The Insane Tourist’s Guide to the Storm Horns

ScreenShot00930Continuing our guides to extreme DDO tourism to such destinations as the Subterrane and the Underdark, we turn our attention to what might be the most breathtaking place you’ll likely encounter in your travels to-date.

The Storm Horns is a massive mountain range on the outskirts of the Kingdom of Cormyr. Reminiscent of the American Northwest, this wilderness area is arguably MUCH larger than the King’s Forest, outside Eveningstar.

And if the greenery of the King’s Forest wasn’t enough, you are able to take in true vistas from the ridges of the mountain. You’ll literally make a climb up the mountain, with the climate changing as often as the denizens who, predictably enough, aren’t that fond of sightseers and will not offer much hospitality.

Occupying the mountain are the Netherese, descendents of some of the nastiest spell casters that ever lived, and who tire of not having a legacy of blowing shit up as well as their forefathers. These people aren’t exactly the kinds of magicians you’d invite over for birthday parties, lest you want it to be the last one you’ll see on this plane of existence.

Preparing for the Trip: Heroic and Epic Tours

Like the deadlands of Gianthold and the prison city of Wheloon, the Storm Horns offers a Heroic tour (Level 19) or an Epic tour (L27).

To reach the mountains, you must be able to reach Eveningstar. This requires a Stormreach tourist like yourself to

  • Complete the Lords of Dust quest series in Stormreach Harbor and then complete “Beyond the Rift” to open a path to Eveningstar for your first-life character, or
  • Use a Key to Eveningstar to make an extraplanar teleport to the town if you received such a key from a previous life.
  • Or,  use the Hall of Heroes Passport to go to Eveningstar directly from the login screen. Free feature if you’re a VIP tourist, or 795 Turbine Points from the DDO Store. (Thank you, FuzzyDuck.)

The Storm Horns, like the King’s Forest, may give level restrictions for entering. Check with your tourist agent for more details.

New and challenging inhabitants dominate all climes of the mountain. It’s critical to have a good self-sufficiency as only a few shrines to rejuvenate yourself exist in the area. With air elementals and other inhabitants capable of knockdown there, it is possible that you can be accidentally knocked off the mountain.

Feather-fall items are essential to have at the ready. You will fall to your death without feather falling or a similar ability.

The Forest

Even on entry, you're assaulted by beauty. Don't let yourself become assaulted by owlbears at the same time.

Even on entry, you’re assaulted by beauty. Don’t let yourself become assaulted by owlbears at the same time.

On entering, you’ll find a curious individual named Eldovar Fleetleaf that offers to teleport you immediately to one of three areas in the area for a price of Astral Shards.

You can decline his offer and find these special waypoints (Harper Stones) yourself, but this might take some time. For nine shards, you can move about more quickly if your tour group is already far ahead.

It’s strongly advised that you read the tour guide map from DDO Wiki to find these Stones for later (and safer travel). It seems that, once you find the Stones on Heroic, you needn’t look for them again in the Epic version.

Once you do this, future visits with Eldovar will teleport you to that location for free.

There are many streams off the mountain, with passageways across each.

There are many streams off the mountain, with passageways across each.

The forest is much like a snowy King’s Forest but with a significant gradation as you climb as well as an abundance of deciduous forest that sways in the breeze. Other flora, such as fields of wildflowers, are wonderfully sculpted.

Scattered throughout this and higher elevations are journal entry markers left by the inquisitive but prepared Oriphaun (Heroic tour) or the sarcastic and darkly humorous Netherese leader Amskar (Epic tour).

You will traverse for several hours in real time to find all 45 of these markers, and likely run face to face with imaginative and even mythical creatures as you find these little waypoints.

At the forest level, you might find satyrs: Half goat, half man. You’ll also see the owlbear in its native habitat.

There is a large lake to the west with a tiny island in its center that I’ll refer back as you reach higher altitudes.

The Tundra

This lovely lake grows smaller and smaller as you ascend.

This lovely lake grows smaller and smaller as you ascend.

As you climb higher, snowfall appears, but waxes and wanes. The cold becomes more sharp, and so do the bites of those that live here.

You’ll see griffons and something far more unusual: harpies, half woman, half bird, all shrieking. Be careful of their crooning, which can stun you or sometimes make you helpless.

The Netherese, who make camp of various sizes on the mountain, will not be happy that you have discovered parts of their plans. Gnolls, orcs, Netherese-allied humans, and giants are in league with the Netheril and will slay you on sight–which sort of makes sightseeing hard to do.

Your best stealth game can avoid some fights if you desire or are able to use it. Remember that the hill giants you first encounter have See Invisibility and (with the Update 19 stealth AI changes) have incredibly far Spot bonuses. They’re able to see you coming at least three times farther than most other enemies.

Midpoint

There's really not a bad view anywhere on the Horns...unless it's from within the stomach of a griffon.

There’s really not a bad view anywhere on the Horns…unless it’s from within the stomach of a griffon.

The cold whips you as if you were a redheaded stepchild. Drifting snow spins about as you walk.

Looking over the ridge, that reasonably-sized lake at forest level becomes very, very tiny and eventually fades from view with the blowing snow.

You must be very careful here as the Netherese have many of the largest fortifications built here.

They’ve added a familiar but no-less formidable enemy that you’ve seen in places such as in snowy Aussircaex’s Valley: Frost Giants.

The Summit

The desolate beauty is marred only by the Netherese at this point.

The desolate beauty is marred only by the Netherese at this point.

It’s all snowy from here on out. A white dragon occasionally takes up residence in the area, if dragon-spotting is your kind of thing.

Hopefully you won’t become part of the dragon’s favorite pastime: adventurer snacking.

The largest Netherese installations reside atop the mountain. These also lead to the last two quests in the series, if the tourist information is correct.

Watch out for the Ice Elementals. They are surprisingly powerful in attack. Strong fire spells will rid you of them, but they are very many, and you are fewer.

Special Attractions

The Netherese are poor hosts. That’s certainly because they have secrets to their secrets that they aren’t keen on sharing with you until Cormyr is destroyed, and you with them.

That said, check out the glacier entrances once you’ve completed the quests involving the Netherese occupation of the mountain.

By the time you reach the summit and the glaciers, you’ll be a witness to the Netherese magic-bomb facility and flying fortress–if you survive their attempt to use it before you’re forced to destroy it.

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The Wrath of the Netherese

After completing my first Epic Elite solo run with Szyncletica, I’ve gotten more emboldened since last weekend.

Eager to get my 375 Purple Dragon Knight favor in hopes of someday unlocking my Celestia for a Planar Focus I looted, I’ve worked on completing several PDK quests on Heroic or Epic Elite.

I turned my eye to one where the role-play factor would be excellent: “The House of Rusted Blades.”

Syzncletica’s backstory is as a daughter of that house, culled early from the matron mother competition and nearly killed before smuggled to Eberron. She wants vengeance on the whole house. It’s totally personal.

Role-play may be quite secondary to DDO itself, but it can really psych you up if you enjoy that kind of thing.

That same rush of adrenaline, too, came to me later from advance knowledge of Forgotten Realms lore.

Epic Elite “The House of Rusted Blades”

This quest is a short and sweet one. House Dun’Robar is filled with dangerous fighters. Fortunately, they buy into your magic disguise at first. I skipped the weapon room optional, opened the shrine room just in case, and went to the Blademaster’s weapon rack to poison it.

Things went slightly pear-shaped from there. A Diversion dummy I left for the fighters didn’t take (or last long). Soon, a small force chased me down the halls. Unfortunately, the angry Drow activated those who were passively standing guard, and I became deadly close to getting a Dungeon Alert.

But Syzn had a new star in her hands, a L24 spelltouched shuriken with Fracturing and Improved Destruction, among its other hidden effects. With this heinous weapon, designed to destroy the living, she targeted the hindmost and used Improved Precise Shot to rip through her pursuers. The wide expanse of the House with its ramps allowed me to line up targets and evade by leaping off the ramp to line everyone up again until the mob was eliminated.

My original plan was only to isolate and kill the senior Blademaster. But now that the whole house became alerted to me and on the aggressive, I changed my tactics: Kill everyone (save those in the weapons room and the Matron Mother’s lair–I wasn’t suicidal, especially without an ability to remove the spell wards in either place).

Clearing out the last enemies in the canteen and space by the Blademaster’s quarters, I returned through the side passage to ring the bell to alert the Blademaster–and immediately skedaddled, heading back up the ramp adjacent to the path to the double-gated weapons room and the upper level to the entrance.

The Blademaster boss did not move as I removed any and all targets from around him on the upper level, including the four guards by the entrance. Dropping down, using all ninja skills, I retraced my steps back through the lower level and side passage where many enemies that spawned from the central room (once the bell rang) had ran and stopped. Nice one, Devs–this would be a natural place for an EE party to camp to avoid direct confrontation with the boss until they could remove his support. Too bad that enemy party left their own flank open, allowing me to follow and pick them off from a long, fatal distance.

ScreenShot01219With no others left, I returned to the upper level and pummeled the senior Blademaster. Using Pin to slow him down with other Shiradi and spelltouched effects, the EE Blademaster slowly but inevitably met his end.

ScreenShot01221Delicious win. I want to re-do this one, but next time I’ll bring in a Rogue hireling to remove the spell wards to the matron mother. Yes, it’s quite bloodthirsty to role-play the notion of killing your own sister (or mother), which technically would leave Szyn as the new Matron Mother by bloodline. But since she’s also slaying any defenders, she’s really not feeling inclined to be a leader. She’s the angel of Death for the entire House, not its salvation.

Epic Elite “Impossible Demands”

After completing the last two initial Heroic quests before the prison chain in Wheloon to add a few more favor points, I managed to catch a “Caught in the Web” PuG run on Epic Hard. A brutal raid as always. I survived fairly well up to when most others chickened out of luring the trash around the last portal keepers and I decided to volunteer–and die–twice to get things moving along. But the group was generally reliable and efficient.

To get the last of my favor, I entered “Impossible Demands.” Priestess Vicala is not a nice person, but the mechanics of fighting her and saving the hostages is no different for me than completing it on lower difficulties.

The true challenge was having sufficient maneuvering room to fight. The tiny rooms were too tiny against Drow that could lop off 100 HP a swing. I modified my typical plan for this quest: Let the priestess head downstairs and then kite an enemy out and dispatch each one by one. The Improved Paralyzer star helped. An earlier attempt left me Stoned and dead as I didn’t hit the wizards fast enough. Luck proved better the second time in. My only mistake was in setting one hostage free a moment too early, and Vicala sacrificed her. All the others were freed and Vicala was defeated with only a comparatively moderate struggle given Epic Elite. Strange that she is invulnerable to negative energy…and I would have really loved to have Sting of the Ninja working to help with the damage (perhaps it’ll work again with Update 22).

And after all that work, I don’t really have anything to upgrade with the PDK vendor, short of some Spidersilk Robes that have no collective features I’d be able to use from the War Wizard’s Battle Arcanist set.

A Break in the Ice

If I’m not slaying the Drow, I’m stopping the insanely evil plans of the Netherese in the Storm Horns now.

I’ve never completed this quest chain and thought it would be good to get its Heroic Elite side completed to help me learn it for a later Epic completion.

Frost Giants! Ever the annoyance to Lynncletica, Szyn’s not fond of them, either. Stealth helped a lot in strategic killing. But what impressed me was the storyline, the music and the voice work for the NPCs. It really provided an immersive story experience.

I’ve played the 2000-era Neverwinter Nights game series from BioWare. The “Shadows of Undrentide” expansion explores some crazed medusa trying to use old Netherese resources to do the unthinkable: Raise a ancient fallen Netheril city, Undrentide, buried for thousands of years of sand, to float again in the skies, complete with its side benefit as a flying fortress that could decimate cities and become an nigh-unstoppable ruler of the world of Faerun.

So when Syzn hears from the Harpers that they’ve heard of something called a “mythallar” involved in the Horns, Syzn took in the news with her usual tranquil, stoic expression.

Her player (me) said “Oh…shit!” quite out loud.

You see, mythallar, in Forgotten Realms lore,  is a terribly overpowered magical substance used for two things: Power and flight. Think of it as magical plutonium, with all the good and bad that implies.

The Netherese with any amount of mythallar is like giving more gamma rays to the Hulk, or metal to Magneto. Whatever the Netherese had in mind to attack Cormyr, I knew in my heart it involved or included the dreaded words of air bombardment or air invasion. I learned that much from my adventures in the wastes of the Aranoch desert and the ruins of that ancient city in another life.

ScreenShot01226

Three or four more of these mythallars and we could move Faerun out of ORBIT.

I removed the Netherese mage that had supervised the excavation. Unlike the NWN version, this mythallar was planetary in size, a blueish globe surely 1000 meters in diameter.

Now it was time to make my way to stay the Netherese for good. I expected a good fight; the Netherese are not pushovers.

What Goes Up: The Best Storyline and Music in DDO

Many, many thanks to Turbine for this quest. I felt like I was in a powerful fantasy drama and I was the star.

Still learning the quest, I entered in on Heroic Elite. I needed to remove many Netherese and Shadar-Kai forces with controls that blocked the upper entrance to the summit. With a Rogue hireling in tow in case things got weird, I routed any resistance. My Concentration score was more than high enough to disable any force fields that blocked my path.

The MUSIC! I think this is one of the games best scores. It pumped me up greatly as enemies came left and right.

I did read up a bit on this quest before I entered, about being careful not to fall off the glacier, whatever that meant. But nothing prepared me for what I saw as I made it atop the summit.

The top of the world, looking down on Creation.

The top of the world, looking down on Creation.

Damn, Turbine. That’s some fine artwork. I couldn’t go fighting for several seconds. I had to take it all in.

Combined with the majestic music, the grandeur of the view, the free sky and clouds about me generated more sensations of being the hero in the last, climactic scenes of the last movie of a long-awaited trilogy.

With that feeling came the realization that I should’ve been a bit more careful. And that everything that the devs could throw at me was going to show up to stop me from destroying the mythallar.

Giants and orcs and gnolls, oh my! Killing them wasn’t a problem. And then I stepped into a crevasse.

Dead. Thankfully, Turbine moves your s0ulstone next to a resurrection shrine most of the time.

I rebuffed as best I could with inventory items and remove more and more enemies, finally reaching the boss, standing atop the huge mythallar globe.

This seems familiar, I thought. Shades of Undrentide haunted me as I realized these guys were going to fly a frakking glacier over Cormyr, packed with troops and destroy Cormyr from the sky. The size of this thing suggested that they could fly to the kingdom itself and just colony drop the city out of existence with the entire glacier. Wow.

Szyn went to work, not realizing at first that killing the boss was secondary. He would summon large reinforcements when he lost even a small amount of health. What I missed in the Objectives list was: Destroy the flight pillars. I had to do something similar in NWN, destroying enough of the mythallar to sink the city once more. Here, I remove some mechanisms which would empower flight.

It was harrowing, although my thrower skills had the upper hand to remove the pillars while Improved Precise Shot allowed me to hit pursuers as well.

After losing my ship buffs and without some good resistances and greater familiarity with the glacier’s cracks and crevasses, death came calling often for me, falling once more, blasted by many ice elementals that ganged up, and getting turned to stone.

But the quest was too damned fun not to try again and again. By the fifth death, I reluctantly decided I’d like to have my gear intact and not permanently damaged, and I aborted the run.

I have never, ever had so much fun in failing a quest in any DDO adventure since, perhaps, “Frame Work.” The backstory I knew of the Netherese only made the experience that more real.

Turbine and Staff: Epic Win, +1 and gratz to you. Sorry I got to this one late. I have similar praise for you with the Haunted Halls, but that’s for another time.

And I’ll be back there. The Netherese are toast…even if I have to cross the streams to do it.

And I might have to reload Neverwinter Nights on some computer, somewhere.