Saturday, June 11, 2011

Pool of Radiance: Final Rating

The heroes and I enjoy a strong one after a long quest.


Pool of Radiance
United States
Strategic Simulations, Inc. (developer and publisher)
Released 1988 for DOS and Commodore 64; 1989 for Apple II, Macintosh, PC-88, and PC-98; 1990 for Amiga and Sharp X1, 1991 for NES
Date Started: 31 May 2011
Date Ended: 11 June 2011
Total Hours: 30
Difficulty: Moderate (3.0/5)
Final Rating: 65
Ranking at time of posting: 57/57 (100%)
Ranking at Game #453: 451/453 (100%)
You don't need to read to the end to get to the important news: Pool of Radiance is the best game I've played since starting this blog. I knew it would be from the second or third day. The variety of encounters is rivaled only by Might & Magic, and the tactical combat system is unparalleled. I loved it.

Here's the GIMLET. Incidentally, I'm drinking an actual gimlet right now--a tradition I will continue when writing "final rating" postings from now on.

1. Game World. It's tough to evaluate this, because Pool of Radiance is part of a larger Forgotten Realms campaign setting that has more history and lore than I will ever read in my lifetime. I grant you that it is not the most exciting of D&D campaign settings. It's a sort-of generic high fantasy realm, large enough to include derivatives from almost every mythology. Dark Sun, Ravenloft, Planescape, and other settings are more interesting (if more confusing sometimes!).

Even judging solely by what is presented in the game, however, the game world is evocative, thorough, and well-built. At the outset, the player knows the important history around the Moonsea and the circumstances that have led to the party's immediate quest. As the game moves forward, the player learns about the land and its lore through conversations with NPCs and entries in the Adventurer's Journal.

Particularly notable is the way that the game responds to character actions. Once cleared, areas remain clear. If you kill Yarash, the land around the Barren River stops being polluted (the game even changes the look of the map). Break cover after sneaking, and the entire area is on alert for you--even after you leave and return. Once you solve quests, you can't do them again. If you make friends with the nomads, they stop attacking you in the wilderness. This sort of dynamic game world is rare in the era. Heck, it's rare even now--most games deal with this issue by constantly propelling you forward and refusing to let you re-visit older areas, where they'd have to program new reactions from NPCs. It's satisfying to reclaim the blocks of Phlan, one by one, and see signs that the entire city is improving from the effort. One quibble: I never did get the guards next to the gates to the slums to stop looking at me suspiciously.

The contrast on these two screens, one from the beginning of the game and one from the end, epitomize the game's attention to an evolving game world.
I can hardly think of anything negative to say about this aspect, but I want to reserve 10s for games that offer a truly original experience and really pack it full of lore (e.g., Morrowind, Dragon Age). Score: 8.

2. Character Creation and Development. The first edition AD&D rules didn't offer a lot of customization, and this game strips it down even more. You have your basic set of six attributes, and a standard selection of races and classes. The level caps on certain races are annoying and simply discourage use of those races, and the level caps on mages and clerics--which you reach well before the end of the game--are infuriating. But overall leveling is well-paced (barring setbacks from level-drainers).

My biggest complaint is that the game doesn't use any of the races, sexes, classes, and alignments in a way that changes the game encounters. Perhaps the only exception is that if you have a thief, there's one section where some other thieves show you a shortcut. That's about it.

To make up for the lack of character customization in the adaptation of the AD&D rules, the creators did allow some customization of appearance, which is rather rare even today. I thought the character portrait choices looked silly, but I did appreciate the ability to customize the icons. In games that give you a standard icon, like Demon's Winter, I often forget who's who. And appearance can be an important step in role-playing, allowing you to create (literally) a white knight or an assassin dressed in black. Score: 6.

3. NPC Interaction. Although the game doesn't go so far as to offer "dialog options"--the only game to really offer that so far has been Starflight--it does offer various options at certain NPC encounters. Sometimes these are basic--"talk" or "attack"--and other times they are quite extensive--as when I had dinner with the Zhent commandant and had options to talk about politics, magic, the city, and so on. NPCs like the dutiful clerk, the traitorous Cadorna, and the pious Dirten are memorable even if you don't get to talk much with them.

The ability to take on NPCs in your party is a fun addition. Might & Magic offered it, but once you hired them, they essentially became part of your party. In this game, they still have minds of their own--as the final battle with Tyranthraxus made all too clear. Score: 6.

4. Encounters and Foes. Both rock. I can't think of any other game so far with so much variety in the types of encounters that you face. There's a traitor chained to the wall: do you free him, kill him, or interrogate him? Your mission is to stop the lizard man menace: do you do it by championing the old lizard man against his rival, or by just killing them all? You need to rescue a little boy from the buccaneer den: do you pick the lock and sneak out with him, free some nearby zoo animals to create a distraction, buy him from his jailers, or just kill all of the slavers? This is one of the only games to allow real role-playing options in the way you handle encounters, both quest-based and non-quest-based.

At the same time, the foes are well-described in the game manual and have satisfying variations in strengths and weaknesses. It's hard to call them "unique," because Dungeons & Dragons is the template on which all other games are based, but the creators did do a great job including each monster's unique characteristics. Trolls regenerate and get up if you don't finish them off quickly. Phase spiders are un-hittable every other round. Fire giants shrug off fireballs. Basilisks and medusas turn you to stone--unless you have a mirror. This, admittedly, is no different than Might & Magic. But the tactical combat grid offers you the additional advantage of seeing each foe as a distinct creature instead of "16 skeletons." [Later edit: As Petrus points out below, the encounters in this game are also somewhat unique for the era in that they make sense both internally and externally: you don't find parties consisting of elves, mummies, and trolls strolling together down the Phlan waterfront.]

The ability to parlay with most sentient monsters is a great inclusion, rendered even better by how different creatures react to different options. I loved watching kobolds run in terror when I yelled at them, but I was careful to be "sly" with ogres and "nice" to nomads--at least, if I wanted to avoid a fight. This game ties with Starflight as the highest-rated so far: 8.

5. Magic and Combat. I honestly can't think of many games in the 30-year history of CRPGs whose combat systems I like better than the Gold Box series. It is hands-down the most tactical system I have encountered--a perfect blend of CRPG and strategy game. It only gets better in future games as the number of spells increases and give you more options. Because you can only recover spells by sleeping, and because you can't go to sleep in most places until you've cleared them, the game strikes a good balance between individual-combat difficulty (as in Might & Magic) and accumulation-of-combats difficulty (as in Wizardry). The times that I died in combat, I never thought that my failure was random; rather, I could see how a specific change in tactics would turn a battle in my favor.

Duskfire's end-game spellbook.

The magic system is inextricably a part of the combat system, from the buffing spells you cast before a big encounter to the offensive spells you cast during combat. Although I thought some of the spells were useless, they all work as advertised. I've never quite understood the rationale behind the "memorization" system of Dungeons & Dragons spellcasting, but neither do I mind it. Yes, repeatedly resting and casting "cure light wounds" was annoying at times, but that's my only real complaint.

The turn-based, tactical nature of the combat allows you to really role-play in combat, something you can rarely do in other games. If you decide your lead fighter hates giants, you can have him recklessly charge ranks of them without waiting for support. You can play a mage who fancies himself a melee fighter, or a scared cleric who likes to hide in the rear. You can attack in formation--lining up and moving relentlessly down a hallway--or make it a free-for-all.

A line of fighters blocks the entrance to the hallway to protect the cleric.

I allow, of course, that many later games improve upon combat by offering more interesting and advanced spells and character-specific abilities, liking hiding-in-shadows, setting traps, summoning monsters, shapeshifting, special attacks and defenses, and so on. Yet how many of these later games have a "guard" option, or let you take a swipe at a fleeing enemy's rear, or allow enemies to flee or surrender if their morale gets too low? There are hardly any other games--ancient or modern--that achieve such a perfect blend of melee combat, spells, item use, morale, and (albeit limited) special abilities. Score: 8.

6. Equipment. Not bad but nothing special. There are the standard D&D selections of weapons and armor, with various pluses, and some special items like the "flame tongue" long sword. There are a few magic rings, potions, wands, and such. A couple of cursed items. For me, D&D won't start getting very high scores in this area until the Infinity engine games introduce detailed item descriptions, and even they don't score that high because the location of each magic item, as in this game, is entirely fixed.

Karnov's inventory at game's end.

I did think it was odd that my multi-classed mages could use any weapons and armor, but I don't know whether to regard that as a positive or negative. Ditto the game's odd compulsion to introduce literally every obscure pole-arm. Score: 5.

7. Economy. Oh, dear. The creators did such a good job with almost everything else in this game--how hard would it have been to program a decent economic system? Some of my commenters have opined that the basic problem was that experience rewards were tied to cash rewards, so you had to get a lot of money to get a lot of experience at higher levels. I say: would that have been so hard to change? Or try this: keep the absurd cash rewards, but give me something to buy with it! Why don't any of the shops sell advanced magic weapons and armor? (Magic ammunition would have been particularly welcome.) Why aren't there more encounters where I have to pay someone off? Why don't the temples have a "heal all" option? (The reason I didn't use them for regular healing wasn't the cost, but rather that casting spells individually on each character took as long as memorizing them and casting them myself.)

Just for fun, at the end of the game I sold every piece of jewelry and every gem I had. Since platinum pieces are worth 5 gold, I have 588,409 gold pieces. And that's without even trying--I left most treasure where it lay. To put this in perspective, I could enter Candlekeep 59 times. I could pay 30 thieves' guilds to tell me where the Cowled Wizards were keeping my sister. I could buy Rosethorn Hall in Skingrad 12 times and still have enough left over to furnish it.

The game gets unbalanced economically very fast. I stopped bothering to collect money from corpses before I had even cleared the slums. I left heaps of gold and platinum sparkling in the sun, because they weigh you down.

I don't even think the game gained a lot by incorporating D&D's full selection of coin types. Aside from the beginning stages, the economy is just one big fail. Score: 3.

8. Quests. Quests in this game come in the form of a series of progressive "missions" from the City Clerk, culminating in the main quest to overthrow Tyranthraxus. The precursor quests seem like steps in the main quest but they're not, really. Other than your level, I don't think there's anything to stop you from marching on Valjevo Castle the moment you arrive in Phlan. There are even quests, like slaying Norris the Gray, that never come up as an official mission. There are a couple of quests that you don't get from the City Clerk, but I actually wish there had been more of these. Again, CRPGs won't start to get perfect scores here until they feature multiple quest endings and better roleplaying opportunities, but this game is second only to the Might & Magic series in its variety in this era. Score: 7.

This was before she liked me.

9. Graphics, Sound, and Inputs. This is an era in which the best we can usually say about sound is "I didn't turn it off." I'm not claiming the sound in Pool of Radiance is good, but at least I didn't turn it off. There aren't many sounds, but the footsteps are inoffensive, the sound that melee weapons make when they connect is actually fairly satisfying, and fireballs actually sound a little like big balls of fire. The graphics aren't beautiful, but they're quite good for the era--especially the animated monster portraits (apparently copied from the Monster Manual of the time). Characters and monsters are easily distinguishable by icon. The outdoor terrain actually verges on pretty, although the indoor areas--despite having a lot of textures--suffers from a certain barrenness. It's evolving.

As for the controls (all keyboard), I picked them up almost immediately and never had to think about them after that. This is good. Score: 6.

10. Gameplay. The game is well-balanced between linearity and nonlinearity. When you first arrive in Phlan, you can pretty much only go to two places: the slums and Sokol Keep. After that, the game world opens up. Although levels and monster difficulty (not to mention the order of quests) keep you on a somewhat limited path, you do have quite a bit of freedom.

I thought the difficulty was just about right. I want to say maybe a little on the "too easy" side, but I think my own CRPG experience might be showing here. I only had to raise dead three times (and once was because of an ill-advised duel), and I only suffered full-party death five or six times. The game was certainly perfect in length. You can tell when I'm ready for a game to be over because I stop making meticulous maps and notes, and I didn't start doing that until literally the last map area. The only thing keeping it from getting a perfect score is that it's not really "replayable": different character choices would still offer the same basic experience. Score: 8.

The final score of 65 puts Pool of Radiance at the top of the heap, 5 points above its next-nearest competitor (the first Might & Magic). We won't be away from the Gold Box series long: Curse of the Azure Bonds comes up in less than 20 games. I remember it even less than Pool of Radiance--I'm not sure if I ever finished it as a youth--so I really look forward to it.

Next up is a sequel to a game that I didn't play on this blog: Questron II.


  1. And so Pool of Radiance gets a well deserved first place. But for how long?

    Are you planning to transfer characters to CoAB?

    Not much to add except I think you are wrong when saying all the IE games have fixed loot. IIRC much of the loot in Icewind Dale was random.
    Also when it comes to encounter and foes, I think one important aspect that should be noted is that what makes the Gold Box games stand out compared to many other games of the era, like the Might&Magics, Bard's Tales and Phantasies, is that the monsters you meet and their party compositions actually make sense. I remember you complained about this aspect in MM1 and MM2.

  2. I might bring a couple to CotAB, but for the most part, I'll roll a new set, since so much of what I did here was just to avoid PoRs low level caps.

    I don't think I'm wrong about the fixed loot in either the BG series or the IWD series. (Keeping in mind I'm talking about ITEMS, not gold.) The good magic items--the ones you really want--are always in the same place every time you play the game. Yes, later in the game you'll fight creatures that drop +1 swords and shields and such, but by then these items are essentially useless to you.

    Contrast this to, say, MM6 and MM7, which completely randomize the items you find. Treasure chests have certain "levels" of treasure, but the specific items are determined at the moment you open the chest. If you don't like them, you can even reload and try again.

    Absolutely on the encounters! I don't know that I so much "complained" about it in MM so much as made fun of it. But yes, in PoR, you don't find a party of wights, centaurs, kobolds, and driders wandering down Main Street in the middle of the day. The enemy party compositions make sense internally (i.e., the monsters "go together") and externally (i.e., they're appropriate for their environment).

  3. I just can't believe you finished it so fast, especially considering your rules! Congratulations

  4. PO: "And so Pool of Radiance gets a well deserved first place"

    Well that's arguable. I would rate PoR about fourth of the games featured on this blog so far (the #1 is Dungeon Master and will stay that way into early nineties). But given the era, yes, PoR's a good solid game, and CotAB shall fix many of its failures, such as the damnably sluggish healing system.

    Loot in Infinity Engine games: that depends. BG games had fixed loot IIRC. But IWD1 had dozens of randomized treasure piles where you would get, for instance, randomly one of four magic items (unique ones!) and the missing items just wouldn't exist until you play the game next time and had another shot at getting them.

    Regarding loot, by the by, I do like how in Gold Box games when you kill ten orcs with swords and leather armor, after the fight you will really get ten swords and suits of armor. No random drops here.

    Re: Turn based combat systems: my favorite is in Betrayal at Krondor - it plays like a faster, smoother, more streamlined version of this one. The one in Nahlakh has also received much praise (Nahlakh's system is like Ultima 4's in steroids).

  5. "9. Graphics, Sound, and Inputs
    PoR - 6
    M&M2 - 5
    DM - 6"

    Realllly? (raised eyebrow)

  6. I agree that Dungeon Master deserved a better score, especially in the audiovisual and gameplay areas.
    But for me DM is just a warm-up to the real juicy stuff - Chaos Strikes Back. But while the Gold Box engine would gradually improve, I still think PoR was the best *designed* of the GB games and one of the most fun to play.

  7. Not everyone will agree with my rankings, of course. In this case, I gave DM a comparatively high score for graphics and sound, but a low one for the controls. Too much reliance on the mouse, and not enough keyboard shortcuts. PoR and MM2 had graphics that weren't quite as good, and sound that wasn't nearly as good, but much better commands.

  8. A big plus for PoR and the GB games in general is their accessibility. If you have read a couple of Forgotten Realms novels the setting/lore is immediately familiar. The true to form AD&D rules are easy to pick-up too. Never any confusion over how to use magic or what value a weapon has.

    Great addition to the blog, and like many others, it is gratifying to know that my favorite game of all time stacks up well against others (at least of the same era), when put under the objective microscope that is the Addicted One's GIMLET.

  9. I'd say any game ranking is "Arguable". I've been trying to play Might and Magic 1 myself. Twelve total party deaths, haven't gotten out of the first town. Would I rank it very high from this experience? Of course not. Am I willing to admit someone else might have a different completely-subjective opinion? Sure!

    ...Also, I don't think you can argue that by the CRPGA's scoring, this is the top scored game that he has scored. On his scoreboard.

  10. I agree generally with the score given. I enjoyed reading about your experience playing through it (as I have with many of the earlier entries on this blog).

  11. Regularity of updates when playing a game also reveals quite a bit about the level of enjoyment, like the generous postings on Starflight. I'm glad that the game was as well crafted as you remember from previous play.

  12. Glad to see PoR take the throne :) *cheer*

    CotAB is a pretty good sequel, I remember liking it just about the same amount as PoR (which can't be said for SotSB and PoD). The end battle in CotAB, if I remember correctly, is Cra-zy. And the whole thing is right in that D&D mid-level sweet spot, where all your chars have access to lots of fun abilities and spells, but things aren't overly complex. Also that chick on the cover got looked over quite a bit as a young teen... She looks like she stepped out of a salon in LA and into the Forgotten Realms, with her piled up 80's teased, blonde tresses...

    Questron and Questron II are big yawners for me, vastly inferior to the Gold Boxes, M&Ms, Phantasies, and Bard's Tales in my opinion.

    - Khoram

  13. CRPGA's rankings are of course his own, but I do get the impression that he's measuring PoR with a different yardstick than the rest. As if he has such fond childhood memories of the game that he simply has to push it to the first place, even if it means fibbing the scores in the unnecessary scoring system he himself invented.

    Let's drop the DM issue (as ridiculous as it is to penalize the game that revolutionized RPG user interfaces and whose innovations like the paper-doll inventory are still copied today for "overreliance on mouse"). Take a look at this: He gave M&M 2, a much prettier game with "best keyboard commands in any game he has played" a lower "graphics, sound and controls" score than PoR. That's not even close to fair.

    Now, it's okay if he simply likes PoR more than those other games. I like some weird sh!t too. But if you're not going to stick to the scoring system you invented, why bother using it at all? Just slap it sixty five points "because I said so" and drop the pretense of objectivity.

  14. Great set of posts!

    I actually played Curse of the Azure Bonds before Pool of Radiance (on C64). Was great fun, I remember having about two or three goes to put together a party combination that could survive the first big "boss fight" with the fire knives. (pure thieves sucked!) I ended up having the same party I kept going back to over the course of several years, probably finally finishing the game 5+ years after starting it. Along the way, I sent a few characters out to Hillsfar to play that game and get the stat buffs / items you could pick up.

    After picking up Pool of Radiance, my enquiring mind wanted to know if I could "back" transfer characters to PoR. It turns out the character save files differed in only having a slightly different "special" character in the first character of the name. Changing the CotAB character file to the same as the PoR one actually allowed you to open up the Curse characters in PoR!

    As a happy side effect, some sort of buffer overflow bug happened with both the mages and the clerics - and they ended up with 255++ of every spell in memory. AWESOME :-)

    Kind of made PoR a cake walk, but was still fun in your early teens :-)

    The second or third one I played was actually the Buck Rogers one - that one is actually really fun as well, should be good when you get to it. It has a really good storyline, more emphasis on skills rather than ability scores / AC / THAC0 and some rather delightful area of effect weapons. Spaceships n stuff are fun too.

    I've got a hankering to get back into the games now!

    I think later gold box games are probably best on IBM PC, but perhaps for the first two C64 or Amiga versions might be superior? Formative gaming experiences played on C64 and its delightful sound chip have forever soured me on the early IBM sounds, cant stand it until it gets to adlib days. (not far away - 1990)

  15. Oh yeah, and colour me massively unimpressed with Secrets of the Silver Blades. Long, boring, boring dungeons, which seemed to just be big for the sake of being big and having a "LIKE REALLY F*ING BIG DUNGEONS" marketing box point, without actually make the game any more fun. there are also the system issues with AD+D, having levelled beyond the system "sweet spot" of about level 3/4 to early teens. (ie. hitting what used to be called "name level")

    Graphing that bastard went way out the window after I taped like the third or fourth piece of graph paper together. CoTAB is just the right size - breaks out of standard 16*16 square in some cases, but not excessively so.

  16. This is why I hate scores. Everyone and their mother thinks they know better. It's like trying to define what a CRPG is. No one is ever going to agree.

    Personally I like CRPGAddicts GIMLET, but in the end it doesn't really matter what score he gives the games. It's the journey to those scores that matter to me.

    People's reaction to some stupid score is always funny. So keep the nerdrage flowing people. It's really entertaining.

    BTW CRPGAddict, thank you for replaying POR. I enjoyed these blogs immensely.

  17. Opinions vary. I still remember the Gold-Box games as the best games of the era (played them all, including both Buck Rogers outings, when they came out). There was something about them that made them accessible to D&D players and immediately fun if you knew things about the setting.

    The fact that I still play these games 20+ years later says a lot...because while I would still play something like Might & Magic II for a while, my chance of actually completing it is less likely.

    I think this is because the Gold-Box games had solid and easy to follow stories that were well-paced and always seemed to be the right length. And while "Pool of Radiance" and "Curse of the Azure Bonds" are good, I also played and solved "Pools of Darkness" numerous times and found it enjoyable. But, the top of the heap for me was always "Champions of Krynn" and "Death Knights of Krynn," because the two stories are interwoven together really well.

    These kinds of things are what make me a prolific "Unlimited Adventures" designer to this day.

    Thanks for the great review.

  18. I just finished the game too and I agree it was quite enjoyable, but far from being my favorite af all time : interface shortcomings, terrible economy, lack of sufficient character development (notably the level-cap problems) and lack of variety in equipment to be found were my main concerns. Game world, quests & roleplaying and changing state of world were on the plus side.

    Now, on the rating question, I understand what our Addict goes for, and that his ratings are "role-playing" biased for. For me, Dungeon Master is a far superior game to PoR and almost anyhting pre 1990s, but then again, while being an awesome dungeon crawler light years ahead in graphics, sound and interface, DM lacks economy, game world/lore, NPC interaction and so on.

    So I agree with Chet on his ratings based on his scale, APART for the interface question : in Pool of Radiance the whole menu and sub-menu system was extremely laborious. For example I quit using missile weapons after maybe 2h of play, doing, View, Items, scroll, Unready shield, scroll, Unready Sword, scroll, Ready Bow, Exit, Exit, Aim, Manual, Scroll, Target to fire an arrow, miss, then View, Items, scroll, Unready Bow, scroll, Ready Sword, scroll, Ready Shield, Exit, Exit next turn because the enemy did close in... it was just not worth it and I went to finish the game with melee weapons.

    Anyway, thanks for the awesome coverage.

    BTW, the PC clone of Chaos Strikes Back you'll play features a lot of keyboard shortcuts for all actions, including weapon strikes - I found it to be slightly unbalancing, as the capacitiy to move around monsters and strike became a bit easy (but then again the whole game is so hard) but you'll be happy.

  19. I read about PoR in a greek magazine in 1989. I found a scanned version and here is the [greek] review. It's probable useless to most of you, but you can check the scoring of this game against other popular CRPGs, such as phantasie III, and dungeon master.

    Of course the scoring is subjective, the magazine was not very professional, basically the labor of love of some games, but it was the most successful gaming magazine in Greece.

  20. Damned, that looks Greek to me.
    I guess the the two first colums means "Name" and "Graphics", and the last one "overall score", but what does the rest mean?

  21. skavenhorde: "People's reaction to some stupid score is always funny. So keep the nerdrage flowing people. It's really entertaining."

    I don't see 'nerdrage'. I see calm and orderly disagreement. Remarkably so, by internet standards.

    Georges: "Now, on the rating question, I understand what our Addict goes for, and that his ratings are "role-playing" biased for. ... while being an awesome dungeon crawler light years ahead in graphics, sound and interface, DM lacks economy, game world/lore, NPC interaction and so on."

    Yet he bashes the game both for lack of economy/etc and its graphics/sounds/user interface.

    See, the thing is this: I have no problem with him complaining that DM doesn't have shops or NPCs, because it's a fact. I can disagree on whether it's really such a bad thing, but if I look at the game, I will plainly see it has no shops or NPCs and I can't argue back. I'm left with no option but to agree to disagree on a subjective value call.

    It's when he with a straight face claims that DM has a bad user interface, and PoR has a good one, when I get a bit peeved. Because that's just absurd. DM is far, far PoR's superior in everything that makes up the "graphics/sound/control" score by any reasonable standard. Its' UI was so ergonomic that even today it would only need minor tweaks - making managing bags and quivers less fiddly, mainly. PoR's UI is... tolerable. If you are used to oldschool games that require the use of keyboard and crawling through a zillion menus to get anything done. Apparently this is preferable to "overreliance on mouse" (I'll be curious to see if he docks Baldur's Gate's points because of that).

    A fair g/s/c score for PoR would be four, same as Bard's Tale (and slightly below Might and Magic). They're equally fiddly, look the same and sound the same. By same standard, a fair score for DM would be about eight or nine (depending on how much room you want to leave to the high end of the scale for modern games).

  22. To the artist known as "Anonymous", I have not spent a great deal of time playing DM or CSB, but did finish EOtB and more recently have clocked some hours playing Captive. Those games graphics and sound are far superior to PoR when considered outside the context of the genre and gaming experience. But the graphics and sound of PoR are adequate and do not detract from what The Addicted One and many others feel is a unique crpg experience. Indeed, when you consider the graphics in the context of the quasi-isometric combat system, I tend to think of PoR's graphics as superior in many respects to the other games mentioned, in so much as how the role playing and tactical combat experience is simulated.

    As for controls, the author of KotC takes issue with the DM and DM style games over reliance on the mouse (I think he used the term "click-fest"). I tend to agree.

    Personally in PoR I used alt-Q to speed up battles, and would toggle out of auto mode to change between melee and ranged weapons, and to cast spells. Worked a treat...

  23. PetrusOctavianus: The columns translate to:
    1. Name
    2. Graphics
    3. Sound
    4. Number of party's members (hah, you didn't expect that)
    5. Difficulty
    6. Character creation stage
    7. General score

    (I am refering to this image: )

  24. You know what, CRPGAddict?

    I took a look at your master list, and while it's missing right now, Chaos Strikes Back should fit in your table right before Curse of The Azure bonds. It's released in 1989 and the alphabetical order puts it straight there.

    Means the DM vs GoldBox challenge will be fought toe to toe 20 games from now... :)

  25. How much room is there on a 1 to 10 scale for one category? Is it really necessary to get butthurt about one category that is pretty broad? You say you're complaining about objectivity, but the way you are coming off seems to suggest you are an angry DM fan.

    Operating in a free moving real time 2.5D environment doesn't give it an untouchable edge graphically over PoR. PoR has some solid graphics for the chosen way they were being represented.

    The sound in DM isn't much better than PoR. There's just more of it. A little too much in my opinion due to a level of irritation created by some sounds.

    Lastly the input interface isn't better just because it's simpler and relies on a mouse.

    Pretty much it comes down to different aesthetics. What you prefer isn't necessarily what everyone prefers and there is no reason to get all bent out of shape because of an equal score. As if tying with PoR in one category is an insult to DM. Good grief.

  26. Jesus jumped-up Christ on a chariot-driven sidecar, people. I take a couple days off and this is what I come back to?

    I never pretended the GIMLET is anything more than a reflection of my subjective experience of the game. This isn't GameSpot. The 10 categories are meant to give order to that subjectivity, but nothing more.

    MM2: Okay graphics, bad sound, good inputs..
    DM: Good graphics, good sound, bad inputs
    POR: Good graphics, passable sound, okay inputs.

    Weigh each one and you get roughly the same score. Even if I had hacked off a few more points for PoR, it still would have showed up first in my ranking. You get that, right?

  27. the way you are coming off seems to suggest you are an angry DM fan.

    Not angry, just upset. Upset at the inconsistent and uneven treatment that drains away whatever use the scores might theoretically have.

    Operating in a free moving real time 2.5D environment doesn't give it an untouchable edge graphically over PoR.

    No, having far superior graphics does. Just look at it, for chrissake, this should be obvious on the "the sky is blue; if you look at the sky, you will see it's blue" level. A teeny-tiny window with amateurish corridors (which are rarely more than single colored featureless slabs) does not compare well to gorgeous dungeons that take up 3/4 of the screen and show a great amount of detail. You can argue that DM isn't the better game, but only a blind man would argue it isn't better looking.

    Lastly the input interface isn't better just because it's simpler and relies on a mouse.

    It is faster, easier and more intuitive to use. That is pretty much the very definition of "better" when it comes to user interfaces.

    As if tying with PoR in one category is an insult to DM. Good grief.

    But it is. It is a grave slur on DM to claim it's on the level of PoR on this category. Because PoR is, at its absolute best, adequate for the time when it comes to its presentation and control scheme, while DM was years and years ahead of its time. It isn't even close. DM's UI was lifted wholesale for Lands of Lore seven years later, modern games still use inventory screens based on its' - who copied the Gold Box series controls? Even Gold Box series itself tried to veer away from them.

    Look at the Bard's Tale series. Can you seriously claim PoR is even slightly prettier than it? Or that it controls even slightly better? The games are so close to each other graphically that outside battles you might mistake them for one another. Yet one gets a 4 and the other gets a 6. What is going on here, if not halo effect?

  28. Is this going to end the way the scores for Faery Tale Adventure did, with people taking their ball and going home?

  29. Oh boohoo it's a grave crime against DM huh Anonymous?

    As far as the graphics being better because it's "obvious". Sorry no. It isn't obvious to me at least. I can agree that the graphics are high quality for DM (considering the time frame) but that doesn't make the graphics "better". It's a difference of aesthetic preference.

    Not to mention the Addict just responded with perfect reasoning for the score and even answered your criticism that he bumped the score up there just to put PoR up ahead. Even if he rated it lower in that category it wouldn't have mattered.

    You want to get technical. You said that DM should be an 8 graphically. That's absurd on a scale from 1-10 that has to encompass everything from roguelikes to moder era games. So how is it more inconsistent for PoR and DM to rate the same (slightly above average) in the scale than for DM to be 1-2 points away from games that blow it out of water graphically?

  30. I find clicking on a mouse to be tiresome and prefer keyboard commands over mouse for the most part. Not having the option to do so brings the UI down significantly IMO.

  31. What Anonymous DM Fan is saying is that obviously DM had a better interface because it was much copied and is basically still in use today.

    I disagree.

    The same could be said about Real Time vs. (Tactical) Turn Based. Real Time is what is used more often, does that make it superior to (Tactical) Turn Based gameplay? I emphatically prefer both PoR's style of control, and its (Tactical) Turn Based nature over DMs.

    If someone made a port of Dungeon Master that replaced its control style with one closer to PoR and that ditched its RealTime battles for Tactical Turn-Based ones, then I would find Dungeon Master an enjoyable game. If someone changed Pool of Radiance to have the same control style and real time graphics of Dungeon Master, I wouldn't touch it. I had a hard time with the EoB games because of this.

    I am a bit sad that Pool of Radiance is over, I am really looking forward to Curse of the Azure Bonds!

  32. Yeah, lack of keyboard commands is a bad thing. There is a reason real programers use emacs despite the fact it looks like an 80s program (that is, ugly as sin)- it has a keyboard shortcut for everything, so much so you don't need a mouse.

  33. I like how people are arguing about CRPG Addict's own opinions. Makes total sense - This is how you SHOULD feel after having just played this game!! (if you don't like it, read someone else's amazing blog - good luck finding one even in the same realm of this one)

    Here is my problem with DM and the rest of the "click fest" RPGs. When I play my old games, I sit in my nice comfy recliner with the monitor in front of me on a small table and the keyboard in my lap, with the Cleveland Indians or Night Court on the tube. There is no place for a mouse in this set up. I never found 1 single redeeming quality in these types of games "real time" RPGs anyways.

    I'm not interested in clicking the mouse button over and over and over and over again. I may as well be playing Mortal Combat or a host of other buttom masher games. I like to sit back and tactically devise my battle strategy.

    On a sidenote, well Played Mr. Addict. It was a pleasure watching you breeze thru this one. I am really looking forward to CotAB and the rest of the Gold Box gems. I am also looking forward to WASTELAND. I've got about 3/4 of the way to beating it at least half a dozen times over the years.

    Oh, and these people LOVE Chaos Strikes Back!!!! Lol!

  34. Delmoko, get a chair with armrests. Place a book or something on one of the armrests, place the mousemat on the book and you can play games that equire mouse without losing the comfiness. Works swimmingly for me.

  35. It is hands-down the most tactical system I have encountered--a perfect blend of CRPG and strategy game. It only gets better in future games as the number of spells increase and give you more options.

    Better fish that copy of The Temple of Elemental Evil out of the trash then, because it blows the Gold Box games away for turn-based tactical goodness.

  36. I don't remember the last time I used a mouse... probably over 6 years ago.

  37. I don't understand this musophobia. In my neck of the woods mouse has the same meaning as "beaver" in American. ;-)
    And how are you supposed to pick up things and interact with the game world in Dungeon Master without a mouse?
    How do you browse the web without using a mouse?

  38. A mouse is slow: If I have my hand on the keyboard to type, I have to move it all the way over to the mouse. If my mouse is on the wrong part of the screen then I have to move it all the way over to the other side of the screen.
    Or there could be a keyboard shortcut that lets me do the task without moving the cursor at all. A mouse/trackball is good in some instances- the web for example. However for complex tasks it tends to be a lot faster to have a good keyboard driven interface. I hate ragdoll based inventories as I have to grab an item and drag it halfway across the screen to equip it. Then I have to go back across the screen, find the next time and equip that. They couldn't just have a 'right click: equip slot 1' type interface? Or something like nethack were I can keep my hands on the keyboard?

  39. I was actually responding to the chair issue and talking about an actual "mouse" and not a pointing device interface... Me, my wife, all my friends and everyone I know use exclusively laptops - using a trackpad is now such a second nature (especially with new gestures technology) that everytime I now have to actually touch a real mouse it feels weird, slow and unprecise.

    I for example play CRPGs mainly in bed at night in the dark while the significant other sleeps (go backlit keyboard and lesser sleep needs), but also in coffee shops, public transportation, parks, couches, whatever...

  40. I've disabled the touchpad on my laptop as they are the worst interface idea since the spreadsheet that made you use a joystick for the C64. I have a thinkpad with a touchpoint- Once you learn to use one of those you can never use a touchpad again, at least not without swearing at how much effort it takes. I play some games with it, but I find if I'm not at a desk I can't really enjoy most games as much.

    I keep wanting to try a trackball, but they are really expensive and I can't think of a way to try one for long periods without shelling out the cost of a good mouse.

  41. Canageek, why would you keep your hands on the keyboard when playing a mouse-driven game? That's like complaining that keyboards are slow because every time you use one, you have to drop your pitchfork and pick it up again when you quit. And flicking the pointer from one end of the screen to the other takes, what, a tenth of a second? A fifth?

    As for me, I'll take two mouse clicks over 20 key presses any day. If you think mouse controls are slow, I suggest you test how long it takes to input one attack on one enemy in both DM and PoR. The result won't be what you think it is.

  42. Take the exact same game as DM and just add one keypress to attack or throw for each character. Then tell me which version is better.

    An actual good interface would give you the option to do it either way you prefer, instead of locking you into mouse or keyboard. That way if you like clicking over and over you can and if you like to use the keyboard you can as well.

    I forget can you move with key presses in DM?

  43. *Disclaimer : I'm not a crazy DM defender, I'm just posting again to give information.*

    Yes you can move with key presses, UbAh, and as I said the windows clones provide exactly this : customizable shortcuts for all actions, including all 3 attack and throw modes. I agree it makes for a much better game interface - there's a reason all modern "real-time" games from Diablo on and up to Oblivion or Dragon Age provide shortcut/quick slots for repeatedly used actions/attacks/potions/spells/whatever.

    This thread by the way seems to be going far away from the original post...

  44. I thought the addicted one was enjoying the evolution of the comments from his posts, but your right some people are getting close to crossing the line from good debate to angry internet posts.

    I do think it is important to voice displeasure at bad UI when found. That way it has a chance to plant the seed into a developers head and reduce the future instances of bad UI.

    I have even been known to fall in love with a game based solely on its UI, only to find out months latter that it was still just an MMO like all the others.

  45. UbAH said, "I have even been known to fall in love with a game based solely on its UI..."

    It's the exact opposite for me. I generally have a fairly decent tolerance for dated graphics and the like (though some colour schemes make me feel ill or give me headaches) but some of the clunkier UIs of games long past give me pause and make playing more of a miserable experience than it needs to be. In fact, I've had my initial enthusiasm for a game get completely turned off because of clunky UI but I can't think of anywhere where I was attracted to a game for its UI. It strikes me as something that, when done well, is barely noticeable - even if that only comes on the other side of learning the keybinds.

    Otherwise, it strikes me that Anonymous has been trolling some people here. :)

  46. "Take the exact same game as DM and just add one keypress to attack or throw for each character. Then tell me which version is better."

    Technically the latter of course, but the difference is academic at best, since I wager less than 1% of players would want to use them. Sure, you could toss them in for the few Luddites who sneer with disgust at anything with less than 102 buttons on it no matter the advantages, but that doesn't change the fact that the UI just works better with a mouse and has been designed for a mouse, and is superior because of the convenience it provides.

    The game already has the key support for the one solitary thing in it that actually benefits from that, movement (you're meant to play with left hand on keyboard and the right hand on mouse, like a modern FPS). It doesn't need anything more than that, just like Half-life 2 isn't drastically improved by the fact that you can bind the fire button to spacebar.

    "I do think it is important to voice displeasure at bad UI when found. That way it has a chance to plant the seed into a developers head and reduce the future instances of bad UI."

    On that we agree.

    An example of a bad UI is PoR, a game that desperately needs mouse support (and gains it in later installments, though the UI isn't redesigned from the ground up to support it so it doesn't end up helping as much as it could). Imagine how much better it would be if instead of messing around with cursor keys you could just click on a character and click on a target, and watch your little dude clomp-clomp-clomp his way to give him a whack. An example of a good UI is, of course, DM.

    But sure, if your definition of "bad UI" is "anything that can't be played with keyboard", fine. Just remember to stick to that rule when we get to modern games, because I'm pretty sure that from mid-nineties onwards, you will find nothing that meets the ridiculous standard you have set. "Baldur's Gate: nice attempt, but we have to dock the points for the insufficient support for people who play exclusively on a laptop with no USB ports and a broken trackpad".

  47. For the record, I don't care WHAT you discuss in my comment sections. I'm just happy to have readers who care enough to leave comments in the first place. But, personally, I'm not terribly interested in discussing this any more. As I said before, I never intended the ratings to be anything more than a structured way to convey my personal enjoyment of the game. I maintain that my relative ratings for the three games in these categories are internally consistent.

    In the keyboard-vs.-mouse debate, keep in mind that it's not just about combat. Even in modern games, where the mouse plays a big role, we generally use the keyboard to open inventories, cast spells, save the game, etc. Some early games seem to think they needed an either/or approach to the keyboard/mouse issue. If a game is going to choose one or the other, I prefer the keyboard. If you don't have this preference, mentally add a couple of points to the GIMLET and move on with your life.

  48. I'm surprised there are people who are upset with the scores. It is the opinion of one person. I can see disagreeing with the opinion. And discussing it in the comments. But honestly, people have different tastes. Nothing to lose sleep over.

    As far as keyboard vs mouse. It kinda depends on the game and its UI needs. But there is a reason why most modern games have many keyboard commands and keyboard shortcuts(note there is a reason they call them shortcuts). It's because many people use them and prefer them.

    My 2 cents.

  49. To be clear I am not talking about the GIMLET. I am not bothered by any rating not do I feel a need to defend a rating. A rating being someones opinion doesn't need defense the only thing that should always be defended is the right to have and express that opinion.

    Right now I am at work, and using a UI written in java that is mouse only to make DHCP option set changes to over fifty different scopes. You don't need to know what those terms mean all you need to know is I have to click through six different menus to make that single change. By the end of doing this my clicking finger physically hurts, and as such I don't have any desire to go home and play a game that boils down to how fast and how many times I can click a mouse.

    Now I also write scripts and can use command shell for other things I do. The keyboard is simply less physically impactful to me and a UI that allows keyboard commands usually required less key presses and tasks can be completed quicker. I prefer this and use it when available for the task at hand.

    If you favor using a mouse, great and I want you to be able to do so. The only thing I would ask developers is to give us the option to choose. So any devs or future devs keep this in the back of your mind please.

  50. Is it far fetched to say that there are things a mouse is better at than a keyboard. And there are also things that a keyboard is better suited instead of a mouse?

  51. PlutoNick: no I don't think its far fetched at all.

    I do think you will get a different answer, as to exactly which is better at what, from different people.

  52. double post as there is no edit:

    I think this is why it is important to give options regarding what you are allowed to use.

  53. I'm right-handed, but I use computers extensively both at work/school and at home. About ten years ago I started having the first symptoms of RSI, carpal tunnel syndrome, whatever, in my right wrist and arm. So I switched to using the mouse left-handed while at home and right-handed while at work or school. Symptoms vanished.

    For me, this makes the mouse-versus-keyboard issue kind of irrelevant. When I play games, my dominant hand is on the keyboard, and I'm comfortable using the mouse with the other. So whether a particular game is mouse-driven or keyboard-driven is no biggie to me.

    With regard to the GIMLET thing and PoR vs. DM or any other game: I enjoy the Addict's perspectives on the games he's played, though I don't comment on individual games very often. From the posts he's written, it's patently obvious that he doesn't play games the way I do, and doesn't rank aspects of a game as important in the way that I do. That doesn't detract from my enjoyment. I find the system he developed internally consistent FOR HIM and his choices on what's important in a game and how he chooses to play it.

    The idea that a game is so clearly a seminal work in the genre that it affected generations to come and that it simply must be awarded a higher score and be touted as the Best Game of All Time is ludicrous. Every game has its good and bad points. I played the Gold Box games into the ground when I was a kid. I spent fifteen minutes staring off into space after the end of IWD saying "Holy f**k!" over and over. And I cried at the end of the main quest in Oblivion. Absolutely different games. Loving one of them takes nothing away from the others.

  54. This may get buried under the scoring/UI discussion, but the practice of memorizing spells comes from the Dying Earth fiction of Jack Vance.

    I've only read one Dying Earth story which was called "Mazirian the Magician" that was included in an Asimov assembled anthology.

  55. Thanks, Eric. I always wondered about that. I've always thought it was a silly system. I don't have any problem with a fixed number of spells per level (a la Wizardry), but to have to memorize the specific spells ahead of time...well, come to think of it, I suppose it does at a level of tactical complexity. I still don't really like it.

    By the 3E rules, D&D's adherence to it was already waning. You had sorcerer classes who didn't need to pre-memorize, as well as the ability to "convert" cleric spells to healing spells.

  56. Oh yeah, I forgot about that. 4e removes it, though I find the replacement somewhat lacking. I always thought it was a very awkward system, particularly the trouble they have explaining it in novels. It worked OK in play, though it does remove wizards options a bit- you have to memorize the big spells since you get so little, removing one of the main points of the class, versatility. I'd like some way of splitting up spells: You can memorize 2 3rd level attack spells, 2 3rd level defensive spells and 2 3rd level utility spells or something, so that you aren't expected to take all buff & attack spells.

  57. The memorization worked well in the one story I read, but I remember checking a Dying Earth novel out from the library and not being able to get into it AT ALL.

    Even though the D&D mechanics are virtually identical to the way things work in Vance's fiction, it had to be radically rescaled for D&D. Mazirian is one of the most powerful magicians in the world, and he has captured or otherwise holds power over at least 2 other extremely skilled magic users. When he goes out into the world with his full compliment of spells, he has 6!

  58. Ah... Jack Vance... one my top 5 writers. I started reading the Dying Earth stories not long ago, and not only the memorization idea (which I haven't seen anywhere else), but also the names of the spells, things like "The Excellent Prismatic Spray" or spells named after people like "Felojun's Second Hypnotic Spell" were so D&D, I was hallucinating, like, what?

    Is his influence over D&D acknowledged somwhere, or is there another common source? For reference, Vance's novel is from 1950.

    1. It's common knowledge - not sure if its officially acknowledged anywhere. The spellcasting system is called "Vancian casting" in player discussions, and one of the most powerful (and evil) spellcasters in the original Greyhawk setting was callef Vecna (an anagram of Vance).

  59. I'm a little late to the party, but here's my two cents. I had DM and PoR on an Apple IIgs back in the day. Although I was suitably impressed by the graphics and sound of DM, for some reason I never got into it. It was never as fun to me as the Gold Box games. Maybe it was the management of turn-based minutiae over the arcade-like action. Maybe it was the variety of exploring a region rather than a single dungeon. I don't know. Ultimately, it was a far more engaging game to me, and apparently CRPGA too. Obviously, YMMV. Keep up the great work on this blog.

  60. Thanks for your perspective, Micah.

    I think the problem is that people look at POR and DM and see subtle variations that make for better graphics in the latter, without thinking about the totality of CRPG graphic development. On a scale from Akalabeth to Oblivion, the differences between DM and POR are infinitesimally small.

    Keep commenting!

  61. I just finished my own replay of POR. The game really is spectacular, a huge leap in quality for that era.

    - Excellent combat system (including the option to Quick characters - which I used to speed up my missle attacks)
    - Great feeling of progression in both abilities and equipment
    - Much less repetition than previous CRPGs
    - Role-playing decisions that actually made a difference in how different scenarios played out
    - The ability to take quests out-of-order (to some degree)

    The use of the D&D rules also made a big difference. The designers already had a set system which worked and could concentrate more on story and other elements. The journal was also a nice feature to that effect.

    My only downsides would be the somewhat tedious interface (could have been better, even for that time) and the poor scenery graphics. But those are two small downsides against all the upside.

    I recently replayed Ultima IV and quit after about eight hours. It just didn't have the replay value for me. I found it excruciatingly repetitive, and the combat system is just lame. I also didn't feel much sense of progression while playing. I enjoyed it at the time, but POR blows it away, and only three years later.

    You mentioned finding the skeleton as a distinguishing moment, one which stood out both times you played. As I replayed the game, I remembered just about crapping myself when I found those trolls in the slums, with that damn animation reaching out to grab you...

  62. I think you said it perfectly in your comment. I'm glad you had some success switching between melee and missile weapons with quick combat. I never did. I found that my characters would arm themselves with a melee weapon and go charging even if I kept them in the back and gave them a perfectly good bow. They also often chose the worst of the weapons in their inventories.

  63. I was going to add that there aren't many games that make it easy to switch between melee and missile weapons. Oblivion with its hot keys, and Neverwinter Nights with its weapon/shield sets come to mind.

    1. Baulder's Gate Dark Alliance for xbox does this well, three weapon sets, so you can have three melee, two melee and a ranged, etc. And its just a button press to switch sets. I miss that game.

    2. I find it very useful in Pool of Radiance. The need for multiple weapons in this game is great, not just missile versus melee, but special weapons, like maces when you face skeletons, or pole arms when you face two square creatures - giants, gnolls, ogres and so forth. If you have a fighter/Magic-user then you might what to use a scroll or magic item and so item switching is a major necessity. I really do not understand the appeal of real time combat. I just assume you would want to play space invaders instead.

  64. In the Gold Box games NPCs will usually (always?) use missiles weapons _if they have appropriate ammunition equipped_.
    They will never equip the ammunition themselves, even if they have arrows in possessions and have a bow equipped.

  65. Please tell me you don't believe Dragon Age's game world deserves a 10.

  66. Well, it's a little unoriginal, but at least the history is detailed and interesting. I'll likely give it a high score. What didn't you like about it?

  67. "For me, D&D won't start getting very high scores in this area until the Infinity engine games introduce detailed item descriptions, and even they don't score that high because the location of each magic item, as in this game, is entirely fixed."

    Personally, I very much prefer RPGs to have fixed treasure. I find these rewards rewarding in a way I don't get with random loot.

    In fact I think this is probably a big part of why I ended up finding Neverwinter Nights so profoundly less satisfying and engaging than the BG games. (BG2 remains the finest CRPG ever made imho.)

    I like the feeling that I'm dealing with challenges and receiving rewards that were personally designed by the people who programmed the game - that if I'm cunning and careful enough I can find the specific high-quality items that have been hidden for me. It's the childhood appeal of the treasure hunt, I suppose.

    Knowing that what I've found has just been picked randomly from a table of rewards appropriate to my level or to the difficulty of what was guarding it just seems to drain the whole experience of meaning. BG1+2 felt like I was uncovering hidden riches that had been put there for me to find, whereas NwN and its successors just feel more like I'm performing arbitrary tasks for an arbitrary reward. (It's all that way, of course, but some games distract you far more successfully!)

    Reminds me of those games like Captive that claimed to have ten million levels or whatever; knowing they were just randomly generated from the same basic elements soon stripped away any sense of meaningfulness, and I quickly found something else to do with my time.

    I've been enjoying reading through your blog greatly so far, by the way - top work.


  68. Or, to give another example, it's like how very much more fun I find Oblivion with a mod like Oscuro's Oblivion Overhaul, which makes the whole thing far less random, both in terms of treasure and in terms of enemies varying in difficulty organically from place to place, rather than having their difficulty depend entirely on the player's own level.


  69. You can strike a happy medium between the two, though. Some key quest treasure can be fixed but most items random. I think Might & Magic VI and VII do that reasonably well.

  70. I've been trying to get Pool running in DOSbox, but it just asks me for Disc 3 and locks up when I attempt to create any characters. I found some forum discussion of this problem, but none of the suggested solutions apppear to have worked. :(

  71. You need to change some lines in the DOSBox config and/or the POOL.CFG.

    If DOSBox uses w: as a virtual drive POOL.CFG needs to be edited accordingly.

    My own POOL.CFG looks like this:

  72. Thanks, Petrus.

    I've tried something similar, but with C: instead of W:, no joy though.

    In my PC's root directory, named C:, I have a folder named POOLRAD containing the game, with an additional blank folder called SAVE.

    My POOL.CFG file is:


    In DOSBox Options, I have the following autoexec lines:


    The game launches no problem at all, then prompts me to insert Disc 3 when I enter character creation. There must be something I've overlooked, but I'm damned if I know what.

  73. Try mounting to an unused drive, not C:
    And change the POOL.CFG to point to that drive.

    My DOSBox autoexec lines are:
    mount w: C:\WIZWORX\POOLRAD\

    Just tested it and I created a character without problem.

  74. Got it working! Thanks for your assistance, Petrus. I was on the brink of giving up.

  75. Since that post, I've spent several hours playing Pool of Radiance, and it's been kicking my arse pretty hard. Some of the fights are seriously difficult, especially when you're constantly struggling with the interface.

    Unlike Mr. Addict who had the benefit of playing it back in the day, coming to it from a fresh perspective I find it, frankly, horrible. Admittedly, the sum total of my Gold Box experience is the Sega version of Buck Rogers: Countdown to Doomsday, which was vastly simplified.

    Nevertheless,I find myself in full agreement with the rant on another blog, The Stack: and

    Yes, he was so irritated about Pool's interface he found enough material for two lengthy blogposts!

    Nevertheless, I am beginning to adjust and enjoy the game. I've managed to clear the slums with the exception of the trolls + ogres in the Rope Guild, which appears to be entirely optional as I've already been rewarded for clearing the slums. I still want to win it though!

    Bearing progression to future Gold Boxers in mind, I'm using an all-human party with two fighters, two mages and two clerics. All but one of the mages are level 3, and I think Stinking Cloud may help a lot in that fight.

  76. You know, I like to think that previous experience playing the game doesn't affect my enjoyment or rating, but I suppose it might. It inures you against surprises, at least. My highest scores do tend to be weighted towards games I played when I was younger--although that might just be a function of those being the more popular games. I'll have to think about this as I move on.

    I can't believe I've never heard about or read "The Stack" before. SOB beat me to my own shtick by several years.

  77. I wonder if it might be an effect of what might otherwise be termed "muscle memory". You learned the interface of these games when they were new and exciting, so returning to them means you may be less irritated by UIs which seem horribly over-complicated by today's standards. After all, you already learned how to play, you just need to remember how the game worked.

    Or perhaps it's just that you waded through 50+ even older games before reaching Pool, which makes you relatively inured to the horrors presented to those inspired by your blog to play for the first time.

    Just to be clear, my gripe is not the mouse vs keyboard issues which have been talked to death in the comments on this post alone, but the sheer number of keystrokes required to do anything, the inconsistency of those required keystrokes, and the damned separate cash inventories for each character which are most annoying. That only makes sense if SSI genuinely expected six people to sit around the same computer and play through the game together, which sort of defeats the purpose of CRPGs.

    That, and the fact doors refuse to show up on the area view, even in previously-explored areas, which necessitates constant switching between viewpoints.

    I did already mention I'm enjoying the game, right? ;)

  78. PS: I hope you don't mind me hanging on the coat-tails of this old blogpost, Mr. Addict. But it could take me a while to complete Pool and I'd like to have the odd rant somewhere that might find a sympathetic audience.

  79. Not at all. Responding to the occasional posting on an old game is easier than replying to the flood of comments I get on new postings.

    I could see where it would be jarring to learn the UI of older games if you didn't grow up with them. I almost always pick up on the commands within the first hour and never think about them again. That was true for POR except when I was trying to cast "Cure Light Wounds" forever.

  80. Doomy, thanks for the link to "The Stack". I can't believe I've never seen that blog before.

    Regarding POR, personally I think only the item management part of the UI is clunky, and would much rather have the paperdoll of games like Dungeon Master or Baldur's Gate.
    But you get used to it.

  81. I was looking to check out the stack because of the mention here, but does he not have an archive that goes back to the begining of when he started? It looks like the archive goes back to jan 2007 but from the look of those posts he has been going for some time before that.

    It might be a comment on my OCDishness that I don't feel like reading a blog if I cant see all the posts, but it still remains where I am at.

  82. If you go to January 2007 and hit the "Older Posts" button a few times, you find Skullmonkeys. Intro: "As I start this blog, I am finishing up Skullmonkeys, an old-fashioned 2D platformer for the Playstation."

  83. Many many thanks to PetrusOctavianus for providing the tip to getting this game to work right in DOSBox.

  84. Thanks doomy, I am at the office 1:44AM waiting to bring my servers up after they fix the power. So this helps me wait more patiently.

  85. Bugger. I went into the area immediately west of the slums and got the XP to level my other magic user for a second Stinking Cloud, then returned to the Rope Guild with everyone at level 3.

    And I almost did it. The second cloud help me take down all but one troll, but it "fled in panic" rather than surrender or whatever, then the others started getting up again.

    Evil, evil encounter.

  86. Trolls are supposed to be fearless, so that may be another instance of SSI not following the Monster Manual correctly. Another is the Ogres, who are supposed to have a STR of 18(00), but don't get the damage bonus (or to hit bonus either, I think).
    The Infinity Engine games were actually more faithful to the Monster Manual, in my experience.

    You can prevent a troll from regenerating by placing a character on the square it dies. And I highly recommend using a hired hand or two. A lvl 4 Hero with 35 HP will make a big difference, especially if the trolls resist the stinking clouds.

  87. In was rather shocked when running "Curse of the Azure Bonds" through about twenty languages on Google Translate produced "this is fucking heaven".

  88. Damn, that comment would have made a lot more sense if I'd added it to be on the end of THIS post:

    Serves me right for having this blog open in two different tabs.

  89. Anyway, I just beat those goddamn trolls after finding some better gear in the area west of the slums.

    I have every confidence the rest of the game will be a cakewalk compared to this.

  90. Turns out I was wrong. The graveyard is bloody horrible!

  91. Finally cleared that sodding graveyard!

    My Level 6 party is standing in a weapons shop. On the floor is 138,322 gold pieces worth of coins, almost all of it platinum.

    We're just about to leave it all on the floor and make the shopkeeper the richest man in New Phlan, purely because we can't carry this much money.

    Everything Addict said about the game's economy is bang on the er, money. The developers really needed to put some kind of bank in the game.

  92. Yeah, I really hated that graveyard, mostly because I hate level-drainers. The game compensated, sort-of, by offering loads of experience there, but it was still annoying.

    You know what I'd love to see in a CRPG? A local king chewing out your party for screwing up the economy by flooding the market with all these found gold pieces and magic items.

  93. I cheesed PoR back in the day by hiring mercs and killing them for their gear. You can also convert an arbitrary amount of time into XP through the training duels.

    The sequel is much shorter and tighter. More options, less random encounter grinding and better UI. I recommend not porting your characters from PoR as a max-level PoR party will waltz through the early stages of CAB.

    1. I wish I'd explored the duels more. The first time I tried one, I died, and after the expense of raising the character and losing the point of constitution, I figured I wouldn't go back. It's probably easier if you don't have my no-reloading rule.

    2. Oh, and thanks for the CotAB tip. I was leaning towards creating a new party because of the new classes and rules the second game introduced. Maybe one mage or something, for continuity.

  94. This has been a fantastic trip down memory lane. This was one of the first games I played on the PC those many years ago. I still think the death noise is among the best in games. Nothing better than . . . cleaves. It made you feel invincible. I played this game with a friend for almost the whole games, and I can remember nights poring over the manual trying to figure out who "The Boss". Endless fiddling with the colors for the characters. And that sweet, sweet moment when you drop that first fireball. Thanks again for bringing this stuff all back up. Good work.

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  96. AD&D is probably the thing that got me into RPGs and therefore I always look forward to DnD-based games. I tend to find some way to enjoy them, even if they have some of the heavy imperfections of the second Pool of Radiance game (the one unrelated to this). Pool of Radiance, and in fact all the old Gold Box games, were treasures to me. I'm not sure if they are 'gold box' games as well, but I spent a lot of time in Eye of the Beholder and Menznoberranzen as well, even though I recall the latter not being that good.

    The tactical combat was probably the best of the time in my opinion. Perhaps it's nostalgia, but I remember it having more complexity and options than we see in many games these days. And, as you said, the familiarity with the setting was a big plus.

    I'm not sure if my love of the setting has anything to do with it, but it does contribute to Planescape: Torment being my favorite CRPG ever. I do wish some of these older DnD games benefited more from the various other settings, but I only ever recall Forgotten Realms and a few Dragonlance games.

    It's a shame you never got into pnp RPGs, as I think you'd really enjoy them. The amount of freedom and options they have are what seem to make you enjoy their computer variants the most. I look forward to your coverage of the other gold box games as they come up.

    1. I will be running an online RPG soon on Google+ Hangouts (Pathfinder, basically D&D 3.75) with the Eberron campaign setting. I've got a couple spots left, and will make a sport for Chet if he ever want to give it a try, even if only for a setting or two.

    2. After refreshing my memories with your blog, I remember a lot of details. The epic fight in Stonajow keep, the mad sorcerer Yarash and the lame "drain 2 levels and ressurect exploit" in the mendoza fight (which was discussed at great length during school break)

      This game still stands proud in a display cabinet at home next to Elite. One of the best RPGs on the C-64 and one of my all time favorites.

      I am curious about your posting on the final chapter of the forgotten realms series "Pools of Darkness"

  97. One day when I was a kid, my dad interviewed for a job at SSI. He came home that day with copies of Pool of Radiance and that awful silver box game. Pool of Radiance was my 2nd major CRPG, and it was so influential that it got me into designing rpgs. I spent days as a kid drawing maps for worlds that only existed as in my head.
    I've just recently discovered your blog and reading your entries on Pool made me wax nostalgic. I came across a horrible, but slightly amusing bug. I accidentally entered a tavern with my level 1 party, and of course there was an inescapable bar brawl. All my party were slaughtered, and all the friendly side too, except for one friendly Corporal. Due to bad pathfinding he had pathed around the outside of the L shaped building to a place where none of the enemy could figure out how to get to him. So after 5 minutes of watching the two computer controlled groups fail to path to each other, I was forced to terminate the program. Good thing I had been saving a lot.
    Anyways, thanks for all the time and effort you put into this blog. Really enjoying it!

    1. Thanks for adding your recollections, Edwin. Those taverns are brutal!

  98. Rhetorical question: When a game this old makes so much fun even today, isn't that what defines a true timeless classic? Incidently I played this game around the same time you did but for the first time ever, I think 2-3 years back, and I had exactly the same feeling of awe for it.

    I admit I'm a bit biased toward D&D and the Realms, but I never hat the chance to experience any of the gold box games back then so my experience was not driven by nostalgia. The first D&D game I ever played was Heroes of the Lance on the C64 and I think it's a real stinker. Also back then I was totally obsessed with Ultima, especially part IV. Sometimes later I did learn more about D&D and that there are actually really good crpg's for it, sadly due to circumstances it was too late for having a chance to obtain them. It was the early 90s, I only had a C64, none of my friends had those games and their C64 retail versions where where nowhere available here. :(

    So later I got my pc and I got most of the gold box games late in the 90s in form of the Forgotten Realms Archives, which is an excellent compilation if you ever have the chance to get ahold of it. It has at least the journals still in printed form and the code wheels. Even then I didn't find the time to actually play them until 2010/11 when I started with PoR and CoK. I know now I've been missing out a great series for too long, I've not swept through all of them at once because I fear the experience could wear out its fascination since engine and gameplay stays the same in each, so I play them occasionally like you would open a very good wine or whiskey only so often.

    Some things I remember:
    - First I thought the clerk was a guy.... I wasn't "adjusted" well at first to the comparatively primitive graphics since I played through some modern games before, and so I didn't notice the vital "attributes" under the steel bars of her..uhh...breast harness (?or whatever it's called in english).
    - The battle with the trolls in the slums is maybe the second toughest in the game, given you absolutely have to fight them that early in the game. The undead on the graveyard were less fearsome for some reason..I think I really did this when I just levelled up and I had that bottle with me.
    - I kept my whole party for CotAB. I didn't care about level caps much, sure it's annyoing but I think the difficulty was allright regardless. I had a combination of single and multi-class characters, Some couldn't level up anymore really early in the game but that didn't prove to make the game unbeatable for me.

    I really could've written so much more about PoR while reading your experiences but I restrained myself for this last entry. I rather catch up more of your blog than commenting much on old entries. ;-)

    1. I appreciate recollections like this. It's particularly interesting to hear that you could get through CotAB even with level-capped characters. I guess I see how that's possible, but continual leveling and development is so much a part of the CRPG experience for me that I'd feel cheated if it couldn't happen.

  99. So I've tried twice to read through all the Pool of Radiance entries, but gave up after a couple of pages. I think I need to play it first to get something of an emotional resonance. Also, I don't want spoilers. And it seems that the game is worth it.

  100. Thank you for yer blog, dude! Keep on!

  101. Amazing blogs - been reading through them from the start, and figured I would add a comment on Pool since it is essentially what started it all for me and holds a place in my heart as the greatest game I have ever played.

    I started out on a Vic 20 as my first computer, but quickly traded and paid up to get a Commodore 64. Shortly after that, I sunk my entire savings into purchasing a 1541 disk drive ($320), and one day while scanning the shelves at the local electronics store, I came across this amazing gold box with pictures and words that essentially described my entire childhood (I was in high school at the time). I immediately took the game home, and poured over every inch of the manuals, code wheel, box art, everything - I just couldn't get enough. Here was my opportunity to finally experience playing D&D correctly since it was so hard to get friends over and have a good game.

    So I dove into the game, mapping every single inch (I still have my graph paper maps). I would take the maps to school and during class I would re-draw them to clear them all up and have a clean representation of what I was adventuring through. I would write out character sheet for each of my characters, keeping track of all of their items, gold, attributes, etc. For all intents, it was as close to solo pen and paper as I could get. And I was thorough. I would scour every single inch of every single map until I was SURE that I ad experienced everything available. I probably played this game for so many months I can't even think. Somewhere along the way I also picked up Curse of the Azure Bonds - and upon finding out I could continue my adventures with this party I had come to love, I was in heaven.

    1. So I was to a point where I could finish the game, but I had heard of a few more places (through rumors and tales) in the wilderness that I may have missed. And being a competition nut, I had to experience EVERYTHING. So I head back out into the wild with my crew to hit the last few spots I know of, one of which is the kobold caves - the one where you have to fight 3 waves of kobolds (though I didn't know this until many years later when I read a walkthrough). I saved my game just before the battle, and proceeded to jump in and start smashing heads. I got through one wave, immediately followed by the next, and finally a third (I had almost started thinking the game was glitched and was concerned I would never get to finish - more on that in a minute). So on the third wave - I died. Every single one of my crew. It's like I was in this perfect storm that I had no chance of winning, unless I happened to get a few lucky hits in. I kept trying - I don't know how many times I tried, and every time the third wave wiped me out.

      So one day, with immense resolve, I start loading the game up, i insert my save game disk....and get a disk read error :-( I could NOT believe it. Here I was, able to finish the game, if I could just get through these waves, and I could no longer load my save game. Not only that, but if I decided to take the hit and just say I had completed it and moved on, I couldn't even copy my characters into Curse, because the disc was bad. I was CRUSHED. forward to a few years ago (this happened back in 1988 when the game came out), I found my old notes and maps. I essentially made a super party in a hex editor, and smashed my way through every part of the game to get to the final battle - I then used an editor to change my characters to match the same ones I had so many years ago. I finally confronted Tyranthraxus and BEAT him. Couldn't believe it. Over 20 years later and I finally finish the game. I still have my original 51/4" save disc and have tried to resurrect it with some Commodore utilities, but alas, no luck.

      Biggest bummer is, this became such a 'thing' for me that I have found it hard to start Azure Bonds, and I really want to continue and complete the remaining 3 games. After reading your blog I've decided to give it another shot and to just take my time and have fun with it.

      Pool of Radiance was SUCH a seminal game to me, and I hadn't gotten the same feeling until Baldurs Gate came out. And in an odd twist of fate...I have always had trouble starting Baldurs Gate 2 :-( I've come to know it's the superior game of the 2, but just haven't buckled down to dig in. Maybe someday can hope. Thank for such an awesome and in depth blog!

    2. Jason, thank you for relating your harrowing experience! I'm very happy to be playing these games in an era where disk corruption isn't as acute a problem. I'm glad you got to beat the game, and I do encourage you to keep going with the series.

  102. I enjoyed reading through your summary, because my own experience with the Gold Box games was virtually the opposite of yours. My first was Curse of the Azure Bonds, which was fairly fun, but then Secret of the Silver Blades was basically my favorite D&D game ever for years, and when I tried to play Pool of Radiance I was so profoundly annoyed by the lack of interesting loot, lack of experience, and lack of "fix" command (since I had played the two latter games already) that I never even made it through more than a half-dozen battles before quitting for good. Though I realize the very fact of only playing through a half-dozen battles is a big part of why the loot and experience were underwhelming, haha.

    Also this is unrelated to Pool of Radiance specifically, but as someone who once aspired to write game music and who often would let the title music for a game play while cleaning my room or doing homework or something, it is mystifying to me that you do not have the same sort of connection with the game tunes of this era that I always have, but I respect that you do your best to acknowledge the relative quality of the sound anyway.

    1. I know that talented composers put a lot into game music, and for that reason I feel bad that it's so wasted on me.

  103. I was playing this again and I thought I would relay some interesting experiences. One of my characters, a half-elven cleric/fighter has been drained twice. Once by Menedor's ghost and another time by a Wight in the Textile Complex. The temples offer no restoration and the clerk offered the scrolls only once. The character is now at 3/3, but when I opened his spell file, I was shocked.

    1) He is a cleric, but his first level cleric spells include Burning Hands and Charm Person.
    2) He can memorize 25! second level cleric spells. Most of these are Hold Person and Resist Fire.

    It's just a computer glitch, but I like how the game gave this boost to the most unfortunate of my characters.

    1. This sounds like the D&D version of a superhero origin story. His brains got so scrambled by undead that he was able to tap into new powers!

    2. That's funny, except that I think the 2nd level of cleric spells have the most useless for the game. I wonder if it will last when he levels up again?

    3. Well it's getting weirder. Sergios the Half-elf fighter cleric has 14 hit points and an armor class of 9. He can cast both cleric and magic user spells of levels 1 and 2. He moves at a rate of 3 spaces per combat round, but hits for up to 200 points of damage. Also, he can continue to hit any opponent in range. For some reason, the computer has made him an NPC, yet I can control him in battle. A restoration spell did not turn him back to normal. He cannot carry anything since the computer has given him an encumberance of over 100,000!

      This is almost too bizarre. All I know is that the same character got level drained twice in two separate encounters and the computer rewrites the character.

    4. Whenever you go to a trainer, you are able to modify a character if they have zero experience. One of the hirelings (the adept?) has zero experience. It's race is 'Monster' and modifying the stats gives strange results (eg 255 str, which is useless, but you can get it to 25, which is +7/+14)

    5. Yeah. But he gets knocked out easily due to low hit points and an AC of 9. I am seriously considering restarting the game.

  104. i like you, crpg addict. youve really inpsired me to play through all of these old rpg games, and i'm enjoying them!!!!

  105. you need to get to 1994 elder scrolls arena,NOW HUIRY UP! !THATS THE BEST !

    1. Why is it the best? It was so large and boring. Sort of like eating a gigantic unripe watermelon. Then again, that's just probably me.

      I prefer my game-worlds compact and detailed rather than expansive and bland.

  106. First of all, I've been reading your blog on and off over the past several months (going through your archived list by release date) and have really been enjoying it. Looking forward to a few particular entries down the line: there's an old DOS game called Hera: The Sword of Rhin that I have some weird nostalgia for, but something tells me it hasn't held up.

    Anyway, several years ago I used to do a similar thing to what you're doing here back on before it shut down, but with NES games. I came across the NES version of Pool of Radiance at a major used media store in my area and played through it, and... well, if you follow the link attached to my name, you'll see my review from the time. I have more of a history with Japanese RPGs than Western ones, though, which was probably part of my issue with the game; that, and I'm sure plenty of stuff was botched in the console port, not to mention that a keyboard-driven interface would speed things up by several orders of magnitude. Reading your blog has me curious about the original PC version, and now that a lot of the old SSI titles are available on, I'll probably pick them up on a sale and give PoR a go. I started the PC version of the first Might and Magic recently and have been loving it, so I think that there's something about classic CRPGs that's scratching an itch for me, moreso than in previous years...

    I know you're a busy man, but if you have a moment to skim my old blog entry, I'd be interested in your thoughts based on the original game. If nothing else, I'd at least like to know whether or not spells like Cure Blindness, Cure Curse, and Resist Cold are useful in the PC version, because I don't remember there being any enemies in the NES version capable of the analogous attacks.

    1. I think a lot of your issues (interface, music, graphics) are directly attributable to the NES port, rather than the original game. Some of the D&D-influenced randomness swing is there for sure, though that can work in your favor as much as disfavor. A positive take is, even if a fight beats you once, it's worth a second shot. As for not knowing what to do or where to go next, I'm not sure. I thought Pool of Radiance does a particularly good job of setting you up with quests and instructions, at least inside the city. Some of the overland stuff you did have to explore and stumble onto on your own. Not sure how true to the original the NES stayed with the quest structure, though.

    2. I took a look at it. Some of the issues you cite are similar in the PC version, particularly the horrible AI of allies and (therefore) the complete uselessness of allied spellcasters.

      Hearing that treasures were randomized on the NES version surprised me. I WISH there had been more randomness in the PC versions, but you always encoutner the same magic items in the same places. Randomness in combat is less of a factor on the PC versions, too. I can't think of any battle in which I got slaughtered, reloaded, tried the same tactics, and won. Success in battle usually came after a complete reconfiguration of tactics, which I liked.

      My post here talks more about spells:

      The short answer is that "Cure Blindness," "Remove Curse," and "Resist Cold" are pretty useless throughout the series. "Resist Cold" has some utility in Secret of the Silver Blades, but not as much as you'd expect given the ice theme. There are a number of spells ("Protection from Good"; "Spiritual Hammer"; "Invisibility to Animals"; "Friends") that were included because they're part of the D&D book, but they never become very useful.

    3. Reading through Elkovsky's post and commenting as I go:

      The set encounters/treasure locations where always have the same items, but random battles can have random treasure.

      There was definitely a significant issue with landing melee attacks. My magic-user/cleric with darts would hit more often than my 8th level fighter with a long sword +4.

      The randomness is in both versions, every bit of it, but I think melee attacks are balanced better on the PC. Resurrection doesn't lower HP by 1, it lowers Con by 1, which will adjust HP based on the new Con bonus.

      Spell memorization is the same, although menuing in general is faster on PC thanks to hotkeys. Most healing I did was at the temple.

      I didn't use a walkthrough or save scumming to complete the wilderness, and had no trouble. True, most places are invisible until visited, but you can get directions from the dragon whose cave is clearly visible. It's the same in the PC version I believe.

      @Quirkz: The NES port is very true to the story with some minor changes (most notable is there no option other than genocide in the lizardmen keep). Everything else is faithfully reproduced with limited dialogue.

    4. "There was definitely a significant issue with landing melee attacks. My magic-user/cleric with darts would hit more often than my 8th level fighter with a long sword +4."

      Keep in mind that three darts are thrown at once.

      "The randomness is in both versions, every bit of it, but I think melee attacks are balanced better on the PC. Resurrection doesn't lower HP by 1, it lowers Con by 1, which will adjust HP based on the new Con bonus."

      I think you only lost HP if your HP would be higher than possible under the new CON score.

    5. It could be that the NES version masked misses from ranged attacks if any of them hit, which would explain why the number of attacks varied and I missed less often. I'd rather have been informed of the multiple misses as I remember from the PC version.

      In my case my 8th fighter with 18 con with 88 HP was resurrected, lost 1 con, and then had 80 HP. Maybe that's another difference.

    6. @Zenic Reverie: Hmm... regarding the wilderness, it sounds like I missed something in my playthrough, although it's also possible that the differences in dialogue in the NES release didn't exactly help. As mentioned in my old review post, "abandoned" is spelled as "naben doned," so it wouldn't surprise me if there was stuff that was left out or messed up in the double-translation (wasn't some of the dialogue in the original game in a paper manual that the game told you to reference periodically?)

      Hotkeys would make a world of difference in terms of things like spell memorization. I think I would be able to work up a tolerance for it on PC.

      Going back to my old post, it comes off as much harsher than I remember, but this was all fresh on my mind at the time. All the more reason for me to go back at give the PC version a try at some point...

  107. My Review of Pool of Radiance:
    Pool of Radiance was the first DOS CRPG I have played. Having been an off and on veteran of D+D in the 1970s, I was attracted by the idea of playing the game with the computer as the DM. As Chet has said before, D+D is a natural fit for a CRPG. As I did with Secret of the Silver Blades, I will use four categories: Story, Interface, Graphics and Nit Picks.

    STORY: I like it, mostly. Tyranthraxus may be an evil warlord, but the orcs living in the slums are just living their lives. I like how the game gives two points of view. In fact, Tyranthraxus does not seem as bad as say the Vampire, or Yarash. I like how Tyranthraxus and Phlan regard both as obstacles to be removed. Although alignment has no bearing, except for one magic sword in the graveyard, the game allows you to role play by offering variations in pursuit of missions. Help the nomads; kill the nomads or just ignore them. Return Cadorna's treasure, keep it, or cut a deal with the thieves. On the other hand events flow the same way, regardless of what you do. You can't, for example, alter the narrative involving Cadorna, no matter how you handle the Textile House quest. Regardless of how you rescue the Bivant boy, you still get the same result when you return to Phlan. While the world does respond to your successes, the response is very scripted. 1/2 POINT.
    INTERFACE: As Chet has noted about all the Gold Box games, mouse, keyboard, and joystick are redundant and giving the player good choices for interface. I have only used keyboard, however, so my comments go to that. These are mostly good, but I have to hit the "1" key to scroll up and down, such as when looking at items in shops or character inventory. This is counter-intuitive and when I finish Pool of Radiance and go to another Gold Box, I have to un-learn touching that button. The lack of "FIX" or the need to press "MOVE" does not bother me as much. Given that none of the missions are time sensitive, a party can simply rest in a safe place and recover hit points without the need for spells anyway. Chet has covered the combat system and I completely agree with him. 1/2 POINT

    GRAPHICS: As an historian, I tend to look backwards. So concepts of datedness or obsolescence mean little to me. The character portraits are goofy, but you can disable them. The monster portraits are, on the other hand, important in this game feeling like D+D. I used to peruse the old Monster Manual and Fiend Folio, so seeing these pictures recreated so well was a treat. While the walls are standard, work was clearly done in some areas like the graveyard, complete with lightning, and the temple of Bane. The faces of NPCs, like the clerk, Cadorna, Norris the Gray etc. were memorable. 1 POINT

    NIT PICKS: This game lacked many things from AD+D, which we played long ago. There are no monks, druids, illusionists, assassins, rangers or paladins. This seemed like basic D+D, my term, with just four basic classes. The lack of an illusionist class for Gnome characters makes that race unappealing. Still, given the first game of this kind, you still have many options with five races and multi-classing. While many bemoan the level limits on demi-humans, their ability to multi-class offsets this in part. 1 POINT

    SUM - 3/4 - Great game, but not without problems. The interface issues disappeared in later games, but the scripted nature of the plot never goes away. I suppose the technology was unable to handle such things. Thank God for the combat system!

    1. Amazing blog. I've reading it for about 2 years and never commented before. I'm from the "old school" 80/90 games, but didn't have knowledge of most of the old games here posted. Thank you, Chet.
      As for this wonderful game, i finished it on the Amiga platform, with WinUAE with WHDLoad installed, because i think it's the best platform for it, with better graphics, music and sound effects.

  108. Some thoughts on Pool of Radiance:

    I just finished another run through this game. The party I used was the best yet and I think I enjoyed the game more than ever because they worked so well as a group. I role-play when I create characters, but I also strive for balance with 3 human and 2 demi-human multi-class characters. Here are some things I noticed:

    1) Human clerics rise far too fast in the game, but the only other alternative is a half-elf, but you miss the 6th level. On the other hand, it allowed us to complete the graveyard early.

    2) The Manual of Bodily Health does work consistently and yes if you have a dwarf with a 19 constitution, it will raise it to 20 and regeneration, albeit at a slow rate. It is not game shattering in any event.

    3) I tried Protection from Good when battling Tyranthraxus, but did not notice any benefit. He went down fast due mainly to two of my fighters, both hastened and enlarged hammering him every round.

    4) Even zombie hirelings desert to Tyranthraxus. So much for undead loyalty.

    5) If you defeat most of the pirate garrison, the captain asks for your surrender, like Norris the Grey. We killed him anyway and captured the base.

    6) I think this is the only Goldbox which offers some incentive to play evil. Since money is plentiful, the only way to lure characters is through rare items. The Shaman of the nomad tribe has the only Bracers AC2. You can only get them by exterminating the Nomads, rather than helping them. Also, Gauntlets of Ogre power are the main draw to betraying Cadorna early in the game.

    7) If you take the crazy guy in the library with you, he just mostly runs away in fights.

    8) Gold Foil does not repel Basilisk attacks!

    9) One of the designers loved to put flower pots on the battlefield.

    1. See, my blog needs more comments exactly like this, filling in the gaps. That gold foil thing has bothered me for years.

      Fully agree on clerics. It's too bad this game doesn't offer dual-classing options.

  109. Chet, you're quick. Once you start a game (Fate notwithstanding) you zip right through it and are done before we mere mortals have hardly begun. Those of us who played these games 20 years ago view them through a gauzy haze of nostalgia. Who has a memory that, 20 years later, can provide the insightful observations that JJ was able to offer from his much more recent run?

    Sometimes when I’m reading your blog I think, “That would be fun to start,” but then I think, “Naw, he'll be done before I've even built my party.” Then as I play through and leave comments and questions on an old blog, as I did with Disciples of Steel, I discovered that they’re lost in the wilderness. I mean, you sometimes respond, and the very rare reader might look at new comments on an old blog (after all, JJ and I are here), but for the most part, the commenter would get about as much action writing on a piece of toilet paper and flushing it – it’s just not getting the eyeballs.

    The “Recent Comments” section is an improvement, and it’s the only reason I'm here, but with only 15 or so references, new material is quickly pushed off the list. For example, JJ is already off the “Recent Comments” list, and only your reply was visible to lead me to this old blog.

    Professional blogs, such as Spiceworks, IPVM, and so on, have tools that help readers review any comments they haven’t read yet, without missing any. This converts old blogs from a desert into fertile ground where spirited discussions can blossom even years after you’ve written them.

    Why should anyone care? Simply put, the structure of your comment system means that old blogs aren't the best place for your readers to go to ask for help as they play through a game you’ve already moved beyond. While you’re playing, we respect your experience by avoiding posting spoilers, but once you’ve completed the game, how many come back to an old blog to answer new questions or to provide a level of insight that you may not have cared to see while you were playing?

    Many of these old games are dead and it’s hard to find a forum for current discussions. That’s not unreasonable, considering that a lot of play is nostalgia-driven, and the odds of many players in the same game at the same time continues to decrease with the size of that population. Currently I’m playing Amberstar, and now an then when there’s a piece of mechanics that I just don’t get, there doesn’t seem to be a good place to ask a question.

    In summary, thanks for bringing us this forum which stirs old memories and is fun to revisit. Sometimes I wish you took a little longer – that you mixed up more concurrent games, which would extend the shelf-life of each game on your blog. Often I wish that the comment system supported a longer life. But I have to say, I would never have even learned about, let alone started, Disciples of Steel or Fate – Gates of Dawn without this great blog. So, take all the suggestions with a grain of salt, and keep on doing what you do best – the really great blog content!

    Respectfully, Rangerous the Second

    1. "Sometimes I wish you took a little longer." What I've been doing lately is alternating games every 2-3 days, so there's 5-6 days between postings on the same game. I thought that would give each post more time to marinate and attract discussion. I COULD increase it, adding a third game to the rotation, but I worry that if take TOO long between discussions on the same game, everyone will forget what's happening.

      I wish I had a solution to the comments thing. Even the feed only shows the last 25, and I can't figure out any way to increase that.

      I've been messing around for about an hour with the "recent comments widget." It occurred to me that there's nothing special about a "widget," and I should be able to use the same code in a stand-alone page. The annoying thing is, it worked--for about a minute. Every time I loaded the page after that, it was just blank.

      If someone has a solution to any of these issues, I'll implement it. I'd love an easier way to see more recent comments without having to direct people to the sidebar.

    2. As a frequent necro poster, I can say that Chet is very good in responding. I appreciate his attention to the blog as it has grown enormously in the past years. I have never felt ignored, and because of this blog, I have learned so much both about games I have played and games I never knew existed.

      I actually try sometimes to play games, that I have, before Chet gets to them. Then I can read his report and compare it with my recent experience. For example, I am really eager to get his take on Dark Queen of Krynn. If there is any Goldbox game that can take the crown from Pool of Radiance, this may be the one. It will be fun to find out.

    3. Well, I got it working:

      but I can't get it to display more than 25 comments because that's the maximum number that appears on the feed, and I can't seem to edit that anywhere. I'll keep researching.

    4. Never mind. That link is gone. I can't get the code stable. Nonetheless, I did solve the "25 comments maximum" issue by learning that you just have to add a "?max-results=250" (or whatever) tag to the end of the comments feed.

      So I COULD direct people to:

      But I like the widget because it has the title of the post, which the feed doesn't.

    5. Seconds later, I got the bastard to work. I'll move this discussion to a more recent post so others can offer advice on making it better.

  110. Thank you for this blog, and these postings.
    As I read through all the pages, I have had more than one "blast from the past" and realised I remember more about this game than I probably should, seeing as I played it first about 22 years ago.
    I bought a disk drive for my trusty C64 back in '96 and it came with a bunch of battered 5.25" flops with barely legible labels. Amongst these I found full set of disks for Sentinel Worlds and Pool of Radiance.
    Obviously without manuals and/or copy protection "disk".
    They were partly corrupted, some areas of Phlan were glitching out, level 9 guards cast lightning bolts and generally the game was "problematic" to run, but I have played it again and again and enjoyed it for almost a year.
    Reading about this on your blog has gently rekindled the desire to go back to PoR and re-play it with full experience of reading paragraphs and having a proper translation tool for those runes.
    Thank you!

  111. Good stuff.

    I still remember 'Tyraniththraxus' and my brother and I still joke about it to this day, however, in my case it had a more significant meaning. The very first time I played through pool on my C64, I encountered the human 'tyraniththraxus' and thought that was the end. How crap is that? What a hopeless ending! I stopped the game and moved on. It wasn't until someone I knew a couple of years later talked about fighting a dragon that I was like 'wtf?!?!'. I thought they were making up bs, but this person was adamant that this happened, and a secret door lead to the real big bad.

    So I played through the entire game again (I had copied over my save disk for something else, disks being a premium back in those days, and not knowing about the ability to transfer to Curse as that game didn't exist by the time I first finished Pool), and discovered the secret door...oh well. Guess there really was a dragon, and the ending wasn't as bad as I thought :)

    1. That's pretty funny. It makes me wonder if, among 316 games, I've ever bungled my way to the "wrong" ending and blogged about it as if it were the correct one.

    2. I figure if you did do that 23 people would come out of the woodwork to tell you that you had ;)

  112. What do you think of the Gold Box Companion? Does it make old games like Pool of Radiance more user-friendly for newer players, or does it go too far and over-modernize them and remove the game's essence?

    1. I love GBC! You don't need to use many of the "spoiler" features. It's possible to hit the wrong button (it took me a while to learn how to "get back" my original races after accidentally hitting a button).
      However, it's great at reducing some of the unfortunate D&D tedium. I use it to restore spells without 100 button clicks. I always encamp, and of course it's regrettable that you lose the ability to be interrupted in your sleep, but gosh, 100 button clicks! I can't resist mitigating that unhappy labor.

    2. Having played all the Gold Box games since then, I'm not sure I don't miss having to memorize and cast individual spells. By making healing a bit tedious, the game introduced consequences for doing it too often. The "Fix" command used in later games made it too easy to rest between practically every battle. They should have at least introduced a compromise where "Fix" was only available in ultra-safe places and you had to manually heal while in the middle of a campaign.

    3. Or make Fix work exactly like casting your healing spells and memorising them again. Using Fix takes (way) less in-game time than manually doing the same.
      But you still have one GB game left, right? There'll be plenty of can't-abuse-Fix moments in there.

    4. I've been wiped by a couple 'fix' interrupts in a row. No doubt it's game and area dependent, but there are definitely maps where finding the 'safe' room, or clearing the random encounters is a big deal.

    5. I use GBC for the mapping (which I get the appeal of doing manually but don't personally enjoy), but I avoid using the tedium saving buttons unless I'm in an appropriate spot such as an inn.

  113. I picked up a few collections of games from GOG because of this blog.

    I tried playing POR for a few hours and kept accidentally wandering into different taverns, getting caught in the middle of a brawl, and getting my party wiped. Then I'd grumble, create a new party, and walk into a different tavern by accident and get my party wiped!

    Then my wife started giving me crap about playing a game and I stopped. I'll give it another shot in a day or two and hopefully make it out of the city!

  114. I was experimenting with the Hirelings and Animate Dead to make my own zombies. My good cleric turned two of the hirelings into zombies. 1) You cannot train them as they are not "Conscious". 2) Zombie cleric/magic users lose their spell abilities. 3)Enemy clerics can turn your zombies. It happened to my party in the temple of Bane near the castle.

    1. Very cool. I'll bet hardly anyone ever checks out that spell.

  115. You need to test the Mac versión, was weird!!

  116. Finding this blog, and reading about old games I played & missed got me playing the Pool series again. Bought the GoG version fully intending to play Pool, Curse, Secret then PoD. I played Pool & Curse growing up, so wanted to experience the whole series.

    I got through Pool and Curse. Started Secret, but the motivation is gone. It's just become so repetitive. 80% of time is spent wandering around, wasting time on random encounters you don't want to occur, trying to find plot continuation. Then 20% of the time is spent furthering plot and accomplishing goals. Just a lot of filler to justify characters leveling up to get to the end.

    When I was a young teen Pool & Curse filled the D&D gap left behind after a table-top group I was part of broke-up when folks moved away. It was good for that at the time.

    But, running through now, it doesn't feel like it holds up well.

    1st ed AD&D rules are clunky compared to OD&D (red, blue, green, black set). Weapons are broken-out in outlandishly detailed fashion, but leaving the "clear choices" either two-handed swords or long-sword / shield for fighters with flail / mace for clerics. Pool understands that, b/c those are the "good" weapons it mainly hands out. Wizards get scrolls and wands, so don't care about their weapons.

    As you mentioned about the games, it's fun through level 9 when characters grow in spells / abilities. But, not much after that to keep going. Warriors have a sweep ability that never grows, so isn't useful past Pool. OD&D had weapon masteries that vastly increased damage potential for warriors keeping them relevant late game. But, 1st ed AD&D didn't. So, fighters are just meat shields for wizards unless they dual-class to wizards themselves.

    Since the games are so combat-heavy, and some of those combats feel unbalanced (teetering on unfair) it pushes player to be a munchkin instead of a role-player.

    The games railroad the player from the start by forcing them into the combat-centric play style. I think you or someone elses blog said you can't role-play a band of thieves sneaking through the games like a table-top adventure might allow. The game is very thief-averse. There's never really any sneaking. Random encounters seem to always happen, and almost always spot the party. They let you sneak contextually in one area by disguising as monsters, but you're not allowed any other time. It makes no sense.

    There's whole forums dedicated to people discussing how to min/max parties which just underlines the games promote munchkinism instead of role-playing. The 1st ed AD&D rules were just very ham-fisted, and the farily faithful implementation in the Gold Box games highlights it.

    The games faithfully hand-out money based AD&D rules, but don't have the extra things, like kingdoms, magic item creation, etc, players would spend it on. So, money is there to just overburden you unless the player micro-manages how much they carry at all times.

    I felt Pool and Curse were slogs, and, reading reviews of Secret and Darkness, I'm not going to continue. Secret is just a slog with more "use whatever has the most plusses" stuff, and Darkness just keeps it up. With the character levels Darkness explores, the characters should be finding artifacts.. just god-level stuff. But, it's not.

    Pool at least had character growth + a nice assortment of items found. Then Curse became very lame in handing out rewards making big combats feel less accomplished.

    Having party inventory taken away after Pool and Curse is also a major annoyance. Nothing says "let's continue adventuring!" like all the party's toys taken away for "reasons".

    I've adopted the Konmari mentality of "if it doesn't spark joy, get rid of it". So, I'm cutting my Gold Box adventures short.

    1. I suspect you'll find that the majority of early CRPGs are squad-combat games with exploration. Even these days, there are relatively few CRPGs which support low-combat playstyles.

    2. I'm sorry to hear that you didn't enjoy the series. I get your criticisms, but as Tristan says, there really isn't anything from this era that supports a non-combat approach to gameplay (which isn't to say that the game couldn't have done more with rogues). In the context of combat, what the Gold Box does particularly well is implement most of the D&D spells faithfully, creating a lot of different tactical options--even more so when you consider how well they programmed the monsters and their various strengths and weaknesses.


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