Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Secret of the Silver Blades: Giant Problems

A late-session battle had me allied with frost giants, fighting fire giants.

For laughs, let's review something I said in the last post:

I did a scan of my levels before posting this, and I was surprised to see I still have quite a way to go. My paladin is Level 12/15, my thief 13/18, my ranger 13/15. My two mages are Levels 13 and 14 out of 15. Only my cleric, at 14/15 and only about 20,000 points away from the final level, is likely to max out any time soon. If I'm about halfway through the game (which I suspect only based on the number of journal entries I've circled), that means the pacing isn't too bad. As we know, I hate running into level caps long before the end of the game.

Within a couple of hours after I wrote that, everything was all shot to hell. The creatures and puzzles of the subsequent areas delivered such copious experience point rewards that everyone except my thief is now maxed, and the only reason my thief isn't is because half of his experience points are being wasted on a multi-class in which he can no longer advance.

I've ranted before at how much I hate level caps that are achievable well before the endgame. Here, this is mitigated only by the knowledge that I'll be able to use some of the excess experience when I get to Pools of Darkness. I say "some" because the game only lets you increase by one level at a time, so you can only accumulate so much experience above your current level. For instance, the paladin's level cap in Secret is Level 15, which requires 2,450,001 experience. If I accumulate more than 2,800,001, I'll be able to immediately increase to Level 16 when I start in Pools. But the game will cap me at 3,150,000, or 1 point lower than the amount needed for Level 17. If I get that high, I'll be able to level up once in Pools, fight one battle, then level up again. After that, I'll have to start earning points towards Level 18 as normal.

Will I reach that cap? Almost certainly. My paladin currently has 2,875,194, or enough to go to Level 16 if Secret supported it. I can't imagine I won't earn another 275,000 before the game's end. When experience no longer matters, you're no longer working for anything. It feels as if a paid position has suddenly turned into a volunteer job.

When I last posted, I had explored the nine levels of the Verdigris mines and re-assembled Oswulf's Staff. The 10th level led to the dungeons of the Castle of Twins, home of the Dreadlord. The moment I arrived, an apparition of the Dreadlord started taunting me.

My party played with baby ocelots for a while and then, regrettably, had to continue on.

This kept up throughout the 10 small levels of the dungeon. The apparition showed up regularly to mock and trick me, sometimes concealing a trap, sometimes concealing treasure, sometimes just being a jackass. At the stairway to every level, it offered me the choice of a riddle or a combat. I took the riddle each time, and they were moronically simple, most of them variations on riddles we've encountered in dozens of places before. A sample:

  • "You feel it, you never saw it, and you never will." (YOUR HEART)
  • "You must keep it after giving it." (YOUR WORD)
  • "It's as light as a feather, but you can't hold it for 10 minutes?" (YOUR BREATH)
  • "Runs smoother than any rhyme, loves to fall but cannot climb." (WATER
  • "You break it if you even name it." (SILENCE)
  • "It passes before the sun and makes no shadow." (WIND)
  • "You feed it, it lives. You give it something to drink, it dies!" (FIRE)

Honestly? Babies in the womb have heard of this riddle.

I actually got the first couple wrong because I didn't know he was going for YOUR HEART and YOUR WORD instead of MY HEART and MY WORD. A wrong answer kicked us back to the Well of Knowledge, where a 100-gem donation got the answer from the Well.

The dungeons were populated by Black Circle mages and fighters, medusas, basilisks, fire giants, hell hounds, ettins, and fearsome beasts called "pyrohydras" capable of up to 12 attacks per round.

Thankfully, despite their names, they didn't seem to have any resistance against "Fireball."

Worst of all were the driders, which the Forgotten Realms Wiki tells me are Drow that have been transformed into spiders from the waist down, usually for failing their goddess. When I first encountered them, I had a very negative knee-jerk reaction, but I couldn't remember exactly why. It turns out that they're all magic users, favoring "Magic Missile" and "Lightning Bolt." I needed to incapacitate them each round to have a hope of survival. Fortunately, I was overloaded with Necklaces of Missiles, Wands of Fireball, Wands of Ice Storm, and my own memorized spells, so it wasn't terribly hard, especially where the base had several safe places to rest.

Driders are no fun.

The driders offered an interesting side-quest. They had a base off of one of the dungeon levels, and journal entries found there suggest that they weren't originally allies of the Dreadlord, but they got curious when the ice started to melt and sent parties to investigate the area. The Black Circle ended up paying them to help with some sort of ritual that I interrupted. I don't know what it was going to accomplish, but it involved the sacrifice of a warrior named Stiffbeard. With the temporary help of his companion, Sir Deric, I scoured the base, saved Stiffbeard, and prevented the ritual.

The party gets a one-level companion.

Deric and Stiffbeard were part of a previous party of adventurers hired by the town. I found remnants of them in several jail cells and notes throughout the dungeons. I guess they were doomed anyway, given that they didn't bother to take time to assemble Oswulf's Staff.

I was reasonably sure that the top level of the dungeons would take me to the Castle of Twins proper, where I would face the final showdown. It turns out the game had a lot more in store for me. I did find the door to the Castle, but after defeating the Fire Giants who were trying to melt the ice on it, I found it was still frozen shut.

If I had just waited a few more minutes.

Instead, I had to exit the dungeons via a long, maze-like "crevice" running east through the glaciers. The crevice led me to a city of frost giants, from which there was an exit to another crevice running back towards the castle and the upper levels. As we discussed in the comments to the last post, the second crevice nonsensically continues running east instead of doubling back to the west, meaning the castle dungeons and castle are miles apart. Perhaps the glacier picked up the above-ground part of the castle and deposited it elsewhere, like a glacial erratic.

The first crevice had a long sequence in which I kept hearing a woman's screams and finding evidence of a struggle. Following these clues, I eventually came upon Sasha, the clerk of Phlan, being dragged along by the Black Circle. I saved her, naturally, but she wasn't exactly as grateful as I would have hoped.

Pretending to be leading me to a "fabulous treasure" she'd heard about, she instead led us to a teleporter and jumped through, making her escape. The ruse was unnecessary. I would have been glad to help her. The last thing I got from her was a pouch full of gems and a note that read, "I'm sorry but I needed to escape. This pouch is for you. Seems like old times." So she did remember us from our time together in Phlan! Why did she speak about us in the third person when we met earlier?

The ill-timed arrival of the Black Circle convinces the frost giant king I'm not his enemy. This is after I've slain about 5,000 frost giants.

I had already faced fire giants in the dungeons, and the crevice brought me face-to-face with both frost giants and cloud giants. My ranger, armed with a Long Sword vs. Giants, cleaves through them nicely. The frost giants apparently live on the glacier and are upset that it's being melted from under them. When I reached the frost giant city, they assumed I was responsible and attacked. I had to fight dozens of long battles between frost giants and mastodons before I finally reached the chambers of the frost giant king. I helped him defeat some Black Circle invaders and convinced him that I wasn't responsible for the destruction of his home. He allowed me free passage through the city after that, and as I close this post, I find myself in another set of crevices leading back to the castle and, presumably, the endgame.

Oh, now we're not so cocky.

Some notes on all of this:

  • I don't like how linear the game has been. Pool of Radiance seemed almost completely open, Curse of the Azure Bonds less so, and Secret of the Silver Blades not at all. It makes me wonder what direction Pools of Darkness will go.
  • There ought to be a name for a trope in which you're delving deep in a dungeon and you find remnants of a previous expedition, only there ought not to have been any way for the previous expedition to get there because you have all the keys and magic items that they presumably would have needed for passage.
  • Several journals noted ominously that the Black Circle was "thawing out the purple worms," and indeed I encountered them at the exit from the dungeons and in a couple of other places. I thought they were pushovers. I don't know what all the fuss was about.

This seemed to be setting up a more deadly confrontation than what was delivered.

  • Going all the way back to Pool of Radiance, the Gold Box series mystifyingly loads up fire giants with ridiculous quantities of platinum. Every battle with them produced at least 5,000 pieces; some produced up to 15,000. This is all for no reason, of course, as there's nothing useful to spend money on in this game, and trying to carry that much would just make me ineffective in combat. I left their treasure in the dungeon corridors.
  • The dungeon levels were all fractions of normal map sizes, so I didn't bother to map them. There were teleporters back to the Well of Knowledge every couple of levels. Since resting in the Well is worry-free, these conspire to make the game a little too easy.
  • The dungeon had several "gyno-sphinxes," who took portions of my treasure for clues. The clues had to do with the locations of keys, which were so easy to find that I don't know why the game thought I needed clues. I don't think I've otherwise heard of a "gyno-sphinx." Does it just mean a female sphinx?

How we know that David W. Bradley didn't work for SSI.

  • "Power Word: Stun," one of only a handful of Level 7 mage spells, seems oddly under-powered. You have to be adjacent to the enemy you're casting it on, and all it does is render him inert; it doesn't make him "helpless" (and thus killable in one blow) like "Hold Monster." "Hold Monster," which affects up to 4 creatures and essentially kills them, seems like such a better option--and at three levels lower. I don't know why any player would give up a "Delayed Blast Fireball" for "Power Word: Stun" unless I'm missing something.

Setting out across the glacier to the final battle.

Between ettins, hill giants, fire giants, frost giants, cloud giants, and storm giants, I think that Secret of the Silver Blades has a greater variety of giants than any other D&D game I've played. Is this the full Forgotten Realms canon? Or are there aqua giants and smoke giants out there somewhere?

I expect the next post will be the "Won!" posting, followed by an update on Gold Box spells.


Some "Master List" news: A couple months ago, after I played Ring of Darkness, someone linked me to the "World of Spectrum" site whose archives had dozens of ZX Spectrum RPGs that were not on my master list. I cursed, groaned, equivocated, got angry at some commenters, but eventually sighed and added the games to my list.

Since then, every game that I or commenter Tristrom Cooke has investigated has turned out to be a) not at all an RPG; or b) a quasi-RPG (maybe 2 of my 3 core elements) but so abysmally bad that it encourages me to use the "3 elements" defense to banish it from my lit. This has happened to literally about 15 games in a row.

Hence, my new policy: MobyGames and Wikipedia are the only sources that I trust sight-unseen. (They've had some mistakes, too, but they're mostly right.) I'm not going to add any other games based on other sites' lists. I will only add games to my list if a commenter has had direct experience with the RPG and can personally attest that it meets my three core elements. Looking at screenshots and telling me that it "seems like an RPG" doesn't count. I need you to have actually played it or have found a reputable source that describes it in enough detail that it obviously meets my criteria.

In this spirit, I have removed everything I added from "World of Spectrum" pending any commenter testimony on individual games.


  1. A few notes from your post:

    The purple worm things *are* pushovers that can swallow a party member whole one-hit-kill and I'm fairly certain eradicating the character. Not positive on the last part since I just restored from a save habitually when I die because I'm too much of a coward to take the CON penalty if I hope to have enough HP for the next game. (Got burned by too many characters with low CON going to Azure Bonds)

    As you certainly know by now, there is a matching stairway down in the second half of the castle to the icy one in the first half. There is no way to assume that the castle has been somehow bisected. Nope, it's just stupid geography.

    Speaking of stupid geography, I liked the subquest with the Driders... but really, where in the castle did that extra level fit? Was it adjacent? Outside? Is it like the extra floor in Being John Malkovich? I have no idea.

    1. Kill Bioware before the Gangrene SpreadsSeptember 24, 2014 at 12:32 AM

      Are they able to do raw blinks on hari-kari rock, and do they use tuning forks?

    2. Another odd thing about that drider area is that you exit the dungeons to the east but enter the drider area from the south.

      Thanks for the additional info on the purple worms. I guess I just got lucky on the saving throws.

    3. KBbtGS, I don't censor user names on my site unless they contain obvious obscenities, so you're welcome to keep posting as long as you want. But if you want me to respond to your posts and interact with you, please choose a less obnoxious handle.

    4. I agree with the sentiment, but you gotta do the '80s punk-rock thing and turn it into an obscure initialism.

    5. I used to love Bioware back in the days of Baldur's Gate, Fallout and Icewind Dale, but it has been going downhill since Knights of the Old Republic, which was much simpler and easier than the games above. These days, E.A. has corrupted Bioware, all the good writers have left, the characters and stories are usually copies of the old games or others' work, and sometimes things get incredibly bad, like Dragon Age 2 or the combat and ending in Mass Effect 3. Dragon Age: Origins was an exception, but even it copied the plot and characters of Lord of the Rings, and Inquisition looks like Bioware ran out of ideas and copied Dragon's Dogma, which is a game far superior to anything Bioware has made in the last decade. I changed my name to avoid offending everyone.

    6. First off, BioWare had nothing to do with Fallout. You're confusing them with Black Isle. Go back to the RPGCodex.

    7. Hey, there was no racism or anti-Semitism in his handle.

    8. I think the problem was its unwieldiness due to length.

      By the way, KBbtGS, I am totally at a loss to figure out what this was about:

      "Are they able to do raw blinks on hari-kari rock, and do they use tuning forks?"

      I'm sure that I'm not alone in my bewilderment. Please enlighten us.

    9. Two of those three games aren't BioWare. Fallout and Icewind Dale were developed by Interplay/Black Isle

      It's only the last 3 BioWare games (DA2, TOR, ME3) that weren't up to their fairly consistent '98-2010 gold standard.

      KotOR is widely regarded as one of the best RPGs of all time and in my opinion, with good reason.

    10. Icewind Dale is an uber linear, repetitive dungeon crawl. I think it's the Silver Blades of Infinity Engine games.

    11. Oh, I think that's harsh. It certainly is linear, but I thought it had a good plot, a nice variety of enemies, and some beautiful locations.

    12. Gaguum, it's a quote from Metal Gear Solid 2, when a character is going nuts:

      "I hear it's amazing, when the famous purple stuffed worm with the tuning fork does a raw blink on hari-kari rock. I need scissors! 61!"

      And yeah, Icewind Dale is another Black Isle effort (although it's easier to confuse with BioWare, since it uses the Infinity Engine) and it's also an example of how to do a dungeon crawl CRPG right.

    13. The worm's in flapjaw space. I forgot to put that in.

    14. @Lugh: Thanks for enlightening me. Sort of.

    15. Without going to unnecessary detail, my take on Bioware is that KotOR 1 was their last actually good RPG. Jade Empire was still good, but not an RPG (it's more akin to a kung fu themed action-adventure with minor RPG elements added for show), and everything after Jade Empire has been just increasingly flaccid attempts at grasping their previous glory, showing no apparent understanding of what made their early output good.

      Icewind Dale is excellent, and my second favorite Infinity Engine game after Torment, pushing BG2 down to third place. I love it because it's a game that knows what it wants to do and does exactly that, not any more or less. It's such a tight design.

    16. Light spoilers for Dragon Age: Origins.

      @Moza DA:O is a very good game. It's at least as good as KOTOR - in my opinion much better.

      @KBbtGS The whole 'DA:O is a rip off of Lord of the Rings' meme is complete nonsense mostly repeated by people who never played the game. The only things the two have on common is a fantasy setting and a mentor figure who dies early in the plot. Even this is not actually a good point of comparison since in DA:O the mentor figure actually stays dead.

    17. I think Mass Effect is close to the most immersive world/story ever created for an RPG.

  2. Now for my second point. I really want you to play Flight from the Dark (and its two sequels), but it's a bit of a hard sell. The games are half cRPG and half game book. There's a decent cRPG engine in there someplace, but it's bound by the confines of the book it is representing.

    It has:

    1. Character Development - Every combat you fight can improve a hidden "Combat Skill" attribute, and if you use certain skills ("Mindblast") often, it supposedly gets better. I suck at combat in the game so I'm not sure I could tell. There is an "Endurance" stat that decreases like hit points, but also makes you less good at combat. Better-- your stats and inventory carry over from game to game. So you can import your character from game #1 into game #2 and presumably into game 3.

    2. Combat is stat-based with some interesting things around using the right type of attack based on what weapon you have equipped. For example, you can "chop" which works well with a sword, but hardly at all with a spear.

    3. There is a flexible inventory. You can pick up items and gold, you can find additional weapons as you go, etc. You can only keep one weapon at a time.

    But all that said-- you are still on rails like a game book. There is no overworld. You go from decision point to decision point, turning left or going right, fighting monsters. It has great roleplaying decisions because it is ALL roleplaying decisions. The engine supports a mess of weapon types, but I did not find many in my playthrough. I did not find a shop to spend any money in.

    So technically, it's a cRPG. And an interesting stop on the history of cRPGs. It even has all of your criteria. But it still plays like a game book wrapped in an engine that could support a better game than they offer.

    I have played it. I have not beaten it. I cannot tell whether any of the stat building discussed in the manual is real because the attributes are not interface-visible except for the hit points and similar. Judging by the Youtube video, you can beat it in about 30 minutes.

    1. I have a soft spot for the series, so I'll add the first one back and see how it goes.

  3. There is something kind of tiresome about the same age-old riddles that appear everywhere. As another reader noted in the previous entry, I was surprised that one of the riddles wasn't the "walks on four/two/three" legs one. It would be refreshing to see some "original" age-old riddles occasionally (Dragon Age tried, I guess, though those seemed awfully familiar, even without actually recognizing them) or a twist where the riddle answers are confusingly mixed up, or the riddler is outright lying, or has a backup viable second alternative so that they can always say you're wrong. (Example, and I can't believe I'm saying this, was a bet in Designing Women about whether someone was a member of the twelve apostles in the bible - apparently someone is mentioned in one place and not in another, so it's a trick question.)

    Related to this, I've been meaning to mention (with Chet's permission) that I've been working on a fantasy blog-novel called Ballad of the Bard, "set to the tune of classic CRPGs." Some of the themes have been inspired by special topics mentioned here either by Chet or the readers (for instance, a treatise on the use of the 10-foot pole) or unintentionally mirroring common questions (like an old Thanksgiving post here, noting that some characters need to eat all the time, and others don't bother to eat at all, depending on the game world). I've got 10 chapters and some special topics posted at Hopefully it's something some of you will enjoy.

    Coming back around to my original point, I'm making a note to see if I can work in some twist on the cliche riddle. Though I do already have a dungeon that's skipped entirely when the characters help the dungeon boss with his weekly crossword puzzle, so maybe that covers it adequately.

    1. The problem with riddles is that they make sense when you already know the answer, but are just a guess for most people if you don't. A great riddle causes you to think outside the box and eventually come up with the answer, but those are rare.

      I have a book with thousands of classic riddles. Most of them are unguessable. Sometimes I read the solution and think, "Oh, of course!" More often, it's "Huh?"

      Also, many riddles have more than one reasonable answer. If I ask the riddle in real life, and someone comes up with an alternate answer, I can say, "That works." In a computer game, only the one (or, very rarely, few) expected answers are handled. Maybe either "bones" or "skeleton" would answer the riddle correctly, but usually only one is programmed.

    2. Betrayal at Krondor had the riddle-boxes that required you to solve a riddle to unlock the chest. The riddles were fairly relevant to the game world and I don't recall there being the generic ones everyone has heard a thousand times.

      A good implementation of the concept and a game that I believe will be welcomed once its turn comes on this blog.

    3. Riddles are also a pretty unfriendly to us, non-native speakers. They often rely on idioms and other kinds of knowledge that are common to natives but obscure to outlanders (case in point: the badly translated riddle in Legend of Faerghail). Thus I prefer navigational and inventory-based puzzles, they're universal and require only a good enough brain to solve.

    4. I, too, remember the Betrayal at Krondor riddles in a positive light (though it's been a very long time since I played it). It's worth noting, however, that those riddles weren't open-ended--you knew the length of the answer and chose between a limited set of letters for each space. That helped avoid many of the problems Corey describes, making it function a little bit like a crossword or a cryptogram.

    5. That's true for me as well. For example, the riddle "You must keep it after giving it.", I would have answered "Promise" and I'd be right in essence but wrong to the goddamn program.

      Also, for a high-fantasy setting like Forgotten Realms, knowing magic is enough to make all these riddles nonsensical and untrue. Can't see you heart? I have a spell for that. Need to hold your breath for more than an hour? Got a spell for that too.

    6. I hate riddles in RPGs because their placement almost never make sense in context. What kind of idiot evil mastermind gaurds a door with a riddle? A password makes so much more sense. A key? Even more. A guard? Yes please! Giving the player a riddle and then ordering your gaurds to stand down once the player gets it right? Absolutely moronic. What kind of lackwit does this?

      Lackey: "Hey boss. Some kind of hero is here to see you."
      Boss: "Right. Give him the riddle!"
      Lackey: "What's tall as a house, round as a..."
      Hero: "a well".
      Lackey: "he got it right boss."
      Boss: "ok let him in."
      Lackey: "he's got a giant sword. Should I take it?"
      Boss: "nah. We're good. Let him through."
      Lackey: "the sword is like... on fire. He already killed like 30 guys with it. Are you su..."
      Boss: "I said open the door!"

    7. Obviously the idea of obvious riddles is to put the hero at ease. He'll think he can survive by his wits alone, never suspecting the iocane powder is really in *both* goblets.

    8. Anglo Saxon smutty riddles are the best riddles, and remarkably translation proof:

      Riddle 42:
      A small miracle hangs near a man's thigh,
      Full under folds. It is stiff, strong,
      Bold, brassy, and pierced in front.
      When a young lord lifts his tunic
      Over his knees, he wants to greet
      With the hard head of this hanging creature
      The hole it has long come to fill.

      Answer: Xrl. Be, lbh xabj, n cravf.

    9. That's a good one. I thought it was gonna be a belt.

  4. Re: Giants. There are about 5 more types of giants and gianty things in the 2nd Ed. Monster Manual, but you've killed all the major ones.

    Power Word Stun allows no saving throw and has a very low casting time. I imagine it's intended to be defensive, rather than offensive. When your mage is confronted by a strong melee fighter, you stun him and dimension door to safety.

    You may be able to take out up to 4 enemies with a hold spell, but by this level, everything should really be making their save against it. I doubt most holds even affect 1.

    1. These games are based off of 1st Edition AD&D though, not second.

      Monster Manual:
      Hill Giants
      Stone Giants
      Frost Giants
      Fire Giants
      Cloud Giants
      Storm Giants

      Fiend Folio:



      Formian Giant
      Firbolg Giant
      Verbeeg Giant

      That's about it for canonical Giants in AD&D 1st Edition; tbh I don't recall seeing Giants from MM2 in a Gold Box Game.

    2. Please note, for the uninitiated Monster Manual 2, and the 2nd Edition Monstrous Manual/Monstrous Compendium are two completely separate books.

      Monster Manual 2 is 1st Edition, the latter are not.

      (And, to be pedantic, there isn't a AD&D 2nd Edition Monster Manual, just the aforementioned Monstrous Manual and Monstrous Compendium)

    3. I caught the mistake in the name after I posted. Alas, no edit function.

      For years, I had assumed the AD&D implementation in the Gold Box Engine was 2nd edition, but it looks like I've been wrong the whole time. 2nd edition came out around the same time as Pool of Radiance. I guess that must be why.

      And it looks like there are 17 different flavors of Giant/Giantkin in the 2nd ed. Monstrous Manual, so I was wrong there too.

      Anyway, I take your corrections with humility.

    4. No worries, the 1st Edition/2nd Edition confusion seems to be pretty rampant. I was an active AD&D player when these came out, so I was pretty familiar with the differences at the time.

      SSI's inclusion of THAC0, which was introduced in 2nd edition, adds to the confusion. From what I've read SSI invented the concept of THAC0 and it was later added to 2nd edition.

      In terms of actual implementation, at a surface level, there are few differences in the rules so it's hard to tell.

      One easy tell is the power level and abilities of Giants and Dragons; they're substantially more powerful in 2nd edition. IIRC a max age Red Dragon in 2nd edition does like 24d10+24 (avg damage 156) when it breathes fire, vs 88 in 1st.

    5. @old wow bastard

      "SSI's inclusion of THAC0, which was introduced in 2nd edition, adds to the confusion. From what I've read SSI invented the concept of THAC0 and it was later added to 2nd edition."

      This is really interesting. Do you have any idea why the Gold Box games only contain 2nd Ed. classes?

    6. We were using THAC0 long before SSI's computer games. It was around in D&D back in the late 70s, long before there was even an "AD&D".

    7. I just checked the D&D Basic manual (the others are all up in the attic) and there's no mention of THAC0 in there. It just has a "Hit Roll", with all characters having the same base chance of hitting.

    8. The 1st Edition AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide had a monster statistic called "To Hit A.C. 0," which can be found starting on page 196. That is THAC0. The name just hadn't been shortened yet. There's another reference to it in the DMs Guide as well, but I can't remember where (I've had this conversation before).

      SSI didn't invent anything. THAC0 has been around since the 1970s.

    9. THAC0 was rightfully removed in 3rd edition. I hated that and the backwards AC, that was just needlessly confusing.

    10. As to "Power Word: Stun," Daniel is probably right, but I still can't see choosing it over "Delayed Blast Fireball" unless you were specifically trying to diversify your skills.

      One thing the Gold Box series doesn't do particularly well is put you up against individually-difficult foes. Even dragons go down in two rounds max. Practically every battle in this game is with hordes of monsters. Every once in a while, I'd like to have an encounter with a very small group (or just one) of something really hard for which it would make more sense to use spells that target individuals.

    11. I love Thac0; it's my preferred system. It's been around since the 1e DMG.

    12. @Addict

      On the other hand I wish that there were hordes of monsters in modern games sometimes. Nowadays you can be glad if you get to fight 10 monsters at the same time.

    13. @The Enraged Geek

      Good call; I hadn't perused that section of the 1st Edition DMG previously.

      I want to say that SSI created the acronym from the text in the DMG, as I don't personally recall seeing a THAC0 score anywhere prior to 2nd ed/Pools of Radiance, but as it's an obvious acronym, they likely did not.

      Not sure if you saw my other comment re: PWS but...yeah in it's initial implementation it had no maximum range and worked without a save on anything with less than 70 hp (which was a ton in OG D&D) Honestly...that's just a legacy tuning problem; spell was changed between D&D and AD&D and wasn't tuned properly in the process.

    14. The Frost Giant in Chet's screenshot mentioned something about Black Circle and their "Fire Giant Dogs". I don't recall them having any but remember anticipating gigantic flaming canines. Didn't happen. What gives?

    15. Individual 'boss' type opponents don't fair well in D&D until 4th edition really. Before that, a monster capable of sustaining more than a few rounds of damage from your fighters, was also likely to be able to kill your fighters in one or two rounds. The solution to this is to take an orc (for example) and give him fighter class levels - he's still an orc, but now he's an also a third level fighter. He doesn't hit harder than an orc would or have any extra attacks, but he's got 16 extra hit points, and he hits your guys about 10% more often.

      In modern games, the issue has become framerates due to the way that most modern games process: most games shoot for 30-60 FPS. After drawing each frame, the game will update all of the data that underlies the drawing. More enemies on screen = more processing time for the update. More processing time for the update means fewer frames drawn per second. When the number of frames drawn per second dips below the target number, animations start to look clunky, input becomes unresponsive, and the general experience of the game becomes less engrossing. Area designers, therefore, may be given hard limits for how many bad guys can be thrown at the player at once.

      Once again, hardware limitations bleed into design.

    16. I don't think "Fire Giant Dogs" is meant to be taken quite so literally. It was probably meant more as an insult, implying that the fire giants are just lackeys to the Black Circle.

      As far as 'boss fights', I agree with Daniel that these have never worked well in D&D, perhaps even in 4th edition. The term for this is "action economy". If there is only one monster against 6 player characters, the amount of damage / spell effects inflicted by the players requires either a huge amount of hit points for the monster so it can stay relevant for a few turns, or it can output a lot of damage so that it can threaten the party in the rounds it's still alive.

      Of course, when you combine these factors with dice / RNG randomness, fights can become either never-ending slogs if the PC's roll badly or utterly devastating if the monsters roll well. I hold out hope that 5th edition balances this out through its use of extra actions per turn granted to solo monsters.

    17. @Vonotar

      Re: Action economy, I was a little surprised by how the Banner Saga handled this problem - sides take turns; individual characters sequence within their own side only. So if there is only one bad guy, he gets an action after each individual on your side acts. I thought it was a cunning (albeit unrealistic) solution that opened up a wide range of tactical options for the game designers. It's too contrived to work in an RPG (as opposed to a tactics game), but it changes the fundamental dynamic of combat a lot.

    18. Re: Boss fights. These certainly worked well enough in the Baldur's Gate games, especially if using the Sword Coast Strategems mod. Sadly no such thing was possible with the Gold box games, so the only way to challenge the players was with sheer numbers of enemies and attrition, since AI is virtually non-existent.

    19. Near the end of fourth edition they found some creative solutions, mainly focused around a solo monster having powers or effects that trigger at the start of each PC's turn.

    20. @Daniel
      I agree that Banner Saga did have an interesting take on action economy. However, when you combine the system of having both sides strictly alternate with a system where the damage you do is based on the hit points you have remaining, it creates a weird incentive where you want to damage as many enemies as possible without killing any of them so as to clog up their turns with as many ineffective combatants as possible. I personally found that unrealistic and unpleasing, although the rest of the games was very well done.

      Why did I not know about Sword Coast Stratagems until now? It sounds very cool if the description I read plays the way that it sounds.

    21. That's actually pretty realistic. It's a huge blow to morale to see a bunch of lumbering, screaming allies who are clutching their exposed insides. If they had died, the rage they feel for the fallen might incite them to fight more fiercely instead.

    22. @Vonotar, IMO few mods enhance a game like SCS does for BG1.
      With SCS and The BG1 NPC Project BG1 goes from a rather mediocre game to a brilliant one that I never get tired of replaying.

    23. One strong foe would just need loads of HD for a high attack and hitpoints. With powerful abilities, dishing out lots of damage against single opponents on top of maybe a beholder like ability to hit all the characters with it necessarily being AoE. Would probably have to be immune to death or hold spells, or just a decent magic resistance comparative to the party, so that it's unlikely for the spell to go through and fail the saving throw. Enemies in AD&D 1st edition tend to be glass cannons by high levels (giants, dragons, etc.). 2nd edition attempted to mitigate this by making dragons and giants stronger, but this led to less of a balance power curve, one could argue whether this is good or not. The only creatures that may hold up to a large, high leveled party would be the demon princes and arch devils such as Demogorgon, Asmodeus, or Baalzebul.

    24. There's a giant called the "Verbeeg Giant?" That's even worse than Magic the Gathering's Two-Headed Giant of Foriys...

    25. Djweish: Verbeeg are some of the smallest giants, in fact I'm not even sure they are considered 'true' giants, I think they might be Giant-kin.

      Daniel: I don't think it is stats math that is the problem. I suspect it is either the strain of drawing that many people (Most likely: people are a lot of polygons, and they are dynamic.) or pathfinding (Also a big strain, but almost all games are GPU bound, so the CPU can take extra strain without slowing the game), not the cost of updating stats.

  5. Yes, Gyno-Sphinxes are pretty much female sphinxes. The catch is that crio-sphinxes (ram headed sphinx) lust after them and the gyno-sphinxes find them detestable.
    This is all very ridiculous but almost every monster (at least the common ones) in the Gold Box games are found in the 1ed AD&D Monster Manual. Copies are still available and pretty cheap. My dad and I always referenced the D&D books we had on our bookshelf when we needed to know just what the heck was going on, why some monster had some surprise power or what a spell like Delayed Fireball does. We didn't consider it cheating since it was only raw data, the books never helped us solve puzzles or spoiled the ending.
    Almost all of the rules for the 2ed AD&D system are published in short form in the game manuals themselves, though you may not have access to them.

    1. And their male counterparts are called andro-sphinxes.

    2. I have the game manuals. The one thing they don't make very clear is when certain creatures have immunity by level (or hit dice, whatever) rather than type. At some point, "Sleep," "Hold Person," "Hold Monster," and other spells simply stop working, but I don't exactly know where. They also don't discuss relative saving throws. Because of this, I have no idea whether "Death Spell" is more or less effective than "Disintegrate" or "Flesh to Stone" on the same foe except by practice.

    3. Now I'm starting to wonder...

      Was I the only one who always kept Hold Person and Hold Monster around, and rarely used any instant death spells like Disintegrate? I seem to recall that, as Hold Person / Monster became less effective, I just targeted the same creature multiple times (since both spells allowed several targets in one casting). A creature who could easily shrug off one Hold Monster probably wouldn't succeed four rolls in a row.

    4. You can't target the same creature multiple times. The best you can do is ONLY target one creature and hope that it applies the rest of the "strength" of the spell to that one target, but I don't think we've ever reached a satisfactory conclusion as to whether this actually occurs.

    5. iirc (i'm not going to dig up the books to check) sleep spell works on creatures of up to 4+1 hit dice (except elves), death spell errr either goes by 60 hp or 6hit dice?. The holds, disintegrate and flesh to stone all relied on saving throws. If you use hold person/monster on only oen target it is by the books meant to be harder to resist, don't know whether they put it in for the gold boxes.

    6. RE: reduced saving throws on Hold Person/Monster when less than the max targets are selected.

      I'm 90% sure they are included; anecdotally in 24 years of playing these games, I've seen those "stick" more often when you target one mob, than three.

      From a "back end" standpoint those folks at TSR, per all the articles published in Dragon in 86-88 REALLY forced the SSI guys to copy every rule from AD&D verbatim. I'd have to assume they included the save reductions.

      @Boroth yup, 4+1 hd for sleep, anything bigger than that is immune. As-is a mob with 4+1 HD would be the only target affected.

      Death Spell is a weird one, they changed it fairly heavily between editions so it never sticks well in my brain.

      Definitely has a cap though that makes it, essentially, useless in the Gold Box games. By the time you get it, you almost never face mobs that are affected by it.

      Disintegrate and FtS are all saved based and do not have caps like Sleep or Death Spell.

    7. Just saw your earlier comment:

      Hold Person will affect any human, elf, dwarf, etc, of any level, without a cap. Higher level mobs will make their saves often though.

      Can't remember if there is a cap on Hold Monster offhand; I want to say there isn't but you still run into the saving throw problem. Specifically, high level mobs make their saves very often, which makes many spells useless.

      These games work a LOT better if you have 1st Edition AD&D memorized and have the books available for reference. That does make the learning curve for these fairly steep.

    8. Targeting Hold Person on a single target (by pressing Exit from the targeting menu) incurs a -2 saving throw. This is good for you and bad for the person.

    9. Oh, there was this whole thing about how criosphinxes were after gynosphinxes, who hated them but were after androsphinxes, who tried to avoid the gynosphinxes.

      Sounds bizarrely like high school social dynamics, with us geeks being the criosphinxes. Which, of course, is totally appropriate when you think about who plays these games. ;)

    10. I don't remember how criosphinxes officially came into being or reproduced. Depending on campaign tone, they either hooked up with oisphinxes, raped gynosphinxes, or were manufactured in Elminster's workshop.

      When I see guys talk about Gygax's ability to create believable ecosystems, I wonder what they're smoking.

    11. Raping gynosphinxes? How does that work? Do they have to answer riddles to 'enter'?

    12. Death Spell is handy against the Medusae and Basilisks you will encounter many of at one point, and will insta-kill anywhere from 3-5 of them. Helpful when you come across a group in tight quarters you can't/don't want to fireball. I would imagine this also works against some of the smaller dragons you come across as well, and spiders.

  6. from 3ed D&D
    A stunned creature drops everything held, can’t take actions, takes a -2 penalty to AC, and loses his Dexterity bonus to AC (if any).

    So creature is not 'helpless' as with a held spell or when being unconscious.

    1. This is a 1st edition game though, so I'm not sure that applies here.

    2. "Power Word: Stun" definitely doesn't cause creatures to "drop everything" in SSB. It just takes him out of the action for a couple rounds.

  7. I was never much into the Goldbox games, but I remember having a level cap instead of a xp cap was the reason it was strongly recommended to play Eye of Beholder with multiclasses.

    1. You could reach the level cap in Eye of the Beholder? Never did that, even with imported parties.

    2. Maybe you're thinking of Dark Sun, Pedro? Characters there could have three classes and still hit the level cap well before the end of the game.

    3. The cap is definitely reachable in EOB2, but it requires a fair bit of grinding. There's a great spot fairly late in the game where you can force arbitrary amounts of demons to spawn, and an hour spent there should max out your party.

      Personally I wouldn't multiclass in any of the EOB games though, because if you play normally even single-class casters won't reach their full potential, let alone the cap. There's no dual-class option either, so you can't do the "start as Fighter, switch to Mage as soon as I'm able" shenanigans that were the standard in Infinity Engine games. EOB does have the useful property that it's one of the only AD&D games where weapon restrictions on multiclass characters are "least restrictive class wins" instead of "most restrictive wins" - meaning, an EOB Fighter/Mage can cast spells in full plate. But it's still not worth it IMO. Losing half your XP is just too much for what amounts to a minor HP buff.

  8. Regarding your master list, do you want us to not notify you that a given game has been ported to PC (as in the recent case of Final Fantasy III and IV), or is that still OK?

    1. It'd be great to see you play a FF sir.

      They're pretty good. IX holds up VERY well imho, better than vii or viii, although I'm not sure it's available for PC.

    2. Only VII and VIII are available for PC in their original forms. The DS version of III (not VI) and some version of IV (I'm not going to buy it, so I don't know for certain if it's the DS version, although that seems likely) were remade for PC this year.

    3. I definitely want to know about things that are definitely RPGs that aren't on my list, so this would count. Since the PC port is of the 2006 remake, however, it wouldn't show up on my list until 2006, and right now the list only goes through 2003.

    4. To clarify: I DON'T want to know, "Hey, Addict, this site says that this game is an RPG. You should add it to the list."

      I DO want to know, "This game that is CLEARLY AN RPG by your rules, as I can attest from personal experience or through a reference to a source that covers it in detail, is not on the list. You should add it."

    5. Ok, just didn't want to be spamming you.

    6. Bait Twitch people into playing RPGs, watch them play to find out if it is an RPG. Got it. *Gets his twitch streamer hunting net out*

  9. Re: the Power Word: Stun vs Delayed Blast Fireball question...this again really illustrated the hodgepodge nature of the development of AD&D.

    Both spells were introduced in the first supplement for OG D&D; Greyhawk.

    They were included in the 10 7th level spells introduced in this book. Prior to Greyhawk's release D&D mage spells only went to level 6.

    In the initial form PW:Stun works, without a save, on anything with less than 70 hp, which was a higher HP total than a good number of potential foes. Almost all, really.

    DB-F at the time, provided no damage bonus, and only had the delay component (up to 10 rounds.)

    There was no range given on Power Word: Stun, so I'd assume it was intended originally to work on anything within sight range, which makes it quite powerful indeed.

    AD&D 1st edition was basically a cleaned up, reformatted version of OG D&D, with additional codification added to most items. Spells, for example, were all filled out with a max range, required components, etc.

    If I had to guess someone pulled a number out of thin air for the range on PW:S when they were writing the book (Gygax produced the 1st Ed PHB and DMG under severe time/availability crunches) or nerfed it after seeing it abused constantly in it's previous "unlimited range" form.

    AD&D is pretty awesome in the fact that it still holds together, despite really weird balance issues like this. 2nd Edition and later editions tend to be much cleaner in that regard as they were written under considerably better conditions (e.g. ample time, money, writers.)

    1. Now look what you did! You made me dig up my old copy of Greyhawk (signed by Gygax in 1979, but has a smudge on the cover, wonder if it's worth anything?).

      You are correct - There was no damage bonus in OD&D. They added +1 per die in AD&D 1st edition. I thought I remembered that Fireball (originally "Fire Ball") and Lightning Bolt were capped at 10 dice of damage, but Delayed Blast Fireball had a 14 or 18 dice cap, but that must have been a house rule. The books clearly state that, "In all other respects, DBF is identical to Fireball." That would include the dice cap.

      Incidentally, that cap was introduced in AD&D 1st edition - There were no dice caps on damage from Fire Ball or Lightning Bolt in Men & Magic (the original book).

    2. I would assume that a Gygax-signed WoG that had been owned by *Corey Cole* would be worth a decent amount to somebody, even in poor condition.

    3. Corey, as a huge fan of QFG, that beat HQ1 on the family 286 probably 30 or 40 times, I'd pay at least $50 for that Gygax signed copy of Greyhawk, smudge or not :-).

      I want to say those damage caps were introduced in AD&D 2nd edition though, officially. Digging around to confirm (minus my pdf collection...which makes things tougher) and I don't see a mention of max spell damage in AD&D 1st ed.

      I know that fireball, for example, was hard capped at 10d6 in 2nd edition, along with the majority of direct damage Mage spells.

      Pretty sure the reasoning was that a 20+th level mage could one shot any other spell caster of the same level, if they had surprise or initiative. In terms of balance...yeah that's probably bad....

    4. It maybe my memory starting to go, but I thought 2nd edition had a 10d6 cap on fireball, but a 20d6 cap on delayed blast fireball. Or was that how it worked in the Gold Box games?

    5. Oh no. The Gold Box games don't have damage caps, except for the level cap of the game. Level cap for Pools of Darkness is 40, so a 40th-level magic-user casting Delayed Blast Fireball will do 40d6+40 points of damage, or 180 on average.This actually becomes necessary near the end of the game.

    6. You don't need a lvl 40 mage. You can make do with two (or more) lvl 20 ones, which is far more easy to develop than one lvl 40 one.
      In my experience the only thing you "need" near the end is 18 Dex for Initiative, at least for mages.

    7. Are we discussing the fine points of winning Pools of Darkness before the Addict plays it? Sure, he'll need the help.

      You're right, you don't need to be 40th level, though I have had trouble of 20. Basically I like to be able to wipe out Pets of Kalistes, with 59 hp, on a made save, which means above 30th or so (mathematically 27th, but that leaves too much to chance). You still need lots of hitpoints to deal with the Blue Bane Minion and Dracolich breath.

    8. Oh, and Addict, I'm not impugning your tactical skills. The last battle is really, really hard. ;)

    9. Or you can do what my power-gaming teenage self did and dual class your whole party into mages. That way you open a door, throw six fireballs or cones of cold and go about your day.

    10. The only reason I'm not pissed at these spoilers is because I probably won't remember them in 18 months.

    11. In AD&D 1st edition there are no damage caps for fireballs or lightning bolts. The plus to using Power Word Stun is that it automatically stuns 70hp worth of creatures, with no saving throw. Overall, Delayed Blast Fireball is a lot more useful, but Power Word Stun can be useful if your mage is trapped by an enemy or something. I do believe it can effect more than one creature as long as they're adjacent, I remember it working on two creatures once.

    12. It is only one creature, looking at the Player's Handbook description, but it can affect any creature with 90hp or less.

    13. Corey: More then my signed 3rd edition PHB. I meant to bring one of my old AD&D books, and forgot them, so I had him sign the only book I had on me. Dad also bought a copy of Castle Zagig for me which he got autographed.

  10. "Pool of Radiance seemed almost completely open, Curse of the Azure Bonds less so, and Secret of the Silver Blades not at all. It makes me wonder what direction Pools of Darkness will go."

    PoD is very non-linear; tons of optional side-quests and the main quest can be tackled in basically any order.

    TBH it makes SotSB stand out a lot; it's really the only linear entry in the series (except for DQK, which was pretty railroad-y, but not to the same extent.)

    In some ways its a little refreshing, single goal, single path to get there (for the most part) no distractions. That being said, I'm glad they only took that route for this one entry in the series.

    1. When the CRPG Addict says things like "It makes me wonder" he doesn't really want an answer. Especially if it has the potential to spoil anything.

    2. Oh, it's not so bad in this case. But yes, I should have written, "I'm looking forward to seeing" rather than "It makes me wonder."

    3. I remember one of the things that spoiled Dungeon Master 2 was commenters revealing the fact that the plot was non-linear. It would have been a fun moment of realization to figure that out oneself.

  11. I detest riddles in party based games. Surely it is not up to the player to answer them. I got stumped on one and was sent back to the well despite have two 18 intelligence mages in my party.

    1. Yeah, modern D&D would make you pass a skill check to solve a riddle. This version wants you to actually solve it yourself. Different times employ different styles of gaming.

    2. The best thing, in a TRPG or CRPG, is a random lore check to make sure that the player is paying attention.

    3. I remember running games where I would drop hints or give the players the answer to particularly tough riddles, depending on how much they scored after rolling against their Intelligence.

    4. Bad developers LOVE crappy riddles because you make a "puzzle" that's dead easy to code (force the player to input a precise string of text, no typos or alternatives allowed). This will extend playing time on the cheap and/or send many people to the 1-900 hint line. Win-win, right?

      But seriously, can you imagine some evil boss character putting a Magic Mouth in front of a force field that won't let a party of hostile armed goons through -- unless they win a guessing game? GTFO.

    5. Pre-Internet, some games had puzzles or riddles you needed to buy the hint book to solve if you couldn't work them out.

    6. Or helpline that charges by the minute.

    7. There's the reverse situation too, like the skeleton's riddle in Torment. Nameless needs an INT of like 19 to help solve it and I'm pulling my hair out because I know the answer with a score that is no doubt quite a bit lower than whatever superhuman smarts that 19 represented.

  12. Regarding the huge piles of platinum that giants come with: it's worse than you thought, because that's also the reason that you're rocketing past the level cap XP-wise. The giants wouldn't be worth nearly so much experience otherwise, so it's a choice that breaks two aspects of the game at the same time!

    1. So AD&D1 awarded experience based on the value of treasure, but that was dropped in AD&D2? Or is this a quirk of how the Gold Box adapted things specifically?

    2. It's the first one. If I remember my skim of the rules correctly, the early versions had treasure as pretty much the only way to gain experience.

    3. 1 GP = 1 XP, and killing monsters also got XP. The DM could ration out appropriate XP awards to characters in this way. You'd make an adventure that had enough XP for your players to gain levels by the end.

      I suppose the SSB designers forgot this and just decided giants should have huge amounts of treasure. Either that, or this was the Monty Haul before the big showdown, to ensure that all characters were appropriate level before entering the endgame.

    4. "So AD&D1 awarded experience based on the value of treasure, but that was dropped in AD&D2? Or is this a quirk of how the Gold Box adapted things specifically?"

      XP was awarded, as Harland mentioned at a 1 XP per 1 GP of value rate in the BtB 1st Edition AD&D rules.

      Magic items awarded XP as well; there's a value per item in the DMG that the individual character was supposed to receive if they kept the item.

      If they sold the item the 1GP per XP rate applied. Looks like Gold Box games implement the "you keep the item" XP reward across the board, likely due to limitations with the technology.

      AD&D 1st edition was tuned around a (approximate) 4 treasure XP per 1 monster XP ratio. Some folks argue that it's closer to 2 to 1, but regardless more of your XP came from treasure than from killing things.

      XP rewards for an entire encounter were based around both the monster XP and the treasure XP; monster treasure tables were created with this in mind.

      It is worth noting that in the BtB rules you only get that treasure XP for treasure you successfully get back to a "safe" place (e.g. town, stronghold, etc.) So the implementation here is a bit incorrect, but it does follow the spirit of the books. Again, I'm assuming their divergence from the published rules was due to an issue with the tech at the time.

      Gygax's games were really "go into the dungeon, explore, and try to come out alive with fabulous treasure" which really instigated the treasure for xp thing. Monster XP in OGD&D was really low btb and seemed to encourage exploration and avoidance over combat, in it's effort/reward ratio.

      They removed the treasure = xp correlation in 2nd Edition, and drastically increased the XP/monster power level ratio to compensate.

      @Harland; looking at my trusty Monster Manual it looks like Fire Giants in 1st Edition AD&D have Treasure type E, per pack of 1 - 8 (so every 4.5 giants, average) which grants the following:

      5% chance of 1,000 - 10,000 copper (5 - 50 g)
      25% chance of 1,000 - 12,000 silver (50 - 600 g)
      25% chance of 1,000 - 6,000 electrum (500 - 3000 g)
      25% chance of 1,000 - 8,000 gold
      15% chance of 1 - 12 gems
      10% chance of 1 - 8 pieces of jewelery
      25% change of 3 magic items plus 1 scroll

      With the above numbers I'd guess that they took the average monetary awards, divided by the chance of obtaining them to obtain their first number.

      That number was added to some sort of formula worked out to compensate for the fact that giants in these games never actually carry jewelry, gems or magical treasure.

      Total is rewarded as platinum for convenience's sake.

      I'd agree it's a mess; no idea why they didn't just let giants drop gems, jewels and magic items per the book.

    5. I believe there's a line about them carrying a bag with 1000-6000 gold pieces and a few rocks, which is where the giant (heh) piles of gold come from. It's actually a whittling-down of the MM-accurate Pool of Radiance, where they actually were carrying around thousands of gold pieces. (In Champions of Krynn, as I recall, they had huge piles of steel.)

    6. Experience based on treasure is something that I don't think ever really worked in D&D the way it was supposed to. A lot of groups just houseruled it out because it was immersion-breaking. Other groups (like mine) ran into the same problem Addict is having in SotSB - you have to pick up the treasure to get the XP, but after you've done that, there is nothing worth spending it on, so you'd just throw it away. What would you even buy with a hundred thousand platinum? A castle? Useless.

      Baldur's Gate's "magic marts" filled with artifacts priced in the tens of thousands were lambasted as silly, but for what it's worth, they do solve the latter problem. You can actually spend your reward money on the only thing that matters to an adventurer, namely equipment that improves your success rate in adventuring. But still, it's a patch job on a feature that was never really necessary to begin with. The DM could (and usually would) just give packets of XP on tasks accomplished instead of items found.

    7. I don't think that "treasure = experience" ever worked in ANY way. In D&Dland, any street urchin can go dumpster diving outside a tavern, fight a rat living in the garbage, find a platinum mine's worth of precious metals that were tossed in by filthy rich adventurers, and suddenly turn into a 10th-level badass.

      Palladium and Warhammer Fantasy awarded XP when a player had a good idea. Much better.

    8. @Moza training costs in AD&D 1st edition were astronomical, as were costs associated with spell research, and magic item creation.

      Those were all money sinks that wasted 10,000s of gold.

      Sounds like your DM just didn't know those rules well enough to keep things in line.

      @Gaguum Again, if you were getting that much loot, without somewhere to spend it, it was due to a faulty implementation of the game.

      I'd agree with your Palladium statement, they get so much else wrong (combat, skills, magic, tuning) that it's hard to give KS and team any brownie points.

    9. Ok we all hate treasure = experience, but consider the intention of the rule. D&D was conceived as an exercise in dungeon delving for the purpose of getting rich. Ergo, how successful your party has been can be quantified by how much loot you pull out of the dungeon. Giving experience for fighting is very counter-intuitive unless your chatacter is a fighter. Why, after all, should a rogue get better at stealth and subterfuge through fighting? A fight indicates the *failure* of stealth and subterfuge.

      So, in a certain way, exp from treasure makes much more sense than experience from killing bad guys.

    10. Oh, right, training costs. Training costs and time are one of those rules, like attack vs. armor type, that I'm convinced no one in the history of the game has actually used. But if we did - it's still pointless. You pick up money to get XP, and then spend the money to get to the level the XP allows. Why not skip the middleman and get the XP and level without the surplus of money? It's not like there's any interesting decision-making happening there, since the only worthwhile thing you can spend your gorillion gold on is training.

      I don't recall rules for researching spells before 3E. They might exist, but our DM would never even think of allowing us to use them, and for good reason - DM controlling what spells the PCs have access to was explicitly a part of the balance of pre-3E D&D. If you didn't find it in the dungeons, there was no way to get it; it was denied from you forever.

      Magic item creation, on the other hand, I remember. I remember it being functionally impossible in every edition before 3E. There were rules for it, sure, but the rules were excessively punitive, somewhere in the order of having to spend months and risk permanent loss of ability points to even attempt to create a +1 sword. It might as well have read "creating new magic items is something only NPCs can do" and saved everyone's time.

      People in the OSR crowd tell me the classic moneysink was hirelings. Dozens of hirelings, hordes of hirelings. That's a thing I suppose, but it paints a picture of a group of "adventurers" being fanned in a recliner while their army of henchmen does the actual adventuring. It's a mode of play alien to any mainstream depiction of D&D I know of, and one that doesn't sound appealing to me. If I roleplay an adventurer, I want to be the one that gets his hands dirty and risks his own neck, not a colonial era "gentleman explorer" directing his servants to tie down the ogre so that he can shoot it.

    11. @MOZA

      Again, I think we're all missing the point. The idea behind D&D originally was that amassing money was how you succeeded or failed as a player. How much money your character has is directly proportional to how many tombs he/she's successfully raided. GP = XP, but GP also stood in as an analogue for score.

      Of course, characters spent portions of the money the recovered while adventuring, but a lot of the purpose of money was just to hold onto it and show the number to your friends. Or perhaps to take occasional swims in it ala Scrooge McDuck.

    12. @Moza "Oh, right, training costs. Training costs and time are one of those rules, like attack vs. armor type, that I'm convinced no one in the history of the game has actually used. But if we did - it's still pointless. You pick up money to get XP, and then spend the money to get to the level the XP allows. Why not skip the middleman and get the XP and level without the surplus of money? It's not like there's any interesting decision-making happening there, since the only worthwhile thing you can spend your gorillion gold on is training."

      It really seems like your grasp of the AD&D 1st edition rules is minimal at best, and is wholly based on experiences where you played with under-prepared DMs.

      Gygax built a pretty well rounded system, when you take it as a whole.

      When you remove specific pieces, like training costs, or strongholds which cost money and require upkeep, or hirelings which are a key part of the 1st edition game, but are generally ignored, YES the system breaks down.

      This similar to any machine or system; if you take the tires off of your car it will not drive the same way.

      From what I see in your post there, honestly, you drove in a car that was missing it's tires for years.

      Yes the handling is terrible; put the tires back on, drive a while, then let me know how you feel. It's a different experience when the system is being run properly.

      "People in the OSR crowd tell me the classic moneysink was hirelings. Dozens of hirelings, hordes of hirelings. That's a thing I suppose, but it paints a picture of a group of "adventurers" being fanned in a recliner while their army of henchmen does the actual adventuring. It's a mode of play alien to any mainstream depiction of D&D I know of, and one that doesn't sound appealing to me. If I roleplay an adventurer, I want to be the one that gets his hands dirty and risks his own neck, not a colonial era "gentleman explorer" directing his servants to tie down the ogre so that he can shoot it."

      If you want to understand why things worked that way, instead of just making fun of that play style, I'd recommend reading Gygax's and Metzner's posts on the Dragonsfoot Forums. It's actually pretty interesting.

      Essentially, when D&D was first invented Gygax would have anywhere from 1 - 20 or so players. Since folks would still want to play, even when there weren't a lot of other players to play with, they started the hireling/henchman system.

      In those older games it was normal to have 2--5 hirelings and henchman, per player, as bag carriers, animal tenders, and cannon fodder.

      If you want to actually live through a module like S1 Tomb of Horrors you need hirelings to set off the "insta-kill" traps.

      I agree, that isn't how a modern game it played. You do need to remember though that this was the original and was written when that play style was dominant.

    13. @OWB:

      "Again, if you were getting that much loot, without somewhere to spend it, it was due to a faulty implementation of the game."

      I made that dumpster comment to satirize the kind of "Monty Haul" D&D-ing that many people (and Secret of the Silver Blades) actually engaged in. MY own games back in the day didn't feature that kind of problem, because I gave out rather little in the way of cash. On the bright side, I made training cheap and leveling free, hirelings weren't involved because of the accountancy was prohibitive, and I didn't use ANY material components, because -- come on, seriously, that stuff was insane. Every spell worth casting required a freshly-killed bald eagle and a Faberge egg, or something like that (certain potions required demon's brains or invisible stalker's blood; nice work finding those). You may think that I was tinkering with a well-engineered machine, but I agree with Daniel that AD&D as written was no such thing. It was a sloppy jalopy held together with duct tape and full of unnecessary gears, kludges, and workarounds. So I thought it was better to strip it down to the chassis and build up from there. (Nowadays, of course, I'd just write everything from scratch.)

      "I'd agree with your Palladium statement, they get so much else wrong (combat, skills, magic, tuning) that it's hard to give KS and team any brownie points."

      Heh, don't forget the redundant and indistinguishable abbreviations that are impossible to remember ("Let's see, what does P.P. do again?")! The one thing that I would give Siembieda some credit for is that his alignment system, while imperfect, definitely beat D&D's. If you had to have alignments at all, theirs made somewhat more sense and were better explained. (Aberrant was an interesting one.)


      "The idea behind D&D originally was that amassing money was how you succeeded or failed as a player."

      Well, if you really wanted to get into the AD&D 1e DMG's nitty-gritty stuff, XP was NOT awarded on a strictly 1:1 basis for GP. There were rules concerning reductions if you outclassed the enemy, rules concerning reductions if you'd been a "bad" roleplayer during the battle (which includes things like being cautious), rules concerning XP bonuses when you died and got resurrected (seriously?), etc. Regardless, since DMs could make any random cave the equal of Fort Knox, having piles of treasure proved nothing about your own competence. There are in fact tables at the end of the DMG where they assign monsters specific XP values, which is what they should've done to begin with.

      Gygax lampshades the nonsensicality of the whole XP/GP thing on p. 85:

      "Players who balk at equating gold pieces to experience points should be gently but firmly reminded that in a game certain compromises must be made. While it is more 'realistic' for clerics to study holy writings, pray, chant, practice self-discipline, etc. to gain experience, it would not make a playable game roll along. Similarly, fighters should be exercising, riding, smiting pelts [sic], tilting at the lists, and engaging in weapons practice of various sorts to gain real expertise (experience); magic-users should be deciphering old scrolls, searching ancient tomes, experimenting alchemically, and so forth; while thieves should spend their off-hours honing their skills, 'casing' various buildings, watching potential victims, and carefully planning their next 'job'. All very realistic but conducive to non-game boredom!"

      I don't want to get into how stupid this is at serious length, but I'll just say that RuneQuest and Ars Magica proved him desperately wrong. And if he didn't want "non-game boredom", he should've changed the magic-item creation and leveling rules.

    14. When I said that I was agreeing with Daniel about AD&D being poorly organized and full of rules that nobody bothered with, I was actually agreeing with MOZA on that score. Oh well.

    15. @Gaguum,

      My point was made in reference to the original D&D, not AD&D 1st ed., but I think the point stands either way - amassed wealth is intended to be a measure of how successful PCs have been. Read the book "The Underworld and Wilderness Adventures" and you'll see what I'm talking about.

    16. Call of Cthulhu has the best levelling system: Whenever you suceed at a skill, check it. At the end of the adventure, roll it. If you fail the roll, add 1d10 to the skill. So if you are really good at something, it is hard to get better at it. Wheras if you actually manage to suceed at a skill you are bad at, almost always goes up. Very organic, and encourages well-rounded characters rather then hyper-specialists, which is a common problem in D&D, GURPS, etc.

      I'd really like to see Chet play a CRPG with a mechanic like that to see what he thinks. I suspect he wouldn't like the lack of choice.

  13. This must have been pointed out in comments of earlier posts, but part of getting to the level cap so early is the imported characters. If you create new characters for this game they start a bit lower level and thus make the game slightly harder and reaching level cap later.

    1. Sure, but wouldn't a lot of players have imported characters? I think it's bad game design to easily hit level caps when playing the game in a reasonable way. It's not like by importing the characters I was cheating.

    2. Characters I dual-classed (and thus started SotSB at 0 XP) are just about maxed out by the time I arrive at the final castle. Not the worst pacing ever, I guess, but it kind of is - there should be a lasting penalty to dual-classing so late in the game, but those guys will still show up in Pools of Darkness maxed out.

  14. Dear Chet,

    Thank you again for a great blog. Some thoughts on Secret of the Silver Blades:

    1) Level Caps - the same thing happened to me when I transferred characters from Curse. When I first bought the game, I made up characters and found it to be harder, since you start at base level 8. Part of my problem also was that I used rolled characters and did not try initially to increase their stats. So, for example, a BC Lord had 70 hit points and only one of my fighters topped that. I am still trying to find a balance.

    2) The early part of the game is not linear. You can attempt to free the well early or deal with Marcus in town. Once you hit the mines then linearity comes into play. I admit to liking the game anyway since I like dungeon crawls and neither Pool or Curse had a good long dungeon crawl.

    3)This game is cheap. You already posted about the gnat event that seems pointless. Why is Alias from Curse running shops around town. Did she come here after the defeat of Moander and buy up real estate? It's like she is running around town between the weapon shop and the vault. Later she takes over Marcus' shop. I guess it fits in with the paltry selection of weapons.

    4) Again, with a Lich enemy, why is there no other undead in this game. It seems weird, though I like the fact that you fight different kinds of giants.

    5)Politics: In curse, we had a civil war in the Zhentil keep. Do we have the same here? The Black Circle (Mages and Fighters) seem to be at war with the Church of Bane (Clerics and Thieves). Which is the true ally of the Dreadlord? More could have been made of that.

    I still like this old clunker of a game. There are some good ideas in here, but execution suffers.

  15. You know, actually I DON'T LIKE importing characters for precisely this reason. You start higher - yay. The game is easier. This is debatable if this is a good thing or not. Then you hit the level cap much earlier than you would otherwise. This is not a good thing.

    I get why the feature was included in the first place, but I find that it doesn't enhance my 2014 gameplay.

    1. I agree, but I still chalk it up to bad game design rather than player choice. It's fun to import characters. Players shouldn't have to give that up for the sake of challenge. It's SSI's fault for starting new characters at Level 8 and allowing imported characters on the cusp of Level 12. It would have made more sense to start at, say, Level 10, and give imported characters a slight advantage but not an overwhelming one.

    2. I think in that case the players of 1991 would have felt ripped off because their hard-won characters had been level-drained too much in the conversion. There was more of a "let's kick this game's ass" attitude towards games versus today's, "let's savor every morsel of this retro treat."

    3. These are D&Ders, and SSI knew their customers. Allowing imports at level 12 and making new parties start at level 8 ensured that if anybody bought this game without owning the previous games, he would immediately go buy the others. That's salesmanship!

    4. Harland: Really good point.

      Remember, this wasn't a retro classic when it came out, it was cutting edge. It would have been seen the way Dragon Age is today. Look at the way people obsess over skill trees and character builds on modern games.

      Also remember there was no multiplay (until the original Neverwinter Nights, also a goldbox), so if you cheated, nobody was going to complain.

    5. No, no. I wasn't suggesting that SSI deplete the levels of imported characters; I was suggesting that it raise the levels of new characters. Knowing that most characters coming out of CotAB would be at Level 11, why would you start new characters in SotSB at Level 8?

    6. @Chet: "Why would you start new characters in SotSB at Level 8?"

      There's no other reason than to force people to buy the older games so as to import.

      At least now in hindsight, it does act as a certain kind of "challenge mode".

    7. TBH I *think* they capped characters at 15 so that Mages would only gain 6th and 7th level spells in this particular entry in the series.

      Not sure why; maybe they wanted to leave 2 full levels of spells for the last entry in the series.

      As-is spell progression works like this for mages:

      PoR = 1-3rd leve spells
      CoAB = 4 - 5th level spells
      SotSB = 6-7th level spells
      PoD = 8-9th level spells

      I don't agree with it, but that's the likely reason.

  16. Just to follow up on my comment in the other thread, I've personally played both of the following games from 1983, both of which are currently in the master list but aren't marked for play:

    Bokosuka Wars - only meets 1 of 3 criteria (character attributes) and that one is marginal. It's more of a strategy/squadron game and can be skipped with a clear conscience -- but it's so short/simple, has such an offbeat game mechanic, and is so notorious that it might be worth making time for. It's a one-post game, in other words.

    AD&D: Tarmin - I think this is the closest thing consoles had to a true RPG before Ultima was released on the NES, and it's certainly more of one than AD&D: Cloudy Mountain which did make the cut. It meets all three criteria and should be added to the playlist.

    Also, regarding Black Onyx which is due early "next year" in 1984 and is (correctly) on the playlist: there's a freely available fan translation for the ColecoVision that's based on the Sega SG-1000 version, and that translation was then backported to the Sega SG-1000 after the fact as an IPS patch. No idea about the Japanese home computer versions, though both of the above consoles have home computer iterations (Adam and SC-3000), oddly enough.

    It's a very dull RPG, but that's what it is nonetheless, and it was a huge influence in Japan.

    Apologies, BTW, if this post should be on the "See this posting to discuss the list" thread, but that's been moribund for months.

    1. But these are console, not on the list. (Nevertheless - interesting stuff! I always thought I knew all AD&D games... :) )

    2. There's a fan translation of the PC-88 (computer) version of The Black Onyx.

    3. Bokosuka Wars is a really off-beat game based off of a somewhat obscure Japanese myth. It was originally a PC game, released in 1982 for the Sharp X1.

      Only in the Famicom version do your soldiers start trapped in trees and rocks. The PC versions give you the full army right from the beginning.

      It was never released for any PC that was released in the US, so it can, and should, be skipped.

    4. Treasure of Tarmin is nothing less than a geniune roguelike, on the Intellivision platform no less. It belongs on the list!

    5. To clarify, Cloudy Mountain didn't "make the cut." I made a special exception for it because it was the first known D&D game on the computer. For the same reason, I played Dragon Stomper as the first known console RPG. I am absolutely not adding console-only RPGs to the list. If I play any of them, it will be an unannounced bonus.

    6. Duly noted -- but as I mentioned in my other post, the second AD&D game on Intellivision is also on Mattel Aquarius, which is a bona fide home computer (albeit a weak one). None of the games I mentioned are console exclusives (except the already-reviewed Cloudy Mountain bonus).

      There's also the whole ColecoVision vs. ADAM issue -- that is, the fact that quite a few 1980s console games were also playable on compatible home computers -- but that's a separate issue and fortunately has little impact on this project. I only mention the CV port of Black Onyx since it's been translated.

    7. The Mattel Aquarius. You managed to find a cRPG released for a computer that I suspect almost no one has heard of and which only ever supported 21 titles (according to Wikipedia).

      I just want to know who would write an emulator for a device that only has 21 produced applications.

    8. Well, it's not that obscure. The Aquarius is fairly well known to Intellivision fans, since a bunch of the console's games were ported to it, and a few Intellivision homebrewers have recently taken an interest in it. It's actually very similar to the Sharp MZ-700, another computer that uses character graphics like the Aquarius, and that one had a bit of traction in Japan.

      The Aquarius itself bombed in the US (I love the engineers' quote about "the system for the seventies"), but IIRC it had modest sales in certain parts of Europe. BTW there were more than 21 titles for the system -- those are just the first-party cartridges, and there was a fair bit of third-party software on cassette.

  17. "There ought to be a name for trope in which you're delving deep in a dungeon and you find remnants of a previous expedition, only there ought not to have been any way for the previous expedition to get there because you have all the keys and magic items that they presumably would have needed for passage."

    There is exactly one game I know of that played this appropriately, by which I mean that you are not the first to explore the area you're in, the ones before you were unsuccessful and left plentiful evidence of their passage behind, yet it makes consistent logical sense how they got as far as they did. That game is Pathways into Darkness, an old Adventure/FPS hybrid by Bungie Studios that was only ever released on Power Macintosh. Pathways is, in short, a game about invading the hidden lair of a Lovecraftian eldritch abomination to stun it before it wakes up and destroys the world. There are, however, multiple teams of people who had gone into the lair before you, at different times, including a German expedition from the 40's, Cuban revolutionaries, and your own squadmates. There's always implied or blatant evidence for how any of them got as far as they did, and clues in the placement of their bodies or what items they're carrying not only help you figure out where to go next, but warn you about dangers ahead. Sometimes this is very subtle indeed, particularly in the choice of which route to take at one fork early in the game, which you can divine by thinking critically about information you'd gotten previously in a dialogue tree. "We saw them head down, but they never came back". If they never came back that way...

    1. Pathways into Darkness is actually available (for free!) for current OS X systems.

    2. Wow, I remember Pathways into Darkness. That's one of the very rare shooter games I shelled out for (I'm really lousy at them, and also I was limited to selection available for a Mac) and then I never could make it more than a couple of levels without running out of ammo and dying. I always wanted to make it further. I was just thinking I'd like to try it again, so thank you very much for mentioning I can get it again. Of course I'll probably die on the second level and then just go watch a Let's Play, but I guess that's good enough.

    3. IIRC, Dark Heart of Uukrul used this trope plausibly, averting the botched version where the precursor party has gotten past all the gates without any keys.

      Chet, what other games can you think of that had the stupid version of this trope?


      I think that this is the trope you were looking for.

    5. I think Legend Of Grimrock actually had one of the previous expeditions make this exact comment about an even earlier expedition, and deducing that something must be resetting the labyrinth.

      I do not remember if there was a better explanation given, but a lampshade was at least hung.

    6. @Harwin,

      (minor spoilers about Legend of Grimrock)

      You're right about Legend of Grimrock - and the resetting of the dungeon becomes a plot point later in the game. I thought it was a clever way to handle the problem.

  18. A note about AD&D giants: there are six which form the core of giant creatures (along with two non-giants). These 8 lent their names to items that set your strength score.

    Ogre: 18/00
    Hill: 19
    Stone: 20
    Frost: 21
    Fire: 22
    Cloud: 23
    Storm 24
    Titan: 25

    I hate driders. They terminated a really good no-reloads run of mine in PoR. I believe they also have some sort of paralysing/poison/charming ability, or maybe all three.

  19. After some more research (and downloading a gigantic PDF with 26 AD&D 2ed books ...) I found this DM guide :

    Table 35: combat modifiers
    Defender sleeping or held = automatic (if the combat is over enemy can be automatically slain)
    Defender stunned or prone = +4 to hit
    Attack from behind = +2
    Defender invisible = - 4

    sadly the PDF is protected so I can't paste anything from it such as the whole table.

    1. You can DL the whole thing from this link

      Warning for Americans the front page contains nipples, proceed at your own risk.

    2. And the rest of the world is okay with that because... ?

      Anyway, if it's nipples on guys, I'm sure our society so steeped in misoandry could forgive us looking at them.

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. Interesting that the 'coup de grace', as it would later be called, is combat-allowable in gold box.

      According to 1st ed, magically held/sleeping creatures cant be auto-killed in combat. Instead, a single attack on such a character automatically hits them for maximum damage twice.

      It's not very well stated, but it appears that other sorts of 'helpless' creatures are attacked in combat via the assassination table, which lets you kill same-level things 50% of the time (and the 'miss' still deals regular damage).

      Furthermore, stinking cloud, as written seems even better than the GB implementation. Even if the saving throw succeeds, that creature is still helpless until they leave the cloud (and for the rest of the round in which they left the cloud).


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