What Do I Do Next in Avernum: Escape From the Pit

Stuck? Frustrated? Getting killed everywhere you go? There is help. Simply click on the link that corresponds to your level, and scan the list for quests and/or fights that you haven't done yet. Then scroll up to the previous lists; you never know, you might have missed something juicy! You should find enough to get you to the next level, opening up a whole new world of possibilities! (You can skip all the boring stuff below)

Level 1 Level 2 Level 3 Level 4 Level 5 Level 6 Level 7
Level 8 Level 9 Level 10 Level 11 Level 12 Level 13 Level 14

This is a not a step-by-step walkthrough. It's basically just a list of quests and combats, broken down by the approximate level you should be to beat them — on Torment. On normal, you can generally skip ahead at least a couple of levels. You do not have to do them in the order given. The purpose is to show a player how to get to the next level, if they feel unable to progress. The list goes up to level 14, at which point your options are wide open. If you find that you can't handle a fight at the recommended level, you have several options:
  1. Come back later. In most cases, there is enough XP available to level you up even if you skip a fight or two. There are many quests that require no combat at all.
  2. Change your tactics. You can find a few suggestions here. For more comprehensive information, look here.
  3. Examine your character builds, and adjust as necessary. Spreading skill points far and wide is generally a mistake, and you should concentrate most of your stat points in your main offensive stat: Strength for warriors, Dex for archers, and Intelligence for casters. If you keep getting killed in one shot, add more Endurance. Look here for a general description of the builds I used, and here for a different (and much more detailed) perspective.
  4. Turn down the difficulty. This guide was tested on the highest difficulty so it would work for everyone, but you should play wherever you get the most enjoyment. It's called Torment for a reason!

The best XP comes from quests, but I will also be pointing out optional combat opportunities, and assuming that you are taking on all wandering monster encounters that you reasonably can. I am also assuming that you're scouring each town and dungeon for loot and improving your equipment and spells as you go, and that you're picking all pickable locks (for the XP if nothing else). I will not be dictating to you exactly how to spend every coin and skill point, though I will drop a suggestion here and there. Nor will I be taking all the fun out of exploration by telling you exactly where everything is - you can find maps and more info here and here. Despite a few bottlenecks, there's always more than one way to get where you're going.

Go ahead and collect all quests as you come to them, including job board items. I will only be mentioning them as you can complete them, however.

Quests will appear in bold face, followed by the location and name of the quest-giver. Non-quest fights will appear in regular type, followed by their location if that's not obvious. Either may be followed by comments on tactics or difficulty. Asides and suggestions will appear occasionally in italics.

This is based on a play-through that I did on Torment. In many cases, I'll be advising you to do part of a dungeon and come back at a higher level to finish it, but that will not necessarily be required if you're playing on lower difficulties. For example, on Normal I was able to do the whole bat cave the first time I encountered it — at level 3!

My party consisted of a dual-wielding warrior, an archer, a mage and a priest. Fair warning: Archers are sub-optimal, because they don't keep up with damage output later in the game, and evasion is not supposed to be an effective long-term survival strategy. Knowing this, I used one anyway because I like archers and they suit my play style. In fact I found that evasion is a pretty good survival strategy, except against bosses. And the archer, acting first, can usually place herself so as to harmlessly draw mob attacks that would otherwise be chipping away at the tank's health. It's still not as effective as mowing them down with two dual-wielders, but you can beat the game with all kinds of parties.

This is not a min-maxing guide - I find that sort of thing boring and unnecessary, so power-gamers will be disappointed here. For example, I will use a few more skill points than I strictly have to, rather than doing things wildly out of order just to get to a trainer early — or struggle through half the game waiting for the cheapest trainer. But I do pick up quest items I know I'll need later, just to save retracing my steps. 

My builds were straightforward: Each PC invested in its primary stat (STR for the fighter, DEX for the archer, INT for the casters), plus the occasional point in Endurance. Each raised its primary attack skill each level, with the warrior alternating between Hardiness and Parry, and the archer alternating between Sharpshooter and Lethal Blow. Casters invested a few points in Tool Use, and otherwise raised Spellcraft and Resistance besides their primary. Tool use (including the Nimble Fingers trait, if taken) of at least 5 will get you a very good bow in Ft. Avernum, and a little more doesn't hurt. Traits were mostly core stats and Endurance, with a couple of Nimble Fingers. At level 8, everyone took Negotiator, and at 12, everyone got Sage Lore. Once the fighters had Adrenaline Rush, they branched out a bit.

Another approach for the archer would be to raise Bows to 10 (or even 8 and buy two levels if that's your thing), then start raising either Melee or Pole weapons and Hardiness to 10 before going back to missile skills. As long as you keep raising Dex, this shouldn't have too much of an impact on accuracy; what it will do is give her a better shot at surviving when she does occasionally get hit. Eventually, you might even want to give her some Parry. On Normal, that might be a waste of skill points, but on Torment it's not a bad investment.

Note that these are not necessarily the best or the only possible builds — two warriors will do a lot of damage once they start to hit reliably; you just need to change your tactics a little. If you hate backtracking, there's no reason you can't throw a few points into Cave Lore as you go along. Likewise, if you plan to go for Magical Efficiency eventually, there's no reason not to start raising Arcane Lore fairly early — in fact it will give you access to some of the spell tomes earlier than waiting for the Sage Lore trait. Min-maxers may deride some of these ideas, but you may find that by the time your party's level is in the high twenties, your casters in particular are running out of useful places to put their skill points anyway.

So basically, do whatever you want, within reason. But if you're playing with some exotic party (no casters, or singleton, or something), then obviously this guide may not exactly apply. If you're a better player than me (not unlikely), my advice may seem overly cautious. I don't claim to be an expert, but the point is that you don't have to be an expert to beat the game, even on Torment — you just have to be persistent, and willing to try different things and learn from your mistakes.

The argument has been made that you should hoard all of your saleable loot until level 8, when the Negotiator trait kicks in. This is a good strategy if you can manage it, because money is tight in this game. You should not need to spend gold on consumables or equipment in the early game, and your starting spells will carry you through level 5 or so. By the time I got to Ft. Dranlon, I had over 2100c just from drops and quest rewards, which was enough for a level each of Bolt of Fire, Daze, Haste, Icy Rain, Minor Heal, Call the Storm, and Summon Shade. All without selling a single item.

A Few Words About Tactics

In general, don't rush into melee. Let your enemies come to you, ideally just one or two at a time if you can manage it. Take advantage of terrain like doorways and narrow corridors — you don't have to make it easy for them. Sometimes you can lure ranged fighters (even casters!) right to you by stepping just out of sight.

Your Protection spell is extremely valuable; you should cast it before every fight, and renew as needed. Same with Haste, when you get it. War Blessing is just okay for buffing purposes, but it's invaluable for canceling out curses. When I suggest "going in prepared", that means buffed and in combat mode. Opening doors in combat mode can win you a whole free round against enemies that otherwise attack before you (If one of your PCs is faster, have that one skip her turn). You can also search containers in combat mode, and thereby gain an advantage in certain spawned encounters.

Steelward and Spellward scrolls will be crucial to get you through certain fights, so use them wisely until you have access to the spells. When you run low on spell points, retreat and recharge in a town if possible, to conserve energy potions. You may need to make numerous trips to clear difficult dungeons.

Pets are useful on Torment, not so much for inflicting damage, but for running interference. Shades are immune to mental effects like Daze (and incidentally to poison and cold attacks too), so they're good at helping to block doorways. (Edit: In a subsequent play-through with 3 casters and a dual-wielder, I'm finding that my summon-specialist mage's pets are extremely useful — in the early-midgame they usually have a better to-hit chance than my warrior. They kind of kick ass.)

Speaking of Daze, you should make good use of it. In the very early game, it's reasonably effective at crowd control. It isn't long before most enemies are resisting it, but by then you should have it at level 2, which adds the Ensnare effect — very nice. It will save your life when you're faced with hard-hitting melee attackers. Ensnare even works against creatures that are naturally immune to Daze, so go ahead and cast it on undead to slow them down.

A favorite trick of mine for a tough early-game (say, level 6 to 12) fight is to park my archer just outside a doorway and let a low-level minion get between her and the boss, especially if the boss has a mean melee attack. The minion will likely have a very low chance of hitting her at all. Then I summon a shade, which will help to block the door, while distracting the minion and also doing a little damage (not too much, we don't want it to die prematurely). That way, even if my archer gets stunned or dazed, the minion will stay put. Meanwhile, she fires at the boss with support from the other PCs as needed. If the boss has a serious area attack (which most of them do), the rest of them spread out, getting right out of sight if necessary. Icy Rain can be deployed from just out of line-of-sight if need be. As long as the boss can't actually one-shot the archer, this method is slow but sure. The warrior is pretty much dead weight in this scenario until mopping up. You do not want him engaging the minion in the doorway until the boss is dead! Once you get Group Heal and Mass Cure, and better resistances and armor, you can adjust your tactics accordingly.

Bait & Switch is another trick that works especially well for parties without an archer. Let's say you have two warriors and two casters, and you're about to enter a room with a nasty boss and a bunch of minions. Go into combat mode and position one warrior on each side of the doorway, and the casters a little off to the sides:

The intention is to keep everyone out of direct line-of-sight of ranged attackers. When ready, warrior #1 opens the door, steps onto the threshold, and either fires off an arrow or uses a wand — the point is just to get their attention (if he can't reach a target without moving farther into the room, don't do it; see plan B). Now warrior #1 is standing in the doorway, and warrior #2 is still standing just to the side of it. On #2's turn, he steps into the doorway, swapping places with #1, and then steps back out on the other side. So they're back in their original positions, except swapped. Now the critters in the room will start to come through the doorway one or two at a time, including ranged attackers that normally would not come near your fighters. This set-up also protects you from cleaving attacks, and lets you back-stab if you have that trait. Obviously, some ranged attackers may find a suitable angle from which to get at you within the room, but a surprising proportion of them will just join the conga line of death.

Plan B: If the warrior can't reach a target from the doorway, just have him step back to his original position. Your mage (or priest) can then target any space the fighter saw from the doorway with an AoE spell like Icy Rain (or even Daze). They can do this without moving. Any mapped space can be targeted by a circular AoE spell, even if it's not in line-of-sight — as long as no-one in your party can see a creature on it. Seriously, it's okay if there is a creature there, as long as you can't see it. (This is a bit of an exploit, but hey, all's fair on Torment.) Anyway, that will provoke them into coming out.

If you've gotten the impression that it's often a good idea to limit melee on Torment, you're correct — at least in the early game, against enemies that are stronger than you, which is a lot of them. They will hit you hard, and you will in many cases hardly be able to hit them at all. And getting mobbed is never a good thing, at any stage of the game. Later on your warrior will come into his own, but he's going to need more Strength and skill before he can hit high-level foes reliably. Better armor along with more Endurance, Hardiness and Parry will also help with the not dying.

Speaking of which, don't bother with any armor pieces that have a to-hit penalty attached, except for chest armor, and shields for the archer and the priest. Helmets, bracers, belts and greaves with hit penalties are just not worth it unless they come with substantial magical bonuses. Note that items with to-hit bonuses (such as many bows have) will offset those penalties, allowing your mage to wear heavier armor.

Oh yeah, and save often.

(Questions and comments can be posted to this thread on the Spiderweb Software forums.)

Level One

Escape the Arrival Caves (Tutorial cave) - Offer to help Brissa and don't forget to go back and tell her that Lagran is gone. Wait around until all of the refugees leave. By then, you should be level 2. Note that if you actually manage to kill Lagran (not easy to do in any case), you will miss out on a huge chunk of XP, so heroic measures are not recommended.

Start picking up bars of iron and sacks of meal. You will also need 3 each of picks, shovels, hammers, tongs and pincers, so keep your eyes peeled as you go along. And save herbs, though you can use some for potions. For a complete list of collection quest items, look here.


Level Two

There's way more than enough here to get you to level three, so if something seems too hard, you can come back to it later. You don't have to do these in any particular order.

Finish clearing the tutorial cave if you haven't already, then go upstairs to Ft. Avernum.

Be sure to grab and keep the bag of sugar from the unlocked store room for an easy quest later. And don't miss the chainmail vest hiding in the corner of the eastern store room — it may save your life.

Meet Silvar's Mayor (Ft. Avernum, scout) - This is the first step in one of the major game-winning quests, but you get no XP for it.

Find Anastasia (Ft. Avernum, Warrick) - An easy jaunt over to Silvar and back to fulfill this one.

Giant rats (Ft. Avernum) - Just outside the walls to the southeast.

Goblin camp (outdoor encounter, north of Ft. Avernum, east of Ft. Duvno, near the cave wall) - Should give you no difficulty, with Daze.

When you get to Silvar, don't buy a boat there; you can get one cheaper in Cotra, and you don't need one yet anyway.

Generally I avoid visible theft even though you can get away with a few, but I do like to liberate a steel breastplate from Anastasia's shop — it's the best armor you'll see for quite some time. You can also steal an iron breastplate from Jasmine's shop in Formello without consequence, since she is a neutral character — NPCs whose names appear in blue don't notice when you commit crimes.

Hidden goblins (Silvar) - Behind Carol's bakery. These guys are fairly easy if you go in prepared, potentially deadly if you don't.

Message to Ft. Duvno (Silvar, job board)

Bat Swarms (Silvar, job board) - If you're playing on Torment, do not attempt to go deeper into the cave after you kill the bats. The rats will devour you at this level.

When you get to Ft. Duvno, do not buy spells there; you will get them cheaper very soon in Ft. Dranlon.

Brigand Extortion (Ft. Duvno, Jason) - It may take a couple of tries and/or require the use of a couple of items, but it is doable at this level. Make sure you avoid the nearby lone slith for now.

Bandit ambush (Outdoor Encounter, abandoned house near goblin cave) - Just be very careful to avoid the lone slith wandering nearby.

Bandit ambush (Outdoor Encounter, hidden campsite in north cave wall)

You will almost certainly be level three if you've done most of the above, but the following can also technically be done at level two (or you can wait to go to Cotra until you've done the Silvar and Ft. Duvno quests):

Message to Ft. Dranlon (Cotra, job board)

Cheap spell levels are available at Ft. Dranlon, but you can get by with your starting spells for the next few levels. You won't have much cash yet at this point anyway.

Nephilim Encampment (Cotra, job board) - You can easily do this now for a very nice chunk of XP, if you choose the "Warn them to leave" option. Killing them later will actually net you less XP.

Delivery: Formello (Cotra, job board) - Make sure you go downstairs and collect the package before you leave town.


Level Three

Giant Lizards (Outdoor Encounter, watering hole) - A bit tricky but doable if you have the iron breastplate and chainmail vest on your fighters, and if you can get the lizards to split their targets on the first round. If you don't have a high-Dex character, you probably want to leave this one for another level or two, depending on armor.

Lone slith (Outdoor Encounter, wanders near the goblin cave) - Doable if you have enough health and armor to survive the first strike (or get lucky with a parry), but will be hard to hit.

Giant spiders (Outdoor Encounter, north of Cotra)

Silvar sewers (the level, not the quest) - Most of the level can be cleared if you proceed with caution. In fact, the Droknarr (boss) fight can be done at this level, but I don't recommend it on Torment — it will burn a lot of resources. It's pretty easy to get to level 4 first, so just come back a little later.

Goblin cave (northern cave wall) - This is the location of the Nephilim Problem quest, and again you can clear most of the dungeon at level 3. You will almost certainly level up before reaching the boss fight, but if not, go do something else and come back at level 4.

Bandit fort (west of Ft. Duvno) - This is the location of the Bandit Irritation and Misplaced Knowledge quests, and once again you probably can't finish them yet, but if you just need some extra XP to get to the next level, you can clear most of the map. Avoid the center-west room and the one immediately south of it. Probably best to avoid the Fierce Rat outside the north wall, too.


Level Four

Nephilim Problem (Ft. Duvno, Captain Johnson) - Go in prepared, and your warrior should be able to close with Dorva. Keep the nephilim Dazed as much as possible while you whittle him down.* Afterward, be sure to free Hinthek (in the cells) for some extra XP and rep.
*Alternately, you could exploit the neutral NPC bug: Stand by the wall and snipe all of the nephilim to death before attacking the goblin shaman. Nobody will react.

Silvar Sewer Worms! (Silvar, Mayor Jonathan) - Use Daze and/or a pet and/or the archer to slow the flow of worms into the room. Whichever character can hit Droknarr most reliably (the archer, in my party) should quaff a speed potion, and you ought to be able to finish him without using much else besides maybe a healing or curing potion. Spread your characters out to minimize the effect of that horrible poison mist.

Bandit Irritation (Ft. Duvno, Captain Johnson) - Don't be in a hurry to rush into the room. You may be able to clear out all of the thugs before Perigin attacks. If not, just Daze them until you've dealt with him.

Fierce Rat (Brigand fort, outside north wall)

Misplaced Knowledge (Silvar, job board) - The bandit is your only real obstacle. Keep your Protection in place and you should be okay.

Even if you haven't been to Cotra yet, you should be level 5 after doing the above quests (assuming you've had at least a couple of random encounters). If not, you've probably missed something. Go back over the list and do stuff until you are.

This is a good time to go to Ft. Dranlon and buy spell levels if you haven't already. At the very least you want Haste and the second level of Daze. Summon Shade and Icy Rain would be pretty sweet too, if you can afford them, and you can bump Minor Heal to level 2 for just 120c — worth it. I tend to keep coming back until I have almost everything at level 2 except Call Beast and Cloak of Curses.


Level Five

Nepharim Prisoners (Cotra, Mayor Steele) - The only serious obstacle is the Vapor Rat. It might take a couple of tries, and require the use of some Group Heal scrolls. Avoid being seen by the nepharim at all costs! After the prisoners are free, be sure to tell Rinn (hiding in the eastern tunnel) about it for some extra XP and rep.

Fierce rats, etc. (Bat cave) - By now you should also be able to clear out the rats in the next chamber of the bat cave, as long as you take them slowly. You can try going (very cautiously) down the eastern tunnel. A couple of real nasties down there, but you may be able to handle them. 

If you're not level 6 after all that, you should be very close. Time to head up to Formello for some easy XP to get you there.

Formello's Mayor (Silvar, Mayor Jonathan) - You can do this quest any time after you get it. I usually wait until I've done everything I can do in the Eastern Gallery. You actually get no XP for this, but it's part of the main quest line.

Sugar (Formello, Gad) - You still have it, right?

Mushroom Meal (Formello, Jen) - A collection quest.

Bounty - Rat Nest (Formello, job board) - Another vapor rat. Should be old hat by now.

The Wisdom of Motrax (Formello, Mother Claudette)

Delivery - Motrax (Formello, job board)

Delivery - Ft. Draco (Formello, job board)

Hot Springs (Silvar, Gary) - In theory you could have done this much earlier, but for some reason you get no XP for it, just the coins, so meh.

You will certainly be level 6 long before completing all of this, probably before you even leave Formello. You can buy some Cave Lore from Vermeers while you're here (rather than spending skill points on it), but if you do, you probably won't be able to afford all the spells you want. Cave Lore is a worthwhile skill, but I recommend holding off spending money on it for a while. Of course, nothing stops you from spending skill points on it if you want to.


Level Six

Rats again (Bat Cave) - You can go down the eastern tunnel now, if you haven't already. You shouldn't need to use more than a potion or two.

Smoldering Bats (Bat Cave) - You may prefer to wait on this until you can finish the whole dungeon, but it is possible to do the bats now. It will require the use of a Spellward scroll, and it would be best if you top up your spell levels first. Icy Rain, Call the Storm, and Summon Shade will be very useful. Leave the last section of the cave alone for now.

Hidden lizards (Outdoor encounter, North of Formello)

Lizards (Outdoor Encounter, river inlet south of Ft. Draco) - You need to get a boat in Ft. Draco to do this one. You want a boat anyway, so you can get to the spring that gives you Cloak of the Arcane.

In Ft. Draco, you should be able to find the last few bits of shovels and tongs and whatnot, so you can swing back down to Silvar and turn in Efram's three quests in quick succession. Also, be sure to visit Boutell's forge to get a look at the giant anvil — you'll save yourself a trip later. On your way down the river, stop and explore the area southwest of the bend. Check out an abandoned house for a recipe you'll want later. 

Picks & Shovels (Silvar, job board) - If you were looking sharp and were willing to be seen stealing one shovel, you could have finished all three of these before finishing the Ft. Duvno quests, but if not, do them now.

Bars & Hammers (Silvar, job board)

Tongs & Pincers (Silvar, job board)

Nephil guards (Outdoor Encounters, near nephil fortress) - The ones in the front are a little tougher than the ones guarding the back entrance, but you should be able to handle them all. Still best to go in the back way, though.

By now you should be level seven. If not, wander Northern Avernum for a while — there's no shortage of random encounters in the area.


Level Seven

Nephil Fortress (west of Formello, south of Ft. Draco) - This is the location of The Stolen Necklace quest. You will probably need to do it a bit at a time, retreating to town frequently.

Main level: Do everything except for the ogres (seriously, avoid the ogres, they will kill you). It is possible to sneak around a bit and avoid the two mini-bosses on this level (a spiritist and a sub-chief), but that's not necessary — or if it is, then you're underpowered anyway and won't be able to finish the quest.

Underground: Several tough fights here. They're all easily avoided, but we didn't come here to avoid fights, now did we? Some of them might take a few tries, but they're all beatable. Darkhaz has brutal attacks that can kill any character in one round; it's not worth burning a Spellward scroll, since one of his physical attacks is even worse than his fire. If you're having no luck with him, he's optional as long as you picked up the bronze key in the Goblin Cave. Don't forget to come back later, though, as he's guarding some nice loot.

Upper level: You can do everything at level 7 except for the three bosses: Zemera (SE), Chief Charrar (W), and High Shaman Mrrrrmm (SW). So basically, all of the nephilim that you can get to without opening any doors, plus the "honored dead", plus the alchemist, plus the spiritist near the stairs. Fortunately you will almost certainly be level 8 before reaching the bosses. If not, go back over the list and do things you've missed until you are.


Level Eight

If you've been hoarding all your loot, it's payoff time. Give everyone the Negotiator trait and go sell your stuff. Whoo-hoo, money! 

The Stolen Necklace (Formello, Mayor Evelyn) - In fact the only boss you need to kill for this is the shaman (in the southwest chamber), but you might as well do them all. First, make sure you have at least 4 or 5 energy potions; have Walner at Ft. Duvno make some for you if necessary (but be careful to save at least one of each type of herb). Then take your boat over to the spring to get Cloak of the Arcane (optional but makes your life easier), and return to the fort.

Use a Steelward scroll for Charrar; otherwise he will certainly kill you. Spread out, and watch out for his Cleave. He acts twice per round, so you may have to try this a few times if you get unlucky. If you keep killing off his pets, he's likely to waste one of his moves summoning a new one.

You should leave the Steelward in place for the other two fights; you can survive one of Mrrrrmm's firebolts without a Spellward, and you can't survive two with one, so there's really no point. You might as well have the physical protection from his minions. (Again, this is on Torment, YMMV)

Zemera is the easiest of the three, especially since she starts off "friendly", meaning you can enter in combat mode and have your warrior(s) march right up to her while your casters position themselves in the corners and summon pets.

Mrrrrmm will likely take several tries no matter what, as he has both a horrific poison mist attack and a powerful firebolt, and on Torment he gets to act twice per turn. He can kill any of your characters in one round if he chooses to attack them twice, so it's imperative to take him out as quickly as possible. The best way to do that is to bring him to you, with some variation of the Bait & Switch trick.

Spread your Return Life scrolls around the party, and make sure your priest has a speed potion. Casters buff, heal, and attack when possible, but stay spread out. Eventually, Mrrrrmm will run through the doorway, conveniently next to your warrior(s), and far from everyone else. The priest should take the speed potion at that point in case the shaman uses his poison mist (he will be able to hit 2 characters at the most, if you've spread the party out). As with Charrar, taking out his pet is likely to make him waste an action summoning a new one — Icy Rain is very good for this.

On the next round he hit my fighter twice and killed him. This is almost certain to happen to someone eventually. If it happens sooner, reload; if later, use a Return Life scroll.

Afterwards, destroy the altar — the spawned imps will be trivial compared to what you just did. Be sure to grab and keep the mandrake root from the nearby lab when you're done. And check in with Kneedler in the cells before you go, for some extra XP and rep.

Invading Ogre (Formello, job board) - You should be able to handle this guy now, especially if you still have your Steelward in place from the nephil fortress (but the ogres in the nephil fort will still kill you*). Avoid the nearby lava bats!
*Unless by chance you've just leveled up to 9 and still have your Steelward in place, in which case you can probably take the ogre near the trophy room. Stay away from the ogre mage for now.


Level Nine

Barrow Wight (Bat cave, past the smoldering bats) - Whatever you do, don't melee anything that has a spine shield.

If you've been taking Arcane Lore instead of holding out for Sage Lore, it's possible that you can read the spell tome for Ward of Steel now. Which would be awesome, but I'm assuming otherwise in this guide.

Imps (Bat cave, altar room) - Take the crystals in combat mode, and you should have no trouble.

Nephar prisoners and penned lizards (Ft. Draco, cells)

Restless spirit (Ft. Draco, behind barracks)

Araneas and Giant Spiders (Outdoor encounter, south of Ft. Draco) - These are the ones guarding the oozing wand.

Deadly Crypt (Formello, job board) - You will want to bring a Spellward scroll. If you don't have a lot of energy potions, that's okay; technically, all you have to do to fulfill this is figure out how to escape from the crypt. For practical purposes, that means you have to kill all the loose undead in the halls, some of which are quite nasty. Level 2 Daze will ensnare them, and a summoned shade will impede them while you shoot and zap.  You definitely want Haste in your arsenal before you do this, because many of these guys slow you when they hit. When it's all clear, open the door in the west wall and proceed from there.

More undead (Ancient crypt) - You can do most or all of the rest of the crypt at this level, even if you have to leave and recharge first — the Spellward will not be strictly necessary. The Darkling Wight in the eastern chamber will spam Daze at you; lure him out of the room so you can all spread out and hit him. Bait & Switch works very nicely here.

Clear the rest of the rooms except possibly for the northern one. Thexa Blooddrinker, in that one, can be done at this point, but she may charm one of your fighters, which is pretty much a disaster unless you have Unshackle Mind.  I had previously posted the speculation that she only used Dominate at missile range, but this has been proven incorrect. If you're having bad luck with it (or with her super-nasty lightning attack), come back later.

Be sure to talk to Gooley on your way out for some extra XP.

Now, at this point you could go south to Mertis. But I like to be as thorough as possible, so...

Nepharim (Underground fort, north of Cotra) - You don't want to take on too many nepharim at one time. Start with the secret entrance that leads into the small room — there's a nice manageable group in there. If you have no trouble with them, you should be able to do all of the loose nepharim in the main area, a few at a time. If a bunch of nephar warriors come at once, use level 2 Daze and if necessary Call the Storm to keep them at a distance — their combined melee attacks will kill you. When the halls are clear, open the rooms by the gates and kill the guards. Finally, there are two nepharim visible through a window in the central chamber — might as well shoot them, too. By the time you've done all that, you should be level 10. If not, come back later.

A Tuft of Graymold (Freehold of Kyass, Kendrew) - You can do this one now (could have done it anytime after you got your boat in Cotra, actually), but I strongly recommend that you keep both sprigs of graymold for other quests, and do this one later. Take your boat west of Ft. Dranlon, then take the first right and look out for a peninsula with an herb patch on it. You don't need any Cave Lore for this one, and just knowing the location of the patch is good for some XP later on.

If you've been taking Arcane Lore instead of holding out for Sage Lore, it's possible that you can read the spell tome (in the Freehold) for Ward of Elements now. Which would be awesome, but I'm assuming otherwise in this guide.

If you're below level 10 when you go to Mertis, you probably want to avoid the group of undead that roams near the town.

Herbs for Ether (Mertis, Ether) - If you've harvested the graymold from the patch near the Freehold, you should be able to do this whole thing.

Vapor rats (Mertis, silo)


Level Ten

Nepharim, cont'd (Underground fort, north of Cotra) - It's time to start kicking in doors, starting with the rooms around the outside. Go in prepared, timing it so you get to act before they do. The spiritists have a nasty habit of summoning pets that are way more powerful than they are. Twice I was forced to flee the summoned after slaying the summoner. That's okay, though, the pets are gone when you go back.

The  boss fight (central room, near the prison cell) is beatable with Steelward and a speed potion or two, if you have a decent tank (or an archer tough enough not to get one-shot killed). Otherwise come back a little later. If you have a high tolerance for boredom and some excess energy potions, you can actually kill the boss without opening the door, but I won't get into the details.

Taking the blade from the altar in the shrine will spawn 3 cave demons. DO NOT attempt to fight them now. You will lose. If you really want to fight them, you'll have to come back for the blade much later. If you don't care about fighting them, but you really want the Radiant Shortblade (and you do), you can get it the cheap and dirty way: position the party near the exit, go into combat mode, and send your squishiest character into the shrine to get the blade. He or she will be killed in the first round. As soon as that happens, end combat and simply stroll out. Buh-bye, demons!
(Edit: In the latest update, this exploit has been nerfed slighty. You may not be able to take the blade if the rest of the party is right by the exit; leave them near the gate instead.)

Tunneling mage (Outdoor Encounter, across the river from Silvar)

Ghast & ghouls (Outdoor Encounter, wandering near Mertis) - Oddly enough, two spells which do no damage to undead (Daze and Call the Storm) are the key to surviving this encounter. You will probably die unless you can keep most of them away from you most of the time. In between, keep renewing Haste and Protection. Picking off the ghouls first will save you some grief.

If you skipped doing the Nephar chieftain, you might be just shy of level 11. It is possible to do the outer ring of the Spiral Pit at this point, but I recommend getting more spells first.

This is a good time to head down to the Tower of Magi if you haven't already — you can learn to use the pylons and buy a few useful spells. Be sure to avoid the group of wandering ogres, for now. Once you have Group Heal, Unshackle Mind and Steelward (among others), you can go back and do anything you missed.

The Largest Anvil (ToM, Throndell) - You should be able to turn this in instantly, if you visited the forge in Ft. Draco.

Solberg's Message/Find Solberg (ToM, Kelner) - He won't give you this quest unless you've already heard about the Haakai from someone else. Talk to everyone; it'll come up eventually. These are necessary to advance one of the major quests; however you get no XP from them, so no rush.

Nephar guards (Outdoor Encounters, near Underground Fortress) 

Nephilim Raiders (Cotra, job board) - Steelward turns this from a near-certain defeat to a near-certain victory.


Level Eleven

From here on I'm assuming you have at least one level of Steelward.

Nephils' ogres (Nephil fortress, main level) - There are two of them, the one guarding the trophy room, and the ogre mage in the small room.

Lurking sliths (Outdoor Encounter, east of Ft. Dranlon) 

Scaly imps (ToM, restricted area)

Rescue soldiers from spider attack (Outdoor Encounter, south of Spider Cave)

Five Aranea (Outdoor Encounter, south of Spider Cave) - This might take a few tries, but it is beatable. Focus fire.

Shades & Ghouls (Outdoor Encounter, near Spiral Pit) - Get the shades first.

Spiral Pit, outer ring - This is the location of the Undead Curse quest. Do not be fooled by the relative wimpiness of the undead in the outer ring. They get exponentially worse the farther in you go. You can go past the secret door (the northern one) as far as the first group of ghouls, but the ghasts and the Shimmering Shade are probably more than you want to deal with right now. And leave the Greater Shades behind the other secret door alone too, until you have Ward of Elements.

Okay, crunch time. Beatable fights are getting scarce (on Torment, anyway). If you are a masochist, you can roam around the honeycomb picking fights with wandering bands of sliths. Or...take your boat down to the great cave and score some easy XP to get to level 12. Stick to the roads as much as possible and avoid outdoor encounters for now. Stay away from the southwest corner of the cave, near Ft. Remote - too dangerous.

You won't need to do anywhere near all of this to get to level 12, so leave some of it for later if you want. And if you've been raising Arcane Lore instead of waiting for Sage Lore, you already have access to the Ward of Elements and Ward of Steel tomes; you can forget about the Great Cave for now and skip ahead to most of the level 12 tasks.

Chevyn's Ring (Castle, Chevyn) - Any platinum ring will do, but there's one in a barrel near the cells.

Works of Magery (Castle, Benth) - A collection quest.

Kelner's Note (Almaria, job board)

The Serpent Ring (Almaria, Dexter) - First visit one of the farms east of Almaria to get the "password", or Dexter won't trust you.

Message - Cormac (Almaria, job board) - Avoid the slimes for now.

Graymold Patch (Ft. Emerald, Hodgson) - Assuming you've been there, you can turn this in right away.

Message for Elizabeth (Ft. Emerald, Matthias) - She's in Cotra.

Iron Bars (Blosk, Jonnhalyn) - A collection quest.

Message - Shaynee (Blosk, Leith)

Message - Bargha (Dharmon, job board)

Vapor rats (Dharmon, north entrance)

Cure Hathwisa (Patrick's Tower, Patrick) - A juicy pile of XP for this one — it was worth saving that graymold.

Graymold Recipe (Patrick's Tower, Kai)

The Scimitar (Various possible sources direct you to Calder in Bargha)

Bargha's Library (ToM, X)

Valorim Bestiary, I & II (Dharmon, Witch)

There's more than enough there to get you comfortably to level 12. And if you've been waiting to get Sage Lore, now you can go back to all of those spell tomes. The extra spell levels will help your survivability dramatically. If you've forgotten where the spells were, there's a complete list here.


Level Twelve

By now you should have at least two levels of Steelward and one of Spellward (from the tome in the Freehold). This opens up more options for you.

Thantria's Sentinel (Formello, underground)

Lava Bats (Outdoor Encounter, west of Formello)

Fire Lizards (Lair of Motrax)

Aranea City (west of Spider Cave) - This is the location of the Rescue a Spider quest. You can clear most of it, leaving only the northern sections.

Anti-poison Brew (Ft. Emerald, Hodgson)

Aranea Fangs (Ft. Draco, Aife) - A collection quest. Drop one before speaking to her or she'll take all of them. You need one for Hodgson.

Wandering Sliths (Slith slave camps, southwest of Ft. Dranlon) - Best if you have the third level of Ward of Steel. Do not attack the camps themselves yet.

Scout the Sliths (Cmdr Rosie, Ft. Dranlon) - This island fort is also the location of The Slith Menace quest, however you should just do the lower level for the time being, then pop upstairs, grab the papers and go. It will be tough and full of surprises, and require several trips. While you're there, be sure to take the rowboat to the secret room and grab the crystal shard.

Burning Fungi (Outdoor Encounter, south of Island Fort) - Beatable if you have the third levels of WoS and Haste, and at least one high-Dex character to draw fire. And Mass Cure and Group Heal.

Spiral Pit (near Mertis) - You should be able to do the 4 Greater Shades, and the Shimmering Shade etc. in the big cavern. Turning the wheel will release 4 more Greater Shades, so you might want to wait until the lights are back on. If you switch from Ward of Elements to Ward of Steel, you can go deeper. The Stalking Wights are tough but beatable if you go in prepared and don't let them swarm you. You probably don't want to go deeper than that right now. However, if it so happens that you've levelled up, switch back to WoE and carry on.


Level Thirteen

Ghosts etc. (Spiral Pit, cont'd) - The cheap way to beat this is to keep most of the party back in the narrow tunnel and send one character (preferably hasted) to trigger the trap. Have that one scamper back, then let the ghosts etc. come to you. It's still hard, but not ridiculously so. Keep going far enough to turn the lights back on. At this point it is possible to go on and finish the dungeon, but it will probably cost you all of your Return Life scrolls, so I recommend coming back later.

Ogre Patrol (Outdoor Encounter, near Tower of Magi)

Ogre Cave (northwest of ToM) - This is the location of The Ogre Mage quest. You can do everything except the mage without too much difficulty. The giant will be hard to hit, but you can whittle him down. You will need more magic resistance (and/or Health) before you can finish the quest, so come back after you have more levels of Ward of Elements. If you want to do the whole dungeon at once, do it at level 16 or 17.

Imps (Outdoor Encounter, west of ToM)

Invading Giant (Job board, Formello) - Slow is really useful against large groups of heavy hitters.

Hidden Aranea Lair (north of Ft. Dranlon, on west side of river) - For now you can clear the Araneas and Arachnid Servitors from the outer ring of tunnels. Don't go into the center cave yet, but you can probably handle the Aranea Seer in the secret room to the northwest, if you have a spare piercing crystal. Nice reward there. Search all of the bodies in the cave — one of them has a crystal shard.

Crystal Cave (north of Cotra, hidden cave) - If you have the two shards from the aranea lair and the slith island fort, you can easily get four more without combat. Two are on islands south and southwest of Cotra, one is in a building north of Ft. Dranlon (reachable by boat), and you can get one from a drake in a cave somewhat inland from the west shore of the lake (you have to give him three haunches of meat). Failing that, you could try to beat one of the slith slave camps. It would be doable on Normal at this point, but dicey on Torment.

Slith Patrol (Outdoor Encounter, across the river from Ft. Dranlon) - Finally! You will need to use a speed scroll, and it might take several tries. You could have gone into the dungeon before this, by sneaking past them, but you would have risked getting trapped.

Dranlon's Vengeance and Slith Tome (Cmdr Rosie and Mairwen, Ft. Dranlon) - Not easy but very satisfying. Bring energy potions and Return Life scrolls. Or head upriver to get the spell first. Don't rush into anything.  

Rescue a Spider (Spider, Spider Cave) - This would of course be easier at a higher level, and if you've been doing most of this guide, you're at least level 14 by now anyway. But it is possible at level 13 — if the following conditions apply:
  1. You have the Return Life spell.
  2. You have Ward of Elements at level 3 (you would have had to buy two levels in Dharmon — not easy to get enough cash for that by this time).
  3. You have lots of energy potions and several speed scrolls.
  4. You are willing to try it several times to figure out what works best.
Failing that, it's a much more reasonable prospect at level 16, while still challenging enough to be satisfying.

Spiders and Demons and Imps, Oh My! (Aranea City, Northwest corner) - The Araneas and Aranea Watchers shouldn't give you too much trouble, if you're careful not to step anywhere near the magic circle until they're dead. Prepare for a physical fight when you do.

Level Fourteen

Smash the Eggs! (Swamp City) - This is a straightforward physical fight. You can position your characters to limit the melee attacks, and you should take out the flingers first. The chieftain is ridiculously hard to hit on Torment, but once his buddies are dead he isn't much of a threat. Just keep him away from your squishy characters and whittle him down.

Araneas and Cave Widows (Outdoor Encounter, near Hidden Aranea Lair) - The ones near the bodies. Might take a couple of tries if you get unlucky.

Hidden Aranea Lair, cont'd - You should be able to do the Aranea Seers, etc. in the center of the cave. Hang back in the tunnel and you'll only have to deal with a couple of them at a time. Don't go upstairs just yet. Though actually, if you have the patience, you can exploit a bug to kill the Aranea Queen now, because she won't go hostile no matter what you do until you choose the "Attack" option in her dialogue. Unfortunately, you will find her very hard to hit, and you can't target a friendly with spells. So you have to stand there swinging at her for a long time. Boring.

Crypt Demons (Underground Fort, crypt) - These guys are tough but if you get them to split their targets you should be okay.

Slith Slave Camps (southwest of Ft. Dranlon) - They get progressively harder; fortunately your allies are very durable.  The last two might take several tries; if you get frustrated, just come back later. This is one of the places where it's very helpful to have a high-Dex character. Meet Clair — not one of these guys has a better than 7% chance of hitting her, but she keeps them nicely occupied while she's busy sniping their friends:

The Slith Menace (Cotra, Job Board) - Tassik-Schai and his entourage are actually not much of a threat to you at this point, but the slimes will kill you. How this fight is supposed to go is that you damage him, he summons slimes, you kill the slimes, lather, rinse, repeat. If you want to fight the slimes on Torment, you'd better come back later. On Normal what I would do is kill his entourage then get the whole party into the little room behind the gate, kill him, then take on all the slimes as they come. On Torment you just can't kill them fast enough before getting overwhelmed. So instead, after wiping out the cronies, I withdrew the whole party all the way back to the stairs before harming a scale on Tassik-Schai's hide. It doesn't matter how many slimes he summons while you beat him up — they won't move as long as he's blocking the tunnel. When he dies, end combat and skedaddle down the stairs (try to get the lead PC close to the stairs before you end combat). If you leave the fort altogether and then return, the slimes will be gone, so you can loot at will.

The Undead Curse (Mertis, Elmer) - You should be able to finish this now, especially if you've got the Return Life spell. It's best to leave the spectral commander for last, because he'll summon reinforcements every time you do him serious damage. You can either take your time and kill those as they appear, or try to kill the commander as quickly as possible.

There is undoubtedly more that you could do, but this is more than enough to get you to level 15. Go back and do anything you've missed, or make your way west from the Tower of Magi. If you keep getting killed, go somewhere else. Avernum holds many more challenges for you yet, and you are now ready to face them.


Level Fifteen

Avernum is your oyster. Go kick subterranean butt.