SotSB: Another End Boss Down

I defeated the end boss of Secret of the Silver Blades on my second try. The winning technique hasn’t really changed since Pool of Radiance, but at least it provided a little variation after the fact: since the Dreadlord is a lich, killing his body isn’t enough. I had to find and destroy the item containing his soul, which was guarded by a second contingent of monsters. This secondary final battle wasn’t as tough as the first, lacking spellcasters as it did, which is fortunate, because I hadn’t bothered to rest up and re-buff after the first.

In the end, my entire party survived, including Vala, the NPC who I picked up about halfway through the game. Vala, who spent the last few centuries trapped in a magical box, is the last surviving member of the warrior order called the Silver Blades — or at least, she was until the rest of the party got inducted into it shortly after finding her. Despite the fact that my characters now constitute the majority of the Silver Blades, I’m still not clear on what their secret is. Perhaps it’s more that the order itself is a secret, as one might say “the crime of murder” or “the hour of noon”, or indeed “Curse of the Azure Bonds”. At any rate, Vala is the NPC whose death I described earlier, and I’m glad I went to the trouble of going back to before she died, because she occasionally made useful comments as I explored — not often enough to become annoying, either, the way a lot of hint-providing sidekicks do — and also because she was handy to have in the final battles. I really wasn’t expecting her to stick around that long; as I mentioned before, most NPCs in this series leave the party as soon as you leave the dungeon where you find them.

But then, this entire game is, in a sense, one big dungeon. As I surmised, there is no overland map of any kind — just a phenomenally expansive bunch of tunnels. Consequently, I have no idea where it all takes place relative to the lands around the Moonsea that form the setting for the first two games in the series. And it would have been good to have some geographical connection to the other games, because there’s very little to connect it to them otherwise. The only real links we’ve got are a couple of strikingly pointless reprised minor NPCs — the council clerk from Pool of Radiance (who I could have sworn was male back then), the Red Plume mercenary captain from Curse of the Azure Bonds (now serving as town mayor in a completely different place — just how much time passed between games, anyway?). Both are so marginal that you never learn their names. I had been expecting more because of the ending to CotAB: when you finally destroy the Pool of Radiance, Tyranthraxus gloats with his dying breath that you have, in so doing, unleashed an even greater evil, or something like that. I assume that the authors meant this as a general-purpose sequel hook that could be retconned into referring to anything, but it’s hard to see how my actions there could have had any impact on the Black Circle’s already-ongoing project to free the Dreadlord.

In fact, the strongest connection to the previous games comes in the red herrings. Remember that these games have text passages (and sometimes maps) in the manual, which the player is expected to read when referenced within the game, and not before. As a punishment for the impatient, this “Journal” contains a smattering of fake entries. I read all of SotSB‘s unused Journal entries after completing the game, and it has this whole false storyline about how Tyranthraxus managed to possess the body of a mouse just before his apparent death. There’s a tavern rumor about someone seeing a glowing mouse, a wounded adventurer who saw a glowing mouse delivering orders to a bunch of monsters (in a squeaky voice), even a revelatory villain monologue by the mouse itself. I don’t recall the previous games having fakery anywhere near as cohesive as this, although maybe the imagery just stands out more here.

Overall, this is definitely the most linear game in the series so far. Apart from a couple of quick sidequests, it’s all a single journey from point A to point B, with occasional teleporters back to point A along the way. I think the designers were trying to create a certain amount of nonlinearity by putting long gaps between the places where you find crucial items and the places where you use them — for example, the whole quest for the pieces of the Staff of Oswulf in the mines doesn’t really need to be completed until you get to the gates of the castle, which lies on the other side of the glacier crevasses and an Ice Giant settlement. It might even be more satisfying to rush forward unprepared, and only go back to pick up quest tokens when they become indispensible. (At the very least, you’d know your motivations.) But personally, my long habit in CRPGs is to proceed level by level, or place by place, being as thorough as I can in exploring one thing before going on to the next. Not only does this net you all the best treasure, it smooths the way to XP without explicit grinding. I can’t imagine I’m the only one to take this approach — pretty much everyone who’s ever ascended in Nethack does something similar — but perhaps the designers of this game had a different player in mind.

Next time, 1991. I could wrap up the entire “Epic” by moving on to Pools of Darkness. But unless the readers demand it, I think I’ll do us all a favor and move onto something else for the time being. A couple of weeks ago I thought I might be eager to see how the story ends, but SotSB has kind of ruined my faith that any kind of unified story exists.

SotSB: Seeking Guidance

Hunting for these staff pieces is getting tedious. There’s not a lot of variety in the mines, or a lot of challenge either. Pretty much the only thing that can stop me now is a series of cheap KO’s from monsters with save-or-die abilities, like basilisks or wyverns. Actually, that that’s not quite right: neither of those monsters technically kills you if you fail your saving throw. The wyvern’s sting misleadingly produces the message “[character] has died”, which caused me to quit without saving when I first encountered it back in Pool of Radiance, but it’s really an effect that my cleric can cure with the Neutralize Poison spell. And while I don’t yet have the Stone to Flesh spell to undo the basilisk’s gaze, the temple back in town does.

It’s inconvenient to run back to town with a partially-petrified party, though, so basilisks are best dealt with before they can get a stare off, either by blasting them with magic or by having everyone temporarily equip mirrors in place of their shields. Only once have I failed to do this — it was a mixed encounter, basilisks and something else, and I failed to scroll the viewport far enough to notice that the basilisks were there. I won the fight, but with 2/3 of the party down. The fact that the survivors were presumably each lugging two statues wherever they went didn’t seem to slow them down, but I still wanted to end the situation as quickly as possible. So rather than go all the way back to town, I decided at first to check out the abandoned temple in the mines, where the dwarf who sent me after the staff pieces in the first place hangs out. I figured that there was an outside chance that a guy who spends his time in a temple would turn out to be a cleric, and that he might possibly be able to cast Stone to Flesh. If he wanted the staff badly enough, he might even cast it for free!

(I should note that this last point was misguided, as the temple in town also cures the party for free. This didn’t happen in the previous two games, but that’s fitting, given their plots. In Pool of Radiance, as I said before, the player characters are no one special, just a bunch of adventurers seeking their fortune, and the temples in Phlan had set up shop to share in that fortune. In Curse of the Azure Bonds, the PCs’ motives were basically selfish. But here in Secret of the Silver Blades, the heroes were summoned specifically to save the city. When you’re in town, randomly-occurring color messages continually remind you that the populace is pulling for you. Helping you along by waiving fees is part of that, unusual though it may be for a CRPG.)

When I made it back to my dwarvish taskmaster, I was dismayed to find that all he did was complain that I had only found four of the staff pieces, and then send me on my way. His failure to cure my party wasn’t even the dismaying part; I pretty much expected that. The dismaying part was that I thought I had found five pieces. I had stopped in the middle of exploring mine level six. As anticipated, I had lost track of where I had found things, and now faced the prospect of re-exploring every level I had already been through. Except it would be worse this time, because on four of those levels the staff piece was already removed, and the only way to establish this would be to search every inch.

Not liking this, I cast about for better ways, and finally did what I should have done long before: I consulted the Well of Wisdom. It did not disappoint. It didn’t tell me the exact coordinates of the remaining pieces, but it said just about everything possible short of that: what level each piece was on, what direction to take from the central shaft to find them. It turns out my missing piece is on level 3.

Advice and guidance figure big in this game, mainly because the maps are too large for the player to reasonably be expected to explore them thoroughly. And that’s not a bad thing: it makes the player replace exhaustive searches with a more deliberate, purposeful style of play. I do think it could stand to be more consistent about it, though. As far as I can tell, there’s no guidance towards finding the entrance to the mines in the first place. It’s located close enough to the Well of Wisdom that you’re expected to just run into it on your own. It certainly worked that way for me. But once that happened, it got me to stop looking for guidance, and that was bad.

SotSB: Pieces

The area around the Well of Wisdom forms the hub of Secret of the Silver Blades. There are sixteen two-way teleport gates there, leading to significant places throughout the game, but they need to be activated from the opposite side before they can be used. It’s a reasonable way to make the player earn progress in the story, but only have to earn each bit of progress once. (I recall Ultima Underworld 2 did something similar with doors that could only be unlocked from one side.) I currently have five of the teleporters activated, which I suppose means I’m somewhere between 1/4 and 1/3 of the way through the game.

My current mission is similarly subdivided: I’m scouring the various levels of the mines for the eight pieces (one piece per mine level) of an important artifact, a staff once owned by the big bad’s little brother. 1Actually, I don’t know which of the brothers is older; I phrase it the way I do because it sounds good. And this reminds me once again of Ultima Underworld 2, which also had a backstory involving two brothers, with no indication of which was older — which, I hear, resulted some consternation, and an emergency post-release story meeting, when the game was translated into Japanese. A character talking at length about his brother in Japanese without saying whether he’s an older or younger brother is about as natural and easy as a character talking about his sibling in English without mentioning the sibling’s gender. The mines are large: the point where you enter has coordinates (50, 50), and the tunnels spread in all directions from there, for an implied 100×100 potential size, although the upper reaches, at least, don’t reach nearly that far. But so far, I haven’t found it necessary to map them. Following the right-hand wall has sufficed to produce the first three staff fragments. This technique is not guaranteed to always work — there could be loops in the tunnels — but I can worry about mapping once I’ve seen it fail. Or once I start actually encountering monsters that pose a threat to me again, and decide I need to know the shortest route back to the exit.

Understand that the staff doesn’t show up in your inventory, or indeed anywhere else in the entire user interface. It’s a notional staff, a staff that exists only at the plot level. This is consistent with the approach taken throughout the series so far, starting with the books you recover from the Phlan library in Pool of Radiance. Curse of the Azure Bonds makes a major point of three artifacts (a helm, an amulet, and something I can’t remember) that you need to defeat the end boss, but you only see them in cutscenes. But that’s all quite easy to keep track of: the CotAB midgame has three villains, and each is linked in some way to one of the three items. Whereas these staff pieces have next to no context: they’re all found in undistinguished crannies in indistinguishable tunnels. If I were to set the game aside for a few months, as I have done with many other CRPGs, I doubt I’d be able to remember which tunnels had already yielded staff and which still need scouring. And the game wouldn’t help me. I’d have to keep notes manually or something.

1 Actually, I don’t know which of the brothers is older; I phrase it the way I do because it sounds good. And this reminds me once again of Ultima Underworld 2, which also had a backstory involving two brothers, with no indication of which was older — which, I hear, resulted some consternation, and an emergency post-release story meeting, when the game was translated into Japanese. A character talking at length about his brother in Japanese without saying whether he’s an older or younger brother is about as natural and easy as a character talking about his sibling in English without mentioning the sibling’s gender.

CotAB: Guidance

Not all of the content in Curse of the Azure Bonds is related to the main quest. Pretty much every town on the map has a dungeon of some sort attached to it, as if the presence of ancient ruins or natural cave systems is some kind of prerequisite for settlement. These little dungeons are like a regularized form of optional side-quest. And it’s kind of strange how that feels.

I am of course comparing it in my mind to Pool of Radiance. PoR was composed mainly of optional quests, but there wasn’t a great distinction drawn between side-quests and the main quest line — if indeed you can even claim that there was a main quest line beyond the general effort to gain enough experience levels to stand a chance of beating the end boss. The whole thing was an undifferentiated soup of missions, and the assignment of those missions was more like suggestions than orders; you could generally collect the reward for doing obviously beneficial things for the colonists, even if they hadn’t been requested yet.

In contrast, CotAB, with its five separate sub-quests, makes it clear when you’re making progress in the plot. Which means that I’m acutely aware that I’m not making progress when I explore a cave just because it’s there. It has to make the distinction clear, because it doesn’t provide a lot of external guidance about where to go or what to do. The closest thing it has to the PoR‘s council clerk is a mysterious cloaked figure who you meet by a historically-important standing stone. He’s probably Elminster. I have only a vague notion of who Elminster is, but he’s mentioned a few times in the docs, so he must show up in some capacity, and this is the closest thing a Gandalf-like adviser I’ve seen so far. But he doesn’t advise very much; he basically just tells you “Seek your next adversary in the northwest” or whatever.

Without Probably-Elminster’s vague advice, there would be no obvious reason to pursue one major sub-quest over another. It seems likely that he puts you through things in optimal order — that is, from lowest-level to highest, matching your characters’ advancement — but I’m not entirely sure that’s the case. For one thing, he’s kind of out-of-the-way. Nothing guides you to him from your starting location, and if I had chosen to go around the north edge of the world map first instead of the south, I wouldn’t have met him until after I had been through the second or third of his advised route, and you’d think the designers would have planned for that. Also, the first place he told me to go seemed a lot harder than the second. But perhaps that’s just because I hadn’t yet got a lot of extra experience points from optional side-quests.

CotAB: Travel

One major change from Pool of Radiance I should mention: the wilderness. Where PoR had an Ultima-style third-person grid outside the cities and dungeons, Curse of the Azure Bonds has a network of set paths, navigated using the same sort of menus that are presented at other major decision points in the game. At each node, you typically have a choice of two or three other places to go to, as well as options to make camp and (where relevant) enter the city or dungeon you’re currently at.

You lose a lot of freedom this way, but possibly just enough — as I said in a previous post, PoR‘s total lack of restrictions on travel made exploration of the wilderness uninteresting. CotAB doesn’t even have exploration of the wilderness in the same sense. It does use the word “wilderness”, but in a different way: when you choose a destination, the travel menu often gives you a choice of moving through the wilderness or following the trail (or, sometimes, going by boat). Your choice here can trigger different special events, but usually seems to just affect how much cover from trees and the like there is in any random encounter along the way. Regardless, there’s no hunting around the map for unknown points of interest; you have to already know where you’re going before you can even try to go there.

It has to be said that the CotAB approach is a lot more like how the world outside of dungeons and other planned set-pieces is handled in live D&D. There, as Starmaker said, the usual philosophy is that “nothing important happens in the wilderness”: you tell the DM where you want to go, and the DM rolls for random encounters, and that’s it.

CotAB: Story compared to Pool of Radiance

At some point when I was googling for more information about Curse of the Azure Bonds, I saw a review that praised it for having a stronger story than Pool of Radiance. I’m not sure I agree. The two games have different stories, certainly. PoR‘s is like the RPG equivalent of a police procedural. The player characters are just doing a job. That job brings them in contact with a larger story, but the story is not fundamentally about them. The PC’s are no one in particular, just a group of wandering adventurers attracted by the opportunities in the city of Phlan, like many others.

In CotAB, on the other hand, it’s all about the PCs. You are the Chosen Ones! Characters in the game actually use that term, although it’s somewhat inverted from its usual meaning, because it’s the bad guys who did the choosing. And, well, fair enough: your party is at least level 5 now, and that makes them good choices. I recall reading an analysis of the third-edition D&D rules that came to the surprising conclusion that the most skilled people in the real world — the Albert Einsteins and Michael Jordans and whatnot — are the equivalent of fifth-level D&D characters. Beyond that point, we’re in the realm of pure larger-than-life fantasy. At any rate, while the player characters in PoR were special by the end (being chosen to storm the castle and all), they had to earn that position through hard work within the framework of the story. Your special position in CotAB, on the other hand, is unearned. But that’s okay, because it’s also involuntary. (It’s funny how that works.)

The story in PoR is largely backstory; you generally only show at the end of each plot thread, because you’re the one doing the ending. (This adds to the police-procedural-like tone: much of the story is communicated through discoveries about what happened before.) In CotAB, the story is happening to you, as you play it. This doesn’t mean the story is more interactive, though. Quite the contrary. The premise of the Bonds provides the author with not just an excuse to wrest control of the characters away from the player, but an obligation to do so. And this gets into the most peculiar thing about CotAB‘s story: the premise involves villains with schemes, but you can’t actually do anything to stop them. All you can do when a scheme is executed is to read some noninteractive text describing how the scheme went down: the villain took control of your actions, but it all somehow went wrong anyway, due to circumstances beyond your control. And sure, you get to kill them after the fact, but that’s it.

I’ll say this for the CotAB approach, though: because you’re the center of the plot, the villains aren’t necessarily sitting in their lairs oblivious to your approach, as in PoR. They have reason to seek you out, and occasionally do so when you’re not expecting it.

CotAB: Spell Memorization

I said before that it’s rare for CRPGs to implement anything like D&D-style spell memorization unless they’re explicitly using the D&D license. (The only other games I can think of offhand that use it are the ones in Infocom’s Enchanter series, and those are adventures, not RPGs.) In early titles like Wizardry, the shift away may have been primarily a way of saving memory. But once mana systems and the like were established as viable, they were obviously more appealing to players. Being forced to choose a subset of the spells available to you means losing the full freedom and flexibility that those options represent.

But limitations are at the heart of what makes a game. Perhaps there’s something that we lose by abandoning the memorization system? Sometimes, I think there is: a level of preparation. If you know in advance what sort of enemies you’re going to be fighting, you can tailor your spell roster to them. I did this a fair amount in Pool of Radiance: going to the graveyard to fight undead, for example, I knew full well that Sleep would be useless.

My experience with playing D&D live is that there’s almost never an opportunity for this sort of advance preparation. Most scenarios seem to involve either walking into a mostly unknown situation or responding to an emergency that doesn’t allow you the rest period needed to prepare new spells. The engine used in Pool of Radiance and Curse of the Azure Bonds sidesteps around both of those contingencies. In grand CRPG tradition, emergencies are illusions: if you can find a safe place to rest, you can rest there indefinitely and pick up the emergency where you left off. And nothing comes unexpected when you’ve gone back to a previous save.

And yet, my spell choice is seldom driven by circumstance. Usually I pick the same spells that have proven useful over and over: Fireball, Magic Missile, Cure Light Wounds, Hold Person, etc. Sleep stopped being useful somewhere in PoR. Now that I can cast Cure Serious Wounds, I’ve toyed with swapping out an instance of Cure Light Wounds in favor of a utility spell like Detect Magic, but when you come down to it, you never have enough healing power. And I’m told in the comments to the last post that it only gets worse at high levels!

I’m pretty sure this is the fault of the D&D spell list, rather than of the basic mechanic. I can imagine alternate lists making spell selection into a vital part of the game. Indeed, other games do this routinely, just not with spells: consider Pokémon. Or, closer to what a game like this one would do, consider what some games (Blood Omen, for example) do with variously-enchanted weapons and armor. Of course in order to make that into a prep-time activity, the game would have to prevent you from changing weapons and armor mid-fight, and the engine used here doesn’t do that. (Yes, you can change out of plate armor between sword-thrusts; the only thing preventing players from noticing this is that you usually don’t have any motivation to do so. Everyone should be wearing their best equipment all the time.)

Curse of the Azure Bonds

So, going straight from the first game in the Pool of Radiance series to the second, what’s changed?

Well, first and most obviously, it’s higher-level. PoR started you out with freshly-minted level 1 heroes and guided them to level 6, 8, or 9 (depending on character class), at which point additional experience points simply pile up, any additional leveling deferred until you import the characters into CotAB, which takes you as far as level 10, 11, or 12 (again depending on class). CotAB doesn’t even support low-level player characters; newly-created ones start at level 5.

Higher levels means more complexity: more new spells, more new special-case rules that kick in at high levels. A level 10 Thief, for example, has a chance of successfully casting spells from a scroll — another of the less-imitated D&Disms. And apparently the developers felt that if they were throwing in new complications, they might as well let us have dual-classed characters (a concept distinct from multi-classed characters, although as a child I found this all too arcane to follow), as well as a couple of subclasses.

Back in first-edition D&D, it was apparently considered important that every player character be essentially one of the four classic base classes (Fighter, Magic User, Cleric, and Thief), but subclasses provided some variation. Thus, they’re the forerunner of what later editions would call Prestige Classes and Paragon Paths, although most of the specific first-edition subclasses are simply base classes today. 1The exception is the Illusionist, which isn’t even a class any more. Illusionist spells simply got folded into the regular Magic-User spell list. Ranger and Paladin, the subclasses of Fighter, are the only ones available here: there’s no Illusionist, Assassin, or Druid, although the manual lists a few basic Druid spells because Rangers can learn them. This means there are six classes available, exactly the right number to have one of each in your party (much like in Might and Magic). This is what I’m trying first, even though the result seems kind of lopsided to me: three fighter-types and only one mage. I suppose it’ll smooth out a little once two of the three fighters start learning spells. If not, I can always swap out the vanilla Fighter.

In presentation, the game isn’t much changed from PoR. The window borders are different now, PoR‘s twisted-cord motif replaced with fractured stone. The ludicrously crude customizable character portraits are gone (so no more putting the bearded dwarf head on the chainmail-bikini chyk body), but the customizable character icons are still around. The horrible UI has some small improvements: for example, multiple spell-memorizations are now displayed stacked. (That is, if you memorize Magic Missile three times, it’s listed in the spell-selection menu as “Magic Missile (3)” instead of occupying three rows.) Probably the biggest improvement is the Fix command, which you can activate in camp to make your Cleric(s) cast Cure Light Wounds as many times as possible, then rest up to memorize it again, and repeat the process as many times as necessary to get the entire party to full health. This is a process I went through countless times manually in PoR. So it’s good to see that the developers were actually paying enough attention to how people played to see a pattern worth streamlining. It sure isn’t the improvement I would have asked for first, though.

1 The exception is the Illusionist, which isn’t even a class any more. Illusionist spells simply got folded into the regular Magic-User spell list.

Pool of Radiance: End Boss

Here’s a phenomenon that I think most D&D players are familiar with. Let’s say you’re in a situation best handled with subtlety of some sort. It can be stealth, or deceit, or careful manipulation of the physical environment — the details don’t really matter as long as you have some way of accomplishing your goals without combat. The phenomenon is that it basically never works. No matter how carefully you plan, you’re going to slip up somehow, either by an unlucky roll of the dice or just by not anticipating the consequences of your actions, and wind up fighting the guards or whatever. D&D is just biased that way.

The endgame of Pool of Radiance is kind of like that, except that when things go pear-shaped you can always go back to an earlier save and try again. Getting into the castle’s central hedge maze to confront the end boss without setting off any alarms took me multiple tries, and actually defeating the boss took several more — in fact, it took a few tries just to get through his guards, a team of level-8 fighters. Understand that this game does not permit the possibility of simply overpowering these guys by force of superior experience level. The entire game caps experience level at 6 for clerics and magic users, 8 for fighters, and 9 for thieves. I had been relying almost exclusively on direct-damage spells for most of the game’s plot-significant fights, but the most powerful offensive spell you can learn — Fireball — although good for clearing out roomfuls of orcs in a single cast, just doesn’t do enough damage to win the final fight fast enough. To beat the boss, you have to really know what you’re doing — and on your first attempt, you don’t. You don’t even know you’re about to fight the boss until you stumble into his room once, and you really need to buff up before you do that.

The boss, incedentally, is known as “the boss” within the game itself. It comes off as a little meta, but really, it’s an attempt to create a sense of mystery about who’s actually pulling the strings. In a sense, though, the authors have told you who the boss is before you even start playing. I haven’t talked about the meaning of the title: within the gameworld, the Pool of Radiance is a legend akin to the Holy Grail, something elusive and sought after, granting great power to those who find it. And, like in some versions of the Grail legend, it’s capable of transporting itself from place to place. Some of the bad guys are looking for the Pool of Radiance, but the end boss, in a sense, is the Pool of Radiance — or rather, the demon that possesses anyone foolish enough to dive into its waters. So, really not so much Holy Grail as One Ring.

Anyway, it’s with some relief that I remove the first game from the Stack this year. I had a lot of negative things to say about Pool of Radiance, but it does an admirable job of putting all its RPGisms into a sensible context in which everything has a reason to be the way it is. Even the monsters frequently have some larger goal they’re trying to achieve by attacking you, rather than doing so just because they’re monsters. Next up: the sequel.

Pool of Radiance: Talking Things Out Of Hitting You

Completist that I am, I’ve taken care to complete all my dangling quests before proceeding into the city’s climactic castle. This meant spending a considerable amount of time scouring the wilderness for the last few places of significance. The explorable part of the wilderness is only about 40×30 map tiles, which wouldn’t take that long to go through systematically if it weren’t for the fact that I keep getting interrupted by random encounters. Fortunately, I have one thing that helps speed them along: a character with a natural 18 charisma.

This was not deliberate on my part. Charisma is traditionally the least useful stat in D&D, and I probably would have treated it accordingly if the character generation system let me. But generation here is done the traditional way: randomly. The game makes it easy to repeatedly re-roll your stats until you get something you like, and one of my fighters just happened to get lucky in charisma at the same time as in the stats I cared about. The effect is that I can talk my way out of fighting a lot of the time, assuming that the fight is with something able and willing to talk. (A lot of the wilderness encounters are with wild animals. While I can imagine someone with a really high charisma dissuading a wild boar from charging by means of body language, it’s never worked for me.)

When you choose to “parlay” (sic) instead of attack, you get a choice of conversational tone: Haughty, Sly, Nice, Meek, or Abusive. You might think that choosing anything other than Nice would tend to give offense, but in fact different types of monster tend to respond well to different tones, which is a neat little way of adding a touch of personality to the different monster types. For example, gnolls, if my observations are at all accurate, only respect the Haughty, while minotaurs are grandstanding bullies who see anything but Meekness as a challenge to their dominance. Kobolds respond well to the Abusive approach — as the least powerful of the humanoid monsters, they’re probably so used to being pushed around that they see anything else as a sign of weakness.

The Sly tone is a special case: it’s an attempt not just to persuade the monster to not attack you, but also to subtly pump it for information. This is really only useful in specific puzzle-like situations, though; wandering monsters in the wilderness generally don’t know anything.

Anyway, it’s good to have alternatives to combat, especially at this late stage in the game, when combat basically doesn’t benefit me. Most of my characters are at their maximum experience level (a by-product of completing all the quests), and I have about as much money as I can carry (and nothing to spend it on). A lot of the pleasure in RPGs comes from improving your characters, and I’m running out of room for improvement. Good thing it’s ending soon.

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