Monday, September 19, 2016

Game 230: Pools of Darkness (1991)

    
There is an inescapable pull that invites us to tread familiar pathways again, to reminisce, to note what's changed, to note how much we've changed since we last visited. It's why we periodically revisit where we grew up. It's why I can return to the same 10 blocks of the French Quarter several times a year and never get bored. More to our purposes, it's why Origin Systems can set four consecutive games in the same geography, and we still love visiting.

If you try really hard and get lucky with the weather, there's a certain mountain peak you can visit in Skyrim and see, faintly, the spire of White Gold Tower in the distance. Even knowing how much content Skyrim has to offer, the pull of that spire is incredible. Even though I know the answer is, "Nothing, because it's not a real place," I ache to know what's going on in Cyrodiil. Is the statue of Martin Septim still presiding over the Temple District? Is the Dark Brotherhood still lurking beneath the same abandoned house in Cheydinhal? (Have they changed the password?) Will I still find Count Hassildor wandering the halls of Skingrad? Setting Dragonborn on Solstheim was genius for this very reason--and yet it's somehow not enough. I gaze from the south coast at the plume erupting from the mountain on Vvardenfell, and I want to go there.

Rolf gives us a tour as we arrive in Phlan, just as he did in the first game.
   
Pools of Darkness taps into this atavistic desire to return in two ways. First is in the engine itself. Every time we play a Gold Box game, we are in a sense "returning" to the first Gold Box game we played--in my case, Pool of Radiance--to see what's changed. The answer here is: not very much. Pools of Darkness brings together the best improvements on the engine that we've seen in the Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance series--VGA graphics, SoundBlaster support, targeting skips your own party members, previously-cast spells are re-memorized by default, and there's meaningful overland exploration--but fundamentally we're looking at the same experience as the first game in the series. This isn't exactly a complaint, because it's a great engine, but in some ways its improvements serve to emphasize its weaknesses. For instance, improvements in wall textures only serve to highlight the emptiness of the environments.

(A quick side-note in case you've come into this entry without Gold Box familiarity. Pools of Darkness is the fourth Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game by Strategic Simulations, Inc. set in the Forgotten Realms. It is the 8th or 9th game using the "Gold Box" engine. The engine is notable for featuring first-person exploration but a top-down tactical combat system, with all actions controlled by menus. The games thusfar use AD&D first-edition rules but perhaps with some second-edition allowances.)

The second way that Pools of Darkness brings you home is by literally bringing you back to Phlan, 10 years after your party liberated the city from Tyranthraxus and his forces. The gap seems too long--I have no idea what my characters have been doing since Secret of the Silver Blades. They haven't actually aged (on their character sheets) nor gained any experience in the intervening years. In any event, the game begins its references to Pool of Radiance with the text of your arrival:

As your ship arrives, you see the towers of Phlan, where before only ruins stood. The slums and decay have given way to new growth. Boats bob in the harbor under the watchful protection of Sokal Keep. In large measure this prosperity and success was born of your defeat of Tyranthraxus so many years ago.

The heroes step off the boat in Phlan and can take a tour, just like they did at the beginning of Pool of Radiance. It's even given by the same NPC--Rolf, now serving as the city's harbormaster. The explorable area of the reconstructed city consists of two 16 x 16 maps, both full of call-backs to the first game, including the basic orientation of Phlan, the park, a "Traitor's Gate" named after Porphrys Cadorna, the councilmember from Radiance who sold the party out to the Zhentarim.

The map of "New Phlan."
The same area 10 years ago They've really simplified things.
   
In the former "slums" area, the fortune teller has a shop roughly in the area that she resided in the first game. Ohlo, who gave the party a quest to recover a potion (if you didn't kill him), now has a magic shop. And the most difficult battle in the opening hours of Pool of Radiance is commemorated in the "Troll Toss Tavern," where you can fight ettins for sport.

This feels somewhat cruel.
    
My party imported seamlessly from Secret of the Silver Blades with all gear and wealth intact. The entire party had been beating against level caps at the end of Secret, so not only were they able to immediately level up, they were able to level up a second time after fighting the ettins in the tavern. My spellcasters got 8th level spells for the first time, including "Otto's Irresistible Dance," "Mass Charm," and "Power Word Blind."
   
Memorizing spells before I set out.
    
Sasha, the clerk who gave the party quests in Pool of Radiance and had to be rescued in Secret of the Silver Blades, is now a council member. You visit her early in the game, and she insults the party: "I say these things first so you will know there is no trouble to be found here in Phlan, and second, so you will not think you can manufacture your own."

At least she got this part right.
   
But of course Sasha is wrong. There is plenty of trouble to be had in Phlan. The opening scenes have set it up, suggesting that the evil god Bane has gathered his top lieutenants--a couple of demons, a dragon, and a naga, judging by the screenshots--to exact vengeance on the Moonsea region for the success of the party in the previous games.
   
Bane schemes.
   
Sasha is due to "inspect our forces in the land of Thar" and asks the party to accompany her. No sooner have you left the city--the game mentions the party passing through Kuto's Well and Podal Plaza--than a storm erupts "from horizon to horizon," Bane's voice booms that he "claims this land for my own," and a spectral hand literally scoops Phlan from the surface of the world, leaving a crater behind.
    
But...I just spent all kinds of time liberating that city!
    
Bane's voice designates his lieutenants as Kalistes, Tanetal, and Gothmenes, and he suggests that anyone living surrender themselves to their graces. He then blots out the sun, leaving the Moonsea region in darkness.

Before the party can react, they get sucked through a portal and into the plane of Limbo, where they meet Elminster, the famous Forgotten Realms character, although I don't really know why he's famous since I haven't read the Forgotten Realms books.
    
In case you don't know: you're not Gandalf. You'll never be Gandalf.
   
Elminster says that Bane seeks to conquer the world and has made "a crossroad between the dimensions for the use of his allies," somehow using various pools of darkness, and Elminster can do the same for the party. At the end of his speech, you get tossed back to the Plains of Thar and the game really begins.
   
The game world.
   
The game takes place on a map that encircles the Moonsea, though it doesn't appear that you can cross from north to south on the east side. Since you start near the northeast, I figured I'd go east as far as I could, then start exploring in a counter-clockwise manner. I soon ran across a cave in the mountains. Entering, I ran into Vala, my Silver Blade companion from the last game. She explained that "Vaasan" forces were using elementals to tunnel under the mountains, hoping to join with Bane's army. She believed we could stop them by assembling 4 artifacts found in the caves, which would allow us to control elementals.
   
Fire elementals attack as I find one of the artifacts.
   
The artifacts were easily found in the small map, and after a number of easy battles, we went to fight the final battle against the Vassans (I have no idea who they are). After we used the devices to remove the elemental threat, Vala took them and dove into a collapsing passage, promising to hold off any reinforcements.
    
The men in my party feel suddenly unchivalrous.
   
I was taken by surprise by the difficulty of the final battle. There were about 7 wizards along with a couple dozen high-hit point fighters. In my first attempt, they got the drop on me and "Lightning Bolted" my spellcasters before I could act, repeating this strategy every round. (As a reminder, spellcasters who are hit by any damage cannot cast spells during that round, so whichever team can damage the other team's spellcasters first basically dominates the round.)  It wasn't long before my team was wiped out. I reloaded and better prepared with buffing spells. My spellcasters started with the initiative and I fared much better.
   
Being able to cast first makes all the difference.
   
I never found out what happened to Vala. I exited the cave and began my journey westward. Three of my party members can level-up again, and I'm concerned about how long it will be before I find a city with a training facility.
    
One woman is holding off an entire army?
   
At this point, it wouldn't be too hard to start over with some changes to the cast of characters. I say that because I have some concerns about my existing party, particularly since I've heard the final battle is nearly impossible and depends heavily on initiative, which is in turn controlled by dexterity. This is who I have, in detail:

  • Bolingbroke, a lawful good male human paladin of Level 17. Un-augmented, he has 18(89) strength and 17 dexterity.
  • Karnov, a true neutral male dwarf fighter/thief of Levels 9/17. Because of racial restrictions, he can no longer rise as a fighter, so half of his experience points are being wasted. But those 9 levels as a fighter do make a big difference when he backstabs. He has 18 strength and 17 dexterity, and for some reason 99 charisma.
  • Goldeneye, a chaotic good female human ranger of Level 17. She has 17 for both strength and dexterity.
  • Brutus, a chaotic good male cleric of Level 17. He previously served as a fighter but was dualed at Level 8 (meaning he stops advancing in his fighter class, but unlike the multi-classed Karnov, experience points are not wasted on the old class). He has 18 strength, 18 wisdom, 17 dexterity.
  • Cesario, a lawful good male human magic user of Level 17 who had previously dualed from a cleric at Level 9. 18 intelligence, 16 dexterity.
  • Viola, a chaotic good female human magic user of Level 17. 18 intelligence, 16 dexterity.
   
I'm not sure Viola is ready for the rigors ahead.
   
What changes would you recommend while the game is still new and I still have enough time to develop a new character?

Some other miscellaneous notes:

  • The perspective seems to have changed a bit to make it look like doorways and walls in front of you are a bit further ahead than in previous games. I keep trying to walk one square too far.
  • A new "death scream" accompanies the slaying of monsters. It is high-pitched and goofy, like a Wilhelm Scream, and I hate it.
  • Helms appear for the first time. Regular ones don't seem to have any affect on armor class, but I found some magic ones in the first map.
  • In the wilderness, my characters fought a "bulette," or "landshark," for the first time in a D&D game.
  
     
  • In some of the cavern fights, I was able to directly control Vala. I don't really know why.
  • My party started the game way overloaded with potions, arrows, and scrolls. I need to significantly pare down my equipment list.

A very serviceable Gold Box experience so far. It feels like it's going to be very linear, though.

Time so far: 3 hours
Reload count:

158 comments:

  1. Great start, though I admit this is not my favorite of the Pool series. I prefer the 1st and 3rd installment. At any rate, it is a good game with a lot of weird, funky places to visit. I do notice two things:
    1) Enemies now appear in multiple groups. you can sometimes start surrounded by enemies. 2) Bane, from my information, is a lawful evil deity. Why then does he have demons for agents? Devils and demons are enemies in the D+D worlds.

    Thanks again. Your prose at the start give a glow to your blog.

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    1. Pools of Darkness uses the 2nd edition (AD&D) ruleset, which does not differentiate between devils and demons, they're all collectively called "tanar'ri."

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    2. My understanding was that the Goldbox series was mostly made under AD+D 1st edition rules. Maybe the setting is a different story. Still, it seems strange to my Greyhawk influenced mind.

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    3. Maybe they cherry picked elements they liked. :) At any rate, the game itself refers to them as tanar'ri, which appeared in 2E. (N tynoermh, n znevyvgu naq n onybe.)

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    4. In 2nd Edition, they renamed demons tanar'ri but they also renamed devils to baatezu, so the slignment thing is still weird, even under the gobbledegook names.

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    5. @Zardas I'm pretty sure devils became baatezu in 2E; demons became tanar'ri. They've always been distinguishable, but gods are allowed to cross alignment borders in terms of their followers. In 1E Bane is to the L side of LE, so it doesn't make any sense there. However, according to this page (http://forgottenrealms.wikia.com/wiki/Bane), in 2E, he could pull from LE-NE-CE, so maybe that's what they're using.

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    6. After all the negative press D&D got in the 80s regarding having demons & devils in the game, TSR decided to try to avoid the same problems by renaming them baatezu and tanar'ri (or vice-versa, not sure which) when they rolled out the 2nd edition around 1989/1990.

      I think technically Pools of Darkness runs on the 1st edition ruleset since I doubt SSI was going to rewrite whatever part of the Goldbox engine would be changed via the edition update that was occurring right around the same time as the development of PoD. The 2nd edition wasn't even that different from 1st edition at first anyway, and really only branched out later in the 90s.

      Regarding the use of demons / devils, I don't think the developers were that dogmatic about what was used. Most likely they put in whichever they though was cooler. The answer to which is cooler is of course demons, since who doesn't want to fight a balrog?

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    7. There was a lot of worry about the moral panic coming back around this time, so they had all sorts of rules regarding the depiction of lower planet creatures. No calling them demons out devils. No pointy tails in there art and so on. (Artist's kept trying to slip pointy tails in, but kept getting caught)

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    8. Still, it does not jive well with the earlier games, where Bane is behind the scenes, but there are evil factions fighting each other as well as the party.

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    9. @ everyone lol.

      Ruleset is 1E. Bane was killed in the event that transitioned the Realms to 2E.

      2E came out in 1989. This game was released in 1991. As mentioned above TSR renamed Devils to Baatezu and Demons to Tanar'ri by 1991 in order to avoid angry parents and religious types.

      So, yeah, they cherry picked.

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    10. Easiest way to determine if you're in 1E or 2E. Damage caps on spells.

      In 2E Fireball, Cone of Cold, Magic Missile, etc, max out at 10 dice of damage.

      In 1E they do not.

      That's probably one of the easiest delimiters.

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  2. I don't want to spoil you if you don't want any hints, so I've encoded the text below in ROT13. It regards the location of a training hall that is readily accessible in the early portions of the game.

    Gur jbbqra-ybbxvat pnfgyr arne gur zbhagnvaf va gur hccre yrsg vf gur ybpngvba bs gur rnfvrfg genvavat unyy gb npprff va gur rneyl tnzr.

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  3. I just played through PoD last year, and also had to remake a normally-rolled party that had made it through the first three games with very few problems. I have a longer rot-13'd post on your previous Fate posting laying out the difficulty issues in this game at greater length, but the non-spoilery thing I will say here is that the thing you ran into with the Vassans, where the battle reduced to a quick-draw duel between the mages, is not going to go away, and you really need your guys to have 18 dex for them to have a chance and avoid a good chunk of the fights being instant-reloads. Everything else seems fine to me, and I'd definitely stick with having two mages -- just one isn't enough by any means. You could probably add a third (maybe a cleric/mage?) if you wanted, but that's probably not necessary.

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  4. I finally caught up, and it looks like a good game to do it on.

    I like land sharks. I loved them as a kid, which is most of it. The one time I've fought them my Dad's fighter couldn't roll above a 10 all fight, which frustrated him to no end.

    It is kind of sad there are so many AD&D games and so few of every other tabletop RPG, even better editions of D&D. We got, what two 3rd edition games, neither of them 3.5? Did we get any 4th edition games, a ruleset that was PERFECT for a Final Fantasy Tactics or Fire Emblem style tactical RPG. Wouldn't a GURPS RPG be cool? (Yes, I know about Fallout). Basic Roleplay System (Call of Cthulhu, Heroquest and a few other games) has a very cool d% skill system. But instead we get endless and deteriorating gold box games. Not even a Pathfinder crpgs

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    1. There's a little known indie game using 3.5 called "Knights of the Chalice", gameplay-wise it's quite reminiscent of the first "Dark Sun" crpg. It has a pretty forgettable storyline, but the tactical combat is top notch.

      I think the roguelike Incursion mostly uses 3.5 as well.

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    2. I think Temple of Elemental Evil uses 3.5.

      The rights to the D&D franchise was bought by Atari in 2005 for a 10 year exclusive period, extended until 2017. That might have something to do with it. They've done pretty much jack shit with the license.

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    3. @Seol

      I bought Knights of the Chalice years ago. I remember the very first battle being very difficult and frustrating. I gave up on the game pretty quickly, though maybe I should give it another go.

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    4. The Temple of Elememental evil one was based on 3.5 and pretty faithful.
      There was also a PSP "tactics" game.

      When Bioware decided to write their own, I guess that was kind of the death knell. I suppose since CRPG's have been ripping off D&D for decades, companies figured why pay for licensing.

      Even the Neverwinter MMO isn't using D&D rules these days.

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    5. @Raifield

      I personally liked it a lot, but yeah, it's a pretty hard game, so you have to be a bit of a masochist to enjoy it (not unlike the "Demon's/Dark Souls" series), and the difficulty curve is not quite right; I found the early game fights significantly harder than the mid-game ones. Overall, though, I think it's a tough-but-fair game (with the exception of some of the optional late-game fights), so the dying and reloading cycle didn't bother me much, as I was having fun and getting better at the game in the process.

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    6. >>Even the Neverwinter MMO isn't using D&D rules these days.]

      As far as I know, the Neverwinter mmorpg has never used the actual D&D rules. Instead, it's an action combat based mmo. It is however set in the Forgotten Realms and the monsters, races and classes are all D&D.

      Another mmorpg, Dungeons and Dragons online does faithfully use D&D rules :)

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    7. "Knights of the Chalice" Never heard of it. I'll have to keep an eye out for it. From the talk of it being Dark Souls hard, don't think it will be my thing though.

      I think Incursion uses elements from 3.X, but isn't it famous for being facemurder hard? If it is harder then Nethack, it is too hard for me. (Not to win, but to play and have fun.)

      I though ToEE was 3.0. It is too bad it was so buggy when it came out. (Or am I getting Ruins of Myth Drannor and it mixed up again?)

      I know WHY there are so few D&D games: Atari decided they didn't make money, and so sat on the license. Wizards sued them over it, though I don't know what the outcome of that was.

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    8. It looks like it ended with WotC getting the video game rights back, but Atari keeping the ability to sell and market all the D&D games it had already put out: http://www.geeknative.com/22649/wizards-of-the-coast-and-atari-settle-legal-battle-dd-digital-return-to-wotc/

      So I hope we see more D&D computer games soon.

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    9. There was a new game called Sword Coast Legends a few months ago, that supposedly used 5E rules. Reviews were rather mediocre, though I don't know how much of it was people expecting something else ("it's not d&d because it has cooldowns!", "I can't be a paladin/sorcerer/eldritch knight/red dragon disciple!", etc.)

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    10. Yeah, Pathfinder is *WAY* overdue for a simple CRPG.

      Skull and Shackles would be fantastic in a modernized Gold Box like format.

      Or Rise of the Runelords....or Curse of the Crimson Throne...or Hell's Rebels.....

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    11. I found Knights of the Chalice a WHOLE LOT OF FUN, because of the tactical challenge. The challenge is scalable however: I believe you can get max HP per level. It is based on 3.5 while taking some departures.

      Temple of Elemental Evil has been patched, fixed, and expanded by the fan community. Google "Circle of Eight". Now characters can go up to Level 20. I'm not a fan of the interface, but it is quite loyal to the original rules.

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    12. Problem with fan COE modpack is that while it fixes bugs and fixes rules to more reliably follow 3.5 it also scales encounters up to wazoo that only true HC min/maxers can manage, then again TOEE is more of a combat simulator then a fully fleshed rpg.

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    13. There's another fan-made patch for ToEE, Temple +, that was released fairly recently. I actually started a new game of ToEE with the Co8 patch a few days ago, and haven't had a chance to install Temple + yet, but from what I've read it's compatible with the Co8 "new content" patch, and fixes some bugs that weren't addressed therein.

      I can't really argue with the combat-heavy nature of ToEE, generally, but assuming Temple + works out for me, I'm looking to download another mod, Keep on the Borderlands, which at least advertises itself as more story-based...

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  5. .... Huh. What do I do now that I'm caught up? How long till Chet posts again? Guess I'll have to figure out where I am in The Adventure Gamer?

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    1. If this is an issue then be glad you aren't a Prequel reader. We've been waiting over a year now.

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    2. Why are you spending so much time on my blog anyway? You should be spending more time with your girlfriend.

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    3. Raifield: Prequel?

      Chet: I got a tablet. A lot of the blog reading is done either on the bus, or while Mara is in the shower, etc.

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    4. You are as impervious to humor as always. Welcome back.

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    5. Prequel is a rather eccentric web comic about a Khajiit living in Cyrodiil a week or so before the Oblivion Crisis. It's very good, but the author is pretty much terrible at keeping to a posting schedule not best measured in financial quarters.

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    6. Oh, a webcomic. Those are a bear. I'm still in the Afterlife Blues RSS feed, since while a *I* it is never coming back, A Miracle of Science was good enough that I don't want to miss it if it ever DID come back.

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    7. "Afterlife." "Webcomic." You just reminded me I've been waiting for more "Afterlife of Bob" web comics since 1995. You can't even find the original (and barely any references) anymore. Guess I should give up on that one already.

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    8. A year of wait for a webcomic? Bah. I was reading "Dungeon Crawl Inc." webcomic and it was left incomplete over the years. That was truly unfortunate.

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  6. I think your party is basically fine, the main problem being Karnov due to the level cap which will IIRC also hit his second class. Probably time for an early retirement. Maybe a dual class fighter mage for the HP? I forgot what level you start at, if higher than around 8 or 9 maybe create the fighter in a previous game and import at that level. Or dual to a thief if you prefer that. He'll catch up in no time at the rate the game gives XP.

    I have no idea how the gold box initiative system works, in AD&D you get a reaction adjustment of 1 on a D10 roll for Dex 16 and 2 for 17 and 18. So basically a 10% bonus. Not worth redoing your mages for that I think, maybe you can find gauntlets of dexterity to boost to 18. I know that *some* game had them but it's been too many years to remember which one.

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    1. You get +3 for 18 dex, and in 1st Edition I believe the die roll is actually d6, not d10 as it is in 2nd Edition - I'm not clear on exactly what rules PoD is implementing here, but my anecdotal experience is that 18 Dex made a significant difference - in multi-caster fights around the mid game, my 16 and 17 Dex mages were losing the quick draws six or seven to one, but with 18 Dex it was closer to a coin flip.

      I also can't remember about the gauntlets of Dex, unfortunately.

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    2. Also, that +1 bonus makes a big difference either way! It's hard to do the math exactly since it's unclear to me how PoD treats ties -- per the book, that means actions occur simultaneously, but obviously for the game they need to pick some other way of resolving things. I remember a common house rule being that highest Dex won, but it could be that they just do a re-roll (either a straight coin flip, or with the reaction adjustments baked in again).

      Anyway, leaving all that aside, in a head-to-head d10 rolling contest, the side with the +1 wins 55% of the time, ties 9% of the time, and loses 36% of the time, so a relatively small +1 modifier means that the odds go from 1:1 to 1.5:1 (and potentially almost 2:1, depending on how ties are treated).

      On a d6, a +1 means you win 58% of the time, tie 14% of the time, and win 28% of the time, so they're you're at a little more than 2:1 disadvantage, and again, depending on the method of resolving ties, it could be like 2.6:1.

      And that's also assuming that PoD rolls initiative once per side in the fight, according to the book rules, instead of doing a different roll per combatant -- I think it does the latter since I seem to recall that party members don't always act in the same order. In that case, the deck is stacked even more against your group, since usually the baddies have more mages than you do.

      TL,DR: if you don't have mages with 18 Dex, make sure to memorize a lot of resistance to fire spells, because you're going to be picking a whole lot of delayed blast fireballs out of your teeth.

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    3. You are correct, I just looked up some first edition rulebooks and 18 gives plus 3 and initiative is d6. I didn't remember that the change was so big from first to second in this regard - then again I spent mist of my misspent youth (and adult life...) playing second and only vaguely remember a few first edition sessions with my very first AD&D group. Yes, we still play second edition even today :)

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  7. This installment gets truly wacky in the high-level encounters, if you try to imagine them from an actual role-playing perspective.

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  8. I haven’t confirmed this, but I’ve read that in Pools having a paladin in your party is what lets you control NPCs in combat. I actually prefer not being able to control NPCs, so I set them back to computer control.

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  9. I'm fairly certain it's actually based on a charisma check - since Paladins have at least 17, that'll generally do it, but it's the ability score, not a class requirement.

    The Dragonlance games do I think require a Knight in the party, though.

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    1. I had forgotten that the Krynn games had that mechanic. Thanks.

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  10. Before the party can react, they get sucked through a portal and into the plane of Limbo, where they meet Elminster, the famous Forgotten Realms character, although I don't really know why he's famous since I haven't read the Forgotten Realms books.

    Elminister was Ed Greenwood's (creator of Forgotten Realm's) self-insert character he used when running a game as a dungeon master in table-top sessions. Think of him as this game's Lord British.

    What changes would you recommend while the game is still new and I still have enough time to develop a new character?

    Dual class just about everyone. Not all at once mind you, work on one or two people 'till they get their old abilities back and then move on. Particularly you want 4+ people capable of casting delayed blast fireball or magic missile for those instant disruptions of enemy casters, i'd say this is even more important than having high dex. High level rangers get access to a small pool of low-level magic-user spells so Goldeneye should be covered. Two clerics are also a near must, but you have that covered already. Hold on to the thief if you want to do the purely optional dungeon after the main quest, a member of each core class is required.


    In some of the cavern fights, I was able to directly control Vala. I don't really know why.


    Avenir and Tetrapod above are both correct, if you have a paladin then they get to make a charisma check and control of friendly NPCs is gained if they pass.




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    1. Would it be a viable option to start the game with a bunch of human fighters, dual-class them all to cleric or magic-user, and grind the second class up by fighting the Ettins? Or can you only do that Ettin battle once?

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    2. Yeah, that feels like the power-gaming path, though you wouldn't want to roll 6 fighters and dual them out of the gate, you definitely want a full cleric and magic-user 'till your fighters catch up.

      You could try dumping the mage and roll a new fighter once the originals got DBF, turn the cleric into a warrior and, if you wanted to go for Dave's Challenge, turn a ranger into a thief once they hit MU spells.

      A note about gender and sexism in this game/1st edition in general: While only warriors can get the percentile strength (the extra double-digit number after an 18 strength as seen in Chet's example of 'Bolingbroke'), women are capped at 50 and men can go to (1)00 for no better reason than 'men are stonger than women, deal with it'.

      And now a spoiler somewhat related to the above: Jneavat vs lbh cyna gb tb jvgu na nyy znyr cnegl, gurer vf n cbegvba va gur tnzr gung vf obgu rnfvre naq zber erjneqvat (va gur yvgreny frafr) vs lbh unir n jbzna va gur cnegl.

      Oh, and yes, you can only do that ettin battle once

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    3. I second everything Wonko said. An all human party, every character dual-classed, is the way to go for this game. I might even push for at least 5 mages in the game. I think I got away with only one cleric since I had so many mages in my party that I was able to kill things fast enough to mitigate incoming damage & effects.

      I think you can get away with dual-changing two characters at a time, but I wouldn't do more than that, since when you first change a character's class they're basically worthless until you get their level back up.

      If you really want to power-game (without resorting to hex-editing), you can level your characters up some, start dualling, and then in the game menu remove characters from party, saving them to disk. You can then restart the game with these now higher leveled characters, replaying the earliest quests and combats. You could have done this in the earlier Goldbox games as well, but the level limits in those games made this rather pointless. Here the level limit is 40 so it makes more sense in PoD.

      In my misspent youth I think I did this to get my whole party to level 39/40 in their dual-classes. I don't think there's actually much advantages at the highest levels. Hit points don't increase that much, although IIRC spellcasters do get more spell slots.

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    4. They filled in Elminster's backstory quite a bit with a book in the 90's. Long story short (IIRC, it's been a long time), he's spent time as most the base classes, he was transformed into a woman by the god of magic to become her priest (during which time he masqueraded as a wizard when adventuring, since all his priest spells were from the wizard's catalog), and then finally became the most powerful wizard in the realm and essentially a demi-god, since I don't see him dying.

      He's essentially *is* deus ex machina, so this is actually an appropriate use of him. Since he's an avatar of the god of magic, it makes sense he would be involved in crazy god shenanigans.

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    5. Most classes end gaining HD/level around L10-12, so generating a new character and immediately dual-classing is fine. Rangers get an extra HD and if you wait until they get L3 druid spells can cast Protection from Fire on themselves, so they can make good dual-class wizards.

      Back when the game came out I know I didn't have much trouble beating it with an imported group(though when I tried again recently the difficulty seemed much higher). You really need to get maximum benefit from defensive equipment and prep spells for big battles, including throwing resists on everyone.

      I can't recall if I used my standard combat cheese on the final battle: a high Dex and high hp wizard (typically my dual-class Ranger/Wizard) wearing Boots of Speed and Hasted with Fire Shield would run next to opponents who hadn't gone yet and then move away, triggering attacks which damaged the attackers. Enemies who've not acted lose their action if they take an opportunity attack, so you can lock down dragons and beholders by having a fast character trigger their OAs.

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    6. Elminster is the Realms go to deus ex machina. Also Ed Greenwood's personal Marty Sue. Take Gandalf, make him more grumpy and a HUGE pervert (Of those, Ed Greenwood has publicly used both of the last two terms to describe him.) Also make him the personal lover of one of the gods of magic and the advisor to one of the others.

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    7. Elminster was much more tolerable when he was just a character used to add some colour to Greenwood's article for Dragon Magazine. Probably helped by Greenwood being a far superior writer of RPG rules and fluff than novels.

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    8. And @Addict, if you think this dual-classing bit is gamey, wait till you get to Wizardry 7...

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    9. Very true. Ed Greenwood has talked about how early on he just meant Em to be a narrator of other people's adventure. He did quite well in this roll. I really liked the Pages from Mages series where he hung out in Ed Greenwoods house and told him about the realms.

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    10. One of the things I liked best about Wizardry 8 was that they got rid of the excessive class-switching mechanics of earlier wizardries. (They still had switching, but keeping your class was fine.)

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  11. "I've heard the final battle is nearly impossible"

    It's really not. There are videos on YouTube winning the battle on Champion level with only one character. You'll be fine.

    You might want to replace your magic users to get 18 intelligence AND 18 dexterity for better initiative. I would simply hex-edit them to save trouble, but it's up to you.

    The thief might be somewhat less useful as there are a significant number of large monsters in the game, and those require two prior attacks from the other direction for backstabbing to work. (Normal sized enemies need only one.) I'd replace with a human fighter.

    The rest of the characters are fine. They're only meatshields and cleanup service anyway in this game of "who throws the first delayed blast fireball?"

    "A very serviceable Gold Box experience so far. It feels like it's going to be very linear, though."

    I believe you can tackle the lieutenants in any order and there are many side quests, so I'd say it's not.

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    1. As I say below, I was thinking more of the nature of the map in the "linear" comment. You have to envision this from the perspective of a blind player. If it's not clear which of the areas hold the "lieutenants," clearing the map in a counter-clockwise direction makes the most sense and ensures that you'll get to everyone.

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    2. "It's really not. There are videos on YouTube winning the battle on Champion level with only one character. You'll be fine."

      Uh? Really? I'm assuming he cheated heavily.

      That last battle is a bear. Can't lie. IIRC the first time I cleared it I had to use the "baiting" technique.

      You walk a character with a very good AC across an enemy's line, forcing them to waste their turn by attacking you as you move away. Then when the character runs out of movement you hit ESC and move onto the next group of enemies. Rinse repeat until you've stolen the "turn" for any enemy you can reach.

      I've beaten it since with other methods that didn't involve that sort of cheating, but it's quite difficult. Can't imagine someone beating it without any exploits on Champion, with only a single character.

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    3. Uvf fgengrtl vf nccneragyl ohvyg hcba jrnevat gur Evat bs Oyvaxvat juvpu pnhfrf zbfg rarzvrf gb fvzcyl vtaber uvz naq cnff gurve ghea. V thrff vg dhnyvsvrf nf purngvat. V'z abg nobir nohfvat fhpu rkcybvgf, vs vg'f va gur tnzr, vg'f yrtny va zl obbx.

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    4. Gung znxrf frafr.

      Gung orvat fnvq, lbh'q unir gb "purng" gb trg gur Evat bs Oyvaxvat vagb Tbguzrarf' ernyz. Abg fher vs lbh erpnyy ohg lbh'er fhccbfrq gb yrnir nyy lbhe vgrzf va gur ernyzf orsber lbh fjnc bire. Vs lbh qba'g gurl znl trg qrfgeblrq ba gur wbhearl bire.

      Abj, nyzbfg rirelbar gung cynlf gurfr tnzrf qbrf gur "fjnc" gevpx. R.t. erzbir vgrzf sebz lbhe cnegl ba gur Ernyzf raq, zbir gurz gb n qhzzl punenpgre, be punenpgref, tb guebhtu gur cbegny, gura genqr lbhe vgrzf onpx. Evafr, ercrng rirel gvzr lbh tb guebhtu n cbegny.

      Vg *vf* purngvat gubhtu.

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    5. Nppbeqvat gb TnzrOnafurr: "Gurer ner n srj zntvpny vgrzf gung pna fheivir gur gevc orgjrra qvzrafvbaf. Zbfg bs gurfr vgrzf ner evatf, vapyhqvat Evatf bs Oyvaxvat, Evatf bs Pbyq Erfvfgnapr, Evatf bs Ryrpgevpny Vzzhavgl, Evatf bs Sver Erfvfgnapr, Evatf bs Cebgrpgvba sebz Rivy, naq Evatf bs Jvmneqel. Lbh'yy nyfb or noyr gb genafcbeg gur Ibecny Ybat Fjbeq (sebz Funy va gur Erq Gbjre, #16) fnsryl."

      Abg fher vs vg'f vagragvbany (cebonoyl abg) be na birefvtug, ohg ab fjnccvat gevpxf ner arrqrq.

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    6. Tbbq pnyy. Vg jbhyq znxr n ybg bs qrfvta frafr vs vg jnf vagragvbany.

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    7. V cynlrq CbQ sbe gur svefg gvzr ebhtuyl gjb lrnef ntb naq nyfb znantrq gb jva jvgubhg purngvat, nyorvg bayl ba ABIVPR yriry. V'z qrsvavgryl abg n "cbjre tnzre" naq hfrq n cerggl abezny nyy-nebhaq cnegl juvpu V unq perngrq sbe Phefr bs gur Nmher Obaqf.

      Gur xrl snpgbe sbe zr jnf gur Fpebyy bs Cebgrpgvba if. Qentba Oerngu, juvpu cebgrpgf ntnvafg fbzr bs gur zbfg qrinfgngvat nggnpxf (r.t. gur Yvtugavat Obygf bs gur Qenpbyvpurf). Guvf terngyl urycrq zr qhevat gur svefg naq guveq onggyr, juvyr va gur frpbaq onggyr V gevrq gb xrrc n qvfgnapr naq svtug jvgu enatrq jrncbaf, orpnhfr Orubyqref ner cerggl qnza fybj naq pna hfr gurve zbfg qrnqyl nggnpxf bayl ba n irel fubeg enatr.

      Gur onggyrf qb eryl urnivyl ba vavgvngvir naq lbh fgvyy arrq n tbbq qrny bs yhpx, orpnhfr gur zbafgref unir ybgf bs bccbeghavgvrf sbe vafgnag xvyyf, ohg jvgu gur fpebyy V znantrq gb jva nsgre 3 be 4 gevrf, jvgu whfg bar punenpgre hapbafpvbhf naq bar ghearq gb fgbar. Orsber V tbg gur vqrn gb hfr gur fpebyy (juvpu unq orra fvggvat gurer va zl vairagbel sbe dhvgr fbzr gvzr; V qba'g rira erzrzore jurer naq jura V sbhaq vg) V unq orra juvcrq bhg va ab gvzr ba ng yrnfg n qbmra gevrf.

      V nz ernyyl rkpvgrq gb frr ubj Purg jvyy qrny jvgu guvf svtug. Fbzrguvat gryyf zr gung ur jvyy rawbl gur punyyratr.

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    8. This gigantic wall of rot-13 text from multiple commentators is exculsively about the Pools of Darkness endgame. It must have REALLY made an impression that stuck in players' minds.

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    9. Well that and some arguing about what is considered cheating, which always produces wall of texts :) Anyway, it's quite unusual for a Gold Box game, isn't it? Most battles, even boss fights are about throwing one or two fireballs and mopping up the rest, and the tough fights are optional, like Dave's Challenge or Curse's Beholder Corps, not part of the main story.

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    10. Lrnu.

      Ab znggre jung jr fcbvy, gung ynfg svtug vf whfg ernyyl uneq. Qbhoyl fb vs lbh unir gb eryl ba gur vgrzf gung pna'g or qrfgeblrq qhevat cynane geniry, naq gur barf va Tbguzrarf ernyz.

      Gura, rira vs gung'f fbzrubj rnfl sbe uvz, ur unf Qnir'f Punyyratr.....

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  12. Ah, and a bit of extra fun for the color blind: a certain enemy type has green and red versions with the same name and icon. Reds are immune to fire.

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    1. He'll be fine.

      Ovgf bs Zbnaqre unir erq naq terra inevrgvrf, ohg gurl ner OBGU vzzhar gb obgu sver naq ryrpgevpvgl (gurer vf nyfb n fznyyre gjb-fdhner inevrgl). Gurl unir qvssrerag nggnpxf ba uvggvat lbhe punenpgref ohg pna bgurejvfr or qrnyg jvgu fvzvyneyl.

      Onar Zvavbaf unir oyhr naq erq inevrgvrf jvgu gur erq inevrgl vzzhar gb sver, ohg gur erq inevrgl nyfb bpphcvrf sbhe fdhnerf vafgrnq bs gjb fb vg'f rnfl gb gryy ncneg. (Orfvqrf, vg'f gur oyhr inevrgl lbh unir gb jbeel nobhg...)

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  13. Weird timing, since I just saw the adventure module of Pools of Radiance pop up on RPGNow/DriveThruRPG. Their D&D releases are interesting in that they have a little history in the product description. This one had a brief history of SSI, which most readers here probably know, but it's interesting to see it from the other side.

    Link if anyone's interested: http://www.rpgnow.com/product/16808/FRC1-Ruins-of-Adventure-1e?src=newest&it=1

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    1. It's worth Chet taking a look at and commenting on, methinks. It clears up a few mysteries about Pool of Radiance, both the design and things in the game that don't make any sense.

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  14. This was my first gold box game...this is gonna be an emotional and nostalgic ride. God bless.

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    1. I bring it up and play it at different times in my life; in my view it's the perfection of the engine. Doesn't limit you to 1 of 49 character icons like Dark Queen of Krynn so you can make it just right, lets you go all the way up in levels, and there's something satisfying about the Delayed Blast Fireball.

      Plus you can do all kinds of crazy stuff like take quests from the bad guys, try to get into trouble in Mulmaster or Zhentil Keep... the Morton's forks are kind of amusing.

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  15. I want to play this game... but I think I need to finish Witcher 3 first. Night and day, I know, but I really want to beat it.

    When I played this game a few months ago, I played it right after MM3 and found the slowness of the game, plus the fact that I had to map again, a drag. A couple of months later and I think I could give it a go with a fresh pair of eyes.

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  16. I played this a few years ago and had great success with the following party (it was an evil party, so no paladins or rangers were available):
    2 fighters
    1 dual-class fighter 9/thief xx
    3 dual-class cleric 13/magic-user xx

    I put the xx in there because I don't remember how high the characters advanced in their second classes.

    It is very helpful to have a lot of clerics, but it's not all that important to level clerics up past 13, because it seemed like they didn't really gain much at the really high levels. The main reason to get to 13 is to get the entire selection of cleric spells before you go to magic-user, which gives you a metric ton of healing spells, not to mention much better HP than a pure mage.

    This does require some grinding in the wilderness to level up your mages, but that goes pretty quickly; it only takes a few encounters to get good spells, and probably about an hour or two to get to level 14 magic-user and be able to cast both classes of spells. I wouldn't try to dual-class the clerics all at once though; that could be quite painful.

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    1. This does sound like the ideal party. I could mimic it by keeping my paladin and ranger and starting new people for most of the others.

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    2. Why would you stop the clerics at 13? If you grind them up to 16th level you get 7th level Clerical spells. You miss that if you grind them to 13....bad call IME.

      As-is I cleared this, at launch more or less, with a standard party imported from Silver Blades, with all 18s (modified manually when I built them.) IIRC it was Paladin, Ranger, Cleric, two mages, and a Cleric/Mage 14/15 that had also come from Silver Blades.

      With your experience this should be do-able with any party, but you will experience *much* less grief if you have 2 mages with an 18+ DEX.

      IIRC randomly rolled characters in this game have *very* high stats so it shouldn't be difficult to generate those, without cheating.

      This game is much more difficult than Silver Blades. My theory why goes like this:
      1) Most people, in practice, would modify their party to have all 18s in every stat and max hp.
      2) Most people would set the game difficult down to the lowest level
      3) SSI would then receive complaints that their game was too easy.

      It appears to me that PoD and DQoK are both designed with those factors in mind, and were intentionally designed to still be hard, under those conditions.

      Unfortunately, due to the "low power level" of AD&D 1E that doesn't scale. Encounters that are difficult for a level 18 party, with normal stats, are simple for one with all 18s. Encounters that are difficult for a party with all 18s are nearly impossible for parties with out those ability scores.

      A great example is the initiative breakdown done above. If your party is full of folks with an 18 Dex you'll almost always get the drop on your opponents. If you do not, you may have to reload until the RNG gives you that advantage. Many of the encounters in this game are of a "you act first or you get battered hard enough that the fight is an uphill battle" variety. So, in some ways, your option may be "18 Dex, or reload until I win initiative."

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    3. Good call on the dual-class level for clerics. I was trying to remember the builds from memory rather than actually checking the first edition leveling tables for Clerics.

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    4. Makes sense. You get Restoration with those 7th level spells and that is *always* handy in these games. I can't think of one that had 0 encounters with level draining undead.

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    5. Curse, Secret, Champions, and Gateway didn't, probably because they didn't feel like coding in the Restoration spell.

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    6. Gateway had Wights, AFAICR

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  17. I played this game a lot on the Amiga 500. Some pretty good memories of it. I think it it is my 4th or 5th favorite Gold Box game.

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  18. Some comments, second try:

    The all important stat is DEX for Iniative. 18 is better than 17. The final battles are difficult, but by no means impossible as long as you have 18 Dex, at least for your DBF casters (you need two of them IMO). With less than 18 Dex it's still possible, buy you'll need good luck.

    STR, and the difference beteween males and females are completely irrelvant at these levels. All your Fighter types should be Enlarged and get 22 STR, unless they have Girdles of Giant Strength. So use most of your first level spell slots for Enlarge, not Magic Missiles.

    There's no need to Hex edit. Use the Gold Box Companion instead. I won't link to it since this blog keeps eating more and more of my messages as it is.

    And the game is not linear. What gave you that idea? It's one of the least linear GB games. You can even head to Mulmaster and get missions from the bad guys!

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    1. I figured it was somewhat linear just by the nature of the map. Unless you deliberately skip some locations, you're guaranteed to hit them in a pre-determined order.

      I'm not going to use any cheating methods to get my spellcasters' dexterity to 18, but I'm not above dumping one or both of them and introducing new ones. New characters start this game at Level 14.

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    2. "Unless you deliberately skip some locations, you're guaranteed to hit them in a pre-determined order."

      If you go right to left, then down, then left to right across the map, mapping every area completely as you go, while following all of the breadcrumbs, then the game is somewhat linear.

      Curse of the Azure Bonds would be considered 100% linear with that definition, so I'm not sure if it's accurate.

      Kind of interesting IMO that you find this linear when you missed the initial linearity in Secrets entirely by skipping the teleporter to the well, and declined to consult the well for clues.

      Most people feel Secrets is linear to the point of being a railroad, while PoD is the opposite.

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    3. To further elucidate; I think to most people linearity is a function of plot, not mapping.

      Secrets has a plot that is basically on rails, but if you go by the Might and Magic "lawn mowing" method it's easy to miss, since it's primary "maps" (the ruins, mines, ice caves) are very non-linear and have a massive amount of dead space.

      PoD has a plot that is incredibly non-linear; but if you "lawn mow" like might and magic you miss that factor, since the map itself is somewhat linear and has minimal "dead space".

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    4. I've already discovered that many locations aren't distinguished by icon on the map, so if you don't "lawn mow" to some degree, you miss them.

      You must recognize the difference between the POD map and the CotAB map. Yes, you could explore CotAB in a linear manner, but since it's large and wide, there's no "obvious" geographic path to follow. POD is quite the opposite.

      I suspect, moreover, that if I do go in a linear geographic manner through the POD map, I'll hit the encounters in a somewhat natural order despite its plot nonlinearity.

      So what we have here is the equivalent of a game that exists entirely along one road, with towns numbered 1-8, with encounters scaled in a way that assumes that I'll hit them in the 1-8 order, but you want me to call it "nonlinear" because I don't technically HAVE to do that.

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    5. The geography of the game does promote a linear path, but as a player you are not bound by it. The same is true of secret of the silver blades. You could go to the mines before hitting the well and so forth, but it does not really change the game much. I always had my own path in Pools of Darkness, but I did not see much change from a linear path, except in one instance, which for spoiler reasons I will not say. All in all, this game is about big battles with big monsters over big areas. Not much subtlety, but fun if your in the right mood. I am playing Dark Queen right now and I am trying to see how linearity works, at least when I get to Taladas.

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    6. "So what we have here is the equivalent of a game that exists entirely along one road, with towns numbered 1-8, with encounters scaled in a way that assumes that I'll hit them in the 1-8 order, but you want me to call it "nonlinear" because I don't technically HAVE to do that."

      I know in my case, when I played through this the first time, I didn't lawn mow.

      It's hard to get this across without spoiling anything slightly; but has anything about the unmarked locations lead you to believe they are required to complete the plot? Or do they seem more like optional content?

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    7. Think we differ on the CotAB map btw.

      At town A you can go to town B or C. At town B, you can go to Town D or E. Etc.

      That feels less open ended than a map that has clearly demarcated points of interest, and other points of interest that are not clearly demarcated.

      So it's only linear if you force yourself to lawn mow. If you don't it's wide open.

      Would you have felt it was more open if the map didn't have a sea in the middle of it?

      I always felt like the whole "we start here, and there's basically nothing to the East, but there is civilization to the west" is almost the definition of open ended.

      You *can* go explore the nothingness to your East, and maybe will find a few unmapped locations of interest. Or you can just head West towards civilization and see what effect the theft of Phlan has had on the surrounding areas.

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    8. "I suspect, moreover, that if I do go in a linear geographic manner through the POD map, I'll hit the encounters in a somewhat natural order despite its plot nonlinearity."

      Sorry to be so verbose today, but.....sort of. Since the game is non-linear you can do it any way you'd like. In my personal experience you will have a harder time if you do that.

      It will not be the same vastly higher difficulty level you faced by tackling Zhentil keep first in CotAB, but the "easiest" order is not the linear one in PoD.

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    9. It may be more accurate to say POD has higher *replay value* than things like Secret. You can do a different order for each of the three big quests, giving you 6 potential orders, plus there are a lot of little side quests of varying sizes to amuse yourself with. For people familiar with the game there are a lot of little nooks and crannies to go to.

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  19. To spare you some frustration later: There is a unique and also very useful ring in the game which is bugged.
    It only works correctly if the ring is un-equipped and re-equipped in every battle.

    Name of the ring ROT-13'ed:
    Evat bs Ryrpgevpny Vzzhavgl

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    1. At some point Chet is going to learn to read rot13 through natural exposure from all these comments, and then he'll be cursing you all for ruining the games before he's ready. :)

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    2. We'll teach him Base64 next. R2FtZWJyZWFraW5nIHNwb2lsZXIgZ29lcyBoZXJlLg==

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    3. THVsei4NCg0KWWVhaCB0aGlzIGlzIHNlY3JldGx5IGEgQ0lBIHByb2plY3QgdG8gdGVhY2ggdXMgYWxsIGhvdyB0byB2aXN1YWxseSBkZWNvZGUgUm90LTEzLg==

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  20. The game offers a pregenerated party, if you look at it you get an impression of what the developers had in mind and the suggested party in the manual should be playable too (although a little slow at killing with only one magic-user).

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  21. My party was imported from Secret of the Silver Blades. Just like you, I leveled them right away and again after the bar fight. All characters are dual-classed humans:

    2 Paladin 15 / Cleric 17
    3 Ranger 15 / Magic-user 17
    1 Fighter 15 / Thief 20

    There is not much point in high level fighters since THAC0 maxes out for them at level 17 (although Paladins and Rangers do get spells for a few more levels). Parts of SotSB were a bit of a pain with no active fighters for a while though until my thief hit 16.

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    1. Was going to write this if no one else did. This is the way to go. Not sure I went exactly to 15 in each combat class, though. I think I may have mixed up some 13s and 15s to space out the changes...don't really remember after all this time.

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    2. I had this idea that you couldn't dual-class paladins and rangers.

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    3. Pretty much any dual-class is available in 1st AD&D, but there are a few restrictions and obviously alignment causes some issues (i.e. no Paladin + Thief). The rulebook for the gold box games specifically says that human dual-class magic-users cannot cast MU spells while they are wearing armor unless they are a ranger/magic-user. I realize that rangers are able to case low level MU spells as a class, but I am not sure where the gold box games got that interpretation of the rules for high level MU spells.

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    4. The ranger/armour thing certainly never comes up in the 1st ed. PHB, which goes out of it's way to remind you a dualed fighter/magic-user may not cast in armour, unlike the elven multi-classed fighter/magic-user who can. Honestly, it's probably something they didn't want to waste time programming around, what with the the ranger's baked in spells. Another quirk of the Gold Box is that high level rangers dualing to magic-user start off knowing all 1st and 2nd level spells.

      One thing no-one has mentioned yet is that to be able to dual you need a 15+ in the primary attribute for your current class and a 17+ in the primary attribute of your target class.

      Lastly, if you are starting out as a ranger it's worthwhile to level them up to 15 first for those sweet sweet two attacks per turn.

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  22. One battle I found impossible without changing the difficulty from veteran to novice was:

    Gur svtug jvgu Xnyvfgrf va Xnyvfgrf Cneybe

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    1. I had only 3 men standing after that fight, but was happy that I had managed and didn't try again. X-P

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    2. It's easy to not be expecting it and enter without buffs precast. Having high level mages really helps.

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  23. "Vaasan" is probably a reference to Vaasa, a land further north of the Moonsea in the Forgotten Realms setting. I think it appeared in a couple of D&D modules, but I don't remember much else about it.

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    1. They have an evil witch-king and was the home of the Bloodstone series, which was super high-level and had the last module for 18-100th (not a typo) level characters. It was quite funny to read through.

      It could be an in-joke about high-level games, but who knows?

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  24. I thought THAC0 increased for all classes until level 20?

    The saving throws for fighter-classes and wizards increase until level 21, at least, so I think that is a better level to dual-class after obtaining.

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    1. In 1E they used "to hit" charts instead of THAC0. THAC0 was "back ported" into these games to simplify things.

      In the 1E DMG the "To Hit" chart for Fighters/Paladins/etc stops at the 17+ category.

      For Clerics it stops at 19+, 21+ for the Thief and Magic User tables.

      Saving throws are the same; the table stops at 17+ for Fighters, 19+ for Clerics, and 21+ for Thieves and Magic Users.

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    2. THAC0 existed in 1E as a shorthand, you can see it in unabbreviated form in the DMG and in abbreviated in a handful of later modules, though as you mentioned it wasn't codified as the official thing 'till 2E.

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    3. Fighters only gain extra hitpoints after level 17, but those build up over time--a fighter will gain 69 HP from 17 to 40. As the paladin's advancement is slower this does leave a little bit of a niche for the pure fighter.

      Spellcasters gain extra spells through level 29. After level 29 no more spells to memorize are gained, but damage from mage spells continues to increase--a level 30 delayed blast fireball does 66 points of damage on a save, whereas a level 40 delayed blast fireball does 90 points of damage on a save. Yes, there is a point in the game where this can actually matter.

      As far as I know the monster with the highest MR that can be overcome is the Pet of Kalistes with 85% MR (it's not a spoiler if it's in the manual!), which should be unable to resist your spells at level 28.

      BTW, Elminster was level 26 according to the books in 2nd ed if I recall correctly.

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  25. My favorite game, and I arrive too late to the party. Hah! Let me try to provide what use I can.

    The use of powerful area-effect spells does turn POD into a bit of a 'fastest draw in the West' situation. Here's the thing, though. You'll save time reloading if you dump Viola and Cesario and make and dual, say, a ranger and a cleric to mage, but you'll have to spend some time grinding to make up for the levels you lost. You're clever enough to pull off a win anyway--I've *never* seen anyone tackle Zhentil Keep first in Curse--but it's a matter of how much reloading you want to do. You might enjoy the challenge and feel attached to the characters. I *have* done all four games with the same six characters, but they were heavily edited back in Pool.

    If you're lazy, go ahead and use the pregen party, they work pretty well.

    Be aware that you are going to have to precast spells before big battles. You've been reluctant to do this in the past--don't. A good preparatory regimen is Enlarge on fighters, Mirror Image on mages, Haste on all characters (stock up on Elixirs of Youth when you get the chance!), Fire Shield on mages (cold only unless fighting white dragons), Minor Globe or Globe on mages, Resist Fire on everyone, Fire Touch on fighters, and Mind Blank on everyone. You should only have to do this before major fights. Globe of Invulnerability will actually protect you from most enemy mages as few mages actually cast Delayed Blast Fireball in this game (it's Dark Queen of Krynn where they spam you with it) and your saves against Hold Monster are going to be pretty damn good.

    Also, I don't know if you want to reload, but you can mug Vala for her extra Ring of Blinking. (Hold her, let an enemy hit her, take the Ring when she's unconscious, then heal her back.) Comes in handy in the final battle.

    Drow magic resistance is 50% + 2%/level. Drow levels range from 7 (Drow Priest) to 15 (Drow Wizard; this is the thief level). Magic resistance is figured at 11th level + 5% /level below 11 (or - 5% for every level above 11). What this means in practice is that your chance of affecting a Drow with an 11th level mage is 20-36%, and with a 13th level mage (freshly made), 30-46%, and with a 17th level mage (double-trained from Secret), 50-66%. So I'd advise waiting a bit to go after the Drow. If you go after them toward the end, your levels will be much higher and they will be much easier. (The same logic holds for single-class mages in Dark Queen of Krynn, which are very powerful due to the linearization of the experience curve at high levels.)

    Fun fact: Hold Monster works on Dracoliches. It shouldn't, but it does.

    Fun fact: Death Spell works on Drow Priests and Priestesses. They get magic resistance, but no saving throw. Fun thing to do with that sixth-level spell slot.

    Not-so-fun fact: Mass Charm only works on humans in this game, if you're wondering why it never works.

    Basically, POD is the equivalent of a Ph.D. qualifying exam in Gold Box combat, if that were an academically respectable field. ("For my dissertation, I will discuss the use of the Cone of Cold on monsters immune to fire...")

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    1. I appreciate the tips, and in particular the explanation for how Drow magic resistance works, as I've already started encountering Drow and wondering why they sometimes, but don't always, shrug off my spells.

      I ended up with two "Rings of Blinking" somehow without mugging Vala. What do they do, exactly?

      I haven't been reluctant in the past to cast buffing spells. But I do blunder into a lot of combats without knowing they're about to come up, thus losing the opportunity to cast buffing spells (unless I have to reload).

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    2. As the name suggests, it grants the effects of the 3rd level mage spell Blink as long as the ring is worn. This spell is supposed to cause the character to randomly "blink" in and out of existence, disappearing from the battlefield at a random time each round and reappearing at the start of the next round. But the way it is implemented in Pools seems to be that the blinking effect is always applied immediately after the char is done acting, causing enemies that come later in the turn order to completely ignore him. Combined with a 18 dexterity, this includes most opponents.

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  26. Regarding the character class discussion, I was only able to beat Pools on my most recent run at the series last year and I prepped for it by dual-classing throughout the earlier games in order to do two things:
    - always have at least one each of Cleric/Mage/Thief
    - maximize the number of characters with Fighter-level hit points and attacks.

    Because I found the ability to deal out large amounts of physical hit point damage - especially at range - was critical in several fights.

    I believe I ended up with one Fighter/Thief, one Fighter/Mage, one Mage/Fighter, one Fighter/Cleric, one Thief/Mage, and one Cleric/Mage at the end. That gave me three high level mages, one mid- and one high-level Cleric at the end of Pools for casting while also giving me four characters with Fighter hit points, Fighter weapon access, and at least 3/2 attacks unhasted.

    In your shoes I would at least consider introducing some new Fighters and immediately dual-classing them to casters, but you have shown yourself to be pretty adaptable combat-wise.

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    1. Unfortunately, you posted after I made a lot of dual mage/clerics but not many fighters/anything. We'll see how it goes.

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  27. I'm currently playing the first game, Pool of Radiance, and I see that some of your characters have XPs in the millions. I have an all human party, because I thought that level caps didn't apply to humans, and I spent a few days dueling and grinding for levels. And now my female human chaotic evil cleric has over 100k XP, and she still can't level to level 7. I have a level 8 fighter though. I have yet to actually start playing the game proper though, by the time I get to the Troll Toss Spot I'll be fireballing and ruling. To bad that the game has level caps, rendering the rest of the game pointless in rpg terms after you've grinded in the initial area. Is there any way to duel in the later games?

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    Replies
    1. How do you grind in the game with a finite amount of random encounters? Duels?
      And what is the point in grinding instead of just playing the game naturally?

      Delete
    2. Not all areas have finite random encounters. You can't exhaust the random encounters in the wilderness or graveyard (before clearing), and the city council will give you money for killing undead. I also believe the Temple of Bane and Kobold Caves are nonclearable (until completed of course). Finally, if you set off the alarm in Valjevo Castle and are powerful enough, the fighter and giants they send after you cannot be exhausted and can net you many XP due to the gold the giants are carrying.

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    3. As for the point...who knows? The repetitive action is relaxing to some people. Level caps limit the powergaming value but being able to get your fighter to 10th level on transfer to Curse can be useful for the powergamer.

      Oh, and I forgot: one of the very best places to grind, once you are strong enough, is to start fights with the council guard and town watch. They have a lot of fun stuff. Keep in mind that the shops, temples, and inns won't do business with you afterward until after you complete a mission (so you can screw yourself if you do that after killing Tyranthraxus). The Temple of Ilmater in Podol Plaza, however, will still serve scofflaws, and the training hall still works I think. ;)

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    4. Right where you train you can duel against Rolf, your level times 100 is the number of XPs you get. So for my cleric it takes 15 duels to get to 1500XP and level 2, then it takes 8 duels to get to 3000XP and level 3, then another 17 duels to get to 8000XP and level 4, then yet another 20 duels to get to 16000XP and level 5, and then yet another 32 duels to get to 32000XP and level 6. But that's the last time my cleric leveled up, she's still level 6 despite having over 120.000XP.

      Here's how to duel: first remove any weapons, if you're armed the duel can result in enough damage to kill, rather than just render unconscious, a character. Before dueling, unequip armor, but not shields, that way Rolf will have higher AC since he won't equip armor, but will equip a shield. If you fight with magic users or clerics, make sure they don't have any spells memorized before the duel.

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    5. That sounds frightfully boring. So you do a boring thing, and then the rest of the game becomes too easy (=boring), and then you complain about the game being pointless?
      Oh well, as long as you enjoy it...

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    6. But if I don't grind the Troll Toss bastards are to tough for me. I'm playing the game almost like a rogue, I only reload to reroll the amount of hp I get from leveling up. I don't want to fight against the trolls and then lose. The level caps should have been higher. I don't know how you're supposed to beat those trolls in the rope guild with level 1 characters.

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    7. You're not. You should explore the rest of the slum area first, and preferably also Sokol Keep. Then your characters will be lvl 2-3. Bring along a Hero or two, and it's not too difficult. With a lvl 3 Mage you can also cast Stinking Cloud.
      The Troll Toss fight is really the most difficult fight in the game relatively speaking. By grinding up to lvl 6 before even starting the game proper it gets far too easy and boring IMO.

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    8. It is so funny, that you don't have to do the troll fight until you are ready for that, but you insist doing that.

      There are 2-3 quests in every area that are for lower levels and 1 that for higher levels/stronger party.

      Before you go for the trolls you can clean most of the island, but the main hall can be true difficult, so you can go to the rich district, or to Kuto's Well, where there are some easier quests too.

      This is the beauty of Pool Of Radiance, that you never need to grind, you need to progress in the direction of least resistance.

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    9. It is so funny, that you don't have to do the troll fight until you are ready for that, but you insist doing that.

      There are 2-3 quests in every area that are for lower levels and 1 that for higher levels/stronger party.

      Before you go for the trolls you can clean most of the island, but the main hall can be true difficult, so you can go to the rich district, or to Kuto's Well, where there are some easier quests too.

      This is the beauty of Pool Of Radiance, that you never need to grind, you need to progress in the direction of least resistance.

      Delete
    10. Yeah, the best form of "grinding" is just to explore the easier areas first and then return to the difficult ones.

      Delete
    11. Grinding is the fastest way to earn experience, it takes less than a minute to get about 100XP per character. The XP rewards from the rest of the game are relatively smaller. Anyway, I haven't played the game much before and my party is finally leveled up, time to fire up dosbox.

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    12. Phew, a few hours of Pool of Radiance and I feel like a garbage man, "studded leather armor, short sword, studded leather armor, short sword,..." and I have to take it all back to the store to sell it, feels kinda wasteful not to. Just dueling is easier.

      Delete
    13. the cheese I discovered back when I was 12 involves hiring and killing heroes and thaumaturges. Plate +1, Long Swords + 1 and Ring of Prot. +1 for everyone.

      I wouldn't do it these days because it completely destroys the interesting progression early game. Sure made things easy though.

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    14. The heroes actually had magic two-handed swords; not long swords. For some reason there alignment was even Lawful Evil. I think you even got experience for the magic items (but I might be remembering that wrong).

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    15. It was also kinda neat how many encounters actually scaled up to your level in a limited fashion.
      For example, I remember just reimporting a party I'd finished the game with into a new game and facing pretty strong patrols in the slums. In the PC98 version, they even start throwing in bugbears at some point.
      If you fail to properly finish Podol Plaza, the fights there can get into Bard's Tale territory - 99 Hobgoblins rush to attack!

      As for the troll toss, no other goldbox game had that stuff, but you can stock up on flasks of flame oil at the general store, which stop the trolls from ever regenerating...

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    16. The PC version had bugbears in the slum patrols too.

      The fighters--Warrior, Swordsman, and Hero--were in fact all Lawful Evil, and would turn on your party if you brought them in to fight Tyranthraxus.

      I think Podol Plaza's 10 encounters rule was bugged--you couldn't exhaust the encounters by resting, only by encountering wandering monsters, and if you finished them before the auction, after the auction they would never end and you'd have to dodge encounters on your way to the castle.

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    17. innnate, you and I are gazing at the same game across a gulf of mutual incomprehension.

      Delete
  28. Question for CRPG Addict Readers: Does anyone know of the game shown starting here in this Ancient Dos Games video? It is called "Dungeon Quest V1.14" or DQ.EXE, but the only Dungeon Quest I can find online is a top-down turn based game, whereas this is a real time, first person game.

    https://youtu.be/cEHZiAyDL1I?t=637

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There's a copy here:
      http://cd.textfiles.com/megagames2/GAMES/ADVENTUR/DUNGEONQ.ZIP

      A 1990 game by John Stanley. I'll quote the beginning of the readme here:

      "Welcome to the Dungeon Quest Fantasy Adventure. In this Dungeon, you will
      find many kinds of roaming monsters. Your job is to clear all 8 levels of
      Dungeon without getting killed. Many forms of Magic exist within the Dungeon,
      so make the best use of it during your Quest.

      "This Test Drive has two limitations:
      1) You can not leave the 1st level.
      2) You do not get any sound effects."

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    2. "Dungeon Quest - Test Drive Copyright (c) 1990, John Stanley"

      So, yeah. Sorry, Chet. I think I found a game for your list. However, you might need help finding a full copy of it, or will have to base your review on the first level.

      (I wasn't looking for this, I promise! I was just watching youtube and came across a DOS rpg that looks like something you'd find interesting to play. I mean, it looks like a precursor to Arena, and has cute graphics! Please don't ban me.)

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    3. You're hereby banned for delaying better games :) Anyway, that's assuming one exists, which might not be the case. Many shareware games, especially these one-man garage projects, did not have a full version, like 1994's Aethra Chronicles.

      Delete
    4. Hmm? Aethra Chronicles did have a full version, but sadly it didn't have any sequels after Aethra Chronicles: Volume One - Celystra's Bane.

      Delete
    5. Okay then. Thought those too were supposed to be in the final game.

      Delete
    6. I've seen a Usenet post from the writer who talks about it as having been finished.

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    7. "it" being?

      Delete
    8. Sorry. Dungeon Quest. In a Usenet thread where someone was asking for free art, John Stanley responded saying he'd finished a number of games including Dungeon Quest and had always found a way to pay for the art.

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    9. Well, we're well past 1990, so it'll have to wait until I come through the year again on my mop-up.

      Delete
    10. That is fine! Also: At least I brought you a DOS game that I know works in DOSBOX, and not some weird thing from the Amiga or such.

      Delete
    11. I had a friend of mine who played a game that looked a little bit like that, except it was on Atari and it was, as far as I can remember decades later, less colorful. I've always wondered what that games was, it had an interesting inventory where you had to click on things and collect items in order to survive, and I think it was real time.

      Delete
    12. That sounds like Dungeon Master. It came out on Atari ST first, which had only 16 colors.

      http://crpgaddict.blogspot.com/2010/11/game-33-dungeon-master-1987.html

      Delete
  29. Ah, nothing like a goldbox game to get the comments flowing again. ... Come to think of it, there is at least one more thing, Baldur's Gate, I predict >500 comments on your first BG posts in a couple of years :)

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    1. Considering the number of epic sprawling games between '91 and '98, I think it's going to take slightly more than a couple of years to get there. :)

      Delete
  30. Considering her fatty look Sasha has spent the last ten years eating goblin burgers it seems...

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    1. Doesn't look fat to me. Besides which, she's a middle-aged politician.

      Delete
    2. Shes Not exactly Kate Moss either is she

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    3. Careful or you'll trigger some of the types that "can't even" at metal bikinis and they will call you names.

      Delete
    4. Haha, well someone is triggered. You can say 'SJW' if it helps you relax.

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    5. I bet Mr. Kuntermann is fatter than Sasha.

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  31. Such a great game, as all the gold box games were! I had the same characters though all 4 in the series, 5 if you count Hilsfar. Not sure which is better, reading the post and remembering when I played it through all those years ago, or reading the comments with everyone talking about the game.

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    1. I was beginning to worry that I'd lost all my readers, since I had a string of posts that only got comments in the teens. I guess I just needed to post about a popular game.

      Delete
    2. I think part of that is the personal link. A LOT of people have played Pool of Darkness, have opinions on it, want to share their experiences, and want to tell you their opinion of your parties composition. When you are playing an obscure game from some mainframe at one university, well, a lot less people played it, so we only have your writing to respond to.

      Delete
  32. This is the one Forgotten Realms goldbox game that I never had the patience to get through. I remember watching my brother grind through it, but only managing to beat the final battle with an overgrinded party of all dual-classed humans at level 39/40. Good luck with this one.

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