Thursday, August 1, 2019

Treasures of the Savage Frontier: Red Menace

Imagine what the Zhentarim could accomplish with Twitter.
Treasures of the Savage Frontier gives us a plot in which an authoritarian regime from far to the east collaborates with local plutocrats and religious fanatics to wage a war of mis-information, thus demoralizing and destabilizing the free people of the west, ultimately effecting changes in leadership. Ah, the wild imaginings of fantasy!

Indeed, the axis of the Zhentarim, the Hosttower of the Arcane in Luskan, and the Kraken Society of the Trackless Sea has done such a thorough job planning this campaign against the Lords' Alliance that one wonders why the Zhentarim attempted a more conventional invasion in Gateway to the Savage Frontier. (I think those three are the key partners. I'm not sure if the pirates from Luskan are a fourth organization or whether they're associated with the Hosttower or the Krakens. Also, the Temple of Bane is somehow involved, but they just seem to pop up any time an evil plan is afoot.) Remember, no significant time passed between the party winning Gateway and getting sucked into this new conflict. The schemers were able to launch their Plan B so immediately that the game mostly consists of the party mopping up damage already done.

Vital to the evil plans are a series of documents--for some reason called "lucky papers"--that describe the axis's plans for each city in the Lords' Alliance (or, at least, most of them). To fully read the papers, you have to have three gems--blue, red, and green--each color carried by a different faction's agents. I believe green was the Hosttower, red was the Zhentarim, and blue was the Kraken Society. When you fight a group of people carrying these gems, you always get the color of the first enemy that you kill. After that, everyone else present shatters their gems so that the party won't get a complete set.
You almost have to admire the enemy forces. One of their number having fallen, they assume they're all going to die, and they think of duty first.
As Null Null pointed out in a premature comment, but I soon discovered anyway, the party's prioritization of mages means that you end up killing a lot of green-crystal holding enemies first, which makes it harder to get the other two crystals unless you specifically target them. Once I realized what was happening, I used "Hold Person" spells to paralyze and then kill Zhentil Lords and Kraken agents during first combat rounds so I could get their gems.
And the color red is associated with our primary enemy--what will they think of next?
I didn't get all three until nearly the end of this session, but once I had two, I could take a pretty good stab at what the various papers said. I don't think any of them were fully necessary to "solve" their associated cities, but they all added some fun background to what was going on.
Even missing one gem, you can mostly make out the enemy's plan: "If we lose Llorkh, we will bring forces to lay siege to Waterdeep . . ."
When I last wrote, I had mostly finished with Loudwater, where I had simply stopped on my way between Llorkh and Secomber. A rematch with the harpies went in my favor, and I cleared out an area of undead (very easy with three characters capable of turning) for some grateful residents in exchange for a Cloak of Protection +2. (I always forget the rules of cloaks and rings of protection if you already have magic armor. Some combination of them do not stack, although I'm not sure how saving throws are affected.) Ultimately, I'm not sure there was anything necessary in the city.
No adventurers before me had clerics of Level 6 or above, apparently.
I moved on to Secomber, which turned out to be less than a half-city (coordinates occupying only 7 x 15). There was one major battle with axis members, difficult because they had multiple mages and were arranged in multiple groups. Initiative is vital in such battles. If the mages are able to get off a few "Lightning Bolts" or "Ice Storms" before I can nullify them, the battle often results in a reload. I find myself using ranged weapons more in Treasures than in previous games, always attempting to strike each mage before he or she can cast.

We visited Amanitas, who told us that ambassadors from Neverwinter and Mirabar were traveling to Waterdeep to discuss the situation, and that we should meet them in Leilon to escort them. He also gave us a magic crown that would allow us to communicate with him without walking all the way back to Secomber. It added a "Crown" option to the party's encampment menu.
It's nice to see Amanitas living in such privation while we do all the work.
At this point, I had the choice to head directly for Leilon or to take routes through other cities first. I chose the latter option because I wanted to test how well the game lived up to its open-world nature. I get annoyed with games that pretend to be open-world (allowing you to travel anywhere) but in reality enforce a certain linearity in encounters. In Gateway, for instance, visiting a couple of cities out of order screwed up a plotline with a dwarf NPC. A good game separates the territory from events that occur within the territory, but the Gold Box titles have been wildly inconsistent in how they handle this.

Here, they seem to have done a decent job of anticipating a rogue player. By visiting Daggerford before Leilon, I solved a part of the game earlier than anticipated, but not in a way that had an effect on other encounters. Daggerford is referenced in one of the "lucky papers," with the author saying that the axis would have to control Daggerford and the Way Inn to besiege Waterdeep from the south. Sure enough, when I arrived, I found Zhentil troops patrolling the streets and most of the key figures of the city locked up. 

I sense that the game's artist is going for a certain theme.

There were about half a dozen fixed battles with Zhents, manticores, fire giants, cyclopes, and margoyles as I slowly cleared the city. Another large final battle with the same composition as Secomber finished clearing the area. I found the Duke of Daggerford huddled in a secret area. After the final battle, in a rare timed encounter, I had to chase down a party of Zhentarim getting ready to leave the city and warn their allies at the Way Inn that I'd be coming.
Complete non-sequitur, but I used to think the lyrics to Albert Hammond's "It Never Rains in Southern California" were: "It never rains in California / But, girl, don't they warn ya / Big horse, manticores."
There seemed to be no way to get into Waterdeep, where some kind of alarm was going off, so we continued up the road to Leilon. The enemy documents said that they planned to kidnap the ambassadors and blame it on the party, this being the sort of world where proven heroes can be undone by a forged scrap of paper. We got attacked by gryphons in a stable near the entrance, and I realized this is also the kind of world where if you get attacked by gryphons the moment you enter a city, you don't know if that means something has gone wrong in the city, or that's just the kind of danger the residents of the Forgotten Realms live with.

We walked into a tavern, where a group of Waterdeep guards hailed our arrival as the "Heroes of Ascore!" and invited us to join the party. As a player, I was screaming "no!," but my guileless party took them up on the offer and soon found themselves unconscious from drugged food. The next morning, they awoke in a bare room with a locked door. (Of course, the evil guards had not chosen to relieve us of our magical weapons or valuable gems or jewelry.) Ghost tricked the guards into opening the door by setting a small fire.
It would have been fun to know what "Sick Trick" and "Laugh Trick" did, but Irene happened to be walking by when I got this choice . . .
As we escaped, we noticed that the guards were probably just wearing Waterdeep uniforms and were not, in fact, Waterdeep soldiers. After several battles with these fake guards and their giant allies, we escaped back into the city and found that the Zhent allies were gone and services were back to normal. Although there were some weird combats with specters and spiders on the west side. I guess every city has its slums to clean up even in absence of evil occupiers.

We checked in with Amanitas (via the crown), who suggested we go back to Waterdeep and investigate rumors that Waterdeep soldiers have been pillaging local farms. When we arrived and demanded to see Lord Piergeiron (leader of the Lords' Alliance), we were instead taken to a gruff guy named--no kidding--"Fell Hatchet," who denounced us all as spies and demanded that we be taken to the Anchor of Justice.
The "lucky paper" outlines the Zhentarim plan for Waterdeep.
I would think that my relatively-high-level characters would have something to say about that, but instead, we got an absurd scripted sequence in which the entire party was chained to an anchor and thrown into the harbor--again without being stripped of our equipment and valuables. But within moments, recounted in the longest journal entry that I can remember (one full page and half of a column on another), we were rescued by sea elves and released in a set of caverns below the city.
The game forgets that some of the PCs are female.
The caverns took a while. Because of so many areas taken up by water and other obstacles, the previous 16 x 16 maps had been easy to explore without mapping, but I had to make a crude one here thanks to all the one-way doors, secret doors, magically-locked doors, and spinners. I'm not a huge fan of spinners, which go all the way back to Wizardry, but if you're going to implement them, it's best to do it subtly, so the player doesn't realize he's going a different direction until he's mapped on for a while. The Gold Box approach is to have the characters announce immediately that something has gone amiss.
Nice and subtle, Gold Box.
The caverns included encounters with spiders, giant slugs, and carrion crawlers. As we neared the exit, we found some Zhent guards and hellhounds.
Ghost is still a little behind the curve.
We finally made it to the exit. Instead of getting to explore the city of Waterdeep as a whole, however, we were confined to a single dock taking up only about a third of a standard map. It was a weird place. Again, I don't know if the enemies we encountered had anything to do with the evil in the area, or that's just the way the docks are in Waterdeep. We had to pay a fee to enter in the first place. One of the taverns was run by a group of women who again morphed into greenhags--what is it with this game and this particular enemy? The only temple was a Temple of Mask, and we had to give money to a beggar to learn its password. The docks were swarming with hill giants and fire giants. And in one of the warehouses, we found ourselves face-to-face with a fire dragon.

Having stumbled upon him with no warning, our first battle resulted in the death of two characters. Upon a reload, I had them cast "Resist Fire" first, which improved our odds considerably, and the dragon went down easier than the average Zhent fighter.
Well, at least he's not under-powered.
It's worth noting that the docks also had a cartographer who sold maps to (I presume) future areas, including the Tunnels of Orlumbor, Firedock, the homes of the Luskan high captains, the Farms of Longsaddle, and a generic "treasure map." I don't remember anything like this in a previous Gold Box game.
I'll have to look for this configuration.
I'm not sure we really solved the Waterdeep problem, but Amanitas suggested that we liberate Daggerford and the Way Inn next. Having already taken care of the former, we went to the latter (the southernmost location). It consisted of a half-map for its lower floor and quarter map for its upper one. Predictably, the owner and the employees had been locked up by Zhent forces, and we slowly worked our way around the large building, liberating them. Enemies included otyughs, Zhentil lords, Hosttower mages, margoyles, and Kraken masters. I think we got the last of the gems in one of these fights. Eventually, we cleared everyone and freed the owner, Dauravyn Redbeard, who gave us some Bracers of AC 2.
We target a "Fireball" at some otyughs and margoyles.
Our final expedition took us to the twin cities of Yartar and Triboar, which apparently have a long history of practical jokes against each other, which the Zhent have exploited to make it seem like they're escalating into something more serious. The "lucky paper" outlines the plan as to kidnap the Waterbaron of Yartar, implicate Triboar, and then circulate rumors that the kidnapping is in fact a "false flag" operation by Yartar as an excuse to conquer Triboar.

I suspect that the encounters play quite differently depending on which city you explore first. I chose Triboar first, and the party found a city getting ready for war. But we soon found the captured Waterbaron, who in turn demanded that we take him immediately to the Lord Protector of Triboar, and between the two of them, they worked out their issues and both cities became relatively sedate places with the usual selection of shops and services.
This same location will sell you things after you solve their problems, which is a nice dynamic use of territory.
My characters are all Level 9 at this point, except for my Level 8 paladin. (And yet Siulajia, Level 9 herself, still loves him.) My clerics only have one level to go, but my paladin, thief, and fighter each have three and my mage and ranger have two. The average experience point total is around 250,000, which means we've only gained 40,000 since the game began. The idea of the ranger ever getting to 650,000 or the paladin ever reaching over 1 million (needed for their respective Level 11s) seems impossible.

Other than the equipment I mentioned above, everyone has found helms +2 by now. Somewhere, I got a two-handed sword called the Sword of Stalking +4, which I gave to Broadside the paladin. I don't know what the "stalking" part means. Ghost, my fighter/thief, acquired some Boots of Speed. I generally insist on keeping my thief character in leathers even when the game rules don't require it, but I've been paying for it all game with Ghost knocked out in a lot of combats. In the dragon's hoard, I found some Redflame Armor +2, and since it doesn't explicitly tell me what it is, I've decided to pretend it's leather and give it to Ghost. Because he's one of the few characters without a two-handed weapon, he also has the Squid Shield +2 that I got from Yartar. Again, I don't know if the "squid" part means anything. Everyone else has magic weapons and armor, at least +2, but nothing unique.
Ghost's inventory. Do we think the texture background instead of the black screen adds anything?
I'm enjoying combats in this game even more than the typical Gold Box title, partly because my mage capabilities seem so nerfed. My plans to dual one of my clerics to a mage were stymied by low intelligence for both characters, so I'm going to have to solve the game with just the one. And while she has the typical complement of useful spells, Treasures doesn't offer any Rings of Wizardry or other mechanisms for getting bonus spells, so I don't feel like I have quite the arsenal that I usually do. I haven't even had a chance to memorize "Haste" yet--and I haven't seen a single mage scroll that would allow me to memorize (or cast) spells outside of the normal leveling-up process. All of this means that my fighters and clerics take a much greater role in combat, including (as I mentioned before) using ranged weapons to keep enemy mages inert, spreading out to avoid vulnerability to "Fireballs" and "Ice Storms," maximizing back stabs, making better use of cleric spells, and so forth. It's rare even in random combats that I can just ALT-Q the battle and write a couple of blog paragraphs while my characters duke it out.
My selection of mage spells is powerful but not apocalyptic.
Miscellaneous notes:
  • The various establishments in the cities have more florid descriptions in Treasures than I remember in previous Gold Box games.
Past games would have just said "Tavern."
  • Most taverns only offer options to "fight" and "leave," which also happened in Gateway. Had the programmers at Beyond ever been to a tavern?
Ale? Is ale an option?
  • I haven't found any magic shops yet, although one of the "adventurers' shops" (a useless place that sells non-magic boots and belts and such) sold Cloaks of Protection +1.
  • In between Waterdeep and Leilon, we had a random encounter with a seer named Rabgar. He charged us with "the quest of the three dungeons" and told us to "seek the dwarves throughout the land." Later, we met some dwarves who told us where to find the first dungeon north of Daggerford. We entered it and followed the dwarves' hints for the right set of doors to get us out, but all we did then is enter and leave. We didn't find any treasure or fight any battles. Now the dungeon is gone. We have new instructions to find the second one, but I'm not sure if it's worth the effort.
The dungeon just confronted us with a set of doors. But "solving" the puzzle just meant exiting the dungeon, which we didn't have to enter in the first place. What was the point?
  • Outdoor encounters include the bulette, which as we all now know, is pronounced "bul-AY." Don't ask why. It's a sensitive issue.
  • In the last entry, I said how much I appreciated the pre-combat encounter text. Its quantity and quality mostly continued into this session, but there were clearly times that the writers ran out of ideas. I guess there are only so many dice games that you can interrupt.
Don't waste a lot of time on this puzzle. It was two hellhounds and two cyclopes.
  • The game requires a tedious copy protection exercise every time you start, but at least it no longer draws its answers from journal entries you haven't read yet. All of the answers are from the pre-journal part of the text.
Treasures of the Savage Frontier features what is arguably the first "romance" in an RPG. I remember some previous games that would let you engage prostitutes (e.g., Empire II, Wasteland) and a couple of games in which you either had a partner as part of the backstory (Elvira II) or got to marry the princess in the end (The Dragon & Princess, Zeliard, Prophecy of the Shadow). But I can't remember a previous game in which an optional romance develops between a PC and NPC during the game. [Ed. As commenters pointed out, the romance in Worlds of Ultima: The Savage Empire (1990), predates this one. It had minimal player input, but then so does this one.]
Ah, yes, the old "close your eyes and nod occasionally" trick. Sorry to break it to you, Siulajia, but he was thinking about Batman for most of that conversation.
The romance is entirely passive, however. At various intervals, when camping, the game notes that the lead male character and Siulajia are spending time together--talking, flirting, laughing, and so forth. Eventually, the game had Broadside stand up before the rest of the party and announce that he and Siulajia were in love. While acknowledging this could make some things "awkward," he expressed hope that the rest of the party would "accept us as a couple just as you accepted us before."
Not as awkward as trying to remember how to spell and pronounce her name.
Strangely, we now had an option to accept or reject the couple. Just for fun, I tried "reject." The embarrassed Siulajia leaves the party. Broadside, "shaking with rage," announces that he will fulfill his vow to complete the mission but that he will never forgive the rest of the party--never!! I reloaded of course and accepted, mostly because I didn't want to lose a fighter.
I guess if the lead character is female, the romance plays out similarly with Jarbarkas. The whole episode is okay, but I'd rather that the player has an input into such things. I don't like how often this game hijacks my character's mouths for its own text. It's fine when it does it for Siulajia, because she's not my creation, but I'm supposed to be role-playing the rest of this party.
Amanitas's opinion about where we should go next.
According to the game map, I have six cities left to visit--Longsaddle, Neverwinter, Port Llast, Luskan, Mirabar, and Fireshear--plus something called the "Ice Peak," plus the islands of Mintarn, Orlumber, and Ruathym. So despite having covered what seems like a lot of territory in this entry, we still have several to go.

Time so far: 11 hours


  1. One thing that made the attempts at "sex appeal" entertaining in previous Gold Box games (and DND games in general) is that the art usually couldn't convey what the artist was trying to get across.

    I absolutely despise spinners, so any game that makes them obvious is fine by me.

    1. If the artist was trying to get across cleavage, I have to say it worked for me.

  2. "As Null Null pointed out...". Probably a segfault

    1. Clearly that's supposed to be the joke, but no, he types it in. He's commented on over 60 threads, and it's clearly the same person.

    2. "Probably a segfault"

      This is both very funny and an explanation why there are never any girls at computer science partys.

      This might just be a European thing but here 00 refers to the toilet.

    3. Didn't know that about the toilet, but I enjoy my pseudonym even more now ;)

      Nah, just a Goldbox fan. This is one of the few places I can turn those wasted years of adolescence to positive use, though I guess I'll have to be a little more judicious about my hints. :( Sorry Addict...

  3. Ultima VII, also '92, will have a similar, optional, romance subplot. At least if the Avatar is male. If female then it's a friendship, I think.

    Last post you mentioned having a hard time improving on the Gold Box combat. I think the big easy improvement would be fixing situations where getting initiative or a lucky saving throw roll wins or loses the combat, and not any decisions you made. Hold Person is probably the worst offender.

    1. One (gay) gentleman from the Codex sent a female character down, got Jabarkas to fall in love, then hex-edited the character to male to have a gay romance. I'm straight but thought that was quite clever.

      Presumably you could do the reverse and have a lesbian romance with Siulajia.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Love it! :)

      A couple of interesting things I've found on this subject from experimenting around and using Gold Box Companion to peek at some of the mechanics:

      1. If you have a male lead and reject Siulajia, Jabarkas joins the party, but the game acts as if there isn't an NPC there. I was wondering if there would be a gay romance there, but no. That would have been an epic example of trolling, although I can't picture my teenage self circa 1992 being amused.

      2. Your actions outside combat seem to have no impact on the relationship. At a guess, it seems to be a function of your effectiveness in combat. When the party is transferred from Gateway, the NPC seems to become attracted to your PC far more quickly than it's reciprocated. A party starting at the default level sees the attraction about even. And once when I lost my saved game about halfway through the game, I used the debug code so I could use the "win" button to get me through the combats to get me to where I was before. No relationship developed at all until I started actually fighting the battles.

      I was curious once, so I tried with a level 11 party that had already played through the game. It... did not go well for Siulajia, who went full on Fatal Attraction, with camp messages describing some increasingly creepy behaviour like staring at him as he tries desperately to look in the other direction, before she finally announces that her presence is causing trouble and that she's leaving.

      Beyond blatant cheating like this, I'm not sure exactly how you'd cause such a situation to develop by accident, but it's certainly an interesting mechanic they introduced. I always thought it was a shame they didn't play around with the Gold Box model a bit more before it was on the way out. Presumably alignment and Charisma makes a difference too. One of these days, I'll play through it with a chaotic evil fighter with Charisma 3 in the lead and see what happens.

    4. I think changing it so that being asleep/held/poisoned wasn't instant death would solve most of the randomness of the combat. As it is, clerics and mages are far too important, and low-level critters with poison are way too deadly.

    5. Yeah, combat systems are interesting when you have to manipulate circumstances to get what you want. Jumping straight to "you're dead" is boring. There's no decision making to it.

      Spells and abilities should setup opportunities or dilemmas to respond to so that you have to figure out how to make multiple actions work together to get what you want. Or the could be the response to an opportunity/dilemma that was setup previously.

      On paper something like Hold Person is trying to do this because you have to follow-up with an attack to actually kill the target. But in practice this is just too easy to accomplish -- just throw a dart across the room.

      Like you said it should be nerfed so that you need to make additional good moves to capitalize on the situation.

  4. >> "Once I realized what was happening, I used "Hold Person" spells to paralyze and then kill Zhentil Lords and Kraken agents during first combat I could get their gems."

    So let's say you paralyze members of all 3 factions and kill them all before anyone breaks free. Or just kill multiple people all at once with an AoE spell. Do you still only get one crystal because video game logic?

    1. Yep. If take a bunch of enemies out with a fireball, then it just comes down to how the game decides the order in which to display the deaths. The first one to die on screen is the crystal you get. One crystal per battle.

      It's cute as a game mechanic in that it forces you to get creative about combats, but it doesn't stand up to real world logic too well.

    2. Oh, I don't know. Turn-based combat is all abstract anyway. It's not supposed to be simulating the reality of combat, in which everyone is acting at once with minor differences in timing giving some people the edge. If you can reconcile a turn-based approach with any reality at all, then figuring out a mechanism for the crystals being broken isn't a hard addition. The basic idea is that, as combat begins, EVERYBODY smashes their crystals to avoid the enemy getting them, but the person you killed first just wasn't fast enough.

  5. Don't forget your words on a different "Savage" game, the first "Worlds of Ultima"


    'Finally, the game gets points for offering the first player-optional romance in the game. (Other games have seen a romance between the PC and some NPC, but always part of the main plot, not something that the player can choose.)'

    1. Given Chet enjoys organising and rating, I sometimes wonder if he'd gain satisfaction from keeping a spreadsheet of what games featured what gameplay elements, which would coincidentally also able him to double-check for "firsts"....

    2. I would argue that they are different firsts in that in Ultima your character chooses whether to be with the girl and in Treasures your party chooses with the character being upset if you don't choose it.

    3. Yes, of course. Thank you. It's hard to keep track of all the "firsts." I had a page where I was going to do it and then I never really organized it. I should give that another try.

  6. If only there was a real-world situation matching the description given, where one of the weapons employed by the red-colored enemies was Twitter.

  7. I like the colours and backgrounds in this game. My only experience with Gold Box games so far is Unlimited Adventures default adventure, and all I remember is it being in a very ugly shade of grey. I never got far with it.

    1. That is a very sad and unrepresentative experience with the Gold Box and I feel sympathy for you.

      (Although even as someone who loves the Gold Box games I think trying to get into them today without any contemporary experience would be super frustrating, especially if you didn't have a good familiarity with AD&D 1e/2e.)

    2. It is pretty difficult to get into Gold Box without any sort of guidance. The games don't do a great job explaining their mechanics, and all the information in the manual can be hard to tie together.

    3. D&D was just so wildly popular it was assumed that everyone knew what it was and how to play it. "D&D on computer"...what more do you need to say?

    4. This made me look up a mage character from what I thought was the only session of D&D I ever played. I found a level 6 high-elf cleric instead. I played more D&D than I thought - I remember we were trapped in Ravenloft, trying to escape.

      I might give some Gold Box games a try. I did buy most of them on GoG a while ago.

    5. Yeah, Gold Box games (and most D&D games in general) are like sports games: targeted towards people already familiar with the games they're based on.

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. Regarding the romance, if the party rejects the relationship, there will be true penalities for the lead PC, although I don't remember which ones.

    The first Gold Box game having a romance was, however, Champions of Krynn. Maya was actually a party member (although not shown in the party roster) in Neraka and if you named your knight "Sir Karl", which I did when I played it back in time when it was released...

    1. Is there unique text/interactions in Champions if you name a character Sir Karl?

      Or are you just roleplaying that all of the normal text re "Sir Karl" is referring to your character?

    2. There are not any unique text/interactions in that case.

      I was just roleplaying my own Sir Karl as the NPC Sir Karl in the game.

  10. I understand how you found the Way Inn, but how did you find the way in? Did you spend any time weighin' the whey in Way Inn?

    1. I kid about the silly name, but I actually wrote a module one time that was based there. It was about this impoverished noblewoman Lady Margarethe who needed the party to find the lost artifact that would let her access her family's ancient fortune. I didn't think it was that great, but my friends convinced me to submit it to a competition at Comic Con. I guess they were right because Way Inn: Greta's Key won the Stan Lee Cup.

    2. BOOOOOOO!!

      *throws tomatoes*

  11. As a Forgotten Realms lore nerd:
    1) Is the Duke of Daggerford in this period given a name?
    2) Are the caverns under Waterdeep referenced as "Undermountain" or "Skullport"? (Either way, they're likely the exact same dungeons you explored in the first Eye of the Beholder, albeit a different intepretation and map-scheme thereof.)
    3) What do you understand the "Lords Alliance" to consist of, based on what the game has told you, and does it speak of Piergeiron having any titles or status other than "leader of the Lords Alliance"?
    4) Were there any named NPCs associated with the Way Inn?

    Also, not a question, but I'm currently running a group through the 5th Edition adventure "Princes of the Apocalypse", where they're in the middle of sorting out strife between Triboar and Yartar, which is apparently still ongoing some 140-ish years after the period in which Treasures is set.

    1. (To be clear, I know the canon answers to these questions, but I'm wanting to see what's portrayed or included in this particular game.)

    2. Alas, the game doesn't give the type of rewards you're hoping for.

      1. No, the Duke of Daggerford is never given a name. He seems young.

      2. The caverns are never referred to by those names. I don't know if they're supposed to be the EotB dungeons, because they connect directly to the sea and when you emerge, you're on the docks. Also, there's an odd encounter that I didn't go over that suggests the caverns were once part of the domain of a great king named Mandoul.

      3. The LA seems to consist of Waterdeep, Neverwinter, Port Llast, Leilon, Mirabar, Yartar, Triboar, Longsaddle, Orlumbor, Daggerford, Secomber, and Loudwater. Piergeiron is given as the chair of the Alliance and the leader of Waterdeep.

      4. Yes. The master of the Way Inn that I freed was named Dauravyn Redbeard.

    3. So under Waterdeep there's this single massive sprawling dungeon complex called Undermountain, which starts with the city's sewers, then proceeds down through ancient dwarven ruins ("the Underhalls"), before eventually turning into the lair of the Mad Mage Halaster, and possibly darker secrets below.

      The level of Undermountain that's at sea level (noting the city sits atop fairly high seaside cliffs) is called Skullport, and it's a whole city of its own, largely run by the Xanathar Guild. ("Xanathar" being the title of an interchangeable series of beholders, one of which you killed in Eye of the Beholder.)

      The upshot is that if you're in a dungeon under Waterdeep - ANY dungeon under Waterdeep - then you're in Undermountain.

      Piergeiron the Paladinson is Open Lord of Waterdeep in this period. He's the dude on the throne who gave you your quest in the intro to Eye of the Beholder, on behalf of the Hidden Lords (the robed people you see earlier in that intro).

      Thanks for the other answers.

    4. Having checked out the hint book for Treasures, the fact it's at sea level, that there's a Zhentarim outpost and a smuggler's dock, makes me think that this is supposed to be Skullport.

      No idea about Mandoul. He doesn't appear to be mentioned in Forgotten Realms lore outside of this game. He appears from context to have been a mage, but not one of Halaster's apprentices, so let's assume it's some random embellishment from the writers of Treasures that doesn't go anywhere.

      (Speaking of random embellishment, I have a neat story about a whole wealth of canon that spills out of a throwaway reference in the Pool of Radiance manual, but it's maybe longer than a comment warrants...)

    5. Okay, so you know how in the Gold Box games, the journal entries in the manual have the "fake" entries, so you can't just get the entire plot from reading the journal ahead of time?

      So the Pool of Radiance journal has this series of entries designed to make you think that Tyranthraxus isn't the big villain at the end.

      There's one in particular that talks about a series of "minor courtiers" and "lesser powers" that includes Tyranthraxus; Maram of the Great Spear; Hassk, Voice of Hargut; Borem of the Lake of Boiling Mud; and Camnod the Unseen. And there's an intimation it's actually Maram of the Great Spear who's the final villain.

      So this is supposed to be an entirely fake passage that no one will ever actually read because the game never actually directs you to it.

      Except later writers have taken that passage and gone to town with it, and now all of those names are Realms canon.

      Players get to take on Maram of the Great Spear in "Monument of the Ancients", a 4th Edition adventure from 2009 published in Dragon. Borem of the Lake of Boiling Mud is said to be the minor deity that Bane killed while still a mortal to ascend to godhood himself. Hassk, Voice of Horgut is explained to be a mortal named Hassk, possessed by a demonic power named Horgut, who may still exist within a ruined keep in the Moonsea area. Camnod the Unseen has, appropriately for his name, never been further detailed.

      There's also a whole history arising out of another fake journal passage which suggests Tyranthraxus is a human warlord who "led the Riders out of the Waste" and "conquered the kingdom of Barze".

      Barze turns out to be both the name of a ancient nation, and of the mage-king who led it, located some 150 miles north-north-east of Phlan, and it fell during the same war that Tyranthraxus and the other named powers entered the Realms, before being defeated by (of all things) the three mortals who would go on to become the gods Bane, Myrkul and Bhaal (of Baldur's Gate fame).

      I mostly just love that others have loved Pool of Radiance so deeply that they've written whole stories out of this single fake journal passage that are now official lore...

    6. The people who write these things would presumably be of the age to have played Pool of Radiance when it first came out as teenagers. Also only a few people are going to wind up writing official D&D adventures, and they would have to be D&D superfans. It's one of those 'do what you love' things, only without the glamour of fashion or journalism (though probably fewer pathologically ambitious personality types).

      Kind of like the way astronauts always seem to be sci-fi fans when you scratch them--well, who else wants to go to that much trouble?

      As an aside, when I was planning my Pools of Darkness FRUA sequel I was going to have fights with all those guys before Bane. While I sadly have a life and it never got made, if you really want to kill Bane in a marginally-official fashion there's a tiny FRUA mod where you do just that. It's nothing special but some people have told me they find it satisfying.

    7. And yes, Greg T, very cool! I'm going to see if I can find that adventure now.

    8. You can find the thing by Googling (can't seem to find a legal copy though if someone points me to it I'll buy it--it's in Dungeon #170), and there's a brief note that, indeed, says the guy bought the game as a 14-year-old, fell in love with the Realms, and played the tabletop adventure to boot. Apparently he designed the adventure *with his little brother*, which is all kinds of warm and fuzzy.

    9. So I knew some of this because I talked about it in my Pool of Radiance entries. I didn't realize that so much official canon had spawned from those entries, however.

      At the time I wrote them, the entries in the Forgotten Realms wiki had been influenced by the fake entries, and the one on Tyranthraxus actually said that he was really Maram of the Great Spear. Your comment prompted me to check out the entry again, and not only has it been fixed, it's been greatly expanded.

      The journal entry mentioning Maram, Haask, Borem of the Lake of Boiling Mud, and Camnod the Unseen isn't fake, though. You get that for real in Mendor's Library. The reference to Barze is also a real entry from Mendor's library. I think the only fake one (related to Tyranthraxus) is #36, in which Maram of the Great Spear is revealed to be posing as Tyranthraxus.

    10. Yes, thanks for the slight corrections.

      "Ruins of Adventure" by Jeff Grubb, the official 1e module based on Pool of Radiance, gives official names to the books containing these entries. (My notes suggest "The Grand Historian's Record of the Arts of War", although that may be the one about the history of Tyranthraxus rather than the one about Maram.)

      "Mendor's Library", the name used in both Pool of Radiance (the game) and Ruins of Adventure, becomes "Mantor's Library" at some later stage (possibly in "The Moonsea" (1994) but certainly by the time of "Monument of the Ancients" (2009) and has remained under that name ever since. I suspect the change arose from a confusion or typo, and later writers just ran with it, because Ruins of Adventure gives a whole backstory for the "Mendor" who founded the library.)

      (The first season of 5th Edition Adventurer's League is set in Phlan, and fairly heavily references the handful of previous canon treaments of that city, so when I ran the season as a continuous campaign for my fortnightly group, I went through and made myself a reference for what had previously been said about a range of key locations and topics.)

  12. "Treasures of the Savage Frontier gives us a plot in which an authoritarian regime from far to the east collaborates with local plutocrats and religious fanatics to wage a war of mis-information, thus demoralizing and destabilizing the free people of the west, ultimately effecting changes in leadership. Ah, the wild imaginings of fantasy!"

    Now you have me rooting for the bad guys!

    1. Especially when the alternative is rooting for someone who wants to ban marijuana because he doesn't like the smell and outlaw fun in Salem because of what happened hundreds of years ago.

    2. I know I shouldn't engage people like you, but honestly, is outlawing and banning what you took from my comments? Not just a simple expression of personal preference?

    3. Oh man, UJ got you Chet, he's been hate-reading this site for years just to have the opportunity to burn you with your own words. All it required was purposely misunderstanding and misconstruing your comments. Consider yourself owned!

  13. Origin's Savage Empire is an earlier game that has an optional romance with an NPC. It doesn't have a lot of writing, but at least it's the player's choice whether or not to initiate it.

  14. Two things:

    I love the reference to the Waterdeep sewers. Why could that even be mentioned? I have no idea. Behold!

    As for the armor rules: this is a bit weird.
    only shields and body armor always have ac effects.
    non magical boots ,helms ,cloaks dont.
    Magical Cloaks I think only stack with non-magical armor or bracers, as do rings of protection.
    Dont remember about boots and helms.

    In Secret of the silverblades, if you cheated your party to max equipment, you had basically 6 characters running around naked with bracers ac2, a ring of protection+4 and boots of speed and a shield+5 (or so). Imagine that :D

    1. AC reduction seems to take the lowest value of (armor, belt, cloak, bracers, ring) + shield + helm + boots. I'm not sure I understand why helms and boots should stack with armor while rings and cloaks don't.

      But I thought I read that some of these items have saving throw effects that go beyond their AC effects. I'm probably wrong.

    2. Oh, no--you were right. Belts, cloaks, and rings stack with bracers but not with the other armor types, and bracers don't stack with the other armor types.

  15. Fun fact: Bulette means meatball in some parts of Germany.

    1. It was apparently a joke with Gygax and Co. making fun of the French. They were calling it the 'bullet' and decided to give it a French pronounciation as a joke.

      It's kind of a fun story and yes, its alternate name is an SNL reference.

    2. (Pssst...ixnay on the iscussionday of the ulbette.)

    3. I'll just quote my own comment from the previous thread: "It doesn't really make sense. Deliberately mis-pronouncing a syllable in the way that the French WOULDN'T pronounce it is hardly making fun of them. It just makes you look like a moron."

    4. You're right...I forgot.

      I at least hope he enjoyed the Zhentarim Twitter account.

    5. Mispronouncing words in a way that sounds vaguely French (but actually isn't) was a fun pastime of me and some pals back when we were... 14 or so, and didn't know the actual pronunciation rules of French. I still don't entirely understand French's pronunciation rules, but I out-grew the joke.

      Here in Germany we basically pronounced things the "French" way by leaving out the final consonant. Like how "bullet" would just be "bulleh" with a stressed e at the end. Just like how Bordeaux is pronounced Bordeau, with the x not actually pronounced as an x, or beret being pronounced bereh, with the t not being spoken.

      If you have no idea about French pronunciation but you've heard a couple of words like that, what you take from it is "Half the letters in French aren't spoken, and the vowels are stressed really prominently"

    6. You are correct that French pronunciation tends to leave off a lot of letters. However, in this case, "ette" is pronounced how it looks. If you want just an "ay" sound, you'd spell it with just an "et" ending, not "ette." You are thus correct with "bullet" (if that was a French word) but the D&D developers were not correct about "bullette."

  16. What's funny in the Gold Box games is, that if any story character dies, there's no option to cast either "Animate Dead", "Raise Dead" or "Resurrection" or at least you can carry the dead victim to the next temple.

    Example Sir Karl dies in Neraka, but no option is given to the player to bring him to the next temple and to raise him again.

    1. Maya takes Karl's corpse, so the party doesn't have the opportunity to do that. Why she didn't go have him raised is another question.

    2. You're right, but there are other situations like this, as well, Sebas dying in Dargaard Keep in Death Knights of Krynn, etc.

      It's consistent throughout the games.

    3. From a DND wikia:

      "If the character succeeds on the resurrection survival check, they are at full health and ready to perform strenuous activity instantly." I assume this means that resurrection has a chance of failure. But if this is the case, that means that player resurrections always succeed and NPC resurrections always fail.

      There's a similar success/fail mechanic for Raise Dead, with the added caveat that the body has to be largely intact.

    4. At least in ad&d 1ed raising included a constitution check, failing which means that the character is dead forever. I don't think the games implement that. You can also easily get back lost constitution at temples. Elves are supposed to be unraisable, but don't at least temples raise them in non-Krynn games?

    5. @Zing AD&D 2nd edition had a CON check too, failing it meant your character permanently lost some CON score, iirc.

    6. It's a narrative thing. Writers are used to death being the end of a character. Widespread resurrection hasn't really been explored.

      The Forgotten Realms books actually do mention Fzoul Chembryl getting constantly resurrected by Bane and Manshoon copying himself with clones as a hedge against mortality, so it's been somewhat thought of.

  17. BTW, if someone wants to play a really great FRUA comedy adventure, I heartly recommend:

    This adventure is kind of a mixture of movies like Monty Python, Scary Movie, etc.

    It literally parodies everything of the Gold Box stuff, even engine bugs and design flaws. It's actually a meta parody.

    And it's a lovely designed adventure, very much detailed. Spent over 13 hours on it and most time was "wasted" by laughting off my ass.

    BTW: Even the economy is done really good compared to the original games.

  18. For random FR lore stuff, the Zhentarim are Bane worshippers, which is how the Temple of Bane is involved, here.

    1. Zhentarim and Banites are kind of the go-to bad guys throughout the FR Goldbox series.

      The Zhentarim actually become a *player option* in D&D 5th ed--there's a module where you are trying to stop the rise of Tiamat and the Zhentarim naturally want to rule the Realms rather than have them destroyed.

      I always figured Zhents=red=generic bad guy color (red lights mean stop after all), Krakens=blue=water, Hosttower=green=generic 'eldritch magic/unearthly' color. (Why is Cthulhu always depicted as green?)

    2. In the era of the Gold Box games, the Zhentarim are a power-hungry organisation somewhere between a global spy network and a militaristic/religious city-state, dedicated to the worship of Bane, God of Tyranny (and later, after the death of of the Bane during the Time of Troubles, the worship of Cyric, before returning to Bane again after his resurrection).

      During the 4E era, Zhentil Keep is destroyed by the Shadovar, and the nationalist Zhents largely emigrate to other destinations on the Moonsea.

      In the time of 5E, the Zhentarim have become a largely secular merchant syndicate with criminal roots, held together by ties of ethnicity, shared aims, and patronage, roughly analagous to the real-world mafia.

      (The design intent of this change is to allow a faction for "evil" PCs to align with who may nevertheless be invested in cooperating with the powers of good, fitting the general 5E intent that genuinely evil PCs are no longer a thing it wishes to support.)

  19. I don't know about anyone else, but I would like to see what happens if you complete all of the dwarf dungeons.

    The Sword of Stalking is probably a ranger-type weapon, although it's unusual for rangers to use two-handed swords.

    1. Realistic medieval weapons usage aside, from the gameplay viewpoint, two-handed weapons make sense for someone who usually uses a bow. If you don't use a shield, you just might take a heavy two-handed weapon and hit harder in the melee.

      Also, Minsk from the Baldur's Gate prefers two-handed swords, although he is somewhat atypical ranger.

    2. I agree, but every D&D ranger I've ever seen has used two hand weapons when they're not using their bow.

      Minsc is the exception, but so much so that I didn't realise he was a ranger at first! He's much closer to the barbarian archetype.

    3. Minsc suffered head injuries, which may have been what turned him from a berserker warrior, to a hamster-loving ranger (he lacks the wisdom prereq to get to ranger normally.

    4. A head injury would explain much!

    5. Rangers dual-wield because of Drizzt Do'Urden.

      This is ironic because R. A. Salvatore wrote dual-wielding as "drow warrior" fighting style, explicitly having Drizzt's ranger teacher comment that he was surprised Drizzt could use two long blades and not get himself tangled up in them.

      And then 2ed AD&D came out and gave all rangers dual-wielding bonuses.

      Of course, the Gold Box games, based on 1ed, have no such expectation that rangers will dual-wield.

    6. Are you sure about that? The story I heard was that rangers used two swords because one of Gygax's sons really wanted to use two swords and so he made a class that would let him do that.

  20. "Imagine what the Zhentarim could accomplish with Twitter."

    @LordsAlliance never found a beholder they didn't like.

    Dwarves in #Llorkh should know the city has been #HumanPride for centuries. Here's a video on the historic human Llorkh culture: fr-realmstube-com/nlnn6rt

    We're not saying @Tyranthraxus ISN'T back in #Phlan, but we're not saying he is either.

    #Bane is often misunderstood. @LordFzoul explains the fine points of banite theology: fr-realmstube-com/2aanlknl

    The #Moander folks can seem a little slimy, but they make great vegan salads!

    @Gheildar and @Cortarra explain how they run #Llorkh as a collaborative couple.

    @Mogion explains how the Moander cult in Yulash is making equal gender representation part of their mission.

    The #AzureBonds was actually a consensual BDSM spell. @Manshoon explains it here: fr-realmstube-com/qewirq6

    There's a lot of fake news coming out of @BishBraccio 's temple about #Phlan. Here's our side:

    Here's how the @Hosttower is training young girls from the bad parts of Luskan for successful careers in sorcery!

    Not many Realmsfolk know that @Mace was a pioneer as a half-orc religious leader: www-realmstube-com/ankj45g

    @LordFzoul opens up about his close brush with death and how he defeated Dexam: www-realmstube-com/al4nhn

    #Lordsmen helping to clean the Dessarin: www-realmstube-com/oianbx

    (all from stuff you've seen already)

  21. After reading all this and getting the comments about the GBC... today I installed all the GOG-GoldBoxAdventures and installed GBC.

    I started with Pool of Radiance, of course.

    Man, I was longer away than I thought.
    The whole stuff really looked better through the lens of romantic thoughts about ‚back then‘.

    Took me a while to figure out some game mechanics such as resting and memorizing and so forth.

    But it has triggered it...

    Tyranthraxus, beware!!

    1. Oh Great.

      Just as I have finished this I got a message from Kickstarter that the Skald rpg is providing the first demo.

      Thyranthraxus may have to wait.

  22. "greenhags" are Green Hags, which are a witch-type monster in D&D.

  23. Hey Chester, I was wondering if you could play Lords of Midnight and Doomdark's Revenge, I don't know if they apply as CRPGs, but seeing as you played both Excalibur and War in Middle Earth, I wanted to see if you would play it, also sorry if someone already asked you about it.


I welcome all comments about the material in this blog, and I generally do not censor them. However, please follow these rules:

1. Do not link to any commercial entities, including Kickstarter campaigns, unless they're directly relevant to the material in the associated blog posting. (For instance, that GOG is selling the particular game I'm playing is relevant; that Steam is having a sale this week on other games is not.) This also includes user names that link to advertising.

2. Please avoid profanity and vulgar language. I don't want my blog flagged by too many filters. I will delete comments containing profanity on a case-by-case basis.

3. NO ANONYMOUS COMMENTS. It makes it impossible to tell who's who in a thread. If you don't want to log in to Google to comment, either a) choose the "Name/URL" option, pick a name for yourself, and just leave the URL blank, or b) sign your anonymous comment with a preferred user name in the text of the comment itself.

4. I appreciate if you use ROT13 for explicit spoilers for the current game and upcoming games. Please at least mention "ROT13" in the comment so we don't get a lot of replies saying "what is that gibberish?"

5. Comments on my blog are not a place for slurs against any race, sex, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, or mental or physical disability. I will delete these on a case-by-case basis depending on my interpretation of what constitutes a "slur."

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

I read all comments, no matter how old the entry. So do many of my subscribers. Reader comments on "old" games continue to supplement our understanding of them. As such, all comment threads on this blog are live and active unless I specifically turn them off. There is no such thing as "necro-posting" on this blog, and thus no need to use that term.

I will delete any comments that simply point out typos. If you want to use the commenting system to alert me to them, great, I appreciate it, but there's no reason to leave such comments preserved for posterity.

I'm sorry for any difficulty commenting. I turn moderation on and off and "word verification" on and off frequently depending on the volume of spam I'm receiving. I only use either when spam gets out of control, so I appreciate your patience with both moderation tools.