Friday, September 6, 2013

Champions of Krynn: Final Rating

The flying citadel on the box is a bit of a spoiler.

Champions of Krynn
United States
Strategic Simulations, Inc. (Developer and Publisher)
Released 1990 for DOS, Amiga, Apple II, 1992 for PC-98
Date Started: 27 August 2013
Date Ended: 4 September 2013
Total Hours: 17
Difficulty: Easy-Moderate (2.5/5)
Final Rating: 56
Ranking at Time of Posting: 107/113 (95%)
Ranking at Game #403: 393/403 (98%)

Champions of Krynn is a good entry in a series that I've already blogged about fairly extensively, so this GIMLET isn't going to contribute worlds of new knowledge to our understanding of the Gold Box games. It makes effective use of a solid game engine, the lore and history of its campaign setting, and AD&D rules.

Because this game is essentially my only exposure to the Dragonlance campaign setting, it often felt very foreign to me, and it was always clear that Dragonlance fans (especially readers of the novels) would get more out of the game than casual players like me. Oddly, the game is probably more enjoyable to me in 2013 than it would have been in 1990, before I had the Internet to look up the characters and locations that the game uses. While this didn't make me go, "Wow! I'm actually adventuring alongside Tasslehoff Burrfoot! I'm never quitting this DOSBox session!," it did at least keep me from playing the entire game saying, "Who?"

The issue of difficulty was on my mind a lot as I played Krynn. The game strikes me as fundamentally too easy because, paradoxically, the battles are quite hard. When I played Pool of Radiance and Curse of the Azure Bonds, I adhered to my limited-save policy by which I saved at the entrance to each new map, but not after every combat or major event. This was the only way that I could preserve the edge-of-the-seat tactical tension of games like Wizardry and Might & Magic.

I started doing that with Krynn but soon realized it would be an exercise in frustration. The previous Gold Box games featured combats of relatively moderate difficulty (save for special examples, like the Beholder Corps), so there was a reasonable chance I could get through an entire map without having to lose my progress. Because Krynn's battles were so much harder, I realized I'd be tripling the time it took me to get through the game if I kept that save policy. So I did what almost every other player does and saved liberally throughout every map.

Doing so gave me a far different experience than I had with Pool or Curse. In those games, limited saving also meant limited resting, because I wasn't going to burn hit points and spells on random encounters unless I really needed the healing or the spell replenishment. I looked carefully for those rare spots in which the game told me it was safe to rest. In Krynn, on the other hand, I would take a chance on "Fixing" and sleeping in just about any corridor, and usually it was fine. As I discussed yesterday, the "Fix" command worked far more often than just sleeping, but even sleeping worked more often than it should have.

There's a special kind of challenge--a special kind of fun--that accompanies the navigation of foreign corridors at half your hit points and half your spells cast, when suddenly there's another attack by minotaurs, and you're carefully checking your spell and item inventories for anything that might help, because you've cast all your fireballs and lightning bolts and you've got one cure spell left and at least three people who need it. I missed that. I could have gotten it back by doing some tweaking, like setting the difficulty slider one setting lower and adopting a "save only twice per map" policy or something, but I'd rather the game didn't make me do such things. The Gold Box series could significantly ramp up the challenge by limiting either saves or rest breaks, and between the two, the latter makes the most sense. "Fix" shouldn't work where sleeping doesn't work, and you shouldn't be able to sleep except when you've cleared an area or have found a hidden location.

On a related note, an anonymous commenter had a good point a few days ago:

Your sentence about re-trying the fight with cold resistance spells memorized does sum up quite nicely what I dislike about AD&D2 magic. You can almost never react to a battle situation with minor spells without first casting power word: load.

I felt this more in Krynn than in previous Gold Box games. Most of the major fixed battles followed a predictable pattern for me: I'd first stumble upon them unaware, then get slaughtered, then reload and cast my buffing spells (including battle-specific protection spells) before trying again. It would be really nice if games didn't force you to break the illusion of continuity this way, perhaps by giving some alert that a major battle is about to happen in the next square. It's not like it's unrealistic. Chances are, if three dragons are milling around behind the next door, I'm going to be able to see something through the cracks.

I mean, honestly, how does this kind of thing happen as a surprise?

Aside from these minor complaints, the game was a lot of fun, and I expect it to do well on the GIMLET; I would expect it to come out slightly below Curse of the Azure Bonds, but not by much. In the review below, I'm including some intelligence I received via correspondence with developer Victor Penman.

1. Game World. Like the Forgotten Realms Gold Box games, it's hard to rate this area independently of the large mythos constructed by the books, gaming guides, and modules. What we can say is that the Dragonlance realm is certainly tighter than the Forgotten Realms setting, with a more cohesive history and more consistent characters. As I indicated in the first posting, to me it feels like it goes a little too far in the other direction. If we can fault the Forgotten Realms for being a confusing, inconsistent patchwork, we can perhaps fault Dragonlance for at times feeling a little too engineered.

The game itself does a decent job integrating itself with the Dragonlance mythology, something that developer Victor Penman tells me was strictly regulated by TSR--they required SSI to "faithfully adhere to the Krynn mythos." In general, the game made me feel that I was the protagonist and the canonical Heroes of the Lance were the supporting characters, though it did skirt the edge sometimes.

There was one notable regression from Pool and Curse: the overland map is meaningless. Unlike Pool (which featured similar movement), there is nothing to "discover" in the mountains and valleys of the map. Unlike Curse, there are no special encounters that take place only on the road. Unlike both, random encounters are few and far between. The game might as well have just given me a menu of places to go.

And so much of the travel is automatic anyway.

On the plus side, the series continues to do well by incorporating the events of the game into an evolving world. I fully expected that when I journeyed to Kernen after the end of the game, I'd encounter dragons and Draconians in the same way that in Pool of Radiance, I could keep returning to the castle to fight Tyranthraxus. But instead I found a group of knights sifting through the rubble, willing to pat me on the back and throw me a party. Tavern tales continually evolved to reflect the progress of the quest, and cleared areas remain cleared. It was so good, in fact, that when I tied up a cleric at one point after interrogating him, when I returned to the square hours later, I got a message that "a bound and gagged cleric glares at you." Score: 7.

And this after a battle with minotaurs outside the inn.

2. Character Creation and Development. Essentially, we can say the same thing about all games of this era based on AD&D: there is a satisfying but not earth-shattering level of customization during character creation; character progression happens often enough; and it's satisfying to watch the characters grow in spell and combat power. However, the games lack the customization of skills and abilities that we see in third-edition AD&D and in many other RPGs throughout the 1990s and 2000s. One solid advantage to Krynn over its predecessors is that characters gain experience even when they seek alternatives to combat; I just wish the game would tell you how much.

Krynn did have some changes from the previous games, predominantly in the introduction of the knight class, the associated promotion levels, and at least one quest (Sir Dargaard's tomb) in which the class really mattered. The clerical deities and division of mages into white and red were also new, though I can't say they added a lot to the gameplay. The moon phases and spell bonuses and penalties they conveyed added to tactical considerations. I didn't find the races to be significantly different from their Forgotten Realms counterparts. The game stripped evil alignments, but this seemed less like a real loss than an honest acknowledgement that it would make little sense to go through the plot in any meaningful way as an evil party. Score: 7.

Coral achieves her maximum level.

3. NPC Interaction. The game featured about the same NPC level as previous Gold Box titles, but (as usual) with no dialogue or role-playing options. The NPCs in Krynn had more interesting in-game stories than any we found in Pool or Curse--I'm thinking particularly of the ill-fated Sir Karl and his dragon girlfriend--but still not at the level where I felt any significant attachment. The "attitude" options (whether to parlay nice, haughty, sly, etc.) appeared less often than in the previous games, there were no hirelings, and you didn't even have the ability to reject NPCs who wanted to join the party (not that it would have made sense anyway). Altogether, I think the game's approach to NPCs was slightly less than Pool or Curse. Score: 5.

What's wrong with this description?

4.  Encounters and Foes. This category remains a strength of the Gold Box series. The menagerie of creatures is well-described in the game's documentation (and of course in plenty of other sources), and this is one of the few series of the era where knowledge of a foe's strengths and weaknesses radically changes your approach to combat. Of particular interest are the four Draconian species [Edit: As Victar points out, it's five], each with unique characteristics and special attacks. I really hated the Auraks, but in a good way--a way that recognized their unique challenge.

Mr. Penman told me that the development team faced a problem regarding the canonical monsters of the Dragonlance setting: "There were not enough monsters, of different levels, to give good challenges for all levels of parties." He says that TSR actually created new monsters "just so we could use them in the game," but overall the lack of a menagerie the size of Forgotten Realms Monster Manual was responsible for many of the issues I noted relating to combat balance. (He didn't specify which monsters were specifically created for Krynn, but my money is on "mobats" as one.)

The series also continues to show strengths in the numerous encounters, allowing the player to either avoid or pursue combat, to act slyly or bluntly, to favor brawn or intelligence, depending on his or her preference. A lot of the encounter options led to essentially the same outcomes, or offered choices between manifestly smart and dumb actions, but they still offered far more than most other RPGs. Such choices will become far more consequential in later games, and with a greater ability to really play a role, but they're still welcome here. Score: 7.

I'm not saying I agonized over this one, but it was nice to have the choice.

5. Magic and Combat. Yet another category for which it would make sense for me just to write a standard "Gold Box entry." I love the engine, it supports enjoyably tactical use of spells and melee attacks, and I could happily spend hours fireballing, lightning-bolting, and backstabbbing enemies. While the magic system doesn't break new ground, the list of spells is a good balance of offensive and defensive, and they must be used tactically to have a chance at victory. This game had harder combats than the previous two, but fewer large, long combats, which I missed a bit. I felt like too many combats in Krynn required "getting the jump" on the other party and wiping them out quickly, and fewer involved the types of long-term tactics that I loved in, say, the kobold battles in Pool of Radiance. Nonetheless, it remains an excellent combat engine and the primary reason to play a Gold Box game. Score: 7.

My Kender uses her "yell" ability, a new feature in this game.

6. Equipment. Another area that I could just copy and paste from my reviews of Pool or Curse. There are lots of weapons, armor, rings, girdles, gauntlets, wands, scrolls, bows, and other items to buy and find, and the game provides a solid "weapon upgrade" almost every map. The shop selection was smaller than in the previous games, but it's not like players were carefully weighing the choice between a glaive-guisarme and a guisarme-voulge anyway. I still don't like that the magic equipment all appeared in fixed positions, and there are no good item descriptions.

There were some small innovations in this game, such as the hoopak, the Solamnic plate, and the Dragonlance. I didn't miss ioun stones. Still no helms or boots. Score: 5.

Perhaps the best-equipped character I've ever had in any Gold Box game.

7. Economy. I've just entirely given up on the Gold Box series when it comes to this category. As usual, the game offered far more treasure than my characters needed for the few paltry things they could do with it. Training doesn't even cost anything in this game. The stupidity of "steel pieces" was balanced by the usefulness of the "vault," though I only ever made deposits. If it wasn't for the magic shops, there would be no reason to collect money at all, and the shops barely sold anything worth buying. (My characters are all going into Death Knights of Krynn with scores of arrows +1 and a few superfluous Wands of Magic Missile.)

I asked Mr. Penman about this, and he attributed this problem mostly to the AD&D rules, which gave experience rewards based on both enemy hit dice and the amount of treasure collected. Since TSR required SSI to use official rules for both experience and treasure, I guess I see how it went wrong, but I still think it should have been fixable somehow. My suspicion is that they just didn't consider it a problem. Penman somewhat brusquely told me that, "Following the rules and providing XP were our concerns, not what people spent money on." Score: 2.
8. Quests. The main quest of Krynn is more epic than the previous games, and perhaps a tad more confusing. I rather liked the low-key nature of the plots of Pool and Curse, in which you saved a city rather than the entire world, and I was sorry to see Krynn reverse this trend. Nonetheless, it's a decent story, well-framed within the Solamnic order, and I was never confused about what I was supposed to be doing. In addition to the main quest, the game had a few side quests, although I didn't realize they were side quests until I'd finished the game and looked at a walkthrough. Technically, the crypt of Sir Dargaard, the third outpost, the ogre base, and rescuing the slaves below Neraka were all optional. Score: 5.
Bit by bit, the quest unfolds.

9. Graphics, Sound, and Interface. The graphics are a little improved from the previous Gold Box games, which weren't so bad to begin with, with the exception of the bland and generic 3D-view corridors and rooms. We had pretty EGA cut scenes and animated monster portraits, and much better use of current sound hardware than I remember in Pool or Curse. The newly-installed mouse support made things worse, but it was easy to disable. Overall, I found the interface intuitive, but my complaints are still the same: unnecessarily having to choose "move" before moving in combat and having to re-select spells every time you go to memorize. I hear these elements get fixed later. Score: 6.

10. Gameplay. Krynn was much more linear than the previous games, though there were some minor choices in quest order during the mid-game. It was also shorter than the other two: 17 hours compared to 19 for Curse and 30 for Pool. I talked about the difficulty issues above; while I can't honestly say that they were worse in this game than the others, I did notice it more. It's "replayable" to the extent that different party combinations would alter the tactical challenge. Score: 5. 
This provides a final rating of 56, which is 4 points less than Curse (and 8 points less than Pool), but still my seventh highest-rated game. I swear, if any Gold Box game would simply retain Pool of Radiance's extensive side quests and nonlinearity, and then fix the economy, it would rocket to the top.
Since the ad mentions only Pool and Curse as previous SSI D&D games, I'm confident I'm playing the 1990 games in the right order.
Scorpia's review in the April 1990 Computer Gaming World is her usual mix of regurgitation of the manual, commentary, and blatant spoilers. She spends a lot of time complaining about how characters unconscious at the end of combat don't receive experience, which I agree is stupid, but it's been part of the game mechanic since Pool. She also complains a lot about how the Knights of Solamnia take away all the good equipment at the end of the game. Since I'm fairly accustomed to starting every sequel naked, I don't really see what the fuss is about. (Has there been a single sequel yet, other than The Bard's Tale II, in which equipment transfers from the first game?)

She has a good point that the copy protection system has you look at keywords from the journal entries, which you're not supposed to read ahead of time, but I didn't have a lot of trouble just counting the words while ignoring the text. Anyway, despite a review that mostly consists of complaints, she ends by saying, "actually, [it's] a pretty good game overall." Always one for le mot juste, that Scorpia.
MobyGames's round-up of both contemporary and current reviews suggests that it was regarded as a solid game in its own time and is remembered as a "classic" by modern reviewers. 

The SSI developers have always struck me as slightly more anonymous than those at other companies. You don't see names like Richard Garriott and Brian Fargo jump out from their credits; rather, they emphasize a "development team" and rely less on big personalities. In Krynn's credits, Victor Penman is the most prominent name, with sole credits as "project manager and developer" and "director" and co-credits as "original story" and "writing/dialogue/story," so it was to him that I chose to write, even though he credits Keith Brors and Paul Murray as the "creative and technical talents" behind the Gold Box games.

Penman's passion was wargames--in which, of course, SSI specialized--but by the late 1980s, the company thought that RPGs were the wave of the future and assigned Penman there. His history starts strong as one of two developers/designers for The Eternal Dagger (1987) and one of five developers on Pool of Radiance. Though he was almost absent (just "playtesting") from Curse of the Azure Bonds, but he comes in as the project manager for Secret of the Silver Blades, Death Knights of Krynn, and the two Buck Rogers games, and as the producer of Pools of Darkness. Basically, a lot of the Gold Box series games have his fingerprints. His last credited game is an action title called CyClones in 1994; since then, he's been a project manager on other software ventures.

The character on horseback on the hill announces the sequel.

I look forward to seeing how the Krynn saga continues in Death Knights of Krynn, but we'll have to wait until 1991. For now, after a brief return to the 1980s, I'm on to a dungeon-crawler called DarkSpyre.


  1. Thats weird that he worked on Silver Blades and Buck Rogers as they are polar opposites in quality

    1. Even assuming he was in the same role on both, it's hard to say for sure--one of the big problems with Silver Blades was the endless battles in the ice caves. They tried too hard to make the game 'big', and didn't have the monster variety to make a long journey interesting.

  2. Chet, did you ask Mr. Penman about the over abundance of evil elves?
    Overall, my main criticism against CoK is relatively poor encounter design, but I blame that on Michael Mancuso, based on the encounter authors listed in the manual.
    Fortunately the next two games in the series both have excellent encounter design.

    Regarding the economy, I see two problems:
    1. Training Halls are free (and Temples, I think).
    2. XP tied to money, instead of giving out quest XP.
    The latter was actually a bigger problem in Pool of Radiance where every Giant would carry 4,000 coins.

    1. So it seems like the problem was: Dragonlance has few monsters, therefore you need to have the party fighting lots of class/race constructs.

      Sure, there are an overabundance of evil elves, but there are actually an overabundance of evil mid-level characters full stop - it's almost impossible to avoid such inconsistencies in RPGs.

    2. I can't wait to hear Chet's views on games like The Temple of Elemental Evil and the 2000s Neverwinter Nights that use the 3rd edition rules, where GP isn't tied to XP, and there is more character customization.

      Also I don't get why they couldn't use generic D&D monsters like hydra and stuff? That stuff was never said to NOT be in Dragonlance. I think the best thing they did with Eberron is say that 'If it has a place in D&D, it has a place in Eberron'

    3. Never played ToEE. I BOUGHT it, but it was one of the many games I threw away, unopened, in the Great Purge of 2009. I look forward to it.

      I didn't ask Penman about the "overabundance" of evil elves simply because, as someone unversed in the Dragonlance universe, I didn't really notice it as an overabundance.

      Training halls are free, but training never cost that much to begin with. An extra 1,000 steel pieces now and then wouldn't have made a dent in the economy. I ended the game with well over 100,000 steel pieces.

    4. Probably for the best: it was *really* buggy on launch and I think you still need fan patches to make it work. It never worked right on my Dad's computer, horrible graphics glitches that made it unplayable, and the patch would format your computer if you'd installed the program to a drive other then C, so he traded it in for Neverwinter Nights.

    5. Cana - TSR may have insisted that only things that appeared on the random encounter tables in the Dragonlance modules could be used in the games.

    6. Canageek, I think you are confusing ToEE with Pool of Radiance: Myth Drannor.

    7. Yes, PoR:MR was the one which could format your hard drive, but ToEE was also extremely buggy. Thanks to the great fan patches I've managed to complete it this summer though.

    8. Regarding ToEE - I happened to get it when it was already somewhat patched and for me it is THE best implementation of DnD ruleset ever. Period. Plus there is a Co8 mod Chet shouldn't miss out on due to his blog rules.

  3. For the first time, I'm slightly dissatisfied with your end review. You criticize the combats by saying that it feels like you need to "get the jump" on your enemies, and you bemoan the fact that you lost a certain feeling of tension because you couldn't save only at the beginning of a map.

    This is a fair critique, except that you admit in your previous entry that you played the game on the second hardest setting on accident. In that regard, the setting probably skewed both your feeling of being overwhelmed during combat and shut down your ability to only save once per map due to the difficulty. That, unfortunately, is not a fault of the game...which is usually balanced for the middle setting.

    You might reconsider your scores after you give that some thought; because, I have never felt that way in any of my plays.

    1. I'll admit, that while I don't have any emotional connection to Chet's reviews and normally barely glance at the score, I was wondering if he would have had more fun on the normal setting.

    2. You may have a point. However:

      1. I don't know how long I actually played the game on "Adept." It wasn't the entire game because my early game screenshots are consistent with the hit point totals of enemies on the default setting. I can't even imagine how I switched it.

      2. The hit point totals of enemies (the only thing the difficulty slider seems to affect) don't matter much in the long run. It's the mere presence of so many wizards, priests, dragons, and other spellcasters and special attack enemies that matters, not how many hit points they have.

      Still, I allow that it's a possibility. My discussion of that was mostly just discussion, though. It probably only affected the final rating by a single point in "gameplay."

  4. Hi there, Chester! I have been enjoying the heck out of your blog (which I only discovered a few months ago and have been reading from the beginning, only very recently catching up to now!) I wanted to contribute a couple of notes.

    The image on the cover of Champions was actually recycled from one of the original AD&D Dragonlance modules (fourth in the series, if I recall.) Oddly enough, I'd been accustomed to seeing lots of Dragonlance art recycled for various uses, so it didn't seem as much as a spoiler for me at the time.

    The mobat, on the other hand, is a creation from 1st Edition rules. However, I'm just as curious as you are to know which monsters were created specifically for Champions of Krynn :-)


    1. Draconians and Death Knights, definitely.
      Missing in the Krynn games are the Drow. Trolls too, maybe?
      Apart from that is there really that much difference in the FR and Krynn menageries?

    2. Draconians were already in the setting since the first book trilogy. Same with the Death Knights.

    3. Wish I'd seen this before commenting down below--oh well.

      I *think*, pulling up Gold Box Explorer and looking through the monster list, just the Skeletal Knights and Skeletal Dragons weren't in the Dragonlance Adventures book. Mobats were actually in Monster Manual II, published in 1983. Some of the new monsters may have been for Death Knights and Dark Queen, where the party outstrips the core levels of the original game.

  5. You asked: "Has there been a single sequel yet, other than The Bard's Tale II, in which equipment transfers from the first game?" The original computer versions of Wizardry II required you to import characters from Wizardry I. It's been years since I played it so I don't remember for sure but I think their items were transferred, too.

    1. Quest for Glory and Darksun both have limited equipment transfer into their sequels.

    2. Yes, Wizardry II brought along your weapons but then it really was more of an expansion and you'd be at a loss without your stuff. I think some items changed or were left behind if they didn't exist in Wizardry II. You transferred your characters to Wizardry III as well but, being descendants and returning to Level 1, I don't think your equipment transferred. I it was all turned into low level items that sort of matched your class.

    3. QfG and Darksun are both in the future (I said "yet"), but I had forgotten about Wizardry II. Good call.

    4. If/when you actually get to the Dark Sun games, I would suggest not transfering characters from the prior game over.

      In order to deal with the challenge of optimally equipped and higher leveled starting characters, they elected to simply double the hit points of every single monster. This is fine early on, but when it continues all the way to the final boss it actually makes the game end up ridiculously hard.

      And also, definitely keep backups of your save games for the 2nd one; mine hit an odd bit of corruption that rendered it effectively unplayable.

      I had a PC get mind controlled by the enemy, and managed to end combat early before it wore off naturally (which you weren't intended to do; can't end combat with a hostile creature visible). The next combat starts, and that character was under my control as usual but marked as hostile (different color outline, monsters ignored him). At first this seemed to be a great bug, until I found it impossible to ever end combat again with the 'hostile' party member visible.

  6. Regarding how to handle PCs with 100k gold:

    The idea that you could walk into a shop and choose from a selection of world-altering magic items is something I'd find pretty immersion breaking.

    Let's face it, the Adventurer's Mart shop would not have lasted long before the Shadow Thieves appropriated its contents.

    It'd have been interesting if you could spend your money in tactical (bribes) and strategic (infrastructure, armies) scenarios, which would let you influence the difficulty of certain game areas.

    1. I agree, it's a little unrealistic, but it's such a staple of RPGs that it's the kind of thing we forgive--like the ability for the PC to haul around 100,000 gold pieces in the first place.

      Anyway, the other items would have been fine, too. I don't care WHAT I have to spend the money on, just let me spend it.

    2. Well, to be fair, you can't haul around 100k in cash in gold box games, you haul around expensive jewelry.

    3. I seem to recall in the 1st edition rule book it stated that magic items were never sold in shops. I agree its pretty immersion breaking that you can buy them.

      I tend to try and never buy magic in shops for that reason, but that usually makes the cash problem even more acute.

      I also try to "make" myself pay for training. Not very successfully though. You need to be pretty dedicated to set "self" levels of cash for training and throw away 1000's of gold every time you level. Or not level when its in short supply.

    4. The first edition DMG also said two things about treasure, one of which I am sure is not being followed in the GB games, and one maybe.

      (1) Treasures are supposed to be maximum only when the creature is "in lair" (if it is a creature which can be). So getting 10000 GP from a dragon presumably only happens only in lair, for example. (Where does the dragon put the stuff otherwise?) I'm pretty sure the GB games ignore this. The DMG does NOT state how to scale / adjust for non-lair encounters, just leaves it to DM fiat, IIRC.

      (2) Somehow, also unspecified, the amount of treasure is supposed to scale based on number of appearing monsters, which are also different "in lair" and otherwise (and also unspecified how). For example, I remember first reading the entries in Monster Manual I before the "how to use" and wondered how characters would defeat 30-300 orcs. Answer: that's the "in lair" amount. So you'd also only get the mounds of money there too.

      On the other hand, dragons at least always appear in small numbers anyway, so scaling their numbers and treasure makes little sense for them.

  7. For SSI games, I think equipment transfers from the first Buck Rogers game to the second. Also, I think Secret of the Silver Blades to Pools of Darkness. Maybe my memory is off. I am playing the last of the Gold Box games now, and they begin to run together.

    In the earlier versions of D&D, you actually get very little experience points from killing enemies in comparison to taking their gold. This was done purposefully, to encourage players to strive for certain goals instead of always trying to engage the enemy. It was meant to emulate pulp heroes like Conan or Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser. These pulp heroes might cross swords with enemies often, but they avoided fighting and relied on stealth when able (yes, even Conan).

    I actually do prefer this kind of pen and paper tabletop play over the later versions of D&D which gave experience for encounters, which encouraged players to seek fights or go through traps rather than around them.

    Some alterations have been tried, such as awarding players a level between significant campaign events and tossing out XP considerations entirely. One of my other favorite ways of handling XP is to only reward XP for gold spent, even on trivialities, thus keeping the characters poor in the long-term, and thus seeking the next adventure after their pockets become empty and cups run dry at their favorite watering hole.

    1. When I said "a single sequel yet," I meant in my own chronology of RPGs. The games you mention are all in the future.

    2. I like the system where you get XP for meeting goals and doing things, no matter how. So in the episodic GURPS game I'm in we get 5 points at the of every adventure, while in the world-based one we get 5 points at what would be major plot points in a TV show.

      The system where you get it for succeeding at encouters, also works, as you don't have to kill them: Talking or sneaking give the same XP, if you have to get past a guard. So basically, make it task based, so getting a gem or treasure would have XP, but not every gold piece.

    3. In a crpg you should get xp for basically everything except treasure.

    4. Very few of the AD&D games I've played in have rewarded gold experience. In the earlier ones, we got experience for defeating monsters, and usually a smaller amount for successfully bypassing an encounter. Since then, most DM's award experience only for completing a mission or a session, and occasionally bonus XP to players who did something exceptionally clever.

      The idea behind smaller experience for avoiding an encounter is that you are also avoiding danger. When there is a chance - however slight - of death, success should be rewarded. That said, these days my DM friends only give XP for what the party accomplished, not how many bodies they piled up along the way. Then again, they also tend to be overly generous these days; there is no attempt at pacing in rewards because we only play occasionally.

    5. The original game rules in D&D (not AD&D) only allows XP to be given as the equivalent of GP.

      You do not gain XP from solving puzzles, using skills, killing monsters, making out with an elven maid and/or what ever.

      Probably due to its root as a dungeon-delving hack-&-slash game.

    6. Kenny: Old Geezer, who played with Gygax, talks about this on It actually encouraged you to avoid combat, as you got nothing or next to nothing from it, and had a strong chance of dying. The trick was to find how to get as much treasure as you could without fighting, by stealing it, sneaking, luring monsters into traps, etc.

    7. Hmm... never went to before.

      But I guess that makes sense... except that XP exists only to increase your character's combat capabilities. Kinda strange that you're becoming stronger in battle by avoiding battles.

    8. Kenny not trying to pick on you. I'm deep in D&D history atm, and am correcting posts on here though.

      In 1974 era D&D you did get *some* xp for combat. Per the LBBs its 100XP per hit dice of monster, adjusted for level with a specific formula if they're below your level.

      Most XP did come from treasure though, as you mention.

      In Arneson's pre-D&D Blackmoor game players had to both acquire and then SPEND the treasure to get XP. There's actually some interesting details on this in the Judge's Guild "First Fantasy Campaign" book, which was basically cribbed from Arneson's notes.

      Gygax simplified this to just "get the treasure and carry it out safely".

    9. What would the internet be without lvl 36 Nerds discussing AD&D. ;-)

    10. I'm grinding Temporal atm. Hence the recent spate of posts. :-)

    11. In one of the current 5e games that I'm in, the homebrew rule is that we level up when the DM says that we level up (usually tied to completing a big, or several small, objectives.

      It is by far my favorite system and I've gamed with probably a couple dozen systems.

  8. "Of particular interest are the four Draconian species, each with unique characteristics and special attacks."

    Actually, there are five in the Krynn setting:

    Baaz (bronze)
    Kapak (copper, lick their weapons to poison them)
    Bozak (bronze, casters)
    Sivak (silver)
    Aurak (gold, badass casters)

    Which one was missing from Champions of Krynn? And how nerdy am I for knowing all this?

    1. No, they were all there. I was forgetting about Sivaks. They don't really seem to have any special abilities except to change appearances, which doesn't affect combat. They're tough fighters, though.

    2. Yeah, as I recall they turn into whomever they killed last, and I'm sure if I was wrong on that someone will correct me.

    3. Baaz are actually from Brass dragon eggs, not that it really matters though. Interestingly, there are several monster entries in the journal that aren't in the game.

    4. You didn't mention traag >_> which were the first attempt to make baaz ones, I think there might be a few in DQK.
      I think DKK makes more use of the map than COK does but alas the economy is still screwed.
      I do wonder if the wyndlass monster was one of the ones made to make up the numbers, it always did seem a quite random monster unrelated to the books.

    5. There's a small chance he might have been referring to Death Knights of Krynn--they advertised the Wyndlass and the Hatori as entirely new monsters, as well as Fire Touch and Iron Skin as new spells on the box. (If you look, you can see they're the only fifth-level red-mage-only spells in the game). Mobats were the only monsters from Champions I didn't recall seeing elsewhere in the Dragonlance books; draconians, hobgoblins, and evil humans of various levels were all D&D standard.

      Pools of Darkness was particularly notorious in this regard--you started at the 13th level, way past what people usually played in those days. As a result, few default monsters were really a challenge, so they made giant versions of cockatrices, otyughs, and even *iron golems* (which were at the upper end of the original monster curve), not to mention inventing Bane Minions (which had magic resistances like demons and breath weapons like dragons), Pets of Kalistes (magic-resistant spell-using giant giant giant spiders), and Bits of Moander (the giant shambling mounds from Curse, only now with poison and petrification touches).

    6. Ah, sorry forgot--Skeletal Knights may have been made for the game. They were stronger than standard skeletons, but much weaker than the Skel Warriors ubiquitous in Death Knights of Krynn (which actually were in the Fiend Folio).

    7. I remember that there was some mention that demonic Abishais are summoned to possess these metallic dragon eggs in the game when the party crashed into their ritual.

      Subverted by the good guys later in the novels when they created the Noble Draconians, possibly by summoning those unborn souls of Metallic Dragons, displaced by the Abishais, to possess the Chromatic Dragon eggs.

  9. If by "brief return to the 1980s" you mean one of the games, that scored high on the non-PC poll, then it's sooooooo not going to be brief ;)))

  10. These gold box games are missing some things that the old D&D rules were balanced towards: characters building strongholds and keeps, and crafting their own magic items.

    Pen-n-paper 1st ed D&D characters your level would be thinking about attracting followers and building a keep of some kind, and about crafting or paying NPCs to craft high level magic items. Both processes are obviously quite expensive.

    Supporting these goals is why the loot system is balanced the way it is. Keeping the loot system the same but removing those high-level money sinks is what breaks the economy.

    1. That is true. By the time you started getting to the mid and high levels, you were expected to build churches, keeps, wizard towers, guilds, and so forth and be spending quite some money on headquarters and retainers. Military campaigns and politics through vassalage was also something that was the norm. The two retired adventurers in the village of Hommlet pen and paper adventure were actually from a previous campaign of one of the designers, and the keep they were building was funded by past adventures.

    2. Partly, but keep in mind that the entirety of PoR and CoK is spent below 'Name' level.

      The funny thing is, if the worlds of Krynn/Faerun etc actually existed, 'adventurers' would be in the employ of financiers who made their entire fortune hiring people to find and loot dungeons. Think a combination of the Age of Discovery and the California Gold Rush.

    3. @Tristan Yes, but the loot progression is designed to have the characters arrive at the 'name' levels with a cash surplus that they can sink into that stuff.

  11. I'm looking forward to the upcoming game DarkSpyre. This is the first of four Event Horizon titles, Dusk of the Gods coming in 1991, The Summoning in 1992 and Veil of Darkness in 1993.

    I only played the last two but enjoyed them very much. I hope DarkSpyre has the same quality.

    1. DarkSpyre is a prequel to The Summoning but much more simplistic - it's a straightforward dungeon crawl without much plot and any NPCs. Think top-down single-character Dungeon Master, but probably less unforgiving.

  12. "Essentially, we can say the same thing about all games of this era based on the AD&D second edition rules"

    Upon investigation, I'm pretty sure the thing we can say about them is that they don't exist. Pool of Radiance was made under the first edition (the second edition wasn't released until 1989, making it rather difficult for a 1988 game to employ their rules) and I don't think any of the other Gold Box games bothered updating to second edition.

    1. I fixed it. I often get confused between AD&D being the "second edition" of D&D rules and the "second edition" OF AD&D.

    2. They did and they didn't. They always had 1st ed character creation rules, but toward the end some of the monsters started having 2nd ed stats.

    3. For added confusion, consider that AD&D 2nd Edition is in fact the fourth edition of D&D released, as BECMI was released in between. And for even more fun, when Wizards of the Coast took over after AD&D 2nd, they released D&D 3rd edition, dropping "Advanced" from the title but retaining the same numbering as the advanced series even though it was actually the fifth edition of D&D released. With the latest edition they've introduced new diabolical fiendishness by calling it "D&D Next," which will be horribly confusing a few years down the road when they release the edition after that.

    4. Nah that's understating it. It's even more confusing.

      1974 - D&D Brown Booklet set
      1977 - Eric J Holmes Basic D&D
      1977-1979 - AD&D (MM was in 1977, PHB was 78 and DMG was 79)
      1980 - Basic/Expert Moldvay/Cook D&D edition
      1984 - BECMI D&D (starting with the basic red box) Mentzner
      1988 - 2nd Edition AD&D

      So technically 2E is the 6th edition of D&D.

    5. Erp, sorry Mentzner started in 1983.

  13. That is correct, they were AD&D, I don't believe it was referred to as first edition.

    1. It is however commonly referred to as 1st edition in retrospect, to differentiate it from 2nd edition and 3rd edition and so on.

  14. Hey Chet, did you do an extensive interview with Victor Penman? Can you give a summary of everything that he said in a separate blog post, rather than just sprinkling it throughout your final rating? I'd love to hear everything he had to say about developing the game.

    1. No, it wasn't extensive. He seemed busy, and he only gave me a little additional information. Everything he told me, I put in the post.

  15. When I was young and the only computer we had was a Mac Performa, one of the very few sources of gaming I had available was a CD that compiled Mac versions of all four of the Forgotten Realms games, Pool of Radiance through Pools of Darkness...and then tacked on Dark Queen of Krynn as well. Yep, the third game in the Dragonlance trilogy. Without either of the preceding games. I have no idea why they did that, unless maybe the previous two never came out for Mac. but then, I'd have no idea why -that- would be the case.

    It was kinda crippling. About two steps into the game was a fight with multiple dragons and I think some draconians and I flat out don't think it was possible with freshly generated characters. I've always wondered if I might have gotten somewhere if I'd had the other two games. Sounds like they (or at least this one) are also pretty rough, though.

    1. That first fight is hard without any Dragonlance, but dragons have poor saving throws, so Stinking Cloud and Hold Monster should do the trick for newly generated characters.

    2. create a solamnic knight, they start with dragon lances as starter equipment :D

  16. "The SSI developers have always struck me as slightly more anonymous than those at other companies."

    Previous to their D&D games, SSI was good about putting the designer's name on the top side of the box, often including the rest of the team and even the cover artist.

    1989's War of the Lance has the designer's name on the bottom, but I can't find any of the other SSI/TSR collaborations that put any individual names on the box. I'm missing most of the later games but I doubt that policy reversed itself.

    I suspect that the TSR symbol was supposed to be far more prominent than any individual person's name. TSR's pre-SSI "Dungeon!" and "Theseus and the Minotaur" list no designers but literally have the early TSR symbol on every side of the box.

  17. Since you've tried the Dragonlance RPGs, what about "War of the Lance" wargame? As a single player you can only control the Whitestone Council, but with two players you can also control the Dark Queen's forces.

    1. Unfortunately, Mr. Choon, Chet will only be covering RPGs and not Strategy games (unless it is obviously an RPG with strategy game elements).

    2. Kenny is correct. I have to draw the line somewhere. Though I admit it would be interesting for the sake and lore and history.

  18. The Buck Rogers games finally use the Gold Box engine to do something a bit different. You should find it interesting.

    Not necessarily good, quite possibly not good, but interesting. Everyone gets ranged weapons (and ranged weapons get a better ammo system), there are no wizards (though there are rocket launchers), gear restrictions are gone, cross-classing is gone, and healing is limited to medical skill-checks at the end of battles.

    This does mean seeking out weak random encounters so you can heal, yes.

    I also spent a ridiculously long time pondering names before ending up with a party made of Flash Gordon, Buff Hardblast, Harley, Urist Koganusan, Reactor Coolant and Edward d'Crewe, but such are the demands of pulp scifi.

  19. Time to add this on the sidebar "Top Ranked" list, right below Might & Magic II (but above Ultima IV). Also, there seems to be a trend of newer games taking less time to complete (for the most part) compared to older games; it will be interesting to see if this continues.

  20. ... and of course the game was released for c64

  21. "The stupidity of "steel pieces" was balanced by the usefulness of the "vault"

    Could you please comment more on why you think steep pieces are stupid?

    If I was doing a GIMLET, I would give points for the steel pieces, because they don´t impact the economy negatively in any way, and they help with the lore and setting, showing a war-torn world where gold which is valuable only because of it´s rarity has become nearly worthless when compared to good steel which can be used to make weapons and armor.

    The weird thing would be for gold which is a worthless metal, except for vanity reason to be valuable in the setting.

    1. What you're talking about is called "commodity money," and there's a reason that most world civilizations grew out of it thousands of years ago. Consumption of the money for utilitarian purposes causes massive deflation of the currency, and ruins the economy. Imagine in our village in Krynn, the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker all paying each other happily in steel pieces. Then a war erupts, and all those steel pieces are confiscated for weapons and armor. Now, suddenly, no one has any money, and thus no ability to pay each other for their work.

      For this reason, commodity economies almost always give way to monetary economies based on "precious" metals and stones. It is precisely the rarity and limited direct utility of these metals that makes them suitable for an economic base. But such economies are not perfect, subject to massive inflation of the currency based on, for instance, new mines. Hence, the ultimate step in the evolution is a tightly-control the money supply in a closed system, like we have now.

      Commodity economies work so poorly that many civilizations skipped them entirely, going directly from barter economies to those based on precious metals.

    2. Oh, let me add, though, that gold-based economies in CRPGs don't make any more sense--particularly the part where adventuring parties haul thousands and thousands of gold pieces out of dungeons. Can you imagine what that would do to a local economy? I wonder if there has ever been a game that models this realistically, with hyper-inflation following every successful dungeon crawl.

      In the history of the world, there has never been an economy successfully based on "found" currency. In the modern world, occasionally someone finds a cache of old dollars in a wall, or a pot of gold buried in the backyard, but if this happened frequently, our economy would be in trouble.

    3. But while it makes sense that economies based on commodity money don´t last long, isn´t it true that they are specially prevalent during wartime, and that both salt and Barley were used as commodity money in a large scale?

      E.G. While the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker can have their money confiscated, the some is true of other money(e.g.: Higher Taxes during wartime) And if they do lose their money they can resort to barter, which once again occurs in wartime. At the same time, if someone has a cache of steel pieces, he Knows he can sell it to someone who will find it useful, while gold or paper money may lose most of it´s worth until war ends.

      And if, as you said the standard goldbox economy of gold pieces does not make any more sense, why single out steel pieces to criticize?

      I am not saying that the idea does not have it´s problems, but if you don´t submit gold economies to the same scrutiny, it seems unfair to single out Dragonlance, for adding a little bit of flavor to it´s unrealistic economy.

    4. Surely it's just as bad for the monster economy when an adventuring party dies in the dungeon.


      Orc Chief: Oh Jeez, if the Mind Flayers on level 7 hear about all this loot, we're in trouble. Boys, scatter this stuff in every nook and cranny you can find!

  22. Being a fan of the novels I especially enjoyed the Dragonlance Gold Box games. They fit in nicely at the end of the main series, so you're actually playing the succesing group of heroes after the original ones. However the original Heroes of the Lance cycle also had true sequels beside many short and side stories and I'm not sure if they considered the events of the games.

  23. Just finishing this one and some thoughts:
    17 hours! Wow, the is a bit short, but still this sounds more like speedrun. I played with long pauses since October and may need probably double the time in the end.
    Your observation is spot on and I cannot argue with the final score, but for me it did not feel as 56 point game. I was actually a bit disappointed as it felt both too short and too empty. And I really did not like the story very much. That your group was used by Myrtani, just did not really work. All my reaction was, who cares, i am going to blast you into hell anyway in the end. This made me feel railroaded and look Myrtani, Lebaum etc. quite stupid. Okay, may be nitpicking for a 1990 game, perhaps even for a contemporary game. And then on a final note, I had the impression that there were human slaves in the ogre base. It felt really out of character that I could ally with the ogres but have no choice at least to ransom them...

    1. It's been almost 4 years, so I don't really remember, but I feel like that has to be a typo.

    2. Your criticisms are valid, incidentally; it's just that there wasn't much else in the era that was doing it better. Even HAVING a story puts it above and beyond.

    3. Thanks for the reply. Perhaps I was a bit harsh with the game yesterday. I never played this one back then (though Death Knights in the mid 90ies and of course the FR series), and I always had the impression that I missed out on something extraordinary when it is just a competent, state of the art 1990 game which is still quite a good thing.

  24. Just rereading some old posts and finding this:

    You write:
    "you didn't eve have the ability to reject NPCs who wanted to join the party (not that it would have made sense anyway)."
    while in this blogpost:
    there is a picture showing an NPC giving you exactly this choice. You comment:
    "Instead of just saddling you with NPCs, it gives you the option to refuse them. Not that I'd refuse her."

    1. I don't really remember well enough to work out the paradox, but I suspect the comment on the earlier post was a one-time thing, and that in the aggregate, the game generally forces you to take NPCs whether you want them or not.

  25. Here's part 1 of a new d&d adventure based on Champions of Krynn

  26. i haven't /quite/ finished reading this [but will do so tomorrow], but i did want to comment on this bit of the gimlet, in particular:

    "There's a special kind of challenge--a special kind of fun--that accompanies the navigation of foreign corridors at half your hit points and half your spells cast,..."

    i understand that's your preferred way to play, and that's absolutely fine. this is what gets you through the game and powers you along.

    for me, specifically, that just feels terrifying [and unfun.]

    most of these games often give you tools to rest and recuperate. plus, spells and the like are absolutely part and parcel of your toolkit when dealing with the next fight and the next and so on.

    so for me, personally, the notion that i SHOULD struggle to win the next fight [and the one after that], by being stubborn and inching along without resting just feels like going against the flow of the natural design of the game.

    be that as it may: it does suck that they didn't cater to your preferred way to play.

    [i tend to be in favour of difficulty sliders that are as granular as possible, so that everyone can have the experience they want with the given game they're playing.]


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