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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    Khay's Avatar

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    Default Let's Read & Play: Baldur’s Gate II - Bhaal is Dead! [Finished]

    (You may be noticing some broken images in this thread. Image hosting on the web is surprisingly fragile. I've included backup links just in case, but let me know if and when something re-breaks.)

    Bhaal is dead! But his disciples want to bring him back. The blood of the god of murder runs through his children, and bad blood attracts bad people. Shadow Thieves, vampires, ninjas, and rockworms run rampant on the Sword Coast in the action-packed novelization of the Baldur's Gate II computer game from BioWare and Interplay.






    Yes: It's time. I took a lengthy break after the last thread, but I think I've recovered enough to take a stab at the sequel.

    In case you're not familiar with Baldur's Gate (henceforth BG): It's a series of games from the early 2000s, adapting the Forgotten Realms setting (and then-current AD&D rules) into videogame form. The first game had a major role in reviving the ailing WRPG genre, alongside such games as Diablo. Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn (henceforth SoA) improves on the first game in almost every aspect, and still stands as one of the greatest RPGs ever made.

    There also was a series of novels adapting the videogames, which are... let's just say they aren't exactly beloved. The writing sucks, the plot is threadbare, the main character is completely overpowered and the side characters are barely in the book. However, it's difficult to find in-depth criticism of the books. So here's what I'll do: I'll do a Let's Read of the novels combined with a Let's Play of the games. I'll be following the decisions made by the book's protagonist as closely as possible, comparing and contrasting the plot of the books with that of the games.

    Before we dive in, a few notes about the thread:
    • For clarity's sake, I'll refer to the Bhaalspawn from the books as "Abdel" (his given name) and the Bhaalspawn from the games as "CHARNAME" (fanon).
    • Siege of Dragonspear adds a lot of material that (chronologically) takes place before this game. While the plot is somewhat self-contained, it still changes a lot of vital context for events in SoA, especially in the early game. For this reason, I'll be ignoring SoD. If I bring up a point that was addressed in the revisionist timeline, imagine a little asterisk next to the statement. (I won't be using the Enhanced Edition for similar reasons.)
    • This thread assumes you are at least vaguely familiar with the plot of the games. There will be unmarked spoilers and references to events that haven't happened yet.
    • The focus is on the books, with the Let's Play being offered mainly as a reference, so don't expect a lot of in-depth discussion of combat tactics. In case of branching conversations, I'll pick one specific path, but if there's some interesting alternate dialogue, I'll include it in [brackets.]
    • I'll be aiming for 1-2 weeks between updates, since these are quite a lot of work to write. I won't be able to stick to the schedule as strictly as last time, but I'll do my best to post something on a semi-regular basis. Spirits willing, we should get through the book by July 2018, which would put us on track for finishing the series by 2019.
    • Any kind of feedback is extremely welcome, as is discussion of the content itself. We got some great conversations in the previous thread, and I'd love to see something like that emerge again. If you want me to do something specific in the games, I can do that, but I'll need some advance warning since I'm trying to maintain a buffer of 2-3 updates.





    Chapter One is rather short, being little more than an intro. It's actually pretty interesting, though. This covers pages 1-9 in the paperback.

    Spoiler: The book
    Show
    Good opening sentences are difficult to write, but first impressions are important. The opening of the first novel was terrible, so let's see how Philip Athans does this time around.

    Late in the summer of the Year of the Banner, Abdel Adrian, son of the God of Murder, returned to Candlekeep a hero.
    Not bad! I'm not sure you should be nesting your subordinate clauses like this, but it reads alright. I like the juxtaposition between "son of the God of Murder" and "a hero." This also confirms the year as 1368 DR, in case you're keeping track.

    Abdel is waved over by Tethtoril, his old mentor, and the two embrace. Tethtoril welcomes him back, but his speech is interrupted:

    "Abdel!" a thin, reedy voice sounded behind him. Abdel turned to see a face he hadn't seen in — how long? A year?
    "Imoen," Abdel breathed, meeting the slight girl's hasty embrace. "Imoen, you've grown into—“
    "Don't say it, Abdel," she interrupted, a smile softening her voice and making her eyes dance.
    "You're a sight for sore eyes, kid," he told her, and they embraced again.
    It's Imoen! You'll remember that Abdel's (half-)sister was suspiciously absent from the previous novel. This is technically a retcon, but a necessary one. She has a vital role in the second game's plot, so there's really nothing the author could do.

    Imoen expresses her condolences for Gorion's death, as does Tethtoril. Abdel starts to feel a little tense without really knowing why. The air is heavy, and Candlekeep feels strangely empty. He suddenly realizes he can't remember where his traveling companions Jaheira and Xan are. Before he can finish the thought, Imoen gets a bit... overly familiar.

    "Abdel," Imoen whispered, her breath cool against his bare chest. Abdel didn't remember taking off his shirt. Imoen shivered against him, and he looked down at her. He was easily a foot and a half taller than the girl. Imoen was beginning to fill out, her little girl's pronounced joints smoothing into her arms, her hips rounding, and her ribs fading into smooth, pale skin. Her hair was long, and it blew into Abdel's face, stinging his eyes.
    I guess it's nice to have the sexual weirdness start on the second page of the book. It's nice and to the point. At least this time around it's actually meant to be unsettling.

    Abdel pushes Imoen away with significant effort, finding her much stronger than expected. She's changing quickly.

    Her normally refined features were twisted and ugly, and her mouth was growing into a gaping, fang-lined abyss. A tongue, forked and long like a snake's, shot out and tasted Abdel's bare chest with a touch so chill it made the huge sellsword shudder. (...) A string of curses spat forth from her quivering mouth, already bleeding where the razor-sharp edges of her teeth pulled against the purple mass of her lips.
    Abdel draws his sword from his back (finding it in its expected place although he's naked) and decapitates Imoen. She screams, and Abdel wakes up. It was all a dream.

    Or was it? Well, yes, it was, but Abdel is in fact naked. He finds himself in a small stone cell, chained to the wall. A short, bearded and also mostly naked man is there to greet him.

    "Jailer..." Abdel started to say, then his parched throat closed on him, and his eyes watered. He sucked in a breath and started choking from the smoke from the brazier, dehydration, and the ache from a bruise he didn't remember getting.
    "Dungeon master," the man murmured, looking away from Abdel, then pausing as if seeing the brazier for the first time. As he reached up to grab a poker hanging from a hook on the wall to Abdel's right, he said, "Dungeon master, not jailer. This is not a jail, it is a dungeon."

    Abdel sighed, trying to meet the man's blank, glazed stare, but to no avail. The man was an idiot.
    If you're designing a drinking game for this book, I recommend taking a shot each for "evil fat guy" and "weird and out-of-place arguments about word choice."

    While the poker is warming up, the dungeon master introduces himself as Booter. He explains that his boss captured Abdel, though he has no idea why or from where.

    "Who is your boss?" Abdel asked again as Booter pulled the poker out of the hot coals and dragged it across Abdel's chest. He screamed, smelling his own skin and hair burning and feeling every popping blister and seared inch of flesh in a pain that was almost a living thing on its own. His scream drowned out most of Booter's answer to his last question, but Abdel was sure he heard the man say "Shadow Thieves."

    He couldn't be in Amn, could he?
    Booter tortures Abdel for a while. (Tearing out fingernails, mostly.) There doesn't seem to be much of a reason for it, since he isn't asking questions or making demands. I guess he just enjoys his job. Note that Booter is a character from the game, and he does actually work with the Shadow Thieves - I'll have words to say about it in a short while.

    For now, Abdel experiences a brief flashback. After he killed Sarevok, he met the revived Jaheira. They hugged each other to sleep, they went for a quiet romantic walk through the city the next day. Sadly, the tranquility doesn't last:

    The men came out of the shadows in the manner of professional kidnappers. They were already surrounding Abdel and Jaheira before they made their presence known. It took only the blink of an eye for Abdel to realize what was happening and not much longer to draw his sword.
    Abdel is swiftly disarmed, but he still manages to break the nose of one of the attackers with his bare hands. Jaheira is briefly taken into a headlock, but frees herself via elbow. The brawl continues for a while.

    Jaheira shot her elbow back and up this time into her attacker's face. This man, too, fell to the ground, and Jaheira smiled at Abdel and almost started to wink before another masked man grabbed her from behind.
    "Enough of this," a heavily accented voice called from the shadows. "Just take them." The voice was commanding and impatient, but the masked men didn't seem to react to it at all.
    (...)
    Something dry and surprisingly light hit Abdel in the chest, and there was a puff of powder in the air in front of him, powder so light it was almost smoke. Abdel breathed in to muster an appropriate curse, and he got a sharp, bitter taste in his mouth, and his eyes clamped themselves shut tightly.
    Abdel remembers seeing Jaheira being grabbed, and the flashback concludes with him falling unconscious. You may recognize this scene as another Athans special - Abdel can't ever lose in a brawl, but his saving throws are terrible.

    Back in the present, Booter continues to ruin Abdel's manicure, but Abdel isn't having any of it.

    Abdel roared in rage, frustration, and bloodlust, but not in pain, even when Booter latched onto the second fingernail with his needle-nosed pliers. (...) Abdel held his teeth together tightly and swore to more gods than he thought might be listening that he would kill this "dungeon master" in a most telling way, and he would do it soon.
    The first chapter just kind of... stops here, with Abdel expressing dissatisfaction about this campaign. I suppose this is as good a stopping point as any, since there are some things I want to talk about here.


    Spoiler: The game
    Show
    Once again, we'll start with the opening movie, which provides us with a brief summary of the plot so far. The trailer uses a mixture of ink drawings and 3D animations. The illustrations hold up really well (the heavy blacks look great), while the 3D animation... is of historical interest, I guess. You should watch it if you can, but here's the summary: We're a Bhaalspawn, we're from Candlekeep and our foster father Gorion was murdered by our half-brother Sarevok. We discovered and stopped a weirdly complicated scheme involving the iron market manipulation, thus making us the hero of Baldur's Gate. For some reason or another, we departed Baldur's Gate. We were then abducted by unknown forces while camping outside city limits, and now find ourselves in a torture dungeon full of chains and jumpcuts.

    We import Abdel from Baldur's Gate 1, picking up the Berserker kit along the way, and we're ready to go. (Actually, I might re-do this section and put the skill pips into Two-Handed Sword instead, but let's leave that aside for the moment.)


    Screenshot

    The dungeon doesn't look much nicer from the isometric perspective. This is an (in-engine) cutscene. I strongly recommend finding a recording of this one - David Warner's voice acting as Irenicus is incredible. Here's one I randomly plucked off YouTube.

    IRENICUS: Ahh, the child of Bhaal has awoken.
    IRENICUS: It is time for more... experiments.
    <IRENICUS hits CHARNAME with a fire spell.>
    IRENICUS: The pain will only be passing. You should survive the process.
    <IRENICUS hits CHARNAME with some vines and a lightning bolt. CHARNAME briefly passes out.>
    IRENICUS: Interesting. You have much untapped power.
    <IRENICUS hits CHARNAME with an exploding spell. CHARNAME passes out again.>
    IRENICUS: Do you even realise your potential?
    <GOLEM enters stage left.>
    GOLEM: More intruders have entered the complex, master.
    IRENICUS: They act sooner than we had anticipated. No matter, they will only prove a slight delay.
    <IRENICUS teleports away.>
    The opening cutscene isn't quite done yet, but we'll leave off here for now - I want to stay close to the book whenever possible. Don't worry, there'll be a daring escape... next time.


    Spoiler: Comparison and commentary
    Show
    Philip Athans has provided us with a nice and short chapter to kick things off. And... it's actually pretty interesting. It reminds me a lot of the last book's opening. The differences are a little more subtle this time, but once again, the tone is very different. (I will say that the craftsmanship is a bit better, though. Athans seems to have improved as an author, or perhaps his editor did a better job this time around. The writing is less clunky now. We'll see if it lasts.)

    The first thing that stands out to me is the oddly compressed timeline in the novel. Abdel and Jaheira seem to have been abducted at most two days after Sarevok died, in broad daylight and in the middle of Baldur's Gate no less. You'd think people would notice the hero of Baldur's Gate going amiss two days after he saves literally everyone. This is a really strange decision.
    Baldur's Gate II, on the other hand, says very little about events that happened between the games. During the tutorial, Duke Belt implies that CHARNAME has been staying at the Duchal Palace for a while but is planning to move on, and Imoen confirms we are at least regionally famous, but that's all we really get. Some returning NPCs (such as Edwin, Quayle and Viconia) have backstories that make little sense unless there are a few months between Sarevok's death and CHARNAME's abduction.

    Speaking of the abduction: In the game, the whole thing is handled via magic and vampires. CHARNAME and friends don't even have the opportunity to fight back, which aids in convincing us that Irenicus is a real threat. In the book, on the other hand, the attackers are a bunch of randos with cudgels. For some reason they only use the sleeping powder after Abdel had the opportunity to OHKO some of them. The narrative bends over backwards to ensure we know that our hero is totally badass, and this becomes very tiring very quickly. (You may remember that a similar change took place in the last book, where Abdel totally took over Gorion's last stand. The oddities in this book fit well with the oddities of the last book.)

    This isn't an isolated phenomenon. The book strikes a very odd tone overall. Booter is not nearly as threatening as Irenicus - in fact, he's something of a comedy character. Sure, he's a bad guy, but the story undercuts him whenever possible. He's overweight and ugly and pretentious, and the narrative takes pains to inform us that Abdel isn't intimidated or hurt as much as angry. It just isn't scary this way, especially compared to the air of cold menace Irenicus projects, which makes you feel the stakes aren't as high. Also, in a roundabout way, Booter is a lot more personal than Irenicus. Irenicus doesn't talk to you, he talks at you. He monologues. The servants you meet are golems and (later) test tube residents. You can find out a few things by exploring Chateau Irenicus, but everything you learn just raises more questions. The mystery surrounding him and his motivations really helps to build up his character. It adds to his presence in the game, beyond the limited screentime he gets. By contrast, the book's Irenicus is... well, we haven't met him yet. (We'll be introduced in chapter 2.)

    But speaking of terrible characters: We'll get to meet our party members in the next chapter! Are you excited? I sure am.


    And that's our prologue! As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts, both about the content of the review and about its form.
    Last edited by Khay; 2019-04-13 at 05:54 AM. Reason: re-re-uploaded screenshots

  2. - Top - End - #2
    Titan in the Playground
     
    AssassinGuy

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    Default Re: Let's Read & Play: Baldur’s Gate II - Bhaal is Dead!

    Yay! its back! I hope he got to work with a more finished version of the plot this time.

    BG2 is a significantly more magic reliant campaign than the last one was. I wonder how Athans will reconcile that with his Conan-esque writing style. On the other hand, since most of the wizards are bad guys (or working for them), and the Bhaalspawn powers and such are explicitly evil, maybe he will handle it better this time.
    “Evil is evil. Lesser, greater, middling, it's all the same. Proportions are negotiated, boundaries blurred. I'm not a pious hermit, I haven't done only good in my life. But if I'm to choose between one evil and another, then I prefer not to choose at all.”

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    Ogre in the Playground
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    Default Re: Let's Read & Play: Baldur’s Gate II - Bhaal is Dead!

    Bhaal is dead! Here's to hoping your brain won't follow suit throughout this thing.

    Irenicus was an awesome villain in Baldur's Gate 2. His voice acting was incredible, and it took im all of one scene to earn my hatred and ire, which was just further intensified as we wander through the starter dungeon. Just talking about it makes me want to boot up the game again, despite it being so very old.

    Regarding the book, there's not much to say that you didn't already say. The feel isn't "chilling hopeless impotence" so much as "whatever, can we move on to the villain soon?"

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    Default Re: Let's Read & Play: Baldur’s Gate II - Bhaal is Dead!

    I've never played the second game or read the second book, so this should prove interesting as everything will be unexpected for me. Looking forward to it.

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    Aidan305's Avatar

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    Default Re: Let's Read & Play: Baldur’s Gate II - Bhaal is Dead!

    Excellent, looking forward to seeing Athen's take on one of the best Video Game villains.

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    Default Re: Let's Read & Play: Baldur’s Gate II - Bhaal is Dead!

    In the first chapter(s), the book already ruins the drama of death (and the resurrection plot hole), makes incest dreams (actually a fun thing if talented writers dare touch the subject - and treat it with dignity rather than to excuse a sex scene). All that after the book heavy-handedly nods at "dungeon masters" and D&D being a game about dungeons. I hope Athans introduces Firkraag as "the dragon on the fricking box".

    And please tell me the second book didn't ruin Irenicus. Also I never had David Warner but the German voice is far more nuanced I find: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cJBuPVaHtJc
    Until further notice 21st of October, please DM me for important stuff, and let the game master control my characters

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    Colossus in the Playground
     
    Kish's Avatar

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    Default Re: Let's Read & Play: Baldur’s Gate II - Bhaal is Dead!

    Quote Originally Posted by Sporeegg View Post
    In the first chapter(s), the book already ruins the drama of death (and the resurrection plot hole), makes incest dreams (actually a fun thing if talented writers dare touch the subject - and treat it with dignity rather than to excuse a sex scene). All that after the book heavy-handedly nods at "dungeon masters" and D&D being a game about dungeons. I hope Athans introduces Firkraag as "the dragon on the fricking box".
    Spoiler: Firkraag
    Show
    There are no dragons in this book.

    And please tell me the second book didn't ruin Irenicus.
    Don't ask Khay to sully your relationship with cheap lies.
    Last edited by Kish; 2017-12-12 at 09:44 PM.
    Spoiler
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    "The really unforgivable acts are committed by calm men in beautiful green silk rooms, who deal death wholesale, by the shipload, without lust, or anger, or desire, or any redeeming emotion to excuse them but cold fear of some pretended future. But the crimes they hope to prevent in the future are imaginary. The ones they commit in the present--they are real." --Aral Vorkosigan

    Quote Originally Posted by The Giant View Post
    This, in a nutshell.
    Yes, exactly.

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    Default Re: Let's Read & Play: Baldur’s Gate II - Bhaal is Dead!

    Quote Originally Posted by Kish View Post
    Don't ask Khay to sully your relationship with cheap lies.
    At least he has a better love story than Twilight. Right? RIGHT?
    Until further notice 21st of October, please DM me for important stuff, and let the game master control my characters

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    BlueKnightGuy

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    Default Re: Let's Read & Play: Baldur’s Gate II - Bhaal is Dead!

    Welcome Back! I'm sure the book will be better than the first one and there won't be any more character assassinations.

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    Default Re: Let's Read & Play: Baldur’s Gate II - Bhaal is Dead!

    Quote Originally Posted by Sporeegg View Post
    At least he has a better love story than Twilight. Right? RIGHT?
    Will it also get a better ending than ME3?

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    SamuraiGuy

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    Default Re: Let's Read & Play: Baldur’s Gate II - Bhaal is Dead!

    Wasn't this the book with

    Spoiler
    Show

    I recall seeing something about Imoen and the Abdul getting it on, or Imoen making out someone; or something about Abdul getting on with somebody? Maybe it was the dream scene or later?
    Blog Read and Comment! I use green for joking and Blue for sarcasm.
    Published two Kindle Books on Amazon, both are 99 cents. Ask Me about them!
    Quote Originally Posted by Peelee View Post
    Wookiee. 2 E's. [I am obsessed with this]
    My First Let's Play -- Temporary Haitus (I plan to get back to it eventually)

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    Default Re: Let's Read & Play: Baldur’s Gate II - Bhaal is Dead!

    Quote Originally Posted by russdm View Post
    Wasn't this the book with

    Spoiler
    Show

    I recall seeing something about Imoen and the Abdul getting it on, or Imoen making out someone; or something about Abdul getting on with somebody? Maybe it was the dream scene or later?
    Spoiler
    Show
    First, Abdel. Not quite that overtly Arabic.
    Second: Incest: no. Necrophilia (well, Abdel having sex with Bodhi the vampire): yes. Imoen having lesbian sex with Phaere the drow: yes.
    Spoiler
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    "The really unforgivable acts are committed by calm men in beautiful green silk rooms, who deal death wholesale, by the shipload, without lust, or anger, or desire, or any redeeming emotion to excuse them but cold fear of some pretended future. But the crimes they hope to prevent in the future are imaginary. The ones they commit in the present--they are real." --Aral Vorkosigan

    Quote Originally Posted by The Giant View Post
    This, in a nutshell.
    Yes, exactly.

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    AssassinGuy

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    Default Re: Let's Read & Play: Baldur’s Gate II - Bhaal is Dead!

    Quote Originally Posted by Kish View Post
    Spoiler
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    First, Abdel. Not quite that overtly Arabic.
    Second: Incest: no. Necrophilia (well, Abdel having sex with Bodhi the vampire): yes. Imoen having lesbian sex with Phaere the drow: yes.
    Athans, why? I grew up with this game!

    Also, freaking quote system trying to break the spoilers for some reason.
    Last edited by Keltest; 2017-12-16 at 09:23 AM.
    “Evil is evil. Lesser, greater, middling, it's all the same. Proportions are negotiated, boundaries blurred. I'm not a pious hermit, I haven't done only good in my life. But if I'm to choose between one evil and another, then I prefer not to choose at all.”

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    Default Re: Let's Read & Play: Baldur’s Gate II - Bhaal is Dead!

    Aww yeah, updating on time. Thanks for the kind words, everyone. That's what keeps me sane during the more, ahh, Athans-y parts of this book. I need to get better about participating in the discussion... for now, enjoy the first of many character assassinations in Chapter Two.

    Spoiler: The book
    Show
    We've seen how Abdel is doing, so let's take a moment to check in with Jaheira.

    Jaheira clenched her jaw tightly closed inside the iron band that held her mouth shut. She could breathe through her teeth and drink water, but she couldn't speak, and though they'd been there for what felt like at least two days, she wasn't able to eat.
    The masked captors identified Jaheira as a spellcaster, hence the gag. She's a druid, not a mage, but the iron band keeps her from casting spells all the same, which is a shame - the cell is in dire need of a Warp Wood and a Purify Food and Drink. (Except if she was a mage, a gag wouldn't be enough given that Vocalize exists. You should know better, Irenicus!)

    Jaheira notes she hasn't seen Abdel since waking up in the prison cell, but there are others with him. The first is... well...

    One of the others was an odd, stocky, well-built man with long red hair and a patchy orange beard.
    Long red hair and a patchy orange beard. I'll give you a moment to guess.

    C'mon, I bet you can figure out who that man is.

    He had apparently taken some kind of small rat or large mouse as a companion. Jaheira looked at the babbling lunatic with a mix of fear and pity. She wasn't afraid that he might harm her or try to take advantage of her—they were in separate cages after all.
    That's right: It's Minsc! If there's one thing Minsc is famous for, it's his long red hair and patchy orange beard.

    Of all the characters to be rewritten by Athans, Minsc receives the worst treatment by far. The next few paragraphs will repeatedly describe him as a "babbling lunatic," a "madman" clad in " a simple, [dirty] tattered tunic" with the "smile of a pleased toddler" whose "mad demeanor" involves talking to nobody but Boo... you get the idea. We'll talk about this in a few chapters. For now, let's just... marvel.

    Anyway, there's a second prisoner.

    "A fine group we have here, yes?" the second prisoner asked her, obviously noting her discomfort with the red-haired man. "The silent rodent, the madman, me, and you."
    She looked at him blankly, unable to figure out what this one wanted her to say, even if she could speak. He was a strange looking man, with features nearly like an elf's but not really. She had seen only one other person like him before: the woman Tamoko, lover of Sarevok. Abdel had told her Tamoko came from Kozakura, on the other side of the world, east of the endless Hordelands.
    It's Yoshimo! He's described as stocky but strong, wearing loose-fitting black clothes. He makes a few weak jokes about Minsc's habit of talking to Boo and nobody else, then he's thankfully interrupted by Booter.

    The lock drew back sharply, and the door vibrated, sending loud, almost painful waves of sound through the cramped chamber. The door swung open, and Jaheira blinked in the brighter light from the guttering torch in the narrow corridor. (...) The big jailer was obviously struggling with his heavy burden, and Jaheira quickly realized it was a man, then realized it was Abdel.
    I think Abdel was pretending to be unconscious and Booter was dragging him - it's not quite clear. Abdel suddenly shifts his weight and causes Booter to stumble. Abdel kicks Booter until he stops moving, then starts strangling him.

    He stepped back with his right leg and kneeled next to the jailer. Jaheira realized Abdel had been tortured and gasped as much at that thought as the sight of Abdel's hands coming up, his elbow falling past the jailer's head, and those two huge, godlike arms tightening around the still-stunned jailer's neck.
    Why did Jaheira want Abdel to stop? She didn't know, she just didn't want him to kill, not out of anger, not when he didn't have to. Did he have to?
    ... no, I'm pretty sure you do know why you want Abdel to stop. Son of the god of murder, remember? Abdel's eyes briefly flicker yellow, Sarevok-style, but then he catches sight of Jaheira and reluctantly lets go. Of course, Abdel's entire arc in the last book was learning that murder isn't always the correct solution, but his character development only exists while he has line-of-sight to Jaheira. I wish I was kidding.

    He couldn't hear her thoughts, but her face, smashed into the mask as it was, was plain enough, and Abdel stopped short of killing the jailer. He squeezed the man's neck, didn't twist it, and the jailer woke up just in time to try to take one breath, then pass out again.
    "Jaheira," Abdel whispered as he strained at the ropes that held his wrists together.
    Abdel - who is still naked, I should note - rips off the door to Jaheira's cell and breaks off the metal gag. Somehow, he manages to not snap Jaheira's neck in the process. Jaheira stretches her jaw, painfully, and points Abdel at the other prisoners.

    "Get the keys," Jaheira said to Abdel. "Get the keys from the jailer."
    Abdel smiled, said, "Dungeon master," and retrieved the keys.
    I will not be drawn into an argument about the dungeon master's learnedness. I will not be drawn into an argument about the dungeon master's learnedness. I will not be drawn into an argument about the dungeon master's learnedness.

    Abdel's been roughed up a little - bruises, burns, cuts - but Jaheira finally remembers she has levels in Druid.

    She closed her eyes and said, "In the name of Our Lady of the Forest, by the will of the Supreme Ranger, by the touch of the daughter to Silvanus."
    Abdel felt a cool nettling pass over him, and when he touched his own chest, the pain from the cuts had gone away—the cuts themselves had healed.
    "I didn't know you could do that," he whispered, shocked.
    "I haven't been calling on Mielikki enough," Jaheira admitted, blushing, "or listening carefully enough to her call."
    Let's all take a moment to celebrate that Jaheira was allowed to actually do something. Her lack of healing magic was one of the stranger features of the last book. It's interesting that Athans is calling attention to this - it would've been easy to just cut the last two lines of dialogue there. This, to me, suggests that someone involved with the writing process realised how much of a garbage fire the previous book was. At least a little. We'll see if this leads to actual improvement.

    Back in the book we're currently enduring, Yoshimo introduces himself as Yoshimo and Abdel grunts in his general direction. Minsc doesn't talk to anyone but Boo, but still follows the group out the door. Yoshimo is kind of a non-entity.

    The four escaped prisoners followed the sounds of battle, since it seemed the only thing to follow, through twists and turns in narrow tunnels that confounded even Jaheira's sense of direction. The red-haired man still seemed oblivious to anything but the rodent he carried cupped in his hands. He would ask the animal if it was all right to turn this corner, safe to go up that set of steps, wise to pass through some doorway. No one but him ever heard the thing answer, but he always followed the rest of the escaping prisoners.
    Sections like this make me think Athans really didn't understand Minsc as a character, or why people like him. This Minsc is unable to do anything without first consulting Boo and seemingly can't talk to people. This goes far beyond comic relief wackiness and into uncomfortable territory. If you really wanted to write one of those pointlessly grimdark "deconstructions", that would be one way to do it, but this isn't the book and Athans certainly isn't the author for that.

    They came into a wide, low-ceilinged chamber dominated by huge roselike growths of orange crystal. Black-clad men were locked in combat with other black-clad men, and neither side seemed to be winning.
    The mention of crystals suggests that this is the djinn chamber, which is indeed very close to the cages. Our heroes decide that they'll leave the fighting to the locals, and try to make a break for the exit. Jaheira, continuing her hot streak, casts another spell - this time to make a weapon out of a stick she found.

    In no more than two heartbeats it was a sword of polished wood with a gleaming blade that showed its razor sharpness.
    "Your side!" the red-haired man shouted just in time, and Jaheira dodged the warhammer coming at her from her left.
    The wielder was a black-robed assassin with all-too-human eyes overcome with panic and bloodlust. She backed up two steps, which was enough time to recover, and brought her wooden sword up in time to parry another hard strike from the warhammer.
    This looks like Shillelagh, which normally makes a cudgel, but I guess a sword counts as a flat sharp club if you can convince your DM it does. (Also, I have no idea what "all-too-human eyes" is even supposed to mean, but sure.) Jaheira takes down the attacker, but more of them move in. She holds her ground, but ends up separated from her companions.

    "You will learn the price of your failure, you ..." a harsh male voice shrieked above the melee, the rest of his obviously enraged statement lost in the echoes of steel on steel.
    (...)
    "We know our price!" a shrill male voice shouted over the general din. "Give us our payment, necromancer!"
    (...)
    She wondered what Yoshimo and the red-haired man were doing, what had happened to Abdel, and whether or not the other door really was a way out when the single word "Sleep!" shouted from somewhere to her right made her do just that.
    Really? Sleep resistance is your one racial ability, Jaheira. (Also, take another drink for "combat ends with the viewpoint character falling asleep.")

    We rewind a little, then look at the scene from Abdel's viewpoint. He's currently failing a saving throw.

    Abdel knew that running into the green cloud would be a bad idea, but he'd already started in that direction when it suddenly appeared in front of him, engulfing the two black-clad men he was trying to defend against. (...) They wanted to kill each other, but all they could do was retch.
    The nameless necromancer is Irenicus, of course, though we won't learn about that for another chapter. He's showing a lot of restraint here, casting nonlethal spells like Stinking Cloud and Power Word: Sleep. I guess it makes sense if he's try to capture Abdel alive.

    Someone runs into Abdel, knocking him out of the cloud. He spends some time shivering and crying, watching as two black-clad men carry Jaheira off.

    "Abdel!" a woman's voice screamed at him, thin and weak.
    He was more confused that Jaheira seemed surprised to see him than that she could shout at all, then realized it wasn't Jaheira's voice.
    "Imoen?" he gasped around another body-wracking dry heave. He looked up and saw a face he'd seen most recently in a dream but not in real life for many months. The impossibility of her presence washed over Abdel like a cold rain, and the sellsword was quite simply flummoxed.
    Turns out Imoen is actually down here for real. You could imagine a fun postmodern reading, one that takes into account that Imoen (in a very real sense) didn't exist before that dreamhappened. In reality, though, she's down here because the plot requires her presence.

    Abdel tries to make his way to Imoen and Jaheira, but...

    "We have to go," the red-haired man shouted with an almost cheerful tone. "Boo insists!"
    "We will kill you first, necromancer," a man screamed from somewhere in the middle of the battle, "then take what you owe us ... take the son of..." The voice was lost again under the din of battle.
    A wave of bright purple fire washed across everything, and Abdel was thrown across the
    rough floor. All throughout the underground chamber, people were being scattered.
    See, that's the Irenicus I know. The sorcerer decides he's had quite enough of this and starts nuking the Shadow Thief intruders. The chamber starts filling with smoke, explosions, burning assassins and flying crystal shards.

    Abdel called, "Jaheira!" then, with a wild, yellow-eyed look of incomprehensible fate in his eyes, "Imoen!"
    I'm singling this out because "a yellow-eyed look of incomprehensible fate" is an amazing turn of phrase. Yellow eyes in these books generally signify that something is associated with Bhaal, but even with that knowledge, I can't begin to decipher this.

    Anyway, Imoen. Turns out she's here for real.

    What was Imoen doing here? The last time Abdel had seen the young woman — barely more than a little girl — was behind the sheltered walls of Candlekeep. She was an irritating kid who didn't take Abdel seriously enough at all, was openly disrespectful and catty, and one of the few friends Abdel ever had in the monastery-fortress where he'd grown up.
    (...)
    She was a captive of these men who might be Shadow Thieves, but how, when, and why had they taken her from Candlekeep?
    (...)
    He couldn't fathom how these kidnappers had managed to get Imoen out of Candlekeep. Winthrop was an easier man than Gorion, less demanding, and Imoen's frivolous ways and casual demeanor were easy to explain. She was a good kid and didn't deserve to be here.
    So it wasn't just Beuros who hated Abdel, it was almost everyone except for Imoen. Interesting! Also note that Athans chose to have Imoen remain in Candlekeep, which creates a needless plot hole. "Why didn't Abdel check on her when he visited Candlekeep in the last book?" Well, because Imoen didn't exist, but that's not an in-universe reason. A throw-away line about Imoen having moved out years ago would've fixed this. However, in these books, only Abdel is ever allowed to do anything.

    Speaking of that: Abdel - who, I should remind you, is still naked and unarmed - tries to push through to reach Imoen. Minsc grabs him to prevent him from getting himself killed.

    The red-haired man grunted and stepped back fast. Abdel was surprised enough that he missed hitting the madman.
    "Gotta go!" the madman said. "Boo demands it! Boo demands—"
    He stopped when he saw Abdel raise his fist again, and he flinched when it looked as if Abdel was going to punch him. Instead, the big sellsword pushed him down by one shoulder and saved his life in the process.
    A swordsman swings at Minsc but misses thanks to the push. Abdel disarms and kills him. Looking around, a third faction has entered the fray:

    Soldiers wearing tabards Abdel immediately recognized as Amnian were flooding into the chamber from doorways the sellsword hadn't noticed before. In the smoke, screaming, and confusion, Abdel couldn't tell who was who, and neither could the soldiers, who just took on everybody in the place as they came in.
    (...)
    "Boo," the red-haired man said, kicking a black-clad assassin in the groin and taking his sword out of his hand as he went down, just like he saw Abdel do, "says 'Gotta go!'"
    If there's one thing Minsc is known for, other than his flowing red locks, it's his tendency to cut and run when his friends are in danger. Also, note the "just like he saw Abdel do" - if a character other than Abdel is allowed to do something, it is only after (and because) Abdel did it first. Lovely.


    Spoiler: The game
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    Last time, we watched Irenicus throw some spells at CHARNAME. We didn't have a great time, to be perfectly honest. Today's update begins with CHARNAME regaining consciuosness, just in time to watch one of the aforementioned intruders get obliterated.


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    I'll always wonder how this guy made it this far into the complex. Most doors are still locked and all the monsters are still alive. I guess he put a lot of skill points into Move Silently and not enough into Detect Traps?

    After he finishes crumbling to dust, a second, more successful intruder shows up.

    what are td banks hours on sunday
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    It's our childhood friend, Imoen!

    IMOEN: Wake up, you! Wake up! Come on, we have to get out of here!
    CHARNAME: What...Imoen? What's going on?
    IMOEN: He messed with your head too, huh? All I know is we were near Baldur's Gate and got jumped. I don't think I want to remember it all. He's been... doing things... to us. <CHARNAME>, we have to get out of here!
    CHARNAME: I'm sorry, could you give me the long version of our history? It's like we just met.
    IMOEN: Oh all right, but then we have to get going. It isn't safe here. We lived at Candlekeep. It was the safest place, what with you having that Bhaal blood. You were with Gorion. I guess I came along later. I think they let us stay because Gorion had powerful friends. I wish he had said where I was before that, but he thought it wasn't important, so I didn't worry too much. Gorion was like a father, but I preferred old Winthrop. He was the innkeep, and he taught me about keeping out of sight and such. We left when Sarevok killed Gorion. I was sorry I couldn't help, but we got him in the end. Remember that? That Sarevok turned out to be a child of Bhaal, like you? Anyway, now we're stuck in this place after getting captured by some creep that has been torturing us! Now, can we please go?
    CHARNAME: Doing tests? Torturing? What do you mean?
    IMOEN: Come on, <CHARNAME>, don't make me think of it. He did the same to you, I think. I heard you screaming like it, anyway.
    CHARNAME: I want to know who's behind this. I owe them a debt of pain.
    IMOEN: Later! I'm sorry, but I'm not sure I could get loose again if he came back! My head hurts so bad... It isn't like a normal pain. <CHARNAME>, it's on the inside, like my bones made a little dagger and it won't go away. Don't look at me like that, it just hurts, all right? Must have been the noise. There was a fight... assassins came after our captor, I think. There's people dead all over and the fighting is still going on. I could hear it. Are you going to get moving or do I leave without you?
    CHARNAME: We won't get far on our own. Is there anyone here who can join with us?
    IMOEN: Minsc and Jaheira are just northeast of us, trapped in cells sorta like yours. We should free them and then find some gear. We should look in that room to the west first, west and just a bit north. I think I saw some weapons in there. It's a room off the corner of this one. I don't think it's our gear. They probably sold our best stuff, but anything is better than nothing. Now let's go!
    The game doesn't know if you travelled with Imoen during Baldur's Gate 1, or if you played that game at all - more on that later. Thus, we get to choose whether CHARNAME remembers Imoen. If CHARNAME doesn't remember, you get a brief recap of the plot so far. Your choice ultimately doesn't make a difference, but it's nice to see some basic roleplaying options. This is less Mass Effect, more KotOR 2.

    Speaking of the first game: I'm pretty sure Imoen gets more dialogue in this one conversation tree than she does in all of Baldur's Gate. This is one of the most striking differences between the two games - party members in SoA have a lot more depth.

    Imoen adds herself to your party, just like old times. She kept her excellent ability scores, and she also dual-classed into a Mage after level 7. Her thief scores are good enough to get you through the game, and mages are great in general, so Imoen makes for an excellent support character. Her biography was slightly amended, but more on that later. The portrait looks a lot more mature now, if also a little haunted.

    (Speaking of thieves, I originally dual-classed Abdel into a Thief. He has the stats. The best time to do this is now, because we'll be up to level 8 by the time we finish Chapter 1. This was a screw-up for reasons I'll talk about later, but - in essence - I cunningly outsmarted myself here, and it forced me to re-play the first part of the game.)

    We take a moment to check out the room Imoen mentioned.


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    IMOEN: Wow, a golem. Powerful magic stuff. Odd that it's not hostile. I suppose its maker didn't expect us to escape so it never got orders for restraining us.
    IMOEN: They only do exactly what they are directed to, they don't really think. If it hasn't been told to keep quiet we might get some information out of it.
    We can't, really. The golem just tells us to go back to our cells because it's the will of "the master." There's some basic weapons and armour in this room, including one of the allegedly rare katanas, a +1 dagger and a healing potion. (Also the Golden Pantaloons, but only if they were in CHARNAME's inventory.) There's a key on the table, too, so let's grab that and check up on Minsc and Jaheira.


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    JAHEIRA: Quickly, we must get out of here before whoever did this returns. I swear, traveling with you is never dull.
    CHARNAME: I may help, but refresh my memory as to who you are.
    JAHEIRA: Refresh your...? Perhaps you've taken a knock or two to the head. At the least I would say that not remembering me is a symptom of some deeper problem, though I would not rule out a bad attempt at humor on your part. No, we have traveled together too long for such games, and I will answer plain and true if it will help. Jaheira is what I am called, as you should well know. We have traveled together for some time, and the places we have gone number too many to name. At the behest of your slain foster father, my husband Khalid and I have kept an interest in you, though you have proven to be your own person in all things. We remain in your company as friends more than guardians, and our exploits together have left the land for the better. We have earned many enemies, but we have dispatched them all. Whoever has trapped us now is certainly powerful to have done this so easily. Once we know, we will deal with them in due course, but for the time being it is more important we retrieve our friends and companions and leave this place.
    CHARNAME: Where is Khalid now? He is not with you?
    JAHEIRA: I do not know where he is and it worries me. No doubt he was taken as we were, though it seems we were all meant for different fates. From the state of my head I think I have been drugged, though I have been spared any serious physical mistreatment. You, however, look as though you have been treated most unfavorably, and I should not like to think of Khalid receiving the same.
    CHARNAME: Then I will unlock your cage quickly. I think I found the key.
    JAHEIRA: You've got the key that fits? Then open the door already. Must I hand-walk you through this?
    We do as Jaheira suggests.

    JAHEIRA: Well that is a relief, and about time too. We should be going immediately. Not only might our 'host' come back, I simply must see the sun again in none too short a time. This dank place stifles me.
    CHARNAME: We will leave immediately, and celebrate once we are out of this hole.
    JAHEIRA: As you would have it, though there are other friends we must find as well. It is good to share your company again.
    (Journal entry: "I have freed Jaheira from her cell with the key I found.")
    Jaheira is a multi-classed Fighter/Druid, though her personality is all Druid. Her stats are much better now! Druids also get access to the highly useful Insect Plague, and Jaheira in particular learns Harper's Call, so she can actually be pretty useful. Still, the multi-classing means she's always going to be at a lower level than everyone else.

    The new portrait is... pretty bad, to be honest. Her outfit is more reasonable now, to be sure, but I don't know about that "come hither" look. And how did she even find blonde hair dye down here? As with Imoen, her biography is a little longer now, which we'll discuss later.

    Jaheira starts with some outdoorsy spells memorized, including Call Lightning, which explicitly doesn't work underground. It's not the sort of thing you want occupying a third-level spell slot when you're stuck in a torture dungeon run by an evil mage. (Consider Cure Medium Wounds or Dispel Magic.) You could read all kinds of things into this if you really wanted to.

    One more friend to rescue!


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    MINSC: AHHHH!! Minsc will be free!! These bonds will not hold my wrath! Butts will be liberally kicked in good measure!!
    CHARNAME: Minsc? Your mighty warrior spirit must find these bars unbearable!
    MINSC: Time is short for talk that is small! Release me! I will rain beatings down upon all who have dared touch me and...and...Dynaheir! She will be avenged!
    CHARNAME: Dynaheir? There is another trapped here?
    MINSC: Trapped?! Her spirit...her spirit is trapped in a cage created by my failure. I was to guard her, but she...she... they... they killed her as I watched, you see? I know not who they were, but......but I will redeem myself!
    IMOEN: Minsc, that is horrible! I am so sorry for you.
    MINSC: I won't cry for the dead! I won't! Ok, maybe a little, but I will staunch the flow of tears with righteous fury! Lullaby and goodnight, evil! Minsc will make you pay! Will you help me? We must join together once more, and our fury will be such that bards will run their quills dry! Yes, ink will be scarce where e'er we go!
    CHARNAME: I will try and free you, but I don't know how to open your cell.
    MINSC: I do not know either. The bars have no lock at all, they are smithed together. I am proud that they feared me enough to imprison me permanently!
    CHARNAME: Permanently? That's going to make this difficult.
    MINSC: But you will keep looking, of course! You would never give up, I know this! A hero always succeeds and a hero never stops short of his goal!
    CHARNAME: He also needs the key or switch! I don't know where they are!
    MINSC: You... have brushed me aside with your words. You won't help... Boo can see it now! You do not intend to cut my chains! You only intend to yank them! I will make sure you do not live long enough to abandon more friends! I will... I will... I will do all of this as soon as I get these bars open! RRAAAARRGH!!!
    <MINSC easily smashes the cage with his bare hands.>
    MINSC: The bars! They bend and twist with my berserker strength! Minsc and Boo are free! Now you will...now... Ooooh, you are a smart one. I understand now! You said what you did just to get me mad! Mad enough to break free! You are as smart as Boo sometimes!
    (Journal entry: "Minsc has freed himself with his anger-heightened strength, bursting from his cage. Obviously our captor underestimated the wrath of a man and his hamster.")
    MINSC: Now we can resume our adventures together! There are friends to avenge and villains to smack about the face and neck! Right Boo?
    CHARNAME: Together we shall make our enemies answer for our fallen.
    MINSC: Answer they will, and my sword shall be the question! We shall have fistfuls of sweet, sweet justice, and our enemies will be stains beneath our feet! What...yes but...but...alright. Boo tells me that I am raving again. I did not notice a difference, but I shall heed his words nonetheless. Come, we must go now. Yes, Minsc and Boo and you, together again. Beware villains! I will force justice down your evil, evil throats!
    CHARNAME: Ahh, I see you still have that...rodent. Dare I ask how you have kept it hidden from our captors?
    MINSC: Don't ask questions better left to aged sages. Boo is quick and evasive and there is ever so much of Minsc to search, there is no hope of getting us apart.
    IMOEN: Eww, I... really don't want to think about that too much.
    MINSC: Minsc and Boo are Minsc and Boo, and we shall not be separated. Shall we go? The butts of evil await my bootprint!
    CHARNAME: Right you are, Minsc! Where e're evil dost lay its dirty feet we shall mop the floor with its buttocks!
    MINSC: I have lost myself in your words but Boo thinks you're just ducky. Onward!
    Ahh, Minsc, the series's most enduringly famous character. The ranger received a slight buff since the first game. Notably, his new Racial Enemy is a creature that didn't appear in the first game. As you can tell, he's an incredibly straightforward character - he hits things, hard, and that's all he does. But he's good at that. Also, he gets to cast Druid spells later on despite basically not having a Wisdom score. He's not the best fighter in the game, but he's quite decent.

    I should note that the characters here are always the same - this isn't like Mass Effect. SoA assumes your party was CHARNAME, Imoen, Minsc, Dynaheir, Jaheira and Khalid, and that you acted heroically for the most part. You can import a character, and your stats and Bhaalspawn powers will carry over, but the game doesn't remember any specific choices. Some equipment carries over, and there's a small easter egg related to Drizzt, but that's it. This does mean that you can start with SoA and not feel bad, though, which is nice.

    Anyway, our party is assembled, so we are now ready to explore Chateau Irenicus. This place is the archetypal example of the beginner's dungeon. It has basically everything you'd give a first-time D&D player to introduce them to the game: A clear goal, a compelling plot hook, several sidequests, interesting set-pieces, various puzzles, a key scavenger hunt, and a lot of trash mobs. (It has goblins instead of kobolds, but I guess throwing kobolds at a new player is kind of a baptism by fire.) Irenicus' Dungeon is something of an appetizer platter for this game and D&D in general.

    Spoiler: I won't go over all of those in detail, but here are some marginally interesting things that happen.
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    • There's a djinn in a cavern just outside the cell block. He asks us the Prisoner's Dilemma. We choose to push the button and fight an Ogre Mage.
    • There's a sewage golem. Ew. We retrieve his activation stone and have him open all the doors on this dungeon level.
    • The guardian it mentions is an Otyugh, a monster/living garbage disposal unit which serves as this level's mid-boss.
    • One corner of the map holds a Cambion-in-a-can, which you can fight for bonus EXP.
    • The first time we rest, we can have a chat with Imoen. We talk about our foster father Gorion a little - great mage, skilled Harper, adequate father, zero social skills. Jaheira confirms that they weren't adventuring buddies, they "just had... mutual acquaintances" among those who harp.
    • An optional side-area contains another genie. This one asks us to free him from the proverbial bottle, and gives us Sarevok's cool Sword of Chaos +2 in exchange.
    • Irenicus has a small library, which we loot for spell scrolls and potions. It reminds Imoen of Candlekeep.
    • Imoen gets a bit homesick. Irenicus told her some disturbing things, and all the death in this place is giving her a headache.
    • There's a nicely decorated bedroom just in the middle of the dungeon. It's also heavily trapped. This probably says something about our captor's mental state. Note the chess set and the fact that the table in the middle has two chairs.



    There is one encounter I want to talk about in detail, though, because it's important for the world-building. If you explore a little, you may come across a man named Rielev - or what's left of him, anyway.


    Screenshot

    I have no idea if there is such a thing as a stasis tank in D&D, but this is pretty clearly one. Despite his condition, he is somewhat lucid:

    RIELEV: Aaaaaa... who be thee... servants of the master?
    CHARNAME: By the gods, what happened to you, man?
    RIELEV: I am... dying... or dead... I remember not which. Where is the master?
    CHARNAME: Who is the master that you speak of?
    RIELEV: He was my friend, I think... cast out, and one of us no longer... I cannot remember... are you to take my place?
    CHARNAME: Who are you?
    RIELEV: It is difficult to... to remember... I was Rielev... dead, I think.
    CHARNAME: I'm not sure that I understand what is going on here. Are you living or dead?
    RIELEV: Neither, neither. I am... between... the master has forgotten me... not killed me.
    CHARNAME: What do you mean by forgotten? Why are you in this... jar?
    RIELEV: I was a... faithful hound to the master. A friend, even. I was... dying... or dead, I cannot remember which. Truly you are a stranger to this place. Eternal... life... was to be my reward for faithful service. The master has suspended me until he can cure me... return my youth to me...
    CHARNAME: He has forgotten you, then, hasn't he... But if you were a faithful servant, why?
    RIELEV: I begin to understand. The master has left my side for study of another. He seeks to awaken power... a study of life and death, but I cannot bear the roll of years. He has forgotten because he does not wish to remember... what was taken... I barely remember, myself.
    CHARNAME: Do you want me to give you a release from this non-death?
    RIELEV: (suddenly voice-acted) Release, yes... Master! I no longer wish to come back! Let me slip into the oblivion that has been denied me! Please!
    CHARNAME: Calmly, my friend. How is it that I can help?
    RIELEV: This... unit that contains me is powered by cells, by crystals. Take them and I can sleep... die... again die at last. I know you are prisoners. Some things do not change. You must escape this place and the master's experiments. There are others... like me but of more recent experiments... They may know how the master exits the complex. Will you take these cells to revive them and learn what you can, in return for this path to freedom I have offered ye?
    CHARNAME: I will take the cells and revive the other servants. Have peace at last.
    RIELEV: I thank thee... go and leave me to oblivion at last. Sweet sleep...

    (Journal entry: Rielev has been released from his overlong life. I took the crystal that apparently powered the device that he floated in, but not before he said that it might be used to activate other servants in similar devices.)
    Rielev is a strange case. He says that he was a friend of Irenicus, but Irenicus has been emotionally dead ever since his exile. Also, in a different branch of the dialogue tree, Rielev says that Irenicus was "one of us no longer." This could mean that Rielev was one of Irenicus' original allies, and followed him into exile. But in many editions of D&D, elves explicitly do not suffer infirmities with age. The whole thing is just odd.

    Imoen is mildly disturbed by Rielev.


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    IMOEN: He's... he's dead now? This pathetic creature...
    IMOEN: I can't look away, <CHARNAME>. I have seen death in our scuffles before, but here I did nothing but watch his life end...
    IMOEN: I can't look away.
    CHARNAME: Death is not always to be feared, I guess. I would not wish to live like that.
    IMOEN: Death is... pretty. Why would I think that? Oh, <CHARNAME>, I've got to get out of this place.
    Speaking of weird little mysteries: There's another room not far from Rielev's resting place that contains further people-jars (the game calls those "Tortured Ones"). Imoen isn't into this either.


    Screenshot

    IMOEN: What kind of monster is this guy? Captures us easy as pie, kills whoever he wants... that could have been us in those glass things.
    CHARNAME: We'll get him back, Imoen. We'll make him pay for all of this.
    IMOEN: We don't even know where we are, and my head is still doing funny things... He said something... something about potential.
    IMOEN: He said something like "releasing power within you so it could be used," but if it means taking part in horrible things... I don't like this place. Can we go?
    IMOEN: <CHARNAME>, I don't care if he could make us three ogres strong, I have to get out of this place. It bothers me. Makes me think I see... things.
    IMOEN: As if I need another reminder. <CHARNAME>, I don't care what power this guy thinks he can tap in you, he's just sick to the core. We can't ever look back.

    (Journal entry: Imoen said something odd. Our captor apparently has some insight into my... condition as a Child of Bhaal. He supposedly mentioned a means of allowing me to tap that power. I am in no position to question him at the moment, but I will keep it in mind for the future. )
    Yeah, I hear you there. Let's... probably find you a therapist after this one. (I'd call CHARNAME out for this journal entry, but they have been remarkably terse in their journaling so far.)

    As for the Tortured Ones themselves, they are much less lucid than Rielev was.


    Screenshot

    I've dumped their dialogue to Pastebin to stay under the post length limit.

    You get dialogue choices with some of them, but they don't really react to what you say. This is interesting, because Rielev states they are "more recent experiments." Assuming he is a reliable source, Irenicus either stopped caring about quality of preservation or there was something special about Rielev.

    There's nothing else here, so let's continue.


    Screenshot

    We find what appears to be... a nice living room? It looks cozy and rather inviting, but it's full of traps, which fits nicely with our captor's mental state. Note the ready-to-use chess set in the corner - that's a two-player game, and Irenicus does not seem like the sort to fraternize with his minions.

    There's a portal in the room to the left, but it needs a key, so we take the other path, where we meet a group of dryads. Subterranean trees can yield the best material for carving ornamental things, you know.

    The dryads named Ulene, Cania and Elyme.


    Screenshot

    DRYAD: Protect me!
    DRYAD: Yes, help us!
    DRYAD: Free us!
    CHARNAME: Slow down! Who are you and what is going on here?
    DRYAD: We are his possessions.
    DRYAD: His servants.
    DRYAD: His concubines. Please help us to escape!
    CHARNAME: How can I help you?
    DRYAD: If you can escape, you must take our acorns to the Queen. Tell her of our plight in this creature's lair.
    DRYAD: Take them to the Fairy Queen who lives in the south end of the Windspear Hills. This will be our deliverance from this... this Irenicus and his dungeon!
    CHARNAME: A name for our captor, though I still do not understand his motive.
    DRYAD: We are supposed to instill emotion, but he is barren inside. I am not sure what he expects.
    DRYAD: You can foil his plans for us at least. If you take the acorns to the Fairy Queen then she can regrow our trees and free us!
    CHARNAME: Why do you not simply leave? You do not seem to be chained or caged as I was.
    DRYAD: We cannot leave our trees!
    DRYAD: If we are separated from our trees, we will die.
    CHARNAME: Alright, how can I help you?
    DRYAD: Our trees will die, too!
    CHARNAME: I will be happy to help you in that case.
    DRYAD: Thank you! You must take the acorns and deliver them to the Fairy Queen in the south end of the Windspear Hills.
    DRYAD: But he has taken the acorns. He knows of our plans. It amuses him.
    DRYAD: He has left our acorns with Ilyich. Ilyich is mean!
    CHARNAME: Then I suppose I shall have to obtain your acorns from this Ilyich fellow. Who is he and where can he be found?
    DRYAD: Ilyich is the clan chief of the master's duergar slaves. He is somewhere within the dungeon. Return to us when you have the acorns and we will tell you how to escape.

    (Journal entry: "I have agreed to help a trio of dryads return their acorns to the Fairy Queen. Somewhere in the dungeon is a dwarf by the name of Ilyich who has the acorns.")
    The kitchen can be found elsewhere on the same floor. Ilyich's group is somewhat dangerous, since it does contain a Mage, but we have Stinking Cloud.

    IMOEN: Those dwarves that attacked us; I read about them when you were skipping out of lessons back in Candlekeep.
    IMOEN: Duergar, I think. Kind of evil, I guess, so I'm not surprised they would be working for our captor.
    CHARNAME: He tolerates some company, or are they little more than skilled packhorses to him?
    IMOEN: I doubt he cares for anything more than the quality of knives they make. He has a lot of them... I'm going to have scars from this... looks like you will too.
    IMOEN: As if I need another reminder. <CHARNAME>, I don't care what power this guy thinks he can tap in you, he's just sick to the core. We can't ever look back.
    We inform the dryads of our success and learn a little more about our captor, then check out the room behind their little grove.

    associated bank atm near me
    Screenshot

    Well, this doesn't fit the rest of the decor at all. The traps, sure, but the carpet?

    IMOEN: What... what is this place. It's beautiful. Oh, there is simply no way that this space belongs to the same person that owns those horrible glass containers.
    CHARNAME: It is unlikely that our captor would rent out space. It must be his.
    IMOEN: No, it can't be. Not the person I know. This... this bed, that table... I know of them. He would... he would speak of them while... while he...
    IMOEN: It's for a lost love, kept in perfect condition. She... she despises him. This is his monument to her. He spoke of all of this, but... but his voice was cold...
    IMOEN: No emotion at all, not even remembered. He spoke of these things even while he cut... he cut... and the spells that wove through my brain... cold, ugly things!
    CHARNAME: He cannot hurt you now. You are among friends.
    IMOEN: It still hurts... his sick fingers are still in my head, doing whatever it was he started. I see blood... and death... behind my eyes... Irenicus...
    IMOEN: This room: if he could care for anything he would care for this room. Above the lives of all of us. It makes me sick. I feel... I feel... so much hate.
    IMOEN: I would burn this place, but it is nothing. Even as it means so much, it is nothing. Let's do what we must and get out of this place, it is making me sick.
    Soooo do you think Cleric healing spells fix mental trauma too?

    The variable that tracks whether you've seen this dialogue is called "ImoenEllesime," just to make it extremely clear whom they're talking about. The intricate patterned carpet does resemble the architecture one sees in Suldanessalar. (That link goes to a different Let's Play, so... spoilers.)

    The room contains some magic items, including a portal key. This is another of those little oddities. This room can't literally be the Lady's room, and the key can't literally be the Lady's key, because there's no way she ever lived with him in this compound. It's possible that this is Irenicus' attempt at recreating something they had before his exile, but... who knows? (If you're unfamiliar with the game and unsure who the Lady is, or what this exile business is all about... don't worry about it for now.)


    Screenshot

    Having recovered the portal key, we can now travel to the second floor.

    ... next time.


    Spoiler: Comparison and commentary
    Show
    Oh, this chapter. There's a lot to unpack here. Let's try to take this in chronological order.

    First of all, the... err... daring escape. In the game, it's Imoen who springs you out of your cage - not vice versa. She says that she was lucky, that she probably couldn't do this again, and that you need to get out now. In the book, Abdel breaks free on his own, apparently within twenty minutes of waking up and without even breaking a sweat. This is not how you build tension. Yeah, our hero gets scratched up a bit, but it doesn't seem to hinder him at all and his wounds just get healed anyway.

    At least Jaheira finally remembered she can cast things like Cure Light Wounds and Shillelagh. If you're going to have a cast of characters, it's important to actually find things for them to do. In a fight, Abdel is always going to overshadow everyone else, so having Jaheira act as more of a primary spellcaster makes sense. Alas, the period of Jaheira being able to do things doesn't last very long.

    If Jaheira scores this chapter a point or two on the Good Characters scale, the portrayal of Minsc probably costs it about fifty. It's true that he always was something of a comic relief character - Baldur's Gate 1 even did the "lol brain damage XD haha lol" thing. (The second game mostly drops that, thankfully.) But we are also shown, repeatedly, that Minsc is a force for good. His moral compass is firmly pointed at Chaotic Good. He trusts tyrants and bullies about as far as he can throw them, and THROW THEM HE SHALL. Meanwhile, in the book, he's just a random guy with weird hair and he talks to rats. (The hair in particular is inexplicable. Minsc is very clearly bald and beardless. Even his inventory screen paperdoll, which can't be bald due to engine limitations, has white hair.)

    I wonder if Minsc's portrayal is another of these Conan-isms that creep into Athans' writing. It's easy to see how funny-but-competent Minsc would be distorted into low-functioning "lunatic" Minsc if you're writing one of those fantasy settings that are meant to be TOUGH and GRITTY and REALISTIC and DARK.

    Oh, and Yoshimo is also here. We haven't met his game-counterpart yet, but we will shortly.

    To summarize this chapter: Athans is clearly taking a saving throw on a few important things. Magic is more of a thing now, Jaheira can cast healing spells and Imoen exists. There's even a faint glimmer of hope that we might get more of a proper ensemble cast this time. At the same time, though, some of the flaws that doomed the previous book are beginning to re-emerge.

    I hope you'll join me next time, when we'll be introduced us to Team Evil.

    Quote Originally Posted by Sporeegg View Post
    At least he has a better love story than Twilight. Right? RIGHT?
    ... funny you should mention it.
    Last edited by Khay; 2019-04-13 at 06:01 AM. Reason: re-re-uploading screenshots

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    Default Re: Let's Read & Play: Baldur’s Gate II - Bhaal is Dead!

    Minsc actually has red hair on his paper doll, at least in my version of the game. Maybe its an EE change.

    Anyway, I always assumed Minsc was shaved, not bald. He's allegedly young and traveling the world for the first time. In light of that, scraggly hair and a patchy beard would be consistent with being trapped in a dungeon for a matter of weeks, which would also explain only talking to Boo for the most part. Which isn't to say his character wasn't still assassinated, but it is perhaps a somewhat logical take on the character and how he got there if he wasn't traveling with you in BG1.
    “Evil is evil. Lesser, greater, middling, it's all the same. Proportions are negotiated, boundaries blurred. I'm not a pious hermit, I haven't done only good in my life. But if I'm to choose between one evil and another, then I prefer not to choose at all.”

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    Default Re: Let's Read & Play: Baldur’s Gate II - Bhaal is Dead!

    I got quoted. My life is complete! Also, is seriously no one questioning how Abdel rips open a iron cage, with a "measly" strength of 17?
    Until further notice 21st of October, please DM me for important stuff, and let the game master control my characters

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    Default Re: Let's Read & Play: Baldur’s Gate II - Bhaal is Dead!

    Quote Originally Posted by Sporeegg View Post
    I got quoted. My life is complete! Also, is seriously no one questioning how Abdel rips open a iron cage, with a "measly" strength of 17?
    No? Bend Bar rolls have been in the game since first edition AD&D.
    “Evil is evil. Lesser, greater, middling, it's all the same. Proportions are negotiated, boundaries blurred. I'm not a pious hermit, I haven't done only good in my life. But if I'm to choose between one evil and another, then I prefer not to choose at all.”

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    Default Re: Let's Read & Play: Baldur’s Gate II - Bhaal is Dead!

    Quote Originally Posted by Keltest View Post
    Minsc actually has red hair on his paper doll, at least in my version of the game. Maybe its an EE change.

    Anyway, I always assumed Minsc was shaved, not bald. He's allegedly young and traveling the world for the first time. In light of that, scraggly hair and a patchy beard would be consistent with being trapped in a dungeon for a matter of weeks, which would also explain only talking to Boo for the most part. Which isn't to say his character wasn't still assassinated, but it is perhaps a somewhat logical take on the character and how he got there if he wasn't traveling with you in BG1.
    Huh, interesting. I guess the EE changed it then - his hair is clearly white in the version I'm using (SoA + ToB with the latest patch). See, this sort of thing is why I'm suspicious of using the Enhanced Edition as a basis of comparison for the Let's Read.

    Fair point about Minsc's hair and beard growth, though. He does seem to be relatively young and I guess it's possible that he was down there a little while longer. (That said, the book never gives any reason for Minsc's abduction, and he'll vanish from the novel very shortly. Book!Minsc also retains both hair and beard even when he has the opportunity to shave them.)

    Quote Originally Posted by Sporeegg View Post
    I got quoted. My life is complete! Also, is seriously no one questioning how Abdel rips open a iron cage, with a "measly" strength of 17?
    I think you're actually meant to notice this one. Abdel will be performing increasingly ridiculous feats of strength and endurance in the coming chapters, but the narrative does end up dealing with that (sort of.)

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    Default Re: Let's Read & Play: Baldur’s Gate II - Bhaal is Dead!

    I just remembered the 'Slayer' personality and transformation in Baldur's Gate. That doesn't bode well for the quality of the novel - and likely brings me to the conclusion that a game that big should not be crammed into a single novel. As much as the Hobbit was not needing three installments, Baldur's Gate would take well with a trilogy (and a fourth book about ToB).

    As I do not want to spoil too much for younger readers and people that have now played BG 2:

    Spoiler
    Show
    Maybe make the imprisonment and dealings in Athkatla, the excursion to deal with Firkraag and the De Arnise Keep one book (more reason to insert arm candy for Abdel with Nalia!). Make everything Spellhold related and the escape through the underdark another one (dramatic tension for Yoshimo's betrayal). The third book would focus on dealing with Irenicus. Perusing new allies would be nice: the armies of De Arnise, that friendly druid from Wind Spear Hills, the freed and totally not into Abdel Imoen and the Elves of Suldanessalar (who could be ominous on why they help Abdel until the dramatic plot twist) until Abdel has his showdown with the Wizard. And his new found power would be a Conanesque/divine "ignore saving throws" ability, basically clunking towards victory. I feel a 30th level wizard has enough effects to still make this a notable encounter even if people save vs. his spells.


    As for Minsc I always thought "white" hair was just the place holder for his baldness and not actually his hair color. Also in a weird of the Mandela effect forgetting half the game I could swear Minsc's portrait always had a red goatee similar to Edwin.
    Until further notice 21st of October, please DM me for important stuff, and let the game master control my characters

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    Default Re: Let's Read & Play: Baldur’s Gate II - Bhaal is Dead!

    Just a minor thing I noticed that I'm positive is never significant:

    Rielev

    Rieltar Anchev

    Clearly unrelated, but funny coincidence, that.
    Spoiler
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    Stealthy Snake avatar by Dawn
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    Default Re: Let's Read & Play: Baldur’s Gate II - Bhaal is Dead!

    Bioware reuses names...a lot.
    Spoiler
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    "The really unforgivable acts are committed by calm men in beautiful green silk rooms, who deal death wholesale, by the shipload, without lust, or anger, or desire, or any redeeming emotion to excuse them but cold fear of some pretended future. But the crimes they hope to prevent in the future are imaginary. The ones they commit in the present--they are real." --Aral Vorkosigan

    Quote Originally Posted by The Giant View Post
    This, in a nutshell.
    Yes, exactly.

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    Default Re: Let's Read & Play: Baldur’s Gate II - Bhaal is Dead!

    Quote Originally Posted by Sporeegg View Post
    As much as the Hobbit was not needing three installments, Baldur's Gate would take well with a trilogy (and a fourth book about ToB).
    This isn't a bad idea, actually. As we'll see shortly, this book is extremely... compressed, for lack of a better word. It's just 240-ish pages, and a good quarter of that is the final confrontation.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kish View Post
    Bioware reuses names...a lot.
    Names are really difficult. If you have a good thing going, like Canderous - might as well keep using it, right?

    Also: I'll be leaving for the holidays in a few hours, and I don't know if I'll be able to get online tomorrow, so I'm dropping an early update! In Chapter Three, we finally escape from Irenicus' dungeon, and we get to meet Team Evil along the way.

    Spoiler: The book
    Show
    When we stopped last time, we had just seen the same battle from two different viewpoints - first Jaheira's, then Abdel's. Today, we'll rewind again to watch the battle from a third perspective:

    Even a lesser vampire is strong enough to break a human's neck. This was proven three times in a single minute as two of Bodhi's thralls protected her from the rushing advance of the guards.
    It's Bodhi, the game's secondary antagonist. She's watching as the battle turns into a chaotic mess, trying to figure out whether she needs to intervene personally. As she ruminates, we get some exposition:

    The Shadow Thieves had asked Bodhi and Irenicus to capture him, but Irenicus seemed as interested in him and this girl he described as Abdel's half-sister as the Shadow Thieves were. This is why they'd kept the prisoners longer than the Shadow Thieves wanted them too.
    Take note of this: Bodhi and Irenicus are working with the Shadow Thieves in this book. Bodhi's private guild doesn't seem to exist, but we'll have plenty of time to talk about that later. This is a major departure from the game, and one of the more... questionable changes Athans made.

    Deciding her thralls have the situation under control, Bodhi picks up Imoen and starts to drag her out of the chamber. She kills a soldier with a punch to the crotch along the way, which sounds incredibly painful.

    "Imoen!" a solid, deep voice called from somewhere in the confusion, and Bodhi looked up to find the source of the voice.
    She almost allowed herself a gasp at the sight of the huge man, naked and straining against a red-haired man who was trying to pull him out of the room. He was beautiful, this naked one. He almost seemed to glow. Bodhi felt something she hadn't felt in a long time, since before she entered her state of undeath. The feeling made her smile.
    Abdel's CHA score isn't even that good, but apparently, it's good enough to give Bodhi the hots. Bodhi, who is a reanimated corpse.

    ("Khay, why are you bringing up Twilight? Khay, not every bad novel needs to be compared to Twilight." And to think you doubted me.)

    A soldier attacks Bodhi while she's busy checking out Abdel. One of her thralls handles it, killing the soldier with his own crossbow, but Bodhi figures this is a good time to leave. She spots Jaheira as she's heading for the exit.

    "That one too?" Bodhi asked loudly.
    Oh, yes, Irenicus's voice answered in her head, that one too.
    Where are you? she asked him without speaking.
    Gone from there, he answered, as I suggest you do as well. These soldiers are as endless as raindrops and even more irritating. You could take days just killing them one after another.
    Those two or three lines of inconsistently-formatted dialogue were our introduction to Irenicus, by the way. I'll have some things to say about that below.

    Bodhi leaves, taking Imoen and Jaheira with her. It's interesting that Athans chose to have Jaheira abducted too. This is not something that happens in the game. In the last thread, I speculated that Jaheira gets stuck with the damsel-in-distress role so much because that book just didn't have any other female characters. As a result, she became some weird combination of eye candy, action girl, team mom and innocent damsel. It seems I was wrong, as Jaheira gets damsel'd even when Imoen is also available. A theoretical audience member who read the first book but didn't play the games would care about Jaheira more than Imoen, I guess, since Jaheira has been with us for a whole novel while Imoen sprang into existence a mere 23 pages ago. Still, this contributes to a highly problematic pattern that runs through these books.

    Our hero, meanwhile, is still doing his best to commit suicide by cop.

    Abdel charged forward, trying to get in too close before the archers could react, but the lingering smoke made it hard to tell where he was, and the simple presence of Imoen threw him so badly he ended up just running into a deathtrap. He heard the bowstrings vibrate, and in the blink of an eye he felt one, then another jabbing pain in his chest.
    (...)
    Abdel's head hit the flagstones, and the sound of battle was replaced by a shamefully hollow thud. (...) Abdel was out cold.
    Strangely, the chapter does not end as the main character falls unconscious. Instead, it seems Minsc and Yoshimo managed to drag him to safety:

    "I know, Boo," a strange voice said, "I know."
    "Get up, my friend," another voice demanded. The order seemed entirely ludicrous to Abdel, who had every intention of staying exactly where he was for the rest of his life.
    I guess the archers stopped paying attention after Abdel went down? Whatever happened, our hero is in a catastrophic amount of pain, but - unfortunately - still alive. The others wake him up with some effort.

    "Imoen," Abdel said aloud and opened his eyes to a comfortable orange glow and the faces of the men who stopped him from saving the lives of two women he cared very deeply for. Abdel sat up, as unpleasant as it was, and started carefully planning the deaths of the two men.

    "I am Minsc," the red-haired man said, smiling around blood that was oozing from a ragged cut on his right cheek, "and it is a pleasure to fight alongside you. Boo tells me your name is Abdel."
    (...)
    A pointed pink nose and whiskers twitched as it sniffed the air in front of Abdel.
    "This is Boo," Minsc said with the smile of a pleased toddler. "He protects me with his stern intelligence."
    Abdel ran quickly through several possible responses in his head before settling on, "Fine."
    Yoshimo is not in this scene, so we are treated to this kind of hilarious banter for a while. Minsc won't be with us for much longer (uh, spoiler alert) so the narrative dunks on him while it can. There really was no need to describe his smile as being that of "a pleased toddler."

    Yoshimo thankfully makes his return at this point, startling Abdel.

    "Indeed it is I, sir," Yoshimo replied. "I have found the way out."
    "I don't want to get out," Abdel stated flatly. "I need to get back to where we left Jaheira."
    "If that were possible, my friend," Yoshimo said, "I would applaud your courage and send you on your way. But alas, that passage collapsed just as we passed through."
    "Boo says this way," Minsc repeated.
    Abdel insists that he wants to save Jaheira and Imoen, but Yoshimo points out that he's still naked and unarmed - heading back into the dungeon would be suicide. In the end, Abdel backs down. The tunnel leads to a ladder, which in turn takes them to an abandoned warehouse. They encounter no further trouble along the way. As he climbs up the ladder, Abdel experiences a strong sense of déjà vu:

    "There's a dirty picture scratched into the railing at the end of the ramp," Abdel told Minsc and Yoshimo. They both just looked at him quizzically.
    (...)
    Minsc, sighing with a shaking fatigue, ambled down the ramp and looked at the spot on the railing Abdel had pointed to.
    The red-haired man smiled, showing yellow teeth turning gray, and said, "How'd you know that?"
    "I've been here before," Abdel said, looking around and having to squint even in the dim light. "I guarded this place once with a man named Kamon who I later had to kill."
    This thing right here? This is one hell of a callback. There is a throwaway line all the way back in the first chapter of the first book, which mentions guarding a warehouse in Athkatla as one of Abdel's previous jobs. If Athans was informed that the sequel was going to take place in Amn, it makes sense to plant something like this, just in case. I find it hard to believe that these novels had this much planning, but it's still pretty cool even if it was a coincidence.

    Anyway, our heroes exit the empty warehouse, indeed finding themselves in Athkatla. Abdel is still naked, but he's made his peace with that by now.

    As he thought back to his days guarding the warehouse, he remembered a local dive not far to the east, on the way to the single bridge that spanned the river between the River District on the north bank and the appropriately titled Bridge District to the south.
    "There is a tavern not far from here," Yoshimo said.
    "The Copper something?" Abdel asked.
    "The Copper Coronet," the Kozakuran replied. "You know it?"
    "I know taverns," Abdel admitted.
    Abdel can find a tavern, but will he ever find a pair of pants? Let's find out next time!


    Spoiler: The game
    Show
    Last week, we found a portal key. Today, we'll check out the portal. We emerge on a different floor in the same dungeon, so this was a rather short-range teleport. This isn't Planescape: Torment, you know - Irenicus is on a budget here.

    A stranger hails us as soon as we appear.


    Screenshot

    YOSHIMO: So there is sanity in all of this madness. If you are not in league with the evil that dwells in this unholy place, Yoshimo begs your assistance.
    JAHEIRA: A fair line easily used by servants of the sorcerer themselves. We have been imprisoned and worse, and given many reasons to distrust strangers we encounter.
    YOSHIMO: I share your sentiments. I have seen much here that has disturbed me. I, myself, am a warrior with no evil intentions. Please, I would welcome any assistance you might offer.
    CHARNAME: How did you come to be here?
    YOSHIMO: It is actually quite uh... embarrassing. My profession does not leave itself open to those who are not wary yet, somehow I was caught unaware. I came to Athkatla years ago from Kara-Tur to seek my fortune. At some point, I went to bed in my room at the Copper Coronet and I awoke in a strange room with a very sore head. I do not know how long I was there before awaking.
    CHARNAME: How do I know that you aren't some sort of fiend here to lure me into a trap?
    YOSHIMO: I am no fiend! I am Yoshimo! You know, Yoshimo?
    CHARNAME: Sorry, I've never heard of you.
    YOSHIMO: You must be new to Amn, or at least Athkatla.
    IMOEN: Athkatla? That's... the City of Coin, right? A merchant city in Amn. We come from the Sword Coast, a ways to the north. Why do you think we're in Athkatla?
    YOSHIMO: I am unsure. I may have been drugged when I was brought here. I may have been unconscious... either way, I do not know how long. If it was the former, this place could be anywhere. If it was the latter, then I don't imagine that I could have traveled very far without noticing.
    MINSC: Then you too know the hardship of being set into a maze like a helpless hamster! We are comrades in peril! Boo asks what you propose we do next, little man.
    YOSHIMO: I do not know a way to escape this place. Perhaps we could search for this exit together.
    CHARNAME: I would be pleased to have you join me.
    YOSHIMO: I shall be happy to lend my blade to your cause. There are two things that I have discovered about this place that may help us escape. In the next chamber beyond the one in which we stand, four portals lie. Each of these portals releases a little, cackling fiend which tries to kill me. These little beasties keep coming in through the portals. Perhaps if the portals are destroyed, one could defeat the beasts that have already come through. Shortly beyond that chamber there is a hallway that contains several wands mounted in pedestals. They blast all that walk before them. I have noticed that each wand is locked into the pedestal and could be removed if one had the proper key. I know not where these keys are. Let us begin!
    Seriously, this game has so much dialogue compared to the first one. That story Yoshimo told us didn't make a whole lot of sense - why would Irenicus capture this guy, then just dump him out in a storage room next to the portal? There were plenty of free cages belowstairs. But... so it goes.

    Yoshimo is the only single-class thief in the game, and thus, by default, the best at what he does. However, his stats are genuinely decent and he carries a bespoke katana +1, so he's actually pretty good in general. He's also involved with spoilers, so take care when poking around the Baldur's Gate wiki.


    Screenshot

    The next room contains a series of mephit portals. As Yoshimo said, they summon beasts until destroyed. This is the first mildly challenging encounter in the dungeon, as you have to split your attention between the portals and the mephits that have already been summoned.

    At the end of the room, we find... Khalid?


    Screenshot

    You know. In a way.

    JAHEIRA: Kha...Khalid? Khalid! No... this... this is an illusion... a dream... a bad dream... Where are the mirrors... the switches to pull to... to show where he is hidden... Khalid...
    JAHEIRA: Damn... damn you...
    JAHEIRA: Damn you! I will have the heart of who has done this! I will tear their blackened heart from their... I will... I... no.
    CHARNAME: This isn't real, is it? He couldn't be dead?
    JAHEIRA: Shut up! No more words! Words are nothing!
    YOSHIMO: I knew him not, but I mourn for your loss.
    JAHEIRA: Stranger! Nobody! I will not hear your words! Leave me!
    MINSC: A brave man has fallen here, but that is no cause to hurl insults at the living. Here, Boo shall comfort you.
    JAHEIRA: Imbecile! Affront to nature! What do you and your rodent know! What can you know!!
    JAHEIRA: No words! No more words!! Save your speeches, save your proverbs!! The only voice I wish to hear is... is dead!! No more!! No... No...
    JAHEIRA: Sil... Silvanus guide the light... to the source. Take this man to what he justly deserves. By... nature's will, what was given is returned, what was turmoil is now... is now peace. Khalid of my heart, let my love...my love guide the way...
    JAHEIRA: We...we must hurry before we are noticed. We must get out of this...this grave...and seek the light above. Let us go.
    CHARNAME: There may be a way to get him returned to life. Should we not try?
    JAHEIRA: He... Khalid... is dead, and has been so for some time! Beyond a point there can be no raising, especially when the body has been... has been desecrated! We live in a time of miracles, and nature allows the rebirth of many that have passed beyond the veil, but there is a time when... when it is better to let go.
    CHARNAME: Then we will not disturb his body further. We will honor his loss with future deeds.
    JAHEIRA: That is the way of things. There will be...there will be payment for this crime, and I shall not rest until it is collected. When we are able, there will be...
    JAHEIRA: Enough. I would leave this place.
    Rest in piece, Khalid. You were kind of a garbage character, but you will be missed. Much of this dialogue is voice-acted, and the voice work is really good, so I recommend finding a recording if you can. (I do need to quibble about that there are spells that can deal with damaged remains. At least cut off a finger and keep that, or something. But okay, at least we were given a semi-plausible reason for Raise Dead to not work.)

    Imoen has something to say as well.


    Screenshot

    IMOEN: Jaheira... I want to say how sorry I am about Khalid... I... know this is hard...
    JAHEIRA: No, you do not know. This is not the time for this conversation, child.
    IMOEN: Stop calling me child. I'm as old as <CHARNAME>, and besides, I can tell you that Khalid did not suffer.
    JAHEIRA: What are you babbling about, Imoen? I am not in the mood.
    IMOEN: I'm not babbling! I saw him do this! Khalid was dead when our captor started... doing those things to him!
    JAHEIRA: You saw this? You watched as it was done?
    IMOEN: He... he showed me. He cut and... and showed me. He forced my eyes open and made me look as he...
    JAHEIRA: Stop, I don't want to hear this.
    IMOEN: He said I should see, so I would understand, but I don't know what he wanted! He would cut and say "Do you see?" Cut and say "Do you see?"
    JAHEIRA: Be quiet, child! No more!
    Okay, so, I really hope Athkatla has good therapists. Imoen isn't doing well. These little interjections add a lot to the game - we've been with these characters for perhaps half an hour, but we've learned a lot more about them than we did during all of BG1.

    There are two tunnels here. One leads to the exit, the other...


    Screenshot

    ... is stranger than that.

    CLONE1: Ah! Thou hast come once again to prey upon me, my 'Master'!!
    CHARNAME: I am not your master, dear lady. Is there aught that I can do for you?
    CLONE1: Do for me? Do for me?! After all that thou hast already done!
    YOSHIMO: But we have done nothing to you, lady. We have only just come upon you...perhaps if you calm yourself, we could--
    [JAHEIRA: We have done nothing to you. I see that you are an elf...we are prisoners here, as are you, perhaps if we could--]
    CLONE1: Lies! Lies!!
    CLONE1: Thou hast created me in HER image, but I am not HER! I am not! And I shall ne'er let thee touch me again! No more death to rise again not her!
    The elf then attacks us. As a spellcaster, she's mildly threatening, but it's still one against four.

    What a strange encounter. I have no idea why she speaks in ye olde butcherde English - we'll be meeting the original near the end of the game, and she doesn't do that. I'm not sure why an individual clone would know about repeated 'death to rise again' but having the clones share memories would be a very Irenicus thing to do.

    We try the other tunnel next.


    Screenshot

    This corridor has a pretty cool setup. There are wands on pedestals, lining the walls. The floor is covered in traps that can't be removed using thief abilities. Stepping on one of them triggers the appropriate wand effect (like Magic Missile.) To make things worse, there are Duergar with crossbows here, ready to take potshots at your party.

    The only safe way to get through this corridor them is with special wand keys you can find scattered around the dungeon. (The clone had one, for example.) Defusing a wand-trap even gives you a free single-use wand. This is a neat way to reward the player for thorough exploration. I dig it.

    That corridor represents the last serious obstacle. There are a few more noteworthy encounters on the way up - such as a doppelganger who is terrible at his job, a few groups of Duergar and a low-level vampire - but we're basically in the clear now. We encounter more of those invading thieves on our way up, but...


    Screenshot

    ... they aren't too helpful.

    ASSASSIN: Ahah! I knew there had to be reinforcements down here. Couldn't be that powerful by himself, I said! I'll just put an end to this here and now.
    CHARNAME: Are you responsible for me being here? I want some answers.
    ASSASSIN: You will get no answers from me. In a time of war our secrets must be guarded well. Suffice it to say that your rival guild will not survive. You'll not escape without a battle here. Your master dies above and you shall join him!
    IMOEN: Get out of my way! I don't want to fight any of you, I just want to leave!
    [JAHEIRA: You are mistaken, but I care not! Khalid will be avenged, whether you stand aside willingly or not!]
    [MINSC: I understand none of this, but if the one who killed Dynaheir is beyond, Boo and Minsc will make short work of you!]
    ASSASSIN: You and your guild dies, no matter your words!
    He and his buddies then attack, forcing us to kill him. See, what we've got here is failure to communicate.

    If you know your Forgotten Realms lore, you'll probably conclude that assassin + guild + Amn = Shadow Thieves. (Also, some of them literally mention the Shadow Thieves when you right-click on them to hear their voice sample.) We'll learn a little more about this conflict in the near future, so keep this encounter in mind.


    Screenshot

    Eventually, we reach the exit. This looks like a rather large-scale operation on part of the Shadow Thieves. Note that this is a point of no return - if there's something you're missing, make sure you go back and pick it up.

    We have everything we need, so we continue down the tunnel. (Up the tunnel? Anyway.)


    Screenshot

    The fight is indeed still going, though it's pretty one-sided. I strongly recommend finding and watching a recording of this event - the voicework is great, and the battle looks quite impressive. (Here's one, and here's another.)

    IRENICUS: You dare attack me here?! Do you even know whom you face?!
    IRENICUS: You will suffer! You will all suffer!
    <A few Shadow Thieves attack. Irenicus easily blasts them to pieces.>

    IRENICUS: So godchild, you have escaped. You are more resourceful than I had thought.
    IMOEN: You're not going to torture us any longer.
    IRENICUS: Torture? Silly girl, you just don't understand what I'm doing, do you?
    IMOEN: I don't care what you're doing! Let us go!
    IRENICUS: I won't let you leave, not when I'm so close to unlocking your power.
    IMOEN: We don't want anything from you!
    <Imoen hits Irenicus with five Magic Missiles.>
    IRENICUS: Enough. I will no longer listen to the babbling of ignorant children.
    <Irenicus hits Imoen with a fire spell.>

    <Five magic portals open.>
    COWLED WIZARD 1: This is an unsanctioned use of magical energy!
    COWLED WIZARD 2: All involved will be held! This disturbance is over!
    IRENICUS: Must I be interrupted at every turn? Enough of this!
    <Irenicus, Imoen and the Cowled Wizards trade spells for a while. The five Cowled Wizards die, but Irenicus suffers some damage as well.>
    <Three more portals open.>
    COWLED WIZARD 3: This mage's power is immense; we must overcome him quickly.
    IRENICUS: Enough! I haven't the time for this!
    <Another mage teleports in.>
    COWLED WIZARD 4: You will cease your spellcasting and come with us!
    IRENICUS: Your pathetic magics are useless. Let this end.
    COWLED WIZARD 4: Even if we fall, our numbers are many. You will be overwhelmed.
    IRENICUS: You bore me, mageling. You may take me in, but you WILL take the girl as well!
    IMOEN: What? No! I've done nothing wrong!
    COWLED WIZARD 4: You have been involved in illegal use of magic. You will come with us!
    IMOEN: I'm not going with him! I'm not! Help me! Please!
    <The mages teleport away, taking Imoen and Irenicus along.>
    Irenicus is arrested by the Cowled Wizards. But so is Imoen, because justice is blind and also a bit silly.

    Something interesting I'd like to note here: The Cowled Wizards get hit with a really bad case of cutscene incompetence whenever they go up against Irenicus. It's true that he's far more powerful than any of them, but they really shouldn't die this easily. They teleport to the scene individually, suggesting they have access to fourth-level spell slots. Mid-level mages shouldn't die this easily, especially not mid-level mages whose job is fighting caster fights. Notably, if you upset them, the Cowled Enforcers that show up do have Contingencies and Spell Triggers. I get that the point of this scene is to show how awesome Irenicus is, and it's not the worst example of cutscene incompetence in this game, but... still.

    Anyway: Our party members (who have been passively watching until now) are not happy.


    Screenshot

    MINSC: No, this cannot be! The murderer of Dynaheir flees from righteous butt-kicking vengeance! And he takes Imoen with him, too! Something must be done, <CHARNAME>! We must find this evil wizard! All that is goodness cries out for this! Even little Boo, although he cannot cry out quite so loudly.
    JAHEIRA: I find it odd that this Irenicus would leave of his own volition. And why take Imoen, when it is <CHARNAME> he is so obviously interested in? Perhaps he expects us to give chase? We must step carefully, then. We know little about him... who he was fighting, who took him or even where we are. We seem to be drawn into machinations not of our own making.
    MINSC: No! We must go quickly and save our friend Imoen! The wizard may be leering over her evilly even now!
    JAHEIRA: Do not be foolish, Minsc. We must know our enemies... and the extent of our danger, here... before we rush into anything.
    YOSHIMO: The druid is right, my large friend. The wizard obviously had great power, and I doubt we have seen the last of him. Perhaps we should see if allies can be found here.
    [YOSHIMO: Odd that the wizard would stop fighting... and odder, still, that he would demand that your young companion be taken, <CHARNAME>, and not you. Obviously there is more here than meets the eye. We must get our bearings, I think, and find out what lies behind all this... and why you have become involved.]
    And thus ends the prologue.


    Spoiler: Comparison and commentary
    Show
    So, yeah, the book loses the confrontation between Team Abdel and Irenicus. That's a highly significant change, on a level with last chapter's "oh yeah Team Irenicus is allied with the Shadow Thieves."

    Why is this so important? Let's step back a little. Remember that BG 1 had a strangely baroque plot. It started with an attempt on your life, then spent a lot of time saying words about manipulating iron prices before wrapping back around to its original premise. At its heart, BG 1 is a really a supernatural political thriller, and thus the first half the game is about figuring out who the villain even is.
    Shadows of Amn is different. From the very beginning, you have a clear antagonist and a clear goal - sword Irenicus to save Imoen and/or gain information about your true potential. The villain's motives are obscure, but there are enough hints in the starter dungeon to keep things interesting. Rielev, the golems, the various references to "the lady"... the incidental characterization here is pretty cool. There's a much greater sense of urgency than in the first game.

    One of the things that makes the plot work is Irenicus' sheer presence. He's there as soon as you start the game, and he stays with you throughout. The exploration of Chateau Irenicus is as much an exploration of his psyche as it is an exploration of a physical space. Even when you the dungeon, you're not free of Irenicus by a long shot. He takes away your friend, he denies you resolution, and he continues to haunt you in your dreams throughout. (Or at least something that takes Irenicus' face continues to haunt you.)
    The book ditches most of that, including the climactic battle in Waukeen's Promenade. It's true that many facets of a good "starter dungeon" wouldn't work in a book, but we lost more than just sidequests, worldbuilding, characterisation and a cool showdown in the transaction. Remember that Abdel, at this point, doesn't even know Irenicus exists. The two never met. We-the-audience were informed that Team Irenicus are basically Shadow Thief subcontractors gone rogue, but Abdel has very little to go on.

    So how is this going to work then? Are we in for a tale of investigation, wit and subterfuge? Will the three remaining prisoners pool their resources and compare their stories, looking for a shared enemy? Certainly Abdel can't just sit and wait for the solution to fall into his lap.
    Last edited by Khay; 2019-04-13 at 06:08 AM. Reason: re-re-uploading screenshots

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    Default Re: Let's Read & Play: Baldur’s Gate II - Bhaal is Dead!

    I'm kind of disappointed Sarevok's sword didn't make it into the book at all. I thought that was an interesting plot point that needed more attention in the game, and they just cut it completely.
    “Evil is evil. Lesser, greater, middling, it's all the same. Proportions are negotiated, boundaries blurred. I'm not a pious hermit, I haven't done only good in my life. But if I'm to choose between one evil and another, then I prefer not to choose at all.”

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    Default Re: Let's Read & Play: Baldur’s Gate II - Bhaal is Dead!

    Certainly Abdel can't just sit and wait for the solution to fall into his lap.
    Why am I thinking that exactly THIS will happen next time in the book version?
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    Default Re: Let's Read & Play: Baldur’s Gate II - Bhaal is Dead!

    The books looks properly horrible so far... just as much as I've heard about it. Thank you for subjecting yourself to this torture, so we don't have to

    Looking forward to future updates.
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    Default Re: Let's Read & Play: Baldur’s Gate II - Bhaal is Dead!

    Quote Originally Posted by Keltest View Post
    I'm kind of disappointed Sarevok's sword didn't make it into the book at all. I thought that was an interesting plot point that needed more attention in the game, and they just cut it completely.
    You know, I never thought about that, but that's a good point. I expected Sarevok's sword to become plot-relevant in the game, but it never did. Does the Enhanced Edition do anything with it? I remember that there was a mod for ToB that had Sarevok upgrade it for you.

    Actually, this is kind of a good description for the book as a whole. It not only fails to elaborate on plot points that needed more attention in the game, it actually cuts things that were in the game.

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    Default Re: Let's Read & Play: Baldur’s Gate II - Bhaal is Dead!

    Remember rule 1: Nobody can have anything cool or be cool when Abdel wasn't it first. Also the weapon wasn't really plot relevant to begin with (as e.g. Drizz't Scimitar that saved him from the fires of Creshinibon or deals cold damage to said fire demon).
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    Default Re: Let's Read & Play: Baldur’s Gate II - Bhaal is Dead!

    I think that having someone else write the books for the game would have been interesting. It would have been cool if someone like Timothy Zahn or a good writer had written the books.

    It would have significantly improved the plot. Or at least, could have been better overall. I really think they could have done better and being remembered for more than how much they made a mockery of the games.

    What were the reasons that our illustrious writer was given the job of writing the stories and did bioware bother to exercise any editorial control? Or did they just give material when they were midway or partway through the production and just let him run?

    Also, thankful for you in reading them through so others don't have to in order to know how bad the books are.
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    Default Re: Let's Read & Play: Baldur’s Gate II - Bhaal is Dead!

    Quote Originally Posted by Khay View Post
    You know, I never thought about that, but that's a good point. I expected Sarevok's sword to become plot-relevant in the game, but it never did. Does the Enhanced Edition do anything with it? I remember that there was a mod for ToB that had Sarevok upgrade it for you.
    Well--Ascension (the mod in question, made by a team led by David Gaider) had Sarevok upgrade it for Sarevok. Part of the upgrade was that it became deadly to anyone but Sarevok who tried to wield it.
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    "The really unforgivable acts are committed by calm men in beautiful green silk rooms, who deal death wholesale, by the shipload, without lust, or anger, or desire, or any redeeming emotion to excuse them but cold fear of some pretended future. But the crimes they hope to prevent in the future are imaginary. The ones they commit in the present--they are real." --Aral Vorkosigan

    Quote Originally Posted by The Giant View Post
    This, in a nutshell.
    Yes, exactly.

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    Default Re: Let's Read & Play: Baldur’s Gate II - Bhaal is Dead!

    Quote Originally Posted by russdm View Post
    What were the reasons that our illustrious writer was given the job of writing the stories and did bioware bother to exercise any editorial control? Or did they just give material when they were midway or partway through the production and just let him run?

    Also, thankful for you in reading them through so others don't have to in order to know how bad the books are.
    At least this way I don't have to suffer on my own.

    The story of how Athans was given this job is actually pretty interesting. They wanted to turn the first game into a novel, but under ridiculous time constraints (two months) and with only an incomplete early version of the script available. No established author wanted to touch that project, for obvious reasons. Athans (who was working as an editor at the time) saw it as his big chance, I guess. To be fair, he actually managed to write something despite the circumstances, which is impressive if you've ever done NaNoWriMo.

    That said, everyone involved really should've known better when it was time to do the sequel.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kish View Post
    Well--Ascension (the mod in question, made by a team led by David Gaider) had Sarevok upgrade it for Sarevok. Part of the upgrade was that it became deadly to anyone but Sarevok who tried to wield it.
    Oh yeah, I remember that! That's pretty neat, given that the sword isn't really useful anymore when you get to ToB.

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