Achilles: Well, your plan has worked.
The Grognard: My plan?
Achilles: Your elaborate plan to lure me into this game and then recruit me as one of your old-school RPG people.
The Grognard: It was only a matter of time. I told you, the game may be dated, but the good parts of it hold up. What do you like?
Achilles: There’s the art, for one. It keeps getting better. The Temple District is just one gorgeous hand-painted backdrop after another. Plus, everything seems real and alive. There are these NPCs all over the place, generic ones with names like “Noblewoman” or “Halfling.” In most games, they wouldn’t say anything worth listening to. But here you can collect useful gossip and news by talking to random NPCs, and often they just have funny stuff to say.
Achilles: Plus, the combat is much better now. Team Top Hat Guy has had some amazing fights: the Cambion, those guys in the sewers, the Umber Hulks. Each required a different strategy, each made us use all our tricks and fight smart. For the first time this real-time-with-pause combat has depth comparable to that of an actual RTS.
The Grognard: I see that your party are almost all casters now.
Achilles: Five out of six. I only keep Yoshimo around for the lockpicking, because I’m obsessive about looting everything. Everyone else is going all David Blaine out there, webs and fireballs and summoned monsters everywhere. I mean, casters are OP, so we might as well take advantage.
The Grognard: Spells flying everywhere, eh? This sounds like a job for celebrated fantasy author R.A. Salvatore.
R.A. Salvatore: Hi, I’m widely admired fantasy author R.A. Salvatore, appearing here as always in full compliance with copyright law.
Achilles: How does he just pop up out of nowhere like that? It’s really startling when it happens.
R.A. Salvatore: Aha! I see our heroes are fighting a group of ruffians in the sewers beneath the temple district. I know just how to spice this up.
Peering around the corner down the damp stone passageway, Haer’Dalis spun his enchanted blades in anticipation. “This sparrow is ready to fly,” he said in a low voice. “At your command, of course.”
“Patience,” Achilles Grognard reminded him. “What have we learned? Battles are won through careful planning, with the help of a bit of luck. First, we prepare. Check your weapons, both steel and otherwise.” With that, he cleared his thoughts, concentrating on drawing the arcane power within him, muttering the incantations for Stoneskin and Mirror Image. A rough, pebbly skin of slate-grey rock covered him as he split from one gnome into several identical illusions.
Following his lead, Haer’Dalis whispered his own spell, a snatch of Sigil folklore imbued with the power of Haste. He felt the familiar spinning, restless energy in his chest. The others would be feeling the same. They would now have inhuman speed, a whirlwind of arrows and blades. Aerie, ever eager to help, prayed to her graceful gods of the air, blessing the party with their favor. Now they would strike truer than ever before.
The Tiefling would have felt pity for their targets, if he was inclined towards pity. Unfortunately for them, he wasn’t, and a slow, subtle smile spread across his face as he basked in the familiar anticipation of coming violence.
The Grognard: That takes me back. Stoneskin, Mirror Image, Haste, and Bless. What’s your strategy for the fight itself?
Achilles: Hold on, I’m not done. There are more spells to cast.
The two fighters crouched on their toes, ready to burst out of the shadows and attack. “On your signal?” Haer’Dalis asked, but then Viconia’s hand clamped down on his shoulder.
“Hold!” she hissed. “There are two mages, the ones in robes. They’ll have a full complement of sorcery prepared. No point in charging in too early, is there, my sweets?” A vicious smile was painted across her face, and she closed her eyes, praying to the spider Goddess Lloth. Before her, the ground opened up into a profane mouth, black and glistening, and from it emerged a pair of lean, hungry wolves. At a signal from Viconia, they hurtled down the corridor, baying for human blood.
“Well played,” Jaheira said, not without a certain grudging admiration. “The minor beasts will act as distractions, and the wizards will waste their most potent spells.”
Viconia flashed the druid an irritated look. “Thank you so much,” she replied with a sneer, “for explaining my own strategy to me. But why only send one group in? I believe both you and the wingless elf have similar spells.”
And so, over the next several minutes, Viconia, Jaheira, and Aerie cast a total of six creature summoning spells between them, flooding the narrow corridor with the yipping of war dogs, the bellowing of Ogres, and the snarling of Gnolls. Arrayed against them was a cacophany of what sounded like lightning bolts, fear spells, and protective magical barriers. As they waited around the corner, the shouts of their enemies grew louder and more panicked.
The Grognard: Ah, the old “make them blow all their spells on 4HD summoned mobs” trick. A bit immersion-breaking, perhaps, but effective.
Achilles: The main goal is to get them to use their confusion and horror spells. Once I think they must be gone, I have Yoshimo sneak up and set a full buffet of traps.
R.A. Salvatore: Look, this is great, and I don’t mean to be impatient, but do you actually start fighting the enemy at any point?
Achilles: What are you, in a hurry or something? We’re not done buffing yet.
Yoshimo returned the group in a low crouch, his deadly traps set and ready to be sprung. “I can dance on the head of a pin, as well,” he said with a smirk, but the others ignored him as they prepared. Incantations, spell components, and prayers flashed and shimmered in the air as they cast Protection from Evil, Chaotic Commands, Free Action, Resist Fear, and Melf’s Minute Meteors. Then, they realized that Haste, Mirror Image, and Bless had all worn off, and casted them again.
R.A. Salvatore: My preferred writing style in these situations aims to bring out the excitement of a hard-fought battle. But I see you’re going for a different vibe.
Achilles: Hard-fought? I don’t want that. Battles should be won by attaining an enormous, overpowering advantage first, and then just rolling over everything in front of you. It makes no sense to do it any other way.
The hired swords caught their breath, recovering from the menagerie of monsters and wild animals that had just attacked them seemingly out of nowhere. Tarnor the Hatchetman was cleaning wolf entrails off his enchanted throwing axe when he heard a whistling from down the dark passageway, and saw the shaft of an arrow bury itself in the leg of one of the mages.
Another attack? They weren’t paying him enough for this, and a flood of anger rushed through him. “Me temper’s bad enough without ye botherin’ me!” he shouted, and charged towards where the arrow had come from. Immediately the jaws of a cleverly hidden trap closed around his leg, and he let out a cry of pain.
Hearing footsteps, he looked up, and saw a terrifying sight: what appeared to be five ambulatory stone statues of gnomes wearing top hats and spinning flails around in both hands. They sprinted down the corner at a frightening, unnatural speed, falling in among Tarnor’s company like a whirlwind. Stalking his pace was what looked like an elf, wielding twin shortswords, one of them on fire, spinning in place like a top as he fought. And all the while, arrows, sling bullets, tiny meteors, and magic missiles peppered them from a distance.
It was all over in less than a minute. Jaheira strode forward, surveying the aftermath. “Perhaps this group needs not quite so much help as I thought,” she said with satisfaction.
“Indeed!” Achilles Grognard was beaming. “All according to plan. That was our fight for the day. Now we rest, to regain our spells.”
The Grognard: I see you’ve embraced the fifteen minute workday.
Achilles: The what?
The Grognard: The fifteen minute workday. It’s the practice of blowing your entire spellbook on one fight, so that you have to rest afterwards. Do it enough times, and the party only ends up working around fifteen minutes a day.
Achilles: And that’s a bad thing why? If I were running an actual adventuring party, that’s probably what I’d do. Why take chances if you don’t need to?
The Grognard: That is the reasoning, yes. But it can interfere with the balance of the game. The way physical and magical-based characters are balanced, wizards and the like are supposed to have to conserve spells. Without that, fighters and the like fall behind. I notice you’ve taken Minsc out the party, for instance.
Achilles: Yeah, that wasn’t easy. I admit it, I miss the big fella and his hamster. But he’s not a caster, and ends up being something like dead weight in the really tough fights.
The Grognard: I don’t mean to spoil later editions of D&D for you, but this problem exists even now. Casters go from Magic Missile at level one to Time Stop by level twenty. Fighters, on the other hand, go from hitting things with weapons to hitting things with weapons incrementally harder.
Achilles: So it’s down to the magic system. I think we can both agree that Vancian magic is terrible.
The Grognard: Oh.
Achilles: “Oh”? What do you mean, “oh”? Don’t tell me you’re one of those people, who actually likes it.
The Grognard: I’m afraid so. And I have my reasons. But no time for that now – we’ll get into it next time.
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