Friday, July 1, 2011

Baldur's Gate 2: Shadows of Amn, part 2

There was only one place in the Promenade that sold things other than weapons and armour (though they sold that as well), and that was a shop just to the left of the crumbled remains of the exit to Irenicus' dungeon. It had a nice look to it, with interesting curios in the multi-level d├ęcor, and a surprisingly obvious dig at the old Dungeons and Dragons cartoon series, with pictures of two characters from that show on the wall, with text describing their deaths.

In front of those posters was a woman who sold some special items that made more reference jokes. I'm not sure how many of them were specifically references to Planescape: Torment and which were just integrating the Planescape campaign setting in general, but she was selling Dak'kon's Zerth blade and Vhailor's helm, both of which specifically mentioned the Nameless One in their descriptions, and there were items referring to the Sensates and the Mercykillers. I believe this vendor is one of the "bonus merchants" included in one of the patches I installed. The items are very expensive, but that's good, because this game needs a money sink.

There's a great deal of humour in this game, in dialogue and absurd situations, and I love it.

The circus tent

The circus tent was undergoing renovations as a TARDIS, apparently, containing a caverous space with an elegant bridge over a bottomless chasm, leading to a lavish arabesque building. There was another genie there to greet us. Three genies already! If doppelgangers were the big recurring theme in BG1, it's looking like genies are the theme in BG2. Amn seems to be the D&D equivalent of Arabia (and, unless I miss my guess, Minsc's descriptions of Rashemen sound like that's the D&D equivalent of Russia). This genie asked us a riddle, and unfortunately this riddle was actually a mathematics problem (a weakness of mine), and I apparently miscalculated and got it wrong, but surprisingly enough he gave us a second chance with another, much easier riddle, then let us pass.

A character named Aerie was there, in the form of an ogre, inside the main building. I already knew the name before playing the game, so there was no doubt that I should believe her when she said she wasn't really an ogre (because the master of this place is an illusionist), but even if I didn't know her already, she sounded so earnest I'm sure I would have believed her anyway.

The way everyone in this place was talking, I was preparing for a major boss fight, especially when one creature explicitly offered my party time to rest after a fight, and prepare for the final room. It was a surprise when the supposedly powerful wizard (who had supposedly created all this architecture in this pocket plane, and bound all these slaves) went down so quickly and easily. I guess it was all sound and fury, signifying nothing.

So Aerie joined my party after talking to her dear uncle Quayle, the gnome wizard I never picked up from BG1, and she seems like a cheerful, upbeat girl, and romanceable. And a cleric! So I'm concerned that she might make Viconia superfluous, and I really want to have Viconia, since I liked her so much in BG1.

The genie from the tent showed up again when I investigated the magic lamp I acquired during the adventure and obtained the control word from a malicious "man" named Jafir. Jafir seemed certain that if I got a wish from this genie, I would end up in as much trouble as the one who used it to create the things in the pocket plane, but perhaps this is where my high wisdom comes in. The genie offered a selection of quest-specific wishes, as well as a secondary list which appears to be the usual list you'd get if you used the Wish spell, all of which seem to be combat-focused, and disappointingly limited, but it is one of the larger lists of options, and it's understandable given the nature of this medium, as opposed to the free-form wishes I imagine you could make in a pen & paper session.

The combat wishes weren't useful in this situation, of course, so that left the quest wishes. Perhaps my wisdom wasn't quite high enough to give me a really good wish option, though, because none of the options were very satisfying. I could free the genie, attempt (and fail) to wish for more wishes, resurrect the insane gnome who caused all those deaths to "give him a second chance" (but no option to resurrect the people he killed), send the genie to kill Jafir, or try (and fail) to kill Irenicus and rescue Imoen -- the genie claimed something was interfering with his powers on those last two options. I love the fact that the genie uses the classic line, "Your wish is my command!" when granting a wish! I ended up freeing the genie, for lack of any better options.

Chapter 2, and names again

Chapter 2 began surprisingly enough shortly after I left Waukeen's Promenade. I hadn't even taken two steps when some rogue named Gaelan approached with a vocal tic causing him to exclaim "Coo!" every few sentences, and said he could help me find Imoen. And although I was wary of following a vaguely shady rogue into his house, which he suggested, the game actually transported me into it automatically, despite him saying "You can decide for yourself if you want to come in when we get there."

But despite the forced action, it set out the goals of the next chapter nicely, telling me to raise 20k gold, and suggesting a few places to look for work (or in other words, quests).

Then Chapter 2 began, and to my dismay I learned through both the chapter narrator's speech and one of the voiced cowled wizards that Irenicus is meant to be pronounced "eye-REH-ni-cus", which doesn't sound anywhere near as good as "eye-ruh-NYE-cus".

Now, Gaelan advised me to not spend any money until I've raised the necessary amount, but by this time I had raised enough to pay off the government to allow me to cast spells in the city, and that was priority one for me, as a sorcerer, so I went as quickly as possible to the Government District, through several minor encounters on the streets.

Companions

I actually came across my old friend Viconia upon entering the district, being treated to the same kind of hospitality she was enjoying when I found her in the first game, except that instead of the firing squad, they had set up a cosy stake to roast her on.

After the fanatics were dead, she said she would wait for me in the graveyard after I'd freed up some party space. I'll probably have some space soon. One of the mod-added party members (Chloe) is starting to wear out her welcome. There's just the issue I mentioned before, that I already have a cleric, and I like her. Then again, Aerie's also a mage, and Viconia is a much more powerful cleric, so perhaps I'll try it out with both of them. I really have a lot of party members with healing spells this time. Even Minsc can cast a minor heal now, unlike in BG1.

Speaking of Aerie, though, she's suddenly started bringing up her handicap rather often. She's a winged elf, but she was crippled by her former captors, who kept her in a cage so long her wings started getting necrotic, and they sawed them off. But I got the impression that this had happened quite a while ago, since she said she'd been under the protection of Quayle for some time, and the wounds had clearly long since healed over, so why is she suddenly getting more and more upset about them? I'm being nice to her about it, but I'm having trouble believing this aspect of her character. Jaheira, on the other hand, is being quite cruel to her about it, and it's clearly because she was getting interested in me herself, though she hadn't said so yet. Her attraction was clear from the little hints given in her interjections, but I'm not interested in romancing Jaheira. Her personality is rather abrasive and domineering, and she shouldn't be falling for someone so soon after finding her husband dead, in my opinion.

Anyway, after finding the person to bribe to allow me to cast magic and asking around to see if anyone had more leads on Imoen (unsurprisingly, they didn't, though I did pick up a rather vague quest from them to find a missing outlaw named Valygar), I spoke to a boy named Delon outside who was begging for some help with some strange creatures attacking his village of Imnesvale, with rumours of an ancient witch returning to curse the place. Ah, just the sort of thing I wanted! As much as I like exploring the city and talking to people, I was looking forward to some regular adventuring again. I guess I didn't need to spend that money on a magic license yet after all, if I'm going outside of the city. Ah well, no matter. I expect an excursion out there will make all that money back pretty quickly anyway.

The Umar Hills

Imnesvale was an interesting place with its own side quests, and plenty of people to talk to. Opinions differed amongst the townspeople as to what kind of creatures were attacking them. The bartender promoted the ancient witch hypothesis, and was only too happy to provide me with a copy of his book about it, which was a reference to the Blair Witch Project. What made it really funny was when I snooped around in the containers behind his bar, I found that they were all filled with dozens of copies of that book!

Other villagers blamed a band of ogres for the killings, and still others believed a pack of large wolves was responsible. I did a little scouting around, and found the ogres, but they convinced me they were peaceful, so I left them alone. I found some caves, as well. One of them contained an unexpected monster -- a mimic. They're the monsters that disguise themselves as treasure chests to lure unsuspecting adventurers close and catch them off guard. On killing it, I obtained a vial of its blood, but it had no obvious use, and the description mentioned uses that weren't immediately applicable, but I kept it in case there was a use for it later.

In the other cave was a werewolf, gnawing on some human bones. Mystery solved, eh? Except she said that there was someone worse that was controlling her kin, and he's the one responsible for the recent killings. My experience with werewolves is rocky, to put it mildly, but I know from Tales of the Sword Coast that werewolves aren't automatically evil, so I gave her the benefit of the doubt.

A diary from a fighter named Mazzy was in one of the houses, and I recognised the name as a potential party member, but from the sound of it she was some kind of fighter, and I don't need any more of those. I explored just up to the point where I found the temple that the town quest seemed to be leading to, and turned back, because I didn't feel up to the challenge of a dungeon crawl at the moment. I went back to town to report all this.

In town, I found a few side quests that I'd missed when I went on the scouting run. Simple local concerns such as paying a man for a lucrative secret involving some chickens, and buying some ale for a small group of teenagers. There was the option of also buying them some weapons, but that had the potential to end badly, so I stuck with the ale.

It's strange that they'd need someone to buy it for them, though. What else is there to drink in these towns? For much of human history, in many regions, fermented beverages were the standard drink for everyone, children included. Fermentation renders the drinks sterile, and thus wines and beers were safer to consume than water in places with poor sanitation. The only other things I can think of that they might have drunk would be fruit juices or fresh milk, but in a society without refrigeration, both would have to be obtained fresh, since fruit juice would quickly ferment into cider or wine anyway, and milk into cheese.

So, I bought the boys their ale. There'll be no cholera deaths on my watch!

Outside a house, I met a young man who wanted me to convince a girl's overprotective father to let them go out together. The father turned out to be a Cowled Wizard who was working on building a big stone golem to use as a guardian. He was unreceptive to my speaking on the boy's behalf, despite the pleas of his daughter, but he offered me a fetch quest to get him a needed ingredient for the golem. As it happened, it was the blood of a mimic, which I already had with me, so it was a quick and easy bit of XP and reward.

Now, it was pretty obvious that this was a thinly-veiled Frankenstein plot in the making, so I began positioning my party strategically as the wizard began to activate the golem. Surprise, surprise, it woke up hostile and out of control, and we managed to beat it down without the wizard or his daughter getting hurt.

He was shaken and relieved at the narrowly averted tragedy, and decided that perhaps he was wrong about knowing what was best for his daughter. It ended with the two lovers joyfully running off together with the wizard's blessing, and all was fine. I imagine there were different endings if one or the other or both were killed in the golem's rampage. This was one of the more enjoyable quests in this town.

I happened to find Valygar in this area, too, from the other quest given at the government building, and in a little plot twist it turned out he was being framed because of his anti-magic stance. His story sounded genuine, and it seems the Cowled Wizards just wanted his dead body to use as some kind of genetic key to open up a sealed sphere that had teleported into town recently. So, to finish up that questline, it looked like I'd have to add him to my party and go on another dungeon crawl. Again, I decided to put it on hold for now, and head back to Athkatla for a while.

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