Monday, November 2, 2020

The Dark Queen of Krynn: Summary and Rating

 
Why does she dress like that? There's no one to see her but Raistlin and a bunch of monsters.
        
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
Date Finished: 26 October 2020
Total Hours: 36
Difficulty: Moderate (3/5)
Final Rating: (to come later)
Ranking at Time of Posting: (to come later)
    
Summary:
 
The final game in the Dungeons and Dragons-licensed Gold Box series (except the Unlimited Adventures construction kit), Dark Queen satisfactorily wraps up the Krynn trilogy. The game uses the same "engine" that has supported a dozen games since Pool of Radiance (1988) with only a couple of minor interface and graphics improvements. The meandering story takes the experienced party from Death Knights of Krynn and brings them to a new continent, Taladas, where they must thwart the machinations of the evil queen Takhisis and her followers. The story is nothing great, but the game manages to offer challenging tactical, turn-based combat even for high-level characters, and without resorting to cheap tricks like wiping the characters' spells. There were times that it got a little long and frustrating, but nothing that a short break wouldn't cure. A good end to a good game series.
    
**********
     
The Gold Box goes out neither with a bang nor a whimper, but with something in between: a solid, well-crafted, challenging entry that nonetheless fails to break any significant ground. It leaves the player looking forward to the next new thing rather than wanting more of the old. While I was generally happy with Dark Queen, I couldn't help but contrast it with Icewind Dale II, the last Infinity Engine game, arguably the best of its series in mechanical terms, which kicked gameplay to a new level at the very time that its creators announced it would be the last game.
    
I am writing this before rating Dark Queen, but I know there's no chance it will unseat Pool of Radiance (1988), the first Gold Box title, as the best of the series. I know that some readers will disagree, but I suspect they are prizing what I consider rather trivial improvements--better graphics, better sound effects, the introduction of paladins and rangers, and the "Fix" command among them. (This game allowed loading from within the game for the first time, something I didn't realize until I read Scorpia's review.) I prioritize quality game content, and to me the series never improved upon what Pool of Radiance offered. Some examples:
    
  • The most meaningful character development. Pool is the only Gold Box game in which characters start at Level 1. They can make it to roughly Level 8, right at the point that they start to feel overpowered. Every level brings awesome new resources to all classes.
  • The most meaningful role-playing choices. Pool is the only Gold Box game in which you can really role-play an evil party, right up to the end where you can join with Tyranthraxus. Every map offers numerous encounters with several role-playing options that fundamentally change the nature of the challenge. Some later games approached this encounter complexity but rarely exceeded it.
          
This early role-playing choice set a standard that the Gold Box series rarely met.
         
  • The most challenging battles. To me, the five most memorable battles in the Gold Box series are: 1) the troll battle in the ruined tavern in Old Phlan; 2) the hobgoblin battle in Sokol Keep; 3) the sequence of three battles against kobolds in the kobold caves; 4) the beholder corps; 5) the final battle of Pools of Darkness. Three of these are in Pool of Radiance. It never gets better than when you have a tight group of adventurers against a mass of mostly-physical enemies, and every asset--every "Cure Light Wounds," every "Hold Person," every "Sleep," every shot of a Wand of Magic Missiles--can make all the difference.
       
These were the days when one "Bless" spell made all the difference.
          
  • The most non-linear plot. The world of Pool of Radiance opened up fast, and you could do most of the quests in almost any order.
  • The most interesting plot. No world-threatening events ever improved upon reclaiming the city of Phlan block by block.
  • The best quest system. Sidle up to the quest board outside City Hall and write 'em down, then later return to the clerk for your reward.
  • The best use of NPCs. As with all the games, there were some named NPCs who would join you, but Pool gave you the only chance to hire mercenaries.
  • Lots of random encounters on the world map. Pools of Darkness was the only other game to do this well.
  • A fixed number of random encounters. Beat enough wandering parties, and you cleared the maps.
  • Best use of the journal. Later games tended to use the journal for just long paragraphs of text. Pool had a few of these, but it tended to use the journal to offer things that you would actually find on paper in the game: maps, notes, scraps.
      
There were definite improvements in some of the later games, but none of them ever solved any of the original engine's most significant issues, including boring environments, little warning about impending encounters, and a horribly broken economy. Even the vaunted "Fix" command isn't much of an improvement when you realize how much it trivialized the resting-and-healing process. In short, the series did not improve in enough ways after Pool of Radiance to make up for what it left behind.
   
Nor did the engine incorporate any of the better elements of its competitors, many of whom were innovating past the Gold Box by the early 1990s. I still haven't encountered a game with you-wouldn't-even-think-of-taking-off-the-headphones sound design, but some of the best titles of the era were at least experimenting with ambient sound and more realistic effects. It would have also been nice to see more in the way of puzzles in the Gold Box--not like Dungeon Master, but more a combination of inventory and logic, like some of those in the later Wizardry games. It would have been nice to see some actual dialogue options with NPCs, and even more encounters with role-playing options, not fewer. Other games were doing these things.
       
I thought I'd play a little longer and at least get my characters leveled up. But I inadvertently found out that they're racist.
    
But one way in which no title has exceeded the Gold Box--and I'm tempted to add "even until today" in this superlative--is in combat. I will never stop loving the series' turn-based tactical battles, even if I like some individual elements better in other games (e.g., the point-based movement system of Wizard's Crown and Disciples of Steel or the sheer number of options in Nethack).
    
Part of the genius behind the Gold Box combat system lies in its faithful adaptation of the very large variety of Dungeons and Dragons spells. We saw how their absence significantly reduced the engine's value in the two Buck Rogers games. But here, again, we see how things don't get much better than Pool of Radiance. Once you acquire "Fireball," nothing else seems awesome again. (Its seventh-level "Delayed Blast" counterpart increases the utility, of course.) The fourth-level "Ice Storm" does less damage in a smaller radius. Even spells that sound like they ought to be awesome, like "Meteor Swarm," turn out to be more of a pain than anything. The Gold Box has a significant problem with the utility of higher-level spells. At the eighth level, I'm supposed to get excited about "Power Word: Blind"?
    
This, then, is one area in which Dark Queen improves upon its earlier counterparts. By making so many enemies immune to various spells, the player has to experiment as he never did before. Desperate for something to deal with the dark wizards, I actually cast "Otto's Irresistible Dance," for gods' sake. And while "Monster Summoning" could have been targeted better, I have to hand it to the developers for including it at all. It wasn't there in Pools of Darkness.
   
I will probably have a longer retrospective on the Gold Box at a later date, so for now let's rate Dark Queen of Krynn. This is where the Gold Box stands right now on my ratings sheet:

Pool of Radiance (65)
Curse of the Azure Bonds (60)
Champions of Krynn (56)
Death Knights of Krynn (54)
Pools of Darkness (52)
Treasures of the Savage Frontier (51)
Secret of the Silver Blades (50)
Gateway to the Savage Frontier (49)
Buck Rogers: Countdown to Doomsday (46)
Buck Rogers: Matrix Cubed (34)
    
In my mind, I was thinking that Dark Queen would fall in between Champions and Death Knights, apparently remembering the latter as being worse than it actually was. There's not a lot of room there. Well, I definitely thought Champions was the best of the Krynn series, and Dark Queen definitely was better than Silver Blades, so that leaves a range of about 50-55 in which I'd expect to see it fall. Let's see.
    
1. Game World. I'm never going to feel all that positively about the Dragonlance universe (it has always sounded like bad fan fiction to me), but the bigger issue is the way the games handle the universe. For the most part, they expect you to know it. This is particularly true of Dark Queen, where neither game book gives you any idea about the history of the world; woe to the player who steps in without playing the previous two Krynn titles. Even within the game, I don't think the story is very well told; the party is always just running to the next thing, the scope of things only becoming clear at the end. (You could design a good plot where these things were true, but Dark Queen doesn't feel like it did it by design.) Too many moments depended on a player with existing experience with Dragonlance gasping with delight or shock at the latest appearance of Tasslehoff or Raistlin or some other character from the novels. I care about them less than I do about Buck Rogers. I don't mean to suggest there's anything wrong with players who do care, of course, and I understand if you want to bump up the score. Score: 4.

2. Character Creation and Development. One way in which the Dragonlance universe arguably does improve over the Forgotten Realms is in character creation and development. There are more character classes and races, and more of them are interesting. I like the way the moons affect spell volume, too. On the other hand, the specific classes and races matter less here than in any previous game, and you don't even have the satisfaction of your knights being recognized as Knights of Solamnia. Character development is also about as rewarding as any Gold Box game. Score: 6.

3. NPC Interaction. The Gold Box has always done a good job of having a character or two join the party, sometimes for a short stay, sometimes long. I generally like what they offer. Other NPCs are sometimes funny, sometimes boring, but you never get any serious dialogue options with them, just long dumps of text. The only two "romances" offered by the series are both bizarre, including the one that appears here. Score: 5.

4. Encounters and Foes. Dark Queen did a better job than any game since Pool of Radiance in offering numerous non-combat encounters that depended on role-playing, logic, or skill. And I will always appreciate the large and varied Dungeons and Dragons menagerie, each monster described in detail by the game manual, and with attendant strengths, weaknesses, and special attacks in-game. This game even introduced a bunch of new ones. There's room to do better, but so far few games have. Score: 7.

5. Magic and Combat. As you saw from my entries, I was continually challenged by the game's combats, but in a fair and satisfying way. I feel like I could use another round to really master some of the new spells introduced this time. (I particularly should have invested more in "Blade Barrier," since practically everyone in my party could have cast it.) If I could name one category in which I most wanted the series to go out strong, this is it. Score: 8.
   
6. Equipment. A bit disappointing. You hardly find anything new in this game that you didn't bring from Death Knights. The equipment system is good, but the actual items seem like an afterthought. Score: 3.
       
Except for the Ring of Free Action, Midsummer has nothing here that she didn't have at the end of Death Knights.
      
7. Economy. All I can say is that at least the last two Krynn games had a money sink. It wasn't completely useless to gather all those gems and jewels and appraise and sell them individually. But on the whole, this category goes out without any game ever reaching the halfway point. Score: 3.

8. Quests. Dark Queen has a meandering main quest as well as a couple of side areas with side quests. Again, we never returned to Pool of Radiance quality, but I could live with it. Score: 4.

9. Graphics, Sound, and Interface. The Gold Box games has always merited about a 6 in this category, and I don't see any reason to change it here. Small graphical, sound, and interface improvements really don't show up much on a 10-point scale. A 6 is about as good as any game is going to get before truly immersive graphics and sound. (I have given a few 7s for ambient effects). The interface couldn't be easier to use, though, with mice, joysticks, and keyboards supported redundantly and completely in themselves if that's what the player wants. Score: 6.

10. Gameplay. In this ill-named category, I look at length, difficulty, linearity, and replayability. Dark Queen has just about the perfect length and difficulty, but it's quite linear and only mildly replayable, mostly to see how different party compositions fare. Score: 6.
    
That gives us a final score of 52, right in the range I expected it, equaling Pools of Darkness but under-performing Death Knights. Even that issue seems to be more one of memory; scanning my Death Knights postings now, I see that I praised it more than I remembered.
        
"Achieve characters up to the 40th level!" That's double what most of my characters ended the game at. I wonder if some players did that much grinding.
         
Wow, did contemporary reviewers not agree with me. Scorpia couldn't have been harder on it. (She reviewed it in September 1992.) While acknowledging some interface improvements, she said, "There is little to like about Dark Queen of Krynn. Playability suffers from a couple of insidious bugs, poor design, and a great deal of gratuitous damage." I didn't experience the first bug she noted: the color of a multi-class character failing to change when he's ready for a level-up. She goes on for three paragraphs about this. I don't understand what the big deal is. You find training facilities often enough that you could just test everyone's ability to level up every time. Not having the color change would be mildly annoying at best. It seemed to bother her most because she actually went through the entire game without even trying to train those characters. I guess the difference between her and me is that I would never trust anything so fickle as color.
     
The other bug had to do with the book not showing up in the right place in Hawkbluff, and fortunately I didn't experience that. I agree it would have been worth a point or two.
    
She had some vitriol for the lighthouse, where you travel up 11 floors only to find the real way forward was in a secret room in the basement. This didn't bother me at all. The trek was hardly a waste of time; it was worth a ton of experience and some interesting encounters besides. Plus, you wouldn't have known the secret door was in the basement without making the trek. She didn't like the new draconians, but I appreciated the challenge they added to combat. (I still hated them, of course, but in a good way.) Finally, she made a good point about the useless economy, but that's been true since the first Gold Box game. Ultimately, she says that Dark Queen is the "nadir of the Gold Box games," which seems a bit harsh. She had played Matrix Cubed earlier that year, after all.
    
The review roundup on MobyGames shows no solace for the fan. The best review (82/100) came from the Swedish Datormagazin. An 80/100 from the German Play Time wasn't far behind, but after that, it drops like a rock, the median sitting at 68. The British Amiga Format gave both it and Treasures of the Savage Frontier 49s in the same issue, with no justification at all.
    
Dollars do the ultimate voting, of course, and Dark Queen was the third-worst selling Gold Box game, at 40,640 copies. (Champions of Krynn, in contrast sold 116,693.) The only ones that sold worse were Treasures of the Savage Frontier and Matrix Cubed, released the same year. According to Jimmy Maher's account, TSR had only extended its contract with SSI on the condition that the latter deprecate the Gold Box after 1992. These sales figures couldn't have helped any argument on SSI's part to keep it around. Unlimited Adventures, the Gold Box-based construction kit, was a kind of coda on the series, a way for fans to keep the adventure alive even if TSR wouldn't.
    
SSI's contract with TSR only lasted until mid-1994, and the developer spent the next 18 months developing or contracting as many Dungeons and Dragons titles, in as many possible formats, as it could possibly manage. The Gold Box may be done, but we still have a lot of titles from the partnership to explore: Dungeon Hack (1993), Eye of the Beholder III (1993), the two Dark Sun titles (1993-1994), Stronghold (1993), Al-Qadim: The Genie's Curse (1994), Menzoberranzan (1994), and three Ravenloft games (1994-1995). Not on my official list is Slayer (1994) for the 3DO. After the last one of these, it's only a year before Interplay starts showing what it can do with the license.
       
I'll look forward to a final turn with Unlimited Adventures, but one of the great things about the Gold Box is that no one can claim that it ended before its time or that it didn't leave enough games behind. If I weren't a CRPG addict facing a list of thousands of games that I'll probably never get a chance to play, I'd be happy to start over again with Pool of Radiance.
    

126 comments:

  1. Pools of Darkness did have monster summoning, you can see its description on pg. 24 of the PoD manual. It almost always summoned dracolisks.

    I wish they had implemented all the monster summoning spells, what the Gold Box games call "Monster Summoning" is "Monster Summoning VII" in the PnP game, with weaker versions starting as "Monster Summoning I" at Lvl 3.

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    1. Thanks for reminding me. I’ll iPad to correction when I get a chance. I wonder why I never tried it back in that game.

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    2. Monster Summoning summons greater basilisks in the Realms, Enormous Spiders in Thorne's cave and the Web Realm, small Bits o Moander in Moander, and Black Bane Minions in the Dark Dimension.

      Dark Queen of Krynn does something similar (Giant Snakes underwater, Fire Giant Mages in the Tower of Flame, Spectral Minions in the Abyss, gorgons most other places), but will actually summon different monsters in parts of the wilderness--I got Two-Headed Trolls in the forest and Giant Crocodiles in the swamp.

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  2. Vale Gold Box, it was a fun journey. I enjoyed your posts on this entry, the battles sounded suitably epic, but it's definitely time for Dungeons & Dragons to move on. I'm really looking forwards to your coverage of the Dark Sun games, I think Shattered Lands will be a GoTY contender for '93. The Ravenloft/Menzoberranzan line of games are also quite interesting, I loved them back in the day but they had aged very poorly when I went back to try them again recently. It will be very interesting to see your take on them.

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  3. I grew up across all of these games, and perhaps due to it not being my entry point (and I have vague recollections of having save game issues with it), Pools of Radiance always sat at the bottom of my Gold Box appreciation list.

    Perhaps it may sit differently with a re-visit sometime soon?

    I'd largely agree with your listed order (with the obvious first placed exception), but always wondered why Gateway sat lower than Treasures of the Savage Frontier?

    Both are weaker entries, but like Champions of Krynn, I always found the lower level party games more interesting and challenging.

    As you touched on in this post, by the conclusion of the Dark Queen, you were talking fewer than half a dozen equipment upgrades.

    In say a Champions, Gateway and I assume Pools of Radiance, any little upgrade is a moment in itself and can prove the decisive difference.

    Still, I can appreciate that it's not all about such feelings or moments, and we're looking at a matter of individual points separating some titles.

    Anyway, thanks for the Gold Box journey, it's been one hell of a trip down memory lane!

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    1. I've played PoR about four times now, so I can't really see re-play changing how I evaluate it. It isn't rose-colored memories of the past. I just think it's better.

      As for Gateway vs. Treasure, the difference is very slight. It looks like I thought the latter had better NPCs, encounter options, and side quests.

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    2. Sorry for the confusion, in regards to a replay, I meant for myself!

      I'd assumed you were already very well versed in it ;-)

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  4. I'm curious how you plan to cover UA whenever you get to it. It does have a premade campaign, but that doesn't quite seem adequate for exploring it.

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  5. I get your reasons for loving Pool Of Radiance but it will never cease to astound me how you see the healing chores in there as better as the "trivial" fix. I could not play more than a few hours of PoR because of how much that rest and healing process irritated me... while you see it as a positive.

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    1. If I recall correctly the criticism of the 'fix' command was that the end result was better with respect to avoiding random encounters than the equivalent process of resting (perhaps repeatedly) and manually casting healing spells. That would take away some of the challenge of resource management if true (unless savescumming).

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    2. It’s not so much that “ “see it as a positive“ as that I recognize that it had a certain utility. It prevented abuse of the system. Healing would have gotten easier on its own anyway, with higher level healing spells. I think “fix“ made the whole process too easy and invited players to abuse it. A compromise was possible, such as only offering a command at inns or other 100% safe places, but they didn’t do that.

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    3. Gold Box Companion.

      Gold Box Companion is a tool for all the Gold Box games plus Unlimited Adventures and the two SSI's Buck Rogers games. It offers automapping, easy-to-use journal entries and helps with some of the interface issues to make playing a little less tedious.

      * HUD above DOSBox window with hit points, character icons, XP meters and effects. Shows good effects in green, bad in red. Also shows if a character is level drained.

      * Fix-command for Pool of Radiance. Works with the other games as well. Instantly heals the characters. Optionally also fixes level drained characters. Can not be used while in combat.

      (more)

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    4. Not for me, but I can see why some players would want it.

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  6. "A fixed number of random encounters."

    IIRC most of the Gold Box game has this, except Silver Blades and (unsurprisingly) the Savage Frontier games. In Champions of Krynn the random encounters in each area were finite, but if you left the area and returned they were reset.

    "I thought I'd play a little longer and at least get my characters leveled up. But I inadvertently found out that they're racist."

    There should have been a role playing option for the virtue signalers to marry someone from a different species.

    Regarding PoR vs DQK, I agree that PoR had more highlights in the form of memorable battles, but DQK was challenging throughout the whole game, while in PoR some of the late battles were far too easy, like the one against the Buccaneer commander.
    The Gold Box engine was good for those huge battles; too bad they were only in PoR. I think the Infinity Engine handles fights against single opponents or parties much better, and the Buccaneer commander would have been a worthy adversary.

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    1. Funny how racists go around using the term "virtue signaling" because they can't see any way a person could actually exhibit human decency and respect for anything other than selfish purposes.

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    3. I mean the game heavily implies you'd have accepted the offer if the daughter hadn't been a gnome so what else are you gonna call it? Though the plethora of half-elves, aasimar, tieflings, half-giants, half-orcs, muls, half-goblins, dragonblood sorcerers, etc., there was and is quite a lot of cross-species boning in DnD, well before the idea of "virtue signaling" was invented.

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    4. The game/setting is certainly a product of its times, and examples from the book series of cross-race relationships (Tanis Half-elven, or a certain dragon in disguise come to mind) seem to suggest they're not well accepted at best, stigmatized at worst. However, this whole thing would have easily sidestepped the problem of imputing one's characters as racist, if not for the "she is a gnome, after all" line. There are plenty of other reasons to decline the offer. Lack of interest in a sudden arranged marriage or concubinage is more than sufficient.

      Random thought: it's interesting that Krynn has three diminuitive races (gnomes, kender, gully dwarves) that are incredibly silly. I remember enjoying the tension relief that provided in the books (especially the gully dwarves), but an interesting creative choice that probably looks less good in hindsight.

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    5. Are we so sure that the issue is one of prejudice, rather than one of...anatomical incompatibility?

      The half-gnome wasn't a "thing" in D&D at the time, I don't think, and if you're trying to produce a Chihuahua/Great Dane mix, the Chihuahua had better be the father!

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    6. I know when I played, the only thing that came to mind with that line was "Welp, guess my party's racist". A big part of that is probably because I had an all female party, so there'd be significantly better reasons to decline if it wasn't going for racism.

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    7. I think I missed something. What in the screenshot or Chet's comment indicates the old woman is offering her daughter to marry or breed with?

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    8. The main reason D&D has human/elf hybrids (but not a whole lot of other hybrids) is because Tolkien does.

      The difference is that in Tolkien this is very rare (Elrond being almost the only example) and they remain well-respected by all; whereas in D&D they are pretty common, and the player's handbook spells out that bigotry against half-elves is also common.

      I'm not aware of any settings where humans and gnomes are biologically compatible.

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    9. This is a silly argument based on a throw-away caption. If I had seriously wanted to argue that my party was racist, I would have done it in paragraph form.

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    10. I thought of the comment as a curveball, expecting some words about a mother offering her child and instead calling out the racist aspect of the sentence.

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    11. I do the images and captions last and don't always hit a home run.

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    12. ELFLAND FOR THE ELVISH

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    13. ELVISH IS KING!

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    14. Is the point of all marriages (or concubinages) procreation? No. So the whole great dane/chihuahua thing is irrelevant.

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    15. Something slår and more important than the comment, it would have been nice with more pictures of the game while reading about it.

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    16. Is the point of all marriages (or concubinages) procreation? No. So the whole great dane/chihuahua thing is irrelevant.

      It's quite relevant if one considers the spatial ramifications of the procreative act itself, rather than focusing strictly on its outcome!

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    17. There's actually a current lawsuit between the original Dragonlance authors and Wizards of the Coast centered on a new book trilogy that the authors were hired to write.

      Details have not been released but the central issue seems to be an impasse between the authors and WotC around something "culturally sensitive" in the 1st book draft that the authors refuse to edit to WotC's satisfaction. Dragonlance (as a series) always was a little questionable on race, especially with regards to kender and gully dwarves, so the weirdness of this encounter in DQoK is not totally out of place in this setting. Perhaps it's easier for me to see this now either due to a) increased cultural sensitivity or b) just being older and more aware of questionable tropes.

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    18. Just imagining porn sites in DnDLand... all the categories we know and love replaced by Gnome, Elf, Half-Orc, Tiefling...

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    19. (That's Human porn sites, obviously. Who knows what the others are like?)

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    20. Some hilarious reactions here to my not entirely serious criticism of the lack of role playing options. Brent and John, thank you for a good laugh. Brent, I resent being called a racist; I identify as a speciest. Not respecting my identity make you guilty of hate speech.

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    21. Correction: that should be "speciesist".

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    22. In Krynn there exists a dwarf/gnome crossbreed. They're also the reason crossbreeding tends to be avoided. They're called gully dwarves, who are literally so stupid that their numbers are 1, 2, and more than 2.

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    23. Petrus with the gaslighting dog whistles here...

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    24. I haven't played it, but reading the descriptions of this game made me suspicious of its politics in general. Is there really a sequence in which the lower class proletariat gnomes take over, screw everything up, and the implication is that everyone should have stayed in their assigned social roles? I guess that would have resonated differently so close to the Reagan era.

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    25. The gully dwarf thing doesn't really make the racism aspect better, tbh. Working a warning against miscegenation into one's game, more or less equating it to incest, is horrible.

      As for the current Weis/Hickman complaint against WotC, my reading of it is that they claim they made all changes requested in good faith and then WotC just refused to sign off on the changes as a backhanded way of letting the deal lapse.

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    26. Vonotar, that's not quite accurate: Weis and Hickman received several requests to make alterations for "cultural sensitivity" or similar issues, and each time they complied to the best of their ability and understanding.

      The lawsuit is because Hasbro/WotC has now said they will not be approving any further drafts—effectively breaking the contract—while also saying "but this doesn't mean we're breaking the contract".

      (Source: I read parts of the actual legal filing when it was posted on Twitter a few weeks ago when the story broke.)

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    27. The problem scene involves a 'love potion' afaik

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    28. My understanding is that the issue wasn't over any specific part of the book, but was part of WoTC's desire to avoid anything that could be viewed as commentary on real-world races.

      There's enough of that baked into the DL setting that simply dropping it is not an unreasonable option.

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    29. But what cannot be viewed as commentary on real-world races, if one chooses to so view it?

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    30. Hopefully I didn't come across as taking sides in the ongoing legal dispute, especially given that specific details are not known. While we've gotten some info from Weis & Hickman's side from the legal filing, one can safely assume that provides a biased view of the case given that it was produced by their attorneys.

      We do know that WotC repeatedly requested changes around things deemed "culturally sensitive". Reading between the lines of the filing, it seems that the authors in response repeatedly made slight changes that didn't really address the spirit of WotC's concerns. As a result, WotC decided to shelve the project in such a way that WotC's lawyers thought would not trigger penalty clauses in the original contract; I'd assume that WotC did this because they felt Weis & Hickman were acting in bad faith, but again, who knows? That action is what triggered the lawsuit. The most likely outcome is that this is settled out of court and we'll never find out what actually happened.

      Back to the matter at hand, whether the "cultural issues" were related to race (portraying an entire race as thieves (kender) or unintelligent (gully dwarves)), cultural appropriation (plainsmen and/or Kagonesti elves), gender issues (love potion) or something else, I guess my main point is that Dragonlance has always very much been a product with 80's sensibilities where for whatever sociological reasons we (speaking as an American) didn't think to deeply about these things at that time. As such, I'm sure this single throwaway line of dialogue in DQoK probably was forgotten as soon as the programmer typed it in but stands out pretty strongly when viewed in 2020.

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  7. According to your ratings and opinion, maybe Pools of Radiance did best, because it wasn't yet part of a "franchise" as one would call it today. It was just a good game on its own merit. The serial approach might have limited the options of designers later on. I mean, roleplaying as the evil party just isn't possible when that decision causes the end of the world.

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    1. Then maybe the stakes shouldn't have been world-shattering every single time. That's a problem in more ways than one.

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    2. Pool of Radiance's scenario was designed by an actual, experienced, D&D module creator—it was even made into a tabletop module (Ruins of Adventure) around the same time.

      As far as I know, the other Gold Box games were just designed by the SSI programmers.

      That's going to make a huge difference.

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    3. I wonder if time had something to do with it, too. I don't know how long they had to ramp up PoR, but it must have been longer than the year or less that they had to develop each of the other titles.

      I agree that PoR has a "feel" of a designed module, though.

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  8. The problem with the Gold Box series was how little innovation and updates the engine received besides slightly better graphics.

    They implemented low level AD&D extremely well with a good selection of spells and when they increased the level caps in later games they only bothered to implement 2-3 spells per levels. Similar with magic items - if you look at Pool of Radiance the selection does not become much better later on.

    One of the main achievements for Baldur's Gate 2 is for me that it did not repeat that mistake and added a wide selection of high level spells - even ones difficult to implement like Wish and Contingencies.

    I also feel that the lack of more high level magic restricted the encounter design quite a bit. Enemies either need to be immune to most offensive spells or the entire encounters comes down to which side can cast Fireball first.

    The Dark Queen approach to having creatures with interesting on-death effects like the Enchanted Draconians & the dark mages starting with dispellable protection spells was probably their best way of working around these limitations.

    Of course, the entire "the side that casts first, wins..." is a factor in a lot of RPGs. Wizardry 6&7 had a bad case of that too.

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    1. They call this type of high-level gameplay "rocket tag" where I come from. It's true for basically all versions of D&D that this is what high-level play eventually devolves into.

      BG2 had Time Stop as the most egregious example in this regard, and contingencies/spell triggers, while useful to keep things interesting, only did so much to mitigate the power of that ability.

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    2. Eh, I dunno, in BG2 it wasn't that have a character hard enough to shrug off almost anything a mage can throw at them during a time stop. When I replayed BG2/ToB a couple years ago, most high-level fights involved having my paladin with godly saving throws, AC, and resistances run up to the lich/foozle/whatever, shrug off whatever the baddy wanted to throw at him, and then bringing in the remainder of the team to help with the cleanup. Imprisonment was the only real fly in the ointment (since the paladin was my main character) which goes to show different approaches are vulnerable to different tactics I suppose.

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  9. I feel like the differences in opinion on this game boils down to your opinion on combats. Where you see challenging but fair combat, I see horrible combat where random chance is the only thing that matters most of the time. I probably had to reload solely because the enemy went before me at least once a map, and usually more. Now, part of that could be Gold Box fatigue on account of this having been the 8th one I had played in the span of 3 months, but I had similar fatigue issues with Treasures and for that I would like to play it again sometime with less fatigue. Dark Queen is a game that I have 0 desire to ever play again though, so I doubt fatigue was the issue

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    1. The initiative thing is a problem, but it's one I don't have a solution for. For me, it simply didn't ruin the rest of what's good about the combat system.

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    2. Personally, Gold Box combat never really clicked with me. It's not bad or anything, but I never really saw it as anything special, which is probably why I tend to be more harsh with combat related issues

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  10. I had a whole essay I was going to write about your praise for Pools of Radiance allowing you an "evil path" and how that meant it had better roleplaying, but it was really too long to justify as a comment.

    Short version is that "evil paths" don't improve roleplaying, they often harm it, and what you're actually responding to is that the perception of choice, whether real or otherwise, gives greater weight and investment to your decision to *not* be evil. And that there's better and less resource-intensive ways to do this that don't create false equivalencies of morality.

    Disclaimer: some games do evil paths well. Some games are all about the evil paths. Many of these are great games. Fantasies are fantasies, and the fact they're not morally upstanding isn't inherently harmful. But we shouldn't expect the ability to do evil in a heroic fantasy game to be some kind of default, any more than we expect to be able to play through them as a non-combat accountant, or travel to other planets. A game should show players where its fun is and encourage them to go there, not chase them wherever they go trying to lay out fun in front of them.

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    1. Yes! The "evil choice" in (RP) games subscribes to the idea of there being "evil people" and "good people" instead of contingencies, backgrounds and situations. Some games do it better than others, having "the evil choice" be the short-tempered choice. In a sense, playing a rough fighter is always the evil choice.

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    2. Same here only mine was about magic in the Gold Box games. I've done my best to shorten it. It seems to stem from how Gygax hated magic so he purposefully made it difficult to survive as a wizard and made magic tough to learn. Then the players came along and LOVED the power trip of magic so DMs let players get to the good stuff right away if that was how they wanted to play.
      What we ended up with was a system that gives everyone the ultimate spell, fireball, early on and little reason to use anything else beyond it. CRPGs also made keeping a PC alive long enough to learn 4th level magic much easier. All you have to do is be willing to save scum or use the broken economy to buy resurrections.
      A live DM can kill a PC and keep them dead but a CRPG has a much harder time doing that without instituting hard permadeath. CRPGs are great at the bookkeeping but can't read the player's actions beyond checking a list of game triggers.
      I'll leave it at that.

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    3. Yeah, If the option is between

      'Heroism'

      and

      'For the Evulz!'

      You're not really offering a roleplaying choice - I'd rather no choice in that scenario. KotOR dropped the ball in that regard. Wanna be a Sith? Well, you gotta be perversely malicious even to your own detriment!

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    4. RPGs never got evil characters right. They always got the lamest options. "You see a kobold in the distance. [Advance] [Ignore] [Slay from afar with arrows]" You don't get anything, while the good party will get to do more roleplaying by refusing to kill everyone on sight.

      I think this is due to the game designers feelings. Evil PCs made them feel funny inside, so they wanted to ruin them for everyone. IIRC the latest D&D version cancelled them.

      Actual evil characters don't kill everything on sight, or attack their party members in their sleep. They're much more like mafia members, or street gangs. Or people who were treated very poorly by society and don't feel they need to give anything back.

      Lots of people don't play RPGs for the stated reasons on the box. They play to feel feelings, and they want everyone to feel the same feelings as they do.

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    5. @Mr. Pavone - 5E finally fixes most problems with DnD magic, imo, by, first, separating spell slots and prepared spells, and second, allowing upcasting. And it only took them 45 years and 5 editions to come up with this fix.

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    6. "It seems to stem from how Gygax hated magic so he purposefully made it difficult to survive as a wizard and made magic tough to learn. "

      I've heard that said before, but I've never seen a real source for it. It's hard to square with Gary Gygax's most famous PCs being largely magic-users, and magic making into AD&D with limitations but a lot of power. Is there a post in a forum somewhere by Gary saying he hated magic?

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    7. @Tristan & Anonymous: Yeah, I wonder if we as a culture have an understanding of what evil actually is. From what I've seen it's easy to confuse sociopathic behavior with evil. I'm not suggesting evil doesn't exist but I do agree it goes beyond "CuZ Im EvIl!" I think evil combines lack of conscience and disregard for social values with ambition.

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    8. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    9. I think assigning zero value to the utility of some class of others is a more typical source of 'evil' than genuinely getting a kick out of malice.

      One good 'evil' option in RPGs is simply having killable shopkeepers. Don't even have to flag it. If you want to kill them because you want their stuff, you do it.

      Hell, make it more ambiguous. Make the shopkeeper a jackass who employs kids as pickpockets. What then? Killing him will make it more likely you succeed in your quest. So, do ya?

      Far more interesting than 'Do you kick the beggar Y/N'

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    10. @Anonymous
      One of the better examples of evil in role-playing I've seen came from Planescape: Torment. There, the evil options typically involved using people (and even being kind to them) up until they were no longer useful, at which point you could discard them. I've never been able to stomach an evil playthrough of that game, but it is pretty close to what actual evil entails in my experience.

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    11. I agree with most of what has been said about the shallowness of most "evil" role-playing options, but I don't agree with Greg's original thesis that Pool of Radiance is an example of it. My point was that you can play PoR as, say, a mercenary party that's only in it for the wealth. Lots of encounters give the party the chance to act like mercenaries rather than heroes. That's a more practical, less "for the lulz" evil path.

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    12. It isn't done GREAT even in PoR, I should add, but at least it's there. The characters are far more a blank slate in that game than any other Gold Box game, in which the backstory forces motivations on the party.

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    13. @ Peter D There's a 2+ hour interview with Tim Cask where he talks about the early days of D&D. IIRC he brings up how Gygax didn't like magic. Of course that's him saying it so there might be something in which Gygax says it himself. Cask seems pretty on the level about it though. You can find the interview on youtube

      Here are the search results: https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=tim+cask+interview+D%26D

      Here is the one about Gygax vs Magic Users:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7UjXi1HKjms

      This is not to say he didn't change his mind later on.

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    14. You can slaughter and rob the nomads and lizardmen rather than dealing with them peacefully, but even PoR really assumed your party members are good; anyone who votes to "join Tyranthraxus" gets permanently turned into an NPC.

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    15. I always got the impression that Gygax viewed D&D through somewhat of a competitive lens (DM vs players). Maybe he was just frustrated by what his players did with magic?

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    16. I think the limitations of good and evil are baked into both the settings and the executions of a lot of games. In Star Wars, Sith are puppy-stranglers; there isn't really a lot of nuance to how they behave. The same is often true of D&D, for pragmatic reasons: a lot of times players just want to be assured that their violent solutions are justified, and the villainy is clearly demarcated. So if you're going to let a player be 'Evil', they're often going to end up a cackling maniac.

      The other difficulty of evil is motivation--since good and evil player ultimately have the same general objectives, usually the only motivations you can easily express are greed and cruelty. Late Bioware games try to offer a ruthless pragmatism or political authoritarianism to the mix. Sometimes that works okay (Dragon Age) and sometimes it doesn't (Mass Effect.)

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    17. @mr. pavone: Yeah, I've seen that . . . it's second hand, and a need to make magic-users weaker to balance them against fighters isn't the same as hating magic. I've played AD&D since back in the day, and magic-users aren't strong to start with . . . but they get stronger, and they often get so using spells and magic items Gary Gygax is directly responsible for putting in the game. I don't see the hate. A different idea of how "balance" should work, perhaps, but hate? Hard to believe despite Tim Kask's words, especially given that we know Gygax more for Mordenkainen and Bigby than for Yrag the fighter.

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    18. There are some motivations for "evil" play in Pool of Radiance. For example, the magic user in the Nomad camp has the only Bracers AC 2 in the game. The only way to get them is to be hostile to the nomads. There are a few other examples. Some quests are easier with an "evil" frame of mind. For example, you could just buy the heir to Bivant, rather than liberating all slaves in the Buccaneer camp. Of course, you could roleplay massacring all buccaneers as an "evil" action. It comes down to the player's own frame of mind. My point is that there are evil choices avaliable. You can even attack the Government House in Phlan. No other Gold Box offered that kind of choice. Unrealistic, maybe, but this is why Pool of Radiance rates high. My problem with it has always been the clunky interface. It was streamlined in later games.

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    19. More than that - If you hire heroes and thaumaturges at the start of the game, and then off them in the slums, you get their (magical) gear.

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  11. The comparison with Bioware's Infinity engine is pretty interesting, and really spot on!

    At first, I was going to suggest that actually, there is something peculiar about the Gold Box engine being used for so long. I mean, from 1988 all the way to 1993... that's five years. It seems like an eternity for the technology to be used with hardly no changes. And then I refreshed myself on the dates for the Infinity Engine - 1998 to 2002. Practically the same amount of time, particularly considering the only Gold Box game published in 1993 (Forgotten Realms: Unlimited Adventures) was not a game but a construction set.

    Furthermore, there is an argument to be made that the Infinity Engine remained still viable when Bioware transitioned to Aurora. Granted, when Infinity was first developed, games of this kind simply looked better in pre-rendered 2D, whereas by 2002, real-time-rendered 3D was finally catching up for this sort of perspective. But they could easily have soldiered on with the engine for another couple of games, had they wanted to. By contrast, game technology was progressing so rapidly in the 1988-1993 timeframe, that I think there is an argument to be made that the Gold Box was already badly dated (at least visually) by 1990.

    Yet, they persevered - but as you note, they only made competent, well-crafted games, rather than brilliant ones. I understand that by 1993, TSR actually *required* SSI to abandon the Gold Box for future licensed productions?

    Speaking of the end-days of Gold Box, though - I see you have Spelljammer coming up ahead. I'm not sure whether to express condolences, or wish you fun and enjoyment. It's a unique title, but goodness, is it a flawed and rushed production. Regardless, though, I hope when you get to it, you will address the question of its Gold Boxyness. I keep seeing it listed as a Gold Box game all over the place. But is it? Just comparing screens in the top-down combat sequences, it seems vastly different. I haven't seen anything in the game's development history that would confirm the game was directly based on Gold Box code, yet everywhere you look, people talk of it as a Gold Box game. Is it true, or is it just an assumption people have been repeating long enough for everyone to accept, without anyone ever bothering to verify?

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    1. I remember that my local gamer contingent and plenty of people in the media felt that SSI wasn't the best CRPG company when the Gold Box was announced. But... back then computer games were still emerging from the single person programmer cottage industry to a team approach. I didn't care for Wizard's Crown and Phantasy as much as Ultima, Starflight and other games.

      1988 to 1993 also saw a quantum leap in computing power as the 8 bit platforms died out during that period. Computers were ungodly expensive in the 1980s for most families. Our Tandy 1000 was probably several thousand 2020 dollars with upgrades... we used it as out primary computer from Christmas of 1985 until about 1992 when I left for college. Lots of people stuck with outdated legacy 8 bit platforms (C64 / apple II) until then..... I suspect most of us don't get 7 years out of our current computer systems!

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    2. Give me turn-based combat any time, rather than the chaotic abomination that was combat in the Infinity Engine.

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    3. I found the Infinity Engine quite manageable. Pillars of Eternity combats are considerably harder to unpack though.

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    4. I actually went back and won it earlier this year, and Spelljammer is most assuredly not a Gold Box game -- it uses a custom engine created by an outside development house, and didn't have the same trade dress. Its combat module shares many elements of the Gold Box one, true, but it's decidedly worse in pretty much every respect -- you only control your captain rather than the full party, for one. But, perhaps fortunately, you can win the game only engaging in a single (unfun and incredibly drawn-out) ground fight.

      There are some small things about Spelljammer that are fun, but yeah, condolences definitely warranted.

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    5. I feel like anyone who refers to Infinity Engine combat as an "abomination" simply didn't experiment enough with pausing, let alone the various auto-pause options.

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    6. @CRPGAddict, I did very much experiment with autopausing. The problem is, if it fires often enough, it begins taking more time and micromanagement than an equivalent turn-based battle would. And if it doesn't, the battle inevitable turns into a clusterfuck. Manageable? Sure. Efficient? Nowhere near.

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    7. I wouldn't say "abomination" but I do find Infinity Engine and it's descendants to be pretty annoying. It adds a lot of not-rule-based fuzziness and uncertainty to a system that's crystal clear when turn-based; things like picking icons out of a melee one at a time, or endless rounds of sidestepping in NWN, or AI party members getting stuck on a chair in KOTOR. None of these things are problems in turn-based games, or even a large amount of real time RPGs; only in Infinity Engine do I have so many problems.

      If "with pause" part is the saving grace of Infinity/Aurora combat, I'm not convinced the real-time part was needed.

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    8. Yes, I am with 'poster formerly known as VK'. Auto-pause still does not even make a poor man's turn-based, I'd sooner an honest slow-paced real time. Planescape: Torment was the only Infinity Engine game I could tolerate - and that was because the game was so great, even though combat was still terrible.

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    9. Real Time with Pause is a middle ground of waste and frustration between the poles of Turn Based and Real Time Combat. Having said that, I can understand its appeal. Turn Based combat can lack the visceral side of battle. Pathfinder kingmaker gives you the option of RTWP or Turn Based. I find myself flipping back and forth between the two.

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  12. Character creation effectively involves a single decision per character - class. Attributes are randomised, there are no skills or feats. Race has a mild effect and is largely dictated by the class decision anyway. On the plus side, picking the six classes that make up your party is interesting and different compositions play differently.

    Character development seems pretty underwhelming. Human characters especially experience very little development - +20%HP, better THAC0, some more spells per day and maybe a new spell level. From start to finish they don't meaningfully change.

    Case in point: A newly imported party from DKK will beat an endgame party from TDQK if its white mages high roll.

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    1. Attributes are randomized, but the game does give you the modify command so you can effectively turn it into a point pool system, or just max all the stats out which I'm sure was far more common.

      Now that I think about it, are the high level Gold Box games even beatable with an unmodified party? So many fights in Pools and Dark Queen are effectively unwinnable if you don't go first, and unless you have the patience of a saint you probably won't have amazing dexterity on all of your characters. I know I felt like the later games were balanced with characters with maxed attributes in mind, instead of ones that stuck with the rolls.

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    2. In my experience the only battle where max DEX is required is the final battles in Pools of Darkness.
      Overall DEX is by far the most important stat IMO, governing both AC, missile THAC0 and the all important initiative. CON is nice for the extra HP, while high STR can easily be improved with items and the Enlarge spell.

      So in the end the only stats I aim for max score is Dex, especially for spell casters, and WIS and INT for Clerics and Mages to be able to learn all spells.
      The rest isn't that important, except if you want to dual class in the non-Krynn games.

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    3. Yes, dex is very much the God Stat in D&D.

      Str is very important on your melee warriors, irrelevant on anybody else. Con is very useful, but only melee warriors get any value whatsoever of scores above 16.

      Int and wis are important to wizards and clerics respectively, irrelevant to everybody else; and Cha is entirely useless. This is not necessarily true in the tabletop version, but it is in computer games; at least for this age. Newer games do a better job at it, such as Planescape: Torment.

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    4. I’ve always taken the same approach to character building in D&D CRPGs = roll until you have a 17 or 18 in one of the prime attributes for the class. If the character is multiclass shoot for 15 or higher in a second prime attribute. This approach works for all of the Goldbox and Infinity Engine games (except maybe Pools of Darkness which I haven’t tried yet).

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    5. AD&D 1e had four recommended means of rolling ability scores for characters. One of them (4d6 discard lowest, arrange as desired) ended up becoming the default means of rolling for some time. But none of them give the sorts of scores people tend to use in gold box games. Even the most gratuitous (3d6, six times, keep the best roll, for each stat) would give you a single 18 in your entire party, on average.

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    6. Sure, but the way AD&D stats work, getting straight 18s is not nearly as impactful as players think.

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    7. I didn't modify any of my characters in any of the Gold Box games. I just rerolled until I got something I could live with.

      Tristan, I don't quite agree with your original comment. Certainly, class is the most important, but race, sex, and alignment all play at least some role in at least some games.

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    8. Yeah, I went with 'effectively' because it's not an absolute. I think class (and I consider red mage, and cleric of neutrality classes) accounts for something like 95% of the difference between characters.

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  13. It is interesting how the Game World rating has changed between the three Krynn games, from score of 7 in Champions, 5 in Death Knights to 4 in Dark Queen.
    I wonder what was done worse in Dark Queen that was done better in Death Knights or Champions.
    Quoting from Death knights Summary: "It is, on the other hand, a responsive game world, with actions taken in some areas leading to repercussions in others, and NPCs reacting appropriately to the party's accomplishments. A mixed bag, Score: 5".

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    1. Didn't Chet address this in his Game World section?

      "neither game book gives you any idea about the history of the world; woe to the player who steps in without playing the previous two Krynn titles. Even within the game, I don't think the story is very well told; the party is always just running to the next thing, the scope of things only becoming clear at the end."

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    2. Admittedly, I do have a good amount of knowledge of and investment in the Dragonlance setting, but I think those ratings are basically right. Champions involves some of the more interesting and better-developed parts of the world, involving the fallout from a recent war and more grounded plotlines. Death Knights is pretty one-note, and Dark Queen's world feels much more like a mish-mash and is based on the more underdeveloped Taladas sub-setting.

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    3. As I said, it's what you do with it. I thought Champions integrated the plot into the Dragonlance setting quite well. Dark Queen doesn't even provide a backstory in the documentation.

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  14. It seems like a few things in your rating were based on having imported characters from previous games; do you think the score would have improved if you started with new characters this time? For instance, I wonder if the Equipment and Economy would have scored better if you hadn't started with the equipment from the previous games?

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    1. but then again it is intended to play as a series

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    2. No, I don't think it would have made a difference. Newly-created characters come with +2 weapons and don't find much of anything better during the game. There isn't anything useful for them to buy, either.

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    3. I’m not sure if that’s entirely fair, you did complete al of the side quests in Death Knights and Dave’s Challenge. You were pretty decked out from the start. I felt like my party found a decent amount of gear during the game. Looking at the cluebook list there are 33 non consumable magic items that are substantial upgrades for a new party. For comparison a quick count of the other games:
      Pool of Rad: 48
      Curse of the Azure Bonds: 40
      Secret: 35
      Pools: 116
      Champions: 29 (43 including random items)
      Death knights: 37
      Gateway:16
      Treasures of Savage Frontiers: 47

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  15. You are going to love Temple of Elemental Evil, (At least if you patch it up with Temple+and Circle of 8 mods.) It has all the things you like about Gold Box and massively improves on the economy and encounter design. And yes, the sound and graphics help a lot too. (Having said that, never liked the interface.)

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    1. ToEE is wonderful! When it works. Sadly, I found it unplayable at launch, but GoG version is very stable.

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    2. Have really been enjoying Solasta lately. It's the new TOEE, pretty much, in terms of turn-based, rigorously faithful adaptation of the current D&D ruleset.

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    3. I'll take a look at Solasta. Also forgot to mention, the 3-3.5ish version of D&D is honestly better then 1st and 2nd edition as well.

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    4. Daniel, your post brings up a interesting point, that will be more important as time goes on, does the CPRG addict play the game that is actually published, (don't do this, please) or the game after the last possible patch and fan mod makes it playable? It will make a huge difference in some games.

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    5. Personally, I loved Temple of Elemental Evil and thought it was mechanically the strongest one. I felt like the version Gog puts out is a perfectly fine version, and while I did have a few issues at first I still beat the game with just the official patches and nothing gamebreaking happening.

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    6. I think the difference is if the patches fundamentaly change the game or just make it play as first intended.

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    7. I have no insight here, but I think the most recent official patch is the best option... unless the developer went under and left the game unfinished.

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    8. Chet played a graphical only fan-mod of UIV I think, but I can't imagine him playing any non-official version of a game in lieu of the official version, unless the mods are strictly related to localisation or fix a game-breaking bug.

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    9. Pathfinder kingmaker has a turn based modification which makes the game far more playable. TOEE is good, when it works. Shattered Lands is the closest to a successor to the Gold Box Franchise.

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    10. I was impressed by the recent Dungeon of Naheulbeurk in terms of tactical excellence, even though they XCOM "two-impulses" turn.

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  16. The DarkSun games (and the whole campaign setting and novels) are fantastic. I can't wait!

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    1. Really? I had always considered the setting to be poorly-written fanfic.

      I agree the games are good though.

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    2. Haven't read the books, but the settings is really original and well written in my opinion. Pretty Grimdark obviously, I would like to know who thought : "what if our halfings were CANNIBALS ?!"

      Except Ur-Draxa and the Dragon City (Valley of Dust and Fire expansion) which indeed feels written by the 16 years old.

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  17. Ah Dark Sun... When me and friends decided we would start playing Tabletop, of course we chosed AD&D, and of course we wanted to play Forgotten Realms... but the FR box was exhausted. I wasn't into Vampires, so I bought Dark Sun without knowing anything about it.
    It was awesome. Never played the video games to my regret.

    Stronghold (1993) is more a management sim with AD&D rules (weird I know) than a role playing game. Still worth having a look IMO, especially if I remember correctly you can finish a game in hardest settings in some 6-8 hours.

    Menzoberranzan (1994) has a situation where you can totally block your progression fairly early in the game (if you don't use a levitation potion where intended, or [more likely] change zone without doing what you were supposed to do with the levitation effect, so beware.

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    1. Shattered Lands is actually right up there with Pool of Radiance in terms of SSI’s best games.

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    2. Never had the reported "dead man walking" scenario on Menzoberranzan, but the game has multiple bad design decisions, including having to finish the game with only 3 people in the party if you hadn't asked previously a seemingly weak NPC to join

      As for Shattered Lands, it is my favorite SSI game (maybe even my favorite D&D game), although Wake of the Ravager had the potential to be better if it wasn't so buggy

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    3. Stronghold was one of my favorite games as a kid. It is entirely possible to beat the game in a few hours on the 'Lawful' setting, maybe an hour or two more on 'Chaotic' or 'Neutral'.

      'Lawful' bases your promotions on the state of your empire. Expand and build, promotions follow. Not hard. 'Chaotic' is solely based on razing monster strongholds. More difficult, since you need a somewhat-decent economy to support excess high-level warriors. 'Neutral' demands both goals, if I'm remembering correctly.

      Definitely worth a try just to see how AD&D could be adapted to what is basically SimCity with monsters, but it's not a RPG at all.

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  18. Dude, please feel free to delete this out of hand, because I know better, but I can't quite restrain myself :)

    I miss your old passion.

    For the benefit of all your readers, can't you just dust of that 4-year-old post and search-and-replace the protagonists?

    Keep fighting the good fight!

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    1. Four years ago, I was eager and optimistic and thought my preferred candidate would win anyway. Since then, I've just been sad. Even if Biden wins, I'll be sad that it was so close. I think "the left" clearly has better policies, but I at least understand why people might disagree about that. What I don't understand is looking at Trump and seeing anything but a venial, thuggish idiot. And a criminal besides.

      I could understand some urge to vote for him in 2016, if you were disgusted with the entire political process and you were looking to throw a wrench in the machine just to see what happened. But after four years of this, particularly his bungled response to COVID-19, that nearly 50% of this country still supports him makes me want to do nothing but cry.

      So no, I didn't write anything this year. I probably shouldn't have even written this. It's disingenuous for me to say something on my blog and then not invite replies, but I don't want replies, and if I get any, I'll probably nuke the entire thread. Not because I'm stifling your free speech, but because this is my blog, and people like you (hypothetical respondents, not you, Rangerous) just make me inconsolably sad.

      Delete
  19. Perhaps ironically, knowing the Dragonlance novels did not make me _happy_ with Raistlin's appearance--quite the opposite actually. See, in the novels, he's explicitly not supposed to be stuck in a Lower Plane. That's something Takhisis puts about that isn't actually true.

    Similarly, making Lord Soth into a would-be conqueror in Death Knights of Krynn produces the primary reaction, after reading the novels, of "wtf?" and I still don't know how they even envisioned Kitiara getting from her last appearance in the novels (spoiler: she was really most sincerely dead, possibly to reappear as undead but no longer a living power broker) to "Lenore."

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  20. I'm sure many of the readers already subscribe to both blogs, but today's new "Digital Antiquarian" post about what happened to SSI following the expiry of their D&D phase is an interesting companion piece to yours concluding their use of the Gold Box engine. https://www.filfre.net/2020/11/opening-the-gold-box-part-7-back-to-the-roots/

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  21. Your final comment on replaying Gold Box over and over is very close to where I ended up in the CRPG world. I have played games from many other franchises, but Gold Box always remained the favorite. I suppose I shall always be playing them in order and back round again. There is some replay value, especially if you create new parties for each game.

    On the whole I agree with you. Pool of Radiance is probably the best. It does have the feel of an old module. The Graveyard especially had a "Tomb of Horrors" feel about it.

    I prefer the Pool series too. Like you I never read any of the Dragonlance novels. Forgotten Realms was just an extension of Greyhawk, in my mind. Just as serviceable as it was generic. Pathfinder is the first game to have an interesting world, in terms of geography, society, religion, and even in races and classes.

    I disagree with you about Secret of the Silver Blades, but that is just preference. It was actually the first Gold Box game I finished, so there is a sentimental attachment.

    I actually liked Dark Queen for giving us a new continent to explore. A pity it was so empty! I suspect that Dragonlance, with it's emphasis on Good vs Evil, gave you less options in role-playing, although it had superior race and class options.
    Still I agree that only Pool of Radiance had the blank slate at the start of the game. All the rest have you committed at the start to a course of action.

    I am grateful for the Gold Box series, both in terms of quality and quantity. These games always worked on my computer with no loading or memory issues. Back in the day, that was important. I am grateful for your review of the series. It's been a lot of fun! Often when I introduce people to your blog, I start with the entry on the Kobold fight in Pool of Radiance.

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  22. I think I'll always love the Gold Box series and will always want more, funnily enough. There hasn't been anything quite like it since.

    I've been trying out some hacked UA modules lately but like with a lot of fan made stuff a lack of an editor leads to typos and mood changes that just take me out of it. When your primarily a text based game this is a big problem.

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