Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Death Knights of Krynn: Final Rating

Death Knights of Krynn
United States
Strategic Simulations, Inc. (developer and publisher)
Released 1991 for DOS, Amiga, and Commodore 64; 1993 for PC-98
Date Started: 13 August 2015
Date Ended:
24 August 2015
Total Hours: 23
Reload Count: 19 (plus another 10-12 while "rest-scumming" in the challenge dungeon)
Difficulty: Moderate-Hard (3.5/5)
Final Rating: 54
Ranking at Time of Posting: 188/196 (96%)
Raking at Game #437: 425/437 (97%)

As I closed my last post, I noted that my characters were 2-4 levels below the maximum they could have achieved in this game, despite having completed all the side quests I could find. I prematurely downloaded The Dark Queen of Krynn and created some new characters. I was happy to see that they started at about half my party's experience totals, so importing veteran characters does impart some benefit, but I still wouldn't mind another level or two. I was also eager to try out a variety of higher-level spells on more monsters, so I could properly update my "Gold Box: Spells and Their Uses" posting.
A commenter clued me in to a special dungeon called "Dave's Challenge" that opens up only once you've won the game. (The "Dave" in question is likely Dave Shelley, co-credited with "game development.") The documentation says nothing about it, so you have to be thorough enough to re-search the entire overworld map after winning to find it. It's in the far northwest corner, above some mountains, the middle of water. It looks like you shouldn't even be able to walk there. Getting there was no picnic. Soth may be gone, his plans in ruins, but the countryside is still crawling with undead and evil warriors.

Finding the challenge in the far northwest.
The dungeon is described as a "dim and decaying temple dedicated to Takhisis." As I entered, the spirit of a knight named Sir Vansward told me that he had died trying to make it to the altar of Takhisis and destroy it. He said I'd find a special amulet, capable of destroying the altar, with his body.

The dungeon was only one 16 x 16 level, but the "challenge" took on several forms:

  • There were numerous secret doors (trapped) and trapped chests. My thief worked overtime, after hardly being used at all for this purpose during the game.
  • Several places in which a thief had to sneak across a room or hide in shadows, skills not called up on in any other Gold Box maps that I can remember.
Why couldn't we have more stuff like this in the main game?
  • Turning doesn't work at all and there are numerous spectres and vampires in the level. These monsters can naturally drain you, and you have to decide whether to suck it up or reload. (I reloaded; after all, I was there specifically to get experience, not lose it.)
When turning doesn't work, it's not easy to defeat a large group of vampires and spectres without any of them touching you.
  • A hallway of battles against flesh golems and iron golems that respawn the moment you leave the squares.
  • Resting is nearly impossible throughout the dungeon.
The "challenge" dungeon was one of the few I bothered to map during the game.
Both the material rewards and experience rewards were quite good. I found several +4 weapons and armor, a +3 hoopak (Coral had been using the +2 one brought over from Champions the entire game), and more gems and steel than I could carry. Before long, most of my party members' names had changed color, indicating they could level up.

Approaching the end of the level. Note the typical "tell instead of show" approach of the Gold Box games.
Defeating the level meant finding the dead knight's necklace in a pit in the middle of the map (avoiding fake ones) and bringing it to the altar room at the top. There, I had to fight a battle with 3 spectral dragons, 4 vampire mages, and 4 death knights, scattered around the map when the battle began. The spectral dragons can drain levels just like the vampire mages. The death knights, of course, were fond of casting "Fireball" every round, and they were mostly immune to spells. The vampire mages cast high-powered magic missiles, drain levels with physical attacks, and have a gaze attack that charms characters.

Death knights, vampire mages, and spectral dragons appear in small groups around the final combat map.
Given the state of my party when I arrived at the altar room, I didn't stand a chance. I probably wouldn't have even been able to make it back through the golem fights to the entrance by then. I was only able to prevail through "rest-scumming"--attempting to rest and restore health and spells and reloading if I got attacked. This took a while. Thus restored, I cast every buffing spell at my disposal and was able to win the final battle on the third try. I particularly enjoyed the hastened Midsummer running around the map and killing all three spectral dragons in one round.

When the final battle is over, the altar is destroyed by the necklace, the dungeon collapses, and you find yourself outside. The first time I won, I made the mistake of not saving and walking one step. My beleaguered party was immediately attacked by a large group of hatori (sand crocodiles) who killed two of my characters in the first two rounds. I had to reload from an earlier save in the dungeon and fight the final battle again.

That was a load-bearing altar.
When it was all over, I made my way to Cekos, sold all my excess equipment, gems, and jewelry, and bought all the arrows +2 and Darts of the Hornet's Nest that I could afford. (I look forward to seeing why these are particularly valuable in Dark Queen.) I then returned to Gargath Outpost, leveled up four of my characters, memorized new spells, and made a final save in preparation for Dark Queen next year.

"Dave's Challenge" was suitably challenging. I cheated a bit, I guess, but the real game was over at that point, wasn't it?

This is the only time I remember a message like this appearing in a Gold Box game. We could stand more of them.
Before moving on to the GIMLET, let's check out the fake journal entries. Perhaps reflecting the developers' abilities to put more text in the game, there aren't that many total journal entries this time around. Champions had 88 entries and 57 "tavern tales"; Death Knights has only 66 entries and no tavern tales. But a full third of them--23 entries--were ones I didn't encounter during the game. Some of them might have been real and I just missed them. Obvious fake ones included one in which the commander of the Kalaman garrison was revealed as Soth; a pair of entries in which Durfey and Lenore are tortured by the "Snake King"; a trio that would have had the party wasting time plodding around the mountains searching for the Rod of Omniscience in an non-existent city called Sudulto; and one in which Maya is revealed to be a servant of Soth. They're all reasonably clever.

A pair of bogus journal entries.
As we discussed a couple of posts ago, I expect the game to GIMLET at around the same level as Champions and Curse of the Azure Bonds, but not as good as Pool of Radiance. Let's check it out:

1. Game World. The setting is the same as Champions, of course, and the Dragonlance universe brings a lot of lore and backstory to the game. But I was alternately bored and annoyed with this particular game's approach to the story. The plot is both bland and nonsensical, and relies too much on characters you'd have to read the books to understand. It is, on the other hand, a responsive game world, with actions taken in some areas leading to repercussions in others, and NPCs reacting appropriately to the party's accomplishments. A mixed bag. Score: 5.

A knight greets me appropriately after I've won the game.

2. Character Creation and Development. As I discussed in the first post, I like the Dragonlance approach to characters better than the Forgotten Realms. There are few racial level caps, and the various races, sub-races, and classes have clearer and more interesting strengths and weaknesses. It's much more fun playing a Silvanesti Elf cleric of Kiri-Jolith than just an "elven cleric."

Like most sequels, the game suffers from the fact that you have more fun going from Level 1 to Level 8 in the first game than from Level 8 to Level 12 in the second. But the rewards are still pretty good, particularly in terms of spells, extra attacks, and backstab multipliers. I also like that there are several places in which you gain experience for non-combat solutions to problems. A strong part of the game. Score: 6.

3. NPC Interaction. There's a cast of characters who flesh out the story and impart bits of lore and quest assistance. The writing and characterizations are somewhat bland, and the series remains weak in dialogue and role-playing options. The couple of NPCs who joined the party--including squads of Solamnic Knights at various locations--were a welcome addition. Score: 5.

One wonders why the game bothered to give me a "talk" option here.
4. Encounters and Foes. This category is relatively strong, just like most Dungeons & Dragons titles. We have a well-stocked menagerie of monsters with various strengths and weaknesses, all well-described in the manual. There are maybe a few less than the previous game. I mourn the loss of the non-Sivak Draconians and I hope they reappear in Dark Queen.

Non-combat encounters are only average, with several role-playing options on each map. Although none of them are real nail-biters, few other games of the era are offering encounter choices at all. Score: 6.

5. Magic and Combat. Gold Box standard. There's not much I can say that I haven't said in the five previous games. Even through the modern era, it's rare to see this good a turn-based, party combat system, offering innumerable options with attacking, spellcasting, using items, and special abilities. The challenging nature of combat in Death Knights encourages the player to make full use of all his options, including carrying multiple weapons and trading them as the situation demands.

I feel like Death Knights offered fewer resting opportunities than previous games, making it important to conserve energy and spells through an accumulation of combats. Overall, a well-balanced use of a great combat system. Score: 7.

Magically, my characters are starting to feel pretty powerful.
6. Equipment. No new ground in this one. Every map brought one or two new equipment rewards, and with the dragonlance and "Olin's quarterstaff," we have two of the few artifact items in Gold Box games. As always, the items are all in scripted locations, which I don't care for, and there wasn't really anything interesting to buy. Boots of Speed made an appearance; still no helms. At least the Knights of Solamnia didn't commandeer all my good stuff at the end. Score: 5.

My lead knight's inventory as we end the game.
7. Economy. Not only does Death Knights make no improvement here, it somehow gets worse than the previous games. Healing and training don't even cost money, and the knights don't have to tithe any of their earnings. There is only a single shop worth buying anything at, and all they sell are magic arrows and darts. Meanwhile, I left millions glittering in the sun because it was too heavy to carry. Gold Box remains horribly disappointing in this category.

Nonetheless, I'm going to reluctantly give it a score of 2 rather than 1, since it does feature a potentially-useful "money sink" in the form of the +2 arrows, which sell at a crazy 15,000 steel pieces for 10. They could be part of a legitimate combat strategy in this game and apparently have a lot of value in the next. Score: 2.

8. Quests. Probably the best approach since Pool of Radiance. The main quest is only so-so, and with only one outcome, but I loved the number of side quests. Fully half of the game world is optional. Score: 6.

9. Graphics, Sound, and Interface. The interface remains excellent, with redundant keyboard and mouse options, and a few improvements that I outlined in the first post. Though the game doesn't take advantage of VGA yet, it didn't really lose any points on that account, and overall the graphics were fine, although I'm still a bit sick of bland corridors and rooms. Sound effects are tolerable but optional. Score: 6.

The cut scenes and monster portraits are well-drawn and animated; I just wish the game showed more in the normal environment.
10. Gameplay. I loved that Death Knights returned to a mostly open world. Although certain plot events trigger in a prescribed order (as they do in, you know, real life), I like that you can visit areas ahead of their importance to the plot. In this, it felt a bit less linear than Champions. The game lasted exactly the right amount of time for its content, and the difficultly level was perfect: usually challenging, but almost never unfair. Score: 6.

That gives us a final score of 54. This is actually lower than I would have thought; I gave Champions a 56 and Curse of the Azure Bonds a 60. I don't see anything I want to change, though, so we'll go with it. It still puts the game on the "Highest Rated" list, which is going to be dominated with Gold Box games unless the other franchises start bringing it.
By this time, I guess clue books were pretty much standard game accompaniments. I could understand buying one for something like Eye of the Beholder, but anyone who needs one for this game is pathetic.
For a truly annoying contemporary review, we have to turn to our old friend Stuart Campbell of Amiga Power. In the November 1991 issue, he rated the game at 60%, apparently after creating characters and fighting one combat. He spends half the short "review" discussing why he should have never been given the assignment in the first place. His main point is that he can't enjoy the game because he's not a Dungeons & Dragons fan, ignoring the fact that his most serious under-qualification is not knowing anything about CRPGs. "You could argue that there's not much point in my reviewing it at all, and I'd tend to agree," he says. So would I. What kind of idiotic magazine was this?

Scorpia's July 1991 Computer Gaming World review calls it "standard 'Gold Box' fare," which surprises me a bit because I didn't know the term "Gold Box" was in use that early. She complains about all the level draining, which I suppose ought to have made an appearance somewhere in the GIMLET because I did find it annoying. She praises the open world nature of the game and suggests there are more things to find post-winning than just "Dave's Challenge." (I think she's mistaken and is describing places that are in the game proper, but I could be wrong.) She concludes:

In general, there's a humdrum feel to the game. We've been this way before and play tends to have a mechanical quality. There are no puzzles to speak of, little scope for true role-playing, and even the side quests begin to look depressingly similar after a while. So, perhaps it's just as well that SSI is now experimenting in new directions with their Legends line (Eye of the Beholder) and the rumored Citadel of the Black Sun project.
Now, on the one hand, I find these comments a little mystifying. This was 1991. What games was she playing that did offer "true role-playing"? You could count on one hand all the games through 1991 that had side quests at all. She's writing like someone who already has Baldur's Gate and Morrowind on her computer instead of schlock like Elvira II and HeroQuest. And having played Eye of the Beholder the previous month, she must have been fully aware that it wasn't anyone's savior when it came to role-playing. (As an aside, here is an interesting account of what happened to Citadel of the Black Sun.)

On the other hand, perhaps she simply feels some of the angst that I've felt with every Gold Box game since the original. I think there's one respect in which I'm different than most reviewers: I don't punish games for using the same mechanics as previous games, even many previous games, unless the mechanics are bad. If the engine is good, I don't complain that it's old. I wish there were still Infinity Engine games being released in 2015.

But I am critical of titles that don't reach their full potential even within the confines of their engines. Death Knights, though highly rated in comparison of the totality of games I've played, could have been better. Secret of the Silver Blades could have been better. There's nothing about the Gold Box engine that requires bland writing, lackluster storytelling, limited encounters, and an awful economy. There's no reason that every title since Pool of Radiance couldn't have improved on the original instead of falling short of it. Every time I play a Gold Box game, I enjoy the satisfaction of a good engine--perhaps the best of its time--and yet simultaneously lament what could have been. Perhaps that's where Scorpia is coming from. The Gold Box series is like a lazy genius who always tops the class in grades but still under-achieves.

It'll have plenty of chances to rouse itself yet. We still have Gateway to the Savage Frontier, Neverwinter Nights, and Pools of Darkness this year; Treasures of the Savage Frontier, The Dark Queen of Krynn, and Buck Rogers: Matrix Cubed in 1992; and some Unlimited Adventures modules in 1993. I'll probably check out Gateway in another 10-12 games, then Neverwinter, and play Darkness towards the end of 1991.

I guess I'd better play some more Antares before I forget how, but I hope it's escaped no one's notice that we have a major landmark coming up.


  1. "I wish there were still Infinity Engine games being released in 2015." - As a matter of fact, there will be :)

  2. "She's writing like someone who already has Baldur's Gate and Morrowind on her computer instead of schlock like Elvira II and HeroQuest." - Scorpia absolutely hated Baldur's Gate, her review for the game was one of the reasons she was let go from the CGW.

    1. I think her review got most of it right, i.e. her criticisms were all correct, in my opinion. However, she forgot to also mention the good aspects of the game, the ones which made it a legend, the colorful characters, the scope and ambition, the engine itself. One explanation could be, and I have no real idea if this is true, that those innovations could already be found in other games during the "dark ages" so they didn't "WOW" her anymore. I mean, the idea that intra-party banter could have real consequences sounds new, but maybe it had been done before? Maybe Scorpia had the knowledge as an expert reviewer, but many of today's gamers don't, because Baldur's Gate was their introduction and they didn't know what happened during the 3 years before it? Personally, I could see how someone might be a bit "disappointed" with Baldur's Gate if one had already played Fallout before. But maybe there are other games as well... for the CRPG addict to discover.

    2. All right, that was a bad example, but you get my overall point. To make a statement that game offers "no true role-playing opportunities" is pretty nutty in 1991. It's not the first time reading one of her reviews in which I wondered what her basis of comparison was.

      BG is another example of that, of course. In general, she had a history of giving lukewarm reviews to "Holy #$&*! This changes everything!" games.

    3. I can't wait to see your reaction to certain 'thing' that NWC put in Might & Magic 3 with regards to CGW M&M 2 review.

    4. I have to wonder if the "true role-playing" was a comparison to tabletop rather than to other CRPGs - in 1991 people probably still thought it was both possible and desirable to fully replicate the experience of tabletop D&D on the computer.

    5. Maybe, but "true role-playing" doesn't make much sense when it comes to video games. In video gaming's lexicon, "role-playing game" means "game with mechanics similar to tabletop role-playing games."

      This is why Wizardry is an RPG and, say, Raw Danger isn't.

    6. This comment has been removed by the author.

    7. 'Personally, I could see how someone might be a bit "disappointed" with Baldur's Gate if one had already played Fallout before.'

      This was exactly my experience. Fallout 2 was one of my first CRPG gaming experience (the absolute first was the goldbox Pool of Radiance, but I was very young) and I was very positively impressed.

      Right after I tried to play Baldur's Gate, and I found it a substantial step back. Personally I found its fantasy setting bland and unspiring, but the worst part for me was the Infinity Engine itself. I really don't know way this engine received so much praise. For me the "pausable real-time" approach to combact was the worst idea ever in CRPGs, simultaneoulsy taking the worst aspects of both turn-based and real-time approaches. Furhtermore I found the pre-rendered background graphics depressingly uninteractive (in particular when compared with Fallout). I never managed to finish BG, even if I have tried to play it several times (even recently, with the enhanced version).

      The only Infinite Engine CRPG that I appreciated (and completed twice) was Planescape Torment, that I consider another masterpiece. Basically it took the good aspects of BG, e.g. the intra-party banter, to fulfill their full potential, and the story was gripping. (but the Infinity Engine didn't help a bit.)

    8. Last year, I played BG 1 for the first time and found it a bit clunky. Immediately afterwards, I started Fallout to see the comparison and it was simply a better experience. However, I believe that the Infinity Engine was an adequate translation of the D&D system, and the possibility to simply watch combat was a concession to real-time combat even in CRPGs. And then the D&D fanbase (and Gold Box nostalgia?) catapulted BG to giant success while Fallout remained a sort of underground cult classic. Maybe BG is to Fallout like Command & Conguer is to Dune II...
      That said, Plansescape: Torment and BG 2 are massive improvements, mostly because PS:T downplays combat and achieves the kind of "character stats influence the course of the game" in the same meaningful way as Fallout and BG 2 makes the game world much more interesting by leaving the kind of checkboard setup of the game world behind and makes the game experience much smoother. I have yet to play the Icewind Dales though. I might do so this year if Fallout 4 doesn't come in between.

    9. Man, more than 20 years after the fact, and NOW people agree with me.

      Back when BG was being developed, I worked for a burgeoning game review site. I at one point interviewed the lead developers at Bioware about BG, and have them a fairly hard time about the real time mechanics.

      I still think it's a bad idea. I disliked it in Infinity games, and it was my number one complaint about Pillars of Eternity.

    10. I don't see the point in embracing turn-based. Sure, that requires more strategy and the numbers are more important, but there's strategy games for that. In a CRPG, the mix has to be right, since every encounter slows the story telling.

      Pillars of Eternity has a very good pacing, story, riddles, combat and exploration are very well mixed. Also, there's rarely the same fight twice.
      If the combat was slower, you would have to reduce encouters as well.

    11. The time required to resolve a combat encounter is independent of whether the system is real-time or turn-based. Play Dragon Quest and see how many battles you can blaze through in the time one Pillars of Eternity fight takes.

    12. In my opinion, a big part of BG's success was due to it's polish. It was a really comfortable play experience. It set the bar for UI and world-building at the same time. Yeah, mechanically it wasn't the strongest and FR is pretty generic. But considering it was an aging ruleset and campaign setting shoehorned into an RTS-engine, they did a pretty good job of making the combat palatable and the world interesting to explore.

      The original Fallouts are dear to me, they have a great setting, great freedom, great character generation and loads of charm. But they were both hot messes, especially 2. The interface was crummy. The NPCs were implemented terribly. Quests frequently broke. The environments were bland. Combat was massively exploitable and tactically uninteresting. The main questline for 2 wasn't very compelling either, find a nonsense device for your crappy village?

    13. Thing is you need to adjust the combat system for your liking in BG's I have "enemy sighted", "spell casting", "injured", "death" usually / always on and the combat runs pretty smoothly with occasional pausing.

    14. But turn-based encounters have a lot of room for role-playing and pacing of narration.

      Sure, it's a lot slower, but I would much prefer that to stupid AI-controlled characters who act out of their role's personas.

      My BG games, if I don't liberally control it with the spacebar (thus, essentially making it a simultaneous-movement turn-based combat system), it will end up as a massive clusterf*cked hot mess.

    15. When I was trying to play heart of winter mode with level 1 characters I played it turn based to the max. I'd issue orders, double tap spacebar, issue orders, repeat. It's the only way I could kite 3 goblins each attacking a different party member

    16. I tried playing Fallout 2 once. In the first town a kid and my companion decided to stand in a doorway forever, locking me in. I figured any game that would effectively kill me in a town at random want worth playing.

  3. Game 200: Final Fantasy (1987)


    Just kidding! I am very excited for the milestone and look forward to 200 more games with you. Do you have anything special planned for the 200th game or will it be Questron?

    1. If I recall correctly, Questron was the Addict's very first RPG...

    2. I've been saving Questron for it. I figured for 200, I'd return to the beginning. I literally haven't touched it in 30 years.

      Having emulator problems just now, though.

    3. If you are using VICE to play can't increase the drive speed, you can increase the emulator speed. Make sure you do a save state in the dungeons just in case

    4. Yeah, using VICE. I figured it out. I had to have "True Drive Emulation" checked in a couple of places.

  4. Very good review, I think, especially the part at the end. Some justice that its score was lower than other gold box games. Though I do like the possibility to keep on playing, but yes, the story was bland and the end boss too easy, it seems to me. Without having played these games myself, it sounds as if this is the first game in this series to fell slightly outdated.

  5. I know you're not a fan of console games but take a minute to google Warriors of the Eternal Sun (WotES) for the Sega Genesis. It was one of the very few good D&D games for consoles in the '90s. There's a very nice webpage devoted to the game authored by the designer himself.
    Here's a link to the page:

    It plays a little like a mashup of Questron and Eye of the Beholder. Tactical combat isn't as good as Gold Box games but it's a solid console RPG.

    Too bad it never got a sequel :(

    1. Oops, sorry. Not the developer but a play tester who became a programmer later on.

    2. I don't have anything against console games. I'm sure plenty of them are better than the PC games I have to force myself to play. I just needed an easy way to make my huge list more manageable.

    3. Given the amount of shovelware that's going to be coming up in the next few years, you might have to consider a better method.

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. "I hope it's escaped no one's notice that we have a major landmark coming up."


  8. I had played 6 Gold Box Games, four of them I finished. My opinion:

    1. Death Knights of Krynn (finished - still The best for me)

    2.Dark Queen of Krynn (started in May 2015, now I´am near The End)

    3. Pool Radiance (finished)

    4. Champions of Krynn (finished)

    5. Curse of the Azure Bonds (finished)

    6. Secret of the Silver Blades (I had played it for a few hours and I wasn´t very satisfied with this game, I had to give next chance to play this game. )

    1. I have played most of the Gold Box games. I have finished Pool of Radiance, Curse of the Azure Bonds, Secret of the Silver Blades, Champions of Krynn, Death Knights of Krynn and Treasures of the Savage Frontier. I keep failing at pools of darkness.

  9. Man, the story about Citadel of the Black Sun is just so darn depressing.

    A game genre's game-changer, gone. Just like that.

    1. There's a 1991 Rainbow Arts game called Mad TV where you have to improve the ratings of a run down TV station. Part of the game is getting advertisement contracts, and one of those is for SSI's new RPG hit "Citadel of the Black Sun". I never thought much about that reference, I figured it was just a made up name. But coming across the article over two decades later, I immediatelly remembered it.

      It really looks like it could have been a fantastic game, or at least engine, back then.

  10. Isn't M&M 3 coming soon too ?

  11. It's unfortunate that you won't be able to cover Neverwinter Nights in it's original form. Does anyone know why there aren't any server emulations of it? Is it some tech-based thing or do people only care about re-creating the Ultima Onlines and Everquests of yesteryear?

    1. There is a fan-made single player version of the game and I believe that may be what the Addict will be playing. (There is also a way to play the standalone game without saving. He could decide to do it that way as well.)

      But you are correct that there is no way currently to replicate the multi-player features.

    2. As someone that played NWN a bit later, maybe 1995 or 1996, I'd love to pretend it was a "don't miss" experience that changed my life.

      Unfortunately it wasn't *quite* that great.

      Personally I didn't know anyone else playing so I was not invited to group much. IIRC most of my playtime consisted of wandering around, trying to find combats that were already in progress, so I could join in and hopefully sponge some XP.

      In terms of legitimate recollections, you would start in Neverwinter. IIRC it was not arranged the way it was in Gateway, or Treasures, and was fairly large for a Gold Box map. I recall it accurately being a seaside town (as Neverwinter was in the P&P game.) People tended to be pretty friendly to newbs, in terms of giving free gear, but generally wouldn't group to help you out.

      There was an area to the north that I spent most of my playtime in, as encounters there were generally soloable. It reminded me of the slums from Phlan a bit, but were a sea-side area like Neverwinter proper.

      In NWN, if you walked onto a square that other players started an encounter on, you'd zone into the encounter. There was a specific combat on that first northern map that provided very high XP that always seemed to be in progress every time I played.

      North of that was an area that I seem to recall dying in a lot. Didn't make it far.

      South of Neverwinter was a forested area. That was also higher level than the first northern map, and I explored it a bit, but again, kept dying.

      I enjoyed the fact that it was a Gold Box game, and was a proto-MMO, but a lot of procedural points made the game very hard to play. Combats took forever as you had to wait for players to individually make their moves.

      This was in the dial-up days, so a 2 hour combat, while blocking the family phone line, felt wasteful. Like modern MMOs the time/reward ratio was much lower than single player games. Dying 40 minutes into a fight, and getting no reward when the team wiped, felt brutal in 199X. Again, especially when your 40 minute long battle kept a family member from using the phone ;-).

    3. Reply from an NWN player for blocking a family member from using the phone for hours, "Family? What family?"

  12. Im not sure if anybody posted the link before, but this is imho an interesting article about the license problems GOG had to go through to republish the Gold box games:

    1. And it looks like the Krynn games WILL be released by GOG soon, too!

    2. That was pretty interesting. I suspect a lot of old games are in a similar state of limbo.

    3. Wow, so GoG owns GoldBox now. Interesting.

  13. I posted this a few posts back, but I never saw it appear in the comments. I know you keep hitting the economy of these games hard, but there actually is a legitimate reason that you aquire all that money, but have nothing to use it for. When they came out, one of the talking points of these games was that you could bring your characters from tabletop D&D to the game and also use these characters in the tabletop game. So they kept the loot lists because though there may be nothing in the games to use all that money on, there certainly could be in tabletop gaming. Hence the massive amounts of money you never need. Should they have done a better job in game with the economy, sure, but there is a reason for it, it is not just idiotic design.

    1. Well...okay. I suppose that's something I hadn't considered. I'm not sure if it's enough to make me feel better about it or award it an extra point.

      Did anyone really DO that? Swap characters between computer and tabletop versions? I'm not experienced with tabletop D&D, but I thought I'd heard that leveling is quite slow in the pen-and-paper version, whereas in a CRPG, you can go from Level 1 to Level 8 in a few hours. Wouldn't moving a tabletop character to the computer game and getting all that experience and gold be cheating, in effect?

    2. I've never heard _that_ explanation before...

    3. Yeah. I'm sorry but that's just not accurate.

      They kept the printed loot tables, despite there being 2-3 pages of text in the DMG that says 'loot tables are really overtuned, don't use them verbatim".

      They removed all of the really good, let's change the world kinda rules. E.g. "build a castle with 300 guards/followers and then pay to support it all"

      It was definitely not a cognizant effort to give you a character you could pull into tabletop.

    4. Sorry, hit enter too soon.

      But yes, it is idiotic design. When the printed tables are NOT supposed to be followed verbatim, and the rules tell you that in numerous places, using said tables verbatim is bad design. Period.

    5. Another explanation for the broken economy could be spell components. In pen and paper DnD, most spells require material components. Mid to high level spells often require hundreds or thousands of gold pieces worth of materials to cast (Things like crushed diamonds, finely worked silver figurines, etc.)

      In a tabletop module designed for mid-level characters, there would need to be a generous amount of gold provided in order for characters to cast their best spells.

      Perhaps if SSI had been able to incorporate the material cost of spell casting into the gold box engine, the economy would seem a little more reasonable.

      Then again, managing an inventory of spell components would get tedious after a while. I suppose some aspects of the rules just don't translate well into computer games.

    6. @Old wow bastard, uh, yeah, sorry that is just accurate. I'm not guessing. It was discussed during the game development, possibly in Dragon magazine somewhere if I remember correctly. Don't get me wrong here guys, I'm not defending the game or the series. I was an Ultima guy. I did not really enjoy the 1st person grindfests of the era and I did not enjoy the gold box games in particular. It's the same reason I did not get into many JRPG's. I cannot stand endless repetitive combat. I'm just giving information, I could care less if it is believed. As to it being cheating, not at all. You went through a campaign just like any other. Just because it took less time does not change what it was you were doing. Wow, you guys are really rude. I thought the discourse might be a little more adult here. No such luck,eh? No worries. Last post.

    7. Just to confirm guys. Pool of Radiance manual. Page 7 under modify character. Have a lovely day. Drops mic....walks out.

    8. I thought the treasure hauls were needed to keep characters leveling at a reasonable rate. Without treasure, combats give very little xp.

    9. Jeremy, I'm happy to have everyone comment on the blog, but you're acting like a total jackass and then accusing us of being "rude."

      Yes, the POR manual, Page 7, mentions that "you may bring your favorite beginning AD&D character into Pool of Radiance." I already knew that was there; I talked about it in my first post on POR. That one mention still doesn't say anything about swapping characters freely in and OUT of the GB games, nor does it have anything to do specifically with the economy. Moreover, I wasn't questioning the POSSIBILITY of such character importing/exporting but the reality. I'd like to hear a testimonial from any tabletop D&D player that used the GB games this way.

      Tristan, that same argument has come up multiple times, and it always goes the same way:

      -Commenter: the large treasure halls were needed to provide experience to characters

      -Me: They should have reduced the treasure and provided more experience for combat and/or quest-solving

      -Commenter: they couldn't do that because they had to adhere closely to AD&D rules

      -Me: they should have been more flexible with AD&D rules to make for a better computer game

      -Commenter: They couldn't do that because of their contract with TSR

      And so on. The overall point is that telling me the reasons that something happened a particular way doesn't make the outcome immune to criticism. Regardless of what SSI's legal or mechanical restraints were, the outcome was a worse computer game experience.

    10. I was saying it for Jeremy's benefit. As you say, there was general consensus when we last discussed it that it was poor design. As I said back then, even considering the legal constraints, there was nothing stopping SSI from providing plot-related money sinks ala the Well of Knowledge. Preferably more interesting/useful/costly sinks.

    11. Understand. I should have looked at our previous discussions specifically. Yes, even though your explanation doesn't excuse the economy, its a better explanation for its cause than rewarding players who want to continue their adventures in a paper module.

    12. @jeremy If you do indeed want intelligent discourse, then could you please explain why the SSI developers chose to follow the printed loot tables?

      Gygax's written advice very clearly instructs DMs to alter said loot tables as needed to prevent breaking the economy.

      That specific error on the part of SSI is a more likely culprit than anyone at SSI intentionally choosing to give out monetary loot commensurate with an "average" tabletop game.

      As-is in POR you can get a +5 Long Sword, when your characters cap at level 8. That's WAY beyond what any sane DM would give you. That is very common in Gold Box games.

      In Champions your characters get a Dragonlance and a Girdle of Giant Strength by level 6? 7?

      None of that magical loot given really is in line with tabletop game at all. Therefore I have a hard time believing the theory that they specifically tuned monetary loot to line up with tabletop.

      They'd line them both up, if they had an actual desire to make your party "translate-able".

    13. Sorry I'm an apparent jackass. Classy comment btw. I just thought it would not take much thought to realize that if the game invited you to bring your characters in, it might not be much of a stretch to come to the conclusion that the reverse may be true. If you need things spelled out more specifically for you, that is not an issue I really care to get involved in. I also said I was just passing on info, and did not really care about the overall view of the series, so apparently that is unacceptable, but old wow bastard can insult me and it is fully accepted and requires no response. Let me clarify again for all of you that are so obviously confused. This was an intent with the series from the start. Yes, the economy sucks in game, yes it should have been dealt with in a more sensible manner than it was in the GB series. All I tried to do was explain what the thought was behind why they did that. I did not try to defend it, because I think the Gold box games are junk and so was their treatment of the games economy as I stated. I was just trying to provide some insight from my experience with the series and I apparently that makes me a total jackass to the guy I have been following and enjoying for years. Awesome. And just to be clear @ old wow bastard, I'm not discussing this with you and I am not reading your post. Apparently you can be rude and get support from the site, yet I can explain myself completely and be called a jackass even when I was not defending the game in the first place and clearly explained that. You guys are awesome. There are games of Call of Duty multiplayer that have involved more intelligence.

    14. I have been playing games since I was born in 1974. I practically had an Atari 2600 controller in my hand since I cam eout of the womb. I graduated from Atari, to Coleco, to NES, to PC (my first game being an apshai game I don't remember and my second being Ultima 3 which might be the most influential thing that has ever happened in my life. I have worked on games like Wizardry 8 and Civ 3 Warlords expansion. I have read this blog for years, and the first time I wanted to just comment and give some info that I thought people would enjoy, I was called a liar by a contributor and a jackass by the guy that runs the show. Considering some of the dumb comments I have read on this blog that baffles me and it hurts, I'm not gonna lie. After years as a spectator I thought I had something cool to contribute to the genre I have grown up with and loved. Instead I got attacked and shat upon despite doing nothing other than trying to contribute and defending myself from personal attacks. In conclusion, you are all mean and perpetuate the stereotypes that we have had to deal with for decades as gamers. I once thought this blog represented inclusion. I know now that it represents exclusion and the people running it are just as bad as the people attacking the gaming industry. You should all be ashamed.

    15. With all due respect, Jeremy, saying "Have a lovely day. Drops mic....walks out." does sound pretty jackass-y and, what's more, we all know about that excerpt since day 1. We even had a field day discussing if we, since we can modify our attributes as we see fit to reflect our tabletop characters, are we cheating if we max out all the attributes?

      Also, in my case, as a DM, I would never allow a CRPG character to enter into my campaign because a player may:
      1) take a TRPG (tabletop RPG) character and enter it into, say, DKOK.
      2) then jack-up all the attributes to 16, 18, 18/00, 20 or whatever maximum attribute the race allows.
      3) beat the game with these suped-up traits.
      4) try to apply this character into my preciously balanced campaign.

      So, no freaking way.

    16. Jeremy, I confess that I find your reactions a bit mystifying.
      Despite his name, OWB did not seem to me, to be being a B.
      On the other hand, you seemed to have found something to be slighted about, and kind of run with it, which not unsurprisingly earned you some ire. I'm not really into giving strangers advice, but dude....

      K-dog: I can -kind of- (but only kind of) imagine a gamer group playing PoR together, with the intention of continuing the adventure post Tyranthraxas, but in paper form. Doing that seems a bit far-fetched now, but remember that we're talking about 1988; 'twas strange times, people wore mullets and were frightened by homosexuality.

    17. The butt-hurt "Jeremy ALexander" above shows up in another site's discussion thread, calling the Addict a "Jerk":

    18. Ah, well. It's funny to read over this thread. I guess it's a good example of what happens when you can't hear "tone" in written correspondence. I mean, I immediately conceded his point but questioned whether anyone every really played that way. There were a couple more substantive comments that seemed to me to be generating the type of "discourse" that JA wanted in the first place. JA comes back and accuses everyone of being "rude," which I don't see, but again it might be a tone thing. At that point, I do become, admittedly, a bit rude.

      In any event, from his comments on RPGWatch, JA really seems invested in this idea that the Gold Box games were designed to swap players in and out of tabletop D&D. While I agree that the manuals make a minor concession to this possibility (in the context of editing your created character's statistics), I can't believe the entire economy was designed around a gameplay option that 90% of the characters were never going to use and 90% of DMs would never have allowed.

      Anyway, jerk though I may be, I do feel bad when someone comments on my blog and has a bad experience. But for a few emoticons, this thread might have gone differently.

    19. Hah, you're not a jerk, just a tad tetchy now and then ;)

  14. I've never played the later gold box games much, but I enjoy reading about them in place of actually playing them. As for Pool of Radiance, I not only enjoyed it more than the other gold box games, I actually have a sort of odd obsession with it. Finding out that it's so many other people's favorite game makes my obsession seem less silly.

    1. It wasn't my favourite when I was a kid, but I recognise it as the strongest entry these days. Back then I thought: "No paladins or rangers, no fix command, and for most of the game, no fireball, this is dumb."

    2. Same. When I was younger the lack of higher level characters and abilities, combined with the aging engine and slow, large scale combats really made POR a second string game.

      Now it's much easier to appreciate it for what it is. Either the best, or second best Gold Box game (depending on your feelings about POD :-))

  15. Every time I play a Gold Box game, I enjoy the satisfaction of a good engine--perhaps the best of its time--and yet simultaneously lament what could have been. Perhaps that's where Scorpia is coming from. The Gold Box series is like a lazy genius who always tops the class in grades but still under-achieves.

    I suppose that is the best you can say about Gold Box in general, though I would swap the ratings for Death Knights and Secret. I prefer the plot and setting of Secret.

    On the economy, in your view, if they had made training, healing and offered another magic shop, in either Kalaman or Vingarrd, would that have gone some way to fix the economy? I was trying to think of things that could be done with the program.

    1. They need to significantly reduce the monetary rewards, to start. After that, yes--just more useful stuff to spend money on. Training, healing, magic items, some guy who will give you an extra "+" for 100,000 gold (that would be pretty advanced for this year, I realize). There are like two Scrolls of Restoration in the whole game; it could use someone selling a lot more. A lot of commenters claim that in tabletop D&D, you're meant to buy and outfit castles and whatnot--fine, let me establish an outpost in the middle of the map so I don't have to hike back to the southeast when I want to train and ID items.

    2. I agree about the economy issues. This is ridiculous in most of those games (only PoR is harder because one needs to pay for training and healing, but when I played this 25 years ago I must have encountered a bug at some stage and suddenly had more gems than I could carry and enough money for ever).
      There should have been a magic shop somewhere for +3 arrows or better bracers (I am not sure if there are any better than AC 6 to be found, as one will probably not have a single class mage it is not a big deal in that game, though)

    3. You know what would have been a good idea? Manuals! Make them cost a ridiculous amount of money, of course, but they'd offer an awesome reason to save as much money as you could.

    4. Another thing they could have added, and its prominent in the paper D+D games I have played are artifacts. These rare one of a kind magic items could appear in a shop for a fantastic amount of money. Nor would the fun stop there. Artifacts had a habit of giving the possessor side effects. Adding three or four in random shops - like the bazaar in Kalaman - would have increased the replay ability of the game. Games steeped in Medieval lore need more of such items rather than the generic Long Sword +2. Maybe it would have been too difficult. I do not know how a "Deck of Many Things" would function in a gold box. Still I do remember an artifact in Wizardry VII, which reminded me of the Hand of Vecna. Imagine have your character cut off his or her own hand for such power!

    5. Another excellent suggestion. It would have bolstered its equipment, economy, and replayability ratings.

    6. I think the excessive money issue makes an interesting philosophical point. Ursula Le Guin, in her book The Tombs of Atuan, had the protagonist enter a tomb and ignore all of the gems and other finery so that he could obtain a single item. Similarly, when he faced a dragon in another book in the Earthsea series, the dragon offered all sorts of similar finery. He refused. Having more money than you can carry gives the gamer the understanding that there are more important things than riches. It's hard for us to relate to this because we're trained from birth to think hoarding money is the main goal. Even if the Gold Box designers hadn't thought of things in this manner the player still can find this insight. I did. Ever heard the expression "You can't take it with you"?

    7. Sure, those are good thoughts to help roll with the punches and perhaps make yourself feel better about that aspect of the game. But it's still not a great solution for players like me who enjoy the economic aspects of RPGs.

    8. I wonder now if games could do more with the way having money could facilitate the fantasy of power. It's very common in RPGs to spend a part of the game scrounging for money to buy necessary things, then hit a point where money becomes irrelevant because there's nothing left to buy at the rate you're bringing in income, but it usually just makes you stop thinking about money. Given that "Not having enough money to go on living" is a nigh-universal tension for real-world humans, there ought to be a way for a game to actually make it feel actively GOOD to reach that "You don't have to worry about being able to afford your lifestyle" point - some way to give "You can always afford a full heal whenever you want" the same feeling of power as "You can now one-shot the enemy that used to be a serious threat"

  16. That's a nice coincidence; I finished DoK a week ago or so and now I stumble over this blog... I am not a big gamer but some of the Gold Box games were among my first gaming (and especially CRPG) experiences, so I have a soft spot for them.
    I played the 4 from Pool to Pools and the 3 Krynn Games, some of them several times. I think you make very good points about some of the problems. Pool of Radiance is one of the best in several respects; it is also rather difficult because training costs money and one starts with fairly weak characters. Also Healing without the FIX command and only Cure light wounds bc low level priests can be a pain. Still, the mix between open world exploration and the unfolding of the story is maybe the best in any of those games. Champions of Krynn is also a favorite, although it is too linear to be great. But it's a decent story and really feels like participating in another Dragonlance book. Unfortunately, for me Death Knights and Dark Queen are not as good. The plots are weak and confusing (and DQ has a problem late in the game with characters losing XP because they cannot be trained for such a long time that thay "skip" a level).
    Of course all gold box games suffer from the fact that characters do not improve most of their main stats while advancing. So one needs to modify or re-roll forever to get characters with good values for the key attributes. I also reload around training if I get a bad roll for the additional HPs. It's a huge difference if your lvl 10/10 fighter/mage has around 50 HP or around 80. Especially in Games with Dragons "breathing" damage.

    Of the ones I played the ultimate tactical combat games is Pools of Darkness. There are some incredibly tough battles there, even with a good party and I needed more tactics and preparation spells than in most of the other games combined. Unfortunately, the story is also rather trite, but there is some open exploring.

    1. I'm glad you stumbled upon us, Johannes.

      The more I think about it, the more I think that the "Fix" command was a mistake. It makes it too easy to heal. It removes any serious choice in taking healing spells versus other spells of the same level, and it just encourages you to stop and heal after every battle, no matter how little sense it makes in terms of the plot.

      The command is also implemented poorly. Something about it doesn't use the same mechanics of the regular rest/memorize process. It works when it shouldn't.

      Once you get higher level "cure wounds" spells (including "Heal"), repeated memorizing wouldn't have been as annoying as in PoR.

    2. I rarely use the Fix command myself, as it feels too much like a cheat. In PoR I rely on temple service as long as my party is in the Phlan area, since it takes less game time to run to the temple and back to whichever block my party was clearing, than to rest and heal.
      In later games I always try to stock up on healing potions.

    3. It's not really a cheat, all it does is automatically cast healing spells and rest them back. You can still be attacked before it's done.

    4. The problem is, the probability of getting attacked during a FIX is much lower than getting attacked during multiple cycles of resting, memorizing, casting, and resting again. Thus, it still feels a bit like cheating.

  17. "I mourn the loss of the non-Sivak Draconians and I hope they reappear in Dark Queen."

    Be careful what you wish for :) Oh they return, and with a vengeance. All of them are now 'enchanted' draconians, with tons more HP and damage, plus all sorts of nasty effects:

    - Bozak: Innate Fire Shield plus they explode for 20+ unstoppable damage each when killed
    - Sivak: Explode into a Meteor Swarm when killed (4 small fireballs each doing 5-10 damage)
    - Kapak: Paralyzes targets with its attack unless a saving throw is made, leaves puddles of acid on the floor when dying (1-5 damage)
    - Aurak: Casts Delayed Blast Fireball, has extreme magic resistance, has to be killed twice, its second form can't move or attack but has a nasty energy shield that zaps everyone next to them, and they explode into a 16d8 (yes, 16-128 damage) small fireball.

  18. Amiga Power was infamous for being rather irreverent and nonsensical :)

  19. Now, on the one hand, I find these comments a little mystifying. This was 1991. What games was she playing that did offer "true role-playing"?

    Presumably she just means it's not an actual RPG.

  20. Having played through this game once more, I thought I would give my review. For the most part I agree with our host Chet, but want to give my input as well. As with other games I use four catégories: story, interface, graphics and nitpicks, i.e. sign.

    Story: 0-Death Knights of Krynn seems more about how Soth creates an army, rather than giving his aime as a potential ruler. Undead knights or soldiers are his means, but his goal is never stated beyond a vague suzeranity. His relationship with other powers, such as Kitiara are vague and the whole thing seems to have a disconnect between the stated aims of NPCs, like Sebas, and the actual évents of the game. The whole feel of the game seems to be after a war rather than during one.

    Interface: 1- I have always liked the Gold Box game system for the redundancy in keyboard, mouse and joystick options. This game improves things. Targeting, memorizing spells and ending combat are much simplefied.

    Graphics: 1- Despite the EGA graphics, I really like the colors used in the game. The overland map is evocative of the setting. It is a pity that they did not feature this as a Ravenloft title, rather than Dragonlance. This game probably has my favorite color schème of all the Gold Box games. It is colorful and yet subtle. It is hard for me to put it any other way.

    Nitpicks: 1- I was going to dock a point hère due to the constant level draining my party faced. It was like 2 steps forward; one step back and so on. Also, I find the idea of fighting multiple vampires to be ridiculous as fighting multiple medusas. How Krynn could support such a large vampire population is beyond me. Despite that, I liked the equipment upgrades, especially named items like the Mace of Disruption or Olin's Staff. I also liked the free-wheeling nature of the landscape. You can go to most places at any time and I have never experienced a walking dead situation when going my own way. All in all a good game, but a better story would have helped it immensely. 3/4


I welcome all comments about the material in this blog, and I generally do not censor them. However, please follow these rules:

1. Do not link to any commercial entities, including Kickstarter campaigns, unless they're directly relevant to the material in the associated blog posting. (For instance, that GOG is selling the particular game I'm playing is relevant; that Steam is having a sale this week on other games is not.) This also includes user names that link to advertising.

2. Please avoid profanity and vulgar language. I don't want my blog flagged by too many filters. I will delete comments containing profanity on a case-by-case basis.

3. NO ANONYMOUS COMMENTS. It makes it impossible to tell who's who in a thread. If you don't want to log in to Google to comment, either a) choose the "Name/URL" option, pick a name for yourself, and just leave the URL blank, or b) sign your anonymous comment with a preferred user name in the text of the comment itself.

4. I appreciate if you use ROT13 for explicit spoilers for the current game and upcoming games. Please at least mention "ROT13" in the comment so we don't get a lot of replies saying "what is that gibberish?"

5. Comments on my blog are not a place for slurs against any race, sex, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, or mental or physical disability. I will delete these on a case-by-case basis depending on my interpretation of what constitutes a "slur."

Blogger has a way of "eating" comments, so I highly recommend that you copy your words to the clipboard before submitting, just in case.

I read all comments, no matter how old the entry. So do many of my subscribers. Reader comments on "old" games continue to supplement our understanding of them. As such, all comment threads on this blog are live and active unless I specifically turn them off. There is no such thing as "necro-posting" on this blog, and thus no need to use that term.

I will delete any comments that simply point out typos. If you want to use the commenting system to alert me to them, great, I appreciate it, but there's no reason to leave such comments preserved for posterity.

I'm sorry for any difficulty commenting. I turn moderation on and off and "word verification" on and off frequently depending on the volume of spam I'm receiving. I only use either when spam gets out of control, so I appreciate your patience with both moderation tools.