Garrick the Lightbringer

This is a short story from our current Dungeons & Dragons campaign. This is the moment when my warlock greedily took up an artifact after passing its guardian’s trial.

Garrick loved leaning on borrowed power. In this instance, the power he sought to take took him instead.

This story contains spoilers for the Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus adventure. Some components may be gruesome. You have been warned.

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Torghast, Tower of the Damned

Torghast, the Tower of the Damned, is a rouge-like (ish) set of dungeons in WoW: Shadowlands. I finished the “hard mode” last night and got my Maw horse, so I wanted to write up some of my thoughts on the feature.

If you read “rogue-like” and think angband or Caves of Qud: congrats, you’re old and curmudgeonly like me! But also wrong.

This is much more akin to Hades: you play your character normally, but you make decisions about which buffs to take. If your build sucks, you get wrecked by the boss and you start again from scratch.

I’m writing this from the perspective of my main, a marksman hunter. I’ve cleared the “regular” Torghast wings as an arms warrior as well, but I’ve only experienced the hard mode, Twisting Corridors (TC), on my hunter. I was clearing Torghast before they brought the scaling down to more rational levels.

Anima Powers

The anima powers in Torghast promised to be fun and varied. Your rotation would change based on what powers you chose, and they’d be able to do really out-of-this-world stuff.

I don’t think Torghast really delivers on that.

As an MM hunter, there are two powers that change my rotation: igniting the tar trap for an AoE, and using binding shot for a short crit buff.

The first couple runs, I thought they were great! And then I realized that was it — there weren’t more cool powers like that coming; I’d already seen them all.

Making things slightly worse, the binding shot power is incredibly difficult to proc when I’m in a party, since the mob has to move out of the affected area to trigger the effect. I wasn’t usually on voice comms to ask the tank to reposition, so I’d have to use my knockback, annoying everyone.

The other hunter powers buff abilities you’re already using. You need some amount of aimed shot / kill shot buffs to keep pace with the dungeon’s HP scaling, but those are not exciting choices.

Marksman hunter in particular gets a raw deal: there are a bunch of powers that buff your pet’s damage. As MM, I’d only have the pet out when I’m solo, and it’s for tanking. It has anemic damage — +20% of 0 is still 0.

The worst example of an anima power is the Neural Pet Enhancer: +500% pet damage when you give up control of your character and directly control the pet. +500% of nothing is still nothing, and I’m giving up the majority of my damage, while also leaving my body unattended and vulnerable to death.

Some runs, that power comes up so frequently as an option that I have started to wonder if taking it is the correct choice. At least that way, I’ll stop getting a completely worthless power wasting one of the choice slots!

There are no pet powers that actually do anything helpful for MM. To increase pet health, you increase your own health. There’s nothing specifically to make the pet tankier, improve mend pet, or interact with any of your abilities.

I don’t feel like I’m making choices to build around something. Every single TC run, I end up with the same set of powers, because those are the only powers that exist. The biggest differentiator is powers from rares, but those end up being passive powers that don’t change your gameplay anyways — they just scale your damage up.

The RNG

What anima powers drop, how many souls you free (for +1% primary stat each), and what boss you get are all random.

In regular six-floor Torghast, this can royally fuck you: maybe you won’t get enough soul remnants, or maybe you’ll get mostly defensive powers, or maybe you’ll get a boss that needs to be interrupted more frequently than your spec is capable.

Torghast, like similar games, has a shop mechanic to mitigate that. But the shop only had a couple randomly-selected common powers. In the regular six-floor Torghast, I generally can’t use this for a big power swing: you can buy a couple things. It’s not guaranteed to offer at least one defensive, offensive, and utility option either. Your shop can be all utility, which sucks if you need damage!

In Twisting Corridors, the shop is a bit better since you’ll see it six times instead of twice. There’s a lot more potential for getting an anima lure — either forcing one with the Ravenous Anima Cell, or getting the +25% phantasma one at random — so after the first shop, you can probably buy up the whole inventory every time.

I think there’s more that could be done with the shop to reduce folks’ frustrations with Torghast. Having limited options there is part of the whole roguelike shtick, but it just seems kind of unhelpful in regular Torghast and trivial in TC.

The boss is another thing left up to the RNG, although you get a heads-up in which it’ll be half-way into the run. This is probably so you can prepare for that boss’ mechanic, but in practice it’s useless information since you’re just going to go ham on damage powers anyway.

There are a couple bosses that are nasty, even after the scaling adjustments. Patrician Cromwell is a notable example, casting an interruptable AoE damage spell frequently. I’m guessing it isn’t too bad as melee, since your interrupt CD is short, but it’s unavoidable damage for specs with medium- & long-CD interrupts.

Hitting a wall on the boss sucks, especially when it’s a wall you couldn’t build around. If there was an anima power to make my interrupt CD shorter, or apply a silence, that would be one thing — but I don’t think any spec has powers like that? — so being told what boss you’ll be fighting half-way in isn’t actionable information.

Floor Layouts & Monsters

The floors in Torghast are not procedurally-generated. There is a set of possible pre-built floor layouts, and it’s not a very large set. I think there may be a couple floors with procedural elements, but I may just be imagining that.

After you’ve done the 128 floors required to complete TC, you’ll have seen every floor plan Torghast has to offer. Repeatedly.

Similarly, the monsters don’t have random affixes or anything like that. There’s a set of mobs associated with each tileset. You will have seen everything before you’ve finished regular six-floor Torghast.

I’m hoping both of these get remedied in future patches. A tileset affix (similar to M+) with some random per-mob affixes (similar to Diablo) would help with everything feeling the same.

Solo vs. Grouping & Scaling

After they scaling adjustments a few weeks ago, the whole group vs solo thing doesn’t seem to matter much. Prior, going in with a full party was substantially harder than solo — the mob HP would scale up higher — but that’s no longer a problem.

I did the first three layers of Twisting Corridors solo, and I didn’t have any trouble as MM hunter. But I’m bringing a medium-CD interrupt, a tank pet I can heal indefinitely, offensive dispels, hard CC, snares, and a root. With that kit, I can slice up packs, negate all of their special stuff, and generally never take damage.

After TC L3, I ran with a full party. I was a bit concerned about getting a nasty boss like Cromwell or Maw of the Maw and not having enough interrupts on my own, wasting the ~2h it takes to get up to the 18th floor; having a full group alleviates that.

In TC, the scaling isn’t really that bad until after the 2nd boss. You can survive hits from traps and hard-hitting boss mechanics up until the 12th floor, but you need to have your shit together as soon as you step onto floor 13.

I did not really notice much changing as I ascended from TC layer one to layer eight. It seemed to take about the same amount of time. Maybe the mobs had more health, but our damage scaling kept pace. Even on my layer 7 run, when we only had ~50 soul remnant stacks (as opposed to a more typical 80-100), we were able to complete the boss without feeling pressured.

It’s worth noting that the soul remnant buff (+1% str/agi/int) will boost your Spectral Flask of Power buff. I assume the two Shadowlands feasts will be buffed too, but I haven’t checked that.

It may be worth swapping a trinket out if you’re normally using one with secondary stats on it, since you should scale better with primary stats in the trinket slots. The same may be true if you have higher ilvl gear for a slot that you’re not using because it has the wrong secondaries. There are still lots of powers that scale mastery/haste/crit by a percentage, so I would not declare this as a hard rule.

The Traps

Torghast features traps. These are generally not a well-loved feature in any game I’ve played (lookin’ at you, Path of Exile), since they’ve got the potential to instantly murder you.

Some of the trap hallways can look overwhelming and terrifying the first time you see them, featuring rows of swinging axes between walls of fire. But they’re not that bad once you get used to them!

The long hallways of traps are made much easier by turning your camera so you’re looking at the walls. This lets you see exactly where you are in relation to the axes & fire/spike lines. You can each individual element one-at-a-time. The swinging axes don’t extend beyond their model, so you can stand to either side of the scrape mark on the floor and be safe while you wait for the fire/spike to come up.

The metal lines on the floor that shoot a white ball of energy down the track are trigged by proximity. Walk up to the very edge of the track, and then pause. It will fire the energy ball, and then it has to “reload” for several seconds, giving you time to cross safely.

The only tricky one is the grid of fire nozzles that typically blocks a doorway. This trap indicates which nozzles are going to shoot fire next with a subtle red highlight, so you can plan a path.

I never plan a path, since I have the Night Fae blink — just know that the blink is not long enough to clear the entire thing, so you have to blink from one nozzle into the trap. There’s a paladin power that gives bubble to the whole party; this is a good spot to use it, since someone will inevitably die to this trap.

Some of the traps have off buttons, so if you’re through first, turn around and look for a lever on the floor or a switch on the wall.

And if you do get hit by something, check to see if it left a DoT on you. You’re not in combat, so you can eat to out-heal the DoT.

Good Specs for Torghast

I do not have an exhaustive list of “Torghast spec rankings”, just my observations. I don’t think I’ve run it with most specs, but here’s what I found noteworthy:

  • Night Fae Balance Druid: In a party, this will be your top DPS. I suspect balance will struggle a bit solo, since it lacks hard CC and has a long-CD interrupt — but in a party, all they need to do is drop moons on things.
  • Vengeance Demon Hunter: With a couple powers that buff Immolation Aura, they’ll put the DPS to shame.
  • Mistweaver Monk: Between touch of death and the anima power Wrist Wraps of the Zen Master, they’ll wreck the DPS on AoE pulls.
  • Mage: The Echoes of Elisande anima power makes time pass faster during Time Warp. This is like super-haste, even decreasing your CDs. Your burst goes through the roof, and it’s really fun.

I would add that marksman hunter kind of sucks in a party. I was very strong in the early floors of a TC run, but my damage scaling didn’t keep up with other specs.

I’d say MM should lean into being a support class: get the power that gives your misdirect target +100% damage done and -90% damage taken, make your hunter’s mark increase damage done by everyone, and dispel everything.

The Cilice of Denathrius

The Cilice of Denathrius is an anima power that sounds like an absolutely awful choice on the first floor of a Twisting Corridors run:

Gain an additional 15% damage and healing when you ascend to a new floor of the Jailer’s Tower.

Lose 5% max health when you ascend to a new floor of the Jailer’s Tower.

The Tooltip

In my layer 8 run, the moonkin chose this, perhaps without reading the negative effect. We pointed this out, and this began a chain of hilarious events.

The entire run was focused on buffing the moonkin. They needed to grab HP powers. I was misdirecting to them for the short +100% damage buff, the tank took group defensives to better protect our glass cannon, and so on.

It was fraught for a bit. There were a couple floors in a row where the moonkin didn’t find any good defensive powers, and dipped down into the low 20k range.

When we got to the boss on the 18th floor, it died in about twenty seconds. The moonkin did fairly well with 55k HP going into that, but they did a shocking 1.07m DPS and obliterated the boss before any AoE or incidental damage could touch us.

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Boom. Thanks, Skydín.

This was a high risk strategy, but it paid off. It’s what I hoped to get out of Torghast, so I’m glad I got it out of my last Twisting Corridors run.

Effort vs Reward

The biggest problem with Torghast seems to be the effort it takes compared to the reward you get. In the normal six-floor Torghast, a layer 8 run seems to take about an hour. This isn’t too bad, but you can fail and walk away from the run with nothing to show for it.

Twisting Corridors is much more punishing: you don’t get soul ash despite a run taking upwards of two hours. You only get stuff on the even-numbered layers, which feels absolutely terrible — two hours spent on any other activity would yield gear, or at least some anima. Would it have killed them to make a one-time pet reward for every layer?

The whole thing feels incredibly unrewarding, especially if you fail the run and walk away with nothing.

I think the difficulty of regular Torghast on layer 3+ before the scaling changes has resulted in a bad first impression. I know a couple people who are bitter about being forced to do it for legendaries after failing a few runs early on.

Failure needs to be less punishing than “ha ha, you’ve wasted your time, get fucked!” to bring those folks back into the fold. Maybe a little soul ash off the floor bosses? Or just bringing run time down to the 20-30 minutes range, so you feel like you can get back in instead of feeling like the whole evening has been a waste and log off.

This is a missing aspect from the genre Torghast is drawing from — you’re supposed to die a lot, but death still offers you a power-up for next time. If Torghast had some kind of persistent progression system to power you up, failure wouldn’t feel like a waste of time.

Of course, the “persistent progression system” for Torghast is supposed to be gearing up. But you don’t make any progress towards gear if you fail.

Before the scaling changes, I thought putting Torghast into the Great Vault would make sense, with the metric to unlock stuff being the number of floors cleared. Even if you couldn’t finish a whole layer 8, you’d get a consolation prize for the run on Tuesday.

After the scaling changes, I don’t know if that’s still appropriate. Instead, maybe floor bosses could drop something like an augment rune that only works in Torghast? Stock up enough, use them for a stacking buff, and you’ve got yourself a big advantage — kind of like the buff you get for wiping in LFR?

The last issue with rewards, specifically from Twisting Corridors, is that I will never get anything from it again. I’ve gotten the one-time rewards, but I’ll certainly be going back at some point to help folks clear it.

I like Torghast well enough, but it really sucks that I’ll be spending hours on it with no prospect for anything.

Torghast as Leveling Content

Torghast is not available for alts to level with in Threads of Fate.

This really sucks. I got my arms warrior up to 60 and wanted to make my first-tier legendary. This required me to spend a day unlocking every single layer for regular six-floor Torghast.

I think we’d be a lot better off if you could do Torghast runs for XP. Even if you aren’t eligible for Soul Ash until level cap, you can still get layer 8 unlocked. Then, you just need to do two runs for your ash.

Miscellaneous Tips

Here are a few Torghast tips that didn’t fit anywhere else in this post.

  • Don’t select your initial power until everyone loads in. Otherwise the slow loaders don’t get an orb. This is probably a bug, but…
  • Save the floor boss for last! If someone dies and releases AFTER it’s defeated, they’ll spawn on the next floor and miss out on the powers/phantasma that they haven’t looted.
  • Using the ravenous anima cell on a Mawsworn Acolyte, Mawsworn Disciple, Mawsworn Endbringer, Mawsworn Soulbinder, or Lumbering Creation will boost your phantasma gains by a lot from the little skeleton adds.

Conclusions

Torghast is a good addition to the game, but it needed more time in the cooker.

The shortcomings it has can be addressed by adding more stuff. It doesn’t need a fundamental rework or anything, just more variety — more mob types, more floor plans, and more powers.

The Beasts of Prodigum event will be starting soon, which adds some new stuff to Torghast for a little while. I have not played with it yet, I think this is a great idea. It would be fantastic if Torghast could always have something special like that running.

The time spent vs. reward is out of whack too, but as long as we need legendaries, we’re stuck with that problem. We’ll see how it gets handled in patch 9.1.

First Thoughts on Baldur’s Gate 3

I started Baldur’s Gate 3 on Tuesday afternoon. This morning, I “completed” the first chapter, which is the end of the story in early access. So here are my thoughts on it so far!

Firstly: the timing of the release was great. My Eberron campaign came to an abrupt end last Friday when we accidentally let Sharn get destroyed. Our DM couldn’t find any good Eberron 5e content for higher level characters (we’d just hit level 8 by destroying Sharn 😂) that didn’t require Sharn to exist, so that was a wrap.

Instead, we’re starting a new Descent into Avernus campaign this week. That adventure begins in Baldur’s Gate, and BG3 picks up at the end of the Descent into Avernus adventure. So that’s a cool tie-in!

The story in the game is awesome. If you’ve seen the cinematic, you know a nautiloid flies over Baldur’s Gate and kidnaps a bunch of people for processing. This is awesome. They’re unloading a lot of DnD’s coolest stuff right in the first few seconds: mindflayers, spelljammer ships, and ceremorphosis.

The goal of the game (or at least for the early access story) is to get the mindflayer tadpole out of your head before it turns you into a mindflayer. There seem to be lots of ways to do this. At one point, I think I had six different quests to find potential cures. There’s probably more, but my mostly-lawful-good choices closed off some less-savory solutions.

It seems like you can choose not to remove it too. You get some freaky powers from it, and using them does seem to cause some long-term effects. I mostly avoided using them since my character was firmly in the “nope nope nope” camp.

The first major town you end up in is a druid grove full of tiefling refugees, under threat from some goblins. The tieflings are there because they’ve been kicked out of Elturel for being a bit too demonic. Elturel is the city that ends up descending into hell in the Descent into Avernus adventure. I love the tie-in.

But there are tons of options here. You can help the refugees fight, or help the druids get rid of them. I think you can even join up with the goblins and destroy both the refugees & grove. There’s lots of little storylines and interactions. I spent a couple hours just talking to people and looking around.

Issues

This is an early access game. It’s not done, and they’ll hopefully be making tons of improvements to everything I’m about to raise as a point of criticism.

As far as bugs go: it’s not that bad! You start to see more rough edges when you finish up with the goblins/druid grove. But I had way more problems with Pathfinder: Kingmaker at launch, so BG3 is pretty solid.

I haven’t done any multiplayer. They’ve done three patches since release on Tuesday, and they mostly seem to be fixing multiplayer things. So you might wanna hold off if that’s your thing.

Now: the game is supposed to be the DnD 5e ruleset. It’s been bastardized a bit, and in some respects it’s not a positive change.

For example, shove is supposed to be an action, replacing your attack. In BG3 it’s a bonus action. This lets every character yeet an enemy on pretty much every turn, while still dealing damage. It’s supposed to be 5 foot push, but in BG3 it’s definitely…more. It feels a bit cheesey to win so much by yeeting people to their deaths. But it is hilarious.

A larger issue is the prolific use of surface effects, like patches of fire and ice. This studio’s other big game is Divinity: Original Sin 2. It prominently features making patches of Bad Stuff for people to not stand in. It’s toned down from D:OS2, but there’s still a lot of surface stuff in BG3 — too much for DnD 5e, honestly.

I don’t mind the occasional barrel of oil. That’s something I can identify and plan around at the start of combat. But it feels like every single foe has a fire arrow or a bomb to throw at me that leaves crap on the ground. After a round because everything is on fire. That’s doesn’t feel like DnD 5e combat to me. BG3 needs to pull much further away from DOS2 here.

What’s worse is a lot of spells leave patches of crap on the ground too. For example: fire bolt. In the 5e rules, when you shoot it at someone, it does 1d10 damage. That is all. In BG3, it does a weaker 1d6 damage, but leaves a patch of fire under the enemy’s feet + a burning condition (I think?).

That’s fairly counter-productive: I want my wizard to do some damage from the back while my martial characters are in melee range. It’s hard to be in melee range when your allies are setting the ground underneath your feet on fire.

Honestly, I don’t know why I even kept the wizard in my party. Ray of frost made ice so my martial classes would slip, and like 90% of my attempts to cast witchbolt failed. Thanks for nothing, Gale.

Disengage is another bastardized 5e rule. Right now in BG3, it’s a bonus action. It’s supposed to be an action, so you have to choose whether to move out of a melee fighter’s range safely or make an attack. That’s really making a mess out of combat, so hopefully they change that soon. It feels awful to position my melee so they’ve got everyone under control, just to have the entire enemy force walk right by them to wail on the wizard after one round.

There’s stuff that’s just straight-up broken too, which is to be expected. It was a major bummer to pick my fighting style (at level 2 for some reason?) and find that it just didn’t work. There didn’t seem to be any respec options available, so I literally threw hundreds of damage down the toilet. But that’ll get fixed!

Activating self-cast abilities can be troublesome. Stuff like dash, action surge, etc that can only ever be cast on yourself still requires you to click the ability and then click the character. I’ve misclicked a couple times and accidentally moved (& ate opportunity attacks) instead of casting action surge 😑.

The jump and disengage actions are both the same button, which can be cumbersome. I wanted to disengage from an enemy, but I guess I was a bit too far from my jump destination, because my dumb rouge walked away from the enemy, ate the opportunity attack, and then did the disengage.

The spell interactions still need some work. There are a bunch of hook horrors in one part of the game. When you engage one, it screams to alert others and bring them into combat. I was getting overwhelmed in that fight, so I tried opening with a silence scroll, which should have stopped it from screeching. But alas, it didn’t help.

The rest system is currently game-breakingly bad. Typically in DnD 5e, you have several combats between each long rest. You run low on spell slots, once-per-long-rest abilities, and hit die. But there is nothing at all that stops you from taking a long rest on demand in BG3, so you can recharge all your resources after every fight.

Hilarity & Coolness

The last companion makes an appearance right outside the druid grove, during a big battle with some goblins. I didn’t realize he was a companion until a couple days later when somebody said so on reddit, because he got horribly murdered before I could do much in that fight. Oopsies!

The shove thing is genuinely hilarious. In the underdark, there’s lots of cliffs. My character had a psychic pull power too. There was a whole area with duergar corpses who’d fallen to their deaths before I got there … and when I left, the number had expanded considerably!

Credit to Reddit user aPillowAndaSoftPlace for this hobgoblin yeet.

At one point, I came across a friendly mindflayer. That blew my mind. You can get him to explain why he’s friendly, and it’s a fascinating story with some ~implications~. He offers to help get rid of the tadpole too, but I didn’t take him up on that — my trust only goes so far 😛.

One of the most memorable moments I had was kicking down a barn door and finding an ogre and a hobgoblin just going at it. It was, uh, … yep.

Looking Ahead

The story ends before you actually make it to the city of Baldur’s Gate. That was a bit disappointing — with my new campaign starting there in a few days, I was hoping to get a good feel for it through BG3. But it’s definitely something to look forward to.

There are going to be more races, classes, and lots of subclasses added through the early access period. I went with a pretty basic sword-and-board fighter dwarf, but I think playing a goblin will be really fun. I can’t wait to see how that changes your relationship to the goblins attacking the druid grove.

I’ll definitely be doing a couple more runs through the early access story with different characters and different choices. There seemed to be a lot of doors I closed on myself by being mostly good during this run.