Friday, October 7, 2016

Gold Box: Spells and their Uses (Part II)

A spellcaster slays a mage with a high-level mage spell.
I have extensively praised the Gold Box combat system for the tactical fine-tuning that it allows. It is a culmination of several years of experimentation at SSI, beginning with non-D&D titles like Galactic Adventures and Wizard's Crown, proceeding through several iterations in Shard of Spring, Demon's Winter, and The Eternal Dagger before the developers managed to hit just the right balance.

But the combat engine alone wouldn't be anything without, first, the strengths and weaknesses of the various foes that you encounter, and, second, the long and complex list of both cleric and mage spells. As we saw with Buck Rogers: Countdown to Doomsday, the same engine without spells is a little boring.

Because I admire the system so much, I am a little distressed to find myself, in my eighth Gold Box game, adopting an extremely predictable and rote approach to combat and spellcasting. Most combats in Pools of Darkness have consisted of two phases: a barrage of "Fireballs" and/or "Delayed Blast Fireballs" to clear as much of the map as possible, followed by "mop-up" by my fighters. Occasionally, enemies will present themselves in a line perfect for "Lightning Bolt," but I otherwise end up rarely or never using the vast majority of spells. There are entire spell levels that I never cast except in buffing.

In general, I feel that the two "Fireball" variants, since they continue to improve in damage with the characters (unlike, say, "Ice Storm" or "Cone of Cold"), are vastly over-powered.  And between my three mage characters, I have more than a dozen of them. It creates a situation in which if there are more than a few enemies still on the screen, almost nothing is a better choice than a fireball, and if there are only a few enemies left on the screen, I don't need spells at all because my fighters can take care of them.

I previously considered the different uses of Gold Box spells in a January 2013 post. Rather than tack on to that one, I've decided to offer a recap of the entire list from a Level 30 perspective.

Cleric Spells

Level 1. By the time you get this high, there aren't many Level 1 cleric spells that still do any good. "Bless" still gives a slight boost in combat and it certainly doesn't hurt to cast it pre-combat. "Detect Magic" is useful for figuring out what items to take post-combat, but a lot of classes have this. "Protection from Good" remains the most idiotic spell in the entire Gold Box repertoire; any player that bothers to memorize this should retire from the world of RPGs. The only thing I use regularly in the Level 1 list is "Resist Cold," which is an important buffing spell before cold-based foes, although it doesn't seem to offer any protection against "Ice Storm."

Level 2. "Hold Person" occasionally performs, but most enemies have high tolerances to it. "Resist Fire" remains an important buffing spell. I keep one "Snake Charm" in reserve at all times just in case. I probably don't get enough mileage out of "Silence 15' Radius," but it seems to fail on every opponent I cast it on. I know you can cast it on your own party members and then run up to enemy spellcasters, but that seems like a lot to micromanage.

Level 3. This level is primarily occupied with spells that cure conditions you almost never encounter, including "Cure Blindness," "Cure Disease," and "Remove Curse." There are also "Cause" versions of these conditions, but they offer so slight an advantage that simply having the cleric execute a physical attack seems like a better idea. "Prayer" is still an okay pre-combat buffing spell. I keep one of each of the "cure/removes" on hand, just in case, but most of my Level 3 slots go to "Dispel Magic," which I often have to use to counter enemy "Hold" spells.

Level 4. One or two "Neutralize Poisons" remain vital, and I memorize "Protection from Evil 10' Radius" for pre-combat buffing. "Sticks to Snakes" remains in the top 5% of dumb spells. I give most of these slots to "Cure Serious Wounds," though I never get that low in my cure spells anymore since I have so many "Heal" slots.
"Dispel Evil" shows up as an encounter option. This occasionally happens with spells, most often "Knock" and "Detect Magic."
Level 5. I keep forgetting that "Dispel Evil" is cast on a character, not a summoned creature. I wish you could cast it pre-combat. I very rarely run out of "Heal" spells at the sixth level and have to get to "Cure Critical Wounds" at this level. Obviously, it doesn't make sense to cast "Raise Dead" once you have "Resurrection." The damage spells at this level--"Cause Critical Wounds," "Flame Strike," and "Slay Living"--perform okay, but my characters are typically capable of physical attacks that do more damage, and a lot of creatures seem to resist them.

Level 6. There are only three cleric spells at this level: "Blade Barrier," "Harm," and "Heal." I need to experiment more with the previous two because they sound pretty useful. "Blade Barrier," in particular, could be used to channel creatures on the battlefield. I give almost every slot to "Heal," though, which often makes the difference in long combats.
Navarre "Heals" himself, hoping to survive a battle with Rakshasa.
Level 7. "Resurrection" should be the most useful spell at this level, but the Gold Box implemented the rule by which resurrected characters permanently lost a point of constitution. I'm not willing to sacrifice this unless I simply can't win a battle without losing at least one character, so I reload instead of resurrecting.

"Restoration" is obviously mandatory when you've been level-drained by vampires and wights. Now that my characters are above Level 24 and seemed destined to hit their caps before the end of the game, I don't dread level draining as much as I once did.

The two offensive spells at this level are "Destruction" and "Energy Drain." "Destruction" seems to work tolerably well, but you have to be within melee range, and enemies often save against it. I really don't understand "Energy Drain" at all. Based on the manual's cryptic comments and a little experimentation, it would seem to drain levels from the enemy--but only like one at a time. It's certainly not enough to make a difference in combat.

Navarre destroys a land-shark.

Mage Spells

Level 1. Only two spells remain relevant for higher-level characters. "Magic Missile" keeps doing more damage with every character level, almost no one is immune to it, and it casts instantly, making it one of the best single-target spells in the game. I also try to keep enough "Enlarge" spells on hand for every character for pre-combat buffing.

Level 2. "Mirror Image" remains a decent buffing spell. "Strength" is outperformed by "Enlarge." I keep a "Knock" on hand just in case my thief fails, and one "Detect Invisibility" for pre-combat buffing. I keep hearing about the virtues of "Stinking Cloud," but I have trouble getting it to cast in the right location, and in any event it's hard to imagine prioritizing it over a mass-damage spell. In general, there are far more available slots for this level than you could possibly need.

Level 3. The best spell level of all. "Fireball" remains relevant even after you get the "Delayed Blast" variety (which casts instantly); "Lightning Bolt" still does a great job on lines of enemies (and, like "Fireball," improves with the caster's level). Fortunately, there are alternatives to "Invisibility, 10' Radius" and "Protection from Evil, 10' Radius"; otherwise, I'd have to spend a couple slots on those. At some point, "Blink" showed up as an option at some point--Secret of the Silver Blades?--and I completely missed it. It makes the character "blink out" of existence after he's acted in a round, meaning he can't be targeted by enemies. I wish you could cast it before combat.
"Lightning Bolt," for whatever reason, slows down iron golems.
Level 4. I don't get a lot of use out of this level. "Charm Monster" and "Fear" hardly ever work; "Confusion" doesn't really do much of value. "Fire Shield" is a decent pre-combat buffing spell. "Minor Globe of Invulnerability" is trumped by the Level 6 spell. "Fumble," which targets only one character, is a waste of time. I spend most of my slots here on "Ice Storm," which unlike "Fireball" doesn't improve with the character's level, but almost no one is immune to it and it does a good job disrupting spellcasters.

Level 5. Lots of good stuff at this level. "Cone of Cold" and "Hold Monster" both perform reasonably well. "Feeblemind" seems like a good idea, but it usually fails and I don't have a lot of patience for spells that target one enemy at a time--not in a series of games where you almost never face just a few really powerful enemies. "Cloud Kill" doesn't cast far enough away from the caster, it screws up the terrain, and it doesn't really work on foes of this level. A new buffing spell introduced in Pools called "Iron Skin" helps a bit in melee combat.

One real star of Level 5 is a new spell called "Fire Touch," which you cast on one of your characters and he does extra fire-based damage with every melee attack. (Before I figured out how it worked, I spent a couple of embarrassing combats casting it on enemies instead.) I found that it's worth memorizing a few of these for an extra advantage in tough battles.

Level 6. There are three instant-death spells at this level: "Death Spell," "Disintegrate," and "Flesh to Stone." They fail more often than not. Since the ultimate outcome of the three spells is the same, it would seem to me to make the most sense to memorize the one that offers enemies the worst saving throws, but the manual isn't very explicit about that. "Globe of Invulnerability," which protects against Level 1-4 spells, is an absolutely essential buffing spell, but you only need one at a time. (I wish I could cast it on other characters, not just the caster.) One "Stone to Flesh" on hand doesn't hurt.

Level 7. "Delayed Blast Fireball," a more powerful version of "Fireball," casts instantly, penetrates "Globe of Invulnerability," and improves with the level. It's probably the most useful spell in the game. Because of it, I haven't experimented much with "Power Word: Stun," which affects only one creature--but doesn't paralyze him the way "Hold" does. Overall, it seems like an under-powered spell for the level. "Mass Invisibility" is theoretically a good buffing spell to ensure that enemy spellcasters can't target you until you act, but I find that it often just doesn't work. Maybe those enemy spellcasters have "Detect Invisibility" or something.
Hoping "Delayed Blast Fireball" takes care of a bunch of medusas and basilisks before they can gaze.
Level 8. Pretty worthless spells for such a high level. "Mass Charm," as someone pointed out, only works on humans, who you rarely face en masse in this game. I only recently learned that "Mind Blank" affects a character, not an enemy, protecting him from mental spells, so I added a few to my buffing list. "Otto's Irresistable Dance" is a good candidate for the dumbest spell in the game. It affects only one creature and doesn't do much but reduce his AC by 4 and make him fail saving throws. Again, you rarely face small groups of individually-powerful foes. If you did, this would be a lot more useful. "Power Word: Blind" strikes a target blind, I guess, but the manual offers no information about what that actually does. I guess it probably damages his THAC0. Why it's a higher level than "Power Word: Stun" is a mystery. Seriously, unless I see a statistics table showing that these Level 8 spells have a much better chance of working, I can't imagine why "Hold Monster," three levels down, wouldn't be a vastly better call in any circumstance.

Level 9. Only three spells at this level, but they're all reasonably cool. "Meteor Swarm" is the least impressive of the lot. It casts outward, away from the caster, so he has to have an unobstructed view of the enemies. It's very hard to target, since it ends up firing three bursts. It does only 10-40 hit points per strike, and doesn't improve with leveling. In short, it vastly under-performs the "Fireballs" of lower levels, but it's useful for some enemies (e.g., rakshasa) who are immune to lower-level spells.

"Monster Summoning" appears in the Gold Box titles for the first time and works pretty well. It summons two fairly high-level creatures, which you can then use for attack or just to re-shape the battlefield. You have no control over what it summons; it seems to be somewhat context-sensitive, summoning the types of creatures that would otherwise be found on the same map.
In Moander's realm, the spell logically summons two "Bits o Moander."
"Power Word: Kill" does its job when it works, but I find that enemies save against it more than 50% of the time.

Druid Spells

Rangers get druid spells up to the third level. Since rangers are pretty good physical attackers, a spell has to be pretty valuable, or castable outside of combat, to waste an action on it. Those criteria immediately eliminate "Entangle, "Faerie Fire," "Charm Person or Mammal," and "Hold Animal." Many of the other spells the ranger gets are outperformed by superior mage and cleric spells, including "Invisibility to Animals," "Cure Light Wounds," "Cure Disease," and "Neutralize Poison."

That leaves only three useful druid spells. "Detect Magic" does the same as the cleric and mage spells of the same names, but as the only useful first-level druid spell, it makes sense to have the ranger memorize this one and free up the associated spell slots in the mages' and clerics' books. "Barkskin," a Level 2 spell, simply improves armor class by 1, but as you can cast it before combat, it doesn't hurt to add it to the buffing list.

Commenters have said good things about "Protection from Fire," a third-level druid spell, which supposedly works different from the cleric's "Resist Fire." Instead of improving overall resistance to fire, the spell actually absorbs fire damage until it dissipates. The total number of points it can absorb is 12 x the caster's level, which is pretty high at my levels. On the other hand, the manual says it only works this way for the druid himself, and anyone else it's cast upon, it simply acts like "Resist Fire." I have to experiment more with it.

Two themes come out of my experimentation with the full list of AD&D spells at higher levels:

1. By Level 15 or so, characters have so many spell slots that you almost never reach too far down in the bag. If the game had offered less frequent resting and re-memorizing, that might have preserved some of the tactical tension of the early Gold Box games. As it is, I can't imagine ever running out of enough mass-damage spells that I'd resort to "Stinking Cloud" or "Confusion."

2. The games don't feature enough high-powered single foes. It would have been nice to mix it up so that instead of 20 Drow or 15 dragons, all with around 60 hit points, we occasionally faced a trio of high-level fighter/mages with hit points in the 200-300 range. This would change tactics considerably and make some of the individual spells ("Feeblemind," "Power Word: Stun," or heck, even "Otto's Irresistible Dance") more important. I know, I know, blah blah blah, AD&D rules, yada yada.

3. The so-called "high-level" spells are really pretty pathetic.

Overall, it's hard not to feel that the higher-level spells are a bit disappointing compared to the lower-level ones. And the lack of cleric spells above Level 7 is a bit sad, but I guess that was canon for AD&D1.


  1. I can confirm that "Protection from Fire" on non-Rangers just acts as "Resist Fire".

  2. The single biggest flaw of the GB games is probably how vastly overpowered DBF is.
    It's of more limited use in Dark Queen of Krynn, though, which is why I think that game is superior to POD.

    Regarding Resurrection, it does not reduce CON. Only Raise Dead does that. Also, in the FR gamesm but not the Krynn games, it works on Elves.

    Personally I consider Stinking Cloud the second most OP spell after DBF. It casts instantly, has a good chance of working on Dragons, and has some tactical value.

    Fumble can be useful against single powerful enemies. If it works they lose their turn, if it fails they are slowed. It's like a poor man's PW:Stun.

    When it comes to the Ranger version of Prot vs Fire I haven't noticed any differences in effect based on target, but then it's rare that you have such high level Rangers, so I may have missed it.

    Cloudkill can be very useful for disrupting enemy spell casters every turn. Very useful against the Dark Mages in Dark Queen of Krynn, if you have run out of DBF, or if you have them on scrolls (for insta cast) and don't want to waste a DBF.

    Of the three sixth level mage spells, the Death spell is my favourite. Useful against enemies with low HD, but nasty attacks, like Spider, Cockatrices and Medusae, and kills about 100 HP of them in one casting.

    My own nomination for the most useless spell in the history of video gaming is Power Word: Blind, a lvl 8 spell that does absolutely nothing. It doesn't even prevent enemies from targeting you with ranged attacks.

    Power Word: Kill has no saving throw, so if it doesn't work, it means the enemy either has magic resistance or more than ca. 120 HP.

    1. I could swear I tested out "Resurrection" and still lost a constitution point. I prefer to think that everyone's wrong rather than think I wasted so much time re-fighting battles just because a single character died.

    2. Otto's, as commented below, means the target fails other saving throws and you can one-shot it. It also removes the target's next action.

      Echoing (again) the comment on Stinking Cloud being amazing. The AI will often move in and out of a cloud several times, and one failed save from an enemy acts just like a Hold effect, preventing actions and allowing a 1-hit kill. But unlike the Hold line, Stinking Cloud works on almost everything in the game (except golems).

      The spell has a fairly short range and creates a 2X2 square cloud; if memory serves, the target square is the upper left square in the cloud. Enemies save if they are in the cloud when it is cast, and every time they enter the cloud during their movement. For maximum effectiveness, you need to cast 2-3 in a staggered line to encourage enemies to move through them.

      In PoD, the best use for Stinking Cloud is against Bits o' Moander, who are immune to the Fireball tree and who (IIRC) cannot be held or are difficult to hold with Hold Monster.

    3. I can't remember losing a constitution point on casting "Resurrection" either. But I played the Gold Box Games on Amiga.
      There are little differences between the ports.
      Anyway, if the PC version actually causes loss of constitution, try the FIX command instead.

      Another note: Don't understimate "Meteor Swarm". This is a very powerful damaging spell under the right circumtances.
      It's basically useful in scenarios where "Cone of Cold" and "Lightning Bolt" are good alternatives (not because of fire resistance).
      Also Meteor Swarm throws 4 blasts, not 3. One blast targets left-top, one right-top, one left-bottom and one right-bottom of the target field (1 field distance).
      And it affects every thing in its any four casting rays, so don't have any characters stand in the way, just like with "Cone of Cold".
      If one's blast target field directly hits a creature it is affected twice with a higher amount of damage. On medium and large size creatures (like dragons), this can cause way over 100 points of damage to 1-3 creatures.

      "Slay Living" is a better alternative to "Disintegrate" and "Flesh to Stone" because it at least causes damage if saving throw is successful (however not if the creature's natural magic resistance succeeds).

      "Destruction" causes no saving throw at all. Only creature natural magic resistance can prevent it. That's why it works on player characters in 100%!

      "Energy Drain" only drains one level at a time. Simply cast it on a player character to check this out. No saving throw and magic resistance as far as I know. Rather useless spell anyway on that high level game.

    4. Regarding AI, i want to mention that it got improved in DQK and PoD compared to earlier versions.
      Monsters (and quick combat mit "Magic on") casting DBF and similar spells will calculate the optimal position where to go off, so they will hit as many as player characters as possible and not a single of their own.
      Times where monsters are casting "Ice Storm" and "Fireball" and hitting more from their own than party, are gone.

    5. Another note, "Destruction" causes the victim's state to LOST, not DEAD.
      LOST cannot be cured! LOST is only caused by descending to level zero by level draining in the game otherwise.

    6. Just a small correction, the state is called GONE, not LOST.

    7. BTW: This isn't a problem, unless your characters are target of "Destruction". It works 100% here!
      But if your cleric gets charmed or high-level enemy priests cast it on your neighbouring knight...Create new character, go on with one missing comrade or reload game!

    8. BastyCDGS, I did see the effects of that improved AI. In particular, enemies seem to be really good at finding the best places to bank lightning bolts and breaths to hit the same character twice.

  3. Nice job Addict!

    One of the things is that some of the higher-level spells would have been very hard to program into a computer of this era. 'Shape Change', for example, lets you take any form, complete with special abilities, and they would have had to program all the possible monsters in.

    'Blade Barrier' is actually quite useful. It does 8-64 points of damage per round the enemy is in it, so it is a useful alternative to use on Bits of Moander and Dracoliches (have you gotten to those yet?).

    'Destruction' doesn't allow a saving throw, but it does require a melee roll to hit.

    'Death Spell' only works on monsters of 8th level or lower. About the only such monsters in this game are Drow Priests and Priestesses, so it's a nice reprieve from fireball--you can kill 4 or so in a hit.

    'Otto's Irresistible Dance' removes saving throws, so you can use it with a spell like Disintegrate where the saving throw usually makes it useless.

    'Monster Summoning' values are indeed set by map. In FRUA one of the variables when creating a dungeon is 'summoned monster'.

    The Power Word spells work up on monsters with up to a given number of hitpoints. They do not allow a saving throw. I know for Power Word Kill it is 60.

    1. Otto's irresistible Dance is one of the most powerful spells in older editions. It turns "save or die" spells into "no save - just die" ones. In more modern editions, it has been heavily nerfed, and is still extremely powerful.

    2. Regarding "Blade Barrier", it does not always cause immediate damage when cast, but it does to anynore standing in it when a new combat round begins.
      It seems that upon walking around and being cast "Blade Barrier" on one only causes damage if saving throw fails, while end of round damage can only be prevented by creature's natural magic resistance.
      I use this to walk through "Blade Barrier" fields with high level characters (chances they take damage during this are very low, but don't stay in it, when combat round ends: which is the phase where the game puts messages like: "YOUR TEAMMATE IS DYING!" or dissolves clouds).

  4. As PetrusOctavianus said, Resurrection does not reduce CON, but it will also bring back back your party member at full health, possibly making it a better choice than Neutralize Poison, which brings back him/her back at 1hp. In the 1st ed PHB it states that the Cleric will be unable to cast any other spells for 1 day per level of the character resurrected but the Gold Box games do not take this into account.

    The benefits of the Power Word spells is that they cast instantly and offer no saving throws (though magic resistance still applies), instead they have an HP threshold under which they work, similar to the way sleep always worked on low level monsters, but never on high ones. Power Word: Stun works on those under 90hp, Blindness on those under 100, and kill on those under 60. Blindness and Kill could be split between multiple enemies of even lower HP levels but the Gold Box games don't implement this. In theory you could chop up Power Word: Kill into slaying 12 10hp chumps (this is where PetrusOctavianus gets the 120hp figure) but the way it's implemented means that you're stuck to a single <60hp target.

  5. There I wanted to explain the finer points of Otto and power words but got ninja'ed by Wonko and Null Null. The key difference really is the lack of saving throw which turns them into single target killers which are very powerful in face to face. There the pure vocal aspect without the usual somatic and material component along with instant casting makes them even more dangerous.

    A word on haste which you don't elaborate on here but mention in your last post as being used in every fight: in our groups we always considered it very bad roleplaying to use haste due to the aging. Really, who would give up a year of his life if it was not literally a life or death situation for the whole group? Of course here you have the ridiculous potion store to compensate, but again, an elixir of youth would be one of the most prized magic items in a "real" fantasy world.

    1. Good point about elixirs of youth. In the "live" (now online) D&D campaign my friend Richard Aronson has run for some 35 years, the Alchemists' Guild is one of the most powerful political forces in the game. The reason? They have a monopoly on Longevity Potions, and most people want to live forever.

      Richard added the house rule that each character can only benefit from a particular type of longevity potion once. That makes oddball potions such as "Longevity, 84 years" immensely valuable. It also puts an effective cap on longevity at a little over 10,000 years.

    2. How does time advance so fast in a live campaign that you'd ever come anywhere near a reasonable cap on longevity let alone the "effective cap" you mention?

    3. In PoD you really don't need Haste for every fight anyway. The big setpiece battles, absolutely, but the routine fights you can settle easily enough without it.

    4. You don't NEED it, but it's so handy, and so easy to deal with its effects, that I'm just tempted to always have it on. I mean, you don't NEED the long sword +5 instead of the long sword +4, either, but the nature of CRPGs is to try to give yourself every advantage, unless there's some compelling role-playing or story-related reason not to.

    5. More spells that age the caster. Most notably, Wish ages the caster five years.

      Ice Storm does magic (same as Magic Missile) damage in the later Gold Box games. It doesn't damage by cold, it damages by pelting hailstones.

      Energy Drain exists because they felt an obligation to include the reversed form of Restoration, out of fidelity to D&D rules, and didn't care whether it was a spell a PC would ever want to cast. Same reason as Protection from Good.

      Every golem type has one elemental vulnerability and one elemental strength--fire heals iron golems, electricity slows them. (Flesh golems, in a homage to Frankenstein, are just the opposite, healed by electricity and harmed in some way I don't remember offhand by fire.)

    6. Not just that. Remember that, unlike D&D CRPGs;
      1) Enchanters need to spend several weeks, or even months, to craft a magical item.
      2) Powerful wizards who wishes to create their own spells will take several months to research.
      3) High level warriors take months to build forts and raise their own armies.
      4) Assassins take a long time to plan out their missions (schmoozing with their targets, noting down their schedules & etc.)
      5) Priests also have to go on long sabbaticals or missionary trips.

      Basically, all these are also time sinks that will age your character a few years just after 1 gaming session.

      Some spellcasters chose to become liches so that they can stop relying on these potions, with a small side effect of having every adventuring party in the vicinity wanting to hunt you down just because you are skinny nerd.

  6. I find Power Word Kill to be a spell I use a lot. My single classed magic-user can use it to defend herself from adjacent enemies, for which magic missile is not enough. I have never seen a creature save against it.

    Chet, this is a good post. I find the logistics of buffing spells to be a good topic. I found that "Enlarge" seems to work longer than say "Fire Shield" and that I could cast it at the beginning of a map and still have it working a few combats later.

    Do you have to constantly equip and un-equip the ring of electrical immunity? Funny enough, it survived a trip through Limbo. Do you prefer the Moandar mini-plane or Kalistes' mini-plane?

    1. Prep spells have different durations. Enlarge lasts 10 rounds/level where Fire Shield lasts 1 round/level.

      The longest duration preps are: Resist Cold/Fire (10 rounds/level), Prot Evil 10' (10 rounds/level), Enlarge (10 rounds/level), Strength (60 rounds/level), Prot Normal Missiles (10 rounds/level), and Mind Blank (1 day).

      In theory, Protection from Fire cast on the ranger herself lasts until expended, but it may have a 10 rounds/level duration in practice.

    2. So with my characters at level 36 for the final battle, the SHORTEST duration spell you've listed should have lasted 36 rounds. That's more than enough to cover the 3 battles.

      I was questioning whether I should have memorized multipel copies of buffing spells and re-cast them at the ends of the first two combats, but it sounds like one should have been enough.

  7. Stinking Cloud and Cloud Kill's target location is the top-left corner of the 'block', IIRC. Stinking Cloud a) blocks enemy movement (foes will not move into dangerous squares) and b) has a chance to make anyone caught in it helpless. In earlier titles, it's a mainstay of my spell casting until Fireball, and a useful crowd control spell after.

    Cloud Kill has a chance to kill anyone caught in it, though I can't recall if they also can be made helpless or not. It's also larger.

    I haven't played a GB game with Blade Barrier in it in a long time (I just finished Gateway and Treasures of the Savage Frontier back to back, but switched to Wizardry 7), but I think it functions a bit like the 'cloud' spells. I may be wrong. Very useful spell, both for raw damage and battlefield control.

    IIRC, and I may be thinking 3.x, but Power Word: Badshtuff spells are based on enemy hit die, enemies with very high HD are immune. It's been too long since I played with AD&D at those levels so I may be misremembering, however. Other spells like Sleep were like this as well, which makes them less than useful.

    Most of the spell designs are from PnP, where combats are balanced towards smaller groups usually. So single-target spells are vastly more useful.

  8. The reason that Fireball outperforms Meteor Swarm is apparently that the Gold Box games are missing the level caps from the original game. In D&D, no caster of any level can get more than 5 magic missiles, or 10 dice of a fireball or lightning bolt, from a single spell. Similarly, Wands always cast as though a 6th level caster, and staves cast as though 8th level. Those rules let spells grow in power, but never be as strong as the higher-level versions.

    If using that rule, Cone of Cold becomes much more powerful, because it does not have a cap. That's why it's a 5th level spell. Meteor Swarm was slightly weaker than casting four Fireball spells at the same time - 4 spheres, each doing 10D4 damage compared to a single sphere doing 10D6.

    How impressive is that? When Meteor Swarm first appeared in the Greyhawk supplement, the text read, "Meteor Swarm: A blast of four Fire Balls (Jim!)..." Oh, and I see it was originally 10-60 rather than 10-40 damage per fireball. So you were literally casting four full-power Fireballs at the same time.

    1. They weren't in the original game in 1st edition. The cap on fireballs (at 10d6) and delayed blast fireballs (at 15d6) came in with 2nd edition.

    2. ^ Null Null is correct.

      Fireball and Delayed blast fireball were uncapped in OD&D - 1E.

      They added a 20d cap in BECMI IIRC. Then tuned it down to a global 10 dice cap in 2E.

    3. "Cone of Cold becomes much more powerful"

      I covered that in my guest post, but Cone of Cold was invented by Ernie Gygax, as a substitute for Fireball.

      Fireball tends to blow up treasure, since item saves vs magical fire are *really* high.

      Cone of Cold almost never destroys treasure, since item saves vs magical cold are really low.

      Pretty sure Gary bumped up the level, and bumped down the damage, since the collateral damage incurred was so drastically diminished.

      That tuning gets lost in Gold Box games since they removed the fact that items need to save vs spell.

    4. We still use item saves in our F2F campaigns though only if the wearer fails his iwn saving throw. That's why you usually find something like "Spellbook wrapped in cloth in a leather bag in a padded metal box in a sturdy leather backpack..." on our mage character sheets. :)

    5. Fireball casts faster than Delayed Blast Fireball in the p&p rules.

      Meteor Swarm per p&p can do high single-target damage with correct targeting (2 x impact, 2 x splsh), averaging 75 even on a successful save. DBF doesn't outperform that until level 34 - and such levels don't really exist.

    6. Even in the games, "Meteor Swarm" is very powerful. One has just to find out how to use it properly.

      The game implements it as follows:
      The target area you choose where the spell goes off will be the object which gets damage from all four blasts.
      The blast itself will go of one field left-top of choosen field, then right-top, then left-bottom and right bottom. All these blasts cause 3x3 explosion, i.e. affecting all direct neighbour surrounding fields.
      On the way from the caster to each the 4 blasts everything will be treated like "Cone of Cold".

  9. I beat Pools two nights ago and I can honestly say delayed blast fireballing your enemies never grows old - and i am doing it since 1991. Pen &Paper wise I do not remember this as being so ultra important and I played 2nd, 3rd and 4th edition. My first post so i still have to say: awesome blog. Many thanks and best regards from Germany

    1. I suppose that's the other problem. Other than being overpowered, fireballing enemies is just a lot of fun.

  10. You know, it would be perfectly possible for one of us with access to FRUA to make a module 'to order', so to speak. Probably not more than a dungeon or two due to time constraints, but if you always wanted to see what the engine would do in a certain situation...

  11. Yeah, you're running into the scaling problems in First Edition.... magic missile and Fireball keep gaining damage with every level, and they do so faster than characters accumulate hit points. By 30th, you're throwing 30d6 fireballs, which average about 105 damage each. That's getting close to insta-kill territory for even very strong non-fighter PCs, so you can certainly see why they imposed the caps in later editions. (10d6 for Fireball, 15d6 for Delayed.) IIRC, they didn't cap Cone of Cold, which made it far more valuable than it had been.

    The thing about Power Word Blind is that it's *permanent* and insta-cast, so it was at least somewhat useful in the paper game. But since essentially every enemy in a Gold Box game has only rounds left to live anyway, that's not very appealing.

    Cleric spells in D&D have always kind of sucked. They're just terribly boring characters, for the most part. They did a bunch of tweaking in later editions to make them more fun, but they have a huge number of spells that are nearly useless, even on the tabletop. That said, Blade Barrier can be a killer; it does 8d8 damage to anything caught in its radius, and just keeps doing that, every round. I never played a Gold Box game that had it, so I don't know how they implemented it, but in Baldur's Gate, they can chew through melee enemies pretty well... if they can survive standing toe-to-toe for that long. Clerics can have good armor, so that's at least somewhat viable.

    Druids, for the most part, are even worse, although Entangle was pretty handy at low level, and their fourth-level Protection from Fire and Protection from Lightning were way, way better than normal Resist Fire. (but maybe Gold Box games never got to fourth level Druid spells?) Summon Insects was really good, and the 7th level Creeping Doom could be a crazily useful spell. But, by and large, druids were not done well mechanically... witness their leveling issues at 14th. They level remarkably quickly up to 13th level, then take a long time to make 14th (and have to win a duel to actually GET their level.) Then they end up stuck at 14 for 1.5 million experience points. The entire rest of the party will advance to, like 25th or 28th level before they raise even one.

    Just a very, very weird character class. They could be fun in a thematic/role-playing sense, but their mechanics were fairly awful.

    1. Clerics got more interesting with the Tone of Magic supplement but even so we have implemented a house rule that clerics don't need to memorize spells two levels lower that they can cast so they become much more flexible and can actually use those niche spells from timeto time and don' t just memorize cures a all spell levels. Even with that not a very popular class to play.

    2. I seem to remember druids in Baldur's Gate II were capped at 14 for those very reasons.

  12. I think I've seen Cloudkill work once, during CotAB. Usually the enemies just wander in and out of it gleefully like it's a lawn sprinkler on a warm summer day.

    1. It actually works fairly well on Drow in CotAB. They have low HD and so if their magic resistance fails, they're toast.

      One of those lesser-known things, much like the Dracolich being vulnerable to Poison and Slay Living (!) in that game...

    2. And since its effect is checked each turn, it's extra effective against magis resistant critters caught in it.

  13. I think I've seen Cloudkill work once, during CotAB. Usually the enemies just wander in and out of it gleefully like it's a lawn sprinkler on a warm summer day.

    1. If they have enough HD (more than Umber Hulks, for example) they are immune. If low HD they die outright from poison. If in the range between (like Dark Mages in DQK) they take some damage each turn, disrupting any spell casting.

    2. Yes, I've used it quite regularly for the recurring spell disruption effect. The instant kill is anice bonus but only the icing on th e cake. IIRC danage occurs at the beginning of the round also taking some pressure of the ini war at least starting in round two.

    3. Again, we run into the issue where if they're low enough HD to die from "Cloud Kill," they probably die in one casting of one of the "Fireballs."

      A good mod for the entire GB series would be to disable or cap damage from "Fireball" (including DBF), forcing the player to get more use out of the other spells. I TRIED to do that when I played SotSB by forcing myself to memorize every spell once before I memorized any twice, and even then I eventually was able to over-do it with "Fireball."

      Maybe I'll force myself to play Dark Queen of Krynn with no fireballs and see how it goes.

    4. Inspired by your posts about these games, I'm replaying PoR right now and I decided to see how feasible it was with an all-fighter party so I couldn't lean on Sleep and Fireball. (I did add one cleric so healing wasn't quite such a pain.)

      It's proven surprisingly workable; I'm into the wilderness quests now and haven't hit any real roadblocks yet. Some of the fights take a LOT longer (Sokal Keep, Temple of Bane) but the added hit points and AC mean it's just a matter of grinding through.

      I'm betting that I'll be able to finish PoR, but once I hit CotAB and start hitting *groups* of enemy spellcasters I suspect I'll be running into trouble.

    5. Wands and Necklaces for disrupting groups of spell casters will be real life savers for your party.

    6. Update on this, just as a point of interest: I'm now halfway through the mines in SotSB and haven't hit any roadblocks yet. Encounters with more than two or three spell casters or high-level ones have become more serious, often requiring the front line to charge through gaps and take attacks from behind - which then allows the melee types to swarm them and start eating up their HP - but the fact that everyone can hold their own makes that annoying more than dangerous.

      I had to skip the Beholder Corps in Curse, but every other fight I was worried about could be dealt with by dropping some cash on Potions of Speed in Dagger Falls. It's amazing how much punishment the party can take - the occasional mate getting off a lightning bolt doesn't matter as much. Clerics and other paralyzers are the worst.

      I still expect to need to day class or replace them in Pools - the magic-item barrier means that there are no alternatives to buffing spells and I don't think unenlarged, unhasted, un-fire-protected fighters will be able to survive.

      Also, the one cleric was pretty much necessary. Both for healing mid-quest (some areas you could get away with waiting the 60 days to heal naturally, but not most) and there have been a few fights where Silence 15' Radius or Dispel Magic squeaked me through.

    7. Well, unlike me you might find that the economy is quite good in POD, since you'll be loading up on Potions of Speed and Giant's Strength every chance you can.

      Keep in mind that anyone can use Necklaces of Missiles and some of the other magic items that do mass-damage, so at the very least you can keep spellcasters from casting for a couple of rounds. And if you're willing to exploit a bit, that "run up/run away" strategy works with spellcasters, dragons, beholders, just about anything with spells or special attacks.

    8. Oh, good; I couldn't remember if there were ready supplies of buffing potions in PoD. And a good point on the Necklace of Missiles - I don't know if I could have gotten through Yulash without it.

      Are there any other mass damage items usable by fighters (or clerics) that you remember? The necklace is the only one I can remember - wands are definitely out.

    9. I feel like I had non-mages use some of the wands, but I don't remember. Maybe thieves can use them?

    10. Ah, I would not be surprised if thieves can. Fighters get 'Wrong Class' when I try to equip them.

    11. I finished Secret, but the final sequence convinced me that Pools will probably be near-impossible without mages. The final fights included several with seeveral-to-dozens of spellcasting enemies and the fighters just couldn't keep all of them down. I had to try several times to beat the Dreadlord's final army of Storm Giants and Priests, burning through all my Necklaces of Missiles and burning a Potion of Speed on everyone. Even his bodyguard in gold armor (which I never remembered as a difficult fight before) proved tough with so many priests guarded by so many fighters capable of punishing even -10 AC if you have to get attacked from behind in the process. I've had a lot of fun with this run, though - in part *because* several fights I took for granted were much more challenging. Thanks for the inspiration!

  14. You haven't used blade barrier?
    No wonder you find the combat difficult. It's one of the best spells, especially against spellcasters (who have to move if you cast it on them), or for large enemies who have little space to move around.

    1. I meant to experiment but I didn't: do rakshasa take damage from it? I thought maybe they would because even though it's magic, it summons physical blades.

    2. Don't know about the Rashasas, but blade barrier works wonders against Bits O' Moander.

  15. Inspired by this blog entry, I decided to fire up FRUA and played an old design called The Quest for Arkana. My band of lvl 3 adventurers faced a 64 HP Black Dragon. One Stinking Cloud and he was a stinking corpse.

    When Mr Addict gets around to playing Baldur's Gate it should be interesting to see a comparison of spell usage between the GB and BG games. IMO the BG games are superior in every aspect, if you disregard the Turn Based vs Real Time with Pause issue.

  16. The games don't feature enough high-powered single foes. It would have been nice to mix it up so that instead of 20 Drow or 15 dragons, all with around 60 hit points, we occasionally faced a trio of high-level fighter/mages with hit points in the 200-300 range. This would change tactics considerably and make some of the individual spells ("Feeblemind," "Power Word: Stun," or heck, even "Otto's Irresistible Dance") more important.

    The problem with having super-high-level enemies was that their saves against spells became extremely good. I don't have the charts on me, but I guess that Level 17+ characters only needed to roll something like 2 or 3 (on a 20-sided die) to save against a spell. So in AD&D there was this phenomenon where magic spells against high-level NPCs that had saving throws became very unreliable.

    1. Fine, keep the level and just give them a lot more hit points.

    2. I think the best way would be to make them immune to instant death and loss of control, but susceptible to debuffs like Otto's armor reduction. There's not much point in having a 1000 HP enemy if it dies to a level 2 Hold Person.

    3. 1E saves vs spell topped off at 7 for clerics, 6 for fighters, 4 for mages and 5 for thieves. But paralysis, poison, death, petrification and polymorph had different saves. Of course, if you had a protection ring to give you a bonus to saves you could get down to success on a "2" or better. Most PoD enemies have no such items.

  17. Very interesting article--and very informative comments!

    I notice you didn't address the new 5th level mage spells Fire Touch and Iron Skin, however. Pointless or did you overlook them?

    1. Ah! Dumb oversight. I meant to include them. I really get a lot of use out of "Fire Touch" in particular. I just added a few new lines.

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  19. Is there even any areas in Goldbox where you get diseased? Is it one of those mechanics they discarded after Pool of Radiance?

    Curse is a highly situational spell, only ever used on a single very tough enemy.

    Wow, I don't think I've ever seen a Goldbox player who didn't load up on Stinking Cloud at level 2. I suppose the high saving throws of just about every monster ruins these kinds of spells. Confusion was an awesome spell because its area of effect is so large.

    Monster summoning works by calling the random monsters for that map. You can see this in FRUA the Goldbox designer kit. I suppose in Moander's domain the only random monster listed is the Bit O Moander, so that's what you get.

    1. I think Ascorean Mummies in GSF can disease you?

    2. Monster Summoning calls a specific single type of monster configured for each dungeon map (or overland map), at least in FRUA. It is unrelated to random encounter design and you can only ever get the fixed summons unless you move onto another map.

  20. ""Mass Invisibility" is theoretically a good buffing spell to ensure that enemy spellcasters can't target you until you act, but I find that it often just doesn't work. Maybe those enemy spellcasters have "Detect Invisibility" or something."

    In AD&D, every intelligent being has an innate chance of detecting invisibility. Detailed here:

    1. That kind-of explains it. But in earlier games, like CotAB, you could cast "Invisibility" on every party member and there was a 100% chance that no enemy would detect you before you acted. You could "Delay" to the end of the round and essentially get a round of attacks for free. They must have implemented the detection system later.

  21. The best use of Stinking Cloud, which I think hasn't been touched upon here, is that when you throw it on top of spellcasters, they can no longer cast spells, whether they make their saving throw or not. Even if they make their saving throw and leave the cloud, it still affects them for a round. It's a great way to neutralize enemy spellcasters quickly.

    Here's some text from the 1st Edition AD&D PHB that explains it:

    Any creature caught within the cloud must save versus poison or be helpless due to nausea from 2 to 5 rounds (d4+1). Those which make successful saving throws are helpless only for as long as they remain within the cloud, and for the round after they emerge, because of its irritating effects on visual and olfactory organs.

    1. Ah yeah, I forgot about that. Don't they also have a penalty to AC for coughing? And the coughing takes effect even if they make their save vs. nausea?

    2. "when you throw it on top of spellcasters, they can no longer cast spells, whether they make their saving throw or not." I wouldn't dream of disputing that, but you know what also makes sure they can't cast spells? "Delayed Blast Fireball." And it kills them, too, so you don't have to run around mopping them up after having cast a spell on them. And it affects as many as 52 enemies instead of 4.

      I wouldn't dream of calling "Stinking Cloud" useless, just that I can't imagine having to go down that far in my spell bag.

  22. When it comes to the mechanics of how the Gold Box spells work, I came across a fascinating new FAQ by Stephen S. Lee that provides "Exhaustive Game Information" for Pool of Radiance that details the precise mechanics for all the spells and almost everything else in the game. He also indicates how the Gold Box engine differed from the 1st edition rules.

    Stephen S. Lee PoR FAQ

    It's packed full of other information I didn't know about the game too--like that Podol Plaza can be cleared, but only prior to the auction mission due to a bug, and that the final boss is of good alignment so "Protection from Good" is an effective preparatory spell for that fight.

    Although it takes away some (all?) of the mystery of the game, it seems like a must read for those fascinated with all things Gold Box.

    1. What?! The final boss is Good?! Thanks for ruining it!


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