|Yeah, fireball is okay... but just okay.|
I think I've spent enough time talking about fireballs so let's move on, shall we? The quests dished out kept with the motif of genociding a certain area of monsters, but as the characters gained levels and tackled bigger challenges, little tidbits of information alluded to a much bigger threat. Someone (or someTHING!) known only as "The Boss" is gathering forces to try to stomp out New Phlan. I really like how PoR handled revealing the main quest. The little snippets of the bigger picture were mostly made apparent through finding letters that various monstrous factions had sent each other. It's a nice change from getting information the normal way, via NPCs. It gave the feeling that we had slowly stumbled into something much grander than just killing hundreds of goblins like we had been doing.
|Nice try, goblins, but slaves generally|
aren't armed to the teeth.
More than that, it really felt like if we just stopped questing that events would continue to unfold without us. This is rare as most RPGs do their darndest to make the main characters the focal point of the entire story. In PoR (as in a well-run AD&D campaign), the party must earn their reputation as they earn their levels. With my party full of multiclassers, levels didn't come very rapidly and we were all quite scared of the level-drainers that we knew dwelled in the graveyard (one of the later quest areas). Even though we had Restoration spells on hand, they don't grant back 100% of the lost experience points, just enough to bring the xp total to the bare minimum required for the level that had been lost. This means thousands of xp can still be lost, even more so for all us multis. So the graveyard was off-limits until we got all the fireballs happening. Thankfully, encounters with soul-draining undead were not all that frequent and mostly consisted of just skeletons and zombies. The most often encountered drainer was the wight, which always appeared with ghouls, which themselves were always placed in front of the wights. This allowed us to whip our fireballs off into the wights as the ghouls got in their way.
|Wights are coloured cyan because didn't|
you always picture wights to be cyan?
While wandering around the hallowed grounds, we met a kindly old magic-user named Magician. He told us the location of the master vampire and implored us to help him destroy it. We were going to do that anyway so we let him join us. He quickly became the comic relief for the group. In combat, he would attempt one of three spells: Sleep, Stinking Cloud, or Fireball. Sleep and Stinking Cloud don't work on undead and Magician kept forgetting about it.
Even when he decided to fireball, most times he would abort it as well since we'd often be in melee. OR, he'd toss it off anyway and hit one of us. Anyway you slice it, Magician blows hardcore but I'll be damned if we didn't pick him up each and every time we came back to the 'yard. Yeah, that's right, we had to pick him up because he refused to come back to town with us. I thought it odd that a magic-user armed with such useless spells would choose to stay in the graveyard by himself. Instead of staying in character and suspecting something was amiss, I chalked it up to the game trying to limit the usage of these NPCs (as had happened with others). The fog was lifted from my eyes after we came across the vampire and, to my shock and dismay, we learned that Magician was in cahoots with him!
|And to think we humoured him all this time.|
However, we had a little trick up our sleeves as well. In our possession we had a bottle that contained an efreet named Samir Ahwahl that we had picked up from a kobold cave many quests ago. As a sworn enemy of the vampire, he popped out of his glassy abode and joined us on the battlefield. With his help, we made short work of the vampire (who thankfully missed with all his level-draining attacks) and his minions. Even as I dispatched the traitorous Magician, I couldn't help but feel sorry for the poor booger.
|Kids, don't get involved with the|
undead. You'll just end up with
efreets all up in yo' grill.
While the majority of quests had the overarching goal of total elimination of all bads, most also served up a little flavour as described in the story above. This was enough to persuade me to do every single quest available (also because our party was so hungry for xp). I had originally intended to just skip the graveyard but I'm glad I did because Magician was such a card (and I wanted to see Samir in action). The final quest involved striking at the source of the monster infestation, Valjevo Castle, where final boss Tyranthraxus hung out. Presumably, the Pool of Radiance would be there as well since it had barely been mentioned the entire game. Valjevo Castle was a humongous four times bigger than any other area and had a large hedge maze in its inner keep. Many giant creature types inhabited the castle and while fireballing their asses didn't kill them off, it did whittle them down enough for an easy slaying in melee. Well, all of them except for the fire giants, which were immune to flaming balls. Luckily, they weren't immune to clouds of stank and so were only a trifle more difficult than other giants. The entrance to the hedge maze required a password which we initially did not have, although Davros tried to bluff our way past in his usual jocular manner.
|Being level drained taught Davros nothing.|
The hedge maze itself was quite a pain. I mapped out part of it but hit a teleporter and got lost. We found our way out again and this time just tried the tried, tested, and true technique of keep left or keep right, but to no avail. Following our gut instincts (i.e. random wandering) was the key as we found a secret door that led up into a tower and Tyranthraxus. Even as we approached the final boss, the game continued giving us interesting little encounters. Before finding the secret door, we had some dialogue with a fake Tyranthraxus in which we blew his cover and he got embarrassed and asked our permission to just be able to leave (we consented). In the room right before Tyranthraxus, we met his right-hand man, Genheeris, who, again via dialogue options, offered to join us as he suspected T-Bone was going to betray him. We had learned our lesson from Magician, though, and stabbed his face off. Even Tyranthraxus had some words for us and offered to let us join him. Refusal resulted in him sending a horde of high level fighters against us and we really had to work the stinking cloud and hold person spells as they each had close to 90 HP. Never was I happier to have each character a spell caster than during this pitched battle. We took some hits, though, and had to use and reuse the option to continue the battle after they were defeated in order to heal up, suspecting that we would be immediately launched into the final fight after this one. A little unrealistic but we figured we'd need every advantage we could get going up against Tyranthraxus Rex. This rung true as the bronze dragon's first action was to engulf Davros with his fiery breath. Davros survived, thanks to the ring of fire resistance he wore, but he was still down to two HP.
|*sizzle* *crackle* Ugh, you|
ain't so hot, Tyran... *gasp*
Knowing that most of our spells would be pretty useless against a bronze dragon, we surrounded Tyranthraxus and commenced the pummelling. Thankfully, he didn't target Davros again and actually spread out most of his attacks amongst the rest of the group. This failure of basic tactics led to his destruction (missing with every attack other than the initial one also helped — go go negative armour class!). Just when we thought it was over, the spirit of Tyranthraxus rose from the Pool of Radiance (oh hey, there it is!) and bragged about being immortal and how he was so going to take over our bodies. Fortunately, his boss, the evil god Bane, came and took him away because of his failure.
|Yeah, I don't think so, Tyranthraxus.|
We returned to New Phlan, received a phat award of xp and golds, and yet the game didn't necessarily have to end here. The option to continue was given to finish up any quests that remained or just wander around and do whatever. This marks the first time that the final boss isn't really the final boss. One could feasibly do half the quests, kill Tyranthraxus, and then complete the rest. This rather odd aspect of the game was due to plans to be able to export the characters into the next chapter of the saga, Curse of the Azure Bonds, via a very long password (144 characters for each party member!). Unfortunately, the sequel was never made for the NES and what could have been the most epic RPG for the system was squelched. Still, Pool of Radiance is an epic adventure on its own merits and such a loss should not be lamented — too much.