So, because I played a lot of Pool of Radiance back in the day, I will admit that I kind of rushed through that game to a degree. Mainly, that was because this was a project where what I really wanted to do was get into uncharted territory, and at long last, I’ve done so, with Curse of the Azure Bonds.

Japanese Box Art for Curse of the Azure bonds.
The Japanese PC-98 Box Art of Curse of the Azure Bonds is pretty much identical to the MS-DOS art.

Pool of Radiance ends with the party, no matter what your lineup is, having a giant pile of cash and a bunch of powerful magic items – so the opening of Curse of the Azure Bonds is, in part, about addressing that issue if you imported your characters from the last game. Your party is mugged, knocked out, and ends up waking up in an inn in the town of Tilverton. Their inventory is gone, as are all of their items. Fortunately, everyone has a small stash of cash to start the game.

More importantly, each character has a series of five marks their – glowing blue magical tattoos. Additionally, those familiar to the Forgotten Realms will catch that you were deposited at the inn by a group of red-robed figures. It’s not explicit, but it is implication is clear that the Red Wizards of Thay may be involved. You’re pointed in the direction of a sage up the road to possibly learn more, and to a shop across the way to buy new gear

Maps from the Strategy Guide of the City and Thieves Guild
Maps from the Strategy Guide of the City and Thieves Guild

From here, you are free to explore the relatively small city – should you try to leave, you’re informed that a royal caravan will be passing through soon and will have to wait – something of a subtle cue that they should gear up. The equipment shops actually have something of a lighter selection of gear than is in Pool of Radiance. Pool of Radiance pretty much had the PHB’s full equipment list (save mounts, livestock, and vehicles) – while Curse of the Azure Bonds’ list is much more bare-bones – save in the weapon selection. It’s clear here that the designers had learned from the last game, and how a lot of those items (like wolfsbane) potentially took up inventory space without really having any use.

Journal Entry #38 from the game.

There is also a training area here, and with each character having a fairly large amount of Platinum coins, the party is in a good position for any characters who hit and went over the level cap from the last game to take advantage of the increased level cap and train up. From here, it’s time to go to the Sage, who gives some basic information on the marks.

The Journal Entry gives a few pieces of information about the symbols – letting the player know who was responsible was up to no good – Assassins, a banished God who has caused destruction, and the Zhentrim who (if you played that quest in the last game) the player would familiar with – and the flaming symbol, who the player would probably associate with Tyranthraxus. The last symbol, related to a “powerful sage in Shadowdale”, I suspect might be a red-herring, as the implication might be that it’s Elminster’s symbol, so someone might be trying to set them up.

If the party goes to the Temple in town and asks the priest to remove the curse, they are unable to do so, saying they don’t have enough power. So, with a goal in mind – remove the curse, it’s time for the party to leave town. Lo and behold, the carriage is passing by at this time, just time for a nice relaxing little blurb…

The party is magically compelled by the sigils to attack the carriage.
Hang on. Wait, what?

Or, you know, not. So, this then leads to the first combat of the game – against the carriage guards, in two waves of combat. In between the two, you see a group of red-robed men jump the carriage and drag the passenger out – making it fairly clear to the party that they’ve been set up.

After the two rounds, the party is “encouraged” (or rather railroaded) into heading into a back alley, where they are then spirited to the Thieves Guild. There they are given a chance to rest and re-memorize spells before the story continues. Also, it bears mentioning, at this point you are cut off from town. If you level up going forward you can’t double back to head to the training hall to train. Consequently, as Woodchuck and Slayn got enough XP to level up again, I used Gold Box Companion to level them up.

Once the party has rested (or elected not to), the Guildmaster informs the players that the Fire Knives – one of the groups on the Bonds – has kidnapped the daughter of the King (possibly the passenger of the carriage) and have her in their lair. He offers information to assist the party, only for the Fire Knives to burst into the lair – and in the fracas, kill the Guildmaster.

From here, there’s nowhere really to go but forward, though there are some side passages to explore. In particular, Room 2 in the Thieves Guild (which you’ll have to open with a Knock Spell) has two big things going for it – it can be secured, meaning it’s a safe place to rest in the Thieves area, and it has a bunch of magic armor and weapons. Nothing bigger than a +1 Sword, and unfortunately no protective items that Slayn can use.

The treasure chamber also contains a Deep Red Ioun Stone, our first head slot magic item that isn’t a helmet, and a magic item that would be of use to Woodchuck (AC boost and boost to Thief Abilities) or Slayn (AC boost). From here, there’s no place to go but to follow the path of the carnage to the sewers.

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