register at neverwintervault.org and submit your query on their forums or on the Swordflight Chapter Two entry. Hope you get it sorted!

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