Sunday, September 25, 2016

Pools of Darkness: Welcome to the Party

The new party does some good deeds.
    
When I was a kid, I would have been too sentimental to blithely drop party members--party members who had been with me since the beginning--just because their dexterity wasn't high enough. It would have filled me with some kind of ineffable saudade. My loyalty to these fictional party members would have ensured that they stayed with me to the bitter end, even if it meant that I couldn't conquer the final battle.

But I've grown hard and jaded over the years. Karnov is gone, replaced with Festia, a human fighter who started at Level 14. I immediately dualed her to a thief. Brutus is gone, replaced with a mage (Navarre) who I immediately dualed to a cleric. Cesario and Viola hit the road in favor of Dromio and Dromia, brother-and-sister clerics who I immediately dualed to mages. Every new character has 18s in dexterity as well as their primary attributes. The characters who wandered into the sunset did so after giving up their equipment first, although it was interesting to note that new characters in Pools of Darkness start with +3 weapons and armor.
     
My new thief is dualed immediately from a Level 14 fighter.
    
Bolingbroke the paladin and Goldeneye the ranger remained. I thought this gave me a tenuous thread back to Pool of Radiance before I remembered that paladins and rangers didn't exist in Pool of Radiance. I had created them in Curse of the Azure Bonds. My entire party has now been recycled.

I did all of this before all the opinions had arrived in response to my last post. I guess in the end it might have made more sense to create all the new characters as fighters and then dual them to spellcasters, or perhaps dual my paladin and ranger, too. (Until a recent comment, I didn't think that was possible for paladins and rangers to participate in dual-classes, but I guess I was thinking of second-edition AD&D rules.) Even if it isn't perfectly optimal, I think I'll go with this combination. Once Navarre, Dromio, and Dromia exceed their old levels in their new ones, I'll have three spellcasters capable of "Delayed Blast Fireball" (plus several regular "Fireballs," "Lightning Bolts," etc.) and "Heal," plus three solid fighters, including one with a devastating backstab.

Starting the game anew with all my spellcasters at Level 1 did pose some early challenges, but it wasn't too bad. The ogre battle in Phlan got them all immediately to Level 2. The hard part, after the game started in earnest, was finding a training hall so I could keep up with their rapid leveling. Eschewing my previous pattern of exploration, and saving Vala's quest for later, I explored a couple of promising icons before I found, in the top-left of the map, a giant fortress that had a stable training facility.
    
Guffaw all you want. My spellcasters will soon be able to cast "Fireball" again.
   
It was a good map for grinding low-level party members, as there were only a few mage battles. Most of the combats were with giants who could do physical damage only. My ranger, under the influence of a Potion of Speed and armed with a Long Sword vs. Giants, cut through them like tissue paper. By the time I cleared that map, all the new characters were up to Level 10 and the mages were starting to pull their weight with "Fireball" and "Lightning Bolt" again.

The fortress seemed to be a kind of rallying point for the forces of evil, all seeking to prove themselves to Bane. Its various rooms held all kinds of giants, ogres, ettins, human fighters and mages, Fire Knife assassins, and otyughs. Fights among the groups were apparently common, even encouraged, by the ruler of the fortress, a hill giant shaman. At first, we could explore only half the map--consisting of a few places to rest, many fights, the training hall, a store, and a tavern.
   
My spellcasters slowly advance in their new classes.
    
In the tavern, a fighter named Kardal approached me and said he was working as an agent for Sasha. He's heard rumors of a massive army assembling and a "Gathering," and he recommended that I defeat some nearby cloud giants to gain the shaman's admiration, thus allowing me access to the second half of the fortress.
    
This is supposed to be a tavern. By 1991, this kind of sparsity in graphics is becoming a bit laughable.
    
I did as he suggested and began exploring the upper part of the map. I soon came across Kardal being tortured by giants. Before he died, he told me that the "Gathering" is of dragons in "unheard of numbers," led by Thorne. I guess he must be the red dragon from the opening screens.

The series has always offered minor role-playing choices like this, but I think there are more in Pools of Darkness than in most previous titles.
    
There were a couple of dragon battles later in the fortress, neither large enough to be considered the "Gathering." One had three white dragons and one red dragon; another had one white and one black dragon. Both occasioned a reload as I better prepared/buffed for them, and it occurred to me how much better the Gold Box combat system would be if there was an automatic "buffing phase" before each battle, because there's just no way that you're going to cast six "Resist Fire" spells and six "Resist Cold" spells in the opening rounds of combat. Either you use the spells before combat--which means having some warning that a combat requiring them is coming--or you don't use them at all. Since the Gold Box games rarely give you any warning about the composition or existence of an impending combat, a "buffing phase" would end the tiresome cycle of entering combat unprepared, getting killed, reloading, and then casting buffing spells.
    
I don't remember dragons "terrifying" my party members in previous games.
   
Eventually, I reached the shaman's chambers. By then, he must have decided that my party was too dangerous, because instead of granting us an audience, he just attacked. It wasn't a difficult combat. When it was over, I looted his vault and found a note indicating that some kind of fire giant leader, and fire dragons, would likely be found in the next map. A doorway led from the fortress to a set of caves. I decided to leave this for later exploration and return to my previous pattern.
    
Games never give you follow-up dialogue when the big boss realizes how badly he's underestimated you.
    
I repeated my explorations of Vala's caves, blocking the Vassan army, and then resumed my pattern of exploring west-to-east in north/south strips. My first encounter was in a crater that had formerly held the City of Melvaunt. An army encamped there led me to a Temple of Tyr, now inhabited by "dark forces," preventing the army from accessing the armory within. The leader, Priam, asked if I would help them re-take the temple.
   
Easy there, Tex.
   
The temple consisted of four small 8 x 8 levels that I didn't bother to map. Right as I entered, a soldier on guard sprinted upstairs, and I had the option to follow him. I did so, and the game controlled my movement as we ascended a couple of levels, right to a large battle with warriors, Banite clerics, black mages, and a vampire cleric.
     
It was an occasion for "Fireball," and "Fireball" rose to the occasion.
   
Though small, the temple had a neat story and some fun role-playing encounters. A book told a story about an Elven maiden named Laurellin and her human lover, Brimwulf, a knight of Tyr. Laurellin was betrothed to an elven lord, so when she made plans to run away with Brimwulf, her father raised an army and besieged the Temple of Tyr. Refusing to abandon his brothers, Brimwulf died in the ensuing battle and Laurellin killed herself by jumping from the tower. Now, Brimwulf's spirit haunts the catacombs and Laurellin's haunts the bell tower.
     
Not an awesome role-playing choice, but a choice nonetheless.
     
Through a series of role-playing encounters that required me to pay attention to the journal entries (to successfully perform a ritual) and to not do obviously-bad things like loot the temple, I restored Tyr's altar, re-lit the braziers, reunited the two lovers in death, and created a beacon to summon the good armies to the area. I'm sure it was a completely optional area, but it was a satisfying one.
    
That sounds really uncomfortable after about 20 minutes.

I guess an evil party would say "no"? I should have experimented. If the game wasn't such a pain to reload, having to go through copy protection questions every time, I'd be more inclined.
    
The next area I explored was a "large farmhouse" where all the people had been slaughtered by vampires. My party killed the vampires and buried the family. "One small blot of evil has been destroyed," the game noted. Pools of Darkness is shaping up to have a lot of these little side-quests and encounters.
  
Systematic exploration is necessary to reveal all the special encounters.
   
As I wrap up, I've just entered a fortress in the middle-north of the map, which promises to offer more giant battles.
  
Miscellaneous notes:

  • Sasha has agents scattered around the Moonsea, huge armies have gathered, and fortresses have been built to accommodate them. Just how long was my party in Elminster's Limbo?
  • The game suggests a default icon for new characters based on race and sex, much preferable to the old method of always starting with an unarmed, long-haired human.
  • The previous games would allow you to try to sleep anywhere, often interrupting sleep with encounters. This game simply doesn't offer sleep options in clearly-dangerous areas.
  • Most of the encounters in the wilderness are with undead. My characters are generally capable of turning all of them within 2 rounds.
  • When you first fire up the game, if you don't choose "(P)lay" within a few seconds, the game goes into "demo" mode and no key-mashing in the world will allow you to escape it until it's finished, about 10 minutes later. You have to kill the emulator.
   
The long "demo mode" concludes.
    
Do I even have to mention the economy? As usual, it's broken from the beginning. Yes, there's a "magic shop" in Phlan, but the Wands of Magic Missile that it sells under-perform physical attacks by spellcasters, and in any event, there are only so many that you need. So far, I've only needed money for item identification. My characters came to the game with thousands of gems and jewels, and I've left thousands more just sitting on dungeon floors after each battle. On the plus side, this topic segues into a couple of interesting guest posts by a long-time commenter. I'm going to offer them this week in lieu of my own entries (I'm going to a conference), and by the time I return this weekend I should be back on a regular schedule for the rest of the fall.

Time so far: 8 hours
Reload count: 4

71 comments:

  1. Not that wands of magic missile are great or anything, but their purpose lies in the fact that they never miss. So they can be useful for times when you absolutely must deal some damage to a spellcaster right now (assuming she doesn't have Shield up).

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    1. Or have a natural immunity to Level 1 spells. I agree that they can be handy--I bought 3 of them--but I would have had to buy 99 to make a dent in the hyper-inflated economy.

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    2. You want to blow some cash, you can stock up on +2 arrows in the archery shop in Mulmaster.

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    3. +x arrows are quite a staple in AD&D economy :D

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  2. Boy, Priam must be losing his memory in his old age. You'd think he might remember the two separate times you saved the towns he was running.

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    1. I honestly don't remember encountering him before.

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    2. He's in the town with the Moander cultists in CotAB and he was the mayor of New Verdigris in SotSB.

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    3. So everyone seems to agree that he was the mayor in SotSB, but I apparently didn't mention his name in any of my posts, and it never occurs in the adventurer's journal for that game. Does it appear on-screen somewhere?

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    4. Sure does, he introduces himself at the very start of the game. See here: https://youtu.be/3llu4jMtH1Q?t=8m45s

      His appearance in Curse is more obscure, I didn't see him named anywhere, he's simply referred to as the Red Plume Commander. https://youtu.be/cWxf_wTaM8M?t=1m57s

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    5. OK, admittedly, SSI may have retconned on this one, but in SotSB Priam identifies himself as the Red Plume Commander from CotAB. Here it is in that same Let's Play (though you have to reference SotSB Journal Entry 47).

      https://youtu.be/sn5l7NG_GK0?t=8m46s

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    6. I suspect a lot of the people I'm encountering in this game have shown up before, and I just don't remember them.

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    7. Naah, you met Rolf, Sasha, Vala, and Priam. That's it so far, though they really like to do the call backs in this installment. It's much more consciously planned as a final installment.

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  3. The Fire Giant Queen may talk to you, unlike the hill giant. It is not much of a plot point.

    I cannot stand the fear effect of dragons in this game. It seems very random. For example would a higher wisdom or intelligence prevent this?

    I usually make for the Hill giant fort too; training is just too important to leave for long. I usually clean it out and it becomes my base on the north side of the Moonsea.

    Despite Bane's invasion, the lands do not seem more dangerous than in normal times. Within a few turns you find a place to train and heal, for free! If I were Bane, I would destroy all training halls in the lands!

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    1. The dragon fear is a saving throw vs spells. Unfortunately the gold box keeps your saves hidden, so who knows if it's adhering properly to the mechanics. Higher level characters have better saves and rings of protection are supposed to apply their + value to the save.

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    2. I'm pretty sure that, by the book, a high wisdom would modify the save against dragon fear. Don't quote me though, my knowledge of AD&D is not what it once was.

      It makes sense that dragon fear is only popping up now, as only the larger/older dragons have the fear aura.

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  4. Laurellin was bethrothed to an even lord

    Better than an odd lord, I suppose. Or is that supposed to be "elven"? (And "betrothed", while we're at it?)

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    1. If there's one thing I never get tired of, it's commenters pointing out my typos in the most ostentatious ways.

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    2. Hm, okay: 'perfectly optimal' is a tautology. You can't get anything better than the optimum (Latin for 'the best').

      You asked for it ;)

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    3. Technically correct is the most satisfying type of correct.

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  5. For what it's worth, if you want to do the same-party-all-four deal, I created three fighters, an elven or half-elven fighter/mage/thief, a cleric, and a mage. In Secret I changed one fighter to a mage at level 13, and in Pools I changed another fighter to a cleric at level 17. It can be done. You have to make them all in Pool with 18 DEX, and savescum your hitpoints on training.

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  6. I assume that spending eternity with your beloved one is much easier if your are both ethereal - there are no dishes, garbage, mortgages, bills...

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    1. But we fall in love within the context of those worldly things. We fall in love with people who demonstrate who they fundamentally ARE by the way they interact with the world. What is "love," really, between two people without any worldly ties? It's as empty as two mannequins gazing into each other's eyes.

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    2. Wow, that got deep quickly. Certainly the most profound comment I've read today...

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    3. Well, they did fall in love in this world. And ethereal arms probably don't go dead even in awkward sleeping positions.

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  7. ...nor any other physical activities that could detract from your twosomeness. Oh, wait!

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  8. I enjoyed Pools for having such a large number of little optional encounters, which did give a higher feeling of immersiveness. I think I appreciated this even more after the greater linearity of Silver Blades.

    But yes, the economy is still as borked as ever. Again, this was probably due to the underlying economy of 1st edition AD&D also being incredibly broken if actually implemented as SSI did. I'm not sure anyone even considered fixing it, or if they even viewed it as a problem.

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    1. Gems and jewelry alone break the economy. I'm not sure if the games implement the random value tables from the 1E DMG; from my experience there's an unusual number of valuable gems (100 gp plus) versus the proportion of virtually valueless (10 gp or less) gems. They'd have been better off setting the value of everything you find.

      Allowing you to loot magic equipment from enemies is also a big problem for the economy. Because the game uses cookie-cutter enemy stats, all foes of the same type have the same gear. If you're willing to lug and sell, that turns into lots of money!

      Functionally, they could have simply built out the monster stats to include item bonuses (setting AC based on armor worn instead of AC 10 plus equipment, say) and then you'd have found nothing.

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    2. This was a problem with AD&D at the time, and the official solutions were...heavy handed. Drow all had super adamantite swords (or somesuch) that could cut through stone and were magic. However, as soon as daylight touched them, they dissolved. It seemed like an attempt to lure parties into abandoning good treasure for magic weapons they wouldn't be able to sell once they got back to the surface.

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    3. AD&D characters were supposed to spend their massed wealth on building castles and thieves' guilds. There was even a section in the DMG that told you how much a wall section cost, or a barbican, or a portcullis, or whatnot. PCs could hire and equip armies. Since the computer games don't implement this, wealth just piles up and there's nothing to spend it on.

      The drow plague was 2nd edition, I think. During the Dragonlance era. The "daylight dissolves them" was a cheap way to give the drow super cool weapons without letting the grubby PCs keep them.

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    4. I thought this came from the D series of adventures, where were all 1st edition? (D1 Descent into the Depths of the Earth, D2 Shrine of the Kuo-Toa, and mos infamously D3 Vault of the Drow)

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    5. Yeah, Canageek has it right - the D series were released even before the AD & D DMG was published, and I believe we're literally the fourth, fifth, and sixth adventures TSR put out. They were originally tournament modules for one of the early Gen Cons, so possibly the sunlight-dissolving thing was supposed to be a one-time balancing issue.

      There aren't Drow as such in Dragonlance - there are Dark Elves, but I'm pretty sure they're individual exiles, not an independent society. There also isn't an Underdark.

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    6. It was in fact, earlier then I thought: Hall of the Fire Giant King (1978), an AD&D adventure. http://rpg.stackexchange.com/a/88498/2469 has the full details.

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    7. Yup--the DMG makes reference to the mezzodaemon and nycadaemon, which are in D3 but not the Monster Manual (they later made it into the Fiend Folio). This caused me quite a bit of grief as a youngster--I always wondered what those monsters were like ;)

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  9. I agree, the game can be a pain to reload. I don't know which version you'r playing but at least in the one GOG is selling you can skip the copy protection procedure.

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    1. He has a fetish for playing the original game exactly, including the copy protection. In the past he has discarded cracked versions in favor of long searches for the protected version.

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    2. It's not a fetish, but a logical decision. In this era, many games used non-standard disk formats, proprietary compression methods and special booby-traps placed in the code that would only activate later in the game. Because of these, crackers sometimes failed to properly crack a game, resulting in a damaged game that froze or crashed at certain points. Original versions don't have this problem.

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    3. Harland, your statement about my "fetish" appears to be based on an exchange we had in Secrets of the Silver Blades in which you misread some sarcasm I threw your way. You asked why I was using a non-cracked copy, and I sarcastically replied that I deliberately sought it out rather than giving you the "real" answer, which is that I simply downloaded the first version I came across from the normal abandonware site that I go to, and I didn't know there were cracked copies in existence.

      While I believe in playing by the original rules enough that I eschew cheats and mods (e.g., I would never play with a mod that removes level caps for non-humans), I wouldn't avoid a version that removed copy protection unless the "warez" group also loaded it up with a bunch of nonsense, like Zardas says.

      I frankly forgot to check whether this game was available on GOG. My usual policy is to buy it if it's for sale.

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  10. I beat PoD multiple times with parties ported all the way through from PoR and can safely say the game allows for some sentimantalism - everything is beatable even without fancy stuff like dualclassing.
    I usually hex-edited the character files to change a fighter to a Paladin and one to a Ranger after PoR though.

    That said, if you'd REALLY play by the rules, accepting even abysmal HP rolls when leveling up (I don't remember in which game they switched to always giving the max amount), using completely legit chars without 18s in everything that counts and so on, the later games would be considerably harder to beat. CONSIDERABLY.

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    1. I beat PoD the first time with a party unchanged since Azure Bonds (where I swapped in a Ranger and Paladin for my half-elf and elf from PoR). I didn't mess around with HP rolls, though I did modify some stats (mainly for exceptional strength scores). I did not have all 18 Dex characters. And I believe I only dual-classed one character (one of the front-liners, into a wizard).

      I don't recall younger me having a problem beating the game, although I'm sure I had much higher tolerance for reloading fights.

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    2. Tht makes me feel like I should have tried with my original people.

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    3. Yeah, I think you should have, and only edited the stats if you got tired of reloading (at least that's what I did). With a working Ring of Lightning Immunity (as Null-Null pointed out, in the DOS version you need to re-equip it each round for it to work), it should be doable for a non-maxed party. At least I recall the final battles of the Amiga version being markedly less difficult than the DOS version, and I had non-maxed parties in both.

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    4. For what it is worth, I have made it all the way to the last battle with a party created as far back as Pool of Radiance. It can be done. NOW I could never get past the last battle. Then again, I probably could have figured something out If I had been persistent.

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  11. I recall many combats in the late game requiring much magic missile spam, though my party was poorly optimised. By the end even your high level Rangers and Paladins should be able to cast them.

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    1. Addendum: Paladins can't cast magic missiles, only rangers.

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  13. I'm sure it's due to wanting the demo fight to go faster, but I love how the demo in all the games only has a 3 person party. You could maybe get away with that in PoR and CotAB but here is just "watch this demo to see how NOT to do it".

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    1. There are Youtube videos showing people beating later entries with 1 character. It's usually only one fight or so.

      Pool of Radiance scales many encounter with party strength, so it's the best choice for these sorts of challenges. I've actually beaten the game with 1 character (half-elven cleric/fighter/mage), but it requires heavy planning and quite a few reloads in some parts (for example, Tyranthraxus has to not breathe on you and wipe you out). You have almost no inventory, so you have to go to areas in very specific orders (for example, you should put off getting the scrolls in Kovel Mansion until you are level 5 so you can scribe them as you cannot carry them around until that time) and even spell choice becomes complicated (you should learn Charm Person on going up as it is useful to cause dissension among Tyranthraxus' 8th Level Fighters, and wait to learn Magic Missile from the scroll behind the goblin army in the Slums). It's a really interesting challenge and if I ever have time I hope to put it up.

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  14. I think the dragonfear thing came from Krynn. I thought it happened in DKK, but maybe it's only in DQK.

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    1. It's in the 1st ed Monster Manual, and I think it even happens in Pool of Radiance on some systems.

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  15. The min-maxing you did with your characters raises some philosophical questions about game balance and difficulty levels. Common wisdom has it that players want serious challenges. But we don't hear much from players that became frustrated and gave up on the game.

    World of Warcraft went from a highly-challenging game to one where most players zoom through quests and dungeons with little worry or challenge. Part of that might be that the same players are improving their skills, but mostly it seems to be an intentional rebalancing of the game to make it easier and less frustrating. Blizzard has partially reversed that in the latest expansion, making some of the new content very challenging, and most of it adaptable to each player's current level.

    Lori and I fall in the school of players who are more interested in the story, flavor, and excitement of a game than being extremely challenged. We do like a challenge level that makes us think and strategize, but not one that requires min-maxing or high levels of frustration.

    It's interesting to read some of the feedback on our own games, which we thought we balanced on the easy side. Some players have said they were the most challenging Sierra games, mostly because of the real-time RPG challenges.

    What is the right challenge level? Should a game have difficulty settings for players who want a tougher game? Should there be better rewards for "winning" at a higher difficulty level?

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    1. I do prefer challenging gameplay of all types--battles, puzzles, logistics, etc.--so the type of min-maxing I've done here is actually quite out-of-character. A lot of commenters basically convinced me that with my previous party, I'd get all the way to the end and have no recourse in the final battle. I usually don't listen so carefully to those types of warnings.

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    2. To be far to WoW, it has always had challenging bits and easy bits, it's just that the emphasis and the rewards have changed.

      But of course the ambience changes when 'things everyone does' become facerolls.

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    3. I was able to get to the end with a party created in POR and modified in COTAB. That I did not complete the game was due to one fight at the end that I lost patience on. I am sure there is a way to solve most problems and battles with any party. It just may take longer for some than others.

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    4. I get difficulty setting angst when there are difficulty settings!

      I think, generally speaking, two difficulty settings is about right.

      'Story mode' for those who want to experience the game without having to agonise over character choices and who might not put the time into learning some of the subtleties and synergies

      'Gamer' mode is for those who wish to get into the details of the combat engine and who wouldn't be adverse to starting over after the first several hours when they figure out they've built their party less than optimally.

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    5. I usually go for the penultimate difficulty: It gives me a challenge without the bullshit that tends to be put in hard mode.

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    6. Same. Penultimate and then restart at max difficulty if I'm smashing it after a few hours. Then pray there isn't a difficulty ramp mid game that stomps me.

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    7. In CRPGs harder difficulty just means HP sponging, which I dislike. Personally I prefer to make the game harder by making my own rules/restrictions, like playing it Ironman Light, no save scumming, no resting after each combat, and not using "cheats" like provoking opportunity attacks so that enemies miss their breath or spell attacks.

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    8. When it's just HP sponging, you're right, higher difficulties feel silly.

      Self-imposed challenges are a good way to go about it when it's easy to break a game - eg fallout 3.

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    9. Regarding difficulty levels - it seems that good start is what author of Epic Fantasy Battle game did - higher levels of difficulty of course increase enemy's HP a little, but they mainly increase resistances and add special attacks. I think that slight increase of spells cost (so one can't spam Resurrect or such spell every round or two), items' prices and lower chance for good random loot make game harder without obvious idiocy of rats with billions and billions of HP (just look at "Heart of Winter" difficulty setting in Icewind Dale).

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    10. I wish more games offered you the ability to help you with your self-imposed challenges, though. Why doesn't vanilla Skyrim have options to disable fast-travel or turn off the quest markers, for instance? Don't leave it ALL to my willpower.

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    11. In Living Greyhawk (3.0/3.5 D&D campaign run by the RPGA, standardized so you could take a character from one convention to the next), adventures had to be scalable so they could be run for lots of tables at conventions. The standard ranges were, as I recall, 2-8 or 2-10, and then 4-12 or something like that, with one set of statistics every 2 levels.

      There were some that scaled well: Instead of a goblin, you fight 2 orcs, etc. Or there is an alarm added to the start of the cave so they have time to drink some potions to buff themselves.

      Others would just scale the numbers, which while it sort of worked, sometimes made no 'physical' sense. For example, a river that was so fast that swimming across it was 5 points harder then swimming through a hurricane. (At lower levels it was just a fast stream).

      But yeah, it works better if you increase the type of monster, so that the damage and attacks also scale.

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  16. What I would do as a game designer is offer the player a choice before combat, if they'd like to get a buffing phase or if they'd rather sacrifice that to position their characters a specific way on the map. Possibly also offer a third choice (perhaps a free round of combat).

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    1. I would also tie the possibility of getting that choice up-front to the efficiency of the thief in the party as a scout, if we're thinking of second edition d&d where the thief is just about useless.

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    2. Those are good suggestions. If you have a thief character, assume he's "on point" and can give you some warning as to upcoming battles. Anything is better than stumbling completely unaware into a fight against 8 dragons, which is the Gold Box default.

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    3. Another thing a thief could do is gather hints and warnings for whatever lies in a dungeon by going about town, or a bard, barding around a tavern for rumours, whatever. The flavour is there, and that's how you play D&D with paper and pencil aready.

      Anything to avoid 'let me reload and try this battle again now that I know' syndrome. Shatters these games worse than any other concern I've had with them like busted economies and the like. And it's dreadful mimesis of the paper and pencil origins of the hobby.

      Thoughtful game design requires specific thematic justification for retrying a fight, returning from the dead and so on, for example the Souls series have tried to envelop these gameplay systems in a very meaningful way in their atmosphere and storytelling.

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    4. The problem has always been there, but it seems so much more acute here with so many enemies capable of high-level spells or attacks that do massive special damage.

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    5. Heck, replacing 'Pick' with 'Listen' as an option at doors would make a huge difference, considering how many key battles in the Gold Box games are directly behind a door. That would make a Thief worth including in every party, while 'Pick' does nothing a couple of Bash attempts doesn't do just as well. I wish they had thought of that in the later games.

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    6. Given that the game would alert parties to the presence of secret doors, at least in POR if you had an elf, I do not see why Helm or Jonathon's suggestion could not work.

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  17. Pools of Darkness reminds me of a comprehensive final exam. Forgotten Realms is a four course program at Gold Box University. In the last course, many enemies and NPCs from the previous three show up, but there are many new creatures and some freaky terrain that make it more than just a repeat.

    Unfortunately, the racial level limits are extreme. You could try with a dwarves fighter-thief, or an elven magic-user thief or a fighter-magic-user - thief. Half-elves, halflings, gnomes, you flunked out! Despite this, I like the challenge of using semi-humans in this game, but they can never account for more than 2/5 of the party. I never go all human; the advantages of multi-classing, as opposed to dual classing are too good to miss.

    Then there is the issue of logistics. In Pool of Radiance and Curse of the Azure Bonds, your characters could have what they could carry. This made logistics relatively simple. (Note: I will not complain about the economy here. That subject has been covered well enough). In Secret of the Silver Blades, you get a vault. You need it with all the junk you accumulate over the course of the game. And while I concede that having a place to store mirrors and excess potions, the trouble is that I may forget the stuff is there and not have it when it would be handy.

    Pools of Darkness uses both systems and I find it much harder to keep track of everyone's gear. I do not want to cause spoilers, but going to some places in the game require many logistic decisions and it makes the earlier three games seem tranquil by comparison. I would say logistics and tactics are the heart of the game. During the first leg you are trying to set up services that you will need, such as retaking the temple (healing services) and then defeating the hill giants (training).

    It is funny how Bane, from the opening, seems to know the party back from Pool of Radiance, but Sasha, of course, can't remember where she left her car keys. Bane is the department chair for the FR program. His assistants are such a mixed bunch. I think I still like the Lich from Secret the best since he behaves like a decent magic-user and I cannot hurt him easily at range. That second to last battle is always hard, but satisfying, especially when the Lich fires a lightening bold and it passes through three of my characters without effect. All three had globes of invulnerability on. Seeing that made my day.

    I like Pools of Darkness, but there is a sense of too muchness for muchness sake or something and it does require greater tactical and logistical skill than the previous FR entries.

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  18. "It is funny how Bane, from the opening, seems to know the party back from Pool of Radiance, but Sasha, of course, can't remember where she left her car keys."

    The game is trying to have it all ways. Sasha and other characters frequently say stuff like, "We liberated Phlan from monsters years ago, as you may remember." They're keeping all options open: that the player (and the set of characters) played all or some of the previous games, or that this is his/their first game. But it just ends up creating awkward dialogue throughout. SSI should have come down on the side that this party, canonically, is the one that defeated the prior games.

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  19. Somewhere in your HDD, Karnov had recruited Brutus and all the other adventurers forsaken by you and already took out Bane before you did.

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