Friday, 13 January 2017

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

Part IOverview | Part II: Easthaven | Part III: Kuldahar | Part IV: Vale of Shadows

   C H A P T E R  O N E — K U L D A H A R   

The beautiful town of Kuldahar acts as the main hub for most of the campaign. Our adventuring party will return here time and time again over its course in order to sell off loot and rest safely. As such, we will become intimately familiar with its layout and fond of its unique and artistic hub design. Not many IE areas made me sit back and just enjoy the painting before me. But the whole of Kuldahar - interiors and exteriors - are just gorgeous, and the artists deserve to be commended.

The town is built into the root-system of a gigantic oak tree that radiates enough warmth to melt the surrounding snow and create a comfortable climate for the locals, but its circle of warmth has begun to recede because someone, or something, is draining its life-force. In fact, we can see the encroaching snow line around the edge of the town. Lots can be learnt about the town and what's going on around here just by talking to the generic townsfolk who are scripted to roam about. We learn that this current winter has been an evil one for Kuldahar; that, perhaps in connection with the great oak problem, townsfolk are also disappearing and there have been sudden storms and monster sightings. These are the reports that Hrothgar intended to investigate. But now, it's all up to us.

There is a lil' reactivity with the above-mentioned townsfolk. One of the many inquiring dialogue threads allows us to ask them why they don't worship Ilmater, to which they respond:

In response to that, Druids have the opportunity to champion the worship of nature and bestow a blessing.

Whereas Paladins have the opportunity to champion Ilmater.

Both examples yield 1,200 XP. Of course, this is merely token reactivity and nothing like we see in Planescape: Torment or Mask of the Betrayer, but at least Black Isle bothered to put some in there. And really, how many examples of stat-, class- and race-based reactivity can the reader think of in Baldur's Gate?

   A R U N D E L   
   A R C H D R U I D  OF  S I L V A N U S   

Arundel is the spiritual leader of the town and anchor for the first two chapters, telling us where to go and what to do. He was the one who sent a messenger to Hrothgar, appealing for assistance from Easthaven. Being a Druid, Arundel is a fan of balance. But not just any old balance:

The old druid describes the evils plaguing Kuldahar and gives us our first lead on a possible source of the evil: the Vale of Shadows, nearby. This is a non-trivial undertaking that has us exploring a series of undead-infested crypts, so we shall venture there only after we have scoped out the rest of the town for quests, vendors and any freebies up for grabs. The Vale of Shadows will be covered in Part IV.

Below left: Some sweet interior artwork right here. Arundel's sprite is great, too.

The important vendors in town are pictured below. From left to right, they are: Conlan's Smithy, Orrick's Tower, Oswald's Airship and the Temple of Ilmater. Parties will pay them many visits during the adventure in order to sell off inventory clogging loot that can get really annoying even with a six-person party.

General note on vendors: Each vendor specializes in certain kinds of items and will cough up more gold for those items than other vendors. They may even turn their nose up at items that they don't deal in. This just means we have to shop around when buying and selling.

Conlan & The Anvil's Twin. Conlan's Smithy is a priority visit due to the need for Plate Mail. We definitely want to snatch up a few sets for our tanks (672 GP ea with 23 Charisma). Also, the all-important Large Shields, Helmets and ammo. In addition, Conlan offers a range of magical weapons for the sale that are prohibitively expensive, and we will most likely come across superior wields in the general course of adventuring by the time we can afford the ones on offer. Moreover, discriminating buyers will really only have their eyes set on a couple of items at this point, wishing they could afford them: the Trusted Helm of the Defender and the Giving Star. But the former can only be worn by halflings and gnomes and the latter can only be wielded by characters of non-good alignment. So, our need of even those items depends on our party composition. Most of the other stuff is over-priced and rapidly out-stripped by the dungeon itemization; e.g, the Lonesome Road +3 costs 50,000 GP? Please. Who can afford that? Besides, Chapter Two nets us the Battleaxe +2: Defender that bestows +2 AC and 10% missile resistance, and it isn't long before we find the Axe of Caged Souls +3 and the Celebrant's Blade +4. (This is without factoring in random drops.)

Of note, a thief character with borderline-maxed Open Locks skill (95%) can steal Conlan's Hammer from the locked chest in an adjoining room. Otherwise, the party must wait until they receive the key to the chest for rescuing Conlan's son, Sheemish, from the trolls in Dragon's Eye. The warhammer is notable due to its limitless enchantment for the purposes of to-hit, and its bludgeoning damage that is helpful in the skeleton-infested Vale of Shadows, upcoming.

Orrick & Mythal theory. Orrick is a reclusive mage who dwells in the tower overlooking the entire town. He doesn't really care for the people of Kuldahar and doesn't want to get involved in the affairs of the townsfolk. Just like Thalantyr of High Hedge, he is aloof and only concerned with the acquisition of knowledge.

If by some miracle we happen upon mythal lore in the course of our travels, Orrick requests that we deliver it to him. He is convinced of the existence of an elven outpost somewhere in the Spine of the World; it's the whole reason why he has set up shop here.

It is not until Chapter Three that we are able to locate this lore from the library nested in one of the spires of the Severed Hand outpost, far to the south. 

Upon delivering the Mythal Theory to Orrick we receive 24,000 XP and a magical artifact of great value, randomly drawn from a pool of three. The choicest of these is a cloak that bestows +2 to all saving throws and +3 AC. Very, very cool.

Spell & item selection. Orrick offers spell scrolls and magical items to us based on the knowledge we have acquired; that is, as we progress in the plot he offers more spell scrolls and more powerful items for sale. Coupled with the small number of spell scrolls found in dungeons, this at least represents an attempt to control the power progression of mages. Here is a quick breakdown of the items on offer over the course of the campaign:

Chapter One (arrival in Kuldahar). Spell scrolls: Charm Person, Agannazar's Scorcher, Web, Mirror Image, Melf's Acid Arrow, Detect Invisibility, Chromatic Orb, Sleep, Shield, Magic Missile, Friends, Color Spray, Identify. Items: Clasp of Bron's Cloak (amulet, 5% resistance to slashing, piercing and missile attacks), Girdle of Gond (belt, +10% Open Locks, +5% Find/Remove Traps, Thief only), Robe of Enfusing (robe, AC +2, 5% MR, +1 first circle spell slot).

Chapter Two (after reaching Dragon's Eye). Spell scrolls: Emotion: Fear, Spirit Armor, Monster Summoning II, Dire Charm, Slow, Lightning Bolt, Hold Person, Decastave, Snilloc's Snowball Swarm, Charm Person, Agannazar's Scorcher, Web, Mirror Image, Melf's Acid Arrow, Detect Invisibility, Chromatic Orb, Sleep, Shield, Magic Missile, Friends, Color Spray, Dispel Magic. Items: Wand of Freezing Death (choice to cast Snilloc's, Icelance, Ice Storm, 11 charges), Pemby's Wand of Many Missiles (cast 3x Magic Missiles, 15 charges).

Chapter Four (after reaching Upper Dorn's Deep). Spell scrolls: Ice Storm, Shadow Monsters, Hold Monster, Shroud of Flame, Demi-Shadow Monsters, Emotion: Fear, Spirit Armor, Monster Summoning II, Dire Charm, Slow, Lightning Bolt, Hold Person, Decastave, Snilloc's Snowball Swarm, Charm Person, Agannazar's Scorcher, Web, Mirror Image, Melf's Acid Arrow, Detect Invisibility, Chromatic Orb, Sleep, Shield, Magic Missile, Friends, Color Spray. ItemsMantle of Hell's Furnace (cloak, cast Agannazar's Scorcher, Burning Hands, and Charm Elemental Kin).
Note: For info on a few of useful spells I refer the reader to the Arcane Spells section in Part II of my Baldur's Gate retrospective.

The important thing to note here is that unpurchased scrolls and items do NOT carry over when Orrick's stock changes with Chapter progression; they are wiped clean. So, for example, if we don't purchase Dispel Magic before reaching Upper Dorn's Deep, then that spell is lost forever to our mage's repertoire. In addition, you can see that many spell scrolls are offered more than once. What does that mean? It means that, providing we snap them up when they are on offer each time, we will have enough copies to support a second or third arcane spellcaster. The benefits of being able to unleash multiple Webs in short order should be obvious, especially when we consider the availability of Free Action status.

But, to explain, Free Action status is encounter-trivializing on both the offensive and defensive ends. There are two rings up for grabs in Kuldahar that bestow permanent Free Action status when worn, both of which can be pickpocketed by thieves with decent investment in the skill (one from Orrick and the other from Arundel). This allows two of our warriors to freely wade into the AoE of Web and auto-hit and cut down the immobilized enemies, whose AC is null and void. (Spiders are about the only enemy immune to the effects of Web.) On the defensive end, Free Action wards off forms of lethal immobilization that are commonly attempted on us throughout the campaign such as hold, slow, web, entangle and grease. It also erroneously wards off charm and some forms of stun. Make no mistake, Free Action is a HUGE perk. We don't go anywhere without it.

Oswald the Alchemist. With the exception of Mummy's Tea - which cures disease and is sold in unlimited quantities - the most useful potions offered by Oswald are sold in quantities of just three. These include the Potion of Frost Giant Strength, Potion of Heroism and Potion of Invulnerability. All potions are prohibitively expensive until we are done with the Vale of Shadows and have accumulated some wealth, but Oswald may also be pickpocketed for a few potions and items; the most notable of which is a Ring of Protection +2.

So, as we can see, having a thief character with the ability to open locks and pick pockets gives us a solid early boost: we net the Ring of Free Action (x2), Conlan's Hammer and a Ring of Protection +2. Sweet.

Other People of Interest

Sister Calliana is the only priest vendor available until we reach the bowels of Dragon's Eye. She is acting as head priest of the Temple of Ilmater after Mother Egenia was abducted. We end up saving Egenia from a horde of trolls and evil priests in Dragon's Eye, but she never returns to the temple (oversight) and we only meet up with her again in the sequel, in spirit-form. Calliana also mentions that another member of the Ilmaterian clergy, Brother Poquelin, recently passed through Kuldahar on pilgrimage to a monastery in Bryn Shander, where he sought to get help. It is later revealed that Brother Poquelin was merely the guise assumed by the devil, Belhifet, to make it easier to scour the region for lieutenants to lead his devil-army, with which he intended to conquer the Dale.

Eidan's Legacy

This is actually the only quest that is contained wholly in Kuldahar. The other four require extensive exploration, far and wide. On the top floor of the Evening Shade Inn we find a signet ring in a drawer inscribed with a message that clearly leaves the inn to the people of Kuldahar should the owner pass away. When we present it to the devious halfling running the joint downstairs, we are able to expose him for a fraudulent claim on the inn. Note the amusing check on the Paladin class. The solution to the quest is binary: we either dob him in to the elders or get a free room to rest in for the remainder of the campaign (3,225 XP, either way).

Yeti Attack!

Two rogue tundra yetis are scripted to attack the town from the path that leads into the Vale of Shadows. Having saved his ass, we accept Mirek's request to recover his family heirloom from within the restless Vale.

Ok, gather your holy warriors, get your plate mail on and break out the blunt weapons! In the next part we shall venture forth into undead territory in search of the source of evil plaguing the town!



  1. Kuldahar was crucial to holding the game together. It adds to the immersion if one give PCs something to defend and fight for rather than just random monsters to kill.

    IWD actually had a decent amount of reactivity for a combat focused game. One example I remember was going around talking to people in Easthaven with a gnome character and constantly being mistaken for Oswald Fiddlebender (apparently presumed to be the only gnome in the Ten Towns, and who one later meets here in Kuldahar). After several instances of this you get the option of getting angry and saying "Look, for the last time I am not this Fiddlebender person. There's more than one gnome in the whole world, you know." (or words to that effect, I quote from memory and thus probably not verbatim), whereupon whatever commoner you were talking to will give you a low-value gem to placate you.

    1. I forgot to add an example of race-based reactivity, so I linked to your comment in the body of the post. Thanks for that.

  2. very well written Lilura, keep 'em coming.


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