Saturday, July 27, 2019

Game 337: Treasures of the Savage Frontier (1992)

The game almost immediately reveals its title to be a double-entendre.

Treasures of the Savage Frontier
United States
Beyond (developer), Strategic Simulations, Inc. (publisher)
Released 1992 for Amiga and DOS
Date Started: 20 July 2019
Settling into a Gold Box game is like going back to your home town after a few years. You enjoy looking for the little changes while at the same time hoping that not much has changed. The town still has its same friendly character, you think, and it looks like all the neighborhoods are still 16 x 16. The old Irish pub seems to have gotten a VGA facelift; maybe I'll get to know the NPCs there a little better this trip. Mr. Miller at the armory is still hawking that weird selection of polearms, but he's got helmets now, too. Oh, looks like MacGregor's pharmacy got bought out by a Rite Aid--and I hear they have a new "Repair" command that automatically heals all your ailments. Yes, maybe some of those things changed on your last trip. It's hard to remember. Does it really matter?

Of course, your hometown is always happy to welcome you with all the experience and stuff that you've accumulated since you were first created here. Well--most of it. They haven't legalized weed or Gauntlets of Dexterity yet, so you'll have to leave those where you came from.
The import process confiscates a few items.
We don't have many trips to the old neighborhood left. Mom and Dad sold the place for a better house in a town called Dark Sun, if you can imagine. They're hardly ever even home. They've been leasing it short-term to some executives from a company called Beyond. Better enjoy these streets--and killing bandits on them via one of the best combat engines you've ever experienced--while you can.

I've been plucking games from the 1992 list at random, but I'm not sure if I wouldn't have done it in this order deliberately. Of the three remaining Gold Box games, I think I'll enjoy The Dark Queen of Krynn the most, Buck Rogers: Matrix Cubed the least, and Treasures somewhere in between. If that's true, Treasures is a good one to ease into for the first time in almost three years--saving the best experience for last, but not ruining our homecoming on the worst part of town.

I like the setup here. It requires some knowledge of the previous game and the Forgotten Realms factions, but it isn't overly complicated. In Gateway to the Savage Frontier, the characters were former caravan guards who slowly stumbled on a conspiracy by Zhentarim (the evil mercenary company that rules Zhentil Keep) to take over the Savage Frontier (a long strip of land east of the Sword Coast) by marching an army across the Anauroch Desert (which lies between Zhentil Keep and the Savage Frontier) to the city of Ascore. The party foiled the plan by activating a magic ritual in Ascore that summoned various desert monsters to destroy the invading hordes.

The game map shows that action will take place on the western side of the Savage Frontier, plus the Sword Coast cities. If it stretched just a little further south, we'd see Baldur's Gate.
Treasures begins a few weeks later, with the party enjoying a picnic in the hills above Yartar. Suddenly, we're sucked through a portal, arriving on the cold stone floor of a dwarven stronghold in the city of Llorkh. The agent of our transportation is Amanitas, the setting's version of Gandalf or Elminster, an absent-minded wizard who aids and directs the party. 
Why is this spell never available to me no matter what level I achieve?
Amanitas relates that after their defeat, the shattered remains of the Zhentarim fled south to Llorkh, the only city in the region that they still controlled. But when the dwarven residents of Llorkh heard that the Zhentarim had been defeated, they realized this was their prime chance to revolt. The city has been plunged into chaos, with the dwarves against the Zhent garrison and the returning survivors of Ascore. Amanitas hopes that we'll do our usual thing. Of course, he won't be sticking around himself. He's going to return home to Secomber to investigate "troubling reports about strange new events in the Savage Frontier." One hopes this includes the apparent imposition of slavery on former caravan guards.

I took a quick look at character creation to make sure nothing had changed (I didn't see anything) before importing my Gateway party, which consists of:

  • Broadside, a lawful good human male paladin of Level 7
  • Talldark, a chaotic good human female ranger of Level 7
  • Ghost, a neutral good dwarf male fighter/thief of Levels 5/6
  • Alpha, a lawful good human male cleric of Level 6
  • Eso, a chaotic good human female cleric of Level 6
  • Monitor, a neutral good elf magic-user of Level 6

Ghost will cap at Level 9 as a fighter, two levels below the maximum for the game, but I guess I'll live with it. Monitor can go to Level 11 as a mage, which also happens to be the game maximum. If the series had gone on for one more title, you'd have to go with an all-human party, or suffer from very low level caps, as in the Forgotten Realms series. 
A new character is pretty pathetic compared to an imported one.
Most of their equipment came with them, save the Gauntlets of Dexterity, some magic scrolls, ioun stones, a Wand of Defoliation, and a long sword +2 versus undead. Still, everyone has magic weapons and armor. An imported party has an enormous advantage over one created for the game. New characters start at around Level 4 with only 22,600 experience (my imported characters had between 80,000 and 140,0000) and non-magic items. My imported party also has, I suspect, enough money in gems and jewelry to last the entire game.

The game begins in war-torn Llorkh, where the ultimate goal is to assault the Zhent keep in the east-center of the city. An early journal entry recommends that, before heading there, you "clear the rest of the town," thus weakening the Zhent forces and stopping them from sending reinforcements. Yes, we're still using paper journals. I don't really know why.
Getting a journal reference . . .

. . . and marking it off in the paper (or PDF) journal.
Llorkh held to the 16 x 16 standard that the Gold Box has used since Pool of Radiance, with another 8 x 16 for the keep. I normally like mapping, but for whatever reason, I didn't map during this session. I relied on the overhead "Area" map to get around and make sure I covered every square, which isn't terribly hard on a map this small. The "Area" map still doesn't distinguish walls from doors, which is something that I wish the series had fixed before the end.
I did most of my exploration from this map rather than mapping myself.
The town had a weapons shop, a couple of inns, a temple, and a training hall, all open during the strife. All my characters except Broadside gained one or two levels during the session. I think I'll probably dual either Alpha or Eso to a second mage pretty soon. The only things I bothered to purchase were arrows and darts, and I noticed that (perhaps for the first time) they now automatically stack, meaning you don't have to buy darts 4 at a time until your mage's inventory is full, then stack them, then buy more.
Part of the options in the armory.
The Zhent forces in the keep include "lordsmen" (high-level fighters), driders, gryphons, ettins, efreet, and hill giants. Driders were probably the toughest enemies. If you don't damage them, they cast "Fireshield" in the first round, which does double the damage back to the attacker for every melee attack. Once the spell is cast, you have to try to destroy the Drider with spells ("Magic Missile" is a favorite, though they shrug off spell damage about 50% of the time) or ranged weapons.

There were around 20 fixed encounters on the Llorkh map. The accumulation of combats was a bit harder than I remember in any previous Gold Box game, and I found myself really working my various spells, even going so far as to cast "Prayer" and "Bless" in combat, which is something I hardly ever do. My wizard only had two Level 3 spells at the game's outset. Predictably, I used them for "Lightning Bolt" and "Fireball," but these went fast. I got a lot of use out of the clerics' "Hold Person." Fortunately, the game is a bit too generous on letting you rest, heal, and re-memorize spells just about anywhere. Incidentally, unlike Gateway, "Fix" no longer re-memorizes spells. It just heals.
It's rare for me to cast "Prayer" in combat. I usually use it as a buffing spell.
One thing that has changed: both enemies and allies can join the battle even after it's been going on for a few rounds. You suddenly get a message that "dwarf fighter has joined the combat" or "Zhent fighter has joined the combat," with the new characters taking positions near where the party started. So far, every ally joining has been balanced by an enemy and vice versa. Sometimes you can control the NPC allies (I think this is based on a charisma roll for the leader), but other times they control themselves. Either way, they're usually more trouble than they're worth, appearing in the back and not having much room to maneuver around the main party. Plus, if the NPCs are controlling themselves, the pathfinding remains awful and they get hung up on every wall. 
The NPC dwarves don't really contribute much to combat.
There weren't a lot of role-playing encounters in the opening map. There were a few places where I had options to help a group of dwarves or leave, which isn't exactly much of a choice. When I reached the front gates of the city in my explorations, the game asked if I wanted to stay and fight or leave the dwarves to their fate. On a lark, I tried to leave, but the dwarves just barred the gate and forced me to stay anyway.
This isn't much of a choice. I have to defeat everyone anyway.
The one major exception was an encounter in a building where I came across some wounded Zhents and a companion treating them. I had options to attack or leave them alone. I decided to adhere to the Geneva Convention, at which point one of the Zhents gave me some intelligence that the Zhent lord Geildarr was planning to ambush the dwarven leaders while they slept. I don't think this ended up doing anything for me, but it was still an interesting encounter.
On one hand, the Zhentarim are unrepentantly evil. On the other hand, we shouldn't stoop to their level.
While few of the other encounters offered any role-playing options, there were a lot of contextual encounters (defined here). You rarely just run into a pack of enemies looking for blood, the way you do in, say, The Bard's Tale or Might and Magic. Instead, you get some message indicating why the combat is occurring before it occurs. The series has generally done a good job with these, but I think Treasures is offering more pre-combat messages than any prior game. Some examples:

  • We burst into a room and interrupt a group of ettins and fighters dressing for battle.
  • We hear a lovely melodic voice coming from behind a door, enter, and find ourselves in combat with three harpies. I can't remember harpies making an appearance in Gold Box games before.
  • A building turns out to house a group of Bane worshippers, who attack immediately. 
  • We interrupt a group of hill giants and fighters playing dice.
This is so much better than just going right into combat.
It's been quite a while since I had a combat system that I really enjoyed. I think Crusaders of the Dark Savant was probably the last. Here, I immediately remembered everything I love about the Gold Box approach to combat: when enemies line up to create a perfect "Lightning Bolt" scenario, or attack in a big cluster ideal for a "Fireball"; when a backstab connects; when my paladin is able to kill two enemies with his two attacks per round; when all three castings of "Hold Person" take effect and you can kill the paralyzed enemies at your leisure; when your casting of "Stinking Cloud" reorganizes the battlefield the way you want it. And every new spell slot increases your tactical options. Not only has this system not been improved upon in a turn-based game, I'm not even sure how you'd improve it. It's one of the few completely transparent systems in all of RPG-dom, meaning that whether an attack succeeds or fails, whether a spell takes effect or doesn't, whether you live or die, you always understand exactly what's happening and why it's happening.
Monsters arranged perfectly for a "Fireball."
The opening session culminated with an attack on Lord Geildarr's keep, a fortress that had once belonged to a dwarven king named Redblade. There was a very large battle with fighters and ettins in the entry hall.

Geildarr himself seemed to appear in a southern room, but it turned out to be only an illusion. After we tried to attack him, we were attacked ourselves by driders and efreet. In a northern room, a brunette sorceress similarly disappeared, leaving us to fight her minions.
Tricky, tricky.
Continuing down into the basement, we fought more guards as well as several groups of carrion crawlers (which can paralyze) in the old jail cells. At the north end of the cellars, I found a fighter giving a speech to his troops, and it ominously ended with, "Even if we don't hold Llorkh, the plan to divide--." So apparently the Zhents have a bigger plan.

Next, we came to a room where a beautiful blonde fighter was fighting with a "beautiful" brunette sorceress. At least, that's how the game describes her.
You decide.
They got into a brawl, and during the tussle, the sorceress changed her appearance to match the fighter, both then shouting that she was the "real" blonde. I had various options at this point, and it turned out that casting "Dispel" allowed me to separate them again. It feels like the paladin's innate "Detect Evil" abilities should have helped here, but I didn't have that option. Maybe he didn't have that ability in the first edition of AD&D rules.

A battle with the sorceress (Cortarra) and her allies--several fighters and cockatrices--ensued. I concentrated on killing the cockatrices first, since they can stone with a successful melee attack. When it was over, the fighter--Siulajia--offered to join the party. Of course, I accepted. She related that she's the daughter of a ranger from the High Forest, captured by retreating Zhent forces and brought to Lord Geildarr as a "gift." It's always useful to have a pure fighter. She seems to do well with a bow.
Given that she's also the character on the title screen, I assume she later becomes more important.
The final battle was a two-part affair that began when I stumbled into a room and found Lord Geildarr threatening a warrior named Jarbarkas. Geildarr turned on me and first had a giant skeleton and a group of humans attack, including two "Hosttower mages" and two "Kraken masters," showing that the Zhents are allied with the Host Tower of the Arcane in Luskan and the Kraken Society of Purple Rocks. I suspect my adventures may take me in those directions next.
It's always great when this spell works.
Once I defeated the initial group, Geildarr himself attacked with numerous "lordsmen." He was probably a high-level magic-user, but he had only a small number of hit points, and he went down after one "Magic Missile" from Monitor and a couple of arrows from Siulajia. "Hold Person" helped mop up the rest.
The Zhents have allied with Gargamel.
After the battle, Jarbarkas gave us a reasonably long account of his history: He's from a village called Windycliffs on the Sword Coast. The town was recently sacked by Luskans, and Jarbarkas set out to get revenge, ultimately getting himself captured. He recommended that we search enemies for "any kind of crystal." "I know not what the powers of these crystals may be," he said, "but they were very careful to shatter them rather than let the stones fall into our hands. There are three different colors, and no single person is ever entrusted with more than one."
Technically, I've already won the game. It just lets you keep playing and exploring new areas after you win.
I expected Jarbarkas to offer to join us, but he took off after this bit of intelligence. Amidst the cheering of the victorious dwarves, we identified our looted equipment, leveled up, memorized new spells, and contemplated our next move, which seemed to be to visit Amanitas in Secomber.
I guess it's for the best. Your name is a bit too similar to someone we all hate.
You can leave Llorkh via the gate (on foot) or by renting a boat to go along the river system. Either way, leaving puts you on the overland map. Aside from slightly better graphics than previous overland maps, this one seems (for the first time that I remember) to have some consideration of weather. At least, it's constantly telling you about changes in weather conditions. I'm not sure what impact these conditions have on the game.
Overland exploration by river.
I faced no resistance on the way down river (I think this is one of the advantages to getting a boat). On the river, it's impossible to avoid the city of Loudwater on the way to Secomber, so I figured I might as well explore it while we were here. The southern part of the city has the usual shops and services, but we soon encountered a building with a bunch of Kraken Society spies. After we defeated them in combat, we found a map showing a line along a road between the Way Inn, Daggerford, and Waterdeep. "We must break their supply lines," a note read. "Attack and take Daggerford and the Way Inn now! BEFORE they arrive!"
The Kraken Society note.
A way up the road, a young woman asked me to help find her lost mother, then led me into a building in which she and her "sisters" turned into something called "greenhags" and attacked. I've never encountered this monster before. Their icons look like wights, but they're clearly not undead. In the middle of combat, they "changed form" into two mages and a dwarven fighter. They changed back and forth several times during the battle--I'm not sure what it did for them--but I eventually cut them all down and got a magic ring.
What in the world are these things?
Actual undead are to be found in a graveyard east of town--ghouls and wights. They're fairly easy to turn at my level. I found no treasure or anything among them.
An atmospheric message as I enter the undead part of town.
The northern part of Loudwater had an "adventure supplies" shop that sold flasks of oil, mirrors, robes, cloaks, boots, and belts. I bought everyone boots, just because, but I'm not sure if any of these items really has any use. They haven't in most past games. 

Finally, while exploring a back alley in the northeast part of the city, I suffered not only my first character death but also my first full-party death. I was lured into a building by the singing of another group of harpies. This time, they actually hit me, which causes the struck character to be "Charmed." They charmed my strongest fighter and one cleric in the first round. I tried to have the second cleric cast "Dispel," but it didn't work. During the second round, the charmed cleric cast "Hold Person" and held three of the remaining party members, who were soon cut down by my charmed paladin. With no one left conscious about to cast "Dispel," all I could do was focus on the harpies, passing the rounds and hoping that the charmed condition would wear off. I was able to kill the harpies with mage spells, but in the subsequent rounds the charmed characters killed everyone. The party was destroyed, but just as in Gateway, the monsters no longer rejoice.

All told, a satisfying start to a familiar setting. I look forward to playing more.
Time so far: 4 hours


  1. Welcome back! These were the only games I played during my brief window of freedom between getting a computer and having to study for college (that and Dragon Wars, Eye of the Beholder trilogy, and Doom), so I'm quite nostalgic for them.

    The crystals are one of the more annoying aspects of this game. you get them whenever you see Zhents, Krakens, and Hosttower mages together in a battle. Each of the three factions (Zhents, Krakens, and Hosttower) has a different color (red, blue, and green respectively), and you get the crystal of whoever dies first (after that they all smash their crystals, even down to the ridiculous length of dying second in a fireball). Since the Hosttower mages have the fewest HP you tend to pick up the green one fairly often; I would suggest trying to hold one of the Zhentil guys now to get the red crystal, as they have the most hitpoints and later in the game you have Zhentil Lords with even more HP.

    Dualling your cleric to mage: not a bad idea given there are lots of human enemies you will have to drop Fireball on. Going back through my old saves I got to about 650,000 XP at the last point you can train, enough to get a cleric to level 9 and a mage to level 10. If you dual the cleric at level 10 you can get the mage to 11 (recall the second class has to exceed the first to access old abilities) but you will have to do a lot of extra grinding.

    Treasures has a much lighter tone than either Pools or Dark Queen, they even change the color of the text and play the pre-combat descriptions for laughs.
    You can whittle down the big battle in Geildarr's hall by going around the back and defeating other encounters in the castle, similar to Loudwater in Gateway or Kernen Gate in Champions.
    Geildarr is a lowly 5th-level mage, as is his girlfriend Cortarra. His Lordsmen are the lowest-level fighters in the game, actually. So small fry ;)
    Wights have their own, different icon. The Greenhags change icons between (mostly) female icons, and I mistakenly forgot to hit one once as a result (one looked like an NPC).
    The harpies were in Gateway.

    If you have a different lawful good character in the lead when you go down the stairs in the keep, things can turn out differently later on. I'll say more if you don't mind a bit of a spoiler.

    Oh, and remember how you could import Curse of the Azure Bonds characters to Gateway to the Savage Frontier, because the engine was ported? Well, they did the same thing with this game and *Pools of Darkness*. So, um, if you wanted to see what a Delayed Blast Fireball does on Geildarr's 'sea of men and monsters', this is your chance. ;)

    Also, while this would represent a huge deviation from your mission, if you like the engine that much there is always FRUA. ;)

    Whatever you do, good luck. I haven't played a lot of old games but it is fun to watch you do them and it's always to nice to go back to your blog and see someone enjoy something you did.


    2. Dunno if you're new or what, but unless he explicitly asks for a hint Addict prefers to play games without spoilers or hints.

    3. Shit, sorry. I do know he likes not having spoilers but it tells you you have to target different enemies and he talked about getting a crystal so I figured he got to that part already.

      I thought I only mentioned stuff (Geildarr, crystals) he had already run into?

    4. I calculated the cleric level so he wouldn't be stuck with a cleric he couldn't dual near the end of the game--not saving the missiles ruined his experience of Pools of Darkness, which was my favorite. Sorry, Addict! You can delete my post if you like.

    5. It's all right. I don't really know what you mean by the crystals anyway, and I'll probably forget the comment in a few days. I didn't think anything else was a spoiler.

    6. Cool.

      BTW, if you want a weird spin on the gold box series you can start characters in Pool, transfer to Curse, move to Gateway and dual-class, get them to higher levels in Treasures, then send them back to Pools for the finale. You will have to drop some of the named weapons but most standard items still work OK.

    7. @Null Null: :O how can I learn more about all those fancy character transfer between series?

    8. All right, last post, since someone asked.

      I first saw it in RPG Codex. (I know, there's a lot of stuff on there that's offensive and I find frankly disturbing, but it remains the best source for goldbox information.) What it is, is that characters are saved in more or less the same format between Curse and Gateway, and Pools and Treasures, I'm guessing largely because they ported the engine to allow Stormfront Studios to make the games. So you remove your characters, copy the files to the appropriate directory, and add them back in to the other game.

      The thing is that (given the order the games were made in) items transfer reasonably well from Curse to Gateway, and from Pools to Treasures, but not vice versa. (Note that the 'reverse transfer' is actually the most enjoyable one for moving characters between games.) So I would avoid trying to transfer items unique to Gateway or Treasures (a lot of the named items you get later in Treasures fit the bill), as they get weird names as they have item vocabulary pointers that don't exist in the older game, and I haven't tested all the weirder behavior that can result.

      That said it still allows for a 'grand campaign' including both Pools-series and Savage Frontier-series, so it's something to do if you're a goldbox fan at least once.

  2. "During the second round, the charmed cleric cast "Hold Person" and held three of the remaining party members, who were soon cut down by my charmed paladin. With no one left conscious about to cast "Dispel,"

    Dispel works differently in Treasures. It does not dispel Hold Person in my experience.

    1. Really? That's weird. That's one of the primary reasons to memorize the spell.

    2. It's *supposed* to dispel Hold and Charm Person, but they never coded that in the game. Irritating. IIRC if you get a character charmed, it's a reload because they'll never come back to your side.

    3. Harland, agre; very irritating, downright amateurish. BTW, do you have a source for that?
      Also, Charm Person should be possible to be countered with your own Charm Person.
      Hold Person is worse. I wonder if there's a way to cheat, though. I watched a YouTuber doing an LP of this game, being spammed by Hold Person spells and none of them worked, which was very suspicious.

    4. Since it worked that way in previous games, they would have had to either explicitly un-code it, or accidentally broken it...

    5. IIRC if you charm the character back to your side, he becomes an NPC that is controlled by the computer.

      I also believe Hold Person will wear off if you wait enough rounds.

    6. I was able to dispel a charm.

    7. I don't remember which goldbox it was, but I cast charm person to counter an enemy charm person, and it charmed the PC back to my side under computer control. After the combat he disappeared, like all charmed enemies in combat do.

      Heh. That would be cool if charm person worked as per D&D rules, and you could keep them for a while. I always thought it was one of the best spells in the game, both pen & paper and goldbox.

      It would be interesting to see a digression about the evolution of goldbox games and what capabilities exist in different ones.

    8. I was thinking about doing some kind of summary like that after the last Gold Box game.

    9. Personally I miss the portrait option. I like to customize my characters as much as possible, whenever possible, and doing so in Gold Box is absolute agony. I don't blame anybody for using default icons or simple color swaps.

    10. Yeah, recharming a party member and then having that party member die permanently erased them in earlier versions I think.

  3. Rite Aid would be an appropriate name for a company of healing clerics.

  4. Lol, gotta love Maine and our legal weed, even if they totally botched the commercial aspect of it...

    Chet, have you looked into Gold Box Companion? It's a really handy program that gives you a hud and automap for all Gold Box games, included custom FRUA scenarios. I love it.

    1. I've generally supported legalization--or, at least, decriminalization--for years, mostly because I didn't think anyone deserved a criminal record for possessing it. As a middle-aged white guy, I could pretty much smoke it whenever I wanted anyway, and as long as I wasn't stupid (like smoking it while driving past a cop), I was probably never going to get arrested for it in the first place.

      Lately, though, I've been coming to regret my support. I'm sick of encountering gormless, shaggy-haired buffoons who think nothing of putting on their marijuana-reeking sweatshirts and going out to breakfast or, god help me, taking a trip on a plane. I'm sick of smelling it EVERYWHERE--walking down the street, getting into my rental car, getting into my hotel room. We finally dealt with all that vis-a-vis tobacco in the 1980s and 1990s, but now marijuana is making it so much worse.

      Anyway, on the Gold Box companion, I think I'd consider that cheating. But I'm glad other people find value in it.

    2. You can choose not to use the level up features, and just use the Automap and HUD, but as someone who enjoys mapping myself, I can understand why you'd skip it.

      On the marijuana side, yeah I smoke myself, but I see the real issue being industrial hemp. As if we have legalized weed, but we haven't gotten the industrial hemp issue resolved. It would create so many jobs that our state needs badly, could get some mills up and running again, ect. Okay, putting the soapbox away.

    3. I love the Gold Box Companion. I was born in the year Pool of Radiance was released but didn't play RPGs in my early childhood (mostly adventure games and platformers) so I never got used to mapping and the interface is hard to get into nowadays, so I play Gold Box games with GBC. Yes, it's not the original experience and might be considered cheating, but it's a great utility anyways, especially for those who prefer more modern interfaces.

      As for the weed issue, as someone who doesn't smoke it and hates the smell, I'm glad it's illegal in my country :p

    4. I'd rather have taxes be spent on things other than busting stressed high-schoolers, but each their own. I see public drunks about as often as the mega-stoners Chet seems to encounter daily, and I know which I would much rather deal with at the end of a long shift.

      Also, I'm currently recovering from lymphoma and have taken more medicine than most see in a lifetime. Even though I didn't end up using, it was nice to feel like I had an alternative treatment for the nausea and other side-effects than just more pills.

    5. Alex, Have you tried Rick Simpson Oil? I know some people who were terminal and went into remission while using it.

    6. On the GBC issue, I wouldn't see it as cheating personally if you just used the automap and hud features. You can even notate the automap. But as mentioned, it's not the "authentic experience".

    7. It's illegal to smoke tobacco in 'public areas' in most Australian cities. Doesn't protect you from people who sit next to you on a bus, and who clearly smoke in a small room with no windows and never wash their clothes, but it generally suffices.

      Legalise all drugs though :p

    8. I wonder if the campaign against secondhand stink is going to be as rabid as the one against secondhand smoke.

    9. Rape is common in American prisons. Before supporting a prison sentence for marijuana (or any drug, or any anything else), I would ask myself if any level of annoying stink or behavior could possible justify predictably damning someone to that. As a rape survivor, I find the idea horrifying beyond words. But I'm pretty much convinced humans are generally monsters and mostly best avoided. :(

    10. Nobody is talking about prison. People aren't generally sent to prison for simple possession in places where it's still illegal, and in any event I never said I wanted states to re-criminalize it just because I didn't like the smell. Nobody goes to prison for smoking cigarettes in public places, either, but we've managed to make it socially unacceptable, reinforceable by civil fines, and that's what I would expect to ultimately happen with marijuana in places where it's not already happening.

    11. Sigh. Well, I really like your site. But I don't think I'll enjoy reading any more. No offense.

      I may be wrong, but I think there used to be people who instinctively felt uncomfortable at talk of making things "socially unacceptable". What happened to that? Where have all the hippies gone? I feel like the last chaotic person on earth.

    12. Oh, don't be absurd. Even someone as edgy and "chaotic" as you recognizes certain standards for public behavior. You like wouldn't be okay with someone yelling at the top of his lungs while you're trying to eat breakfast at Denny's, or two people deciding to have sex on a train full of commuters, or a kindergarten teacher lighting up a joint in front of her class. Even those hippies you refer to would probably have told someone going on a racist screed to do it someplace else. Everyone's tolerance has limits. Life is about learning to read the room.

      Fortunately, there's always somewhere you can go to do what you want to do and say what you want to say, if only the privacy of your own home.

      If such views make you not want to read my comments on CRPGs, that's your decision. No reviewer can entirely separate his reactions to games (or films, or whatever) to who he is as a person, and I'm not going to apologize for having views and preferences that may be different from some of my readers'.

    13. Who says "life is about learning to read a room?" Really? Correctly adapting to social expectations is the only way to live, the very substance of life? I agree this is how our time seems to think, and I think it's very sad. I'm not sure that if you live in a place and time currently building concentration camps being well-adjusted is such a good thing.

    14. If people started to disdain the idea of adapting to social expectations we would all be dead, seriously injured or in jail in the shake of a lamb's tail. It doesn't sound like a bright future to me.

    15. I, for one, am glad I live in a society where "not stinking" is considered a social expectation that most people try to adhere to!

    16. Damn...speaking of drugs, Anonymous either needs to get on some good ones or off the crap s/he's on now.

      Dude done gone and killed the joy of exploring this site, something I thought impossible just moments ago. Your opinions, Chet, are both welcome and appreciated by the majority of us who wouldn't consider taking a dump in the toy isle at Target in protest of "societal norms".

  5. Jarbarkas joins you if Siulajia doesn't, and the criteria for that is gur traqre bs lbhe yrnq punenpgre.

  6. My imported party also has, I suspect, enough money in gems and jewelry to last the entire game.

    Do you make any adjustments or allowances to your GIMLET economy score in games like this when you can import your characters and the wealth they earned in previous games?

    1. Personally, I love this feature, and wish it was more common in CRPGs, especially direct sequels.

    2. I like it too. I just wonder if it throws off the Addict's scoring if he's using characters that have more money than characters native to the game would.

      On the other hand, I suppose it's assumed that you'd import characters from the previous game, so perhaps it's irrelevant.

    3. For the official score, I usually rate it the way I played it, but I'll mention in the text if I think some factor would raise or lower the score for other players. In this case, if ToSF is like most Gold Box games, it will soon become so generous with treasure even for newly-created characters that it won't make a difference. I'm more concerned about my attitudes towards character development. Imported characters have less space to grow.

    4. I suspect that games don't allow character imports as often anymore because of the need for each game to have 100% new engine and gameplay. The character import feature in the Mass Effect series blew my mind because, before this blog, I'd never seen anything like it before; the closest was KOTOR2 asking you a bunch of questions about the events of KOTOR.

    5. Very few game series actually replace the engine entirely between installments. There's improvements to the underlying technology, of course, but total replacements are rare.

      The likelier reason for mostly ditching the "import character" feature is that it massively increases the development workload. Even without plot differences, you have to take equipment/ability availability into consideration and accept that an imported character is going to have a very different game experience - which you have to allow for if you want to ensure a satisfactory experience for all concerned.

    6. I think the simpler explanation is that games have gotten so individually epic that there's no room left for an imported character to grow. By the time you finish one game, you're already god-like in your powers.

    7. That's a good explanation as well. Mass Effect essentially gives you a small amount of bonus experience rather than directly importing your previous character's abilities; it's really only story decisions and wealth that get carried over.

      I apologize if I talk about Mass Effect too much but I adore those games. Although it might not ever happen, I'm excited for this blog to get there.

    8. Then you have Dragon Age, which brings over nothing of the character but almost everything about the "world state." It's an amazingly original approach.

    9. I think Dungeon Master's sequel Chaos Strikes Back is the only game I've played for I would wish to import a fully developed party for. With others I would only want it if they were reset to a low level and lost their stuff. Anything else would seem like cheating.

  7. I like the reinforcement change. It will affect later battles more dramatically.

    Jarbrakas left because you already had Siulagia in your party. I won't explain why. It should be obvious soon.

    There is a good weapon shop in Mirabar. +1 arrows and other weapons. Also there are magic shops in some of the cities.

    I liked the first part of this story. It has a Stalingrad like feel as you clear block by block of territory.

  8. "A way up the road, a young woman asked me to help find her lost mother, then led me into a building in which she and her "sisters" turned into something called "greenhags" and attacked. "

    Hags are a traditional AD&D monster, with the Green Hag serving as the swamp/forest version. They're directly inspired by Baba Yaga, and have an at will Change Self spell for disguise. As you surmised, they are not undead, being more related to evil faeries.

    I'm not entirely familiar with the edition the Gold Box games are based on, but in later editions a coven of Green Hags is a fairly dangerous fight at your level.

    1. The green hag at least is more likely inspired by Jenny Greenteeth and other such river hags. Jenny and Baba Yaga are both examples of the dangerous crone that appears in many cultures' mythologies.

    2. I think the Gold Box games use 1st edition rules, with some 2nd edition rules sprinkled in here and there, but I could be wrong.

    3. The Green Hag first appears in the 1e Monster Manual II (1983). (Their cousins the night hag and sea hag had previously appeared in the first Monster Manual.)

      They fill the role of the "evil witch in the cottage", luring travellers to their doom and consuming their flesh. They are often found in convens (traditionally of three). They were fairly dangerous in 1e.

      The most recent edition of D&D makes them significantly lower-level enemies, and connects them to the Feywild (the plain of faerie), which itself is a fairly recent addition to the Realms.

  9. Treasures of the Savage Frontier is my first Gold Box game, and my favorite of the series because of that. I might just play through it again, since I'm not really into any other RPGs at the moment.

    1 - Weather only affects wilderness combats.

    2 - Your new pet NPC has a minor plot point later, but isn't really a major driving force in the plot. Good fighter though, and worth keeping for that.

    3 - IIRC Paladins give you the chance to command allies in combat; I think if they arrive during the battle it's a leadership roll, but if they're part of the combat to start then you have full control from the start. It's been a few minutes since I played so I may be off there though.

    1. But Siulajia's on the cover! If she's not very important to the plot, it'll just have to remain a mystery what qualities she has that could land her there...

    2. Being Stevie Nicks should be enough

    3. She's showing the treasures of the Savage Frontier to the player. Some sort of orbs, apparently.

    4. She's only sort of on the cover. Like all SSI published D&D games, none of the box art is original to the game. Most of them are from D&D books, some from different settings than the games themselves. Some of them, like Treasures', are from novels TSR published when they were briefly putting out fantasy novels unrelated to D&D.

  10. "Why is this spell never available to me no matter what level I achieve?"

    German RPG "Midgard" actually had a pretty good explanation for this: "There is some magic that adventuring wizards will never get hold of. It is the magic that requires years and years of study in remote towers with nothing but books as company. Our adventurers do not fit this description."

    On second thought, I guess you could always use "Wish". Don't know if they dared to actually implement it in any AD&D game, though.

    1. Limited Wish is in Baldur's Gate 2.

    2. Hell, so is regular Wish, I just forgot. :-)

    3. The Architect: I use that explanation in my campaigns. Adventuring Wizards are like military combat engineers: you can throw up a bridge or dog a good trench line like nobody's business, but you probably don't have the skills to build an opera house.

      I think this is also going to be my explanation for why powerful wizards don't just solve problems themselves: being good at deep level spying and teleportation magic doesn't automatically make you fast enough at casting spells to avoid a knife in the ribs.

  11. "I'm not even sure how you'd improve it. It's one of the few completely transparent systems in all of RPG-dom, meaning that whether an attack succeeds or fails, whether a spell takes effect or doesn't, whether you live or die, you always understand exactly what's happening and why it's happening."

    You will eventually play Temple of elemental evil. Despite of all the flaws of the game the combat system is excellent, turn based, tactical and transparent. I don't know if its an improvement of the Gold Box system as I haven't played any GB game yet, but looks like that to me

    "It feels like the paladin's innate "Detect Evil" abilities should have helped here, but I didn't have that option. Maybe he didn't have that ability in the first edition of AD&D rules."

    In 2nd edition D&D the pally power was something like detect evil intentions. Better or worse than the 3rd edition detect evil depending the situation. And yes, should have helped here

    1. Temple of Elemental Evil is to 3rd Edition what Gold Box is to AD&D: an attempt to recreate the rules as faithfully as possible. Unfortunately, ToEE was rushed to release, and then denied support. Even then, it was worth it to me to suffer through the problems because the play itself, especially the combat, was such a satisfying challenge. In a perfect world, ToEE would have led to as many engine sequels as Gold Box did, and Pathfinder: Kingmaker and Pillars of Eternity should get.

    2. I played ToEE at the time of release, and I remember it as quite forgettable (no pun intended).

      Almost no story, and the combat (which was supposed to be strong point, similarly to Icewind Dale) felt slow and clunky, also due to bad optimization.

      To me, it felt a step back, compared to Infinity Engine games.

    3. ToEE is very much worth playing nowadays with the Temple+ and Circle of Eight mods. The best part about them, other than the countless bugfixes, is that they provide an alternate, combat heavy, path for the first couple of levels; instead of the godawful quests in the starting village.

    4. ToEE's combat engine is, to me, one of the best in CRPG history, and it is indeed a surprisingly faithful adaptation of D&D 3E pen&paper combat rules (including even such outlandish-in-CRPGs things as attacks of opportunity, attacking to trip or disarm etc.). Too bad the game itself felt kind of generic. Especially since the sandbox-y approach to a dungeoncrawl appealed to me a lot.

      Good game, all in all, and I would have finished it even in the days before Co8 mod if my savegame (which I had stupidly kept to one slot) hadn't been corrupted.

  12. My experience with this game was... interesting. At the time I played this, I had gone through all the other Forgotten Realms Gold Box games. Because of this, I had horrific burnout on the Gold Box games and wanted nothing more than to stop playing them for a bit. Problem was, that was combined with me being extremely stubborn and refusing to take a break. End result was that I imported my party from Pools of Darkness, and used the cluebook to do the absolute bare minimum that I needed to beat the game. Ended up doing it in an afternoon, and took a decent sized break before starting the Dragonlance trilogy... which I personally feel should have just been a duology, as I didn't think Dark Queen was very good

    1. I did this for The Bard's Tale. I just didn't have time to finish it and was more of an Ultima /Starflight guy, so I found a character editor and found a friend with the clue book... The final fight with Mangar was over instantly after my Monk character hit him seven times for a few thousand in damage as the combat started!

      Still... it was need to see how the ending worked as I would never have gotten there otherwise.

    2. See, my line of thinking is always that I paid for it, so I absolutely have to beat it, no matter what

  13. You really love that "all lined up for a fireball" screenshot. I've seen it before in a different game. :)

    Your thief character is entirely black? That looks cool, I never thought of that before. Makes it look like he's hiding in shadows.

    1. Making the thief character entirely black was more a matter of laziness than anything. With my colorblindness, I can never come up with decent combinations anyway. I tend to go for solid colors or I randomize it.

    2. Well, you won't have to worry about it much longer, this is last gold box where the icon is customizable.

  14. I love all the gold box series, and must have played through Azure Bonds about three dozen times, typically with the same characters. Eventually I’d learn a save/load trick to duplicate magical items and trick out my party with the highest gear, though it didn’t matter much by then – you could employ dust of disappearance for any of the harder battles.

    I found this one to be a nice breakaway from the rest of the series and the previous Frontier game – the crystal trick is clever and makes combat slightly more tactical until you get a full set. The interpersonal relationships and in-character banter is improved, and it might be the rose-coloured glasses but I remember this being an overall prettier game than the others. Enjoy!

  15. "I'm not even sure how you'd improve it."

    I don't really like the importance of initiative and saving throw rolls. When combined with spells like hold/charm person, a couple bad die rolls at the start of combat can be a party wipe (as you experienced).

    I'd like a no-reload playthrough to be a bit more feasible than it is in most goldbox games.

    I generally prefer combat in the strategy 4x/rpg genre (HoMM,KB,Eador etc). Into the Breach, D:OS, Spiderweb, X-Com all have great TB combat.

    1. The "save or die" thing (which includes things like Charm/Hold Person) has always been a problem for D&D and its derivatives, and it's interesting to see how often designers talk about it and whether they should keep it for legacy reasons or try to fix it.

    2. Divinity: Original Sin has excellent turn-based combat.

      As in X-Com, you feel as your every action matters and it has great interaction with the environment.

      You can create pools of water using spells and then freeze them using ice effects, so that the enemy slips and falls down.

      Or you can electrify them using lightning effects, stunning the enemy.

      You can ignite oil pools, make gas clouds explode, etc...

      A traditional "boring" class like the Archer is one of the most fun, since you can use tons of different arrows with elemental effects.

      Definitely one of the most original and fun TB system in an RPG.

    3. The OSR take on Save or Dies is that if you're experiencing them, you already screwed up. This is combined with a tendency to foreshadow traps, and not force encounters. Reaction rolls make NPCs (including monsters) tend towards being not immediately hostile, stealth is based more on narrative and taking advantage of terrain than an unlucky dice roll (with Thieves's stealth abilities being more of a saving throw when you get caught than anything), dungeons are non linear, etc.

      The problem is that video games tend to take this system which depends on a GM and common sense, and remove it from that context. Everything is hostile. Fights are forced. Dungeons are linear. Traps depend on a trapfinding stat to find, instead of the party realizing that "hey that chair is out of place, tap it with the 10ft pole". Heck, 10ft poles no longer exist.

      As such, you're forced to take a lot more of those Save or Dies than a smart party playing D&D would.

    4. Pool of Radiance had reaction rolls with random monsters. One of the things I really liked about it, but I'm pretty sure it was one of the things they removed in subsequent games.

    5. Modern D&D has moved away from save or die and save or suck effects as what Pkdragon says it's an ideal, and typically takes both experienced players and a skilled DM, and when groups are often six friends who have never played before, you don't have any of that knowledge.

  16. As usual, avoid the Amiga Power review of this game. Whoa. I love that magazine but they did not get turn based D&D games.

    1. I was reading the review here and I have to say it had good points about the technical backwardness of the product and engine.

      I mean I'm an RPG fan too but the amount of disk swapping they talk about here would've driven me to distraction.

      This wasn't like Ultima where they had a new engine every game. As a programmer, I would like to think that, by what seemed like the 10th iteration of this engine, they could have ironed out the technical issues and have it run well.

      And the art looks sloppy, too. In 1990 Savage Empire had beautiful shaded pixel art - SSI couldn't have invested a bit in their art?

      And the paragraph books, really?

      Amiga Power is/was a general interest magazine - it was not for the grognards, who - let's face it - were going to buy this anyway but for the general Amiga populace to see if their 30 or so pounds was going to feel well spent in a good game that felt like it had technical and artistic investment in it.

      TSF was many things but it did not feel like it had the blood, sweat and tears that went into an Ultima put into it. Amiga Power had the score exactly right for its audience.

  17. I like the Kraken Society note. Apparently Biro's exist in this Medieval fantasy world.

  18. A bit of Fridge Logic and Reality Ensues, as the TVTropes go. The party goes to a picnic with their full adventuring gear on them. An adventuring life suddenly looks like much less of a fun prospect, wealth and fame notwithstanding. The party members probably has to answer the call of nature in pairs, with one doing the business and another keeping watch, trading places afterwards.

  19. Regarding "Amanitas":
    Amanita Muscaria, aka Fly Agaric.
    So we know he's a fun-guy

  20. Mushroom joke, nice one 🍄

  21. Hey, I've been waiting for you to do another gold box game! Currently playing through the Krynn series.

    I think reading this I'll play through TSF. I want a different gaming experience, so I'm thinking of doing it with a three-character party, using GBC to hack away the race and level limits (if you can port POD characters, I can get 6th or 7th level spells right?), maybe add a few low-level unique magic items for flavour, and then playing on highest level to make the enemies more threatening. Current idea for a party:

    1 LG female human paladin
    1 CG female elf ranger/cleric
    1 CN male gnome mage/thief or fighter/mage/thief

    Would love suggestions/advice for ideal party composition :D

    1. In the vanilla game, I think your party would get slaughtered. The second half of the game, in particular, features a lot of combats with multiple spellcasters in multiple groups, and it's hard to avoid a few "Hold Persons" or "Hold Monsters" unless you're very lucky with the initiative. You really need redundant characters with "Dispel" to cure the holds and mass-damage spells to negate the spellcasters. My party only had one mage, so I had to deal with the spellcasters (as many as I could) with bows, and your party would only have a couple of people capable of that.

      On the other hand, I have no experience with the GBC, and I suppose it's possible that with higher class levels, your party will work. Maybe I'll re-try the final battle with my PoD party and see how much easier it goes.

    2. Thanks for the advice! Dear god I remember that final battle. That was so brutal. Well, if I get slaughtered there I get slaughtered.

      With your advice in mind, I could do a fighter/mage, a cleric/mage, and a mage/thief. Then I have multiple fireballs, or multiple dispel magics in a pinch. I'll have Siulajia as a fighter anyway (temporary sex hack when the love quest triggers - it worked in Baldur's Gate II), though no paladin means I can't control her I think.

      So to try to avoid the slaughter thing I'll make some very special custom items. One per character:

      * For my LG fighter/mage, the fearsome "diamond hammer bracers", with the effects giant strength, fire touch, and cold fire shield protection (protected from fire, vulnerable to cold)
      * For my CG cleric/mage, who worships Sune, the "blessed ruby mirror". It's a +3 shield, with gaze reflection, prayer, and harpy charm touch attack.
      * For the mage/thief, the "shortbow of speed +3". It's a +3 weapon, fine bow, personal haste when worn. Think this sniping little bastard's going to be CE.

      From playing around with mods for FRUA in the past I'm pretty sure most of these will work.

    3. Hmmm... Siulajia should get a special item too. Something to work with me not being able to control her. How about the "ice storm bastard sword +2" (rehack after she gets captured). It will have cold fire shield damage plus resist cold. Her icon looks like she's using a bastard sword to me.

    4. The final battle is not so bad, but for the penultimate one you need mages or characters with Wands of Fire or Ice. Dispel Magic won't work against Hold Person, so you need to make sure the enemy mages don't get off their spells. And for that you need Initiative and Fireballs.

  22. I always have thought that savage frontier was in a oriental desert setting before reading the lore of toril


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