Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Guest Post: Why the Economy Sucks in the SSI Gold Box Games (Part 1)

In the midst of my experience with Pools of Darkness, I thought it was time to offer this guest post, written by frequent CRPG Addict commenter OldWowBastard. Aside from the overall title, I found Bastard's article a great primer on the development of D&D games and the adaptation of tabletop rules to a CRPG format.

I edited the content and provided the images, so if any errors remain, that's on me.

****

Why the Economy Sucks in the SSI Gold Box Games
Part 1: Examining SSI's adherence to AD&D rules
by OldWowBastard
   
When it came to "riches" and "making your fortune," this advertisement for mercenaries certainly didn't lie.
   
Strategic Simulations, Inc. (SSI) acquired the license to create officially branded AD&D computer games from TSR, the owners and creators of D&D and AD&D, in the mid/late 80s. Of the products created by SSI between 1987 and 1995, the "Gold Box" series of games (so named due their distinctive gold packaging) was the most popular. Between 1988 and 1993, 13 games were released in this series.

SSI created ten of the Gold Box titles in house. A series of 4 is set in the Forgotten Realms: Pool of Radiance (1988), Curse of the Azure Bonds (1989), Secret of the Silver Blades (1990) and Pools of Darkness (1991). They also created a series of 3 games set in the world of Krynn: Champions of Krynn (1990), Death Knights of Krynn (1991), and Dark Queen of Krynn (1992). The SSI series is rounded out by two Buck Rogers XXVc adventures--Countdown to Doomsday (1990) and Matrix Cubed (1992)--and a Forgotten Realms: Unlimited Adventures construction set (1993).

An additional series of two Forgotten Realms games, Gateway to the Savage Frontier (1991) and Treasures of the Savage Frontier (1992), along with an early MMO that was run on AOL, Neverwinter Nights (1991), were created by outside studios, using the SSI tools, under license from SSI.

This series of games is generally regarded by RPG and CRPG fans as one of the best adaptations of the AD&D 1st edition style rules. Their adaptation of the AD&D 1st edition combat system in particular is well executed. To the point that, despite the aging interface and older style of presentation, many still find these games very enjoyable. 

Unfortunately, as many fans know, there is one glaring flaw in these games: they essentially lack any sort of useful economy. Money, in almost every game in the series, is essentially useless, because of the fact that the party is given copious amounts of it, at every turn, as a reward. Unlike most other games of the era, there is simply nothing worthwhile to spend money on. In an average play-through your party will throw away literal mountains of copper, silver, gold and platinum.

My goal, in this article, is to examine the how's and why's of this situation, and to essentially assign responsibility for this state of affairs as I see it. During the course of this post we will discuss several points about these games. SSI's company line that they were forced to use the rules as written, the changes made by SSI to the written rules, how money sinks were avoided, and how they clearly followed treasure tables, while ignoring written rules in the DMG that were supposed to be used in conjunction with said tables.

Let's begin.

0. A quick discussion on the origin of the rules

It makes sense to review the origin and purpose of the AD&D 1st edition ruleset, and do a quick review of the versions publicly available when these games were released, prior to any deep dive discussion. At the time, the general perception of D&D/AD&D, and the commonly accepted playstyle, were heavily shaped by all of the available versions.

It was quite common, in active play at the time, for the rules from the disparate rule sets to be intermixed as “house rules”--especially since at least one of the systems “suggested” that one start with Basic and then move to 1E.

0.1. OD&D

Dungeons and Dragons was originally released in 1974 as a boxed set of 3 booklets. This ruleset is generally referred to as OD&D, or the LBBs (an acronym for Little Brown Books, as the three booklets were brown and fairly small in size). It was originally attributed to Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. This game was initially, essentially, an expansion of the Chainmail wargame/mass combat rules released by Guidion Games written by Gygax and Jeff Perrin in the early 1970s.

One of the original "Little Brown Books."
   
This was a fairly bare bones release. Combat rules were omitted, and referees were instead supposed to use systems from the parent game, Chainmail. In its earliest form, the game only had three classes: fighting man, magic user, and cleric. Hobbits, dwarves, and elves were included; the former two were only allowed to be fighting men, while the latter could be a fighting man or magic user, per the player’s choice at the start of each day.

Every aspect of this ruleset, from syntax to rules descriptions, assumed the reader had an extensive background in wargaming. Miniature sand table scale was often used in place of specific ranges or areas of effect, for example.

Very little direction was given to the DM (then just called a referee) in terms of creating a campaign world, lore, or story. He was supposed to instead just build a dungeon and stock it with an assortment of traps, treasures, and monsters.

If one wanted to attempt overland exploration, the referee was instructed to use the hex map from Avalon Hill’s Wilderness Survival game, or another similar pre-generated map, and simply utilize the wilderness random encounter tables. Said tables included fairly deadly challenges, so this was generally considered an option for higher level characters.

0.2. OD&D Supplements

OD&D was quickly supplemented as the initial rule set exploded in popularity.

Its first supplement, Greyhawk, introduced the thief and paladin classes and added new combat rules that allowed referees to run the game without owning a copy of Chainmail.

Its second supplement, Blackmoor, added the druid and assassin classes and included the first pre-made scenario. This supplement contains one of the first appearances of the term "Dungeon Master."

Eldridch Wizardry and Gods, Demi Gods and Heroes added psionic rules and stats for deities and heroes, respectively.

By the time the last supplement was released, most of what would become the core of AD&D was in place. A few classes still not in the game officially (ranger, monk) had been detailed in Dragon magazine (TSR’s AD&D magazine) or the Strategic Review (its predecessor.)

0.3. Holmes Basic

By 1977, D&D had become fairly popular, but as the rules were spread around a boxed set and 4 supplements, it was a bit unwieldy for the novice.

Dr. J. Eric Holmes essentially volunteered to re-write the game for a “younger” audience, in a single package, which resulted in the version colloquially referred to as the "Holmes" edition of Dungeons and Dragons. Technically, it is the first product that was titled Basic Dungeons and Dragons.

This version was released shortly before AD&D 1st edition and is essentially a bridge between OD&D + Greyhawk, and AD&D 1st edition. It is a re-write and distillation of the OD&D rules, plus the Greyhawk supplement and monsters from a few other sources. It includes the thief class from Greyhawk but omits the paladin from that supplement, for example. It only covers levels 1-3 and instructs players and referees to graduate to AD&D after that point.

0.4. AD&D 1st Edition

By 1976 or so, OD&D had been widely adopted and heavily extended by third parties. Gygax was frustrated to receive letters from campaigns that had characters with levels in the 100s, capable of defeating entire pantheons of gods.

This frustrated TSR; having seen the success of Judge’s Guild’s adventure modules and campaign info, they had plans to release similar supplemental published materials for DMs. These materials were difficult to produce if a baseline for the game did not exist. A module for characters level 8-12 would be useless for a DM in a campaign that had characters in the 100s, and allowed characters to surpass those levels in a single encounter.

D&D tournaments at gaming conventions had become quite popular as well, so there was a desire to better codify the ruleset in order to facilitate easy tournament DM-ing.

Primarily due to these factors, AD&D 1st edition was created.
 
The Dungeon Masters Guide leads off the first edition rules.
    
As this edition was written on a fairly rushed schedule, rules are often explained in a contradictory or unclear manner. Disparate sub-systems are utilized to resolve similar situations, often because the writer or creator of sub-system A did collaborate with the creator of sub-system B.

This is a drastic contrast to something like the D20 system when most actions boil down to “roll a D20, add bonuses, try to hit a target.” Some of those flaws are examined in a bit more detail in the body of this work.

It is worth noting that there is also some evidence that AD&D was created to split the product line, so TSR could stop paying royalties to co-creator Dave Arneson. Arneson brought suit against TSR for royalties and, by all accounts, eventually won a “per book” royalty rate for all AD&D 1st edition products.

0.5. B/X - Moldvay/Cook

By 1980, Dungeons and Dragons had experienced a massive surge in popularity due in part to the hysteria surrounding the disappearance of James Dallas Egbert.

AD&D 1st edition was completed with the release of the Dungeon Master’s Guide in 1979, but early acceptance was not universal, and as the rule set was built for tournament use, it was a bit complex to DM. As a result, with the influx of new users, there was a clear need for a new ruleset that was easily understandable and teachable. Moldvay/Cook was written to fit this niche.

In most cases, rules are influenced by OD&D and AD&D but are presented in a clearer and more concise manner. Subsystems tend to be minimized, and the language used is geared more towards elementary or middle school aged readers, as opposed to the “high Gygaxian” (complex prose that mixed old English and obscure wargaming terms with actual colloquial English) used in 1E.

It was fairly common for people to use the “meat” of the rules from this system (e.g., how to adjust combat and exploration) while using the “fun stuff” from 1E: spells, classes, monsters, magic items, and so forth.

0.6. BECMI

After the success of B/X, and with the impending release of the D&D Saturday morning cartoon, TSR decided to revamp the “Basic” D&D line one additional time in 1983. This resulted in the release of the BECMI (Basic, Expert, Companion, Masters, Immortal) set of boxed products.

These releases featured high-quality illustrations by Larry Elmore, with interior art by Elmore and Easley. This was the origin of the iconic “Red Box” D&D Basic Set, which was the first product released in the series. It was a fairly massive step up in presentation for the D&D or AD&D line, by the standards of the day.

Initially, the rule set was identical to Moldvay/Cook up until the Companion set. Beyond that, TSR introduced new material (e.g., the immortal rules, weapon mastery, proto-"prestige" classes) or massively re-written versions of OD&D or AD&D rules. The Basic and Expert sets were essentially a re-presentation of the B/X versions of those products, albeit with the introduction of a "solo" adventure to allow one to learn to play without a group.

This product line was the most common introduction to D&D or AD&D for most people in the 1980s. As with B/X, it was fairly common for 1E DMs, in the mid- to late 1980s, to incorporate combat, surprise, and exploration from this edition, alongside the classes, spells, weapons, magic items and monsters from 1E.

1.0 Rule changes

SSI has always stated that their license with TSR required them to follow the AD&D 1st edition rules. Their stance is that any issues with the economy were endemic to the rule set. From the CRPG Addict’s discussion with SSI Producer Victor Penman (contained in a posting on Champions of Krynn):

I asked Mr. Penman about [the problems with the in-game economy], and he attributed this problem mostly to the AD&D rules, which gave experience rewards based on both enemy hit dice and the amount of treasure collected…. TSR required SSI to use official rules for both experience and treasure… Penman somewhat brusquely told me that, "Following the rules and providing XP were our concerns, not what people spent money on."

Unfortunately, this statement is heavily inaccurate as SSI modified the AD&D core rules substantially in order to fit them into the paradigm of the game they wanted to make. Changes were made at several levels in order to adapt a table top, human moderated experience, into a computer based, pre-programmed experience. In some cases, rules were changed as their written implementation would not work in actual play. The rest of this article examines the many changes that SSI was not afraid to make to AD&D 1st edition rules.

1.1 Combat

Arbitration of combat in AD&D 1st edition has in practice been performed incorrectly more often than it has been performed correctly. This is due to several reasons, including the complexity of the rules, their general incompatibility with "heroic" roleplaying, and the fact that many of the rules used to arbitrate combat are documented in the DMG in a manner that is simply not clear or well organized.
     
Combat in a CRPG allowed implementation of more complex mathematics than pen-and-paper players were willing to put up with.
   
For a quick illustration of the “complexity” statement above, I will direct the reader to the ADDICT document, which comprehensively details how to accurately arbitrate the surprise and initiative rules in AD&D 1E, when all of their apparent inconsistencies have been accounted for. This document is 20 pages, including footnotes, and it details nothing beyond “which side is surprised at the start of an encounter” and “what order to actions occur in combat, in the course of a round."

Rules of a complexity to require a subsequent 20-page long companion document to explain are built to spill, and were obviously rarely, if ever, run by the book in actual play.

As noted above, combat in the Basic versions of D&D available commercially alongside AD&D 1st edition was substantially less complicated and easier to run. Those rules allow for a simple “roll a die, the side with the [higher|lower] number goes first” for the purposes of determining initiative, for example. Much simpler than the aforementioned 1E rules.

As a result, many players substituted B/X or BECMI rules with AD&D combat rules, as their approach to combat was substantially clearer and streamlined.

Many of the combat changes made in the Gold Box games resemble a B/X or BECMI rule set approach, and they ignore rules that were key to combat pace and feel in AD&D 1st edition.  Several of these changes are outlined below.

1.1.1. Moving into melee/charge

As written, a character may not move into melee range and attack an opponent in the same round, without using the "charge" maneuver. Charge provides the victim with a to-hit bonus, opens the charging party to some special attacks, and removes the ability of the user to use dexterity-based armor class modifiers. When charge is used, the combatant with the longest weapon strikes first, regardless of initiative.

To counter, the combatant receiving the charge may “set” a spear or pole arm to receive the charge; if they successfully hit the charging opponent, the weapon will do double damage. This makes charge into a somewhat risky maneuver. This becomes additionally risky, as the receiving combatant with a spear or pole arm “set” to receive a charge will also strike first, unless the unit initiating the charge is using a longer weapon.

Alternatively, a character or monster may choose to move into melee range without utilizing a charge. If this option is taken, no attacks may be made by the moving party as the round is spent closing into melee range carefully while fending off any "attacks of opportunity."
   
Karnov has no problem charging and attacking the pyrohydra in one round.
   
SSI completely ignored these rules in the Gold Box games. There is no charge maneuver. Characters can move into melee range, without an attack of opportunity by their opponent even if said opponent has a longer weapon, and then perform a standard melee attack. [Ed: is the ability of characters and monsters to "Guard" in the SSI games related to rules about charging and setting weapons? Or was this a separate action in the tabletop rules?]

Given the risk associated with a charge, this change has a dramatic impact on the pace and nature of combat. One can move into melee multiple times in a round, if multiple attacks are available, in an SSI game. One cannot do so in the rules as written. The written rules allow a set of units effectively to block access to a more vulnerable unit; without those rules, it becomes easier for units to target vulnerable foes without a chance of impediment. Thus, these changes drastically alter the feel and flow of combat.

This was likely done because the average CRPG gamer would have seen that set of terms as unacceptable. “I have to move to the monster and just sit there a round before I can attack?! Wtf?!” would likely have been a common reaction.

Most AD&D 1st edition players ignored that rule as well. BECMI and B/X allow one to move and then strike without a charge, and that was generally the accepted play style.

As a result, in terms of "popular play style," the SSI modification was truer to a standard experience. It was however a clear and obvious example of a drastic change to a very basic rule to improve the gameplay experience.

1.1.2. Item/treasure breakage

Another important rule that was omitted is the concept of item breakage during combat. In AD&D 1E it was fairly easy for magical items and treasure to get destroyed in the course of combat.

"Cone of Cold," for example, was developed specifically by Gary Gygax’s son Ernie, because he was sick of ruining all of the treasure they’d find when he’d cast a "Fireball" at a group of opponents.

Per the table on the 1E DMG page 80: "Metal, soft or Jewelry" saves against a Fireball on an 18-20 on a d20 roll. So, with RAW, anytime you’d cast a fireball you have an 85% chance of melting any gold or jewelry on the target. It only fails its save 5% of the time vs. "Cone of Cold" or "Ice Storm," though.

It should be noted that this applied to everything. A character caught in a "Fireball" had to roll for any money on his person, any jewelry, any armor or weapons.

Metal, Hard, saves 75% of the time, with a +5% bonus per +1 on a magical item, but that still means over time you’d lose a lot of treasure, and personal weapons and items, to fireballs. Even a +4 or +5 suit of armor would, statistically speaking, get blown to bits by the twentieth-ish fireball that hit you, since they would still fail a save on a 1 d20 (5% chance).

These rules were, it should be noted, generally not used in "standard" play. It’s pretty cumbersome to make 7+ die rolls, per character, per fireball. As a result, most people would not have expected them to exist, and their exclusion is understandable.

It should also be noted that the BECMI and B/X versions of D&D did not include this rule. I cannot find them offhand in OD&D, but it has been stated that Gygax used them with that ruleset, so I may simply have missed them or they may be in the parent Chainmail rules.

Whatever the case, there is simply no mechanism whatsoever for breaking or destroying player inventory or treasure in the Gold Box titles.

My spellcaster prepare to destroy the enemies and, according to the rules, most of their stuff.
   
1.1.3. Firing missiles into melee

In the rules as written, it was somewhat difficult to hit a specific target when firing into a general melee. Specifically, one was not allowed to pick the target and instead the target hit would be diced for.

Essentially, the DM was instructed to assign a value to each unit in melee, based on size, and then roll to determine which combatant was hit based on said value. An example would be two medium sized combatants and a large one in a combat. DM would assign a value of 1 to each medium target, and 2 to the large one. He’d then roll a D4, 1 indicating medium target 1, 2 indicating medium target 2 and 3-4 indicating the large target.

Therefore, in a melee of 4 friendlies and 4 hostile opponents you would have a 50/50 chance of hitting an ally, if you fire into said melee.

In the Gold Box games these rules were removed, and you can target any combatant within range with missile fire.

1.2. Monster reactions

Rules for resolving how non-plot-based, wandering monsters react to PCs in AD&D 1st edition are covered in a few tables in the DMG. These tables are heavily based on dice results, and while there is room for player action, good or bad dice rolls can have a stronger effect in many cases than player action.

In SSIs Gold Box games, most of the time monsters will attack immediately. In the cases they do not, there are a few different potential options.

1) Party is presented with a basic yes/no, attack/run, set of binary options. In some cases, you are provided a legitimate fight/do not fight option and can bypass said combat. In others this is more accurately a "fight this now, or come back later" choice as said combat must be completed in order to clear the area and/or progress the plot.

2) Party is presented with an "attitude" menu, do they react Haughty, Sly, Meek, Nice, Abusive? Monster response is pre-programmed to those cases, it appears. Monsters respond as programmed. In Pool of Radiance, for example, acting "abusive" towards lower level humanoids will generally make them flee.
    
Encounter options in Pool of Radiance replace what was supposed to be a more flexible system.
    
This is drastically at odds with the system presented in AD&D 1st edition. The system presented in AD&D 1st edition would allow most parties to avoid those "truly" random encounters. Any monsters not specifically angry at the PCs current incursion can potentially be convinced, or die-rolled, into a neutral or even potentially positive stance.

Gary Gygax himself often stated that avoiding combat was preferable to combat, in D&D. This is supported by several facets of the game. An easy example is the fact that gold and treasure XP is often much higher than the XP acquired from killing monsters.  

One can see why this system was adapted, as the permutations possible in the written system would be almost impossible to arbitrate or control properly in a game. In an organic situation, the DM can simply play the role of the monsters and react to the PCs accordingly.

Programming a similar set of reactions would not have been a real option in the late 1980s. This process requires human judgment to be applied in a very situational manner. There are also no accommodations in the Gold Box engine to allow complex player interaction with monsters. There’s no “I give the orcs 300 gold and tell them to not bother my party of Level 6-9 heavies” button.

Due to those programming limitations, and the inability of a “digital DM” to accommodate those types of plans, SSI simply ignored these rules and re-wrote them to fit their engine. Although understandable, it is nonetheless a dramatic re-write of a rule that is very core to the source game.

1.3. Classes

AD&D 1st edition includes several classes that were not included in the Gold Box games. Assassins, illusionists, druids, and monks simply do not make an appearance in this series. As many know, the paladin and ranger are not present in Pool of Radiance, the first game in the series, as well.
    
Even a late entry in the Gold Box series omits several canonical classes.
    
I've never seen a reason provided for this specifically, but when you look at each class there are some issues with each that prevent an easy translation into a CRPG.

It’s easy to see how the illusionist's spells are a bad fit as they require human arbitration and player DM interaction to work properly. Spells like "Phantasmal Force" are the bread-and-butter of the class, but are wholly open ended. Do you cast "Phantasmal Force" and make a dragon appear to breathe fire on a pack of orcs, causing them to save vs. magic or die from heart attacks? Use it to create an illusionary magic item to bribe them with? A majority of the illusionist's spells fall into the “tell me what you’re going to do with this” category, in a way that was not parse-able by systems in 1988. It’s a class that demands creative play, and that is simply not possible in a CRPG context, with 1980s resources.

Druids have a number of odd open-ended abilities; one example is a 3/day shape shift into "any" animal form (within size limits) that again would be nearly impossible to program around, especially in 1988. They also have a spell list that is similar to the cleric, but different, with a number of more wilderness-oriented spells. Many of them are summoning spells or, essentially, follower-acquisition spells. Based on a deep look at the 1E druid, a lot of their power comes from their ability to collect animal “henchmen” or summon animals which would have required additional programming to accommodate.

Since memory-per-disk was a limitation, including the druid's and illusionist’s additional spells would likely not have been possible.

Assassins were likely omitted due to the nature of their primary special ability. Essentially, they can assassinate a target, on a successful D100 roll, based on their level and the target’s level. This ability as discussed in the DMG (p. 75) indicates that the ability works for a PC assassin as follows:

1)  The assassin’s player details the assassination plan to the DM

2)  DM takes a few environmental and situational factors into account; for instance, does the target trust the assassin, how well guarded is the target, are they impaired or asleep when the attempt occurs.

3)  DM then consults a table, cross checks the assassin’s level vs. the target’s, and modifies the percentage chance of success based organically on factors from item 2 above. There is no written guidance on how to arbitrate those modifications other than “you may adjust slightly for optimum conditions” and “you must deduct points if the intended victim is wary, takes precautions...”

4)    Assassin PC rolls a D100 and needs to roll under the % determined by the DM in step 3. If they succeed, the target is successfully assassinated. If they fail this roll, there is no guidance on how to arbitrate the failure, other than “weapon damage always occurs and may kill the victim even though ‘assassination’ failed.”

This ability is quite open-ended, and the rules seem to hover between it being an all-encompassing ability (e.g., the D100 roll includes every step of the assassination) or a more limited one (e.g., the D100 roll is to kill the target only, other factors do not matter). While the rules for modifying the role seem to indicate it is an all-encompassing roll, the “Weapon damage always occurs...” addendum seems to indicate the opposite.

Due to the complexity involved on either side, and the potential for plot disruption, I can see why this class was exorcised.

Lastly, monks have some open ended abilities like druids that would be hard to arbitrate. At lower levels they are somewhat useless, they cannot wear armor, and they do not get dexterity modifiers to AC. This prevents them from being a front line fighter, as they’re very easy to hit and do not have a large enough pool of hit points to make up for their lack of AC. Their unarmored AC and open hand damage, which both improve per level, become unbalanced around level 7, and then later become game-breaking by Level 14 or so.

These classes are a core part of the game, but they were exorcised completely. A massive change to the rules.

1.4. Races

AD&D 1st edition, in the original form, had at least one playable race that the SSI games omitted: the half-orc. To this day, I have yet to see a reason or justification for this. In my own mind, I cannot find one. This race was removed from AD&D 2nd Edition, which was released shortly after the first Gold Box game, but the reason for their omission is simply unknown.

Programmatically, I cannot see how including the half-orc could have caused any problems outside of minor memory overhead, particularly since there are half-orc NPCs and enemies in the game. Their lack of inclusion as a PC race is simply puzzling.
   
If this bandit leader can be a half-orc, why can't I?
   
They were dropped from 2E, apparently due to TSR’s desire to reduce parental and religious backlash against the game, and as this product came out so close to 2E it is possible they were omitted for similar reasons.

Half orcs were brought back into 2E with the release of the Book of Humanoids player’s book. Regardless, they were omitted here which is a clear change to the rules.

1.5. Spells

The following sections detail changes in the adaptation of the spell system to the Gold Box titles.
   

1.5.1. Missing spells

AD&D 1st edition, as written, contains a plethora of spells available for your spell casters to utilize in the course of role playing. Some, like "Fireball," are holdovers from the game's wargaming roots, and therefore were included as they are easily administrable in a combat situation, and are generally created wholly for that.

Many others, however, are substantially less destructive. Some are only useful in specific situations, when utilized by a good player.

In the Gold Box games, a majority of the spells involving travel, enchanting, divination, or really anything outside of the combat game and combat resource management portion of the game, are omitted.

In many cases the number of spells omitted per level exceeds the number included. This is exacerbated if you count the spell lists in Unearthed Arcana as “canonical,” which technically they would be.

Again, any justification for their exclusion would be pure speculation on my part. Many of the omitted travel spells would be game-breaking in the exploration portion of Gold Box games. "Fly" or "Teleport," for example, both really break something like Secret of the Silver Blades. "Teleport without Error" breaks any geographic barrier that could be thrown at you.

Why hike through miles of Ice Crevasses when your mage can just cast "Teleport without Error" and bam, you’re at the Dreadlord’s castle, in his boudoir, and he’s staring at you in his Lich undies with a confused look.

Many divinations could be game-breaking as well. "Speak with Dead" would allow a plot bypass in any “we need info from this guy” situations. "Contact Outer Plane" would as well. "Clairvoyance" spoils the encounter behind the door in front of you. [Ed: But including it would have solved one of the most frustrating issues with Gold Box combat: you don't know it was time to buff until you've already stumbled into combat.]

In a tabletop game, the DM has to find ways to work around this stuff, if they would break the game. Or you allow them and work around it. In a CRPG, it would be impossible; hence, their omission.

1.5.2. Spell Books

In AD&D 1E, magic users needed to access their spells in written form to study them. Said spells were written in either standard or travel-style spell books. These were heavy items, with limited spell capacity. In the context of a normal game, it would be quite difficult for a traveling magic user to have access to every spell he or she had written down.

Loss of a spell book, or several spell books, would be a major crisis as the character would need to somehow re-acquire their lost spells and pay for new books. This would likely require substantial expense and adventuring time.

Spellbooks from enemy spell casters become useful items in this context. Need to learn "Fireball"? Kill that mage that just cast it on you, take his spellbook, and read.

This concept of the spellbook as an inventory item, or series of inventory items, was hand-waved in the Gold Box games and was simply omitted.

1.5.3. Spell components

In 1st edition AD&D, many spells require an additional material component to cast. In some cases, these components are somewhat trivial in nature; for instance, the primary component for "Fireball" is a bit of bat guano. In other cases, they can be somewhat expensive. "Raise Dead" requires a 1,000-gold-piece gem.

These were completely omitted in the Gold Box games.

Including them would potentially have been simple. A store or two could have been devoted to spell reagents/components a la Ultima IV, and/or they could have potentially been harvestable from downed foes.

That said, the first game in the series was created when disk storage was exceptionally expensive. Their inclusion would have incurred a cost at several layers, and was likely not considered worthwhile as a result.

These components are often hand-waved by DMs when they’re not exceptionally expensive in nature. So their omission is understandable.

1.5.4. Magic item creation

Magic Item Creation in AD&D 1st edition is allowed, and is a very valid money sink. That being said, the rules in the Pre-3.x versions of AD&D/D&D are much less codified, and structured, than the ones you would find in 3.x+, Pathfinder, et al.

A DM is first instructed to force the players to pay a sage or high level character for the initial formula for any magic item created, be it a potion, weapon, armor, wand, or other item. As written, the processes involved in creating magic items are simply not known to common folks.

From there, we have a ton of very loose procedural rules. For potion creation, a lab must be built at a cost of 200-1000gp, plus a 10% upkeep cost. Potions generally cost 200-500 gp to create and require rare and hard-to-acquire substances. A list of suggestions for various potions is provided: troll blood is a potential ingredient for a Potion of Extra Healing, for example. Said list does not cover every potion detailed in even the 1E DMG, so most of this is left to the DM to determine.

Mages from levels 7-10 can only brew potions if they pay an alchemist for assistance; mages from 11+ can brew them without aid. There are no rules listed to allow clerics to brew potions.

Scrolls can be scribed by any spell caster 7th level or higher. In this case, the rare ingredients are used to make the ink used to scribe the scroll. Suggested items to make said ink really are not purchase-able and require the mage to gather them from downed foes, in most cases. The rules required to make said ink are codified well, unlike the potion ingredient rules.

There is a chance of failure per spell scribed, modified upwards by the spell level, and downwards by the inscriber's level. A failed attempt means the entire scroll is ruined, and any ink already used is wasted.

Other items have much more vague guidelines involved. Essentially they instruct the DM to make up the costs on the fly, depending on the item the player wants to build. A Ring of Protection, the book's provided example, would require a masterwork-quality non-magical ring as a base. 5000gp is given as an example cost for a "base" item.

Mages need to use the "Permanency," "Enchant an Item," and/or "Enchanted Weapon" spells to make items with a +x factor, such as a Longsword +1.

In other cases, the mage would need to cast spells into a desired item then “seal” it in with a "Permanency" spell. In most cases, the spells required to enchant an item with a specific trait are basically left up to the DM to determine.

Between limited spell durations, and failure chance, there was an odd balancing act in place with this process. Enchanting a +5 weapon, for example, would be tricky due to the time limit and long casting time of "Enchant Weapon" and "Permanency." Additionally, a player was not told during the enchanting process if a step failed, and would instead be told at the end. Basically this kept PCs to the creation of +3 or +4 weapons/armor, unless they were exceptionally lucky, or very high level. Spell memorization limits came into play here was well.

As a result of this balancing act, the mage performing the enchantment would often need to cast some spells from scrolls. This would likely require the mage in question to pre-scribe the scrolls needed for the enchantment, incurring additional time or monetary costs.

For clerics and druids, the rules are absurdly simple and much clearer: pray daily, at a special altar, and there is a 1% cumulative daily chance of the item being empowered by the cleric's deity. So by day 50+ or so you're pretty much set.

Regardless of the item made, or method, any non-scrolls or potions made incur several days of inactivity on the part of the creator. 1 day/100xp value of the item is suggested. This is a fairly bad penalty, as a Mage that creates a Staff of the Magi, for example, would have to rest for 150 days afterwards.

More complex items are explicitly excluded from creation. Any of the Manuals that provide XP or improve stats cannot be created, nor can items like the Hammer of Thunderbolts. There is little codification as to which items are supposed to be excluded. This is again left to the DM to determine.

It is a bit disappointing that these rules were excluded from the Gold Box games. In Curse of the Azure Bonds, for instance, a sage in each town might have sold a magic item recipe for a high price. You could then undergo the required steps to make that item, if it seemed worthwhile, burning more money in the process and perhaps taking the mage character out of commission for part of the gameplay. [Ed: I'm thinking of a system that combines the way weapons and armor are created in The Magic Candle with the way characters must leave the party to work regular jobs.]

That being said, this is a completely understandable change. As-is, a mage does not have direct access to "Permanency" until they can cast 8th level spells, so it’s omission outside of Pools of Darkness and Dark Queen of Krynn is in line with the games' own power curve. If they had included a magic item creation process in those games, they would have also needed to provide "Permanency" scrolls.

These games also had memory restrictions that forced them to include text in an external manual; I cannot imagine they would have had room left over for an item creation sub-game that would have involved collecting “parts” from fallen foes.

1.6. Experience from story/plot actions

In Champions of Krynn, SSI started to include experience rewards for completing plot points. These were often rather substantial XP rewards and in later games are quite essential in the overall leveling process.

In the AD&D 1st edition rules, there is no precedence for this. As mentioned in the 0.x sections above, AD&D 1st edition is really just a distillation of the 1974 D&D rules, with the 3 supplements added in. OD&D circa 1974 was a game of exploration, not story. Story happened because of the exploration, but characters were in the dungeon because it was there, not because of a plot justification.
  
A character gets experience for talking his way out of combat. This isn't supposed to happen.
    
OD&D was a sandbox game and AD&D 1st edition, when written, was not modified to be a story-centric game. As a result, Gygax did not consider or include rules for XP rewards due to plot points. XP was given for defeating foes, gathering treasure, gaining and creating magic items, and a few other edge cases.

One could argue that the XP rewards for treasure, since they were only given once the treasure was successfully brought back to civilization, were used as a meta reward to include any plot-specific XP gained in the course of said acquisition. This is my personal belief as well based on my interpretation of the rules; 1 xp per gp was simply used as a blanket reward for successful adventuring.

AD&D 2nd edition did include rules for story-based XP rewards as the game had evolved into more of a story-telling game than a sandbox dungeon/wilderness exploration game. It should be noted that AD&D 2nd Edition core rules do not provide XP for treasure as a baseline. They do acknowledge that as a potential optional rule, but even in the suggested optional rule description, xp is supposed to be rewarded for gold at a ratio lower than the 1:1 that 1E had. They recommend 1 xp per 2-5 gp in those cases.

As SSI included story rewards, they did not stick to 1st edition rules.

1.7. Unearthed Arcana omissions

In 1985, TSR released the Unearthed Arcana expansion volume for the AD&D 1st edition rules. This volume detailed several new character classes (cavalier, barbarian, thief-acrobat) expanded existing classes (notably the ranger and druid), introduced weapon specialization into the game, added several character races, increased the level caps and class options for non-humans, and added a number of new magic items and spells.

Of all of the rules introduced in this expansion, the only things included in the Gold Box games were a small handful of spells and a few magic items (most notably Dart of the Hornet’s Nest). All character-related additions were ignored. All additional classes, all of the additional races, the increased racial class level caps, weapon specialization, new armor and weapons, along with the majority of the aforementioned added spells and magic items.

There is some logic to this. UA was generally considered to be unbalanced, was play-tested minimally, was released when TSR was cash-strapped, and was heavily “errata’d” in Dragon magazine. Both the cavalier and barbarian were re-tuned in at least one Dragon article each, to bring them in line with “normal” characters.

While the omissions might therefore make sense, it's worth noting that at the time, AD&D 1E’s core rules really only consisted of Player’s Handbook, the Dungeon Master’s Guide, 3 books of monsters (Monster Manual 1 and 2, and the Fiend Folio) and Unearthed Arcana. Leaving the majority of an entire book of rules out of these games is a big omission as a result.

1.8. Weapon proficiencies

In AD&D 1st edition, characters are given a small number (2-4 depending on class) of weapon proficiency “slots." These are used to select in which weapons the character is proficient. Non-proficient weapon use incurs a to hit penalty of -1 to -4 (based on class). Characters gain slots as they level, which allows them to become proficient in new weapons.

As briefly mentioned in 1.7, Unearthed Arcana introduced weapon specialization. This system allows fighters and rangers to spend a second proficiency slot on a weapon, which then bestows a faster attack rate, and to-hit and damage bonus. Essentially, they are given +1 to hit, +2 to damage, and their attacks per round with said weapon increase by 1 step, allowing 3 attacks every 2 rounds at level 1 or 2 attacks every round at level 7, for a standard melee weapon.

These rules were wholly omitted in the Gold Box games. This does make some sense as the pre-Unearthed Arcana system is a “penalty only” type of system. Specifically, there are no advantages to being proficient in a weapon, but there are substantial disadvantages in being non-proficient in a weapon. This type of system is generally frowned upon in modern game design. Regardless, its omission is worth noting as it is a clear rules change.




In summary, SSI was not above making significant changes to the AD&D first edition rules in adapting them to the CRPG medium. Thus, slavish, contractually-mandated dedication to the ruleset cannot justify the broken state of the economy. While most of the changes above resulted in a better CRPG experience at best or a neutral result at worst, changes to rules regarding training, "Monty Haul" gaming, placement and prevalence of treasures, among others, conspired to create a series of games in which money becomes more of an encumbrance than an asset after the first hours of the first game. In the second part of this article, we'll look at the specific treasure-based factors that resulted in a Gold Box economy that fundamentally sucks.

57 comments:

  1. You make a good point and with quite exhaustive research. I cannot think why the SSI team did not try for a better economy except that many designers were unaware of this aspect at the time. Ultima was rare in its attention to it. I have always thought of the SSI games as using their own system, derived from 1st edition, but using modifications of their own. The why and how of each change is unknown to me, but economy has always been the Achilles heal of the Goldbox series. You either accept it or move to another game.

    ReplyDelete

  2. The review of the history and origins of the (A)D&D Rules was very interesting, thank-you.

    "Why hike through miles of Ice Crevasses when your mage can just cast "Teleport without Error" and bam, you’re at the Dreadlord’s castle, in his boudoir, and he’s staring at you in his Lich undies with a confused look."

    Funniest line in the whole piece!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I seem to remember somewhere in the 1st edition Dungeon Master's guide that there was a provision for awarding extra experience points for good gameplay (I think it was a multiplier of sorts). This can be seen as a way to reward completing quests or completing them optimally. If I have some time I might try and find it.

    Gygax was pretty clear that he was against "Monty Haul"-style gameplay, so giving players tons of treasure violates the spirit of 1st edition AD&D, if not the letter.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. RE: "Monty Haul." You'll be happy with Part 2!

      Delete
  4. I have played D+D both tabletop and computer top. Never have I played a game using a vanilla system. Even Pathfinder games have my DM making his own adjustments as he sees fit. The whole spirit of the game seems to be to use what you want and make up the rest. This is not to justify SSI's bad handling of the economy; it is an observation. I guess the SSI team just looked at loot tables in one of the manual's and went with it, like some last minute detail. I could be wrong, but at any rate, I play the games anyway.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Love this article, being a D&D-head myself! A few of my own thoughts.

    The designers of Pools of Radiance had a huge job before them of converting many rules. I would think that lack of time for what in the end was a financial endeavor was a factor. But this doesn't excuse why there wasn't much further development in the subsequent titles -- perhaps they prioritized rushing out a bunch of titles to milk the engine while it was still current?

    I think half-orcs were always the bastard child of races in D&D -- not common in any popular fantasy world, and there was always the implied origin of orc-human rape. 2nd Edition D&D didn't want to touch them. Interestingly, the Bard's Tale had half orcs, who I could always depend on to have massive amounts of hit points.

    Adapting druids and monks was also saddled by the fact that advancement to the highest levels also required finding the druid or monk who held that rank and challenging them to a duel. Perhaps that was another factor discouraging the designers from adapting them? Also, monks in practice were pretty unviable as melee combatants in the first several levels of experience.

    Looking forward to your next article!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Wow, that's some deep cuts. I spent a year writing a blog that deconstructed a single D&D4E module and this is detail-focused even by my standards...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! Wait till parts 2 and 3 come out =).

      In all fairness this is all info I've been absorbing over *years*. I'd have to be nuts to dig into all of this just for the sake of an article.

      Delete
    2. Dear own, in the end what do you think overall of SSI's translation of D+D to the computer screen? Will this have to wait until part 3?

      Delete
    3. I can provide a more thorough answer if you ask again when the last part is published, but TL;DR I've enjoyed these games, as a whole, since I picked up Champions of Krynn the week it was released.

      Delete
    4. Are you going to mention the Dark Sun games with their metal scarce world as a sort of contrast, or strictly Gold Box only?

      Delete
    5. Dear O.W.B. Thanks! Also, you write very well and have an excellent grasp of the subject. I have never played a D+D game on the table or computer that was simon pure. There are always compromises in something like this. It is not like chess, where there are just a set of specific moves.

      Delete
  7. A very interesting article! I think that another reason for omitting item creation might be related to the complexity of UI needed to make it work. The player would need to go through several big scrolling menus to choose type of item and bonuses, all on small, low-res screen which could only fit a few lines of text. Indeed, even most of more modern computer adaptation of D&D rules exclude item creation, with a notable exception of Troika Games' "Temple of Elemental Evil" (which is one of the most faithful translations of tabletop rules for PC I ever seen) and indie game "Knights of Chalice", which is "losely based" upon the Open Game Licence 3.5.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Should we ever see a triple-A-CRPG based on D&D again, I'd expect a very detailed crafting system. After all, every singly 1st person shooters seems to have one these days, having the player's alter ego carry massive amounts of trash around the landscape looking for conveniently located workbenches or whatever...

      Delete
  8. I hate to be a bad note on this but...

    I thought the point of this article was to focus on the economy in the SSI games? Instead I got section after section of material on D&D's history. Which in itself is always interesting but I honestly completely gave up reading when it became clear the author wasn't even getting close to focusing on the subject of his article.

    I haven't played any of the SSI games extensively, so I don't feel qualified to judge their economic design, but I do know this: D&D has always been fast and loose on economy, and the DM has largely been tasked to control his own. Which he can do; he has far greater tools at his disposal than any computer engine has.

    I was hoping this article would focus on SSI's design decisions. Instead they are single sentence mentions at the end of a long paragraph describing tabletop rules. Very disappointing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm sorry you didn't enjoy it; it's a fairly dense read.

      "I thought the point of this article was to focus on the economy in the SSI games? Instead I got section after section of material on D&D's history. Which in itself is always interesting but I honestly completely gave up reading when it became clear the author wasn't even getting close to focusing on the subject of his article."

      That's covered in section 1.0 fairly clearly. May help to read the intro of that section. SSIs devs claimed they stuck to the rules as written, and the problems in the economy were due to that. Most of the 1.x section is stuff that refutes that claim, as they clearly didn't stick to the rules as written.

      All of the 0.x stuff is just intro that explains the origins of the rules.

      Essentially, the problems with the economy in these games is endemic to the parent ruleset. There are problem in the parent ruleset due to its odd origin, and the fact that it was rarely played in a "pure" form. Hence the 0.x section.

      "D&D has always been fast and loose on economy, and the DM has largely been tasked to control his own."

      AD&D 1st edition has considerable text to provide guidance in that matter. That text was rarely followed by SSI despite their claims they adhered to the rules. That is covered in subsequent sections.

      "I was hoping this article would focus on SSI's design decisions. Instead they are single sentence mentions at the end of a long paragraph describing tabletop rules. Very disappointing."

      This is covered more in the next sections, to be honest. This one is just background and a breakdown of what rules they chose to "break".

      Thank you for the feedback!

      Delete
    2. Also, not to be too pedantic but:

      "I was hoping this article would focus on SSI's design decisions"

      It...kinda does. They were tasked with adapting a written ruleset.

      0.x explains the origin of said ruleset, and provides context as to what the "average" D&D player would have been exposed to, in terms of rules progression.

      Several SSI employees had played D&D for years before designing these games, and their experience, it seems, was not with a pure AD&D 1st edition game style.

      Once you understand the layers of rulesets available for the game, when these were designed, it makes more sense. SSIs designers clearly had a pre-conceived notion of how AD&D 1E should run, despite clearly not having a full grasp of the ruleset (based on the 1.x sections.)

      1.x explains the changes made from the origin ruleset. Regardless of if these were made due to rules confusion (based on the 0.x sections) or intentional design choice, they represent "design decisions" by SSI.

      A simple example is the Monk. AD&D 1E has a Monk class. Gold Box games do not. It's omission is a design choice.

      As a result, I'd have to state I examine their choices pretty thoroughly. To the point that the monetary stuff had to wait for a subsequent post ;-).

      Delete
    3. I enjoyed the article, and did read all of it, but the specific reasons why the economy was broken weren't entirely clear to me. Was it the lack of item breakage, double-awarding of experience for treasure and completing goals, and absence of a money sink through the creation of new items? Or did other things contribute? Or is that part of Part 2?

      Delete
  9. Another reason not to include the Druid and Monk classes is that their advancement didn't match the other classes. Both classes had a level cap well below 40 (although [i]Unearthed Arcana[/i] added Hierophant Druids to extend them into higher levels) and both had a mechanism limiting the total number of Druids and Monks at higher levels, in effect requiring duels to determine who got to occupy those spots. It's fairly obvious why SSI wouldn't have wanted to deal with those systems.

    An interesting coda to this series (if it's not there at the end) would be to look at the economies in some of the better [i]Unlimited Adventures[/i] designs. My impression is that most of them tried to resolve the economy problem but with mixed success; a systemic analysis would probably reveal the degree to which problems are inherent in the programming versus part of the scenario design.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The level cap was hardly an issue - it wasn't until Pools of Darkness that getting to 40th level might even be an issue. I don't remember the level caps of most of the games, but I distinctly remember the level cap for Pool or Radiance was L6.

      Delete
    2. "
      An interesting coda to this series (if it's not there at the end) would be to look at the economies in some of the better [i]Unlimited Adventures[/i] designs. My impression is that most of them tried to resolve the economy problem but with mixed success; a systemic analysis would probably reveal the degree to which problems are inherent in the programming versus part of the scenario design."

      That's a tough one. I spent a few months with UA when it came out, and IIRC you can add in magic shops, with say a 300,000 gp Vorpal Sword, fairly easily.

      That alone kind of fixes the economy. Make the best magic items available for sale only. It's not BTB AD&D1E if you do that, but UA wasn't really bound by those restrictions.

      Also, IIRC, you could tune treasure from random encounters either in-engine or via hex editing your exported module. Those two changes alone patch a lot of the glaring problems.

      Delete
    3. I'm afraid the shop solution does not fix the economy. It just means that you can _sell_ items at fantasy prices in that shop, since you can't set separate buying and selling prices.

      Delete
    4. In UA you have complete control of all treasure just out of the box from the interface, no hex edit shenanigans required. You can also have shops sell anything that's in the game engine. There's also an option for markup on a shop by shop level but unfortunately the game applies your markup to both buy and sell prices so fiddling with it is likely to make your economy a lot MORE broken.

      In my experience with UA most games didn't really care about money unless you were starting as low-level characters who needed to save up for their plate armor. The standard tabletop D&D paradigm is for magical items to be more or less unavailable via retail and UA designers replicated that in their games. Although people did hand out sane amounts of treasure instead of uncarryable piles, there was rarely anything to spend money on.

      Delete
  10. I think that this article is very good, and nothing here is wrong, but the focus on rules is still missing some of the "meta" divergences between tabletop play and computer play. (Or maybe that's coming in the next part?) In tabletop play, if a character dies, you have no choice but to find a temple and pay the priests whatever they demand for resurrection. In a computer game, you can just reload back to the last save point.

    Gold Box games tried to enforce this more strictly than most modern games would, lacking any autosave functions and trying to quickly save character deaths to disk after a battle. But there's really no infallible way to force computer players to use injury-based gold sinks that can't be thwarted with a little creativity. So any amount of money calibrated around the expectation of frequent healing services would instantly become 'wrong' for most computer players who weren't playing in a self-enforced hardcore mode. (And if you were, those random wyvern wilderness encounters at level 4 would make PoR incredibly hard to finish!)

    Add that to the tendency to re-roll stats 50 times (or just edit them) to create perfect parties, and injury just ceases to soak up anywhere near the gold its supposed to absorb for pre-Raise Dead parties.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think D&D's rule of losing one point of constitution when resurrected makes players reach for the load game button anyway, even if they have the raise dead spell. At least I don't believe in-game mistakes or bad luck (if death is caused by failing a saving throw) should be punished with permanent penalties, and I especially loathe permadeath.

      Delete
    2. Thank you for the positive feedback!

      That's honestly a very valid point; you waste fewer resources in a CRPG, due to reloading, than you would in a tabletop game.

      If you've made a few bad decisions, while exploring, in a CRPG, you can just reload and use the map you've created already.

      In a pen and paper game you have to drag your injured party members back to the safety of town, spend money getting them healed, cured, restored, etc, and then go back out. That's a lot more rare if you play these with constant reloading.

      That being said IIRC Chet doesn't "save scum" and only reloads in the case of a total party wipe. Yet he's still seen the worst of this economy.

      So, while it's a factor, it's not make or break. IMHO at least.

      Delete
    3. In Secret of the Silver Blades, all healing up to Raise Dead is free at the Temple of Gond in the town of New Verdigris. Training is also free. So that removes two potential money sinks. Also clerics get raise dead later in the game. The only consistent money sinks in that game that I see are the well and the magic shop. Of course, there are some in game reasons for the town's benevolence, but it does help to unbalance the game's economy.

      Delete
  11. I'm half amazed that SSI managed to create an enjoyable, fast-paced combat engine based on the mess of modifiers and caveats and confusion that is AD&D. A strictly by-the-book interpretation of combat would have made the series considerably more 'niche' anyway.

    While economies are always hard, you would have thought by game #3 they'd have figured out that they were missing out by neglecting that element. Add a few quest related money sinks (ala well of knowledge), crank up the cut demanded by store owners and add some meaningfully expensive and desireable store items.

    You could even do something akin to Diablo 2 - have an option to purchase unknown randomly generated magic items. Want that cloak of displacement? Pay 10000 and roll the die!

    ReplyDelete
  12. I must admit that I am disappointed that no one ever took it upon themselves to make a patch/mod for the old Gold Box games adding in the missing classes. Having played through Pool of Radiance many times, it would be fun to try and take a monk or druid through it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Druid would be valid. Monk would be pointless on PoR. It'd be worse than a cleric with no spells. Assassin would be a worse thief.

      Delete
    2. SSI partially implemented the Monk class at one point, not sure when, but the partial implementation is buried (but inaccessible from the character creation interface) in the code for Unlimited Adventures.

      Delete
    3. I don't know how far they got with that, though. UA does have a Knight class carried over from the Krynn games you can't make characters in but which was accessed by some hackers.

      Delete
  13. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  14. In Dungeon Craft they added Assassins as well as Druids, so that's something.
    Reminds me to go check it out again sometime...

    ReplyDelete
  15. Great read. Well done. I think partially the parties ended up with scads of coins because the game was loosely on rails and usually during a time crisis. The urgency of the plot meant they couldn't waste time spending money on forts and followers after naming level.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Great read. Well done. I think partially the parties ended up with scads of coins because the game was loosely on rails and usually during a time crisis. The urgency of the plot meant they couldn't waste time spending money on forts and followers after naming level.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Also you never had to pay for transport and rarely for accommodation.

      Delete
  17. That was very interesting, thanks. I do have to point out one thing, though: Penman said that "TSR required SSI to use official rules for both experience and treasure", but he didn't say anything about how lenient TSR were about the rest of rules. None of the rule deviations mentioned above concern experience or treasure (with the exception of the story-based experience that was only introduced late in two games), so the quote as it stands is still accurate.

    ReplyDelete
  18. maybe the economies were such assuming when characters got high enough they would develop their own strongholds/keeps/armies (2nd ed, dunno if it's in 1st ed). they cost a hell of a lot.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Great post OWB! My friends and I started D&D with the Mentzer Red Box in the 80s. When we jumped to AD&D, we were completely confused by the combat rules, so as you described we made our own mashup of Basic and AD&D. I never actually thought to compare the AD&D rules as written to the implementation in the Gold Box engine, so kudos for your comparison of the differences.

    With that said, is it possible that SSI didn't even realize that what they developed regarding combat didn't match the tabletop ruleset because they just coded up their house-ruled version? I didn't remember all of the details like weapon speed and time segments until I read the ADDICT document you linked. That of course doesn't change the fact that they did clearly change the combat rules, but they may have been ignorant of those changes explaining their statements.

    I'm also curious as to the impacts in the opposite direction. Given the popularity of the Gold Box games, did the changes they made inform development of the 3rd edition D&D rules? That version is clearly more miniature / grid focused which I could see as an adaptation of the grid based SSI engine. The Guard combat option in the GB series didn't really have an analogue in the early D&D rules (as setting against charges required spear and polearm type weapons IIRC in AD&D), but the Ready action in 3E D&D is quite similar to the Guard option (although allowing for more varied actions as befitting a tabletop RPG). I've never seen any interviews with Wizards of the Coast talking about Gold Box influences, but I'm sure the majority of 3E developers must have played these games.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "I'm also curious as to the impacts in the opposite direction. Given the popularity of the Gold Box games, did the changes they made inform development of the 3rd edition D&D rules?"

      Thank you for the positive feedback!

      A really quick example I can provide, of the above, is the fact that the "Guard" option from the Gold Box games was added to AD&D 2nd Edition, in the "2.5E" supplement Combat and Tactics.

      That subject would make for an interesting follow up post...

      Delete
    2. Interesting. I never bought any of black cover 2.5 supplements, so I didn't realize that was an option then.

      I'm not sure how much overlap there was between developers of the 2.5e and 3e books, so it's possible that the 3e authors were influenced by one/neither/both the SSI games and the 2.5e books.

      Delete
  20. The "monster reaction" system was never used after Pool of Radiance, I believe. Kind of sad, it was nice to see Charisma useful. I don't believe it was ever used in subsequent games except as a class qualifier.

    There was also the "advance/retreat" option that would start combats at various distances. Abandoned after Pool of Radiance IIRC.

    Aging, also never used. Haste makes characters age, with a risk of dying if they get old enough. But I doubt any code to do this was included in any engine past Pool of Radiance, if it was even there.

    Time was used to memorize spells, and that, at least, was according to D&D rules as written. I think. Otherwise time wasn't used. The game kept track of it, but as far as I remember there wasn't any way to check what time it was. Once in a while you'd get an NPC whose shop was only open on a certain day of the month, or that one place where the festival was once a week. Absent mechanics that require your characters to get tired and need sleep, time does seem rather pointless.

    Allowing characters to build strongholds and wizard's guilds and such does seem a bit outside the realm of a computer game. Hiring and outfitting troops with plate, 2H swords, etc. would have been a great money sink. Sword of Aragon did this best, I believe. But doing this in Goldbox games would have added a strategy game aspect, and I think roleplaying gamers would have hated it. It could have been added in like: "you need 50 equipped fighters in garrison to stop the incessant monster attacks!" but as that would have required thinking, I doubt it had any chance.

    And not a word about Treasure Types! When a monster had Treasure Type C, there was a percentage chance for gold, electrum, etc. as well as a die roll for the quantity. In Goldbox every monster had a fixed amount of treasure no matter what. Except, of course, the fixed encounters.

    In general, the Goldbox games after PoR strike me as "let's ship this crap out the door" attitudes towards their job. Just get a minimal product that barely meets requirements, and done.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You can die of old age in Unlimited Adventures. The code is bugged, though (I forgot how, it might outright crash the game.)

      Delete
    2. Actually Charisma helps in Secret of the Silver blades too, when you are in the mines. I would cast "Friends" to up the charisma of the lead character and the party talked their way out of more combats.

      Delete
    3. There was the "party leader" mechanic. One of the PCs was always highlighted and this was considered to be the party leader. This PC's Charisma would have been used in diplomacy, if there were any.

      It's been too long since I played Secret of the Silver Blades! Maybe it's time again. I totally forgot there's diplomacy in that game, that's awesome. An actual use for the spell Friends! Amazing!

      And just in case nobody's seen it yet, the Gold Box Companion is fan-made software that adds features to Goldbox games. Notably, a "fix" command is added to Pool of Radiance. You can auto-memorize spells, get a HUD with your PCs' HP/XP/enchantments in effect, etc.

      Delete
    4. Sometimes, especially with non-speaking monsters, I would pick "wait" and sometimes they would leave, though without an XP bonus.

      Delete
  21. There is one basic fact that is a bit underrepresented: D&D/AD&D isn't such a good ruleset to begin with.

    The economic part is more or less handwaved in all those manuals, but there are no real guidelines. Nothing makes too much sense at all, for example +x arrows are awfully expensive, but not really important to have.

    The item variety is very low and this is mainly due to the fact that even +x enchantments already made everything really expensive. There are a lot of good ideas like elemental or bane weapons, where you could have created an interesting item generator with pre- and suffixes, like Diablo did.

    The money sinks don't really work, for example strongholds. Even though building a stronghold/hideout has become somewhat of a staple of modern crpgs (Crossroad Keep and all that), there are few implentations where it actually makes sense and doesn't feel like being added for the sake of it. It's more of an extra game.

    Training/provisions/healing/repairs can't work as money sinks alone, because then it would feel like a tread mill. I don't remember the name, but there was a game where the addict critized the very high upkeep costs of the party. In World of Xeen, at some point gold is the only limit to level, since experience is abundant in comparison.

    Shops alone are hard to balance, there is the risk of having point where the player has bought everything and currency suddenly becomes useless. If this point is too early, the whole economy is broken. See Gold Box.

    The only good money sinks I know of: gambling in Diablo and the crafting currency of Path of Exile. Of course that are grinding games - but basically every game with monster spawns is.
    I have not seen a crpg where accumulating personal wealth is a well implemented goal.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. +X arrows are vital for ranged characters to damage monsters with resistance to nonmagical damage.

      Personally, I think in tabletop games, money was generally sunk on single "awesome" magic items that the characters saved up for over a long period of time. Those items then greatly influenced later play, because you would either want to give them a chance to shine or because you needed the foes to not get overwhelmed by them immediately or because the players would set themselves goals that aligned with their new awesome powers. All of those are hard to implement in a fixed-module CRPG.

      Delete
  22. Two comments: first as I understand it, the Advanced part of the title was entirely to cut Arneson out of royalties. However a lawyer freind of his head advised him to put something along the lines of "in all comedically viable forms" in his contract, so he did get royalties from the TV show, board games, computer games, etc.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Second comment: despite TSRs claims, Unearthed Arcana was never as official as the core three. The only reason it came out was Gary Gygax got back from working on the TV show in Hollywood when he got word of TSRs financial troubles and basically handed them a binder of notes to publish. My copy has the errata written into it- posted in paragraphs cover the front and back covers. Even after errata most people agree the classes have balance issues, and most of the limitations are heavily Roleplay based, which would be impossible in the SSI engine.

    ReplyDelete
  24. That James Egbert incident reminded me of this old comic: https://www.chick.com/reading/tracts/0046/0046_01.asp
    Me and my gaming mates used to print it out, laminate the pages and use each page as a bookmark for the Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, Monster Manual, Fiend Folio and other books.
    I wonder how ironic it would feel, being crushed between pages of what it was supposed to warn against.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The craziest thing about that chick tract is that it it doesn't just imply you can get lost in *beleiving* the game is real, but it actually implies the existence of real magic by witches through the girl being able to cast a mind control spell on her father that works, convincing him to instead of make her stop playing to buy her $200 worth of D&D materials. That's some crazy shit right there.

      Delete
    2. When I first saw this in about 2001, it took me around an hour to determine that it was earnest and not the best joke on the internet. My first experience of (reverse) Poe's Law.

      Delete
    3. I read the account of the Egbert investigator a few years ago, and it sounds like D&D actually had a small role to play in the disappearance.

      Kevan, I agree with the bizarreness of that part of the track. You'd think it would have the opposite effect than intended. "Magic actually works?! $200 in D&D materials is more than Jesus ever did for me. Where do I sign up?"

      Delete
    4. I can't even find any details on casting spells in any of these books. The most I could find was stuff like 1,000GP worth of diamond dust, small hourglasses and sh!t like that.

      Come to think of it, if playing D&D give us magic powers, wouldn't those who wrote them be some kind of Archmagi or Demigods even? How did Gygax die? Lost in a duel against Odin or something?

      Delete
    5. Gygax didn't die. He took his final epic destiny feat when he hit level 30 and ascended.

      Delete

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.

3. Please don't comment anonymously. It makes it impossible to tell who's who in a thread. Choose the "Name/URL" option, pick a name for yourself, and just leave the URL blank.

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

NOTE: Spam has gotten so bad lately that I've had to turn on comment moderation for posts older than 10 days. I apologize if it takes a little while for your comment to appear.