No, I haven’t forgotten this project.
After clearing the wizard’s tower, the next bond to be broken lies in Yulash, to the north. However, our route there takes us through a couple stops.
Specifically, there’s the road to the Standing Stone, and then the road to Hillsfar. The Standing Stone just gets us a reminder of how many bonds we have left. The route to Hillsfar, on the other hand, going by road, causes us to get into a combat encounter with some Fire Knives. It’s not a hard encounter, but it does kind of set up how this is something of an inversion for how this might work out in other games. Normally, traveling by road is the safe option, and going overland is more likely to give you an encounter. Instead, because you’re being hunted by the forces that are trying to control you, you’re more likely to get ambushed by road, because that’s where you’re being watched.
If you travel overland you’re more likely to stumble into other encounters – but you’re also more likely to be in a better position when that does come up because you’re probably not going to run into the forces of the conspiracy. It’s counter-intuitive for games, but 100% intuitive if you think about various works that have influenced fantasy role-playing games, like The Lord of the Rings – where Frodo and the other Hobbits start their quest explicitly cutting cross country to avoid the forces of the Nazgul searching the main roads.
The other significant shift comes when we reach Hillsfar. Because Hillsfar and the Zhentarim are in the middle of a battle over Yulash, and because you’ve got the Azure Bonds on you, you’re shunned as a Zhentarim spy and denied the ability to stay at the inn. This is, at this point in the game, the first time something like this has happened. Pretty much every town you’ve been in thus far has had all of the town’s businesses open to you. Now, the temple and the training hall are still open (I didn’t check the shop), but you can’t stay at the inn. If you want to heal up, memorize new spells, and that sort of thing, you have to rest outside.
This serves as something of a prologue for Yulash itself – because it is a city under siege, there are roaming patrols from the forces of Hillsfar and the forces of Zhentil Keep throughout the town. You can’t ingratiate yourself with the Zhents – they’re one of the groups you need to fight to complete your quest. However, you can earn the trust of the Hillsfar garrison commander. To do this, you basically need to just walk into the city (ideally from the Hillsfar direction), without sneaking past the checkpoint. You have to go to the waiting room next to the commander’s office without fighting the guards.
Then there’s the tricky part – when you move into the eastern half of the room, a group of Zhentarim spies will burst out the door, and the guards will ask you to help stop them. If you don’t, then you lose trustworthiness. If you do choose to help stop them, then you have to fight the spies solo – a group of a whole bunch of fighters, plus a couple mages and a cleric.
This fight really gets into a problem with AD&D 1e, and how swingy combat can get at these levels. On the one hand, at this point, my spellcasters have 4th level spells, and everyone has at least one magic weapon they can use. On the other hand, everyone still has, at this point, a variety of Save-Or-Suck spells (like Hold Person), where if you fail your save, enemies can drop you pretty fast.
What this means, mechanically, that preparation for fights is a lot more essential. For example, the first time I went into this battle, I wiped. Suffered a TPK. Now, the game is pretty forgiving here and has the party come to in the guard’s prison at 1 HP, and presumably they can go to the watch and proceed with their quest. However, I wanted to see if I could win the fight, so I loaded my last save, returned to right before the battle, buffed the party, and triggered the battle. This time, I won handily. It was basically a cakewalk.
So, on the one hand, I was prepared this time – I knew what my enemies were and what their formation would be. On the other hand, my prep was basically casting Prayer and Bless before triggering the battle, boosting my attack roles and saves, and otherwise doing what I did before – focusing on spell-casters and attempting to use AOE spells when tactically viable. the question is – did the modifiers of those spells let me roll well enough to turn the tide of the fight? Probably.
Next time, we make our way through Yulash and head for the Pit of Moander.
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