Notes on ToEE-Keep on the Borderlands final version

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Notes on ToEE-Keep on the Borderlands final version

Postby BlueSalamander » Sun May 03, 2020 11:09 pm

Keep on the Borderlands (KotB) is an adventure module for Temple of Elemental Evil (ToEE) created by the Circle of Eight. You can download the game there. I wrote a review of the KotB demo a long time ago. Years later, I played the final version and I wrote a bunch of notes. On the occasion of the Kickstarter campaign for Knights of the Chalice 2, due to be launched on 26 May 2020, I'm posting these notes about KotB. Click on a picture to enlarge it. Contains spoilers.

* In KotB, if you play a party of 4 party members, you will finish the game at level 6, so there's no need to take Metamagic feats or to plan for crafting Holy or Flaming weapons because you won't meet the level requirements for them. Instead, focus on Craft Wondrous Items, Craft Wand and Martial Proficiency (Glaive).

Craft Wondrous Items lets you craft +4 Belts of Strength which are very useful. Craft Wand gives you cheap Wands of Healing, cheap Wands of Identify and any other wand of a spell that you may want to cast several times before resting. Enchant Weapon is useful but not great because there are only a few masterwork items in the game and enchanting from masterwork to +1 only gives you a +1 bonus to damage. By the end of the game, you can craft +2 weapons, but by then you won't need them.

* You can use a trick to get all 18 scores. Click 'roll' then switch to 'point-buy' then increase a score to 18 then drag and drop the 18 to a certain empty spot a few pixels below the initial position. Then switch back to roll, the 18 appears as if it was rolled. Move the 18 to the top of your abilities. Repeat six times until you have all 18.

* For an easier and more pleasant time through KotB, give all your characters all 18 ability scores. That way you will meet all skill requirements, get all the possible dialogues and complete all of the quests. Give all social skills (including languages) to a single character because the game will only check social skills on a single character, the one who is talking. The game will sometimes check multiple skills on the same character, such as Speak Languages, Sense Motive and Diplomacy, so it can be frustrating if you have your skills distributed over several characters.

* Also, use the console command "levelup()" to immediately level-up your characters to level 2. This will allow you to bypass the 'grinding' part, where you have to look for easy encounters just to level up to level 2, because the game does not have any appropriate challenges for a level-1 party. There's a problem of challenge mismatch: you will encounter a Black Dragon and a Spider Queen when your party is very low level; and you will battle with Goblins and Kobolds towards the end of the game when your party is high level and these creatures no longer pose any challenge.

Similar to the RPG Age of Decadence, KotB can be absolutely brutal to first-level characters. There are no quests or encounters specifically geared for level-1 parties. This is not a game for D&D 3.5 neophytes. At level 1, the easiest encounters you could get are wilderness random encounters against pirates.

* All the characters in my party used Glaives, making them very powerful right from level 1. The party included a Fighter with Improved Trip, a Rogue, a Cleric with the Good and Law domains for crafting, a Cleric with the Sun and Law domains, and a Wizard who's a Conjuration specialist with the banned domains of Necromancy and Abjuration. All had strength 18 and Martial Proficiency (Glaive).

* I didn't like to use ranged weapons in KotB. It can be boring to watch long shooting animations, only to have most attacks miss or fail because of the penalties for shooting in a melee, or for shooting through soft cover, or because the target has Damage Reduction that can't he bypassed by piercing damage, and ranged weapons don't allow adding the strength bonus to damage.

* Reach weapons work very well, as well as Ready versus Approach. However, when attacking with a reach weapon, the game will have the character move to the first position from which an attack can be done. This is often not the best position, because to get Flanking bonuses you need to be adjacent to the target, not ten feet away from the enemy. Also, Ready versus Approach may have a bug, because sometimes it gave my characters two attacks in a row. A very effective tactic is to Trip someone as part of a Ready versus Approach action.

* I enjoyed KotB a lot more than Drakensang River of Time. Drakensang suffers from slow loading / slow movement / slow combat, limited party-creation freedom and an uninspiring storyline.

* The AI seemed to be rather sadistic in ToEE / KotB. It often attacked dying characters, rather than standing ones. I also noticed that the AI never uses Five-Foot Step and it always triggers AOOs even when it only needs to move by five feet. As a result, it also fails to use Full Attacks properly. You can use this to your advantage: see how to fight the Black Dragon, below. I thought that animal companions, and thus Druids, are very difficult to use. Most of the time animal companions just stood idle in combat, regardless of what combat setting they had been given; or else they kept triggering AOOs by not taking a path that would avoid them.

* As a non-native English speaker, I found this riddle to be too difficult: 'a gift of water and salt'. Firstly, six words is too short for a riddle. Some NPCs, like the Witch/Seer in the merchant's square, should provide further clues. Secondly, the pearl item is far from the wizard's tower, and it is an item that you would expect the party to sell for money. The fact that this is not a stand-alone riddle, but a riddle combined with many other riddles, makes it more difficult.

* I liked the multiplicity of secret passages in the Caves of Chaos.

* I think that the mad wizard battle has a problem of encounter design. This battle should not allow the player to retreat behind the door, making the enemy much less effective. It should happen at the top or at the bottom of a stairway, where the player cannot retreat to a narrow passage. This would have made the battle much more interesting, like the ToEE guard tower battle where you can't retreat and you are surrounded by enemies.

* The final battle was rather anticlimactic. It would have been great if there had been 10 evil clerics and four chaos beasts. In my opinion, RPG games like Dark Sun, Neverwinter Nights 2, ToEE, Baldur's Gate, NWN 2 Mask of the Betrayer, Champions of Krynn and KotC are made memorable not by having many battles, but by having a few very challenging, very entertaining battles.

* One of the most interesting fights, the one against the caravan guarded by samurais, is reserved to evil parties; I think that it should not.

* Here are some tips for defeating the Black Dragon: 1) let your Cleric cast Resist Element (Acid) on party members. 2) let your strongest character wield a Glaive. 3) let your wizard cast Enlarge on your Glaive wielder. 4) provide any additional magic support to the Glaive wielder, such as Magic Weapon, Shield of Faith, or Bless. 5) let the Glaive wielder approach the dragon and use Ready Versus Approach on the first round. 6) let your wizard cast Ray of Clumsiness and/or Ray of Enfeeblement on the dragon, to reduce its AC and attack bonus. You can easily reduce its AC by three points or so. 7) When the dragon is within reach, let the Glaive wielder attack it and take a 5-foot step back in order to deny the dragon its full attack on the next round. 8) Repeat the last step until the dragon is killed, while using other characters to cure the Glaive wielder as needed. Once the dragon's Hit Points are low, you may consider using all of your characters to attack it, but that is risky.

* The game only allowed three party alignments, including Neutral Good and Lawful Neutral. This wasn't made clear upon installation and it can be frustrating to find it out after you've created a Lawful Good party.

* I found some bugs (these may have been fixed by now). There was a bug with the merchant scales and glasses. The glasses disappear when you move the scales. No 'mark' could be obtained from the Kobold tribe when the Dwarves had already wiped them out by the time you arrive in the Caves of Chaos. There was a bug when talking with the leader of the Dwarves. It was suggested that we could sell gems to the merchant guild master, yet this character does not trade with the player.

You can get an infinite number of times the 300 gold reward from the bailiff for having killed the mad wizard. In the quest to knock out the berserk Ranger, the only way to leave the place (the battlements) after doing the job was to use the world map; this was very confusing as there is a nearby door icon but it is not accessible by the party. The party gold gets randomised on reload during the intro sequence where you can equip your characters. The Black Dragon in KotB was immune to tripping, but not immune to the Grease spell.

In the suffragette quest, in one situation, you can make the woman NPC a honorary member of the merchant's guild, yet the woman will not react to it and you cannot complete the quest. The rogue character Cantrall re-appeared in his former prison cell soon after I freed him as part of a quest. The Hextor Cleric asks for 20 longswords, I brought him 20 longswords, he took them from my inventory and he also took away the +1 Longsword that my fighter was using. That Cleric should not seize equipped items, only inventory items.

* ToEE doesn't centre / zoom in on the acting character in combat, so sometimes it's hard to follow the action when there are far-away shooters like in the jungle map where you fight with spear-throwing lizardmen.

To conclude this post, I'm adding a couple of ToEE ending-slide images, just because I saw them today and they look nice. :D Thank you for reading!

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'Say there is a chunk of meat. Pirates will have a banquet and eat it! But heroes will share it with other people. I want all the meat!!' - Luffy in One Piece
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Notes on ToEE-Keep on the Borderlands final version

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Re: Notes on ToEE-Keep on the Borderlands final version

Postby Endarire » Wed May 06, 2020 10:19 am

The Temple+ mod (recently updated) has bonus features and fixes for KotB.
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