Friday, September 25, 2020

Game 382: The Dark Queen of Krynn (1992)

       
The Dark Queen of Krynn
United States
MicroMagic (developer); Strategic Simulations, Inc. (publisher)
Released in 1992 for Amiga, DOS, and Macintosh
Date Started: 21 September 2020
         
The Dark Queen of Krynn is not quite the end of the Gold Box--we still have Unlimited Adventures and its sample and fan scenarios to investigate in 1993--but it's mostly the end. I find myself not quite as sad at the prospect as I was when I picked up Pool of Radiance (1988), the first Gold Box game, nearly a decade ago. It's a great engine, of course, and I don't know when we'll see another combat system this intuitive and faithful to the original rule set. On the other hand, I can't exactly complain that there aren't enough Gold Box games. The series put out two or three games a year for the five years of its life; if that isn't the most impressive work ethic we've ever seen, it has to be close. If you played nothing but Gold Box games, you'd probably forget enough of the first one by the time you got to the last one to just start the series fresh again.
     
Some might say that the engine was "showing its age" by 1992, but I'm not sure that's the problem. I think parts of the engine were always old-fashioned. We just forgave it because of the good stuff. Once Dungeon Master (1987) allowed you to see and hear enemies in the distance, no game that allowed you to "stumble upon" an encounter with 6 dragons was ever going to seem cutting-edge again. This is an issue that the engine never solved. Nor did it ever design a decent automap, and it's absurd that we still have to refer to a paper journal in 1992.
          
The game's opening screen.
          
But of course the good outweighs the bad, particularly in the series' adaptation of combat and spell rules and its robust character development. However, even these elements are best (in my opinion) in games where you're going from Level 1 to Level 8. There are times that playing with high-level characters starts to become boring, and I particularly worry how this dynamic is going to play in the Dragonlance series, where I already find the draconians a bit tiresome. I want the series to go out with honor, so you can understand why I'm beginning this game less optimistic than usual. It doesn't help that SSI turned development over to MicroMagic, a long time contractor whose involvement thus far had been limited to Amiga conversions of the other games.
     
Dark Queen is the third of the Dragonlance titles; the previous two were Champions of Krynn (1990) and Death Knights of Krynn (1991). The series takes place after the War of the Lance, a major event in the universe's literature and tabletop gaming, in which the goddess Takhisis tried to conquer the world of Krynn with evil dragons and a race of creatures called draconians, created from the corrupted eggs of good dragons. The famed Heroes of the Lance arose during this period, and they defeated Takhisis with the help of an ancient chivalric order called the Knights of Solamnia.
       
I guess this is probably Takhisis, but it could also be some minor NPC.
        
The games are set in the aftermath of the war. The characters are members, or at least contractors, of the Knights of Solamnia. In Champions, they foiled a plot to start a new war with a new horde of draconians. Death Knights dealt with an attempt by Lord Soth to conquer the land with an undead army. There was a weird wolf involved that I never really understood.
   
Dark Queen begins two years later, the party having been summoned to the city of Palanthas to meet with the elven general Lauralanthalasa, one of the Heroes of the Lance. Her letter warns of forces still loyal to Takhisis, the titular Dark Queen.
          
The party meets General Laurana.
      
As usual, the party imported smoothly from Death Knights, including all of their high-level gear. It looks like I spent most of my money at the end of that game on arrows +1, because I have several hundred, which of course will go very fast. My party in summary:
        
  • Midsummer, a human female lawful good Knight of the Rose of Level 11. She wears Solamnic plate, a Girdle of Giant Strength, and carries a footman's dragonlance plus a mace +4.
  • Dutch, human male lawful good Knight of the Rose of Level 11. He has Solamnic plate, a mace +4, a long sword +4, a shield +2, and Boots of Speed.
  • Grave, a Silvanesti elf male chaotic good cleric/ranger of Levels 12/12. He has something called Olin's Quarter Staff and plate mail +4.
  • Atmos, a Qualinesti elf male lawful good cleric/white mage of Levels 12/12. He has a mace +4, plate mail +4, and a shield +4.
  • Squirrel, a Qualinesti elf female true neutral red mage/thief of Levels 13/15. She has a short sword +4, bracers AC4, and Gauntlets of Ogre Power.
  • Coral, a kender female neutral good cleric/thief of Levels 12/15. She has a chain mail +4 and a hoopak +3.
       
Characters imported about the same level as newly-created party members, but they're at the upper ends of their levels, while newly-created characters are at the lower ends (or one level lower) with about half the experience. The implication in the journal is that leveling in this game is limitless, or near so, just like Pools of Darkness. On the other hand, despite starting with so many more points, only half my characters became eligible for a new level in 4 hours of playing, so perhaps advancement won't be that rapid.
     
This last entry revamps the character creation process.
           
I tried out the character creation process just for fun and noted a few changes. Options for race, sex, class, and alignment are all on a single screen here. You no longer have the ability to create unique icons for the characters; instead, you select from a set of 49 prepared icons. I'd complain about that, but I never had any luck creating good-looking icons in the first place, and the pre-rendered ones look better than anything I'd ever come up with. All of my characters had been converted to the new icons, and I was happy enough with their new look.
          
The new system has fewer icon options, but arguably better ones.
         
The windows have some new textures, and it looks like the developers threw keyboard mavens like me a bone by letting the initial letter work for all commands. In previous games, they worked for some commands but others you had to arrow through. The images in the exploration window take full advantage of VGA and are some of the nicest artwork in the games to date. So far, the portraits have been considerably less cartoonish than the previous games.
    
Palanthas was just a menu town. My party was fully rested, equipped, and trained, so there was nothing to do but head right for the palace and speak with Lauralanthalasa, or Laurana for short. (The Dragonlance writers seem to do this a lot; "My name is Chestricradrolicanardafluffle, but you can call me Chet!") While happy to see us, she dismally warned us of a new threat. Draconians have recently been seen hanging around the city of Caergoth to the south. She asked us to check it out. 
         
Yes, we're still using "journal entries."
      
Moments later, we found ourselves on a standard 16 x 16 map, though with more than half of it blocked by forest. The forest textures were as complex as anything we've seen before in this engine, but as usual I don't get terribly excited about textures. It turns out that Caergoth was a smoldering rubble, recently sacked by an enemy that left pools of acid behind--a clear sign of Kapak draconians. I like to think that my party was muttering "f****** Kapaks" at the same time that I was.
       
"Without a 'kill them' option, it's not really role-playing!" -- some sick bastard, probably.
     
There were a few minor encounters around the town, such as helping townsfolk bury their dead. But the enemies weren't gone, and it wasn't long before we found ourselves in the first combat of the game, with two blue dragons and one green dragon. Midsummer made short work of them with her dragonlance, which does damage to dragons equal to the wielder's current hit points with every hit. If she doesn't miss, she can slay two per round--four if she's hastened.
         
No easing the player into combat here: the game's first battle is with dragons.
        
At the docks of the city, the party was ambushed by a bunch of sailors. Their leader introduced himself as Daenor, captain of the Silver Shark. The sailors had returned after the battle, but survivors told them tales of draconians and dragons. Daenor's sister, Crysia, was kidnapped. He asked if we wanted to accompany him in pursuit, and for some perverse reason I said no. The party returned to Palanthas instead, to report to Laurana, but she just sent us back to Caergoth. Daenor was still there, and we had no choice but to join his expedition. Daenor became a seventh character in the combats throughout the rest of this narrative.
          
I wonder what happens if you "attack" here.
       
Not far out of Caergoth, Daenor spied the wreckage of a ship, and we dropped anchor to investigate. It appeared that the ship had crashed, and captors and captives alike had fled into a nearby cave. The subsequent cave network was set on a fairly large 30 x 30 grid (though with only about half the squares used). As we chased the draconians, we ran afoul of several types of cave denizens, including giant beetles (easy), purple worms (moderate), and greater otyughs (surprisingly hard). There were some giant spiders who actually poisoned some of my characters, which feels like an awfully n00b thing to have happen. Fortunately, I had a couple of "Neutralize Poison" spells memorized.
         
Even with "Fireball" spells, these guys were hard.
         
There were also several battles with draconians, and while I'm already a bit sick of them, I do appreciate them a little for the unique challenges they create. Baaz turn to stone when they die, often trapping the weapon that killed them. Kapaks dissolve into a pool of acid when slain, messing up the battlefield. Sivaks can fly and have the power to shape-shift, which often makes them plot-relevant but poses no extra difficulty in combat. Bozaks explode when killed, damaging everyone around them, and it's always fun in combat to get a chain reaction of Bozak explosions going.
        
The Bozak dies and explodes, causing more damage to other Bozaks, which die and explode.
        
Auraks are more difficult than all the rest put together. They're spellcasters, to begin, and will fry the party with "Lightning Bolt" if they get the initiative. You have to try to damage or "Silence" every one of them every round to stop them from casting, which is tough because they have a permanent "Invisibility" that often prevents you from targeting them. If you get close to them, they "Immolate" every round and damage everyone in the periphery.
   
Once you kill them the first time, they immediately resurrect with 20 hit points. Kill them a second time and they resurrect again, this time rooted in place. After three rounds, they explode in fireballs and are dead for good. You have to keep careful track of which ones are about to go nuclear and get the party members out of the way.
           
I feel the Aurak here is unnecessarily specific about how they'll dispose of us if they achieve victory.
         
"Fireball" takes care of a lot of this, of course, but I found that my party had fewer slots for both the base spell and its "Delayed Blast" alternative than I had remembered. I ran out quickly, and there were a lot of battles. This forced me to get creative with other spells, which of course is a good thing. My fighters used up a lot of those arrows.
    
We spotted Crysia a few times during the pursuit, but she seemed to be aiding the draconians. One group of freed prisoners confirmed that she was working with them. (They also credited a sailor named Aolan for crashing the ship while the draconians were distracted.) Later, a dying old man named Sensilan said that Crysia was under the influence of a "Charm" spell and thus not responsible for her actions.
         
Come to think of it, the character on the cover looks a lot like Crysia.
      
We finally caught up with Crysia, but just then some blue dragons arrived. One of them told her to "go with Zzrivanth" and that they would meet her "at the rendezvous on Taladas." The resulting battle was supposed to be hard, I guess, but again I made such short work of the dragons with the dragonlance that I didn't even bother to take a screen shot. The average draconian battles were harder.
          
I realized I hadn't included a shot of Daenor yet, so here he is.
       
As we exited the caves, we committed to joining Daenor in a pursuit to Taladas, which I guess is an entirely different continent, the action in the series so far having taken place on Ansalon.
    
On the way to Taladas, we ran into a storm that caused the ship to founder and the party to fall beneath the waves. We woke up underwater, somehow able to breathe, and I'm sure it's going to turn out that sea elves or Sahuagin or some stupid thing is behind it. Seriously, have I ever talked about how much I hate underwater levels? Either there are no special rules about moving and fighting under water, in which case they make no sense, or there are, in which case they're just annoying. I don't know why developers insist on doing this. Anyway, I realized I was exhibiting a bad attitude and decided to knock off for the night.
        
This is probably going to suck for a few hours.
       
So far: It's okay, I guess. It has most of the Gold Box strengths and weaknesses. It's been very linear, but then again most RPGs are linear during the first few hours. I hope the underwater episode is short, and the game opens up when we get to Taladas. We'll see.
    
Time so far: 4 hours

 

83 comments:

  1. I can think of a couple of recent games with good underwater levels. In Legend of Grimrock 2, regular weapons and spells don't work underwater, only tridents do. But it's not annoying because you only go underwater for short bouts (there's no breath underwater spell), it's not a whole separate level but small sections in regular levels.
    And in 7 Mages, there is a whole underwater level and a spell that moves waters like in the book of Exodus. The fun bits are that:
    1) It's a continuous spell - you don't have to re-cast it, but you also can't rest in the area because that would immediately end the spell and drown your party.
    2) The spell has several power levels increasing the breathable area. That affects the party's positioning in combat, because you can't move characters into water-filled squares.
    3) Sea enemies that get caught into the spell radius get weaker.
    4) There's a fun set of puzzle mechanics that has to do with navigating underwater currents.

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    1. Just had a flashback to Eye Of The Beholder 3 and felt something similar to polystyrene pieces rubbing against each other. Or biting the cardboard that holds the pizza portion.

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    2. (that was regarding underwater levels, sorry. And I tell you: underwater cities is my favourite fantasy/scifi trope, ever)

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    3. Coincidentally I've just been replaying Bioshock...

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    4. I never played EotB3, what's so wrong with its underwater level?

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    5. The underwater bit in EOB3 is a confusing maze with various currents moving you around and a bunch of potential entry and exit points, most of which are dead ends -- but the main annoying thing I remember is that the level contains a large, also maze-like no-magic zone that stops all magic from working, including water breathing spells. And of course you can't rest in the area because it's underwater.

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    6. While it's not an RPG, I felt like Majora's Mask had really good underwater bits. Unfortunately, the remake made it so the original's swimming controls use magic, which makes them considerably more annoying

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    7. Black Crypt did it well, IMO. It was different enough to be a change, without being excessively hard or awkward.

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    8. Being underwater is a tradition in the Dragonlance source material... guess they are obligated here since they Weis and Hickman used it in Dragons of Spring Dawning.

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  2. You may find Coral to be dead weight, she's already maxed out in cleric and you already have another character who has no cap on thief. A dwarf tank/fighter would be my 2 cents.

    As for the icons, the look better because they're higher resolution and have more colours than what the original EGA make-a-sprite icons looked like. You can see they've reused some/most of the icons from previous games, Midsummer is a Knight of Myth Drannor, the sword-and-board warrior in the top left of the dragon fight is a male drow from Pools of Darkness and your guy with the shield and flail is in different colours but started life as those guards you were forced to fight in the beginning of Curse of the Azure Bonds.

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    1. I agree that the higher resolution helps make the icons look better, but I think the bigger issue is that I was always miserable at creating anything sensible out of the various pieces in the first place. I usually ended up giving my characters uniform colors--all white for a knight, or all black for a thief--just to make it easier.

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    2. Chet and I both suffer from colour blindness, which may compound the difficulty in getting much useful mileage out of the Gold Box's "roll your own icon" icon generator.

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    3. I always thought the icon creator was tedious and could have used a mouse-based upgrade, rather than cycling through dozens of colors for every part. I love customizing characters.

      The first time I played a Gold Box game, I meticulously colored every icon.

      The second time, I just changed their shirt colors.

      On subsequent runs, I just pick a weapon and/or head that suggests their class and leave everything the default color.

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    4. Hey, that's the combat icon set from Unlimited Adventures.

      I remember hating them and always being upset when a module didn't swap them out for a custom set of better looking icons. I mean, a few of them are all right but I really couldn't pick a straight six that I like.

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    5. Row 1, far left: recolored Brimwulf from POD.
      Row 1, third from left: Red Plume from POD.
      Row 2, second from right: Knight of Myth Drannor from POD.
      Row 3, two at far left: recolored Raizel from POD.
      Row 4, second from right: almost-exact copy of High Priest from Curse.
      Row 5, far left: recolored generic mage from Curse and DKK.
      Row 5, second and third from left: recolored Marcus from POD.
      Row 5, third from right: recolored Vaasan Mage from POD.
      Row 6, far left: recolored Traned from POD.
      Row 6, second from left: Shal from POD with a shield added.

      It's not EXACTLY the FRUA combat icon set (FRUA has fewer short people), but it's pretty darn close.

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  3. "no game that allowed you to "stumble upon" an encounter with 6 dragons was ever going to seem cutting-edge again"

    I love random encounters in some Japanese games, and FF7 was definitely cutting-edge. But I agree, that in grid-mapped games it can seem antiquated a bit. I looked into 1993-94 in the master list, and most game, even the SSI ones will show the enemies on screen before battles.

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  4. Hey, the last (standard) Gold Box game! I did a full D&D Gold Box playthrough a couple years ago, and I think had similar feelings to yours -- the fresh coat of paint is nice, and I remember the plot being reasonably zippy though I think fairly linear (it opens up a bit when you hit Taladas, but only a bit as I recall).

    I was big into Dragonlance when I was a kid, so leaving the main continent of Ansalon for Taladas was disappointing. The plot does go relatively deep into DL lore, though, so not sure how comprehensible or effective it will be for you.

    My major gripe with it was the same one I had with Pools of Darkness, which is that most fights turn into delayed-blast-fireball quick-draw duels. I was able to get through with two mages, but only with a fair amount of reloading and cursing -- and a bit of character-editing to give everybody an 18 Dex. But you didn't seem too put out by this when Pools did it, so I suspect it won't be too bad for you here.

    Oh, and the lady with big hair and little clothing is indeed Takhises. In that picture, she's swanning about in the Abyss (which, as it turns out, is part of the Nine Hells and is completely separate from the plane called the Abyss -- I remember way too much about this stuff) taunting an evil mage named Raistlin, who was one of the Heroes of the Lance (and the breakout star of the setting).

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    1. It's a scene from the Dragonlance Legends books trilogy I remember vividly. A great read for my tastes in fantasy literature, as are most of the others by Weis/Hickman.

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    2. Putting this as broadly as possible: to avoid spoilers, it's probably a good idea not to explain lore elements until they show up in the game.

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  5. The difference between imported and fresh characters Is pretty vast here. No dragonlance for starters. Dragons are a lot more likely to occasion a reload without it.

    I started playing this game a few weeks ago but soon quit. When you start with +3/+4 gear and 8th level spells it means there isn’t gonna be much real character development (How exciting, my hitpoints rose 3% from a level up!) and combat is going to come down to initiative rolls.

    Neither the exploration nor the story were compelling enough to put up with dry mechanics.

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    1. I'm toying with starting over with fresh characters to have more of a challenge.

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  6. From a pure combat perspective this game is the highlight of the Gold Box games, IMO.
    It provides an even (Pools of Darkness was much more uneven, I though), good challenge as long as you don't rest spam.
    And with the most dangerous Draconians being magic resistant or immune to fire you can't just spam Delayed Blasts either.

    When it comes to level design is has some of the better dungeons as well in (Hawkbluff (I think it was called) and the Tower of Flame.

    So I think Micro-Magic did a far better job than Stormfront Studios (headed by the same guy responsible for Ruins of Muth Drannor) did with the bland Savage Frontier games.

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    1. I was just about to comment on that. From a purely combat perspective, this is the best GB game.
      This is due to a new set of monsters, but most importantly, the fact that enemies can now enter battle pre-buffed.
      The prime example: one of the battles in the caves had a dark wizard, and I wonder how Chet dealt with him, as he's quite something the first time you meet him. It's the part where Chet mentioned "I had to get creative with spells." The wizard comes pre-buffed with Mirror Image, Fire Shield (Cold), and Globe of Invulnerability, which is quite the combination. They normally open with DBF, which is instant cast, but you can't DBF because of the fire shield, you need to use a 5th or higher level spell, and he's very arrow resistant because of all the images. There'll be a trivial way of dealing with them (meaning something that isn't Cone of Cold) but that comes after a few levels.

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    2. I found that magic users who had cold shield up were not affected by fireballs or even delayed blast fireballs. Hence a cone of cold does horrific damage.

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    3. Yeah, Cone of Cold is your first go-to spell. What I meant is that CoC isn't instant cast, and it being a 5th level spell, you have to beat the wizard's initiative by 5 (on a d20+dex modifier roll) to get it off first.
      There is an instant cast solution to them, however.

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    4. Cone of Cold is useful, as noted. You can throw Dispel Magic to dispel some of the protective spells. Power Word Kill works if you have it.

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  7. Aw, I was hoping to have beaten this game by the time the blog for here. As it is, I got stuck on Death Knights, ragequit and never looked back. I'm not sure how long I could stand the mage/fighter imbalance though, given that the second half of Champions already required you to spend a huge number of spell slots on Sleep, Stinking Cloud and Hold Person, hoping that you get a move before the enemy Clerics.

    I didn't expect the goddess of a race of dragon people to be an 80's hair metal pinup.

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    1. She's an evil goddess from a 1980s fantasy setting. The only other option is "hag".

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    2. Yeah I noticed the same thing when playing Champions. Basically it comes down whose spell casters get the first chance of bombardment. I'm thinking maybe I should not play single class characters as it limits my number of spell casters. It would be a lot easier if I have 3-4 spell casters and only half of them are knocked out in the first round.

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    3. IIRC one of the recommended parties in the manual has a large number of multiclassed characters for just that reason.

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    4. Trust me, if you ragequitted Death Knights you saved yourself quite a bit of frustration with Dark Queen.

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  8. "If she doesn't miss, she can slay two per round--four if she's hastened."
    I know the setting is *Dragon*lance and, if I remember correctly, there were indeed dragons aplenty, but dispatching them so easily and at industrial output rate still feels like cheapening the creatures somewhat.

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    1. Rediscovering the Dragonlance was the key to winning the military portion of the War Of The Lance, and dragons are indeed shown as being dispatched quite easily with this weapon in the books. Usually the Knights are shown trapping the dragon somehow before killing it, but the actual kill is fairly effortless.

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  9. My memory of Dark Queen of Krynn is that I loved it, and getting to visit Taladas was a treat, but given the hate for it elsewhere, I may be misremembering. It was a *long* time ago that I played it, on my mother's work laptop, at a time when a "laptop" felt like a magical device from the future.

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  10. You'll likely come across increasing problems with your demi-human heavy party. AD&D has the incredibly idiotic racial level limits, so demi-humans can only hit max level as a Thief; all others are limited. On paper, it was to compensate for their racial abilities. In reality, it was just crap that made them useless outside of low to mid level campaigns. While Dungeon Hack and the Infinity Engine games did away with this stupid rule (as did 99.9% of all tabletop campaigns; I'd have shanked the DM that enforced that rule), the Gold Box games were faithful to it; meaning demi-humans are useless outside of having one as a thief in the later games.

    I think you're entering this game with your levels near max for them.

    In my playthrough of the series, I went Humans except for one Kender Cleric/Thief. And to be honest, I don't know why I bothered with the Kender, since they aren't that useful compared to other races, and I don't recall any real reason to have one, at least in Champions and Death Knights. Though a pure Thief is almost as worthless, so having one split as a Mage/Thief or Cleric/Thief at least provided some extra magical firepower.

    Dark Queen I've always stopped right at the underwater section, which I've found annoying, tedious, and aggravating. I never found the higher-level AD&D games quite that good, as the balance between classes was poor to say the least.

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    1. I've never played D&D older than 3e except in video game form, but the one thing people seem to agree upon is that it falls apart VERY quickly at higher levels.

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    2. You are correct about the level limits in generic 1st ed AD&D but Dragonlance is a bit more generous, Elves can max out magic-user and ranger and dwarves can max out fighter, so in Chet's party the only cap is cleric on the kender at 12, which he's already reached.

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    3. @Alex: not particularly. Yes, you can read that a lot, but that's mostly because people who play Edition X (for any value of X) spend a lot of time on the internet bashing earlier and later editions of D&D. Because X is so obviously better than Not-X.

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    4. I seem to remember another reason for non-human level limits was to keep humans as the main race in the world. Because of the life-span of elves etc, humans would have been a very minor race, having to compete with level 500 elves running all over the place.

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    5. Though I know Chet isn't likely to use it, there's a program called Gold Box Companion that lets you quasi-cheat your way around the racial level limits. It's free at http://gbc.zorbus.net.

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    6. Boroth.

      There's a AD&D retroclone called Old School Essentials that addresses the humans vs. demihumans and level limits thing. There's an optional rule where if you remove level limits, humans get a bunch of extra bonuses so they don't just disappear from play sessions.

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    7. Matthew Colville in his D&D history videos made a good point that I never realized when I played 1st and 2nd ED as a kid. The assumption that Gygax and all the other developers were working with was that the system generates the world. That is, if Paladins are supposed to be rare in the world, they have to be rare among the players as well. If the world is supposed to be largely controlled by humans, there has to be some rules advantage humans have to allow for that.

      Eventually they realized that this was not necessary; that Paladins can be rare in the world while still allowing any player who wants to to create one.

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    8. Let's see if this will let me post today. :P

      I had forgotten abotu Dragonlance having more generous limits (though the setting had a hard L18 limit on any characters IIRC) for demi-humans, but I may have just not known. For PnP, no group worth playing with ever bothered with that idiotic rule, and as for the Gold Box games, I think I started with the FR games first; I may not have even paid any attention to the DL rule book and assumed it carried over.

      As far as the whole edition wars stuff, while I think that's basically down to people becoming too comfortable to change from their current system and the typical "Blame the New Media" ends up happening. But, to say that AD&D and 3.x D&D weren't horribly unbalanced at the higher levels of play is to be a damn liar or to admit you've never even looked at them. Linear Fighters, Quadratic Wizards is a trope for a reason, and CoDzilla likewise exists for a reason. A high level fighter merely hits harder and can take more damage; a high level wizard summons entire armies, or levels them, and has about a hundred ways to take out the fighter and his army of minions that AD&D gave him in the rules without breaking a sweat.

      4th Edition, while incredibly flawed and poorly thought out, did address this somewhat. Of course, it did so by making every class essentially the same, with only flavoring giving them minor differences. I've ignored 5th for the most part since I've got no time for any RPing, so I'll let others comment on that. 4e kinda burned me out on it.

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    9. 5th isn't perfect but it's impressively successful at addressing 3.X's balance issues without descending to the homogenization of 4, that seems to have been their primary concern and what they put a lot of effort into.

      Unlike 4, Fighters (mostly) don't cast spells in 5, but they do flat out put out DPS that puts casters to shame while being tanks as well. Casters still have better utility, but their ability to completely lock a battlefield down so that the enemy can't do anything is restricted by the fact that now they can only maintain one spell at a time.

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    10. The catch is that just because a game is measurably imbalanced doesn't mean that it's "horrible", "falling apart", "unplayable" or "not fun".

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    11. @Delvin Anaris Yeah exactly. I wouldn't touch the games without GBC, whose authors I happily donated some coffee money to. The Golden Box games are definitely not as good as, say, IE games, but they are equally addictice due to their dungeon hacking nature. Not much background story and you just dive in to fight.

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    12. Well, whatever, I liked 4th edition. I was always annoyed that no company made a videogame with it.

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    13. Personally, I always found the idea of "imbalance" to be kind of odd for a tabletop game with a DM. If fighters are underpowered and wizards can do too much, why not just give your fighters some upgraded items and introduce some enemies that are immune to magic, etc? (of course, this then falls apart if the ruleset gets translated to a CRPG, where the game can't say "whoops you allocated your stats oddly, I'll just readjust the encounters to account for that")

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  11. Combat takes a big hike in this one as you will soon start encountering random enemies with buff spells pre-cast. The underwater part here sucks. Auraks, especially the advanced versions with Delayed Blast Fireball are no fun. Balance might have been too easy in some of the previous ones, but this one jumped it up pretty high. Dragons whose breath wespon deals more damage than your characters max health is another example (the setting specific dragons have more health than Thorne in PoD for example). But the graphics were a nice upgrade, specifically the character models, and some of the events and story beats are pretty cool. Guess this takes priority to finish now, about 2/3 through my playthrough

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  12. I played this game a couple of years ago. Since then, I've been waiting for you to start it because I wanted to see what you thought of the UI changes. It was not worth the wait.

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  13. I agree with Petrus' comments, I just finish Dark Queen last night! After working my way through the series over the last year, this was my second favorite Gold Box after Pools of Radiance. I bounced off Silver Blades (mapping those huge, empty mazes was boring), and haven't tried Pools of Darkness yet, but otherwise I have finished the other Gold Box games. To be honest, I almost quit after getting to the same point that this post ends, but I kept playing and it got a lot better.

    My party was about a level lower, and didn't have as good gear as yours coming out of Death Knights. They also weren't power-maxed, my thief had the only 18 dex, I had a multi-class cleric that hit level limits early, and one of my mages was too dumb to learn 8 and 9th level spells. I also only used haste 6 times in the whole series. But they handled the game fine. They also became way more powerful over the course of the game, easily handling battles that would have slaughtered them early on.

    There were some good encounters but only a handful that took more than three tries. It was gold box at its best: get pummeled because you are totally unprepared the first time, get pummeled thinking you're prepared the second time, actually stop and think about tactics and win the third or fourth time.

    Have fun and don't let the crazy story bug you too much!

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  14. I'm firmly in the Dark Queen fan section.

    Not only did this installment feel fresh (without issues from being colourblind, I likely got more out of the spruced up graphics) and clean, I took great joy in seeing things move to Taladas given Ansalon had been thrashed to death in novels and source products.

    It certainly felt better balanced than Pools of Darkness, as other commentators have already noted, but the limitations of the engine and core rules mean there's always instances where it will still feel a little off.

    Hopefully it warms on you, as I think for a series you've given so much love over mean years and installments, it only feels right that it finishes on a good note (I'm aware of Unlimited Adventures, but you hopefully get what I mean).

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  15. Just wanted to warn about a fatal bug in the game which does not allow to win!

    In order not to spoil anything, I recommend making usage of the different save slots.

    The exact bug ROT13'ed:
    Va Unjxoyhss, lbh unir gb ragre Genaqnzrer'f punzore sebz gur onpx qbbe hfvat Qnivx, abg gur sebag qbbe.

    Vs lbh ragre sebz gur sebag qbbe, gur Obbx bs Nzebpne jvyy abg or sbhaq va gur xvgpura, jurer vg fubhyq or, pnhfvat n qrnq-raq ab-jva fvghngvba bs gur tnzr.

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  16. I have played this game through many times, and it is by far my favorite of the Gold Box games.

    It makes significant QoL improvements to the game's interface—it finally does away with any need to switch to a "move" mode in any situation, for instance, and targeting in combat is similarly straightforward.

    The graphics, as you've seen, are much improved, and though it's a bit of a kludge, it *does* finally include occasional instances of seeing some bit of "moving scenery" (though, as you note, not monsters before you encounter them).

    The underwater section I found to be a refreshing challenge, as it changes how some spells work, and you have to be balanced in your spell selections (gurer'f n fho-frpgvba jvguva gur haqrejngre frpgvba gung unf nve, fb nyy lbhe sveronyyf jbex ntnva—ohg gura jvguva *gung* gurer ner onggyrf jvgu sver ryrzragnyf, fb lbh arrq gb znxr fher lbh unir n avpr inevrgl bs fcryyf rvgure jnl).

    The two parts of the game where I've frequently gotten frustrated are Hawkbluff, where others have noted there's a potential game-breaking bug (I never encountered that one, but in fact encountered some bugs going the *opposite* direction—making it possible to access areas I shouldn't, and telling me I had things I didn't yet), and the tower of Luminari, where I recall finding the way to the final floors confusing and difficult.

    The final stages of the game, though, however many times I've had to reload due to difficult combats, I've always found to be great fun and a satisfying conclusion.

    And yes, as other commenters have noted, that *is* Takhisis (though the people of Taladas will keep calling her Erestem) in that shot, and fans of the novels (as I have been since before I first played DQK) will recognize the man tied up by snakes as Raistlin Majere, a main character in several of them (jubz lbh jvyy zrrg va gur yngre fgntrf bs gur tnzr).

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  17. Speaking of FRUA, I'd love to hear any suggestions people have for campaigns or modules to play. I've got it on GoG but I've no idea where to start with the user made stuff out there.

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    1. Second this! Apparently the built-in campaign is not well thought of so doesn't seem like the best launching point.

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    2. Yes, the built-in campaign is not worth playing.

      As for recommendations, if you want something Gold Box like, I recommend any module made by Ben Sanderfer aka The Enraged Geek, except his earliest ones need editing to work with the current version of FRUA.
      His AT1 and AT2 modules, along with a module called The Sect by another designer, neither of which I have played yet, are probably the safest bets.

      There's also Ray Dyer's conversions of lots of the classic pen&paper modules, with suggested play order at http://www.therealm.flopsyville.com/Menu.htm.

      I played the West campaign, and half of the East campaign before I got burnt out. The stand out module IMO was The Keep on the Borderland.

      These campaigns start out being quite challenging, but the modules get increasingly more story focused and less challenging, so most of the higher modules took more willpower to finish.

      Maybe if you drop all your magic items before transferring the party to the next module would have made things more exciting. Or split the modules into more campaigns.

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    3. Seconding AT1, I found the plot goofy but it has the pacing of a good Gold Box game. The gameplay is like someone took UA and tried to make a clone of Pool of Radiance. Which means it's better than literally every official Gold Box game that isn't Pool of Radiance.

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    4. You should also play GPCP. I can only imagine what playing GPCP fresh with no experience of the UA scene would be like. It's boggling that someone made that game in that engine. It's nothing like a Gold Box game at all.

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    5. Thanks for the suggestions! I'll definitely check them out.

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    6. The night below was excellant...check that one out

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    7. There is an open source "successor" to FRUA with a community that is making new games AFAIK: http://uaf.sourceforge.net/

      Maybe check it out

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  18. I am playing this one too. My party of five got reduced to a party of four in the last battle in the caves. My sweeping left hook of a frontal assault, ended up killing half the dragons in a round, but my elven cleric-fighter was left exposed to the full force of black dragon breath. I thought about reloading, but decided that the party will search for a cure. In the meantime, they carry his corpse in a pickle barrel. Fortunately, we have a cleric thief too. We are undersea as well. Role-playing is fun.

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    1. Just bear in mind that by the rules as written, elven characters cannot be raised from the dead in Dragonlance games, and the Gold Box games follow that restriction.

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    2. Black dragons breathe acid. I don't think there's a cure for being melted into a puddle of goop short of divine intervention.

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    3. I know about Elves and resurrection. I decided to go with the game, rather than reload. It's my call. Now the party have reached Kristophan. Since the Minotaurs refuse to police the human district, we have begun eradicating the local criminal scene. I like the night sky effect in the game.

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  19. Your imported characters started 2-3 levels higher than freshly created ones with the same classes, not just 0-1.

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    1. It depends on the character, but you're right that I was a bit lazy and only really checked out the knights, who started at the same level. As you go down the roster, the variances get wider. I'll talk more about it next entry because I'm flirting with creating a new party.

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  20. This game looks pretty good, and the icons and portraits are a huge step up from previous games in the series, but I still find the all-uppercase text jarring and difficult to read. The copyright screen has mixed-case text so it wasn't some sort of technical limitation, it was a deliberate stylistic choice and I can't believe they stuck with it for the life of the engine.

    At least they moved away from the awful curly fauxlde english font from some of the previous games. I wonder if that's secretly the reason it expected you to read so much of the game's text in a physical book, because the on-screen text is so unpleasant to read for extended periods and playtesters were getting fatigued.

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    1. Based on my experiences with Unlimited Adventures I think it may actually be a legitimate technical limitation of a dated part of the engine. Event text is stored as part of the map and the file format used for the maps limits it to a finite amount. A very very finite amount. UA authors were constantly “invisibly” teleporting the player to a duplicate map for text events because the couldn’t fit all the text they wanted in an area in one map object. Absolutely none of this nonsense is necessary at the time of DQK of course but perhaps they thought of it as necessary back when they wanted a toaster to be able to run POR off 5.25” floppies and no hard drive and then never budgeted dev effort to re engineering these core structures. Obviously, eliminating lowercase doubles how much text you can store in a given amount of space. It’s just surprising that you would CARE how much space your text is taking up, but... I’ve first hand experienced the evidence that SSI did.

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    2. "Invisibly"? Was it easy for the attentive player to tell the UA author was engaging in this trick? Ha ha

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    3. Yes, it is easy for the attentive player to tell the UA author was engaging in this trick since the screen flickers.

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    4. I think by this point they were working on a new engine entirely (which ended up used for Dark Sun, a good game, and some other games that weren't nearly as good). Upgrading the goldbox engine instead might have been wiser in retrospect but they likely didn't have the resources to split up teams and do both.

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    5. @James Neal Wow, that is a bonkers method for displaying text. That explains why they had to put so much text in the journal (and why the Apple 2 version of Pool of Radiance required four 2-sided disks. They were duplicating SO much data)

      I guess like you said, it's because POR targeted systems with only 128k of RAM. It was more visually complex than something like Wasteland or Ultima 5 and just couldn't hold that much data in memory, and it would've been too much work to revamp the engine to work differently on better computers, so they were just stuck with it. What a bummer.

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  21. With all the FRUA discussion, you may want to post to the FRUA fan forums - surely people will recognize you and know what to recommend for your tastes.

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  22. Conserve your magic arrows. Trust me

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    1. And never, ever make a deal with a dragon.

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    2. Fortunately Bane isn't here to help this time (but you're very correct).

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  23. Am I alone in preferring the "cartoony" art style of a game like DKK over this? It seemed more consistent and video gamey to me. Some of the VGA art looks like it was scanned directly from sourcebooks and thus has different characters in different styles.

    Look at Laurana versus Daenor versus the Aurak for an example.

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    1. I know what you mean. The images in the article would be passable as pixel art, but as they appear in-game they look like bad paintings. Crysia, the Aurak and most of the static scenery look alright, but Daenor looks like somebody doing the best they could with MS Paint.

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    2. Cartoony graphics tend to age a lot better than realistic ones as tech improves because your eye and mind knows that it's not supposed to look "right".

      That's the entire reason, for example, that Pixar made Toy Story as their first all-CGI film. Since all the characters that have constant screen time are literally plastic, it holds up a lot better than it would have if it had focused on the humans (who looked fine in the 90s, not so much now).

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