I’ve talked a bit in this series about encounter design. The Pit of Moander works well for it’s lack of encounter design. Or, rather, a designed lack of encounters – specifically random encounters.
When you enter the Pit, as mentioned in the last post in the series, you get locked in. Specifically, a dying cleric of Moander uses a stone shape spell (or something similar) to collapse the passage behind you, so your only option is to proceed forward. So, you need to find the boss for the dungeon, so you can beat them and release that seal, and then fight your way out.
In the opening area of the dungeon there are a lot of dead cultists, and oddly enough a smell of baking bread. If you’ve read Jeff Grubb and Lynn Novik’s novel that inspired this game, you’d know that this is the mark of Dragonbait – the Draconian paladin from another plane who communicates through smells. If you follow along, you’ll find him and Alias, the protagonist of that novel. If you are nice to them – they’ll briefly recap their novel, mention that they went through the same crap you did, and will offer to team up, giving you two helpful party members as you go through the dungeon.
From there, if you take the critical path to the stairs down – which you can easily find using the cluebook that comes with the game both on GOG and when you bought it back in the day, you will face no random encounters. At all. If you go into any of the rooms with the fixed encounters you’ll fight those, but there will be no monsters on your route.
Alias will even comment on this when you decend to level 2, that this is too easy. Indeed, you’ll have two encounters on your way to the boss fight if you stay on the critical path. Both are fixed, and basically they’re there to burn some resources before the boss fight. This isn’t an issue if you’re using GBC, but this is clearly the intent – the monsters in the first group are some giant slugs, who generally take full damage from your spells (particularly since there’s no “Create Salt” spell in AD&D 1st edition to OHKO them).
You also find a message from Fzoul Chembryl of Zhentil Keep to the Moander cultists telling them to not sacrifice the party – that Moander isn’t needed to destroy the Pool of Radiance, just the Gloves of Moander. This sets up what this boss’ motivation is in advance, and is kind of missable – and also sets up what the Gloves of Moander may be needed for.
And then you get the boss fight – where it turns out the whole intent of the villains plan is to sacrifice the party to fuel the resurrection of Moander – only it doesn’t really work, as the magical energies involved release the Moander bond from the PCs arms, allowing them to just open up a can of whupass on the cultists.
This fight is great – the cultists are fully vulnerable to your spells, while they’re backed up by vegipigmies and shambling mounds. If you buff up before starting this fight, you have a pretty good chance at winning initiative, so you can soften these guys up (if not clear out the cultists outright) with fireballs and ice storms (remember, no Lighting Bolt – if you hit the mounds you’ll heal them).
And then, after you clean out the cultists and their backup, you’ll face off against what are called “Bits O’ Moander”, which I’m going to call “Moander-spawn”. The Moander-spawn, like the vegipigmies and the shambling mounds, are vulnerable to magic missile… and the wand of defoliation, and the moander-spawn have basically the same tactics as the shambling mounds. So all you need to do is put a character with the wand of defoliation one or two ranks behind Moander-spawn, and have them blast them with the wand while the heavy fighters hold them back, and you’re in good shape.
After the fight, then everything hits the fan – the cultists start trying to clear out, which means that now we start getting random encounters. Searching the ceremony room finds a Ioun stone that boosts your wisdom and a giant cache of jewelery – I’ll get back to this in just a second.
From there, you fight your way out of the dungeon, going through various random encounters until you find the exit, and are able to get out. On escaping, you discover that Zhentil Keep’s front lines have advanced, and now you’re behind their lines, which means you’re now able to more easily get to Zhentil Keep to advance that part of the quest.
This is where I get into the missed potential for the banking system in the previous installment of this – In the previous post, I mentioned being able to stuff all your cash in a bank, nice and safe, and have the ability to go to banks to get walking around money, or to basically cut checks to your bank. Giving the party this giant pile of jewelry and gems at this point helps to compensate for the fact that when the party goes to Zhentil Keep, they won’t have access to the money in the bank, and any merchants they encounter won’t accept any sort of bank note – just cold hard cash.
In any case, the next step in the quest is to Zhentil Keep – our second visit there in this series.
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